For it is by grace you have been saved...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Historical Perspective on the "End Times"

I’ve been reading a biography on the great Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter. An old work published by the American Tract Society, it’s called The Life of Rev. Richard Baxter, Chiefly Complied From His Own Writings. Those who know of Baxter most likely know of him as the author of The Reformed Pastor, and think of him in terms of his amazing ministry at Kidderminster in England.

What caught my attention on this occasion though was the description of a chunk of English history starting in the mid 1640s and lasting for the next 20 years or so. During that time, England endured its Civil War, followed by continued religious factions resulting in the Great Ejection brought about by the Act of Uniformity. On the heels of all that strife and struggle came the Plague, followed almost immediately by the Great Fire of London.

These days, the prophecy nuts, the doom and gloom folks, all point to various calamities and talk about how they must be signs of the end of the world. Who knows, maybe they are. But Jesus never predicted an increase in earthquakes and famines and wars, even though He did tell us these things would be witnessed as the “beginning of birth pangs.” (Matthew 24:7-8) And for the last 2,000 years we’ve experienced various aspects of these things.

The point I’m trying to get at, is that as we look around and see these things, we are distressed and discouraged and looking for an immediate end. Again, it may be coming. But after reading Baxter’s description of the conditions in England and the things endured by the church and by the people of what at the time was the center of Western Christianity, I can’t help but think anyone living in those times would have had good cause to think the end was imminent as well. Listen to how he describes life in the mid 1660s:

"And now, after all the breaches on the churches, the ejection of the ministers, and impenitency under all, wars, and plague, and danger of famine began all at once on us. War with the Hollanders, which yet continues; and the driest winter, spring, and summer that ever man alive knew, or our forefathers mention of late ages; so that the grounds were burnt, like the highways, where the cattle should have fed! The meadow grounds, where I lived, bare but four loads of hay, which before bare forty. The plague has seized on the most famous and most excellent city in Christendom, and at this time eight thousand die of all diseases in a week. It has scattered and consumed the inhabitants, multitudes being dead and fled.

“The calamities and cries of the diseased and impoverished are not to be conceived by those that are absent from them! Every man is a terror to his neighbor and him self; for God, for our sins, is a terror to us all. O! how is London, the place which God has honored with his Gospel above all the places of the earth, laid in low horrors, and wasted almost to desolation by the wrath of God, whom England hath contemned; and a God-hating generation are consumed in their sins, and the righteous are also taken away, as from greater evil yet to come."

“Scarcely had the plague ceased its ravages before the great fire commenced its destructive career in London. Churches in great numbers were destroyed in the general conflagration. The zealous, though silenced watchmen, ventured, amid the ashes of a ruined city, to urge the inhabitants to flee from the "wrath to come," and to seek, in their impoverished condition, the unsearchable riches of Christ." The distress occasioned by these calamities was great. Many thousands were cast into utter want and beggary, and many thousands of the formerly rich were disabled from relieving them."

Had Baxter lived this side of the development of Dispensationalism, with its emphasis on end times disaster, I wonder how folks of his day might have viewed the kind of “horrors” described here. Surely they would have seen themselves as truly living on the edge of eternity in way you and I can only imagine. Surely that plea for people to “flee the wrath to come” would have reached an even greater fevered pitch.

I’m not at all making light of the suffering of those in Japan, or the struggles of those in Libya, or any of the other places where sin and struggle dominate. And these things should cause us to ponder eternity and urge other to flee the coming wrath. I guess reading of Baxter’s life and what he endured just reminded me that we have truly been living in the “last days” for 2,000 years. We don’t need some amazing “sign” to tell us that. We’ve been enduring the birth pangs for centuries and if we haven’t realized it by now, I’m not sure any “sign” is going to break through our hardened hearts.

Folks, here’s all the “sign” you need. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God the Son, gave His life as a perfect sacrifice for sin. He was dead, buried, and on the third day rose again. Jesus called it the “sign of the prophet Jonah” and told us this was all we needed. (Matthew 12:39)

And that sign is a reminder that our Risen Lord is coming again. It may be today. It may be May 21. It may be December of 2012. Leave the date setting to others. You just take care of making you own calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Be sure that you have truly come to faith in Christ, that you know His grace, and that you are ready to meet Him when He does come.

Furthermore, be sure that you are faithfully sharing the gospel, making His grace known so that others will come to know Him as well. You don’t need “signs” to tell you that, or to make it urgent. You have God’s Word; and that is sufficient. The end is coming, sooner or later. Not because of earthquakes and wars, but because a Sovereign God has appointed a day and hour and promised it to be so. Our response? Amen, Come Lord Jesus!


Gregg Metcalf said...

Amen! Jesus says clearly in Matthew that many earthquakes will take place, but this is not the end. We are to be ready, alert, faithful, and watching for Him not "signs." Good post! Even So, Come Lord Jesus!

Anonymous said...

Scott, I say a hearty "Amen!!!" to this post.
Signs have never been the thing we are to keep our eyes on; but Jesus and hearing His Word.