“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” — 2 Tim. iii. 1–5.
The apostle, in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, gives an account of the great and abominable sins that Rome pagan, heathen Rome, was given up unto, the catalogue of sins in that place no way exceeding that given us in this. It may be asked what pagans and heathens these were? The apostle here tells us what pagans and heathens they were. The truth is, they were Christians whom the apostle intends, as is plain from verse 5, where he saith these persons had “a form of godliness.”
There is a time when persons who claim the holy name and title of Christians are as bad, if not worse, in their lives, than the worst of pagans, Saith the apostle, “This know also;”—‘Many things I have told you of, acquainted you with; in particular, that there would be many miscarriages among church-members, among the real disciples of Christ, by envy and strife (which are spoken of in the last chapter): but know this also,—there is more than these.’ It was a great mercy unto them to be forewarned of what would ensue on the wickedness of men.
“In the last days,” saith he, “perilous times shall come.” I have upon other occasions showed you that those expressions of “latter days” and “last days” are nowhere taken in the New Testament for the last days absolutely, but for the last days of the church, the latter days of the church, when they come unto their declination, when they have continued long in a profession, and have grown worse and worse, and are coming towards the last days. “God hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son;” that is, in the very last days of the Judaical church. Christ came last, he sent him last, in answer unto what Jacob prophesied, “I will tell you what shall come in the last days;”—that is, the days when the church was coming unto an issue; then Christ came. And so in all other places. The latter days of churches are always perilous days, days full of danger.
When I speak of churches, I intend not only those that are properly so called, but those that call themselves churches, national churches, that which would have itself called the Catholic Church. The longer they continue, the nearer they come unto their end; the farther they advance in their last days, the more perilous the times will be. And it is to no purpose to expect but that as apostatizing churches grow by continuance, they will grow in wickedness; they will grow more and more wicked every day, and the times shall be more and more perilous every day. We shall be mistaken if we look for any thing else. Till God shall new-form this world, the perils of the days shall increase upon us continually. They will do so till God’s time comes to bring in a reformation, or a powerful work upon the world, that may be some relief; but in the meantime, while they are in their last days, “perilous times shall come.”
What is it that makes them “perilous?” Men wallowing in a litter of unclean lusts under a profession of Christianity make the times perilous. I am afraid we are apt to look upon the peril of the times merely from the outward dangers that in these times we ourselves are obnoxious to.
But where lies the peril of the times? Truly, I don’t think that all the world together can give so great a character of the world, of that which they call the “Christian world,” at this day, as is given here by the apostle;—that is, they live in the open practice of all horrible lusts, and yet continue a form of godliness; that is, continue a profession of the Christian religion. Such times are perilous, not only because divers of those lusts that are here mentioned will be exercised towards them that are good (for in the midst of all those sins they are despisers of them, they hate them, and they despise them), but those times are perilous,—
First, Because they provoke unto judgment against the nations and people that are overtaken with these sins. A great part of the book of the Revelation is taken up with declaring the judgments of God against apostatizing churches, destroying such churches as are overgrown with lusts in their latter days; that is, all that combination of men who, under the Romish conduct, falling into the apostasy, make up several churches in the world. I say, the book of the Revelation is spent in declaring God’s fearful and dreadful judgments upon the world for these sins; this makes the times very perilous. Though, when the church of the Jews was going into its latter days before the captivity, there were some among them who were very good, very good figs, yet the days were so perilous that they must also into captivity. The judgments of God were to come upon the land, and the very good figs must also into captivity. God may bring destruction upon whole nations, because of those abounding lusts in the last days of the church.
Secondly, It is greatly perilous in point of temptations. There are two or three things wherein the open wickedness of the world proves a great temptation to professors:
1. All professors are apt to countenance themselves in their lesser miscarriages by the open sins of the world. That makes a day of great sinning very perilous. They see and know that they are very far from being such as they see the generality of Christians are, and countenance themselves in a low, dead, carnal, worldly profession in many other things. There is more peril in this, as it will secretly insinuate itself into the best of us, more than in all the persecutions the men of the world can contrive,—lest we should secretly please ourselves in an unthrifty and unholy profession that is seen in the world, seeing all this litter of lusts that others clothe themselves with every day, and we see we are not as they are.
2. There is danger and peril lest they should lead us, by some other more pleasant lust, into a compliance with them; for when a church is fallen into its latter days, all sorts of lusts that may suit the corruption and vanity of men’s minds do abound among them, and some of these may insinuate themselves into professors, and make the times very dangerous unto them. I am afraid of a thing I have often mentioned, and that is pride and vanity of apparel; it is one of the lusts and sins of the latter days. And, indeed, upon the account of these very lusts, the days are very perilous, very dangerous, lest our minds be infected with them, and lest we conform unto them more or less,—lest we do many things that else we would not do, because they are done by the world; which is a perfect compliance with the lusts of the latter days.
3. There is peril in that ordinary converse which men are necessitated to by their conversation in the world and in their occasions, and other business which they must have with men, especially those who are traders and dealers in the world. They can scarce touch upon a business with those in whom there are those predominant lusts of a decaying church, but they must be, compelled to hear swearing, cursing, filthy discourses, that are not convenient, and all manner of profaneness. There is peril in this. And there are some kinds of professors who are so regardless and careless, that they will put themselves into such company on choice, when they have no business or necessity for it.
Thirdly, The times are most perilous, in the last place, upon this account, lest God utterly remove his candlestick from such a people, and suffer his gospel to be no more despised and dishonoured among them.
Now, truly, if it be so, the use I aim at in calling over these words is this: It is plain we are fallen into those times and seasons;—I am persuaded none of you will deny it. And if the Holy Ghost tells us expressly that these days and times are perilous, full of dangers; we are in a path wherein be robbers on every hand; and we ourselves can see somewhat of peril in them,—we know there is something in them of peril: and if you will but search, you will find out more. Now, if this be our present state and condition, it is our duty to be earnest with God to be preserved in such a perilous state as this. Shall we think we have an amulet to carry us through all perils, spiritual and temporal, that no danger shall befall us? It is not so with us. Unless we are upon our watch and guard, and cry mightily unto God for help and assistance, we shall be all overtaken with perils and dangers in the days wherein we live.