J.C. Ryle, 1879
What Time Is It?
“The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” Romans 13:12
Reader, you and I are in a world which is rapidly rolling on towards the day of judgment. There is an hour before us all when the earth and its works shall be burned up, and the inhabitants thereof shall all stand before the bar of Christ. There is a day to come whose issues are of greatest importance. Surely it befits us to think of that day. Are we ready for it? Is it possible that we may live to see it? Is it near, or is it far off? What time is it?
Come with me this day and consider the thoughts of an inspired Apostle on this solemn subject. He says, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on us the armor of light.” These words ought to come home to our consciences like the blast of a trumpet. They ought to rouse our sleeping minds to a sense of the eternal realities which are before us. They call upon us to lay aside all trifling, lingering, and carelessness about our Christianity. They summon us to a close walk with God.
There are four things brought before my mind by the words just quoted:
1. You have here the present condition of the world. It is night.
2. You have the condition of the world which is yet to come. It will be day.
3. You have the particular time in which our lot is cast. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand.
4. You have the duty of all believers who know the time. They ought to cast off the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light.
Upon each of these four points I have something to say.
First of all, let us consider the present condition of the world. The Apostle Paul calls it “night.” “The night,” he says, “is far spent.” I have no doubt, that word seems strange to some people. They think it surprising that our present time should be called “night.” They are living in days of learning, science, civilization, commerce, freedom, and knowledge. They see around them things which their forefathers never dreamed of — railways, manufacturing plants, gas, electricity, steam engines, education for all, and inexpensive books. I know it all, and am thankful for it.
Nevertheless I say that in the things of God, the world is still in a state of “night.” I believe that God looks down on this globe of ours as it rolls round the sun, and as He looks upon it, He pronounces it “very dark!” I believe that the angels go to and fro, and make report of all they see on our earth, and their constant report is, “very dark!” And I am sure that believers in the Lord Jesus in every land are of one mind on this subject. They cry and sigh because of the abominations they see around them. To them the world appears “very dark!”
Is it not dark in heathen lands? There are two-thirds of the whole world in open rebellion against God and His Christ. Two out of every three inhabitants of the globe have no Bible, no Gospel, no knowledge, no faith, no hope! They are cruel, deceitful, immoral, earthly sensual, devilish, idolatrous, superstitious! Surely that is night!
Is it not dark in many professedly Christian countries? There are two-thirds of all the professing Christians on earth who are unsound in the faith. Their religion simply is not Scriptural. They have added to it many things which are not to be found in the Bible. They have left out of it many things which the Bible has plainly commanded. There are millions who give honor to the Virgin Mary and dead saints — instead of Christ. There are millions of baptized people who know nothing of the Bible, and have not the slightest idea of the salvation contained in the Gospel. Surely that is night!
Is it not dark in our own country at this present day? How much of sin there is in Protestant Britain — and how little of God! How much of open infidelity, heathenish ignorance, drunkenness, swearing, cheating, lying, covetousness — is weekly crying against us before the Lord Almighty! How many people in Great Britain go to no place of worship at all! How many go to church and chapel merely as a matter of form! How few are really in earnest about the salvation of their souls! How few have any evidence to show of a saving faith in Christ and a real work of the Spirit in their hearts! Surely even among ourselves it is night.
Is there not much darkness under the eyes of every true believer? Go to the most godly, quiet, and orderly parish in our land at this moment. Ask any well-informed child of God residing in it how many true Christians it contains, and what is the proportion of the converted to the unconverted. Mark well the answer he will give. I doubt if you will find a parish in Great Britain where one third of the people are converted! And if such be the report of parishes which are like the green tree, what must be the state of things in the dry? Surely it is night!
Reader, it is useless to deny these things. As humbling as it may be to the pride of human nature, the word of the Apostle is strictly true — the time present is night! An unconverted man may not perceive it. A graceless man may not comprehend it. The blind eye sees no difference between noon and midnight. The deaf ear makes no distinction between discord and sweet music. The mortified limb has no feeling either of heat or cold.
But I do believe that God’s children can enter into the meaning of the expression. The people of the Lord Jesus Christ find by experience, that it is night.
It is a cold time to believers. They meet with much to chill and dampen their zeal — and little to cheer and warm their hearts. They have to put up with many crossesand disappointments. They see iniquity abounding, and their own love is apt to become cold. And why? It is night!
It is a lonely time to believers. They find little company on the way that leads to Heaven. Here and there they fall in with one who loves the Lord Jesus and lives by faith. A few of God’s children may be found in one town, and a few in another. But on the whole, the children of the world seem like the Syrian army, which filled and country — and the children of God are like a few scattered sheep in a wilderness! And why? It is night.
It is a dangerous time to believers. They often stumble and scarcely discern their path. They often stand in doubt and know not which way to turn. They sometimes are unable to see their tokens and lose sight of their landmarks. At best they travel on in continual fear of enemies. And why? It is night.
Reader, I ask you to ponder these things. If time present be night, you will not wonder if we ministers warn Christians to watch and pray. You will count it no strange thing if we tell you to live like soldiers in an enemy’s country, and to be always on your guard.
Reader, sit down and ask yourself whether you find this world in which you live to be night or day. Is time present, a time of conflict — or a time of ease? Do you feel that your best things are here in this life — or that your best things are yet to come? I offer these questions to you as a test of your spiritual state. I place them before you as a gauge and measure of your soul’s condition. I tell you plainly, if you never found this world a wilderness and place of darkness — it is a bad sign of your state in the sight of God!
The true believer will find the words of his crucified Lord to be strictly true, “In the world you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). The true believer, like his Lord and Master, will be made “perfect through sufferings.” The true believer will mourn over the world he lives in, as a world in rebellion against its rightful king. Sin will grieve him. Ungodliness will make him heavy of heart. Like Lot in Sodom, his righteous soul will be daily vexed with much that he sees and hears. He will long for the time when the day shall dawn, and the shadows flee away. For the present he will feel it is night.
Reader, is it your night or day?
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