It seems as if the end of an old year and the beginning of a new year have a way of putting me into a reflective frame of mind. I suppose, when I stop to think about it, that this lies in the nature of the event itself: the last day of an old year when one quite naturally looks back on the days so quickly gone by; the beginning of a new year when one cannot help but look ahead.
But Scripture seems to suggest something of this to us. You know that quite often, at an Old Year’s Eve service, Psalm 90 is read as being particularly appropriate; and Moses writes there of the need to count our days that we may set our hearts upon wisdom. And we know that God Himself created the years which go and come, for He set the heavenly bodies in their courses in the sky for “signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” Yes, also for signs. It must be then that the end of a year speaks to us of the end of all time; and the beginning of a year speaks to us of the beginning of the new age which shall dawn when our Lord comes back again.
What is time? How difficult the question is to answer. Philosophers have tried to give it definition over the years. So have theologians. You probably recall that already more than a millennium ago, St. Augustine asked these questions: “For what is time? Who can readily and briefly explain this? Who can even in thought comprehend it, so as to utter a word about it? But what in discourse do we mention more familiarly and knowingly, than time? And, we understand, when we speak of it; we understand also, when we hear it spoken of by another. What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not: yet I say boldly that I know, that if nothing passed away, time past were not; and if nothing were coming, a time to come were not; and if nothing were, time, time present were not. . . .”
But it is not my purpose to engage you in a long and wearying debate about what time is. We know, of course; that God created it when He created all things. Before creation there was no time. We know too, from bitterest experience, that in a sinful world time is an enemy. After all, we still sing Psalm 90 in church—mostly on Old Year’s eve: “Time like an ever flowing stream bears all its sons away.” Time is an irresistible force to drag us bit by bit, through a long and often agonizing series of illnesses and weaknesses, out of this world into the grave. This is because the curse of God rests upon this creation, and time too is cursed as a part of the world. Time is an enemy. Time ties us in chains which we cannot break, dragging us along to an untimely death. For God will not have wicked men in His world. And time is the means to carry him out of the creation through the door of death into the grave.
But Paul tells us that we have the solemn obligation to “redeem the times.” You may find this in more than one place in Scripture. Look them up yourself. One such place is Col. 4:5. Another is Eph. 5:16. But how is this possible for us? It has got to be because Christ Himself has redeemed the times; i.e., He has redeemed time. He entered into our time to live in our world’s history. And His cross and resurrection were a mighty victory by which He redeemed all things, time among them.
I do not intend to “preach” to you in this letter; but surely it is important for you to understand that this has great significance for us. Among many other things, it means that Christ, from His exalted position high above all creatures rules sovereignly over all time. He controls time, makes it serve His purpose, uses it to gain for Himself and His (and Our) God the complete victory He won on the cross. Now the point is then that all time will be used by Him in such a way that His own everlasting kingdom will gain the victory. We need have no doubt or fear about this; we may look confidently ahead on this new year’s day to that victory which will certainly come about.
And, of course, the altogether wonderful thing is that Christ has called us to be a part of that kingdom and He has given to us to participate by grace in His victory. Time is redeemed for us!
The urgent calling to redeem the times comes to us breathing victory and hope for the future.
We are to redeem the times, Paul says. And we are to do this because the days are evil. It is especially this that I want to talk about for a few moments with you. It is not a long look back through the year so swiftly gone by that is needed to conclude that Paul’s words are surely true. The newspapers and broadcasts throughout the year kept drumming into our minds how evil these days really are. All of these evils we need not speak of. But there are some of special importance to you because they have a lot to do with our calling to redeem the times in the year ahead.
I sometimes shudder when I think of how incessantly you are bombarded with every form of immorality. We are told that in some parts of the country over half the adult population live in fornication so habitually that it has become a way of life to them. The young people of our day live so completely in adultery and fornication that there is scarcely any voice raised in protest. They are permitted to do so openly and publicly announcing to the world their challenging defiance of God’s sacred word. The most revolting crimes of sex are not only openly practiced, but are no longer condemned as sin. Churches are even organized for homosexuals. Sexual clinics are set up to teach people by means of “clinical adultery” to find their happiness in sex. And unwanted babies are murdered before they see the light of day. If the heathen in Israel’s time and some of Judah’s worst kings sacrificed their children to Moloch, today’s generations sacrifice their unwanted children on the altars of lust to the idols of sex in the abortion clinics of the land. The crime is really no different. And the Supreme Court seems to have cut the word “pornography” out of its dictionary.
There is a point here that I must mention to you. There is a growing trend in this country which you must have noticed which effectively does away with all sin. It starts this way. There is some sort of practice in this country which is legally forbidden but is increasingly common. Maybe it is gambling. Then again it is abortion. Or perhaps it is the use of drugs—especially marijuana. But whatever it may be, the laws, for some reason, seem ineffective in combating this particular evil or sin. The problem increases in size and grows in seriousness. At last, with a great deal of hand-wringing and an outpouring of pious platitudes, a solution is found to the “problem” so that it exists no longer. That solution is simply to make the sin legal. Is gambling beyond the control of the law-enforcement agencies? Well, legalize gambling. Then there is no problem, and the state has devised a new way to fill its money-hungry coffers. Is abortion a problem too great to cope with in the courts? Well, make it legal. And you not only solve the problem, but at the same time take a long stride in the direction of ZPG. You know what that is: Zero Population Growth. Has it proved impossible to control marijuana smoking? Well, quite obviously the solution to the problem is to make it legal. Not only does the problem disappear, but there is the added benefit of making it easier to help those on dope who have had “bad trips” when they go to harder drugs.
There is a tremendous appeal in all these things. Pondering it the other day the thought came to my mind that, at least in part, the appeal is to be found in a more basic trouble that plagues this society. There is no longer any conception of obedience to authority. I have talked with you often about this. I need not repeat here what we have frequently discussed. But there is one point that needs to be made—especially for our young people. You and they are in that time of life when you must become independent. You must stand on your own two feet. You must test your own wings and presently fly the nest. You must leave the shelter of the parental roof and build your own home. It seems that time comes altogether too swiftly for us. Yet we have tried to make you independent. But sometimes there is some misunderstanding about the matter. Perhaps we have not made the point clear enough. It is true that your obedience to your parents never ends; but the point that needs so much to be made is that you always, in all your life, owe unquestioning obedience to the Word of God as the rule of your faith and life. It is this which lies at the basis of all the evil in our day. And, I must warn you, the Churches are, in many instances, taking the lead in robbing people of the infallible rule of the Scriptures.
The days are evil. 1972 was proof of how evil they are.
But Christ rules over all. And, among other things, this surely means that all these evils too are but so many signs of the fact that Christ is returning. Jesus Himself told us that one of the signs of His coming was to be that lawlessness would abound.
There are other matters though which I must mention. I am talking now about religion in general and our calling to worship God. The last year was marked with some notable developments in this respect. For one thing, innovations in worship continue to be introduced in many Churches—even in Churches which seem close to the one to which you belong. These innovations in worship are often characterized by that much abused word “relevancy.” And the idea, I see, is to make worship more attractive and appealing to young people. Film strips, musical groups playing the latest hits, sensitivity sessions, rap sessions, dramatic productions—these and many more are among the substitutes for worship being tried and practiced.
For another thing there is still a lot of tongue speaking going on; and we are still being told that some such thing as this is not only a legitimate way of worshipping God, but is also the one proof of the presence and gift of the Holy Spirit.
And then there are the “Jesus people.” We hear and read a lot about a national revival especially among young people. It turns out to be in some way or another related to various Jesus movements. And it all seems so pious, so genuine, so attractive, so worth our emulation.
But is it?
I cannot remind you strongly enough that in these matters also the Word of God is our rule of faith and life. I am sometimes reminded of Christ’s words—again a sign of His return: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers, believe it not. . . .”
This was true also of Explo ’72 as well. Everyone is shouting: Lo, here is Christ. But do not believe them.
All of these things are, I am afraid, reason to be downhearted and discouraged. The times seem so utterly evil. The temptations so many are great. The tendencies to drift along with the times so strong and irresistible. It takes special watchfulness to avoid all these many pitfalls.
But, from another point of view, these are also exciting times. You must not miss the significance of this. It all has to do too with redeeming the times.
While it is true that the world sinks deeper into the darkness of sin, and while it is true that church after church goes the long road of apostasy with increasing swiftness, nevertheless, there are faithful people of God in many places throughout the earth. They are never very many. But Scripture reminds us that the elect are only a very small remnant, a hut in a garden of cucumbers; and—let us never forget it, a besieged city.
But they are there. And more and more they are protesting the ungodly evils in their own denominations and churches. They are seeing how horrible it is when churches, once strong defenders of the truth, compromise that truth at every turn and sell their birthright for a mess of worldly pottage. And, in their concern, they are seeking each other out, looking for those who still love and maintain the truth, and eagerly desiring fellowship with them of like faith.
This makes the times in which we live exciting. God is taking care of His Church. And there is, before our eyes, the evidence that there are always 7000 who do not bow the knee to the Baals of our day.
We have a calling in this respect. And the calling is urgent. We may not shrink back from it. But, surely, that calling, if it means anything at all, means that we must, without compromise and without equivocation, speak loudly of the truth of the Scriptures. Let the sounds of the trumpet on the walls of Zion give a clear note. Let the faith of our fathers be our’s in all truth and purity.
And so the time comes when I must bring this letter to its close.
A new year lies before us. We cannot tell what the year will bring—either for ourselves or for the cause of Christ. We cannot tell what personal burdens will have to be borne, what problems will have to be solved, what joys or sorrows await us in the year of our Lord, 1973. We cannot tell yet precisely and in every detail what our calling will be in the coming year or what is the exact nature of that calling. The Lord always has a way of surprising us, for His ways are not our ways. But though we do not know, Christ is in heaven and the times are inescapably in His hands. And we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
I must leave a personal word with you. Work your very hardest in the place God gives you now. Pray often and make prayer a regular part of your life, for the kingdom needs praying saints above all else. Read the Scriptures. Read your Church papers. Read good literature. Read much. How does Paul put it to Timothy? “Give attendance to reading.” Devote yourself with all the strength of your youth and the energies of your present strength to the work of the kingdom. Be ready always to give an answer to those who ask of you a reason for the hope that is in you. Let your light so shine before men that others may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
The victory is ours.
May the year ahead be filled for you with the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit. With love,