“…unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient and unto every good work reprobate.”
Strictly speaking the subject of this article, “The Spirit of this Age,” is not a sign of the time, at least not in the sense of having been included traditionally in the lists of signs of the time. Yet it is not asserting too much to say that the spirit of this age is THE sign of the time.
Every age can be characterized by a certain “spirit.” The point of this article is that the Spirit of our age is unique; it sets our age apart from those which have gone before. It is also an indicator which points conclusively to the nearness of Christ’s return. It not only shows that the world is ripe for judgment, but it serves to make the world ripe for judgment. It is the Spirit of this age which serves as fertile ground for the full ripening of evil in society, such as lawlessness and lust. The frightening aspect of this “spirit” is that no one is immune to its influence, not the elect themselves. To my mind there is nothing so immediately dangerous to the Church of Jesus Christ as the Spirit of this age. It is when one considers the workings of the Spirit of this age that the solemn, sobering truth of Christ’s prophetic words strike home, “Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?”
The question arises, what are we talking about when we speak of “The Spirit of this Age”? The phrase, though frequently used, is not so easily defined. It is not something concrete and specific, as are for instance, the Anti-Christ, the Great Tribulation, or catastrophes in nature. It is more abstract. But it is, nonetheless, very real, and not imagined.
When one speaks of the Spirit of our age one is referring to the basic moral-ethical atmosphere of this age. The Spirit of this age is the prevailing attitude which governs and influences society in all of its life—its philosophy and its behavior. To determine what the Spirit of this age is, is to attempt to answer the question, “What is the prevailing attitude of society in general towards what men intuitively know to be the Creator’s standard of morality?”
That there is such an intuitive, increated consciousness which indicates to natural man what he is called by God to do is very plain from Romans 2:14-15. “For when the Gentiles which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” The text speaks of the law of the conscience by which man knows that immorality is disobedience to God and that it has His severe disapproval. The question is, how do men treat this inner law which witnesses against sinful behavior? Pertinent for our purposes is the question, what today is different about man’s attitude towards the inner, accusing law of that conscience? The contention of this writer is that there is a difference, a marked difference.
In simplest terms the Spirit that distinguishes this present age from the past is that our society is characterized by an appalling lack of shame. Man is not ill at ease in the performance of gross evil, not at all. Rather men glory in their shame; they flaunt it; they revel in it; they publicize their “exploits.” They do not keep their excesses secret; rather they write their autobiographies, which explicitly deal with their immoralities. The public devours this pornographic pulp, and cries for more. This is one indication that shame is more and more becoming a thing of the past.
It must be understood that shame is not to be confused with embarrassment, though they are cousins, still less with repentance or some form of godly remorse. Rather, shame stems from a fear of being exposed for having committed some sin. It is the desire to cover over some wrong doing from the eye of God and man. Shame is the evidence of a conscience which speaks of one’s guilt, a guilt one is ashamed to admit to.
The person who experiences shame recognizes intuitively that iniquity demeans a man. So it was with Adam and Eve. Having eaten of the forbidden fruit, and having rebelled, their eyes were opened. They knew that they were naked. They were exposed to God and to each other in their lust, corruption, and guilt. They knew that they who had been God’s prophets, priests, and kings in creation, standing at the very pinnacle of things earthly, had debased themselves. No longer were they God-like, but from the point of view of their passions and lustful appetites they had debased themselves to the level of brute beasts. And Adam and Eve’s posterity gave evidence that they were even more prey to their carnal appetites than were the brute beasts. In time they would practice that which even the brute beasts themselves have no desire of doing, namely performing that which is contrary to nature (Rom. 1:24ff). So they would degrade themselves, and delight in it. How demeaning in light of man’s former high estate!
Disobedient Adam and Eve realized how they had demeaned themselves, when compared to their past royal perfection, and they were immediately filled with shame. That is part of the reason they sought to cover themselves with fig leaves. They did not want the other to see how degraded they had become. However, in the development of Adam’s posterity there came a point where men did not feel this shame in the committing of gross public sins. Boldly they boasted about them without fear of society’s disapproval. What disapproval there was, was weak and inconsequential. Witness the boastful behavior of Lamech, who, having killed a man, strutted before his two wives singing a song. It is recorded in Genesis 4:23-24. “Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.”
What is striking is how different after the deed Lamech’s attitude was from Cain’s. Both were murderers, yet Cain demonstrated a natural shame. He tried to cover it up. When God forced a “confession” from him, he expressed great fear as to what society (his family) would do to him when they found out. His conscience was touched with shame. Not so Lamech’s. He killed a man in cold blood and sang about it. He wanted it to be public knowledge. That Moses records this song in Holy Scripture centuries later indicates that Lamech’s deed and boast did become well known. Openly he boasted of his deed. He felt no shame. His conscience was untouched. His attitude was different from Cain’s—markedly. *
It is significant that whereas Cain felt he needed protection from society’s revenge, Lamech evidently was confident that this deed would enhance his reputation in society rather than harm it. Lamech’s very boldness, in which he defied anyone to lay a hand on him, indicates that a different ‘Spirit’ prevailed in those later days of the pre-deluvian world than in the days immediately following the fall. There is no indication that Lamech was forced to become a vagabond in the earth, an outlaw, as Cain was. What Lamech did was acceptable to that day’s society. And it is exactly this Spirit, which dominated society, that encouraged and fostered brazen, shameless behavior such as Lamech’s. In time there is progressive degeneration of the conscience, it becomes seared, and this reveals itself in the shameless way in which wicked men deport themselves.
Most significantly, in scripture the history of Lamech’s brazen conduct is followed closely by the record of the flood. Genesis 6:5ff states “And God saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of his heart was only evil continually…. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth….” Lamech stands as an instance of the great wickedness of man upon the earth just prior to the flood. Scripture’s point is that a society which countenances men like. Lamech is ripe for judgment. A society which is composed of men to whom shame is as foreign as it was to Lamech is a society with which God will not bear any longer. When this society encompasses the whole earth, then will come the end. “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and all of their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 14-15). Surely this arrogant “Lamechian” attitude, defiant of all law, untouched by shame, is prevalent in our day. Can the judgment be far behind?
(to be continued)
*In this connection two points should be made. In the first place, that Cain’s conscience pricked him, causing him to feel shame, whereas Lamech’s did not, does not imply that Cain was better than Lamech or less totally depraved. Such a notion is decisively dispelled by I John 3.
In the second place, the existence of a sensitive conscience in an unbelieving man does not enable that man to do works pleasing to God. The conscience simply declares to a man that the wrong he does displeases God. Its function is wholly negative. It does not serve to guide in a way of righteousness. God’s Holy Word alone can do that.