The Spirit of Our Age (3)

We conclude our discussion of what we have designated as the dominating spirit of our age, namely the absence of shame, or if you will, the callous conscience. We have stated that the historical Christian church herself has taken the lead role in encouraging men to lead lewd, defiant lives. They have assured the underprivileged (found both among the neglected poor and the spoiled rich) that God does not condemn their disobedience, but He condemns rather those who have insisted upon a “puritan” morality, and who have given people a guilt complex. They must bear the greater responsibility. And we have stated that ultimately what is behind this lawless spirit which dominates our society is nothing else than the spirit of Anti-Christ itself (paving the way for the coming of the man of sin). It has worked relentlessly exactly to arrive at such a point where society has no shame. Now the church speaks its language, instructing the people that good is evil, and evil is good, and that righteousness is determined by majority preference. And majority preference has brought into focus the “new morality.” And the new morality is nothing else than the calloused conscience in action. Such is the spirit of the age with which we have to contend. 

The question arises, how is it that the conscience becomes calloused, so that even members of the church become insensitive to sin and reveal an absence of shame? The answer is, the conscience becomes calloused by its being continually confronted by immorality in its many forms. This is true of the believer as well as the unbeliever. When we are continually subjected to the observation of evil, the conscience becomes calloused, insensitive to the sinfulness of sin, not only as it is practiced by others, but as found in our own lives as well. 

There is a similarity between the sensitivity of the conscience to sin, and of the nose to odors. With the nose we can smell, though in man this sense is very underdeveloped (and I wonder if there is not some lesson in that, too). But it is a rather interesting phenomenon that the human nose grows accustomed to smells. Odors that at first nearly send one reeling, do not phase one after awhile, and sometimes in a very short time at that. Open a septic tank and the smell will nearly overpower you. Yet in time the nose will become “dead” even to such an obnoxious odor, accustomed to it. Or for instance, a city man may visit his farmer friend who raises pigs. Standing near the stye, the city man may ask “How can you stand the smell?”, to which the farmer will reply “What smell?” or “Oh, you get used to it.” On the other hand, the farmer may ask those living in the suburbs south of Chicago, when the wind is coming from the direction of Gary, Indiana, how they can stand it. The city man will reply, “I can not smell anything.” The point is, so it is with the conscience. Subject yourself to the obnoxious odors of some particular immorality long enough and the time will come that your conscience will cease to function with respect to that sin. It will become deadened, and with deadly results. 

A clear example of this would be Lot, who pitched his tent towards Sodom, and voluntarily subjected himself and his family to seeing Sodom’s gross wickedness. In time they lived within Sodom’s gates. We read that Lot “in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (II Peter 2:8). Yet he continued to live there, growing more accustomed to the immorality, until he almost felt at home there. Strikingly, he would not leave of his own accord. We read in Genesis 19:16, “And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, …the Lord being merciful unto him; and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.” He was plucked as a brand out of the fire, lest he perish with the ungodly. But so insensitive had Lot become that even the words of warning that the messengers of God spake did not unduly alarm him. So dulled had he become even to the very word of God itself preached to him by angels. And as for his family, it perished spiritually. That Lot’s daughters were without shame is plain from the way in which they used him to sire his own grandchildren. And remember, these things were recorded for our examples. 

In our day the dreadful thing for us as children of God is this, we do not have to go out of our way to be confronted by gross wickedness. In our age lewd, promiscuous behavior greets us around every corner, and profanity flares at us from every direction. How can one leave Sodom when the whole world has become Sodom? Where can one find sanctuary for self and one’s children? Indeed, the spirit of the age pervades the very atmosphere we breathe. As I have stated before, this spirit is a grave threat to the Christian’s life, so much so that we ought to be alarmed. If we are not alarmed it can only be because our consciences too have become, to a greater or lesser degree, calloused. And, quite frankly, I fear there are evidences that this is taking place within us. All I have to do is take stock of my own life. What would have once caused our grandparents to blush with shame and to gasp with astonishment, is met by us with a shrug of the shoulders. There is deterioration. 

This absence of shame reveals itself not only in our attitudes, but also in our lives. One hears disturbing reports of increasing disrespect shown by our young people to those in authority. Whence comes this bold spirit? And that is one thing. But what is worse is that we as parents should receive these things with indulgent smiles. One sees the dress of our young women, especially in the summer, which accents rather than covers. Where is the modesty? the shame? It is absent. These are but two examples. There is evidence of growing permissiveness in our Christian homes. And permissiveness is always a sign that the conscience is growing insensitive towards sinful deeds. The danger is that hand in hand with this permissiveness goes increasing promiscuity. That is inevitable. The spirit of the age will make it so. 

But there is yet more, and here we come to the nub of it. The calloused conscience affects how we listen to the Word. The Word functions in part exactly to keep our consciences sensitive. But there can come a point where we in our callousness resist the preaching (which attitude grieves the Holy Spirit). That was evident in Lot and his poor response to the angels’ warning. He was saved, but at what a cost to himself and to his generations! 

And it is here that I see that the mortal danger lurks. The mortal danger of the spirit of our age is that it makes us in time increasingly numb to the Word of God itself. Perhaps some will respond, “But we are still sensitive to the preaching.” Are we? As sensitive as we should be? Let me use an example which, quite frankly, causes me deep concern. It has to do with television. (Perhaps you say, “I know what’s coming. We’ve heard it before.” That is just the point. How many times before? And what has been our response?) 

Three generations of preachers have denounced television in strongest terms. In the three generations of preaching against the evils of Hollywood, the question arises, has the number of sets in our households decreased or increased? Has the number of hours that we, with our children, have spent in front of it decreased or increased? The answer is surely obvious. In general there has been steady, all but unimpeded, increase. We certainly do not purchase colored television sets to use as knick-knack shelves. We watch them. And this in the face of preaching by preachers who have all but stood on their heads warning against the dangers of television sets in our homes. That’s sensitivity? 

Television is so apt an example because there is no means whereby the conscience of the Christian is so continually subjected to observing evil men engaged in sinful deeds. It reeks with the stench of violence, sex, and blasphemy, if your “nostrils” are but holy enough to detect it. It is the conscience deadener par excellence. The world itself admits it. Who has not known its captivating power? The angels could scarcely stir Lot from Sodom. Can the preaching stir us from the evils portrayed on television? 

The question that persists then is this, what does all this say about our attitude towards the preaching? Are we so sensitive? Has not the “smog” of society’s evil atmosphere corroded our consciences to the sinfulness of sin in many respects? And the next question that arises is, can a people resist the preaching in some areas, and yet remain pliable and sensitive in others? It is doubtful. At any rate, they can do so only under severe tension, and in time, except there be a complete submission to the word of God, this callousness will spread to other areas as well. There comes a point when you either submit completely to the Word, or you become aggravated and wish the preacher would just stop harping on some particular sin all the time. Such is the danger of callousness towards even one particular sin. 

In conclusion we ask, how can we counteract the influence of the spirit of our age in our lives? Let me emphasize something in a negative way first of all. We can not counteract it by saying with a shrug of the shoulders, when we see callousness infecting our lives and the absence of shame characterizing our children, “It is the spirit of our age. What can you expect?” This is too easily done. It is an excuse. The spirit of this age has a great influence upon our lives indeed, but the persistent word of God is, “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). And again, “Flee also youthful lusts” (II Timothy 2:22). These admonitions must be taken seriously. Positively, we combat it through fervent prayer, close attendance to God’s word, and by fleeing every situation which could serve to harden our consciences. Thus we flee the world, while yet being in the world. 

The burden of keeping God’s people sensitive to sin falls especially upon the preachers. No matter how strong the spirit of the age moves (and it can blow with such power that it seems that one is speaking into the teeth of a hurricane which flings one’s words behind him), preachers must not grow despondent. We must simply preach with greater vigor and zeal. The Spirit of the Lord is irresistible, however things may appear. The Lord will keep his seven thousand. 

And so, as the coming storm gathers its fury over the raging seas, and already begins to blow over the land, the word of God remains, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). For the promise is, “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 59:19-20). 

Evil floods the land. Keep the dikes solid by turning from evil and by walking in the way of repentance and faith. The Redeemer has come once. He is coming again. May He keep us faithful, and so find us keeping our garments unspotted from the world.