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2. The Apostasy which prepares the way for the Antichrist.

     The question has often been raised and is still hotly disputed as to whether the world is getting better or worse. Are conditions in general more propitious or more iniquitous? From one viewpoint conditions are improving, from another they are deteriorating. Good and evil are now both of them rapidly coming to a head. This is exactly what our Lord foretold in the parable of the Tares - "Let both grow together until the harvest" (Matt. 13:30). Both the wheat and the tares are growing. Hence it is that present-day conditions are so conflicting. Godliness and lawlessness, good and evil are, side by side, each advancing, the conflict between them ever increasing in severity. And hence it is that side by side with the increase of spiritual light and prophetic knowledge, we are now witnessing also a wide-spread departure from the Truth. As the light increases the shadows deepen. It is written, "The path of the just shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18); but, it is written again, "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse" (2 Tim. 3:13).
     Of old, the question was asked, "Watchman what of the night!" and the answer from the lonely watcher upon his lofty tower was "The morning cometh, and also the night" (Is. 21:11,12). Here again we meet with a seemingly conflicting testimony. Yet, the conditions which prevailed in Isaiah's day are precisely the same which characterize ours. "The morning cometh," the morning of the Perfect Day. As we have shown above, the intimations of the approaching Morn are unmistakable. The increasing light vouchsafed by God upon His Word together with the recovery of the Blessed Hope, herald the approach of the Morning Star, which shall precede by a few years the arising of the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings.
     "And also the night." The Night which shall draw down the curtain upon "man's day." The Night of the world's judgment, when "the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people" (Is. 60:2). The Night of the Great Tribulation when "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light" (Matt. 24:29). The Night when the Power of Darkness shall be given full sway for a little season because men loved darkness rather than light. That Night which shall so soon come upon Christendom because it has turned away from God's Word which is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. And the intimations of the approaching Night are as marked and as plain as are the heralds of the coming Day. Consider one of them.
     "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition" (2 Thess. 2:3). The "day" mentioned here is the Day of the Lord (see Is. 2) which follows the present day of man. The Day of the lord succeeds the Day of Salvation, now so nearly ended, and its character and course is fully described in the last book of the Bible. The "man of sin, the son of perdition" referred to in our text will come before us for consideration in a later chapter, sufficient now to say that he makes his appearance some time after the Rapture of the Church and that he continues in his terrible course of open defiance of God until the Lord Jesus returns in power to the earth when He shall destroy this Wicked One by the brightness of His coming. The "falling away" (apostasy - Greek) is one of the things which shall be the harbinger of the Day of the Lord and prepare the way for the revelation of the Antichrist. The fact that the "falling away" has already commenced, yea, has even now advanced a terrible distance, is proof that the appearing of the Man of Sin is nigh at hand, and therefore that the "last days" of this dispensation are upon us.
     The "falling away" which 2 Thess. 2:3 predicts has reference to departure from the Word of God, and apostasy from the faith once delivered unto the saints. Specifically, it refers to repudiation of the Truth by those who are its professed friends. The fulfillment of this solemn prophecy has now been going on for upwards of half a century, and sad to say, the circle in which it is receiving its accomplishment is ever growing wider and wider. More than forty years ago the late C. H. Spurgeon protested faithfully and fearlessly against the "Downgrade movement" of his day, and owing to the doctrinal looseness and theological unsoundness of many of its leading spirits withdrew from the English Baptist Union. The "Downgrade" has gone on apace since then. The majority of our Seminaries in which our preachers receive their theological training, are hot-beds of rationalism, skepticism, and infidelity. The deadliest foes of the Faith are now to be found inside of the professing Church and not outside as hitherto. The "vain philosophies" and Scripture-denying heresies of such agnostics as Darwin and Huxley are now openly espoused and enthusiastically proclaimed from many of our leading pulpits.
     The "falling away" has had an awful exemplification in the "Higher Criticism" movement, a movement which originated with atheists but has operated within the professing Church. The "Higher Critics" are men who deny the supernatural element in the Scriptures, who undermine their authority and belittle their value. They are rationalists whose minds are blinded by the god of this world, whose they are and whom they serve. No censure of them can possibly be too severe. The inspired apostle referred to them when he said, "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them and bring upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Pet. 2:1). The words that follow this terrific indictment, reveal the sad havoc wrought by these apostates, and tells us of the doom which awaits them - "And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not" (vs. 2,3).
     The "falling away" is evidenced on every hand. Not only are many of our Seminaries cesspools of spiritual corruption, not only are hundreds of our pulpits now filled by traitors to the cause they profess to champion, not only is every cardinal doctrine of the faith attacked and denied by the very ones paid to defend them, but the evil effects of such teaching from our religious leaders has influenced multitudes of souls committed to their care. The man in the pew, following the lead of his teachers, has lost faith in the Bible as a Divine revelation, and in consequence, no longer submits to its authority. Hence it is that there is such a "falling away" in the number of genuine conversions - we say "genuine" conversions because there are multitudes of those who come forward to shake some popular preacher by the hand, multitudes of card-signers, "trail-hitters" etc., etc. Hence it is that there has been such a sad and such a wide-spread "falling away" from the old time family worship. Hence it is that we now witness such a lamentable "falling away" from the mid-week prayer-meeting. Hence it is that there is such an awful "falling away" from the observance of the Holy Sabbath. Hence it is that there is such a fearful "falling away" from the moral standards of former days. Hence it is that there is now such an ever-growing "falling away" from Sunday School attendance all over the land. Yes, the "falling away" has commenced and is already far advanced.
     The "falling away" is also to be seen in the many false systems of recent development. We may cite as illustrations the "New Theology" formulated and popularized by R. J. Campbell; "Christian Science" (so called) with its repudiation of sin and the vicarious Sacrifice of Christ; "Russellism" with its horrible blasphemies upon the person of our Lord and its erroneous and soul-destroying heresy of the "second chance;" "Spiritualism" with its intercourse with demons who impersonate the dead. Formerly, three-fourths of the votaries of these anti-Christian systems were outwardly attached to the Truth, inasmuch as they were members of evangelical denominations. The same "falling away" may be seen in the rapid decay of Protestantism and the silent but sure growth of Roman Catholicism.
     The "falling away" which characterizes our day was referred to by the apostle when he said, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3,4). That time has arrived! Church-goers today will not endure "sound doctrine." Those who preach the total depravity of man, who insist upon the imperative necessity of the new birth, who set forth the inflexible righteousness and holiness of God, and who warn against the Eternal and conscious torment awaiting every rejector of Christ, find it almost impossible to obtain a hearing. Such preachers are regarded as puritanical pessimists, and are not wanted. In these degenerate times, the masses demand that which will soothe them in their sins and amuse them while they journey down the Broad Road. The multitude is affected with "itching ears" which crave novelty and that which is sensational. They have ears which wish to be "tickled," ears which eagerly drink in the songs of professional and unsaved soloists and choristers, ears which are well pleased with the vulgar slang of our modern evangelists. Concurrent with this "Falling away" we may note,

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