We are now come to a part of the epistle which needs great attention, for "perilous times" are precisely those in which we are living; the danger is that of treating things as though we were not living in times of great difficulty, that is, of walking as though there was nothing particularly diabolical in the atmosphere.
The last days are the very last in the story of Christendom, and the expression is a different one to that in 1 Timothy 4:1. Here all the darkest passions of men are indulged under a name of Christian civilization, the love of self and of pleasure being at the root of every action. It is what is commonly called utilitarianism, for in these last days people call evil things by fine names. "This is aesthetic," they say.
What a terrible picture of man, unchanged by the outward varnish of Christianity - of that same incorrigible man whose lusts and crimes were developed under Gentile mythology and paganism, and who now appears again in his true colours, though outwardly "Christianized!" What, the same passions and vices in Europe now as when men were said to be under the influence of Pan, Bacchus, or Venus? The same; man has changed his collection of idols, but he is the same! Lost, degraded, a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God, the terrible features are here set before us, beginning with "lovers of self" and "lovers of money." It is a terrible and divinely-drawn picture of the age, and we all feel, alas! how deeply we are influenced by it.
But we are called to bear witness to a power that has brought us out of it, and however much we have failed let us not sacrifice the position. There is a call to turn away from those who, in the state mentioned in the first verses, have a form of piety but deny its power; and now comes a peculiar operation of evil, and a special snare to those who shall have dared to make a stand for the Lord and for His truth in the midst of modern Christendom. The enemy has tried, is trying, and will try to imitate that power of God which he cannot withstand, and to lead away souls by what may seem to be the truth.
The sixth and seventh verses show us the material which he has to work upon, and his mode of working; it is a faithful picture of the state of things. The "silly women" are not necessarily female in a literal sense, but signify those persons who are bereft of true manly vigour and judgment in the things of God; they are morally feminine, deficient in the virtue indicated by Paul when he says to the Corinthians, "Quit you like men." (1 Cor. 16:13.) I said that the picture here is, alas! a faithful one; for these non-masculine men abound in the present day. Insidious teachers, "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" describes the situation. Never was there such a day for religious books, sermons, and teaching; but "the truth" is unknown, and the Lord Jesus is outside knocking still at the door, unheard by the mass. The truth of Christianity, and of the present position of Christ in glory, is refused, and though many "truths" may be taught, and novelties sought after, yet the learners are as far from it as ever.
Having this clearly before us, it is well to see how the enemy is acting, and how his work shall end. The Holy Spirit takes up the two Egyptian professors of magic as examples of those who are now misleading souls; and the great point is that they withstood Moses, the man of God, who was standing for Him before Pharaoh and the whole array of Egyptian gods. These two men represented the power of darkness at a very critical period, and their system was that of imitating divine power. Cheating, trying to make black appear white, crafty play of words,* have always been the method of Satan; but here we have him boldly imitating the power of God, and making a decided stand against divine might and intervention as seen in Moses. Thus the truth is resisted in Christendom, the enemy is making his last efforts to counteract and destroy the feeble but true testimony to the blessed Lord and to the power of His name. It is an opposition of a very peculiar kind, and any one who has met with it must confess that he has been met by a power and ingenuity that are superhuman, and which can come but from one source.
*Notice Ephesians 4:14, the dice-playing method of cheating souls. Sleight of hand is in vogue, though people pretend not to believe in Mercury, etc.
What then should a faithful Christian do? - one who has turned away from what we saw in verse 5, and who begins to feel the great power of the arch-impostor. Give up? Never! but persevere with steady purpose and constant prayer, holding to the word of God and to the blessed Lord in glory. Thus did Paul, as we shall see (D.V.) in examining the power by which he acted and was kept through all his perilous service. Thus he desired for Timothy, and we may well say for us too, weak though we be.
A moment shall come when the representatives of this audacious imitation shall be suddenly checked and stopped, and their folly manifested to all, as was that of Jannes and Jambres. They were allowed by God to keep pace with each step of Moses, till the very simplest fact showed that their power had come to the full length of its tether, and they could not go on. They could no more acquire life-giving power than Simon Magus could buy that of the blessed Spirit.
So it shall be in the present struggle - the enemy will be stopped. God may allow him to go up to the line which He has drawn, but no further.
It cheers and consoles the heart of every faithful saint to think that the power of Christ by the Spirit is infinitely above that of Satan, and that this very power is for the feeblest believer. The limit is fast approaching, and opposition to God shall end in certain exposure; in the meantime may the God of all grace give to His own to be walking with Him, and persevering, in patience and dependence, in that path which shall end in glory and honour to the blessed Lord who protects and strengthens them all through the conflict. E. L. Bevir.