Lecture 5 of 11 on "The Hopes of the Church of God"

Daniel 2.

Progress of Evil on the Earth.

J. N. Darby.

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We have been occupied, as yet, with the union of Christ and the church conformed to His image; of the coming of Christ Himself, and of the resurrection of the church, by which it gets a share of this glory of Christ as co-heir.

The subject for to-night is not so full of joy and happiness, but it is right that we should know the testimony which God gives of human wickedness. Let me hope, dear friends, that the consequence of knowing it will be to produce unfeigned seriousness of spirit. The sight of the progress of evil, and of the judgment which it draws down, ought, first of all, to have the effect of making us avoid it; and, secondly, of impressing us with the power of God, who alone can remove it. "See that ye refuse not him that speaks," Heb. 12:25-29. This passage gives the apostle's view of the great change that will take place when the power of evil will be overthrown.

What we are about to consider will tend to show that, instead of permitting ourselves to hope for a continued progress of good, we must expect a progress of evil; and that the hope of the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord before the exercise of His judgment, and the consummation of this judgment on the earth, is delusive. We are to expect evil, until it becomes so flagrant that it will be necessary for the Lord to judge it.

311 First, I shall show that the New Testament constantly presents to us evil as going on increasing until the end, and that Satan will urge it on until the Lord destroys his power; secondly, I shall endeavour to show the character which this wickedness will take, in its external form, as a secular power. In other words, what I have to say can be reduced under two heads:
  Firstly, the apostasy which takes place in Christendom itself.
  Secondly, the formation, the fall, and the ruin of the Antichrist, in the sense of a visible power.

I begin with Matthew 13:36, the parable of the tares. It brings out this circumstance that, whilst men slept, the enemy sowed tares in the field of the householder; and that, upon the demand of the servants whether the tares ought to be plucked out, the answer was, No - that the wheat and the tares were to grow together until the harvest. It is, then, the sentence of the Lord, that the evil, which Satan has done in the field where the good seed of the word has been sown, shall remain and ripen there until the end. It is an express declaration, that the efforts of Christians shall not have the result of taking away the evil, which is to remain until the day of judgment: "Let both grow together until the harvest." The harvest is at the end of the world - the end of this age; that is, of the dispensation closed by the coming of Christ. We must bear in mind that now, in God's dealings with us and by us, we have to do with grace and not with judgment. We have not to judge the world. Even could we say with certainty of such an one - he is a child of the devil, he is precisely on that account out of our jurisdiction; it is a tare. We have to do with grace; we cannot lay hand upon the evil which Satan has produced; but we can act as instruments of grace, for God permits us to sow good seed.

The tares are not simply wicked men - pagans; these last have not been sown among the good grain. The tares are some particular evil sown by the enemy after Jesus Christ had sown the good seed. What, then, we may call heresy, corruption of the truth in whatever way, or to whatever extent, will remain until the harvest. The evil which Satan has produced by a corrupted religion will exist until the end. All our efforts ought to be directed - not to pluck out the tares but to gather in the children of God - to assemble together the co-heirs of Jesus Christ.*
{*We read in 2 Samuel 23 a remarkable prophecy of the judgment of the wicked one who "cannot be taken with hands," and of the beauty and blessing of the coming of that One, who will reign in righteousness, and whose blessings will correspond to His faithfulness in keeping the covenant during our state of misery.}

312 1 Timothy 4:1. "The Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy … ."

We have no reason to expect, in the ordinary meaning given to it, the progress of the gospel; there may be, and will be, as much as is necessary for the gathering together of the children of God. But that which we ought to expect is contained in these words - a kind of picture of the last times - "Some shall depart from the faith." Compare 2 Peter 2:1-3.

2 Timothy 3:1-5. "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come … ." Are we to heed what men say? No, but what God says. Observe the language which Jeremiah uses to Hananiah; Jer. 28:6, etc. And so we must reply when we are told that the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the channels of the sea. We believe, undoubtedly, that the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth; but that is not the question. The question is, How will this be accomplished? By the judgment of God "When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness," Isaiah 26:9.

Let us return to the passage in Timothy. "Men shall be lovers of their own selves," etc. These are not pagans; they are Christians, nominal Christians; for it is written, "Having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." The characters, indeed, drawn by the apostle, are those of pagans, such as they are painted in the lowest degree of vileness at the beginning of the epistle to the Romans, and nearly in the same terms. And it is added, concerning these men of the last times, "They shall wax worse and worse." We see the same expectation of evil in 2 Timothy 4:1-4: "I charge thee therefore before God," etc.

It is worth remarking, that the tares were already sown in the days of the apostles; and in one sense it is a happy thing for us. If it had happened later, we should not have had the testimony of the word in this matter in order to warn us, and direct us when these sorrowful events came to pass; as it is, we have the perfect light of God upon this state of things.

313 1 Peter 4:17. "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God." Compare these words with Acts 20:28-31: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock; also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." This state of things began during the lifetime of the apostles.

1 John 2:18. This passage declares, that "the last time" does not mean the time of Jesus Christ, but the time of Antichrists. These were precursors of the great Antichrist. That which characterises the last time is, not the spread of the gospel over the whole earth, but the presence of Antichrist.

Jude. This epistle is a treatise in itself upon the apostasy; and in verse 4 we have a succinct description of its character. The apostle says, that he found it needful to exhort the believers to contend for that which they had already received. Some had already crept in amongst them, who were the germ of the apostasy; and this was to continue until the judgment of Jesus Christ. For, after having described their character more in detail, he adds (v. 15), that it is this class which would be the object of the judgment of Jesus Christ when He should come. Of course, therefore, the evil, which was manifested in the church almost from the beginning of its existence, would remain until the coming of Christ. In verse 11 we get three sorts of apostasy brought together in these men: natural apostasy, ecclesiastical apostasy, and open revolt, upon which last the judgment will fall. First, the character of Cain is given us - apostasy of nature - hatred, unrighteousness; secondly, Balaam - teaching wrong things for a recompense (this is the ecclesiastical apostasy); and thirdly, the character of Korah, that is, of him who set himself up against the rights of priesthood and of royalty, the royalty of Christ, in the types of Moses and Aaron.

Alas! it is evil, and not the gospel, which will gather together the world. "And I saw three unclean spirits, like frogs, come out of the mouth of the false prophet … to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty," Rev. 16:13-14.

314 But, it is said that the secular power of corrupted Christendom has disappeared by judgment, and that the destruction of its influence will give place to the gospel. But the Spirit says, "The ten horns (kings) which thou sawest upon the beast (the Roman empire), these shall hate the whore (ecclesiastical power), and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God has put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled," Rev. 17:16-17. Christians are desiring the destruction of the influence of the great whore upon the world; but even should her external power be destroyed, would the kingdoms become the kingdoms of Christ? On the contrary, the kings will give their power to the beast. The great whore has ruled the beast; at length her power and her riches shall be taken away from her, but only that the ten horns may give their power to the beast, that all uncertainty may be dissipated, and that his self-will and blaspheming character may be fully manifested in his last apostasy. It is the power of corruption and seduction which will give place to the power of open rebellion against God. Thus we get the transition from corruption to rebellion.

2 Thess. 2:3-12. "That day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God."

All this must happen before the day of the Lord comes. We must take the facts as the word of God reveals them. Christians, having seen the promise in the scripture that the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, have said, Yes, we will fill it; whilst in the scripture this event is attributed to the glory of Christ. The spirit of His mouth, by which the Lord will destroy the wicked one, is not the gospel, but the force and power of the judgment of Christ. See Isaiah 11:4, "With the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked"; Isaiah 30:33, "The breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it."

We may observe, that this Antichrist will unite in his person the characters of wickedness which have appeared from the beginning. First, man has always wanted to have his own will, secondly, he has exalted himself against God; thirdly, he has put himself under the guidance of Satan. These are just the three things which will be reproduced in the Antichrist - all the energy of man exalting itself against God, the king doing according to his will, his coming after the power of Satan. It is the ripened fruit of the human heart, which is itself an Antichrist.

315 It is known to all of us, that there have been three successive beasts: the empire of Babylon; then the empire of the Persians; then the empire of the Greeks, or of Alexander in particular; and that the fourth is the Roman empire - a beast with marks altogether peculiar to itself.

At the beginning, or rather before the beginning of these four monarchies, the throne of God was on the earth at Jerusalem. In His temple, above the ark where the law was deposited, Jehovah manifested His presence in a sensible manner. But at the commencement of this present period, which is that of the Gentiles, the throne of Jehovah was taken away from Jerusalem (as is detailed in the chapters from 1 to 11 of the prophet Ezekiel). The glory of Jehovah, which the prophet had seen in chapter 1 near the river Chebar, he sees, in chapter 11, leave Jerusalem; it departs from the house (Ezek. 10:18-19), and from the city (Ezek. 11:23). It is a remarkable fact, that the glory of Jehovah has quitted its terrestrial throne. But more; at the same time, this terrestrial power was transferred from Jerusalem to the Gentiles, and government entrusted to men. So we read in Daniel 2:36-38, "This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven has given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory."

You thus see that, by the destruction of the last king of the Jews, earthly dominion passed to the Gentiles in the person of Nebuchadnezzar. He began by establishing a false religion by force. He made a statue that all the world was to worship, and he became lifted up in heart; hence he was made to become as a beast for seven years. That is, instead of conducting himself humbly as a man before God - as before Him who had given him his power, on the one hand, he exalted himself, and on the other, ravaged the world to satisfy his will.

Omitting the second and third monarchies, which are not at this moment of direct importance to us, and pursuing the character of the fourth, we meet in it certain lineaments worthy of remark. The Jews have been in a state of captivity from the time of Nebuchadnezzar to this day. It is true, that there was a return of the people from the captivity of Babylon, but without their having ceased to be under the power of the Gentiles. The throne of God has in no sense been re-established; and if God did permit the Jews to return to their country for a short time, it was that His Son might appear at the commencement of the fourth monarchy. And, in fact, it was at the moment when the fourth monarchy, under its imperial form, had become the universal power (Luke 2:1), - it was just at that time, we say, that the Son of God, by right King of the Jews and of the Gentiles, was presented to them. And what reception did He meet? They crucified Him. The chief priests, who, as viewed by God, were the representatives of religion upon earth, and Pontius Pilate, the representative of earthly power, joined in league together to reject and put to death the Son of God. Thus the fourth monarchy became guilty of rejecting the rights of the Messiah. The Jews, as we shall see presently more in detail, are set aside; and then comes in the calling of the church for the heavenly places. But as to that which concerns the church on earth, we have seen it marred by the seed of the wicked one, and the apostasy which resulted from it; we have seen afterwards, that this corruption will give place to a more open and daring revolt of the beast itself (that is, of this same fourth monarchy under a new and last form yet to be developed). It is this that will be the occasion of its judgment (Dan. 7:9-11, 13-14), "I beheld till the thrones were cast down [set,]* and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him; and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld then, because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake; I beheld, even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame." Verses 13, 14, "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."
{*The common translation is "cast down," but "set" or "placed" is more exact, after the LXX and a good number of other authorities.}

317 This is the kingdom given to the Son of man, when the fourth beast is destroyed. The judgment and destruction of the fourth monarchy has not yet taken place, as we know from Daniel 2:34-35: "Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth." That is, before the stone cut out without hands spreads out and fills the whole earth, it completely destroys the statue: gold, silver, brass, iron, clay, are carried away as chaff before the wind. None of this is yet accomplished. In the action of the stone, no mention is made of a change of character of the statue; it is a blow - a sudden one - a blow which breaks in pieces, destroys, leaves not a trace of the existence of the statue; as it is said, "No place was found for them." The Roman empire - the feet, and with the feet all the rest - disappears. By this one blow the whole is pulverised, destroyed, annihilated; and after this judgment, the stone which fell upon the statue becomes a mountain which fills the whole earth.

Did Christianity break to pieces the fourth monarchy, when it began to be promulgated? In no wise. The Roman empire has continued; it has even become Christian; nay, more, the feet of the statue were not then in existence. The act of destruction, which is marked in the fall of the little stone upon them, does not represent the grace of the gospel; nor has it any reference to the work which the gospel accomplishes. Besides, it is after the total destruction of the statue that the stone begins to grow; which signifies that the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah, which is to fill the whole earth, will not begin to spread until after the fourth beast has been judged and destroyed.

There remains a difficulty to be cleared up in the history of this beast. It may be alleged that the Roman empire does not exist in our days. It is an additional proof in support of what we have been saying. In Revelation 17:7-8, the angel says, "The beast that thou sawest was, and is not": the Roman empire, as an empire, exists no longer; but what follows? "And shall ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into perdition; and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder." It existed; next, it exists no more; then, it will come out of the pit. It will have a really diabolical character; it will be a full expression of the power of Satan.

318 That which we learn, then, in general, of this beast, is, first, that from its beginning, the Roman empire has been guilty of the rejection of Jesus as king of the earth here below; secondly, that later in the time of this fourth monarchy, there is a little horn that speaks great things; and, lastly, that this fourth beast, after having ceased to exist for a season, will reappear upon the scene out of the bottomless pit, and be destroyed on account of the great words which the little horn spoke. This beast is connected with a power described in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, "That wicked one, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders," whose destruction is found in verse 8. There is another description of the last head of the beast (see Rev. 17:11), which is the beast himself.

Daniel 11:36, etc.* The agreement between this passage and 2 Thessalonians 2:9 is clear. We see in both the same exaltation of himself against God. In the epistle, the power of Satan is added, because the wicked one is presented in his character of apostasy and iniquity; in Daniel 11 in his earthly and royal character. As to the third mark which we have signalised in iniquity - the will of man, it also appears: "the king shall do according to his own will."
{*Verse 35, the Jews are passed by. Read verse 36: "The king shall do according to his own will."}

It is observable, also, that this wicked one is alluded to in John 5:43. The Jewish nation will receive him who comes in his own name. The iniquity, then, of the heart of man arrives at its height in the last head of the fourth monarchy. Isaiah 14:13-15 describes the self-exaltation of the same under the title of the king of Babylon. "Thou hast said in thine heart." etc.

It is exactly all the privileges, all the rights of Christ, which this king arrogates to himself: "I will ascend into heaven" - what Christ only has done; "I will exalt myself above the stars of God" - the throne of Christ is above principalities and powers; "I will sit, also, upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north." "It is the palace of the great king," the king of Israel at Jerusalem. Christ is to come with clouds - "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds," says this one: his end is, "Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit."

319 I am afraid that many a cherished feeling, dear to the children of God, has been shocked this evening; I mean, their hope that the gospel will spread itself over the whole earth during the actual dispensation. It was just the church's task to proclaim the glory of Christ everywhere; but as for the fact in result, if we express ourselves according to the word of God, as we see it in the later epistles and other scriptures, we shall see all that is powerful in this world in operation, but without regard to God. All the intelligence of man, his faculties, his talents, his knowledge, will be displayed; all that which can seduce the heart, and master the mind, all the resources in the character and nature of man, apart from conscience, will astonish the world, and draw it into following the beast, and place them under the influence of Antichrist; because the glory of man in self-exaltation, and not service to Christ in humiliation, is man's natural bent. "He that exalts himself shall be abased."

But, you will say, to insist upon such a result is to discourage all our endeavours to propagate the gospel on the earth. We answer, If false hopes are entertained, you are already deceived. It is indeed true, that the view which has been taken of the progress of evil is not very encouraging to the efforts of those whose hopes have been founded on their own ideas. But ask yourselves this question, Did the fact that God told Noah that He was going to destroy the world, and did his full conviction that the judgment of God was about to come, prevent his preaching to his fellow mortals? On the contrary, it was precisely this which animated him, in order that he might gain those who had ears to hear. The conviction that false Christianity will become more and more refined, more corrupt in the world, ought to give but the more energy and activity to the love of him who believes, and the nearness of the judgment of God, instead of paralysing our efforts, ought to drive us with more power, more energy, more faithfulness, to present the gospel - the only means of causing men to escape the righteous judgments which threaten them.

320 When I say that the tares, instead of diminishing, will continue to grow, do we thereby hint that the good seed will not increase? By no means. If the evil is to ripen for judgment, God gives, at the same time, power to the testimony that would separate the good from it. This I believe to be God's usual mode of procedure. If we were to see three thousand souls converted in Geneva in a day, it would be said the millennium is come, the gospel is going to spread over the whole world. How is it? There are perhaps not three hundred converted in a year. The conversion of many thousands at Jerusalem, what did it prove? That God was going to judge that city, and that He saved from that perverse generation those who should be saved. Whenever we see evil increasing, and God at the same time acting in drawing away from it those who believe, it may be taken as a sign that the judgment of God is nigh. It cannot be denied, that God is acting powerfully by His Spirit in these days; we ought to thank Him with all our hearts. Let it be a sign to us, that God will remove His own children from a world which will shortly be judged.

There are two signs of the proximity of judgment: the one is, that piety increases, and that all the resources of man develop themselves in a wonderful manner; the other is, that Christians are withdrawing from this state of things. In either case, there is nothing to hinder us working for our divine Master. On one side is to be seen the work of grace operating, deepening, extending, and God separating His children from the evil around; on the other hand are to be seen all the principles of the wicked one in manifest development. In the word of God I see an express declaration, that the present economy will have an end, and the evil go on to a greater and greater height, until that wicked one is destroyed by the coming of Christ.

Romans 11:22. Let us conclude with the warning which the Saviour gives us: "Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."

Has the church kept itself in this goodness of God? Truly Christendom has become completely corrupted; the dispensation of the Gentiles has been found unfaithful: can it be again restored? No: impossible. As the Jewish dispensation was cut off, the Christian dispensation will be also. May God give us grace to continue steadfast in our hope, and to rest upon His faithfulness, which will never fail us!