What Time Is It?
Adapted from a Sermon by J.C. Ryle
The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:12 ESV
We all know the story of the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27. You remember how the apostle and his companions were in a terrible storm for thirteen days. Neither sun nor stars appeared for so many days that they lost all hope of being saved. But do you remember that when the fourteenth night was come, about midnight “the sailors suspected that they were nearing land? (Acts 27:27) They sounded and found it twenty fathoms. When they had gone a little further they sounded again and found it fifteen fathoms. Then fearing that they might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. Think what an anxious night that must have been! How often some of the 276 souls on board the great Alexandrian ship must have said, how long still is the night? What time is it?
You may have been by the sick-bed of somene whom you loved. You have seen them hovering between life and death, and have passed weeks of painful suspense. You have sat by and watched the struggle between the body and its infirmities, and felt the miserable helplessness of not being able to do anything but look on. And do you not know how slowly the hours roll on at a time like this? Have not the clocks and watches seemed to stand still, and the sun appeared to have forgotten to rise? Have you not often said, When will the doctor come again? Will the morning never come? What time is it?
You and I are in a world which is rapidly rolling on towards the day of judgment. There is an hour before us all when the earth and its works will be burned up, and all its inhabitants will stand before the bar of Christ. There is a day to come whose outcomes are of far more importance than those of a shipwreck or disease. Surely, we ought all to be thinking of that day. Are we ready for it? Is it possible that we may live to see it? Is it near, or is it far off? What time is it?
Let us, this morning, consider together the thoughts of an inspired apostle on this solemn subject. He says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” These words ought to come home to our consciences like the blast of a trumpet. They ought to rouse our sleeping minds to a sense of the eternal realities which are before us. They call upon us to lay aside all lingering, and carelessness about our Christianity. They summon us to a close walk with God.
The words of our verse imply four things that we ought to consider:
I. You have here the present condition of the world,—It is night.
II. You have the condition of the world which is yet to come,—It will be day.
III. You have the particular time in which our lot is cast,—The night is far spent, and the day is at hand.
IV. You have the duty of all believers who know the time,—They ought to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
I. First of all let us consider the present condition of the world.
The apostle Paul calls it “night.” “The night,” he says, “is far gone.”
No doubt that word seems strange to some people. They think it odd that the year 2019 should be called “night.” They are living in days of learning, science, civilization, commerce, freedom, and knowledge. They see around them things which their forefathers never dreamed of,—space exploration, the internet, robotic surgery, online education for all, the free flow of information. Nevertheless, in the things of God, the world is still in a state of “night.”
And though Ryle could mourn for many evidences of darkness in heathen lands, as well as in professedly Christian countries in his day, the world has truly entered a darkness that would seem to eclipse even the darkness of his day. Think only of the global acceptance of abortion and the global collapse of morality. It is not only a matter of two cities now, Sodom and Gomorrah, but of the whole world. Surely there is no doubt that it is night.
Is there not much darkness under the eyes of every true believer? Go to the most godly, quiet, and orderly church in our land at this moment. Ask any well-informed child of God residing in it, how many true Christians it contains, and what is the proportion of the converted to the unconverted. Mark well the answer he will give. I doubt if you will find a church in Canada where one third of the people are converted. And if this is the case in churches which are like the green tree, what must be the state of things in the dry. Surely it is night.
It is useless to deny these things. Humbling as it may be to the pride of human nature, the word of the apostle is strictly true,—the present time is night. An unconverted man may not see it. A graceless man may not understand it. The blind eye sees no difference between noon and midnight. The deaf ear makes no distinction between dissonance and sweet music. But God’s children can enter into the meaning. The people of the Lord Jesus Christ find by experience that it is night.
It is a cold time to believers. They meet with much to chill and damp their zeal, and little to cheer and warm their hearts. They have to put up with many crosses and disappointments. They see iniquity abounding, and their own love is apt to become cold. And why? It is night.
It is a lonely time to believers. They find little company on the way that leads to heaven. Here and there they fall in with one who loves the Lord Jesus, and lives by faith. A few of God’s children may be found in one town and a few in another. But on the whole the children of the world seem like the Syrian army, which filled the country, and the children of God are like a few scattered sheep in a wilderness. And why? It is night.
It is a dangerous time to believers. They often stumble, and can scarcely see their path. They often ‘stand in doubt, and do not know which way to turn. They sometimes do not see their signposts, and lose sight of their land-marks. At best they travel on in continual fear of enemies. And why? It is night.
Consider these things. If the present time is the night, you will not be surprised if I warn you to watch and pray. You will count it no strange thing if I tell you to live like soldiers in an enemy’s country, and to be always on your guard.
Sit down and ask yourself whether you find this world in which you live to be night or day. Is the present time a time of conflict or a time of ease? Do you feel that your best things are here in this life, or that your best things are yet to come? I offer these questions to you as a test of your spiritual state. I place them before you as a gauge and measure of your soul’s condition.
I can say plainly, if you never found this world a wilderness and place of darkness, it is a bad sign of your state in the sight of God. The true believer will find the words of his crucified Lord to be strictly true, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33.) The true believer, like his Lord and Master, will be made perfect through sufferings. The true believer will mourn over the world he lives in as a world in rebellion against its rightful king. Sin will grieve him. Ungodliness will make him heavy hearted. Like Lot in Sodom, his righteous soul will be daily upset with much that he sees and hears. He will long for the time when the day will dawn, and the shadows flee away. For the present he will feel it is night.
And so for you, is it your night or day?
II. Let us consider, in the second place, the condition of the world which is yet to come.
The apostle Paul calls it “day.” “The day is at hand.”
The time here spoken of is the time to which every true Christian ought to look forward,—it is the time when the Lord Jesus Christ will come again. The present state of things in the Church of Christ will undergo a mighty change,—a change so great that it will be like the turning of night into day.
The world we live in is not to go on always as it does now. The darkness of sin, ignorance, and superstition is not always to cover the earth. The sun of righteousness will one day rise with healing in his wings. The Lord Jesus will come again with power and great glory. He will return on the morning without clouds, and then it will be “day.”
There is a time coming when the devil will be bound, and will no longer rule in this world. Sin and all its consequences will be cast out. The groaning creation will finally rest. The wicked will be shut up for ever in their own place. The saints of the Most High will at last possess the kingdom. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, in which will dwell righteousness. Surely that will be “day.’’
There is a time coming when believers will have joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing will flee far away. Every tear will be wiped, every cross laid down, every anxiety removed, every bitter cup taken away. Persecution, temptation, sickness, mourning, parting, separation, and death, will all come to an end. Surely that will be sunshine. It will be “day.”
There is a time coming when the whole family of Christ will be gathered together. They will rise from their narrow beds and put on a glorious body. They will awake from their long sleep refreshed, strengthened, and far more beautiful than when they lay down. They will leave behind them in their graves every imperfection, and meet without spot or wrinkle, to part no more. Surely that will be a joyful morning. It will be “day.”
There is a time coming when believers will no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face. They will see as they have been seen, and know as they have been known. Every worry about outward matters will cease, and they will think of nothing but eternal realities. They will behold their crucified Lord and Saviour with the eye of sense, and no longer follow Him by faith. They will see one another free from all corruption, and misunderstand one another’s motives and conduct no more. Surely that will be “day.”
There is here great comfort for every true believer in Christ. There is a day before you, a glorious day. You sometimes feel now as if you walked in darkness and had no light. You have often a hard battle to fight with the world, the flesh, and the devil. You sometimes imagine you will never win your way home, and will faint by the way. Your flesh and heart are ready to fail. You are sorely tempted to give up and sit down in despair. But take comfort in the thought of things yet to come. There is a good time before you. Your day has yet to dawn.
There is also here great reason why many professing Christians should tremble and be afraid. There are many, too many it is to be fear, to whom the time to come will be anything but day. There are many whose happiness is evidently all below, whose treasure is all on earth, whose brightest time is now, and whose gloomiest prospects are in the future. The further they look on, the darker everything appears. Old age looks dark,—sickness looks darker still,—death and judgment look darkest of all.
If this is your case, I have to warn you plainly that there must be a change. Your views, your tastes, your inclinations, your affections must be renewed and transformed. You must learn to view the world that now is and that which is to come in a very different light. Go and sit at the feet of Jesus, and ask Him to teach you this lesson. Ask for the enlightening Spirit to anoint your eyes that you may see. Ask for the veil to be taken away, that you may behold everything in its true colours.
It is certain that Satan works hard to prevent men thinking of a better world than that in which we now live. He strives to turn away their eyes from the coming day. He would try and persuade them that it is impossible to do their duty in this life, and at the same time to set their affections on things above. He whispers to people that ministers only want them to become gloomy hermits, and fanatical loners, and that if they listen to us they will become unfit for all the relations of life. Against all suggestions of Satan we ought to be on guard.
Rather, believers are to live as praiseworthy examples in this present world. It is a false religion which makes a man neglect his business, or cease to love wife, children, relations, and friends.
At the same time, believers in the New Testament should live by the standard of New Testament,—they should look for the coming of the day of God, and wait for the Son of God from heaven, and love their Lord’s appearing.
We should take scriptural views of things as they are, and things as they yet will be. We should see our present evils and mourn over them, and see our future good things and long for them. Let us honestly confess that sin is around us, and long to be delivered from its presence. Let us honestly confess that holiness is one day to spread over the earth, and long for it to come. Let us never be ashamed to acknowledge that it is “night,” and that we want it to be “day”.
Consider this: can that man really hate sin, who does not desire to see it swept away from the earth? Can that man love holiness who does not long for the time when all will know the Lord? Can that man be truly united to Christ by faith who does not wish to see Christ, and to be with Him? Can that man be a saint who does not thirst after the unmixed company of just men made perfect? Can that man be in earnest who daily prays, “Your kingdom come,” and yet is content that the world should go on as it is without any change? No! These things are impossible. God’s true children will want to be at home. They will long for the day.
And if you mean to be saved, you must learn to view the present time as “night,” and the time to come as “day.” You must learn to think of the other side of Jordan as the home of your soul, and this side as a desert land. The present time must be your wilderness, your battle field, your place of trial,—the time to come must be your Canaan, your rest, your Father’s house,—or else you had better never have been born.
III. In the third place, let us consider the particular times in which our lot is cast.
The apostle Paul tells us, when he says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.”
These words tell us that the last stage in the history of the Church has come. The law and the prophets have done their work. The Messiah promised at the fall has appeared and provided a complete salvation. The last revelation of God’s will has been made. The way of life has been laid open to all mankind. No further message from heaven to earth is to be expected before the end. No more books of Scripture are to be written. We have reached the last watch of the night. We have nothing to expect now but the sun-rise and the morning.
These words, which were true two thousand years ago, are, if possible, more true today. They are words which should come home with increasing power to believers every year.—“The night is far gone; the day is at hand.”
And “the day” may not be so far off as some suppose it to be. There are signs of the sun being near the horizon. At all events we ought to remember the words of James’s epistle, “the Judge is standing at the door,”—“The coming of the Lord is at hand,” and the Apostle Peter’s words, “the end of all things is at hand.” (James 5:8,9, 1 Peter 4:7.)
Now one knows the date and time when the Lord will return. It is amazing to think that there is such a date: a year, month, day and precise time when all will change; a precise moment when Christ will return and time will end.
In our day there are signs of the times which ought to drawn our attention to the day that is at hand.
What are these “signs of the times?” Think of the state of this world and consider these verses.
Paul writes to Timothy in his second letter, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2) For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, (3) heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, (4) treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, (5) having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Our Lord himself says in the gospel of Luke, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
“The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” These words tell us that the last stage in the history of the Church has come. And this last stage has lasted 2000 years so far.
2 Peter 3:8 ESV But do not overlook this one fact, beloved,” writes the Apostle Peter, “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
And when the disciples asked: “when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age,” He did not give them a precise time but answered:
“You …. must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (45) … (46) Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” (Matthew 24:44-46)
Knowing that “The night is far gone; the day is at hand” our duty is to be ready and prepared.
These words also provide us with the strongest motive for diligence in the work of doing good to souls.
Let us do what we can to hasten the spread of the Gospel over the world. Let us take more pains in endeavouring to sow truth at home. Let us labour, if possible, to pluck more brands from the fire. The time is short. The night is far gone. The day is at hand.
These words also provide the strongest consolation for the believer in Christ Jesus. Would that we would lay hold on it more and more.
Yet a little while, and believers will part for ever with disease. The sick and wearied ones, who have mourned over their seeming uselessness to the church,—the weak and infirm, who have had the desire to work, but not the power,—the feeble and bedridden, who have waited long-drawn years in quiet rooms, till their eyes know every crack and speck on their walls,—all, all will be set free. They will each have a glorious body like their Lord’s.
Yet a little while, and mourning believers will part for ever with their tears. Every wound in their hearts will be completely healed. Every empty place and gap in their affections will be entirely filled up. They will find that those who have died in the Lord were not lost, but gone before. They will see that infinite wisdom arranged every bereavement, by which one was taken and another left. They will magnify the Lord together with those who were once their companions in tribulation, and acknowledge that He did all things well, and led them by a right way.
Yet a little while, and believers will no more feel that they are alone. They will no longer be scattered over the earth, a few in one place, and a few in another. They will no longer lament that there are so few to speak to, as a man speaks with his friend,—so few who are of one mind, and travel with them in the one narrow way. They will be united to the general assembly and church of the firstborn. They will join the blessed company of all the believers of every name, and people, and tongue. Their eyes will at length be satisfied with seeing. They will see a multitude of saints that no one can number, and not one wicked person among them.
Yet a little while, and working believers will find that their labour was not in vain. The ministers who have preached, and seemed to reap no fruit,—the missionaries who testified of the Gospel, and none seemed to believe,—the teachers who poured into children’s minds line upon line, and none seemed to pay attention,—all, all will discover that they have not spent their strength for nothing. They will find that the seed sown can spring up after many days, and that sooner or later in all labour there is profit.
And when, when shall these things be? Truly we may say, “O Lord GOD, you know.” (Ezek 37:3) A thousand years in His sight are as one day, and one day as a thousand years. But we do know that yet a little while he that shall come will come, and will not delay. Yet a little while, and the last sermon shall be preached,—the last congregation break up. Yet a little while, and carelessness, and infidelity shall cease, perish, and pass away. The believers among us will be with Christ, and the unbelievers will be in hell. The night is far gone, and the day is at hand.
IV. And now in the last place, let us look at the practical duty of all believers connected with the truths we have just considered.
That practical duty is put before us in plain words,—“So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”
The expressions “so then“ or “therefore” are often used by the apostle Paul in a very striking and forceful way. Take a few examples, and this will at once be clear.
When he finishes the doctrinal part of the Epistle to the Romans, and begins his practical exhortation, what is his language? “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” (Rom. 12:1.)
When he has preached the resurrection of the body to the Corinthians, how does he wind up his argument? “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable.” (1 Cor. 15:58.)
When he has laid a mighty foundation of doctrine for the Ephesian Church, how does he proceed to address them on practical duties? “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Ephes. 4:1.)
And here, as in other places, the expression “therefore” comes in upon us in a very searching and forceful way. “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then (or therefore) let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Notice how closely the doctrine of Christ’s second coming and kingdom is bound up with the practical matter of personal holiness. There are some who look upon the second coming and reign of the Lord Jesus as merely speculative matters, or even denounce them as unprofitable subjects. But we see clearly in this verse how eminently practical they are.
Does the apostle Paul not say to the Philippians, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” (Phil. 4:5.) Does he not say to the Colossians, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Col. 3:2-5.) Does he not tell the Hebrews “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25.) Does the apostle Peter not say, “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:13, 14.) These texts speak very clearly. They make the coming of Christ, and the day of glory, an argument for increased holiness. And it is just in the same way that the apostle Paul says, “let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
But how is it that we are we to “cast off the works of darkness?” What does it mean in practice?
You ought to lay aside everything in your life and habits which will not stand up to the light of Christ’s appearing. You ought to make it a principle of conscience to do nothing you would not like to be found doing when Jesus comes again to gather His people together.
This is a searching test indeed. How it is applied must be left to each person’s own conscience. Each must judge for himself. Each must test his own works. Each must set up a court within himself, and honestly bring his ways to a trial. Would that we would all deal fairly and justly with ourselves! Would that we were ever ready to judge ourselves that we not be judged by the Lord, and condemn ourselves that we not be condemned at the last day!
I ask every one here present, that we would all truly think of ourselves in the light of the day of Christ, the great day of judgement. Set your years, and months, and weeks, and days, and hours in the full blaze of that day, and whatever thing you find within which is related to darkness, pluck it out and cast it away. Keep up no questionable habit. Make no compromise with doubtful practices. Break down every idol, whether great or small. Cling to nothing which would make you ashamed under the eye of Christ. Put it away at once, for fear that He come suddenly and put you to shame! May He never say of any of our hearts in that day, “This heart professed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
Examine all your uses of time by the test of Christ’s second coming. Place in this balance your amusements, your books, your companions, your manner of conversation, your daily behaviour in all the relations of life. Measure all by this measure,—“The night is far gone and the day is at hand. Am I living as a child of the night, or as one who looks for the day?” Do this, and you will cast off the works of darkness.
But how are you to put on the armour of light? How is this to be done in practice?.
You ought to aim at every grace and habit which befits a believer in Christ, and a child of God, and a citizen of a heavenly kingdom. You ought not to leave eminent holiness and spirituality to a few, as if none but a few favoured ones could be eminent saints. You ought to labour to wear the armour of light yourself, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. (Eph. 6:14-17.) Wherever you may live, and whatever may be your trials,—however great your difficulties, and however small your helps,—nothing should prevent your aiming at the highest standard, to behave like one who believes that Christ is coming again.
You should resolve, by God’s help, so to live, that the day of Christ will find you needing as little change as possible. You should seek to have tastes so heavenly,—affections so spiritual,—a will so subdued,—a mind so unworldly, that when the Lord appears you may truly be in tune for His kingdom.
Let there be light in your heart continually, Christ dwelling there by faith,—felt, known, and experienced by your soul. Let there be light in your life continually, Christ reflected there, followed, imitated, and copied. Seek to be a light in the world, and nothing less,—a bright light, a clear light, a light that men can see afar off. Do this, and you will put on the armour of light.
Live as if you thought Christ might come at any time. Do everything as if you did it for the last time. Say everything as if you said it for the last time. Read every chapter in the Bible as if you did not know whether you would be allowed to read it again. Pray every prayer as if you felt it might be your last opportunity. This is the way to be found ready. This is the way to turn Christ’s second appearing to good account. This is the way to put on the armour of light.
1. And now, a word to the careless, thoughtless, unconverted person. Are you that person? Then, remember these words, “The night is far gone, and the day is at hand.”
What are you doing? You eat, you drink, you sleep, you dress, you work, you buy, you sell, you laugh, you read, but you do nothing for your soul. Hell is opening its mouth for you, and you are careless. Christ is coming to judge the world and you are unprepared. Time hurries on and you are not ready for eternity. Please, do awake to a sense of your danger and repent this day. Awake and call upon your God before it is too late to pray. Awake and seek the Lord Jesus Christ before the door is shut, and the day of wrath begins. Truly you may be thought wise and clever in this world, but living as you do you are acting the part of a madman.
2. But perhaps there is someone who is undecided and halting between two opinions. Are you that person? Then remember these words, “The night is far gone and the day is at hand.”
What are you doing? You hear, you listen, you wish, you desire, you mean, you intend, you hope, you resolve, but you go no further. You see the ark, but you will not go in. You see the bread of life, but you do not eat it. You wait. And yet time goes on. The devil is saying over you, “I will have this soul before long.” Come out from the world now and linger no more. Take up the cross. Cast away vain excuses. Confess Christ before men. Beware, do beware for fear that you make up your mind too late.
3. And what of the true believer. Are you that person? Then remember these words, “The night is far gone and the day is at hand.”
Strive to live as if you believed the words we have been considering, and so show the world you think them true. The nearer you draw to home, the more wakeful you ought to be. The more you realize the second personal coming of the Lord Jesus, the more lively ought your Christianity to be.
The best of us need to have our hearts stirred in remembering these things. Let us rub the sleepy eyes of our mind, and look the speedy coming of our Master full in the face. Let the time past suffice us to have been drowsy and lazy servants. For the time to come let us work like those who feel, “The Master will soon be here.”
“I remember when I was a school-boy,” says Ryle, “I could wake up, however tired with a long journey, when I began to draw near home. As soon as I saw the old hills, and trees, and chimneys, the sense of weariness was gone, and I was all alive. The prospect of soon seeing much-loved faces,—the joy of thinking of a family gathering, all this was able to drive sleep away.”
Surely it ought to be the same with us in the matter of our souls. The night is far spent and the day is at hand. “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay.” (Heb 10:37) Then let us cast off every work of darkness. Let us put on the whole armour of light. Let us be ashamed of our past drowsiness. Let us awake, and sleep no more.