Rev. James S. Sinclair1
THE prophet Isaiah has been called the evangelical prophet, not because the other prophets are not evangelical, but because, under divine inspiration, he deals in a fuller, richer, and more extensive manner with the person, work, and kingdom of the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. His fifty-third chapter gives so remarkable a description beforehand of the sufferings and death of Christ that it has been the means of convincing infidels of the divine origin of the Bible and Christianity.
But Isaiah was not only in this way a great preacher of “the glorious gospel of the blessed God”; he was also a faithful reprover of the people for their sins, and his prophecies contain alarming accounts of the iniquities which abounded in Israel in his own day, and of the dangers which were to beset Church and State in future generations.
He also foretells the entrance of the enemy “like a flood,” and the Spirit of the Lord lifting up “a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19). It is not our present purpose to make any elaborate attempt to determine what particular time in the history of the Church the prophet is here referring to. The general opinion of interpreters seems to be that it is the time before and up to the ingathering of the Jews again into the Church of God. Compare the verse that follows: “And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord” with Romans 9:26. If this view be correct, we are in full harmony with it when we proceed to consider the words in the light of what is transpiring in our own time, which seems to be the beginning of the dark period which shall continue until the dawn of the millennial day.
At the same time, it cannot be gainsaid that the words embody a general promise which has had repeated fulfilment in the experience of Christ’s Church, both in its collective and individual capacity. The Lord will never permit His cause or people to be entirely overcome. At the very time that the arch-enemy, the devil, who is the leader of all other enemies, comes in like a flood, and appears as if he would sweep everything away before him, the Spirit of the Lord lifts up a standard against him, and puts him to flight. The Lord will not allow Satan a complete triumph over His public cause in any generation. He will have some faithful witnesses while sun and moon endure; and He will not permit any of His true people, however much assaulted by the Prince of darkness, to be wholly defeated, but will make them “more than conquerors” through His grace. “Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he will overcome at the last” (Genesis 49:19). It is, however, to the public aspect of this truth we desire at present chiefly to direct the attention of our readers.
First: let us observe the fact that ” the enemy ” is now coming in like a flood. He is visiting our country and professing Churches in many forms, and to an overwhelming degree.
1. The enemy is coming in with a flood of sordid materialism . It is almost universally acknowledged that we live in a very materialistic age. To an extent greater than in many former generations, multitudes are living as if there were no God and no eternity. Their only concern seems to be, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?”
They do not observe any form of religion, and never enter the door of a place of worship. What a woeful state of matters is this in a country where the fear of God was at one time very generally diffused What is still sadder is that this materialistic spirit has obtained considerable influence over many who profess godliness. Popular applause and temporal advancement have more weight with them than the glory of God and the real good of His kingdom. It cannot be doubted that this evil example is to a large extent responsible for the lapsing of a large number of people from all respect for the ordinances of religion.
2. The enemy is coming in with a flood of unbelieving rationalism. The Bible, as the Word of God, was at one time the supreme authority in our midst in all matters pertaining to doctrine and practice. Its plenary inspiration from Genesis to Revelation was held by many who differed from one another on points of more subordinate importance. God’s Word was the final standard of appeal, and all were prepared to submit to its dictates. But we have fallen upon different times. Satan has captured the citadel of the human understanding, and has erected his flag of rebellion there. Human reason is now the master of the situation. Men have boldly set themselves up as judges of the Holy Scriptures, and it is only as much of them as appeals to their understanding or emotions that they will condescend to accept as the Word of God.
What is called the Higher Criticism has come in upon us like a flood. Religious teachers of some learning and talent, under the influence of the baseless Darwinian theory of man’s evolution and progress, have dissected the Old Testament Scriptures, and, in the most presumptuous manner, have pronounced the opening chapters of Genesis not fact, but poetry and myth, have overturned the whole history of doctrine and ritual in ancient Israel to suit their preconceived opinions, and have degraded the Word of God to the level of a tissue of forgeries. In the interests of a rational view of the Scriptures, they have brought forth the most amazing moral monstrosity that has ever been heard of – a book, they say, embodying a perfect system of moral and spiritual truth, a book that is the very Word of God who cannot lie – and, at the same time, a composition riddled with falsehood and error. Let who will, believe such a theory: none who have consciences quickened by the Holy Ghost can. And yet this false criticism is flooding the majority of the divinity halls and pulpits of our once Bible-honouring country. The thing may be veiled to a certain extent in the pulpits, but it is nevertheless the hidden worm that is eating out all life and soundness from the general preaching of our day.
It is this same flood of rationalistic unbelief that has introduced the unsound ideas of Arminianism into the Churches. The erroneous views of universal love and universal atonement are widely preached, and thousands of hearers are led to base their hope for eternity on a false foundation. The prophets prophesy smooth things, and the people love to have it so.
3. The enemy is come in with a flood of foolish superstition. Every observance in the professing Church that goes beyond what is required by the infallible directory of God’s Word partakes of the nature of superstition. It is human folly adding to the unerring wisdom of God. This principle of using in divine worship what is not positively forbidden in the Scriptures has been the fertile source of all the vain rites and superstitions with which some large religious communions have been deluged.
Not only do we observe at the present moment Popery, the master superstition, invading our land from without, but Ritualism, its offspring, rising up with great vigour in our Protestant Churches. And this ritualism has grown, for example, to such an extent in the Episcopal Church that it lacks hardly anything of fully-fledged Romanism – candles, crosses, incense, the sacrifice of the Mass, purgatory, prayers for the dead, invocation of saints and angels, the confessional, and so forth. Still further, do we not find the beginning of this flood of superstition in the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland? Bowings, kneelings, processions, read prayers, organs, orchestras, images, crosses, and imitations in general of the ritualism of the English Church. Some clergymen who have not refrained from showing that they believe in and practise prayers for the dead, and such like, have naturally evinced strong leanings towards fellowship with the Church of Rome.
This flood of superstition ought to be watched in its first approaches throughout the country, and wherever we see the house of God changed into a place of ceremony, or entertainment with fine music, there we may assuredly note the inrush of superstition and the beginning of Popery. The thing may be called by other names – enlightenment, freedom, progress – but it is, in reality, darkness, bondage, and retrogression, and that into the mists and follies of superstition from which God delivered us at the glorious Reformation. This flood is carrying away to destruction thousands of the young and the unwary.
4. The enemy is coming in with a flood of open immorality. We use the word in its most general sense as embracing all violations of the law of God. It would appear as if the devil had deluded many in the present day into the opinion that the moral law is only a relic of antiquity, the survival of a past age of servile narrowness, from which the sooner they are delivered the better. Few will deny, we think, that there is a growing looseness in morals of recent years among us.
Immorality, in the common use of the term, seems to be on the increase. The marriage tie is often basely violated, and divorce is very frequent. The lack of purity in the public mind is to be seen in the kind of pleasure public entertainers provide for it. The theatre, at all times a shady place, has become more indecent in respect of the plays that are performed in it. The bills, advertising these exhibitions, posted up on the streets of our large cities, are frequently encouragements to vice, and ought to be prohibited. Many of the novels which issue from the press likewise pander to the baser propensities of fallen humanity.
Drunkenness again, though it has recently received a compulsory check, is very rampant, and the vast amount of money that is spent in the country on strong drink is scandalous. Still further, murder is by no means on the decrease; horrid crimes of this kind are reported almost every week in the press. There is one form of destruction we cannot omit to notice, tenderly yet solemnly, which seems to be getting very common, namely, suicide. Ruling out cases which are traceable to insanity, we are forced to the conclusion that the vast majority of cases are indications of much ungodliness. No sooner are people disappointed in some temporal concern or other on which their hearts are set than they rush themselves into eternity by their own hand, and not infrequently drag some other person with them. How destitute of the fear of God such minds must be, and how little realisation of the awfulness of appearing before the presence of the righteous Judge with the guilt of blood upon their souls! They seem to imagine that death is the invariable entrance into peace, no matter what is the sinner’s state. What a solemn delusion! It is surely the height of folly for the ungodly, in their efforts to escape temporal misery here, to plunge into eternal misery hereafter. Dishonesty in business is another form of sin that is very prevalent at the present day.
If we now turn to the first table of the law, we find that disregard of the Fourth Commandment is one of the outstanding and growing immoralities of our nation and our age. Scotland was at one time regarded as the most Sabbath-loving country in the world, and some parts of it may still be to the fore in this respect, but woeful change for the worse is taking place every day. England too, though not so careful in the past about the Lord’s day, is sadly declining more and more. Soon, unless the Most High in His mercy will interpose a check, the Sabbath will be lost to Britain, and that will be an incalculable loss. Why is it transcendently important? Is it because it affords a period of mere physical, bodily rest? By no means; but because it is a day set apart for the worship and service of God – a day on which sinful men may be warned of their sin and danger, and a day on which they may hear the glad tidings of a Saviour, even Christ the Lord. We do not know who, in the state of nature, are God’s elect or not, and if we stand between sinners and the means of grace on God’s appointed holy day, we are standing between them and the eternal salvation of their never-dying souls, as far as it is possible for creatures to do. Moreover, the Sabbath in the new dispensation commemorates the glorious resurrection of Christ and the completion of the great work of redemption as well as that of the first creation, and they who treat the Sabbath as a day of common toil or pleasure are trampling upon the glory of God in its most exalted manifestations. Works of necessity and mercy are allowable according to the instructions of Christ, but the tendency at present is to widen these exceptions beyond all due bounds. Professing Christians ought to be very jealous of the sanctity of the Sabbath in a generation that seems anxious to obliterate it from any holy distinctiveness among the days of the week.
We must defer consideration (God willing) of the second branch of our subject the Spirit of the Lord lifting up a standard against the enemy – till next month.
1. The Rev. James Steven Sinclair (1867-1921) was born in Wick, educated at George Watson’s College, Edinburgh and Edinburgh University, and took his theological course at New College, Edinburgh and the Assembly’s College, Belfast. After being licensed in 1893 he ministered in Wick, and in 1896 was ordained to the pastorate of the Free Presbyterian congregation of John Knox’s Tabernacle, Glasgow. In 1895 he published Letters on Romanism, and later edited Rich Gleanings from Rabbi Duncan, which was published in 1925, after his death. He was the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine from 1896 to 1921. He was Moderator of Synod in 1900, and Clerk of Synod from 1904 until his sudden death in Inverness, on 30th May 1921, at the age of 53.
We were struck by the fact that in the above the above editorial, written in The Free Presbyterian Magazine in 1910, Mr Sinclair’s description of the lowness of morality then can be most appropriately applied to our own day. If he and others of the godly had reason then to be prayerfully concerned, much more do we in this wicked age.