The Latter Days
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils (or teaching of demons); speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.”—1 Timothy 4:1-6
It is a remarkable fact that our blessed Lord and His apostles indicated, before they left this scene, the decadence of the very system which they came to introduce: that is, they came to introduce what we commonly call Christianity, and yet both our Lord and His followers afterwards warned the early Church that there would be a great departure from the truth, and that increasing apostasy would be manifest as the years wore on, until eventually there would be a complete turning away from the faith. Men would accept antichrist instead of the Christ of God.
As we look back over the centuries that have passed since apostolic days we can see how literally these predictions have been fulfilled. All down through these centuries there has been increasing departure from the simplicity of the Gospel. All kinds of false systems have come in, until there was a time when it seemed as though false teaching was the real thing, and the truth of God was looked upon as heresy. There has been a revival in the preaching of the Gospel, however, for which we can be thankful to God.
Here the Apostle warns of a time of apostasy which was to come as he intimates, “in the latter times.” The “latter times” are to be distinguished from “the last days” described in 2 Timothy 3:1: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” There he depicts conditions that will prevail in the professing church immediately before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ—conditions which do prevail largely today throughout Christendom. But the period spoken of here in chapter 4 is called “the latter times.” This period is for us in the past; we look back, not forward, to the latter times. The events described here have taken place already; they have been fulfilled already.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 we read, “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work”—that is, vain, unscriptural teaching was even then beginning to permeate the church. Here Paul warns Timothy, and through Timothy all other believers, of some of the results of the condition which was to be manifested later on.
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly.” All prophecy is by the Holy Spirit. It is He alone who can foresee the future. It is not given to man to do this. Men may guess what the future may be, and sometimes their guesses may turn out to be correct, but no man can speak authoritatively as to the future. He does not know what the next day may bring forth. But the Spirit of God, looking down through the centuries of time, empowered certain of Christ’s servants to predict many things that were to prevail long years ahead. In the Old Testament, a large portion is devoted to prophecy; but we also have prophecy in the New Testament, and here is an instance of the Spirit speaking expressly, “That in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies of hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.”
You will notice there are three classes of personalities brought before us here. First we read of some who will depart from the faith; some who were nominal Christians, members of the professing church, but who would drift away from the truth as given by our Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired apostles. One needs only a slight acquaintance with church history to know how these words were fulfilled in what we call the “Dark” or “Middle Ages,” but which the Roman Catholic Church calls the “Age of Faith,” because those were the years in which people forsook the teachings of the Word of God and received the superstitious traditions of the Roman Church. They departed from the faith. They substituted the authority of the church for that of the Holy Scriptures.
The second class is called “seducing spirits,” who promulgate “doctrines of devils,” or teachings of demons. These evil spirits are ever active in seeking to turn men away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They are in rebellion against God and yet are permitted for some strange, mysterious reason, to influence and even possess men and women who are not subject to the instruction of the Holy Spirit. They are led by their prince, Beelzebub, and are strictly engaged in combating the faith of Christ.
Then there is a third class. We might not realize this from our authorized version, but the translation made by that great Greek scholar, William Kelley, reads: “Some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and teachings of demons by hypocrisy of the legend-mongers.’ That is the way evil teaching was to be presented to men, “through the hypocrisy of legend-mongers”—men who substituted legends for the truth of God. We look back through the centuries and see that these came in very early. There were not many copies of the Scriptures available during the Middle Ages, and the great majority of Christians did not have even a part of the Bible, nor would they have been able to read it if they had possessed it. The few manuscripts that were available were generally in the hands of teachers. Many of them were kept in monasteries. And so it was easy for interested persons to foist legends and traditions upon the common people, in place of the inspired revelation which God had given. Many such legends were promulgated in those dark ages. It is amazing, as we look back, to see how ready people were to accept all kinds of myths rather than the precious Gospel as made known in the Bible. One legend was that of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the teaching that she was born without sin, and so in that sense she was like her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Another legend that was foisted upon the people was that Mary never actually died, but was taken up into heaven and crowned and today reigns as queen of heaven. The legend of purgatory was substituted as a place of cleansing from sin instead of the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ alone. Many others came in and thus nullified the plain teaching of Holy Scripture. They were accepted as though of the same authority as God’s Holy Word, and so brought men’s hearts into bondage.
Those who were Satan’s agents in vending these legends, instead of the truth of the Gospel, are said to have “their conscience seared with a hot iron.” They reached the place where conscience no longer responded to the voice of God. Notice the contrast between these people and those who stood for the truth, in verse 9 of the previous chapter. The Apostle speaks of Christians as “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” The people of whom he is speaking, in verse 2 of this fourth chapter, turn away from the faith and accept false theories and invalid legends, and are said to have their consciences seared with a hot iron. They become utterly calloused.
In the next verse we read of certain manifest signs that help us to identify the persons whom the Spirit of God has in mind when He speaks so solemnly here, “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Here are two outward things which would make it very easy for anyone to understand, when the time came, who and of what the apostle Paul was speaking as he wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It was during those dark ages that an apostate church arose which taught that a celibate priest or monk was a holier person than the Christian father or husband, and an unmarried nun was on a higher moral plane than a godly wife or mother, and so certain ones were forbidden to marry. Now Scripture maintains that there are occasions when it is better to remain unmarried; for instance, if Christian workers are exposed to great dangers it is far better not to think of marrying and dragging wives and possibly children into such circumstances. But God Himself instituted marriage for a holy purpose. Men attempting to be wiser than God put the ban upon marriage so that certain persons who were separated from the world as nuns, monks, and priests had to take a vow not to marry. By this we may see to whom the Apostle was referring here. Then observe the next mark: “Commanding to abstain from meats.” Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself told us, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matthew 15:11). But there soon grew up in the professing church the notion that the eating of meat on certain days should be refrained from, because by so doing one could better master the desires of the flesh, a theory which has proven to be false. Men are still as sinful as before. Vegetarianism has never worked for greater holiness than the ordinary method of nourishing the body, which is according to God’s own order. But men cannot seem to get away from this outward thing, which is the teaching of demons.
In Foxe’s Book of Martyrsan incident is related of a man who was to be burned at the stake because he would not bow down before a wafer and worship it as God incarnate. The [bundles of branches] were piled around him, and the executioner was waiting to put the torch to them. A priest stood on a high platform nearby and preached a sermon. He took for a text the first two verses of this chapter: “Now the Spirit speaketh 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; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” These words he applied to the martyr about to die as a condemned heretic. Having finished the sermon the priest said, “Have you anything to say before you are burned? Will you recant and receive the absolution of the church?” The man, looking up, replied, “I have nothing to say except that I wish you would read aloud the next verse following the two you have read.” The priest looked at the passage: “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Instead of reading it he gave the signal to put the torch to the [branches], and then he threw the Testament into the fire. It was too much. It condemned him and showed exactly where the evil was, and what was meant by the Holy Spirit when He spoke of the doctrine of demons to be made known in the latter times.
This evil system which began in the latter times is prevalent today all over Christendom, and there is a definite line drawn between the Holy Scriptures and these superstitions that have been foisted upon people as inspired and authoritative traditions. We ought to thank God for the open Bible, where truth is found so crystal clear!
The Apostle adds, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.” I wonder if we are as conscientious as we should be about giving thanks to God for the good things He has provided. It is shocking to notice Christians who sit down in public eating places and give no evidence that they have thanked God for what is before them. Perhaps they do thank Him silently, but do not let those around them realize it. Christians, wherever you are when you partake of food you should be careful to honor God by giving thanks. Many opportunities will arise to speak to needy souls, even at the same table or at a table nearby, if you bow your head in a restaurant or hotel and give thanks before partaking of your food. Christians should never sit down to a table at home without giving thanks for that which God has spread before them. Yet I am afraid many of us fail even in this. On the other hand, I have seen people sit down to a table; it may be that the husband will give thanks, and within a few minutes he begins to fuss and growl about the food, complaining about it. Perhaps the poor wife has done her best, and that is all the thanks she gets! If we receive the food with thanksgiving then we should not complain about it. After all, no matter how poor it is, it is still too good for sinners. Had God treated us according to our deserts we would be in the pit of woe, forever beyond the reach of mercy.
“Sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.” What a blessed thing it is when the Word of God is honored and the voice of prayer ascends to heaven, as the family gather about the table to enjoy the good things the Lord has provided. Many of us look back on such scenes of family worship, and how we thank God for the impressions made upon our hearts and lives in early days.
“If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine (or healthful teaching), whereunto thou hast attained.” The minister of Christ is responsible to bring these things to bear upon the hearts and consciences of the people of God, in order that He may be honored and they may be preserved from the unholy teachings which Satan uses to lead many astray.