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The Occasion of the Discourse and Introduction to the Work

That Christianity is under very great decline in the time and place in which we live is quite obvious to serious observers.109 But people lay it to heart too little and do not duly tremble at the disastrous effects that usually110 follow such expiring godliness. These present times that have overtaken us do indeed have the character of last and perilous times.111 People have a form of godliness, but deny the power of it (2 Timothy 3:1–5).112 A lamp (Revelation 2:5),113 a name to live (Revelation 3:1),114 vague ideas [about Christianity], personal gifts, and external privileges and duties are the things that make up the “Christianity” of the great majority of professing115 Christians today. Meanwhile, the vital elements of Christianity visibly languish. Where is that ancient faith, love, zeal, faithfulness, courage, patience, self-denial, deadness to the world (Colossians 2:20–21),116 justice, charity, heavenly-mindedness, holy way of life, and that universal piety117 and unity that made the saints so famous in former generations? These had great influence on the enlargement of Christ’s kingdom in spite of the pagan and anti-Christian forces against it. In the place of these virtues, we now have pride, interpersonal conflict, going through the motions in Christianity, selfishness, hypocrisy, and the general gangrene of an earthly spirit that eats out the life and power of true holiness. The great concern resulting from a sense of this dangerous evil is what motivated me to write this book; its errand to the world is not to plead for opinions or factions, but to advocate for despised godliness. It is to help to awaken this sleepy age and to contribute a weak hand with abler shoulders [of others], and to give a lift (if possible) to fallen piety.

109The parallels between Ashwood’s situation and our present situation in the USA was part of the editor’s motivation to choose this book for translation.

110There are two errors that people tend to make when disasters happen or do not happen. The first error is to try to absolutely connect our own or other’s misfortunes in this life to the wrath of God. There are certainly times when God does execute His wrath in this life, such as upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–10). But there are also times when the wicked appear to get away with their evil (Psalm 73:2–12) and times when severe disasters hit the righteous, as happened to Job. The other error is to ignore the very real possibility that God is trying to get our attention, as in Haggai 1:1–11 when God chastised the people for neglect of His Temple by bringing earthly judgment on them. So, is Ashwood’s use of usually correct? This editor is inclined to think that it is correct. There are two reasons for this. First, people often receive the “natural” consequences of their sins (disobedience against God) and the sins of others. We must not overlook the fact that God put what we call “natural laws” into the universe that serve His moral laws and redemptive purposes. Second, people tend to think that what “is” is normal. For example, sexual sin has led to cohabitation of unmarried couples, single-parent households, divorce, and seriously messed-up children. Refusal to recognize that God made us male and female has led to young children being surgically and medically altered to resemble the opposite sex. This is often done at ages far too young for them to even understand what is done to them. Refusal of voters to vote on moral principles instead of their own interests has led to corruption, bloated governments, high taxes, debt, inflation, bureaucracy, and loss of individual responsibility and liberty. The list could fill a thick book, and these things are not at all normal.

111There is confusion concerning the biblical term last days. Acts 2:16–17 clearly shows us that last days refers to the time between Pentecost and the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—the very age in which we now live. “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1 NKJV). “Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires” (2 Peter 3:3 ESV). “Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days” (James 5:3 ESV). That last verse speaks of what certain rich evildoers were doing in the apostles’ own lifetime. So, when Ashwood speaks of “last and perilous times,” he refers to both his and our times, having characteristics described by the Bible itself.

112But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1–5 NKJV).

113Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5 NASB).

114To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead’” (Revelation 3:1 NASB).

115professing: one who professes to be a Christian, claims to be a Christian, or calls himself or herself a Christian. Note: The Bible uses Christian to refer only to those who have been born again from above by the Holy Spirit, who deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and wholly follow Jesus Christ. The common use of the term to include those who have merely something or another to do with Jesus Christ is foreign to the Bible, no matter how large their denomination may be.

116Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle…?’” (Colossians 2:20–21 NKJV).

117universal piety: that holiness of life that will not willingly allow any known sin or neglected duty.

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