Conditions in the past

Arthur Pink, 1938

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time." Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

How little is the plain testimony of these verses, really believed today by many professing Christians; yes, how often is it contradicted both in pulpit and in pew by those who are thoroughly infatuated by what they style "the signs of the times." If they hear or read of some wide-spread crime wave sweeping over a portion of the world, or some recently sprung-up cults which are fatally deceiving tens of thousands, or of a terrible epidemic of disease which is slaying large numbers of their fellows, they at once jump to the conclusion that nothing like it has ever happened before, and draw prophetic deductions from what they imagine is without precedent.

When the air is filled with rumors of war, and more so still when hostilities actually break forth, lovers of the sensational promptly quote Matthew 24:6-8 to show that the end of the age is upon us. If war is followed by famine, pestilence, and earthquakes in divers places, then appeal is promptly made to Revelation 6, with loud assertions that that prediction is now in course of fulfillment. The sad state of Christendom—with its unfaithful pulpits, rapidly decreasing church attendance, waning Sunday Schools, the increase of sham conversions, the decay of vital godliness—is cited as clear proof that the coming of the Lord is certain to take place in our own lifetime. The fearful spread of lawlessness on every side, the blatant defiance of moral standards—are often said to be without parallel in human history. Nevertheless God's Word expressly declares "Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before" (Eccl. 3:15).

Human nature has been the same in every age. The history of the New Testament era has been, in all its essential features—but a repetition of what occurred in Old Testament times. The prevalence of idolatry, the abounding of wickedness in every conceivable form, the frightfulness and frequency of wars, the failure of the masses to take to heart and profit from visitations of Divine judgment, the general refusal to heed the exhortations and expostulations of God's servants, and the low spirituality which obtained among the Lord's own people—are recorded in the Old Testament in letters of blood and tears. "The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty" (Psalm 74:20). "Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases; for the faithful fail from among the children of men" (Psalm 12:1).

The godly have ever been an insignificant remnant. "Now for a long season Israel has been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law" (2 Chron. 15:3)—this was in Old Testament times.

It is true there is an ebb and flow of the tide. The book of Judges supplies a striking illustration of this. Over and over again in that book, the following order is seen—

Israel sinning against the Lord,
His selling them into the hands of their enemies,
their crying to Him for relief,
His delivering of them, and
then their lapsing back into wickedness.

Identically the same order is observable throughout the long history of Christendom. Frequently, Israel sank very low, and then God granted a gracious revival, which was followed by backsliding and spiritual deadness. In the time of Josiah, Hezekiah, and Ezra, there were radical reformations—but the effects of these soon spent themselves. In the days of David conditions were much better than under the reign of Saul; while under Ahab things were much worse than in the days of Solomon. Sometimes the restraining hand of God was more evidently placed upon the lusts of man—while at others it was more manifestly removed. Sometimes His Word went forth in mighty power—at other times His servants cried "who has believed our report?"

It is striking to note that immediately following the Scripture with which we began this article we read, "There is no remembrance of former things" (Eccl. 1:11). That is the trouble with our present age. Conditions in the past—are largely unknown today. A generation has arisen—which does little or no serious reading, which are largely unacquainted with history, and unaware of the fact that present conditions are but a reduplication of those which have frequently occurred before. And "signs of the times" preachers trade upon their ignorance and credulity, making them suppose—that much which is transpiring in the world is altogether extraordinary, that conditions now are such that they cannot go on much longer, that without any doubt the end of the age is upon us, and so on. But over against all such talk it stands written, "There is no new thing under the sun!"