“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Eph 5:15,16
Surely today we are feeling in mind, body and spirit the evilness of the day. Modern “talkers” do not like to use the word “evil” when speaking of man’s sinfulness or behavior but God’s Word is clear and eternal, written for eternity past through eternity future and the word and its intent will never be removed. Mankind knows in his heart that evil abides with us in every shape and form throughout life and as spiritual beings, we KNOW what evil is and how it is an affront to Almighty God. Thus, as His children, we are to be reminded that we are a holy people set apart for His service, work and glory and thus we are here instructed to walk wisely and be holy as He is holy.
Why should we be holiest in evil times?*
1. Because of the divine injunction. God charges us to be singular (Matt. 5:47), to be circumspect (Eph. 5:15), to be separate from idolaters (2 Cor. 6:17), to shine as lights in the dark world (Phil. 2:15). He forbids us to join together with sinners, or do as they do. The way to hell is a well-trodden road, and the Lord calls to us to turn out of the road: “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exod. 23:2). This is sufficient reason to keep ourselves pure in a time of common infection. As God’s Word is our rule—so his will is our warrant.
2. To be holiest in evil times, is an indication of the truth of grace. To profess religion when the times favor it, is no great matter. Almost all will court the Gospel Queen when she is hung with jewels. But to own the ways of God when they are decried and maligned, to love a persecuted truth—this evidences a vital principle of goodness. Dead fish swim down the stream—living fish swim against it. To swim against the common stream of evil, shows grace to be alive. The prophet Elijah continuing zealous for the Lord Almighty, when they had dug down God’s altars—showed his heart and lips had been touched with a coal from the altar.
Use 1. See hence how unworthy they are of the name of Christians, who use sinful compliance, and cut the garment of their religion according to the mode and fashion of the times. They do not consult what is best—but what is safest. Complying spirits can truckle to the desires of others; they can bow either to the East or to the West; they prefer a whole skin before a pure conscience. They can, with the planet Mercury, vary their motion; they can, as the mariner, shift their sail with every wind and, as the mongrel Israelites, speak the language of both Canaan and Ashdod. These are like the Samaritans of whom Josephus says, when the Jews flourished they pretended to he akin to them—but when the Jews were persecuted, they disclaimed kindred with them. The old serpent has taught men crooked windings, and to be for that religion which does not have truth on its side—but worldly power.
Use 2. Let us keep up the vigor of our zeal, in degenerate times. We should by a holy contrariness—burn hotter in a frozen age. We live in the dregs of time; sin is grown common and impudent. It is excellent to walk contrary to the world, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world!” (Romans 12:2). Let us be as lilies and roses among the briars. Sin is never the better, because it is in fashion! Nor will this plea hold at the last day—that we did as the most did. God will say, Seeing you sinned with the multitude—you shall go to hell with the multitude! Oh, let us keep pure among the dregs; let us be like fish that retain their freshness in salt waters; and as that lamp which shone in the smoking furnace (Gen. 15:17).
1. Consider—To be holy in times of general defection, is that with which God is greatly pleased. The Lord was much delighted with the holy conferences and dialogues of these saints in the text. When others were inveighing against God, that there should be a remnant of holy souls speaking of glory and the life to come—their words were music in God’s ears!
2. Consider—To keep up a spirit in holiness in an adulterous generation is a Christian’s honor. This was the glory of the church of Pergamum, that she held fast Christ’s name—even where Satan’s seat was (Rev. 2:13). The impiety of the times, is a foil to set off grace all the more, and give it a greater luster. Then a Christian is most lovely, when he is (as Ambrose says) like the cypress, which keeps its verdure and freshness in the winter season. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright” (Psalm 37:37). An upright man is always worth beholding—but then he is most to be admired when like a bright star, he shines in the dark, and having lost all, he holds fast his integrity.
3. Consider—To be godly in a profligate age does much to animate weak beginners; it strengthens feeble knees (Isaiah 35:3) and shores up those temples of the Holy Spirit which are ready to fall. One man’s zeal is a burning torch for others to catch fire at. How did the constancy of the martyrs inflame the love of many to the truth! Though only Christ’s blood saves—yet the blood of martyrs may strengthen. Paul’s prison chain made converts in Nero’s court, two of whom were afterwards martyrs, as history relates. Mr. Bradford’s holy advice and example, so confirmed Bishop Ferrar, that he would not touch the Roman pollution.
4. Consider—How sad will it be for professors to fall off from their former profession, and espouse a novel religion. Julian bathed himself in the blood of beasts offered in sacrifice to the heathen gods, and so as much as lay in him washed off his former baptism. In the time of Julius Caesar this astonishing thing happened: after a plentiful vintage, wild grapes appeared upon their vines, which was looked upon as an ominous sign. When men seemed to bring forth the fruits of righteousness, and afterwards bring forth the wild grapes of impiety—it is a sad omen and prognostic of their ruin! “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment (2 Pet. 2:21). Let all this make us maintain the power of holiness in the worst times. Though others wonder we do not sin after the rate that they do—yet remember, it is better to go to heaven with a few than to hell in the crowd. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.
*The Great Gain of Godliness by Thomas Watson, 1681