The sermon “The Signs of the Times- in the Church” was one of two sermons delivered by the well known Southern Presbyterian Dr. John L. Girardeau on February 7th 1892(the other sermon in this series being called- “The Signs of the Times- In the World”. In the sermon a wonderful rendition of Protestant History is given along with a depressing outlook on what is to come based upon the massive backsliding and apostasy that so consumed the Visible Church in the day of Girardeau. Girardeau had fought more against the rising tide of backsliding in his day than most, he was the main party who fought against evolution being taught in the Southern Presbyterian Church and he was known for staunch opposition to musical instruments being used in the worship of God. The text used for the sermon was:
Mathew 16:3b- “O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?”
Girardeau’s sermon was no doubt meant to express the great spiritual drought that so consumed the Church in his day but he opens with an understanding of the solemn frame of mind every Christian should have when criticizing or rebuking the state of the Church. He says ” First one who undertakes to discern and note the signs of the times in the ecclesiastical sky, and who is conscious of his own imperfections and sins must shrink from assuming the office of a censorious critic of the Church and deprecate being regarded in that light.” He goes on to say about 2 sentences later “On the contrary, if he follows the example of the prophets and apostles and the Lord Jesus Himself, he will weep while he points out the sins of the Church and warns of the judgement which follow in their train”
In just this introduction I think there is a key point to be made, and that is that when we criticize the Church we must do it with our hearts in the right place. Often times people today are quick to declare wrong doing in the Church, yet aren’t so quick to come as Christ, and say as Christ did of the Jewish people ” how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings”. That is what we need a desire to gather the Church under the wings of Christ, a willingness to do this by the Gospel being preached. Of course Jerusalem did reject Christ and the Prophets as he says in this verse(Mat. 23:37) yet what a wonderful offer Christ made, to gather them! We don’t see this today. Of course Christ says they would not be gathered yet still he is willing! Should we who criticize the Church also not be willing to spur Her to repentance? To see Her go in the right way? In our day we often encounter men judging the Church for her bad Doctrine, yet one must wonder how much of the good doctrine they claim to know do they apply in their own lives? Above all Criticism of the Church should never be taken lightly, we must do it with love and desire to see repentance.
Dr. Girardeau says that those who criticize the church should follow after the example of Christ and the apostles and weep at the state of the Church. Where is the weeping in our day? The weeping over the drought of God’s Word in our land? The weeping over the state of the church which so often espouses the “Doctrines of Grace” but can’t accept the way God has chosen to govern the Church? Or the weeping over our failures to take God at His Word on creation or even God preserving His own Word? Rather men today will chide the failures of the church and even get angry, but it seldom falls into sadness over the transgression of Christ bride. So we need to call the church to repentance in the right manner with fear and trembling and with a willingness to see our own sins. We must not be merely critics but rather be reformers for Christ sake.