WATCHMAN, WHAT OF THE NIGHT?*
[* NOTE. This tract by D. M. Panton was published in his Evangelical Magazine ‘Dawn’ in April 1952.]
0ne question is pressed on us with the intensity of Scripture. “Watchman, What of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” (Isaiah 21: 12). It is twice repeated. We are watching a changing world, and studying prophecy, and our judgment is challenged. What is the dense darkness settling down on the world? “Watchman, what of the night?”
The watchman gives a startling answer. “The watchman said, The morning cometh.” The dawn of our century was probably the most remarkable the world has seen for thousands of years. A little more than a hundredyears ago missionary societies - apart from the Jesuit and the Moravian - were unknown, and there were practically no missionaries. In 1909 there were 19,875 missionaries, scattered throughout all the heathen world. A little more than a hundred years ago Sunday Schools were unknown: today there are 260,905, with 2,414,757 teachers, and 23,442,993 scholars. It would be difficult to say what was the membership of God’s Church when the century dawned; but it is now computed that the membership of Protestant evangelical communions is not less than one hundred anf forty millions. It is possible that eternity will reveal to us that the Nineteenth Century was the richest toward God of any century in the world’s history. Bishop Moule, of Mid-China, says that when he first landed in that Empire, it held less than fifty Protestant Christians: in the first decade of the Twentieth Century there have been, 16,000 martyrs.
Perhaps even more wonderful is the dawn of the Word of God. A little more than a century and a half ago there was no Bible Society, and very few translations of the Bible: the British and Foreign Bible Society - apart from twenty-three other Bible Societies - has issued, in 148 years of its existence, over 375,000,000 Scriptures, in more than a thousand languages. In 1951 it issued 1,470,291 Scriptures. Imagination fails to picture what a river of salvation has thus been set flowing through all the world. A century ago the Bible was a sealed book for four out of every five people in the world: today it lies open to seven out of every ten.
But never was the greatest dawn the world has ever known so imminent. The Lord Jesus said,-“I am the light of the world” (John 8: 12): His return will illuminate the whole earth, for He is “the light of the world". Watchman, what of the night? “THE MORNING COMETH”.
But the watchman said, "And also the night". The facts are not more antithectical than are the words of the Watchman. “Of no time in the history of the world,” says The Times, “are so many signs of general unrest recorded as those which seem to confront us today”; or, in the words of the Bible Society’s report, - “The horoscope of the future is written over with signs of incalculable change.” The heathen and Mohammedan population of the world counts more by two hundred millions than it did a hundred years ago, while the converts and their families number less than three millions; a sevenfold increase of darkness over light. The annual increase of Mohammedans alone exceeds the yearly harvest of Christian converts; and the conversions of Christians to Islam in recent years far exceed the conversions of Islam to Christ. There are millions more of heathen souls in China today than when the first Protestant missionary landed a hundred years ago: for every convert added to the Church a thousand souls are added to Chinese heathendom by mere growth of population. “If our plans of education be followed up,” said Lord Macaulay in 1835, “there will not be a single idolator among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence” : today there is a false god for every member of the population of India - between two and three hundred millions. In Japan there are four hundred and fifty heathen temples for every single Christian missionary. The closing of China to missionaries is one of the most stupendous events of history, forbidding missionaries to 800,000,000 people.
Unutterably solemn is also the night descending on the Church. A novelist, whose works sell in hundreds of thousands, writes :- “All things that Christ prophesied are coming to pass so quickly that I wonder more people do not realise it: and I especially wonder at the laxity and apathy of the Churches, except for the fact that this also was prophesied. Some of us will live to see a time of terror, and that before very long. The blasphemous things which are being done in the world today cannot go on much longer without punishment. We know by history that deliberae scorn of God and Divine things has always been met by retribution of a sudden and terrible nature - and it will be so again.” Says the Editor of The Freethinker:- “Tom Paine’s work is now carried on by the descendants of his persecutors; all he said about the Bible is being said in
substance by orthodox divines from chairs of theology.” When, towards the close of his life, Ingersoll was asked why he no longer gave his lecture against the Bible, he replied :- “Because the professors and preachers are doing the work much better than I possible can, and their influence is much greater than mine.” So also in the words of Murdoch Campbell: “The gigantic spectre of ‘a new World Church’, in league with the powers of darkness, is rising out of the mist before our eyes. If this evil thing materialises and matures, the danger to even our physical existence is great.”
So now God responds. “If ye will inquire,inquire ye." God will back our investigation of the facts, and supremely our study of prophecy: what we see happening is simply what God has foretold. So we study prophecy because the future that God has purposely revealed is the future we ought to know: because without a knowledge of prophecy God’s present working is plunged in hopeless mystery: because prophecy is the searchlight that tells us the pitfalls that lie in our path: because a knowledge of the future is of incalculable importance in the shaping of the present. Prophecy is the profoundest optimism, and the profoundest pessimism: it is a profound optimism of what God is going to do; and it is a profound pessimism of what a Christ-rejecting world will do.
So the word of God sums up His command:- “Turn ye, come." The day before the wall of fire rolled down on St. Pierre, blotting out forty thousand souls, the telephone clerk spoke through to Fort de France, saying that the people were fleeing. Next morning, at ten minutes to eight, he was heard to exclaim, - “My God, it is here!” and he was afterwards found, with the receiver in his hand, burnt to a cinder. “Little children, it is the last hour” (1 John 2: 18). Dr. Kelman asked an eminent American man of science his solution of the problems of modern city life. “An emperor!” came the answer, swift and decisive. “An emperor?” asked Dr. Kelman, in surprise; “I thought you had done with all that in America. Besides your emperor would need to be a very wonderful man, incapable of mistakes, and extraordinarily competent for leadership.” “Precisely,” was the quiet answer; "and we know the Man; we are waiting for Him, and His name is - Jesus.” “The thrill of that reply,” says Dr. Kelman, “will never leave me.”