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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, December 29, 2012

“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (II Thessalonians 2:3).

“That day” refers to “the day of the Lord” in verse two. The Thessalonians were not worried that Christ had come again. They knew that He had not yet returned. But they were worried that the first part of the day of the Lord had come, and that they were already in the Tribulation period. The intense persecution they were experiencing from pagan Rome made them think they were already in the Tribulation. They were afraid that the end-time day of God’s wrath had begun. Now, in our text, the Apostle Paul explained why they could not be living in the Tribulation period. Two events would have to take place first. William MacDonald said,

      First of all there will be the falling away, or the apostasy. What does this mean? refers to a wholesale abandonment of the Christian faith, a positive rejection of the Christian faith.
      Then a great world figure will arise. As to his character, he is “the man of lawlessness,” that is, the very embodiment of sin and rebellion (William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 edition, p. 2053; comments on II Thessalonians 2:1-3).

“The man of lawlessness” refers to the Antichrist, the final world dictator. So, the Apostle tells us that two things must happen before the Tribulation takes place – the apostasy, and the appearing of the Antichrist. In this message, I am dealing with the first of these – the apostasy. The day of the Lord will not come “except there come a falling away first.” Dr. W. A. Criswell said,

The phrase “a falling away” may be translated “the apostasy.” The use of the article [the] indicates that Paul has in mind a specific apostasy. The implication is that before “the day of the Lord” there will occur a marked falling away of professed believers (W. A. Criswell, Ph.D., The Criswell Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979; note on II Thessalonians 2:3).

There have been several periods of apostasy during the Christian era, or dispensation. But at no time has there been a full-orbed “wholesale abandonment of the Christian faith” (MacDonald, ibid.) until modern times. Today all the great Protestant denominations are riddled with apostasy. This is true of the Methodist schools and institutions, as well as the Lutherans, the main Presbyterian bodies, the Episcopalians and many of the Baptists, as we have documented in our book, Today’s Apostasy (Hearthstone Publishing, 1999; second edition 2001). The slide into liberal apostasy has even occurred in the Roman Catholic Church, where the Pope himself now fully embraces Darwinian evolution. Dr. Harold Lindsell documented the apostasy in the churches in detail in his landmark book The Battle for the Bible (Zondervan, 1976). Some of the chapter titles in that book include treatments on the apostasy in,

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,
The Southern Baptist Convention,
Fuller Theological Seminary,
and Other Denominations and Parachurch Groups.

Dr. David F. Wells, professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has written several books on the apostasy in Evangelicalism, with such titles as, God in the Wasteland, Losing our Virtue, and No Place for Truth: or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? Time Magazine called Dr. Wells’ books, “A stinging indictment of evangelicalism’s theological corruption.” In No Place for Truth (Eerdmans, 1993) Dr. Wells said,

As the world of Christian truth breaks down...The practical atheism, regardless of whether it is the Liberals or the Fundamentalists who are busy at it. It is an atheism that reduces the Church to nothing more than the service it offers or the good feelings the minister can generate...reduced to little more than a helping profession...all we have left is sentiment...that wants to listen without judging, that has...little interest in truth, that is sympathetic but has no passion for that which is right (pp. 248, 249).

Again he said,

The evangelical world has lost its radicalism through a long process of accommodation to modernity. Tragically, it has lost its traditional understanding of the centrality and sufficiency of God...What the Church needs now is not revival but reformation (ibid., pp. 295, 296).

He says that the mega-churches, the emerging churches, and the progressives are moving “toward a more liberalized Christianity. In due course the children of these evangelicals will become full-blown liberals, I suspect, just like those against whom the evangelical grandparents originally protested” (David F. Wells, Ph.D., The Courage to Be Protestant, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008, p. 2). I agree with him, except I think that many of them are already “full-blown liberals.” For instance, Rob Bell’s attacks on an eternal Hell could come right out of a book by Harry Emerson Fosdick, or other liberals from the past. And Bell’s books were fully endorsed by the president of Fuller Theological Seminary!

“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first...” (II Thessalonians 2:3).

We are unquestionably living in that time of apostasy right now!

But how did the apostasy come about? Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was right when he said,

I have no hesitation in asserting that the main cause of the state of the Christian church today, and the whole state of the world, in consequence, is the terrible apostasy that has increasingly characterized the church for the last hundred years (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Revival, Crossway Books, 1987 edition, p. 55).

Dr. Lloyd-Jones said that in the early 1970s. If he made that statement today he would say, “the terrible apostasy that has increasingly characterized the church for the last hundred and fifty years.”

We can trace the roots of the apostasy back to the Enlightenment. Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984) pointed out that the French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) was called the “father of the Enlightenment.” Dr. Schaeffer said,

The Utopian dream of the Enlightenment can be summed up by five words: reason, nature, happiness, progress, and liberty. It was thoroughly secular in its thinking (Francis A. Schaeffer, D.D., How Should We Then Live?, original copyright 1976; Crossway Books reprinted edition 2005, p. 121).

Man was central in Enlightenment thought. God and the Bible were pushed into the background.

For our study of the Apostasy, three Enlightenment men stand out, and their significance is extremely important. Johann Semler (1725-1791) was a German theologian who said that theology was subject to constant change and development as theologians respond to various cultural circumstances. As a consequence, he said that there is much in the Bible that is not inspired. The value of the Bible must be left to the judgment of each individual. Thus, Semler put human reason above Biblical revelation, and opened the door to the Biblical criticism that soon poured out of Germany and undermined Biblical authority in the modern world.

The second man of great importance in the development of the Apostasy was Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Darwin’s only academic degree was in theology. But he abandoned his earlier belief in the Genesis account of creation, and developed his theory of the transmutation of species, popularly known as evolution, in his book The Origin of Species. He later applied his doctrine of evolution to human beings, in 1871, in The Descent of Man. Thomas Huxley (1829-1895) popularized Darwinian evolution in various debates in which he attacked Christianity. Darwin and Huxley greatly undermined the Christian faith and the authority of Scripture.

The third man of Enlightenment thinking, who is usually overlooked in the rise of apostasy, was Charles G. Finney (1792-1875). Finney attacked the teachings of the Protestant Reformation, and put salvation in the hands of man, rather than God. Finney taught that man could choose or reject salvation by acts of his own will. Therefore salvation by grace alone, a great doctrine of the Reformation, was replaced by Finney’s neo-Pelagianism – the idea that man on his own could decide to become a Christian, and could do so by an act of his own will. Finney was not an Arminian. He was a full-fledged Pelagianist. Finney’s Pelagianist heresy eventually broke down and replaced the Reformation teaching of salvation by grace alone. So powerful did Finneyism become that it virtually replaced classical Protestant theology with modern “Decisionism.”

Let us examine how “Decisionism” overtook the churches and produced today's apostasy. In his book, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858, Iain H. Murray points out that evangelicalism turned away from the old idea of conversion in the nineteenth century to the “Decisionism” taught by Charles G. Finney (1792-1875). Murray declares that this transition was nearly complete in popular evangelical thinking by the beginning of the twentieth century:

      The idea that conversion is man’s work became endemic to evangelicalism [an essential part of evangelicalism], and, just as men forgot that regeneration is God’s work, so belief in revival as the work of the Spirit of God disappeared. [This] was a direct product of Finney's theology (Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858, Banner of Truth Trust, 1994, pp. 412-13).

Murray’s book gives deep insight into this pivotal period. Chapter fourteen should be read first. It outlines the slide of evangelical religion away from the old idea of conversion into Finney’s new doctrine of “Decisionism.” Conversion as taught by the earlier Protestants and Baptists was gradually forgotten, replaced by a mere decision for Christ, whatever that meant to the individual. “Going forward,” “raising the hand,” “saying the sinner’s prayer,” “making Christ one’s Lord,” believing “the plan of salvation” or a few Bible verses, replaced the Biblical idea of conversion as a work of God within the heart of man.

The change from conversion to Decisionism, which was spearheaded by Finney, has been noticed by a number of others. Dr. David F. Wells, professor of historical and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has said, “The shift in understanding about conversion had several stages.” He gave them and then pointed out that these changes are associated with Charles Finney’s ministry (David F. Wells, Ph.D., Turning to God: Biblical Conversion in the Modern World, Baker Book House, 1989, p. 93). The late historian Dr. William G. McLoughlin, Jr. spoke of “Charles Grandison Finney, who, in the years 1825-1835, created modern revivalism” (William G. McLoughlin, Jr., Ph.D., Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham, The Ronald Press Company, 1959, p. 11). Evangelical theologian J. I. Packer agreed, saying that “evangelism of the modern type was invented by Charles G. Finney in the 1820s” (J. I. Packer, A Quest For Godliness, Crossway Books, 1990, p. 292). Richard Rabinowitz has written about the shift from conversion to Decisionism during the time of Finney from a secular historian’s viewpoint (Richard Rabinowitz, The Spiritual Self in Everyday Life: The Transformation of Personal Religious Experience in Nineteenth-Century New England, Northeastern University Press, 1989). Other preachers had a part in this transition, but it was Finney who clearly led the way.

Thus, conversion was changed into Decisionism largely through the ministry and writings of Charles G. Finney, as these men have pointed out. Finney’s views engulfed the evangelical churches of America, and later, in the twentieth century, infiltrated churches in the British Isles. Today, Iain Murray’s statement is very nearly universal in the English-speaking world: “Men forgot that regeneration is God’s work, so belief in revival as the work of the Spirit of God disappeared. [This] was a direct product of Finney’s theology” (Murray, Revival and Revivalism, pp. 412-413). As William G. McLoughlin, Jr. put it, “He inaugurated a new era in American revivalism. He transformed the whole philosophy and process of evangelism” (McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, p. 11). We are still dealing with the effects of that transformation today. The apostasy around us reveals that Finney’s Decisionism has led to the death of our churches.

Finney was a product of the Enlightenment, which in the eighteenth century introduced humanism (human reason as the source of knowledge) into the philosophical spectrum. Blackstone’s Commentaries on law were a main avenue through which Enlightenment ideas came into Finney’s thinking. Finney’s theology book is based almost completely on human reasoning, showing his debt to the Enlightenment. Kant’s (d. 1804) and Schleiermacher’s (d. 1834) argument, that religion is less about God than about man’s religious experiences, finds full expression in Finney’s theology and methodology. G. W. F. Hegel (d. 1831) said that God is an impersonal force. This idea also crops up repeatedly in Finney’s writings. So, the philosophical ideas of Enlightenment men like Emmanuel Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher and G. W. F. Hegel came over to Finney through the filtering down of these ideas into the brilliant young attorney’s mind. Human centrality and human sufficiency had become part of the intellectual thinking of Finney’s time, and he was greatly influenced by these ideas. And it is largely through Finney that the Enlightenment then infiltrated Protestantism and all but destroyed it. As early as 1887 Spurgeon could say, “The church is being buried beneath the boiling mud-showers of modern heresy” (“The Blood Shed for Many,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1974 reprint, volume XXXIII, p. 374).

Finney’s Decisionism first ruined the Congregationalists, then the Methodists, then the Presbyterians, and then various Baptist groups. Liberalism did not cause the death of these churches, Decisionism did. Decisionism produced liberalism. Every liberal professor in the Southern Baptist seminary I attended had made some sort of decision. But these decisions did not convert them – so they went headlong into liberalism when they studied it. Decisionism produces liberalism because an unconverted person, though he has made a decision, simply cannot understand the spiritual message of the Bible (cf. I Corinthians 2:14). Jesus once said to a famous Bible teacher, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Decisionism filled the churches with unconverted people. As a direct result of Decisionism the Protestant denominations came under the control of lost men and women. That is how today’s apostasy engulfed the churches.

No matter who you are, what you have learned, how many “decisions” or “rededications” you have made, or how much you have tried to make Christ your Lord, you must still experience a real conversion or you will go to Hell. It is our prayer that you will be convicted of sin and trust Christ in a real conversion before it is too late.

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Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
             "Christ Returneth" (by H. L. Turner, 1878).