The Imperative Now
December 17th, 1944 @ 7:30 PM
2 Corinthians 6:1-2
THE IMPERATIVE NOW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 6:1-2
12-17-44 7:30 p.m.
(Original shorthand transcription courtesy of Dorothy Lewis Ivey and Elizabeth Lewis Packer)
SUNDAY EVENING SERVICES, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, DALLAS, TEXAS
HYMN: “I Am Resolved”
(Led by Mr. Robert H. Coleman) Mrs. J. H. Cassidy, Organist
BAPTISMAL HYMN: “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow”
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him:
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
And the Great Commission: “Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all the people, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
[Matthew 3:1, 2, 13, 16-17, 28:19]
BAPTISM: (Ten candidates were baptized.)
DUET: “Song of the Star” – Andrews, by Mrs. Myers and Mrs. Zimmerman
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Mr. Coleman
EVENING OFFERING: Prayer led by Deacon Leroy Moore
ANTHEM: “I Only Know” – Thompson, by the Evening Chorus
SERMON: by the Pastor
The message tonight is entitled The Imperative Now, and it comes out of a reading of the Word of God; and as tragic and as terrible as it may be, it comes from a corroboration of my own experience with God’s Book. There are many things in the Bible that are beautiful and wonderful and comforting; there are many things in the Bible that strike terror to one’s soul.
About two or three Sunday nights ago, I preached on the text of Receiving the Grace of God in Vain, and the Scripture that immediately follows that text is the text for tonight. We read them together. Paul says, “We beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. For God said, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in that day of salvation have I succored thee… behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:1-2].
And that little word from Paul of urgency, or imperative command and entreaty, is but typical of God’s message on every page of His Book. Now! Now! Now! Now is the time to get right. Now is the time to repent. Now is the time to believe. Now is the time to confess the Lord. Now is the time to be baptized. Now is the time to join God’s church. Now is the time to call upon His name. Now is the time to pray. Now is the time to be saved. It is now! It is now! It is an imperative: Now! Wonder why?
Well, you turn through the Book with me tonight, and this message is an attempt to bring together some of the reasons why God says that. My brother, now, now is the time to be saved. It is now! It is tonight!
All right, let’s begin. One reason why that “now” is so imperative, and one reason that God insists that now is the time for you to be saved [2 Corinthians 6:2], is because of this: there is an unpardonable sin [Matthew 12:31-32].
Someone can mention infantile paralysis to me, and I tremble. I am afraid of it. I don’t know anything about it. I never talked with a physician who knew very much about it, but I know that it exists. I know its deadly germs inhabit with me this earth, and I have seen little girls and little boys languish away in agony and death. And all it takes to frighten me is just to say that word, and I am willing to gather to my heart our little girl and flee to the ends of the earth. I am afraid. And my brother, not that I know all about it, and not that I understand it, and not that I am capable of describing it to you in every form, but I know there is in this world a sin unto death. And I know one other thing about it: it has to do with the thing that you are playing with. It has to do with unbelief.
Jesus said, “He that is not with Me is against Me …Whosoever speaketh blasphemy or a word against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” [Matthew 12:30-32]. They said, “He is not true; He doesn’t speak the truth. He is not God’s representative.” They said, “He is not what He says He is.” They refused Him! And Jesus said to the unbelieving leaders of Israel, there is an unpardonable sin! It has to do with unbelief.
Listen! “If any man sees his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” [1 John 5:16].
Does my experience corroborate that? Yes, it does. There are men that I have seen a community burdened for. Every time they met in prayer meeting together they bowed in intercession for those men, and year after year God’s Spirit pled with those men, and year after year God’s people remembered them in prayer. And then the day came when nobody prayed for them anymore, no burden for them anymore; they were never mentioned again in anybody’s prayer meeting. They were lost. They were forgotten.
I don’t know all about that sin. I just know one thing: it has to do with unbelief. And my brother, there may be a burden on your heart tonight, and there may be somebody praying for you tonight, and there may be somebody interested in you tonight; but my friend, there may come a time when there is no interest in your soul, no burden in your heart, when there is not one in this earth who agonizes before God for your salvation. I repeat, friend: it scares me to death, this in God’s Book, why “now” is so imperative.
Here is a second reason. God says that His Spirit will not always strive with a man; that is in Genesis 6:3. “And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. I will give them up.” Now, does the Bible corroborate that word? You look at it. In the fourth chapter of Hosea and the seventeenth verse, God sent His prophet to the Northern Kingdom. And after Hosea had preached and poured out his heart, and there were no men to repent—they stayed in their evil way—God said, “Ephraim (all the kingdom of the north) is joined to idols; let him alone [Hosea 4:17]. I am through. I am done.” God had sent Ahijah and Micaiah to the northern tribes [1 Kings 11:29, 22:8]; He had sent Elijah [1 Kings 17:1], and Elisha [2 Kings 3:11], and Amos [Amos 7:14-15]. Last of all God sent Hosea, and when they refused to repent God said, “Let them alone. I have sent My last prophet” [Hosea 4:17]. The Assyrians came down and destroyed their race [2 Kings 17:5-23]. “My Spirit will not always strive with a man” [Genesis 6:3].
Look in the life of Jesus. Our Master said in the tenth chapter of Matthew, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” [Matthew 10:14-15].
“It is an awful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31]. You listen at it again. This Bible is full of this awful word. Listen at it again. Paul begins his treatise on salvation to the Romans; he begins it with a threefold castigation of the men that he had watched, and this was his judgment about them: “They, when they knew God, did not glorify Him … God gave them up” [Romans 1:21, 24]. God turned them over. Now you look at it again: “They changed the truth of God into a lie … and God gave them up” [Romans 1:25-26]. If you have read anything in ancient literature that described the Romans to you, you will know what Paul meant; that they turned away in unbelief, in filth, and in iniquity, and God gave them up. Look at it a few verses later: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge … God gave them up” [Romans 1:28]. If men persist in unbelief, if men persist in iniquity, God lets them go. He doesn’t stop them. They die in their sins. [Romans 1:21-32]
Oh, what a comment Paul makes here on the ancient world, and how ghastly true is His Word! God gave them up. Listen at it once again, and this is one of the most terrible passages in all of God’s Book! “They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” [2 Thessalonians 2:10-12]. Can you imagine a thing like that in God’s Book? “Because they had no love for the truth, that they might be saved, God sent them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie” [2 Thessalonians 2:10-11].
“Oh, I am all right, preacher.” Why, don’t you understand? To refuse the Savior, to refuse to trust Him? “I am all right, preacher; and oh, what a time I am having out here in this world, what a great time!” A delusion—they think they are all right. “That they all might be damned, that they all might be lost, who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness” [2 Thessalonians 2:12].
Listen, fellow, do you like sin? Do you like the world? Do you like iniquity? Do you like lust? Listen, man, it scares me to death. That may be the delusion that spells your death. Oh, my soul, my soul! It is no little thing to sin. It is no little thing to spurn Jesus. “My Spirit shall not always strive with a man” [Genesis 6:3]. Why that urgent “now”? Why that urgent “now”?
Here’s another reason. There comes a time when you can’t repent if you want to. “Oh, preacher, I’ve got lots of time, got lots of time. I don’t need to be saved tonight. I don’t need to come to Jesus tonight. I don’t need to settle this thing tonight. I can be saved any time. I can come to Christ in a moment.” Well, maybe, maybe. You look at God’s Book. Listen, my friend, it takes more than just coming down an aisle to be saved [John 3:3, 7]. It takes more than just saying it with your mouth, to be saved. It takes more than being baptized, to be saved. Brother, it takes a regenerated heart to be saved. It takes a conviction of sin from God to be saved. “No man can come unto Me, except the Father draw him” [John 6:44].
You look at what God’s Book says: “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness” [Hebrews 3:7-8]. “They could not enter in because of unbelief” [Hebrews 3:19]. What’s he talking about there? He is talking about the Hebrew children, in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers, who came to Kadesh-Barnea. And He said, “This is the Promised Land. Enter in. Enter in.” But they said: “Not so, giants over there! [Numbers 13:33]. Not so, I am afraid!” They refused to enter in. God said, “How long will this people provoke Me and how long, how long will they tempt Me? Not a one, not a one shall enter the Promised Land except Caleb and Joshua, the son of Nun” [Numbers 14:1-39].
When that word came to the people, they repented to the last man. They said, “We will, God; we will, we will.” God said, “No, you will not.” They said, “We will go anyway” [Numbers 14:40-45]. They left Kadesh-Barnea and made their way into the Promised Land, but God did not lead them. Later, weary of the enemy, in defeat, they turned their backs on Kadesh-Barnea and wandered in the wilderness until they died [Numbers 26:64-65]. You just think you can repent when you please. You just think you can! Repentance is the gift of God! [Ephesians 2:8].
And don’t you weaken; oh, beware! “Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” [Hebrews 12:16-17]. My brother, I tremble at that. It refers back here to a story all of you know. Esau was “an hungered.” Esau said: “I will trade my birthright for a mess of pottage. I will give you my soul and my heritage for this thing out here that I cling to.” He traded [Genesis 25:29-34]. Then years passed, and he saw what he had done, and he came to his father Isaac, and the Bible says he lifted up his voice and cried with an exceeding bitter cry [Genesis 27:34]. “He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” [Hebrews 12:17].
My friend, I say I speak out of my experience. I have sat many times by the deathbed of hardened sinners who say: “I want to be saved. I don’t want to be lost.” I have sat by those bedsides until I was tired, and have prayed until I could pray no more, and at the end of the way they say, “I can feel no difference in my heart, none at all, none at all.” And they have died like that. “Preacher, I don’t feel any different in my heart,” lots of times. Maybe so, maybe not, brother; this is a serious thing you play with, this appeal of God. “Preacher, why this insistent ‘now’? Why that imperative ‘now’?” “Now,” says God. “Now is the day. Now is the time” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
One other reason: because of the contracting days of grace. Will I ever see you again? I hope to. Do I know? No, I have no assurance. Will you be back to hear me plead again? Will you? Do you know? Do you know? Will we be alive tomorrow? Do you know? Do you know? What could happen between now and the time I go to our home? What could happen? Why, I have been to the Southern Baptist Convention. I have seen on that platform, some of our great leaders that gave me the appearance of stability. They were stalwarts and they were giants among them. I looked on them in the Southern Baptist Convention as they spoke in their glory and their power, and one day after that convention was over, I picked up a newspaper and read where one of those men in all his glory, he and his wife both had been killed in an awful and tragic wreck. You meet it every day.
Why does God say “now”? Oh, now! Now! Come to Him now. Believe in Him now. Trust Him now. Trust in Him tonight. Why does He say that? Because we have no assurance of another day, another night. I think of the word of Jesus in the parable of the bridegroom and the virgins. And while they slept the bridegroom came, and they awakened out of their sleep and said, “Give us of your oil—Holy Spirit— for our lamps have gone out. We are not ready.” They said, “No, I can’t do that. I can’t be saved for you. I can’t give you the Holy Spirit. You must go and buy for yourself.” They came to buy, and the Bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with Him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But He answered and said, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not. I have never seen you” [Matthew 25:1-12].
“Why, I sent My preacher down there to that church, and I pled with you. I never saw you come down the aisle and give your hand. I sent a good mother who testified to you, and I never did see you answer, answer mother’s prayers. I knocked at your heart’s door and asked you to give your faith, and love, and heart, and soul to Me. I never did see you repent. I don’t know you.” “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh” [Matthew 25:13].
I repeat. God says it is now. It is now because of the contracting days of grace. How they speed away! How life, time, and opportunity speed away. Friend, if we are ever going to pray, let’s pray now. If we are ever going to trust in Jesus, let’s trust Him now. If we are ever going to confess His name, let’s confess Him now. If we are ever going to be a Christian, let’s be a Christian now [2 Corinthians 6:2]. If we are ever going to be baptized, let’s tell the preacher: “Preacher, I am coming for baptism now.” If we are ever going to repent, let’s repent now. If we are ever going to belong to the church, if we are ever going to be saved, it is now!
Oh, my friend, I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I don’t care. It is in the hands of God, and you won’t care either if you will take Him tonight. Just settle it. “Lord, for once and for all, for once and for all, this is my day and this is my time, and I am coming tonight. I am coming tonight, with all my fears and perplexities. I don’t understand it all. I don’t know where it leads, but Master, I am coming tonight. This is the last night that will ever pass over my head, a lost, trembling, undone soul.”
Will you do that? And right by your side, somebody who ought to come into the fellowship of the church; you come together, you come side by side. Oh, so many of our people—there is one lost and one unenlisted. Come together, “This is our time, both of us. This is our time to come to the Lord and belong to His church and serve in its name.”
Have you been outside God’s fold for years? Have you been thinking about this for days? Then come! Have you been thinking about this for weeks? Then come! Oh, to put off, to delay is to be defeated. Come tonight. Whatever is in your heart, respond to God’s Spirit. We are going to sing:
Just as I am, without one plea
But that His blood was shed for me.
[“Just As I Am,” Charlotte Elliott]
And in the presence of the living God, respond to His call tonight. “Lord, just as I am, without waiting further, I am coming now. I am coming now.” While we sing that song, “I am coming tonight, just as I am.” He wants you here tonight. He is pleading for your heart tonight, and if you repent, He will go with you tonight [Isaiah 41:10]. You come. You come.
THE IMPERATIVE NOW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:20-21; 6:1-2
A. An earnest appeal from Paul, typical of God’s message
B. Now is the time – why?II. Because there is an unpardonable sin
A. The fact of its reality enough to make one fearful
B. It has to do with unbelief(Matthew 12:30-32)
1. A sin unto death (1 John 5:16)
2. My experience corroborates itIII. Because God’s Spirit will cease to plead
A. God’s Spirit will not always strive with man (Genesis 6:3)
B. Scripture corroborates this word(Hosea 4:17, Matthew 10:14-15)
1. A terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God(Hebrews 10:31, Romans 1:21-28, 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12)IV. Because someday no repentance can avail
A. It takes more than coming down an aisle to be saved (John 6:44)
B. The appeal of the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 3:8)
1. The Hebrew children who refused to enter in to the Promised Land (Hebrews 3:19, Numbers 14:11-30)
2. Esau selling his birthright (Hebrews 12:16-17, Genesis 25:29-34, 27:34)
3. My own experience by the deathbed of hardened sinnersV. Because of the contracting days of grace
A. Opportunity in life at most is brief, passing, and uncertain