When I Have a Convenient Season
March 21st, 1954 @ 7:30 PM
WHEN I HAVE A CONVENIENT SEASON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-21-54 7:30 p.m.
Now we are in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. Acts 24. And this morning, in the message, we spoke of Paul as he stood in trial before the Roman procurator in Caesarea, and we went down in the story and in the passage to where he was preaching to Felix and to Drusilla. So we’re going to pick it up there tonight – Acts 24:23. Acts 24:23: would you like to read my text with me? It’s just the three verses – 23, 24, 25. Just those three verses: Acts 24:23, 24, 25. All right, let’s read them together:
And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.
And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus.
And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.
That’s our text tonight. That took place in the Roman Praetorium in Caesarea by the sea, the capital city of the Roman province of Judea. There are two who are seated listening to God’s preacher tell the story of Jesus: the procurator, Felix, and Drusilla, his wife, who is a Jewess and who is interested in this thing that Paul might have to describe about the wonder worker Christ Jesus. So they are seated there before Paul, and Paul preaches to them. Such a different thing from what they expected. And the Book says as Paul preached, Felix trembled [Acts 24:25].
Isn’t that strange? Paul stands there loaded down with chains. He’s a prisoner at the bar, and Felix is his judge. But it’s not Paul that’s trembling; it’s Felix. Felix has an army, but he’s afraid. He has great influence and power. He has an exalted position. The lives of all of his subjects are in his hands, but he’s scared. He trembles as this man, Paul, stands in his presence.
Drusilla, the Jewess, and Felix, her husband, whom she persuaded to call for Paul and to listen to this story – they had it in their minds that Paul would recount some fantastic tale of oriental religion, some kind of cabalistic mysticism, some kind of caliginous sorcery. They were looking for him to recount some philosophical speculation, some sort of theological digression. They were waiting for dreams no man ever heard of, for arguments no man could comprehend or remember.
It was to be a fantastic story. It was to be one filled with all kinds of magic and mysticism; but when Paul stood there, he never referred to magic. He never referred to miracles. He never referred to philosophical speculation. He never talked about theology.
As Paul stood there, the Book says that he reasoned of righteousness and temperance and judgment to come – the day when we shall stand at the bar of Almighty God [Acts 24:25; Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15]. And as Paul preached and reasoned, the Spirit of the Lord reached down into the very soul of Felix. He was under conviction. Never was a man who felt the tug and the pull of the power of God any more than Felix did in that critical hour. The Lord touched him. His soul was quickened. His conscience was sensitive. And the Lord said, "Felix, this is your day and your hour." The procurator trembled under the mighty call of the mighty God. Then he gave his answer.
Ah, did he stand up? Did he walk over to Paul? Did he strike down the chains and unloose the manacles? Did he hand out his hand and say, "Paul, today’s the day I give my heart to the Lord Jesus. I accept, this hour, your God for mine." Did he? Ah, that he had, that he had.
Felix trembled and answered, "Go thy way, Paul. When I have a convenient season, I will. Not now. Tomorrow, some other time, some other day, some other hour, some other night, but not now. Not now. MaÃ±ana – tomorrow, tomorrow – when I have a convenient season" [Acts 24:25].
That was all that it took to destroy his life. That was all that it took to damn his soul. A little while after this, two years after this, because of flagrant profligacy in his office, he was recalled by Emperor Nero, fell into disgrace, died of suicide. Felix, oh what an hour, what a call when God was there, when the Spirit moved, when the day of grace and opportunity were opened wide; and to answer it with this: "Not now, some other time when I have a convenient season, I will".
That’s all that it took to destroy his life and his hope forever, forever. That’s all that it ever takes. Man, you don’t have to blaspheme God to be lost. You don’t have to damn the Holy Spirit to be lost. You don’t have to murder and rape and kill to be lost. You don’t have to fall into darkest sin and tragedy to be lost.
You can be respectable and be lost. You can be comfortable and be lost. You can be most successful and be lost. You can take your place in your social group and walk down to your office or live in your beautiful home. You can like the preacher. You can like the church. You can stand up for the things they stand for in social and civic organizations and be lost and be lost [Matthew 7:21-23].
All that it takes for a man to be lost is just to drift into eternity without God [1 John 5:11-13]. Just, just enroll, just don’t give of yourself. Just don’t open your heart. Just say, "No, some other day, some other time. Go away, Holy Spirit. Go away, preacher. Go away, appeal of God! No, not now; some other day, some other time". And just drift through the days and the years and the life into the eternity to come. That’s all it takes to be lost, to be lost.
There’s a ship floats by with a swaying lurch,
No sail, no crew, no spar;
And she drifts from the paths of her sister ship
To wherever the other wrecks are.
The song of her youth is hushed for aye,
Her name no man can say;
She drifts with the tide and whatever wind blows –
And nobody knows
Where the derelict goes.
There’s a man slinks by with a lurching gait,
No joy, no hope, no star;
And he drifts from the paths of his brother men
To wherever the other wrecks are.
The song of his youth is hushed for aye,
His name but he can say;
He drifts with the tide and whatever wind blows –
And nobody knows
Where the derelict goes.
["The Derelicts," Robert Healy, 1915]
To drift without God into eternity: not now; some other day; some other time. You don’t need to fight God to be lost, to curse God to be lost, to damn the Spirit to be lost. Just drift. "Some other time, Preacher, some other hour, some other night, but not now. When I have a convenient season, I will." And it never comes. It never does.
I used to hear these old-time preachers tell a story. I cannot remember when I didn’t hear them tell it. Like Milton’s Paradise Lost, they were having a counsel in hell presided over by the prince of all of the devils Satan himself; and they were discussing how it is best that we could damn and destroy the souls of men.
One devil got up and said, "Your satanic majesty, I know a way. I know a way. Let’s tell men there’s not any God."
"Well," said Satan, "there are some fools in the earth. ‘The fool hath said in his heart there’s not any God’ [Psalm 14:1]. And some men are fools, but they’re not all fools. We must do something better than that."
Another one rose and said, "Your satanic majesty, I know. Let’s tell them that the Bible is not the Word of God. It’s a book just like any other book." And Satan replied, "There are some who’ll believe that – that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God. It’s just like any other book. But the more we talk about the Bible, the more people will buy it and it’s already the bestseller! We’ve got to have something better than that."
A third devil arose and said, "Your satanic majesty, I have it. Let’s tell them that Jesus is not the Son of God – that He never died for our sins nor arose again for the salvation of men. Let’s tell them Jesus was a mortal man like any other man."
And Satan replied, "There are some who will believe that. They’ll think our persuasion is true. Jesus was just like any other man, and He never rose from the dead and He’s not the Savior of the earth. But that won’t work."
Another devil arose and said, "Your satanic majesty, I have it. I have it." And you know what he said? "Your satanic majesty, let’s admit it all. Let’s admit it all. Let’s admit that the Bible is the truth of God. Let’s admit that the gospel the preacher preaches is the gospel of the Son of God. Let’s admit that Jesus died for the sins of the world, that He rose again, that He reigns at the right hand in heaven. Let’s admit all that. But your honor, let’s whisper in their hearts, ‘But you’ve got plenty of time, plenty of time. You don’t feel like it now. It isn’t propitious now. It isn’t the order of things now. Some other day, some other hour, some other time when you have a convenient season.’ Let’s tell them to wait! To wait.
And Satan said, "That’s it. That’s it. Agree with the preacher. Agree with the church. Agree with the book. Agree with the Holy Spirit in the heart. But let’s whisper, ‘Wait awhile – tomorrow, some other day, maÃ±ana, when I have a convenient season.’"
And oh, how it works. How it works. It works with our Baptist people: come down that aisle; stand by my side; put your life and letter in this church. "Preacher, some other time; not tonight, not tonight. We intend to. We plan to. We shall, but not now – some other day, some other time." There are families who have attended this church for months and months. They still haven’t come. There are some of you here tonight who have attended these services. You’re Baptists. You still haven’t come: "Some other day, some other night, some other time, Preacher. MaÃ±ana, maÃ±ana – tomorrow, we shall tomorrow."
He says, "Whisper to the children, ‘You’re too young. You wait until you are older’." He whispers to our young people, "You wait until the good time has passed." He whispers to manhood and womanhood, "You have plenty of time." He whispers to old age, "You wait for a cataclysmic, a catastrophic, an experience of a light from heaven."
And we wait, and we are lost. We are lost. We’re lost. "MaÃ±ana, tomorrow – when I have a convenient season, then I will; then I will. Some other time, but not this time." Did you ever think when the terrible flood came and the waters raised the ark on the bosom of the deep, "Why didn’t Noah open the door of the ark that those people, lost and drowning, might be saved?" The reason is God shut that door. God shut the door. The day of grace and the day of opportunity had passed [Genesis 7:1, 13-24].
Did you ever think when you read the parable of the five foolish virgins, when the five who were wise went into the kingdom of God and the five were outside, "Why didn’t the five who were wise and inside open the door for the unwise and the foolish who were outside? Why?" Because God shut the door; God shut the door [Matthew 25:1-12].
"Preacher, does God shut the door in a man’s life? Does He? What does God say?"
"My spirit shall not always strive with man" [Genesis 6:3]. There comes a day when the Spirit leaves. "My Spirit shall not always knock at the door. My Spirit shall not always strive. My Spirit shall not always quicken. My Spirit shall not always strive with men."
What does God’s Book say? You listen to it: "And Esau when he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, and Esau found no place for repentance though he sought it carefully with tears" [Hebrews 12:16-17]. That’s God speaking. He cried. He wept. He prayed, but his day was past. The day of grace had gone. He found no place for repentance [Genesis 25:28-34, 27:33-41].
Again, "He that sins against the Father it shall be forgiven him. He that sins against the Son, it shall be forgiven him; but he that sins against the wooing Spirit of God hath never forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin. He hath neither forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come" [Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:38-29]. The day of grace has passed – gone, lost forever.
There never was a man who perished but that somewhere, sometime, had a last warning. He doesn’t know when. I do not know when. But every man that perishes somewhere had God’s call for the last, the last, time.
There is a time I know not when,
A place I know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair.
There is a line by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s patience and God’s wrath.
["The Destiny of Men," Joseph Addison Alexander]
I don’t know where it is. I don’t know when it is, but every man that’s lost, every man that’s damned, every man that sinks into hell, every man somewhere had his last warning and his last day of opportunity. And God shuts the door. God shuts the door.
We had, in a pastorate of mine, a wonderful woman – taught juniors, took in sewing for a living. Gracious, Christian, noble soul: bless her memory. She had a husband. All the praying and all of the pleading and all of the intercession to no avail, to no avail; still just as he was, a purist.
I went to see him one day in the hospital. Talked to him; he broke in and said, "Ah, it’s too late." I tried to say another word, "It’s too late." And another word and, "It’s too late". And I don’t know what something happened to his mind. It unhooked. It unhinged. I don’t know what. The spirit world is beyond what I can enter into. He began to say, "It’s too late. It’s too late. It’s too late. It’s too late." And then like a phonograph record, that broken man repeated, "It’s too late. It’s too late. It’s too late."
I was never able to say another word to him. "It’s too late," over and over and over again. They carried him to an asylum, and he died. "It’s too late. It’s too late. It’s too late". I don’t know. I don’t enter that world. I just know that it’s horrible. It’s terrible when we turn away from the overtures of grace and the opportunity God gives us. "When I have a convenient season, I will." But tomorrow is too late.
Now we are American people, and we pride ourselves upon our realism. We like to face the facts. We do. "Put all the cards on the table, Preacher. Talk to us. Don’t dillydally. Don’t say soft words to us. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t talk in depth in circuitous language. Don’t use big words we can’t understand. Don’t say arguments that don’t have any meaning. Brother, put it all on the table there. Put it all on the table there. We’re Americans. We are realists. We can take it. What are the facts? What are they, Preacher? Tell us the facts."
You know, we’re funny ducks; we are. Barnum said, "The American people like to be fooled, and I’m the guy that can fool them." And he got rich. But brother, we don’t have any credulity in religion. "Preacher, don’t try to fool me. No shell game. No sideshows over there full of monstrosities. What we want is the facts and the truth. Lay it down, Preacher. Put it down where we can look at it. We’ll face them with you."
Why, let’s be realistic for a minute. Three great facts: one. If you live forever – if you live forever – you wouldn’t have to bother what I’m preaching about tonight. Brother, forget it! Do this thing I’m preaching about tonight a hundred years from now. Do it five hundred years from now. Do it anytime; you’ve got plenty of time. If you live forever, man, forget what I’m saying. That’s the first fact.
The second fact. The second fact: Man, if you’ve got another chance in the other world, forget what I’m preaching about tonight! Forget it. You’ve got another chance. You’ve got two chances. You’ve got three or four chances. Forget it! You didn’t do it right in this world? Do it right in the next world. You’ve got another chance. Forget it. That’s the second fact.
The third fact: if you can recall what you’re doing, if you can live your life back and not forward, if you can go back and recall and repent, forget what I’m doing. Forget what I’m preaching. That’s the third fact.
All right, look at those facts. Does a man live how long? How long? How long? Brother, how short? "How short?" not "how long?" Thursday of this week, our neighbor – one house between our home and their home – Thursday, we saw her out in the lawn, out in the yard, watering her beautiful flowers. Retired, she and her husband, with her beautiful flowers; Thursday saw her out there. On the way to church tonight we stopped by to express our condolences and our sympathies. She is to be buried tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
Brother, if I know of one stark fact in this world, it’s this: God said, "It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment" [Hebrews 9:27]. There is death in the land. And He saw inexorably, and He’s tried to seek. He calls on the prince in his palace, and He calls on the peasant in his cottage; and He sends His messengers and His monitors before Him. There’s not a cemetery but that is a sermon. There’s not a tombstone but it’s a funeral oration. The youth that sleeps, sleeps in a siege; and the old that sleep, sleep under attack. Brother, we’re in this war someday to be cut down by a scythe of a pale horseman called "Death" [Revelation 6:8]. We stand in his way.
I don’t know when. I may never see you again. You may never be here to be seen again. I don’t know. I don’t know. "The fact, Preacher, put it on the table – the facts." The number one fact I know in life is that I have a certain rendezvous with Almighty God someday, somewhere.
The second fact: if I had a second chance. There’s not a syllable; there’s not an intimation; there’s not a sentence; there’s not a dot above an "i" in it, not a "t" to be crossed in support anywhere – anywhere – that there is another chance. God says in His word, listen: "As the tree falls, so shall it lie" [Ecclesiastes 11:3]. "As the tree falls, so shall it lie." That’s God’s Word.
"Oh, Abraham, Abraham! Back send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue for I’m tormented in the flame. Oh, Abraham, Abraham!" [Luke 16:24]. And God said, "Son, between you and the heavenly kingdom is a gulf fixed. There’s not another chance" [Luke 16:25-31]. When I die, my eternity is fixed forever, and forever, and forever, and forever, and forever! There’s no syllable of a second chance.
The third fact. "Preacher, lay it on the line. Put it on the barrel. Put it out there where we can look at it." The third fact: I never saw a clock in my life going back, going this way. I never saw a clock in my life going back. Every clock I ever saw in my life is like that clock that stares me in the face there. It’s going on. It’s going on. It’s going on, and I can’t go back and recall the day, and the hour, and undo the deed. I can’t repent and change the yesterday. I cannot. If I try, I fail. If I succeed, I lose. If I repent, I have lost. My day and my opportunity is now. It’s now!
There sat down with me a precious family – a father and a mother in this church. They have children who are grown and married and away. They are older. They belong to this church. I baptized them both. Wonder what they wanted to see the pastor about, and I wonder why they cried so heartbrokenly. "Don’t you know?" he said. And she said, "Pastor, we don’t know where to go, or where to turn, or what to do. We raised our children out in the world. We were not Christians, and we had a worldly home; and we raised our children out in the world – no time for the Book, no time for God, no time for the church, no time for the Lord. We’ve been saved, pastor, and you baptized us both. We’ve been saved; but now when we turn to our children and say to our sons and our daughter, ‘Oh children, come to God. Come to God.’ Pastor, they don’t listen; they don’t heed. They don’t know; they don’t realize. They don’t see. They don’t care. They don’t respond."
"Oh", said that mother, "If I could go back through the years. If I could go back through the years. If I had my children back again – little fellows; oh, how I would live in the ways of the Lord. It’s too late, too late." If you succeed and you’re saved, you have failed, you have failed! You can’t go back. You can’t go back.
If you try, you can’t. We have tonight – now, this hour, this precious moment.
Oh, Felix, Felix, Felix! If you’d stood up, walked over to Paul, given him your hand: "Preacher Paul, today, today, I give my heart and life to the Lord Jesus." Oh, Felix, Felix, lost, tomorrow is too late.
"Preacher, what an awful thing." I know. But God sends the preacher that he might tell of the truth, that he might hold up his hand and warn us of the way, that he might plead with our souls that we might be saved. And would you listen to him tonight?
In the balcony around and from side to side, "Pastor, here I come. Here I come. Here we come. Here we come. Here we are. The whole family of us, Pastor; here we are. Here we are." One somebody you, "Here I come, Pastor. Here’s my hand, and I give my heart to God."
While we sing this song: "I am resolved no longer to linger." While we sing this song, would you make it now? Make it now. "Preacher, here I come, and here I am. I make it now. I make it now." Coming by confession of faith; coming by letter; coming by baptism; coming by consecration, dedication, commitment, a new avowal; coming a family of you, two of you, one of you, a child, a youth, a man, his wife, a woman – as God shall say the word and make the appeal while we sing this song: "I’ll make it now, Preacher, and here I come." Would you? Would you stand by me? Give me your hand and your heart to God while we stand and while we sing.