God’s Accepted Time
May 20th, 1956 @ 10:50 AM
Choice, Heart, Salvation, Second Coming, Stubbornness, 2 Corinthians 1956, 1956, 2 Corinthians
GOD’S ACCEPTED TIME
Dr. W.A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 6:2
5-20-56 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the sixth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, and the whole passage before, and the text itself, is an appeal for men, for women, for souls to give heart and life in faith and in trust to Christ. May I read the text and then read the context?
This is the text, 2 Corinthians 6:2, 2 Corinthians, the sixth chapter and the second verse: “For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee, helped thee, nurtured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Now, I say the whole passage is an appeal. This is the context, beginning back up into the fifth chapter, starting at the tenth verse, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” [2 Corinthians 5:10]. We will all be there, all of us. Someday, that day:
we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in the body . . . whether it be good or bad.
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…
Whether we be beside ourselves . . . whether we be sober, it is for your cause….
All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath committed to us the ministry of reconciliation;
namely, to wit, which is that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself—
not damning them for their sins—
not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation—
We then are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us—
as though it were the Lord speaking, Himself—
as though God Himself besought thee through us. We pray you, in Christs stead—
as though Jesus were saying it—
be ye reconciled to God.
For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that you receive not the grace of God in vain.
For He said, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I nurtured thee: behold, now, is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
[2 Corinthians 5:10-6:2]
Now the sermon this morning is an appeal. It is an appeal. It is a beseeching. It is a pleading. One somebody you, put your life here in the church. Put your letter here in the church. If you don’t have a letter, by statement, “Preacher, there was a time back there when I gave a minister of the gospel my hand, and I gave my heart to God. And on that confession of faith, I was baptized.” The church may have dissolved. The letter may have been lost. It’s a piece of paper. We seek not it, but you, that you put your life with us here in the church.
The other appeal, that you give your heart in faith to Christ, that you accept Him as your Savior, not looking to ordinances, not looking to church membership, not looking to personal righteousness, but looking to Jesus. When we die, when we appear at the judgment bar of Almighty God [2 Corinthians 5:10], not pleading our righteousness, but His righteousness, looking in faith to Jesus, who is made sin for us—He who knew no sin—that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [2 Corinthians 5:21].
In keeping with what God has written in His Book, the sermon this morning is an appeal for you to come and stand by my side, and in an open, unashamed confession of faith in the Lord, to put your life in the church, or to accept Him as your Savior.
One somebody you, or a family you, come, come, come. “For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, in the day of salvation have I nurtured thee—brought thee to this present hour; behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
Now, I have several things to repeat to you that people have said to me when I pressed for a decision. Will you? Will you take the Lord now? Will you put your life in the church now? Into that aisle and down here to the front and by my side, will you? Will you do it now?
Then there are some answers that inevitably are made. And the first one is this, “Pastor, not now, some other time; some other day, tomorrow, mañana; when I have a convenient season. Not now, some other day; tomorrow, tomorrow.” I will presume that you will have many such tomorrows. I say that is a presumption, for no man has any mortgage on any tomorrow. We are never promised any succeeding day. Tomorrow, I may be with God. I do not know of any tomorrow. It is never promised. No man can say that he has it. But, we will not speak of that. I’m not speaking of that. We are presuming that you shall have many, many tomorrows. Many of them. Doubtless, you will.
If your life is taken away between now and the next time we gather here, it would be an accident. It would be a tragedy. It would be greatly and most unexpected. So we will not speak of that. Let us presume you shall have many tomorrows. There’ll be other times and other times and still other times, tomorrow. But I have two things to say about it. One is this. There is always, and inevitably, a lessening of the urgency and the immediacy of the appeal of God tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. The appeal of God does not become more dynamic, and more sharpened, and more piercing, and more convicting in your heart. I would to God that it were. If it were, I believe almost all men everywhere who hear the gospel would be saved because its appeal would mount and mount and mount and grow. And it would finally become impossible. It would be an insufferable task to say, “No,” to it. I don’t know why God has made it this way, but He did. The appeal of Christ becomes less, and less, and less, and less in a man’s life as he grows older and older and older. His heart becomes hardened and calloused.
There’s a phrase I used to hear old-time preachers use. It was “gospel-hardened.” A man had heard the gospel of Christ, had seen the very crucifixion of the Lord, the pouring out of His life unto death, and it moves him not. It’s a familiar story. He handles it. He knows it as well as the preacher does. He can quote Scripture himself, but it has no meaning. It has no appeal. The man’s heart is what the old-time preacher called gospel-hardened. I say the appeal of the Lord becomes less and less in the man’s life who says, “No, no, tomorrow.”
May I illustrate that? In almost a weekly occurrence in my study, I have our fathers and mothers—when the children come forward—I have them bring the children to my study as I speak to them and pray with them. I have them read a little book. You know all these things. I have them read a little book. Then I talk to them and pray with them. Now, I will give you a never varying experience.
I’ve been a pastor a long time. I’ve been your pastor almost twelve years. And in those long years of ministry, I have yet to have an exception to this experience. All right, you look at it. Here will be seated by me in my study a little boy. He’s nine years old. Or a little girl, she’s eight years old. Or another child, eleven years old. And so I, after I get through, I will say to the little boy, “Now, son, there’s one time in your life when you come down the aisle and make your confession of faith before the church. And there is one time in your life when you’re baptized. Now, son, we want that time to be the most meaningful of all the times that you could think of. Your mother does. Your daddy does. I do. The church does. All of us. When you do that, son, we want it to be the most meaningful time of all to you. Now, son, you can wait. We can do this next year, or—or year after next. You’re very young. Now, son, tell me when is it that you want to come down that aisle and make that confession before the church?
And I say I’ve never had an exception to it, the little boy will reply, “Pastor, I want to do it now.”
Then I’ll say the second question. “Son, when is it that you want to be baptized?”
And he will say, “Tonight.”
Having our service every Sunday night, tonight, that’s the boy, that’s the little girl. When the Lord quickens their heart, that’s the way they will be quickened. The little boy will be pulling your—your sleeves. The little girl will be saying to the mother, “Mother, I want to give my heart to the Lord. I want to be baptized.” That’s God’s Spirit in the heart, in the soul of a child.
All right, let’s take the boy after he’s grown. Let’s take the little girl after she’s grown. I will beg, and beg, and beg, and beg, and beg. I will plead, and plead, and plead; pray, and pray, and pray; and make appeal, and make appeal. Is the answer, “I want to do it now, tonight”? No. Almost always, almost always, the answer is, “Pastor, some other day, some other time, tomorrow, tomorrow.” It lessens in your heart, the appeal of Christ.
Now there’s another thing. I do not know why. I don’t understand. I just read it in the Book, and I’m not here to preach what I think. All I am is a voice. I just read in the Book and try to say the thing God hath written large on the page. There’s one other thing. Not only does the appeal of Christ lessen in your life, but God Himself seems to turn away; God changes. I cannot enter into that. It’s a mystery. It’s hid in the counsels of heaven. But when a man says, “No,” and again, “No,” and again, “Tomorrow,” and again, “Some other time,” and again, “A convenient season,” something happens up there in God in heaven.
Now, I read from the Bible, “And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man” [Genesis 6:3]. And then came the long story of the Flood [Genesis 6:5-8:22].
All right, again, Hosea [Hosea 4:17], “Ephraim, Israel, the Northern Kingdom is joined to idols: let him alone, let him go.” The great prophets that had been sent to Israel, the Northern Kingdom, were Ahijah and Micaiah, and Elijah, and Elisha, and Hosea, and Amos, beside others unnamed. And when they refused, “No, no, no,” the Lord said, “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone. Let him alone. Let him alone” [Hosea 4:17]. And in 722 BC, Sargon came at the head of the army of Assyria and carried them away forever [2 Kings 17:18].
All right, then the Southern Kingdom was left, and Jeremiah the prophet preached the word of the Lord, and Jeremiah pled with the people. And finally, this is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah, “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me: for I will not hear thee” [Jeremiah 7:16].
I wonder if I can illustrate that in a way that I have seen, growing up as I did in a little bitty town, in a little bitty church. We always had our great annual revival meetings in our little church. And if you grew up in a country community or in a little village community, you know what I’m speaking of. Great season of revival, every year. We’d have a great revival. And there’d be prayer. There would be grove prayer meetings, women’s prayer meetings, men’s prayer meetings; always, those prayer meetings. And in those prayer meetings, there would be great burdens of prayer for somebody. They wouldn’t pray, “Lord, just save the lost,” but oh my soul, I’ve seen those men down on their knees and down on their faces and with weeping and crying and agonizing, they’d call some man’s name, and another man’s name; and they’d pray and pour out their souls in intercession for the men that they would be saved. All right, some of them were saved; some of them, “No, no, no.” And then the days would come, and those men would never be named anymore. You could have a prayer meeting, and nobody there would be burdened for the man anymore. The burden had gone. The man’s not even thought of. He’s not even remembered. There’s a line, I don’t know where, by us unseen, and when a man steps over it, and I don’t understand, but he steps beyond and outside. Therefore, “Pray not thou for this people, neither lift up crying nor prayer for them, neither make intercessions to Me; for I will not hear thee!” [Jeremiah 7:16]. And in Jeremiah’s day, 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar came and carried the people away [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. I am just repeating the Word of the Lord, that’s all. I do not understand it.
In the Book of Romans, the first chapter of the Book of Romans, there are, like Beethoven’s symphonies, those repeated chords, most every one of those great, tremendous pieces of music will have a recurring chord, a recurring chord. Here’s one:
- Romans 1:24, Wherefore God also gave them up.
- Romans 1:26, For this cause God gave them up.
- Romans 1:28, Wherefore God gave them up.
I don’t understand that. I just read in the Book, that’s all. In the [third] chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author is pleading with the people in a little church somewhere who are about to apostasize. “Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation,” for when they did provoke, who was it? Was it not with those who came out of Egypt under Moses? [Hebrews 3:15-16].
But with whom was He grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?
And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believe not?
The story is the Israelites coming out of Egypt, there at Kadesh-barnea, God ready to take them into the Promised Land, and they refused! [Numbers 13:26-14:4]. And God said, “And you cannot enter. I will not have you. I will not take you” [Numbers 14:22-35]. And they repented and said, “But we will go in” [Numbers 14:40-44], and sought to go in. And God destroyed them by the Amalekites and the Amorites and the Canaanites [Numbers 14:45]. And they were thrust back into the wilderness, and they died in the wilderness, all of them, save Caleb and Joshua [Numbers 14:20-35, 26:63-65, 32:11-13].
All right, one other; in the twelfth chapter in the Book of Hebrews, pleading that same thing:
Lest there be any profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: and he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
And the reference is in the story in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Genesis. God refused him [Genesis 27:1-40]. God would not have him, and Esau repented and sought the place carefully and with tears [Genesis 27:38], but God would not have him! God refused him. And he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears [Hebrews 12:17]. Something happens to you when you say no. It happens to you. Something happens up there. Something happens in God. I cannot enter into the mystery. All I know is, “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31].
Now here is a second answer that is said when I make the appeal. “Preacher, I don’t intend to be lost, and I don’t intend to go on always. I will do it before I die. I’ll do it before I die.” Now I’m not arguing, I’m not persuading, I am assuming that when time comes for you to die, you won’t die in a coma and your mind’s gone. Or you will not die in an accident, and you have no time. I am assuming that you are right. When time comes to die that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to rethink all of your life. And you’ll have opportunity to—to give your heart to Christ and to be saved and to turn and to accept the Lord. I am assuming that. That assumption mostly is not correct. But I am assuming it. Before you die, you’ll have opportunity.
Now, you have something in your favor. There was one man in the Bible who was saved on his deathbed, as you would call it. There was one man who was saved as he was dying. And that was the insurrectionist who was crucified with the Lord on the cross [Luke 23:42-43]. That man is the only man in the Bible that was saved as he was dying. But there was one. There was one. You have a point. There was one man who was saved as he was dying. But what makes you think that that man refused Christ and refused the Lord and refused Jesus? And then, as he was dying, he accepted the Lord. What makes you think that? You are wrong in your supposition.
That man was incarcerated. He was an insurrectionist, and he was condemned for treason against the Roman government. He was a nationalist. He was a Zealot. If he had ever heard of Christ, it was in his prison cell, and the first time he ever saw the Lord Jesus he saw Him as they died together on the cross. And the first time that he ever had opportunity to speak to the Lord, he said, “Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom, remember me. Have mercy upon me” [Luke 23:42]. There was one time in the Bible when a man was saved as he died, but that man had his one and only opportunity to accept the Lord, and he did it as he was crucified on the cross.
Oh, I go back to that thing that I said ago. Something happens when a man refuses Christ. It’s not like a switch. I’ll just go along, and go along, and go along, and then at a certain time of my choosing, I’ll pull down the lever, and there I’ll be saved. I cannot understand it. It just doesn’t happen that way. You can’t be saved just like that. I go along, and I go along, and I go along, and then just before I die, I’ll say a word, I’ll make a confession, I’ll pull a cord, I’ll touch a button, and I’ll be saved! It just doesn’t do it, that’s all I know. It’s not in the Word of God, and it’s not in human experience.
Another thing, they say to me, “Preacher, give me time to prepare.” And I’m quoting men that I’ve talked to in the last several days. “Preacher, give me time to prepare. Let me make ready, and I’ll come. I’ll be right down that aisle. Give me time to prepare, and I’ll respond.” That is the one excuse, the one reason, that if there are any of them that has my sympathy, I can understand, and I can sympathize. “I’m not ready, preacher. I’m not ready, pastor. Not today. Give me time to prepare. I’ve got some things to straighten out in my life. I’ve got some things to change in my life, and give me time to straighten those things out and to prepare and get ready, and I’ll come. Just give me time.” Well, I say, I cannot help but feel a sympathy in my heart when a man says that. What’s the matter with it? All right. This is the first thing that is the matter with it. First, there is an element in that of self-righteousness. “When I come down that aisle, preacher, I want to be worthy. When I come down that aisle, I want to have something to offer. When I come down that aisle, I want to be good enough for God to accept me.” There is in it a subtle spirit of self-righteousness. “When I go, I want to go on my own. I want to stand there a just and a good man. I want to do it in my own strength and in my own character, and when I come down that aisle, I want to be worthy to be received by the Lord and by the church.” All right, the kind of righteousness that I’m talking about, the kind of righteousness that is the God kind of righteousness, is not a man’s righteousness. You’re never that good, and you’re never that ready, and you’re never that prepared.
Our finest righteousnesses, says God, are as filthy rags in His sight [Isaiah 64:6]. I can prepare and prepare and be good and better and fit, and I can get ready, and I can straighten out, but if my coming to Christ is on that basis, I am not coming. “I’m coming to a self-evaluation of myself. I’m coming to save myself. I’m coming to demonstrate a worthy man and a fine character.” But when a man comes to Jesus, he doesn’t come like that. He comes empty handed. “Lord, in my hand, no price I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling.” The kind of righteousness that is the God kind of righteousness is one that comes by faith in Jesus [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9]. It is the blood of Christ that washes our sins away [Revelation 1:5].
I don’t know a better thing like that in the Bible than—than Job. In the twenty-ninth chapter of the Book of Job, Job, speaking of himself, I was this, and I was that, and I was the other [Job 29:1-25]. And he was that. He was the best man, God said so, in all of the East [Job 1:8, 2:3]. But in the forty-second chapter of Job, the last and concluding chapter, after Job had seen the Lord, Job says, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” [Job 42:5-6]. And Job found God. As long as I look to myself, I don’t need Him.
It’s a matter of choice whether I come or not; whether I join the church or not. But this thing of the Lord saving us is not a matter of choice. It’s not a matter of goodness. It’s not a matter of—of a man’s choosing—or not choosing. It is the one and only final thing in our lives! It is not—it is not by choice. I can join the club or not. No. Whether you join the club or not, it is immaterial. I can be in the fraternity or not. That’s immaterial. I can respond or not. That’s immaterial. But when—when we come to the church of Christ, and when we come to the appeal of God, it is not immaterial. It is not just whether a man chooses or not. If I do not, I am lost! I am undone. I—I’m without God and without hope in the world! [Ephesians 2:12].
My only opportunity to be saved is in the righteousness, in the blood, in the acceptance by faith of the Lord Jesus Christ [Galatians 3:21-22]. I cannot buy it. I cannot be good enough. I cannot straighten out my life. I cannot repent. I cannot win. I—I could never achieve it. I have to turn and accept the Lord Jesus as my Savior. “It is God who made Him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. First, I am to give my heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10]. Then I am to turn and face all of the problems that beset me in my life. This is first. Then the rest will follow. It naturally will.
Now this last, the word that is said when the pastor presses the appeal: “Preacher, I’m just not going to make a decision today. I have no comment to make, I am neutral. I—I will not. I’m not going to say, No. I’m not going to say, Yes. It is neutral. I have no comment. I have no word to say. I—I refuse to respond. I—I will not.” Now, there are some things that God has done in this world in which we live that makes it impossible for a man to be morally neutral. I may be neutral on many things. I may have no comment to make. “I don’t want to get involved. I don’t want to take a stand. I don’t want to say anything. I’m going to withdraw. I have no word.” There are many, many, many, many areas in life that are like that. They’re—they’re just indefinite. They’re everywhere, where a man can remain neutral. “I—I just don’t have anything to say.”
But God made this thing, where all of us are morally implicated. Our souls are interwoven. We are enmeshed in it whether I wish or whether I do not wish. I do make a decision every time this is presented and the appeal is made, I make a decision.
Could I take Pilate’s washbowl and set it here? Pilate was the last man in the this world that wanted to crucify the Lord Jesus. He was a Roman, for one thing. He had a great respect for the law. No Roman but that had tremendous respect for justice, for a jurisprudence that was upright and defended the weak and supported the cause that was just. He was a Roman. And Roman law is a byword in the history books of our children; he was a Roman. And to see justice miscarry in his own court by his own word and command hurt him on the inside. He was a Roman, the procurator appointed by the emperor himself. He’s the last man, I say, that lived in Judea that wanted to see the Lord crucified [Luke 23:4, 14, 22].
That was reason that when the Jews said, “If you let this Man go, if you let this Man go, we will say to Caesar himself that you are the defender of the enemies of the crown!” [John 19:12]. And in the experience of those procurators, many times, that was all that it took for the procurator to be called from his office. And when they said that to Pilate, Pilate said, “Bring me a bowl of water.” And there was brought to Pilate the bowl of water, and he washed his hands, and he said, “I want you to know that I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. See to it.” And they replied, “We will accept the responsibility. His blood be on us and on our children” [Matthew 27:24-25]. So Pilate washed his hands. “I have nothing to do with the case. I refuse to give judgment. I wash my hands. I will not enter into the decision. I am free of it. I wash my hands.”
Have you ever been in Luzern, Switzerland? Just this side of Luzern is Mt. Pilatus—Mt. Pilate. In after years, Pilate was recalled from his procuratorship. He was judged. He committed suicide. They buried his body in the cold, blue waters of Lake Luzern. That’s why they call that mount, Mt. Pilatus. And those peasants in Switzerland have an old story that they still repeat: that in the gray mist of the morning, you can see the body of Pilate rise from the depths of the sea, and there, in the blue waters of Lake Luzern, he still washes his hands.
Friend, you cannot evade. Your little boy: what do you do? Your little girl: what do you do? Somebody else’s boy, somebody else’s girl, the influence of your life in the circle where you live, somebody knows you. I have never seen anybody but that he was a hero to somebody. There is somebody that loves you, believes in you, looks upon you. And the decision that I make for Christ is never myself or my own alone, I am morally implicated, I am tied in, I am inextricably inner-commingled in the whole life of my community and the people with whom I live. And I say I am committed; I am responsible. If a seaman were drowning, and there was a rope, a line as a seaman says, at my feet, and he flounders in the water, “I am neutral. I—I do not throw the line. I—I do not take part in it. I make no decision. I let him drown.” You just can’t. You can’t. The seaman is drowning, and the line is here. And I am morally obligated to make a decision. I cannot escape making a decision. If I throw the line, the man is saved. If I refuse, the man is lost. That’s the way with our souls and God. I have to make a decision. I have to. I must!
The church calls; the Spirit of God calls; the Lord calls; the world calls; the lost call. “Why are you so sure of that, preacher?” I conclude with the last invitation in the Bible, Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride, the Spirit of God and the bride, the church of Christ, the Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Or, in the words of my text, God hath said, “I have heard thee in a time accepted [and], in the day of salvation have I nurtured thee,” brought thee to this present moment. ”Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
Young man, if you were to step into that aisle and down here to this front and by my side, oh, what it would mean; more than you know, more than you know. Young woman, a family you, these things are of heaven, they are of God, inwrought and enwrapped in this appeal is the whole meaning and destiny of this life and the life that is to come. This is God’s greatest, most momentous opportunity. This is the decision of time and eternity. Will you make it yes? Will you make it yes? “Preacher, here I come. I’m putting my life and my letter in the church.” “Here, pastor, here I come. I’m committing my soul and my destiny to Jesus Christ. I’m looking to Him.” “I’m not emotionally disturbed. Maybe we ought to be. I’m not over persuaded. This is a calm judgment. The things that God hath written in His Word are right and correct, and this is the thing that under God I ought to do. And here I am. Here I am.” Somebody by baptism, somebody by confession of faith; you, or the family you, while we sing the song, while we make this appeal, into this aisle and down here to the front, would you come? Would you make it now? “Here I am, preacher, and here I come.” While we stand and while we sing.