THE GRACE OF GOD IN VAIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 6:1
5-6-56 7:30 p.m.
Last Sunday we left off with the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, and tonight we begin in the sixth chapter of the second Corinthian letter. The sermon tonight is according to the text, it is an appeal. And the sermon in the text is on one word. Second Corinthians 6 and the first verse: “We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that you receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1]. The title of the message is Receiving the Grace of God in Vain.
That word “vain,” receiving the grace, the love, the provision, the mercy, the salvation, the proffered goodness—receiving the grace of God in vain—eis kenon, “in vain.” The word means “emptiness, futility, nothingness.” For all that God has done, let it amount to vanity, futility, vacuity, emptiness, nothingness. Let it come to failure, dust, ashes, no account, no good, no response, nothing. “We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that you receive not the grace of God in vain”; that it come to nothing [2 Corinthians 6:1].
In the third chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author of the Book of Hebrews is talking about that, illustrating it in the life of Israelitish children. The great God who brought them out of the land of Egypt took care of them. He opened the Red Sea and they passed through on dry land [Exodus 14:21-22]. In their thirst, He gave them water to drink out of the rock [Exodus 17:6]. In their hunger, He sent manna for them to eat from heaven [Exodus 16:12-18]. And He guided them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night [Exodus 13:21]. And He nurtured them, giving them miracles and manna and all of the love of His heart, and finally led them to the Promised Land [Acts 7:36]. And at Kadesh-barnea, they turned back and refused to enter [Numbers 1326-14:4], and the mercies, and the providences, and the miracles, and the goodnesses of God bestowed upon them came to nothing, it came to emptiness and futility.
That same thing is seen in the first chapter of the Gospel of John and the eleventh verse, “And the Lord Jesus came unto His own” [John 1:11]. All of the provision, all of the prophecies, all of the preparation of the years of the mercies of God with the Jewish people, preparing them for the coming of Christ; and the day came, and the Lord Jesus was given to them: “And He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” [John 1:11]. All of the preparation of God and the love and mercy of God for the people of Israel came to nothing. It ended in emptiness, in vacuity, in vanity, in futility. It was in vain!
I see that so many times illustrated in our lives; this thing of the fruit, and the effort, and the care, and the labor, and the hope; it ensuing in nothing, in emptiness, in vacuity, in vain. One of the homes in which I stayed when I was beginning to preach, a wonderfully fine family, and the farmer had beyond his home, there you could see from the front porch a beautiful field of wheat. And the farmer and his wife daily looked upon that wheat, now yellowing to the harvest, and thinking of all of the things it would bring to them when they marketed those heads of golden grain, so beautifully waving in the breeze. And upon a day, there came a big, thick cloud—out of that cloud, hail poured, beat every stalk of that grain into the ground. And that farmer sat there on the side of that hill and looked out over his fields and strong, big, husky man as he was; he could not withhold the tears that coursed from his eyes. The labor and hopes of his life, there the toil of the days, all of the things, and it came to nothing, to emptiness, to vacuity, to futility, in vain, nothing!
I went to see a young mother in the hospital to whom God had just given a little baby. And after I had visited with her, had a prayer, and left the room, when I stepped from her side, over to the door, just that little space, I passed by the young mother who was with her in the room. And I noticed that the young mother was quietly crying. And passing down the hallway, I stopped the head nurse, and I said, “This other girl in the room there, I noticed she is crying. What is the matter?”
And she said to me, “Pastor, it is something not of her body that we can minister to, she is not sick or in pain in a way that we can help, but it is in her heart.”
Well, I said, “Maybe I can help. What is it?”
She said, “Pastor, I do not think even you can help in this.” She said, and it was simply and briefly put, she said, “That young mother has come here, she has had her baby. That baby is now a few days old, and she said, “since she has been here, her husband has not even visited her, nor has he even come to see the baby.”
I went back to her bedside and introduced myself to her and told her somewhat of what the nurse had said. And I said, “Is that true, your husband has not even come to see you?”
“No,” she said, “and he has not even looked at the baby. No, no,” she said, “he hasn’t come, he hasn’t come.”
I could just see a girl with all of the hopes and dreams, as she gives her life and her love and herself to a young man. And there is a dream of a home, and there is a dream of a baby, and there is the dream of the long years shared together, and it ends in tears. It falls apart in vain. It is nothing.
“We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that you receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1]. But that for all God has done, and the provision He has made for our sins in His death on the cross, and His preparation in heaven, and His preaching of the gospel [Romans 10:17-18], and it has come to you; let it fruit in your life in nothing, in vacuity, in emptiness, in vanity: the grace of God in vain, in nothing.
I think of the sacrifice of Christ: He died there for us on the cross, lifted up between the earth and the sky [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3]. And the Bible says that when He died there on the cross [1 Peter 2:23], there was a great group of people who passed Him by, just passed Him by [Matthew 27:39]. They saw Him die. They didn’t stop. They didn’t consider. They didn’t think. They didn’t pause. They didn’t kneel. They didn’t pray. They didn’t look. They just passed by, going on. All that God was doing, it was nothing to them; nothing. Just pass it by, let it fall to the ground in vain, in nothingness, in emptiness: all that God was doing there, dying for us on the cross [2 Corinthians 5:19].
When Jesus came to Golgotha,
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns,
Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap.
But when Jesus came to Dallas-town,
They simply passed Him by,
They hurt not a hair of His head,
They only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender,
And they would not cause Him pain,
They simply passed on down the street,
And left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them,
They know not what they do!”
And still it rained that bitter rain
That drenched Him through and through;
The crowd went home and left the streets
Without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall
And cried for Calvary.
[adapted from “Indifference,” G. A. Studdert-Kennedy, 1929]
Anything but just to pass it by. It’s nothing. It’s nothing. It’s emptiness. It’s dust and ashes. Pass it by. “We beseech you that you receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1]. For all that God has done, it amounts to nothing in your life.
Could we beseech you in behalf of our church and in behalf of our own hearts? Ah, there is somebody that has loved you for Jesus’ sake. There is somebody that has prayed for you. There is somebody that, if you were to come down that aisle tonight and stand by this pastor and say, “Pastor, tonight, I give my heart in faith to Christ,” if you were to do it, there is somebody that would be glad. Somebody loves you in Jesus. Somebody has prayed for you in His name. Somebody cares for you, for Jesus’ sake. What do you do? Just pass it by, “That’s not anything. Here is this church built for me; that’s not anything. Here’s a spire pointing up to God; that’s not anything. Here’s this service and this preacher making appeal in the name of Jesus; that’s not anything. Here are the prayers of these people interceding for me; that’s not anything. Here’s the whole love of God poured out for my soul, but that’s not anything”—receiving the grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1].
And another thing; way up there in glory somewhere, I don’t know where, but it’s a place, God’s Book says it’s a place, up there in glory somewhere, on some far away star, or in God’s seventh heaven, I don’t know where, but somewhere Jesus is! When He left us, ascending into glory, a cloud received Him out of their sight, and somewhere Jesus is [Acts 1:9]. And He said, “I go to prepare a place for you” [John 14:2]. Up there, wherever the Lord is, there is a place prepared for you! [John 14:3].
Now this may be a crude way to say it and not true to the actual, spiritual revelations of God, but I cannot help but believe that it is true of the human heart, and it is true of us. Listen here, if you don’t make it, if you’re not there; heaven is just not quite like heaven could be if you’re not there, if you’re not there. There is a place for you. God loves you, and Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you! [John 14:1-3]. And if you’re not there, if you don’t make it, there is just that much emptiness, nothingness, vanity, futility, all of it in vain; nothing, nothing.
I cannot help but remember here that dear, blessed mother whose son was prodigal and went away from home. And you know what she did? All of the days of her life, every day looking for that boy to come back, whenever she set the table, she set a place there for him, for he might come back. And whenever the evening came, she went up to his room. She always rolled back the covers and prepared it for the boy who might come back. She did that all the days of her life. And finally, in sorrow and in age, the mother died, and the boy never came back, he never did. All in vain. To look, to love, to pray, to hope, to prepare, and it’s nothing. It’s in vain.
That’s what God is doing for you and me in heaven. And if we don’t make it, if we are not there, when the roll is called, if we don’t answer to our name, all the preparation of God, all the love and hope of heaven, it’s just nothing. It’s nothing. “We beseech you that you receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1]—let it be nothing to you, nothing.
In this earnest and humble and prayerful appeal, could I say the three kinds of people who listen to this preacher preach? There are only three. All right, here’s one. According to the Word of God, there are people who listen, and they harden their hearts [Hebrews 3:15, 4:7]. They just turn to stone inside. “I don’t care what that preacher says, I would not respond. I don’t care what appeal that he makes or how he prays or how he extends his hands, “I don’t care. I will not respond. I will not.” They have hardened their hearts.
I held a meeting in one of the great universities of our land, and an Olympic star lived there in the athletic house. And being my dear and precious friend, he made a date for me to go there to the athletic dormitory and eat dinner with all of the football team. And then while I was there, we talked about the revival I was holding on the campus. Then out of deference to the young man, my friend and a great star, why, they had a little meeting while I was there. And then after it was over, why, my friend and I walked away from the dormitory. And my friend said to me, “Well, they had a little meeting, and they wanted me to tell you that tomorrow night they are all coming to church, every one of them. And they will all be there together, and they will sit together. But they also wanted me to tell you that if fire were to fall down from God out of heaven, they will not go down that aisle! They want me to tell you that.”
Well, when the next evening came, they were all there, every one of them; great group of them, about thirty of them or forty of them. They were all there. They all sat together, and we had one of the most spiritual and one of the most dynamic, moving, soul-saving services I was ever in that night. The Lord God moved upon those young people, and we had many saved and many respond, and God was there! And I looked at that group of football players back there, and the Lord, oh, how God can drive, and how God can make appeal, and how God can plow up the human heart! And some of those fellows stood back there, and held onto the bench with their hands while I made that appeal, and while those young people were coming and praying and giving their hearts to God, but they were as good as their word; they said to me, “Preacher, we are going to tell you before we come that if fire were to fall from God out of heaven, we will not go down that aisle!” And when the last benediction was said, after the last hymn was sung and the last appeal was made, I thought of that word. Oh! you can do that. That’s a part of our freedom, and that’s a part of the liberty by which God has made us moral agents in the world. He doesn’t coerce my will. I have free choice. I can say no to God Himself! I can trample underfoot the blood of the covenant; I can do despite to the grace of God [Hebrews 10:29]. I can blaspheme His name! I can pass Him by! I can make Him nothing in my life! I can do it. I can do it. Harden your heart [Hebrews 3:15, 4:7].
There is another hearer, I say, there are just three kinds. There is another hearer. The second kind of hearer is the one as he listens to the preacher preach, and as he sits there in the service, and as he listens to the appeal, and the people are praying, and they are singing some great, good, old, gospel song, “Just as I Am, O God, I Come” or, “There’s a fountain filled with blood,” this hearer says in his heart, “You know, I am almost persuaded to be a Christian. I am almost persuaded. I sometimes think I will be; I just almost.” That’s the second kind of hearer. His heart says, “And the preacher is right.” And his soul says, and God calls, and his whole life responds, “I know I ought.” He’s moved, he’s moved, he’s almost a Christian. Like the rich young ruler [Mark 10:17-22], he turned away; but when he did, he turned away with a heart heavy, and a face that registered the sadness of his soul, but he turned away [Mark 10:22]. Like King Agrippa, when Paul was pleading for Jesus and told the wonderful story of his life, how he was saved [Acts 26:1-27], Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. And Paul replied, “O King Agrippa, I would to God, that not only almost, but altogether you were such as I am except for these chains, these bonds” [Acts 26:29]. That is the second kind of hearer—almost, just almost.
There’s one other, and I read it from the Book. “And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that I am not worthy to be called an apostle…But by the grace of God I am what I am: and the grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:8-10]. There is a third kind of hearer, “And the grace of God which was bestowed upon me was not in vain, but I tried, and I responded, and I labored more abundantly then they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was in me” [1 Corinthians 15:10]. And my text, “We then, as a worker with Jesus, God’s fellow workers, beseech you that you receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1], that it comes to nothingness, emptiness, futility, vacuity, but that it could be as in the life of this great apostle from whose writings I preach these things—”His grace bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly then they all; but not I, it was the grace of God within me” [1 Corinthians 15:10].
That’s our humble and simple appeal to your heart tonight, for all that God has done to provide for the washing away of our sins [Revelation 1:5, 5:9]; for all that God has done to prepare a place for us in glory [John 14:2-3]; for all that God has promised to do in our days in our lives now and in that life glorious that is yet to come: “O God, here I am. Here I come. Here I respond. May it be in me thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and hundredfold good seed, sown upon good soil, bearing fruit to God” [Matthew 13:3-9]. Would you let it be? “Pastor, tonight I take from the hands of God that precious forgiveness [1 John 1:9], that eternal salvation [John 3:16-18, 10:27-30]. I will take Jesus for all that He said He was, and all that He has promised to do. I will make it now.” “I will put my life in the church, and here I come.” “Here is a family of us.” Or one somebody you, however God shall say the word, make the appeal, while we sing this song, in the balcony around from side to side, while we make appeal, would you make it now? “I will do it tonight, preacher, and here I come.” Into the aisle, into the aisle, down the steps, down to the front, “Preacher, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God. I will do it now.” While we stand and while we sing.