Come Before Winter
November 30th, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
2 Timothy 4:5-22
COME BEFORE WINTER
Dr. W.A. Criswell
2 Timothy 4:5-22
11/30/58 10:50 a.m.
To you who listen over the radio, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Come Before Winter. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy, and this is the concluding sermon in the series that hath followed the texts Paul wrote to his young son in the ministry; 2 Timothy 4:
Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
For I am now ready to be offered, the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me; for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world . . . Crescens has departed to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me in the ministry.
Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.
The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.
Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
Of whom be thou aware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.
At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.
Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.
Erastus abode at Corinth: and Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick.
Do thou diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren.
The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.
[2 Timothy 4:5-22]
In this last and closing hour in the life of the great apostle, there are three friends whom he names, who are standing with him. The first is the Friend of friends; He that sticketh closer than a brother [Proverbs 18:24]; He who laid down His life for us all [John 3L16; 1 John 3:16], “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me” [2 Timothy 4:17]. The Lord was by his side, nearer than breath. The second friend was the beloved physician; “Only Luke is with me” [2 Timothy 4:11]. All the others had either already gone to missions in the far flung empire or else had forsaken him like Demas [2 Timothy 4:10]. But Luke stood by him; “Only Luke is with me” [2 Timothy 4:11]. And the third friend is the young son in the ministry to whom he writes these last words and makes a final appeal [2 Timothy 4:9, 13].
This Lycaenian youth who first saw Paul when he came to Lystra where he lived and there heard the apostle preach the gospel of the Son of God, the youth was half Greek, half Hebrew [Acts 16:1-3]. And as he listened to Paul preach, his heart was drawn to God in faith [1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:5], and he was baptized and became a Christian and a member of the church at Lystra [Acts 16:1-5]. And as Paul continued his fervent ministry of the message of Christ, the populous in riot seized him, dragged him outside of the city and stoned him and left him for dead [Acts 14:19].
And doubtless this young man bent over him, possibly washed the blood away from his face, doubtless took him to his house where his godly mother Eunice and his pious grandmother Lois lived in the same home together. And Paul, in an explicable way and for reasons that we do not know, all his life felt bound with cords of steel to this young man; his spiritual son in the ministry.
And when this final hour came, he wrote his last letter to that young fellow who was pastor of the church in far away Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia. And he says to Timothy, he says:
Come, and as you come, go by Troas and the coat that I left at the house of Carpus, bring with thee, for the summer is waning and the winter is coming, and it is cold in this dungeon. And while you are in Troas, be sure to bring to me the books, but especially the parchments, the Old Testament Scriptures. But most of all, Timothy, come yourself. Do thy diligence, spoudason to come tacheôs, quickly unto me.
[2 Timothy 4:9-13]
Then he repeats the same thing, spoudason, “do thy diligence, be diligent to come before winter [2 Timothy 4:21]. Come Timothy, soon. For the time of my departure is at hand [2 Timothy 4:6]. I haven’t long.”
So young Timothy, and I can see him, can’t you? Young Timothy receives the letter, and immediately he makes his way to Troas, and there he picks up the parchments and there the books and there the cloak and begins his journey to Italy [2 Timothy 4:13].
Why so earnestly Paul entreats, “before winter do thy diligence to come” [2 Timothy 4:21]; before winter, because when winter came, all shipping and all sailing was over in that ancient world. No vessel dared to brave the open sea. When winter set in, the danger of even approaching a sailing date when winter came is illustrated in the tempestuous storm of which we just read in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. Paul said, “Dare not move out to sea. The fast has passed, that is the Day of Atonement in the autumn, and it is dangerous, and we ought to winter here” [Acts 27:9-10]. No ship sailed when winter came.
So it meant that if Timothy delayed until winter, he couldn’t come until the following spring. That meant Paul would never see his face and speak to him a last and closing address, and pray with him one more time, and bid him be true to the faith and exhort him in his ministry. “For the time of my departure is at hand [2 Timothy 4:6], come, Timothy, before winter [2 Timothy 4:21]. For if you delay until winter, it means I will never see you again. Come.”
So we love to think that Timothy immediately makes his way to Troas and there finding passage sails past Samothrace, lands at Neapolis, goes through Macedonia along the Ignatian Way. On the Adriatic Sea finds passage again crossing to Brundisium, there in Brundisium picks up the road and up the Ostian Way, he hastens to the side of the apostle Paul in prison.
I can see him as he sits down with the apostle and reads to him out of the books, but especially the parchments [2 Timothy 4:13], the Old Testament, the scroll of the Prophets, of the Psalms, of the law of Moses. And I can see Timothy when the final hour comes as he walks by the side of the aged apostle down the Appian Way just beyond the pyramid of Cestius, and there, he beholds as the great preacher of Christ receives his crown of glory.
“Come before winter” [2 Timothy 4:21]. There are some things which, if we do not do before winter, we can never do. For the season passes, the golden gate that is open now is closed forever. The tide that is running high today will ebb tomorrow. Voices that speak now are forever stilled after winter. The autumn time when it comes brings to us so pointedly the passing of the days, the fleeting of time. When that pool is troubled with the angel visitation, then is the time in the troubling of the water to step in and be healed [John 5:4]. “Come, come, come, Timothy,” says the apostle Paul, “come. Do thy diligence to come before winter, for to delay is never to come at all [2 Timothy 4:21].
I want to use a supposition and imagination. Just suppose, just suppose that Timothy delayed. When he received the letter and the earnest admonition and appeal of the apostle, he doesn’t go immediately. There’s work to do at Ephesus. In that Asian capital, there are so many matters of the church, and beside that he has a mission to Miletus, and besides that he must go to Colosse, and beside that the church at Philadelphia and at Smyrna, churches of Asia, need his ministry so earnestly. And he delays. These things are important. These calls are vital. And Timothy goes to Miletus, and he goes to Smyrna, and he goes to Philadelphia, and he go to Colosse, and he is done finally with the heavy burdens at Ephesus. And then he makes his way to Troas to find passage across the sea. Is there a ship that sails to Macedonia, or better, is there a ship that would sail around Greece into the open Mediterranean and go to Italy? And he is greeted there with the solemn announcement. The day of sailing is past. No more ships for Italy until April, winter has set in. And no ship sails, not till the spring. Heavy hearted, the young pastor returns to his charge at Ephesus.
And all that winter, all the dreary days and weeks and months of that winter, he’s anxious about the aged apostle. How did he fare? How was that final trial? And he reproaches himself for the delay. When spring comes, the first one down at the port at Troas is this young pastor. The first ship that sails, he’s on it. And when it lands at Brundisium, he hastens up Appian Way. He arrives at the place where Paul has been a prisoner and he asks if he’s there, only to be greeted by a curse from the guard and to be repulsed by him.
Then I can see Timothy as he makes his way hastily to the house of Andronicus, or to the house of Claudia, or to the house of Narcissus, or to the house of Amplias, or to the house of Julia, and he knocks at the door and he says, “Where, where, where is the apostle Paul? And they look at him and say, “The apostle Paul? Oh, you! And you must be Timothy. Don’t you know the apostle Paul was beheaded last December? Every time the jailer put the key in the door of his cell, he thought you were coming. The last message that he left was for you. He said, ‘Give my love to my boy in the ministry. Remember me to my son, Timothy. Tell him to be true to the faith.’”
“Come before winter” [2 Timothy 4:21]. Oh, just to think of it is a heartache and a heartbreak. And yet I do not think that there is any incident in human life that more sorrowfully recurs, and recurs, and recurs than just that possibility. And it’s too late. And we’ve let the opportunity slip through our fingers. And it’s too late. And we should have done it then, and we ought to do it now, but at some more convenient time, we are busy, we have tasks, there are responsibilities, we are engrossed, and the day passes, and the winter comes. Tomorrow is too late.
And Jesus came to His sleeping disciples [Matthew 26:40-43], and after the third time said, “Sleep on now, and take your rest” [Matthew 26:44-45]. Why, the great opportunity to watch by the Savior was forever gone; “Sleep on now, and take your rest” [Matthew 26:45].
James, one of the three, was the first to meet a martyr’s death, of the twelve, James [Acts 12:1-2]. John, the second of the three, knew what it was to suffer for the Lord on lonely Patmos [Revelation 1:9], and Peter gave his life crucified [John 21:18-19]. But never again did those disciples have opportunity to watch in the hour of agony at Gethsemane of our Savior. Sleep on now, and take your rest.
“What? What? You mean he is gone? Why, it was only yesterday that I saw him at the corner of Ervay and Commerce streets. And you say he is gone? I, I cannot believe it. I can’t realize it.” The fleeting of time, the passing of days; “Come before winter” [2 Timothy 4:21]. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart” [Hebrews 3:7-8]. “Come before winter. Do thy diligence, come before winter” [2 Timothy 4:21].
May I make a few suggests why the urgency and the immediacy of the appeal of the Holy Spirit of God? One, because of the uncertainty of life; in the last interview between David and Jonathan, David said to his best loved friend, “Jonathan, as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death” [1 Samuel 20:3]. All of us have those experiences.
My best friend in Baylor was a year ahead of me. We were always together there. And when he was graduated, he entered the employment of a great oil company and was with the company in Oklahoma. We were boys reared in the far northwestern part of the Panhandle of Texas. And in school coming from the same place, it sort of bound us together.
On the summer, in the summer after he had graduated, he came to Amarillo where I was then and stayed all night with me. We had a wonderful visit together. I went down with him, put him on the train, and he went back to his place in Oklahoma. Why, we had such dreams. I was going to be a pastor and preacher, and he was going to make a million dollars, he said, and give it to me for the work of the Lord. What things young fellows can dream of; a million dollars. And he was going to do it in oil, he said, and he was going to give it to me for me to use in the work of the Lord.
I never saw him again. When I went to Oklahoma to be pastor out of the seminary to my first pastorate, I went to a certain lake in Oklahoma and stood there by the side of that lake. Just had a little quiet devotional, a remembrance, a solemnity, just to be there, for that’s where he was drowned.
Oh, these things come before winter! The old rabbi in Talmud said, “Repent the day before you die.” But someone asked the old rabbi, “How shall I know when the day comes before I die?” And the rabbi replied, “Then repent today”; the uncertainty of life.
Again, the changing of the disposition of the heart; why, I suppose every minister world without end could speak of the times when men have almost come to Christ, almost given their hearts to Jesus, and then never be moved toward God again. Stand there while the invitation hymn is being sung and the tears roll off their cheeks like light showers of rain, grasp the pew in front of them. Tremble, moved under the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit of God and then never weep again. Never tremble again, their hearts have turned to stone, their souls to iron.
If the bricks in these walls and their stones could cry out and the beams of this great house answer, how many stories could it tell of men who were almost persuaded and said, “No, not now; some other time; some other day; some more convenient season?” But the heart turns to stone, and the soul to iron, and the life to brass, and they are never ever moved again!
“Come before winter,” before the snow falls on the upland; before the meadow brook is frozen with ice. Come before the heart turns to marble and desire fails. Come before life is over. Come before winter. I think the immediacy and the urgency of that appeal is marked by the passing day of grace. Today, this moment, now, and tomorrow forever, forever drawn, taken away. “My Spirit,” says God, “shall not always strive with men” [Genesis 6:3]. “And Esau found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” [Hebrews 12:16-17]. He that sins against the Holy Spirit sins an eternal sin [Matthew 12:31-32].
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.
[from “The Doomed Man,” Joseph Addison Alexander, 1837]
And God Himself shut the door [Genesis 7:15-16], and the antediluvians cried, beat on that ark and called the name of Noah, but God shut that door! And the five foolish virgins knocked at the door saying, open, open, but God shut that door [Matthew 25:1-12]. I can not enter into the mysteries of the human soul. I just know that there is a day for a man to be saved. There is a time for a man to give his life to God.
When the day is past and the time is gone, he never ever responds. I cannot enter into its mystery, and it is not for me to say. I just behold it in sorrow, in tears, in heartache. “Come before winter” [2 Timothy 4:21].
This last observation; come before winter for these generations themselves pass away so rapidly, so speedily. If we don’t come before winter, we never come at all. And if we don’t do it now, it is never done for the generation soon passes away.
May I speak of it with regard to our little children. What we’re going to do for these little children, we must do now. Whatever we may plan and pray to do for children of other generations and of other days, what we do for these children must be done now! Whatever we may decide to do and plan to do for these teenagers of another day, of another generation, what we do for these teenagers now, we must do immediately! They grow up to manhood and womanhood tomorrow, in a day, in a fleeting shadow, and they are gone. What we do for them, we must do now!
One of the most dramatic of all of the deacons’ meetings I ever attended was in my pastorate before coming here to Dallas. We were trying, I was trying to get the people to enter into a program ministering to our young people and especially the teenagers. And I was having great difficulty. It was hard. There was a spirit of reluctance, and lack of faith, and withdrawing, and it was difficult.
And we finally announced a meeting at which it would be finally decided, and the leader of the opposition was a very difficult man for me to get him to come along, come along, come along. And he was a wonderful man, and a fine man, but a difficult man for me. So, I just asked God and prayed to the Lord, “O God, remember us, and help us in that meeting.”
And the meeting came, and my heart was so heavy, and my spirit so low. I just felt the cause was lost. It hardly was worth any while that I make the appeal and press for the program. Oh, how little faith, how easily discouraged. If we would just ask God to whisper the word; one syllable, one sentence, one word from the Holy Spirit of God can change what a thousand sermons could never change, what a thousand appeals from the pastor could never bring to pass. That man stood up at that critical juncture, that all important moment, that man stood up and made a little quiet appeal. And it was this, he said, “My brethren, as you know, I have been against this program. It involves a great deal of money, and we are just now seeing our way out of a heavy debt. I have been against this program. But”—he added—”these few days, I have been praying, and I have been thinking. And it came with great force to my own heart, in my own family, my wife and I have one teenage daughter. And she is growing up so rapidly. What we do for my girl, we must do now! For tomorrow, it is all over with my child, my girl, my daughter. What we do, we must do now for these teenagers and these young people. Tomorrow they’re gone.” Then addressing the chairman, he said, “Mr. Chairman, I make the motion we enter the program; we build the building; we minister to these young people.”
Oh, that man saw a truth that all of us need to remember! You may minister to other children, but if any ministry is for these, it must be done now! We may try to shape the lives and mold the lives in our planning and in our vision for other young people, but what is done for these we now have, must be done now! They are grown and gone tomorrow. And that same great truth applies in this generation. We may lay plans and programs to win other generations to Christ, but if these are won, our generation, it must be done now! It must be done today.
Deeply this came to me as I thought of this Lottie Moon week of prayer for foreign missions. I copied out of an old hymn book a song that we’re all familiar with. Reverend Monty Martin, the missionary in Africa, said to a teacher who had come from a distant village, asking for a teacher that would go to his village and tell them about the Lord, had the heartbreaking reply from the missionary, “You must wait.” And the African cried, “Oh, teacher, how long? How long must be we wait?” And then this famous song:
Long have we sought eternal life,
Years have we waited in sin and strife;
In darkness groped, sad misery’s mate,
How long? how long must we wait?
You know the love of God manifold.
Ages have bro’t you His grace untold;
Peace and a hope, no fear of fate.
How long? how long must we wait?
The aged faint And long for the Friend,
Dark shadows gathering bring the end;
Fades now the light, ‘tis growing late.
How long? how long must we wait?
[“How Long Must We Wait?”; Samuel M. Glasgow, 1917]
Come. Come. The whole mission world repeats the refrain, “Come. Come before winter. Tomorrow is too late.” “Do thy diligence to come before winter” [2 Timothy 4:21]. Oh, how solemn these thoughts! How soul searching, our lives, “Lord, what ought I to do? What should I do?”
“That invitation, this appeal, this call, this work, this opportunity, this wide open door, Lord, help me do it now, for tomorrow is too late.” Help us, O Lord, as a people to do it now, for tomorrow is too late. Is there a soul to be won? Win it now. Is there a life to be touched? Visit now. Is there a task God hath called us to do? Do it now, before winter, for tomorrow is too late.
While we sing this appeal, does the Lord bid you come this morning? Make it now, make it now. Give your heart to Jesus, make it now. Put your life in the fellowship of this precious church, come now. Never in the Bible will you ever read where the Holy Spirit says, “Tomorrow, some other day, some other time, some more convenient season” [Acts 24:25]. Always God says, now, today, this hour [2 Corinthians 6:2]. In this balcony round, down those stairwells at the back, at the front, come. In this throng of people on this lower floor, into the aisle, down to the front, come.
At this 8:15 service, six came down that aisle by baptism, by letter. In this morning’s hour, while we pray, while we wait, while we sing, if God bids you here, if the Spirit of the Lord whispers, make it now. Come, give you hand to the pastor, “I give my heart to God, preacher.” Or, “Today we are putting our lives in the fellowship of the church,” make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
three friends in the final hour
The Friend who laid down His life for us all(Proverbs
18:24, 2 Timothy 4:17)
The beloved physician, Luke (2 Timothy 4:11)
young son in the ministry, Timothy(2 Timothy
Lycaenian youth who heard Paul preach in Lystra and was converted, baptized
When Paul was dragged out of city, stoned and left for dead, doubtless Timothy
took him in
This last letter to Timothy(2 Timothy 4:9-13, 21)
Paul asks him to bring his coat, and the parchments of Scripture
– come quickly, “before winter”
II. Why before winter?
winter set in, shipping and sailing was over (Acts
If Timothy waited, he’d have to wait until spring
like to think he did not wait a single day after he received the letter
There are some things if not done before winter, will never be done
III. Suppose Timothy delays?
for Rome, but there is work to do at Ephesus, and other churches of Asia
his way to Troas to find passage across the sea – but too late
through winter he is anxious, reproaches himself for the delay
ship of spring, he is on it
finding Paul in prison, he hastily searches for him
answer – Paul had been beheaded last December
winter, or never
disciples sleeping in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew
Never again did they have opportunity to watch by the Savior(Acts 12:1-2, Revelation 1:9, John 21:18-19)
The call of the Holy Spirit(2 Corinthians 6:2,
IV. The reason for this urgency
of human life
David’s last interview with Jonathan (1 Samuel
best friend in Baylor
in Talmud – “Repent the day before you dieâ€¦”
Disposition of a man’s heart may change
The passing of the day of grace(Genesis 6:3,
7:16, Hebrews 12:17, Matthew 12:31-32, 25:8-12)
1. Poem, “The Doomed
The passing generation
meeting deciding what to do about program for teenagers
Song, “How Long Must We Wait?”