Paul Faces the Westering Sun
November 16th, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
PAUL FACES THE WESTERING SUN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 4:6-8
11-16-58 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning hour’s message entitled Paul Faces the Westering Sun. It is a sermon from the pen of the apostle as he wrote his last, final words to his young son in the ministry:
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom;
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
But 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, and 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, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.
And Tychicus have I left at Ephesus.
The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.
[2 Timothy 4:1-13]
It was growing cold. He was in a dark, deep, hollowed-out-of-rock dungeon. He had already heard the sentence of death passed upon him, and he was facing that ultimate and inevitable and inexorable hour. You cannot but sense a being in the Holy of Holies, when you enter into that dungeon and look over Paul’s shoulder as he writes these final words: “I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” [2 Timothy 2:4-6].
It is a strange, strange thing. Death has been our constant companion since the world began. As every generation has come on the face of the earth, the grim reaper has put in his sickle for the harvest. And yet death is as strange and unfamiliar to us today as it was in the beginning. We have never yet come to the place where we live in intimate and familiar terms with it.
Death is an enemy. Death is an interloper. Death had no part in the original creation of Almighty God. And yet, it is constantly in our vision, at our sides, down every street, in every house, in every family circle; the grim, unwanted, uninvited monster, the last enemy, death [1 Corinthians 15:26].
Paul is deeply conscious of that fatal, final hour drawing nigh. And conscious of it, he sits down with perfect composure and writes of the moments and the days that lie ahead as he faces that dark and inevitable enemy. He looks back with calm assurance over his life. He looks forward with sweet satisfaction in the promise that is made. He looks around him with deepest interest upon the work that was soul’s burden of his heart, and he writes with perfect composure.
Most of the times in the last, expiring utterances of a man, you will find a summation, an epitome of the great interests that characterized his whole life; a mother being taken away, and the burden of her children on her heart will almost inevitably speak of those children; a man whose given himself to the building of a great institution, when he is taken away, will almost inevitably speak of the work of his life; a general, a career army man, in the midst of battle, laying down his life for his country, will almost certainly speak of the victory of the prize within the grasp of his fellow soldiers. So it is with Paul as he sits down to write. He speaks of the burden of his soul, the heart’s burden of his whole life, the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God; the furtherance of the kingdom and patience of Jesus our Lord. And turning to his young son Timothy, he hopes that in him he may find one upon whom the mantle of his apostleship may fall; a young man to take the torch from his hand, to seize the falling sword, and to carry on the work of the preaching of the gospel of Christ, “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the word; . . . do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” [2 Timothy 4:1-5]. Then, having spoken to Timothy of the charge, to be faithful, to preach—then he turns to speak of his own death: “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” [2 Timothy 4:6]. How does Paul face that inevitable hour?
Death has been looked upon, has been written about, by so many. In poetry, in song, in inscription, in literature, in ancient hieroglyphic cuneiform, from the beginning of the race, how do men look upon it? “O God,” says a poet,
. . . it is a fearful thing
To see a human soul take wing
in any shape, in any mood:
I’ve seen it rushing forth in blood,
I’ve seen it on the breaking ocean.
[“The Prisoner of Chillon,” Lord Byron]
Another one wrote:
To feel the hand of death arrest one’s steps,
Throws a chill blight on all one’s budding hopes,
and hurls one’s soul untimely to the shades,
[from “Written On The Prospects Of Death,” Henry Kirke White]
The fearful monster of death. One of the most beautiful poems that has ever been written was by Robert Browning after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He entitled it “Prospice.” Do you remember it?
Fear death?—to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
I am nearing the place,
The power of the night, the press of the storm,
The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
Yet the strong man must go:
For the journey is done and the summit attained,
And the barriers fall,
Though a battle’s to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
The reward of it all.
[from “Prospice,” Robert Browning]
Taken, away, taken away. “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” [2 Timothy 4:6]. How does Paul face it? In a most unusual way, and in a most meaningful sentence does he describe it, “For I am now ready to be offered” [2 Timothy 4:6].
In the Revised, in the Authorized Version, the King James Version, out of which I always preach, it is interpreted, it is translated “an offering.” The translators thought that Paul meant that he was ready to be sacrificed. To anyone who was familiar with the Jewish temple and its worship, the great altar and the sacrifices brought and placed by the side of the altar, and there they were offered, their lives forfeit and their blood poured out. A bullock, a ram, a lamb, and the—the translators in 1611 thought Paul referred to that, “I am now ready to be offered, his life a sacrifice” [2 Timothy 2:4-6].
The actual Greek word that he uses is spendō, and spendō is the word for a “libation poured out”; a—an “offering poured out”; a drink offering. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers, for example, you will find the burnt offerings accompanied by a libation, a drink offering, a poured out offering. The sacrifice was brought and then, as the sacrifice was burned before the Lord, the high priest would pour on the burning sacrifice a little wine or a little oil—a supplemental offering [Numbers 15:1-10]. And the word for that is spendō, to pour out a libation, a drink offering. And that is how Paul refers to his own life. The great sacrifice is Christ, but he is adding just a little of the sufferings of our Lord—a supplement, a drink offering, a little wine, a little oil poured out on the great sacrifice in behalf of the propagation of the gospel in the earth, “For I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” [2 Timothy 4:6].
Then he refers to his coming death as a “departure,”analusis; analusis, actually, is a beautiful word which means, literally, “the casting off of the moorings of a ship and its launching from the harbor and the port out into the deep.” And the time of my “departure,” my analusis—my breaking from the shore, my launching out into the deep; he does not refer to his, to his coming martyrdom as a dissolution. It is that; the dissolving of the body. He does not refer to it as death. It is that; the separation the soul and the body. But he refers to it as an analusis, a launching out, a cutting of the cables, a weighing of the anchor and a launching out for another port and another land and another country. “For I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure”—my weighing anchor, my setting sail—”is at hand” [2 Timothy 4:6]. All of us have a time of departure:
As I stand by the cross on the lone mountain’s crest,
Looking over the ultimate sea,
In the gloom of the mountain a ship lies at rest,
And one sails away from the lea:
One spreads its white wings on a far-reaching track,
With pennant and sheet flowing free;
One hides in the shadow with sails laid aback,-
The ship that is waiting for me!
But lo! In the distance the clouds break away,
The Gate’s glowing portals I see;
And I hear from the outgoing ship in the bay
The song of the sailors in glee.
And so I think of the luminous footprints that bore
The comfort o`er dark Galilee,
And I wait for the summons to go to the shore,
To the ship that is waiting for me.
[“The Two Ships” Bret Harte]
We all have a departure. In the providence of God, it is a mercy that we do not tarry here always. It is a kindness of God.
In one of the darkest passages in the Revelation, in the ninth chapter, is the description of those awful days of tribulation when “men shall seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire death, and it shall flee from them” [Revelation 9:6]. In the garden of Eden, “the Lord thrust out the man” [Genesis 3:24]—and the wife—”lest they partake of the tree of life, and live forever” [Genesis 3:22]; forever confirmed in this body of disease and weakness, senility, age and death. Death is a mercy. Death is a kindness. Death is a gift of God.
Nor in the providence of God is it good for us to live too long. In the antediluvian days, in the—in the ages of the patriarchs, men lived beyond nine hundred years; but the length of their physical life bore greatness in sin and monstrosities of evil. The mercy of God that visits death upon the human family scatters abroad the possessions of the rich. It stays the ravages of the invader. It takes away the prey and the spoil of the despot. It is a kindness and a mercy from God that men do not live too long. The continuance in avarice, in despotism, in tyranny, in the monstrous vices that curse this world, would be unbearable were it not for the kindness of God that takes the wicked away.
And to the Christian, a time of departure is a time of triumph. It is a time of victory. It is a blowing of the trumpets on the other side of the river. It is a day of entering into the inheritance and the glory of the Lord. As the sparks fly upward to the central sun, the source of their flame, so the regenerated spirit rises up to God and to Christ and to heaven unto him who kindled it. On the other side is our Savior praying that we some day may be with Him. And on the other side are the saints gathered of all ages, of whom it is written, “that they without us cannot be made perfect” [Hebrews 11:40]. The circle of the skies is not complete until God’s redeemed are all gathering home. There is a departure for us [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17].
Nor are we to look upon it with great fear and trepidation, and remorse and cringing. Our Savior went that way. We are not to sail an unnavigated sea. It is charted by thousands and thousands who have followed our Lord into the portals of glory. Jesus was laid in a tomb [Matthew 27:57-60]. Jesus died [Matthew 27:32-50]. Jesus knew what it was to be wrapped in a winding sheet and placed in a sepulcher [Matthew 27:59]. Jesus has gone before us, lest we might fail in the way. Every step there is a footprint of Prince Immanuel, and we are just following our Lord into the glorious triumph of a day that shall come by and by.
All of these things that God hath promised us are everlastingly Yea and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. Physical sight cannot see it. “Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things God hath prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. But they are not all unknown. They are revealed to us by His Spirit. And when we get there, we shall look around us on the glorious scene, and we shall say, “I did surmise that heaven would be something like this.” We all have a departure. And we have a time. “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is as hand” [2 Timothy 4:6].
We also have a time. There was a time when, in the foreknowledge of God, we were born. He knew it, looked upon it. And there is a time in the foreknowledge of God when we shall die, if He tarries, and in the foreknowledge of God He looks upon it. All eternity is present before God, the yesterday and the today and the tomorrow. And God looks upon it and God knows it. And as I face that last and inevitable hour, I am not to take counsel with the flesh or with my fears, nor even with the grim monster when he comes. But we are to take counsel with God. It is in His hands. And He doeth always what is right and what is best. And I am not to worry or to be anxious or to be full of fear. I have a time and it is in His hand.
What does it matter how it shall come? What does it matter when it shall come? What does it matter what it shall bring or how it shall come to me? When the dire calamities fell upon Job, deprived, bereaved, of his children, of his house, his servants, of his herds, of his flocks; one messenger tread on the hills of another to bring to him the terrible and calamitous news [Job 1:1-2:8]. What did it matter? What did it matter whether it came by the onslaught of the Sabeans or by a raid of the Chaldeans? What did it matter whether it was a fire falling from heaven or the wind blowing and howling from the wilderness? What did it matter? There was just one burden on the heart of this sainted patriarch, and just one expression from his lips: “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21].
I did not make my life. He wrought it. It is His. Nor do I add to the length of the days. They are in His hands. He gave, and at a time, He shall take away; blessed be the name of the Lord [Job 1:21]. There is a time to go. And when He chooses, it is my time, too, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” [2 Timothy 4:6]. It is always at hand. There may be a little brief interlude between now and that set, foreknown time chosen of God, but it will be so very brief and soon will pass. As—as David said to Jonathan in the twentieth chapter of 1 Samuel, “As thy soul liveth, Jonathan, there is but a step between me and death” [1 Samuel 20:3]. All of us live under that aegis of the mercy of God. There is but a step between us and death, “and the time of my departure is at hand” [2 Timothy 4:6].
Then how shall we be and what shall we do? May I mention, in the little time that remains, some of these all, all important things? One, first, above all else, “Is it well with thee?”; said the prophet [2 Kings 4:26]. Is it well with thee? I have no mortgage on any tomorrow. I have a sermon prepared to deliver tonight on Paul and Nero, the pagan and the Christian, as these two men faced each other in Paul’s trial, which is described here in this chapter [2 Timothy 4:6-18]. I have it prepared for tonight. I do not know I shall deliver it. We have great plans for the morrow in the building up of this incomparably blessed and precious church. Shall I live to see it? I do not know.
No one of us has any promise of any future moment or hour. Then I must be ready. Have I given my heart in trust to Jesus? [Romans 10:9-10]. Have I taken Him as my Savior? If the Lord should come for me now, if He should say, “the task assigned you is finished today, when the evening sun sets, this is the end of your ministry.” Is it all right? Am I ready? Am I? Am I trusting in Jesus? [Ephesians 1:13]. Have I asked His forgiveness? [Ephesians 1:7]. Can I commit my soul to Him and He knows me? [1 Corinthians 13:12].
I am like an old man, and one of these little boys out of the school was sitting by him and began to talk to him about Jesus. And the old man said, “Listen, son, listen, son, I settled that between my soul and my Savior years and years ago.” I think all of us, all of us; however the turn and the fortune of life, all of us ought to be able to say, “Pastor, or doctor, or friend, I settled that between my soul and my Savior.” And if you haven’t done it years ago, won’t you do it now? “I have settled that. Best I could. Best I know how, I take Jesus as my Savior. ‘My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.’ [from “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less,” Edward Mote, 1863]. No other hope. I am ready when the time of my departure is at hand. I am ready.”
Another thing; have we done our work? Have we? “I have fought a good fight, I finished my course, I have kept the faith” [2 Timothy 4:7]. Have we finished our work? Some of our people are people of means. Don’t come to the end of the way and leave it to this one or that one. Don’t. Be your own executor. Do it now. Do it now. This that God hath given me, to which He hath said, “Occupy it till I come” [Luke 19:13]; make every provision while you are here, and if you can, enjoy the fruit of your labor and the generosity and gifts of your soul. Oh, don’t leave it for others who may fall into all kinds of bitterness and unhappiness and it be squandered and wasted! While you can, look upon the good that you could do, do it now. And then, what remains, make all of it a sacrifice, an offering unto God. Be your own executor; you, whom God hath blessed. “I am ready. The time of my departure is at hand. I have been true to the trust” [2 Timothy 4:6-7].
And all of you who have some talent, whatever it is, use it for Jesus now. Can you sing? Sing for Him now. Can you teach? Teach for Him now. Could you visit? Visit for Him now. Do you have a car? Use it for Jesus now. Whatever God hath made us able to do, a little or in great, let us do it for Him now—true to the faith. And oh that we had an hour to speak of this task, this burden, this responsibility; I hate to use those words for it—this joy, this gladness of our testimony for the Lord; winning people to Jesus, pointing them to the cross while we have opportunity to do it now, to do it now.
That incomparable, matchless preacher who preached with such heart and fervor and soul, George Whitefield; time and again in his life’s work and ministry and sermons did he say, “Oh, when I come to die, when I come to die, I pray that I shall bear a great testimony to our Lord.” But he didn’t. He died suddenly. He expired immediately. And when the great crisis came, he bore no testimony to his Lord at all; none at all. But that did not matter. For George Whitefield stood in the streets. He stood in the rain. He stood in the cold. He stood in the heat. He stood among the poor. He stood in the courts. He stood in England. He stood in America. By day and by night did that great servant of God pour out his heart to the lost; that people would turn to Christ and be saved.
And when he died, he was in a little village in New England; had gone up to bed for the night, and while he was lying there to rest for the night, the villagers came to the house and knocked on the door. And they said, “Would George Whitefield preach to us once again?” His host went upstairs and bore the request to the great preacher. And he dressed and came down the steps with a lighted candle that he held in his hand; and standing on the steps of the home, he preached to the people until the candle went out and went back up to bed, laid down—and, he was asthmatic, as you know—and he suddenly expired.
It didn’t matter. He had borne testimony to our Lord in his life. He had been true to the faith to the last sermon that he preached. And when he was so suddenly taken ill and died, that he had no opportunity to bear testimony to Christ in the great hour of his death, it didn’t matter. He had been so faithful in his life. It may be thus with us. Maybe we fall into a coma, and we cannot speak. Maybe we perish by an accident, and there is no opportunity to say a word. It doesn’t matter.
Let me say it this morning. Let me speak of it now. Let me bear testimony to the Lord this minute. He saved me when I was a boy, a ten-year-old child. In these years that have passed, that faith hath grown the more dear and the more precious. And however it shall be in the vistas that open, I still look in faith and in trust to Him. “And I am persuaded He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” [2 Timothy 1:12]—that time, I do not know, but it is enough that He knows, and He cares.
Will you? Somebody you, “This day, I will give my life in faith and in trust to Jesus” [Romans 10:8-13]. Will you? “This day I will cast my soul’s eternity upon Him. I will trust Him now. I will trust Him when that time comes. I will trust Him for the eternity that is to follow. I, too, will look to Jesus.” Will you? However God would bid you respond this day; in this balcony around; on this lower floor; into the aisle and down here to the front; would you come? “I this day will take Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “This day, we place our life with this blessed congregation” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. A family of you; one somebody of you; however God shall say the word and lead the way; while we wait prayerfully, will you come? While we sing an appeal just for you, will you come? Will you make it now? Into the aisle, down to the front, “Here I am, pastor. Here I come”; while we stand and while we sing.