The Most Terrible Words in the Bible
February 15th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
THE MOST TERRIBLE WORDS IN THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-15-59 7:30 p.m.
Would you like to turn to my text tonight? The twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts; Acts 24, let us read from the twenty-second verse to the twenty-seventh, to the end of the chapter. Acts 24:22, Acts 24:22 to the end of the chapter. Now let us read it together:
And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that Way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.
And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.
And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.
He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.
But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.
You have just read one of the most dramatic incidences in Christian story. In the beautiful colonnaded Greek palace, built by Herod the Great in the capital city of Caesarea, capital city of Judea, Felix is the Roman procurator; his brother is named Pallas. And Pallas was the favorite at the court of Rome. And this man Felix had illimitable power and prestige because his brother was so high in the councils of the Roman court and the Roman Empire. He was a man of unbridled ambition, passion, fierceness of wrath, wickedness, intemperance; a murderer; all kinds of things that you could say about any vile and vicious tyrant you could say about Felix.
This wife, Drusilla, she was a daughter of Herod Agrippa. This wife, Drusilla, was interested in the Jewish religion. She was married to this pagan, but the residuum of her early training still remained in her heart. And she had heard of the preaching of the gospel and was interested in this new thing, that was being delivered by the mouths of the apostles, from God in Christ. She was intrigued. I do not know what she expected to hear. I would think without any doubt that Felix thought to be entertained. The tedium and the boredom of the routine at court, filled with ennui, satiation; when his wife Drusilla suggested to him that he hear this new religion, why, I do not think there’s any doubt but that Felix thought he’d be entertained for an hour, this new-fangled thing, some far-fetched fancy, a new religion. So, he set a day and came there on his throne and his wife by his side, and sent for Paul, and sat there to listen to the new religion.
What he heard was an altogether different thing. He wasn’t there listening to some high-flown, fanciful, mythological vision, supposition, an ethereal presentation, without tangibility, without substance, without meaning, without reality; Paul the preacher, the prisoner of Christ, stood in the presence of that wicked tyrant and "reasoned of righteousness and temperance and judgment to come." And as Paul preached in the power of the Holy Spirit of God, Felix trembled [Acts 24:25]. There are two times in the Book of Acts you’ll find that. One of them is in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, when Paul and Silas prayed, and God heard their prayers and shook the whole earth; and the earth quaked, and the jail doors fell off their hinges, and the jailer, thinking everybody had fled and he’d be responsible for their live, he couldn’t explain how God in answer to prayer shaked the whole earth. All he knew was the prisoners were gone and the doors were wide open. And he thought to take his life; and when he was there with his sword drawn to take his life, Paul cried out to him [Acts 16:25-28]. And he called for a light and sprang in: and there’s this first man, in the story of the Book of Acts, "came trembling, fell down before Paul and Silas" [Acts 16:29], and brought them out and asked the great and blessed question, "What must I do to be saved?" [Acts 16:30]. Look how different from this Philippian jailer that trembled before the presence of the power of God in this preacher of the gospel, look how different Felix:
And as Paul preached of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment to come, Felix also trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will. When I have a convenient season, I will. Some other day, some other time, some other hour, at a more propitious and felicitous occasion and moment; but not now. Some other time, some other day, tomorrow when I have a convenient season, I will.
Those words are the most terrible words in the Bible; and they are the most terrible words that a man can say: "Not now, but tomorrow, maÃ±ana, when I have a convenient season, I will. Some other day, some other time, but not now."
There are some terrible words in the Bible, words that men say. Here’s one: "Would God," said the children of Israel, "we died in the land of Egypt [Exodus 16:3]. Would God we had never known God, never been delivered by the Lord." What terrible words are they. And for them God sent serpents, and fire, and disease, and pestilence among them; those are terrible words. Here are some terrible words: "And the wife of Job said, Curse God and die. Curse God, and commit suicide" [Job 2:9]. Those are terrible words. There’s not any light, there’s not any hope, there’s not any future; "Curse God, and commit suicide." These are terrible words: "He casts out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils" [Mark 3:22]. And when they said those words, Jesus said:
Every manner of sin shall be forgiven man; when he speaks against the Father, it will be forgiven. When he speaks against the Son, it will be forgiven. But the man that speaks against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven: neither in this life nor in the life that is to come. Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit; He casts out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.
Those are terrible words. But these terrible words of this text are more horrible, and awful, and damming, and condemning than all of the other terrible words that you could read in the Bible!
There are several reasons for that, and the first is this: because of the people who say these words, "When I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25]. There are not many of us who rise up to say, "I wish I’d never known God. I wish I’d never known the Lord. I wish I had died a heathen and a pagan"; not many will say that. There are not many who advise and counsel self-destruction and self-murder; not many say that. There are not many who commit the unpardonable sin. In the theology that I believe – attributing to the works of the devil the Spirit in the work of Christ – there are not many who commit the unpardonable sin. But everybody shares, and everybody indulges in the words of this terrible text: "Not now, but some other time. Tomorrow, when I have a convenient season, I will. But not now" [Acts 24:25]. The lost man says it. "I don’t intend to be damned, I don’t intend to be lost, I don’t intend to die and to fall into hell. I someday will be saved. I’ll give my heart to Christ some other time, some other hour, some other moment, when I have a convenient and propitious time; but not now." The lost man says it. The vile man says it: he’s going to reform, someday; he’s going to do better, some other hour. The drunkard says it: he doesn’t intend to lie in the gutter all his life, to live out his days in insensibility and in filth and in the gutter; he intends to do better! And the Christian says it. That is the commonest words you will find among Christian people: "We’re going to pray some of these days. We’re going to read this Bible some of these days. We’re going to work for God some of these days. We’re going to do that visit some of these days. We’re going to win people to Christ some of these days, when I have a convenient season, I will."
He was going to be all that a mortal should be
No one would ever be better than he
Each morning he stacks up the letters he’d write
Each evening he’d recount the battles he’d fight
He was a man who’d work like a fiend
The world would have known him had he ever seen
But the fact is, he died and faded from view,
And all that was left when living was through
Was a mountain of things he intended to do
[Adapted from "Tomorrow"; Edgar Albert Guest]
Some other day, but not now. Some other time, "When I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25].
Those are terrible words, awful words, because they paralyze the soul and the will. When I have a convenient season, not now, but some other time. You tie this hand by my side and leave it there, and the day will come when if you were to untie my hand, I couldn’t raise it, I couldn’t lift it, I couldn’t use it; the very nerves in that hand and arm have atrophied, and it is paralyzed and limp and helpless by my side. You stop up this eye and leave my eye closed for a while, then unstop it, and I can’t see out of it. The very vision in it has perished. Stop my ears, and I not use them for a period of time, then unstop them: I could not hear; the very nerves have deteriorated. Many of you have been through Mammoth Cave, and you have seen those fish: they have sockets where eyes ought to be, but they don’t have any eyes! Lack of use has destroyed the very fiber out of which eyes are made! So it is in the soul and in the will: not to respond, not to do, not to rise up in answer is finally to be paralyzed and you can’t. We have lost the divine enablement.
I sat – now this isn’t an unusual thing, and I don’t pick it out as being any different from a dozen and a dozen other instances in which I have done the same thing – I sat by the side of an old man who was dying, trying to lead him to Jesus. For the years of his life, he’d said, "No," to Christ; been to church, heard the preacher, been prayed with, wept over. Now he’s old and dying, and I sit there by his side and plead with him to take Jesus as Savior and be saved and die a Christian. And being honest, he says, "Somehow I can’t believe. I can’t be saved. Somehow, my heart is hard, and I can’t respond." Any time you think you can be saved, just any minute, you don’t know your heart. There is a time advantageous! There is a time propitious! There is a time when God calls! And there are times when your heart is hard! I cannot enter into those things. When people ask me, "Are these people saved?" I don’t ever reply; I don’t judge, it is not mine to say. I just know as I work with people that when you think you can be converted any time, any minute, somehow it doesn’t work that way. There are times when the heart is moved, and the soul is stirred; and there are times when there is no stirring of the water, and there’s no moving of the soul. There are people who turn away, and turn away, and turn away, and turn away, and they are never saved!
This man Felix, "When I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25]; the convenient season never came. He was never converted. He died a miserable suicide; and Drusilla his wife, and the boy she bore Felix, perished in the great eruption of Vesuvius in Pompeii. They were never saved; they were never Christians. And you won’t be, you won’t be. Some other day, and it never comes. Some other time, and it never arrives. Some other hour, and it never is given. When God says, "Today, now," and the man says, "Tomorrow, tomorrow," somehow it’s like the seal of death; it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come. "When I have a convenient season, I will," it means paralysis for the soul, for the decision, for the heart. Some other time and it never comes; it never does.
Those are terrible words, "When I have a convenient season, I will," because they prove us unfaithful unto God [Acts 24:25]. How many, many, many, many times have the great God given opportunities that the Lord hath placed in our hands slip through our fingers, and they are never retrieved, they cannot be called back, they are gone forever and forever? An evangelist one time said that he was called to hold the funeral service of a little girl who had died. And when he went to the town to hold the funeral service for the little girl, he asked the father and mother, "Was the little girl a Christian? Had she accepted Jesus as Savior before she died?" And the parents replied, "Oh, sir, we meant to talk to our little girl about the Lord, and we meant to see if she’d given her heart to Jesus as Savior, but we never did it. It was never quite convenient; the time never did just come, and we never did speak to our little girl about the Lord. But you ask her Sunday school teacher: surely she would know." So the evangelist went to the Sunday school teacher, and asked the Sunday school teacher, "Was the little girl a Christian? Was she saved? Had she trusted Jesus before she died?" And the Sunday school teacher replied, "I meant to talk to the child about the Lord, but somehow I just never did. I put it off. And now I cannot say. I do not know. But you ask the superintendent." And the superintendent didn’t know. And he said, "You ask the pastor." And the evangelist went to the pastor, and the pastor said, "I had it in my heart to visit that family and to inquire of the estate of that little child, but I never did. And now I do not know whether the child was a Christian or not." So the evangelist held the memorial service. The father didn’t know. The mother didn’t know. The Sunday school teacher didn’t know. The superintendent didn’t know. The pastor didn’t know.
When a child reaches the age of accountability, and knows the difference between right and wrong, and has consciously sinned, and knows it, that child is lost. We are not condemned for Adam’s sin. "As in Adam all die, so in Christ all are made alive" [1 Corinthians 15:22]. But when we reach that age and we are conscious sinners, we must repent and accept Jesus as Savior, or we are lost. And these boys and girls, when they reach that age of accountability, sometimes seven, sometimes eight, sometimes nine, ten, in that age, there will come a quickening of the heart. And when that time comes, it isn’t tomorrow to talk to the child, it isn’t some other day or some other hour or some other moment, it is then. It is now [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Oh, fathers, and mothers, and teachers, and superintendents, and Christian people, how many, many times is it that their little lives slip through our fingers. You don’t win them when they’re older. Rarely, rarely will you see somebody come down any aisle anywhere who has reached an age. The time to win that man is when he’s a child. And the time to reach that woman is when she’s a little girl. When the troubling of the water, that’s when to place these in the pool that they might be healed and they might be saved. "When I have a convenient season, I will, some other time, but not now." Those are terrible and tragic words because they lead others into death. "When I have a convenient season, I will, someday, some time, some other tomorrow" [Acts 24:25].
Now may I make an honest admission? Not everyone that says those words and puts off his salvation is lost. Many of them are saved; they get by with it, they do it successfully. For years and years and years they put it off and are finally saved, just like they said they would. "I’ll be saved before I die. I’ll accept the Lord before I die. I don’t intend to be damned. I don’t intend to be lost, I don’t intend to fall into hell. I don’t intend to face the judgment without a Savior. I intend to be saved"; and they are, many of them are, that’s true.
I talked to an old man one time who was about seventy-six years of age. And he said to me, "I was saved when I was seventy years old." He’d been a Christian six years. And I said to him, "Well, why weren’t you saved a long time before that?" He said, "I intended to be, and I said I would be, and I put it off, and I waited. But finally I was saved at seventy years of age." And I rejoiced with him and was glad. He had a boy between forty and fifty years of age. And in those services that I was holding there, that old man came to me and deeply, deeply burdened for his son, said, "Would you go talk to my boy, that my son will be saved and be a Christian?" I said, "I certainly will." And I went and spoke to his boy, and read the Scriptures to his boy, and I prayed with the boy, and I asked that son to make a decision for Christ. And that boy replied to me, he said, "Not now. I know I ought to be, I know I ought to be saved, I know I ought to be a Christian, I know I ought to give my heart to God, but not now, some other time, some other time." He had heard his father say that all his life! "Not now, some other day, some other time." And it worked for the father. When the old man got to be seventy years of age, he was saved. But his boy wasn’t. And I saw the day when that father went to the boy and got on his knees before him; like the boy would be standing here, and that old dad got down on his knees before the boy, and weeping till his tears were like showers of rain, pleading with that son to come to Christ, and give his heart to Christ. And that boy never did, never did.
I got a letter. I receive so many letters like this. Do you see the kind of paper it’s written on? It’s tablet paper, ruled, like you write on with a pencil. They do not know me personally, it is just sent to the pastor of the First Baptist Church, and the mailman put it in my hand. You listen to it. "Dear Sir and Brother, will you please call on my brother and talk to him about his soul? He is seriously ill with but a few days left to live, in the veteran’s hospital." Now listen to this sentence: "Our parents were Baptists, but he was grown before they were converted. They were almost fifty years old when they were saved. I have often heard my mother say she regretted her children had not been reared in a Christian home. Please do call upon him, as his days are few. Prayerfully and respectfully," and signed his sister. When should that boy have been saved? Old, grown, dying now, never knew in his home a Christian father and a Christian mother; for they were not saved till they were fifty years of age, she says. It worked for them; they got in the kingdom. But it didn’t work for the boy. He was lost. He was lost. "When I have a convenient season, I will."
There’s not any time with God but now. There is no tomorrow with God; it is now. When God says, "It is the acceptable time" [2 Corinthians 6:2], it is the man who ought to say, "And Lord, I come." When God bids you here, that’s God’s moment for you; it has struck, it has come, it is now. Oh, that in the appeal we make tonight, somebody you, put off, some other time, some other day, by God’s grace there shall not be any tomorrow in this decision: "I make it now for Christ, and here I come. I may have a lot of tumultuous doubtings and fears; it’s all right, I will trust God for every tumultuous doubt and every distracting fear. I may not be able to understand everything; I may not have won the victory over all of my battles and tempestuous trials; it’s all right, I will trust God for the rest."
God has to speak the word to your heart. Should you give your life to Him in a special way, then do it now. Should you take Him as Savior and the forgiveness of sins, do it now. Should you dedicate your home and your life to the Lord, then do it now. Should you rear your children up in the love and nurture of Christ Jesus, and you have never given yourself to the open-hearted, loving, compassionate, sympathetic appeal and presence of Jesus, would you do it now? Some of you, living in the city, and have delayed putting your life in the church, would you do it now? A family of you, or one somebody you, as God shall say the word, shall lead the way, shall open the door, shall make the appeal, would you come and would you make it now? In this balcony around, coming down these stairwells at the front or at the back, "Tonight, pastor, tonight, I give my heart to Christ, my life to Him." In this lower floor, from side to side, somebody you, "Tonight, God has spoken to my heart, and here I am, and here I come." Should you come by letter, should you come by statement, should you come by baptism, should you come by confession of faith, ought you to come giving your life to Jesus, as God shall say the word and lead the way, would you make it now? "Tonight, here I am, and here I come," while we stand and while we sing.
TRAGIC WORDS IN THE BIBLE
before Felix and Drusilla
men in Acts, who, upon hearing the gospel, trembled(Acts
Their final response so different
Philippians jailer – "What must I do to be saved?"(Acts
Felix – "When I have a more convenient time, I will."(Acts 24:25)
frightfulwords in the Bible(Exodus 16:3, Job 2:9,
Mark 3:22, 28-30)
None so tragic asthese spoken by Felix(Acts
II. Why are these the most tragic words in
A. Because everybody is
1. The lost, the
evil, the drunken
2. Even the
a. Poem, "Tomorrow"
B. Because they are
paralyzing to the soul and will
1. By the lack of
response, we finally come to where we cannot respond
Unused arms become atrophied, stop an ear and it becomes deaf, closed eyes
Putting off response to the gospel paralyzes the heart
C. Because they prove
us unfaithful to God
2. Older man
saved, grown son refuses
D. Because they lead
others to death
1. Older man
saved, grown son refuses
asking me to visit and share with dying man
3. If we are going
to say yes to Jesus, we need to say it now