The Present Obligation to Be Converted
April 26th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
THE PRESENT OBLIGATION TO BE CONVERTED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-26-59 7:30 p.m.
Now let us turn to the Word of the Lord, seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts. Seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts; Acts 17, and we are going to read together from the twenty-second through the thirty-first verses. Acts 17:22-31; Acts 17:22-31; now let’s everybody read it together. This is Paul on Mars’ Hill, Acts 17:22-31:
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
Neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed any thing, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us:
For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.
Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.
And this message arises out of a fullness of heart at the conclusion of the revival meeting I have just held.
"The times of this ignorance God overlooked; but now commandeth all men every where to repent" [Acts 17:30]. This is a commentary on the appeal of Simon Peter as he preached in Jerusalem, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" [Acts 3:19]. Those are two imperatives: metanoēsate, "change your mind"; epistrephate, "change your way," translated here, "Repent, and be converted." Both of those are imperatives. And I am to speak on the present obligation to be saved. This is not optional with us. We are under a commandment and a mandate of God Almighty. "God now commandeth all men every where to turn, to repent, metanoēsate, turn" [Acts 17:30]. That refers to a man’s thinking, his mind; epistrephate refers to a man’s actions and a man’s life. "Turn, repent, be converted" [Acts 3:19]; that is a present commandment of God. God stands ready to blot out the sins of a man’s life. The Holy Spirit stands ready to regenerate a man’s heart [Titus 3:5]. But God Himself cannot blot out our sins, nor can the almighty Spirit of God regenerate our hearts, until first we turn to God. And our turning is a commandment of the Lord. It is not optional. It is a commandment. I am commanded to turn, to repent, to give my heart and my life in faith and in trust to the Lord Jesus [Acts 3:19, 17:30].
They said to me, there is a wonderfully gifted and talented and able young banker in our city. His wife is a devout member of our church, and their little girl is a devout member and faithful in our Sunday school and in our church. But that young banker is an avowed atheist, an infidel, an unbeliever. And we’ve sought, and we have tried, and we cannot reach him. And we wanted to know if we could make a dinner engagement for you, if you’d sit down from across the table and talk to him? So they made the arrangement in one of the doctors’ homes; and there were just four of us there: the doctor of the home, and the pastor of the church, and the young banker, and I. So, after we had broken bread, and after the amenities, why, the doctor introduced the subject: "Your wife is a member of our church, and your girl, your little daughter, is a member of our church. And you have a place in our city that is second to none. You’re a young man with great influence. But your influence doesn’t count for God, and it doesn’t count for Christ, and it doesn’t count for our church. And we wanted you to talk to this preacher here."
So the first thing the young banker said to me was this: he said, "If I felt anything in my heart to be a Christian, I would be. If I had any inclination to give my heart to the Lord, I would. But," he said, "I have no inclination. I have no feeling in that direction. It is something that I have no need for, none at all. I have no feeling of need," he said, and he expatiated on it. "I have no feeling of need," he said, "for the church, or for God, or for Christ, or for religion. I have no feeling of need for it whatsoever. Therefore," he said, "I don’t respond." I answered, "My dear young friend, you live in a Christian community. You have a Christian wife and a Christian daughter and a Christian home. And your parents, I’ve been told, were Christian people. And the social fabric of which you are a part is Christian. And this whole nation has been built on those Christian principles. The reason you don’t feel any need is because you are reaping the fruits of those who have poured their lives into this Christian faith." I said, "Young man, suppose we lived in Russia, and you had your family in Russia. The communist atheistic, materialistic interpretation of life gives rise to a certain social order, and a certain government, and a certain fabric of society. And it is the product of the communist atheistic, materialistic way of life. Suppose you lived in that order and in that social life, and under that government. Do you suppose you would feel a need? The Hindu religion and the Hindu faith gives birth to a certain order, and a certain life, and a certain social fabric. Suppose you raise your family in that Hindu country. Do you think you’d feel a need? The Muslim has a certain idea of home life and polygamy. He has a certain idea of government and of social order. Suppose you were to rear your family in a Muslim Islamic Mohammedan land. Do you reckon you’d feel any need? Or suppose you reared your family in an animistic land, where the people bow down before sticks and stones and worship trees and hills and mountains? And all of that gives rise to a certain order, and a certain government, and a certain form of life. Suppose you were to rear your family in an animistic land. Do you reckon you’d feel any need?" I said, "What you’re doing is this: you are living off of the fruits of a Christian life, and a Christian home, and a Christian order, and a Christian civilization; but you are a parasite, you live off of it but you contribute nothing to it."
Then for the next two hours I sat there and listened to him try to explain to me why he wasn’t a parasite. But you don’t explain that; you don’t explain that. You can sit there for two hours, just like that brilliant young man did, and try to explain to me why you’re not a parasite; but you don’t explain that. All of the great blessings of his life have come to him through Jesus. The blessings of his home, the blessings of his parents, the blessings of this nation, the blessings of the social order in which he lives, the blessings of the morality of business by which he runs the bank; but he contributes nothing to it himself. He’s a parasite: he lives off of it, but he contributes nothing to it. And I said finally to the young man, "Young man, you owe it to God, and you owe it to your country, and you owe it to your city, and you owe it to the young men who know you and admire you, and you owe it to your wife, and you owe it to your daughter, and you owe it to the church, and you owe it to the pastor, and you owe it to Jesus to give your life to Christ. You are commanded. You are a man under authority.
These are imperatives: ‘Repent ye, turn ye, that your sins may be blotted out, and that God may forgive you for Jesus’ sake, and you be saved’" [Acts 3:19; Ephesians 4:32].
That commandment comes to all of human life, all of it. It comes to our children. Any child reared in a Christian home will feel that urgency and that immediacy. I spoke to a couple about their little daughter tonight. When a child is reared in a Christian home, you don’t need to worry; that unction, that movement from God will be felt in the child’s life. And when that unction comes, that’s the time to respond; not some other day, not some other hour, not some other year, but then! When the time comes, when God speaks to the child, that’s the moment to respond.
I was holding a revival meeting in the First Baptist Church of Nashville, Tennessee. And the former pastor there, a great Christian, was an ultraconservative man. And when I made the appeal one night in that revival meeting, down the aisle came a little bitty girl, little tiny thing. And she took the pastor’s hand and said she’d given her heart to Jesus. Pastor shook his head, and he said to me and to the congregation, "The child is too young, she’s too young." Why, bless your heart, about two nights later, down the aisle came that same little bitty girl; and this time she was leading her mother by the hand. She had won her mother to the Lord Jesus, and she presented her mother to the pastor. And on a confession of faith, the mother was received as a candidate for baptism. And bless your heart, about a night or two later, down the aisle came that same little bitty girl, and this time she had her grandpap by one hand and her grandma by the other hand. She’d won her grandpap and her grandma to the Lord Jesus Christ; and came down the aisle to the pastor and introduced to the pastor her grandmother and her grandfather, and she’d won both of them to the Lord. And when the pastor got through introducing the grandfather and the grandmother, he turned around to me, and then to the congregation and he said, "I’ve changed my mind. I’ve changed my mind. I believe this little girl is converted, and she knows the Lord! And I want to present her to this church as a candidate for baptism." Why, he’d seen the light; bless him that he did.
That unction and that urgency and that immediacy will come in any child’s life; God has made us for Himself. God has put that on the inside of us. Just like a grain of corn, or a grain of seed, put it in the ground, when the weather gets warm and the sun warms the soil, and when the showers fall upon it, there’s something on the inside of that little grain that sprouts and grows. So it is in the life of a child: God put on the inside of a child’s soul that spark and germ of life. And when it is cultivated, as in the church, and in the Sunday school, and in the Christian home, it will sprout, it will germinate, it will grow; and the little child will be saved. "Daddy, Mother, I want to give my life and my heart to Jesus." And the time to do it is then, when the moving of the water, when the Holy Spirit moves the heart; our children won to Christ.
That same commandment comes to our young people. How many, many, many, many times do I find young people who excuse themselves for what they do because they’re young, "Now, we’re not old folks yet, we’re not mature yet; we are young people." And on the basis of being young people they’re out there excusing themselves for doing this, and for doing that, and for doing a multitude of other things that are not devoted and dedicated to God. There is a commandment from the Lord to young people: not to give your life to God as a husk, and as a shell, and as a carcass; but in the youth time, in the bloom time, in the springtime of life, it belongs to Him. We are under commandment to serve our Lord. There’s no time as beautiful, as marvelously fine and effective to serve God as when you can do it with all of the energies and all of the prowess and all of the elastic strength of young manhood and young womanhood. The time to start to preach is when you are young.
I spoke for a week at a college in Mississippi, one of our Baptist colleges, established for men who are giving their lives to the Lord, and who didn’t do it in youth time; they’re all middle aged, and the day of their great opportunity for preparation is passed. To me it was one of the saddest weeks I ever spent, just to look at those men. Fine men, wonderful men, devoted men, but most of their lives already passed and gone because in the youth time of life they were in the world, they were serving the devil. And now, as the sunset half of life matures, they’re trying to make up for what they can never make up if they lived five hundred years. The time to serve God as a minister, as a missionary, as a servant of Jesus Christ is when you are young; get ready now, study now, give your life to Jesus now, serve our Lord now. Then when the maturity of life comes, you’ll stand on the threshold of the greatest opportunity any heart could ever want or any soul could ever desire. The commandment is now; it is now; and how urgent that is for mature men and women.
Many, many, many times do I hear a man when he comes down the aisle and takes my hand, does he say this: "Oh, pastor, would to God I’d have done it forty years ago! Would God I’d have done it when I was a child. These years are wasted and gone!" The time is now; not tomorrow, not some other day, not when life’s sands have been wasted, not when the great opportunities for service are gone, but it’s now. Give your life to Jesus now! Repent now! Be converted now! [Acts 3:19, 17:30; 2 Corinthians 6:2]. Turn now! We are under commandment now to serve the Lord [Luke 4:8].
The reason I began preaching on the street was this: they were having a big simultaneous revival meeting in all of the churches of the city, every denomination. And they announced that on a Saturday all of the churches and all the preachers were going to be on a platform out in the city, going to block off a street or two; going to have a great service out there. So I was happy; I took my place on the platform with all of the other ministers of the city. And it was under the direction of a council, of an elected group. There was a great throng of people there, a host of them, and after they had sung a song, and after they had had a prayer, and after they’d had a special number, why, the man who was in charge of it introduced the pastors one by one. And each pastor introduced his evangelist, and they announced their services and the location and the hour. And then when all that introduction was over, the master of the meeting said, "We’ll now have our benediction, and be dismissed." Were I as I am now, I suppose I would have bowed my head for the benediction and went on my way. But I was just out of school then; I’d just got out. And I was a-burning in my soul and in my heart. And when that fellow announced over the PA system, "We’ll now have our benediction," I said, "You’re going to dismiss these people without preaching to them?" Well, he turned around to me in astonishment, and all of that multitude looked up there at me in amazement! And the fellow said, "Why, yeah. Why?" I said, "Well, somebody ought to preach to these people. They need preaching to." Well, he said, "If somebody’s going to preach to them, who is it?" Well, I said, "If nobody will, I will." He said, "All right, there’s the microphone, go to it," and he sat down. That’s how come me to start preaching on the street. I did it every Saturday thereafter for about three years.
And when I got through a-preachin’ on the street, telling those people how to be saved, I want you to know that the pastor of the Camelite church stood up when I sat down from preaching, he walked over the microphone, and he said, "Listen to me, people, you go home and read your Bibles. And the Bible will tell you how to be saved; not that guy." I have a little simple test about anything like that. And the little test, and the little test is this: if I do what you say, will I be saved? That’s my little test. If I go home and read my Bible, will I be saved? I can go home and read my Bible, and still be lost. "You ought to go home and pray." If I go home and pray, will I be saved? I can go home and pray and still be lost. "You ought to go to church, and you’ll be saved." If I go to church, will I be saved? I can go to church and still be lost. "You ought to do penance; you ought to mourn, you ought to do many things." If I do those things, will I be saved? If I do those things, I can still be lost.
But listen, listen: if I give my heart to God, if I turn in repentance and in trust to Jesus, if I call upon His name, will I be lost? No, I’ll be saved! [Romans 10:9-13]. When I talk to a man, I ought always to tell him that. "Man, give your heart to God, then go to church. Give your heart to God, then read the Bible. Give your heart to God, and then pray. Give your heart to God, and then try to live a fine Christian life. But first give your heart to God" [Romans 10:9-10] It’s giving your heart to God that saves you. It’s giving your heart to God that makes God’s able, adequate power there at your disposal. You can pray and be lost; you can sing and be lost; you can come to church and be lost; there is a man here in this church for whom we have prayed years and years and years, who has heard me preach for years, and who’s one of the best friends I have and one of the best friends this church has, and he’s still lost. Why is he lost? Not because he doesn’t come to church, not because he’s not in sympathy with us, and not because he doesn’t sing the songs with us, and not because he doesn’t love us and he’s not for us; but he’s lost because he hasn’t given his heart to God. You can’t give your heart to God and be lost. "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" [Romans 10:13]. And whenever we tell anybody about the Lord Jesus, we ought to tell it like this: if the man does that will he be saved? Then tell him, "Give your heart to God, give your heart to God now. Give your heart to God tonight. Give your heart to Jesus this minute. And then, in God’s strength and power, turn to live the best you can; turn and kneel and pray, turn and go to church, turn and do all of those blessed virtuous heavenly things that the Lord delights to see in His children. But first, give your heart to God." That’s first: give your heart to God, take Jesus as Savior, ask Him to come into your heart, then leave it to God for all of the rest [Romans 10:9-10].
One day, in the sweep of a great spiritual tide in a village in New England, a little boy met the pastor on the street. And the little boy said to the preacher, he said, "Oh sir, I feel so bad. I feel so heavy. Oh sir, I want to be saved." And the preacher said to the little boy, he said, "Son, you go home to your room, and kneel down by the side of your bed, and give your heart to God." And the little boy said, "Oh sir, my heart is so heavy, and I feel so bad. I don’t believe I can live until I get to my room to kneel by the side of my bed." And the preacher thus unconsciously rebuked by the boy, said, "Then son, give your heart to Jesus now, right here. Then go to your room and kneel down by your bed and tell God all about it." That’s the way. Give your heart to Jesus first, then tell God all about it. Give your heart to Jesus now, then pray, then come to church, then look. Give your heart to God first, then ask Him for all of those benedictory blessings that ensue and inevitably follow those who have looked up in faith and in trust to Jesus.
I am under commandment. I am a man under authority. "The Lord commandeth all men everywhere now to turn, to turn" [Acts 17:30]. It is not optional. It is something I am bidden, mandated to do from heaven. Have you done it? Have you done it? Have you given your heart to Jesus? Have you looked in trust and in faith to Him? [Ephesians 2:8]. Then God calls you to do it tonight. "Preacher, I don’t feel like it." He never said anything about feelings; He said, "Turn" [Acts 3:19, 17:30].
"But preacher, I don’t understand it." He never said anything about understanding it. He said, "Turn."
"But preacher, I’ve got something else to do." He never said anything about something else to do. He said, "Turn." The commandment of God for all men every where is to turn [Acts 17:30], turn to the Lord Jesus, repent, change, give your heart and your life to the Lord Jesus. That’s the commandment of God. That’s the call of the Holy Spirit of the Lord. And as His mouthpiece and His preacher, I’m making that invitation to your soul tonight. Tonight, this moment, this hour, this minute, this very second, where you sit in your seat, will you give your heart to Jesus?
"Whether I feel like it or no, here I come. Whether I understand it or not, here I am. Whether I am able to solve all of the attendant problems that go with it, I don’t know; but I leave them to God. Here I am, and here I come. By His grace, in His love and mercy, in His goodness and promise, tonight I take Jesus as my Savior, and here I am."
In this balcony round, somebody you, never given your heart to the Lord, will you do it tonight? In this throng on this lower floor: "I’ve never given my soul in trust to Jesus, but I do it tonight." Somebody you: "I’ve drifted far away from the Lord; I need to come back, and to listen to the voice of God, and I’ll do it tonight." A family that ought to come, or one somebody you, while we make this appeal, while we sing that song, will you make it now? Will you make it tonight, down one of these stairwells and here to the front? From side to side, into the aisle and down here to the preacher, "Preacher, I give you my hand tonight; I’m giving my heart to God by His grace and with His help."
I want you to change that invitation hymn tonight. I want you to turn to 235, 234, 234, "Oh, Why Not Tonight?" Is that the song? "Oh, Why Not Tonight?" And while we sing that appeal, "Oh, Why Not Tonight?", if that somebody is you, would you make it now? Into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I come, preacher, and here I am. By God’s grace, and in His love and mercy and help, I’m giving my heart in trust to Christ, and here I am, here I come." If God bids you, and He does if you’ve never confessed Jesus; if God bids you, and He does if you’ve never owned Jesus as Lord and Savior; will you make it tonight? In obedience to the call, "While it is called today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart" [Hebrews 3:15], the appeal of the Spirit of God: make it tonight, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.