While It Is Called Today
May 10th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
WHILE IT IS CALLED TODAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-10-59 7:30 p.m.
Now would you turn in your Bible to Hebrews, the Book of Hebrews? Next Sunday morning, this coming Lord’s Day morning at 11:00 o’clock, I am going to speak from Hebrews 2:16-18: Our Merciful and Faithful High Priest. Tonight for this service, I have taken a text out of the third chapter of the Book of Hebrews, Hebrews 3, and the text is While It is Called Today.
Now let us read from Hebrews 3:7-13, Hebrews 3:7-13, together:
Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear His voice,
Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years.
Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known My ways.
So I sware in My wrath, that they shall not enter into My rest.
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
As the Holy Ghost said, “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, but exhort one another daily, while it is called Today” [Hebrews 3:7,8,13].
One of the most famous incidents in ancient history occurred in the sovereignty of Antiochus Epiphanes, who was the king of Syria. For hundreds of years there was almost constant warfare between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. And this time Syria had a very ambitious monarch named Antiochus Epiphanes, and as he conquered to the right and to the left and spread out his kingdom and his conquests, he finally made war against the Ptolemy of Egypt. And being an astute military strategist, he shut up the army of the Ptolemy in the city of Alexandria. But when Antiochus Epiphanes began to conquer Egypt, that was the first time that the East ever touched the West, for Egypt was the granary of the Roman Empire, which at that time was almost confined to the boot of Italy.
When Antiochus Epiphanes looked as if he was about to conquer Egypt and was besieging the great city of Alexandria, the Roman Senate sent a member of their august body named Gaius Papilius Linus to bear a message to Antiochus Epiphanes. So the representative of the Roman Republic found the illustrious Eastern monarch besieging the great city of Alexandria, and Papilius delivered to him the message of the Roman Senate, which was this: ”You must lift this siege, desist from this campaign, and with your army return back to Antioch, or else face war with the Roman government.”
When Papilius delivered that message to Antiochus, and Antiochus demurred and deferred and finally said, “I cannot make a decision now; I will refer it to my council,” when Antiochus said that, Papilius took his staff and drew a circle around the monarch in the Egyptian sand, then turned to Antiochus and said, “Before you leave that circle you will give me an answer that I can return to the Roman Senate.” Now the rest of the story is immaterial. Antiochus deferred, went back to his country of Syria, and took his disappointment out upon the Jewish nation and Jerusalem.
But that incident in Roman history stands in my mind as a figure and a type and an example of what happens in a man’s heart when he hears a gospel message and when a preacher makes appeal for Christ. Before you leave that seat, before the benediction is pronounced, before you go out that door, you will make an answer that I can return to the Lord God who made us and who calls us.
Now, why is it that a man would not immediately—upon the first note of the first invitation hymn—why wouldn’t he immediately come down out of that balcony or step into this aisle and down here to the front, and say, “Preacher, tonight, this minute, this moment, I’ll give my heart and my life to Christ. I’m not going to die a lost and unconverted man. I know I’m a dying sinner, and to die in unforgiven sin is to face the inevitable judgment and wrath of Almighty God. I tonight will look in faith and in trust to Jesus” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Why doesn’t a man do that? Because, may I read Zechariah 3:1, “And the Lord showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at His right hand to resist Him.” The reason why is that seated by your side is the great arch-adversary and archenemy, and he whispers in your ear, “Not tonight, not now. What that preacher says may be true and the gospel message he delivers may be of God, but some other day, some other time. Not now, not now. Wait. Wait. Wait.” So he whispers in your ear, “Wait. That preacher is trying to rush you. Wait. Wait. Wait.”
Trying to rush you? Why, man, there is no tragedy that could overwhelm your life like dying as you are tonight, unprepared, lost and without Christ. “Wait, wait,” Satan whispers in your ear, “He’s trying to rush you. Wait, wait.” Why, man, if you were in a valley, and the great dam with its vast impounded water began to pour over a broken dam, and I came to your house and said, “Brother, flee for your life!” would you say, “You’re just trying to rush me”? If you were on a sinking ship and I say, “To the lifeboats!” Would you say, just trying to rush you? If we were in a war and the government was to say, “There is an atomic bomber coming over your city, flee for your life,” would you say, just trying to rush you? Yet standing in the way of a broken dam, standing in the way of a great onslaught from the sky, standing in the way of an awful tragedy is nothing compared to what may overwhelm us any minute, any time. It isn’t just the young that die, though they die. It isn’t just the old that die, though they die. Any one of us may be called to face God any moment, any time, any day, any hour. “Wait. He’s trying to rush you.” That’s what Satan whispers. God says, “While it is called Today, harden not your heart” [Hebrews 3:13,15].
Why doesn’t a man come down out of that balcony, step into that aisle, give his heart to Jesus? Why? Because Satan stands at his right hand to resist him, saying, “Wait. Wait. You don’t understand all about that. Wait. You don’t understand.” My brother, I don’t understand either. But not only do I not understand all of the mysteries that God hath in His wonderful purpose of salvation, but I don’t understand anything. And as I have studied and read and searched and ferreted it and found out, I have learned that nobody understands anything. Nobody. You don’t understand anything. Nothing!
I have in my hand here my Bible, and about the simplest thing that I can know I could do is to drop it, is to drop it. Well, why doesn’t it fall that way? Why does it fall that way? Well, you see, that’s gravity. The reason my Bible falls is gravity. Well, what is gravity? Well, gravity is what makes your Bible fall. That’s very typical of all of the answers you’ll ever find about anything, anything. We have no final answer about anything. Nothing!
Why does a black cow eat green grass and give white milk out of which you get yellow butter? Nobody knows. Nobody understands. Nobody. You don’t understand anything.
There came a sophisticated city slicker driving down a country road in the Arkansas Ozarks, and he was lost, and over there was a hillbilly youngster out in a field with a hoe. And he got out of his car, walked over to that Arkansas hillbilly and said to him, he said, “Hey, fellow. Where does this road go?”
And the boy said, “That road’s been there well nigh forty year, and it ain’t gone nowhere yet.”
And the man said, “Well, I want to know where Little Rock is.”
And the hillbilly said, “I don’t know where Little Rock is, but there’s a mighty big’un back in the back part of this field.”
The fellow looked at him in disgust, and he said, “You’re not very far from a fool, are you?”
And the boy said, “No sir, just about two feet.”
And the man said to him, he said, “Say, guy,” he said, “You haven’t got a lick of sense. You don’t even know straight up.”
He said, “That may be right, mister, but I ain’t lost.”
There’s not any one of us, there’s not any one of us however wise, however educated, however trained, that actually has a final answer to anything. We’ve bought into mystery everywhere. In the infinitesimal world below us, in the macrocosm above us, there is the mystery, the explicable, that is beyond what any man could ever learn or could ever ferret it out.
When I was in Boston I made my way to the great Agassi Museum in Harvard. I had read so much about it. In that museum is the most glorious, incomparably ingenious collection of glass flowers that you could imagine. They look like real. And it’s not only the flower, it’s the plant, and it’s plants from all over the world—from the depths of the sea, from high in the mountains, from one side of this continent to the other, room after room after room, a vast display of glass flowers. They look alive—the roots, the stem, the branches, the leaves, the flower, the pistil, the stamen, the antler—all of it, all of it looks alive. It just lacks one thing: not a single one of those incomparably wrought flowers has in it the speck and the breath of life. And yet the greatest naturalists and scientists of the world made that beautiful display. But they can’t put on the inside that little speck of life. And yet in my backyard will grow a humble weed, and that little humble weed knows the secret of putting that little germ of life on the inside of a little tiny seed. Who taught it? Where did it learn it? The unfathomable mystery of the world around us.
Have you ever walked by the seashore, and there will be a little tiny shell? There was a little sea animal in the depths of the sea, and it chose, out of all that vast ocean, it chose a little house and built around itself that little shell. That little thing knew the difference between a molecule of chalk, and a molecule of magnesium, and a molecule of iodine, and a molecule of silica, and a molecule of salt. And it chose between all of those molecules out in the vast, infinite ocean, and it chose this and this and this—and out of it, it built the little house in which it dwelt. Who taught it the knowledge to choose between a molecule of chalk and a molecule of quartz and a molecule of magnesium? There again is the infinite mystery all around us. You bump into it everywhere; you cannot escape it. And I find that same infinite mystery here in the blessed Book. I don’t understand; I don’t see how God could love a fallen humanity, to incarnate Himself like one of us [Hebrews 4:15], die in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21], and for the sake of that Son, loved of heaven, pardon all of the sins of the world [1 John 2:2]. I don’t understand it. I just know that it works; that’s all. I just know the little seed will sprout, that it will bud and bloom. I just know that God lives and is; and the same mighty, infinite hand that I find in all the world above and around me, I find in the Book before me, and in the love of God that reaches down to my deepest soul.
Satan says, “Wait, you don’t understand.” God says, “Today, today,” while the Holy Spirit saith, “Today harden not your heart” [Hebrews 3:7-8, 15].
Why doesn’t a man come out of that balcony, into this aisle, down here to the front? Because Satan stands at his right hand to resist him, and he says, “Wait. Wait. Wait. You’re coming along, you’re doing fine. After all this thing of salvation is a process, and you’re doing good. You don’t need to respond tonight; you don’t need to come. Wait. Wait.” The Holy Spirit says, “Now!” for conversion is a beginning and a beginning is never, never gradual. I either do or I don’t. I will or I won’t. I obey or I disobey. I accept or I reject. Before I leave that circle I make some kind of a decision. I will or I won’t. I will respond or I refuse. It’s one or the other. There is no mystery about God’s will and God’s call. I am to turn and look in faith to the Lord Jesus, and I am to do it tonight [Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Corinthians 6:2]. I’m under obedience; I’m under that mandate; I’m under that commandment: come, come while it is called today [Hebrews 3:13].
If one of you teenagers, as all of us do in our lives, were to get angry at your father and mother and storm out of the room and slam the door, if you had a good father and a good mother who loved you, they’d call you back, and they’d say, “Now, listen. You mustn’t be like that; storm out of this room and slam that door. Now, you be real nice, and you be real quiet, and you go out of that room easy-like and close the door very precisely and politely.”
All right, what are you going to do? “Well, I’ll mourn about it awhile. I’ll study about it awhile. I’ll take a course in it awhile. I’ll read the Bible about it. I’ll go to church about it. I’ll make a conference and talk with the pastor about it. I’ll pray about it. I’ll discuss it.” You do or you don’t. The thing is a commandment has been made and a mandate has been issued: “softly, quietly, close the door,” and you do it or you don’t. You obey or you disobey.
It is the same thing about becoming a Christian. I either do it or I don’t, and it is as simple as that. I accept or I reject. I come or I don’t come, and there is nothing to mourn about. There is nothing to study about. There’s nothing to pray about. There’s nothing to read about. I am under a mandate and a commandment of God to look in faith to Jesus, to give my heart to Him, to submit my spirit to God [1 Peter 5:6]. All of the rest, to mourn, and to pray, and to read, and to come, and to study belongs in His blessed providence and in His blessed time. But I am to do that first, and now. “Today, while it is called today, harden not your heart” [Hebrews 3:13-15].
“Well, preacher, you don’t understand. I don’t have to make a decision like that. I can go out that door and wash my hands of it.” I know somebody who tried it. “I will not crown the Lord; I will not crucify the Lord. Bring me a basin of water.” And Pilate washed his hands, washed his hands [Matthew 27:24].
Many of you have been in Lucerne, Switzerland. Just beyond Lucerne is a mount they call Pilatus—Mt. Pilate. The tradition is that when Pilate committed suicide they flung his body into that lake, Lake Lucerne. And the old villagers say that in the eventide, you can see the body of Pilate rise to the top of the water, washing his hands, washing his hands. You can’t wash your hands. You can’t be neutral. It is one or the other. I’m for Him, or I’m against Him. I will, or I won’t. I do, or I don’t. I’m going to confess the Lord [Romans 10:9-10, 13], or I’m going out that door rejecting Him. I’m going to join the church, or I’m going to stay out of it. I’m going to be baptized, or I’m not going to be baptized. I’m going to confess my faith in Jesus [Ephesians 2:8-9], or I’m not going to confess my faith to Jesus. I’m going to give Him my heart, or I’m not going to give Him my heart. I’m going to do one or the other; I can’t do both.
Satan says, “You wait. You wait.” The Lord says, “Today if you hear His voice, harden not your heart” [Hebrews 3:15].
May I mention one other: why doesn’t a man come out of that balcony and down to the front? Why doesn’t he step into this aisle and down here to the front? Because Satan is at his right hand to resist him and he whispers in your heart, “Wait. Wait. Listen, fellow,” he says. “There are a lot of things just as good: to be a good man, to be a member of the lodge, to be patriotic, join the club, go out here and do good things. That’s just as good as going down that aisle. You don’t need to go down that aisle. You don’t need to give your heart to God. You don’t need to join the church. You don’t need to be baptized. There are many things that are just as good as that.”
Satan is in favor of anything, anything, except giving your heart to Jesus. “Go out here and give all that you have for philanthropy. That’s fine,” says Satan. “Go out here and pour your life into civic enterprises. That’s wonderful,” says Satan. “Go out here and be active in a lodge and in a club and civic ameliorations. That’s great,” says Satan, “that’s great. Anything,” says Satan, “except giving your heart to God.”
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Christ, I am as a sounding brass, and a clanging cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not Christ, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not Christ, I am nothing.
[based on1 Corinthians 13:1-3]
“Today if you hear His voice, harden not your heart” [Hebrews 3:15]. Give your heart to Jesus, then go out that door to do good. Give your life to God, then go out that door to work for the city, for the country, for the nation, for humanity, for mankind. Give your heart to God, then go to school and learn and study. Give your heart to God, then go to the office the next morning a better workman. Give your heart to God, then arise in the morning for the tasks of the day. Whatever God shall call us to do; first, first, “While it is called today, give your heart to God” [Hebrews 3:13, 15].
Come. Come. Put your life and your soul in the precious, keeping hands of our Savior. Do it now. Do it first. Do it tonight. Will you? Will you? While we make this appeal, while we sing this song, in this balcony round, coming, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Preacher, tonight, this night, I give my life to Christ, and I give you my hand. It’s the token of the public surrender of my life to Jesus, and here I am and here I come.” Would you make it tonight? Is there a family you? A child, a youth, a man, a woman; while we sing this song, oh, why not tonight? Why not tonight? “While it is called today, harden not your heart” [Hebrews 3:13, 15]. Would you make it now? And come down here and give me your hand. “Preacher, tonight I give my heart to Christ. I turn, I look to Him” [Isaiah 45:22; John 14:6]. Will you, while we stand and while we sing?