The Coming of the Lord
June 19th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
THE COMING OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-19-60 10:50 a.m.
The title of the pastor’s sermon today is The Coming of the Lord. And in our preaching through the Bible, we are in the fifth chapter of the Book of James. And our text is at James 5:7-9. "Be patient," pastor, "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman," the farmer, the sower, the planter,
Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the Judge standeth at the door.
This is the writing of the pastor of the church at Jerusalem. And in his appeal to his people, and in his appeal under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to us, thrice there he makes his appeal on the basis of the coming of the Lord: "Be patient, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Look at the husbandman that sows and cultivates and waits. Be ye also patient: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Behold, the Judge standeth at the door" [James 5:7-9].
It’s a remarkable thing this doctrine, this revelation, of the return of our Savior. When we think of it, we think in terms of extremities. Here are these fanatics setting a date over here. And here are these people gone off the deep end over there. And they are not thinking anything about God’s work now, they are just thinking about what’s going to happen a hundred thousand years from now, or if the Lord comes, what shall develop in the days beyond His appearing. To us the doctrine of the return of our Lord is anything but practical. And yet in the Book, in the Holy Scriptures, the great, marvelous, incomparably glorious revelation of the coming denouement of all time and history, and the consummation of the age and the appearing personally of our Lord in glory is used as one of the most practical of all of the doctrines in the Book. I haven’t time to expatiate on that. For example, the apostle John will say in 1 John 3:3, "And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure"; the man who gives himself to that faith and persuasion has a new ordering of his life, of his vision, of his thoughts, of all to which he commits himself; a most practical doctrine. The apostle Paul, for example, will say, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" [Philippians 4:5]. Let your epi eikes, how would you translate that? Epi eikes, "Let your gentleness, let your forbearance, let your yieldedness, let your patience be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand." The great author of the epistle to the Hebrews makes an appeal: "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry" [Hebrews 10:35-37]. Does the same thing: don’t give up, don’t cast away your patience; don’t forsake your confidence, it has great recompense of reward, for, yet a little while and He that shall come will come and will not tarry. However the issues of life may be strained and twisted and warped, and however the visions of our life may be dimmed and sometimes cast down, however this thing doesn’t go as we might hope it would go and doesn’t turn as we might hope it would turn, don’t turn to infidelity, or atheism, or materialism, or agnosticism, or despair; don’t. Don’t let the bitterness of that unholy root find a place in your soul; but in great commitment to Christ, and in love and confidence in Him, look up, wait for the established return, set in God’s time and elective purpose, wait for the great consummation of the age. Give yourself to that faith and that hope and that persuasion.
I read once again this week because of a parody upon it one of the most famous poems that is ever written. It’s William Henley’s "Invictus." It’s a hymn; it’s a poem of atheism and infidelity.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this pale of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
["Invictus"; William E. Henley]
That is one of the greatest poems, that is one of the most famous poems of all time. Now this is the turn that a wonderful Christian author gave to it, entitled "My Captain"; almost word for word transferred into another commitment, another devotion, another love and another promise:
Out of the light that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be,
For Christ, the Conqueror of my soul.
Since his the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule that men call chance,
My head, with joy, is humbly bowed.
Beyond this place of sin and tears,
That life with Him and His the Aid
That, spite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me unafraid.
I have no fear though strait the gate:
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate!
And Christ is the Captain of my soul!
["My Captain"; Dorothea Day]
Isn’t it better? There’s no comparison. In the toil, and the tears, and the hurt, and the tragedy that attends the weary life of this weary world, how dark and despairing to turn to unbelief and atheism, and how gloriously triumphant to turn in faith to the great victory of our conquering Christ. "Be patient, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord . . . Establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh . . . Behold, He standeth at the door" [James 5:8-9].
Now he makes that appeal on the basis of our work and our ministry in the earth. "Be patient unto the coming of the Lord. Look, behold, look, the husbandman, the farmer, waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it" [James 5:7]. This is the husbandman, and in the appointed time he goes to the granary, and he takes there from sacks of the golden grain, nuggets of life, and he buries it in the earth.
You know just to think of that sometimes is an astonishing thing! I’ve seen pictures where the United States has sent wheat to starving areas, wheat for seed to be planted; and the hungry famished crowds and mobs such as we read of in the Near East now, overwhelm the guards and tear apart the doors of the cars, and take that golden grain that was sent for the seed of the harvest. Takes faith, takes faith for a man to take out of his granary sacks of the golden gold and bury it in the earth; but he does it, he does it in faith, waiting for the harvest. And after he has planted it, and after he has cultivated it, his heart and his eyes, and his hopes look up, have to look up, if the sky is brass the earth is iron; looking up, as he says, "for the early and the latter rain" [James 5:7]. God must speak to the clouds and the sky, God must speak to the seed beneath the clod, God must give the increase. And he waits, looking upward, less of this earthly and more of the heavenly. And he looks upward, and he expects the gift from heaven. The farmer that would expect that gift, that increase, that harvest in a day or a moment would toil in despair, he’d give up; but the husbandman, out of the experience of his life, will wait; and the harvest comes in God’s grace by and by [James 5:7]. He has a right to expect. He has a right to hope. He has plowed the ground, he has stirred the clods, he has planted the grain, he has a right, as the fruit of his labor, of his faith, he has a right to expect a reward from heaven. That’s what the pastor says about us: to the man who has never believed, and he’s never trusted, and he’s never looked upward, and he’s never worked for God, it’d be folly to expect an increase. He has no hope, he has no vision, he has no destiny, he has no tomorrow; his life is here and now, and when that life is dead and gone, he is at the end of a despairing commitment. It is over. But to the man who has believed, and who has trusted, and who has worked for God, and has lifted his face up to heaven, he has a right to expect a wonderful, glorious response from the skies.
That’s the way the Lord blesses His people. It’s in answer to an expectancy. It’s in reward to a great hope. It’s the final capstone and consummation to a life of devoted service and ministry. And if you don’t look for it, and if you don’t give your lives to it, then it is nothing, nothing at all, nothing to expect, nothing. One time the master in an old southern plantation died, a most worldly and material and mundane and earthly man. And he had a godly, old Negro servant. And a man coming by said to the old Negro servant, he said, "Your master is dead."
"Yes," said the servant, "My master is dead."
"Well," said the man, "I guess your master has gone to heaven."
"No," said the old colored man, "my master ain’t gone to heaven."
"Well, what makes you so sure?" said the man.
"Well," said the colored servant, he said, "I’ve been with my master all of his life. And whenever my master made a journey, he prepared for it, he told me about it, and I packed his things, and he prepared to make the journey, and he spoke about it. But he never made any preparation for this journey, nor did he ever mention it, nor did he ever speak about it. And my master ain’t gone there because he didn’t get ready, he didn’t prepare.
And you’re not going there either: if you don’t get ready, if you don’t prepare. That man, that husbandman is full of foolishness and folly to think that "My field will yield to me a great harvest and a mighty increase"; but he plows not, and he sows not, and he trusts not, and he commits not, and he plants not. Nothing but thorns and thistles will it yield to the man before his eyes. We must sow in faith. We must plant. We must hope. We must look to God. We must do our best, and then we have a right to expect the reward from heaven.
"Be patient therefore at the coming of the Lord. The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it" [James 5:7]. Wait, the reward may not be now, it may not be today, it may not be in this moment, it could not be in this life; but it will come, it will surely come. God who made the earth and the heaven [Genesis 1:1], who has said, "They shall certainly pass away" [Matthew 24:35], that same God who foresees the dissolution of this earth and of the sky above us says, "I create a new heaven and a new earth, wherein abideth My word forever, and the righteousness of My eternal kingdom" [Revelation 21:1-5]. Wait, wait. Be patient till the coming of the Lord.
Now may I speak a word of our patience in understanding? When a man turns his face to the glorious vistas that are yet to come, he immediately is involved in insoluble, un-understandable programs. I am constantly asked by our older people, by our young people, even by our children, things of that future that I cannot enter into. When does this happen? And when does this? And how shall this be fitted in? And how shall this come about? Our dead, our living, our bodies in resurrected glory, our life in heaven, how are these things and when shall they come to pass? When Jesus said on the Mount of Olives, the apostles came and said, "Master tell us about Thy coming, and the end of the world, and the denouement and the consummation of Thy kingdom, tell us" [Matthew 24:3], and some of the things our Lord did reveal [Matthew 24:4-25]; but there are so many things that the finite man cannot understand and cannot know until these things are revealed and until they come to pass. Be patient. Someday you’ll know, and someday you will understand; you shall live through these things. Beloved remember, when those prophets in this ancient Book spake of the coming of the Lord, Peter, right across the page from James, Peter says that those prophets did not understand what they were saying. And Peter says, "Even the angels of heaven desired to look into them" [1 Peter 1:12]; they did not understand. The theme of the coming of our Lord is from the mouth of the first prophet through whom God spake a message, Enoch, the seventh from Adam, who prophesied, "Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints" [Jude 1:14]. Unto the end of the Book, Revelation 22:20, "Behold, I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." From the first to the last, interwoven in all of the fabric of this Holy Book is that glorious promise of the coming of the Lord, and yet they didn’t understand.
For example, the Old Testament prophets prophesied two things about our Lord, neither one of which they could understand. First, they prophesied that He would come as a suffering Servant; to be mistreated, to be spit upon, to be despised, to be outcast – in Psalm 22, His horrible death described [Psalm 22:1-31]; and in Isaiah 53, His suffering for the sins of the people and His dying, even where He was buried, even how He should be crucified [Isaiah 53:1-12]. In one breath they’d be speaking of the suffering Servant of God, and in the next breath they’d be speaking of the glory of His millennial kingdom [Isaiah 53:10, 12]; all in the same book, all in the same chapter, all in the same breath, all in the same paragraph. And as they looked ahead, to them it was by no means to be understood how it is that He was to be spit upon, and despised, and rejected, and buried in death, and at the same time He should be exalted and glorious and of His kingdom, from the river to the ends of the earth, and from the sea to the isles, no, no end, everlasting and enduring [Isaiah 60:1-22]. They didn’t understand. And even John didn’t understand. When John the Baptist introduced the Lord Jesus, he introduced Him as the Lamb of God [John 1:29], then the next breath, "As he who laid an axe at the foot of the tree, who had come with judgment in His hand, whose winnowing fan is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat" [Matthew 3:10-12]; both of them in the same breath. John in prison finally sent to the Lord, and said, "Lord, are we looking for two comings, two different Messiahs. Are Ye the One that has come to suffer and die for the people, and then is there yet another messiah who is coming in glorious power to reign over the earth?" [Matthew 11:2-3]. John couldn’t understand and sent to Jesus to ask Him if there [are] two different Messiahs we are to expect.
Now that has been revealed to us. Those two great mountain peaks that the prophet saw in the distance, to them they looked side by side. As they looked through the long vistas of the centuries and the millenniums, those two great comings of the Lord looked together: He was coming to suffer and to die [Isaiah 53:8-10], He was coming to be the exalted King of the whole earth and of the hosts of heaven beside [Ephesians 1:20-21]. But as we have lived through it and the days have passed, we’ve been patient on the Lord, we have learned those two mountain peaks are far apart.
To the prophet they looked together; to us, here is one great mountain peak, the coming of our Lord to suffer and to die, then in the vista beyond is that second great peak that looms up, covering the horizon from side to side, when He comes to be crowned the King of the whole earth, of time, and history, and eternity. Be patient, you’ll understand some of these days. You’ll understand. I don’t know how it fits. I don’t know about this new body, resurrected and immortalized [1 John 3:2]; and I don’t understand quite about how it’s going to be in heaven [1 Corinthians 2:9]. There’s a whole lot of things in that program that my little finite, small and weak intellectual ability, I don’t comprehend it. I don’t get it. I can’t see it. I don’t understand it. That’s all right. It’s in His hands. It’s in His program. It’s in His day. It’s in His purpose. It’s in His will. And it will come. "Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit . . . and hath long patience for it . . . Be ye also patient: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" [James 5:7-8]. Wait. Wait. Wait.
Now one thing else he says, "Behold, the Judge standeth at the door." Now he’s speaking here to his church, to his congregation. "Behold, the Judge standeth at the door" [James 5:9]. Let the church open the door and there, face to face, stands our living Lord that close, that near, that nigh. "Behold, the Judge standeth at the door." Well, how could he say that to God’s people? "Behold, the Judge standeth at the door" [James 5:9]. There are several judgments.
Here is one. One great judgment of God fell upon sin in the day of the cross. There God judged sin. There in the Person of Christ all the sin of all humanity was heaped like mountains upon mountains [1 John 2:2]. He became sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21], and God judged our sin, and God slew our sin, and God condemned our sin, two thousand years ago in the great judgment of heaven upon sin, upon the cross. It was a day of judgment [Romans 8:3]. Christ didn’t die of suicide, Christ didn’t die a martyr, Christ became our sin, and upon that sin God judged and condemned, and the wrath of heaven fell [1 Corinthians 15:3]. "And the wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23], and He died. That’s one judgment.
A third judgment, we’ll omit the second one, the third judgment will be of the living nations, when the Lord comes in His glory and sits upon His throne, and before Him shall be gathered all the living nations of the earth [Matthew 25:31-46].
A fourth judgment is the judgment of the great white throne when the seas shall give up the dead in them, and the earth shall give up the dead in them, and all of the wicked shall stand in the presence of God to receive the condemnation of what they have done in the days of their flesh [Revelation 20:11-15]. There shall stand before God the great and the small, there shall stand the king who sat on his throne, there shall stand by his side the menial slave who worked in his hall, there shall be the out-breaking sinner, vile and reprobate, there shall be the moral man without Christ, all of the dead who’ve died without the Lord shall stand some day in the presence of the great King on the white throne, and there shall be read to them the sentence for all of their rejection and unbelief. And these shall go into an everlasting perdition, prepared for the devil and his angels, the lake of fire that burned forever and ever, and the smoke of their torment arising eternally [Revelation 20:10, 14-15]. Ah, it frightens your heart just to meet it.
There is also a judgment for the Christians, for the Christian, that’s the second one. We shall all stand, says Paul in 2 Corinthians 5, we shall all stand, we, we shall all stand at the judgment seat of Christ, all of us [2 Corinthians 5:10]. What for? What for? When we shall stand at the judgment seat of Christ, is it to judge us whether we’re lost or saved, whether we fall into torment or ascend with Him into glory? [Matthew 3:12, 13:41-43]. What for? The Christian was judged in the death of Christ on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3]. All the sin of our life was judged, and the penalty and punishment of our sin was heaped upon Christ [2 Corinthians 5:21]; and all of us who believe in Jesus now live a resurrected life in Him [Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13]. We died with our Lord, we suffered with our Lord, we were judged with our Lord [Romans 6:3-6]. All of it is paid, all of it [Hebrews 9:26]. And the Christian is judged now according to his ministry, his service, his devotion, his works to Jesus [2 Corinthians 5:10].
John 3:18 says, "He that believeth on Him is not condemned, is not judged," as the Greek says; "but he that believeth not is judged already, is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." It isn’t going to be at the judgment day whether you are lost or saved; you’re lost or saved now [John 3:18]. And this minute there’s a dividing line God has put through every family, and every life, and every house and every home and every village, every city, and every street in this earth. And a man is either saved now, or he’s lost now. That judgment is already passed [John 3:16-18].
You’re saved right this minute, or you’re lost. And if you’re lost, oh, the fearful prospect of the eternity that is to come. Man, turn to Jesus now! Look to Jesus now. If you’ve trusted the Lord, the judgment is passed. Well, then what is this thing standing at the judgment seat of Christ then for the Christian? It is this: there the Lord brings with Him the reward [2 Corinthians 5:10]. There God judges us according to what we’ve done for Him. The Lord’s coming for us, He says so. "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" [1 Corinthians 15:52]. We shall meet our Lord in that third Paradise, in that third heaven, in that Paradise of God which is called the city of God, the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1-2]. There’s where we’re going immediately. "He stands at the door" [James 5:9].
There is not a prophecy, there is not a fore-word of anything that stands between the Lord’s coming for His church [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, 5:2; 1 Peter 4:7], this minute, this hour, any day, any time, any moment, He comes for His people. And they are carried with Him to meet Him in that glory that is above us. Some day, coming back down to the earth out of heaven, the new earth, the renovated earth, the new earth and the new heaven, coming down from God [Revelation 21:1-2], all of us who have gone up to be with the Lord, and up there, where the streets are paved with gold [Revelation 21:21], the foundation of the city made of pure jasper [Revelation 21:19], the gates of far-flung open-wide solid pearl [Revelation 21:21], where the crystal river of life flows eternally [Revelation 22:1]. There God’s people are going to stand in the presence of the Lord [Revelation 21:3]. And there His reward is going to be given to His children [2 Corinthians 5:10]. The books are going to be opened [Revelation 20:12], and there what we’ve done for Jesus is going to be written large on the sacred page, bright and fair [Hebrews 6:10]. Here he prayed. And here he sobbed out his heart. And here he invited a poor stranger to come to Jesus. And there he bowed in humble adoration and praise in the assembly of the congregation of the Lord. All that we’ve done, all that we’ve purposed to do and maybe couldn’t do, all that we aspired to be and were not, all that we wanted to do and weren’t able, all of it written there on the page.
Why is it at the end of time? Why doesn’t God give it to us when we die? Why doesn’t He give it to us now? Because a man doesn’t die when he dies, and his influence doesn’t cease when he’s buried in the ground; but your life goes on, and it lives in the children, and it lives in their children, and it lives in the employees, and it lives in the friends, and it lives in the family, and it goes on and on until the end. Jesus says, "Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone as his work shall be" [Revelation 22:12]. It has to be at the end, and only God can unravel that scheme, that thread, through all the ages, through all time, of a man’s life, and a man’s influence; but He can do it, and He will. And at the end time, at the end time, when God has done it all, it is become our joy and our crown.
That’s why the apostle Paul, in the third chapter of the first Corinthian letter says, "On the foundation of Christ we build. But let a man take care how he builds, for some build upon that foundation wood, hay, and stubble, and some build on that foundation gold, silver, and precious stones; and in that day, every man’s work shall be revealed by fire, for the fire shall try it" [1 Corinthians 3:11-15], that’s the judgment seat of Christ. "And the fire shall try it. And if a man has built out of wood, hay, and stubble, he shall suffer loss"; all of his life gone and destroyed, built his life out of rubbish. Some preachers build the church out of rubbish; all of it gone, and he’s saved naked, by the skin of his teeth, no joy, no crown, no star, no reward. "But some build upon the foundation gold, silver, and precious stones. And if any man’s work abide, he shall receive that reward" [1 Corinthians 3:12-14], the judgment seat of Christ. "Be patient," the pastor says, "be patient. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth. Be not weary in well doing, the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Yea, the Judge standeth even now at the door" [James 5:7-9].
"Amen," said the apostle John, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" [Revelation 22:20].
If we know our hearts, we are ready. "Even so, come, come." This is the fruit of our hands, this is the love and the devotion of our lives, this is our prayerful patient expectancy, and waiting upon Thee; even so, come, blessed Lord Jesus.
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you in this balcony round give your heart to the Lord; a decision we make for Christ. Give your heart to Him, placing your trust and confidence in Him. Down this front stairway or the stairway at the back, come, come. On this lower floor, somebody you into the aisle and down here to the front, come, come. A family to put your life with us in the fellowship of the church, just one somebody you to whom God says, "This is the day, this is the hour, now is the time, come, come." While our people prayerfully, earnestly wait, while all of us share in the hymn of invitation, you, down one of these stairways; you, into the aisle, to the front, "Pastor, I give you my hand; my heart I give to God." Will you, and now? While we stand and while we sing.
THE COMING OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. James makes appeal for patience
1. Uses the great theme of the Scriptures – the return of the Lord
B. One of the most practical of all biblical doctrines(1 John 3:3)
1. Paul’s appeal for a like virtue (Philippians 4:5)
2. Author of Hebrews makes an appeal (Hebrews 10:35-37)
C. Christian parody of William Henley’s Invictus
II. Patience in faith, in work(James 5:7)
A. The planting of the seed
1. Picture of starving in India consuming the seed
B. Looking up to heaven
C. Patient waiting for the harvest
D. A right to expect, a hope that expects fulfillment
1. Folly to expect a reward if not prepared
a. Negro servant of his master
2. Patient till the coming of the Lord(Revelation 21)
III. Patience in understanding
A. Much we cannot enter into until revealed and come to pass(Matthew 24:3)
1. Even the prophets didn’t understand(1 Peter 1:12, Jude 14, Revelation 22:20)
a. Messiah would suffer, die(Psalm 22, Isaiah 53)
b. Messiah would reign, rule (Daniel 2:44, Isaiah 11:1-12)
2. John the Baptist did not understand (John 1:29, Matthew 3:10-12, 11:2-3)
B. New Testament reveals the two mountain peaks – not together, but one before the other
A. There are several judgments
1. Upon sin, at the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 6:23)
2. Upon the living nations(Matthew 25:32-46)
3. Upon the unbelieving at the great white throne(Revelation 20:11-15)
B. Upon the Christian at judgment seat of Christ(2 Corinthians 5:10, John 3:18)
1. The Lord is coming for His people(1 Corinthians 15:52, Revelation 21:1-3, James 5:9, Revelation 22:12)
2. Reward at the end of time – when a man dies, his influence does not(1 Corinthians 3:11-15, Revelation 22:20)