The Urgency of This Hour
May 6th, 1962 @ 7:30 PM
THE URGENCY OF THIS HOUR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-6-62 7:30 p.m.
And God bless the throng in this great auditorium who prayerfully listens, and God bless the untold multitudes who listen at this evening hour in the great metropolitan area of our queenly city of Dallas. In our services, we always read God’s Book together. And on the radio, as here in the auditorium, if you will turn to the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel, chapter 9, we read together the first eleven verses. The Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, chapter 9, verses 1 through 11. The text will be found in verse 4; and the title of the sermon is The Urgency of this Hour. Now together, reading John, chapter 9, the first eleven verses:
And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth.
And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
When He had thus spoken, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent). He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
The neighbors therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?
Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.
Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened?
He answered and said, A Man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.
The message tonight is not an exposition of this passage we have read; it is rather a sermon on the text. In the midst of the story, when in the presence of a man born blind, the Lord said, "I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: for the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4].
There would be a sermon that one could prepare on the "musts" of Jesus, so mighty and so meaningful, "I must work the works of Him that sent Me." If you’ll take a commentary and go through the words of our Lord, how often does He use that verb of necessity and urgency: "I must!" For example, even as a Child in the temple He said, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business; I must" [Luke 2:]. In the days of His Galilean ministry, He said to His disciples, "The Son of Man must suffer and be killed, and be raised the third day from the dead" [Luke 9:22]. As He faced the cross, in the dissuasion of His disciples from it, our Lord said, "How else could the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be" [Matthew 26:54]. And do you remember in the greatest of all sermons on our being born again, He said the great text of the ages to us: "Ye must be born again" [John 3:7]. And then again appears that must in the crucifixion, the suffering of our Lord: in the fourteenth chapter, in the fourteenth verse, of that same third chapter of John, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up" [John 3:14]. These words of necessity and urgency, they were so frequently found on the lips of our Lord. And it is a like verse that is the text of this message tonight: "I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: for the night cometh, for the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4].
There is first here, then the urgency of time: "for the night cometh," when our opportunity and our day, our privilege is taken away. The incomparable Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne, on his watch, on the dial of his watch had drawn a picture of the setting sun, and underneath the words in this passage, "for the night cometh" [John 9:4]. Time is a gift of God; precious and gracious and holy, valuable beyond any jewel or any possession that a man could ever have. For time is an endowment of God; you cannot buy it, you cannot merit it, you cannot purchase it, you cannot trade for it. It is something that God gives us: time. And, in the creation of God, all are oblivious of it, except the man God made. The clod in the field, the ocean in its turbulence, the stars in their courses have no sensibility of time. The beasts of the field have no sensibility of time. Even a child has no conception or appreciation for time. It is something that comes into the conscience of a man when he reaches the day and the age of accountability. Time is in the same moral equation as when a man stands face to face with God.
Time is inexorable. It moves. You can stop that clock, you can stop every indication of chronometer; but you can never stop the inexorable movement of time. It is like the stars in their courses: these planets that swing around their suns, without haste, but without delay, on through the centuries and the millenniums do they go in keeping with the inexorable mandate of God. So the movement of time in our lives, however a man might persuade himself against it, however a man might rush his life to interdict it, there is no such thing as a man being able to stop the inevitable march of the minutes and the days and the years: "The night cometh" [John 9:4].
Not only is time thus moving, but it is also elusive; you cannot keep it. You cannot seize it. You cannot store it. You cannot treasure it up. It is elusive; it passes away and beyond. One of the things you’ll read in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts and the twenty-fifth verse is the reply of the Roman procurator Felix to Paul as he preached the gospel: and when the Spirit of conviction moved his heart, Felix replied, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee" [Acts 24:25]. Felix thought to treasure up against a future day present opportunity. You don’t do it. When it is gone, it is gone forever. That’s the third thing about this thing of our day of grace: inexorably moving, elusive in seeking to keep it, and irrevocable in its passing. No man can also or either bring it back when once time, and opportunity, and tide, and the open door have been closed, have passed, have fled away.
When I was a boy in school, I remember a sentence in a reader: "Lost yesterday between sunrise and sunset, one golden minute, studded with sixty diamond seconds; no reward is offered for it is lost forever." And thus it is with all that is passed and gone in our lives: you can never recall it back; it is gone forever. You cannot grind the mill with the water that is already passed down the stream.
In visiting the home in Boston, where our assistant pastor, Melvin Carter, came from, some of the deacons in the church at Tremont Temple took me to the Wayside Inn, which is famous in the life and lore of the great American poet Longfellow. And as we were there and waiting for our call to dinner, one of the men said, "Let’s walk down the road." And walking down that beautiful New England road, overarched with towering elms, a beautiful country in God’s summertime, we passed by the road, we passed a mill, a water wheel, grinding on the inside and the water going over the mill. And we stopped and looked at it. It’s one, almost, of God’s creations. When you see a great engine turning a great wheel, that seems to me to be an invention of man; but when you see the water flowing over a water wheel in its steady sedateness, in its purpose so quiet, so slow, you somehow feel that this is something that God has arranged. But the water that is flung over the wheel and gone down in the river beyond is never brought back to turn over that wheel again; you can’t grind with water that is passed already beyond the mill.
Listen to the water mill all the live long day,
Hear the squeaking of the wheels as they wear the hours away!
Languidly the water glides ever on and still
But never coming back again to the water mill
All the wasted hours of life, that have floated by,
All the good we might have done, lost without a sigh
Love we might have had for only a word
Thoughts conceived but never penned perishing unheard
Take this lesson to yourselves, it is all so true
Golden years are passing by, and youth is passing too
Wealth, power, intellect, may not, cannot last
For the mill can never grind with the water that is passed
[from "The Water Mill"; Sarah Doudney, Portsmouth England, 1843]
"I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: for the night cometh, the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4]. It is the urgency of time. If we do it for God, we must do it now.
Now the second avowal: this is the urgency of need. In the Greek testament, it reads, "We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: for the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4]. We must work the works of God; the urgency of need. That urgent need is first spiritual. All of the meaningful currents of life run in deep spiritual channels. For the things that are seen are temporal; it is the things that are not seen that are eternal [2 Corinthians 4:18]. The materialities of our life are but the scaffolding that rises up around the inner man, the character and the soul. And however a man may make light of religion or pass it by, there will come a time inevitably, some hour, someday, when his soul, naked before God, sees its deep and eternal need.
I talked one time to a very wealthy oil man. He had given his life to waste, to nothingness, to the abandon of this world. All of his interests of the flesh, all of the deeds down here, serving selfish purposes; and now the time had come to face God. And as I spake to him and visited with him, and prayed by his side, he said to me, "Oh, I cannot believe that my life could have been so wasted and so squandered. All of it, all the years of it, and just think," he said, "what I could have done and might have done and never did. And now come to face God naked and empty, profitless, worthless, nothing done for God." I made one suggestion: that was, that if he would maybe love God enough in this final hour to do something through one of our great foundations, maybe after he had gone, God’s affluence given to him could work for Jesus, redeeming the time that he lost in this life. But as I think of the man, I think of so typically man who has given himself to the waste, to the tinsel, to the tinfoil, to the cheapness, to the pleasures, to the emptiness of this world. Then finding at the end of the way, it is dross, it is chaff, it is loss; for nothing lives that does not live unto God. Our needs are always ultimately and finally spiritual. The human spirit is like the dove in Noah’s ark: when he was sent out, he came back to the ark because, the Book says, "She found no place to rest the sole of her foot" [Genesis 8:8-9]. So with the spirit of a man: there’s no place to rest himself except in the ark of the divine love of God.
And we need encouragement. Life is so oft times full of weariness, and want, and lack. And we are not only in drudgery and not only does the dreariness of life dog our heels in this existence, but we are filled with foreboding and dread for the miseries and the judgments that are yet to come. Where is a word of hope and gladness and triumph and victory for those whom Paul described as "without God and without hope in the world"? [Ephesians 2:12]. Bless you, that’s why it is called the gospel, the good news. Brother, God is for us. The Spirit of Jesus is with us. And every rich presence that a man could know in this life and every marvelous, heavenly gift treasured up in the life to come is ours in the name of Jesus our Lord; the need for encouragement.
And there is the desperate need for the forgiveness of our sins, and the washing away of the stain in our soul; our need is for God’s salvation. Around every life there is entwined, a serpent of sensuality and carnality, and if a man struggles to liberate himself from it, he will find that the more he struggles the more do those tenacious coils bind him unto death. Haven’t you seen in pictures of art and in reading Greek history, haven’t you seen that incomparable piece of Greek statuary called Laocoon? Do you remember it? It is the picture of a man, a father, and he’s in the agony of death as he struggles with serpents entwined, and his two sons, one on either side of him are likewise in the toils and in the coils of that same death agony from those serpents. Now do you remember? It’s one of the most famous pieces of sculpture in the world. It is now in the Vatican in Rome. Just to bring it to your mind, Laocoon was the priest of Apollo and Neptune in Troy. And in the days of the Trojan War, while he and his two sons were ministering at the altar, those two enormous serpents came up out of the sea directly to the altar and enfolded themselves around that priest and his sons, and destroyed them before the horrified eyes of the populous of Troy. And as the Greek legend, as you know, that was, they interpret it as the judgment of Zeus because Laocoon, the high priest of Apollo, had warned the Trojans against that Trojan horse when they were seeking to bring it into the city – which as you know wrought the destruction of their city – but that thing, that is, I suppose, that has lived through the ages and is so often referred to in Greek literature because it reflects something of the experience of all human life; for the experience of Laocoon and the experience of those two boys is the same experience that every man shall face in his life as he struggles against the death coils of serpents that destroy him. And this is the need for the works of God: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" [John 3:14]; that when one is destroyed by the bite and the hold and the grasp of sin that he might look and live.
And the need is for God’s messengers to make it known. "We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4].
We need a word, a startling word to call our workers forth to go,
To go afield with hearts aflame, to visit in the Master’s name
To go and seek and find and claim the souls of men for God
We need a word
We need a word, a burning word to cause us now to know and feel
The Scripture weight of love and care to make our consciences to flare
To know ’tis ours to do and dare, and visit men for God
We need a word
We need a word, a graphic word to send us forth our task to do
A word of strength and charge and might, a word for every day and night
A word with which to win the fight and bring men’s souls to God
We need a word
It calls, "God’s Word," it calls in accents clear and true
Lift up your eyes white fields to see, go out and witness there for Me
I died for all upon the tree, go seek lost souls for God
We have God’s Word
[Author and work unknown]
"We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: for the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4].
Dwight L. Moody was asked, "How do you reach masses of men for God?" And the great evangelist replied, "One at a time. One at a time. One by one." And that is God’s call to us, in the urgency and the need of this hour; You, you, I, we – as God’s workmen before the night cometh, when no man can work [John 9:4].
We had a great United States senator by the name of Dolliver. He was the son of an old fashioned, old time revival Methodist preacher, back in the days when the Methodists preached out on the river banks, and under brush arbors, and in the commons, telling men about God and winning lost souls to Jesus. He was an old time, old fashioned soul-winning Methodist preacher. And his illustrious son was an illustrious senator in Washington. The old man in his age lived with two of his daughters, unmarried, two maiden girls. And they received a message from Washington that their brother, the son of this Methodist preacher, Senator Dolliver, was coming and bringing a guest with him: the ambassador from Switzerland. Ah, those maiden girls, they were astir preparing for the coming of the illustrious guest. And one of them said to the other, "You know I wonder when he comes, if father will talk to him about his soul, as he does everybody?" And the other sister replied, "Well, if he doesn’t, it’ll be the first time in his life. He always embarrasses us; always embarrasses us." Surely enough, when the senator and the ambassador arrived, and he introduced his old father, he hadn’t been talking to that illustrious guest, that ambassador from Switzerland, in time until he got to asking him about his soul, about his soul. Well, after the visit was over, why, the ambassador and the senator returned to Washington. And just a few days, why, the senator got a message that his father had died. And in the sadness of that hour, he went to his friend, the ambassador from Switzerland, and said to him that his father had died, and he’d be gone a few days, going down to the funeral. And the ambassador replied, "Sir, I will go with you." And the senator said, "Why, why, why, why that’s not expected. Why, no. No, not, it’s not expected at all." And the ambassador said, "Sir, in the years I have been in America, your father was the only man who ever cared enough to ask me about my soul. And it is one of the high privileges of my life to attend the memorial service for so great and so godly a man." Don’t you ever be ashamed of our Lord, never. In a beautiful, in a sweet, in a gracious way, always be ready to speak a good word for Jesus: "For the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4]; the urgency of this hour. May the Lord bless the message to our souls, and grant to us a beautiful devotion to our lives, to our Lord, in the days of our life.
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody to give his heart in trust to Jesus, now; somebody to put his life with us in the church, tonight; while we sing the song, from this balcony round, on this lower floor, a couple to come, a child to come, one somebody you to come, a family to come, as God shall say the word, make it tonight, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE URGENCY OF THIS HOUR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. We must work (John 9:4)
B. The "musts" of our Lord (Luke 2:, 9:22, Mark 8:31, Matthew 26:54, John 3:3, 7, 14)
II. The urgency of time (John 9:4)
A. Robert Murray M’Cheyne
B. Time is a gift of God
1. Of meaning alone to man
C. Passing of time inexorable
D. Time is elusive; it cannot be stored up (Acts 24:25)
E. Time is irrevocable; it cannot be called back
II. The urgency of need
A. Deep spiritual need
1. Things that matter are not material but immaterial, of the soul
B. We need God
1. Like the dove Noah sent out (Genesis 8:9)
2. We are restless until we find rest in God
C. We need encouragement (Ephesians 2:12)
C. We need forgiveness of our sins and salvation