The Pleading of Paul
July 7th, 1963 @ 8:15 AM
THE PLEADING OF PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:9-11
7-7-63 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the early morning message entitled The Pleading of Paul. And in your Bible you can follow it easily if you will turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 5, beginning at verse 9 [2 Corinthians 5:9]; 2 Corinthians chapter 5, beginning at verse 9:
Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…
[2 Corinthians 5:9-11]
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead:
And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again.
Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; look, behold, all things are become new.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath committed to us the ministry of reconciliation;
Namely, to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
(For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
[2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2]
This is a passage out of a letter Paul has written that answers something that I have long wanted to know, would have loved to have heard: how Paul pled the cause of Christ. What did he say? When he gave invitation, how did he extend it? When he defended the gospel and made appeal for the lost to believe in the blessed Lord Jesus, what arguments did he use, and what did he say?
I suppose there was hardly in the history of man a pleader who was more successful in his appeal than this apostle. Wherever he went, people turned to the Lord, they were saved, they were baptized, they were organized into churches. Around the Mediterranean world, he planted the gospel of the Son of God. Whether he was speaking in a synagogue, as at Pisidian Antioch [Acts 13:14-43], or Iconium [Acts 14:1-7], or at Thessalonica [Acts 17:1-9], or whether he was speaking on a street, as at Lystra [Acts 14:6-23], or in the city of Athens [Acts 17:15-34], or whether he was pleading the cause of Christ in the school, in the hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus [Acts 19:9], or whether he was talking about his great and marvelous conversion on the steps of the Tower of Antonio that led down into the temple area [Acts 21:40-22:21], or whether he was standing before Felix [Acts 24:1-27], or Festus [Acts 25:1-12], or King Agrippa [Acts 25:13-26:32], or ultimately before Caesar himself [Acts 27:24]—wherever Paul was preaching, there was an effective appeal for Christ.
Now the thing that comes to my mind: what did he say when he made appeal for the Lord? What were the arguments that he used? What were the great spiritual truths that he extended by word of mouth, and gave invitation and welcome into the kingdom of God? Just what was it like, the pleading of the apostle Paul?
Now there’s not to be found in the Word of God a more magnificent illustration of the pleading of this apostle than the passage I have just read in our hearing this morning. We haven’t time to mention much of it, but I have chosen five things so poignantly set forth here in this appeal of the apostle, that just to name them moves your heart God-ward. Now take your Bible and look at them. We’re going to take five things, five sentences, out of this glorious appeal of Paul; and we can see so magnificently portrayed here the kind of an appeal that he made and the kind of a gospel that he preached.
All right, the first one of the five, 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 11: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” That’s the first one: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” [2 Corinthians 5:11]. The great basic foundational truth, revelation, startling fact upon which the apostle based the gospel that he preached was this: that it is a dreadful thing and a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Now I do not know a truth, a revelation, a fact that is more scorned or scoffed at or belittled or ridiculed than this first one with which Paul begins. “Why there is nothing to be afraid of before God. There’s no judgment awaiting the unforgiven sinner. There is no condemnation in perdition and hell. There’s no day of reckoning before God.” That is a modern theology, and that is a modern preaching; but it is not the preaching of the Bible, and certainly it is not the appealing of the apostle Paul. He begins with the great foundational revelation: there is such a thing as the terror of the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:11]. The Old Testament proverb said, “The beginning of wisdom is,” what? “The fear of the Lord…The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord” [Proverbs 9:10], for a man to tremble in the presence of the great God Almighty. And could I paraphrase that? “The beginning of salvation is the fear of the Lord.”
Now there are some areas in which a man ought not to be afraid, and if he is afraid he ought to ask God for courage. A man ought not to be afraid to stand by his convictions. A man ought not to be afraid when duty calls. A man ought not to be afraid in the defense of his country. There are many areas in which a man ought to be brave and strong and fearless. But there are many areas before which if a man is not afraid, he becomes ridiculous, patently so. For example, when a doctor says, as I remember in the great flood in Louisville in 1937, when the doctor says, “Boil the water, boil the water,” the whole country is filled with typhoid and scarlet fever in the great flood, “Boil the water,” and a man says, “Why, I’m not afraid to drink this water. I’m not afraid to dip it out of the river and out of the channels and let it pour out of the tap, even though the water system has been destroyed, it’s been flooded. I’m not afraid. Why, here am I, showing you my fearlessness; drink,” that’s foolishness! The doctor says the water is filled with typhoid and scarlet fever, “Boil the water.” For a man to be afraid not to boil the water, for men to be fearless in drinking water unboiled is foolishness!
Same way about a man driving down a highway, and there’s a sign there, “Bridge out, bridge out.” “But I’m not afraid; watch me drive this car down this highway.” The bridge is out, the bridge is out! Driving down, here’s a sign, “Dynamite blasting ahead, beware. Detour.” For a man to observe these things is the very epitome of wisdom; and for a man to disregard those things is the very epitome of inanity and ridiculousness.
Same thing about the word of God. God said, “Noah, Noah, one hundred twenty years from now I will destroy this earth by water” [Genesis 6:3]. And Hebrews 11 says, “By faith Noah, believing God, moved with fear,” remember the verse, “By faith Noah, because he believed God, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house” [Hebrews 11:7]. When God said this earth shall be destroyed by water, Noah was afraid, and he prepared an ark; and the rest of the people scoffed, and laughed, and jeered, and ridiculed. God says, “There is a day coming when I shall judge men by fire” [1 Corinthians 3:13-15]. And the man who is wise is a man who trembles at the judgment day of Almighty God, and prepares for the saving of his soul. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” [2 Corinthians 5:11]. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31]. That’s the way Paul preached. That’s the foundation upon which he built his sermon. There is a judgment day; there is a great God Almighty who shall condemn unforgiven sinners. “And knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” [2 Corinthians 5:11]. That’s how he began.
All right, a second of the five: look at verse 14, “For the love of Christ constraineth us.” That’s his second great and fundamental and basic appeal. “For the love of Christ constraineth us” [2 Corinthians 5:14]. I guess if I could put that in my own words and language, it’d go like this: there is a judgment day that men face, and unforgiven sinners fall under the condemnation and wrath of Almighty God. But Jesus, in His love and in His grace, has interposed between us and that awful condemnation; and if a man is lost, he is lost over the love, and the tears, and the sobs, and the cry, and the sufferings, and the blood, and the cross of Jesus our Lord. “For the love of Christ constraineth us” [2 Corinthians 5:14]. You know in that sentence, I can see a multitude of pictures. “For the love of Christ constraineth us.” I can see a mother down on her knees, pleading with a prodigal boy against the waywardness of his life. “For the love of Christ constraineth us” [2 Corinthians 5:14].
“Oh son, oh my boy, don’t go that way! Don’t associate with those people. Son, don’t do these things”; Why, I can just see that. “For the love of Christ constraineth us” [2 Corinthians 5:14]. I can see, I can see the poured out affection of a husband for his wife: “Oh dear, oh dear, let us get right with God. Why the misery and the heartache and the broken? Why, let us go back to God! Let us get right with God. Let us bring our children and go down to that church and give our hearts to God.” I can just see a thousand pictures like that, “in the love of Christ constraineth us.” Any time that any soul is ever lost, ever, it is over the tears, and the sobs, and the cries, and the blood, and the suffering, and the cross of Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior. This He did for us; that we might be saved from so great a peril [2 Corinthians 5:11]. No wonder Paul was effective.
Now the third, look at the third: “For all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus, and hath given to us,” this is a long but a glorious sentence, “and hath given to us this ministry, this gospel, this preaching of reconciliation; namely, which is that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” [2 Corinthians 5:18-19]. When a man is called of God to preach, that’s what he’s called of God to say: that God is reconciled unto us by His Son [2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. However heinous, and black, and dark, and evil our lives have been, and however grievous our sins may be, yet God does not hold these things against us, for in Christ He blotted them out [Colossians 2:14]; the Lord paid the penalty for all of our wrong [2 Corinthians 5:19, 21]. And now God reconciled, in Christ, has given to us this gospel message of reconciliation, “We then as ambassadors plenipotentiary, we then as representatives of Christ, as though it were God saying the word, as though it were God speaking to you: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled” [2 Corinthians 5:18-20] [music breaks in]. Some people love beautiful music for a background, it’s all right; it’s all right.
I think of Onesimus, who stole from his master and ran away [Philemon 1:10-11, 18-19]. When Paul met him in the city of Rome, he won that slave to the Lord Jesus. And when he did, he began to plead with Onesimus, “Onesimus, go back home, go back home, go back home” [Philemon 1:12].
And I can hear Onesimus as he’d say, “Oh, I dare not return. I dare not return. My master would flay me alive! And the penalty for a slave running away is crucifixion,” that’s why it was invented. “I dare not, I am afraid!”
And Paul would answer, “Onesimus, Philemon is my friend. I have stayed many times, I have lodged without number under his roof; I’ve broken bread at his table. He is a Christian. He is my friend. Onesimus, go back home, go back home.”
But Onesimus says, “But I, I, I just can’t believe that he would receive me without stripes and crucifixion.”
And Paul says to Onesimus, “Let me place in your hand a letter, and take this letter for Onesimus, and go back home. Tell Philemon you’ve been saved, you got a new heart, a new love, a new devotion, a new life. Go back, Onesimus, go back.”
And Onesimus receives the letter from the hand of the apostle Paul, and he makes his way clear across the Mediterranean world, up the Meander River, up the Lycus Valley, up to the city of Colosse; and there before the startled and amazed eyes of Philemon his master, stands his runaway slave with a letter in his hand. See, says Paul, he ran away. He was lost then, unforgiven then, in his sins then, a thief then. But he’s found the Lord, and he is come back to you, [Philemon]. Now [Philemon], receive him, receive him, forgiven, honest and true, stalwart, standing straight before God, receive him, Philemon, as a brother beloved [Philemon 1:16].
Why, I can just see that too. I can see Philemon throw the door open wide, “Welcome, Onesimus, welcome,” reconciled already. Man doesn’t have to tremble at the goodness and grace of God. A man has to tremble in the presence of his sins and of his wrong and of his, and of the dark and unforgiven things in his life. But oh! the goodness and grace of God, who hath reconciled us sinners, who hath reconciled us, forgiving our sins, welcoming us back home, and hath committed to the preacher that announcement of reconciliation, “as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you, be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. He already is; it’s just for us to return. That’s the third one.
Now the fourth one: the sixth chapter, the first verse, “We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1], in vacuity, in nothingness, in emptiness. Now that God hath done all this, He has forgiven us [1 Corinthians 15:19], and Christ has died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21], and our Lord in heaven is reconciled to us [2 Corinthians 5:18], now that God hath done all this, oh! we beseech you, my brethren, that ye receive not the grace of God, the love and mercy and pardon and forgiveness of God, that ye receive it not as though it were nothing [2 Corinthians 6:1].
You know, out of all of the sadnesses that can sweep us in life, I don’t know of a sadness more poignant, more hurtful than to have poured out your best and then receive nothing in return, nothing. I had, for example, in one of my little country churches, I had a godly, godly family, a godly deacon. He had a big wheat field, big wheat field. He’d take me out there to that big wheat field, and he’d walk with me by the side of that big wheat field and with a gesture of his hand—finest stand that you could imagine, growing up so fine—and he would say all they were going to have when he harvested the crop. Oh, I remember one was a car; they were going to get a new car. And his wife was going to the store, going to get a new outfit. And oh, he was going to do some things for the church. Oh, his eye was on that wheat field. I want you to know, there came a day when a heavy, heavy hail fell out of the sky, beat every stalk of that wheat down into the ground. And his wife told me that that good husband went to that place on the hill where he could overlook his field, sat down, buried his face in his hands, and cried like a little child. All of his work and hopes and dreams come to naught and to nothingness. That’s it. “That ye receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1], that it come to nothing. With all that God hath done, and the love wherewith He hath loved us and the mercy wherewith He hath blessed us [Ephesians 2:4], and the love of Jesus wherewith He hath died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 1:18-19], for all that God hath done, it come to nothing; there’s no response, there’s no harvest, there’s no yield, there’s no repercussion, there’s no devotion of life, there’s just emptiness and vacuity. Oh, enough to make God weep, the Lord weep; with all He hath done, nothing. “We beseech you, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain, in emptiness, in nothing” [2 Corinthians 6:1]. That’s the fourth one.
Now the last one, hastily: “For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee” [2 Corinthians 6:2], quoting from the forty-ninth chapter of Isaiah and the eighth verse [Isaiah 49:8], then Paul adds a word, “Look, look, behold, behold, now is that accepted time; look, behold, now is that day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Why I can just see that apostle standing before Felix [Acts 24:1-29], or before Festus [Acts 25:1-27], or before Agrippa [Acts 25:13-26, 32], or before Caesar [Acts 27:24], or before the students of the school of Tyrannus [Acts 19::9], or on the streets of Lystra [Acts 14:6-23] or of Athens [Acts 17::15-34], or in the synagogue at Antioch [Acts 13:14-43], or at Thessalonica [Acts 17:1-9], I can just see the apostle as he presses home that appeal. When’s the time for a man to give his heart to Jesus? When’s the time for a fellow to come down the aisle and give the pastor his hand and his heart to God? When’s the time? Tomorrow? Tomorrow? Tomorrow? No, no. God says this is the hour of salvation; this is the time to give your soul and your life to Jesus: “Behold, now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
I don’t know of these tomorrows. In reading through the prophet Jeremiah, oh! the sadness of a verdict like this. They had sinned away their day of grace, gone, gone. And the Lord said to Jeremiah, and repeated it three times, one in Jeremiah 7:16, one in Jeremiah 11:14, and a third time in Jeremiah 14:11, “Pray not thou for this people; neither lift up anymore prayers for them: for I will not hear thee. I have finally given them up, given them up, given them up.” Oh, I wonder, my father so believed in that sin of rejection, that a man could say no, and no, and no, and finally never be moved again, never be touched again, never feel the Spirit of God pleading with him again. He so believed that. I have often wondered at it, as my father would point out to me this man and this man and this man, little town in which I grew up, everybody’d go to revival meeting; but some of those men untouched, no matter how the Spirit of God moved, no matter how the presence of the Lord saved, no matter how many others coming in the kingdom, absolutely unmoved, unmoved, unmoved, said, “No,” said, “No,” said, “No, not now but some other time,” until finally the Spirit of God made no impression whatsoever. I don’t understand; it’s not for me to know. I just read that in the Bible. Israel turned aside from God and rejected God so many times until finally God said to Jeremiah, “Jeremiah, do not pray any longer; do not ask any more. Do not mention them, do not say anything to Me; make no more intercession: for I will not hear thee, I will not hear thee.” I do not understand, I do not know; it is a fearful thing for a man to put off this great salvation. God says, “Now is the accepted time.” God says, “Now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
In the old Talmud is written this little incident. There comes up to the rabbi, and the fellow says to the rabbi, “Rabbi, Rabbi, how long, how long can I delay repentance and still be saved?” And the old rabbi says, “Why, young man, you can delay it until the hour before you die. That’s how long you can delay it.” Then the young fellow says to the rabbi, “But Rabbi, when am I going to die?” And the rabbi says, “I do not know, my son. Therefore we had best repent now. Now. Now” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
I do not know of the tomorrow, nor do I have any promise or mortgage upon it. Therefore I must turn now. If ever I seek the face of God, let me seek it now. If ever I offer to God my life, let me offer my God my life now. If ever I repent, Lord, may I repent now. If ever I trust Jesus, let me trust Him now. If ever I am saved, Lord, save me now. That’s Paul. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Make it now. Make it now.
Will you? I realize at an eight-fifteen o’clock hour, the great throng of our people are fellow members of our dear church; but there may be one somebody you, or a family you, a youth or a child you. And while we sing this song of appeal, to trust Jesus as Savior, to give your life to Him [Romans 10:8-13], to put your life with us in the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], as the Spirit of God shall say the word and lead in the way, would you make it now? Would you make it this morning? While we stand and while we sing.