The Accepted Time
November 6th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
THE ACCEPTED TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 6:2
11-6-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Accepted Time. It is a message addressed to all of us who are in this great auditorium; it is addressed to all of you who listen on the radio and who are watching on television, in the hope and in the earnest prayer that if we have already given ourselves openly, publicly to the faith of Christ, to the way of the Lord, that we shall the more earnestly dedicate and consecrate ourselves to that commitment we have already made. But to a great multitude who are in this radio and television audience, who have not made a public confession of Christ and who have not followed Him in church membership and godly service, and to those in this audience in this church house, that today might be the day of salvation and commitment and confession for you.
The most earnest of all of the appeals to be found in the Word of God, that we turn and be saved, is in the fifth chapter and the first two verses of the sixth chapter of 2 Corinthians. Paul says, beginning at verse 10 in chapter 5:
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 5:10-11]
The Bible emphatically says and repeats it so many times: the beginning of wisdom is the reverential fear and awe of God [Proverbs 9:10]. Any man who disdains the power and judgment of Almighty God is a foolish soul. We don’t live in this world in our strength; nor is our breadth numbered and our length of days by our choice. We live in the elective purpose of God; and for a man to be reverentially in awe before the great Maker of his life and before whom someday he shall stand in judgment, is the beginning of wisdom, of understanding. So Paul says, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” [2 Corinthians 5:11]. Now, beginning at verse 18:
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given 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 ministry, the word of reconciliation.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us . . .
As though God Himself were saying these words and forming these syllables and sentences:
as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For God hath made Him our Lord to be sin for us;
Him who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you that you [sldo] receive not the grace of God in vain.
For God hath said, 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 5:18-6:2]
There will come a day, there will be a time when there is no longer invitation, no longer acceptance, no longer repentance, no longer opportunity; the door will be shut. As in the days of the Flood, God shut that door; God shut it [Genesis 7:16]. As in the days of the parable of the ten virgins: the five wise entered in, and the five foolish were outside, and God shut the door [Matthew 25:1-13]. We have a period of grace, a length of time, an open door for a while; then our opportunity is forever taken away. But we have now, “God saith”; and he quotes from [Isaiah 49:8], “I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in this day of salvation, now, have I succored thee”—I have brought you to this present hour and to the listening of this appeal—”behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
And having heard, and having listened, and being present in this church, or sitting before a television or a radio, these are so oft times the answers that the preacher hears. First, “I intend to do that; I do not purpose to die lost. I expect to make peace with God; but not now, not now, tomorrow, some other day, some more convenient season. Things are just not shaped right now; I don’t feel quite like it now. I have other thoughts now; I plan to, I expect to; someday, I intend to; but not now.” God says, “Now, behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. “But I don’t say that; I say some other time, tomorrow, some other day, some more convenient season, mañana, mañana, tomorrow, tomorrow.”
There are two things that I would like to say, to comment about that delay, that procrastination, that “tomorrow.” First, it is not just in my own observation that I see this, but it is the way the human heart and human nature responds to anything. There is a lessening of impact as the days pass. That is true in all areas of life, and it is certainly true in the invitation of Christ. Whoever made us, God made us like that. There are children, all children, there are children to whom the appeal of Christ can be made, and their little hearts will vibrate like a harp. Most children who are brought to me to talk to them about the Lord and about baptism and about church membership, most of those children will have difficulty talking to me because their eyes fill with tears and their souls overflow with emotion. The heart of the child is tender, and the appeal of Christ is moving; but every time any soul rejects that appeal, the heart becomes harder. It finally becomes calloused, and eventually it is almost impossible to reach or to move or to stir the grown man or the grown woman. There is a lessening of that appeal in life. It becomes less important, less significant, less moving, less appealing. But there is another thing that is terrible, that is awesome, that is frightful, that is fearful: when we reject the overtures of grace, something happens not only in us but something happens in God. I cannot enter into the counsels of the Almighty; I’m not able to describe or to delineate or to define all these things that happen in the mind and purpose and will of God for us. But from the Bible I know enough to know this: that when we reject the appeal of Christ, not only does something happen in us, but something happens in God. Now I’m going to take a text again and show you that in the Bible. My text will be Genesis 6:3: “My Spirit will not always strive with man; my Spirit will not always strive with a man.” Now, to deliver the sermon.
In the Book of Hosea, in chapter 4 and verse 17, the Lord says of Ephraim and the northern ten tribes, Hosea 4:17, “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone, let him alone, let him alone.” To Ephraim, God had sent Ahijah, the preacher and prophet; to Ephraim God had sent Micaiah, the preacher and prophet; to Ephraim, to the Northern Kingdom, God had sent Elijah and Elisha; and to Ephraim God had sent Amos and Hosea. And after Ahijah had pled, and Micaiah had pled, and Elijah and Elisha had pled, and after Amos and Hosea had pled, and the people refused to turn, God said, “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone. I have sent My last prophet, I have made My last appeal; let him alone, let him alone.” And as you know, in 722 BC the bitter and hasty Assyrian, the winged bull of Asshur, under their military leader Sargon came and destroyed the nation, and destroyed the people, and wasted them, and scattered them in the earth [2 Kings 17:5-6, 18]. “Ephraim is joined to idols,” said God. “Let him alone; leave him alone” [Hosea 4:17].
Now I turn again; Jeremiah chapter 7, Jeremiah chapter 7. Jeremiah says as he preaches the threatening of the Lord, “But go ye now unto My place which was in Shiloh” [Jeremiah 7:12]. Do you remember the story of little Samuel, do you remember the story of the aged priest Eli? When Elkanah the father and Hannah the mother went up to worship the Lord, they went up to Shiloh, for there was the tabernacle of the Most High [1 Samuel 1:2-3]. And when God answered Hannah’s prayer and lay on her bosom a little baby boy [1 Samuel 1:11, 20], she lent him to the Lord all the days of his life [1 Samuel 1:28]; and took the lad to Shiloh and there did he grow up as a prophet and as a minister of Jehovah God; Shiloh [1 Samuel 3:19-21]. “Go ye now unto My place in Shiloh where I set My name at the first, and see what I did unto the wickedness of My people Israel” [Jeremiah 7:12]. Now that’s what Hosea said; Shiloh, Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom “joined to idols; let them alone” [Hosea 4:17]. And Sargon came and destroyed them from the face of the earth [2 Kings 17:5-6, 18]. “You go now,” said Jeremiah, preaching the word of the Lord:
You go now up to Ephraim, you go now to Shiloh, and you see what I did to those people;
And now, because you have done like they have done, saith the Lord, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but you heard not; and I called you, and you answered not;
Therefore will I do unto this house called by My name, wherein ye trust, and unto this place which I gave unto you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh.
You go look at it; you go see it. “And what I did there,” says God, “shall I do here”:
And I will cast you out of My sight, as I cast out all of your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.
“Therefore,” God says to Jeremiah, “pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me: for I will not hear thee” [Jeremiah 7:16]. Not only does something happen in our hearts, but when we reject God, something happens in God. “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession unto Me: for I will not hear thee” [Jeremiah 7:16].
And I turn once again to this fearful and frightful chapter, the first chapter of the Book of Romans. Beginning at verse 21: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imagination, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” [Romans 1:21-22]. Verse 24, “Wherefore also God gave them up,” God gave them up [Romans 1:24]. Verse 25, “They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator” [Romans 1:25]. Then the next verse, “For this cause God gave them up” [Romans 1:26].
Now I continue; verse : “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” [Romans 1:28]. Like the chord in Beethoven’s symphony, this heavy judgment of God falls again and again, “Wherefore God also gave them up, wherefore God gave them up, wherefore God gave them up” [Romans 1:24, 26, 28]. I repeat, I cannot enter, finite as I am, into the infinitude of God; I just know as I read this Book that, when we reject the overtures of grace and the appeals of Christ, something happens in us, and something happens in God.
When I was a boy, especially, I remember—not so much now, because I do not know families and people as intimately now in this great city as I did in that little town of a few hundred people—but when I was growing up as a boy, I noticed that there would be times in the church when the people would pray and be burdened for a man, and he would refuse. And I would never hear his name mentioned again; I would never hear a prayer for him again; the burden had gone. And my father, who was no theologian, but one of the godliest men I ever knew, and day after day, sit there in the shop reading God’s Book, my father would say to me, “Son, this man, this man has said ‘no’ to God for the last time; he will never be saved. He will never be saved.” It is awesome, it is frightful, it is fearful; and that’s why Paul said in my text that I read in Corinthians, “Therefore knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” [2 Corinthians 5:11]. There is no tomorrow; it is now, “Behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
Then, there are those who say to the appeal of the preacher, “I’ll do that on my deathbed. I have a life that I’m living and a way that I’m going; and there’s time and to spare for me to get right with God. And I’ll do that; I’ll make my peace with the Lord on my deathbed. Before I die, I shall do it,” which is very shrewd, and very, very omnipotent, as though, as though I knew in what condition I shall be when I die. In the Talmud there is a story, a rabbinical story. There is a man who comes up to a rabbi and says, “Rabbi, how long is it that I can refuse God and repent and be saved?” And the Rabbi says, “Until the moment of your death. If you’ll repent and trust God, you can be saved just before you die.” And the man replied, “But, Rabbi, when shall I die?” And the Rabbi replied, “Then you must repent now, you must repent now.” The clock of life is wound but once, and no man knows, no man has the power to know when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. I may fall into a coma before I die; I may die accidentally in a plane, in a car, in a wreck; I don’t know the condition of my life before I die. And if I put off and delay this great decision before God, I don’t know whether or not I shall be able to make it.
“But, preacher, remember, there was one man in the Bible who lived through a deathbed experience and was saved. We know there is one man in heaven; Jesus said, ‘Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise [Luke 23:42-43]; I know one man is in heaven. Christ said he would be there; one man certainly made it through the gates of glory, and that man repented on his deathbed. Nailed to a cross and dying he was saved. Why cannot I?”
That’s true; there was one man saved on a deathbed. God, I think, let us know of one saved, lest we despair. But there is only one, lest we presume. Nor could it be substantiated that that man heard the gospel message and refused, and refused, and refused, and refused, and finally accepted. That man, doubtless, for the first time in his life was introduced to the Lord Jesus; and the first time he saw the Lord and heard the Lord he accepted the grace and goodness and forgiveness of the Savior.
And what makes us think that we can refuse the grace and goodness of God all the years of our lives and then just suddenly turn on the mercies of the Savior like a spigot, like a faucet? I could not tell you the number of times that I have pled with men on their deathbeds to be saved. They were dying and knew it; and I’d be invited or importuned or pressed to make appeal before they went out into the great beyond. And how many times do I hear the reply, “But I don’t feel it; but I just can’t. It has nothing to me; there’s no gift of grace to me, there’s no feeling of repentance to me. I just can’t do it?”
“Yes, but you’re facing eternity and the judgment of God and the great ages of the ages beyond this life.” And maybe you have better experiences than I, but I don’t succeed, I don’t succeed. It is a tragic thing; and they die before my very eyes without Christ, without God. And tell me beside, why would a man want to do that? Why, why? I cannot understand. Why? How is it that a man is so made that he thinks within himself, “I shall give my life to the world and to rejection and to unbelief. Then when I come to the end of the way, I will offer to God the husk of my days; the emptiness of my life. I will give the love and devotion of my whole strength and manhood to the world; then at the end I shall expect God to pick me up and to take me and to save me.”
I cannot understand that. It is, I suppose, that he thinks that the good life, and the rich life, and the marvelous life, and the happy life, and the glad life, is out here in the world; but in Christ and in God there is a burdensome wearisome-ness, and “I seek to avoid it until the last possible moment.” Why, my brother it is just the opposite. The glorious life, the full life, the rich life, the blessed life, the happy life is in God, it is the people out there who have dark hangovers, who fall into the most awesome and gruesome and terrible afflictions of soul and body and life that mind can imagine. The glory road is the godly road; the heavenly road is the happy road. Why would a man say, “I want to give my life in rejection unto the world, and then bring a husk and lay it at the feet of Jesus,”? I don’t understand.
And in this appeal, there are those who say, “Well, pastor, with every syllable you’ve said, I agree; there’s nothing you have said but that I think is true and right and from the Book. I believe that. Now, pastor, I’m going to do that; I’m going down that aisle. I’m going to make a confession of my faith in the Lord; I’m going to accept Jesus [Romans 10:9-10]; I’m going to ask Him to forgive my sins [1 John 1:8] and to write my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27]. I’m going to trust Christ [Acts 16:31]. But, preacher”—in all these things that I’m saying, I’m just repeating to you; these are things that have been said to me all the years of my ministry—”now, preacher, I’m going to do that. I’m going to do it, but first I’ve got some straightening up to do. I’ve got some personal preparation to make. I’m just not fitting to go down that aisle, and I’m just not prepared to make my confession of faith. I’ve got some straightening up to do; I’ve got some angles to get rid of and I’ve got some sharp places to smooth, and I’ve got some wrong things to make right. Well, pastor, when I get those things done, when I’ve polished up this life of mine and made it more worthy, why, then I’m coming down that aisle and giving my heart to Jesus.”
There is in that a tremendous, gross, scriptural, theological error. And it is this. We persuade ourselves that, “Somehow, somehow I must make myself worthy of the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God that I’ve got to do it, I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to make myself presentable. I somehow have to merit the worth and graciousness and goodness of God; I must do it.” And the Lord avows so earnestly, “Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in His sight” [Isaiah 64:6].
“In my hand no price I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling”; there is nothing that I can bring to God to commend me to the favor of the Lord, nothing. My finest visions and my holiest moments come short of the glory and expectation of God. When I come to God, I must come as a poor, lost, undone sinner; dressed in rags, unable, unworthy, a confessed failure in God’s sight. I cannot come commending myself to the Lord, “Lord, You know I’m not so bad after all; I’m pretty good, Lord. After all, haven’t I mended here? After all, haven’t I done good there? And after all, haven’t I polished out this rough place yonder? I am coming Lord, kind of worthy to be numbered among the saints of God.” You don’t come like that!
You come poor, and needy, and sinful, and confess being lost, “Lord, I need God.” And the God kind of righteousness is an imputed righteousness; that is, it is one not of us but of Him. It is a God kind of righteousness, not a man’s kind of righteousness [Romans 10:9-10]. And when the Lord accepts us, it is His gift and not mine [Ephesians 1:6], it is His mercy and not my worth [Titus 3:5]; it is all of Him and not of me. I can’t save myself; I don’t save myself; it is God who saves me [Acts 4:12]. And the glory is to Him, not to me; it is to Him [Ephesians 1:6]. It is the abundance of His grace [Ephesians 2:8], and the plentitude of His mercy, the overwhelming, abounding love of God that takes me to Himself [John 3:16]. And He has enough and to spare, even for the unworthiest sinner; which would be I.
Long time ago, I heard a man tell a story. And he was illustrating something else with it; but there was a little detail in that story that has stayed in my mind and memory all through these years since. It is this. There was a little boy in the days when a little fellow carried his newspapers and hawked them through the street, calling out his papers. In a city, there was a little boy, a ragged, poor, urchin of a child with his arm full of newspapers; and he was walking down the street early Sunday morning, calling out his papers. And as he walked down the streets, carrying his papers and calling them out, he passed by the side of a beautiful mansion. The lawns were so beautifully trimmed, and the fountains were sparkling in the early morning light, and the flowers were so glorious, and the big columned porch and the beautiful home beyond. This little fellow had no home, had no father, had no mother, lived in misery and poverty and want, with his arms full of newspapers, calling them out Sunday morning.
Not planning it, the little fellow unconsciously wandered into the yard, looking at the fountain, looking at the flowers, looking at the beautiful lawn. Finally found himself on the porch and frightened himself; he was ringing a doorbell. The man who lived in the home was a great industrialist by the name of Lowry. And Mr. Lowry himself, that Sunday morning, came to the door, opened it and looked out upon a ragged little newspaper boy. And the little fellow was frightened to death; he had not planned any such thing, he had not thought of any such thing, he just found himself there. And the big kindly man looked down at the lad and said, “Son, what could I do for you?” And the little boy saw tenderness, finally blurted out, he said, “Mister, do you have any little boys at your house?” And the man replied, “No, son, no. My wife and I have never had a child.” The little boy said, “Mister, I’d give everything I had in the world if I could be your little boy! Oh!” he said, “I’d play on this lawn, and nobody would make me leave. And I could walk in this beautiful home, and nobody would shut the door. Oh! I’d give everything I have if I could be your little boy.”
It was an amazing thing! And Mr. Lowry turned around and called for his wife; and said, “Wife, come here, come here. I want you to see a little boy that wants to be our son.” And the wife came down the beautiful stairway and looked on that ragged, little lad. They looked at each other, and the man said, “Wife, let’s take him in, let’s take him in.” And they opened the door and invited the little fellow in to be their boy. And the first thing the little fellow did when he was invited inside the house and entered the threshold through the open door, the little fellow reached into his pockets and pulled out a few pennies and offered them to the big man and said, “Here is everything I have in the world.” And the big man said, “Son, keep it, keep it. I have more than enough for us both.”
When I was a lad and heard that story, the man who preached it was illustrating our adoption into the family of God. We’re outside, and the Lord invites us in and adopts us into the household of faith [Romans 8:15]; that’s what he was illustrating. But, you know, the thing about the story that stayed in my mind was this: that ragged little urchin of a boy offering to God his few pennies, offering to the man all that he had, and the man said, “Son, I don’t need it, I don’t need it. I have more than enough for us both.”
And God’s mercy and God’s grace and God’s love is like that. If my righteousnesses were fists filled, they are not commensurate with the great plentitude of the mercies of God. I don’t need to try to buy my way; I am so poor, I couldn’t do it. But God has enough for us both. And that’s one of the great theological atonement theories, discussions, speculations, that you will read if you ever study theology. It is this: that the atonement of Christ [Romans 4:11], the suffering of Christ, the Passion of our Lord [Isaiah 53:5], the worth and the merit in the love of Jesus, His atoning grace [Titus 2:11], His sacrifice, His death on the cross for us [Matthew 27:32-50], is so infinite that our sins and all the sins of the world [1 John 2:2], are as nothing compared to the abounding grace of Jesus our Lord; more than enough, enough and to spare. Or as Paul would say it, “Where sin did abound, grace did much more abound” [Romans 5:20]. There is more than enough for us both.
And you will find that in your life. If you will come to God—”Lord, I am so weak”; there’s more than enough of strength for us both, you and God. “But, Lord, I don’t understand, and my mind is so sometimes darkened”; He has wisdom enough for us both, you and God. “But Lord, I am so helpless, and I need oh so much”; there is ample, there is plentitude in God for all of your needs, yours and God’s. It is just that we would come, that we would trust, that we would accept His invitation, cross the threshold, step over the line, come into the house. It’s just like a RSVP to a banquet, to an invitation of the Lord; just accept it, just accept it and come. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2].
While we sing this hymn of appeal, I’ll be standing here on this side of our communion table. To give your heart to Jesus, come: “Today I accept the Lord as my Savior.” Come and stand by me. To put your life in the fellowship of this great, glorious household of the faith, come: “Pastor, my children, my family, all of us are coming today.” However God shall press the appeal to your heart, come. Make it now. In the great balcony round, on this lower floor, down here to the front: “I make it now, preacher, and here I come.” Do it, while we stand and while we sing.