IN THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-11-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled In the Fullness of the Time. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians and the fourth verse is Paul’s description of the nativity, the birth of our Lord. “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.” As Paul described Christmas, the incarnation, these are the words by inspiration that he used; Galatians 4:4: “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.”
And I suppose the reason that this has been so pressed upon my heart these days is because of my studying the Book of Daniel, that great broad sweep outline of history from the days of Nebuchadnezzar, the beginning of the times of the Gentiles, until the consummation of God’s purposes of grace in the earth [Daniel 2:1-49]. And in that broad sweep of history that the Lord revealed to Daniel, I can so easily see the meaning of the apostle when he wrote the words of this text.
To plērōma, the fullness of preparation, tou chronou, of the time; the selected, chosen, exact time God sent forth His Son, made of a woman [Galatians 4:4]: for God works in time, through the years and the centuries, the eons and the ages. You see it in the story of the rocks, the record of God’s creation, year, centuries, millennia, eons and ages, stratum on stratum on stratum; God’s unchanging, unhurried work, through the unending ages.
And you see it in human history; the great, broad outlines of the purposes of God, written on the pages of human story. Sometimes centuries and centuries will pass before we can see the sovereign purposes of God being worked out in human history. So Paul refers to that sovereign, elective grace of the Almighty when he says, “In the plērōma, in the fullness of the preparation at an exact time chosen, elected, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
Now to us things happen as they turn around a corner of history. We see things happen day at a time, week at a time, month at a time, year at a time. Things happen as they turn a corner in history, but not so God, the great Sovereign, who rules and sits above this universe, sees all of human history as one great present. From the beginning to the end, all of it is ever-present before Him. It is as a man watching a parade high up on an advantage point. Down here a watcher might see the parade turn a corner one at a time, rank at a time, company at a time. But up there at a vantage point, a watcher might see the whole parade move as one integrated unit, all of it together.
It is thus with us; we see history happen event at a time, development at a time, a day at a time, but the great Almighty who presides over the course of destiny sees all of it moving together, here, here, here. The first, the last, the beginning, the ending, the alpha and the omega. And in that course of human story, in the elective purpose of God, these things happen, these things happen, this happens, this shall happen. Your birth, God sees it in that long story; and your death, God sees it. It is ever-present before Him. His name is the great I AM [Exodus 3:14].
And in the fullness of that preparation, God guiding the history of the nations to a certain desired and prepared point, and there at that time Christ was born [Matthew 1:20-25]. And at an elected time known to God, Christ died [Matthew 27:32-50]. And at an elected time in His sovereign grace, He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. And at an elected time, known to Him before the foundations of the earth, He ascended up to heaven [Acts 1:9-10], and poured out the ascension gift of the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:1-4]. And at an elected time known to God, the consummation of the age shall arrive, and Christ shall come again in splendor and in glory [Revelation 1:7]. Some—and once in a while—of these events in human history, the Lord will reveal to His holy apostles and prophets.
For example, the Lord said to Moses, “Moses I show you the pattern of the tabernacle” and from heaven—from heaven, God showed to Moses the pattern of the tabernacle, like the one in heaven, with a courtyard, with a Holy Place, with a Holy of Holies, with all of the sacred vessels and furniture, the pattern of it, God showed to Moses from heaven [Exodus 25:9-27:21].
So God revealed to the prophets some of these times and some of these places. The Lord should be crucified at the Passover: the Passover Lamb is our Lord [1 Corinthians 5:7]. And at that Passover, He was to be crucified, Exodus 12 [Exodus 12:1-28], Leviticus 23 [Leviticus 23:5]; and He is to be raised from the dead on the Sunday after the Sabbath on the first day of the week [Leviticus 23:4-8]. And the whole Revelation, the Apocalypse, the apokalupsis, the unveiling; from chapter 1 to chapter 22 in the Revelation, God revealed to His apostle and to us the consummation, the denouement of the age, when the Lord shall come again [Revelation 1-22]. All of these things to us may happen adventitiously, accidentally, providentially, but to God they form a set purpose; and the sovereign will of God works through history and through the ages toward those great, elected consummations.
Now, we’re going to take one of them this morning and follow it through for this brief moment; “In the fullness of the time God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]: the conspiring of all of those years and centuries of history under the hand of God, in the sovereign elective purpose of God, to just that moment that God had chosen for the incarnation; the coming to earth of the Prince of glory [Matthew 1:20-25].
First: there was a great religious preparation, the fullness of the time [Galatians 4:4]. When Judah went into Babylonian captivity; it was a sorrow beyond anything we could ever know nationally today. That Solomon temple was the place where God had elected that His name should be placed [2 Samuel 7:13]. And Jerusalem is the Holy City, the only city that’s ever called the Holy City, the Holy City; and these are God’s chosen people. And in 587 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar came the third and last time with his Chaldean army, he destroyed the city [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. He razed the temple even with the ground, and he carried the nation by the waters of Babylon. “By the waters of Babylon” the psalmist cried:
There we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For they that wasted us required of us a song; and they that carried us away captive required of us mirth, saying, Sing unto us one of the songs of Zion.
But how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I forget thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer
not thee, O Jerusalem, to my chief joy.
There was a sadness inexpressible in the carrying away into Babylon. But out of that captivity came three great things. First: no longer were God’s people polytheistic. No longer were they idolatrous; they became then and forever after monotheistic, as the Jew is today and ever shall be. Second: out of that captivity came the sacred canon of the Scriptures, the Bible that the Christians used to say, “This is the Messiah the Son of God.” Those early Christian pastors and preachers and evangelists took those scrolls, and they cut them into sheets, and they bound the sheets at the back in what is called a codex. And the book as you think of a book was the invention of that first century Christian preacher, who turned rapidly to the pages of the Holy Scriptures that he might show from the Book itself that He is the Christ the Son of God. Out of that captivity came the Holy Bible. And [third]: out of the sorrows of that captivity came the institution of the synagogue.
In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, James, the Lord’s brother and the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, said that in every city Moses is read in the synagogues [Acts 15:13, 21]. The institution of the synagogue was scattered in that captivity over the whole civilized world, and the whole earth became acquainted with the Jew, and the Book, the Bible of the Jew, and the hope and the promise that was the comfort of the Jew, that someday, some glorious day, a Christ, a Savior, a Messiah will come. Little did they know when their tears mingled with the waters of Babylon [Psalm 137:1], that God was preparing for the fullness, the plēroma, of the time when He should come into the world [Galatians 4:4].
There was a preparation of the world, the fullness of the time, culturally. God raised up out of Macedon, a son named Alexander. His father Philip trained the youth, and in the sovereign purpose of God, within eleven years, that son of Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great, had conquered the entire known civilized world. On those tremendous campaigns of Alexander, he took his teacher Aristotle with him. And Alexander brought to civilization Greek culture, Greek language, Greek institutions, and Greek philosophy. And what Alexander had done in so brief a period to make the entire civilized world Greek, the four great generals, who divided his great empire into four great parts, carried on that Greek process.
Cassander, who had married Thessalonike, the sister of Alexander, took Greece and all of [Macedonia]. Lysimachus took Asia Minor. This unusual man Seleucus, whose father was Antioch, took Syria, and Ptolemy took Egypt. And under their aegis and in their direction, all of the things of Greek institutions that had begun under Alexander were continued. Consequentially, when Paul wrote his letter to the city of Rome, Paul wrote that book in Greek.
And in the papyri that are dug up in Egypt today, you will find those papyri, not written in Egyptian or in Aramaic or in any other Eastern language, but in the Greek of the Western world. Little did Alexander the Great know, and little did his four generals know that they were preparing for the coming of the grand announcement of Christ’s coming into the world. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
The sovereign and elective grace and purpose of God can be seen in the development of the political world. For the whole earth at the coming of our Lord was one great imperial empire presided over by Caesar in the eternal city of Rome. And there was Roman law, and Roman government, and Roman roads everywhere. And the enforced peace by the Roman government made it possible for merchants and travelers to go from Great Britain on the northwest to India on the southeast without fear and molestation. And there was great intercourse of commerce, and goods, and ideas, and teachers, and philosophy, and announcements, and all the things that went along with the interchange of ideas and of people in the days of the Roman Empire.
That is why, as I turn to the Holy Book and I read, “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin’s name was Mary” [Luke 1:26-27]. The Book says, “And Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth” [Luke 1:26]. But Micah seven hundred years before had said, “And thou, Bethlehem, though thou be little among the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting” [Micah 5:2]. Micah said the Child shall be born in Bethlehem in Judea. But as the story opens, it says in the sixth month, after the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist [Luke 1:11-20]—in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth [Luke 1:26]. But God said it shall be in Bethlehem [Micah 5:2]. I turn the page to the next chapter and I read:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled—the first worldwide census.
And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, unto Judea, unto the city of David which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
[Luke 2:1, 3-5]
Imperial Caesar Augustus never dreamed that when he made that decree for the enrolling, the first census of the civilized world, that he did so in the sovereign and elective purpose of Almighty God. In the fullness of the time God raised up and prepared the Roman Empire. In the fullness of time God raised up Augustus Caesar. In the fullness of time the decree was sent forth. In the fullness of the time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, in the elective choice and purpose of God [Galatians 4:4].
No wonder that when the angels came to announce the glorious birth that they said, “And this shall be the sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:12], the wondrous sign from heaven. There was womanhood glorified, there was motherhood sanctified, there was childhood magnified. So on the Bethlehem road after the preparation through the centuries and the centuries, there comes the holy family, Joseph and Mary, being great with child [Luke 2:4-5]. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
There’s a song in the air!
There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a woman’s deep prayer
And a baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing,
For the manger in Bethlehem
Cradles a King!
[“There’s a Song in the Air,” Josiah G. Holland, 1872]
I have one other word to add. In the fullness of time, when Christ came into the world [Galatians 4:4], the whole earth was in slavery. Empire had followed empire, and the last, as Daniel described it, was the fiercest and the strongest and the most terrible, with teeth of iron, with power and strength indescribable, a nondescript beast [Daniel 7:7]. For Rome had conquered the entire earth and held all men as hostages in their iron fist. To the Roman all other men were slaves; to the Greek all other men were barbarians; to the Jew all other men were dogs. And into that helpless, hopeless, darkened world, a star began to shine and a song began to be sung. “Glory to God in the highest,” in excelsis, Gloria in excelsis Deo. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” [Luke 2:14].
In the First World War—where so long the soldiers faced one another in trenches, and where the lines of battle hardly changed year after year—in the First World War Christmas came, and out of one of those trenches stood a soldier in no man’s land singing a Christmas carol. The song that he sang was this song Beverly Terrell sang this morning, written by a wonderful French composer in Paris. As he sang that song, soldiers on this side of the trench, and on this side of the trench, laid down their arms. And one of them found a Christmas tree and set it in the center of no man’s land, and they joined in singing Christmas carols, and they exchanged food and rations, honoring the Savior of the world.
That is why I think the climactic description of our Lord in Isaiah 9:6 is this: “For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given: and the government shall rest upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” I would not have thought to arrange it like that, that the climax should be the Prince of Peace. I would have thought the climax would have been the Mighty God, or the Everlasting Father. But by inspiration the prophet said, “The Prince of Peace.” And if you have a boy in Vietnam this Lord’s day, you will know what the prophet meant.
The agonies and the sufferings of war are beyond what human heart can bear, and we are in it today. And the prophets say wars are determined unto the end [Daniel 9:26]. But in the fullness of the time, God shall descend from heaven at the consummation of the age, when human history has run its course, and we shall see our glorious Prince descending on the clouds [Luke 21:27], bringing peace, and glory, and supernal gladness, and blessing to this war-torn and weary world.
Then shall come to pass the incomparable prophecy of [Isaiah] again when he said “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” [Isaiah 2:4]. “But every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and there shall be none to make them afraid” [Micah 4:4]. “For the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the—ferocious, voracious, ravenous, carnivorous—lion will eat straw like an ox. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” [Isaiah 11:6-9].
In the fullness of the time, God shall come in glory Matthew 25:31]. This is His sovereign will and purpose for His people, that the saints shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5, 25:34]. And as God conspired in all history to bring our Lord the first time our Savior [Matthew 1:20-2:1], so the same sovereign purpose of God moves through human history today, reaching toward that great consummation “when the kingdoms of this earth shall become the kingdoms of our Lord; and He shall reign for ever and ever” [Revelation 11:15], amen and amen.
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you give his heart to Jesus. A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, while we sing the song and while we press the appeal, make it today. “Here I am, preacher, and here I come. I take the Lord today as my Savior,” or “I want to put my life with you in the fellowship of this dear church.” However God shall say the word and lead in the way, make it now, come this morning. On the first note of the first stanza, come. A whole family you, “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming today.” A couple you, or one somebody you, in a moment when we stand, stand up coming. On the first note of the first stanza, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come; I make it now.” Do it, do it. Let God speak to your heart and answer with your life, “Here I am and here I come,” while we stand and while we sing.