THE GRACE OF GOD IN VAIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:17-6:1
10-16-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on the television you are sharing the First Baptist Church eleven o’clock hour in Dallas; and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Grace of God in Vain. And that will be the last phrase that is read in the text. And if you would like to turn to it in your home where you are, here in this great throng today in God’s house, it is 2 Corinthians chapter 5, beginning at verse 17 and reading through the first verse of chapter 6. Second Corinthians chapter 5, beginning at verse 17:
Therefore if anyone be in Christ, that one is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Christ Jesus, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation—
namely, which is—
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not charging their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us that word and ministry of reconciliation.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead—
as though it were the Lord speaking—
be ye reconciled to God.
For God 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.
[2 Corinthians 5:17-6:1]
And that supplication is also the text and title of the message, The Grace of God in Vain. “We beseech you, we abjure you, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1].
And what does that mean? The grace of God in vain, eis kenon, eis kenon, “in vain.” “Kenos” is the word for emptiness, empty, futility, nothingness, ineffectualness, fruitlessness, kenos; and to receive the grace of God in vain would be that for all God has done for us, and every favor and benedictory remembrance by which He has sought to bless us, that upon us and in our lives it would be fruitless and futile and empty, that it comes to nothing, the grace, the love, the mercy, the forgiveness, the favor of God, nothing, as though it had not been. Or worse than that, spurned and refused and rejected; the grace of God in vain, empty, futile, sterile, unprofitable, ineffectual, fruitless, that it comes to nothing. That can be so easily illustrated in the experiences that all of us sometime or the other know or observe in human life. The grace of God in vain; that what had been hoped for and prayed for and longed for turns to dust and ashes, broken dreams, broken hopes, unanswered prayers.
I lived as a little boy on the farm. And I have seen my father plow the ground, and sow the seed, and cultivate the crop. And as a small child might be able to help, I have driven a team, following those rows; and I have taken a hoe and I have chopped weeds. And I can well remember, growing up in a drought-stricken country, I can so well remember that what we as a family had looked forward to when the harvest came, the crop was destroyed by drought, and the very fields had wasted away with the blowing of the wind. In vain, to work, to look forward, to hope, and it come to nothing. And I see that so often in the lives of our young people, who with sparkling eyes and heightened hopes and love in their hearts, and they build a home, and they have such glorious romantic visions of the future; oh, what dreams they dream, and what hopes they have, and what visions they see. And they are so happy.
And then sometimes it’s like this: I went to our Baptist hospital to visit a young mother to whom God had given a precious little child. And visiting with her, expressing my joy and gladness in God’s goodness, and then praying a prayer of dedication, as I paused that little while to say those words and to breathe that prayer, I noticed that the young mother on the other side of the room was crying. And as I stayed and prayed and spoke words of encouragement to that young mother that I had come to visit, she cried the more profusely. And I walked out of the room and down the hall; and before I got to the elevator, I stopped and turned around and went back into the room and over to that bed. And I said to the young mother, I said, “I am the pastor of the First Baptist Church, and I have come to pray with a young mother here who is in the room with you. But I noticed that you cried so heart brokenly, and I just wanted to ask if there was something I could do to help. Is there some way, and why do you cry so?”
And she said to me, “Since I have been in the hospital and since I have had the little baby, my husband has not come to see me, and he has not looked upon the face of our little child.” What would you say, what could you say? Oh, surely not, surely not; oh, the sadness! And as I looked upon her and after a prayer for help from heaven, walked away, I thought, “Oh, the heartache that nobody could alleviate! God Himself could just weep with that young mother.” And I could just read the whole story. When they married, how full of hope, how marvelous the vistas, and now drowned in tears and bathed in sorrow; the grace of God in vain, coming to empty futility, nothingness.
I sometimes think of that in terms of our American soldiers who march away from our land and fight on other fields, and are cut down by the withering fire of enemy cannon, and enemy machine guns, and bombs that rain out of the sky, and are buried on foreign fields. There is a sadness and a heaviness in my heart as I walk among those crosses where our soldier men are buried in far away lands. There is a grievous sadness that is almost indescribable. I can remember World War 1; and I can remember those great words of President Woodrow Wilson when he said, “We are entering this battle to make the world safe for democracy.” And again, he said, “We are fighting this war to end all wars.” Oh, the high hopes of the Allied forces in those days when we were pouring the energy of our nation into those glorious ideals. And many more of us can remember those days of the Second World War, when our armies and our men were fighting for “the four freedoms,” that forever this world might be delivered from those fears of poverty and dread and the denial of liberty in speech and religion; and with high hopes the energies of our nation and the blood of our men was poured into that conflict. And I think of our men who today and this moment are laying down their lives in the fever-infested jungles of the Malayan peninsula. And with all of the dreams we’ve ever dreamed, and all the visions we’ve ever seen, and all the prayers we’ve ever prayed we are no nearer those ideals than when our men first marched away. And as I walk up and down those seemingly endless rows of crosses, I think to myself, “Do these men die and die and die in vain, for nothing, emptiness, futility, fruitlessness, nothing?”
This is the thought of the apostle Paul after he has made his tremendous appeal. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” [2 Corinthians 5:19]. It was the Almighty, coming down in human flesh [Hebrews 10:5-14], that He might make expiation for our sins, that we might not bear the judgment and the penalty of our sins. And He died for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [2 Corinthians 5:21]; not that we are righteous, but that God justifies us, He declares us righteous. “He died for our sins according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3], He was raised for our justification to declare us righteous [Romans 4:25]. And after God has done that—become flesh, suffered as we suffer, died our death, took upon Him in His own flesh, in His own body, bore our sins to the tree [1 Peter 3:24]; after He has made expiation [2 Corinthians 5:21], and propitiation [1 John 2:2], and atonement for all of our sins [Romans 5:11], to declare us blameless, and faultless, and perfect [1 Corinthians 1:30], that we might stand in the presence of God, and live [Jude 1:24]—after He has done all that God could do, it comes to nothing, emptiness, futility, vanity; the grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1].
It is hard for me to summarize the history of God’s chosen people and believe that it came out as it did. The Lord appeared to Abraham [Genesis 18:1], and to the patriarchs [Genesis 26:2, 24]; and God raised up prophets; and the Lord guided His people through the wilderness beyond the Exodus [Exodus 13:18], through the wilderness beyond the captivity [Psalm 136:10-24]; finally God wrote the Holy Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16], and as with the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], laid the Holy Book in their hands [Romans 9:4]. Then finally the Lord raised up a great forerunner, who came to announce to the chosen people that at the end of the age all the promises were to be fulfilled, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Messiah stands in our midst” [Matthew 3:1-2; John 1:29-34]. And when the grand announcement was made and the Son of God came down from heaven [Philippians 2:6-7], and He wrought such signs before the people as they had never seen [Matthew 9:33], “This is God’s Servant, this is the Messiah promised, this is the Seed that shall bruise Satan’s head, this is the Son of God” [Genesis 3:15]: and when the kingdom was announced and the Prince of glory came forward, they seized Him with violent hands and dragged Him outside the city gate and there crucified Him on a Roman cross [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]. Oh, could such a thing be? Could such a thing come to pass? It is more startling and unbelievable than fiction itself: the grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1].
And in the marvelous goodness of the Almighty, the rejection of Israel was our blessing [Romans 11:17, 25]; for the gospel of Christ and the announcement of redemption and expiation, the forgiveness of sins, the glorious message of reconciliation was delivered to the apostle to the Gentiles [Ephesians 3:8]. And from the voice and hands of the apostle Paul, to Timothy, to Titus, and through these ages now, down to us, that:
God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, not charging them with their derelictions and iniquities, but in Christ forgiving us and hath given to us that word of reconciliation, and we as God’s servants, as though it were God Himself pleading, we beseech you, be reconciled to God.
[2 Corinthians 5:19-20]
And yet, for all of the grand announcement, this glorious and incomparable message called the evangel, the good news, for the most part, the whole world passes it by as they did in the day of the cross, publicly exhibited, crucified on a highway next to the northern Damascus gate of the city [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]. And as the people passed by, some wagging their heads in mockery, most of them just look, just look and go by, pass by [Matthew 27:39; Mark 15:29]; and we do that in this day and in this hour: the grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1]. No wonder the prophet cried, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow” [Lamentations 1:12]. For all Christ has done for us, emptiness, futility, vanity, nothingness: the grace of God in vain, the love of the Lord, the mercy of the Lord, the appeal of the Lord, nothing [2 Corinthians 6:1].
I read one time of a mother, a mother whose son had gone away from home, just left. You know I run into that every once in a while; that’s the saddest thing that I know, just leave, get up and go, just leave. And this dear broken-hearted mother and the days passed and multiplied; and the lad didn’t come home. And in those days of her indescribable heartache and sorrow, every time the table was set there was a place for that boy. Every time they sat down at the table there was a setting, an empty place, a chair for that boy. And every evening that came she turned back the covers on the bed and every night set a light in the window. “Maybe today the boy will come home, and there is a place at the table for him. Maybe, maybe, maybe tonight the boy will come home, and the covers will be turned back for him. Maybe tonight and the light shall shine in the window.” And the story that I read, the boy never returned: the grace of God in vain.
Do you ever sometimes think of God’s preparation for us in glory, in heaven? Do you ever think of those things? “I go to prepare a place for you” [John 14:2]. Our Lord is in heaven, and after His ascension [Acts 1:9-10], the purpose of His return, He said, was to prepare a place for us in glory. What a rich inheritance awaits us [1 Peter 1:4]. What a marvelous, marvelous glory He has provided for us [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-5]. And yet, for all God hath done and the preparation He hath made, futile, empty, nothingness; for we’re not going to be there, we reject His grace and say “no” to His overtures, and pass Him by, and spurn His love [Hebrews 10:29]. It is unthinkable, it is unimaginable, it is inconceivable what kind of creatures are these who inhabit this earth! So I turn that over in my mind, “Lord, Lord; Lord, Lord, for all God hath done for us, and the love whereby He loved us [Galatians 3:2], and the life blood that He spilled out for us [1 Peter 1:18-19], and the mercy that extends to us [Titus 3:5], Lord, how is it, how is it? Why isn’t everybody saved? Why doesn’t everybody love Jesus? Why is not every home a godly home and a Christian home? Why is not every family a family in the will and purpose and heart of God? How is it Lord? I can’t understand. Lost, and in darkness, and all of those illimitable sorrows and tears and heartaches that follow the rejection of the Lord, Lord how is it?”
And as I thought, there came to my heart this story of the Lord Jesus, how things are with us: He likened the whole world to a field; and He likened the kingdom of heaven to a man who is a sower. “And he went forth to sow the field of the Lord. And as he sowed, some of the seed fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured it up and took it away” [Matthew 13:4]; never did reach a fertile heart, a responsive soul, it fell by the way side. And it is astonishing to me that there are men who can hear, and hear, and hear, and hear, and never hear; see, and see, and see, and see, and never see. “That seeing they may not see and perceive, and hearing they may not hear and understand” [Matthew 13:13-15]. I just bow in the elective purposes of God that I cannot begin to enter into; but there are men who can hear the gospel preached and never hear it, see the glorious grace and presence and mighty signs of God and never see them. The seed fall by the wayside, never find a responsive heart [Matthew 13:3-4].
Then there were some of the seed that fell on stony ground [Matthew 13:5], hard hearts. “I will not turn, I will not believe, I will not accept, I will not come.” As I had a group of football players to whom I made appeal in one of the great universities of the South, asking them to come in a body to the services, it was a convocation held on the university campus, they asked me to go outside and they’d discuss it. So I went outside; and all that group of men, how many of them, hundred fifty, two hundred, all those young men in there in that athletic dormitory, they had their discussion. Then they sent their leader out to invite me back, and I came back to hear the report. And the captain of the football team stood up and said to me, “Now we are going in a body to the service tonight. We’re going to sit together; but before we go, we want you to know that there will be none of this ‘come to Jesus’ stuff for us.” And then he added, “If fire were to fall down from God out of heaven, we will not go down that aisle.” I don’t understand that. And that night, it was a Thursday night; that night was one of the highest, holiest most moving of all the services I ever beheld in my born days. I could not tell you the number of young people who were converted that night, and gave their lives to God that night, and consecrated themselves to Jesus that night; it was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And verily, some of those football men held on to the back of the seat; and not a one of them responded. And when the benediction was said, with a heart heavy, heavy, heavy, I remembered the word of that football captain, “Preacher, if fire were to fall down from God out of heaven, we will not come down that aisle.” The heart turned to stone; “I will not respond.” Why is it that, for all God does for us, we spurn His overtures of grace and do despite to “the blood of the covenant wherewith He was sanctified?” [Hebrews 10:29]
“Some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it” [Matthew 13:7]. Other interests: “Oh, I’m not against religion, and I’m not against the church, and I’m not against the Lord, and I’m not against the preaching of the gospel, that’s fine, it’s fine for the women and children; and I’m sure it is fine, but I’m interested in other things. I’ve got something else to do. I’m busy, I’m doing this, and I’m doing this, and I’m doing that,” when the Lord all the time says “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment, it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]; and in that day and in that hour, what will you do? “Oh, I’ll take my chances. I’ll stand on my own two feet. I’ll tell the Lord…” What are you going to tell the Lord? Sinner man, sinner man, what you going to tell the Lord, when the Lord says, “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20], “and the wages of sin is death”? [Romans 6:23] And the illustration of that is physical death. And you’re going to die, which is a sign of that judgment, that spiritual death that we face beyond the grave. And God has made a plan for us to be saved, whereby our sins can be forgiven [John 3:16; Romans 6:23, 10:8-13], and you spurn it and pass it by. In the great day of judgment, what are you going to say? “Well, now Lord You don’t understand, I was busy doing this.”
“Well, Lord, You don’t understand, I can boast in this.”
“Well Lord, You don’t understand, I, I tell You, I was pouring my life into this.”
“Yes.” Well what about your sins, and what about the judgment day? All of the ethical devotion of our lives can’t wash the stain of sin out of our souls. And all of our high, idealistic commitments and professions can’t take away sin from our souls. The Word falls, and the thorns, and the thistles, and the briers choke it to death; other interests in life take it away [Matthew 13:3-7].
It would be a sad, sad thing if the Lord stopped there, wouldn’t it? But there is always a glorious addendum that God will write to every paragraph and it is in every verse, and it’s in every syllable and every sentence. God never leaves us in despair; that’s Satan’s assignment. He’ll lead a soul down to despair and leave that soul to writhe and to cry and to lament in a forever agony; but not the Lord. There may be some who will pass it by; never pay attention, never pause to consider. There may be some who have stony hearts, “I will not” [Matthew 13:5-6]. And there may be some who allow the cares and the assignments in life to choke it to death [Matthew 13:7]. But always and always God hath promised us some. There will be some, there will be some. “And other of that seed fell on good ground, on fertile, prolific soil; and it yielded fruit that sprang up and increased. Some brought forth thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundredfold” [Matthew 13:8]. I oft times think of Charles Hadden Spurgeon when a man came up to him and said, “Why, if I believed in those elective purposes of God that you say, why, I’d just quit, I’d just quit. Think of all these people that are not going to be saved. And think of all these people that are not going to repent. I’d just quit.” Spurgeon said, “Nay, no,” he said, “I know that they all are not all going to repent. They are not all going to be saved, by the Word of God I know we shall not convert the whole world. But I have the assurance that if I faithfully preach the gospel, and am true to the Word and announce the good news of the pardon of sin in Christ Jesus [John 3:14-17], I know God will give me some; God will give me some” [Romans 10:13].
There are those whose hearts respond to the good news of the love of God in Christ Jesus. God seemingly made us that way, just made us that way. There’s something in my heart that when a man preaches the gospel of the Son of God, every cord in my soul vibrates. I’m made that way.
I’ve heard black men preach the gospel; and my soul was elevated. I’ve heard yellow men preach the gospel; and my soul was elevated. I have heard unlettered, uneducated men who could not read and could not write, I have heard them preach the gospel; and my soul vibrated. Just made that way; and you’re that way. There’s something about the old, old story that just means heaven and earth to us who believe in the Lord. Like that hymn,
Tell me the old, old story
Of unseen things above
Of Jesus and His glory
Of Jesus and His love
[“Tell Me the Old, Old Story,” Katharine Hankey]
The old, old story; never tire of it, never weary of it, as fresh today as when I came to realize its meaning so many years ago. The grace of God in vain; but upon some hearts the love of God falls in rich reward.
I close with this word from the apostle Paul:
After He had appeared to the apostles, last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time; unto me, who am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God that was upon me. The grace of God that extended down to me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all.
[1 Corinthians 15:7-10]
And that is always true. There are some like the apostle Paul who receive the grace of Jesus as a light and a glory from heaven [Acts 9:1-18]; and how fruitful, some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, some an hundredfold [Matthew 13:8, 23]; the grace of God reaching down to our souls [Ephesians 2:8]. And that has a meaning for all of us today, all of us.
If you are not a Christian, if you’ve never given your heart to Jesus, it is an appeal for you to trust the Lord as your Savior, to give your heart and life and destiny to Jesus, come. If you are not here in the city of Dallas, if you are not here in a church, oh, come and be with us! “Pastor, my letter is in some other place, my letter is in some other city,” come and be with us. God’s grace to you is that; come, come. Maybe to some of us it would be as our staff has chosen that adage, that motto, “Step forward in tithing”; maybe for some of us it is a deeper walk with our Lord; maybe it is a trusting Jesus more preciously than we’ve ever known before; maybe it is the consecration of your whole life to God; maybe it is a giving of yourself in a special ministry; but to everyone of us the grace of God seeks a marvelous fruit and a glorious reward. Answer the Lord with your life, do it, do it. Some of you taking Jesus as Savior, come; some of you putting your life in the fellowship of the church, come; some of you maybe would just like to have a prayer, you can go back to your seat, come; however God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it this morning. In this balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, preacher, I make it now,” do it, do it, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GRACE OF GOD IN VAIN
Dr. W. A.
the grace of God in vain (2
“in vain” – emptiness, futility, nothingness, fruitlessness
receive the grace of God in vain would be that for all He has done for us it
comes to nothing
Illustrated in experiences all of us sometime or another know in life
up on a farm
mother in hospital with new baby, husband not come to see her
American soldiers falling on foreign fields
that God has done, sought to do, comes to nothing(2 Corinthians 5:19)
of God’s chosen people – rejection of their Messiah
of Israel was our blessing – message of gospel delivered to the Gentiles(2
world passes it by as in the day of the cross(Lamentations 1:12)
1. Broken-hearted mother
waiting for her son to come back home
preparation for us in heaven(John 14:3)
parable of the sower
seed falls by the wayside; never finds a responsive heart (Matthew
13:4, Mark 4:12)
seed falls on stony ground – hard hearts
Football team at convocation, “We will not come down that aisleâ€¦”(Hebrews 10:29)
seed choked out by the thorns – allow the word to die out(Matthew
3:7, Hebrews 9:27, Ezekiel 18:20, Romans 6:23)
seed falls on good ground – they receive, respond (Matthew 13:8)
“Tell me the old, old storyâ€¦”