The Grace of God in Vain
October 16th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
THE GRACE OF GOD IN VAIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:17
10-16-66 8:15 a.m.
If you would like to turn to the passage from which the pastor preaches this morning, turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 5, beginning at verse 17, reading through the first verse of chapter 6. And you who listen on the radio to our First Baptist Church here in Dallas, turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 5, beginning at verse 17. As you will see in the last verse that is read, the title of the message is The Grace of God in Vain.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he 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 Jesus Christ, 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 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, as though the Lord Himself were pleading, 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 last clause is the title and subject of the message, "that ye receive not the grace of God, eis kenon, eis kenon [2 Corinthians 6:1]. The word kenos means "empty, fruitless, ineffectual, sterile, vain; that ye receive not the grace of God in empty futility, in vain"; that all that God has done comes to nothingness as though it had never been done. When I read that phrase "in vain, eis kenon, in futility, in emptiness, ineffectualness, in nothingness," I think of the Exodus out of Egypt [Exodus 12:37-41], and all that God did for the children of Israel. Through the Red Sea [Exodus 14:9-31], and the miracles of the wilderness [Psalms 78:13-14, 23-28], and the manna that fell from heaven [Exodus 16:4, 13-18], and the water that gushed out of the rock [Exodus 17:9-13; Numbers 20:2-13], and God carried His children through the wilderness as a shepherd might guide his sheep. And finally they came to Kadesh-barnea and refused to enter in [Numbers 10:11-14:45].
All that God had done came to nothingness, fruitlessness, ineffectualness, emptiness, "the grace of God in vain" [2 Corinthians 6:1]. I think of that verse in the first chapter of John, John 1:11: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." All that the prophets had done, and all that the providences of God had wrought preparing the world and the nation for the coming of Christ [Hebrews 9:26], and the announcement of John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1-12; John 1:29], and all the wonderful teaching of the Savior [Matthew 5-7], and the miracles of His hands and the signs that He did that He was commissioned from heaven [John 10:38]; all of it came to nothingness, for the people refused Him, and the nation rejected Him and crucified Him outside their city walls [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12].
Receiving the grace of God in vain, that it comes to nothingness and emptiness in our lives; it bears no fruit, it finds no response, and all that God has done is nothingness [2 Corinthians 6:1]. I have seen that so much in every area of life, the futility and the vanity of our efforts; all that had been hoped for, and prayed for, and desired, and loved, and wanted turned to dust and ashes in our hands. Our efforts come to emptiness and nothingness in vain.
I can so well remember on the farm my father plow, and sow, and cultivate. And in my own little way, I drove a team, and cultivate up and down those rows and take a hoe and cut weeds. And I have seen the crop wither, and the drought waste it, and the wind blow the very soil away; all of the effort and hopes in vain. I have seen that so poignantly in the homes of some of our people.
I went to the hospital to have a prayer with a young mother in our church to whom God had given a precious little baby. And as I visited momentarily with the young mother and prayed by her side, there was another young mother in the room, and she was crying. And as I spoke words of joy and gladness to the young mother that I’d come to visit and then prayed, this other young mother began almost to sob aloud.
I went outside and down the hallway and stopped. I turned around, and I went back and over to the bed of that other girl. And I said to her, "As you may already have seen, I am pastor of the First Baptist Church. And I could not help but hear your cries and see your tears. And I thought maybe I could help. Why do you cry so?"
And she said to me, "Because my husband has not even bothered to come to see this precious child that God has given us."
I said, "You mean that, in this time of your confinement and the birth of this child, your young husband has not come, and he has not visited, and he has not seen you, and he has not even looked upon the face of this child?"
She said, "No, he has not bothered to come."
I just could pray that God would give strength to bear and patience to wait, but as I walked so sadly away, I thought of the futility, and emptiness, and despair, and the dashing to the ground of every hope and dream that young mother had when she married that boy – – whom I do not know and whom I never met – – in vain, in emptiness, in futility.
I have visited many of the cemeteries of our American soldiers on foreign fields. And it is a strange feeling I have as I walk among those crosses and read those names of our American boys. Some of them way up in the mountains, an American military cemetery, way up in the Appeninies or way in other places. And I think of those marvelous and glorious ideals that sent those young men marching away.
Why, I can remember World War I and the slogan, "Making the world free for democracy; this is the war to end all wars." And then World War II, the four freedoms, "Bringing the four freedoms to all the families and nations of the world." And I think today of our men in Vietnam, dying this moment. And I think of those ideals for which they lay down their lives. Where is that making world free for democracy? Where is that war to end all wars? Where are those four freedoms? And when I think of the sacrifice and wonder, "Is it forever to be in vain, in emptiness, that it comes to nothingness?" That is the meaning of this text [2 Corinthians 6:1].
Paul has described the love of God in Christ Jesus and how that God was reconciling the world unto Himself, not even charging us with the penalty of our sins, and hath committed to us who preach the gospel the marvelous announcement, "We are heralds of the grace of God." And we are to plead with men to be reconciled to God as though the Lord Himself were saying the words [2 Corinthians 5:17-21]. And then he closes, "How we pray, and how we beseech, and how we plead that ye receive not the grace of God, the love of God, the mercies and remembrances of God in vain," that all God has done for us to issue in nothing but futility, and vanity, and emptiness [2 Corinthians 6:1].
Oh, I wonder at our perverse and rejecting and hard hearts! I think of the Lord dying on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], the Son of heaven, God in glory coming down in human flesh [Hebrews 10:5-14] and the sweet precious ministering life of the Lord Jesus [Matthew 11:4-5] – – and cruel hands seize Him and nail Him to a tree [1 Peter 1:24]. Unthinkable, unimaginable, unbelievable and then, as the Scriptures say, "And they that passed by" [Matthew 27:39], passing Him by, passing Him by. Maybe somebody glance, maybe somebody look, maybe somebody pause [Luke 23:35], maybe somebody sympathize, but go on, pass Him by. And so much of this world is like that today. They never think. They never consider. They never stop. This is God in the flesh dying for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21]. And what does it mean? And why did God do it? But it is nothing, not in us, passing Him by [Matthew 27:39], receiving the grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1].
And I think of those who are the objects of prayer. Maybe there is a dear mother who prayed for you or a fine father who prayed for you. Maybe a loved wife or I have seen children plead with their parents to come to Jesus, praying, asking of God. And yet so difficult is the human heart that children, prodigal, sons and daughters, wayward, trample upon the prayers and love and appeals of parents, and refuse to turn, refuse to come, receiving the grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1].
And I think of the home in glory. Jesus says, "I go to prepare a place for you" [John 14:2]. And our Lord ascended into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], there in glory to make a place for us [John 14:2]. And it’s empty, and we’re not proposing to occupy, to inherit, to receive that glorious gift of God in heaven. I cannot imagine it! I cannot think of it. There is a black drop in the human heart, and there is a perverseness in the human spirit that is indescribable. Our Lord died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:5-14], raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], raised to declare us righteous in Him [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25], and go away into heaven to prepare a place for us there [John 14:2]; and we are not preparing to receive from His gracious hands that eternal gift in glory [2 Corinthians 6:1]. I cannot think of it.
I read a story one time of a boy who left home. Oh, how these children, these teenagers, can sometimes verily break and crush the hearts of their parents! And this boy left home. And the dear mother, as the days passed, found herself in inexpressible sorrow. And there’s no need to tell a mother not to be sorrowful, or not to cry, or not to weep, or not to be sad, for the child has left and gone away. And finally, finally, this story said, every night she would make the bed and pull the covers back, turn the covers back, and arrange the pillow. And every night, she would set a light in the window. And at every table she would set a place for that lad. "Maybe tonight he will come, maybe today he will come," and there would be a place prepared at the table for him. And there was the room and the bed prepared for him with the covers turned back and the light in the window. And the story said that boy never came.
The grace of God in vain: for all that God hath done for us to save us from our sins in this life and to prepare for us a home in heaven when we die, that it come to nothing, futility, emptiness, eis kenon, nothingness, in vain. These things are almost unthinkable when I say them, when they are voiced in words. How could a man so spurn the goodness and grace of God?
As I was thinking of that, how is it that the human spirit and the human soul could thus say "No" to God and all of the love and mercy and grace of Jesus extended to us come to nothingness in our lives, no response in our hearts; how could such a thing be? And as I turned that over in my mind, how is it, how could it be, there came this answer from God’s Book: "Life and the world and all of us involved in it is like a sower who goes forth to sow [Mark 4:3-20]. And some of the seed falls by the wayside, and the fowls of the air devour it up." Some of the seed falls by the wayside. It never – – it never found a resting place. It fell by the wayside [Mark 4:4]. And it is a contradiction, but how do you say truth except in contradictory ways? There are those who hear the gospel and hear the gospel and hear the gospel, but never hear, never. They see and see and see and see, but never see, as they hear and hear and hear and they never hear [Mark 4:12; Acts 25:26]. Somehow the message, the truth never is able to penetrate their hearts. And the seed falls by the wayside. They never see. They never hear. It never enters into their souls.
And some of the seed falls on stony ground [Mark 4:5-6]. Their hearts are hard. Oh, how that can be true in a calloused human life, hard, hard! I one time heard of a father who gathered his children around and said those last farewells before he was translated to glory. And tenderly and sweetly he bid each one of his children a "Good night, and I’ll see you, son, in the morning. Good night, sweet daughter, I will see you in the morning. Good night, precious child, I’ll see you in the morning on the other side of the river, someday, some happy day," then turned to an obstreperous, incorrigible, Christ-rejecting son and said, "Good bye, son, I will never see you again." And the boy said, "Well, why, why?" And the father replied, "Because you have rejected Christ and our Savior, and I have no hope of ever seeing you again." Oh, hard of heart, why, why, why would a man steel himself against Jesus? And why would a heart so callous itself as to be impervious to the grace and love and mercy of God, receiving the grace of God in vain? Hard of heart, and you could talk, and talk, and pray, and plead forever, and it seems to be that heart never softens, never opens, never responds, the plea falling on stony ground.
And some fell among thorns and briers, and it was choked to death [Mark 4:7]; other interests. "Oh, I, I, yes I’m sure there’s a God, but I’m too busy with something else. Yes, I know death comes, but I’m living now. Yes, I know there must be some kind of a judgment that lies ahead, but I am engrossed now." And the Word and the seed that is sown is choked to death by other interests, and other devotions, and other causes, and other commitments, and other businesses.
I sometimes think that people are like Moses. They view the Promised Land from afar, from some height of Nebo. They see it, but they never enter in [Deuteronomy 34:1-5]. They look at it, and they hear it, and they see it, and they survey it, and once in a while they might discuss in their hearts as to whether or not they would decide, but they pass it by. They never respond. They never enter in. They just look from afar, receiving the grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1].
And some – – oh, what a dark, and unhappy, and miserable prospect were it not for this last, and this is the assurance of any pastor, and the assurance of any church, and the assurance of any service, and any visit, and any invitation, God says to us, "We will not win them all, never, not until the Lord shall come again." But God will give us some, always, always. God will give us some. "And some of the seed fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, some sixty, some an hundredfold"[Mark 4:8]. God blesses the message and the appeal to some hearts. And there are some who respond and bring forth fruit unto God.
One of the finest passages to me in the Book is the personal testimony of the apostle Paul:
Last of all, after the Lord appeared to these other apostles, last of all He was seen of me, as one born out of due time. Unto me, who am the least in the apostles, that am not meet, worthy 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, was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
[1 Corinthians 15:8-10]
There are those to whom God somehow makes responsive.
What does that mean for us? And what does this mean for you, the grace of God and the love of the Lord reaching down to your heart and life. If you are lost, if you have never accepted Jesus, if you have never publicly given your life to the Savior, for you it means, "Lord, today, today I open my heart and soul to Thee. Lord, come into my life. Lord, live in my heart. Lord, bless the visions, and dreams, and aims, and hopes, and plans, and prospects, and work. Lord, bless my heart and life. I take Thee as my Savior." If you are not a child of God, a Christian, the grace of God to you is that you respond, that you become a Christian. To the rest of us who have been saved, it means a deeper walk with Jesus; the grace of God reaching down to us and making us fruitful to the Lord, a deeper walk with Jesus.
During these days I hear so much of this slogan that our staff has adopted, a step in tithing. "Step forward in tithing. Step forward in tithing." To many of us, to many of us as we try to be fruitful unto God, it might mean that to you: "Step forward in tithing." "God make me fruitful unto Him." Maybe to a youth it might be the consecration of his life as he prepares for a full-time ministry for Jesus. Maybe to a family it could mean putting your life in the circle of the church and just asking God to bless this work under God’s hands and yours.
But I know that in every life it means something, "Lord, You have done so much for me. You have been so good to me, Lord, Lord, what shall I return unto Thee for all of Thy goodnesses and mercies?" And then whatever God would speak to your soul, do it. "I shall walk closer. I shall draw nigher. I shall look upward. I shall love the Lord more. He shall have more of me than He has ever had before"; the abundant grace of God, bearing an hundredfold unto Jesus.
O Master, bless this appeal to our souls. Do it Lord. Do it.
Now we’re going to sing our hymn, and while we sing it, while we sing it, however the Lord would press the appeal to your heart, come this morning. Maybe you’d just like to come and have a little prayer with the pastor and go back to your seat, fine, fine. "I’d just like to give myself in a new way to the Lord," you come. We’ll have a prayer, and you can go back to your seat. Or to give your heart to Jesus or to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, I cannot make the appeal; it has to come from God. But if the Lord says something to you, do it. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.