THE URGENCY OF THIS HOUR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-31-67 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Now this is the last Sunday morning of the old year, and tomorrow begins a new day and a new year. And in keeping with that, I have prepared a message from a text in John 9, verse 4: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4].
This is another one of the “musts” of our Master; and so oft times will you find that word used by our Lord, “must,” an exigency, a necessity, a must. When He was twelve years of age and in the temple at Jerusalem, He said to His parents who were anxiously searching for Him, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” [Luke 2:49]. Or again, in the eighth chapter of Mark, the Gospel writer says, “Then the Lord began to teach His disciples that the Son of Man must suffer, and be killed, and the third day raised again” [Mark 8:31]. And in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew describes Simon Peter as he unsheathed his sword to cut off the head of those who were attempting to arrest the Lord [Matthew 26:51], and the Lord said, “Put up the sword, put it up . . . for how else would the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” [Matthew 26:52-54]. And not only in the story of our Lord, the “musts,” but in the preaching of our Lord as in the third chapter of John in the [seventh] verse: “Ye must be born again” [John 3:7], or as He explained how it is we are born again: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [Numbers 21:8-9], even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” [John 3:14]. Then that “must” I find in this text: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4]. This is a “must”; it is a necessity of time: “the night cometh.”
One of the great and effective preachers of the ages was Robert Murray M’Cheyne; he burned himself out when he was twenty-nine years of age, and died. On the dial of the face of M’Cheyne’s watch, he had painted a sunset and underneath it the words of the text “The night cometh” [John 9:4]. The necessity of time, the fleeting day and the swiftly passing moment—time is a creation of God; we cannot buy it, we do not merit it, it is something God gives us graciously, mercifully. Time is of value alone to a man.
That’s one of the strangest phenomena of experience and of all nature: time has no meaning to a clod, no meaning to an acorn, no meaning to a beast of the field. Time has no meaning even to a child; only as the little fellow grows up into moral consciousness is he sensitive to time. It is the blocks out of which existence is built. “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4]. Time is inexorable; it moves, slowly, steadily, but inexorably. Like the stars in their courses, or like the planets around our central sun; with the passing of eons and of ages, there’s no variation or shadow even in a second, the progress inexorable of the movement of time. It is elusive; no man can hoard it for another day or another hour. Opportunity can not be refrigerated or frozen or used at another time; it is now or never.
When Paul stood before Felix, the procurator of the Roman province of Judea, and reasoned with him of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment to come, the Bible says that Felix trembled under the impact and power of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s message; Felix trembled. Then he answered, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will” [Acts 24:25]. But it never came; no convenient season to the man who procrastinates ever comes. There’s no such thing as hoarding opportunity or time for another day or another hour.
It is not only elusive, it is not only of necessity inexorable, it is also irrevocable. We don’t call back the day that is spent. Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears [Hebrews 12:16-17]. The judgment of God in letting slip out of our hands His God-given opportunities are never retrieved; they are never relived; they are never brought back; they are gone forever.
So vivid in my memory as though it were an hour ago is the day when I gave my life to be a preacher. I was a little boy, under a tent in a revival meeting in the tiny little town in which I grew up. There was an evangelist, and that morning service he gave the invitation: “Were there any there who felt called of God to give themselves to the ministry of the Lord, would you come forward?” And I stood up as a boy to give my life in answer to God’s call to be a minister of Christ. And in front of me, preceding me was the old brother of the evangelist, an old farmer in our community. He was first, walked in front of me, and fell into the arms of his evangelist brother. And standing right back of them, I could hear him talk as he cried and sobbed and wept. He said to his evangelist brother, “Oh, brother! God called me to be a preacher when I was a little boy, but I said, ‘No.’ And through the years I said ‘No’ to God. But brother, now I yield and I surrender my life. I am today answering God’s call to be a preacher.” It made a tremendous effect upon the congregation and the whole community. And of course, being just a little boy, the preacher shook my hand and said, “God bless you”; which is fine and enough.
He announced that the next Sunday afternoon, the evangelist announced the next Sunday afternoon his brother who had answered the call to preach would deliver the message that afternoon. I was there early; and I sat on the front row, in a chair on the front row, listening to that old farmer deliver his first sermon. I’ll not take the time to describe it. So far as I know, that was the last sermon that he ever preached; for he had sinned away his day of grace, and time is irrevocable. The time to give your life to God is when you are young. The time to go to school is when you are young. The time to prepare is when you are young. The time to answer God with your life is when you’re young. This is the necessity of time: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4].
It is not only the exigency, the necessity of time, it is also the necessity of need. The profound, and underlying, and deep, and immeasurable need of every life is always spiritual, not material. The great channels of our life run in spiritual beds, spiritual currents; never the broad reach of the swamp of the periphery, of the external, of the material, never. For, the issues of life are ever inward and not outward, they are ever spiritual and not material. The things that matter are not the materialities that we can see and hold with our hands, but the immaterialities, the immortals, the invisibles that a man cannot see with his naked eye. The tremendous matters of life are never material, they are the outside, they are the peripheral, they are the scaffolding. But the things that matter are ever and always inward, they are spiritual, they belong to the soul.
I one time heard of a man who had accumulated a great fortune. But he was a man—and he doesn’t have to be this way I’ve learned in my pastorate here in Dallas; a man can be rich and at the same time can be marvelously benevolent, and philanthropic, and generous, and love God, and serve Him—but this man was the opposite. He accumulated a great fortune, but he was grasping, and he was greedy, and he was selfish; as so many of them are. And the inevitable day and time came as it always comes when his soul was naked before God, “It is appointed unto men once to die; and after this the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]. And he lay in the agony of his last days.
And in that illness, as so many times the human mind will turn, he fell into some kind of a neurotic dilemma regarding his hands. He was obsessed with his hands, with his hands, with his hands, with his hands. And his dear wife, thinking that an old friend might help him, called and said, “Would you come and see him? He’s obsessed with his hands, his hands, his hands.” So the friend came to visit. And as he sat by the side of the bed, he finally said to his old friend, “Sir, there’s nothing wrong with your hands, nothing wrong with your hands, nothing wrong.” And the man replied, “But my God, Jim, they are so empty, they are so empty!”
Don’t you ever persuade yourself that you will take into the eternal world that is yet to come anything that your hands can hold; neither stocks, nor bonds, nor land, nor houses, nor properties, nor possessions; for the eternities of God are not material, they are spiritual. “My God, Jim, they are so empty!” This is the exigency of need; “We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4]. We need, I need God. Like the dove that was sent out from Noah’s ark who found no rest for the sole of her foot until she came back home [Genesis 8:9], a man is like that: we are restless and unhappy and unsatisfied until we find rest and satisfaction and fruition and reward in God.
As some of you know, the state asked me to go down into the Rio Grande Valley and lead a great crusade, centered in Harlingen, for all the southern part of the Rio Grande Valley. And as I faced the assignment, I went to Buddy Dial, and I said, “Would you come down there and help me? And possibly would you bring some of these men who are so adored by high school students and young people; would you bring them down with you?” He said, “Pastor, I will do it.” So down there in the Rio Grande Valley where I was leading that crusade for Christ, Buddy Dial came, and he brought Jim Ray Smith with him, and he also brought Tom Landry, the coach of the Cowboys. And Tom Landry said I’ll be here today if we lose this game against Cleveland. Well, I said, “You’ve got me in a straight betwixt the two; I don’t know which way to pray now. If you lose the game, you’ll be here; if you win the game, you won’t.”
Well, Tom Landry came down there and spoke one night. And his testimony made an impression upon me. We had throngs of young people; oh, the effect for good that these Christian athletes can have on boys and girls. Well, Tom Landry spoke that night; and he said, “Young gentlemen and young ladies,” he said, “for years I was not a Christian, and I gave myself to these things,” and he named them, “and to other things,” and he named them. And he said, “I achieved success in them. But the more I was successful, the more miserable I was. Nothing satisfied me; I tried this and that and the other.” Then he said, “One day I tried God. One day I found the Lord. One day I gave my heart to Jesus; and my life to serve the Master.” And he said, “From that day until this, I have found peace and rest for my soul.” Oh! that could be the testimony of every man. However successful, however famous, however forward and known in life; it’s cheap, it’s empty in itself.
You know, if I were looking for someone about to commit suicide, you know where I’d look? I would look in the roster of the most successful names in Hollywood—fame, beauty, pleasure, joy, wealth, affluence, success, everything and preparing to take an overdose of pills to extinguish the flame of life. You know where I’d look if I were trying to find somebody who was happy in life and filled with joy and singing? You know where I’d look? I’d look on somebody’s mission field somewhere and seek out the lowliest unknown poverty-stricken missionary in God’s earth. I’d find him singing songs in the night. I’d find him glorifying God. I’d find him looking up to Jesus with a smile on his face and a hymn of praise in his soul. We need God!
The exigency of need: we need the forgiveness of our sins. There’s no one of us but that feels the burden of Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress; there’s no one of us but that feels the burden of sin on his back. You cannot escape it; you cannot. However you try or ward against it, or make resolutions, or reform, you are bound beneath the weight of sin. The coils of that old serpent surround and crush every one of us. One of the most famous pieces of statuary of all the ages of all time was made, fashioned by some unknown Greek artist; and it is entitled Laocoön. You’ve seen it all your life in pictures in school-texts. Laocoön was a priest of Apollo in Troy; and he warned against bringing in the Trojan horse. And because of his warning, he incurred the wrath of Athena, Pallas Athena the goddess of Athens, of the Greeks. And so she sent two terrible serpents who arose out of the sea, and while Laocoön was ministering before the altar of Apollo in Troy, those two tremendous serpents came and seized upon him and his two sons, one on either side. And that famous piece of statuary is the picture of the agonizing death of Laocoön and his two boys, crushed by those pristine coiled serpents. And as I think of that picture, that unknown Greek artist captured what every man feels in this life: he and his sons on either side crushed to death by the coils of the serpent.
We need liberation; we need forgiveness. We need salvation; we need the mercies and the remembrances of God. Where do I find it? I find it in Jesus. My brother, I can look at nature forever and ever, and I might know that whoever created it was powerful, maybe that He loved beauty like a sunset or a rainbow, but who is He? And what shall I do with this sense of guilt in my soul? You can read philosophy and speculative professorial treatises forever and ever, and when you come to the end of the way, the same burden of guilt oppresses your soul. I know God. I know the love and mercy of the Almighty in the blood, and the sobs, and the tears, and the cross of Jesus Christ [Matthew 27:32-50].
Happy day, a happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day.
Happy day, glorious day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
[“O Happy Day That Fixed My Choice”; Philip Doddridge]
It is the exigency, it is the necessity of strength to serve God. “Pastor, how do you be a Christian?” Ten thousand times a youth will ask me; “Here in the university it is so difficult. How do I be a Christian? How do I serve Jesus?” And when you get out of the university and when you are in the business world, you’ll come to the pastor, and you’ll say the same thing, “Pastor, it is difficult in the business world to be a Christian. How do I serve God?” And if you are graduated into the professional world and you are a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, you will come with the same burden on your heart, “Pastor, how is it that I can be a Christian and serve God in the professional world where I am?” Temptations assail, trials are fierce, and somehow we are weak and easily discouraged. How do you be a Christian and serve God in this sinful and evil world? We need God’s strength. It is the exigency, and it is the necessity of God’s help in our Christian life and in our Christian witness. We can’t do it without Him. No man can be a Christian without God’s help; you cannot, the arm of flesh is too weak. But oh, how the Lord gives victory and triumph to those who lean on His strong arm!
I could not but be amused yesterday; I’ve heard all about these Alabama boys, and I’d been hearing about my congregation falling out, all got the flu. So I went down to the doctor’s office to get a flu shot. Just about like locking the barn after the mule is gone; I went down to get a flu shot. So I was ushered in to the office by Hannah Till over here, and the nurse came into the little room, said, “Roll up your sleeve.” Took off my coat, rolled up my sleeve, and she got that awesome instrument. Listen, if I were to delineate what damnation and hell is, I’d get me a picture of somebody with one of those long needles coming toward me, oh! So while I was a-standing there, you know, with my teeth clenched and my eyes closed waiting for the jab—my little boy is more courageous than I—why, she said to me, she said, “Pastor,” and I didn’t know her, and I didn’t know she knew me; she said, “Let me tell you something that happened yesterday.” Now this would make your heart sing. She said, “I was in the grocery store yesterday,” that would be Friday, “I was in the grocery store. And I happened to be back of a bunch of teenagers, and they were talking to one another about what they were going to do New Year’s night.” And she said, “It made my ears burn what those kids were planning to do; it was wild. Oh,” she said, “what they were planning to do to celebrate New Year’s night.” Then she said, “There was a boy in the midst standing there, and the other kids turned to him and said, ‘And what are you going to do?’” And she said to me, “You know that boy looked back at those teenagers and said, ‘New Year’s night is Sunday night, and Dr. Criswell is going to preach until after midnight, and I’m going to church and hear the pastor preach until the new year comes in.’” And she said, “I just thought you’d like to know that.” Well I said, “I am glad to know it.”
I read so much about the beatniks, and about the hippies, and about the dope pushers, until sometimes we are of the persuasion that the whole young world is gone after some kind of an off-colored life like that. No sir, all around you, everywhere around you, and in your homes, you’ll find teenagers, boys and girls who just stand like a rock of Gibraltar; God helps them. It takes courage to be a Christian.
I want to say this about that. I heard of two university boys, they had lockers side by side. And one of them was a great big burly football player, as you see some of these up here. Lee Roy and I and Mel played on the pigmy team in the sandlot, some of these over here. He was a big, burly fellow, and he had his locker right there. And next to him was a little fellow on the campus. And this little fellow carried a Bible with him often as he went to school and as he went to the classes. And that great big fellow looked down over there at him one day and said, “Sissy, you sissy, carrying a Bible with you.” And the little fellow picked up his Bible and offered it and said, “Suppose you carry it for a while? You carry it for a while.” Big, that is, can cuss; big, that is, can riot; big, that is, can enter into all kinds of orgies; but it’s bigger to be a Christian, to follow Jesus, even maybe to carry a Bible on the campus. For great courage is not in physical frame or even in professional dedication; greatest courage is found in following Jesus. “Lord, help me this day, tomorrow’s day, for the night cometh; and what I do, I must do for Jesus now.”
Now I’m not going to preach forever; we’re going to sing an invitation hymn, there’s so much else that could be added, but God speaks to our hearts, and He makes appeal. And as we sing our song of invitation and as we make this appeal, come, come, come. In the balcony round, there’s a stairway at the front and the back on either side, make it this morning. The throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I decide for Jesus now. I open my heart to the blessed Savior now.” “We’re coming into the fellowship of the church,” God bless you as you come. Or, “I am giving my heart in confession of faith to Jesus, and here I am,” come. Or, “I want to be baptized as it says in God’s Word [Matthew 28:19]. I’ve trusted the Lord, I want to follow Him all the way,” come. How ever the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, come now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
URGENCY OF THIS HOUR
A. We must work (John
The “musts” of our Lord (Luke 2:, Mark 8:31, Matthew 26:54, John 3:3, 7, 14)
II. The necessity of time (John 9:4)
A. Robert Murray M’Cheyne
B. Time is a creation
1. Of meaning
alone to man
2. Time is the
blocks out of which our lives are constructed
C. Passing of time
D. Time is elusive; it
cannot be stored up (Acts 24:25)
E. Time is irrevocable;
it cannot be called back (Hebrews 12:16-17)
II. The necessity of need
Things that matter are not material but immaterial, of the soul
B. We need God
1. Like the dove
Noah sent out (Genesis 8:9)
2. We are
restless, unhappy until we find satisfaction in God
C. We need forgiveness
of our sins and salvation