Our Day of Grace
February 9th, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
OUR DAY OF GRACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-9-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message at this holy hour. A long time ago, I told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that in a day they would choose to bring their dedicated young men to our city of Dallas that I would cooperate with them and work with them fully. In keeping with that promise, today is especially dedicated at these two coming worship hours to them and to our young people. At the ten-fifty o’clock hour, one of their number, Bill Glass, who himself is an ordained minister and a glorious Christian, will be our preacher. And then tonight, the executive leader of that dedicated national band of Christian athletes will be our preacher. And after the service tonight, as Brother Carter has said, in our gymnasium we shall have a tremendous rally for our young people.
Now in all of this I am happy. Anything we can do to mediate the mind of our Lord to our teenagers and our young people is a dedication in which this church would vigorously and zealously share. We are not ringing our hands, and we are not giving up, and we are not saying that the generation is lost; but what we are saying is that Christ can live and glorify Himself in these boys and girls, these young people, as much as we have ever known Him to do in any generation that is past.
Now, every Sunday night I preach a sermon from the life of our Lord. I have been going through the life as it is given here in our Gospels, the life of Jesus, for several years. Every Sunday night is a sermon on the life of Jesus. So I thought today, not preaching tonight, that I would deliver the sermon that ordinarily I would have on Sunday night, I would deliver it this morning hour. The title of the message is Our Day of Grace, and it is from the apocalyptic discourse of Jesus in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Luke. And the text will be the last verse of Luke 17, beginning at verse 26:
As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man . . .
Likewise as it was in the days of Lot . . . so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man . . .
For the same day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
I tell you, in the day of the coming of the Son of Man . . . two shall be in a bed; one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two shall be grinding together at a mill; one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two men shall be in the field; one shall be taken, and the other left.
And now my text; and this closes the apocalyptic address of our Lord in Luke 17: “And the disciples answered Jesus and said, Where, Lord? When, Lord? And He said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together” [Luke 17:37]. When you turn to the apocalyptic discourse in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew and verse 28, it reads like this: “For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together” [Matthew 24:28]. And if I could put that same saying in our modern phraseology, it would go like this: “Wheresoever the carcass is, there will you find the vultures, the birds of prey, the carrion eaters gathered together.” And you can just see it in your mind’s eye: wherever there is a dead horse or a dead cow or a dead animal, there soon will you find the carrion eaters, the vultures, circling round and round and round.
Now that’s a most unusual way to close the apocalyptic discourse of our Lord. But you will find that verse repeated as Jesus spoke of the end of the age. Those discourses are recorded in Matthew 24 and in Mark 13 and in Luke 17, out of which I have just read. Well, what does the Lord mean by so strange an ending to so gigantic, all-inclusive a discussion? Well, His meaning is very plain and very pertinent. The Lord was saying in those great discourses of the end of the age and of the end of the world, He was saying that there is coming a time when judgment shall fall upon this earth as it fell in the days of the Flood when only Noah and his family were saved [Genesis 7:23]; as it fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah when only Lot and his two daughters were saved [Genesis 19:15-25]. And as the disciples asked the Lord about that, “Lord, when do those judgments fall, and what is the time of their falling” [Matthew 24:3], and the Lord replied in this tremendously effective symbolic saying: wherever life putrefies, corrupts, there will you find the judgments of God coming down. Wherever the body rots, personal life, home life, national life, business life, and the economic life, church life, political life, economic life—wherever the body rots, there will you find the judgments of God falling [Matthew 24:28]. So oft times are we inclined to look upon the judgments of God as being at the end time, at the consummation of the age: “In the days of Armageddon, God will judge [Revelation 16:16-21]. In the days of the great tribulation, God will visit this earth from heaven” [Revelation 16:1-21]. But the Lord is reminding us that it is not just at the judgment bar of Almighty God [Revelation 20:11-15], or at the intervention of Christ in the battle of Armageddon [Revelation 19:11-21], or in the tragic days of the tribulation that heaven judges earth [Revelation 16:1-21]; but God here reminds us that wherever there is corruption and sin and putrefaction, wherever the carcass is, there will you find the judgments of God coming down [Matthew 24:28; Galatians 6:7-8]. The great truths of the Lord and the mighty judgments of heaven are timeless and eternal; they do not operate just at the end of the age, but they operate through all history [Psalm 82:8, 90:1-10].
Now, if we had five hours to speak of this, we would apply that; but we have a few moments. So I’m going to take briefly personal life and family life and national life. First, personal life: the judgments of God operate in personal life just as they do in history or at the consummation of the age. Wherever there is sin and corruption and putrefaction, there do the judgments of Almighty God inevitably fall. There is no escaping; for morality is grounded in the character of Almighty God. Morality, what is right and what is wrong, is not what man says it is, but it is what God is. Morality is never relevant; it is absolute! It is never changing; it is unchanging. There is no such thing as this modern phrase of “situation ethics”; that a thing that is wrong there may be right here, and that according to the morality of the day or of the moment or of the generation, so are we privileged to live. What was right yesterday is right today; what is wrong yesterday is wrong today: for right and wrong never change, for God never changes [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8], and morality is grounded in the character of Almighty God!
Now to apply that to personal life, our life: again, I say, there would be hours to discuss it. Let’s take a young businessman. This young man—and I am relating a story that happened to a young businessman—this young man was brilliant and gifted, and though in his twenties had amassed a fortune. He was single; he was a bachelor, and he lived with his mother. And upon a day, out there in the business world, as a young executive, a genius, acquainted with all of the ramifications of business life, there came to him an opportunity to make another fortune to the one he already had, except that this deal was off-colored. It was shady; it was one “under the table.” And the young man debated long and hard and finally took it to his old mother. And he laid it before her, and said, “Mother, I have opportunity to make lots of money, lots of money. But I am bothered, Mother, for its off-colored, it’s shady, it’s under the table. And I’m tempted, but I don’t know what to do.” And the old mother replied, “Son, in the morning, when it’s time for you to awake and I have your breakfast prepared, I go to the foot of the stairway, and I say, ‘John, John, John,’ and there’s no reply. And I go to the head of the stairway, and I knock at your door, and I say, ‘John, John, awake. Your breakfast is ready, and it’s time for the day to begin,’” then pausing she added, “John, I’d hate for the day to come when I called, ‘John, John,’ and found you wide awake.”
The principles of the judgment of God operate through all time and through all life. There is a rest, there is a quietness, there is a wholesomeness, there is a reward in righteousness. There is a judgment of God in unrighteousness.
I know a man—used to—I’d see him at the Y all the time. If I were to call his name on this radio, and you hear, thousands of you would know it. He’s one of the finest men in the city of Dallas. But he fell into those ways and shades of getting rich; and rich he got; until the justice department of the government broke him. And his name headlined in the papers of our city. And so crushed, as I saw him and spoke to him, not long after, he died. “For whithersoever the carcass is, thither will the birds of prey, the vultures be gathered together” [Matthew 24:28]. Not just at the end time do these great principles of judgment operate, but God is unchanging [Malachi 3:6]: they operate now, in all of life, in all time, and in all history.
May I in the moment that remains speak of just one other? In our national life: they, all of us, are so deeply conscious of the days and its possibilities of tragedy in which our lives have been cast. There’s not a child in second, in grammar school, there’s not a youngster in secondary school, there’s not anyone who listens to radio or to a commentator on television, or who reads the newspaper, but is conscious of the fearful days in which our life and lot have been cast. Now, as we read our histories and as we look at our modern newspapers, here again this great principle of Almighty God operates: “Whithersoever the carcass is, thither will the vultures be gathered together” [Matthew 24:28]. When the nation becomes depraved, when it deteriorates inwardly, judgment is coming. Not just at the end of the world, at the consummation of time, but it comes now, and operates now.
I think of the portrayal of that in this Holy Book. The people of Judah said, “The Holy City is here; it’s our capital, this is Jerusalem. And inside the holy city is the temple of God. And God’s name is there [2 Chronicles 6:6]. No nation and no army could ever destroy Judah or Jerusalem or this temple” [Jeremiah 6:14]. And they squandered their privileges, and they wasted God’s grace, and they did violence to God’s overtures of mercy and love. And in those days Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried, “Repent” [Jeremiah 3:12]. And the people scoffed at God and scoffed at the prophet. And Nebuchadnezzar came in 605 BC [Daniel 1:1-3], and Jeremiah lifted up his voice and said, “Repent ye, turn back to God!” And the people scoffed and laughed. And they loved their lude picture shows, and they loved their increasingly lude television sets, and they loved their orgies. And Jeremiah said, “Repent!” And Nebuchadnezzar came in 598 BC [2 Kings 24:12-14]. “And Jeremiah lifted up his voice, and said, Turn ye, repent!” And the people loved their ludeness and their disintegrated, disorientated blasphemous lives. And Nebuchadnezzar came in 587 BC [Jeremiah 39:1-2], and he didn’t need to return; for this time he destroyed the state, and he destroyed the Holy City, and he destroyed the temple, and he carried the nation into captivity.
I have not time to speak of Nineveh. Alexander the Great marched his army over Nineveh, and did not know, utterly oblivious, that he was walking over a great civilization and a great empire. I have not time to speak of Babylon. I have not time to speak of Rome. Let me speak of what my eyes have seen and my ears have heard. “For whithersoever the carcass is,” where national life rots and decays, “there will the eagles, the birds of prey, the vultures be gathered together” [Matthew 24:28]. Why, I can remember reading Nietzsche, and I can remember the rise of the Third Reich, and I can remember the flaunting of God and the people of the Lord by their Fuhrer. And I can remember the blasphemous things by which he became the scourge of mankind. And I can remember, right after the war, looking at Hamburg: and as far as my eye could see, from horizon to horizon, those naked, jaded, jagged buildings, the vast city a pile of rubble and waste. Hanover, Munich, Berlin, Tokyo, Yokohama, Hiroshima, as they said, Hiroshima, I was there after the war. I cannot conceive of such waste; the judgments of Almighty God, the intervention of God in history.
And I can remember the words of those men who fought through that war; and after it was over, the awesome things they had to say to America. Do you remember this speech by general of the army, Douglas MacArthur?
Men since the beginning of time have sought peace, but the mechanics have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn have failed; leaving the only path by the way of the crucible of war. But the utter destructiveness of war now blots out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we do not now devise some better system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem is basically theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence of human character: it must be of the spirit, if the flesh is to be saved.
Do you remember that? How quickly we forget.
The head of our Allied Forces in Europe was Dwight Eisenhower. And after the campaign was finished, he said, “There is implied no limit to the capacity of science to reach the maximum destructive effort, unless that limit be found in the destruction of man himself. The only hope for the world as we know it is in complete spiritual regeneration!”
After the war, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn was entertained here in Dallas. And at a big, vast banquet, on the fourth of January, in ’46, the citizenry of Dallas honored Speaker Sam Rayburn. I sat by his side; I had prayed the invocatory prayer. And in the midst of his address, as he described the awesome destructive power of atomic fission, he turned to me and addressing me, said, “I am not a preacher, sir, but I believe that if the world and its civilization are not to be destroyed, we must have a resurrection of the old time religion!” There was a deafening applause! And not long after that, Sam Rayburn joined that primitive Baptist church near Bonham, was baptized, and from that little church, he was laid to rest.
My time is gone away. May I close with an appeal of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a graduate of Baylor University and one of the noblest men that Texas ever produced? After that war, which we are now beginning to forget, after that awesome war, our senator from Texas said, “Never in the history of man has the church been confronted with such a tremendous challenge as that which confronts it today. Never has the call for moral leadership been so impelling. The losses we sustained during the war cannot be measured in terms of blood and treasure alone; the moral fabric of the world has been twisted and torn by this terrible cataclysm of the past six years.”
And this is where we stand today confronting the youth of America. I close. Our Lord has said these great principles of apocalyptic judgment do not fall alone at the consummation of the age, at the end time, but they operate through all history. In Judah, in Nineveh, in Babylon, in Rome, in Berlin, and we wait to see whether in Washington and in Austin; for our lives lie in the imponderables of Almighty God: we live and have our being in His divine purposes and sovereign will.
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!
[“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling]
We’re going to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus, to put your life in the circle of this dear church, or just one somebody you, “Today, I make the decision for my Lord; and here I am, here I come,” do it now. Make the decision now. And on the first note of the first stanza, when we sing our hymn of appeal, down one of these stairways from the balcony, into the aisle, from the press of people on this auditorium floor, you come. Do it now. And in a moment when you stand up to sing, stand up coming. God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
OUR DAY OF GRACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Luke 17:37 “body” – Matthew 24:28 “carcass”
1. “Eagles” – “vultures”, “carrion eaters”
B. Mighty judgments of God not only at end of the age, but throughout historyII. Personal life
A. Wherever there is sin, corruption, putrefaction, there do judgments fall
B. Morality is never relevant; it is absolute
1. Shady dealIII. National life
A. When the nation becomes depraved and deteriorates inwardly, judgment is coming
B. People of Judah – Jeremiah said, “Repent!”
C. Nineveh, Babylon, Rome
D. World War II
1. Douglas Macarthur
2. Dwight Eisenhower
3. Sam Rayburn