CLOSING THE BOOK
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-27-70 7:30 p.m.
Now on the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message in keeping with the last service of the old year. It is entitled Closing the Book. And will you turn with me to the Gospel of Luke chapter 4; the Gospel of Luke chapter 4, and we shall read from verses 16 to verse 21. Luke chapter 4, beginning at verse 16, reading through verse 21. And if your neighbor doesn’t have his Bible, share yours, and let’s all read it out loud together. Luke chapter 4, verses 16 to 21. And on the radio if you are listening to our service, and can, get your Bible and read it out loud with us: the Third Gospel, Luke, chapter 4, 16 through 21. Now all of us reading it out loud together:
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
And He closed the book, and He gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on Him.
And He began to say unto them, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.
And the text: Luke 4:20, "And He closed the book."
In a way that is far more meaningful than a casual reading of that text would imply, it is a parable of the people in Nazareth where He grew up as a boy, and symbolic of the judgment of God upon the whole nation. "And He closed the book." Opening the book to the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, He read the glorious prophecy seven hundred fifty years uttered by Isaiah before Christ: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me; He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel,to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" [Luke 4:18-19]. It was the incomparable day and hour prophetic for those people in Nazareth. Seven hundred fifty years before, Isaiah had lifted up his voice and delineated that day [Isaiah 61:1]. And when the Lord opened the book, "He began to say, This day is the Scripture fulfilled in your ears" [Luke 4:21]. Their great, historic moment of life and destiny had come: and the people took the Lord, and carried Him in violence to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, and in anger and rejection sought to cast Him down [Luke 4:29]. And had it not been for the superlative presence – I’ve often wondered how it would have been to have stood in the presence of the Lord Jesus – had it not been for that holy and majestic means by which He just walked through those angry villagers, they would have taken His life that day. Oh! what an incomparable open door God had set before them; and they passed it by, and God closed the book!
It is also symbolic of the nation. As the apostle John wrote it, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" [John 1:11]. That glorious Lord’s day, that glorious Sunday, when He came in triumph into the city and offered Himself as the foretold, foreborn, foreordained Messiah, the King of the Jews, the Lord of the earth, the pantokrator of all creation, and the people cried, "Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of David! Glory to God in the highest!" [Matthew 21:9]. And the nation, having looked upon their Lord and having seen their King according to prophecy ride into their very precinct and city [Zechariah 9:9], rejected Him, crucified Him! [Matthew 27:32-50]. And the Lord lamented, saying, "How oft would I have gathered thy children together, as the hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: henceforth ye shall see Me no more, until that day when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" [Luke 13:34-35]; and God closed the book!
The nation lost its magnificent, prophetic, historic opportunity, and God passed them by. And I ought not to think, and we ought not to suppose, that this closing of the door is unique or unusual in the life of the people of Nazareth, or in the life of the nation of Israel. Our lives are like that: we have an opportunity, a day of grace. It is so fleeting and so momentary; then it is gone away, and God closes the book. Our days are like that, our year is like that, and our life is like that. For a moment God sets it before us; then God closes the book.
When the great plants of our cities
Have turned out their last finished work,
When our merchants have sold their last yard of silk
And dismissed the last tired clerk,
When our banks have hauled in the last dollar
And paid the last dividend
And the Judge of the earth says, "Closed for the night,"
And asks for a balance – what then?
[from "What Then?", J. W. Green]
And He closed the book [Luke 4:20]. We cannot undo a deed. We cannot unsay a word. We cannot go back to that day or to that year or through that life again. And He closed the book.
When I turn to the great white judgment day, I read about that book again:
And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat upon it, from whose face the heaven and the earth fled away,
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and Death and Hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And Death and Hell were cast into the lake of fire,
And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
The books and the book closed, the life lived, the day done, and the book closed. And then someday, some ultimate and final and consummating day, when we stand at the great judgment bar of Almighty God, and the Lord opens that first, the Book of Life, and the lost stand in the presence of the great Judge of the earth, and the Lord turns to the angel Gabriel and says, "Gabriel, open that Book of Life, and see if you can find that man’s name." And Gabriel goes down the list, and through the pages, and returns the verdict: "Lord, his name I cannot find in the Book of Life." And the lost man says at the judgment bar of Almighty God, "Oh, but God, You don’t understand. Lord, You don’t understand. Let me explain!" And the Lord says, "You have all eternity to make out your case; speak." And the lost man at the judgment bar of Almighty God says, "O dear Lord, You don’t understand. Lord, it was this way: I was so busy. Lord, I was trying to make money. Lord, I was trying to have a good time. Lord, You don’t understand." And the Lord says, "Did not I write in the Book, ‘It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment’? [Hebrews 9:27]. Did you think you’d be making money forever? Did you think you’d be having a good time forever? It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment."
"O Lord, but You don’t understand. Let me make out my case. O God, listen. Listen, Lord. Look at the good that I did. I wasn’t all bad. I wasn’t all evil. Look at my good works!" And the Lord God shall say, "But did not I write in My Book that thy works of righteousnesses are as filthy rags in My sight?" [Isaiah 64:6].
"Oh, but God, You don’t understand! You don’t understand. Lord, let me make out my case. Listen to me, Lord. Lord, there were so many hypocrites in this world. And they were in the church, and there were so many different churches, so many denominations, I didn’t know what to do. Lord, listen to me!" And the Lord God said, "Did I say anything to you about hypocrites? Did I say anything to you about churches and denominations? Didn’t I say in the Book, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved?" [Acts 16:31].
"Oh, but Lord God, You don’t understand. Lord, listen to me as I plead my cause. O God, I was waiting for a great feeling! I was waiting for something to lift me up and set me in the kingdom of God. Lord, listen to my case." And the Lord God says, "Say, but didn’t I write in the Book, If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved?" [Romans 10:9-10].
"Oh, but Lord God, You don’t understand. O God, You don’t understand. Listen, Lord, listen Lord, I didn’t intend to be lost! I didn’t intend to be damned! I didn’t intend to say no forever! Lord, I intended to be saved." And the Lord God shall say, "But didn’t I write in the Book, Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation?" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. And the angel Gabriel shall write after that man’s name, l-o-s-t. And the book shall be closed forever. The closing of the book.
And there are other books: this is the Book of Life, "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books," plural, "were opened,and they were judged by those things that were written in the books, according to their works." [Revelation 20:12]. And then that was repeated: "And they were judged every man according to their works." [Revelation 20:13]. And Why at the end of life? Why at the end of the consummation of the age? Why is not a man judged when he dies? For the very simple reason that a man doesn’t die when he dies, but his influence lives on and on and on.
Do you know how long it was after Abel was murdered [Genesis 4:8] that the letter in the Book of Hebrews says, "And he being dead yet speaketh"? [Hebrews 11:4]. No man knows the millennia, the thousands and thousands of years that have passed, and Abel still speaks. The reason the lost dead are judged at the end, the consummation of the age, at the great white throne judgment [Revelation 20:11-15], is because the influence of our life doesn’t die with us, and it’s not buried in the grave with us, but it goes on and on and on and on, and its repercussion lasts and extends to the end of time. And we’re judged. God alone is able to unravel out of the scheme of life that influence. And it is written in the book, and the lost man is judged by those things that are written in the Book of Life.
For example, one time I saw a little boy, he was horribly maimed and crippled. And the little lad was born beautiful and strong and fine, like a healthy little baby boy might be born. And that father, in a drunken rage, and in a drunken orgy beat that little fellow, and left him maimed and twisted and crippled. Every day that little boy lives is a witness against that drunken, inebriated, violent father! When the little boy wants to run and play and he can’t, it’s a witness against that father. When the little boy tries to feed himself and he can’t, it’s a witness against that father. When the little boy tries to dress himself and he can’t, it’s a witness against that father. As long as that crippled, maimed little lad lives, every day is a witness against that father. Our sins unforgiven are like that: they go on, and on, and on, and on to the great white throne judgment at the consummation of the Almighty God [Revelation 20:11-15].
Why, I remember graduating from high school with a boy who was my friend. And down there in college, he turned to be a blatant, and an open, and a provocative, and a vocal infidel, outspoken. And upon a day, because he was my friend and we graduated from high school together, I went up the stairs where he lived, and knocked at the door. And when I walked in the door, there on his study table, opened where he had been reading it, was the infidel Thomas Paine’s, The Age of Reason. Why, Tom Paine the infidel died in 1809; he has been dead more than a hundred sixty years, but the influence of the infidel goes on, and on, and on, and on. You know, I one time read, when Tom Paine died in terror and in agony, he said, "Gather up every copy of my Age of Reason, and burn it!" He might as well have said, "Gather up the Pacific Ocean and bottle it," for somehow you can’t undo the deed, and you can’t unwrite the word, and the influence of the man goes on, and on, and on, and on.
O Lord! When the Book is closed –
When the choir has sung its last anthem,
And the preacher has prayed his last prayer;
When the people have heard their last sermon,
And the sound has died out on the air;
When the Bible lies closed on the pulpit,
And the pews are all emptied of men;
And each one stands facing his record,
And the great book is opened, what then?
When the actor has played his last drama,
And the mimic has made his last fun;
When the billboard displays its last picture,
And the film displays its last run;
When the crowds seeking pleasure have vanished
And gone out in the darkness again;
And the trumpet of ages is sounded,
And we stand before Him, what then?
When the bugle’s call sinks into silence,
And the long marching columns stand still;
When the captain repeats his last orders,
And they’ve captured the last fort and hill;
When the flag is hauled down from the masthead,
And the wounded afield checked in;
And a world that rejected its Savior,
Is asked for a reason, what then?
["What Then?", J. W. Green]
"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" [Jeremiah 8:20]. "And He closed the book" [Luke 4:20].
That’s why, that is why, when Paul in the glorious [fifth] chapter of 2 Corinthians spoke of the message of reconciliation given into our hands as ambassadors for God, "Be ye reconciled to God," [2 Corinthians 5:20], then he made the appeal – what a shame to put a chapter heading there, the appeal is separated from the premise. Then he made his appeal:
O my brethren, we beseech you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain.
(For He saith, In a time acceptable have I heard thee, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
[2 Corinthians 6:1-2]
Oh, would you make it that? The day is about to close. The year is about to end. "Lord, there will not be another day that I live without Thee. When I go to bed tonight, I shall lie down looking in faith and trust to Thee. I shall not live another year without Thee. Lord, if God shall give me a sunrise in the morning, I shall rise loving, trusting, serving Thee. And dear God, if the Lord shall give me another year, Master, I shall walk through its days and its months with my hand in the hand of God. I so decide, and here I come, tonight." Will you? While the arms of God’s mercy are extended wide, while the love and grace of Christ is poured out toward you, would you respond with your life? Would you?
In the balcony round, somebody you; on this lower floor, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, "Pastor, tonight I take the Lord as my Savior, and I’m coming." "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children; all of us are coming tonight." Or a couple, or just you, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, would you come? Down one of these stairways, or into the aisle and here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now. I make it tonight." As God shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life, "Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now." Do it, make the decision now, and when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Do it. God will honor it. The Lord will see you through, angels will attend you in the way. Come, on the first note of this first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. "This day fulfilled"
750 years before (Isaiah 61)
B. An incomparable open
door; they passed it by (Luke 4:21, 29)
by Nazareth symbolic of the nation of Israel (John
1:11, Luke 13:34-24)
C. God closes the book
II. The Book of Life
A. At the great white
judgment day (Revelation 20:11-15)
lost man’s name not found (Hebrews 9:27, Isaiah
64:6, Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9-10, 2 Corinthians 6:2)
III. There are other books
A. Record of works (Revelation 20:12)
at the consummation – a man’s influence lives on after death (Hebrews 11:4)
B. Poem, "What Then?" (Jeremiah 8:20)