THE GRACE OF GOD IN VAIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:19-21, 6:1-2
9-19-71 8:15 a.m.
The message this morning is an appeal to you, publicly, openly, to give your heart to Christ and to join in the family of our Lord, worshiping Him in the earth. In the last verses of 2 Corinthians chapter 5, and the first verse of chapter 6:
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, 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.
(For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; and behold, now is the day of salvation.)
[2 Corinthians 5:19-21; 6:1-2]
And the text, “We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1].
There are two words put together there; one, possibly the most beautiful in the language, and the other the most tragic; the grace of God, charin, a beautiful word, charisma, “charismatic,” grace, the unmerited favor and love of the Lord; the grace of God [2 Corinthians 6:1], the love and outreach of Christ toward us. But the other word, kenos; in the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul uses that word; “But by the grace of God,” and there’s the beautiful one, “I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain”; there is that word kenos again; “but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God,” and there’s that beautiful word again, God’s goodness, God’s unmerited abounding love and elective favor, “but the grace of God which was in me” [1 Corinthians 15:10].
Then you will find that tragic word again in the last verse of that chapter: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” [1 Corinthians 15:58], kenos; “May you receive not the grace of God in vain” [2 Corinthians 6:1], that is, into empty futility, into barren, sterile nothingness, that it come to naught in your life what God has done for you.
You find an illustration of that in Scripture. When the Lord led His people out of Egyptian bondage and succored them and nourished them through the wilderness [Nehemiah 9:21], then at Kadesh-barnea, in unbelief, they turned back [Numbers 13:1-14:45]; and the goodness and grace and mercy of God came to nothing, kenos, all of it in vain [2 Corinthians 6:11]. You have another tragic illustration of that in the Scriptures. For all of the prophetic preparation of the Lord for the chosen people through the centuries [John 5:39], then in the days of John the Baptist the announcement came that the Lord was born, was prepared, that the Messiah was at hand [Matthew 1:22-25]. And John introduced Him to the world [John 1:23-29], but the family chosen of God to bring and to present the Messiah before mankind rejected their eldest Son, crucified Him. And the first chapter of John in the eleventh verse describes it, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” [John 1:11], in vain—all that God had done in preparing for the marvelous coming of the redemptive Christ, the grace of God in vain, in empty futility [2 Corinthians 6:1].
I think of it again, in illustration, in something that I saw in my own life. My father, when I was a little boy, five and six years of age, went to New Mexico, and there took a piece of land in the eastern part of the state. There was nothing there, just a wide open range. I saw him build the house. I saw him build the little barn. I saw him build the fences, and as a little boy I’d help him, carrying to him the staples to drive into the posts. I saw him dig the well and put up the windmill. And I saw him begin to plow, working there on that farm. The day came, because of drought and wind, that I walked over those fences, they were beneath my feet, they were buried beneath the drifting sand, and all that my father had done, the work, the hope, the prayers, every vision and dream came to empty futility.
The grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1], for all that God has done, it comes to nothing in your heart and in your life. The sacrifice of Christ, He died for us, took our place on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:5-14], poured out His life for us [Matthew 27:32-50]; but there are some of us who pass it by in awesome indifference, as though He had never lived, as though He had never died, as though His blood had never been poured out [John 19:33-34], as though His sobs and His tears had not been for us [Luke 12:41; John 11:35]; expiation of sin [Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 2:2] and forgiveness of guilt [Ephesians 1:7], the grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1]. Oh, anything but indifferently to pass Him by!
When Jesus came to Golgotha
They hanged Him on a tree.
They drove great nails through hands
And feet, and made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns,
Red were His wounds and deep;
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap.
But when Jesus came to Dallas town,
They only passed Him by.
They hurt not a hair of His head,
They only let Him die.
For men had grown more tender,
They would not cause Him pain;
They simply passed on down the street,
And left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, Forgive them,
They know not what they do;
And still it rained that bitter rain
That drenched Him through and through.
The crowds went home, and left the streets
Without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall,
And cried for Calvary.
[“Indifference,” G. A. Studdart-Kennedy]
The grace of God in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1]; for all that He has done for us, it brings to us nothing but sterility and empty futility. The prayers and the love of God’s people, maybe your wife, maybe your husband, sometimes your children, the circle of your family, friends who know and love and intercede and pray, for all of their prayers and intercession, for all of their appeal, to you it brings futility, rejection, nothing.
I see people pass by the church. Here it stands a monument to Christ. Its songs and hymns of praise, its worshiping congregation, the moving Spirit of God among the people, but they pass it by—the grace of God in vain, in their hearts and in their lives it comes to nothing.
And the home in heaven; our Lord said, “I go to prepare a place for you” [John 14:3]; and for every one of us there is a place in glory. Christ said, “I go to prepare it for you. It is yours.” Life now abundant [John 10:10], life in the world to come [1 Corinthians 2:9]; but for you it is kenos, empty, nothing, void, vacant. You don’t respond.
One of the most tenderly moving stories I ever read was of a mother whose prodigal son left. But every gathering of the family at the table to eat, she set a place for that boy. “Maybe,” she said, “he will come.” Every night she went upstairs to his room, pulled back the covers, arranged the pillows, put a light in the window, “Maybe,” she said, “he will come.” Don’t you wish that the story could have ended the boy did come, back home, back to his mother, back to his father, back to God, back to church, back to life overflowing and abundant. Don’t you wish that he did? The story says, that I read, he never came. He never came. The grace of God in vain; reaching toward empty futility [2 Corinthians 6:1].
Our Lord had such poignant things to say about that. In one of His parables, there was a sower that went out to sow. And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up [Matthew 13:3-4]. The sowing of the seed of the Word, the appeal of God, and somehow it is taken away. The Lord, in explaining that, said it like this, “Seeing, they do not see, they do not receive; and hearing, they do not hear and they do not understand” [Matthew 13:13]. Though the Word is before them and they hear it and they see it, but they do not hear it and they do not see it [Matthew 13:14-15].
Long time ago, when Billy Graham was not thirty years of age, he was invited to hold a revival meeting here in this church, and accepted. But between the time that he accepted the invitation to come here to the church and the date for the revival, as you know, the Hearst newspapers took the story of Billy Graham and the marvelous outpouring of the Spirit of God upon him in Los Angeles, and overnight he was a world figure.
So Billy Graham sent me word and said, “I’ll be glad to come for the revival, but it cannot be held in the auditorium, it is too small. We need,” he said, “to take it out somewhere where the people could find opportunity to attend.” So, I called some of my brethren, the leading ministers in this city, the pastors of these big churches and particularly one. And I told him that Billy Graham would come to Dallas, and let’s take the meeting, all of us together, let’s take it out into the Cotton Bowl; and we’ll just have the most glorious outpouring of the grace of God, let’s do it.
Well, upon a day, this liberal pastor of another communion called some of his friends and then me. And we ate lunch at the Dallas Athletic Club, right down the street here. So he turned to me and he said, “I’ve been turning over in my mind your invitation about Billy Graham.” He said, “I’ll make a deal with you. I,” and the ministers who were with him, “we’ll accept Billy Graham as your evangelist if the next year you’ll accept our evangelist, and we’ll have another crusade.”
I said, “Who is your evangelist?” And he named a great liberal preacher. I told him, “No, I will not do it. I will not.” So in working it out with Billy Graham, we gathered all of the people who would, and all the pastors, and all the churches; and we went out to the Cotton Bowl. And as you remember, he filled that Cotton Bowl, seventy-five thousand people, and God poured out upon us an immeasurable portion of His goodness and grace.
But after the other brethren had left that meeting at the Dallas Athletic Club, I began to talk to this liberal minister. And I talked to him about Christ, and I talked to him about the Bible, and I talked to him about salvation. I talked to him about the whole revelation of God in Christ Jesus. And after I had spoken to him for over an hour, visited with him for over an hour, it seemed to me the only thing he believed in was, apparently he believed in the Golden Rule [Matthew 7:12].
He didn’t believe in the deity of Christ [Titus 2:13], didn’t believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21], didn’t believe in the miracles [Acts 2:22], didn’t believe in the resurrection [Matthew 28:5-9], didn’t believe in the return of the Lord [Acts 1:10-11]. And yet, there is a man who preached out of a pulpit dedicated to Christ, who had on that pulpit, I have seen it, a Bible, a beautiful Bible with a surplice hanging in front of it. He’s been educated. He’s been trained. He’s been taught. But seeing the Word he doesn’t see it! And hearing the Word he doesn’t hear it! [Matthew 13:14]. It is like seeds that fell by the wayside, and the fowls of the air came and devoured them up [Matthew 13:4].
As I think of ministers like that, I cannot but recall E. F. Hallock, Preacher Hallock, in Norman, Oklahoma. In my first pastorate he was the county seat pastor there at Norman, and I in the next county at Chickasaw. And I grew to know him and love him, pastor at the First Church at Norman for forty-five years, where the University of Oklahoma is located. He was a liberal. He was a modernist. He was an unbeliever. And upon a day, in his own church, in the First Baptist Church of Pittsburg, Kansas, in his own church where he pastored, he came out of the pulpit and down the aisle, and gave his hand to the chairman of the board of deacons and said, “I have been saved. I have found the Lord. I’ve been converted! And I want to be baptized, really,” and in his own baptistery and in his own church, Preacher Hallock was baptized. Oh, that God would take away the veil from our hearts, and that we could see and really see, and hear and really hear the grace of God to us, not in vain! [2 Corinthians 6:1].
Sometimes, and the Lord says, it falls on stony ground [Matthew 13:5], hard of heart, “I will not believe. I will not respond.” I talk to men who are like that. “If fire were to fall down from God out of heaven, I will not come down that aisle.” Fell on stony ground [Matthew 13:5]. Some of it fell among thorns: and as the seed began to grow it was choked and it died [Matthew 13:7].
There’s a word, in that story you read about the rich young ruler, I want to point out to you. It’s the word stugnazō, stugnazō. It is used just twice in the Bible. In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and the third verse, the Lord is saying to the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the leaders of the people, He is saying, “You do not see the signs of the times, you do not understand, you do not perceive.” He said, “You understand the skies and the weather, for in the [morning] when it is red and lowring, stugnazō, when it is red and lowring you say, It is going to be foul weather” [Matthew 16:3]. Then the word, “You can understand the signs of the skies, but you do not understand the signs of the time”—now in that story, that word stugnazō, “the sky is red and lowring” [Matthew 16:3].
The one other place that word is used is in the passage that you read. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and said, “Eternal life: wealth, dignity, election, all of it I have, youth and all that it means; but I am not happy in my heart. I am not satisfied in my soul. What lack I yet?” [Matthew 19:16, 20]. And the Lord said, “You have got the world in your heart, and the door is so narrow you cannot enter in. But the world in your arms, give it away, give it away, and come and follow Me, and thou shalt have eternal life” [Matthew 19:21]. And the Bible uses that word. You have it translated, “And the young man’s face was sad,” stugnazō [Matthew 19:22], that is, the civil war in his heart was written on his face. And you could see it. You could see it. And he was forced to make that decision between Christ and God’s call and the world. And the war of the conflict in his soul was registered on his face, stugnazō [Matthew 19:22]. And he lost, and turned away [Matthew 19:22]—the grace of God in vain, choked by the love of the world.
Some by the wayside [Matthew 13:4], some on stony ground [Matthew 13:5], some choked [Matthew 13:7]; but some fell on good ground and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased, and brought forth, some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundredfold [Matthew 13:8]. Isn’t that you? Lord, for all that Christ has done for me, let it overflow. Let if fall on me, Lord. The love and mercy of God for me, Lord, let me share it. Let me feel it, Lord. Even the drops of blood and the tears that fell from His eyes of compassion [Luke 19:41; John 11:35], Lord, let them fall on me, the grace of God, reaching even unto me [Titus 2:11]. And Master, I’m replying with my life. I’m responding with all I have. Hands, heart, life, love, devotion, prayer, everything I am and all that I have, Lord, I’m bringing it to Thee, and here I come. Will you? Will you?
A family you, “Pastor, this is my wife. These are our children. All of us are coming today.” A couple you or just you, if you’re seated on that farthest back seat in the second balcony, there’s time and to spare, a stairway at the front, at the back, and on either side, come. The throng on this lower floor, the press of people, into these aisles and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. Today, I open my heart to the invitation of Christ, and I’m coming. I’m coming.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Down that stairway, or into that aisle and here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I’m making it now, and I’m coming now.” Do it while we stand and while we sing.
OF GOD IN VAIN
Corinthians 5:19-21; 6:1-2
words of diametric extremity(1 Corinthians
15:10, 58, 2 Corinthians 6:1)
– “grace, unmerited love and favor”
translated “vain” – “empty futility”
illustrations of kenos in the Bible
exodus from Egypt, then Kadesh-Barnea(Hebrews
3:7-11, Numbers 13, 14)
Prophetic preparation of God’s chosen people, then their rejection of Christ (Luke 16:16, Ephesians 1:10, John 1:11)
illustrated in my own life
farm in New Mexico
II. All that God hath purposed and wrought
coming to nothing
sacrifice of Christ – just passing it by(Matthew
27:30-50, John 19:33-34)
1. Studdart-Kennedy’s “Indifference”
The love and prayers of God’s people
prepared home in heaven (John 14:2-3, Luke
mother waiting for her prodigal boy to return
III. The parable of the sower
seed falls to the wayside and fowls take it away(Mark
4:4, 12, Matthew 13:3-4, 13)
with liberal preacher – theologically trained, but a veil over his face
seed falls on stony ground – hardened hearts(Mark
4:5, Matthew 13:5)
seed choked out by thorns(Mark 4:7, Matthew
The rich young ruler (Mark 10:20-22, Matthew
seed falls on good ground, yields fruit and increase(Mark 4:8, Matthew 13:8)
One of the filthiest, dirtiest young people converted at meeting in Anchorage