The Imperative Now
October 10th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
2 Corinthians 5:20-21
THE IMPERATIVE NOW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:20-21
10-10-71 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 entitled The Imperative Now. It is a message of appeal and especially prepared following the wonderful crusade days led by Billy Graham.
In the last part of the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians and the first two verses of the sixth chapter:
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.
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; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
[2 Corinthians 5:20, 6:1-2]
The imperative now; "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. The acceptable and propitious hour for us to respond to the appeal of God is now. It is now.
In the days of the Great Awakening, the great revival in New England, when the Holy Spirit of God seemed to be poured out upon the cities and villages of the northeastern United States; in those days of great moving revival there was a boy, a youngster under deep conviction. And he met a minister on the street of the town in which he lived. And he stopped the minister and said that his heart was so burdened and he was under such conviction – he wanted to know how to be saved. And the minister said to him, "You go home, and you go to your room, and you kneel down by the bed, and you tell God all about it. And there you give your heart to Jesus." And the boy replied, "But sir, my heart is so heavy, and I feel so bad, and I am under such conviction, I don’t even know whether I can live to go to the room and kneel down and give my heart to God." And the minister thus rebuked, unconsciously, by that heavy hearted boy said, "Then son, let’s kneel down here, and let’s give our hearts to God now, then let’s go home and to the bedroom and kneel down and thank God for saving us."
That is what all of us need to realize in this ministry of appeal. It is not over yonder, or out there, or some other day, or some other hour, or some other place, but it is always now, and it is always here. The gospel of Christ knows nothing about some other day. It is always today – today!
In the passage you read; "Today if you hear His voice, give your heart to God" [Hebrew 3:7]. Now, when that appeal is made there is always Satan standing at our right hand to resist us.
In the third chapter of the prophet Zechariah, the prophet says: "And I beheld Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him" [Zechariah 3:1]. In the sixteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, in the ninth verse the apostle wrote: "For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" [1 Corinthians 16:9]. When the appeal is made to a man to give his life to God and to come into the fellowship of the people of the Lord in the church, Satan is there to resist. He is always there. And this is what he whispers. He whispers, "Wait. Wait. Wait. They are trying to rush you. Wait."
It is as though a man were on a sinking ship, and the cry is made to the lifeboats. And the reply? "They are just trying to rush you." Or you live downstream, and the dam is broken, and the floodwaters are rushing, and the cry comes to flee! And then someone says, "They are just trying to rush you."
Or you are in a house burning down and somebody cries, "Fire! Escape!" and then somebody says, "They are just trying to rush you." Or you are in a tragic automobile accident, and someone says, "Immediately, to the doctor!" And then someone says, "They are just trying to rush you." The urgency of the appeal is from God Himself. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" – now! [2 Corinthians 6:2].
In our church camp there was a little boy growing up outside of the church. And the lad was converted. And three weeks after, the little boy grew sick and died. And the repentant family said to us, "The only hope we have is that at the camp the little boy gave his heart to Jesus."
Now. Now! But when the appeal is made, Satan whispers, "Wait. Wait. You don’t understand all of this. You wait. There are mysteries; there are unfathomable depths. What is this thing of redemption, and atonement, and new birth, and being saved? Wait. You don’t understand."
Well, somebody said, "There are many things about the Bible that I don’t understand, but that is not what troubles me. What bothers me is what I do understand. It is plain. It is simple. It is explicable and understandable what we ought to do. I ought to give my heart and life to God. I ought to accept Christ as my Savior. I ought to belong to the household of faith and to the people of the Lord. I ought to. I know that."
I am not denying there are deep, unfathomable, impenetrable mysteries in God. The signature of God is mystery. Whatever God does to us is beyond explanation. We just see it. We just watch it. We just observe it. We cannot explain anything!
In Harvard University I went through the glass museum, created by Agassiz, one of the great botanical geniuses of all time. And there, display after display, were plants, root system and all, made out of glass, colored. They looked exactly like life. You could not distinguish them from life. But they lacked the seed of the quickening spirit that God alone is able to put in a plant. They are dead. They are made out of glass. They were made by a man. Yet in my backyard there is a weed, the humblest of its tribe, that knows how to make a seed that will grow! It is a mystery into which we cannot enter. I cannot explain anything. We just observe it.
But I know what God asks. And He asks me in faith, in repentance, to come to Jesus, and to accept His proffered love and mercy, and to belong to the household of God’s children. When the appeal is made, "Now, now," Satan whispers, "But you are all right. You are coming along fine. You just stay where you are." Yes, but God says that I am openly and publicly to come forward to announce my commitment to Christ and my fellowship in His church. And I obey or I do not obey. It is as simple as that. I do or I don’t. I come or I don’t come. I accept or I don’t accept. I respond or I don’t respond. It is as simple as that.
Nor can I hope in God, or in life, or in eternity without first that obedience. When Mabel Ann, our one child, was a little girl, upon a day she got angry, and she took the book in her hand, and she slammed it on the floor at my feet and walked out the door and slammed the door. So I went out and I fetched her back right where she was. I said, "Sugar, you see that book? You pick it up and put it beautifully on the table there, and then you walk out that door very sweetly and nicely." And she said, "I will not!"
Well, I could have said, "Honey, let’s you and I mourn over this for awhile." Or, "Sugar, let’s you and I pray over this for awhile." Or, "Sugar, let’s you and I discover things that we don’t understand about this for a while." No! Before anything, "Honey, you pick up that book, and you put it down very nicely, and you walk out that door like a little lady and if not, mmmmphh!"
There is nothing possible with us with God until first we obey, we answer, "Here I am." There is nothing God can do for us when I say no and walk out. But when I open my heart in repentance and in acceptance all things are possible. The whole vistas of life and eternity are open to me.
When the appeal is made Satan whispers, "Wait, wait. Why, there are other things that are just as good. Why, think of it; you can join the lodge, you can join the civic clubs, you can engage in so many philanthropic works, you don’t have to give your heart to God, nor do you have to belong to the household of faith. You can do these other things just as well."
Why, I went to see a dying man, and I pled with him about his soul in Christ, and he held up the ring of his fraternal order and said to me, "This will get me into heaven."
I looked at him, I said, "You are not serious. You are not earnest. That?"
He said, "Yes, this will get me into heaven."
Dear Lord, I wish it would. We’d buy those rings by the millions. And we’d encourage people to join the fraternal order by the millions. But that’s Satan, he is in favor of anything except submitting our hearts to God. I must accept Christ if I have any hope of heaven:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Christ, I am nothing.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could move mountains, and have not Christ, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not Christ, it profiteth me nothing.
[1 Corinthians 13:1-3]
"Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation [2 Corinthians 6:2]. We plead with you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God" [2 Corinthians 5:20].
But when the invitation is made, Satan stands at the right hand and he whispers, "But, but, look at you; you’re not ready. What about this? And what are you going to do about that? And what are you going to do about this other thing? And what are you going to do about this over here? Look at all of these things in your life, the sins, and the imperfections, and the derelictions, and the shortcomings, and they are world without end." And what Satan does is he sees to it that in spirit and attitude, when we face the invitation of Christ, he gets us patching up this first. And we are working on this section of our life next. And then we are mending this section of it here. And we are trying to ameliorate this part of it here. And we find ourselves endlessly trying to make ourselves acceptable to God. And no man can do it.
If a man ever comes to Christ, he has to come just as he is, sin and all. For we never get beyond the sins of today. There will be others tomorrow. The derelictions of now; there will be derelictions tomorrow. And the shortcomings now; there will be shortcomings tomorrow. We never get able and ready.
The old time song, do you remember? Come; come, just as ye are.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry ’til you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Then the chorus:
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will accept me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior;
Oh there are ten thousand charms.
[adapted from "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy," Joseph Hart, 1759]
Christ wants us, and invites us, and loves us, longs for us, died for us, appeals for us, welcomes us just as we are – sinners alike.
In the days of my beginning ministry here there was a godly, wonderful deacon, a physician named Dr. Oscar Marchman. He was Dr. Truett’s brother-in-law. His sweet wife is still in God’s providence with us, Dr. Marchman.
In Temple, Texas, the army had built a hospital for amputees, the derelicts, the flotsam and jetsam of that awful war. And the head of that hospital was a doctor who was a personal friend of Dr. Marchman. And upon a day Dr. Marchman said to me, "I wish you’d go down to the hospital with me."
I said, "I shall."
So we went down to Temple and through McClosky Hospital. Ah, the sorrow that came to my heart as I walked through those long corridors. And with those doctors I looked at those handsome American boys; their hands gone, their feet gone, their arms gone, their legs gone – the amputees.
In one of the rooms I visited with a young American officer. Part of his body blown away, but the great tragedy of this boy was that in the awful blast that tore away his limbs, it also tore away his eyes, and he was blind. But the young fellow was about ready to go home. And I stayed and visited with him. Somewhere there was a young wife waiting for that boy. She had written him letters and letters and letters. She had told him of her longing and her love and her waiting for him to come home.
And the young man said to me, "And think of it, in just three more weeks, in just three more weeks, I shall see my wife, think of it." I was so caught up with the young officer that it was only after I left the room and was walking away that I suddenly stopped and caught what the young man said. "Just three more weeks and I shall see my wife." See her? See her? But he’s blind! But what had happened was that girl, that sweet girl, had so built in the heart of that young American soldier, that he was so wanted and so loved and so welcomed, that he had forgot; she had made him forget that he was blind!
That is exactly what our Lord has done for us! Not because we are perfect, not because we are strong, but we are invited because God loves us, and God wants us, and God welcomes us. That’s the meaning of the death of Christ: that death might be swallowed up of life; that our sins might be overwhelmed by grace; that our derelictions might be drowned in love. Come, come, come. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Come, come, come.
In a moment we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And you, the family, all of you, a couple, two of you, or just one, you, down one of these stairways, into the aisle, here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." Or, "This is my wife, and these are our children, and all of us are coming." Or just you. On the first note of that first stanza, that first step, take it now. God will see you through. Into that aisle and down to the front, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming, while all of us stand and sing.
Corinthians 5:20-21; 6:1-2
in New England meets minister on the street – so under conviction asks him
there how to be saved
Satan hinders(Zechariah 3:1, 1 Corinthians 16:9)
Any time an appeal is made, there is an adversary, a whisperer, a counselor
against which you war
II. "Wait – they are trying to rush you"
a sinking ship, "To the lifeboats!"
the breaking of a damn, "Flee!"
a burning house, "Fire! Escape!"
Like being crushed in an accident, "Go to the doctor immediately!"
boy saved at our junior camp; died three weeks later
III. "Wait – you do not understand"
is no question or lack of understandingwhat God wants us to do
Mystery is the signature of God
IV. "Wait – you are all right as you are"
the call of God is a call to faith, repentance, commitment and obedience
Mabel Ann throwing book on the floor
V. "Wait – other things are just as good"
civic organizations, social philanthropy
Satan wants you to substitute anything except submitting yourself to God
man belonging to an order believed his ring would get him to heaven
must give ourselves to Christ (1 Corinthians
VI. "Wait – you are not ready"
has us fixing ourselves up
Hymn, "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy"
asks us to come just as we are