The Imperative Now
October 10th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
THE IMPERATIVE NOW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:20-21
10-10-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Imperative Now. It is an appeal; it is just an appeal. It is just that. And it is designed to follow the marvelous outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord upon the crusade, in recent days, led by Billy Graham in the Texas Stadium.
And the passage and the text is in the second Corinthian letter, the last of the fifth chapter and the first of the sixth:
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead – as though the Lord Himself were saying it – 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 – God saith – I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is that accepted time; and behold, now is that day of salvation.)
[2 Corinthians 5:20, 6:1-2]
Not some other time, not some other hour, not some other service, not some other day: but now. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2].
In the days of the Great Awakening, the revival that changed the course of America in New England, in the days of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, when there seemed to be the moving presence of the Spirit of God in the cities and the villages and the rural areas of all that northeastern United States; in those days there was a little boy walking down the street of an English village. He was under conviction. His heart was heavy, and he met a New England minister, the pastor of the church, on the street. And he went up to the minister and said that he felt so bad; his heart was so heavy that he asked the minister how to be saved. And the pastor of the church said, "Well, young man, you go to your room, you get down on your knees, and you tell God all about it, and you ask God to come into your heart." And the boy said, "But sir, I feel so bad I just don’t know whether I can live long enough to get to my room and to get down on my knees and ask God how to be saved." Unconsciously rebuked by the innocent child, the minister said, "Then let’s get down on our knees right here, and let’s ask God to save us and the Lord to come into our hearts."
It is not some other day or some other hour or some other place. It is not waiting for some other appeal or some other invitation or some finer, more logical or deeper explanation. But it is now, for He said, "I have heard thee in a time accepted." When is it? "And in the day of salvation have I succored thee." When is it? "Behold, now is that accepted time": and behold, now is that day of service. It is now, it is this hour, it is this occasion, it is this convocation, it is this worship service; it is now!
We have an adversary in that. In the third chapter of the prophet Zechariah, in the first verse, 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 the first Corinthian letter, the ninth verse, Paul says: "For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, but there are many adversaries" [1 Corinthians 16:9].
Any time an appeal is made for Christ, there is a whisperer, there is an adversary, there is a counselor against which you war. And he says things in your heart when the Spirit presses the appeal for Christ.
One: he [Satan] says, "Wait. Wait. They are just trying to rush you. Wait. Not now, not this moment, not this service, not this appeal; wait! They are trying to rush you!"
It’s the same kind of a thing, illogical, as if a man were on a sinking ship and the cry was made, "To the lifeboats," but somebody says, "They are just trying to rush you."
Or if you lived in a valley and the great dam broke, and before the flooding tide somebody cried, "Flee"; and then somebody else said, "They are just trying to rush you."
Or if you were in a burning house and somebody said, "Fire! Escape!" and then somebody else says, "They are just trying to rush you."
Or if you were in a tragic automobile accident and bleeding and hurt and crushed, somebody said, "We must [go] to the doctor immediately," and somebody else says, "They are just trying to rush you."
"Behold, now is the day of salvation; behold, now is the accepted time." It is now! As you know, Millie Kohn and her group have a junior camp each year. At the camp, summer before last, there was a boy. His family did not take him to church, but they allowed him to go to the camp. And the lad was saved out there at the camp, and three weeks later the little boy developed a grievous illness, disease, and died. And in the tragedy and loss of that hour, the mother said to us, "My one hope and comfort is that at the camp our little boy gave himself to Jesus."
"Wait, they are just trying to rush you." No! "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. For when the appeal is pressed, Satan whispers in your heart, "Wait, wait, there are mysteries. There are inexplicable depths that you don’t understand. What is this new birth, or atonement, or propitiation, or expiation, or even the meaning of the cross? You don’t understand. Wait!"
I don’t deny that there are impenetrable and unfathomable depths in God, and in His written Word, and in Christ, and in salvation into which my mind, finite, cannot enter. But I am like a man who said, "It is not the things in the Bible I cannot understand that bother me, it is the things that I can understand."
And there is no question and no lack of understanding what God wants us to do. It is plain. There are depths in the Lord. There are depths in the revelation. There are depths in our own souls, the whole creation around us that are mysterious to us, hidden.
So many times have I said the signature of God is mystery. We can explain nothing of God’s work. We just behold it, look at it, observe it. We can explain nothing. It is beyond us.
Upon a day in Harvard, I went through the Agassiz Museum, glass museum. That great botanical genius had taken glass in all of its many colors, and he had recreated and reproduced the flora of so much of the world. It is astonishing what that great botanist has done! And these plants, root system and all, looked as though they were alive. But they are made out of glass, and they lack that spark of life that even the genius Agassiz could not give them.
But in anybody’s backyard you will find the humble weed that can make a seed that will grow. How? We don’t understand, nor shall we ever. There are impenetrable depths in the work of God, and I cannot understand them.
But I understand what God calls me to do. It is plain. It is simple. And the Spirit presses the appeal upon my heart: "Behold, now is that accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. I don’t need another explanation. Nor do I need to be taught the profundities of theology. I don’t need those heavy tomes of ecclesiastical debate and discussion. They are beside the point. I know what God calls me to do. It is thus now.
And as we press the appeal, Satan whispers, "Wait, wait. Why, you just be as you are. Just stay as you are. You don’t have to respond." Yes, but I do! For the call of God is a call to faith, and repentance, and to commitment, and to obedience. God says so. God reveals so. God plainly has written it so. And I obey, or I do not. It is that plain. It is yes, or no. I do, or I don’t. I come, or I do not come. I yield, or I don’t. Nor can I know God, nor can I be taught the things of God, nor can I ever see the face of God or have God until first I do that. I must obey. I must come. I must respond. I must, or God is shut out of my life forever. It is matter first of obedience.
We have one child, the girl who stood and sang here a moment ago. Some time ago when she was a little girl – just a very few years ago, when she was a little girl, kind of like yesterday – when she was a little girl, she got angry with me. And that’s explicable. She got angry with me. She had a book in her hand, and she threw that book down on the floor and stomped out of the room and slammed the door! I got up, opened the door, called her back. I said, "Mabel Ann, you come and stand right there." She came and stood right there. I said, "Now, honey, you pick up that book very tenderly, and you lay it on the table very nicely, and then you walk out that door very softly." She said, "I will not!" So I could have said, "Well, come here, honey, let’s mourn over that," or "Come here, let’s pray about that," or "Come here and let’s discuss that." No! There’s no need to mourn. There is no need to pray. There is no need to discuss. There are no depths of explanation needed. "Pick up that book and if you don’t . . . ooooh!" Would you like to know the sequel? She picked it up, put it down nice and went out the door gingerly.
It is that with God. There are no explanations needed. There are no forensics that are in order. There is not anything except first I must obey the voice of God. I must respond. I must come. I must open my heart to the Lord, and then a floodtide of heavenly possibilities press upon me. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
But as the Spirit presses the appeal to your heart, Satan stands at your right hand, and he says, "Wait, wait. There are other things that are just as good. Why, you could choose, ah, how many things can you choose? A lodge? A civic organization? Social philanthropy? There are many things that you can do just as well and maybe better." Isn’t that Satan? Anything. Substitute anything except submitting yourself to God.
I went to see a man who was dying. And as I talked to him about the eternity to come, he held up his hand, and on it was the ring of a fraternal order. And he said to me, "This ring will get me into heaven. I need nothing else."
I looked at him in amazement and unbelief! I said, "You are not serious?" He said, "I am. All the years I have belonged to this order and this ring will get me into heaven!"
Would God that it would work! We’d try to buy millions of rings. We’d give them out by the hundreds of thousands. It doesn’t go that way. It doesn’t work that way. It isn’t that way. That’s Satan who is so agile in suggesting to us other things other than to give our hearts to God, to identify ourselves with the people of the Lord. I must give myself to Christ. I must accept Him. I must come before His people and before the angels in heaven and acknowledge Him.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Christ, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not Christ, I am nothing.
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]
First, I must begin with Him. Then all of the vistas of God’s grace and glory are opened to me. But first I must start with Him; behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
And as the Spirit presses the appeal upon our hearts, Satan whispers, "Wait, wait. Look at you. Look at you. Just take a good look at you. What are you going to do about this? What are you going to do about that? And what are you going to do about the other?"
And Satan has us patching up this, and mending this, and straightening out that before we come to Christ. And it is a forever assignment. For how does a man ever get himself good enough to appear before God? How does a fellow ever straighten out his life that he stands worthy in the presence of the Savior and the angels who shall be judged by us? There is a dereliction in us.
There are weaknesses in us. There are prodigalities that characterize us. There are congenital states that attend us; that however you tried, however you mended, you’d never find yourself good enough to come.
The old-timers in a song expressed that:
Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you wait until your better
You will never come at all.
Then the chorus.
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
[from "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy," Joseph Hart, 1759]
Just as you are, come. You are loved; you are welcomed, you are wanted just as you are. I doubt whether He loves us because we are lovely. I doubt whether He came to call us in our perfection. But I am persuaded rather that it is because of our need and our lack, that we are lost and weak, that He came [Luke 19:10]. And He loves us and longs for us and welcomes us just as we are; weak, hurt, sinners, needy, unlovely – but loved by Him.
Right here in front of me sits the wife of one of the most glorious physicians I ever knew, nor did I ever have a finer, truer friend than Dr. Oscar Marchman – one of our deacons, sainted, with Jesus in glory.
Long time ago when Ed Drake said, "I came here during the days of that bitter and awesome Second World War"; in those days Dr. Marchman said to me, "One of my dearest friends is head of the McClosky Hospital in Temple, Texas, an amputee hospital where the flotsam and jetsam of the tragic war were gathered. And there they sought to rehabilitate those men who had been destroyed by the war.
I said, "I’d be glad to go with you, doctor." So I went down there, and I went through that McClosky Amputee Hospital with the surgeon who headed it and with his friend, Dr. Oscar Marchman.
Ah, those things, you could never forget them! Fine American young men, their hands are gone, their arms are gone, their feet are gone, their legs are gone; rows and rows of them, hundreds and hundreds of them.
One of the young men had a room of his own. He was a young officer. And I visited with him. Not only had the terrible blasts of some awesome explosion taken away part of his limbs, but it had also torn out his eyes. And the young soldier was blind.
As I visited with him, he began to talk to me about going home. Somewhere there was a wife who, writing to that boy, had so built in him the feeling of being wanted, of being welcomed, just as he was without his eyes and without his limbs, until the young officer, in glowing terms described to me, "Think of it" he said, "Think of it," he said. In three weeks, in three weeks, I will see her, my wife, in three weeks."
I was so caught up in the spirit of hope, and joy, and gladness, and anticipation with the young officer that I didn’t notice what he said, until I left the room and walking down the hallway I just suddenly stopped. "In three weeks," he said, "I will see my wife."
But he’s blind! He’s blind. Then it came to me what had happened: that girl, that girl had so built up in the young man a love, and a longing, and a wanting, and a waiting, and a welcome until she had made him forget that he was blind! I’ll never see her, but I’d like to see that girl. She wants him with his feet gone and his arm gone and his eyes gone! Welcome. Welcome.
Isn’t that exactly what God does with us? Not because we are strong and able and lovely and perfect, but because we are loved and wanted. God says, "Come, just as you are." That death might be swallowed up in life, that sin might be overwhelmed by grace, that our prodigality might be drowned in God’s everlasting love; come, you’re wanted, you’re welcome, you’re longed for and prayed for and died for, you, you. And if the church reveals and reflects at all the Spirit of the Lord, we also are like that; come, you are welcome. Come. We need the grace and love and mercy of our Savior alike. Come. We’ll love God together. We’ll serve Christ together. We’ll grow in grace together. Come, come.
Behold, now is the day of salvation; behold, now is the accepted time [2 Corinthians 6:2]. "And Lord, I’m coming. I’m on the way." On the first note of the hymns’ first stanza, "Here I come, Lord, and here I am." A family you, "Pastor, my wife and my children, we are all coming today." A couple you, the two of you, or just one you, somebody you, in the balcony round, there is a stairway at the back and the front on either side, and there is time and to spare, come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. May the angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and sing.