THE URGENCY OF THE HOUR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-28-71 7:30 p.m.
Well, let us turn to God’s Book in the ninth chapter of the Book of John, the ninth chapter of the Fourth Gospel; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And on the radio, the radio of the city of Dallas, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Urgency of the Hour. Now let us read the first five verses, and the text will be the fourth verse: "We must work the works of Him, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4]. That is the text, and you will read it when you come to verse 4. Now on the radio and here, all of us reading it out loud together, John 9:1-5, together:
And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth.
And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
Now, you will find that those ancient manuscripts will read that text, "We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." We must work the works of God. Our Lord must, and He did. He faithfully carried out that commitment He made in heaven to give His life for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14]. But we also must work. Our Lord had an assignment in this regeneration, the recreation of the world; but we also have a part in it. "We must work the works of Him that sent Me."
It might be profitable, just for a moment, to think of our Lord’s use of that word must: the musts, the necessaries, the significances, the emphases of our Lord, the musts of Jesus. Why, He used that word when He was a child: "Wist ye not" – twelve years old in the temple – "that I must be about My Father’s business?" [Luke 2:] Speaking to the disciples, He said, "For the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinners; He must suffer, be crucified, the third day raised from the dead; He must" [Luke 24:7]. Or again, as Matthew describes His answer when the disciples sought to deliver Him from the enemies and His cross, He said, "For how else must the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" [Matthew 26:54] Must, compulsion, necessity, must. And He used that word in His preaching. He said to Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again" [John 3: 7]. There’s no alternative. "Ye must be born again." Then as He explained that regeneration that comes through a trusting in Christ, He said it like this, "For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up" [John 3:14].
There is an urgency, there is a necessity in the use of the language of Christ as He describes this work that is pervasive; and He uses the word again here: "We must work the works of Him that sent Me: the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4]. I speak first, therefore, of the urgency of time. "We must work, for the night cometh, when no man can work."
There was a tremendous and effective young Scottish preacher by the name of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He burned himself out when he was twenty-nine years old, died, just literally gave himself so to the ministry that his life was snuffed out when he was twenty-nine. He had a watch, and on that watch, on the face of it, he had written, "The night cometh." The urgency of time – "We must work the works of Him that sent Me: for the night cometh, when no man can work," the urgency of time.
It is a gift of God, these days, these lengthenings of grace, these open doors; time is a gift of God. We cannot create it, we cannot buy it, we cannot trade for it, we cannot purchase it, we do not merit it, it is something that God gives us. Time is a gratuity of heaven. And it has meaning only for man. Isn’t that the strangest come to pass in how God made this universe? Time – the most precious of all of the endowments of God – time is meaningful only to a man. It has no meaning to the oceans, or the stars, or the universes, or the solar systems, or the mountains; it has no meaning at all in God’s creation. Whether it is five hundred billion years or five hundred trillion years, or five million years, or five seconds, it has no meaning whatsoever in God’s universe. Nor does time have any meaning to the animal world, none at all. A dog, a bovine, a bird, an animal has no sense of time whatsoever, has no meaning to an animal at all. It has no meaning to a child. Oh dear, how a child can drive you to distraction! "I’ve got an appointment, hurry!" Just drag along, that’s a child. Time has no meaning to a child at all. Is it not a strange thing how God made us? It is only when you reach the moral equations in your life that you become sensitive to time. It is a part of the way God made us in His image [Genesis 1:27] – morally sensitive, sensitive to time – and as such it becomes the very bricks, the very blocks out of which we build our lives. It is precious, like jewels. That’s why we seek to guard it, the urgency of time.
It is inexorable; you don’t stop it. You can stop that clock, that watch, you can tie the hands, but that time inexorably goes on. You don’t hasten it, you don’t hurry it, it never lags, it goes steadily on. Like these planets around the sun: for untold ages, without a second of variation, time goes on, time goes on inexorably. Time goes on, and we have no part in its progression; inexorably it moves.
Not only that, but it is elusive: you cannot take it, you cannot hoard it, you cannot keep it; it moves. Oh, how many of us would say, "Let’s stop it. These days are multiplying into years, and the years are multiplying into a lifetime, and the very life is sifting through our fingers. Let’s stop it!" You cannot hoard it. You cannot keep it. It is elusive.
When Felix said to the preacher Paul, "When I have a more convenient time, I will call for thee. When I have a convenient time, I will" [Acts 24:25], he was seeking to hoard up to himself today’s opportunities for a tomorrow. It never comes, and it cannot be done! When it’s gone, it’s gone forever; and it was in the life of Felix. It is elusive. It is irrevocable. You cannot call it back. Oh, dear! How many men there are who say, with tears and lamentations and cryings and wringings of hand, "I would to God, I would to God I could go back to that day and make that decision again. I would to God I could live this life over again. I would to God I could change it." Esau, for one morsel of meat, for one mess of pottage sold his birthright [Genesis 25:29-34] – and listen to the Scriptures: "And he found no place for repentance," he found no way to change it, "though he sought it carefully, with tears" [Hebrews 12:16-17]. You cannot; it is gone forever.
I went up there to Mel Carter’s Boston one time; stayed a month preaching at the Temple Church where he was youth director. And while I was there, I went to the Wayside Inn, made famous by the poems and by the presence of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And I was just walking around on the beautiful grounds there; it’s a little shrine, the Wayside Inn, and seated in there, and just walking around. And not far, right across the way, there is an old water mill, a mill run by a big water wheel; just slowly grinding as the water pours over that enormous water wheel. And in those days, looking at that water wheel and thinking of the turning of that wheel, I called to mind this poem:
Listen to the water mill; all the live long day,
Hear the squeaking of the wheels as they wear the hours away!
Languidly the water glides, ever on and still
But never coming back again to the old water mill.
Take this lesson to yourselves; it is all so true
Golden years are passing by, and youth is passing too.
Wealth, power, intellect may not, cannot last;
For the mill can never grind with the water that is past.
[from "The Lesson of the Water Mill," Sarah Doudney]
It is today for us, and it is irrevocably gone when it’s passed. What I do I must do now, I must do today. The decisions I make, the dedications and consecrations I offer to God I must do them now. Otherwise, irrevocably, irrevocably my opportunity and my day is passed forever. Oh how I could illustrate that, but let’s go on.
The urgency of time: "We must work the works of God: for the night cometh, when no man can work" [John 9:4]. Second, the urgency of need: "We must work the works of God," the urgency of need, the works of God, God’s will for our lives. All of the great, mighty, determining factors in human life run in spiritual channels, all of them. Oh, we think so differently and are persuaded so ephemerally and surface-like, but we don’t think, we don’t probe, we don’t look – beneath all of the outward appearance you see in life, its material form, underneath are these great spiritual factors in which our lives are inevitably and inexorably channeled. It is exactly as the apostle Paul wrote, "While we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen: for the things that are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" [2 Corinthians 4:18]. The great moving, determining factors in human life are always spiritual; they’re deep down underneath.
A whole man’s life is but an echo, but an objective presentation of what is way down deep underneath. If a man is a materialist and a secularist, by and by he will find himself in those philosophies of life and giving himself to those persuasions of life that are just exactly like those of the atheistic, communistic world, even though he’s an American citizen. He’ll finally come to those conclusions. Communism is nothing else in the earth but materialism and secularism that has arrived at its natural and ultimate destination – that’s where it leads to! Human life is nothing; property for one’s family and home is nothing; there’s not anything that is except materiality, secular possessions, and worldliness, and equations, and definitions, and declensions, and delineations, that’s all there is. And men become servants and slaves of a state that is secular and material.
What has made America great has been its reflection of the spirit that God gave us in this Holy Book in which we preach in this gospel: that a man is somebody in the image of God; he’s important, a man is. And one of the prerogatives of a man is, as God’s servant, to have a garden, a little Eden, to dress it and to keep it [Genesis 2:15], there for the comfort and strength and protection of his home and his family and these whom he loves; and that he walks sun-crowned in the glory of God. Oh, we cannot belabor the point. What you are and what you appear outwardly to do ultimately is nothing but an outworking of what you are on the inside. All of those things are deep; they run in spiritual channels.
Now for us who are Christians, the works of God, what are our needs, the urgency of need? One: we need God! If we are to be something different from an animal, if we are to be something different from an atheist, and a communist, and a materialist, and a secularist, we need God! We need God. Oh!
The dove of Noah found no rest for the sole of her foot, so she came back to the ark [Genesis 8:9]. We’re like that. There are some men who can be satisfied with the dry dust of materialism. But there are some of us whose souls cry out, "Is there not something other and else and beside than just death, and destruction, and all of the materialism that ultimately leads down to the grave? Isn’t there something other and beside? My heart tells me there is. My spirit leads me to believe that there is." And I can’t find that in the grave. And I can’t find it in a secular world. And I can’t find it in materialism. You can look at it forever, and there’s no God to reply as such. I must find God in some other area, in some other way. I must find God somehow in His self-disclosure to me, because I can look at His stars forever and I know whoever made them might be majestic and mighty, but who is He? And I can look at beauty forever, the sunsets, and the rainbows, and all God’s glorious creation, and I might know that whoever made them loved beauty, but who is He? What is His name? And I might look at my own soul and its moral sensitivity, and I might conclude whoever made me is moral, He has a sense of right and wrong; but what’s His name? Who is He? I can find no answer until I find it in the self-disclosure of God. God has to tell me His name. And God has to reveal Himself to me. And when I see that self-revelation, and when I accept God for all that He says He is, oh dear, my soul, what a change! What a regeneration; what a reevaluation; what a new day and a new life.
Why, I was holding a meeting, and they had there a series of some of these great athletes of the world. We had some of them at that meeting in Dayton, Ohio; we had some of them there. Well, this meeting they had a whole bunch of them, whole series of them. And one of those far-famed athletes gave his testimony in which he said that after having won this world prize, and having this world recognition, and having this national honor, and this introduction into a hall of fame, and I don’t know what all he said, he said, "After it all was done" – and as a youth he’d worked for it, and hoped for it, and dreamed of it, and had finally achieved it – he said, "After it all was done, I was empty on the inside; empty. I was poor on the inside." Then he said, "I met the Lord. I met Jesus. And I gave my life to God." And he said, "My heart has been full, and my life overflowing and blessed, and I’ve been happy in Him ever since." That’s it. That’s it. There is an emptiness in worldly achievement that is poor.
As you’ve heard me say many times, if I were going through American society to look for those who were contemplating suicide, I’d look among the stars of Hollywood whose names are on every lip, and who have achieved in beauty and wealth and fame everything that we think is worthwhile in life. It is a poor evaluation. It is ultimately empty and sterile and barren. But the man who has found God, he may be a blue-collar workman, building boilers or shoveling gravel, but if he has found the Lord he has found the everlasting life. Oh! We need God!
The urgency of need: we need salvation and deliverance from sin, all of us, all of us. Sin is like a serpent, and it coils itself around us; and the more we try to undo those coils, the tighter they enmesh us and finally crush us. There’s no man [who] can wrestle in his own strength against the coils of that serpent.
Do you ever in your reading see that famous, famous, one of the most glorious pieces of statuary ever made, of Laocoon? Laocoon, it is the statue, a Greek sculpture, a piece where at an altar there is a man, and he has a son on this side and a son on this side, and two serpents are crushing them to death. And that Greek, that unknown Greek sculptor has chiseled in stone the agony of that father as he wrestles those awesome serpents. Well, Laocoon, just for the background of it, was a priest of Apollo at Troy, and because he warned the Trojans against letting that Trojan horse inside the city, Zeus was angry, and he sent those two serpents out of the sea to strangle and to crush them to death, which those serpents did. Now, that’s the myth back of it. But as I look at that statue, that sculptured piece, Laocoon and his two sons being crushed to death by those horrible sea serpents, whoever that sculptor was, he caught a glimpse of this world and you and me in it; the coils of the serpent around us, and it crushes us to death. And who can deliver us, and who can save us, and who can forgive us? We need God, God, God.
Last: the urgency of this need, we need help for the work. "O Master, we must work the works of Him, of God, O Lord, we need Thy blessing, and Thy presence, and Thy wisdom, and Thy help in this work." Oh!
You know, you look on the pastor and you say, "Well, he is the workman of the Lord." We must work the works of God – you are just as called of God as I am. My assignment happened to be here; and it is prominently where you can see. But no less true and vital and significant is your calling in Christ Jesus. We all have it. There is a purpose, there is a plan, there is an assignment, there is a will, there is a call of God for you, for us. We must work the works of God; we all have a place. "And Lord, we need help in it."
Do you ever get discouraged? I do. You know people are so surprised when I say that to them. "Pastor, you are sometimes discouraged?" Why, sometimes I’m like Elijah under a juniper tree [1 Kings 19:4], and I think I can’t hear nobody pray. Oh, I get so blue and down and discouraged. We need encouragement. Do you ever just get discouraged with yourself? Do you ever get disappointed with yourself? Do you ever just say, "Dear God in heaven, it’s just a washed out thing for me?" We need God. We need God’s help and wisdom to know how to do.
Lord, Lord, in every area of life I need God’s presence, and I need God’s help. I need God’s direction. I need God. Why do you stumble even at witnessing to people about the Lord? Oh, I cannot tell you the number of people, just endlessly, who will say to me, "I just don’t know how, and I’m timid, and I’m afraid, and I just don’t know the approach. And if I did know the approach, I don’t know whether I have the courage to do it or not – to be a soulwinner, to testify to the Lord." I know all about that. I’m the same way in a thousand instances. How do you approach that man? And if you did know how to approach him, how do you get the courage to do it and to ask God for His blessing upon it? And do you know if we do that in the Lord, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, in the wisdom of God, you will never make a mistake in your life? Did you know that? You never will.
"Oh, but I might offend," or, "Oh dear, I may drive him away," or, "Oh dear, I may make the mistake that’ll make it impossible for him to be reached." Listen, if you witness for Christ in God’s wisdom and in God’s Spirit, you will never ever make a mistake! You never will.
Why, I read, I read about a senator, United States senator; his name was Dolliver, and he was the son of an old-time Methodist preacher, one of those old-time ones. And that Methodist preacher, that father of the senator – God bless him – he witnessed about the Lord, and he talked about his Savior, and he tried to win men to Christ, and he spoke to them about the Savior. Well, upon a day, they got a letter, got a communication from the senator there to the home, to the father who was a widower and living with his two unmarried daughters. They got a letter from the senator saying that he was coming to spend a few days at home with the father and his two sisters, and he was bringing the ambassador from Switzerland, his dear friend from Switzerland, with him, a guest in the home. So those two maiden girls, those two maiden sisters of Senator Dolliver were busy about the house preparing for the coming of their brother and for the illustrious guest, the ambassador from Switzerland. And one of those girls said to the other, "Oh, oh, I know father’s going to embarrass us. He’s going to embarrass us. Just as surely as you live, when that ambassador gets here to our house, our father will start talking to him about his soul, and start talking to him about being a Christian. I just know he will." And the other girl said, "You know, if he doesn’t, it’ll be the first time in his life he ever talked to a man and didn’t say something to him about his soul."
Well, Senator Dolliver came, brought his illustrious guest, and sure enough that thing happened. The old Methodist preacher got a hold of that ambassador, and began talking to him about Jesus, and about giving his soul to the Lord! After the stay was done, why, the senator and his illustrious guest went back to Washington; and in just a little while the senator got a message his father had gone to be with the Lord, just fell asleep in Jesus. And, of course, the two girls were looking for their brother to come. When the senator got that message, he called his friend, the ambassador from Switzerland. He said, "I just want you to know that I’m on a sad mission. I’m going back home to bury my father." And the ambassador said, "I’ll go with you." Why, the senator said, "Why? Why? No, not at all. I did not tell you for that."
"Oh," said the ambassador, "but I want to go. I want to go." He said, "I’ve lived these years in America, and your father was the only man who ever talked to me about my soul. I want to attend his funeral."
You will never, ever make a mistake, never, when what you do, talking about Jesus, is in the wisdom and in the gift and in the blessing of the Spirit of God. They may show an outward sign of revulsion to you, but down underneath God is speaking, the Lord is working. Always know this: when you’re talking about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is working on your side in the heart of the man to whom you’re addressing that appeal. Just do it in God, in the Spirit of the Lord. That’s why for the work, we need Jesus.
I have to close. To give yourself to the blessed Savior, would you come tonight? In the balcony round, a somebody you; on this lower floor, a family, a couple, or a youth; into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I come, pastor, I’m making that decision tonight. I’m coming tonight." Make the decision in your heart now; and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming, walking down one of these stairways, or into this aisle and here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, I’m coming tonight." Do it now. Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE URGENCY OF THE HOUR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. We must work (John 9:4)
B. The "musts" of our Lord (Luke 2:, 24:7, Mark 8:31, Matthew 26:54, John 3:3, 7, 14)
II. The urgency of time (John 9:4)
A. Robert Murray M’Cheyne
B. Time is a gift of heaven
1. Of meaning alone to man
2. Time is the blocks out of which our lives are constructed
C. Passing of time inexorable
D. Time is elusive; it cannot be stored up (Acts 24:25)
E. Time is irrevocable; it cannot be called back (Hebrews 12:16-17)
II. The urgency of need
A. Real currents of human life run in deep spiritual channels (2 Corinthians 4:18)
B. We need God
1. Like the dove Noah sent out (Genesis 8:9)
2. Find answers in His self-disclosure to us
C. We need salvation and deliverance from sin