These Thirty Years
October 6th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
THESE THIRTY YEARS
Dr. W.A. Criswell
James 4:10, 14
10-6-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled These Thirty Years. As I have met with our people this week in our Roundup convocations each night, there have been those who have asked me, “What text will you use, and what subject?” And suggestions have been made to me about different passages of Scripture that would be so apropos at this hour.
And as I turned it over in my heart, I finally came to the conclusion that since I am preaching through the Book of James, and James was the gifted and dedicated pastor of the church in Jerusalem [Acts 21:18; Galatians 2:12], and the brother of our Lord [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3], that I would just continue where I am. And the sermon today, therefore, is in the fourth chapter of the Book of James. Last Sunday morning we concluded with the third chapter, and today we begin with the fourth chapter. And out of the fourth chapter I have chosen a text in verse 10 and verse 14:
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.
For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
[James 4:10, 14]
“For what is your life? It is even an atmos.” That is the word atmos, atmos, and when you add globe to it, sphere to it, it becomes atmosphere. “For what is your life? It is an atmos.” It is a little cloud, a little vapor, a little fog, a little water that is visible for a moment, like a bubble on the surface of the sea, and then disappears forever. “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” [James 4:14].
The brevity of life: when I was called to my first church out of the seminary, my predecessor had been pastor there for fifteen years. I thought at the time how long, long a ministry. The second church to which I was called had an illustrious and gifted pastor. They called him the George W. Truett of Oklahoma. He had been undershepherd of the congregation for twenty-eight years, and I thought, as I began my ministry there, what a long, long tenure of service my gifted and illustrious predecessor had been endowed with in that congregation.
Then coming to the First Church in Dallas, my predecessor, the world famed George W. Truett, had been pastor here for forty-seven years. And I thought what a long, long, long ministry. But having come to the thirty-first [year] that I have preached in this pulpit, my deepest impression of these years is the impression that Pastor James of that first church in Jerusalem has voiced in the text; how brief the time, how rapidly have the years slipped by, and the life itself so quickly lived and so soon done [James 4:14].
If, therefore, the life is so brief and the years slip away so rapidly, I haven’t time, life is too short for littleness, and for grudge bearing, and for cynicism, and for unkindness—it’s too short, it’s too brief. There’s not time to be bad, to be angry, to be tempestuous, to be ungenerous and unsympathetic. It’s too short. But there is time and to spare for kindness, for generosity, for sympathy, for understanding, for encouragement, for helpfulness, and there is time and to spare for the service and work of our Lord.
One of the most unusual things that I read in these holy pages is a contrast between something Paul wrote here and something Paul wrote here. I am referring to the prison epistles when Paul was incarcerated in Rome, facing possibly his soon execution. There are four of them in that imprisonment; Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. And in Philemon 9 he writes, “Being such an one as Paul the aged. Being such an one as Paul the aged” [Philemon 1:9]. Then in Philippians he wrote the passage we read together this morning:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended—
I have not arrived yet—
but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? “Being such a one as Paul the aged” [Philemon 9] and in prison and facing execution, and then writing at the same time and with the same pen, “Brethren, I have not got hold of that yet for which Christ got hold me of me, but this one thing I do, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:12-14]. There is time to do God’s work—so brief, so fleeting, but time and to spare to reach for the great goal that God has set before us.
Like old Caleb, eighty-five years of age, he came before Moses and said, “Give me this mountain” [Joshua 14:12]. He referred to Hebron the home of Anakim, the sons of Anak. After forty years in the wilderness his vision was not dimmed. His zeal was not lessened. His faith in Jehovah God was not diminished. At five and eighty years of age he said to the leader of Israel, “Give me this mountain.” And he took it for God [Joshua 14:12-13].
The spirit of ebullient optimism and victory is contagious in any man, but how much more so in a man who has traveled through the years and down the vistas of life. I could not help but be amused this week at Gary Moore, our Minister of Music. He dressed himself up as a magician and presented a medicine show over there to the people who came to the Roundup. And he was selling Criswell’s Golden Elixir. It healed everything, toothache, toe ache, stomachache, all kinds of aches, and it rejuvenated you.
And as he was up there selling his elixir, I thought of a medicine show man who held up a bottle of it, and he said, “This will rejuvenate you. It’ll add to the length of your life. Why,” he said, “if you don’t believe what is written on this label, look at me. I’m three hundred ninety years of age.” And an incredulous listener turned toward his young assistant and said, “Is that so?” And the young man replied, “I don’t know. I’ve only been with him one hundred forty years.”
The spirit of victory and of triumph; at eighty, Goethe wrote the “Faust.” At eighty, Tennyson wrote the immortal “Crossing the Bar.” At eighty-four, Gladstone was prime minister of England. At eighty-five, Verde wrote the immortal “Ave Maria.” At eighty-seven, Michelangelo did his greatest work, rearing the great dome of St. Peter’s in Rome. And at ninety-eight Titian painted the great historical portrayal of the Battle of Lepanto.
What is the matter with our modern generation and our modern world is its negativism, its abject spirit of defeat. There is nothing so typical of our modern world as the existentialist philosopher who has sown down our universities and our academic world and even our Christian faith with a negativism, a hopelessness, a helplessness, as though God were dead and history had lost all of its meaning. One of the great professors in one of our modern universities says, “The race faces either extinction or meaninglessness.”
So many today are in sympathy with the doleful words of the poet Longfellow who said, “Life is nothing but a puppet show. There’s a little man who comes out and blows a trumpet, then goes back in. We wait for something new and what is it? Another little man comes out and blows another trumpet and goes back in, and so the cycle goes on forever.” Arnold Toynbee, one of the great historians of all time and a man of our generation, has said that our culture is dying, and upon its ashes there’ll be another reared. And in this post-Christian era the cycle will continue forever. There’s another great intellectual professor who says that history is like elephants with their tusks hanging on to the tail of the elephant in front, and so the circle goes on without end.
Is that so? There’s no meaning. There’s no God. There’s no purpose. There’s no goal in history. To the Christian, it is the opposite! For us, the great poet who said, “All time moves toward that one divine event toward which creation was made” [“In Memoriam,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson], to us history has a great meaning, and a great purpose, and a great goal! “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14].
To us, history is not just relentless waste beating on the shores of time, but it is a mighty, majestic river moving on to the great consummation of the age, “When the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He reigns for ever and for ever” [Revelation 11:15]. To us, the story is not scattered, and meaningless, and adventitious, but to us the story of Jehovah God, in His purpose for us, is one straight line starting in creation and ending in the kingdom! [Luke 12:32].
And however our time may be brief, and however our years may be fleeting, there is time, and purpose, and reaching toward the great goal of God’s choice for us, whether we be as Paul the aged, facing death, yet striving toward the goal, the prize for which God called him and sent him into the ministry [Philemon 9: Philippians 3:13-14].
If you had just a while to live what would you do? An old farmer who was plowing out in the field was stopped by his pastor, and in the conversation that came up, the pastor asked the old rugged farmer, “If you knew that Jesus was coming again in thirty minutes, what would you do?”
And the old farmer replied, “I’d plow this furrow to the end of the row.”
That’s what we ought to be doing. Does He come today? Does He come tomorrow? Does He come the next day or some other tomorrow? What do we do? We’re working, and watching, and waiting, and praying, reaching out toward that goal for which God called us and to which the Lord purposed us [Philippians 3:14].
And in that dedication, however brief the life, however fleeting the years, there is time and to spare; ah! there is so much to be done. There are so many kingdoms to conquer. There are so many souls to be won. There are so many children to be taught. There are so many families to introduce to Christ. We are never but just one generation away from paganism and heathenism. And our assignment is vast but bless God, that matched our souls against it, and to the end of the way we’re reaching out, and upward, and forward to the great prize that God hath set before us [Philippians 3:14].
So may the Lord work with us in great grace, and presence, and saving power as we bring to our people the program God hath laid upon the church, and as we preach the gospel and make appeal for the lost, and as we visit in the homes and knock at the door, and as we gather our people in classes and in worship services, and as we teach then the word and way and will of God, and as we present the cause and claims of Christ to their hearts, and as we baptize these God hath given us, and as we build up the church of the living God.
Master, however many the years that remain, may they be filled with the dedication that the apostle Paul knew when as an old man, and even facing martyrdom, still pressing on, still presenting Christ, still reaching out toward the goal for which God had sent him and called him into the ministry [Philippians 3:12-14]. No time for littleness, no time for lagging, no time for dying, but time and to spare to do God’s work in the earth.
And that is our appeal to your heart this day. Have you ever trusted Jesus as your Savior? Today, would you do it? [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Do you belong to the fellowship of God’s saints? Today, would you join this redeemed assembly? [1 Peter 1:18-19]. In a moment when we stand up to sing our appeal, accepting Christ as your Savior [Romans 10:9-10], putting your life in the circle of the church, make the decision now in your heart, and in just a moment when we stand to sing this song of appeal, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles: “Here I come, pastor. I’m making it now. I’m giving my heart to the Lord.” Or “I have done that, pastor. I’ve accepted Christ as my Savior, and I’m putting my life in the fellowship of the church. I’m bringing my whole family. This is my wife and these are my children. We all are coming today.” God speed you and angels attend you in the way as you come, as you come, while we stand and while we sing.