Dr. W. A. Criswell
05-23-76 7:30 p.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Deathbed Repentance. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we are in chapter 55. And all of us take our Bibles and let us read out loud together the first seven verses [Isaiah 55:1-7]. Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 1 through 7. And if on radio and on television, you have opportunity to take your Bible and open it to the prophet Isaiah, do so, and where you are, read it out loud with us. Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 1 through 7. Now all of us reading it out loud together:
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.
Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for He hath glorified thee.
Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
And the text is verse 6: “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near” [Isaiah 55:6].
The background of the appeal is very evident. There may come a time when a man cannot find God, when it is too late. He has passed by, and forever, the open door of grace. When could that be? And that brought to my heart the subject of the message tonight: Deathbed Repentance, or Foxhole Religion.
Satan has something that he always whispers in a man’s heart, and it goes invariably the same: “You have plenty of time. They’re trying to rush you. Don’t give your heart to Jesus tonight, or this moment, or this hour. Put it off, some other day, some other time. You have plenty and lots of time. This God business,” Satan says, “can take place at some other day, at some other hour, maybe in some other year, maybe at the end of a lifetime, but not now. Put it off, some other more convenient season.”
That is what Felix did. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts when it says: “As Paul reasoned of temperance, and righteousness, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, but replied, Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will” [Acts 24:25]. “Not now, but tomorrow; some other day, some other time”; Satan whispers that in the heart of every man.
There’s something else that Satan whispers in the heart of every man. It is this: why miss the gladnesses and the joys and the pleasures of the world? You give them up if you become a Christian. If you’re going to give them up, do it at the end of your life, but right now, enjoy all the pleasures of sin for a season. Don’t give your heart to Jesus. Wait. Maybe on your deathbed, there will be time and to spare, and between now and then, you can enjoy all of the pleasures of the world. Maybe someday, give your heart to Jesus, accept the Lord as your Savior some other time, but not now.
Satan always whispers that in the heart of a man. Now God has something to say to you who are listening to that siren voice of Satan. God has something to say about deathbed repentance. And we’re turning to the Word of the Lord, and we are listening to what God says.
First: God says, no man has any mortgage on tomorrow. We do not know what tomorrow may bring. I may not have it. I may not possess it. I may not live to see it. God says, “Know ye not that your life is like a vapor? It is like a cloud. It appeareth for a moment, and then is gone away. For no man knoweth what tomorrow may bring” [James 4:14]. It is absolutely unknown to a man—any moment of any tomorrow. It is hid from our eyes, and God hath not promised us any day beyond the moment in which I live now.
There’s an old Talmudic story. A young man goes to the rabbi and says, “Rabbi, how long may I put off my repentance and be saved?”
And the old rabbi replied, “Son, you can put it off until the day of your death.”
Then the young man replies, “But Rabbi, when will it be that I die?”
And the old rabbi replies, “Then you must repent now, and get right with God now.”
So it is with us. We don’t know what any tomorrow may bring. It has been but a few days since one of the fine and dedicated members of our staff left the door right over there, walked just a pace beyond. In the street where she had the right-of-way, walking on the other side, struck down by a heavy car, and her life snuffed out in the moment.
We don’t know. I have now. I have this moment. I can decide for God now. I can ask the Lord to forgive me my sins now. I can be saved now. But I have no promise of tomorrow. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near” [Isaiah 55:6]; for the day may come when it is too late for me to find God.
A second thing that God says to us: God says to us that Satan deceives us when he persuades us that we have a good time in the worldly world, but that we give up gladnesses and joy and happiness if we become a Christian. He whispers that especially into the hearts of young men and young women. “Don’t be a Christian. Don’t give your heart to Jesus. If you do, you’ll miss all of the fun and all of the pleasures of life.”
That’s what Satan says. But God says: “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. God says the full life and the rich life, the happy life, the joyous life, the glorious life, is in Christ. It’s in God. It is not in the world.
I heard of a man who stood up to testify. And he said, “When I became a Christian, I gave up many, many things.” And could I comment? That’s correct. When a man becomes a Christian he gives up many things. So the man testified, “I gave up many things to become a Christian.” Then he named some of them. “I gave up the liquor bill.” He said, “No longer do I fall into delirium tremens, or am I terrified by hallucinations, or do I have a dark heavy hangover. I gave that up when I became a Christian.” Then he said, “When I became a Christian, I gave up the wrecking of my home and the leading of my children down to hell. I gave it up when I became a Christian.” Then he added, “I gave up, when I became a Christian, gambling my check away and leaving my family in want, in need, and in poverty. I gave it up when I became a Christian.” He said, “I gave up many things when I became a Christian. I gave up my dirty and foul mouth, and I gave up my dirty and evil mind. I gave it up when I became a Christian.” And he said, “When I became a Christian, I gave up the squandering of my life, and the squandering of my salary, and living in debts, and living in the chains that fettered me to sin and the world.” He said, “I gave it all up when I became a Christian. Now,” he said, “I am free of my chains. I am free of my slavery, and I am free in Jesus Christ. It cost me much,” he said. “I gave up much,” he said, “to be a Christian.”
Isn’t that the truth, the testimony of that man? What do you give up in the world to become a child of God? You give up its tears, and its despair, and its darkness, and its sin, and its dirt, and its filth, and its chains, and its slavery, and its night, and its death, and you walk out free into the love of the grace of God. That’s what God says. That’s what God has promised, and all of us who have accepted Jesus as our Savior have found Him unfailingly true. “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10].
What does God say about a man who puts off his repentance and his acceptance of Christ until, hopefully, his deathbed? What does God say about it? God says that our whole life belongs to Christ; all of it. One of the scribes asked Him saying, “Which is the great commandment?” And the Lord replied, Jesus answered him, and said, “The first of all the commandments is this: Hear, O Israel; the Lord thy God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy life: this is the first and the great commandment” [Mark 12:28-30]. Not just a piece; not just the end; not just the husk but the whole strength of our mind, of our heart, and of our life; it belongs to God.
In the days of the years ago, I was acquainted with a story in the county seat town where I pastored as a young man. There was a man there who had a lovely young wife and two darling little girls. He went off into sin and into the world, and left his wife with those two little children. She went to the edge of town, rented a little hovel of a house and took in washing and supported herself and those two darling little girls. They grew up and she gave them the finest education she could provide. And she placed them under the tutelage of a music teacher and they were taught in the beautiful arts. They became lovely young women.
And did you know that as the years passed, and those two little girls had been reared, and she had slaved for them and worked for them—did you know that as the years passed, her husband came back home? He knocked at the door and the wife came to the door and saw him standing there—at first, not recognizing him. Then—this is her husband. He was diseased, and his life was ruined, and wrecked, and decimated, and debauched, and destroyed in the world. And now, he had come back home and asked her to take him in. To the surprise of the whole community, she did just that. She opened the door. She invited him in, and she cared for him until he died. That is a magnificent thing for her to do. You couldn’t help but admire a woman who would open her door to a man like that and take care of him until he died.
But I wonder, if there’s anybody here tonight in this great throng or anybody who listens on radio or is watching this program on television—I wonder if there is anybody anywhere that would stand up and say that man did a noble deed. There’s something on the inside of us that says the man did a dastardly deed. The man is the scum of the earth. That’s the cheapest, dirtiest thing that a man could ever do. Are you planning to do that? Give your life to the devil and to sin and to Satan and to the world, and then come to the end of the way and cast at God’s feet a hull and a shell?
Tell me, isn’t there something on the inside of you that says the strength of a man’s life, his finest and highest thoughts, all these belong to God? And the man sun-crowned, ought to give his heart and his life to God in the strength of his days, and serve the Lord all the years of his life. “This is the first and the great commandment,” said Jesus. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy strength, and with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy life” [Mark 12:30]. We belong in strength to God.
One other thing does the Lord say about deathbed repentance. It is this: that character sets. It has a way of hardening. In the Book of Ecclesiastes the eleventh chapter, the Bible says: “As the tree falls, so shall it lie” [Ecclesiastes 11:3]. When a man has lived a certain way, somehow character solidifies, crystallizes, sets. That’s why there are so few men in years, in age, who are converted, as to be almost nonexistent. The number of men, who in age come to the Lord, are so few, they are hardly to be named. Why? I pled with a man one time in age who faced inevitable death, and his reply to me was, “Somehow I just cannot believe.” And he died in unbelief. When a man says no and no and no and no and no to the Spirit of God, he finally becomes a negation incarnate. He becomes a “no.”
There was a famous English physician who studied hundreds and hundreds of cases of deathbed repentance. He made notes of them through the years of his practice. Men who had lived outside of God, then facing death repented and accepted Christ as their Savior in order that they might go to heaven and escape hell when they died. He made note of hundreds and hundreds of cases. And he made notes of those cases where the man recovered. And you do know what the physician reported? He reported that in a lifetime of observation and working and watching hundreds of deathbed repentances, of the men who recovered and lived, he said only one out of all of the hundreds, only one continued in the faith.
That is my experience. In this city was a man who had a very famous business. And I went to see him in the hospital. And he said to me, “The doctors say I will surely die. Won’t you kneel down here by my side and pray and tell God that if He will give me life, if He will spare my life, I will serve Him all the rest of my days? You will see me every service at your church. I’ll be a faithful servant of God if He will let me live, if He will spare my life. Tell God that.” And I knelt by his side and holding his hand, I told God for him that if the Lord would spare his life that he would serve Thee all the rest of his days. And he said, “Amen.” Did you know, God heard the prayer? God blessed that man. The Lord raised him up. God gave him strength and health and length of days. And to my surprise, I never saw him in the congregation one time. Not one time that I know of did he ever even bother to attend, much less to give his heart and his life in service to Jesus. I buried him not long ago. He died outside the faith. He died without God and without hope.
There is a time for a man to be saved. It is now. This is the burden of the great text. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” [Isaiah 55:6].
“In the strength of my life, with the best thinking of my mind, I choose Jesus. And here I come, Lord, and here I am” [Ephesians 2:8].
On television, on radio, having listened to the Word of the Lord, have you put off giving your heart and life to Jesus? Turn, which is the word for repentance; turn and accept the Lord now [Acts 20:20-21]. Make the decision now in your heart. And in the great throng of people in this sanctuary this holy hour, if the Holy Spirit bid you come, will you make it now? “I decide in my heart now, and down that stairway or down that aisle, I am on the way” [Romans 10:8-13]. A family you, a couple, or just one somebody you, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make it now. Do it now, while God says now; while the open door is before us now, come; come and be saved. Come and receive Christ [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Open your heart heavenward and God-ward, “Here I am, preacher. I am coming,” while we stand and while we sing.
I. Satan saysâ€¦
A. Wait, there is
plenty of time (Acts 24:25)
B. Why miss out on
pleasures of the world?
II. God saysâ€¦
A. No man has a promise
of tomorrow (James 4:14)
B. Satan deceives about
the worldly life (John 10:10)
1. Testimony of
saved man and what he “gave up”
C. Our whole life
belongs to Him (Mark 12:28-30)
D. Character sets
E. Time is now (Isaiah