THE URGENCY OF THE HOUR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-25-76 7:30 p.m.
We welcome you who are sharing with us this service over the radio, KRLD. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor expounding a text in the Book of John. And if you will turn with me to the ninth chapter of the Book of John, we shall read out loud the first five verses together; John, the Fourth Gospel; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the Gospel of John, chapter 9, the first five verses, and sharing your Bible in the auditorium, or picking up one in the pew in front of you in the rack. And on the radio if you will get your Bible and read out loud with us, it will be a blessing before God for us all. John chapter 9, the first five verses, now reading it out loud 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.
Before I begin the exposition of the text, I cannot but make a comment that comes out of the years of a pastoral ministry. So many, many, many times will people say to me, “I must have done some great and heinous sin that such sorrow or tragedy should have overtaken and overwhelmed me.” Nothing could be further from the spiritual truth. Sin always has a corollary and a concomitant, but there are in our lives many sorrows and many tears that are in no wise connected with our personal wrongdoing before God.
If so, if suffering was always a corollary of a personal sin, then our Lord and Savior, the Christ Jesus, would certainly have been the greatest of all sinners. And think of the Christian martyrs, Paul and Peter, who laid down their lives in suffering for Christ. It is just that sometimes and in some instances are the sufferings that we bear due to our sins. There are some that are very apparent. When some people sin in a certain way, they incur a social disease that destroys their lives.
There are some things that men do that are followed by a judgment now upon their sins, but in no wise and by no means are the tears, and the heartaches, and the troubles, and the sufferings we sustain in this life due to some heinous and grievous sin that we have committed before the Lord. So the Lord answered the disciples who thought this man being blind, therefore he must be an object, a pitiful one of some tragic wrong.
So they asked the Master, “Who did it? Did he do it or did his parents do it?” [John 9:1-2] And the Lord said in no wise did neither, not the man nor his parents, but that the glory of God might be manifested in him [John 9:3]. As with Job, as with our Lord, as with Paul and Peter; their sufferings magnified God, and many times how we bear our trials and our tears exhibits to the world our finest credential of a trust and a commitment to Christ. Then the Lord added, “I”—the best manuscripts will inevitably read ‘we’—including you, including us, “we must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4].
And the title of the message is The Urgency of the Hour. And it follows the two tremendous clauses, avowals of our Lord in the text, John 9:4: “We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day”—then—“the night cometh, when no man [can] work.”
One of the most unusually gifted and consecrated ministers of all the story of Christendom was named Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He was a young fellow who burned out at about twenty-nine years of age. He died in the very height and peak of his ministry. There was hardly a preacher, a pastor, who ever shepherded God’s flocks in Scotland like Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He had a tremendous effect upon Christendom even while he lived, and that marvelous influence of a consecrated ministry has blessed the world ever since.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne had a watch, a pocket watch, and on the dial he had painted a setting sun and underneath the words written, “The night cometh.” What we do, we must do now, for tomorrow sometimes never comes. And my open door and my opportunity is now, for “the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4]. The little time that I have, the little interval, the great intermission between my birth and my death is a gift of God. Time is an endowment from heaven. You cannot buy it. You cannot merit it. It is something that God bestows upon us from His gracious hands.
And to our great surprise, the only one in God’s universe that is sensitive to it is the man that God made in His own image [Genesis 1:27]. A mountain is not sensitive to time. The hills are not sensitive to the passing hours. Oceans and stars heed not the years of an eon or an eternity, nor is beast or an animal sensitive to the passing of time. It is something that belongs to a quickened conscious, to a moral sensitivity.
A child is not sensitive to time. If you’ve ever been in a hurry and you have a little boy or a little girl that you’re trying to push along and encourage along to, “Come along, we’re late,” couldn’t be more unconcerned or indifferent in your life than that little child about your haste and your hurry.
It is something that comes in our moral quickening; our sensitivity to time and time is the block. They are the blocks, the minutes, and the hours, and the days out of which our lives are constructed. I am in this life put together with time, this day and yesterday’s day and tomorrow’s day. It is a gift of God, and the Lord has said, “the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4], when the time is done and the inexorable hour is achieved and we lay this burden down.
Nothing is more inexorable than the passing of time. We can take a clock and stop its hands, but we cannot stop time. We can take a wristwatch and stop its works, the little wheels that mark off the seconds and hours, but by no means can we stop the great onward movement of time in our lives. Time is always inexorable.
The great planets in their spheres, in their elliptical circles around the sun, move without haste. They are no second early, they are no second late, but they move in God’s orbits and in God’s time. They cannot be hushed, or delayed, or hastened. They move according to the inexorable mandate of Almighty God. And no less does time move in our lives by the inexorable mandate of Almighty God! We are here this minute in God’s gift and grace, there another minute, and when the night cometh it is all over [John 9:4].
Time is not only exorable, it is elusive; that is, it cannot be stored up for another day or another tomorrow. One of the unusual passages we find in the Bible concerns Felix, the procurator, Roman procurator of Judea. When Paul preached the gospel to him [Acts 24:24], “Felix was moved and trembled and answered, ‘Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee’” [Acts 24:25]—thinking to store up on some tomorrow the opportunity that he had that day; it never comes. It never arrives. Time is elusive. What I do, I must do now. I have no promise of any tomorrow.
And time is irrevocable. I cannot call it back. It does not return to me. If I have missed an opportunity yesterday, it never returns again. I cannot live yesterday over again, nor can I do yesterday what I should have done on that forever and passing day. The mill cannot grind with water that is already passed down the stream.
Listen to the water mill
All the livelong 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 watermill.
Oh, the wasted hours of life
That have floated by!
Ah the good we might have done,
That is lost without a sigh!
Love we might have had
For only a word,
Thoughts conceived, but never penned,
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.’
[“The Lesson of the Watermill,” Sarah Doudney]
Time is irrevocable. If I lose it, I have lost it forever. “The night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4].
Now the other avowal of our Lord in this text: “We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day” [John 9:4]. “We must work the works of Him that sent Me.” We must work the works of God who has called us and assigned us to our day, our lot, and our life. We must.
You know it is interesting to look at that little word d-e-i in Greek, dei, translated always, “must.” Dei in the Greek always followed by an infinitive, translated “must.” Necessity, urgency, must, we must work the works of God who has called us. The use of the word in the life of our Lord, it is so poignant. He will say even as a child, “Wist ye not, did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” [Luke 2:49]. Or again, He will take the disciples and explain to them that “the Son of Man must suffer, and be crucified, and die in Jerusalem” [Luke 9:22]. Or coming to the day of His crucifixion, He says to His disciples, thus it is written and the Scriptures must be fulfilled [Mark 14:49]. Or He will say in His preaching, “Ye must be born again” [John 3:3, 7]. Or He will avow again, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” [John 3:14-415; Numbers 21:8-9].
The urgency and the necessity expressed in that word, “We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day” [John 9:4]; what are these works of God? One: we must find God in our personal lives. To miss God, and to miss heaven, and to miss eternal life is to miss the great holy purpose for which we came, were born into the world. I may amass a fortune. I may be politically famous. I may have every human advancement in art, in culture, in song, in literature, in journalism, in real estate, in banking, in commerce, in affluence. In every area of human life I may excel, but if I miss God, if I fail to find Him, I have missed the great and holy purpose for which I was born into the world. I find no rest, cannot unless I find it in God. Like the dove that Noah sent out from the ark; “It found no rest for the sole of its foot, so it returned to the ark from whence it had been sent out” [Genesis 8:8-9].
So it is with us in our lives. There are no rests except as we find that infinite rest in the love and purpose of God for us. Nor can a man feel that he is come to that place for which he was born and made until he finds himself doing the will of God. When a man is outside of the will of God, he is restive and will never find quiet in his heart. I see that so oft times in a man whom God has called, say, to be a preacher, and he won’t be a preacher; he’ll never be happy, and he’ll never be at rest. He’ll live in misery, and in unrest, and in dissatisfaction, and in unhappiness all the days of his life. If God has called you into a work and you don’t do it, you’ll never find rest and you’ll never be happy.
We must work the works of Him that sent us into this world, or we will never find peace and joy and rest in our lives. I, as you know, I am now preaching through these State Evangelistic Conferences, and I say unashamedly, I say to my fellow ministers, “I wanted to be a preacher. I wanted to be a pastor, and when I was a small, small child, I looked with awe and reverence upon our pastor, and I thought how wonderful it would be, as a child, if God would call me to be an undershepherd of a flock.” And from the earliest time that I can remember, I longed to be a pastor and a preacher, and so gave my life to that call as a small child. When I was in the elementary school, I was studying to be a preacher and all through high school. And when I was seventeen years of age and went to the university, I went down there as a young minister of the gospel, preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God.” And I tell my fellow ministers, “I had rather do what I do for nothing than what anybody else does for pay. I love it that much.”
Did you know in one of those conferences, a young fellow came up to me, and he said, “You just don’t know what trouble you caused me.” He said, “I heard you say that at one of these conferences, ‘I’d rather do what I do for nothing than what anybody else does for pay.’” And he says, “My deacons met and cut my salary half in two!” I said to him, “Well, my young friend, you must remember, I say that carefully when I’m a thousand five hundred miles away from the church.” No, I would say it to the chairman of our deacons who is here tonight, to our brethren and our sisters in Christ in the congregation.
I love doing God’s work in the church. I love working at it twenty-four hours a day if I could stay awake that long. This is the will of God for me. Nor is it because I am pastor of this church and have a famous pulpit, I felt that way when I was pastor of my little church of eighteen members. And I felt that way when I was pastor of my little church of forty members. And I felt that way when I was pastor of my little church of a hundred ten members, and I have felt that way through all of the years since.
There is not anything as beautiful and as precious, as graciously good as to be in the will of God. “We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day” [John 9:4a]. And we must ask God for strength and for help in that assignment. Whenever you give yourself to the work of God, in our hearts there may be fullness, and joy, and infinite gladness, but it does not mean that our assignment does not have also with it hardship, and toiling, and groaning, many disappointments, and frustrations, and tears, and agony, and blood, and suffering. But that’s all right. If we’re doing God’s will and God’s work, that’s all right. The tears that fall or the sacrifice that is made; it is a small thing by which we come before God with these works we pray will be acceptable in His sight and will merit heaven’s favor and blessing.
When I was a boy in Amarillo, in the center of a vast, vast, vast world of raising wheat, I worked for two summers as a boy in high school between times of schooling. I worked in the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company, and when the time came for harvest, those fields up there sometimes would be from horizon to horizon with waving grain. When time came for the harvesting of the wheat, the combine never stopped. All day and all night, and all day and all night, those farmers were harvesting the golden grain. And the company would stay open all day and all night, for a combine or a thresher might break down and a part was desperately needed. And they’d drive into the city of Amarillo and buy the part, go back and start the combine or the thresher again.
That in a way is like us. “The harvest is white, it is ready,” Jesus said so [John 4:35]. And the night cometh when we can’t reap, and it’ll be too late, and the harvest day is past. “We must work the works of Him that sent us, while it is day: for the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4]. What I do, I must do now. If there is a testimony to be offered, I must offer it now. If there is a witness to be made, I must make it now. If a soul is to be won, I must win it now, for “the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4].
Now let me close for our time is spent and past. Now may I make appeal to you, to give your heart in faith and in trust to the Lord Jesus? Oh, how precious in His sight, when one turns in repentance and in faith to accept the Lord Jesus! There’s no one can deliver us but God. Sin has such a strangle hold upon our lives, we are helpless before it. “There is no man that sinneth not” [1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36], and does not have in him the judgment of death [Ezekiel 18:4]. We are a dying people.
One of the great, great sculptured pieces of all time is that Greek Laocoon. Do you remember it? There is a father and on one side and on the other side, a son. And there are two serpents that have entwined and crushing the father and the two boys to death, one of the finest pieces of statuary ever discovered out of ancient, ancient Greek. The story of Laocoon; he was a priest of Apollo and Neptune, and he angered Zeus by seeking to dissuade the Trojans from opening the gates of the city to allow the Trojan horse to come in. And the mythological story was that out of anger Zeus sent those two serpents from the sea, and they entwined around Laocoon and his two sons and slew them, crushed them to death. You’ve seen that statue or you’ve seen pictures of it or copies of it and the agony that is expressed in the face of that father as he wrestles against those serpents and sees his sons on either side crushed to death. The artist, whoever he was, unknown, caught the spirit of agony and so chiseled it in that father’s face. As I look upon that piece of statuary, all of us are Laocoons, all of us. The serpent of sin, and of weakness, and of the lust and pride of the flesh, chokes, crushes all of us to death. Nor can any man deliver himself. He cannot raise himself from the grave. He cannot forgive his sins, and he does not have strength to cope with these of the dark other world that overwhelm him. Our hope lies in Christ [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]. It is in the saving ableness of our Lord that we are delivered [Hebrews 7:25], and this is the purpose for which He came into the world, that we might be saved [Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10; Hebrews 10:5-14].
As you have listened on radio, wherever you are, if you’ve never found in Christ Savior, Friend, Helper, Deliverer, would you turn in trust to Him now? [Ephesians 2:8-9]. “Tonight, dear Lord, I open my heart to Thee; come, forgive, wash, cleanse, save. I receive Thee, Lord Jesus, as my own personal Savior.” And in the great throng of people in this auditorium, in this sanctuary, in this holy moment, tonight to open your heart Christ-ward and heavenward, “Tonight I take Jesus as my Savior, and here I am and here I come.” Down one of these stairways, or walking down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor. I make that decision for Christ tonight, and I’m coming.” A family you to put your life in the church; a couple you, or just one somebody you answering God’s call, make it now. Do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
URGENCY OF THE HOUR
I. The urgency of time (John 9:4)
A. Robert Murray
B. Time is a gift of
1. Belongs to a
2. Time is the
blocks out of which our lives are constructed
C. Passing of time
D. Time is elusive; it
cannot be stored up (Acts 24:25)
E. Time is irrevocable;
it cannot be called back
II. The urgency of need
A. We must work
of the word “must” by our Lord (Luke 2:, 9:22, Mark 14:, John 3:7, 14)
B. We must find God in
our personal lives
1. Like the dove
Noah sent out (Genesis 8:9)
2. Outside the
will of God man is restive and will never find joy