God’s Time is Now
March 4th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
GOD’S TIME IS NOW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-4-79 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the message is entitled God’s Time is Now. This is the third of a trilogy of sermons that are being delivered on this text in Acts chapter 24, verses 24 and 25. The first was entitled The Most Tragic Words in the Bible; the second, last Sunday, was entitled Tomorrow is Too Late; and the third one, today, God’s Time is Now. The background of the text is so familiar to us by now:
And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will.
"Not now, tomorrow, not today, some other time," and the title of the message this morning, God’s Time is Now.
When Moses was called of the Lord to go down into the land of Egypt, to lead a deliverance for His chosen people [Exodus 3:9-10], Moses said, "If I go down there and tell them You have sent me, and they ask me, What is Your name? What shall I say?" And the Lord replied, "You tell them that My name is Yahweh, I AM THAT I AM. Tell them I Am hath sent me" [Exodus 3:13-14]. There is no yesterday with God. There is no tomorrow with God. Always there is just now with God. He looks at the end from the beginning. And all of it is present before His infinite eyes. To us things happen day at a time; they turn a corner, and we experience them, see them. But not for God. The whole panorama of human history, all of it is open before Him, and He sees it as present, as now.
As a youth, I was in Soldier Stadium in Chicago. It was Labor Day, and they were in a celebration that included an enormous labor parade, miles long. All of the different unions were there marching with bands, flags, banners, personnel. I was down in the stadium. And as you know, it’s built in a horseshoe, and at that end of the stadium the parade came in one at a time. And I sat there watching them come into the stadium, group at a time, one at a time, band at a time, unit, labor union at a time. After being there interminably, I was very tired, so I climbed up to the top of Soldier Stadium. And up there at that vantage point I could see the entire parade moving. Far up Michigan Avenue I could see the final contingent, and then down here see them come into their places in Soldier Stadium. And standing up there in that vantage point, I could see the entire parade moving together; down in the stadium, one at a time coming through that gate, through that entrance; up there seeing the whole parade moving together. A man is like down in the stadium: he sees events happen one at a time, each day, each hour, coming through the door one at a time. But the Lord God Almighty stands up there in His heavenly place, and He sees all history, all mankind, as present before Him. Here, here, here, here, here, the beginning, the course of history, the end, all of it is before Him, and it moves in the present.
To some extent our lives are also like that. Yesterday is gone and forever. Tomorrow we do not know, do not possess, do not have; we have no mortgage upon it. We only have now, this moment, and that’s all. The difference between us and God would be we are here in a moment, whereas He is forever [Psalm 90:2]. The difference is that we are finite, like a speck, like a moth living in a moment. Our now is this moment. In the infinitude of God, He is eternal. But in that sense, we also are like God: we have just now; not yesterday, it’s removed from us forever, not tomorrow, we do not possess it. We have just now, and we live only in the now. There is no yesterday; there is no tomorrow for us.
The apostle James, who was pastor, the brother of the Lord, who was pastor of the church at Jerusalem, said in his letter,
Come now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away.
Our only time is now; there is none other. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not ours to possess. We have just today. And that time is now.
This is true with our children. We have with our youngsters, now. And how we do with that today is the life of that youngster forever. There is a poem entitled "As the Twig is Bent." When you see a tree that leans, or is twisted, or is misshapen, when it is a strong hardened tree, you cannot untwist it or reshape it. But as a twig it could be bent in any direction and in most any shape. A child is like that: when the youngster is a child, he is so malleable, he is so pliable, he is so sensitive, he is so responsive; but when he becomes a man, a woman, the child is set, grown, mature, and very difficult to reach. The time to work with our children is now. Tomorrow they are somebody else. They grow into a hardened response. Many a strong man that I have tried to win to the Lord and have been completely unsuccessful, abysmally failing in it, would have been easily reached could I have talked to him when he was a child. How many times do we let our children slip through our fingers? I see them sometimes when I’m on seashore, playing in the sand, and the sand slips through their fingers as they play in the sand. And sometimes I think of our children like that: we let them slip through our fingers. The time is now to win our youngsters to the Lord. Tomorrow they are somebody else.
That is true with our friends and our neighbors, and our employees, and our acquaintances. The time is now; God’s time is now. To speak to them, to witness to them, to tell them our interest in them, to invite them to the Lord, God’s time is now. Some years ago, good many years ago now, I was invited by the executive secretary of our Baptist General Convention in Texas to be a part of a team to go to all of the sections of our large state and speak with the team about the Lord; evangelism, the church, its support and growth. And in that team was a layman. He had a big business in a capital city in another state. And I roomed with him in our journey through the state. He was a remarkable man. I don’t know why I ever got it in my head, but, it was a mistaken notion that it’s the preacher that was dedicated and the preacher was the one giving his life to the Lord, pouring all the interest of his soul into the testimony of Jesus; but a businessman was, in my mind – mistaken mind – was out there doing something else. Well, this man was fervent and dedicated and moving in his testimony. It was remarkable to me. Well, one night after the service was over and we were in the room together, I said to him, I said, "You’re one of the most remarkable men I ever knew. It is amazing to me the fervency and the dedication with which you witness to the Lord. And it’s moving." And I said, "I’d just like for you to tell me where you came from and how is it that you came to be like this, and why it is that you’re giving your life to this kind of a testimonial ministry?" Well, he said, "It came about like this. In my company, I had an employee who had been there for twenty-five years, worked for me for twenty-five years." And he said, "The man was not doing good, so I called him in. And I talked to him. And I talked to him straight. I said to him, ‘You’re going to produce, and you’re going to shape up, or you’re going to get out. Now you just make up your mind what you’re going to do. You’re going to get with it, or you’re going to get out; one or the other.’ Well, the man replied, he said, ‘I know, sir, that I’ve been slipping, and I need to do better. I know it.’ So he went on his way."
And that Christian layman said to me, "Two days later, early in the morning, I went down to the corporate headquarters. And he said, "I needed an adding machine that wasn’t in my office. So I went into the other offices looking for an adding machine. And I went into that man’s office. And when I opened the door, there he was in a pool of blood on the floor with a gun in his hand. He’d taken his life. And I walked over to the desk, and on the desk there was a note and the car keys on top of the note. And the note read, ‘You will find the car parked on the street by the side of the building. I am laying this burden down where I picked it up twenty-five years ago. Please tell my family.’"
He said, in the day that followed after that day, his secretary, being a very devout Christian woman, his secretary asked him, "Mr. Clarence, do you know whether Jim was a Christian or not?" And the man said, "I replied, ‘No. I never talked to him. I never asked him.’" And he said several times as they worked through the day, his secretary mentioned that man, Jim, "I just wish that he were a Christian," she would observe. And of course, his mind went back, he said, to two days before when he’d called him into his office and spoke to him so harshly. He said, "I’d been observing that he was burdened, and down, and blue, and sad. But," he said, "instead of talking to him about the burden on his heart, and about God who has the answers to all of our problems, and maybe praying with him, all I did was speak harshly to him and threaten him with his job." Then he concluded it. He said, "Preacher, I can’t tell you the times I wake up in the night seeing that man, who’d worked for me twenty-five years, in his own blood. And the question of my secretary, ‘Do you know whether or not he was saved? Was he a Christian?’" He said, "Out of that experience, I dedicated my life to redeeming the time, to testifying, to witnessing, to asking people about their souls. And that’s why you see me here."
The testimony of that man is for us all. It doesn’t take much to say a good word for Jesus; to be interested, to invite, and, if there is a response, to follow it up with another word and another invitation.
Around the corner I have a friend, in this great city that has no end,
And he is lost; a fine, strong man, but he is lost.
And I always plan to speak to him about God’s love,
Of Christ who came down from heaven above,
And of how He died on the cross to pay the sinner’s debt.
I think each day, Somehow I must speak my heart to Jim
Tomorrow I’ll have a talk with him
Tomorrow comes, and crowding cares clutter my day with busy affairs
The day is gone, and again I vow, Tomorrow I’ll speak to Jim somehow
My friend is lost, he does not know the peril he risks
He must not go year after year like this
And die, before I tell him how truly I desire
To see him give to Christ his heart
Repent, believe, and make a new start
But tomorrow comes, and tomorrow goes,
And the distance between us grows and grows
Around the corner, yet miles away,
Here’s a telegram, sir, Jim died today
While I delayed, thus came the end
Jim lost his soul, and Christ lost a friend
[Adapted from "Around the Corner" by Charles Hanson Towne]
God’s time is now. Now! God’s time is now.
Another avowal: God’s time is now not only for our children, and not only for these whom we know, but God’s time is now for our witnessing church. "Knowing the terror of the Lord," Paul wrote,
We persuade men [2 Corinthians 5:11]; we then as ambassadors for Christ, beseech you [2 Corinthians 5:20], that you receive not the grace of God in vain. For He hath said, In a time accepted have I heard thee, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation [2 Corinthians 6:1-2].
God’s time is now for our witnessing church. In the senior year of my high school, the summer following, I worked for J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company. And up there in the Panhandle around Amarillo, there were places where you could stand and from horizon to horizon see nothing but those vast wheat fields. And as I worked in the threshing machine company that summer, those men out there in those vast wheat fields never stopped their combines. Day and night, twenty-four hours, day and night, they ran those machines, for the fields were white unto the harvest, and tomorrow the grain would be lying lost on the ground. And they were reaping, never stopping. Our church is like that in this great city. Jesus Himself said, "The fields are white unto the harvest" [John 4:35]. And there is no service held in our church but that this is the last opportunity and the last hour that somebody will ever have. And the people that need to be won to the Lord are legion.
I said, "What boy are you going to give me, what teenager? They said, "This one. His name is Phil Schmidt. And when we started out, he had a little friend with him, Tim. I said, "Tim, do you go to church?"
"No, I don’t go to church."
"Do you have any brothers and sisters?"
"Do they go to church?"
"Do your parents go to church?"
"No." These two little boys are friends; they live on the same street.
I said, "Let’s sit down right here, and Tim, let’s write out your father’s name, your mother’s name, your name, and your two brothers and sisters. Let’s start right with you."
He said, "I’d be glad to, glad to."
So we started out, and we went up this side of the street and down that side of the street, knocking at every door. About two-thirds of the doors, when they were opened, and I’d take off my – they gave us a cap with First Baptist Church written – take off my cap to be courteous, and I’d say, "I’m W. A. Criswell from the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and we’ve just come to see you to find out how you folks are, and how you’re doing, and do you go to church?" Two-thirds of them would say, "Why, I know you. I listen to you. I’ve seen you. One of them said, "I saw you on television last night. I said, "On television last night?"
"Yes," she said, "You were talking about pornography, and I just believe every word that you said."
And a man come to the door, and I say to him, "My name, where I’m from, interested in you, do you go to church?"
"No," he said, "don’t go to church, just came to the city and I don’t know anybody, and I don’t know where, I don’t know, we’ve just come."
Well, I said, "Are you married?"
"Do you have any children?"
"Two little children," he says.
Well, I said, "Would you like for us to get acquainted with you, and to invite you, and to come to see you?"
He said, "I’d love to."
"What’s your name, and your wife’s name, and the two little girls, what are their names?"
The whole world is just like that: ripe unto the harvest, just waiting for somebody to say, "We’d love to have you. We’re interested in you. This is God’s place, and we’re God’s people, and the Lord meets with us. Come and welcome." The fields are ripe. The harvest is white [John 4:35]. The opportunities are great. God just needs somebody us, to extend a welcoming hand, to open our hearts. Once in a while, though I wouldn’t expect others to do it, once in a while I’d pray at the door. There’d be some something on the inside of me that’d say, "They’re having burdens in there," and I’d pray. What a privilege, what a blessedness. I just wish that I had the time to do it sixteen hours every day. I would love it; going from house to house, "How you folks doing? We’re interested in you." Have a prayer, say something. It’s what pleases God. God’s time is now [2 Corinthians 6:2].
Dear people, I don’t have time to finish my sermon. Let me add one thing for us. There is a sense in which God’s time is for us as a church. "The children of Issachar were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" [1 Chronicles 12:32]. Isn’t that a wonderful verse? And the one you read, "There is a time for every purpose under the sun; there is a time to break down, there is a time to build [Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3]. And in the marvelous Word of our Lord: "You can discern the face of the sky; but can you not discern the signs of the times?" [Matthew 16:3] – speaking of the weather that is lowering. Dear people, we live in troublous times. The sky is lowering. There is not an economist in the world that knows even how it’s going to be a month or two from now. And only God knows what all of the turmoil in these nationalistic decisions that are being made; Jew and Arab, Vietnam and China, Russia and the satellite world, England and all of the empire that it used to include that is now disintegrating. What does all of this mean? Nobody knows. Nobody knows. Nobody.
I was talking to a merchantman yesterday, who said, "Out there at the Trade Mart they’re not doing very good, which is a portent of heavy times that lie ahead. What do you do?" There are two possibilities sweet people; there are two. One: we can counsel with our fears and tremble. We can be afraid and pull in. We can be hesitant and withdraw. We can cower before our troubled times and the lowering clouds. That’s one thing we can do. This makes me glad I began my ministry in the days of the great Depression. Dear people, there is no time when the human heart needs God and the life needs the encouragement of heaven, and when a preacher has the golden opportunity to point to Him who knows all the answers, as in a day of turmoil and trouble and fear. Just the opposite of what you’d think. You’d think in days of prosperity and affluence and calm, that’s the great opportunity to deliver the message of Christ. Just the opposite: it’s in a day of fear and foreboding, and not knowing, and of trouble that the man of God has the opportunity to rise and to point to Him who is the way, and the truth, and the life [John 14:6]. This is a time for the church to march, to expand. God’s time is now [2 Corinthians 6:2].
Do you remember that old story? The general was losing the battle, and he called for his drummer boy and said, "Son, beat a retreat, beat a retreat." And the lad replied, "Sir, I can’t beat a retreat. I don’t know how. I was never taught. But I can beat a charge that will make the very dead fall in line!" He did. And the battle turned, and they won the war. That is we. No retreats. We don’t know how. We were never taught; we never learned. All we know is to march forward, upward, onward for God. And when you read the end of the story, we win [1 Corinthians 15:57]. We always do. He never fails. God’s time is now [2 Corinthians 6:2].
In a moment we stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And in this balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; down a stairway, down one of these aisles; "Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God. And my time is now." Give your heart to Jesus. Come into the fellowship of the church. Follow the Lord in baptism. Answer with your life, now; while we stand and while we sing.