God’s Time Is Now
March 4th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
GOD’S TIME IS NOW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-4-79 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivering the morning message entitled God’s Time Is Now. This is the third and the last of a trilogy of sermons that the pastor has brought on a text in Acts chapter 24, verses 24 and 25:
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…
The first sermon was entitled The Most Tragic Words in the Bible. “When I have a convenient season, I will.” The second sermon was entitled Tomorrow Is Too Late. And today’s sermon is entitled God’s Time Is Now.
When Moses was called of the Lord to go down into Egypt to deliver His people, Moses said to the Lord, “When I go down there and tell them that God has sent me and they ask me what is Your name, what shall I say?” And the Lord replied, “Tell them My name is Yahweh, I Am That I Am. Tell them I Am hath sent thee” [Exodus 3:13-14].
God’s name is now. God’s name is presence. God looks at all time and all history now, in the present, not any past, not any future, always, now. He sees the end from the beginning. All the way through the years and the centuries and millennia are now before His eyes. He sees it as one great completed whole, a unit. It is now.
As a youth, I sat in a lower row in Soldier Stadium in Chicago watching an enormously long and continuous Labor Day parade come into the stadium. As you know, it is in a U shape, and down at that end that long, long parade came in unit at a time, band at a time, union at a time, group at a time. And as I sat there and watched them come into the stadium, growing weary with the long and tedious hours, I finally climbed up to the top of the stadium. And there from that high vantage point, I could see the entire parade from far up Michigan Avenue all the way down until it came into the stadium itself. And I saw it move as a unit from the beginning to the end.
We are down here in the stadium. And to us, things happen day at a day, moment at a time. Events come before our eyes piece at a time, unit at a time, but God in His great high vantage point sees the whole process of human history moving as a unit. He looks at all of it; the end, the beginning, the alpha, the omega. And to Him, it is always now.
There is a sense in which we are like God in that. We only have now, and we live in the present. We don’t have [yesterday]. That is gone forever. We have no assurance, or promise, of or mortgage on tomorrow. We only have now, this moment. The difference between us and God is that our now is but for a second, a brief, passing, fleeting moment; whereas, the now for God is eternal, forever and ever. The difference between us and God is we are finite and our present now is so brief, but for God it is infinite, it is enduring, it is forever.
But our life is always in the present, in the now. No [yesterday], it is gone and forever. No tomorrow, it has not come and we have no promise of it. No yesterday, it is gone and forever. Our only life is in the now.
The Lord’s brother James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, wrote:
Come now, ye that say; Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there . . . and buy and sell, and 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 time, and then vanisheth away.
Our lives, our work, our opportunity, our day of grace, our open door is for a moment. We also live in the now. And we have no promise of any tomorrow. That brings to us some of the most heavy responsibilities that mind could think of.
One concerns our children. We have them for just a while. Just for a moment. And in that while, in that now, in that moment, they are malleable. They are pliable. They are sensitive. They are responsive. But soon, they harden into a crystallized manhood and womanhood. And in that hardened crystallization, they are difficult to turn, or to change, or to convert, or to win.
There is a famous poem, “As the Twig is Bent.” When you see a tree that is twisted or bent or gnarled, there was a time when it was placed that way. It grew that way and could have been in another way. But now in the time that has passed it is hardened and unchanged; so our lives. I see grown men who are impossible to reach, yet had we been able to speak to them, witness to them when they were children, their hearts would have been tender and responsive. Our time with our children is just now, then the opportunity is gone forever.
I have seen children on the seashore playing in the sand. And the sand will filter through their fingers. It will sift through their fingers. And when I look at it, I think the child himself is like that. It is so easy for the child to slip through our fingers, and be forever outside of the pale of the appeal of God. If we are going to win men and woman, the time to do it is when they are children. Then they give to God not only a soul, but also a life.
As Gene Green prayed in his prayer, how fine and how good and how wonderful it is for a child to give his heart to Christ, then all of the years that remain in his life, he walks in the way of the Lord. God’s time is now for our children. God’s time is now for our friends, our employees, our acquaintances, for these who live close to us, who are our neighbors. God’s time is now, and how much do we need the reminder that this is God’s day for us in our witnessing and invitation to them? We are so often times forgetful of their destiny, but this is God’s time for us and for them.
Years ago, I was a part of a team that spoke to all of the sections of our great expansive state of Texas. It was put together by the executive secretary of our Baptist General Convention. And there were, oh, three or four of us that went from place to place over the state. All of the people were gathered together in convocation. And the purpose of it was to quicken the sensitivity of our churches and of our Baptist people to the Great Commission of our Lord [Matthew 28:19-20]: soulwinning, evangelism, the support and building of the household of faith.
A man in that team was a layman from a capital city in another state, and he and I roomed together. As we went from place to place, from convocation to convocation, I was always moved by the testimony of that layman. He was most dedicated; he was very fervent; he was really committed, and it moved my heart every time I listened to him speak.
One night, after the meeting was over, in our room, I asked him, “Where did you come from, and how is it that you are witnessing as you do?” Somehow I fell into the mistaken persuasion that it is a preacher who is witnessing for the Lord; it is the preacher who is out here giving his life to Jesus; it is the preacher who is pouring his life into that appeal. But a layman, a layman is busy with all of his other assignments in life. But that layman was so fervently dedicated. I asked him, “Where did you come from, and how come you to be doing this?”
He replied, “One day in my company, I called into my office a man who had been working for me for twenty-five years. And I said to him, “You’re either going to start producing or you’re going to be dismissed. I’m not going to put up with the slovenly, unproductive way that you work for this company. Now, you just make up your mind what you are going to do. And if you don’t get with it, you’re going to get out. And you do one or the other. You’re not going to stay here, if you don’t change.’
And the man replied, ‘Mr. Clarence, I understand. I’ve been slipping and I know it. And I need to do better.’”
“About two days afterward,” this layman said to me, “I went down to the office early in the morning.” And he said, “I wanted an adding machine, and I went from office to office looking for an adding machine. And I came to his office. I opened the door, and there on the floor, in a pool of his own blood with a gun in his hand, lay that man.”
“On the desk underneath his car keys there was a note. And it read, ‘You will find the car parked on the street by the side of the building. I am laying down this burden where I picked it up twenty-five years ago. Please tell my family.’”
“That day,” this layman said to me, “my secretary, who was a godly Christian woman, asked me, ‘Mr. Clarence, was Jim a Christian? Was he saved?’ I didn’t know. I’d never talked to him. I’d never asked him. And several times during the day, she mentioned it.”
“’I just wish I knew,’ she said, ‘that he was right with God, that he was saved, that he was a Christian.’”
And he said, “That bore heavily on my soul, for it was just two days before that I called him in and I said to him, ‘You’re going to get right or you’re going to get out. You’re going to produce or you’re going to be dismissed.’”
And he said, “I had watched him in these days before, and I noticed that he acted as though he had a heavy burden. He brooded. He seemed to be a man of a sorrowful spirit. But instead of asking him, ‘What is the burden on your heart? Can we pray about it? Can I help you? Is there something that I can do? Is God able to answer the need in your life?’ Instead of talking to him about the Lord and about Jesus, I just ripped him apart and threatened him with his job.”
Then he said to me, “Preacher, I cannot tell you the number of times that I have awakened in the night, seeing that man in his own blood, and hearing the question of my Christian secretary: ‘Mr. Clarence, do you know whether or not he was saved? Was he a Christian?’ And I replied, ‘I never talked to him. I never asked him.’”
And this godly man said to me, “It was then, and out of that, that I consecrated my life to the Lord. What I am doing now, I am trying to redeem the time. I’m trying to make up.”
That is so poignantly true for us all. How little a gesture and how small an effort is it to say something to a man about Jesus, a good word for our Lord. “Do you know Him? Have you ever met Him? As you face the decisions of life, do you ask the Almighty to see you through? We would love to have you”
The most wonderful thing in the world is to follow the Lord Jesus, a good word for the Lord. And yet, the days and the years pass, and we never say any word to these whom we know, with whom we work, by whom we live.
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,
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. Let me speak a good word for Jesus, now. Let me present that invitation, now. Let me invite to the Lord, now. Let me testify, witness, say what Jesus means to me, God’s time is now. Not only for our children who so rapidly grow into manhood and womanhood and not only for our friends, but God’s time is now for our witnessing church.
The apostle Paul said so poignantly:
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men;
We then, as ambassadors for Christ, beseech you that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
(For He hath said, I have heard thee in a time accepted, 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 5:11, 6:1-2]
God’s time is now!
Following the senior year of my high school in Amarillo, I worked there for the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company. And in the summertime, those combines never stop. I’ve been in that Panhandle, and as far as the eye can see, from horizon to horizon, those waving wheat fields. And in summertime, at harvest time, those combines never stopped. Twenty-four hours a day they were reaping, never stopping—for the time of gathering had come, the time of reaping had come.
In a like way it seems to me, I stand in a wheat field ripe unto the harvest. And as far as my eye can see, from horizon to horizon, the fields are white and ripened unto the harvest. But the laborers are few. And the Lord said in the [ninth] chapter of [Matthew], “Pray ye that the Lord will send forth laborers into His harvest” [Matthew 9:38].
And that’s why the new departure and the new commitment in our church. Yesterday morning, I came down to the church at ten o’clock with those youngsters, the younger teenage, the teen division. And after our instructions, they said, “This is the boy to go with you.” And so I shook hands with my little compatriot, Phil Smith, the grandson of God’s great, wonderful evangelist and preacher Frank Weedon. Well, as we started out, another little fellow started along with us.
So I said, “Well, who are you?”
And Phil said, “This is my little friend down the street. His name is Tim.”
So I turned to Tim and I said, “So you’re going with us?”
And he said, “Yes.”
Well, I said, “Tim, do you belong to any church?”
“Do you go to church?”
Well, I said, “Does your daddy go to any church?”
“Does your mother?”
“Do you have any brothers and sisters?”
“Do they go?”
Well, I said, “First of all, Tim, we are going to sit down here, and we are going to fill out our first card. What’s your daddy’s name, and what’s your mama’s name, and what’s your two brother’s names?” Right there, right there. Then we took our assignment out in the section of a city of Dallas, knocked at every door. I would take off my cap. They have a little green cap written “First Baptist Church.”
I said, “You change the color of that. The colors of our academy are red and white. And I don’t want them green and white. That may be somebody else out there. Red and white.”
So I knocked at the door, and I would take off my cap. And I would say, “My name is W. A. Criswell, and I’m from the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And we are just out here seeing how you folks are getting along. And are you going to church. And we are just interested in you.”
Ah, dear! Two-thirds of them said, “Why, I know you. I see you on television. I’ve heard you preach. I know you.”
One of them said, “I saw you on television last night.”
I said, “Dear me, what was I doing? God help me!”
And the little mother of that home said, “You were talking about pornography, and I just believed every word you said.”
Walk up and down that street, knocking at those doors, and such wonderful response. Some of them, of course, were not interested. Some of them, of course, were active in other churches. But all up and down that street, about a third of them, “We don’t go to church. And we don’t rear our children in the Lord.”
One of the men said, “No, I don’t go to church. I haven’t been here very long and don’t know anybody, don’t know where to go.”
“Well,” I said, “are you by yourself?”
“No,” he said, “I have a wife.”
And I said, “Well, do you have children?”
“Yeah,” he says, “we have two little girls.”
“Well,” I said to him, “would you like to know somebody?”
He said, “I would.”
“Would you like to go to church?”
And I said, “Well, you’ve just found the place, and you’ve just found the dearest friends in the world.” Took his name, his address, telephone number, his wife’s name and the name of those two little girls.
Once in a while I’d pray, once in a while, just have a feeling, there is a burden in that home, and they need the Lord. And I would say, “Could I pray?” Always, “It would bless my heart if you would.”
That’s where we ought to be, out there where those folks are. And if one happened to insult you, dear me, think of how our Lord was insulted. They covered His face with spittle [Matthew 27:30]. I’ve never been treated like that. They plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. They slapped Him on the face and said to Him: Call me by name! Who slapped you? [Luke 22:64].
For any little slight or slamming of a door in our face, it would be nothing compared to our Lord. And we’re no better than He. But the sweet reward of being out there where the people are: “The fields are white unto the harvest, the laborers are few” [John 4:35; Matthew 9:37].
O Master, we have found ourselves, and we have found our work, and we’re going to see what God does as we bring our sheaves with rejoicing [Psalm 126:6], God’s time is now. The harvest is now. The reaping is now. And this is the great present now for our dear church.
I have one other. God’s time is now for our responding people: this congregation. I have a certain meaning in that. One of the most unusual verses in the Bible is in 1 Chronicles 12:32: “And of the children of Issachar were men that had understanding of the times, to tell Israel what he ought to do.” Isn’t that a wonderful verse? The children “of Issachar were men that had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do.”
In the passage that you read: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: there is a time to sow, and a time to reap; there is a time to break down, and a time to build” [Ecclesiastes 3:1-9].
And our Lord said it like this in Matthew 16. “When the clouds are low and the sky is lowering, you say it is going to be bad weather. You can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” [Matthew 16:2-3]. There is not a man that lives in the world today that knows the answer to our international, national perplexities. There was never a time in the history of the human race when men were more perplexed than they are today. And there is fear and foreboding on every hand. What does this mean? The violent confrontation of Russia in Cambodia and China in Vietnam; they have a four thousand mile common border. What does that mean? And both of them are nuclear powers. What does it mean the endless confrontation in the Middle East? Almost like living with a gun at your head.
And there is not any economists in America that can even suggest the destiny of economic life of this nation. I was talking to a merchantman yesterday in the World Trademark who said to me that the activity and the buying is greatly subdued. What does this mean? Nobody knows. Nobody has an answer. Not the government. Not the economists. Not the merchant princes. Nobody knows. “Well, preacher, isn’t that a sign that we ought to pull in? We ought to cower. We ought to cringe?”
Thank God now, that for the first years and years in my life, my ministry began in the Great Depression. I began my pastorate in 1928. In 1929, in October on a Friday was the awesome crash of the stock market, and the economy of America disintegrated down and down and down for the years and years that followed after. That was my beginning ministry. As I look back over it, I thank God that it began in those terrible and frightful days.
Here’s what I learned. It’s in a time of fear and foreboding, it is in a time of not knowing and dreading that we need to preach the gospel of the Son of God, that Christ has an answer for our people and that God can lead us through every darkness and every trial to an ultimate and final solution and victory.
When men are affluent and prosperous, they have a tendency to forget God! But when times are troubled and we don’t know where to turn or what to do, that is the best time in the world to point men to Him who has all of the answers: who is the way, and the truth, and the life [John 14:6].
And that is this grand, glorious, glad open door that God hath set before us. Man, this is no time to retreat or to cower or to cringe. This is a time to march, to preach, to hold up the blessedness of the glorious answers we have in the Lord Jesus! God’s time is now.
Do you remember that old story? The general was losing the battle, and he called his drummer boy and said to him, “Son, beat a retreat. Beat a retreat.” But the boy replied, “Sir, I don’t know how to beat a retreat! I was never taught! But I can beat a march that will make the very dead to fall in line!” And that boy beat that charge, and they won the battle and the war. That’s what we need. This is no time to cower, or to retreat, or to cringe, or to make little plans. This is our greatest day! This is our sublime moment. This is the best time we’ve ever had to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, pointing to the Son of God, the Savior of the world. And we’re on the way. Bless His name, standing by our side, guiding us and leading us. O Lord, make this time our time, God’s time, the most glorious time we’ve ever known. God’s time is now!
And that is our invitation to your heart. Does the Lord say something you? Does He speak to you? If He does would you answer with your life? “God has called me to accept the Lord as my Savior, and I am coming.” “God has spoken me to follow the Lord in baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], and here I am.” “The Lord has invited us to put our lives in this dear church, and we are all coming, my whole family.” As the Sprit shall press the appeal to your soul, answer. Not tomorrow, it never comes; today, now [2 Corinthians 6:2]. “I am on the way preacher, just as soon as you will quit talking. I am on the way. If you will just hush up, I am ready.” Down that aisle, down that stairway, over here on this side, wherever, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God, and here I stand.” Do it now. Angels attend your way as you come, while we stand and as we sing.