THE TRAGEDY OF ALMOST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-24-79 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Delivering the message entitled The Tragedy Of Almost.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26. And last Sunday, the message was on verse 27. It was entitled Believing What The Scriptures Say. The text was: "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest." Having delivered his message of salvation, how God had miraculously and wondrously converted him, saved him, he makes appeal to the king. And because the king is Jewish, he asks him concerning his belief in the Scriptures. And then answers his own question: "I know that thou believest."
The next two verses are our text today. "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except for these chains, these bonds" [Acts 26:28-29].
It is somewhat enigmatic what Agrippa meant when he said en oligo, translated here, "Almost, en oligo, thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
And when Paul answered, he said: "I would to God, that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were both en oligo kai en megalos such as I am, except for these bonds."
Almost certainly, of course, Agrippa meant by that en oligo, in brief, in summary, "In these few words, you are persuading me to be a Christian. What you mean in summary, in brief, you want to be a Christian."
And then Paul replies: "I would to God, that not only you, but all that are in this company today, were not only en oligo but en megalos whether in brief, or in expansion, in much, that you were as I am, except for these chains."
Another meaning, of course, is the one in the King James Version that I have just read; "en oligo almost, you persuade me to be a Christian."
And Paul said: "I would to God not only almost, but altogether en oligo en megalos, you were such as I am, except for these bonds."
However Agrippa meant the reply and however you translate those words, the result is the same: to come to the very door of the kingdom of God and refuse to enter in, to let the great opportunity pass by – so near and yet so far away; almost, but lost.
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Mark, the Lord speaks to a most intelligent scribe and says to him: "Thou art nigh to the kingdom of God" [Mark 12:34]. But so far as we know, he never entered in – just near, but so far away.
In the passage that we read together, of the rich young ruler, the Lord invited the young man to forsake the world, to give it up, to give it away, and to follow Him into everlasting life. And when the Lord invited him, Mark uses a word to describe the countenance of the young fellow, stugnazo [Mark 10:22]. The word is used just twice in the Bible. In Matthew 16:3, stugnazo is used to describe the sky in a storm. And it is translated there lowering, the lowering clouds. The second time it is used is to describe the face of that young man. When the Lord invited him to forsake the world and to follow Him into life eternal, the fight, the civil war, the conflict, the young man had in his heart registered in his face, stugnazo. But he sorrowfully and sadly turned away – so near, so nigh and yet so far.
That is always one of the most poignantly tragic of all of the developments and providences in life – to be so near God, to be so near salvation and yet so far away: Never enter in, never find the Lord as Savior, and to die without Him. Almost, but lost.
As most of you know, I came to be pastor of the church in the days of the Second World War. At the end of the war, there was rejoicing on every side. There was a mother in this congregation who had a son for whom she prayed through all the years of the war; daily, momentarily asking God to protect and keep her boy. And through the years of the war, he fought in the theater in Europe.
At the end of the war and victory was granted, the lad called his mother saying, "I’m coming home. I’m coming home. The war is over and I’m coming home." Coming to the United States and on a United States transport plane from the East Coast to Dallas, before it arrived in Dallas, the plane crashed and the boy was killed.
I took a businessman with me out to see the mother. He was a hard-nosed businessman here in the church. And he was not accustomed to crying. I don’t know whether he had ever cried in his life. But as I tried to comfort that mother, whose boy had fought through the years of the war, and now was coming home, died just before he arrived at his mother’s house, that hard-nosed businessman sat there and wept like a child.
The sorrow was trebly heightened by the years of his tremendous danger and then now the victory was won, almost home and then killed in the crash. Life is like that in every instance, where a man almost comes into the kingdom and then passes it by.
Why would that ever obtain? Let us ask them. Almost persuaded and yet never respond. Sometimes a reply will be made. "I am waiting on someone else." That is explicable and almost pardonable and certainly understandable. "I’m waiting on my husband." Or, "I’m waiting on my wife." Or, "I’m waiting on my children." Or, "I’m waiting on my parents."
But God says in the fourteenth chapter of the epistle to the Romans, each one of us must give an account of himself to God. I am born for myself. I must breathe for myself. I must live for myself. I must die for myself. I must be judged before God for myself. You cannot be born for me. You cannot breathe for me. You cannot die for me. You cannot be judged before God for me. I must be born. I must breathe. I must live. I must die. I must be judged for myself.
There are times when alone and naked we stand before God, just God and I. And one of those times is when I make this great decision for the Lord. However others may do, wherever they may go, whatever decision they may make, this is a choice that lies between the soul and between God. God grant that we lead the way and may others follow after through the door into the kingdom.
Almost, but lost. Why do some pass the kingdom by? Ask them and some will say: "I am just timid." "I am afraid." "I don’t have the courage to walk down that aisle, and stand before all of those people." And in timidity, they refuse to step into that aisle and down to the front to confess their faith in the Lord. I can understand that, and anybody who would love you could enter into that. But this is something that God demands of us. It is not something that we invented. It is not something that the pastor thought up. This is a part of what it is to be committed to Christ and to be saved – to make an open, and public, and unashamed avowal of our acceptance of Him.
It was the Lord Jesus who said in Matthew 10:32-33: "If thou shalt confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father which is in heaven. But if you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father which is in heaven."
In the tenth chapter of the epistle to the Romans, verses 9 and 10, the apostle Paul writes the great plan of salvation: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He liveth, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believest with a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." It is God that demands that of us. And if God demands it of us, God will give us strength to do it. Trust Him for it. When the appeal is made, however timid or reluctant or fearful you may be, take that first step. "I will, God helping me." And God will give you strength for the way – not only this hour, but for all of the unfolding days and years that lie before.
And then look, when you give your heart to the Lord, the angels see it in heaven, and Jesus says, they rejoice [Luke 15:10]. And in this congregation and in this sacred service, when you come down that aisle and profess your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, there are two thousand eight or nine hundred or three thousand people here who rejoice here with you. Everyone of us is glad. Sometimes so glad, I have seen people shout all over the church over those who had come to the Lord. There’s no joy so movingly blessed and happy that we experience like seeing you give your heart to the Lord.
"The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" [Revelation 22:17]. God’s people rejoice in your coming.
Almost, but lost. Why? Sometimes people will reply: "I’m just as good as they are. Why should I make any confession of faith in the Lord?" Or, "Why should I seek to be a member of the body of Christ, of His church? Look at all of those hypocrites down there. Look at all of those people who say they are Christians and they don’t act like it. I am just as good as they. Why should I respond?"
Oh, my friend, there is not anything that could be sadder than a reply to the Lord like that! On the way to heaven, on the glory road to the life that is to come, somebody breaks down, somebody strays away, and because somebody breaks down or somebody strays away, therefore, I’m not going. Ah, what kind of thinking is that? You and I, all of us are under the judgment of death. All of us. All of us. We face certain and inexorable and inevitable death. And we need Somebody who can save us. Somebody who can deliver us. Somebody who can heal us. Who is that Somebody? Let me find Him!
In the morning paper, there is a large headline about this epidemic of rabies in southern Texas. That is the most awesome disease in the earth. The man that dies of rabies dies in convulsion, in madness. It is a horrible spectacle, one dying in rabies. It brought to my mind a poignant, dramatic incident in the life of Louis Pasteur. Pasteur was the professor of chemistry in the Sorbonne, the great university in Paris, France. And he discovered immunization, inoculation, vaccination. He discovered that by taking the dread disease itself and feeding the virus into the veins little at a time that the body would build up antibodies against the disease and so be spared. Pasteurization, the killing of bacteria, came from him, Pasteur.
The dramatic incident I read in the life of Louis Pasteur was this. From the steps of Russia, far, far away, there came through Europe and finally to Paris a strange looking group of Russians. Their dress was strange, their speech was strange, and their looks were strange. They had been bitten by an animal, afflicted with rabies. And facing a certain and awesome death, someone had told them that in Paris, France there is a man named Pasteur who can save you. So that company, strange looking and strange speaking, from the heart of the steps of Russia, they made that trek across northern Europe and finally to Paris. And they had one word on their lips: Pasteur, Pasteur, Pasteur!
Hope and life and healing lay in finding Pasteur, coming to Pasteur. Can you imagine that group who had been bitten by a mad dog and were dying of rabies, can you imagine on their way to Pasteur seeing someone fall by the wayside and they say because they fall by the wayside, I will not go. It is unthinkable!
I am a dying man, and the judgment of death is written upon me! Where is Someone who can heal me and save me and deliver me? Jesus. Jesus. Jesus! However there may be something wrong with us, or however they may be fault in the church, I find no fault in Him at all! Our eyes upon Jesus, not upon this one, that one or the other one. Where is He who can deliver me from this judgment of death? Take me to Jesus.
Almost, but lost. Why? Once in a while someone will reply: "I am afraid that I can’t live the life. I am afraid I can’t hold out." I remember as a teenage boy holding a revival meeting under a tabernacle, an open tabernacle. Every night there came an old, old man and sat on the front row right there. Moved.
And I talked to him, "Why don’t you give your life to the Lord? God speaks and the Spirit calls. Why aren’t you saved?"
And he replied, "I am afraid that I cannot hold out."
An old, old man, nearing the grave, refusing because "I am afraid, I cannot hold out." That’s true, he can’t, but God can. We’re not holding on to God. But God is holding on to us.
Put your hand in the hand of the Man who walks on the water. Put your hand in the hand of the Man who raises the dead. Put your hand in the hand of the Him who some day shall split the bosom of the sky. Put your hand in the hand of the Lord Jesus. He is able to keep us forever. He has promised, and He will not fail! There is no more moving promise than in 2 Timothy 1:12: "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day."
Think of Hebrews 7:25. "He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him." Think of the word of the Lord Jesus in John 10:27-30: "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand. My Father, who gave them Me, is greater than all: and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one." When I place my hand in the hand of God, my salvation now is a matter of God’s promise, God’s truthfulness, God’s keeping His word with me. And He will not fail. He would not deceive us or mislead us. Put your hand in the hand of the Lord.
Almost, but lost. Why? Often times, one will reply: "I’m going to be saved. I don’t intend to be lost. I don’t intend to die without God. But not now. Some other day. Some other time. Some other moment. At a more convenient season, but not now. Not now.
Ah, if you knew when your hour of death would come, if you knew what the morrow may bring, you might have cause to work out a deal like that with the Lord. You might bargain with the Lord. "Now, Lord Jesus, these days I’m going to give to the devil. And then this day, just before I die, why, I’m going to give that day to You." Maybe you could work out a bargain like that with the Lord. I don’t know why you would want to. I don’t know how you could think that that’s right, or honest, or fair, or just, or good. "I’m going to give my life to evil, and to the world, and to Satan, and to unbelief, and to the devil, and when I get to the end of the way, why, I’m going to bring the husk and the shell for You. And I’m going to hope for You to have mercy upon this carcass and save me."
But people think like that. Most people do who refer to the call and claim of Christ. "I don’t intend to be damned. I don’t intend to die without God. I don’t intend to live forever in hell. I intend to be saved. But not now. Some other day. Some other time." Ah, how the Lord speaks to us. He says in 2 Corinthians 6:2: "Behold, now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation." The Holy Spirit in the Bible never says tomorrow. Never. Always the language of the Holy Spirit is now. It is now. Always now, as the third chapter of Hebrews pleads with us: "Today, today, now, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart."
Think of that proverb, Proverbs 27:1: "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a morrow may bring." No one of us has a mortgage upon any tomorrow. I don’t know what it may bring. I have just now. And it is just now that I have the right, the prerogative to make a decision for Christ!
Ah, what can happen on the morrow. Right in front of our church, as you know, is the Y. I go over there to exercise. In these years past, there was a Braniff pilot who also regularly went to the Y. His wife belonged to our church, and she prayed for him so earnestly. And I talked to him, I spoke to him, I pled with him about the Lord Jesus and about the call of the Christian life.
I so poignantly, deeply remember on a Thursday of talking to that young Braniff pilot, pleading the cause of Christ. Did you know he went out to the field, assigned his plane. Lifted up into the air, landing in Chicago, the tip of his plane hit a sign board. He killed himself and all of his crew and all of his passengers. I guess, ten thousand times have I wondered if that young man could have turned, if he could have listened. Was there just a tiny error in judgment, that had he been God’s man and Christ’s man would have saved his life and all of his crew and all of his passengers? I just know that no man can boast of tomorrow; for we know not what any tomorrow may bring.
"I have this moment. I have today. I have this service. I have this appeal. And I’m going to answer it with my life." "I am seated in the balcony with my family. I am going to gather up my family, and we are all coming today." "I am seated here with my wife and both of us are coming today." "I have my child with me, and we are coming today." Or, "I am seated here in this congregation by myself. I don’t have any family with me. I don’t even have a friend, but I am coming this day, this moment, this hour and avow my faith in the blessed Lord Jesus."
Our people, all of us will remain here praying for you. In a moment we shall stand in silent intercession asking God to speak to you and asking the same Lord God to place it in your heart to answer with your life. In the topmost balcony, on that last row of seats, there is time and to spare; down one of these stairways and here to the front; in the press and throng of people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, "Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God. Today, the Lord helping me, I have decided for Christ, and here I am." Putting your life with us in this dear church, answering God’s call, make the decision now. And in a moment when we stand for the invitation hymn, stand up walking down that stairway, walking down this aisle. That first step will be the most blessedly meaningful you have ever made in your life. Make it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.