Tomorrow Is Too Late
February 25th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
TOMORROW IS TOO LATE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-25-79 10:50 a.m.
Now today, in our preaching through the Book of Acts in these morning services, we are in chapter 24. And the passage is verses 24 and 25; Acts 24:24-25:
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 – not now, but tomorrow.
One of the deacons in our church, Ed Yates, came to me after the early morning service, and he said: "I remember a proverb that was quoted by Dr. Truett in one of his sermons: "The road to by-and-by leads to the house of never." Tomorrow is too late. "When I have a convenient season, I will; not now, but some other day, some other time, some other hour" [Acts 24:25].
This is a dramatic scene presented here by Dr. Luke in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. It is laid in the Roman Praetorium, the palace of the procurator of the province of Judea, in Caesarea. On a raised dais, on a throne is seated Felix, the procurator, and below him, on the pavement stands his prisoner, the apostle Paul, laden down with chains. And as the apostle preaches, as he delivers the message of Christ in the presence of the Roman procurator, the Scriptures say that Felix trembled [Acts 24:25]. He has an army. The Roman legions are at his command. But he is afraid.
The prisoner below him, laden with chains, is confident, full of assurance, and the glory of God. The man who sits on the throne, the Roman procurator, has the power of life and of death in his hands. He can speak a word and a prisoner is executed, as Paul later was. But it is the procurator who is afraid, not his prisoner. And as they stand there and sit there, and as the message is delivered, it is the most astonishing turn of fortune that the prisoner with his chains, is filled with the glory of the presence of God. And the procurator with absolute power at his command, with the whole Roman Empire back of any edict that he promulgated, is so full of fear and foreboding, he trembles.
It is a remarkable thing the way the author of the Book of Acts describes the message of the gospel. It says: "As Paul reasoned – as Paul reasoned." Isn’t that an unusual definition of the sermon of the message of God? "As Paul reasoned" [Acts 24:25]. I suppose, in God’s sight, the most rational and reasonable of all of the messages that ever could be delivered would be the reasonableness and the rightness of the preaching of the gospel of Christ, the Son of God. I do not know what Felix and his wife Drusilla expected to hear when they called for the apostle Paul. I would suppose, from the context, that they were interested in whiling away an idle hour. And, they expected the man to stand there and to entertain them with some kind of Oriental mysticism, or maybe cabbalistic, caliginous sorcery, or maybe theological speculation, or possibly the metaphysical meanderings of some backwater of rabbinical casuistry, or maybe some impossible, unheard of arguments, importunities that are neither comprehended nor remembered. I don’t know.
All that is said in the Scriptures is that when Felix, the procurator, and Drusilla, the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, listened to the apostle, he reasoned of righteousness, repentance, getting right with God; of temperance, offering to God, yielding to God the control of our lives, and judgment to come [Acts 24:25]. Paul wrote in the Corinthian letter: "Wherefore being filled with terror, we persuade men, righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come; the great Mighty God before whom someday all of us shall stand" [2 Corinthians 5:10-11]. As he delivered that message, Felix trembled [Acts 24:25].
But instead of answering God’s call, and yielding his life to the control of the Lord God who made him, and before whom someday he shall inevitably stand, his answer was, "Not now, but some other time. When I have a convenient season, I will. Not today, but tomorrow" [Acts 24:25]. He turned aside from the call of God and the message of the apostle. He stifled the voice of the Holy Spirit, and answered God’s invitation with the word, "Some other time, some other day; when I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25]. And that gave rise to the title of the sermon: Tomorrow Is Too Late. It destroyed his life. It destroyed his soul.
That tomorrow never came; it never does. That convenient season never arrived; it never does. All that it took to destroy the life and the soul of that Roman procurator was: "Not now, but tomorrow; when I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25]. He died, they say, a suicide. He died without God, without Christ, and without hope in the world. And the destruction lies in that simple word that he answered: "When I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25]. It will destroy anyone. It will destroy any soul. It will destroy any life. And most lives in our Christian culture are ruined and destroyed by that one answer, "Not today, but tomorrow, some other time. God calls, and I know it. My duty is plain. I recognize it. I hear the voice from heaven in my heart. I know what I ought to do. But someday, I shall. Not now, but tomorrow."
Most people do not violently oppose the message of Christ. Most people do not hate, despise the preacher. Most people do not look with contumely upon the church. They just don’t reply. They just don’t answer. They just pass it by. They put it off – what God calls them to do, to some other time, some other day, some more convenient season, and they drift into eternity without God.
An old-time seafarer will tell you that one of the dangers of the open waters is the floating derelict: the ship that is abandoned and dead, and floats aimlessly on the bosom of the deep.
There’s a ship floats by with a swaying lurch.
No crew, no sail, no spar.
And she drifts from the paths of her sister ships
To wherever the other wrecks are.
The song of her youth is hushed for aye.
Her name but she can say.
She drifts with the tide and whatever wind blows
And nobody knows where the derelict goes.
There is a man slinks by with a lurching gait.
No hope, no faith, no star.
And he drifts from the paths of his brother men,
To wherever the other wrecks are.
The song of his youth is hushed for aye,
His name but he can say.
He drifts with the tide and whatever wind blows
And nobody knows where the derelict goes.
[from "The Derelict," Robert Healy]
Drifting into eternity, without God. "Not now, some other day, when I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25]. But tomorrow is too late.
I could well conceive of a council meeting in hell, presided over by the prince of demons, by Satan himself, in true Miltonic dramatic form, as he presented it in Paradise Lost, this council in Hades, in damnation. And Satan asks: "What can we do to damn the souls and the lives of men?"
And one demon stands up and says: "I know what we can do. Let us tell them there is no God."
And Satan replies: "Fine. Excellent; a marvelous suggestion; let us tell men there is no God. And some of them will believe it. ‘But the fool hath said in his heart there is no God’ [Psalm 53:1], and not all men are fools."
A second demon stands up, and he says: "Let us tell them that the Bible is not true, that it is not the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, that it is the work of man’s hands. Let us tell them the Bible is not true."
And Satan replies: "A magnificent suggestion. Let us tell the world the Bible is not true. And some will believe it. But," said Satan, "it continues to be the bestseller in the earth. And when we speak about it, we but call attention to it. And they’ll sell the more copies of it."
A third demon stands up, and he says: "Satan, let us tell them that Jesus is not the Son of God, that He is just another man, mortal, like the rest of us. Let us tell them that He was not raised from the dead, and He is not in heaven to be the judge of all of the earth. Let us tell them that Jesus is not the Son of God."
And Satan replies: "A magnificent suggestion, and some will believe it. But," Satan says, "the more we speak about the Lord, the more His name is known, and the more He draws men unto Himself."
And a fourth demon stands up, and he says: "I know, I know. Let us admit all of it. Let us admit there is a God. Let us admit the Bible is true. Let us admit that Jesus is the Savior of the world, God’s Son. But let us persuade them, let us whisper in their hearts: ‘You answer God’s call, and you believe in God’s Son tomorrow – some other day, some other time, at a more convenient season."
And Satan whispered: "That will work. That is the best suggestion of all."
And the demons have been whispering in the hearts of men through the generations: "That’s right, God lives. That’s right, the Bible is true. That’s right, Jesus died for our sins, the Savior of the world, that’s right! But wait – some other time, some other day, and a more convenient season, give God your heart and your life, and obey the will and mandate and commandments of the Lord some other time, tomorrow, maÃ±ana, a more convenient season."
And that persuasion, evil, and iniquitous, and satanic, destroys us as it destroyed Felix and his wife, Drusilla. All of us say those words and all of us are hurt and destroyed by them. Baptists will move into the city. And they say, "Sometime we’ll join the church, some other day, at a more convenient season, not now. We want to look around. We want to watch. We want to see. We want to make a judgment. Not now, but some other time."
Children are told, "You’re too young. You don’t understand. Some other day, some other time, some tomorrow, but not now."
Young people are told, "You want to have a good time while you’re young. Sow your wild oats in the dawning of life. There’s a lot to see. There’s a lot to experience. There’s a lot to know. And don’t be a Christian now. You wait. You are too young."
Men and women in the prime of manhood and womanhood are told, "You’re busy. You have achievements. You have got great ambitions. And there is work to do, and you are too much engrossed to give time to the call and will of God. You wait, some other day; some tomorrow."
And the old man and the old woman, saying no to God all the days of their lives, are now waiting for some cataclysmic, catastrophic experience. They’re waiting for a light, or an angel from heaven. And it is always, "Another day, another time, a tomorrow." And it never comes. I don’t understand what happens to a man’s soul, and a man’s heart, and a man’s mind, when forever he says no to the call of God. But something breaks in him, something happens in him. And it is awesome to see it. I cannot enter into it. I just observe it.
One of the dear, dear Sunday school teachers of a church I previously pastored said, "All of the years of my life, I have pled with my husband to give his heart to Jesus. Would you come? He’s old now and he is sick. Would you come and plead and pray with him?"
I went to the home, went upstairs, went to the bedroom, sat down by the side of that old and sick man, and I pled with him the cause of Christ. "Without Him, we die in unforgiven sins. We are going to stand before the judgment bar of God someday, and give an account for how we responded to the invitation of the Lord. Accept the Lord now and be saved." I pled, I prayed.
And he began to answer, "Oh, it is too late! It is too late! It is too late!" And he raised his voice in a crescendo, ‘Oh, it is too late!’ When I left, he was crying, "It is too late!" When I walked out of the house, I could hear his cry in the upper room, "It is too late!" They took him to the insane asylum. He died there, with those words on his lips, "Oh, it is too late!" I don’t know. I cannot enter into the breaking of a man’s mind and the breaking of a man’s soul, when forever he says no to God. I just see it; the most awesome tragedy that can overwhelm human life.
In the days of the Flood [Genesis 7:17-24], when the rains began to descend, and the great waters began to rise, and those beat on the door of the ark saying, "Open! Open!" Why didn’t Noah open the doors of the ark? Because the Book says, "God shut the door. God shut that door" [Genesis 7:16]. When the five foolish virgins beat on the door saying, "Open to us!" why didn’t the five wise virgins who had entered in open the door? The Book says, "God shut that door. God shut the door" [Matthew 25:1-11].
I don’t know what this means when it says in the Bible, "My Spirit, saith the Lord, shall not always strive with men" [Genesis 6:3]. I don’t know what that means when Jesus said, "Whosoever denies the witness of the Holy Spirit to the saving grace of the Son of God hath never forgiveness in this life nor in the life to come" [Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:29]. I don’t know. What does it mean when God writes in His book, "Esau, who for a morsel of meat sold his birthright . . . found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" [Hebrews 12:16-17]. I don’t know. I just know it is an awesome judgment of God when the Lord says "Today" [2 Corinthians 6:2], and a man answers "Tomorrow"; when God says "Now," and the man answers "Some other time – more convenient season" [Acts 24:25]. Tomorrow is too late.
A last avowal: those words: "When I have a convenient season, I will. Not now, but some other time, some other day, some other morrow" [Acts 24:25], those words not only destroyed Felix; they not only destroy us; but they obviate, they negate, they destroy and deny any hope or opportunity we might ever have of serving God. The days multiply into months, and they into years, and the years into a lifetime. And the sun is setting, and the day is ending, and the life is closing, and all I have done is just something for myself, in this weary, lost, and left-behind world. And I come to the end of the way empty-handed, with nothing to offer God, having given my life to the vanities, and the ephemeralities, and the minutia, and the insignificances, and the inconsequentials of life. What a tragedy! And even if a man succeeds in it, he gives his whole life to the world and brings a shell, and a husk, and a carcass to Jesus. How wrong, how unjust, how unrighteous, for a man to hope that God would save his carcass, having given the strength of his manhood, or the strength of her womanhood to the world!
In a little village where I pastored, in the county seat town, there was a man who married a beautiful, beautiful girl. And they had two darling children, two little girls. And as so often happens, the man went off, and he left his young wife and those two darling little girls, and he went out into the world. And that dear, precious mother, penniless and helpless, moved to a little hovel of a cottage on the edge of that county seat town, and took in washing and sewing. She scrubbed and she labored, in order to support herself and those two darling little girls.
As the days passed, the little girls grew up. And due to her labor and her consecration to them, she brought them up in a beautiful way. They were darling young people. She gave them lessons on the piano and in voice, and she made possible their education. And they became two beautiful, fine, cultured, educated young women. As the days passed, a knock and she came to the door. And as she looked, there stood, in age and in illness, with all of the marks of sin and iniquity on his face – there stood her husband. And he asked, "Dear wife, could I come home? Would you take me back?" To the amazement of the community, she opened wide the door. She received him back. She nurtured him, and nursed him, and cared for him till he died.
Two things: one, you can’t help but marvel at the pity, and the love, and the grace, and the forgiveness of that wife and mother. Kind of like God, isn’t it? But the other observation: is there a man here – is there a woman, who would stand up and say, "He did the noble and the right thing?" On the face of it, without any word describing it, it’s the wrongest thing the man could have done: to give his strength and his life to the world, to sin, to iniquity, and to come back and lay a husk, and a shell, and a carcass at the feet of his wife and their home.
That’s what a man does to God. The Lord calls for our best and our finest in youth, in womanhood, in manhood, in life. And, we say, "I’m having too good of a time." Or, "I’m too busy. I’m employed. I’m seeking selfish and worldly goals and ends. God, some other day, some other time, at a more convenient season" [Acts 24:25], and tomorrow is too late. How many a life, will the recording angel, record after his name: "Too little and too late."
That’s why God says, in Isaiah 55:6-7:
Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near:
Let the unrighteous man forsake his way, and let the iniquitous man forsake his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
And that’s why I had you read the passage of the Scripture this morning:
We then, as workers together with the Lord, beseech you that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
For He saith: 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]
"Am I ever going to be saved? Then Lord, I want to be saved now. Am I ever to do God’s will? Then Lord, help me to do it now. Am I ever to answer God’s call? Then Lord, help me to do it now. While I have my mind, sane and balanced, help me to do it now. While I can make a decision, rational, and reasonable, and right, help me to make that decision now. While I have strength, while I am in my manhood and in my womanhood, Lord, help me to answer that call of God with my life now." May the Lord save, and may the Lord sanctify, and may the Lord bless, may the Lord encourage, may the Lord guide us, establish us, and defend us in the way.
And that is our invitation to you, so prayerfully, earnestly laid at your heart’s door this holy hour. In the balcony round, you; in the great press of people on this lower floor, you: "God has spoken to me and I’m answering with my life." "All of us are coming into the fellowship of the church, and here we stand." "God has asked us to follow him in baptism, here we come." "The Lord has spoken to me in a special way, and I have heard His voice, and I’m answering with my life." As the Spirit shall open the door, answer, come, stand by us. We’re on the journey to heaven; it’s a pilgrimage glory. Walk with us, journey with us, let angels attend you, and sanctify and bless you, and make you happy in the way, put a song on your lips and praises in your heart. Come, make that commitment now. In a moment we stand to sing that hymn of appeal; and as we sing it, down one of these stairways, you in the balcony; down one of these aisles, you on the lower floor: "Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart and life to God, and here I come." Bless you; God sanctify and hallow that decision as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
IS TOO LATE
I. The scene in that palace
A. Roman procurator Felix
sitting on his throne, Paul in chains below him
1. He holds the
power of life and death in his hands, yet he trembles
B. Felix and Drusilla
expected to be entertained
reasoned of righteousness, repentance and judgment to come(2 Corinthians 5:10-11)
answer – "When I have a convenient season."(Acts
E. But tomorrow is too
II. His answer destroyed him, his life,
A. Convenient season
B. All that it ever
takes is to just do nothing
1. Drifting into
eternity without God
a. Poem, "The Derelict"
III. It destroys us
B. Something happens in a
man when forever he says no to the call of God
1. Sunday school
teacher’s husband – "It’s too late!"
2. Those who beat
on the door of the ark
Five foolish virgins beating on the door(Matthew 25:10-11)
God’s Spirit will not always strive with men (Genesis 6:3, Mark 3:29, Hebrews 12:16-17)
IV. It destroys any hope or opportunity we
have of serving God
A. Coming to the end of
life having given whole life to the world
1. How wrong to
bring a shell, a carcass to Jesus
B. Man leaves wife and
two young daughters, only to come back in age, illness, bearing the marks of
sin and iniquity
C. God calls for our best
1. We will give an
account of how we responded to the Lord’s invitation
2. The time is now (Isaiah 55:6-7, 2 Corinthians 6:1-2)