Tomorrow Is Too Late
February 25th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
TOMORROW IS TOO LATE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-25-79 8:15 a.m.
It is a gladness and a joy for us here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are getting ready to go to church, who are on your way to a service in the church. So many of you listen to this hour beginning the Lord’s Day with the message you hear from this pulpit. This is the pastor bringing the sermon entitled Tomorrow is Too Late. It is not a happy message; it is a tragic one. But so much of life is filled with just this: sorrow and loss and tragedy. And an instance of it poignantly is found in this incident in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, 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 scene, as you know, is in the Roman Praetorian palace in Caesarea, the capital of the province of Judea. And it is a dramatic scene. On some raised dais, on some kind of a platform with its seat, there was the Roman procurator Felix. And below him standing on the pavement is a prisoner. He is bound with chains [Acts 26:29]. It is the apostle Paul, God’s preacher and an emissary from heaven. And as the preacher delivers his message, it is a strange come-to-pass that the procurator trembles; he is afraid. And how unusual that is: the procurator has an army; that prisoner has nothing but chains [Acts 26:29]. And yet it is Felix the procurator who trembles [Acts 24:25]. The procurator has back of him the entire power of the Roman Empire; but he’s the one that is afraid. The prisoner, loaded with chains, is filled with confidence and assurance, salvation, glory. The contrast between the two is almost unthinkable and indescribable.
Felix trembled, with his position of power, with the army marching at his command, with the ableness of life and death in just a sentence he might say or a word he might pronounce; and that prisoner with his life on the line, subject any moment to the penalty of death—which finally he did receive—yet he stands there in amazing confidence, and the procurator trembles in fear [Acts 24:25]. The reason we are told is found in the message that the prisoner delivers. And what an unusual description of the preaching of the gospel: the text says, “And as Paul reasoned…” [Acts 24:25]. That’s an unusual thing, isn’t it? That the gospel message should be the most logical and the most reasonable, the most defensible of all of the words that the human heart can feel and the human mind can hear.
I’ve often wondered what Felix thought he would listen to, when he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the Christian faith [Acts 24:24]. I’ve just supposed that Felix and his wife Drusilla thought that they would be entertained for a while, listening to that prisoner. Possibly, they thought he would expound before them some kind of Oriental mysticism, maybe some cabalistic, caliginous sorcery, maybe some theological speculation, some metaphysical meanderings in the backwaters of some rabbinical casuistry, maybe unheard of arguments, strange and esoteric, that nobody could comprehend and nobody would remember. Instead, as the prisoner stands there with his chains [Acts 26:29], and the Roman procurator sits on his throne, Paul reasons and he delivers the gospel message. Paul reasons of righteousness, repentance, turning, getting right with God, temperance [Acts 24:25]—that is, yielding to God the control of your life—faith, and judgment to come. As Paul wrote in the Corinthian letter, “For we in terror persuade men, for we all shall stand at the judgment seat of Christ” [2 Corinthians 5:10-11], and as he delivers his message, the Holy Spirit convicts the Roman judge: he trembles [Acts 24:25]; but instead of answering with his life, accepting the gospel, turning to the Lord in faith and belief, he answers, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will” [Acts 24:25]. He answers the preacher with, “Some other day, some other time.” He stifles the Holy Spirit, “When I have a more convenient season, I will. Not now, but tomorrow” [Acts 24:25]. And that gives rise to the message of the morning, Tomorrow is Too Late.
These words destroyed the life and the soul of the procurator. That’s all that it took. The convenient season never came. The tomorrow never arrived. He died, possibly a suicide, away from God, lost, without hope and without the Lord. And that’s all that it took to do it: “Not now, but tomorrow; some other time, some other day, I will, but not now” [Acts 24:25]. I would suppose that most of the men and the women who live in the circle and circumference of the Christian world and who are acquainted with the gospel message of Christ are just like that: not that they viciously and vilely oppose the gospel message, but they do nothing about it. “Some other day, some other time; not now, tomorrow”; and they drift into eternity without God and without Christ [Acts 24:25]. They are lost, not because of some heated and stated and forensic opposition to the gospel message; but they are lost, they face eternity without God, they die without the Lord because they just drift into that final judgment.
An old seaman would say to you that one of the dangers of the open sea is the derelict, the ship that is dead and just drifts, abandoned on the open waters.
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 dead ships are.
The song of her youth is hushed for aye,
Her name no man can say,
She drifts with the tide and whatever wind blows
And nobody knows where the derelict goes.
There’s a man slinks by with a lurching gait,
No hope, no faith, no star,
And he drifts from the paths of his brother man
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.
[“The Derelicts,” Robert Healy]
“Tomorrow, some other day, some other time”; and tomorrow is too late. Drifting into eternity without God: “When I have a convenient season, I will; not now” [Acts 24:25].
In my humble persuasion, that is Satan’s smartest device to damn and to destroy the souls and lives of men.
I could well imagine a council in hell presided over by Satan himself. And the subject is, in Miltonian Paradise Lost dramatic form, the council concerns how is the best way to damn the lives of men. And as Satan presides over that Miltonic, fiendish, hellish council, one demon stands up, and he says, “I know how to damn the lives of men: let’s tell them that there is no God.” And Satan replies, “A fine suggestion. We will tell them 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. We need yet another suggestion.” And another demon stands up, and he says, “I know what we shall do: let us tell them that the Bible is not inspired, it’s not the Word of God” [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. And Satan replies, “A magnificent suggestion. We shall tell them in their academic professorial chairs, and from their pulpits, and then from the witnesses up and down the streets that the Bible is not true, it’s not the infallible, inerrant Word of God, it’s not inspired. But,” says Satan, “it still remains the best seller of all the books in the earth. And when we mention it, people go buy it. We need another suggestion.” And another demon stands up, and he says, “I know what we shall do: let us tell them that Jesus is not the Son of God. He didn’t rise from the dead; He is a mortal man like any other man. Let’s tell them Jesus is not the Son of God.” And Satan says, “That’s a good suggestion. We shall tell them Jesus is not the Son of God. And there will be many who will believe our suggestion. But,” said Satan, “the more we talk about Him and the more we mention Him, the more He draws men unto Himself.”
And another demon stands up and he says, “I know. I have a suggestion: let’s admit it all. Let’s admit that there is a God Creator in the universe. Let us admit that the Bible is the inspired Word of the Lord. Let us admit that Jesus is all that He said He was. Then let us whisper in their hearts, ‘But do nothing about it; some other day, some other time, at a more convenient season, tomorrow.” And Satan said, “That’s it. That’s it. That will work.” And it does. There are not many who are standing on platforms decrying and debasing and denouncing the reality of God. There are not many of the great masses of people who denounce the infallibility of the Holy Scriptures. There are not many who are stumping the land ridiculing and scoffing at the claims of the deity of our Lord. But they are everywhere, everywhere, “I know I ought to respond, I know I ought to turn, I know I ought to believe: going to do it, tomorrow, some other time, some other day. I’m going to serve God tomorrow.” And that destroys us in the same way that it destroyed the Roman procurator Felix.
All of us are destroyed by it. All of us are saying it: Baptists who move into the city, “We’re going to join the church; but it isn’t convenient this moment. Someday, some other time.” Children whose hearts are touched by the Holy Spirit of God: “We’re too young. Wait until we’re older.” Young people who are drawn by the Spirit of God to serve the Lord in the flower, in the youth time of life: “We’re having too good a time, too much fun; and to love the Lord would take that away”—one of the most vicious misrepresentations of life in the world! For the happy life and the glorious life always is the Christian life. But Satan whispers that: “Not in youth time. You’ve got wild oats to sow. You’ve got things to do, revelries, all the unspeakable things that the underworld offers, and the world of sin and compromise offer; not you. Some other time. Some other day.”
That’s the answer of many men and women in manhood and womanhood: “I’m too busy working and achieving and advancing. Sometime I intend to make peace with God before I die; but not now. I’m too busy achieving and advancing and being successful and forging ahead in the world.” And finally old age: “Sometime I hope to see an angel from heaven, or a light, or to have a great cataclysmic experience. Someday I’ll be saved.” And the years waste away, and the life is lost and destroyed. Tragic, sad, the most sorrowful words human heart could ever say: “Tomorrow, tomorrow”; but tomorrow is too late.
One of the women, godly, devout Sunday school teacher, in our church where I was pastor, said, “Please, my husband is getting old and he’s now so ill. I’ll pray with you and for you. I’ve witnessed to him for the years and the years of our marriage. And he always says, ‘Not now.’ Would you plead that he accept the Lord as his Savior?” I went to the home, I went to the upstairs bedroom, I talked to that husband, I pled with him about the Lord; and as I pressed the invitation to accept Christ as his Savior, he answered, “Oh, it’s too late, it’s too late, it’s too late.” And somehow, I don’t know how demons rule the spirits of men, but it triggered something that had happened in his soul, and he couldn’t stop repeating the word, “Oh, it’s too late, it’s too late.” And the crescendo of the rising sound of his voice rose higher and higher, “Oh, it’s too late, it’s too late!” I left the room, his saying that. I left the house; I could still hear him say that. They took him to the insane asylum. And he died saying that: “Oh, it’s too late. It’s too late.”
What does that mean? What enters the spirit of a man that shuts him out from the kingdom of God? It is a vastness of judgment into which I cannot enter. Why didn’t Noah open the door of the ark when they crowded round and the waters began to rise? God shut the door. God shut the door; not Noah. God shut the door [Genesis 7:16]. Why didn’t the five wise virgins open the door when the five foolish ones knocked, saying, “Open to us!”? I don’t know. The Book says God shut the door; God shut the door [Matthew 25:1-13]. I cannot enter into those awful sentences in the Bible, when God speaks, saying, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” [Genesis 6:3]. I cannot enter into that awesome sentence, when Jesus said, “And he that refuses the testimony of the Holy Spirit hath committed a forever unforgiven sin” [Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29]. I don’t know what the Bible means when it says, “Esau found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” [Hebrews 12:17]. All I know is that a man plays with his eternal destiny when God says, “Now” [2 Corinthians 6:2], and he answers, “Tomorrow, some other day, some other time.”
A last observation: tomorrow is too late. “When I have a convenient season, I will” [Acts 24:25]; it not only destroyed his life and soul, it not only destroys our lives and our souls, but those words forever destroy any hope and any opportunity we would ever have of serving our Lord. When the days have multiplied into months, and they into years, and the years into a lifetime, and we are still waiting on that “some more convenient season,” somehow we are robbed of any hope and of any opportunity to be a servant and a yokefellow and a fellow helper in the work and kingdom of our Lord. For the life is gone; and to bring to God at the end of our days a husk, a shell, a remnant, a remainder, a piece, a part, a carcass, somehow isn’t right. The very thought of it is one of self-rebuke: that I would give the strength of my life to evil, to the world, to sin, to the things that are blandished around me, the ephemera of just a day, and then at the end hope to find some kind of mercy and pity in the grace of God, somehow isn’t right. Going to serve God, I need to do it now while I have strength, and I have my mind, and I’m sane, and I’m strong, and I’m able. If I’m ever going to serve God, I ought to do it now.
In the county seat, where I was in the county the pastor of a little village church, there was a man who had a beautiful and precious wife, and they had two darling little girls. And as so often happens, he left; he went away. And he forsook that young wife and those two darling little girls. She was helpless, she was penniless, and in that long ago day she moved to a little hovel of a house on the edge of the town, and took in washing. And as she scrubbed, and washed, and labored through the days and the years, she took care of those two beautiful little children. And as those girls grew up to be teenagers, and then young women, she gave them the fruit of her hands and the labor of her life. With what she earned from scrubbing and washing, she taught them music, she provided for them lessons at the piano and in voice. And she sent them to school. And she saw that they were educated. And they were beautiful and darling children, poised, at home in any company. The mother had paid the price for the care, and the culture, and the education, and the dressing, and the manners, the personality of those two darling girls. She poured her life into that effort. And one day, and one day, at the end of the way, there came a man and knocked at her door in that little hovel on the edge of the town. And when she opened the door, she looked at a stranger. Sin had left its mark in his face, and the very stoop of his physical frame. And as she looked at him intently, she recognized her husband. And he said to his wife, “Dear wife, could I come home? Would you receive me back again?” To the astonishment, to the amazement of the whole community, she opened the door, she received him back, and she nursed him and nurtured him and cared for him until he died.
There are two things about that that are obvious. Number one: you can’t help but stand in amazement at the forgiveness, and the kindness, and the charity, and the pity, and the love, and the grace of that wife. And the second is no less obvious and true: there’s not a man under the sound of my voice, and there’s not a woman who lives who would stand up and say, “That man did a noble thing.” He gave his life to the world and to sin and to iniquity, and then at the end of it, he brings a carcass and lays it at the feet of that dear wife who had poured her life into the education and into the support of those children. What a man ought to do is to stand up, “This is God’s call for me, this is God’s assignment for me; and while I have strength, let me be true to that high calling in Christ Jesus. Let me work, let me serve, let me be God’s man while I have the sanity and the balance of my mind, while I have strength in my arms, while I have ableness in my days. Let me serve God now.”
That’s what it means when it says, “Paul reasoned, Paul reasoned of righteousness, and controlled life given to God, and the judgment to come” [Acts 24:25]. It’s right for a man to serve God. It’s right for a youth to give his life to the Lord. It’s right for men and women and families and young people to walk in the light of the glory of the Lord now [1 John 1:7].
Is not that what God says in His earnest appeals to our souls? Isaiah 55:6, “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” And is not that the wonderful passage of appeal that you read in unison together? “We then, as workers together with God, beseech you that you receive not the grace of the Lord in vain. (For He saith, In a time accepted I have heard thee, and in a day of salvation I have succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation)” [2 Corinthians 6:1-2]. Not tomorrow, that’s too late; not when I have a convenient season, it never comes. If I’m ever going to give my life to God, Lord, help me to do it now. If I’m ever going to work for Jesus, God bless me as I dedicate myself to that task now. Tomorrow is never in the vocabulary of God: to Him it is always now. The Holy Spirit never pleads “some other day, some other time”; the Holy Spirit always pleads, “Now, today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” [Hebrews 4:7].
And that is our earnest appeal to you this holy and sacred hour. What does God say? What does God speak? If it is to some of you to put your life in the fellowship of the assembly of God’s saints, put your life in the church, answer, answer, “Now, Lord, I will.” Does God whisper in your soul, “Accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior”? Answer, “Lord, I will” [Romans 10:9-10]. Does God whisper an assignment, a call in your life? Answer, “Lord, here am I, send me, bless me, use me now” [Isaiah 6:8].
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and as we stand to sing it, a family to answer, a couple to answer, or one somebody you to answer, “God has spoken to me, and I’m coming. Here I am, pastor. The Lord has bid me come, and here I stand.” However the Spirit shall speak, answer with your life, now. “Beginning this day, this moment, before God, may He help me as I answer His call and His will for my life. Here I stand.” If you are in the balcony on that last row, that topmost seat, there’s time and to spare, come. In the press of people on this lower floor, into one of those aisles and down to the front, make it now. May angels attend you and the Holy Spirit of God bless you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.