When I Have A Convenient Season I Will
February 18th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
WHEN I HAVE A CONVENIENT SEASON I WILL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 24: 25
2-18-79 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled When I Have a Convenient Season I Will; the most tragic words in the Bible.
Ed Drake called me, and he said, "Why don’t you use a subtitle for your message, namely, Don’t Spend Another Night with the Frogs." And then he quotes from Exodus 8:8, 9, and 10, "And Pharaoh said, Entreat the Lord for me; and I will do His bidding. And Moses said, When? And Pharaoh answered, Tomorrow." That is a unique interpretation: Don’t Spend Another Night with the Frogs. That happened when Moses called up frogs out of the Nile River, and they went to bed with them, and they were in the kneading troughs, and they were on the tables, and they were everywhere [Exodus 8:1-6]. And when Pharaoh said, "Get rid of the frogs!" why, Moses said, "Well, I will be glad to. I will be glad to entreat the Lord. And when shall I entreat the Lord?" and Pharaoh said, "Tomorrow!" [Exodus 8:8-10]. And so Ed says, "Don’t spend another night with the frogs; let’s get rid of them now." Well, he has got the idea about this sermon.
The most tragic words in the Bible, "Not today, but some other time; tomorrow." And it is from the story 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 –
Isn’t that a fine descriptive word of a good message from God?
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.
"When I have a convenient season, I will," not now, some other opportune time, tomorrow. It is interesting to me, as I read through the Book of Acts, there are two men in this book who as they listen to the gospel are described as "trembling before it." One of them is described in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the Philippian jailer. When he heard the gospel, he trembled, and fell down before Paul and Silas [Acts 16:29]. The other is Felix, this Roman procurator of the province of Judea. When he heard the gospel message he trembled [Acts 24:25]. Both of the men reacted in the same way. Yet their response was so diametrically opposite. When the Philippian jailer trembled before the presence of the Lord, he cried, saying, "What must I do to be saved?" [Acts 16:30]. And that night, believing, and with all of his house, he was baptized, became a convert to the Christian faith [Acts 16:31-34]. The other reaction is on the part of this man Felix. When he heard the gospel, he trembled before it. But unlike the Philippian jailer, accepting, and believing, and being saved, his answer was, "When I have a convenient season, I will. Not now, but tomorrow" [Acts 24:25].
I have labeled those words the most tragic words in the Bible. There are awesome and frightful words that you can read in the Bible, things that people have said that are terrible. Here is one: as the children of Israel were wandering through the wilderness, they cried to God, saying, "Would to the Lord we had died in the land of Egypt!" [Numbers 14:2]. Those are tragic words. With all that God was doing for them, and with them, and with all the promises that the Lord had made to them, instead of rejoicing in the elective purpose of the Lord for them, they say, "Would God we had never heard about you.
"Would God we had died in the land of Egypt."
"Would God we had never seen Moses."
"Would God we had never crossed the Red Sea."
Terrible words, frightful words in the Bible. Here is another one: the wife of Job in the sorrow of his affliction, said to him, "Curse God, and commit suicide" [Job 2:9]. Those are terrible words. To face the providences of life, whatever they are, with an awesome, unbelieving, rejecting spirit, "Curse God, shake your fist in His face; curse God, and commit suicide." What a helpless and abysmally sorrowful answer to the providences of life. Here is another word that is tragic: they said, "He casts out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devil; and the Lord said that is the unpardonable sin" [Matthew 12:22-32]. Terrible words, tragic words that a man can say.
But out of all of those tragic words, terrible words, frightful words, awesome words that a man can say, I think these are the most terrible, and the most fearful, and the most frightful. On the outside appearance of them, they don’t seem to be; but the very innocuous sentence hides the threat and the menace in it. So I have labeled them the most tragic words in the Bible: "When I have a convenient season, I will; not now, but some other day, some other time" [Acts 24:25]. And I have four reasons why I think they are the most tragic.
Number one: because everybody is saying them. There are very few people who discount the providences of God in violent, and vicious, and vitriolic tones. There are not many people who say, "I would I had never heard of God." Again there are not many people who are about to commit self slaughter, as Job’s wife counseled her husband [Job 2:9]. And I think there are very few people who commit the unpardonable sin [Matthew 12:31-32]. But everybody says these words, everybody, "When I have a convenient season, I will." Everybody. There’s nobody but who says them. The drunk man says, "I’m going to change tomorrow, some other day; but not now." And he continues being a drunkard. The modern name for it is an alcoholic. But he continues because he’s going to quit some other day, some other time, but not now. The evil man says, "I’m going to reform tomorrow. I don’t intend to continue in this iniquity and evil; I’m going to change some other day, some other time, tomorrow." The lost man does not intend to be damned and to fall into hell; he’s going to be saved, but he’s going to be saved tomorrow, some other time, some convenient season. Everybody says these words.
We say them; the Christian says them, "I’m going to rededicate my life tomorrow."
"I’m going to do better for Jesus, tomorrow."
"I’m going to work and serve God, tomorrow."
"The Lord’s going to find me in His vineyard at His task, tomorrow."
"Not now, but some other day."
And the whole church will say, "We’re responsible for the souls of this city, all of them. And we are going to try to reach these lost people, tomorrow, some other time, but not now." The most tragic words in the Bible: "When I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25]; because everybody says them.
He was going to be
All that a mortal should be,
No one would ever be
Better than he,
Each morning he stacked up
The letters he’d write.
Each evening he’d recount
The battles he’d fight,
He was a man
Who’d work like a fiend,
The world would have known him
Had he ever seen,
But the fact is he died
And faded from view.
And all that was left
When living was through,
Was a mountain of things
He intended to do,
["Tomorrow," Edgar Guest]
"Some other day, not now."
"When I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25].
Number two: why are these the most tragic words in the Bible? Because they paralyze our volition and our will; they paralyze our souls. You don’t need to do anything to be damned in your life. All you need to do is to fail to respond. And as the lack of response characterizes your life, you will find yourself unable to respond. That’s the strangest fact of life that you could ever observe. Take my arm. I can just use my arm, take my arm and bind it to my side, and leave it bound for a certain period of time. And then loose the bondage, and I can’t raise it, I can’t use it. The nerves have atrophied, the muscles have withered, and I cannot use my arm. Stop my ear, and leave it stopped for a certain length of time. And then unstop it. I can’t hear. I am deaf. For the lack of its use the nerves have atrophied, they have withered away. Close my eye and leave it closed for a certain period of time. And I can’t see out of it. It has lost its ability to react to wavelengths. I’m blind in it.
One of the strangest things I ever saw in my life was to look at fish in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. They are just like all other fish. And they have eye sockets where their eyes ought to be, but they have no eyes in them. For the generations they have lived in that dark cave in Kentucky, and they have lost the ability to see. They have no eyes. We are like that in our souls, in our volitional wills. If we don’t respond, the day comes when we can’t respond. The volitional will has atrophied; it has ceased to be able to respond.
Now, a man is like that when he hears the gospel of Christ. Felix trembled [Acts 24:25]. What a tremendous impact the message of Christ made upon his heart. And a man is like that: he will be deeply moved by some presentation of the will of God in his life, deeply moved; but he doesn’t respond. The next time he is moved less. And the next time the emotional response is even less. And finally the day will come when he can listen to the gospel message of Christ and never be moved at all, never. "When I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25], the most tragic words in the Bible.
I think of the people that I have known, many, many, to whom I have preached, many, many, to whom I have witnessed, many, many, who when they first were approached were deeply moved; then as the days passed, and time multiplied, came to the place in life when they were not moved at all. "When I have a convenient season, I will." If I don’t respond, the day comes when I cannot respond. I remember talking to an old man, the family so concerned for him. And as I talked to him, the man was sick in the illness in which he died, as I talked to him, he was kind and he was gracious, he was not vicious, he was not hard in his response. As I talked to him about his soul, I said to him, "You know you’re going to die."
"Yes, the doctor says I cannot live. I’m in my last days."
"You know you’re going to die. You know you’re lost."
"Yes, I know I’m lost." Well, I said, "Before you die, turn, repent, ask God to forgive your sins. Trust the Lord as your Savior." I pled with him every way I knew how. He finally said, he said, "My brother, I seemingly cannot believe. I seemingly cannot believe." That’s awesome. A man’s heart turns to stone, it turns to rock; his conscience is seared, his emotions are innervated, he has atrophied in his soul and in his will. By not responding, and not responding, and not responding, the day comes when he has no response at all. The most tragic words in the Bible: "When I have a convenient season, I will. Some other time, but not now."
A third reason why I think these are the most tragic words in the Bible: because they prove us unfaithful to God. When we say them, when we use them, God having given us a mandate plain and known, and we don’t respond, we are led into an awesome judgment, inevitably; it always follows. When God speaks and I don’t reply, the judgment that inevitably follows after is awesome.
An evangelist was asked to hold the funeral service of a little girl. And being an evangelist, an iterant minister, and not in the community, why, he asked the parents, "Is the little girl, was she a Christian? Was she saved?" And the father and mother replied, "We don’t know. We intended to talk to our little girl about the Lord, but we put it off. And the days passed, and we’re not able to say. But her Sunday school teacher will know." The evangelist went to the Sunday school teacher and said, "Was the little girl a Christian? Was she saved? Did she know the Lord? Had she accepted Jesus as her Savior?" And the Sunday school teacher said, "I don’t know. I meant to talk to the little child about the Lord Jesus, but I put it off. And I don’t know. But the superintendent will know. You ask the Sunday school superintendent."
The evangelist went to the Sunday school superintendent, and he asked, "Was the little girl a Christian?" And the Sunday school superintendent said, "I don’t know. I intended to talk to the child about her soul, but I kept putting it off. And I don’t know. But the pastor will know. Now you ask the pastor; he will know."
The evangelist went to the pastor, and he asked the pastor "Was the little girl saved? Was she a Christian?" And the pastor replied, "I meant to talk to the child, but I kept putting it off. I don’t know." Could you imagine anything more sorrowful and more tragic than to be given the responsibility of the souls of people, and instead of answering that responsibility with a dynamic, and consecrated, and dedicated effort, to reply to the mandate of heaven, "I’ve got too many other things to do. I’m too busy. Some other time when I’m not so burdened down, I will. But not now, at some convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25].
And that may be more true of more of us in our dear church than we would want to admit. I know, if I can read the Bible at all, I know that God has mandated to us the witnessing and the salvation and the conversion of all of the people in our area, our Jerusalem, and whatever we can do about our Samaria and our uttermost parts of the earth; but I know that for us this is our vineyard in the Lord. These are committed to us. I can’t convert them. I’m not responsible to regenerate them; I cannot convert the humblest little child. But that I preach the gospel to them, and that I witness to them, is my responsibility! And when I say, "Lord, I’m too busy, I’ve got something else to do, some other time, some other day" – and that’s one of the reasons why I have announced to our church, if God will help us, we’re going to try to bring the message of the Lord to every family and every soul in this city, personally. We’re going to knock at the door. See these young people up here facing you in the choir? We’re asking them to team with us, and to take this city section by section, to knock at the door, to find out who lives there. I realize that when we do that, you’re going to find people slam the door in your face. Fine! I think that might be good for us, to humble us and to make us more prayerful and more committed to the intervention of God, to have people slam the door in our face.
You may find yourself insulted when you knock at the door, and you say, "I am from the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and we’re interested in you. Do you go to church? Are you Christians? Are you interested in the Lord? Would you like to know how to be saved? Would you like to be introduced to the Lord God who made us?" You may have all kinds of insulting replies. That’ll be good for us. It’ll just bow us on our knees and make us depend upon God all the more. I’m not responsible for the response. I can’t save anybody. I can’t convict anybody. That’s God’s work. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. But I am responsible to bring the message of Christ and the invitation, just as Paul did here to Felix. As he stood before him, he presented the message of God; and Felix trembled [Acts 24:25]. He succeeded with the Philippian jailer; he won that man to the Lord [Acts 16:30-33]. He didn’t succeed with Felix the Roman procurator. He said, "Some other time, not now" [Acts 24:25]. God will give us some. There will be some who will be saved. There will be some who will be insulting in their reply. There’ll be some who say, "Thank you," and pass us by.
The response is between them and God. That’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is to present the gospel message. Is the little girl saved? I ought to know. When she died, was she prepared for heaven? I ought to know. And if I cannot put my arms around that group personally, then through my fellow members in the church, and especially these who work with me on the staff, I ought to do it with them, through them. Everybody, everybody that we can minister to, God has given us that heavenly commission [Matthew 28:19-20]. And it is our assignment; not tomorrow, today! [2 Corinthians 6:1-2].
And Lord, help us as we get with it, as we pour our souls into it. And we’re trying. Lord, if You ever blessed any effort in Your whole blessing of God’s people in the earth, bless us now, Lord, in this. Every way that I know how we are going to pull our people into this personal witnessing ministry. And Lord, bless it under Thy hands and ours.
Now, a last – and I must hasten – why are these the most tragic words in the Bible? Because of everybody who says them, "Not now, but some other time"; because they are paralyzing to our wills and to our souls. You say, "Not now, some other time" [Acts 24:25], and the day will come when you can’t respond; your heart is dead inside your body. Third: they prove us unfaithful to God, "Not now, when I have a convenient season." And a last one: they lead others into death. I want to show you what I mean by that. Here is a letter I received, as you can see, it is written on lined paper; came from a poor family. It is addressed to me as the pastor of the church. And the letter says:
Dear brother, will you please call on my brother, and talk to him about Christ? He is seriously ill with but few days left to live. Our parents were Baptists, but my brother was grown before our parents were converted. They were fifty years old when they were saved. I have often heard our mother express her sorrow for not rearing us in a Christian home. Do call upon him, as his days are few. Thank you,
– and signed by the man’s sister.
I did, of course, everything that I could to win that brother to the Lord; I failed. I have failed often in that kind of a situation.
Poignantly, do I now in memory live through this: holding a meeting in New Mexico, an old man was converted. And when he was saved, he said to me, "My son is a rancher, such and such place. And he’s lost. Would you seek to win my son to the Lord?" I said, "I will." And I drove out to the ranch, one of those big, big ranches. The ranch house was miles from the front gate. And the wife said, "He is working on a windmill," and pointed down a certain road. So I drove down there, and I found that man working on the windmill, this rancher. Well, he was so nice to me, and he was so gracious to me. And I sat down in the shade of the windmill, and talked to him about the Lord. And he was deeply moved. He was deeply moved if for nothing else that I had driven out there all of that distance and taken time to talk to him about Jesus. And very appreciative, and very kind; just like a fine, hospitable western ranchman. But as I pressed the appeal of Christ and the cause of the Lord, "No, some other day, some other time, some other time." And the last night of the revival meeting, in pressing that last appeal, I saw the old man, the father. His name was Ben Victor. I saw him go over to that boy who was now about forty-five years of age. I saw him go over to that boy, and plead with the boy to accept Christ as his Savior. Standing there at the front, I could see the – oh! The moving emotion registered in the father’s face as he pled with that boy to accept the Lord, and the boy shook his head, "No, no." Then I watched the old man go back to his seat. And while all the rest of the people were standing, he just sat down, and buried his face in his hands, and cried like a little child.
You tell me: if that father, with many tears, had made an appeal to that boy when he was ten years old, twelve years old, you tell me, what would that boy have done? If the father had been a Christian before him, and the father with tears and prayers had made appeal to the boy as a lad, I know exactly what would have happened: that boy with many tears would have said, "Dad, today, this day, I accept Jesus as my Savior." I know that he would. But now that the father, saying no to the appeal of Christ all the years of his life, and he’s an old, old man now, and he makes appeal to his son who has reached middle age and the boy shakes his head, "No. No"; that’s why I label them the most tragic words in the Bible.
If I’m going to be saved, Lord, let it be now. If I’m ever going to work for Jesus, let it be now. If I’m going to lead my children to the Lord Jesus, let me do it now. If I’m ever going to respond to the overtures of God’s love, and mercy, and grace, Lord, let me do it now. Not some other day, not some other time, not some other hour, but now [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Here I am, Lord, these two hands and these two feet, and these eyes to see, and this heart to care, God help me, I want to do it now.
And a response like that God will aboundingly bless. I repeat, He may not give us all, but He will give us some.
And on the radio, as you have listened to this sermon today, does God speak to you? If you’re not a Christian, does the Spirit invite you to accept Jesus as your Savior? Would you do it now? Not tomorrow, now. Where you are, just bow your head, and say, "Lord Jesus, come into my heart. Forgive me my sins. Write my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 3:5, 20:12, 15, 21:27]. Be my friend and fellow pilgrim now. And save me to Thyself in heaven." Ask Him, and He will answer. And if you already are a Christian, and God speaks to your heart, He has something for you to do, tell the Lord, "Lord Jesus, this moment I dedicate my life to Thee now, to work, to accept an assignment, to witness, to reconsecrate, rededicate my life, for the purpose for which God has saved me and called me."
And here in this throng of people in the sanctuary of Christ this morning, does the Lord say something to you? If He does, would you answer now? "I’ll do it, Lord, God helping me. I’ll answer with my life now." To accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior, "I will do it now, Lord." To put your life with us in the church, "I will do it now, Lord." Or to answer some calling of the Holy Spirit in your heart, "I will answer now, Lord, and I’m coming." In the balcony, you; on this lower floor, you; down a stairway, down one of these aisles, as the Spirit of God shall speak and shall lead in the way, would you answer with your life? On the first note of the first stanza, do it now. And God bless you, angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
TOMORROW IS TOO LATE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
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
C. Paul reasoned of righteousness, repentance and judgment to come(2 Corinthians 5:10-11)
D. His answer – "When I have a convenient season."(Acts 24:25)
E. But tomorrow is too late
II. His answer destroyed him, his life, his soul
A. Convenient season never came
B. All that it ever takes is to just do nothing
1. Drifting into eternity without God
a. Poem, "The Derelict"
2. Satan’s smartest device
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
3. Five foolish virgins beating on the door(Matthew 25:10-11)
C. 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 and finest
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)