DOING THE WORK OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-8-85 10:50 a.m.
And welcome the great multitudes 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 from God and from his Holy Word entitled Doing the Work of the Lord, doing God’s work in the earth.
I have one thing to remind our congregation. Always, always the pastor preaches toward an appeal, always. Never a time ever, but that we reach toward that appeal to the heart and the soul, that you give your life to God, that you find in Christ a personal Savior, that you let Him come into your heart and your home. And in that appeal, no one ever ought to leave the church. It’s like striking the hand of a surgeon in a very serious operation. People are making decisions about God. And when we turn and walk out, it is an affront to the Lord. So we stay; we remain; we pray. Then after the invitation, why, our people can do what they like.
We hope you stay to rejoice with us in the wonderful harvest that we always receive from God’s hand, but during that invitation nobody turns to leave. You have plenty of time for whatever you are going to do today. The pastor will not preach until, oh, today I imagine I’ll cease preaching at ten minutes ‘til twelve o’clock, which is something that doesn’t happen but once in a lifetime. But it’s just a few minutes and they are vital.
Now the occasion of the sermon rises out of something that happened last Sunday here in the state of Texas, and you’ll see it as the message unfolds. There is a background text for this message, entitled Doing the Work of Our Lord, Doing the Work of God in the earth. In John 9, John, the Gospel of John chapter 9, verse 4, our Lord said, in the King James Version it reads, “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4]. The ancient text actually reads: “We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4].
The night cometh; we must work the works of God. The night cometh when our opportunity, our open door, will be over and closed shut, and forever we are denied this privilege of sowing the seed of the word of God in the earth. The night cometh; we must work the works of God while it is day, while we have an opportunity: the night cometh when our day will be done.
All of us realize—and I just summarize a thing that we sense anyway in our lives—time is a creation of God, and it belongs just to this life. It is not a part of eternity. There is no time beyond the grave. There is no time beyond this life. There is no time in eternity, none. Time is a creation of God. And each one of us has a little piece of it, a very short part of it, then it is taken away forever.
I can easily and poignantly, dramatically illustrate that. If you’ve ever been in Egypt, you have almost certainly gone to some of those museums in Cairo. You’ll see mummies there that are five thousand years old. And as you look at that mummy, what if the man or the woman mummified there, what if that person could open their eyes and come to life? Five thousand years would have been gone unawares. If they open their eyes, it would be now. Had that mummy been fifty thousand years old, fifty thousand years would have gone by and it would be now. Had that mummy been fifty million years old, and the mummy opened its eyes, fifty million years would have been gone unawares, just illustrating dramatically that there’s not any time beyond the grave. There is no time in eternity. Time is a creation of this life.
And the concomitant is emphatically seen. What I do, I must do now; this minute, this day, this hour, this brief lifetime. If I’m going to do anything for God, if I’m going to work the all for the Lord, I must do it now. That’s what the Lord meant: “We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day, while we have opportunity; for the night cometh when no man can work” [John 9:4]. The day is done. The opportunity is over. The door is closed. What I do, I must do now.
Now there’s another reason for the urgent necessity of our labor for the Lord, and it lies in the destiny and life of our people, our nation. There is a consummation in history that is seen everywhere. You could not read a magazine, you could not look at a televised program, you could not be aware of “Star Wars” [the Strategic Defense Initiative], you could not be aware of these vast proliferation of nuclear weapons, and not sense it.
Billy Graham said recently, “If you look in any direction, whether it’s technological, psychological, the world as we know it, is coming to an end. Scientists predict it. Sociologists talk about it. Everyone is speaking about it. Whether you go to the Soviet Union, or whether you go anywhere else in the world, they are talking about the great end of history. The world is living in a state of shock.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, that brilliant Soviet citizen who defected to the United States, he said, “We are approaching a major turning point in the history of civilization. A concentration of world evil, of even hatred for humanity, is taking place. And it is fully determined to destroy our society. The situation in the world is not just dangerous, it isn’t just threatening, it is catastrophic.”
And to my amazement, this week, as I read one of our national magazines, this is the way that the article started, quoting President Ronald Reagan. “I turned back”—he’s speaking to a group of Jewish people—“I turned back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon. And I find myself wondering if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about.” And after that quote from the president, the article begins, “On nearly a dozen occasions Ronald Reagan has suggested that Armageddon is coming and possibly soon.” All of these things are very much in the life of the media, whether it’s radio, or television, or newspaper, or magazine, or political forum. There is coming a consummation of history in our day and in our lifetime.
Now not only is there an urgent necessity, because of the small length of time that we have to serve God, and not only because of the exigency of the moving of modern history, but also a deterioration in the moral life of our beloved America. One-third of all Americans use drugs or alcohol. When you see three Americans anywhere, one of them will be a drug addict or an alcoholic addict.
The profits off of cocaine in America is 25 billion dollars every year—three times as big as the whole movie and recording and media industries together. Suicide is the second largest killer of teenagers in America. One million Americans now have AIDS, and it is spreading disastrously, not only in our nation but in the whole world. In the last few years, 18 million Americans have been murdered by abortion. These things bring pause to your soul and to your heart. And the latest development is last Sunday. Last Sunday, as all of us know, the stores of Dallas were opened, which is just another sign of the cupidity and grasping avariciousness of American life and American culture.
I was in India, and of course you could not visit a nation like that, a little subcontinent area of Asia and has something like 600 million people in it—you could not visit a nation like that and not be impressed by many, many things. You could not help but be impressed by the way their gods look. I was very surprised at that. They’ve got gods over there by the uncounted numbers, and they are fierce looking. They are terrible looking, the gods of India.
You could not help but be impressed by the unspeakable, indescribable poverty of those millions and millions of people. I for example came into Calcutta about two o’clock in the morning, and going through the streets of Calcutta, and walking part of the way through the hotel, there were uncounted thousands of people that were asleep and living in the streets. They were in the doorsills. They were on the windowsills. They were everywhere. They live in the streets. They bathed out there in the gutters, and they eat off of the garbage. It is unthinkable!
But out of all of the things that impressed me when I was in India, the number one—and I don’t know why it should have, but the number one thing that shocked me was there is no Sunday in India. Every day is like every other day. And the days go on and on and on. There’s no period of time where it changes the pace. They just go on and on and on. There is no Sunday in India; and, I say, it made an enormous impression upon me that there was no time when anything changed. They just go on and on and on.
Now that is coming to America. America is becoming increasingly heathen. It is becoming increasingly pagan. It is becoming increasingly anti-God, anti-Bible, anti-Christian, anti- everything heavenly. We’re becoming more and more worldly, materialistically minded. And the violence that you see depicted on television and in theater is but a reflection of modern American life.
Well, as you look at the developments of our day, and of last Sunday, when we declared to the world that there was no part of any day of worship that was sacred to us, all of these days are to be alike, and every one of these days we’re to grasp and greedily, avariciously seize everything that we can, and no time and no room for God—we are at it with all of an unabated commitment to get and keep as much as we can. Well, what of that? As you face that in the Christian life, and in the Christian faith, and in the Christian church, what of that? Well, that’s the message that I have from my heart and from the Word of God today. Our faith, the Christian faith, is never depended upon a day, any day.
Now we’re first going to mention the Sabbath day. There is no Sabbath day in the Christian faith. The Sabbath day is a sign, a covenant sign, between God and Israel, between the Lord Jehovah and the Jew. It is a sign.
Now you listen to the Word of the Lord, [Exodus] 31, beginning in verse 12:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak, speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily My Sabbaths ye shall keep; for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations…
Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you; any one that defileth it shall be put to death…
Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever… .
[Exodus 31:12-14, 16-17]
The Sabbath day is a covenant sign that these people, the Jewish people, the children of Abraham, are chosen of God for—and then, the whole revelation of the law was revelation of God, as He sought to use those Jewish people to teach the people the true God. The sign of the Sabbath is a sign between Israel and the Lord God [Exodus 31:17].
And He says here, “Every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death” [Exodus 31:14].
And when I turn in my Bible to the book of Numbers, chapter 15, beginning in verse 32:
While the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day.
And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron…
And they put him in ward.
They didn’t know what to do.
And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall surely be put to death. So, all the congregation shall stone him with stones.
And all the congregation brought him without the camp. They stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.
Now that is the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day is a sign between God Jehovah and Israel, between God and the Jew. We who are Gentile Christians are under a commandment not to observe a Sabbath day.
Paul expressly writes that in Colossians, chapter 2, beginning in verse 16:
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days;
Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body—
the reality, the consummation—
is of Christ.
[Colossians 2:16, 17]
These things in the Old Testament, clean and unclean, for example, there’s no such thing to us as clean and unclean. If a thing is healthful, you can eat it. No such thing as a commandment to us about holy days. We have no commandment and no commandment concerning Sabbath days. There’s no commandment to the Christian concerning any of these things of the law. They are portents and types and shadows, looking forward to the coming of our Lord [Colossians 2:16-17]. And when the reality comes, you don’t need the shadow; you have Him. And we have our Lord.
Why then would we observe Sunday? Why would Sunday be a sacred day to us? Only out of our love for Jesus, that’s all. Sunday is Easter. Every Sunday is Easter. He arose the first day of the week [Matthew 28:1-7]. And on that day, He appeared several times to those who loved Him [John 20:11-18; Matthew 28:9-10; Luke 24:13-32]. The following Sunday, He appeared again to His disciples [John 20:26-31]. And the disciples began to meet on the first day of the week [Acts 20:7] in praise that our Lord was raised from the dead, the firstfruits of us who shall sleep [1 Corinthians 15:20]. It is a day of worship. It’s a day of praise. It’s a day of thanksgiving to Jesus. It’s a spiritual day.
The apostle John, on the isle of Patmos, says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” [Revelation 1:10]—a day of communion with the blessed risen, exalted, glorified Jesus [Revelation 1:10-20]. And on that first day of the week, the disciples met and broke bread together [Acts 20:7]; they observed the Lord’s Supper on that day, the first day of the week. According to 1 Corinthians 16, they brought their gifts to the house and laid them at the feet of the apostles [1 Corinthians 16:1-2]. It is a day that we observe just out of the love of our hearts for Jesus, our Savior.
It’s the same thing as we would observe on Mother’s Day. There’s no commandment to observe a day for your mother. It’s just a day that you do out of the fullness of the heart for the love of your sweet mother, an anniversary day, out of the love of your heart for an anniversary, on a day for someone you love.
This is a birthday for our precious little child that God placed in our arms. These things all arise out of the fullness of our hearts. And the observance of the first day of the week is like that. Out of an overflowing thanksgiving to Jesus for the victories He has won for us and for all the wonderful goodnesses mediated to us through His love and grace, we just set aside the first day of the week to gather together, as the disciples did, to love the Lord Jesus, to praise the Lord Jesus, to sing about the Lord Jesus, to invite others into the light, faith, and family of the people of God. We do that out of the love of our hearts.
Now are we bound in our work to a Lord’s Day, to a Sunday day? No. Not at all. Any day, any hour, any place is a good day, and a good hour, and a good now to serve and to witness to and to magnify the Lord Jesus. Any, any, any hour, any day, anywhere we can serve and worship and love and witness to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; any, any time, any place, any hour, any day.
I think of my own life. I was converted as a little boy, gave my heart to the Lord Jesus on a weekday. I was in school. And my mother wrote a little note to the teacher, and asked the teacher that I might be dismissed to go to the church. We were having a revival meeting. And on a weekday, I went to the morning service at church. This is just the little personal thing, how a boy sometimes is. The man who held the revival meeting stayed in our house. And every night after service, why, my mother had a little something for him on the kitchen table. And he’d sit there and eat and drink. And as he did, why, he would talk to me as a little ten-year-old boy. He’d talk to me about the Lord.
And several services before, I would even move to the edge of the pew in that little tiny church, and my courage would fail me. I’d move to the edge of the pew to come up and give the preacher my hand. And just the courage oozed out my fingertips. Just a strange thing as I look at it now. And yet, I think a lot of people are like that. They have to summon up courage to come down that aisle or come down that stairway. Well, I was like that. So, as it happened to be, I never purposely planned it when I came into the church from school.
Why, I happened to be seated back of my mother. And when the preacher gave the invitation, why, my mother turned around. She was crying. And she said to me, “Son, today, today, will you give your heart to the Lord Jesus? Will you take Him as your Savior?” I said, “Yes, mother. Yes.” And I walked out of the pew—couldn’t even see the preacher for crying. That was a weekday. That was a revival day. It was not Sunday. Any day is a good day to accept the Lord as your Savior. Anywhere is a good where to give your life to Christ.
Well, I gave my life as a little fellow, right after that, when I was twelve, to be a preacher. I did that in a revival meeting, again under a tent. They had a tent. The church of that little-bitty town of three hundred people, they had a tent revival and had a visiting preacher. And there, in the middle of the little town, why, they conducted those services under a tent. And under that tent, in one of those services, I went forward and gave my life to be a preacher.
My mother was very disappointed. My father, too. My mother was the daughter of a doctor. He was a doctor in the Confederate army. She was an unreconciled Rebel. She hated the Yankees, and the North, and the Lord knows all what. And she died that way. She never was reconciled. Her father was a doctor in the Confederate army, and she wanted me to be a doctor. When people used to put their hands on my head and say, “Now son, what you going to be when you grow up?” Why, my mother taught me to say, “I’m going to be a doctor like my grandfather.”
Well, when I gave my life to be a preacher, oh, she was so disappointed, and thought that I would outgrow it, and said so to me. She just thought that was a childish fancy. No, it wasn’t any childish fancy. I had the conviction that God wanted me to be a preacher when I was a little, little, little, little bitty kid. And I have never swerved from that since.
And there’s another part of that that surprises me. I have been invited to be the president of two great universities. I have been invited to be, I don’t know what all, in the different life of the denomination. I’ve never had anything in my life but one thing that I wanted to be. And that is to be a pastor, a shepherd of the people; never anything else. Nothing else appeals to me. I had rather be a pastor, a shepherd of the flock, than to be president of the United States or the prime minister of England.
I love being just this; don’t want to be anything else.
I gave my life to be a preacher, a pastor, when I was a child underneath a tent, in a tent revival. When I began to preach, I preached out on the street corner. I preached in the jail. I preached in the poor house, on the poor farm. Anywhere was a good where to proclaim the message of Christ. Any day was a good day in which to do it.
And when I was graduated from the seminary and accepted my first pastorate, it was in a county seat town of about fourteen, fifteen thousand people. And I noticed that, on Saturday, all the farmers in that part of Oklahoma came to the county seat town and shopped or sold or traded or talked. And so I took my Bible and went down to the courthouse, and on Saturday, I stood there on the courthouse lawn, and I preached the gospel.
Some of the most remarkable things that I could ever think for in my life happened while I was preaching the gospel on the courthouse lawn on a Saturday. Let me just take one of them. There was brought a model prisoner from the McAlester State Penitentiary to Governor Robert Kerr, in Oklahoma City, for the governor to pardon him. Robert Kerr became later Senator Kerr, a very wonderful Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher, head of that Kerr-McGee oil company.
They brought this model prisoner from the state penitentiary to Governor Kerr, in order for the governor to pardon him. So in the conference, why, Governor Kerr said to that once hardened criminal, he said to him, “It is remarkable what has happened to you, and I’d like to know what; they tell me you have been a model prisoner in the state penitentiary.”
And the criminal said, “Well, Your Honor, it is simple what happened to me. I was in the Grady County courthouse, on the top of the cell block, in the maximum security area of the county jail. I was being held there against the day when I was to be transported to the state penitentiary in McAlester. And while I was up there in that maximum cell in the Grady County courthouse, there was a young fellow down there on the lawn preaching the gospel.”
“Now,” he said, “I hated even the thought of it, much less listen to it. And I closed my ears. But even though I closed my ears, I could still hear him,” he says, “preaching so loud down there.”
“So,” he said, “I had to listen to him. I was incarcerated in that cell. And as he preached from Saturday to Saturday, and I was up there in that cell,” he said, “the message came into my heart and with it the Spirit of God.”
And he said, “Governor, there, in that cell, I got on my face, and I confessed all of the criminal life that I had lived, and asked God to forgive me.”
And he said, “Your Honor, when I entered the state penitentiary in McAlester, I entered the penitentiary as a Christian, as a child of God, as somebody who is saved.”
And he says, “That’s why that they have brought me here to you, saying that I am a model Christian. I found the Lord up there on the top of that Grady county courthouse.” That’s just the Lord.
Anywhere, I say, is a good where to preach the gospel. Any day is a good day to proclaim the message of Jesus. And any place is as good as any other place to proclaim the wondrous love of our precious Lord [John 3:16].
You see that in the Word of God. I just wonder what kind of a place it was when the Holy Spirit whispered to Philip, the evangelist and deacon, to go out to Gaza, which is desert: “And when you see that chariot pass by with the treasurer of Ethiopia, you tell him the good news of the saving grace of the Lord” [Acts 8:26-35]. And that began that Coptic Ethiopian church, in the conversion of that one man, on a desert on the way back home from Jerusalem [Acts 8:36-38].
When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos, the brilliant Alexandrian, who knew nothing of the way of the Lord, preaching John in the Old Testament, they took him and interpreted to him the way of the Lord more perfectly [Acts 18:25-26]. I think Apollos is the authored the Book of Hebrews; a brilliant, the Bible calls him an eloquent Alexandrian [Acts 18:24]. They did that in their home, in their house. In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul writes, saying, “Salute Priscilla and Aquila and the church that is in their house” [Romans 16:3-5].
And when I see in our congregation the proliferation of the teaching of the Word of God beyond our Sunday school, in the homes of our people, I praise God. I want to see it grow and expand and multiply. And of course, we have our evangel groups that we are praying for, centers of caring and praying and studying the Word of God and witnessing to the grace of our saving Lord.
Every Monday, here in Coleman Hall, they have a dinner where businesswomen come. And every Thursday, in the same place, in Coleman Hall, they have a business people’s luncheon. And hundreds come, and break bread together, and share in the riches of the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures. That’s wonderful! That’s marvelous! That’s great!
Every day a good day, witnessing for the Lord. Any hour a glorious hour to bring someone into the faith and family of God. And any place, any house, anywhere, a good place and a good where to gather together, to pore over these sacred pages, that God might teach us the rich depths of His grace and glory. That’s the Lord.
So when I see what happened last Sunday, why, I lamented for our nation. And I was so fallen into despair about the future of our culture and the kind of a life that we’re going to create for our children here in America. But, but, the Lord is ever triumphant, and God’s people are ever blessed. And whether it be here in this sacred house, or whether it be on Sunday, God’s Easter day, or whether it be any other day of the week or any other place in the city, Jesus is Lord. And we worship and adore and praise Him. And it is the outflow of our souls that make it so. And that’s our appeal to your heart today.
We have found a wondrous Friend in Jesus; not only in the day of our death and in the future when we desperately will need somebody to be our mediator, and counselor, and pleader at the judgment bar of Almighty God, but right now, this minute to have Him as your Friend in your home, in your house, in your business, with your children, in every decision you make. There is no life so rich, and full, and deep, and glorious as the life in Christ Jesus. And we invite you to share those marvelous bounties with us.
To give your heart in faith to the Lord Jesus, welcome [Romans 10:8-13]. To put your life with your family in the circle of our dear church, a thousand times welcome [Hebrews 10:24-25]. To answer some call in your heart, as I felt when I was a little boy, God bless you in it.
In a moment we will sing our hymn of appeal, and all of us praying together, waiting before the Lord. If you are in the balcony, remember there is time and to spare. I was so sorry this morning at the 8:15 service; a man came up to me and had a little girl, and he said, “We were on the way and you stopped the invitation before we could come down. We were seated up there in the balcony.”
I was so sorry for that. If we were to quit singing before you got here, if you are in the top balcony, you just come on down anyway. Just come, that’s the thing, “Lord, Lord this God’s day for me. This is God’s time for us, and here we are.” It will be the greatest, sweetest, most precious decision you will ever make in your life, to respond to this appeal of the Holy Spirit in your heart and your home. When we stand in this minute, on the first note of the first stanza, take that first step, and may angels attend you in the way while you come, as we stand and as we sing.
WORK OF GOD
I. Urgent necessity
A. We have but a short
1. What we do, we
must do now
B. All history moving
toward a climax
C. The disintegration
II. Our way of work
A. Our Sundays
1. Not a Sabbath
(Exodus 31:12-17, Numbers 15:32-36)
2. We are not to
keep it (Colossians 2:16-17)
We observe Sunday out of love for Jesus (Revelation 1:10, 1 Corinthians 16:2)
B. Our work seven days
worship every day
2. My experience
b. Gave life to preach
at tent revival
c. Longing for ministry
d. Preached in jail,
poor house, poor farm, courthouse lawn
i. Grady County Courthouse
3. Any day, any place
a. Philip the
evangelist (Acts 8)
b. Priscila, Aquila, Apollos