The Beginning and the End of Grace
February 9th, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
THE BEGINNING AND THE END OF GRACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-9-86 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you, the great multitudes who share the hour on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Beginning and the Ending of Grace. The pastor has prepared nine sermons around the theme “The Beginning and the End”: The Beginning and the End of the World; The Beginning and the End of Sorrows; The Beginning and the End of Death; last Sunday, The Beginning and the End of Satan; next Sunday, The Beginning and the End of Dispensations; then following that, The Beginning and the End of Israel, The End of the Church; and the last one, Of The Golden Millennium; today, The Beginning and the End of Grace.
In the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, chapter 3, beginning at verse 7, Genesis, chapter 3, verse 7:
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where, where art thou?
And Adam said, I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I am naked; and I hid myself.
And God said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
First, the grief of God: it is has been said that one of the saddest utterances God ever made is this question, “Where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9]. I one time heard of a professor of homiletics teaching young ministers how to deliver their message. He had the young men in his class read this passage. And when they came to that verse, “Where art thou?” some of them read it intellectually, some of them flippantly, some of them sophomorically, some of them indifferently. But one young man read it with great pathos. And the professor pointed to him and said, “Young man, you will be a great preacher.”
The grief of God; heretofore, the man and his wife had come to meet Him and to greet Him. The Lord God made the man and his wife for fellowship. God can’t fellowship with a star or with His universes or with mountains and rivers and oceans. But He could fellowship with Adam and Eve, made like Him, in His image [Genesis 1:27]. Heretofore, the man and his wife, when the Lord came to visit with them, they came innocently, without fear. They came lovingly and trustingly. But now, the Lord asks, “What have you done? [Genesis 3:13]. And what has happened? And have you eaten of the tree whereof I commanded you should not eat it or touch it? [Genesis 3:11]. Adam, where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9]: the grief of God.
I think of the grief of David over his beautiful and favorite prince, his son Absalom, when in the rebellion Absalom lost his life [2 Samuel 18:9-15], and David cried saying, “O, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee” [2 Samuel 18:33]. I think of the grief of Jesus on the Mount of Olives looking over the Holy City. “O Jerusalem, your house is left unto you desolate” [Matthew 23:37-38]. The grief of God, “Adam, Adam, where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9]. And in this, we have the seeking heart of Almighty God, which is the beginning of grace, the tenderness of God, the openheartedness of God, the forgiveness of God, the loving care of God, seeking the man that He had made, who now was naked in transgression [Genesis 3:1-7]; the beginning of grace; the seeking Lord God [Genesis 3:9].
As you have ever been to church here, as you know, I read Spurgeon all the time. And that great, marvelous, London preacher said, “The thought struck me, ‘How did I come to be a Christian?’ I answered, ‘I sought the Lord.’ But how did I come to seek the Lord?”
The truth flashed across my mind in a moment. I should not have sought Him unless there had been some influence in my life to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself how came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. But how came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what lead me to do so?
Then in a moment, I saw that God was in it all and that He was the author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me. And I desired to make this my constant confession; I ascribe my salvation wholly to God.
The seeking heart of the Lord God.
For just a moment look at that man and look at us: the insolent rebellion of this first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve. Instead of listening to the Lord and living, they chose rather to listen to the tempter and die. That’s the way the story begins. The serpent, more subtle, we see him now after the curse. He must have been the most beautiful of all of the creatures of God. He says; “Did God tell you not to eat of this tree? Did God tell you if you did, you would die? God is deceiving you. He knows that in the day that you eat you will be like Him. And wouldn’t you be, wouldn’t you be happy and glad to be God? Make your own choices. Choose your own way; no obedience, no surveillance, free. Eat! And that is a lie, that you will die” [Genesis 3:1-4].
The effrontery of the man to God; to listen to the tempter and not to the Almighty! But every sermon that I’ve prepared in this, I’ve made the avowal, we’re just like them and they’re just like us. Whether it be the angelic order in heaven, or Adam and Eve in the garden, the experiences are the same as ours. We also are made in His image. And we have that same insolent effrontery in the presence of God. “Did God say yes? But I say…” In how many instances do we find in all Christendom, “Does God say damnation? Does God say judgment? Does God say hell? Does God say a flaming torment? There’s no such thing as hell, no such thing as torment, no such thing as judgment. Did God say that?”
And then for the first time, we see a facet of the character of God that’s never been revealed before. Heretofore, we see God in His omnipotence, the almightiness of the great Creator, flinging these stars and these sidereal spheres and these universes out into infinite space—all the greatness of God! And when the man disobeyed and transgressed, why didn’t God zap him? Why didn’t God crush him? Why didn’t He us? Why didn’t He wipe us off the face of the earth?
You see, there’s a side to God that we’ve never seen before until just now. Instead of destroying the man that He created in his rebellious transgression, God in tender, loving care seeks him out, naked as he is, fallen as he is, iniquitous as he is, sinful as he is, God seeks him out. He reaches down from heaven with nail-pierced hands and out to the ends of the earth; the heart and the grace of God [Romans 5:8].
And in this story, in this chapter, there are three things of God’s redemptive love. The first one: the theologians call it the Protevangelium, the gospel before the gospel, the gospel in the beginning. It is the promise of the Seed of the woman. By her, transgression came into God’s perfect world, and by her, redemption is brought to our fallen family. The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head [Genesis 3:15]. The kingdom doesn’t belong to him, to darkness, and evil, and death. The kingdom belongs to the Son of God, born of a woman, Jesus our Lord [Galatians 4:4]. The Protevangelium, the seed of the woman shall bruise, crush Satan’s head [Genesis 3:15].
The second redemptive work of God: “And God made them coats of skins, and covered their nakedness” [Genesis 3:21], not aprons of fig leaves of our own ingenuity, or genius, or merit, or work. God shed the life of an innocent animal and clothed and covered their nakedness—the redemptive purpose of God, through the sacrifice of a life, through the shedding of blood [Genesis 3:21; Hebrews 9:22].
And the third: “And He placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubim, and the shekinah glory of God which flashed every way, like a turning sword, to keep for man the way open to the tree of life” [Genesis 3:22, 24]. There on the east side of Eden did God build an altar and a sanctuary and a shrine. Wherever in the Bible the cherubim are seen, they are emblems of God’s mercy and grace.
In Exodus 25, verse , God says, “I will speak to thee from between the cherubim” [Exodus 25:22]. There, on the east side of Eden, God built an altar and a sanctuary, and placed there His shekinah glory, that the man might be taught the way back to God [Genesis 3:24]. You see that in Abel when he brought a sacrifice, an offering unto the Lord [Genesis 4:4]. He was taught that at the shrine east of Eden. And that is God’s purpose of grace for all of us, that we might know how to be saved and that we might come back in redemptive grace and forgiveness to the Lord God [John 3:17].
I held a service in Zimbabwe—used to be called Rhodesia—in a little city way out in the bush. And in that service there was a young woman who was gloriously, marvelously, wondrously, redemptively saved, converted. She was cast out of her home in a far-away village. She was a filthy, dirty prostitute, and the family called her an animal. And the little town, the little village in which she lived, disassociated itself from her. And she was an outcast and had come to that city, and there plied her filthy, indescribable, iniquitous trade.
In that meeting, that service in which I was preaching and making an appeal, that young woman was wonderfully cleansed and redeemed and saved. And she went back to her village and told her father and her mother and her family how God had saved her and cleansed her and made her anew. The family was astonished! And as she witnessed to the whole village, the village was amazed!
And in the after days when I came back here to Dallas, I received a letter from the missionary in that little city. And he said to me, “I have received a letter from the people of that village, and they have asked me to come and to baptize the converts, more than sixty of them now, and to organize them into a Baptist church”—all because of the wonderful grace of God that reached down to a lowly, animal outcast. That is the ableness of God in any life. No one, no life, no house, no home is beyond the reach of the love, and grace, and mercy, and forgiveness of God. It is possible in any life, in any man, in any woman, in any child; the wonderful goodness and tender care of our Lord.
The beginning of grace, the end of grace; what a tragedy that in God’s Book we could read a passage such as you read just now, where the very sun turns to sackcloth, and the very moon turns to blood, when the mountains and the islands are moved out of their places, when the lost of the earth cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them, and to hide them “from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” [Revelation 6:12-17] Isn’t that the most unthinkable contradiction in words that you could ever think for in your life? “The wrath of the Lamb; the rod of the Lamb”; could it be? Is it possible that there is a day coming, when the Savior is our Judge and when the day of grace is past? Could such a thing be?
That is the question that Simon Peter raises in the third chapter of his second letter, 2 Peter:
There shall come in these last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
saying, Where is this judgment, and this coming of the Lord? For since the fathers and the generations before us passed away, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
[2 Peter 3:3-4]
Could such a thing be that the day of judgment could come, that we who are lost could be damned and shut out from God? Could such a thing be? Does God intervene in human life and in human history?
He answers with an illustration. He answers, Simon Peter does, in this third chapter of 2 Peter. He answers with a flood [2 Peter 3:5-6]. God does intervene. God intervened in the days of Noah in the flood, when the whole world perished under the judgment of Almighty God [Genesis 7:17-24]. He could have continued. He could have spoken of Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24-29]. God intervened. He could have spoken of the kingdom of Israel and Samaria in 722 BC. God intervened, and the nation was destroyed [2 Kings 17:6, 18]. He could have spoken of Judah in 587 BC, when Judah was destroyed [2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. He could have spoken of 70 AD, when the Lord said to His disciples, “See the stones of this great temple? The day is coming when not one will be left on top of the other” [Matthew 24:1-2]. It’s incredible, that tremendous architectural wonder of the world, the temple in Jerusalem; but in 70 AD completely destroyed, the intervention of God. God intervenes. God judges. We are weighed in the balances [Daniel 5:27].
I think of the churches of North Africa, and of Egypt, and of Palestine, and of Syria, and of the Levant, and of Asia Minor; tremendous churches. Have you ever been to St. Sophia? That was one of them. Built in about 500 AD, one of the architectural marvels of the world, St. Sophia, the gilded domes, the golden altars, the resplendent vestments. But what did the people hear when they went to church? What did they hear from sacerdotal lips? They heard salvation by sacraments. They heard the approach to God through human priests, not Christ. And they heard the acceptance of human merit in the sight of God. And the day came when God said, “It is enough,” and the Mohammedan and the Saracen and the Ottoman Turk wiped them off the face of the earth.
I’ve been to all seven of the churches of Asia in the Revelation here [Revelation 2:1-3:22], all seven of them. There’s not a vestigial remnant remaining of any one of them, not one. The judgment of God—God intervenes in human history. I stood in Hamburg, Germany, a city larger than Chicago. And from horizon to horizon, there was not one building standing—the intervention of God in history. I stood in Hiroshima, after the dropping of that first atomic bomb. I visited in the hospital people who had survived that holocaust. Great God, that’s the bomb that ended the war, and we live in its presence to this day; under the judgment, like living under a Damocles sword.
At the end of that year when the bomb was dropped, and when the war was ended, there was a great convocation of citizens here in the City of Dallas. To address it was Sam Rayburn who, for two generations was Speaker of the House in Washington, D.C. I sat next to him, having led the invocation. And in his address, after he had described the fearful possibilities of the atomic bomb, he dramatically turned to me and addressed me and said, “I am not a preacher, sir, but I believe that if the world and its civilization are not to be destroyed, we must have a resurrection of the old-time religion.” And there was a deafening applause. After that, he joined that Primitive Baptist Church in Bonham from which place he was laid to rest.
General Douglas MacArthur, on the Missouri battleship when the heads of state of Nippon signed the document at the end of the war, General MacArthur said:
Men since the beginning of time have sought peace, but the mechanics have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn have failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war.
But the utter destructiveness of war now blots out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we do not now devise some better system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem is basically theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence of human character. It must be of the spirit if the flesh is to be saved.
And General Dwight D. Eisenhower, when he assumed the office, after the war, of Chief of Staff in that year of 1945, his first words were, “There is implied no limit to the capacity of science to reach the maximum destructive effect unless that limit be the utter destruction of mankind himself. The only hope for the world is in complete spiritual regeneration, a strengthening of the moral fiber.” And a little after that, he joined the Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. All of which is just to emphasize and to underscore the word of God: we have an opportunity now, an open door now. We can be saved now [2 Corinthians 6:2]. But there is an end, somewhere, sometime, to the grace of God. And it ends for each one of us when we die [Hebrews 9:27].
Lord, Lord, Lord, how could we live in such indifference? How could it not resolve the one great question of our lives: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30-31]. Why doesn’t God blot us out now? Why doesn’t He zap us now? Simon Peter says, “It is because of the longsuffering of God to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” [2 Peter 3:9].
God wills that I be a Christian, that I be saved, that my name be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20], that I belong to the family of God. That’s the will of God for me. And it is only when I stubbornly, and viciously, and iniquitously say no to God, that I’m blotted out. When I refuse His grace, there’s no alternative but that I die lost [John 3:36]. Great God, that I might be saved!
May I close with this word from God’s Book. The mills of the gods grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine. There’s not a sensitively knowledgeable political leader in the world, but that will avow to you that we live on the very brink of absolute destruction. Any little thing could go wrong. Lord, Lord. And this Armageddon is but a revelation from heaven of the great and final judgment that is yet to come [Revelation 16:13-16, 19:17-21].
May I point out—I’m so conscious of time—I want you just to look at how quickly a thing can turn. In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian church, he speaks about grace, he speaks about peace, he speaks about thanksgiving, he speaks about faith, he speaks about charity, he speaks about glory, all of that in the first three verses [2 Thessalonians 1:1-3]. Then immediately, in the next three, he speaks about judgment, he speaks about tribulation, he speaks about flaming fire, he speaks about vengeance, he speaks about everlasting punishment, and he speaks about everlasting destruction [2 Thessalonians 1:4-6, 8-9], all just like that. Just like that. Life is just like that. It goes along, and then just like that, there’s a crisis, there a providence, there’s a judgment. We live like that, just like that.
Friday night, I came down here to a Valentine party and practically everybody there asked me, “Why are you dressed like that? This is a Valentine party. Why are you dressed like that?”
I said, “I’ve just had a funeral service, and I’m dressed like this because of the funeral service.”
They are right together. Behind every joy—you put it down—there’s a tear, there’s a heartache, there’s a tragedy. They go together just like that. They’re together just like that, our life and then our death. Dear God, who’s equal for these things? In the first of the Revelation, Jesus says, “I come quickly” [Revelation 3:11]. In the last chapter, there are three times, “I come quickly” [Revelation 22:7, 12, 20]. What does He mean? When these things happen, they happen quickly, just like that.
In the twenty-fourth chapter He said it is like lightning, it is like lightning [Matthew 24:27]. I can go along and I go, but suddenly there’s a judgment. And Lord, Lord, that I might be saved!
O my loving brother, when the world’s on fire,
Don’t you want God’s bosom for to be your pillow?
O, hide me over in the Rock of Ages,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me.
[“When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart,” traditional]
I can’t be saved yesterday. It is gone forever. I have no assurance of tomorrow, it could be too late. But I have now.
And Lord, in Your grace and seeking heart, and loving, caring, tender, remembrance, reaching down with nail-pierced hands, Lord, I accept all the grace and goodness that God hath purposed for me. I do, Lord. I do, and praise Thee for it. And I pray, dear Lord, that when we march into heaven, through those gates of pearl, on those streets of gold [Revelation 21:21], without loss of one, we’ll all be together in Him, you and you and you and you, all of us, all of us together.
Before I pray, may I make the invitation, first to you, Zig Ziglar, my wonderful Sunday school teacher and incomparable businessman. I want you to come up here in a minute and stand right there. And these that have come to your seminar on the birth into a new and wonderful life, if you would give yourself to such a spiritual dedication, I want you to come and give Zig Ziglar your hand. We’re not asking you to join any church. We’re not asking you to join anything. We’re not interested in joining anything. We’re interested in a full and abounding life with the blessing of God upon us. Come up and give Zig Ziglar your hand. I suspect that he’ll have a prayer with you. Do it. He’ll be standing right here. You come up and tell Zig, “Zig, today I’m just avowing my faith and commitment to the blessed Lord Jesus. I want Him to be with me in my heart, my house, my home, my house, my life, my work, and this is my hand Zig.” Come.
And in the great throng in God’s presence, “Today, pastor, I take Jesus as my Savior, and here I stand.” Or, “This is my family. We all are coming into the fellowship of this dear church.” Or to answer an appeal of the Spirit of God in your heart, make it now. And in a moment, when we stand to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, welcome. May angels attend you as you come. Now, may we pray.
Our Lord in heaven, oh what a momentous moment! What an everlasting, determinating decision, when a soul stands in the presence of God to say yes or no to the appeal of Jesus our Lord. You made us for Yourself, and we’re restless until we rest in Thee [Matthew 11:29]. Lord, we don’t belong out and away. We belong in God’s house, a member of God’s family, with our faces lifted heavenward and upward, triumphant over death and the grave [1 Corinthians 15:54-57], God having purposed some glorious thing for us, that we live and not die, that we be saved and not lost [2 Peter 3:9]. O God, bless this moment of appeal, and when we stand to sing our hymn, may it be the Lord’s blessing, that these come, some to Zig Ziglar. And “Zig, I just open my heart heavenward and God-ward and ask God to bless me in my work.”
And then in the great throng, coming to Thee and to us, we praise Thy name, dear Lord, for the grace that has touched us [Titus 2:11]. And as our abiding, everlasting remembrance, in our hour of need, in our hour of death, in the day of our judgment, and finally, in the presence of God in glory, thank Thee for these who come, in Thy precious name, amen.
Now Zig, would you come and stand right there? My fellow ministers will be here and as the Spirit of God leads in the way, answer with your life. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.