The Urgency of the Hour
March 18th, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
THE URGENCY OF THE HOUR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-18-90 10:30 a.m.
Welcome the untold multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are a part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas. I have a precious assignment: Mrs. Moody Reed wishes to join the church by television. She is a new resident in Dallas from another city and wants to be a part of our mission support ministry. She has a beautiful neighbor, Ruby Foster, that gives her Sunday school material; and she asked to be enrolled in our homebound ministry. And all of us in the church, where she can see us, all of us in the church who welcome Mrs. Moody Reed into our fellowship, would you hold high your hand? Thank you. You now belong to us, sweet Mrs. Reed, and we will be prayer partners together.
The messages delivered by the pastor this month are in preparation for our tremendous revival meeting that begins next Sunday. Our revival evangelist is Dr. Vines, who is president of our Southern Baptist Convention, will be here next Sunday night, and continuing each day at noon around the tables in Coleman Hall, and each evening here in the sanctuary through the following Friday. The title of the message is The Urgency of the Hour, and it is again from the text in Habakkuk chapter 3, verses 1 and 2: "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy."
He lived about 600 BC. He lived between the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Samaria, Israel, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, Jerusalem. He begins his prophecy with the announcement from God that the Lord God is judging the sins and iniquity and transgressions of His people, and that the nation will be destroyed, and Jerusalem will be obliterated, and the people carried into captivity. And his response to that awesome announcement of the destruction of his own people was, "The prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. O God, revive Thy work in the midst of the years," praying God for revival.
Revival will save a nation. When Assyria came down from Nineveh in the Tigris Valley and destroyed Israel and Samaria, the same bitter and hasty nation came down further to destroy Jerusalem and Judah. And under King Hezekiah, good King Hezekiah, the people turned in a great appeal to God: and God saved Judah and saved Jerusalem in a mighty revival. Revival will save a nation. It did under good King Josiah [2 Kings 19, 22].
Revival saved England in the 1700s. There’s not a schoolboy but that is familiar with the bloody French Revolution, when the blood ran down the streets of the cities of France. There was a like condition in England. But instead of that bloody revolution that baptized France in human blood, instead of a bloody revolution in England, there was a great revival under John Wesley and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. Revival will save a nation.
Revival will save a city. Jonah walked three days’ journey into the great city of Nineveh, and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed." And the king down to the lowest courtier in the court put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes, and turned to God [Jonah 2:4-10]. Revival will save a city.
In the days of John Chrysostom, Emperor Theodosius of the Roman Empire with his army came to Antioch to destroy the rebellious city. But when he arrived, under John Chrysostom, the city was a great revival, and the emperor spared it. In the days of Savonarola, God spared the city of Florence. Revival will save a city.
Revival will save a church, it will save a house, it will save a home, it will save a family, it will save a lost soul.
I so well remember in the days of my country pastorates, there was a church they nailed up. Weeds were clear to the rafters, clear to the eaves of the roof. I announced a revival meeting. We cut down the weeds. We opened the doors. God poured out His Holy Spirit in one of the finest meanings I’ve ever been in in my life: and that church to this day is a viable ministry in the little farming community to which it belongs. Revival will save a people.
Revival, the word itself is a Christian word; it is a family word. People who are uncoverted need to be resurrected, they need to be brought to life. It is God’s people who are revived, the spark into a flame. It is a family word, a Christian word. We are revived.
It is an assembly word, it is a church word: it is the church that has revival. We cannot give what we do not possess. There has to be in the church a warm spirit of love and joy, gladness, fellowship. So many churches are cold and dead, lifeless. They have a name to live, as the Bible says, but are dead. I remember reading about a little monkey that somehow got away from the organ grinder in the cold of the winter in one of these great cities in the North. And the little thing was so cold looking for a fire, and he climbed up on the side of a house and looked in the window, and there was a fire in the fireplace. The little thing went around and finally found an entrance; ran to the fire, and held up its little paws – and froze to death. It was a painted fire. So many churches are like that: the fire is painted, it’s gone out, it doesn’t have warmth and joy and gladness and fellowship.
Revival is a normal word. We’re not reaching out for some monstrous experience alien to the mind or heart of God; we’re just seekin" [John 3:34]. Just as much as our hearts will receive, God is ready to bestow.
Some things that characterize a revival: one, from us, the spirit of confession and contrition and humility. As David cried, "Lord, before Thee I acknowledge my sin. Thou desirest not sacrifices; else would I give them; nor do You delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" [Psalm 51:3-18]. We’re not what we ought to be. We’re not what we could be. And we’re not, by God’s grace what we’re going to be. We are coming before the Lord, confessing our own shortcomings and our hardness of heart and our lack of burden – maybe crying because we cannot cry, maybe weeping because we cannot weep, maybe praying because we don’t pray, maybe burdened because we’re not burdened, maybe concerned because we’re unconcerned – with crying hearts, coming back to Calvary. This is the spirit of revival.
This is the spirit of revival: a burden and a concern for those who are lost, those who are not saved, those who are outside the kingdom of our Lord. One of the burning incidents in my life; I was so embarrassed and humiliated, I can feel it now after these years. I was holding a revival meeting in one of the great cities of America and in one of the elite churches of our nation. After the ten o’clock morning hour, I was standing in front of the pulpit surrounded by many, many of those gracious people who were shaking hands with me and speaking such sweet things to their visiting preacher. While I was standing there greeting that group, there elbowed down through them, through the group, a tall, hawk-nosed, hatchet-faced man dressed in solid black, followed by two or three of his disciples. And he stood in front of me and pointed his finger right in my nose, and said, "You are not a Bible preacher." Well I said, "I’ve given my life to it, and I thought I was a preacher of the Word of God." Then he repeated it: "I say you are not a Bible preacher. You preach your word and not God’s Word." Well I said, "What makes you think that?" Well he said, "I heard your sermon this morning, and you preached that we ought to pray for the lost. Where does it say in God’s Word that you ought to pray for the lost?"
"Well," I said, "it’s just all through the Bible." Then he held up the Bible he had in his hand and said, "Show me chapter and verse where it says in God’s Word you are to pray for the lost." Well, I was so confused and I said, "Neighbor, I, I just don’t know, I don’t know how to answer." Then he drew himself up to his hawkish height, and pointed his finger again in my nose and said, "See there, isn’t that what I said? You are not a Bible preacher. You preach your word and not God’s Word." And he turned on his heel and walked triumphantly out of the church, followed by his two or three black-dressed disciples. And there I stood in the midst of that admiring group humiliated and embarrassed. Ooh, I never in the earth forget how I felt!
Well the preacher took me to my hotel room, put me in his car and took me to my hotel room. And I walked in the door, and closed it, and sat down in a chair in my hotel room just crushed, and said, "O God, O Lord, is that nut right? Is that screwball right? Is that hawk-faced, is that guy right? There’s nothing in the Word of God about praying for the lost, is that right?" Well sweet people, I had one of those experiences that you’ll have maybe once or twice in a lifetime: I had the distinct feeling that God, our Lord Jesus Christ, walked into that hotel room. I had the feeling of His presence, and I had the feeling of His putting His arm around my drooping shoulder, and He said to me, "Why preacher man, did you never read in God’s Holy Word Romans chapter 10, verse 1, where My servant Paul said, ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my lost people is that they might be saved,’ that they might be saved?” My prayer to God that they might be saved – there could be nothing that reflects the Spirit of our Savior more than to speak of Him who came, He said, to seek and to save that which is lost. That’s revival: the prayer and the intercession for those that they might be saved.
The spirit of revival: not only one of contrition and confession, and not only one of intercession for the lost that they might be saved, but also the spirit of togetherness, of oneness, of unity. For us just to be present in the days of the week would in itself be a mighty revival; just filling God’s sanctuary, being one in the Lord. And how mighty it is unto God when in prayer, in love, in fellowship, in comradeship, in intercession, we’re just one in the Lord.
I wonder if you can remember this. Long time ago, in Life magazine, there was a big picture that covered two full pages in the middle of that, at that time big magazine. The picture was of a Kansas wheat field. From horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could see was this illimitable, interminable vast field of billowing wheat. Well, what happened that occasioned the picture, there was a family, the wheat farmer, and while the mother was busy around the chores in the home, a little bitty boy, her little bitty boy wandered out of the house and into that enormous, interminable wheat field. And the mother, when she sensed that the lad was not present, called his name; no answer. Went through the house, couldn’t find him. Went outside in the yard, couldn’t find him. She ran to her husband and said, "He’s gone." And the husband and the wife starting looking everywhere for the little bitty boy; and not finding him, called some of their neighbors, and they began to search. And then those neighbors called everybody, and they began to search. And the day passed, and the next day passed, and the next day passed; and they couldn’t find the little lad. Finally, one of the neighbors said, "Let’s join hands, let’s join hands and sweep through this great wheat field until we find him." So from side to side they joined hands, they joined hands, and they swept through that field from one side to the other, and found the little boy, dead, dead. And the picture in that Life magazine spread, the picture was of that father standing above his little dead boy, and he was crying, "O God, that we had joined hand before." And that was the caption down there at the bottom of that picture: "O God, that we had joined hands before."
That’s what we need in our appeal for the lost! Take my hand, take my hand, join hands across every aisle, from side to side, from home to home, from house to house, O God, that the lost might be saved, that God will pour out His gracious Spirit of revival, of salvation.
May I add one other? Revival is not only the spirit of contrition, of confession, not only of intercession, not only of oneness, of unity, of being together in the appeal, but it is also the spirit of confession, of conversion, of saying yes to the Lord Jesus and the appeal that He makes to us from His cross.
One of the most unusual things here in our church, I was visiting in a home, and as I have done all of my life, after testifying and saying what a wonderful privilege it is to love the Lord, to give your house and your home and your children to the Lord, why, I would ask the people to pray. And then in the prayer, I’d extend my hand, "If you will ask Jesus to come into your house and home and heart, and if you’ll take Him as your Savior, will you take me by the hand?" Well, that man in his reply did something I had never heard before. He seized my hand, and said, "Preacher, yes." Then he added, "Preacher, I’ve said no to Jesus all of my life. No. No. No, I won’t come to church. No, I won’t accept Him as my Savior. No I won’t open my heart to Him. No, I won’t confess my sins. No, I won’t believe in Him. All of my life have I said no to the Lord Jesus." But he said, "Pastor, today I’m saying yes, I’m saying yes. When the Lord Jesus says, ‘Will you accept Me as your Savior?’ I’m saying yes. When you invite me to come to church, I’m saying yes. When you invite me to come down that aisle, I’m saying yes. When the Lord says I am to repent of my sins, I say yes. And when the Lord asks me to be baptized, I say yes. And when God asks me to lead my family in the faith, I’m saying yes."
And squeezing my hand doubly so, he said, "Pastor, this Sunday I’ll be there, my wife will be there, my children will be there. And when you give the invitation, I’m saying yes. I’ll be right down that aisle." I had never had anybody talk to me like that. And I think of it as being one of the noblest responses that a man could ever make in his life. "I’ve been saying no to Jesus; but beginning today, I’m saying yes. And here I am, pastor, and here I come." That is salvation and that is revival.
And that is the appeal that we make to you who have listened to this service on television. Where you are in your house, in your home, the Lord is present and He makes appeal to you that you accept Him as your Savior. If you don’t know how to accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, you will see a number on the television screen: there’ll be some godly person there who will answer that call and who will lead you into the most marvelous, life-saving, soul-delivering decision you’ll ever make in your life: accepting Christ as your Savior. Do it. Call us. And I’ll meet you in heaven one glorious and triumphant day.
And to the great throng in God’s house this moment, down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the press of people on this lower floor, "Pastor, today is the day of salvation for me. I’m accepting the Lord as my personal Savior. I’m opening my heart to Him. I’m bringing my family." One of you, just you, or two of you, a couple you, or the whole family you, while we prayerfully wait and while we sing our song of appeal, make it now. Come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.