2 Corinthians 6:1&2 “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, ‘In the time of favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.”
Imagine you were the prosperous head of a Dutch family living in Amsterdam in the middle of the seventeenth century. You wanted a family portrait and advertised for a painter. Men turned up at your house and one presented to you his references which indicated that he had been the assistant for twenty years to Rembrandt and that the great painter had spent hours working with him helping him and teaching him all he knew. You would be most impressed to meet Rembrandt’s fellow worker, and would probably give that man your commission. Or again, imagine that you were an Italian count and in 1485 had just built a private chapel and wanted someone to paint its ceiling you would be impressed if one man who applied for the work had been Michelangelo’s personal assistant for twenty years and had worked with him in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. You would certainly think seriously of employing Michelangelo’s fellow worker.
But in our passage the apostle Paul tells us that he had been working for God and with God. They were so close that often it is impossible to separate Paul’s attitude from his master’s. For example, God so supervised Paul as he was writing his letters to Rome and Corinth that the very jots and tittles of his script were breathed out by God. When Paul preached, the gospel would often come to men in God the Holy Ghost. When Paul beseeched men to be reconciled to God then God was in Paul’s beseechings as though it were the Lord himself who was pleading with men. As Paul defended the faith God was defending it. As Paul offered to sinners Jesus Christ in all the glory of his cleansing forgiveness God was also at work at the same time wrapping cords of love around them and drawing favoured men to his Son. Behind the Bible, and in the Bible, and as the truth of the Bible is correctly and faithfully preached there you can meet God, not as a silent observer, but working to bring sinners to himself.
So the apostle begins his appeal to the Corinthians with this extraordinary pronoun ‘we.’ It is not the plural of majesty. There are two distinct beings, the creature and the mighty Creator; redeemed sinners and the great Redeemer himself, yet Paul, Timothy and God are speaking together. “God and Timothy and I urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” What grace! The God who became a man so anxious that we understand lucidly what he is saying that he now is speaking through the pen of an apostle. What is he saying?
1. PAUL PRESENTS THE DANGER OF RECEIVING GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN.
After the English Civil War was over and Cromwell was the Protector the churches in London were packed with people in a great flowering of biblical Christianity. The capital’s citizens could not hear enough preaching. People would write down questions and place them on the pulpits for their ministers to answer, but there was too much for the ministers to do even in reading them all and praying for those questioners. So the ministers commenced a series of daily morning services at 7 a.m. in the churches at Cripplegate and St Giles. In the first year these meetings lasted a month, and in the second year for two weeks. These special services went on for about 28 years. They were almost a forerunner of our conventions – though people went to them before their day’s work began. The sermons which in part addressed these questions were published in books called “Morning Exercises”. Over the centuries they have been reprinted, in fact as recently as in 1981 in six volumes called “Puritan Sermons.”
A certain anonymous person asked those ministers in London 350 years ago what the very text we are considering today meant. How is it possible to receive God’s grace in vain? A preacher called William Jenkyn was asked to deal with it. He was writing a massive two volume commentary on the book of Jude at that time which C.H.Spurgeon later described as “a treasure house of good things.” Jenkyn told his questioner that there are two ways in which we receive God’s grace in vain, when we fail to receive it as it comes to us in the gospel offer, and then, when we fail to go on living in the light of that grace. Let us look at those two.
i] We can receive God’s grace in vain when we come under its influence but fail to respond to it. There was the great prophet Isaiah, with all his poetry and passion and pathos. How powerfully he presented the message of the coming Saviour, and yet he came to lament how few had received his preaching: “Who has believed our report?” (Isa. 53:1). The people pitied the prophet. “What talent, and what intelligence,” they said, “he could have made his mark in the world but instead he has dedicated himself to this pathetic message – zealous about a root out of dry ground. There were plenty of such gnarled twigs blowing along in the desert. Isaiah should have used his talents to serve other worthier ends.” God was so gracious as to raise up a mighty prophet like Isaiah in their day, but the people received the message of his grace in vain.
Or you think of king Jehoiakim resentfully listening to the word of the prophet Jeremiah being read to him by a man called Jehudi. We are told of the king’s response: “It was the ninth month and the king was sitting in the winter apartment, with a fire burning in the firepot in front of him. Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire. The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes. Even though Elnathan, Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them” (Jer. 36:22-25). God was giving the people a final opportunity to repent and be spared the exile in Babylon. In his grace he sent them the mighty Jeremiah, his very own fellow worker, but the people received this grace in vain. Grace was consigned to the flames.
Think on an even more exalted level of the Saviour and his life, teaching and mighty works. Here was the living God. Here was grace incarnate. Yet we are told, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). When he told them “that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:65) the next words read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). The grace of God was there so powerfully and yet they received him in vain.
Or consider the apostle Paul presenting the Christian message so wisely in Athens, not taking any knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures for granted in his audience, in fact quoting to them from one of their own poets. Some of his hearers embraced God’s grace, becoming followers of Paul, but others sneered. So it has been throughout the history of the church. Every great preacher of God’s grace has been heard in vain by some. I have witnessed a man going off to sleep in a pew while Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was preaching. God’s grace can be powerfully present, the wind of the Spirit be blowing, many being quickened and yet for others it is all in vain.
But how about ourselves? Do we consider the possibility of being in our place on a Sunday and being surrounded by the means of grace but not profiting at all, leaving the service as in the same state in which we arrived? I would ask you are you preparing yourselves for the means of grace? Students, teenagers and young couples, don’t stay up late on a Saturday night watching TV movies. Get into a good routine on Sunday mornings. Beware of distractions when you are sitting in church. John Chrysostom was the most famous preacher of all the early church fathers. His name means ‘golden-mouthed.’ He reluctantly became the bishop of Constantinople in 398. He was preaching once on the topic of the Bible, and he was obviously fearful of the congregation receiving the grace of God in vain. There occurred some minor distraction in the congregation and this is what he said: “Please listen to me – you are not paying attention. I am talking to you about the Holy Scriptures, and you are looking at the lamps and the people lighting them. It is very frivolous to be more interested in what the lamp-lighters are doing….After all, I am lighting a lamp too – the lamp of God’s Word.” How important to heed the word of God. When Beethoven became stone deaf, he learned that by clenching a stick in his teeth he could hold it against a piano sounding board and thus detect sounds, and thus he went on writing his compositions: such desperate efforts to hear. How precious the gift of hearing, but you are able to hear. Are you profiting from the word? There’s the old adage, “Sit near … and hear.” It is easier to avoid distractions when they are behind you in the congregation.
Pray for the preacher and the congregation. I go to a Friday morning Prayer Meeting at 7 a.m. in which the praying centres on the ministers of the gospel and the congregations who will hear them in this community on the following Sunday. I feel that meeting always puts me in a mood for the next days of intensive preparation. In a special way the Lord has promised to be present when we gather on the Lord’s Day working in the hearts of his people. So I set to and work because God is working. You too ask the Lord to make his presence known to young and old.
In the Welsh revival of 1859 two preachers were talking together. One said, “Have you noticed how all the ministers are preaching a great deal better than they used to?” “Yes,” his friend replied, “but perhaps people are listening a good deal better than they used to.” “That may be true,” said the first man, “but I think the sermons ought to be much better these days.” “Why is that?” said his friend. “Because all the congregation seems to be praying for their ministers now.” God blesses in answer to earnest prayer, ministers preach better, and listeners listen better. Then the better the sermon, the better the hearing and people pray with even more fervour. The whole process is self-perpetuating. Pray for the preachers that men may not receive God’s grace in vain, that not a word will fall to the ground. There is a sermon of Augustine’s on Psalm 31 in which he makes this simple plea to his congregation, “I commend my inability to you.”
There is the terrible possibility of perishing under a pulpit which preaches the grace of God. Judas did, and so did Ananias and Sapphira. All the truth, and the passion, and the clarity with which the word of God comes to us is yet heard in vain. But it is not only at the beginning we can receive God’s grace in vain but …
ii] We can receive God’s grace in vain when we fail to live by that grace which we profess to have received. There was the church at Galatia. How did that congregation start? By God’s grace alone! Then how did it go on? It sought to add to that free grace the engineering of man – circumcision and 7th day sabbaths and food laws and feasts in Jerusalem and visits to the Temple there. Muddled mischievous men said that grace was all right for starters, but for full salvation you needed to keep those laws. Paul writes to them and says, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Gals. 3:3). They were setting aside a Christian salvation which was all of grace. Initially they came to Jesus just as they were ‘weary and worn and sad.’ He accepted them and saved them just as they were. The beginning of their Christian life magnified the saving power of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. They must go on trusting in that grace and not even think that ceremonies were essential in order to save them. Paul affirms his own convictions in these words, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Gals 2:21).
Again, we receive God’s grace in vain when it does not become that mighty redeeming energy in our lives progressively sanctifying and cleansing us, making us increasingly like Jesus Christ. Remember what Paul told Titus about the grace of God that has made its appearance in this world. That grace “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). Has grace been your teacher instructing you in practical obedience to those lessons?
Let me illustrate that to you. The famous American preacher of the 19th century, Henry Ward Beecher, was on a vacation sailing down the Ohio river on a steam boat with forty other people. Some of the other passengers on board recognised him and so on Sunday morning asked him to preach to them. He agreed and chose the text, “In honour preferring one another” (Roms 12:10). The NIV translates it, “Honour one another above yourselves.” That is, it is the duty of Christians to honour other believers more than they honour themselves. So Henry Ward Beecher begins to open up this theme to these people recalling the day like this: “I show them how beautiful it is. I illustrate it. I show them how beautiful it is to prefer those who are inferior. I tell them how grand and noble a man feels who treats his servants, the lowest of them, with a consideration which makes them more manly.” Then as he preached on he could see the effect his words were having, some were wiping away a tear or two. On and on he spoke showing the loveliness of studying to make the other Christian happy and seeking his very best interests. Then he drew to a close. It was almost lunchtime. He announced the last hymn and prayed and closed the meeting. Then, in his own words, this was the sight that met his eyes:
“Then the gong sounds, and every man tears for that dinner door; every man rushes for the table, pulling and hauling and trying to get the best place, opposite the choicest dish; and everybody goes to eating with all his might, and nobody waits on anybody. And when they have gorged themselves, they begin to wipe their faces, and say, ‘We had a good sermon this morning.’ At the very first opportunity they had of carrying out the principle, their old nature, their old life, their old base habits, prevailed” (Henry Ward Beecher, Plymouth Pulpit, IV, New York, 1875, p.281). We have received the grace of God in vain if it has made no difference in our lives. James warns us of the possibility of being mere hearers of the word. So what if you heard Jesus himself preach? So what? It will do you no good at all unless you say to yourself, “Now I must apply, by the grace of God, what I have heard from God today.” Is there patience, forgiveness, humility, self-denial, love, gentleness? Is it not the sanctifying word of truth that achieves this? Is it accomplishing it in you? How often does the Lord Jesus say such things as, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). We talk about the marks of grace in a person’s life. You know what grace is? It is God’s almighty power redeeming a sinner and making him like Christ. If it is failing to do that then you have received the grace of God in vain.
Consider the context of this warning. When we entrust ourselves to the grace of God in Jesus Christ we are justified. Paul has declared so magnificently in the preceding verse that believers’ sins have been imputed to Christ and his righteousness has been imputed to them. Grace gives every true Christian that status. But grace never leaves us there. It also gives us a desire and an energy to change, or we have received God’s grace in vain. Let me use John Angel James’ illustration: imagine a man in prison under sentence of death, and at the same time he is dangerously ill with fever. If the supreme court should pardon him that is still not enough for his safety and happiness, for soon he will die of his disease. That sickness has to be cured if he is going to live. On the other hand, if the doctor should cure his disease it is going to be of little consequence unless the supreme court gives him a reprieve. He might get better physically, but what good is that if he must soon experience the lethal injection? Only if he is both pardoned and cured will he be completely saved. So it is with us. The grace that truly justifies us must be a grace that also sanctifies us, or we have received that grace in vain.
If the grace of God has been received into our lives it shows itself by profound emotion, and by deliberate obedience, and by commitment. It is perfectly easy to know the truth, the stories of the Bible, the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, the catechism answers and definitions, and yet not respond. We have to ask ourselves, how am I responding to the grace of God. Think of John Newton’s familiar, almost hackneyed response:-
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Has God’s grace created that note of wonder in us? Have we turned grace into praise? Have we bowed in worship? Is there an emotional involvement in our lives? Does the truth makes us excited? Does it fill us with fear? Does it relieve our fears? Have we known what it is to be in the depths because of our knowledge? Have we known the comforts of grace, and the rebukes of grace, and the ecstasy of grace? Do we worship the God of grace? Do we love the theology of grace? Does our tongue confess the gracious Saviour? We were once fast bound in sin and nature’s night, and grace diffused a quickening ray, and we awoke and our chains fell off and we had liberty and life. If that is the case that reality is going to show itself.
So what about your religion? Is it vain? When God looks at us, at our living relationship with himself, at our fruit, at our growth, does he see enthusiasm for such things as sport and music and money, but concerning Christ we are stillborn? Is that an accurate assessment of your religion, that it is empty? God looks at your moral achievements and your attendance at church on Sundays and he says that you have received the grace of God in vain. Think of the apostle John’s great description of the Christian: someone who walks in the light. Are we?
So Paul begins, in his office as God’s fellow worker, by urging the Corinthian congregation not to receive God’s grace in vain.
2. GOOD REASONS WHY WE SHOULD NOT RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN.
Paul reminds them of what Scripture says. He quotes from the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 49 and verse 8. But how does the apostle introduce this verse? Does he say, “As Isaiah the prophet wrote over 700 years ago…”? Not at all. He actually writes these words, “For God says,” not even “God said.” If something is written in the Old Testament Scriptures then the apostles of Jesus Christ teach us that what the Bible says God says, and that God is speaking now. It is a living word. These are the words he quotes, “In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
i] The apostle and the prophet are first of all looking back. Isaiah is looking back to the first time when God made covenant with Abraham and chose him and his seed to be his own people. Paul also wants the Corinthian church to look back to their own pilgrimage in grace. And we Christians today must look back for there was a time of divine favour towards us in which the living God heard us. There was a day of salvation in which God helped us. The prophet Isaiah could think of a day in the year when king Uzziah died and he had an encounter with the holy Lord in the temple and his life was never the same again. Paul could look back to a journey he was making to Damascus and the great favour Christ showed him by coming and meeting with him there and saving him. “In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Paul is reminding these Corinthians of the time the grace of God came to them. What a time of favour it was in their lives – it was the day of salvation. As Paul was preaching in the house of a man named Titius Justus someone called Crispus, the very ruler of the synagogue and his entire household, believed in the Lord. He was the first fruits of the Corinthian church and then many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
This time of divine favour had happened to them. Great grace had come upon them as individuals. The word ‘you’ is singular and particular: “In the time of favour I heard thee, and in the day of salvation I helped thee.” Think of John Newton’s conversion, March 10th 1748, on a boat in the middle of an ocean in a great storm, the ship filling with water and all hands on the pumps. Newton said to the captain, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us,” and as he said those words he thought to himself in astonishment, “What am I saying, talking about mercy from God?” After a day of huge waves threatening the ship at 6 p.m. there came a lull in the storm and Newton writes, “I thought I saw the hand of God displayed in our favour. I began to pray. I could not utter the prayer of faith. I could not draw near to a reconciled God and call him Father. My prayer for mercy was like the cry of the ravens, which yet the Lord does not disdain to hear.” God says, “In the time of favour I heard thee, and in the day of salvation I helped thee.” The extraordinary change in John Newton began to take place.
I believe this has happened to many of you. There came this period of divine favour into your life in which you met Christians, and they talked to you and invited you to church and commended Jesus Christ to you. You began to read Christian books, and pray, and this miracle began to happen, the Almighty Creator of the heavens and the earth heard and helped you. How utterly insignificant we are in the eyes of the world, the inhabitants of this town, or the people of this planet. Set one human being alongside the galaxy of which the earth is a little part, or compare a man to the universe, and we are an infinitesimal speck. Most people in this community don’t know our names, or our very existence. How many people from this town know where this church is located? We are nothing to them. We are part of the anonymous crowds. We don’t figure in their plans. They never think of us or take us into their consideration. Will they be there to hear us or help us in a time of need? No. But here is the glorious Lord who met with Isaiah in the temple, the mighty Lord who confronted Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, the God who saved these men and women in Corinth – and he also knows our names. He knows us individually. The children sing,
The God who made the earth,
The air, the sky, the sea,
Who gave the light its birth,
Careth for me!
This God in the multiplicity of his concerns, with all the demands that are made on his government and attention in all this vast universe in its immensity and complexity – he cares about me! He knows my name. He knew me when he knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Unnumbered comforts on my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whom these comforts flowed. (Joseph Addison)
He knows where I am at the moment. He remembers my past and my heredity. He is aware of my problems. He knows my needs. He understands my concerns. This God plans for me, and cares for me, and provides for me, and preserves me. He showed favour to me and helped me when he saved me. I have been able to say ever since, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Paul could say of the Good Shepherd, “He loved me and he gave himself for me.” So often men and women struggle for their own existence. There was a sad report this week of the suicide of Princess Leila Pahlavi, the 31 year-old daughter of the late Shah of Iran. She spent her life jetting around from her home in Connecticut, to her mother’s apartment in Paris and then to a suite in the Leonard Hotel in London where she was found dead. She had everything money could buy, but a friend said, “She had no idea where she was going, and what she was doing with her life.” She herself said, “The most important thing is to find yourself, to find a reason for existing, to find a direction in life – a goal” (The Times, June 13, 2001). She died in despair without finding that. We find ourselves when God finds us in the time of his favour and in the day of his salvation. Then we discover who we are, and that we are not alone. God knows my name, and this God cares for me and loves me, personally and particularly. He hears us when we pray and he helps us.
There was a man called Zacchaeus who lived in Jericho. He knew about the Lord but he had no idea that the Lord knew his name. How the Lord helped him to discover the meaning of life. There was a man from Ethiopia making his way back to Africa through the desert in a carriage and the Lord sees him, and calls him, and brings the gospel to him. It was the same in Philippi, Greece, with a businesswoman named Lydia and with the city jailor. Their futures were bleak, but there came into their lives a time of divine favour when God heard them and helped them. That was their salvation, in very different ways.
Paul was reminding these Corinthians of the reality of that, that his saving grace has met with them in the past, and he had heard them and helped them. What peaceful hours they once enjoyed! How sweet their memory still! Don’t let Satan say to you that those times were unreal, and those days were all emotion, that at that time you were weak and vulnerable, you were looking for crutches, but that now you have matured. In fact, those were the days you were most in touch with reality. They were the best days of your lives. Don’t let that grace which you then experienced be in vain. You have moved far from all you have known, into unbelief and perhaps into degradation. Your only hope is that that grace has not let go of you, wherever you are, that God still loves you and will help you. We need to pray, sustained by that, that God will bring them back. It may not seem certain that he will bring them back, but it is certain that if he doesn’t bring them then they will never come! Certainly God is able to hear them, and help them, and bring them. Then I will be comforted by that power and plead it, and pray that God in love will grip them, that he will hold on to them in their rebellion and disinterest. Right down in the depths under them there are his everlasting arms, and one day he may raise them up and set them again amongst his people. What a time of favour! What a day of salvation that would be! So Paul first looks back at the time of favour when God heard and helped them.
ii] Then he looks around, and almost repeats the words of Isaiah, but now he puts them in the present tense: “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” What Isaiah was prophesying has come to pass. We are living in the days of God’s favour, when men and women are experiencing God’s salvation. They are being ‘saved.’ Of course, it is possible to abuse this teaching of salvation in the Bible like any other teaching. Perhaps we have been collared by a very religious gentleman who speaks of being ‘saved’ in an unpleasant and self-confident way. It seems to me that an endless stream of modernist ministers appear to have met such people because these clumsy evangelists are always being rebuked by modernists. Salvation is abused when it is spoken of in an overbearing and threatening manner which is utterly alien to the Lord Christ, and if you are one such victim then please dismiss that experience from your mind. There is yet such a time as “the day of salvation.” There are dramatic conversions and there are also very gentle conversions when the month or year in which it took place is not known: no tears, no emotional experience, there is simply a knowledge in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord and God raised him from the dead.
The great emphasis of Paul here is that the day of grace has not passed. Now is the day of grace or salvation. This Sunday night, June 17, 2001, when the clock on the gallery says it is about 7 p.m., here and now, is the time of God’s favour. Not many years in the past, not some time in the future, but this moment is the time of God’s favour. How can we know that? Because the Lord has brought you here tonight to hear these words about the Saviour. He has drawn you where we gather together in the name of the Lord, where he himself is present, not in the capacity of judge but in his favour as the welcoming Saviour. To you he promises rest, and forgiveness, and eternal life. Now, at this very moment.
It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, how you’ve lived, what lies you’ve told, how hypocritical you’ve been until today. Now is the day of salvation. Supposing your life has been full of great scarlet sins and huge crimson blotches on the face of the moral universe which would make our faces turn white if you told us about them – now is the day of salvation. If they were great murderous bloody explosions of depravity – so vivid and cruel and destructive – now is the day of salvation. Suppose they were the most aggravated sins against light, against Jesus, against children, against women, against the helpless who pleaded for mercy – now is the day of salvation. Suppose they have brought ruin, desolation and despair into the lives of many – now is the day of salvation. Suppose they were audacious sins, heaven-defying sins, scandalous sins, violent sins – now is the day of salvation. Suppose that of all the sins that have been committed in the world in the last forty years yours have been the darkest, the most appalling, the most shocking – now is the day of salvation.
If I should have lived until now as the chief of sinners, the unique sinner, a sinner against the light of the gospel, against the wishes of my parents, against my own intelligence, against other human beings whom I have hurt, dragged down and left a scar on their lives until now – now is the day of salvation. Let us think tonight of the greatest sin possible. Let us imagine that we were Judas betraying the Lord with a kiss for thirty pieces of sinners. Let us imagine that we were Caiaphas or Annas engineering the whole trial and bribing the false accusers and intimidating Pilate. Let us imagine that I took the mallet and nails and drove them through the palms of Jesus’ hands and the crown of his feet. Let us imagine every kind of conceivable aggravation, that I taunted him as he suffered. Yet I would still say, “now is the day of salvation.”
Let us imagine that ours was the guilt of the horrors of Nazi Germany, or the atrocities of the Soviet pogrom, or the murders of the Tutsi people of Rwanda, or the killing of the Muslim people of the Balkans – now is the day of salvation. Let us imagine that we made havoc of the church of Christ, poured scorn upon the Christian faith, made the lives of all believers a misery as far as we were able, and kept an eye on the coats of the men stoning young Stephen to death – now is the day of salvation. Let us imagine that ours was the guilt for the pain, cruelty, humiliations and exploitations of the slaves of Africa, and that on the journeys across the ocean we could not resist their firm young flesh, that we were brute beasts – now is the day of salvation.
Today, whoever we are, however deep the crimson, however vivid the sin, however depraved our souls, however apart we feel from our fellow men in the deceitfulness and cunning and heartlessness of our sin – now is the day of salvation. A notorious criminal murdered indiscriminately six young people in New York in the 1970s. He killed 19 year old Jody Valenti, and 18 year old Donna Lauria. He injured others, blinding one young man. He knew none of his victims. He called himself ‘the Son of Sam.’ The police finally caught him. His name is David Berkowitz. He was tried and sentenced to 365 years in jail. He went to Sing Sing prison, but now he is in the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York. This period has been for him a time of God’s favour, and a day of salvation. He works in the prison chapel. He gives out literature. He writes well of his faith in letters to an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. A man from Sing Sing now in Greensville, South Carolina, spent time with him and speaks approvingly of the genuiness of his faith. The Pentecostals have made a video of his life and conversion, but he does not belong to them. He professes to belong to Jesus Christ. As a child he had been adopted by a loveless couple who, when they moved to Florida, left him as a teenager to look after himself on the streets of New York. But now he can look up into the face of God and say, “Father.” His sins which were as scarlet have been washed whiter than snow. There is no divine condemnation upon him at all. None whatsoever. Not one particle. His actions were indefensible and deserve eternal death, but the Son of God himself loved the Son of Sam and bore his guilt and condemnation when he hung on Golgotha. Those crimson sins have all been washed away.
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day And there have I, as vile as he, washed all my sins away.
On the day of salvation there is forgiveness for every sin. It is a day of irreversible pardon. God is never going to review our sins again. God does not put us on parole, he puts us in his family and makes us his heirs. Remember what Scripture tells us of what God does with sin. On the day of salvation God casts sins into the depths of the sea. He puts them into a wilderness where no man dwells. Those sins may be sought but can never be found. As far as the east is from the west so far has God removed our sins from us. He has blotted out as a thick cloud our transgressions. God has dismissed our sins. He has sent them about their business, so far that they can never come back. On the day of salvation that great horrific past is banned. It is dead and buried and God is not prepared to resurrect it, ever.
All you have to acknowledge is that you need this God to hear and help you. I am saying that all you must do is to cry “Help” to God. That is all. You direct your cry to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and you say, “Help me!” Tell him that you are coming in his Son’s name and you need help. Tell him that your only plea is his grace, and your only hope is in the blood and righteousness of Christ. Tell him you’re coming about salvation, that’s all.
What do you need? What money shall you take? What is the currency accepted at the throne of God? Who do you bargain with? What shall you barter with? What do you have to offer? Just your sins. Take nothing but your sins. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.
Just as I am without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee O Lamb of God I come.
If you are asked what kind of man you are, then just tell them that you are a sinner, and that you have sinned some crimson sins, and don’t pretend anything else. Just tell them that it is mercy you want. Just admit your guilt. Tell them you’ve no money, and nothing to plead, that you are just a sinner. Cast yourself on the grace of God. Tell God you don’t want to receive it in vain. You want to be different. You want this burden of guilt removed. You want to change. You can’t go on a day longer like this and you are coming today because you have been told that now is the day of salvation, so there could be no better time to come.
I say, why today, should a guilty past cripple any of you a moment longer? Why should it disturb your sleep, and take away your peace of mind? “Give it to me,” says God. “I will put it far outside your life for ever.” That is the only place for it. There is just one thing to be done, and that is to cover it, and only God can cover your sins. So the best time to come to him is now. Now it is God’s time. Now is the time of God’s favour. Now is the day of salvation. Tomorrow is the devil’s time. Next Sunday is the devil’s day. Today if you will hear his voice, don’t harden your heart, come to the welcoming Jesus and receive his great salvation.
17th June 2001 GEOFF THOMAS