By Tom Wells
Let me quote the words of the Lord Jesus once more:
And let me talk with you about the question, "When shall I come?"
Not long ago I sat in a meeting. The discussion was about telling men of Christ. At one point we turned to the question, "What do you tell a man who is not ready to repent?" There are many such people. They say "Yes, I believe what you are telling me is true, but I am not ready yet. One of these days I will be, but not now." This attitude is so common that we have a proverb to cover it. We say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
We might tell such a man any number of things. We could say, "Read your Bible". Or, "Pray!" We could tell him to be faithful in church attendance, to return continually to hear the Word of God preached. We might urge him to talk often with earnest Christians. Yes, we could be tempted to say any of these things, or all of them.
"But wait!" someone says. "Did you say tempted? Is not that a strange word to use in this connection?" No, it is not. Let me tell you why I use the word. I will ask you to follow me closely here.
I am always in danger of not dealing with you faithfully. So is every other believer. If you are not a Christian, we are commanded by our Lord to be compassionate toward you. He has also put that desire in our hearts. We cannot escape it, nor do we want to do so. But if we are not careful we may misuse the very sympathy that God has given us for your good. We may use it to accept your excuses for not coming to Christ. If we do that, we are not helping you. We are doing the opposite. We are aiding you to destroy yourself. That is our temptation.
When must you come to Christ? You must come to Him now. Not next week, or next month. You must come now.
Let me remind you of the reason why God created men. He made us to please Him. Whenever God puts a man right with Himself that man begins to seek to please God. That is the first thing God fixes within the newborn Christian. It is the heart of the matter. In that way God shows us that, if we who are men were what we ought to be, we would always seek to please Him. That would be our natural bent. That is what we lost in the Fall. And that is what God restores to us as He re-makes us.
And surely it is plain that we have no right to put off pleasing God! I have no such right, nor do you. Yet "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). You cannot put off pleasing God, and you cannot please Him without turning in faith to Christ! Your duty is plain. You must immediately forsake your sin and, at once, come to the Lord Jesus. I dare not offer you easier terms than these from Scripture: you "must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:21). God . . . now commands all people everywhere to repent* (Acts 17:30).
The Lord Jesus Himself is your example. He needed no repentance, of course. He was the spotless Son of God. But He took pleasing the Father as the great work of His life. That is what gave His life meaning. Once, when He was under fire from His critics, Jesus talked about this main goal:
Not one of us can say what Jesus said here. No man on earth can make the claim, "I always do what pleases the Father." Only Christ could say that. In that way, as in other ways, He was unique. But every Christian can say this: "Since I have trusted the Lord I have found in myself an increasing desire to serve God. It is often hard. I fail more than I would care to admit. But by degrees I am learning to do His will. I am learning to please God." That is the point -to please God!
The Christian life is a long journey; it goes on for ever. But like every other trip, long or short, it starts with a first step. For us - sinful people like you and me - repentance and faith are the beginning. And you must set out at once. The hour is already late.
There is another reason why you must turn to Christ now. It is this. You are in grave danger of deceiving yourself about the future. If you speak of action "later", "later" may never come. It never came for my friend, Roy.
Roy and I worked together at the City Gospel Mission in Cincinnati. Roy was our janitor. But Roy was not a Christian. Of course we often urged him to turn to Christ. And Roy always gave us the same answer.
"I'm not ready just yet," he would say. "But I'll tell you this. When I become a Christian I don't intend to be a halfway Christian. When I turn to God I*m going all the way!" And Roy seemed to mean what he said. Looking back, I have no doubt that I took him at his word. But I was wrong, and so was Roy.
Roy fooled himself. Why do I say that? Because - mark it well! - there can never be a good reason for putting off
God. You may put me off for any number of sound reasons. You may sleep upon my proposals. In fact, you must! You would not be a wise man otherwise. But you must not delay, you dare not, when God calls!
I cannot forget the last time I saw Roy alive. He was in General Hospital, or rather on one of its many porches in a wheelchair, for it was a sunshiny day. Another friend and I made small talk with Roy while we waited for the right moment to ask him if he was now ready to turn to Christ. He did not look so bad, but in a few days he would be dead.
The thing that makes that day unforgettable is this. I did not hear Roy say much. He was a severely sick man. But I remember the very last word he said to us. As far as I have been able to make out it was the last word Roy ever spoke to one of his friends. He used it to answer the question we had come to ask. It was the word, "No". He did not speak it casually. He did not say it fearfully. It took all the strength he could muster, but he said it defiantly. Just that single word "No!"
How likely are you to deceive yourself about what you will do in the future? Judge for yourself. Life is a battle in which self-deception plays an immensely important role. That is the kind of fight we are in. Christians, of course, are not the only ones who have seen this. On all hands men cry out against our deceiving ourselves. Some call it "rational-ization". Others say, "That fellow likes to fool himself!" In any case, nothing is held to be more common among us than self-deception.
There is nothing surprising about this when you stop to think of it. It bears out a fact, often repeated in Scripture, that our warfare is over our hearts and minds much more than about how we strike the eye. In the Bible the "heart" is what the man is, stripped of all mere appearance. As you might guess, the Scriptures say very much about our hearts. Listen to these words:
The heart is the thing and, with it, the mind which is its richest part! There the battle rages. God tells us we are all prone to deceive ourselves. Where, then, can we find help? Well, if we do not understand our own hearts, there is One who does - God Himself. "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind." He is our help. The answer is to hear His words and to trust in Him, and not at all in our own wisdom, not even in our own good intentions. They will let us down, just as they failed Roy.
Let me give you a final reason for turning to Christ without delay: it is for your benefit to do so. I have already suggested many ways in which that is true. Let me point out two more.
First, if you later become a Christian it will grieve you that you put it off so long. Whatever outsiders may think, the service of Jesus gives every Christian true pleasure. And more than one believer has said to himself, "What a fool! was, that I did not turn to Christ years ago!" It is true that Christianity has also brought us trials. It is not all "sweetness and light"! But in our saner moments we know that those trials are not to be compared with the smile of our Savior, both here and hereafter.
And if you later become a Christian it will make you sad in another way too. You will think on how ungrateful you were to treat your Savior so. You will be sorry that you spurned His gracious appeal. You will remember that it was your love of sin that made you do so. And the memory may very well break your heart.
Finally, let me speak of the greatest benefit of all. I mean the presence of God. Years ago a group of wise men put together a little question-and-answer book that asks this:
Their answer assumes that eternity will hold enjoyment for every Christian. And so it will! But in what will the enjoyment consist? In the enjoyment of God! That is man's chief end. That is the goal to which Christ will bring us, if we trust Him.
What does it mean "to enjoy God"? I am sure I cannot say all that it means. That is beyond me. But I have had a glimpse of its meaning. That is what I would like to share with you.
What is the Christian life? In large part it is an increasing understanding of the character of God, of what God is like. And it happens step by step, here a little, there a little, till there is a sense in which we may say, "I know God." But that is not all. Alongside this there is something else. Some call it "worship". It is a special kind of enjoyment.
The Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, urged men to be "God-admirers". That was good advice; it still is. And it has this, especially, to commend it: it is admiration without disappointment, and it is admiration without envy. When we find men and women whom we admire, our wonder often turns sour. The cause may be in them - "They let me down!" Or, it may be in us - "Why should they be so talented?" In either case our admiration is ruined, usually for ever!
Over against all this stands the "enjoyment" of God. It cannot be disappointed, for there are no failures in God to cause disappointment. And it will not make us envious. One of the first effects of seeing God is this: it takes our eyes off ourselves. When I forget "me!" I can find delight in another. I may look at a fellow human and say, "Why can't I have his money, or his good looks?" That is common enough, and it may drown our friendship. But let me be awestruck by the Almighty! Then I will forget myself as I am dazzled by the love and mercy and kindness and justice and truth and power of God.
And what is the alternative? What if I do not want God? Let me make it more personal: what if you do not come to prize the One who made you? What then?
Jesus said of such a man, "It would be better for him if he had not been born!" (Mark 14:21). Yes, "better"! That man enjoyed a good deal from the hand of God. His life was not entirely unhappy, perhaps not even largely so. But when Jesus said this He put us all on notice that death is not the end. There is a judgment ahead and, beyond that, for those who reject Him there is hell, an eternity away from God. Listen to these searching words of Christ.
The Son of Man is Jesus. If you do not belong to Him when He comes to judge the world He will disown you for ever. This world's true treasure is not its trinkets. Its lasting treasure is the knowledge of God. And if you trade away the good news of Christ for the world's playthings you will not need another to call you a fool. You will do that for yourself, when it is eternally too late.
Just now, however, you have this moment. Let me borrow the words of a preacher of the last century to tell you what to do with it. Charles Spurgeon said these things in a sermon on Jesus as the friend of sinners:
And that is my appeal to you. Come to Jesus; come to Jesus just now. There is no reason to wait outside; there is every reason not to do so. It is true that, if you want to come, it shows that God has been at work in you to draw you. But here is another truth: any sinner who wants to come is welcome. Do you want to come to God through Christ? Do not hold back then! Do not think of reasons why you must not! Come to Jesus, and do it now!