By Walter L. Surbrook
Text: "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." -- Heb. 9:27.
God has made some appointments and He never fails to keep them. In the beginning He appointed the earth, the third planet out from the sun in our Solar System, for man. He started it rotating from west to east, on its axis, at the rate of 1,041 miles per hour, which rotation produces day and night. Then He caused it to travel at the rate of 18 1/2 miles per second in its orbit around the sun, which rotation, with the 23 1/2 degrees inclination of its axis, produces the seasons.
God then beautified the earth with its babbling brooks, rippling streams, singing cataracts and waterfalls. To add to its beauty He gave us a gorgeous background of towering mountains, nodding sequoias, pines and evergreens, and an atmosphere laden with the fragrance of a million blooming flowers. He then carpeted the earth with a rich green verdure on which man could feast his appreciative eye. To more fully satisfy our aesthetic tastes, Jehovah filled the world with the warbling songs of 10,000 species of bright-colored and attractive birds. All this was done for the comfort and enjoyment of man! The whole world was an Eden; and eastward in Eden God planted the garden and placed man in it to dress and care for it.
It was not God's original thought or plan for man to have to earn his bread by the sweat of his face, but the earth was to produce abundantly from its own fertility. In the midst of this supernal luxury and enjoyment, man willfully sinned against God, thus cutting himself off from Deity, and immediately plunging into sin and spiritual midnight. He died spiritually at a stroke, and was at once an heir of physical and eternal death. Man at this point started away from God, and ever since has groped blindly, groveling in sin and degradation.
With humanity now sold under sin and having become its servant, God devised the plan of repentance, either in symbol and type, or in experience, by which man could be restored from sin's slavery. But man is prone to procrastinate, and so continued to neglect his soul and the call of his God that Jehovah was forced to give him a reasonable, and yet limited, amount of time in which to repent.
I want to divide my subject now under two heads.
God gives men time to repent-
I. Collectively, as nations, races, cities, etc. II. Individually.
I. Collectively. God always gives men ample time to repent, and does not cut them off until after He has exhausted the plans of infinite wisdom, and worn out Divine mercy and love, in an attempt to reach their lost souls. Then, as a last resort, He cuts them off. The long-drawn-out mercy and patience of God in giving humanity a reasonable amount of time in which to repent is well illustrated in His dealings with men at the time of the flood. God sent the man Noah, "a preacher of righteousness," to warn, exhort, and plead in an attempt to turn humanity back from sin and get them to repent; but they refused to listen. Also Peter tells us that Jesus Christ came to them in the Spirit, while the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, and preached to those disobedient souls. But they repented not, and God in mercy cut them off, lest they continue to add sin to sin and thus make hell more awful for themselves.
God did not cut them off, however, until He had given them their final warning and ample time in which to repent. In Genesis 7:4, God said to Noah, "Yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain . . . and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth."
Why did God give them the seven days' warning? It was given so that they might have a reasonable period in which to repent; a final time limit was set, for God gives men time to repent.
The number seven is very suggestive and significant, for seven is the number of perfection, or "dispensational fullness." The cup of their iniquity was full, God's mercy had been exhausted, and the dispensation must close. All the attributes of God were crying out, demanding retribution for their sins. Something must break loose, for they had ignored and refused proffered mercy.
Let us notice something about the amount of light these people had. They had no New Testament. They had no Old Testament. They had no Protestant churches with their revivals, long-drawn-out exhortations and altar calls. They had no song books. They had no pleading Holy Spirit and Bride saying, "Come as we have today. Very meager amount of light and opportunity they had in comparison with what we have now; yet God justly and righteously cut them off because they refused to take advantage of their opportunity to repent.
Let me appeal to you, if God could justly and righteously cut them off and send them to hell for turning down the limited amount of light they had, what will He do with you, if you continue to resist the Holy Spirit? Here you are, in a land of open Bibles, a Spirit-filled ministry, with camp meetings, revivals, and altar calls on every hand, and yet refusing to say "Yes" to God, rejecting your opportunity of repentance. If they were eternally lost (and they were), how much deeper will be your damnation? How much sorer your punishment, for refusing to repent?
Not only does God give a race of disobedient people ample time and opportunity to repent, but He gives cities light and opportunity to confess and turn away from their sins. This fact is very clearly portrayed in God's dealings with Sodom and Gomorrah. He permitted Lot to go down into those cities and live a God-fearing life, that men there might have the light and be able to see one righteous man whose soul was vexed from day to day with their ungodly deeds.
I do not say that Lot's going down to Sodom was God's best thought, or first choice, for him. But I am sure God permitted him to go and used him while there, for his life was a continual rebuke to the ungodliness of his surroundings. Lot was as "a city that is set on an hill" in the midst of the sin and slime of those cities. God let him go down there that those wicked men might see the
light, accept it, and repent. But they not only rejected the conviction of the Holy Spirit which God sent to their own soils, but wickedly refused Lot, who was God's messenger. In this they cut off their only source of help, quickly filled up the cup of their iniquity, and the wrath of God was poured out and they are now "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire".
Mark it, God did not cut them off until after He had sent them His man, with His message, and they had refused to repent! Lot had been in Sodom and its vicinity about twenty-five years, a just man whose righteous soul was vexed continually with their unlawful deeds. A godly man could not live twenty-five years in any city or community and remain righteous without being used of the Lord to exhort and warn the people. But the final results show that the inhabitants of these cities turned it all down and ran blindly on, refusing to repent, and it cost them their souls.
They; like the antediluvians, had a very meager amount of light, but because they turned down and refused the light they had, they were forever lost. If you do as they did, you, too, will be damned, world without end! It will "be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than" for you, if you continue refusing to repent.
Let us notice one more instance where God gave a city time to repent. That city was Nineveh. It was a very wicked city, and God said to Jonah, "Go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me." Jonah failed God at first, but finally, in mercy, he was brought back to where he was ready to preach. Now notice God's message that Jonah delivered, and the effect it had on the people. God told him to go down and warn this city that in forty days Nineveh should he overthrown.
After three days of this kind of preaching, the king of Nineveh got down from his throne, laid off his royal robes, and sent a decree all over Nineveh for every man and beast to humble himself in sackcloth and ashes. He demanded, "Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed nor drink water: but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands." This is a type of genuine repentance. The king of Nineveh then asked, "Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" The Lord saw their humility, turned aside His judgments, and spared the city.
But Nineveh was not a city of Israelites. They were not a God-fearing people, but pagans. They were heathens, but because they humbled themselves and repented, God spared them.
Why did God give them the forty days' notice and warning? Because that was their final limit of time in which to repent. God gave them space in which to repent and they took advantage of it and were spared. Why forty days? Forty is the number of probation and they were on trial for the last time. In God's granting this period of time, the fact is revealed that He was not hasty in His judgments, but gave them ample season in which to escape. At the end of the forty days their probation was to be forever past, if they refused to repent.
I appeal to you, if God could have justly and righteously sent that pagan city to hell, in which there were 120,000 people who did not know their right hand from their left, what will He do with you if you refuse to repent? They had no Bible, no camp meetings and revivals, they knew nothing of what an altar call means, yet all of them would have been damned if they had turned away from this final warning. My friend, tell me what will God do with you if you turn down the flood of light you have and continue rejecting the mercy of Jesus? Hell will be indescribably awful for any city or individual that rejects God!
II. Individually. Not only does God give races nations, and cities amble time in which to repent, but He gives abundant opportunity to individuals. God will single you out from the crowd and give you ample time, and as great an opportunity in which to seek mercy as though you were the only soul in the world for whom Jesus died. He gives plenty of time to each individual. The fact that God gives sufficient time to each individual to repent is clearly set forth in Rev. 2:21, where He speaks of warning Jezebel. He states, "I gave her space to repent . . . and she repented not." Then He pronounces His judgment upon her. The judgments of God are always sure to come, sooner or later, on the individual who refuses to seek salvation.
The fact that God gives men sufficient space in which to repent is further proved in His dealings with Ahab. His covetous king desired his neighbor's vineyard, and went over and whined around and said to Naboth, "Naboth, give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house." But Naboth replied, "The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to thee." God had forbidden Israel's selling their inheritance, so it was a question of his conscience and fidelity to God. What did wicked Ahab care for Naboth's conscience? Men who do as Ahab did have so strangled their own conscience that they appear to have none and care less for anyone's else. But Naboth must be true to his God and to his conscience so must you if you maintain a dear experience and have confidence in your profession and prayers.
Ahab then went home, pouted, and refused to eat until his wife saw something unusual was wrong. She begged him to tell her what had happened. He told her that Naboth would not let him have his vineyard. So, immediately, she conceived a plan to get it. If the devil cannot get a bad man to do something for him, he will get a bad woman.
We always expect higher ideals and standards from women, and ordinarily they have such, but if women who are capable of the tenderest love, deepest sympathy, and highest ideals, go bad, this great capacity becomes subverted, filled with evil, and they can stoop to the deepest depths of sin and degradation. Satan was on hand and had his servant right there to carry out his fiendish work to get rid of God's man. Jezebel at once wrote letters and placed Ahab's official seal on them and carried out a devilish plot by which Naboth was scandalized and stoned to death. After he was killed, Jezebel came to Ahab and informed him that he could now get possession of Naboth 's vineyard. Among the ten deaths recorded in the Bible, at the hands of women, Jezebel's treachery and crime is the most diabolical.
This cruel act of injustice, robbery, and murder stirred the wrath of God and at once He sent the prophet Elijah over to Ahab to say, "Ahab, in the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." This message shot him through like a thousand darts, and at once he humbled himself and walked carefully before the Lord. His humbling himself was the only thing that kept the vengeance of God back from destroying him in his sins.
Why did God send the prophet over to warn Ahab? Why did He not destroy him at once? This would be contrary to God's way of dealing. He always gives a soul time to repent, and if He had cut Ahab off at once, Ahab would have had no opportunity, but He sent Elijah over so that the king might have his final warning. After Ahab heard God's message from the prophet, he humbled himself and God spared him for several months.
At the same time God warned Ahab, He sent a warning message to Jezebel saying, "The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel." But she refused to take God's final warning. Instead of humbling her heart and repenting, she painted her face like a harlot and attempted to bluff her way, thinking she would find favor with Jehu. This brutal warrior, instead of sparing her, demanded that she he thrown out of an upstairs window onto a cobbled stone pavement below. As soon as she landed, without clemency or mercy he trampled her already mangled body under his horses' feet.
Jehu then drove away to an inn where he leisurely ate and drank while the dogs (carrying out God's word) not only licked her blood, but ate her flesh, so that when Jehu returned there was nothing to be found of Jezebel save her skull and the tough skin on the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands. God's word was literally carried out, and some of the lean, hungry dogs, to which she had fed the blood of Naboth, ate her flesh because she refused to humble her heart and repent. God had warned her and given her ample time, but she, brazenly and wickedly, plunged on to her damnation. Jezebel's experience serves as an illustration of God's retribution on a soul who misses his time to repent.
After Ahab humbled his heart and walked softly before the Lord, the prophet Elijah was sent to tell him that because of his humbling his heart the evil would not be in his days, but in his son's days God would bring the evil upon his house. I repeat it, God gives every individual ample time in which to repeat, and if that individual refuses, God cuts him off in his sins!
For example: The winter I was converted, I boarded and roomed with a farmer in the suburbs of the town where I attended high school. I milked cows and did chores night and morning all winter, but in March I was blessedly converted. After the Lord had broken the shackles of sin and Adventism from my soul (for my people were Adventists for three generations), I came to this farmer's home with the joy of God humbling up in my heart, and testified to what the Lord had done. During that same winter this farmer's son was also converted, and this made it convenient for us to talk often on the subject of salvation. One day, as the opportunity afforded itself and the time seemed ripe, I said, "Mr. ___, why do you not give your heart to God, too?" I saw he seemed happy that his son and I were saved.
When I put this question straight to him in that manner, I saw it touched him deeply and he said, "Walter, give me ten years and I will." Being a young convert I did not know enough to press the question and insist on his getting right with God now, so I let it pass, not realizing that he had set his own time; but God took notice of it.
Ten years later, after I had left that public high school, had spent a number of years in seminary, had gone away to college, and was now in my senior year, I received a letter from home stating that Mr. ___ was dead. My mother knew I would be interested to know how he died, so she stated in the letter that he died as he lived. I knew that meant he died without God.
Although that man was not a relative and had been a very blasphemous man, I loved him and I knew he loved me. When that letter reached me with the news that he had died as lie lived, my soul wept for him. I suppose I felt, in a little measure, as Samuel felt over Saul when Saul grieved and disobeyed God. If I had believed in praying for the dead I would have prayed for him. As I walked across the college campus, weeping and suffering in my spirit for that poor lost soul, like a flash the Holy Spirit brought back to my memory our conversation and the fact that he had asked for ten years. In a few moments I reckoned up the years and immediately saw that God had given him the ten years for which he had asked, but in all those years he had failed to repent. His probation had ceased and his soul was lost! He was not only finally abandoned by God, but by God's people, and was buried by the Mormons
I warn you, my friend, don't play the fool and neglect your soul, for if the autediluvian would, Sodom, Gomorrah, and Nineveh had their time to repent, and were finally lost because they neglected, you, too, will be lost if you fail to repent while mercy is yours. If humility and repentance spared Ahab, and failure to repent cost Jezebel her soul, don't imagine that you are one of God's pets, or that He will have more mercy on you than on anybody else. Humble your soul, say "Yes" to God, and hurry back to mercy, for the God of mercy still lives to pardon all your past if you will return while He calls.
While God invites, how blest the day!
How sweet the Gospel's charming sound!
Come, sinner, haste, O haste away,
While yet a pardoning God is found.
Soon borne on time's most rapid wing
Shall death command you to the grave;
Before His bar your spirit bring,
And none be found to hear or save.
In that lone land of deep despair,
No sabbath's heavenly light shall rise,
No God regard your bitter prayer,
No Savior call you to the skies.
Now God invites; how blest the day!
How sweet the Gospel's charming sound!
Come, sinner, haste, O haste away,
While yet a pardoning God is found.