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SEEK THE LORD WHILE HE IS NEAR!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Thursday Evening, August 18, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).


Dr. Asahel Nettleton was the last major "old school" evangelist. That means he did not give in to the "decisionism" that Charles G. Finney was promoting, and which was becoming more and more prevalent during the last few years of Nettleton's ministry. In fact, Dr. Nettleton was the main opponent of Finney and the "new measures" of decisionism. He did not seek for quick responses to an open invitation to "come forward" as Finney and his followers did.

As William C. Nichols, modern publisher of Nettleton's sermons, pointed out,

    Nettleton was a thorough student of the human heart. He understood the windings and turnings of the depraved heart and knew how to expose its deceits to awaken the sinner to the desperateness of his lost condition. You who do the work of evangelism today: Are you such a student of the human heart? Do you understand how the unconverted heart operates? In his sermon on "Gospel Warfare" Nettleton said, "Preaching mere external morality will never bring one soul to Christ. That preaching which does not aim at the heart will never bring one soul to Christ. That preaching which does not aim at the heart, and take hold of the conscience, never attacks the strong holds of Satan."
    Nettleton frequently preached on such subjects as regeneration, self-examination, death, hell, and the final judgment. How often have you either preached or heard sermons preached on these subjects? Two hundred years ago it was common to hear sermons preached on the difference between true and false conversions. Asahel Nettleton frequently reminded his hearers of the signs of genuine conversion and warned those who heard him to beware of thinking they were converted when they were not. How often is this subject preached on today?
    Eternity was the constant theme of his sermons. Nettleton continually reminded his hearers that their eternal destination was either heaven or hell. In his sermon on "The Contemplation of Death" he says, "Every sinner is now on trial once for all. He is now invited by…[the] bleeding Saviour, urged by all the horrors of [hell], to enter heaven. But death closes the [possibility] for ever [of making the right choice]."
    Nettleton also preached on the necessity of the conscience being awakened to its danger prior to genuine conversion. He strongly believed that if the sinner was not awakened to his fearful state, he could not be saved. [He said], "The only remedy which can be applied for the salvation of sinners is the gospel. And the [gospel] never takes effect without alarming…the guilty conscience. Sinner! If you cannot be alarmed, you cannot be saved." (William C. Nichols, Asahel Nettleton: Sermons from the Second Great Awakening, International Outreach, 1995, pages i-ii).

As the last main "Old School" evangelist, Nettleton never gave an altar call. He spent hours after the sermon, alone with those who came to seek his counsel. He threw the matter upon the sinner himself to seek Christ. He left the sinner alone to struggle with Christ, although he often spent hours counselling those who were awakened and came to him for help after the services were closed. It would do any preacher great good to read anything he can find on the ministry and preaching of this great and godly man. I would suggest obtaining a copy of Asahel Nettleton: Sermons from the Second Great Awakening, with an introduction by William C. Nichols and a sketch of Nettleton's life by Dr. Tom Nettles, of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky. Contact Bill Nichols by writing International Outreach, P.O. Box 1286, Ames, Iowa 50014 if you are interested in obtaining this marvelous book of Dr. Nettleton's sermons. You can phone International Outreach at (515)292-9594. The website is www.intoutreach.org.

About half of the sermons in this evangelistic series are adapted from Dr. Nettleton's sermons. They are condensed and given in simplified English for today's readers. And I am giving you one more tonight. It should be remembered that great revivals often attended Dr. Nettleton's preaching, and the resulting converts had a remarkable way of staying in the churches, after conversion under his preaching.

Let us stand and read the text,

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

I would not dare to say that a revival is beginning in our church. That would be presumptuous. That would be wrong. Only God can send revival. We tremble at the thought that we may grieve away the Spirit of God by presuming to speak of revival. And, yet, there is an unusual stirring in our church. In the last few days we have seen several young people step across the borders of this world and encounter Jesus Christ. We have seen them shed tears of conviction and come in adoration and faith to the Son of God. We know by long experience that every conversion is a miracle of grace. We know by long experience that meetings such as these can go on night after night without a single conversion. And, so, we know that several conversions in a few days must mean that God has heard our prayers, and has sent "mercy drops" into our services. We thank God that He is here and that He is drawing and wooing and convincing and confirming souls in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I wonder, tonight, if God may be speaking to you. I wonder if you might be the next young person to step beyond the borders of this world, touch the Saviour by faith, and receive pardon and everlasting life.

But I must caution you with the words of our text,

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

This verse tells a lost sinner that there is something which he lacks. Something he doesn't have. Something that must be found. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found." "If thou seek Him, He will be found of thee, but if thou forsake Him, He will cast thee off for ever" (I Chronicles 28:9).

This verse also speaks of a time. There is a certain time when Christ may be found. There is a certain time when the Lord is near. This is a very interesting truth. There are special times of divine influence, special times when He is near.

This is a thought which the enemies of old-fashioned conversion deny, in an attempt to quiet their own consciences. But these enemies of conversion are wrong. They are proved wrong by the experience of every person here tonight who has been converted. Every Christian here could tell you that there was a special time when God was near, and when, if they had turned away, they might never again have had such an opportunity. The general teaching of the Bible tells us this is true. Our text is a striking proof of it. On this fact, the words of the prophet are founded.

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

There is also a time when Christ cannot be found. "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early; but they shall not find me" (Proverbs 1:28). Yes, there is a time when the Lord will not be near.

The Bible says that the existence of the Lord is always near us. We can never "go from His Spirit or flee from His presence. For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Psalm 139:7; Acts 17:28). This shows us that the nearness of God spoken of in our text must mean something very special.

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

This must have a special meaning. It must speak of His nearness in the striving of His Spirit and glorious displays of His power and grace. Although God is always present, always near, yet not in the sense of our text. We are told to "seek the Lord, if haply [we may] feel after him and find him, though he be not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:27).

There is a special time when God influences and moves the hearts of sinners. The prophet uses this to get the attention of careless, prayerless sinners. Seek Him! Call upon Him now, while He is near. Seize the opportunity. Move quickly, for He will soon depart - and then you will once again be as cold and lifeless as you were before - no, you will be worse, more hardened, more calloused, more seared in your conscience, than you were before. Therefore, do not let this time pass. Take hold of Christ now, while He is moving in this special way among us.

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

This, then, is the plain meaning of our text. As great as the mercy of God is, yet there is a time when in a special way Christ can be found, when He is peculiarly near. In other words, there are special times and special circumstances which are particularly favorable to seeking Christ and calling upon Him, times when success is easier than at other times.

If we are not already experiencing the "mercy drops" of revival, we may well be close to it. At the very least we can say that more people have been hopefully converted in these days than we have seen in a long time. I can say that, at the very least, there is a seriousness in these meetings that I have not felt for years. And I know that this is because God is moving among us. In times like this your conversion is more likely to happen than during any other time. I know that it is never easy for the depraved heart of man to be awakened, much less converted. But the difficulties are fewer, the opposition less intense, in a time of general seriousness like this.

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

One obstacle lost sinners have is that they refuse to think deeply on the subject of their own salvation. Most of the time lost sinners are spiritually stupid, hardened, and stiff necked. The things of the world fill their minds and hearts. I know that no one was ever converted who did not think seriously about his own salvation. The Psalmist said, "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto [his] testimonies" (Psalm 119:59). Without deep and solemn inward thought no one will ever become awakened and converted. The things of the world must be driven from his heart. And his mind must be full of thoughts about eternity. His attention must be focused intently on the single object of his own salvation. All the other concerns and worries of life become nothing to the awakened sinner. Without renouncing every idol and breaking off every sin, and seeking Christ with your whole heart, you will never enter into salvation.

In times of stupidity and dullness, you think very little about the salvation of your soul and the pardon of your sins. You think very little about preparing for death. You think very little about escaping the flames of Hell. You think very little about eternity. But no sooner does God begin to move in these meetings than many people begin to think about their salvation. Then they start talking about being saved. They begin to think about it and talk about it. It becomes more easy to think about your salvation, or rather, it becomes impossible not to think about it.

In the last few nights an interest in conversion has been awakened. At times like this the world has much less influence on the mind. The things of the world, the amusements and "fun" that young people seek, are all forgotten. And now eternity rises in your mind. God and Christ and the Holy Spirit, Heaven and Hell, come into your minds with a peculiar force. Thus one obstacle is removed. And that is why you must,

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

At such a time as this the fear of man is less. The Pharisees did not come to Christ, "For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:43). They were convinced in their consciences - but they were held back by their fear of what others would think of them if they were serious about being converted. They couldn't escape the fear of man.

Many of you would become Christians if you saw others doing so. If you became awakened in a time when most of the people your age in the church are asleep, you would have to come to Christ all alone. Your lost friends in the church would snicker and make little jokes about you becoming serious. That's exactly how I felt when I was young. I was in a church in Huntington Park where all the young people were blind and foolish, joking around, and not serious about Christ. I had to come out all alone, and become the only Christian among them. That was very difficult. It would not have happened to me without the power of God's grace.

But in a church like this, in a time like this, when God is moving, the fear of what others will think is largely removed. Some of your closest friends and acquaintances are becoming Christians. And now they say to you, "Come with us and we will do you good" (cf. Numbers 10:29). Now the lost sinner is not alone. He does not need to be teased and mocked as though he were strange. There are Christians all around him who support him. They are praying for him. He is not alone in his struggle to find God in Christ. And thus another great obstacle and difficulty is removed in a time like this. Nearly everyone is on your side. Nearly everyone encourages you to move forward and find Christ. Thus, it is much easier to come to Christ in a time like this. And so, the prophet says to you,

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

When God is moving, as He is here among us, you are given a peculiar means of grace.

When God is moving, as He seems to be, the prayers of Christians are more earnest for your salvation. The preaching too, at such a time as this, focuses on you and on your particular case. The preacher himself comes under the power and influence of God's Spirit, and he seems to speak directly to you. The very sermons he preaches suddenly seem to be full of power and truth, and they hold your attention as they never did before.

And not only this, but you now have an opportunity of seeing other sinners pricked in their consciences and coming to Christ. The power of God is never seen so clearly as in a time like this when He is moving among the people. "When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory" (Psalm 102:16).

The Spirit of God does more for lost sinners during a few days like this, when He is moving among us, than He does in weeks and months when sinners are stupid, indifferent, and unawakened.

"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

Right now, tonight, Christ is calling to your heart. Come to Him. Believe on Him by simple faith. He will pardon you, cleanse your sin, and save your soul! Let us stand and sing that wonderful song by Dr. John R. Rice,

Oh, what a fountain of mercy is flowing,
   Down from the crucified Saviour of men.
Precious the blood that He shed to redeem us,
   Grace and forgiveness for all of our sin.
("Oh, What a Fountain" by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


THE OUTLINE OF

SEEK THE LORD WHILE HE IS NEAR!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

(I Chronicles 28:9; Proverbs 1:28; Psalm 139:7;
Acts 17:28, 27; Psalm 119:59; John 12:43;
cf. Numbers 10:29; Psalm 102:16)