We're going to read again from the word of God. If you have a copy of the New Testament with you, we're turning to James chapter 4. If you don't have a Bible, don't worry about it, just listen as we read the word of God together. James 4 and verse 13, James writes: "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin".
Now, let's just come before the Lord and ask His help as we come to His word this evening. Let us pray: Our Father in heaven, we thank Thee this evening for Thy truth. We thank Thee that Thy word is truth. Our Father, as Thy truth is proclaimed this evening we would ask that the Spirit of truth would be here, that, Father, He would do the work that only He can do in convicting men of their sin and showing them that Christ is their only Saviour. Lord we need Thy help this evening, we pray that Thou would apply Thy word to their hearts this evening that we may know, as we leave this place, that we have met with God. For we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.
I want, right at the outset of the message this evening, to ask you a question. I believe in my heart that the Lord Jesus Himself has laid this question upon my heart to ask you tonight. I believe that there might be one person here, maybe more people, who this is relevant to this evening. I believe He led me to this passage of scripture for someone in our gathering tonight. I want to start by asking this question: are you counting on tomorrow? I want you to answer that in your own heart and mind, honestly. Not the person in front of you, or behind you, or beside you - don't be thinking about someone in your family who's sick - but you tonight, wherever you are in this building, are you counting on tomorrow?
Someone has said that tomorrow must be the longest day of the week, judging by the many things that we leave until tomorrow to do. Raphael, the great artist, thought that the next day - tomorrow, his tomorrow - he would finish his great work of art, his painting. That next day that great work of art followed him, unfinished, in his funeral procession. Charles Dickens, the great novelist, thought that tomorrow he would finish his great novel, the latest novel. Setting his pen down, he turned his attention elsewhere for just a moment, and the angel of death came and took Dickens' life away from him. Schubert, the great musician, tomorrow would finish his 'Unfinished Symphony' that we have with us until today - but Schubert's tomorrow never ever came. Sir Walter Scott, whose diaries are so famous, wrote on the last day of his life these words: 'Tomorrow we shall...', and his life was taken. Literature lovers all over the world would love to know what Sir Walter Scott was planning to do on the morrow.
Now the verses of scripture that we read together tonight, if you just look down at them for a moment, James here is talking about the subject 'tomorrow'. He's asking a question, he's asking: are you counting on tomorrow? James uses an illustration of a man in verse 13, he says: 'Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain'. He's talking about a man who had decided that the very next day he was going to go and do some business in another city. He was going to go with his business, and with his briefcase, go into a city, buy and sell and get gain - become more prosperous. But James is saying to him: 'Hold on a minute. You think that you're going to do this, in fact you are presuming that you can be sure that you have tomorrow with which to buy and sell'.
You see, there was nothing wrong with doing business. James wasn't telling this man off for having business insight, or for looking to expand his riches or his business, but what James was pointing out - the error of this man's ways - was the fact that he falsely presumed that he could have, and could be sure that he had, tomorrow with which to buy and sell. Maybe you know your Bible tonight, you know that the Lord Jesus Christ talked to a man that had a similar idea in his head. If you turned to Luke 12 tonight, you would read about a rich fool. The Lord Jesus talked about it, a man who was successful in his business, a man whose life was taken over by his business insight, by his wealth. He was a man who said to himself: 'I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast laid up goods for many years; eat, drink, and be merry'. But the Lord Jesus Christ said that God had another idea for this man, and God came to him one night and said to him: 'Oh thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?'.
What does our society tell us today? You look at the billboards, you look at the magazines, the newspapers, the advertisements on the television for insurance, for bank accounts, for everything under the sun - and the message that comes across is this: make your future secure, prepare for tomorrow, get everything in order so that if illness comes along, or death comes along, everything will be alright - prepare for tomorrow! Make sure that tomorrow you have enough money. Make sure tomorrow you have enough luxury, that when you retire everything will be set in order and you'll have a happy life. Behind that thinking there is a philosophy, and it's the philosophy of the devil! The philosophy is this: with everything that I can gather in, with everything I can gain, with everything I can achieve, if I get these things, if I purchase these things, my life will be so much better.
Isn't that why thousands across our land do the National Lottery every week? Isn't it? Because they think, if they get the rollover of a couple of million pounds, that their life will just be changed and their life will be so different, and possibly they'll achieve happiness and security. There's this mentality that by building up treasures upon the earth, that somehow we will achieve happiness. James says in these verses that we read together tonight, he says that's not the way it is, because our plans for tomorrow are always, but always, uncertain. We can never be sure of the plans that we make for tomorrow. But, you see, James goes further than this, because he says not only are our plans for tomorrow often uncertain, but so often our plans for the next day can be even unspiritual.
There's another crowd in the Bible who talked about tomorrow. If you were to read Genesis 11, and even turn to it tonight, and verse 4 you would read similar words. In fact, the Lord you'll remember, if you know your Old Testament, you'll remember that sin got to such a peak, and man became so degraded, so sinful and so vile, that God said: 'I've had enough of it!'. He wiped the world out with a flood, except for eight people. You would think that would be it, no more sin - but you'd be wrong, because the people who lived after the flood were nearly as bad, if not worse than the ones that lived before it. In Genesis 11 we read what they said of themselves in verse 4: 'And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth'.
What did they want to do? They came together - all the nations of the world, all the people of the world - they gathered together and they wanted to make a tower whose top would be like heaven itself. They wanted to reach God on their own terms, and why does it say they did it? It says they wanted to make a name for themselves. Just like the man in James 4: 'Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and buy and sell, and get gain' - he wanted to make a name for his business, like the man in Luke 12 who wanted to build bigger barns to hold his produce, who wanted to have a bigger business, who wanted to have more money, who wanted to have more popularity. They all wanted to make a name for themselves!
Let me ask you tonight: are you wanting to make a name for yourself? I don't know what it's at, it could be a name as a good businessman, it could be a name as a good father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter. It could be a name as a good member of the community, a good member in a church. You might want to be rich and famous - but look in our newspapers, on our TVs, and we see the rich and famous, don't we? Sometimes it astounds us at the things the rich and famous get up to! Do you know what I think? I think that some of them actually get up to these things, do you know why? To make a name for themselves! To get their name splattered across the paper! To get popularity - and it doesn't matter, sometimes, the depths that they go to, if it will get them a name it's enough!
Can I ask you: is all you're living for tonight to get a name? Is the only reason for your existence, tonight, the things that you have around you? Is the only reason you have for living your family? What happens if your family is gone? Is it your money? Your money can go! What is it? Your reputation? Your reputation can be broken in a matter of hours! Why are you living, tonight? Is it only for the things that you can achieve, the materialistic things that you can possess, why are you living? Is it to get a name?
Listen, I would be less than honest than to tell you tonight, from the word of God, that if those are the only reasons that you are living tonight - listen - there's a day coming when you will lift your eyes in hell! I'm sorry to be so blunt - but, you see, the Bible is blunt! In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said: 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God'. He said: 'Forget about all those other things, put those things aside' - He wasn't saying they weren't important, but He says: 'What is most important is to seek God, and when you seek God all those other things will fall into place'.
I don't know about you, but I would do anything to save my reputation. Wouldn't you? You'd run a mile to save your family name, you'd do anything to save a pound, wouldn't you! You'd swap your account from one bank into another just to save a couple of pence on interest! You'd do anything to save your children, wouldn't you? You'd give your right arm, you'd give your life, maybe, to save your child - and that's great. It's great that you have that love for your children, but let me ask you a more important question: how much does your soul matter to you this evening? The most important possession that God has given you, your eternal soul, the soul that will never die. Does it matter nothing to you that you could achieve everything - in fact, as the Lord said: what will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
It's not popular today to preach about hell. But whether it's popular or not, it's in the word of God. The Bible says that hell is a terrible place, it's so terrible that God wants no-one to go to that place. In fact the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of that place more than He spoke of heaven, because He wanted to warn all the people who were listening to Him, all the people that His words fell upon their ears, He wanted them to hear that they should flee from the wrath to come. He used symbolism, and He said this was an awful place where there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. He said it was a place where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. He said it's a place where you cannot - you cannot - do anything but remember the times that you heard!
Can I ask you: what are you living for? Are you living for all the things you can achieve, all the material possessions you can have? Well, listen: you will lift your eyes up in hell! I saw a clip of the film 'Titanic'. It showed a picture of all these dead bodies that were frozen, floating in the ocean, the Atlantic Ocean. It was an awful picture, one commentator spoke about it and said that it really brought home to the tragedy of that disaster - thousands of people, dead bodies frozen, floating up and down in the Atlantic Ocean. But listen, tonight: there's something much worse than that! It's this: thousands of dead bodies - not dead bodies! - but thousands of living bodies floating up and down in a lake of fire! Unable to die, unable to pass away, but having to endure an eternity of punishment - why? Because they rejected the salvation that God provided for them.
So much of the time we spend our thoughts and our plans, planning about tomorrow, what we're going to do tomorrow - but so often they can be unspiritual, why? Because we do not have Christ at the forefront of our tomorrow. We boast about the things we're going to do in the future, the young people think about the education they're going to get, the career they're going to have, the people they're going to marry, the things they're going to do in the future - yet you can stand back and think about all these things, and watch as your soul slips through your fingers.
James says something more in this passage, he says not only is our future uncertain, but we have a lack of knowledge about what's going to happen in the future. Not only is there the fact that it might not be there, but we don't even know what will happen if it is there. It doesn't matter how much history you study, you can go to university and get a degree in it, a PhD in it if you want - you can study it as much as you like, but you'll never ever be able to tell something that will happen tomorrow. Isn't it true, men would love to be able to tell you what you are going to do tomorrow. In fact, so many of them try to tell you - whether it's 'Mystic Meg' on a Saturday night, or your daily horoscope every day in the newspaper, the fact remains that the world around us is fixated with what is ahead, the future. To our shame tonight, even the Christian church has been taken for a ride by a bunch of false prophets - why? Because they have this worldly, carnal lust to know what's going to happen tomorrow.
Do you know what the Bible says about tomorrow? The wisest man that ever lived, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, said in Proverbs 27 and verse 1 - he said: 'Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth'. In Ecclesiastes 10 and verse 14 he said these words again: 'A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?'. The obvious answer to that question is this: no-one can tell him! No matter who you are here tonight, you cannot tell me one thing that is going to happen to me tomorrow. Listen, friend, tonight: if you have come into this building and you're not saved, it's worse than that. It's worse than not knowing what's going to happen tomorrow, because the word of God says this: that Satan has blinded your mind as to what will happen tomorrow! He's put into your head that everything is going to be alright, everything is going to be rosy - and if anything happens to you tomorrow, well, God will get His big scales and He'll weigh the good with the bad, and you'll just scrape through by the skin of your teeth into heaven.
Paul said the god of this world, that is Satan, has blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest they should believe the gospel of Christ. You could be sitting there tonight listening to what I say, and thinking: 'That's all a load of rubbish. It's all supposition. If I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, how do you know?'. Well, listen! God the Holy Spirit, through His word, has shown me what will happen tomorrow - that there is a day coming where there will be a judgement, when the righteous and the unrighteous shall be separated, when those who are not washed in the blood of Christ, when those who have not put their faith in Christ, will have to stand before God and be punished and sentenced for the sins of their life.
I wonder, friend, tonight: has Satan blinded you? James tells us something more, because he speaks of the brevity of our lifespan in the future in verse 14. He gives us an illustration, he says: 'Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away'. What's he saying? Well, if you went home tonight after church, and you plugged the kettle in, you boiled it up for a cup of tea, and you watched. The steam would come out of the nozzle, and you would watch - and you would just see it for a few seconds, and then it vanishes away. James uses this graphic illustration to show us how short life really is, how brief life really is.
In fact Job, in his book in the Old Testament, says that life is like a weaver's shuttle. You've seen a weaver's shuttle going round and round as it weaves the cloth - he says that's just like your lifespan, how quickly it goes round. He says in another part of his book that your lifespan is like a messenger on a horse taking a message, it goes by so quick that you can hardly see it. The Psalmist said that your life is as short as the span of your hand. It appears for a little time and then it vanishes away.
This fact is all too real for me. I'm not long out of school, but tonight - listen - tonight there are five people, five people who I went to school with, and do you know where they are? Well they're not on the earth, and I hope to God they're in the Glory! One of them died with his nose in a bag of glue. One of them died on the end of a rope because he owed money to the paramilitaries. One dropped dead at a disco for no apparent reason at all, he was doing everything right - his heart just stopped and he dropped to the ground. Another went to Australia for a break, he took a year out from university. He was out on the ocean surfing the waves and he never came back. One, a matter of months ago, was coming home from a meal in his car, veered off the road into the ditch and was gone. Boy, did that bring home to me - listen - it's real! Life is brief, we don't know when it's going to end - and it doesn't matter how young you are tonight, young people, it doesn't matter how old you are, we cannot be sure how long it is. No matter where you're from, no matter what religion you are, the statistics remain that one out of one people die.
The Bible says the Lord gives and the Lord takes away - listen: the Lord takes away when He wants, He takes away where He wants and how He wants, and there's nothing - absolutely nothing - that we can do about it when He wants to take our life from us. No matter whether you're sitting under the best surgeon that Ulster has, if God wants to take the life of his patient away He'll do it and there's nothing he can do about it. Our lifespan is so brief. You know, there are people walking down our street at the minute, and they're walking time bombs, they're so ill. I've talked to some of these people, they don't have the Lord Jesus Christ in their life, and they'll tell you: 'Oh, I'm alright the way I am. I'll get right before I die'. Maybe you're here tonight, and maybe you're not terribly well. Maybe you're here tonight and you've a bad heart, or you've something else wrong with you - and you know that your life is on a fine line, but there's so many people and Satan has blinded them to the fact that at any time they could enter eternity, and if they entered eternity they would go to that place that is called hell.
In East Belfast - I'm sure you've got the saying here as well - they would say to you: 'Is your head cut?'. Are you not right? Can you not see the danger that is ahead? Do you not know, if you slipped into eternity tonight without Christ, what would be ahead of you? I can't, with my words, even describe what it would be like. Jesus Christ stands before you tonight, and He is willing to rescue you from it, He is willing to take all your sins away - He is willing to make sure that if you died tonight that you wouldn't go to hell, you would go to a place called heaven. He stands with this free gift of grace that He bought with His blood, and you can stand there with a bad heart, or with an ill life, or with an uncertain future, and you can say: 'No, sorry, it's not for me'.
James asks another question, he basically asks this question: 'Are you prepared for tomorrow?'. Let's ask that question tonight: wherever you are, no matter who you are, are you prepared for tomorrow? He says in verse 15: 'For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that'. How are we to be prepared for tomorrow when we don't know what's ahead? Verse 15 simply says this: we are to be prepared by being in the will of God, by making God's will our will - or, if you like, our will God's will - coming to Him on His terms, doing what He says, turning from what He says to turn from to Himself.
You might say to me: 'David, well, what's God's will?'. You find in the book of Peter, listen: 'God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance'. Do you know what that means? That place called hell, God isn't wanting to send you there - and don't ever accuse Him of it! I hear it so much: 'How can a God of love send people to hell?' - well, listen: Christ stands before you tonight, through His word and through the Gospel, He is willing to rescue you from that place! If you go there it's your own fault! He's not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. What does repentance mean? A big word, what does it mean? Do you know what it means simply? It just means 'turning round', just doing an 'about turn'. What do I need to do an about turn from? Well, you need to turn from your sin, you need to turn from that selfishness that we were talking about beforehand - just living for yourself, living for your gain, living for materialism, and living just for life - you've got to turn from that and turn to Christ! Forsake that old life, say: 'Lord, I want nothing more to do with it, I want to live for You, I want to give my life to You, I want You to save me from that awful place called hell'. If you turn and repent, Christ will save you.
Do you know how I know that? Because He saved me, and there are people here scattered about our building who He saved - maybe some of them were worse than the way you are, but He was able to save them because there wasn't a dark, sinful stain that His blood couldn't cleanse! There wasn't a depth that His arm couldn't reach to to pick them up! If you come tonight, and if you turn in faith and repentance to Him, He will save your soul. But listen: this is amazing, and I find this remarkable, because in verse 16 James says that even after all what he's just said there are still people who remain in their boasting. 'But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil'.
I want to ask you another question: how can you boast about anything? I hope I'm not being rude, I'm not wanting to demean your achievements in life or anything like that, but I'm asking a simple question: how can you boast about anything? How can I boast about anything when it was my life, when it was my sin, when it was my selfish ambition and pride, when it was my foolishness, my filthiness that brought the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven to put Him on a cross, to drain Him of His blood, that my sins could be washed away? It was me, you know, that crucified Christ. If you're a sinner tonight, and all of us are sinners, you crucified Him as well! It was your sin!
A man once had a dream, he dreamt the crucified Christ being nailed to the cross. He saw the Roman soldier lift the hammer high and plant it down on that nail, right into His blessed hand. He couldn't stand the pain and the anguish any more, and he ran over to that man and he pulled him round to take the hammer off him - and when he turned round he saw his own face! It dawned on him that it was he who crucified Christ. There are people running about our cities and our country, and they're boasting about their life and what they've done, when it was their feeble, measly life that crucified the blessed Son of God. Do you know what Paul said? He said: 'God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross' - only in the cross - 'of the Lord Jesus Christ'.
Let me leave you with this: you will pay for your procrastination. You will pay for putting it off. I know there's someone here tonight, and God is whispering in your ear by His Holy Spirit: 'Come to Me today. You've waited so long, you've waited too long, you've got to come to Me today and trust Me, and repent from your sin and your selfish ways. Come to Me now'. And, as if in the other ear, Satan, I know, comes up and, as if shouts in your ear: 'Leave it till tomorrow! Leave it until tomorrow, you've plenty of time! Young person, you've your whole life to live before you, leave it till tomorrow!'. Listen: tomorrow never ever comes. You see, there is no word in the vocabulary of God, no expression in the language of God, that describes trusting in Him - except for the word 'today'. He says: 'Today is the day of salvation! Now is the day of salvation!'. Harden not your hearts today, but trust in Him today - the time of ignorance God winked at, but now, here and now in this building God commandeth all men everywhere to repent!
Listen: you hear the voice of God tonight, I plead to you in Christ's stead: do not leave it till tomorrow, but trust Him today.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church in Portadown, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Can You Count On Tomorrow?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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