It is memorable for two reasons: 1. I think everyone, including myself, has looked back on their years prior to being saved, “their wasted years,” and regretting them or feeling like there was such an opportunity missed. 2. I never drew the direct connection with this condition and the Apostle Paul’s life until now.
Let’s take a look.
Here is the condition in Lloyd-Jones’s words:
“We must now consider the case of …. people who are crippled in the present as the result of looking back into the past….that they spent so much time outside the Kingdom and are so late in coming into it. This again is an extremely common cause of spiritual depression. These people are depressed by the fact that they have wasted so much time, wasted so many long years, and that they have been so slow to become Christians at all. They are always bemoaning the fact that they have missed so many opportunities— opportunities of doing good and helping others and opportunities of service.”
All that sin, all those wasted years, that immorality, that debt, foolish decisions, etc.
I have thought about this countless times and I came to Christ at 24 (I am now 36) so I can imagine someone getting saved at 50, 60, 70 and thinking back to all of those “wasted” years.
Jones explains further:
“They look back in that way to the past and they regret it and bemoan it: they look back at the joys they might have had, the years of happy joyful experience they might have had. But it is too late, the opportunities have gone. Why were they so foolish; how could they have been so blind? Why were they so slow? They heard the gospel; they read good books; they even felt something at a certain point but nothing came of it and the opportunity was allowed to go. Now at long last they have understood, and are obsessed by the thought—‘ if only’.”
Now though this is a real issue on the surface, it is ultimately a very foolish and unscriptural one.
He tells us why in two ways: First he gives a few reasons by way of common sense. Then, he gives us some powerful Biblical examples of why we should never think this way
1. You Cannot Change the Past
“I would suggest that the first thing for anyone to say to himself who is in this condition (and the same is true for one who has to help anybody who is in this condition) is that to be miserable in the present because of some failure in the past is a sheer waste of time and energy. That is obvious. That is common sense. The past cannot be recalled and you can do nothing about it.”
2. You Are Damaging Yourself In The Present
“[To] dwell on the past simply causes failure in the present. While you are sitting down and bemoaning the past and regretting all the things you have not done, you are crippling yourself and preventing yourself from working in the present.”
3. React By Doing Something Now
“[If] you really believe what you say about the past, if you really do bemoan the fact that you have wasted so much time in the past, the thing to do is to make up for it in the present. Is not that common sense? Here is a man who comes in utterly dejected and saying: ‘If only— the time I have wasted!’ What I say to him is this: ‘Are you making up for that lost time? Why are you wasting this energy in telling me about the past which you cannot undo? Why don’t you put your energy into the present?’”
Now this is fascinating, to look at the Apostle Paul’s life and realize that he was susceptible to this very condition. Let’s look at what Paul had to say:
And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the Grace of God I am what I am; and His Grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain: but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the Grace of God which was with me.
1 Corinthians 15. 8-10
Let’s look at a few phrases here:
“Last of all”
Paul regretted that he come to Christ so late. In fact, while the other apostles were WITH Christ, he was at that time persecuting them! So he was the last of the apostles. He was also the last one to see the resurrected Christ. He could have regretted all of this, but did not.
“It was all perfectly true, and he bitterly regretted it; but that did not paralyse Paul. He did not spend the rest of his life sitting in a corner and saying: ‘I am the last to come in. Why did I do that? How could I have rejected Him?’ That is what the people suffering from spiritual depression do. But Paul did not. What struck him was the amazing grace that brought him in at all. And so he entered into the new life with tremendous zeal, and though ‘last of all’ yet, in a sense, he became the first.”
“But by the Grace of God I am what I am”
Paul did not let his late conversion depress him. He realized that it is only by the grace of God that he is “in” at all!!! And by this grace he accepted the fact that “I am what I am” because of it.
And this is the very thing anyone facing this condition should focus on. Not the past, the wasted years, the jealousy of those with a long fruitful life in Christ. But the focus should be on the very grace that allows ANYONE in at all!!!
The Doctor Prescribes
Here are a couple of Lloyd-Jones’s deductions from this:
- “The Apostle said that he was ‘not worthy to be called an apostle because he persecuted the Church of God’, but he goes on to add: ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am’. What does it matter what I was? ‘I am what I am.’ Put your emphasis there. Do not be for ever thinking about what you were.”
- “It is not the time of your entry into the Kingdom that matters but the fact that you are in the Kingdom. That is the thing that matters. How foolish it is to mourn the fact that we were not in earlier, and to allow that to rob us of the things we might be enjoying now. It does not matter at all; what matters is that you are in. And if you are in, rejoice in it, and forget you were ever out.”
- “Nothing matters in the Kingdom but the grace of God. That is the whole point of the parable (Matthew 20: Workers in the Vineyard). God has a different way of looking at things. He does not see as men do; He does not compute as they do; it is all grace from beginning to end.”
“Very well, I end with an exhortation from the Old Testament. ‘In the morning’, therefore, ‘sow thy seed: but in the evening withhold not thy hand, for thou knowest not whether shall prosper either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.’ I wonder whether I am addressing someone who has spent a lifetime outside Christ, in sin and the world, someone who has come into the Kingdom in old age, and who has been tempted in the way I have been describing. If so my word to you is this: ‘In the evening, the evening of your life, withhold not your hand in this marvellous Kingdom of grace. It is supernatural. You may find on the Judgment Day that you have a much bigger reward than those who were saved in their youth’. What a glorious gospel. Youth is the great word today— Youth. The question of age is irrelevant in God’s kingdom and it is unscriptural to emphasize it as we do. ‘In the morning sow thy seed’; yes, but with equal force I would say, ‘In the evening withhold not thy hand’.
Other Posts In This Series:
Chapter 1 – Spiritual Depression – General Causes and Treatment
Chapter 2 – A True Foundation For Overcoming Spiritual Depression
Chapter 3 – The Uncertain Christian: “Men as trees, walking”
Chapter 4 – The Balanced Christian: Mind, Heart, and Will
Chapter 5 – When That One Sin Still Condemns You