Date: February 5, 1931?
If a man die, shall he live again? – Job 14:14
“If a man die, shall he live again?” This immortal query of Job, which has agitated the human heart from the very cradle days of the race, is the question that down through the ages has filled men with paralyzing fear and kept blind humanity groping on the edge of doubt and dismay. It is the question that has been asked repeatedly by you who have stood alone and sorrow-stricken before the tomb as you have bid a tearful farewell to the lifeless remains of one near and dear to you. It is the question that has perplexed every normal and intelligent person; for, unless a man is afflicted with spiritual stupidity or cursed with incurable indifference, his reflections, with everrecurring insistency, will lead him into that labyrinth of anxiety and wonder which comes with every serious thought of death.
Of all the fears with which human existence is cursed—the fear of poverty, of starvation, of disease, of insanity—none is so withering as that abject terror which makes men cringe before the thought of the inevitable end. It poisons human happiness and intrudes itself as a spectral phantom into moments of peace and quiet. In spite of the garlands of human eloquence that we may strew on the grave of a departed beloved one, when we see the light of the soul quenched and behold the lifeless form that is cold to the pleading of our affection, unmoved by our hot tears, the age-old question raised by Job demands an answer, “If a man die, shall he live again?”
HUMANITY GROPES BLINDLY, DESPERATELY, HOPELESSLY, BEFORE THE GRAVE.
Job’s question expresses, first of all, the uncertainty of all human attempts to answer this question; for the best that men can offer falls woefully short of giving a positive and definite solution to this mystery. Modern science, in spite of its remarkable progress in recent decades, is incapable of offering any helpful information. In the words of a Princeton investigator, “Science is able to say just one definite thing. . . . When a man dies, the soul is not there. It cannot tell whether the soul has perished or whether it has gone elsewhere.” It is true, of course,—and this needs to be reemphasized in this skeptical, unbelieving, antireligious age,—that most scientific men believe in the immortality of the soul. Thomas Edison, for example, had observed that the sequoia trees of California have lived for four thousand years (or more than 3,900 years longer than the ordinary span of life), and he says that, if the life of the sequoia thus extends through century after century, the immortality of the soul need not startle or surprise us. And he concluded, “Today the preponderance of probability very greatly favors belief in the immortality of the intelligence, or soul, of man.” But, after all, the best that scientific research can offer is merely a strong probability; and all the scientific attempts to prove life after death, all the intricate machines and devices that have been constructed for this purpose, fail to carry any definite and assuring conviction.
Now, if the best human endeavors fall so hopelessly short of the mark, it need hardly be stated that the popular, but fraudulent efforts of modern Spiritists are thoroughly deceptive and ruinous. It has been the boast of Spiritists down through the centuries that they have penetrated deep into the mystery of the next life and that it is incontrovertibly true that they have enjoyed communications from the other side of the grave. But the dead never return. There has never been a bona-fide example of such messages from departed spirits. All that Spiritism has done with its fraud and its failures has been to increase doubt and unbelief, to stir up strife, and to promote souldestroying superstition. God alone knows how many followers of this fraud have been sent to hell on the suicide road. Spiritism stands convicted on its own pernicious record. And it is one of the unexplainable mysteries of our day that rational and intelligent people, who should know of the exposures of the unscrupulous fraud behind these Spiritist seances, can support this destructive superstition to such an extent that there are, upon reliable estimate, no less than 100,000 mediums and clairvoyants and other members of this unsavory guild in our own so-called Christian nation. My appeal tonight, especially to you fathers and mothers who have the sacred responsibility of watching over the welfare of your homes, is to throw out all the magazines and printed matter that cater to this destructive delusion, as harmless and innocent as they may seem at first glance; to oppose all visits to fortune-tellers and Spiritist seances, even though these visits be regarded only as amusing pranks; and to join with other right-minded citizens in driving out of your communities these people of whom the Scriptures say, “All that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord.”
It follows similarly that the weird revelations of which we read and hear so much in our day of religious mystics can offer nothing better. The number of those who claim to have enjoyed special illumination and to have unsealed the secrets of the hereafter is truly legion. But St. Paul says, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” And those who rise up with their special and anti-Scriptural revelations are merely offering the play of childish and irresponsible fancy, or they are malicious charlatans, who trifle with sacred emotions and trade on religious credulity and ignorance. Yet in the perversity of human nature there has never been a cult too impossible to enlist the support of a large number of deluded followers. Up in Canada a fanatic who called himself the Czar of Heaven claimed that he had visited God three times and in heaven had received definite instruction to wear a crown of oranges. The police reaction to this citrous mythology resulted in his arrest as a disturber of the peace; and if similarly drastic procedures were followed in the case of other cult originators who claim to have revealed the secrets of the next world, perhaps substituting psychopathic investigations for the police cells, there would be much less misfortune here and much less disappointment hereafter.
But with scientific research and mediumistic humbug unable to solve this perplexity, modern, materialistic unbelief tries to answer this question with a stolid resignation to crushing annihilation. Those who deny the existence of a living God tell us that death ends all, that, when a man dies, the only thing that is left is the disintegration and decay of his lifeless remains. So we read of brazen scoffers who request that their ashes be scattered to the four winds or who have carved into their tombs ones the statement that their graves are sealed forever, as though defying God to resurrect their body. Yet with all this there is the torment of an uncertain doubt, which has turned cool and collected scoffers and infidels on their death-bed into hysterical madmen. No! the annihilation theory, the belief that death ends all, is in many ways the most piteous of all human attempts to solve the mystery of death; for it tries to stifle a voice that cannot be stifled, to silence a conscience that cannot be silenced in its insistence upon a retribution and reckoning beyond life’s end. And thus, with all this delusion and uncertainty, with scientific research hopelessly baffled, the great mystery of life after death is answered by the masses with a hopeless question-mark or with a fatalistic indifference, which leads them to eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow they may sleep the mysterious sleep called death. Their answer to Job’s ageold question is a cold, blighting “We do not know.”
FAITH HAS THE PROMISE OF A VICTORIOUS RESURRECTION.
But Job addresses this question to God, the one Source of truth and light from which positive certainty and heavenly comfort can come. And we who likewise crave to know what lies beyond the grave turn to the same Source that today can solve every perplexing problem of every human heart—God’s revelation in our Bible. Here, first of all, we learn to know the cause of death. Man was not created for destruction and decay. As he proceeded from the creative master-hand of God, the climax of His divine workmanship, there was no seed of death and corruption in his body. Pause for a moment to reflect upon the radiant glory and happiness of that existence—no pain or sorrow, no sickness or grief, no death and destruction, and for that reason none of the heartrending sobs, none of that desolate anguish that lies hidden in the strange word death. But that Paradise was shattered by sin and by the wilful uprising of man against God. By sin came death; and from that time on man that is born of woman pays for sin with death; for “the wages of sin is death.” Now, if Paradise Lost is to become Paradise Regained; if death, the punishment of sin, is to be removed, then sin and its tragic consequences must be eliminated. And where—oh, searching question of the ages!—is this sin-removing, deathdestroying power?
Where else, I ask you, as we see the Cross of Christ towering over the wrecks of time, everlastingly triumphant as all human efforts to counteract sin fall in hopeless confusion, where else is there assurance for the forgiveness of your sins than in the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ, that cleanseth us, every one of us, from all our sins, as black and damnable and brutal as they may be? So, wondrous truth of truths, with Christ, the Lamb of God, taking away our sins, bearing in His own holy body the iniquity of every one of us, we look beyond the hostile circles of blighted, unbelieving minds, our faith overleaps human doubt and distrust, and from the sacred lips of Him who never uttered one unfulfilled hope or promise we hear this heaven-hallowed pledge, “If any man keep My saying, he shall never see death.” Note the sweeping inclusiveness, the pure grace, the blessed promise of this golden truth. “If any man” (and let me stress as forcefully as I can the wonderful fact that this embraces every one within the range of this invitation tonight, including you who enjoy the admiration and respect of your community, and you who are receiving this message behind prison bars or in the corrective institutions of our country; you who live on in serene and unruffled self-satisfaction, and you who write me that you are troubled with dark and deep sins), “if any man,” Jesus assures us, “keep My saying,”—and that means accepts and believes and follows the divine instructions and the comforting promises of His Savior; if any man humbly and contritely comes to that loving, merciful, forgiving, uplifting, restoring, renewing Christ,—he has this sacred, infallible promise, “He shall never see death.”
But I hear voices raised in protest, asking: “How can Christ promise men that they shall never see death when every one dies?” It is true, man completes the span of his temporal existence and dies; but if he has Christ, he does not see everlasting death. It is like emerging from the dark and gloomy catacombs into the radiant splendor of a new day; his temporal death is not a sad ending, but a joy-filled beginning. To him who keeps the saying of Christ death is but a door to a more abundant and more glorious life; death is but the key which unlocks the perfect fulness of heavenly bliss. The Scriptures well represent this sublime transformation with the picture of a seed sown into the ground, which decays, but later blossoms forth in strength and power. So the body that is consigned to the grave succumbs to the ravages of decay and decomposition, but it bursts forth on that glorious day of the resurrection of all flesh in the glory and beauty of a resurrected body with new power, with new beauty, and joy everlasting.
Again I hear other voices that ask in anxious doubt, “Can Jesus keep His promise?” Let me answer this question by asking other questions: Who was it that stopped that sorrowful procession of mourners outside a city gate in far-off Galilee to restore a dead son to his bereaved and widowed mother? Who was it that called into the grave at Bethany to summon the lifeless corpse of His friend back to a revitalized existence? Who was it that bent His divine form over a Judean maiden slumbering in death to restore her to life with His divine “Maiden, arise”? But above all, who was it that by His own divine and victorious resurrection from the dead, bursting forth from His rocksealed grave, appeared to hundreds of witnesses during the forty days of His resurrected life on earth? Who is this wonder figure of history before whom the terror of death vanished as a cloud,—who, I ask, if not the very Incarnation of God, the everlasting Son of the Father?
Remember, that gift of endless, deathless immortality is the sacred promise that comes to us again and again in God’s errorless Word; for if there is one truth of strength and belief that stands out with particular emphasis on the pages of the New Testament, it is this holy pledge of Jesus, that there is no death for those who believe in Him. Listen tonight as He tells you, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”; as He assures you, “Because I live, ye shall live also;” as He promises you, “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life”; as He comforts you, “In My Father’s house are many mansions.” Review the dozens of repeated promises of a life that lives beyond the grave, of the hope that rises triumphant over the dust of death, and you will know why the saints of God of all lands and ages have been able to meet grim-visaged Death with the calm and quiet assurance of a ransomed soul. You will be able to understand why the simplest Christian, trusting in these sayings of his Lord, can view the hereafter with a ring of indomitable triumph, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”—while the best that infidels and skeptics like Ingersoll can do is to stand over a form prostrated in death and to mumble the hopeless, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
But the soul that has been ransomed through Christ is not lost. Mark well, this sacred promise is sealed to you with a double affirmation, “verily, verily.” You may doubt and wonder when men pledge themselves in promises or relieve themselves of predictions; you are entitled to place a mental question-mark after the best theories that men may advance to explain life after death; but here, with the repeated assurance of Jesus, is a verity truer than earth’s truest truth; a pledge of heaven’s highest hope, which answers the searching inquiry of your heart by pointing you to the glorious resurrection. There you shall see your Savior face to face, in that indescribably happy reunion with those of your dear ones who have gone before you in faith and who together with you shall see “what eye hath not seen” and hear “what ear hath not heard,”—there in that resurrection unto glory. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.