Date: March 14, 1937
Prayer for Trust in the Accomplished Atonement
Ever-blessed Redeemer of our souls:
Throughout vast stretches of this country and our neighboring nations many prayerful hearts are raised to Thee in this hour of far-flung radio worship to thank Thee for the accomplished atonement and the perfect pardon wrought for us and all men on Thy cross of agony and blood. Preserve this glorious truth for us at all costs. Deal with us, according to Thy mercy, as Thou wilt, but always and ever keep this blessed knowledge of Thy full and free pardon for our many transgressions uppermost in our hearts and souls. When we are in danger of losing this keystone in the arch of our faith, jolt us out of our sinful carelessness and bring us, repentant, to a new and heartfelt appreciation of this sacred assurance. Since some are unconcerned about their eternal destiny or are trying to earn heaven by their own frail and faulty devices, send Thy Spirit to accompany our message, so that they may behold Thy cross with eyes of faith and in its pure mercy penitently find forgiveness, grace, life, light, and salvation. We need this glorious Gospel faith every moment and in every place. Bring it into our hearts now and keep this confident trust there forever; without it we are hopeless and lost, but with it the glorious vision of our completed redemption, heaven, is ours. Grant us this confidence, O Jesus, our only, but all-atoning Savior! Amen.
It is finished. – John 19:30
FEW of us realize how unfinished and incomplete most of our endeavors are. A mother’s work is never done, we say; and the late hours spent in sewing and planning, the early hours devoted to the children and the household duties, the long hours required for washing, cooking, cleaning,—all merge into the ever unfinished task of a mother’s life. The same striving, but never finishing confronts fathers. They complete a day at the factory, the office, the store, or the classroom; but after a night of rest another day dawns with its new demands. Like the moving platform in our automotive factories, life rolls on before us. We take our place in the line to perform our trivial tasks; but we never finish, and the line never ends. Surveying the activities of a typical day in our lives, the duties that we should have met, the opportunities that could have been accepted, we ask, “Will we ever finish?” Even when release comes in the last hour, it often brings an overwhelming sense of incompleteness. Death—and the artist’s brush slips from his lifeless hands! the author’s pen blots the unfinished page! the musician’s bow falls from his fingers! a mother’s needle left in her mending! a father’s plans for his family only begun! a young life, on the threshold of promising manhood, taken away forever!—How overpowering the tragedy of incompleteness!
Nor have our most astute minds dispersed this heavy cloud. We institute peace commissions; but have they perfected peace and completed an understanding among the nations? You have the answer when you see London mothers putting gas masks on their babies during the emergency drills; when you behold five civilized, cultured nations engaged in the insanity of the most stupendous naval race in all human history; as you hear Colonel Lindbergh break his silence to warn the world that modern warfare, through the airplane, will bring destruction into your homes. The newspapers headline, “Labor Strike Settled”; but it has not been settled. We witness only an armed truce. Let six months or a year elapse, and the fires of this class hatred may flare up in the flames that consume far wider areas. And we have not finished with a hundred major, crucial problems.
How we ought to thank God on our knees, then, that, while incompleteness is the curse of our existence and the hard struggles of life often remain unfinished or unrewarded, the greatest blessing of heaven and earth combined, the salvation of our souls, has been finished with divine finality, completed forever by the substitutionary suffering of our ever-blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! If our surety for this life and for that to come were built on the inventions, the philosophies, the research, the study, and the opinions of the last five hundred years, the last fifty years, the last five years, there would be no finished faith, no certainty of completed redemption.
But in one of the shortest of the Savior’s seven utterances on the cross (it is only a single word in the original Greek; but what a blessed, faith-building word of eternal promise it is!) Jesus puts the keystone into the arch of our Christian faith and shows us the completed redemption as He speaks this divine, deathless assurance: “It is finished!” (St. John, chapter nineteen, verse thirty.)
Let us study the glory and the comfort of these three words as I employ them, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to bring you the most blessed of all messages that the radio can ever convey, the promise of—
the immovable assurance that in Christ our redemption is eternally perfected.
THE BLESSED ASSURANCE OF OUR COMPLETED SALVATION
When the death-marked lips of Jesus spoke the sentence “It is finished,” barely audible above the din of Calvary, the dying Savior signified that the sufferings of His soul were drawing to their close, that on the cross He had drained the cup which His Father had placed before Him to its last death-dealing dregs. To us that cross has become an emblem of splendor; we glorify it with our choicest artistry, wreathe it in flowers, entwine it with garlands. But for Jesus it was an accursed tree, raised by the regiments of hell, stained with His life-blood. We sing hymns that glory in the cross of Calvary; yet how the Savior shuddered before that cross! We bless the cross, but the men who saw Jesus crucified cursed it; the ancient world knew no more protracted anguish than that gibbet on which victims sometimes writhed for three days in indescribable torture. Yet the sharpest pain and the deepest darkness in the Savior’s sorrow were the anguish of His sin-bearing soul. You know the pain and the convulsion of a single death. How indescribable, then, the agony of Him who “should taste death for every man.” You know what the wages of sin are in one life; how appalling the punishment of Him who gave “His life a ransom for many”! Now, however, these long hours of sleepless agony are drawing to their close, and the Savior, disowned by His own, taunted by men who had become demons, the Savior who lived as no other man has ever lived, who spoke as no other voice has ever spoken, was to die as no other man has ever died.
Yet this dying-hour cry “It is finished” proclaims an infinitely more vital message. These words show us Christ not only as a sufferer, an innocent victim of astonishing cruelty, an apostle of peace who could forgive His executioners and lay down His life for His friends, as a patriot or an idealist sacrifices himself; this cry “It is finished” means that our deliverance is completed, the eternal plan of our redemption fulfilled, the suffering that brought our salvation ended. By this “one sacrifice for sins forever” in the temple of Calvary, on the altar of the cross, Jesus, as both High Priest and atoning Sacrifice, paid the full price for all sins. There, rejected by the common man and the cultured, priesthood and laity, religious and irreligious, Jew and Gentile, Jesus wrote the last words in Heaven’s volume of salvation, the first pages of which had been recorded as the gate of Paradise closed. He left in His creed nothing for His disciples to complete; nothing that could ever be added to change or restrict His redemption. There were no mistakes in His life that had to be corrected, no blot on the stainless record that had to be removed, no heedless word to be recalled, no thoughtless deed to be undone. By that one perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice full and free redemption was finished for a race perishing in its own rebellion.
“It is finished”—that was the cry which would quench the fire and smoke on temple altars and lead the children of God gratefully to offer the prayers of their blood-bought hearts as incense and sacrifice. No more rams and bullocks to be slaughtered; for on the high altar of Golgotha is “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” No more blood of bulls and goats to be sprinkled before Jehovah, for the Son of God and Son of Man offers His own cleansing blood as it drips from His wounded head and His nail-torn hands. No more Sabbaths; instead, by the great freedom wrought for all men and for all times, every day of the seven devoted by thankful hearts and redeemed souls to the worship, praise, glory, and honor of the triune and merciful God! No more Old Testament ceremonial, with the priesthood restricted to the tribe of Levi; instead, a universal priesthood, with every believer enjoying free and untrammeled access to the mercy-seat of Jesus! Gone forever the sway of the Old Testament Law, but now, blessed forever, the sweet New Testament Gospel of mercy! Hushed for all times the rumbling thunders of Mount Sinai and its message of terror “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”; instead, the finished faith, sealed in the blood of the cross, proclaimed, “If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death.”
This, then, is the full, unabridged, unabbreviated Gospel: Christ on the cross paid the full price for our sins; therefore we need not, we cannot, pay for them ourselves. Christ on the cross suffered the complete punishment for all our sins; therefore, if we will only believe Him and trust in Him, we need not and we cannot atone for our guilt. The eternally blessed Savior has done everything for the salvation of all men, at all places, in all ages; and as our merciful Mediator He has done everything completely.
It is not the teaching of Jesus that we must meet Him half way or a quarter of the way or an infinitesimal part of the way; for He says: “I am the Way!” Salvation is not made up 50 per cent of Jesus’ suffering and the other 50 per cent of our own good works, good resolutions, good intentions and purposes. The proportion is not 99 per cent Christ’s and 1 per cent ours; not even 99.99 per cent the Savior’s love and one small .01 per cent ours. Christ is everything, all in all. And when we believe this, we are His. As the apostle triumphs, we are “justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law.” We can repeat to a gainsaying world: “By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.”
That true Christian faith, as it is assured by the dying declaration of Jesus, “It is finished,” is not the Gospel plus anything else; not Christ in addition to any one else; not the blood of the cross supplemented by any human cleansing power; not the Bible on the same level with any new book of revelation, completing key, or human addition; not the cross as an incomplete, developing manifestation of God, but Calvary as the absolute completion when God Himself, dying in human form, cried, “It is finished!”
Hold fast to this firm Gospel, for it is attacked as never before! We have more than three hundred creeds, cults, and isms, divisions and subdivisions, in our country today. Classify them according to their adherence to Scripture, and you will find that many of them make the fatal error either of adding something to the completed Christian faith or subtracting and altering some of its truth. No error has been productive of more uncertainty and despair than this, that the atonement of Jesus must be completed by human endeavor. The great message that the churches of the country must shout from the housetops and broadcast from coast to coast is not the immature discussion of social, cultural, economic, moralizing questions, but the triumphant summoning of the nation back to the completed salvation of the cross. When everythini else is gone and forgotten, that cross will be remembered.
My friends in the ministry, preach that Cross, teach that Cross, live that Cross, exalt that Cross! The world will thank you little for it, nor will it long remember your self-denial and courage; but in some solemn hours when human souls approach the threshold of the next world, their faith will bless your loyalty. It has well been called the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls, this heaven-born, Scripture-grounded teaching of the all-sufficient, universal grace and the salvation completed at Calvary. Build your Church on that rock, your sermons on that theme, your theology in implicit obedience to the Word of God; and then not even the gates of hell, combined with the cunning of men and the strategy of organized opposition, will prevail against you.
And may God give those of you who are not preachers of His Word, who may have denied or rejected His mercies, the grace to treasure these dying-hour words of your Savior in penitent, believing hearts! This message of the blood, this punishment on the cross, can cut to the quick and wound deeply; and I pray to God that it will cut and wound some of you who spurn the Savior’s grace and live in the hard slavery of sin. You big, boastful men; you hard, sneering women; you smart, sophisticated young people, who think that you have outgrown the Church of Jesus Christ, that the Bible is only ancient history, that you can hush Christ out of your lives, follow your own dictates, and be responsible to no one but yourself,—as you behold Jesus bleeding for you, suffering for you, pleading for you, dying for you, may you be shaken from your security into a sense of terror over your sins and gripped by a quaking fear for your soul!
The swift and sudden approach of death and judgment should warn you against the disaster of delay. Last week a man in a California prison raised his hand in oath, asking God to strike him dead if he were not telling the truth, and a moment later he collapsed in a lifeless heap. Last week hundreds of your fellow-countrymen drove away from their homes or their places of business, high-spirited, eager, confident; but they never returned. Death snatched them on the highway. Last week hundreds of others, secure in their own homes, seemed safe from the hazards of the highway; but they met death within their walls. How do you know that the inevitable moment may not come to you this week? Oh, turn to the cross that wounded Christ, but that heals you! Learn what it cost Jesus to redeem your soul; behold your Savior’s love greater than the vastness of this universe, and as He gasps, “It is finished,” believe, from the very depths of your soul, that all you need for forgiveness, life, and salvation is the redemption completed there on the cross,—especially for you.
THE ASSURED BLESSINGS OF OUR COMPLETED SALVATION
I beseech you in the name of the Crucified to accept this completed salvation for the glorious blessings which it offers. With your redemption sealed in Christ, you have the blessed pledge that, as long as you cling to Jesus, no mist or haze of uncertainty can enshroud your hereafter. It is a lamentable truth that we have too much empty speculation in spiritual matters, too many question-marks, too much guesswork, in our modern creeds; but because Christianity is no try-it-and-see-what-happens speculation, no theory subject to change, evolution, and modification,—instead the eternal, unchangeable, immovable truth of God, completed at the cross, sealed in its finality by the blood of the Savior, you need not cringe in fear for the future if you have Christ. You need not despair over the hereafter if you can call the Crucified your Ransom, your Substitute, your Friend in life and death. If our salvation were not completed, if there were still something to be done, some victory yet to be won, we would be lost in the labyrinth of doubt. Because the Son of God has performed every sacred act required for our redemption by the divine justice of His heavenly Father, you and I, grasping the Cross of Christ with the firm grip of faith, are raised above that uncertainty which limits us to hoping, yearning, praying, for our salvation. We have everlasting, time-defying, doubt-destroying assurance in these three words of golden truth “It is finished.” Do not think that, if you have Christ as your Savior, the question of your redemption is still open to debate. It is the closed, certified, infallible, unchangeable truth of truths, approved by the Word, acknowledged by the Father, attested by the Spirit, glorified by the angels of heaven.
How marvelously faith in this complete salvation fortifies our lives and strengthens us for our troubles! Under the blessing of this finished faith the eternal, errorless Word promises: “Thou [O God] wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.” “Perfect peace,” that triumphs over the discords and the rankling hatred of life! “Perfect peace,” that can place a gleam of heavenly joy into eyes filled with tears! “Perfect peace,” that enables us to look at life through the eye of faith and see, as we mark the dark, desperate days of our affliction when there seemed to be no justice in earth or heaven, no help in God or man, how all this, by the marvel of God’s mercy, has kept us closer to Him and farther from sin; how in these blessed trials He has purified and refined, sifted and strengthened, our faith and given us that “perfect peace” “which passeth all understanding” because it is built on a sealed, assured salvation.
What comfort for our last hours we can take from this cry at Calvary, “It is finished!” I have often thought that much of our human zeal is misplaced, focused on the few fleeting years that we live on earth and only incidentally concerned about that which lies beyond the grave. We like to learn how to live fully. We study how to live intelligently, gracefully, usefully, successfully. Our whole education is pointed toward the objective of teaching each generation how to live according to the best standards of its age. Yet we need to be taught how to die.
These Lenten weeks bring us that lesson, and the crucified Savior is our Teacher. When our last hour comes, if the eye of unfaltering faith is directed to Him; if, like the British essayist Addison, we can ask our beloved ones and friends to gather about our deathbed and tell them, “See how easy it is for a Christian to die,” then our departure will be blessed by a radiant prevision of eternal glory, where our Savior, no longer suspended on the cross, but enthroned in His heavenly eternity, repeats the cry “It is finished” in the words of St. John’s Revelation “It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending.”
My fellow-sinners and my fellow-redeemed, let us ask God for strength to live in this trusting faith, so that with St. Paul, as he awaited the end in his Roman prison, we, too, can say: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” It is told of the Venerable Bede, father of English history, that he was working on the translation of the four gospels into the common language when death overtook him. In his last hours he had come to the concluding chapters of St. John, from which our text is taken. With his end rapidly approaching, he summoned the scribes for the last time and in a race with death dictated his translation with feverish speed. The quill pens flew across the parchment, the twentieth chapter of the last gospel was finished, and his voice broke. One of the sorrowing disciples whispered into his ear, “Dearest master, there is yet one chapter wanting. Will the trouble be too severe?” The question roused the dying servant of God. “Trouble? There is none,” he slowly replied. “Take your pen, prepare your parchment, and write fast.” With amazing strength his spirit mastered the weakness of his dying body; but again, overcome by the exertion, he fell back exhausted. Once more the disciple approached him and, with tears coursing down his cheeks, whispered, “Dearest master, there is yet one sentence unwritten.” After a short struggle Adam Bede gasped in faltering tone, “Write quickly.” The last verse was completed, his Savior confessed and exalted in his last moments; and as a happy smile illumined the countenance of the venerable prophet, he exclaimed, “It is finished!” A few moments later he died.
God grant us all, not primarily money, honor, security, but the grace likewise to be found faithful to Christ and zealous in His service. Then His cry “It is finished” will become a joyful “It is begun” in a better and blessed life, side by side with those who have gone before us in this faith, face to face with our ever-blessed Redeemer! God grant us that end and that beginning for the Savior’s sake! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.