Date: February 20, 1938

Petition for a Blessed Eternity

God, our Father:

Thou art the Author, Preserver, Restorer of all life both on earth and in heaven. Humbly and contritely do we therefore pray Thee by the atoning merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, that Thy Holy Spirit may help us detach our hopes and desires from this world, which must pass away, from this life, which must end, and take reverent time to consider our immortal souls, to prepare for a blessed eternity. Amid all the uncertainties of life nothing is more certain than this, that we all must die; but amid all promises of Thy mercy none is more positive than the pledge of Thy Son “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” So instruct us in Thy truth that we know the escape from death, the wages of sin, to eternal life, the glorious consequence of Christ’s sin-removing salvation. Bring us to that living Savior; keep us faithful to Him throughout all our journey here on earth, and in Thy good time, O gracious Father, take us, every one of us, home to Thee, to the mansions of hallowed joy prepared for us by the Savior, who died that we might have eternal life. Enlighten us all, so that we not only number our days and seek to strengthen our faith, but that we joyfully anticipate an eternity of bliss and glory with Thee, the Savior and the Spirit. Hear us, and help us live forever, for Thy name’s sake! Amen.

This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.John 17:3

GRATEFUL friends once planned to present Andrew Jackson with an imposing memorial. From the distant shores of the Old World they carefully brought a huge marble coffin that centuries before had held the remains of a mighty emperor; and it was their expressed intention that after President Jackson’s death his body should be laid to rest in that imperial sepulcher. In declining this impressive tribute, Andrew Jackson wrote: “I have prepared a humble depository for my mortal body beside that where lies my beloved wife, where, without pomp or parade, I have requested, when my God calls me to sleep with my fathers, to be laid, for both of us there to remain until the last trumpet sounds to call the dead to Judgment, when we, I hope, shall rise together, clothed with that heavenly body promised to all who believe in our glorious Redeemer, who died for us that we might live and by whose atonement I hope for a blessed immortality.”

Was Andrew Jackson right? Did Christ die that he might live? Will that “blessed immortality” await him and his wife, though their moldering remains lie humbly buried in that quiet Southern garden at the Hermitage? Or are those right who scoff at every mention of an existence beyond the grave, who have words of taunt chiseled into their tombstones, whose ashes are strewn over land or lake to ridicule the possibility of bodily resurrection? Are those preachers in the Christless, creedless churches right who, instead of speaking a word of assurance to lives overshadowed by death, offer only cold, cheerless question-marks or at best refer vaguely to a survival of our personality, whatever and however that may be? Do those instructors of our American youth speak the truth who deny all real, personal existence after the decay of the body? Forty-five years ago Harvard University was bequeathed $5,000 to pay for regular lectures on the immortality of man; but most of the speakers, well paid for their dissent, have seriously questioned or deliberately denied the life to come. So I repeat: Is there an eternity, or do men die like dogs?

We must recognize in the conflict of this alternative the supreme question of all destiny. We have only one life to live, and how short, shallow, disappointing, it often proves to be! Only a few years with their clouds and sunshine, their sins and sorrows, their faltering and failure, and then—often without any warning—the last, the fatal moment, when you and I, our eyes closed forever to this earth, our lips sealed, our hearts stopped, our breath vanished, are left in the motionless silence of death! And what then? Is the grave our gloomy goal and decay our inescapable destiny?

Some of you may find this subject unpleasant, for we dislike to think of death. It is mentioned as a vague uncertainty; yet nothing is more definite and certain for every one of us! We regard our last hour as immeasurably distant, when, in this very moment, it may overshadow some in this audience, and all of us today are a week closer to our end than when I last spoke to you.

Too often we have little interest in eternity. Many are totally unprepared to face death. We have elaborate finishing-schools, teaching the grace and the charm of life, expensive technical schools dedicated to the increase of comforts, highly endowed cultural schools, that emphasize the intellectual treasures of life; but where outside the Church and in moments of overpowering peril is any serious thought accorded the question of eternity? We try to learn how to live with ease and security, comfort and profit, enjoyment and satisfaction; but how many take time to prepare themselves for death, to learn how to die in peace and joy? Consequently grasping materialism, the eat-drink-and-be-merry delusion has seized millions; for if the grave ends all, if there is no Judgment in the next life for the earthly wrongs, no compensations for present sufferings, then away with restraint! Banish all decency! Choke off all purity! Destroy all sympathy! Live dangerously and deliriously, selfishly, sensually!—That delusion was never so prevalent in America as in this hour.

Let us raise a mighty protest dear across the continent as ten thousands of you join me in asserting our faith in these last words of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I BELIEVE IN . . . THE LIFE EVERLASTING”

We find the basis of this faith, the assurance of eternity, in the promise of our glorious Savior Himself (Saint John 17:3): “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”

I

ETERNITY ASSURED BY CHRIST’S PROMISE

It was a sacred moment when Jesus spoke these words. His hour, the deliverance for which the past centuries had dawned, was at hand! Before the sun set on another day, He would be nailed to the cross, His holy head would drop into death. During this last night of His earthly life, in preparation for that ordeal, He strengthens Himself and His disciples through the sacred, heart-revealing, high­priestly intercession, preserved in this seventeenth chapter of Saint John; and the first divine promise in His valedictory prayer is this guarantee of a glorious eternity: “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”

Today, too, if you would have a practical answer to this age-old question, “What lies beyond the grave?” you must go—not to the scientist; for the most painstaking biologist can neither prove nor disprove the resurrection of the body. You must ask—not the philosophers, who can offer only conflicting theories, that leave the soul bewildered. You must consult—not the Spiritists, the frauds and charlatans who have caused so much heartache that I appeal to all of you as citizens to see that the laws in your community regarding fortune-telling, mediums, and Spiritists’ seances are strictly enforced. For the one true answer to this universal question, “After death, what?” you need more than the naturalists’ pretty pictures of the seed that decays in the ground only to sprout forth in new life, of the lily bulb that is buried in the dark ooze of the pond only to push its way into the light of new life and beauty, of the warm, pulsating spring that comes after the cold death of winter; for when life flickers in its last fitful flames, you need more than pictures and symbols. You must have immovable assurance!

For that confidence, let there be no doubt or misunderstanding; we must approach Christ and declare, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life!” It has been well said that history has seen many religious teachers but only one who has said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I carry that thought farther and say that there are many religious creeds but only one which can offer eternity—our faith in Christ.

When Christ tells us today: “This is life eternal,” no question-marks lurk behind these promises. His pledge is no guess or wish-thinking. You can trust Jesus and build on His Word. Every year I ask whether Christ’s blessed promises have ever failed in the life of any one within the range of this broadcast; and though many have poisoned their minds toward the Lord Jesus, I have never received a single genuine statement declaring that Christ has not kept His word. When Jesus says, “This is life eternal,” believe it, trust it, and rejoice in it. You may doubt the promises of statesmen as you continue to witness war and class hatred, unemployment and poverty, suffering throughout the world; you may question the pronouncements of scientists as new findings prepare to overthrow previously accepted teachings. Some of you may doubt the words of your fellow-men, your friends, or, in the deepest depths of human unfaithfulness, the sincerity of those to whom you are pledged for life, as infidelity and broken promises drop to new depths; but in Christ you have God’s own assurance, His word, “This is life eternal,” which shall endure though heaven and earth pass away, to give us the inner conviction that, though we die, yet in Christ we shall live again, that you and I are more than highly developed animals, our lives more than series of accidents, our bodies more than the toys of a whimsical fate, our hopes more than bubbles on the froth of life, our destiny more than eternal discard on the rubbish heaps of time, that through Christ, though we die, yet shall we live.

Should there be any reasonable doubt that the omnipotence of Almighty God can prepare this “life eternal” for us? Do not the marvels of His creation suggest the power to recreate us in a new and blessed existence? Cannot He who made the unmeasured heavens with the gleam of billions of stars, whose word of divine command brought forth the mysterious planets with their vast distances,—Mars 141,701,000 miles from the sun and Neptune more than 2,700,000,000 miles? Cannot that omnipotent Ruler of a universe in which all these heavenly bodies around our earth include but a fraction of the sweep of all space resurrect our bodies into the glories of that heavenly life which Christ promises us?

More vital even than our heavenly Father’s power to revive and restore is the assurance of His divine love for all men, ungrateful, insincere, selfish, and sinful as they are. Distrusting minds demand proof that the Almighty wants to quicken dead bodies and enrich men with eternity. That proof is granted us only, but completely, by Jesus Christ. Why did that royal Redeemer of the race take upon Himself the form of a man, humble Himself to the death on the cross? Merely to show us how to overcome our difficulties, to leave an example of self-sacrifice, in the first instance to make this world a better place in which to live, to help promote international, interclass, intercreed peace? Did Jesus come to prove Himself a Reformer or Superstatesman,—only to give us the Golden Rule or a new code of lofty principles? Infinitely higher than all this is the one paramount objective of His Savior-love, our redemption from sin and death for everlasting life. Why did Jesus hang on the cross at Calvary? Keep this golden climax truth safely enshrined in your faith as you repeat with me that simple but blessed summary of the Gospel: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE”! He came to atone for sins and, with sin forgiven, to break the power of death. Why was Jesus resurrected from His rock-hewn grave on the third day, and why, after this mighty Easter miracle, did He appear in His resurrection body to various witnesses, as many as five hundred in one group? Was it not to speak this radiant promise into our fearsome souls, “Because I live, ye shall live also”?

How can we express the brilliance and splendor of this “life eternal”? No words in any language, no rhetoric of any oratory, no powers of imagery in any art, can do justice to the heavenly homeland. Eternity is beyond the scope of our understanding, just as it exceeds our powers of description. Yet if we study carefully those Scripture pictures of our “Father’s house,” in the “better country,” we are impressed by the fact that the sacred writers, exhausting the resources of language, employ the imagery of earthly beauty: gold, crystal, sapphire, amethyst, pearls, to picture heaven as the Kingdom of Glory, that “eye hath not seen nor ear heard,” where “we shall see Him,” no longer bleeding and buffeted, crucified and killed, but enthroned at the right hand of the Father forever in majesty and glory. Heaven, with no sinful thoughts and impulses; heaven with no tears nor trials, no sickness nor sorrow; no hunger nor thirst; no pain nor sleeplessness; no weary bodies, weary hearts, weary minds, weary souls, no worries nor cares, no partings nor farewells, no death nor burial; heaven, with joy forever and not a trace of disappointment, with everlasting peace and not an enemy to oppose us, with never-failing light and not a moment of the deep shadows and darkness that have fallen over many lives; heaven, with “a great multitude . . . of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues . . . before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,” crying: “Salvation to our God . . . and unto the Lamb”; heaven, with the hosts of saints and blood-washed sinners, the great company of Christian martyrs, our godly fathers and mothers who may have gone before us and our children who may come after us; heaven, where above all we shall be with God the Father, who created us, His Son, who redeemed us, the Holy Spirit, who sanctified and preserved us;—that eternal life in heaven Jesus offers you!

Listen to these words again: “This IS life eternal.” The Savior does not say: “This will be life eternal.” He does not promise: “I am going to be the Resurrection and the Life.” His clear “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” tells us that, once we are His, from the first moment of our faith, we have “life eternal.” Jesus means exactly what He says when He promises, “If any man keep My saying, He shall never see death.” With Christ you live in eternity now, and when your frail, disease-ridden, torn, mangled body is paralyzed into motionless silence, your soul lives on. What men fear as death to the Christian becomes simply the instantaneous transition from one phase of existence into another, inexpressibly happier life. Contrast the dying hours of scoffers and of Christians; you will see that, while the last moments of unbelievers are often marked by groaning, shrieking, cursing, as proud scoffers chatter in fear and toss violently on their deathbeds under the whip of their consciences, recoiling in terror from the torture of hell, on the other hand, Christian martyrs, young and old, have marched into death with a prayer of thanksgiving in their hearts and a doxology on their lips; Christian leaders in their last hours have comforted and sustained those around them and declared in the words of an English author: “See how easy it is for a Christian to die!” Nor is this peace and calm serenity restricted to the age of martyrs and the bygone days of a simpler life. I have seen it myself, on that unforgettable day when we knelt at the bedside of my own father; having spoken his final blessing and prayed his last prayer for pardon through the cleansing blood of Christ and for faithfulness to the end, he closed his eyes with a glorified smile and the impress of heavenly joy. From the tuberculosis sanitarium erected at Wheat Ridge, Colorado, by the young people of my Church for the healing of body and soul, a young patient has just written me: “My next door neighbor is slowly slipping away from us. But how beautiful is her leave-taking! She wants to hear just Jesus’ words. ‘Please read me Jesus’ words,’ she asks the pastor. She lies there patiently, talking to her Savior, willing and eager to take His hand for that last pilgrimage. Formerly she was restless and afraid; she could not understand why she should have to suffer. Now—with Christ—all is peaceful. She is happy, and all her fears are calmed. She hopes that she will live to hear your next broadcast,” the message of today. If out there on that Colorado plateau the soul of this sufferer clinging to Christ still lingers on earth, I point her as well as all of you who write me that your days likewise are numbered to the blessed words of Jesus, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”[1]

In this way we can find an intensely practical, everyday comfort and strength in the Christian creed: “I believe in . . . the life everlasting.” Under the light of that conviction we cannot view the barriers of the sharp and repeated adversities as obstacles that bar all happiness in life. With our eyes trained beyond the haze of this world to the clear light of heavenly homeland, these disappointments fade into nothingness, and we understand why Saint Paul, beaten, stoned, man-hunted, shipwrecked, opposed, ridiculed, imprisoned, could survey all the sorrows of life, the hatred of men turned to brutes, the unfairness and injustice that roared down upon his defenseless life, and still exult: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

I never knew how widespread the anguish of life was until I could speak to you from coast to coast, and your letters poured in, with thousands of you, each in different shades and lines, drawing the picture of your sorrow, your bereavement, the pain that crushes the peace out of your hearts. Our age is weighted heavily with many sorrows; and I appeal to every true minister of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ who may hear these words to realize fully that the Church’s great commission is found in God’s command: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people,” through the Gospel promise of eternal life—and not through any of the catch-the-people, arouse-the-mob, entertain-the-masses programs in the political, social, materially minded, Christ­denying, Bible-ridiculing pulpits of the day. Before us loom sinister warnings. Newspaper editors now comment on the next war as a foregone conclusion. The rich are still becoming richer and the poor poorer in our diseased social structure and fatal concentration of wealth. The forgetting of God, the neglect of His Word, the blaspheming of His sacred name, the constant fracture of all His holy Ten Commandments, the apostasy in American pulpits, and the far greater masses without the churches than within them,—surely these are all symptoms of disaster, unless the almighty God mercifully intervenes to save us from ourselves. Where can we find unquestioned assurance? Where indeed if not in the faith which teaches us that, no matter what the turns of time may bring, this life,—fill it to the overflowing with sin and sorrow, suffering and disease, poverty and failure,—through Christ, and through Him alone, can become merely the short span of preparation for a glorious eternity, only the narrow corridor by which we pass into the majesty of heaven, the scaffolding that death removes to reveal the glory of eternal life.

II

ETERNITY ATTAINED THROUGH CHRIST’S GRACE

Now comes the most magnificent part of God’s mercy, the grace by which you and I, every one of us, can reach eternal life. If in His wisdom God had decreed that to enter heaven we should have to relinquish every penny that is ours, work with all the power within us, endure the deepest hardships and the most cutting denials, this would be a small price to pay for forgiveness and eternity with Jesus. If the God of all justice had decreed that we should suffer for every sinful thought, every wicked word, every unholy act, that mars our lives, we could not complain, and we would be ready to suffer if only beyond the pangs of punishment we could discern the gleams of everlasting life. Yet—praise and glory be to His endless mercies!—the eternity which we cannot buy or earn, the heaven which no man can secure for us, the everlasting life from which our sins bar us, is granted to every one by the sin-removing Savior’s promise “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”

“What a narrow creed!” some of you say when these words plainly imply that the life everlasting is granted only by the God of the Bible and not by any of these vague, supposedly modern, yet actually ancient pictures of God as a Power or an Influence, as a distant Deity who smiles benignly upon the human race in its sins. “What a narrow creed!” some of you repeat when the words of the Savior state that we can know the Father only through the one Messenger of Love whom He has sent, Jesus Christ. “Let it be narrow,” we answer; “for it is the teaching of the Lord that ‘no man cometh unto the Father but by Me’; ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’” But how all­comprehensive, how worldwide, how ageless, this blessing becomes when you contemplate it with the eye of faith and understand that Jesus offers to all men in all ages and in all places, white men and black, red men and yellow, the full blessings of eternity in this life and the next, and that this glorious promise of complete grace requires only that we know God in Christ! In comparison with this truth every human, earth-bound creed shrivels in its own narrowness.

To know God in Christ, to believe the love of our heavenly Father and the self-giving devotion of Jesus on Calvary, bearing sins that we could not bear, suffering the punishment and the pain that were ours; to know God in Christ, to accept all this mercy, to raise the eyes of faith to Jesus and pray: “‘Lord, I believe,’ that Thou art my God, my Savior, the Sovereign of my soul; to know God in Christ and to trust that Savior through all the dark and cloudy days, to build your hope resolutely on that promise of His merciful direction of your lives even though you cannot understand the divine ways,—that knowledge of God in Christ, that acceptance of God in Christ, that trust of God in Christ, is Heaven’s own seal of assurance upon your promise of eternal life.

I plead with you not to thrust this promise of mercy aside and think that death will await your readiness. How old are you? Twenty years? Have you ever read the telltale figures which reveal the startling number of accidents and the sudden end which overtakes particularly young people, causing more deaths annually in the one State of Illinois, for example, than the total losses of the Union and Confederate armies in the great battle of the Civil War? How old are you? Fifty years? Remember that with all the exaggerated claims for the lengthened span of life you have attained the average number of years. How old are you? Eighty? You have already exceeded by a decade the threescore-and-ten mark, and your life is ebbing fast away. Now is the time to make your peace with your heavenly Father, to prepare for eternity, to tell the world, “I know God, ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ,’ whom He has sent.”

When in the great day of our Lord’s appearing, His second coming to judge the quick and the dead, we stand before the throne of the Lamb, my friends, I want to find all of you, the thousands whom I will probably never meet here on earth, now spread across tens of thousands of cities, towns, villages, and isolated outposts across the continent,—there in that eternal rejoicing. What can we do to help bring you to the Christ of eternal life? Write us if you are without Christ and without the Church, so that we can pray for you, plead personally with you, or send one of the great army of pastors and missionaries who preach the same God and the same Christ, the same hope of everlasting life, that I try to bring you. Let us send you literature with this promise of everlasting life, so that in the most important study you have ever given to any subject you can read it yourself, read it to your children, read it to some near relative or friend who through unbelief or rejection of Christ may be excluding himself from these unspeakable blessings.

If you know of any opportunity for missionary work, any unchurched areas that ought to have regular Gospel­preaching, any empty churches to be rededicated to this living, glorious Gospel, any group of believers that yearns for the dear, uncompromising preaching of the crucified Savior, any hospitals or institutions that want the services of a Christian pastor, any groping souls that have no spiritual guidance and that need Christian help, please give us the privilege of helping in this joyous work that causes rejoicing even among the holy angels. God has been gracious to us in the past, so that we have definite records of several hundreds who have been brought to their Savior through these broadcasts. Will you not help in the various ways at your disposal to spread Christ’s invitation of grace?

May God strengthen us to work with increased vigor and blessings, so that we may all in His good time, by the grace of His Son, stand with the white-robed throng in eternity and declare not only: “I believe in . . . the life everlasting,” but, clinging to Jesus, say: “I have the life everlasting.” O God, grant this to us for the sake of Him who is our Resurrection and our Life, even Jesus, our ever-living Lord! Amen.


[1] This radiant sufferer went home to her Savior in the early morning hours before the broadcast.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.