Date: December 11, 1938
Plea for Persevering Faith
O Christ, Savior of our souls, Sovereign of our lives:
There is one surpassing, all-absorbing prayer, into which all our other petitions would blend, one plea which this vast assembly, worshiping across wide areas, now directs to Thy grace, and that is the entreaty: Keep us in the faith! Bring us to heaven! Save us for eternity! Thou hast promised that, if we are faithful unto death, we shall receive the crown of life; and this eternal diadem we beseech of Thee above all else that we know or can ask. If at times we lose sight of life everlasting and rivet our attention on the unworthy things of this earth, forgive us and grant us a better, purer vision. If we despair of eternal glory, show us that faith in the power of Thy blood can cleanse and save eternally. If in doubt or unbelief we question the reality of heaven and hell, or if we hesitate to accept Thy rich promises of never-ending blessing face to face with Thee, speak to us with Thy Spirit and show us that we can attain to the heights of highest joy when with childlike trust and implicit confidence we believe, even though we cannot see Thee with our natural eyes or comprehend Thee with the human mind. In order that our souls may be saved for the heavenly homeland, remove our doubt, banish our pride, bring us penitently on our knees before Thee; but always, O Christ of grace and truth, keep us in the faith that will lead us heavenward, homeward to Thee, for Thy glory’s sake! Amen.
Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12
WHEN Samuel Finley Morse retired from active leadership in the worldwide industry that his invention, the telegraph, had created, he devoted his time to serious study of his Christian faith. The genius whose first message, ticked over the wires, was a triumphant telegram of praise for divine help, did not permit the honors heaped upon him by practically every civilized nation to lure him from his loyalty to Christ. In the quiet of wellearned rest Samuel Morse read his Bible continually, rejoicing especially in the glorious prospect of heaven. He used to tell friends: “I like to study the Guidebook to the country to which I am going. I wish to know more and more about it.” When his pastor emphasized the extraordinary goodness that God had shown him, Morse replied: “So good, so good; but the best part of all is yet to come.”
If that genius to whom the far ends of the earth had paid their grateful tribute and who had received more decorations and awards than any other man in his age of whom I know, could brush all these heaped honors aside and, looking to heaven, say: “The best part of all is yet to come,” how much more intently should our thoughts be riveted on the many mansions in our Father’s house! How much more eagerly should those who, far from receiving recognition, have met endless heartaches and reverses train their eyes on the heavenly homeland with the confidence that through Christ “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”!
Yet we think so little and lightly of heaven! Our public libraries have imposing shelves of books on how to live long, live happily, live alone, live with others, live in a flat, live on a pension, live in England, live twenty-four hours a day, live on $2,000 a year; but more than this our age needs faith in the one Book that teaches men how to live for heaven and its blessings.
This promise of an all-glorious eternity through faith in Jesus Christ must be the absorbing issue especially for all those who have traveled far and long on the pathway of life. Today the United States has 8,000,000 men and women who are sixty-five years old or over, a group almost as large as the total population of Norway and of Sweden. Within the next ten or fifteen years almost all these will stand before the bar of eternity. We have generous pension plans and, more than any other nation, well-equipped old folks’ homes for those whom American industry, often with cruel short-sightedness, brands “too old.” Of inestimably greater importance, however, is the question: Are those approaching the threescore and ten milestone properly and personally impressed with the necessity of preparing for the better land, where there are no disabilities and disappointments for old age? Let the Government provide ample help for the aged; but let the churches with their spiritual calling approach the masses of our elderly men and women with a heaven-directed message of glory in the Eternal City, not built by men’s hands, without any disease or weakness, where Christ is King and His holy angels welcome every world-weary child of God.
The unspeakable glory of Christ’s heaven must be proclaimed to all ages. Children cherish the story of that happy land, and many times these sweet unblossomed buds in God’s garden have gone home to their Savior with unmistakable rejoicing. This childlike faith should live in every one of us, including our young people and those in the prime of life. With all the uncertainties of our existence that seem to multiply with every modern advance in civilization; with all the new diseases that take the deadly place of controlled sickness, the thought of heaven must be, though this blessing is often ignored, misunderstood, and denied, the magnet that attracts our soul’s affection more closely to Christ.
For this reason I ask you to stand in spirit with me
FACE TO FACE WITH JESUS
as we study the pledge of God’s sacred promise concerning heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12): “Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
THE GLORY OF SEEING CHRIST FACE TO FACE
I shall not argue the question whether there is an eternity. If the Spirit of God does not convince your hearts, nothing that I can say will induce you to believe in a heaven opened by the grace of Jesus Christ. Skeptical scientists shrug their shoulders and call the statement of the Apostles’ Creed “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” an unproved theory. Are not some of the fundamental facts of our existence unproved, though accepted by normal minds? Prominent unbelievers heap ridicule on the Bible truth that these bodies, though decayed, will be recreated through Christ into a newness of eternal life; but with Jesus we breathe a prayer of thanks that, while these unfathomable mysteries are often concealed from “the wise and prudent,” they have been “revealed . . . unto babes,” to those of childlike faith. A leading Modernist unblushingly confesses: “I do not believe in the resurrection of the body,” and preachers in many prominent churches who answered a questionnaire on heaven issued similar denials. But if men deliberately want to pull the crutch from beneath a crippled world and, against the dear testimony of Jesus Himself, bring disaster on their own heads by maintaining that the grave ends all; if some of you are drugging your consciences as you boast that the message of Judgment Day is an outworn superstition by which the Church selfishly seeks to put fear into men’s hearts, I cannot stop the horror of such unbelief, nor subject this promise of eternity to a microscope or telescope test. For me God has spoken, and that is sufficient. Deny the life to come, and you have destroyed the highest hope of the life that now is. For the injustice, sorrow, falsehood, of this earth we need the justice, truth, blessings, of heaven. If there is no hereafter, why blame those disconsolate souls, beaten down again and again by adversity, who raise themselves from the gutters to scream: “Life is useless!” “Life is tyrannical!”? If all our hopes end with our last breath, why not follow the suggestion of the California suicide who proposed that lethal gas chambers, public facilities for self-destruction, be established in all our larger cities where the wearied of life can secure quick release from its burdens?
Thank God, however, we have divine assurance that there is a heaven, a blessed eternity, a radiant life to come! I propose to show you this from only one section of the errorless Word, the thrilling third chapter of Saint John’s gospel There we read the promise that neither time nor hatred nor ignorance can diminish or erase: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” In the same connection, only a few verses before, is that magnificent 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.” Here again we are assured that “the Son of Man must be lifted up that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” If one single chapter contains these repeated promises, how many more priceless pledges of heaven can we find between the covers of the entire Bible, each one an assurance in itself, but combined, a mighty, invincible defense of heaven! Friends and fellow-redeemed, believe this truth! Do not question or debate it! Do not think that you must be able to understand and explain it! Accept heaven in faith! Take God at His word!
That was the victorious trust of Saint Paul when in his matchless praise of Christian love he interrupts the trend of his thoughts to speak of heavenly bliss in this prophecy: “Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” On earth, the Apostle says, we see things dimly, as, in Paul’s day, people looking into the poor reflection of an ancient mirror, beheld the objects imaged only in vague, hazy form; but then, in the glory to come, he promises, all uncertainty and obscuring darkness will vanish. We shall see “face to face.” Here, he continues, we “know in part” only, but hereafter “we shall know” in the same fulness of blessing with which Christ knows us.
How reassuring this heavenly knowledge will be! Human learning in its most elaborate conquest is pathetically limited. Science at its best makes many mistakes. It repeatedly changes its front. With candor and honesty it confesses, “We do not know.” One celebrated scientist admits that “the question how things began is wholly beyond the ken and scope of science.” Another confesses, “We do not know, and probably are incapable of knowing, what matter is.” A third concedes: “As to the origin of life, I know nothing at all.” Recall this when some “expert” tells you that the assured results of modern science have classified man merely as a higher-grade animal. In the world to come, with its better knowledge, those who are Christ’s may understand some of these deep truths of creation. We may have a profound insight into a hundred questions now baffling the keenest minds. The human eye, through the sublime power with which God has endowed it, can even now distinguish more than two million different tints and shades; but when we stand before that rainbow-circled throne of eternity, the range of our vision will be indescribably enlarged. God has given us an intricate system of hearing; yet it is limited. The best ears cannot perceive sounds below 16 or above 20,000 vibrations a second. Yet there are sounds beyond these two boundaries. This message from our station in Saint Louis is broadcast on a radio wave with 550,000 vibrations, although you cannot hear them. How gloriously, though, will the heavenly hallelujahs for our salvation and the celestial hosannas for our redemption resound before the throne of the Lamb when we see what “eye hath not seen” and hear what ears have not heard, “the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”
This promise of a higher knowledge answers the hopes of many bereaved who, lingering at the side of a grave, have asked, “Will we know our dear ones in the hereafter?” During a sad Christmas season when his wife lay apparently slowly dying, Charles Kingsley, preacher at Westminster Abbey, spoke “in the light of the cross of Christ of an eternal reunion, without parting or separation.” That thought brought lasting comfort. If any of you face death in the happy days of Christmas preparation, believe with all your hearts that, when you pass from this world trusting Christ who says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” you join the company of those who have preceded you in that Savior. Scripture accepts this truth of an eternal reunion; never denies or argues it; instead it presents a long list of testimonies, with much emphasis on the joy of that eternal recognition. The Savior Himself tells us that “many shall come from the East and West and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Does He not imply that in the hereafter the identity of these three patriarchs has been preserved? When the last book of the New Testament asks as it gazes upward to the new Jerusalem: “What are these which are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they?” and the answer follows, “These are they which came out of great tribulation,” does not that identify these white-robed saints in glory as those who have suffered much for Christ? When Saint Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica that they will be his “crown and glory” before the throne of the Lord Jesus, does not that infer that He will rejoice in eternity over his Thessalonian converts? No doubt can remain for the Christian who hears the promise of our text “I shall know even as also I am known.” He can look forward with an intensity that increases as the years multiply to that blessed heavenly reunion with his sainted father and mother, with the son or daughter snatched away in the joy of life; and through the strength of faith he confesses, “In Thy presence is fulness of joy.”
That fuller knowledge will also help us understand the mysteries of our faith. Now we “see in part.” We accept many teachings of our creed without being able to plumb their depths or understand their verity. We cannot analyze or dissect the truth of the Trinity or the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. Nor can we realize the full grace of God in Christ or explain why God eternally chose us to be His children. The divine working of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is an impenetrable mystery to us now. But then, when we see “face to face” and “know even as also” we are “known,” we shall be able to delve more deeply in the “depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” Where the ten thousand times ten thousand worship with God in holiness, there will be no denominations and conflicting creeds; no Roman Catholics or Greek Catholics; no Calvinists or Reformed; no Missouri Synod Lutherans; no U.L.C. or A.L.C. Lutherans. In the glory of that heaven all who trusted in Christ and penitently came to His cross for forgiveness, in whatever Church they worshiped here on earth, in one united faith will sing His praise. Oh, that all churches were now outwardly and inwardly united, so that in conformity with Christ’s own words they could be one in advancing the cause of His kingdom!
Particularly comforting for us is the thought that through this sacred understanding in heaven our eyes will be fully opened to the merciful guidance of God and His ways, which on earth often seemed “unsearchable” and “past finding out.” In the glory of the Resurrection many of us, reviewing our lives on earth, will exclaim: “What profit came to me through earthly losses! What joy resulted from my tears! How I thank God that His will, and not mine, prevailed! How grateful am I that my heavenly Father did not answer those selfish prayers which I blindly put before Him!” There, in the heavenly light, you, the redeemed by Christ, will understand that your ambition did not materialize so that you could build your eternal hope on “nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” There you will penetrate the veil of earthly sorrow and see God’s high purpose in bringing you down on beds of sickness so that you might recapture spiritual health, in permitting you to lose an eye or a limb so that you might gain the kingdom of heaven. In that eternal radiance you, sorrowing parents, will know with perfect insight why God permitted your child, for whose life you pleaded with all your heart and soul, to be taken away in death. You will see that it may have been for the child’s sake, for your own sake, or for some marvelous purpose of God, and with the praise of faith you will acknowledge Him who “hath done all things well.” There, you bereaved husbands who have sent word that God unexpectedly called your beloved wives to Him, will see how blessed has been His will and how even these heart-breaking losses have been a part of the eternal harmony by which “all things work together for good to them that love God.” We ought to have much more of this trust for our lives! I appreciate the many letters that come day after day beseeching our prayers in your behalf, and I promise you that as God gives us strength, these requests will be answered. Even more than our intercession, those who face severe operations, who wonder whether tumors will develop into cancer, who seem to have suffered beyond the limit of a cold world’s cruelty, need the strength of faith, the personal assurance that whatever God permits us, as His children, to suffer; comes to us as a blessing in disguise, a fire that refines, a storm that restores. We ought to have more of Luther’s trust. When his beloved daughter Magdalena died, he knelt down to pray once more, and though the hot tears streamed down his heroic face, seamed as it was by sorrow and anguish, he raised his faltering voice to thank God for taking his child to glory.
Yet the most sacred of all joys in heaven, the surpassing glory, far above all these blessings of higher knowledge, is the indescribable and immeasurable bliss by which we shall see Jesus “face to face.” To live forever in the presence of Him by whom the world was created and humanity redeemed; to behold Him who is our Savior and our God, no longer weary and persecuted as He was, but now the Center of adoring faith; to see the hands and feet that once were nailed to the cross and to bow before that Christ in His Kingdom of Power and Glory; to contemplate the sacred head, once bleeding and wounded under the cutting crown of thorns, now glorified by the coronation of a heavenly diadem; to hear the lips of grace that once begged, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me,” speak wonderful words of a love too blessed for our human ears; to sing the new song of the redeemed, the melody of heaven, to the eternal praise of Him who on this earth had heard the jeering cry “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”—that is the fountain fulness of a joy and peace that truly “passeth all . . . understanding.” When the confidence of Job is shared by us and we know that our “eyes shall see Him,” what dazzling light, what infinite purity, what overwhelming joy, what celestial love, shall we behold, “face to face” with Jesus! Freed from sin and selfishness, fear and terror; freed from hate and envy, lust and evil desire; freed from pain and disease, suffering and anguish; freed from remorse and regrets, from disappointments and despair; freed from loneliness and darkness, from distrust and suspicion, we can—and this is the most glorious pledge of eternity—see Jesus “face to face.”
THE PROMISE OF SEEING CHRIST FACE TO FACE
If now you ask that supreme question for life and death, the pointed inquiry which, I pray God, has been asserting itself with restless insistence within your hearts, “How can I see Jesus ‘face to face’? How can I assure myself of the indescribable rapture of heaven?”—I lift my heart to God to thank Him for His grace in permitting me to send the answer from coast to coast. When the Apostle writes, “We shall know even as also we are known,” he bases the promise of this beholding Jesus “face to face” on the fact that Christ knows those who are His. The all-absorbing issue in life, therefore, must direct itself toward being known of Christ, having our names written in the Book of Life, hearing Jesus say, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know My sheep,” and then becoming a member of His flock.
If we pursue this inquiry farther and ask, “Well, how can I be known of Christ?” “How can I have the confidence that He will acknowledge me in heaven?”—and once more I pray that thousands of you are repeating these questions,—then listen as our Lord Himself says, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven.” Read Saint Paul’s assurance “If any man love God, the same is known of Him.” As in every blessing with which Christ enriches us in time and in eternity, we must have faith in God’s mercies. Only with hearts and minds directed heavenward through Christ, can we find the new and rich happiness of life eternal. If God had demanded that, before we enter heaven, we must atone for every sin in the long inventory of wickedness that marks every life, we would recognize, even with our restricted understanding, the justice of this claim and thank God for that opportunity. If our heavenly Father had insisted that, to assure our peace in heaven, we should have to pay untold millions, on bended knees we would thank Him for the permission to spend part of eternity, were that possible, in earning the price demanded. But praised be this unfathomable love! God offers the blessings of heaven freely, immediately, as the gift of His lavish grace, to all who have been washed white and sinless by their faith in the cleansing blood and the atoning death of Jesus.
If you have that trust, nothing else matters in life. No one can keep you from seeing Jesus “face to face.” Lazarus was sore and hungry. Dogs were the only friends moved by his sores and wounds, and crumbs were the only food that sustained him; but by a blessed compensation he was transferred in moment from the poverty of earth to the riches of heaven. The thief on the cross, guilt-stained and blood-marked as he was, had the true confidence. He heard Jesus promise, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise,” and without any delay, without any purgatory for further cleansing and refining (the Scriptures know nothing of any such intermediary stage; it is always either heaven or hell), that saved sinner went from Golgotha to glory, from the pain of his penalty to the Paradise of Pardon. Stephen, the martyr, was stoned to a horrible death, but those jagged rocks could not crush the triumphant vision of faith by which in his last moments even here on earth he “looked up steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.” Paul suffered from a thorn in his flesh, but he was so strong that in spirit he was permitted to see the higher joys of heaven. John was exiled to lonely Patmos; but he had faith, and in the Book of Revelation he received the soul-lifting foretaste of that eternal bliss.
The same promise of triumph can eternally enrich you despite all your sins, if only—and remember there is no other promise—you have this faith in Jesus. As the wise merchant in the parable sold all that he had to secure the pearl of great price, will you not, my fellow-sinners and my fellow-redeemed, focus your souls on the Christ who comes to us particularly during these days of preparation for His advent into our flesh? Will you not, —in His name I beseech you,—with your eyes trained to the blessed hour of seeing no longer “as through a glass, darkly,” but beholding Him, your ever-loving, ever-forgiving, evercompassionate Christ, “face to face,” now pledge Him the allegiance of your hearts if you have never known Him before or offer Him the increased devotion of your hearts if you are His?
O blessed Savior, we cannot fathom Thy love! And even with this knowledge in part, we could never sufficiently thank Thee if all our lifetime, day and night, waking and sleeping, were devoted to Thy praise. How shall we ever sufficiently praise Thy name? Bless us even with adversity and affliction if necessary; but we ask, by the blood that dripped from Thy wounds and by Thine atoning agonies and death, keep us for heaven with everlasting life, where we shall see Thee “face to face.” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.