Date: February 5, 1939
Prayer for the Heavenward Vision
O Thou who hast said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” Christ, our risen Redeemer:
Surrounded on all sides by decay and death, we implore Thee: Help us by Thy Spirit to triumph over the fear of the grave by trusting in Thy blood-bought victory on the cross. Show us daily that, though the wages of sin are death and eternal exclusion from heaven, in endless mercy Thou didst give Thyself unto death that not one of us, our sins forgiven, our trust centered on Thee, should die eternally but be blessed by the pledge of heaven. Enlighten our hearts with divine wisdom and keep us always prepared to meet Thee, since the hour of departure is known to none of us. Because we have Thy Savior love and in the fullness of this mercy a heavenly guarantee against eternal death, let our souls not sorrow too deeply in the dark hours of bereavement, as though we were without hope, but direct our vision heavenward! Help all to trust Thee and so to live that we rejoice in sincere gladness over the sacred promise of seeing Thee, blessed Savior, with Thy merciful Father and purifying Spirit, face to face in the endless glories of heaven. Thou hast promised that, if we believe in Thee, we shall pass from death to life. Lord, we believe; keep that promise mightily in our lives and help us find in Thy resurrection the proof for our eternal life. We ask this confidently because Thou hast instructed us to pray in Thy blessed name! Amen.
This is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life. – 1 John 2:25
WHAT, do you suppose, is the most destructive fear that grips human hearts today? Some of you, we may be sure, will answer that the shadow which darkens your life is the worry over money, these sinister questionmarks in your pathway to happiness: “Will I keep my work? Will I have the means to provide for my family?” Labor leaders tell us that despite the commendable and costly efforts of our Government to decrease the regiments of the unemployed, we now have more men and women out of work than a year ago. These experts frankly predict that, unless a radical change comes,—for which they can find no evidence,—we shall continue to have ten million unemployed, with many of them actually suffering hunger. In the richest country of the world, which could offer constructive work for every employable citizen, there is indeed reason for deep-rooted fear when we behold the growing impoverishment of the many poor and the heaping wealth of the few rich or read of a $50,000 “high-society” party a few miles from the slums.
Others among you who are not so hard pressed by financial worries, will say that the most haunting fear in your lives is the dread of war. It is a ghastly spectacle, this present picture of highly civilized nations provoking one another to conflict instead of working for cooperation, with irresponsible, saber-rattling statesmen thundering defiance instead of pleading for reconciliation. When we realize that paid agents are systematically at work in a satanic attempt to hurl our country into another war for profit, it fairly makes one scream in protest to know that, unless God Almighty intervenes, thousands of young men from coast to coast will have their bodies drafted to stop bullets in European trenches. Only a little more of this poisonous propaganda, the blare of bands, the waving of fflags, the inflaming of mob hysteria, the harangues of hatred from the same preachers who twenty years ago helped to involve us in Europe’s war,—only a little more of all this, and blinded millions will be ready to line our city streets and cheer their own sons as they march into an aggressive war, with its disease, degeneracy, and destruction. The dread that all this may be closer to us than we realize is indeed one of the most terrifying of all fears.
Some people, however, remain unconcerned by these national issues. Their worries are personal. They are afraid of cancer or consumption. They are terrified by the thought that their husbands or their wives may prove unfaithful, their children ungrateful and they, deserted, may have to face life alone. They are plagued by the terrorfilled thought that their mental power is weakening, that it may be lost completely.
Yet you can take all these fears and phobias, add to them any other sorrows that life can invent, and their sum total, as appalling as it may be, is exceeded by the deepest terror men know—the fear of death!
You may think that this is an alarmist point of view; but even those who have little regard for God and the Christ whom I preach have admitted this fact. A few months ago, in Switzerland, one of the world’s most noted psychologists, Dr. C. J. Jung, declared shortly before his death: “The world is mad because modern men and women are afraid to die.” Our age has lost its sense of true religious values, and confusion reigns because men have discarded religion and robbed themselves of every assurance concerning the hereafter. Middle-aged people especially, thwarted in their ambitions, constantly ask themselves: “What comes after this life? What happens to my body when the earth closes above it? Can I expect to live again, to meet those whom I have loved on earth? Is there a new world to come, with a punishment for all my sins? Or does death consign this body to decay and end all?” Because with all our culture men have lost Christ and with Him their moral balance, this fear of the hereafter has made ours an age of unparalleled nervous breakdowns, violent insanity, and frequent suicide.
As a protest against this despair and as sustaining guidance for the age-old mystery of death I bring you the message of
ETERNAL LIFE—THE PLEDGE OF DIVINE PROMISE
basing this blessed assurance on the infallible Word of Truth, Saint John’s First Epistle, chapter two, verse twenty-five: “This is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”
ETERNAL LIFE PROMISED BY CHRIST AND HIS WORD
At the outset let us come to an agreement on one basic fact: this “promise” of “eternal life” is not simply a pious wish, a comforting theory. It is rather the positive truth, a fact verified by the most exalted source, the almighty God Himself. I do not want to leave your hopes dangling on a vague “if,” “perhaps,” “maybe.” When our soul and body are involved, we need more than theory or any uncertain “It seems so” or “It may well be.” When we think of death, the grave, its decay, and know that all this ends every earthly hope, we need an unquestionable, inviolable truth; and—praise be to the love and power of God!—we have this in “the promise that He hath promised us.”
God keeps His promises. Politicians glibly pledge themselves to a course of action and then quickly forget their obligations. Hundreds of millions of dollars in stocks and bonds, signed and sealed by American business and industry, will never be repaid. Thoughtless young people commit themselves to unbroken love as they begin married life; but the courts reveal that one of every six of these wedding vows is broken, and only God knows how many more are shattered without the formality of divorce. But here, assured by the blood of Jesus, is our heavenly Father’s promise that will never be broken because it can never be broken. “The heavens shall vanish away like smoke,” He tells us, “and the earth shall wax old like a garment; . . . but My salvation shall be forever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished.” We are not now debating whether there is an existence beyond the grave. We are not conducting a laboratory investigation of the soul’s immortality nor searching for a testing-ground on which the promises of our text may be tried and examined; we are speaking of the divine truth, the immovable assurance, that there is an eternal life promised by Christ Himself, pledged in hundreds of passages of that blessed Word which will not pass away, though “heaven and earth shall pass away.”
Someone objects: “How about the scientists who emphatically deny the life to come or at best shrug their shoulders to say: ‘We can never know what happens after death’?” For every man of learning who contradicts the resurrection of the body I can show you distinguished scientists in the same field who have gratefully accepted the whole truth of the Savior’s repeated promises. We witness altogether too much exalting of reason and of scoffing at revelation, a folly that has always misguided men and misplaced their hopes. During the terrors of the French Revolution blasphemous unbelief sought to dethrone God by placing a harlot on the altar of the Parisian cathedral as the goddess of reason in her triumph over Christ. But a few years later, when a policeman was making his rounds in a disreputable section of Paris and was summoned to a filthy garret, he saw there, under indescribable conditions, a haggard, half-starved, halffrozen woman lying beneath a pile of rags. When he poked his stick at her and asked her name, that wretched creature croaked: “I am the goddess of reason.” A similar misplacement of hope marks all who accept human wisdom but reject the divine; who actually swear by man’s word but at God’s. They are following the same delusion today as the Parisian atheists who bowed their knees before a painted hag.
Some of the outstanding public enemies of Jesus Christ have learned their lesson in the eleventh hour. For instance, John Stuart Mill, one of England’s widely discussed unbelievers, who in his own words had only a “probable God,” for whom the Bible with its promise of eternity was but an outworn superstition, lived much of his life against the will of the Almighty. Despite vanity and unbelief, when his last hour came, John Stuart Mill turned to the Christian faith, as the physician who attended him in his last illness clearly testifies. And may the Spirit of God somehow seize and similarly cleanse the hearts of many in this audience who do not yet know God nor the promise of the resurrection!
Again, someone objects: “Well, if eternal life is so sure, how does it happen that many preachers, particularly those acclaimed as outstanding religious leaders of America, have torn from the Apostles’ Creed its last statements: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.’?” It is a lamentable fact that liberal, Scripture-questioning Protestantism, instead of acknowledging the life to come as Jesus describes it, teaches a vague, indefinable, nondescript survival of personality. Have you noticed how this whole subject of heaven and hell, eternal life and everlasting death, is hushed in the modern pulpit? When did any of you ever hear a radio sermon on the resurrection of the body delivered by one of the New York preachers who week after week are given the free use of a vast broadcasting system? They do not like to talk about the grave, for this is an unpopular subject, and—why not be popular? “Don’t worry about death,” one of them says; “think of this life.” Because they have exiled Christ’s glorious comfort from their pulpits, they preach futile sermons on political and international subjects that leave hearts untouched. Today, in the city of Saint Louis, themes such as these are being discussed in local churches: “Trends of the British Empire,” “Calling Hard Names,” “How to Read a Newspaper,” “Life Is No Picnic,” “The Life that Precedes the Literature,” “Hitler’s Last Address.” With many modern pulpits featuring a thousand other subjects, they leave unanswered the most persistent, fearprovoking question that confronts the entire race, the issue of life after death. All normal human beings want this answer. Their conscience reminds them of eternity; every funeral recalls it; and though they like to dismiss this unpleasant thought from their minds, they know deep in their hearts that every day brings them closer to the grave and the inevitable reckoning. Why, in the face of impending death, do men turn to prayer? Why was it, a few days ago, that, when the Italian liner Vulcania was struck by a furious storm off the Azores, its 360 passengers were thrown into such terror that one of them testified: “We did not expect to live through it. There was a general hysteria. Women fainted and screamed. Everybody was praying”? Why was it that, when the Cavalier, palatial air-liner, fell on the Atlantic in the darkest terror of the night, the surviving passengers and crew, rising and falling with each swell and drop of the sea, did what most of the papers neglected to report—spoke and sang prayers to the Almighty? Why, when scoffers come face to face with death, do they often shudder before the yawning uncertainties of the hereafter? I think of John Addington Symonds, who declared that he could find no trace of God as much as he searched for Him. Yet on his deathbed he clutched—what?—his mother’s book of prayers. Is not all this to be explained by the fact that, when men stand before eternity, the question demanding an answer is not this: “Is there a hereafter?” but rather: “How can I prepare for the hereafter?” Then men feel their sins in contrast to the holiness of God. They review their past life, and they wonder where they can find the assurance of heavenly love. A few years ago a young explorer died alone in an isolated hut at Long Rapids, Alberta. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police broke their way into the cabin, they found him in a sitting posture, his skeletal hand still clutching a letter with these words: “The sun is shining, Mother, but I feel so cold. I can still walk a little, but that’s about all. There is no blood in me because I haven’t eaten for so long. . . . But . . . the only thing I worry about now is if God will forgive me my sins.” So, for every one of us—and I mean everyone, with no exception or exemption—the question is not: “Is the creed of the Church right when it says: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,’” but: “Will the Almighty forgive me my sins, so that, cleansed, I can see God and, reconciled with my Father, may be resurrected unto life eternal?”
ETERNAL LIFE PROMISED THROUGH CHRIST AND HIS MERCY
Only Christ, our blessed Lord, our merciful Savior, can solve the problems of my sin and yours. For the one assurance of eternity that God has given all men for all sins we must look to Jesus and with the disciples say: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life!” For our text speaks in everlasting truth when it says: “This is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”
If you ask: “How can Christ, who lived and died nineteen hundred years ago in a foreign land, save me from sin and rescue me from death?” I answer by pointing you to the final source of our Christian strength, the heavenly assurance that Jesus, by the will and mercy of His heavenly Father, loved every one of us despite our sins, our screaming ingratitude, our open rebellion against purity, loved us with such divine outpouring of His compassion that He undertook the task—impossible for men and angels combined—of freeing us from our sins and preserving us for heaven. He paid the debt our transgressions incurred. He gave the ransom for our freedom. He quenched the fires of divine wrath, removed the deep, dark stains on our souls, fulfilled the laws we had broken, satisfied the righteousness of God, and paid the penalty for our inborn wickedness and multiplied sins.
If Christ had brought this deliverance to a select few and granted heaven only to the most self-sacrificing workers in His kingdom, even to them this would be undeserved mercy. But His pardon of eternal life is offered to all Jesus becomes the Attorney who at the bar of divine justice, in the case of the holy God versus your sinful soul, pleads before the Judge of eternity: “Father, I carried his sins; on the cross I was wounded for his transgressions; My hands and feet were bruised and bored through for his iniquities; Father, forgive him!” Answering this plea, the heavenly Judge promises all who accept Christ with unquestioning faith: “Your sins are forgiven. You have everlasting life!”
If God had said: “I will make a way to heaven and eternity, but you must travel far, seek restlessly, to find this way,” we should still praise His holy name and search by day and night. Yet in His boundless mercy the Savior’s promise of forgiveness and heavenly glory is so near that it is never removed from us, so clear that a little child can understand it, so direct that, if we know the full meaning of only these four short words “Christ died for me!” and sincerely believe their truth, this faith has saved us.
Once more, if the almighty God had told us: “I may forgive your sins; I may provide a life to come,” we would thank His mercy for not casting us off altogether, and with all our strength we would try to meet any demand His goodness might impose. But—“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”—His love could not leave us in uncertainty. Instead, He gave us a positive, definite faith by which, all questions removed, we can exult: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that Day,” the great day of eternal Judgment.
My fellow-worshipers, is this Christ, the complete, true Savior, both God and Man, once crucified, but now glorified, the Christ who gave all for you,—is He, the divine Redeemer, welcomed into your heart? As this question is mysteriously hurled through hundreds and thousands of miles of the ether to put you squarely before the supreme issue in your life, will you not believe that the great God in heaven above now directs this question pointedly to you? What will be your answer, the response that decides your destiny for ageless eternity? You either take Christ and with Him His gift of eternal life, or you reject Him and by that unbelief sign your own death-warrant. It is either heaven or hell. There is no second chance after this life, no third or intermediary stage. If the blood of Jesus Christ does not save you, nothing else in this world or the next can. How all-decisive is this question: Do you trust and follow Christ, who alone promises never-ending blessedness and without whom “no man cometh unto the Father”?
Try to picture to yourself as best you can the glories of heaven. Some of you will think in first instance of this unspeakable blessing that in the eternal homeland we shall be free from anguish and suffering. How blessed, of course, to be able to say to you: “Are you sick and weary now? With Christ, in the eternal mansions, you will never be pain-racked and sorrow-ridden. Is your family torn by discord here? Nothing can mar the perfect peace there. Are you lonely and forsaken in this life? You can never be neglected and cast aside in Christ’s eternal life. Have you seen your hopes crumble as unexpected sorrows have added affliction to agony? In heaven there are no disappointments, no cares, no griefs,—nothing but joy, gladness, peace, beauty, holiness.” These are all strengthening promises; but the greatest joy of heaven, for which we should pray daily, fervently, to our God is that supreme happiness, the most radiant of all glories, that of beholding Jesus face to face, living in the celestial realm where He is King. Again, it is a comforting realization to know that our bodies, though they be marked and pitted by the ravages of disease, maimed and broken by the cruelty of accident, worn and weakened by the advance of old age, in the resurrection will be transformed into the glories of a new perfection. Yet, incomparably more glorious will be the unending life with Jesus, worship before His throne, the blending of our voices with the heavenly chorus of the redeemed, living together with the mighty heroes of faith, the self-sacrificing parents who first showed us the way to salvation, the self-denying pastors and teachers who furthered our Christian knowledge, the friend who helped bring us to Christ or whom we helped by God’s grace to accept the Savior. Because I want to share all these blessings with you, I repeat: “Is there anything I can do to bring you this Christ and His promise of eternal life?” Last Sunday in Minneapolis, at the close of our message, a father, not a church-member, living in a spiritually indifferent home, was moved by the Spirit of God to call a pastor of that city to his home, with the result that an entire family, father, mother, and children, were won for Christ and for instruction in the Christian faith. In the name of Jesus I ask you to call, write, or visit one of the thousands of pastors working together with me, so that you, too, and by the grace of God your whole family may have the blessings of eternal life.
Don’t delay! Thousands of you are seventy, seventy-five, eighty years old and older. Cold arithmetic tells you that your hour may come quickly. Have you set your house in order? Are you ready to meet your God? Have you put your hand into the hand of Jesus for His guidance into eternity? You young folks and you in the height of achieving lives, you know how suddenly your last day may dawn and your last hour break. I beg of you as I speak in the name of Christ, and of those who, now in eternity, would have me speak warning and comfort to your soul: Take time for Jesus! Take time for your soul! Take time for membership in a true Church of Christ! Take time now for eternity!
Only with faith can you triumph over the cold sorrow of death in your family. From Pennsylvania a distracted husband writes: “I lost my wife about two years ago, and I am in agony and despair. I can’t overcome my loss. I sometimes feel like a shipwrecked sailor, with no hope of ever reaching the shore.” From Indiana a sorrowcrushed wife sends these grief-weighted words: “I am in great need of help. My husband passed away two weeks ago. We were married only four years and had the most perfect married life of which I know. We were buying our home, owned all our furniture, and had a prosperous business. Now I cannot understand why everything that truly matters had to be taken away and I have nothing.” I know those tears and that numb heartache death causes every time it enters our homes, even when it takes a worldweary grandfather or a time-tried grandmother. But dry those tears! Stop that heartache! Look to Christ! If you say, “Jesus, Savior, pilot me,” you cannot be a shipwrecked sailor, for His grace promises: “Fear not, I will pilot thee!” If you have Jesus, you cannot say: “I have nothing!” but you will rejoice: “I have everything,” for with this Savior yours will be the blessed assurance that, though His way is not your way, it is always the best way, the blessed way, the way to heaven. While the severing of earthly bonds may have left a bleeding wound, you know that those who die in the Lord are blessed forever, that they are removed from all the trials and agony of life, its dark and bitter moments, its sin and suffering, its anguish of heart and pain of body. Would you call them back from the blessed presence of Jesus?
Oh, cling more closely to Christ! For without Him every funeral is a mark of human futility, every burial the curse of human frailty. George Jacob Holyoake, an applauded British agnostic who ridiculed the Bible, suffered the tragedy that his small son Max was run over by a cab and killed. When the unbelieving father stood beside the casket, a few moments before the form and features of the child were to be taken away forever, he put the lad’s favorite toys and handbrush into the coffin. Why? He suddenly remembered that the ancient Aztecs in Peru often placed some objects into the hands of their corpses, and in his own words he declared: “We buried the poor fellow like a little Peruvian.” That agnostic father seemed to snatch a few crumbs of strength in some vague hope of the Aztecs. “And so we buried him like a little Peruvian.”—I want you to bury your children like little Christians. See how Martin Luther faced a similar bereavement! For fourteen days his daughter Magdalene, to whom he was especially attached, hovered between life and death. As that sorrowing father kept his vigil beside little Magdalene’s bed, someone heard him pray: “Father, I love her very dearly and should like to keep her if Thou, Lord God, wouldst leave her with me. But if it is Thy will, dear Lord, to take her to Thyself, then I shall rejoice that she is with Thee.” Someone else heard him ask the sick girl: “Magdalene, my child, my precious daughter, you would like to remain here with your father, but you would willingly go to the Father above, would you not?” to which the brave sick girl replied: “Yes, dear, darling father, as God wills.” And when Magdalene was taken by the angels to her heavenly home, the Great Reformer, returning from the cemetery, said: “We Christians have no cause for sadness. . . . We are most certainly assured of life eternal; for God, who cannot lie, has promised this through, and for the sake of His dear Son.” Is not this the trust you need, the soul-deep conviction that God cannot lie, that, when our text says: “This is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life,” God Himself cannot change this everlasting truth?
For the salvation of your soul, for strength in your last hour, for light in the darkness of family bereavement, for the assurance that heaven offers a blessed compensation for the injustice of this earth and that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” I leave with you the question asked before, which, I hope, has battered its way through all sin and self-righteousness into your innermost heart. In the name of God the Father, who created you for eternity, God the Son, who saved you for eternity, God the Holy Spirit, who can preserve you for eternity, I ask you, as though in this moment there were only two people in all the world, you and I: “What can I do to help bring you to Christ and to faith in the promise of endless life?” God grant that your Spirit-filled heart will respond so that even now, looking to Jesus, you may say: “This is the promise” Thou hast “promised us, even eternal life!” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.