Date: March 31, 1940

These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. . . . And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.Revelation 7:14-17

Holy, hallowing Spirit of God:

Purify our souls by removing doubt, distraction, worldliness, and making us, through faith, temples of the risen, living Christ! Show us that, since our Lord’s resurrection is the seal of forgiven sins, the defeat of hell, and the conquest of death, faith in His mercies grants us eternal life and the pledge of heaven! Oh, lift up our eyes constantly to that painless, blissful Paradise which, once promised to the penitent on the cross, has been prepared for everyone who trusts in Christ’s atoning death and His Easter triumph! Help us to believe humbly as we confess all the wrong in our hearts and on our hands, to believe trustingly as we bring all out needs and sorrows to Christ, to believe victoriously, since we know that the grave has been conquered and heaven opened for us! Hear us and guide us until we reach that heavenly home, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

DURING a chilly afternoon a few weeks ago casual visitors in a Chicago park would have noticed an unusual group gathered on a lagoon bridge. They would have seen that the leader, after a few preliminary remarks, asked those with him, witnesses and newspaper reporters, to join in the Lord’s Prayer. Then as he dramatically stretched out his hand, clutching a hymnbook, he cried: “Clarence Darrow, I am here in fulfillment of the pact we made with each other. If you can manifest your spirit to me, do so now!” For a full minute he stood in rigid silence. The wind blew; birds twittered on a nearby limb; the subdued drone of the city’s traffic played its monotone background; a reporter coughed—but nothing happened. Turning to the witnesses, the leader declared, “No manifestation!” Clarence Darrow, widely publicized atheist attorney, had promised that after death he would try to establish contact with his friends and, if possible, explain some facts concerning eternity. To show the presence of his spirit, Darrow had agreed that he would shake the hymnal from his friend’s hand; but in two annual attempts the result was identical—“No manifestation!” The Chicago lawyer did not return to reveal the hereafter.

Probably Clarence Darrow placed little stock in spiritism. He refused to debate even the Biblical resurrection, declaring: “As well might one discuss the question of . . . whether a soap-bubble is still a soap-bubble after it has been burst into a million fragments.” It may be that he changed his mind on this point, however; for a member of our radio audience who visited Darrow less than a year before his death reports that this leader of unbelievers, Christianity’s Public Enemy Number One in this country, confessed: “You know, sometimes I think that there actually is a Supreme Being; and if there is anything to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Ghost has been working on me, because I unconsciously pray to God every night after I am in bed.”

Whatever he thought of the hereafter and the possibility of the dead communicating with the living, we unhesitatingly assert that no spiritist can bring back a departed soul. No medium can put you in contact with your dead relatives. No seance can correctly answer questions concerning the life beyond the grave. How we thank God that a Fort Wayne medium turned to our broadcast one Sunday and was moved to reject spiritism and accept the Lord Jesus! Pray God that others may follow her! For spiritism is fraudulent, anti-Scriptural, and destructive. We challenge all mediums to produce one so-called manifestation of spirits that cannot be duplicated by sleight of hand and tricks of parlor magic. So much intense suffering, groundless suspicion, unhappiness in the home, and especially distrust of Christ have been created by those who claim to receive guidance from the dead that the wise laws banishing this unsavory practice should be drastically enforced.

As Christians, we reject all table-tilting, slate-writing, wall-rapping demonstrations. Nor do we find the pledge of our resurrection in modern cults whose founders claim that they were ecstatically lifted up to heaven or in any vague afterlife promises of human philosophy. Our Bibles offer us an assured revelation of eternity written by one whom God permitted to behold the heavens’ unspeakable marvels, Saint John, author of the last New Testament book with its many pictures of the New Jerusalem. In one of these magnificent previsions, our text for today, John shows us the everlastingly redeemed in their glory and blessing. With the Easter truth still ringing in our souls, “The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed!” let us find joy and strength in this foregleam of Paradise as we behold

THE WHITE-ROBED IN HEAVEN

described in Revelation 7:14-17: “These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. . . . And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”

I

WHO ARE THESE WHITE-ROBED?

If Saint John were alive today and would assert, as he does in these words, that there is a heaven in which he beheld men and women, bodily resurrected and glorified, he would be barred from some of our wealthiest churches. Despite the fact that the New Testament uses the word “heaven” and related terms many times, present-day pulpiteers often seek to convince their hearers that the Biblical heaven is merely childish fantasy and the resurrection of the body absurd, impossible. These ecclesiastical Liberals are contributing heavily to moral decline and rising crime waves; for whenever the clergy buries the truth of retribution after death under a discussion of governmental and political problems, people may lose their sense of right and wrong.

How far this unbelief has gone may be seen in the last book by the late Dr. Richard C. Cabot. Discussing honesty in church-work, the renowned Boston physician and Harvard medical-school lecturer openly declared that, though every Sunday hundreds of thousands, members of a well-known Protestant denomination, repeat the words of the Apostles’ Creed “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” he has yet to meet the first person in that entire church—and this includes the clergy—who believes in the bodily resurrection! So deep has been the descent from Christ’s truth!

That church-body, however, is not alone in this rejection. Last Sunday, on the glorious Easter Festival, when Christian pulpits should have rung with God’s pledge of our own resurrection, a pastor in an imposing New York church, officially committed to the defense of the Bible, told his congregation, “The lingering hope which surrounds us this Easter is the abiding hope not that we as individuals might live beyond the grave but that our world might be saved from the death of evil and hate.” At the same time 4,000 people crowded in a frequently headlined place of worship overlooking the Hudson River to be told that “the message of Easter is not to be identified with . . . a physical resurrection. . . . The important thing in the Easter festival is the . . . philosophy of life that the spiritual is real.” Will you find any comfort in this when you face eternity?

Modernists may smile, skeptics question, infidels ridicule, spiritists counterfeit, philosophers speculate; but human quibbling and quarreling with the everlasting verities cannot change Scriptural truth; there is a heaven where, before God’s throne, Saint John beheld the ransomed of Christ. Our Lord,—and are you keenly conscious of the fact that, if you deny the resurrection, you charge Jesus with misrepresentation?—our blessed Savior Himself, not only assured us that there are many mansions in His Father’s house and that through His death He would prepare a place for us; He not only repeatedly mentioned the kingdom of heaven, with its incorruptible treasures, its angels, its blessing and glory; the whole purpose of His life, death, and resurrection, He constantly restated, was to give us that endless radiance. When His apostles, the writers of the epistles, preached the risen and ascended Christ, they emphatically asserted that, as Christ had been raised from the dead, so all who bow penitently and trustingly before Him would be resurrected unto glory. The human body, worn, broken, disease-ridden, laid to rest in the grave, drowned in the ocean depths, reduced to ashes by disastrous conflagration, or blown into a thousand pieces by an exploding shell in Europe’s suicidal war—that earthly frame is destined to decay. No process men have ever devised can stop that. The lost art of the Egyptian embalmers could not prevent the shriveling and final destruction of mummies. It is reported from the Russian capital that even the mysterious processes by which the corpse of Lenin was to be eternally preserved have not restrained an unmistakable blackening of his remains. It is the everlasting pledge of Christ’s truth, however, that the body which is sown in corruption “is raised in incorruption. . . . It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” Our lifeless, decomposed remains, so the Scriptures specifically promise, will be fashioned “like unto His” (Christ’s) “glorious body.” Indeed, Saint John says, in heaven “we shall be like Him”!

In His risen glory Jesus could pass through bolted doors, miraculously transport Himself from Jerusalem to Galilee without cumbersome travel, and in general throw off many limitations of space and time. His resurrection body is, as ours also will be, perfect, without mark or blemish.

What sustaining comfort we can find in this promise! Some of you have lost your limbs; others suffer from a treacherous cancer, which eats living tissues so fast that even radium can hardly stop its rapid destruction. In hospitals for shell-shocked, horribly disfigured faces are still covered with veils or heavy bandages. Through Christ, in the resurrection, all these deficiencies will be supplied. Many of you are deformed, crippled, stunted, paralyzed. Lift up your hearts to Jesus, because in heaven none of these weaknesses burden the redeemed! In the United States alone 100,000 people are blind, but in the New Jerusalem those who believed shall see far more than the clearest human vision ever beheld—colors and beauties far in excess of earthly shades. Another 100,000 in this country are said to be deaf or to have lost the faculty of speaking; but when through faith they have become saints above, their sound range will be in vast excess of our limited hearing; their silence will be broken as they join in the celestial hallelujahs with tones no human vocal cords have ever formed.

We make no attempt to conceal the fact that the resurrection of the body and the Paradise blessings are truths which we cannot analyze with our poor powers of understanding. It is far beyond the reach of our senses and too glorious for earthly analysis. But do not think that you are scientifically logical if you make the fatal conclusion, “I will not believe in heaven because I cannot understand it.” That is the worst of all illogical mistakes. You cannot understand how in these pulsating spring days the grass, the shrubs, the flowers, withered and dead in winter, can bloom forth in new life; but no one with the average quota of common sense denies that spring is here. Dr. George Moore, director of the world-famous Missouri Botanical Gardens, writes us that lotus seeds may survive three or four hundred years and, when planted, still will sprout. Why should we not concede that our bodies after the few years or centuries they may repose in the grave, can break forth in newness of life? Even if illustrations like this do not move you, then believe the Bible when it pictures the redeemed of God before the celestial throne. In his Story of Mankind, Hendrik van Loon, beginning his chapter on the Middle Ages, specifically says: “I do not expect you to catch the meaning of what I write without rereading this chapter a number of times.” Do you expect to catch the meaning of the heavenly ages without rereading God’s Word again and again? When you study it, may the Holy Spirit remove all apparent conflicts, as He did in the case of Max Mueller, world-famous Orientalist and philologist, who is quoted as confessing: “How shall I describe to you what I found in the New Testament? I had not read it for many years and was prejudiced against it before I took it in hand. The light which struck Paul with blindness on his way to Damascus was not more strange [than that which fell on me] when I suddenly discovered the fulfillment of all hopes, the highest perfection of philosophy, the key to all seeming contradictions of the physical and moral world.”

One of the most frequent questions asked in your welcome letters—and I cannot thank God sufficiently that He has given us the privilege of helping so many thousands of you—centers about recognition in the next life. Death comes to a family, as it entered thousands of your homes during the past week, and immediately you ask: “Will my beloved husband, whom I have just laid to rest in the cemetery, greet me in heaven?” “Will Mother know her children?” “Will brothers and sisters be reunited in the resurrection?” While other creeds have mistaken ideas of a vague impersonal existence, the Bible leads us to assume that those who are saved for eternity will preserve their identity. It is true, you find no detailed argument for this recognition in the Bible; but that, we believe, is because the Scriptures accept this as a fact in consequence of the bodily resurrection. People now know us by our earthly form; and in the endless Easter we shall be known by the features of our spiritual body, just as Christ was recognized by His post-Easter body. In the change from time to eternity our personalities will not be lost. Therefore the Bible mentions individuals in heaven—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the elders, the disciples, the many redeemed who come from the East and the West, and the martyrs of many lands and ages.

In that radiance we shall see and meet and know faith’s mighty heroes and brilliant minds. There, too, some of you will be reunited with a Christian mother who died soon after your birth, or a Christian father who twenty­three years ago was drafted for war across the seas but who never returned. If your wife died believing in Christ and you, too, are “faithful unto death,” you can be sure that she will be waiting for you in heaven. If your little boy, snatched from life all too suddenly, loved the Lord Jesus, what a blessed reunion can be yours in eternity!

How important it is, then, that our family relationships are hallowed by Christ, so that we may appear together before the everlasting throne? Christian young folks who think that love is the only thing that counts, realize of what surpassing importance it is to avoid every thought of marriage with an unbeliever! A union like that is always overcast with the dark cloud foreboding separation in heaven. Experience combines with the Word of God in asking you to build your homes only with a true believer, so that you can worship together here and hereafter, avoiding even on earth the tragedies that usually come to the home divided against itself through the acceptance and the rejection of the Lord Jesus. Keep Christ in your family!

II

WHENCE CAME THESE WHITE-ROBED SAINTS?

Our text not only assures us that there is a heaven with bodily resurrection and recognition; it also identifies these white-robed saints as those who “came out of great tribulation.” The word “tribulation” is interesting. It comes from a term denoting the process by which wheat and grain are put through the threshing-machine to separate the kernel from the straw. The redeemed whom the apostle beholds have been pounded and beaten in life, but only to remove the worthless chaff of sin and save their precious souls. They are the Christian martyrs persecuted for their faith. Some may also have endured slander as gossip maliciously burdened their lives. But God permitted these visitations so that their suffering would bring them closer to Him. They may have spent almost all their lives on sickbeds; but that affliction drove them to their divine Physician. They may have been forced to eke out a poor existence, fighting against poverty, when accident, dishonesty, fraud, made them paupers; but all that happened so they could acquire the faith of the apostle and rejoice, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord.” These white­robed eternally redeemed may have come from loveless, broken, sin-blasted homes, where adultery destroyed the love of husband and wife or where selfishness separated parents and children; yet from that evil within their own walls they came forth purified and strengthened. They may have been surrounded by constant fear and mental depression, but that trial came upon them so that they would learn the rich blessing of turning away from themselves and trusting God completely. They may have cried through bitter, lonely nights and sustained new pains during long, heartless days; they may have wept until the tears could flow no longer, cried until their voices broke, or lived in stunned silence as one bereavement followed the other; yet through Christ their sorrows were disguised blessings, and from these tribulations they were transferred to a blessed eternity.

If you, too, have the heavenward vision and, being risen with Christ, “seek those things which are above,” you have found the only satisfying solution to the problem of your suffering. Need I tell you that our age gropes for that answer? A few weeks ago a member of the House of Representatives refused to run for reelection because he was overtaxed by pleas for help from the people of his district. He said: “I get no rest. I cannot step from my front porch without being asked for assistance. People are always writing for help. Why, there is no peace of mind for me even when I sit down to a meal. My thoughts turn to the pleas of those who are hungry and need the help I cannot give.” But God will never resign His position as Provider for His children. He can always help and often does through the refining strength of affliction.

Every day your letters ask that everlasting “Why?”—“Why must I stagger under the weight of adversity?” From Massachusetts a friend writes: “I have loved my Savior for over fifty years, but at times I wonder why. For the past six months I have had a terrible trial. I have tried to be a shining light, but it seems to me that I am a stumbling-block. Why, when I tried so hard all my life?” A Nebraska mother confides: “We met with great tragedy last October. Our son lost his wife in an automobile accident. They had just established a Christian home. Often the question comes to us, Why did God take her away when they were both so happy and both serving the Lord?” Here is the plea of a distracted Michigan woman: “My mind is becoming more and more a jumble over unsolved problems. I can’t get rid of the feeling that someday I may become insane, and the terror of such a thing is unutterable agony. Is there no help for me? I’ve prayed for eighteen years. Why is God apparently deaf to my cries?” From California a listener asks: “I had a business worth over a million dollars, but I lost it all, even though I tried to serve the Lord. Why must I be driven to poverty when, although able to work, I am rejected as too old?”

No satisfying explanation can be given to these and the almost endless similar problems except that all Christians can view life as a school in which they are being trained for eternity, where they will have a thousand unspeakable joys for every sad moment on earth, heavenly blessing for the curse of past agony, celestial beauty for all that was hideous in life. It is hard for some of you constantly to be battered by adversity’s blows and to believe that through Christ, the oftener you are brought to your knees in human helplessness but with sacred trust in His mercy, the closer you come to heaven. But some blessed day, in the fuller knowledge, you will realize how completely true is the promise of Scripture “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” when you, too, purified through your afflictions, stand face to face with Jesus before heaven’s throne.

There, in that better land, we know that God, approaching the white-robed saints, “shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” In Christ’s heaven the cause for grief will disappear forever; the sin that now fills our hearts with fear and burdens our consciousness with terror will vanish. No dread of change nor concern about a hereafter will disturb us, for heaven will be the eternal homeland, where every question will be answered, every desire fulfilled.

True, we cannot picture to ourselves a new life without any sorrow. If we measure heaven by our human understanding, it may seem to us that eternity would be full of regrets; the sorrow of a wife whose husband has been doomed to eternal death; the grief of a great American like George Washington looking down on a nation that has so ungratefully sinned and forgotten its sacred obligations; the pain of Martin Luther, beholding forces allied in the attempt to destroy the work of the Reformation and bring men back to the old delusion of a self­earned salvation. These tragedies on earth, some people think, must provoke remorse even in heaven. Yet here is the text, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes,” or, as the second-last chapter of the Bible has it, “There shall be . . . neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.” Our new existence will be so glorious and superhuman that not one of earth’s sorrows can reduce its complete joy and happiness. Peace, perfect peace; love, heavenly love; joy, unspeakable joy; rest, unbroken rest—that endless blessing Christ has prepared for you!

III

WHY ARE THEIR ROBES WHITE AND CLEANSED?

Who in this wide assembly of the air is not moved with heartfelt longing for these blessings? But how many of you know beyond question the one way to this eternal glory? The easy, convenient preaching of universal deliverance, which holds that all men are going to heaven, no matter how they have lived or believed, and that, since God is the Lord of love, there can be no hell—this open denial knows neither God and His justice nor sin and its destruction.

To be assured of heaven, we must have the faith which these eternally redeemed had, of whom our text says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They were not always saints but, as you and I, they were marked by sin. They may have been grievous transgressors on earth, their iniquity shocking and terrifying; yet, however deep their sin, through faith in Christ they found forgiveness. They washed their soiled and stained robes in “the blood of the Lamb,” Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” That holy blood did what all human cleansing processes can never do: it removed the grime, purged the stains, took away the spots, and their garments became glistening, white, spotless, radiant.

This is a picture, but it clearly promises that, if we believe, “the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” If we are not ashamed of this emphasis on the blood but know, with deep penance over our sins, that this sacred crimson fluid washes away the wickedness of our hands, lips, hearts, so that in the sight of the holy God we are actually without sin; and if we remain loyal to that atoning Christ, then—O praise be to God’s eternal mercy!—heaven will be ours.

The saints of God came from tribulation to heaven only through Christ. The absurd, anti-Scriptural teaching that souls must lie dormant or unconscious for millions of years; the cruel, anti-Biblical doctrine that even those who have died in the faith must be cleansed and purged in a third place besides heaven and hell (of which the entire Scriptures know nothing) that, since the blood of Jesus Christ is not enough to cleanse us from our sins, His atonement must be supplemented by the good works of saints and that we can pray to have others help us into heaven—this terrorizing teaching attempts to undo what the holy Christ has done for every one of us. Page through your Bibles—and take the verdict of the Scriptures before you take the verdict of any man or any Church!—and you will seek in vain for one promise of heaven that is not built wholly on Christ’s redemption.

If we love Jesus, let us make “the blood of the Lamb” the appeal and promise of more active, more consecrated, more Christ-exalting churches! “The blood of the Lamb”—I can see some of my modernist friends and other self­enlightened listeners making mental reservations and wondering how we can still believe the old Gospel—“the blood of the Lamb,” let that be the mark on the doorposts of your home, to keep your dwelling as a Christ-centered haven of rest! “The blood of the Lamb,” let that be the faith of our children as we teach them to pray:

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness

My beauty are, my glorious dress.

Therewith before my God I’ll stand

When I shall reach the heavenly land.

“The blood of the Lamb,” let that he the watchword on earth, the victory song in heaven!

That puts many of you squarely before a decision. From today on, having listened to this broadcast, you can never say, “I do not know the path to heaven.” After you have heard that Christ is the Way, Jesus looks for a response. Will you be washed in His blood, made holy and cleansed in God’s sight? Don’t say that it is too late, for this is the promise even for the last hour, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” Don’t push this plea aside, declaring that you have tried Christianity and it has failed. We are not asking you to try Christianity; we are asking you to believe it, to throw yourself wholly on God’s mercy in Christ and experience what a blessed Savior He is. If you argue that God is the Father of love and there is no danger of His condemnation, listen to this warning from Christ Himself, “Except ye repent, ye shall . . . perish.” You may object, “It will cost me too much to accept Christ.” What will it cost to reject Him? Eternal darkness, death, and despair in hell! You may not be ready to leave favorite sins or part with old companions in wickedness. But which is better: life with God or death with sin and its associates? You may be persecuted when you confess Christ, but think of the white-robed martyrs who have come out of tribulation into heavenly glory! Without delay or excuse, without any minimizing of your sins, say to Christ, “Wash me! Cleanse me! Purify me by Thy holy blood! Then shall I be cleansed for heaven.”

As for you tried and true Christians, ask God for the strength and the courage required to proclaim pardon in the Savior’s blood! Pray that our broadcasts may increasingly swing the gates of heaven wide to many helpless souls! Think of it! Within the past two weeks openings have come to us for broadcasting in Porto Rico, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela—besides the work already started in Ecuador. Pray for blessing on our radio mission and a mighty outpouring of the Spirit in our country! Plead for our part in the evangelization of South America! Help us meet the unusually heavy financial responsibilities that this remarkable expansion has placed on us, knowing, as most of you do, that we pay for every moment of our chain broadcasts at full station rates. With that faith and love you, too, after life’s tribulations, your robes washed white in “the blood of the Lamb,” will stand before heaven’s throne with your fellow-redeemed from all these countries, there to join in the never-ending hallelujahs to the Father, who created us; the Son, who redeemed us by His blood; and the Holy Spirit, who keeps us in the faith! May the holy, Triune God grant all this for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

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