Dr. N.A. Madson
1958 Synod Convention Essay
While we have not been given any definite text for this doctrinal dissertation, we shall let Paul’s words to the Corinthians (I Cor. 15,14) stand at the masthead: “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
’Tis passing strange, is it not, that perhaps the most comforting sermon ever preached began with the rather inauspicious greeting: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken,” Luke 24,25, and which had the blessed result that no sooner had the preacher of that sermon left them than this was heard, from the mouth of the hearers: “Did not our heart bum within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” Luke 24,32. Equally strange, to hear the very Saviour who had sent the seventy disciples out on their trial mission, cautioning them when they returned to Him with a most favorable report, saying in their enthusiasm and joy: “Lord, even the devils are subject to us through thy name”: “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10,20.
There is nothing more unimpeachably faithful than God’s word. What we may conclude ought to be done, what we may consider the greatest cause for rejoicing, may not be in accord with the Lord’s will. And so He still has to speak to us as He did to the two Emmaus-bound disciples yon first Easter eve, calling them “fools.” Or He may tell us as He told the seventy of old: “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not.” But why should they not make that which they had accomplished, yea, at His command, the cause of their chiefest joy? Because there might be danger connected therewith. It is so easy for the old Adam in us to imagine that what we have done in obedience to the command of our Saviour is, at least in part, a contributing cause of our salvation; when the fact of the matter is: Our salvation was assured us in Christ even before we had done a single deed in obedience to His command. Has not the apostle assured us: “Who (namely God) hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began”? II Tim. 1,9. The cause of my greatest rejoicing must ever be what God hath done for me when He inscribed my name in His Book of Life. The key to that “notwithstanding” passage just quoted, therefore, must be the word “rather.” The Saviour does not forbid them to rejoice in whatever success they might have had in their God-given labours, but it must not be made the cause of their chiefest joy.
So when we have chosen to speak of our Saviour’s resurrection as the cause of the believer’s chiefest joy, it is because Scripture itself does that very thing. It is that fundamental point Paul makes in his faith-strengthening chapter on the resurrection (I Cor. 15) when he reasons after this fashion: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found to be false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” I Cor. 15,14–20. So there is good reason for Johan Nordahl Brun’s jubilant Easter stanza:
“I have conquered, Jesus won,
Death in victory is swallowed;
Bound is Satan by God’s Son,
And my liberation followed;
Open have I now found heaven,
Victory through Jesus given!”
Since all men are mortal (subject to death) there is nothing which they so much need as comfort against the sting of death. That is why God tells His people by the mouth of the prophet: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Isa. 66,13. He had spoken to His Israel earlier in this wondrous prophecy: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Isa. 40,1.2. Not only does God call Himself “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1,3), but He tells those who have been called to be Christ’s undershepherds that they must be “able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith they themselves are comforted of God.” II Cor. 1,4. In other words, He wants believing shepherds. God simply does not want cant in the pulpit or at the death bed.
When Augustine, the church father most frequently quoted with approval in our Confessions, the church father who meant most to Martin Luther, the church father who had a most unique way of uttering basic truths in poetic form — when he tells us:
“Our hearts for Thee, O God, were made,
And will not rest until they rest in Thee,”
he is calling to mind a thought which is as true as it is frighteningly shocking. For not least among the untold sufferings of the damned in hell will be this bitter thought: “My heart was made for blessed communion with God, my Creator, and now I have reached that utterly hopeless state where the gulf separating me from Him has been irrevocably fixed beyond the possibility of a change. The words which a Dante in his Divine Comedy inscribed over the entrance to his Inferno:
‘All abandon ye who enter,’
I gave no serious thought And now it is become an horrendous reality. Had I but taken to heart what a Paul says of God’s Son in the very first sentence he writes to his younger co-worker Timothy: ‘Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and the Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope’ (I Tim. 1,1), — had I taken that to heart, He would not have surrendered me to the merciless scourging of mine enemies. Now hopeless despair shall be my gruesome throughout eternity’s endless night.” For it will in the words of that gripping Divine Comedy:
“No grief than to remember
Of joy, terror grips the soul.”
In his well-known Paradise Lost Milton has given us at least a faint picture of utter hopelessness which surrounds the abandoned souls in pit:
“Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he, with his horrid crew,
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Confounded, though immortal. But his doom
Reserved him to more wrath; for now the
Both of happiness and lasting pain
Torments him: round he throws his baleful eyes,
That witnessed huge affliction and dismay,
Mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate.
At once, far as angel’s ken, he views
The situation waste and wild.
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light; but utter darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where
And rest can never dwell, hope never come.
— Book I, lines 50–66
It is on the dark background of the hopelessness of damned in torment that we shall rightly evaluate the comfort which a resurrection to life, yea, life eternal, will bring us. The thought of death, grave, eternity, will then not be one of dread doom, but rather that of comfort. After Paul had written to his fellow believers in Thessalonica about judgment and its meaningful events, he concludes the discussion with these words: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” I Thess. 4,17.18.
It is the same thought of comfort, encouragement, joy with which we meet in that cheerful chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Having given us, in the 11th chapter, a catalog of the of faith from Abel down, the inspired writer goes on to say in chapter 12: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12,1.2. We are not going to get the courage we should have as followers of Christ here on earth, if we do not look to the end of the road as did that man of God, Moses. We are told in the 11th chapter of Hebrews that he esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” Heb. 11,6. It is the religion of accommodation (a caricature of the real thing) which is robbing the church of that wholesome and withal Scriptural view of the fellowship with Christ, that fellowship which isn’t any different to-day from what it was on the clay that Paul wrote the congregation in Philippi: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Phil. 1,29.30.
You may do your level best to make the religion of Christ a comfortable affair, but you are not going to have any more success at it than did the shiftless, good-for-nothing Per Gynt of old. “Du maa ind i smeltedigelen og støbes om igjen,” was the challenge he heard from his accusing conscience every time he met him at the cross roads of life. To which Per replied: “Ja, men det gjør vondt!” Naturligvis gjør det vondt. Do you suppose for a moment that the old Adam will give up his life without a struggle? And yet he must daily be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, so that the new man may come forth and arise, that we may live with God in righteousness and purity forever, as you and I most certainly have been taught in Luther’s Small Catechism.
Our Confessions in the Book of Concord dwell but sparingly upon the comforting doctrine of the resurrection. But while they have comparatively little to say, Luther makes up for it in his numerous writings. It will of course lie beyond the scope of this synodical essay to quote in toto all that the great Reformer has said. But we shall, after having cited what is to be found in the Confessions, give at least some of Luther’s most striking statements regarding this doctrine. But first of aU we shall take note of the fact that it was a doctrine spoken of by the prophets in the Old Testament, and was taught by Christ and His apostles in the New.
Foretold in the Old Testament
One of the most definite and reassuring statements we have in the Old Testament is to be found in the Book of Job: “For I know that my redeeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” Job 19,25–27.
The Psalmist David prays confidently: for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” Ps. 17,15.
The “evangelist of the Old Testament,” Isaiah, jubilantly exclaims: “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” Isa. 26,19.
Daniel reminds one of the words spoken by Christ (John 5,28.29) when he asserts: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Dan. 12,2.
And then we have, of course, that remarkable 37th chapter in the prophet Ezekiel (typical) telling of the valley filled with dry bones, which came to life when the spirit of God’s grace breathed into them.
The Testimony of Christ
Our Saviour did not leave the scoffing Sadducees of His day without rebuking them for their denial of the resurrection. It was to the Sadducees that He spake these words: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Matt. 22,31.32.
To the lawyers and Pharisees He had this to say by way of inculcating humility: “And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14,14.
At the pool of Bethesda, when he was caviled by the Jews because he had, on the sabbath day, healed a man who had suffered for thirty and eight years: “For the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” John 5,26–29.
At the grave of Lazarus He comforts Martha with these definite words: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” John 11,25.26.
Regarding His own resurrection He told the unbelieving Jews who faulted Him for performing the miracle of cleansing the temple: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” John 2,19–21.
Proclaimed by the Apostles
That the apostles preached the resurrection is shown in numerous passages. Peter and John were imprisoned by the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees — why? “Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” Acts 4,2.
It was the preaching of the resurrection by Paul which caused such a stir in Athens. “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of some strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.” Acts 17,18.
When Paul was being accused of heresy by Tertullus before governor Felix, the apostle had this to say in his own defence: “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. And therein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward man.” Acts 24,14–16.
In his stirring defence before king Agrippa, Paul again touches upon this central doctrine, saying: “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the deadP I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.” Acts 26,6–10. And farther on in that same defence he says: “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” Acts 26,22.23. Here Paul testifies that the doctrine of the resurrection had been taught by Moses and the prophets.
To the Romans the apostle has this to say regarding the resurrection, and this we most certainly will recall from Luther’s Small Catechism: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also shall walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” Rom. 6,4–6.
The entire 15th chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians Paul devotes to the glorious truths regarding the resurrection. It need not be repeated here. But permit me to quote at least the triumphant closing strophes of that chapter: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveaole, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” I Cor. 15,54–58.
In his second epistle to the Corinthians Paul has this to say by way of comfort: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” II Cor. 4,8–18. And then in the very next chapter the apostle goes on to speak of the fact that while our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (That was the passage read by ‘Stonewall’ Jackson to his household before he left with his regiment of cadets for the front at the outbreak of the Civil War. He wanted his loved ones to have Scriptural comfort in the event that he did not return. And he did not return to his home in Lexington, Virginia, being mortally wounded in the battle of Chancellorsville.)
To his beloved Philippians he writes: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” — And he closes that 3rd chapter with these words: “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation (or, as we have it in our Norwegian Bibles, “Borgerskab”) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” Phil. 3,7–14 & 17–21.
To the Colossians he writes: “If ye then he risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” Col. 3,1–10.
Paul’s words of comfort to the church of the Thessalonians are as follows: “But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (“ikke komme forud” is the Norwegian expression here) them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” I Thess. 4,13–18. And in the very next chapter of this epistle the apostle says by way of closing: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Thess. 5,23.
In his second epistle to Timothy Paul testifies as follows regarding the doctrine of the resurrection: “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my Gospel: Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” II Tim. 2,8–19.
The sacred writer of the epistle to the Hebrews complains, in the fifth chapter, that his hearers are dull of hearing, saying: “When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” Heb. 5,12. And what are some of those things which belong to the first principles? That is made plain in the very next chapter: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.” Heb. 6,1–3. In this same epistle there is a brief reference to the general resurrection: “Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Heb. 11,35.
In the very introductory words of his first epistle, Peter has this to say regarding the resurrection: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” I Pet. 1,3–5. In his second epistle, after Peter has spoken of the various virtues which are the marks of godliness, he warns those who have not taken their Christianity seriously, saying: “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fail: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.” II Pet. 1,9–14.
In his first general epistle John has this to say regarding the resurrection: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” I John 3,2. And in his book of Revelation John again and again refers to the resurrection. But we shall close the testimonies of the apostles with that description which is to be found in the next to the last chapter: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” Rev. 21,1–7.
This then is testimony sufficient to prove that the apostles of Christ preached the doctrine of the resurrection, not with the intention of scaring fellow sinners into being good, but to comfort the true believer with the assurance that Christ’s resurrection is an earnest of his own resurrection to glory. Paul has summarized the purpose of it all in his words to the church of the Thessalonians: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” I Thess. 4,18.
The Testimony of the Book of Concord
When our Confessions dwell so sparingly as they do on this particular doctrine there is of course a valid reason. It was a doctrine which had not been drawn in question by the church. We have in our Confessions very little testimony regarding the Inspiration of Scripture, since that was also a doctrine which was taken for granted by the men who wrote the Confessions. But now to the Confessions:
In the three general creeds it is little more than mentioned. The Apostolic Creed confesses: “I believe in the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.” And then we have Luther’s explanation of these words in his Small Catechism: “At the last day He will raise up me and all the dead, and will grant me and all believers in Christ eternal life.” In the Nicene Creed we confess: “I look for the resurrection of the dead; and the life of world to come.” In the Athanasian Creed we confess: “At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go to life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the true Christian faith, which, except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.” It is then in the Athanasian Creed that we have the concluding declaration, that if we do not believe it we cannot be saved.
The Augsburg Confession, Art. XVII, has this to say on the doctrine of the resurrection: “Also they teach that at the consummation of the world Christ will appear for judgment, and will raise up all the dead; He will give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end.” (Had the present bishop of Hamar, Norway, abided by this confession, to which he pledged himself in his vow of ordination, he would not deny the doctrine of eternal damnation, as he does.)
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. VI, after having stated that the sin which is still in our members has to be mortified more and more every day, continues thus: “And death itself serves this purpose, namely, to abolish this flesh of sin, that it may rise absolutely new. Neither is there now in the death of the believer, since by faith he has overcome the terrors of death, that sting and sense of wrath of which Paul speaks I Cor. 15,56: The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the Law. This strength of sin, this sense of wrath, is truly a punishment as long as it is present; without this sense of wrath, death is not properly a punishment.”
Again in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. XVII (Of Christ’s Return to Judgment), we have this: “The Seventeenth Article the adversaries receive without exception, in which we confess that at the consummation of the world Christ shall appear, and shall raise up the dead, and shall give to the godly eternal life and eternal joys, but shall condemn the ungodly to be punished with the devil without end.” (This is virtually a repetition of what had been quoted from the Augsburg Confession.)
Luther’s Large Catechism has the following to say (Having spoken of the Third Article of the Apostolic Creed as the believer’s Sanctification): “Meanwhile, however, while sanctification has begun and is growing daily, we expect that our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth gloriously, and arise to entire and perfect holiness in a new eternal life. For we are only half pure and holy, so that the Holy Ghost has ever (some reason why) to continue His work in us through the word, and daily to dispense forgiveness, until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people, full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body.
“Behold, all this is to be the office and work of the Holy Ghost, that He begin and daily increase holiness upon earth by means of these two things, the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sin. But in our dissolution He will accomplish it altogether in an instant, and will forever preserve us therein by the last two parts. “But the term Auferstehung des Fleisches (resurrection of the flesh) here employed is not according to good German idiom. For when we Germans hear the word Fleisch (flesh) we think no farther than the shambles. But in good German idiom we would say Auferstehung des Leibes, or Leichnams (resurrection of the body). However, it is not a matter of much moment, if we only understand the words aright.”
Luther on the Resurrection
We do not propose to quote all that Luther has to say regarding the resurrection. But we shall at least give attention to those very definite statements made which show how important this doctrine is in our preaching. We have taken our statements from the St. Louis Walch edition of his Säimmtliche Schriften, the translation being our own. The Roman numerals indicate the volume, the Arabic numerals indicate the paragraph.
“It is both necessary and profitable for us that we be on our guard against the devil, and do not imagine that it was for His own sake that Christ rose from the dead, but for our sake.” XIII, 1892. This is basic in the much-disputed doctrine of Objective Justification.
“This sermon must ever be heard among Christians: ‘Fear ye not, be of good cheer, praise and thank God, for Christ is arisen, and is no longer here.’” XIII, 522.
“If you want to preach the Gospel it must in brief be concerning the resurrection of Christ. He who does not preach that is no apostle, for it is the chief article of our faith.” IX, 969. There is a valid reason for our having chosen the very theme as stated at the outset of this essay.
“If the resurrection is to be our comfort, we will have to believe that it was for us that He (Christ) died and rose again.” This shows that Martin Luther did not forget the meaning of what we designate as Subjective Justification.
“The resurrection of Christ is our righteousness and our life, not only as our example, but also according to its power.” VIII, 1371.
“Though a thousand hells and an hundred thousand deaths were there, they would be but as a little spark and tiny drop compared with Christ’s resurrection, victory and triumph.” XIII, 1893.
“There can be no forgiveness of sins where one does not believe in the resurrection of Christ, for therein lies all the power of faith and eternal life.” XI, 771.
“Christ’s omnipotent resurrection is not only greater than my sins, death and hell, but also greater than heaven and earth.” XIII, 1893.
“Since angels were sent as the first preachers of the resurrection, we should conclude: the resurrection should serve us just as much as His suffering.” XIII, 520.
“The article of the resurrection must sustain us when death comes, yea, it is this article which sustains the Christian Church.” XIII, 1885.
“Where the article of the resurrection of the dead is gone, there all other articles are gone and all of Christ is lost.” VIII, 1090.
“We should be most certain concerning the article of the resurrection, for if you hold this article to be absolute certainty, so that you would risk body and life for it, that makes a Christian.” VIII, 975.
“Death and the grave are nothing more than a ragged coat taken off and thrown away, and the resurrection means that you have put on that beautiful new coat.” VIII, 1260.
How It Becomes Our Chiefest Joy
Our life here in the valley of the shadow has been faithfully described by Brorson in his matchless hymn: “Jeg gaar ifare hvor jeg gaar.” (“I Walk in Danger All the Way.” 173) We can therefore the better refresh our memories on the various thoughts which our theme suggests by following the six stanzas of this hymn. And I would suggest that as an introduction to each of the divisions, we rise and sing the stanza in question. The first stanza reminds us of the dangers surrounding us on every hand, when it says:
“I walk in danger all the way;
The thought shall never leave me,
That Satan, who has marked his prey,
Is plotting to deceive me.
This foe with hidden snares
May seize me unawares
If e’er I fail to watch and pray:
I walk in danger all the way.”
It is not the Saviour’s will that we at once should be taken out of this sinful world. He tells us as much in His sacerdotal prayer, recorded in the 17th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John: “I have given them thy word; and world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” vv. 14.15.
Since it is the true believers who are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the good leaven which shall quietly exercise its beneficent influence in this corrupt mass, it is self-evident that the Lord of the Church would not want them removed from the scene of action until that influence has been exercised. But He does not want His children to lose sight of the fact that they here are but pilgrims and strangers, and that in an inhospitable land. They are warned again and again not to become enamoured of this present world, and are informed that if they do fall in love with it, a most terrible fate awaits them. It is none other than the Saviour who speaks these warning words: “Remember Lot’s wife.” Luke 17,32. It is John the beloved apostle who counsels all his fellow believers: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” I John. 2,15–17. It is significant in this passage that the apostle reminds his fellow Christians that if they but do the will of God, instead of becoming absorbed in temporal things, they are going to have that which will stay with them also when they go over from faith to sight, from the temporal to the eternal. That which the true believer above all has treasured, the things of the spirit, may be taken with him in the resurrection. It is that thought which the inspired writer of the epistle to the Hebrews so well expresses: Having referred to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, he continues: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from which they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Heb. 11,13–16.
Great as is Jacob on many an occasion after he had been given the new name of Israel on the banks of the Jabbok at the end of that night-long struggle with God, he is perhaps never greater than when he, old and broken in health, stands before the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt. When the mighty monarch him: “How old art thou?” what does he reply? “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” Gen. 47,9. In other words, he let the mighty Pharaoh understand that while monarch might busy himself building pyramids to perpetuate his memory on this sin-cursed earth, Israel was not in the least concerned about such trifles. He was but a pilgrim on his way to a better whose Delectable Mountains beckoned him in the distance. It was as though he were telling Pharaoh:
“I’m but a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home.
Danger and sorrow stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.”
It is the very same attitude which inspired Peter to write as he does in his first epistle, describing true believer after this fashion: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but have now obtained mercy, Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the clay of visitation.” I Pet. 2,9–12.
Paul counsels us to keep awake, that we arise from the dead, and Christ shall give us light. He tells the Ephesians: “See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” Eph. 5,15.16. We like that Pauline expression “circumspectly.” Dangers surround us on every hand. There is not a single point of the compass from which they may not threaten us. And “circumspectly” means just that. You are not through struggling with dangers just because you have succeeded in fighting it off on one sector. It is as true to-day as it was when Paul gave that admonition. We still to sing in our family devotions that refreshing hymn of Schroeder’s: “Jesus, giv seier,” when we are reminded:
“Satan kan tusinde ra̋nker optänke,
Mig at besna̋re, at styrte og kränke.”
That is: “Satan can concoct a thousand tricks by which he will ensnare, upset and destroy me.”
But perhaps the greatest after all, is this that we become weary of having to bear the cross, that instead of continuing the road of self-denial (and there is none other by which we can hope to be saved), we give ourselves up to despair. It is our Saviour who has told us: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up the cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matt. 16,24–26. We may be tempted sore to what has already been referred to as “the religion of accommodation.” And of what does that consist? It has most graphically been described by an unknown author in these telling words:
“A man must live!” We justify
Low shift and trick, to treason high:
A little vote for a little gold,
Or a whole senate bought and sold
With this self-evident reply: “A man must live.”
But is it so? Pray tell me why
Life at such cost you have to buy?
In what religion were you told
A man must live?
There are times when a man must die,
There are times when a man will die;
Imagine for a battle cry
From soldiers with a sword to hold,
From soldiers with a flag unfurled,
This coward’s whine, this liar’s lie:
“A man must live!”
The Saviour did not live, He died;
But in His death was life,
Life for Himself and all mankind;
He found His life by losing it.
And we, being crucified afresh with Him,
May find life in the cup of death,
And drinking it,
Find life forevermore.”
But the child of God has not only the manifold dangers about him in a world at enmity with God. He has also trials which are sent him by his heavenly Father, as a wholesome chastisement, to be sure, but which nevertheless test his faith. He finds that truth well expressed in the second stanza of this true-to-fact picture of life. And that is a thing we as pastors especially must bear in mind in our preaching, that we draw a true picture, what we call “a natural.” Says Dr. Walther, in his “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel,” p. 313: “Do not, for God’s sake, draw a false picture of a Christian; but whenever you have drawn the picture of a Christian, see whether you can recognize yourself in that picture.” Here then is the true believer’s outlook on life:
“I pass through trials all the way,
With sin and ills contending;
In patience I must bear each day
The cross of God’s own sending;
Oft in adversity
I know not where to flee;
When storms of woe my soul dismay,
I pass through trials all the way.”
When we read of Abraham’s trial it well nigh staggers one — to think that he did not completely surrender to despair. For God, in demanding of the patriarch that he slay his son Isaac, was not only bereaving him of a most beloved son. Abraham’s own salvation was bound up in that son of promise. And yet Abraham did not for a moment hesitate to carry out God’s command. But the key to the problem will be found in Hebrews 11,17–19: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promise offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence he also received him in a figure.”
Now it is true that a child of God, when he but stops to reflect on life’s vicissitudes in the light of Scripture, will know that it is not merely by chance that certain crosses are laid upon him. They are there for a most blessed purpose. Has not God’s word taught him: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth”? Lam. 3,27. Does not that man of God, Moses, pray in the words of the 90th Psalm: “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil”? Ps. 90,15. Does not Scripture teach us that it is God’s way of rearing His children? Do not the Scriptures give us examples aplenty of those who have been tried to the utmost, only to be helped when it seemed that no help was forthcoming? The entire Book of Job is there to teach us the Christian virtue of patience. And it is faith-strengthening to hear the sorely-tried Job confess out of the welter of apparent catastrophes which had befallen him: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Job 13,15. It is a source of real comfort to be told in the 12th chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” And again: “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way: but rather let it be healed.” Heb. 12,5–8 and 11–13.
But it is with the believer of the 20th century as it was with the believers of old, when God found it necessary to counsel them: “Remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee thence.” Deut. 24,18. Landstad has very well expressed it in his treasured hymn, “Jeg ved mig en søvn i Jesu navn,” (“I Know of a Sleep in Jesus’ Name”):
“I know of a peaceful eventide;
And when I am faint and weary,
At times with the journey sorely tried,
Through hours that are long and dreary;
Then often I yearn to lay me down,
And sink into blissful slumber.”
That journey, however, which so sorely tries you, will be made easier to travel if you but remind yourself of the blessed purpose back of it all. It is of the Lord’s doing. God not only knows what you are passing through, but He also knows how best to prepare you for your heavenly home. There are times unnumbered that you shall have occasion to comfort your soul with Olearius’ comforting hymn:
“When afflictions score oppress you,
Low with grief and anguish bowed,
Then to earnest prayer address you;
Prayer will help you, through the cloud
Still to see your Saviour near,
Under cross you bear;
By the His word doth lend you,
Prayer joy and comfort send you.
“Learn to mark God’s wondrous dealing
With the people that He loves;
When His chastening hand they’re feeling,
Then their faith the strongest proves:
God is nigh, and notes their tears,
Though He answers not, He hears;
Pray with faith, for though He try you,
No good thing can God deny you.”
And all this leads up to the inevitable question — the end of it all. It is the age-old query: “If a man die, shall he live again?” Job 14,14. Men may scoff at what lies beyond the curtain of death. But the curtain is still there for all who will not give heed to what the God of all grace has revealed to us in His word. The best that the heathen Romans of old could do was to seek comfort in the well-known maxim: “De mortuis nil nisi bonum,” i.e., “Concerning the dead nothing but good must be spoken.” But fair words from the lips of an unbeliever will never wash away the stain of sin, they will never assuage the sorrow which true repentance must ever bring to the broken heart. The words spoken by the agnostic Robert Ingersoll at the grave of his brother are as meaningless as they are unconvincing: “This brave and tender man in every storm of life was oak and rock, but in the sunshine he was vine and flower. He was the friend of all heroic souls. He climbed the heights and left all superstitions far below, while on his forehead fell the golden dawning of a grander day. He loved the beautiful, and was with color, form, and music touched to tears. He sided with the weak, and with a willing hand gave alms; with loyal, and with the purest hands he faithfully discharged all public trusts. He was a worshipper of liberty, a friend of the oppressed. A thousand times I’ve heard him quote these word: ‘For justice all places a temple, and for all seasons summer.’ He believed that happiness was the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, humanity the only religion, and love the only priest. He added to the sum of human joy, and were every one for whom he did a kindly deed to bring a blossom to his grave he would to-night be sleeping neath a wilderness of flowers.” Brave words indeed, but they will not set at rest the soul which has sensed the true meaning of Augustine’s compelling couplet, already referred to:
“Our hearts for Thee, O God, were made,
And will not rest until they rest in Thee.”
There are too many hill-side cemeteries reminding also the unbeliever of the stark truth that “the paths of glory lead but to the grave.” And Brorson has given expression to that sad fact in the words which end his description of our mundane existence:
“Death doth pursue me all the way,
Nowhere I rest securely,
He comes by night, he comes by day,
And takes his prey most surely;
A failing breath — and I
In death’s strong grasp may lie
To face eternity for aye:
Death doth pursue mall the way.”
Only that person is prepared to live as he ought who has learned how to die. It is this basic truth which the sainted Christian Scriver has in mind when he says in his “Soul’s Treasury”: “He who dies before dies will not die when he dies.” That is Scriver’s way of expounding Paul’s words: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2,20.
Scripture does not pass over the thought of death lightly, nor should we. It is in connection with warning against drawing a false picture of the Christian that Dr. Walther comes with this bit of pastoral counsel: “Many preachers picture the Christian as a person who does not fear death. That is a serious misrepresentation, because the great majority of Christians are afraid to die. If a Christian does not fear death and declares that he is ready to die at any time, God has bestowed a special grace upon him. Some have expressed this sentiment before the physician told them that they would not live another night, but after that they were seized with a terrible “ Law and Gospel, page 313. This does not mean that we should not learn to become reconciled with the thought of death even when we are enjoying the full of health. When Paul thinks of the sin which is still in his members it causes him to exclaim: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But no sooner has he made that statement than the grace is given him to add: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Rom. 7,24 and 25.
What are some of the expressions Scripture itself employs in speaking of death? In the mouth of the faithless Agag it is called “the bitterness of death.” I Sam. 15,32. The Psalmist speaks of those who “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Ps. 107,10. The prophet Jeremiah describes it as a stealthly intruder, saying: “For death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces, to cut off the children from without, and the young men from the streets.” Jer. 9,21. Paul tells the Romans that “the wages of sin is death.” Rom. 6,23. And it is in the very midst of that triumphant chapter of I Cor. 15 that he declares: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” I Cor. 15,26. But why is it that the apostle can end that chapter with the triumphant defiance of death and grave? He has a Saviour who has conquered in the field: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Cor. 15,54–57. There is then good reason for the believer to sing with Kingo on Easter morn:
“Thanks to Thee, O Christ victorious!
Thanks to Thee, O Lord of life!
Death hath now no power o’er us,
Thou hast conquered in the strife;
Thanks because Thou didst arise,
And hast opened Paradise!
None can fully sing the glory
Of the resurrection story.”
And it is the bright side of the picture which Brorson now presents in the three closing stanzas of his true-to-life hymn. We are not alone in our strife with this last enemy. There are veritable hosts of ministering angels who are sent to the rescue:
“I walk ’mongst angels all the way,
They shield me and befriend me,
All Satan’s power is held at bay
When heavenly hosts attend me;
They are my sure defense,
All fear and sorrow hence!
Unharmed by foes, do what they may.
I walk ’mongst angels all the way.”
It is as true today as it was on the day that the Psalmist penned it: “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Ps. 91,10–12. It is true, Satan made a most wicked use of these comforting words when tempting our Saviour in the wilderness, leaving out the significant words “in all thy ways.” But the Son of God met that thrust by answering from Scripture itself the prohibitive word: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Luke 4,12.
It is perhaps in the doctrine regarding the angels that we may be remiss as parents in making them living examples of what is factual in the life of every true believer. Why should we not take time to relate the wondrous story of God’s dealings with His servants in the days of the faithful prophet Elisha, when the Syrian hosts had compassed the city of Dothan, as related in the Second Book of Kings: “And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold the the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” II Kings 6,15–17.
As parents we have learned to understand how eager our little children are to be told fairy tales, where oft that is brought to pass which lies far beyond the realm of what to our human mind seems possible. And if the fairy tales of an Hans Christian Anderson, of Asbjørnson and Moe, or of a Grimm, the fables of an Aesop, can be made use of to inculcate most valuable lessons in the life of the little child, why can we not make use of those passages in Holy Writ which speak of the wonders which have been wrought by those ministers of God, concerning whom David says in the 103 Psalm: “His angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word”? Ps. 103,20. They are not fairy tales or fables, but Scriptural truths, as comfortingly true as are the words which tell us of our Saviour’s death on the cross as our all-sufficient substitute. It is none other than our Saviour who has told us the account of the rich man and Lazarus. And who were the ministers of the heavenly Father that cared for the poverty-stricken Lazarus? Says Christ: “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” Luke 16,22. As true as are the manifold miracles of Christ, just as true are the accounts given us in Holy Writ regarding the existence and office of the holy angels.
No wonder then that a Martin Luther urged his fellow pastors in the 16th century to preach as godly servants of the church concerning the doctrine of the angels. And just to refresh our memories, let us look at some of the utterances of the great Reformer regarding the angels: “God has, by ordaining the dear angels to serve us, wanted to show us how highly He considers us who believe on Him.” I, 1690. “The good angels serve all of the elect.” XI, 2383. “No man is so friendly and so ready and anxious to do us all manner of service and favours as are the angels.” I, 1688. “Where there are twenty devils, there will be an hundred angels, and if this were not so, we would long ago have perished.” V, 378. “This is absolutely certain that the angels are at our side and with us, so that we shall not doubt.” I, 1687. “When you are dying, then you may say: ‘Christ will be with me, and He will have with Him an host of holy angels.’” “The least of the angels, which are watching o’er us, is stronger than all devils; that is comfort for the afflicted.” XXII, 1872.
But even greater than all the angels is our crucified, risen and ascended Saviour, who has assured us that He will be with us even unto the end. And so we may trustingly sing with Brorson:
“I walk with Jesus all the way,
His guidance never fails me,
Within His wounds I find a stay,
When Satan’s power assails me;
And by His footsteps led,
My path I safely tread,
In spite of ills that threaten may,
I walk with Jesus all the way.”
When Luther, as you already have heard, speaks of the resurrection as “the chief article of our faith,” he is simply re-echoing the words of Paul in that wondrous 15th chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians. The many miracles performed by Christ, the wondrous words He spake, such as no other man ever spake, the fact that He rose again from the dead, would be meaningless to us poor sinners, unless His resurrection were an earnest (i.e., a pledge) of our own resurrection. Has not our heavenly Father assured us in plain words? Having spoken of Abraham’s faith, which was counted to him for righteousness, Paul tells us in the 4th chapter of Romans: “And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” Rom. 4,21–25. Had it not been true that Christ Jesus gave His life a ransom for all, as Paul assures us in I Tim. 2,6, He would most certainly not have been raised from the dead. And unless we look beyond the grave for the most wondrous works of our risen and ascended Lord, we shall have robbed ourselves of our chiefest joy.
One of the moot questions which occupied the World Council of Churches at its meeting in Evanston, Illinois, was this: Is our Christian religion a “Diesseitigkeit” religion or a “Jenseitigkeit” religion? The Modernists naturally insisted on the former, the Conservatives (if any member of that heterodox organization can be classified as such) insisted on the latter. There ought not to have been any question on that score, had they but taken to heart what the revealed word of God has spoken for our admonition and learning. For what has Paul to say on the so-called “Diesseitigkeit” religion? “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.’” I Cor. 15,19-26. Death can be welcomed by those alone who have mortified sin in their bodies. It was concerning the mortification of the body of sin that we confessed in our Apology: “And death itself serves this purpose, namely, to abolish this flesh of sin, that it may rise absolutely new.”
Let us not forget what Paul calls Christ’s resurrection — “first-fruits.” As true believers we are members of Christ’s body. And if the head be risen to resurrection ground, the members will in due time follow. It is a resurrected Saviour we worship, a Saviour who has assured us that He goes to prepare a place for us, and then immediately adds: “And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself: that where I am, there ye may be also.” Joh. 14,3. It was in childlike faith in that promised “seed of the woman” that a David could triumphantly sing, in that Psalm which has been the solace of countless souls in the very hour of death: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23,4.
And so we can conclude with Brorson:
“My walk is heavenward all the way,
Await, my soul, the morrow,
When thou shalt find release for aye
From all thy sin and sorrow;
All worldly pomp, begone,
To heaven I now press on;
For all the world I would not stay,
My walk is heavenward all the way.”
What was it which made it possible for the saints of God to struggle on in the face of all manner of persecution and affliction? It was childlike faith in the promises of God. They would be kept. For “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” Num. 23,19. Of that man of God, Moses, it is said: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter: Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” Heb. 11,24–27.
Moses had learned to look to the end of the road. And it is that which you and I today must learn. What a lesson is there not to be found in these few words: “He endured, as seeing him who is invisible!” Paul has the same “Lebensanschauung” when he writes the Corinthians: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” II Cor. 4,18–19.
In one of the most touching statements we find in that very personal letter which Paul pens his beloved Philippians he tells them: “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind early things.” Phil. 3,18.19. It is because the erstwhile Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, had by the grace of God learned to see how absolutely impossible was his own imagined righteousness of the law, and had in his helplessness asked the resurrected and ascended Christ: “What wilt thou have me do?” Acts 9,6, that the saving grace of God was made abundantly clear to him, so that from that day on he had no other message to proclaim than Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. He had found the pearl of great price, had sold all that he had, and had gone and bought it. Did he ever have occasion to regret his choice? Never! What he had told the Philippians regarding the loss of all things, that remained his unwavering confession unto the end. That we may learn from the very last epistle we have from the apostle to the Gentiles. A prisoner in Rome, having been forsaken by all at his first trial, so far from being downcast and despondent, he sings one of the most triumphant swan songs ever sung: “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” II Tim. 4,18. It was the message of the resurrected Saviour which he had proclaimed from that day when he was stopped dead in his tracks down Damascus way. Let us then give heed to his message, fix our gaze also on the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. It will not be an easy road to travel, but the only safe and blessed, which the saints of God have trod before us. Yes, we may also be afflicted with fightings and fears within, without, at times. But He who has begun the good work in us will not forsake us, but perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. It is that glorious consummation before us Landstad has in mind when he sings about “The Many Shall Come from the East and the West,” saying in the closing stanzas:
“All trials are then like a dream that is past,
Forgotten all trouble and sorrow;
All questions and doubts have been answered at last;
Then dawneth eternity’s morrow.
Have mercy upon us, O Jesus!
“The heavens shall ring with an anthem more grand
Than ever on earth was recorded;
The blest of the Lord shall receive at His hand
The crown to the victors awarded.
Have mercy upon us, O Jesus!”