Dear brethren in the Lord: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ!
When we as God’s children confess: “I believe the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints,” we have thereby not only stated our belief that there is such an institution, but we have also expressed our firm conviction that we ourselves are members of that invisible organization, partaking of its manifold blessings while on our earthly pilgrimage, and destined for glories in the world to come — glories so far surpassing human ken, that, as Luther puts it: We should die from sheer joy were we to enter upon them with our mere human senses.
But great as are the glories of the Bride of Christ, we must ever bear in mind that here her glories are hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). While in the valley of the shadow the Bride of Christ will remain a cross-bearer, often tempted to cry with pious Asaph of old: “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.” Ps. 73:13, 14. It is therefore needful for us as the children of dust to refresh our drooping spirits by reminding ourselves of what awaits us at the end of life’s journey, when we shall see face to face, and shall know even as we now are known by Him who seeth in secret.
Never before has there been a greater need of this particular spiritual refreshment than the very age in which we find ourselves — a war-torn, godless, sophisticated and cynical age, when real values are being spurned as though they had no worth, and when the ever arrogant old Adam of the natural man vaunts himself in the delusion that all questions will ultimately be settled by the mind of man.
When the Word of God stresses the soul life, dwelling mainly upon what is in the heart of man (for God has never said: “Give me thine intellect,” but He has said: “Give me thine heart,”) it is because that divine Word recognizes the fundamental fact that no real problems in life have ever been settled in the realm of the intellect. God knows whereof He speaks when He says by His servant Solomon: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Prov. 4:23.
Or should it perchance have been because the Son of God did not really understand the real problems of life that He thanks His heavenly Father because He had hid certain things from the wise and prudent, and had revealed them unto babes? Matt. 11 :25. Should it have been because he didn’t know better that the, apostle Paul makes this assertion: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are”? I Cor. 1:26–28. No, it was because a Paul, even as a Moses, looked beyond the outward appearance. Of Moses it is said that he “endured as seeing him who is invisible.” Heb. 11:27. And does not Paul himself confess: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”? 2 Cor. 5:1.
If we are not to grow cynical, callous, and despairing of all hope in an age like unto ours, we must have our anchor cast within the veil (Heb. 6:9); we must lay hold of those things which, while not visible to our natural eye, are nevertheless as certain as are the never failing promises of God. In short, we must place the right emphasis upon
1. “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” 2 Cor. 4:18a. What does Paul mean with this statement? Is he perchance merely a starry-eyed visionary, a man who wants to get away from a world of grim realities, an idle day-dreamer who doesn’t like to be upset by unpleasantnesses? No one the least familiar with the life and work of Saul of Tarsus, would ever accuse him of being a day dreamer, one who lived apart from the world of his day. It is true that this man, who had always been serious, did not relax that seriousness when he learned to know the crucified Christ, though his seriousness was now ever relieved by a never-ending joy in the Lord. But while he used this world, he did not abuse it. I Cor. 7:31. No man has ever been more alive to all which the world thought, said, and did than this erstwhile Pharisee. If you think that he has closed his eyes to the world’s wickedness, from which he recoils with holy horror, then read his description of unregenerate man as depicted in Romans 1. He readily concedes that he is a debtor to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise. Rom. 1 :15. But in what way was he a debtor? It is true, that he had been sent to preach the Gospel to the Greeks and the Barbarians, and in so far that debt had to be redeemed. But Paul was a debtor to them also in this: They had taught him how absolutely void of real meaning all learning and culture, all power and influence is, if you must live and die a stranger to the Gospel of Christ, if you are to look merely at the things which are seen.
But when Paul speaks of the things which are seen as opposed to the things which are not seen, he is really delving deeper than that which merely touches the social, political, and economic life. He is aiming at the most fundamental fact in life: How a poor sinner attains to “the righteousness of God.” You know it was this very expression which in his earlier years so troubled Martin Luther. He tells us how he used to hate that expression: “The righteousness of God.” And why did he hate it? Because he looked upon it as that righteousness which God through the law demands of each and every sinner. It wasn’t until he had been given grace to see that the apostle is speaking of that righteousness which God freely gives us in Christ that Luther learned to love it. And, now what is his confession? “Even as I formerly had hated that expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ so I now held fast to it with a love so great as must be bestowed upon the most precious word. This passage of Paul’s is actually become for me the gateway to Paradise.” Walch 14, 448.
If Paul had looked merely at the things which his natural eye could detect, what would he have found? Not the Paul which would dare to stand before God. No, it was the Paul who had to complain about his utter sinfulness: “The good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Rom. 7:19. For while he delights in the law after the inward man, he sees another law in his members, warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members. It is this which prompts him to exclaim in his anguish: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Rom. 7:24.
But Paul isn’t held in bondage there. Why not? Because he has learned to look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. The righteousness of God which he now possesses is not visible to the naked eye. He very likely did not look so very much different from the Saul who had been stopped dead in his tracks down Damascus-way. But what a different man was he not in spirit! No longer the sullen, vengeful, Pharisaical servant of sin, but the willing and rejoicing DOULOS XRISTOU (the bond-servant of Christ), who could honestly say of himself and his fellow apostles: “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things,” 2 Cor. 6:10.
And is it not time that we one and all make with one another a solemn covenant, saying: “We have spent too much time looking at the things which can be seen with the natural eye, and have devoted all too little time in searching out with our eye of faith those things which are going to endure when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll?” Isa. 34:4. Shall it be said of us, not in derision, but of a truth: “They walked by faith, not by sight”? 2 Cor. 5:7. Then it is in the realm of the spiritual where the exercise must take place.
That boy of yours who may never come back again from that distant battlefront, is he to be limited in his vision to the things which are seen by flesh and blood, or is he to have his war-weary spirits revived by the assurances of faith, that no matter how dark it may seem, just as certainly as he is a child of God, just as certainly God has thoughts of peace with him, and not of evil, to give him an expected end? Jer. 29:11. Isn’t it going to be true in his case: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose”? Rom. 8:28. It will be true if he truly cherishes his eternal possessions, those precious unseen things held to his eternal credit in God’s ledger of life.
If we here at home make it our sacred resolve that we will not look at the things which are seen, yea, stare ourselves blind on them, but fix our eyes on the enduring possessions of eternity, it will have its salutary influence on those who on our behalf “shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” Ps. 127:4. And our Christian boys in the armed forces have a right to expect that of us. If we fail them here, we shall not only have committed spiritual treason against our country, but we shall have told our boys in life’s most tragic drama that our Christianity was but a farce. Then we may win a thousand wars, and still in the end have as our spoils an eternity of woe.
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2. But Paul gives his reason for doing what he wants all of his fellow-believers to do: Look at the things which are not seen. And when you have weighed his reason for the same, his statement will not appear quite as paradoxical as it at first appeared. “For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:18b. Haven’t you heard this thought before? You most certainly have, if you have but paid attention to our Saviour’s personal utterances. For it is He who, in His longer prophetic sermon, foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, makes this unique statement: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matt. 24:35.
Here we learn to see the importance of treasuring God’s divinely inspired Word as the “one thing needful,” which shall not be taken away from us any more than it was from faithful Mary of Bethany. You have in the Word an eternal possession. Do we think of that as often and as seriously as it deserves to be pondered? How far more interesting does not instructing the young committed to our care (whether it be in our Christian day schools or in the pastor’s regular catechetical classes) become, when we but bear this eternal truth in mind. It is the failure to appreciate this one single fact which makes so many a member of our Christian congregations indifferent to the necessity of a Christian day school. If they could but project themselves into the future, and see how the simple truths of the Small Catechism, the hymn book, the Bible History, passages from Holy Writ itself daily taught, become bulwarks in the defense of our most holy faith, there would never be permitted one single doubt as to the value of the early indoctrination of the child. For everything we bring them out of this heavenly storehouse is for them an everlasting possession. Whatever you may have laid aside in the heart and soul of your boy from the living Word of the living God, is something of which neither bombshells, nor booby traps, nor tanks, nor all the infernal instruments of modern warfare shall be able to divest him.
My earnest plea with each and every member of our beloved Synod is this: Let us learn, as the shadows lengthen and the day of grace is coming ever closer to its end-learn to treasure our ETERNAL POSSESSIONS. For what does it matter whether or no our names are ever known beyond the borders of our own little county or township, so long as they are recorded in the book of life? What does it matter whether or no we shall ever possess a single inch of ground on this sin-cursed earth, so long as we are assured of a place before the throne and the Lamb? What though men may misunderstand us, despise and condemn us, so long as we have not been forgotten by Him who marks even the sparrow’s fall? What though we may not have been able here in the valley of the shadow to “speak with the tongues of men and of angels,” so long as we are numbered among those who shall chant that new song in the realms of light: “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation”? Rev. 5:9.
And this shall be your blessed lot, if you look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, remembering that the former are temporal, while the latter are eternal. May then our Christianity be as inviting as it is convincing, leaving no one in doubt as to where our heart really has its treasure. May our very life give expression to the sentiment we voice when we sing:
“Word of the ever-living God,
Will of His glorious Son;
Without Thee how could earth
Or heaven itself be won?
“Lord, grant us all aright to learn
The wisdom it imparts;
And to its heavenly teaching turn,
With simple, child-like hearts.”