“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us.” Gal. 3,13.
“Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Math. 22,13.
The Supreme Sacrifice and the Supreme Tragedy.
Let us before beginning the work of our convention pause for just a little while and consider the supreme sacrifice and the supreme tragedy in order that we may be thoroughly awake to the surpassing importance of the work our several pastors and congregations have to do, remembering that the purpose of our organization and of our convention is not to legislate for and dictate to but to “hold up the arms” of the congregations and to serve them in every way possible.
The expression, supreme sacrifice, is familiar to all. It is said of soldiers that gave their lives in the service of their country, also of mothers who have jeopardized and lost their lives to save a child. It may and is said of anyone who has given his life to save or serve others. We would certainly not belittle such acts of heroism and sacrifice yet, when thought of in connection with the supreme of all sacrifices, these are but acts of selfishness in comparison.
For whom did the soldier give his life? For his home and dear ones, for his friends and countrymen. For whom did the mother die? For her own child. But, friends, there is one who has made a curse for those who reviled him. One who loved those who hated and persecuted him and gave his life for his enemies. Rom. 5, 10. This sacrifice was made by Jesus Christ, God incarnate, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary. Surely this is the supreme sacrifice.
Consider what it involved. He who “stretched out the heavens like a curtain,” who “laid the foundations of the earth” and “the beams of his chambers in the waters,” who “looketh on the earth, and it trembleth; he toucheth the hills and: they smoke”; whose legions of servants are happy in doing his will, he comes to earth to serve sinners and is reduced to such poverty that he “hath not where to lay his head.” He came, impelled by love and pity, to save his enemies, mark well, his enemies from the condemnation of a just law and the consuming wrath of a righteous God. “Made of a woman, made under the law” he came as our avowed, and, by God, accepted substitute to redeem them that were under the curse of the law. As such the righteous wrath of a holy God was all focused upon him, for, remember, had he not taken upon himself all the sin of all the world? No wonder his anguish of soul pressed drops of blood as sweat from his brow, and that the torture on the cross was as if hell engulfed him and he cried out in despair, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”
And how was he received by the objects of his love? For answer look into Pilate’s court room; hear them mock him; see them spit upon him, smite him, scourge him. Listen to their cries of “Crucify him, crucify him” and finally to the sentence of the craven judge that it be as they required. Only a short time later he is nailed to a cross which is raised on Golgatha. They whom he loved stood about beholding him in his torture, and so bitter is their hatred that they even now mock and deride him but — he prays for them.
How could the Roman soldiers, as they mocked and scourged him, make impotent — powerless — the mighty hands that hurl the thunder and lightning? They could not. It was love’s tender cord that tied his hands. How could they impale the almighty Son of God to the accursed tree? Again, they could not; it was love of sinners that held him there. Jesus was face to face with an unalterable either/or. Either he must pay the ransom in full or see man, God’s foremost creature, the king of creation, eternally writhe in hell. He died the death of a malefactor. He made the Supreme Sacrifice. Love won.
And is not this also the supreme tragedy? No, for he broke the shackles of death, burst open the grave and on the third day arose victorious over sin, death and the devil, and all as our substitute. “He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” Rom. 4, 25. “Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Tim. I, 10. Now the blessed gospel truth, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” cannot be denied or ignored by heaven or hell; it is authenticated and sealed by the empty grave.
If our Savior’s humiliation and his death on the cross is not the supreme tragedy, what then is? Is it that an aged couple loose their means of support through bank failure and must, after a long life of hard work, accept alms? Is it that a wedding party meets instant death at a railroad crossing, or a mother and father must see their children waste away for want of food, or a babe is snatched from its mother’s arms and deliberately murdered? Yes, these are all tragedies and we fairly shudder as we enumerate them, yet the supreme tragedy is none of these.
That a redeemed sinner, an heir of God and co-heir with Christ, the object of his infinite love and the beneficiary of his last will and testament is “cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” where “their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched” — the eternal damnation of a redeemed soul, that is the supreme tragedy. Let this fact never lie dormant in the hearts of the watchmen on the walls of Zion nor be overlooked by any of the laborers in the Lord’s vinyard.
To proclaim the supreme sacrifice and to avert the supreme tragedy, that is the work of the church on earth. This is our work, dear assembled brethren of the Norwegian Synod. As we love immortal souls we must not permit ourselves to deviate from this our God-given work and even in part enter upon other activities however commendable and more appealing, perhaps, to our natural inclinations and more popular in our surroundings, such as, social welfare work, promoting the framing of secular laws and regulations, correcting alleged corruption in affairs of state, etc. What would you say of a firechief who would stop on his way to a fire to help the police catch a thief, or to give food to a hungry one, or tarry at a street corner to assist the traffic officer in helping a blind man across the street while men and property were perishing in the flames he should have done his utmost to extinguish?
Dear fellow Christians, laymen as well as pastors, if we are to labor with any degree of zeal we must realize that the supreme tragedy will befall everyone born of flesh, be it father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter who is not in communion with Jesus Christ through a living faith. If we are to work with any degree of success, we must not fall into the common error of considering the prevention of the tragedy and the proclamation of the sacrifice as independent or even separate fields of endeavor. The prevention can be accomplished only by the proclamation.
The gospel of Jesus Christ, written and spoken, and in what has been called its visible form, the sacraments, are the means with which God has equipped his church for the work he has assigned to it. Just as well try to shovel oats with a pitchfork or pitch hay with a shovel as try to save souls by any other means than that “power of God unto salvation” which is the gospel of Christ Jesus. No one has ever been saved by character, by oratory or by timely discussions of desirable social and political reforms, nor by a beautiful church building, a good choir and organist, courteous ushers and the like. The last named things have their proper and useful place, but cannot save souls.
However, the dispenser of the bread and water of life is very reprehensible who is negligent and careless as to his personal habits of language as well as appearance, who administers the Lord’s Supper with unclean hands, whose church building is unkept and uninviting and whose services in general, public and private, are not the best and most attractive possible under existing circumstances. He is like a slovenly cook who serves good food on dirty dishes in an unkept dining room. What a pity if anyone allows easily removed stumbling blocks to remain on the narrow path over which he is trying to lead the blind, the lame and the halt.
Let us now turn to the work of our convention with the single purpose of promoting the glory of God and the salvation of souls.