A Sermon by
Dr. Walter A. Maier

“Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God.” Romans 14:12

    O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST, OUR HOPE FOR YEARS TO COME: By Thine undeserved mercy we have come to the last day of this year. For twelve long months of strife and sorrow Thou hast protected us and granted repeated victories to our armies and navies. As we review the year, we confess that we are in no wise worthy of the blessings, national and individual, which Thou hast showered upon us, for we have sinned daily, ungratefully, and grievously. Therefore we come before Thee contritely to plead that before the year closes, Thou wouldst teach us all to know that through faith in the newborn Savior, Thy Son, we have full and free forgiveness of al lour transgressions and can enter the New Year as Thy redeemed and restored children! We implore the Holy Spirit’s presence as we approach this milestone, which marks the passing of another twelve months, and ask this divine Comforter to fill  our hearts with trusting, Christ-centered faith. Make the coming year a period of peace and true progress for us! Guide the President, the Congress, and all in authority into the paths that please Thee! Continue Thy loving care for Thy children in the armed forces! Keep them from harm of body as well as from spiritual injury; and, Father, bring them back to us soon! O Thou, who with the Son and the Spirit alone art our true God, help us end the old year and begin the new in the name of Jesus, our only, but all-sufficient Redeemer! Amen!

    An ancient story tells of a man who was constantly afraid that Death would overtake him suddenly and find him unprepared. So he made a bargain with the Grim Reaper, stipulating that Death would give him clear, repeated notices before he came. One day, however, unannounced and altogether unexpectedly, the Destroyer appeared to demand the life of his amazed, trembling victim. “How could you break your pledge?” Slowly the skeletal figure replied: “How about your failing eyesight, your dimmed sense of hearing, your gray and falling fair, your lost teeth, your furrowed face, your bent body, your dwindling powers, your weakened memory? Were these not unmistakable warnings?”

    Why do I speak of death, when at midnight tonight laughter, light, and life will reign, with celebration, singing and shouting? In all this carnival I remind you on the last day of a dying year—and this is no ancient fable, but a modern truth—that God Himself now gives every one of you a personal, pointed warning that another milestone in your life has passed; that you are twelve months closer to your end, 366 days nearer the grave; that for many of you this may be the last full year of your existence. In all the gaiety which reigns in our country with the coming of a new year, few people realize how steadily and swiftly they are approaching their end. Listen to this bell toll! Before it rings again in fifteen seconds, over the face of a war-torn world (and this startling figure does not include those who fall in battle), thirty men and women, young and old, will have breathed their dying breath. Listen to the bell again as it taps out the measure of its dirge! Every time it rings, each half-second, death has claimed a new victim. As you hear this steady tattoo, remind yourself that though we may sigh as we prepare to tear the last leaf from the calendar, we cannot relive a single moment! Every day the group of men and women carried to their last resting place is larger than the population of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Each week a mass of humanity greater than the number of people in Saint Louis is wiped out.

    As you realize how quickly the past year has taken wings to fly away forever and understand how unexpectedly your farewell to life may come, is it not the highest wisdom and prudence to be prepared for that departure? If business, industry, finance close their books and take annual inventory on the last day of the last months, is it not far more necessary for us, our country and its institutions, on this final Sunday, to engage in spiritual stocktaking? How all important that we heed the Lord’s plain direction, chosen as the text for the closing message this year, the words of Saint Paul in Romans, chapter fourteen, verse twelve, “Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God,” and believe that the Almighty asks each of us:


    See whether you can balance the book of your life! List your liabilities, your sin, your sorrows, and then find—this is my New Year’s wish for you—the assets of a victorious faith, the overbalance of the Savior’s grace and the removal of all your indebtedness through the price Jesus paid for you!


    Note that the Apostle begins, “EVERYONE OF US SHALL give account of himself to God”! Whether we like it or not, just as sure as this old year gives way to the new, “everyone of us” must stand before the Maker at His appointed hour to review life in the light of His sacred Word. Human law exempts some men from going to war, paying taxes, facing court trials, and a dozen other responsibilities; but no one is rich enough, smart enough, powerful enough, to secure a release from this rigid requirement: “Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God.” Politicians have thwarted justice; Nazi fugitives from war prison camps this moment are hiding in the Arizona desert; but no man has ever been able to run away from the Lord. In the scandals revealed last week when American soldiers and French accomplices were found guilty of stealing Army gasoline, United States military courts sentenced a guilty American private to life imprisonment, while French courts fined the civilian who worked with him only a few dollars; but the Almighty is not thus partial. Men of all nationalities, climes, and colors stand before Him on the same level, destined to be summoned before His judgment. Husbands may deceive their wives, and wives may be secretly unfaithful to their husbands; employers and employees may cheat each other, but none of you can conceal anything from the all-seeing eyes of Him who beholds everything and reads even the records of your heart. Clever criminals may try to avoid giving an account of themselves before human courts. The president of a New York corporation stole $40,000, permitted his secretary to be accused, and then, last week, plunged to death from the ninth floor of his hotel suite; yet that suicide—as all men—has to stand before the tribunal of eternity. Here, then is the unavoidable, inescapable, inevitable truth: “Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God.” When the time of this divine hearing is set, unlike many modern court trials changed from one date to another, there will be no postponement or delay.

    How necessary that we in the United States understand clearly that our country must “ give account of” itself “to God.” Indeed, because we have been blessed above other peoples, the demand for our accounting may come the more quickly and be more exacting. Where in this wide nation of forty-eight States, many of them individually larger than any European nation except Russia, has a single city been demolished by enemy planes? Where a factory destroyed by robot bombs, a home shattered by bock busters? Actually we are building entirely new communities, comfortable houses for workers, tremendous plants. Where do children rummage through garbage pails as Italian waifs and orphans dig through the refuse of our Army kitchens? American babies today are the best fed in history. Where do American boys and girls drop dead from hunger as they do in a dozen famine-cursed lands? Our infant mortality rate has dropped in the last years. Where are our lads, fourteen and fifteen years old, torn from their home and thrown into the whirlpool of bloody war as they are in scores of countries across the seas? Our children go to school, play basketball, attend holiday parties, wear their new, warm Christmas clothing. Who, excepting our soldiers, their parents, wives, little ones, sweethearts, has made a real self-denying sacrifice? Most Americans are earning more money then ever before. This year has witnessed the all-time high in national income of $159,000,000.000, with savings at the record figure of $36,000,000,000, while hundreds of millions of Europe and Asia are impoverished and bankrupt. Add all the other privileges which we enjoy but which masses in war-wrecked nations abroad have never known, and you will join me when I say that our beloved country, blessed in a signal, unparalleled manner above other nations, should give the Almighty an account which recognizes His marvelous mercy.

    Can we give such account for the dying year? One hundred sixty-eight years ago tomorrow, George Washington raised the first American flag over his camp in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Does that flag today stand for a humble, penitent, Christ-exalting, Bible-loving land, which, never defeated in war and victorious in the present struggle should be close to the Lord? I list as the first of our liabilities, America’s neglect of Jesus Christ. A few days ago the editors of the Associated Press newspapers named the twenty-one biggest news stories of the past year; but in the entire list not one event was of religious significance or of Christian background. If only as a result of true spiritual revival during the last twelve months the United States had accounted for itself in headlines like” “America Turns to Jesus!” “Widespread Daily Bible Reading in Our Homes!” “More Sunday schools and Parish Schools Established, All of Them Crowded!” “Churches Working Overtime with Additional Services and Packed Congregations!”

    America’s second liability is the failure of many leaders to accept Christ. Sir William Dobbie, defender of Malta, told an English audience: “I haven’t come all this way to speak to you of the heroism of Malta…. I have come to you to speak of the Lord Jesus and His faithfulness to me, since I first gave my heart to Him.” I know that we have Christian generals in the United States. One of them has been connected with this broadcast; but we need many more leaders, both military and civil, who will speak out heroically for the Savior.

    The third liability for which we must give account before God is the sin connected with war, the gain of money some achieve while soldiers lose their lives.  Abraham Lincoln is quoted in a ballad as saying that he was troubled in making some aspects of the Civil War and God’s Word agree.  I, too, have found difficulty in trying to make every aspect of this World War harmonize with divine truth.  I cannot picture Jesus, the Son of God, who laid down His life to save men, rejoicing when civilians, children and mothers, the aged and the infirm are destroyed by bombs.  I can never make the starvation of babies, even Japanese, agree with Christ’s appeal, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not!” I refuse to believe that the Savior of men is pleased with the destruction of churches.  I deny most emphatically that the Almighty looks with favor on the spread of atheism.

    America’s fourth liability is violence and crime. The closing year has been a period of strikes and business seizure, violence and murder, blasphemy and profanity, hatred and cursing.

    America’s fifth liability is the breakdown of the home, the increase of unfaithfulness, divorce, illegitimacy, the tragedy of unwanted children.  Listen to these voices of protest from one city, Chicago: The director of the Juvenile protective Association there laments “a tremendous and terrible increase in child desertion and neglect.” The Secretary of the Child Welfare Division of the Council of Social Agencies bemoans “a complete breakdown in wartime family life.” An official of the United Home Finding Service declares, “We have 2,000 babies and children who need foster homes; more are coming in every day.” A domestic relations court judge charges: “Cheating by GI wives is rising rapidly. It is moral sabotage on the home front.”

    America’s sixth liability is the ignorance of Scripture truth and of God’s way to salvation in Christ. Reports show that many of our high-school children do not know the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s prayer, and similar basic passages of Scripture. How can we expect to keep the Almighty with us unless our youth is indoctrinated in the Gospel? Well does J. Edgar Hoover warn: “I am not easily shocked or alarmed, but today, like thousands of others, I am both shocked and alarmed. The arrest of teen-age boys and girls is staggering; the country is in deadly peril. We can win this war and still lose our freedom for all America.”

    The seventh American liability is the widespread determination to build the future without the Almighty. Before he entered the State Department, Archilbald MacLeish told a New York City audience: “The peace we seem to be making will be a peace of oil, a peace of gold, a peace of shipping, a peace…without purpose or human intent, a peace of dicker and trade about the fact of commerce, the facts of banking, the facts of transportation, which will lead us where the treaties made by dicker and trade have always led us.” Others of, of course, predict boom and the end of all wars, but how regularly have such prophecies miscarried! We have been told that the war would end in 1943. How little attention is paid to God’s promise of help: “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; THEN will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

    The deep-rooted difficulty lies in the tragedy that many in our country proudly avoid repentance. On Friday I received this telegram:” Another effort was recently made by Philadelphia Christians to persuade Washington to call a day of prayer but without success.  In view of the grave situation in Europe and the great need in our own land, it is our conviction that there should be a day of humiliation and prayer, when Christian people all over the land will spend time, as the Lord leads, on their faces before God, crying for forgiveness in Jesus and beseeching an outpouring of His Spirit on our land and armed forces.” Heroically these men, despite official disfavor, lead for a day of national repentance! How lamentable that it has not been granted! The longer this day of conviction that there should be a day of humiliation and prayer, when Christian people all over the land will spend time, as the Lord leads, on their faces before God, crying for forgiveness in Jesus and beseeching an outpouring of His Spirit on our land and armed forces,” Heroically these men, despite official disfavor, plead for a day of national repentance! How lamentable that it has not been granted! The longer this day of contrition is withheld, the more ardently believers themselves should repent and plead with our authorities to remember that, according to Hebrews 13:17, every leader in governmental position must “give account of himself to God.” In past crises a small group of Christians has often proved itself  “the salt of the earth.” The Holy Sprit grant that today many of you will humbly approach the Lord Jesus to confess your sins and our national failures! Work and pray so that our country heeds the cry: America, turn to Christ!


    Our churches, which should take the lead in bringing and keeping our people with the Almighty, are likewise included in the ultimatum of our text, “Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God.” During the past year Christian groups should have testified courageously to the only Hope a war-racked world can ever have, the only Comfort burdened, distressed men and women can ever know, the only Pardon and peace sin-stained souls can ever receive, Jesus, the divine Mediator between heaven and earth. Yet I ask you in all sincerity, have you noticed any marked upswing of religious devotion, such as we might expect after then millions of our youth have been drafted for the nation’s defense? Thank God, more Bibles were distributed from coast to coast last year then ever previously; but has the contradiction of Scripture, the denial of our Savior’s atonement, the rejection of His deity been banished from those American pulpits which long before the war forsook the Almighty and His Word? I have never heard of even one Modernist preacher, teacher or leader whom this conflict has led to disavow his opposition to Christ. There may have been some—pray God there were!—but I charge that unbelief and the sabotage of our Gospel treasures are more firmly entrenched in the United States today, with all the wild spending and the rampant materialism of this age, than before the war. The letters you send me reveal that many go to church on Sunday to hear an harangue of hatred, or a crossless, bloodless, Bible-less talk which flatters people into believing how good they are—a sermon which preaches sin—not ours, of course, but our enemies’, which mentions the Lord but omits His son, without whom we can do nothing.

    Is it any wonder, then, in a country with more churches than any other, with the most sweeping religious freedom history has ever known, with no government or Gestapo dictating spiritual policy, with Church and State constitutionally separated, that despite these advantages, despite the urgent appeal voiced by the war to get right with God, some denomination, as they give account of themselves at the close of the year, must report a decrease in attendance and membership? An official of a large Protestant body recently stated that in New Jersey the annual average gain for its 412 churches was 1.37 members. The entire denomination, with its 8,600 congregations, showed a new loss of 4,247 members throughout the United States. Others groups report a gain of 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent—hardly large enough to make up for their decline through death.

    What a supertragedy that at a time when the house of God should be overcrowded, many o them are losing ground and thus strengthening the armies of atheism which will mobilize to march over the world after the war! The reason for this decline? Once more I give it to you, so that you who love the Lord Jesus can stop the betrayal of the Savior wherever it seeks entrance into your circles: the failure of man-made religions to comfort, guide, and sustain! The bankruptcy of all Christless creeds! The emptiness of all Scriptureless sermons! The hopelessness of all churches, be they ever so large, wealthy, influential, widely publicized, attractively built, gorgeously decorated, which question, reject, and even ridicule the redemption Jesus earned for the world through His agonizing death on Calvary!

    Where is the remedy, the cure, for weakened, collapsing churches? Certainly not in mergers and interdenominational councils seeking to control American church life, keep broadcasts like ours off the air, and spread the social gospel which is as far from Christ’s Gospel as Hitler is from George Washington! No, we need churches built on the Rock of Ages, the unchangeable Word, the Redeemer’s full and free grace, His deity, and His complete atonement; churches where membership means all-out allegiance to our Lord, battling against sin, striving for a consecrated life; churches which work especially among the poor, the sick, the sorrowing and refuse to be called millionaires’ congregations; churches which do not look for the most fashionable locations, but are ready to center their activities among working people; churches which think more of inward spiritual adornment than of imposing architecture; churches which devote their energies not particularly to social pastimes but to spiritual endeavors; churches with preachers “determined not to know anything…save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” servants of God, not servants of men; churches with worshipers whose life and actions bear the stamp of the Redeemer, who are eager to have their children brought up in daily Scriptural instruction, who want their homes to re-echo Jesus’ love and the joy of peace which comes through; churches which are supported not merely by the pennies remaining after the dollars have been spent in the greatest wave of luxury-buying the United States has ever known, but by the generous outpouring of vast sums of missionary purposes! We must have Christian groups like this if the United States is to counteract the menace of materialism and the inroads of atheism which the period of peace can surely bring; churches which will help give our country a real revival, a twentieth-century reformation, the mightiest Gospel offensive since the days of Luther and the age of the Apostles. In our Savior’s name I invite you who love the Lord to pray, believe, and work so that the weak, anemic, dying churches in the land be revitalized and wholly dedicated to Jesus. American churches turn to Christ!


    The last day of the year also has a personal appeal. When we read Saint Paul’s declaration, “Everyone of us shall give an account of himself to God.” May we realize that December 31 is spiritual stocktaking time for each of us individually! Today you and I should ask ourselves: How have we spent the year? Have we lived blameless, unselfish, righteous lives? Have our thoughts always dwelt on the pure, honest, helpful? Have our eyes always looked to the clean, the decent, the noble, the exalted? Have our hands been engaged in constructive work for God, our country, our fellow men, our homes, ourselves?

    If we are honest—and we cannot conceal our liabilities from the Almighty who knows us better than we know ourselves—we must admit that every day of the past 365 has been marked by impulses or actions, words or deeds, which are against the Lord, hostile to our neighbors, and contrary to our own salvation. You, the smug and self-sufficient, who want to close this year with a feeling of satisfaction because you have made more money, enjoyed more pleasures during these twelve months of war than ever before, and who now laugh at evil or sanctimoniously thank God that you are better than mother men, drip all pretenses! Throw away hypocrisy! Admit to the Holy Spirit that you, as everyone born into this world, are laden with inherited guilt and actual, committed sin! Confess to your Maker during the few hours left before the new year dawns that you have indeed sinned grievously, repeatedly, rebelliously, in actions, utterances, and emotions, through hatred, envy, malice, covetousness, lust, and selfish ambitions!  Concede, some of you, that you have spent the entire year in occupations which have dishonored the Lord, distressed your fellow men, and disgraced yourselves! You, the proud infidels, without God and against Him, know that you are under His condemnation, doomed to the hell which modern unbelief glibly ridicules, but which will produce “weeping and gnashing of teeth” when you realize, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it is good or bad.”

    If this were all I could tell you, how desperate these last moments of the old year would be and how hopeless the first day of the new! Thank heaven with however, that whenever you must give an account of yourself, you can turn to the heavenly Representative, the Mediator and Friend at the celestial court, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, your Redeemer! Here is the promise by which you can face the Almighty, repel the charges of your own conscience, reject Satan’s accusation—this sweeping, all-inclusive pledge of pardon: “If any man, sin, we have an Advocate” (an Attorney, a Defender) “with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He is the Propitiation” (that means the Atonement, the Pardon) “for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” There you have life and salvation, the assurance of forgiveness for all your transgressions. Press every drop of comfort you can from this sacred pledge, if you have fallen into fearful sin. Then in that awful moment which summons you before the bar of divine justice, when you realize that you cannot give God an account of yourself, that you are completely condemned, cling to your Attorney as you pray,

In the hour of trial,
Jesus, plead for me

    And the Savior who promises, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out,” whose mercies “are new every morning,” who appealed even for His crucifiers, and who laid down His life, so that you could be restored to God and assured of eternal blessing, the precious, sinless, compassionate, and all-powerful Son of God, will arise to plead in your behalf and, pointing to you, say: “Rather, Thou dist send Me to redeem him. I was born at Bethlehem as his Savior, I was crucified at Calvary transferring his transgressions to Myself, bearing his iniquities in My own body. I died on the cross to give him heaven and its endless blessing.” Justified by this glorious grace, you can declare: “O God, U must give you this account of myself:

Nothing in my and I bring,
Simply to His cross I cling.

    Yet since there is ‘no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’’ and I am in Christ; according to Thy promise, my sins have been washed away, my guilt concealed, my debt paid, the charges against me removed forever.” As you give utterance to this confidence, your heavenly Father will take the large, heavy volume in which the charges against you are listed and write across each page: “Paid in full! Forgiven completely! Removed entirely, all by faith in My Son’s atoning love”; and then He will hand you the title to your prepared place in the many mansions of His heavenly house.

    As the year closes, I tell you: Jesus wants you; He loves you; He came for you, lived for you, died for you, rose again for you, ascended to heaven for you, reigns eternally for you, so that by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit you, born again, can throw off your old sins, vices, evil habits at the end of the old year and, as the new year dawns, become a new man, saved by grace, reborn “by water and the Spirit,” restored to your heavenly Father.

    Who knows what the months ahead will bring If we face facts, not wishful thinking, and are guided by stern reality, not by romantic wishes, we are driven to conclude that the year before us has all the signs of reaching a new high in human suffering. Those who predicted a list of a million casualties were laughed to scorn at the beginning of the war, but this ridicule may turn to realization. It may be—how reluctant I am to mention this, yet how definitely I know the Lord leads me to say it—that before the total most of the war is completely computed, your sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, may be listed among the missing or killed. A hundred other sorrows may surround you, increasing even past burdens. No one can foretell the things to come, not all the fortunetellers and spiritist mediums in the world, not the 400 Ouija boards sold every day in the city of Chicago. Yet if we have Christ, we can declare with Job, “God ‘knoweth the way that I take,’” and gain the assurance which wealth, power, culture alone can never give, namely, that the reverses and rejections of our hopes, loss of money, health, friendship, home, happiness, even death-marked telegrams from Washington or our own departure from life—for who knows how many of us will live through the year? — cannot dim this radiant truth: All the trials and afflictions we may have to endure are to strengthen our faith, promote our blessing, and prepare us for the joy of heaven.

    Take heart, therefore, you for whom the dying year has been a succession of sorrows! If you have Jesus, you can say, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,” and find in your sufferings the token and assurance of Christ’s devotion to your soul. Rejoice, because you are a year closer to heaven, a year nearer your Savior and your departed loved ones who have preceded you in the faith! Find radiant happiness in the fact that, come what may, as long as you cling to the Son of God during the year ahead, you will have joy, peace, strength, salvation and the pledge of eternal life even now!

    On New Year’s Day, 1815, the British attacked New Orleans, and a long, heavy struggle raged before they were defeated. Yet this occurred weeks after peace had been declared and before the news could be brought across the ocean. For the sake of your soul, during the days ahead don’t try to battle alone against the overwhelming forces of evil when peace and victory have already been decisively won for you by God’s Son! Rather, stop resisting the Holy Spirit, and give yourself wholly to your Redeemer! At the top of any New Year’s resolution you may make, write these words, “Father, I have resolved that I will give an account of myself by pointing to my Savory’s suffering in my stead, His death for my life, His atonement for my sins. Thy Spirit guiding me, I promise to be Thine by living Christ and loving Christ, by preaching Christ and teaching Christ, by beginning and ending each day with Christ! So help me God!” Amen!

The Preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired on December 31, 1944.