A Sermon By
Dr. Walter A. Maier

“Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of Me.” Saint John 5:39.

GOD, OUR GRACIOUS FATHER: Eternal praise be to Thee, our merciful Lord, that Thou has given us Thy Word, with the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus; that Thou hast preserved its truth against all who have sought to destroy it; that Thou has raised up translators publishers, distributors, and Bible lovers who have brought the Gospel of our Savior to the ends of the earth. Send us Thine enlightening Spirit to make us accept Scripture and revere the Book which is able to build us up by leading us to Jesus, “the Author and Finisher of our faith”! As we read the prophecies of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of the New, may the enlightening Comforter daily draw us closer to Him who at Calvary shed His blood to cleanse us of all our sins! Help us love, search, and apply Holy Writ in our homes and churches for multiplied benefits on ourselves and our beloved country! Bless the President and the Congress of the United States! Thy Spirit direct our men and women in the armed forces to Christ and His strengthening Word! Protect them mightily by Thy grace, and grant us lasting peace in righteousness and blessing! Hear us, Father, as we pray penitently in the name of Jesus, our coming King! Amen!

    WHERE in our blood-blotched world can those find help and hope who are burdened by the crushing weight of loss, pain, separation and death? Where, as national problems increase, personal sorrows multiply, can we discover true courage, unfailing counsel? With palm readers, astrologers, and spiritist mediums? Millions of Americans pay a heavy price to support such superstition. Last week a Birmingham woman listened to a fortuneteller predicting that she would meet financial reverses. She did; because the crystal-gazer stole her purse with ninety dollars. Money loss, however, is small damage in comparison with the soul suffering produced by the refusal to trust God.

    Can we find guarantee of guidance in friends? Some of you are relying on the wrong sort of companions. A few days ago a woman was strangled to death in a Minnesota hotel. Accused of the crime is her best friend, to whom the murdered woman left $30,000 in her will. Even the close ties of marriage do not always create confidence. Every day some soldier on the Leyte front in the South Pacific lost his wife through divorce. Husbands were risking their lives in the nation’s defense while their wives played with sordid sin at home!

    Do culture and college equip us for triumph over present emergencies and future dangers? At the University of Texas, which is certainly no worse than other schools, unmentionable immorality was found among faculty members and students. With much of the world’s scientific efforts devoted to inventing means of killing more people, with many professors definitely atheistic, we can understand why suicides so often are brilliant teachers and honor students.

    Can war bring peace and prosperity? It should produce outstanding benefits, we say, when we compute the fearful price this struggle demanded: horrifying death, the agony of wounded bodies, the torture of torn minds, bombed homes, blasted cities, bestial atrocities. We are told repeatedly that the world will be far better because of the war, that soon all strife, want, and sorrow will be banished forever. But who can believe these promises?

    Can statesmanship, international organization, create peace and prosperity? The Peace Palace at the Hague cost more than a million dollars; it has an endowment of more than ten million, but it is closed and deserted; its library of 75,000 volumes on international peace is tightly barred; five of the rulers whose pictures decorate its walls have been assassinated. With such widely applauded plans for happiness rudely cast aside, it ought to be clear that we need Heaven’s help, the Lord’s guidance. Thank God, we have it in the Bible, the Savior’s Word for a war-weary world! Because within the covers of Holy Writ there is help for each of you, help in every need, inner calm amid outer war, fortifying strength for every weakness; because divine Truth can give you all you need for life and death—today, on Universal Bible Sunday, the appeal re-echoes throughout America:


    This plea is based on the command of Jesus Himself in Saint John’s Gospel (chapter five, verse thirty-nine), “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of Me.”


    When the Son of God told His enemies “Search the Scriptures,” the priests, Sadducees, and scribes in the hostile crowd before Him might have replied, “Why don’t you tell us something new? We have the Old Testament, and have possessed copies for centuries!” Today, likewise, when we repeat our Lord’s command, “Search the Scriptures” some of you answer, “Why, our country has Bibles than ever before!” Thank the Holy Spirit that more Testaments were distributed in this war than in any previous conflict! The American Bible Society, which deserves your support, alone sent four and one quarter million volumes of Scripture to the armed forces and the merchant marine during the war, and other agencies have similarly done remarkable work in bringing God’s Word to the masses. Yet in our text Jesus speaks not of Bible spreading but of Bible searching. A copy of the New Testament in itself is not charm that must shield the lives of soldiers. It should be believed, trusted, applied; the treasures of eternal wealth, searched and secured. One of the deepest tragedies of our burdened age is that millions in America did not feel the Lord’s hand in the war and are farther from His truth than ever before.

    See how completely and blasphemously the Ten Commandments, the fundamental requirements of the Almighty, are set aside! “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” the Lord emphatically commands, but some leading forces in the United States today question or deny our Father’s existence and by anti-Biblical utterances show their contempt for Him. A radical labor paper features a Christmas cartoon with drunken men singing “Silent Night, Holy Night”; commercialized entertainment, dropping to new depths of indecency, has not hesitated to snap and snarl at Scripture. So-called liberal education has helped turn many directly to atheism. “We can’t explain God,” unbelieving teachers claim; “therefore we can’t accept the Bible.” But these men should recall the admission of Thomas Edison: “We don’t know one millionth part of one per cent about anything. We don’t know what water is. We don’t know what light is; we don’t know what electricity is, we don’t know what gravity is. We don’t know anything about magnetism. We have a lot of hypotheses, but that is all.”

    “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” Heaven’s Law continues; nevertheless His name is so widely misused and His Son’s name, Jesus Christ, so frequently abused by filthy, foul-mouthed scoffers—and, far worse, by many godless women—that we wonder why those who continually curse are not cut down by the Almighty’s wrath.

    God commands us to heed the preaching of His Word, but even after our victories some churches are half empty. Many pulpits feature man’s pathetic ideas instead of heaven’s glorious grace. Back in 1928, with a national income of $77,000,000,000, the amount contributed to church charities totaled $532,000,000; but last year with a national income of $150,000,000,000, almost twice as large, the sum contributed for these charities dropped to $364,000,000. Americans are thus giving proportionately only one third as much for church purposes as they did fifteen years ago.

    Divine direction asks children to love, honor, and obey their parents; but bulletins from Washington tell of a 39-per-cent increase in crime for boys and 56 percent for girls.

    “Thou shalt not kill,” the Voice at Sinai proclaims; yet human life is cheap when mothers and youngsters, busy with early Christmas shopping, can be killed or seriously injured by a robot bomb which strikes a department store toyland during the rush hours.

    “Keep thyself pure,” the Lord demands; but how few take this request seriously! Multiple divorces and remarriages, all against Holy Writ, mark high and low families in our land. Last week a cable reported that one of every three British homes was damaged by the war, but who can number the households in our country shattered by unfaithfulness and impurity? How easily we smile at sin! A soldier in Newfoundland forgets his marriage vows and becomes the father of an illegitimate child. What happens? Pictures taken of him, smiling, are sent throughout this country by wire photo and featured on the front page of many newspapers which gloss over his adultery as “indiscreet.”

    “Thou shalt not steal,” the Bible commands, and with the increased billions spent today, bribery, graft, corruption, fine and gross theft, are constantly becoming more frequent.

    “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” the Almighty declares, thus denouncing gossip, slander, betrayal, the very evils now rampant. A brigadier general was demoted and then dropped from the Army because he revealed the date of D Day, but if those who expose the secret faults of their neighbors were banned by the churches, their number would be startling.

    “Thou shalt not covet,” the sacred Word directs, but selfish desires promote so many crimes that the chief of police in Los Angeles wants at least 2,000 more officers in that city alone to help control lawbreaking.

    Therefore over the sin-burdened age the voice of Jesus constantly resounds, “Search the Scriptures!” America, come back to the Lord and His Word to learn the necessity of repentance, the blessedness of reconciliation with our heavenly Father, and the mercy of redemption in Christ! Remember, it is our Sovereign and Savior who gives this command; yet how bitterly even certain religious groups oppose the study of the Old and New Testaments! Not long ago a powerful fraternity inserted a large paid advertisement in a Saint Louis newspaper declaring that Jesus “never told us to read Bibles”—even though our text for today quotes Him as declaring, “Search the Scriptures!” Ordinarily if you would read this printed claim, “The Bible is not a safe guide in matters of religion,” you would immediately feel that you were confronted with an infidel attack on Scripture; but these very words, “The Bible is not a safe guide in matters of religion,” you would immediately feel that you were confronted with an infidel attack on Scripture; but these very words, “The Bible is not a safe guide in matters of religion,” are taken from that church advertisement. Of course, the whole purpose of this assault is to mislead men into believing that Scripture is not sufficient to exalt a human creed above the divine Word and contradict its truth. How earnestly Saint Paul warned against that when he declared, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” God have mercy on America, when its religious organizations attack the Bible!

    We declare that the Bible is the sole source of divine revelation, the exclusive basis for Christian doctrine and life, the real supply of saving knowledge, the only record which Jesus told us to search, the one Word in which He pleaded that we continue. His will is to be found, first, not in what churches teach, but in what Scripture teaches.

    We also believe that our Lord asked us to “search the Scriptures” because they are the inspired, infallible truth. Don’t listen to those, no matter how imposing their position, who claim that the Bible contains God’s Word but will, when pressed, freely state that it is full of errors, Our sinless Savior did not direct us to a book which is half right and half wrong. It is not enough to say: The Old and New Testaments are true when they deal with religion, but they contain misstatements when they speak of history, geography, science, and other secular subjects. Where are these mistakes? I challenge any of you to produce them.

    As heaven’s truth the Bible is eternal and victorious. Men have repeatedly predicted its destruction, but Scripture has not only outlived its critics, it has also been translated into more languages, distributed in more copies, spread over more areas of the world, then ever before. When Tom Paine finished his Age of Reason, he declared that within a century this book would make the Scriptures out of date and completely forgotten. Recently my office telephoned to every large bookstore in Saint Louis, but not one had Tom Paine’s Age of Reason in stock. A survey of a dozen second-hand-book stores revealed that only one could produce a used copy; yet last year, despite the war, Bible circulation throughout the world reached its greatest height. Is it not remarkable that many of those who smile at the Gospel feverishly clamor for its comfort when danger draws near? In a thousand perils on land, on sea, in the air, when all human hope seems lost, infidels turn quickly to the saving Word. Don’t wait until danger overtakes you before you reach for your Bibles! Don’t be satisfied with reading a few passages hastily now and then! The Savior speaks of “searching” the Scriptures, of examining God’s Record prayerfully , regularly, reverently, studying its warnings and promises, delving deep into its store of immeasurable riches and finding all we need for this godless and heavily burdened age. Even legislators in our county are learning of importance of God’s Word, for the Senate Judiciary Committee recently agreed that it would be good to set aside annually the Thanksgiving to Christmas weeks for nation-wide Bible reading. “This,” the legislators declared, “will bring faith and hope and courage to millions of people now disturbed by doubt, uncertainty, and fear.” However, let us not restrict this study to the pre-Christmas month. It should be the most important part of our activity every day.

    Our country needs the constant support of devotion to the divine Word. Why do you suppose the United States developed with much greater blessing than the South American republics? Hear this answer by former President Rocca of the Argentinian Republic: “The immense superiority of North America came from the Bible, which the Pilgrim Fathers brought to Plymouth, while the South American invaders placed their faith in force and violence.” Every American a Scripture searcher!” is the cry which, if followed, could bring mighty benedictions upon our nation. Not in conscription of youth, not in the world’s largest Army, Navy, and Air Force lies the security of the nation, but, under God, in multitudes who lovingly build their confidence on the errorless Record.

    “Search the Scriptures” becomes a directive also for our families. A chaplain, lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, writes: “I have seen hundreds of men destroyed in body, mind, and soul, on the very brink of hell… The faces of these men without spiritual hope, as they tramp on and on and out to eternity, make me speechless with amazement,” and then he places the blame where it rightly belongs, declaring, “Many parents are guilty before God and man,” guilty of excluding the Savior from their homes, guilty of having refused to read the sacred Oracles to their own children. Fathers and mothers, inestimably more important than that you give your boy or girl the proper food, sufficient clothing, comfortable shelter, the right kind of education and culture, is this, that you bring them up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”; that you make your home a church of Christ in which the saving Word can dwell bountifully among you,” Don’t send your children out into this murderous world unarmed with God’s truth and therefore unable to battle against sin and hell! “Search the Scriptures” daily in your home, and the Holy Spirit will mightily bless your household!

    Let the churches increase their Bible classes, provide more facilities for youth’s instruction, and show parents how to conduct family worship! Let all who love Jesus, young and old, earnestly counteract the growing unbelief, the rising tide of atheism, the menace of Modernism! Going back to the Word, but forward with Christ to a new appreciation of the Sacred Volume, may they constantly “search the
Scriptures,” the eternal, inspired, errorless testimony to God’s love and the Savior’s atonement!


    Much more, however, than the welfare of our country, our homes, our churches, comes from the study of the precious pages. Our Lord tells His hearers, and this holds for us too: “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life.” His countrymen were right in believing that the Old Testament gave them the promise of eternity. They read these ancient promises: “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.” “Thou wilt show me the path of life!” And because they could say with Job, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” they could also add that after their bodies were destroyed in death, “Yet in my flesh shall I see God.”

    How much more do we, acquainted with the marvelous, merciful record of our Savior’s life, have the immovable, unchangeable pledge of everlasting glory! We know with Christ that our “God is not the Lord of the dead, but of the living.” Through faith we can stand at the casket of a loved one with Christ and repeat His words, “Our friend… sleepeth.” In this bleeding age, when millions have been sacrificed on the altars of war, when men scream, “Hurrah!” as they kill their fellow men, what strength of assurance to know that the few feet of ground on God’s acre are not the final resting place for our bodies; that the sorrow and agony we endure are not the concluding chapters of our careers; that for the Christian there is an existence beyond the grave, marvelous beyond words, radiant beyond human conception, eternal beyond earthly change and decay!

    Therefore “search the Scriptures” to find this promise of the resurrection, you to whom every day can bring renewed danger and who should be prepared to meet your God! Read the Bible daily, for tomorrow may produce a life-and-death crisis, and you should always know the one way to salvation! Delve deeply into the celestial Word, you the sick and invalid, who need the promise of that new, heavenly bliss in which there is no pain and anguish! Turn to the Holy Spirit’s volume, you the oppressed who suffer unjustly, to learn that there is a happier future, in which injustice will be righted, oppressions removed, and the power of sin destroyed! Memorize the truths of Sacred Scripture, you the aged, near the end of your earthly pilgrimage and with all your hearts believe that in Christ a far better land awaits you, with no infirmities, no weakened bodies and waning senses!

    All this, however, does not exhaust the glory of divine revelation. Not only does the Bible assure us that there is an everlasting life, but, praise God! In its highest grace it also teaches us how we can secure this victory over death. Today Jesus says of the Scriptures, “They are they which testify of Me.” The whole Old Testament, our Savior declares, points to Him as the Source of eternal blessing; and Jesus, we know, is the Climax of the New Testament, the Fulfillment of its promises, the Assurance of its mercy, the Guarantee of its grace, the Pledge of its truth. He is the Center of the sixty-six books in both covenants. A friend of mine has a copy of the Declaration of Independence in which certain letters are written more heavily, so that, when you look at the document, you see the features of George Washington, who, under divine guidance, brought freedom to our land. In a far higher way, when we behold the Scriptures, we should always see Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and believe His death-defeating, life-assuring promise, “This is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Again, “If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death.” Once more, “In My Father’s house are many mansions….I go to prepare a place for you.” Consider these seven short but eternal words: “Because I live, ye shall live also”! Hear our interceding High Priest pray, “Father, I will that they also whom Thou has t given Me be with me where I am,” and know that our Redeemer, reigning triumphantly, has assured us, “He that heareth My Word and believeth on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life, and shall not come unto condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

    My beloved, these passages, all taken from a few chapters in Saint John’s Gospel, repeat the many pledges of eternity the Holy Spirit offers you. Believe Christ! Trust His Word! Rely on His redemption! Build your hope on nothing else than His blood and righteousness! Learn how the Son of God defeated death for you! Take courage in the comfort of the Advent season, which tells you that He, the Lord of lords, came into this world a helpless Babe to live for you and die for you on the cross. – So that He could atone for your sins, satisfy divine justice, remove every barrier separating you from heaven, pay the appalling price your transgressions had heaped up before God, take away the curse of your iniquities, deliver you from eternal death, he, pure and stainless, gave Himself into the agonies of the crucifixion, laid down His life in the bitterest of all deaths; and this assures your guilt-burdened soul of a glory-filled eternity with the priceless privilege of beholding your Redeemer face to face.

    Those are the peerless truths of our faith which the Savior presents to you particularly in these pre-Christmas weeks, when He asks you to humble yourselves, confess your sins, every one of them and cling to Him, the Lord of limitless love. The war has brought many accounts of heroic self-sacrifice. A few days ago Washington released the gripping story of the four chaplains aboard the ill-dated Dorchester, which sank off Greenland early last year. These officers, after helping save many of their men, spent their last moments handing out life belts; and when the supply was exhausted, each of these four chaplains removed his own life belt, gave it to a soldier and soon went down with the ship. Nothing we can do or say will pay fitting tribute to their devotion unto death. Yet Jesus, the Son of God, died, not for four men, but for the teeming billions of mankind. He gave His life not for friends but for enemies, who hated Him. All this, the record of the most blessed compassion men can ever know, your promise of heaven, is clearly out lined in the Bible. Pray the Holy Spirit that you will make this a real and radiant Christmas season by resolving in your heart to “search the Scriptures” and to discover in them the depths of the Savior’s devotion to you! An African missionary writes that a young Negro of eighteen came out at the head of his class in a school examination. The prize was either four yards of calico or a Bible. As he stepped forward to make his choice, he fondled the cloth and looked down on his own shabby garment—but only for a few moments. Shoving the calico aside, he clutched the saving Volume with both hands and cried, “The Bible has got the better of the cloth!” During these fourth war time Christmas days and their lavish holiday spending, may the Bible get the better not only of the destructive gifts which shortsighted, sensual men often exchange, but also of our reluctance to “search the Scriptures”! May we at home realize that our task in the present crisis is to help bring our nation, our families, above all, ourselves, closer to Jesus in His Gospel of grace!

    In a Kansas City suburb a man’s hands were blown off and his eyesight completely destroyed by a premature explosion. It was inexpressibly hard for him, a Christian, to be deprived of the privilege of studying God’s Word. One day someone told him of a woman in England who had learned to read Braille script for the blind with her lips, and soon friends provided him with parts of the New Testament in that raised type. Can you imagine his sorrow when he learned that the accident, having crushed too many of the lip nerves, had left him without sufficient sense of touch to feel the Braille forms? In his anguish tears began to stream from his sightless eyes, and he lifted the Bible for the blind to kiss it farewell. Then it was that his tongue touched the raised letters, and to his inexpressible joy he found that he could feel their outline. With patience and practice he learned to search the Scriptures by running his tongue along each line. Before his death he could say, “I have read the whole Bible through four times and many of the books of the Bible over and over again.”

    My beloved whom the Lord has spared the burden of such affliction, have you read His Word through once? The Holy Spirit grant that across America today, out over both oceans, beyond our national borders, in Mexico and Canada, many of you will resolve, “O Jesus, I will ‘search the Scriptures’ to find in them the promise of eternal life, as they testify to Thee, my Savior, my coming King, my Lord of everlasting love!” O Christ, bring us back to the Bible and always, despite our sins and unbelief, bring the Bible back to us! Amen!

Note: The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in December 1944.