The House of Faith: John 14:1
Preached at Covenant Beach, Washington, July, 1938 and Transcribed by Carolyn Johnson of Yakima, Washington
With fear striking into the hearts—the very deepest part—of his frail friends, he said: “Let not your heart be troubled. believe in God, believe also in me.”
I remember a night thirty-three years ago as if it were last night. Our family had gone home from the little simple church in the countryside. We had shared in refreshments. We had been again to the family altar, and I had retired to my room in the attic, where I slept Before sleeping, as was my custom, I looked under the bed, because I was reared on a healthy store of ghost stories which my mother had brought with her from Sweden. My mother knew how to tell them, God bless her! But that wasn’t the only thing she taught me—she also told me the story of Christ—and God bless her double for that! When I had knelt by my bed and said my prayers, I was ready for a night’s rest. Then, suddenly, there settled upon me and the surroundings a peculiar stillness —a stillness that gripped one, a stillness that you could feel - that sent dread into my soul.
And then it seemed as if there were several men on top of the roof tearing off the shingles and the honest old rafters that my father had put up and the bed was going like an ocean billow. I had never had such an experience. In a leap or two I was down that flight of stairs and into my father’s bedroom. I remember still how he put his big arm around me and said: “Eric, this is an earthquake, but you don’t need to worry —this house won’t fall.”
I went to my room and slept sweetly all night. My father said so much more than he knew, and I think he meant more than he said. I don’t think that house has fallen yet, although it is an old dilapidated house now—the windows are out, bums are sleeping there, and they tear up the floor for kindling wood on cold nights. My father and mother are sleeping under the sod on the church side not far away, but I don’t think that house has fallen.
Some day we are going to sit together at meat in the House of God. But the Lord said it much better than my father was able to say it. I would like to paraphrase it as: “You don’t need to worry. The house of faith won’t fall.” I am glad that I live in the house of faith tonight. If you don’t live in the house of faith tonight, I invite you to move in. This is a glorious opportunity because there is only one house that isn’t going to fall, and that is the house of faith. All other proud structures that people have reared will fall. The house of faith alone will stand. Jesus is saying that the essential structure of life is sound, and haven’t we seen evidences of that in God’s world?
That little catastrophe I lived through was a major catastrophe in San Francisco, California What devastation in that city! I came through Frisco now on my way up here and you will hardly see a scar of that great fire. Life has a way of renewing itself. The shell holes we lived in for a number of months in France are less jagged today. The green grass is growing there, children are playing, perhaps a little more happily (they don’t know why) because someone died there yesterday. Life has a way of renewing itself; the essential structure of life is sound. That is why a great American could say: “The universe must be fire-proof or God would not let his finest creature get hold of the match box.”
Those of you who think that Christianity is going under, I would like to remind you that Christianity is the oldest institution in the world tonight. The church and the faith! But we forget pretty quickly. We had a custom in a church I served to bring flowers to the church in memory of loved ones who were gone. Mostly fathers and mothers were remembered occasionally a grandmother or grandfather—never a great-grandfather or great-grandmother. Christianity has been here 1900 years and it is going to stay—I haven’t a doubt in the world about that. It will not be I who protects Christianity, but Christianity that protects me. You don’t need to worry the house of faith will stand.
We have lived through a critical age; the 18th and 19th centuries were critical for the Christian faith. The best minds in the world were looking on it and some of them were saying: “There is nothing to it!” And a good many believed them. But, my friends, I believe that the day of the worst criticism is over. Intellectualism has worn out and the tide of faith is beginning to rise in the world and it is bound to rise, it is bound to win, it is destined to win, because it is true and it is right You don’t need to worry, the house of faith will stand. If you live in it tonight, thank God! If you don’t, move in!
There is something else Jesus is saying. He is saying that life in the house of faith is worthwhile. I don’t know of anyone who might have said with greater right—“What’s the use?” than the man who had gone about doing good on his way to the cross! Might he not have said with great right: “What’s the use?”
One night I was reading in English literature the story of Edmund Spenser and the “Faerie Queene.” The “Faerie Queene” was written as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth—one of the most beautiful tributes that has ever been written to a queen. I said to myself: “Good ole Bess must have taken care of Edmund Spenser in a fine way.”
Then I read in the biography of Ben Jonson where he discussed the final days of Edmund Spenser. He said that Edmund Spenser died alone in poverty. Then it seemed that all the fires in my soul died, and then I remembered in the night these words, “And they crucified him.” God loved this man they crucified, so that He lifted him above all others and He gave him a name which is above every name, a name which every soul shall some day honor, not because they have to, but because they want to—although that wanting to may be too late for some.
Life is worthwhile. Many of us are doubting that life is worthwhile. If the Christians doubt that life is worthwhile, what must the sinners feel who have not the comfort of faith?
I had finished preaching in a church in the East one evening when a man came up and spoke to me. He said: “I want to ask you do you really think that life is worthwhile when you are out of the pulpit?” He said: “I came back from the war a broken creature, but slowly I built up my health again in mind and body. I was a member of the church, a Christian. God gave me a fine woman as a wife; God has given me lovely children.
“But several months ago, I lost my job. I saw my children going hungry. I prayed; it hasn’t helped. Recently I have been ill. The other day I went to the doctor and the doctor said: ‘You haven’t very long to live.’ Now, I want you to tell me, do you still think that life is worthwhile?”
What can you say to a man like that? You can’t speak pretty words. I told him a little parable that has often helped me. I told him of travelling through the Redwoods of Northern California. I told him of standing near one of the fallen monarchs of the forest—a great tree that had come crashing down, making a deep gap in the woods. The foresters had cut off the trunk revealing a cross-section of the tree eleven feet in diameter. From the face of the cross-section the forester told the story of the tree.
It started its career when Charlemagne ruled in Europe, 768814. Near the heart of the tree was a black spot. It hadn’t quite eaten through the heart of the tree. The forester said, “When this tree was very young, a forest fire swept the forest and almost killed the tree, but the tree kept on growing.”
As I remember it, there were three charcoal sections on that tree, but it had thrown live wood around it and kept on growing. It was apparent from the cross-section that there had been something on one side that had thrown the tree off roundness. The man said that when the tree was quite old, a great flood passed by which took the tree. The tree had started to lean perilously but, instead of falling, it threw its roots down on the dangerous side and kept on growing. And I quoted the poem: “Defeat may serve as well as victory to shape the soul. Only the soul knows that sorrow comes to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.”
I told my friend I couldn’t help but talk to that old tree: “You are so much bigger than I am, but we are in many respects alike. I, too, have charcoal spots in my heart, but the grace of God helped me to throw living flesh around them and keep on growing. I, too, have been in the flood, just as you were in the flood, but the grace of God helped me to throw down a greater root of faith on the windward side. When we fall at last, with our charcoal centers and our roots of faith, we shall fall into the arms of God, and we shall be more beautiful because we have struggled and sacrificed in life.”
For struggle and sorrow, smiles and tears, are worthwhile in the house of faith.
Wouldn’t you like to move into the house of faith tonight? It is such a beautiful house; for God is going to shape this old world again. And even if he doesn’t shape this old world in your existence, he is going to shape you, and it will be a wonderful thing to have a house of faith when the day of trials comes.
Oh, if you find yourself just in the hall of the house, move in deeper into the house. Amen.