Remembering Ernest ReisingerThomas K. Ascol
On May 31 of this year, the day set aside to remember those who have died in service to the United States of America, Ernest C. Reisinger went to be with his Lord. In the language of Pilgrim’s Progress, which he often quoted, he finally crossed that “river that has no bridge.”
Ernie was born November 16, 1919 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Death came to him in a Ft. Myers, Florida hospital on Memorial Day after an early morning heart attack. He is survived by His wife of 66 years, Mima Jane, his son, Donald and his wife Barbara, his brother John Reisinger of New York, his sister Grace Hooper of Delaware, six grandchildren, fourteen great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a brother, Donald Reisinger.
The first time I saw Ernie Reisinger was twenty-four years ago on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He had a book in his hand, and was giving it away. He was at that time pastor of North Pompano Baptist Church on the east coast of Florida, and the book he was handing out was James P. Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology. From 1979–1982, the church he served gave away about twelve thousand copies of that book to seminary students and graduates. Many more copies since that time have been distributed.
That first memory of him in many ways epitomizes Ernie’s life. He loved good books, and he loved preachers, especially young preachers. So he thought it a life well-spent to invest significantly in both. I am one of untold hundreds of ministers that have been greatly helped and influenced by Ernie Reisinger. He challenged my thinking on several important teachings of God’s Word. He was willing constructively to criticize my life and ministry at several points. In the providence of God, he is one who recommended that Grace Baptist Church consider calling me to be their pastor 18 years ago.
Ernie introduced me to good books and authors—especially to the Protestant and Reformed heritage. Through his work with the den Dulk Christian Foundation, the Christian Gospel Foundation, the Banner of Truth and Founders Ministries he was involved in promoting the recovery of what is best and most biblical from that heritage. He wanted to see the truth of God’s Word that our forefathers believed and taught reestablished in modern churches. There is no way to calculate how many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Christian books Ernie distributed in his lifetime. I do not know if I have ever met anyone who knew Ernie very well who had not been given a book by him.
One of his favorite verses was Psalm 68:11, “The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.” He saw himself as part of that great company and encouraged every Christian, as he put it in a little pamphlet, “to be a publisher” of God’s truth. Everyone who loves the Lord is surely able and ought to be willing to distribute gospel literature.
When one thinks of the many books and articles that he wrote, the number of churches that he helped start or strengthen, the countless pastors and missionaries that he has encouraged along the way, and the number of people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ through his witness, one might be tempted to step back and say, “What an incredible life!” But Ernie Reisinger’s life cannot be summarized simply in terms of his accomplishments or personal accolades. If a person stops and considers the real story—the story behind the story—he will not primarily be impressed with an incredible life. Because the real story of Ernie Reisinger is not the story of a great man. It is the story of a great God—a great Savior who has great grace on great sinners.
Ernie’s life is an illustration of the matchless grace and power of Jesus Christ. His life’s verse was Galatians 6:14. “But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Several years ago Ernie told me that he never preached on that verse. It was his prayer, but he was hesitant to make it his text in a sermon. Whatever his reasons were, they had nothing to do with any hesitancy on his part to study or understand this verse. We talked about it on more than one occasion. He thought and meditated on it over the course of his Christian life. It was his verse.
I think it is a fitting verse to consider in this attempt to honor the life and memory of this dear friend, mentor, grandfather, father and husband. As the Apostle Paul draws his magisterial letter to the Galatians to a close, he returns to the dominant theme of the previous six chapters. He reminds his readers one final time that Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone is worthy of our greatest devotion. Christ, specifically Christ crucified, is the only sure foundation of a believer’s life, hope and joy.
Everybody “glories” in something. Before he met Jesus Christ and placed his trust in Him as Lord, Paul gloried in religious attainments and his own righteousness. He says that he took pride in the fact that he was considered a “Hebrew of the Hebrews;” a Pharisee who lived a disciplined life with regard to outward compliance to the law. He was full of zeal in his religious devotion, even to the point of persecuting those who threatened his Jewish faith.
He gloried in the fact that he was a good, honest, hard working, religious man…until He met Jesus Christ. When Christ came into his life, when he bowed the knee to Him as the eternal Son of God who came into the world to save sinners, everything changed for Paul. His desires changed; his values changed; his way of thinking and living changed. What he gloried in changed.
Listen to how Paul explains this change:
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith (Philippians 3:7–9).
The honor, prestige and success in which he had previously taken great pride, had become for him no more valuable than rubbish. He willingly gave it all up for the sake of having Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Paul came to glory in Christ, and more specifically, Christ crucified.
Ernie could identify with Paul’s experience. He grew up very poor and very hard. As an ambitious young man in his early twenties, he had his sights set on financial wealth and success in the business world. He had a wonderful wife, and beautiful four-year-old son, a good job and a bright future. And in the kindness of God, he also had a good carpenter friend by the name of Elmer Albright. Elmer invited Ernie to attend his Sunday School class every week for a solid year, until finally, primarily out of concern for his son, Donnie, Ernie agreed to go. He did not understand what was taught and felt very out of place, but after two months he went back, and then met with Elmer and some others from that class. They explained the gospel to him—that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
Over the next two days Ernie felt the weight of his sin against God and began to seek the Lord seriously. He took out their old family Bible and tried to read from different places in it. He also read the tracts that Elmer had given him. God used all of these things to bring Ernie to a deep sense of his own sinfulness and need of salvation. As he came to see that the salvation he desperately needed was found only in Jesus Christ, and received only through faith, he quietly, simply renounced his life of sin and entrusted himself to Jesus Christ as Lord.
Everything changed from that point on in the Reisinger home. His son, Donnie, has described how, even as a young boy, he knew things were different with his dad. Not long after Ernie’s conversion, Jane also came to faith in Christ and their home became a Christ-centered home. As his faith grew, so did his understanding of what God had done for him in Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul never got over the wonder that God would give up His only Son to die for sinners on the cross. That is why he puts the way that he does in Galatians 6:14, “But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Jesus Christ’s work on the cross is the only thing in which any Christian should ever boast because of what His death has done for us. When you recognize what His death means, what it accomplished and where you would be without it, then, as one who is trusting in Jesus Christ, the cross becomes all-important—the most significant event in the world to you.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ has saved us from God’s condemnation and wrath against our sin. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death—not only physical death (which came into the world because of sin) but also spiritual, eternal death. God executes the payment of eternal death by pouring out His wrath against sin. As Paul puts it in Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” and again in Romans 2:5, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
When you come to see yourself as the Bible justly and honestly describes you to be—a rebellious sinner against a holy God—then the thought of God’s wrath hanging over you is dreadful. It is horrific. You know yourself to be condemned, justly condemned and deserving of His wrath because of your sin. To a person who rightly understands his condition in this way, the message of the gospel comes as a life-giving reprieve. It is like the sound of coast-guard rescuers to shipwrecked sailors who had given up hope of being saved.
You are a sinner. But God loves sinners. So He has given up His own Son to pay the penalty that sin deserves. All who come to Jesus and in faith, entrust themselves to Him as Lord, who renounce their sin and rebellion against God and depend on Jesus as their hope, their salvation, their joy and their treasure, will receive the pardon that His death accomplished on the cross.
To such a person, the awareness that Christ has taken God’s wrath upon Himself by becoming a substitute for sinners fills the mind and floods the heart with wonder, love and awe. That is why the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “Jesus Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me!”
Ernie could say that as well. He saw himself as a natural-born rebel against God who had been rescued by the grace of God through the death of Jesus Christ. And just like Elmer, who would not quit talking to Ernie about Jesus, and who refused to quit praying for him, often with tears born out of love and concern for his soul, once Ernie came to experience the forgiveness of sins that comes to all who trust Christ, he went on to become a life-long ambassador of God’s grace.
Only God knows how many people first heard the good news of salvation from the lips of Ernie Reisinger. On Monday, the day that Ernie died, Jane told me that when he went to bed at night the last thing on his mind was how to expand the kingdom of God, and when he woke in the morning, that was also the first thought on his mind. Ernie wanted people to know that Jesus Christ is King, and that whoever is willing to turn from sin and believe in Him, will be saved.
So it would be a failure of duty on my part, if I did not make that message crystal clear in this article. It may be that you are reading these words while in a state of sinful rebellion against God. One day, you, too will die. You will stand before God to give an account of your life. What will you say to Him on that occasion? How will you answer when your sin is brought out into the light at His judgment seat and you are called to answer for it?
Will you try to argue your way out? Will you plead extenuating circumstances? You cannot plead ignorance—that no one ever told you the truth about judgment. Because you are being warned about that reality in this article. What will you say? If you are not following Jesus Christ as Lord, if you have not received the free gift of salvation that He purchased by his death, then you will be left hopeless and helpless on that day. You will have no option but to pay for your own sin, under the eternal wrath of God.
What did Ernie say on Monday at 6:50 AM, May 31, 2004, when God called Him home? How did he plea before God? Well, no one can know what exact words were exchanged on that occasion, but I can tell you that His plea in death was nothing less than the confession he made in life. And we do not have to speculate about that. Because Ernie wrote down his testimony in his last will and testament. These are his words:
I commit my soul into the hands of the only Savior of poor lost sinners. And being such, I cast myself on His mercy and rest on His promise to present my soul spotless before the Throne of my heavenly Father, as His purchased possession.
Can you say that? Are you depending on the mercy and grace of God that is found in Jesus Christ? If so, then death for you will not mean eternal wrath, but graduation into eternal life, just as it did for our dear brother who has gone before us. If you cannot make that testimony, then take God at His Word and believe His promise that whoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
We have a great God and Savior in Jesus Christ. He saves great sinners—like Ernie Reisinger, like me and like you. If you want to honor the memory of Ernie, do not focus on what great man he was and do not try to make some kind of “super-saint” out of him. He had his faults like we all do. He told me more than once that every morning he prayed that God would help him to live like a real Christian for that day. A man does not pray that way unless he has some awareness of his weakness and of the sin that remains within. Ernie had his weaknesses as we all do.
So if you want honor the memory of Ernie Reisinger, honor the God whom he loved and about whom he wrote and preached and whom he tried to make known to others. Honor Jesus Christ as Lord. Spend time thinking about the crucifixion of Jesus. Meditate on it until it becomes for you an all-consuming passion; your great delight; your only hope; your joy and mission to make known.