Date: February 3, 1935
Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God. – Isaiah 40:1
As we this day inaugurate a new and, please God, far-reaching crusade for the glory of the eternal Christ, let there be no conjecture or misunderstanding as to the fiber, the tone, the purpose, of the messages that will wing their way Sunday after Sunday into the homes and, as God wills, into the hearts of the nation.
Today we offer you the solemn pledge that in these broadcasts you will not be harangued by misguided churchmen who have deserted their altars for the arena of partisan politics and who endeavor through formidable organization to control the balance of power and thus to institute dangerous legislative programs. We have no organization for which we solicit your membership except the blessed kingdom of Jesus Christ. We have no building project for which we direct our appeals to you except the dedication of a sacred shrine within your heart, a soul sanctuary to your Savior. We propose no hazardous financial conjectures in regard to inflation, banking systems, or the monetary structure of the nation; but we do pledge ourselves to offer the whole counsel of God in order that those who listen to us may be assured of their salvation through the Redeemer of mankind.
We promise you in addition that these Sunday afternoon hours will grant no quarter to that unholy and destructive denial of God’s Word and that despicable betrayal of our Lord and Savior which has laid its curse on too many of America’s churches. Never, God helping us, will there be spoken through this microphone or broadcast over these wavelengths any word or syllable that will leave a shadow of a doubt or question upon any of the infallible truths of Scripture. We deplore and indict that unfair and unAmerican discrimination deliberately practised by large broadcasting interests in our country which have placed the facilities of vast networks at the disposal of leaders in American unbelief (who, after all, represent only a small fraction of the churchgoing public) and have stubbornly withheld the same privileges from those of us who would direct the gaze of men upward to the blood-marked cross of Calvary. With our hand raised in the pledge of loyalty and allegiance to that cross, we commit ourselves here and now to the Bible, not as to a book that merely offers some helpful and stimulating thoughts, sacred writings that contain the truth, but to a divine volume that is the truth from Genesis to Revelation. We commit ourselves here and now to our Christ, not to that vague, thin, anemic shadow of a Christ silhouetted by the high priests of American apostasy, but to the complete Christ, Son of God, yet Son of Man, Servant of servants, yet King of kings,—wounded, bleeding, dying, yet living, conquering, triumphant in eternity,—Christ, my Savior and yours. We commit ourselves here and now to that faith which enables us to look from this life into the next and to declare not only, “We want to be saved,” not only, “We hope to be saved,” not only, “We believe that we shall be saved,” but with Heavenborn conviction to exult, “We know that we shall be saved.” Not the faith which offers this salvation as a reward and compensation for a life of character and accomplishment, but the Christ-centered conviction which seals the blessing within us “By grace are ye saved,”—this, we pledge, will be the heart and center of every message.
We finally promise that in these stirring days, when the hearts and resolutions of men are sorely tried, we shall not pass by the absorbing issues of this disturbed hour without offering the eminently practical help and the divine solution to human difficulties which the resources of Christian faith perpetually proffer. Indeed, because we believe that the grave national issues, the hazardous trends, the burning passions, and the class bigotries of the present scene must be analyzed and interpreted from the Scriptural standards of right and wrong; because we are convinced that, if in our country indifference to the demands of God predominates, this nation will find itself plunged into perils of even more serious proportions, we shall in these broadcasts bring the words of God Himself as they cry out over the confusion of a groping world.
In this inaugural radio message, then, I offer you this
COMFORT FOR A CRITICAL DAY
that has come down through twenty-six centuries, the divine command “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.”
THE CHURCH MUST ANSWER THE CRY FOR COMFORT
This repeated, emphasized “Comfort ye, comfort ye,” once heralded by God’s prophet in the depths of Israel’s despair, must be proclaimed in clarion tones throughout our country in its present crisis; for there is a bewilderment, a delusion, a disappointment, abroad in the land more critical than this generation or any previous generation in our country has ever experienced. The very foundations upon which we were accustomed to build our hopes and ambitions have often crumbled away, and some of the proudest citadels of human achievement have collapsed. We have more gold in the United States than we have had in the heyday of past prosperities; yet at the same time, by startling contradiction, we have more destitution than ever before. The nations suffer, paradoxical as it may seem, from lavish oversupply and superabundance; yet throughout the world 2,400,000 of our fellow-men die of starvation in a single year. The mental resources and the cultural assets of the nation were never as imposing and impressive as today; yet the failure of brain projects and the utter insufficiency of human planning were never as marked as now. Our laws and ordinances have increased by bewildering thousands; but lawbreaking and new atrocities of crime flourish in an unprecedented reign of terror. These and other inexplicable contradictions have demolished the confidence that was once a part of our American heritage and clouded our traditional national happiness. Twenty million of our fellow-men are thrown upon the resources of public and private charity; ten million and more suffer under the deadening monotony of protracted unemployment; further millions face the future terrified in their concern about the trends of these problematical years, distressed by the hazards of financial or social disaster that may overtake them. Add to this somber canvas of a disillusionized world the darker lines that represent all the sickness and sorrow and bereavement, all the blasted hopes, the domestic tragedies, the betrayed confidences, and the complex sufferings in which human grief finds its agonized expression, and you have a realistic portrayal of life as masses live it today, an existence so drab and desperate that suicide reaches new and alarming heights when in a single year 1,200,000 of our fellow-men take that cowardly and irretrievably fatal exit from life—a mass of humanity larger than the city of Detroit, annually sending itself to hell by self-destruction.
Now, over all the din and confusion of our disquieted age this double call of God resounds: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.” Let us remember that according to this divine injunction it is the sacred obligation of Christ’s Church here on earth to comfort, to console, to heal a wounded and bleeding world with Heaven’s balm. The Church of Christ, as its purposes are defined in its Scriptural charter, is not to inflame the passions and prejudices of men by preaching bigotry and class hatred. The Church is not to cross the line that separates its sphere from the domain of the State and usurp political privileges and governmental functions. The Church is not commissioned to preach revolt, the destruction of private property, and the end of an economic system by which men can engage in honest labor in order to make an honest profit. The Church is not organized to entertain or amuse, to foster social ambitions or promote purely civic enterprises. The Church’s duty first, last, and forever—and particularly in crisis moments of history—is summarized in the appeal of our text: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.”
When the Church whole-heartedly dedicates itself to the privilege of fulfilling its destiny as an agency of divine comfort, it becomes the salt of all existence that can preserve human society from decomposition and decay. But when churches become untrue to their trust and incite the masses to ill-conceived action instead of comforting depressed souls; when churches decoy the flock of God from the paths of righteousness, offer the stones of infidelity and the scorpions of poisonous unbelief instead of the sustaining Bread of Life, they become explosive forces that may blast the happiness of men and the welfare of their nation into irreparable fragments. Survey the vast prospects of international history, and as you behold empires fall, national glories disintegrate, scrutinize these calamities more closely, and you will discover churchmen usurping the governmental sword, appealing to mob prejudices, plotting palace intrigues, or tyrannizing trembling souls, stolidly unmoved by this appeal of their God: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.”
THE CHURCH MUST PREACH THE COMFORT IN CHRIST
How, we pause to ask, is the Church to fulfil its mission as a comforter of disturbed souls? Not by a false and unfounded optimism, which slaps the world on the back and vaguely prophesies that conditions will soon improve; for this crying of “prosperity” when there is no prosperity will only push men down to deeper despair. Nor can the Church exert its penetrating soul comfort by championing or repudiating World Court proposals, industrial programs, interracial councils, and international leagues, which sometimes engage much of clerical time and energy; for in the crises of life a harassed soul cannot be sustained by international conferences, slum clearance, and sanitation proposals. In short, the comfort with which God would have His Church sustain the helpless and cheer the cheerless is no program of externals; for the plain injunction of Christ Himself demands: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
Of course, the Church must feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the sick, and do this to a far greater extent than it has in the past. The neglect of this first duty of Christian love, the relegation of the privileges of charity to professional workers and to non-religious or even antireligious groups, and the apathy with which some churches regard the bodily miseries of the underprivileged masses,—all this has impaired the power of many Christians and brought reproach upon the Church. In the rankling bitterness of this hour we must intensify the ministration of that comfort for men’s physical needs which Christ Himself laid upon our conscience. Again the Church must protest against every form of sin and iniquity, even in high and official places, obedient to Scriptural command, as it champions the cause of the neglected and comforts the downtrodden. Indeed, its influence in this direction must be even stronger today than in previous ages because of rampant sin and triumphant iniquity. But above and below all this there must be a comfort which touches the souls of men, which warms their cold hearts, fortifies their fearsome spirits, quiets their disturbed consciences. Without that inner peace of mind, calm of spirit, and quiet of conscience all other creature comforts, all other social uplift, will be but a thin veneer, a passing disguise, a temporary opiate.
That soul-strengthening can be found only in the comfort to which our text is directed. Introducing the majestic Christ-centered predictions that abound in the second part of Isaiah’s prophecies, these words “Comfort ye, comfort ye” point to the entrance of Christ the King into our souls. They form a prolog to that later chapter, where, in the climax of the Old Testament, Isaiah again depicts to us the Comfort of all men and of all ages, the sin-bearing, sin-atoning, sin-removing Savior, who was “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities.” Only in Christ, but wholly in Christ, can men today find Heaven’s answer to their woes and perplexities. For His divine love touches the very origin of all sorrow, sin, which ultimately provokes every distress, every anguish, the blasting of every hope. Rising up over a sordid, selfish world, His benediction penetrates into human hearts with the promise: “Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”
Here, then, is the all-pervading comfort. When the long arm of sin reaches out to strangle our happiness; when we measure the strength of our own resources and realize that with hands worn down to bleeding bones, with a deluge of tears, with a long lifetime of regret, we cannot undo the past or remove the stain of guilt from our spotted souls, then we can crawl to the cross. And as we behold the lacerated brow and the spear-thrust side and learn that God laid upon the Crucified the aggregate of the world’s sin, our quivering souls will know that by this one sacrifice the Lamb of God, spotless and unblemished, achieved the supreme and everlasting comfort by offering a power more potent than all acids and alkalis, all chemicals and antiseptics—His blood, which cleanses us from all scarlet sins.
When the guilt of sin is washed away; when men through Christ can face a reconciled and loving God; when they can hold fast to the hundred times a hundred promises of immeasurable and unconditioned grace that the two Testaments contain, they have the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding,” the Comforter who comes from heaven to heal earth’s woes, the joy that makes them view even the tense and foreboding moments of life with the fortitude of undismayed confidence.
Today that Christ of tender mercy calls out to us as He once spoke peace to the heart of a distressed woman: “Be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” He greets the bereaved, the destitute, and the forsaken as He once cheered the widow outside the gates of Nain: “Weep not.” He comes to all of us if we but answer His solicitous knock at the door of our souls with this pledged comfort: “Let not your heart be troubled. . . . I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.” He raises His scarred hands to bless us as He once blessed His disciples on the last night of His earthly life, and summarizing His Gospel invitation, He declares: “These things I have spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Because Christ is our all-conquering King and we are His through faith, “the victory that overcometh the world” and its sorrows, we have the abiding conviction that our sovereign Lord will rule our individual affairs, solve all personal problems and cause all things, even adversities, unemployment, financial worries, sickness, sorrow, bereavement, to blend into a harmonious choral of courage and comfort. His farewell comfort for His children was: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” What comfort can we lack, even in earth’s deepest sorrows and tragedies, if we have Heaven’s promise: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness”?
May God grant every one of us this supreme comfort in our perplexed day for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.