Date: December 18, 1930
Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. – Psalm 119:105
IF it were possible to peer into the hearts of our fellowmen and find there in those hidden recesses the great impulses and ambitions that drive human beings on and on, I think we should discover among the outstanding interests and concerns of our human activities two preeminent objectives to which most of human thought and endeavor, rightly or wrongly, dedicates itself—money and love. If we could continue this investigation and focus it upon modern young men or young women (and I pause to remind you that this youth message comes to you tonight as a contribution of the young people of the Church banded together in the International Walther League) , I think you will agree with me once more when I say that their affections, the affairs of the heart, the questions of courtship and marriage, probably loom up on the horizon of all normal young people in a way that quite overtowers every other merely human issue.
It is well that it is thus; because of all the impulses with which the divine Creator endowed our human existence, there is none deeper and more unselfish than these. Of all the relations that exist on earth there is none that is more intimate, endearing, and mutually beneficial than the relation between husband and wife; of all human institutions there is none that is more fundamental and imperative to every phase of human welfare than the home and family.
The tragedy of it all is that much of the beauty and happiness with which God endowed the estate of matrimony has been sacrificed and that in many instances marriage has degenerated into a veritable caricature of real happiness and peaceful contentment. Yet we who still believe in the effectiveness of the Christian religion in this modern day are also confident enough to declare that the situation is not so hopeless as many would regard it and that there are still ways of attaining to happiness in marriage and to family felicity. We do not base this conviction upon the array of modern suggestions that have been made to pave the way to such home happiness; we do not believe that uniform divorce laws, stricter marriage regulations, vacations from married life, courses in eugenics, trial marriages, blood tests, and similar suggestions will lead to the desired results; but we do believe that the truth and power which God has given humanity in His revealed Word can solve all difficulties and will help Christian young men and women to meet the emergencies of the present situation. We confidently accept the truth of our text as we apply it to the problems of modem matrimony, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
DIVINE LIGHT ON MATRIMONIAL UNHAPPINESS.
Now, what are the fundamentals for happy marriage as they are revealed by the lamp of divine Wisdom on the pages of the Bible? First of all the Bible tells us that we must recognize the blighting effect of sin. If it were not for its stern and stark reality, we should need no divorce courts; for there would be no cases of marital inconstancy and unfaithfulness. If it were not for the crass and ugly power of human depravity, we should not need to maintain juvenile courts and societies for the prevention of cruelty to children; for parents and children would live together in a bond of perfect harmony and love. If it were not for the cancerous power of corruption that has eaten its way into the human make-up, we should not have such tragedies as all too frequently mar the lives of young people and leave a scar which a lifetime of remorse cannot remove completely. If it were not for the bias of evil in the lives of every one of us, there would be no shadows and tears, none of the selfish misunderstandings that frequently mar wedded bliss.
It hardly need be said that it is not a pleasant task to stand here in St. Louis and to tell uncounted thousands of young people throughout our country tonight who live on day after day without any thought of God or Christ or the Bible that the most disastrous thing in their lives is the power of sin, especially this power of impurity. I should much rather talk to you on the achievements of youth or on the contributions which young people are making to modern life or on some other similar pleasant, popular, and appealing subject. But I am tired of hearing these blind leaders of the blind crying “Peace!” when the very fundamentals of spiritual and moral peace have been overthrown by the radical revolution to which many modern young people have subjected their souls and bodies. I am tired of back-patting writers who close their eyes and ears to the obtruding, screaming evidence that surrounds us on all sides, crying to the highest heaven as it does—these fantastic fiddlers, who scrape and scratch at their music of death while the hopes of youth are consumed by the greedy flames of unbridled passion—these apostles of freedom who in the moral crisis confronting the human race are perpetuating a servitude which drags human love down to animal lust and will eventually wreck man biologically.
And because you cannot understand grace without understanding sin, I am here tonight to say that, when the guiding light of the Bible tells us individually, “Keep thyself pure,” we must admit that we have not kept ourselves pure, that at least our thoughts and desires have often strayed into the path of the forbidden. I ask you to put this drastic question to yourself: “What would happen to me if the holy God were to stand before me this moment and demand an accounting of all that I have done in my life?” I tell you that you must recognize now, if you have never recognized it before, the force of evil in your life; that you must learn that you cannot solve any problem before you have solved the big problem of sin.
But to counteract this, we have the supremely sacred message of the solution of sin, the Scriptural remedy, that gives you what all the modern philosophies and theories, changing from year to year, cannot offer, and that is the loving, merciful, forgiving, world-redeeming Christ on the cross. I do not preach that tarnished, tawdry, man-made Christ so frequently held up to the youth of our country by men who speak loudly and lengthily in these days before Christmas on the supremacy of Christ and on His nobility, but who refuse to acknowledge Him as the incarnate Son of God; not the Christ whom the camouflage of oratory and rhetoric would picture to our young men and young women, a ghastly counterfeit of the world-conquering, world-saving Son of God; but the Christ who from the lowliness of Bethlehem until the bitter, heart-breaking despair on Calvary comes to our young people today with a definite and positive message of forgiveness of sin and a newness of life. That Christ whose advent into the world we behold during these weeks (and remember that our Lord was a relatively young man and that in His ministry in the early thirties of His divine manhood He showed a very sympathetic and personal understanding and appreciation of youth) comes tonight to every young man and young woman who hears these words, just as in the days of His flesh He came both to the rich young man and to the publican; and sweeping out of existence the past with all its failures and concessions to the baser impulses of human nature, He offers to every soul that penitently pleads guilty to the charges raised by God’s Word the full, free, everlasting, unconditioned forgiveness of every wrong that we inflict upon ourselves and upon others.
DIVINE LIGHT ON MATRIMONIAL HAPPINESS.
Now, with this basis He gives us on the pages of Holy Scripture an illuminating light by which our feet can take the path to the proper appreciation of matrimony. First of all, in the most direct and unmistakable language the Word of God sets down the definite proposition that marriage is the natural, divinely appointed state and condition for all normal human beings. Let all who rise up to gainsay this truth declare that the unmarried state is a holier condition or that single blessedness, as it is miscalled, gives a greater opportunity for personal development and progress or that from the point of religion or of human accomplishment the unmarried man or woman has an advantage over the husband or wife or the father or mother; here are words, not of human, fallible wisdom, hut of divine, superhuman, omniscient Wisdom, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” This implies that it is not compatible with our highest happiness and our fullest development and usefulness wilfully to remain in the unmarried state. And to emphasize the truth of God’s declaration, there is the striking testimony of statistical research, which shows, for example, that married men live longer, that they commit fewer crimes, that they are more productive and of greater use to their communities and to the world at large. To regard matrimony as a man-made institution, to belittle the sacred nature of its intimacies, and to speak in disdainful humor of its privileges and duties, all this (and you know how common such procedure is in our day) is a blasphemous insult to God.
Then the guiding light of the Bible leads us to regard marriage as a lifelong union. When a young man and a young woman promise to remain faithful “until death do them part,” this is in direct harmony with the divine ideal, according to which husbands and wives are to “cleave” to each other through sickness and adversity and misfortunes of all kinds and degrees and to emerge more closely welded together by the fire of affliction. In our day of easy and increasing divorce, when even educated Hindus point to the number of legal separations in Christian countries and ask, “What has Christianity done for you?” or when, as it seems, so much of our modern legislation is aimed at making divorce easier, it will certainly sound prudish and passe to insist on the indissolubility of the marriage tie. But I want to remind you that, as no stream can rise above its head, no nation can rise above its homes. And if this cancerous growth continues to eat into the very vitals of our national life, we have no reason to assume that the destiny of our country will be different from that of pagan Babylon, Athens, Rome, or other centers of prosperity and culture where the requirements of marital constancy were so ruthlessly disregarded.
Then, viewed in the illumination of our divine lamp, we see that one of the divine purposes in the institution of matrimony is the propagation of the human race. Let insistent feminists and advocates of unrestricted birth control elaborate on the benefits of childless families; let misguided students of sociology declare that parenthood is only a secondary consideration,—here, again, is the clear, convincing, and conclusive statement of God, “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” Wherever this command is intentionally disregarded; wherever parents wilfully shrink from responsibilities of parenthood because of the restrictions which it places upon them; wherever by evasion of God’s command there is no patter of little feet, no lisping of little lips, no effervescent joy of little children, there something essential is missing and nothing that man knows or can devise will fill this void.
But the Bible is a complete guide and an efficient lamp; for it answers even such practical and detailed questions as those that are involved in the relations of husband and wife. In this age of extremes there is, on the one hand, the self-centered, domineering, inconsiderate husband, who ruthlessly rules everything according to the brutal dictates of his selfish impulses; and, on the other hand, there is the self-asserting, overbearing wife, who views marriage as just another means of gratifying her whims and wishes and who has no time and less thought for the fulfilment of those womanly duties which are involved in a happy marriage. But the Bible protests in no uncertain terms against all such extremes. It gives to husbands the highest possible standard of love and consideration when it says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it.” While Hinduism considers the birth of a daughter a grievous calamity, while Mohammedanism calls its women “cows,” and while Confucianism and Shintoism and the other forms of pagan absurdities regard women as very inferior beings, exalted only a degree or two above the brute animals, the glory of the Word of God is revealed in the fact that the Christian husband will contribute to the happiness and well-being of his home by loving his wife with devoted affection, by overlooking any frailties and inconsistencies, by providing for her, and by defending her, if necessary, even with his life. And the wife, similarly, must offer her contribution to the maintenance of family felicity. She must realize that in the divinely arranged order of things in this world the husband is to be the head of the house, the responsible representative to God and to the nation. The apostle admonishes: “As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” With this guide, the conduct of a Christian wife must be a continued protest against that caricature of Christian womanhood which modern society so often pictures to us when it shows us the pampered, spoiled, self-indulgent wife, whose arduous day has room for everything but the humble, yet necessary, domestic arts. Not long ago a British society mailed a copy of the Book of Proverbs to its members; and some public-minded citizen who wishes to promote the happiness of the American home can emulate this example by sending to every woman’s organization in the country a copy of the last chapter of the same remarkable book, a chapter which every woman should study carefully and which prospective brides can memorize with profit; for it is God’s guide to marital happiness, the golden scroll of woman’s highest achievements in the establishment of wedded contentment.
LIGHT ON THE ATTAINMENT OF MATRIMONIAL HAPPINESS.
But finally the guiding Word of God also gives us the power to put these holy principles into operation in our own lives. It not only points us to a Savior who removes the wrongs of our lives, but it also gives us His Holy Spirit to enlighten and sanctify us and guide our feet to earth’s highest happiness. We are told that our hearts are “purified by faith”; Christ Himself tells us, “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” For this reason and with this divine impulse, light, and direction the Church views the situation hopefully. It tells all twentieth-century young people that there may still be a “home, sweet home” for them under the gracious guidance of their God if they say with Joshua of old, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” If, on the happy day when they kneel before the altar (and the church is absolutely the best place to begin married life), they take Christ with them as the Third in their union and pledge themselves to establish the family altar, to permit the Word of God to be their guiding beacon light through the besetting darkness that may enshroud their married life, they will have a home that may not enjoy all the appointments and refinements which men are prone to prize so highly, a home that may have no well-beaten path to its door, such as lead to the habitations of the world’s celebrities; but above all this, and better, it will have the gracious answer to the search for human happiness; it will be a haven of refuge and a place of spiritual regeneration; it will, in short, be a temple of Christ; and they who live therein will be blessed, ineffably blessed, by His royal, redeeming presence. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.