Date: January 1, 1931

If God be for us, who can be against us?Romans 8:31

THE world pauses today to celebrate its oldest holiday. And as throughout the ages humanity has lingered upon the threshold of every new twelve months of the calendar to peer through the portals of the new year in the fearsome flow of time we call the future, so especially this year, with the depressing recognition of the wide-spread disappointment of the past months, vast numbers of our fellow-countrymen and of our friends beyond the national borders are pausing to strain their vision along the unformed horizon of the new year and to ask, “What will 1931 bring us?”

Now, who will presume to answer this question with satisfying assurance? Certainly not the students of political economy or the financial experts with all the graphs and charts and statistics by which they often try to anticipate the future. If you have saved the newspapers that on last New Year’s Day printed the financial forecast for the year just passed, you will find roseate and optimistic promises that now stand out in strange contrast to the dismal and tragic realities of a year marked by unemployment and by some of the most disastrous agricultural conditions on record.

Nor can the clairvoyant, the fortune-teller, the crystal-gazer, the necromancer, tear aside the draperies that conceal the future. I know that there are ill-advised multitudes who actually believe, in spite of God’s definite statement to the contrary, that the cut of the cards, or the line of the palm, or the constellation of the stars, or the specters of the dead can unveil the mystery of time that is to come. But in the wake of the fraudulent super-superstition of this otherwise enlightened age there have followed misunderstandings, family strife, and even suicide,—the dismal end of the Endor road.

No, we examine the testimony of those and others who rise up to give us the promises of something firm and fast and definite for the coming months, and as their faltering and deceptive answers flash into our expectant souls, the conviction forces itself upon us that, if there is to be any assurance for the coming year, any immovable base on which we can rest our hopes and dispel our fears, it must come from a divine, infallible source, from the Word of Him who maps the uncharted course of the days, whose omnipotent hand molds the course both of nations and of individuals.

So tonight, before the first day of the new year is past, I bring to you who worry about your daily bread, your work, your health, the needs of your family; to you for whom the year 1931 has not made a very auspicious and encouraging start today; to you who want the new year to be a larger and better year spiritually and morally, I bring not an economic program, not a partisan appeal, but this promise of triumphant truth, this death-defeating, life-bringing word of divine comfort by which faith faces the future, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” This is the conviction that I ask you to take with you for the new year.

FAITH INSISTS: “GOD IS FOR US.”

Ask yourself as you hear these words, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” whether you really know that God is for you, today, as you are starting the new year. Let me tell you right here that, unless you have taken Jesus Christ as your Substitute and Redeemer, God is against you, because God is against sin and the unpardoned sinner. The inflexible demand of His holiness that reechoes down through the ages is this: “Be ye holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” And with this demand ringing in our ears, we look back over the past year, and on the three hundred and sixty-five pages of its completed record we find the unmistakable imprint of our own shortcomings, our repeated concessions to the selfish and baser impulses of human nature. Hot tears of sorrow cannot wipe away these stains of the past. Sigh for them, blush for them, weep for them, if you will; you cannot change them now; there they are, these barriers which, if unremoved, separate us from God.

So let us start 1931 first of all with the realization of our moral liabilities. Let us not be guilty of that serious inconsistency that tries to cover and conceal sin; for here is the Scriptural warning, “He that covereth sin shall not prosper.” Let us not ignore sin; for this fallacy leads to the utter collapse of all righteousness and morality and only heaps higher the mountain of iniquity. “If we say that we have no sin,” St. John warns us, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Let us not try to justify sin; for the voice of conscience shrieks out its shrill and ceaseless protest. Let us rather on this day of spiritual inventory, listing unreservedly the debts and liabilities which have been incurred by every one of us, follow the direction of that unfailing Guide-book for the new year, “Repent ye and be converted that your sins may be blotted out.”

As the gates of the new year swing open, let us remember—and I pray God that this truth may be emblazoned with letters of gold in an indelible imprint within our innermost hearts—that the assets and resources which the grace of God offers to us by faith in Jesus Christ far outweigh any and every liability of sin that will be presented for accounting before the divine tribunal. There is not a soul in my audience tonight that, recognizing the forces which would separate us from God and finding above and beyond all these the radiant light and hope that streams from the Cross of Christ, does not have this assurance here at the turn of the year, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.” There is not a repentant individual listening in who, although he may be debarred from other hopes or privileges because of his past, his social position, his misfortune, his race, or his poverty, may not freely and unconditionally enter into this limitless love of God in Christ, who, as His Word assures us, “gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity.” There is not a person among the highest of the high or the lowliest of the low who cannot start the new year in the name of Jesus Christ, and that means with God’s own assurance that He is for us.

Think of the vast and glorious promises extended to us by the conviction that God is for us! It means that all the sins and weaknesses of the past are canceled and forgotten; it means that every step that we take in the new year is under the guidance of the loving Good Shepherd; it means that every prayer that we utter has the assurance of His divine and perfect answer; it means that we have God for us in our homes, in our business, in our pleasure; it means that we can celebrate the new year as new creatures, with new vision, new courage, new ideals, a new hope of accomplishment, a new sense of our duty toward our fellow-men, and new help to meet these obligations.

FAITH CHALLENGES: “WHO CAN BE AGAINST US?”

But it means more: With this conviction in our hearts that God is for us, we challenge the future with the shield of faith and with the cry, “Who can be against us?” Who is there or what is there to rise up and nullify the gracious promises of a loving Father? Of course, there will be difficulties, and trials, and obstacles, and hindrances during the coming twelve months; for the Gospel does not bring the child of God home to his Father along smooth or rosy paths. If the Church were to promise that all who join it would find the key to political preeminence, business success, and social advancement or the means of avoiding the unpleasant things of life, the churches of our country would be stampeded beyond capacity by eager, clamoring crowds that are now cold, calloused, and indifferent to the spiritual message of Christ. Nineteen centuries of history bear striking testimony to the words of Jesus that “the disciple is not above his Master,” and those who walk in the path of the Redeemer’s faith can follow Jesus only if they, too, are prepared to take up their crosses.

Yet, while 1931 may bring sorrow and anxiety and disappointment to you, if God is for you, these obstacles will not drag you down to despair, but you will have the victorious confidence that you are journeying from cross to crown and that, as the Bible assures you, “all things,” especially reverses and shattered hopes, “work together for good to them that love God.” You will have the comfort that defiantly contradicts our short-sighted human vision, that enables the Christian to rejoice beneath tears of human pain and woe; you will be blessed by that strange, yet sorrow-soothing truth, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.”

Remember,—and I am speaking especially to those of you who may feel in human bitterness that God has dealt unkindly with you, you who linger on weary beds of sickness, you whose life has brought one crushed hope after another, you who live on under the blight of some consuming sorrow that gnaws away incessantly at your happiness and peace of mind,—remember that, if God is for you through Jesus Christ, all of these thwarted purposes and shattered hopes will only promote the growth of your inner life. The purest gold is the metal that has been refined in the hottest flame. Steel that is tempered in the blazing crucible gains in strength and value. The diamond must be cut and ground and polished to sparkle in its fiery radiance. And in your own spiritual lives there must be conflict and resistance to strengthen your Christian character and to bring out those qualities which mark the victorious life that lives in Jesus.

If God be for us, then we need meet no issue or conflict single-handed, but we shall be able to face our problems of life, as serious and as far beyond all human help as they may be, with His divine strength. A friend in Connecticut confesses that after a long and seemingly interminable series of misfortunes and reverses, from which there seemed to be no human escape, he had laid desperate plans for self-destruction on the very night in which his family accidentally tuned in and heard our message. When that miracle-working Word cleaved its way into His very soul and he heard that, though men were against him, yet God was for him, he threw away the instrument of death and has taken his stand for Christ and accepted His saving leadership. And in all the issues of our life during the coming year we shall find that Christ, He alone, yet He always, through His Word, will unfailingly offer a solution, constructive and adequate, to the most dispiriting perplexity.

Yes, we include even the most hopeless of life’s many and varied problems. Even the last enemy, as St. Paul calls death, cannot permanently triumph over us. The new year, it is true, reminds us vividly of the relentless flow of time and of the fleeting nature of our own life, spent “as a tale that is told.” We may estimate that during 1931 60,000,000 human beings will die; that about one million will die weekly, more than 5,000 hourly, ninety every minute, three every two seconds. And who tonight would dare to say that, when the roll of the living is called next year, he will be able to answer, “Here”? But all who have God for them, in and through their resurrected Savior, are divinely enabled to conquer death and death’s corruption, to face the inevitable dissolution of body and soul with the calm conviction that the lowering darkness of life’s sunset affords no permanent terrors to a Christ-centered faith that demands, “Who can be against us?”

If, then, on this day of resolutions on which we face the 365 blank pages that make up the current volume in the history of our existence, we realize that without faith in God we are without hope and without power, but that with trust in God in our hearts we can face the issues of life with serenity and confidence, may God give us grace to start 1931 and to complete the record of this year guided by the saving faith in Christ Jesus. What better beginning can be made in this direction by you who have wandered away from your Father than this, that you join in the prodigal’s resolution, “I will return to my Father,” a resolution that promises to you the joyful welcome of the outstretched arms of a Father, “My son which was lost is found”? What better resolution can you make who have become unfaithful to the profession of this faith and denied your Savior by a life of sinful indifference than to pray the prayer of penitent contrition, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” the prayer to which the promise of divine love answers, “Behold, I make all things new”? What more appropriate expression of faith victorious for those of us who have been preserved in faith than that we resolve to make St. Paul’s paean of victory our expression of confidence for 1931, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay; in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”

My wish to you all for a truly happy new year is based on the prayer that this happiness for 1931 may come to you through the conviction that you, too, can be, and, pray God, will be, “more than conquerors through Him that loved us,” through the glorious, saving companionship of the Christ of the Ages, “the same yesterday and today, and forever.”

We pause beside the door,—

      Thy year, O God, how shall we enter in?

      How shall we thence Thy hidden treasure win?

Shall we return in beggary as before,

When Thou art near at hand with infinite wealth,

Wisdom, and heavenly health?

The footsteps of a Child

      Sound close beside us. Listen, He will speak.

      His birthday bells have hardly rung a week,

Yet has He trod the world’s press undefiled.

“Enter through Me,” He saith, “Nor wander more;

For, lo! I am the Door.”[1]

Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.


[1] Excerpts from “At the Door of the Year” by Lucy Larcom.