Date: April 23, 1931?
If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. – John 8:31-32
IT has been one of the favorite pastimes of unbelievers and scoffers to predict the number of years that will elapse before the Church will have completely repudiated and discarded the Bible. Starting with the French infidels in the eighteenth century and continuing down to this very day, these self-styled apostles of enlightenment have relieved themselves of prophecies which, while differing as to the length of life they concede to the Bible, have this prediction in common, that the Scriptures are inevitably doomed to quick and ignominious extinction. How strange, in view of these confident assertions, that at a time when atheism has organized its opposition along far-flung and highly systematized lines, when the cancer of infidelity has so thoroughly eaten its way into the vitals of American Christendom that some of our American churches openly print and promote attacks upon the truth of the Bible, we find, in the midst of the cut-throat assaults on the Bible, that the Book of books is now annually sold in 14,000,000 copies in the United States alone and in 36,000,000 copies throughout the world, the highest peak of Bible distribution that history has ever known.
THE GLORIOUS CONTENT OF THE SCRIPTURES.
So tonight let me tell you more about this deathless volume and show you what it is and what it can do for every one of you. And because I want the Bible to speak for itself, I have based my remarks on the very words of our Lord Jesus, “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
This promise centers about Christ’s Word, His divine utterances in the four gospels. But His Word embraces also the rest of the New Testament, with the dazzling light it sheds on Christ’s sinless Saviorhood, and the Old Testament, with its three hundred foregleams of Christ, the ancient Scriptures, of which Jesus says, “They are they which testify of Me.” That is Christ’s Word, the entire Scripture, composed by almost half a hundred writers, completed in fifteen long centuries, written under the most varied circumstances,—this vision on the seashore of a lonely exile, this letter in the confines of a martyr’s prison, this history on a caravan wearily jogging its way across the desert, this psalm under the starlit heavens of Judah, this song in the captivity of far-off Babylon,—a Book to which many men and many countries and many centuries have contributed, but which, from the creation of Genesis to the beatified visions of paradise in the Apocalypse, is pervaded with a marvelous unity, the dominating message of sin and grace, the assurance of a loving Father’s gracious redemption of His children.
Now, it is fundamentally vital that we realize that this Bible is Christ’s Word, God’s Word, a divine Book; that, unlike the 12,000 different volumes published in the United States last year, here is a book that came into existence not “by the will of man,” but, as the apostle tells us, by the immeasurable and unending love of God to give His weak and inconsistent children a positive and unfailing guide through the perplexities of the here into the hereafter.
Externally, of course, the Bible has much the same appearance as any other volume of its size and proportions. But because it is God-breathed; because, as we are expressly assured, “all Scripture is given by inspiration”; because the men who wrote the various books of the Bible “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” we believe that the Bible, as 2,600 different passages of the Old Testament and 526 different references in the New individually claim, presents to us the Word of God, written by men who were chosen and supernaturally endowed by God for that purpose and who, through the divine process of inspiration, were given the exact, literal messages they have recorded for us.
Now stop to think what this means, that within the covers of the Bible you have Christ’s Word. Christ is the only one who ever came down from heaven to tell men of God and of the hereafter. What “eye hath not seen nor ear heard” is revealed in Christ’s Word, and in that Word alone. And so, when Jesus tells you who labor under the sorrows and anxieties of a disillusioning world that He has gone to prepare the heavenly mansions for you; when His Word assures you that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed” in you, then rest fully assured that, unlike misguided fanatics of our day who claim personal revelation from God, unlike philosophers and scientists who speculate in vague theories as to the hereafter, Jesus alone reveals authoritatively the divine facts of the life to come, on which every sin-harassed soul can safely rest its hope.
Christ is everlasting and unchangeable, “the same yesterday and today and forever”; and that means that His Word likewise is not subject to the fluctuations of human learning and experience. There is not a recognized institution of higher learning in our country today that employs the same textbooks in natural sciences, for example, which were used at the beginning of this century,—so changeable and vacillating are the best products of the human brain. But here in the Bible, because it comes down from Him “in whom there is no variableness neither shadow of turning,” we have a changeless Christ for a changing world, a Book of sacred promises which is never out of date and which, according to the Savior’s own pledge, shall survive the relentless flow of devastating time.
Christ is holy. His challenge, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” has remained unaccepted through nineteen centuries of human hostility to Him. So, likewise, His Book is the echo of His holiness and of His infinite beauty and excellence. Even the unparalleled language seems to be conscious of its high privilege in being chosen as the vehicle of this divine beauty. It was Lord Macaulay, who knew the Bible well from his childhood and whose writings are replete with references to it, that said, “The English Bible—the Book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.”
But this literary grace is only a vanishing shadow of the great spiritual beauty portrayed by the gracious promises of love. Christ is Love, Love in its highest, deepest, broadest reaches, and never have human eyes read a volume that abounds with the singular tenderness of the love which the Bible extends to every sorrowing soul. Behold its consideration for the sick and the suffering; its provisions for the outcasts and the destitute; its hatred of persecution; its rejection of injustice and oppression and its corresponding emphasis on mercy, peace, and love; its tenderness even for dumb animals, which forbade the removal of the mother bird from her nest. But remember that this is merely a weak echo of the most beautiful theme that human ears have ever heard, the holy beauty of the divine grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, who, “having loved His own that were in the world, loved them unto the end,” that heart-breaking, earth-shaking end at Calvary, with a love that knows no bounds and that demands no payment, but that would make the sin-stained souls of all men pure and white in the sight of God.
Christ is the universal figure of history. His transforming love addresses itself to “all who labor and are heavy laden.” And so His Word, the only truly universal Book, has hurdled the barriers that divide men into different and opposing races, castes, and colors and crashed through the walls of the artificial caste systems that selfish men have erected. Because the Bible is the Book for all lands, from the tropical climes of darkest Africa to the frozen wastes of the frigid North; because it is the Book for all people, the cultured and the illiterate, the wealthy and the impoverished, the mighty and the humble; because it is the Book for every need in every human heart; because, in short, it is God’s Book for humanity in its entirety, it has been translated into approximately nine hundred languages and dialects and has brought men to God all over the world. The nearest approach to that universality is Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which has been translated into 171 languages. And that hymn is largely a poetic reproduction of the 46th Psalm.
Christ gave the world a complete redemption. When He cried, “It is finished,” and when He rose again to seal the power of His shed blood, God’s plan of salvation was perfected. His Word, too, is complete. The closing verses of the Bible place a curse upon those who take away from, or add to, the revelation of God. And in a day when men either take out of the Bible parts that do not appeal to their natural pride and ambitions or tell us that we need something to supplement the Bible, a mystical key to its interpretation or the traditions of the Church Fathers or the so-called assured results of science, we rest assured that this Book would not be God’s Book if it required the additions of human theories and human opinions to make it complete.
Christ is eternal. He, humanity’s everlasting contemporary, comforts us with the assurance that He is with us “alway, even unto the end of the world.” And His Word is imperishable. In moments of doubt we may sometimes think that the missiles of hatred may mar the Word; but then, through the Spirit of God, we are reassured that these loud-mouthed and overconfident enemies of the Bible are simply raising a tissue paper barricade to restrain the onrushing flood of God’s Word. Their names and their delusions are “writ in sand.” A wave laps lazily over them, and all is destroyed. Let us not worry about the Bible. Here is Christ’s sacred pledge, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word shall not pass away.”
THE SACRED PROMISE OF THE SCRIPTURES.
And when you now ask, “What can this deathless Book do for me?” the words that I read before tell you, “If ye continue in My Word,” that is, if you accept the Bible as the guiding principle of your life, cling to the message of its Cross as to the veritable Rock of Ages, and in prosperity and adversity, in sickness and health, in employment and unemployment, in life and death, find in it Christ as the great Friend and Savior that He is, “ye are My disciples indeed.” Remember, that pledge is contingent upon a faithful, consistent, and unwavering continuance in Christ’s Word. It is not a matter of reading the Bible today and setting it aside tomorrow; not a worshiping on Sunday and a denying on Monday; not an automatic, passive, indifferent acknowledgment of Christ’s Word, but a living, vitalizing, constant devotion to the Scriptures, through daily and unintermittent study of the Word. Only in this way can you enjoy the glorious distinction of being enrolled shoulder to shoulder with the host of Christian soldiers who, following in the footsteps of the Twelve and in the pathways blazed by the apostles, are marching on in endless procession and under the leadership of the great Captain of their soul’s salvation. There can, of course, be an outward show of Christianity without this Biblical basis. In a day when the largest and most imposing churches are often built up on anti-Scriptural foundations, when doctrinal demarcations are steadily being obliterated; when church-membership is made so easy that no statement of faith or pledge of conduct is seriously demanded, it may be well to remind ourselves that our Savior is speaking of His disciples “indeed” and that there can be no real and sincere discipleship that is not loyally pledged to Christ’s Word.
The blessing of such discipleship is this, “Ye shall know the truth.” Think of it: In Christ’s faith you have “the truth.” Why, protracted centuries of research have been unable to reveal the truth even in some of the simplest affairs of our everyday life. Our whole existence is wrapped up in lies, with lies in our courts, lies in our business world, lies in our social relations, lies in our politics. But here, thank God, in this pure and perfect Word, is an infallible and unerring truth, which never can make a mistake because it came from Him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Here error-bound humanity is offered the truth absolute, the truth concerning human origin and human destiny, sin and grace, life and death, the here and the hereafter; the truth concerning the practical issues in life, your success and your adversity, your happiness and your sorrow, your soul and your body; the truth concerning your home, your business, your country; the truth concerning such modern questions as war and peace, capital and labor, crime and its cure; in short, the basic truth to answer every question in life, particularly and predominantly the soul-searching inquiry, “What must I do to be saved?” Trust that Word, believe in that truth, accept its promise of the forgiveness of your sins; for every merciful assurance of the waiting arms of your heavenly Father, every pledge it offers you for the solution of the besetting difficulties of life, has been written in the blood of Christ and sealed with His glorious resurrection.
That truth, our text continues, “shall make you free.” Freedom and liberty have always ranked among the highest and noblest aspirations of men. To free their fellow men from bondage, 300,000 soldiers laid down their lives in our Civil War. To preserve their liberties, as the soldiers on both sides of that bloody conflict were told, eight and a half million combatants went down to death in the World War. But the tragedies that have followed in the wake of that stupendous conflict have emphasized to an increasing number of thoughtful people the ghastly disappointments which millions have met in their longing for political and national liberty. Yet our text promises higher and nobler freedom; for all the blood that flowed at Antietam or at Chateau Thierry, swollen by the gory streams of all human battles for liberty and independence, cannot remove from humankind the thralldom of that superhuman tyranny which blights our lives and our happiness—the domination of sin. For that emancipation we need the holy, precious blood of Him who “Himself in His own body bare our sins on the tree” and His divine benediction, given to all of us who love and trust Him, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” the heavenly declaration of our independence from sin, hell and death.
Have you accepted this declaration? As I repeat the question and ask, “Have you accepted Jesus as your own Savior and His Word as the promise of your salvation?” may God give you His grace, first to realize that you have heard the question of paramount importance in human life and then to answer this question with a ringing conviction that in Christ’s truth and freedom the search for your happiness has found its goal. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.