Date: April 16, 1931?
And there arose another generation after them which knew not the Lord nor yet the works which He had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served Baalim. And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers. – Judges 2:10-12
THESE words tell us of two successive generations of the same people, living in the same country, of the same heredity and the same environment, but two generations that spiritually were as divergent as any two opposing extremes can be. The one was the first generation of Israelites to occupy the Promised Land, the multitudes that had marched under Joshua through the blistering heat and the sandstorms of the desert and had been the witnesses of Jehovah’s omnipotence; the fathers and mothers who, prompted by a grateful recognition of God’s merciful providence, served Him all their days in love and gratitude. And the other generation was made up of their own sons and daughters, who had begun to enjoy the easy and undeserved prosperity of the land that flowed with milk and honey, the smugly self-satisfied generation, which found the desert and these Exodus stories distasteful; the second generation, “which knew not the Lord nor yet the works which He had done for Israel,” which forsook the God of their fathers and served Baalim, the idols of production and fertility, in the sensuous and degrading worship of their degenerate neighbors. And the result? Our text tells us, “They did evil in the sight of the Lord”; they inaugurated a period of debauchery, of which the moral lapses in the following chapters of the Book of Judges offer tragic record.
IT IS A FORGETFUL GENERATION.
I have never been able to read the account of this stupendous change in two successive generations without drawing almost an unconscious parallel with a notable change that has come over the American people. You may search the records of the century and a half in which our God-blessed nation has enjoyed its independence; you may go back another century and a half to the Colonial days, when the Pilgrim Fathers first set foot on the forbidding shores of New England; and never in the three hundred years of our national existence will you find two generations that even begin to differ as those two generations do that have formed history from the days after the close of the Civil War down to the present moment. Never has there been a change as startling and deplorable as the contrast that has made this age the generation that has forgotten God.
Think of the remarkable parallel and repetition of history. As those conquering Israelite armies marched into the Promised Land, so the last three decades of the past century, the years in which the fathers and mothers of many who are listening in tonight grew up in these United States, brought more than 12,000,000 immigrants from Europe to the Promised Land of magic America. During the same period practically two-thirds of the United States, the country west of the Mississippi River, began its real and lasting growth, being settled by the sturdy pioneers who went out from the seaboard and the Central States in their creaking covered wagons to stake their claims within the confines of twelve territories that are now flourishing States of the Union.
And because they believed that God had led them across the Atlantic or across the plains and the Rockies as He had led Joshua’s men through the trackless wilderness, they served God. They organized most of our Christian congregations; they built the majority of our church edifices. They gave the impetus to much of the mission-work at home and abroad. They established many of our Christian schools, as did the founders of my Church, men with university distinctions, who, before they had lived a year in the hinterland of Missouri, cut down the trees that were to build the walls of a backwoods divinity school. That generation had its faults, frailties, that everlastingly mark the moral feebleness of humanity, and we do not make the mistake of showing reverence to the past simply because it is so far distant that its shortcomings may be glossed over and minimized. But with all necessary concessions one definite and unalterable fact stands out sharply and distinctly—the generation of our fathers and mothers knew God; it recognized His providential deliverance, the certainty of His judgment, and the boundlessness of His grace.
And then there arose this generation, this cynical, sophisticated, self-satisfied generation, which so largely knows not the God of its fathers and prides itself in this ignorance, which so frequently has set up the modern counterpart of the ancient Baalim, the idols of mass production, grinning Mammon, the false gods of material, selfish, sensual worship, with the tragic consequences that we are living in the greatest away-from-God movement that the country has ever known.
See how all this has been demonstrated, for example, in the delusive and destructive attitude which men have taken toward the foundation of our faith, the Bible, the revelation of God to man, which is “able to make us wise unto salvation,” coming to every one of us with the Savior’s own benediction, “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” We know, of course, that throughout the centuries there has always been opposition to the Word of Truth; yet such opposition came almost entirely from men who were without the Church and who laid no claim to the title “Christian.” In the age of Roman imperialism it was a brutal heathen, Diocletian, who set himself the futile task of destroying the Bible. In the eighteenth century it was professed infidels of the type of Voltaire and the French Revolutionists. In the past generation it was the like-minded scoffers, such as Ingersoll, together with a growing number of outspoken Bible critics in European universities. But in this generation it is the liberal church men and the highly paid instructors at poorly attended theological seminaries who are fighting in the very front ranks of the anti-Biblical forces.
While I am grateful for the privilege of speaking to you as a representative of that Church which still bows unconditionally before the authority of the Word of God, and while I thank God especially for the millions in other churches who still refuse to bend their knees before the Baal of modernistic unbelief, a survey of the outward Christianity shows that this opposition to the Word is found within many Christian churches and that even those denominations which were founded on Christian and Biblical principles and which during the past generation contended for the divine truth have frequently been moved and controlled by unholy and destructive forces. Not long ago a questionnaire was sent to some seven hundred representative pastors of the various Protestant churches, and do you know that almost forty per cent. of these religious leaders did not hesitate to declare that in their opinion the Bible was not the infallible truth of God? The tragedy of modern American church-life is this, that, like the generation after Joshua, it refuses to recognize the God of truth and love.
But how can conditions be different when some of the oldest and wealthiest theological seminaries in our country, schools which in their charter are dedicated to the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, have studiously and completely rejected the Bible as the inspired guide of humanity, in direct fulfilment of Peter’s prophecy condemning “the false teachers among you” who preach “destructive heresies, denying even the Lord that bought them and bringing upon themselves swift destruction”? What else can we expect when you can go into churches that claim membership in fundamentally Christian denominations, churches that were built by believing and trusting fathers and mothers, and hear the members of these churches complacently tolerate a rejection of everything essential to a Christian’s confidence in the Bible and listen without protest to a denial of Christ that could well be uttered in a Jewish synagog or in a Confucian temple?
IT IS A SIN-SCARRED GENERATION.
And the result of all this? We heard before that a moral breakdown followed in the wake of Israel’s forsaking the Lord God of their fathers. And you can all see the modern parallel in our own country. Millions of Americans are forgetting or ignoring God in our political life, in our home-life, in our business life, and in every walk of life. And this forgetfulness helps to account for the supertragedy in our American life that in this new era of radio and television, of 102-story sky-scrapers and around-the-world fliers, voyages into the stratosphere and submarine cruises to the poles, we have brought upon ourselves the unenviable distinction of having broken more records in our departure from morality than any age in this country before us. With more comforts, more conveniences, more attractions, more opportunities, more blessings of all kinds than in any former generation or in any other country of the world, our overcrowded jails, our mounting crime waves, our unmistakable growth of unhappiness and cynicism, emphasize a depressing contrast and should shock us into the realization that, while our twentieth-century generation may say more and know more about everything than any of its predecessors, it actually says less and knows less about the verities of the soul and the hope of its salvation than any previous age in American history.
Now, don’t blame the war for this! Don’t blame Prohibition! Don’t blame the industrial upheaval and the depression! Beyond whatever contributions they may or may not have made to our national delinquency and to this country-wide breakdown of morals is the direct and in evitable connection between irreligion and immorality. Tear the fear of God out of the hearts of any people, remove the sense of sin and individual responsibility which the Bible so repeatedly stresses; let them trace their own origin and descent, not as the Bible does to the creative hand of God, but directly or indirectly to the blubbering baboon; let them set aside the divine revelation with the sacred obligations which it lays upon men, and you have the real and basic cause for the terrifying conditions that surround us. For the Word of God testifies, “The nation that will not serve Thee, O God, shall perish,”—and that means perish morally, perish spiritually, perish politically, as the voice of history solemnly warns.
But here as in every aspect of its work the true Church’s duty is thoroughly constructive and happily remedial. In the whirl of worldliness and the pandemonium of grasping, clashing selfishness with which it is surrounded it must send out in more insistent and uncompromising terms than ever before the one message which by the very promise of God can yet save the ungrateful of this generation. And that hope of modern humanity, the individual hope of every single soul that may hear these words, is not to be found in any radical departures, in any so-called twentieth-century religions, in any allegedly modern conception of Christianity, but simply, thank God, in the unchangeable, unmodified, unalterable Word of which Jesus Himself testifies, “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.”
Put into the pulpits of America’s churches men with the spirit of John the Baptist, who without fear or favor, but with unqualified allegiance to their God and Savior, will call out to this generation of unbelief, “Repent ye”; give us pastors and teachers who on the basis of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments will tell self-sufficient and self-righteous men that they are sinners, murderers of their own souls, and driving on to an inevitable perdition; that the best that they have, the best they can offer, the riches of the rich, the brains of the brainy, the might of the mighty, cannot work immunity or escape from the curse and blighting consequences of sin; and that we must “all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ”; give us faithful messengers of God who on the basis of divine promises will point all men, as I now direct your vision, to the love of Christ, in whom, according to the apostolic pledge, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace,”—restore the Bible, and the Church and the nation will enter into a new era of hope and promise. There, in the return to God, not in any modern sociological, economic, or legislative program, not in any political, industrial, or educational reforms, lies the hope of the nation. “Seek ye Me,” God says to apostate Israel, and He repeats to ungrateful America, “and ye shall live.”
Therein lies your hope. For tonight I want to give you who may never have experienced the comfort of the Scriptures and the power of the truth that they contain a solemn and divine assurance. Conscious of the fact that these words are heard in tens of thousands of cities and hamlets throughout the nation and beyond its confines and that in these uncounted localities, as your deeply appreciated letters assure us, there are unnumbered souls listening in who can be witnesses of what I am to say, I give you this assurance on the basis of hundreds of passages of God’s Word: There is not a single trouble of soul or body that cannot be relieved; no wound or grief, no matter how deeply it may cut into the quick of a quivering conscience, that cannot be healed; no black and brutal sin or a crushing mountain of such sins that cannot be removed; no question of your soul-life that cannot be answered; no problem that cannot be solved completely and convincingly by faith in “the glorious Gospel of the blessed Lord.” Enthrone that Bible with its exalted key-note and center, the divine Redeemer, in your heart by reading it and hearing it and believing it, and if you exclaim with the great apostle, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” you will acknowledge the one power in which lies your hope and the salvation of the present generation. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.