Date: June 4, 1931?
The Lord God, and His Spirit, hath sent me. Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord, thy God. – Isaiah 48:16-17
MY message to you this evening is one that takes you, as it were, into the very holy of holies, a discussion which every right-minded person, conscious of his human limitations, must approach with reverence and adoration. Tonight we are to stand on peculiarly holy ground and contemplate one of the profoundest and one of the sublimest conceptions with which human thought may engage itself. Well do we hesitate, for keener minds and sharper intellects than ours have lost their spiritual balance in the contemplation of this immeasurable mystery. Well do we pause to invoke divine blessing, because merely human speculation, indulging, as it does, in the maddest extremes, leads only to chaotic confusion. Well do we turn away from the denials of men to the light and truth of heaven’s revelation in our Bible to find the answer to this most vital, most essential question of all human existence, “Who is the true God?”
I do not propose tonight to complete the demonstration of the existence of God; for there is a natural, inborn acknowledgment of that existence which is common to all humanity. No race that ever trod the face of the earth has been so low, none so illiterate or so degenerate, as to be without the realization that there is a Supreme Being. It is this that helps to separate man from beast. To behold the world with its stupendous and boundless marvels and then to claim that it came into existence automatically and without God is just as irrational as to behold a canvas by Rembrandt and to maintain that such masterpieces of the brush were produced without an artistic mind and hand behind them; or to listen to a fugue by Bach and to insist that such musical marvels are self-caused and self-created; or to stand before the Empire State Building and tell rational people that such structural heights build themselves, without architectural direction. Or again, if we study the system and the order of the universe, for example, its stellar heavens, the great clockwork of God, with all of its unerring precision, its stupendous exhibition of wisdom and planning and adaptation, and if we find no evidence of a Designer behind such design, a Systematizer behind such system, we are just as illogical as if we were to assume that a prodigious volume might accidentally emerge from a jumbled pile of lead type or that the tens of thousands of trains that daily speed over the network of steel rails run and stop as they do regardless of carefully planned schedules. Truly, as the psalmist stated three thousand years ago, only “the fool,” only the intellectual moron, only one who is impervious to conclusive evidence, can say or try to say, “There is no God.” And much of the uncleanness and bitterness of our age must be traced to the frantic and unnatural effort to dethrone the Almighty, because atheism leads to immorality. It is the atheist upon whom God’s wisdom places this indictment, “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works.”
But when we ask, “Who is this God?” to whose existence every rational being, willingly or unwillingly, pays tribute, we are confronted by a profusion of contradictory answers that is both bewildering and staggering. Men have bowed down before stones and stars and trees; they have worshiped snakes and cows and cats; they have prayed to hideous and obscene gods, that have demanded hideous and obscene rites, drunken debauches, bloody slashing and gashing, the burning alive of helpless little children; they have done obeisance even to Satan and called him God. For while men of themselves know that there is a God, their most persistent effort and most painstaking researches have not revealed who this God is. He whose omniscience fills the earth tells us, “No man hath seen God at any time.”
GOD IS ONE.
If, then, we would know God, God must reveal Himself to us. And God has granted us this revelation. In the words of our text this evening we read that the God of the Bible answers the age-old search by this definite and decisive statement, “I am the Lord, thy God.” Contrary to the crude extravagances of heathen worship with its immense pantheons of hundreds, yea, thousands and tens of thousands of gods, there is, as all Christendom confesses on the basis of plain Scripture-passages, but one God, infinitely exalted and immeasurably supreme, above the strongest, the best, the purest, the greatest, and the most permanent that earth and heaven combined contain. Contrary to the refined speculations of a skeptical age, in which God is held to be an idea, an impersonal force, a mere abstraction found in fragrant flowers and blue skies, in laughing waters and wooded groves; contrary to all the loose, hazy, doubtful, shallow thoughts of God that are so popular in our modern books and periodicals, He who tonight tells every one of us, “I am the Lord, thy God,” is an absolute personality, an individual, definite, personal God; a God who wills and works; a God who plans and directs; a God who creates and sustains; a God who bears a very vital and personal relation to every human being that has ever walked the face of the globe.
GOD IS TRIUNE.
But when we have acknowledged God as the one personal, definite Being, this by no means exhausts the Biblical statements in regard to His essence and nature. For in this personal unity there is a blessed, holy Trinity, to which our text, one of the many foregleams of the Old Testament touching upon this Trinity, pays reverent and direct tribute. Note the sharp distinction of the three persons in these words, “The Lord God, and His Spirit, hath sent Me.” The promised Messiah, whom the second part of Isaiah’s prophecies pictures to us so vividly, is speaking. And He specifically refers both to “the Lord God,” Jehovah, the Father and Creator, and to “His Spirit,” the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. And what the pages of the Old Covenant tell us here and in other passages which mention God, His Son, and His Spirit; what this remarkable passage of Isaiah indicates when it speaks of God in this threefold designation, “the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One,” is emphasized on the pages of the New Testament with convincing clarity. We stand on the banks of the Jordan and behold Jesus in the hour of His baptism. A voice comes from heaven, the voice of God the Father, declaring, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And while we look, “the Spirit of God,” dove-shaped, descends from on high. If there is no Trinity here when one Person speaks from heaven, the second stands on earth, and the third spans the distance between the two; or if there is no Trinity in the promise of Jesus, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, . . . even the Spirit of Truth”; if there is no Trinity in the last and sacred commission of Christ, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”; or finally, if there is no Trinity in St. Paul’s apostolic benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all,”—then surely the sacred writers have been guilty of blasphemy and malicious misrepresentation; then, truly, they have consciously or unconsciously fostered the most disastrous form of idolatry. But, thank God, from the very first chapter of Genesis, which pictures to us God the Father as Creator, God the Son as the Word, and God the Holy Spirit brooding over the face of the deep, until the last pages of Revelation, with its beatified vision of the Spirit and the Lamb and the Father, the entire Biblical picture of God presents to us this glorious, ineffable, and most holy and sacred Trinity, the one true God revealed in the Scriptures as Three Persons, as our text of tonight puts it—“the Lord God,” His Messiah, and “His Spirit,” or, “the Lord,” “thy Redeemer,” “the Holy One.”
THIS TRINITY IS DIVINELY SUFFICIENT FOR ALL HUMAN NEEDS.
Have you ever paused to consider how sorely you and I need this Triune God in the perilous paths of our individual lives? We have but one life to live, and what a cruel, cold, and at best enigmatical existence it so often seems to be! You who write to tell me of troubles in your family, of conniving at divorce, of bitter, rankling hatred between husband and wife, of misunderstanding between parents and children; you who in the hours of despair have been driven to the very edge of self-annihilation; you who have suffered from financial and industrial reverses, trembling under the varied adversities of life, you—all of you—need a God who can offer you a father’s love and a father’s guidance. And here in this Trinity is, first of all, as Isaiah tells us tonight, “the Lord,” of whom the infallible Record testifies, “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” You need the assurance of one whose omnipotent guidance is able to control the hostile forces of an unsympathetic world and to direct the destinies of His children along the paths of peace and comfort. And here in this Trinity, as we chant our believing “Holy, Holy, Holy” is the “Lord, the Lord God, merciful, gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin”; the One of whom we confess, “Thou hast been our Dwelling-place in all generations”; the One with whom “nothing shall be impossible”; the One whose works are “all done in truth.” Look to Him tonight, and no matter what your individual problems or sorrows may be, remember that “He is not far from every one of us”; no matter how hopeless and helpless the future may seem to you, read these sacred pledges of the Lord, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He careth for you”; no matter how hazardous the unveiled paths that lie before you may seem, believe the promise of the Lord, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” He has told you that “the very hairs of your head are numbered.” He has asked you, “Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” With this assurance we can appropriate, even in days of modern depression, the majestic acknowledgment of Luther: “He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, defends me against all danger, and guards and protects me from all evil; and all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” Oh, blessed heavenly Father! Oh, thrice-blessed Trinity!
But every day that we live makes us crave for another assurance. Our sins rise up before us, and with the common yearning of all men of all ages, conscious of our own unworthiness, we raise our hands to grasp a God who will forgive us our trespasses, who will still the insistent accusations of our conscience, and subdue the rumbling thunders of outraged and divine justice. Sad and repeated experience has shown us that the most profound and the most versatile of all human plans have never been able to offer a release from sin. People can tell you that sin is not serious or even insist that it is out of date and old-fashioned; they can ask you to “eat, drink, and be merry,” entirely oblivious of tomorrow and its tearful dawn. At best they can lead you to a thousand different manmade propositions by which, in common with the heathen of all lands and ages, you must do something, give something, eat something, wear something, say something, pray something, in short, perform some good and meritorious works by which a just God may be appeased and peace and harmony be established between Him and you. Yet all this falls far short of giving to you and to me that indelible, everlasting, irremovable assurance that our sins have been forgiven and that we have been restored to grace.
But here, in this Trinity, we also have, as our text emphasizes, the Christ of God, sent by His Father and the Spirit, the Redeemer, the Second Person of this unfathomable and transcending Tri-Unity. I ask you, then, to believe that He—inconceivable, yet glorious mystery that it is—became man to save you. I ask you to read the old, but ever new climax of His infinite love, the story of stories, Calvary and its Cross. And you especially who write me that you cannot find peace and happiness; you who have become dissatisfied with yourselves and dissatisfied with the best that life can offer, I beseech you in the name of that Christ of Love to kneel down before His cross and in the immortal words of the greatest preacher of pure grace since the apostolic days to pledge yourself to this faith:—
“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” O blessed Redeemer! O thrice-blessed Trinity!
But there are those whose faith has weakened, the flame of whose devotion has flickered low. There are those who are driven to write that they have left the Church, have fallen away from grace, and traveled along the highroad of spiritual indifference and worldliness. There are those who live on in appalling ignorance of those great and vital truths without which there is no hope of heaven. Now, all such, indeed all of us, since by our own reason and strength we cannot believe in Jesus Christ, or come to Him,—all of us, I repeat, need a God who can enlighten our carnal minds, who by regeneration can make us children of God, who can renew our faith, and by His power enable us to lead a godly life. Again, human methods and external agencies have failed to reveal this God. Every merely human program for the improvement and uplifting of men has led to dire disappointment. But thank God again; for here in this Trinity, this “Spirit” of God in our text, we have a God who meets all these requirements. We have the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, the Light-giver, the Sanctifier, the promised Comforter, who, coming into the deep recesses of your heart by the Word and the Sacraments, brings you to God, breathes new life into your cold heart, and gives you “the peace of God that passeth all understanding,” the joy that knows no end, the happiness that echoes into heaven. He it is, this Holy Spirit, called God and accepted and honored as divine in the pages of Holy Writ, who now knocks at the door of your heart to make you a child of God or, if you have that holy distinction, to strengthen your faith. O blessed Spirit! O thrice-blessed Trinity!
Let me tell this truth again, my dear friend and fellow sinner: Wherever these words find you and however they find you, they are an invitation to believe God’s Word concerning Himself when “the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,” tells you, “I am the Lord, thy God.” People may doubt and scoff, as Arius doubted and as the very contemporaries of our Savior scoffed when the message of the ineffable Trinity was preached to them. But I make no appeal to reason or science tonight. A thousand other things, even in the commonest experience of our everyday life, are beyond the reach of our analysis and our explanation, and yet we see the demonstration of their force and fact before our very eyes. And so, though we stand in silenced awe and in hushed reverence before this mystery of mysteries, let us remember that the blessings of faith rest upon those who believe firmly and everlastingly. Yes, let us with uncounted hundreds of millions raise our hearts tonight before this day of grace closes, in the sincerity of gratitude to God the Father, who created us, to God the Son, who redeemed us, and to God the Holy Spirit, who still sanctifies and preserves us, the blessed, thrice-blessed Trinity. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.