,

Guard the Landmarks of Our Christian Faith

Date: February 10, 1935

Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.Proverbs 22:28

THERE is a timely ring and a modern message in these words of venerable wisdom: “Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.” In the Israel of old, as throughout the Orient, property lines were marked with inscribed stones, which often specified the size and extent of fields and property. These boundary pillars remained unmoved from generation to generation; and the warning of our text, solemnly repeated in other Old Testament passages, is an emphatic appeal to safeguard the inherited right of ownership and to maintain the heritage of the fathers in unbroken lines of descent.

Today, with our laws on property rights and our land titles, we need erect no boundary stones between our homes or fields; for it is all but impossible successfully to remove or to alter our boundary lines by fraud. But much greater is the danger that we may permit landmarks raised by our fathers as the confines of our national and spiritual heritage to be removed by sinister and subversive forces, which conspire to destroy the fundamental blessings of our Christian inheritance. The startling upheavals of this new age have not only altered national frontiers and realigned international confines, but, besides many and commendable changes, the new order has brought bewildering innovations, which systematically seek the overthrow of time­honored and cherished institutions.

Thus we have a landmark for the Christian home to show the extent of its blessings and to mark its many happinesses. These ideals of our family life glorify marriage and frown upon divorce; they extol parenthood and lament childlessness; they exalt the blessings radiated from the hearth and strenuously protest against every influence that would contaminate the home basis of human happiness. But now malicious, poisonous, antimoral propaganda is prying loose this landmark; and uncouth agitators from coast to coast and from street corners to penthouses are preaching—and too often practising—the claims of facile and frequent divorce, free love, childless marriages, and the untrammeled pursuit of lust. With more than one out of every three families in our country childless and with more than one out of every seven marriages terminating in divorce courts, it must be conceded that millions have already moved the landmark of the home into the treacherous quicksands of immorality.

In American education the landmarks set two or three centuries ago by the founders of our large and wealthy universities represented a higher cultural life that was genuinely Christian in thought and in expression. Today campus scoffers are placing academic dynamite under this landmark and have repeatedly succeeded in sliding the boundary stone of American education into the swampy shadows of intellectual atheism. And the leaders in this revolt are often paid by tax levies and rewarded with popular plaudits as they transform plastic, impressionable freshmen, the favored sons and daughters of your homes, into sneering seniors,—scoffers and sophisticators.

Even the landmarks of our governmental ideals are endangered. A century and a half ago men fought and bled and died in desperate struggle on American soil to lay the boundaries of a divinely endowed nation, with free and representative government, national and individual liberty, the freedom of conscience and the freedom of speech, the State separated from religious interference, and the Church safeguarded against secular domination,—a people endowed, under God, with the inalienable privilege of the pursuit of happiness through personal initiative, constructive labor, and frugal, virtuous living. But these boundaries, imposed by the wisdom of our fathers, are pushed aside by wilful groups, who would place our ancient landmarks on new lines, which approach European dictatorships or the Red rule of Russian Communism. Sinister clerical hands, feverishly employed in removing the line of demarcation separating Church and State, would extinguish the torch of liberty that towers as a distinctive beacon of our freedom. Rabble-rousers who fan popular prejudice to white heat, professional politicians who wax wealthy by plundering the tax levies paid by our thrifty citizenry, mercenary magistrates and renegades in the legal profession who, as in the days of the great prophets of the Old Testament, are swayed by bribery and corruption,—these are among the leaders in the assault on our American landmarks of liberty and justice.

Of all the changes that are made today in violation of this divine warning: “Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set,” the most destructive is the deep-rooted and wide-spread endeavor to remove God’s landmark, our Christian heritage, from our hearts, our churches, our country. As I appeal to you this afternoon and ask you to

GUARD THE LANDMARKS OF OUR CHRISTIAN FAITH,

I remind you that this appeal brings us face to face with the most serious issue of the present crisis.

SINISTER FORCES THREATEN OUR LANDMARKS

The Cross of Jesus Christ is God’s landmark on this earth. Towering o’er the wrecks of time, its radiance penetrating into earth’s remotest darkness, its invitation extended with ever-renewing grace, its blessings offered without money or price, without conditions or credentials, that Cross, once the crude, gory instrument of earth-shaking injustice, but now the glorious trophy of love victorious, proclaims this everlasting verity: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Whenever men penitently discover in the Crucified the height and the depth of God’s forgiving and renewing love; whenever men hear this proclamation of divine amnesty, “Christ died for our sins,” and with all their heart and soul accept and believe the limitless treasures of grace contained in these five short words, then and there the kingdom of God has set up its landmark; its borders have been extended, its confines enlarged.

Let there be no misunderstanding, then, about this basic, fundamental fact of faith—the central landmark of the Church is the Cross. It is not the high-vaulted cathedrals, the pretentious carvings and statuary, the vibrant organs, and the chanting choirs, the robes and processions, the renown of the preachers and the social position of the members that proclaim: “Here is the kingdom of God.” But in the sob of a disconsolate soul that has fled for refuge to Calvary’s crest: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me, grant me Thy peace,” in the faith that accepts Christ’s magnificent self-giving as the eternal escape from the consequences of sin, we find God’s landmark, the memorial of His loving heart.

One might think that because of the immeasurable mercies represented in the Cross of Christ the combined resources of human ingenuity would be drafted for the preservation of this landmark of Christian faith; that men would recognize in the Savior’s Gospel a creed that forgives and saves, soothes and heals, comforts and sustains; a faith that regenerates, binds the passions of men, restricts the bigotry of hatred, and offers a superhuman incentive to the higher emotions and the noblest accomplishments,—one would conclude, I say, that, since Christ died that we might live, and live more abundantly, and since the entire course of history has been but the sustained evidence of His grace and power, men would rally with zeal and fervor for the protection of His kingdom; that only abnormal and irrational minds would stretch out unholy hands in the attempt to remove the landmarks of His Church. Yet, by a shocking contradiction, a survey of America today reveals well­organized and highly financed strategy and warfare attempting to eradicate the landmarks of God from this nation. In the greatest demonstration of unbelief this country has ever witnessed, regiments of Red Communism, battalions of blasphemy, armies of atheism, have been mobilized against the Gospel of Christ. And while Christians in the United States have not yet suffered unto the blood, as Christians in the capitals of Sovietism have, they are often the targets of sarcasm, hatred, or condescending pity by these infidel destructionists in their fanatical efforts to undermine Heaven’s landmark on earth.

After all, however, this blatant atheism sings its own doom; for in that prophetic picture of its inevitable defeat, in the Second Psalm, we are assured: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” Far more pernicious than this twentieth-century folly, which mimics the ancient absurdity “There is no God,” is the termite boring from within the Church which eats away the pillars upon which all Christian hope and faith must rest. Great denominations have permitted their leaders to question the Bible, to sow seeds of doubt as to its validity, and then brazenly to deny its authority. Teachers in some of the influential divinity schools profess and acknowledge only a caricatured Christ, reconstructed from vague and vapid theories, as far removed from the almighty, all-dominant Savior as stunted human souls are separated from the gleaming glory of God. Preachers, eagerly bidding for the salvos of mass applause, pollute their pulpits by open denials of Christian truth or by sensational, but ill-founded discussions on social and economic issues, which completely eliminate the Crucified and repeat the hoary pagan delusion of salvation by character and through accomplishment instead of by grace, through faith.

Let no one make the mistake of minimizing the influence of those who are thus busily engaged in removing the ancient landmarks of Christian faith. They have been supported by the lavish millions of American plutocrats; they enjoy the acclaim of prominent sections in the American press; they have a stranglehold on much of chain broadcasting. Their infidelity has pervaded the realms of youth­training, discolored much of the literature that will serve as a guide for tomorrow’s fathers and mothers, compromised with the ugly sin of our day, and altogether made itself the greatest menace to our national blessing and welfare.

Yet there is a spiritual hazard that may tend to tear down our landmarks even more quickly than the self­centered unbelief in some of America’s pulpits; and that is the apathy and indifference which church-members themselves show toward Christian doctrines and practises. We should be entitled to assume that those who have experienced the forgiving compassion of God in Christ would be guided by a fiery zeal and an unquenchable desire to defend the faith; but instead we behold disheartening evidences of stolid unconcern and insipid lukewarmness. Thus we have the landmark of our Christian faith which appeals for the reverent worship of Christ in our homes; but the family altar falls into continually greater neglect. We have the landmark which requires Christians to “show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”; but how many of us are there who meet the obligations of this personal missionary privilege? We have the landmark of Christian stewardship, which asks us to contribute for the increase of the Kingdom with cheerful and grateful hearts; but in some churches there is so much of money-raising through the long catalog of entertainment projects, even through beyond-the­law methods, that the sense of individual responsibility is drugged into a perpetual coma. Now, with one landmark after the other pushed aside by church-members themselves, we find another reason for the depressing days that have overtaken our country and the Church. No nation that forgets its God, not even the United States, is large enough and wealthy enough and resourceful enough to escape divine judgment. Analyze the tragedies of these last years by whatever process you will, and no matter to what cause the economist may ascribe the many pressing problems and the disappointments confronting tens of millions of Americans, the Christian sees the hand of God reaching out for divine vengeance upon those who tear down the ancient landmarks. If this blatant raging against God continues, we have no assurance that the destiny of America will be other than that which has inevitably overtaken every Christ­denying, Bible-ridiculing, Church-destroying people.

CHRISTIAN COURAGE MUST PROTECT THESE LANDMARKS

It is high time, then, that we rise to the defense and preservation of our Christian landmarks. Let there be no apologies for our faith, no weak-kneed, thin-blooded compromise with the indifferentism and laxity of our age. Rather let the followers of Christ rally with loyal hearts and defiantly shout at those who would assail our Christian landmarks: “You shall not pass!” The time for parleying is over. The days of dormant inactivity have passed. The call to arms rings throughout the Church: “Guard the landmarks of our faith!”

This loyalty springs only from twice-born souls, strengthened by the Word of God, by the Sacraments, by prayer,—souls whose allegiance to Christ must express itself in preserving the landmarks of the Christ-centered home. Restore the Bible to our American hearths, rebuild the family altars that have fallen into neglect, invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit upon our family circles through daily study of the Word, through hymns and prayers, and a spiritual fortress will be created that can withstand the savage onslaughts of unbelief, multiplied as they may be.

American churches in no small numbers must demonstrate a far greater allegiance to the revealed truth. If I am now speaking to members of congregations that have drifted wide from the Christian mooring and are being tossed about on the seas of sensational and Christless preaching, as ships without keel or rudder, I ask these friends who would keep Christ in true faith to follow the sacred obligations of protest and defend the truths of their faith with unshaken conviction. A docile, inexpressive laity, which can witness the destruction of foundation truths Sunday after Sunday without crying out in defense of the faith, is judged by the Word of God: “He that is not with Me is against Me.”

To the pastors who this morning have preached the invitation of the Crucified to their congregations and who may be alarmed at the tidal waves of unbelief that sweep over sections of the nation, this appeal for safeguarding Christ’s landmarks comes with redoubled force. For the clergy plays a decisive role in the human promotion or decrease of Christian loyalty and in the advancement of personal faith. It will be hard for Christian leaders to preach the plain, unsparing message of sin and grace; it is no light, pleasant task to indict iniquity in individual lives and in public trends. It will take courage in this age of easy morality to sound the ultimatum of God: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die!” There will be little public recognition for the Christ-centered sermon which, expounding the old Word of God, refuses to turn either to the left or to the right from the foundations of God’s truth as it presents the divine antidote to sin. But we can remind all preachers of the Word in the earnestness of this Scriptural appeal that, if they weaken or hesitate or surrender one jot or tittle of their loyalty; if they can behold Modernism and clerical unbelief in high places without protesting and warning their flocks; if they can walk in the counsel of ungodly doctrines and stand in the way of sinful compromise and sit with scoffing doctors of divinity, they have betrayed their trust and permitted the landmarks of God to be moved.

Because more people in this country are without the Christian Church than within, I appeal this afternoon particularly to every unchurched person within the range of my voice and ask him to realize that today and forever Christ promises: “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” You who have lived on under the delusion that you could get along without God and know deep in your souls how utterly hopeless this is; you who were born in Christian homes of Christian parents and in your early years marched with Christian soldiers under the royal banner of His Cross, but in later years denied that allegiance and permitted the pleasures and sorrows of life to crowd out from your selfish hearts the impress of your early Christian training; you, the unbelieving husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter (in a home where your acceptance of the Savior would bring untold joy and happiness as well as be an uplifting moral force and a beneficent example), all of you who in word, in deed, by neglect, or by stolid indifference have been arrayed against the Church and against Christ,—to you these landmarks of God may rise up as monuments of grace and truth which can bestow a radiant newness of life, a peace in Christ that hallows every day. But these blessings cannot be yours without sincere repentance, without the heart-deep faith that Christ, and He alone, can save you from the terrifying consequence of your sins. Will you not, as you now hear this invitation, come to Him with contrite and penitent hearts, resolve that, God helping you, you will cross the boundaries from sin to grace, from unbelief to faith, and, rallying with those of us who would defend these eternal landmarks, pledge yourselves for time and for eternity to the Savior of your souls? God grant that you may! Amen.

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