Date: March 10, 1935
Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. – Zechariah 4:6
THE all-absorbing issue before this generation is now, and will continue to be, the task of rebuilding on the ruins of a gilded reign of greed, dishonesty, and impurity a new order, in which the miseries and struggles of the present collapse will never be repeated. From the tears and prayers of destitute families, from the growing protest of 11,000,000 people deprived of an opportunity to earn their livelihood, from the red fires of Communism that flare up in our country more glaringly than ever before, from the perils of inflation and financial debacle that confront a nation whose expenditures far exceed its receipts, comes the challenge of these pointed questions: How can we rebuild with the permanent hope of a better America? Where lies the path to a happier tomorrow where the specters that disturb the present scene will have disappeared forever?
To answer these questions every resource of science has been tapped. The service of hundreds of thousands of Federal workers has been drafted. New and startling programs have been introduced. Social experiments have been conducted on a nation-wide scale. But is there any one within the range of my voice this afternoon who has the firm conviction that the sum total of all the projects suggested since 1929, including the long catalog of discarded measures, can offer an unfailing beacon in this darkness? I think that I can speak for the vast majority of intelligent citizens in our country when I say that in spite of many heroic and often commendable efforts of the last years there is still in the American mind an unexpressed fear and vague apprehension that the strongest measures of the past may prove too weak for the future.
How I thank God, then, that I have the privilege of bringing you, not a human theory, but
GOD’S PROGRAM FOR NATIONAL RECOVERY!
When God’s people lay prostrate after the tears and toil of seventy years’ exile and the problems of reconstruction presented themselves, the Lord gave to Zerubbabel, the leader of the returned Israel, in the words of His prophet Zechariah this program for a national reconstruction administration: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
WE CANNOT REBUILD “BY MIGHT OR BY POWER”
Practically all the rebuilding energies and endeavors have been founded on the might and the power which our text condemns. We have looked to the intelligence power of the nation and have confidently believed that the aggregate of our 300,000,000 pounds of American brains could solve the present perplexities. But repeated lessons of bitter experience have taught us that in spite of all our intellectual resources there is an elusive, enigmatic element in these issues that confounds our best minds and shatters their ambitious, brilliant proposals.
Thus our economists have held that by a scientific manipulation of the basic law of supply and demand we could find a formula for dissolving all difficulties; yet though we limited acreage, restricted production, and—may God forgive us!—destroyed high-towering mounds of precious food while hunger stalked through the land as never before, we know now that the better America will not be found on any path blazed by the power and might of economics.
Lamenting our vanishing foreign markets and the subsequent commercial paralysis, business experts told us that, if we could stimulate foreign trade, our major difficulties would be surmounted. Though we dosed agreements with organized atheism, selected our favored nations, and earnestly sought to stimulate foreign purchases, the failure of this commercial might and power stares us in the face as we read of startling declines in American exports.
Financial soothsayers charmed us with the promise of prosperity through money manipulation. Metallic standards and metallic contents of the dollar have been hailed as fairy wands. Persuasive voices promise to find the hope of recovery in further inflational or deflational changes. But we are beginning to understand that, even if the treasuries of the United States were inexhaustible,—and they are far from that,—they could not furnish an exit from the labyrinthic difficulties around us.
Political might and power have been invoked as guides to the promised vistas of better days; and so blind are millions in this enlightened nation that any politician who promises lavish personal grants and the luxurious appointments of life will be greeted with their unqualified approval, even though these programs inevitably lead to the bankruptcy of the nation. If we are to be conducted into the promised land by some of these loud-mouthed, profane agitators, who bellow their dictatorial proposals into the eager ears of irresponsible millions, then let us beware of the quicksands.
Other physicians attending our sick body politic have held that the promise of prosperity can be found only in industrial reformation; and for many months we have heard of an almost endless making of codes designed to govern practically every aspect of American business and industry, from the erection of sky-scrapers to relatively inconsequential activities. In spite of the humanitarian motives that prompted the codifying of the greatest group of labor laws known to history, there are endless difficulties and disappointments in this program of legalizing industrial righteousness, and unmistakable signs point to the failure of code-writing.
Thus one exhibition of human might and human power passes after the other; the sparkling fireworks that flare up in patriotic designs for a brief moment leave the darkened heavens even blacker than before. I do not mean to affirm of course that there is no room for the resources of human power and intellectual might or that the past years have not introduced many far-visioned benefits and commendable philanthropies. The legislative measures by which industrial exploitation and the conquests of cold profit have been curbed deserve the recognition and support of every Christian citizen. I do say, however, conscious of the full meaning of this indictment, that every panacea built only on human might and power is ultimately destined to failure, because the deep-seated and basic ills of our country and our age lie too far beneath the surface to be probed effectively and healed by external applications. You cannot cure cancer with cosmetics nor check a brain tumor with a hair-cut. And just as little can the sins of a nation, the avarice, the impurity, the covetousness, the inhumanity, the dishonesty, the perjury, and—above and below all this—the godlessness of a people (which is responsible for every hardship under which millions in the nation have groaned) be removed by the might and power of any alphabetized project or industrial code, as helpful as these may be in their limited sphere.
Think of the utter disdain with which our Lord and Savior regarded the futile attempts to solve human ills by might and power. He could have summoned twelve legions of angels, 72,000 heavenly servants, to carry through a world-wide program of power; but He took no recourse to arms. More easily than any other personage in history He could have risen to unparalleled heights as dictator and popular leader; for He had to steal away in order to avoid being made king. He who blessed the loaves and multiplied the fishes could have regulated the laws of supply and demand so that no one would be hungry, yet so that no superabundance would be destroyed. He could have provided new currency, endowed His followers not only with the gift of tongues, but also with the bestowal of every other form of knowledge required for the administration of human affairs. He could have taken recourse to codified laws and executed a hundred other programs of external might. But He did not. He did not tell His disciples that they were to become politicians. He did not tell them that on the one hand they were to denounce Wall Street manipulations and on the other to speculate in silver. He did not tell them that they could take up their cross and preach His Gospel and then proceed to deny their discipleship by crossing the line that is to separate Church and State, by organizing religious prejudices and the smoldering feelings of discontented millions into political power that might result, under its demagog leadership, in revolution and ruin. But almighty God that our Savior is, He told His firebreathing, sword-snatching disciple: “Put up again thy sword into his place.” And His command, which rings over the turmoil of the present scene and cries out particularly to misguided clerics, blustering politicians, and each and every reformer-by-force, is this divine ordinance: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” the kingdom that “is not of this world.”
WE MUST REBUILD WITH GOD’S SPIRIT
To find the kingdom of God, we must have the Spirit of God; and for this reason the cry of our text “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit” repeats itself as the divine plan for a reconstructed nation.
Now, the Spirit of God, who comes to us through the Word of Grace and the Sacraments, first of all calls us back to God by demanding, and also working in us, repentance for our individual and our national sins. God’s blessing will not rest upon a people that carelessly heaps up its transgressions and allows vice to pile upon vice and crime upon crime until the top-heavy mountain of iniquity collapses and crushes all national hopes. Do you think, as God looks down from His high heaven and beholds, as He penetrates human hearts and scrutinizes human actions, political dishonesty and connivance at it, marital unfaithfulness and hypocrisy, propaganda for war and the fomenting of international discord, bloody clashes between capital and labor, the brazen growth of immorality in print, in the films, on the stage,—do you think, I repeat, that as God looks down from the throne of the eternities upon millions who have forgotten Him, upon a nation that has made a sorry mess of the blessings which His goodness bequeathed to us, He will send His rebuilding, uplifting Savior to a blinded people that still thinks it can lift itself out of this swamp by its own bootstraps or blow the becalmed ship of state out of the doldrums by its own puffing? You do not have to be a theologian to answer these questions. Your plain Christian knowledge will tell you what Scripture emphatically declares: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you that He will not hear.”
The Spirit of God, however, works more than repentance; through the Gospel He kindles faith; and the whole Lenten message of the Cross is the Spirit’s appeal to accept Christ and believe in the power of His sin-removing, gracebestowing love. As we behold our Savior kneeling in the agony of the Gethsemane ordeal, His faltering lips pleading for deliverance, if it were the Father’s will, from the bitter cup with its dregs of death; as we see Him despised and rejected, dragged from one snarling high priest to another, and witness the brutal malice of the soldiers who clothed the Holy Innocent of God in the purple of mock royalty and pressed a crown of long, sharp thorns into His brow; as we stand beneath the cross and are struck with the spectacle of depraved men taking the life of Him whose heart of love was filled with grace immeasurable even toward His murderers, we behold earth’s most momentous truth, the everlasting verity of all ages, which tells us that “He died for all,” that God “made Him to be sin far us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
Not only does the Spirit lead us to repentance and to faith, but His renewing and sanctifying energy translates that faith into a Christian life, regenerates our narrow, selfish hearts, brightens our darkened, self-seeking lives, and enables us to approach more closely the ideals of brotherly love, self-sacrifice, and cooperative efforts which the nation needs in these crisis years. Under the guidance of that Spirit we can have the “peace which passeth all understanding,” the joy that knows no end, the conviction that, being “justified freely by His grace,” our salvation will never be torn away from us. And the nation itself will be strengthened for this crisis and receive the promise of new blessings.
This afternoon, then, the Spirit has appealed to your hearts, asking you to adopt as an expression of your high Christian resolve the declaration of our text: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” which is sealed as a divine, infallible, unchanging promise by the words “saith the Lord of hosts.” While the siren voices of the world surrounding you would close your ears to the Lenten appeal of the Spirit, lead you to deny your Lord, or, if you have never acknowledged Him, to continue in sin, the Spirit’s summons that you have heard, in the name and by the pledge of the almighty Lord of hosts, asks that for our own salvation and for the moral and spiritual growth and the reconstruction of our beloved nation we beseech God here and now for the guiding presence of the Spirit, so that we may be strengthened to love Christ and to live Christ; to believe Christ and to preach Christ; to grow with Christ and to die with Christ; always and forever to keep Christ first, last, and uppermost.
Our perpetual prayer for the indwelling of the Spirit must be the words of the beloved Pentecost hymn:—
Holy Ghost, with light divine
Shine upon this heart of mine;
Chase the shades of night away,
Turn the darkness into day.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.