Date: March 17, 1935
There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand. – Proverbs 19:21
AMERICA is hope-hungry. Millions, shaken by the heartquakes of despondency, have stood by helplessly as one after the other of their cherished hopes has collapsed. Millions are still dragging themselves through a wearisome wilderness, following the will-o’-the-wisp of politicians’ promises, pursuing fantastic rainbows that dissolve into impenetrable fog, chasing the mirages conjured up by scheming agitators and ignorant demagogs, only to find that these elusive shadows always vanish into thinnest air.
So deep-seated and ingrained is this yearning for permanent and abiding surety that any promise of personal security and stability, no matter how impossible it may be, never needs to seek far afield for enthusiastic support. Let any self-styled benefactor of the race advance the most irrational program; as long as he claims to provide a permanent anchorage amid life’s shifting tides, millions will immediately shout unqualified approval. Let fortune-tellers, astrologers, or spiritist mediums boast that they can offer a fast and firm solution to the problems of life by unveiling the future, charting human destinies in the sky, or invoking the counsel of the dead, and eager, expectant multitudes will clamor for appointments. Let rank impostors, male or female, don clerical robes and begin to preach a creed founded on fraud and forgery, bolstered up with bold denials of our Savior’s Gospel, and no matter how grotesque their new religions may be, however absurd their claims to cure cancer and consumption, however ill conceived and unwarranted their intrusion into political affairs; as long as they offer any pledge of hope and permanency, multitudes will reach down deep in their pockets for the funds required to erect massive temples of deceit. So intense, so insistent, is the cry for something fast and firm, for an unshakable and immovable foundation upon which the security of happiness here and hereafter may be built!
Would to God that in this crisis the hearts and minds of men could be opened to the glorious conviction that there is an unfailing and unchanging counsel for every human problem! Would to God that all men could find what I now offer you:—
THE IMMOVABLE HOPE
recorded in these inspired words of the Old Testament sage: “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”
HUMAN DEVICES ARE DESTINED TO FAILURE
I need not stop to convince you of this first truth of our text, that there are many devices in the human heart today. For men have never been so resourceful and versatile in formulating and promoting human projects and proposals. Indeed, if our national prosperity and happiness could be regained by our own initiative and ingenuity; if we could build our hopes according to specifications of human architects, the harrowing sorrows that have swept through the nation would have been checked long ago, and we would now bask securely in a real paradise.
After half a decade of crucial experiences has come the conviction that, when men disregard God and callously formulate their plans as though there were no Director of human destinies in the high heavens, the choicest and most elaborate counsels are often short-lived and destined to abrupt and disheartening failure. Go back with me through the long catalog of innovations that have sprung up within our country during the last decade. How many of the fervently acclaimed proposals for relief and employment are operated today in their original forms? How many of the widely heralded propositions for financial and commercial improvement have remained uncontested and intact? By the token of these past experiences we wonder disconsolately what permanent pledge we can find in the best of our present-day proposals.
We have learned how vain and fleeting are those glittering plans that seek security before the grinning idol of wealth. The $79,000,000,000 in security values that passed out of existence almost in a single day; the 1929 millionaires who are 1935 paupers; the breakdown of our financial and industrial system that too frequently has robbed the American worker of whatever investment or reserve he may have had and reduced his opportunity for earning even a modest livelihood,—these everyday tragedies demonstrate to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the truth of the Scriptural warning: “Riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle.” The dirge of past failure has shown us that there can be no permanent reliance upon human treasuries and monetary plans; that we cannot discover a money formula to banish distress and solve problems overnight that have been years in the making.
We have also lost our confidence in the abiding truth of our technical advisers. With bitter irony we now read the predictions that were uttered,—not by dabbling amateurs, but by leaders in governmental offices, mentors of the nation’s industrial and commercial activities, who soothingly promised that happy, prosperous days would be here two, three, four years ago, but whose sugar-sweet auguries have turned to bitter gall. As we survey the charts and graphs that today would lead prosperity around its elusive corner, must we not pause and wonder if all this is not as futile and fallacious as the past errors of our experts?
Now, it is depressing enough to find in all these calculable issues of business and finance, as in many other branches of human thought and endeavor, a long procession of devices that are here today and gone tomorrow. But it is doubly disheartening to realize that our modem theology offers only hazy codes of conduct and a vague system of generalities that may be revised every hour and revamped every day. As soon as any church or any preacher or any religious teacher—and I do not care how brilliant their intellectual endowments may be, how lavish their financial support, how persuasive their presentations—forsakes the faith of the fathers and champions a religion that people like to hear, because it slides over sin and puts a theological veneer over the sordid passions of men; just as soon as the devices of men amend and nullify the eternal counsels of God, we witness the deplorable spectacle that so unfortunately and unfairly helps to bring the Church into disrepute: these ever-changing, sensation-craving pulpiteers, who turn their sanctuaries into theaters where barefooted ballet-dancers gyrate in the name of Christ’s holy religion; the pulpit performers, who preach sermons on the characters of our comic strips or who break into first-page publicity by telling American parents that they should not permit their children to pray at bedtime lest these evening prayers provoke dark, apprehensive thoughts or even nightmares.
These devices of the weather-vane pulpit are as froth that is blown away with every change of the wind; and these chameleonlike preachers, who can change their color to match every shade of popular favor, only lead men more deeply into sloughs of despair. A high priest of Modernism is honest enough to make this significant confession, which I quote verbatim: “You see, we Modernists pare down and dim our faith by negative abstractions until we have left only the ghastly remainder of what was once a great religion. Then seeing how few our positive convictions are and how little they matter, we end in a mush of general concession.” He admits: “In comparison with the hard-headed candor and fearlessness with which the old theology faced the terrific facts of this world our Modernism often seems soft and lush and sentimental. We fairweather Modernists, with our too easy Gospel, would rather salute these old Christians. They did not blink at facts; instead, they achieved a faith able to rise above the facts and carry off a spiritual victory in the face of them, and at their best, in the darkest hours that ever fell on human history, they stood like houses built on rock.”
If only the same candor and honesty were shown by those clerics who, instead of focusing their entire attention upon the sacred promises of the Gospel, despise their holy calling and, instead of distributing to famished souls the living water and the Bread of Life, come with the stagnant water and the moldy morsels of elusive theories and private, ill-founded opinions, all of which will not last long enough to be remembered! You can make this test for yourselves. Today I ask you to record this prediction (which requires no prophetic foresight, but which comes as a direct conclusion from common sense, past experience, and the holy Word of God) : Within a few short years every one of these fervently advocated proposals, which disregard the demands of God and substitute human devices for the eternal counsels, will be doomed to failure and to oblivion. Within a single year much of the present shouting and the tumult will have died in its own failure; or if it has been perpetuated by a fanatical appeal to irresponsible masses, it will only have added confusion to confusion; the one evil which it had sought to banish will have returned with seven others for far deadlier destruction.
GOD’S COUNSELS STAND FOREVER
How timely and reassuring, then, to know in the words of our text that, though “there are many devices in a man’s heart,” it is only “the counsel of the Lord that shall stand.” If with all your heart you can turn to Him who is “the same yesterday and today and forever,” the changeless Christ of this changing world; if with repentant, believing souls you heed the Lenten call and follow your suffering Savior along the pathway of His sorrows to the sanctuary of all ages, to Calvary, where He, as both High Priest and sacrificial Lamb, offered His own holy body as the atonement for all human sin, you have made a holy pilgrimage to Heaven’s unchanging truth. Human ordinances may be changed; the American Constitution may be amended; governmental promises may be suspended, as the recent repudiation of gold payments has demonstrated; but of God’s Word and of His divine counsel we read: “Forever, O Lord, Thy Word is settled in heaven.” Jesus pledges: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Enraptured Isaiah prophesies: “The Word of our God shall stand forever.” Inspired Peter reechoes this promise: “The Word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the Word by which the Gospel is preached unto you.”
Sometimes, it may seem, the counsel of the Lord does not stand, as our text promises. On all sides our Savior is assailed by bitter, cut-throat attacks. The Modernist denies His deity. The Communist attacks His sacred ordinances. The libertine assails His morality. The campus infidel ridicules His atonement. The atheist denies His existence. And as their hymns of hatred chant, “Away with Him! Away with His Bible! Away with His Church!” we may wonder whether our faith must surrender to the growing hatred of organized hostility. We may ask why God does not answer with the rumbling thunder of His wrath the furious sarcasm heaped upon “the bleeding Head and wounded,” why the jagged thrusts of His vindictive lightning do not strike down the clenched fists that are raised against Him. God may delay in establishing His counsels. He may postpone. He may appear to suffer the taunting rebukes that men hurl against Him. But the divine will for us and for our Church must prevail in the face of unbelief’s mobilized battalions. “The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand,” finally, universally, perpetually.
In this age of broken promises, crushed hopes, misplaced confidences, thwarted ambitions, surrounded as we are by the frauds and falsehoods with which men have deceived their fellow-men, I ask you to accept the unchanging counsel of God for your salvation. The Christ whom these radio services would bring into your homes and into your hearts is not a fluctuating, changing figure, who needs a new interpretation with each age; not an elusive, shadowlike concept that must be rediscovered and continually altered. He is rather the almighty God, who cannot change, who from eternity to eternity is, was, and always will be the unalterable Christ.
The creed and counsel of this Christ, the faith that I ask you to accept, if you have not yet accepted it, the grace in which you must grow daily if you have come to Christ, are not based on any evolution of religious ideas; they are rather the everlasting mercies of God, renewed unto every one of us every morning of our lives, which offer the blessed merits of Christ’s suffering and death by mercy, not by merit; by faith, not by deeds. Just as Abraham in the patriarchal days believed in the Lord “and He counted it to him for righteousness,” so today, in our modern advance, the same message appeals to our hearts: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house.”
The blessings of this Christ, to whom these radio messages are dedicated, are not subject to change and alteration. Every prophecy of His grace in the Old Testament, every pledge of His mercy in the New Testament, every evidence of His love in the entire history of His Church, holds with undiminished force and with unweakened power for this age and for every subsequent age, as long as the sands of time trickle through humanity’s hour-glass. No one has ever made a mistake by trusting in these gracious pledges of God’s mercy, and those who have taken God at His word know the power of His permanence and His perpetual love.
My appeal to you this afternoon is pointed and direct. If, as many of you know and believe, this Bible of ours is God’s Word with its unchangeable counsels of eternity; if, as the pages of history demonstrate and all human experience corroborates, the divine counsels stand where human foibles and frailties fall, will you not resolve with me today to accept more fully the counsel of God in the direction of your own life? Will you not in the spirit of this solemn Lenten season declare that, God helping you, His Word will be a stronger and more decisive force in your heart and in your home, in your thoughts and in your words? Will you not give God a greater opportunity for showing the immovable power of His grace by strengthening your souls through daily reading of the Scriptures, by establishing the family altar in your home, and by supporting the work of the Church as it proclaims the Gospel?
Your individual welfare, the happiness of your home, the future of your country, depend upon the answer which you and your fellow-countrymen will give to this question. God grant that we may look with faith-filled eyes to the everlasting verities of the Cross and Christ’s open grave and, rising over doubt, fear, and selfishness, cry out: “The counsel of the Lord shall stand!” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.