Date: April 28, 1935
It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law. – Psalm 119:126
ON March 5, 1917, the American ambassador to the Court of St. James, hailed as one of America’s most distinguished diplomats, sent a cablegram to the President of the United States pleading for the entrance of this country into the World War. In this communication, which has now been printed in the official documents of our country, he repeatedly appeals for war, chiefly as a commercial and financial blessing, and declares pointedly: “The only way of maintaining our present preeminent trade position and averting a panic is by declaring war.” He proceeds to show that by making large loans the United States could promote its war trade and heap up gold reserves. And he concludes with the promise that, having entered the hostilities, “we could keep on with our trade and increase it . . . and after the war Europe would purchase food and an enormous supply of materials with which to reequip her peace industries. We should thus reap the profit of an uninterrupted and perhaps enlarging trade over a number of years.” Within a month after the receipt of this cablegram our President affixed his signature to the declaration of war; and with these selfish ambitions of a larger gold reserve, of increasing European commerce, and of expanding industry stimulated by postwar buying we sacrificed American youth at the twin altars of Mars and Mammon. Tycoons of American business, potentates of American finance, and Caesars of American politics traded in futures of bigger and better business,—and their coin was blood, and sweat, and scurvy, and starvation, and insanity, and death.
Where, we demand, are the bulging millions of promised national war profits? where that favorable balance of trade? where the postwar prosperity which we sought to purchase by the victory that cost the appalling price of 41,000,000 men, women, and children killed, 23,000,000 wounded, and besides this toll in human lives some $500,000,000,000? You know the answer: Closed banks, bankrupt business, smokeless chimneys towering over shut down factories, millions forced to exist on public grants or private charity,—all these rise up as incriminating witnesses and give the lie to the war promises that lured us with the flourish of the dollar sign.
If we now ask why the plans of statesmen miscarried and why the schemes of financiers were so ruthlessly shattered, we ought to be sufficiently intelligent to recognize the hand of divine intervention, to salvage from the debris of ruined ambitions the one truth which, if it were fully believed and universally accepted, would compensate even for the follies of the last two decades—the basic verity of all history, that, when men nullify the will and Word of God, His power intervenes to check their arrogance and His mercy to strengthen the harassed hopes of His children. Because we and our age need this warning and this strengthening, let me set forth this afternoon
THE INEVITABLE INTERVENTION OF GOD
and show why our prayer today, as in every human crisis, should be that of the psalmist in our text: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law.”
GOD’S POWER INTERVENES TO FRUSTRATE SIN
This blood-for-profit tragedy is only one trend that seeks to make void the Law of God and challenge Him to arise and execute His divine justice. Thus God has laid upon the world the commandment of purity and decency and has emphasized the sanctity of the Christian home and the blessings of the God-fearing family. But in this age of slipping standards siren voices sing lyrics of lust that decry Bible standards as outworn delusions. American sociologists, biologists, psychologists, educators, jurists, legislators, and—may God forgive this particularly heinous sin!—even the liberal pulpits of some American churches have combined to disparage the home-life of wedded happiness, the domestic ideals in the Biblical code of family felicity. They have tempted this generation with the forbidden fruit, paraded as a new morality,—as though morals could ever change!—and with the emancipation which they exalt as the new freedom. Yet when we repeat and apply the words of our text: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law,” Thine ordinance of moral decency and marital honor, we see that God has arisen and visited this age and its morbid pursuit of gratified desire with deep-rooted restlessness and domestic disillusion. Instead of the more satisfying life with which these false prophets tempt the masses, we have, as a consequence of God’s intervention, broken homes, parental neglect, increase of juvenile delinquency, marital infidelity, and in myriads of American families only a ghastly caricature of that happiness for which every normal heart yearns.
We made void another fundamental law of God by the wanton destruction of mountains of edible food. By the example of Christ Himself, who, though He could miraculously provide food, nevertheless commanded that all remaining morsels be gathered, so “that nothing be lost,” as well as by the plain injunction of the Scriptures, we know that food is not to be squandered or wilfully wasted. Yet with more hungry people in our country than ever before, we deliberately destroyed hundreds of thousands of tons of foodstuffs in the most tragic food-destruction program of all history. And because we made God’s Law void, He found that it was time for Him to work, and He did. The sand-storms that swept our country, creating new areas of an American desert, the drought of last year, the preceding floods, and the consequent scourge of vermin again reveal to us the chastising hand of God; and the caution printed on the walls of our national structure warns us that the nation which has destroyed its food may suffer, by divine retaliation, from the privations of crop failure and famine.
Again, we have set aside the Law of God in regard to brotherly love and the harmonious cooperation between producer and consumer, employer and employee. God has given to us His Golden Rule, which asks for mutual cooperative endeavor and appeals that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. But greedy men have made void this Law; instead of harmonious cooperation we have the modem robber-barons in the guise of promoters, who waylay working-men, rob them of hard-earned savings, endanger their health, and shorten their lives; gardeniagarnished capitalists, who wax wealthier as the poor, whose funds they misappropriate, grow poorer; speculators, who defiantly sneer at the Biblical estimate of the nobility of labor and operate with the basically incorrect idea of accumulating wealth without effort or contribution to human society; racketeers and agitators, who systematically sow the seeds of class hatred. These disturbing elements help to account for the tragedy that in a country sufficiently large and wealthy to support comfortably a population three times the present number, a nation whose natural resources are bountiful enough to insure happy and profitable labor for every willing worker, we have had the continual battle of capital and labor with their bloody and hate-swollen skirmishes, the collapse of our stock exchanges, the shrinkage of security value, and the sudden plunges from the pinnacles of wealth to the depth of destitution,—all this because God has arisen to vindicate His outraged justice.
Behind this disregard of God’s Law is the basic fallacy by which men seek to elevate themselves over the Almighty, to make the divine will subordinate to the human, to reduce God at best to only a passive partner in human affairs, and to entrust the direction of the world to man-made ordinances and social programs. This tendency in itself is a far-reaching indictment and incrimination. But what shall we say when we see that the Church, which should form the line of first and last defense, has surrendered its sacred responsibilities of upholding the Word and has systematically made void the ordinances of God by joining hands with political agitators in direct contradiction to its divine character? Only last week, in this city, priests, Rabbis, and ministers sat on the same platform with public officials from Washington and cried out in the words of their leader, “We are in politics now.” (Strange associates, this clerical fringe, the one confessing Christ, the other denying Him; one appearing before a legislative committee in Washington to protest against a birth-control proposal, the other enthusiastically endorsing it; the one citing words of Scripture, the other sneering at Holy Writ.)
This intrusion into politics certainly nullifies the code which God Himself has instituted for the clergy. His divine ordinances completely separate the clerical and political domains; they offer not political platforms, but this announcement of divine mercy: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” It is an old story, this picture of preachers with policemen’s clubs, of priests wielding the scepter, of churchmen grasping the governmental sword. The disregard of divine injunction has endorsed bloody butchery, restricted human development, and retarded the course of human progress. Give the bludgeoning demagoguery of these double-robed agitators, clothed in clerical cassocks and in political togas, free sway, and you will reenact on this American continent the church reign of the dark Middle Ages, the tyranny that sent Servetus to the stake at Geneva, and the blight on human happiness that has marked every attempt to nullify the Law of God.
However, this clerical interference will not be granted free course; and when we pray the prayer of our text: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law,” God will rise up to work again as He has done before when churchmen have left the ministration of men’s souls for the exercise of governmental power. He frustrated the wiles of church politicians in the days of His prophet. Four hundred years ago, in the greatest crisis then known, He broke their power. And today, too, their fusillade will fall wide of its mark.
Can you not see with me, then, that our nation needs a revival of individual trust in the wisdom and love of God together with the stern refusal to make His laws void? Will you not see with me the hand of God barricading many of the boulevards along which men march to achievement, confusing their language as He once did, when they would have raised a pretentious tower as a monument to human greatness instead of establishing the living faith as a testimony of their souls’ gratitude toward God? Will you not resolve to ask God for a heart and life, continually renewed by Christ and by His Spirit, that seeks to conform to the will and wisdom of God?
GOD’S GRACE INTERVENES TO STRENGTHEN OUR WEAKNESS
If you make this resolution in sincerity and truth, then you have the pledge of the priceless and imperishable joy of life; for when we, surrendering to the baser impulses of our human nature and to the temptations of an unclean world, make void the Law of God in our lives; when we find ourselves ensnared in the consequences of our own sins or in the unfairness and folly of some one else’s sin and can discover no avenue of escape and no hope of deliverance, then we can turn to our God in Christ and say: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work.”
No one who has ever fixed his mind’s eye upon the Cross as he has prayed this prayer has ever failed to observe the majestic arising of God and the effectual help of His omnipotence. You may be confronted by the long series of obstacles and afflictions that human iniquity can heap up when it brings mortal endurance almost to the breaking point. You may think you have reached the depths of despair only to awaken for another day that will drag you down to even lower depths. You may look back upon years of suffering and want, sickness and disappointment, and then suddenly realize that you must continue to face these sorrows for the future. Yet when you learn to “cast all your care on Him” and in Jesus’ name to beseech His divine help with the prayer: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work,” then the resources of Heaven will combine to fulfil the Savior’s promised grace: “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.”
If your heart is crushed with the weight of many sorrows, if you wander disconsolately along pathways of bereavement as did the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and meet Christ as they did (and you can still walk with your Savior in the Word and in the Sacraments, in prayer and in faith), then, when you tell God that it is time for Him to work, even the most loathsome pains and penalties of life, the most burdensome weariness, will vanish. Your cold heart will be warmed as you witness the love and the power and the glory of the resurrected Redeemer.
If sin challenges you; if the furies of an aroused conscience drive you on in restless terror; if you are distressed by the begging, teasing, coaxing temptations that would lure you into fleshly pride and spiritual cowardice; if you are dismayed by that too human, unholy nature within you which has sworn eternal hostility to the Spirit of Christ, then look not to yourself or to other human ingenuities and devices, but, trusting in the full mercies of the Savior, taking God at His own word as He promises that in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace,” with one hand on the cross and the other hand on the Bible, with eyes of faith directed to the open heavens, revealing the risen Christ sitting at the right hand of His Father, repeat this prayer: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work.” And from that hallowed throne of the heavens with its encircling host of ministering angels there will come to you this pledge: “I will work; ‘I will not leave Thee nor forsake Thee.’” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.