Date: November 17, 1935
Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. – Psalm 127:1
Most gracious Father, God of Love: We thank Thee for the blessings of the Christian home, for the love that binds husband to wife and parents to children. In the name of Jesus, who left the radiance of His majesty and returned to prepare our place in Thy heavenly mansions, we ask Thee to blot out the many sins that produce sorrow in our homes and suffering in the hearts and lives of our families. Especially do we entreat Thee to be with those who have no home, even as He, the Son of Man, had not where to lay His head. Comfort the suffering and forsaken, the destitute and heavy-laden, with the assurance of the Savior’s forgiving, strengthening love. May Thy Spirit enlighten their souls, so that, trusting in the precious blood of Jesus, they, too, may understand in full faith how all things, even the deepest tragedies of life, work together for their own good. Bless us, our homes, our schools, our nation, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
THE destiny of America is molded, under God, in its homes. No human institutions or inventions, not all the laws of our legislatures, all the devices of our scientists, all the dreams of our theorists combined, can direct the ultimate course of our nation toward happiness or misery to the extent that American family life is even now shaping our future. With all the emphasis—and much of it necessary—that our distracted day has placed on pork and cotton, trade and commerce, armies and navies, Supreme Court decisions and social legislation, this fundamental truth of history remains uncontested: national prosperity or national decay is decreed not at diplomatic round tables, Congressional halls, scientific laboratories, but at the family hearth. Financial balance may be restored after nation-wide bankruptcy; tranquility may reign after revolution; the bleeding wounds of defeat may be staunched, and the yoke of a hundred burdens that hang heavily on a nation’s neck may be broken; but no country can survive the collapse of morality and the rise of godlessness in its homes.
If, then, we continue to build homes with loose family morality and nonchalant ideas concerning the marriage ties, as this unruffled disregard of God’s holy will is featured in many of our motion-pictures (and 77,000,000 Americans pay to see these every week) ; if free love and a host of unspeakable perversions are championed in gangrenous fiction (and your children can often secure this printed virus now for a cent a day—the cheapest means of moral suicide ever known) ; if myriads of American youth continue to see the standards of the jungle paraded with the lust and liquor of night clubs and road-houses (and these breeding-places of vice are springing up almost overnight as quickly as poisonous toadstools), just so long we must look to the future with unsuppressed concern.
Even men of the world, unmoved by the Christian code of purity and decency, are feverishly striving for a corrective remedy. They know that only too frequently the malady of our American home-life has taken a turn for the worse in spite of the corps of domestic specialists who seek to diagnose and cure. The physicians, psychologists, psychoanalysts, sociologists, and biologists who have been drawn into hurried consultation have effected no definite improvement. Their efforts, as beneficial as many are in a secondary way, cannot meet this emergency; for the verdict of divine wisdom, in the opening verse of the 127th Psalm, declares: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it,” and by the direct inference of this inspired statement I tell you today that we must
BUILD THE HOME WITH GOD
with His Word as the building specification and our faith in Christ as the building power.
GOD’S WORD THE BUILDING GUIDE
First of all, our age must be taught from the Scriptures, the divine building plan, that the family is a holy institution. Established by God Himself, marriage, parenthood, the home, are not refinements of beast impulses or higher evolutions from ape standards. The home is from God, who, when human society began, said: “It is not good that the man should be alone,” and blessed the first parents with His rich benediction. Family-life should be reverently esteemed as one of the greatest divine bestowals, which indeed all human experience shows it to be. If you have within your home any cheap magazines that hurl the barbs of sarcasm against marriage or that feature sensual stories and improper pictures, treat them as you would a poisonous viper. Destroy them! Cancel your subscription!—and receive for that courage the blessing of God.
The second divine specification requires that the Christian home be built on the noblest of all human emotions, mutual self-sacrificing love. Rising over the ruins of sin and selfishness, God’s eternal Word appeals: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it,” asking that self-denying, all-pervading love which continually strives and prays for mutual happiness and understanding and which, if necessary, sacrifices itself for the family, even as Christ gave Himself as the ransom for all sin. This love may be lampooned as out of date by university lecturers, who reduce affection to biological terms; but any home that, disregarding God’s Word, builds only on the physical builds on sand. Beauty fades, and bank reserves may vanish in a twinkling; and unless there abides in a home a deepening loyalty of mutual devotion, its happiness may be blown away by the first gust of chilling adversity.
In the house that God builds this love is permanent. Whenever marriage is wilfully broken, there has always been a transgression of the divine Law. Some of you may think that we are hopelessly antiquated in raising our voice against divorce; but when the Church insists that husband and wife are to be companions “for better or for worse” and until death do them part, it voices the demand of God Himself, who in the beginning ordained that husband and wife should “cleave” together in lifelong devotion. You may tell me that the laws of our forty-eight States theoretically permit divorce for fourteen different reasons and actually for many more alleged causes, but I will say—conscious of the full meaning of the indictment—that this unholy debauch is an insult to God, a ruthless setting aside of His will. He concedes divorce only because of adultery and acknowledges it in the instance of malicious desertion. The cause for one of the pernicious diseases that sap the moral strength of the nation is found in the fact that for every hundred American marriages there are about fourteen divorces. In Labrador native families, existing under primitive and discouraging hardships, stick together with impressive loyalty; in the United States, with the most attractive and efficient homes that history has known, families are split as a consequence of selfish whims. Our courts permit collusion; our State Legislatures run neck-to-neck races in the attempt to make divorce easier and quicker. If the divorce rate established by this generation continues, the next generation will find half of its homes disrupted. But before that orgy of legalized lust can have run its full course, the glory of this nation will have departed.
When God builds a home, He normally endows it with happy, healthy children. With the exception of the Hannahs and Sarahs, whose empty arms and hungry hearts were long denied the joy of caressing their own babes, God has promised children as His “heritage.” So holy is parenthood, so blessed is childhood, that the first recorded words addressed by God to the human race are the divine command “Be fruitful and multiply.” Yet as though there were no God in the high heavens, American families in increasing numbers are refusing to accept the blessings and responsibilities of parenthood. Of a hundred typical families in our country today about thirty-five are childless. Formidable organizations, well financed, supported by outstanding preachers, and officially condoned by great church-bodies,—and may God open their eyes to see this emphasized iniquity!—are besieging every Congress in Washington to legalize race suicide. They could spare themselves this effort; for our children—against the letter and the spirit of the law of the land—can only too easily learn the full, sordid details of birth control. Besides, as population experts have repeatedly told us, it will be only a few years before birth control will have helped to produce a stationary population with as many deaths as births, besides all the attendant economic problems, the physical penalties, the aid to youthful immorality, the stimulus to divorce, that this wilful limitation of offspring always involves. Only God knows what unspeakable tragedy, what loss of self-respect, unnumbered homes in our nation experience when Christ, with His divine love for children, appeals: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me,” and selfish parents disdainfully refuse parenthood.
When, by the love of God, the family has been blessed with little ones, divine wisdom calls for prayerful interest in their mental, physical, and spiritual development. Our conceited age may smile indulgently at fathers and mothers who are so preoccupied by the exacting demands of their social calendar or so indifferent that they have no companionship with their children, no sympathy or understanding for the joys and problems of their sons and daughters. Never before have so many thousands of our boys—and in some cases girls—joined the bands of transients roving restlessly across the country; never before have our high-school pupils and our college students been permitted to live their lives so completely apart from parental love and home influences; and never before have so many fathers and mothers wept bitter tears over the tragedy of an ungrateful son or an unappreciative daughter, tears that in many cases might have been spared if, reading God’s code of family instruction, parents had stopped to ponder on the full meaning of this charge: “Bring them up [the children] in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Children, too, must hear the sacred appeal: “Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” The one commandment of the ten which has the promise of lifelong blessing shows its power in thousands of lives and in the proverbial truth: Parental blessing builds the children’s homes, while parental curse tears them down.
CHRISTIAN FAITH THE BUILDING POWER.
Now, our heavenly Father not only tells us how the happy home is to be built, but He also endows us with the help and strength required to follow His directions. The Church still believes in “Home, Sweet Home,” but it insists that a spiritual basis is essential. Far more than intricate studies in heredity and environment, domestic architecture and family management, we need a revival of family piety, home honesty, and marital morality. Instead of applied sociology we need applied Christianity.
It follows, then, that the supreme need of every permanently happy dwelling is Christ, the same crucified Savior of all men whom each of these Sunday broadcasts exalts as the only Hope of the race: the merciful Christ to forgive freely the sins of selfishness, of envy and jealousy, the bickerings and quarrels that continue to find tragic expression even in Christian lives; the sustaining Christ to speak the words of His comfort in the days of heavy doubt and harsh problems, when money difficulties overshadow the home, when sickness, unemployment, accumulated sorrows, and even bereavement bring the weight of human woes to the breaking point. But Christ does more than forgive sins, heal broken hearts, and solve our personal perplexities. His Spirit endows us with the power required to build a Christian home in these days of doubt and distrust. “If any man be in Christ,” the apostle says, “he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
Wherever Christ knocks at the door of any home and it is opened unto Him, the renewing and sanctifying power of His Spirit becomes evident. In the days of the early Church, when under heathen brutality new-born children were exposed or cast into the Tiber, when unspeakable lusts and bestial perversions had sway, the message of the Cross brought men and women in penitence before the Savior and created a new heart and a right spirit within them, so that even the calloused pagan world paused in involuntary admiration to exclaim, “What women these Christians have!”—to acknowledge that the followers of the despised Galilean loved their children instead of exposing them, cherished their wives rather than exchange them.
Today, too, Christian faith gives us the power required to build our homes according to God’s plan. It does not matter how large or how small the home may be, how modern and efficient or how awkward and antiquated, if each member of that household, grasping the Cross of the Savior with an unrelenting grip, resolves with Joshua of old: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” that home will be hallowed by a radiance of Christ’s abiding promise, which makes it a truly sacred spot. There the Christian husband, as the head of the family, will realize that, whether his children are saved or lost forever, whether they grow up into useful manhood and womanhood, ready to serve both God and their fellow-men, or whether they swell the ranks of the morally delinquent and the penal population, largely depends upon whether or not he truly loves them and therefore daily directs them to their Savior and the Word of His grace. In that home the Christian wife will not chase phantom rainbows into elusive happiness, as many deluded women do today, when without necessity they forsake the hearthstone and enter the arena of cold, competitive business or follow other questionable paths of our twentieth-century feminism. Within these walls, children who have been brought to Christ in Baptism will look to that Savior who in His childhood “went down with them [His parents] and came to Nazareth and was subject unto them” and who in His dying hour, forgetting for a moment His own agony, sought to provide for the happiness and support of His mother.
What, then, do we say in pointed application as we offer this Christ to the homes of the nation? Addressing the married couples who have never accepted Christ as their Savior and who, as many of our letters reveal, are often living together in bitter, heart-breaking strife, husbands who tyrannize their wives and wives who are unfaithful to their husbands, the Church says in plain and unmistakable words: Realize that you are loading yourselves down with iniquity that will blast away every hope of happiness—and repent! Do not think lightly of these sins; for the commandment which most clearly shows that God is not mocked is the decree which deals with the purity and sincerity of your devotion to your home. May there well up in your hearts a deep and genuine contrition and a victorious conviction that the Christ who once refused to cast a stone and who pronounced the verdict “Thy sins be forgiven thee” stands poised before you in this moment with His hands raised in benediction, ready to pronounce the peace of pardon on your contrite soul. As you hear Him say, “Come unto Me,” may you who have never known Him before and you who have left the Church in the futile hope of living without a God, answer, “O Lord, I come, I come!”
To you in Christian families who do not find happiness let me say in question, Have you truly made Christ all in all in your homes? Before you answer, let me ask you whether you have joint prayers and Bible-reading, whether the family altar with its unnumbered blessings has been established in your household. If every home were prayer-loving, Scripture-searching, Church-supporting; if in a very real sense Christ were the Head of the house and His presence were invoked both morning, evening, and at every meal, a new day of happiness for American families would be ushered in, and a truly new era would be inaugurated for the nation. Take time, then, the Church pleads, for Him who had a lifetime for us!
You young men and young women who are eagerly planning happy marriages, resolve that, God helping you, the Crucified will be welcomed and adored in the sanctuary of your hearts and homes. You, the homeless, the widows and orphans, who lead solitary lives, find strength and love and courage in the unfailing companionship of the Savior. As you see the pretentious homes of the wealthy and return to your meagerly furnished rooms, find strength in the faith that Christ and His joy can make the smallest space a foregleam of the heavenly glory and reign triumphant over poverty, loneliness, and heartache. Look upward and onward to the immeasurable happiness of the home above, where by the blood-sealed promises of Christ “the whole family in heaven” may meet in never-ending joy.
Oh, then, what raptured greetings
On Canaan’s happy shore;
What knitting severed friendships up
Where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle
That brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer fatherless
Nor widows desolate.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.