Date: February 23, 1936
Fight the good fight of faith. – 1 Timothy 6:12
Shepherd of the Church’s youth: We thank Thee that Thou hast preserved for us the dew of Thy youth and hast blessed young lives with the bright, sparkling, lifesustaining faith in Thy forgiving mercies and Thy renewing strength. Watch Over these young people amid the avalanche of temptations that rush down upon them. Send Thy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, so that they may be fortified in faith, advanced in Christian knowledge, steeled for the assaults of life, refined by the fires of trial and affliction. Check the satanic schemes of those who would overthrow the ordinances of Thy Word and its divine truth and morality. And as youth faces the world of sin and its heritage of accumulated problems, be Thou with them and lead them, as this week Thou mayest lead all contrite and repentant, to the Christ of Calvary, who shed His holy, precious blood, to cleanse every one of us, to make us His own, and to bring us into His endless kingdom of life, peace, love, and happiness. For these gracious gifts we beseech Thee with confidence, since we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
AMID the many tributes that are being paid to the memory of the Father of our Country, one of Washington’s greatest distinctions is usually disregarded. I refer to his open and avowed faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior, a loyalty repeatedly expressed during his young manhood. Long before he had attained to any degree of preeminence, before he had reached his twenty-first birthday, he copied into his manuscript book with painstaking care a series of prayers that were to guide his life. When we read this youthful plea:—
“Mark not, I beseech Thee, O Lord, what I have done amiss. Remember that I am but dust and remit my transgressions, negligencies, and ignorances and cover them all with the absolute obedience of Thy Son; . . . guide us this day and forever for His sake who lay down in the grave and rose again for us, Jesus Christ, our Lord”; when we hear these Christ-centered petitions, we discover the true key to his greatness. Others may exalt Washington as the soldier, the general, the executive, the statesman; but let us this afternoon pause before the picture of the young Virginian laying the foundation for his future greatness on his confident faith in the Cross of Christ.
For is it not this prayerful trust in a merciful Savior that the nation and its youth, the trustees of America’s tomorrow, must have in our shadow-clouded day and the new age that is in the making? Probably never before, not even in the dark days of the American Revolution, have the tides of adversity swept more furiously over the youth of our country. With 20,000,000 of their fellow-countrymen fed, clothed, and housed by public relief; with Government officials openly declaring that millions of young people are doomed to a hand-to-mouth existence, the glittering dreams of many young men and women are changed into all too realistic nightmare. They face a future saddled with pyramided billions of public debt and confronted with increasingly complex problems. And as they see the foundations of morality weaken, hear the vicious spit of the machine gun that laughs justice to scorn, behold the assaults on the Christian home and the unbelief in modern churches, thoughtful young people wonder whether they are “the surplus generation,” in danger of being plowed under by adverse conditions, just as cotton and wheat acreages were destroyed in the price-stabilization program.
With selfishness, immorality, and irreligion clawing and grappling for supremacy, our young people must turn to Christ as Washington turned to his Savior. Everything else fails. Schools that train the mind, but leave the souls untouched; political programs that play the rhapsodies of prosperity with the quick abolition of poverty, the banishment of unemployment, easy money, and the luxuries of life; the explosive promises of Communism that find ready reception among the unemployed and dissatisfied,—all these are the rockets of failure that flare up for a moment’s display and then leave the heavens blacker than before.
But there is permanent help in Christ. Give to Christ America’s youth, the 40,000,000 of tomorrow’s fathers and mothers; let the sons and daughters of our American homes find in the cross and the Crucified Heaven’s forgiveness for earth’s sins, the divine answer to every human problem, and we have an unfailing pledge of God’s power for every crisis moment of life.
It is with this appeal, the plea for a
YOUTH EMBATTLED FOR CHRIST
that I come before you in the name of God. With St. Paul, who wrote to young Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith,” 1 Tim. 6, 12, I ask the rising generation in our land for a militant loyalty to Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Savior of the race.
CHRIST’S YOUTH ARRAYED AGAINST POWERFUL FORCES
This first word, “fight,” shows that there is no pacifism in Christ’s creed, no shaking hands with sin, no making covenants with iniquity. It was the Savior Himself who, as He viewed the endless battle between right and wrong, cried out: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Let any young man or young woman come to Christ in answer to the Lenten appeal that the Church issues this week: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem”; let them trace the heavy footprints on the pathway of the Savior’s suffering until they come to Calvary; there let them focus every power of body, mind, and heart upon the heights of God’s sindestroying love and on the depths of the Savior’s sacrifice as He offers Himself for our release from sin; let them in the laboratory of their own inner life discover the sins that nailed Christ to the accursed tree; and as the presence of the Savior lingers in their lives, as the power of His blood cleanses their hearts and minds, and as the imprint of His cross is pressed upon their lives, the fervor of their faith will tell them that without fear or favor, in season and out of season, always and everywhere, they must fight “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” that encircle them on every side.
Has any generation ever been drawn into conflict with as many and as powerful antimoral and antichristian forces as the young people of our day? Survey, if you will, the far-flung attack upon the citadels of youthful purity, and you will find printing-presses drafted into the service of hell, placing into the hands of adolescent America the vilest books, magazines, and pamphlets that the most degenerate minds of this age and the debauched centuries of past history have produced. Again, the nation’s youth, affronted day after day with towering and attractive displays of liquor, moves in a world in which intoxicants are dispensed with freedom and applause.
You will see, as you analyze the forces opposing youth, those strongholds of commercialized entertainment, the roadhouses and the public dance-halls, robbing young people of their purity and their virtue; of the sensual stage, the destructive motion-picture, and their seductive portrayal of the forbidden path; the free and easy spirit of our day, the I-don’t-care attitude, which laughs at chastity and ridicules the clean-minded truths of Christ’s teaching.
In all these assaults Christ commands: “Fight!” Fight the filth of printed poison! Fight the treacheries of intemperance that break homes and turn men and women into drunken beasts. Because the happiness of any young person, the blessing of any family, and the progress of any nation depend, under God, upon Christian morality and purity, the battle-cry of the Church to its youth repeats this pointed appeal: “Keep thyself pure!” Break off any dangerous friendships! Resist the very beginnings of temptation! “Flee youthful lusts!” Remember that in the sight of God the transgressions of the commandment of purity are labeled by their right names as damning, souldestroying sins; that the violation of this ordinance is penalized by appalling punishments; that of all vices impurity is the quickest to choke off the love of God and to stifle the voice of conscience. And as you hear the plain pronouncement of God’s infallible Word: “They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven,” resolve to fight a continued, unsparing, relentless battle against the lust that works day and night in the unholy attempt to tear you away from God.
Youth must battle not only for itself; it must fight for Christ and His kingdom. Do you not know that more than a billion immortal souls on this planet have never heard one word of this glorious Gospel promise: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”? Do you know that sixty million people within the borders of this country have never acknowledged Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin and death? Do you know that in a large city like Chicago more than a million and a half of our fellow-men have never gone to Calvary to find peace and pardon for their souls? What a privilege for Christian youth to strengthen anemic churches by a transfusion of healthy, youthful blood! What a challenge for eager, hopeful young people to offer their talents, their gifts, their time, their testimony, for the Savior and the winning of blood-bought souls!
“Fight the GOOD fight,” our text appeals, and nothing less than the strongest, bravest battle we are able to wage for Christ will meet the problems and the opportunities of this hour. If the first of all the commandments demands: “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might,” let there be nothing of veneered dishonesty in our loyalty to the Cross. Just as one of David’s warriors could not release his hand from his sword’s hilt after a bloody day’s battle against the Philistines, so our hands should be perpetually locked about the sword of God’s Word. It is not enough that we belong to the Christian Church; not enough that we draw nigh unto God with our mouths and honor Him with our lips; not enough that we cry, “Lord, Lord”; there must be a soul-deep sincerity, a spirit-filled earnestness.
That good fight should be the battle of youth, not only of old age, when, softened by hard experiences, aged and world-weary souls turn to Heaven for guidance on the short paths of their remaining years. Christ wants the fresh bloom of youth, and the Church needs its hope, optimism, and courage. A disgruntled world needs young champions of Christ like Gustavus Adolphus, who was hardly twentyone years old when he began his military career that was to make Europe safe for the Cross of Christ; like the Great Reformer, who in his early thirties undertook the restoration of the New Testament Church; and like other youthful conquerors for Christ. The Savior Himself completed the redemption of the world before He was thirtyfour years old, and as He walked the roads of Palestine, He was followed by twelve young men who were to help win the world for Him. Young Timothy is encouraged: “Let no man despise thy youth,” and so, in the name of our Lord, I ask you: with unstudied bravery, with unflagging zeal for Christ, your fellow-men, and your own better selves, “fight the good fight.”
CHRIST’S YOUTH STRENGTHENED FOR VICTORY
But how can we fight this good fight when temptations surround us and passions surge within us? This is the question asked repeatedly by young men and young women who want to rise to the heights of a clean, achieving career. It is the query voiced in many letters from disturbed young hearts that want to live farther from sin and closer to God. It is one of the most frequent and insistent questions of youth.
As every other problem, so also this question is answered by the wisdom and power of God’s own Word; for no human process can successfully counteract the force of sin in our lives. It has been shown that a dozen evil thoughts are able to present themselves to the human mind in more than 479,000,000 combinations and changes. To combat this bewildering attack, there must be a superhuman energy; and that, thank God, is given us in our Christian faith. “Fight the good fight of FAITH,” the command of God directs us. And when we turn to the glory and strength of our creed and ask what Christ offers the youth of America for a better and nobler life, we learn as we penitently turn to the Cross that Jesus begins His purifying work in us first of all by removing the guilt and stain of our lives with the benediction “Thy sins are forgiven.” To seal that promise with everlasting validity, our Savior died on the cross. In the most exalted love which Heaven could bestow that death answers our appeal for forgiveness by granting us pardon fully and freely, without any merit or worthiness on our part, and without aid or cooperation from human agencies, solely by the Savior’s eternal mercies. More positive in its power than thousands of the accepted truths of science, more convincing than the facts of history, is this fundamental promise to all the contrite: “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”
The Savior’s love does more than remove sins. Faith in His forgiving mercies grants power for the attainment of a cleaner, finer life, which, while it never reaches perfection, ever strives to follow more closely in His footsteps. If, as these words speed out into the homes of the nation, they come into the hearts of young men and young women who have never accepted the free mercy of Christ, may you pause at this very moment, gaze upon the Savior’s cross as you pray: “If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean,” and then rise with the assurance that Christ is not only able to forgive iniquity, but that He also has the power to create and strengthen purity and chastity.
When inquiring voices are raised pleading, as did certain Greeks in the days of our Lord, “We would see Jesus,” and find in Him strength for purity, we direct them to “the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up,” to the Bible. For when the psalmist asks this age-old question: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” he answers concisely: “By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.” We read of shipwrecked passengers who drown though life-belts are attached to their bodies; of airplane pilots who crash to terrifying destruction with the ripcord of their unopened parachutes clutched in their fear-frozen grip; of derelicts who die of thirst and starvation only a few feet from stores of nourishment and strength. But these pictures of disaster with help within close reach are not as tragic as the frequent surrender to impurity and sin while the sustaining Word, the Bible, remains neglected.
The Church’s counsel to all young people who search for purity is the direction which the Scriptures themselves offer: Take your Bible! Read it daily! Read it with reverence! Read it with a prayer for enlightenment and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in your souls! Read it attentively, remembering that every syllable has been spoken by your Father’s heart of mercy and written in letters of everlasting love for your increase in purity and holiness.
Our Christian faith also offers us the resources of Heaven stored in the reservoirs of fervent prayer. “If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it,” the Savior solemnly covenants, and these promises include especially those petitions that ask for the pure, Christ-centered life. Let us “fight the good fight” by prayer. Let our thoughts during each busy day repeatedly fly heavenward. Particularly for our wrestling with the treacherous forces of our baser selves and of an alluring world let our prayer be the echo of those heroic petitions which we find in the lives of God’s greatest men, the victorious pleadings which push their way to the Throne of Mercy, there to receive divine answer and blessing.
When we fight that good fight of faith, reinforced by the Word, supported by prayer, and guided by the unfailing companionship of our blessed Savior, life will assume a new and holy meaning for every one of us. We shall be able to meet hostilities and tragedies and failures with the unswerving confidence that we are “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” We shall be happy, as soldiers of Christ, to fight for the Captain of our salvation, to work for the growth of His kingdom, to labor that souls may be brought to Him in ever-increasing numbers, to serve and to sacrifice, so that new triumphs may be recorded for the Cross, new moral strength bestowed upon our nation and its leaders, a deeper spiritual power built into the walls of our American homes, a holier vision granted to young and old, through Christ and for Christ, to whom “be honor and glory forever and ever!” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.