Date: October 25, 1936

Prayer of Gratitude for the Gospel

Most gracious God:

Oh, that we had the wisdom and purity of angels worthily to praise Thee for the grace, the power, and the blessing with which Thy Son, our Savior, cleanses, builds, and enriches those who accept His atoning love! Receive, we pray Thee, the thanks, weak and imperfect though they are, of thousands joined in this worship of that divine, all­merciful, all-sufficient Savior. And so strengthen us by Thy Spirit that amid all indifference and denial we may gladly give our hearts to Thee and loyally dedicate ourselves to the advancement of Thy kingdom. Because of our many failures to meet the high requirements of Thy holiness, our proneness to retreat when we should stand fast, we ask Thee especially to give us that courageous faith which eagerly counts all else but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Let the radiance of that Savior’s joy shine into destitute and distressed lives, so that in its heavenly light groping men and women may see Thy light and the love, the counsel, the guidance, with which Thou, Father of all mercies, dost bless all who are Thine through Christ. We ask Thee for souls that may be brought into the peace and rest and joy of Thy kingdom. Hear us and by Thy Spirit help us pluck some brand from the burning, in Jesus’ name, for His glory and honor. Amen.

Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.Romans 10:13

WHAT is it that makes Christianity Christianity? What are the distinguishing marks of Christian faith that separate it from other creeds? If on election day, when more than 40,000,000 Americans will cast their ballots, our citizenry would express itself in response to these questions, their answers would often be vague and contradictory. Too many believe that the essence of Christianity is membership in this church or that. Too many hold that the marks of the Christian religion are to be found in a program of externals that frowns on card­playing and legislates on amusements that imposes definite rules in regard to eating, drinking, fasting, and that sets up a code of conduct to regulate dress (even down to the matter of buttons). Too many have that vague and nondescript idea of Christian faith which blandly holds: “To be a Christian simply means to be good and to do good.”

People are bewildered by the conflicting policies of the churches themselves. They hear one speaker in a preaching mission confess the deity of Christ and another shrewdly ignore it. They find two leaders in the same denomination, one preaching salvation through living grace and the other salvation through graceful living. They look to Spain and see two churchmen under the same cross, one bringing the appeal of the shed Blood and the other bringing the appeal for bloodshed. They behold a group of Christian workers, some concerned about divine revelation, others dedicated to social revolution; one church-paper featuring Christ’s atonement and another man’s attainment. They meet these confusing slogans: “Deeds, not creeds!” “Aspiration, not inspiration!” “Not the living Christ, but Christ-like living!” and in this confusion they either repeat the question: “What really makes the Christian religion Christian?” or they shrug their shoulders indifferently.

I propose to answer this question today because this week brings us to the 419th anniversary of the birth of modern history and progress and to a great man of God, who with his whole heart and soul showed us the base and center and summit of true Christianity. On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian friar, Brother Martin, with swift, sure hammer-blows posted his Ninety-five Theses, or religious propositions, which embodied the declaration of spiritual independence, the constitution of Christianity, the emancipation proclamation of the soul’s liberty for hundreds of millions in all lands and in all centuries since his day. Luther’s real greatness—and I am now quoting a celebrated Roman Catholic historian, Doellinger: “Those among us who hold him in religious detestation are constrained in spite of themselves to speak with his words and to think with his thoughts”—and the deepest significance of his epoch-making reform were not an educational and intellectual revival, not his personal fearless and astonishing bravery, not his contributions to free and representative government, not his emphasis on the blessings of matrimony and the defense of the Christian home. Infinitely more exalted, as vital as these distinctions are, is the primary and basic blessing of the Reformation, Luther’s restoration of Jesus Christ as the only, but all-atoning Savior of mankind and his fervent zeal in proclaiming the distinguishing characteristic of true Christianity, the great, God-endowed doctrine of justification by faith.

With the Spirit’s help I hope to show you this

HEART OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

by pointing to the blessed promise and comfort of the full, free mercies of Christ recorded in substance three times by the Scriptures, the pledge: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!” (Romans 10, 13.)

CHRISTIANITY ALONE OFFERS THE PROMISE OF GRACE

Has it ever occurred to you that, with hundreds of religions in our country, thousands of creeds throughout the world, tens of thousands of beliefs witnessed by history, in the final analysis there have been only two fundamentally different forms of religion from the day of the fetish and the totem pole to the most modernized “ethical” worship? Here in the great heap of discarded creeds are all religions except one. On this scrap-pile of broken faiths you see the perversions which led men to worship holy cows and sacred cats; the cults that revel in obscene rites and hideous practises which only a few in my audience could even imagine and still fewer understand. Here are the widespread beliefs that practise horrible mutilation, that sway the bodies of worshipers in the air, suspended from hooks imbedded in their living, quivering flesh. Here we meet the terrors of Hinduism, which teaches its devotees to sleep on beds of sharpened spikes; to stare in the dazzling equatorial sun until their eyes rot away; to raise their arms and hold them motionless through the years until they wither in their sockets; to dig up the decomposed bodies of those who have been buried at least three months, to tear off an arm or a leg or a thigh-bone, and to feed on the vermin and the pus of decayed human flesh; the Mayan idolatry of ancient Mexico, which demanded nothing less than the beating, bleeding heart of human sacrifices; the cold brutality of the Canaanite creeds, which incited their followers to kill their own children in the cruelest of sacrifices. These are but a few of the atrocities committed in the name of religion,—all with but one purpose: the desire to secure the blessing of some imaginary outraged god or goddess, to earn the favor of an uncouth idol, to purchase the forgiveness of sins, to smooth the way into a heathen hereafter.

But you say: “The world has moved on,” and it has. Cultured men do not cast themselves beneath the Juggernaut and American widows are not burned on their husbands’ funeral pyres; yet the basic idea of earning heaven lingers in every modern, Christless creed. On this same heap of bankrupt faiths let me point out the present-day salvation-by-character religions that substitute a bank-check to some charity for the pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina; the ethical cults that try to earn recognition before God through a special philosophy of life, perpetuating in principle the practise of the heathen Confucianist, who shoots off firecrackers and burns paper money to secure the attention of his gods; the religions that deal in sacred arithmetic, computing the numbers of prayers, the total of devotional acts required to secure the forgiveness of sins, a process fundamentally not much different from the system of prayer-wheels in Tibet, rolling out an exactly calculated number of prayers each day, or of the voodoos of Haiti chanting their measured magic; in short, here are all manmade creeds in the world, which, when stripped of their pretenses, have the basic obsession: we must do something, say something, earn something, offer something, sacrifice something, buy something, if necessary steal something, to make our gods smile. We must take heaven by our own strength.

Opposed to the failure of these fear-breeding, hope­destroying creeds is the power of the one divine religion, the true Christian faith, which teaches that Christ is everything and that we are nothing; that, though we daily sin much, the Gospel speaks God’s love into our soul with the promise, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Believing that “a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law,” rejoicing that we are redeemed, not by an accumulation of our best works and most unselfish deeds, but by faith in the all-atoning, all-satisfying blood of Jesus Christ, we have the truth of our text sealed in our hearts: all that we must do to be saved is to “call upon the name of the Lord” in believing, penitent trust. Then we are saved.

Have you been blessed by this grace? Have you called upon the name of the Lord, trusting only in Jesus’ blood and righteousness, confessing:—

Nothing in my hand I bring;

Simply to Thy Cross I cling?

Have you approached the Cross, not denying your sins, not excusing them, not minimizing them, not disguising them, but confessing that they are the deep-rooted cause of the Crucifixion? And have you, calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus, cried out: “O my Savior, I know that my sins helped to nail You to this accursed tree; that I can offer nothing to earn Your mercies or secure Your pardon. I know that, if I could accumulate the priceless possessions of men, mobilize the power and energy of this age, draft the ingenuity and resources of the greatest minds, all this combined could not rid my soul of a single sin or teach me how to get right with my God. Yet, O blessed Savior, I trust in the eternal loving-kindness and the everlasting mercy which brought You to the cross for me. By the holy, precious blood that flows from these wounds, by the numberless, fathomless sorrows of the soul that bowed Your thorn-crowned head into death, I beseech You to have mercy upon me and to save me”? If you have this Heaven­born conviction, then by faith, without any contribution or cooperation, without any conditions or credentials, Christ is yours, now and forever, and He promises, “Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hands.” If you have this faith, you are a Christian. You may be Catholic or Protestant, Lutheran or Reformed; but first of all you are a Christian. If you do not have this faith, you may be nominally a Lutheran or a Baptist or a Presbyterian, a Greek Catholic or a Roman Catholic, a Methodist or a Nazarene, but you are no Christian. It does not matter who you are, how zealously you may work in your church, how painstakingly you may order your life, what self-denial you may practise; if you want to work your own way into heaven; if you want Christ to earn one half of your salvation and you the other half; if you want to pay for the free grace of God, you have missed the heart and center of true Christian faith.

The cross marks the parting of ways that separates genuine Christianity from counterfeit. With all my soul I appeal to my Christian friends throughout the land to hold fast to the true, essential Christ, since almost every major church-body in the United States today is honeycombed with denial. Because superorganizations in control of church policies feature men who are openly hostile to the Gospel; because sections of the religious press and much of the religious broadcasting are dominated by a radical, antichristian spirit, I repeat: Hold fast to the one blessed foundation of our faith! Protest against every change, every question-mark, every addition, or every deletion! And if you belong to a modernist church, where the preacher offers sermons on “Amos ‘n’ Andy” or “The Wisdom of Will Rogers,” and, neglecting Christ, slides back to the hoary delusions of salvation by morality, remember this advice: Because you cannot toy with your immortal soul nor play with your eternal destiny, do not subject yourself Sunday after Sunday to soul-destroying poison. You must “fight the good fight of faith,” and if this denial of Christ continues, you who want to believe in the divine and atoning Savior and the preachers who studiously reject Him cannot worship together. You must come out and be separate!

CHRISTIANITY ALONE OFFERS THE COMFORT OF GRACE

How many glorious blessings attach to this promise of pure grace! As the diamond sparkles whenever shaft of light strikes its polished facets, so, view the Gospel of Jesus Christ from whatever angle you will, you behold unparalleled blessings. The very first word of our text reminds us of the universal sweep, the all-enfolding grasp, of the Savior’s mercy. This “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord” knows no social distinctions, no racial barriers, no overprivileged or underprivileged. “There is no difference,” the apostle exults, and beneath the cross we can find no difference between the Gold Coast and the ghetto, sky terraces and janitors’ basements. If you exclude one single, despised, depraved soul of humanity’s two billions from the Savior’s grace, you are too narrow for Christ’s Gospel; for this “whosoever,” repeated as it is throughout the New Testament, is the seal and assurance of God’s universal love. Listen to Jesus as He promises: “Whosoever, therefore, shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven.” Listen to His Word as it embraces the ends of the earth and pledges: “Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” Turn to the last page of your Bible, and as the setting sun of Revelation tinges these words with roseate hope, read this promise to thirsty souls: “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” You may be a great sinner, but the pardoning love of Christ is greater. You may be alarmed by the frequency with which evil triumphs in your life; but it cannot happen too frequently for the eternal mercies, renewed to us every morning. You may be imprisoned behind penitentiary walls; but you cannot sink too low for Him who on the cross dropped into the depths of that abysmal God-forsakenness and who, as He paid the price of your pardon, “was despised and rejected of men.”

Heavenly strength rests in the knowledge that our Savior sees all men with their heartaches and burdens in sympathetic survey. He who once lived among men knows the problems of the laboring man; He met them in Joseph’s carpenter shop. He understands the perplexities of the mother, busy in the crowded workaday duties of washing and cooking and mending and cleaning; for that humble dwelling in Galilee anticipated the various needs of our households. He knows how it feels to be poor; for He had “not where to lay His head.” He can take the viewpoint of the persecuted and oppressed; for did not blasphemous hands try to hurl jagged rocks at His defenseless body? He can sympathize with those who are lost in their loneliness; for in the hour of His greatest need His disciples deserted Him and fled. He can plumb the depths of your deepest sorrow; for, nailed to the cross, He suffered as no one else has ever suffered and died a death of agonies that none other can ever die.

Mark also the unequaled simplicity of this Gospel promise. No key is required to interpret the words “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” No commentaries are required to explain it, no teacher to expound it, no mystic symbols to represent its truth. You need not be initiated into any secret rites to understand its full meaning. Your children—and I hope that you take the time required to teach your own flesh and blood these vital, triumphant truths—can comprehend the essentials of Christ’s glorious salvation. Yet its profound riches can never be exhausted even by brilliant minds. If you were honored by all the universities of the land, awarded the distinctions of Nobel prizes and Congressional medals, you would still stand overwhelmed by the mystery of the Savior’s love.

Certainty and finality also ring in the promise of this salvation which no one but Christ can give. When you reread this blessed assurance, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” you are not dealing with theory or operating with possibility. Your redemption is no subject of debate; for eternal truth lives in this divine declaration, and no modernized theology, no up-to-the­minute creed of religious revolutionists, can change these immovable verities. Since the first Good Friday every branch of human thought and scientific studies has suffered repeated change. Yet turning to Christ, we pray, “O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” Other religions have flourished and decayed, but grasping our Bibles, we declare, “The Word of the Lord endureth forever.” Everything that surrounds us today will collapse or disintegrate; but this Gospel, which has been declared dead a thousand times, this Savior, whose effigies have been drabbled through Soviet streets, still lives in unchanged and undiminished power to bless every penitent twentieth-century soul and life.

The sustaining comfort of this grace teaches men and women as no other creed ever can how to rise after each fall, how to rebuild ruined lives and wrecked hopes on Christ, the Cornerstone. As I read your letters, my conviction is strengthened that the heroic faith of the first Church still lives. I have seen some children of God meet sudden and terrifying death in their family, and beneath the tears of human sorrow I have caught a gleam of spiritual triumph which, beholding Christ, exults, “He hath done all things well.” I have heard others in the mining districts sing hymns of praise even when their cupboards were empty and they had not seen relief checks for months. I have watched farmers in the dust bowl and the drought belt sow their seed, meet total crop failure, and still take courage in Christ’s promise: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” I have looked into cold and cheerless rooms of tenements in great industrial cities where fathers who now measure unemployment in terms of years are distracted by the daily problem of providing shoes and clothing for their children, yet who are not perplexed in their souls because they have faith in Christ. Millions of Christian men and women in the face of these hardships live heroically because they live in Christ. How blessed if all of you would “call upon the name of the Lord” and find His pardon for misspent years, for misused talents, misdirected energies, His forgiveness for every failure! Before God I tell you that there can be no other way to the hope of heaven and to happiness on earth than by Him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Your faith must be personal. You cannot be saved through your parents, your children, your husband or wife. Not all the saints of God, not all the legions of angels combined, can substitute their faith for yours. It is not enough that you said your prayers in childhood, and it is not enough that some one else may be praying for you now. You yourself must call upon the Christ of endless compassion.

If that Savior has never reigned in your heart, or if you have traitorously turned away from Christ and His Word, I beseech you, Will you not today speak penitently with your God? Will you not draw near to your Savior and, calling on His name, be pardoned and cleansed? Fathers and mothers who may be leading themselves and their own children to hell by their unbelief and by the destructive examples of their rebellion against God; sons or daughters guilty of secret sins and disobedience, indicted by the voice of their own conscience and condemned by the Law of God; despondent souls ready to surrender to the defeat of a hopeless life, who have tried every one but Christ and everything but His mercies, may they now hear and follow that ancient cry which has conquered sin and won the victory for salvation and happiness: “Repent . . . and believe in the Gospel”!

We are ready to bring this promise of grace to you. Is there any enlightenment or service we can offer which by the grace of God may help you to a happy, exultant faith in Jesus Christ, and the assurance of your salvation? It is yours for the asking, without payment, but with our prayers that our heavenly Father may bring you to the Savior and keep you in the redeeming faith now and forever. God grant you this persevering, triumphant faith, through Jesus’ love and righteousness! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.