Date: October 18, 1936
A Prayer for Deeper Trust
Merciful God, whom we call Father through Jesus Christ, our Savior:
We raise our hearts and voices to Thee, in this thank-offering of our faith, for the unnumbered and immeasurable blessings to both body and soul which Thou hast showered upon us, as indifferent and thankless as we often prove ourselves to be. With all our hearts we humbly implore Thee, deepen our faith, strengthen our inner lives, enrich our souls by Thy Spirit, so that we may constantly appreciate more fully the love which spared not Thine onlybegotten Son, but delivered Him up for our eternal salvation! Show us, we humbly entreat Thee, the eternal consequences of our unforgiven sins, so that we may not ignore our transgressions, conceal or excuse them, but penitently confess our faults and frailties as we turn to our Savior for pardon and to our sustaining Spirit for daily renewal in strength and power. Pour out the balm of Thy blessings upon the comfortless and unhappy hearts, the hope-hungry and grace-starved souls, so that, as Thy Word speeds out, its warnings and comfort may reach many who need Thy presence. Teach us all to share our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, with our Savior; and in faith, in prayer, in Christian life, to walk more closely with Him in whose name, by whose Word, and with whose promises we pray. Amen.
Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. – 1 Timothy 4:8
“WHAT does Jesus Christ offer us today?” “What can we get out of the Christian religion?” “Why should we go to church?” These are questions which a profit-seeking, money-minded age insistently repeats. “We want a creed that brings its benefits in this life, not only ‘by and by, up in the sky,’” the cry continues. “We must have a religion that speaks in terms of food and clothing, jobs and money, that offers a farm and a labor program, that will show us how to pay our rent and our coal bills. We are looking for a church that will help us financially, socially, materially.”
Some insist that the modern Church should meet all these requirements. We may brush aside the suggestions of a Harvard speaker who encouraged graduating lawyers to join some church and become acquainted with the best people of the community. We may disregard the attitude of New York students who admitted that they attended a widely publicized local church chiefly because of its bowling-alleys and motion-picture shows, or the admission of a mother who told me she was sending a child to a particular Sunday-school because its parish-house featured dancing classes. But what shall we say of priests who forget the sacred commission of the Church to men’s souls and present programs offering a minimum salary of $1,800 a year, work for every one at unprecedented wages, fabulous old-age security, and numerous other Utopian plans, with a promise to make life convenient and comfortable? We might brand such schemes as fantastic, basically impossible, economically absurd; we might say that these extravagant promises and cruel exaggerations will ultimately drive groping masses into deeper despair; that of all men who dupe their followers the most dangerous and destructive is the clergyman who, though he should know that the kingdom of Christ “is not of this world,” yet in the holy name of Christ advocates politics and even bullets. We might shout to the multitudes in our land, blindly marching in these mass movements under the double banner of Christ and of political organization, “Wake up; don’t be dumb, driven sheep that follow blind leaders over precipices and hurl themselves to destruction!”
We might say all this—and more. But the most tragic and destructive feature of every plan that would thus interpret our religion in dollars and cents and in schedules for this week instead of eternity is the spiritual catastrophe that carries the very heart and soul from Christian faith, dissolves the rainbow of hope that the Word of Christ arches before every Christian life, blasts away the bedrock upon which all social improvement, better living conditions, and genuine prosperity must rest, and robs men and women of the one priceless treasure in life, true Christian faith.
When we are asked,—
WHAT PROFIT CHRISTIAN FAITH?
I thank God that it is my privilege to offer you an answer from His infallible Word, the assurance of St. Paul (1 Timothy 4, 8): “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.”
THE PROFIT FOR THIS LIFE
What does the great apostle mean when he says that godliness has the “promise of the life that now is”? Explained in terms of your life and of mine, he tells us that Christian faith is not reserved for the weak, the sickly, the dying, but that it must be a living, warming, cheering, pulsating force in every life, full-blooded or anemic, successful or bankrupt. We must come to Christ and believe Him to be, not what modem unbelief insists that He is, a high ideal, a noble example, humanity at its best, a prophet of pure religion (just this and nothing more), but, infinitely exalted above every denial, very God of very God, Son of the Eternal and Son of the Virgin, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. We must approach Calvary and find in the bloodstained cross, not what the empty phraseology of smooth, blind deceit proclaims, a monument to self-denial and sacrifice, a symbol of unselfishness and of loyalty to high purposes (again, just this and nothing more); but the incomparably greater truth that here our Savior, both High Priest and “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” completed the one sacrifice by which every sin in every life was atoned, forgiven, and removed. We must believe with a faith that is not merely family inheritance or an utterance of the lips, but a trust that humbly recognizes our own sins and confesses: “O blessed Redeemer, with all my heart I believe that You are my Savior, that by Your boundless love and the agonies of the crucifixion I have been torn from the clutches of sin and brought to a gracious and merciful Father. With all my heart I trust in You and commit the destinies of my soul and body to Your keeping.” For with that faith we have the promise, first of all, “of the life that now is.”
Stop for a moment to see how practically Christianity works. Once we have Christ in our hearts, we are reborn to a newness of life; for here is the promise of God, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Word and the Sacraments we can follow in the footsteps of our Savior, falteringly and inconsistently at times, it is true, when in our all too human weakness we surrender to sin, but always with courage and loyalty renewed by heavenly grace.
Because Christianity changes men’s lives and offers the righteousness that can save a world in turmoil, we need more of this godliness and less of rampant godlessness. What was it that transformed the first centuries of our era, steeped as they were in unnatural vices and hideous perversions? Was it not Christ’s triumph in the lives of His followers over the reign of pagan lust? What ended the Middle Ages, decaying from dry rot, shackling the souls and bodies of men beneath hideous tyranny as they did? Was it not the Word of God displacing the word of man and the freedom, enlightenment, progress, that followed in the wake of the restored Gospel? What is it that can improve conditions today? You may have pet theories of change and reform; you may listen with cupped ears to the clash of opposing plans; but let me tell you that there is only one plan for “the life that now is” which has promise, and that is our Christian faith. Put Christ into the hearts of American financiers, and the dishonest juggling, fraudulent manipulations, worthless securities and waves of greed that have flooded the nation will be checked. Put Christ into the hearts of American business men, and the cheating, defrauding, misrepresentation, that helped to provoke the miseries of the last years will be minimized. Put Christ into the hearts of some of our American teachers, and atheism, scoffing, exaltation of the brute, will be completely excluded from the halls of higher education. Put Christ into the hearts of American judges and jurists, and miscarriage of justice, open collusion, and bribery that bring the wrath of God upon any people will be restricted. Put Christ into the hearts of men charged with the administration of our governmental affairs, and politics will be a service for greater good rather than the selfish profession it sometimes becomes. In short, if the churches today will preach the message of sin and grace and point men to the redeeming and renewing Christ, they will first of all clean “that which is within the cup”; they will lay the spiritual base upon which every happiness for toiling masses must rest. They will do more in this quiet and unobtrusive way than all the blatant, noisy campaigns of erratic churchmen and all the widely applauded efforts of church federations for purely social programs. The apostle was once obliged to tell a crippled sufferer, “Silver and gold have I none.” But as Peter continued, “Such as I have give I thee,” and then in the name of Jesus Christ healed him, so the Church can offer to a crippled generation help for the soul.
While the true Christian faith extends the promise of the life that now is, it dangles no pledges of smooth and easy superhighways to happiness. The course of the Christian’s life, though it leads to the crown, is by the way of cross and affliction. “The disciple is not above his Master.” More Christians were murdered and martyred in the last four centuries than in all the persecutions of Nero and his blood crazed successors in the first four centuries. Our future is a race between the power of Love and the organized forces of unbelief and hatred of the divine. And full well do we realize, in spite of rosy predictions by starryeyed idealists, that we are facing decades in which the Church may be called upon to withstand unto the blood, in which loyalty to the Cross of the Savior may provoke, as it has in Europe, confiscation, exile, impoverishment, and persecution. But if we have “the promise of the life that now is,” the weight of the universe will not be able to crush the joy of our faith. We can turn to the treasury of grace in the eighth chapter of Romans and exult: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” We shall be able to follow the logic of the great apostle in that victorious paean and demand, “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” With Christ as our constant Companion, we have that thrice-blessed assurance that every time our hopes are checked, our plans dashed to pieces, our program of life rudely frustrated; every time we are bowed under the weight of unexpected sorrows and sudden afflictions; every time we find barriers of misfortunes, we are experiencing the riches of His mercies, which employ the depth of sorrow to heighten our faith, the friction of adversity to polish the jewels of our hope, the presence of sickness to make us mindful of the burdens of others. Even in the darkest hours will you who trust Jesus be blessed by “the promise of the life that now is.” You will have life at its best because Christ—often contrary to our understanding—always gives His own the best of life.
THE PROFIT FOR THE LIFE TO COME
Incomprehensibly greater than the heaped blessings that are ours here on earth through Christ is the promise—divine, unbreakable, everlasting—of “the life . . . which is to come.” Our text does not pause to investigate the ageold question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” It does not say that there may be a life that continues when the grave takes its toll. It does not express a beautiful, but vague hope that the curse, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” may not be the final doom of the race. Sweeping all conjecture, wish-thinking, and doubt aside, this divine promise implies with positive, absolute finality: There is a “life . . . to come.”
These words are directed, I know, to many who are wasting away in hospitals for the incurable, victims of cancer, consumption, advanced heart disease, and other maladies for which medical science may offer no cure. To you I speak not merely words of sympathy and, above all, none of those cruelest of exaggerations that would mislead you into entrusting your future to false cures; but in Jesus’ name I tell you: There is “the life . . . to come.” By His truth I assure you that, when your poor, deformed, sickly bodies are released from the ravages of disease by merciful death, you will, through your faith in Christ, simply cross the threshold into this promised “life . . . which is to come.”
I am also counseling, as your personal letters tell me, men and women who have traveled far along the highway that we call life, past the threescore-and-ten milestone, past the fourscore and even beyond, world-worn pilgrims who realize how quickly the remaining years may run their course and how suddenly the last lines of their life may be written. To them I sketch no fantastic schemes of rejuvenation or statistics on the lengthening of human life. I recount no experiences of long-lived patriarchs in Bulgaria; I have a higher and a holier mission to you. This may be the last time that you hear this message, and I must tell you, with all the power God gives me, that the final chapters of your lives must be more than a rapid drifting, a silent floating into an unknown sea; that death is no black annihilation; that our existence is not stifled forever; that we cannot end in the zero of black destruction. I must implant within you by the Spirit this Heaven-granted promise, “There is a ‘life . . . to come.’”
Most of you are in the flush of youth, the prime of life, or the confidence of long experience. Yet you, too, should pause to take the measure of your own career and stop, surrounded as you are by the baffling uncertainty of existence and the overshadowing phantom of quick death, to ask yourselves pointedly, “Whither am I bound? What will become of me? If I were to face death today, would that be the end of all ends for me?” I do not point to our autumn foliage as to the dying grandeur of nature that will be revivified in the spring, not to the earliest records of the race and the universal belief in the immortality of the soul, but above the conjectures of science and the guesses of philosophy and the legends of yesterday I direct you to the Word of God and ask you to repeat aloud after me these words of Heaven’s promise: “There is a ‘life . . . to come.’”
Repeat this truth every time you hear the jeering attacks of unbelief. If they tell you, as a brilliant skeptic asserts, “Death bursts the soap-bubble of life into a million fragments,” confess with the Church Universal and Eternal: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” If mocking scoffers have the ashes of their cremated bodies strewn over the seven seas to speak a taunting valedictory to life, hold fast to this simple pledge of “the life . . . which is to come.” If they ask you to prove that there is a life beyond the grave, ask them to prove that there is not. If they challenge you to explain how a decomposed body can be resurrected to a new life, challenge them to explain how a small elm seed sown into the ground decays and then grows up into a mighty tree that produces hundreds of millions of seeds. If they call your faith, as they have, “a childish hope,” “a flattering delusion,” then answer that you will not die like a beast; that you have Christ and with Him this sacred promise of “the life . . . which is to come.” Above all show them your resurrected Savior, who burst the bonds of death to write in letters of imperishable faith above the horizon of every Christian life, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” “Where I am, there shall also My servant be.” I am not asking you to put your trust in any fantasy of fond hope; I am not trying to entice you into accepting absurd creeds or impossible isms that your own common sense must contradict and your conscience deny; but I am asking you to behold one of the most widely corroborated facts in all history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to stand at the open grave and, as you contemplate the “power of His resurrection,” to find there the assurance of your own.
And what shall I say of the life which is to come? It is so glorious that the loftiest rhetoric and the most compelling oratory stammer and stutter before its majesty; so rapturous that our eyes are dazzled by its brilliance, our ears overawed by the melodies of eternity. There, in that “life . . . which is to come,” the wearied, harassed soul finds everlasting compensation for all the injustice and the affliction of a world in which truth is forever on the scaffold and wrong forever enthroned. There in unending benediction, when we see what here we could only believe, we shall know that “the sufferings of this present time” (including the vilest, the cruelest, the most brutal hardships) “are not worthy to be compared with the glory that” has been “revealed in us.” That heaven, so perfect that it harbors no regrets, no mistakes, no sorrows, no tears, no pain, no remorse, no unsatisfied longings, no unanswered prayers, can be yours in Christ.
Teach yourself to think clearly and heroically; in the light of the cross to view your life as no blinded pilgrimage through murky fog; to meet death without whimpering and cowardly groveling. Strengthen yourself by these plain and pointed questions and answers: “What causes death?”
“What removes sin?”
“The blood of Jesus Christ.”
“How can I have the blessing of His saving redemption?”
“By penitent faith.”
Your salvation, here and hereafter, is just as simple and plain and, thank God, just as free and positive as this.
Once more I have offered you the promise of “the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Christ will never force you to accept His mercy. You can reject it and invoke upon your soul and your body the tragic consequence of a dying, hopeless life before the grave and of living, hopeless death beyond the grave. If you have never known these truths before, you know them now. From this day on you will stand either for Christ or against Him. And because your name, written in the Book of Life, means incomparably more than your name honored by the highest human distinctions; because with Christ you are blessed eternally and immeasurably and without Christ you have deprived yourself of the greatest good that even God can give you, I tell you in these moments, which, I pray, may prove the turning-point in many lives and the strengtheningpoint in many souls: Do not hesitate! Do not delay! Do not doubt! Do not postpone! Do not neglect! Do not excuse yourself! But resolve here and now that, God helping you, you will accept and believe this promise of “the life that now is and of that which is to come.”
God strengthen you in this resolve and for this blessing through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.