Date: November 1, 1936
Prayer for Our Country
God of our fathers and Lord of the nations:
We come before Thee in our Savior’s name to implore Thy blessing upon our country, its industries and farmlands, its commerce and transportation, its schools and homes, its governments and courts of justice, so that by Thy grace peace and plenty may reign, profitable labor and useful arts flourish, good government prevail, and national calamities be averted. We confess that as a nation we have not deserved these blessings, that we have been proud and sinful, that too confidently we have leaned on the arm of flesh and relied on men instead of putting our trust in Thee. Penitently we ask Thee to forgive us for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who Himself on the cross bore the sins of this nation and of all men. By Thy Spirit direct the hearts of our countrymen, so that in every momentous decision we may act in accordance with Thy will and by Christian faith and life serve Thee with far greater loyalty and devotion. We know that without Christ we can do nothing and that for the dangerous days that may await us we need more than ever before the constant power of His love and guidance. Bless us and our land with a far greater love and reverence of Thee, our Triune God. Hear us, for we have come before Thee in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people. – Proverbs 14:34
WHATEVER the outcome of the national election may be; whoever is chosen President; whichever party is voted into power, the destiny of our nation will remain in the hands of God. When the radio speeches and the campaign shouting have subsided, God’s message for the upbuilding of our nation must be heralded with unceasing force; for national blessing depends not upon the Republican Party or the Democratic Party or any other party; it depends upon the Almighty. We cannot build without God; we cannot build against God. But we can build with God. We must build on His time-defying principles, which help to create national greatness or which, when disregarded, make for national decay.
God has revealed the divine directions for national strength and happiness in a program which is surprisingly plain. Compared with our lengthy political platforms, it may appear too stark in its simplicity; but great statesmen have reverently acknowledged its unfailing truth. With millions of words shouted and written in this election campaign, God’s plan for national blessing, given in twelve short, unadorned words, may be discounted as too general and impracticable for our stern realities. These words of God say nothing on underproduction and overproduction; hand labor or machine labor; inflation or deflation; imports or exports; agricultural problems or labor problems; unemployment relief or old-age relief. They are silent concerning resettlement and reforestation; power projects or irrigation projects; banking reform or finance reform or any other of our hotly debated national issues. Yet these words are intensely practical; ultimately they offer a happy solution to every issue before our country, for they penetrate to the first cause of everything helpful and everything destructive to the nation. Where the props of manmade plans snap in failure, this counsel, changeless and unalterable, prevails; for it is God’s program.
In these agitated hours before our national election I propose to outline for you, with the Spirit’s help, God’s direction for—
BUILDING A BETTER NATION
as this fundamental truth (in Proverbs 14, 34) is given in the inspired words of ancient wisdom, “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
SIN DESTROYS, BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS BUILDS A NATION
When our text warns, “Sin is a reproach to any people,” this is not theory, pious preaching, or pessimism;—this is history. Stand beside the Wailing-wall in Jerusalem; cross the desert to the sand-strewn mounds concealing the remains of Babylonia and Assyria; descend to the Nile Valley with its tottering columns and ruined palaces, devastated temples, and you will see how national ruin is the penalty for the reproach of sin. Look where you will, and all over the earth you will find men building on the collapse of ancient and hoary nations that have met their destruction through this reproach of sin. Where is the haughty Roman Empire? the world dominion of Alexander the Great? the kingdoms and the nations of Cyrus? These and other series of far-flung supremacies are buried in deep obscurity to prove the truth of this dire warning: “The nation and kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish.”
This is more than ancient history, however. Why are 11,000,000 American workers still without employment when there should be work for every one with the broad sweep and the natural resources of our country? The touch of sin, the overreaching grasp of greed, disfigure American industry and penalize our age. Why have we had masses of hungry people in this nation when the cornucopia of plenty has poured its blessings upon our fields and farmlands and orchards with such lavishness that we have sought to restrict and reduce production? There ought to be food enough for every one in the United States, and there is; but greedy sin prevents its distribution into every home and to every person. Why does destitution reign in many American families? We have plenty of gold in our treasuries, plenty of brains in our universities; but again we must charge this ugly poverty to sin, the avarice of some American capitalists, the sloth and indolence on the part of the shiftless fringes of our population. Why are we disturbed by the greatest juvenile crime wave in our national existence? We repeat the answer: The cause is the reproach of sin: the sin of the parents in neglecting to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”; the sin of the children in refusing to obey their fathers and mothers; the sin of many churches in passing by the hundreds of thousands of boys and girls without Christ. Why do we see ominous specters on our nation’s horizon, the shadow of national pyramiding debt, the dark forms of that anarchy under the guise of Communism, the attempts to destroy lawful and representative government? Behind all this, in one form or another, is the sure, swift punishment that divine justice metes out for every uprising against God.
Read these words again (and I am quoting God), “Sin is a reproach to any people,” no matter how wealthy, how large, how proud, how brilliant. Do not contradict: “We are too strong to be felled by calamity”; for, though we can weld long lines of steel fortresses along our frontiers to restrain invaders, though we build airplanes for national defense until their number darkens the skies as the grasshoppers clouded our Western plains, we cannot battle against the Lord of hosts. Do not argue that we are too resourceful, that we have plans and preparations for any emergency; for even our widely applauded programs of improvement, if they disregard divine truth, dethrone God, and smile on the carnivals of sin, no matter how prudent, how ingenious, how scientifically correct these plans may be, they must fail. Over the lost glory of every nation both the hand of God and the moving pen of history have written the verdict: “The reproach of sin.”
The counsel of God is always constructive, helpful; and when it declares, “Righteousness exalteth a nation,” this again is not pretty idealism, a happy hope, or a fond dream; once more, this is history! Wherever men and women have accepted Christ and have been blessed by the Christian righteousness of life, they have proved themselves the salt of the earth that has prevented corruption and decay. Early Christianity changed the vice-bound world of its day; it exalted marriage, children, parenthood, at a time when the lust of the flesh ran to ruin; it created the dignity of labor when self-respecting men sought to escape work and relegate it to slaves; its principles of honesty, fair dealing, and the love for one’s fellow-men elevated the ancient business world. In short, the Church, though despised and small in numbers, did what all the philosophers and statesmen of the ancient world could not do: it bestowed, with God’s help, the righteousness that exalts a nation.
What brought pagan Anglo-Saxons to international prominence and made England the great world-power it is? Queen Victoria answered by pointing to the Bible. What gripped South Sea Island cannibals, bestial, degenerate parent-murderers, baby-killers, and endowed their brutal lives with Christian virtues? You know, and I know, and history knows, that all these remarkable transformations were produced by Christian missionaries, through the power of their Gospel-message.
This, too, is not restricted to ancient history; you can see the demonstration of exalting righteousness in this very hour. Who today crowds the divorce courts of the nation? Not Christian husbands and wives! Whose children are haled before the courts of juvenile delinquency? In the vast majority of cases not the children of Christian parents and the boys and girls that attend Sunday-school. Who are the prisoners that fill our bulging penitentiaries? Prison authorities will answer that by far the most are not men and women who have had Christian training.
If, then, we would build securely for the future, see clear light through the multiplied problems that confront us, let us build according to God’s specifications; let us see light in His light. Of course, we must vote intelligently and prayerfully; we must support far-sighted plans and programs; we need keen-visioned, self-sacrificing statesmen. But more than this the United States needs approved standards of divine right and justice in its business, its homes, its education, in all its civic activities. It should have as its highest and finest support the exalting righteousness in the life of every American. What shower of blessing would rain upon this nation if righteousness, and truth, and justice, and equity, and a brotherly regard of every man toward his fellow-man would prevail! What clash of conflict could be stifled; how many of our broken homes, wrecked industries, and bankrupt institutions could be spared; how much more of the peace and tranquility for which we yearn could be ours, if only this exalting righteousness would dominate the national and individual affairs of our country!
CONSTRUCTIVE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS THE GIFT OF CHRIST
By what means, then,—and this is the crisis question of the hour,—can we secure for ourselves and for our nation this exalting, uplifting righteousness? How can we curb sin and selfishness when the present scene resembles nothing more than a jungle with snarling, snapping creatures slinking in suspicious circles, ready to spring at each other’s throats? We listen to a hundred plans concerned with education, character-building, legislation, health improvement, the cleansing of the subconscious mind, the spirit of fraternity, and the other remedies prescribed to check sin and promote righteousness; we survey the best of them and declare that we must have something they now lack, a divine power to penetrate the soul, to change men, purify their corrupt nature, and defeat the dominion of sin that saturates their entire being.
So the cry of the hour has become “Back to religion!” Clear-thinking people demand a cleansing power for the heart as the fountain-spring of all actions and emotions. Not all religions, we emphasize, can change the heart, and particularly not this empty, creedless compromise and concession called modern Christianity. Recently two more leaders in the revolt against Christ, two teachers in a modernist theological seminary, confessed the failure and the falsity of this away-from-Christ and away-from-the-Bible tendency that has usurped power in many American churches. One admits: “Liberal theology . . . must suffer distinct revision, if not abandonment.” And another confesses that modern creeds are “quite unable to give guidance and direction to a confused generation.” Jesus Himself warns, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” In all our wide and resourceful world today there is only one power that can “create . . . a clean heart” and a “right spirit” within men, and that is faith in Jesus Christ, His cleansing blood, His atoning death, His victorious resurrection.
And here we are once more, at the heart and the center of Christian truth, the message which in one form or another you will always hear on this broadcast. Let me explain it; for some of you may never have heard this promise before and may never hear it again. To overcome sin for you, to break the curse of death in your life, to free you from the horrors of hell, our heavenly Father did not simply overlook sin, forget sin, cancel sin. Instead, God, almighty, all-loving, all-compassionate, sent His only Son, the divine Christ, to live His life of mercy among men that hated Him, to bless those who cursed Him, to plead for those who crucified Him, to bear on the cross in His crushed and bleeding body my sins and yours, to stand before the bar of eternal justice and plead guilty for us, to take upon Himself everything sinful and wrong in our lives, as our Substitute to pay the penalty that a holy God had decreed as the punishment of sin, to suffer and die for us and all men, to bring us to God, to everlasting forgiveness and the never-ending mercies of Heaven. This is the most vital message of all human history; this is life; this is hope; this is heaven and eternal blessing. Accept it, believe it, cherish it, trust it, though the quaking earth gives way beneath you and the skies above collapse.
And all this endless grace God calls His “gift.” You need not earn it, for you cannot earn it. You need not ask, “How can God love me?” for you cannot understand “the depth of the riches.” You need only believe Christ and trust Him; for that Savior knows you better than any one else does, more intimately than you know yourself. You need not despair if you have become faithless or fear that you have fallen from grace forever; for He who glanced at traitorous Peter looks down, even at this moment, with the compassion and pleading of His endless love, asking you to come back, to turn with repentance and tears from your sins, your unfaithfulness, and to find forgiveness and peace in the arms ever outstretched to the contrite sinner.
When Christ is your Savior,—and God grant that some of you will delay no longer and receive Him as He now seeks entrance into your hearts,—when Christ is yours and you are His, this faith in your hearts will show itself in your life. You will be “born again”; you will come into a newness of life in which “the old things are passed away” and “all things are become new.” You will have the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures and the Sacraments by which wild passions are tamed, selfish desires removed, temptations to impurity resisted, the small faith enlarged, the weakness of good resolutions fortified.
This righteousness our country needs above every other program or panacea. I ask for our nation not primarily wealth, for this can easily be destroyed; not power, for this is quickly abused; not a lavish flow of creature comforts, for too often these lead to softness, perversion, decay. I do not ask for a restoration of the 1929 type of prosperity with all the personal boasting and the arrogant vanity of that gilded, tinseled day. But as in Israel’s great national crisis God Himself proclaimed that the path to true national blessing and individual happiness was “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” so I pray that the Spirit of God in Christ may rest upon this nation. We ask for Christ in American homes: Christ revered and adored at family altars, with their Scripture-message of spiritual power and their household prayers of sustaining guidance; Christ cherished by American mothers, who in their devotion to the home and the family can do more for this nation than a hundred bulky volumes of new laws; Christ acknowledged by American fathers who understand the fearful offense of sending their own children from God by the example of paternal indifference. We ask for Christ in more American schools, where, as in the educational system maintained by my Church, the boys and girls of today, upon whose shoulders the grave and complex problems of tomorrow must rest, will be equipped for their additional burdens through the daily study of the Word of God and daily prayer. We offer your children a training for these plastic, impressionable years in which there is no denial of God, no ridicule of His Word, nor the rejection of His Son which sometimes creeps into our public, taxsupported schools. We ask for Christ in all American churches, so that the quarter of a million church-buildings throughout the country may really be houses of God, where preachers, servants of God and not servants of men, determined to know nothing else “save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” will help make our churches what they should be, builders of true American greatness. We ask that through the influence of Christian homes, Christian schools, and Christian churches there may be nothing in American business and commerce and industry that overrides Christ’s Golden Rule; nothing in American courts that contradicts Christ’s truth and equity; nothing in American government that violates Christ’s separation of Church and State and the freedom of conscience and worship which His Word grants. We ask all this and pray for it in these critical, decisive days, because with Christ in many more American hearts and lives, we shall have, by His promise, that righteousness that will assuredly exalt this nation.
May God, who makes and breaks the nations of history, be with us as He has been with our fathers, through Jesus Christ, our blessed Redeemer! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.