Date: November 15, 1936
Prayer for a Clean Heart
Lord God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier of our souls:
As in the days of His flesh our blessed Redeemer did touch the lives of men with His holy hand and bestow blessing, pealing, strength, courage, even life itself, so today, we beseech Thee, may the influence of Thy Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament rest upon us and daily create a clean heart and a right spirit within us. Thou knowest, heavenly Father, how sorely we need this cleansing touch, with the contact of sin surrounding us and the impurities of our flesh surging within us; Thou knowest, too, how often we have stumbled along the wrong path, following the lusts of the flesh rather than the guidance and love of the Spirit. So we come before Thee just as we are, not seeking to justify or explain or excuse our frequent and wilful disobedience, but trusting wholly in the forgiving compassion of our Redeemer and in His ennobling, purifying touch. For we know and believe that, as Thou hast removed this guilt through that eternal sin-offering on Calvary, so Thy Spirit can touch our hearts and lives, bring many of us from the blackness of sins’ night to the dawn of everlasting mercy, and then grant us greater vision, better understanding, and braver testimony to Thine endless mercies. Hear us and touch us all with Thy serving blessing, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Jesus put forth His hand and touched him, saying, . . . Be thou clean. – Matthew 8:3
IN a recent book the president of a great Mid-Western university lays down this emphatic claim: “Without exception the most important job that is to be performed in the United States is first to establish higher education on a rational basis.” It would be contrary to the spirit of the Christian Church that has fought for the establishment of schools and the progress of enlightenment if I should raise my voice and oppose any reasonable program for the advancement of American culture. But when a university president deliberately asserts that the first and most vital task before the nation today is the improvement of higher learning, and only this, we must protest.
Some of us shudder at the thought that education is to save our day and pave the way to a happier tomorrow, because we recall the brilliant minds of Greece and Rome and the vice and degeneracy that some of these minds produced; because we can hear the echoes of the French Revolution, that vicious triumph of reason over religion, with the bloodcurdling thud of heads falling into the guillotine basket on Parisian squares; because we still see thousands of Russian priests and peasants, scholars and tradesmen, lined up before Red firing squads; because we need no gift of imagination to visualize the reign of lust and terror that would hold sway in our country if some of the atheistic and antimoral tendencies that have demanded recognition on the American campus were given free rein.
Before higher education we need higher morality; before a deeper intellectual life we must have a deeper spiritual life. Give us better secondary schools and colleges; but first of all give us better homes and churches. With all the blessings of culture, this is a godless age; and with all the unparalleled advantages of American education, ours is one of the most crime-ridden nations of history. Evidence too decisive to be impeached shows us that the university has sometimes developed only a higher degree of craftiness and criminality. The illiterate killer crushes his enemy’s skull with a rock, but the laboratory murderer resorts to scientific refinement and subtle poisons. The coarse criminal attacks a helpless girl; but the cultured degenerate writes a novel of lust and debauch that helps to ruin the lives of millions. The low-browed burglar breaks into a house at midnight and steals the family jewels; but the high-browed plunderer raids the nation’s treasury and steals its millions in broad daylight, as Voltaire did, who cunningly cheated his country of a million francs.
The development of American learning is a major task; but it is not our greatest task. In the strain of today’s social upheaval we must have a power from God Himself that will mold the heart as well as the brain, change the soul more than the mind, and place on this earth a generation of twice-born men and women who have been touched by Jesus Christ.
Today, and in this spirit, let us consider—
THE TOUCH OF JESUS
May God give me the grace to reach souls in this vast Sunday audience, from the hills and shores of New England to the frozen harvest-fields of the Northwest, that many may feel the touch of Jesus and its cleansing, healing, loving power! Stay with me, then, listen to this Word of God, in St. Matthew (chapter eight, verse 3), “Jesus put forth His hand and touched him, saying, . . . Be thou clean,” and pray that the touch of Jesus bless you to all eternity.
IT IS THE BLESSED TOUCH OF SUSTAINING GRACE
Our Lord had just completed the Sermon on the Mount, that golden code of Christian principles, vital to our strifetorn age, when a leper, rushing through the throng round the Savior, fell before Him and pleaded, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” Some would have cursed that diseased outcast for breaking his quarantine. Others would have recoiled in horror from contact with the disease that terrorized the ancient world. Even the more charitable would have spoken a few hasty words of comfort and withdrawn. But not Christ; He who was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” who by a mere word of His majesty could have brought cleansing health, rested His hand on that leper who in his loneliness and misery had long ago forgotten the touch of a fellow-man.
We regard the human hand in amazement, the flesh and bone, the muscles and sinews that endow the five fingers and the palm of man with astonishing power. We marvel at the genius that guides the musician’s finger, the delicate artistry that directs the painter’s brush, the mastery with which the sculptor wields his chisel, the sure, quick hand of the surgeon that cuts closely, but confidently up to the line separating life from death. And can we ever forget the soothing caress of a mother’s hand? Yet the touch of Jesus is incomparable in its majesty, its blessing, its power. From His hand life, healing, cleansing, leaped into that leprous body, white, ulcerous, rotting away, as it was; and through that momentary contact of divine purity with the decay of sin, tingling health was instantly restored.
All that the leper had asked was contained in these nine short words, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” Hardly had his prayer been spoken when, as if in echo, came the response of Heaven’s love, “I will; be thou clean.” Without price or payment, without medicine or treatment, without question or condition—by the miracle of the Savior’s mercy that outcast finds health and happiness.
Today the hands of Jesus, raised over our age, appear in their holiest light. Before many months had passed after that healing, the hands of Jesus were to be clasped in piteous entreaty when in the conflict of the ages the grieftorn heart of the Savior pleaded: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” These hands were to be fettered by cutting ropes. A reed from the marshes of Jerusalem, a scepter of mock royalty, was to be forced into their grasp. They were to close over the rough timbers of a cross and help drag it to Calvary, and then the nails of death were to crush through their quivering flesh. The livid scars which we behold on His palms as Jesus seeks to touch our lives have been graven by the sins of the world. They are living proof that “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities”; they are the evidences of Heaven’s mercy to bring any skeptical Thomas of our twentieth century on his knees to confess as he touches the pitted hands of Jesus: “My Lord and my God!”
Since the sin-removing, sin-cleansing touch of Jesus means nothing to us unless His blessed hand has rested upon our souls, this becomes the crisis question of your life and of mine, “Has my heart been touched by Jesus?” Other hands have wielded the sword, swung the lash, lighted fires of persecution, signed death-warrants; but the blessed hand of Jesus has never been outstretched toward your life and mine except to offer the riches of His unfathomable grace and to plead, “Come unto Me!” Other hands tightly lock a few baubles and trinkets of life within their selfish grasp or reluctantly dole out a beggarly pittance or avidly reach for usurious payment, sixteen full ounces for every pound of flesh; but the hands of Jesus have their open palms toward the world and are always filled to overflowing with the priceless treasures of His heavenly compassion. That is why I repeat the pivotal question, “Has Christ touched your soul?”
In the four seasons that I have been privileged to broadcast in this Gospel hour I have never asked you to join any organization, to send a telegram to your Senator, to support any political program; but today I have one earnest and deeply personal request. After this broadcast is over, before you leave your homes this afternoon (and I am speaking particularly to those who have been too proud, prosperous, conceited, or self-centered to humble themselves “under the mighty hand of God,” as well as to those who have been so battered by the unexpected blows of life that they despair of finding any path to light and life abundant), will you not penitently speak the leper’s prayer, “Thou canst make me clean,” and, looking with eyes of trusting faith to the cleansing Christ, feel the touch of His forgiving love in the promise “I will; be thou clean”? If anything in your life pulls you from Christ or any barriers interpose themselves between your sins and His forgiveness, then remember the woman who saw herself barred from her Savior by the throng that surrounded Hun, yet who pressed through the multitude with this resolute confidence: “If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole,” and with the same determination crash through any barricades that would keep you from Christ and the hand of divine help.
Oh, that we could realize the full blessedness with which the touch of Jesus can enrich our lives! This leper was not the only favored one who felt the Savior’s miraculous hand. St. Mark tells us that once in Christ’s busy ministry Jewish mothers brought their children to be blessed by the great Teacher, and over the remonstrances of the disciples Jesus took the little ones “in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them.” Few scenes in the New Testament awaken more tender emotions than the canvases that portray the Savior pausing in His worldmoving career to caress these Judean children. But we need more than these emotions to safeguard our boys and girls. Fathers and mothers of America, have your children felt the loving hand of Jesus? A dozen destructive forces rise up to grasp their young lives in the stranglehold of sin: sex plots of motion-pictures; gangster broadcasts of the radio; the revolt against authority in many comic strips; the lurid sensations of many five- and ten-cent-store books; the profanity of street corner gangs and the contamination of ill-chosen friends. And some day you, as their divinely appointed guardians, will be called upon by God Himself to answer the most serious question that ever confronts parents, “Have you brought your children to be blessed by Jesus, or have you kept them away from Christ by indifference, bad example, or even scoffing?” And may God have mercy on your souls if you have betrayed your own flesh and blood!
Give us the nation’s youth for Christ, and we will build an impassable human barrier that, under God, will repel every assault on the blessings of our national institutions. Twenty-seven thousand cheering young men recently marched through the streets of Rome to greet Mussolini with the Fascist salute. Long parades of Hitler Jugend passed their Fuehrer with rigidly raised arms to pledge their loyalty to a human leader. We call the youth of America to kneel penitently before Christ, to raise their hands in loyalty to Him, to be strengthened by the benediction of His touch.
Others have likewise been blessed by the touch of Jesus. Repeatedly we read that His hand rested on the eyes of the blind, and they saw; on the ears of the deaf, and they heard; on the tongues of the dumb, and they spoke. And who can recall these miracles without raising a fervent prayer that the Spirit of the Savior would similarly touch the vision of those blind to the sufferings of their fellow-men, so that, following the example of their Redeemer, they extend the helping hand of brotherly love? Would to God that through this enlightening contact with Christ the ears of all Christendom could be opened to hear the pleading and the groaning of more than a billion of our fellow-men all over this earth who live and die without Christ and without hope of the hereafter! Would to God that the Savior’s touch might bless the tongues and unseal the lips of those who claim to be His followers, yet who never open their mouths to testify to His saving grace! I often hear people relate with evident satisfaction how they evaded the penalty for some slight fracture of the law. For instance, they fail to observe a stop sign or pass a red light, and through the influence of some politically prominent friend their police summons is torn up and the charges are dropped. For months they tell and retell how they escaped paying the traffic fine; yet they never witness to Him who has eternally redeemed their immortal souls from sin, from hell, from death itself. Much talk about the evasion of a $3 fine, but not a word concerning the priceless pardon through the blood of Christ Jesus! And still we wonder why Christian churches are not meeting their divinely imposed responsibilities in this crisis hour!
This blessed touch of Jesus should be a source of unfailing comfort and strength. Can you not picture the joy of that poor, shunned, leprous creature who fell at the feet of Jesus to arise in completely restored health? Can you not see blind faces light up with the flicker of faith when they hear of Jesus’ approach? And if you, the heart-chilled and the world-worn, want strength from above, let me assure you that there never has been any bruise of life that could not have been soothed through contact with Christ. Once the forgiveness of sins, pledged through His endless mercies and the double seal of the cross and the open grave, dawns on your heart, you have recourse to Jesus for every sorrow that may seek to poison the joy of your life. Are you losing ground in your daily struggle to keep a roof over your head and to provide for your family? Recall how Jesus took. a few loaves of bread and a few fishes, how, when He had touched them in blessing, the meager food supply was multiplied many thousand times to still the hunger of a great multitude; and believe with all your hearts that, when human means are exhausted, God can grant divine help and sustenance to those who are His. Are you disheartened by infirmities of the body, weakened by sieges of long and enervating sickness? Turn the pages of your New Testament to find the blessed Physician resting His healthbestowing hand on disease-ridden bodies and behold the Savior day after day and until late in the night touching the blind, the lame, the deaf, the paralyzed, with His blessings. As you read these miracles, believe in God with all your heart that the Christ who heals your soul and with whom nothing is impossible will heal your every ill and will touch you with this grace if it be in accordance with His will, that is, for your spiritual benefit.
Can the touch of Jesus conquer the “last enemy,” the concluding tragedy of life, the chill and paralysis of death, the sad finale that spells a cruel end to human hopes and human ambitions? I answer by asking another question. Who is it that touches the lifeless form of a maiden and foils death as He restores her to life? Who is it that calls Lazarus forth from the decay of the grave? You know; it is the same Jesus who by His Easter victory robbed the grave of its terror and who on the great day of the resurrection will glorify the dust of our decayed bodies, so that they leap from the grave into the unspeakable blessings of heaven.—Thus from this life to the next the hand of Jesus blesses, sustains, and saves.
IT IS THE SPIRIT’S TOUCH IN SAVING FAITH
How, you have been asking yourself, how can we feel the touch of the Savior’s hand? How can we establish closer contact with these endless mercies? Though Jesus is no longer with us in the flesh to leave His healing imprint on our lives, He is with us in His Spirit as our eternal Friend and Companion; for He has promised in His valedictory truth, which can never be broken, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
Jesus and His multiplied mercies come to us through Baptism, that divine ordinance by which His Spirit cleanses and purifies us. And if it is given me now to speak earnestly into the souls of some of America’s millions who have never been baptized in the name of the Triune God, let me repeat two passages from the lips of Jesus: first a warning affirmed by a double oath, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” and then this radiant promise: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” The call to each one of you who have neglected this washing of regeneration, for your own souls and for the souls of your children, is still the appeal of the Scriptures, “Now, why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins.” Will you not resolve that you will be blessed by this cleansing touch of Jesus in Christian Baptism?
You can also meet Christ in His Word, on the living pages of the Bible, where He promises: “I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” Because of His exalting presence in the Scriptures—and in no other book—you can realize that the Church today must spurn the many sleightof-hand substitutes offered by modern unbelief and plead for devout meditation in Holy Writ, careful study of the Scriptures, close attention to Biblical, doctrinal, Gospel sermons. Read this Bible, then, delve deep into its treasures; distil from its vast power the essence of joy and comfort for your own life; the hand of Jesus will rest upon you with the same imprint of its healing, that miraculous hand which recast the lives of multitudes in the days of His flesh.
At every crossroad in life, before the towering heights of any insurmountable problem, you will see that out of the mists and over the shadows of earth’s sorrows a radiant faith always reveals the hand of Jesus, the hand of strength and comfort, of guidance and support. Over every conflict and turmoil you will hear, as you grasp this life-giving contact with Christ, the reechoing promise, the clear and true clarion call of faith’s certainty: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” O God, touch our souls with this healing, helping hand of Jesus!
Take Thou our hands and lead us
O’er life’s rough way;
With heavenly manna feed us
From day to day.
Alone, our footsteps falter
Or straggle wide;
Lord, who our life canst alter,
Be Thou our Guide.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.