Date: December 13, 1936
Prayer for Courageous Trust
Lord Jesus Christ:—
Thou who didst fulfil all the ancient promises of mercy and in the fulness of time didst come into our world as a helpless babe to live and die for us in the ever-valid atonement of our sins, come into our hearts and homes today, we beseech Thee, so that Thy presence may purify, sustain, and cheer us. We need Thee, blessed Savior, every hour; for we are all short-sighted and inconsistent, proud and selfish, easily turned to doubt and disbelief. May we learn from the perfect fulfilment of Thy Word that every threat and warning against unbelief and ingratitude must remind us of Thy power, Thy holiness, and the wrath of God over every sin! Send therefore Thy Holy Spirit, so that in triumphant faith we may with all our hearts believe the ten thousand promises in Thy Word, recorded for our salvation, for the infusion of new courage into our Christian lives and the defeat of Thine enemies and ours who surround us every day. Come to us, then, thou Prophet, Priest, and King, and prepare us and Thy Church for the great and glorious day of Thy second coming in majesty and power to judge the quick and the dead! Until then help us penitently to come to Thee, faithfully to watch and pray. Yes, come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Amen.
He staggered not at the promise of God. – Romans 4:20
ON a bleak January night eleven short months ago, as a cold wind from the North Sea swept over England, the eyes of an empire were focused upon a prince of the blood to whom, a moment after his father’s death, all Britain pledged its loyalty. Here was an energetic, modern, sympathetic leader who would deal directly with the suffering among his people, one of the most popular monarchs ever to occupy the British throne, a guiding spirit for a people in distress. He would break the disgrace of the dole, give half-starved, rickety children of unemployed fathers their chance in life. He would reopen mines in poverty-pinched Wales and send smoke curling from idle chimneys in the great industrial centers. He would cement the British dominions into a stronger empire. Had he not for years squared his shoulders against destitution, squalor, disease, and given millions new hopes with the meaningful promise: “When I am king”—? Had he not, as he stepped into the dark cottages of Wales, where families existed—who knows how—on a thin dole, protested in simple words, but stern resolution: “Something must be done!”?
Yet as the swift-moving pageant of history sped toward one of its most startling climaxes since the tragedy of the World War, that young, eager, alert monarch, within less than a year, renounced his throne and left his homeland.
I summarize these swift-moving, almost unbelievable events not to prolong the discussion of a sensational chapter, but to ask you to view all this in the light of God’s Word as another decisive testimony to the folly of placing hopes and confidence in men and in human remedies. How true, we reflect, the warning of Scripture, “Put not your trust in princes!” In our own country, during these same epochmaking months, we, too, have witnessed how thin and slender is the thread that weaves the fabric of human hopes. I think particularly of two outstanding figures in America’s public life during 1936, one a priest with a commendable passion for the cause of the American workman, who made the fatal error of crossing the Scripturally imposed line separating Church from State and who entered the arena of political affairs as a partisan leader. Publicized a few months ago as few other churchmen in our history, he is today deserted by the majority of his followers, attacked even by clerics in the Church to which he had dedicated his help. And the other figure is the man who sought to relieve national distress through lavish old-age pensions. Because he offered what many regarded as an easy way to security in declining years, he was acclaimed by masses, who contributed vast sums for a plan that has been termed economically impossible. And today, when the shouting and the tumult have hardly died away, we find this self-imposed leader of the poor and the aged held on serious charges by a Congressional committee.
Repeatedly does history teach us the same lesson. Men pin their confidence on their fellow-men, but too often these hopes are shattered, leaving us more deeply trapped in the quicksands of delusion than before. And all the while God in His mercy offers us His own unfailing power and perfect wisdom to direct our hopes and banish our fears! All the while Christ the Savior holds out to us by His free mercy and full pardon the heavenly guidance that we sorely need! This afternoon, therefore, I have a message particularly for those who are tired of men’s broken promises, disappointed in human pledges, those who want the assurance of unfailing help, unerring guidance, undimmed light in darkness, unimpaired strength in weakness, unswerving hope in despair, a message of faith in the eternal love and promise of Christ. And as I ask you for—
UNDAUNTED FAITH IN GOD’S PROMISES
look with me, not only forward to the Savior’s blessed coming in the Christmas miracle, but also backward, through the long reaches of history, to Abraham, of whom, when he received the promise of Christ, our text (Romans 4, verse 20) declares: “He staggered not at the promise of God.”
FAITH THOUGH WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND
To show the heroism of trusting faith, St. Paul summons from the mist of ancient ages the majestic figure of Abraham, whose loyalty to his Lord, tried as yours and mine will never be tried, “staggered not at the promise of God,” the glorious promise that from his lineage there would come in God’s own time the promised Redeemer, in whom “all nations of the earth” were to be blessed. What though Abraham was an old man, far past the days of paternity? What though his own wife ridiculed the thought of motherhood at her age, ninety? Beholding the day of His Savior,—we read this record with a thrill of admiration, “he staggered not.”
How much of that immovable and unshaken faith is ours today? Some of you may have closed your hearts to God because, as you say, you cannot understand His promises. But is it not a fact that often you do not want to understand? If great minds, brilliant leaders in the sciences, have bowed reverently before the mysteries of God’s Word and the mercy of God’s Son, why is it that you, in the doubt of your shriveled heart and your narrowed life, protest, “How shall this be?” If every minute that you live is packed with a thousand forces and facts which you neither know nor can explain; if every cell of your body is so marvelous in its function that you are overwhelmed by your utter ignorance even of those minute structures that must be magnified twelve hundred times to be seen, why, in the far greater issues of your soul’s salvation, which no laboratory can ever measure, do you doubt the promises of your Savior Jesus Christ?
May it dawn on your soul that “with God all things are possible,” that He always keeps His promise! Go back to the first pledge that His loving heart made to the race, and that includes you and me. After sin blighted the world,—the sin which causes every sorrow and heartache in our individual and national life,—He promised pardon and peace through Christ; and so holy and inviolable was this first of many thousands of subsequent promises that to secure its fulfilment He created a nation from which the Redeemer was to spring. He shifted the scenes of history for thousands of years, all in preparation for the coming Deliverer. He superseded the very laws of nature in preparing for the advent of the virgin-born Child. And He faithfully kept the promise of the redemption though it cost the blood of His own Son.
Do not invoke the wrath of God upon your head by affirming that you refuse to believe His sacred promises because they have been contradicted by modern learning and progress; that churches are failures; that Christians too often give the lie to their faith by unholy and ungodly living. You can marshal all the arguments advanced against Christ by unbelievers, Bible-blasters, dollar-sign churches, and apostate schools of divinity; but I challenge those who boast that God cannot keep His promises to produce only one single person who has fully trusted in Christ and penitently implored that Savior for mercy on his soul and guidance for his life and who has not been graciously answered by that faithful Redeemer. Your letters show that these words will be heard by a great cross section of our American and Canadian citizenry, by those who have traveled hard and fast on the highway of achievement or have dropped to the lowest levels of life. But to all who may have staggered from God because of unbelief, I say, “Show me a single soul that, having approached the cross of Christ in contrite, confident faith, has been cast away by that Savior!”
On the other hand, I can produce from the vast roll-call of Christ’s redeemed, men and women who do not waver, but believe, even though they cannot understand. For example, in January of this year a Minnesota young woman wrote us: “I do not know whether there is a God. I cannot face the future, and you know what a person of such disposition contemplates, cowardly though that act may seem. As long as I can remember, there has been just one continual struggle for the necessities of life. My mother was called away when I was a mere child. My father left us on Monday of this week. I haven’t a sufficient amount of the right kind of clothing for such desperate cold as we have had here this year, and consequently I have several times frozen my legs, arms, back, so severely that they are breaking open. I have personal bills which haunt me day and night. I can see as far ahead as burial-day, but after that is darkness.” In answer to these desperate lines we sent letters pleading for the trust which I am now asking you to place in the promises of God. And thanks be to His mercy, in October of this year another letter came from the same young woman. The joy of salvation leaps from its pages as she writes: “I have found in Christ my restingplace, and He has made me glad.” And if I could tell you the full story, how a Christian in New Jersey who had never seen this young woman was one of the human agents in helping to restore her faith and happiness, you would agree that we must not stagger at God’s promises, though they seem utterly impossible to us.
FAITH THOUGH WE SUFFER
We learn other lessons from heroic Abraham’s faith. “He staggered not,” even when the pathway to the fulfilment of God’s promises was rough and steep and dark. Summoned by the divine voice to leave his home (and excavations have shown us that his birthplace was an attractive center of culture and commerce in that day), directed to go out on an unmarked path into an unknown country, “he staggered not.” He became a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by powerful enemies. His only property in the territory that God had sworn to give his descendants was the double cave purchased as a grave; nevertheless “he staggered not.” Even when the awful command led him to the heights of Moriah, there to sacrifice the son of promise, in that moment when it seemed as though the world reeling about him were to fall into pieces, “he staggered not.”
He might have done what people today do when the thunders of affliction crash over their heads. He might have clenched his fist against God. He might have tried to laugh away his heart’s sorrows, to choke his anguish by eating, drinking, and making merry. He lived close to the pyramids and the priestcraft on the Nile, and he might have gone to them, as people travel thousands of miles over land and sea to Egypt’s Great Pyramid, believing that it conceals the secrets of the past and the future. He was not too far from the astrologers and the soothsayers of Babylon, and he might have consulted these oracles, just as misguided millions today enrich the frauds who by peering into a crystal, observing the courses of the stars, following the lines of the palm, and by a dozen other ways seek to sell men promise and assurance. Yet, mighty hero of faith that he was, he spurned all this and “staggered not.”
It is my prayer that God may give you this faith that does not shudder or sway or stagger before the treacheries of life. Do you know any one who has ever been given a confident and truly courageous outlook on life by Hindu seers, Eastern mystics, Oriental astrologers? Has the frantic measuring of the pyramids strengthened the hope or the faith of a single individual? It is sham and falsehood. From India, China, Europe, and America during the last years came prophecy upon prophecy predicting that September 15 and 16 of 1936 would be days of heavy destiny; yet these two dates have less importance than many others of the year now drawing to its close.
With failure following upon failure and fraud upon fraud, let us turn from superstition, distrust, and unbelief and come with confident faith to Christ, who keeps His word though “heaven and earth shall pass away” and continues with His grace “though the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed.” As in His own life we find the lowliness of Bethlehem, the persecution and hatred of His fellow-men, the sinking weakness of the Garden, and the God-forsakenness, the agony, the death at Calvary,—all this before the fulfilment of His promised redemption, before the open grave and His majestic ascension into heaven,—so in our lives the order of God’s mercy is often first the cross of affliction and then the crown of fulfilled promise; first the road of pain and sorrow and then the gates of glory. Do you distrust a physician because his medicine may be bitter? Why, then, distrust Him who heals our souls when that healing requires no sweet and easy prescription? Are the luxuriant tropics, where existence is easy, the countries from which strong leaders of men have sprung? Why, then, are we inclined to doubt God when He throws us into the thick of a real and earnest life-battle? Will the pampered and petted child, coddled and cajoled by indulgent parents, make the mold for a selfreliant manhood? Why, then, do we stagger and complain when God, to keep His high promise for us, takes away some of the baubles and trinkets that might wean us, childish or selfish as we are, from His love?
FAITH THOUGH GOD DELAYS
Let us remember that in his glorious confidence Abraham “staggered not,” even though the promises of God were long in their fulfilling. Year after year rolled on since the first promise of a son, and decade piled upon decade in their hard, discouraging grind; yet as time lengthened seemingly to record a broken promise, Abraham “staggered not” and was finally rewarded with the gift of the longexpected son.
If only you and I in this age of speed, with our quick, impulsive desire for immediate action, could learn that God does not move in hurried, excited ways! Thousands of years had to elapse before the Christ-child was to bring redemption from heaven to earth, thousands of years in which divine wisdom was shaping the course of the centuries for “the fulness of the time.” And when Christ came, His plan of salvation called for no immediate completion of His merciful deliverance on that first Christmas. For a third of a century Christ lived a man among men; for thirty years after the angels announced His birth that Savior worked in humility and obscurity in Nazareth, and only then, when the final hour of redemption had struck, did He set out on the public ministry that was to end three years later with His atoning death and His victorious resurrection.
In fulfilling our promises, God often lets us wait. When we become impatient and doubtful, let us not struggle in unbelief, but exult in the faith of the prophet, “Though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.” God’s time is always the right time.
You know that a mushroom grows overnight, while it takes years to produce a sturdy oak that can weather hurricanes. The firmer trust in God does not usually come from a passing emotion or a pious feeling at a revival, but from long acquaintance with God and His protecting, ennobling, and strengthening of our hearts. Lenses for eyeglasses are made in a quick process; but do you recall that it took the great lens of the Pacific Coast telescope two years to cool? And if we would look deep into our lives and high into God’s mercies, this clarifying of our vision often requires years. You can draw hasty, sketchy lines in a moment; but Ghiberti worked more than forty years on two medallioned baptistery doors at Florence, doors that Michelangelo pronounced beautiful enough to be the gates of Paradise; and if God would make masterpieces of our lives, why should we seek to ruin His artistry by demanding haste? No modern violin can produce the rich tones of the Stradivarius, made of aged, seasoned wood and completed by painstaking craftsmanship. The heart that best sings the new song of faith bears the stamp that this Savior’s love has repeatedly placed upon him in long years of blessed faith. No synthetic pearl made in the speedy processes of artificial culture has the luster of the natural gem that has been years in the making; and when you experience a postponement of the answer to your prayers, remember Abraham, who during a delay of twenty-five years “staggered not at the promise of God,” and, casting your eyes upon the same Christ whom He worshiped, resolve, “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His Word do I hope.”
FAITH THOUGH OUR SINS ACCUSE
Finally, we recall that Abraham’s faith was sustained though his conscience accused him every time his weak, selfish, sinful human nature gained the upper hand. Even then he “staggered not.” We have a golden passage from his life which I offer you as the evidence that your salvation is sealed in the love of Christ, without any contribution or compensation on your part. We read: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” That faith which justified Abraham before God gave him the assurance of a cleansed soul, of sin removed and canceled, of pardon spoken by God and sealed by Christ.
If there is any Christmas-gift that I particularly desire for you, it is the gift of this trusting faith in the cleansing and redeeming blood of our precious Savior, the faith that does not permit you to sink under the crushing burden of sin and collapse beneath despair, but that anchors your hearts and hopes securely on every one of the 30,000 golden treasure promises of Scripture. By these we learn that the Christ who once came, incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, to suffer, bleed, die in unspeakable anguish, came for our redemption; the Christ who now comes in His Word, in Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, enters our hearts and lives with the assurance that, when we fall, His revealed mercies will raise up for us a better fight of faith; the Christ who at the end of time will come, in the cloud and with His angels of glory, will fulfil the last of His promises for this earth, and take His own, all sins forgiven, all stains removed, all weaknesses strengthened, to Himself and the glories of heaven.
Throughout the centuries since His birth men have looked for the signs of the times and the symptoms of unrest and upheaval that are to herald the hour of His second coming. And as they have cried out, “Watchman, what of the night?” generation after generation has seen the day of His coming to judge the quick and the dead approach more closely. But has any other age witnessed more clearly than we in this generation those ominous signs of “wars and rumors of wars”? Has any other age had greater reason to be prepared for His coming than we, who are closer to it, after these centuries, than hundreds of millions who have gone before us? “Behold, I come quickly,” these words leap over nineteen centuries and ask us to prepare our hearts and our lives for that great and final day. Will you not in the love of Christmastide and with faith that does not stagger at the rich promises of God come to Christ if you are now away from Him or against Him? Cling to Christ more loyally and inseparably if you now call Him Lord and Savior! God give you all an unfaltering, unfailing, unflinching faith in this blessed Savior, for His mercy’s sake! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.