Date: January 31, 1937
Supplication in Sorrow
God of Life and Love:
Together with our sorely beset fellow-men who have come before Thee with their sorrows of the past week we humbly approach the throne of Thy majesty in the name of Jesus and by His atoning mercies to implore Thy protection upon the afflicted sections of our nation. Behold with mercy those who suffer from the flooding waters and the multitude of others, lonely, cold, discouraged, brokenhearted, who, without Thy sustaining love, may surrender to disbelief or remain in despair. Deliver us from the bondage of this doubt and fear. Send Thy Spirit into our hearts; make us penitent and trustful of Jesus, who knows our sorrows since He suffered for us, so that our moments of trial may be turned into glorious triumph. Show us, when we are inclined to doubt Thy judgment or question Thy ways, that the most crushing adversities are not hard enough to separate us from Christ’s mercies; that these seasons of sorrow should serve only to bring us closer to Thee, to refine our faith, clarify our vision, open our hearts and hands for the afflicted, and prepare us for the heavenly homeland with its perfect peace and the glory of beholding Thee, heavenly Father, in the blessing prepared by Thy love, restored by Thy redeeming Son, and assured by Thy purifying Spirit. Hear us and bless us for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. – Romans 8:35, 37
WHAT grave and sobering lessons the past week’s flood and death should teach the nation! More than a million of our fellow-countrymen driven from the sheltering warmth of their homes by the pitiless rise of swollen rivers! More than 200,000 destitute, many with no homes to which they can ever return, since the rush of mad flood waters has swept their houses, their barns, their livestock—everything they owned beside the clothing on their backs—downstream to destruction. Thousands weakened by exposure, hunger, and fright, laid low by pneumonia and the ravages of contagious disease! Hundreds dead by drowning, fire and explosion, cold and privation!—This is tragedy as it was written over an unparalleled area during the seven quick days since I spoke to you on last Sunday.
In the first lesson of this vast inundation we see that one of the factors which helped to swell the rushing waters was the greedy, ruthless cutting down of American forests on hillsides and mountains, where the rain and melting snow, no longer restrained, rushes in torrents to swell the heavy streams. The careless waste of other resources may likewise produce alarming disaster. In the oilfield of a single Texas district enough natural gas is wasted every day to supply the household needs of the entire nation. Tons of California oranges have been permitted to rot on orchard floors; hundreds of thousands of apples, thrown into the Columbia River; carloads of Alaska salmon, dumped into the Pacific; extended acreages of farm products, plowed under. The Christ who, though He could miraculously multiply the loaves and the fishes, insisted that the crumbs be gathered, cannot look down with favor upon a people that abuses His blessings or upon homes that throw away more food than many European families would require for their existence. This waste must be stopped; for no nation is wealthy enough to destroy its own blessings.
The other lesson that comes to us now that the swirling rivers begin to drop quietly from many of the waterlogged districts is that of God’s grace. A swelling anthem of praise and thanksgiving should be raised to the Almighty, since the destruction might have been unspeakably more disastrous. The overflow of the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, as terrifying and devastating as it is, cannot be compared, in point of loss of life, for instance, with the flood tragedies of China. There, in 1911, the rising Yangtze Kiang took 100,000 lives; just fifty years ago the Hoangho spread over its banks, with a death-toll of more than a million, while the total recorded loss of life in all major American floods has not reached 11,000. For every American life taken by floods far more than one hundred Chinese lives have been destroyed. We have been blessed as no other nation even in the protection which Divine Providence has granted us in great catastrophes.
More personal, however, is the lesson that would teach us to study the meaning of these sorrows. Countless thousands of you in the swamped lowlands are asking the everrecurrent “Why?” “Why did this happen to me?” But you do not have to live in a refugee camp to ask that question. Many of you have been caught in the floodtides of far greater miseries than the lurching currents of untamed rivers or sorrows that threaten to pull your soul and body down to destruction. All over the country, in every city and village from coast to coast where this message is heard, disconsolate, bitter, resentful men and women are asking this disconsolate “How?” “How can I find peace for my grief-torn heart?” They are repeating that searching “Where?” “Where can I find an immovable assurance for time and eternity as life adds affliction to adversity and problem to perplexity?” “Who,” their crushed heart beseeches, “can help us build our hopes high, never to be swept by the floods of life?”
I thank God in the name of the Savior, who once pleaded, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” that I can show you
FAITH FOR THE HOUR OF TRIAL
as this triumphant conviction is immortalized in Romans, chapter 8, verses 35 and 37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”
CHRIST-CENTERED FAITH CONQUERS SORROW
When the apostle presents these seven sorrows: “tribulation,” “distress,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “peril,” “sword,” it seems as though he were scanning a page from many present-day life stories. “Famine” and “nakedness” and “sword” may not be particular twentiethcentury menaces that haunt most of you. Instead, a hundred related afflictions rise up to provoke worry and fear. In this catalog of catastrophes, first of all, are the least significant of your losses, your money troubles: collapse of income and investment; mounting bills and unpaid mortgages; the discharge slip in the pay envelope and the heartless removal from the pay-roll because you are over forty-five; the overnight destruction of your property through flood or fire; the failure of your crops through blight and drought; the black withering of your orchard because of scale and frost.
Then come the harder blows, the heartaches in the family circle: an unfaithful husband or an untrue wife; a wayward son or disgraced daughter, deaf to parental tears and prayers; drunkenness, godlessness, cursing, hatred; divorce or desertion; death and the solitary path of life.
We turn then to pains of the body: the loss of sight and hearing; the weary waiting of invalids and shut-ins, who count the siege of sickness by decades; the sufferings of the crippled and paralyzed; the torture of those whose maladies are incurable; the collapse of the body in the years of advanced age. Add to these the agonies of the mind, nervous and mental breakdowns; fears and phobias that lead to insanity, worse than death itself.
And now we have reached the most deep-rooted of all sufferings: the sorrows of the soul, the fear that you may not be saved, the terror, repeated in many of your letters in which you ask me whether you have committed the unpardonable sin (and let me say in passing that you never need fear that you are guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost as long as you can pray these simple words: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me!”); frozen, prayerless hearts, a thousand times worse than the cold numbness of the body; defeated lives that try to climb higher to God, but that slip back more deeply into the quicksands of sin; stabs of an aroused conscience; shaking before the specter of hell and the doom of death;—these are some of the sorrows that have made many of you shudder before the dawn of every new day and in the blackness of your soul plan that most vicious of all sins, which kills the body and damns the soul.
In these dark hours, when the thunders of life break over your defenseless head (and you for whom the song of life has been a sweet and unbroken melody, remember how quickly heart-sinking sorrows can come to overwhelm you and yours), where can you find shelter and hope? Or—paralyzing thought—is there no shelter, no hope? Are we pieces of wreckage swept by the swift river of life, broken branches whirling in the funnel of a tornado? Are you and I accidental atoms in a world of chance and haphazard fate?
You do not have to be a Christian or believe the Bible to know that you cannot ignore the problem of suffering with a cold shrug of the shoulder. Reason tells you that there is a God of truth and justice, and your conscience reminds you that you must get right with Him. Why is it that wanton killers who sneer at death often have to be dragged, raving, moaning, cursing, to the electric chair? Why is it that in sudden catastrophes haughty, high-spirited men and women who boasted, “With bleeding head, but unbowed, I will fight my own battles,” have trembled in blanched terror and gibbering fright? Is all this bleaching of bravery not to be explained by the fact that without God and without Christ there can be no satisfying answer to the questions of suffering and death and that, if we lean on the arm of flesh, we are lost? Go back to the disaster of the flood. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent for flood control in the valleys of these raging rivers. Corps of the nation’s outstanding engineers have built mighty dams and hundreds of miles of river walls; yet many of these barricades broke like egg-shells under the impact of flood currents. For the smaller troubles of your life do not look to money, brains, or human resources for guidance and strength. I have seen millionaires cringe and sob as their plans for happiness crashed before their eyes; university men, skilled in meeting great emergencies, helpless before their own sorrows; physicians who could heal others, yet who knew of no medicine for their own heartaches; attorneys who could argue the cause of their clients, but who were powerless to plead the cause of their own soul.
We must look beyond ourselves to behold with the apostle in our text “the love of Christ,” the Savior, who says: “Let not your heart be troubled.” I cannot promise those whom I again invite to accept this Christ as their Savior that in Jesus all troubles will vanish. Some would tempt you with a creed that promises to banish sickness and sorrow; there are high priests of modern unbelief who dream dreams and envision this sin-cursed race ever marching higher in its evolution to a golden, painless, sinless, sorrowless paradise here on earth.
But what does Jesus say? “Take up the cross and follow Me.” Clearly and unmistakably His Word warns, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Pointedly and uncompromisingly He declares: “The disciple is not above his Master.” And if He Himself was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” you, now called to the cross, must be prepared to follow Him along the pathways of sorrow. Indeed, sometimes it seems that Christians suffer doubly. It often happens that men who lived in wealth before they were born again in faith were plunged into poverty soon after they came to Christ. “What good is your faith?” Job’s wife taunts as she coaxes her leprous husband to “curse God and die.” “What good is your faith?” pagan Rome sneers back at St. Paul when he speaks of “tribulation,” “distress,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “peril,” “sword.” “What good is your faith?” a sensuous world haughtily mocks in echo.
We exult: Though Christ offers us no soft, easy, frictionless life, nevertheless He gives us what no one else can offer: Heaven’s solution to the problem of sorrow. When we know “the love of Christ” that St. Paul mentions at both the beginning and the end of our text, we are assured that through Christ every sorrow of our lives becomes a blessing, every adversity the manifestation of His saving grace.
And once more we have come to the truth which I promise to bring you in every message, “the love of Christ.” As soon as you know that Christ loved you; as soon as you can stand beneath the cross and believe that the Crucified, Son of God and Son of Man, loved you in spite of your sins; once the Spirit of God speaks into your soul and says: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” and you believe firmly and confidently that Christ loved you into that God-forsaken, heartbreaking end from which even the sun hid its face and the heavens darkened, you know that He will not desert you; His love will watch over you by day and by night, and you can exult even in the bloodiest adversities: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
Behold the width of that sin-bearing love, stretching out to the farthest reaches of the world, but now focusing on your soul; measure the height of that sin-atoning love, reaching by the golden ladder of faith into the heaven of heavens; plumb the depths of that sin-destroying love, sinking down, as it does, to the lowest levels of life to tell the worst sinners that they cannot approach Christ too often or too closely; and believe that your Savior will help you to emerge safely from the hottest fires of affliction, to rise with renewed strength after each adversity. All other love will finally be broken. Husbands are separated from their wives and parents from their children by that break in life’s chain we call death. But here, in the unchanging, unending, unceasing love of Jesus, is the permanent refuge and the rock of all ages.
My friends, do you know this “love of Christ”? Is it a life-giving, hope-instilling, death-defying power within you? No other question of man can begin to mean as much to you in body and in soul. God grant that you will take the time to see your Savior face to face in His own Word and that the Holy Spirit may enlighten you through the truth of His Bible and the blessing of Baptism!
You of starved souls and stunted lives, who have never examined the truth of Jesus, should listen to General Lew Wallace, the author of Ben Hur. In writing this story, with its background in the Savior’s day, Wallace tells us: “I was in quest of knowledge, but I had no faith to sustain, no creed to bolster up. . . . I was earnest in my search for truth. I weighed, I analyzed, I counted and compared. . . . At length I stood firmly and definitely on the solid rock. But whether Ben Hur has ever influenced the mind of a single reader or not,” he concludes, “I am sure . . . if it has done nothing more, it has convinced its author of the divinity of the lowly Nazarene, who walked and talked with God.” If you, too, will throw off doubt and unbelief and come to the holy Word with a prayer for enlightenment, you will find in it your loving Savior and with Him the victory over all of earth’s sin and sorrows.
CHRIST-CENTERED FAITH DOES MORE THAN CONQUER
When the apostle continues: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us,” he assures us through Christ that we not only overcome the trials of life; with deepened faith we can do immeasurably more; we can understand our afflictions, find strength in the ministry of sorrow, and discover God’s love in every chastening.
First of all, “we are more than conquerors” through the love of Christ if we know that sorrows serve to bring us closer to Him. Many in the flooded valleys of the nation who were living careless, heedless lives will be brought to God through this flood. Some of you, as you write me, have had to be locked with chain gangs before your stubborn, sinful pride was broken. George Mathison turned blind and was spurned by the faithlessness of his promised bride, who refused to marry a sightless husband,—all this before he could sing: “O love that will not let me go!” Sometimes our heavenly Father imposes a burden so heavy that we realize we must turn to Christ for grace to bear it. It is hard and bitter for our human pride, this cure that brings us back to the cross on our knees; but as we see the stars only in the darkness, so often the night of adversity must come before we can see clearly the radiance of the Savior’s help. There is no rainbow without the rain; and much of the beauty and happiness of our faith is unnoticed until the tempests of life strike us.
“We are more than conquerors” through Christ because we know that the trials of life often serve to restrain us from sin. God sometimes takes our money lest our money will take us. He sometimes checks youthful ambitions and shatters mature hopes because, as His all-seeing eye searches the future, He knows that the fulfilment of these plans might lead us astray. Sometimes He calls the young away from this world home to Him and writes what seems to be a heart-breaking end to a promising life; but “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,” and to save young lives from long contact with earth’s sins, He often transports them to eternal holiness.
“We are more than conquerors” in our adversities because through Christ we know that these sorrows only serve to bring us closer to our suffering fellow-men, to turn selfish passion into unselfish compassion, and to realize that we are our brothers’ keepers. Those who have fought their way through the fires of affliction know that their heart beats in sympathy with those other sufferers. When we heard the response to the ceaseless radio calls appealing for doctors and nurses, serums and medicine, boats and motors, food and clothing, and saw how the nation responded, American hearts and homes and hands being opened to alleviate sorrow, we witnessed one of the great blessings of suffering.
“We are more than conquerors” because through Christ the adversities that crowd in upon us only serve to purify our faith and to deepen the trust that confesses: “He hath done all things well.” Once we have walked the steep and stony uphill path and climbed the heights to a tried and tested life, we can see the great panorama of God’s love and wisdom from that higher plane. There we no longer hotly charge our Father with injustice. No longer do we question His mercies or repeat the disconsolate “Why?” And though we cannot rime our afflictions with our reason, there is that heavenly, all-knowing, all-seeing love before which we exclaim: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”
The greatest blessing in this ministry of suffering is the more than victorious conviction that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” the triumphant faith that the tears of this life are to help us prepare for the next life, where there will be no more weeping; that the cross below brings the crown above. There, when we see what we have believed and know that the blessed Savior has kept every promise, we shall change the text of today into the confidence of that blessed tomorrow and in heavenly strains exult: “Who” has separated “us from the love of Christ? . . . Tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we” have been “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” God grant you this faith for the hour of trial, this glory for the eternity of deliverance, through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.