Date: February 28, 1937
Entreaty for Contrition and Courage
Christ, our blessed Redeemer and perfect Ransom:
We approach Thy mercy with bowed heads and contrite hearts to confess our thanklessness concerning Thine atoning sorrows and death, to acknowledge our having been ashamed of Thee, whose grace never was ashamed of us. Forgive us, blessed Savior, and by the mercy of Thy blood shed on the cross blot out this ingratitude. Look upon this vast radio assembly, upon the unbelieving, the scoffing, the denying, the selfish, the secure, and from the East to the West bring repentant souls to faith in Thee and their eternal salvation. Graciously behold also Thy redeemed worshipers who trust in Thee, but are still weak and inconsistent, often lonely and disheartened, yet cling to Thee for immovable support in their wavering hours, for Thy companionship on their solitary paths, for the victory of Thy faith over the onslaughts of doubt and question. Particularly do we commend to Thy strengthening power the womanhood of our nation. Bless the mothers and daughters of this land with a pure and holy faith, that reflects itself in their devotion to our homes and their defense of Thy Church. Hear us, bless us, and prepare us for our part in Thy kingdom for Thine own name’s sake and because of Thine own holy promise, O Christ of all mercies! Amen.
When Pilate was set down on the judgment-seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with this just man. – Matthew 27:19
WHILE few issues have divided the nation as sharply as President Roosevelt’s proposal to enlarge the United States Supreme Court, let us direct your attention this afternoon to a bit of legal history on which there can be no disagreement, the trial of Jesus Christ, which by friend and foe is stamped the most vicious miscarriage of justice that men have ever witnessed. Take all the bribery, the sordid betrayal of right and truth that has ever impeached American judges or sent them behind prison-bars, and the total of this iniquity in the name of truth will be completely outweighed on the scales of eternal justice by the verdict of “guilty” which sentenced Christ, the Son of God, the world’s Redeemer, to execution on a criminal’s cross. So infamous is the Savior’s crucifixion that periodically some of His own countrymen have pleaded for a new trial, for a modern Sanhedrin, which, reversing that sentence, would pronounce Jesus not guilty. They know that the whole trial was a legal farce of prearranged revenge; that even a mediocre lawyer could have secured the release of Jesus on any one of a score of counts by which His arrest and His several trials outraged the accepted legal procedure of that day.
But Jesus had no attorney. Far worse than this coldblooded, black-hearted attack of His enemies was the treachery of His friends and the tragedy that during His entire trial not one of Jesus’ followers spoke in His defense. Where were the disciples? One of them betrayed Him, and his lifeless body would soon dangle from a suicide’s rope; another, having denied Him, turned away, weeping as he went; the other ten, gripped by selfish fear for their lives, fled to cowardly safety. Where were the hosannasingers and the palm-branch-wavers who five short days before welcomed Jesus and spread their garments for His triumphal entry into the royal city? Not one of these now lifted a voice to counteract the fraud and falsity that combined to crucify Christ. Where was Nicodemus, the influential friend, a member of the very court that sentenced our Lord? He should have defended Jesus before his fellow-judges; but by his silence or his absence, Nicodemus placed his name, too, below the Savior’s deathwarrant. Where were the thousands of His countrymen whom Christ fed when they were hungry, healed when they were sick, blessed when they were cursed by afflictions of body and mind? Not one appeared for Jesus. While the Savior stood on trial before Pilate, a hate-crazed mob outside the governor’s palace prepared to demand Barabbas instead of Jesus, a rebel rather than their Redeemer, a murderer in preference to their Messiah.
In that hour, only one voice spoke in behalf of the Son of God. It was the voice of a woman. “When Pilate was set down upon the judgment-seat,” his wife sent a messenger to her husband with the warning that St. Matthew has recorded (chapter 27, verse 19): “Have thou nothing to do with this just man!”
Because we need women today who will defend their Savior, this message addresses itself particularly to the mothers and daughters of the land with the plea:—
AMERICAN WOMANHOOD FOR CHRIST!
—for Christ in their faith and for Christ in their lives.
CHRIST ACCLAIMED BY AMERICAN WOMANHOOD
The defense of Jesus by Claudia—for so tradition names this brave woman—looms up more courageously when we remind ourselves that Pilate’s wife represented the highest society of her day, with its power, wealth, influence, learning. Yet when her thoughts are directed toward Jesus, that mysterious Galilean prisoner arraigned before her husband, majestic even in His bonds, serene, though bruised and battered, she casts rank and position aside. The warning that God has sent in a dream grips her heart, and she prepares to intercede for Jesus. What if the upper classes of Jerusalem demanded His death? What if the high priest, formally bedecked in ceremonial robes, cried out only a few hours before, “Ye have heard His blasphemy!” and his priestly henchmen answered, “He is guilty of death!” What if her own weak, favor-currying husband sought above all else to retain the popular good will! Sweeping all this aside, with a courage that is unparalleled by any other human figure in the Savior’s trial, she proceeds to vindicate that mysterious captive whose fate had caused her much suffering and heartache. “He is a ‘just man!’” she warns her husband. “He is innocent of all those absurd charges, the victim of priestly jealousy and professional pride. I warn you,” she pleads in this lone defense of Jesus; “He is faultless, stainless, guiltless.”
When we plead, “American womanhood for Christ!” we ask all the women of the land to behold the same Savior and repeat the confession of Claudia, “This Jesus is a ‘just man!’” You need no dream to impress this truth upon you; the women of our country have the Bible with its divine proof of the Savior’s innocence. His challenge “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” remains unanswered. Pilate’s first judgment, “I find no fault in this man,” becomes the verdict of the centuries.
Our faith in Christ must go far beyond the claims of His guiltlessness. We must understand the cause of that pain of body, anguish of heart and agony of soul, so intense that these combined sorrows almost killed Christ before He could begin to drag His cross to Calvary. Tradition has it that Pilate’s wife was converted to the faith. However this may be, the appeal “American womanhood for Christ!” asks you, the mothers, the daughters, the wives, the sisters, in our American homes, to acclaim this Christ as more than a “just man.” We must believe with all our hearts that He is almighty God Himself, who descended from the high heavens of power and beauty and glory into this vice-ridden, sin-saturated world deliberately to take from my life and yours, from the two billion human beings that swarm over the earth today, as well as from the countless myriads that have preceded us and that may follow us, every sin individually and all sins in their totality that separate us from God, extract the joy from life, and leave us doomed to unrelieved punishment and unending death.
We need in this nation today eager and alert women, talented and accomplished women, skilled and artistic women; but far more than that we need Christian women, who with trusting faith and undaunted hope will behold this Savior, as the ancient prophet envisioned Him, “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” and in His lowliness, His bleeding agony, confess Him as their Lord and Savior, who has redeemed them, lost and condemned creatures, purchased and won them from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death that they might be His own.
No one has ever done so much for womanhood as Jesus. When His Word proclaimed that in Him there is “neither male nor female,” but that He is the Savior of all, that blessed truth became the Christian constitution for womanhood. To see these blessings by contrast, look at Mother India today with its dirty zenanas and harems, with its 27,000,000 widows, forced to live by charity or prostitution, made to believe that the husbands’ deaths were caused by sins of the wives. Step into the hut of Mohammedans at mealtime, and you will often see the father and the sons sit around a huge bowl of food. Occasionally they throw a few bones and scraps to a figure huddled in the comer—the wife and mother. Cross the fence that surrounds a Zulu kraal in South Africa, and you may hear a father planning to sell his daughter for a dozen sheep to a multimarried suitor. The fact that in America today our wives and mothers are not called “cows” as in the Moslem world is not due to education; for some of those who would degrade womanhood by proposals of loose family ties and free love have been men and women of university training. The fact that womanhood has been placed on the pedestal which it now occupies is not due to modern thought. The Soviet program for women has offered plenty of new and revolutionary proposals, but it has dragged women down to a new low level of lust. The respect which we accord to womanhood does not come from American wealth and progress; for in some of our wealthier homes you will find women regarded as pampered playthings, welcomed as long as their beauty and attractiveness serve the gratification of lust, but discarded or exchanged before collusive divorce courts when this glamour fails. Every blessing that motherhood today enjoys comes from Christ. As you behold womanhood saved by Christ from slavery, purified, exalted; as you hear the Word of God demand this high standard, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it,” can you not see why womanhood has found a powerful appeal in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
It is disastrous enough when a man rejects Christ, but how shocking when a woman brazenly joins with those who would crucify Christ today if He were with us. May God save the women of America from the terror of that denial! May His Spirit lead you, if need be through hardships and disappointments and shocking reverses, to this Christ and to His cleansing love!
CHRIST DEFENDED BY AMERICAN WOMANHOOD
Unswerving faith in Christ’s redemption must create in you the holy desire to defend Him against the attacks of our hostile and unbelieving world. If, as I pray to God, Christ is enthroned in your heart to direct the affairs of your life, you cannot sit idly by while modern denial continues to rain blasphemous blows upon our Savior. You must plead His cause as did Pilate’s wife and stand up for His truth. Has it ever occurred to you that the enemies whose evil scheme Pilate’s wife sought to frustrate are in principle the same foes that assail Christ today? As she fought against the clergy which in the trial of Jesus had denied the Savior’s deity, so, when some of the loudest and most insistent voices in American churches boast that they, too, deny this central doctrine, you must be prepared, even if you, too, stand alone, to uphold the glorious truth, asserted by Jesus, acknowledged by the Father, repeated in the gospels, reinforced by mighty miracles, that Christ is not merely godly or godlike, but that He is, was, and ever will be very God of very God.
When Claudia spoke to defend Jesus, she opposed the Pharisees of her day, the false teachers who rejected Christ because they wanted to save themselves and through the fulfilment of ritual work-religion earn their own way into heaven. They were the smugly self-satisfied who gloated before God that they were better than the rest of the human herd. If any of you are members of churches that have kept this delusion alive; if you sit before pulpits that dilute the Gospel with this pay-your-own-way-tosalvation creed; if you would remain Christ’s, you cannot stifle your protest and remain silent while souls for which the Savior bled and died are being turned away from His full grace. If the pictorial sections of our newspapers show us the Spanish women fighting in the front ranks of the civil war, can we not expect that the courageous spirit of Christian womanhood, which in every crisis of past church history has rallied to the defense of the Cross, will be ready to take its determined place for spiritual warfare against the enemies of Christ? Let there be no mistake about this—the attack on unbelief will not be easy. It may mean the breaking of long-established connections. Four hundred years ago Martin Luther predicted that because of infidelity and false teaching in some churches the Word of God would have to be taught in Christian homes rather than in pretentious churchbuildings; and rather than expose yourself to the sarcastic barbs of sneering unbelief and let your children attend Sunday-schools where they are taught to paint and draw, and weave and mold, but learn nothing of the incarnate redeeming Savior, speak up in protest, and if your defense of Christ is unheeded, come out from among them, be separate and be strengthened in your loyalty to Jesus.
It was not easy for Claudia to defend Jesus since everything for which He stood—His emphasis on purity, His glorifying of marriage, His benediction upon childhood, His esteem for the home—was bitterly opposed by the sensuous world of Claudia’s day. Yet as she loyally acknowledged Jesus’ innocence, so you must answer the Savior’s appeal for a firm, consecrated womanhood by rising to the defense of His teachings concerning the home, family life, and the preparation for their blessings. This is a day of easy, slippery morals, an age that is ready to dose its eyes to the sins of the flesh, happy to encourage young women in the first and small evasions of the pure life, eager to applaud the sowing of wild oats, happy to help Satan pose as an angel of light, and we have stood by while notorious women have been headlined in newspapers, glorified in our magazines, applauded by repeated curtain calls in our public entertainments. False standards consequently are held up before the impressionable minds of America’s young women; and in some of the thousands of letters that come to us the truth of God’s Word finds its distinct fulfilment, “Whatsoever a man”—or a woman—“soweth, that shall he”—or she—“also reap.”
To repel this violation of Christ’s demand for purity, to hear His Word plead, “Keep thyself pure,” and then to keep ourselves pure, we need the sustaining, preserving power of Christ’s Word. On the night of His betrayal He told His disciples, “Now are ye pure through the Word which I have spoken unto you”; and if American womanhood is to be Christ’s, it must learn to fight the rampant evils of this day in His strength and with a faith that is fortified by His Word. So I ask you: Do you pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” and then make the Bible an essential part of your own life? Do you give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to purify and ennoble your soul through this building Word? Do you know the old hymns, built on the rock of Scripture, by which you can sing your way from temptation?
We must present a solid, unmoving defense for Christ’s glorified teaching concerning motherhood and childhood. Never before have medals been bestowed upon those who have labored to restrict motherhood, nor has the moral life of the nation been attacked as viciously by those who have tried to make childlessness a virtue. Despite the fact that the first of all commands and blessings that God gave the race (recorded in the very first chapter of the Bible, repeated, to avoid all possibility of misinterpretation, three times in its next eight chapters) is His holy word “Be ye fruitful and multiply,” we stand face to face with this perversion that children, “an heritage of the Lord,” are sometimes hated as social impediments. Every student of history knows assuredly that, when a nation spurns the gift of healthy, happy children and regard its families of six or seven boys and girls almost as vulgar; when the intelligent classes refuse to reproduce themselves, the handwriting of warning appears upon the walls of the national structure. How long will we tolerate the cheap, lurid, sometimes fraudulent advertisements flaunted before the eyes of high-school boys and girls by those who promote this unholy birth restriction? God give us leaders for a mighty movement of protest!
In our text Claudia, moved by a concern for her husband’s welfare, warned him to hold back his hand from the Christ of God. Her plea was not heeded. Pilate, sneering man of the world that he was, “delivered Him to be crucified.” However, many other wives have helped to restrain their husbands from the sin of unbelief and have brought them to faith. If you have a life partner who is cruel or unbelieving, do not rush to the divorce court. Hold off argument and scolding; work and pray in deep and persistent prayer. Even though harshness seems to echo your love and indifference answer your entreaties, speak kindly day after day and give a Christian example of forbearance. Let the Spirit of Christ shine forth from your life; and as the apostle reminds us that many wives have won their husbands for Christ by their “chaste conversation,” so focus your attention, your love, your prayers, on the home.
“How quaint!” “How old-fashioned!” I hear some of you say as the Church pleads for a back-to-the-home movement on the part of American wives who have neglected their first duties. Indeed, the popular appraisal of greatness reveals a curious trend of the modern mind, which regards a woman as distinguished not because she is a good mother and a faithful wife, but because of achievements and ideals which lie outside the home. In the face of this attitude, responsible for many broken homes and bankrupt family happiness, let us remember that woman’s greatness lies not in political preeminence, in airplane flights, in stage successes, in literary distinctions, in business leadership, in social acclaim, but in her devotion to the development of her home, in the support of her husband’s interests, in the training of her children for Christian manhood and womanhood. Take your Old Testament, turn to the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs, and you will see that three thousand years ago the inspired author of these remarkable truths settled the question of woman’s greatness by bestowing the palm of distinction upon a Godfearing mother, the woman who is primarily concerned about her husband, her home, and her children.
This loyal defense of Christ and His teaching brings rich returns,—not always in dollars and cents, of course, but in those greater gifts beyond the power of purchase that come with the abiding companionship of Christ in the home: a happiness that rejoices even in adversity; a loving comradeship between husband and wife that thanks God for the necessities of life; the confiding trust between parents and children that makes father and mother watch over the souls of their own flesh and blood, bring them to Baptism, and in this uncertain age teach their sons and daughters the absolute certainty of Christ’s saving, strengthening love; the serene joy of trusting faith, maintained by daily Scripture-reading, nurtured by daily prayers; the power to meet sickness, disaster, sudden parting, and death with the hope of a blessed resurrection and a glorified reunion in heaven.
As Christ now holds out these blessings to you women of America, will you, should you, dare you, reject them for the glitter of unbelief and the tarnish of indifference? God strengthen you, every one of you, with the grace, the wisdom, and the love to give yourselves, your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole mind, to Christ, your Savior, now and in eternity! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.