Date: February 21, 1937
Prayer for Grace and Strength
Blessed Savior, Thou who didst seal our eternal redemption with Thine own holy blood:
Have mercy upon us and behold Thy children with a glance of Thy strengthening grace, so that in the hour of trial and temptation we may never turn our backs upon Thine outstretched arms. We remember in keenly felt sadness the fatal ease with which our flesh can surrender instead of resisting, deny Thee instead of affirming our faith in Thy mercies. Contritely do we beseech Thy forgiveness, and humbly do we ask Thee to preserve us at all costs from that most terrifying and damnable of all sins, the denial and disavowal of Thee who didst not forsake us, even on the cross, burdened with the sins and sorrows of all mankind, as Thou didst finish forever the blessed work of atonement. With the vision of Thy suffering and death before our eyes, help us to renounce sin, to rise victoriously above our afflictions, to walk more closely with Thee. Send us Thy Spirit to bless this broadcast and use it mightily, bringing the message of Thy judgment upon sin to many selfish and secure sinners, comforting the weary and heavy-laden with eternal hope, strengthening those who know the joy of Thy salvation and would grow in grace! Hear us, O Christ, Thou sin-bearing Lamb of God, as Thou hast promised to hear us! Amen.
The Lord turned and looked upon Peter. . . . And Peter went out and wept bitterly. – Luke 22:61-62
A FEW days ago the nation paused in impressive ceremonies to honor the memory of Abraham Lincoln; but do you know that a Civil War newspaper, attacking the great Emancipator, denounced him as “a horrid-looking wretch” and snarled: “After him, what white man would be President?” Will you believe that a prominent statesman, maliciously assailing Lincoln, the Preserver of the Union, the liberator of enslaved millions, called the Martyr President “the original gorilla”? Tomorrow, when grateful hearts throughout our forty-eight States commemorate the birthday of our country’s father, it may serve a vital purpose to recall that newspapers of Washington’s day berated him who of all men should have been first in the hearts of every American as a “tyrant, an impostor, a crocodile, a hyena, or even an embezzler.” On the day that Washington retired from the Presidency another hate-filled editor gloated: “This man [Washington], who is the source of all the misfortunes of our country, is . . . no longer possessed of the power to multiply evils upon the United States. Every heart ought to beat high with the exultation that the name of Washington ceases from this day to give currency to political iniquity and to legalized corruption.”
“Despicable and treacherous!”—harsh terms like these express our revulsion from such monstrous lies and hideous disloyalty of man toward his fellow-men. But what can we say of that immeasurably more shocking denial which makes men disclaim their God? If, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, even dumb, brute creatures—horses, oxen, mules—know their owners and recognize their master’s crib, how can we describe the depravity of intelligent men and women who as the basest of all ingrates turn their backs upon the Lord and His rich and daily providing for all their needs? Above all, what words can we find for the man who has acknowledged Jesus Christ as his Redeemer, enjoyed the privileges of His sacred companionship, and yet in the hour of trial denies and disavows that Savior?
As our second Lenten message takes us from the gloom and the grief of Gethsemane to the high priest’s courtyard, the enormity of this denial of Christ confronts us in Simon Peter, the Galilean fisherman disciple. Blessed as only eleven other men in all history, through his high calling as Christ’s disciple, he had been singled out by his Lord for notable distinctions. He was one of the privileged three who beheld the Savior both in His transfigured glory and in His deepest suffering, beneath Gethsemane’s ancient olive-trees. Of the twelve disciples—this would be our quick conclusion—Simon Peter should have been the last to forsake his bound and captive Christ. Yet when he hovered around the fire with the avowed enemies of Jesus and there in the priestly courtyard warmed himself against the early morning chill, Peter, the impetuous disciple, the spokesman of the Twelve, the sword-bearing crusader, loses his faith; and when the repeated challenge is hurled at him “Art thou not also one of this man’s disciples?” weak, disloyal, thankless Peter deliberately denies his Lord, protests three times, “I know Him not,” and curses and swears to prove his contempt of Christ.
Had this record of Peter’s faithlessness stopped here, had that disgraced disciple been cast away forever, there could be no charge of injustice; for if ever a man failed in a great emergency, it was Peter, the coward. But praise be to God’s marvelous mercy, disloyal and disgraced as Peter was, he had not fallen too far to be reclaimed and restored. As Jesus was led, bound and beaten through the court, we read (the twenty-second chapter of St. Luke, verses 61 and 62): “The Lord turned and looked upon Peter; . . . and Peter went out and wept bitterly.”
I pray that Christ may look upon every disloyal heart in this audience and bring every truth-denying life to repentance while I speak to you of—
THE SAVIOR’S GLANCE OF GRACE
and show those who have set themselves against Christ the love and strength that you, too, can read in the eyes of Jesus.
A GLANCE OF ALL-FORGIVING LOVE
Peter is pictured to us as the most human of all disciples. As he lives on the pages of the gospels, we find in him the same frailties that shatter our own loyalties. Unforgettable is Peter’s previous and heroic confession of faith. When the masses had turned their backs upon Jesus and the Savior, addressing the Twelve, asked, “Will ye also go away?” it was Peter who sprang to this deathless answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
How can this courageous conviction come from the same lips that spoke the shocking betrayal, “I know not the man”? Or let me ask, how is it that some of you, sons and daughters of godly parents, pledged in your youth to the same Christ, once outstanding in your church and Sunday-school work, enlisted in the service of Jesus Christ as ministers of His grace, have fallen, just as Peter, and repeat: “I know not the man”?
Perhaps your denial is to be traced to a fatal self-confidence and emotionalism in your relation to Jesus. There was something of that in impetuous, self-reliant Peter. He beholds his Savior radiant on the Mount of Transfiguration, and, overcome by the joy of it all, he can think only of the ecstasy of living near the glorycolored clouds. He sees Jesus striding across the Galilean sea, and in one moment of high-pitched enthusiasm he begs permission to walk the waves, and in another moment of cringing fear he screams, “Lord, save me!” Listen to him, but a few hours before he proves himself the traitor, impulsively promising Jesus: “Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended.” “Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee,” and then remember that only a few moments later the Savior finds him asleep. There is too much of this boiling hot and icy cold emotionalism in many hearts today, too much of weathervane Christianity, too much appealing to the senses by pomp and parade, by color and ceremony, and too little of the plain, direct, personal preaching of Christ and Him crucified. Too much of sugary, sentimental song and music and too little of the virile, militant battle-cry for Christ: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Too much of the sweet saccharine, dripping, maudlin messages that deliberately toy with the lighter heart-strings; and too little, far too little,—may God forgive us!—of sound, Scriptural preaching and pure Biblical doctrines! Too many people with ears itching for pretty phrases and pulpit ether to anesthetize their conscience; too few who crowd emotionalism to the side as they demand, “What must I do to be saved?” Too many who want to feel their religion and demand a surcharge of emotions; too few who want to believe with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their mind that in Christ they have, now and forever, perfect pardon, perpetual peace.
Another factor in Peter’s denial is the disappointment when his dreams of Jesus’ grand and earthly kingdom collapse and his own recourse to arms is condemned by the compassionate Christ. How many people are there today who repeat Peter’s question: “Lord, shall we smite with the sword?” In view of the fanaticism of certain clergymen the unholy attempts to inject churches into purely political affairs which we have witnessed in sectarian lobbies, the formation of special political parties, and the arrogant claims of some religious bodies for supremacy over the State we ought to pray fervently that God preserve us from churchmen who seize the sword, forgetting their sacred duty to help the wounded souls of humanity. And when the ambitious plans of sword-brandishing zealots fail and people hear Jesus say: “My kingdom is not of this world”; when we see that the popular answer to the demand: “What, then, shall I do with Jesus?” is still: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” they are often ready to surrender their faith and disavow a Savior whose ultimatum is still: “Take up the cross and follow Me.”
By the same process of sin that made Peter turn away from his Lord some of you deny Jesus. You may never have stood in a public place and openly repudiated Christ; but your life, your words, your attitudes, cry out more decisively than any mere rejection in words: “I know not” the Christ! It seems to be in the air, even the religious atmosphere, this washing one’s hands of Jesus. I sometimes rub my eyes to see if I am reading aright when I review some pronouncements of churchmen in high position, with words piled upon words, many of them so colorless and Christless that they could be uttered in a mosque, in a synagogue, or in many a Buddhist temple. In many circles the only unpardonable pulpit sin is the clear, ever-repeated, ever-emphasized message of the cleansing blood and the saving mercies of Christ.
Some of you write to ask why we must speak out so clearly against the betrayal of Christ in modernist churches. Do you want us to tiptoe where the saints of God have firmly trod? Do you want preachers who close their eyes and stuff their ears and bring lilac-scented “cheerio” messages? Does America need “yes” men at the microphone who sidestep that most unpopular of all subjects, sin, except perhaps to throw a few harmless verbal brickbats at European Fascism or to rise in indignation against hairy Communists, white-slavers, and brutal murderers, but let the rest of sin, the moral poison that infects every life, go by? Whatever you may think, this broadcast, God helping us, will give public testimony to “the hope that is in” us and testify to the divine Christ of the Scriptures, the saving Christ of our souls.
It is only in this Jesus that the great issues in your life and mine can find their heavenly solution and that the disgrace and disloyalty of our denials can find their forgiveness. “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” And how merciful that Savior is and how all-compassionate the glance of grace which He directs even to those who have forsaken and rejected Him! As He passed by Peter, He might have transfixed the ingrate disciple with the same power which a moment before had struck the proud legionnaires of Pilate prostrate. He might have focused a penetrating gaze of fiery anger upon weak-kneed Peter. He might have turned away in disdainful contempt. He might have stopped to speak words of scorn like these: “Peter, you promised to watch with Me, but you slept. You promised to stay with Me, but you deserted Me. You promised to march at My side, into prison and even death, and here you are, in the midst of My crucifiers, with one denial after the other tumbling from your traitorous lips. As you rejected Me, so I now reject you!” But that could not be Jesus. He spoke not a word; He simply directed His alleloquent, all-revealing glance of grace toward the discredited disciple, and as their eyes met, pity and forgiveness overshadowed all wounded trust or pain of grief. This was the last glance that Peter had of His Savior before the end at Calvary; but it was a glance of love. Beneath that glance Peter must have lived through all the past promises again. The memories of the Savior’s daily mercies, the assurances of the Savior’s daily prayers, the recollections of the Savior’s daily teachings, the evidences of the Savior’s daily miracles, all these must have passed before him in glorious pageant as he stood face to face with Jesus. In a flash, with the assurance of Christ’s mercy hammering at his heart, penitent tears stream from his eyes and convulsive sobs shake the frame of that rugged disciple. The hope of forgiveness has triumphed over Peter’s terror of guilt.
We acclaim the love that men show for their fellow-men on fields of battle or by their bravery in the treacherous turns of life. We write glowing chapters about a mother’s devotion and a father’s self-sacrifice for their children. We exalt the self-effacing love that makes a husband crowd his wife into the last life-boat and remain on the deck of a sinking liner to await his doom. All this is love for those whom we love. But has the world ever known a fervor of devotion like that which gleamed from the Savior’s glance of grace? Denied, He denied not again; reviled, He “reviled not again”; cursed, He blessed.
This Jesus, no longer bruised and bleeding, but glorified and triumphant, looks down upon every one of us with the same glance of grace, calling us by the same mercies to sorrow and tears over our sins, but to the same blessed promise of forgiveness. No matter how long you have been away from Christ; no matter if you have lived every waking day and sleeping night of your life against Christ, His love is so great that it cannot be quenched by denial upon denial. It asks you, not merely for an uncertain, unhappy feeling over your sins, but for soul-deep repentance, heartgrounded contrition, that measures your sins in their fearful consequences: death, an eternity of remorse, and everlasting banishment from God. Above all, Christ asks for the fearless faith in the same mercies that saved Peter for eternity. Only this alternative confronts us: either the despair of unforgiven sin, which sent Judas to his shuddering end, or the promise of forgiven sins, which was granted penitent Peter. Which will you choose? For choose you must. God grant that, as you look to your Savior and as His eyes of all-seeing mercy behold your life, this warming glance of grace may bring you through tears of deep penitence to the joy of your salvation!
A GLANCE OF STRENGTHENING LOVE
Peter never forgot that glance of grace; for the Savior not only forgave him, but also strengthened him for a victorious life and for his great apostleship in the Church. Moments of weakness were still to overtake Peter, just as they becloud every life; but with the impress of the Savior’s loving glance printed upon his soul, he truly became the rock disciple. Listen to him on the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after Easter, when without fear or favor he testifies to Christ, accuses his fellow-countrymen of having nailed the Savior to the cross, and invites them to the one Source of divine mercy. Read through the early chapters of Acts and see how this bold faith guides the destinies of the early Church. They might threaten and scourge him; they might cast him into prison again and again; they might take counsel to slay him; but all persecution and torture combined could not bring him to reject his Savior. He gives his life to Christ with a holy zeal. In the two letters that bear his name the closing words: “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever!” summarize his own career for Christ, which was cut short by a martyr’s death, perhaps, as tradition maintains, when he was crucified with his head downward.
What strength every one of us should find in the promise that we, too, can look to Jesus and, beholding His glance of grace, find the strengthening, purifying, ennobling, uplifting power that nothing else can bestow! Many people are troubled with the tragic intrusion of evil into their lives. They want to overcome temptation; they want to conquer sin. But though they try a hundred different human remedies and experiment with the modern theories of character-building and self-improvement and moral development, they are confronted with failure after failure when they give way to sin and find that the one devil which has been chased out returns with seven more deadly spirits. If they battle against lust and the treachery of their sins in their own strength, they are doomed to that hopelessness which, I know, is torturing some of you, the repeated failures in advancing to a better life. For this you need a superhuman source of building energy; you must see Jesus more clearly day by day and have His glance of grace brighten and strengthen your lives. You young men and young women who have to fight against the lusts of the flesh and repel more attractive temptations than any generation of young people before you, look to Christ and let His glance of grace endue you with power. If tempted to give way to sin, deny your faith, or reject your Christ, look to the Savior (and this is just another reason your homes should ban the paganized, nude, and seminude statuary and pictures, all suggestive magazines and lust-laden books to make room for Christ and the portrayal of His grace);—if you turn from the Tempter with the Savior’s command “Get thee hence, Satan,” in the name of Jesus Christ and turn toward the eyes of the Savior’s sustaining grace, you will find a living, powerful, antidote to the passions of life. You will know what the apostle means when he promises that, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,” with a renewed loyalty to Jesus and a reborn resistance to evil.
And when some of you, repeating the wish spoken in the days of our Lord’s earthly pilgrimage, “We would see Jesus,” ask, How can we have the constant vision of His grace and maintain a strengthening companionship with Him? take courage in this truth: You can meet Jesus in His Word; you can come to Christ in the cleansing and purifying Sacraments, in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; you have prayer and with it the vast resources of Heaven’s omnipotence.
For cancer treatment today doctors direct powerful X-rays on the diseased tissue to destroy the malignant growth. And when you and I let the bright and all pervading light that streams from the countenance of the compassionate Christ focus its beaming rays upon the cancer of our sins, the power of this hideous, deep-rooted, soul-destroying growth is broken. You know that for convalescence after sieges of wearying sickness doctors prescribe the warm rays of the healing sun; and when the Greater Physician, Christ, the Purifier of our souls, meets us face to face, then the radiance which streams from His glance of grace will heal our penitent souls and give us renewed vigor and determination to carry the burdens of our daily cross.
Once more, then, I have set before you in the name of Jesus Christ the full and unconditioned promise of forgiven sins and the pledge of His strengthening grace. Many of you know this blessing and can testify to its changeless truth. God strengthen you, my fellow-soldiers in the army of Christ, united as we are in the Church Universal, divided as some of us may be by denominational lines! God bless you and give you who stand the wisdom to take heed lest you fall as Peter fell. Others once knew Christ, but like the disloyal disciple you have told the world: “I know Him not!” and are living on as doomed men and women, into whose hearts the Savior must strike terror when He says: “Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.” O may the God who pardoned and restored Peter now send His Spirit to melt the icy chill of your self-righteous and stubborn hearts and make your eyes fountains of hot, contrite tears of faith! And still others may never before have heard of the Savior’s glance of grace until today, when by the providence of God you were led to this broadcast to be told of the Savior’s multiplied mercy. From this moment on, my friends, you are again under the duty of decision. You are either for Christ, or you are against Him. You either look to the “bleeding Head and wounded” and find the glance of grace for your repentant soul, or you turn away from Christ and His cross, and that means away from hope, from life, from salvation. My prayer asks that every one of us, in the spirit of penitent Peter, may fall on his knees before the Crucified to plead:
My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Now hear me while I pray;
Take all my guilt away;
O let me from this day
Be wholly Thine!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.