Date: January 2, 1938
Entreaty for a Blessed New Year
God, our Help in all past ages:
We have crossed the threshold of the new year in the name of Thy Son, our Savior. None of us has ever passed this way before, and we are deeply mindful of the dangers that may surround us, the treacheries that may arise with every new day. The world about us has lost its sense of direction; intricate human plans and lavish programs have often proved disappointing, and many of us are too blind to recognize our own failure. Teach us, despite the relentless flow of time and the uncertainty of life, that Thou alone changest not. Only Thy divine wisdom knows the course of this new year with its tragedies and blessings; therefore we turn contritely to Thee; for our souls are stained with the memory of sin, and we know that we are not what we should be. Yet, because Thou hast given us Jesus, we rest with a calm assurance that through faith in Him, our iniquities removed, Thou wilt “freely give us all things” that we may need for the coming twelve months. Through Christ we feel ourselves upborne over all defeat, confident that under His leadership ever, loss or gain, every sorrow or happiness, ever, moment of life or death, will be a part of a heavenly design by which all things work together for our eternal good because we love our Christ. By the illumination of Thy Spirit bring the promise and potency of a Christ-blessed new year to struggling souls that need above all else the Savior’s sinatoning love. Hear us, arouse us to a new struggle against evil, inspire us with high resolves, Spirit of Holiness and Peace; for we ask this first prayer of the new year in Jesus’ name. Amen.
To the Church in thy house, grace . . . and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Philemon 2-3
AT the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Indianapolis last week the retiring president declared that, as man’s body has developed from brute beginnings and the human race has emerged from savagery to civilization, so our moral ideals, our concepts of right and wrong, are steadily being raised and exalted. We are, he inferred, on the road to a golden age. I feel impelled to challenge this assertion, not for the sake of argument, but to show that our hope, far from accepting the delusion that we are being pushed away from brute ancestors, must be in the faith that through Jesus Christ we are being brought closer to our God.
We ask bluntly, “Is our morality higher and better?” We have in this country today no fewer than 4,500,000 active criminals. Is our national life better than at its beginning, 150 years ago? One third of our national income, experts tell us, is expended for crime. Is our home-life on the upgrade? Seventy years ago the first divorce figures were recorded in the United States, and in these past seven decades, while the number of marriages has increased four times, divorces have increased twenty times. Is American religious life better? Our church-buildings are often larger, more attractive, more numerous, more lavishly equipped than ever before; but how can our churches be better when in alarming percentages widely known Protestant leaders calmly deny that the Bible is God’s infallible and inspired revelation, blandly declare that Christ is not the virgin-born yet eternal Son of God and Son of Man and with cool finality reject the Scriptural doctrine of the atoning power in His blood? With all the evidence of selfishness in our much-vaunted culture; with class hatred and war bombings becoming more widespread and destructive, we search in vain for any evidence of man’s gradual approach to perfection.
However this age compares with any past or future era, the Church must hold out the help and the remedial power with which it has been divinely endowed. The one way by which men and women can hopefully expect better things to come lies in a penitent return to God; the one institution which steadfastly must point to that way is the true Church of Christ; and the most potent means for building, fortifying, and enlarging the Church is, under God, the Christian family. When Church and home work together in teaching the Word of God and the truth of Christ, they bring multiplied blessing, power, and strength for this life and the next.
With this thought in mind, I devote the first message of the new year to
THE CHURCH IN YOUR HOME
basing my words on Saint Paul’s greeting to Philemon, verses 2 and 3: “To the church in thy house, grace . . . and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
YOUR HOME SHOULD BE A CHURCH OF CHRIST
Our text is taken from the shortest of all the epistles written by the apostle, the letter to Philemon, which contains only twenty-five verses and about four hundred words; yet who can measure the wealth of strength which it contains, revealing the remarkable effects which the Gospel exerts in our social relations and showing the principles of love and justice by which the pagan world was revolutionized. Philemon, it seems, was one of St. Paul’s converts in the city of Colossae. He had been a fellow-laborer with the apostle and a sincere friend to his fellow-Christians. What appears especially significant, however, is the fact that the Christians of the community gathered in his home to worship Christ.
During the first two centuries after our Lord there were apparently no church-buildings. The early Christians, man-hunted and persecuted, had no temples as their heathen neighbors, no synagogues as their Jewish friends. They often gathered in one of their homes, and, unnoticed by pagan hatred, they read the Scriptures, united in prayer, and raised the petitions of their hearts in hymns to God. Without ecclesiastical buildings and without sales and raffles, theatricals and dances, without five-figure church budgets and large staffs of church experts, these first Christians had a firmer faith, a deeper spiritual trust, and a higher hope than many of us today. Christianity began for them where it should begin for us, in the home.
If our families in the United States, like the house of Philemon in Colossae, are to be churches (and the word “church” originally means “house of God”), they must have Christ. Mere religion, a creed of any kind, cannot bless the home nor strengthen the family. The Greeks and the Romans, the Babylonians and the Assyrians, the Mayas and the Aztecs—practically all the peoples of antiquity, as many twentieth-century pagans—had their walls plastered with charms, their rooms equipped with shrines for their idols and house gods; but all the three hundred gods of the lower world and all the six hundred of the upper world that the ancient cuneiform tablets mention could not save Nineveh and Babylon; long before these cities fell, they were doomed to destruction because of the immorality and collapse of their home-life.
We want Christ in the home, the true Christ as He lives in His life-story, the four glorious gospel records,—not a phantom Christ devitalized by tragic unbelief; the whole Christ with every word of His precious comfort and love, not a partial Christ from whom miscalled liberal Modernists choose the aspects that please them; the divine Christ, in the words of the Church’s ancient confession, “very God of very God,” not a Christ who is merely godly and godlike; the bleeding, suffering, dying Christ, who still calls to His disciples, “Take up” My “cross and follow Me,” not a political and sword-bearing Christ, to whom the misguided many still look for a temporal kingdom on this earth; the sin-bearing Christ, who on the cross, by His agony and His death, paid the price that freed us from all sins and all of sin’s consequences; not a counterfeit Christ, portrayed as an example instead of a Savior, an ideal instead of a Redeemer, a genius instead of a Ransom for our sins; the merciful Christ whose blessings are freely bestowed through faith alone; not a condemning Christ, who sternly demands that we capture the blessings of Heaven by our own strategy, virtues, and victories; the all-compassionate Christ, whose mercies are worldwide; not a selective Christ who caters to the upper classes and turns in disinterest from the poor, the downtrodden, the underprivileged; the victorious and ever-living Christ, whose second coming in power and glory may soon be expected; not a dead and defeated Christ, whose mortal remains, according to some of the loudest voices in American churches, lie moldering in an unknown and unmarked Palestinian grave.
When the Savior is enthroned in any home, regardless of size, location, and appearance; when He is worshiped in any family circle, irrespective of financial or social rating; when His Word is read and reverenced, His name invoked in personal prayer, His glories sung in family hymns, that home becomes a blessed sanctuary, a temple of the living Christ; that family, by His own promise, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them,” becomes a church, a house of God.
How repeatedly the tendencies of this day recall the necessity of making all our homes chapels of God! Think of the plight of America’s childhood! We throw up our hands in horror when we read of Herod’s massacre of Bethlehem’s infants; yet incomparably larger is the annual murder of American children. Investigations published by the officials in Washington estimate that each year more than half a million children are killed before they are born. An exhibit in the nation’s capital records one abortion every forty-five seconds, day and night, week after week, throughout our country, and it reveals that this prenatal murder is among the first causes responsible for the deaths of mothers. With more tragic consequences many millions of the nation’s youth are murdered morally and spiritually through the avarice of commercial sin, ignorance concerning the human soul, and the destructive example of the own parents. We need Christ welcoming, blessing childhood and youth, reminding American parents, often preoccupied or unprepared for the instruction of their own sons and daughters, that they cannot escape their duties and ease their consciences by transferring home-training to the teachers in grammar schools and the Sunday-school. They themselves must bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
The Spirit of Christ must permeate our homes in order to exalt the ideals of Christian motherhood. When some ministers work hand in hand with birth-control leaders, cooperate with abortionists, pronounce on the size of families, invite prominent divorced personages to their services, and in a dozen other ways show their disdain for the Word of God, we must never drift so far from Christmas that we forget the full radiance of the Virgin who became the mother of Christ. Mary is pictured clearly and decisively by the Scriptures as they emphasize her unshrinking, trustfilled faith. She was human and fallible, as all mothers; but she proves the heights to which Christian mothers can attain when she sings, “My soul doth magnify the Lord!” The ten verses of this hymn take their thoughts largely from seven books of the Old Testament, showing Mary’s deep and personal acquaintance with the Scriptures. She treasures every word that angels, shepherds, sages, and venerable believers spoke concerning Christ, and she maintains her quiet, devoted faith, even though she knows that a sword will pierce her soul, as it did when Herod’s malice sought to kill her Child and when popular hatred apparently triumphed over Christ nailed to the cross. Throughout her life and especially in those bitterest of hours when the Savior’s parched lips begged for water and she could not quench His thirst; when the blood flowed down His side and she could not staunch the nail wounds; when the agonies of a soul in sin broke the Savior’s heart and she could not share those crushing burdens, her continued submission to God’s will and her unbroken love for her Son become an example for American mothers; she exemplified the devotion to the home and an unswerving dedication to the blessed preeminence of motherhood.
American fathers particularly must realize that they should be the priests and spiritual leaders of the church in their homes. When scoffing voices are repeatedly raised against fatherhood; when many men nightly seek distraction outside their home, neglect or abuse their wife and children, we must consider that in the first instance God has entrusted the direction of the affairs of the home to the father and holds him responsible for its conduct. The Old Testament told the Hebrew father, “When thou buildest a new house, thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof that thou bring not blood upon thine house if any man fall from thence.” It was customary for the Palestinian family to assemble, particularly after sundown, on the flat roof; and in order to protect the members of the family from falling off the roof and bringing blood upon the house, retainingwalls had to be erected. With our changed architecture the necessity of these safety provisions is eliminated; lest fathers bring a far greater loss, the destruction of human souls, upon their conscience; lest they become guilty of driving their own flesh and blood away from Christ, they must erect a high spiritual wall, the protection of God’s Word, to keep the members of their household from falling into the destruction of unforgiven sins. Every father who now hears these words should realize that he needs Christ for himself, for his own family priesthood, for the direction of his home; and as Abraham, the father of the faithful, erected altars and “called upon the name of the Lord” wherever he went, so you fathers must first of all erect the family altar within the four walls of your own home and call “upon the name of the Lord” in the church within your home. When a demoniac was once healed by the miraculous word of Jesus, the Savior demanded that he return to his home and there recount the miracle of his healing; and just as soon as any of you have found the Savior and know with a living, vibrant faith what He means to you, you will not rest until your home becomes a church.
Need I add that our young people imperatively need the blessing of the Church in their family circle? As the world laughs at purity only to pay the exorbitant price of ridicule, where can the fathers and mothers of tomorrow’s nation find the sustaining power to meet God’s demand “Keep thyself pure”? These young men and women will not discover that impulse to purity in many business offices where they rub elbows with brazen lewdness. They will not be impressed by the urge to chastity in some of the schools they attend, where the freedom of new morality—as though morals could ever change—is taught. They will not discover the antidote to uncleanness in modern fiction and modern entertainment, in the tavern, the dance-halls, and the nightclubs, nor in the intimacies which the freedom of this unrestrained age condones. For the desire for purity, for the road to purity, for the strength through purity, they need Christ, Christ particularly in family prayers, Christ in the parental example. I am informed that in connection with this broadcast groups of young people are meeting in various sections of the country, in Pennsylvania, in Indiana, in Iowa, in Illinois, to strengthen their spiritual lives. To them especially I send greetings and beg every one of them, by thought, study, prayer, and action, to help keep Christ in their family circles and make their homes churches of the Savior.
RICH BLESSINGS FROM THE CHURCH IN YOUR HOME
What immeasurable blessing would be radiated if in all our homes Christ were worshiped in His Word, with hymns and prayer! A spiritual influence would be extended to our national life. It is not often that editors rescind their pronouncements; yet about fifty years ago Henry M. Grady, Southern poet and editor of an Atlanta newspaper, while visiting Washington, wrote an editorial in praise of our national capital, calling it the pivotal center around which the affairs of the nation revolve. A few months later, when he had returned to his old home, he penned another editorial, admitting that he had been altogether wrong in stating that Washington is the apex of our national power. The vital heart of the United States, he now insisted, is to be found in the cottage, the farmhouse, the worker’s home; and in all houses where parents and children worship at the family altar. Of what blessing are large volumes of high-minded legislation if in the homes sin, “a reproach to any people,” reigns unchecked? Enrich our land with homes that are churches of Christ, and we shall have a generation of law-abiding, industrious, frugal, hardworking citizens whose civic virtues bring their own rewards.
With the building of family altars the Church itself would be strengthened; for it is strongest when the home is filled with faith. Notably through his work in the family, under the help of God, Luther succeeded in bringing about the Reformation and the radical improvement which even his enemies have conceded. So that the Word of God could be read and studied also in the home circle, he translated the Bible into the language of the land; so that a father could teach his children the chief articles of Christian faith, Luther made a glorious summary of Bible faith in the Catechism, which I shall be happy to send to any of you. In order to reinstate the sanctity of marriage and the influence of the home, he destroyed the pernicious doctrine that the unmarried estate was the more holy and Godpleasing condition. To bring children into the open arms of Christ, the great Reformer insisted: “No man should become a father unless he is able to instruct his children in the Ten Commandments and in the Gospel, so that he may bring them up true Christians.” He, too, called the Christian home a true church, with the father a bishop and priest of God. And with the hearths won for Christ, no power on earth could hold up the victorious course of the Reformation. We learn a vital lesson from this: what good are architectural masterpieces if their Sunday messages are counteracted by indifference in the home during the six days of the week? Our churchgoing population, including even haphazard attendance, represents about one half the people of our country, who on the average spend less than one of the 168 hours of each week in worship. The “Mighty Revival” of which we hear and read so much must start under the parental roof if it is to have the hope of widespread blessing; for a single hour with God is not enough to counteract the dangers of 167 hours away from God.
The chief blessing which flows from making the home a church of Christ is the happiness with which its members are enriched. God promises, “Them that honor Me I will honor,” and no home has ever exalted Christ without being raised itself by that reverence. I do not claim that the family altar will serve in your home as a charm against sorrow and affliction. Even if you have started the new year with unemployment in your family, as in Detroit, where 90 per cent. of the automobile workers are idle at the turn of this year, the presence of God will show you that “God will provide”; that the “riches of His grace” are inexhaustible; that through the power of Jesus you can emerge from these refining trials stronger, purer, healthier; that no burden will ever be too heavy when you can share it with Christ. Even if you are one of those who have been driven from their homes (the newspapers tell us that there are on the average one hundred evictions every day in the single city of Chicago) and you realize that you have no abiding place on earth, with Christ comes the heavenly assurance that divine mercy will never cast you off; that by walking in the footsteps of Him who had “not where to lay His head” you, too, may march from sorrow to salvation. Even if a siege of sickness has encircled your home and death has cast its shadow over your threshold, if you have “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost,” you will face tearfully yet bravely, hopefully, courageously, even the deepest sorrow of parting. The same Savior who spoke the living words of resurrection to the corpse of a young man before a city gate, to the lifeless remains of a Judean maiden, and to the shroud-bound figure of His friend Lazarus, will perform a greater miracle for you and me and all who die in the faith when on that glorious day of our own resurrection we shall stand before Him in the blessedness of eternity.
The glory of making our hearths churches of Jesus Christ will be realized only in that heavenly homeland and in the Church Triumphant. If we could know even in a fragmentary way what eternity means; if we think of man’s most profound sorrow, being eternally separated from our best beloved, an unbelieving husband forever torn away from his believing wife, ungrateful children banished forever from their God-fearing, Christ-revering parents, an unbridgeable chasm between faith and unbelief that eternally exiles those who on earth have been bound by the close ties of relationship,—how we ought to direct every effort, thought of our intellect, impulse of our soul, prayer of our lips, toward receiving Christ, believing Him, trusting His mercies, and continuing in Him faithfully until our last moment! How we ought to center our affections on the heavenly homeland and pray for that never-ending fellowship with “the whole family in heaven,” where husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, their bodies sown in corruption, will be raised in incorruption to stand, glorified, at the Savior’s side.
My New Year’s wish asks for Christ in your hearts and homes during the coming twelve months. On the first Sunday of the year, which for many of you has not made an auspicious start as you peer disquietedly into the concealed and problematical future, many misgivings and fears may besiege you. If even our best-informed minds are repeating with growing frequency the confession of their inability to make any clear-cut predictions as to future trends; if an expressed feeling of alarm has gripped the minds of many leaders, where can we find help and assurance for the untrodden paths before us if not in Christ? Human predictions have again proved faulty. On New Year’s Day a year ago the acting Secretary of State made this roseate claim: “Never at the beginning of a new year in the present century has there been stronger reason for confidence than now. . . . We look forward to an increasingly peaceful, happy, and prosperous future.” How ironical these exaggerations now seem! A tabulation of last New Year’s auguries made by fortune-tellers, financial experts, and statesmen showed unanimous agreement in the claim that the four seasons just completed would bring better times, greater achievement, and marked happiness; but those prophecies proved to be as false as many now being made for this year. Our age needs no opiates and narcotics to drug people into unconscious optimism. We must be brought to our senses and to a consciousness of the menacing dangers that surround us.
If the spirit of Philemon pervades our family circles; if this year we have the church in our homes; if our New Year’s resolution (and it is never too late to join in this resolve) repeats the words by which Joshua of old dedicated himself and his own to God, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” then the new year, though some of the smoldering fires of affliction break forth into new flame, will bring “grace . . . and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here, then, is a major objective of this broadcast: to help bring Christ and the glory of His Church into your home. Associated with me in this mission of the air are thousands of pastors who preach exactly the same Christ, identically the same Gospel, specifically the same hope of eternity, that these messages under the blessing of the Holy Spirit seek to convey. Each of these pastors stands ready to help you if you are among the 60,000,000 without a home in the Church and a church in the home. They are eager to call on you, to explain what Baptism means to your family, what Christ means to your home, what the Word of saving grace means for the home above.
In the name of Christ, I ask you, may we help you to start a new page in the history of your family chronicles, a page that will not be marked by the bitterness, rancor, selfishness, heartache, bickering, vicious lusts, that have disfigured your home-life, disgraced the love with which many of you have approached your marriage? Above all, may we not help you in your resolve to build your home into a temple of the all-merciful Christ, in which all of you, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, grandparents and grandchildren, may secure your title, blood-bought and blood-sealed as it is, to the heavenly mansions and the peace that Christ has prepared for you? God grant that throughout the four regions of the firmament, wherever this appeal is understood and the knocking of Christ at the door of your hearts and homes in this moment is heard, you will answer, “Come, Lord Jesus, abide with us and build Thy Church within this home!” Amen!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.