Date: March 27, 1938
Prayer for an Understanding, Trusting Heart
Christ, Thou Comforter in need, Thou Strength in our weakness, precious Savior of our souls:
Our hearts are raised heavenward to Thee in humble gratitude for the unfailing truth with which Thou didst bless us through Thine atonement. We beseech Thee, not first of all for money, success, health of body, the peace and pleasure of a tranquil life, but for Thy blessing on our hearts and minds, so that we can understand the truth of Thy Word, apply it to ourselves in the hard, treacherous moments of life, and particularly find the conviction of full pardon for our sins through faith in Thy redemptive love. Send us Thy Spirit, so that our eyes may be opened to see Thee in Thy saving grace and slumberless devotion. Keep every one of us from doubt. When all else in life collapses and our fondest confidences prove misplaced, help us to turn from the ruins of time to Thy cross and, kneeling before Thee, to declare: Thou, O Christ, art the Truth of heaven, the Truth by which we live, by which we rise above our sorrows, by which we withstand temptation, the victorious Truth by which we die, only to live with Thee again. Hear us and bless us as Thou hast promised! Amen.
For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice. – John 18:37
MILLIONS in our bewildered, problem-weighted world are trying to sift fact from fiction, to free truth from clinging falsehood. “How can we discern the true state of affairs in these saber-rattling international rivalries?” they demand, as our age produces more armaments than history has ever known. Distorted claims and brazen misrepresentation creep into the news; propaganda agents employ cunning means to mould public opinion; and dark, covered forces diabolically seek to inflame hatreds and passions, with the avowed objective of involving our country in war. “Where, beneath the debris of this deception,” we are asked, “lies the truth?”
Reflecting on our national problems, disquieted minds inquire: “How can we learn the truth and know whither America is actually headed?” Some soothsayers try to quiet us with the assurance that we are safely on the road to a more satisfying and profitable life, while others predict that we are steering toward disaster, with revolution, anarchy, and a reign of terror in the offing.
More personal and persistent is the question: “How can we discover the truth for our individual perplexities, the one explanation of the sudden reverses and the unforeseen tragedies of life? Are we only superior animals, thrown by chance upon a heartless world? Is the course of our existence charted by luck, good or bad? Or does a higher Power shape our destinies in justice, love, wisdom?” On the one hand, infidel agitators by the thousands tell the world that there is no God, that we are all puppets, dangled and jerked by unseen and unknown forces; on the other hand, the Christian churches throughout this land teach that there can be a divine guidance for our lives, a heavenly solution for our problems. Which of these conflicting claims is true?
For many the most penetrating of all uncertainties is the restlessness by which the human soul seeks the truth for eternity. Confronted by a far-flung betrayal of Christianity, a fight-to-the-finish rebellion against Christ in some of the very churches that bear His name, the masses demand: “What is the truth in religion? Is there a heaven and a hell? Will this body that sinks into death be resurrected, or do I die as the beast dies? Has the Bible been discredited or endorsed in the modern advance? Must I tear myself away from my religious convictions and cling to modern science? Is Jesus Christ God and man or only a godly man? Does His atonement offer spiritual salvation, or does it inflict mental starvation? Where can we find the truth, the full, clear, unchanging, unalterable, everlasting truth, for our souls?”
As I now seek to answer these questions and show every searching soul in this audience
TRUTH FOR A TRUTH-HUNGRY WORLD
I direct you to none other than the Christ of God. In the climax of the trial that was to sentence Him to death, He declares: “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” (Saint John 18:37.)
CHRIST’S WITNESS TO THE TRUTH
This testimony was made against the background of ugly falsehood. After Jesus had refused to summon the twelve angelic legions and surrendered Himself to the violence of the mob, so that the Scriptures, prophetic of His suffering and death, might be fulfilled, He was led in the depths of that midnight first of all to Annas, who, though no longer officiating as high priest, was the most influential churchman in Jerusalem. After a hasty questioning Jesus was then rushed to the palace of the official high priest, Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas, where the church dignitaries, each diabolically bent on the death of Christ, had assembled. This trial, which began about two o’clock in the morning, was more formal, although Jesus, in harmony with Isaiah’s ancient prophecy, again stood with no attorney and none of the thousands who had been blessed by His love ready to intercede for His acquittal. Finally, after perjury and prearranged falsehood had failed to convict Jesus, He was declared guilty on the charge of blasphemy against Jehovah and condemned to death. For a few hours the court recessed, then reconvened at daybreak to confirm the verdict and determine how the condemned prisoner should be brought before Pilate, the Roman governor, for the official death-sentence.
There have been many infamous trials, in which passion has prevailed over justice. We think of Socrates, condemned to drink the hemlock cup; Saint Paul, sentenced to death before a Roman tribunal; Luther, banned by princes and prelates; Albert Dreyfus, banished to Devil’s Island through deceit and official treachery. Many innocent men have swung from the gallows or perished in the electric chair. Yet the worst miscarriage of all justice, the most damnable corruption that ever disgraced any court, is this triumph of hatred that helped nail the Savior to the cross.
Walter Chandler, a member of the New York bar, wrote two large volumes on the trial of Jesus from a lawyer’s standpoint, and he shows that every aspect of the Savior’s trial was without the law. The arrest of Jesus was illegal because in plain disregard of the law it occurred at night, through the agency of a traitor, and without a legal mandate of an impartial court. The private examination of Jesus by the high priest was illegal, first, since it completely shattered the law prohibiting trials at night and then because it ran counter to the statutes banning private preliminary examinations and all trials before only one judge. The charges on which Jesus was indicted were so vague and indefinite as to render them, too, illegal. The formal trial of our Lord before the assembly of churchmen was a flagrant violation of the law, since judges could not also be prosecutors, as Caiaphas, the high priest, clearly proved himself. It was against the law to hold trials for capital punishment during the night, on the day before the Sabbath, and especially before a great festival like the Passover. When that trial of the world against Christ was concluded within an hour or two (remember how gangsters and racketeers have their hearings drawn out week after week!); when Jesus was condemned within six or eight hours after He had been betrayed, the accepted court procedure was again flaunted; for no criminal case involving the death-sentence could legally be concluded in one day. And in the sentence passed on Jesus we can list seven separate counts in which the established principles of legal procedure were wilfully broken. You need not be a lawyer to know that, if ever the scales of justice were weighted by perjury, malice, and the lust of blood, it was when the Sanhedrin screamed “He is guilty of death.” You would not have to take this case to a supreme court for a reversal of sentence, for any appellate court in the land, in spite of the injustice that we witness in some of our tribunals, would instantly set aside a verdict in which revenge and jealousy had patently combined to destroy innocence and purity. No wonder the justice-loving fellow-countrymen of Jesus have repeatedly agitated for a new trial of Christ.
After this sleepless night of terror Jesus was brought before Pilate for the civil trial, since the death-sentence had to be passed by the Roman governor, Pilate. The people loathed their overlord with an implacable hatred; for Pilate was corrupt, violent, and merciless. His soldiers had once struck down many of the citizens in the Holy City; yet their enmity of Jesus was deadlier, and, overcoming their antipathy to Pilate, even regarding themselves unclean through these contacts with the Gentiles, early on that Friday morning they dragged Jesus, beaten and bleeding, before the imperial tribunal, there to demand His quick death.
The Savior now stands before Pilate, the sinless Truth again confronted by fraud and falsehood; and never in His entire persecution does our Lord appear more majestic than now when He faces the man whose word means life or death. Had the Son of God spoken only a few sentences of protest and appeal; had He laid His cause openly before Pilate and revealed the perjury, lies, jealousy, cruelty, of the priests and Pharisees, Pilate, world-worn skeptic that he was, would have laughed the Savior’s enemies out of court. Yet here, in the climax moment of history, when the destinies of the ages are at stake, Jesus (praise be to His eternal love!) bases His entire defense on the fact that He taught the truth and that the truth of God can never be wrong.
Listen to Him as He answers the governor’s questions concerning His kingship with this resolute declaration, “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth,” and be clear about this one foundation fact of our faith, that Christ here, with His life at stake, only a few hours before His death, deliberately claims that every word He spoke during His entire ministry, every promise of comfort that ever passed from His lips, is the divine, absolute, complete, eternal, unchangeable truth.
It was Heaven’s truth that He, the Jesus of despised Nazareth, was God Almighty. It was ageless and deathless verity that He, the gaunt Galilean prisoner, whose brow would soon bleed with the circle of thorns, had been eternally King of all kings and sovereign of the universe. The mountains might melt and the tides of the oceans vanish, but when heaven and earth had passed away, that truth would remain which He once proclaimed in the same city of Jerusalem “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The sun might lose its dazzling light and the moon fade into darkness; but the radiance of His truth as the “Light of the World” would remain undimmed to cheer straggling, struggling men with this invitation “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Hearts might quiver before death, Judgment, and the terrors of hell; but they would be calmed and comforted by the truth of eternity in the sacred pledges of Jesus: “If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death.” His guarantee of perpetual glory: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you”; His pledge of undying love and acknowledgment: “Whosoever . . . shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father”; that was pure, unalloyed truth of all truths for an error-ridden world.
Because Jesus could challenge His enemies and demand: “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?”, because even bribery and perjury could not produce one true charge against Him; because even Pilate had to admit, “I find no fault in this Man,” Jesus, in that majestic hour, as one of His divine legacies, repeated what He had said before when He promised His followers that, if they would continue in His Word, they would know the truth and that the truth would make them free, free, by the grace of God, from the clutch of sin, free from the power of death.
Yet, as though His life of witnessing to the truth were not enough, Jesus, within a few pain-racked hours, was to die for that truth and to tell all generations that His Gospel of full salvation to all men is the highest pledge of Heaven. Every agony our sin-bearing Savior suffered when the penalty of all history’s and humanity’s transgressions pressed their incalculable weight on His soul; every drop of blood that dripped from His wounded head and His nail-torn hands and feet; every cry of His anguish that pierced the rumble of Calvary, testified in heaven and on earth, before men and angels, to friend and foe of Christ, for His age and for every age, that Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, the only but allsufficient Savior of mankind, is the Truth, taught the truth, lived the truth, and died the truth.
OUR TESTIMONY TO THIS TRUTH
Today the Savior again stands on trial before an unbelieving world. The charges are essentially the same: Jesus is indicted because He proclaims Himself the divine Prophet, Priest, and King of men’s souls, the Son of God; because He insists that His Word is the truth and pronounces “Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” His accusers are the modern scribes, our intellectual atheists, the present-day Sadduccees, denying the resurrection, the twentieth-century Pharisees, whose creed is only a revised version of that age-old “earn-heaven-yourself,” “salvation-by-character” delusion, taught by the ancient Chinese, Babylonians, Egyptians. The leaders of large sectors of this attack are churchmen, who, playing the role of the Jerusalem priests, are crying for the blood of the Scriptural Christ. And behind them the Christless mob howls.
Under these attacks Jesus and His truth are opposed as never before in America’s existence. The founders of the nation, the colonists, whose prayers, industry, labor, helped, under God, to lay the foundations on which our national prestige rests; the honest, frugal immigrants who in the post-Civil War days assisted in developing our Western plains and turning territory into States, were for the most part God-fearing men and women, who loved their Savior, reverenced His Word, and built churches to the glory of His name. Now another generation has arisen, which too often knows not the Lord God nor His mighty deeds among us. We have dozens of organizations established for the one purpose of destroying the Bible; scores of dirty, filthy publications that ridicule Christ, make obscene references to His person, and in the vilest blasphemy assail everything holy with a vehemence never before exhibited in this country. Even some of our newspapers join hands with the scoffers. The “good news” of a Savior slain for the sins of an evil world is not attractive copy. Let a criminal lawyer like Clarence Darrow die, a man who denied the existence of God, who kept murderers from paying the divinely imposed penalty, who himself admitted that he never made any important contribution to human welfare, and certain newspapers feature headline eulogies. In the same articles they contemptuously pour out their scorn on a man like William Jennings Bryan, describing as a mental moron the Great Commoner, who loved his Savior and who, as Secretary of State, protested against the calamity of our entrance into the World War with as much moral courage and honesty as was shown by any statesman this nation produced.
A far greater peril than the menace of public attack is that polished and refined assault on the truth of Christ which originates in an unmistakably atheistic tendency of modern public education. Periodically someone arises to demand that all un-American remarks in the history textbooks used in our schools be deleted. What we need far more imperatively is a thoroughgoing purge to remove all the antichristian, anti-Biblical, antimoral teaching which seeks to alienate the youth from our Christian hope. Teachers in various sections of our country write that they are obliged to give their pupils, children in the formative, impressionable years, books which contain deliberate statements attacking and contradicting the Bible; collateral reading picturing man’s prehuman ancestors as long-armed, bleary-eyed, hair-covered, slant-browed, gorillalike creatures; pages that brazenly pull Christ from the high realms of His divinity to the low and common level of the merely human. One of the great glories of our national Constitution guarantees every American freedom of conscience and provides for the separation of Church and State so completely that no Government official or public employer can attack any one’s religious conviction. Yet no basic truth of Americanism is more frequently denied than this. We have too many high-school teachers who feel themselves called to impugn the Bible and cast aspersions on Christ. This must stop! We are not asking that our public schools teach Christianity! The Church must do that. We do demand, however, that no teacher in any public institution be permitted to attack the religious conviction of any pupil. To safeguard our rights, Christian parents cannot stand by idly when the truth of Christ is assailed; they must protest against all irreligious teaching and eliminate everything that can poison the minds of their boys and girls.
This anti-Bible bias approaches more closely. Judaslike, it has entered many denominational colleges of the land. Last week a perturbed woman wrote me that her granddaughter had enrolled in an Ohio church college to save her faith, but she began to lose it after the first few weeks of her freshman course. The president and others on the faculty taught that the Bible was plain literature, like the Koran or similar sacred books of the East. It is bad enough when private colleges permit Christian ideals to be cut down ruthlessly. It is worse when State, taxsupported universities give free reign to the enemies of Christ; but it is the climax of perversity when colleges built by Christian love and Christian money witness against Christ and against His Bible. There are dozens of large schools guilty of this charge!
Hatred of Christ’s truth and the vaunting of education over the plain teaching of the Bible are among the most dangerous symptoms of our day. The president of a national learned society calls upon science to rescue the world,—as though Christianity were dead! How often have great minds, trained in worldly wisdom, but ignorant of Christ and hostile to His Word, fallen into treacherous ways! The financier whose Wall Street failure and confessed thefts threw the country into consternation was educated in one of America’s most exclusive preparatory schools and, when pleading guilty, wore as a watch-charm the golden boar of the Porcellian Society of Harvard University, the most select of all college fraternities. The misdirected genius who recently robbed English investors of millions was connected with Oxford University. The Swedish match king who left thousands of investors on both sides of the Atlantic clutching securities that will never have any value was a graduate of the Stockholm Technical School. The man reputed to be “the brains” behind the annual one-hundred-million-dollar number racket in New York City is a product of Syracuse and New York universities. Let reason triumph over Christ’s religion, atheism over godliness, and you will see that America can whirl into bloodier chaos than Europe has witnessed.
The cry that rises over this nation, therefore, is the plea to hear the truth of Jesus and believe it. Do not tell me that you will not accept Christ’s truth because you cannot understand how He is both God and man, how His blood cleanses you from your sin, how His death assures your resurrection. Can you understand the mysterious forces that operate within your own body? Are you able to account for the vital spark that makes your heart beat and sends the blood coursing through your body? If you lack intelligent analysis of facts that you see and feel and measure, why, then, should you insist that you must answer to your own satisfaction the transcendent questions concerning the soul?
Do not say that you will not accept Christ’s Word and doctrine as truth because they are opposed to modern scientific thought. “Which scientific thought?” we ask; for there are scores of conflicting theories where only one can be correct! If you do not believe that God created you but that you have come up from the beast, how have you ascended? Present-day theories teach several contradictory ways. Which scientific claims do you find in conflict with the Scripture,—those which were taught ten years ago, those that are taught today, or those that will be taught a decade hence?
Do not say that you will not accept Christ’s Word and it has not been accepted by men of scientific standing. I read the other day of Jean Henri Fabre, the great naturalist whom Darwin called “an incomparable observer” and who has been acclaimed “a prince of natural history.” In 1910 an international jubilee was held in his honor, and nations showered their medals and distinctions upon him. When a friend asked this great entomologist, “Do you believe in God?” he replied, “I see God. Without Him I can understand nothing. . . . You could take my skin from me more easily than my faith in God.” Toward the end of his life every evening at the same hour he prayed the prayer of the dying Savior, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,” and he died as his lips formed the amen to that prayer. James Clerk Maxwell, of whom Dr. Millikan says, “His grasp of analysis has probably never been equaled by any one,” was a humble Christian. In spite of arduous laboratory duties this great physicist took time for family prayers. Once every month he partook of the Lord’s Supper. When he died in 1879, a prayer found among his papers concluded with these words: “Let us so receive Thy holy Word that we may believe in Him whom Thou hast sent in order to give us knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of our sins, for all of which we ask in the name of the same Christ, our Lord.”
One of the men who under God has helped to make the South is the colored scientist Dr. George Washington Carver. Born a slave and once traded for a race-horse valued at $300, he has risen to remarkable heights but rejected salaries as high as $100,000 a year and refused signal honors. Through his research in connection with the peanut and other agricultural products he has brought prosperity to thousands of families in the Southland; yet this outstanding scientist is a devoted Christian. He intersperses his talk with verses of the Bible and in his favorite Scripture-passage he looks to Christ and says: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.”
Thus they march in long procession, these leaders in science who have not been ashamed of Christ’s truth. Far more vital for you, however, than any testimony of applauded scientific genius is your own acceptance of Christ. From the judgment-hall of Pilate through the air waves come the words of the Savior to you: “Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” You, my friends, who know the love of Jesus, who have experienced His truth in your hearts and lives, as He has forgiven your sins, spoken peace to your soul, turned your sorrows into joy, will you not, as week after week draws us closer to Calvary, resolve that you will witness to His truth in a more determined and courageous way, that you will not be satisfied with knowing that Christ died for you, but that you will tell others of the power of His deliverance? God give you the strength for that resolution!
Many in this audience, however, have not accepted Christ as their Savior and His Word as the truth. Because there is no “salvation in any other”; because “there is none other Name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” but the holy, precious Name of Jesus; because you have either verity with Christ or falsehood without Christ, I beg you in His name to hear His truth concerning death, “the wages of sin,” and life, the pardon promised by His blood. Believe with all your soul that in this moment the Christ who in His “good confession” before Pilate declared the divine truth now tells you in spirit: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Pilate failed to grasp that opportunity for his salvation. He shrugged his shoulders, cynically demanded, “What is truth!” and tried to wash his hands of the Savior, whom he sentenced to death. He could not get rid of Christ that easily, and he paid the penalty for his rejection. Soon after Jesus’ death he was deposed as governor; the best tradition tells us that he ended as a miserable suicide. As you ask yourselves, “What is truth?” may your answer be spoken reverently as you behold the suffering Christ and confess, “O blessed Savior, Thou art the Truth!” Here is your opportunity, in this moment, before your radio. It may be your last Sunday to hear and accept Christ’s truth. To give witness before heaven and earth to the glorious fact that from this moment on you will be Christ’s and Christ yours, I ask you and all the thousands in this far-flung assembly who acclaim Christ’s Gospel as the truth now to stand before God and make this the confession of your faith: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me 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 I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true!”
God enrich us all with that faith for the sake of the truth in Christ Jesus! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.