Date: October 30, 1938
Thanks for Our Reformation Heritage
O God of Grace and Light and Truth:
Our hearts are lifted to Thee in thanks for the wisdom and love by which in days of spiritual darkness Thou didst raise up valiant witnesses to Thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, and didst help them restore to the world the open Bible and with it the glorious Gospel of worldwide atonement through faith in the reconciling Cross. We praise Thy holy name for all the other benefits of the Reformation, notably for the freedom to worship Thee according to Thy Word, the separation of Church and State, the blessedness of the Christian home. Above all, heavenly Father, we ask Thee, fully aware of our unworthiness, preserve unto us and our children the priceless heritage of a Christ-centered and Bible-grounded faith, so that the enemies of Thy Church may not prevail. In this critical hour, as the world hastens towards its end, send Thy Spirit into our hearts to enrich us with more of the loyalty to Thee which our fathers in the faith repeatedly showed. Strengthen us with that readiness to sacrifice by which they left home and earthly happiness for the privilege of worshiping Thee in truth. Bless us with the moral courage required to confess Thee unflinchingly before men and with a sacred zeal to make known Thy mercies in Christ, so that many, looking ever to Jesus as their only Savior, may find in Him comfort, strength, guidance, and finally eternal life. Grant us this prayer, for His sake! Amen.
Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. – Acts 4:12
THE battle against Jesus Christ and His Church continues to run its bloody course. In Russia, for example, far-reaching plans are even now being made to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Red rule. As an outstanding feature of this celebration the teaching of atheism in all Russian schools is to be increased, and special courses are planned in which teachers are to be shown the most forceful methods of denying the existence of the Almighty. This anti-God program is only a prelude, not to a five-year plan of infidelity but a twenty-five year antireligion campaign, so that—and this is the avowed determination of the Soviet authorities—by 1967, in the golden jubilee of Red Russia, that country will be entirely godless, with churches and cathedrals remembered only in a hazy, casual way.
These threats seem impressive until we remind ourselves that ever since the Savior’s day one misguided prophet after the other similarly predicted the end and ruin of Christ’s Church. Down through the ancient ages to the time of these pride-swollen songs of victory which Russian atheists are chanting over the Christianity they think is dead, we can see the powerful revenge the Scriptures have taken on their enemies. In London, on the very spot in Earl Street where almost four hundred years ago fanatics burned every copy of the Scriptures they could secure, the headquarters of the British and Foreign Bible Society was built; and the Scriptures that were to have been destroyed by fire are now translated into more than one thousand tongues.
These attacks on Christianity have often proved disguised blessings that have purified and strengthened the churches. History knows a more effective way of destroying a Church than by persecution, sword, and fire,—the slow poison of unbelief administered by church-leaders and the polite pulpit denial of Christ as Savior of the race. If the churches lose that faith, they are doomed; and all the money that they bank, all the millionaires they number among their patrons, all the political influence they may wield, will never save them. If, however, the churches keep Christ and His salvation, all the regiments of human hatred and the storm troops of hell cannot overcome them.
The same warning goes out to every one of us in an age when the world seems headed for disaster and a grim darkness is settling over cultured lands. Statesmen recognize the perils confronting us as they behold the tyranny of might and the fatal race in military expenditures. Financiers see disaster as they witness a few of the rich becoming richer and the masses of the poor being driven into deeper poverty. Above all, the Christian understands the dangers of the hour as he hears voices screaming defiance to God and sees blasphemous hands reaching out to tear the halo of Christ’s deity from His “bleeding head and wounded.” It may be too late even now to restrain the forces of disaster and avert catastrophe. If the worst comes; if our age, our God-blessed yet God-forgetting nation, is to totter into bankruptcy and sink to ruin; if our cities are devastated, our homes destroyed by fire; if godless mobs surge through our streets and, mad with power, loot and wound, rape and kill,—as long as we have our Christ and trust that He, and He alone, can save to the uttermost, they cannot harm our souls nor remove the joy of our salvation. Though we lose home, money, family, clinging to Christ, we cannot lose the promise of His redemption. Rather we exult:
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.
Martin Luther wrote these lines, and it was he who under God restored Christ as the only but complete Savior of the race. Because tens of thousands of churches throughout the world are commemorating his reformation of the Church, let me go back to the living heart of our Christian Creed, to that blessed power of the Reformation, to that divine truth which will save the churches from their bloodiest enemies, preserve us for the glories of eternity—to the keystone of our faith and the cornerstone of our hope, to
JESUS CHRIST, OUR ONLY SAVIOR
and with our text (the Book of Acts, 4:12) repeat the immortal declaration of Peter: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”
NO SALVATION WITHOUT CHRIST
If there ever was a heart and soul that yearned to find the true way to God, the one sure escape from sins, it was Martin Luther’s. Although he never had a Bible in his hand until he was twenty years old, his was a deeply religious mind, a searching heart, and a pleading soul. He went through all the prescribed methods by which the churches of his day sought to give him comfort; he joined the monastic order; he prayed incessantly; he called on all the saints in general and on his favorites in particular; he bowed before all the relics, genuine and fraudulent; he made pilgrimages to so-called holy places far and near; he fasted by day and kept himself from sleep at night. Although a Master of Arts and one of the outstanding professors at the university, he taught and believed that man could earn God’s favor and forgiveness by humiliating himself, becoming a beggar, pleading for food from door to door. In all the biographies I have ever read I have never met any struggling soul that has tried harder to work his own way into heaven than Brother Martin, who, because of his holiness of living and zeal in doing the will of God, was known for miles around as the incredibly holy monk. Repeatedly he was found prostrate in a dead faint on the floor of his cell. Summarizing the long catalog of his own good works, he writes: “I wore out my body with vigils and fastings and hoped thus to satisfy the Lord.” A friend testifies: “Often when he thought of the anger of God or the remarkable instances of divine punishment, he was seized with a terror so violent that he was well-nigh bereft of life.” Indeed, Luther himself declares: “I suffered such agony . . . that no tongue could express or pen describe it. If these spells had lasted a minute longer, I would have died then and there.” Yet all pleading, all hunger, all weariness, all the forms and ceremonies, all the saviors that he had hoped to find among men and saints and angels, failed, and through the night of his sleepless sorrows we hear him scream, “My sins, my sins, my sins!” Despite his deep religious craving, Luther had not learned the lesson of our text “Neither is there salvation in any other.” He heard the name of Christ, of course, and saw multiplied images of Jesus; but even as he gazed up to the many crucifixes, he did not know Christ as his one Savior, only Redeemer, the sole Ransom for his sins.
Luther’s problem is every man’s problem; and I pray to God for strength and wisdom to make clear to you the truth that he experienced, “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” but the name of Jesus Christ. Remember, your salvation is not granted in your own name; for who of us would dare approach the holy God with the record of unholiness that stains our hearts, our lips, and our hands? This salvation is not in your Christian wife’s name; for every one of us must individually account to God. It is not in your parents’ name; for no faith of your father, no prayers of your mother, can pray you out of hell and into heaven. Your salvation is not in your family name; for what is a man profited if his grandfather was the founder of a church and he himself has no thought of Christ? This salvation is not granted you simply because you are a member of a Christian congregation and attend a church; for Christ Himself warned: “Not all that say unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This salvation comes, not because you are Protestant or Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed; for some churches in these groups are not teaching the one way to salvation, and outward membership even in a true church is not enough. Your salvation is assured not through the merit of any saint or any army of saints nor through the holiness of any angel or legion of angels; for here in unmistakable clearness is the verdict of Heaven that can never change: “Neither is there salvation in any other.”
Need I emphasize that reliance on Christ alone is not a popular creed today? Our times want a colorless, effortless, Christless religion. People like to believe that all creeds are good, that all finally lead to the same goal. The Mohammedan encircling the black stone at Mekka, the Jew lamenting before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the Christian worshiping his Christ, our present-day pagans restoring the cult of Wotan and Thor in Germany, the Apache Indian dancing his ceremonial rituals, the Zulu crawling in the dust before his hideous idols,—all, we are calmly assured, are bound for the same ultimate destination. Each one merely takes a different way. Jesus, however, insists, “I am the Way,” and He adds, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Or we are told, “It does not matter what a man believes; the decisive factor is what he does.” Once more Jesus warns, “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.”
Only an intolerant creed, you may object, can raise this claim that there is salvation in none other than Christ. Would you dare to call the physician intolerant who hands a mortally sick patient the only remedy for his disease and pushes all mistaken cures aside? Would you brand an experienced guide as intolerant who points the hunter to the only way out of the forest and says, “Follow me, for there is no other way to safety”? Would you call truth itself intolerant when it rejects every error?
Keep this clearly in mind: The claim that Jesus Christ is the only Savior, Christianity the only way, the Cross the only pledge of pardon, is not a human assertion subject to contradiction, a theological guess that may be changed, a hit-or-miss proposition that may or may not be true; for whether you like it or not, whether you agree or disagree, this verdict “Neither is there salvation in any other” is the eternal, immovable Word of God. Whatever you think of that Word will never change its truth.
Mighty minds have turned humbly to Christ as their only Hope in life and in death. Think of Louis Pasteur, whom a fellow-scientist called “the most perfect man who ever entered the kingdom of science” and who clung to the cross as he died in the glorious climax of an achieving life of science and faith. Recall great physicians like David Hayes Agnew, who wrote in one of his last letters: “Christ to me is all”; leading engineers like Graf Zeppelin, who, kneeling in an unpretentious chapel, prayed: “O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins, . . . and I pray Thee for the sake of Thine infinite mercy and of the holy, innocent, and bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being”; master inventors like William Schmidt, with more than two hundred major patents of his own discoveries, crowding his diary with statements like these: “Only Christ saves us. If man rejects God in Christ, humanity . . . is doomed to destruction”; great statesmen like Daniel Webster, who five weeks before his death proclaimed: “My heart has assured me and reassured me that the Gospel of Christ must be a divine reality.”
If you are not ready to believe in Christ as your only Savior, as these leaders in human accomplishment have accepted Him, perhaps that unbelief needs to learn what Christian faith is, what it asks, what it promises, and what it bestows. In the second century after Christ, Athenagoras, a renowned Athenian philosopher, was so bitterly opposed to the Christian doctrine of redemption that he determined to write a book in which the claims of Jesus would be destroyed once and for all times. How little he knew of Christ! As he gathered the material for his volume and was forced to study Jesus’ utterances, the Holy Spirit convinced him that Christ, and He alone, must be the Savior of his soul. Instead of penning a poisonous attack, he wrote an elaborate and still extant defense of Christ. Alexander Hamilton tells us in his own words that he had persistently attacked Christianity, but that once in the sudden stillness of the night the thought had come to him, “What if the Christian religion be true after all?” His conscience disturbed, he finally determined to give Christianity a fair trial, and he sent for a number of books that expounded its facts. What happened? He says: “I read them, and the result is: I believe the religion of the Christians to be the truth, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He made atonement for our sins by His death and rose again for our justification.” In much the same way large armies of scoffers who set themselves against their Lord in ignorance and misunderstanding have been converted by a real study of Christ and a personal searching after His truth. May the Holy Spirit who touched these hearts remove the scales of unbelief from your eyes if you have not yet seen Christ! May you be given the heavenly direction to come to your God in His Son Jesus, to find that there is salvation in “none other name,” to write if you want spiritual guidance and safe direction, so that we may put you in touch with one of the thousands of our ministers of Jesus Christ throughout the United States and Canada. They will thank God for the privilege of explaining to you why all human religions, all attempts to open the gates of heaven by your own goodness and strength, must fail.
FULL SALVATION WITH CHRIST
With the conviction that there can be no salvation without Christ, the text implicitly pledges complete redemption in Him. This glorious truth made Luther the Godblessed Reformer when in the darkness of his groping the first light of Christ’s deliverance shed its warming rays. Remember, the supreme glory of that Reformation and restoration four hundred years ago is not this, that the blessings of marriage and home-life were reinstituted, liberal arts and education promoted, freedom of worship restored, and the foundation for representative government laid. Incomparably higher is the truth for which all ages will join in praises to God, that Jesus Christ was given back to mankind as the Son of God and the one Mediator between heaven and earth. The keynote of Luther’s restoration was the pure Gospel message that Christ’s life of love and His death on the cross offer every child born into this world and every soul that leaves this world not merely the hope of salvation but a blood-sealed pledge; not a redemption that asks the sinner to meet his Savior halfway but a mercy that goes all the way; not an unfinished redemption but a completed deliverance; not a promise of heaven that can be bought or acquired as a reward but, praise be to that merciful Savior! a salvation that is granted freely, unconditionally, unreservedly, to faith.
What glorious comfort and strength lies in this word “salvation!” Periodically people try to find the greatest and best word in the English language, and they offer such terms as “love,” “mother,” “home”; but I submit to you this afternoon that the surest hope, the most penetrating comfort, that man can ever find is offered through faith in this one word “salvation,” the redemption that comes through Christ. It means to expect everything for our eternal life from our heavenly Father and to expect nothing from ourselves. It means turning away from the thought that culture, power, wealth, a new age, a new social order, can be the source of our greatest blessing, and finding in Christ the grace that is wider than the world, deeper than our miseries, higher than our hopes. Salvation means heaven. It also means something of heaven’s blessedness even here on earth in the constant companionship of Christ. That Savior never disappoints those who come to Him. Sometimes He may seem to be beyond the range of our lives and the reach of our pleas, but in every emergency He will stand closely by our side to fulfil the promise “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Sometimes He may delay; then what divine wisdom, what seasoning and strengthening of our faith, we discover in His postponement! Sometimes He may test our faith in the school of sorrows, only to have it become a blessed training, as the shadows of life make His radiance, the Light of the world, shine more brightly!
Despite the glorious blessings offered by faith in Christ as the only but all-merciful Savior, thousands of American churches have turned from this crystal-clear Water of Life. Discontented, spiritually parched hearers send me excerpts of the drivel sometimes preached to them from pulpits once dedicated to Christ. These disappointed churchmembers protest against the gambling mania that has forced its way into some of the churches. They are disheartened by the pathetic attempts at pulpit humor and the lurid sensations that crowd out the Word of God. They see a neglect of the poor and a catering to the rich, a glossing over of sin, and a reluctance to speak out clearly in behalf of the Christ of the cleansing blood. All the regret in the world will be of little avail unless those who love the Lord Jesus and know that He is the only Way are ready to act, to demand that the redemption of Jesus be the glorious hope expressed in every sermon, and to protest individually and in an organized way against every attempt to remove this cornerstone truth of the Christian faith in all lands and all ages. Without that sincere, active, militant support proud cathedrals and imposing church-buildings will exert no more lasting influence than pagan temples. The hordes of the hungry and neglected masses may yet storm these wealthy, heavily endowed, financially secure churches unless a twentiethcentury reformation goes back to the principles of the sixteenth-century Reformation and repeats, “Only Christ for spiritual understanding, only Christ for the assurance of peace eternal in our souls!”
Who knows where this infidelity will stop as it assails particularly our youth? One hundred and fifty years ago the waves of the French rebellion against God, as slow as they were in reaching America, swept over our colleges with disastrous results. At the beginning of the last century most universities in America were dominated by infidelity, profanity, and ridicule. Harvard students scoffed at religion as superstition, and an observer reported only one professed Christian in the four classes. At Yale only four or five students publicly acknowledged Christ, and on Communion Sunday the others cut pieces of bread in the college dining-halls to celebrate a mock Communion. At the close of the Revolution, Princeton had only two students who confessed themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ. Today the atheism of Europe travels faster. By swift liners and cable flashes, short wave and long wave, organized atheism and satanic philosophies are quickly hurled across the ocean. Once more our colleges and intellectual circles are to be enlisted in the attack on God, His Word, and His Christ! Unless churches resolve with new power and a new faith and a new willingness to testify and to sacrifice, they will fail to withstand the greatest offensive ever directed against them.
I hope that you who love the Lord Jesus and who know in your hearts that every syllable I have spoken is the truth will exert yourselves in defending Christ and proclaiming His grace. If you object that you have no theological training, let me remind you, as the verse following our text emphasizes, that Peter and John were both “unlearned and ignorant men” and that the council before which they had been summoned marveled and knew that they had “been with Jesus.” When you have knelt with Christ in the Garden and stood beneath His cross; when you have walked with Him in His resurrection glory, then a fervent flame of holy zeal should burn within your heart; then your faith should tell the world that you, too, have “been with Jesus.” May God grant us more of the spirit of Henry Martin, missionary to the Mohammedans, who entered the field of his labors with the prayer “Let me burn out for God!”
Every one who has heard these words stands before a decision. You must either accept Christ or reject Him; you either build with faith, or you destroy with unbelief. With Christ you have the inviolable pledge of the greatest blessing that even God Almighty and the resources of Heaven can bestow; without Christ you are “without hope and without God in the world.” If I had only one more minute to live, and if I were asked to fill those sixty swift seconds with one final appeal; if this were the last radio program ever to be broadcast and in it the nation were to be told the most vital of all truths, what else could I say than with all my heart to plead that each one of you would find this salvation that is in Christ Jesus, and in Him alone?
God give you this supreme blessing for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.