Date: October 23, 1938
O God of Glory, Power, and Mercy, Thou ever-blessed Trinity, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer:
Humbly do we approach Thee, when now, at Thy command and with the promise of Thy benediction, we once again take up the testimony to the grace of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, His sin-removing death, His life-bestowing resurrection. Bless these messages, so that they may convict men of their sin, and then teach them to find forgiveness, salvation, and heaven through faith in the atoning blood! Let Thy Spirit accompany our messages, prayers, and hymns, bringing Thy pardon and comfort into desolate souls, despondent hearts, unbelieving minds, impoverished homes, so that many from the east unto the west may turn away from themselves and every disappointing human hope to see Christ’s outstretched arms, hear His pleading promises of life and light, and believe the assurances of His beseeching love. Strengthen us, give us courageous hearts and wisdom from on high, so that this mission of the air, glorifying the Cross from coast to coast, may bring multitudes to Thee. On all sides we are surrounded by those who oppose Thy Word and assail the pledges of Thy grace. Stand by us with Thy help, so that they may not successfully restrain us and hinder the free course of Thy Truth. It is a large task, and costly, this broadcasting of Thy mercy. And we ask Thee to open many hearts and hands for the support and completion of this blessed work. Hear us, as Thou hast promised to answer those who pray in Jesus’ name! Amen.
We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, Be ye reconciled to God. – 2 Corinthians 5:20
ONCE again, for the sixth broadcasting season, we begin this mission of the air in the name of the almighty, all-merciful God, dedicating the facilities of our sixty-three stations to one supreme objective: bringing Christ to the nation. Six months have elapsed since I last spoke to you, and for many they have been hard, discouraging months. For all of us the burdens under which our age labors and the dangers that threaten us have multiplied.
We are not speaking primarily of the swollen ranks of the unemployed, still twelve million strong, or of the widespread poverty that now makes one third of all American families exist on an annual income of less than $500. Nor are we here concerned with the staggering national debt and our mounting money problems, as cruel as many of you have found your losses. Though these tragedies cut deeply, they are not fatal. Incomparably more disastrous than the inflation that many fear, the financial breakdown that economists predict, the unemployment that millions will continue to suffer; immeasurably more destructive even than the coming world war which some leaders foresee despite peace treaties that failed to destroy a single rifle, is the spiritual and moral crisis into which this nation has been hurled. Shattering the hope that prolonged years of personal reverses and money restrictions might bring us penitently back to God, millions in America are drifting farther from Him. The revolt against the Almighty, led by both uncouth scoffers and brainy atheists, has grown in scope and power since these broadcasts began. The assault on heaven, encouraged by hundreds of branches of Communistic societies, has steadily become bolder. The anti-God and anti-Christ campaign waged on the campuses of some institutions of higher learning is winning new sectors on the cultural front.
Hand in hand with this hatred of God another destroyer stalks through the land. It is easy morality, love of lust, gilding of sin, the trampling of those standards of right and wrong which God has imposed upon every nation. Our prisons are overcrowded despite the frequent breakdown of justice. The radio, the motion-picture, the printed page, teach our children the fine points of crime, the technique of the underworld and the master criminal. Young people grow up in an age when purity is laughed to scorn. Since our country according to Federal records has become the most crime-ridden nation in modern civilization, we have reason to shudder before the thought of God’s retributive justice.
These are not pleasant facts, but they are necessary truths crying for restatement, particularly because the voice of many churches that should be raised in warning and appeal, instead preaches the smooth and easy way of life, hums sweet lullabies to the conscience, seeks to satisfy human vanities. Our course in these broadcasts, then, is clearer than ever before. We can have only one ultimate message. Unbelievers laugh at it, skeptics question it, pulpiteers in Christ-denying churches belittle it, our own flesh and blood opposes it; but here it is, the heart of the Old Testament and the New, the theme of the early Church and the twentieth-century Church:
THE DIVINE APPEAL TO A BURDENED AGE: “BE YE RECONCILED TO GOD,”—
the same message to which Saint Paul committed himself when, writing to the Corinthians (second letter, chapter five, verse twenty), he announces: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, Be ye reconciled to God.”
AN APPEAL OF MERCY AND BLESSING
When the Apostle calls himself one of the “ambassadors for Christ,” he affirms that he is no servant of men, no agent of a human empire, but that he represents Jesus Christ, speaks in His holy name and by His divine authority. To Saint Paul’s trusting faith Jesus was more than Reformer, Prophet of a new age, Champion of the masses, Pioneer of advanced thought, mystic Master of love. The depths of his Christ lay far deeper than these shallow answers that men give today to the inevitable question “What think ye of Christ?”—just as the height of his Christ rose above the towering greatness of this earth to reveal Jesus as nothing less than the everlasting, ever powerful, ever glorious God.
The Gospel to which the great apostle, as an ambassador of Christ, dedicated his many-sided genius, was not the vague hope that somehow and somewhere beyond the reaches of this world there was some one or something called God who might help men if they could only find Him and earn their way to Him. Instead, Saint Paul saw only the cross of Christ and the suffering, gasping, dying of his Redeemer as the pledge of his salvation.
To the apostle, men were lost without Christ. By their coarse lusts and grasping greed, their endless inhumanities, their infinite cruelties, they were destroying their own souls, perverting their fellow-men, and encrusting their world with heavy wickedness. He may have read much in the Greek literature of his day about the goodness of man and the nobility of the human race; but he knew that these lofty sentences were barrages of falsehood, satanic camouflage covering the ugliness, the filth, the moral deformities, of mankind. True, he saw glistening temples of carved alabaster columns, but he knew the orgies of lust wantonly practiced within their marble walls. He read biographies of the great who had enthusiastically acclaimed man’s goodness, but he knew that only too often the private lives of poets and philosophers revealed unnatural sins. In a more personal way, as he stood before the holiness of God while the secrets of his own heart were laid bare, he felt that conviction of his own sin, that despair of earning his own forgiveness, that made him scream: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Without arguing the complete depravity of the human race, which the Christians in Corinth, perhaps above all places except Rome, had to witness daily in that city of notorious vices; without pausing to convince his hearers of the sin in their lives, Saint Paul had only one basic appeal, the plea of our text, “Be ye reconciled to God”; only one focal point to which he trained the eyes of faith, Calvary’s cross of shame and glory; only one cleansing power to remove the vivid stain of sin, the purifying “blood of Jesus Christ”; only one offering to satisfy divine justice and reconcile God to man, that self-sacrifice on the gory altar of Golgotha, where trusting faith beholds “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
Neither persecution nor applause, sickness nor health, shame nor good repute could swerve the great ambassador of Jesus Christ from this loyalty to his crucified Savior. Hear him as he states his life purpose: “I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Listen to him as he earnestly declares: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Pay close attention as he lays down the guiding principle of his courageous career: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.” In the same spirit this reconciliation, pardon, forgiveness, reunion with God, which the Cross offers must be the keynote, the victory cry, the beseeching invitation, of all these broadcasts, the foundation message of every true Christian Church.
Many of you will be disappointed when I rededicate this coast-to-coast broadcast to the same Gospel. The restlessness of our age wants something new, as the mushroom growth of a hundred recent cults throughout the land testifies. But can anything keep more closely abreast of human needs than the grace of Christ, renewed every morning? Is there any fact more up to the minute than the reality of human treachery? A single issue of a Saint Louis newspaper recently contained accounts of multiplied murders, adulteries, robberies, divorces, assaults, kidnapping, suicides, judicial corruption, political dishonesty, perjury, slander, criminal neglect, and smaller crimes too numerous to detail,—all against the world background of war and international hatred. Add to these the sordid accounts of human vileness printed in the 8,500 other newspapers of our country, as well as the far greater catalog of crime never revealed in the press, and the case against sin becomes too overwhelming for debate.
Forget the front-page crimes, the headline sins, and the public wrongs! They can easily arouse indignation and protest! Let us center our investigations on our own lives! Too many like to behold themselves not as they are but as they think they are or as they want to be. We condemn murder but pass over hatred. We denounce gross lusts and brazen impurity but nurture secret desires and illicit hopes. We spurn deliberate theft, but give room to covetousness. We forget that God in His holiness so hates and punishes sin that the unforgiven sinner, however secure and prominent he may be, is robbed of the peace in this life and excluded from heaven in the next. Because the sin in our own lives is the starkest earthly reality; because human ingenuity will never be able to find a way of escape from its consequences, as sin ravages the body, poisons the mind, grapples the conscience, heaps sorrow upon hearts and homes, and sends men to hell; because in all the world there is only one power that can break the shackles of Satan, free men from sin, cleanse them from its guilt, and that is the holy, precious blood of Christ, our paramount plea is: “Be ye reconciled to God!”
Some American preachers, however, far from being ambassadors of Jesus Christ, play the part of ambassadors for special interests, partisan politics, subversive movements, and destructive unbelief as their churches continue to lose hold on the masses. In protest I pause in this initial broadcast to ask for an increasing number of pastors in the churches who will stand under the cross, clasp the Scriptures in one hand, and raise the other in allegiance to the true, divine, redeeming Christ.
Can any promise offer greater grace and more manifold mercies than this divine plea for reconciliation? Behold the love of Christ from whatever point of view you will, and its glory beams in radiant brilliance. This is sure mercy, with every question-mark destroyed. It is positive reconciliation; for when Jesus bore your sins and paid their penalty, they were canceled forever. Christ’s is universal love, offering forgiveness to all, even those spurned by their fellow-men, promising pardon for every sin, even those whom men refuse to forgive. It is personal grace, this reconciliation that writes our names in the Book of Life and says: “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name.” Above all, this pleading “Be ye reconciled” offers the freest grace that Heaven itself could decree. Christ went the whole way to bring us back to God. He paid the full price for our redemption. He met every demand, fulfilled every obligation, left nothing unsaid, unearned, unfinished, and in the majesty of His devotion to us He brings us back to the Father’s arms, justified by faith, and by faith alone.
Yet God’s grace is even greater. The mercies of His father heart were not exhausted by that supreme sacrifice on the cross; with a devotion that exceeds our grasp God pleads with us; and though we often reject Him, He still begs for trust. He might have said on that first Good Friday when the lifeless body of His own Son was removed from the cross, “I have done everything, a million, million times more than ungrateful men could expect; but now I am through.” God might have told the world, “I have given you My own Son, but now I will do no more,” and we would still have to adore the mercy by which He condescended to redeem us. Yet, Father of endless compassion that He is, besides completing His plan of salvation in Christ, God patiently and lovingly pleads that we come to Him in penitent faith. God, the Unsearchable, for whom the vastness of the planets is but the star dust of His magnificence, who surveys the sweep of the universe in a twinkling as though its length and width were only a handbreadth,—that omnipotent Designer, Creator, and Sustainer of all life stoops to plead with His stubborn, willful creatures of clay! That sinless God before whom even spotless angels can only chant their “Holy, holy, holy,” bends low to ask, “My son, My daughter, be reconciled to Me.”
Remember how Jesus pleaded. Earnestly He raised His holy arms with the invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He pleaded that little children be brought to Him. In effect He pleaded that the adulterous woman might not be stoned. He pleaded with the rich to follow Him and with the poor to find comfort in His Gospel. He pleaded with His own countrymen, and when the royal city rejected Him, the tears coursed down His cheeks, and the dirge of His wounded love raised its plaintive cry: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . how often would I have gathered thy children, . . . and ye would not.” History knows of many heart-moving entreaties; but when in the Old Testament God cries out to those who spurn His mercy: “All day long I have stretched forth My hands,” and when in the New Testament those hands of God, now nailed to the cross, are stretched high over a sin-bound world, this beseeching love of Christ completely blocks out all human imploring.
With that unparalleled mercy come unparalleled blessings even here on earth. When the human heart is at peace with God, life, dark and heavy as many of you know it, finds divine consolation. Without this blessed hope even brilliant intellects and philosophical minds have been shorn of all comfort. Henry Sidgwick, widely known British agnostic, entered the home of a bereaved friend, and standing beside the casket of the young daughter, he sought some word of sustaining cheer. Yet despite his advantages of culture, Sidgwick had to confess, “I have no consolation to offer.” And the bereaved father, a like-minded agnostic, replied, “I know that I cannot get any comfort.”
Contrast with this dark despair the triumph in the lives of God’s reconciled children. Death enters their homes, too; but because they have the living Christ in their hearts, they can see, far beyond the grave, the eternal reaches of that “better country” where there is no death. They, too, meet reverses, sometimes, it seems, in overwhelming number, as sorrow piles upon sorrow; but when the last dollar is spent, the last friend has proved unfaithful, the last thread snaps; when it seems that the breaking point has been reached and God’s children are stunned in realization of the most crushing agonies still to be endured, even then those who are Christ’s can be strong because they are reconciled with God and live in their Savior.
AN APPEAL FOR ACCEPTANCE AND TRUST
Now, in all this there is an appeal pointedly directed to you. When Saint Paul brought the Gospel to the Corinthians, he begged them, our text reminds us, to believe that God Himself was beseeching them; and when, this afternoon, we “pray you in Christ’s stead, Be . . . reconciled to God,” remember that who and what I am need mean nothing to you, but that what I say to you in the name of Christ, by the power of His blood and the blessings of His Spirit, must mean everything. So I ask those whose lives have been lived in ignorance of God, in misunderstanding of His mercy, in rebellion against His grace, to focus their attention on the Christ who now stands before them with His outstretched arms and asks, “Be . . . reconciled,” come back to God! Can you remain unmoved by that beseeching love?
May God forgive those of us who blindly follow the decrees of men, yet carelessly spurn the entreaties of Heaven! A few weeks ago four men who could not speak even a common language, met in a hasty conference as the world seemed to stagger on the abyss of war. Four men, short-lived, mortal men, susceptible to error, came to a quick international agreement in Munich; and as though the words they spoke and the few sentences they wrote were charged with mysterious power, at their instruction a nation began to dismember itself, armies were disbanded, air and naval forces were demobilized. If only men would bow before the pleading of God for the eternal peace of their souls!
When God beseeches you, “Be . . . reconciled,” do not turn aside from that mercy with the haughty objection “I do not need reconciliation.” As long as you have a conscience within you that marks the difference between right and wrong; as long as you examine your conduct in the light of the standards set by the holiness of God and appraise your thoughts and actions, not as you want them to be but as they are, just so long your soul cannot find its rest, and you will not know the peace of pardon. You may boast that you are above the necessity of getting right with God; but some time and in some way the thought of an eternity without Him will freeze your soul in cold terror. Poisontongued atheists, blaspheming skeptics, shoulder-shrugging agnostics, gripped by the fear of a gruesome hereafter, have moaned for reconciliation with God. Seventy-five-yearold Herbert Spencer, keen-minded British unbeliever, confessed that he was so terrorized by the thoughts of eternity that he habitually shunned the subject. Huxley, internationally acclaimed agnostic, who taught that men were accidental descendants of apelike ancestors, admitted that, the older he grew and the more frequently the picture of the grave flashed across his mind, the more he was plagued with such horror that he would a great deal sooner be in hell than thus to be tormented. Now, if these men of letters and the sciences were clutched by harrowing fears, how can you hope to escape when experience and the Word of God combine to warn us, “Be sure that ‘your sin will find you out’”?
On the other hand, do not object that you have fallen so far from grace and have so repeatedly and shamelessly abused the mercies of God that even the wide love of Jesus cannot reach you. It is the glory of His promise that, though our sins be red like scarlet and crimson, faith in Christ can make them spotless as the new-driven snow, white as washed and bleached wool. If Saint John could close his gospel with the opinion that all the books in the world of his day could not contain the detailed record of Christ’s miracles, then I believe that today, even when “of making many books there is no end,” not all the libraries in the world could record the miraculous conversions of sin-marked people and the cleansing of blackened souls. As an ambassador of Jesus, in His name and by the promise of His Word, I can pledge you, laboring under your sins and sorrows: “If ANY man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He is the Propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world!”
Again, as Christ pleads with you, “Be reconciled,” do not say that you can neither understand His salvation nor explain His Gospel. At Cambridge University in England, George Romanes raised this objection, and in enthroning reason over revelation, he fell so far in his unbelief that he denied all faith in a personal God. Because he could not account for his heavenly Father by analysis and argument, he wrote a formidable book designed to overthrow every claim for the existence of God. But in later years, blindness threatened him, and as afflictions have often proved notable blessings in many other lives, so with sightless eyes he began to behold more than he had ever seen before. Under this new vision he decided to write another book to show the weakness of his first arguments. Supported by the prayers and love of his Christian wife,—God bless that faith of Christian wives and mothers and sisters!—Romanes came back to Christ and on a blessed Easter Day approached the altar to share in Holy Communion. Faith had triumphed over reason, and he exulted, “It is Christianity or nothing!” May it be Christ or nothing in your life, too, when despite all arguments and demands for proof you experience the demonstration of Christ’s power in your soul! As brilliant leaders in human thought, kneeling with implicit trust in Christ, have restrained their reason and recognized its frailty, so may we all find in our faith the blessedness of those who believe even though they do not see, who worship Christ though they cannot explain Christ.
It is a precious moment when God pleads for your repentance and your faith in Christ. Among all the follies of which careless men are guilty, none can be more fatal than that disastrous indifference which postpones the acceptance of God’s peace treaty. Surrounded as all of us are by the grim uncertainties of life, we must remember that “now is the accepted time,” that “a convenient season” may never come. The all-absorbing question demanding an answer now is not, “What career shall I follow? Whom shall I marry? Where shall I live? What clothes shall I wear? What investment shall I make?”; not, “How can I pay the rent, the coal, the taxes?”; not even, “Will I have work tomorrow?” “How can I regain my health?” “How can I reestablish myself?” Before you find the solution to these questions, you must ask yourself, “How can I meet my God?” and discover Heaven’s answer in this beseeching love of Christ. All is at stake for you: your eternity in heaven or hell; your reunion with your beloved ones who died in the faith or your endless separation; a calm, lifted spirit amid the hurricanes of life or a restless fear and suspicion in the warming rays of prosperity. Once more, then, as though God Himself were pleading with you, as though the blessed Christ in this moment were speaking to no one but you and the entire power and appeal of His love were focused on you, I beg you: “Be . . . reconciled to God!” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.