Date: November 6, 1938
Prayer for Peace
O Christ, Thou Prince of Perfect Peace:
Look down upon this hate-filled, sin-choked world, we beseech Thee, to rebuke all the unholy forces that promote international hatred and would hurl this generation into bloody strife. Especially do we entreat Thee, forgive us our many and repeated sins! Have mercy upon us in our weakness and selfishness and by Thy Spirit create within us a new, God-pleasing heart! In this way bless us with heavenly peace, happiness on earth, and, above all, with the assurance of our blood-bought salvation through faith in Thine atonement. Bring many to believe in Thee as our true God and only Savior, so that they, too, may receive the inheritance of Thy peace and in Thy love find comfort for sorrow, strength for life’s weak moments, light for darkness, spiritual health in bodily sickness, consolation in bereavement, life in death itself. Thou knowest how much discord and strife has marred our homes, industries, racial relationships, and our entire self-enlightened age; and Thou dost understand how easily our hearts, when not guided by Thee may be incited by envious passions. Teach us that new commandment, then, which Thou, O Christ, didst exemplify in Thy holy life, so that with Thy help we may learn to serve our fellow-men through loving Thee, who first didst love us. Grant us this prayer and bless throughout the land this invitation asking all who labor and are heavy laden to come unto Thee for grace, peace, the promise of heavenly rest, and glory. Hear us for Thy truth’s sake! Amen.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee. – Isaiah 26:3
ONE of the scars on our age is the continued failure to find peace. To our utter dismay we must realize that this generation, which has agitated most for peace, has produced the most wars. The movements for international understanding have been many and far-reaching but their failures often colossal. At the beginning of 1914 no fewer than 160 major peace movements were in active operation throughout the world; yet even that number was not large enough to prevent history’s deadliest war. Today a single fund for the endowment of peace has established 800 organizations,—still not enough to insure tranquility.
So when a national committee representing 6,000,000 American women officially announces that the end of all war is not only possible but certain, we shake our heads and recall many other futile promises of a peace-crowned world. In 1909, only five years before the outbreak of the World War, the editor of Shield’s Magazine pointedly declared: “There is no further doubt of it; . . . war is a thing of the past.” In 1911, only three years before the bloodiest of all slaughters, a contributor to the Sunday-School Times optimistically prophesied: “International peace . . . is coming . . . because the world is becoming civilized.” In 1913 the president of Leland Stanford University calmly maintained that no great conflict would ever be fought, since the cost of large-scale hostilities would be prohibitive. Early in 1914 the secretary of the National Peace Council confidently asserted: “War, the product of anarchy and fear, is passing away.” What happened? Within a few months civilization was hurled into four years of cruel and costly bloodshed. Even then these rosy pictures of a warless world did not end. A President of the United States promised the nation that out of the agonies, the blood, the crippled bodies, the sunken morals, the staggering billions lost during that international struggle, glorious blessings would evolve. The blood-drenched battlefields of Europe, he declared, were a part of a war that would end all war. That was in 1918. What happened? Today we pass in disheartening review over a long list of hostilities, one for each of the twenty years that have elapsed since the signing of the armistice.
Similarly disappointing has been the search for peace in other fields, for example, in labor relations. We have more labor unions, committees on industrial organization, employers’ councils, labor legislation, and labor boards than ever before but at the same time more strikes and industrial warfare, more unemployment and destitution. We find the same absence of peace in class hatred and racial conflict, with its emphasis on Jews and Gentiles, whites and blacks, Nordics and Semites, capitalists and the proletariat—all this despite the multiplied efforts to establish a brotherhood among men. Even in the more intimate circles, in our American family life, we see many homes broken by dissension, although our age has featured an unparalleled study of the family and provided as never before a corps of experts to solve domestic problems.
In the face of this evidence we must conclude that, if with all their brains and culture men cannot stop regiments from killing each other on battlefields, keep State troopers from shooting strikers and strikers from attacking other workers, they assuredly cannot help groping minds discover that inner peace of mind and joy of the spirit without which there can be no lasting happiness and permanent blessing. If modern science cannot establish external peace in industry, in our homes, in our nation, when it deals with commodities that one can see and touch and feel, how can the most advanced scientific thought create inner peace for the soul that no man has ever seen, that no instrument can measure or describe?
Only God can grant this peace; and in our text, a word of God written in disturbed days, the prophet Isaiah (chapter twenty-six, verse three) promises
and with it strength, comfort, light, and guidance to every one of us. Here is a divine pledge, an unchangeable truth. Accept it, trust it, as the prophet, addressing God, promises: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”
CHRIST GRANTS THIS PEACE
There can be no peace within a single soul or among nations until the cause of strife has been removed and human nature is completely changed. Say what you will about the nobility of the race; advance all the theories that modern unbelief parades in its attempts to show that we are constantly climbing the ladder of culture, rung by rung, upward to the higher and better things of life; draw all the pictures you wish about the beauty of mankind, the stubborn fact remains that you are dealing with a black delusion. Look at humanity in the raw; examine the human heart under a spiritual microscope of penetrating power; classify the lusts and the cravings of men’s souls, and you can understand why Isaiah, the master prophet of the Old Testament, in the opening of his mighty oracle asserts that man can sink even below the level of a beast. Selfishness instead of self-denial; greed rather than helpfulness; cruelty for mercy; falsehood displacing truth; hatred above love; pride crushing humility; a sneering at God and ridiculing of His holy name,—these are the dark, destructive passions within every man’s heart which, unless restrained, will choke off all possibility of peace.
We like to think that the days are gone forever when Nero destroyed the followers of Jesus Christ by infernal torture; but did the antichrists of Moscow and Leningrad not kill more witnesses to the Savior within the last twenty years than any degenerate, demented Roman emperor during his entire reign? We like to pat ourselves on the shoulders and say that the Dark Ages are over when Genghis Khan cut a bleeding swath of agony through the heart of a continent and massacred 1,600,000 in a single city; but what are they doing in China and Spain in this very year of our Lord?
No human agency, system, or program can bring peace by checking human sin and remodeling human nature. Of course, fear can restrict the fires of human passion. A man can stop his hand as it stretches out for his neighbor’s property or avert his eyes as they linger on his neighbor’s wife,—simply because he fears the consequence, the exposure, the shame, the disease, the punishment, that may follow; but remove that restraint, and every repression will be cast to the heedless winds. We build penitentiaries to curb crime; but though we have erected larger, more formidable, more numerous prisons, have they effectually checked sin and promoted a better understanding among men? Examine the long list of second offenders! We enlarge our colleges, with the high ambition of making culture the antidote to sin and a developed mind the foundation of a peaceful life; yet has it not been our disheartening experience that particularly since the beginning of this century a dangerous sector of our public education has worked hand in hand with demoralizing influences, so that our college graduates have sometimes been more clever than honest, more suave than sincere, more head-trained than heart-trained? And now many are seeking peace in a new social order as voices that ten or twenty years ago spoke only in subdued whispers today scream in loud chorus to tell the discontented, unemployed, ill-paid, underprivileged masses of this country that they must find peace away from God and close to Communism. Let us not indulge in the superfolly of laughing off the inroads that this unholy ruin has already made into the ranks of American youth, American education, American labor, American officialdom, and—may God be particularly merciful to us!—into American churches! It is much more than a political issue, this question of atheistic Communism. It clutches rather at the vitals of religion, at the foundation of our faith, the promise of peace within our hearts; and before it is too late and this satanic assault on everything Christian and American rises in mastery, let me plead with you to withstand this terror in all its uncurbed bestiality,—the scourge of hell itself, that will blow up our churches, kill our clergy, destroy our homes, make our wives common property, our children wards of the State, spread misery and suffering wherever its venom is spewed.
Thank God, however, that where men have failed God has prevailed! Searching for true peace, we must stand with Isaiah in our text before God, high above the wrecks of man’s hope for peace, and say, “Thou, God, canst give us peace.” We must approach the crucified Savior and believe with all our soul that “He is our peace,” that by bearing our sins and carrying our iniquities He destroyed forever the hostility separating the sinless Father from His sin-weighted children.
There have been outstanding leaders in the search for peace; but can the most distinguished be mentioned in the same breath with the divine Prince of Peace, who established harmony, not temporarily between nation and nation, but eternally between heaven and earth? History knows many peace treaties, 8,000 someone has said, within the last thirty-five centuries; but put them all together, and they are as pebbles beside Mount Everest when compared with that one peace treaty for all ages concluded at Calvary and sealed by the suffering and bleeding Christ. We recall the notable peace pleas of the centuries, Edmund Burke, for example, begging Parliament for the reconciliation of Great Britain with the American Colonies and other voices raised against unnecessary war; but they are hushed into whispers when we hear the dying Savior raise His voice earnestly to plead: “Father, forgive them.” World War veterans in this audience will recall the armistice message that twenty years ago, at eleven o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, flashed through the trenches; but how inestimably more important is the message that rings through the ages and to the ends of the world: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid!” Uncounted peace monuments dot the world; but in their totality they will be dwarfed by the cross of Christ, that imperishable memorial of eternal tranquility which God through His Holy Spirit offers each age. Magnificent, too, have been the blessings of earthly peace, our liberty and progress after the War of Independence, a race emerging from slavery after the Civil War; but greater beyond all measure is the benediction of freedom from sin, from hell, from eternal death, which Christ secured for the world when on the cross in His own holy body He suffered the pain of all sin, the punishment of all sin, the curse of all sin, so that we might have peace with God, peace with our conscience, and peace with our fellow-men.
It is no exaggeration when our text speaks of “perfect peace”; for though the best international agreements may become scraps of paper, the peace that comes with Christ will never change. In deathless truth His Word assures us: “The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed.” It is the “perfect peace” for every conflict of life. When we begin to understand, as far as the limits of our intellect permit us, how profoundly Christ loved us, how He stopped short of nothing in the endless devotion of that Savior-love and bought us with a price so astonishing that we stand awestruck before the compassion that meant His death for our life, we have the inner calm and self-possession that He will keep us as His own, protect us by His love, guide us by His wisdom, strengthen us by His power. If you are Christ’s, no sorrow in earth’s endless variety of griefs can tear you away from this “peace which passeth all understanding.” Outwardly your life may be restless and continually disquieted; but just as wave after wave rises and falls on the surface of the sea while deep in its many-fathomed depths the mighty ocean is quiet, so inwardly, your vision directed to Christ, your faith trusting in His promises, your hope built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, you will have Heaven’s riches in your earthly poverty, spiritual health in your physical weakness, a calm and serene confidence amid encircling noise and tumult, a penetrating insight into the love of God despite blindness, and peace, blessed, uplifting, courageinstilling peace, in the face of misunderstanding and hatred. Let especially those cling to Christ’s pledge whose lives have been overshadowed by dark sorrows. Let the peace promise of Jesus find joyful acceptance by the many destitute that have lost everything, even the opportunity of working. The blessed Christ would speak comfort into the many depressing sieges of sickness that have made some of you suffer for twenty, thirty years and more! He offers His gracious benediction upon the maimed and the crippled, the blind and the deaf, who complain that they have lost the joy of life. You wives who write of unspeakably cruel husbands; you parents bowed down by the thanklessness of children; you, the young men and young women, whose lives have been embittered because your ambitions have crashed and your plans for achievement, for marriage, for happiness, seem to have been shattered; you of whitened hair and sorrow-seamed faces who wonder why you are still alive when day after day brings only heaped disappointments,—all of you, hear and believe today’s promise of “perfect peace”! Join in this glorious song of victory that Saint Paul sings: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”! Know that in this peace we can begin to love what God loves and to hate what He hates; you can walk with Christ and talk with Him in prayer and gain the unfailing conviction that He is all you need for earth and heaven!
Christ’s is a “perfect peace” because it offers complete freedom from despondency. Once you know that your life is “hid with Christ,” every feeling of despair and loneliness will be conquered. Instead of looking at life in listless, sullen protest, you will have with Christ this gift of contentment: “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.” You can rest assured that “God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
With this “perfect peace” no room remains for secret fears to crowd in upon us, each one intent upon destroying our confidence in God: the fears of our past sins and future needs, the fear of loss, disgrace, suffering; those hideous phobias that are provoking an unparalleled number of nervous breakdowns, inducing mental disorders, making men cringe before unseen terrors instead of rejoicing in Christ. “Perfect love casteth out fear,” the infallible Word reminds us; and if yours is a fear-burdened life; if you are undermining your health with useless anxiety, proving your lack of trust in God by your continued fretting and worry, see how many times He says: “Fear not!” “Be not afraid!”—how repeatedly He greets His disquieted followers with the calm assurance, “Peace be with you!” Turn to history to see how Christian martyrs overcame every semblance of fear. A famous letter written in the days of the early Church describing these doomed witnesses to Christ says that some of them “went out rejoicing, glory and peace being blended in their faces, so that even their bonds seemed beautiful ornaments.” A church historian testifies that the Christians who were on trial “appeared most courageous in prospect of their suffering, while the judges trembled; and they went exultingly from the tribunal, rejoicing in their testimony.” As you read God’s Bible and man’s history, believe with unflinching faith that the same Savior can banish fright from your heart and enrich you with surprising courage.
We find this “perfect peace” in Christ, since His are all-inclusive blessings, extended to every nation, to every class of men, and to every individual No one is excluded from this harmony of Heaven unless indeed he excludes himself; for the Christ, who spent long days in healing the sick and who Himself suffered indescribably great agonies, is the Soul Physician for all who trust in Him. The Savior, who fed the five thousand and fasted for forty days, knew the pangs of hunger Himself; He is the Bread of Life to sustain famished spirits. Jesus, who helped the poor and knew poverty in His own life, by divine compassion offers every one of you, as hard as your financial road may be, the riches of His grace. The Good Shepherd, who leaves the flock of ninety and nine to seek the one stray lamb which is lost and who Himself knew the crushing pains of loneliness as He knelt in the Garden, will prove Himself the Guide and Counselor to you who stand alone, having lost your direction in life. The blessed Lord, who recognized our human weaknesses and showed to doubting Thomas the nail marks and the spear wounds, will help each one of you turn the chill of every doubt into the warmth of a radiant faith. The all-merciful Savior, who forgave the contrite woman kneeling in tears before Him; the Christ of endless compassion, who promised the penitent thief immediate entry into Paradise; that ever-blessed Redeemer now, in this moment, stands before every one of us to offer the peace of pardon, the peace of Heaven, and the peace that you who are Christ’s, with the Spirit’s help, must show in your life.
Enriched by these blessings, you cannot harbor contempt of your fellow-men. You cannot hate a Jew, despise a Negro, shake your fist at the wealthy, or sneer at the poor. With this peace, which is the fountain of all the immeasurable blessings of Christian civilization, the blessing which has prevented the world from becoming a madhouse and the human race from degenerating into a pack of assassins, you and the millions who come to Christ with you have the one power which can hold out high hope for the future. As the attack on Christianity increases, we shall do well to recall the words of James Russell Lowell to a group of British doubters: “When the microscopic search of skepticism, which had hunted the heavens and sounded the seas to disprove the existence of a Creator, has turned its attention to human society and has found a place on this planet ten miles square where a decent man can live in decency, comfort, and security, supporting and educating his children, unspoiled and unpolluted; a place where age is reverenced, infancy respected, manhood respected, womanhood honored, and human life held in due regard: when skeptics can find such a place ten miles square on this globe where the Gospel of Christ has not gone and cleared the way and laid the foundation and made decency and security possible, it will be in order for the skeptical literati to move thither and ventilate their views.”
TRUSTING FAITH APPROPRIATES THIS PEACE
Now, this peace in Christ is the “perfect peace” above all because it is offered freely by the pure grace of God. Here is the rich promise of our Scripture: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.” Note that the great evangelist of the Old Testament does not offer peace to his hearers if their hands have worked for God or their money has paid the price of peace; if their splendid character has earned the reward of peace; but in this divine mercy He does everything, goes the whole way, removes all the obstacles; God gives His peace to every one “whose mind is stayed on” Him.
We must not pass too lightly over this one word “mind.” For it shows us that with all the stress laid upon the outward side of religion; the stately buildings dedicated to Christ’s name; the magnificence and wealth by which His name is honored in objects of rare gems and precious metals; the costly robes, the imposing processionals, the appealing music that marks much of our present worship, the one and only aspect that counts with God is the heart and mind that believes. Let us build glorious churches to the name of Christ, but before that let faith be built within us! We should bring the offering of our hands in a far more literal way than stingy churches have in the past; we should speak with our lips the confession of our faith and sing with our mouths the songs of praise and hallelujah; but first of all give us the sincerity of Christmindedness. For what good are prayers mumbled by the lips while the thoughts of the mind roam to remote pleasures? Of what avail is the singing of many hymns if our interest turns from the throne of God to our individual cares and delights? Of what benefit is the greatest sacrifice we can make, the largest church-building we may erect, if all this is not accompanied by trusting faith in God’s mercy?
May God give us a humble mind that dares not exalt itself but bows before Christ with the one plea, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” May He grant us a sound, reverent mind, so that our faith is more than an emotion and does not degenerate into an unsound and absurd creed that brings reproach to Christ! May God strengthen us with a courageous mind to banish the fear and flabbiness from many churches today that are straddling the most vital issues, shaking hands with unbelief, surrendering when they should march on to victory!
Particularly may the God of all grace give us a childlike, unquestioning, believing mind! The other day I came across the last will of that eminent French statesman François Pierre Guizot, who served his country for very many years with almost unparalleled zeal. His was the confident faith that I ask of you; for listen to him as he writes: “I believe in God and worship Him without attempting to understand Him. I see His presence and His action not only in the unchangeable laws of the universe and in the secret life of the soul but in the history of human society and especially in the Old and New Testaments, those records of revelation and of the divine action of our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of the human race. I bow before the mysteries of the Bible and of the Gospel, and I refrain from discussions and scientific solutions by means of which men have tried to explain everything. I have a firm faith that God allows me to call myself a Christian; and I am convinced that, when I shall, as will soon be my lot, enter into the full light of day, I shall see how purely human is the origin and how vain are most of the discussions in this world concerning the things which are divine.”
Above all, may the Holy Spirit give you minds “stayed on” Christ,—not the weather-vane Christianity that alters its direction with every gust of the wind, not the hot and cold faith that constantly changes the strength of its devotion; not the mind that says, “Try it and see what happens!”; not the mind that looks backward and says, “I was baptized years ago,” or that looks forward to trust in a deathbed return to God; not the mind that is in harmony with God on Sunday and in enthusiastic agreement with the world from Monday till Saturday. Rather may God give you His mercy,—and now I summarize all the hopes and prayers I have ever spoken to God through this microphone,—bless you, every one of you, with humble, trusting, courageous, Christ-directed minds that are “stayed” on the one hope for earth and heaven, Jesus Christ, Lord and God, Savior and Redeemer, King of kings, eternal High Priest, everlasting Prophet of endless mercy, and with Christ—O Father, hear us now—peace, “perfect peace!” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.