Date: November 13, 1938
Praise for the Preservation of the Bible
God, our Father:
Accept this thank-offering of our souls as we come before Thee to praise Thee for the protection by which through the centuries our Holy Bible has been preserved to us. For all who have studied, toiled, faced persecution and martyrdom, as they translated, published, and distributed Thy two Testaments, we thank Thy mercy. Send us, we beseech Thee, Thy Spirit, so that we may love Thy Word and daily find on its pages the glorious message of mercy in Jesus Christ, who on the cross gave Himself as Heaven’s ransom for human vileness. Put this devotion to Thy sacred Scriptures deep into our hearts, securely into our homes, victoriously into our churches! By Thine almighty power frustrate the plans and change the hearts of those who today would oppose Thy Word and destroy Thy Church. These enemies of Thy mercy are many and powerful; they labor with the avowed attempt to wipe the Bible off the face of the earth. Rise up with Thy bared arm, O Lord of hosts. Put them to shame by Thy divine strength, so that the Word which we have received from our forefathers in the past may be transmitted to our children for their future. Without Thee we can do nothing, but with faith in Thine atoning Son we are more than conquerors and have the promise of the victory which overcometh the world. O Thou Triune God, who hearest prayer, hear us now as we plead for Thy Word, our most precious heritage. We ask it in Jesus’ name! Amen.
Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. – Luke 11:28
FOUR hundred years ago a royal decree was enacted that has gained inestimable importance for the hundreds of millions in the English-speaking world. In 1538, only two years after William Tyndale was strangled to death and then burned at the stake because he dared to translate the Bible into the English language, King Henry VIII, in one of the most startling reverses of history, ordered the publication of the very translation that had sentenced Tyndale to death. Before he breathed his last, this martyred scholar gasped: “O Lord, open Thou the King of England’s eyes!” and with the same speed and power by which the Almighty can answer your prayers, the eyes of England’s sovereign were opened. An age of Bible publication and distribution began which, please God, will never stop!
These first English Bibles were so large and costly that copies were limited to churches, where, in convenient places, they were chained to reading-desks. A new interest in the Word of God was created by the open, translated Bible—a zeal so startling that sometimes the discussion around these chained Bibles was so animated that the preacher in the pulpit could make himself heard only with great difficulty. After four hundred years we realize that it is not the eager debate on Biblical questions that disturbs the modern church but the complete supplanting of God’s Word by man’s.
As evidence of the deep-rooted hatred directed against the Scriptures by the churches themselves and, almost as though it were planned, as a counter-attack to this anniversary celebration a leading Modernist writes a large volume that masquerades as a guide to the Scriptures. Think of this unbelievably appalling contradiction! The author, regarded as the spokesman for Protestantism, first of all brazenly admits in the preface that to him the Bible is neither the inspired Word of God nor the infallible truth; then he proceeds to claim that within the covers of our Scripture we have mythology, folklore, legends, mistakes, misrepresentations, and contradictions,—a volume with elements of savage immorality and indecent ethics.
Here is a preacher hailed and quoted in hundreds of radical pulpits, mimicked and imitated by an irresponsible fringe of the clergy that is unwilling or unable to think or act for itself, a minister who is supported by America’s leading plutocrat; and in a book advertised as an aid to deeper spirituality he deliberately denies that the Bible is the errorless Word, that Christ is the Son of God, that His blood offers full and free atonement for all sins through faith, and faith alone; denies a dozen other heartteachings of the Scriptures. That man, who broadcasts this unbelief over an entire network, and broadcasts free of all charge, has made the Book of Life a book of death. In the face of this vaunting unbelief even within many churches, but with the joy of gratitude for four hundred years of the sacred Scriptures officially published in English, let me show you the Bible as
THE BOOK THAT BLESSES
I take for my authority Jesus Christ Himself, who speaks the words of our text (Luke 11:28): “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.”
IT BLESSES WITH DIVINE TRUTH
A remarkable occasion called forth these words. The Savior, who, as frequently, had busied Himself with healing the sick, was speaking on the power of wickedness, when a certain woman in the crowd before Him, carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, raised her voice to exclaim how blessed the mother of Jesus must be with such an illustrious Son. Jesus hears her first without any comment, for indeed His mother was “blessed . . . among women”; but when she finishes, the Savior turns to her with a mild correction. “Yea, rather,” He says, “blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” Forcefully does He teach that there is a blessing more exalted even than this unparalleled glory of being the mother of Christ—the benediction of trusting faith in the eternal Word. Greater, Jesus says, than all the lavish gifts of money, the endowment of the brain, the prominence of power; higher than all the recognition that we may deserve; more glorious in the sight of God even than being the mother of the Messiah, that preeminence earnestly desired by many a Jewish maiden, is the blessing which flows from the reverent study of God’s Word.
For us the “Word of God” spoken by Moses and the prophets, revealed especially by Jesus and His New Testament writers, is found in our Bible; and because that Bible is not the word of man; not just a book but the Book; not a volume that contains the truth but a volume that is the truth; not pages of noble and exalted opinions but pages with divine and heavenly revelation; because the Bible does what no other book can do when it brings us the truth of the living God, it is the source of benefits too glorious to be measured.
The entire Christian faith, the work of the whole Church of Christ, the eternal hope of millions for their salvation, stands or falls with the claim that the Bible is the errorless, divinely inspired “Word of God.” Attack this basic truth, and you are undermining the foundation upon which all Christianity rests; put a question-mark behind the words of Christ in our text, and you make every promise of the Bible doubtful; alter the assertion of Jesus “Thy Word is truth” so that it reads: “Thy Word is half truth and half error”; change the promise “If ye continue in My Word, . . . ye shall know the truth,” and make it read, “If ye continue in My Word, ye shall know something of the truth,—perhaps,”—and you will lead millions from the rock of their assurance to the swamps of uncertainty.
It is tragic enough if churches differ in some of the less vital portions of the Christian faith; but who can describe the fatal results of the growing rejection of the Bible that has become the curse of our day? Bible-questioning churches, Bible-ridiculing divinity schools, Bible-blaspheming Communism, and Bible-neglecting homes threaten to overwhelm our age. If ever in the history of our country the alarm had to be sounded to rally men for the defense of the Bible, that day has dawned on us, as we confess to the shame of American Christianity that there are only a few of the large church-bodies that are not infected with the denial of the Bible. Many of you Christians in the Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches, even some of you in certain branches of the Lutheran Church, and vast numbers in smaller groups are supporting preachers and teachers for whom the Bible is just another book. If you want to see your churches even less effective than they now are, keep on permitting your pulpits to feature moral pep talks, drippy, sugary, all’s-well-with-the-world essays, amateurish appraisals of political movements in Europe or America! Maintain your silence! Continue paying fat salaries to proud-minded enemies of God’s Word!—If, however, you want blessing for yourself and for your children, then with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might testify to the truth of the Scriptures, demand loyalty to God’s Word!
When Christ today pointedly upholds our Bible as the source of richest blessings because it is the Word that comes errorless, without contradiction or mistake, from the perfect holiness of our God, His verdict eliminates all debate and argument. For those reborn by the Spirit of Christ the most convincing testimony to the heavenly origin of the Bible is the claim of Christ Himself. For those not yet convinced of the absolute truth of everything that Christ says let me emphasize that the Old and New Testaments themselves contain the unimpeachable evidence of their own veracity. Where is there a single passage in the more than 31,000 verses of Scripture which can be proved false or misleading? Every year I utter a public challenge to the radio audience, with all the skeptics, the churchless, the scoffers, the atheists who listen, as their own letters reveal—I ask them to produce any statement of the Bible that can be advanced as falsehood. In more than five years of national broadcasting the only answers I have received are the overworked claims that unbelief has raised through the centuries, though they have been answered scores of times. The more sober-minded among the critics of the Bible are cautious in crying, “Error!” They know the dozens of passages which a hundred years ago were branded as erroneous and have been proved accurate by archeological discoveries in Bible lands. In the most recent book on this subject Sir Charles Marston, who devotes page after page to show how the results of the latest excavations support the Scriptures, calls Biblical science true science and affirms: “Those who have shaken popular faith in the Bible and have undermined its authority are in turn undermined themselves by the evidence that has been brought to light.”
We have, in addition, one proof for the truth of the Scriptures that ought to convince the most skeptical minds. To know beyond all doubt that the Bible is divine, that it can do what no other book has ever done, you need no laboratory tests, no penetrating scientific investigation; you need look only into the Old Testament with its prophecy and into the New Testament and later records of human history with their fulfilment. In numerous passages the doom of godless cities and empires is precisely foretold; and, impressed on the subsequent pages of human affairs, is the stamp of history’s endorsement. It is said that the Old Testament in 333 prophecies predicts the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. According to the law of compound probability the mathematical possibility that these 333 prophecies could be fulfilled in one person is only one out of eighty-four, followed by ninety-seven ciphers, a number so inconceivable that mathematicians know no specific name for it. Can any one believe, in the face of this overwhelming ratio, that only by accident the life of Jesus agrees with these Old Testament statements? And if it is not by chance; if the pages of prophecy clearly foretold the deity, the virgin birth, the vicarious death, the victorious resurrection, of Christ and predicted dozens of details in His life of love, must we not bow before that Word as the truth of God?
We can find further unmistakable testimony to the power of God’s Word in its influence throughout the centuries. What was it that “turned the world upside down” in the days of the apostles and since then has prompted the highest human progress? What power raised men from the degeneracy into which they had sunk during the first centuries of the Christian era? What elevating influence promoted the love of men toward their fellow-men, ennobled womanhood, exalted childhood, crushed slavery, dignified labor, built hospitals, asylums, and institutions of mercy, checked the ravages of hatred, thwarted many plans for war? What benign power promoted popular education, fought superstition, challenged bigotry? The answer is not to be discovered in the delusion that man is rising from the monkey to majesty, nor only in the wise leadership of great men. The best in life today comes from souls enlightened by the Bible, hearts cleansed by its purity, lives reborn in its Christ. Record this as an outstanding fact of history: The Bible that Jesus calls the truth, and the Spirit of God proves the truth, the Book that no one has ever successfully convicted of error,—that sacred, divinely inspired, divinely preserved volume, which today has been issued in 1,008 languages and dialects, despite attacks by atheists, heathen emperors, misguided churchmen,—that book is the blessed truth for you.
And still churches and church-leaders turn their backs to the Scriptures! We must learn the power of protest, remembering the duty finally to come out and be separated from those who place the Bible beside the Koran and the other sacred books of the East. You pastors who write me that your conscience is burdened because you belong to church-bodies that reward unbelief with high positions, begin to ask yourselves now whether the cause of Jesus Christ would not best be served by complete loyalty to every statement of the Scriptures, so that eventually we shall have only two major groups in the Protestant churches of America: one that has set the Bible aside; and the other group, it may be numerically smaller, less wealthy, publicized, and important in the eyes of men, but nevertheless the only Church in the eyes of God, because it accepts every command of the Scriptures as His will, every promise as His pledge, every teaching as His inviolable doctrine.
Do not be disturbed if, in an increasing degree, from the unreliable sectors of the so-called cultured circles, voices are raised to ridicule the Scriptures, as though modern research and the oracles of God were hopelessly out of harmony. You can find courage in knowing that the profoundest teachers have often been the most reverent in their appraisal of the Bible. Go down to the unseen floor of the ocean and the marvels of the submarine world, as the currents of the seas glide along their mysterious paths. Ask the great scientists in this domain whether the Bible is true, and in answer I direct you to Lieutenant John Maury, one of the world’s leading oceanographers and one of the few Americans whom Cambridge University honored with a doctor’s degree, a scientist whose marine investigations have been recognized and applied in all parts of the civilized world. He wrote: “I have been blamed by men of science, both in this country and in England, for quoting the Bible in confirmation of the doctrines of physical geography. The Bible, they say, was not written for scientific purposes and is therefore of no authority. I beg pardon; the Bible is authority for everything it touches. When I, a pioneer in one department of this beautiful science, describe the truths of revelation and the truths of science, reflecting light, one upon the other, each sustaining the other, how can I, as a truthloving, knowledge-seeking man, fail to . . . rejoice in this discovery? And were I to suppress the emotions with which such discoveries ought to stir the soul, the waves of the sea should lift up their voices and the very stones cry out against me.” Look from these lowest, hidden depths to the unmeasured heights in the heavens above, the overwhelming reaches with their stupendous stars and planets that make this earth seem minute and each man on it only an infinitesimally small grain of human dust. Ask whether famous astronomers have accepted the Bible or whether their researches have revealed the Scriptures as faulty. Sir John Herschel, prince of astronomers, exults: “All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truths contained in the Scriptures.” Between these heights and depths many scientists—and I mean not the beginners, but the experts—have placed one hand on the book of nature and the other on the Bible, and though they could not always understand their discoveries nor interpret the mysteries of creation and revelation, they have found a glorious harmony that always redounded to the praise of God’s Word. Michael Faraday, eminent in electrical research, pointed to his Bible and asked: “Why will people go astray when they have this blessed Book to guide them?” John Locke, noted English philosopher, spent most of his last fourteen years studying God’s Word and confessed: “The Scriptures have God for their Author, strength for their object, and truth without any mixture of error (in doctrine and in fact) for their subject-matter.” Sir Isaac Newton, whom many consider the greatest of all scientists, calmly asserted: “I account the Scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy.” These and a mighty army of other brilliant intellects have found in the Bible the whole truth of God.
IT BLESSES WITH DIVINE GRACE AND STRENGTH
My chief concern, however, is not that I show you how and why others have bowed reverently before the Bible. Instead I ask you individually to cling to the Scriptures, defend them, build your faith and life upon them, so that you may enjoy the radiant fulfilment of Christ’s promise “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” When a profit-seeking world asks: “Well, what do you get out of your Bible anyway?” “What profit is there in its creed when that Book puts a curb on your desires, says no when your heart wants to say yes, insists that you travel along the straight and narrow path, deny yourself and take up your cross?” “How can any one be blessed by that Book?” We have only one answer: Our Bible, with a glory that makes the angels sing exultantly in their holy heavens, gives us first and last the blessing of Jesus Christ, our Savior. To show you how overabundant His promises are, I restrict myself to a single chapter, the second in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Those eighteen verses present Jesus Christ to us as the great God, “by whom are all things and for whom are all things.” They tell us that He whose realm was the glory of heaven came down to the misery of this earth, partook of our flesh and blood, became man even as one of us; that, though tested and tried in all points as we are tempted, nevertheless He, the virginborn Son of Man, was perfect and knew no sin. In this second chapter of Hebrews, as we penetrate more deeply into its sacred truth, we learn that He lived and died on this earth not to save men by His character or ours, not by His commands and our obedience nor by any moral gospel, social gospel, philosophical gospel; but that He died His lonely death of anguish that by the grace of God “He should taste death for every man” and become “the Captain,” the Author, the Leader, “of their salvation.” He was resurrected, this chapter continues, and He was crowned,—no longer with cutting thorns but with divine “glory and honor.” He became our eternal High Priest, mercifully making “reconciliation for the sins of the people,” so that—all praise to His name!—He brings many to eternal glory. All this—and much more—is found in only one of the short chapters. What a wealth of lasting comfort the almost twelve hundred chapters contain! If men have devoted intense study to discover one sentence that could positively be said to have been written by Shakespeare, how much more should not you and I devote our thoughts and our energies to “hear . . . and keep” the Word of God Himself!
Believe this Book, when in scores of passages it convicts you of sin and sentences the unforgiven sinner to eternal death; but believe it with redoubled trust, when it tells you that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Believe it without fear or question when page after page underscores the love of God, the all-merciful suffering, the all-atoning death, the all-renewing resurrection of Christ! Put your unwavering confidence in every one of these promises, purer than silver, more radiant than polished gold, which offer Christ’s redemption, not in exchange, payment, or reward, for anything this world of two billion human beings could earn or achieve, but that grant all this by the pure, unmixed mercy of Jesus through trusting faith in the power of His blood to save to the uttermost.
So “hear the Word of God and keep it.” Read it to yourself, not skeptically but as the truth of God! Read it in your home circle with fervor, with reverence for its holy origin! Read and hear it in a true church of God, not simply by force of habit or to please your wife and give a good example to your children, but because you know that without this Bread of Life and this Living Water your soul, parched and starved, will die! Study and meditate on this Wisdom day and night, so that the Holy Spirit of God, working in your heart through the Scriptures, may use this divine Word to create within your souls repentance for all your sins and the assurance of their removal through Christ.
I like the answer given by Schmidt, one of the bravest generals of Frederick the Great, when that skeptical, worldly king asked him: “Why do you believe the Bible?” Slowly and reverently that military strategist replied: “Because the Bible reveals to me a Father who numbers the very hairs of my head; because the Bible reveals to me a Savior who expiated every one of my sins; because the Bible reveals to me a heaven where I am to spend an everlasting and blessed existence.” This thought of heaven has made men in their last hour turn from every other volume and ask for the Bible. Sir Walter Scott on his deathbed requested not his Lady of the Lake or one of his own novels, but the one Book. Sir Isaac Newton, dying, laid his hand not on his Principia but on his Bible. The only promises that have brought light for the darkness and joy in death’s sorrow have been passages of Christ’s comfort taken from this blessed Volume.
Yet the Bible is the truth for every trial of this life. As multiplied millions in this country have seen their hopes shattered, they think dark thoughts, they charge Heaven with unfairness, they even question the existence of God. They should follow the example of General Robert E. Lee! When the cause of the Confederacy collapsed and he returned with his troops to the devastated farms of the Southland; when it seemed that all was lost, he found confidence in his Bible and stated: “The Bible is a Book in comparison with which all others . . . are of minor importance and which in my perplexities and tresses has never failed to give me light and strength.”
Many minds are disturbed by deep-rooted fears concerning things that are to come, and desperately they grasp for manmade assurances for light in the darkened future. They can learn a powerful lesson from history. In 1804 England faced disaster. Business was disappointing, commerce restricted, manufacturing paralyzed, the masses unemployed, hunger spread wide,—all because across the Channel in France, only twenty miles away, Napoleon had mustered his conquering regiments to invade England. In that crisis a group of far-sighted men turned to the Bible, resolving to spread the Holy Scriptures, not only in England, but to help circulate it throughout the world. Laying the foundation for the British and Foreign Bible Society in those dark days, their interest in the Word of Truth helped to cast the beams of divine light on their disquieted country. Many are praying that these doubtful years may bring a mighty movement to put the Bible into every American home and heart! What a tremendous check that love for the Bible would be to dishonesty, impurity, the murderous rising of man against his fellowmen, the blaspheming of God, and all the other sins that have brought reproach to our country!
Thoughtful minds are disturbed by the spiritual bankruptcy that marks the work of many churches and their failure to influence the masses of our country. If the churches are to experience new blessing, they must constantly follow the program maintained by the only power that reformed the Church, when four hundred years ago the Bible, translated into the language of the common people, restored New Testament Christianity. Put that same Bible into the churches of this land, remove from Christian pulpits all antichristian teachers, and this age will experience a religious uplift and a conquest for Christian faith far beyond what we have ever seen.
Our heavenly Father alone knows how many of you are troubled with unhappiness in your home, which above all other places should be a haven of peace, locking out all the noise and the hatred of the world. What blessing if in these homes where husband and wife live and work at cross purposes, where children are ungrateful and disobedient, the Word of God could be heard and heeded! This year we celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, which is distinguished by the fact that only the Bible has been translated into more languages. He tells us that, when he married, he was destitute; to quote his own words, he and his wife had “not . . . so much household stuff as a dish or a spoon betwixt us both.” Yet his wife was a deeply Christian woman, and as her dowry she brought two books explaining the Christian faith in the light of Biblical truth. With this help theirs was a happy marriage, even in poverty and imprisonment. When those who live in homes of misery instead of happiness or who are surrounded by jealousy instead of joy acquire this trust in God’s Word, they have comfort and peace, even in sin-marked homes and hate-filled families!
Truly, blessed are they that “hear the Word of God and keep it,” blessed in their sickness, as the German philosopher Hegel was, who on his bed of illness would have no other book read to him than the Bible; blessed in the midst of opposition and calamity, as Abraham Lincoln, who, stooped and furrowed by the superhuman responsibilities of the Civil War, wrote to a friend: “I am profitably engaged in the reading of the Bible. Take all of this book upon reason that you can and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a better man”; blessed in weakness and fear, as Luther, who, placing all his trust in the Bible, successfully challenged the world in arms against him.
May we all, standing on what Gladstone called “the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture,” knowing that there is scarcely a passage, from the description of the earthly Paradise to the picture of the heavenly, that has not given comfort and courage to some one, resolve not to doubt the Word, contradict, ignore, or neglect it; but with God’s help to cherish it, to study it, to defend it, to spread it as the only hope for our souls, our world, and our age. Turn to the Crucified and repeat this dedication of yourself to His grace: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God!” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.