Date: February 4, 1940
Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. – 1 John 5:4
O Holy Spirit, our transforming, soul-cleansing Lord:
May we be filled with power to behold ourselves defeated by our sins without Christ, but with Christ—O glorious grace!—redeemed through faith in His atonement, reborn by the new birth in Thee, restored to the Father’s waiting arms! Give us all, particularly those who disconsolately seek pardon for their transgression, and help for their sorrows, the pledge of eternal triumph that can be ours, through humble, sincere trust in the Savior! Grant us all this world-conquering, self-vanquishing, sin-destroying, deathdefying faith as our greatest necessity and Thy most blessed gift; through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen.
TODAY’S broadcast is of particular interest since these words now spoken are being recorded on durable disks for the far-distant year 8113. Oglethorpe University in Georgia has established a Crypt of Civilization, in which the evidences of our present age’s culture and achievement are to be locked and scientifically protected against decay for 187 generations. By special invitation of the university an electrical transcription of this broadcast is to be deposited in a huge vault, where, together with other samples of our twentieth-century activities, it will remain untouched until its sealed doors are opened in 8113. It is recognized, of course, that Oglethorpe University and even the United States may be destroyed long before that remote day; so metal plates are being sent to China, India, Tibet, and many other foreign countries to keep future generations informed concerning the crypt.
Personally I do not believe this sin-burdened world will exist for sixty-two additional centuries. That international suicide, the bloodshed across the seas, with Europe’s most advanced nations bent on killing each other, seems to indicate a sort of final failure. Besides, we cannot read the Biblical statements concerning the last times without realizing that these days are upon us. Wars and rumors of wars, false Christs and antichrists, seducing spirits and the doctrines of devils, forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats, lying and hypocrisy, deceiving and being deceived, self-love and covetousness, boasting and pride, blasphemies and disobedience, ingratitude and unholiness, sex perversions and family trouble, truce-breaking and false accusations, incontinence and fierceness, despising of God and betrayal, love of pleasure more than the love of truth—these Scriptural signs of the end are so strikingly fulfilled before our eyes that we should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’s imminent and personal return to judge the quick and the dead. Yet, if God’s patient love permits the world to stand until 8113 and some distant generation discovers the disks on which this message is recorded, one glorious truth will prevail although in the eighty-second century the United States and every other modern nation may have ceased to exist; the eternal Gospel will have proved itself what we know it to be in our twentieth century: God’s triumphant power unto salvation. So we exult across this nation as this transcription record may proclaim to a future age in the Crypt of Civilization:
VICTORY FOR THE SONS OF GOD!
For the pledge of this triumph hear Saint John’s words, First Epistle, 5:4, “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
VICTORY IN THE CHURCH
Saint John here tells the first Christians that their conquest consists in overcoming “the world”—all hostile forces that seek to retard and destroy the Gospel’s progress. That “world” still is, and always will remain, the Church’s greatest enemy. In different lands and ages its opposition assumes various forms. Today, in our country, “the world” has mobilized seven formidable foes. The first is the sinister agitation that seeks to involve this nation in Europe’s battles. We leave it to others to describe the horror, the sacrifice of human lives, the loss of money, and the bankruptcies that would follow through our entanglement; for we are particularly concerned about war as an enemy of the Church and a destructive force that retards the Gospel’s free course. Although the present conflict is only a few months old, it has already produced serious losses in foreign mission fields where natives ask, “If white Christians cannot maintain peace among themselves, why do they send us missionaries?” Multiplied millions of dollars that should be contributed for the extension of the Savior’s kingdom are consumed, instead, by war’s cost and its taxes. Besides, every hostility produces a letdown in morals, a spirit of religious indifference, an age of materialism, and an organized opposition to Christ.
The second foe of the faith is the twin menace of Fascism, with its state control of religion, and the immeasurably more destructive atheistic Communism. Within the last seven years the number of officially enrolled Reds in the United States has increased and is now estimated at 100,000.—Need we wonder that radical influences have crept into the Government itself, that experts claim to have listed almost 3,000 known Communists in Federal positions? Despite their frequent smiles and declarations of innocence, thousands of American Reds have diabolically pledged themselves to close our churches and banish loyal ministers of Jesus Christ.
The third enemy of the Christian Church is atheistic education, the growing danger in our public schools, by which the minds of our children, the attitudes of our highschool youth, and the ideals of our college students are poisoned against Christ by godless teachers, who betray their trust.
The Church’s fourth foe is the rampant immorality that threatens to overflow our land. Immeasurable dishonesty in business and financial circles; graft and connivance in our city, State and Federal governments; perjury and corruption in the courts; illegitimate births, abortions, adulteries; broken marriage vows, disrupted homes, and divorces; printed filth and applauded impurity; arson and robbery, murder and suicide—these reach new records as crime rides on its high crest.
Now we come to the most dangerous opposition, the assaults on the Christian cause that arise from within the churches. The fifth enemy, one of these internal dangers, is the menace of Modernism, the smooth, perfidious denial of Jesus Christ as the world’s Savior, the rejection of the Bible as God’s inspired, errorless Word, the unbelief that has captured many American pulpits and found lavish supporters especially in certain millionaires. Within the memory of thousands in this audience entire denominations, once loyal to Scriptural truth and Christ’s atonement, have disavowed these two pillar doctrines.
The sixth menace to modern Christianity is doctrinal indifference, the delusion that the churches can compromise their sacred truth, follow a policy of pretty diplomacy, and agree to disagree even in the vital teachings of Christ. Far too many clergymen today preach the easy and convenient delusion that it does not matter what you believe as long as you sincerely follow some creed, though Jesus Himself says, “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.” It is this indifference—and indifference ultimately means denial—that permits Jewish Rabbis, Hindu philosophers, and atheistic lawyers to speak from Christian pulpits.
The last of the seven foes is worldliness in the churches, the constant erasing of the sharp line which separates the Church of Christ from the world of sin. I mean specifically the tactics that bring reproach on the Savior’s name, vulgar, sometimes indecent theatricals, sensational stunts, games of chance.
Now, if the churches are to defeat these formidable enemies and emerge from our problem-weighted years stronger, purer, healthier, what do they require for that victory? What does American Christianity need if it is to be preserved as long as this world stands, even until the Crypt of Civilization be opened, should Christ tarry that long in His coming? We may think in first instance of external needs. The churches must discard political ambitions. They must not tolerate any governmental policies in Washington that would tell our congregations what they must do or suggest to the ministers what they should preach. American Christians must not permit the usurpation of power by any Church which claims that its sovereign should control public affairs and direct legislative programs. Church discipline should be revived and the congregations ban from membership those—no matter how wealthy and imposing they may be—whose lives are a public disgrace to the Savior’s creed. Followers of Christ must take a firm stand against the gambling, raffling, and money-raising schemes outlawed by divine regulations and civil laws. We must remove the theater, the modern dance, the commercial amusements, from the churches and make these sanctuaries what they should be, temples of the living God, houses of prayer for all people. Christianity must not become a religion exclusively for the middle and upper classes. History demonstrates that spiritual power declines when churchmen are allied with the wealthy to the neglect of the everlasting poor. The victorious Church of tomorrow will not be built of deadening formalism, the pomp and ceremony of exaggerated ritualism, that leaves men’s hearts untouched. The churches which will prevail should give to their youth a penetrating program of spiritual training, not limited to a weekly hour of haphazard Sunday-school instruction. But before and beyond this, American Christianity needs an inner reformation, the deeper conviction indicated in the text, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
What is this world-conquering trust? Many would answer that the churches must have confidence in joint endeavors, State and Federal councils, amalgamations, interdenominational programs, since strength lies in united effort. Because Christ says, “Without Me ye can do nothing,” we can predict that any future age in which this message now being recorded may be heard will have witnessed the complete defeat of many merely human plans for strengthening the Church. Since 1900 ambitious, expensive programs have been undertaken to promote religious work; but every one that gave room and support to Modernism failed completely. Nor is the trust the Church needs a reliance on modern methods, organizations, office machinery, twentieth-century equipment, new styles of architecture, new orders of service, new Bible translations, or anything new. Above every advantage God permits us to use in spreading His kingdom we must have—and now I sound the battle-cry of the true Christian Church—faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world; reliance on His Gospel as the message of full, free, and final salvation for every sinner; confidence in the merciful assurance that we are saved by grace; the trust that takes each promise of Christ at its face value and refuses to doubt or detract from it; the faith, in short, which asks us despite our sins to approach the cross, believing in the eternal mercies Jesus showed there when His suffering secured our forgiveness, His bleeding our cleansing, His dying our living eternally. Men may have a dozen different definitions for faith, but to every Christian faith means particularly this sincere, personal, trusting declaration which we shall be happy to send you so that you can memorize it and repeat it every day, Luther’s glorious explanation of the Second Article of our Christian Creed: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
This faith gave the first Church its power. Had it been foretold that twelve men, practically all workers from the lower classes, would defeat the wisdom of pagan philosophers, remove the gods and temples of the heathen kingdoms, defy the rulers of Rome, and finally destroy their vast empire, this prediction would have been laughed to scorn; yet these and much greater victories were recorded by the early Christians, who had few outstanding men, little money, no buildings in the beginning, no helpful machinery or appliances—practically nothing of the equipment and assets that many people today regard as absolutely necessary for success. But they had faith in Jesus Christ, unwavering, uncompromising, unconditional trust, and there was not enough ingenuity in the fiendishness of Nero, the brutality of his bloodthirsty successors, plus their armies and their imperial treasuries, to withhold the victory. Those first-century Christians were often tried beyond endurance. It is recorded that 6,600 Christian soldiers of Emperor Maximinus were ordered to sacrifice to heathen gods and then persecute their own fellowChristians in Gaul. They refused both commands, preferring to obey God rather than men. Three times the enraged emperor selected every tenth soldier in that legion and sent him to a horrible death. When even this failed to move the remainder of the Christian legion to deny the Savior and attack their brothers in faith, Maximinus, the tyrant, sent his army against these loyal believers. Instead of fighting, they threw away their arms, and within a few hours the entire legion had been cut down by the sword, bored through by arrows, trampled by horses, until not one of the 6,600 was left alive. Yet despite royal fiends, executioners’ blocks, flaming fires, and man-eating beasts, despite torture and dungeon, faith proved itself God’s victorious power.
Today, too, when men write books to show that Christianity is in its last stages; when scurrilous attacks charge that our creed is hysteria and superstition, the same triumph is pledged those who maintain their loyalty to Christ. This triumph is not always evident to the human eye, and it may be that for its purifying and strengthening God permits His Church to suffer reverses and affliction. Some of you write that because of denominational politics and modernist boards you have lost your congregational property and must worship, as the early Christians did, in your own homes. But spiritually the Church is often strongest when it is poorest, more loyal in the darkness of oppression than in the spotlight of public approval. The sorrows that God sends the followers of Christ are for their own upbuilding. In the reign of Bloody Mary, Bernard Gilpin, loyal witness to Christ, would constantly repeat his favorite maxim, “All things are for the best.” During the persecution he was charged with heresy and ordered to stand trial in London. On the way he broke his leg, and a scornful companion demanded, “Is all for the best now?” Yet Gilpin’s faith was not misplaced, for before he could resume his journey, Queen Mary died, and instead of proceeding to his death at London, he went home in triumph.—Give us Christian pastors in the pulpit who, with Saint Paul, will “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus”—ministers who strive and pray to help save the world for our Lord, and the invincible power of God Himself will work through them! Give us men and women in the pews whose souls have been enriched by a holy earnestness for Jesus, who will protest against every attack on the truth; put this faith into the family, with the home entirely dedicated to Christ; inject this trust into the congregational activities, let it produce greater personal testimony, deeper prayer-life, sincerer love for the Sacraments, nobler missionary zeal, and, under God, the Church will continue to make its way from victory to victory!
It may happen that the worship of Christ will be banned from certain countries, as events in our own day show. We may lose Christianity here in the United States if unbelief and uprising against God become too blatant and blasphemous. But at some place on this earth of sin God will have kept His Church in every age, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If, against our firm expectation, the world still stands in 8113, those who find this record and are able to decipher its message will say, “These words spoken in the ancient days of 1940 are the truth! The Christian religion has not been destroyed! Christian faith has victoriously maintained its power!”
THE VICTORY IN OUR INDIVIDUAL LIVES
Most of you, however, are more interested in the twentieth than in the eighty-second century, more concerned about your own problems than in issues confronting the Church. You have personal opposition to meet now, and you want to know where you can find victory. From Pennsylvania, for example, a distracted woman writes: “I am a Catholic. By birth my parents were good people, but I am a terrible sinner. . . . I have had trials and tribulations more than I can stand. Twice I have tried to kill myself, and once I almost committed a murder. After that my husband drove me out, and now I am living with a man for the past five years who has caused me much heartache and misery. Now he is tired of me and wants to cast me out also. I have pleaded with God not to let me destroy myself and send my soul to hell. I have repented and repented of my sins. I have cried bitter tears, pleading with God to forgive me my sins and show me the path to another way of living. My nerves are so bad I’m afraid something may snap in my mind at any moment. Oh, why did I have to turn out to be a bad woman? I’ve helped the poor, and I’ve never turned any one away from my door, and still I have to fall into this destruction. Please help me to save my soul and keep me from suicide.”
That woman is listening in this afternoon; and I want to discuss this problem both for her and for all who see in her appeal the burden of their afflicted soul. First of all, I fail to find in this letter a single reference to the Lord Jesus. To have forgiveness of your sins, assurance both for this life and the next, you must know Christ in a personal, trusting faith. He must be everything to you. Then, this plea for help states that the burdened woman is a church-member, protests that she has always treated the poor well, and never sent any one empty-handed from her door. But you need much more than outward church-membership and acts of charity to be blessed by our Lord Jesus’ promise and the guiding strength of His love. You must be a child of God, for our text reminds us, “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” As the Savior Himself plainly stated, “Ye must be born again!”
For the assurance of His victory it is not enough that your name is written in the church register; that you attend services regularly; that you subscribe for a religious paper and pay your congregational dues. For the victorious life it is not sufficient that you belong to a young people’s society, a ladies’ aid, or a men’s club. You cannot say, “I am a Christian” simply because you attend church suppers and entertainments. You need far more than the mere fact that you are an officer in the congregation, a teacher in the Sunday-school, or a soloist in the choir. The assurance of triumph over your sins and sorrows cannot be purchased with contribution envelopes, three- and four-figure checks, tithes and generous donations to missions and charities. You cannot rely solely on the fact that you have been baptized, confirmed, and accepted as a member in a Christian church. God is pleased with all this only when it is found with a regenerated soul, a new heart, and a twice-born life. The question your heavenly Father first asks is not, “What church do you attend?” “Of what congregation are you a member?” “What are your annual contributions for mission purposes?” but, “Are you My child through Christ?” A mere mechanical faith cannot meet God’s demands. Don’t be satisfied with emotional religion, a holding up of hands or a singing of hallelujahs that has no foundation in true knowledge and that therefore can be swayed by every wind of adversity! Don’t drug yourself into a false security and say, “Once a Christian, always a Christian!” Look at the examples of the high and mighty who have fallen from faith and ended in unbelief. The plain ultimatum of Jesus remains, “Ye must be born again!”
To the distracted woman in Pennsylvania and her cosufferers we say that their chief concern must be: “Am I a child of God?” “Have I really been born again?” For unless these questions can be answered with a clear, ringing “Yes”; unless you have been reborn a new creature in Christ, all talk of strength and confidence in religion is only wishful thinking. And now to answer the question that has been lingering on your lips, “How can I become a child of God?” You are not the first to put that question; near the beginning of the Savior’s ministry a teacher in Israel, Nicodemus, directed the same inquiry to Jesus, and even if you do not understand it, if men contradict it, if unbelief ridicules it, Christ’s reply is the holy, unbreakable truth: We are born again, we become God’s children with the promise of victory, our Lord says, through “water and the Spirit.” This means that, when God’s Spirit brings us as sinners to the Savior, through this faith our whole inner life is changed; we become new creatures; for the old things of sin are passed away, and the new glory of grace has dawned upon us.
As a special gift, God’s enlightening, renewing Spirit comes to us through water, that is, through Baptism. For when we take Christ at His word, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned”; and again, “Baptism doth also now save us,” we understand that by no mere mechanical pouring of water but by the living, trusting faith which unconditionally accepts God’s promise, we have been washed of our sins and made heirs to heaven. Since this glorious blessing is given in Baptism, we can understand that the Savior in His last commission to His disciples declared, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost!” No wonder the apostles immediately followed His instruction, so that throughout the Book of Acts we read how entire households, old and young, were brought to Christ through Baptism and how sorrow and despair were turned to joy and assurance! But great wonder that despite these baptismal blessings 40,000,000, 50,000,000, 60,000,000 and more people in the United States have never received this “washing of regeneration”!
If only God will now lend divine power to my words, so that many unbaptized will be moved to accept the pledge of this grace! People are glued to their radios on certain nights when broadcasts offer large sums to those selected by the spin of a wheel. Today I promise you in Christ’s name the victory over your sins and afflictions—a wealth of soul glory incomparably more magnificent both for time and eternity than the glitter of earthly gold, a heavenly blessing won not by lottery, but by the age-old plan of salvation that ended at Calvary, when the holy Son of God died for the unholy children of sin.
Chance plays no part when Christ addresses Himself to you. Half an hour ago you would have thought few things farther removed from your life than this, that an invitation to be baptized would come directly to you. Yet here it is. Across hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of miles a person whom you have never seen is pleading in Christ’s name that you, convicted by sin’s guilt and weight, yet assured by God’s mercy, resolve now to receive the Sacrament of Baptism, with the instruction you require. Thousands of pastors throughout the breadth of this country, in Canada, and many foreign countries are eager to be God’s agents in bringing you and your family this blessing. Will you not give us the opportunity of helping you, of explaining the rebirth through “water and the Spirit,” by which you become children of God? That promise grants you mastery over sin, hell, and death itself; the conquest of your fears and weaknesses; the defeat of men’s hatred and opposition; the relief from anguish that crushes your soul; the complete, eternal, unchanging triumph for every soul in 1940 and, if this record in the Crypt of Civilization is deciphered, the victory for every future generation.
Heavenly Father, above everything else that we in this country and others in later generations may ask of Thee, give us—even though it may mean earthly loss and opposition—Christ! With faith in that precious Redeemer, grant us all the rebirth by which we become Thy children for eternity! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.