Date: May 23, 1943
Without Me ye can do nothing. – John 15:5
I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me. – Philippians 4:13
Strengthening Spirit of God:
Come into our hearts now, and by taking possession of our will and desires lead us always to place Jesus, our Redeemer, first in our faith and first in our lives! Grant us the unquestioning reliance on Christ which knows that without Him we remain lost in our sins, doomed to pay the penalty of our unforgiven transgressions—eternal ruin, separation from Thee, the Father, and the Savior! Then, when we are crushed in contrite repentance over our iniquities, turn us, humble and sincere, to our all-compassionate Lord! Strengthen us to believe unquestioningly that through Him we can do all things: conquer sin, Satan, hell, eternal death itself, and even in this life rise victoriously over afflictions, doubt, and all besetting enemies! Earnestly we entreat Thee to give the men and women of our armed forces a triumphant trust in Jesus. During every hour of danger sustain Thy children with the continued assurance of His abiding, comforting, all-conquering presence in the hearts of those who love Him! Mightily bless our nation, Spirit of divine truth, and soon grant us peace, blessed righteousness, rebuilding peace! We ask it in Jesus’, our only Savior’s name. Amen!
WHAT a startling difference the Lord Jesus Christ makes in the daily lives of the American people! For instance, in a large Florida city there are two homes, both of the same type, situated on the same street, with husband and wife in each family about the same age. The one household has enjoyed outward prosperity and is blessed with two children; yet that home reechoes with strife from morning till night. The parents fight at the least provocation, cursing God, their children, and themselves.
The family across the street, not torn by such discord, has nevertheless suffered one of life’s heaviest tragedies—the loss of the first and only child. The father, an officer in our armed forces, recently wrote me: “My wife and I had been planning for that wonder of wonders, the arrival of a baby. We prayed together for our child from the first, asking God that it would be healthy and strong, but especially that it would grow up a Christian, serving our Savior with whole heart, soul, and mind. We bought the many things needed for baby’s coming. We made our spare room into a delightful nursery; and as we continued to pray, our happiness grew through the long months of waiting. But when the child came, it was dead! No medical explanation could account for it. After the doctor brought the sad news, I felt more alone than I ever have in my life; but only for a moment. Suddenly a flood of Scripture passages broke over me: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed thee.’ ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’ ‘We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.’ During these frightening minutes I prayed our Savior to forgive me for being weak in the faith. When my wife was able to talk to me, her first words were, ‘The baby died; didn’t it?’ Then, as I nodded through my tears, she smiled the most glorious smile of resignation and faith I have ever seen in a human being and slowly added, ‘How soon can we have another baby?’ Glory filled that room, and I almost seemed to hear angels singing, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ We felt our loss keenly, of course, but the Lord’s comfort is always with us. Whatever was His reason in taking our child, we know that in His infinite wisdom it was a good reason, and we are comforted by the thought that God gave His only Son as a Ransom for all, even for those who hated and despised Him. How can we speak of our pain, when we think of the crown of thorns, the pierced hands and feet, of our Savior at Calvary? I thought of the story of Job, and when my wife came back from the hospital, we began reading it together. What glory there was in hearing Job say, despite his manifold afflictions, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’! The saving power of Jesus is making itself felt in our house. Our misfortunes have brought us more closely together than we were before. We thank God each day that in His infinite mercy He has been with us since we were married. May we never turn from Him! Pray for us!”
What makes these two homes, outwardly so similar, inwardly so different? Many of you know the answer. The one family, with prosperity and healthy, children, yet marred by profanity and constant quarreling, is against the Lord Jesus, while the other family, though afflicted, has peace and joy through firm faith in the Savior.
If Christ’s presence or absence produces such a startling contrast in two homes, how tremendously must faith and unbelief affect an entire nation! If trusting reliance on the Redeemer can give earthly courage, then how marvelous beyond explanation the heavenly joy of seeing Jesus face to face! If the denial of saving grace can thus bring misery in this world, how terrifying to be banished eternally from the Savior’s presence in the next world! Therefore the personally directed question every one of us should answer is,
“ARE YOU WITH OR WITHOUT CHRIST?”
This all-important issue is clearly stated in the simple but sacred language of our text, the two passages: (Saint John, chapter fifteen, verse five) “Without Me ye can do nothing” and (Philippians, chapter four, verse thirteen) “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.”
THE TRAGEDY OF BEING WITHOUT CHRIST
No one else can rightfully say, as Jesus did, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Others have claimed that their leadership and their ability were necessary for a nation’s happiness. Proud emperors have conceitedly boasted that the world could not get along without them; yet their death brought happiness to millions. Dictators have regarded themselves as absolutely essential to human progress; yet too often they provoked war and want. Politicians declare, “Elect me, or else the country will collapse!” but this is a plain lie. No man on earth is irreplaceable, and those who think themselves the most indispensable are often the most dangerous. Generals have been killed in battle or in plane crashes, admirals drowned in the sea, presidents assassinated. While their loss has caused hardships, none of these men could have told the nation honestly, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” They were laid into their graves, but the country continued and prospered. Not even those nearest and dearest to us can truthfully say, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Wives who have lost their husbands, children whose parents have been snatched away, fathers and mothers whose sons have fallen in battle will testify that the burden of their bereavement is crushing; nevertheless with the Lord’s help even widows, orphans, gold-star parents, can find comfort and new strength for their sorrow. In all the world, in all ages, only One, Jesus, could truly repeat these six sacred words, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Why? Because He is God, and God is the greatest necessity in our lives. If you have Him, though you may lack everything else, you can be blessed with peace and joy. If you are without Him, despite all you possess—money, influence, culture, personality—you are doomed to final failure.
First of all, then, believe and trust this, even though you cannot understand and explain it: the Christ who was born at Bethlehem, died at Calvary, and rose again outside Jerusalem is your Lord! He directs the destiny of nations, and in this unmeasured universe He upholds “all things by the word of His power.” Wanton, wicked men may boast that they are altogether independent of the Lord; scorn and blasphemy may be heaped on His holy name because in His mercy He lets His sun shine on the evil as on the good; yet the haughtiest of loud-mouthed atheists are in reality less than specks of dust beneath Christ’s feet. Live without Jesus? If He were to withhold for a day the divine powers which control air, water, sunshine, even our life, we would be doomed.
Again, Christ’s is the only voice that can truly declare, “Without Me ye can do nothing!” Besides being our God, in command of all heaven’s powers and resources, He is also our Savior, and His endless love yearns for our redemption. You may not know this truth, and some of you may even deny it. Yet neither your ignorance nor your unbelief can change it. Jesus loved every one of you, the whole wide world of sin-stricken men and women, with such intense, all-consuming devotion that He did what only God could do. He became the sinners’ Substitute. He took the sinners’ place. He endured the sinners’ punishment, suffered the sinners’ curse, and on the cross died the sinners’ death. If men are to be saved, they must be saved by Him. There is no other road to redemption except through Him, who says: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” except His holy, precious name. No other blood to cleanse our scarlet stains but His! No other cross to promise the celestial crown than those gory timbers of Calvary! No other good news of the soul’s eternal pardon than the Gospel of Christ’s grace! If you want your iniquities wiped out and your transgressions removed; if you want to be freed from hell, hear Jesus say, “Without Me ye can do nothing!” and believe that He is the one Redeemer, the only Rescuer, the sole Savior, without whom you cannot enter heaven!
When our Lord solemnly warned His disciples, “Without Me ye can do nothing!” He meant that unbelievers, scoffers, infidels, can do nothing good in God’s sight. They can do plenty of evil, of course. A man can go to college for seven or eight years, earn a string of degrees, and despite his education remain an outspoken enemy of the Almighty; but he cannot do anything acceptable to Heaven. A man who ridicules Christ can heap up money; but of what good is his wealth to himself or others? Too often, as the debauch, despair, and disgrace in the lives of the godless rich show, his money is the means of his destruction. A dictator who sneers at Jesus can usurp power to control human affairs over far-reaching areas; but because he hates the Savior, his tyranny produces bloodshed, devastation, nationwide agony. Men can do many things in opposition to our Lord. They can curse and blaspheme, steal and lie, cripple and kill. They can commit suicide and send their souls to hell. Yet as God’s incarnate Son declares, “Without Me ye can do nothing!” that is, nothing strengthening, uplifting, nothing that can save men’s souls.
Surveying the course of the last years, we should ask ourselves plainly: Has the world without Jesus done anything really good? Has the anti-Christian education achieved anything commendable in the Lord’s sight, as it seeks to convince American youth that there is no God, Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier; that the Bible is full of falsehoods; that man, instead of being made originally in the divine image, is evolved from low, brute creatures? I challenge every Christ denier to produce a single person definitely assisted in any soul problem by such rebellion against the Redeemer. Christless culture, entrenched against the Almighty, has failed to build character, decency, honor, self-sacrifice, true devotion to home and country.
Has international statesmanship, which in the past twenty-five years frequently violated the divine teachings, anything of lasting good to its credit? You find the glaring answer in a world inflamed by war twice within a generation. Keep past tragedies in mind for the future! If the Lord Jesus is excluded from the peace table; if national leaders think that they can make the new world without His help; if the principles of righteousness laid down in Scripture are disregarded—even the millions of men sacrificed in this Second World War will not be able to purchase the true, just, lasting peace for which, I trust, every one of you prays daily.
Has the growing number of homes from which God’s Son is completely banished accomplished any noble achievements? Not a single one! Instead, divorce, unfaithfulness, destructive birth control, unwanted and neglected children, strife-torn families! Has modern anti-Christian literature written by hate-poisoned infidels created anything to improve our age? Ask the prisoners in any penitentiary, “What brought you behind the bars?” and in many cases they will confess that lurid underworld magazines started them on their criminal careers. Do the new social sciences which reject and sometimes ridicule Scripture build the morals and the morale of the individual and the nation? I ask this because my correspondence reveals that certain psychiatrists are trying to cure mental disturbances by deliberately keeping patients away from all contact with God’s Word and the church. Medical science has developed new and rapid treatment for terrifying social diseases; but these quicker and easier cures will finally make the sins of impurity seem far less serious and will tend to increase vice, even as today, according to Government figures, the United States is cursed by the widest spread of immorality.
Have the churches which bar the message of the atoning Savior from their pulpits made better citizens? Have they brought comforting cheer closer to the spiritually distressed? Of all the evidences testifying to the reality of Jesus’ warning, “Without Me ye can do nothing!” the glaring failure of modernist, truth-denying churches is the most unmistakable. Though some of these Christless, crossless, creedless churches amass heavy fortunes, build towering cathedrals, conduct eye-catching services, list the elite on their rosters, they have utterly failed in offering a faith with which to live and by which to die. They attract, but they do not save. Once, while visiting Paris, Sir Astley Cooper, famous British surgeon, was asked by a French medical leader how many times he had performed a certain difficult operation. “Thirteen times,” Sir Astley replied. “Oh,” said the Parisian specialist: “I have done this operation 160 times. Now, Sir Astley, how many times in your thirteen operations did you save the patient’s life?” “In eleven,” the British surgeon answered, continuing, “How many did you save of the 160?” With a smile the French doctor admitted: “I lost all 160 patients; but the operations were very brilliant.” A similar verdict might be given in many Christ-denying churches. Their preaching, choir singing, decorations, are very brilliant; but no souls are saved.
Listen to Jesus again as in His six-word sermon, “Without Me ye can do nothing!” He speaks to you, the self-satisfied, who may now square your shoulders, proudly hold your heads high and challenge: “I do everything I want without Christ. He means nothing to me now, and He never will.” Are you sure? Even as you boast of your self-sufficiency, does your own conscience not quietly but persistently warn you that at some time, sooner or later, you will face your Maker? You must answer for the sins which you tried to cover with outward respectability, but which can never be concealed from the Almighty. Do you not realize that with the hazards of health and the uncertainty of life (90,000 industrial workers killed last year! Remember that, defense workers! 80,000 American casualties in this war so far! Keep that in mind, military men and women!), you may be face to face with your Maker before this year, this month, this week, or this day is over? How will you meet the pure and holy God? Can you stand before the Ruler of eternity and stammer: “O Lord, I’ve been good. I’ve given to charity. I’ve tried to run my business straight. I’ve never been drunk”? The Almighty will not be satisfied with that. He knows, and you know, that you are burdened with selfish, lustful thoughts, degrading, destructive words, dark and vile transgressions. Will you say, “O Lord, I’ve tried to be good”? Trying is not enough. The eternal God demands, “Ye shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy!” Besides, there were times when you didn’t even try, when you deliberately pursued evil and threw yourself into sin. Will you say: “O Lord, I’ve had good parents. How my mother could pray! My father never missed a service”? If your parents were godly and you are godless, your sin and your responsibility are the greater. Will you say, “O Lord, I went to church for a number of years”? The decisive factor in Christianity is not how you begin, but how you finish! Only those who are “faithful unto death” will receive the “crown of life.”
Because Christ loved you, fall on your knees before Him! Stop resisting the Holy Spirit! Let the suppressed confession of your heart burst forth: “O Jesus, in all truth I ‘can do nothing’ without Thee. I am dead in trespasses and sin. I deserve only condemnation. I lay no claim to reward. Without Thee I am helpless, hapless, hopeless. Have mercy on me! Do not cast me away! Forgive me! Wash away my iniquities! Tear the evil from my heart!” And the Christ without whom you “can do nothing” will be He through whom you can do everything. For this blessing you need only believe that Jesus is your own Savior from sin, Deliverer from death, Rescuer from ruin, and put your whole confidence in His power to save to the uttermost.
The warning, “Without Me ye can do nothing!” has a personal appeal also to you who know the Redeemer, since it was spoken to the disciples. American Christians today should realize definitely that the churches must have the Savior as the Source of all power for good. Our religious life will not be sanctified by suppers and entertainments. The kingdom of our Lord comes not with a social gospel, a moral gospel, a political gospel, but only by the saving Gospel of the God-man, Christ, atoning for sin with His death. The spiritual support America needs with double urgency today will not be built by outward membership in the nearest, most convenient church or by haphazard attendance at worship, but by the contrite, repentant, soul-centered adoration of the Lord Jesus which loves the true house of God.
Therefore the appeal goes through our country, “America, repent!” But let that repentance be genuine! Describing the collapse of France, Vincent Sheean says that on May 16, 1940, Paul Reynaud, premier of France, together with other officials of the doomed nation who had been living with women not their wives, became worried over the trend of the war, hurried to the cathedral, prayed for the republic, and then went back to continue in sin. France fell on June 17, only thirty-two days later. It will do us in the United States no good to have a mere show of contrition which is contradicted by godless actions. The tragedy of the present hour is this, that too many people are more concerned about the substitute plans of taxation than about the divine Substitute in God’s plan for salvation. The war has not yet touched the average American heavily, and for this reason the struggle has not yet produced any outstanding religious progress. It had been widely hoped that the Second World War would call forth a real religious revival and draw this country to God. But we look in vain for any marked movement back to the Church. It was different in the Civil War. Letters and diaries from 1861 to 1865 contain repeated statements paying tribute to God for His providential care and His divine decision on the outcome of battles. Civil War preachers conducting funeral services for their soldiers were at pains to study the last words of the deceased, to learn whether these men had died in the faith. Today everyone of us, soldiers and civilians alike, need humble faith, sincere repentance, triumphant trust in Him who alone can save us, our homes, our churches, our country—Jesus, without whom we “can do nothing,” but with whom we can do all things.
THE BLESSING OF BEING WITH CHRIST
That assurance Saint Paul stresses in our second Scripture passage, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.” Do not think for a moment that the Apostle exaggerates when he declares, “I can do all things through Christ”! It is an unbreakable promise of many Scripture passages that the believer through Jesus has heavenly power. Hear these pledges of our Lord: “If ye have faith . . . nothing shall be impossible unto you”; “All things are possible to them that believe,” and know that heaven and earth shall pass away before these guarantees of divine strength are broken.
First of all, with Christ’s compassion fortifying your soul, you can face the foes that seek to tear you from the faith and declare, “‘I,’ too, ‘can do all things through Christ.’ The Savior in me, and I in Him—together we can defeat the regiments of ruin surrounding me.” Not with blatant boasting, but with deep-rooted conviction you can cry out, “‘Through Christ’ I will overcome fear.” Is not that the victory many of you parents need when you wonder whether your soldier or sailor lad in distant lands or in far-off waters will ever come back to you? By trusting Jesus you can know that He is powerful enough to be a Shield round about your boy, a perfect Protection against every treacherous assault. If, however, in His immeasurable mercy the loving Savior wants your Christian son to have the highest happiness and calls him to his eternal home straight from the battlefield, then, as you turn confidently to the Lord, fear will vanish, and heaven will become dearer to you because it is the dwelling place of your beloved one. To defeat a hundred different terrors—the dread that you may be losing your health, your home, even your mind—cling to Christ, for through Him the deadliest fears can be put to flight. We shall need courage before this war is won and the perils of a politician’s peace are avoided. Here in Jesus is unfailing strength. A sailor who in the past year traveled 14,200 miles from the frozen Aleutians to Guadalcanal wrote me, “I have leaned heavily on Christ”; and he challenges atheist parents to accompany their sons to the battle lines and see what Christ means there. “We find no atheists and scoffers on the front,” he concludes.
Because you “can do all things through Christ,” faith will help you triumph over pain. Many of you hear this message in hospitals or on sickbeds; and in a long list of human suffering, from the dull, throbbing, steady aches to the cruelly stabbing pains that make you shriek in uncontrolled anguish, you are tormented every hour. Do not give up! Do not charge God with cruelty! Look to the Lord Jesus! Think of His suffering! Recall His promise to share your burdens! And as you put your whole trust in His gracious love, you will be able to rejoice even in excruciating bodily agony.
“Through Christ” you can turn loss and adversity into blessed gain. Difficulties which make unbelievers surrender to despair can be the means of bringing you closer to God’s Son, strengthening your faith, deepening your trust, purifying your love, since by the miracle of His mercy “all things,” including the most staggering blows, “work together for good to them that love God.”
As you grow in Him, you can learn to repel treacherous temptations. Face alluring enticements alone, and you experience the bitter, repeated defeats. Some of you have resolved a hundred times to spurn the unclean counsel of evil friends, but a hundred times you give in, and the devil has his way with you. If only you would give the Savior the control of your hearts and minds and, whenever sin approaches, you would declare unhesitatingly, “‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!” you could repel the legions of lust which seek to destroy your soul.
By the same grace you can break the chains of destructive vices and degrading habits. Some of you in this audience are slaves to your own passions. Drink has mastery over you. Others are living in sinful relationships. As I warn you in the name of Him before whom you must stand in Judgment that you are ruining yourselves, believe me, when I tell you that if the Lord Jesus comes into your heart, cleanses it, and stays there, you have the Redeemer’s strength with which to remove these shameful shackles and begin life anew, with all the past destroyed forever!
Here is the assurance of the final victory: Believing on the Lord Jesus, you can defeat death, “the last enemy”! Through His Easter conquest of the grave you have a title to your prepared place in the heavenly mansions. Dying is only a temporary annoyance for every disciple, a passing from sorrow to unspeakable joy. The decay of the grave gives way to the resurrection of the body. The separation at Christian funerals prepares for the never-ending reunion in the better homeland. In short, my beloved in the faith, let all the enemies of your soul stand in array against you! Let the devil whisper that there can be no pardon for you! Let your conscience protest that you have sinned too often to be received and restored! Let the world mock and scoff! As you clasp your Savior’s hand more closely, cry out in this triumph of trust: “‘I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.’ With Him at my side, I can shatter all the opposition that earth and hell can mobilize against me.”
Thank God, faith, besides putting our foes to flight, also helps us walk more closely with Jesus! We need humility, more unselfishness, a deeper spirit of sacrifice, a larger measure of genuine joy. Once more, look to Christ, and as you find Him the Friend of the friendless, the Helper of the needy, the Companion of the lonely, the Guardian of the lost, cry out in victory: “‘I can do all things through Christ.’ I can walk in His footsteps. I can show mercy to my fellow men, serve them in their needs, strengthen them in their weakness, and, living in a world at war, serve as the Savior’s blessed peacemaker.” Led by His Spirit, you “can do all things” in your home: stifle rising quarrels, avoid misunderstanding, and through family prayers, Scripture reading, hymn singing, the family worship of the Savior, make His love and compassion abide in your household.
Above all that I have told you, fortified by your faith, you can look from time into eternity and exult, “‘I can do all things through Christ’ because I know that heaven is my home.” Our trust in the Son of God tells us not only that we are saved freely by His grace, but also that we are saved surely by His power. In his Confessions the French infidel Rousseau records that one day, as he sat in a grove, he asked himself whether his soul would be damned. In his uncertainty, he claims, a supernatural voice led him to this procedure: He resolved to throw a stone at one of the trees, saying: “If I hit the tree, it will be a sign that my soul is to be saved. If I miss it, it shall indicate that I am to be lost.” So he selected a large tree, carefully placed himself closely before it, and then struck the trunk with the stone. You who are Christ’s want no such flimsy, superstitious foundation for your faith. You have the immovable, unchangeable, eternal promise of the Savior’s mercy, by which you can exult, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that Day.” With this faith you can say, “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us,” and repeat, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.”
Last week the scientific world hailed the announcement that biotin, the so-called “life vitamin,” had been synthetically developed in one of the greatest achievements of modern chemists. Until this time the entire world supply of this powerful vitamin was only one tenth of an ounce. It is so rare and costly that it is valued at $4,000,000 an ounce; yet it can help only men’s bodies. If it cost $4,000,000,000 an ounce, it could not influence their souls. But here in your Christian faith, worth more than all the world, yet granted to you freely, without price and payment, you can receive God’s healing power for body and soul. Here in firm faith you have all you need for time and eternity, the answer to every question, the solution to every problem, the lightening for every burden, the rejoicing in every adversity, the victory in every struggle, the strength and defense for your country, your home, and yourself. Give Christ His way in your soul! Ask the Spirit to direct your life, to make you a new creature! As I put the life-and-death question before you, “Are you with Christ or without Him?” may our heavenly Father grant you the contrite, yet confident faith which answers, “I am with Christ, my God, my Savior, my Lord, from now to all eternity!” Then you, too, will join in this Christian triumphal song, which I ask all believers now to repeat with me, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.” O Jesus, strengthen us mightily! Amen!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.