Date: May 2, 1943
He said unto Him, O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. And the Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee. . . . And it came to pass the same night that the Lord said unto him, . . . Throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: and build an altar unto the Lord thy God! – Judges 6:15-16, 25-26
God, Almighty and All-gracious:
Mercifully look down upon our war-torn homes, and as Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our risen Redeemer, after His Easter victory greeted His disciples, “Peace be unto you,” so may He now enter our homes to bring us pardon and joy through faith in His atoning death and life-giving resurrection! For His sake forgive us all selfish quarreling, lack of love, cruelty of unfaithfulness, every impurity of thought and action! Since Jesus is risen, may our families seek those things which are above! Send Thy comforting Spirit to households burdened by bereavement, war’s separation, or other heavy afflictions! Show Thy sustaining love and powerful protection, especially to the men and women of our armies and navies, who must now forego the happiness of family life! O God of all power, let the Savior soon repeat His resurrection greeting to a world of bloodshed, “Peace be unto you!” We ask these blessings for ourselves, our homes and nation in His saving name. Amen!
ASK the average citizen what our country’s strongest defense is, and he will answer, “Large armies, formidable navies, mighty air forces.” However, John J. Weeks, Secretary of War under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, and therefore intimately acquainted with military power, thought otherwise. He declared: “This great nation was founded on the little group of sturdy Christian homes that constituted the Plymouth Colony, and it is to the American home that America owes its greatness, not to its commerce, not to its mighty fleets or its victorious armies. We cannot weaken the influence and importance of the home without dangerously weakening the very foundation of the republic.”
Secretary Weeks was right. No country, not even the United States, is stronger than its families. Ancient Assyria boasted of large, victorious, empire-building armies. Yet that proud nation, with its haughty capital, Nineveh, was destroyed suddenly. Why? Because decent home life had disappeared! Men could take dozens of wives and abandon them at will. Children could be punished by having their hands and feet cut off. Happy, healthy domestic life had been wiped out. Roman regiments conquered the centers of civilization in Europe, Asia, Africa. Yet, despite veteran battalions and stolen wealth, the arrogant city on the Tiber fell before barbarian invaders. Why? Because morality had given way to hideous license! Wives could be exchanged, children sold into slavery. The family collapsed, and the Roman Empire collapsed. France, to recall the tragedy our own age has witnessed, took pride in the “impregnable” Maginot Line and in long-range artillery; yet the country that called itself undefeatable was brought to its knees within a few months. Why? Because its family life had become saturated with sin! According to the admission of its own leaders the French people practiced birth control and disregarded the sanctity of marriage.
We in the United States should heed these lessons from various ages and places, for no nation can ever be stronger than its homes. The breakdown of household morality in our country is a more serious menace than many a defeat by enemies. Our Government itself is so concerned about maintaining marriage morale during this crisis that Washington has instituted a National Family Week, starting today, during which also the churches are to help raise standards of purity and promote clean living. God knows we need every possible aid. The war is playing havoc with many homes, separating husband and wife, relocating entire households. Yet far more destructive is the wanton rule of sin. We hear much of trailer camps, crowded living conditions in defense areas. What we do not hear frequently enough, and what I am not permitted to mention in detail over the radio, since I am forbidden to use certain terms which the Bible employs, is the widespread disregard of marriage vows, the decline of domestic decency, the increase of sex crimes, which cry to the high heavens.
If we want to win this war on the family front as well as on the battle front, we must strengthen the family. How? During the months before us we shall read much about child clinics, counseling services to mothers, recreational projects for young people, improved playground facilities, public nurseries. As citizens we should support every civic program designed to assist parents and children during these turbulent times. As Christians, however, we know that far more is necessary than such external planning, attention to health, housing conditions, social contacts. Generally speaking: lawbreaking homes produce lawbreakers; criminals beget criminals; traitorous parents have traitorous children; from evil homes come evil offspring. However, Christian homes can give the nation Christian citizens with the righteousness which exalts America. Therefore not brains alone nor brawn, not money alone nor manpower; not strategy alone nor statesmanship; not patriotism alone nor personal sacrifice, can save and bless our country. Here is our assurance, the keynote for National Family Week, as for every week:
OUR COUNTRY NEEDS CHRISTIAN HOMES!
We find the guarantee for this truth in the inspired words of Scripture (the Book of Judges, chapter six, verses fifteen and following), where we read of Gideon: “He said unto Him, O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. And the Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee. . . . And it came to pass the same night that the Lord said unto him, . . . Throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath and cut down the grove that is by it, and build an altar unto the Lord, thy God!”
CHRISTLESS HOMES ARE WEAKENING THE NATION
Our text takes us back some 3,000 years, to a dark period in Hebrew history during the days of the judges. The Midianites, a cruel and fierce people, had invaded Israel, and for seven years God’s people had waged a losing battle against them. Agriculture, business, commerce, were disrupted. All this happened long ago; but we can understand some of the hardships the Israelites endured, since we have been engaged in the Second World War for almost a year and a half. Who today can see the end of the struggle? God alone finally grants peace or withholds it. Every Christian, remembering that millions of our young men daily face disaster and death, should fervently entreat the Lord of hosts to stop this slaughter soon. Are you praying for peace? God grant that you love your country and our fighting forces enough to humble yourself before the Almighty in Jesus’ name and plead for a quick conclusion to this conflict, with victory for righteousness and justice for all!
The Midianites’ invasion brought unspeakable hardship to Hebrew homes. Many of the Israelites had to seek refuge in caves and mountain strongholds. Treacherously the enemy destroyed farmlands, drove away flocks and herds, plundered and murdered throughout the land. War always works hardship. While we can never sufficiently thank heaven that our country has been spared bombing and blasting, American families have felt some impact of this world struggle. The draft has left many households without a husband or father. Perhaps the realization of the serious difficulties this often imposes made a New York draft board declare it would send no more fathers into battle until all other classes had been exhausted, and there was no shirking of responsibility by those without family ties.
The war has also taken many wives and mothers from the home. If this is the price we must pay for victory, we will thank every working wife for her self-sacrifice; yet we should face the facts and understand that no one can fill a mother’s place with her children. We like the attitude of a Milwaukee woman who only a few days ago wrote us: “I have often been censured because, now that there is plenty of money and jobs, I have not found work. But my heart keeps telling me, ‘Your place is at home; your family needs you there.’ If I work during the day, I shall be too tired to meet my family obligations. True, my financial standing would increase; but isn’t God able to give us whatever He wants us to have also if we serve Him at home? . . . If I had a job, I would never enjoy it, because my conscience would keep telling me that I am neglecting my family, and that is my first duty.”
Children suffer most under war’s stress. Their fathers frequently far away from home, their mothers employed, boys and girls are often sadly neglected. A Sheboygan, Wisconsin, newspaper last week told how a father and mother left their baby alone in an unheated, squalid room and went away to carouse. While they were drinking, and dancing, the baby died. City officials investigated and found that the child was a mass of sores, because it had not been bathed and changed for weeks. The room was littered with indescribable filth; the only furniture in it was a creaking baby carriage. Dirty pans with spoiled and frozen milk cluttered the floor. This unnatural mother admitted that she did not want the baby, because it interfered with her pleasure. Social workers and police authorities find a similar willful neglect of children increasing throughout the country. American parents in far larger numbers than most of you imagine practice prenatal murder, desert their children if they do have them, criminally neglect them or wish them dead in order to be free from the expense and inconvenience of their care.
The war has also increased the number of childless families throughout our country. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln predicted that long before our times the United States would have a population of 230,000,000. We total only slightly more than half that number now, largely because of the destructive practice of race suicide. People say, “Why should we have children when everything costs so much, life is uncertain, and postwar years will bring increased difficulties?” They forget that God Almighty has assured those who love Him that no child is born without the promise of His sustaining grace. Our age, however, does not like to hear about divine providence. Men, not God, control birth and death, according to popular delusion. As a result of this overbearing pride we witness broken health and broken homes. If, instead of permitting the birth rate to drop almost 60 percent within a century, our country had reached the population predicted by Lincoln, this war might never have been fought. What enemy would dare attack us if our manpower were twice as great as it is?
War and its artificial prosperity bring unmistakable moral looseness. Families closely welded during hardships may find their interests and affections separated during the lush days of easy money. When a husband and a wife both come home with large paychecks, a feeling of independence and personal power is easily created. Consequently the number of homes shattered by divorce and desertion is increasing at a shocking rate. Pleasure-mad couples—and how unnatural their craving for excitement seems when death takes its daily toll among our fighting men!—are crowding taverns, night clubs, places of disreputable entertainment, where the Christian ideals of purity and decency are completely cast aside. Sacrifice and self-denial are ridiculed. The other day I read that a German submarine captain explained how he sank one of our larger ships on a moonless night, when the vessel was completely darkened. He stated that a sailor on the merchantman’s deck had lit a cigarette; the match flare and the cigarette glow had caught the submarine lookout’s eye and revealed the ship’s presence. That sailor who broke the rules in refusing to deny himself “a smoke” was responsible for dozens of deaths and for the loss of vital war material. Similarly, because many husbands and wives are not ready to restrict their desires during these critical days, indiscretion often leads to unfaithfulness, to secret affairs, to the death of love and the complete crash of home happiness. The call of this hour is for increased loyalty. You wives whose husbands have been called to battle or to distant defense work, you husbands who daily face temptation which hell itself multiplies for you, ask God for the strength to be true and honest at all times!
Why, we may profitably ask, did God permit Israel to be overrun by the Midianites and their allies, the Amalekites? The Scriptures leave no doubt as to the answer, for we are told, “The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian.” That war was not an accident. God permitted vicious foes to overrun His people because they had forsaken Him. More richly endowed by divine mercy than any other people under heaven, Israel had forsaken Jehovah and built altars to heathen Baals.—Do not make the mistake of concluding that World War II is an accident, that we in the United States are suffering altogether innocently! America, large in territory, wide in influence, strong in power; America, rich in possessions, wealthy in vaulted gold, overflowing in prosperity; America, blessed above all other nations in her churches, schools, and homes; America, feasting despite rationing, while others starve; her shores untouched by war though other peoples’ are bombed and blasted, outwardly prosperous notwithstanding the horrors of bloodshed; America, the nation signally favored by God, should be close to the Almighty in Christ. America should be on her knees in sorrow over her sins and in supplication of divine mercy. Instead, millions are running away from the Lord. Do you know that the number of our countrymen who do not belong to any church whatever equals the total population of the twenty-seven States west of a line drawn along the Ohio River and south on the Mississippi? We call ourselves a Christian nation, but this is tradition, not present-day truth. Time was, in the early days of our Colonial life, when the fear of the Lord and the love of Jesus reigned throughout the land. That golden age is past, and with it have gone some preeminent glories.
Our education and our culture are steadily becoming more anti-Biblical. Souls are being prepared for hell on some American campuses. A few days ago a distracted father wrote me about his daughter, a student at the University of Wisconsin. From girlhood, he explained, she had been nurtured in the true faith; but since attending the university, she gradually became alienated from the Church. At the beginning of this Lenten season he urged her to attend services more regularly, and this reply rewarded his interest: “As for church, I have no use for it. . . . I cannot conceive of Jesus, a proletarian Carpenter, and His twelve disciples, sponsoring a society of cutthroat competition . . . and subhuman living conditions for the masses. . . . It’s no wonder Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the masses. . .. I am quite sure that I am no nearer damnation and hell fire. . . . If I am, then I prefer it.” That girl left home a believer, and unless the Holy Spirit intervenes, she will return a blasphemer. Christian parents of America, infidelity and atheism in the so-called higher circles will increase during the war and especially afterward. Before you send your children to college, safeguard their souls! Consider carefully the claims of Christian schools!
Do not make the mistake of concluding that this anti-Christian poison is administered only by colleges and universities! High schools tolerate outspoken blasphemers who systematically try to tear Christianity from their pupils’ hearts. Even some of our grammar schools, in utter disregard of the constitutional requirement forbidding the state to destroy religious beliefs, feature instruction plainly opposed to Christ’s creed. In Wisconsin, for example, children of the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades are often required to read books which, in dealing with the origin of the world, omit God entirely, put the age of the world at 2,000,000,000 years, if not more, and accept the whole evolutionary scheme. Is it any wonder that children taught they are only accidental creatures of chance, descendants of the lower animals, grow up eager to follow brute lusts, ready to reject their God?
Again, have our American families appreciated the divine blessings they enjoy in this land of unparalleled bounty? If I would ask you directly: “Are parents and children in your home consecrated to God? Do they know that they have been cleansed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, saved by His death on the cross, granted the hope of resurrection through His glorious Easter victory? Does your family read God’s precious Word, apply it to their needs, and proclaim their thanks for its mercy?” I am afraid that the answer in most of your families would be: “No! We have no time for Him who devoted His lifetime to us!”
How much of Christ is there—and now we come to the last line of American defense—in the churches, founded on our shores a century or more ago, to honor the Savior? While religious groups in Europe have been persecuted, the freedom of worship and of conscience which is ours is being abused, as unbelievers, Christ deniers, Bible opponents, seize control of denominations originally dedicated to Christ and the acceptance of His Word. It would be possible to produce a long list of American clergymen who use the Christian name but who question the Christian truth, reject the full inspiration of Scripture, deny the Savior’s virgin birth, His incarnation, His vicarious atonement, His resurrection, and His imminent return to judge the quick and the dead.
With American homes, schools, and churches too often forgetting Christ or denying His love; with atheist, Communist, infidel groups, increasing in number and size, need we search far afield for the cause of this war? We are paying for some of our rebellion against the Almighty. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked,” the Bible warns. We are reaping what our neglect of Christ, our disregard of the divine will, has sown. If you love America, if your patriotism means more than flag-waving and hurrah-shouting, then your course is clear. You must do everything you can by prayer and personal work to make your country contrite and repentant, to bring your fellow citizens to God, back to His grace if they have known Him but spurned Him, forward to the Redeemer’s eternal mercies if they have never realized what a marvelous Savior for life and death He is. Christians of America, there lies your path of duty. God grant you the courage to follow it!
CHRIST-FILLED HOMES CAN HELP SAVE THE NATION
You ask: “What can I do? I am only one among many millions. I have no money. I am no leader. I possess no authority.” That, essentially, is what Gideon said, and what the Lord refused to accept. When Gideon was summoned to rescue His people, he objected: “O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” God’s grace often chooses the weak, the unnoticed, the poor, to execute His mighty purposes. I have always prayed that the Holy Spirit would give me the privilege of using this widespread radio mission for reaching some young people who will become earnest heralds of the Gospel, outstanding leaders of His Church, and guides of our nation. Though you are burdened by a feeling of inferiority, you can have the same promise the Lord gave Gideon, “Surely I will be with thee,” the pledge which will strengthen you to join the Apostle in his exclamation of triumph: “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things!” I plead with you: Stop stifling the Spirit’s urging! Rather enlist in the Lord’s army! Give the Savior your time, energy, talents! Then you will receive from Him this promise for every pathway, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world!”
What can you do? Every one of you can follow the first part of Gideon’s program to deliver his country. The Lord directed him to go—where? To the Tabernacle and win the priests for a secret uprising against the Midianites? To the scattered Israelite villages for a general mobilization? To the borders for an alliance with the Philistines? Nothing of all this! God sent him back to his father’s house. The rescue of Israel was to start with the home!
Similarly Scripture elsewhere emphasizes that the family circle is the center from which good and lasting influences must radiate. When Jehovah gave Israel the Law, He looked to the fathers and made them, not the priests or the Levites, responsible for teaching His Word to their children. The family was so important that if an Israelite married in wartime, he was to stay with his bride one year before entering military service, In God’s sight that new home was more important than a position on the battle front. St. Paul asked the women of his day to show their Christian faith not primarily in the churches; instead he wrote, “Learn first to show piety at home!” When the Lord Jesus Himself had cleansed one possessed of the devil, He told him, “Go,” not to the Temple, the high priest, the Pharisees; not to the crowded streets of Samaria or Jerusalem. “Go,” He said, “home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee and hath had compassion on thee!”
Similarly every prospect of betterment for our country, every hope of blessing in the Church, should start—under God—with the family. Of what good are laws and social programs if the homes do not help supply the love of the good and true? What are we profited by the progress of our schools if parents do not help teach the hearts and souls of their children? Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, of America, keep first things first! Do not try to improve your community until you have improved your own household! Do not enlist your services in helping others unless you have helped those nearest and dearest to you—your own family!
The task confronting Gideon was difficult. God had unmistakably instructed him, “Throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it!” Gideon’s ancestral acres were cursed with false religion. His father had turned from the Lord, built an altar to Baal, the false god of his pagan neighbors, and planted a“grove,” probably a symbol of heathendom, dedicated to a Canaanite goddess. All this evidence of idolatry was to be destroyed. It required courage to execute this command, but God was with Gideon. He broke Baal’s altar, cut down the idolatrous trees. The first step in Israel’s deliverance had been taken.
Likewise many of you will need courage to remove from your dwellings all evidences of unbelief and bring your family back to God; but the same Lord who strengthened Gideon will be with you. True, you do not worship Baal in your home; yet I ask you in all sincerity: “Do you bow down in spirit before the idols of wealth, security, pleasure? Are many of you not more concerned about money, clothing, appearance, an easy existence, than about the salvation of your soul?” For the sake of your country, your family, and your own deliverance from eternal death tear down these false altars, even though your parents, like Gideon’s father, or perhaps your children, your own sisters and brothers, may cling closely to their unbelief! Remove from your home everything that serves sin! Take down from your walls any pictures which cater to impurity! Empty your tables and mantles of any object that dishonors God or suggests sin! Clean your shelves of all vile books! In Chicago a seventeen-year-old lad who shot his high-school sweetheart in a theater admitted that the plan developed from reading lurid murder stories. That youthful killer warned: “Fellows my age should not read books like this. They raise our passions and give us ideas. Tell them not to make the same mistake I did!” Banish every dirty novel, every salacious magazine, as completely as you would destroy a poisonous viper! Break down the altars sin has erected in your mind through indecent amusement, immoral motion pictures, suggestive stage shows, attendance at public dance halls and disreputable taverns, places where Christians, as a separated people, certainly should not be seen and where the foundations of a firm, happy home life are systematically blasted away! God has given us so much of the lovely, beautiful, entertaining, that we can rejoice in many uplifting pleasures. If you refuse to break down the altars of sin, starting in your own family, you will not only experience trouble and turmoil in your household, where above all other places on earth you should find peace and blessing; you will not only invoke deceit, distrust, quarreling, the loss of respect and love, you will also imperil your immortal soul. For if you do not accept Jesus in your home, you lose all hope of having your family worship Him in eternity. The Savior, as the Son of God, warns, “Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.”
Gideon’s back-to-God movement spread. I ask you in the Redeemer’s name to be on guard also outside your dwellings, to check those cunning destroyers of youthful morals who work secretly with high school boys and girls and openly with older young people. The courts in Detroit sentenced a spy to death. I do not question that verdict. I simply wonder, in comparison, how we can permit men who help destroy the minds, the morals, the very souls, of our young people to continue unpunished, and in many cases applauded.
Gideon did more than tear down. After he had demolished that idolatrous altar of Baal, he was told to “build an altar unto the Lord, thy God.” His father’s home from that time on was to be consecrated to Jehovah. We, too, must follow Gideon in dedicating our dwellings to the Most High, though we need no altar of wood and stone. The Son of God, on the central altar of all history, at sin-cursed Calvary, offered Himself as the one, only, ever valid Sacrifice for all sin, the full and finished Atonement of all our transgressions, the entire Removal of the curse on our iniquities, the complete Payment of our guilt. Since Jesus is “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” we can come to Him directly.
Today, while the radiance of Easter, only a short week past, remains bright, we should believe that the crucified Savior lives to help us. We Christians worship no deceased God, no dead and disappointing Messiah. Resurrected from the grave, exalted to the glorious heights of His heavenly majesty, He intercedes for those who love Him and accept Him as their Redeemer; and in the miracle of His divine power He is ready to bring those who seek Him forgiveness for their transgressions, relief for their sorrows, guidance for their darkened hours, and always the promise of a resurrected body in life eternal. Pray with me that the Holy Spirit will remove any obstruction which would prevent you from accepting Christ and clinging to Him in penitent faith! Are you distressed by the weight of your wickedness? Hear this pledge that is yours through faith: “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He is the Propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world”! His grace “is sufficient for thee,” as it was for Saint Paul, who called himself the chief of sinners. Are you heavily burdened by grief? Let Jesus share your afflictions! Recall that on Easter He came to His own disciples, distracted by His death, told them, “Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” and twice comforted them with the greeting, “Peace be unto you!” The same Jesus can speak peace to your troubled or bereaved soul. Give Him His way in your heart! The only barrier which can ever keep Christ from you, whoever you are, whatever your past life may have been, however dark and gloomy the future may seem, is your own refusal to believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified on Good Friday, risen on Easter, is your own Savior from sin, hell, and everlasting death.
I am persuaded that if, during these desperate war days, families from coast to coast would read and believe these words of the living Christ: “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent! Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father in His throne,” an age of inner peace and blessing, such as our country has never seen, could dawn. Therefore welcome Jesus into your household! While on earth He never refused to enter the lowliest homes, and today, in a much higher manner, He is ready to bring divine comfort and courage to every threshold afflicted by sudden grief, saddened by the anxieties of war.
Christians of America, ask for the faith to follow Gideon! Worship the Lord daily and joyfully in your family circle! Bring up your children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (and again I offer you the facilities of our Christian day schools)! Through Christ unite husband and wife, parents and children in mutual devotion, self-sacrifice, and growing love! Then, as you make Joshua’s ancient pledge, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” the resolution of your family trust, you will be front-line defenders of America, builders of better churches, more devoted followers of Christ. O Father, God of Gideon, O Jesus, Savior of our souls, O sacred Spirit, Sanctifier of our lives, bless our country, bless our homes, bless us with this triumphant faith! We ask it in Jesus’ precious name. Amen!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.