Date: April 17, 1938

Prayer of Thanks for Easter Blessing

O Christ, our resurrected, ever-living Redeemer:

Ceaseless praise, eternal glory, and adoration be Thine since on this day Thou didst break the power of death, prove Thyself the mighty God, and show to all ages that the redemption of our souls from the tyranny of sin has been accepted by Thy Father! Through Thy Spirit grant that the Easter triumph may fill our hearts with faith in Thy sin-destroying mercies and help us build an unwavering trust in Thy power to save to the uttermost. Teach us to find in the empty grave the pledge of Thy never-failing guidance and the promise of our own victory over death. Give us a sacred vision, so that, our sins removed and our salvation assured by Thy limitless compassion, we may see, far beyond the turmoils of life, the glories of heaven, with “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Be with us, Christ, our Life and Light, as this season’s broadcast draws to its close and in the many hearts bless eternally its testimony to the full Gospel of Thy grace. Into the hands of Thy compassionate and all-powerful love we commend ourselves and this mission of the air. Bless us and keep us all in faith until in Thy time and by Thy guidance we are permitted to resume this public glorification of Thy redemption and resurrection. Hear us, Christ our God, our Savior, our Sovereign, as Thou hast promised! Amen.

Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death.Revelation 1:17-18

AS I extend to all of you across the continent, in the Canadian provinces and Mexico, aboard vessels on the Atlantic and Pacific, our prayerful good wishes for rich blessings that are yours through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I remind you that the Savior’s victory over death is the divine cure for the darkest fears that haunt the human race,—the deep terror of existing without the assurance of a living Savior and of dying without the guarantee of a blessed eternity. The most destructive of all fears, the fright that has turned men’s hair white in a few hours and makes them chatter in uncontrolled and unintelligible syllables, is the dread of death, the horror of the grave. Almost any pain, any depths of poverty, any infirmity of old age, any collapse of mental power, will be preferred to death, which ends all and leads to Judgment. It is not the physical anguish of dying that makes men shudder in abject terror during their last moments. Investigators assure us that, while the heathen show much bravery in the matter of suffering, they are seized by a terrifying dread when they contemplate the hereafter and its Judgment. In our own cultured country, too, despite outward bravado, this gnawing fear of the things that are to come may turn self-sufficient men and women to trembling cowards.

By an astonishing contrast, however, those who cling to Christ in life and death are strengthened by a joy that a proud world can never know. In the testimony of dying martyrs and in Christian burial-places within the catacombs you can find expressions of remarkable rejoicing in death. William Wilberforce, who led the fight for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, breathed his last with these words: “I never knew happiness until I found Christ as my Savior. . . . Read the Bible! Read the Bible!” When an ill-fated vessel of Sir John Franklin’s arctic expedition was discovered with its frozen, spectral crew, a book of devotions in the cabin showed a series of questions and answers that seemed to be Sir John’s personal confession of faith. The passage marked read: “Are you not afraid to die?” “No.” “No? Why does the uncertainty of another state give you no concern?” And then the blessed answer: “Because God has said to me, ‘Fear not for I have redeemed thee; . . . when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.’”

It is Christ’s blessed “Fear not” with which the Easter evangel would enrich every one of us. As He once greeted His disciples cowering behind locked doors with the “Fear not,” so in the words chosen for the text of the last message in this series (Rev. 1: 17, 18) Jesus says to us today: “Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death.”

In the light of this Easter-passage let us study more closely

THE EVER-LIVING CHRIST

and at the open grave draw comfort, truth, and guidance for this life and for the blessed eternity to come.

I

HE IS OUR STRENGTH FOR THIS LIFE

This exultation of Easter glory was spoken by the Savior Himself when on lonely Patmos He appeared to His exiled disciple, Saint John, no longer the Christ of the thorny crown and the bleeding cross but the resplendent Victor, the Christ of glory, the Conqueror with resurrection radiance, the King in eternal majesty. His voice, no quavering plea as on Good Friday, but instead, “the sound of many waters,” terrifies the distracted apostle, so that he falls to his feet as though dead. Then it is that the crucified Savior lays His right hand on John, soothes Him with a calm “Fear not,” and assures him, “Fear not; . . . I am He that liveth and was dead.”

May Christ Jesus on this Easter-day touch us with His right hand and repeat this triumphant cry “I am He that liveth and was dead.” For the fact of Easter, that Jesus could not and did not remain in the grave, but that on the third day, after the grief and death of Golgotha, He rose again, is the basic truth of all history. If Christ is in the center of all the centuries, then His death and resurrection are the pivotal point within that center.

Take the resurrection out of Easter, and what remains is a paganized festival, well symbolized by rabbits and chicks and ducks, unfolding flowers and reviving nature. Explain away the open grave, and you have eliminated the hope of the hereafter, pulled the keystone from the arch of our Christian faith, the cornerstone from the temple of our hope for heaven, stifled the ageless cry “He is not here but is risen.”

I shall not debate the truth of the Savior’s bursting the bonds of death; for the preacher of God’s grace cannot thrive on acrid argument. He is to proclaim the eternal verities, not to dispute with a gainsaying world. Is it not noteworthy that the New Testament disdains to employ human reason to support the resurrection truth? It accepts the Easter victory without question! Can we doubt it when we survey the abundant proof with which the Spirit gives witness to the resurrection miracle? It was prophesied in the Psalms that the Messiah would not see corruption, that His throne was eternal, that He would rule forever and ever. It was forecast in the prophets that He was to be the Father of eternity, that after death His days would be lengthened, and that of His kingdom there would be no end. The Easter triumph was foretold by Jesus Himself, who promised to raise the broken temple of His body in three days and who found in the experiences of Jonah a symbol of His own burial and resurrection. The Savior’s victory over death is recorded in detail by the four gospels and in the two supplementary accounts; it is exalted in scores of passages in the epistles. We have more and better documentary evidence for the fact that Jesus rose again on the third day than we possess for Columbus’s discovery of continental America and a hundred other occurrences in antiquity that today are accepted without question or doubt. What gave the first Church its astonishing power? Was it not, under the blessing of the Holy Spirit, the assurance that the Christ who died had returned to life as the ever-living Lord? Why did the disciples emerge bravely from behind locked doors to lay down their lives for the Gospel? They knew with a conviction that could stride majestically over all opposition that their Lord was not dead and buried in an unmarked grave, but that He lived, triumphant and eternal.

Whatever unbelief may say, Jesus in our Easter text declares: “I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen.” And that “Amen” now reechoes across this continent in thousands of believing hearts and Christian homes where the Word of Jesus and the conviction of His Spirit are strong enough to repel hostile critics.

Yet, while Christians on five continents today are united in paying worshipful tribute to the living Christ, many in this audience are not sure in their own minds whether Easter rests on historical fact. I ask those who have this complex of Thomas to read without prejudice the simple narrative of the Bible and give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in their hearts. It may be that, as a noted infidel who once dedicated himself to the unholy task of discrediting the resurrection of Christ was brought to faith in Jesus by a study of the Easter-story, so God will open your hearts and eyes to the truth which the holy angels daily proclaim.

Do not think that this is merely a theological question, this matter of Christ’s resurrection. If it is true—as we know it is—that we have an ever-living Savior, can you not see what vital influences faith in that fact must exert in our lives? If above the turmoil of earth and the anguish of a troubled existence we know that Christ lives and rules, what glorious strength we can discover by allying ourselves with Him, by enlisting His conquering heavenly power for our battles! The reason many of you are groveling in the dark and damp ravines of life instead of climbing to the heights of inner joy is this, that you have never learned to realize in a personal manner that your Savior lives in His Kingdom of Power and Grace; that by the Easter miracle He wants to prove Himself your Counselor and Guide; that in every hour of opposition and affliction you can behold Him sitting on the right hand of God the Father as your Advocate and Deliverer.

May this living Christ be enthroned in your hearts, “the First and the Last,” as He calls Himself in the revelation to Saint John, timeless in His eternity, complete in His all-pervading power. Consciously does Jesus lay claim to His deity in this title, “the First and the Last”; for that is the repeated title of God in the Old Testament. With a divine and living Christ, who is the Beginning and the End for us, what more need we crave in life? Keep Jesus as the First in your thoughts in the morning and the Last in your prayers at night; as the God who begins the work of your redemption and who on the cross and in Joseph’s grave completes it; the Author and Finisher of your faith; Jesus, the Alpha in our desires, our gifts, our sacrifices, our endeavors, and the Omega, who lingers with us when friends turn away, fortunes vanish, health fails; Jesus first, from the very beginning of our new spiritual life, and Jesus last, when in the final moment of life all else recedes and Jesus alone remains!

II

HE IS OUR ASSURANCE FOR THE LIFE TO COME

Through the riches of His resurrection the ever-living Christ on Easter gloriously displays His quickening victory over all graves. Hear Jesus, as Saint John heard Him exult, “I have the keys of death and hell,” that is, the divine power to open or close the doors of death, to lock or unlock the gloom of the grave, release the gates of hell or swing wide in heavenly welcome the portals that lead to everlasting glory. Only Jesus has these master keys; only at the open grave can we find the surety of the open heaven; only in the Easter light, revealing truth for the dark mysteries of death.

Ignore the Easter Christ, and you push aside the assured answer to the question of eternity. Despite our outstanding advance and the marvels of human achievement in this age, when surety is to be found for the next life, we must humbly bow before the Redeemer and repeat the plea of His disciples, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” We cannot go to our scientific schools and research laboratories for truth regarding the hereafter. What right has a physicist to pronounce on the question of immortality? His knowledge is limited to the material forces of life, and even these are often beyond the power of his penetration and analysis. By what claim of intellectual honesty can a biologist discredit the resurrection? His field is the body, not the soul. We like the attitude of a large number of American scientists recently expressed by one of their leaders at Princeton, who insisted that most scientists are qualified to speak on only one branch of learning, and then with guarded reservation. In his opinion, the more a real scientist learns, the humbler he becomes.

Again, we cannot resort to the Spiritist for an answer to Job’s searching question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” These self-styled “mediums,” the go-betweens allegedly maintaining communication between this life and the next, have often been revealed as frauds and charlatans. They are condemned by the Word of God; they have proved themselves menaces to the morality, the happiness, and the salvation of their duped followers. They ought to be banished from the land as public enemies instead of being coddled by newspaper editors, university leaders, and society matrons who reject the Bible but gullibly swallow all the sacrilege of deceptive séances.

Easter dawns upon the world to remind us that no mortal mind in itself has the keys to the power of death. No philosopher with his theory of justice and compensation after death for the wrong and the sufferings of life; no historian with his claim that, because all nations throughout antiquity believed in a future existence, there must be one; no naturalist with his picture of the seed planted and decaying in the earth which blossoms forth in nature’s resurrection with the beauty and power of new life;—none of these can give us the assurance that all does not end with the grave. The untrammeled truth that robs the tomb of its horror can be found only, yet always, with Him who before the empty tomb repeated the refrain, I “have the keys of death and hell.” Eternity to the Christian is not a subject of scientific investigation; it is an article of holy faith, the sacred climax of our trust in Christ, by which we triumph over assault and contradiction and join Saint Paul in declaring with confidence, “He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus.”

How tragic that blundering men will play with shiny, counterfeit pennies, paste, and glass when the riches of heaven and the crown jewels of faith can be theirs in Christ! Not long ago a religious magazine asked a group of notable men and women to give the basis for their hope of immortality. What pitiful answers, what flimsy, futile reasons were offered by these distinguished contributors! A writer, now a member of Congress, replied: When we look upon the dead, “we have a feeling that, while the body is still there, something has taken wing and flown away.” Suppose that feeling is wrong? A newspaper editor tells of a funeral with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, and with this musical background he draws the conclusion that the soul of the departed “was flaming in eager joy upon some other dawn.” How, without that Christ whom the editor does not mention, can he find a guarantee that the soul has not been annihilated in eternal darkness? A British authoress founded her faith on the life to come on this premise, “Nothing that is pure, . . . nothing that is good, can die.”  What about the conscience that underscores our sins and reminds us that our impulses and desires are often impure and evil? A college president, presiding over an institution founded for Christian culture, finds proof for perpetual existence without reference to God, Christ, or the Bible in this colorless statement, “It is far easier for me ‘to believe’ than not to believe in immortality.” Tell that to a dying man and see whether it provides strength for his last moments. Besides, some people find it easier to believe than not to believe in suicide. A preacher, the recognized leader of modern, Christ-denying unbelief, declares that he accepts immortality. Why? Here are his words: “I believe in . . . man as the son of God, with capacities to become superman and then again superman, rising on the stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things.” Nietzsche had one superman; it has remained for apostate Protestantism to create the double superman—with double despair.

What blind alleys and dingy dead-ends these Christless paths to immortality prove! If you want the conviction that can make your gravestone a triumphal pillar, your last hours on earth the prelude to the first in heaven, you must believe that the ever-living Christ, and He alone, pledges you eternity. Only He could remove sin, the curse of death; only He could suffer in the sinner’s stead when on Calvary’s cross, as the Lamb of God, He bore the sins of the world, dying the death of all men. By His bleeding wounds, His cry of anguish, His sin­weighted, sorrow-crushed soul, His dying gasp, “It is finished,” and then His death of all destiny, He broke the dominion of sin and hell; He paid, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood,” the ransom demanded for freedom from death, paid it completely and unconditionally, for all generations. To seal the power of that salvation and demonstrate that the Father had accepted the sacrifice of the Son; that Christ, as God and man, completely vanquished sin and now has the divine power over death, Jesus Himself, on that first and glorious Easter Day, tore the shrouds that covered His body, felled the legionaries that were to guard His lifeless remains.

By that Easter triumph over sin and the grave Jesus, with the keys of death and hell in His hand, promises us, “Because I live, ye shall live also,” “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Believe that, today of all days! Come close to Christ, our God of Glory, on this anniversary of His resurrection and through trusting faith in His love and power live eternally!

Let the venomous voices of unbelief ridicule your Easter confidence or, in these words of a German critic of God, carry pessimism to this extreme, “No human being can by any possibility know anything.” That man never knew Christ nor what the New Testament calls “the power of His resurrection.” Leprous Job, long centuries before Calvary and the open grave, saw the Easter victory with its pathway to perpetual life and exulted, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Though death would destroy his body, Job continued to triumph: “Yet in my flesh shall I see God, WHOM I SHALL SEE FOR MYSELF.” St. Paul is persuaded that “neither death nor life  . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” That undaunted faith in the life to come has been shared since the days of the New Testament by heroic Christian hearts and notable leaders in national affairs. Andrew Jackson, shortly before his death, confided to a friend: “The Bible is true. Upon that sacred Volume I rest my hope for eternal salvation, through the merits and blood of our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Daniel Webster spoke these words slowly, only a few hours before his departure: “What would the condition of any of us be if we had not the hope of immortality? Thank God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light!” Will you not pay the tribute of faith to the ever-living Christ and learn to love Jesus, the all-powerful Savior of your soul? My earnest and persistent Easter plea, in the name of the everlasting Christ, is that you “seek Him and live,” live eternally, radiantly, gloriously!

Jesus promises us much more than immortality; faith in His resurrection assures us of more than a vague existence, more than a survival of personality, a continuance of the ego, a crude paganized hereafter that Spiritism likes to draw. In the words of the Apostles’ Creed, to which all Christians, Protestant and Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed, subscribe,—and thank God for that common ground!—“we believe in the resurrection of the body”; we declare that, as the body of Jesus was raised on the third day, so that He could show skeptical Thomas His nail-wounded hands and feet, the riven side, so in the new life, far from being formless shadows and fleeting spirits, we, too, shall have a resurrection body,—this human frame quickened, transformed, resplendent in the likeness of Christ’s glorious body, with blemishes removed, sickness healed, deficiencies supplied, corruption gone. “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory,” the Word of Truth assures us. “It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.”  No weariness or weakness; no blindness or deafness; no amputations or deformities! Instead, a heavenly body; for the Scriptures promise, “We shall also bear the image of the heavenly,” a brightness resembling Christ; for here is God’s word: “We shall be like Him; for shall see Him as He is.”

On that great Day every one of us in his individual glory, shall appear before Christ with the other blessed who have died in the Lord; and in that promised reunion, by recognition, “we shall know even as we are known.” What God-sent gift Easter brings to Christians in their bereavement! What priceless hope for widows and orphans who return from the cemetery and the last earthly resting-place of a well-beloved who was Christ’s! What consolation for you who must tread a lonely path of life until Christ calls you to His homeland and to the side of your dear ones! On the other hand, what terror and unrelieved eternity of sorrow for those who are combating the Savior and denying His resurrection to be confronted with the horrors of hell, the doom of eternal death, the specter of being perpetually separated by an unbridgeable gulf from your best-beloved! Husbands who in your self­satisfying smugness think that you do not need Christ; parents who are not only marching in the anti-God or anti-Bible processions by your indifference to Christ, but who are even keeping your own flesh and blood from Jesus; sons and daughters who have forsaken the God of your fathers and mothers to sow to the flesh and of the flesh to reap corruption, behold yourselves and your destiny in the light of God’s revealed Word; listen to the warning of that Jesus who holds the keys of death and hell and who would speak into your heart, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”! May the Spirit of God on this Easter Day bring you to the feet of Jesus with the contrite confession of your disloyalty, but with a doubt-robbed faith that exults, “‘My Lord and my God,’ my ever-living Savior and Redeemer!”

With this blessing you have an eternal promise (and all the days of my life I shall never be able to thank God sufficiently for the privilege of broadcasting this promise of Christ to the world), you will have assured redemption, the blessed eternity, which through Christ starts even here on earth. Heaven with bliss, glory, radiance, and without sin and pain and suffering; heaven with light, life, blessing, and without gloom, death, cursing; heaven with the hallelujah of full gladness, without tears and mourning; heaven with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, with the prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs; heaven with Christian parents and children, Christian husbands and wives, Christian friends and companions,—this is the hallowed homeland, promised and assured on Easter to those who are Christ’s.

We read after the Savior’s resurrection, “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” May the vision of the resurrected Christ and His celestial glory bring that gladness into the hearts of those weak in body and soul, even in spirit, cast down by their failures! May a living faith in the true Easter Gospel cool the agonies of wounded souls! May Christ’s victory over sin, the grave, and hell teach you, my aged friends, that life in Jesus extends far beyond the horizon of the threescore and ten years, into unending blessedness. The poor and destitute, enriched by our Lord’s Easter grace; the lonely and forsaken, cheered by His resurrection companionship “even unto the end of the world”; the heavy-laden and over­burdened, filled with a courageous hope at the open grave, can behold the paradise regained by Christ’s redemption and chant this hymn of victory over all trials and affiictions: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

As the last book of the Bible closes with a prevision of eternity, so today we prepare to close the season’s broadcast with this foregleam of heaven. He who this afternoon tells us, “I am the First and the Last,” was the Beginning of this mission of the air when last October we started our fifth season of broadcasting in His name with the high purpose of “bringing Christ to the nation.” Today the ever-living Christ is the End of our broadcast. We started with Jesus, we conclude with Him; and by His grace many blessed months have intervened. As I thank you individually for all that you have done in prayer, word, and deed to help spread our message; as we raise our hearts particularly to praise the holy name of God for His immeasurable mercies in bringing many souls to Christ and strengthening burdened lives through the broadcasting of His promises, we resolve that this work must continue and expand beyond our present sixty-two-station Gospel network. Under the divine blessing and with your continued help this broadcasting for Christ will be resumed. Will you not work for it, so that the Savior’s Cross will be kept emblazoned from coast to coast—and, pray God, far beyond that?

Above all, will you not so cling to Christ that amid the tempests of life His leadership will always prevail and His Saviorhood never be neglected? Beloved by millions in the English-speaking world is that hymn which pictures the course of life as a stormy sea and Christ as the Christian’s Helmsman, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me.” The last stanza sings of the heavenly shore and the promise that in the storms of life and the deep waters of death Jesus will repeat the “Fear not” of our text to His storm-tossed children and say, “I will pilot thee.” Such confidence was strikingly illustrated in the life of Edward Hopper, author of the hymn. Just fifty years ago death overtook him while he sat at his desk, his pencil in hand. He had been writing some new lines on “heaven.” Thus graciously did Jesus pilot him into eternity. In the same way may the ever-living Jesus, “the First and the Last,” be with you, my friends in Christ (to whose faith, prayers, zeal, and love, under God, I owe much more than I can ever express), until we meet, if not here, then, please God, at Jesus’ feet. In the mean time, as the ship of our faith braves the treacherous seas, as it steers its course to the heavenly harbor, let our prayer, directed to the ever-living Christ, ask:

When at last I near the shore

And the fearful breakers roar

‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest,

Then, while leaning on Thy breast

May I hear Thee say to me,

“Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

God bless you all with that faith for the sake of our ever-living Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: April 10, 1938

Prayer for Holy Week

O Christ, Thou crucified Redeemer of our race:

As on this day Thou didst once hold Thy peaceful and triumphant entry into Jerusalem, do Thou now enter our hearts with Thy Spirit, so that we may acclaim Thee, thorn­crowned, riven of side, nail-pierced in hands and feet, our Savior, our King, our God. Look down upon us with Thy continued mercy, so that, as we contemplate anew Thy torture and dying on the cross, our hearts may be filled with the admission of our own guilt, with the realization of the punishment decreed for all unforgiven wrong, with unfeigned faith and soul-deep gratitude for the finished and perfect sacrifice of Thyself for our sins.

Bring those who are living without Thee and against Thee to Thy cross in contrition and faith. Especially do we entreat Thee to preserve us from all spiritual disloyalty, whereby our acclaim of Thee may quickly change to the sullen rejection of Thy mercies. Keep those who know Thy blood-bought salvation faithful unto the end, so that in Thy time and by Thy grace we may all, delivered from sin, worship Thee together with the Father and Holy Spirit in the radiance of heavenly holiness. Hear us as once more we stand in spirit on Calvary; and help us by the pledge of Thy cross! Amen.

Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.Luke 23:46

Into Thine hand I commit My spirit: Thou hast redeemed Me, O Lord God of truth. – Psalm 31:5

IT is said that Emperor Ferdinand I instructed the imperial artists to paint him praying beneath the cross of Christ. When the princes of his court objected that no sovereign in his might and magnificence should ever be depicted on his knees, the emperor insisted that he be portrayed humble and contrite before the cross since he owed to his crucified Savior his scepter, his crown, and the blessings of eternity.—As this week we approach in spirit the most sacred spot in the world, Calvary with its cross, to recall the turning-point in all human destiny, the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may we be brought to our knees in penitent sorrow over our sins and in undying gratitude for our blood-bought completed salvation!

We call the death-day of our Savior Good Friday; but for Christ it was a fearful Friday, His day of dying the countless deaths of all mankind. We commemorate the crucifixion with impressive services; yet how revolting and repulsive was every act of injustice by which the Savior was nailed to the cross of His death! Six hundred million Christians throughout the world pay homage this week to the bleeding, suffering, dying Christ of God; but on that day of His death only a handful of His followers stood sympathetically beneath the cross. In many parts of the world and in large church-bodies, priests and preachers don expensive robes of ritual to read the dark record of Calvary; yet Jesus was nailed naked to the cross. Sublime songs, the masterpieces of musical art, recreate for us the scenes of His atoning death; yet on that blood-marked Friday no litanies, oratorios, sacred cantatas, resounded over ugly, skull-shaped Golgotha; instead, only the refrain of such heartless ridicule, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.” Only the rumble of an earth that shook in protest! The great artists of the ages have vied with each other to produce worthy, gripping studies of the crucifixion; and the total value of these superb creations runs high into the multiplied millions; yet the real, flesh-and-blood crucifixion was so horrifying with its agony, pain, and thirst, its fever, tension, and exposure, its lacerated arteries, loss of blood, and, sometimes, gangrene, that the sun itself would no longer behold the arch-suffering of all the ages, but hid its face in heavy darkness while Christ bore the most penetrating sorrows, the suffering for the individual and total sins of the entire race. We have popularized and modernized the cross. Jewelers in our large cities advertise a streamlined cross for ninety-eight cents, and it has become a flare of fashion to display the sacred emblem; but how little do we know of that first rugged, blood-marked cross of agonies on which Jesus as the everlasting Sacrifice was offered, a cross so accursed that those who even touched it considered themselves unclean!

Jesus alone, the sin-bearing Savior, towers high above all the horror of that supercrime committed at Calvary. Hear Him as He speaks His seven last words. Only once does he mention the agonies of His body, when His parched lips gasp, “I thirst!” Only once does He give expression to the harrowing anguish of His soul when, paying the penalty of all human transgression, He cries, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Instead of shrieking in uncontrollable anguish; instead of begging some bystander to put an end to His misery; instead of pleading for an opiate or a narcotic that would deaden His pain and His consciousness, He forgets His suffering and provides for His mother. He pleads, as our blessed High Priest, for those who have caused these miseries, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” To show us that our salvation is the full, free, unrestricted gift of His love; that in His kingdom there is room for every sinner, regardless of class or color distinction, no matter how vile or vicious; that there is no intermediate state of purging for those who die in the faith, Jesus turns to the thief and promises, “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” When His last moments approach, the Savior first places the seal of completed redemption on His work as He calls, “It is finished!” and then, the turmoil and the terror of His suffering almost over, He utters

THE LAST CRY FROM THE CROSS

His valedictory to life and the reassurance of His resurrection, the words: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Saint Luke 23:46). In commemoration of that suffering let us study these words as we also find them in the fifth verse of the Thirty-first Psalm, from which Jesus quotes: “Into Thine hands I commit My spirit: Thou hast redeemed Me, O Lord God of truth.”

I

A PRAYERFUL CRY FROM THE SCRIPTURES

It is momentously significant that the last words of the dying Savior were words from the Scriptures. When all else gave way, when the storm of His suffering was drawing to its close and His life hung on a thin thread, Jesus took recourse to the eternal, unchangeable truth and clothed His valedictory of life in the phrases of the Psalter.

We, too, need, more than anything else in our war-torn, peace-robbed age, the strength that comes to us from the Bible. As long as we have faith in the promises of God, sealed by the blood of Christ, we have an immovable basis on which our faith for life and death may be grounded and preserved.

Reports from Jerusalem tell us that the walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the reputed site of our Savior’s burial, are in danger of sudden collapse, while the substructure, built on a platform of solid rock, is unshakable. So in our lives, much that men build themselves will pass away, but the rock foundation of the Word will never be moved. Whether you accept Christ as your Savior or not, whether you believe or reject the Good Friday message that Jesus, His arms stretched on that cross of blood and death, died to save you from sin, hell, eternal death, it is the positive, absolute, final, unchangeable truth of Heaven itself.

The eternal power and truth of the Scriptures to which the Savior testified a moment before death sealed His lips in silence will remain even though the Bible is hated and opposed as no other book. American education, recreation, home-life,—the whole American attitude is often anti­Biblical. We are training a generation of spiritual illiterates, and in their ignorance of God’s Word we are preparing the most fertile ground for radicalism and revolution.

This week I spoke with an intelligent Christian young woman, a sophomore in one of the best-known women’s colleges in the United States. She had come from a Christian family, with a father and mother devoted to the work of the Church. She herself had been nurtured in the love of Christ; yet when she went to that college, the curriculum demanded as a required course a discussion of the Bible and of the Christian creed. In that school, founded by an outstanding attorney who was converted to Christ and who gave almost two million dollars to keep that college Christian, the teachers of religion systematically tore down the faith of that young woman, an “A” student, claimed to reduce the Bible to a mass of contradiction, described it as merely a human book, faulty, mistaken, sometimes immoral. The result? This Christian girl, with tears in her eyes, declared that her peace of mind had been robbed, that she hardly knew what to believe and what not to believe.

Because this is not an isolated instance, but part of a wide, vicious assault on the Bible led even by churches and tolerated in interchurch councils, we experience much of unrest, unhappiness, irreligion, immorality. Rejecting the Word of God, ours has become an age of human, sometimes sordid enlightenment. Four pages of pictures featured in a national illustrated weekly, which the police of Saint Louis as of many other cities have confiscated and wisely banned from the newsstands, show the callus of our times. If only in this wave of enthusiasm for spreading information on the facts of birth and life our materially minded age could be led to discuss and believe the far greater and eternal facts of the new birth in heavenly life!

Good Friday, with the Savior’s last words a passage from Scripture, must always remind those who are His of the rich glories of the Scriptures. Even Christians, it often seems, busy themselves with almost everything else except the grace and truth of Scripture, that sacred Word which is able to build them up. How many Bible-reading, Bible-searching, Bible-loving homes are there in this nation today? How many of you can truthfully say: “I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies”? Many church-members busy themselves with special meetings and special programs, suppers and socials, entertainments, dramatics, and card-playing, so that only a few incidental moments remain for the truth of Christ. It is time for a protracted period of humiliation and prayer throughout modern Christendom, so that the Scriptures may be restored to their position of paramount power.

We need the spirit of one man in this audience to whose faith I am happy to pay this public tribute. When two letters with generous contributions came to us from the vicinity of Boston, I asked a friend, one of our pastors, to call on the donor and express my personal thanks. The address was that of a very large estate; yet it was not the wealthy owner who had so generously remembered our cause; it was the caretaker! Unexpectedly he had received fifty dollars and had sent that sum for our radio mission, even though, as he admitted, he did not know whether he would ever have that amount again. The truly remarkable aspect of the Christian faith that dwelt in the souls of the caretaker and his wife was the fact that they read the Bible fifty-four times from cover to cover; that as soon as he had come to Christ, he wanted to learn more about His Savior. He bought a Hebrew grammar, dictionary, and Testament, and through long vigils of nightly study, without a teacher, he learned the original language of the Old Testament, so that he could delve deeply into the beauty of God’s Word. Then he did the same thing with the Greek of the New Testament, so that today he finds inner happiness in discovering a deeper meaning in the riches of God’s Word. That man in the gardener’s cottage near the Blue Hills of Boston shows more devotion to his Savior in this respect than some who wear clerical robes and preach from pulpits. His is the love of God’s Word that we must have today.

Christ on the cross not only quoted Scripture; He prayed Scripture, and in His dying hour showed what a privilege it is to carry everything to God in prayer. Have you ever realized as you trace the last night and day of our Savior’s life how completely His sufferings were saturated with prayer? He starts with a heart-stirring high-priestly petition to His Father and ends the suffering of crucifixion as His head drops in that life-giving death with another prayer; and between Gethsemane and Calvary, as the prophetic picture of the Twenty-second Psalm reads, His thoughts constantly winged their way from the agonies of His trial and torture to the power and love of His heavenly Father.

Need I remind you of the unused, neglected, forgotten power of prayer, of the sullen, sneering attitude twentieth­century unbelief assumes toward the Christian practice of coming before the throne of God in Jesus’ name? We wonder how erratic minds can starve their bodies, refuse to accept healing medicine for sickness; we shake our heads when we read of airplanes that have crashed because they have lost communication with headquarters and ground stations or when we hear of ships that have foundered on the high seas because they had no wireless with which to send an S O S; but is this as tragic as the failure in many lives that are wrecked because they have spurned the power of prayer, the guidance that God promises to all who approach Him in the name and by the mercy of the crucified Savior? If you have never learned to pray—I mean to pray earnestly, personally, powerfully, pleadingly—for the assurance of your salvation, for the lightening of your burdens, for a key to the mystery of your sorrow, for an answer to the questions in your life, for the power to conquer sin, to forget the hideous mistakes of the past, then may God now, in this Lenten season, direct your gaze to the cross, to its atoning Christ, to His last words, a cry of prayer; and may you learn of Jesus how to pray humbly yet confidently because you pray through faith, trusting in His life-giving grace. As the Savior’s prayer was answered when He committed His soul into the hands of His Father, so your prayer in Jesus’ name and according to His will must be answered, not always in the time, and at the place and after the manner that you select, but always according to God’s good will and in His gracious way. From Golgotha the praying Christ, the dying Christ, the atoning Christ, looks at our age with a plea for more prayer, deeper prayer, stronger prayer and with the heavenly promise of answered prayer, achieving prayer, victorious prayer.

II

A CRY OF CONFIDENCE IN THE COMPLETED REDEMPTION

Christ’s last cry from the cross is an exemplary prayer for us. As the first of those seven sacred words that Jesus uttered in this agony of approaching death, “Father, forgive them,” so the last begins with the same address of faith, “Father.” It is the glorious blessing of the Good Friday suffering that through the cross God has again become our Father; that through the merits and the substitution of our Savior we can pray, “Our Father,” and have the confidence, as the apostle reminds us, that we “are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Mohammedanism has scores of names and descriptive designations for Allah, but not once is he called “father.” Unbelief has invented many new titles for its modern concepts of the Deity; but it shies from acknowledging God as the Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and from confessing that all of us, children of wrath because of our sins, can become children of grace because of Christ. When Jesus in the last hours of His life, from the long prayer on Thursday to this last prayer on Friday, repeatedly spoke of His Father; when He declared, “I ascend unto My Father and your Father,” He strengthened us in the assurance of that fatherhood of God and the eternal sonship of the believer, reestablished at Calvary, which gives us the supreme distinction of being God’s children. To have the assurance that, “like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him”; to know that in His perfect and divine fatherhood the Almighty for Jesus’ sake forgives the vileness of our lives, the impurities of our minds, the hatreds of our hearts; to take refuge, as a child turns to its earthly father, in the eternal wisdom, power, and love of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, who loved every one of us with that perfect, all-powerful love that “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all”; to call God “our Father” in this faith and to be called “His children” by this grace—can life hold any higher promise and blessing?

See how children of wealth are guarded against all possibility of harm by corps of servants and companions! No sacrifice of time or money is too large to preserve their health and happiness; parental love adopts every precaution to assure their safety and prevent injury or kidnapping. At Calvary we witness that deeper and eternal love for our sin-marked lives by which God, devoted to Christ, His only Son, as no Father has ever been bound to his child, laid all sins on His Son and by His death ordained life and eternity for us. Some of you fathers know what it means to have an only son suffer and die. Think what it would mean if you were deliberately asked to give an only child into the terrors of death for the benefit and blessing of others! Yet an inconceivably greater sacrifice was made on the first Good Friday so that God might be our reconciled Father.

Then Jesus speaks of His Father’s hands, with the power and protection they afford. The hands that stretched the canopy of the heavens and studded it with myriads of stars; the hands that called the universe into being and direct the music of the spheres; the hands that raised the mountains and dug the hollows of the seas; the hands that arouse sleeping nature for the reawakening of spring, that touch the dry bones of death and transform them into newness of life;—into those divine hands that guided the inspired writers to pen promise after promise, Christ committed His soul and now asks you to commit yours. If, as the Scriptures remind us, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,”—the hands that raze cities, destroy armies, devastate empires,—how blessed to place our souls into the hands of the loving God and know as Jesus says that “no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand”!

This is the summarized, essential message of the cross: Through Christ we can entrust our souls, sin-marked and sorrow-laden as they may be, into the care and protection of God. No treasures can ever be safeguarded with closer care in massive vaults, in subterranean storerooms like those that hold the treasuries of France, in high and wide-walled structures of stone, iron, and concrete like the depository of our national wealth in Fort Knox; for once through Christ we are protected by the hand of God, no time or turmoil, no death or disaster, can dislodge us.

The words which Jesus quotes in the Thirty-first Psalm are followed by that cry of victory over sin which Jesus did not need, but which you and I must have. There the psalmist cries, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit. Thou hast redeemed me.” When you approach the cross with the faith which without excuse or exception pleads guilty to the indictment of sin and the charge of your conscience; when you “behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” offered in the one sacrifice for all the generations of men; and when your faith triumphs, “Thou hast redeemed me” by Thy free, full mercy, “redeemed me” beyond all question or quiver, “redeemed me” from my repeated transgressions and my constant weakness, “redeemed me” from sin, death, and the power of hell, from the tyranny of sorrow and affliction, from the fears and terrors of life, then you have the faith by which you can live victoriously and die triumphantly.

No wonder that Christians in all lands and centuries have prayed this last cry from the cross in their final hours with the calm bravery of their Savior! When death approached Ansgar, intrepid missionary to Scandinavia, he prayed, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit,” and when his faltering lips could no longer form these words, friends, at his request, continued to repeat them aloud as long as his beating heart showed the flickering flame of life. John Huss, sentenced to death by churchmen who concluded their shameful verdict of guilty with the statement, “And thus we deliver thy soul unto Satan,” answered, “And I commit into Thy hand, Lord Jesus Christ, the soul that Thou hast redeemed.” Martin Luther, the mighty work of his reformation completed, prayed three times on his deathbed, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” Nicholas Ridley, sixteenth­century witness to Christ in England, was condemned to death because he taught salvation through the blood of Jesus; and when, chained to the stake, he saw the flames leaping toward him, he cried in an amazingly loud voice, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit.” Hugh McKail, a youthful and eloquent preacher in Scotland, standing on the gallows to which he had been condemned for his loyalty to the cross, declared before he swung into eternity, “Farewell, Father and Mother! Farewell, friends and relatives! Farewell, world and all delights! Farewell, sun, moon, and stars! Welcome, blessed Spirit of grace, the God of all consolation! Welcome, glory! Welcome, eternal life! Welcome, death! ‘Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.’” William Harvey, physician, who discovered the circulation of the blood, closed the last hour of his life by confessing: “I do most humbly render my soul to Him who gave it and to my blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Sir Henry W. Ackland, professor of medicine at Oxford, wrote these words into his last will, “I commit my soul unto my heavenly Father and the love of Christ.”

Will you not, without waiting in dangerous delay for the dying hour, behold your crucified Savior and resolve, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me”? Today is Palm Sunday, commemorating the entrance of Jesus into the Holy City. What a happy and an appropriate time to have Jesus come into your heart and enter your life with His love! Thousands of children this morning knelt before their Savior to affirm their loyalty to Jesus, publicly to proclaim their faith in His redemption. May God give them the strength to remain “faithful unto death” as they pray, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me.” Yet this Palm Sunday finds many of you repeating the ancient disloyalty which marked this day. It was only five days after Jesus held his procession of peace into Jerusalem that He was forced to carry His cross on the death-march out of the city! Only five days between the acclaim that strewed clothing along His way and the denial which robbed Him of the last vestige of His clothing! Only five days between the enthusiasm that cut down branches to be waved in welcome and the cutting down of a tree to crucify Christ in rejection! Only five days between His entrance as a conqueror and His exit as a condemned criminal! With the same quick ingratitude some of you have rejected the Christ of your souls. In the name of the Crucified I plead with you: Think of the penalty paid by those who helped to consign Christ to the cross! Judas and Pontius Pilate were suicides. The house of Annas, the high priest, was destroyed by the mob, and his son was murdered. After a few years Caiaphas, the other high priest, was removed from his office. Herod, deposed and exiled, died in shame. Before the generation that had murdered the Savior, crying, “His blood be on us and on our children,” had fulfilled the span of its time, the massacres which Jesus had prophesied came upon the city and the people who had rejected the Messiah. The historian Josephus tells us that during the subsequent siege and capture of Jerusalem for a long time five hundred of the Savior’s fellow-countrymen were crucified every day, until the Roman conqueror could find no more wood to make crosses and no more space to erect the instruments of torture. Ten thousands of the citizens of Jerusalem were sold into abject slavery, and by the irony of punishment the price that was paid for these captives was less even than the thirty pieces of silver for which the betrayer sold his Savior. In our own country, more than high expenditures for superdreadnaughts and air armadas, the nation needs the increased spiritual support and resources offered through intense personal loyalty to Jesus Christ and devoted membership in His Church. Millions who are totally indifferent to the message of the Cross must be reached, not only through the agencies of the ministers and church-workers themselves, but through the enlarged missionary zeal on the part of individual Christians working day and night for the evangelization of America.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked!” Every one of you indulging in the folly of attempting to live without Christ or against Christ has now heard the message of your redemption. If you have never heard it before, from this hour on you can never plead ignorance. You are either for Christ, or you are definitely against Him. If nothing has ever been able to convince you of the soul-destroying power of sin, of the weighty indebtedness incurred by your iniquity, of the wrath provoked by your transgressions, then behold Christ, the Crucified, and see the terrifying reality and punishment of all human sin visited upon Him in the agony of Calvary. If nothing has ever been able to warm your heart with the assurance of the love of God, free you from the fear of the Judgment to come, strengthen you for the adversities of life, behold Jesus once more on the accursed tree, and as His faltering lips seem to say, “All this I gave for thee; what givest thou to Me?” then may faith triumph over fear, as you—God grant every one of you—penitently answer, “I give myself to Thee. ‘Into Thine hand I commit my soul; Thou hast redeemed me,’ Thou Christ of the cross, my Lord and God, my Ransom and Savior, my Life for all eternity!” Amen!

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: April 3, 1938

Praise to Christ, out King

Christ, our King and only Savior:

With heart-deep gratitude we would hail Thee Sovereign of our souls; yet how can we ever sufficiently thank Thee that in Thy sufferings the coronet of shame rested upon Thy holy brow and that we, saved by faith in Thy ransoming blood, will receive the crown of blessed eternity? We cannot fathom the depth of Thy rich mercy nor grasp the measure of Thy dying love that would bring every one of us, regardless of color or class, as the redeemed sons of divine royalty back to the Father. We cannot understand Thy hallowed devotion to us despite the hideous blotches that blemish our souls. Yet, O Jesus, once thorn-crowned but now glory-crowned, if we cannot explain Thy sovereign love, teach us by Thy Spirit to believe Thy kindly grace, to trust it, to glorify it in our lives. Come with Thy gracious power into doubting hearts, questioning souls, bewildered lives, so that, as the grass and the flowers spring into newness of life in vernal beauty, a new faith in Thy cross, as the symbol of Thy kingdom, may strengthen the loyalty of our faith in Thee. Our hope is built on nothing less than Thy precious blood and righteousness. So that we may be true subjects in Thy Kingdom of Glory, bless us richly, daily, eternally. Bless us as Thou hast promised! Amen.

The soldiers platted a crown of thorns and put it on His head.John 19:2

SAFELY guarded within the Tower of London reposes the imperial British crown, worn by Queen Victoria at her coronation and later altered for her successors. It is a glittering display of gold and jewels; for almost 2,800 diamonds and 300 pearls, besides a large assortment of sapphires, emeralds, and rubies, stud this magnificent diadem. Nobody has ever appraised its exact value, but the intrinsic worth of its carefully selected, cut, and polished gems is conservatively estimated at $2,500,000. If we could place beside this the crowns of other British sovereigns: the state crown of India at Delhi, perhaps the most splendid of all, containing more than 6,100 diamonds and a lavish profusion of choice rubies; the crown of King George displaying the Cullinan diamond, the largest in the world, with its 530 carats; if in addition the crowns that have rested on royal heads throughout the centuries were added to this collection, famed coronation pieces like the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, in its gorgeous array of pearls and polished jewels weighing seven pounds; Saint Stephen’s crown, worn by more than fifty Hungarian kings; the crown of Lombard, which Napoleon placed on his own brow; the sparkling crown of imperial Russia, studded with flawless and perfectly matched stones,—this astonishing array of kingly diadems, aggregating in value multiplied millions of dollars, representing the rule over billions of lives, would appear as cheap toys or childish trinkets in comparison with the crown of which I speak to you this afternoon.

It is the ghastliest, yet the most glorious crown of all history. Placed on the brow of One who was condemned to die a criminal, it is commemorated today as no other kingly coronation. Made not of precious gold and gorgeous gems but of worthless, unadorned material; fashioned not by painstaking craftsmanship, but in a few hasty moments by a coarse soldier, this crown has been immortalized in priceless masterpieces of art. Never guarded as the crowns in the Tower of London, it has been enshrined by a sacred faith in the hearts and hopes of generation after generation. No coronation hymn was intoned when that crown was placed on its Bearer’s brow; instead, the raucous cry arose “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” “His blood be on us and on our children”; yet the most sublime of sacred songs, the stanzas of deathless poetry, sing their hallowed tribute. It is a crown of contradiction, representing cruelty and compassion, ridicule and redemption, bestial hatred and Heaven’s highest love, the punishment and the forgiveness of sin. It was a crown of death, yet for hundreds of millions it has helped to create a crown of life. For this peerless diadem which thousands of you recognize, as you revere the love that bore it, is

THE CROWN OF THORNS

laid upon the head of the world’s Redeemer in the depth of His suffering, as Saint John writes (chapter 19, verse 2), “The soldiers platted a crown of thorns and put it on His head.”

I

IT IS A CROWN OF REDEEMING LOVE

Last Sunday we left the Savior before Pilate, testifying, “For this cause came I into the world that I should bear witness unto the truth.” Despite the cynical question “What is truth?” the governor is convinced of Christ’s complete innocence; and in crisp, short sentences he lets the scheming ecclesiastics know that he can penetrate their trumped-up charges. This unexpected support for Jesus enrages the priestly party, and with calculated malice they advance the one charge that Pilate cannot ignore: this Jesus of Nazareth, their crafty lies declare, is a living menace to Caesar’s rule. He has preached sedition throughout the entire territory of Judea and Galilee. The mention of Galilee suggests to Pilate the possibility of evading a decision; for that territory is under Herod’s jurisdiction. So Christ is led swiftly through the city early on that Friday morning to Herod, the governor of Galilee, who happens to be in Jerusalem; and for the fourth time Jesus, who had stood before Annas and Caiaphas and Pilate, now faces another hearing that involves His life. Again, no one arises in His behalf; none of the sick of body and soul whom His divine touch had healed dares to stand at His side; none of the disciples who had pledged their loyalty only a few hours before now makes his appearance.

The course of prejudice continues before the Galilean tetrarch; for Herod is not interested in Christ’s claim to sovereignty in an empire of men’s souls. He has heard of this remarkable Nazarene who performs unexplainable wonders, and secretly he entertains the hope that Christ will satisfy his curiosity by producing a miracle. Yet when Jesus, spurning the very thought of securing His release by a single wonder, maintains the majestic silence that fulfils Isaiah’s repeated prophecy, “He opened not His mouth,” disappointed Herod returns Him to the jurisdiction of Pilate. Through that incident the two officials become friends in much the same way that the joint hatred of Christ as the divine Savior today brings Communist and Modernist, atheist and pulpit liberalist, close in unholy alliance.

Once more, then, in His fifth hearing, Jesus reappears at Pilate’s court. A vestige of conscience remains to trouble the governor’s heathen heart. His wife, the first and only person to plead for Jesus, stirred by foreboding dreams, begs her husband not to defile his soul with any act of injustice against the “righteous” Christ; and Pilate seeks a compromise. Reminding those who accuse Christ that both he and Herod find no guilt in the prisoner, he suggests, “Why not punish Him with the lash and set Him free?” When this proposal fails, he resorts to a strategy which, it seems to him, must liberate Jesus. On the high festival each year the governor customarily pronounces amnesty and paroles a select list of prisoners; and now one of the most dangerous and brutal criminals that Jerusalem has known for years, one Barabbas, guilty of sedition and murder, is held in the imperial prison. In honor of the Passover, Pilate resolves to exercise clemency; but he leaves the decision to the Jews in the crowded judgment-hall and puts this alternative before them: “Whom will ye that I release unto you, Barabbas or Jesus?” Even his pagan sense of justice, corrupt as it is, concludes that a popular verdict will acquit Jesus. Like hungry animals the enemies of Christ have been inflamed by the smell of blood; Jesus of Nazareth must die! In the very city where five days before the cries of “Hosanna!” had greeted Christ in tumultuous welcome, the cry now swells into a discordant scream, “Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas!” As Pilate for the third time protests that Jesus is innocent, the soldiers once more lay their blasphemous hands on Christ. He had called Himself a king, they remember. A king, then, He must be! One of them spies a thorny bush that even today finds its way along the pathways of Jerusalem. He cuts off a long, spiny branch, twists and weaves it into a circlet, and rudely thrusts that cutting coronet on the head of Jesus.

Reverent minds have sought to learn which species of thorn desecrated the Savior’s brow. The Rabbis enumerated sixteen different kinds of thorny growths in Palestine; and the Savior’s crown may have been made of almost any of these. Far more vital for us, however, is this, that we find this circle of thorns emblematic of the blessed Savior’s deathless devotion to our perishing souls. Behind that Roman legionary who platted the caricature crown are your sins and mine. Only ignorance and self-conceit can point an accusing finger at the imperial authorities or the fellow-countrymen of Christ and say that they persecuted Christ, they crowned Him in this vile coronation, they crucified Him. Unless you know that your sins—the mean, ugly, lewd thoughts of your mind; the selfish, grasping, clutching desires of your heart; the profanity, filthiness, falsehood, uncharitableness of your tongue; the cruelty, pain, anguish, inflicted by your hands; the desecration and pollution of your body by the sins of the flesh; your rising in rebellion against God, your fracture of His holy will, your disregard of His mercies—have helped to weave that crown of thorns; unless you behold the “bleeding head and wounded” and cry:

My burden in Thy Passion,

Lord, Thou hast borne for me,

For it was my transgression

Which brought this woe on Thee,

you cannot secure the personal blessings of redemption with which the thorn-crowned Savior would enrich every penitent heart that seeks refuge in Him.

Nothing that I can tell you could enhance or embellish this paramount promise of the Lenten season that Christ suffered, bled, and died for our sins. We shall never be able to understand the love of the stainless Christ for our sin-cancered world, nor is there within us, even when the Holy Spirit enlightens our mind’s eye, the power to measure and appreciate the boundless mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, even if we cannot peer beyond the first approach to the eternal magnificence of Christ’s compassion, let us, I plead with you, esteem this love of Jesus. As we see Him today broken in strength, white unto death in His countenance, with the blood running its crimson rivulets over His head and face, let us believe that Christ’s magnificent mercy is more dynamic even than the creative fiats that brought this universe into existence, more powerful than the curse of sin with which the toiling millions of all humanity have cursed themselves out of heaven and into hell.

Every one of you in this audience who has been blessed by a happy marriage knows no greater human joy in life than when your wife, perhaps in some moment of joy or impending problem, looks up to you and says, “I love you, my precious husband.” Would you, the Christian wives of America, whose home has been blessed by the radiance of Christ’s faith, give anything in exchange for those blissful moments when your husband has looked into your eyes to say, “I love you, my dearest wife”? Supported by that love, it seems that the weight of your burdens is cut in two and the joy of your life doubled. No earthly gladness which parents can mutually share is greater than the devotion of an obedient, God-fearing child that interrupts its work or play to say, “O Father and Mother, I love you both so much!” Yet the love with which Christ loved us unto the end is incomparably stronger, purer, deeper, holier. It is the love of all love, which will never be broken even by the grave. It is the one all-consuming power by which we can live a blessed life and die a blessed death. Today the Christ of the thorny crown speaks to the heart of every one who hears this message and says, “I have loved you with the imperishable love that made Me suffer and bleed. I have loved you with the tenderness and devotion that brought Me to the cross and the grave. I wore this crown of thorns for you that you, trusting My love, might have the ‘crown of righteousness,’ the ‘crown of life.’”

Fellow-sinners and fellow-redeemed, will you not acclaim this Savior your King? Will you not look beyond the crown of thorns to His crown of glory? Those who postpone their allegiance to Christ from day to day, those who have been neglecting their salvation from week to week or delaying the return from their backsliding year after year, will you not stand in Pilate’s court to see the sacred brow of Jesus encircled by thorns and with penitence for your past sins, your faith in His endless mercies, tear those torturing thorns from His head and “crown Him Lord of all” in your life? Why toy with postponing when the eternal welfare of your immortal souls is at stake? Throw away all excuses! Banish all doubts! Stifle all self-righteousness! Join us as from one ocean to the other we now say to Jesus: O Thou Christ of the cutting diadem, Thou, and Thou alone, art our Savior. In this moment and across this continent, not with the thorns of our sins, but with the glory of our faith, we crown Thee as the eternal King of our hearts and souls.

II

THE CROWN OF HUMILIATION

This love of Christ becomes the more magnificent when we remind ourselves that He upon whose head the crown of thorns was pressed is indescribably more than a man, even the best man, the most brilliant, the most honored, that has ever lived; that, though He walked on earth, He came from heaven; though He was held, bound, and scourged by men, all power in earth and heaven had been given to Him as King of kings and Lord of lords. That Christ of the crown was the great God of all glory.

Modern theology has done away with the full divinity of Jesus. Many of the men who preach over free radio hook-ups deny this crown doctrine. Superorganizations in Protestantism openly tolerate the rejection of Christ as God; and that attitude sickers down to the masses. If Jesus were to appear in a typical American city today and to testify to His deity, as He did in Palestine, He would be mobbed, imprisoned, attacked, even by some of our ministerial conferences; for in no chapter of American history has the sovereignty of Jesus Christ over the souls of men been opposed as wantonly as in our generation, when millions steadfastly refuse Him homage as God. Denial, doubt, and disbelief can never destroy the truth. Contradictory as it seems to our human reason, He who suffers this crowning hatred was very God of very God; for us and for our salvation He humbled Himself and patiently, lovingly, bore the indignities of that shameful crown.

We need more of that humility. Churches have waxed rich and fat. Preachers are often men of importance, with multiple university degrees behind their names. Their congregations frequently represent the best families, and incidentally the wealthiest, in the community. Churches of that prominence can be independent. They can select their membership and preach for applause of men rather than for pardon of God. Churches with that support must be heard before legislatures; their political opinions mean something (they think) and must be heard. All the while this perverted attitude which swells in pride over large numbers, big buildings, elite congregations, heavy endowments, pretty services, and a dozen other incidentals leaves the heart of Christianity untouched.

When the crusaders captured Jerusalem and Godfrey was to be crowned king in the Holy City, he steadfastly refused, stating that he could never wear a crown of gold in the city where His Savior had worn a crown of thorns. If there is one place where humility must be particularly emphasized, it is in the churches that should preach the love of the thorn-crowned Savior. Give us ministers, priests, and prophets of the suffering Savior who will forget themselves, all money-making schemes, all political ambitions, all striving for power, as they live and work and die for Christ; give us Christians who can meet the divine requirements of walking humbly with their God, men and women who understand that a Christian must be humble, since he confesses, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing,” and realizes that every assurance of salvation is granted by the overflowing mercies of Christ; give us in this age of dictators, usurpation of power, and unholy monopoly even in certain phases of church-life the humble spirit of Christ in our faith, in our life, and you will witness a new and far better day than can ever be created by any legislative, diplomatic, or industrial programs.

III

A CROWN OF GLORIFIED SUFFERING

Besides the love and the humility of Christ that crown of thorns shows the Savior’s patient, glorified suffering. In the depth of this disgrace Jesus utters not even one word of complaint or protest or warning. Let them complete this mock coronation by forcing a reed scepter into His hands and covering His bleeding back with a piece of discarded purple; let Pilate’s soldiers derisively bend their knees before Him and sneer, “Hail, King of the Jews”; let them, in the hellish climax of their blasphemy, rain blows on the Savior, spit in His countenance, and lash the thorn-crowned head of their defenseless Prisoner;—Jesus knows that these agonies are but the terrifying means to a radiant, magnificent end, the eternal salvation of human souls. With the assurance that by wearing this crown of thorns His faithful would once wear the crown of glory, Jesus, looking beyond the brutal godlessness, sees His sorrows as a blessed part of the eternal plan for universal redemption; and uncomplaining, unresisting, He continues to bear this disgrace.

We marvel at the courageous calm with which servants of Christ have met the pain and rack of persecution; of martyrs and missionaries who have joyfully faced excruciating pain and death in fiendish forms; yet we should not be too greatly astonished, for their heroism is the reflection of the Savior’s. John Huss, valiant witness to Christ and forerunner of the Reformation in Bohemia, was sentenced to be burned alive because he trusted in the justifying and cleansing power of the Savior’s blood. They stripped him of his priestly robes and placed upon his head a cloth cap painted with devils and inscribed with the indictment “Arch-heretic.” Huss made no protest; on the contrary, he murmured, “My Lord Jesus for my sake wore a crown of thorns. Shall I not wear this lighter disgrace for His sake? I shall indeed, and that right gladly.” In that spirit he commended his body to the cruel death by fire but his soul into the hands of God.

When grief and anguish arise, turn trustfully to the Christ of the thorn-crowned head and learn from Him how to suffer! In these bewildering days when allegedly civilized and cultured nations resemble nothing more than a ravenous pack of wolves, ready to spring at each other’s throats, when the very foundations of honesty, decency, truth, frugality, industry, honest labor, and the substructure on which these rest, the reverence of God and the love of one’s fellow-men, seem to totter as crime, vice, godlessness, antireligious movements increase, it may be that those who are Christ’s will be led to face sorrows such as have never before confronted this country. When people live too fast, work too little, play too long, drink too much, drop too far in home morality, and in spite of much leisure find no time for God, His Church, and His Bible, we have unmistakable signs of national crisis and impending upheaval. It may be that taunting unbelief will assume the upper hand and institute an inquisition and persecution unto the blood; yet in the name of this thorn-crowned King I say: Let the worst come, let the hurricanes of disaster sweep down upon us with their destruction; if the image of Christ thorn-crowned is pressed into your heart and mind, faith will give you the divine key to the mystery of suffering. Every human adversity, through the miracle of Christ, will be a divine opportunity. As Christ exchanged His thorny crown for that heavenly diadem envisioned by Saint John in the last book of the Bible, so Jesus has promised through faith in Him, “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

Some of you have lost your livelihood, your position in the community; you have suffered sickness and death in the family or met sullen opposition from those who should encourage you. Think of Paul Gerhardt! Because he refused to enter a church union, which, like many of these ill-fated amalgamations in our day, simply agreed to disagree, he was deposed from his church and prohibited from holding services even in his own home. Three of his children had previously been snatched away by death; and in the midst of these troubles, when he was left penniless, his wife and his fourth child died. Yet Paul Gerhardt had looked in faith to the thorn-crowned Christ; he had taken one of the most ancient of the Church’s hymns, that which is usually ascribed to Bernard of Clairvaux, translated and reworded it, until it has come down to us in these beloved lines:

O bleeding Head, and wounded,

And full of pain and scorn,

In mockery surrounded

With cruel crown of thorn!

O Head, once crowned with glory

And heavenly majesty,

But now despised and gory,

Yet here I welcome Thee!

The impress of the thorn-crowned Savior helped Paul Gerhardt to find the strength of faith which enabled him to write 131 of the Church’s magnificent hymns and turn his afflictions into the soul’s victory. If you have acclaimed the Christ of the thorns your Savior, sickness and sorrow, disappointments and failures, tortures and agonies of life, will likewise be part of a divine and far-sighted plan by which “all things work together for good” to you because you love God.

The love that bore that cruel coronet is ready to sustain us, not only in the trials of life, but in the moment of death. Far from home, on India’s coral strands, Christian Schwartz, pioneer, self-effacing missionary, felt his last hour approaching. Gathering his native pupils around his deathbed, he joined them as they sang in their own Tamil language the closing verses of the hymn “O Bleeding Head and Wounded.” Schwartz, who knew that, while the service of Christ meant pain and affliction, it always led from cross to crown, kept singing to the last verses in this prayer:

When hence I must betake me,

Lord, do not Thou depart!

O nevermore forsake me

When death is at my heart!

When soul and body languish,

O leave me not alone,

But take away mine anguish,

By virtue of Thine own!

Then his voice broke in death; but by the promise of Christ he was awakened in heaven to sing the hallelujah of eternal praise to his glory-crowned Christ.

Should we not all strive and work and pray that we, too, in life and in death behold in faith the suffering Christ? Sometimes I become downhearted when I see, even in the churches, much of worldliness and mock Christianity, honoring Jesus with the mouth but ignoring with the heart, crying “Lord, Lord!” with the lips but “I myself, I myself!” with actions. We need a deep spiritual strengthening of our faith. My fellow-Christians, can we not change some of these deplorable situations that confront us when multitudes of those who call themselves Christians cannot find time to read and study the Word of Life, refuse to take opportunity for sincere heart-searching prayer, neglect the Lord’s Supper and its forgiving and strengthening blessings? God grant us a new and better faith!

And God grant you who are not yet Christ’s the light to see yourselves in your sins as God sees you: helplessly lost, hopelessly dead; and then, standing with the Christ of the blood-stained crown, to see yourself as you can be through faith in Him, washed, cleansed, purified, ransomed, redeemed and saved eternally! Above all else, watch and pray that, “when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away,” God grant that to you all for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: March 27, 1938

Prayer for an Understanding, Trusting Heart

Christ, Thou Comforter in need, Thou Strength in our weakness, precious Savior of our souls:

Our hearts are raised heavenward to Thee in humble gratitude for the unfailing truth with which Thou didst bless us through Thine atonement. We beseech Thee, not first of all for money, success, health of body, the peace and pleasure of a tranquil life, but for Thy blessing on our hearts and minds, so that we can understand the truth of Thy Word, apply it to ourselves in the hard, treacherous moments of life, and particularly find the conviction of full pardon for our sins through faith in Thy redemptive love. Send us Thy Spirit, so that our eyes may be opened to see Thee in Thy saving grace and slumberless devotion. Keep every one of us from doubt. When all else in life collapses and our fondest confidences prove misplaced, help us to turn from the ruins of time to Thy cross and, kneeling before Thee, to declare: Thou, O Christ, art the Truth of heaven, the Truth by which we live, by which we rise above our sorrows, by which we withstand temptation, the victorious Truth by which we die, only to live with Thee again. Hear us and bless us as Thou hast promised! Amen.

For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.John 18:37

MILLIONS in our bewildered, problem-weighted world are trying to sift fact from fiction, to free truth from clinging falsehood. “How can we discern the true state of affairs in these saber-rattling international rivalries?” they demand, as our age produces more armaments than history has ever known. Distorted claims and brazen misrepresentation creep into the news; propaganda agents employ cunning means to mould public opinion; and dark, covered forces diabolically seek to inflame hatreds and passions, with the avowed objective of involving our country in war. “Where, beneath the debris of this deception,” we are asked, “lies the truth?”

Reflecting on our national problems, disquieted minds inquire: “How can we learn the truth and know whither America is actually headed?” Some soothsayers try to quiet us with the assurance that we are safely on the road to a more satisfying and profitable life, while others predict that we are steering toward disaster, with revolution, anarchy, and a reign of terror in the offing.

More personal and persistent is the question: “How can we discover the truth for our individual perplexities, the one explanation of the sudden reverses and the unforeseen tragedies of life? Are we only superior animals, thrown by chance upon a heartless world? Is the course of our existence charted by luck, good or bad? Or does a higher Power shape our destinies in justice, love, wisdom?” On the one hand, infidel agitators by the thousands tell the world that there is no God, that we are all puppets, dangled and jerked by unseen and unknown forces; on the other hand, the Christian churches throughout this land teach that there can be a divine guidance for our lives, a heavenly solution for our problems. Which of these conflicting claims is true?

For many the most penetrating of all uncertainties is the restlessness by which the human soul seeks the truth for eternity. Confronted by a far-flung betrayal of Christianity, a fight-to-the-finish rebellion against Christ in some of the very churches that bear His name, the masses demand: “What is the truth in religion? Is there a heaven and a hell? Will this body that sinks into death be resurrected, or do I die as the beast dies? Has the Bible been discredited or endorsed in the modern advance? Must I tear myself away from my religious convictions and cling to modern science? Is Jesus Christ God and man or only a godly man? Does His atonement offer spiritual salvation, or does it inflict mental starvation? Where can we find the truth, the full, clear, unchanging, unalterable, everlasting truth, for our souls?”

As I now seek to answer these questions and show every searching soul in this audience

TRUTH FOR A TRUTH-HUNGRY WORLD

I direct you to none other than the Christ of God. In the climax of the trial that was to sentence Him to death, He declares: “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” (Saint John 18:37.)

I

CHRIST’S WITNESS TO THE TRUTH

This testimony was made against the background of ugly falsehood. After Jesus had refused to summon the twelve angelic legions and surrendered Himself to the violence of the mob, so that the Scriptures, prophetic of His suffering and death, might be fulfilled, He was led in the depths of that midnight first of all to Annas, who, though no longer officiating as high priest, was the most influential churchman in Jerusalem. After a hasty questioning Jesus was then rushed to the palace of the official high priest, Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas, where the church dignitaries, each diabolically bent on the death of Christ, had assembled. This trial, which began about two o’clock in the morning, was more formal, although Jesus, in harmony with Isaiah’s ancient prophecy, again stood with no attorney and none of the thousands who had been blessed by His love ready to intercede for His acquittal. Finally, after perjury and prearranged falsehood had failed to convict Jesus, He was declared guilty on the charge of blasphemy against Jehovah and condemned to death. For a few hours the court recessed, then reconvened at daybreak to confirm the verdict and determine how the condemned prisoner should be brought before Pilate, the Roman governor, for the official death-sentence.

There have been many infamous trials, in which passion has prevailed over justice. We think of Socrates, condemned to drink the hemlock cup; Saint Paul, sentenced to death before a Roman tribunal; Luther, banned by princes and prelates; Albert Dreyfus, banished to Devil’s Island through deceit and official treachery. Many innocent men have swung from the gallows or perished in the electric chair. Yet the worst miscarriage of all justice, the most damnable corruption that ever disgraced any court, is this triumph of hatred that helped nail the Savior to the cross.

Walter Chandler, a member of the New York bar, wrote two large volumes on the trial of Jesus from a lawyer’s standpoint, and he shows that every aspect of the Savior’s trial was without the law. The arrest of Jesus was illegal because in plain disregard of the law it occurred at night, through the agency of a traitor, and without a legal mandate of an impartial court. The private examination of Jesus by the high priest was illegal, first, since it completely shattered the law prohibiting trials at night and then because it ran counter to the statutes banning private preliminary examinations and all trials before only one judge. The charges on which Jesus was indicted were so vague and indefinite as to render them, too, illegal. The formal trial of our Lord before the assembly of churchmen was a flagrant violation of the law, since judges could not also be prosecutors, as Caiaphas, the high priest, clearly proved himself. It was against the law to hold trials for capital punishment during the night, on the day before the Sabbath, and especially before a great festival like the Passover. When that trial of the world against Christ was concluded within an hour or two (remember how gangsters and racketeers have their hearings drawn out week after week!); when Jesus was condemned within six or eight hours after He had been betrayed, the accepted court procedure was again flaunted; for no criminal case involving the death-sentence could legally be concluded in one day. And in the sentence passed on Jesus we can list seven separate counts in which the established principles of legal procedure were wilfully broken. You need not be a lawyer to know that, if ever the scales of justice were weighted by perjury, malice, and the lust of blood, it was when the Sanhedrin screamed “He is guilty of death.” You would not have to take this case to a supreme court for a reversal of sentence, for any appellate court in the land, in spite of the injustice that we witness in some of our tribunals, would instantly set aside a verdict in which revenge and jealousy had patently combined to destroy innocence and purity. No wonder the justice-loving fellow-countrymen of Jesus have repeatedly agitated for a new trial of Christ.

After this sleepless night of terror Jesus was brought before Pilate for the civil trial, since the death-sentence had to be passed by the Roman governor, Pilate. The people loathed their overlord with an implacable hatred; for Pilate was corrupt, violent, and merciless. His soldiers had once struck down many of the citizens in the Holy City; yet their enmity of Jesus was deadlier, and, overcoming their antipathy to Pilate, even regarding themselves unclean through these contacts with the Gentiles, early on that Friday morning they dragged Jesus, beaten and bleeding, before the imperial tribunal, there to demand His quick death.

The Savior now stands before Pilate, the sinless Truth again confronted by fraud and falsehood; and never in His entire persecution does our Lord appear more majestic than now when He faces the man whose word means life or death. Had the Son of God spoken only a few sentences of protest and appeal; had He laid His cause openly before Pilate and revealed the perjury, lies, jealousy, cruelty, of the priests and Pharisees, Pilate, world-worn skeptic that he was, would have laughed the Savior’s enemies out of court. Yet here, in the climax moment of history, when the destinies of the ages are at stake, Jesus (praise be to His eternal love!) bases His entire defense on the fact that He taught the truth and that the truth of God can never be wrong.

Listen to Him as He answers the governor’s questions concerning His kingship with this resolute declaration, “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth,” and be clear about this one foundation fact of our faith, that Christ here, with His life at stake, only a few hours before His death, deliberately claims that every word He spoke during His entire ministry, every promise of comfort that ever passed from His lips, is the divine, absolute, complete, eternal, unchangeable truth.

It was Heaven’s truth that He, the Jesus of despised Nazareth, was God Almighty. It was ageless and deathless verity that He, the gaunt Galilean prisoner, whose brow would soon bleed with the circle of thorns, had been eternally King of all kings and sovereign of the universe. The mountains might melt and the tides of the oceans vanish, but when heaven and earth had passed away, that truth would remain which He once proclaimed in the same city of Jerusalem “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The sun might lose its dazzling light and the moon fade into darkness; but the radiance of His truth as the “Light of the World” would remain undimmed to cheer straggling, struggling men with this invitation “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Hearts might quiver before death, Judgment, and the terrors of hell; but they would be calmed and comforted by the truth of eternity in the sacred pledges of Jesus: “If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death.” His guarantee of perpetual glory: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you”; His pledge of undying love and acknowledgment: “Whosoever . . . shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father”; that was pure, unalloyed truth of all truths for an error-ridden world.

Because Jesus could challenge His enemies and demand: “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?”, because even bribery and perjury could not produce one true charge against Him; because even Pilate had to admit, “I find no fault in this Man,” Jesus, in that majestic hour, as one of His divine legacies, repeated what He had said before when He promised His followers that, if they would continue in His Word, they would know the truth and that the truth would make them free, free, by the grace of God, from the clutch of sin, free from the power of death.

Yet, as though His life of witnessing to the truth were not enough, Jesus, within a few pain-racked hours, was to die for that truth and to tell all generations that His Gospel of full salvation to all men is the highest pledge of Heaven. Every agony our sin-bearing Savior suffered when the penalty of all history’s and humanity’s transgressions pressed their incalculable weight on His soul; every drop of blood that dripped from His wounded head and His nail-torn hands and feet; every cry of His anguish that pierced the rumble of Calvary, testified in heaven and on earth, before men and angels, to friend and foe of Christ, for His age and for every age, that Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, the only but all­sufficient Savior of mankind, is the Truth, taught the truth, lived the truth, and died the truth.

II

OUR TESTIMONY TO THIS TRUTH

Today the Savior again stands on trial before an unbelieving world. The charges are essentially the same: Jesus is indicted because He proclaims Himself the divine Prophet, Priest, and King of men’s souls, the Son of God; because He insists that His Word is the truth and pronounces “Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” His accusers are the modern scribes, our intellectual atheists, the present-day Sadduccees, denying the resurrection, the twentieth-century Pharisees, whose creed is only a revised version of that age-old “earn-heaven-yourself,” “salvation-by-character” delusion, taught by the ancient Chinese, Babylonians, Egyptians. The leaders of large sectors of this attack are churchmen, who, playing the role of the Jerusalem priests, are crying for the blood of the Scriptural Christ. And behind them the Christless mob howls.

Under these attacks Jesus and His truth are opposed as never before in America’s existence. The founders of the nation, the colonists, whose prayers, industry, labor, helped, under God, to lay the foundations on which our national prestige rests; the honest, frugal immigrants who in the post-Civil War days assisted in developing our Western plains and turning territory into States, were for the most part God-fearing men and women, who loved their Savior, reverenced His Word, and built churches to the glory of His name. Now another generation has arisen, which too often knows not the Lord God nor His mighty deeds among us. We have dozens of organizations established for the one purpose of destroying the Bible; scores of dirty, filthy publications that ridicule Christ, make obscene references to His person, and in the vilest blasphemy assail everything holy with a vehemence never before exhibited in this country. Even some of our newspapers join hands with the scoffers. The “good news” of a Savior slain for the sins of an evil world is not attractive copy. Let a criminal lawyer like Clarence Darrow die, a man who denied the existence of God, who kept murderers from paying the divinely imposed penalty, who himself admitted that he never made any important contribution to human welfare, and certain newspapers feature headline eulogies. In the same articles they contemptuously pour out their scorn on a man like William Jennings Bryan, describing as a mental moron the Great Commoner, who loved his Savior and who, as Secretary of State, protested against the calamity of our entrance into the World War with as much moral courage and honesty as was shown by any statesman this nation produced.

A far greater peril than the menace of public attack is that polished and refined assault on the truth of Christ which originates in an unmistakably atheistic tendency of modern public education. Periodically someone arises to demand that all un-American remarks in the history textbooks used in our schools be deleted. What we need far more imperatively is a thoroughgoing purge to remove all the antichristian, anti-Biblical, antimoral teaching which seeks to alienate the youth from our Christian hope. Teachers in various sections of our country write that they are obliged to give their pupils, children in the formative, impressionable years, books which contain deliberate statements attacking and contradicting the Bible; collateral reading picturing man’s prehuman ancestors as long-armed, bleary-eyed, hair-covered, slant-browed, gorillalike creatures; pages that brazenly pull Christ from the high realms of His divinity to the low and common level of the merely human. One of the great glories of our national Constitution guarantees every American freedom of conscience and provides for the separation of Church and State so completely that no Government official or public employer can attack any one’s religious conviction. Yet no basic truth of Americanism is more frequently denied than this. We have too many high-school teachers who feel themselves called to impugn the Bible and cast aspersions on Christ. This must stop! We are not asking that our public schools teach Christianity! The Church must do that. We do demand, however, that no teacher in any public institution be permitted to attack the religious conviction of any pupil. To safeguard our rights, Christian parents cannot stand by idly when the truth of Christ is assailed; they must protest against all irreligious teaching and eliminate everything that can poison the minds of their boys and girls.

This anti-Bible bias approaches more closely. Judaslike, it has entered many denominational colleges of the land. Last week a perturbed woman wrote me that her granddaughter had enrolled in an Ohio church college to save her faith, but she began to lose it after the first few weeks of her freshman course. The president and others on the faculty taught that the Bible was plain literature, like the Koran or similar sacred books of the East. It is bad enough when private colleges permit Christian ideals to be cut down ruthlessly. It is worse when State, tax­supported universities give free reign to the enemies of Christ; but it is the climax of perversity when colleges built by Christian love and Christian money witness against Christ and against His Bible. There are dozens of large schools guilty of this charge!

Hatred of Christ’s truth and the vaunting of education over the plain teaching of the Bible are among the most dangerous symptoms of our day. The president of a national learned society calls upon science to rescue the world,—as though Christianity were dead! How often have great minds, trained in worldly wisdom, but ignorant of Christ and hostile to His Word, fallen into treacherous ways! The financier whose Wall Street failure and confessed thefts threw the country into consternation was educated in one of America’s most exclusive preparatory schools and, when pleading guilty, wore as a watch-charm the golden boar of the Porcellian Society of Harvard University, the most select of all college fraternities. The misdirected genius who recently robbed English investors of millions was connected with Oxford University. The Swedish match king who left thousands of investors on both sides of the Atlantic clutching securities that will never have any value was a graduate of the Stockholm Technical School. The man reputed to be “the brains” behind the annual one-hundred-million-dollar number racket in New York City is a product of Syracuse and New York universities. Let reason triumph over Christ’s religion, atheism over godliness, and you will see that America can whirl into bloodier chaos than Europe has witnessed.

The cry that rises over this nation, therefore, is the plea to hear the truth of Jesus and believe it. Do not tell me that you will not accept Christ’s truth because you cannot understand how He is both God and man, how His blood cleanses you from your sin, how His death assures your resurrection. Can you understand the mysterious forces that operate within your own body? Are you able to account for the vital spark that makes your heart beat and sends the blood coursing through your body? If you lack intelligent analysis of facts that you see and feel and measure, why, then, should you insist that you must answer to your own satisfaction the transcendent questions concerning the soul?

Do not say that you will not accept Christ’s Word and doctrine as truth because they are opposed to modern scientific thought. “Which scientific thought?” we ask; for there are scores of conflicting theories where only one can be correct! If you do not believe that God created you but that you have come up from the beast, how have you ascended? Present-day theories teach several contradictory ways. Which scientific claims do you find in conflict with the Scripture,—those which were taught ten years ago, those that are taught today, or those that will be taught a decade hence?

Do not say that you will not accept Christ’s Word and it has not been accepted by men of scientific standing. I read the other day of Jean Henri Fabre, the great naturalist whom Darwin called “an incomparable observer” and who has been acclaimed “a prince of natural history.” In 1910 an international jubilee was held in his honor, and nations showered their medals and distinctions upon him. When a friend asked this great entomologist, “Do you believe in God?” he replied, “I see God. Without Him I can understand nothing. . . . You could take my skin from me more easily than my faith in God.” Toward the end of his life every evening at the same hour he prayed the prayer of the dying Savior, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,” and he died as his lips formed the amen to that prayer. James Clerk Maxwell, of whom Dr. Millikan says, “His grasp of analysis has probably never been equaled by any one,” was a humble Christian. In spite of arduous laboratory duties this great physicist took time for family prayers. Once every month he partook of the Lord’s Supper. When he died in 1879, a prayer found among his papers concluded with these words: “Let us so receive Thy holy Word that we may believe in Him whom Thou hast sent in order to give us knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of our sins, for all of which we ask in the name of the same Christ, our Lord.”

One of the men who under God has helped to make the South is the colored scientist Dr. George Washington Carver. Born a slave and once traded for a race-horse valued at $300, he has risen to remarkable heights but rejected salaries as high as $100,000 a year and refused signal honors. Through his research in connection with the peanut and other agricultural products he has brought prosperity to thousands of families in the Southland; yet this outstanding scientist is a devoted Christian. He intersperses his talk with verses of the Bible and in his favorite Scripture-passage he looks to Christ and says: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.”

Thus they march in long procession, these leaders in science who have not been ashamed of Christ’s truth. Far more vital for you, however, than any testimony of applauded scientific genius is your own acceptance of Christ. From the judgment-hall of Pilate through the air waves come the words of the Savior to you: “Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” You, my friends, who know the love of Jesus, who have experienced His truth in your hearts and lives, as He has forgiven your sins, spoken peace to your soul, turned your sorrows into joy, will you not, as week after week draws us closer to Calvary, resolve that you will witness to His truth in a more determined and courageous way, that you will not be satisfied with knowing that Christ died for you, but that you will tell others of the power of His deliverance? God give you the strength for that resolution!

Many in this audience, however, have not accepted Christ as their Savior and His Word as the truth. Because there is no “salvation in any other”; because “there is none other Name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” but the holy, precious Name of Jesus; because you have either verity with Christ or falsehood without Christ, I beg you in His name to hear His truth concerning death, “the wages of sin,” and life, the pardon promised by His blood. Believe with all your soul that in this moment the Christ who in His “good confession” before Pilate declared the divine truth now tells you in spirit: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Pilate failed to grasp that opportunity for his salvation. He shrugged his shoulders, cynically demanded, “What is truth!” and tried to wash his hands of the Savior, whom he sentenced to death. He could not get rid of Christ that easily, and he paid the penalty for his rejection. Soon after Jesus’ death he was deposed as governor; the best tradition tells us that he ended as a miserable suicide. As you ask yourselves, “What is truth?” may your answer be spoken reverently as you behold the suffering Christ and confess, “O blessed Savior, Thou art the Truth!” Here is your opportunity, in this moment, before your radio. It may be your last Sunday to hear and accept Christ’s truth. To give witness before heaven and earth to the glorious fact that from this moment on you will be Christ’s and Christ yours, I ask you and all the thousands in this far-flung assembly who acclaim Christ’s Gospel as the truth now to stand before God and make this the confession of your faith: “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!”

God enrich us all with that faith for the sake of the truth in Christ Jesus! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: March 20, 1938

Prayer for Spiritual Confidence

Christ, Thou blessed Son of God:

We raise our hearts in unfeigned thanks that Thou hast not left us without a firm foundation for our faith and that through suffering for our sins and dying for our life Thou, our Prophet and Priest, hast fulfilled both the statutes of God’s holy Law and the divine promises of prophetic grace. How confidently we can entrust our souls and bodies to Thee! We ask not that Thou shouldst perform miracles before our eyes, but we entreat Thee to fortify our faith so that we may lay fearless hold on the joy of assured salvation. If doubt assails us, put a new song of faith on our lips. If sorrows encircle us, show us the glorious fellowship of suffering with Thee. If men murmur against the wholesome message, preserve us from silence and sinful compromise. O Christ, our only Salvation, draw us closer to Thee! Give us, with a penitent sorrow for our sins, the determination to confess Thee before men, the strength to face whatever life may have in store for us, the resolution to bring this promise of victorious grace into sin-bound souls. Let not Thy blood be shed in vain for any one of us but always, and especially when temptations confront us, show us that Thou, our great and glorious God, wilt maintain Thy truth, world without end! Hear us, for Thy name’s sake! Amen.

Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how, then, shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be? – Matthew 26:53-54

OURS is the age of widespread distrust in human promises. Seldom, even in the darkest chapters of history, have pledges of nation to nation and man to man been shattered as rudely and quickly as in these tense days. Twenty years ago we fought a World War to prevent treaties from being cast aside contemptuously as scraps of paper; but all the streams of human blood that flowed in that international slaughter, the twenty-five million men, women, and children killed directly or indirectly in its appalling consequences, have not made human promises any more honorable. Only a few days ago the Assistant Secretary of our Navy told a Congressional committee that he no longer believed in the sanctity of treaties; for, he explained, in past instances international agreements have been anything but trustworthy.

American business is honeycombed with violated confidence, as the recent Wall Street disclosures have revealed in unsuspected severity. Trusting the word of business leaders, the American people have deliberately been robbed of billions of hard-earned dollars; the calendars of our courts are crowded with lawsuits involving fraud and misplaced confidence.

In our own national life we have realized as no previous generation of Americans that even with the best of intentions and the most far-sighted programs many promises have proved completely deceptive. How often have statistical experts, university authorities, and Government officials of both political parties not assured us that prosperity was just around the corner! Only last week the curve of unemployment took another disastrous turn to record almost ten and one half million American workers deprived of the possibility of earning their own livelihood.

Even the most intimate of human promises, those that center in the home, are often broken with shocking indifference and rapidity, as some of the nation’s largest magazines and applauded public figures agitate for easier disavowal of the marriage pledge.

In this age of misplaced hope and tongue-in-the-cheek promises the very sins which Saint Paul describes as signs of the perilous last days, it is the emphasized and the sacred duty of the churches of Christ to call men to the Savior and the shatterproof promises of His divine Word. With millions living uncertain, fear-bound lives, distracted by endless worry and care, overshadowed by the ageless problem of getting rid of sin, I promise you in the Redeemer’s name that you can all find a happiness which many of you have never known, by taking God at His word, building your hopes on Christ’s immovable mercies, and exulting in every moment of doubt, temptation, and sorrow:

BACK TO THE UNBROKEN PROMISES OF THE BIBLE!

Our Savior Himself appealed to this unchanging truth of the Scriptures, the only unbreakable pledge men have ever known, when He told His disciple Peter, as He tells us today: “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how, then, shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?” (Saint Matthew 26:53, 54.)

I

THE FULFILLED PROMISE OF CHRIST’S SUFFERING

Last Sunday we spoke of our Savior in the Garden, agonized by the ordeal of bearing in His own sinless soul and body “the iniquity of us all.” Today, as we resume the story of these Lenten sufferings, we see that hardly had Jesus come to His disciples for the third time and found them asleep when the armed mob crashed into the quiet of Gethsemane to take our Lord captive. The noise probably awakened the disciples, whom no piteous pleading of the Savior could keep watchful and prayerful. Peter, springing to his feet, drew his sword and with admirable bravery but misplaced zeal began to battle for his Lord. He was guilty of the same folly in principle that has blotched the bloodiest pages of church history. He forgot, as many high church officials throughout the ages have forgotten, that Christ’s is the kingdom of love and healing, not of hatred and warfare. If we survey the repeated tragedies in which churchmen unsheathed their swords in fanatical religious wars, bloodthirsty inquisitions, and the massacre of others worshiping the same Christ, but refusing to have their consciences bound by manmade traditions and anti-Scriptural teachings, we shall never forget to thank God for the separation of Church and State that we enjoy in our country. Let us safeguard it as one of our highest heritages and with eternal vigilance, the price of its continued blessing, protest against every measure that would wipe away the line of demarcation between the spiritual domain of the Church and the physical realm of the State. Let us set a stern face against that intermingling of politics and religion which we have beheld too frequently during these last years, when priests and ministers publicly allied themselves with political parties or, stooping to demagoguery, led hundreds of thousands along new political paths into the wasteless deserts of disappointment. The true Church’s work first and last centers on men’s souls. Its ultimate objective lies not in this life, but in the next. It must never preach hatred, force, war, but always love, mercy, and peace.

This is the clear teaching of Jesus here in the Garden when He rebukes Peter, demands that he put up his sword in its sheath, heals the wounded ear of Peter’s first and only victim, and then speaks the words of our text, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” The disciples had underestimated Christ; they had forgotten that He was God. In their blindness they had lost sight of the heavenly resources at His beck and call. They felt called upon, now that Christ’s power seemed to fail, to use human methods, just as today people forget that the growth of God’s kingdom is “not by might nor by power, but by” His “Spirit.” They think that they must save the Church by erecting big buildings, engaging renowned preachers, featuring an attractive appeal to the senses, specializing in novelties to lure the crowds, delivering new, colorless, Christless addresses that make it easy for man to come to church since they say little about sin and its peril, sin and its Savior, sin and its removal. Many actually think they can build the Church and the Kingdom through the dining-room, the footlights and the spotlights and a score of other arrangements that confuse the Church and the world. The only power that can rebuild the Church is the loving influence of God’s Holy Spirit as He comes to us through God’s Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

Here, then, is a great truth, which becomes the more sacred to us since it was solemnly spoken on the last night of the Savior’s earthly life. Rebuking His sword-brandishing disciple, the Savior speaks first of all of His Father, the almighty, eternal God, Creator and Sustainer of this world, with whom nothing is impossible. He speaks of His prayer to that Father,—the petition that in a twinkling could transform the scene of His persecution into a tableau of triumph, the prevailing prayer that could change the olive-trees of Gethsemane into fortresses of His defense, the rocks on its slopes into fighting armies, and convert the soft light of the paschal moon into destructive death rays. Finally Jesus speaks of angels. We read and repeat those words lightly, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” But do you know that the legion in the Roman armies often numbered at least six thousand soldiers, so that Christ’s twelve legions embraced seventy-two thousand angels, the mighty cherubim, the exalted seraphim, and other powerful ranks of these heavenly hosts? Picture to yourself the power wielded by one or two angels as you hear lamentation throughout Egypt, where the angel of death stopped at every house unmarked by the blood of the Passover lamb; as you survey the corpses of 185,000 of Assyria’s choicest troops, slain by a divine messenger and strewn on the field outside Jerusalem; or as you recall the smoldering ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah with the three other wicked cities of the plain, destroyed by God’s servants; and then try to think of the power of twelve angel legions! If angels stopped the mouths of hungry lions to save Daniel, who prophesied of Christ, and broke bolts and bars of iron to set free the disciples who preached of Christ, assuredly they could have liberated Christ Himself, destroyed His enemies, ground their weapons to powder, and wiped out the whole city of Jerusalem, the capital of the world’s ingratitude.

Thanks to the blessed mercy and truth of Heaven itself, Christ did not summon the heavenly legions! It is the glory of His Savior-love, not only that He suffered for us, but that He wanted to suffer for us. Today we decorate the graves, in Flanders’ fields and in our own national cemeteries, of those brave men who were drafted for the wars of our nation; we pension the families of policemen, firemen, and others who have fallen in the path of their responsibilities; we erect memorials to commemorate the services of coast-guard heroes who have lost their lives in the swollen seas while trying to save others. These men died in line of duty; but how different the suffering and the death of Jesus! He was not paid to leave the glories of heaven for the persecution of this earth. He received no salary for the agony in the Garden, the torture in those mock trials that sentenced Him to death, for the lashes that made His holy body run red; no money nor medals for his nail-cut hands and feet, His brow, torn by the sharp spikes of that thorny diadem; no applause for the raging fever and the parching thirst that made Him gasp, “I thirst”; no monument for dying on sorrow-swept Calvary in that one death, the death of all mankind. For the anguish that no tongue can ever speak, no pen describe, no canvas portray, that blessed Jesus received only the taunt, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. . . . Let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now.” Yet in the face of all this reviling, Jesus, for whose priceless blood the priests would offer only thirty pieces of silver,—less than the price paid for a healthy slave,—willingly descended into these depths of anguish. For only one moment in the Garden did His divine power flash when, as a stroke of destructive lightning, His holy glance cast the mob prostrate and helpless on the Garden ground. In a few seconds He withdrew that power and voluntarily surrendered.

I cannot leave this evidence of Christ’s holy desire and divine longing to suffer for us. How I wish that particularly during Lent there were another half hour each week in which we could meet again in spirit to bow reverently before the most sacred and sublime devotion that heaven or earth can ever know! Compare the love of Christ with any standard that you know: the love of husband for wife, of a mother for her children, of a patriot for his country, of a Christian for his church; and all these in their purest and strongest forms cannot even begin to resemble the love of Christ. All this human devotion is affection for those who love us, who have helped us; who are closely bound to us. But Jesus loved those who hated Him, and even those who crucified Him. From the beauty of heaven our Christ looked down upon this sin-choked world and its festering moral sores; its hideous, nauseating vileness, our quick-tempered hatred, animal-like lusts, deep­rooted greed, open and concealed dishonesty, and, behind all this; the clenching of human fists against God, the blasphemy of human lips, the arrogance of human thought; and instead of deserting the world to its destruction, Christ loved every one of us with that cross-destined devotion before which we can only stammer, “Oh, the depth of the riches!”

Now we have come to that glorious truth which I want to emphasize. We hear Jesus ask in effect: “If My Father were to send these angelic legions, ‘how, then, shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?’” Interlocked with this devotion to my sin-stained soul and yours is the indescribably blessed thought that God has prepared this deliverance, that the Scriptures have foretold the redemption through His blood in repeated passages of golden grace, and that these pledges must be fulfilled. The first book of the Old Testament, immediately after the record of the first sin, spoke of the blessed Seed of the Woman who would destroy the work of the devil; and the last book of the Old Testament looked to the coming of the great Messenger of God’s grace. From Moses to Malachi, Jesus implies, we can trace the promises of His coming, often marked red by the prophetic picture of His crimson blood. In the deathless passages of Isaiah’s fifty-third chapter we are told, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” These Scriptures must be fulfilled. Heaven and earth may pass away, but not one jot or tittle of these precious promises recorded by divine and inspired love will ever pass away. Here is the divine verdict for all ages: “The Scripture cannot be broken.” Every human pledge may be changed or entirely cast aside; but because God is God, because Christ loved us with a perfect devotion, because this Word of Reconciliation is established in heaven, Jesus walks that weary, anguish-marked way to the cross. Throughout the centuries to come and the generations of men yet to march in the procession of life there must be an immovable Rock of Ages to which sinners can cling, an unshakable Foundation upon which they can build the hope of their salvation;—here it is, in this, the blood-sealed fulfilment of the precious promises of Christ’s suffering.

II

THE FULFILLED PROMISE OF CHRIST’S GRACE

Because every syllable of the promises concerning Christ’s suffering was fulfilled when Christ, moved by His divine love, went the way of Calvary alone, our cry of confidence resounds: Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible! The lesson that we must learn and believe with clear-cut, intelligent, and resolute faith is this, Christ keeps His Word! When He promises grace for all sins, pardon for all sinners, trust His mercy! Accept His grace! When He says “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” stand in faith beneath the cross and know that, as surely as He “was delivered for our offenses,” He was also “raised again for our justification.” The message that these broadcasts seek to drive home with the Spirit’s blessing is not that there may be a forgiveness of sins, not that somehow you can be cleansed from the stain of sin, not that, if you grope long enough, search far enough, work hard enough, pray long enough, you may perhaps (but, oh, that torturing “perhaps”!) find a ransom and rest. If all Scripture must be fulfilled, then the chief and climax Scriptures, those that center in God’s redeeming love will be completed with doubled and trebled assurance. Standing with Christ in the Garden as He permits vile men to lay their unholy hands upon Him; accompanying Him before those travesties of justice when He permits perjury to assail Him and falsehood to belie Him; marching with Him in the death procession to Calvary, where He yields His quivering hands and feet to the nails of death,—all this that the Scriptures might be fulfilled,—we have the Heaven-granted assurance that this trust in Christ’s atonement is not human theory but divine truth,—not just one of many creeds but the one and only saving creed. Whatever any one else wants you to believe of these hazy, groping, misty, fuzzy religions that have sprung like toadstools from the dark and soggy doubt of our day, remember that Christ wants you to believe and declare,—not: “I think I have the truth”; “I hope that I have the truth”; “I feel that I have the truth,”—He wants you to go back to the unbroken promises of the Bible and in the face of friend and foe to confess: “I know that in Christ I have the truth, and ‘I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”

The Scriptures must prevail also in their statements concerning those who wilfully reject the Christ of mercy and cry: “His blood be on us and on our children!” It is not easy for me to say this, and in our own blundering, stumbling short-sightedness how we wish that there were some escape! Yet here is the truth of Christ Himself, which will be verified when the whole vaunted structure of unbelief about us crashes into hopeless ruin: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” You may assert that you do not need Christ; you may say that the message of a bleeding Savior is repugnant to your thought; you may write that it is much easier and nicer to take the liberal view of God and of Jesus, according to which in the next life (if indeed there be a hereafter) all will be gathered together without distinction, since we are all directed to the same goal, the Christian and the non-Christian, the Jew and the Gentile, the Mohammedan and the Modernist, simply taking different roads and detours back to the same Father, who, smiling benignly and indulgently upon His wilful children, says, in effect, “You have tried your best, and, after all, you have done pretty well.” That is the credo proclaimed this morning in thousands of half-empty churches; it is the first article of an impoverished faith, taught in dozens of American divinity schools; the theme, with unessential variations, of thousands of books that whirl off our printing-presses. It is not the truth of Jesus Christ, not the pledge of the Savior, that will never be broken!

Because I am now speaking to some who have completely banished the bleeding and dying Christ, I remind you that the undiminished truth and power of the Scriptures must be a solemn and personal warning. For the sake of those agonies in the Garden that almost broke His soul; by the love in that suffering, deeper than the analysis of reason; to obtain the life that comes with His death, I plead with you as the solemn scenes of the Lenten season are unfolded before your eyes: Come to the Christ whose arms are stretched wide to receive, forgive, cleanse, strengthen, and bless you, to give you the new birth, life, power, and eternity!

Blessed by that assurance that every promise of Christ’s mercy will be fulfilled, we have the heavenly radiance of His light for every dark moment on earth. Surrounded by our own sorrows, we know that through faith in Jesus we have a loving Father; that we can say: “Our Father who art in heaven”; that we can be strengthened by that blessed truth which makes Christ the firstborn Son and our elder Brother in the great family of His redeemed who know that, “like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.”

With Christ we have the power of prayer and the comforting conviction: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you”; and in this audience, from Maine to California, from Canada to Mexico, thousands can now point to God and say, “He heareth us.” With Christ ours is the blessed faith that these seventy-two thousand angels, were it necessary, would combine to keep our souls safe with Jesus. “If God be for us, who can be against us,” we cry; for through our heavenly Father and His measureless energies, stronger than the pull of the planets and the gravity of the spheres, the myriads of anti­christian forces arrayed against us, the tumults of passion within us, the encircling sorrows around us, will be checked. With exultant faith we can carry our cares to Christ and resolve: “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.”

Apply this promise to the problems of our question­mark age and gain the assurance that particularly today the cry must be, “Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible!” Let the Commissar of Education in Soviet Russia formally declare: “We hate Christians. Even the best of them must be regarded as our worst enemies. . . . Christian love is a hindrance to the development of the revolution. What we want is hatred. . . . We have done with the kings of the earth; let us now deal with the King of the sky. . . . Our task is to destroy all kinds of religion”; let this atheism, which is coddled and condoned in our American colleges, in labor organizations, and in other groups that shake hands with infidelity across the sea, arrogantly seek to destroy Christ and His Cross; let unbelief and the denial of Christ, rejecting His deity, His virgin birth, His atonement at Calvary, His bodily resurrection, His return to judge the quick and the dead, insolently boast that the power of Christianity is gone, that Jesus does not belong to the twentieth century, that the Bible is five hundred years behind the times; let the present­day priests of infidelity (and we have thousands of them in our country, as extraordinary as it seems, supported by capitalists and approved by Communists) betray the divine Savior, join hands with His enemies, use their carved pulpits and their endowed pens to fight Christianity, to discredit the gospels, to restrict all true and trusting faith; remember the Second Psalm, where this revolt is predicted, “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision!” That scripture will not be broken! The pledge of God’s laughter assures us that the legions of Christ’s angels will protect His Church, so that not even the gates of hell can prevail against it.

Again, the Bible has much to say about the sufferings of Christ’s children; and every one of these comfort­weighted passages is the truth of God Himself. They who are Christ’s can be strengthened with a moral bravery before which even our self-centered age stops in sheer admiration. Christians learn of Jesus not to shrink from the path of their duty, even if it leads through the shadow-land of sorrow; for they know that, as Christ, the Captain of their salvation, was “made perfect through suffering” and His divine, ageless plan of salvation completed on the cross, so their lives are rounded, mellowed, strengthened, hallowed, by the blessings which come disguised as afflictions. It is no empty promise which Christians find when they read the words of Jesus to all trusting souls engulfed in sorrow: “My grace is sufficient for Thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness”; or when that blessed Word promises them: “All things work together for good to them that love God”; or when their eyes light upon that seeming contradiction which only Christ’s disciples understand: “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” We have the God-given conviction that these scriptures will be literally fulfilled; and though a hundred taunting voices may question or reject God’s guidance, the Christian who says: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want; . . . He leadeth me,” knows that the combined battalions of all armies cannot prevent him from finding blessing, power, and peace in Christ and His fulfilled pledges of comfort for sorrows.

The cry of triumphant faith is: Back to the unbroken promises of all the sacred Scriptures, gloriously demonstrated in Christ’s substitutionary suffering and yet daily fulfilled in His gracious redemption of our souls! Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible for the key to the difficulties of life, for inner peace in Christ during the perilous days that may lie before us! Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible for the divine power that alone can restore many churches whose salt has lost its savor and whose preachers have become politicians, pacifists, philosophers, instead of messengers of the eternal mercies of Christ! Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible for virile, Christian faith, which, under the blessings of God, can work wonders in the hearts and lives of men and help reach that moral recovery so vital for national recovery!

O God, give us the faith that will take Christ at His word, go back to the Scriptures that must be fulfilled, and in Jesus find the assurance that makes life worth living and blessed death worth dying. Grant us all this benediction, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: March 13, 1938

A Prayer for Comfort

God, a mighty Fortress for the oppressed, our Refuge in all temptation:

For the sake of the bleeding sorrows of Thy Son, our Savior, forgive us our repeated transgressions. We put our trust entirely in Christ’s overabundant grace and know that because of Him Thou wilt not utterly forsake us, even though we have forsaken Thee. Thou who art Grace and Truth and Power, we ask Thee to make our faith a trust so beautiful and radiant that through Jesus we can find advantage in every affliction. When it seems that calamity is our continuing heritage and we are ready to sink into complaint and self-pity, let us find relief for our burdened hearts in Thy fatherly love. Control over life and death alike is Thine; and because at times we discern Thee only dimly, give us a clearer vision of Christ’s pardoning love. Take possession of our wills that we may not waste our energies in futile worry and vain regrets but find refuge under the shadow of Thy wing. In the multitude of our needs let us not overlook the needs of others. Rather give us a practical sympathy with their sufferings. Call us constantly to repentance and ever send us Thy Spirit with the assurance of Thine unfailing companionship in every lonely hour. Hear us in the name of the blessed Friend of sinners and Conqueror of sin, Jesus Christ, our Savior! Amen.

Ye . . . shall leave Me alone: and yet I am not alone because the Father is with Me.John 16:32

TWO hundred years ago, in the French and Indian War, nine-year-old Regina Hartmann and her young sister were captured by a band of marauding Indians near their home in Eastern Pennsylvania and forced to march more than four hundred miles through untracked forests, over the high Alleghenies, across treacherous rivers, to the camping-grounds of the red men. Here Regina, separated from her sister, completely detached from the world of her own people, grew up the berated slave of a cruel squaw. Gradually the habits of Indian life began to change Regina; yet never, in gloomy forests or dirty wigwams, could she escape an overpowering sense of loneliness and desertion. That bitter darkness was brightened by only one ray of hope—her faith in Christ and the sustaining power of prayer. Hers were God-fearing parents, and her father especially had taught his daughters many hymns and prayers. One of the sacred songs she could never forget; over the frenzy of war-whoops and in silent midnights she could hear it; of all hymns she remembered that this one was written for her since its first lines read: “Alone, and yet not all alone, I am in this my loneliness.” Often, when the vigilance of the squaw relaxed, the captive maiden would steal into the forest, kneel down in prayer, and then raise her voice to sing confidently: “Alone, and yet not all alone.” In this way she kept Christ as her Friend and Guide. After nine terrifying years the Indians were defeated, and by the terms of the treaty of peace all white prisoners were to be released. From many sections of Pennsylvania eager relatives hastened to Carlisle, where the prisoners were to be restored to their families. Heartbreaking as it seemed, those long years with the Indians had wrought such changes that Mrs. Hartmann could not identify her daughter; but when the mother hopefully recalled that her child had learned a number of hymns, mentioning the opening lines of several favorites, a young woman stepped forward from the ranks of the ex-captives and, strangely moved, began to sing: “Alone, and yet not all alone am I.” That song, together with other childhood hymns, completed the recognition, and in a moment mother and daughter were locked in each other’s embrace, shedding tears of joy over their happy reunion.

Pennsylvanians are projecting a monument to the memory of Regina Hartmann; but let us throughout the nation rather dedicate in the shrine of our hearts a memorial to her unwavering assurance of the Savior’s constant companionship during the pain of that loneliness.

Few sorrows are more widespread than the feeling of isolation, the suffering when one is destitute of all human help, deprived of all human hope, when no one in the wide world can understand one’s problems and solve one’s perplexities. Many of you know the pitiless pressure of that inner loneliness, and at some time all of you will experience that pain of solitude. You mothers deserted by your husbands; you young folks, with your dreams of married happiness cruelly shattered; you the aged, advancing beyond the threescore and ten, the fourscore, and, as some of you write, the century milestone of life, only to see your friends fall by the wayside, one after the other; you the bereaved, from whom death has snatched one whose happiness you held dearer than your own; above all, you whom sin has terrorized, who find yourselves lost in life, without a guide, without a goal,—you know that inner loneliness, that carrying of a burden which no one else can share, that standing alone on the crossroads of life where no friend can take your hand to direct you, that suffering of a harshness which no human sympathy can soften.

While all human remedies offer no guarantee against loneliness, we have, thank God, a divine cure that operates, not with surgery, medicine, psychology, but through our blessed Lord Jesus Christ and the constant companionship through which He enriches the lives of His children. With Him as our Savior and Friend, we, too, can face the most abysmal loneliness of life and still exult:

“ALONE, YET NOT ALONE,”

for through faith we understand the deep meaning of His words “Ye . . . shall leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone because the Father is with Me,” Saint John 16:32.

I

CHRIST’S CONFIDENCE IN THE LONELINESS OF HIS SUFFERING

These sad words “Ye . . . shall leave Me alone” were among the last addressed by Christ to His disciples; and little did they realize how soon this prophecy of their desertion and cowardice would be fulfilled. A few hours after Jesus had left the upper room, we find Him, as the Passover’s silver moon bathes the Garden of Gethsemane in its soft whiteness, kneeling alone in the last hour before His betrayal and arrest. He might have avoided that Garden, the spot where, as He knew, Judas, the hirelings of the churchmen, the brutal soldiers, and the bloodthirsty, armed mob would soon crush in on Him. He might have swayed the fickle holiday crowd in Jerusalem to acclaim Him and to turn against the jealousy of the priests, for a miracle could have transformed Him from a public enemy to a popular hero. He might have led the masses to revive their plan of placing the kingly crown upon His brow; a few loaves of bread, multiplied for the mob, would have made them clamor for His bountiful rule. But instead, Jesus walks resolutely into the shadows of Gethsemane and the hands of His murderers. He deliberately prepares to strengthen Himself against the cry of angry voices shrieking for His blood, to receive, not the diadem of royalty, but the cutting crown of thorns. His hour has come, the hour that long before had caused Him to shudder; and from that moment until His death-cry on the cross His soul was to be racked by agony, continuous and unrelenting.

So terrifying was the foreknowledge of this anguish that our blessed Savior yearned for the cheering, sustaining presence of His disciples, who could share His sorrows and whisper words of comfort to His sorrow-burdened soul. While eight of the disciples waited without the Garden, three, Peter, James, and John, the privileged group chosen to witness the transfiguration, the greatest display of the Savior’s glory, the three selected to behold the miracle of raising the daughter of Jairus, were now admitted into the sacred intimacy of His deep suffering.

Never has there been any agony like Christ’s. Listen to Him as His quavering voice breaks the stillness of the Garden to cry, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” These words mean just what they say—the sorrow of Gethsemane almost killed the blessed Christ. Only a little more and the weight of these woes would have ended His life. The sweat that falls from His pallid face and His tortured body as great drops of blood; the desolate cry of a breaking heart; the angel that revives the Christ of God—all these grip us, even today in our callous existence, as the beginning of the cruelest torture. that ever racked the soul of a sufferer.

“Why,” we ask, “did such terror lay its trembling hold on Jesus?” Was His a sensitive soul, that shrank from the disgrace of His arrest and the shame of the cross? That cannot be the answer to the mystery of His suffering; for how serenely had He withstood the sneers and blasphemies of those who had said that He, the Son of God, was allied with the devil! Did Jesus shudder in fear of the death that before another day had ended would claim His life? Death would have been a sweet relief from His suffering in the Garden. Many of you have witnessed what transcendent happiness the last hour can bring; you have seen how some of your own beloved ones have smilingly welcomed the end. Surely He who blesses the life and the death of His own would show even more courage and joy and resolution in the face of death than did that great company of Christian martyrs in the first centuries and in the twentieth, whose faltering lips spoke of hope and joy and peace.

We understand Gethsemane only when we realize that Jesus endured these infinite agonies because God “hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” To bear the sins of all the world; to pay the whole price demanded for the ransom of the wrongs of all mankind; to be made “sin for us,” although He Himself “knew no sin,” to feel in these hours the penalty of the accumulated wickedness of all the centuries,—that was the soul agony that almost took the Savior’s life.

How lightly and quickly have many accustomed themselves to say, “Jesus bore the sins of all the world”! Oh, how little we understand the consequences of our own sins! Think of the tragedies provoked by a single transgression of God’s Law. A thought of hatred that makes a man a murderer, a word of lust that finally breaks the happiness of the family, an act of selfish grasping that ultimately throws nations into long and bloody wars, such is the price that men pay for sin here on earth. What of the far greater consequences after this life, the appalling penalty of eternal death, everlasting punishment, perpetual banishment from God? If that is the wreck and ruin of one unforgiven sin, how terrifying the burden of all human transgressions borne by our Savior!

No wonder Jesus shrinks from being left alone in the dread hour of this ordeal and pleads with the three disciples to watch and pray with Him. It is a small request He asks, this death-watch; we grant it willingly today even to the coarsest murderer. The devotion of the disciples should count it one of their holiest privileges! Hardly has Jesus knelt down, only a short distance from those who in the beginning had been chosen “that they should be with Him,” when the very disciples who had unhesitatingly promised to drink the cup that He would drink, self­confident Peter, who a few moments before had earnestly pledged that, if all were to desert Christ, his loyalty would remain untamished,—hardly had Jesus begun His prayer when His death-watch sank in heavy slumber, overcome by exhaustion and sorrow.

We are distressed by this drowsy indifference to the sufferings of Christ’s torn soul, and we wonder how these companions of Christ, blessed as no other human beings had ever been blessed, could have remained aloof from the Savior’s suffering as He began His descent into His valley of the shadow of death. Before we make comparisons, let us be honest enough to admit that today, too, a sleepy world neglects its Christ. Statesmen have closed their eyes to the great soul needs of the hour and have bitterly opposed Jesus. Even churches slumber on, in distracted indifference toward the cross of Christ, churches that are ready to take up the sword and fervently launch secular programs but that drug themselves into a stupor regarding the great central doctrine of the Bible, the divine atonement through Christ. If all the churches in the United States and Canada were awake and alert, would we be caught in the present chaos? Do you think that, if the Christian forces of America were watching and praying with Christ instead of lulling their followers, as many churches do, into dreams of sweet security and singing lullabies about man’s eternal goodness, spiritual life would recede to its frequent low ebb? Do you really think that, if a sacred vigilance would shake the sleeping churches out of their complacency, their desire for the comfortable Christianity that does not like to offend the non-Christian, that preaches the same message to the Jew, the Mohammedan, the Christian, we would have the weak, wilting caricature of Christianity which we behold on all sides? O God, arouse us from this stupor; shake our souls, so that out of this blight of indifference to Christ there may come forth a new, watchful, prayerful generation! Awaken some of us today who from this hour on will kneel with Christ and work with Christ and gain their victory through Christ!

For that victory we need a firmly grounded faith, not the hot and cold, strong and weak, fire-and-ashes type of faith that in one moment cries “Hallelujah!” and in the next changes to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The trouble with the sleeping disciples was that their belief fluctuated with their emotions; and today the call of the hour is not for emotionalism but for sound, Scriptural indoctrination, a full, clear, reverent understanding of Jesus and His atoning love, in the pulpit and the pew.

Christ in the Garden has been the loneliest figure of all history. Today we glorify loneliness that makes newspaper headlines, when solitary scientists, like Admiral Byrd, isolate themselves in the frozen fastnesses of Little America or when intrepid adventurers like Colonel Lindbergh, the Lone Eagle, blaze new air trails, alone in the dark and icy skies between two continents, with the black waters yawning below. We marvel at the majestic solitude of those who, championing truth and right, tower to solitary heights above their fellow-men and their age: Lincoln, the loneliest of all the Presidents, or Martin Luther, the lone monk, who defied a world arrayed against him. Yet their burden of solitude cannot even bear comparison with the sinking loneliness of Jesus. “Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled,” we read, in fulfilment of His warning “Ye . . . shall leave Me alone.” Alone He stood before Caiaphas and Pilate; for among the many whom He had helped in their body and soul and mind not one was grateful and faithful enough to stay with Him. Alone He faced the perjury and the blasphemy of His fellow-countrymen. Alone He received the death-sentence, and even the Talmud, commenting on His solitary sufferings, contains the legend that for forty days before Jesus’ death a herald hastened throughout Judea to ask if there were any who would intercede for Him; but no one, the Talmud concludes, pleaded His cause. Alone He died on the cross, without a single human voice raised to defend Him or a human hand lifted to help Him. How true His mournful prediction “Ye . . . shall leave Me alone”!

Bowed by the weight of all sin, Jesus still could say: “And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” As we discover Him in the Garden deserted by His disciples and behold His pathetic figure dimly etched against the April moonlight, we see that Christ knew where to find unfailing strength, courage, and companionship for that last loneliness. He turns to God and prays the most penetrating prayer that can ever reach the Almighty. Confronted by the curse of our sin, His piercing cry rings through the silence of the night: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” Three times He pleads with God, and finally He is steeled for His suffering. His own might forsakes Him, but His Father had given Him the assurance “I am not alone.” Except in that deepest suffering, when the divine wrath against sin spent its fury on His soul and He screamed: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He was not deserted; and because the unutterable love of God, who “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” was with Christ, the cross was not the final chapter, the grave was not the end. That trust in His heavenly Father was not misplaced; God gloriously raised Him from the dead to prove the truth of His confidence: “Alone, . . . yet . . . not alone, because the Father is with Me.”

II

THE CHRISTIAN’S CONFIDENCE DURING HIS LONELINESS

None of us can live completely beyond the overreaching shadow of loneliness. Money cannot buy exemption from its depressing power; for some of the wealthiest people I know are the loneliest. Culture cannot secure the release from its black spell; for it is said that the man who owns one of the greatest chains of newspapers in the world forbids every one to mention death in his presence. Nor has political power kept great leaders from experiencing that forsaken, banished feeling which robs life of its peace. Think of exiled Napoleon pacing the sands of St. Helena or of Nicolai Lenin, helpless despite his dictatorial powers, dying a pathetic death while the physicians clustered about his bedside engage in cold, disinterested bantering!

As we see the Christ of Gethsemane, behold His blanched face, clenched hands, lips parted in agonized prayer, great drops of death-sweat falling from His body, His disciples vanished into the background, the darkness almost rumbling overhead, yet withal the face of Christ and His eyes of trust directed heavenward to God, let us remember that whatever burden of loneliness may weigh us down, He has promised: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world”; that, no matter how dark the road, our faith in Him enables us to feel His abiding presence, to grasp His strengthening hand, to experience the truth of His promise: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”

See how gloriously Christ, who through faith in Him restores us to the open arms of His Father, can enrich our empty lives! Many of you are troubled by secret sins. They isolate you, build a wall around you, cut off your happiness. A distracted young woman in the South, uncertain of Christ’s pardon and forgiveness, writes that the peace of her soul has vanished. The young man to whom she was engaged has suddenly married some one else, and the shock of this desertion, recalling an unholy transgression of God’s Law, makes that young woman feel alone in a drab and grasping world. To her and to the ten times ten thousand others whose loneliness is the same in principle and whose sorrow is only different in kind I say: Behold the forsaken Savior once more and with penitent hearts believe that just as soon as you can say in trusting faith: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me, grant me Thy peace,”—your loneliness is over; you have a heavenly champion “that sticketh closer than a brother.” Let His grace enrich your poor, lonely, joy-starved hearts! Trust Him and His never-failing, close-at-hand guidance, His blood-bought cleansing of your soul, and you will know that, if all else in life disappears and the closest ties of blood and friendship are severed, yet with Him at your side, you can say: “Alone . . . yet . . . not alone.”

How many of you there are who are earnestly striving for a better, cleaner, purer life! Your conscience is burdened by the tragedy that, against your better knowledge and with fatal frequency, you succumb to unholy impulses. You want to defeat sin and live closer to God. Thousands of you young men and women want to lead clean, chaste lives and keep yourselves pure for your life’s companion; and yet, try as you may, it seems to many of you that you are fighting a solitary battle against unnumbered foes, that temptations crowd in to support the lustful longings of your all too human heart and our Christless world. To you I say in the name of this lonely Christ and the words of our beloved hymn:

Go to dark Gethsemane,

Ye that feel the Tempter’s power;

Your Redeemer’s conflict see,

Watch with Him one bitter hour;

Turn not from His griefs away,

Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

When you men and women trying to break the slavery of some degrading sin watch and pray with Christ, you will not be alone; you will have the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and the resources of this triumphant Trinity to assure you of the blessed answer. Once you learn to pray with Christ in the name of His holy love and in reliance on His divine grace, you will have the strength of Heaven to help you overcome earth’s weakness.

This week has brought again scores of those shattering letters that teach us anew how much sorrow can be crowded into a home or a heart. Another tearful account of a child of fourteen months that will never be able to sit up, never be able to speak or smile or think! Another story of terrifying death on the highway with a brave patrol officer cut down by a hit-and-run driver! A poor demented sufferer staggers into my office to claim that he is the crucified Christ Himself! An only son snatched from the land of the living! How cruel life sometimes seems and how lonely and forsaken the empty hearts of the afflicted! Yet—praise be to the eternal love that will not let us go!—the deepest tragedies cannot find us alone if we are Christ’s. As the broken grave on Easter came after the cross of Good Friday, once we are Christ’s, our sorrows will turn to our greater good, and after the sufferings of this time will come the celestial glories, where there is no loneliness, no parting.

Say to Jesus now: “Take Thou my hand and lead me O’er life’s rough way,” and as your heart of faith glows with His blessed presence, He will stand at your side in sickness, in loss, when the mortgage is foreclosed on your home, when the floods sweep it away, when family troubles arise, when you find yourself, as thousands of you do, isolated because of your sins and imprisoned! Take Christ, particularly in preparation for that final journey when only He can accompany you, when you leave all else behind and as a solitary traveler launch out alone, to worlds unseen. For if you, watching and praying with Christ in the Garden, have that triumphant faith which penitently seeks His sure mercies, there will never be any sorrow, any fear of death, in which, beholding Christ, you can declare: “I am ‘alone . . . yet . . . not alone,’ because through Christ my gracious, loving, forgiving Father in heaven is with me now and forever.” God grant you all this abiding blessing—Christ in your soul and life. Amen!

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: March 6, 1938

Supplication for Christ’s Presence in the Home

Blessed Savior:

Our hearts are raised thankfully to Thee for the love with which Thou hast blessed the Christian homes of our land. On the way to Thy bitter sufferings on Calvary Thou didst tarry to bring salvation into the home of a sinner; on the night of Thy betrayal Thou didst ask for a guest-chamber in one of the Judean homes; nailed to the cross, Thou didst provide a home for Thy bereft mother. Graciously behold us, with the joys and sorrows of our family circles; come into our homes with Thy redeeming, sin-removing presence, Thy strengthening, purifying love, Thine everlasting, death-destroying hope, so that with Thee, as the divine Guest, even in the poorest, smallest home and in the hearts of the homeless, parents and children may find pardon for their sins, peace with the Father and the promise of the eternal home in heaven. Unfold to us that heavenly wisdom and prudence by which we make time and find occasion to commune with Thee daily in Thy Word and in fervent family prayer! Endow us with that reverent obedience which constantly seeks to meet Thy will in our family relations and by Thy Spirit to live with Thee and for Thee in our hearts and homes! Come, then, Lord Jesus, be our Guest! Bless us and abide with us now and forever! Amen.

The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guest-chamber?Luke 22:11

HOW suddenly disaster can overtake our homes! Last Sunday no one in Southern California anticipated how swift destruction could sweep from the Sierra Madre Mountains down upon the coastal cities. Five days of heavy downpour filled the ravines with swirling waters; dry river beds became roaring torrents, and as these walls of water crashed their way to the sea, bridges, highways, buildings, were carried away in the swath of ruin that made many an eyewitness think of the end of all things. Crowds stood by helplessly as their dwellings broke and toppled into the worst flood which that garden spot has known in sixty years. Among the houses left standing, hundreds were found to be uninhabitable. Conservative estimates place the number of homeless at no fewer than ten thousand, the damages to homeowners at more than ten million.

That was havoc concentrated into a few hours’ time, restricted to a relatively small area; and as we express our sympathy to those who have thus suffered disheartening losses, we know that in the wake of this water-soaked ruin rebuilding operations will soon remove the scars of destruction. More serious family disaster, that leaves an irremovable mark, home collapse, that can never be rebuilt, is an everyday tragedy throughout the nation. Cold figures tell us that, if the last seven days were an average week, about five thousand American homes were shattered by divorce. One million American homes, approximately, were blighted by acute pain, lingering sickness, the loss of sight and limb, the flickering flame of age. Two million and more homes were destitute of any income except Federal or local relief, as meager as this often is. Eight million underprivileged families have lived through another scant week, while twenty-seven thousand American homes were overshadowed by that final and deepest sorrow, death. Yet no research can give us the appalling total of the homes that mask to the world their heart anguish and misery, the homes where marital dishonesty is exiling the last remnants of love; where pride and selfishness are making husband and wife hate each other; where drunkenness and debauch, lying and cursing, are turning dreams of happiness into a nightmare of regrets; homes where thankless children are robbing their parents of their peace, bringing them into premature graves; families that are defiled by rebellion against God, contempt for Christ and His Bible. These homes cannot be restored by flood relief, reconstructed according to blueprints, rebuilt with Federal aid.

For strength in these sorrows that follow sin; for help in the sudden afflictions that can befall any family even in the moment of its highest happiness; for an antidote against lust, blind passion, selfishness, we must have, not uniform marriage and divorce laws, not enlarged social service and increased staffs of case-workers, not new ideas in child-training and new programs for home management, not charm courses and personality instruction, not merely an understanding of the budget nor education in the problems of the homes; before and beyond all this we must have the pardoning, cleansing, strengthening, purifying presence of Christ. Not to be misunderstood or have the force of my assertion weakened, I repeat: For better, happier, stronger, purer homes, which will be the forecast and foretaste of the heavenly mansions, we need Jesus, our divine, eternal Christ, our Savior, Redeemer, and Ransom from sin.

Now, it is the undeserved mercy of Jesus that He seeks entrance into your household and eagerly awaits your invitation, by His presence to bless every family from the East to the West joined in the far-flung reaches of our Sunday worship. As I now put before you individually that question which Jesus asked at the beginning of His Lenten suffering in the words “The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guest-chamber?” (Saint Luke 22:11), will you not answer—and I ask you now to repeat this response aloud with me:

“COME, LORD JESUS, BE OUR GUEST”

and welcome Him with His immeasurable blessings to your hearthside?

I

WE NEED THE LORD JESUS AS OUR GUEST

It was on Thursday, the last full day of the Savior’s life, that this memorable question was asked, and according to ancient custom the Passover lamb was to be eaten that night. Where were these paschal rites to be held? He who as almighty God could commandeer all the treasures of the universe, as weak, suffering Man had no home, no legal title to an inch of space on the earth which, with all its fulness, was His own. So destitute was Christ—and remember this, you to whom radical agitators portray Christ’s religion as a creed for the comfortable suburbanite—that He once exclaimed: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” Jesus might have celebrated that Passover with His friends in nearby Bethany; He could have selected any one of many homes in Jerusalem, benefited by His miraculous healing or help; for in spite of open disapproval by priests and scribes, hundreds who had been blessed by His power would gladly have placed their dwellings at His disposal. For His last unbroken hours with His disciples, however, and for His parting instructions to those who would soon be called to start the Gospel of forgiveness on its victorious course throughout the world, Jesus had selected a certain home in Jerusalem and within that home a definite upper room. There, removed from the turmoil of that great holiday when more than a quarter of a million Passover lambs were slaughtered, Jesus, as the one Lamb of God, whose sin-bearing would make the Passover sacrifice unnecessary, could give to His disciples and us, in the literal truth of His last will and testament, not merely a memorial, but the Sacrament, His own holy body and blood.

We know nothing of the exact location of this house or of the identity of the owner. To prevent men from honoring the place rather than reverencing the Christ, all distracting details are omitted. Some conjecture that it was the home of Joseph of Arimathea to whom Jesus sent His disciples with the request “Where is the guest-chamber, where I shall eat the passover with My disciples?” Others, with more probability, suggest the house of John Mark. Who knows what the true facts are?

One personal, penetrating fact we do know: This same Christ—the excruciating agonies of the first Good Friday passed forever, the redemption through His blood accomplished for all eternity—sends to every one of us the message “The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guest­ chamber?” It matters not what size and value, material and architecture, furnishings and facilities, location and neighborhood, your home may have nor what financial and social rating, race and nationality, schooling and culture, your family; the Christ who is every man’s Redeemer, who on the cross loved all the world to its remotest reaches, says, not of a sifted few listed in the Blue Book, Who’s Who, the Social Register, Bradstreet’s, but of every home: “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.”

How sorely we need the abiding presence of this divine Guest in every one of our homes, surrounded as we are by well-organized, highly commercialized attacks on the home and Christ’s ideals of family life! Let us look at the facts. Think, for example, of the magazine madness that has gripped this nation, the open indecency and blatant vulgarity featured in suggestive sex publications with their applause for prostitution, their acclaim of fashionable harlotry, their gloating over brazen adultery, their suggestive drawings, revolting illustrations, featured in the present craze for picture magazines, and remember that your twelve-year-old son can put ten cents on the newsstand and take away one of these immoral publications that will leave its sensuous appeal irradicably impressed upon his young mind. Your sixteen-year-old daughter can pay fifty cents for a particularly pernicious magazine with smooth-finished, expensively printed pages that enjoys a large circulation among those who believe that it is fashionable to read filth. Or think of the lending libraries, which cunningly place the worst of all books in a special section conspicuously marked Risque, so that young readers, idle housewives, lecherous husbands, can get right down to the garbage books without any lost motion; remember that the five cents of your children are greedily taken in exchange for the loan of these vicious volumes written by shameless and abandoned writers.

This is only one sector of the assault on purity and decency systematically promoted in many hotels and nightclubs, taverns and dance-halls. The same attack, though usually veiled, is seen all too frequently by the thirteen million people who every day pay their admission to American motion-picture theaters. One of the latest offenses, and one of the most dangerous, is the crafty commercialism, the diabolic deceit and falsehood practised by some of the agencies engaged in the manufacture and spreading of material for the artificial restriction of the family. Some of you druggists have been thoughtful enough to mail me the propaganda and literature issued by these concerns, and I have never seen anything more greedy and grasping than the profit-seeking and the fraud advertised by some of these ill-famed businesses.

With marriage ridiculed, parenthood scorned, childhood left to entertain itself with newspaper comic strips, gangster movies, and crime broadcasts; with preachers bringing reproach on the name of the Church by conducting marriage mills, where drunken couples and runaway children can be made man and wife, or other preachers championing divorce, organizing birth-control clinics, making dance-halls of their parish-halls; with the American death-rate perilously close to the dropping birthrate, we ought to realize that, as no nation in the past has been able to withstand the ravages of immorality and decay of the home, so this nation cannot escape disintegration unless it upholds domestic morality. Because this is a civic issue, of greater importance than many of the programs over which our legislators are engrossed; because any state, whether it is Christian or pagan, must seek to maintain the virtues of purity and decency, the sanctity of the home and the blessing of marriage, I ask all you public-spirited citizens, as your fellow-American, to take decisive action against every manifestation of immorality, whether in print, on the air, on the screen or stage, or in any form of commercialized entertainment. Protest against all this, organize against it, and drive these greedy enemies of purity from your communities!

As a Christian and a minister of Jesus Christ, however, I ask for much more. Civic organizations, new laws and enactments cannot completely meet this crisis. It has been shown that in too many cases police officers and higher-ups, paid to preserve law and decency, have connived with the underworld and worked hand in glove with lawyers devoid of all conscience, honesty, and ethics, as the tragedies which the great prophet Isaiah denounced are enacted before our eyes. I ask for more than education, because we must realize that some of our biggest and intellectually best colleges and universities are not taking the right stand for the home, for marriage, and for parenthood; that in some of these schools, even among those endowed by Christian people for the teaching of Christian virtues, the most infamous radicals thrive. They are the generalissimos in the satanic assault on the home, who have led thousands of our young people, sent to college with the prayers and by the sacrifices of their parents, to discard their Christian faith and regard themselves as educated animals, urged by bestial lusts, that must be answered fully and without any restriction imposed by the Bible or by Christ. Even in those cultural citadels where men of civic honor refrain from attacking the home, education alone can never solve our domestic problems nor end the quest for personal purity. Dr. Richard Cabot of Boston in his new book states that, if knowledge were the prerequisite for purity, physicians and nurses, with their intimate knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and disease, might be expected to be the most chaste and moral of all human beings. He declares, however, that his forty-year contact with medical people has shown him that they are no better in this respect than others, and that in his long practise he cannot recall a single instance in which any of his patients was beset by trouble or disease contracted through ignorance of the facts of life. Of course, we hear a great deal about education in that widespread and commendable warfare waged against the social maladies and their ravages of body and soul; but how much better it would be if, instead of waiting until these terrors come and then trying to cure them, we could stop them before they start by an effective program of purity, by creating, with God’s help, within men what education, directed to the mind, can never produce, a new heart, and by renewing a right spirit within us. Only Christ can do that; only He can strengthen us to wage a successful battle against the regiments of impurity and spiritual ruin; and for that reason, when He asks you today, “Where is the guest-chamber?” may you answer with ready hearts and deepened faith, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest!”

We must answer, “Be our Guest,” not only on account of this iron ring of impurity that surrounds the family from without; we need His blessed presence to counteract the sin and the selfishness that thrive within every one of us. Have you ever noticed that inexplicable tragedy by which people who present a cordial, polite appearance to the world about them reserve their bestial side for the home and release their meanness on those who ought to be dearer than all the world to them? Street angels and house devils! Give human avarice and lust free play, and you will witness with your own eyes that men can sink even lower than the beast. Last week a God-fearing mother wrote that her husband had deserted her and her four young children, leaving her penniless, for another married woman; and now in brazen sin he lives with that adulteress next door to his own wife and children. From such harrowing cases of unfaithfulness and desertion, through cruelties that make husbands brutes or that tear demanding, extravagant, luxury-loving wives or mothers from the home, with no companionship for the husband, no love for children, no interest for cooking, washing, cleaning, mending, through the disobedience of children, the neglect of their parents, to the smaller, trivial misunderstandings that break the peace in the home, we have a telltale, tearful catalog of sin and its consequences. No police methods will break that power. A prison warden may bring his cat-o’-nine­ tails twenty times down the back of a wife-beater, but that will not drive sin from his heart. You cannot educate families against domestic warfare nor successfully give young people a high-school course on home obligations and expect all evidences of disrespect and ingratitude to disappear. Only One can solve the problem of sin, forgive and remove it, restrict its ravages, and strengthen us for the new life, and that is the Christ, who even now asks you, “Where is the guest-chamber?” and to whom, I pray, you will answer, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest!”

II

WE WILL BE BLESSED WHEN THE LORD JESUS IS OUR GUEST

When you open your hearts and your homes to Christ, accepting Him as your own all-powerful, all-loving, all­sufficient, all-forgiving Savior; when, in effect, you say, “O Christ, You have asked me, ‘Where is the guest­ chamber?’ I know that I am not worthy to have You come into this all too sinful heart; yet I cling to Your promise of mercy. I believe the promises of grace. I know that You suffered for me, that You were buffeted, beaten, bruised, for me; that the vengeance wreaked upon You before Annas and Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, the agonies afflicted on Your holy body by Your own countrymen and the Roman soldiery, that the weight of agony crushing Your soul as You hung suspended from Calvary’s cross,—that all this was for me, on my account, the payment for the ransom of my sins; and so, impure, sinful, unclean, I come to You, just as I am, to be strengthened by faith, to have Your divine assurance that in the sight of God I am pure, cleansed, free from the stain and the guilt of sin. O come into this heart of mine, into this house dedicated to You and Your love, and be our beloved, revered Guest”; when you answer this question of Jesus, “Where is the guest-chamber?” with that faith and that love, then that Savior will hold His happy entrance into your home and bless it first of all with the assurance of forgiveness for every wrong that lingers in your lives. I cannot emphasize this truth too often, and I wish that it were possible to proclaim it every day; the first, basic foundation truth for the happiness of your family, but particularly for the blessed assurance of the eternal home is this trusting faith in the free mercies of Jesus which this Lententide seeks to impress upon you.

I know of course that there may be a modicum of external happiness without Christ. Perhaps the pagan Zulus in darkest Africa, steeped in their witchcraft, superstition, and terrorizing idolatry, have a kind of happiness in their dirty kraals. I will concede that the young men and young women who are joined in marriage by the justice of the peace because they do not want to have any association whatever with the Church may enjoy a type of satisfaction in their married life. I am not asking that you say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” to receive that minimum of human happiness. I want you to have in your home the peace which passes all understanding, the joy which the world cannot have, the happiness from heaven, the assurance that with forgiven sin and the personal presence of Jesus our home-life can be enriched in a way that makes our groping, Christless world seem destitute by comparison.

The longer we contemplate this mercy, the more we are amazed at the depths of Christ’s divine riches, even to those who fear that they may have sinned too disastrously to merit His presence. It was Jesus who, far from minimizing the sin against the commandment of purity, nevertheless refused to cast a stone on that scarlet woman, penitent before her accusers. It was Jesus who indicted even the lustful thoughts of the heart, yet who spoke peace to a woman of sin kneeling before Him in the house of Simon, the Pharisee, much to the dismay of the smug and self­righteous. Today He is still the same Christ of all mercies; He does not ask what kind of home you have. You may live in one of the company houses in back of the slag heaps near a Pennsylvania colliery or in a one-room cabin in the tiff-mining districts of Missouri; yours may be basement rooms, an alley shack, or a furnished room or a crowded tenement. Men may keep their distance from your doors; but as the Savior in the days of His flesh entered the house of Levi, the publican, and ate with that outcast, saying: “I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance”; as He tarried with the half-breed Samaritans and later, hastening steadfastly to Jerusalem, interrupted the march to His death by entering the home of Zacchaeus, another hated publican, to speak the promise: “This day is salvation come to this house, . . . for the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost,” that divine Christ is now eagerly poised before your threshold, awaiting your invitation, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

When He enters our home, He comes with peace and strength to curb our lusts; for the peace of God which comes to us once we are justified by faith reflects itself in the peace which we maintain with our fellow-men. This is no theory; this is tangible, provable fact. Put Christ into the hearts and lives of husband and wife, and you will find the highest of all human love, so holy that the Scriptures employ it as a figure of Christ’s self-denying, self-sacrificing devotion for the Church. Put Christ into any home, and parents and children will be welded together in an unselfish affection mirroring that sacred love by which God calls the believers in Christ His children. Homes blessed by our glorious Savior will reecho His patience, His forbearance, His willingness to share burdens. Homes with Jesus as the perpetual Guest are not the problem homes of America today.

True, Christ as the unseen but ever-present Guest in every Christian home holds out none of those attractions by which men like to gauge happiness. His indwelling is no charm against the afflictions, trials, pains, sorrows, that the human heart fears and from which it craves escape. If we could put Christ’s cross on American doorposts to keep out sickness, reverses, death, you and I know that every home across the sweep of this broad continent would be conspicuously cross-marked. Because Jesus promises us no such exemption from suffering, millions of our homes are closed to Him. If only unhappy men and women could realize the far richer blessings that this divine Guest bestows on those who are His, as He permits grief only for the sake of greater glory, pain only for final praise, poverty only for ultimate riches, loss only for spiritual and heavenly gain, sickness of the body only for health of the soul! Are you troubled with the wearying pains of sickness? Read how Jesus went into Peter’s house on the shores of Galilee, touched and cured the disciple’s mother-in-law, and remember that, if it be the will of God, even though the doctors shake their heads and say, “No,” Jesus can say, “Yes!” And if it is not His will, then His love has already prepared a greater blessing. Is your home troubled with religious doubts? Some students of the New Testament believe that this unmarked upper room may well have been the place where, after the three hardest days in their lives, the disciples first beheld their risen Savior; that it was here, too, after fifty anxious days, the Pentecost flames of fire descended upon the apostles’ heads. In the same way the risen Savior, once He becomes the permanent Guest in your home, will remove all the questions and give you the faith by which you exult, “I know whom I have believed.” Are you face to face with financial difficulties and problems of the home? Our royal Guest was born in a stable, His parents were poor. He never had a bank account, but He told Martha, busily engaged with her household problems, “One thing is needful.” If you have in Christ that one essential blessing: firm, sure faith, you can conquer all restrictions. Do you live in one of the five thousand homes on which death placed its mark this week? Then look to Jesus with enlarged trust and say, “Come now, Lord Jesus, and abide with us amid all human sorrow and the grief of this departure!” He who entered the house of Jairus to take the cold, lifeless hand of a girl and say, “Maid, arise,” will give you the assurance that He has spoken this command for the new life to the souls of your departed beloved fallen asleep in the faith.

The great and all-surpassing blessing which comes when Christ abides with us is not this, that He would call the departed back to earthly life, but that in the indescribable magnificence of the next world fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, may be united in heavenly reunion and live forever with those saved by His grace. What a blessed hope to know that on the great day of the resurrection Jesus will say, “Come into the many mansions of My Father’s heavenly house,” and we shall answer, “Yea, Lord Jesus, thanks be to Thee, we come!”

Have you answered the question of Jesus “Where is the guest-chamber?” with the joyous “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest”? I could show you that Christ in the home presents a simple, effective, and assured plan for national recovery and stability. Put the Savior in every American home (and that means, introduce Bible-reading and prayer into every family circle), bring up American children with Christian training and ideals, and the rampant forces of unbelief responsible for the present debacle will be checked. I could show you that Christ, fully welcomed and completely enthroned in every home connected with the Christian churches of America, would bring the most stupendous revival of Christian forces that American history knows, and that for this reason the effort of the churches should be directed to a more systematic study of the spiritual problems of family life. Above all I want to promise you in the Savior’s name that, as long as you take Christ into your home, begin and dose the day with family prayer, find time for Scripture-reading; as long as you sit down to your meals and join in the prayer that millions raise to God three times every day: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest and let these gifts to us be blessed”; as long as you have Jesus in your heart and resolve, as I hope many of you have done, “Christ is the Head of this house, the unseen Guest at every meal, the silent Listener to every conversation,” yours will be one of the dearest previsions of heaven that we can ever enjoy on earth.

Listen, then, once more to Jesus, only a few hours before the agony of the Garden and the torture of the cross, as He sends this message to you: “The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guest-chamber?” and may God grant that young and old in every home within range of this broadcast will repeat aloud this invitation and assurance of faith: “O blessed Lord Jesus, come, abide with us!” Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: February 27, 1938

A Lenten Prayer

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world:

Have mercy upon us! Grant us Thy peace! As we again approach the Lenten season and the meditation of Thy sin-destroying anguish and death, open our eyes so that we may see ourselves as we are without Thee, helpless, lost in our sins; and then in Thy mercy give us that vision of faith by which we can behold ourselves as we are with Thee, assured of Thine everlasting blessings. O Thou Christ of all compassion, draw us to Thee so that in Thy cross, Thy bleeding and dying, we may, wherever we are and, O Christ, whatever we are, find all that our souls need for the sorrows of this world and the glories of the next. As Thou didst love us unto that bitter, pain-ridden end, help us remain faithful to Thee unto our last hour, continually to fight sin, and with our devotion focused on Thy self-giving compassion to follow in Thy footsteps along paths of service to our needy fellow-men. Bless the contemplation of the Lenten love in many hearts, so that multitudes may come to Thee, repenting of their sins, trusting in Thy blood-bought mercies, and receiving the power to live forever. We ask this by the pledge of the cross and the power of Thy saving blood. Amen.

Jesus stood, . . . saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.Luke 18:40-42

THROUGHOUT the Christian world this week the appeal for the soul’s pilgrimage to the cross of Christ resounds in the annual call of Lent. In thousands of churches, towering structures of granite and marble, small frame buildings, and unnoticed mission-stations, in the secret assemblies of Soviet Russia, where atheism despite its boasting has not been able to stamp out the Gospel; beneath exploding bombs in China, in loyalist and rebel Spain, in confident Germany, England, disturbed by cabinet changes, France, overshadowed by communistic menace, in African kraals and India’s palm-thatched chapels, on the coral reefs of the blue Pacific and in the jubilee of Australia, on the northern frontiers of Greenland, and in Alaska, where Eskimos have just erected a heroic statue of Christ,—Christians of every color and clime, however else they may be divided, on Wednesday of this week enter those forty reverent days commemorating our Savior’s suffering and death.

On the threshold of Lent and in preparation for its blessings we invoke the power of God’s Holy Spirit and humbly ask that divine grace may bring many to the cross, there to witness the love of Jesus and in the courage of that new vision to follow Him in contrite faith. Because the souls of men are at stake and our eternity is involved, pray with us and for us that God would remove that blindness which prevents many from seeing themselves as they are and from beholding Christ as He loved us to that sin-cursed, God-forsaken end on the cross—the beginning and the foundation of our assurance of heaven. Come with us to the Throne of Mercy praying in Jesus’ name that this Lenten season may cause great rejoicing among the holy angels of God, as sinners brought to Christ gain a new vision of the thorny crown, the gory cross, the cleansing blood, the atoning death,—and their eternal promise. To this end let us make this our prayer of pre­Lenten preparation:

LORD, GRANT US A NEW VISION!

That was the entreaty directed to Christ Himself in His last days as He hurried to Jerusalem and the ordeal of death; for in Saint Luke (chapter eighteen, verses forty to forty-two) we read: “Jesus stood, . . . saying: What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee.”

I

WE ALL NEED A NEW VISION IN CHRIST

The Savior is near Jericho, on that final, momentous journey from low Jordan to high Jerusalem. An electrifying tenseness has charged the entire atmosphere; for Jesus is engrossed with that sorrow of sorrows which, before another week closes, will rivet Him to the cross, His holy hands, always raised in healing and helping, His holy feet, always directed on missions of mercy, crushed, broken, bleeding, nailed to that tree of death. We often make the mistake of limiting the suffering of Jesus to the few hours that intervened between the agony of the Garden and the death gasp at Calvary; but the very thought of that ordeal, the bearing of all men’s sins, the suffering for all human iniquity, the dying of all human deaths, was so terrifying that long before these death-marked days Jesus had cried out: “How am I straitened till it be accomplished!” It is a different Christ whom the disciples now behold when they see His face resolutely fixed toward Jerusalem. Bewildered and afraid, they follow Him at an unusual distance, seeking to remove every disturbance and distraction. And well might we conclude that, as the Savior steeled Himself for the battle which no man, no legion, no army, has ever fought, the struggle against sin and death and hell, that He would be so gripped by the terror of His own black, abysmal suffering, bleeding, dying, that He would have neither thought nor word for any one on that last hard uphill climb to Jerusalem—and the end.

Yet on that Jericho road, on the last miles of His final pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jesus hears a voice, piteous, pleading, and He halts. Not all the regiments of Rome, the battalions of hell, or the treasures of a million worlds could have stopped Jesus on that march to the cross; but, all­merciful Savior that He is, He pauses for a soul in distress. Try to see any of our prominent bankers or presidents of large corporations, our acclaimed leaders, and you will learn that today the average man can hardly gain audience with the high and mighty. Yet here is Jesus, “God manifest in the flesh,” burdened with the terror of His impending death, and He stops at this insistent plea of human anguish. In our own selfish way we often say: “I have had so much trouble myself that I cannot possibly think of any one else’s suffering.” We often excuse ourselves by explaining: “I want to do something for my afflicted fellow-men, but I have lost so much in recent years that I must look out for myself first.” Yet here we see Jesus, with only seven days to live, with that most agonizing death of all history to die, and He halts on that Jericho road to give every one of us in this self-engrossed, every-man-for-himself age the example of love which our world needs.

Is it not this Christ, this Lord and God, whom you want, the Savior who is never too preoccupied to hear a single voice raised to Him in trusting faith? A hundred other sounds on that eventful day reached His ears amid the drone of voices, the cry of clamor as the crowd marched to the Passover celebration at Jerusalem; yet just as clearly as though there were no other voice in all the world, that Christ of all mercy heard the distracted plea, and though His thoughts were blazing a straight trail to Calvary, He stopped.

Who made Jesus pause on that last march? If you have any mental picture of Christ showing favoritism to a Roman governor, the first citizens of Jericho, the social or political leaders of that day, you do not know Jesus. He stopped for a beggar, a dirty, unkempt wretch in rags, a blind beggar, whose life was wrapped in total darkness. Pushed to the edge of the road, that sightless sufferer hears the astonishing news “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by,” and unable even to approach Him whom the whole countryside had acclaimed the mighty Prophet, the Miracle-worker, the Preacher without parallel, blind Bartimaeus, fearful that Jesus might pass without noticing him, cries, “Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” Angry voices try to silence him. Passover pilgrims seek to restrain him, but with a faith that cannot be suppressed his cry turns into a scream: “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” And then it is that Jesus stops to answer the blind beggar.

What amazing comfort this incident reveals to us! The same Christ is even now traversing the road of your life, ready to hear you. You cannot be too poor and too unsightly, too miserable and helpless, pushed too far behind the fringes of the crowd, to escape His attention. Men may shove you to the side; they may threaten and rebuke you; they may turn a deaf ear to your entreaty; but if you come to the Savior and pray, “Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me,” then the Christ of glory, who rules the world, directs the nations, weaves the tapestry of history, upholds “all things by the word of His power,” will stop to hear your plea.

Let some of our churches learn a much-needed lesson from this picture of Christ, comforting a miserable, sightless beggar. Because European churches sometimes forgot the suffering masses, Communism and atheism found fertile soil for their seeds of discontent in the hearts of these neglected millions. And because some of our churches are side-stepping the humble services to the souls of all men; because church-buildings, we are told, must be so magnificent they create the impression that Christianity is for the rich and the near rich, for the comfortable suburbanites, but not for the slums and the decaying neighborhoods; because preachers are expected to be social leaders, who can hobnob with bankers and politicians, college professors, and men of public affairs, but who have only a few condescending moments for the distressed and discontented multitudes, me of the churches in this country are helping to prepare this age for a social revolution, with desperate men storming the churches that have failed to follow the Christ who pauses to hear a beggar’s plea. May God give us in this crisis true Gospel-preachers, who have more time for the many poor than for the few rich, more interest in the tenements than in town houses, more prayers for the destitute than for the families with the highest-bracket income taxes, more service of love for the groping souls of men than for the frills and luxuries of life,—true prophets of God who will wear themselves out for Jesus and the underprivileged masses, preachers after the mold of Christ, who had little time for the self-righteousness of the moneyed, titled, and applauded of His day, but who, even when overshadowed by His own approaching doom, stopped at the plea of a blind beggar.

When Christ asked the sightless sufferer, “What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?” there was only one, all­consuming desire for a man who lived in darkness, who never opened his eyes to the radiance of a sunset nor beheld the divine craftsmanship concealed in every flower. Bartimaeus gave the answer that Jesus knew in advance: “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” That prayer is the plea uttered by many in this audience who live in perpetual night. There are 100,000 totally blind in the United States; yet, thank God, many of these see Jesus with the eye of faith even more dearly than some whose eyesight is unimpaired. God strengthen you, my sightless friends, and continue to show you the never-failing Light of the world! If you are without church connections, let us send you some of our literature for the blind. Write us in Braille or have a friend write for you, and we shall be happy to help you in Christ’s name.

Men know a blindness far more disastrous than any loss of physical sight, the blindness that makes men dose their eyes to the light of Christ’s salvation and seal their souls against the illuminating power of His Spirit. It is the darkness of unrepented, unforgiven wrong, the sightless sorrow of living in doubt and distrust, of groping for the road to happiness here and salvation hereafter; the night that keeps men from discovering “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” that are in Jesus, from seeing themselves as they are in the sight of God, lost and condemned in their transgressions.

Ours is an age cursed with much spiritual sightlessness. Blind hatreds are preparing this generation for terrifying calamities, and nations race to make deadlier instruments of warfare when, with men’s vision centered on Christ, this could be a happy and blessed world with room and opportunity for everybody. We have blind programs in the direction of the nations, with otherwise intelligent men claiming that we can restore international prosperity by the planned destruction of foodstuffs. The new government in Brazil has reverted to this visionless folly, and last week we heard, as though in irony, that of the coffee which in millions of tons had been dumped into the sea much floated to the shore and was quickly gathered and sold again. We have blindness in present-day cultural and educational trends, trying, as men do, to build character on a brain basis rather than on a heart basis, endeavoring to teach morality and at the same time to ignore the Christ who makes all things new. In consequence the age that has given us the most schools has burdened us with the most criminals. There are blind women, running away from their homes, from the blessing of motherhood, the sacrifice and devotion for their husband and their children, clamoring for equal rights instead of praying for the highest privileges. We have our spiritually blind men who think they are enlightened when they profane the holy name of God Almighty, who make swine of themselves in their drunken stupor, who break their marriage vows and then boast that they are he-men, when, could they but see the truth, they would begin to shudder even now at the terrors of hell. We see blind young people who think that Christ and His Gospel, His program of purity and premarital chastity, are relics of a backward age, who repeat the first lie of all history, claiming that by eating the forbidden fruit their eyes have been truly opened, when in truth they have lost all vision of the pure, the beautiful, the best in life.

If there is one group of men and women that, under God, should help to restore sight to this undiscerning world, it is the great multitude who call themselves Christians in the churches that bear Christ’s name. Yet here we often stand aghast before the starkest blindness. Many American churches have lost that Christ-centered vision and endorsed the Monte Carlo tactics of gambling, defying the law of the land and the Word of God. Twenty-one out of fifty pastors in a Protestant denomination in a Midwestern city recently acknowledged that they condoned games of chance in their churches “for the sake of zest and income.” Such worldliness helps to bring reproach upon the Church and to diminish the respect of the world for the Gospel. One half of America is outside of the Church today because the other half has never made the Christian message vital and attractive, because thousands upon thousands of churches are cultivating only a vague, dim-sighted religion, which questions or discredits the Bible, minimizes or denies the message of Christ’s mercy. With more churches in America than in any other nation, we still have millions in this vast American mission-field who are endeavoring to earn their own salvation, blindly groping for a path to heaven, when the suffering and death of Jesus has blazed the only way.

As the day of this world hastens to its darkening night, let us ask a new vision for our souls, a new and heroic emphasis in American pulpits on the light radiating from the cross of Christ. Let us, even those who are Christ’s, continue to raise this plea: “Lord, that I may receive my sight!” because sometimes the vision of our soul is impaired and we look at the world in distorted glance. We become short-sighted, unable to discern that which lies at a distance. Many turn their eyes away from the cross and see only their personal problems, their own weaknesses; and this short-sighted faith prevents them from training their eyes on the hills of God, particularly the mound of mercy, Calvary, whence cometh our help. Adversity overtakes them, and their dwarfed vision, seeking but not finding a solution in their own reason, makes them repeat the disconsolate and distracted “Why?” “Why did I lose my money?” “Why must I suffer?” “Why did my husband die?” “Why did God permit my child to be snatched away?” —instead of being guided by the clear vision that can look beyond their suffering to the remedial purposes of God as they unfold themselves under His pledge, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” Or again, Christians are troubled with spiritual farsightedness; their vision is so perverted that they can see only distant worries, distant disaster, but they never discern the Christ close at hand, who promised, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Thus there is a long catalog of defects, even in the Christian’s vision; for the great apostle’s verdict is still true, “Now we see through a glass, darkly.” With the promise that the blessed day is coming when we shall see face to face, we have the further confidence that no spiritual blindness is so intense that it cannot be removed by the Healer of defective soul vision. If medical science has advanced to the remarkable point where eye specialists can effect remarkable cures; if surgery has progressed so marvelously that it can perform the most delicate operations even on the eyeball, surely He whose blessing has made these wonders possible can hear a prayer for spiritual insight, in the words of Bartimaeus, “Lord, that I may receive my sight,” and grant us that new vision.

II

CHRIST CAN BLESS US WITH THIS NEW VISION

Hardly had that blind petitioner voiced his prayer when the compassionate Christ responded, “Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee.” And even as He spoke these words, the lost vision returned, and the sightless eyes looked on a world of wonder and beauty.

The same Christ, now exalted in eternal majesty, can answer our pleadings for a new and better vision with the same power of love. In an age when men like to quibble over the value of prayer (and when even those who call themselves Christians often have not because they ask not), we must cling with unshaken confidence to this conviction, that, “if we ask anything, according to His will, He heareth us.” Christ may not answer our prayers immediately. Bartimaeus was not heard the first time, and very often you and I must continue in repeated prayer before deliverance dawns. Christ will not answer half-doubting, half-awake-half-asleep, try-it-and-see-what-happens prayers; this sightless suppliant had to scream before Christ stopped. He will answer every fervent, soul-deep plea. A hundred forces may combine to keep your prayer from reaching the Throne of Mercy, just as the turmoil and the shouting on the Jericho road seemed to stifle that piteous cry. Some of you write me that the voice of your conscience accusing you of scarlet sins is so loud that you can no longer pray to God; some of you tell of a brute husband, who strikes you when you set the dial to this message, or of a mean, shiftless, know-it-all husband who repeats the old threadbare alibi that he does not go to church because there are too many hypocrites there, but who interrupts you every time he finds you in prayer; yet the Savior in His own way, in His better time, in His accepted place, will hear even the prayer of your heart, though it must remain unspoken by your lips. Everything else in life may change; the foundations upon which we have built our government and our social life may all be overthrown; yet neither time nor the uprising of a world against God can change this promise: “He heareth us,” provided we pray to Christ in the same faith which gave vision to this sightless pauper.

Listen to him as he prays, “Jesus, Thou Son of David,” and shows that he has found in Christ the Messiah of ageless and limitless mercy, the long-expected Sacrifice for all human sin! Listen to Jesus as He answers, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” and find in your own persona living, trusting faith the assurance of the same power which will make the blessed Savior halt to hear your needs. And when you, who can know more of Jesus than that blind Judean did, because you can see Christ captured, persecuted, beaten, crucified, dying, dead, and then,—thanks be to God!—resurrected for your salvation,—when you cry out: “O Jesus, Thou Son of David, my own Savior from sin, I come before Thee sightless, unable to find my way through life, doubly blind to the one pathway from sin to salvation, from the burdens of this earth to the glories of heaven. Yet I believe with all my soul that Thou canst remove my blindness; open my eyes to Thy full mercies; keep my faith centered on Thy cross, my vision always directed heavenward to Thee.” When you can pray this prayer, a heavenly vision will remove all earth’s gloom and darkness.

No sin of yours, however serious, can intervene between Christ’s mercy and your faith to exclude you from the Savior’s love. Even if you have blasphemed His holy name, if you have blackened your soul with the ugliest vices, Christ can give you the eyes of faith. The scales fell from the eyes of Saul as he hurried on an errand of hell to persecute the Christians, and ever since Christ’s greatest glory has been revealed in the depths of human sin.

Few lives have been filled with more depravity than the days of John Newton. By reading infidel books, he became a confirmed scoffer, hardened to a life of debauch and vice. He sank so low that he became the servant of a slave-trader in Africa where, half naked, half starved, half dead, he eked out his scum-of-the-earth existence. Through his father’s efforts he was released; and on the way back to England, when a terrifying storm arose and it seemed that the ship would sink, he turned to prayer. The ship was saved, only to have starvation threaten to destroy those whom the sea had spared. Then it was that John Newton, reading the New Testament, found—in his own words—“the pardon of my sins on account of the obedience and the sufferings of Jesus Christ.” Later, after he had become a powerful preacher of the saving Word and the author of many beloved hymns, he summarized the miracle of his conversion, the opening of his inner eyes, in the verse:

Amazing grace (how sweet the sound!)

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

One hundred years ago, far away in Burma, Adoniram Judson, missionary of Jesus Christ, bought the freedom and release of a fifty-year-old slave, Kho-Thah-Byu, a cold, vicious murderer, who had killed thirty men with his own hand. Judson took Kho-Thah-Byu into his home, taught him the same message of pardon, peace, and life through the blood of Jesus Christ that I try to bring you every week, and before long the blindness and darkness of sin were removed by the Gospel light. Kho-Thah-Byu was baptized; he became a torch-bearer for Christ in the black hinterland of Burma; and the fact that today there are 40,000 native Christians in this territory is to be ascribed almost wholly to the preaching of this converted killer, whose eyes were opened by Jesus.

No matter who you are, whether you are one of the army of those restrained in American prisons, whose letters have been particularly welcome to us, or whether you represent the intelligence and the genius of the nation, Christ is ready to endow you with this new vision of His divine redemption and the radiant life which it offers. Theodore Roosevelt says in his Autobiography that before his thirteenth year he had no idea how beautiful the world was, until his father provided glasses for him. In a much higher manner, once the defects of our spiritual sight are corrected, we receive a glorified vision, which changes everything. That light of faith far excels the penetrating power of the X-ray. It enables the redeemed of Christ to peer beneath the afflictions of life and discover loving grace. This week you told me about your baby that, the doctors say, will grow up with a sound body, but with a mind that can never pass the intelligence of a six-month infant; you wrote of a Christian father who after a series of reverses now faces the possibility of amputation; of a young mother who had nineteen operations in less than two years; of a convicted criminal doomed to the electric chair tomorrow. With the vision of faith that takes God at His word, you can pierce these and all other sufferings to find divine blessings, the marvelous ways of Him who “hath done all things well.” That new vision of faith can give you a clearer understanding of the minute and atomic factors in your life than any high-powered microscope; for in the smallest of all the unseen influences that surround your soul you can discover the direction of God. Eyes opened by faith will enable you to see farther than the projected supertelescope with its two-hundred-inch lens; for those eyes—even when they break in the last hour—can see what the martyr Stephen saw, far beyond the heavenly constellations: the open heavens and the Son of Man, the Savior, standing at the right hand of God.

“Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.” That was the herald cry which brought that blind and helpless sufferer to Christ. “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.” May this be the summons of divine love that has drawn some of you, seemingly by chance, in blessed reality by the inscrutable guidance of God, to your radio and to this station and this message in this very moment!—Just as surely as Jesus moved resolutely along that Jericho road, He is now passing your soul. Who knows, if you pass Him by now, whether, with all this uncertainty of life, you will ever have Him so close again? Before He disappears, as this broadcast closes, will you not with all your heart cry out even before a world that may contradict or seek to restrain you: “Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Pass me not, O gentle Savior; hear my humble cry!”? If that is your prayer, then, in the name of Jesus, it is my privilege to promise you that that self-giving Son of God will stop, as He once did on the Jericho road, look to you, and repeat the greatest blessings that men can ever know: “Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee.” O God, give us all this saving vision for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: February 20, 1938

Petition for a Blessed Eternity

God, our Father:

Thou art the Author, Preserver, Restorer of all life both on earth and in heaven. Humbly and contritely do we therefore pray Thee by the atoning merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, that Thy Holy Spirit may help us detach our hopes and desires from this world, which must pass away, from this life, which must end, and take reverent time to consider our immortal souls, to prepare for a blessed eternity. Amid all the uncertainties of life nothing is more certain than this, that we all must die; but amid all promises of Thy mercy none is more positive than the pledge of Thy Son “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” So instruct us in Thy truth that we know the escape from death, the wages of sin, to eternal life, the glorious consequence of Christ’s sin-removing salvation. Bring us to that living Savior; keep us faithful to Him throughout all our journey here on earth, and in Thy good time, O gracious Father, take us, every one of us, home to Thee, to the mansions of hallowed joy prepared for us by the Savior, who died that we might have eternal life. Enlighten us all, so that we not only number our days and seek to strengthen our faith, but that we joyfully anticipate an eternity of bliss and glory with Thee, the Savior and the Spirit. Hear us, and help us live forever, for Thy name’s sake! Amen.

This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.John 17:3

GRATEFUL friends once planned to present Andrew Jackson with an imposing memorial. From the distant shores of the Old World they carefully brought a huge marble coffin that centuries before had held the remains of a mighty emperor; and it was their expressed intention that after President Jackson’s death his body should be laid to rest in that imperial sepulcher. In declining this impressive tribute, Andrew Jackson wrote: “I have prepared a humble depository for my mortal body beside that where lies my beloved wife, where, without pomp or parade, I have requested, when my God calls me to sleep with my fathers, to be laid, for both of us there to remain until the last trumpet sounds to call the dead to Judgment, when we, I hope, shall rise together, clothed with that heavenly body promised to all who believe in our glorious Redeemer, who died for us that we might live and by whose atonement I hope for a blessed immortality.”

Was Andrew Jackson right? Did Christ die that he might live? Will that “blessed immortality” await him and his wife, though their moldering remains lie humbly buried in that quiet Southern garden at the Hermitage? Or are those right who scoff at every mention of an existence beyond the grave, who have words of taunt chiseled into their tombstones, whose ashes are strewn over land or lake to ridicule the possibility of bodily resurrection? Are those preachers in the Christless, creedless churches right who, instead of speaking a word of assurance to lives overshadowed by death, offer only cold, cheerless question-marks or at best refer vaguely to a survival of our personality, whatever and however that may be? Do those instructors of our American youth speak the truth who deny all real, personal existence after the decay of the body? Forty-five years ago Harvard University was bequeathed $5,000 to pay for regular lectures on the immortality of man; but most of the speakers, well paid for their dissent, have seriously questioned or deliberately denied the life to come. So I repeat: Is there an eternity, or do men die like dogs?

We must recognize in the conflict of this alternative the supreme question of all destiny. We have only one life to live, and how short, shallow, disappointing, it often proves to be! Only a few years with their clouds and sunshine, their sins and sorrows, their faltering and failure, and then—often without any warning—the last, the fatal moment, when you and I, our eyes closed forever to this earth, our lips sealed, our hearts stopped, our breath vanished, are left in the motionless silence of death! And what then? Is the grave our gloomy goal and decay our inescapable destiny?

Some of you may find this subject unpleasant, for we dislike to think of death. It is mentioned as a vague uncertainty; yet nothing is more definite and certain for every one of us! We regard our last hour as immeasurably distant, when, in this very moment, it may overshadow some in this audience, and all of us today are a week closer to our end than when I last spoke to you.

Too often we have little interest in eternity. Many are totally unprepared to face death. We have elaborate finishing-schools, teaching the grace and the charm of life, expensive technical schools dedicated to the increase of comforts, highly endowed cultural schools, that emphasize the intellectual treasures of life; but where outside the Church and in moments of overpowering peril is any serious thought accorded the question of eternity? We try to learn how to live with ease and security, comfort and profit, enjoyment and satisfaction; but how many take time to prepare themselves for death, to learn how to die in peace and joy? Consequently grasping materialism, the eat-drink-and-be-merry delusion has seized millions; for if the grave ends all, if there is no Judgment in the next life for the earthly wrongs, no compensations for present sufferings, then away with restraint! Banish all decency! Choke off all purity! Destroy all sympathy! Live dangerously and deliriously, selfishly, sensually!—That delusion was never so prevalent in America as in this hour.

Let us raise a mighty protest dear across the continent as ten thousands of you join me in asserting our faith in these last words of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I BELIEVE IN . . . THE LIFE EVERLASTING”

We find the basis of this faith, the assurance of eternity, in the promise of our glorious Savior Himself (Saint John 17:3): “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”

I

ETERNITY ASSURED BY CHRIST’S PROMISE

It was a sacred moment when Jesus spoke these words. His hour, the deliverance for which the past centuries had dawned, was at hand! Before the sun set on another day, He would be nailed to the cross, His holy head would drop into death. During this last night of His earthly life, in preparation for that ordeal, He strengthens Himself and His disciples through the sacred, heart-revealing, high­priestly intercession, preserved in this seventeenth chapter of Saint John; and the first divine promise in His valedictory prayer is this guarantee of a glorious eternity: “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”

Today, too, if you would have a practical answer to this age-old question, “What lies beyond the grave?” you must go—not to the scientist; for the most painstaking biologist can neither prove nor disprove the resurrection of the body. You must ask—not the philosophers, who can offer only conflicting theories, that leave the soul bewildered. You must consult—not the Spiritists, the frauds and charlatans who have caused so much heartache that I appeal to all of you as citizens to see that the laws in your community regarding fortune-telling, mediums, and Spiritists’ seances are strictly enforced. For the one true answer to this universal question, “After death, what?” you need more than the naturalists’ pretty pictures of the seed that decays in the ground only to sprout forth in new life, of the lily bulb that is buried in the dark ooze of the pond only to push its way into the light of new life and beauty, of the warm, pulsating spring that comes after the cold death of winter; for when life flickers in its last fitful flames, you need more than pictures and symbols. You must have immovable assurance!

For that confidence, let there be no doubt or misunderstanding; we must approach Christ and declare, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life!” It has been well said that history has seen many religious teachers but only one who has said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I carry that thought farther and say that there are many religious creeds but only one which can offer eternity—our faith in Christ.

When Christ tells us today: “This is life eternal,” no question-marks lurk behind these promises. His pledge is no guess or wish-thinking. You can trust Jesus and build on His Word. Every year I ask whether Christ’s blessed promises have ever failed in the life of any one within the range of this broadcast; and though many have poisoned their minds toward the Lord Jesus, I have never received a single genuine statement declaring that Christ has not kept His word. When Jesus says, “This is life eternal,” believe it, trust it, and rejoice in it. You may doubt the promises of statesmen as you continue to witness war and class hatred, unemployment and poverty, suffering throughout the world; you may question the pronouncements of scientists as new findings prepare to overthrow previously accepted teachings. Some of you may doubt the words of your fellow-men, your friends, or, in the deepest depths of human unfaithfulness, the sincerity of those to whom you are pledged for life, as infidelity and broken promises drop to new depths; but in Christ you have God’s own assurance, His word, “This is life eternal,” which shall endure though heaven and earth pass away, to give us the inner conviction that, though we die, yet in Christ we shall live again, that you and I are more than highly developed animals, our lives more than series of accidents, our bodies more than the toys of a whimsical fate, our hopes more than bubbles on the froth of life, our destiny more than eternal discard on the rubbish heaps of time, that through Christ, though we die, yet shall we live.

Should there be any reasonable doubt that the omnipotence of Almighty God can prepare this “life eternal” for us? Do not the marvels of His creation suggest the power to recreate us in a new and blessed existence? Cannot He who made the unmeasured heavens with the gleam of billions of stars, whose word of divine command brought forth the mysterious planets with their vast distances,—Mars 141,701,000 miles from the sun and Neptune more than 2,700,000,000 miles? Cannot that omnipotent Ruler of a universe in which all these heavenly bodies around our earth include but a fraction of the sweep of all space resurrect our bodies into the glories of that heavenly life which Christ promises us?

More vital even than our heavenly Father’s power to revive and restore is the assurance of His divine love for all men, ungrateful, insincere, selfish, and sinful as they are. Distrusting minds demand proof that the Almighty wants to quicken dead bodies and enrich men with eternity. That proof is granted us only, but completely, by Jesus Christ. Why did that royal Redeemer of the race take upon Himself the form of a man, humble Himself to the death on the cross? Merely to show us how to overcome our difficulties, to leave an example of self-sacrifice, in the first instance to make this world a better place in which to live, to help promote international, interclass, intercreed peace? Did Jesus come to prove Himself a Reformer or Superstatesman,—only to give us the Golden Rule or a new code of lofty principles? Infinitely higher than all this is the one paramount objective of His Savior-love, our redemption from sin and death for everlasting life. Why did Jesus hang on the cross at Calvary? Keep this golden climax truth safely enshrined in your faith as you repeat with me that simple but blessed summary of the Gospel: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE”! He came to atone for sins and, with sin forgiven, to break the power of death. Why was Jesus resurrected from His rock-hewn grave on the third day, and why, after this mighty Easter miracle, did He appear in His resurrection body to various witnesses, as many as five hundred in one group? Was it not to speak this radiant promise into our fearsome souls, “Because I live, ye shall live also”?

How can we express the brilliance and splendor of this “life eternal”? No words in any language, no rhetoric of any oratory, no powers of imagery in any art, can do justice to the heavenly homeland. Eternity is beyond the scope of our understanding, just as it exceeds our powers of description. Yet if we study carefully those Scripture pictures of our “Father’s house,” in the “better country,” we are impressed by the fact that the sacred writers, exhausting the resources of language, employ the imagery of earthly beauty: gold, crystal, sapphire, amethyst, pearls, to picture heaven as the Kingdom of Glory, that “eye hath not seen nor ear heard,” where “we shall see Him,” no longer bleeding and buffeted, crucified and killed, but enthroned at the right hand of the Father forever in majesty and glory. Heaven, with no sinful thoughts and impulses; heaven with no tears nor trials, no sickness nor sorrow; no hunger nor thirst; no pain nor sleeplessness; no weary bodies, weary hearts, weary minds, weary souls, no worries nor cares, no partings nor farewells, no death nor burial; heaven, with joy forever and not a trace of disappointment, with everlasting peace and not an enemy to oppose us, with never-failing light and not a moment of the deep shadows and darkness that have fallen over many lives; heaven, with “a great multitude . . . of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues . . . before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,” crying: “Salvation to our God . . . and unto the Lamb”; heaven, with the hosts of saints and blood-washed sinners, the great company of Christian martyrs, our godly fathers and mothers who may have gone before us and our children who may come after us; heaven, where above all we shall be with God the Father, who created us, His Son, who redeemed us, the Holy Spirit, who sanctified and preserved us;—that eternal life in heaven Jesus offers you!

Listen to these words again: “This IS life eternal.” The Savior does not say: “This will be life eternal.” He does not promise: “I am going to be the Resurrection and the Life.” His clear “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” tells us that, once we are His, from the first moment of our faith, we have “life eternal.” Jesus means exactly what He says when He promises, “If any man keep My saying, He shall never see death.” With Christ you live in eternity now, and when your frail, disease-ridden, torn, mangled body is paralyzed into motionless silence, your soul lives on. What men fear as death to the Christian becomes simply the instantaneous transition from one phase of existence into another, inexpressibly happier life. Contrast the dying hours of scoffers and of Christians; you will see that, while the last moments of unbelievers are often marked by groaning, shrieking, cursing, as proud scoffers chatter in fear and toss violently on their deathbeds under the whip of their consciences, recoiling in terror from the torture of hell, on the other hand, Christian martyrs, young and old, have marched into death with a prayer of thanksgiving in their hearts and a doxology on their lips; Christian leaders in their last hours have comforted and sustained those around them and declared in the words of an English author: “See how easy it is for a Christian to die!” Nor is this peace and calm serenity restricted to the age of martyrs and the bygone days of a simpler life. I have seen it myself, on that unforgettable day when we knelt at the bedside of my own father; having spoken his final blessing and prayed his last prayer for pardon through the cleansing blood of Christ and for faithfulness to the end, he closed his eyes with a glorified smile and the impress of heavenly joy. From the tuberculosis sanitarium erected at Wheat Ridge, Colorado, by the young people of my Church for the healing of body and soul, a young patient has just written me: “My next door neighbor is slowly slipping away from us. But how beautiful is her leave-taking! She wants to hear just Jesus’ words. ‘Please read me Jesus’ words,’ she asks the pastor. She lies there patiently, talking to her Savior, willing and eager to take His hand for that last pilgrimage. Formerly she was restless and afraid; she could not understand why she should have to suffer. Now—with Christ—all is peaceful. She is happy, and all her fears are calmed. She hopes that she will live to hear your next broadcast,” the message of today. If out there on that Colorado plateau the soul of this sufferer clinging to Christ still lingers on earth, I point her as well as all of you who write me that your days likewise are numbered to the blessed words of Jesus, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”[1]

In this way we can find an intensely practical, everyday comfort and strength in the Christian creed: “I believe in . . . the life everlasting.” Under the light of that conviction we cannot view the barriers of the sharp and repeated adversities as obstacles that bar all happiness in life. With our eyes trained beyond the haze of this world to the clear light of heavenly homeland, these disappointments fade into nothingness, and we understand why Saint Paul, beaten, stoned, man-hunted, shipwrecked, opposed, ridiculed, imprisoned, could survey all the sorrows of life, the hatred of men turned to brutes, the unfairness and injustice that roared down upon his defenseless life, and still exult: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

I never knew how widespread the anguish of life was until I could speak to you from coast to coast, and your letters poured in, with thousands of you, each in different shades and lines, drawing the picture of your sorrow, your bereavement, the pain that crushes the peace out of your hearts. Our age is weighted heavily with many sorrows; and I appeal to every true minister of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ who may hear these words to realize fully that the Church’s great commission is found in God’s command: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people,” through the Gospel promise of eternal life—and not through any of the catch-the-people, arouse-the-mob, entertain-the-masses programs in the political, social, materially minded, Christ­denying, Bible-ridiculing pulpits of the day. Before us loom sinister warnings. Newspaper editors now comment on the next war as a foregone conclusion. The rich are still becoming richer and the poor poorer in our diseased social structure and fatal concentration of wealth. The forgetting of God, the neglect of His Word, the blaspheming of His sacred name, the constant fracture of all His holy Ten Commandments, the apostasy in American pulpits, and the far greater masses without the churches than within them,—surely these are all symptoms of disaster, unless the almighty God mercifully intervenes to save us from ourselves. Where can we find unquestioned assurance? Where indeed if not in the faith which teaches us that, no matter what the turns of time may bring, this life,—fill it to the overflowing with sin and sorrow, suffering and disease, poverty and failure,—through Christ, and through Him alone, can become merely the short span of preparation for a glorious eternity, only the narrow corridor by which we pass into the majesty of heaven, the scaffolding that death removes to reveal the glory of eternal life.

II

ETERNITY ATTAINED THROUGH CHRIST’S GRACE

Now comes the most magnificent part of God’s mercy, the grace by which you and I, every one of us, can reach eternal life. If in His wisdom God had decreed that to enter heaven we should have to relinquish every penny that is ours, work with all the power within us, endure the deepest hardships and the most cutting denials, this would be a small price to pay for forgiveness and eternity with Jesus. If the God of all justice had decreed that we should suffer for every sinful thought, every wicked word, every unholy act, that mars our lives, we could not complain, and we would be ready to suffer if only beyond the pangs of punishment we could discern the gleams of everlasting life. Yet—praise and glory be to His endless mercies!—the eternity which we cannot buy or earn, the heaven which no man can secure for us, the everlasting life from which our sins bar us, is granted to every one by the sin-removing Savior’s promise “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”

“What a narrow creed!” some of you say when these words plainly imply that the life everlasting is granted only by the God of the Bible and not by any of these vague, supposedly modern, yet actually ancient pictures of God as a Power or an Influence, as a distant Deity who smiles benignly upon the human race in its sins. “What a narrow creed!” some of you repeat when the words of the Savior state that we can know the Father only through the one Messenger of Love whom He has sent, Jesus Christ. “Let it be narrow,” we answer; “for it is the teaching of the Lord that ‘no man cometh unto the Father but by Me’; ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’” But how all­comprehensive, how worldwide, how ageless, this blessing becomes when you contemplate it with the eye of faith and understand that Jesus offers to all men in all ages and in all places, white men and black, red men and yellow, the full blessings of eternity in this life and the next, and that this glorious promise of complete grace requires only that we know God in Christ! In comparison with this truth every human, earth-bound creed shrivels in its own narrowness.

To know God in Christ, to believe the love of our heavenly Father and the self-giving devotion of Jesus on Calvary, bearing sins that we could not bear, suffering the punishment and the pain that were ours; to know God in Christ, to accept all this mercy, to raise the eyes of faith to Jesus and pray: “‘Lord, I believe,’ that Thou art my God, my Savior, the Sovereign of my soul; to know God in Christ and to trust that Savior through all the dark and cloudy days, to build your hope resolutely on that promise of His merciful direction of your lives even though you cannot understand the divine ways,—that knowledge of God in Christ, that acceptance of God in Christ, that trust of God in Christ, is Heaven’s own seal of assurance upon your promise of eternal life.

I plead with you not to thrust this promise of mercy aside and think that death will await your readiness. How old are you? Twenty years? Have you ever read the telltale figures which reveal the startling number of accidents and the sudden end which overtakes particularly young people, causing more deaths annually in the one State of Illinois, for example, than the total losses of the Union and Confederate armies in the great battle of the Civil War? How old are you? Fifty years? Remember that with all the exaggerated claims for the lengthened span of life you have attained the average number of years. How old are you? Eighty? You have already exceeded by a decade the threescore-and-ten mark, and your life is ebbing fast away. Now is the time to make your peace with your heavenly Father, to prepare for eternity, to tell the world, “I know God, ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ,’ whom He has sent.”

When in the great day of our Lord’s appearing, His second coming to judge the quick and the dead, we stand before the throne of the Lamb, my friends, I want to find all of you, the thousands whom I will probably never meet here on earth, now spread across tens of thousands of cities, towns, villages, and isolated outposts across the continent,—there in that eternal rejoicing. What can we do to help bring you to the Christ of eternal life? Write us if you are without Christ and without the Church, so that we can pray for you, plead personally with you, or send one of the great army of pastors and missionaries who preach the same God and the same Christ, the same hope of everlasting life, that I try to bring you. Let us send you literature with this promise of everlasting life, so that in the most important study you have ever given to any subject you can read it yourself, read it to your children, read it to some near relative or friend who through unbelief or rejection of Christ may be excluding himself from these unspeakable blessings.

If you know of any opportunity for missionary work, any unchurched areas that ought to have regular Gospel­preaching, any empty churches to be rededicated to this living, glorious Gospel, any group of believers that yearns for the dear, uncompromising preaching of the crucified Savior, any hospitals or institutions that want the services of a Christian pastor, any groping souls that have no spiritual guidance and that need Christian help, please give us the privilege of helping in this joyous work that causes rejoicing even among the holy angels. God has been gracious to us in the past, so that we have definite records of several hundreds who have been brought to their Savior through these broadcasts. Will you not help in the various ways at your disposal to spread Christ’s invitation of grace?

May God strengthen us to work with increased vigor and blessings, so that we may all in His good time, by the grace of His Son, stand with the white-robed throng in eternity and declare not only: “I believe in . . . the life everlasting,” but, clinging to Jesus, say: “I have the life everlasting.” O God, grant this to us for the sake of Him who is our Resurrection and our Life, even Jesus, our ever-living Lord! Amen.


[1] This radiant sufferer went home to her Savior in the early morning hours before the broadcast.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: February 13, 1938

Prayer for Pardon and Strength

God of all comfort and compassion:

Our faith looks confidently to Thee, beseeching Thy goodness in the name of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Savior, not for creature comforts, wealth, and a frictionless life, not even for the removal of adversities if they, stifling our pride, help to keep us close to Thee. Instead, we implore Thee, dear Lord, by the promise of Thy merciful Son: Enter not into judgment with Thy servants, but grant us pardon through the all-sufficient grace of the Lord Jesus. We remember with sadness that we have repeatedly yielded to degrading impulses; that instead of overcoming sin, we have been overcome by its seduction; that we have often chosen selfish ease and preferred unholy ambitions. In the misery of our guilt we turn to Thee and plead: O Father, pity us! Forgive us for Jesus’ sake! Create clean hearts and renew a right spirit within us. Deliver our souls from the bondage of unchaste desires, turn our thoughts from the sinful pleasures that war against our happiness, remove all insincerity and doubleness of heart! Thus strengthened by Thy Spirit, supported by Thy guiding Word and Sacraments, reinforced by answered prayers, let us live in self-forgetting service to Thee and our neighbors, building every hope on the immovable foundation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we have come before Thee! Amen.

My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness.2 Corinthians 12:9

LAST week a Pennsylvania listener wrote an unsigned letter of protest. “Why don’t you forget the bleeding Christ?” he demanded. “It’s always the blood, the blood, the blood. Give us something besides your childish faith and hopeless superstition to meet practical needs.”

Ordinarily we pay no attention to unsigned letters; for the man who hides behind anonymity has a rodent mind. Like the rat he works in the dark and flees the light. This nameless letter, like most of its kind, bristled with vulgarities; for the farther people turn from Christ, the more nasty their thoughts and repulsive their words. However, since this unnamed Pennsylvanian, in denying that Christ offers help for the needs of our disquieted day, speaks the mind of sixty, seventy, eighty million people in this country who are without Christ or against Christ, I want to answer these charges.

Now, we could challenge those who sneer at Jesus by demanding: “Where can you find any practical help without Christ or against His Word?” We might ask these self-confident individuals who think that they know much more than the ageless, deathless truth of Scripture to produce a single ray of promise for the murk and fog in which millions are groping. The years that have witnessed the most notable social and scientific advance in our history see more broken hearts, wrecked lives, souls in turmoil and anguish than any other age.

Instead of issuing these counter-challenges, we formally serve notice that this broadcast will continue to proclaim Christ, and Him crucified. With this resolution we stand in good company. We are shoulder to shoulder with Paul of Tarsus, who answered the unbelief of his day by saying: “I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” We stand side by side with Martin Luther, who never began nor concluded a day in his life, a sermon in his pulpit, a page in his voluminous writings, without committing himself to Christ and without testifying to the cross and the blood. We march together abreast with thousands of Christian preachers in this country to whom we express our deep-seated gratitude for their ringing testimony to the salvation which is in Christ Jesus.

With the apostle we repeat the pledge, “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Before that message of the redeeming blood and the atoning death is hushed, compromised, side-tracked, let the towers high above this campus be pulled down, let this station be destroyed, let our lips be sealed forever. Only in loyalty to Christ—and I mean the true, Scriptural Christ, the Savior of the cleansing blood and the life-giving death—can we find any satisfying answer to the perplexities that today rush in to overpower us. While the blessings of Christ center in the eternity of heaven; while Christ is first of all concerned about our souls and their salvation, He also brings the practical, everyday help which many of you have vainly sought elsewhere. Speaking to those who ask: “What can your Christ give us for our discouragement and distress?” I answer:

“PLENTEOUS GRACE”

We find that promise in these words of the Savior to Saint Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9): “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

I

THE BLESSINGS OF CHRIST’S PLENTEOUS GRACE

This promise was given in a moment of great anguish, when the distracted apostle suffered in soul and in body from the thorn in his flesh. Whatever the much-discussed affliction was, malaria, as it seems to me, or eye trouble, epilepsy, or even more devastating diseases, as others have concluded, Saint Paul turned to Christ, beseeching Him that this thorn, ripping and tearing his peace, might be removed. Three times he besought his Lord, just as the Savior Himself had prayed thrice in the Garden: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” Yet as Christ was to drink the cup of His suffering to the dregs of death, so Saint Paul’s affliction was to continue; the thorn was not to be removed; he was to live in perpetual pain.

In this continuance of His suffering we find what often seems the hardest part of Christianity. It does not do just what people want, when they want it, and in the way they want it. That is the trouble with prayer, we are told. You need God’s help, you beseech Him on bended knees; but the thorn in your flesh remains. That is the trouble with Christ, they tell us. You expect Him to say “Yes,” and He says “No.” You ask for light, but you are kept in darkness. You go to Christ for money, and you sometimes lose even the little you have.

Many of you are torn by a thorn in your flesh. It need not be the cutting spines of sickness, although there is plenty of that in our homes, with patients bedfast thirty­five, forty, forty-five years, with sufferers who have undergone twenty-three operations, with broken limbs that refuse to mend, raging fevers that will not subside, greedy diseases that consume your flesh and bones. Your thorn in the flesh may be a bleeding mind, torn by quarrel and hatred, broken peace in your home, blasted ambitions in your life. Your thorn in the flesh may be the suffering that in this day of controlled production and lavish overproduction keeps 40,000,000 of our fellow-countrymen perilously poised over the chasm of complete poverty and destitution, without enough to live properly, to clothe themselves adequately, to eat the right kind of food, and to sleep in the right kind of houses. And now comes the factor in our faith that short-sighted human vision cannot see nor our limited intellect understand. Sometimes when you approach God with your sorrows it seems as though Jesus never hears your prayer and that the thorn pierces even more deeply.

It would be much easier and certainly more attractive for this broadcast to join the imposing parade of those who in the name of religion promise everything but give nothing. I have before me the prospectus of a new cult in California. It offers to answer your dreams and ambitions for health, more poise and culture, success in your work, relief from the afflictions of life. All that one must do is check the items in this catalog of your wishes, and when you pay the prescribed fee, this new cult will tell you how your dreams may be fulfilled. In the same way widely applauded churchmen, forsaking their spiritual calling, furnishing financial graphs to their listeners instead of the Bible, the one chart of our faith and life, again promise to save us and our country by regulating money, controlling dollars, altering the Federal Reserve System, and financing us into new happiness. It is all a hopeless, dangerous delusion. When these schemes fail, as they always have and always will, a mass of discouraged men and women is left who have been robbed of their trust in God, since these promises were made in the name of Christ’s religion. Even if the glib, eloquent, enticing apostles of rosy optimism could carry through their program, how would the sorrows of a sick body, wounded heart, distressed soul, be removed by changes in our money standards or cured by legislative programs? I cannot sufficiently emphasize this foundation truth of Christian faith: Jesus Christ never issued, or authorized His followers to issue, any manifesto promising that He will remove the thorn in our flesh. Since the sharp crowns of death cut into His own “bleeding head and wounded”; since He told us that “the disciple is not above his Master”; “if they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you”; since the summons into His kingdom is still accompanied by the demand “Take up thy cross and follow Me”; since His words before Pilate still ring clear after nineteen centuries: “My kingdom is not of this world,” how can we, without becoming disloyal to every principle of Christ’s faith, use this network to tantalize and betray the sufferers in this age of thorn-bearing by promising that Christ will painlessly extract the thorns scratching through their flesh and to their very souls?

While the thorns remain, Christ, great and good God that He is, does so much more than remove these sorrows that I never feel my own inadequacy as keenly as when I stand here and try to describe the healing, life-giving, hope-restoring, joy-sustaining power that comes with faith in Jesus. That Savior told the Apostle in effect: “Paul, don’t worry about the thorn; don’t be distracted by the pain that prods you incessantly. For I have something so glorious that you can forget your bleeding heart and body. I give you My grace, and ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ If you have My grace, nothing else is decisive in life; all problems are solved; all burdens lightened.”

How we thank God that it is given to us to repeat for questioning, discouraged men and women across the broad reaches of America this saving pronouncement of Christ: “My grace is sufficient” for you, for every one who comes to that Christ for forgiveness. As we ask the Holy Spirit of God to implant this pledge from Jesus’ own lips on your heart, stop to think of the indescribable riches involved in the short, much-used but often misunderstood word “grace.” You can find fifteen definitions for this word in your dictionaries, but when you speak of Jesus Christ and His grace, only one all-inclusive meaning remains: the unmerited love of that Savior for us despite our sinful hearts and lives; the unending devotion that existed before the foundation of the world and that will exist undiminished after this earth crumbles to pieces; the immeasurable compassion which brought Jesus from the realms of glory and the adoration of the angels to this vice-bound earth so that He might take my place and yours and, bearing our sins in His holy and sinless body, bring us back to God and bless us with the sure seal of our salvation. This grace of Christ is not a friendly interest, a condescending smile, a tolerant overlooking of human faults and frailties; it is the mightiest power in heaven and earth—the grace of His human birth, the grace of His life of love and service, the grace of His suffering, wounding, bleeding, dying, the grace that promises our souls everything, yet for our salvation demands nothing, that is all Christ’s and in no part ours.

Once you have this mercy, you know that the God who loved you and who spared not His own Son will watch over your life every minute that you live, always directing your destiny to high and holy ends. His mercy may permit that thorn to remain in your flesh,—for just as the apostle was not relieved of suffering so that he might be kept humble and untainted by self-glory and the delusion of his own importance, so God lets some of us stagger along the road of suffering to make us retain the sense of our own weakness and our dependence upon Him, to help us turn a stern face from self-applause and all thoughts of our own righteousness.

For a dozen other reasons the painful thorn may continue to lacerate you. How many have not found Christ while on their sickbeds! On New Year’s Day of this year, in the leper colony of Culion, Philippine Islands, a victim of that most loathsome disease rose to say: “I thank God Almighty for having made me a leper because in this place I found my Lord and my Redeemer. I have tried to find joy, peace, and contentment from what the world has to offer, but all ended in bitter disappointment. In Jesus I have found my salvation and real contentment.” How many there are in this audience who, when they had money and friends in the warm and reassuring days of prosperity thought that they did not need Christ, but who learned to bow before Him in the dark and bitter days! How many who, had their prayers for material gain been answered, would have joined the army of scoffers, boasting as David once did, “In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.”

Repeat this verse with me now: “My grace is sufficient for thee,” and believe, in spite of all unholy denials, that this blood-sealed grace is sufficient for all of us with all our sins, with all our sorrows. If you have nothing else in life; if you are destitute, sick, friendless, once Christ is yours in contrite, trusting, victorious faith, His grace is so penetrating, His companionship so unmistakable, that you will never be alone. With Him at your side who promised, “I am with you alway,” you can forget the numb, aching pain that besieges your heart and overshadows your life. If you need comfort when the doctor shakes his head, turn to the heavenly Physician! He may or He may not heal your disease-ridden body; but His all-sufficient grace will restore your soul. If you in the dust-bowl of our great Southwest, seeing the topsoil blown away from your farmlands, are filled with dread foreboding that you may be entering another year of drought, crop failure, and dust-storms, let Christ say to your hearts, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” and know that Jesus may or may not (whichever is better for you) give you a bounteous harvest this year, but that above all uncertainty His glorious grace will guard your precious soul,—the priceless treasure which will live in endless eternity after this body falls victim to the gruesomeness of the grave.

Particularly if you are troubled by sin,—and I mean the personal and private wrongs that disturb and distress you daily as they continually lash your conscience,—remember the promise of plenteous grace. No sin is ever so degrading and repulsive that it cannot be removed by the mercy of God in Jesus. Christ forgave the disloyalty of Peter when that unfaithful disciple cursed and denied Him; and today He will forgive those of you who once were His but who turned away in unbelief and ingratitude. That boundless grace pleaded on the cross, “Father, forgive them,” just as Jesus, our High Priest, will plead before the throne of eternal justice for you who by your sins and godlessness are crucifying Him anew, if only, as you hear Him call, you will come to Him in faith. That limitless love would have forgiven Judas had he sought pardon in repentance and faith. Oh, may none of you think that you are excluded, that you have sinned too often and too much, too grievously and too blasphemously, to be blessed through contrite trust in Christ. There are millions of acres beneath our feet on which all the sons of men can live and move. Our shores are washed by mighty oceans with endless seas and unplumbed depths. Above us are the vast reservoirs of the atmosphere, with air in overabundance for man and beast. Yet in comparison with the grace of Christ these pictures of land and sea and air, as limitless as they seem to us, pale into microscopic puniness. Greater than the sun or the superstars in our heaven, wider than the immeasurable reaches of the universe, with its uncounted galaxies, more inexhaustible even than endless eternity, is the mercy of Christ, assuring those who are His that for the problems of this life and especially the next “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

II

THE STRENGTH OF THIS PLENTEOUS GRACE

That grace shows its power in strengthening lives that are built on Christ. Jesus gave Saint Paul the added assurance, “My strength is made perfect in weakness”; and with that pledge the apostle, still bearing the thorn in his flesh, exulted, “When I am weak, then am I strong.”

To the human mind all this is a hopeless contradiction. In a day when, it seems, almost every week brings us a new dictator; when the hue and cry is for more military sea and air power, American churches must pay more attention to spiritual unpreparedness than to naval ratios, for millions of Americans are not ready for suffering. Lacking all religious foundation, they could never endure the rigors and privations that have engulfed European nations.

There may be dread days before us in which our country will be tried as never previously. This is not pessimism; for conservative statesmen have expressed this fear. If the world must pay for its sin, must we not pay our part? Is there any reason this nation should be exempted from the suffering and trials that others have experienced? Is America morally better than other nations today? In a superior court of the Chicago district a chief justice recently announced, after dropping hundreds of inactive divorce cases, that his court would have to hear 150 cases a day on a docket that ultimately would reach 15,000 trials for that area alone, a figure paralleled only by atheistic Russia. Is the crime record of the United States any better than that of other civilized nations? Our Department of Justice in Washington admits that we have proportionately twice as many murders as Great Britain. Who can face these facts without realizing that bitter, bleeding days may come upon us?

Even if all these calamities are averted; if our statesmen could plan and control the yield of our farms and orchards; if they could secure for us an ever normal supply of food and a permanently profitable price for our commodities; if capital and labor could join hands in cooperation instead of competition, all this could never answer the soul problems of our lives and solve those difficulties for which there is no human solution—the discouragement of sin, the distress of adversity. It is the glory of the Christian creed, on the other hand, that, while it does not offer ease, wealth, comfort, success, popularity, culture, exemption from life’s paralyzing hardships, Christ’s strength, made perfect in weakness, grants us the power to meet and defeat adversities, to find spiritual advantage in affliction.

Once you are Christ’s, your weakness, your disavowal of all power or ability in yourself, and your complete trust in Jesus proves to you how unlimited is God’s power. When we are nothing, when we empty ourselves of our pride and pretenses, then, through faith, Christ becomes everything and fills us with His grace, His glory, and the strength that can overcome all opposition as completely as a glacier pushes a pebble in its path.

On the campus of our Seminary the students have helped build a replica of the log-cabin seminary erected one hundred years ago by the Saxon pilgrim fathers of my Church. Exiling themselves from their homeland to worship God according to His Word and their Christian conscience in the New World, they were warned that there was no room on the North American Continent for the Christ and the Cross they preached; but God mightily proved His promise “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” That humble log cabin, a symbol of human weakness, developed, under God, into our present theological seminary, one of the largest of any denomination in the United States. It has a teaching staff of men who believe in the same Christ that I bring to you, with thousands of graduates throughout the United States living and working for the same Savior, all ready to help you come closer to that Jesus who works mightily in our weakness. Should not this graphic demonstration of divine power be a mighty challenge for all you messengers of the Word to preach Christ and the fulness of His grace? Even though you work in weakness, in small, unnoticed buildings, off the main street, with unapplauded loyalty, Christ can mightily bless your testimony.

Four hundred years ago, under the reign of Bloody Mary, John Hooper, bishop of Gloucester, England, was led to the stake because he had adhered loyally to Christ. When he mounted the faggots, his executioners brought iron chains and would have fastened him to the stake to prevent his running away when the flames would leap high to blacken his body. With heavenly heroism John Hooper told the soldiers, “God will give me power and strength to remain in the midst of the flames without these iron fetters. For although I am only weak and human, I trust in the Savior, who told me, ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness.’” If you have burned a finger, a hand, or an arm, think of that martyr for Christ, standing unshaken in the midst of those excruciating flames, strengthened in his weakness by the powerful grace of Christ, and praying confidently, “Lord Jesus, be merciful to me.” Think by contrast of the cowardice and suicide that makes a man of wealth destroy his life because a popcorn machine refuses to function. You want the faith of Bishop Hooper, do you not, the faith that leads us with all our weakness to the Christ of heavenly strength?

Because our young people especially face this problematic future, in which the greatest need is not human strength but Christ’s power “made perfect in weakness,” I appeal to the youth of the land, especially our Christian college students, who have unusual opportunities, under God, to exert a far greater influence than they may believe. At the beginning of the last century, as a consequence of fashionable unbelief in American intellectual life, only five students at Yale professed to be Christians; the rest glorified atheism and unbelief, calling each other “Voltaire,” “Rousseau,” and by other names of brazen infidels. Two years later, in 1802, a revival swept over Yale, and one third of the students were converted to Christ and one half of this group entered the ministry. Similar occurrences shook other schools, and the awakening spread from the colleges throughout the countryside. If only in these critical years the spirit of God will awaken in our universities leaders and trained minds that know and accept the message of the cleansing blood with its mighty power perfected in human weakness! If only we would take God at His word and all of us find in His grace the all-sufficient answer to our questions, the solution to our difficulties!

Yesterday’s anniversary reminded us that Abraham Lincoln, splitting rails in the backwoods of Illinois, is human weakness; but Abraham Lincoln as the President of the United States, molding the history of human freedom, declaring: “I am right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God,” is Christ’s strength perfected in that weakness. That power can be operative in your heart and life, so that without money, without great educational advantages, without far-reaching influence, you may be used mightily for the high purposes of our heavenly Father.

May God turn our hearts day by day in increasing love to the comfort, strength, peace, and usefulness that is ours when, kneeling in faith before Christ, He pledges us, as He now promises every one of you who come to Him: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” God grant it for the Savior’s sake! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.