Date: May 21, 1931

Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.Jeremiah 6:16

NEXT Sunday the oldest, the greatest, the happiest organization in the world celebrates its birthday, when Christians in all corners of the globe come together to commemorate Pentecost. On that day, nineteen centuries ago, the Church of Jesus Christ began its blessed work, when the Holy Spirit, in tongues of living fire, descended upon the first disciples, and when they, endued with that power, preached the message of sin and grace into the hearts of three thousand converts.

For nineteen hundred years the Church has had the same sacred commission of bringing Christ to men and men to Christ; for nineteen hundred years the Church has been directed to push through to the very ends of the earth and bring its message to all colors, creeds, and classes; for nineteen hundred years the Church has been challenged to sound forth in clear, clarion tones the one message that can save and transform the souls of men by its priceless, peerless, timeless, endless pledge, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

While it would seem that these nineteen centuries have been long enough, and the work of the Church during this period impressive enough, to ingrain into the living consciousness of all who are called Christians this truth, that the saving of souls by the preaching of the shed blood of Jesus Christ should be the plan and program of the Church today, there are unfortunately wide-spread and far­reaching influences at work in this novelty-seeking, innovation-craving age that would revolutionize the work of the Church, introduce what people like to call “modern messages” and “twentieth-century methods,” and desert the time-honored roads along which the saints of God have plodded on their path to glory.


But tonight, as we approach the anniversary of the founding of the Church, the Word of God calls out to us, “Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein.” And I think it would be difficult to find a message that is more sorely needed in the churches of America today than this command of God for a revival of the old, but ever new principles upon which the Church is built. People today have forgotten the most fundamental facts relative to the Church and its work. They have forgotten that the very word church comes from a Greek expression which means “the house of the Lord.” They have forgotten the real significance of Pentecost and its message to the Church today. And the result? Oh, if St. John in the Apocalypse was driven to write his seven letters of warning and encouragement to the churches of Asia Minor, how much more sorely do we today need the inspired message from God to remind us of the follies that have helped to deform the modern American Church!

Among the 232,000 church-buildings in the United States there are uncounted hundreds that are anything but houses of the Lord. They have degenerated into mere houses of men, where human theories, with all the inconsistencies of their ever-changing philosophies, rule out the Word of God as too antiquated for our 1931 brand of enlightenment. With preachers in American pulpits who are not sure of the existence of God, but who are sure that the Bible is not the inerrant and divine revelation; with teachers in American divinity schools who with genial condescension ridicule the fundamental doctrines of Christian faith; and with the lavishly financed away-from-God movement to support all this, unnumbered churches in our own country have given up the old paths and sought new ways; sacrificed their spiritual integrity, forfeited their right to existence, and loaded upon themselves the iniquity of stifling men’s souls into hopelessness. In this hour of apostasy we must utterly condemn this high treason against God Almighty on the part of those who claim to be His ambassadors and tell them, “You have made His Church, the house of the Lord, a habitation of darkness and death.”

But within the ranks of those who still claim faithful adherence to the Bible there are many churches in which the virile ideals of Biblical Christianity have surrendered to the spirit of modern sensationalism, churches which, forsaking the old paths, have degenerated into social centers, where bizarre novelties and sensational attractions have invaded the sanctuary in order to attract large and curious congregations. Thus we have preachers with more zeal than knowledge who have sought to denounce evolution by pulling a mangy, wriggling monkey into their pulpits; others who have taken the time which God has given them to work on men’s souls and used it to smash whisky bottles or denounce liquor laws in what they call the house of the Lord. Or, far worse, there is the prostitution of the bride of Christ, by which churches compete with theaters, featuring drama services, vaudeville programs, and motion pictures instead of the Word. Glance over your newspaper on Monday morning, and you will find accounts of barefooted girls dancing in pagan tableaux in the house of the Lord; professional pugilists boxing in the house of the Lord, seven- or eight-year-old child preachers, girl ministers, and other similar flagrancies in the house of the Lord. You will find that too frequently the preaching of the Gospel to the sin-sick world is so completely overlooked that there is as little room for Christ in these churches as there is in a Mohammedan mosque or in a Hindu shrine. And against all who thus in any way contribute to tear the Church from its spiritual basis and make the sacred edifices, once dedicated to the worship of the Almighty, mere centers of social functions, the Savior, were He with us in the flesh, would utter this indictment, “Ye have made My house, the house of the Lord, a worldly house of worldly men.”

Or there is the new path taken by the commercial Church, the Church which tries to sell salvation in an endless chain of money-making enterprises, which ruthlessly disregards the law of the land by instituting crude forms of gambling; the Church which the Savior condemns in His warning of old, “Ye have made My house a house of thieves.” There is the police Church, which thinks it has been called into existence to make this country a Christian nation by force, to promote political lobbies in the effort to carry through a political program, or to employ here, as it has employed in other countries in ages past, rack, fire, and sword. Let such churches ponder over the Savior’s warning, “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” as He says, in effect, “Ye have made My house, the house of the Lord, a police court of inquisition.” There is, among the new types of churches, one that is more dangerous than all of these, the cold, self-satisfied, fashionable, and elite Church with its aristocratic aloofness, the Church that takes its talent, the golden opportunities that God has placed before it, wraps it up in the napkin of exclusiveness, and buries it in the cemetery of self-conceit. To such churches the Savior, of whose devotion to the Church the Scriptures prophesy, “The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up,” would say, “Ye have made My house, ‘a house of prayer for all people,’ a cold and closed assembly of a chosen few.”

Against the encroachment of these and a dozen other innovations that sap the vigor of the Church and chill its ardor, twentieth-century Christianity must hark back to the old paths, to the spirit of the first Pentecost. Today we do not need new architectural features and new cathedral-like edifices; we do not need new liturgies and the pomp and pageantry of new orders of service; we do not need the new Bibles which a score of publishers are endeavoring to foist upon the Church in the form of modern translations and special edition; we do not need new systems and modernized methods; we do not need new ideas in the pulpit and new opinions in the pew. We do not need anything new.

But what we do need is the old path, the path that leads backward past all the failures and fancies of modern and deluded minds, through all the tinseled attractions and tarnished novelties of this vauntingly modern present day, back to the first Pentecost. As the Holy Spirit descended upon those disciples, so, after nineteen centuries, the Church must realize that its strength still comes from above, a gift of the Holy Spirit. As Peter and the first preachers of the Church were filled with that Spirit, so today the minister of the Gospel must be filled, not with Shaw and Dostoievsky, not with sociology and psychology, but with the Holy Spirit and the intimacy of His illuminating and renewing presence. As the message of that powerful Pentecost sermon in the second chapter of Acts was based on the full Word of God, so today pulpits that have been transformed into agencies for militaristic or pacifist propaganda, churches that have sold their birthright for a pottage of unholy publicity, preachers who have produced a ministry of dry bones, feeding their followers stones of sensationalism instead of the living bread,—all these must cast off this masquerade Christianity and consider prayerfully the thought-provoking admonition of St. Paul, “Preach the Word.” As Peter preached the Law in all its blighting severity, telling his hearers that their wicked hands had nailed Jesus to the cross, so today sin, hideously rampant in this godless age, yet strangely unknown in many man-pleasing pulpits, must be denounced by fearless men of God, who call out to this forgetful, self­indulgent generation, as Peter called out, “Repent!” But as that first Pentecost sermon preached the pure promise of that boundless grace to sixteen national groups assembled in Jerusalem, and as all could hear and understand that Jesus died for their sins and that this full and free salvation was sealed by His victorious resurrection, so today, by following this old path, wherein is the good way, through the debris of disintegrating society to Golgotha’s brow, men must be told that they are saved for time and eternity, not by their character, not by their money, not by their brains, not by the best that they have and the best that they are, but, thank God! by the profoundest sacrifice of which history knows, by the love of Christ, who “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”; by that love of which the Scriptures testify to every one of us tonight when they tell us, “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor that ye through His poverty might be rich.”

The glory-crowned heights to which the old paths lead were shown on that first Pentecost Day when three thousand acknowledged Jesus as their Savior and were baptized. Three thousand men and women won for Christ without any pulpit gymnastics, without any sensational sermon topics, without any high-powered publicity, without theological or philosophical doctors in the pulpit, but simply by the plain, direct testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Therein lies the Church’s power today; therein lies an appeal to that part of the American ministry that has left the main issues of the King’s business and dedicated its energies to the passing fancies of a fleeting hour. The only successful churches today are those which are soundly confessional, conscientiously loyal.


For, according to our text, by taking the old path, we have the promise, “Ye shall find rest for your souls.” And when you husbands who have your religion in your wife’s name, you young folks who think that you are getting along quite well without Christ and without the Church, you fathers and mothers who keep on postponing the day when you are going to come to church with your children and to give your stifled souls a chance to come out of the cramp into which you have pressed them, when you ask, “Why should I join the Church?” “What can the Church do for me?” let me tell you tonight, as I ask you who have never acknowledged Christ to join with us, and plead with you who have left the Church to return and stand shoulder to shoulder with us, that the Church will bring you the biggest and best blessing that can ever come into your life. It will give you rest because it will lead you to the rest-giving Savior, who tonight calls out to you in the tenderness of that beautiful invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

I ask you: Do you need rest from an accusing conscience that heaps up before you the mountain of sinful impulses and emotions that abound in every life? Do you crave for rest from the overpowering forces of the unsympathetic and relentless world in which you are fighting a losing battle to maintain your self-respect and self-preservation? Are you desperately in need of rest from pain and sorrow, from weakness and disappointment, from bruises of the body and bruises of the soul? Remember, human agencies are but broken reeds and human remedies but false consolations. Men have given their most priceless possessions in the search for soul rest; they have offered up their own flesh and blood; they have made their life a long and painful series of penances; they have tried to purchase rest. But humanity alone has never found rest. Here, however, in the Church of Jesus Christ, in its prayers, its hymns, its reading and exposition of the Scriptures, its Sacraments, its messages of comfort in bereavement, of happiness in sorrow, you have the fulfilment of this sacred promise, “Ye shall find rest for your souls.” You have the soul rest in the same promise which Jesus repeats six hundred years after Jeremiah’s time, “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

If some of you within the range of these words tonight live in an area in which the Church of Jesus Christ is not represented; if some of you have access only to churches that do not dispense this rest and peace and comfort; and if you want to have the blessings of the Gospel and be identified with the Church,—the great body of Lutheran Christians maintaining this radio ministry will consider it a privilege to bring this message of rest to you if you will but send us particulars. In thus offering you the divine source of all rest and happiness on earth this message will prepare you for the one rest that yet remaineth for the saints of God, the serenity and restful beauty of Christ’s glorious heaven. Amen.

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

Date: May 14, 1931

And while they beheld, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.Acts 1:10

SOME of the most tragic of all human experiences have been the moments of farewell, the leavetakings of great leaders from their followers. We think of Socrates, philosopher and teacher, drinking the hemlock potion and then vainly endeavoring to banish the despair of his moaning disciples. We remember Alaric, the Goth, who sacked the city of Rome and utterly destroyed the power of that empire, only to be buried at dark midnight beneath a riverbed, while the screams of slaughtered slaves and the shrieks of sacrificed horses mingled with the funeral chants of his lamenting followers. We recall Savonarola, the lone monk who tried to stem the tide of worldliness in Italy, but who, crushed by the churchmen of his day, left his helpless adherents these last words, uttered on the gallows as his body broke in a convulsive snap, “Christ has suffered much for me.” Or, more recently, we are reminded of Lenin, dictator of Red Russia, piteously helpless in his last moments, bereft even of the power of speech, entangled in a network of intrigue, surrounded by jesting physicians, dying in a tortuous agony, as the reins of the godless power that he had created slipped from his nerveless grasp. We think of these and other valedictories to life given by leaders in human affairs whom men may revere or revile, and we agree that their farewells, tinged with failure as they all are, have left a numbing and depressing sorrow in the lives of their followers.

But today is the anniversary of the glorious ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, and tonight, as we dedicate these moments to the memory of that marvelous exhibition of His divine power, we shall behold the most wonderful, the most blessed farewell in the teeming annals of history, a departure which brought joy instead of sorrow, hope instead of despair, victory instead of defeat.

It was not quite six weeks after His bodily resurrection on Easter that Jesus appeared to His disciples for the last time. Although their risen Lord had made nine distinct appearances to human eyes and had been touched by human hands; although some of the disciples had walked with Him and talked with Him, all this had not cured the Eleven of their doubt and unbelief. So, revealing Himself once more to strengthen their faith, He leads His wondering followers out of the city gates along the road to Bethany. Familiar scenes unfold themselves as they walk together for the last time. Now they are crossing the Kidron, the stream over which Jesus had passed on that memorable Thursday at the beginning of His suffering; now they are opposite Gethsemane, the olive-shaded garden, whose shadowed recesses beheld that agony too intense for human comprehension; now they are at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the little hill east of Jerusalem, immortalized in the reverent memories of Christendom by the long nocturnal vigils that Jesus held on its wooded slopes as He poured out His heart to His Father; and now they have ascended the slopes of Olivet, and the journey, the last journey, is ended. Gazing upon the world in the lingering glance of farewell, perhaps riveting His eyes for a moment in the direction of the Place of Skulls, Jesus utters His last words to His disciples. He lays upon their conscience the royal commission to go into all the world and “preach the Gospel to every creature”; He strengthens their questioning souls with the promise of everlasting companionship; He raises His hand in a last blessing, and even as He pronounces this benediction, He is taken up, silently, but gloriously, and a cloud receives Him out of their sight—a divine climax to a divine life.

Now, no one can thoughtfully read the account of this majestic departure without realizing that it exerted the most profound effect upon the life and the faith of the disciples. We read that these same eleven men, who after the death of their Lord had concealed themselves behind locked doors, the very men who in this hour of parting, asked in human ambition when Jesus would establish His kingdom on earth, were transformed and that “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Instead of hiding in dejected sorrow, they were, as St. Luke assures us, “continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God”; for the Savior’s departure is the only farewell in history that has been attended by such happiness and that has exerted such salutary effects.

Tonight, under the enlightening guidance of the Holy Spirit, I want to tell you that this ascension of Jesus must have the same effect in our modern lives. Although it occurred nineteen long centuries ago; although it took place in a small and politically insignificant country, separated by mighty oceans from our shores, that ascent to heaven and Christ’s sitting at the right hand of the Father has a most direct and decisive bearing upon every one of us in this 1931st year of grace.


We read the words of our text, “And while they beheld, He was taken up”; and we see that in accordance with the plain prophecies of the Old Testament and in harmony with the repeated predictions of Jesus Himself the resurrected Christ did not remain on earth. The religion that He gave to the world, the grace that was offered to men by His resurrection, finds its glorious culmination,—not on earth, not in the temporal affairs of men, not in the institution of an earthly reign, which would remove sorrow and want and sickness and all the other ills to which the flesh is heir,—but in heaven, in the spiritual joy of an everlasting life that lives beyond the grave.

It is this truth, that Jesus is enthroned in the glories of heaven, that needs frequent and emphatic repetition in our materialistic age, when men try to despiritualize religion, to remove it from the realm of the soul, and to make it serve the body. Christ’s last and sacred commission to His followers is to preach the Gospel, to tell all men in all lands and in all ages that Jesus died on the cross,—not to give them social distinction nor to assure them of success in their business nor to offer culture and cleanliness,—but, thank God, to take away their sins and to bestow upon them Heaven’s blessings.

But when American churches feature sermons on such topics as: “Is Mussolini the Man of Destiny?” “The Meaning of Dimension,” “The London Naval Treaty,” “Psychometric Reading”; when people go to church to hear addresses on the minimum wage, the adequate housing of the poor, the regulations of moving pictures and dance­halls, the benefits or the defects of the Volstead Act; when Sunday-school children have the few moments of each Sunday which should be devoted to their spiritual life taken up with lessons that tell them how to keep the streets clean, how to avoid forest fires, and how to become junior traffic policemen,—you will agree with me when I say that the tragedy of modern American church-life is this, that too frequently it gives the body preference over the soul, that too often it has permitted the priceless spiritual privilege of saving souls to be side-tracked and vitiated by political activities, by social ambitions, by industrial programs.

To counteract all this, Ascension Day comes to remind us that Christ has been taken up from the earth, that His is a spiritual kingdom with a spiritual program and a spiritual blessing. He who in the days of His flesh refused to accept earthly power has left temporal dominion and civil authority to no Church and to no individual or group of individuals within any Church. He who told His disciple, “Put up thy sword,” teaches us by His victorious ascent that the weapons for the spreading and the protection of His kingdom are heavenly—His Word and His Sacraments. He who refused to yield to popular clamor and be crowned as king tells His Church today that “the kingdom of God cometh not with outward observation,” so that we can say, “Here it is,” or, “There it is,” as one points to the boundaries delineated on a map and says, “Here is Canada, and there is Mexico.” No, He who answered Pilate’s cynicism with the uncompromising “My kingdom is not of this world” tells us, “The kingdom of God is within you,” in the soul that has been convicted of its sin, that has heard and believed and trusted the Gospel of God’s boundless grace in Christ.

The message of Ascension Day, then, especially to you who have permitted your soul life to be dwarfed by care and worry, is the appeal of the great apostle: “Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” And the remarkable blessing which ensues is this, that, when men humbly and reverently thus keep first things first by seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all else is added to them. All the fine and ennobling forces that improve the outward aspects of life and make the world a better place in which to live and to die, all the civilizing and cultural influences, which are the by-products of Christianity, all these are offered to men by Christ as they are offered by no human agencies.


When we ask again, “Why did Jesus ascend to the Father?” He tells us in His own words, “In My Father’s house are many mansions,” beautiful, spacious havens of joy and rest and peace, the unnumbered dwellings of a blessed eternity. Remember, he adds, “I go to prepare a place for you.” And when in soul-deep yearning for the unspeakable blessing of that new Jerusalem we venture to ask, “For whom?” He repeats, “For you”; for “where I am, there shall also my servant be.” This pledge gives me the privilege tonight to send broadcast through the confines of this mighty nation that golden, glorious, supreme promise of the ages, that Christ today ascended to the highest heavens to prepare a place for you who serve Him in love and gratitude; for you who believe in Him as the Beauty of God incarnate, as your Redeemer; for you who trust in Him as the “Friend that never faileth.” Here is the promise of Heaven’s truth, “I go to prepare a place for you”; and in these words Jesus speaks to you for whom life otherwise holds little happiness; to you who feel yourselves crushed by poverty and loss; to you who linger on in the wearisome siege of incurable diseases; to you at whom men point the finger of scorn; to you who write me that the barriers and obstacles in your lives are so overpowering that you wonder how much longer you can really carry on. To every weary and heavy-laden soul in my audience tonight Christ gives this promise,—and never let any powers of earth or hell tear it out of your hearts,—“I go to prepare a place for you.”

Think of what this means for your own farewell to life. Instead of sinking down into the fatalistic delusion of annihilation after death; instead of accepting the destructive theories of modern Spiritism, which paint the hereafter as a place of dark, depressing surroundings and influences; instead of facing eternity with the blank question-mark of modern philosophy and modern skepticism,—after nineteen long centuries you can be strengthened by the divine assurance that Jesus, victoriously and everlastingly enthroned in eternity, will vitalize in your life after death His rich promise of eternity, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” To you who in faith can understand and believe the spiritual meaning of the visible ascension of Christ which the Church celebrates (or should thankfully celebrate) throughout the world today, life, instead of ending in a shriek of unholy despair, will close with the peaceful anticipation of the immeasurable blessings that await you in the happy reunion with the ascended Christ in paradise.

We are told in our text that a cloud received our Lord out of the sight of His apostles; and in our lives there may be many and varied clouds that would interpose themselves between our Savior and us to obscure the foregleams of the heavenly mansions. There is the haze of doubt and uncertainty that rises from the unbelief so rampant in our day; there is the smoke-screen of modernistic delusion by which the verities of our faith disappear in the black barrage of human speculation. There is the heavy pall of sorrow and personal misfortune that prevents tearful eyes from directing their gaze upward to the hills whence cometh their help. There are the storm clouds of sin, heavy with their rumbling thunders, flashing with the lightning that stabs our conscience. But the eyes of faith can penetrate all this enshrouding gloom; and for you who pray, as the blind man on the Jericho road, “Lord, open thou my eyes,” there is the divine promise that your vision will be strengthened, that the Sun of resplendent glory, the everlasting Word of promise, will dissipate these misty clouds. And with St. Stephen we shall behold the heavens opened by Christ’s redemption and see Him, the Son of Man and the Son of God, sitting at the right hand of the Father, enthroned in the immeasurable majesty of unlimited eternity—our God and Savior.

Did you ever stop to realize that Christ could have remained on earth, that He could have continued His visible presence among men to lead the victorious forces of His Church on from triumph to triumph and to employ the miracles of His divine power to extend the Kingdom? But what a tremendous challenge there is in the fact that Christ has ascended and that we have the privilege of perpetuating the work for the salvation of immortal souls in His name, in His stead, and with the assurance of His abiding presence! For, though Christ has ascended, yet—wonder of wonders!—He is with us in His Word and with His power, not only for three years, as during His ministry on earth, not only for thirty-three years, as in all the days of His flesh, but, by His sacred promise given in the hour of His departure, “unto the end of the world.” Through all the storm and strife below, through all the pain and anguish on earth, through all the disappointments and anxieties here in time, Christ is with us. His presence—praise be to God!—shall abide until He returns to take His children (among whom, pray God, every sin-born soul listening in tonight may be numbered) to the realms of that happy homeland of the soul where in a higher and nobler light we shall see Him face to face. Amen.

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

Date: May 7, 1931

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord.Psalm 127:3

THIS week the nation pauses—and it does well in pausing—to observe its annual Child Health Week. Wherever childhood is neglected or retarded; wherever a people exposes its infants, as in China, drowns its baby girls, as in India, sells its offspring into slavery, as in Africa, or takes its children out of the home and socializes them in a Communist nursery as in Soviet Russia, there we have one of the major causes contributing to the sorrows and disasters that must inevitably overwhelm that nation. And because in our own country, as in every country, the history of tomorrow will be written by the youth of today, we ought to thank God with all the fervor of heart-deep gratitude that such intelligent and wide-spread interest is displayed in the proper development of America’s 35,000,000 children and that specialized attention is focused upon the ten million of these who for one reason or another, either because they are improperly nourished, because they are mentally or physically retarded, or because they are delinquent and offer behavior problems, need the special care of intelligent and loving watchfulness.

Yet, while laying this commendable stress on the physical well-being of our American boys and girls, we dare not be indifferent to the far greater concern of their spiritual welfare and the development of their souls. We want and we need healthy and happy children; but it is even more imperative for our domestic and national well-being to have morally healthy and spiritually happy children. So tonight, on the basis of this striking statement of the psalmist, “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord,” let me emphasize some of the fundamental teachings of the Bible concerning childhood and show you that God looks to American fathers and mothers, present and future, for a profound appreciation of the privilege of parenthood and for a corresponding readiness to bring up their children, as required by the Scriptures, “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”


When our text calls children “an heritage of the Lord,” that is, the gift of love which a bountiful Father bequeaths to His sons and daughters, it takes an attitude toward childhood which is directly and determinedly opposed to much of modern thought. Today, in our era of diminished families, when the graduates of our select women’s colleges exclude themselves from motherhood and when all the modern theories for the looseness of the marriage relation are built up on the idea of childless families, children are frequently regarded as inconvenient restrictions and unnecessary hindrances in life. Only in this way can we explain the motive behind our steadily decreasing birth-rates and the corresponding diminution in the number of the fine large families so frequent a generation or two ago.

Now, I know that it has been only a few weeks since a large body of American churchmen gave to the press of the nation what is virtually an endorsement of birth control, as that term is popularly understood. But I would not want my hearers to think for a moment that this or any other similar disparagement of the divine gift of children and the nobility of parenthood settles the issue either from the point of view of morals or of Christianity. I like to hark back to that lone Friar of Wittenberg, standing before the assembled powers of Church and State four hundred years ago, declaring that Church Councils and Church Fathers have erred and made mistakes. In the same spirit I say tonight that, if that endorsement of birth control were signed by every church-body in the country, it would simply be a nation-wide misinterpretation (to put it mildly) of the plain statements and the emphatic spirit of the Word of God. For here is the very first command that God gave to the human race, the injunction issued to the first parents, but binding under normal conditions upon every subsequent husband and wife, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Here is the statement of our text, “Children are”—not nuisances, not the means of impoverishing their parents, not a sign of low and common family ideals, but, according to that Word that never made a mistake and that never will make a mistake—“an heritage of the Lord.” Here in the 128th Psalm is the description of the happy man, with his wife and children round about his table, as branches of the verdant olive-tree. Here in the 38th chapter of Genesis is the tragic sentence of displeasure pronounced and executed by God Himself upon a man who refused to accept the privilege of parenthood.

But I hear some one say that times have changed and that today the wilful limitation of offspring gives the only child in a family a far better chance in life than that child would enjoy if he had four or five brothers and sisters. I will not question the sincerity of this objection because people may be sincere and still be mistaken; but I will content myself merely with pointing out that God’s dispensations to His children are always for their benefit and blessing and that the child in the large family has the better chance in life according to the investigation of research workers at Yale University, according to the very definite proof in the Hall of Fame in New York, and in the long list of eminent men and women of America. The single child has patently labored under a disadvantage, while the boy or girl with brothers and sisters has found such relationship to be helpful and stimulating.

Again, some one objects that bringing children into the world takes its toll in a mother’s health and happiness and that therefore they can hardly be called “heritages” in the full sense of this term. But this, too, is just another of the modern perversions by which a selfish tendency tries to justify its selfishness. On the very contrary, when motherhood is deliberately and systematically avoided, by following methods that are despicable, no matter how exalted the endorsements may be which are placed, upon them by men of medicine and men of religion, there you have the direct origin of many of the physical failings of our day and of the weakening of the bodily constitution of many of our American women. And if you want to hear what God says about this, open your Bible at 1 Tim. 2, 15, and you will find the divine statement that women “shall be saved in child-bearing if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety”—and thus find their greatest happiness in life.

Some one else suggests that, when a mother is obliged to spend her time with her children, she is immediately cut off from all social and professional activities and that the pursuit of her career is restricted. Now, in this age of advanced feminism, when the line of demarcation that separates the activities and the habits and the pastimes of men from those of women is being obliterated by a steady and pernicious process, it will certainly sound puritanical and out of date to tell the women of our nation that, if the alternative that confronts them is either cradle or career, under normal circumstances they can serve their own interests, the happiness of their home, and the welfare of their communities best by mothering the precious mites of humanity that are given to them as the heritage of God. I say this without the slightest disparagement of the fine accomplishments in all walks of life that have been recorded by noble, talented, or self-sacrificing women in those isolated and exceptional instances, when Divine Providence has employed the extraordinary abilities of this wife or of that mother for far-reaching and constructive purposes. But in the usual conditions of the average home we must be guided by that evident principle of Scripture that woman’s highest glory, her field of sublimest distinction, lies not in the froth of human glory nor in the tinsel of social preeminence nor in the fading mirage of commercial or industrial distinctions, but in the privilege of being a faithful wife and a good, cheerful, loving mother of good, healthy, happy children. And next Sunday, when we bring our tributes to the mothers who gave us our lives, whose loving care protected us during the perils of infancy, and to whose prayers and intercession for our soul’s welfare we are inexpressibly indebted, all this is in direct harmony with that Scriptural picture of the happy Christian mother whose children “rise up to call her blessed.”

Here, then, is the fundamental attitude of the Scriptures toward children: They are the gift of God’s love, “an heritage of the Lord.” Remember this, you, the Hannahs and the Sarahs of modern life, to whom, in the unsearchable ways of God’s love it has not been given to cuddle on your breast a child of your own. Remember this in that fervent, effectual prayer that “availeth much,” so that, if it be the will of the Father, who “doeth all things well” and with whom “nothing is impossible,” you may be given this happiness. Remember it also when you behold a child, orphaned and bereft of the greatest human gift in life, a mother’s love. And as you think of the happiness that your affection, the warmth that your comfortable home, could extend to that child, may you hear the Savior, as He raises His arms in benediction, tell you: “Whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me.”


Now, this priceless heritage must be guarded with the most vigilant and painstaking love. It will not be necessary for me tonight to emphasize that such concern embraces the bodily care and the physical growth of the children. For that is something that is instinctive, even in irrational creatures. You have all seen a mother robin feed and protect her fledglings and hover over them with chattering anxiety. You have all read of the maternal fury into which a lioness may be lashed when an approach is made toward her cubs. What a perversion of nature, then, when parents shirk the responsibilities of providing for their children because of avarice or lack of love for their own flesh and blood!

Neither must I speak at length on the parental duty to help children to advance mentally and socially. If it were possible to speak personally and individually to you fathers and mothers in my audience tonight, I am sure that you would tell me that you have high and hopeful plans for the development of your children. Arthur is to be an engineer. You are stinting yourselves on this pleasure and denying yourselves that enjoyment, so that Helen may remain at college. Even in this depression you are trying to make arrangements, so that little Henry can have a few weeks in a boys’ camp this summer. And the love behind all this is commendable, provided your interest in your children is not restricted to this, so that you neglect the one thing that is supremely needful and turn a deaf ear to the invitation of that gentle Savior who took the little ones into His divine arms and declared, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” The apostolic admonition to modern parents in this twentieth century is still, “Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” They, too, need the comfort and the blessing of knowing and believing that in Jesus they have an all-powerful and all-sufficient Savior, who removes their sins (and children have sins) and who guides them through life. They need to fold their tiny hands and bend their little knees and open their baby lips to pray to Him for forgiveness and strengthening and leadership, just as all of us—you in the care-free years of youth, you in the prime of an active, productive existence, and you who have passed the proverbial threescore and ten—need the cleansing, fortifying power of His blood.

But what a terrifying guilt those parents load upon themselves who refuse to regard their offspring as a heritage that must be brought back to God! We read that Jesus was sore displeased with those who tried to keep the little children away from Him. But how withering would be His displeasure today if He were visibly with us to speak to those fathers and mothers who are utterly unconcerned about the soul life of their children! They let them stand for an hour, if necessary, in those long queues that coil around city blocks and then lead into some cinema sophistication; they send them to dancing-school; they are solicitous about their dress and appearance; but when you speak of religious training in the home or in the Sunday­school, they are both uninformed and uninterested. To them the Savior says, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.”

During the last twenty-four hours 7,000 children have been born in this country. Strenuous efforts are being made to give them the best advantages that any children have ever had. But will they be given the strengthening of the Christian religion? Will they be led to their God and Savior? Will they be regarded as heritages of the Lord? These are the questions which modern parents must answer before God. Remember that the right answer to these vital issues must be given in the home. If the Word of God does not reign there, if the parents are so preoccupied that there is no time for prayer, no room for the Bible, no thought of Christ, their children will very likely grow up indifferent to the claims which Jesus has upon their soul. But remember, too, that the right answer also includes the Christian education of our children outside of the home, in the Sunday-school and in the church.

To these two agencies the Church that I represent has added a third, the Christian parish-school, which gives the child his entire grammar-school education under pronouncedly Christian atmosphere and which takes the three conventional R’s and adds a fourth capital R, Religion, the happy, saving religion of Jesus Christ. Almost 80,000 of our children receive their daily instruction in over 1,300 day-schools erected and maintained by my Church. Probably there is a Christian day-school of this nation-wide system in your vicinity; it will welcome your child and regard it as a heritage of the Lord and, in leading it to Christ, prepare it not only for that intelligent Christian citizenship which our country so sorely needs, but also for the citizenship in heaven, which causes rejoicing among the angels. Amen.

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

Date: April 30, 1931?

The Lord God formed man.Genesis 2:6

“CLOSE your eyes and think of some muddy gutter or frog pond full of stagnant water, with a scorching sun glittering down on the green slime which floats among the bullrushes and swamp weeds. These cesspools”—I am quoting verbatim from a current popular account of the origin of man—“were the cradle of life on earth.” For millions of years, to cite the opinion of another book, which for many months was a best seller throughout the country, this jellylike mass floated about aimlessly. Some of its cells preferred to move about and became fish. Some of the fish gradually adapted themselves to live on land, and they became the first reptiles. Some of the reptiles began to live on the tops of trees, covering themselves with feathers. They developed into birds. But other reptiles adopted hair instead of feathers and became the first animals. And now the climax, which I quote from the bland statement of the original: “One animal in particular seemed to surpass all others. . . . This creature, half ape and half monkey, was your first manlike ancestor, a very ugly, unattractive mammal. His head and most of his body was covered with long, coarse hair. His hands looked like those of a monkey. His forehead was low, and his body was like the body of a wild animal.” There you have the modern, popularized account of the origin of the human race, an account which is essentially the same as that which has been taught to most of the army of young people who in these weeks graduate from our American colleges.


As contrary to this as any two irreconcilable extremes may be, we have this simple, but sublime record of the Scriptures, which tells us that “the Lord God formed man.” This is the revelation of Heaven, which assures us that the human race was called into existence by a very direct act of God, so that you and I must trace the beginning of human existence, not along the path which leads from some primitive life cells upward to the bleary-eyed, coconut-munching, trapeze-swinging baboon, but directly to the creative hand of God, who formed man as His masterpiece, in His own divine image.

In acknowledging confidently and gratefully, as we do, this revealed truth, we are, of course, not unaware of the fact that the animal origin of man has been announced to the world as an established fact. We know that the curator of our National Museum at Washington unhesitatingly claims, “It has been definitely established that man originated from the anthropoid [manlike] apes,” and that a German authority, with equal positiveness, asserts, “We do accept the theory of evolution now as the foundation of all our teaching of biology and social psychology.” But such confident pronouncements, intensify them as you will, cannot decide the issue. Produce all of the endorsements for this frightful insult to God that you can; compile all possible statistics showing the number of teachers in our American high schools and colleges who accept evolution; bring on all the reconstructed ape-men, these exotic masquerades of scientific madness,—and all of this, multiplied to the thousandth degree, cannot begin to outweigh this divine summary of revealed truth, to which the Scriptures repeatedly lend such pronounced and emphatic endorsement, “The Lord God formed man.” This is the conviction of the psalmist, who declares, “Know ye that the Lord, He is God; it is He that hath made us.” No room for natural selection there nor for the theory of oozy life cells clinging to a rock in mid-ocean! This is the humble confession of the evangelist-prophet Isaiah, “We are the clay and Thou our Potter; we all are the work of Thy hand.” No accidental origin and ape ancestry in such statements! This is the unwavering assurance of St. Paul, who says that Adam was the first man, not the Java ape-man, that mythical missing link reconstructed from two mysterious bones and two equally questionable teeth found at different times and different places and withheld from scientific men in a most significant manner; nor the Southwestern Colorado man, built up three years ago from part of a set of ancient teeth, but torn down again when it was found that the teeth were those of an old horse; nor the more formidable Hesperopithecus Haroldcookii, built up from that notorious million-dollar Nebraska tooth, which distinguished scientists described as the molar of an American ape-man, but which is now admitted on all sides to be part of the dental equipment of a wild pig. That sublime truth, that “the Lord God formed man,” is finally crowned with the endorsement of the highest of all authorities, my Lord Jesus Christ, who in the nineteenth chapter of St. Matthew directly declares His Father to be the Creator of both man and woman in the beginning. And Christ’s Word, even in things scientific, is always the unimpeachable truth of heaven.

“But,” some one says, “is it not true that the theory of man’s animal ancestry, accepted by some of the greatest scientific minds of our age, rests upon convincing evidences and demonstrations of fact?” In answer to that challenge we simply declare: The history of human research is replete with similar enthusiastically accepted theories, all heralded as proofs of Biblical inaccuracy, which have become mere punctured pretenses. When God has spoken, men’s contrary guesses cannot disturb us. When the Word of God is contradicted by the word of man, it does not matter how important or authoritative that man may be; his theory, even if it has the endorsement of learned societies and scientific bodies, is unprovable. Every argument ever advanced to show ape ancestry,—the argument from the similar skeletal structure of animals and men, from fossil remains, from the developing embryo, from blood tests, from geographical distribution, useless organs, transmutation of species,—these and a host of other theories, drafted for the defense of this godless doctrine, have been considered by reputable and internationally known scientists, and their repeated verdict has been decidedly negative. It is usually the second-rate mind, the blatant atheist, the cynical scoffer, who rushes in where more conscientious investigators fear to tread, the dubious D. D., who, preaching in a pulpit erected by Christian faith, calls evolution “God’s way of doing things” or poetically insists:—

Some call it evolution, and others call it God.

But among the very greatest of the great, a formidable number of truly scientific men have bowed reverently before the truth of our text, “The Lord God formed man” and declared, in effect, with Pasteur, “Posterity will someday laugh at the foolishness of modern materialistic philosophy. The more I study nature, the more I am amazed at the Creator.”

When a long list of experts, eminent in the scientific world, denounce the claims of this delusion that is being taught to our boys and girls in tax-supported institutions of higher and lower learning, intelligent Christians dare not accept blindly the unguarded statements that slip into our Sunday newspaper supplements and our popular magazines and that repeat, parrot-like, the unfounded fiction of the master minds of misrepresentation. This is tragic evidence of a human perversion, which dissipates its energy in the futile task of shooting infidel peas against the Gibraltar of this divine dictum, “The Lord God formed man.”


No, the truth of our text remains; and what a world of moral and spiritual strength the belief in this divine origin must produce in every human heart! It means, first of all, that you and I are not the mere results of inexorable fate, that we are not here by animal chance, but that we have consciously been placed into the world by the loving-kindness and far-sighted providence of a heavenly Father, who “doeth all things well.” Humanity is not an accident, a chemical coincidence, but it is God’s supreme masterpiece, created after a counsel of the divine Trinity.

And the natural conclusion which every child of God is entitled to draw from such conviction is this: If God made me and all creatures, if in Christ I can truly call Him my Father, then surely all the changing fortunes of human existence, all my own questions and doubts and the sorrows of life may safely be entrusted to Him. He would not have given me, His child, life and existence only to desert me and to permit me to fall victim to the overpowering odds with which my life is surrounded.—For, while the delusion of man’s materialistic origin leads to the blank, insurmountable walls of despair and so frequently produces suicide, the acknowledgment of God’s creative love is the pledge to everyone who believes it that no battle in life will be too hot and hard, no combination of misfortunes too crushing and calamitous, to destroy the relation that exists between a loving Father and His beloved child.

We believe in our divine origin because that belief, and that alone, shows us our individual moral responsibility and our duties to our fellow-men. If there is nothing divine in man, if he is only a refined form of the beast, then all the ideals of clean, constructive living are shattered. If, according to the materialistic theories of the origin of man, millions of years ago (how many millions is not important in the lavish recklessness that finds nothing easier than the production of immeasurable aeons of time), that from which you and I are supposed to have descended was a mere blob of protoplasm which came into existence by accidental chemical action; and if, later, after the lapse of myriads of other years, this ancestral blob, by the merest chance, became a jelly-fish; and if this change has been repeated in an interminable series of evolutions, each one an accidental process, so that you and I can trace our descent, not from the creative hand of God, but from the grinning gorilla, then the best philosophy of life for you and me may be this, that we rob and steal and maim and cripple and carouse and chase from the satisfaction of one lust to the fulfillment of another vicious desire. If there is no God in heaven who has placed you and me into this world for a high and holy purpose, then down with law and order! Away with purity and honor and virtue! That is the tragic, yet, logical consequence to which the doctrine of a beast beginning leads. And if you wish to know the dire extremes to which some apostles of evolution have descended, describing life, as they do, as a fierce battle in which only the fittest survive, in which aged and invalids are to be removed from the land of the living, then read Nietzsche’s description of the superman, in which every vestige of helpful and sympathetic regard for the needs of one’s fellow-man is ruthlessly cast aside.

But because God—thanks be to His holy name!—created man as a moral and responsible creature and revealed His will to man in the divine Law, you and I have a conscience, you and I know what is right and what is wrong, you and I are aware of our duties to others, you and I know the terror of sin and its devastating force in our own lives. Godless writers can laugh sin away or brand it as an animal inheritance and claim, as a recent writer did, that the tramp who meets a child on the highway, murders her for the few pennies that she clutches in her little hand, and then throws her body into the ditch is not responsible for his fiendish brutality. Modern educators can continue to heap up the iniquity of our present age by ridiculing individual responsibility and making light of the moral breakdown in the present era of our nation. The theory of chemical, mechanical, accidental human origin can deny the depravity of the human race and claim that men are steadily rising to higher planes and gradually approaching a gilded Utopian age. We look into our own hearts and round about us, and we see, with all the progress and advancement of our age, unmistakable signs of degeneracy, unquestionable evidences of moral and physical collapse; and knowing God as our Creator, we know by the plain statement of His Word that we cannot avoid the responsibilities of meeting the demands of His holiness and perfection and that at an appointed time all who remain in their sin will be gathered around His judgment-seat to answer the charges of a broken law.

But because the God who made us is the God who does “not delight in the death of sinners,” because He is the Lord whose boundless mercies are fresh every morning, the life that He bestowed upon man is so vital, so priceless, so precious in His sight that He gave the only potent and saving solution to the problem of sin that the world knows. He who created us has not left us as staggering, perishing victims of our own vices, but has given us—O precious promise of God’s unfailing truth!—His own Son as the payment for the overpowering debt incurred by our sins. He who created us, not as glorified animals and high grade simians, but as reflections of His own holy image, regards you and me as of such surpassing importance that in order to restore that image of holiness and reestablish the relation of loving Father and beloved children, He paid the greatest price that earth or heaven could offer, the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ, shed, poured out, not for descendants of apes, but for God’s lost children, to offer to every sin-harassed soul that may hear these words tonight the full and free forgiveness of each and every sin that would separate it from God.

His Cross, with everything that it implies,—a personal God, a loving God, a forgiving God, a redeeming God, a dying, but also a victoriously risen God,—is the seal and assurance of every other truth of Scriptures, also of that truth which we gratefully acknowledge tonight in the words of Martin Luther, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them.” Any other conviction can produce only distrust and despair and look forward to nothing but dismal annihilation and destruction. But with God as our Creator, with His Son as our Redeemer, and His Spirit as our Renewer and Sanctifier, you and I are invited to look for truth and beauty and happiness here, in the assurance of our divine origin and hereafter in the blessed promise of divine destiny, the new and better life created by the same gracious Father. Amen.

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

Date: April 23, 1931?

If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.John 8:31-32

IT has been one of the favorite pastimes of unbelievers and scoffers to predict the number of years that will elapse before the Church will have completely repudiated and discarded the Bible. Starting with the French infidels in the eighteenth century and continuing down to this very day, these self-styled apostles of enlightenment have relieved themselves of prophecies which, while differing as to the length of life they concede to the Bible, have this prediction in common, that the Scriptures are inevitably doomed to quick and ignominious extinction. How strange, in view of these confident assertions, that at a time when atheism has organized its opposition along far-flung and highly systematized lines, when the cancer of infidelity has so thoroughly eaten its way into the vitals of American Christendom that some of our American churches openly print and promote attacks upon the truth of the Bible, we find, in the midst of the cut-throat assaults on the Bible, that the Book of books is now annually sold in 14,000,000 copies in the United States alone and in 36,000,000 copies throughout the world, the highest peak of Bible distribution that history has ever known.


So tonight let me tell you more about this deathless volume and show you what it is and what it can do for every one of you. And because I want the Bible to speak for itself, I have based my remarks on the very words of our Lord Jesus, “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

This promise centers about Christ’s Word, His divine utterances in the four gospels. But His Word embraces also the rest of the New Testament, with the dazzling light it sheds on Christ’s sinless Saviorhood, and the Old Testament, with its three hundred foregleams of Christ, the ancient Scriptures, of which Jesus says, “They are they which testify of Me.” That is Christ’s Word, the entire Scripture, composed by almost half a hundred writers, completed in fifteen long centuries, written under the most varied circumstances,—this vision on the seashore of a lonely exile, this letter in the confines of a martyr’s prison, this history on a caravan wearily jogging its way across the desert, this psalm under the starlit heavens of Judah, this song in the captivity of far-off Babylon,—a Book to which many men and many countries and many centuries have contributed, but which, from the creation of Genesis to the beatified visions of paradise in the Apocalypse, is pervaded with a marvelous unity, the dominating message of sin and grace, the assurance of a loving Father’s gracious redemption of His children.

Now, it is fundamentally vital that we realize that this Bible is Christ’s Word, God’s Word, a divine Book; that, unlike the 12,000 different volumes published in the United States last year, here is a book that came into existence not “by the will of man,” but, as the apostle tells us, by the immeasurable and unending love of God to give His weak and inconsistent children a positive and unfailing guide through the perplexities of the here into the hereafter.

Externally, of course, the Bible has much the same appearance as any other volume of its size and proportions. But because it is God-breathed; because, as we are expressly assured, “all Scripture is given by inspiration”; because the men who wrote the various books of the Bible “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” we believe that the Bible, as 2,600 different passages of the Old Testament and 526 different references in the New individually claim, presents to us the Word of God, written by men who were chosen and supernaturally endowed by God for that purpose and who, through the divine process of inspiration, were given the exact, literal messages they have recorded for us.

Now stop to think what this means, that within the covers of the Bible you have Christ’s Word. Christ is the only one who ever came down from heaven to tell men of God and of the hereafter. What “eye hath not seen nor ear heard” is revealed in Christ’s Word, and in that Word alone. And so, when Jesus tells you who labor under the sorrows and anxieties of a disillusioning world that He has gone to prepare the heavenly mansions for you; when His Word assures you that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed” in you, then rest fully assured that, unlike misguided fanatics of our day who claim personal revelation from God, unlike philosophers and scientists who speculate in vague theories as to the hereafter, Jesus alone reveals authoritatively the divine facts of the life to come, on which every sin-harassed soul can safely rest its hope.

Christ is everlasting and unchangeable, “the same yesterday and today and forever”; and that means that His Word likewise is not subject to the fluctuations of human learning and experience. There is not a recognized institution of higher learning in our country today that employs the same textbooks in natural sciences, for example, which were used at the beginning of this century,—so changeable and vacillating are the best products of the human brain. But here in the Bible, because it comes down from Him “in whom there is no variableness neither shadow of turning,” we have a changeless Christ for a changing world, a Book of sacred promises which is never out of date and which, according to the Savior’s own pledge, shall survive the relentless flow of devastating time.

Christ is holy. His challenge, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” has remained unaccepted through nineteen centuries of human hostility to Him. So, likewise, His Book is the echo of His holiness and of His infinite beauty and excellence. Even the unparalleled language seems to be conscious of its high privilege in being chosen as the vehicle of this divine beauty. It was Lord Macaulay, who knew the Bible well from his childhood and whose writings are replete with references to it, that said, “The English Bible—the Book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.”

But this literary grace is only a vanishing shadow of the great spiritual beauty portrayed by the gracious promises of love. Christ is Love, Love in its highest, deepest, broadest reaches, and never have human eyes read a volume that abounds with the singular tenderness of the love which the Bible extends to every sorrowing soul. Behold its consideration for the sick and the suffering; its provisions for the outcasts and the destitute; its hatred of persecution; its rejection of injustice and oppression and its corresponding emphasis on mercy, peace, and love; its tenderness even for dumb animals, which forbade the removal of the mother bird from her nest. But remember that this is merely a weak echo of the most beautiful theme that human ears have ever heard, the holy beauty of the divine grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, who, “having loved His own that were in the world, loved them unto the end,” that heart-breaking, earth-shaking end at Calvary, with a love that knows no bounds and that demands no payment, but that would make the sin-stained souls of all men pure and white in the sight of God.

Christ is the universal figure of history. His transforming love addresses itself to “all who labor and are heavy laden.” And so His Word, the only truly universal Book, has hurdled the barriers that divide men into different and opposing races, castes, and colors and crashed through the walls of the artificial caste systems that selfish men have erected. Because the Bible is the Book for all lands, from the tropical climes of darkest Africa to the frozen wastes of the frigid North; because it is the Book for all people, the cultured and the illiterate, the wealthy and the impoverished, the mighty and the humble; because it is the Book for every need in every human heart; because, in short, it is God’s Book for humanity in its entirety, it has been translated into approximately nine hundred languages and dialects and has brought men to God all over the world. The nearest approach to that universality is Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which has been translated into 171 languages. And that hymn is largely a poetic reproduction of the 46th Psalm.

Christ gave the world a complete redemption. When He cried, “It is finished,” and when He rose again to seal the power of His shed blood, God’s plan of salvation was perfected. His Word, too, is complete. The closing verses of the Bible place a curse upon those who take away from, or add to, the revelation of God. And in a day when men either take out of the Bible parts that do not appeal to their natural pride and ambitions or tell us that we need something to supplement the Bible, a mystical key to its interpretation or the traditions of the Church Fathers or the so-called assured results of science, we rest assured that this Book would not be God’s Book if it required the additions of human theories and human opinions to make it complete.

Christ is eternal. He, humanity’s everlasting contemporary, comforts us with the assurance that He is with us “alway, even unto the end of the world.” And His Word is imperishable. In moments of doubt we may sometimes think that the missiles of hatred may mar the Word; but then, through the Spirit of God, we are reassured that these loud-mouthed and overconfident enemies of the Bible are simply raising a tissue paper barricade to restrain the onrushing flood of God’s Word. Their names and their delusions are “writ in sand.” A wave laps lazily over them, and all is destroyed. Let us not worry about the Bible. Here is Christ’s sacred pledge, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word shall not pass away.”


And when you now ask, “What can this deathless Book do for me?” the words that I read before tell you, “If ye continue in My Word,” that is, if you accept the Bible as the guiding principle of your life, cling to the message of its Cross as to the veritable Rock of Ages, and in prosperity and adversity, in sickness and health, in employment and unemployment, in life and death, find in it Christ as the great Friend and Savior that He is, “ye are My disciples indeed.” Remember, that pledge is contingent upon a faithful, consistent, and unwavering continuance in Christ’s Word. It is not a matter of reading the Bible today and setting it aside tomorrow; not a worshiping on Sunday and a denying on Monday; not an automatic, passive, indifferent acknowledgment of Christ’s Word, but a living, vitalizing, constant devotion to the Scriptures, through daily and unintermittent study of the Word. Only in this way can you enjoy the glorious distinction of being enrolled shoulder to shoulder with the host of Christian soldiers who, following in the footsteps of the Twelve and in the pathways blazed by the apostles, are marching on in endless procession and under the leadership of the great Captain of their soul’s salvation. There can, of course, be an outward show of Christianity without this Biblical basis. In a day when the largest and most imposing churches are often built up on anti-Scriptural foundations, when doctrinal demarcations are steadily being obliterated; when church-membership is made so easy that no statement of faith or pledge of conduct is seriously demanded, it may be well to remind ourselves that our Savior is speaking of His disciples “indeed” and that there can be no real and sincere discipleship that is not loyally pledged to Christ’s Word.

The blessing of such discipleship is this, “Ye shall know the truth.” Think of it: In Christ’s faith you have “the truth.” Why, protracted centuries of research have been unable to reveal the truth even in some of the simplest affairs of our everyday life. Our whole existence is wrapped up in lies, with lies in our courts, lies in our business world, lies in our social relations, lies in our politics. But here, thank God, in this pure and perfect Word, is an infallible and unerring truth, which never can make a mistake because it came from Him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Here error-bound humanity is offered the truth absolute, the truth concerning human origin and human destiny, sin and grace, life and death, the here and the hereafter; the truth concerning the practical issues in life, your success and your adversity, your happiness and your sorrow, your soul and your body; the truth concerning your home, your business, your country; the truth concerning such modern questions as war and peace, capital and labor, crime and its cure; in short, the basic truth to answer every question in life, particularly and predominantly the soul-searching inquiry, “What must I do to be saved?” Trust that Word, believe in that truth, accept its promise of the forgiveness of your sins; for every merciful assurance of the waiting arms of your heavenly Father, every pledge it offers you for the solution of the besetting difficulties of life, has been written in the blood of Christ and sealed with His glorious resurrection.

That truth, our text continues, “shall make you free.” Freedom and liberty have always ranked among the highest and noblest aspirations of men. To free their fellow men from bondage, 300,000 soldiers laid down their lives in our Civil War. To preserve their liberties, as the soldiers on both sides of that bloody conflict were told, eight and a half million combatants went down to death in the World War. But the tragedies that have followed in the wake of that stupendous conflict have emphasized to an increasing number of thoughtful people the ghastly disappointments which millions have met in their longing for political and national liberty. Yet our text promises higher and nobler freedom; for all the blood that flowed at Antietam or at Chateau Thierry, swollen by the gory streams of all human battles for liberty and independence, cannot remove from humankind the thralldom of that superhuman tyranny which blights our lives and our happiness—the domination of sin. For that emancipation we need the holy, precious blood of Him who “Himself in His own body bare our sins on the tree” and His divine benediction, given to all of us who love and trust Him, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” the heavenly declaration of our independence from sin, hell and death.

Have you accepted this declaration? As I repeat the question and ask, “Have you accepted Jesus as your own Savior and His Word as the promise of your salvation?” may God give you His grace, first to realize that you have heard the question of paramount importance in human life and then to answer this question with a ringing conviction that in Christ’s truth and freedom the search for your happiness has found its goal. Amen.

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

Date: April 16, 1931?

And there arose another generation after them which knew not the Lord nor yet the works which He had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served Baalim. And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers.Judges 2:10-12

THESE words tell us of two successive generations of the same people, living in the same country, of the same heredity and the same environment, but two generations that spiritually were as divergent as any two opposing extremes can be. The one was the first generation of Israelites to occupy the Promised Land, the multitudes that had marched under Joshua through the blistering heat and the sandstorms of the desert and had been the witnesses of Jehovah’s omnipotence; the fathers and mothers who, prompted by a grateful recognition of God’s merciful providence, served Him all their days in love and gratitude. And the other generation was made up of their own sons and daughters, who had begun to enjoy the easy and undeserved prosperity of the land that flowed with milk and honey, the smugly self-satisfied generation, which found the desert and these Exodus stories distasteful; the second generation, “which knew not the Lord nor yet the works which He had done for Israel,” which forsook the God of their fathers and served Baalim, the idols of production and fertility, in the sensuous and degrading worship of their degenerate neighbors. And the result? Our text tells us, “They did evil in the sight of the Lord”; they inaugurated a period of debauchery, of which the moral lapses in the following chapters of the Book of Judges offer tragic record.


I have never been able to read the account of this stupendous change in two successive generations without drawing almost an unconscious parallel with a notable change that has come over the American people. You may search the records of the century and a half in which our God-blessed nation has enjoyed its independence; you may go back another century and a half to the Colonial days, when the Pilgrim Fathers first set foot on the forbidding shores of New England; and never in the three hundred years of our national existence will you find two generations that even begin to differ as those two generations do that have formed history from the days after the close of the Civil War down to the present moment. Never has there been a change as startling and deplorable as the contrast that has made this age the generation that has forgotten God.

Think of the remarkable parallel and repetition of history. As those conquering Israelite armies marched into the Promised Land, so the last three decades of the past century, the years in which the fathers and mothers of many who are listening in tonight grew up in these United States, brought more than 12,000,000 immigrants from Europe to the Promised Land of magic America. During the same period practically two-thirds of the United States, the country west of the Mississippi River, began its real and lasting growth, being settled by the sturdy pioneers who went out from the seaboard and the Central States in their creaking covered wagons to stake their claims within the confines of twelve territories that are now flourishing States of the Union.

And because they believed that God had led them across the Atlantic or across the plains and the Rockies as He had led Joshua’s men through the trackless wilderness, they served God. They organized most of our Christian congregations; they built the majority of our church edifices. They gave the impetus to much of the mission-work at home and abroad. They established many of our Christian schools, as did the founders of my Church, men with university distinctions, who, before they had lived a year in the hinterland of Missouri, cut down the trees that were to build the walls of a backwoods divinity school. That generation had its faults, frailties, that everlastingly mark the moral feebleness of humanity, and we do not make the mistake of showing reverence to the past simply because it is so far distant that its shortcomings may be glossed over and minimized. But with all necessary concessions one definite and unalterable fact stands out sharply and distinctly—the generation of our fathers and mothers knew God; it recognized His providential deliverance, the certainty of His judgment, and the boundlessness of His grace.

And then there arose this generation, this cynical, sophisticated, self-satisfied generation, which so largely knows not the God of its fathers and prides itself in this ignorance, which so frequently has set up the modern counterpart of the ancient Baalim, the idols of mass production, grinning Mammon, the false gods of material, selfish, sensual worship, with the tragic consequences that we are living in the greatest away-from-God movement that the country has ever known.

See how all this has been demonstrated, for example, in the delusive and destructive attitude which men have taken toward the foundation of our faith, the Bible, the revelation of God to man, which is “able to make us wise unto salvation,” coming to every one of us with the Savior’s own benediction, “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” We know, of course, that throughout the centuries there has always been opposition to the Word of Truth; yet such opposition came almost entirely from men who were without the Church and who laid no claim to the title “Christian.” In the age of Roman imperialism it was a brutal heathen, Diocletian, who set himself the futile task of destroying the Bible. In the eighteenth century it was professed infidels of the type of Voltaire and the French Revolutionists. In the past generation it was the like-minded scoffers, such as Ingersoll, together with a growing number of outspoken Bible critics in European universities. But in this generation it is the liberal church­ men and the highly paid instructors at poorly attended theological seminaries who are fighting in the very front ranks of the anti-Biblical forces.

While I am grateful for the privilege of speaking to you as a representative of that Church which still bows unconditionally before the authority of the Word of God, and while I thank God especially for the millions in other churches who still refuse to bend their knees before the Baal of modernistic unbelief, a survey of the outward Christianity shows that this opposition to the Word is found within many Christian churches and that even those denominations which were founded on Christian and Biblical principles and which during the past generation contended for the divine truth have frequently been moved and controlled by unholy and destructive forces. Not long ago a questionnaire was sent to some seven hundred representative pastors of the various Protestant churches, and do you know that almost forty per cent. of these religious leaders did not hesitate to declare that in their opinion the Bible was not the infallible truth of God? The tragedy of modern American church-life is this, that, like the generation after Joshua, it refuses to recognize the God of truth and love.

But how can conditions be different when some of the oldest and wealthiest theological seminaries in our country, schools which in their charter are dedicated to the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, have studiously and completely rejected the Bible as the inspired guide of humanity, in direct fulfilment of Peter’s prophecy condemning “the false teachers among you” who preach “destructive heresies, denying even the Lord that bought them and bringing upon themselves swift destruction”? What else can we expect when you can go into churches that claim membership in fundamentally Christian denominations, churches that were built by believing and trusting fathers and mothers, and hear the members of these churches complacently tolerate a rejection of everything essential to a Christian’s confidence in the Bible and listen without protest to a denial of Christ that could well be uttered in a Jewish synagog or in a Confucian temple?


And the result of all this? We heard before that a moral breakdown followed in the wake of Israel’s forsaking the Lord God of their fathers. And you can all see the modern parallel in our own country. Millions of Americans are forgetting or ignoring God in our political life, in our home-life, in our business life, and in every walk of life. And this forgetfulness helps to account for the supertragedy in our American life that in this new era of radio and television, of 102-story sky-scrapers and around-the-world fliers, voyages into the stratosphere and submarine cruises to the poles, we have brought upon ourselves the unenviable distinction of having broken more records in our departure from morality than any age in this country before us. With more comforts, more conveniences, more attractions, more opportunities, more blessings of all kinds than in any former generation or in any other country of the world, our overcrowded jails, our mounting crime waves, our unmistakable growth of unhappiness and cynicism, emphasize a depressing contrast and should shock us into the realization that, while our twentieth-century generation may say more and know more about everything than any of its predecessors, it actually says less and knows less about the verities of the soul and the hope of its salvation than any previous age in American history.

Now, don’t blame the war for this! Don’t blame Prohibition! Don’t blame the industrial upheaval and the depression! Beyond whatever contributions they may or may not have made to our national delinquency and to this country-wide breakdown of morals is the direct and in­ evitable connection between irreligion and immorality. Tear the fear of God out of the hearts of any people, remove the sense of sin and individual responsibility which the Bible so repeatedly stresses; let them trace their own origin and descent, not as the Bible does to the creative hand of God, but directly or indirectly to the blubbering baboon; let them set aside the divine revelation with the sacred obligations which it lays upon men, and you have the real and basic cause for the terrifying conditions that surround us. For the Word of God testifies, “The nation that will not serve Thee, O God, shall perish,”—and that means perish morally, perish spiritually, perish politically, as the voice of history solemnly warns.

But here as in every aspect of its work the true Church’s duty is thoroughly constructive and happily remedial. In the whirl of worldliness and the pandemonium of grasping, clashing selfishness with which it is surrounded it must send out in more insistent and uncompromising terms than ever before the one message which by the very promise of God can yet save the ungrateful of this generation. And that hope of modern humanity, the individual hope of every single soul that may hear these words, is not to be found in any radical departures, in any so-called twentieth-century religions, in any allegedly modern conception of Christianity, but simply, thank God, in the unchangeable, unmodified, unalterable Word of which Jesus Himself testifies, “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Put into the pulpits of America’s churches men with the spirit of John the Baptist, who without fear or favor, but with unqualified allegiance to their God and Savior, will call out to this generation of unbelief, “Repent ye”; give us pastors and teachers who on the basis of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments will tell self-sufficient and self-righteous men that they are sinners, murderers of their own souls, and driving on to an inevitable perdition; that the best that they have, the best they can offer, the riches of the rich, the brains of the brainy, the might of the mighty, cannot work immunity or escape from the curse and blighting consequences of sin; and that we must “all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ”; give us faithful messengers of God who on the basis of divine promises will point all men, as I now direct your vision, to the love of Christ, in whom, according to the apostolic pledge, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace,”—restore the Bible, and the Church and the nation will enter into a new era of hope and promise. There, in the return to God, not in any modern sociological, economic, or legislative program, not in any political, industrial, or educational reforms, lies the hope of the nation. “Seek ye Me,” God says to apostate Israel, and He repeats to ungrateful America, “and ye shall live.”

Therein lies your hope. For tonight I want to give you who may never have experienced the comfort of the Scriptures and the power of the truth that they contain a solemn and divine assurance. Conscious of the fact that these words are heard in tens of thousands of cities and hamlets throughout the nation and beyond its confines and that in these uncounted localities, as your deeply appreciated letters assure us, there are unnumbered souls listening in who can be witnesses of what I am to say, I give you this assurance on the basis of hundreds of passages of God’s Word: There is not a single trouble of soul or body that cannot be relieved; no wound or grief, no matter how deeply it may cut into the quick of a quivering conscience, that cannot be healed; no black and brutal sin or a crushing mountain of such sins that cannot be removed; no question of your soul-life that cannot be answered; no problem that cannot be solved completely and convincingly by faith in “the glorious Gospel of the blessed Lord.” Enthrone that Bible with its exalted key-note and center, the divine Redeemer, in your heart by reading it and hearing it and believing it, and if you exclaim with the great apostle, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” you will acknowledge the one power in which lies your hope and the salvation of the present generation. Amen.

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

Date: April 5, 1931

Because I live, ye shall live also.John 14:19

IN the labyrinth of life, amid the many and devious paths that lead and mislead, there is a way, at the cross-road of every human crisis, that guides us to heaven’s happiness. In the perplexities of doubt and distrust by which self-seeking men would overthrow the verities of life there is a truth that serenely overtowers all the blind and sordid gropings of sin-bound minds. Above the darkness and decay of death, clutching as it does all that is human with its cold and blighting grasp, there is a life that lives beyond the grave, that lives and loves when the measured tread of marching death is heard no more.

That way, that truth, that life, is given to us in our risen Christ and in the faith which is ours, ours always, but ours especially on this blessed Easter Day, when we find in Him a Savior who not only lived a life of love, who not only died that death of immeasurable terror, but who, thank God, burst His rock grave asunder, rose invincibly from the dead, and today, on the anniversary of His glorious resurrection, gives us this pledge of Easter triumph, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”


Yes, Christ lives. Let men repeat the falsehood, now almost two thousand years old, that the body of Jesus was stolen from the grave; let them try to laugh away His bursting forth from the tomb and propose a long and conflicting list of fantastic and impossible theories which speak of suspended animation and other absurdities of unbelief; let them suggest that the people who went out to weep at the grave mistook another empty tomb for the rock-hewn sepulcher of Joseph or that, as a German blasphemer maintains, “the passion of a hallucinated woman gives to the world a resurrected God”; let them declare with much detail that due to the cool air of the tomb our Lord regained consciousness and left the grave; let Spiritists insist that the spirit of the Lord Jesus separated itself from His body at death and on that very day, not on the third day, this spirit appeared to the disciples; let unbelief blandly and openly deny the fact of the resurrection and assert with the finality that only Biblical critics can employ, “An empty grave was never seen by any disciple of Jesus”;—tonight I remind you, as we stand before the sepulcher of the Arimathean aristocrat and find its seal broken and the great stone of overconfident unbelief rolled away, that the fact of Christ’s resurrection, the very keystone in the arch of our Christian faith, is one of the most definite, most repeated assurances of divine revelation. Five hundred witnesses testifying on one day; St. Thomas kneeling before the resurrected Lord, beholding the wounds of the nail-marks and His pierced side; nine distinct personal appearances—all this emphasizes that ours is not the credulity of fanaticism, but that it is the happy conviction based on the best human testimony and corroborated by the highest of all evidence. Indeed, there is no fact of God’s merciful dealing with mankind that is more frequently and forcefully attested than that truth to which all Christendom subscribes when it confesses, “The third day He rose again from the dead.” If the Easter-story is not actual history, there is no history.

We have the resurrection of Christ predicted in the Old Testament, clearly foretold by the prophet of old in the Sixteenth Psalm, where Christ declares that He, God’s Holy One, shall not be left in death and shall not see corruption. Or there is the triumphant cry of victory by which palsied Job breaks through the hidden future, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Verbally inspired by God, these and other prophecies are so powerful and compelling that even if the later records disappeared or were destroyed, we should have the assurance that our Savior, having been “cut off from the land of the living,” would nevertheless “lengthen His days,” to use the words with which Isaiah anticipated His resurrection.

We have the promise of Christ Himself, who, long before He went the way of the cross, challenged His opponents and declared that, though they might destroy the temple of His body, yet He would raise it up again in three days; who, when the curious and incredulous came to Him and asked for a sign, told them that in truth they already had a sign, His resurrection, as prefigured by the three days and three nights which Jonah experienced within the great fish; who, in dozens of passages of comforting warmth and majestic divinity, speaks of His deathless existence in the same unqualified, positive promise and prediction that we find in our text, “I live.”

We have in addition the testimony of the holy gospels, which present the resurrection as an accomplished fact, not once, but four times in independent accounts from men some of whom were eye-witnesses of many of the events recorded. These four inspired writers with their harmonious testimony, but with details that appealed especially to their different personalities, have transmitted a record that is so convincing, merely from the human point of view, that even unbelievers have paid tribute to the historical nature of the resurrection narratives.

We have finally the overwhelming evidence presented by other New Testament writers, who mention the Easter truth in almost one hundred passages as a cardinal point of their teaching and consciously center their promises about this historical occurrence. St. Paul says with definite finality, “Now is Christ risen from the dead.” St. Peter declares, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.”

Now, this truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ, so mightily demonstrated in the Scriptures, is not merely the victory of Christ and the corresponding defeat of His enemies; it is rather the necessary and blessed climax of His entire redemptive work, the seal of divine approval upon His limitless self-giving, the benediction of God upon the sacrifice on Calvary. Without Easter we should respect and honor the memory of Jesus, but only as of one who died the victim of cruel circumstances, a martyr to a futile cause. He would be a dead hero, but not a living Savior. That is what the Apostle Paul tells us when he says, “If Christ be not risen, . . . ye are yet in your sins.” But praise be to God, our faith is not misplaced. Christ’s resurrection, cementing all His gracious promises, rises up as a majestic monument to impress upon the consciousness of all men that the cross is not the end; that, as Christ suffered for all, as He died for all, so He also had to rise again for all “according to the Scripture,” to complete the divine plan of salvation, by which grace and forgiveness, full and complete, eternal and everlasting, all-sufficient and all-embracing, are offered, without condition or requirement, without money or without price, without good works or even good intentions, without distinction of rank and position, color and race, learning and culture, offered to all the myriads of men embraced in the completed records of the history of all lands and all ages.

Yes, He lives, because without Him everything good and pure and noble would die. Did you ever pause to consider what the world would be without Easter? Probably many of you to whom today has been just another Sunday and who see in Easter the annual fashion parade, the occasion for the yearly visit to overcrowded churches, or the celebration of the return of spring with all its vitalizing powers, will be ready to say that the world would be just about the same without Easter as it is with Easter, which came this morning and which in a few hours will be lost in the past of all history.

But I am here this evening to tell you that without Easter commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ the best that we have in this world would be lost and the happiness and peace of mind that millions now enjoy would be impossible. About fifteen years ago a young Oxford graduate wrote a fanciful story telling of the finding of an ancient inscription which asserted that the resurrection of our Lord was a monstrous myth. When the news of that archeological discovery was spread about, the world became a madhouse. The restrictions of morality were thrown overboard; happy communal life was destroyed; murder, crime, and violence in all their terrible forms reigned; and to all appearances the breakdown of human society was at hand. But at that critical moment it was found that the inscription was not genuine, and the world, strengthened by the assurance that Christ still lives, returned to its Easter faith and happiness. Now, this is mere romance; and while we do not prove the Easter records by the testimony of secular history, yet the regenerative power of the Easter-message and the picture of a world caught in chaos without the resurrected Christ is simply an application of what St. Paul says when he declares, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain,” and “we are of all men most miserable.”

The apostle is not playing with superlatives when he thus describes the abysmal misery of a creed that can only sob at the tomb of a dead Christ. Without a resurrected Redeemer we are destitute of Heaven’s antidote to that chilling and blighting paralysis that steals slowly and silently, but always relentlessly and inevitably, into the hearts of earth-born mortals—the fear of death. And is there a greater misery than to stand hopeless and helpless before this grinning enemy of mankind, who calls a sudden halt to human ambitions and spells an end in sorrow and distress? It has been said with much force of fact that people today often think very little of the hereafter because they are so engrossed with the hard-fisted and material concerns of the present. Yet there are times in every normal life when the hunger of the soul cries out in a cringing plea for a life that does not end with death. To live, to conquer death and death’s corruption, to be immortal and survive the horrors of the grave, that is the sum and substance of man’s strongest longing; but it is a goal which men alone have never reached. The deceptions of modem Spiritism with its fraudulent seances and spirit manifestations are vicious and destructive failures; the test-tubes and crucibles of research are useless; the philosophies and human deductions are strangely helpless. Men have argued that because down through the corridor of time humanity has been guided by an “instinct of immortality,” life after death must be a reality. They have pointed to the butterfly emerging from a decaying chrysalis; they have taken the scarab into their pyramids as a symbol of the life to come; they have been perpetual witnesses of the annual revivification of nature when the world reawakens from chilling winter to throbbing spring; and in all this they have found an analogy to human resurrection. They have insisted that life must live on after the grave; for without a future existence life would betray a criminal deficiency in justice. Truth is so repeatedly damned to the scaffold and flaunting error so secure in its rampage of ruin that there must be a compensation for outraged right and a retribution for triumphant wrong. But when life fades fast and earthly props give way, the cumulative evidence for all such argumentation fails to carry conviction. Only the Easter light can solve the mysterious turns of time. If in our own lives there is to be a triumphant note of confidence and indomitable hope; if the gruesomeness of the grave and decay are to lose their paralyzing clutch, we, too, must learn to estimate the folly of seeking the living among the dead.


For, because Christ lives, the promise continues, “ye shall live also.” Because Easter is the seal of God upon the redemptive work of His beloved Son, the shedding of His blood for the removal of our sins; because Christ was victorious over death, the wages of sin, therefore we who believe in Him have the divine assurance that we are not to be thrown upon the scrap-heap of eternal discard after a few years of untimely decay, but that our bodies, the marvelous living temples designed and created by the divine and loving Father, though they may now be marred and desecrated and weakened by sin and devastating disease and though they decay in death and see corruption in the grave, are to be resurrected and to be renewed and restored in the luster of wondrous beauty, spiritualized and divinely fitted for the glorified eternities in the heavenly mansions.

So when clods of earth separate the form and features of loved ones from our view, remember that the night of darkness will vanish when we hear the call of consolation, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” With firm Easter faith we confidently anticipate the wondrous happiness of that reunion before Heaven’s throne where severed friendships are reknit and partings are no more. For we have this glorious promise, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” Therefore, when disappointments and anxieties and sorrows of various kinds and degrees all but overwhelm us, we can raise our gaze from earth to heaven and declare with the Easter conviction that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” We can lift our tear-dimmed eyes to that glorified picture of immortality envisioned by the seer of Patmos, “God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.”

So, finally, when the grim specter of death approaches, as the last grains of sand trickle through the hour-glass of our life, in the courage of the hosts of saints and martyrs, we are blessed with the unwavering confidence that our Savior will sanctify our last hour with the fulfilment of His promise, “Because I live, ye shall live also,” and enable us to be translated from believing to seeing, chanting the Christian’s Easter hymn of triumph, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

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

Date: April 2, 1931

What shall I do, then, with Jesus, which is called Christ?Matthew 27:22

THERE is a passion today that has taken possession of persons of high and low standing, a madness that distorts all true values and drives heedless men and women relentlessly on and on. It is the craze for greatness, the passion for doing big things, the mad clutching after power and authority. Seventeen years ago this frenzy cast the whole civilized world into the whirling maelstrom of bloody war; but even the appalling total of thirty million lives that were offered up as sacrifices to the grinning idol of greatness have not cured a self-seeking world of this insane affliction. It still grips the rulers of nations and holds up before them the mirage of world dominion; it whispers into the ears of the wealthy and breeds grasping avarice in their hearts; it beckons to the men of the laboring class and tempts them with the will-o’-the-wisp of industrial upheaval and revolution; its siren songs lure the scholar and enflame within him a selfish desire for recognition and preeminence; and, my friends, no matter what your individual position and station in life may be, you, too, feel that pulling, tugging appeal that would draw all of us to the shimmering shrine of bloated greatness; you know that only too frequently do we all kneel down and worship at its altars.

But, oh, what a contrast to the tinsel and the glitter and the glamor of this cold and artificial greatness is the sinking weakness of the eternal Son of God, who “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death,” even that unfathomable, indescribable, immeasurable death on the cross! When on this Thursday, in solemn anniversary, you see Jesus under the olive-trees of Gethsemane, kneeling and imploring Heaven, with anguish that almost breaks His grief-torn heart, terrified by the torturing soul agony of that crushing conflict; when tomorrow you behold Him with a crown of thorns pressed into His bleeding head and hear the sullen, hate-swollen mob cry, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”; when with your mind’s eye you “behold the Man,” “despised and rejected,” “a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief”; when, over the rumbling darkness of that first Good Friday, you hear the shriek of death terror form itself into the groaning “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,”—to human vision there is nothing powerful, nothing dynamic, nothing wonderful and magnificent about that emaciated and fever-racked frame that dies on the accursed tree; nothing masterful and mighty about all this, nothing indeed—unless you know and believe that this suffering, bleeding, dying Christ means more to every one of you than the sum total of all the most vital human issues in your individual lives; that here in the Christ and in His Cross is a power so divine and penetrating, so comprehensive and conclusive, that it brings to every one who has ever heard the story of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday the one, inevitable question of human existence, the ultimate question of the Lenten season, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

It was vacillating Pilate who gave to the world the words of this immortal question. Hardly twelve hours had passed since that never-to-be-forgotten anguish of Gethsemane. Hardly twelve fleeting hours, and yet what an eternity of suffering for Christ! Judas had sold Him, Peter had denied Him, His disciples had forsaken Him. And now He stands before Pilate,—Pilate, who wants to shift the responsibility of making a decision in regard to Christ and who therefore suggests that they take Christ away from him and prosecute Him according to their own laws; Pilate, who endeavors to evade the duty of his office by asking for a popular choice between Christ and Barabbas; who finally tries to rid himself of Christ by washing his hands of the stain of innocent blood,—all hopeless expedients in the desperate attempt to avoid the necessity of answering this inevitable question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” But blinded Pilate did not know that you cannot get rid of Jesus in this way. He did not understand that his silent and inflexible prisoner is a personal issue in every human life, that, though he might wash his hands, he could not wash his conscience clean of Jesus. He did not realize that Christ is the inevitable figure of history and that the question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” must be answered personally, directly, unavoidably, by every one who has ever met Christ in His Word.


And there were others who persuaded themselves that they could escape the responsibility of acknowledging or disavowing Christ. Judas thought that the jingle of thirty pieces of blood money could drown out the voice of Jesus in his conscience; but, again, Judas did not know Jesus. He did not know that there were not billions enough in this world to purchase release and exemption from the necessity of answering this question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” So we see Judas haunted by the suffering of the livid Man of Sorrows, whom he had tried to forget and, driven by a wild and hopeless despair, fade out of human history as his body dangled in the moaning winds. There was Peter, who on that very Thursday night cursed and swore that he did not know Christ and who tried to reassure himself as he hovered over the warmth of the fire in the high priest’s court that his foul and infamous oath would remove the dangerous necessity of acknowledging Christ. But unwittingly Peter spoke the truth when he said, “I know Him not”; for he did not understand Jesus; he, too, did not realize that he could not get rid of Jesus in this way. A few moments later, when he gazed into the blanched face of that majestic Sufferer, we see the rough Galilean fisherman shaking in convulsive sobs, beginning to realize that he cannot avoid the inevitable Christ.

Now, there are some of you who have been trying to get rid of Christ, some of you who may have tuned in tonight, apparently by the merest chance, but in reality by the unsearchable direction of your God, who have deluded yourselves into believing that you do not have to make a decision one way or the other in regard to Christ, that you can ignore Him, that you can leave this question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” to others. To you I want to say tonight with fire-winged words, which, pray God, may burn their way through all the obstacles of self-will into the very center of your sin-sick hearts: Once you have ever read or heard of Christ, once you have been told in the words of the infallible Truth, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; once your gaze has been directed to the Cross and you have seen the Innocent condemned for the guilty, Divinity suffering for humanity, the Creator sacrificed for the creature; once you have asked,—

Whence come these sorrows,

Whence this mortal anguish?

and have heard the answer,—

It is thy sins for which the Lord did languish,

you are unalterably confronted with the question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” You may think what you will about Caesar or Napoleon, about Washington or Lincoln, about Roosevelt or Wilson, without having your knowledge or your ignorance influence in any way the spiritual truths of your life. But here in this bruised, lacerated, pain-torn figure hanging on Calvary’s cross is your destiny for time and eternity.

Remember, too, that there is no other issue in life in which a choice is so unavoidable. A business man can buy or sell, a statesman can choose to run or not to run, and in uncounted thousands of questions in your own life you can follow the dictates of your own desires and conveniences and answer or refuse to answer; but here is one issue in your life that is beyond the reach of your acceptance or rejection, the question that you must answer, “What shall I do with Jesus?” Ignore Christ? Get rid of Him? You can more easily ignore the sternest reality of your own existence than ignore Him; more readily get rid of the past of all ages than get rid of Him. You must deal with this question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” Push it aside today, if you elect to do so, but let me tell you in all the earnestness of this sacred hour that tomorrow you will meet Christ, and this eternal, insistent question will confront you. Laugh Him out of Scriptural existence, as modem atheism and infidelity vauntingly does; yet a recent publication lists no fewer than 350 modern biographies of Christ; and some day the laughter of scorn will change to tears of remorse.


And you must answer definitely and decisively. A nation can maintain its neutrality in war; a scientist can refuse to commit himself on any scientific issue; a jury can disagree; you can answer ten thousand questions with a non-committal “I don’t know” and another ten thousand with an evasive compromise; but you either accept Christ or you reject Him; you either believe in Him and regard Him as the Savior of your soul or disbelieve His Word and find in Him only a poor, pathetic caricature of what He claims to be and what He is; you either cry, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” or, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Now, what will you do with Christ? Tonight, on the anniversary of the last night of the Savior’s natural life, that Thursday when He instituted the Sacrament of His very body and blood, given and shed for the remission of your sins and mine, tonight God sends this question into the innermost recesses of your soul; and before you try to evade or to postpone your decision, come with me to behold the cross. To the morbid crowds at the murder scene it was only two pieces of dead wood, this cross on Calvary; and in the annals of corrupted Roman criminology that emaciated victim who felt the tearing anguish of the nails of death crush through His hands and feet was only one of an uncounted number who had been executed by this legal torture. Even for us who live in an age in which Christian compassion has helped to temper the pains of capital punishment the possibility is by no means remote that we pass too lightly over the brutality of that instrument of death and minimize the horrors of crucifixion, a punishment so excruciatingly painful that because of the violent tension of the body, the burning and festering nail­wounds, the exposure to the sun and the elements, the swelling of the heart, the burning and raging thirst, the inflammatory fever, the soul-racking agonies, has universally been considered one of the most brutal modes of torture men have ever known.

And yet, only once in the seven words which He spoke on the cross is there a cry of physical pain and bodily anguish, for there is a deeper sorrow in the crushing, cracking weight of sin. We learn much of sin and its consequences in history, but there is nothing in all the annals of human depravity that even approaches this. For here, on this cross, is One who bears the aggregate of all sins that have ever been committed, the transgression of every one of the uncounted myriads of millions of men who have ever lived or who ever will live on this earth of sin and crime. O wondrous Love, O divine Love! Jesus, as the holy, spotless Lamb of God, takes away your sins and mine. The eternal Son of an eternal Father, He who “knew no sin, became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He who is adored through all the eternity of eternities “was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities” to give us a forgiveness and a faith and a hope which will prevail even against the gates of hell—and with all this a new, regenerated life and all the blessings of a Christ-dedicated existence.

As you stand in spirit beneath the cross, I ask you, “What will you do with this Jesus?” To reject Him, to crucify Him anew, to attempt the impossible by endeavoring to get rid of Jesus, to be too preoccupied to receive Him, too self-satisfied to want Him, too independent to need Him, all this, if protracted by impenitent unbelief, is but the preliminary to darkness, to never-ending death, to hell; for here is the unavoidable verdict of Christ, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” My fellow-sinners, I beseech you, “Harden not your hearts”; let not that holy, precious blood be shed in vain for you. Come to the Friend of friends, the Savior of your souls, as guilty, as polluted, as spiritually paralyzed as you may be, and believe that He who promised to the penitent crucified with Him the open gates of paradise, He whose death brought a rude pagan captain to the faith, has promised you that, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” He asks of you for your salvation no effort, no contributions, no cooperation, only—thank God for this,—only faith, only repentance and trusting acceptance of Him and His salvation.

What, then, will you do with Jesus? What else can you do if you know and believe the depths of His love as revealed to us by this Passiontide than to grasp Him, to cling to Him, to fall at His wounded feet, and with a heart that lives anew with faith and hope and love to cry out:—

Thou hast borne the smiting only

      That my wounds might all be whole;

Thou hast suffered, sad and lonely,

      Rest to give my weary soul;

Yea, the curse of God enduring,

Blessing unto me securing.

Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,

Dearest Jesus, unto Thee!


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

Date: March 26, 1931?

Now, at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude, crying aloud, began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? For he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him for envy. But the chief priests moved the people that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye, then, that I shall do unto Him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify Him! Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath He done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify Him! And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified.Mark 15:6-15

WHEN we call the crucifixion of our Savior the greatest miscarriage of justice history has ever known, even this does not adequately describe the appalling enormity of the injustice to which our Savior was subjected. Practically every phase of His suffering was caused by a direct violation of the laws framed to guide Jewish criminal procedure. First of all, the arrest of Jesus was illegal because it took place at night and because it was brought about through the agency of a traitor, or informer. The private examination of Jesus before Annas was illegal because Hebrew law did not permit the preliminary examination of prisoners and because no judge sitting alone could legally examine an accused person. The trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin was illegal because, in direct defiance of the prescribed procedure, it began long before the offering of the morning sacrifice; because it was held on the day preceding a Sabbath and on the first day of a great festival, when no Jewish court could lawfully convene; and because, in direct contravention of the statutes which forbade haste in such investigations, the entire trial was concluded in one day. And finally the sentence which was passed on Jesus was illegal; for, aside from a long list of more technical considerations, it was based on the contradictory statements of perjured witnesses, the judges were disqualified, and the merits of the defense were completely swept aside.

Thus one injustice, malicious, brutal, blood-hungry injustice, follows upon another; and the Holy One of God, in whose mouth there was not a syllable of guile or deceit and whose whole life was a living monument to truth and love and perfection, goes down to destruction as the victim of the most glaring, damning, heaven-shrieking injustice that debased and debauched humanity has ever committed.


Yet of all the instances in which the demands of justice were thus brutally shattered, the rejection of the Savior by the great mass of His own fellow-countrymen, assembled before the Roman governor’s palace on Good Friday morning, is the most appalling in its depth of ingratitude and inhumanity.

You will recall that the Savior, during a seemingly interminable night, in which the fury of malice reeked its vengeance on His stainless purity, was brought from Annas to Caiaphas, both high priests; then, as the gray morning dawned upon the blackest day of human history, He was led to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor; then to Herod, the king; and then back again to Pilate.

There it was that Pilate, inwardly convinced of the Savior’s innocence, yet lacking the moral courage to let justice prevail over priestly jealousy, tried to evade the responsibility of his office by making one last desperate attempt to deter the enemies of Christ from demanding that He be crucified. It was a custom that annually, on a certain high festival, the Roman governor would exercise clemency, just as the President of the United States and many of our governors issue pardons on New Year’s Day. The time had come when Pilate was to exercise this clemency; and to him it appeared to be a very opportune moment, for he cherished the secret hope that, if the choice of a prisoner’s release were left to the people, there might be some way of winning their sympathies for the Christ, whom he had several times declared to be innocent.

So he summoned from the imperial prison a notorious criminal, one Barabbas, whose name meant “Son of a Father,” but whose vicious character was unworthy of any father’s name. He was a confirmed criminal, a rebel, a murderer captured in a street-brawl. And now, since it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on which the annual amnesty was pronounced, Pilate put this alternative before the people of Jerusalem: “Whom shall I release unto you, Jesus or Barabbas?”

Under any other situation there could have been no doubt as to the popular decision; but hardly had Pilate’s proposal become known when the priests (repeating the age-old tragedy which gave rise to inquisitions and bloody persecution, when churchmen became murderers of men’s bodies instead of rescuers of their souls), these Jerusalem priests, who arrogantly prided themselves on being preeminently the servants of God, had the word passed around that Barabbas must be freed. So in the last opportunity that was given the Jews to express themselves either for or against Christ, the powers of priestly sin and popular corruption united in formulating the demand, “Away with Jesus! Give us Barabbas!” Even though Pilate, warned by the womanly intuition of his wife, hesitated more than ever; even though he protested, “I find no cause for death in Him”; even though he permitted Jesus to be scourged with lacerating lashes, robed in the mockery of purple, and caricatured with the crown of cutting thorns in the hope that the abject picture of His emaciated frame might move their hearts with the feeling of sympathy which even animals seem to share; even though he took recourse to ridicule and once more presented his silent Galilean prisoner to the morbid crowd with the words, “Behold your King!” the tumult became more raucous and the protests more vehement with every step that he took to liberate Jesus. So the Roman governor washed his hands, but not his conscience, of the blood of “this righteous person,” as he himself called Jesus; and giving way to the hoarse, inhuman “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” screamed out of the same throats doubtless that but a few days before had raised glad hosannas to welcome the coming King, he released Barabbas, the seditious murderer, and handed Jesus over to the venomous hatred of His blood-crazed enemies.


Today we wonder how the hearts and minds of those people of Jerusalem could have become so perverted that they rejected the Christ who lived among them as a Friend in every need, the Physician of their souls and bodies, the mighty Miracle-worker, the Preacher without parallel, the Fulfilment of all their prophecies, the very Incarnation of the eternal Godhead,—how they could reject Him and choose in His stead a thief and murderer notorious even in that cruel age. It has been conjectured that Barabbas was a popular criminal, the kind that we meet so frequently in our supposedly advanced age, when dapper desperadoes are idolized, murderers showered with lavish attention, and racketeers and gangsters honored with funerals which in their imposing display far exceed the burials of some of our eminent and esteemed citizens. It may be that Barabbas was one of these idolized, pampered ne’er-do-wells, but there is not the slightest intimation of this in the facts which the Bible presents. And I tell you that, if Barabbas were a thousand times blacker and more outrageous than he actually was, if he had committed more atrocious crimes than any man ever known in history, those shrieking voices would have screamed, “Give us Barabbas, give us Barabbas!” with the same insistent vehemence.

We need look no longer for an explanation of this amazing selection because the same choice has been made down through the ages and is being repeated in this very day and hour, when the world finds itself confronted by these two opposing forces, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the unbelief that denies and ridicules this truth. When men and women today are asked to choose between these alternatives, the truth personfied in Christ and the wrong and falsehood represented by Barabbas, the choice of humanity often falls just as it fell on the first Good Friday morning; the world declares itself for Barabbas and crucifies Christ.

That is why today, with all the joy and beauty and happiness that faith in Jesus Christ offers, people prefer to grovel in the sordid sins of sensuality. That is why today, with all the truth and light radiated by the Bible, we witness the deep deluge of antichristian literature promoting a hatred of Christ and of the Bible quite parallel to the hostility that moved those throngs in Jerusalem to demand the crucifixion of Christ. That is why today, with the Cross of Jesus Christ as the divine and complete answer to all the concerns of human existence, pulpits are prostituted, scientific truth is outraged, educational trusts are violated in the persistent cry for the Barabbas of godless materialism and in the equally unrelenting demand that the Christ of the Bible be crucified on the cross of unbelief which modern skepticism has built.

But this rejection of Christ and this choice of Barabbas becomes the more disastrous when we pause to picture to ourselves the impressive significance of the fact that the sinless Son of God goes down into death as the Substitute for one who is steeped in the scarlet stain of many and terrible sins. Do you realize that in Barabbas you behold a symbol of the entire human race helplessly sunk in its sin, the perishing victim of its own staggering vices? Do you realize that in Christ you are face to face with that heaven-born Truth which tells you that in order to bring humanity from death to life, from the sorrow of destruction to the joy of regeneration, God decreed that the Holy One should suffer for His unholy children, the Just for the unjust, the Innocent for the guilty, the Pure for the impure, the Truth of God for the lying falsehoods of men, the eternal, glory-crowned Christ for the brutal, bloody Barabbas? Do you know that you are Barabbas and that your pardon was pronounced by Christ’s captivity, martyrdom, and death?


This choice: Jesus or Barabbas? comes to every one of us. I ask you to remember this: If you decide for Christ, you have allied yourself with the greatest and noblest forces in the world, the most heroic figures in human history, the most exalted aspirations of the human mind. You stand shoulder to shoulder with those pioneers in righteousness who have blazed the trail of human happiness upward to the heights on which we now rest. You are united with that world-wide movement of Christian charity and brotherly love that down through the centuries has been happy to extend the helping hand of Christian comradeship in building hospitals and asylums, in caring for the widowed and the orphans, in providing for the poor and the aged, and in dedicating itself to raise the downtrodden masses of humanity that lie hopeless and helpless in the gutter of life. If you decide for Christ, you are cooperating with the agencies which alone can offer the inner incentive and the spiritual basis for the moral improvement that this generation, as few in our country before it, needs; you are laboring for the retardation of crime, the cleansing of our political life, the establishment of true equity in our courts, the increasing of a harmonious relation between capital and labor, the minimizing of war, the promotion of home happiness, and in behalf of many other issues by which constructive Christian minds have applied the Bible, as the one and only divinely appointed means of increasing the sum total of human happiness.

But infinitely exalted above all this, as the spiritual fountainhead from which all these material blessings flow—if you take Christ, you have that which is beyond the power of human disposal, above the reach of human ingenuity. You have Heaven’s answer to the particular problems of your own sinful life, the assurance that stills the condemning voice of your conscience, the promise that answers the accusation of the holy Law, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” with the Christ­centered cry of triumph, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; that, as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

But if you decide against Christ and for any Barabbas of our modern life, let me warn you that you have identified yourself with those dark and destructive forces that war against human welfare. Let me tell you that, although you may follow in the footsteps of brilliant agnostics and widely reputed infidels, you are definitely cooperating with some of the most diseased minds and the most degenerate criminals that have ever walked the face of the earth. Let me remind you that you have cast your lot with those who in Russia are trying to tear down the pillars upon which free and popular government rests; with those who in this country are endeavoring to ruin our Christian family life and to destroy the sanctity of the American Christian home. Let me tell you, above all, that you are throwing away your hope of heaven; for Christ says, “Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.”

Whom, then, shall we choose? Blessed with the assurance (and let this conviction be written with letters of gold into the deep recesses of your heart, and never let any powers of earth or hell tear one letter of it out of your vivid, trusting confidence) that the divine life of Jesus Christ was sacrificed for every one of us, we answer this question by asking it. For what else can any one do who has beheld Christ with eyes of faith than to love that Savior with his whole consecrated heart and soul? What other answer can he give to the question that is put to all who hear these words, “To whom shall we go?” than the answer which is immortalized on the pages of everlasting Truth, “Thou, O Christ, hast words of eternal life”? Amen.

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

Date: March 19, 1931?

Pilate saith unto Him, What is truth?John 18:38

“WHAT is truth?” asks wavering Pilate as he concludes his private cross-examination of our Lord. And as we repeat this question, we often wonder what the motives may have been which led that shrewd, worldly-wise politician to make this immortal inquiry. Was he a seeker after truth or merely a deep-rooted skeptic, an anxious inquirer or a disillusioned cynic? Knowing him as we do, it seems quite remote that he entertained the hope, even for a fleeting moment, that the silent, yet strangely majestic Galilean could end the search for the truth that had eluded the soothsayers of Rome, the philosophers of Greece, and the astrologers of ancient Babylon. To his grasping heathen mentality, Jesus, of despised Nazareth, was but a harmless, high-souled dreamer of dreams, a dealer in dim abstractions. What danger could there be in a young idealist who, despising the strength of Caesar’s legions, maintained that His kingdom was not of this world? Why take this visionary seriously? Above all, why try to kill Him when His purpose was not to clip the wings of the Roman eagle by instigating a rebellion in Judea, but only to bear testimony to what He called the truth? And so, with a half-flippant, half-sarcastic “What is truth?” yet without waiting for an answer, this administrator of Roman justice, able to perceive the right, but unable to follow it, fails in the greatest crisis of his life, and as the reins of justice slip from his careless grasp, he delivers the very incarnate Truth into the crushing power of His tormentors.


Today, when a restless, disillusioned world echoes, “What is truth?” people often ask the question with a calculated seriousness that is born of distrust and suspicion. Experience has made men skeptical. They have gone through the orgy of a war that was to make the world safe for democracy, but that made graves for eight and a half million combatants, that made the world comfortable for ammunition manufacturers and profiteers, and that in many countries banished every vestige of democratic and representative government. People have been led to believe that through the introduction of political and economic measures a beneficent wave of prosperity and material growth would cover the country; but today, with more than five million wage-earners thrown into demoralizing unemployment, with a riotous and conflicting combination of legislative millstones about our national neck, they have found that the golden age of economists and politicians is farther removed than ever.

All this has had its reflex in things religious and in the questions of the soul, so that, when people today ask, “What is truth?” more than ever before they follow the example of Pilate by refusing to listen to the one Source of supreme truth. Divine revelation has been rejected by our modern, grasping, skeptical age, and human reason has been enthroned, cold, calculating reason, which tells us that the only religious verities are those which can be tested and proved by the results of modern scientific investigation.

As we pause, then, to ask whether this is the inevitable destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ, that it must transfer its faith from God’s Word to man’s word; whether it must turn away from the atonement of Christ to the attainment of man; whether, finally, it must admit that human reason is the foundation for truth and faith, I thank God that I have the privilege of demonstrating that what men call scientific truth is often so faulty, so self-contradictory, sometimes even so dishonest, and always so incomplete that, if we build our hope for time and eternity upon such shifting sands, we may just as well try to promote our wellbeing by dieting on double-strength strychnine.

I want to remind you, in the first place, that often these so-called scientific truths hopelessly contradict one another. For instance, see what happens when we consider the age of the world. According to Professor Chamberlain of the University of Chicago, the age of the earth must be placed between 70,000,000 and 150,000,000 years. But Professor Duane of Harvard declares that the earth’s age ranges between 8,000,000 and 1,700,000,000 years. Now, while you are thinking about this, let me tell you that Professor Millikan of California claims to have proved that the world may be as young as 1,518,000 years, while in England Sir Oliver Lodge asserted that it must be at least 200,000,000,000,000 years old. So you have figures that differ to the extent of more than 199,000,000,000,000 years. Now, if science cannot definitely tell the age of the rocks, but can offer only a hundred variant and contradictory theories, you will realize that it certainly cannot give the world the Rock of Ages for which the spiritual needs of all humanity cry so incessantly; you will appreciate that we must hark back to the warning of St. Paul concerning the “oppositions of science, falsely so called.”

Again, the results of scientific investigation often lack all stability, for they are changed and modified in the most kaleidoscopic fashion. Thus the Bible tells us in the very plainest language that God created this earth. But many modern scientists have dethroned the Almighty and tell us that myriads of millions of years ago there was a fiery mist, or nebula; and from this, it is claimed, our world emerged as a great ball of fire, which gradually cooled and contracted into its present form. But another scientist rises and tells you that this nebular hypothesis is unscientific and out of date and that you must accept the planetesimal hypothesis, which involves a huge disruption instead of the shrinking together demanded by the other theory. And while you are listening to him, a third approaches with one of the still more modern hypotheses, which is diametrically opposed to all the others. Now, which of these conflicting claims will you accept as the truth? Can you accept any when you know that the one you accept today may be rejected tomorrow?

Again, the history of science (the science which modern theology wants to make the basis of religious truth) reveals one error after the other and a long series of misrepresentations. A hundred years ago, when the plans for the construction of railroads were first made, the Academy of Paris, the last word in things scientific in its day, branded railroads as absurdities. That same scientific body denied the existence of meteors, ridiculed the microscope, and became guilty of other unbelievable errors. When Daguerre, the father of modern photography, spoke of reproducing pictures, his scientific comrades thought him insane. When Harvey suggested that the blood circulates through the body, as we now know that it does, he was ridiculed by learned men in all professions. And thus I could continue at great length and enumerate for you an almost endless list of mistakes which have been committed in the name of science. I could prove to you that some scientists have actually stooped to dishonesty and fraudulent misrepresentation in the effort to bolster up their failing causes.

My purpose, of course, is not to cast aspersions upon the heroic accomplishments of really scientific men, who, always conscious of their limitations, have rendered inestimable service to mankind. No statement of gratitude can adequately express our indebtedness to their labors and even to their errors, which have often served to advance the truth of scientific research. The point which I wish to make, however, is this: Can you afford to trust your soul to a system that can make such mistakes? Remember, for the eternal salvation of our souls we must have something that cannot change, something that is surer than the foundations of the earth, something that is as everlasting as eternity. But this is not to be found in the delusions which are being taught our children in many of the tax supported high schools, where the minds of our girls and boys are being perverted by anti-Biblical speculations which real scientists rejected years ago. Neither can this faith and assured hope be formulated in scientific laboratories and expressed in scientific textbooks and preached in scientific lectures. Nor can it be found in any human system of learning, because the human mind, darkened by sin, is too feeble, frail, and fallible to give to the world the final and absolute truth.


But, thank God, tonight the answer to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” comes to us from a divine and infallible source, from the blessed lips of Him in whom the very fullness of the Godhead dwells. None other than the Son of the living God has told us that, if we continue in His Word, we “shall know the truth.” Communing with His Father in prayer, He declared, “Thy Word is truth.” Offering His divine guidance to a perishing world, He pleaded, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” All these and other related passages unite in a convincing answer to Pilate’s question and tell us that the Word of God, our Bible, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which claims to be, which we believe to be, and which proves itself to be, the revelation of God to men, is in every sense of the term the truth, the absolute, definite, positive truth. Let me repeat: This divine Word not only contains the truth, not only presents the truth, not only leads to the truth, but is the truth.

Consider its unchangeableness, portraying to us, as it does, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.” Men have tried to change it, it is true; they have tried to accommodate it to passing fancy and to the absurdities of their own speculations. But while human theories change with depressing haste, as one generation rushes on after another, we have Heaven’s assurance that not one jot or tittle of this sacred truth will pass away.

Remember the imperishable power of this truth, which according to divine promise will outlive heaven and earth. Men have risen up to blast this truth off the face of the earth; a fanatical Roman emperor had this inscription carved on a stone: “The name of Christ has been destroyed.” It was the vain boast of Voltaire that, although twelve men were required to write up Christianity, he himself would prove that one man could write it down. But today this truth of God is annually circulated in more hundreds of millions of copies than ever before—the one, true, deathless volume.

Think of all the unsparing and soul-searching penetration of this truth, which refuses to sugar-coat the inborn perversities and iniquities of the human race, but instead asserts with definite finality, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

But behold especially the unspeakable love of this truth, revealed to us in its highest heights in the tragedies commemorated by this Lenten season, a love so intense and overpowering that human comprehension cannot understand even a fragment of it. I want you to see tonight in that Man of Sorrows the truth of a love so profound that it could uncomplainingly suffer the ruthless disregard of every principle of truth and justice. We hear of corruptions in our courts today; the annals of criminal procedure repeatedly have recorded instances in which the innocent have been pronounced guilty and even sentenced to death; we have all read of men who for this reason or that have taken upon themselves the punishment that should have been meted out to others. Yet all this in its highest and noblest form, magnify it and intensify it as we may, is so pale and insignificant when compared with the mocking injustice to which that suffering Savior was subjected that it completely fades into utter oblivion. For He upon whose naked back those vindictive persecutors rained the lacerating lash, He upon whose exalted brow blasphemous hands crushed a crown of cutting thorns, He is loaded down, not with the punishment of His own sin, for He had none, but with the punishment of the uncounted myriads of millions of transgressions of which humanity in its entirety and throughout all ages had stood condemned. No wonder that, with the sins of every man, woman, and child that ever lived or that ever will live crushing down upon His innocent soul as He wrestled in the agony of Gethsemane, He cried out: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” No wonder that, when He hung suspended on the cross, with His arms stretched wide, as though in this dying gesture to embrace all of humanity for which He was now being slaughtered, He cried in piercing despair from lips moistened with the vinegar of malice, purple in the agony of death, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” We read of the excruciating pain which characterizes the dying hours of some who suffer from appalling diseases or agonizing accidents; we shudder when we hear of the bloody persecutions to which followers of Christ have been subjected by human malice and fiendishness at its worst; yet all of the pain that murder, war, disease, accident, persecution, oppression, in their totality have inflicted upon humanity,—all this is but a temporary annoyance compared with the agony that all but broke the Savior’s heart as He cried, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”

So tonight, as you hear the overpowering immensity of His devotion to humanity rise up to those sublime heights which made Him gasp, blinded in the darkness of death, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”; as you listen to His last cry as He bows His head apparently into defeat, in reality into the world’s greatest triumph, “It is finished”; as you stand under the cross with the centurion, you must realize and believe that above all the loneliness and the never-to-be-measured grief and weakness that marked that black and bitter death you are face to face with truth in the highest love of which even Heaven can tell.

Think of the worldwide sweep of this truth, hurling down all the barriers by which men have been separated into distinct and opposing groups and knocking at every heart that hears these words tonight, with none too exalted or too cultured, none too lowly or too illiterate, to understand and believe its helpful message. Think of the conditionless offer for the gift of this truth. Men may endow millions and devote decades in the attempt to ascertain the truth of our physical life, but here, without any prerequisites and without any price, is the free and unconditioned gift of truth, “By grace are ye saved.” Think of the renewing and regenerating influence and the demonstration of power by which ruined lives have been recast, hopeless careers reborn with high expectations, souls torn from the tyranny of sin by the faith to which the Savior attached this promise, “The truth shall make you free.”

Ask yourself if you have this freedom and remember that the most blessed verity in your life, the positive, immovable, unalterable, imperishable truth, is Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ risen again, Christ everlastingly victorious in your life here and hereafter. Amen.

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