Date: December 13, 1936

Prayer for Courageous Trust

Lord Jesus Christ:—

Thou who didst fulfil all the ancient promises of mercy and in the fulness of time didst come into our world as a helpless babe to live and die for us in the ever-valid atonement of our sins, come into our hearts and homes today, we beseech Thee, so that Thy presence may purify, sustain, and cheer us. We need Thee, blessed Savior, every hour; for we are all short-sighted and inconsistent, proud and selfish, easily turned to doubt and disbelief. May we learn from the perfect fulfilment of Thy Word that every threat and warning against unbelief and ingratitude must remind us of Thy power, Thy holiness, and the wrath of God over every sin! Send therefore Thy Holy Spirit, so that in triumphant faith we may with all our hearts believe the ten thousand promises in Thy Word, recorded for our salvation, for the infusion of new courage into our Christian lives and the defeat of Thine enemies and ours who surround us every day. Come to us, then, thou Prophet, Priest, and King, and prepare us and Thy Church for the great and glorious day of Thy second coming in majesty and power to judge the quick and the dead! Until then help us penitently to come to Thee, faithfully to watch and pray. Yes, come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Amen.

He staggered not at the promise of God.Romans 4:20

ON a bleak January night eleven short months ago, as a cold wind from the North Sea swept over England, the eyes of an empire were focused upon a prince of the blood to whom, a moment after his father’s death, all Britain pledged its loyalty. Here was an energetic, modern, sympathetic leader who would deal directly with the suffering among his people, one of the most popular monarchs ever to occupy the British throne, a guiding spirit for a people in distress. He would break the disgrace of the dole, give half-starved, rickety children of unemployed fathers their chance in life. He would reopen mines in poverty-pinched Wales and send smoke curling from idle chimneys in the great industrial centers. He would cement the British dominions into a stronger empire. Had he not for years squared his shoulders against destitution, squalor, disease, and given millions new hopes with the meaningful promise: “When I am king”—? Had he not, as he stepped into the dark cottages of Wales, where families existed—who knows how—on a thin dole, protested in simple words, but stern resolution: “Something must be done!”?

Yet as the swift-moving pageant of history sped toward one of its most startling climaxes since the tragedy of the World War, that young, eager, alert monarch, within less than a year, renounced his throne and left his homeland.

I summarize these swift-moving, almost unbelievable events not to prolong the discussion of a sensational chapter, but to ask you to view all this in the light of God’s Word as another decisive testimony to the folly of placing hopes and confidence in men and in human remedies. How true, we reflect, the warning of Scripture, “Put not your trust in princes!” In our own country, during these same epoch­making months, we, too, have witnessed how thin and slender is the thread that weaves the fabric of human hopes. I think particularly of two outstanding figures in America’s public life during 1936, one a priest with a commendable passion for the cause of the American workman, who made the fatal error of crossing the Scripturally imposed line separating Church from State and who entered the arena of political affairs as a partisan leader. Publicized a few months ago as few other churchmen in our history, he is today deserted by the majority of his followers, attacked even by clerics in the Church to which he had dedicated his help. And the other figure is the man who sought to relieve national distress through lavish old-age pensions. Because he offered what many regarded as an easy way to security in declining years, he was acclaimed by masses, who contributed vast sums for a plan that has been termed economically impossible. And today, when the shouting and the tumult have hardly died away, we find this self-imposed leader of the poor and the aged held on serious charges by a Congressional committee.

Repeatedly does history teach us the same lesson. Men pin their confidence on their fellow-men, but too often these hopes are shattered, leaving us more deeply trapped in the quicksands of delusion than before. And all the while God in His mercy offers us His own unfailing power and perfect wisdom to direct our hopes and banish our fears! All the while Christ the Savior holds out to us by His free mercy and full pardon the heavenly guidance that we sorely need! This afternoon, therefore, I have a message particularly for those who are tired of men’s broken promises, disappointed in human pledges, those who want the assurance of unfailing help, unerring guidance, undimmed light in darkness, unimpaired strength in weakness, unswerving hope in despair, a message of faith in the eternal love and promise of Christ. And as I ask you for—

UNDAUNTED FAITH IN GOD’S PROMISES

look with me, not only forward to the Savior’s blessed coming in the Christmas miracle, but also backward, through the long reaches of history, to Abraham, of whom, when he received the promise of Christ, our text (Romans 4, verse 20) declares: “He staggered not at the promise of God.”

FAITH THOUGH WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND

To show the heroism of trusting faith, St. Paul summons from the mist of ancient ages the majestic figure of Abraham, whose loyalty to his Lord, tried as yours and mine will never be tried, “staggered not at the promise of God,” the glorious promise that from his lineage there would come in God’s own time the promised Redeemer, in whom “all nations of the earth” were to be blessed. What though Abraham was an old man, far past the days of paternity? What though his own wife ridiculed the thought of motherhood at her age, ninety? Beholding the day of His Savior,—we read this record with a thrill of admiration, “he staggered not.”

How much of that immovable and unshaken faith is ours today? Some of you may have closed your hearts to God because, as you say, you cannot understand His promises. But is it not a fact that often you do not want to understand? If great minds, brilliant leaders in the sciences, have bowed reverently before the mysteries of God’s Word and the mercy of God’s Son, why is it that you, in the doubt of your shriveled heart and your narrowed life, protest, “How shall this be?” If every minute that you live is packed with a thousand forces and facts which you neither know nor can explain; if every cell of your body is so marvelous in its function that you are overwhelmed by your utter ignorance even of those minute structures that must be magnified twelve hundred times to be seen, why, in the far greater issues of your soul’s salvation, which no laboratory can ever measure, do you doubt the promises of your Savior Jesus Christ?

May it dawn on your soul that “with God all things are possible,” that He always keeps His promise! Go back to the first pledge that His loving heart made to the race, and that includes you and me. After sin blighted the world,—the sin which causes every sorrow and heartache in our individual and national life,—He promised pardon and peace through Christ; and so holy and inviolable was this first of many thousands of subsequent promises that to secure its fulfilment He created a nation from which the Redeemer was to spring. He shifted the scenes of history for thousands of years, all in preparation for the coming Deliverer. He superseded the very laws of nature in preparing for the advent of the virgin-born Child. And He faithfully kept the promise of the redemption though it cost the blood of His own Son.

Do not invoke the wrath of God upon your head by affirming that you refuse to believe His sacred promises because they have been contradicted by modern learning and progress; that churches are failures; that Christians too often give the lie to their faith by unholy and ungodly living. You can marshal all the arguments advanced against Christ by unbelievers, Bible-blasters, dollar-sign churches, and apostate schools of divinity; but I challenge those who boast that God cannot keep His promises to produce only one single person who has fully trusted in Christ and penitently implored that Savior for mercy on his soul and guidance for his life and who has not been graciously answered by that faithful Redeemer. Your letters show that these words will be heard by a great cross section of our American and Canadian citizenry, by those who have traveled hard and fast on the highway of achievement or have dropped to the lowest levels of life. But to all who may have staggered from God because of unbelief, I say, “Show me a single soul that, having approached the cross of Christ in contrite, confident faith, has been cast away by that Savior!”

On the other hand, I can produce from the vast roll-call of Christ’s redeemed, men and women who do not waver, but believe, even though they cannot understand. For example, in January of this year a Minnesota young woman wrote us: “I do not know whether there is a God. I cannot face the future, and you know what a person of such disposition contemplates, cowardly though that act may seem. As long as I can remember, there has been just one continual struggle for the necessities of life. My mother was called away when I was a mere child. My father left us on Monday of this week. I haven’t a sufficient amount of the right kind of clothing for such desperate cold as we have had here this year, and consequently I have several times frozen my legs, arms, back, so severely that they are breaking open. I have personal bills which haunt me day and night. I can see as far ahead as burial-day, but after that is darkness.” In answer to these desperate lines we sent letters pleading for the trust which I am now asking you to place in the promises of God. And thanks be to His mercy, in October of this year another letter came from the same young woman. The joy of salvation leaps from its pages as she writes: “I have found in Christ my resting­place, and He has made me glad.” And if I could tell you the full story, how a Christian in New Jersey who had never seen this young woman was one of the human agents in helping to restore her faith and happiness, you would agree that we must not stagger at God’s promises, though they seem utterly impossible to us.

FAITH THOUGH WE SUFFER

We learn other lessons from heroic Abraham’s faith. “He staggered not,” even when the pathway to the fulfilment of God’s promises was rough and steep and dark. Summoned by the divine voice to leave his home (and excavations have shown us that his birthplace was an attractive center of culture and commerce in that day), directed to go out on an unmarked path into an unknown country, “he staggered not.” He became a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by powerful enemies. His only property in the territory that God had sworn to give his descendants was the double cave purchased as a grave; nevertheless “he staggered not.” Even when the awful command led him to the heights of Moriah, there to sacrifice the son of promise, in that moment when it seemed as though the world reeling about him were to fall into pieces, “he staggered not.”

He might have done what people today do when the thunders of affliction crash over their heads. He might have clenched his fist against God. He might have tried to laugh away his heart’s sorrows, to choke his anguish by eating, drinking, and making merry. He lived close to the pyramids and the priestcraft on the Nile, and he might have gone to them, as people travel thousands of miles over land and sea to Egypt’s Great Pyramid, believing that it conceals the secrets of the past and the future. He was not too far from the astrologers and the soothsayers of Babylon, and he might have consulted these oracles, just as misguided millions today enrich the frauds who by peering into a crystal, observing the courses of the stars, following the lines of the palm, and by a dozen other ways seek to sell men promise and assurance. Yet, mighty hero of faith that he was, he spurned all this and “staggered not.”

It is my prayer that God may give you this faith that does not shudder or sway or stagger before the treacheries of life. Do you know any one who has ever been given a confident and truly courageous outlook on life by Hindu seers, Eastern mystics, Oriental astrologers? Has the frantic measuring of the pyramids strengthened the hope or the faith of a single individual? It is sham and falsehood. From India, China, Europe, and America during the last years came prophecy upon prophecy predicting that September 15 and 16 of 1936 would be days of heavy destiny; yet these two dates have less importance than many others of the year now drawing to its close.

With failure following upon failure and fraud upon fraud, let us turn from superstition, distrust, and unbelief and come with confident faith to Christ, who keeps His word though “heaven and earth shall pass away” and continues with His grace “though the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed.” As in His own life we find the lowliness of Bethlehem, the persecution and hatred of His fellow-men, the sinking weakness of the Garden, and the God-forsakenness, the agony, the death at Calvary,—all this before the fulfilment of His promised redemption, before the open grave and His majestic ascension into heaven,—so in our lives the order of God’s mercy is often first the cross of affliction and then the crown of fulfilled promise; first the road of pain and sorrow and then the gates of glory. Do you distrust a physician because his medicine may be bitter? Why, then, distrust Him who heals our souls when that healing requires no sweet and easy prescription? Are the luxuriant tropics, where existence is easy, the countries from which strong leaders of men have sprung? Why, then, are we inclined to doubt God when He throws us into the thick of a real and earnest life-battle? Will the pampered and petted child, coddled and cajoled by indulgent parents, make the mold for a self­reliant manhood? Why, then, do we stagger and complain when God, to keep His high promise for us, takes away some of the baubles and trinkets that might wean us, childish or selfish as we are, from His love?

FAITH THOUGH GOD DELAYS

Let us remember that in his glorious confidence Abraham “staggered not,” even though the promises of God were long in their fulfilling. Year after year rolled on since the first promise of a son, and decade piled upon decade in their hard, discouraging grind; yet as time lengthened seemingly to record a broken promise, Abraham “staggered not” and was finally rewarded with the gift of the long­expected son.

If only you and I in this age of speed, with our quick, impulsive desire for immediate action, could learn that God does not move in hurried, excited ways! Thousands of years had to elapse before the Christ-child was to bring redemption from heaven to earth, thousands of years in which divine wisdom was shaping the course of the centuries for “the fulness of the time.” And when Christ came, His plan of salvation called for no immediate completion of His merciful deliverance on that first Christmas. For a third of a century Christ lived a man among men; for thirty years after the angels announced His birth that Savior worked in humility and obscurity in Nazareth, and only then, when the final hour of redemption had struck, did He set out on the public ministry that was to end three years later with His atoning death and His victorious resurrection.

In fulfilling our promises, God often lets us wait. When we become impatient and doubtful, let us not struggle in unbelief, but exult in the faith of the prophet, “Though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.” God’s time is always the right time.

You know that a mushroom grows overnight, while it takes years to produce a sturdy oak that can weather hurricanes. The firmer trust in God does not usually come from a passing emotion or a pious feeling at a revival, but from long acquaintance with God and His protecting, ennobling, and strengthening of our hearts. Lenses for eyeglasses are made in a quick process; but do you recall that it took the great lens of the Pacific Coast telescope two years to cool? And if we would look deep into our lives and high into God’s mercies, this clarifying of our vision often requires years. You can draw hasty, sketchy lines in a moment; but Ghiberti worked more than forty years on two medallioned baptistery doors at Florence, doors that Michelangelo pronounced beautiful enough to be the gates of Paradise; and if God would make masterpieces of our lives, why should we seek to ruin His artistry by demanding haste? No modern violin can produce the rich tones of the Stradivarius, made of aged, seasoned wood and completed by painstaking craftsmanship. The heart that best sings the new song of faith bears the stamp that this Savior’s love has repeatedly placed upon him in long years of blessed faith. No synthetic pearl made in the speedy processes of artificial culture has the luster of the natural gem that has been years in the making; and when you experience a postponement of the answer to your prayers, remember Abraham, who during a delay of twenty-five years “staggered not at the promise of God,” and, casting your eyes upon the same Christ whom He worshiped, resolve, “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His Word do I hope.”

FAITH THOUGH OUR SINS ACCUSE

Finally, we recall that Abraham’s faith was sustained though his conscience accused him every time his weak, selfish, sinful human nature gained the upper hand. Even then he “staggered not.” We have a golden passage from his life which I offer you as the evidence that your salvation is sealed in the love of Christ, without any contribution or compensation on your part. We read: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” That faith which justified Abraham before God gave him the assurance of a cleansed soul, of sin removed and canceled, of pardon spoken by God and sealed by Christ.

If there is any Christmas-gift that I particularly desire for you, it is the gift of this trusting faith in the cleansing and redeeming blood of our precious Savior, the faith that does not permit you to sink under the crushing burden of sin and collapse beneath despair, but that anchors your hearts and hopes securely on every one of the 30,000 golden treasure promises of Scripture. By these we learn that the Christ who once came, incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, to suffer, bleed, die in unspeakable anguish, came for our redemption; the Christ who now comes in His Word, in Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, enters our hearts and lives with the assurance that, when we fall, His revealed mercies will raise up for us a better fight of faith; the Christ who at the end of time will come, in the cloud and with His angels of glory, will fulfil the last of His promises for this earth, and take His own, all sins forgiven, all stains removed, all weaknesses strengthened, to Himself and the glories of heaven.

Throughout the centuries since His birth men have looked for the signs of the times and the symptoms of unrest and upheaval that are to herald the hour of His second coming. And as they have cried out, “Watchman, what of the night?” generation after generation has seen the day of His coming to judge the quick and the dead approach more closely. But has any other age witnessed more clearly than we in this generation those ominous signs of “wars and rumors of wars”? Has any other age had greater reason to be prepared for His coming than we, who are closer to it, after these centuries, than hundreds of millions who have gone before us? “Behold, I come quickly,” these words leap over nineteen centuries and ask us to prepare our hearts and our lives for that great and final day. Will you not in the love of Christmastide and with faith that does not stagger at the rich promises of God come to Christ if you are now away from Him or against Him? Cling to Christ more loyally and inseparably if you now call Him Lord and Savior! God give you all an unfaltering, unfailing, unflinching faith in this blessed Savior, for His mercy’s sake! Amen.

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

Date: December 6, 1936

Prayer for Affliction

God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:

We bring before Thee all our griefs and sorrows, our own desperate needs as well as the pains and problems of our fellow-men, trusting in Thy love and in Thy power to help. Thou who in the fulness of time didst send Thy Son to redeem our souls wilt not forsake us in our bodily and spiritual afflictions. Thou who hast gloriously revealed Thyself in our Savior wilt not desert us, but wilt offer healing for every wound, consolation, for every conflict. In Thy wisdom and compassion help us to solve the perplexities of distressed souls that have written for guidance and direction. Only in Thee can our souls find rest and our hearts discover a refuge from life’s cruelties. O Thou, on whom we now cast our cares, guide our faltering vision ever heavenward, focusing our thoughts on Jesus, our divine Companion for life’s rough way. May Thy Spirit transform our afflictions into strength and blessing, as He who once came in humility and lowliness now comes in power to rule our lives. We ask Thee to open the eyes of a blind world, so that many may see Thee as Thou art, not only holy, sinless, and just (for Thy holiness condemns our unholiness), but in Christ Jesus infinitely gracious, infinitely compassionate. Bless us with this vision of Thy mercy, guide us along the right paths for the sake of Jesus, our coming Prophet, Priest, and King! Amen.

All things work together for good to them that love God.Romans 8:28

THIS afternoon our discussion centers about one of humanity’s ancient problems, yet a question that has never been raised with more pleading insistence than in our confident age. It is the mystery of sorrow, the ever-echoing, never-subsiding “why” of wounded hearts. From our radio mail-bags I have chosen a letter written by a New York woman who asks for guidance. “I worked for a man for over ten years,” the letter reads, “and I worked hard and faithfully. . . . However, my employer became involved with a woman and lived in adultery with her for eight years. He defied everybody and boasted that this woman was his god. Finally he secured a divorce, married her, and now that nearly all his desires are fulfilled, he is riding on the crest of the wave. Three years ago he became so abusive that I had to leave his office. Since that time I have prayed faithfully and asked God to provide me with a position so that I could earn my daily bread and help support my aged parents. But I cannot understand why that brazen person who has broken several homes and many hearts gets a $5,000 salary increase, while I cannot find any kind of employment. Please do not misunderstand me. I am a sinner who humbly bows before God and asks for forgiveness. But all this is too hard to understand, and I am heartbroken and have never felt so forsaken.”

Equally serious problems, different only in sordid details, loom up throughout the nation. The greatest issue that we face today is not the stumbling-block of unemployment nor the bolstering of financial resources, but the problem of quieting the soul-sorrow of disconsolate and bewildered masses. Your own letters draw a wide map of tragedy. A Massachusetts mother continually brought to tears by the unbelief of her son; a West Virginia father, his lifetime savings gone in a bank crash, barred from employment because industry has no place for a man over sixty; a Minneapolis invalid shut in forty-four years; a young man in Ohio suffering from three amputations, victim of a hit-and-run driver; a Chicago widow, blind, seventy-five years old, deserted by her only living child; a Detroit family robbed of its carefully accumulated reserve by a friend; a Kentucky widower left with six children, deprived of steady employment and heart-broken by his daughter’s disgraceful life; a Minnesota mother still afflicted with cancer despite sixteen operations; a South Dakota girl embittered by a family feud; a crushed Iowa mother whose daughter has brought a fatherless child into this world; a Missouri couple with so many bills that their farm may be sold under the auctioneer’s hammer; an Ohio woman with a husband, a professional man, whose habitual drunkenness has impoverished the family—these and unnumbered others in pitiful letters, almost too cruel to be true, have cried from the depths to ask: “Why has God blighted my life? How does it happen that I have been singled out as the victim of these multiplied afflictions? If ‘God is Love,’ how can He stand by while the storms of the night hurl me down to defeat?”

These are the questions I would answer with the confident promise:

CHRIST SOLVES THE MYSTERY OF SUFFERING

In the name of that merciful Savior we can offer to tens of thousands of American and Canadian homes, rocked by endless adversities, that beloved pledge of Christ-centered faith in the eighth chapter, twenty-eighth verse of Romans, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”

CHRIST ALONE SOLVES SORROW’S MYSTERY!

Only in Christ can we find the true explanation for human sorrow. Tear Jesus from the hearts and hopes of men, and you will leave them the haggard victims of their own sins, convulsively groping their way through a mist­covered world. Modern clinics and hospitals are equipped to fight the diseases of the body; eminent surgeons perform delicate operations on the human brain; our acres of farm lands and forests can produce enough to feed and clothe and shelter hundreds of millions; but only One can heal the spiritual wounds of mankind, rebuild broken spirits, feed famished souls—Christ, our blessed Savior. Only one institution can speak peace to the dazed and desperate souls of men—the true Church of Christ. Would to God that all churches throughout the world could understand the tragedy and betrayal of offering any substitute for that saving Gospel! If men today want to hear about the birds and flowers, they can visit natural history museums; if they want book reviews, they can resort to our 10,000 public libraries; if they want the news of the day, worldwide press services provide all this; but for the divine answer to human sorrows and the permanent healing of their heartaches they have only Christ, only His Church. This problem of sorrow, the pride of the godless, the prosperity of the wicked, and the affliction of the faithful, was an unsolved enigma even for the psalmist. “It was too painful for me,” he confesses, “until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I.” If only men and women today could similarly be brought to the Church,—and I mean the true Church of Christ, which hews unswervingly to the line of divine truth and in the face of ridicule glories in the Cross of Christ and its perfect atonement; the Church for which I solicit the support of those who are existing without Christ;—if only America’s unchurched sixty millions would stand in spirit within the sanctuary of God before the Christ of their souls and penitently look to Him “that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” then—I am not dreaming, guessing, exaggerating—this faith would solve the mystery of suffering and radiate into grief-shadowed hearts the unquenchable confidence that “all things,” irretrievable loss, incurable pain, immovable sorrow, “work together for good” in the harmonious riches of divine grace. If you can look to Jesus and say: “My Savior, You were promised for me in these ancient prophecies of divine truth; You came for me in all the love with which the approach of Christmas warms my soul; You, whom ‘the heaven of heavens cannot contain,’ lived for me in the lowliness of Galilee and along the highways and byways of Palestine among the sick and forsaken, the destitute and the outcasts; You shed Your Blood for me under the sting of the lash, the cutting crown of thorns, the tearing nails of the cross; You died for me, offering Your own holy body for the atonement of every sin in my life; but, ever-blessed Savior, You rose again for me; today, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, You intercede for me; and in the great tomorrow You who once came in the lowliness of Bethlehem will come again in the glory of heaven for me”; if you have enthroned Christ with this faith, earth has no blind fate for you. You recognize no element of good luck or bad luck. You refuse to picture life as a spinning roulette-wheel. You can rise above the flowery rhetoric and the vague poetry to which distracted men resort when unbelief seeks to offer comfort and consolation. You hear St. Paul cry out: “We glory in tribulations,” and, beholding the suffering of Christ, you, too, can thank God for your affliction, even through tears. Without Christ the heaped sorrows of life tower before you as a blank, impassable wall. You seem to be only an atom of humanity that may be ground under the heel of pure chance; and as blow after blow descends upon your bowed head and broken life, each impact comes as the result of your sins. But with Christ and His sin-destroying grace you know in blessed assurance that, “whether we wake or sleep, we . . . live together with Him.” And living with Christ, we can break out in this confident refrain, “All things work together for good.”

CHRIST SOLVES THIS MYSTERY COMPLETELY

But some of you ask: “How can there be any good in my blindness, any blessing in my broken health, any advantage in losing my home, any profit in being crippled for life, any gain in my broken heart and home?” If you are Christ’s, your Lord tells you: “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” If you and I survey our life from a higher vantage-point, we shall see that these losses in life through “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” were transformed into heavenly gain. We shall understand how the reverses of life offered a necessary discipline, which kept us from pride of arrogance, boastful security, and idolatrous trust in ourselves. Just as the surgeon removes a gangrenous limb to save the body, so our divine Physician cuts off anything that would destroy the soul. Just as a forester saves a diseased tree by sawing off the dead branches and hacking out the rotted portions, so the heavenly Gardener prunes the tree of our life to preserve our souls from rot and decay. Do not charge God with cruelty when He seeks to save you from yourself. Is the lifeguard cruel when he strikes a frantic, struggling swimmer into unconscious submission? Is the doctor cruel who withholds a glass of water from the parched lips of a patient to whom water might bring death? Is the mother cruel who keeps her child awake when sleep means the end? Blurred by the sympathy that we like to focus on ourselves, we may not be able to understand the measure of God’s mercy; for His ways are not our ways. I am not asking you to analyze, interpret, or explain the how and the why of every shadow that beclouds your life; I am begging you to believe that our heavenly Father, who through the sacrifice of His own Son for our sins gave us the highest spiritual blessings that even He could offer, every day directs the life-path of those who are His in faith for their good.

A few years ago a school bus was caught in the snowdrifts of a desolate Colorado road. The driver, who had set out to bring help, lost his way and perished in the cold. When night fell, the peril of the children in the bus had become acute. Fuel was exhausted, and the children were threatened by drowsiness and that falling into frozen sleep from which there is no awakening. One of the boys, with rare presence of mind, systematically irritated his schoolmates, struck them as hard as he could, made them scream in protest, fight back, and exchange repeated blows. It was a strange spectacle, these children struggling in the bus blanketed by heavy snows; but that struggle kept their blood in circulation and saved their lives. Many in this audience can testify that they, too, might now be on the road to hell instead of on the pilgrimage to heaven if God in His unfathomable wisdom had not sent trials that similarly proved blessings in disguise. If some of you had kept your money instead of having it stolen; if you had retained your health instead of losing it; if you had carried through your headstrong, obstinate will instead of being rebuked by God, you might today be exiled from His grace. And as St. Paul, the mighty apostle to the Gentiles, could review his persecutions, recreate in his mind those terrifying ordeals in which he was stoned, cast into deadly dangers, and suffered, as he himself summarized it, “in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness,” and still triumph, as he writes to the Philippians: “I know that this shall turn to my salvation,” so you who are Christ’s can rise above every question of doubt and sing Job’s heroic strain, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

Think also of the refining, strengthening power of affliction. God employs the sudden reverses of life not only to keep us from unbelief and pride and self-reliance, but to build up our faith. Have you ever walked through a greenhouse to watch florists clip off all buds but one, so that the whole strength of the stock may be concentrated into the full bloom of a large chrysanthemum? Have you ever stopped in a machine-shop to hear the emery-wheel and the buffer polish the surf ace of a dull metal to mirrorlike brightness? Have you ever peered into the roar of a smelter and seen the white heat fuse pieces of iron into the strength of the refined metal? May we not regard this as a crude symbol of the miraculous process by which God often removes the side-issues of life, so that our strength and interest are directed toward spiritual growth? The frictions of destiny add luster to our faith, and the fires of affliction strengthen our courage. The funnel of a tornado cuts its swath of destruction through a city; but the ruins are rebuilt into more modern homes and more attractive buildings. A fire destroys vast areas; but when the ashes have cooled, men build better and more wisely than before. An airplane crashes; but scientists examine the wreckage to find a clue for safer aircraft construction. Many of our material calamities involve a hidden benefit; and in a much higher degree, once you are Christ’s, everything that crowds into your life is designed to deepen your conviction, to steel your resistance to destructive impulses of life, and to warm your heart to the need and suffering of others.

One of the greatest among adversity’s sweet uses is the sympathy that it creates. You who have never left the cemetery and returned to an empty, death-stilled house cannot fathom the inner pain of those who have committed to the earth the lifeless remains of one who was to them the nearest and dearest of all mankind. You who have warm, comfortable homes, a large and steady income, the unruffled atmosphere of a pleasant existence, a host of friends, and the quick answer to any request can never understand how the other nine-tenths of your fellow-men can feel as they, deprived in many instances of life’s barest necessities, look into a blank, discouraging future, destitute of every blessing that you enjoy. Because this shell-shocked world needs Christian sympathy and the love of Him who came to bring the soul’s peace on earth and the good will of His mercy to men; because God wants you to love your fellow-men, particularly in these ordeal years that cry out for the spirit of Christ’s Good-Samaritanship, He often sends afflictions that stifle selfishness and open our hearts, our lips, our hands, for the unfortunate and the underprivileged of life. Too frequently we have to be hurled to our knees in prayer for ourselves before we can learn the duty and the responsibility of praying and working for others.

In short, view the life that you live in Christ from whatever angle you may, and you will exult, “All things work together for good!” As the artist employs dark, somber hues to emphasize the light, so the shadows sharpen the sunshine of the Christian’s life. As the great Flemish tapestries were often woven from the back and seemed to present a muddled confusion of loose ends and knots, until completed and viewed from the right side, so when we see the face of the finished and holy design created by Christ, the Master Weaver of our destiny, all doubt as to the wisdom and the love of God will vanish. As under the baton of a great musician the minor chords may blend with the symphonic theme, so, because “all things work together for good,” there is above all distress a harmony and symphony of Christian life.

That symphony always closes with a grand finale, the coda of sustained triumph. I should be untrue to my calling if I were not to emphasize with all the power that God gives me the great climax in Christ’s solution to the mystery of sorrow. By His blessed atonement, by His suffering, bleeding, dying, by His glorious resurrection,—and every promise that we have ever made to you has been conditioned by your acceptance of Christ, the God-man, the “one Mediator” between heaven and earth,—in that Savior you have Heaven’s pledge, immovable, unchangeable as every promise of God, that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” You may break down under the weight of earth’s burdens, but the eternal Word tells you: “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” You may be deserted and forsaken, but listen to this promise of the Word that never made a mistake: “We suffer with Him that we may be also glorified together.” There may be injustice, poverty, sickness, sorrow, crushed hopes, broken promises here on earth; but the worst that life can impose upon you is “but for a moment” compared with the blessings of eternity and “worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” When we peer into the radiance of heaven and with the Elder of the Apocalypse ask as we behold the saints of God: “What are these which are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they?” we find the highest blessings of sorrow in the answer, “These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” When you can train your eyes above the tinsel and the tarnish, the sham and deceit, of a world that can shower 254 titles, honors, orders, and distinctions on a prince of war, an international munitions-dealer, and close its heart to the Prince of Peace, then, believing and experiencing the sacred harmony by which “all things work together for good,” you can raise a hymn of thanksgiving to God even in the darkest night; you can rise from every reeling blow with new hope; you can bear the lifeless remains of your beloved ones who have died in the Lord to their resting-place, you can face death yourself, with the invincible courage that exults: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“All things” truly “work together for good to them that love God.” “Do you love God?” I ask you directly as I place before you the greatest question in your life. Do you love this Christ, your God and Savior, who loved us “unto the end”? Push everything aside that prevents you from finding shelter in His mercies when He now calls, “come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” Choke off every sinful thought, every impure desire, every selfish protest, that keeps you from the fulness of His life­imparting, death-destroying mercy. And as the day commemorating His coming into the weakness of the flesh, the poverty of His people, and the sinfulness of the world draws near, I ask you to read, repeat, and with all your heart to believe this confession of contrite faith: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” If you have this faith, then there is no mystery in your sorrow and suffering; then “all things work together” for eternal good. Above all else that God may bestow upon you, may He give you this faith for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

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

Date: November 29, 1936

Advent Prayer

Merciful Father:

“Behold, our King cometh.” With this cry of trusting faith we would welcome and acclaim Thy Son, whom in the fulness of time Thou didst send from heaven to earth as our Redeemer. May He who has long stood outside the portals of many cold and closed hearts, patiently knocking for admission, gain a blessed entrance during these Advent weeks! Help us by Thy Spirit to receive Him worthily; for His sake and by His love remove all the sins that would close our souls to Him. Do Thou, with whom there is plenteous forgiveness, patience, and pardon, teach us the momentous lesson by which we realize in a very personal and contrite way that we ourselves are nothing, but that our Christ in His love is everything, for time and eternity. Help us to crown Him King of our faith and life and prayerfully to devote our means, our talents, our labors, to the extension of His kingdom in the hearts of humanity’s perishing millions. Attune our souls to a courageous faith, so that throughout the land in these days of preparation for His birth millions of hearts may sing: “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” and with sincerity translate the praise of their lips into the loyalty of their lives. Grant us these rich blessings for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

Thou art stronger than I and hast prevailed.Jeremiah 20:7

THE hand of God is writing heavy history in Russia. Not long ago Stalin, the Soviet man of steel, submitted a new constitution, theoretically reversing some of the atheistic principles which have kept that country in chaos since 1918; and in a remarkable right-about­face the letter of this new constitution guarantees freedom of religion. If this startling recoil from the hellborn principles of Karl Marx means what it says, the satanic attack on the Church of Jesus Christ in Russia will be checked, and the official Soviet hatred that reveled in the blood of Christian martyrs will be over. Gone those depraved caricatures of our blessed Savior that made Russian atheism a reproach among all high-minded people; gone those flamboyant signs over Communist headquarters, repeating in huge, defiant letters the overworked claim that religion drugs the masses!

This may be a new chapter in Russia’s history; but it is just another leaf in the remarkable record of God’s victories over the swollen pride, the bloated taunts, of hate­filled men. In Jerusalem they stoned the first ambassadors of Christ and made it a crime to preach the message of the Cross. But God conquered. In Rome, for almost three centuries, imperial fiends murdered Christians, including helpless women and children, with the most excruciating torture that men have ever employed against their fellow­men; again God triumphed, while paganism rotted away. Wherever you behold missionaries bringing the light of the saving Gospel into the darkness of heathen vice, your eyes will fill as you read how these intrepid ambassadors of Christ were burned at the stake, pierced by poisoned arrows, strangled, crushed by hideous war clubs, beheaded, or eaten by cannibal bestiality; yet as you turn page after page of these tragedies written in blood, you always come to the happy conclusion that God finally prevailed.

Because in this day of the machine and this age of applauded human achievement men are often unmindful of God’s might and nations forget the all-pervading power of God, I want to show you both the warning and the comfort of this assurance that

GOD PREVAILS

I base my message on the words of the prophet Jeremiah (chapter twenty, verse seven), “Thou art stronger than I and hast prevailed.”

THE PREVAILING POWER OF GOD

This confession, so modem and meaningful in its application, is 2,500 years old, an admission wrung from the lips of Jeremiah after a bitter conflict with God. Because the prophet’s service to His Lord had brought opposition and locked him in the public stocks, he would free himself from God, lead his own life, and defy Heaven. Yet almost in the same breath he is overcome by the conviction of his defeat; and unable to quench the “burning fire” of God’s Word within him, he exclaims: “Thou art stronger than I and hast prevailed.”

The attempt to exalt puny man over almighty God is the common weakness of all ages. The Savior of mankind is nailed to the cross, and His enemies exult in triumph. His disciples preach the message of His resurrection, but a Roman persecutor chisels his hatred into stone: “The name of Christ has been destroyed.” Luther bravely reasserts the central doctrine of Christianity, the glorious truth, “By grace are ye saved, through faith,” but proud churchmen sneer sarcastically and predict the quick failure of the lone monk who dares to defy every human power. The cause of Christ spreads over the earth, but a French skeptic boldly asserts that within a century after his death the Bible will be forgotten; a British philosopher prophesies that the nineteenth century will witness the fadeout of Christianity; German Bible critics confidently write epitaphs to mark the burial of our faith; in our own country professors at colleges founded to guard the faith of America’s youth join scoffers in promoting new anti-God propaganda and mobilizing militant atheists for war against Christ and the Bible.

In all this unblushing pride men resemble nothing as much as a worm that crawls on the highway and arrogantly defies a steamroller; a fly that would alight on a giant turbine and brazenly stop the whirl of its wheel; a twig cast into the rapids of the Niagara River that would dam the flow and the fall of those seething, pounding rapids. For have you ever stopped to realize how small and insignificant we boasting humans are? Go to the fields of an American farm, mark a space 3,000 feet square, dig down to the same depth, and you have a hole in which you can place the remains of every man, woman, and child upon the face of the earth. What a narrow, shallow grave for the world population! Since I spoke to you last Sunday, half a million of our fellow-men, enough to populate the city of Milwaukee, have passed into eternity; more than twenty million people die every year; but the world moves on, deaf to all the groans and the tears for the dying and the dead.

Here is another picture of man’s insignificance. When a British aviator climbed nine and a half miles, the record height for an airplane, he could look down on the North Sea and survey the entire British coast from East to West. In one glance he beheld the southern end of the nation that has influenced much of modern history and today controls half the civilized world. When a Belgian scientist ascended to the stratosphere, he reported that from the altitude of more than ten miles, majestic Alpine peaks, tremendous, impassable monuments of stone and ice, as they loom before us, appeared to him in tiniest miniature. And when the highest of all heights ever attained by men was reached by two American army officers, fourteen miles over our Western prairies, these air explorers could see no sign of life below them. All evidence of human striving and achieving, all signs of a creature called man wiped out at the height of fourteen short miles! How microscopic the human race must seem to God when He beholds our earth!

Add to this gray canvas the somber lines of our human frailty and brittleness. Minute creatures, visible only under powerful lenses (so small that you can crowd almost 10,000, each harboring infinitely small parasites, on a one-inch line, bacteria so minute that a new unit of measurement had to be invented to describe them), can destroy life through scourges like smallpox, hydrophobia, or yellow fever or hold a nation at bay through epidemics of infantile paralysis, influenza, or tuberculosis. How frail our human frame! How weak man’s constitution when these tiny creatures annually kill millions of our fellow-men!

Complete this disquieting picture of man’s pitiable weakness by recalling his inability to solve the commonplace problems of life. Take, for example, the matter of labor and employment. I submit to you that our nation, with the world’s greatest natural wealth and one of the smallest populations for every square mile, should offer all American workers constructive and profitable labor. Though hundreds of plans have solved this problem with words, with blue-prints, with statistics, a high official in Washington confesses that far into the future at least seven million of our able-bodied men will be deprived of an opportunity to work in American industry and enterprise. We see our tragic failure in promoting peace as this generation pays the billions incurred by the “war to end all wars” and prepares for its more bloody successor. We behold our moral weakness, with the ideals of decency and honesty often cast prostrate, with class arrayed against class, with our best efforts unable to stimulate virtue and curb crime; and the completed portrait in telltale lines pictures the sorry frailty and the shabby weakness of these vanishing, shadowlike creatures called men.

In spite of the warnings that leap from every page of history crying, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” men today are reluctant to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and correspondingly eager to vaunt themselves as the masters of their own destinies. It is admirable when a nation plans the greatest system of social security in human experience; but let us not take away the spiritual foundation on which every effective help for men rests, by ignoring God. It is a remarkable preeminence of our nation that we have large and well-equipped schools; but let us beware of bringing up a generation that knows not God nor the great things He has done for us. We rejoice over the fact that there are in our country more church-buildings than in any other nation. Yet if the number of false prophets increases who picture God much as the sleeping Buddha, the huge gilded idol of China that lies on its side with its drowsy eyes closed; if they keep on preaching that God is unconcerned about human affairs, that the earth revolves without Him, that the pages of history turn themselves, they are inviting disaster.

God always prevails. We may not recognize His triumph when we see heartless vultures exploiting the poor; crooked schemers defrauding workingmen, growing wealthy while the underpaid victims of their greed eke out a stunted existence; human scavengers planting the seeds of vice and lust in the hearts of our young people; fomenters of war inciting nation against nation and profiteering on the blood of the world’s youth; yet all these must finally realize that they are living under the shadow of God’s terrifying judgment and that their sins are crying to the God of all power for vengeance. It does not matter how great or popular or wealthy or secure a man may be; if he acts as though he knew more than God, if he boasts that he can get along without Him, in Heaven’s own time he will be rudely shaken from his delusion to confess reluctantly: “Thou art stronger than I and hast prevailed.”

Do not tell me, as you modernize the ancient complaint, that the godless prosper and that, the more ruthless a man is, the higher he mounts on the ladder of human success. Look about you, and you will exclaim, “How are the mighty fallen!” As you see fortunes crashed, reputations lost, princes become paupers, prisons overfilled, suicide lists lengthening, doubt written on human faces, and despair graven on their lives, remember—God has prevailed! Even if He delays; even if His unsearchable wisdom does not shatter human pretenses here on earth, the inevitable reckoning always waits beyond the grave. Oh, that men would measure that final consequence and last catastrophe of their rebellion against God! Say what they will in contradiction or question, God has told us there is a judgment to come; there is a hell; there is an eternal death!

Let us apply all this to ourselves, and let me ask you frankly: “Are you living in revolt against God? If you are, you are doomed—without any possibility of escape—to be crushed by His almighty power; for God must prevail! Are you nurturing some secret sin alone or perhaps with some partner in wrong? Break it off if you are, for ‘it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ Are you hurting your fellow-men through your greed and selfishness? Are you crowding the happiness from other lives just to gratify your personal, selfish whims? Has the reign of lust captivated your heart so that you glory in the fracture of God’s commandments? Are you making money in the wrong way, building your bank account, but losing your soul?” For the sake of your soul, for the quieting of your conscience, for the pledge of a better, happier life, and for your eternal blessings in God’s high heavens, remember that “your sin will find you out.” And if God in His mercy sends sorrows to rouse you out of this slumber, then open your eyes to the sinfulness of everything human and ask God to fill your heart with this new understanding that speaks in contrite confession, “Thou art stronger than I and hast prevailed.”

THE PREVAILING LOVE OF GOD

For the heart that trusts in Christ this confession, “Thou art stronger than I,” becomes the battle-cry of faith. Beholding that Savior’s love, we realize that God’s compassion is greater even than His power, His mercy stronger than His justice; we know—and what a priceless confidence this is!—that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

To remind us once more of His measureless grace, the message of Advent asks for hearts prepared to welcome the Christ-child as the gift of God’s prevailing love. This is the great Gospel, the first chapter of which was written at Bethlehem. No simple word of pardon would suffice to return men to God. There had to be an overpowering, eternal proof of our Father’s compassion. No man, not even the most exalted; no angel in his holiness and majesty, could meet the demands of God’s justice; God gave His “only-begotten Son” and sent Him from the riches of heaven to the poverty of earth. No blinding flashes of Christ’s divine power would save the race; God had to become incarnate as man, and the virgin-born Son of the Highest had to lie cradled in a Judean manger. No mere teaching, no mere example, would restore man to grace. There had to be a payment, an atoning Substitute for humanity perishing in its own vices. Human treasures, towering mountains of earth’s precious metal and glowing jewels, could not begin to pay the price of that atonement; but in the supreme proof of God’s love for you and for me that Christ-child was destined to give Himself and by His blood and death on the cross of shame to remove our sins and cancel our iniquities. No pardon that could leave any doubt or uncertainty in our hearts would suffice; no ransom that left anything to man, that had to be earned or completed by human effort, could answer the pleading heart of a sin-cursed world; so in His never-to-be-fathomed mercy and in that endless love that goes out for every wayward, stubborn, selfish child of man Christ did everything.

If you prepare for the pilgrimage to Bethlehem in this spirit, you can understand why the greatest men have always been the humblest, why St. Paul confesses himself to be the chief of sinners, why William Carey, who for more than sixty years labored heroically for Christ and for India’s perishing millions, had this description of himself carved on the plain tablet over his grave: “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall.” You will turn away from yourself, from your own resources, from the “arm of flesh” and confess, “Heavenly Father, hold me in Thy grace and mercy; ‘Thou art stronger than I.’”

After Robert Louis Stevenson, the great English novelist, was brought to Christ, he confessed: “No man can achieve success . . . until he writes in the journal of his life the words ‘Enter God.’” Will you not, looking forward to the joy of the Savior’s coming, prepare to kneel before the manger and pray, “Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today”?

Do not let the fears and sorrows of life keep Christ out, as though God, who can “neither slumber nor sleep,” had His eyes closed to your problems and anxieties, as though He, the Ever-living, were dead and you had to fight your own battles! When you survey the love that brought Christ into the world, the miracle of His birth, and the salvation and life through His atonement and death, then rejoice, “Heavenly Father, ‘I know that Thou canst do everything.’ With Thee ‘nothing shall be impossible.’ ‘Thou art stronger than I’ am, with all the weakness of my sin. Help me to carry my burdens, support me on the steep, up-hill roads of life”; and that blessed Savior whose love is strongest when we are weakest will walk by our side with His sustaining, uplifting strength. Come before God and say, “Heavenly Father, ‘Thou art stronger than I’ with my frail and faulty intellect. Help me to find my way through life! Show me Thy brightness in the gloom that surrounds me! Give me Thy truth against the multiplied falsehoods of men!” And He who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” will be at your right hand and will whisper assuringly, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Come before God and say, “Heavenly Father, ‘Thou art stronger than I’ with my unclean heart and sinful mind. Give me Thy strength, so that I may wrestle successfully with sin and choke off sordid desires.” And He who as a helpless Babe came to bring His people “the remission of their sins” will come into your life with “the victory that overcometh the world.”

When we thus lose the proud sense of our own importance as Jesus gains the ascendency in our lives; when we behold Him and confess with the great prophet who announced His coming, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” then these words, “Thou art stronger than I and hast prevailed,” become the song of triumph which, pray God, you and I and all others in this assembly may sing at the Savior’s second coming. May we who worship together in these Sunday broadcasts without ever having seen one another—and who knows whether you and I will ever clasp hands here on earth—be united there before the throne through the Christ, who is stronger than we are and whose love has prevailed for our salvation! God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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

Date: November 26, 1936

The Thanksgiving Prayer

Gracious God, Thou Giver of every good and perfect gift:

We come before Thee in humility and thanksgiving to praise Thee for Thy watchful care over our nation during the uncertainty and perils of this year and to acknowledge the bounty of Thy generous love, which, despite our unworthiness and repeated ingratitude, has led many from worry and sorrow to happier prospects. For the rich endowment of food, clothing, and shelter, for the gracious bestowal of all that we need for our bodies and this life, accept the gratitude of our innermost hearts. Preserve us from self-confidence and self-worship and teach us that our greatest good is the assurance of Thy love in Jesus Christ, our sin-bearing Redeemer, and the promise of full and free salvation granted to all penitent believers in His mercies. Help us to conquer all faithlessness, impatience, and doubt of His love. Keep us from thinking that our blessings are outnumbered by our afflictions. Rather may Thy Spirit strengthen us with the conviction that in contrite faith we can have Christ and with Him the answer to every question, the solution to every problem that may confront us. For these benefits, God of all mercy, our hearts are now raised, throughout the wide reaches of this festival broadcast, to praise and glorify Thee, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Accept our Thanksgiving prayer and bless us as Thou hast promised through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Be thankful unto Him and bless His name.Psalm 100:4

ON this twenty-sixth of November the thoughts of America fly to the “stern and rock-bound” New England coast, where a group of exiles seeking religious liberty gathered for the first American Thanksgiving exactly 315 years ago today. Eleven months had passed since the Mayflower had weighed anchor and returned to England, leaving a hundred New World pioneers exposed to the winter’s rigor and the ravages of death, there on the “roaring ocean edge of the wilderness.” Within the first three months almost half of the Pilgrims died; during the winter seven times as many graves were made for the dead as homes for the living. Only four of the fifty-five survivors were women. Even when the rays of that first spring’s sun warmed the clearings, new disasters loomed. Seed corn, carefully imported from England, failed. The ship that was to bring food and relief brought thirty-five more mouths to feed, but not an ounce of provisions. For months, while hostile red men and the perils of the wilderness assailed them from without, famine stalked within, and the entire colony was forced to live on half rations. Yet the Lord of mercies was with that hunger-ridden band of exiles. Edward Winslow, one of the survivors, wrote: “I have seen men stagger by reason of faintness for want of food, yet ere night, by the good providence of God, we have enjoyed such plenty as though the heavens had been opened to us.” Unforgettable is the picture of Elder Brewster, rising before a Plymouth dinner, a plate of clams and a glass of cold water, to thank God “for the abundance of the sea and the treasures hid in the sand.” And when November came and the crops of Indian corn, grown from accidentally discovered seed, were harvested, with one accord these Pilgrims met for a solemn service of Thanksgiving and raised grateful hearts to their heavenly King.

This exiled band at Plymouth could not realize on that first American Thanksgiving that they were helping to lay the foundations on this continent for the world’s mightiest democracy. But how much more should we who survey the toils and triumphs of America’s three centuries believe that the blessings lavished by the mercies of Heaven upon us as upon no other nation today demand the Thanksgiving proclamation:

“AMERICA, GIVE THANKS!”

How much more than those solitary settlers on that bleak Massachusetts coast should we, the generation with unparalleled gifts and endowments, take to heart the Word of God that I give to you for a Thanksgiving resolution, from the fourth verse of the One-hundredth Psalm: “Be thankful unto Him and bless His name.”

THE NATION’S THANKS

This Thanksgiving asks in repeated and emphasized tones that we “be thankful unto Him and bless His name” because during the past year more than ever within the tragic seven years since the financial collapse of November, 1929, the sun of prosperity has dispersed many of the dark clouds that hovered over the nation. I do not wish to intimate that our national difficulties are over nor to prophesy that problems which have staggered the nation’s best minds are solved. Only a fool could look at the complex future and the problems of unemployment, social unrest, and mounting national deficits (a hundred years ago, in 1836, the entire national debt was paid and a surplus was distributed among the States, while today our Federal obligations soar into toppling billions); only an insane optimist, deaf to blaring realities and blind to the red flashes of warning, could laugh away the impending conflicts that beset our day, our nation, our world.

Yet on Thanksgiving our thoughts must be focused on the brighter side, on the unmistakable improvement in business and in industry, the extra dividends, the almost unprecedented salary increase, the preparation for the social security program, the many humanitarian programs now being completed (and within the last decade more has been done for the laborer and the farmer and for the average American in this respect than perhaps during the last century); and if there is one mandate that comes to the one hundred and thirty million richly blessed who call themselves Americans, it is this ancient appeal of the psalmist to our modern world: “Be thankful unto Him and bless His name.”

Let us not becloud the happiness of this festive day by drawing unfavorable comparisons with the greater prosperity and comfort that many of us may have had in a more affluent past. If comparisons are in place today, let me remind you that despite our reverses and hardships this nation, as compared with the rest of the world, is preeminent in the enjoyment of comforts, liberties, and many other blessings. Contrast the peace that reigns within our borders with the bloody, destructive civil war raging in Spain; think of Ethiopia, almost forgotten since its tragic defeat, of Europe plunging itself into further bankruptcy as it aims for the next war,—and the spirit of gratitude cries out, “America, give thanks!” Compare the liberty that each citizen in the United States enjoys with the restriction of civil rights imposed by Fascism in Italy and Germany; the freedom to worship our God with the revolt against religion that has risen to unholy control in Russia, where Christians have been persecuted with a cruelty that recalls the days of Nero. Picture for a moment conditions in two of Europe’s most highly cultured nations: France gripped in the struggle of class hatred; England, where, according to a recent survey, 82 per cent. of the twelve million British families today are without the minimum income required for a reasonable standard of living; and then, this morning, on your way to church, survey the blessings that surround you: comfortable homes, an automobile for every sixth person, more telephones than the rest of the world, tax-free radios by the millions, and all the other items in the long and imposing list of American comforts and conveniences before which the people of other nations stare in wide-eyed amazement. We have poverty, it is true; but we have the greatest relief program history has ever known. We have unemployment; but we have vast public-works projects throughout the land that have kept millions in profitable occupation. We have not been spared sickness and disease; but compare the death-rate in American cities, fifteen for each thousand inhabitants, with India’s forty-three for each thousand. And as you behold vast and unnumbered blessings even in this restricted prosperity, you will join me in repeating: “America, ‘be thankful unto Him and bless His name!’”

This thanksgiving must not be a disguised form of national boasting, as though we owed to ourselves, to American ingenuity, to the brains in the United States and not to the pure and undeserved grace of God, the outpouring of these manifold gifts. Well did George Washington, in one of his Thanksgiving proclamations, solemnly intone the necessity of beseeching God “to preserve us from the arrogance of prosperity.” If God had dealt with us according to our sins; if He had not tempered His justice with His mercy and for Jesus’ sake overlooked our pride, our self-worship, the reign of crime and godlessness in all its appalling forms, the breakdown of hundreds of thousands of American homes, the apostasy in many American churches, we should have been cast down into national sorrows and adversities unspeakably more disastrous than the worst we have ever known. The greatest impulse to follow the Thanksgiving proclamation of the Bible, “Be thankful unto Him and bless His name,” should be the fact that our heavenly Father, in spite of our unworthiness and ingratitude, in the face of our selfishness, has not withdrawn the hand of His fatherly protection from the United States; that He has not closed the outpouring of plenty from the cornucopia of His providence. When the streams and mountains, the farmlands and cities, the homes and schools, of our country on this day cry out, “America, give thanks!” may we echo the resounding doxology of a grateful nation.

OUR INDIVIDUAL THANKS

As we penetrate into the homes of the nation and lift the screen that conceals the deep heart sorrows of weary, grief­torn men and women, we face the great Thanksgiving problem: How can underprivileged, brow-beaten masses give thanks to God on this day? How can they celebrate Thanksgiving who have been robbed of the most precious treasures of life, who have been rebuffed by adversity upon adversity and have suffered loss upon loss?

I know it will be hard for a mother in Indiana who writes that she lost her husband and her baby within a few months and is now left destitute to raise her heart to God; I know that many of you bereaved and destitute fathers will be disturbed by “fightings and fears within, without”; I know that you farmers who have fought through a bitter year, with flood or drought or plague destroying the fruit of your untiring labor, will not be able to banish the question-mark that surges within our all too human hearts; that you who have not had a steady job for years and have lived from day to day in that cruel hand-to-mouth existence or who have seen the happiness of your home crumble before your eyes and the joy of marital loyalty transformed into the cold ashes of unfaithfulness or who have been held on beds of sickness,—all of you who count your adversities instead of your blessings will ask with wounded, embittered souls, “How can I be thankful?”

There is only one answer, that granted to us freely by God Himself, through our faith in Jesus Christ. Human reason stands baffled before the sufferings of life. But as soon as your trusting heart finds in Jesus (and this, I pray God, every one in my Thanksgiving audience may believe) the Son of God, the Friend of sinners, the Savior of the race, the Companion of every redeemed soul, the King of our hearts and lives; just as soon as you and I commit our souls and our bodies to Jesus for redemption, for strengthening, for protection and safe-keeping, we are showered with an outpouring of the deeper spiritual blessings that makes us cry out:

O that I had a thousand voices,

A mouth to speak with thousand tongues!

and that makes us proclaim:

Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,

Dearest Jesus, unto Thee!

Then we know that through the atoning love of Christ our blood-bought souls are safe for eternity; then we realize that, if the malignant forces of this earth combine to do their worst and an avalanche of sorrows sweeps over us, we have Christ, and through Him we can banish all besetting gloom by repeating the divine promise: “All things work together for good to them that love God.”

I pray God that this confidence is yours, that none of you will grovel in the depths of darkness today instead of raising your eyes to the hills whence cometh your help, particularly to that hill where your blessed destiny was decreed nineteen centuries ago, to Calvary, where the Son of God died that you might have life, and that in spite of family trouble, money difficulties, health problems, loneliness, mistrust, you may have life “more abundantly.” The greatest men of God have been the most thankful. St. Paul suffered as few have ever suffered for Christ; yet I find, as I read his words in the New Testament, that he thanks God as no other apostle; that shortly before the detachment of Roman soldiers leads him to the place beside the Ostian Way, where he is to be beheaded as the reward of his loyalty to Christ, he thanks and praises God. If my heavenly Father would grant to me one Thanksgiving petition, it would be this, that you who are wondering why and how you can thank your God be endowed with that spirit of Christian heroism which exults: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”

The thankful life is the victorious life. I leave with you a remarkable story which suggests itself as a Thanksgiving Scripture-lesson. It is found in the twentieth chapter of the Second Book of Chronicles. The Israelites are confronted with a coalition of powerful forces. By the advice and instruction of the prophet the Israelites go out to battle with the most astonishing implements of warfare that history has ever seen, the weapon of thanks and praise to God. We read: The king “appointed singers unto the Lord . . . that should praise the beauty of holiness as they went out before the army and to say, Praise the Lord; for His mercy endureth forever.” Were these hymns of thanksgiving able to overcome the arrows and the spears and the firebrands of the Moabites, the Ammonites, and their allies? The Bible answers: And when Israel “began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, . . . and they were smitten.” And in the name of this same God of triumph and truth I tell you that the victory is yours if you make every day Thanksgiving and in firm faith in Christ face life, its blessings and adversities, with this undaunted refrain: “Give thanks unto the Lord; . . . for His mercy endureth forever.” God grant you, every one of you, my friends in Christ, this prevailing courage for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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

Date: November 22, 1936

Prayer for Family Blessings

Heavenly Father:

We praise Thine eternal mercies for Thy protecting hand, which by day and by night has guarded our homes against war and disaster and kept us from the manifold calamities which have befallen millions of our fellow-men. We beseech Thee, gracious God, do Thou also protect our homes from the domestic dangers that arise from sin and selfishness. Grant us, above all, not wealth and luxury, ease and comfort, but faith in the abiding mercy of Thy Son, first to forgive us our sins and then to strengthen us for the truly abundant home-life. Teach us to exercise in our families the power that Thou hast given us in Thy Word and in prayer for the building of happy homes, which can endure the strain of many storms in this turbulent day and remain immovable because they are built on the rock of faith in Christ’s redeeming love. May our blessed Savior, whose first miracle was performed at a wedding-festival, who during His life of service blessed the God-fearing home with His presence and took the little children into His arms, whose last words on the atoning cross also embraced loving comfort for His mother, knock at our doors, be welcomed into our family circles, and ever remain as the blessed Head and Hope of our homes. Yes, come, Lord Jesus, and be our constant Guest! Amen.

Today I must abide at thy house.Luke 19:5

IF I could paint a canvas to picture Jesus Christ exerting His deepest influence and bestowing His richest blessing upon our country and its inhabitants, I should portray Him, not at the Capitol in Washington, directing our legislators; not in the secret chambers of the Supreme Court counseling the nine men whose decisions may help to shape the history of the coming years; not at the head of our flashing armies and our proud navies; not in a conclave of scientists, raising His hand in benediction upon the schools of the land. Instead, if I were asked to show the place where the Savior’s love and mercy could be exerted with greatest blessing, I would depict the vast panorama of American homes welcoming the divine Christ to their hearth and to their hearts. Say what we will about the stirring issues that confront the nation today; attach whatever importance we may to the events that are shaping the history of our world, civil wars, new international alliances, labor troubles, on the one hand, and prosperity waves, salary increases, holiday bonuses, stock dividends, on the other, the truth remains that the basic factor in the happiness of one man or of a million men is to be found in the home and that the pledge of this happiness is not modern lighting and electric equipment, not convenient appliances and comfortable furniture, not the size and the location of the home, its architecture and decoration, its lawns and gardens, but, above all, the presence of Christ, the assurance of His forgiving love and strengthening faith.

What good are all the plans for modern home construction with their new features in steel and stone and glass, air-conditioning and heat control, if the specifications do not call for Christ as the Cornerstone and if the family forgets the words of unalterable truth: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it”? What good are all the projects designed to insure the permanence of the family, the special courses in domestic education, the library of books on home problems, when, with all this counsel and advice, the home without Christ is built on sands and may be blown over by the first gust of an unfavorable wind? You may have your psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, child psychologists, domestic experts, your marital clinics, cooking charts, and vitamin schedules; but give us Christ for the family, and on that Rock we will build a home that the hurricanes of life can never shake.

If I cannot paint this panorama of America’s homes thrown wide to welcome Christ, I can speak to you individually and show you the blessing, power, and glory that come with—

THE ABIDING CHRIST IN YOUR HOME

In the nineteenth chapter, fifth verse, of his gospel St. Luke, the beloved physician, the only one of the four evangelists to record this striking appeal of the Savior, the sacred writer who particularly emphasizes Jesus as the Friend of sinners and His Gospel as the message of forgiveness, directs these words of Christ to you and to your home, “Today I must abide at thy house.”

THE GRACE OF THE ABIDING CHRIST

Throughout the entire land of Judea in our Savior’s day no city had a more unsavory reputation than thief­infested Jericho. Within that ill-reputed city, notorious even unto this day, no group of men was more bitterly detested than the local publicans, or tax-collectors, often greedy, dishonest, cruel, and always representative of the rich foreign oppressors, the Roman rulers. Among these despised officials in this odious place no one felt the brunt of popular hatred more than Zacchaeus. It was disgraceful enough to be a publican; but to be a chief of these outcasts and to have become wealthy in this position was to be a public enemy. Even the whining lepers on the outskirts of Jericho would have cursed him and the thieves in the thickets sneered at his name. Yet it is to this shunned man in this disgraced city that our blessed Lord speaks words of extraordinary grace, “Today I must abide at thy house.”

Suppose, for a moment, that our Lord had addressed some exalted personage in the palaces at Jerusalem. The conclusion would have been all too easy that Jesus was especially attracted to the luxury of the cultured, respected upper classes and that He had little time and no thought for those who suffer from the reproach or sorrows of this world, those who live in the wrong sections of their city or who huddle together in cold, cramped quarters. But here in Jericho we meet the Christ for all mankind, the Christ for every age, for every home, for every family, and one of the greatest of His promises is spoken to an outcast in an outcast community.

This blessing had come to Zacchaeus as a complete surprise. When the news spread that Jesus of Nazareth had entered Jericho, he was seized by an impulse, deeper than mere curiosity, to see the Man of miracles. Being short of stature and realizing that in the clamor and confusion he would be pushed to the rear and prevented from catching even a glimpse of Jesus, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the procession, climbed a sycamore-tree, and from that point of vantage awaited the coming of Christ.

Again, what a wealth of promise in this picture of the chief tax-collector on a limb overhanging the road of Jesus’ approach! A wealthy man eager to behold Christ, an example that urges men and women of comfortable means to turn their hearts to the Savior and behold His mercies! A seeker after God discarding his dignity and inviting ridicule through his zealous desire to see Jesus,—a challenge to many of us whose fire of faith is extinguished by the first blast of cold opposition, who confess Christ before congenial friends, yet ignore and deny Him before His avowed enemies! Zacchaeus, a man who found the disadvantage of His short stature miraculously transformed into a startling advantage! Just as today thousands can testify that their material losses have become spiritual gain; the blind who perhaps never beheld Christ with seeing eyes, but were won for Him through the loss of their sight; the lame and the halt who never came to Christ when they were sound of body, but who now leap to Him in the deep joy of their faith; the invalid and the suffering who in earlier health never raised a hymn of praise to their God and Savior, but who have been brought to His mercies through hindrances that have proved disguised blessings!

When Jesus approaches, not with the fanfare and the flourish of royalty nor with kingly scepter and garb, but clothed as an ordinary traveler, destitute of all the bejeweled decorations with which modern art often destroys His true lowliness and simplicity, His eyes scanning the sea of human faces about Him only to rest on Zacchaeus, the tax collector’s day of destiny has come. Without being told the name of this eager spectator, our Savior in His all-knowing, all-loving mercy cries out, “Zacchaeus,” with a warmth of greeting that the despised publican has perhaps never experienced; and before that small-statured man in the tree can regain his composure, Jesus continues: “Make haste and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.” How electrifying these words! How incredible the thought that this Preacher without a parallel, this Master who taught, not as the scribes and Pharisees, but with authority from Heaven, should cross the threshold and enter the house that others had shunned! Yet it was true, triumphantly true. Jesus had precious truths to impart to Zacchaeus within the walls of his home. Although the Savior’s face was set with rigid fixity toward Jerusalem and the agonies of Gethsemane and Calvary; although Jesus had come to the last week of His earthly life and, before the next seven days had elapsed, would be deserted by man and forsaken by God, nailed to the cross, crushed into death by the weight of all human sin, yet He stops on that journey to Golgotha because here in Jericho His ever­searching heart has found a soul to be saved, a home to be rescued. What if the self-righteous throng protests that Jesus is “to be a guest with a man that is a sinner”? His merciful heart is not changed by these rebukes. He steps through the doorway of the publican’s home, pronounces the greatest blessing ever spoken upon any dwelling, “This day is salvation come to this house,” and concludes with that beloved passage of promise which, I know, has helped to strengthen the faith and joy of life in many of your hearts, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

This same Jesus, no longer marching to His crucifixion, but now enthroned in eternal glory and dominion, cries out with personal force to every one who hears His words, “Today I must abide at thy house.” You may not know Jesus, or you may have known Him once and turned traitorously away from Him; you may have set your dial to this broadcast by what men would call the sheerest chance, but by the gracious guidance of God this may be your day of eternal destiny. For Christ sees you; He knows you; He calls you as in the days of His flesh He summoned Zacchaeus. And once again, it does not matter where you live, who you are, or what you have been; it does not matter how poor and small and crowded or how large and luxurious and attractive your home may be, Christ now calls to you, “Today I must abide at thy house.”

THE NECESSITY OF THE ABIDING CHRIST

Never before have American homes needed Christ as in this hour when our domestic tragedies have descended to new low levels. Stop to behold the malignant growth of divorce, with State Legislatures running neck-to-neck races while they turn the disruption of the family into profit; marriages that should be terminated only by death broken in farcical-hearings of seven minutes and ten minutes, with judges and lawyers united in collusive falsehood and witnesses raising their hands to God in oaths that are blasphemous perjuries; headlines and front-page publicity for divorces in prominent families; a serial story in our newspapers glorifying royal marital escapades.

Or think of the assault on the morality and happiness of the family waged by forces opposed to parenthood and childhood, the most repulsive commercialism the nation has ever seen, promoted through lies and frauds, which picture wilful childlessness a virtue; unwomanly women who storm Congressional chambers in the attempt to flood the nation with birth-control propaganda; Protestant churches—and this is one of the most alarming symptoms of degeneracy—allied in organization with these unholy forces. Now, the Bible does not endorse ill-advised plans like the Canadian baby marathon; it has no doctrine of human mass production; nor does it overlook the requirements of maternal health and child development; but when 36 out of every hundred families in our country are childless and many of them because of selfish and sinful attitudes, the very foundation of home happiness and national prosperity is destroyed. If this rate of childlessness continues, within our own generation the White House will issue appeals for more babies as Germany and Italy have, and our legislatures will put a premium on parenthood and subsidize childhood.

I must pass over the other sectors on which the American home is being attacked: unfaithfulness on the part of husband or wife; assaults of lust directed by the stage, the screen, the sex novel, the sex magazine; flouting the Scriptural ideals of purity by agitators who use the guise of free speech to promote free love and who smile disdainfully at the Christian emphasis on clean living; attractions that are taking mothers away from their homes and children; preoccupation that often makes father a stranger to his own flesh and blood; ingratitude or rebellion of children and indifference or tyranny of parents. I must omit the discussion of these and other vital issues to say that many in my audience need the abiding presence of Christ in their homes because of hardships, grief, sorrow, pain, failure, poverty that only too quickly, sometimes overnight, can descend upon any home. I know that I am speaking to parents who have been brought closer together by adversity, yet who face a drab, cheerless winter with no definite prospects of employment, with diminished food supplies, but with increasing problems that come with the dawn of every new day; homes in which sudden and serious accident, lingering illness, or approaching death have left that chilling of grief and numbness of heart which nothing seems able to remove; large, attractive dwelling-places that are overshadowed by the specter of family trouble, where husband and wife, who of all people in this world ought to be welded together by the closest ties of love, are living as sworn enemies; homes in which God-fearing, church-going, prayer-loving parents, in spite of all their pleas and warnings, have had their hopes of happiness crushed by the immorality of their children; homes in which an unbelieving father breaks the spiritual unity of the family and, unheedful of the entreaties of his wife, maintains the stolid, selfish course that ultimately will lead to eternal separation from his loved ones in the hereafter. It is to these homes, bowed under the weight of endless sorrows, cursed with drunkenness, impurity, profanity, quarrel, strife, broken by unfaithfulness and unbelief, that the Savior’s words, “Today I must abide at thy house,” address themselves with redoubled force. If you have vainly sought happiness for your home through a dozen human remedies; if you want light in the darkness of any domestic problem, guidance for any marital perplexity, hope for the most harassing family situation, then before God I promise you: Your Savior can give you divine light and direction and confidence for whatever may befall you and your home if you hear His plea “Today I must abide at thy house” and answer:—

Abide, O dear Redeemer,

Among us with Thy Word

And thus now and hereafter

True peace and joy afford.

THE BLESSING OF THE ABIDING CHRIST

When Christ abides in your home, His love does what no other power in the world can do: it probes deep to the root and cause of all domestic trouble, suffering, and unhappiness, to the sins of selfishness, impurity, covetousness; and as a surgeon spurns the very thought of a surface treatment for an internal disease, but insists on removing the malignant growths or the infected tissues, so our Savior’s cure for domestic ills penetrates, as nothing else can, to this basic cause.

We can all agree, I feel sure, that sin is not a popular and pleasing subject of public discussion. It has fallen into such disfavor, even in churches, that according to a prominent churchman more than 90 per cent. of all preachers have banished this short, ugly word from their pulpits. As disagreeable as sin is, as reluctant as we are to confess it, and as eager as we are to disguise it, behind every unhappy home you can discover the unhappiness of sin, the sins against the commandment of purity, the sin of unfaithfulness to marital vows, the sins of drunkenness, lust, hatred, fear, trustless despair, the sin of self-worship, and the denial of God.

When Jesus comes to abide within the walls of any home, He first of all removes the guilt and the stain of sin and then creates twice-born men and women strengthened for resistance against iniquity. Let us be clear on this basic issue: The Christ who, I pray God, may abide in your homes and whom I ask you, first of all, to accept in your hearts and lives is no hazy figure of undefined and uncertain purposes. The Christ who holds out blessings for your home must be more than the greatest mind of the ages, more than the most powerful figure of history, more than the most compelling example in all the records of humanity; for these weak and diluted and emaciated misrepresentations of Christ are phantom figures that will disappear in the first fog of family trouble. Follow them, and you will be crawling over the desert of delusion toward the mirage of a false Messiah. You must have Christ as the divine and human Savior from sin, the God-man, who, though He hates sin, loves the sinner with the unquenchable, unfathomable, unfaltering devotion that led Him, the Substitute and the Atonement for all human sin, to offer Himself as the one perfect ransom-offering for all men and for all ages, and by His holy blood on the cross to free us from guilt and punishment and to strengthen our spiritual resistance to sin’s destructive power.

If Christ is yours in this complete and trusting faith; if, when you hear Him say, “Today I must abide at thy house,” you answer, “Come, Lord Jesus, and be our Guest,” then you can inscribe over the doors of your heart this blessing once pronounced on the abode of Zacchaeus, “This day is salvation come to this house,” and that salvation will show itself in a Christ-centered life and in a new blessing of happiness. You ask for proof? I take you to the families of the early Church, the leaven that saved society from its own terrifying vices, that taught men to treasure their children instead of exposing them, to love their wives instead of casting them off, the spiritual strength that taught women the glory of motherhood, the happiness of working side by side with their husbands for the upbuilding of the home. The blessed home influence of Christ is not restricted to ancient history. Today, in homes that are on relief and in homes that are more prosperous than ever before, in families that are beset with heart-breaking problems and in families that live in the serene, smooth calm of unruffled happiness, this abiding Christ has lost none of His power. In last week’s mail I received a remarkably dramatic letter from a Kentucky family that was drawn from the depths by the Word of God. It was written by a father of five children, a man forty-three years old with an excellent education, too proud to beg or to accept relief. On the Sunday before last he sat in his armchair, not having enough food in the house to stave off starvation, no coal, and the children improperly clothed against the winter’s cold. In that black moment there was no prospect of help, only the besetting thought of suicide. That distracted father was led to tune in our program. He heard the rest-giving promise of Jesus, and the soul-Savior, who told Zacchaeus, “Today I must abide at thy house,” came to abide in that gloom-enshrouded home, and in his letter that father has acknowledged the abiding Christ in glowing terms of resolute hope.

The divine light which came into the darkness of that Kentucky dwelling is the same light that can dispel any gloom overshadowing your home. The Savior brooked no delay when He invited Himself to the home of Zacchaeus. “Make haste,” He said, “for today I must abide at thy house.” Will you not today, now, at this moment, resolve to accept Christ, if you have rejected Him before, to enthrone Him in your home more securely if you have been indifferent to His grace? There may not be a tomorrow written on the calendar of your life. For some of you it may be Christ now or never; and in the words of Sacred Writ I plead with you: “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts,” but when your Savior Jesus Christ stands on your threshold and says, “Today I must abide at thy house,” for your happiness on earth and your soul’s salvation answer:—

Abide, O faithful Savior,

Among us with Thy love,

Grant steadfastness, and help us

To reach our home above.

God grant that you will! Amen.

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

Date: November 15, 1936

Prayer for a Clean Heart

Lord God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier of our souls:

As in the days of His flesh our blessed Redeemer did touch the lives of men with His holy hand and bestow blessing, pealing, strength, courage, even life itself, so today, we beseech Thee, may the influence of Thy Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament rest upon us and daily create a clean heart and a right spirit within us. Thou knowest, heavenly Father, how sorely we need this cleansing touch, with the contact of sin surrounding us and the impurities of our flesh surging within us; Thou knowest, too, how often we have stumbled along the wrong path, following the lusts of the flesh rather than the guidance and love of the Spirit. So we come before Thee just as we are, not seeking to justify or explain or excuse our frequent and wilful disobedience, but trusting wholly in the forgiving compassion of our Redeemer and in His ennobling, purifying touch. For we know and believe that, as Thou hast removed this guilt through that eternal sin-offering on Calvary, so Thy Spirit can touch our hearts and lives, bring many of us from the blackness of sins’ night to the dawn of everlasting mercy, and then grant us greater vision, better understanding, and braver testimony to Thine endless mercies. Hear us and touch us all with Thy serving blessing, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

Jesus put forth His hand and touched him, saying, . . . Be thou clean.Matthew 8:3

IN a recent book the president of a great Mid-Western university lays down this emphatic claim: “Without exception the most important job that is to be performed in the United States is first to establish higher education on a rational basis.” It would be contrary to the spirit of the Christian Church that has fought for the establishment of schools and the progress of enlightenment if I should raise my voice and oppose any reasonable program for the advancement of American culture. But when a university president deliberately asserts that the first and most vital task before the nation today is the improvement of higher learning, and only this, we must protest.

Some of us shudder at the thought that education is to save our day and pave the way to a happier tomorrow, because we recall the brilliant minds of Greece and Rome and the vice and degeneracy that some of these minds produced; because we can hear the echoes of the French Revolution, that vicious triumph of reason over religion, with the bloodcurdling thud of heads falling into the guillotine basket on Parisian squares; because we still see thousands of Russian priests and peasants, scholars and tradesmen, lined up before Red firing squads; because we need no gift of imagination to visualize the reign of lust and terror that would hold sway in our country if some of the atheistic and antimoral tendencies that have demanded recognition on the American campus were given free rein.

Before higher education we need higher morality; before a deeper intellectual life we must have a deeper spiritual life. Give us better secondary schools and colleges; but first of all give us better homes and churches. With all the blessings of culture, this is a godless age; and with all the unparalleled advantages of American education, ours is one of the most crime-ridden nations of history. Evidence too decisive to be impeached shows us that the university has sometimes developed only a higher degree of craftiness and criminality. The illiterate killer crushes his enemy’s skull with a rock, but the laboratory murderer resorts to scientific refinement and subtle poisons. The coarse criminal attacks a helpless girl; but the cultured degenerate writes a novel of lust and debauch that helps to ruin the lives of millions. The low-browed burglar breaks into a house at midnight and steals the family jewels; but the high-browed plunderer raids the nation’s treasury and steals its millions in broad daylight, as Voltaire did, who cunningly cheated his country of a million francs.

The development of American learning is a major task; but it is not our greatest task. In the strain of today’s social upheaval we must have a power from God Himself that will mold the heart as well as the brain, change the soul more than the mind, and place on this earth a generation of twice-born men and women who have been touched by Jesus Christ.

Today, and in this spirit, let us consider—

THE TOUCH OF JESUS

May God give me the grace to reach souls in this vast Sunday audience, from the hills and shores of New England to the frozen harvest-fields of the Northwest, that many may feel the touch of Jesus and its cleansing, healing, loving power! Stay with me, then, listen to this Word of God, in St. Matthew (chapter eight, verse 3), “Jesus put forth His hand and touched him, saying, . . . Be thou clean,” and pray that the touch of Jesus bless you to all eternity.

IT IS THE BLESSED TOUCH OF SUSTAINING GRACE

Our Lord had just completed the Sermon on the Mount, that golden code of Christian principles, vital to our strife­torn age, when a leper, rushing through the throng round the Savior, fell before Him and pleaded, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” Some would have cursed that diseased outcast for breaking his quarantine. Others would have recoiled in horror from contact with the disease that terrorized the ancient world. Even the more charitable would have spoken a few hasty words of comfort and withdrawn. But not Christ; He who was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” who by a mere word of His majesty could have brought cleansing health, rested His hand on that leper who in his loneliness and misery had long ago forgotten the touch of a fellow-man.

We regard the human hand in amazement, the flesh and bone, the muscles and sinews that endow the five fingers and the palm of man with astonishing power. We marvel at the genius that guides the musician’s finger, the delicate artistry that directs the painter’s brush, the mastery with which the sculptor wields his chisel, the sure, quick hand of the surgeon that cuts closely, but confidently up to the line separating life from death. And can we ever forget the soothing caress of a mother’s hand? Yet the touch of Jesus is incomparable in its majesty, its blessing, its power. From His hand life, healing, cleansing, leaped into that leprous body, white, ulcerous, rotting away, as it was; and through that momentary contact of divine purity with the decay of sin, tingling health was instantly restored.

All that the leper had asked was contained in these nine short words, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” Hardly had his prayer been spoken when, as if in echo, came the response of Heaven’s love, “I will; be thou clean.” Without price or payment, without medicine or treatment, without question or condition—by the miracle of the Savior’s mercy that outcast finds health and happiness.

Today the hands of Jesus, raised over our age, appear in their holiest light. Before many months had passed after that healing, the hands of Jesus were to be clasped in piteous entreaty when in the conflict of the ages the grief­torn heart of the Savior pleaded: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” These hands were to be fettered by cutting ropes. A reed from the marshes of Jerusalem, a scepter of mock royalty, was to be forced into their grasp. They were to close over the rough timbers of a cross and help drag it to Calvary, and then the nails of death were to crush through their quivering flesh. The livid scars which we behold on His palms as Jesus seeks to touch our lives have been graven by the sins of the world. They are living proof that “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities”; they are the evidences of Heaven’s mercy to bring any skeptical Thomas of our twentieth century on his knees to confess as he touches the pitted hands of Jesus: “My Lord and my God!”

Since the sin-removing, sin-cleansing touch of Jesus means nothing to us unless His blessed hand has rested upon our souls, this becomes the crisis question of your life and of mine, “Has my heart been touched by Jesus?” Other hands have wielded the sword, swung the lash, lighted fires of persecution, signed death-warrants; but the blessed hand of Jesus has never been outstretched toward your life and mine except to offer the riches of His unfathomable grace and to plead, “Come unto Me!” Other hands tightly lock a few baubles and trinkets of life within their selfish grasp or reluctantly dole out a beggarly pittance or avidly reach for usurious payment, sixteen full ounces for every pound of flesh; but the hands of Jesus have their open palms toward the world and are always filled to overflowing with the priceless treasures of His heavenly compassion. That is why I repeat the pivotal question, “Has Christ touched your soul?”

In the four seasons that I have been privileged to broadcast in this Gospel hour I have never asked you to join any organization, to send a telegram to your Senator, to support any political program; but today I have one earnest and deeply personal request. After this broadcast is over, before you leave your homes this afternoon (and I am speaking particularly to those who have been too proud, prosperous, conceited, or self-centered to humble themselves “under the mighty hand of God,” as well as to those who have been so battered by the unexpected blows of life that they despair of finding any path to light and life abundant), will you not penitently speak the leper’s prayer, “Thou canst make me clean,” and, looking with eyes of trusting faith to the cleansing Christ, feel the touch of His forgiving love in the promise “I will; be thou clean”? If anything in your life pulls you from Christ or any barriers interpose themselves between your sins and His forgiveness, then remember the woman who saw herself barred from her Savior by the throng that surrounded Hun, yet who pressed through the multitude with this resolute confidence: “If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole,” and with the same determination crash through any barricades that would keep you from Christ and the hand of divine help.

Oh, that we could realize the full blessedness with which the touch of Jesus can enrich our lives! This leper was not the only favored one who felt the Savior’s miraculous hand. St. Mark tells us that once in Christ’s busy ministry Jewish mothers brought their children to be blessed by the great Teacher, and over the remonstrances of the disciples Jesus took the little ones “in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them.” Few scenes in the New Testament awaken more tender emotions than the canvases that portray the Savior pausing in His world­moving career to caress these Judean children. But we need more than these emotions to safeguard our boys and girls. Fathers and mothers of America, have your children felt the loving hand of Jesus? A dozen destructive forces rise up to grasp their young lives in the stranglehold of sin: sex plots of motion-pictures; gangster broadcasts of the radio; the revolt against authority in many comic strips; the lurid sensations of many five- and ten-cent-store books; the profanity of street corner gangs and the contamination of ill-chosen friends. And some day you, as their divinely appointed guardians, will be called upon by God Himself to answer the most serious question that ever confronts parents, “Have you brought your children to be blessed by Jesus, or have you kept them away from Christ by indifference, bad example, or even scoffing?” And may God have mercy on your souls if you have betrayed your own flesh and blood!

Give us the nation’s youth for Christ, and we will build an impassable human barrier that, under God, will repel every assault on the blessings of our national institutions. Twenty-seven thousand cheering young men recently marched through the streets of Rome to greet Mussolini with the Fascist salute. Long parades of Hitler Jugend passed their Fuehrer with rigidly raised arms to pledge their loyalty to a human leader. We call the youth of America to kneel penitently before Christ, to raise their hands in loyalty to Him, to be strengthened by the benediction of His touch.

Others have likewise been blessed by the touch of Jesus. Repeatedly we read that His hand rested on the eyes of the blind, and they saw; on the ears of the deaf, and they heard; on the tongues of the dumb, and they spoke. And who can recall these miracles without raising a fervent prayer that the Spirit of the Savior would similarly touch the vision of those blind to the sufferings of their fellow-men, so that, following the example of their Redeemer, they extend the helping hand of brotherly love? Would to God that through this enlightening contact with Christ the ears of all Christendom could be opened to hear the pleading and the groaning of more than a billion of our fellow-men all over this earth who live and die without Christ and without hope of the hereafter! Would to God that the Savior’s touch might bless the tongues and unseal the lips of those who claim to be His followers, yet who never open their mouths to testify to His saving grace! I often hear people relate with evident satisfaction how they evaded the penalty for some slight fracture of the law. For instance, they fail to observe a stop sign or pass a red light, and through the influence of some politically prominent friend their police summons is torn up and the charges are dropped. For months they tell and retell how they escaped paying the traffic fine; yet they never witness to Him who has eternally redeemed their immortal souls from sin, from hell, from death itself. Much talk about the evasion of a $3 fine, but not a word concerning the priceless pardon through the blood of Christ Jesus! And still we wonder why Christian churches are not meeting their divinely imposed responsibilities in this crisis hour!

This blessed touch of Jesus should be a source of unfailing comfort and strength. Can you not picture the joy of that poor, shunned, leprous creature who fell at the feet of Jesus to arise in completely restored health? Can you not see blind faces light up with the flicker of faith when they hear of Jesus’ approach? And if you, the heart-chilled and the world-worn, want strength from above, let me assure you that there never has been any bruise of life that could not have been soothed through contact with Christ. Once the forgiveness of sins, pledged through His endless mercies and the double seal of the cross and the open grave, dawns on your heart, you have recourse to Jesus for every sorrow that may seek to poison the joy of your life. Are you losing ground in your daily struggle to keep a roof over your head and to provide for your family? Recall how Jesus took. a few loaves of bread and a few fishes, how, when He had touched them in blessing, the meager food supply was multiplied many thousand times to still the hunger of a great multitude; and believe with all your hearts that, when human means are exhausted, God can grant divine help and sustenance to those who are His. Are you disheartened by infirmities of the body, weakened by sieges of long and enervating sickness? Turn the pages of your New Testament to find the blessed Physician resting His health­bestowing hand on disease-ridden bodies and behold the Savior day after day and until late in the night touching the blind, the lame, the deaf, the paralyzed, with His blessings. As you read these miracles, believe in God with all your heart that the Christ who heals your soul and with whom nothing is impossible will heal your every ill and will touch you with this grace if it be in accordance with His will, that is, for your spiritual benefit.

Can the touch of Jesus conquer the “last enemy,” the concluding tragedy of life, the chill and paralysis of death, the sad finale that spells a cruel end to human hopes and human ambitions? I answer by asking another question. Who is it that touches the lifeless form of a maiden and foils death as He restores her to life? Who is it that calls Lazarus forth from the decay of the grave? You know; it is the same Jesus who by His Easter victory robbed the grave of its terror and who on the great day of the resurrection will glorify the dust of our decayed bodies, so that they leap from the grave into the unspeakable blessings of heaven.—Thus from this life to the next the hand of Jesus blesses, sustains, and saves.

IT IS THE SPIRIT’S TOUCH IN SAVING FAITH

How, you have been asking yourself, how can we feel the touch of the Savior’s hand? How can we establish closer contact with these endless mercies? Though Jesus is no longer with us in the flesh to leave His healing imprint on our lives, He is with us in His Spirit as our eternal Friend and Companion; for He has promised in His valedictory truth, which can never be broken, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

Jesus and His multiplied mercies come to us through Baptism, that divine ordinance by which His Spirit cleanses and purifies us. And if it is given me now to speak earnestly into the souls of some of America’s millions who have never been baptized in the name of the Triune God, let me repeat two passages from the lips of Jesus: first a warning affirmed by a double oath, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” and then this radiant promise: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” The call to each one of you who have neglected this washing of regeneration, for your own souls and for the souls of your children, is still the appeal of the Scriptures, “Now, why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins.” Will you not resolve that you will be blessed by this cleansing touch of Jesus in Christian Baptism?

You can also meet Christ in His Word, on the living pages of the Bible, where He promises: “I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” Because of His exalting presence in the Scriptures—and in no other book—you can realize that the Church today must spurn the many sleight­of-hand substitutes offered by modern unbelief and plead for devout meditation in Holy Writ, careful study of the Scriptures, close attention to Biblical, doctrinal, Gospel sermons. Read this Bible, then, delve deep into its treasures; distil from its vast power the essence of joy and comfort for your own life; the hand of Jesus will rest upon you with the same imprint of its healing, that miraculous hand which recast the lives of multitudes in the days of His flesh.

At every crossroad in life, before the towering heights of any insurmountable problem, you will see that out of the mists and over the shadows of earth’s sorrows a radiant faith always reveals the hand of Jesus, the hand of strength and comfort, of guidance and support. Over every conflict and turmoil you will hear, as you grasp this life-giving contact with Christ, the reechoing promise, the clear and true clarion call of faith’s certainty: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” O God, touch our souls with this healing, helping hand of Jesus!

Take Thou our hands and lead us

O’er life’s rough way;

With heavenly manna feed us

From day to day.

Alone, our footsteps falter

Or straggle wide;

Lord, who our life canst alter,

Be Thou our Guide.

Amen.

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

Date: November 8, 1936

Prayer of Thanks for Reformation Blessings

Lord of all love and mercy:

Praise and glory, now and forever, be unto Thy holy name, for Thou hast granted us the blessings of the open Bible, the freedom to worship Thee in truth, and, above all, the immovable assurance of our eternal deliverance from sin through the blood-marked mercies of Jesus Christ. Grant that these blessings of the New Testament Church, restored during the Reformation, may not be lost to us and our country in this critical day, when brazen men mobilize against Thee and Thy Church. Forgive the ingratitude which often leads us to neglect this grace. By Thy Spirit help us cling more closely to Thy promises amid the widespread opposition to Thy Word. Let the message of the Cross, the one truth which offers heavenly certainty amid life’s uncertainties, be a light guiding grief-torn and sin-distressed souls to the radiant joy, calmness, and peace that is ours through faith in Christ’s all-sufficient, all­atoning, all-embracing love. Shield us against ingratitude, self-love, and reliance on human strength by showing us how destitute and helpless we are without Thee. Daily increase in us that sacred knowledge and wisdom whereby we may turn to Thy grace despite our sins, placing our confident trust in Him whose name and by whose promise we come before Thee. O Thou who wast with our fathers, be with us now through Thy Son, our Savior. Amen.

He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?Romans 8:32

WHEN I tell you that the uncertainty of life is a cruel scourge on the back of the human race, the trying experiences through which thousands of you have passed during the last years will lead you to agree with me. You know that behind every human program the finger of destiny can draw a tantalizing question-mark. Making and breaking; building up and tearing down; the warmth of welcome and the sudden chill of separation; the marriage pledge, “Until death do you part,” and the burial chant, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”; one moment astride the high crest of good fortune on top of the world and another moment groveling in the depths,—is not this the jagged graph of life’s uncertainty? You toil and plan and save; but who knows whether you will ever enjoy the fruits of your industry and thrift? You study and build and hope; yet who can assure you that the specter of accident, the phantom of disease, the shadow of quick death, may not hover closely? Not all the clairvoyants, crystal-gazers, spiritist mediums, fortune-tellers,—law-defying frauds every one of them, from whom self-respecting men and women should keep their distance as they flee from an East Indian cobra or a hissing rattler;—not all our scientists, economic prophets, and expert minds can remove the uncertainties of life. If they cannot forecast an election; if, as we charge, since the crash that started seven hard and hungry years ago this month, government officials—and I refer to those in the highest circles—foretold the end of unemployment within thirty, sixty, ninety days—the end has not come yet, how can we place our hope in any manmade assurance?

Only one torturing fear cuts deeper than the uncertainty of this life, and that is the uncertainty of the next. You may tell me that people today refuse to worry about the hereafter; and it is a mysterious contradiction that eager, intelligent men and women who spend days and long nights to acquire and protect money and property will not spend even minutes for the protection of their immortal souls. But no life is so hard and secure that it can completely and continually ignore the universal and fundamental questions: “‘What must I do to be saved?’ Can I do enough to get right with God? Is there any help for me? If there is, how can I know it and find it? Will I go to heaven, or am I bound for hell?” I have seen confident, self-sufficient men and women cringe in cold sweat as they have stared at heaven, moaning, “Do you think that God can forgive me?” I know no terror graven more deeply on human faces than the horror of those who have looked into hell and screamed: “I am lost! Oh, help me, help me!”

Under the guidance of God I want to remove from your hearts any doubt that may linger behind the promises of Christ’s mercy and show you that through the crucified Savior God’s love is ours for time and for eternity, above all quibble and question, triumphant over our fears and faithlessness. As I offer you this—

GRACE WITHOUT A QUESTION-MARK

I base my words on the inspired promise of Romans, chapter eight, verse thirty-two: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

THE ASSURANCE OF FULL GRACE FOR OUR FAITH

No one, since the days of the apostles, so clearly understood the victorious certainty of Christian faith and believed its power with every beat of his heart and every fiber of his being as the great Christian hero and founder of the new age, Martin Luther, whose birthday we commemorate today. To understand the great Reformer and the uncompromising bravery with which he battled for the Bible, for the Christ, and for the Cross, we must recall the shattering agonies of his inner conflict. There he is, a desperate soul drowning in the depths of spiritual doubt, a haggard, emaciated monk, feverishly groping for the forgiveness of his sins. He falls exhausted from the fasting and the rigors of his self-imposed penances. He crawls up the so-called sacred steps and wonders as he reaches the top whether there is any assurance of pardon in all this. Day after day, in this soul turmoil, he confronts those who sold official forgiveness of past, present, and future sins; those who put their trust in the merit of a hundred saints; those who paid, at prescribed rates, to draw their departed relatives out of death’s sorrow and suffering, hoping in turn that some merciful friend would similarly buy their soul’s purging and release. Crushed by this uncertainty, he shudders at the very mention of Christ, confessing, as he later did: “How often I was horrified at the name of Jesus, and when I regarded Him on the cross, it was as if I had been struck by lightning!” Then, thank God, a beam of grace brightens his heart, and the great awakening dawns. Paging through St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Luther learned for the first time in his thirty years to conclude with the great apostle that “a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law.” He found in his God the all-merciful Father, who, in the words of our text, “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” Gone forever were the tormenting questions of his conscience, “Have I done enough to earn the pardon of God? Have I followed the right path in paying for my sins? Have I forfeited my past forgiveness with my new transgressions?” Gone forever the trembling mistrust of the Scriptures, the failure to take God at His word, the hesitation in believing that this free Gospel had a personal and pointed message for him! Gone forever every question of doubt! And with Christ at his side, he arose to challenge a world in arms against him!

I ask the same victorious certainty of you. If it were in the power of my bestowal to grant you life’s highest blessing, the happiest hope, I should not regard all the crown jewels of royal treasuries, the titled honors of nobility, the pleasure and power of wealth, the medals and degrees of human distinctions, as worthy of comparison with this faith that knows no question-mark; for diamonds, pearls, and rubies sometimes crack; the revolutionary trends of our day may snatch titles and honors in an unexpected moment; the applause of the masses soon dies in its own echoes; and money, as you have learned, may be here today, yet lost or stolen tomorrow. But this faith lives forever. And because on the great and glorious day of the resurrection I want to stand with you, please God with every one of you, before the throne of the divine Christ, I ask you in His name to make this exalted faith yours, to live in it and to die in it.

Remember there is no question-mark behind the meaning of the Gospel-promise. Some creeds speak in strange and dead languages. Some offer deep and complicated mysteries, ancient symbols, the hush and concealment of secrets revealed only to the initiated, hieroglyphics reserved for priests, statements that can be read forwards and backwards with the same vagueness and uncertainty. But there can be no debate on the crown message of Christianity; for here it is, the whole Gospel, so clear and concise that your children will understand its promise: God “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” You may not be able to comprehend the theory of relativity; you may not be able to explain the complex problems of international finances. A thousand issues of modern life may loom up before you as baffling puzzles; but when you raise your eyes to the cross, you see no question-mark there. The cross assures you that the God of all power, who created this earth and its immensity, as a mere speck in the immeasurable reaches of the universe; the God of all holiness, who hates sin and to whom no sinner can approach,—that God looks mercifully upon this sin-ridden world; and with the deepest and highest love that even the divine heart of overflowing mercy could show He “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” at Calvary, where, burdened by the guilt of all generations, He paid with His suffering, bleeding, dying, for our complete freedom from sin.

When that cross calls, “God loves you! God wants you! God pleads with you to come!” all questions as to the completeness of Christ’s redemption disappear. Without that Savior you cannot rid yourself of the fear that, no matter how uprightly you may walk, how hard you may try, how much you may sacrifice, you have not done enough. With Christ you realize that He is everything and you are nothing; that He does all for your salvation, and you can contribute nothing capable of lifting you even a quarter of an inch closer to heaven. Great churches have damned this blessed doctrine that we are saved by grace, and by grace alone. Human reason protests and denies; but I ask you to approach the cross once more, to hear only one of those seven sacred words spoken by the Savior’s parched lips. Who is it to whom the Crucified promises, “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise”? A model of a stainless life? An example of righteousness and holy living? You know better. He whom the dying Savior blessed with the pledge of paradise was a criminal. And he died a few hours later without the opportunity of performing a single meritorious work, a penitent thief, saved by his faith in the pure grace. Crucified in the morning and glorified in the evening! At high noon a condemned sinner; at sunset a redeemed saint! Transferred from Calvary to Paradise within a few hours, without any intermediate state! So free, so sure, so unconditional is the grace which God offers you!

Need I remind you that there is no question-mark behind the absolute truth of every syllable in this merciful message that God “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all”? I can understand how people today have become suspicious of any promise. They have been cheated time and again. They have listened eagerly to the sweet lyrics of the Lorelei leaders, only to have these enchantments lure them on the rocks of delusion.

But this Gospel of God’s love must be true because it is the promise of the infallible God Himself. If a competent doctor diagnoses an illness and prescribes a remedy, we believe him. How much more should we believe the Word of the Great Physician, of whom millions testify that He has healed the hurt and sickness of their souls! If a recognized scientist gives the world a formula for new antitoxins or antiseptics, his remedies are widely acclaimed. How much more, then, should we accept the antidote against sin offered by faith in “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”! Doubt any of the everyday facts that surround you; be skeptical if you must toward the promises of politicians and statesmen; hesitate, if you will, to accept the evidences of your own senses and experiences, but do not put a question-mark behind any of the promises of God that are yea and amen in Christ. Believe “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” that the Gospel must be true because it is God’s promise, sealed in the blood of Christ, recorded in His Word of Truth, proved in the benediction of unnumbered lives.

This promise of grace is a permanent truth. We have been hurtled into a new age, in which even fundamental institutions are in the process of change. Theories which were accepted yesterday are discarded today. The great truths of social and economic life that the past generation endorsed have been discredited by the present generation. Before we have filled the measure of our days, tremendous upheavals may shake the world. As we hear trained observers coldly comment on the next war and behold unmistakably aggressive atheism and anarchism, we may be disturbed by these gathering clouds; but we need not doubt the abiding power of God’s grace. In the coming decades, though the United States have a President or a dictator, we can always have the unchanging Christ; though we keep our liberties or lose them, we who are Christ’s can never lose the love of God. Jesus never changes.

The greatest blessing of Christ’s faith always has been this, that no question remains behind the full and final promise of His salvation. A thousand human creeds can teach men to wish and hope for a blessed hereafter; but what good is hope if it lacks positive and precise assurance? Another thousand creeds can suggest a possible way to eternity; but what help and security can there be in any system which deals with mere possibilities, which makes heaven a matter of chance, eternity something like the prize-drawing at a sweepstake, which teaches men to cry out, “I long for the blessings of heaven; I hope to have them,” but which necessarily stops short there and cannot give us the keystone to our faith by which we can exult, “I have the positive assurance of heaven through Christ”? We need the same eternally triumphant spirit which enabled the apostle to exult, “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” With the confidence that there is no weak link in the chain of your faith, no flaw in the fabric of your trust, you have this pledge. If ever you are torn between faith in the mercies of God and the shame and disgrace of sin; if the time comes when everything turns against you and every one deserts you, when the voice of your conscience reproaches you and the clutch of sin reaches to snatch at you, then turn to this blessed eighth chapter of Romans, read the last nine verses, and repeat in sincere exultation, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

FULL GRACE FOR OUR LIFE

The apostle tells us that when we have this certitude of faith, we have a practicable power for the strengthening of our lives. Since God “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how,” the apostle asks, “shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” The greater gift implies the lesser. The God who gave the unspeakable gift of His Son for our souls assuredly will give us the immeasurably smaller requirements of our lives. If His love provides the price of salvation in eternity, it will also offer the paltry pennies that we need to meet the demands of our existence. If the cross points to the prepared places and the open heavens, then it also blazes as a beacon to assure you that, once you are Christ’s, you are more than a leaf twirled in the fitful gusts of our autumn winds, more than a human pawn to be moved about by the tyrannical forces of fate; your life will be blessed and guided by the mercy and the love that “freely give us all things.”

Martin Luther learned to live heroically in Christ. The price of blood was on his head; princes and prelates opposed him; friends failed him; but he grasped his Bible and looked to the Cross to sing:

But for us fights the Valiant One,

Whom God Himself elected.

Ask ye, Who is this?

Jesus Christ it is!

He knew that the boundless love which cleanses the soul would not turn from the pains and the perils of the body; and with a courage that grips us, a bravery that thrills, a conviction that electrifies, he rode through mobilized temptations to victory for Christ and His Church, while the bloodhounds of vengeance followed every step and organized opposition sought to block every move.

You can have the same valiant faith if with all your heart you believe that because of Christ’s atonement God “freely gives us all things.” Consider the unlimited scope of “ALL things”! This is no blind exaggeration or sweeping generality; but it is the literal and divine fact. Fully conscious of what these words mean, I repeat the truth that through Christ our heavenly Father “richly and daily provides us with all that we need for this body and soul.” Let me take any personal difficulty that confronts you, let me ask you pointedly, Are you in search for peace? Are you disturbed by money problems and the harder questions of food, clothing, and shelter? Does worry within your heart choke your happiness, any grief in your home rob you of your peace of mind, any problem in your work or business cause sleepless nights, any hidden sin or grief that only you and your God know? Are you so deserted and distressed that you cannot find a single reason to continue and try again? Have you—as some have written me the past week—at the end of your resources come to a towering, blank wall where you see no other way but the coward’s exit (which I have told you leads to hell)? My fellow­redeemed, multiply this bitterness of life a hundred times; come to the breaking point only to have new heartache force you past it; tell yourself that you can not endure more sorrows; yet as you feel still greater grief well up in your heart, remember the cross and, laying your fears and tremblings at the feet of your crucified Savior, believe that His love can still the soul-hunger of hope-famished men and quiet the heartaches of a dying world. Rise above broken plans, lost fortunes, betrayed trust, shattered health, growing infirmity; survey the forces that are arrayed against you, the legions of sin, the regiments of hell, the blight of death itself and, looking to the Savior, challenge, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Strengthened by the assurance that God gives you in His own time and in His own way (for we are often too selfish to recognize the best time and the best way), reassured by the promise that God’s greater love in Christ will meet the smaller issues of your lives and “freely give us all things,” we can blend our voices in that eternal hymn of victory that recognizes no question-marks and exults: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” God grant you all this confidence of a certain faith in the sure mercies of Jesus Christ! Amen.

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

Date: November 1, 1936

Prayer for Our Country

God of our fathers and Lord of the nations:

We come before Thee in our Savior’s name to implore Thy blessing upon our country, its industries and farmlands, its commerce and transportation, its schools and homes, its governments and courts of justice, so that by Thy grace peace and plenty may reign, profitable labor and useful arts flourish, good government prevail, and national calamities be averted. We confess that as a nation we have not deserved these blessings, that we have been proud and sinful, that too confidently we have leaned on the arm of flesh and relied on men instead of putting our trust in Thee. Penitently we ask Thee to forgive us for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who Himself on the cross bore the sins of this nation and of all men. By Thy Spirit direct the hearts of our countrymen, so that in every momentous decision we may act in accordance with Thy will and by Christian faith and life serve Thee with far greater loyalty and devotion. We know that without Christ we can do nothing and that for the dangerous days that may await us we need more than ever before the constant power of His love and guidance. Bless us and our land with a far greater love and reverence of Thee, our Triune God. Hear us, for we have come before Thee in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.Proverbs 14:34

WHATEVER the outcome of the national election may be; whoever is chosen President; whichever party is voted into power, the destiny of our nation will remain in the hands of God. When the radio speeches and the campaign shouting have subsided, God’s message for the upbuilding of our nation must be heralded with unceasing force; for national blessing depends not upon the Republican Party or the Democratic Party or any other party; it depends upon the Almighty. We cannot build without God; we cannot build against God. But we can build with God. We must build on His time-defying principles, which help to create national greatness or which, when disregarded, make for national decay.

God has revealed the divine directions for national strength and happiness in a program which is surprisingly plain. Compared with our lengthy political platforms, it may appear too stark in its simplicity; but great statesmen have reverently acknowledged its unfailing truth. With millions of words shouted and written in this election campaign, God’s plan for national blessing, given in twelve short, unadorned words, may be discounted as too general and impracticable for our stern realities. These words of God say nothing on underproduction and overproduction; hand labor or machine labor; inflation or deflation; imports or exports; agricultural problems or labor problems; unemployment relief or old-age relief. They are silent concerning resettlement and reforestation; power projects or irrigation projects; banking reform or finance reform or any other of our hotly debated national issues. Yet these words are intensely practical; ultimately they offer a happy solution to every issue before our country, for they penetrate to the first cause of everything helpful and everything destructive to the nation. Where the props of manmade plans snap in failure, this counsel, changeless and unalterable, prevails; for it is God’s program.

In these agitated hours before our national election I propose to outline for you, with the Spirit’s help, God’s direction for—

BUILDING A BETTER NATION

as this fundamental truth (in Proverbs 14, 34) is given in the inspired words of ancient wisdom, “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

SIN DESTROYS, BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS BUILDS A NATION

When our text warns, “Sin is a reproach to any people,” this is not theory, pious preaching, or pessimism;—this is history. Stand beside the Wailing-wall in Jerusalem; cross the desert to the sand-strewn mounds concealing the remains of Babylonia and Assyria; descend to the Nile Valley with its tottering columns and ruined palaces, devastated temples, and you will see how national ruin is the penalty for the reproach of sin. Look where you will, and all over the earth you will find men building on the collapse of ancient and hoary nations that have met their destruction through this reproach of sin. Where is the haughty Roman Empire? the world dominion of Alexander the Great? the kingdoms and the nations of Cyrus? These and other series of far-flung supremacies are buried in deep obscurity to prove the truth of this dire warning: “The nation and kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish.”

This is more than ancient history, however. Why are 11,000,000 American workers still without employment when there should be work for every one with the broad sweep and the natural resources of our country? The touch of sin, the overreaching grasp of greed, disfigure American industry and penalize our age. Why have we had masses of hungry people in this nation when the cornucopia of plenty has poured its blessings upon our fields and farmlands and orchards with such lavishness that we have sought to restrict and reduce production? There ought to be food enough for every one in the United States, and there is; but greedy sin prevents its distribution into every home and to every person. Why does destitution reign in many American families? We have plenty of gold in our treasuries, plenty of brains in our universities; but again we must charge this ugly poverty to sin, the avarice of some American capitalists, the sloth and indolence on the part of the shiftless fringes of our population. Why are we disturbed by the greatest juvenile crime wave in our national existence? We repeat the answer: The cause is the reproach of sin: the sin of the parents in neglecting to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”; the sin of the children in refusing to obey their fathers and mothers; the sin of many churches in passing by the hundreds of thousands of boys and girls without Christ. Why do we see ominous specters on our nation’s horizon, the shadow of national pyramiding debt, the dark forms of that anarchy under the guise of Communism, the attempts to destroy lawful and representative government? Behind all this, in one form or another, is the sure, swift punishment that divine justice metes out for every uprising against God.

Read these words again (and I am quoting God), “Sin is a reproach to any people,” no matter how wealthy, how large, how proud, how brilliant. Do not contradict: “We are too strong to be felled by calamity”; for, though we can weld long lines of steel fortresses along our frontiers to restrain invaders, though we build airplanes for national defense until their number darkens the skies as the grasshoppers clouded our Western plains, we cannot battle against the Lord of hosts. Do not argue that we are too resourceful, that we have plans and preparations for any emergency; for even our widely applauded programs of improvement, if they disregard divine truth, dethrone God, and smile on the carnivals of sin, no matter how prudent, how ingenious, how scientifically correct these plans may be, they must fail. Over the lost glory of every nation both the hand of God and the moving pen of history have written the verdict: “The reproach of sin.”

The counsel of God is always constructive, helpful; and when it declares, “Righteousness exalteth a nation,” this again is not pretty idealism, a happy hope, or a fond dream; once more, this is history! Wherever men and women have accepted Christ and have been blessed by the Christian righteousness of life, they have proved themselves the salt of the earth that has prevented corruption and decay. Early Christianity changed the vice-bound world of its day; it exalted marriage, children, parenthood, at a time when the lust of the flesh ran to ruin; it created the dignity of labor when self-respecting men sought to escape work and relegate it to slaves; its principles of honesty, fair dealing, and the love for one’s fellow-men elevated the ancient business world. In short, the Church, though despised and small in numbers, did what all the philosophers and statesmen of the ancient world could not do: it bestowed, with God’s help, the righteousness that exalts a nation.

What brought pagan Anglo-Saxons to international prominence and made England the great world-power it is? Queen Victoria answered by pointing to the Bible. What gripped South Sea Island cannibals, bestial, degenerate parent-murderers, baby-killers, and endowed their brutal lives with Christian virtues? You know, and I know, and history knows, that all these remarkable transformations were produced by Christian missionaries, through the power of their Gospel-message.

This, too, is not restricted to ancient history; you can see the demonstration of exalting righteousness in this very hour. Who today crowds the divorce courts of the nation? Not Christian husbands and wives! Whose children are haled before the courts of juvenile delinquency? In the vast majority of cases not the children of Christian parents and the boys and girls that attend Sunday-school. Who are the prisoners that fill our bulging penitentiaries? Prison authorities will answer that by far the most are not men and women who have had Christian training.

If, then, we would build securely for the future, see clear light through the multiplied problems that confront us, let us build according to God’s specifications; let us see light in His light. Of course, we must vote intelligently and prayerfully; we must support far-sighted plans and programs; we need keen-visioned, self-sacrificing statesmen. But more than this the United States needs approved standards of divine right and justice in its business, its homes, its education, in all its civic activities. It should have as its highest and finest support the exalting righteousness in the life of every American. What shower of blessing would rain upon this nation if righteousness, and truth, and justice, and equity, and a brotherly regard of every man toward his fellow-man would prevail! What clash of conflict could be stifled; how many of our broken homes, wrecked industries, and bankrupt institutions could be spared; how much more of the peace and tranquility for which we yearn could be ours, if only this exalting righteousness would dominate the national and individual affairs of our country!

CONSTRUCTIVE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS THE GIFT OF CHRIST

By what means, then,—and this is the crisis question of the hour,—can we secure for ourselves and for our nation this exalting, uplifting righteousness? How can we curb sin and selfishness when the present scene resembles nothing more than a jungle with snarling, snapping creatures slinking in suspicious circles, ready to spring at each other’s throats? We listen to a hundred plans concerned with education, character-building, legislation, health improvement, the cleansing of the subconscious mind, the spirit of fraternity, and the other remedies prescribed to check sin and promote righteousness; we survey the best of them and declare that we must have something they now lack, a divine power to penetrate the soul, to change men, purify their corrupt nature, and defeat the dominion of sin that saturates their entire being.

So the cry of the hour has become “Back to religion!” Clear-thinking people demand a cleansing power for the heart as the fountain-spring of all actions and emotions. Not all religions, we emphasize, can change the heart, and particularly not this empty, creedless compromise and concession called modern Christianity. Recently two more leaders in the revolt against Christ, two teachers in a modernist theological seminary, confessed the failure and the falsity of this away-from-Christ and away-from-the-Bible tendency that has usurped power in many American churches. One admits: “Liberal theology . . . must suffer distinct revision, if not abandonment.” And another confesses that modern creeds are “quite unable to give guidance and direction to a confused generation.” Jesus Himself warns, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” In all our wide and resourceful world today there is only one power that can “create . . . a clean heart” and a “right spirit” within men, and that is faith in Jesus Christ, His cleansing blood, His atoning death, His victorious resurrection.

And here we are once more, at the heart and the center of Christian truth, the message which in one form or another you will always hear on this broadcast. Let me explain it; for some of you may never have heard this promise before and may never hear it again. To overcome sin for you, to break the curse of death in your life, to free you from the horrors of hell, our heavenly Father did not simply overlook sin, forget sin, cancel sin. Instead, God, almighty, all-loving, all-compassionate, sent His only Son, the divine Christ, to live His life of mercy among men that hated Him, to bless those who cursed Him, to plead for those who crucified Him, to bear on the cross in His crushed and bleeding body my sins and yours, to stand before the bar of eternal justice and plead guilty for us, to take upon Himself everything sinful and wrong in our lives, as our Substitute to pay the penalty that a holy God had decreed as the punishment of sin, to suffer and die for us and all men, to bring us to God, to everlasting forgiveness and the never-ending mercies of Heaven. This is the most vital message of all human history; this is life; this is hope; this is heaven and eternal blessing. Accept it, believe it, cherish it, trust it, though the quaking earth gives way beneath you and the skies above collapse.

And all this endless grace God calls His “gift.” You need not earn it, for you cannot earn it. You need not ask, “How can God love me?” for you cannot understand “the depth of the riches.” You need only believe Christ and trust Him; for that Savior knows you better than any one else does, more intimately than you know yourself. You need not despair if you have become faithless or fear that you have fallen from grace forever; for He who glanced at traitorous Peter looks down, even at this moment, with the compassion and pleading of His endless love, asking you to come back, to turn with repentance and tears from your sins, your unfaithfulness, and to find forgiveness and peace in the arms ever outstretched to the contrite sinner.

When Christ is your Savior,—and God grant that some of you will delay no longer and receive Him as He now seeks entrance into your hearts,—when Christ is yours and you are His, this faith in your hearts will show itself in your life. You will be “born again”; you will come into a newness of life in which “the old things are passed away” and “all things are become new.” You will have the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures and the Sacraments by which wild passions are tamed, selfish desires removed, temptations to impurity resisted, the small faith enlarged, the weakness of good resolutions fortified.

This righteousness our country needs above every other program or panacea. I ask for our nation not primarily wealth, for this can easily be destroyed; not power, for this is quickly abused; not a lavish flow of creature comforts, for too often these lead to softness, perversion, decay. I do not ask for a restoration of the 1929 type of prosperity with all the personal boasting and the arrogant vanity of that gilded, tinseled day. But as in Israel’s great national crisis God Himself proclaimed that the path to true national blessing and individual happiness was “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” so I pray that the Spirit of God in Christ may rest upon this nation. We ask for Christ in American homes: Christ revered and adored at family altars, with their Scripture-message of spiritual power and their household prayers of sustaining guidance; Christ cherished by American mothers, who in their devotion to the home and the family can do more for this nation than a hundred bulky volumes of new laws; Christ acknowledged by American fathers who understand the fearful offense of sending their own children from God by the example of paternal indifference. We ask for Christ in more American schools, where, as in the educational system maintained by my Church, the boys and girls of today, upon whose shoulders the grave and complex problems of tomorrow must rest, will be equipped for their additional burdens through the daily study of the Word of God and daily prayer. We offer your children a training for these plastic, impressionable years in which there is no denial of God, no ridicule of His Word, nor the rejection of His Son which sometimes creeps into our public, tax­supported schools. We ask for Christ in all American churches, so that the quarter of a million church-buildings throughout the country may really be houses of God, where preachers, servants of God and not servants of men, determined to know nothing else “save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” will help make our churches what they should be, builders of true American greatness. We ask that through the influence of Christian homes, Christian schools, and Christian churches there may be nothing in American business and commerce and industry that overrides Christ’s Golden Rule; nothing in American courts that contradicts Christ’s truth and equity; nothing in American government that violates Christ’s separation of Church and State and the freedom of conscience and worship which His Word grants. We ask all this and pray for it in these critical, decisive days, because with Christ in many more American hearts and lives, we shall have, by His promise, that righteousness that will assuredly exalt this nation.

May God, who makes and breaks the nations of history, be with us as He has been with our fathers, through Jesus Christ, our blessed Redeemer! Amen.

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

Date: October 25, 1936

Prayer of Gratitude for the Gospel

Most gracious God:

Oh, that we had the wisdom and purity of angels worthily to praise Thee for the grace, the power, and the blessing with which Thy Son, our Savior, cleanses, builds, and enriches those who accept His atoning love! Receive, we pray Thee, the thanks, weak and imperfect though they are, of thousands joined in this worship of that divine, all­merciful, all-sufficient Savior. And so strengthen us by Thy Spirit that amid all indifference and denial we may gladly give our hearts to Thee and loyally dedicate ourselves to the advancement of Thy kingdom. Because of our many failures to meet the high requirements of Thy holiness, our proneness to retreat when we should stand fast, we ask Thee especially to give us that courageous faith which eagerly counts all else but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Let the radiance of that Savior’s joy shine into destitute and distressed lives, so that in its heavenly light groping men and women may see Thy light and the love, the counsel, the guidance, with which Thou, Father of all mercies, dost bless all who are Thine through Christ. We ask Thee for souls that may be brought into the peace and rest and joy of Thy kingdom. Hear us and by Thy Spirit help us pluck some brand from the burning, in Jesus’ name, for His glory and honor. Amen.

Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.Romans 10:13

WHAT is it that makes Christianity Christianity? What are the distinguishing marks of Christian faith that separate it from other creeds? If on election day, when more than 40,000,000 Americans will cast their ballots, our citizenry would express itself in response to these questions, their answers would often be vague and contradictory. Too many believe that the essence of Christianity is membership in this church or that. Too many hold that the marks of the Christian religion are to be found in a program of externals that frowns on card­playing and legislates on amusements that imposes definite rules in regard to eating, drinking, fasting, and that sets up a code of conduct to regulate dress (even down to the matter of buttons). Too many have that vague and nondescript idea of Christian faith which blandly holds: “To be a Christian simply means to be good and to do good.”

People are bewildered by the conflicting policies of the churches themselves. They hear one speaker in a preaching mission confess the deity of Christ and another shrewdly ignore it. They find two leaders in the same denomination, one preaching salvation through living grace and the other salvation through graceful living. They look to Spain and see two churchmen under the same cross, one bringing the appeal of the shed Blood and the other bringing the appeal for bloodshed. They behold a group of Christian workers, some concerned about divine revelation, others dedicated to social revolution; one church-paper featuring Christ’s atonement and another man’s attainment. They meet these confusing slogans: “Deeds, not creeds!” “Aspiration, not inspiration!” “Not the living Christ, but Christ-like living!” and in this confusion they either repeat the question: “What really makes the Christian religion Christian?” or they shrug their shoulders indifferently.

I propose to answer this question today because this week brings us to the 419th anniversary of the birth of modern history and progress and to a great man of God, who with his whole heart and soul showed us the base and center and summit of true Christianity. On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian friar, Brother Martin, with swift, sure hammer-blows posted his Ninety-five Theses, or religious propositions, which embodied the declaration of spiritual independence, the constitution of Christianity, the emancipation proclamation of the soul’s liberty for hundreds of millions in all lands and in all centuries since his day. Luther’s real greatness—and I am now quoting a celebrated Roman Catholic historian, Doellinger: “Those among us who hold him in religious detestation are constrained in spite of themselves to speak with his words and to think with his thoughts”—and the deepest significance of his epoch-making reform were not an educational and intellectual revival, not his personal fearless and astonishing bravery, not his contributions to free and representative government, not his emphasis on the blessings of matrimony and the defense of the Christian home. Infinitely more exalted, as vital as these distinctions are, is the primary and basic blessing of the Reformation, Luther’s restoration of Jesus Christ as the only, but all-atoning Savior of mankind and his fervent zeal in proclaiming the distinguishing characteristic of true Christianity, the great, God-endowed doctrine of justification by faith.

With the Spirit’s help I hope to show you this

HEART OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

by pointing to the blessed promise and comfort of the full, free mercies of Christ recorded in substance three times by the Scriptures, the pledge: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!” (Romans 10, 13.)

CHRISTIANITY ALONE OFFERS THE PROMISE OF GRACE

Has it ever occurred to you that, with hundreds of religions in our country, thousands of creeds throughout the world, tens of thousands of beliefs witnessed by history, in the final analysis there have been only two fundamentally different forms of religion from the day of the fetish and the totem pole to the most modernized “ethical” worship? Here in the great heap of discarded creeds are all religions except one. On this scrap-pile of broken faiths you see the perversions which led men to worship holy cows and sacred cats; the cults that revel in obscene rites and hideous practises which only a few in my audience could even imagine and still fewer understand. Here are the widespread beliefs that practise horrible mutilation, that sway the bodies of worshipers in the air, suspended from hooks imbedded in their living, quivering flesh. Here we meet the terrors of Hinduism, which teaches its devotees to sleep on beds of sharpened spikes; to stare in the dazzling equatorial sun until their eyes rot away; to raise their arms and hold them motionless through the years until they wither in their sockets; to dig up the decomposed bodies of those who have been buried at least three months, to tear off an arm or a leg or a thigh-bone, and to feed on the vermin and the pus of decayed human flesh; the Mayan idolatry of ancient Mexico, which demanded nothing less than the beating, bleeding heart of human sacrifices; the cold brutality of the Canaanite creeds, which incited their followers to kill their own children in the cruelest of sacrifices. These are but a few of the atrocities committed in the name of religion,—all with but one purpose: the desire to secure the blessing of some imaginary outraged god or goddess, to earn the favor of an uncouth idol, to purchase the forgiveness of sins, to smooth the way into a heathen hereafter.

But you say: “The world has moved on,” and it has. Cultured men do not cast themselves beneath the Juggernaut and American widows are not burned on their husbands’ funeral pyres; yet the basic idea of earning heaven lingers in every modern, Christless creed. On this same heap of bankrupt faiths let me point out the present-day salvation-by-character religions that substitute a bank-check to some charity for the pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina; the ethical cults that try to earn recognition before God through a special philosophy of life, perpetuating in principle the practise of the heathen Confucianist, who shoots off firecrackers and burns paper money to secure the attention of his gods; the religions that deal in sacred arithmetic, computing the numbers of prayers, the total of devotional acts required to secure the forgiveness of sins, a process fundamentally not much different from the system of prayer-wheels in Tibet, rolling out an exactly calculated number of prayers each day, or of the voodoos of Haiti chanting their measured magic; in short, here are all manmade creeds in the world, which, when stripped of their pretenses, have the basic obsession: we must do something, say something, earn something, offer something, sacrifice something, buy something, if necessary steal something, to make our gods smile. We must take heaven by our own strength.

Opposed to the failure of these fear-breeding, hope­destroying creeds is the power of the one divine religion, the true Christian faith, which teaches that Christ is everything and that we are nothing; that, though we daily sin much, the Gospel speaks God’s love into our soul with the promise, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Believing that “a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law,” rejoicing that we are redeemed, not by an accumulation of our best works and most unselfish deeds, but by faith in the all-atoning, all-satisfying blood of Jesus Christ, we have the truth of our text sealed in our hearts: all that we must do to be saved is to “call upon the name of the Lord” in believing, penitent trust. Then we are saved.

Have you been blessed by this grace? Have you called upon the name of the Lord, trusting only in Jesus’ blood and righteousness, confessing:—

Nothing in my hand I bring;

Simply to Thy Cross I cling?

Have you approached the Cross, not denying your sins, not excusing them, not minimizing them, not disguising them, but confessing that they are the deep-rooted cause of the Crucifixion? And have you, calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus, cried out: “O my Savior, I know that my sins helped to nail You to this accursed tree; that I can offer nothing to earn Your mercies or secure Your pardon. I know that, if I could accumulate the priceless possessions of men, mobilize the power and energy of this age, draft the ingenuity and resources of the greatest minds, all this combined could not rid my soul of a single sin or teach me how to get right with my God. Yet, O blessed Savior, I trust in the eternal loving-kindness and the everlasting mercy which brought You to the cross for me. By the holy, precious blood that flows from these wounds, by the numberless, fathomless sorrows of the soul that bowed Your thorn-crowned head into death, I beseech You to have mercy upon me and to save me”? If you have this Heaven­born conviction, then by faith, without any contribution or cooperation, without any conditions or credentials, Christ is yours, now and forever, and He promises, “Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hands.” If you have this faith, you are a Christian. You may be Catholic or Protestant, Lutheran or Reformed; but first of all you are a Christian. If you do not have this faith, you may be nominally a Lutheran or a Baptist or a Presbyterian, a Greek Catholic or a Roman Catholic, a Methodist or a Nazarene, but you are no Christian. It does not matter who you are, how zealously you may work in your church, how painstakingly you may order your life, what self-denial you may practise; if you want to work your own way into heaven; if you want Christ to earn one half of your salvation and you the other half; if you want to pay for the free grace of God, you have missed the heart and center of true Christian faith.

The cross marks the parting of ways that separates genuine Christianity from counterfeit. With all my soul I appeal to my Christian friends throughout the land to hold fast to the true, essential Christ, since almost every major church-body in the United States today is honeycombed with denial. Because superorganizations in control of church policies feature men who are openly hostile to the Gospel; because sections of the religious press and much of the religious broadcasting are dominated by a radical, antichristian spirit, I repeat: Hold fast to the one blessed foundation of our faith! Protest against every change, every question-mark, every addition, or every deletion! And if you belong to a modernist church, where the preacher offers sermons on “Amos ‘n’ Andy” or “The Wisdom of Will Rogers,” and, neglecting Christ, slides back to the hoary delusions of salvation by morality, remember this advice: Because you cannot toy with your immortal soul nor play with your eternal destiny, do not subject yourself Sunday after Sunday to soul-destroying poison. You must “fight the good fight of faith,” and if this denial of Christ continues, you who want to believe in the divine and atoning Savior and the preachers who studiously reject Him cannot worship together. You must come out and be separate!

CHRISTIANITY ALONE OFFERS THE COMFORT OF GRACE

How many glorious blessings attach to this promise of pure grace! As the diamond sparkles whenever shaft of light strikes its polished facets, so, view the Gospel of Jesus Christ from whatever angle you will, you behold unparalleled blessings. The very first word of our text reminds us of the universal sweep, the all-enfolding grasp, of the Savior’s mercy. This “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord” knows no social distinctions, no racial barriers, no overprivileged or underprivileged. “There is no difference,” the apostle exults, and beneath the cross we can find no difference between the Gold Coast and the ghetto, sky terraces and janitors’ basements. If you exclude one single, despised, depraved soul of humanity’s two billions from the Savior’s grace, you are too narrow for Christ’s Gospel; for this “whosoever,” repeated as it is throughout the New Testament, is the seal and assurance of God’s universal love. Listen to Jesus as He promises: “Whosoever, therefore, shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven.” Listen to His Word as it embraces the ends of the earth and pledges: “Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” Turn to the last page of your Bible, and as the setting sun of Revelation tinges these words with roseate hope, read this promise to thirsty souls: “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” You may be a great sinner, but the pardoning love of Christ is greater. You may be alarmed by the frequency with which evil triumphs in your life; but it cannot happen too frequently for the eternal mercies, renewed to us every morning. You may be imprisoned behind penitentiary walls; but you cannot sink too low for Him who on the cross dropped into the depths of that abysmal God-forsakenness and who, as He paid the price of your pardon, “was despised and rejected of men.”

Heavenly strength rests in the knowledge that our Savior sees all men with their heartaches and burdens in sympathetic survey. He who once lived among men knows the problems of the laboring man; He met them in Joseph’s carpenter shop. He understands the perplexities of the mother, busy in the crowded workaday duties of washing and cooking and mending and cleaning; for that humble dwelling in Galilee anticipated the various needs of our households. He knows how it feels to be poor; for He had “not where to lay His head.” He can take the viewpoint of the persecuted and oppressed; for did not blasphemous hands try to hurl jagged rocks at His defenseless body? He can sympathize with those who are lost in their loneliness; for in the hour of His greatest need His disciples deserted Him and fled. He can plumb the depths of your deepest sorrow; for, nailed to the cross, He suffered as no one else has ever suffered and died a death of agonies that none other can ever die.

Mark also the unequaled simplicity of this Gospel promise. No key is required to interpret the words “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” No commentaries are required to explain it, no teacher to expound it, no mystic symbols to represent its truth. You need not be initiated into any secret rites to understand its full meaning. Your children—and I hope that you take the time required to teach your own flesh and blood these vital, triumphant truths—can comprehend the essentials of Christ’s glorious salvation. Yet its profound riches can never be exhausted even by brilliant minds. If you were honored by all the universities of the land, awarded the distinctions of Nobel prizes and Congressional medals, you would still stand overwhelmed by the mystery of the Savior’s love.

Certainty and finality also ring in the promise of this salvation which no one but Christ can give. When you reread this blessed assurance, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” you are not dealing with theory or operating with possibility. Your redemption is no subject of debate; for eternal truth lives in this divine declaration, and no modernized theology, no up-to-the­minute creed of religious revolutionists, can change these immovable verities. Since the first Good Friday every branch of human thought and scientific studies has suffered repeated change. Yet turning to Christ, we pray, “O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” Other religions have flourished and decayed, but grasping our Bibles, we declare, “The Word of the Lord endureth forever.” Everything that surrounds us today will collapse or disintegrate; but this Gospel, which has been declared dead a thousand times, this Savior, whose effigies have been drabbled through Soviet streets, still lives in unchanged and undiminished power to bless every penitent twentieth-century soul and life.

The sustaining comfort of this grace teaches men and women as no other creed ever can how to rise after each fall, how to rebuild ruined lives and wrecked hopes on Christ, the Cornerstone. As I read your letters, my conviction is strengthened that the heroic faith of the first Church still lives. I have seen some children of God meet sudden and terrifying death in their family, and beneath the tears of human sorrow I have caught a gleam of spiritual triumph which, beholding Christ, exults, “He hath done all things well.” I have heard others in the mining districts sing hymns of praise even when their cupboards were empty and they had not seen relief checks for months. I have watched farmers in the dust bowl and the drought belt sow their seed, meet total crop failure, and still take courage in Christ’s promise: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” I have looked into cold and cheerless rooms of tenements in great industrial cities where fathers who now measure unemployment in terms of years are distracted by the daily problem of providing shoes and clothing for their children, yet who are not perplexed in their souls because they have faith in Christ. Millions of Christian men and women in the face of these hardships live heroically because they live in Christ. How blessed if all of you would “call upon the name of the Lord” and find His pardon for misspent years, for misused talents, misdirected energies, His forgiveness for every failure! Before God I tell you that there can be no other way to the hope of heaven and to happiness on earth than by Him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Your faith must be personal. You cannot be saved through your parents, your children, your husband or wife. Not all the saints of God, not all the legions of angels combined, can substitute their faith for yours. It is not enough that you said your prayers in childhood, and it is not enough that some one else may be praying for you now. You yourself must call upon the Christ of endless compassion.

If that Savior has never reigned in your heart, or if you have traitorously turned away from Christ and His Word, I beseech you, Will you not today speak penitently with your God? Will you not draw near to your Savior and, calling on His name, be pardoned and cleansed? Fathers and mothers who may be leading themselves and their own children to hell by their unbelief and by the destructive examples of their rebellion against God; sons or daughters guilty of secret sins and disobedience, indicted by the voice of their own conscience and condemned by the Law of God; despondent souls ready to surrender to the defeat of a hopeless life, who have tried every one but Christ and everything but His mercies, may they now hear and follow that ancient cry which has conquered sin and won the victory for salvation and happiness: “Repent . . . and believe in the Gospel”!

We are ready to bring this promise of grace to you. Is there any enlightenment or service we can offer which by the grace of God may help you to a happy, exultant faith in Jesus Christ, and the assurance of your salvation? It is yours for the asking, without payment, but with our prayers that our heavenly Father may bring you to the Savior and keep you in the redeeming faith now and forever. God grant you this persevering, triumphant faith, through Jesus’ love and righteousness! Amen.

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

Date: October 18, 1936

A Prayer for Deeper Trust

Merciful God, whom we call Father through Jesus Christ, our Savior:

We raise our hearts and voices to Thee, in this thank-offering of our faith, for the unnumbered and immeasurable blessings to both body and soul which Thou hast showered upon us, as indifferent and thankless as we often prove ourselves to be. With all our hearts we humbly implore Thee, deepen our faith, strengthen our inner lives, enrich our souls by Thy Spirit, so that we may constantly appreciate more fully the love which spared not Thine only­begotten Son, but delivered Him up for our eternal salvation! Show us, we humbly entreat Thee, the eternal consequences of our unforgiven sins, so that we may not ignore our transgressions, conceal or excuse them, but penitently confess our faults and frailties as we turn to our Savior for pardon and to our sustaining Spirit for daily renewal in strength and power. Pour out the balm of Thy blessings upon the comfortless and unhappy hearts, the hope-hungry and grace-starved souls, so that, as Thy Word speeds out, its warnings and comfort may reach many who need Thy presence. Teach us all to share our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, with our Savior; and in faith, in prayer, in Christian life, to walk more closely with Him in whose name, by whose Word, and with whose promises we pray. Amen.

Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.1 Timothy 4:8

“WHAT does Jesus Christ offer us today?” “What can we get out of the Christian religion?” “Why should we go to church?” These are questions which a profit-seeking, money-minded age insistently repeats. “We want a creed that brings its benefits in this life, not only ‘by and by, up in the sky,’” the cry continues. “We must have a religion that speaks in terms of food and clothing, jobs and money, that offers a farm and a labor program, that will show us how to pay our rent and our coal bills. We are looking for a church that will help us financially, socially, materially.”

Some insist that the modern Church should meet all these requirements. We may brush aside the suggestions of a Harvard speaker who encouraged graduating lawyers to join some church and become acquainted with the best people of the community. We may disregard the attitude of New York students who admitted that they attended a widely publicized local church chiefly because of its bowling-alleys and motion-picture shows, or the admission of a mother who told me she was sending a child to a particular Sunday-school because its parish-house featured dancing classes. But what shall we say of priests who forget the sacred commission of the Church to men’s souls and present programs offering a minimum salary of $1,800 a year, work for every one at unprecedented wages, fabulous old-age security, and numerous other Utopian plans, with a promise to make life convenient and comfortable? We might brand such schemes as fantastic, basically impossible, economically absurd; we might say that these extravagant promises and cruel exaggerations will ultimately drive groping masses into deeper despair; that of all men who dupe their followers the most dangerous and destructive is the clergyman who, though he should know that the kingdom of Christ “is not of this world,” yet in the holy name of Christ advocates politics and even bullets. We might shout to the multitudes in our land, blindly marching in these mass movements under the double banner of Christ and of political organization, “Wake up; don’t be dumb, driven sheep that follow blind leaders over precipices and hurl themselves to destruction!”

We might say all this—and more. But the most tragic and destructive feature of every plan that would thus interpret our religion in dollars and cents and in schedules for this week instead of eternity is the spiritual catastrophe that carries the very heart and soul from Christian faith, dissolves the rainbow of hope that the Word of Christ arches before every Christian life, blasts away the bedrock upon which all social improvement, better living conditions, and genuine prosperity must rest, and robs men and women of the one priceless treasure in life, true Christian faith.

When we are asked,—

WHAT PROFIT CHRISTIAN FAITH?

I thank God that it is my privilege to offer you an answer from His infallible Word, the assurance of St. Paul (1 Timothy 4, 8): “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.”

THE PROFIT FOR THIS LIFE

What does the great apostle mean when he says that godliness has the “promise of the life that now is”? Explained in terms of your life and of mine, he tells us that Christian faith is not reserved for the weak, the sickly, the dying, but that it must be a living, warming, cheering, pulsating force in every life, full-blooded or anemic, successful or bankrupt. We must come to Christ and believe Him to be, not what modem unbelief insists that He is, a high ideal, a noble example, humanity at its best, a prophet of pure religion (just this and nothing more), but, infinitely exalted above every denial, very God of very God, Son of the Eternal and Son of the Virgin, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. We must approach Calvary and find in the bloodstained cross, not what the empty phraseology of smooth, blind deceit proclaims, a monument to self-denial and sacrifice, a symbol of unselfishness and of loyalty to high purposes (again, just this and nothing more); but the incomparably greater truth that here our Savior, both High Priest and “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” completed the one sacrifice by which every sin in every life was atoned, forgiven, and removed. We must believe with a faith that is not merely family inheritance or an utterance of the lips, but a trust that humbly recognizes our own sins and confesses: “O blessed Redeemer, with all my heart I believe that You are my Savior, that by Your boundless love and the agonies of the crucifixion I have been torn from the clutches of sin and brought to a gracious and merciful Father. With all my heart I trust in You and commit the destinies of my soul and body to Your keeping.” For with that faith we have the promise, first of all, “of the life that now is.”

Stop for a moment to see how practically Christianity works. Once we have Christ in our hearts, we are reborn to a newness of life; for here is the promise of God, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Word and the Sacraments we can follow in the footsteps of our Savior, falteringly and inconsistently at times, it is true, when in our all too human weakness we surrender to sin, but always with courage and loyalty renewed by heavenly grace.

Because Christianity changes men’s lives and offers the righteousness that can save a world in turmoil, we need more of this godliness and less of rampant godlessness. What was it that transformed the first centuries of our era, steeped as they were in unnatural vices and hideous perversions? Was it not Christ’s triumph in the lives of His followers over the reign of pagan lust? What ended the Middle Ages, decaying from dry rot, shackling the souls and bodies of men beneath hideous tyranny as they did? Was it not the Word of God displacing the word of man and the freedom, enlightenment, progress, that followed in the wake of the restored Gospel? What is it that can improve conditions today? You may have pet theories of change and reform; you may listen with cupped ears to the clash of opposing plans; but let me tell you that there is only one plan for “the life that now is” which has promise, and that is our Christian faith. Put Christ into the hearts of American financiers, and the dishonest juggling, fraudulent manipulations, worthless securities and waves of greed that have flooded the nation will be checked. Put Christ into the hearts of American business men, and the cheating, defrauding, misrepresentation, that helped to provoke the miseries of the last years will be minimized. Put Christ into the hearts of some of our American teachers, and atheism, scoffing, exaltation of the brute, will be completely excluded from the halls of higher education. Put Christ into the hearts of American judges and jurists, and miscarriage of justice, open collusion, and bribery that bring the wrath of God upon any people will be restricted. Put Christ into the hearts of men charged with the administration of our governmental affairs, and politics will be a service for greater good rather than the selfish profession it sometimes becomes. In short, if the churches today will preach the message of sin and grace and point men to the redeeming and renewing Christ, they will first of all clean “that which is within the cup”; they will lay the spiritual base upon which every happiness for toiling masses must rest. They will do more in this quiet and unobtrusive way than all the blatant, noisy campaigns of erratic churchmen and all the widely applauded efforts of church federations for purely social programs. The apostle was once obliged to tell a crippled sufferer, “Silver and gold have I none.” But as Peter continued, “Such as I have give I thee,” and then in the name of Jesus Christ healed him, so the Church can offer to a crippled generation help for the soul.

While the true Christian faith extends the promise of the life that now is, it dangles no pledges of smooth and easy superhighways to happiness. The course of the Christian’s life, though it leads to the crown, is by the way of cross and affliction. “The disciple is not above his Master.” More Christians were murdered and martyred in the last four centuries than in all the persecutions of Nero and his blood crazed successors in the first four centuries. Our future is a race between the power of Love and the organized forces of unbelief and hatred of the divine. And full well do we realize, in spite of rosy predictions by starry­eyed idealists, that we are facing decades in which the Church may be called upon to withstand unto the blood, in which loyalty to the Cross of the Savior may provoke, as it has in Europe, confiscation, exile, impoverishment, and persecution. But if we have “the promise of the life that now is,” the weight of the universe will not be able to crush the joy of our faith. We can turn to the treasury of grace in the eighth chapter of Romans and exult: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” We shall be able to follow the logic of the great apostle in that victorious paean and demand, “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” With Christ as our constant Companion, we have that thrice-blessed assurance that every time our hopes are checked, our plans dashed to pieces, our program of life rudely frustrated; every time we are bowed under the weight of unexpected sorrows and sudden afflictions; every time we find barriers of misfortunes, we are experiencing the riches of His mercies, which employ the depth of sorrow to heighten our faith, the friction of adversity to polish the jewels of our hope, the presence of sickness to make us mindful of the burdens of others. Even in the darkest hours will you who trust Jesus be blessed by “the promise of the life that now is.” You will have life at its best because Christ—often contrary to our understanding—always gives His own the best of life.

THE PROFIT FOR THE LIFE TO COME

Incomprehensibly greater than the heaped blessings that are ours here on earth through Christ is the promise—divine, unbreakable, everlasting—of “the life . . . which is to come.” Our text does not pause to investigate the age­old question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” It does not say that there may be a life that continues when the grave takes its toll. It does not express a beautiful, but vague hope that the curse, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” may not be the final doom of the race. Sweeping all conjecture, wish-thinking, and doubt aside, this divine promise implies with positive, absolute finality: There is a “life . . . to come.”

These words are directed, I know, to many who are wasting away in hospitals for the incurable, victims of cancer, consumption, advanced heart disease, and other maladies for which medical science may offer no cure. To you I speak not merely words of sympathy and, above all, none of those cruelest of exaggerations that would mislead you into entrusting your future to false cures; but in Jesus’ name I tell you: There is “the life . . . to come.” By His truth I assure you that, when your poor, deformed, sickly bodies are released from the ravages of disease by merciful death, you will, through your faith in Christ, simply cross the threshold into this promised “life . . . which is to come.”

I am also counseling, as your personal letters tell me, men and women who have traveled far along the highway that we call life, past the threescore-and-ten milestone, past the fourscore and even beyond, world-worn pilgrims who realize how quickly the remaining years may run their course and how suddenly the last lines of their life may be written. To them I sketch no fantastic schemes of rejuvenation or statistics on the lengthening of human life. I recount no experiences of long-lived patriarchs in Bulgaria; I have a higher and a holier mission to you. This may be the last time that you hear this message, and I must tell you, with all the power God gives me, that the final chapters of your lives must be more than a rapid drifting, a silent floating into an unknown sea; that death is no black annihilation; that our existence is not stifled forever; that we cannot end in the zero of black destruction. I must implant within you by the Spirit this Heaven-granted promise, “There is a ‘life . . . to come.’”

Most of you are in the flush of youth, the prime of life, or the confidence of long experience. Yet you, too, should pause to take the measure of your own career and stop, surrounded as you are by the baffling uncertainty of existence and the overshadowing phantom of quick death, to ask yourselves pointedly, “Whither am I bound? What will become of me? If I were to face death today, would that be the end of all ends for me?” I do not point to our autumn foliage as to the dying grandeur of nature that will be revivified in the spring, not to the earliest records of the race and the universal belief in the immortality of the soul, but above the conjectures of science and the guesses of philosophy and the legends of yesterday I direct you to the Word of God and ask you to repeat aloud after me these words of Heaven’s promise: “There is a ‘life . . . to come.’”

Repeat this truth every time you hear the jeering attacks of unbelief. If they tell you, as a brilliant skeptic asserts, “Death bursts the soap-bubble of life into a million fragments,” confess with the Church Universal and Eternal: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” If mocking scoffers have the ashes of their cremated bodies strewn over the seven seas to speak a taunting valedictory to life, hold fast to this simple pledge of “the life . . . which is to come.” If they ask you to prove that there is a life beyond the grave, ask them to prove that there is not. If they challenge you to explain how a decomposed body can be resurrected to a new life, challenge them to explain how a small elm seed sown into the ground decays and then grows up into a mighty tree that produces hundreds of millions of seeds. If they call your faith, as they have, “a childish hope,” “a flattering delusion,” then answer that you will not die like a beast; that you have Christ and with Him this sacred promise of “the life . . . which is to come.” Above all show them your resurrected Savior, who burst the bonds of death to write in letters of imperishable faith above the horizon of every Christian life, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” “Where I am, there shall also My servant be.” I am not asking you to put your trust in any fantasy of fond hope; I am not trying to entice you into accepting absurd creeds or impossible isms that your own common sense must contradict and your conscience deny; but I am asking you to behold one of the most widely corroborated facts in all history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to stand at the open grave and, as you contemplate the “power of His resurrection,” to find there the assurance of your own.

And what shall I say of the life which is to come? It is so glorious that the loftiest rhetoric and the most compelling oratory stammer and stutter before its majesty; so rapturous that our eyes are dazzled by its brilliance, our ears overawed by the melodies of eternity. There, in that “life . . . which is to come,” the wearied, harassed soul finds everlasting compensation for all the injustice and the affliction of a world in which truth is forever on the scaffold and wrong forever enthroned. There in unending benediction, when we see what here we could only believe, we shall know that “the sufferings of this present time” (including the vilest, the cruelest, the most brutal hardships) “are not worthy to be compared with the glory that” has been “revealed in us.” That heaven, so perfect that it harbors no regrets, no mistakes, no sorrows, no tears, no pain, no remorse, no unsatisfied longings, no unanswered prayers, can be yours in Christ.

Teach yourself to think clearly and heroically; in the light of the cross to view your life as no blinded pilgrimage through murky fog; to meet death without whimpering and cowardly groveling. Strengthen yourself by these plain and pointed questions and answers: “What causes death?”

“Sin.”

“What removes sin?”

“The blood of Jesus Christ.”

“How can I have the blessing of His saving redemption?”

“By penitent faith.”

Your salvation, here and hereafter, is just as simple and plain and, thank God, just as free and positive as this.

Once more I have offered you the promise of “the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Christ will never force you to accept His mercy. You can reject it and invoke upon your soul and your body the tragic consequence of a dying, hopeless life before the grave and of living, hopeless death beyond the grave. If you have never known these truths before, you know them now. From this day on you will stand either for Christ or against Him. And because your name, written in the Book of Life, means incomparably more than your name honored by the highest human distinctions; because with Christ you are blessed eternally and immeasurably and without Christ you have deprived yourself of the greatest good that even God can give you, I tell you in these moments, which, I pray, may prove the turning-point in many lives and the strengthening­point in many souls: Do not hesitate! Do not delay! Do not doubt! Do not postpone! Do not neglect! Do not excuse yourself! But resolve here and now that, God helping you, you will accept and believe this promise of “the life that now is and of that which is to come.”

God strengthen you in this resolve and for this blessing through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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