Date: November 3, 1935

Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee.Job 22:21

God, our Refuge and our Strength: We come before Thee to receive comfort and guidance for the sorrows of this troubled day. Penitently do we confess our own unworthiness and acknowledge the sins that abound in our thoughts and actions. But clinging to Thy promises of grace through the blood of our Savior, we beseech Thee to grant us not only pardon and forgiveness, but also the renewing power of Thy Spirit, so that we may daily walk more closely with Thee and particularly in adversity and sickness, in loneliness and privation, in old age and infirmity, and amid all the disappointments of this earthly pilgrimage find the evidence of Thy love and sustaining protection. Bless these broadcasts, heavenly Father, so that men may be turned to Thee and fortified by faith in Thy Son, our only, but ever-blessed Redeemer. Scatter the forces of evil that retard the coming of Thy kingdom and the spread of its saving message and preserve us in faith, courage, and conviction as witnesses unto Thy grace: through Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior. Amen.

IF some of you, saddened by the downward pull of many sorrows, ask us, as we are repeatedly asked, “What can the Church of Jesus Christ do for us in the present crisis?” we could counter: “What can anything else do for you?” For, if there is one unescapable truth that has come out of this welter of financial collapse and industrial stagnation, it is the basic fact that the human forces heretofore drafted to solve men’s perplexities have crashed.

“What permanent pledge can you find in the promises of any political party?” we could ask, addressing ourselves to the grim army of the ten million and more unemployed, victims of the avaricious greed of their own fellow-men. What are you offered by the communistic call to arms which seeks to rally the discontented workers of the world for the overthrow of the present order? For eighteen years the Red flag has waved uncontested over the territorially greatest nation on earth, and the principles of Karl Marx have had ample time and space to demonstrate their true character. But that diabolical attack on God, on the home, on representative government, with its murders and massacres, its legalized multiple divorces and its subsidized abortions, its perversions of parenthood and its neglect of childhood, its social diseases and its moral decay,—this reign of Red terrorism has turned into a bloody scourge; and instead of casting longing eyes toward this putrid cancer, American workers should hate it for the malignant destruction that it is; American Christians should pray fervently that, whatever God may send to this nation, He would spare us this communistic ruin.

“What can science offer for the solution of our basic problems?” we could continue, turning to a more promising source of help. “What can our technical schools, our laboratories of natural science, with their self-sacrificing leaders of research, offer to you, sorely beset with debts and mortgages and dwindling incomes, buffeted from the pillars of failure to the posts of defeat?” Not even the most startling inventions of this century can comfort agonized souls. What advantage will there ultimately be if our generation enjoys the marvels of television and yet be deprived of the power of spiritual vision? Or what will the nation be profited if we generate stores of energy at Muscle Shoals and Boulder Dam and yet do not apply the divine energy that cleanses human souls?

We could pursue this questioning and ask: “What can our widely publicized agitators give us, these glib-tongued soothsayers who promise the rainbows of wealth and prosperity, but whose theories must lead the nation into an impenetrable fog? What can diplomacy and statecraft contribute to the permanent tranquility of our age, when the vicious dogs of war are now straining at their leashes, when profiteers in blood anticipate further international slaughter with delight?” In short, take the very best that men can offer for the adjustment of our chaotic conditions; ask yourselves what all these proposals can do for the permanent relief of troubled hearts, and who is there that can produce a single definite assurance of inner peace and permanent blessing for grief-stricken men?

We could ask all these questions and more; but instead of pointing to the futility of man-made remedies, we offer the everlasting hope of our Christian faith and deliberately assert that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the extent that it is believed and its tenets practised, is the only effective antidote to the poison that has laid the nation low and brought millions to the verge of despair. I admit without apology that we cannot answer the query “What can Christianity do for me?” by promising that faith in Christ will give you a stream-line automobile, that church-membership will offer desirable business contacts, or that the Bible is a secret key to the prominence of Who’s Who or to a high Bradstreet rating. Thank God, Christianity disavows this scramble for the baubles and trinkets of life and instead directs men to the holiest of life’s blessings.

WHAT CAN THE CHURCH OFFER IN THE PRESENT CRISIS

to you who have never joined the Church, who have become indifferent to the demands of your soul, who would be blessed by a mightier benediction in your faith and walk? We read the words of Job 22, 21: “Acquaint, now, thyself with God and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto thee,” and answer: What must the Church offer if not the merciful God and with Him peace and happiness?

THE ACQUAINTANCE WITH GOD IN CHRIST

It is no modern discovery, this prescription of divine love for the aching hearts, the sore bodies of humanity. Back in those hoary days when palsied Job wrestled with the problems of his afflictions, a consoling friend directed this advice to him: “Acquaint, now, thyself with God.” And today when men cope with their perplexities, the Church must repeat this ancient counsel and cry out: “Acquaint, now, thyself with God.” In these five short words there is more of deliverance and blessing, temporal and eternal, than in lengthy barrages of oratory, findings of trade experts, Congressional discussions, and legislative proposals combined; for by the knowledge or the wilful ignorance of God is the welfare or the disaster of individuals and nations decisively regulated. So it is the first duty of the Church to acquaint men, not with the Italo-Ethiopian situation, not with the sanctions of the League of Nations, not with the widely discussed authors and actors in the dramas of present-day history, but with their heavenly Father, to lift up a holy voice with strength and without fear, to say unto the cities of America, “Behold your God!”

Today, more than ever before, men speak volubly and repeatedly of God; but how vague and impersonal their opinions often are! If we are to rely on a God who is an indefinable force, a hazy idea, a benign patriarch, far removed from the burdens of this distant world; if you think that you have found the full revelation of God in any creed that speaks of Him as the great Father, the supreme Architect, the eternal Spirit, or gives Him any other grandiloquent title that rests this acquaintance on human knowledge, you do not yet know the true and holy God. The full knowledge of our Lord and God is not to be found in the constellations that declare His glory nor in the rise and fall of the tides that are moved by His hand nor in the everlasting mountains that are the handiwork of His omnipotence. All these are monuments to God, eloquent tokens of His universal might. But to acquaint ourselves with God in His mercies, in His love, in His pardoning grace,—and who is there that would face Him in any other way?—we need the Heaven-sent revelation of Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, who tells the world of our day: “I and My Father are one.” “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.”

When men today, seeking after God, demand as Philip did even on the night of the Savior’s betrayal “Show us the Father,” we offer no misty, ethereal figure; but in the strong, clear lines of God’s own Word we point to Jesus Christ. We plead with men to acquaint themselves with the merciful God in that Savior’s life and love, to behold Him first as the virgin-born Babe of Bethlehem, then as the unparalleled Preacher, the merciful Benefactor, the fearless Prophet, the divine Physician; again, as the scorned Sufferer, the bleeding Redeemer of Calvary, and finally as the resurrected Victor at the open grave, the glorious King of heaven and earth in His ascended and never-ending exaltation. That Christ, sinless, yet sin-atoning; eternal, yet dying; Son of God, yet Son of man; Lord of lords, yet Servant of servants; the Savior who gave Himself in that limitless self-giving, who with His own blood atones for your sins and mine, the Christ of the Scriptures,—not the reconstructed figure of present-day infidelity, not the caricature of modern unbelief, but the Christ before whom, as we point to His nail-scarred hands and feet, we bow in contrition and faith and confess, “My Lord and my God!”—that Christ the Church presents to the world in answer to the pointed question, “What can Christianity offer in the present crisis?”

Here, then, is the sovereign question of your life, Do you know God in Christ? A hundred other queries may clamor for recognition. Push them aside until you have answered this question of destiny. A hundred impulses may rise within you to postpone your decision. Tear them out of your heart until you have answered this pointed issue, which involves heaven or hell, life or death. Do not say that you know God because you belong to a church; for there are thousands of churches throughout the land that have rejected Christ. Even outward membership in a true Christian church is in itself no evidence of your personal, saving knowledge of God. Do not say that you know God outside the Church, that you can get along without the Church; for if you know the full love of Christ, you will not rest until you have joined us to help spread the Savior’s message of mercy. Let me tell you that to know God as your God means that you know yourself, with all the rankling envy, the irrepressible jealousies, the unworthy motives, the sordid impulses, and the long rows of sin that thrive within every heart and seek to choke off your faith and your devotion to your fellow-men. But to know God means to know with an unconquerable faith that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”; that the Cross is Heaven’s holy answer to every sin and misery of earth; that by the blood of the Crucified we have the free and unrestricted approach to the mercy-­seat and the all-pardoning grace. To hear Jesus plead, “Come unto Me,” and to come; to hear Him ask, “Believe . . . in Me,” and to believe; to hear Him promise, “Where I am, there shall also My servant be,” and to have the confidence, beyond quibble or question, that heaven is yours,—this is to know God. For the sake of your blood-bought souls I ask you once more: Do you know God in Christ?

THE PRICELESS BLESSING OF PEACE

If you do, you have the priceless gift of peace, just as afflicted Job was strengthened by the promise: “Acquaint, now, thyself with God and be at peace.” Other religions may bind men in the shackles of fear; other creeds may brandish the sword and scream for bloodshed; but peace is the benediction carved into the keystone of Christ’s blessings. When “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,” breaks the tyranny of sin in our lives; when by the peace treaty between heaven and earth, written in the blood of Christ, we can stifle the accusing voice of our conscience and exult: “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us”; when the Crucified becomes the First and the Last in our lives, the Ultimate in our hopes, the Goal of our devotion, the Focus in our faith, then we have peace.

How many of us realize in our own faith that this peace permeates the entire Scriptures? Inspired Isaiah envisioned his Messiah as “the Prince of Peace,” and on the first Christmas Day the angelic anthem rings in fulfilment “Peace on earth!” In the last days of His earthly sojourn, in the glory of His resurrection, He comes to His timid disciples with the valedictory greeting “Peace be unto you.” As the last book of the Bible draws our hearts to the promise of reopened paradise, its first verses read: “Grace be unto you and peace from Him which is and which was and which is to come.” From one cover of the Scriptures to the other there are no fewer than eighty promises of this divine peace, each distinct in its blessing, each the immovable word of everlasting truth.

In spite of these heaped assurances the world about us will have none of this soul peace. Feverish spirits have sought to create an external peace without God. Though there be many and loud voices that cry to our generation “Peace!” we know that there is no peace and that ours is a day of sorrow and growing distress, of anguish and widening dismay, of delusion and overpowering fear. Discord in American homes, strife in American industries, hatred in American daily life! 22,000 suicides every year and three and a half times as many murders in our country as at the beginning of the century! Add to this ghastly tabulation the rumble of warfare that reverberates anew over the earth. Europe poised on the edge of the smoking crater that may belch forth its deadly eruptions at a moment’s notice! Statesmen regarding the next war as an accepted and inevitable fact while we are still weeping over a crippled generation! Now I ask you, If with all our peace congresses and disarmament conferences, our courts for international amity and tribunals for international justice, we have been unable to call a halt to the legalized murder of men on the battle-field of conquest; if instead we have succeeded in producing more diabolical instruments of destruction than men have ever known before, how can we hope to establish that spiritual and intangible peace of the soul when nothing less than the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the great Sin-offering of all humanity could restore this harmony between God and man?

Where, then, is the hope for men today? Where if not in Christ and in that peace which would grant us a heavenly serenity even here on earth? Because our Christian faith is not a dead theory, but a living, vitalizing power, those whose souls have been brought into concord with the Father of mercies will be ready to show forth the fruits of peace in our strife-torn world. Show me a home in which the love of Christ is the crowning glory, and I will show you a home, be it ever so small and unimpressive, in which husband and wife live in the happiness of true love, where parents and children are not estranged by clashes of envy, a home that can weather the tempests of adversity and preserve itself as a haven of peace and rest. Show me men or women who can meet one felling blow after the other and still raise their eyes high in the unswerving confidence of ultimate victory, and I again will show you men and women who have knelt before the Savior to be blessed by His word of love “My peace I give unto you,” men and women of Christian heart and courage, like those who write to us from beds of lingering illness, from hospitals for the incurables, from public institutions for the destitute, those who have been deprived of sight or hearing, betrayed, victimized by a cruel social system, cheated of their life’s savings, bereaved by sudden death,—yet who face all this not with stolid resignation, but with calm and peace in Christ.

Through this divine peace we have the blessed assurance that Job received: “Thereby good shall come unto thee.” Our experiences of adversity remind us that the peace of God is not always a pledge of outward prosperity. It does not mean that the path of a Christian pilgrim through life will be a smooth, wide boulevard on which he approaches the heavenly homeland with little difficulty and no opposition; for the Christian, perhaps more than his godless, carnally secure fellow-men, must go down into the dark valley and climb over all but insurmountable barriers as he marches to meet his God. The Savior’s appeal still summons us to take our crosses and follow Him. Nineteen centuries of history have demonstrated that the disciple is not above his Master, and if Christ was persecuted in the days of His flesh, we who live in the days of His Spirit cannot expect to be carried to heaven on flowery beds of ease. But whatever our destiny may be, we have the priceless assurance that, if we are Christ’s, God directs our lives and that, even though we drink a cup of bitter draught; even though our ambitions crash into hopeless fragments and our most carefully outlined plans are washed away by floods of misfortune; even though we lose health, wealth, friends, family, and finally life itself,—all this, above our poor powers of comprehension, is good and helpful for our ultimate welfare. Have we not read: “He hath done all things well”? Have we not been strengthened by the promise that our affliction “worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”? Let us this afternoon, then, convince ourselves that, while other forces which would show us light in the present darkness often flash across the firmament of human experience like a short­-lived meteor that falls to earth and loses its brightness as it falls, the light of faith that we find in our Bible gleams with increasing brilliance in a lighted path to Christ and to His eternal blessings.

What, then, does Christianity offer in the present crisis? God grant that you can answer: Christ and with Him peace and blessing forever. Amen.

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

Date: October 27, 1935

God and the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up.Acts 20:32

Our God, holy, merciful, and mighty: We thank Thee today for the four centuries of the open Bible, printed in the English language and distributed throughout the English-speaking world. Gratefully we praise Thy power and love which during four hundred years rebuked the assailants of Thy Word and frustrated their attempts to destroy the Scriptures. As we reflect upon the heroism of those spirit-filled servants who were oppressed, persecuted, and murdered because of their loyalty to Holy Writ, we confess to our shame that we have not always prized this blood-bought heritage of the opened, translated, printed Bible; that we have grown careless and negligent in our appreciation and love of Thy Testaments. Contritely we ask Thee to forgive our lukewarmness and in Jesus’ name to accept in our behalf His perfect and divine obedience even unto the death on the cross. Ennoble and enrich us through Thy Spirit, so that daily and persistently we seek the treasures of Thy Word’s grace and truth. Keep the Bible in our homes for the building of marital blessings and family happiness. Bless our nation with a firm love for Thine inspired truth, as the divinely constructive force for our deep perplexities and staggering problems. And may we all grow in grace, in divine wisdom, and in saving knowledge through the riches of Thy glorious mercy in Christ, our Savior. Amen.

ON an October Friday, four centuries save one year ago, the austere castle of Vilvorde, Belgian state prison, prepared its courtyard for a public execution. An arch-criminal, so the death-warrant read, was to pay the supreme penalty; and the heaped fagots, the heavy logs piled around the stake, were ghastly forebodings of excruciating agony—death by fire. But the flames were to be partially cheated; for the chronicler of the condemned prisoner records: “They were exceedingly kind to him; for instead of burning him, they only strangled him and burned his body at the stake.” Did the stolid executioners shudder before the horror of his shrieking agony and the smell of his burning flesh? It was not a squeamish age, that day of lusting after blood, when men could mow down their fellow-men and strike medals to glorify these massacres. No, there must have been about that prisoner an unmistakable appeal to soften their calloused hearts. In truth there was; the condemned man was William Tyndale, mighty instrument of God, uncompromising witness of Christ. And the crime which could be atoned only by his death? Behind the official charges was the indictment that he had translated the New Testament into the English language! For some unrecorded reason—was it the majestic serenity of their prisoner, or was it the last gasp of their dying conscience?—his captors were, as we read, “exceedingly kind to him,”—as kind as hell itself; “they only strangled him”!

Today, as we commemorate this Bible anniversary, we find in Tyndale’s ashes a symbol of that implacable hatred which beset our early English Bibles. Miles Coverdale, who four hundred years ago, on the fourth of this month [October], issued the first printed copy of the Scriptures in our language, was banished from England. The moldering bones of John Wyclif, pioneer translator a century and a half before, were dug up thirty-one years after his burial and publicly desecrated. Today authors of best sellers reap rich harvests of royalties. Writers who combine a sensual appeal with their literary brilliance have been rewarded with the Nobel Prize. The scholars who gave us the English Bible were man-hunted criminals, exiled from their homelands, and often doomed to death. Yet, with the little Godspeed that the English Bible enjoyed four hundred years ago, with every word translated at the cost of pain and persecution, every page published and preserved through the tears and agonies of courageous witnesses, the Bible in our mother tongue not only survived savage fury, but, gaining momentum from generation to generation, it has come down to us as part of that marvelous Bible distribution which altogether has circulated more than 880,000,000 volumes since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing-press. The Bible, in whole or in part, has been translated into 940 languages or dialects and last year alone was distributed by American and British Bible societies (not including commercial publishers) in more than 22,600,000 volumes.

As we pause to pay this tribute to the Spirit-strengthened men and women who were ready to risk themselves, their happiness, their very lives, that the divine Word might have free course through the English-speaking world, let us resolve that, God helping us, this quadricentennial anniversary will be much more than a mile-stone for historical reflection; that we find in our Bible

THE BOOK THAT BUILDS

as we hear St. Paul commending us “to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up,” Acts 20, 32.

THE BIBLE BUILDS OUR FAITH AND LIFE

In this promise of the building Word, taken from the apostle’s touching farewell to the elders of Ephesus, we find one of the fundamental differences that distinguish the Bible from every purely human book. Other volumes may inform, entertain, instruct; but the Spirit of God, operating through every page of the Old and the New Testament, exerts a superhuman and constructive power, which changes men, gives them a spiritual rebirth, strengthens, elevates, and ennobles. In all other writings men speak to their fellow-men, but in the Sacred Scroll God speaks to man, and His Word can renovate, purify, and build.

It may sound to some of you as though we were harking back to outmoded pieties when we insist that there are divine upbuilding powers in the inspired Word. Voices are crying against the Bible, not only in Berlin, in an attempt to revive Teutonic paganism, not only in Moscow with its Soviet obsession for militant atheism, but also in the anti-Bible campaigns in our country, where printing-­presses and schools are often allied with freethinking churches and traitorous divinity schools for the unholy purpose of parading the Bible as a book that has been discredited by science, disproved by history, and disavowed by every intelligent thinker. I challenge any one within the range of my voice to show that the Bible, as originally inspired by God, contains even a minute mistake. I ask any opponent of the Scriptures who may have tuned in accidentally or out of curiosity to submit proof that the Bible as given by God makes a single faulty or incorrect statement in any one of its 31,000 plus verses from Genesis to Revelation.

Others, less radical, have long ago substituted for the character-building, soul-strengthening powers of the Bible a long catalog of external and complicated devices. I have before me the latest book on character education, written by a recognized authority. On its 472 pages I find the Bible mentioned only incidentally. Fewer than seven pages deal with religion, and even these are marked with an undisguised antagonism. Instead of the building Word of divine truth this volume, designed for parents and teachers, offers, among other factors in character improvement, sand-tables, the ventilation of the schoolroom, dramatics, clay-­modeling, clubs, and parties. In the same spirit others present as pathways to the better life extensive diet programs, psychiatric clinics, adenoid operations, college courses on ethics, and sanitary plumbing. With all the money and energy expended in this way, we should be entitled to expect that ours would be an era of great civic virtue, a golden age of purity and honesty. But because these expensive projects cannot touch the soul; because you cannot control a man’s honesty by regulating his calories nor make higher morality go hand in hand with higher education, we find ourselves plunged into a maelstrom of crime, unparalleled by any other civilized nation except Russia. Today, when we pay $15,000,000,000 a year for crime, one out of every forty-two persons in our country is either a convict, an ex-convict, or has a police record, and this in spite of the corruption for which American legal procedure has been indicted. With all our emphasis on family study, domestic education, conferences on marital questions, the percentage of broken homes has taken its sharpest upward curve during our generation, so that at the fall session of the Chicago circuit, superior, and appellate courts last year the dockets listed no less than 16,000 divorce hearings. Sixteen thousand divorce trials for one term of a single city’s courts, while the Plymouth Colony in the first seventy-one years of its existence recorded only six!

The Pilgrim Fathers had the Bible, and they found in it what St. Paul calls “the Word of His grace,” which built them up. Mark well the apostle’s emphasis on grace! Laurels have been placed on the Bible because of its literary excellence, particularly when compared with some of the stilted attempts at scientifically improved translations. Tribute has been paid even by unbelievers to the moral force of its teachings and the marvels of its world-wide distribution. But unless the Bible is accepted as the Word of God’s grace; unless it is so read that men and women are convicted of their sin, condemned by their conscience, and then, convinced of their own helpless plight, guided to the Crucified as the sin-conquering Savior of all men; unless the redeeming love of Christ is discovered as the very center of all that the prophets proclaimed in the Old Testament and the evangelists and apostles taught in the New, the Bible will remain as ineffectual as any other volume.

Yet when we understand, as far as our limited intellect can understand, the blessed import of Holy Writ as the Word of God’s grace in Christ, offering, as it does, grace for all men, for all ages, for all places, assuring us again and again in words of divine promise: “By grace are ye saved,” repeating the unmerited mercy that we are “justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”; when with contrite faith we know that the loving heart of Jesus freely grants us forgiveness and heaven itself, the priceless blessing which we cannot acquire through a thousand strength-draining penances, through an entire lifetime of heroic virtues, then Christ and His Word of grace build us up.

The apostle makes no hit-or-miss promise, suggests no trial-and-error method. St. Paul speaks from his own experience. It was a word of grace on the Damascus road that began to build him up for his mighty apostleship. Augustine, dissolute disciple of the eat-drink-and-be-merry philosophy, reads God’s warning against sin and His promise of greater grace, and he, too, is built up for his energetic leadership in the early Church. Luther, cringing in terror before the wrath of God, feverishly directs his eyes to the promise that “the just shall live by faith,” and is transformed into the Reformer of the Church.

This uplifting grace continues its mighty demonstration for those who accept Christ’s merciful redemption. In the storms of life the Savior’s Word builds our courage as it once did on tempest-shaken Galilee, when He spoke this comfort to His disciples: “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” Sorrows vanish when His promises, speaking peace to our disquieted souls, declare: “Your sorrows shall be turned into joy.” Are you losing your grip on life and surrendering to despair? If you turn to “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” in His Word of grace, you learn that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Are you groping for a balm that will heal the hurt of earth’s accumulated agonies? If you turn to the Book that has never failed in any emergency and exult with the psalmist: “This is my comfort in my affliction; for Thy Word hath quickened me,” your Savior, fulfilling the ancient prophecy, will give you “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Do you peer into the uncertainties of the future, disturbed by a hundred cares that would rob you of life’s joy? The Word that shall not pass away, though “heaven and earth shall pass away,” promises you: “He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.” There are no tears of human distress so bitter and continuous that they cannot be stilled and dried by the Word of grace; no sorrow so deep-rooted and persistent that it cannot be banished by the triumphant joy of faith; no combination of earth’s heart-shaking assaults so powerful that they can break the divine harmony of our lives whereby “all things work together for good to them that love God.”

THE BIBLE BUILDS OUR NATION

It ought to be evident, too, that our beloved country, harassed and bewildered as it is, needs the upbuilding code of national righteousness in the Bible. With high ideals we endeavored to legislate our way out of desperate unemployment and industrial stagnation; but the codes that only a short year ago provided nation-wide discussion exist today only in memories. We have sought to think ourselves out of our distracting dilemmas, but people are beginning to realize that there may be some problems from which the nation that boasts of the wealthiest universities, the largest number of college graduates, cannot extricate itself. We have striven to spend our way out of financial stringency; but there is a limit to the financial solvency of a nation even as wealthy as ours. Now we are trying to socialize ourselves into security; but while we are hopefully awaiting the outcome of the great experiments in progress, let us remember that any nation-wide proposal for improvement, be it ever so nobly conceived, may be broken by the stubborn uprising against the divine ordinance. By this time we should have learned the repetitive lesson of all history that, no matter how ingenious, how scientifically correct, any national program and endeavor may be, as long as there is within the hearts and lives of great masses in that country a contemptuous neglect of God’s Word and will, a blasphemous attack on the Cross of Jesus Christ, the almighty God above may frustrate the best-laid projects and blast their hopes into irreparable fragments.

The voices of a hundred leaders of American business may denounce the basic truth that God is the supreme and decisive factor in the nation’s welfare; a hundred others may push the Bible aside and point to commercial charts and trade graphs and stock-market reports for impressive evidence of upturn and improvement; they have done the same thing before, and only too often have they been mistaken prophets. History shows that the spiritual barometer of our country is a more effective prosperity index than commerce reports and financial analyses. For if a people persistently seeks God, abides in His Word, and trusts in Christ’s eternal mercies, it will experience the promise of this building grace,—just as, conversely, all human annals point to the tragic verity of this appalling prophecy: “The nation . . . that will not serve Thee shall perish.”

Because, as every page of these four centuries shows, God’s Book offers to us and to our land the exalting upbuilding righteousness, we ask you to treasure your Bible as the heritage of four hundred years of spiritual conquest; to read it in quiet meditation and in the circle of your loved ones at the family altar; to make it your constant companion at home and abroad, in sickness and health, in adversity and prosperity. We ask you to maintain an unswerving devotion to these building Scriptures by gladly hearing and learning them, by rising up in protest against any veiled or open attack upon them, by spreading their saving truth and the power inherent in them into lives that must be renewed and rebuilt through their energizing grace. By this Bible, which freely brings us before the countenance of a gracious Father, into the blood-bought mercies of His all-compassionate Son, and into the constant companionship of His sanctifying Spirit, and by this Book alone, will you and I, our country and the world of our day, be built up in permanent reconstruction. Amen.

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

Date: October 20, 1935

I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified!1 Corinthians 2:2

Heavenly Father: In Thy name and for the far-­reaching testimony to the love of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, the only, but all-sufficient Savior from sin and sorrow, we today begin this third series of broadcasts. Send us Thy Spirit, so that, as the hymns, prayers, and messages wing their way over the nation and beyond its confines, men may raise believing hearts to the cross and in Christ’s ever-valid redemption find the divine answer to every question of body and soul. May Thy Word bring comfort to those who are afflicted by sickness and sorrow. May the promise of the Gospel raise the falling, cheer the cheerless, enlighten the doubting. O Father of truth and life, bless us, we beseech Thee; grant us through these months of broadcasting Thy saving grace. Consecrate all our powers of mind and body to this sacred task. Strengthen our weak efforts with a full measure of Thy power, so that all that we may do or say may be to the glory of Jesus’ name and the salvation of many souls. And as Thou hast been our fathers’ God, let Thy favor be upon us; establish Thou this work of our hands and hearts upon us; and unto Thy name we will give all praise, glory, and honor, now and forever. Amen.

THE mighty Apostle St. Paul, who could have earned popular acclaim by his impassioned oratory, his literary brilliance, his astonishing endowments; the man of red-blooded courage who fearlessly rode Mediterranean hurricanes, resolutely faced shrieking mobs and cynical tyrants; that towering genius who pulled the props from decaying heathendom and mightily helped to shape the upward course of human history; greatest of Christ’s ambassadors that he was, when he summarizes his one, all­-absorbing life-task, he directs his Christians not to the academic halls of Athens, not to the imperial palaces on the banks of the Tiber, not to the counting-houses of Alexandria, but to an unmarked hill of desolate death near Jerusalem. The imprint of other memories recedes as his thoughts perpetually envision the rough-hewn cross upon Calvary, where Jesus Christ, hated as no man has ever been hated, suffering as only God could suffer, paid with His blood the appalling price of all human sin. What though his loyalty to this Cross meant becoming a fool for Christ? What though men of affairs branded the preaching of this blood atonement as an insult to their intelligence? What though his allegiance to the Crucified put a price upon his head? What though he could still feel the cut of forty lashes less one as their leaded thongs ripped open his quivering flesh? Above rack and torture, prison and dungeon, starvation and blistering thirst, above earth and hell, above life and death itself, his determination “not to know anything . . . save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” rings out in eternal triumph.

As we inaugurate today the third season of this radio mission over a special network from Minnesota to the Atlantic seaboard, you may ask in challenge: “What is the message of this broadcast?” With many and conflicting voices on the air, some that appeal to reason and intellect, some that would inflame passions and prejudices, we promise that these weekly broadcasts have no political aims. This microphone will not be employed to fan the fires of class hatred, bigotry, and intolerance. The facilities of our Gospel network have not been drafted to flood the American nation and our Canadian neighbors with economic theories, financial strategies, and social speculations. Rather do we acknowledge as our own the apostle’s determination “not to know anything . . . save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Addressing you from the campus of a divinity school that for almost a century has dedicated its resources to the Christ of the Scriptures, I offer you in the name of the Triune God not the Christ of present-day compromise and concession, not the Christ of twentieth­-century indifference and indecision, not the Christ of modern doubt and denial, who has been exalted in His humanity only to be robbed of His deity, but (above all the evasion and distortion, the rank unbelief of our day) the Christ of the Cross. With my hand on the Bible, I dedicate this radio mission to the preaching of that Cross,—not as a memorial to martyrdom, a glorified symbol of an unselfish ideal, but as “the accursed tree,” the cruel, heart-breaking gibbet on which the Savior died the blackest death of all history. That crucified Christ, Son of God, yet Son of Man, offering the eternal mercies of forgiven sins as the free gift of His boundless grace; strengthening our faltering souls with His never-failing Spirit; guiding those who trust in Him from the sorrows of this life to the glories of the next; the Savior for every sin and for every sinner, the unfailing Friend for every moment and for every path; the Christ for our hearts, our homes, our churches, our nation,—this all-sufficient Savior, and Him alone, we offer with the pledge:—

“NOTHING . . . SAVE JESUS CHRIST, AND HIM CRUCIFIED,”

in every message, every prayer, every hymn, broadcast over this Gospel network.

OUR DISTRACTED AGE NEEDS THE CRUCIFIED

Is not this the resolution that our scarred and bewildered age needs with alarming urgency as blind, wilful men clench their fists against the Almighty and sneer: “Anything but Christ, and Him crucified”? The battalions of organized atheism in Russia, still mobilized to tear down every church of Christ; wily Communism, which lifts its serpent head with leering insolence as it inaugurates in our own country a cut-throat campaign against the Christ of God; that vicious philosophy of life, glorified in lecherous novels, sanctioned even on the campuses of tax-supported universities, championed by sensualists, who, dropping down to the gutter of lust, gloat, “Animals we are, and animals we remain!”—these are the glaring evidences of world­wide uprising against Christ prophesied three thousand years ago by the inspired author of the Second Psalm: “Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us.”

Even where Christ is not thus brutally attacked, His high and holy teachings are often neglected, His love and mercy cast into contemptuous discard. In spite of the catastrophes of this generation, men are forgetting the immeasurable compassion of their royal Redeemer, who in the agonized ordeal of His crucifixion and its God-forsaken loneliness spoke this parting prayer: “Father, forgive them.” Instead of witnessing the merciful Christ in control of human affairs and His love hallowing the relation of individual to individual and nation to nation, we are staggered by the present spectacle of two Christian countries engaged in the bloody business of war, seeking to destroy each other by poison gas, which chokes and blinds and bleaches men into the whiteness of death; by whistling shrapnel, which tears and blasts human bodies; by hellish aerial bombs, which in a twinkling turn cities into blazing infernos and mow down non-combatants in wanton massacre. There is nothing of the Savior’s love in all this nor in any other conflict that rages in the class hatred, the endless friction between the laborer and the capitalist, the systematic exploitation of American masses that have made some of the rich richer and millions of the poor poorer.

Among American churches, too, the reverence for Christ has not increased in favor or in fervor. If it were possible to approach individually the quarter of a million men in our country who are called ministers of God and ask them for their endorsement of St. Paul’s determination “not to know anything . . . save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,”—not hundreds, but thousands would deliberately refuse to make the bleeding Christ the heart of their preaching and their praying. Unfortunately a class of clergymen is abroad in the land who, ill informed as they may be, insist upon knowing a hundred things in preference to the Crucified. They must speak on banking systems, presidential policies, inflated currency, and allied subjects, which exclude the Savior of men from His own sanctuary. Long ago have they banished from their sermons the high-­priestly Christ, who, as He commends His soul into His Father’s hands, declares with blessed finality, “It is finished!” They want to finish the task of saving men—if indeed we must be saved, and they can only plunge desperate so into deeper dismay, only offer new versions of age-old delusions that place men before the impossible task of earning heaven.

American homes, in far too many instances, have spurned the abiding presence of the Crucified, who, as the death-fever raced through His torn body, looked down upon His mother and provided for her support. “Anything but that Christ and His code for domestic happiness,” brazen unbelief protests as millions laugh at the Christian’s “until-death-do-you-part” loyalty, sneer at that first of all divine commands: “Be fruitful and multiply,” lampoon Christ’s ideals of personal purity, marital faithfulness, filial piety, and parental responsibility, proclaiming instead the reign of unbridled lust and of jungle morality.

No wonder that millions in America are trying to live without Christ and have wilfully rejected the grace of the Crucified. Too many want a bread-and-butter paradise here on earth. Too many are ready to welcome the Christ of the loaves and the fishes, but spurn the Christ of the thorns and the nails; for His cross, an imperishable monument to God’s hatred of sin, but to His greater love for the sinner, makes no appeal to selfish affections and self-­indulgent ambitions. “Anything but Christ and Him crucified!” the cry that rises from the lives of misguided multitudes, seals the doom of sorrow, deprives the souls, minds, and bodies of men and women of all permanent benedictions and happinesses.

WE NEED THE CRUCIFIED FOR GRACE AND STRENGTH

How blessed, by contrast, is the joy of peace, the patience of hope, the strength of spirit, which comes to those who commit themselves to the Redeemer’s care! Once you regard Jesus as the apostle did, in that intensive focus which beholds only “Christ and Him crucified,” you need nothing else to help you discover a cheering, sustaining answer to every problem of life. When your soul is cleansed, your conscience stilled; your heavenly Father reconciled, then are you prepared to meet the best or the worst that life may hold for you. Let the avalanche of human miseries sweep over you; if you know and trust the Crucified, you will hear His sustaining “Let not your heart be troubled.” Let whirlwinds of disaster or destitution blow the high towers of your hopes into shapeless ruins; over the wreckage Christ’s voice will ring dear: “Behold, I make all things new.” Let the ravages of incurable disease, the feebleness of old age, the terrors of approaching death, shake the foundation upon which life itself rests; after these upheavals have subsided, your Savior’s stabilizing pledge declares: “Thou shalt be steadfast and not fear.” Let sin and hell raise their charges against you; if you have Christ as your “Advocate before the Father,” you need nothing else to assure you of God’s pardon.

Because Christ gives all and freely offers all contrite hearts the full release from sin; because with Christ we can move mountains and without Christ, as He Himself warns us, we “can do nothing,” the direct appeal that would now wing its way into every destitute, Christless soul is to receive Him, to believe Him, and to crown Him Lord of lords. Our message to the 60,000,000 unchurched in America is not: “Up, for the day of class conflict has come!” but: “Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” We have no pretentious organization for which we seek your membership; but we do pray that your name may be enrolled in the Book of Life and in the Church of Christ. We have none of the pomp and acclaim of widely heralded endeavors that clamor for your support; but we have Christ, and we can promise you that, if with all your hearts you seek Him and His kingdom first, everything that you need for this life will be added unto you. “Come . . . with us,” we beseech you, as in Christ’s name and by His command we promise, “we will do thee good.”

To you who are enrolled in Christ’s marching army and with the apostle know that Christ must be all in all, let me say that this ignorance of everything “save Christ and Him crucified” must be no empty slogan. Because it is either reformation with Christ or ruin without Christ, we need a twentieth-century revival and a nation-wide protest against pulpit infidelity. The call of the crisis is for spiritual before social security, a return of American preaching to the Christ of the Bible, a rebirth in soul strength. American churches must disavow secular ambitions, eliminate worldliness and commercialism, and go back to the program of their charter, the saving and ennobling of souls through Christ as the basis of every abiding personal or national benediction.

That these blessings may be preserved for us, will you not rally to the cause of the Crucified in word and in deed, in faith and in life, in testimony and in protest? Will you not support through your prayers, your letters, your gifts, the radio crusade that we have today inaugurated for the glory of the Crucified? May God’s Holy Spirit grant that from East and West, from Canada and our nation, from the mountains and the high seas, from the silent forests and our teeming cities, from the hovels of the impoverished and the comfortable homes of the richly blessed, a mighty chorus may ascend to God’s high heavens with the never-changing refrain: Nothing “save Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified.” Amen.

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

Date: May 5, 1935

Thou art my God. My times are in Thy hand. – Psalm 31:14-15

THESE months of broadcasting the eternal Gospel of Christ, months which at their beginning seemed to stretch out into a distant future, this afternoon draw to their inevitable close. If I may give expression to the emotions shared by those in charge of the broadcast, let me say that we today raise grateful hearts to our heavenly Father, who beyond our most roseate hopes endowed this Sunday afternoon half hour with large and responsive circles of friends throughout the greater part of the nation. We know from the thousands of letters which bespeak the conviction of your hearts that there are myriads in the land who have not bowed down before the Baals of unbelief, the Mammon of materialism, and the caricatures of the blessed Christ; myriads who, in the face of sinister infidelity, continue to build their hope on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. And as we review these far-reaching opportunities for proclaiming the sure mercies of Christ during problematical and disappointing days, there is a word of thanks on our lips for your friendship, your encouragement, your support, and a prayer of petition in our hearts that the Spirit of God may bless with His power the Word which we have proclaimed in our weakness, that the seed sown in your hearts may bring forth the bounty of its hundredfold harvest.

Yet we hope that this afternoon marks no final valedictory; for it is our intention to resume the broadcasting of these winged words of Christ’s love in the fall, perhaps on a larger scale and with the hope of even greater support. If, then, it be God’s will and your earnest desire that this exaltation of Christ through the all but limitless reaches of the ether continue and expand, we are only temporarily interrupting these broadcasts. A few short months will pass into history, and God helping us, we shall once more be ready to continue the radio testimony to His grace and power.

As short as these intervening weeks are, however, they may prove a critical, pivotal period in your life or in mine. No one who has not blinded his eyes to the screaming evidence on all sides can escape the conviction that we have reached decisive days, which will speak either curse or blessing for the future. Rumors of war are persistently rising in Europe, where nations, anemic because of lifeblood drained away in the World War, are conscripting their large armies, laying the keels for supercruisers or new-type submarines, planning air armadas of unprecedented power, and raising, bankrupt as they are, military expenditures to horrifying heights. In our own country an oppressive pall continues to hang over our Government, our commerce and industries, and our homes. National indebtedness pyramids itself into towering, toppling heights. Cool judgment recedes as hot passions clash in industrial warfare and political skirmishes, while the regiments of discontent are daily swollen by new recruits. If now we add to the total of world disturbances the realization of our own personal insecurity and the abruptness with which our plans may be frustrated and our happiness shattered, it may be that some of you are disturbed by this panorama of uncertainty with its foreboding specters, disquieted by the realization of your own helplessness in the grinding crush of these world-changing movements.

It is to you, then, who disconsolately scan the unformed horizon of the future for the dawn of a single ray of hope; to you who, lingering on beds of protracted illness, doubt whether you will survive another summer; to all whose hearts plead for an antidote to the penetrating poison of doubt, for an answer to the profound questions of your own life’s happiness, that I direct this farewell radio message, which may strengthen us all until we meet again. On the basis of David’s immortal words “Thou art my God; my times are in Thy hand,” let me show you

THE CHRISTIAN’S UNDAUNTED COURAGE

In the trials of sorrow and persecution David raises his eyes heavenward, reaffirms his full, undiminished trust in God, and pronounces this credo of his faith: “Thou art my God.” Some might seek surcease from sorrow in a self-reliant will to conquer; others might distractedly rack their brains and mobilize their resources to provide an escape from the clutching toils of adversity; but David turns to God.

His experience had taught him the lesson which this generation must yet learn: we need God, for we dare not trust in ourselves. Every failure in the present debacle must ultimately be traced to the tragedy that men have not sought strength and refuge in their heavenly Father through the confident faith that confesses: “Thou art my God,” but that we have turned to ourselves and leaned on the arms of flesh. Bleeding and bruised by the body blows of adversity, our groggy, dizzy, staggering age rises stubbornly, but futilely after each new fall to hammer down its opposition single-handed.

THIS COURAGE TRUSTS IN GOD

We should have realized, as every crisis of history emphasizes, that human power, raised to its highest degree, is but a pitiful gesture in comparison with the mysterious and overwhelming forces that surround us. We build Boulder Dams with a purpose of increasing and controlling the agricultural yield; but grasshoppers and the blight of small insects can cut their swath of destruction in our farmlands and overnight put to naught the plans of crop experts. We mobilize the resources of our brains and wealth to provide health, culture, and opportunity for our children; but bacteria, so small that only a high-powered microscope can detect them, strike thousands of our boys, and girls with paralysis, while a cruel collapse of our complicated financial system leaves them deprived of many opportunities which we have come to accept as self-understood. We solve problems of business on paper; we build elaborate commercial houses of cards; we devise the most comprehensive plans for the advancement of culture and progress and the promotion of cooperation and peace; but the cruel realities of life nullify our best proposals, and a gust of an ill wind blows our fragile creations into shapeless ruins. As a leaf that dances with the gale, as a twig that floats passively with the currents of the river, as a cloud that moves on fitfully until it dissolves into sky-blue nothingness, so our puny plans and ambitions are buffeted by overshadowing forces.

In the narrow spheres of our own affairs you and I, besieged as we are by treacherous and tyrannical influences, must learn to rid ourselves of the delusion that we are the masters of our own fate and that by our own resources we can blaze the path to destiny. Do not build the foundation of your life’s hope on your money, if you have any; for inflation, dishonesty, bad investments, theft, can snatch away the accumulations of years in a single hour; and even if you escape from all this, how much of real peace of mind, of true happiness, of permanent blessings can you purchase by the sum total of every dollar that has ever passed through your hands? Do not rely on your own strength, physical or mental, and proclaim with swelling pride that you are a self-made man. What assurance have you that you can escape a swift and sudden end? During the half hour of this broadcast 2,500 of your fellow-men have succumbed to death, according to the average daily mortality rates of the world, many of them snatched away in the prime of life by the clutching grip of the skeletal hand that may reach out when it is least expected. Do not look for the hope of happiness or the pledge of the permanency for life among the fleeting delusions that parade before you in the procession of our twentieth-century follies. Instead, hear the admonition of your God: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me,” and in conformity with this command from heaven come before our heavenly Father, the God of our Bible, and cry out in confidence: “Thou art my God.”

Let me repeat: Only in the God of our Bible can there be an abiding hope. There is a feeling current in much of modem thought that any kind of religion, however vague, any conception of God, however crude, will suffice. Never before have there been as many hazy and contradictory conceptions of God, never as many different names for the true Lord of lords, never as many hopeless creeds, false altars, misplaced confidences, as in this hour. If you keep only one truth from all these broadcasts, let it be this basic verity of all time and eternity: The only true God is that sovereign Deity who comes to us in the Bible and who, as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of our lives, is revealed in the person and in the teachings of Jesus Christ. All other gods, no matter how attractively they may be pictured, how ceremoniously they may be worshiped, how frantically they may be proclaimed, or how deceptively they may be substituted in modernistic churches for the verity of Scripture, are only the morbid creations of compromise, the products of spiritually stunted minds, the lying phantoms of destruction. The verdict of Christ is final: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” If you would see God without seeing Christ, if your theology pictures to you a supreme being of many titles and multiplied honors, but omits this decisive identification, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” you are worshiping an idol that is just as helpless as the tin gods of China and the totem poles of Alaska.

But—wonder of heaven’s high mercies—when we know God through Christ, we have the irremovable confidence that, selfish, short-sighted, sinful mortals though we be, puny, powerless atoms of humanity that we are, subject to a thousand crushing forces, we can approach the holiness of our heavenly Father, not by our own ingenuity, not in our own strength, not as a reward of our own merits (for what have we that can demand and find recognition before God?), but by the reconciliation through the cross of Jesus Christ, by His enduring the chastisement for our sins, by the shedding of His precious blood in atonement for the world’s iniquities, by that abysmal death which He died for every one of us, and by the power and the glory of His resurrection. If you have that faith as you cry, “Thou art my God!” you may be underprivileged, destitute, forlorn; you may shrink each morning from the fear of new terrors that the day can bring forth and be grateful at night when no new miseries have been added to your burden; or you may be blessed by abundance, by health, by peace and prosperity; yet in strength or in weakness, in honor or in disgrace, in safety or in danger, in rising or in falling, in the flush of success or in the twilight of failure, always, under all circumstances, at all times and in all places, at home or on the highway, by day or by night, at work or at play, in youth or in age, in life or in death, you can have the holy benediction, too precious to be paid for by lifelong labors or vast treasures of gold, too impenetrable for the analysis of laboratories or the acumen of science, too divine to be understood and fully appreciated by the most enlightened mind—the sacred gift of pure grace in Christ by which we can draw near to our heavenly Father and declare: “Thou art my God. My times are in Thy hand.”

THIS COURAGE IS BLESSED BY GOD’S OMNIPOTENT HAND

Let us pause to estimate—as far as we can—the comfort of the words “My times are in Thy hand.” The hand that created the world and ordained the heavens with the immensity that passes comprehension, the precision that makes us gasp in astonishment; the hand that rules the vibrant forces of nature, that shakes the earth and moves its mountains, that lifts the tides and controls the raging seas; the hand that shifts the scenes of human history, topples thrones, cuts off dynasties, and leads armies to victory or to defeat, that hand directs the destiny of your life; that hand is never lost in the all but endless reaches of a universe, nor is it too omnipotent to bestow its guiding power upon the small problems and the trivial issues of your fleeting life. For that hand of God’s power, which not all the regiments of a world in arms, not all the explosives and ammunition stored in grim arsenals, not all the accumulated energy of our dynamos and turbines, not all the laws of legislatures and the tyranny of dictators, can restrain or frustrate,—that hand of power will protect you when the last line of human defense gives way. The hand of God’s wisdom, which marks the flight of His creatures, so that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His will, which scatters the seed and unfolds the fragrant flowers,—that hand of wisdom will direct the small, everyday affairs of your life and number the very hairs of your head. The hand of God’s love, which could send His Son into a sin­cursed world and lay upon Him all the woe of human misery; the hand for which not even all the precious metals and the costly gems of the world could fashion a ring of worthy adornment,—that hand of love extends in its open palm the redeeming grace that can keep you in the eternal mercies of Christ.

God’s hands may sometimes be raised in rebuke when in our self-focused desires we plead for that which would oppose His will. Amid the misleading sign-posts on our life’s road we are often too prone to prefer the smooth, broad boulevards of carnal security and self-indulgent ease to the pathway of penitent faith, the narrow road of self­denial, of protest against sin, of consecrated devotion to our Savior. In those soul hazards, God’s hand, as contradictory as all this may appear, will be raised in chastisement as He draws us back to the pilgrim’s pathway, the steep, uphill climb through adversity, disappointment, and anxiety, but always, like the Savior’s death march to Calvary, from cross to crown.

With this firm-founded faith we entrust “our times” to divine guardianship. They may be prosperous times or adverse; cloudless days or storm-swept; joy-filled hours or desperate moments of agonized terror; but whether our times are lengthened or shortened, joy-charged or embittered, whether they be a lifetime of earth’s choicest endowments or an existence of pain, suffering, opposition, and reproach, our times—every moment of our divinely ordained space of years—are shaped and sheltered in the hand of our heavenly Father. Above all the confusion of our earth-born existence He whose hand creates the harmonies of the universe will blend the discords of your lives into a symphony of salvation, the prelude to the sacred theme that reechoes throughout the eternities, the everlasting doxology of the ten thousand times ten thousand, the ransomed saints in white. Into His hand, my fellow­redeemed, I commend your bodies and souls. Amen.

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

Date: April 28, 1935

It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law.Psalm 119:126

ON March 5, 1917, the American ambassador to the Court of St. James, hailed as one of America’s most distinguished diplomats, sent a cablegram to the President of the United States pleading for the entrance of this country into the World War. In this communication, which has now been printed in the official documents of our country, he repeatedly appeals for war, chiefly as a commercial and financial blessing, and declares pointedly: “The only way of maintaining our present preeminent trade position and averting a panic is by declaring war.” He proceeds to show that by making large loans the United States could promote its war trade and heap up gold reserves. And he concludes with the promise that, having entered the hostilities, “we could keep on with our trade and increase it . . . and after the war Europe would purchase food and an enormous supply of materials with which to reequip her peace industries. We should thus reap the profit of an uninterrupted and perhaps enlarging trade over a number of years.” Within a month after the receipt of this cablegram our President affixed his signature to the declaration of war; and with these selfish ambitions of a larger gold reserve, of increasing European commerce, and of expanding industry stimulated by postwar buying we sacrificed American youth at the twin altars of Mars and Mammon. Tycoons of American business, potentates of American finance, and Caesars of American politics traded in futures of bigger and better business,—and their coin was blood, and sweat, and scurvy, and starvation, and insanity, and death.

Where, we demand, are the bulging millions of promised national war profits? where that favorable balance of trade? where the postwar prosperity which we sought to purchase by the victory that cost the appalling price of 41,000,000 men, women, and children killed, 23,000,000 wounded, and besides this toll in human lives some $500,000,000,000? You know the answer: Closed banks, bankrupt business, smokeless chimneys towering over shut down factories, millions forced to exist on public grants or private charity,—all these rise up as incriminating witnesses and give the lie to the war promises that lured us with the flourish of the dollar sign.

If we now ask why the plans of statesmen miscarried and why the schemes of financiers were so ruthlessly shattered, we ought to be sufficiently intelligent to recognize the hand of divine intervention, to salvage from the debris of ruined ambitions the one truth which, if it were fully believed and universally accepted, would compensate even for the follies of the last two decades—the basic verity of all history, that, when men nullify the will and Word of God, His power intervenes to check their arrogance and His mercy to strengthen the harassed hopes of His children. Because we and our age need this warning and this strengthening, let me set forth this afternoon

THE INEVITABLE INTERVENTION OF GOD

and show why our prayer today, as in every human crisis, should be that of the psalmist in our text: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law.”

GOD’S POWER INTERVENES TO FRUSTRATE SIN

This blood-for-profit tragedy is only one trend that seeks to make void the Law of God and challenge Him to arise and execute His divine justice. Thus God has laid upon the world the commandment of purity and decency and has emphasized the sanctity of the Christian home and the blessings of the God-fearing family. But in this age of slipping standards siren voices sing lyrics of lust that decry Bible standards as outworn delusions. American sociologists, biologists, psychologists, educators, jurists, legislators, and—may God forgive this particularly heinous sin!—even the liberal pulpits of some American churches have combined to disparage the home-life of wedded happiness, the domestic ideals in the Biblical code of family felicity. They have tempted this generation with the forbidden fruit, paraded as a new morality,—as though morals could ever change!—and with the emancipation which they exalt as the new freedom. Yet when we repeat and apply the words of our text: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law,” Thine ordinance of moral decency and marital honor, we see that God has arisen and visited this age and its morbid pursuit of gratified desire with deep-rooted restlessness and domestic disillusion. Instead of the more satisfying life with which these false prophets tempt the masses, we have, as a consequence of God’s intervention, broken homes, parental neglect, increase of juvenile delinquency, marital infidelity, and in myriads of American families only a ghastly caricature of that happiness for which every normal heart yearns.

We made void another fundamental law of God by the wanton destruction of mountains of edible food. By the example of Christ Himself, who, though He could miraculously provide food, nevertheless commanded that all remaining morsels be gathered, so “that nothing be lost,” as well as by the plain injunction of the Scriptures, we know that food is not to be squandered or wilfully wasted. Yet with more hungry people in our country than ever before, we deliberately destroyed hundreds of thousands of tons of foodstuffs in the most tragic food-destruction program of all history. And because we made God’s Law void, He found that it was time for Him to work, and He did. The sand-storms that swept our country, creating new areas of an American desert, the drought of last year, the preceding floods, and the consequent scourge of vermin again reveal to us the chastising hand of God; and the caution printed on the walls of our national structure warns us that the nation which has destroyed its food may suffer, by divine retaliation, from the privations of crop failure and famine.

Again, we have set aside the Law of God in regard to brotherly love and the harmonious cooperation between producer and consumer, employer and employee. God has given to us His Golden Rule, which asks for mutual cooperative endeavor and appeals that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. But greedy men have made void this Law; instead of harmonious cooperation we have the modem robber-barons in the guise of promoters, who waylay working-men, rob them of hard-earned savings, endanger their health, and shorten their lives; gardenia­garnished capitalists, who wax wealthier as the poor, whose funds they misappropriate, grow poorer; speculators, who defiantly sneer at the Biblical estimate of the nobility of labor and operate with the basically incorrect idea of accumulating wealth without effort or contribution to human society; racketeers and agitators, who systematically sow the seeds of class hatred. These disturbing elements help to account for the tragedy that in a country sufficiently large and wealthy to support comfortably a population three times the present number, a nation whose natural resources are bountiful enough to insure happy and profitable labor for every willing worker, we have had the continual battle of capital and labor with their bloody and hate-swollen skirmishes, the collapse of our stock exchanges, the shrinkage of security value, and the sudden plunges from the pinnacles of wealth to the depth of destitution,—all this because God has arisen to vindicate His outraged justice.

Behind this disregard of God’s Law is the basic fallacy by which men seek to elevate themselves over the Almighty, to make the divine will subordinate to the human, to reduce God at best to only a passive partner in human affairs, and to entrust the direction of the world to man-made ordinances and social programs. This tendency in itself is a far-reaching indictment and incrimination. But what shall we say when we see that the Church, which should form the line of first and last defense, has surrendered its sacred responsibilities of upholding the Word and has systematically made void the ordinances of God by joining hands with political agitators in direct contradiction to its divine character? Only last week, in this city, priests, Rabbis, and ministers sat on the same platform with public officials from Washington and cried out in the words of their leader, “We are in politics now.” (Strange associates, this clerical fringe, the one confessing Christ, the other denying Him; one appearing before a legislative committee in Washington to protest against a birth-control proposal, the other enthusiastically endorsing it; the one citing words of Scripture, the other sneering at Holy Writ.)

This intrusion into politics certainly nullifies the code which God Himself has instituted for the clergy. His divine ordinances completely separate the clerical and political domains; they offer not political platforms, but this announcement of divine mercy: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” It is an old story, this picture of preachers with policemen’s clubs, of priests wielding the scepter, of churchmen grasping the governmental sword. The disregard of divine injunction has endorsed bloody butchery, restricted human development, and retarded the course of human progress. Give the bludgeoning demagoguery of these double-robed agitators, clothed in clerical cassocks and in political togas, free sway, and you will reenact on this American continent the church reign of the dark Middle Ages, the tyranny that sent Servetus to the stake at Geneva, and the blight on human happiness that has marked every attempt to nullify the Law of God.

However, this clerical interference will not be granted free course; and when we pray the prayer of our text: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law,” God will rise up to work again as He has done before when churchmen have left the ministration of men’s souls for the exercise of governmental power. He frustrated the wiles of church politicians in the days of His prophet. Four hundred years ago, in the greatest crisis then known, He broke their power. And today, too, their fusillade will fall wide of its mark.

Can you not see with me, then, that our nation needs a revival of individual trust in the wisdom and love of God together with the stern refusal to make His laws void? Will you not see with me the hand of God barricading many of the boulevards along which men march to achievement, confusing their language as He once did, when they would have raised a pretentious tower as a monument to human greatness instead of establishing the living faith as a testimony of their souls’ gratitude toward God? Will you not resolve to ask God for a heart and life, continually renewed by Christ and by His Spirit, that seeks to conform to the will and wisdom of God?

GOD’S GRACE INTERVENES TO STRENGTHEN OUR WEAKNESS

If you make this resolution in sincerity and truth, then you have the pledge of the priceless and imperishable joy of life; for when we, surrendering to the baser impulses of our human nature and to the temptations of an unclean world, make void the Law of God in our lives; when we find ourselves ensnared in the consequences of our own sins or in the unfairness and folly of some one else’s sin and can discover no avenue of escape and no hope of deliverance, then we can turn to our God in Christ and say: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work.”

No one who has ever fixed his mind’s eye upon the Cross as he has prayed this prayer has ever failed to observe the majestic arising of God and the effectual help of His omnipotence. You may be confronted by the long series of obstacles and afflictions that human iniquity can heap up when it brings mortal endurance almost to the breaking point. You may think you have reached the depths of despair only to awaken for another day that will drag you down to even lower depths. You may look back upon years of suffering and want, sickness and disappointment, and then suddenly realize that you must continue to face these sorrows for the future. Yet when you learn to “cast all your care on Him” and in Jesus’ name to beseech His divine help with the prayer: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work,” then the resources of Heaven will combine to fulfil the Savior’s promised grace: “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.”

If your heart is crushed with the weight of many sorrows, if you wander disconsolately along pathways of bereavement as did the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and meet Christ as they did (and you can still walk with your Savior in the Word and in the Sacraments, in prayer and in faith), then, when you tell God that it is time for Him to work, even the most loathsome pains and penalties of life, the most burdensome weariness, will vanish. Your cold heart will be warmed as you witness the love and the power and the glory of the resurrected Redeemer.

If sin challenges you; if the furies of an aroused conscience drive you on in restless terror; if you are distressed by the begging, teasing, coaxing temptations that would lure you into fleshly pride and spiritual cowardice; if you are dismayed by that too human, unholy nature within you which has sworn eternal hostility to the Spirit of Christ, then look not to yourself or to other human ingenuities and devices, but, trusting in the full mercies of the Savior, taking God at His own word as He promises that in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace,” with one hand on the cross and the other hand on the Bible, with eyes of faith directed to the open heavens, revealing the risen Christ sitting at the right hand of His Father, repeat this prayer: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work.” And from that hallowed throne of the heavens with its encircling host of ministering angels there will come to you this pledge: “I will work; ‘I will not leave Thee nor forsake Thee.’” Amen.

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

Date: April 21, 1935

I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.John 11:25

WHEN Andrew Jackson lay on his death-bed, surrounded by groups of weeping children, relatives, and Negro servants, he slowly spoke these words: “Do not weep for me. It is true, I am going to leave you. I have suffered much bodily pain, but my sufferings are as nothing compared with that which our blessed Savior endured on the accursed cross that we might all be saved by our trust in Him.” After he bade the individual members of his family farewell, having spoken to them at length concerning their souls’ salvation, he concluded, as his eyes lingered on the portrait of his departed wife: “My dear children and friends and servants, I hope and trust to meet you all in heaven, both black and white.”

At the end of his own Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan gave this testimony of glorious triumph to those who watched with him in his last vigil: “We shall meet ere long to sing the new song and remain happy forever in a world without end.”

Now, are these and other oft-repeated hopes of life after death well founded? Is this expectation of a better life after death, confidently proclaimed in the Christian’s valedictory to life, a delusion, or is it a deathless truth? What is the answer to that all-absorbing, universally repeated question which the Book of Job asks: “If a man die, shall he live again?” Is the Easter-story which millions of Americans have heard again today fact or fancy?

There are those—and their number is legion times legion—who sullenly reject every thought of immortality. A brilliant, internationally acclaimed attorney and agnostic sneers: “One might just as well discuss the question of whether a lump of coal burned in a grate is still somewhere in its present form . . . or whether a soap-bubble is still a soap-bubble after it has burst into a million fragments as to discuss the resurrection of the body.” A sophisticated editor and author boasts: “It is my hope, as it is my belief, that death is the end.” A British historian and novelist states: “I do not believe that I have any personal immortality.” Now, if such pronouncements of pessimism and denials of a hereafter are correct; if all ends when the soul departs and the body returns to the dust from which it was taken; if the grave is your goal and mine, then human existence is the most cruel of all delusions, and death proves the utter futility of everything human. Then let the carousal of sin and self-indulgence run their riot as short-lived mortals eat, drink, and in their crude way make merry while the dawn of death streaks tomorrow’s graying horizon.

Eternal thanks be to God, today, on the sacred anniversary of Christ’s triumphant resurrection; for we can reassure ourselves with unalterable conviction that the life beyond the grave is a fact, an inviolable, eternal verity,—unfathomable and mysterious, yet a real and personal truth, to which passage upon passage of divine and inspired promise offers decisive testimony. Let me show you, then, this afternoon as we linger before the open grave

THE IMPERISHABLE HOPE OF OUR RESURRECTION

as we find this pledge of eternity given to the world in the promise of Jesus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

THE IMMOVABLE BASIS OF THIS HOPE

Our hope of eternity rests on an imperishable and immovable foundation. Men have tried to prove the reality of life after death through the processes of human reason. They have argued that, as the flowers blossom forth after a dormant winter, so, after the chill of death, a new and better existence will follow. They have pointed to the butterfly’s emerging from the cocoon and found in that change a symbol of the soul released from the grave to a new and higher life. They have reminded us that down through the aging centuries, since the cradle days of humanity, as early monuments of literature reveal, men have always been guided by some belief in a hereafter, and they have concluded that this universal faith of mankind cannot be wrong. They have claimed that there must be a world to come since there must be a righting of human wrongs of this life and a compensation for its sufferings.

All this, interesting as it may be to the student of human thought, is a meaningless trifle to groping souls in our muddled and misled world. When a man faces eternity, it matters little to him what the Babylonians and Assyrians taught and believed in regard to the mysteries of death. He finds little solace or lasting comfort in the changing wonders of nature, and nothing compels him to believe in a new world where the wrongs of this old existence will be righted. Left to themselves, then, men must individually face this issue of the hereafter, the most profound question of all the ages, only with wistful longings or with gnawing, desperate uncertainty. No philosophies can lead humanity out of this labyrinth of doubt, and no scientific research can give to you and me the sure solution to this problem of our own personal destiny. The false religions and their fraudulent claims of revelations, the spiritist seances and their deceptive communications with the dead can add only confusion and lead bewildered minds more deeply into the jungles of despair.

Thank God we have His own answer to earth’s great perplexity; we have the promise of Christ: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”; and in the imposing array of other Scriptural passages which repeat this truth in parallel terms of glorious certainty we have assurance added to assurance. Some may sneer and snarl their denials of the resurrection; but we hear Jesus say: “If any man keep My saying, he shall never see death,” and we are gripped by a calm, serene confidence. Others may doubt and live on in disconsolate uncertainty; but when we hear Jesus promise: “This is the will of Him that sent Me that every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him may have everlasting life,” every trace of question vanishes from our hearts; for we are face to face with exultant truth, as imperishable and unchangeable as heaven itself.

In His immeasurable and unmerited mercy Christ has not only strengthened us with the promise of the resurrection of the body, but in addition He has blessed us with that convincing historical proof which the Christian Church commemorates on this Easter Day, when we have passed from the miserere of Good Friday to the hallelujah chorus of the resurrection. Christ not only taught the truth of a life beyond the grave, but on Easter He manifested that truth. The facts of the Easter-message are not the conjectures of men, the frail and faulty opinions of mere mortals. They are rather the eternal verities of Heaven’s own infallible truth. Question the fact if you will that there is a sun in the heavens above us which sends light upon this earth. Record your doubt, if you must, concerning the verified events of all secular history; challenge the fact that there is an American nation; deny your own existence if you will go to that extreme; but do not make the fatal mistake of putting a question-mark behind the Easter-story, of doubting the literal truth of this heart and center of the entire Scriptures. If the angel’s exultant “He is not here; He is risen” is not the divine and unimpeachable truth in every syllable of its utterance, then the Bible itself must collapse and destroy the foundation upon which all permanent joy and blessing here and hereafter must rest. For this resurrection is prophesied in the Old Testament, in its prediction that the Messiah’s body would not see corruption nor remain in the grave. It was prefigured by the experiences of Jonah. It was forecast by the Savior Himself, who told His incredulous enemies that, though they might break the temple of His body, yet He would rebuild it in three days. The Easter-victory is attested by each of the evangelists, by St. Paul and St. Peter, by the repeated appearances in which the resurrected Savior presented Himself to the eyes of His believers and at one of which He was seen by more than five hundred witnesses. In short, the bodily resurrection of Christ forms the keystone in the arch of the Christian’s hope, to which scores of New Testament passages pay their plain and inspired tribute; and by the benediction of the Spirit the blessed Easter truth is so impressed on the living consciousness of Christian hearts that all doubt vanishes as we rise with palsied Job to declare: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

With this divinely bestowed assurance, death has lost its terror for every follower of Christ, the gruesomeness of the grave and the despair of decay have weakened their paralyzing clutch. When the heavy night of bereavement encircles our homes, when the dark earth of God’s acre separates the mortal remains of loved ones from our view, let us recall the divine force that split the rock sepulcher asunder, the stone rolled from the open grave, the soldier guard prostrate by divine power, and raising our eyes to the throne of eternity, let us behold the risen, majestically ascended Christ and find in Him the promise and power of our own resurrection.

This promise, the comfort and strength of Easter, is assured by the comprehensive pledge: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Keep that truth locked within the innermost recesses of your hearts and never let any powers of hell or temptations of this earth weaken one word of the triumphant hope it holds forth. You who have traveled far on the pilgrimage of life and know that your sojourn on earth cannot be a matter of many more years; you who linger on sick-beds, suffering from protracted pains that have frustrated the efforts of the best physicians, take heart today as your Savior calls: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” What more powerful antidote can there be to the gnawing sorrows of your suffering than this firm-founded faith in a better life to come and the everlasting companionship with Christ that can never be severed by disease or death? You who within these last days have kept vigils at the death-beds of your loved ones and in agonized helplessness have watched the flicker of life’s flame die away, what more soothing balm can you find than this heavenly benediction from the Savior’s own lips: “I am the Resurrection and the Life”? What more penetrating light can you desire by which to interpret the bitterness and woe of an abrupt tearing away in death than the radiance of Christ’s blood-sealed promise that, when our bodies, sown in corruption, are raised in incorruption, we shall live and through all eternity behold Him face to face?

THE MAGNIFICENT GRACE OF THE EASTER HOPE

This, then, is the benediction of Easter, the gift of immortality. Mark well, this blessed bestowal is a gift; you cannot earn it, you cannot purchase it, you cannot acquire it by exchange or secure it as a compensation; but you can appropriate the Heaven-born assurance of this immortality and keep it as yours forever by faith, by the humble, penitent, trustful acceptance of the risen Redeemer as your Savior. “He that believeth in Me,” our text emphasizes, “though he were dead, yet shall he live.” On the strength of this heavenly pledge and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I promise that those who come to the risen Lord of Life with full, unquestioning faith, as I now ask you to come—you, the world-worn, weary pilgrims on life’s discouraging highways; you, the self-engrossed, self­confident sinners upon whom swift death may descend in the next moments; you, the distressed and disillusioned searchers after happiness, who have drunk the bitter dregs of life; all who banish doubt and stifle skepticism as you kneel down before the Christ of Easter with the plea of the believing disciple, “My Lord and my God!”—all have the promise, pledged in the name of Christ Himself, of the highest blessings which our mortal lives and immortal souls may ever experience—a hallowed eternity in a new, sinless, painless, endless life. And this, so the word of our divine Savior assures us today, is the gift of His mercy bestowed freely, without effort or accomplishment, contribution or cooperation, on our part.

Men devote their lives to the accumulation of wealth; scientists spend long and laborious hours in laboratories and in fields of investigation to find a new key to greater human happiness; scholars dedicate their careers to the solution of historical problems; we work and labor and toil to the point of exhaustion for inconsequential rewards; yet here the greatest blessings of time and eternity, your place and mine in the “armies of the ransomed saints,” are offered to all the children of men by the purest, freest mercy, a mercy that only God could grant.

Because of its deathless and personal significance, Easter from the days of the earliest Church has always been a day of spiritual joy and of personal reconsecration. God grant that, as this second radio message of the Resurrection Day has been wafted out into the unnumbered highways of the air, it may have found hearts and homes in which Christ’s undying promise “I am the Resurrection and the Life” will be welcomed and its blessings translated into victorious lives, which exult: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Amen.

Date: April 21, 1935

EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE

The angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead: and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him; lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy and did run to bring His disciples word. – Matthew 28:5-8

IT is to commemorate the greatest morning of all history that we are met at this unusual hour. More glory­charged and exultant than the dawn of a nation’s final victory after a night of blood and battle, more penetrating and permanent in its power and blessing than any sunrise upon a new day of national promise, more sacred even than the first daybreaks of creation, is this glorious, triumphant Easter morn, this resurrection dawn, this day of gleaming conquest over death’s cold, clutching grip.

Well do we congregate at this early hour, and well do you, our friends in the far-flung reaches of this radio service, worship with us at the break of day; for Easter is a climax to all human experiences, a day of days. The highest pinnacles of human projects and achievements, when paralleled with the sacred significance of Easter, are as anthills beside Mount Everest. The most ingenious triumphs of human brain and brawn, when compared with the resurrection record, lose their importance and become as pebbles beside Gibraltar or as dewdrops in relation to unplumbed ocean depths.

For if Easter were erased from history, men would be reduced to human machines, controlled by whims of a fitful fate, destined, when run down or worn out, to be discarded on the scrap-heap of failure, the silence of the graveyard. Seal the stone before the rock-hewn grave, and you have sealed the world into unrelievable sorrow. Let Christ remain bound in His shrouds, and all history must be rewritten, with chaos substituted for progress, deceit for honesty, and the dirge of defeat for the ringing anthems of the resurrection victory. Accept Easter in the light of Scriptural truth and promise, greet the resurrected Christ with the sincerity of a faith that exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” and men are exalted as the sons of God, blessed by the merciful bounties of Heaven, and perpetually strengthened by the vision of a life in a new and better homeland beyond the grave.

What better can we do, then, as we would pay to God and to His resurrected Son, our living Savior, these daybreak tributes of our believing hearts than to turn back, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to the first Easter story and to strengthen our hearts and lives by considering

THE GLORIOUS EASTER EVANGEL

To this end let us recreate in our minds the world­moving events of the Savior’s resurrection and then apply the pointed lessons taught by the imperishable Easter exultation: “He is not here; He is risen!”

THE GLORIOUS ASSURANCE OF EASTER

Less than forty hours had elapsed between the Savior’s death on Good Friday afternoon and the first visit of the followers of the Crucified to the rock sepulcher which Joseph of Arimathea, the aristocratic benefactor, had generously provided for the repose of Jesus’ body. Hardly a day and a half had intervened, a few hours more than the Sabbath on which the customary rites for the dead were prohibited. Yet those fleeting hours were the prelude to the most startling changes of all human experience. To short­sighted, skeptical vision this change was not apparent. On that Passover eve a shriek of intense anguish, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” had reechoed over the gloom of Golgotha as the fever-racked frame of a Martyr collapsed in death. When, a few dreary moments later, the sun set upon that day of the crucifixion, three crosses planted on a bare hill were silhouetted against the grayish background of the Palestinian dusk; and the central cross seemed to symbolize the starkest tragedy, the deepest defeat. And when that sun rose again on the morning of the third day, the city of Jerusalem slept on securely; for the crucified Galilean, so their blind bigotry concluded, lay harmless in the grave. On that first morning of the new week even His disciples believed that the clutch of death and decay had once more recorded its gruesome victory.

So it was not with hope-filled hearts that the first followers of the Crucified made their painful pilgrimage to the sealed and guarded tomb in the hush of the early morning watches. They were laden with spices and ointment, for they had come to continue the burial rites that had been interrupted by the intervening Sabbath. They would still serve Christ, albeit a dead Christ.

Now, who were these early morning pilgrims, destined to be the first witnesses of the resurrection glory? Today, when murder trials are covered by an army of publicists, we might expect that the resurrection would be staged before an immense throng of curious spectators. But our ways are not God’s ways. The Easter-message was to be proclaimed, as were so many of God’s mighty dispensations, to a restricted, chosen group; it was announced to three women. Perhaps prophetic of the important role which their spiritual sisters were to assume in the growth of the Church, these women who had lingered to the last under the cross were the first at the grave and the first to hear and proclaim the resurrection message. God give us women of this devotion—mothers and wives, sisters and daughters—who can distinguish the froth of our modern follies from the nobler realities of loyal service to their Savior! God give us true and trusting women for the Church and for the nation, daughters of God with the love of Christ in their hearts and the reverence of God in their lives!

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Salome, the mother of James and John, these three first witnesses of the resurrection, were not daughters of priestly, politically prominent, or socially important families; for this phase of the Easter-story, as incidents in the crucifixion, and indeed the entire Gospel-message were to emphasize the glorious fact that all, rich and poor, man and woman, priest and layman, could approach the holy Christ of God and receive the benediction of His mercy. And while we thank God for the assistance of men of wealth, like Joseph of Arimathea, who acknowledged the dead Savior before Pilate; for the guidance of political leaders like Nicodemus, who was not ashamed to plead for the dead Christ before the Roman governor; for the confession of prominent officials, like that of the centurion who, in the shadow of the cross, found in the Crucified the Son of the eternal God, we particularly raise our grateful hearts to Him in acknowledging the grace that made His mercy wide enough for the common folk; comprehensive enough for three socially insignificant, middle-class women of Jerusalem; condescending enough to receive the thief on the cross. Sweeping aside all the barriers which men persistently raise in the attempt to herd their fellow-men together according to standards of race or color, position or authority, wealth and influence, cultural and intellectual attainments, this universal appeal of God’s grace in the crucified, but resurrected Savior comes to all the children of men without respect of person, but with the same common promise of blessedness forever.

Yet the burial rites, so carefully planned by these devout women, were not to be performed. When the three pilgrims arrived at the grave, the Easter miracle had occurred. The earth had been shaken by vibrant tremors; the seal which Christ’s anxious enemies had carefully placed on the grave was broken; and the immense stone which had caused the women distressing concern had been rolled away from the door of the tomb. There sat an angel of the Lord, his countenance like lightning, his raiment white as the snow; a heavenly messenger, altogether so august and awe inspiring that we are told “for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men.” Before the women could overcome their fright and amazement at the sight of this celestial herald, they were even more startled by his announcement, the first in all history, of the Savior’s resurrection: “Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

“He is not here; He is risen,” these words leave no room for any of the many substitute theories that would deny the resurrection of Christ or explain away the very heart of this miracle of miracles. It was no vision of hallucinated women, this triumphant rising of Christ from the bonds of the grave. It was no fraud, as the chagrined churchmen of that day insisted in their endeavor to laugh off the resurrection and spread abroad the lie that the disciples had stolen the body. It was no instance of suspended animation, apparent death, or premature burial. All these and other protesting theories are shattered by the divinely inspired record that the Christ who commended His soul into His Father’s hands as He died on Good Friday was resurrected on Easter and lives and reigns unto all eternity, lives and reigns with the power which inspires His followers to exult this morning:—

I know that my Redeemer lives.

What comfort this sweet sentence gives!

He lives, He lives, who once was dead;

He lives, my ever-living Head.

By the truth which the resurrection-message brought to those women and conveys to us today the open grave becomes the symbol of the open heaven. It proves the deity of our royal Redeemer, Jesus, the Christ. It places the seal of Heaven’s approval and acceptance upon His entire self-giving. It demonstrates His power over death and justifies His challenge: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” It offers the deep pledge of the risen Lord Himself: “Because I live, ye shall live also,” and triumphantly promises that, though this marred and imperfect body of ours must return to the dust from which it was taken, though the skeletal hand of death will reach out to snatch us away from the land of the living, though you and I are destined to corruption and decay, we know that through Christ death is but the passage from the gloom of sin to the radiance of eternity. We hear Christ’s comforting message: “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life”; and: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you”; and at the open grave the full truth dawns upon our souls that Easter, above all question or quibble, means defeated death, resurrected life, and the glories of eternity to all who accept this imperishable hope of their risen Savior.

THE GLORIOUS RESPONSIBILITIES IMPOSED BY EASTER

Need I remind you, then, that Easter is too high and holy to pass by our hearts and lives without leaving its sacred and indelible imprint? The resurrection-message mightily affected those first witnesses; for the startling truth that the Christ for whom they would perform the burial rites had suddenly disappeared from the confines of His tomb filled them with supreme awe, and they left the sepulcher with the deepest reverence their lives had ever known.

Would to God that there were more of this reverence in our modem contemplation of Easter! Too often we have made it a devitalized, innocuous day for children with rabbits and chicks and gamboling lambs. Tradesmen rub gleeful hands as they review the seasonal increase in the sales of millinery and other apparel. Poetic souls rhapsodize on vernal beauties. While there is room for all this in the proper spirit and proportion, yet when Easter is interpreted solely in terms material or reduced to a nature festival, it becomes a paganized holiday. Give us—and this is the appeal of the Church—a reverent Easter!

The early visitors at the empty tomb also found a new happiness. St. Matthew records that they were animated with “great joy.” The unexpected restoration of their Savior and the fulfilment of His promises banished their somber sorrows, and their hearts leaped in exultation. Today, in this decade of disillusion, we frantically grope for the joy of life; but with much sadness and sorrow on every hand, with cherished hopes crushed and high ambitions thwarted, grimly skeptical men and women are facing the question-mark of the future, almost ready to resign themselves to the pessimism of defeat. If only they would not blind themselves to the joy-filled blessings with which Easter can endow their souls and lives! For here, at the unsealed sepulcher, is the end of humanity’s search for abiding happiness. Here is the joy of forgiven sin, the gladness that comes through the strengthening companionship of a living Savior and His purifying Spirit. Here is the answer to every unsympathetic turn of life, the solution to our most grievous problems—the simple, but profound faith which teaches us that through Christ’s resurrection there is, in the next world, a compensation for earthly sorrows and that “the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Here, finally, is the joy that triumphs over the blight and paralysis of death, that soothes our torn hearts when we stand beside the earthly remains of a loved one, with the conviction that those who die in the Lord will live forever in the blessed reunion of eternity.

Because of all this, Easter was the most joyous festival that the early Church knew; and as we remind ourselves that the gift of this resurrection joy is the free gift of Heaven’s grace,—no payment of our virtues, no reward of our good deeds, no honor for our accomplishments,—simply the undeserved and unmerited mercies of the resurrected Lord,—may the dawn of this Easter bring the daybreak of salvation into all the hearts toward which the Spirit now speeds these words!

For those of us who know and with all our hearts believe and trust the Easter joy our text brings a sacred privilege and obligation. These daybreak witnesses were not to conceal this epochal announcement of the resurrection. Emphatically the angel tells them: “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him.” And hardly had this missionary command been issued, when we read: “They departed quickly from the sepulcher . . . and did run to bring His disciples word.”

The call of this disturbed hour is the appeal for twentieth-century disciples, young and old, who with the haste that this high message requires will bring to others the truth and joy of the Easter-message. How unhappy, by contrast with the eagerness of the three women, is the lethargy and indifference of Christians who perhaps in an entire lifetime have never told perishing souls that the Christ who died for their salvation rose again for their victory! If only this Easter would awaken within hitherto apathetic hearts the desire to speak the resurrection-message into the very souls of some of our country’s misguided millions! If only by the indwelling of the Spirit this Easter would stimulate that heroic type of Christianity which cannot refrain from speaking of Christ, from pleading with men to repent and through Christ to return to their heavenly Father! If only this Easter would mark the turning-point, after these years of restricted activities in the Church’s forward march, for the extension of the kingdom of Christ here on earth!

It will take courage to tell men of their Savior, and there will be rebuffs and disappointments; but just as these women hurrying away from the empty grave on that first missionary journey met Christ on the way, so you who today pledge yourselves to become witnesses unto Him will meet Christ on the paths of your duty. He will come to you, and you will feel His presence in the realism of this Easter faith. He will direct you. He will strengthen you. He will be with you alway, even unto your end on this earth, the finale of life, which, because of the Easter glory, is but the prelude to an exalted eternity.

All this is pledged to you by this promise of the risen Christ: “Where I am, there shall also My servant be.” God grant that you may receive this blessing with believing hearts, translate it into a sanctified life, and preserve it unto the victorious eternity of Christ’s ransomed saints! Amen.

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

Date: April 19, 1935

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.Luke 23:34

As we page through the life stories of distinguished leaders in human affairs, we may well pause to study their last utterances. These valedictories to life reveal that the great have not always died great. How often in broken words, whispered by faltering, death-marked lips, have men gasped their craving to inflict cruel suffering, or, driven by hate-swollen revenge, shrieked for blood in their last breaths!

There was Herod, calculating murderer, who decreed that most brutal of all slaughters, the massacre of the innocent babes at Bethlehem. When he lay in his death­struggle and knew that at the end of his despotic reign wild rejoicing would rock the kingdom, he was determined to have his funeral marked with dirge and lament. So in the last moments of his waning strength he sought to wreak his fury upon his enemies by decreeing that they be locked in the arena of Jericho and killed immediately after his death.

When Harun-al-Raschid, calif of a magnificent empire, came down haggard and groaning on his death-bed, a rebel general was dragged before him. Marshaling his drooping energies, this leader of the Mohammedan world shrieked: “Dog! May Allah curse you! If I had only breath for two words, I would say, ‘Kill him!’ May Allah bear me witness that I vow that you shall perish, suffering as no one ever has before!” Within an hour not the official executioner, but the royal butcher was summoned into the death-chamber; and as the dying Harun-al-Raschid looked on in sadistic delight, the captive general was cut to pieces alive, the flesh stripped from the bones of his body.

Now, these songs of dying hatred are not restricted to ancient history, when royal fiends commanded that vanquished enemies be thrown on their funeral pyres. We witness the same spectacles of death-bed depravity in the world that surrounds us. Here is a criminal, led to the gallows, who leaves as his last legacy a string of blood­curdling curses upon mankind in general and upon his captors and executioners in particular. Here is a father breathing his last, but rallying long enough to disinherit an estranged son or to refuse a distant daughter the privilege of kneeling at his bedside. Here are the harrowing death scenes in which desperate atheists and infidels leap into the night of eternity with the thunder of hell upon their lips.

But this noon, as we commemorate the darkest day of all history, we are to recall the benediction of a dying Martyr. We are to hear a prayer uttered in the agony of a tortured soul and a racked body, that has pronounced its blessing upon multiplied millions. We are to stand in spirit on Calvary’s brow and hear our own divine and perfect High Priest breathe His dying prayer for our pardon.

THE GOOD FRIDAY APPEAL

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

AN APPEAL OF HEAVEN-WIDE MERCY

This prayer of the dying Christ seems to have been the first of the seven sacred utterances from the cross. As the nails of death crushed through the hands that had been raised in heavenly benediction and lacerated the feet that had led the Savior on holy errands of mercy; as the morbid spectators mingled their cries of derision with the profanity of the Roman executioners and the stinging rebukes of the Jewish churchmen, Christ’s pleading petition, hardly audible above the din and turmoil of the crucifixion, penetrated to the tribunal of heaven and pleaded for forgiveness, not for Himself, but for His enemies.

Others in the throes of death have implored Heaven’s mercy upon themselves and have rightly prayed: “Father, forgive me!” Charles IX, the craven king, who presided over the dripping shambles on St. Bartholomew’s Night, when thousands of his subjects were cut down in a bloody religious massacre, shrieked in frenzied horror as he faced eternity: “What blood, what murders, what evil counsels, have I followed! O my God, pardon me and have mercy on me if Thou canst!” But Christ’s plea is not: “Father, forgive Me,” but, “Father, forgive them”; and that prayer comes from the soul of one whose entire life was an uninterrupted demonstration of perfect holiness, whose absolute sinlessness could not be discredited even by the perjury of malicious conspirators. And with death approaching, He prays not for Himself, not even for His friends, but—wonder of wonders—for His enemies!

We pay our homage to those who have sunk into the eternal slumber with a final word of love and blessing for their fellow-men. We are thrilled by the lingering love shown in the last moments of life by missionaries who plead with fervent entreaty for their converts, by parents who rally their ebbing strength for a last benediction upon their children, by the nation’s dying heroes whose last words have invoked blessings upon their homeland. But here on the cross the eyes of faith behold the Lord of creation, the incarnate God, the Redeemer of the race, the Holy One, whose every purpose was the purest, whose service to weak, short-sighted sinful men was always unreserved self-giving, whose thoughts were deliberate purposes of grace, whose words were comfort-laden messages of truth, and whose deeds were the divine proof of Heaven’s unquenchable love; and in the travail of that sorrow unto death He thinks in this first word not of Himself, not of the tearing, festering, burning wounds, not of His bleeding back, His bruised face, His thorn-crowned head; not of the mockery, the scorn, the cutting taunts, of snarling hatred. He forgets even His abysmal God-forsakenness and the overpowering weight of humanity’s sins that crush Him into the blackest death. Pushing all the base, earth-shaking ingratitude aside, the Son of God, in this exhibition of His divine love, prays—for His enemies!

What an overpowering demonstration there is in all this of that sublime truth which Jesus had given to the world as His new ordinance: “Love your enemies!” Other religious leaders have preached sword and fire and cruel death to those who dared oppose their selfish programs. Even the disciple whom Jesus loved was so obsessed by an ingrained aversion to the unbelieving Samaritans that he ran to Christ and urged Him to invoke burning destruction from the clouds upon those recalcitrant half-breeds. Our own spiritual emotions are often warped by bigotry, surcharged with personal hatred, blinded by carnal bias. But it is Christ, and He alone, who rises over the sordid selfishness of passion-bound men to declare: “Pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” And to show us that He practised what He preached, that He Himself maintained the high ideals that He demands of us, our Savior not only taught this love, not only lived this love,—He died this love!

Think of the wide, all-embracing reach of His dying compassion. His intimate pleading to the Lord of heaven “Father, forgive them” embraces the Roman legionnaires who had just driven the nails of death through His quivering flesh, these worldly-wise, calloused, judicial murderers. His beseeching “Father, forgive them” includes the vacillating populace of Jerusalem that overnight almost had changed the loud acclaim of its hosannas into the venomous “Crucify Him!” His heaven-moving “Father, forgive them” is uttered in behalf of the false witnesses, the fanatical zealots among the Pharisees, the jealous high priests, the proud, self-esteemed Sanhedrin, coarse-minded, unprincipled Pilate. All who raised a blaspheming voice or lifted a murderous hand against the Christ of God are comprehended in this unlimited, unrestricted, unqualified plea for pardon: “Father, forgive them.”

Yet not these alone. In His boundless love Christ’s mercy extends to all the race, steeped as it is in the rankling hatred of everything holy. Never has history known an amnesty so universal in its forgiving power; never a treaty of peace which, like this, has included all the nations of the earth; never a pledge of pardon spoken upon a doomed soul that is so universally applicable to all the children of men as this plea of our dying Savior for a hostile world. Hurdling the barriers that segregate men into conflicting racial groups, breaking down the walls that separate clashing nationalities, Christ’s prayer would gather all of humanity throughout all history under its benediction. Men may be destitute of wealth; they may be underprivileged in respect to the opportunities of life; they may lack mental brilliance and be deprived of health; they may even be obliged to surrender the liberty and the pursuit of happiness which the Declaration of Independence regards as among the certain and inalienable rights with which all men are endowed; but because “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” this holy pleading of a dying Savior enfolds all generations of all men in its everlasting, world-encircling “Father, for­ give them.”

Remember, this dying plea for forgiveness is not prompted by any sorrow or penitence on the part of Christ’s enemies; it is not an answer to prayers from contrite hearts; it is no pardon spoken in anticipation of later repentance; it is purely Heaven’s deepest, highest, widest mercy, imploring forgiveness for the most heinous sin of all times. No conditions are attached to this plea. The dying Savior does not ask: “Forgive them if they perform these rites, speak these ritual words, earn these prescribed merits.” In the grandeur of His heavenly love He demands no qualifications, insists upon no prerequisites, but pleads the unconditioned petition, “Father, forgive them.”

Nor should we overlook the wealth of solace in this motive of mercy: “For they know not what they do.” It is an evident doctrine of the Scriptures that those who sin in ignorance shall receive less punishment than those who wilfully rebel against better knowledge. Jesus Himself declares: “That servant which knew his Lord’s will and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not and did commit things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes.” Again, reflecting on the tragic fact that the citizens of Galilean cities had rejected His overtures of grace although they were privileged to see His miracles and hear His words, He cried out: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the Judgment than for you.” Thus does God temper justice. But in this word from the cross Jesus goes even farther. He pleads not for a less severe punishment because of their ignorance, but He directly asks God to forgive them this transgression, the most heinous sin of all history. Now, we have no Scriptural authority which entitles us to generalize and to declare that sins committed unawares are exempt from retributive judgment; for our transgressions are pardoned and our sins removed, whether they be done in ignorance or against better instruction, only when our eternal High Priest fulfils Isaiah’s prophetic promise and stands before the bar of justice to make “intercession for the transgressors.” Yet this we do know, that here on Calvary, the focal point of human hopes, Christ adds mercy to mercy and not only raises His voice in behalf of His murderers, He even bases that petition on their ignorance. Others may insist upon the letter of the law or demand the sixteen ounces of their pound of flesh, but these words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” are the halo of Heaven’s mercy in its highest, fullest radiance.

Here, then, is the very heart and center of the Good Friday message. In the pain of this crucifixion, more agonizing than the worst that disease, accident, murder, persecution, war, oppression, in their totality have inflicted upon men, in the death Christ died for all mankind, we have not merely a touching symbol of self-sacrificing love, not only an exalted example of loyalty to high ideals, not simply a magnificent picture of unswerving devotion to a high-souled principle. Pushing these wilful evasions aside, the appeal of the Savior’s day of death would penetrate into our hearts and souls with the seal and assurance of the Scriptural promises that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself”; that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; that “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities”; so that, when Christ cried, “It is finished,” the price for the redemption of our souls and the ransom for sin had been paid and our title to the heavenly mansions sealed forever.

AN APPEAL FOR THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST’S COMPASSION

Need I remind you, then, that this day of all days is the time for repentance, for heart-deep sorrow over our sins; that Good Friday calls for a spiritual inventory, in which, as we prostrate ourselves before the holy God, recognizing the appalling guilt of the sins that drove Christ to Calvary, we ask ourselves whether in the hurry and worry of life as we live it today our faith in Christ is a quickening power within us; whether we love the Crucified with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our might?

There is no more striking evidence of our devotion to Him who loved us first than this, that we apply the spirit of His “Father, forgive them” in the smaller issues of our own lives. Dying Stephen, his body bruised and broken under the impact of the jagged rocks, caught the vision of the opened heaven, with the Son of God sitting at the right hand of the Father, and remembering this plea of his dying Savior, his bleeding lips petitioned God: “Lay not this sin to their charge.” Paul found this conciliatory spirit, and although tracked and persecuted as few men have ever been, he wrote to the Roman Christians: “Bless them which persecute you; bless and curse not. . . . If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.” Now, I ask you as we pause this noon in the shadow of the cross, have we followed the example of the dying Savior? Have we kept close to the path that apostolic love has blazed for us? Distorted ideals brand this sacred duty of forgiveness and reconciliation as an impracticable delusion, a sign of effeminate weakness. The youth of the land finds its model in the fast-riding, swift-shooting hero, implacable in his sworn desire for revenge. Hysterical mobs take the law into their own hands and find satisfaction in lynching; paid propaganda enflames national and racial hatred to white heat; nations that should work together in cooperative harmony and achievement are split apart by artificially stimulated prejudices.

We might be inclined to repeat the Savior’s prayer for forgiveness on the basis of ignorance when we see a blind world that knows not Christ heedlessly following its own passion for revenge. But what can we say of ourselves, we to whom much has been given and of whom much will therefore be required, we who know Christ and have heard His intercession for sinners? Let us reflect for a moment in the hush of Good Friday and ask ourselves whether we have forgiven those who have offended us the “seventy times seven times” the Savior requires. It is one of the most depressing spectacles in all Christian experience to behold a church-member who prays “Forgive us our trespasses,” yet refuses to translate the “as we forgive those who trespass against us” into a life of peace and conciliation. Think of Christian congregations that are split into feudal factions; members of these churches who worship the same Lord of powerful forgiveness, who profess the same faith, and who are guided by the same hope, yet who live in pagan animosity. Above all, let us not overlook our own easily injured pride and our chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, our absurd and unchristian protestation that we are ready to forgive, but that we cannot forget.

It is not a pretty picture, this survey of human passions, and when compared with the holy example of our dying Savior, it is a vile and ugly portrayal of sin, raw and naked. As we prepare our hearts for the dawn of Easter joy and for the reception of the risen King, let us be strengthened by the realization that the plea from the cross, “Father, forgive them” was spoken for us. Let us implore the impulses and the strength of the Holy Spirit for a better, a richer, a holier life through our Savior. And as the dying thief, hearing this prayer, asked that he be remembered when the victorious Christ had entered His heavenly paradise, so let us beseech Christ for forgiveness and be strengthened by the Savior’s inviolable pledge: “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” With the example and power of that grace let us even unto our last hour live and then die with this prayer for the forces of our hostile, antagonizing world, “Father, forgive them!” God grant it for the crucified Savior’s sake. Amen.

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

Date: April 14, 1935

He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He bath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.Isaiah 53:3-4

ON Palm Sunday the Judean capital threw wide its gates to receive a King; on Good Friday it demanded the warrant which would sentence that King to death. On the first day of that most eventful of all weeks broad palm-branches were waved before the Prince of Peace in spectacular public demonstration; five days later a reed scepter was forced into His hands in sarcastic ridicule and rejection. “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!” is the ringing acclaim that reechoes through the streets of Jerusalem when Christ holds His triumphal entry; “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” is the hoarse scream that drives Him out to the felon’s cross. In a short-lived moment of fervent applause, multitudes strew their clothing as a carpet along the processional highway; a few days pass, and soldiers gamble for the garments of the Crucified. First greeted with warm plaudits, He is a popular idol; and then, as the scene swiftly changes, He is nailed to the cross as a maligned Galilean Captive. When one Sabbath closes, Jesus of Nazareth is saluted as the Man of the hour; before another Sabbath breaks, His bruised and beaten body has been borne to the grave.

In these startling contrasts we have the synopsis of the world-moving events of Holy Week, which we begin to commemorate today. As we ask God for cleansed and enlightened hearts with which worthily to approach the most sacred scene in all history, the center of all mortal hopes and aspirations, Calvary, with its cross as a memorial to heaven’s highest love and earth’s deepest sorrow, let us study—

THE REJECTED, BUT REDEEMING CHRIST

on the basis of this immortal, prophetic foregleam of Isaiah: “He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”

“REJECTED OF MEN”

Never was there a hatred as wide and as inclusive as that blinded fury which cried: “His blood be on us and on our children.” You can search through the sordid pages of criminology, and in these darkest chapters of human depravity you will find fiendish perverts, vicious monsters, satanic degenerates; but none of these has ever felt the intense and irreconcilable enmity that built the cross on Calvary. A flint-hearted gangster institutes a reign of terror throughout the land; yet when justice demands its payment, an element of warped public opinion always champions the cause of the killer. A racketeer is riddled by a shower of machine-gun lead; and the funeral pomp often exceeds the tributes of gratitude which a nation extends to its best-beloved public servants. Socially prominent murderers engage attorneys to frustrate the demands of the law, and morbid sympathizers pout in protest when a coddled criminal, the idol of hysterical women, finally pays his penalty. There is sympathy for every outlaw and every outcast; but Christ, with the few exceptions of his faithful followers, was “despised and rejected of men,” all men—his fellow-countrymen, the churchmen, the statesmen, the business men, the tradesmen, the intellectual leaders, and the populace at large.

Never has there been a hatred so ingrained and passionate. At the very mention of Christ’s holy name, the name at which all knees should bow “of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth,” men fall into paroxysms of rage; they spit; they clench their fists; they gnash their teeth; their eyes snap; their countenances flush purple. So hard and relentless is this abhorrence that men have not been satisfied with blaspheming the Christ of God by the vilest uttterances of foul-mouthed profanity, but have also extended their rage to those who have taken up His cross and followed Him in faith. Because they were Christ’s, Christian martyrs were thrown to the lions; they became human fagots to light up the carousal of imperial fiends; they were doomed to slow death as galley-slaves. Because they were Christ’s, His messengers and witnesses were burned at the stake before proud ecclesiastical tribunals; 80,000 were massacred within a single night; and the first Protestants in America were murdered on the Florida coast. Because they were the disciples of this despised and rejected Redeemer, brave bands of witnesses, faithful unto death, have within these last few years faced Soviet firing squads.

For in all history no malice has so perpetuated itself in such unbroken fanaticism as this rankling bitterness toward Christ. Human prejudices may vanish. The enmity that two decades ago threw the world into the chaos of bloody war has waned. The hostility that two generations ago made this nation a house divided against itself has subsided. But despite lofty protests and claims to the contrary, the Christ who lived almost two thousand years ago is still the Sufferer whom Isaiah envisioned in our text as “despised, and we esteemed Him not.” We call ours a Christian nation; but how can this be true when far more than half the inhabitants of the land refuse to accept Christ? We print on our American coins “In God we trust”; but how can we trust in God when we deny Him who says: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me,” and when, instead of relying upon the sacred pledges of our Savior, we put our trust in the fleeting foibles and frailties of our own invention? We count the spires that rise above our cities and congratulate ourselves upon having more churches than any other nation on earth; but the hand of the Almighty has written the ominous ICHABOD, “The glory has departed,” on the walls of many of these pretentious temples, in which modern Pharisees and twentieth-century Sadducees have eliminated the true Christ of God.

Let there be no misunderstanding of this deeply tragic verity. Our American commonwealth, which owes to the Triune God more than any other people on the face of the earth, is too often arrayed against Christ. His Word and His counsel are ignored and contradicted in the circles of our Government and in the maze of the many frail, futile, fleeting projects upon which politicians would pin our hopes. He is rejected, His cross is pulled down, and His Gospel is polluted by the poison of infidelity in churches that should form walls of mighty resistance, but that are only tissue-paper barricades. He is rejected in our American daily life, where the penetrating scream of the police siren drowns out the peal of church-bells; where Sunday evenings find churches closed or services at best attended only by a handful of the faithful, while long queues form before motion-picture box offices and the night clubs with their dim lights and seductive music are crowded to capacity. Christ is repeatedly rejected and His high­souled principles spurned in American industry by that everlasting grapple of selfishness between capitalist and laboring men; in the realm of American finances, where fraud and deceit still run their confident courses; in American homes that are too crowded with personal and preoccupied pursuits to hear Him who says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”; in American education, where His sacred teachings are ignored or wilfully opposed and millions of our youth find themselves farther away from God and Christ than in any previous generation.

With all this rejection of the Holy One of God, do we wonder why the dust-freighted winds are carrying away the rich top soil of our Western plains? why we seem farther from the solution of the most pivotal problems than we were five years ago? why the specters of poverty and even more ominous shadows persist in looming up on the international horizon of tomorrow? All this and the hundred other ills which have laid the nation low as well as the disillusionment and disaster in our lives must, in the final analysis, be attributed to the folly of stolidly casting the boundless mercies of Christ’s blood into discard, of rejecting the invitation of the Cross, and of turning our backs upon the pleading and entreaty of His nail-scarred hands.

You see, then, as you apply these truths to yourselves, that the all-absorbing endeavor of every human soul must be directed toward the avoidance of the fatal sin of rejecting Christ. There are scores of issues in our everyday lives in which our personal attitudes are of no consequence. Millions in the nation endorse certain governmental policies, and other millions disapprove of them; but in both instances the spiritual verities of life remain unchanged. We may think what we will of leading characters in the drama of life without having our conviction influence our eternal destinies. But just as soon as you read these words of our text: “Surely He,” the despised and rejected, “hath borne our grief and carried our sorrows,” you are placed before the alternative of accepting or rejecting Him; you are confronted with the greatest decision of your life. Once we have seen Christ and heard the Lenten message, Heaven’s mystery of love that it is, that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; once we have raised our eyes upward to the atoning Savior, pierced through by the nails of death that suspended Him on a criminal’s cross; once we have found in Him the sin-conquering Son of God, crushed into that never-to-be-measured death by the sins of all centuries of human history, we are inevitably and individually confronted by this question of questions: “What shall I do, then, with Jesus?” Ten thousand casual questions may mean nothing to us, and another ten thousand may be passed with a shrug of the shoulder, without having our destiny and happiness affected; but here, in your attitude toward Christ, is the supreme issue of all human existence, which involves our happiness here and hereafter.

It is sad enough when men rise up against their fellow-men; but who can count the consequences of the folly and ingratitude of rising up against God? And this Christ, the suffering Servant of Isaiah’s Gospel beyond our poor powers to understand and to explain, is very God of very God, the eternal Son of the everlasting Father. It is tragic enough when wilful and selfish men turn against their human benefactors and repudiate those who have signally blessed them; yet it is indescribably more calamitous to push Him out of our lives who “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows,”—and Christ performed just that superhuman task. He took upon Himself the griefs and sorrows of all history, of all races, of all individuals; in His own holy body He bore the vast and limitless sin and perversity that cause all the heartaches and the soul sorrows of our day, which separate us from God and exclude us from the blessings of His heaven.

We rear imposing monuments to those who have earned the trophies of victory on bloody battle-fields; but by the sweat of Gethsemane and the gore of Calvary our Savior triumphed over the legions of hell for you and for me in the most stubbornly contested struggle of all ages. We have a Hall of Fame in which we enshrine the memory of those whose lives have helped to elevate and ennoble humanity; but the marvels of architectural genius and the resources of human construction halt in their own insufficiency when challenged to build a memorial to the Savior, who by living and dying for us has made life so eminently worth living and death worth dying for Him. We mark with commemorative shafts historic spots where great leaders have fallen in the paths of service to their fellow­men; but we no longer know the site of His crucifixion, and the place of His burial has been covered by the obliterating hand of time. And how can we design a monument of thanksgiving to Him who gave all for us, His own holy Self, His own stainless life, His own cleansing blood in that sorrow of sorrows, the deepest and darkest of all agonies, that death of deaths on the cross,—and gave all this out of His immeasurable love, His limitless grace?

The appeal of this solemn week asks us to make our hearts and lives living, breathing monuments to the radiance of Christ’s love for us. As we once more stand on the threshold of these seven solemn days, ready to pull aside the curtain that reveals the inner sanctuary of all history’s holy of holies, the altar where humanity’s High Priest offered Himself as the eternal and ever-valid Sacrifice, I appeal in the name of the Crucified to those who have hardened themselves against the repeated invitations of mercy and ask them: “Is it nothing to you,” this love of your sin- and sorrow-bearing Savior? “Is it nothing to you,” this soul­breaking agony, this abysmal God-forsakenness? If you have never been moved to repentance and faith, then may God in His infinite love make you behold your sins and your Savior in the light of Calvary, so that this week may truly be a holy week for you, and the beginning of the most penetrating and permanent happiness that you can ever know.

I appeal to you who like the Judean multitudes have lost your love and allegiance to Christ, who have forgotten your vows of loyalty, spurned the advice and prayers of God-fearing parents, and, in effect, turned the “hosannas” of your youth into the “Crucify Him” of your more mature years. In the name of the Redeemer again I ask you to return to Him, your heavenly Advocate, who intercedes for you and all the unfaithful with this dying appeal before Heaven’s tribunal: “Father, forgive them.”

I appeal finally to you who have walked hand in hand with the Savior through the trials and temptations of life and who have found in His unfailing companionship strength, guidance, and the joy of life; and I ask in His hallowed name that you continue to worship Him “in spirit and in truth,” singing unto eternity, in strains of unchanging loyalty, “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

Father above, grant us this penitent faith, this return to Thee, this abiding loyalty, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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

Date: April 7, 1935

The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the Law knew Me not: the pastors also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that do not profit. Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, and with your children’s children will I plead.Jeremiah 2:8-9

A FEW short years ago in St. Louis the moaning whistle of a tornado sounded its alarm. Within a flash great squares of our city lay in terrifying ruins of splintered wreckage, twisted steel, uprooted trees—a hideous picture of death and destruction. But with an indomitable will our city cleared away the wreckage and undertook an extensive program of rebuilding, and today one seeks almost in vain for traces of that harrowing disaster.—In the Civil War, when Sherman pushed his way from Atlanta to the seaboard, his marching columns burned villages, destroyed crops, cut down orchards, and altogether blazed a trail of ruin sixty miles wide, which, it seemed, would leave an ineffaceable scar. But today, as you survey that fair Southland, you see that the hand of time has dealt soothingly and that the wounds of the war-torn areas have been healed by the benediction of peace.—After the Thirty Years’ War the exhausted European nations lay prostrate. In Bohemia, where compatriots of John Huss arose to defend the cause for which he had been burned at the stake, of over 35,000 villages hardly 6,000 remained; and in Germany the toll of that religious butchery was so terrible that in some sections the population was diminished by two-thirds. Yet those nations tied up their wounds, set their faces to the task of reconstruction, and ultimately recovered.

You can see from all this that a city, a state, a nation, or a group of nations can emerge from any catastrophe which destroys only external power; they can convalesce from epidemics; they can rise, Phoenixlike, from ashes; they can regain their stability after earthquakes. But there is one catastrophe which is final and irremedial, and that is the neglect or the choking off of true Christian faith and the rejection of God’s Christ—particularly through the apostasy of the spiritual leaders and the degeneracy of the clergy. Wherever proud churchmen wilfully spurn the grace of the almighty God in Christ; wherever the clergy, self-absorbed and self-sufficient, turns away from the Cross, there history inevitably records the reverberating rumble of God’s dynamite as proud national structures totter into irreparable ruin.

Because we in our country must hearken to this repetitious warning of wide human experience, let me discuss with you this afternoon under the guidance of the Spirit of God

THE FATAL FOLLIES IN MODERN CHURCH-LIFE

This discussion is suggested by the words of our text, recording as they do in summary the cause of Israel’s national decline and tragic end.

GOD’S WARNING AGAINST CLERICAL FOLLIES

Why was it that Israel, blessed as no nation since the beginning of the world, could fall victim to swift destruction and be exiled from its homeland? God answers in the words preceding our text: “I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but . . . ye defiled My land.” And if we ask how the land was defiled, the words which I read to you declare: “The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the Law knew Me not; the pastors also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that do not profit.” A misguided and materially minded priesthood was responsible for Israel’s collapse, a clergy that forgot its spiritual duty and drifted over into crass, worldly scheming, that thought more of foreign alliances than of Jehovah’s help, more of political plots than of the sovereign will and mercy of the Almighty.

Today, in this crisis of tremendous proportions, one of the master menaces to American happiness is that growing company of spiritual leaders who, as the priests and prophets and ministers in Jeremiah’s day, ask not, “Where is the Lord?” but, “How about the World Court?” “Where can we find a new monetary program?” “Shall we place colored citizens on the jury lists of our Southern States?” and similar questions, which seem to involve almost all topics except those that pertain to God. We shudder when we picture Nero fiddling while his capital burned to the ground; we shake our heads at the unconcern of Marie Antoinette, who, when confronted by the famished mobs that had stormed out to the Tuileries, suggested that, if the Parisians had no bread, they could eat cake. But all this is a mere gesture of indifference when compared with the unconcern toward the spiritual needs of our nation as demonstrated by uncounted clerics. We have almost 250,000 churches in this country, more than any other nation ever had; yet God alone, whose Spirit drove St. John to write his letters of warning to the seven congregations of Asia Minor, knows how sorely modern American Christianity needs the rebuke of stern disapproval for the seven follies of present-day church-life and the adamant indifference to the fundamental work of the Church, that of saving souls.

Here we have, first of all, the political Church, which asks not, “Where is the Lord?” but, “Where is power?” which attempts to constitute itself a bloc in American governmental affairs; which rides ruthlessly over the Savior’s pronouncement “My kingdom is not of this world”; which surrenders the Scriptural constitutional principle of the separation of Church and State; which tries to mold the influences of American legislators by professional lobbyism; which foists upon the free and sovereign people of our nation a program of selfish and sectarian ambitions; which not only pleads for a platform of purely secular issues, but also systematically organizes a bloc of millions of American votes in the name of religion and rewards financial support with religious medals. To all of those who today would perpetuate on the shores of this tolerant nation the spirit of the Inquisition, the brutality of St. Bartholomew’s Night, the ruthless rule and rote of Puritanism, the conception of a Christian nation established by legislative and judicial force,—to all these the Savior declares: “Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

Then there is the social Church and the preacher who in effect maintains that the Church’s field of first duty is not to bring men into the presence of a merciful God, hut to solve race relations, to fight against industrialism and capitalism, to investigate coal-mines, to picket steel strikes, and in general to present a panacea for the evils of the day by social reform in its varied ramifications, by working for the body instead of for the soul, for the here rather than the hereafter; preachers who have the glitter, but lack the gold, who are more concerned about minimum wages than about the wages of sin, more interested in industrial codes than in the Christian’s code. To all such the Savior, who first forgives sins and then removes the consequences of sin, who first purifies the heart and then the life, raises His voice in reproach and says: “Cleanse first that which is within the cup.”

Again, we have the Church with a financial complex, whose clerics make the end justify the means, who institute raffles and roulette wheels and resort even to the most patent violations of the law of the land. They are the real money-changers in the temples of today, these prophets who have “walked after things that do not profit,” who wheedle unwilling contributions from unbelievers and coerce the indifferent into giving grudging support to the cause of Christ. To them the Savior, who made a scourge of small ropes and lashed the Temple merchants of His day, repeats those words of holy indignation: “Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.”

Then there is the sensational Church, which uses the spring-board of lurid publicity and theatrical drivel to hurl itself into public attention; pastors who “transgressed against Me,” the Lord says,—who feature atheists in their services, children in the pulpits, and dogs in the pew; who seek to lure the unwary into their churches by beauty contests, dramatic productions, the baptism of dolls, an endless list of catchy phrases, and an inexhaustible catalog of bizarre attractions. To all those who thus play while people perish, who, instead of going out on the highways and byways, compelling men to come in, invite notorious celebrities to hear soft sermons, the Lord of Truth declares in rebuke: “My house shall be called the house of prayer.”

The fifth folly is found in two extremes of modern worship. On the one hand, we have the epileptic Church, which, disregarding the Scriptural admonition that everything be done “decently and in order,” works in convulsive jerks and fitful gyrations, with ministers who win endurance prizes for preaching the longest sermon in history, acrobatic pulpiteers who froth and kick and scream, pulpit clowns who make their churches ring with boisterous applause or rock with hilarious laughter, while the Prince of Peace looks on in wounded wonder at these prophets, who also walk “after things that do not profit.” And, on the other hand, there is the opposite extreme, which freezes the warmth of vibrant faith under the chill of emphasized ritualism, sweeps aside the sterling simplicity of the Savior’s worship, and lays inordinate stress on the cut and color of clerical robes, the technique and formalism of worship, the ceremonialism that often leaves worshipers groping for an answer to the fundamental question, “Where is the Lord?”

But equally calamitous is the inactive Church, the smugly self-sufficient, socially secure Church, which takes its talents, the time and the money and the prayer that should be employed in rescuing perishing souls for eternity, wraps them in the napkin of indifference, and buries them in the cemetery of neglect. To those who live on without raising their gaze from the four walls of their narrow environment to look out compassionately into a world crying for its deliverance, who remain impervious to their responsibilities toward a perishing world and indifferent to their duties as Good Samaritans in a world of poverty and hunger and suffering, who do not realize that the Church today must offer its best and widest energies even as the Savior gave His all, the Lord says: “Ye are unprofitable servants.”

The final folly is the worst. The seventh sin of contemporaneous churches is the craving for an up-to-the­minute creed, the passion for creating a new Christianity. This is the subtle and sinister poison that is paralyzing the spiritual hopes of the nation, the brazen pretense creeping over churches built and paid for by believing fathers and mothers, only to be desecrated by the leaders of their children, who do not ask, “Where is the Lord?” who, although they handle the divine Word, do not know God; who deliberately transgress against the Most High; who claim that the essence of religion is not God’s great and free gift to man in Christ, but man’s intelligent and repeated gifts to God; not divine atonement, but human attainment. There, in this infidelity of modern pulpiteers, in the cutthroat preaching of these surpliced buccaneers who have boarded the ship of the Church, thrown overboard every one of its sacred doctrines, and are now (and not altogether unsuccessfully) trying to seize its helm and make those who refuse to join with them walk the plank of church politics into the depths of discard,—there you have the great issue and challenge confronting all Christians who by the grace of God have refused to bow their knees before the Baal of modern unbelief. When preachers can publicly and brazenly reject the inspiration of Scriptures, the deity of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, the reality of sin, the blessed redemption, the resurrection of our Lord, and His second coming; when church alliances and church federations can legislate against the Scriptural teachings on the most intimate and sacred aspects of family life; when American churches have finally attained to the unbelief which flooded Europe a generation or two ago, we do not need to seek far afield for an explanation of the sorrows that have flooded our country.

GOD’S PLEA FOR THE REJECTION OF THESE FOLLIES

Now, as God, in the face of the tragedy which followed the misguided prophets and preachers of that day, promised: “I will yet plead with you” and “with your children’s children will I plead,” so He rises up on the ramparts of our nation to plead with His Church, beseeching this generation, as He will continue to entreat the next, to disavow each and every approach to worldly-mindedness in the Church. Because there is no other foundation on which the Church may be permanently established than that foundation which “is laid, which is Jesus Christ”; because, as the indisputable evidence of experience shows, all human foibles substituted for the uncompromising preaching of the Christ-centered hope ultimately must collapse, God’s Word pleads for loyalty to the faith once given and for a deepening spirituality in our hearts and lives.

Now, if this appeal of God is to be heard; if churches are to be aroused from the lethargy into which they have dropped; if they are to be the salt in our American life and the leaven in our national existence; if our churches are to be what Christ wants them to be, His holy, precious, spotless bride, then they must come back to the old paths, back to the Bible, back to the plain preaching of sin and grace, back to those two decisive doctrines: the divine and inspired authority of the Bible and the full and free grace of Jesus Christ as the never-failing antidote for our personal and collective sins. The Church must offer, not education and culture, not legislation and force, not medicine and surgery, not changed environments and changed diets, not a program of salvation by character and accomplishment, but, thank God, the highest happiness, the truest truth of all ages, the most precious promise that human ears have ever heard, the foundation and cornerstone of all Christian faith and hope, this “faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” There, in the miracle of divine love that Luther has immortalized in his explanation of the Second Article of the Christian Creed: “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,”—there, in this changeless Christ for a changing world, the Church finds its hope, its usefulness, its glory, its promise.

Emphasizing the power and the glory of that promise, I appeal especially to you prophets and priests of the truth who this morning again have proclaimed the message of the Crucified to your congregations: “Hold that fast which thou hast that no man take thy crown.” You are not earning public plaudits by your loyalty to your Savior; but this loyalty spells blessing for you and your nation. You will not be rewarded with Congressional medals for the spiritual battles which you may fight, but those conflicts mean more to the nation than victories on the bloodiest fields of conflict. You will not find selfish profit and private advantage by being determined “not to know anything save Jesus Christ and Him Crucified”; but one day, by God’s grace, you will hear this benediction: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

And you who are enrolled in the great army of Christ’s militant Church, will you not look upward to the Captain of our salvation, take heart in His promises, and march on, under His leadership; for the advancement of the highest objective to which any human effort may be dedicated, the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the everlasting Son of the everlasting Father and the Savior of your souls? Will you not, shaking off the fetters that would chain you down to the low levels of doubt and inactivity, climb the heights and, kneeling down before the cross, pledge this promise of loyalty: “Whether I live or whether I die, I am the Lord’s”? Amen.

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