Date: January 19, 1936

Thus saith the Lord, 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, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness.Jeremiah 9:23-24

Father of all mercies and God of all comfort: We bow before Thee in Jesus’ name to ask mercy, not reward, forgiveness, not recognition; for we can bring before Thee only the record of lives marred by the memories of sin and failure. But we find hope and triumph over our own weaknesses in the grace of the Lord Jesus, who by His self­sacrifice on the cross wrought eternal and universal redemption. Grant, heavenly Father, that this assurance of Thy love and power may spread with increasing force throughout the land; for we know that only true righteousness can exalt a nation. Give to our pastors, Thy servants, the Spirit of wisdom and courage, so that they may reveal to perishing men the whole counsel of Thy sure mercies. As the seraph once touched the lips of Thy prophet with a live coal, do Thou now touch our faltering lips with Thy Spirit, so that, renewed and purified, we may better serve Thee, our nation, and our fellow-men. Be with us, then, O blessed Trinity, to speak peace to our troubled souls, to strengthen us with Thy promises, and to guide us with Thy omnipotent hand; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

UP from the cross-currents of this distracted hour comes to sober minds the inescapable conviction that we are living in days of heavy destiny that will make or unmake tomorrow’s peace and progress. Whether you and I realize it or not, and whether we like it or not, our country is confronted by deep-rooted, foreboding problems. We are poised at the crossroads before the pathways to national recovery or decay, and throughout the land disquieted hearts are pleading for unfailing light and unwavering assurance.

Now, some of you who are sheltered within the warmth and comfort of your own homes, who have never felt the loneliness of destitution and the pain of hunger, may regard these assertions as the voice of blind pessimism; for self­satisfied minds have always had little sympathy with Christ’s concern for the poor and the Church’s indictment of public and private sin. But do you, the sleek and the well-nourished, know how millions of your fellow-men exist, when homeless hordes rove through the country seeking sustenance in bread-lines and refuge in municipal lodging-houses?

Others of you, prosperous even during these grim and empty years, concerned about the size of your income tax, may regard this portrayal of the present crisis as sensational and distasteful. But I remind you, the secure and the protected, that for several years the generous (but by no means unlimited) funds of the nation have supported 20,000,000 of your fellow Americans, a mass of impoverished men, women, and children larger than the populations of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland combined. Do you know how it feels to wear holes in the soles of your shoes while searching for employment, only to be told in deadening monotony that there is no work or that you are too old?

If you can find comfort in the vague assurance that our country has always emerged from past difficulties, then remember as you listen to soothing voices crooning their flattering lullabies: never before has the uprising against law and order been as brash and defiant, irreligion as boisterous and sneering, atheism and Communism as enthusiastically supported, as in this backwash of the World War.

But with all this the Church of Jesus Christ is not doleful, pessimistic, hope-stifling. Conscious of God’s high command, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people,” impressed with its holy duty to exalt Christ and to indict wrong, the Church, with all the strengthening power that God has bestowed upon it, must always be constructive. To this end let me offer you in God’s name

SURETY FOR AN INSECURE HOUR

as it was granted twenty-five centuries ago in the crisis appeal of Jeremiah (9, 23. 24) : “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let net the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness.”

NO ABIDING SURETY IN BRAINS, POWER, MONEY

Many believe today that we can think ourselves out of our problems, that our 1,463 colleges and universities, our technical schools and our trained leaders, can blaze the trail to a happier future. Indeed, this is the time for the best analytical thought and research. But it is not the time for the glorification of man’s brain over the wisdom of God Almighty. The warning of Jeremiah, leaping over the problem of his own day to the perplexities of ours, exclaims: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.”

Do you believe that because a man is wise, he is good, or that he is a criminal because he is illiterate? The prison school of Sing Sing was awarded a higher rating by Columbia University investigators than public schools of similar grades. Recall the private lives of some of history’s greatest thinkers, the men whose statues adorn the high schools of the nation, whose names are carved into the granite of our educational buildings. Marked by a dazzling mental brilliance, these leaders were often destructive, perverted, and notoriously immoral. Socrates, Caesar, Seneca, Voltaire, Rousseau, Goethe, Nietzsche, widely acclaimed intellectual giants, are characterized by corrupt teachings or vicious practises. It was Herbert Spencer, himself a radical thinker, who pointed out that young men enrolled in medical courses have a better knowledge of the evil consequences of sin than any other class of students, but that their conduct is not improved by their knowledge.

Survey the tragic results of Christlessness in education, the arts, science, and culture! It has disfigured our Christian faith; it has ripped the heart and center out of the Scriptures; it has dragged the beauty of Christ’s full and free salvation down to low, swampy levels of ancient pagan failure. It has filled young minds with perverse thoughts concerning purity and personal honor. It has attacked the basic principles of Americanism. It has preached the barbaric cruelty that only the fittest survive and has helped to develop selfishness and class conflict, until, as the thunder of God’s avenging justice rumbles over the nation, we realize that there may be problems in national life and in individual existence too intricate, too profound, to be solved even by the most resourceful minds, that, if we are to find on the horizon of our national affairs a beacon for calmer and better days, this light will have to be more than mental and scientific. As we recall the French Revolution, when atheism vauntingly enthroned an actress on the high altar of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to signify that the age of reason had arrived, and the Red Revolution of recent memory, with its murderous attempt to root out the blessed name of Jesus, let us penitently invoke the aid of Heaven, so that these cruel tyrannies, this futile worshiping of man’s puffed-up pride, may be spared to us and our children.

Others again would break through the obstacles before us by sheer force. We witness attempts to control human affairs by recourse to strength, whether it be the mailed fist of a dictator or the iron rule of legislation. We see nations in unchecked scramble for power, supporting standing armies larger than ever before, voting absolutely unprecedented military expenditures, and adopting a new science of warfare with such death-dealing intent that, terrified, we wonder whether our sick and aching world can survive the horrors of the next war, which political writers definitely predict. We behold to our dismay the spectacle of power-crazed churches; rapacious clerical hands reaching out after political influence; churchmen organizing disconcerted minds into huge political blocs that boast of controlling the next Congress.

And above all this lusting power we hear the warning of our text: “Let not the mighty man glory in his might.” We behold the Savior of forgiving love and endless mercy condemning recourse to the sword in His kingdom, spurning the temptation to rule the whole world, and we remind ourselves that within the recollection of this audience the strongest human forces have proved futile. Never before have men seemed so small, so infinitesimal, so helpless. 8,500,000 die on the battle-fields of a great war, but the stars keep their courses in the heavens; millions succumb to the ravages of epidemic, but the restless tides ebb and flow in their customary precision; dynasties fall, nations disappear, but day and night follow in imperturbable serenity. Never before have we beheld as clearly the truth of the protest solemnly intoned by the Scriptures: “Not by might nor by power.”

The popular remedy for our national ills is money. The dollar is still hailed as almighty. “This is a wealthy nation,” we are told. “Give us money, plenty of it, and we will buy and spend our way out of these difficulties. We don’t need God. Give us new currency systems, new banking principles.” But once more the prophet raises his voice in disapproval: “Let not the rich man glory in his riches.”

Of course, money can be a national blessing, and every citizen is interested in well-founded plans for the preservation of our national and individual wealth. But when men love money with an unholy passion; when they worship it; when they acquire it by extortion and the ruthless overriding of God’s demands; when they spend it for sin and shut their ears to the appeals that arise from the poverty and suffering around them, money becomes a curse.

This insatiable love of gold started an avalanche of sorrows. We sent our youth across the ocean to fight in a war that is now being stripped of much of its glamour and revealed as a source of profit for financial interests and munitions barons. As official correspondence discloses, one of the reasons advanced for our entrance into European hostilities was the desire for new markets and the business boom promised as the fruit of our victory. Instead, we have lost many markets, our exports have decreased, and for this generation and the next we shall continue to pay the full penalty for worshiping gold.

But if we could forget all this and the money acquired by the ill-paid sweat and labor of others, the millions stolen by fraud, the vast sums acquired by corruption; if all the money in the nation and its homes were honestly earned, what safeguard would this offer for our future? How much happiness could we buy with the accumulations of this generation? How much of the joy of life could be purchased by our entire national income? No nation is wealthy enough to buy peace.

PERMANENT SURETY IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

Praise be to the eternal mercies of God, there is a divine pledge of surety, a promise of power that all our schools, our armies, our treasuries, can never grant. In those heartbreaking days when swift judgment was to overtake Jerusalem, Jeremiah, spurning the plans of statecraft, the treaties of foreign alliances, and the influence of money, cried out in triumphant counsel: “Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness.” Here, in the full, trusting faith in God, in the humble acknowledgment of His power as Lord of lords, in the penitent confession of our individual and national sins, in the heart-deep acknowledgment of His loving-kindness through Jesus Christ,—we have surety for this insecure hour.

To know and to understand God, then, must be our most earnest desire. But how, some distressed soul may inquire, how can we know God? How can we understand Him who is enthroned beyond our reach in the majesty of His high heavens? Out of the everlasting mercy of God comes the answer: “If with all your hearts ye truly seek Him, ye shall surely find Him.” So seek Him,—and this is the momentous appeal for our age and our country,—seek Him where He is to be found, not only in the marvels of creation, the trees, the sky, the stars, the seas, the whole earth filled with His creative glory; seek Him, not only in history, where every page abounds with the evidence of His power; seek Him, not only in the realms of pure reason and philosophy, which have always led men to believe that there must be a God (for all this searching brings at best a cold and terrifying knowledge); but to know who God is, to understand His relation to you and your relation to Him, seek Him where He has revealed Himself—in His Word! Seek Him in His boundless mercy, as He once walked on this earth, in the love and life of our blessed Redeemer Jesus Christ! As you hear Him declare: “I and the Father are one” and listen as He tells Philip: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”; as you read His claim to omnipotence: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” and see that power proved in His miracles and in His resurrection, know that you have found your God; then crash through all the barricades thrown up by unbelief and hatred and confess that Jesus is what He claims He is, what He proves that He is—God “over all, . . . blessed forever.”

If you know God in His Word and in His Son, you see that He exercises “judgment and righteousness,” as Jeremiah reminds us; His hatred of sin puts this demand upon every human life: “Be ye holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” And if you turn to yourself, examine your thoughts, study the utterances of your lips, appraise your attitudes and actions toward God, your fellow-men, and yourself, you find so much that is born of sin; so much that is impure and unclean, covetous and envious; so much that dishonors God and harms your neighbor and yourself, that you stand convicted by your own testimony; that you dare not lift up your head to God, but can only plead: “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant.” “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Then it is that heavenly radiance brightens black despair and puts blessed hope into our fear-filled hearts. Then, in the promise of our text, we know that God exercises “loving-kindness,” that in spite of the sin which mars every life, in spite of our indifference and ingratitude, in spite of our utter unworthiness, God loves us with a devotion that only He could show, a love that was not restricted to words and promises, but that “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” as Jesus, nailed to the cross, forsaken by the Father who sent Him, deserted by the sinners to whom He was sent, paid the price of all sins in His own body, by His own priceless blood, by the agonies of His crucifixion, and by the blackness of that bitter death. God loved us, every one of us, in that worldwide, ageless devotion that excludes no one, but that pleads with all, as I now invite you in Jesus’ name: “Come, for all things are now ready.” Your salvation is accomplished. God loved us, I repeat, with that perfect devotion which wrought not half of our salvation, or three quarters, or ninety-nine hundredths, so that there would still be some part of our deliverance that must be earned and acquired,—but which with that one sacrifice paid the full-atoning price of all sins, for all the children of men in all lands of the earth and in all the ages of human history.

Once again, then, I have summarized for you the glorious truths of Christ’s Gospel; for it is this saving knowledge of God that our nation and its millions need above everything else. This cross-directed faith not only grants us its supreme blessing, eternal life, it not only makes sin­ bound men and women twice-born creatures in Christ, it not only helps us to meet the cutting blows of life and to solve our own perplexities; but besides all this the knowledge of God in Christ will help to preserve this nation and to uphold it for future struggles. Just as the angel of God, in the Egyptian bondage, passed by the homes that were marked by the blood of the Passover lamb, so a nation of Christian homes, marked by a devotion to the blood of Christ, will be protected by His omnipotence. Just as Abraham’s God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah if within these bestial cities there had been but ten believers, so our God will look with favor upon the millions from coast to coast who have not bowed their knees before the Baals of modern, Christ-defying creeds. Just as throughout Christian history, churches that have been built on Jesus Christ have proved themselves strongholds against corruption and swift decay, so today American churches that are true houses of God are far more vital for the preservation of national welfare than brain power, financial surplus, or military skill.

It is our sacred duty, then, to follow the appeal of our text and to glory in the saving knowledge of the merciful Christ. Pointedly I ask you who are living without God to acquaint yourselves with Him, to confess your sins at the cross, and through Jesus to have your soul revived. Directly I speak to you who once knew God, but who have turned your backs upon His outstretched arms; tell me, have you found happiness away from God? Are you not ready to come home as did the prodigal, to declare: “Father, I have sinned in Thy sight,” and to receive the welcome of His love? Earnestly I plead with you who know God in Christ, to glory in this sacred truth, to love Christ and live Christ, to proclaim Christ and defend Christ, to support Christ and exalt Christ.

Give us Christians of courageous loyalty; homes that hear the Savior knock at the door and answer gladly: “Come, Lord Jesus”; churches, not with servants of men, but with servants of God, who join the valiant apostle in the declaration: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”; and these Christ-filled hearts, homes, churches, will be God’s own pledge for the nation’s progress. May He in His mercy and power grant us this blessing, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

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

Date: January 12, 1936

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.Proverbs 1:7

God, most mighty and compassionate: We raise thank-filled hearts this afternoon to praise the love and power that have preserved unto us Thy saving Word. But earnestly do we entreat Thee that this promise of salvation through the blood of Thy Son may continue its blessed work in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our nation. Rise up in Thy strength, O Lord of hosts, to defeat the hell-born counsel of those who would destroy the message of the Cross. Give to the education of the young devout leaders who are not ashamed of Thy Son and His Gospel. Grant unto us Christian homes, as fortresses of Christian faith; pious parents who will teach Thy truth to their children; faithful pastors who seek to please Thee and not to please men. And as this Word now speeds out into Thy firmament, endow it with the power of Thy Spirit, so that it may bless many with the Savior’s promise “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” We ask this in His blessed name. Amen.

THE recent brilliant gathering of American scientists in St. Louis forcefully reminded us that our age has sworn complete hostility to every form of ignorance. As the vast panorama of progress unfolds itself before us, we behold restless research penetrating far beyond the fringe of civilization. In the silence of an antarctic night a dog­sled mushes along, carrying an expedition that would wrest nature’s secrets from her frozen grasp. In a fever-infested jungle a doctor lies in wait to discover a new treatment for the ravages of epidemic. Archeologists remove the debris of the centuries from Mesopotamian mounds; astronomers camp on South Sea islands to observe a solar eclipse; physicists measure cosmic rays; chemists are on the quest of a new element, biologists scrutinize life cells; electrical wizards create superenergies. We are thrilled by the voyages into the stratosphere and by the submarine descents into the bathysphere; we read with astonishment of the revolutionary discoveries in sound and light transmission; and on all sides we behold investigations that daily extend the human horizon and help to make this the age of history’s greatest enlightenment.

The Church views all this as a special benediction from God. It does not hide its head in the sand of ignorance while the pageant of science marches on. Wherever the Cross of Christ is raised, ignorance is banished, and the arts and the sciences are systematically promoted. The greatest schools of the world were founded by the Church, just as the greatest minds of the ages have been Christians. It is only when human reason rules out God and blasphemously raises unholy hands to pull down the Savior’s Cross that the Church voices its uncompromising protest.

This rebuke must be reaffirmed today because avowed atheists are too frequently and too securely enthroned in the high and low places of American education. Your sons and daughters in the plastic age of high-school adolescence or in the four formative years of college life are sometimes exposed to the soul-blighting influence of men who go out of their way to lampoon the Christian religion. In hundreds of tax-supported schools the basic American principle that our public education is to be free from antireligious influence is wilfully swept aside. In hundreds of pulpits—and could any disloyalty more quickly invoke the wrath of God Almighty?—clerical unbelief joins in the away-with-God, away-with-the-Bible campaign to exalt the triumph of reason over religion.

My appeal to you this afternoon, based on the words in the seventh verse, first chapter, of the Book of Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” asks your interest, your prayers, your action, for a wide-spread Christian awakening under the cry:—

BACK TO BIBLE TRUTH!

an issue which means far more to this nation and its eighth of a billion inhabitants than the absorbing events which mightily engage our attention.

THE BIBLE AS THE BASIS OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE

There is no fear of God either in the beginning or in the end of much that is paraded as the assured results of modern investigation. We read the opening verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”; but before we have completed the verse, loud objections are raised. “God created the world?” we are challenged. “Why, any high-school teacher can tell you that we are too far advanced to believe in Genesis.” “We know definitely,” they continue, “that this earth came into being at least two thousand million years ago (the minimum figure according to the latest outline of science), when by sheer chance a wandering star approached too closely to the sun and tore off a cigar-shaped filament to form the earth.”

We read on in the Scriptures to find man as God’s masterpiece, made in His divine image. But again the voice of denial taunts: “God created man? Don’t you know we have proof positive of man’s gradual ascent—again by purest chance—from primary organisms that clung to slimy rocks? Don’t you know that our natural history museums offer exhibits which verify man’s ape ancestry?”

We turn to the second chapter of Genesis to learn that, as God’s supreme creation, man was endowed with the intelligent gift of speech. “But,” we are warned, “if you believe this, you show a second-rate mentality; for investigation has proved that the first hairy apelike monkey­man could not speak and only accidentally learned to imitate the sounds and cries of his animal world.”

As we turn each page of the Bible, new batteries of hatred are trained against God’s Word; and because even churchmen are straddling the issue or are bowing down before the gilded idol of “science falsely so called,” as sponsored by men whose names leap from headline to headline in our newspapers and showy magazines, this blatant atheism threatens to warp the mind of America’s rising generation and to hoodwink them into believing they must bid the Bible farewell if they would be enlightened, intelligent, and up to date.

The Church must mobilize; for this stabbing denial strikes deep into the vitals of our Christian faith. If we cannot accept the first pages of the Bible, how can we believe the last? Let there be no mistake about this basic fact: you cannot deny any one statement from Genesis to Revelation without weakening the entire authority of the Scriptures. It is either the whole Bible or no Bible.

What, then, is the Church’s task in this struggle between God and the brute, between the providential guidance of a heavenly Father and blind chance? What else can it be than to reaffirm its faith in the truth that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning” of all knowledge and to show the failure, the insufficiency, the deceit, that lurk in every theory that would pull God down from His heavens?

Remember there is no uniformity in the attacks led by the generalissimos of atheism. For instance, the Exhibit A, the star witness in the defense of evolution, is the Java fossils widely hailed as the remains of the first apelike man. Now, not I nor the Church, but the Smithsonian Institution in Washington lists fifteen major points on which scientists hold contradictory opinions concerning these three bone fragments. They are not even agreed that the fossils belong to one creature. Many hold that they are ape remains. In spite of this widespread disagreement and the suspicious way in which these bones have been handled they are employed by imagination, not by science, to construct a slinking, brutish, apelike man, who is to demonstrate that the Bible account of creation is an exploded myth. I ask the members in this audience, entirely apart from the religious issues, whether any court in the land could admit testimony as contradictory as this.

Glaring errors crop out on every page of scientific history. The great Huxley announced that he had found the primary living substance in slimy ooze at the bottom of the sea. Congratulations poured in upon him. The scientific world was agog for a decade or two, until it was found that this gelatine life which was to disprove divine creation and to establish brute origin was concocted when a quantity of alcohol was poured into a bottle of sea water. Medical anesthesia was denied by scientists; the action of microbes ridiculed, the telephone declared ventriloquism, railroad construction branded as an absurdity, meteors ruled out as impossible, the theory that the blood circulates through the body regarded as stupid twaddle. A lecturer at the American Academy of Science derided the idea of piping water to the upper floors of a building. A German scientist of the last century declared that nerve impulses could never be measured; yet at the recent convention in St. Louis the biology department of Washington University exhibited apparatus that, besides serving other purposes, recorded exact nerve measurements.

Besides, this cutthroat criticism of the Bible has perpetually been marked by misrepresentations. The great Haeckel, who for years dominated scientific biological thought in Germany, stooped to falsehood and fraudulently used the same illustration to picture the embryo of a dog, an ape, and a man.

Now, my purpose in naming a few of these major blunders committed, not by dabbling amateurs, but by recognized research leaders, is not to discredit their work; for we profit even by mistakes and advance by trial and error investigations. I simply want to repeat what the greatest scientists themselves have declared, that a system which has wandered into so many blind alleys, which has repeatedly been marked by mistakes, cannot rightfully claim to o:ffer us the absolute truth now nor demand that its findings be substituted for the eternal Word. Are you ready to build on shifting sands, to base your hopes on theories that are advocated today only to be discarded tomorrow? Or do you want that Word of which God Himself says: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word shall not pass away”?

We must hark back to the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom; for without that reverence, crime and godlessness in our nation will run on to ruin. You cannot exile God without banishing morality, virtue, law, and order. Why is it that today crime has followed in the footsteps of each bold advance of atheism; that cold­blooded murder and bestial lust are taking the greatest toll in all American history? Is all this not because the philosophy of the brute has assumed the upper hand in many hearts and lives, because wanton lecturers are invading our campuses to scream in one of their pointed slogans: “Animals we are, and animals we remain”? Is it only a coincidence that the terrible World War was fought in an age of highest culture and intellectual advance? You know that behind every declaration of war lurked the obsession of power, the ambitions for profits (and true patriots serve without pay and without 30,000,000 dripping dollars’ commission), the whole cruel survival-of-the-fittest mania that helped to catapult nations into blood, misery, scurvy, starvation, insanity, suicide.

I ask you, the Christian men and women of America, to find in Christian education the first antidote to the double­strength poison. We must do more than train the mind; we must influence the soul, and for that, Jesus says, “without Me ye can do nothing.” A college degree may be the evidence of mental cleverness, but it is no certificate to morality. An illiterate murderer kills with an ax and pays the penalty; but the college killer invents slow tortures for his writhing victims and cheats justice through unprincipled attorneys. You will often find that the men or women behind the lust and the filth of the sensuous novel or the debauch of cheap printed obscenity are college graduates. An unlearned thief, shivering in the bread-line, will steal food from municipal headquarters; but the sleek, well­nourished college-trained extortioner will steal the city’s treasury.

Now, to provide for Christian education which not only will mold the mind, but strengthen the heart, and which emphasizes the fear of the Lord as the beginning of every branch of knowledge, the congregations of my Church have established almost 1,400 Christian day-schools throughout the nation, where the love of Christ and the principles of true Christianity are taught daily. The facilities of most of these schools are offered free of charge to parents who wish to give their children a moral basis in life, religious reverence, the spiritual hope that comes with Christ. I shall be glad to write to any of you personally and tell you how your children may enroll in these Christian schools, just as I shall consider it a privilege to give you further information on Christian colleges in which the fear of the Lord permeates the lectures and the lives of the instructors.

THE BIBLE AS THE BASIS OF SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE

In a much more exalted sense, however, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all spiritual wisdom; for it is only when men reverently and penitently approach God in Christ that they find the crystal-clear truth for their everlasting salvation.

Have you ever stopped to realize that there are only two kinds of religion? The one—call it by as many different names as you will, disguise it in as many different ways as you can,—a class of man-made religions, is solidly united in offering heaven as a payment, a reward for character and accomplishment, in demanding of its followers that they earn their way into heaven and pay for blessedness by good works, good intentions, and good resolutions. And on the other side, separated by an unbridged chasm, is that true soul wisdom which proclaims, “Christ died for our sins,” and reaffirms the promise of God that, when the “bleeding Head and wounded” dropped into death with the gasp “It is finished,” Christ earned all, gave all, paid all, so that His word holds for all the immeasurable glory of this free, unconditioned, unrestricted, unlimited Gospel faith: “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Other teachers have left their followers clutched by paralyzing fear of the hereafter; but it is the eternally blessed Christ who offers heaven as a blessed certainty, so that timid and weary souls can do more than yearn for heaven, pray for heaven, hope for heaven; they can rejoice in heaven, repeating the sacred conviction that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.”

Cold-blooded anti-Biblical science makes man a human accident. Under its cruel teachings life becomes a hard, unsolved mystery, full of question-marks, leading through heaped disappointments to a futile end. But Christ’s heavenly wisdom comes to the aid of millions who have felt the cold, hard impact of the last years to tell them that in Christ we are the children of God; that through faith in His redemption He becomes the guiding, strengthening, interpreting, atoning force in our hearts and lives; that whatever befalls us, even broken promises, accidents, sieges of sickness, bankruptcy, and impoverishment, all may serve, through Christ, to refine our faith, purify our desires, and strengthen our courage.

Now, we may not be able to understand all the sacred truths of the Christian faith—the profound mystery that Christ is both divine and human, that His blood is the cleansing power for all human sin, that the Holy Spirit works in human hearts to make new-born men and women. But are there not thousands of factors in our everyday life that we cannot understand and explain? You cannot account for the powers and processes by which a single seed of an elm-tree planted in the ground first decays and then sprouts forth to become a mighty tree, which in the course of its life may produce one thousand five hundred and eighty-four millions of seeds; yet you know that there are elm-trees and that they grow in this way. You cannot understand the processes by which my voice is brought to you through hundreds of miles in the fraction of a second; yet there is no doubt that you in this moment hear these words. Now, if we are surrounded by unnumbered facts, all far beyond the power of our analysis and understanding, yet each real and actual, would it not be a double folly, as Jesus reminded Nicodemus, to spurn the invitation of Christ’s mercies because we cannot explain them by the processes of our slow and narrow reasoning? You cannot prove the truth of Christ’s redemption by laboratory methods. His special blessing embraces those “that have not seen and yet have believed,” who have the witness of the Spirit in their own hearts.

This blessing of unshaken confidence would I invoke upon your hearts as I ask you to join that great company of courageous witnesses who have heard Jesus say to His Father, “Thy Word is truth,” and who believe it—men of world-wide renown like Virchow, the great pathologist, whose last prayer, spoken in the presence of his fellow scientists, was the confession:—

Jesus’ blood and righteousness

My beauty are, my glorious dress;

Pasteur, whose revolutionary discoveries in preventive medicine have saved thousands of lives, yet who confessed: “The more I know, the more nearly my faith is that of a Breton peasant”; Brewster, physicist, showered with international honors, who declared: “It is presumptuous to doubt Christ’s Word”; Fleming, authority in electricity, whose inventions paved the way for broadcasting, who writes: “Nothing in the . . . facts or principles of science forbids belief in the Gospel miracles.”

In the midst of this Epiphany season I ask you, then, to come with the mind of the Magi; and as these Oriental sages and scientists laid their tribute at the feet of the Christ-child, I beseech you in His name to offer the gold of your courageous faith, the frankincense of your abiding hope, and the myrrh of your increasing devotion. Amen.

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

Date: January 5, 1936

Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not!Genesis 28:16

Triune and eternal God: Humbly do we beseech Thee to grant us Thy constant companionship and its sustaining energy for the coming months. Many of us will face critical, decisive days before the new year closes; some who even now pray with us may be summoned out of our midst before these twelve months have sped their course. And in all of this we see and feel the evidence of our sin, the frailty of everything mortal. So with the complete confession of our own selfishness, our covetousness, the coldness of our affections, and the prayerlessness of our days, but with that true repentance which clings to the cross and builds its hopes on nothing else than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, we pray Thee: help us to find the deep, abiding, inexhaustible peace that marks Thy presence in our lives. Be with us, O Father, whose love created us and still preserves us. Be with us, Thou divine Son, who hast purchased us with Thy blood. Be with us, O Holy Spirit, who dost enlighten and sanctify us, so that, banishing futile fears and depressing sorrows, we may ever walk with Thee, the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. These blessings we entreat Thee to grant us for the sake of Christ Jesus. Amen.

WE are told that, when Sir James Simpson, whose researches in anesthetics helped to relieve almost a century of pain, was asked which of his discoveries he regarded as most important, he gave this unexpected reply: “The greatest discovery I have ever made is that I am a sinner and that Jesus is a Savior.” Coming from the lips of one who was distinguished as few men are, this recognition of Jesus Christ and His redemption cries out for emphatic restatement. For, though men today may raise other standards for the relative importance of inventions and discoveries as they prepare to sweep the heavens with 200-inch telescope lenses or peer intently through microscopes in their analysis of the atom; though the care for the soul may repeatedly be eclipsed by the concern for the body in this restless urge to find new frontiers for scientific conquest, we hear the solemn warning of our Lord: “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” When the crises of life come,—the pivotal moments that offer blessing or curse, success or failure, happiness or misery,—there is little comfort in recent and remarkable discoveries. When the soul of a sinner hovers on the edge of life, Dr. Einstein’s theory of relativity holds out no attraction; nor is there any help in cosmic rays. When a man prepares to face his Maker, he must be strengthened by hope a thousand times higher than the stratosphere, purified by an antiseptic against sin inestimably more potent than the strongest of our chemicals. When the moaning night of death enshrouds a home, the bereaved need a light more penetrating than X-rays, more brilliant than the illumination from a galaxy of stars. For every momentous issue of our lives we must turn to the saving and sustaining power of the divine Christ and rediscover the sacred blessings of His unfailing companionship.

It is of—

THE BLESSED DISCOVERY OF GOD’S ABIDING PRESENCE

that I would speak to you in our first radio message of this new year. My words are based on that impressive incident in the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis, which pictures a lone traveler hurrying on his way to distant Syria, a fugitive, driven from his home by his own fraud and intrigue. A solitary and defenseless wanderer, surrounded by a cruel and degenerate people, he comes at sundown to an open field about a dozen miles north of Jerusalem, where he prepares to stop for the night. There, asleep under the Palestinian heavens, a miraculous revelation is unveiled before him: the skies are opened, a radiant ladder stretches from heaven to earth, a procession of holy angels majestically weaves its way upward and downward, and supremely exalted above all is the eternal King of kings. As though even this miracle were not sufficient evidence of divine grace and strength, the slumbering traveler is assured that he will be the father of a great people, that from his descendants will come the Christ, in whom all the nations of the earth are to be blessed. Overcome by this celestial vision and by a mighty pledge of God’s continued guidance, Jacob—many of you have recognized the wanderer—is awakened out of his sleep and cries (v. 16): “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not!” He has made the startling discovery of God’s strengthening presence and sustaining grace.

GOD ABIDES WITH ALL HIS CHILDREN

It is a far cry from that Canaanite field which Jacob called Bethel (“the house of God”) to the throbbing activities of the life that we live today after thirty-eight centuries. But can you not see with me in this fearsome wanderer, alone in a bleak and hostile country, the picture of men and women rushing through our unsympathetic world, driven from the fulfilment of their hopes by their sins, their selfishness, their overreaching greed; surrounded by encircling dangers and lashed by relentless worries? There in ancient Bethel was a runaway who had deliberately deceived his feeble father and with the help of his scheming mother had secured for himself the blessings of the firstborn,—a shrewd, calculating supplanter, who took advantage of famished Esau and purchased his brother’s birthright for a mess of red pottage. And here in modern America are the unnumbered fugitives from happiness, exiles from peace, outcasts who are suffering the retribution of their own sins or victimized by the cruelty and greed of others. There a wanderer, driven away from his home, a stranger in a foreign land, is never to see his mother again; and here thousands, separated from a distant home, are tom away from the love of their parents,—homesick and desolate. There, asleep in a Judean field, a banished son, in the middle of his long span of years, is forced to start life over, to face the world with only his shepherd’s staff, his travel-worn clothes, and the few possessions he may have rolled in his pack; and here,—can we number the great company of the disillusioned and middle-aged who, almost overnight, must face the real and earnest battle for existence, for whom the past, with its ease and security, has collapsed, leaving only the wreckage on which life must be built anew? There at Bethel a defenseless outcast, bracing himself against an uncertain future; and here, in the United States, millions hoping, yearning, and praying that the promises which lately have again pledged the restoration of prosperity will be more substantial and reliable than flimsy visions conjured up in the past,—millions earnestly but not always successfully trying to suppress the persistent fear that this new year may try their hearts and lives even more grievously than the ordeals of the past.

But, God be praised! in the midst of sin, loneliness, adversity, and a problematic future we, too, have the same pledge of our Father’s abiding presence, the same assurance of the opened heaven, the same guarantee of eternal glory, the same promise of angels and their swift service of protection. Our pathway is no ethereal ladder, but in a very real and practical sense it is He who says, “I am the Way,” He who as God and man bridged the chasm between a corrupted world and a perfect eternity; He who left the highest glory to reclaim the sinner and restore him to His Father’s love,—the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and now glorified Savior, in whom Deity descended upon humanity, so that men might be exalted to heaven.

Let this comfort of the eternal Presence strengthen you particularly on this first Sunday of the new year as you inscribe the opening pages of a new volume of your life. I ask you to believe that Jacob’s startling discovery, “The Lord is in this place,” may be yours wherever you are. Don’t say that your sins are too numerous, too often repeated, or too loathsome to be forgiven; for Jesus’ worldwide, all-embracing, non-exclusive love penetrates the veneer of self-righteousness and pharisaical self-confidence, the finer sins of envy, strife, jealousy, hatred, slander, the low and brutal crimes of bleeding humanity, to reach the hearts of those restrained behind prison walls, to touch the souls of robbers, prostitutes, drunkards, narcotic addicts, murderers, and others whose letters bare their souls in testimony to Christ’s mercies and His blessed release from degrading sin. That Savior’s love promises every contrite and repentant soul that, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

If with all your hearts you believe this promise of God’s abiding presence in Christ; if these words of Jacob, “God is in this place,” are your motto for the new year, you will discover the one infallible truth that remains constant amid life’s disappointments and bewildering changes. Everything else may vanish during the new year, as these last, meaningful months have reminded us. Emperors and dynasties securely enthroned only two short decades ago have disappeared from history. Bankers and politicians who basked in the spot-light of civic leadership a few years ago have fallen from public grace or live in self-imposed exile. Scientific theories that were accepted as basic truths have been contradicted by new evidences, supplanted by new claims. And in the confusion of this upheaval many Christians have lost their money, their gainful employment, their social standing; they have sacrificed their homes, their friends, their opportunities in life; and they stumble with faltering step along a deserted road. But God tells them today that there is a perpetual Bethel, where they can find their Savior and, trusting in His love, catch a foregleam of the open heavens. They have the Bible, and by that Word of grace the Spirit of God comes to abide in their hearts. Every time they read and believe the promises of the Crucified, they are assured of divine leadership and are strengthened and sustained by His promise: “I will not leave thee nor forsake thee.”

GOD ABIDES WITH HIS OWN AT ALL PLACES

For the abundant life during the new year you and I must discover not only that this divine companionship is for all men, but that its blessings extend to all places. That was Jacob’s experience when God appeared to him on an open field, and in a foreign country and at the depth of night. Awaking from his sleep, he cried: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not!” God’s eternal presence with His children, His unfailing counsel, the ceaseless vigil of His watchful eye, the constant preparedness of His mighty arm,—all this startled Jacob’s awe-filled heart.

No spot should bring God closer to us than the sanctuary of His own house. Many of you have written to ask whether you must be a member of a congregation and attend services in order to be a Christian. Now, while it is true that many who live beyond the ministry of a true church are faithful followers of Christ, it holds with equal force that wherever the true worship of God has been established, Christians will feel impelled to make that church their Bethel. And if these words reach the hearts of those who want a true spiritual home, a church that rises over this drab world as a bright gateway to heaven; or if I should speak to those who remain aloof from the Church’s battles, half sympathetic and half indifferent, men and women whose love and support and intelligent cooperation would, under divine guidance, be a vital force in the spreading of the Kingdom and in the promotion of righteousness, then may these words push their way through all the reluctance and opposition of the flesh: “Join the Church, support its work, help fight its battles!” If you need assistance and guidance, let us help you to find that strength which, every time you enter the house of God, makes you exult: “The Lord is in this place!”

Unfortunately many of us are so restricted in the breadth of their faith that they isolate God in their churches and limit their communion with Him to the Sundays on which they gather for worship. The valedictory of the risen Savior promises: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” But how reluctant we are to accept that presence and to believe in a practicable, everyday faith that through Christ we can actually “live and move and have our being” in God! I wonder how many of you are aware of the daily presence of your Savior in the shop or factory, in the office or store, particularly in the heavy hours of life, during your search for employment, your quest for health. How many of you walk with God and talk with Him and inscribe on the walls of your homes the conviction of your hearts: “The Lord is in this place”? The shriveled hopes of men and women today, their shrunken lives, their dwarfed outlook, their meager spiritual experiences, their starved hopes, their entire small-souled existence, are often traceable to the tragedy that, while God stands beside them, they never make the discovery of His presence.

This most glorious of all patriarchal visions, the radiance of this ladder leading into celestial bliss, with angelic messengers bringing the petition of God’s children to the heavenly Father and returning with His answer of love,—these glories of heaven were unveiled in a simple sanctuary of nature, with the darkened skies as the vaulted dome, the bright stars as the studded lights. No carved artistry, no costly sculpture, marked that house of God. Its furniture was field stone, its paraments were wanderer’s robes. No organ pealed forth its vibrant chords, and no skilled choir raised the harmony of its anthems. The only music was the sigh of an Oriental wind, perhaps the shrill note of a fearsome night bird.

Has this vision not been recorded, we may well ask ourselves, to impress us with the fact that God would accompany us on all our life-paths and through Christ bless us at all places? You will spend about one-third of this year in sleep; but if He who “gives His angels charge over you” has been enshrined in your heart, His love will sustain and protect you during the midnight watches, and you will awake, as did the patriarch, fresh for each day’s new trials, with the confidence: “Surely the Lord is in this place.”

Another third of the coming twelvemonth will be consumed by the hours of your occupation and the remaining third for the opportunity of leisure. If, “redeeming the time,” you live these decisive hours “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” you will encounter the unmistakable evidence of His providential guidance; the very hairs of your head will be numbered, and the resources of Heaven will be drafted to protect you on your individual pathways. For every moment of this new year of grace the love of Christ would be with us, in our hearts, our homes, our church, and—may this be the prayer of every American Christian!—in our nation.

GOD ABIDES WITH HIS OWN AT ALL TIMES

Let us today discover that God’s abiding presence not only blesses all men and extends to all places, but that it endures for all times. Jacob, who must have beheld with deep-rooted concern the perils of his flight, seized the words of divine blessing as an assurance that would carry him through the entrenched hostilities of his entire life. His startled discovery “The Lord is in this place” was to be the watchword of his harassed, but victorious career.

Is there anything that you and I need more imperatively than the same assurance of God’s presence for our own future? Seldom has the Christian’s course been beset with more serious issues and graver problems than in these overcast years. We have hoped that out of the turmoil and travail of these disheartening years, forces would arise which could bestow a substantial feeling of security. Yet who is there that can have absolute certainty that this year or the succeeding will bring the hope that has dazzled our wistful eyes?

If, then, through this crisis year, amid wars and rumors of wars, over craters of smoldering class hatred, through the barrage of political fog that will soon sweep the States, we were to push on without any positive, unchanging hope; if, alone, we are to cross this wilderness which men call life, then it might be difficult to condemn the sensualist and the skeptic who preach the enjoyment of life’s short day and stolidly consign all problems to the gulf of hopeless mystery.

Thank God with me this afternoon that every one of us who has discovered in our Savior the salvation of his immortal soul and the guidance of his life, can make the pilgrimage through this year and face want or plenty, sickness or health, persecution or applause, withered hopes or attained ambitions, with his head high and his heart firm. For we, too, have the sustaining vision of an eternal Bethel. We have Christ, the Ever-blessed and All-sufficient. And as we beseech Him for His strengthening presence in the prayer of His disciples: “Abide with us,” we, too, shall make the joyous discovery: “The Lord is in this place.” God grant us this abiding, redeeming presence for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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

Date: December 29, 1935

When they had seen it, they made know abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child.Luke 2:17

Eternal Father of unchanging grace: As we approach the threshold of the new year, we humbly ask Thee to remove the many blots with which we have stained the record of the twelvemonth now closing. Were it not for the all­compassionate, all-embracing love of Thy Son, our Savior, and for the cleansing power of His blood; could we not today, on this last Sunday of the old year, cling with firmness of confidence to the cross upon which He died in our stead, we should be the most wretched of all men. But—praise, glory, and honor to Thine inestimable mercy—we draw close to Thee this afternoon by the eternal mercies of Christ to receive from Thee pardon and forgiveness. Draw near to us, heavenly Father, in this last radio service for the old year and endow our broadcast with power from on high, so that through Thy Spirit souls may be brought to Christ, wavering hearts strengthened, sorrowing lives comforted, loneliness, destitution, pain, and misery lightened. We will not let Thee go as the new year approaches except Thou bless us. Grant us this blessing for Thy name’s sake, through the love and promise of the Christ-child. Amen.

THERE are ages of history called the silent centuries because no records of their achievements have survived. There are crisis moments in the affairs of men in which cowardly silence provokes irreparable disaster. But there is a sinister silence which is very modern and which withholds the one basic blessing our age and its disappointed millions need above all else. This more tragic silence is the muffled voice of millions of Christians whose sealed lips and idle hands betray startling indifference or spiritual cowardice.

In this day of high-pressure publicity, when American industry, even in these lean years, annually spends $700,000,000 for advertising its products, all the churches of the United States together have not been able to raise even half this amount for their activities. People in sections of the nation favored by climate and scenery display a fine enthusiasm for these attractions; but how many Christians show the genuine loyalty to their heavenly homeland that Floridians and Californians constantly exhibit for their orange groves and sun-swept beaches? Cities are thrown into frenzy at the return of a world’s champion baseball team, and the names of the players are on the lips of young and old. Yet how infrequently do we show that glowing ardor in welcoming the Savior! 40,000,000 people pay to see an exposition featuring the progress of the past century, and to children and children’s children will they recount the exhibit highlights. But the Christ, to whom the progress of all centuries is due, should receive the constant acclaim of America’s 125,000,000! We speak volubly concerning the trends of the day with its thefts and murders, its scandals and home-breaking, its roster of many crimes; but how reluctant we often are to discuss the grace and strength of our Christian faith!

While we are still within the radiance of the Christmas glory (and the appeal of the Savior’s nativity is too penetrating to be restricted to a few hours in one short day), let me remind you that one reason why many American churches have failed (when, of all times, they should have succeeded) is the hushed and muted testimony to Christ in many Christian hearts and lives, the pall of silence that hangs too heavily over many Christian homes.

Let me, then, on this last Sunday of the year, direct this plea to you:—

BREAK THE SILENCE!

I ask you to follow the shepherds’ example, of whom we read (Luke 2, 17): “When they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child,” to shout the glad tidings of our Christian faith.

OUR AGE CRIES OUT FOR CHRISTIAN WITNESSES!

How did these lowly shepherds become the first missionaries of Christ? We are told that, “when they had seen” the Child, they began their public testimony. After they had heard the angelic chorus sing of divine glory, peace, and universal good will, after they had knelt at the side of the manger and seen the fulfilment of the heavenly promise, no logical reasoning impelled them to make known this message of rejoicing. This determination sprang from the fulness of their faith. They had seen Christ, and others must see Him, too.

How much greater should be our zeal in testifying to the Savior! For we have seen Him, and we know Him not only as the cradled Child of Christmas, but as the sin­destroying crucified Savior. We have beheld Him, year after year, both at His birth and at His death. We have not only the testimony of an angel choir, hut also the voices of four evangelists, the inspired testimony of the apostles, and the verdict of nineteen centuries of history. We know that whoever sees Jesus in faith sees the immensity of a love that knows no limits, a devotion stronger than death. Whoever beholds the full, redeeming Christ of the Scriptures (and I say this with a prayer that, under the guidance of the Spirit, these words may strike home and lead all of you to accept Jesus as your own eternal Redeemer), whoever sees Christ in faith, beholds a mercy higher than the heavens, wider than the universe, the immeasurable grace that forgives, soothes, heals, strengthens, sustains,—and does all this, and whatever else you and I need for time and eternity, out of free, unconditioned, unrestricted, unmerited mercy. Whoever raises his eyes to Christ and beholds “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” finds hope amid change and decay, as disappointing as these days at the close of the year may be for many. Whoever rivets his attention on the Crucified finds no chain of conjectures, no combination of theories that are tried today and fail tomorrow, but the way to heaven, the evident truth to guide all men with unerring precision, and, above the gruesomeness of the grave, the pledge of an eternal life that lives on after death. These heavenly blessings—forgiven sins, hope and comfort in this life, and the pledge of never-ending happiness in the hereafter—are ours when we hear Christ’s invitation “Come unto Me” and come. Why, then, should there be any hush or silence in our lives concerning this priceless grace?

Remember, the destiny of our nation is directly involved in the silence or in the testimony of the Church concerning the all-compassionate Christ. I have repeatedly stated in these broadcasts that the supreme need of our nation in this vexatious hour is a deeper, purer, Christ-centered spiritual life; and I now repeat this truth in the face of the many programs gaining momentum as one failure topples upon another in alarming succession. We cannot legislate ourselves to permanent prosperity; we cannot socialize ourselves into a better era; we cannot buy ourselves into progress; we cannot think ourselves into the dawn of a happier day.

Picture this country if we would try Christ’s road to recovery, if every man, woman, and child within our borders were a Christian, if all the men who are charged with the direction of our national affairs, the administration of justice, and the execution of our laws were guided by the Spirit of Christ. The corruption that has made America a scandal among the nations, the bribery and dishonesty in American courts that have sometimes reduced justice to a mockery; the greed that has brought politicians and criminals together as partners in plunder; the commercialized vice, youthful immorality, the increase of marital infidelity, the growth of divorce and drunkenness, the pandering to animal appetites and perversions,—all these appalling sins help to bring the nation to the throes of the present crisis and even now rise heavenward, crying for divine punishment and intervention—sins that loom up before us in their annual guilt at the close of this year of grace could be removed if faith in Christ were to supplant unbelief.

There is only one way, under God, in which the heart of America can be turned to heaven, and that is by a momentous spiritual upheaval in the ranks of every church and by a resolute will on the part of every Christian to break the silence, to rise above the reticence of fear and worldliness. Think of it! A conservative estimate places the number of empty and deserted churches in our country at 8,000 and a more liberal figure at 25,000. A laymen’s organization in New York City some time ago investigated the annual reports of more than 11,000 churches in three large denominations and found that over 3,000 of these churches did not make a single convert. It has been claimed that altogether 60,000 of approximately 200,000 Protestant churches are dead, if the evidence of their decease is furnished by the fact that they recently recorded no annual increase in membership.

At this rate, America will never be won for Christ. Can you not see that what we need in American churches today is not a new architecture, but a new building of faith and loyalty in the Crucified; not new translations of the Bible, but a new application of the old missionary principles, the zeal and testimony of individual members that helped to spread the Gospel in the first Church; not new alliances with political organizations, but a realliance with the spiritual force that exalts forgiveness by the bleeding and dying of Christ; not new systems of church management and direction, but renewed emphasis upon the charter and purpose of all churches, the preaching of the Gospel for the saving of souls; not preachers with only human renown, but men of God with divine endorsement; not churches before legislatures with partisan programs, but the Church before the hearts and souls of men with the demand: “Repent! Ye must be born again!” and the promise: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In short, unless the Church is to plead guilty to the capital crime of failing in this crisis, we must have a body of believers that will break the deadening silence by which the Cross of Christ has been hushed out of many churches, homes and lives,—a great and growing number of American Christians who will “shout the glad tidings” and “exultingly sing.”

OUR FAITH DEMANDS CHRISTIAN TESTIMONY!

How are Christ’s followers to break this silence? How else than by following the example of the shepherds, who, having seen Christ, “made known abroad the saying . . . concerning this Child.” It was no longer a “silent night, holy night” for them, after they had worshiped at Bethlehem. “Holy,” true, but not “silent”; for with one accord, as they returned to their flocks, they testified at every opportunity to the miracle of the Christ-child.

A profound truth is taught by the fact that the first missionaries of Christ were shepherds, humble men from the lower strata of society. If God had placed the affairs of the first Christmas into our hands, the stable of Bethlehem would have been supplanted by the pillared halls of a royal palace, the young mother from Nazareth would have been a regal princess, and the first missionaries not rustic folk who herded sheep, but churchmen from the Temple’s Holy of Holies. In selecting shepherds as the first human heralds of the new-born Christ, our heavenly Father emphasized, at the beginning of Gospel history, the basic truth of personal missionary duty which its last pages stress in the command of the ascending Christ: “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” In the Church of the New Testament the missionary privileges and responsibilities are not restricted to bishops and priests, preachers and teachers, ministers and missionaries; the duty of testifying to the grace and the power of the “name that is above every name” devolves upon all Christians beyond the power of release and exemption. They are “a royal priesthood.”

The shepherds centered their message about the Christ­child. They might have discussed the inhospitality of the innkeeper and started a popular agitation for the regulation of Judean inns. Much in the spirit of the modern pulpit, they might have spoken on the young mother, isolated in the stable, and urged immediate enactment of maternal relief legislation. They might have discoursed on a dozen other subjects, but they focused their message on the Child. We, too, must learn to overcome that reluctance which makes us hesitate to discuss with our fellow-men the most vital issue in their lives, the relation of their immortal preciously bought souls to God. I ask you as we are joined in worship by the mysteries of radio communication whether you are testifying, breaking the silence concerning Christ in the lives of your fellow-men. Don’t think of missionary work exclusively in terms of China and India, but realize that God would not have called His followers to be witnesses unless they were surrounded by those in whose hearts and lives Jesus plays no part. In a land of 60,000,000 and more unchurched souls, hundreds are dying every day because many who are called Christians close their eyes and seal their lips. My direct appeal to you is the plea that before this day draws to its close, you will take this opportune time and go to some one in your relationship and acquaintance who needs the message of the Christ­child and in His name testify to saving grace and truth.

Don’t say that you are not qualified to speak of Christ. The Twelve who took up the Savior’s battle against the mighty Roman Empire were men of little learning and no scholarly attainments. The apostle’s promise still holds: “The weakness of God is stronger than men”; and God has given us the same promise with which He endowed His apostles, the pledge of the Spirit’s never-failing guidance to help us by placing words on our lips and by lending force and conviction to our weak utterances. Don’t say that you have no time; for all who realize that the Savior lived on this earth more than a third of a century to bring salvation to our souls, all who know how carelessly time is squandered in this age of much leisure, will refuse to plead false excuses and will make time for the Savior. With your vision directed to the Christ as He hallows His way from Bethlehem to Calvary, with the command of Jesus ringing in your ears, “Preach ye upon the housetops,” testify to Christ! Resolve with the apostles: “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

We, too, as living, walking advertisements of the Cross, can make known abroad the Savior’s love. You will recall that the loyalty and determination in the lives of the first followers of Christ gave them and us the noble title “Christian”; that one of the powerful factors in the growth of the early Church was the strength of conviction exhibited by the faithful who suffered horrible persecutions. In all ages of the Church even an unbelieving world has stopped in awe and admiration to pay its tribute to those Christians who have let their light so shine that men, beholding their good works, glorified their heavenly Father.

God knows, and you and I know, particularly as this twelvemonth of grace draws to its close and we prepare to audit the book of our life for this year, that in the weakness of our earthbound existence and in the soul conflict between the God-given impulses to exalted and helpful ideals and debasing, sensuous, hell-born desires, we too frequently succumb to the sordid, demoralizing appetites of our human nature.

To overcome the temptations of life, to rise to the higher discipleship in Christ, to become a voice that can cry out into the desert of many lives, I ask you to take the sword of God’s Word and daily to meditate in His warnings and in His love; I ask you to learn the power and promise of prayer; I ask you to center your faith and hope in the Cross.

Let us, before the Christmas season departs, once more behold the Christ-child in the same faith with which the shepherds regarded Him as their Savior, and having seen Him, let us, too, make known abroad the saying which has been told to us concerning this Child, the climax of the “hopes and fears of all the years.” Amen.

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

Date: December 22, 1935

Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.Luke 2:10

Father of all joy and love: As we look forward to the birthday of Thy Son, our Savior and King, we earnestly beseech Thee to send Thy Spirit into our hearts and homes, so that during these crowded days we may have time and thought and love for Him who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor. Heavenly Father, we confess that our desires have not been directed to the cradled Babe of Bethlehem as constantly and as joyfully as Christmas demands. Come, then, during these happy, holy days, with Thy purifying, sustaining Spirit and make this Christmas a day of rejoicing for weary souls, a memorable day of encouragement for the oppressed, a sacred day of reconciliation for those at enmity, a spiritual birthday for many souls that even now are walking in fear and darkness. Show us all the full radiance of the faith and hope that spreads abroad from the Christmas-message: “Christ, the Savior, is born”; and accept the faith of our hearts and the prayer of our lips as we blend our voices with the angel chorus and exult: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Bless us for the sake of Thy Son, our Savior. Amen.

DURING the early winter of 1755 the pioneers in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, threatened by Indian massacres, fled for refuge to Bethlehem, where Moravian colonists had established friendly relations with the red men. But the Indians had been aroused to such frenzy that they broke truce and planned a bloody attack on that village. As Christmas approached, the signal fires flared brightly on the surrounding heights. The tribal drums rumbled in fearsome rhythm. The war-whoops, reechoing through the hills, filled the besieged settlers with horror and heart-quake.

Christmas dawned, a Christmas of sinking fear. Yet enough courage triumphed in that crisis to perpetuate a time-honored custom, as young and old in Bethlehem gathered to sing their early morning praise to the new-born Christ-child. The chorals ended,—and never, perhaps, have Christmas anthems been intoned under more crushing weight,—the worshipers returned to the grim suspense of watching and waiting for a Christmas Day attack. Hardly had the fighting men of the village resumed their guard when, to their unbounded joy and astonishment, they watched the red men break up camp and disappear from sight in the distant, wooded hillsides. Miraculously, it seemed, the fear of bloody massacre was averted. Later, when peaceful relations had been reestablished, the reason for the retreat was revealed: while the war council of the chiefs prepared for the attack, the winds wafted the Christmas carols to the wigwams on the hills, and those sweet melodies soothed the savage breasts. Thus on Christmas Day did these settlers find peace in the Lehigh Valley Bethlehem, a release from the fear of poisoned arrows and dripping scalping-knives. In that Pennsylvania Bethlehem God blessed Christmas-song and Christmas faith, and terror was turned into unrestrained rejoicing.

Retreating horizons have all but isolated the American Indians in their reservations. Today we work and play and sleep undisturbed by the specters of attack and massacre. During this Christmas season assemblies of red men and their children sing the very hymns that the trembling colonists in Bethlehem caroled on that memorable Christmas. We thank God that there are among American Indians some who tune in our broadcasts and are united with us in the fellowship of Christian faith. Yet perhaps more than any other generation in our history we are besieged in these disenchanted years by the war-fires of other enemies, dismayed by encircling fears, which leave many of our homes and hearts fearful of the future. And now Christmas is at the door, the seventh since the sudden collapse of our much-vaunted wealth and industry. Hearts heavy with the burdens of dismay; lives crushed by the juggernaut of heartless commercialism; world-worn souls cowering before the terrors of every new day, wonder how Christmas can dispel the fear that dominates their lives.

How, indeed, we answer, unless their souls hasten to the first Bethlehem, the Bethlehem of Judea, and behold in the cradled Babe the Savior of their souls. What though a hundred fears and a thousand terrors threaten them? Once they hear the shepherds’ invitation “Come, let us go even unto Bethlehem,” and they go to find the miracle of divine love in the Christ-child, God manifest in the flesh, then and there fear will be transformed into spiritual courage. Before the Babe of Bethlehem the legions of earth’s stampeding terrors sink prostrate.

Nothing less than this is the promise of the first Christmas carol: “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” Luke 2, 10. By the power of the two words “Fear not” I direct you

TO BETHLEHEM FOR THE ESCAPE FROM FEAR

and I ask you even now to prepare your souls for that holy pilgrimage which will bring you to the manger and through the Christmas faith to peace, joy, and happiness now and forever.

THE TYRANNY OF FEAR

“Fear not,” the angel cheers the shepherds in his soothing Christmas-message. And is there any tyranny more cruel and relentless than the dominion of fear? Three centuries ago, when Shakespeare penned his immortal pages, he employed the word fear 600 times. If he were writing today, he would repeat that four-lettered word, 6,000 times; for the fears and the tremblings of men have multiplied faster than the years.

In our own country many thoughtful citizens cannot rid themselves of a vague apprehension concerning our country’s destiny. They read, as we did the past week, of the possibility of extending our national indebtedness to $70,000,000,000; and recalling the disastrous swath cut by inflation in other nations, they listen with dismay to the economists, who now predict a reaction “even more severe than the depression which began in 1929.” They survey the carnival of crime within our boundaries and wonder how the blessings of God can rest upon the country that leads all civilized nations in the number and frequency of major offenses. Mothers hear the rumble of warfare in Africa, and tracing the fine hand of munitions profiteers and traffickers in youthful blood, they fear that their own sons may be demanded as sacrifices for a new war in the Old World across the seas. Christian youth sees the onward march of the godless radicals in our large cities, as atheistic Communism launches into a program of increasing audacity, and beset by doubt and dismay, these young men and young women wonder whether our flag or the red flag will wave over their America tomorrow.

Now, many unconcerned souls are not disturbed by the fear of national trends; but even placid lives are tyrannized by other mighty fears today. Millions are harassed by fears concerning food, clothing, shelter. Multitudes who a few years ago enjoyed comfort and complacency live in a continued nightmare, as mistrust and suspicion concerning their business, their investments, their money, prey upon their minds. Into the lives of those signally blessed mortals who have more than they need may come terrifying moments when their blood will run cold and their teeth chatter. Even the strongest are obsessed with the dread of disease and of death. They know by the mortality rates that on the average about 4,100 people die every day in our country and Canada. They realize that day after day the relentless grind of life brings them closer to the inevitable end; and no matter how they may seek to conceal their timidity and how boisterously they may take recourse to denial and bravado, beneath the mask of their all too human pride there is the clutching, gripping fear of death, before which strong minds quail.

No emotion that stirs the human heart is more disastrous than fear. In its intense forms it often paralyzes the brain, stuns the entire body, and produces the cold sweat of terror. Less severe, in the form of a hundred worries, it often helps to streak the hair with gray and to dig furrows into human countenances. Fear besets its victims with shadowy phobias; it rides in hysterical flights; it sucks joy out of life and chokes off all peace of mind. Its victims are often afraid of life and afraid of death, until, caught in the rip-tides of flooding fright, they frequently seek the cowardly suicide’s exit in the slow suffocation of a closed garage or in the mangle and the spatter of death on the sidewalks at the foot of our skyscrapers.

Nor is there any human escape from the stranglehold of fear. Thousands are trying to drink themselves out of fear, to drown their fright in alcoholic forgetfulness. If God now charges me with the duty of speaking to you men whose browbeaten wives and children are the victims of your bestial, brutal drunkenness, let me say in warning not only that you cannot escape fear in drink, but also that one of the worst terrors known to medical science is the tremble and tremors which finally overtake the drunken sot. Let me plead in the name of all that is honorable and decent and happy in life as well as for the sake of your eternal welfare (for God’s Word plainly states that no “drunkards . . . shall enter the kingdom of God”) that you ask God for strength to fight this besetting, deforming sin, and start a new page in the record of your family annals that will be blessed by abstinence and love and consideration for those who are near and dear to you.

Neither can men buy themselves out of the clutches of fear. If riches were the key to the courage of joy, we would find the strongest security in the homes of the wealthiest. But kidnapers never snatch away children of the slums. Extortion is never directed against those that are on relief. Factory workers need no body-guards. Fears increase as fortunes rise. Since it is a fact that men with millions cringe in dread of family strife and scandal, that a corporation president with an annual salary of a million dollars hangs himself, that bankers carry charms and wear amulets, you can understand why the Bible warns against the perils of wealth.

Nor can we think ourselves out of fear. It is true, books published in large numbers promise to change fearsome, mouselike timidity into lion-hearted bravery. I read such a book last week, and as I laid it down, I could think of nothing more than of the lost wayfarer who tries to pull himself out of the quicksands by his own boot-straps. The superstitious are said to pay more than a hundred million dollars a year to fortune-tellers of various kinds and trust charlatans to solve their worries. But all this, even the fashionable religions that rule fear out, will fail. We must rather understand in a personal and individual way that all the care and worry, all the fright and terror, all the pains and the horrors of life, must be traced, directly or indirectly, to the influence of sin. Fear began with the first sin, when the first man, answering the call of the Lord God, “Where art thou?” confessed: “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid.” And behind every fear in your life and in mine lurks a sin, either our own sin or the unhappy consequence of some one else’s transgression. Full in the face of modern preachers who have deleted the doctrine of human depravity from their sermons and have skilfully pushed sin far into the background (unless it be the glaring sin of the murderer, the extortioner, the racketeer, and the robber), straight into the teeth of those who would rule sin out as passe and disguise its sting by deceptive terms and attractive masks, the Bible asserts that “all have sinned”; it shows us that fear is the consequence of sin and that only when sin is removed, can fear be successfully exiled. How, then,—and this is the searching question that arises daily from tens of thousands of souls,—can sin be removed and its reign of terror wrenched from our hearts and lives?

THE RELEASE FROM FEAR

The answer is found in God’s great Christmas-gift and in the announcement that reverberated over Bethlehem’s plain: “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Because the slow centuries had run their course and the “fulness of the time” brought Him who was “to save His people from their sin”; because—contradicting our poor powers of understanding—that Babe in Bethlehem is the only-begotten Son of God and the virgin-born son of Mary; because—and this is the foundation truth of Christianity—if you believe it, no matter who you are and what you are and where you are, you are saved now and forever—because “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,” here at Bethlehem and here alone we find forgiveness, granted by pure, unearned, undeserved grace. “It is,” exults the apostle, “the gift of God.”

That first Christmas-greeting “Fear not” is but the beginning of Christ’s comforting triumph over the forces of fear. He greets His terrified disciples on the sea with the calm “Be not afraid.” He comforts a ruler in Israel grieving over his daughter’s death with the sustaining “Be not afraid.” When He sends His disciples out into the sworn hostility of the world, He raises His voice in benediction to declare: “Be not afraid.” When they show concern about food and clothes and protection, He strengthens His followers with the soothing instruction: “Fear not.” When the passion of hatred rages against Him and His, He tells His little flock: “Fear not.” And among His comforting words solemnly uttered before His resurrection was the benediction: “Be not afraid.”

This victory over fear has mightily proved its power. The most fearless and courageous hearts of all history—and I say this for those who sneeringly charge that Christian faith is weak and effeminate—have not been the leaders on bloody fields of battle, but the men of God who have faced crushing odds with unflinching heroism. To prove this truth, I could tell you of a fair-haired maiden chanting a hymn of praise to God on the sand of a blood­stained arena amid the gibes and curses of heathen hatred, a moment before Numidian lions tear her body to pieces. I could show you an intrepid young hero challenging the wrath of an empire with the cry: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” But I shall recount only one instance of Christian bravery, which suggests itself for this season. In 1814 Samuel Marsden, the first missionary to New Zealand, began his work for Christ among the native Maoris. Unable to find a navigator with sufficient courage to take him to this land of cannibals, Marsden had purchased a small brig, and set sail for New Zealand. He arrived the day before Christmas and was greeted by a band of naked warriors, each heavily armed with clubs and spears, some displaying necklaces made of the teeth of decapitated enemies, others sporting silver coins plundered from unfortunate strangers. As Marsden approached, suddenly the warriors began their war-dance. Hideous screams rent the air, spears were brandished, faces were distorted by frenzy, every muscle, it seemed, twitched in this wild fury. That night, Christmas Eve, a solitary pioneer in the advance of Christian missions, Marsden, slept on the island, surrounded by cannibals who had devoured his countrymen. On the morning of the Savior’s birth Marsden, encircled by barbaric hostility, preached the angelic message of Christmas Day: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” For years there were no converts; death followed him at every step. Yet through cannibalism and gory feuds Marsden heard the “Fear not” of his Savior. While others would have fled for their lives in a hundred different dangers, he stayed at his post and finally saw his loyal work blessed by God in the conversion of the savages.

Amid the change and decay, the upheaval and collapse, of this headless and heedless hour, when we see men’s favors change, fortunes vanish, good names disappear, ambitions crash, and high hopes rudely blasted, I ask you to find the same joyful courage at Bethlehem. Remember, you who anxiously pace up and down along the uncertain paths of life, that this Christ-child can shelter you, so that you will be immovably secure under the omnipotence of His grace. No combination of life’s bitterest sorrows and most penetrating pains is too formidable to be swept aside by Him who brings salvation to His people. If in His name you can face the multiplied forces of sin and challenge: “You may turn my heart away from God for a while; you may beguile and overpower my lustful flesh and then seek to indict me before the tribunal of my conscience and before my God; but in the newborn Savior I have the ‘Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’”; if you can face the battalions of hell and exult: “You may hold momentary and short-lived triumph over me when in heedless moments I give the lie to my Christian conviction, but by faith in God’s Son, who descended from the realms of heavenly splendor to the lowliness of His nativity, I receive new power and consecrated strength to tear off the bonds that would bind me to hell”; if you can face the last enemy, death, and exult: “The paralysis of your withering blight may grasp this body in its greedy clutch when I return to the dust from which I was taken, yet by the birth of this deathless Redeemer I know that I, too, will be born again into a heaven of sinless, stainless beauty”; if you can confront all these fears of life with the confidence that rests its hopes in this Child of Bethlehem, what is there left in life that can disturb you?

Your worries about food and clothing? Think of the sparrows on the housetops, the lilies of the field, and remember that, if the God who provides for them regards your soul as so eternally precious that He gave His Son for its redemption, He cannot fail to sustain you in any present and future anxiety. Are you afraid, disturbed by mounting debts and shrunken incomes? Are you apprehensive of hidden and personal problems, gnawing diseases, family troubles, and a host of other overpowering difficulties? Then, crashing through all the barricades of doubt, cry out in exultant Christmas faith: “If God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?”

Come, then, whatever your problem is, however formidable the unsympathetic forces of life may seem, wherever you may have vainly sought the dawn of help, follow the guiding shepherds to the manger. Come and believe that by accepting this Babe of Bethlehem, the Word made flesh, the Immanuel of fulfilled prophecy, as your Savior, fear is transformed into radiant faith, the tears of heart-wrung sorrow into a sparkling diadem of hope, the dead ashes of rankling bitterness into the beauty of holiness.

Come hither, ye faithful, triumphantly sing;

Come, see in the manger our Savior and King!

To Bethlehem hasten with joyful accord;

O come ye, come hither, to worship the Lord!

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

Date: December 15, 1935

Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.2 Timothy 1:8

God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Bless us, we beseech Thee, with a stronger faith, a firmer courage, and a deeper loyalty to Thy Son, our blessed Redeemer. Remove our many sins of disloyalty and by the blood of Christ, who was never ashamed of us, wipe out our selfish, fearsome hesitancy in confessing our Savior. By Thy purging, upbuilding Spirit help us now to prepare our hearts and homes to greet the Christ-child with a purer love and a firmer faith. Heavenly Father, may the radiance of Bethlehem’s Immanuel, God-with-us, come this afternoon into cheerless, somber hearts, brighten empty, destitute lives, and penetrate with its saving power through sin and wickedness into lost souls. Let Christ’s mercy and love be reborn in us, so that our faith may be deepened, our hopes exalted, and our love for our fellow-men increased. Grant this foregleam of the Christmas joy to our thankful hearts by the promise of the coming Christ. Amen.

IF, as St. Paul dictated his farewell letter, the Second Epistle to Timothy, his jailer heard the imprisoned apostle speak the deliberate appeal of its eighth verse: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord,” that Roman guard doubtless shook his head in bewilderment. He must have wondered how any one could demand loyalty for Jesus of Nazareth, that visionary Galilean, who died on a cross as a criminal between two criminals. How could any one escape being ashamed of a creed that led to martyrdom, so that here in Rome Christians were crucified, wrapped in the skins of wild animals and hunted to death by wild dogs, saturated with oil and lighted as human torches, while the drunken carousers in Nero’s garden gloated over their death agonies? Why, this man of the world must have asked himself, be loyal to a religion that brings poverty, persecution, death?

Even as St. Paul weighed these words, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord,” he knew that some of his own followers had become ashamed of Christ. Tearfully, it seems, he writes: “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” No one understood more intimately than he, the fettered, how insistent and penetrating is the appeal to leave Christ and follow the lure of human ambitions. Here was Rome with its lavish display of wealth, the imperial palace and its chambers covered with pure gold, studded with costly jewels, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, its domes, which turned by day and night; and there, on a skull-shaped hill, near Jerusalem the unmarked spot where Jesus had died in abject poverty, robbed, even in death, of His clothing. Here was Rome at the zenith of its power, its legions crashing through distant frontiers; Rome with its triumphal arches, its tributes wrung from the ends of the empire; and there, as the apostle’s thoughts revert to his Savior’s first and last days, an outcast Babe, for whom Bethlehem had neither room nor heart; there the thorn-crowned King with scourged back and blood-spattered face. Here in Rome life to its whirling, dizzy, intoxicating fulness; the Coliseum and its gladiators, the theaters and their sophisticated plays, the schools with their get-what-you-can-out­of-life philosophies, the temples with their dancing girls, scribes from cold Britain, astrologers from distant Babylon, flaxen-haired warriors from beyond the Rhine; here, in short, a riot of color, pleasure, and vice dragged to Rome from beyond outposts of civilization; and there—it still rang in the apostle’s mind after thirty-five years—the stern ultimatum of Jesus: “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

Though Paul could still hear the sickening swish of the lash and feel the impact of jagged rocks on his own bruised body; though he knew with certain foreboding that before long he would be led outside the city gates to the place of execution and that his head was to be severed from his body as the cruel reward for his loyalty to Christ,—in the face of hatred, poverty, dishonor, blood, and black death, crushed for Christ as he was, he still writes his undiminished loyalty into this appeal to his beloved assistant: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.”

This afternoon, as I repeat these eleven words for you, I ask you, in the name of your God and mine, to be

UNASHAMED OF THE TESTIMONY OF CHRIST

with the same courage of heroism that triumphed in the apostle’s life—and in his death.

WHAT IS THIS TESTIMONY OF CHRIST?

What is this testimony of Christ? After nineteen centuries, which have His indelible imprint on every page of history, it may seem unnecessary to ask for this definition. Yet, although far more has been written about Jesus Christ and His work than about any other figure of history; although unparalleled tribute has been paid to His memory by the masterpieces of art and architecture, music and literature, Christ is still the storm-center in a controversy of heated passions. If His contemporaries branded Him as an envoy of Satan in one breath and in a subsequent moment of well-nourished enthusiasm frantically sought to crown Him king; if down through the long corridors of time He has been variously portrayed as a relentless taskmaster, whose favors could be coaxed and purchased, or as a crusading war lord, the sword of whose vengeance started rivers of blood in religious warfare, we must be prepared for the fact that the modern answer to Christ’s question “Who do men say that I am?” calls forth a confusing crash of opinionated claims.

Jesus’ own answer of course is clear and decisive. We hear Him asserting that He was with the Father “before the world was,” telling men that He “came down from heaven,” that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” that “all power in heaven and in earth,” is His. And in the last hours of His life, when the venom of professional jealousy demands: “Tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God,” His words ring out clearly and authoritatively: “I am.” There, in God manifest in the flesh, you have the essential Christ, divine and human, “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” the dominant Figure of all ages.

His Gospel, for which the apostle asks our loyalty, mirrors that divine majesty. It is not a new code of social ethics, this Gospel of Christ. True, Jesus gave the impetus to the spiritual power that has checked the greed and the vice and the tyranny of man over his fellow-men. He elevated womanhood and exalted childhood. He preached the rights and the dignity of labor and earnestly rebuked the sins of grasping capitalism. He committed the unpardonable social sin of eating with the publicans. He washed the feet of His disciples on the night of His betrayal. By His command and example He unfolded before men a panorama of a world dotted with institutions of mercy and blessed by sweet charity. In short, as He repeatedly emphasized, He gave to His own a new commandment, the injunction that “ye love one another,” a startling innovation in a world so encrusted in its own greed that it sought to kill Him.

But all this, elaborate upon it as we will, is not Jesus’ Gospel. These blessings are the consequence and not the cause, the imprint and not the die, the expression, but not the basic power, of His work. A purely social gospel, which interprets religion in terms of the here rather than of the hereafter, that concentrates on the body instead of on the soul, that frowns upon the thoughts of a new heaven and a new earth, is not Christ’s Gospel.

The words of Jesus “My kingdom is not of this world” are too absolute to permit of any other conclusion. Denominational lobbies conducted in state and national capitals to insure the passage of sectarian legislation; clergymen forsaking their pastoral duties to create political organizations; church federations legislating on intimate family questions,—these activities, prosecuted while the souls of men are dying, are not the Gospel as we find it interpreted by the Christ, who says: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

There is no other way in which the full compass of the Gospel may be discerned than by surveying Christ’s Cross. And even this is misunderstood. Men have spent fabulous millions in purchasing so many reputed relics of the true cross that four centuries ago a conservative writer declared it would require three hundred men to carry all the wood which allegedly came from Calvary. Explorers invaded new continents with the cross in one hand and a dripping sword in the other. By some twisted perversion we paint crosses even in the gutters of our city streets to mark spots where, among others, drunken drivers met a sudden death.

But how different that first cross with its anguish, its abysmal terror, its unmeasured misery! And how faulty our understanding of His love who there died for us! There have been others who have suffered long and intensely, humanity’s martyrs who fought and perished for their fellow-men. But when we compare the noblest examples of their heroism with the self-sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, they recede into obscurity; for here, forsaken by God and deserted by man, is one who in His marred body carries the crushing weight of all human iniquity. Here in the staggering magnificence of that divine compassion we learn, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”; here, with His arms outstretched, as though He would embrace a world in sin, is God’s answer to the plea for forgiveness; here is the victory over hell, the triumph over fear and death. If from all these radio messages I would choose one thought that should be imperishably inscribed on your living memories, it would be this sacred summary of the Gospel: “Christ died for our sins.” At the cross we learn that we are neither glorified brutes nor helpless puppets blown about by capricious winds, but that we are God’s—now and forever. Beneath the cross where God died for man, we find the solution to our present perplexities when millions face a drab future, burdened by slashed incomes, mounting obligations, and increasing personal perplexities. There, as we behold the sacrifice of God’s Son, that song of triumph, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” gives us new and personal courage; there we learn that through Jesus conflict and resistance only strengthen Christian character and promote our advancement from cross to crown.

ARE WE ASHAMED OF THIS TESTIMONY?

What, then, is your answer to this appeal: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord”? Once you have heard the essence of the Gospel, you begin to array yourself either for or against Christ. There is no middle ground, no neutral zone. There are only two classes of men: those who are for Christ and those who are against Him.

It has become a popular excuse of unbelief to say that our proof-seeking, hard-fisted generation cannot understand how Christ’s blood can cleanse or why His death atones for human sin. Paul was not disturbed by any conflict between reason and revelation. Genius that he was, the gifted writer who quoted Greek poetry with familiarity, the inspired penman whose epistles have been placed side by side with the literary masterpieces of history, Paul exults: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” Don’t let any one tell you that the acceptance of Christ’s Gospel presupposes second-rate mentality or that Christians must be morons. Often these academic kettledrums that roll out their thunders of atheism are biased, empty individuals, who delight in dazzling impressionable sophomores. The most profound minds of all ages have been the most reverent. The truly great realize that, if even in the physical world of tangible realities surrounding us there are unnumbered mysteries that defy all attempts at explanation, then in the realm of the spiritual there must be even higher verities, which cannot be treated in test-tubes and crucibles or examined with microscopes and X-rays. If you cannot analyze the incomprehensible mercy of Christ, you can believe it. If you cannot explain Christ, you can feel His abiding, pervading presence and His salvation; for “he that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” Let me say here that it is a great encouragement for us to receive letters from presidents of American colleges and from teachers and students in State and private universities that breathe a warm endorsement of our emphasis on a crucified Christ. God bless you, unashamed of Christ as you are, you pillars of a better and happier tomorrow! Stay with us, we ask you, as we proceed to entrench ourselves more definitely and more permanently against the enemies of Christ and to meet unbelief, atheism, agnosticism, with the cry: “They shall not pass!”

Again, there is often little sympathy and less love for the Savior’s humility and self-denial in an age which likes to gloat over its own achievements. The scientific progress of the past century has dazzled us. But has the creation of new energies endowed us with a stronger spiritual life? We have developed the greatest system of higher education ever known. But have we shown a corresponding progress in the highest culture, the discipline of our desires and the personal, reverent approach to God in Christ? We have built towering sky-scrapers, proud monuments of engineering triumph; but have we built character? Have we built faith that lifts men from the sordid grovelings of sin to the pure beauty of the new city of God in His high heavens? You know the answer. Without Christ we have too often followed the will-o’-the-wisp of human follies into treacherous swamps. Ashamed of Christ? We should have become ashamed of ourselves!

Particularly repugnant to our modern thinking is Christ’s unsparing, uncompromising denunciation of our sins; for today, grasping, lusting men resent the idea of a religion that would thwart their plans and halt their ambitions, that pushes over pride and pretense to expose the nausea of sin in high and low places, a creed that speaks first of men’s transgressions instead of their achievements, of their weakness rather than of their strength, of their vices more than of their supposed virtues.

This impact of hatred will be felt next week on the anniversary of the Christ-child’s birth. When He, the Savior of our souls, knocks at many American doors, He will again receive cold rebuff and stolid rejection. Many homes that have room for holly and balsam, that are gay with parties and reecho with festive greetings, will let the Christ-child shiver in the exposure of their unbelief or regard Him with a raised eyebrow and a skeptical shrug of the shoulders.

My pointed appeal this afternoon is for a Christ­centered Christmas, for homes which in spite of feverish activity and sleepless nights of preparation have time and thought and love for Christ. Let me ask you mothers whose hearts may hold more hope for America than statesmen can offer at diplomatic round-tables: Are you kneeling with your children in bedside prayer to the coming Christ? Are the songs that you sing to your babes in arms the Christmas lullabies or are they snatches from nightclub croonings? If these words reach mothers who are not only ashamed of Christ themselves, but who are dragging their own flesh and blood away from grace, may the Spirit sear into their conscience the conviction of their sins, and may they come repentantly to the Christ who is never ashamed of them!

You fathers, who are called upon by Scripture to give a holy example to your children, are you preparing your homes for a blessed Christmas? Or are you spiritual cowards who are content to have your religion written in your wife’s name, who show your own children how to stay away from church? Remember, it was the Christ of all mercies who heard even the whispered appeal of the foulest sinner and who warned: “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, . . . of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed.” For happiness in your homes and hope of a reunion in the eternal home I ask you fathers to come to your Savior penitently, but confidently during these blessed days that commemorate His birth.

You young men and women who wield a power for good or for bad greater than you realize, are you living in the preradiance of Christmas? There is rejoicing in heaven over any testimony to the truth in Christ; but I sometimes think that there must be redoubled joy when Christian youth, surrounded as it is by the temptations to impurity, stands up for Jesus not only in song, within the sheltered walls of the church, but in word and action before the hostile friction of an unbelieving world. I ask, youth of Christ, that during these busy days you do not overlook the Christ that makes Christmas; that in your business or studies, in your pleasures or pastimes, in your friendships and associations, in your thoughts and words, you may prove yourself by your work for the Church and your service in Christmas charity to your fellow-men unashamed of Christ, unashamed of His Church, unashamed of His faith.

Then, God helping all of us, His Word instructing us, we shall know beauty and power and peace as this prayer of our hearts is answered in our lives:—

Cast out our sin and enter in;

Be born in us today.

Amen.

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

Date: December 8, 1935

We have . . . a more sure Word of Prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.1 Peter 1:19

Most merciful Father: We ask Thee this afternoon for a true, firmer faith, for the soul courage that will take Thee at Thy Word and believe that the promises of the Scriptures must be fulfilled. We confess that often weakness of faith and doubt have overtaken our hearts; that we have been spiritual cowards; that we have trusted in men and in the arm of flesh rather than in Thee and in Thy saving love. Forgive us, for Jesus’ sake, these and other sins; and send Thy renewing and strengthening Spirit into our hearts that we may grow daily in Christian courage, in trusting faith, and in sanctified life. Especially do we entreat Thee to bestow Thy merciful hope upon those who are bent under the repeated blows of adversity. Comfort them, the sick, the destitute, the bereft, the lonely, the fearsome, the restless, the disillusioned, with the everlasting love of Christ; and teach them as us that Thy mercy is for every one, for every day, for every sin, and for every sorrow. Bless us with this faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

SUSPICION and deep-rooted doubt have seized the hearts of the masses. They have been tortured by so many broken promises and miscarried predictions that faith in their fellow-men has withered and trust frozen. In March, 1930, our Secretary of Commerce predicted: “Business will be normal in two months.” In the same year the President of the United States asserted: “The worst effect of the crash of unemployment will be passed within the next sixty days.” But now, after sixty months, as they hear the march of 10,000,000 unemployed, many who during these years of waiting have become forty-five years old (when a cruel, lash-in-the-hand industrial system often casts its workers into discard) grimly wonder whether the dulcet prophecies sung by soothsayers today will be fulfilled even tomorrow in the lives of their children.

We think of the broken financial promises made, not by bucket-shop frauds and gambling cheats, but by industrial wizards, who promised generous returns, yet left many of you robbed of your savings, clutching certificates worth only a ragman’s price. As thoughtful minds contemplate the guaranteed securities issued by national banks which have not paid the principal; the Government bonds, which pledged payment in gold, but yield only silver, how can they escape the fear that in some future crisis the promises of financial institutions and governments will be similarly repudiated?

On all sides our age is confronted by this tragedy of broken guarantees and false predictions. International diplomacy often knows no law but the self-interest that makes treaties scraps of paper. Physicians advocate mercy killing for those whom they declare to be incurable; yet as medicine marches on, new discoveries prove their mistakes. Millions turn to crystal-gazers, astrologers, and other dealers in forbidden arts; yet when a New York newspaper tested the ability of a select group of fortune­tellers, they could guess the weather correctly only for six of the thirty-one days in the month. Even preachers, notably some of those who have attracted nation-wide attention through their advocacy of financial and monetary theories, have floundered in so many contradictory political predictions, as they have forsaken the true purpose of the pulpit, that they have lost most of their intelligent support.

The cry that goes up from American hearts in this decade of broken hope is the appeal for an infallible, immovable source of truth and promise. What a privilege, then, it is for me to show you in the name of God that, while human promises, even the ties of friendship, even the sacred pledges of marriage, are sometimes wilfully violated,

GOD KEEPS HIS WORD!

We find this pledge in the Second Letter of St. Peter (chapter one, verse nineteen): “We have . . . more sure Word of Prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.” As we apply these words to ourselves and to our times, let me show you the arresting warning, but chiefly the comforting promise which they hold out to our groping age.

THE PROPHECIES OF DIVINE JUSTICE ALWAYS FULFILLED

This “more sure Word of Prophecy,” which is ours in the Bible, offers a striking demonstration that the Bible is not man’s word, but God’s; that it is not just another book, but that it is the Book. If it can be shown that Scripture does what no other volume can do in foretelling events long before their occurrence; that its predictions are minutely and exactly fulfilled; that all this occurs too frequently to be a matter of chance, this should he conclusive evidence of the Bible’s divine origin and of its being divine truth.

Let us take as a test case the Book of Nahum. One of the shortest Old Testament prophecies, it is frequently neglected by Bible-readers and attacked by irreverent scholarship. Written in the heyday of Nineveh’s luxury and wealth (and even radical critics concede this early date), the message of Nahum makes the startling prediction that this capital city of the Assyrian empire, the center of world affairs, is doomed. Were his prophecies executed? We know of course that Nineveh fell in 612 B. C., in direct fulfilment of Nahum’s utterances; but only since 1923 have we been able to prove that the doomed city collapsed just as God’s prophet had foretold. Twelve short years ago a small baked clay tablet, the Babylonian account of the fall of Nineveh, was deciphered; and to an amazing degree this tablet, together with some previously known documents, emphasizes the literal fulfilment of Nahum’s prediction. Our prophet foretells a long siege of Nineveh; the Babylonian tablet indicates that the city was surrounded for three years. Nahum predicts a wild plundering of the capital; the Babylonian record speaks of booty “in quantity beyond counting.” Nahum foresees that the Ninevites will be captured when they are “drunken as drunkards”; and tradition recalls that in a royal carousal the city was taken in an unexpected attack by night. Nahum records three times that Nineveh would be swept away by a flood; later historians corroborate this. Nahum forecasts “the utter end” of the city; and unlike many other Oriental cities destroyed in warfare, Nineveh was never rebuilt. Until ninety years ago even its ruins lay buried beneath the debris of twenty-four centuries.

Many other monuments to fulfilled prophecy dot the face of the earth. The tottering pillars of Egypt’s devastated temples; Babylonia’s age-old mounds; the crumbling remains of an ancient glory in Tyre and Sidon; the famed ruins of a dozen other countries,—these are perpetual warnings in our proof-seeking age that the threatenings of God’s outraged justice never miss their mark. Though we may be separated from the remains of ancient nations by thousands of miles and thousands of years, the truth that God still keeps His Word remains inviolate. He may delay; He may postpone; He may even appear to suffer the taunting rebukes that men hurl against Him.. But though His justice sometimes moves slowly, it always moves with irresistible power. The final reckoning is inevitable; often during this life, always in the next.

Let us take heed to God’s sure prophetic Word. When we read: “The nation and the kingdom that will not serve Thee shall utterly perish,” we must realize that, if our nation ever refuses to serve the Almighty (and are there not some unmistakable trends toward that tragedy?) , not even our ten-billion-dollar gold reserve, the largest in history, though it were multiplied by itself, could purchase exemption from divine judgment.

We look into American business to behold theft, fraud, and connivance; and recalling this prophetic warning: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by wrong!” we must not forget that God will keep this word; that dishonesty is never cunning enough to cheat its way out of His punishment, even though it may purchase acquittal before human courts. When God looks down upon the concentration of American wealth into relatively few hands, sees that some of this wealth is retained for selfish, iniquitous pleasures while the poor are becoming poorer every day; and when He hurls this prophetic indictment: “Go to, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries,” I tell you that, when God’s judgment overtakes them, all bloated, self-engrossed oppressors of the poor will finally “weep and howl” for their miseries.

Again, God speaks in warning to our American homes. When His Word cries out: “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother,” He would speak into the hearts of America’s youth, plead that they love and honor their aged and decrepit parents, and show the unmistakable curse resting upon the neglect of this sacred duty. When His Word, indicting rampant lust, foretells the time when the “flesh and body are consumed” by the ravages of vicious disease, every physician of the land must testify to this truth and admit: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

With equal force will the predictions concerning the sins of churches find fulfilment. If American Christians become lukewarm, “neither cold nor hot”; if they permit strange doctrines, which God hates, to be endorsed from their pulpits; if worldliness crowds out godliness and repentance is spurned, their days are numbered. All roulette­wheels and games of chance, all fashion shows and card­parties, all degrees behind preachers’ names and social prominence of members, all machinery used to promote its work, will not be able to restrain the hand that writes the sentence of doom on church walls.

God keeps His word. This truth brings a personal warning to you and me; for God will uphold His threats against sin in our lives. Struggle against this as you may, the Word of God thunders out this judgment: “The wages of sin is death.” To all men comes the indictment: “Thou hast sinned.” Though an eat-drink-and-be-merry generation may try to laugh off this universal indictment; though academic unbelief may seek to disguise sin’s hideous, ugly nakedness under the masquerade of new terms and titles; though we may resist the idea of punishment for sin and payment for wrong, there is within us that incisive voice of conscience which ultimately confronts restless men and women with the terrifying certainty that God keeps His word.

THE PROMISES OF DIVINE MERCY NEVER FAIL

Thank God, divine mercy triumphs over divine warning! Thank God, we can exult, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Though “heaven and earth shall pass away,” God’s promises remain the unshaken, eternal truth itself. Doubt any fact of secular history that you will. Put a question-mark behind any of the axiom truths of science if you must. Contradict your own experience if you care to. But do not question this supreme verity, that God loves us with that everlasting affection which makes His pledges the sure word of unchanging grace.

Now, if an inquiring soul demands, “How can I be sure that God loves me?” “How can I come to the immovable faith that the sins which separate me from God have been removed?” what better can we do, particularly in these weeks commemorating our Savior’s advent into the flesh, than point to the sure prophetic word of love and its fulfilment in the Christ-child of Bethlehem? Here, in the majestic train of Old Testament prophecies and in the marvels of New Testament fulfilment concerning the Savior’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, we have the most awe-inspiring, faith-instilling truth of all history. Go back with me to that tragic day when the gates of Paradise were to swing closed upon the outcast parents of the race. Hardly had sin entered the world, when a Redeemer was promised—human because He was the woman’s seed, yet divine because He was to perform the superhuman task of destroying sin. Ages roll on, and to Abraham and the Hebrew nation is given the pledged assurance that in his seed “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Of Abraham’s descendants Jacob, and of Jacob’s Judah, is chosen. Centuries are heaped upon centuries, and David is told that the promised Deliverer will be of his royal house and lineage. The prophet Micah foresees Bethlehem as the royal birthplace. Isaiah speaks of the virgin mother. Even more sharply does prophecy portray the great chapters of His world-moving career. Although He will heal the sick and prove Himself the Friend of friends, the Preacher of righteousness, He will be “despised and rejected.” Blasphemous men are to take Him captive. He is to be numbered with criminals. His holy hands and feet are to be bored through. He is to die a felon’s death; and, strangely, instead of being buried obscurely in a potter’s field, His body is to repose in the tomb of a rich man. Yet, marvel of marvels, He cannot be held in the grip of death. His body will not see corruption; He is to be resurrected; and palsied Job rejoices: “I know that my Redeemer liveth!” He is to ascend on high and, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, will maintain His Kingdom and Power and strengthen His Church for its victorious course through the ages. And why this life of humility, this death of deaths? Inspired Isaiah, beholding in prophetic vision the suffering Messiah, answers eleven times in eight verses of his peerless fifty-third chapter and foretells: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.”

Since all these promises of the coming Redeemer were fulfilled to the letter in the redemptive career of Christ, I ask you, in the words of our text, to “take heed” to the sure Word of Prophecy that is sealed in the Savior’s blood, certified by His resurrection, demonstrated daily by His almighty power. If the love of God “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all”; if Christ so mightily proved His divine power that He changed the world and we date our calendar from His birth; if all history pays its tribute, willingly or reluctantly, to His truth, shall we not especially in this Advent season prepare to welcome Him? Shall we not gain unbounded strength from the fact that, if every prophecy concerning the past has been fulfilled, every prediction of the future will likewise be verified? Shall we not with penitent and prayerful hearts, trusting only in Christ, acknowledge that “all the promises of God in Him are yea and in Him amen”?

There may be many sorrows that surround you in these heavy days. But when Jesus says: “Let not your heart be troubled; . . . believe in Me,” then believe that He who gives this comfort is the almighty, ever faithful God, that He can and will banish grief from your heart and fulfil His pledge: “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Fears may encircle you in timid, apprehensive moments; yet when Jesus calms your heart and tells you, as He once told His wavering disciples: “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid,” remember this promise will be fulfilled even though Christ shake the earth and move its mountains. You may be overtaken by the dread loneliness which besets those who lead solitary lives, bereft, through death, of their nearest and dearest; but when Jesus speaks to your hearts and promises: “Lo, I am with you alway,” trust this promise; say to Christ: “Take Thou my hand and lead me O’er life’s rough way,” and His unfailing companionship will put a new meaning into your hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!”

Below all gnawing, disquieting cares of life there may be the deeper fears voiced in some of your letters, the hesitancy that makes you wonder whether you are saved, whether you will continue in grace, whether some heavy sin hanging over your conscience will keep you from God. As to these and a thousand other soul problems, let me assure you for all times that, if you truly believe Christ, if you want to trust Him as your Savior, then, in spite of all the deep and terrifying sins that may have crowded into your life, in the face of all temptations that may assail you, in the very shadow of death that may swiftly overtake you, His sure Word of Prophecy comforts: “No man shall pluck you out of My hand.” And when in seeing, rather than in believing, you experience the full truth of these pledges; when “God shall wipe away all tears”; when “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither . . . any more pain,” then, in heavenly fulfilment, you will exult: “There hath not failed one word of His good promise.”

I pray this blessing for all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Date: December 1, 1935

He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. Bat as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.John 1:11-12

O Christ, our Savior, Thou promised Redeemer of the race, who in the fulness of time didst hold Thine advent into this world of sin and death: Come, we beseech Thee, into our selfish hearts and lives today, so that, cleansed by Thy blood, we may be wholly Thine. Enter into us with Thy love, so that our lives may radiate Thy mercies to our fellow-men. Come with Thy hope, so that we may never lose courage amid the lowering clouds of earth’s sorrows. Bring us Thy comfort and peace, the heavenly concord which this world knows not. But above all come to us in Thy Word and Sacraments, through Thy Holy Spirit, with the strength of Thy faith, so that our “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” may continue in undiminished fervor until we stand before Thy throne there to sing, in far loftier strains, Thy praise and glory forever. Until then hold us in the hollow of Thy hand, so that neither life nor death shall be able to separate us from Thy love, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

WHEN, at the close of his administration, George Washington held his triumphal tour through the principal cities of the young republic, towering arches, lavish illumination, swelling acclaim, greeted him on all sides. In Boston thousands of devoted citizens awaiting his arrival faced the bluster of a raw east wind for hours; and the resultant grippe that laid many of the chilled spectators low was called “Washington’s influenza,” in his honor—so great was the devotion to him who had led the nation to its independence.

Whenever, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made a public appearance in former Confederate territory, throngs of freed slaves prostrated themselves before him and vainly sought to kiss his hands and feet—so deep­ rooted was their gratitude toward the great Emancipator.

When the first overseas men returned to our shores after the armistice, our cities surrendered to a delirious rejoicing. Business was suspended, and industry halted while the columns of veterans marched through the beflagged canyons between sky-scrapers, with tons of confetti floating down upon them and factory whistles screeching their victory song—so overpowering was the nation’s joy at the home-coming of its victorious troops.

When Jesus Christ comes to our hearts—and I draw this comparison, because this day, the first Sunday of Advent, recalls the Savior’s coming and His mission of immeasurable grace;—when He whose blood wrought a far higher independence than Washington’s, an emancipation proclamation that freed men’s souls from the tyranny of sin and hell a victory over death far greater than those won on the bloodiest fields of Flanders; when He approaches us with the Advent call, “Behold thy King cometh unto thee,” do we open our hearts to Him and prepare our homes to receive Him worthily?

These are vital, soul-searching questions that involve our hope for time and eternity. Particularly do I appeal in Jesus’ name to you who have tuned your radios to our stations by chance,—or better, by the guidance of God,—and earnestly do I ask you to worship with us and to hear the promise of truth and strength in Christ that may change your lives. As I plead with all of you this afternoon to

RECEIVE YOUR REDEEMER.

let me show you first the warning recorded in St. John’s gospel (chapter 1, verses 11 and 12): “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” and then the comfort in the following words: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.”

THE DEEP TRAGEDY OF REJECTING CHRIST

Could there be a more shocking tragedy than that summarized in these words, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not”? Christ came, as Isaiah prophesied, “to preach good tidings unto the meek, . . . to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, the opening of the prison to them that are bound, . . . to comfort all that mourn, to give them beauty for ashes”; yet they nailed Him to the cross. Even when His miracles and wide mercies demanded public acclaim, the triumph was only momentary. On Palm Sunday children sang hosanna to Christ; yet five days later His blood was invoked upon their heads by their own parents. When Christ entered Jerusalem, He was heralded by waving palms, the symbols of peace; when He left, before a week was over, He had to drag His cross, the instrument of death, to Calvary. Could there, we may well repeat, be a deeper tragedy than this stark rejection of the truest and holiest Friend of friends?

There is! Witness the tragedy of an even greater unbelief in our own nation today. We have the convincing evidence of nineteen centuries during which the Gospel has mightily proved its power. As a nation we have been blessed as no other people by the lavish outpourings of God. Yet in spite of this abundance, millions in America have not received Christ. You tell me that this is a Christian nation; and while we thank God for every soul that looks to the Cross and the Crucified for salvation, I tell you that the number of non-Christians in the United States today is greater than ever before. This morning there were more people outside the church than inside. You may say that we have a Christian culture and recall the dedication to Christ found in the charters and seals of our oldest and wealthiest colleges; but there is not one representative university in our country, public or private, that does not tolerate—and some even condone and applaud—the ridicule of the atonement which sarcastic unbelief calls “blood theology.” With one hand we can point to Christian groups organized to spread the Gospel; but with the other we must mark the advance of the anti-God march, as men and women of public and literary affairs brazenly lend their name to the destructive objectives of freethinking and atheism. We acknowledge with gratitude to our heavenly Father the annual publication of millions of Bibles and of much Christian literature; but we must confess to our national shame that a growing mountain of indescribable filth is being peddled to our high-school boys and girls by rat-hole publishers, who thrive under the protection of corruption. Church-bells ring every Sunday as they call the country to its God; but the police sirens shriek every hour as law enforcement retreats before sinister law­breaking, in a day when there are not only more crimes and more criminals, but also more perverted, degenerating crimes and more youthful, vicious criminals. Let us not point too frequently and exclusively to the atheistic chaos in the Soviet Union; we have in our own rejection of Christ the virulent germs of the same contagion that has ruined Russia and that may ruin us. And there is not gold enough in our mountains nor brain power in our halls of learning, not sufficient strategy in our war colleges nor adequate statesmanship in our legislatures to avoid the calamities consequent upon a people’s rejecting Christ.

What are the American churches offering to counteract this poison? How are they acclaiming the Christ for this crisis? We stand aghast at the unconcern of human leaders in the pivotal moments of history. When Rome was besieged by Alaric and his Goths, Emperor Honorius was more concerned about the safety of his prize poultry than the destiny of the imperial city. After a panting messenger brought the news “Rome is lost,” he sighed in relief when he learned that it was not his favorite pullet, named “Rome,” but the capital that had been destroyed. Louis XIV gorged himself with imported delicacies, while his miserable peasants existed on carrion and parched barley. There have always been those who have toyed and dallied when they should have led the forces of righteousness and truth; but there is no more calamitous example of this indifference than the misguided efforts of many modern churches that should march as a mighty vanguard for the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Instead of preparing men’s hearts to receive their Christ, a class of churches, unfortunately all too great, is absorbed in side issues. Pulpits review disreputable plays of the stage and cunningly justify their filth and profanity; preachers seriously outline the relations of Austria and Germany; pulpiteers turn demagogs and blatantly offer political support or threaten party opposition; churches have often become so hostile to the pure teaching of sin and grace, the infallible Bible, and the Savior that, if Christ Himself were to reappear and seek membership in their ranks, He would be blackballed. Before their barred doors He would protest in wounded love, “I came unto My own, and My own received Me not.”

Who can measure the ultimate consequences of this rejection of Christ and this misinterpretation of His cross? If we are to be guided by the verdict of the Word of God and by the reprisals of history, we must face the future with apprehension and ask, as the psalmist did, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” If the Christian churches, upon which the progress, the morals, the hope and happiness of this nation rest (and not upon our higher education, our bravado, our wealth),—if these pillars are shaken by infidelity or honeycombed by termite borings, there can be no security, no solution to many of the problems that accumulate before the nation. The verdict stands: “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ”; and that is true not only of spiritual happiness and soul prosperity; it holds also for our country’s well-being.

THE HIGH BLESSING OF RECEIVING CHRIST

Will we not, then, receive Christ, our King, as He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments? My first prayer for you is not that God would endow you with wealth and the fulfilment of your high ambitions, but that His Spirit would so completely permeate your hearts and possess your lives that you would always be ready to receive the Christ of your souls. What higher glory can there be than this promise of our text: “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God”?

Stop, to think of this holy promise as the gift of God. “He gave,” we read. Blessings, priceless and eternal that you and I could not discover by the ingenious processes of the most enlightened mind; blessings for soul and body, that could not be earned by long centuries of unbroken toil; blessings for every fear and every hope that could not be purchased by the accumulated gold reserves of all vaulted treasuries,—these benedictions “He gave” to us as the grant of His immeasurable mercy.

This gift brings divine energy. We read: “He gave them power.” Take all the energies which may be generated at Muscle Shoals; add to that the vast power created by Western power projects and supplement this with the sum of every form of energy known to man; and all this earthly power will be weakness in comparison with the heavenly energies which they have who follow Christ in spirit and in truth, even though they lie prostrate in human helplessness on beds of sickness or on invalids’ couches.

We are not making extravagant claims nor dealing with impossible superlatives. How much of sin can be removed by the mightiest dynamo? How much of sorrow set aside by the fabulous energies found in the fall of a hundred Niagaras? How much of the fear of death stilled by the most ingenious combination of machinery? Yet what genius and science cannot do, that the divine power which God bestows through Christ is able to do. It takes weak, helpless men and women, torn between their all too human desires and ambitions, and makes them “more than conquerors through Him that loved us,” it gives them the power of the “victory which overcometh the world.”

By the indwelling of Christ in men’s hearts children of wrath become children of God, or as our text declares: “As many as received Him, to them He gave”—and He still gives—“power to become the sons of God.” Oh, that we could even begin to estimate the glory and the sacred promise of this exalted title—“sons of God”! We spend long years to acquire academic degrees and distinctions. Ambitious men clamor for the titles of nobility and aspire for recognition in Who’s Who and the social registers. A grateful nation decorates its heroes with the medals of military orders and enshrines its most esteemed citizens in a hall of fame. But these heaped prizes and trophies and laurels are but as pebbles beside Gibraltar when compared with the undying glory of this title—“the sons of God.” This honor (God bestows it upon every heart, no matter how sinful, how ungrateful, how unfaithful, as soon as that heart receives the Christ of all mercies), this “sons of God,” means that God is our Father and that in Jesus’ name we can cry, “Abba, Father,” and pray, “Our Father,” knowing that, “like as a father pitieth his children,” so our God will draft the might of His omnipotence to answer our prayers and direct our destinies toward the glorious end of salvation. For the apostle exults, if we are the children of God, then we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”; then we know that, though we be destitute here, the treasures of heaven will soon be ours; though we be forsaken on earth, we shall soon be numbered with “the whole family in heaven,” where Christ is the first-born Son and we are His brothers; though in the flesh we suffer under the sting of affliction, in the spirit we shall be glorified with Christ, knowing, as St. Paul summarizes the blessings of our sonship, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”

Have you by the grace of God received Christ in your soul, so that as your Savior He “reigns supreme, and reigns alone”? Are you ready to meet God? Are you prepared for the return of Christ and His coming to judge the quick and the dead? No longer crucified, Jesus is now exalted in His Kingdom of Grace and Power. The crown of thorns has been replaced by the crown of glory. The reed scepter has become the iron scepter, by which all opponents of the New Testament kingdom are shattered in defeat. The purple robe has been changed to the glorious garment of eternity’s throne. Instead of sullen mobs that scream, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” cherubim and seraphim, with the ten thousand times ten thousand, raise their anthems of heavenly praise. In His own time He shall step from the right hand of His Father, in sudden return to this earth, to write the last lines of the last chapter of human history. We are nineteen centuries closer to the second advent of Christ than the first Church, in which the apostle warned: “The end of all things is at hand.” The signs that foretell the beginning of the end, wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes and pestilences, the denial of the sound doctrines, the heresy in high places, the attacks on the Christian home,—are these not unmistakable signs of the last times?

Let the Church keep its lamps lighted, prepared for the cry: “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh.” Let American Christians watch and pray and fight as never before. Let American pastors, with the unusual responsibilities that these critical hours place upon their consciences, fight every concession or compromise and, shattering every force that would deny or question the atoning power of Christ’s blood, prepare the hearts of their hearers to welcome the coming King. Let the hopeless and the hapless, the disturbed and the disquieted, look above the doubt and the failures of life to the Holy City of God, pray the Advent prayer of the Bible’s last page, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and hear the Savior promise, “Surely I come quickly.”

This “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

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

Date: November 28, 1935

Our God, we thank Thee.1 Chronicles 29:13

Our heavenly Father, Thou Giver of every good and perfect gift: We raise our hearts to Thine infinite mercy and goodness to thank Thee for the innumerable blessings of soul and body which Thou hast granted to us in this richly endowed nation. For our food and clothing, for Thy blessings upon the harvest of our fields, the yield of our orchards, the products of our industries, and the blessings of our commerce we give Thee our humble and heartfelt thanks. Forgive us, for Jesus’ sake, the ingratitude of our cold hearts and the thanklessness of our sealed lips. Deepen our vision, so that we may recognize in our national reverses and international difficulties the power of Thy hand and the call which would summon us to individual and national repentance and thanksgiving. Above all, draw us closer to Christ and fill our hearts and lives with thanks to Him and His sure mercies. Help us to translate our thankful thoughts into thankful deeds, to remember the armies of our fellow-men who have not been blessed as we, and as we offer them a helping hand and an encouraging word, we commend to Thy merciful remembrance the multiplied miseries of this bewildered day. Teach us to serve Thee in willing obedience and daily to present our hearts to Thee as acceptable thank-offerings; through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer. Amen.

MILLIONS of bushels of corn and wheat stored in bulging grain elevators, yet long, winding bread­lines in our streets; gold steadily transported to our shores, yet the most protracted financial stringency in modern history; unparalleled natural resources and widespread industry, yet more than 10,000,000 unemployed American workers pacing the streets in search of gainful occupation,—these are some of the glaring contrasts that intrude themselves on this day of our country’s Thanksgiving.

As these words in their vast sweep speed out into our land, it is inevitable that they enter unnumbered homes in which the question has been asked, either in thought or in words, “Can we truly give thanks this year?” Families that have lost their homes, their life-savings, their financial reserve; individuals who have sacrificed their happiness, their health, their hope for the future,—all may be tempted to view the day of our national gratitude with the spirit of protest.

Yet in the face of the hardship and failure that may surround many of us I firmly believe that there are few who, if they would but count their blessings, would not find room and reason to join in—

OUR THANKSGIVING GRATITUDE

and to pray the prayer which I would put into your hearts and on your lips today: “Our God, we thank Thee,” 1 Chron. 29, 13.

THANKS, EVEN IN DIFFICULT DAYS, FOR BODILY BLESSINGS

To realize our own blessings, restricted though they may be for some and increased as they certainly are for others, we need but think, by contrast, of courageous men and women of God who, triumphing over their sorrows, sang praises to the Almighty. St. Paul calls out to his Christians at Thessalonica, “In everything give thanks,” and he meant that even in the midst of their bloody persecutions, their poverty, their suffering, these first witnesses of Christ were to raise grateful hearts to God.

The first American Thanksgiving Day was celebrated within sight of forty graves in the Plymouth cemetery, while fifty-five English-speaking people, including only four women, survivors of the original band of Pilgrim exiles, gathered to praise God after the epidemic and death of that first crushing twelvemonth.

Martin Rinckart, whose paean of praise “Now Thank We All Our God” is sung this morning in thousands of churches, penned this hymn during an epidemic in which the number of the dead was so great that they had to be buried in trenches. His own wife was taken away; he lost his property and was driven to desperate extremes in finding food and clothes for his children. Yet he triumphed over despair to sing:—

All praise and thanks to God

The Father now be given.

Again hosts of worshipers this morning sing:—

Oh, that I had a thousand voices,

A mouth to speak with thousand tongues!

But how many who sing these lines of praise know that they were written by John Menzer after his house burned to the ground and all his possessions were destroyed? Yet in the depth of that sorrow he showed the triumph of grateful faith and composed the choral that has survived him by two centuries.

The personal history of the English essayist Charles Lamb offers a similar challenge. For a time he was confined to an asylum. His sister, in a fit of insanity, killed his invalid mother. A morbid depression continually hung over his life. Yet with these and other shadows overcasting his life, Lamb writes that he feels the inclination to say grace on twenty occasions each day besides at his meals.

Now, I submit that in comparison with the sufferings and sorrows of these heroic figures every one of us has been blessed with such evident benedictions that even a faulty sense of gratitude should impel us to approach our heavenly Father and declare: “Our God, we thank Thee.”

Even in these days, when the hearts and lives of men are sorely tried, we enjoy outstanding blessings. We have no blood-swashing dictator seeking to embroil the country in the brutalities of war for conquest. The world has never seen any help for destitution as generous and far-reaching as our present public and private relief programs. In spite of unemployment, reduced family incomes, and the grim necessity of practising rigid restrictions many of you have found that life has never before been as full and deep and rich. Now, these blessings do not come of themselves; they are not automatic; they have not been earned. Why is it that our country is not suffering the fate of Ethiopia? Why is it that, when clouds of adversity overtake the nation, we are not driven, as the Chinese were in the last drought and famine, to sell our wives and daughters (and 80,000 were sold into slavery in one Chinese province alone) or to keep ourselves alive as they did by devouring leaves and scraping the bark off trees? All this is the pure, unmerited mercy of our heavenly Father. The benediction of America’s greatness comes from God, and from Him alone. And for the lavish outpouring of these blessings let the heart of America today beat in gratitude as its lips confess: “Our God, we thank Thee.”

Many of us ought to thank God, as contradictory as it seems, for the check and restraint which His infinite wisdom placed on our unworthy hopes and selfish ambitions. Hundreds of your letters testify to the sobering, strengthening, character-building influences of the hardships you have experienced. Husbands and wives, parents and children, have been welded more closely together by the fires of affliction. Proud hearts have been humbled, and many of those who had no fear and love of God in their lives learned to fall on their knees in prayer. I speak for hosts of you, my fellow-countrymen, when I say, “Our God, we thank Thee” for the blessings of adversity.

THANKS PARTICULARLY FOR THE GIFTS OF GRACE

Today, too, our fervent thanks should ascend to God on high because we can cherish hope in our country in spite of the drab pictures that may be drawn of our future. In 1857 the editor of Harper’s Weekly wrote: “In our country there is a universal commercial prostration and panic, and thousands of our poorest fellow-citizens are turned out against the approaching winter without employment. . . . Of our own troubles no one can see the end.” Yet God saw the end; and our days of difficulty can pass, too, if we learn to raise grateful hearts to God for our spiritual blessings and to say: “Our God, we thank Thee” for Thy grace in Christ and for His sin­bearing love. Every one of you has the unspeakable blessing which millions of our fellow-men in the strongholds of heathen darkness have never had, the priceless privilege of hearing and believing that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Regardless of how rich or poor, how socially prominent or insignificant, how learned or ignorant, how blessed or underprivileged we may have been, this Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, has repeatedly knocked at the doors of our hearts and homes to offer us Heaven’s sacred gift: forgiven sins and the blood-sealed assurance of an eternity with Christ. For these blessings, which compensate a thousand thousand times for any setback in dollars and cents or any dire want of food or clothing, let us join in the Thanksgiving doxology and declare: “Our God, we thank Thee” for Thy saving Word, for the churches that have proclaimed the message of the Cross, for Thy ministers who have taught Thy sure mercies and the sure plan of salvation—we thank Thee for our Savior.

Our thanks, however, must be more than lip-worship; for our blessings are too high and too deep, too sacred and too holy, to be passed by with mere thanksgiving; they must be translated into thanksliving. How better can we show the deep grain of our thanks than to love God and to extend our blessings to our fellow-men? Today above all days our hearts should beat in sympathy for the sufferers along the hard paths of life’s pilgrimage; for the millions who through no fault of their own are the victims of organized selfishness and cruel injustice. As you who have never been cold or hungry sit down today to your Thanksgiving dinner in the warmth and comfort of your homes, resolve in Jesus’ name to offer a helping hand to your destitute brethren, remembering what Christ, the Good Samaritan, has promised: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”

If only throughout the nation today there will come into many hearts—as I now pray God that it may come into your hearts—the full realization of our indebtedness to God, so that men may be turned from their sins and their failures into the waiting arms of Him whose benediction reechoes over the land: “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”; if in the souls of those who have forgotten God there would spring up the resolution of the prodigal: “I will return unto my father,” then, truly, there would be thanksgiving above, in the heaven of heavens, where the angelic host sings hallelujahs when a lost soul is found again for Christ.

As I now commend you on this Day of Thanksgiving to the love of God and to the compassion of the crucified, but ever-living Savior, let me, as did once the priest of old, bless you who are God’s children with this benediction of love, hope, and assurance: “The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace.” Amen.

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

Date: November 24, 1935

Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble. . . . Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear.Psalm 10:17

Almighty and all-loving Father: “Teach us to pray,” we humbly ask; for we acknowledge our frequent prayerlessness, our thankless acceptance of Thy multiplied benefits, and our neglect of heavenly aid in our efforts to defeat the sordid temptations of life. We ask Thee for Jesus’ sake to remit the guilt of our stolid hearts, our silent lips, our unfolded hands, and our unbended knees. Send us Thy Spirit to help us find the divine resources of every prayer that is made in Jesus’ name and that trusts in the everlasting ransom power of His blood. Grant this prayerful spirit to our nation and to those who are in civil authority. Endow our homes with the blessings of the family altar. Show the forlorn and the forsaken, the destitute and the distressed, the blind and the crippled, and all who wander along the pathways of suffering that earth has no sorrow which Heaven cannot heal, when, accepting our priceless privilege, we carry everything to Thee in prayer. Strengthen our wavering faith and through Jesus keep us close to Thee. Give us these blessings of communion with Thee through the merits and by the promise of our merciful Savior. Amen.

ON this Sunday, by ancient custom, many churches observe the day of humiliation and prayer; this morning, in thousands of sanctuaries throughout the land, penitent worshipers dropped to their knees, beseeching the Almighty for forgiveness of individual sins and national transgressions.

Would to God that there were graven on the heart of America a true understanding of the power of prayer! It is the deep-grooved tragedy of these shabby years that we must witness a counterblast to the blessing of prayer in millions of American lives that deride its power and brazenly seek to exile God from human affairs. The philosophy of our modern life ridicules the thought of sending petitions to God, whose existence is denied. Incredulous scientists put a heavy question-mark behind the Christian’s intercession or haughtily suggest that we measure its force, for example, by praying for the patients in one hospital ward, remaining silent concerning those in another ward, and then tabulating the results. Even in some circles dominated by Christian influences personal pleadings with God seem to be neglected. Where are those men and women of heroic mold who spend hours on their knees? where the Christian hearths at which family prayer rises to the Throne of Mercy? where the days of national prayer and repentance which brought our country to its knees in crisis moments of the past?

This appeal for prayer becomes a challenge when this week we come to the seventh depression Thanksgiving. After these six years in which we have listened to the roseate promises made by tycoons in business and finance, there are few intelligent minds that envision the future with a pronounced degree of assurance. Of course, industrial soothsayers point to an upswing in the employment index, the increased sales at automobile shows, the indication of stimulated Christmas trade,—as though their figures could offer the evidence of lasting prosperity! While we fervently hope that their predictions may be fulfilled, there are still more than 10,000,000 unemployed in the land, and about one out of every six of our fellow countrymen continues to depend upon public or private charity. After six years of experiment and humanitarian effort many wonder whether we shall ever completely emerge from this confusing labyrinth by following human guides. It was the director of the National Youth Administration who declared that an “overwhelming majority of the children born in the last twenty-five years will never rise above a hand-to-mouth existence”; that 70 per cent. of our population will live below the standard of decency.

As we examine stern facts, not optimistic fictions, the Church, with its unswerving message of courage, declares that for the direction of our individual lives in these grief­burdened years and for the progress of our beloved land in this age of national gloom and international strife we need the help of God invoked by prayer. A praying people means more in the sight of God than a brilliant people. A nation on its knees can solve problems that frustrate diplomatic conferences. A Christian on his knees can strike the legions of hell prostrate.

Let me, then, this afternoon, in the face of the savage attacks directed against this comforting truth, show you that

GOD ANSWERS PRAYER

With this promise of the Tenth Psalm (seventeenth verse), “Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble. . . . Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear,” let us behold the certainty with which our heavenly Father answers the pleading of His children when their prayers are the outpouring, in Jesus’ name, of humble, believing souls.

THE CONVICTION OF ANSWERED PRAYER

David expresses his conviction of the divine response to prayer by a review of the past: “Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble,” and by a survey of the future: “Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear.” He knows first of all that the God whom he addresses as “Lord” and the Sovereign of the universe can answer prayer. He who regulates the course of more than a trillion stars; He who advances and retards the flooding tides; He whose hand summons the unharnessed forces of nature to make them serve His will and do His bidding,—He, with all His divine dynamics in limitless immensity, can perform the far smaller and relatively trivial tasks of granting our petitions. If men, hearing the SOS in a storm on the high seas, can speed to the exact position of a derelict ship and cheat the sea of its toll, do you not believe that God, almighty, all-­knowing as He is, can hear and answer the appeal for help that comes from the shipwrecks on the sea of life?

Christ not only can answer our supplications, but in His immeasurable mercy He wants to incline His ear unto our entreaties. “God is Love,” the apostle exults and if there should be within the range of my voice any searching inquirers who yearn for an immovable conviction of God’s mercy, let them hear this priceless summary of Gospel truth: “God so loved the world that He gave His only­-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”; let them behold the Cross; let them scan the height and the depth of Christ’s redeeming love,—as far as we can discern the unsearchable and know that which is past finding out,—and they will find the all-surpassing love, which as a ransom for the scarlet sins of the race and the transgressions in my life and in yours brought that sacrifice of all ages, the holy, precious blood of God’s own Son. God’s love in Christ; the all-embracing mercy that extends its promises to every man, woman, and child of history’s yesterday, today, and tomorrow; the all-forgiving love that pardons every sin, even those terrifying brutalities which drag man down close to the beast; the all-bestowing love that demands no credentials, requires no cooperation, prescribes no rote or ritual of good works and good intentions, but offers salvation by grace alone; the all-sustaining love which abides unchanged forever, though “the mountains . . . depart and the hills be removed”; the all-glorious love that lifts from death to life, from sin to salvation, from corruption to glory,—that love—and I pray God it may come into some of the cold and fearsome hearts which now hear its invitation—gives us the assurance that in Christ we may draw near to God as dear children approach their loving father, yes, even with greater confidence, and be assured that He who “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” will “with Him also freely grant us all things.”

Besides, has not our God of Love given us numerous faithful promises that He will not leave our petitions unheard? I submit to you that God could not be God if the hundreds of passages of both the Old and New Testaments pledging a divine response to our human intercessions were not true in every word of their promises. To hear Christ say: “If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it,” or: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do”; or again: “Ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” and then wilfully to refuse to believe that the faithful Friend of friends will keep His word is to reject Christ and to sacrifice the highest blessing of time and eternity.

To strengthen us in our conviction that God keeps these promises throughout the Scriptures, we have the striking demonstration of answered prayer. We remember Elijah on Mount Carmel beseeching God to vindicate His holy name; and we behold the fire from heaven that swiftly fell in answer to that plea. We recall Hannah, who tearfully entreated the Lord for a man-child and whose supplication was answered in the gift of her son, the great prophet Samuel. We see David, earnestly beseeching Jehovah for strength and then finding power to slay Goliath and save Israel. Here in the New Testament is Peter, praying in a darkened prison, but finding his answer in deliverance by God’s angel. Here in the early Church are the apostles petitioning God for guidance, and in answer the Holy Spirit descends to banish their fear.

Down through all subsequent centuries children of God have repeatedly experienced the same truth. Adoniram Judson, missionary of Christ to Burma, surveyed his life from his deathbed and declared: “What awes me is this, that I never prayed earnestly for something but it came soon or late.” The explorer Stanley, who rescued Livingstone from the perils of the African jungle, recalls in his autobiography: “Prayer lifted me hopefully over the 1,500 miles of forest tracks, eager to face the day’s peril and fatigue. You may know when prayer is answered by that glow of contentment which fills one who has flung his cause before God as he rises to his feet.” And if you who live in the lurking jungles of American life could testify to the truth of your answered prayer,—and I will appreciate hearing from you,—you would discover a great cloud of witnesses: Christian mothers whose prayers for the life of a sick child have been granted, sometimes miraculously; fathers who can testify that after months of almost desperate search for employment God has provided work and support for the family; young people who know how prayer has preserved them from yielding to temptations and helped to solve the problems of their heart,—altogether a mighty host can join in the psalmist’s doxology: “Verily God hath heard me; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer.”

THE CONDITIONS OF ANSWERED PRAYER

But it is a matter both of Scriptural record and of personal experience that not every prayer is answered. Abraham beseeches God that his son Ishmael may be recognized as his acceptable heir; yet this prayer is not granted. Moses, the man of God, asks Jehovah that he may be permitted to enter the Promised Land; but the Lord denies his request. And who within the range of my voice does not remember petitions in his own life which were unheeded by God? It is therefore both a practical and a persistent question which asks, “When are our prayers answered?”

In the words “Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble” our text tells us that the humility of faith is the indispensable requirement for answered prayer. If, as the Savior teaches, our requests are voiced in His name, that is, in humble reliance upon His atoning merits; if men, grasping the cross, pray the prayer of the publican and ask for mercy, not reward, such pleas will always be granted by the Almighty. It is not the length of a prayer (for Jesus warned against padding our petitions); it is not the place or the time of the prayer (for you may come before God wherever you are and whenever you need His guiding hand); it is not the language and style of prayer (for the lisped trust of children means more in the sight of God than the studied rhetoric of formal, but empty prayers); but it is the Christ-centered faith of prayer in Jesus’ name, submissive to the will of God, that guarantees the divine response.

If even our Savior in the agonies of Gethsemane prayed: “Not My will, but Thine be done,” how much more should we, because of our selfishness and blindness, raise our prayers “according to His will.” How tragic and confused life would be if every prayer were answered! No normal parent would be guilty of the folly of granting every impulsive wish of his children. If your boy wants a Thompson submachine gun for Christmas or an assortment of hand-grenades, would you buy them? Only too often we are similarly childish in our prayers, so that, if it were not for the mercy of God, we should “be ruined by our request.” We pray for money, for advancement, for success; but God loves us too much to heed our entreaty if the fulfilment of our wishes would mislead us. Financial misfortune overtakes a staunch Christian in spite of his appeal; prayerful parents who have repeatedly begged God for children are childless; a young man is snatched away in the prime of life, although ,his father and mother had solicited God for his recovery. And in all this, instead of protesting, “Why did God not answer these prayers?” we should try to attain the higher levels of our faith, where we can understand that, whether our requests for earthly blessings are granted or withheld, we have through Christ Heaven’s own assurance that God watches over our lives with His all-penetrating eye and regulates our destiny by the infallible power of His love for our good. We should pray for a faith of such proportions that we can face prosperity or adversity, health or sickness, good days or evil, and cry out: “Thou hast done all things well.” We should accept the perplexities of life with the calm assurance, “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”

With God’s own promise that all our prayers for spiritual strengthening will be blessed by His mercies in His own time and in His own way; and with the further pledge that prayers for the fulfilment of our human ambitions will be granted if they are in accord with God’s gracious will and harmonious with our ultimate welfare, let us employ the power of humble prayer for the solution of our many and increasing problems, individual, church-wide, and national. Do not say that you have no time for prayer, no time for Him who had a lifetime for you, no time in this age of leisure when an organization advertises a volume on “700 ways to kill time.” Do not say that you cannot pray; for the petition which the Savior Himself tells us was granted by God consisted of the seven short, simple words, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Do not doubt God’s power to hear your prayer or His loving inclination to answer; but hold fast to our Savior’s holy promise: “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Make your hearts sanctuaries of earnest petition, your homes temples of the family altar, your churches houses of prayer, your lives the demonstration of Christ’s pledge: “If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it”; and I promise you that the Christian on his knees in the valley of the shadow will see more than a scientist standing on tiptoes atop the Rockies—he will see the open heavens and the Son of Man, Savior, Friend, and Counselor of our souls, at the right hand of the Father, eternally to intercede for us. God grant us all this blessed vision for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

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