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.