Date: December 25, 1930

Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.Isaiah 9:6

ONLY five hours more in the Pacific Coast country, only two short hours on the Atlantic seaboard, and another Christmas will be but a memory. A few moments more to linger in the colorful radiance of the Christmas tree, a few moments more to blend our hearts and voices in the cheerful Christmas melodies, a few moments more to enjoy the happiness that comes to our reunited family circles on Christmas, and this day of days from which we unwillingly release our grasp is gone and has given way to the tomorrow, in which, as men resume their wonted activities, the spell of Christmas is often broken, its luster dimmed, its message forgotten.

But Christmas is too wonderfully magnificent to be confined to one solitary, fleeting day. There is rather a deathless significance in this Child of Christmas, a permanent and divinely bestowed gift of God, which brings perpetual happiness, immeasurable and unspeakable, both here and hereafter. And if you have never permitted the star of faith to guide you to Bethlehem; if you have never opened the door of your heart to receive the Christ-child; if with Herod-like determination you have steadfastly tried to stifle the glorification of the Babe in Bethlehem, to what better advantage can I employ these happy moments than to ask you to separate your hearts from all earth-born attachments, to submerge the harsh dissonance of cold doubt and frigid skepticism, to follow the lowly shepherds to that glorious Child in Mary’s arms, and to immortalize Christmas as a hope of perpetual and undying happiness by hearing and believing the divine and unfailing answer to this question, Who is this Child about whom the very universe revolves, in whom the hopes and fears of all the years have found their joyous fulfillment?

Seven centuries before the heavenly messenger aroused the drowsy Judean shepherds, Isaiah, the evangelist of the Old Testament, straining his gaze to the dim and distant horizon, answered this question in better terms than merely mortal lips can find. Casting aside the modern camouflage, which finds in the birth of Jesus Christ only such alien thoughts as the magnificence of motherhood or the glorification of childhood, and probing deep down beneath the externals of our Christmas celebration, he strikes at the very heart and center of a Christ-conscious Christmas, when, in those deathless words beginning, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,” he identifies this Christmas child by these five glorious names, “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace,” and tells us tonight who this Christ-child is and what He must mean to our modern world after nineteen centuries.


Isaiah calls the Christ-child, first of all, “Wonderful,” or, as we can emphatically reproduce the original, “The Miracle.” Daniel Webster was once asked whether he could understand Christ. Replying in the negative, he declared that, if he could understand Him, there would be nothing to give Jesus faith and divine force and fact. The Christmas-message is thus not an appeal to reason, to be sure; and we breathe an ardent word of thankful prayer that it is something ineffably greater than this. It is an appeal to the truth of God’s love; it is the mystery of God’s becoming man; Divinity putting on humanity; the Creator appearing as creature; the eternal Son of God incarnate as the Son of Man. In an age when men glibly and confidently prate about the twilight of Christianity, as they compose their obituaries on the Biblical truth, the cold and calculating rationalizing of reason bids them ask with age-old skepticism, “How can these things be? How can this Child, called the ‘Wonderful,’ be both divine and human, both a helpless babe and the Ruler of the universe,” of whom our text says, “The government shall be upon His shoulder,” implying that He directs the affairs of men, controls the forces of nature, and governs this vast universe? But as the first Christmas-gifts were expressive of the willing tribute which scientific thought paid to religious verities, so today, when we daily accept uncounted arrangements and innumerable procedures as beyond the ken of the most enlightened mind, let no one who hears the Christmas evangel indulge in skeptical quibbles or sophisticated sneers, but let us rather rejoice that instead of understanding we must only believe and kneel down before this Wonder of the Ages to offer, as Magi-minded Christians, the pure gold of our faith, the fragrant frankincense of our hope, and the mystic myrrh of our love.

But the wonder of this Child, the supreme miracle in the history of all lands and ages, becomes intensified when we realize, as I pray God we may all realize on this joyful Christmas Day, that this Babe in the manger is the superhuman solution to the great and universal problem of sin. When the stern demand of God’s holiness tells you, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”; when it continues its warning indictment, “All have sinned”; and when it individually emphasizes the weaknesses and inconsistencies that abound in every life and says, as it points the finger of accusation at you, “Thou art the man,”—then to everyone who humbly and gratefully accepts Christmas for what its name implies, the wonder of wonders is accomplished, and they all are assured of this miracle-working love, announced even before the Child’s birth, “He shall save His people from their sins.” There is the glorious wonder of this wonderful Child,—no sin too great, no offense too vile, no wrong too oppressive to be removed freely and completely and for all time by His priceless, deathless love.


The second blessed name of the Christ of Christmas is “The Counselor.” I believe that for many thousands who are listening in tonight the need of a capable, competent counselor has perhaps never been as great as it is on this Christmas Day, when we remind ourselves that the past year has brought to millions a long series of disappointments of various kinds and degrees. You who have gone on year after year with a smug sense of self-satisfaction and with a good deal of confidence in your money power, your brain power, your social power, but who have found that this house of cards in which you have enshrined your happiness has been puffed over by bank failures, financial reverses, and unemployment, and who now look about for someone and something that can effectively lift you out of the labyrinth of hopelessness and helplessness,—you can find a divine Counselor today in Bethlehem. Here is a Counselor who is concerned first and foremost about the soul that lives on after the trinkets and baubles that men clutch so frantically crumble into disappointing dust. Here is the faithful and efficient Counselor, who tells us, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God”; that is, get right with God. Remove the barrier that separates you from God and that keeps you away from the inner happiness which alone makes life worth living.

And when you come and ask, “How can I get right with God? How can I remove the impurity of sin from my life?”—great and wonderful Counselor that He is, this Christ tells us, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “Believe in Me.” Never has His counsel failed; never is there any problem too intricate for His constructive solution; never is there any sorrow too deep to be healed by the balm of His consoling love. So tonight, when the joy of Christmas stands out in crying contrast to the sorrow that reigns in the hearts of some of my audience, when you think of your own misfortunes, of the gladness that has been turned to sadness through the coming of cold death or through the blasting of long-cherished hopes or through the tragedy that has followed in the wake of grievous sins; look above these difficulties to the Counselor, reposed in Bethlehem’s manger, and believe Him, when He calls out to you, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”


The third name of this Wonder-Child is “The Mighty God.” Here, then, we have the real, essential Christ of Christmas; not the Christ whom the barrage of modern oratory and rhetoric likes to picture—a ghastly counterfeit of the world-conquering Son of God; but the Christ who from the lowly beginning at Bethlehem until the bitter, heart-breaking end at Calvary claimed to be, proved to be, and was declared by God to be, God manifest in the flesh. Oh, He had to be God to offer substitution for the overpowering weight of sin and its consequences. He had to be God to give to humanity a hope that was stronger than human power, truer than mortal truth, more hopeful than earth’s strongest hope.

I sometimes wonder whether beneath all the hurry and the scurry of Christmas we realize, even as far as this is humanly possible, the practical meaning of this sublime truth, that God became man, that He lived and walked and had His being here on earth, in the closest contact with sin-stained men. What unutterable love, what indescribable mercy, what unfathomable grace! And what surpassing promise! For does not He who once trod the paths of men give to those who know Him and who love Him and who have been reconciled by His atoning blood the assurance even in today’s turmoil, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world”? Think of this priceless Christmas-gift of God’s grace, Immanuel, “God with us.” God with us to turn the night of sin and sorrow into the brilliancy of a radiant day! God with us to lead us on through the devious and difficult paths of life! God with us in the happiness of our homes, in the stern realities of the battle for existence! God with us in the trials and temptations that hear down upon us! God with us as the all-sufficient, all-embracing Friend, Guide, and Savior, now and forevermore!


Yes, “forevermore,” because Isaiah’s fourth name for this helpless Infant is “The Everlasting Father.” Paradox though they seem when applied to this Babe of Bethlehem, let us linger for a moment on these two names of majestic import, “Everlasting” and “Father.” Throughout their long and varied existence men have yearned and strained for something firm and unchangeable, for something positive and everlasting, since the highest achievements of human ambitions rise only to fade and wax only to wane. They are here today and gone tomorrow. Even the choicest products of man’s intellectual attainments are ephemeral, hailed in this hour and rejected in the next. But tonight I want you to look with me at this Pillar of the Ages, this changeless Christ for a changing world—Him who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” and find in Him the everlasting Rock of Ages to which, amid the ebb and flow of man’s fluctuating hopes and delusions, you can cling with unending and undying assurance. Friends and their favors may change; your hopes and plans may be shattered and crushed, but here in this Child is God’s answer to your search for eternity, the solution of the mystery of the grave, the promise of Him who says, “Because I live, ye shall live also,” whose eternity is the unfailing pledge of our life after death.

Think of the other word, “Father,” and remember that behind all the love that this word expresses and the confidence that it inspires, leading us to come to Christ as loving children come to their loving father, there is the majesty of power, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the very revelation of God to mankind. When Christ complied with Philip’s request, “Lord, show us the Father,” He answered, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” My friends, I pause to ask you on this Christmas Day, Have you seen the Father in Christ? Remember, if you think you have seen God in any other way; if you think you can accept God without accepting Jesus Christ; if you try to stifle the appeal of the Bible by asserting that you believe in a “Supreme Being” or in “the great Creator” or in “the Father of us all,” and exclude Christ from all this, then you do not know the meaning of Christmas, and you do not know God.


But the sweetest note of the Christmas-message comes in Isaiah’s last name for the Christ-child, “The Prince of Peace.” Above all the hatred of a war-torn world the Christmas anthem “Peace on earth” goes out into the world tonight to tell men that the only way to establish peace with our God and peace with our conscience is to come to Christ and to believe that He has effectually and forever removed the discord that exists between the holiness of God and the unholiness of men; that He by His incarnation, by the poverty and suffering to which He as the Lord of lords and the King of kings subjected Himself, satisfied the claims of divine justice and offers to all the benefits of that momentous peace treaty between heaven and earth that has been signed and sealed by His very blood.

What more wonderful privilege could there be on the birthday of this Prince of Peace than to offer in His name, by His command, and with His promise the surpassing gift of this inner, spiritual peace of God? And what greater cause of rejoicing, even in heaven, than this, that some of you within the reach of my voice this evening who are still at war with God, who are still allied with the forces of sin and hell, come to accept peace—not the peace of the world, but the peace of the soul that Christ Himself, our Shiloh, offers, the peace which, because it transforms our inner life, is reechoed in our outer existence. I appeal to you who have never learned the marvelous joy of life that comes when the benediction of Christ’s peace is pronounced upon your sin-free soul; to you who do not know this peace because you do not show it; to you who, although you may to all appearances kneel at the manger this night, nevertheless harbor thoughts of hatred and envy against your fellow-men; to you young people who live in strife and discord with your own fathers and mothers; to you husbands and wives who are permitting the rancor of selfishness and dissatisfaction to mar the beauty of a happy Christian home; to you who professionally promote misunderstanding and bigotry in the lives of men,—I appeal to you and beseech you in the name of the Lord Jesus: Do not let this night draw to its completion without coming to the Christ-child in spirit and in truth, without asking Him for the forgiveness of these sore and besetting evils, and without receiving from Him this priceless, peerless peace of soul and mind. Thus, and thus alone, can Christmas be to you what it should be and what, pray God, it will be—the birthday of Christ, The Prince of Peace, not only in Bethlehem, but also in your innermost heart. Amen.

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

Date: December 18, 1930

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.Psalm 119:105

IF it were possible to peer into the hearts of our fellow­men and find there in those hidden recesses the great impulses and ambitions that drive human beings on and on, I think we should discover among the outstanding interests and concerns of our human activities two preeminent objectives to which most of human thought and endeavor, rightly or wrongly, dedicates itself—money and love. If we could continue this investigation and focus it upon modern young men or young women (and I pause to remind you that this youth message comes to you tonight as a contribution of the young people of the Church banded together in the International Walther League) , I think you will agree with me once more when I say that their affections, the affairs of the heart, the questions of courtship and marriage, probably loom up on the horizon of all normal young people in a way that quite overtowers every other merely human issue.

It is well that it is thus; because of all the impulses with which the divine Creator endowed our human existence, there is none deeper and more unselfish than these. Of all the relations that exist on earth there is none that is more intimate, endearing, and mutually beneficial than the relation between husband and wife; of all human institutions there is none that is more fundamental and imperative to every phase of human welfare than the home and family.

The tragedy of it all is that much of the beauty and happiness with which God endowed the estate of matrimony has been sacrificed and that in many instances marriage has degenerated into a veritable caricature of real happiness and peaceful contentment. Yet we who still believe in the effectiveness of the Christian religion in this modern day are also confident enough to declare that the situation is not so hopeless as many would regard it and that there are still ways of attaining to happiness in marriage and to family felicity. We do not base this conviction upon the array of modern suggestions that have been made to pave the way to such home happiness; we do not believe that uniform divorce laws, stricter marriage regulations, vacations from married life, courses in eugenics, trial marriages, blood tests, and similar suggestions will lead to the desired results; but we do believe that the truth and power which God has given humanity in His revealed Word can solve all difficulties and will help Christian young men and women to meet the emergencies of the present situation. We confidently accept the truth of our text as we apply it to the problems of modem matrimony, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”


Now, what are the fundamentals for happy marriage as they are revealed by the lamp of divine Wisdom on the pages of the Bible? First of all the Bible tells us that we must recognize the blighting effect of sin. If it were not for its stern and stark reality, we should need no divorce courts; for there would be no cases of marital inconstancy and unfaithfulness. If it were not for the crass and ugly power of human depravity, we should not need to maintain juvenile courts and societies for the prevention of cruelty to children; for parents and children would live together in a bond of perfect harmony and love. If it were not for the cancerous power of corruption that has eaten its way into the human make-up, we should not have such tragedies as all too frequently mar the lives of young people and leave a scar which a lifetime of remorse cannot remove completely. If it were not for the bias of evil in the lives of every one of us, there would be no shadows and tears, none of the selfish misunderstandings that frequently mar wedded bliss.

It hardly need be said that it is not a pleasant task to stand here in St. Louis and to tell uncounted thousands of young people throughout our country tonight who live on day after day without any thought of God or Christ or the Bible that the most disastrous thing in their lives is the power of sin, especially this power of impurity. I should much rather talk to you on the achievements of youth or on the contributions which young people are making to modern life or on some other similar pleasant, popular, and appealing subject. But I am tired of hearing these blind leaders of the blind crying “Peace!” when the very fundamentals of spiritual and moral peace have been overthrown by the radical revolution to which many modern young people have subjected their souls and bodies. I am tired of back-patting writers who close their eyes and ears to the obtruding, screaming evidence that surrounds us on all sides, crying to the highest heaven as it does—these fantastic fiddlers, who scrape and scratch at their music of death while the hopes of youth are consumed by the greedy flames of unbridled passion—these apostles of freedom who in the moral crisis confronting the human race are perpetuating a servitude which drags human love down to animal lust and will eventually wreck man biologically.

And because you cannot understand grace without understanding sin, I am here tonight to say that, when the guiding light of the Bible tells us individually, “Keep thyself pure,” we must admit that we have not kept ourselves pure, that at least our thoughts and desires have often strayed into the path of the forbidden. I ask you to put this drastic question to yourself: “What would happen to me if the holy God were to stand before me this moment and demand an accounting of all that I have done in my life?” I tell you that you must recognize now, if you have never recognized it before, the force of evil in your life; that you must learn that you cannot solve any problem before you have solved the big problem of sin.

But to counteract this, we have the supremely sacred message of the solution of sin, the Scriptural remedy, that gives you what all the modern philosophies and theories, changing from year to year, cannot offer, and that is the loving, merciful, forgiving, world-redeeming Christ on the cross. I do not preach that tarnished, tawdry, man-made Christ so frequently held up to the youth of our country by men who speak loudly and lengthily in these days before Christmas on the supremacy of Christ and on His nobility, but who refuse to acknowledge Him as the incarnate Son of God; not the Christ whom the camouflage of oratory and rhetoric would picture to our young men and young women, a ghastly counterfeit of the world-conquering, world-saving Son of God; but the Christ who from the lowliness of Bethlehem until the bitter, heart-breaking despair on Calvary comes to our young people today with a definite and positive message of forgiveness of sin and a newness of life. That Christ whose advent into the world we behold during these weeks (and remember that our Lord was a relatively young man and that in His ministry in the early thirties of His divine manhood He showed a very sympathetic and personal understanding and appreciation of youth) comes tonight to every young man and young woman who hears these words, just as in the days of His flesh He came both to the rich young man and to the publican; and sweeping out of existence the past with all its failures and concessions to the baser impulses of human nature, He offers to every soul that penitently pleads guilty to the charges raised by God’s Word the full, free, everlasting, unconditioned forgiveness of every wrong that we inflict upon ourselves and upon others.


Now, with this basis He gives us on the pages of Holy Scripture an illuminating light by which our feet can take the path to the proper appreciation of matrimony. First of all, in the most direct and unmistakable language the Word of God sets down the definite proposition that marriage is the natural, divinely appointed state and condition for all normal human beings. Let all who rise up to gainsay this truth declare that the unmarried state is a holier condition or that single blessedness, as it is miscalled, gives a greater opportunity for personal development and progress or that from the point of religion or of human accomplishment the unmarried man or woman has an advantage over the husband or wife or the father or mother; here are words, not of human, fallible wisdom, hut of divine, superhuman, omniscient Wisdom, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” This implies that it is not compatible with our highest happiness and our fullest development and usefulness wilfully to remain in the unmarried state. And to emphasize the truth of God’s declaration, there is the striking testimony of statistical research, which shows, for example, that married men live longer, that they commit fewer crimes, that they are more productive and of greater use to their communities and to the world at large. To regard matrimony as a man-made institution, to belittle the sacred nature of its intimacies, and to speak in disdainful humor of its privileges and duties, all this (and you know how common such procedure is in our day) is a blasphemous insult to God.

Then the guiding light of the Bible leads us to regard marriage as a lifelong union. When a young man and a young woman promise to remain faithful “until death do them part,” this is in direct harmony with the divine ideal, according to which husbands and wives are to “cleave” to each other through sickness and adversity and misfortunes of all kinds and degrees and to emerge more closely welded together by the fire of affliction. In our day of easy and increasing divorce, when even educated Hindus point to the number of legal separations in Christian countries and ask, “What has Christianity done for you?” or when, as it seems, so much of our modern legislation is aimed at making divorce easier, it will certainly sound prudish and passe to insist on the indissolubility of the marriage tie. But I want to remind you that, as no stream can rise above its head, no nation can rise above its homes. And if this cancerous growth continues to eat into the very vitals of our national life, we have no reason to assume that the destiny of our country will be different from that of pagan Babylon, Athens, Rome, or other centers of prosperity and culture where the requirements of marital constancy were so ruthlessly disregarded.

Then, viewed in the illumination of our divine lamp, we see that one of the divine purposes in the institution of matrimony is the propagation of the human race. Let insistent feminists and advocates of unrestricted birth control elaborate on the benefits of childless families; let misguided students of sociology declare that parenthood is only a secondary consideration,—here, again, is the clear, convincing, and conclusive statement of God, “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” Wherever this command is intentionally disregarded; wherever parents wilfully shrink from responsibilities of parenthood because of the restrictions which it places upon them; wherever by evasion of God’s command there is no patter of little feet, no lisping of little lips, no effervescent joy of little children, there something essential is missing and nothing that man knows or can devise will fill this void.

But the Bible is a complete guide and an efficient lamp; for it answers even such practical and detailed questions as those that are involved in the relations of husband and wife. In this age of extremes there is, on the one hand, the self-centered, domineering, inconsiderate husband, who ruthlessly rules everything according to the brutal dictates of his selfish impulses; and, on the other hand, there is the self-asserting, overbearing wife, who views marriage as just another means of gratifying her whims and wishes and who has no time and less thought for the fulfilment of those womanly duties which are involved in a happy marriage. But the Bible protests in no uncertain terms against all such extremes. It gives to husbands the highest possible standard of love and consideration when it says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it.” While Hinduism considers the birth of a daughter a grievous calamity, while Mohammedanism calls its women “cows,” and while Confucianism and Shintoism and the other forms of pagan absurdities regard women as very inferior beings, exalted only a degree or two above the brute animals, the glory of the Word of God is revealed in the fact that the Christian husband will contribute to the happiness and well-being of his home by loving his wife with devoted affection, by overlooking any frailties and inconsistencies, by providing for her, and by defending her, if necessary, even with his life. And the wife, similarly, must offer her contribution to the maintenance of family felicity. She must realize that in the divinely arranged order of things in this world the husband is to be the head of the house, the responsible representative to God and to the nation. The apostle admonishes: “As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” With this guide, the conduct of a Christian wife must be a continued protest against that caricature of Christian womanhood which modern society so often pictures to us when it shows us the pampered, spoiled, self-indulgent wife, whose arduous day has room for everything but the humble, yet necessary, domestic arts. Not long ago a British society mailed a copy of the Book of Proverbs to its members; and some public-minded citizen who wishes to promote the happiness of the American home can emulate this example by sending to every woman’s organization in the country a copy of the last chapter of the same remarkable book, a chapter which every woman should study carefully and which prospective brides can memorize with profit; for it is God’s guide to marital happiness, the golden scroll of woman’s highest achievements in the establishment of wedded contentment.


But finally the guiding Word of God also gives us the power to put these holy principles into operation in our own lives. It not only points us to a Savior who removes the wrongs of our lives, but it also gives us His Holy Spirit to enlighten and sanctify us and guide our feet to earth’s highest happiness. We are told that our hearts are “purified by faith”; Christ Himself tells us, “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” For this reason and with this divine impulse, light, and direction the Church views the situation hopefully. It tells all twentieth-century young people that there may still be a “home, sweet home” for them under the gracious guidance of their God if they say with Joshua of old, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” If, on the happy day when they kneel before the altar (and the church is absolutely the best place to begin married life), they take Christ with them as the Third in their union and pledge themselves to establish the family altar, to permit the Word of God to be their guiding beacon light through the besetting darkness that may enshroud their married life, they will have a home that may not enjoy all the appointments and refinements which men are prone to prize so highly, a home that may have no well-beaten path to its door, such as lead to the habitations of the world’s celebrities; but above all this, and better, it will have the gracious answer to the search for human happiness; it will be a haven of refuge and a place of spiritual regeneration; it will, in short, be a temple of Christ; and they who live therein will be blessed, ineffably blessed, by His royal, redeeming presence. Amen.

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

Date: December 11, 1930?

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.John 10:10

AS these words speed out tonight into the vast reaches of our country and beyond its borders, they come into uncounted thousands of homes that are happily busy with the preparation for the joyous Christmas now but a few short weeks distant. No matter where men may find themselves, no matter what their position or station in life may be, no matter who they are and what they are, when the happiest season of our long and eventful year draws close, there is something so vast and so contagious about the external side of Christmas that there are few who can remain untouched and uninfluenced by the outward preparation for this day of days. Six hundred millions of dollars accumulated in Christmas savings clubs, even in these days of depression, three billion greeting-cards and Christmas packages in the holiday mail, two hundred tons of postage-stamps,—all this is only fragmentary evidence of the stupendous proportions which are involved in the modern preparation for Christmas.

But would to God that there were a corresponding inner preparation of the heart and soul, a real understanding of the profound significance that these weeks bear to every one of us, emphasizing as they do the advent of Jesus Christ into our hearts! Beneath all the shimmer and sheen of the tinsel and the dazzle of our modern Christmas, this holy festival has too frequently degenerated into a commercialized “Xmas,” in which the “X,” true to its algebraic associations, stands for the quantity that is unknown to many. Too often we forget the divine love for sinful mankind that prompted the coming of Christ into the weakness of our human flesh. In spite of the fact that we are living in an age which has produced more books and lectures and discussions on religion than any previous period, it is a sad commentary on the spirit of much of this religious discussion that the vital and essential reasons for the coming of Christ and the real message of the Christmas season are often misunderstood, misrepresented, or reduced to that colorless, spineless sentimentality that has room for holly and mistletoe and the profusion of lights and color, but for the Christ of Christmas even less room than that crowded inn at Bethlehem.

So tonight let me speak to you who have never learned to know the reason for Christ’s coming and the divine happiness which it offers; to you who have broken faith with Christ and the Church and closed your hearts in indifference and neglect; to you who are trying to bear up under the cross of affliction; to you who know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and show you all the comforting reason for His coming, as He Himself summarizes this in the words of our text, “I am come that they might have life.”


These words of Jesus, “I am come that they,” My followers, “might have life,” imply very precisely that without His blessed advent into the flesh there would be no assurance of life, nothing but despair and death. Because sin separated man from God and brought its inevitable wages, death, humanity could be rescued and restored to life, not by itself and the best it could offer, not by an indulgent, careless disregard of sin on the part of God, but only by the advent of Him to whom all the burnt offerings and sin-offerings of the Old Covenant pointed as to the perfectly atoning Sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. It is the consciousness of His sin-removing and life-bestowing capacity that finds such repeated expression in the utterances of Jesus. We ask, “Why did Christ come?” and the death-defying, life-bringing answer in our text, “that they might have life,” is paralleled by the utterances in which our Lord reiterates the sin-removing, life-giving purpose of His coming. Thus there is the rich comfort of His promise, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” We pause for a moment to reecho the glorious meaning of these words, “to seek and to save that which was lost.” And well may we pause because people do not like to believe they are lost in this age in which we often read of humanity’s “finding itself”; because self-sufficient men do not like to be told that they must be saved when they think they are getting alone quite well by saving themselves or when they have so thoroughly lost their moral balance that the conception of sin is regarded as medieval and puritanical. In a day when a syndicate writer can fill the larger part of a column with a satire on the subject “The Decline and Disappearance of Sin”; when a new motion-picture appeals to a morbid public with the slogan “Beautiful Sinners and Savage Sins,” let me remind you that sin—and I mean the sin of your life and mine—was such a stark and hideous reality that the very purpose of Christ’s advent was to “save His people from their sins.” To Christ the contrite acknowledgment of all the wrongs and shortcomings in our lives was so essential that He said, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” To Christ the sin that mars our own individual lives, that makes us untrue to the highest and noblest ideals in life, that damns us into death,—that sin, in its repulsive immensity, was the compelling cause that brought Him down from the indescribable glory and majesty that was His with the Father into the madhouse of perversion into which sin has caused this world of wonders to degenerate. That is why Christ came—to eliminate the soul-harrowing punishment of sin and to offer the gift of God, eternal life.

Stop for a moment to appropriate the incomparable comfort of that Advent promise, “I am come that they might have life.” Other creeds, spurning the gracious love of Christ, lead downward to the darkness of death. But here—eternal thanks be to God!—is the great upward hope of humanity. As soon as any soul, anywhere, at any time, believes in the sin-removing love of Jesus, that soul, to use the words of Christ, “is passed from death unto life,” that person is reborn unto a newness of life that knows no end; that regenerated child of God has found life; he lives in a marvelous, Christ-centered existence, that culminates in the victory of an eternal, all-glorious life with Christ. That is why Christ came.

Note that our text offers no other reason in addition to this life-giving mission. And, truly, Jesus did not come to satisfy any secular ambitions. He warned His disciples against the delusion of believing that He had come to institute a reign of peace and comfort here on earth. His silence remonstrated with Pilate when the thick-visioned pagan could not grasp the conception of the soul kingdom of Him who was born into the world that He might testify to the truth. “I am come that they might have life,” this is the answer of divine and infallible Wisdom to the Advent question, “Why did Jesus come?”


Now, of this gift of life, which begins the very moment a lost soul finds Jesus, our text promises that we are to have it “more abundantly,” or, as the original Greek of this passage indicates, that we are to have it in full abundance, in overflowing measure. And indeed, the Christian’s life is abundant; for, coming from Christ, who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, it is the highest and best life possible, profound enough to satisfy the soul’s deepest longings, exalted enough to meet the heart’s loftiest aspirations. Psychological research has shown that men and women with a religious background are normally among the very happiest people on earth; and the demonstration of our faith proves that, when a man begins to live his life in Christ, he has a divine peace and tranquility that offers a rich and happy fullness to his existence. In the materialistic perversions of our day, men may regard the abundant life as the career that is showered with a lavish profusion of wealth and comfort and pleasurable enjoyment. Gilt-edged bonds and bulging bank accounts; rakish autos and sleek, swift yachts; city palaces and country mansions; social prestige and elite environments; intellectual attainment and a smart-minded grip on life; physical beauty and esthetic attractions,—these are some of the symbols of the popular conception of life at its fullest and richest. But the utter emptiness of an existence that may have all this and more, the painful poverty of a life that may bask in overflowing bounty, is demonstrated in the crises of life and death, where all that caters to the pride of life is swept aside as veritable froth. A child of God may be destitute, persecuted, forsaken; a follower of Jesus Christ may live the most restricted, isolated, and cramped existence, and yet, having Christ, he has the fullest and finest life that may be lived on earth.

But that Christ-bestowed life is the abundant life also because it abounds in those happy virtues that are so predominant in the Savior’s perfect life. It is an intensely interesting study and one that is peculiarly appropriate just in this Advent season to take the passages in which Jesus expresses the purpose of His coming and find in them some of the outstanding expressions of the abundant life that we are to live as we follow in His footsteps. Thus He says in the twentieth chapter of St. Matthew, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” And, oh! that we in this hero-zero worshiping age could properly understand the profound depths of that service of love which made Him give His life “a ransom for many” and realize that only in the sacred imitation of Christ’s service of love can we come to the abundant life He offers. We are passing through a crisis in our national life in which millions of otherwise productive workers have been forced to spend months in idleness. This means that we have especial reason this Christmas to hearken to the words of Christ, “I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you.” And as Jesus never refused to help the poor and needy and hungry and even resorted to miracles to feed the famished, so in the name of that holy, sinless, stainless Son of God I appeal to you who bear His name to throw open your hearts and homes this Christmas; if necessary, to curtail the size and cost of gifts to friends and relatives, so that, in extending the ministering hand of Christian love to your less fortunate fellow-men, you may receive Him and His benediction who says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”

Again He expresses an ideal of the abundant life when He tells us in the ninth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, “The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” We look about us, and with dismay we behold the forces in our human civilization that are intent upon destroying men’s lives. We think almost instinctively of the horrors of the World War and of the eight and a half millions of human sacrifices that were offered up to the grinning god of war; we turn back the pages of history and hear the shrieks of thousands of martyrs echoing piteously into the night of religious intolerance that wielded the naked sword of inquisition in the name of the Lord of Love; and as we anticipate the angelic chorus on Christmas morning, “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” may we realize that through the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes with the forgiveness of our sins and the reconciliation with the Father, we who would live abundantly are called upon to remove hatred and rancor and prejudice and bigotry from our hearts and to follow Him whose suffering and death gave the world the new commandment—”that ye love one another.” We do not entertain the delusion that this world will ever witness a cessation of war and bloodshed; for the Scriptures tell us that until the very last—yes, as an unmistakable sign of Christ’s second coming—there shall be wars and rumors of war, that nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. But we do believe that the one force which will do more to minimize the frequency, the horror, and the brutality of war than any other agency or combination of agencies, the one power that can give us individually the abundant life of peace, is the spirit of the Prince of Peace; for this spirit alone can effectively check and restrain the sin and selfishness which lie at the root of national and individual prejudices.

But the life that Christ gives us is the abundant life because it is divinely equipped to prepare us for the victorious life that begins where earth’s life ends. That abundant life which only Christ can give and which lies higher than the purchase power of wealth, deeper than the reach of research in the profoundest philosophies and in the most intricate sciences, beyond the grasp of the most persevering human ambitions, that life and overflowing existence bestows its greatest blessing when in the limitless bounty of His immeasurable love the Christ of Advent offers you life everlasting, life unending, life eternal. To give you that blessed, hallowed existence, and to give it to you in surpassing abundance, Christ came.

Now, if these words find you spending your life, the one existence that God has given you, in the darkness of worry, or bitterness, or envy, or hatred, or unbelief; if tonight you realize that you are living an aimless, purposeless, unproductive life and you try to emerge from the clouds of soul-depression by asking, “May I come to Him, too?” then remember that the Christ whom I preach to you knows no distinction of race or nationality or color. He repudiates the entire artificial caste system that shortsighted human beings have built up on the basis of money and brains and position; and as at His birth He received the homage and adoration both of the lowly shepherds and of the intellectual Magi, so there is none too low, none too high, to be excluded from this all-embracing promise, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” Do you ask, “How shall I come?” The Christ that I preach to you imposes no conditions, demands no obligations, requires no credentials; for here is the faithful reassurance, “WHOSOEVER believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” Do you ask, “When shall I come?” While the Christ whom I preach unto you is always at hand with His never-ending, never-failing love, His Word of Truth testifies, “Now is the accepted time,” and it pleads with you, “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts,” but open them up to receive the coming King of Glory. Indeed, what more appropriate season is there in which to fling wide the portals of your hearts to His repeated knockings; to become a follower and a defender of Jesus Christ if you are not now one; to reestablish your loyalty and allegiance to Him if you have been unfaithful and untrue; to rededicate the best that you are and the best that you have if you have been preserved in faith by His grace,—than this, the season of His blessed coming? God grant that from contrite hearts, filled with both, the conviction of sin and of sin-conquering grace, uncounted thousands may carol into a cold world:—

O holy Child of Bethlehem,

      Descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin and enter in,

      Be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels

      The great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us,

      Our Lord Emmanuel!


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

Date: December 4, 1930

The Scriptures must be fulfilled.Mark 14:49

IMAGINE that we have before us this evening a large pile of the so-called “sacred books” of all the non-Christian religions in the world and imagine that quite apart from this towering stack of queer and curious writings you place a single copy of our Bible. Do you know that one of the most striking of the many and notable differences that you could find between our Scriptures and all of these allegedly “holy” books would be this, that our Bible is the only volume which definitely and convincingly proves itself to be the truth of God through the remarkable prophecies and the still more remarkable fulfillments which its pages contain?

Remember that no other book has ever torn aside the veil that enshrouds the future as the Bible has. Of course, men have repeatedly tried to penetrate into the mysterious course of coming events, and I mean men who have employed thoroughgoing personal research and investigation, not the brazen and fraudulent fortune-telling, which is indicted by the Law of God and condemned by the law of practically every self-respecting community in the country. But even the best of their predictions have proved to be only conjectures and usually poor conjectures. The records of the official pronouncements of recognized scientific groups and university faculties reveal that within the last one hundred years, to confine ourselves to that period of modem advancement, these august bodies have relieved themselves of predictions which have proved absurdly impractical or impossible. In a very serious moment Thomas Jefferson prophesied to his friend John Adams that the time would come in America when people would drink much more cocoa than tea and coffee combined. About a year ago a loss of thirty-five billions of dollars in security values was sustained by people who thought they could foretell the rise and fall of financial affairs. For several years traffic experts and economists have made careful predictions of the expansion of the Panama Canal tonnage, claiming that a new canal would be imperative by this time. Now a presidential commission reports that none of these predictions have been correct and that it will be some time before the new waterway will be necessary. In a recent week, in one of our large cities, the United States Weather Bureau, with all the facilities of our national meteorological survey at its disposal, daily made inaccurate or incorrect predictions on the weather conditions of the ensuing twenty-four hours.

If men cannot successfully predict the turn of such material affairs in life, it will be self-evident that they stand hopeless and helpless before the future as it involves their souls. Think of the disappointment and disillusionment that have followed in the wake of misguided prophecies that have been made in the name of religion. Remember how frequently end-of-the-world prophets have repeated their delusion by claiming to reveal the exact hour of the earth’s collapse. Recall the suffering and despair which swept over our country in the forties of the last century when hundreds of people sold their homes and property, draped themselves in white robes, and went up on the tops of hills and mountains to meet Christ, but in reality to meet a rude shattering of their hopes. These and other equally tragic instances demonstrate that humanity, far from being able to draw aside the curtain that veils the future, gropes about blindly, hardly able to understand even the past, heedlessly conjecturing a score of contradictory interpretations of the present. After all is said, with the atom of intuition that we possess, you and I cannot predict with any degree of certainty what may happen to us tomorrow or within the next five minutes.

But the Bible can pierce the impregnable bulwark of the future. According to the divine testimony of our Savior in the words of our text, given on the night of His betrayal, “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” And today, when men look for positive proof for the truth of the Word of God, when they cry out, in effect, “Prove it, and we shall believe it,” what better can we do than first of all hold up the remarkable and superhuman fulfillment of prophecy in the past history with which the pages of Scripture abound?


Challenging the idol-gods of Babylonia, the prophet Isaiah demands, “Show the things that are to come hereafter that we may know that ye are gods.” But the only answer to this challenge has been the dumb and sullen silence of defeat. Yet those who disdain the Bible take one of its prophecies after the other and witness the exact and literal fulfillment which has followed in the course of past history.

Here is the proud city of Nineveh, the mistress of the civilized East. In the heyday of her power and glory, when her grandeur and luxury attracted the admiration of the entire world, a lone Hebrew prophet, Nahum, arose to predict, “God will make an utter end of the place thereof.” Her “palaces shall be dissolved.” “She is empty and void and waste.” What happened? Today, in the vicinity of Mosul, the exact fulfillment of each syllable of this prophecy rises up before every traveler who sees the huge mounds covering the ruins and debris of this haughty city with all but impenetrable oblivion. Or here is self-sufficient Babylon. In the day when its winged armies swiftly annexed country upon country, it suddenly felt the wrath of God to which Isaiah had given prophetic expression 150 years before, when he declared, “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, . . . shall never be inhabited; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation; neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there, but wild beasts of the desert shall lie there.” 2,500 years later a pioneer archeologist looks at the ruins of ancient Babylon and writes, “Shapeless heaps of rubbish cover for many an acre the face of the land . . . and render the site of Babylon a naked and hideous waste. Owls start from the scanty thickets, and the foul jackal skulks through the furrows.” Here, in these and a hundred other instances of fulfilled prophecy we have abundant and compelling reason to rise up and defend the truth of the Old Testament in a day when it is fashionable, even in certain theological seminaries, to speak disdainfully of the Old Covenant and to brand its contents as half-savage morality and as historically incorrect and untrustworthy. After nineteen eventful centuries of human affairs we echo the Savior’s verdict, “The Scriptures must be fulfilled.”

But far more vital and precious than these fulfilled prophecies, which pay their testimony to the power and the truth of God, is that sacred, golden chain of pledges which testify to the unfathomable and immeasurable love of God, the rich promises concerning the coming of our Lord and Savior to which the Advent season once more directs our attention. Christ says of the Old Testament pages, “They are they that testify of Me”; and who is there that can begin with Moses, as the Savior Himself began when He walked with His disciples on the Emmaus road, and not find unfolded there the divine forecast of His life and death of love? The gates of Paradise Lost swing closed upon the human race, but not before a Redeemer, “the Seed of the woman,” has been promised, to lead humanity to Paradise Regained. Centuries roll on, and a more explicit prophecy tells men that this Redeemer is to be a descendant of Abraham. Then, of Abraham’s posterity the tribe of Judah is chosen and of the tribe of Judah the house of David and of the Davidic lineage the little town of Bethlehem.

Again, when men strained their vision to the future and asked, “Who is this Redeemer?” the clear voice of inspired prophecy rang out to bring the assurance that this Christ was not to be a mere mortal human being like you and me, but that by His very virgin birth, by His superhuman nature, this Child that is born to us and the Son that is given to us must be called “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”; that He is, as the Second Psalm declares, none other than God’s Son, begotten of the Father from eternity. Nor was the life of our Savior so enshrouded in the haze of distant centuries that His career remained a mysterious enigma for those who yearned to know of His days in the flesh. We think of the beginning of the Savior’s public life, and we hear Isaiah’s prophecy of John the Baptist, the divinely ordained forerunner of Christ, as “the voice of Him that crieth in the wilderness”; and when we hear the prediction, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,” we have a prophetic indication of the Savior’s incipient ministry in the Galilean countries and along the coast. Or, to skip over the intervening prophecies, when we come to the end of His ministry and behold His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, the cries of hosanna and welcome raised by the motley throngs at the roadside were but the echo of Zechariah’s prophecy five centuries before.

And when men tried to pierce the shrouded future and find the reason of the Messiah’s coming and the blessings of His advent into the flesh, the prophetic books of the Old Testament answered with definite beauty and precise promise. Those who saw His suffering and death with such clarity that centuries before Jesus was crucified they could predict that He would be sold for thirty pieces of silver, deserted by His disciples, mocked by His fellow countrymen, rejected by the Gentiles; that His hands and feet would be perforated by the nails of death, that the soldiers under the cross would cut up His garments and cast lots for the mantle that was without seam; that, although this Christ would be condemned as a common criminal and therefore destined to burial in the potter’s field, He was nevertheless to enjoy the repose of an honorable death in the rock-hewn tomb of a wealthy follower; and that finally He was to prove His divine power by His exemption from the corruption and disintegration of the grave;—those who saw all this and preserved it in their prophecies as an everlasting memorial to the power and truth of God knew that He came to bear our sins and carry our griefs, to be bruised for our iniquities and wounded for our transgressions, to offer us without money and without price the joy of our salvation and the certainty of our redemption. They knew, as Jesus knew, that “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”


Now all this has been fulfilled. The fullness of time has come. All things are now ready.

What the fathers most desired,

What the prophets’ heart inspired,

What they longed for many a year,

Stands fulfilled in glory here.

Tonight, as we enjoy the priceless privilege of beholding that Christ face to face in His Word, as the great panorama of fulfilled Messianic prophecy unfolds itself before us, let us remember that, if there is one practical deduction that we can make from this remarkable harmony that exists between prophecy and fulfillment, it is this: The same God who so unmistakably proved His divine power and love in the past by keeping His pledged promise of the world’s Redeemer, will continue the demonstration of His faithfulness in the future. The assurance that the Scriptures have been fulfilled literally is the divine warrant and guaranty for this truth of personal and direct importance that they will be fulfilled with the same power and love in your life. The divine promise for all ages to come remains, “The Scriptures must be fulfilled.” For here, in the everlasting faithfulness of God in Christ, is the power that gives men “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Here is the great impulse that makes Christianity essentially the religion of supreme happiness, the practical solution to the difficulties and the complexity of modern life, the force that leads men to Christ and to heaven’s happiness.

Someone has counted the promises of Scripture and has found that they number more than 30,000. But how sorely this tired, aching, feverish world needs every one of these assurances of a God who has helped and who will help! We like to pride ourselves on the conquests of human ingenuity that have been recorded in this marvelous age; but I often think that deep below the veneer of smug self-satisfaction there is the aching heart of a disillusioned humanity that has plucked the last fruits from the tree of human ambition and achievement only to find that they crumble to dust beneath its greedy grasp.

Are you troubled with sin and disturbed about the selfishness that abounds in your life? Listen to this sacred promise of an ever faithful God, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Are you distressed by sorrow and worry and anxiety? Here is the promise penned by inspiration for you: “Cast all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.” Are you anxiously concerned about providing food and warmth and shelter for your family? Are you near the end of your resources, with no human agency able to help you? Tonight the Scriptures, which have never made a promise that has not been kept, tell you, “God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ.” Are you lying on a bed of sickness and pain? Have you been shut in for years and shut off from much of the joy of life? Remember that it is to you especially that the gentle Savior, who devoted so much of His time and energy to the sick and the maimed, speaks these comforting words, “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy, . . . and your joy no man taketh from you.” Do you want a friend and counselor and guide when all human agencies have proved to be pitifully frail and faulty? Come to Christ; for He, who is the Truth, tells you, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Do you cry out in the night of sorrow and disillusionment and helplessness, as you plead for some one that is firm and everlasting, true and faithful, superhuman and divine, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!”? Then prepare to make the pilgrimage of faith and hope and love to the manger in Bethlehem; turn your thoughts away from the distracting influences that are so frequently associated with much of the preparation for Christmastide, lift your hearts to God, and remember that, if there is any need that confronts you, any sorrow that oppresses you, any danger that besets you, you can trust God and find in His promise the divine serenity which gives you the confidence to tell yourself in Jesus’ name; “The Scriptures must be fulfilled,” and to confront a hostile and unsympathetic world with the challenge, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”“all things” for time; “all things” for eternity; “all things” for life; “all things” for death; “all things” in Christ, through Christ, for Christ—the gracious King of His Church. Amen.

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

Date: November 27, 1930

In everything give thanks.1 Thessalonians 5:18

ANOTHER annual Thanksgiving Day, that happy American institution by which the Christians of our country express their gratitude for our manifold national blessings, is drawing to a close. But before the memories and the message of this day are set aside in the millions of our American homes from coast to coast, let us stop for a moment to remind ourselves that of all the Thanksgiving days in recent years this one stands out with notable significance.

The past months have not been marked by the usual bounty and prosperity that many of us have come to regard as quite inevitable in these United States. First of all, the heavens have withheld their rain, and our agricultural regions have suffered one of the most prolonged and disastrous droughts in the history of the nation, with the result that parched fields and seared orchards stand as ghastly specters of blasted hopes and futile efforts. And as though this visitation were not sufficient to remind the people of our nation of the God from whom all blessings flow, there came the aftermath of an industrial crisis, which threw several million American workers engaged in productive occupations into unemployment and idleness.

As these words go out tonight, there are doubtless uncounted homes in which the question has been asked, either in thought or in words, “Can we really give thanks this year?” There are doubtless many in the agricultural belts of the nation tonight who have harvested not even as much as the seed which they sowed in the spring; those in our large cities who have vainly sought even part-time employment and who have experienced financial disappointments and reverses; and those who felt the hand of sorrow and affliction rest heavily upon them through sickness, family troubles, death, or through the long list of other visitations in which adversity may express itself. And from these homes, on the one day of the year on which the inhabitants of our country are especially called upon to raise their hearts and voices in thanks to God, comes the plaintive question, “Why Thanksgiving? Have we actually reason to give thanks this year?”


Now, what does the Bible say? Here are the words of divine and heavenly Wisdom, “In everything give thanks,” and that means that, if we today pause to take inventory of the blessings that have been showered down upon us, we must come to the unavoidable conclusion that this year, too, God’s mercy and tender kindness is beyond the power of measurement and computation. Foreign visitors to our shores who have found the tranquility of the nation disturbed by the hard times of which we hear so much, tell us that the United States does not know what really hard times are and that the comforts which we enjoy even in this period of depression are relatively so tremendous that they fairly overwhelm the people of other nations. You speak of drought; but let me point you to the indescribable sorrows that have engulfed vast areas in China. For four years uncounted millions have suffered from drought which, combined with civil war, has brought about the most calamitous period in the history of China, perhaps even in the history of the world. Eyewitnesses tell us that whole villages desperately endeavored to keep alive by devouring leaves, scraping the bark off trees, and mixing grass roots and chaff with earth and clay. In one province alone 80,000 women and girls were sold into slavery in order to ward off the pangs of this gnawing hunger. You speak of unemployment; but think of postwar Europe and the countries that have not enjoyed a year of real, normal industry and employment since the conclusion of the World War, countries in which government doles, destructive labor troubles, and communistic agitation emphasize the most striking contrast between the Old World and the blessings which we enjoy here in the New. Survey all this, and you will apply to our country what the psalmist said of the Promised Land, O America, “the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.”

So, if we hear the echo of the apostle’s word, “In everything give thanks,” let us tonight give thanks for the fact that we are living in a country in which the horn of divine plenty has been poured out in a truly unparalleled degree. Remember, there is in this country today the greatest accumulation of wealth ever known to man. At a time when bank deposits, in spite of unemployment, are still at a staggering peak; when there is an automobile for every sixth person in the country; when skilled and unskilled labor, in spite of wage reductions, is paid more for a day of eight hours than these same trades and occupations received a generation ago for a week of ten or twelve hour days, at this time we can well agree that the Prosperity of our nation must be spelled with a capital P and that it stands absolutely unequaled in any other land or other age of history. Consider our home life as it is shaped and molded by the progress and the resources of the present hour. There is no people on earth that has the variety and the quantity of food that graces the average American table three times every day. The London Daily Mail recently called attention to the fact that, while the white population of the United States is about twice as large as that of Great Britain, the United States has not only twice as many telephones and motor-cars as England, but fifteen times as many. We have our comfortable homes, our radios, our musical instruments, our jewels, our expensive clothing, our endless catalog of luxuries, in a measure which baffles the poverty-pinched people of other nations.

Then let us thank God that we have been placed into the world at a time which is so rich in opportunities and blessings. Go back to the Middle Ages, when the destinies of men were held and swayed by a group of autocratic tyrants, so that there was little real joy in life. Contrast that age with our own. Think of the forward strides in medicine, the astounding progress in the application of anesthetics, the marvels of twentieth-century surgery, and the conquests which medical science has made over contagious diseases. Think of the blessings of peace we have enjoyed for more than a decade while our neighbors in Latin America have been torn with constant dissension and civil war. Think of the progress of education, the establishment of the greatest system of free institutions of learning, both elementary and advanced, known to history. Think of all this and of the many other evidences of the advance and progress of the American nation today, and you will agree that this present age has brought God’s most complete answer to the material needs of humanity. But especially let us thank God for the blessings of the soul and for the free course of the holy Gospel; for the fact that in this remarkable age and in this remarkable country all who will, can enjoy the preaching of the Word of God, the blessings of church membership, the glorious comfort of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in which there is offered fully and freely, without price or restriction, the complete atonement for our sins and the hope of happiness here and hereafter. Remember that you who are listening in tonight are enjoying spiritual liberty and freedom, to attain which hundreds of thousands have shed their lifeblood or have perished under the most fiendish forms of persecution which human depravity in its most degenerate depth could invent. I refer directly to the complete and absolute separation of Church and State, according to which, on the one hand, every church body is forever prohibited from interfering in the political and governmental affairs of the nation, just as, on the other hand, the government is permanently restrained from establishing a national religion or meddling in the religious exercises of its citizens. Contrast our land and the joy of this freedom to worship God according to the Scriptures and the dictates of our Christian conscience with conditions in those areas of the globe where Christians are persecuted either by arrogant churches or by brutal scoffers, where the God of the Bible is ruled out of existence, where Christianity is regarded as an opiate for the masses, and where the effigies of the divine Son of God are shamelessly dragged through the mud to show the triumph of cold reason over Christ’s religion. Compare all of this with the blessings that you enjoy, and who is there tonight that can refrain from breaking forth into the psalmist’s hymn of praise, “Let us give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; because His mercy endureth forever”?

But when the apostle says “In EVERYTHING give thanks,” he gives us a divine philosophy for human life before which a materialistic world stands speechless and in wide-eyed wonder. People can understand how individuals upon whom a lavish profusion of wealth and success has been showered can raise their voice in thanksgiving. But to thank God in sickness and adversity; to lift your heart in gratitude to God when your bank has failed or your business has collapsed; to celebrate Thanksgiving when you have lost your employment, contracted disease, or found yourself engulfed in any one of the many griefs and tragedies which may overwhelm men,—that is a defiant contradiction to any merely human and short-sighted attitude toward life. Yet when tonight’s Scripture text asks us to give thanks “in everything,” it tells us that just as soon as a man knows and accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, it does not matter what happens to him; for he can look through the bitterest tears of deepest tribulation to the Lord, “who doeth all things well.” He can always, under the most depressing surroundings and the most disintegrating forces, find in His Christian faith and hope abundant reason to thank God, first for the unsearchable riches of his Christian conviction and then for the abiding assurance of God’s ready help in every crisis and emergency of life. Let me say, then, tonight, to you who may look forward to weeks of privation and hopelessness and suffering that, if you have Christ in your heart, you, too, have reason today to thank God for the living certainty of His Word that “all things” (and that means especially the present-day issues of unemployment, financial restriction, and their resultant sorrows) work together for your good in time and in eternity. If you are Christ’s, you have His infallible pledge that our heavenly Father’s love and guidance in soul and body will give you the same impulse to ceaseless thanksgiving that it has awakened in the hearts and lives of the saints of God in all lands and ages.


We must give thanks because ingratitude is one of the most dangerous and deadly sins, especially for a nation that has enjoyed such an outpouring of blessings as we have. If there is one lesson that stands out boldly and dearly in the annals of human history, it is this: No nation has ever spurned the grace of God Almighty or refused to accept the guidance of His Word and will without bringing down upon it great and appalling national disasters. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” is the Scriptural warning that confronts us when we behold the crescent of Mohammedanism supplanting the Cross of Christ in the North Africa that once boasted of a long list of large, prosperous Christian communities; or when we stand before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and hear the penitential chants of those who yearn for the return of a national glory destroyed through ingratitude; or when, to take a modern example, we behold all the pride and pinnacles of human glory and human boastfulness that have been crushed out of existence by the World War. All this must lead us to the realization that there never has been a nation powerful enough and resourceful enough successfully to rise up over God, to forget His providential leadership, and to tread His proffered mercies under ruthless feet without inviting the calamities of destruction. The blessings that we have and enjoy come to us not by chance; they are not bestowed upon the American nation automatically or because of any national virtue or preeminence. They come to us wholly and completely from the unlimited munificence of God by the purest exhibition of His divine grace. As soon as people forget this and eat their three meals a day without a thought of God; as soon as they neglect the spiritual grace that He offers them, the spurned bounty of God invokes such visitations as the American nation has experienced during the past months. Let our military and naval experts insist upon increased appropriations for purposes of armament and defense at a time when four-fifths of our national income are spent (and much perhaps wisely spent) for purposes of war, past, present, and future; it may be well to hold up to the nation this vital and basic fact, that the greatest danger threatening the American people today is the sin of ingratitude and indifference, which would dethrone the almighty God and ascribe our national greatness to our own resourcefulness and management and capabilities. Let professional politicians warn us against the encroachment of blighting Communism; yet remember that, though the center of the world Communism may be several thousand miles away from the security of our American life, the same tragedies that have provoked the curses of groaning millions may be repeated in our fair land if the thankless unbelief and boastful materialism that has engulfed Russia inundates our own country.

Tonight, then, since by the very law of proportion there must be some listening in to whom Thanksgiving Day has meant just another holiday characterized chiefly by turkey and football, it may be well to send out two thoughts. First, this ungrateful, take-everything-for-granted, thoughtless spirit is a philosophy of life which drags men down to the level of the beast, yes, to an even lower level. For dumb, irrational creatures, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, seem to be guided by a certain sense of animal gratitude, while there are men who, though laying claim to intelligence, go on day after day, year after year, and accept the unnumbered outpourings of divine beneficence without pausing even for a fleeting moment to raise their hearts to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Let us approach our blessings with the realization to which St. Paul gives expression, “God giveth to all life, breath, and all things”; and let us get down on our knees before this day draws to a close to confess, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant.”

The other thought, correspondingly, is this: The path to the happiness of a productive life is the thanksgiving road. Anyone whose heart goes out to God in daily prayer, at meal time, at the beginning and at the close of day, and at other appropriate times; anyone who in the name of Jesus Christ translates thanksgiving into thanksliving and realizes that, as he has received these bounties from God, so he must be ready to share them with less fortunate brothers (especially in such months of depression as those through which we are now passing, when thousands of families throughout the country are confronted by actual want and depressing need); anyone who finds in Jesus Christ as He is revealed to us in His divine Word above all the Savior through whom we may obtain full and free remission of all our sins; all in whom Thanksgiving thus awakens the resolution to pray thanks, to live thanks, and to give thanks in word and in deed, all such have found the divine key to the joy and happiness of a spiritually enriched life. Amen.

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

Date: November 20, 1930?

Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light.Ephesians 5:8

THE present age is notably the age of power, the era in which human ingenuity, blessed by divine guidance, has learned to harness the forces of nature and to develop unparalleled reservoirs of energy. Thus we read of a single turbine generator that produces more than 270,000 horsepower; we hear that electrical research has created a current of more than 3,000,000 volts; we are told that the total power generated by machinery in the United States equals that of 12,000,000,000 slaves. Yet with all the fresh triumphs in the conquest of power, men have never found the one impulse by which they can control themselves. Though they dam the course of mighty rivers, they cannot restrain the flood of passion that surges through the human breast; though they transform the sandy sweeps of alkali deserts into blossoming orchards and fields of golden grain, they cannot turn the barren bleakness of a life of sin into a truly happy career. Though they erect beacon-lights of 10,000,000 candle-power to guide our airmen over the treacherous Western mountains, in all their scientific speculations they have not been able to find a light which can lead humanity upward and onward to the life that is really worth living because it has conquered sin.

But there is a power which can change men and bring them into the newness of a sanctified life; there is a light which can dispel the darkness of evil and shed its radiance over humanity to show men how to conquer themselves, how to defeat sin, how to attain to the happiness of a noble and constructive existence. And that is the power and the light of which St. Paul speaks in our text when he tells us tonight, “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.”

This inspired promise assures us first of all that, whenever a sin-marked soul comes to Christ, believing and trusting in the full and free grace that He, the royal Redeemer of humanity, offers to every one of us; whenever a sin­laden mortal approaches the Throne of Mercy and appeals for forgiveness, not on the basis of anything he can do or say or offer, but only on the strength of the shed blood of Jesus Christ,—that man (and it does not matter what his past may have been or what his educational, social, financial, physical condition now may be) is born again; he becomes a new creature, with a new purpose in life and a new spirit animating his being. His business life, his home-life, his social life, all are permeated by a new light. That is what the apostle means when he tells the Christians at Ephesus and the Christians in America today, “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.”


Let me pause to emphasize these last words, “Ye are light in the Lord,” because people have tried to find this light without Christ. Men ask themselves the question, “How can I lead a clean, pure, unselfish, helpful life?” and although Christ tells them, “Without Me ye can do nothing,” they seek to find an answer in human endeavors and innovations. That is why we hear so much of character-building, of self-improvement, of cultural advancement; that is why we find the long and imposing array of crime cures and suggestions for the restraint of evil that are being offered today as never before. But because so many of the crime cures and proposals for moral betterment operate with man’s brain instead of with his heart; because they are concerned more about his body than about his soul; because more time and thought and energy is spent in improving man’s environment than in improving man himself,—all these suggestions which set Christ aside are destined to remain abject failures.

In one of his powerful stories, The World Holocaust, Nathaniel Hawthorne brings this out in a striking manner. He tells of a time when men, tired of the frivolities and vanities of life, decided to destroy all the objects of luxury and temptation by heaping them up into a mountainous pile and then applying the flame. As the smoke clouds of this gigantic conflagration rose high into the heavens, the men who made and sold these objects stood around dismayed by the thought that there would be no more market for their products. To these, as Hawthorne tells the story, Satan appeared and declared, “Be not downcast, my sires, for there is one thing these wiseacres have forgotten.” “What is that?” they all cried with one accord. “The human heart,” Satan replied. “Unless they hit upon some way of cleansing that foul thing, the world will be the same as before.”

It was in 1897 that the first major surgical operation was successfully performed upon the human heart; but eighteen and a half centuries before that the one and only successful spiritual operation was completed which answered David’s prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” When the Son of God, suspended on the cross, above the jeering rabble, bowed His head into bitter death; when the open sepulcher, on the third day, placed the seal of divine approval on His self-sacrifice, then and there humanity was offered not only forgiveness, full and free, comprehensive and complete, but, in addition, the one and only power which can dispel the gloom of sin and bring the light of victorious life. It is Christ, and He alone, who can lead humanity from the darkness of sin to the dawn of a new life and a new happiness.

You ask for proof, and I point to those convincing examples of reborn men and women whose names are emblazoned on the glorious pages of Christ’s conquest through the ages. Matthew was taken from a class of intriguing, grafting politicians and transformed into an honest, conscientious disciple. By what process? By law enforcement or by an educational course or by gland control? No; Jesus, whose Gospel he had heard and believed, came to him and said, “Follow Me,” and the Bible records, “And he rose up and followed Him.” A social outcast, a notorious woman, branded with the scarlet of shrieking sins, became the paragon of a pure and consecrated life. How? By joining some culture organization or serving a penitentiary sentence, or reading books that were designed to change her character? No, again; Jesus came to her and through the conviction that the Man before whom she bowed down in abject misery was her Savior, she received the power to change her life. Slaughtering Saul became persecuted Paul and the mightiest apostle of the Lord, whose name he had hated and reviled. Once more we ask, What wrought this stupendous change? Was it Paul’s studies with Gamaliel, his travels, changed environment, or changed diet? He himself tells us that Jesus came to him in a voice from heaven that convicted him of his sin and removed the scales of human blindness from his eyes, so that he acknowledged Jesus as his Savior and joyfully confessed, “I live by the faith of the Son of God.”

But the light-giving character of the Gospel is vividly demonstrated in our modern life. We read of overcrowded penitentiaries; but the inmates who fill these are not the true followers of Jesus Christ. Not long ago a Brooklyn judge examined 4,000 juvenile delinquents and asked them if, during their boyhood, they had enjoyed any religious instruction and Bible-training; and of the 4,000, 3,997 (all but three) replied in the negative. We are depressed by the appalling increase of the divorce rate in the United States. But Christian husbands and wives are not those whose names clutter the crowded calendars of our courts of domestic relations. In a recent investigation covering 61 communities in fifteen different States and embracing 22,001 churchgoing families, it was found that there was only one divorce for every 113 marriages, while, as you may know, the divorce rate for the entire nation is one divorce for every six and a half marriages.

Now, I do not mean to stand before the microphone this evening and create the impression that a true, living faith in Christ ever leads to moral perfection. As long as we are in the world and are surrounded by the weakness of our own flesh, there will be grave inconsistencies in the conduct of a Christian and serious lapses in his following in the footsteps of Christ. There is no perfection on earth. But it is obviously unfair for infidels and skeptics to take the more or less isolated instances in which a church­member denies his faith by some grievous public crime and then to generalize on the alleged failure of Christ’s religion. Unfair, I say, because not every one who outwardly is a member of a Christian congregation is a Christian; unfair, because, after all, such denials of the faith are only the exceptions and should not be enlarged to form sweeping and unqualified indictments; unfair, because this carping criticism, which likes to call Christianity a failure, overlooks the remarkable demonstrations of the power that sanctified Christians have wielded. Think of Lutheran Iceland, where the Church embraces practically the entire population and where jails are closed, where crime is practically unknown, and where honest, happy, industrious communities show what it means to be “light in the Lord.” Think of every ennobling and uplifting force which the world enjoys today, and behind it all you will find the light of Jesus Christ, which has enabled men groveling in the sordid sins of selfishness, held and swayed by passions and prejudices, to bind and to control their lusts and desires and to come into the fulness of a sanctified, Christ­centered life. That is the light which the apostle describes when he tells us, “Now are ye light in the Lord.”


But I remind you tonight that the apostle also adds: “Walk as children of the light.” While the wondrous grace of God, which forgives us all our sins, is the free gift of His unlimited mercy, so that there is not even the slightest contribution that you and I must make to the process of our salvation, it is correspondingly true that just as soon as a man comes to Christ and finds in Him the Light of the world, he immediately begins to radiate this light and to show his faith by following in the footsteps of his Savior. “I am the Vine, ye are the branches,” Christ tells us. “He that abideth in Me and I in Him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Such statements leave no choice and no doubt for the Christian. He must, as Jesus says, let his light so shine before men that they may see his good works and glorify his Father which is in heaven. Not that these good works are in any wise a cause of our salvation; not that the best that men can offer, the most Christ-like life, the most generous sacrifices, can bring us an inch closer to God; but simply because where there is a true, active faith in Christ, there must also be a Christ-like life; where people have been brought from darkness to light, they must “walk as children of the light,” that is, as those who have been born in the light, reared under its beneficent brightness, and live happily in its radiant warmth.

Let us not pass lightly over the implication of the apostle’s command, “Walk as children of the light.” This means that it is not only the Christian’s privilege or his happiness or his blessing to walk in the light, but that it is his unavoidable and unescapable duty to let the light of his reborn existence shine before men. There is no choice left for the follower of Jesus Christ. He must he a light­bearer. He must utterly turn away from those occupations and pleasures and spurn those inducements and temptations that jeopardize the heaven-horn assurance of eternity.

So tonight I tell you who are members of the Church and who live in the greatest advertising era the world has ever known, American manufacturers and commercial agencies having last year spent more than two billion dollars for various purposes of advertising publicity,—I tell you that one of the most convincing testimonies to the power and truth of the religion of Jesus Christ is the living, breathing, walking advertisement of the Cross of Christ that is found in a sanctified life and in a true Christian character. You will remember that it was the Christian consecration manifest in the life of the first followers of Christ that gave to them and to us the title “Christians” and that made men glorify the same Christ whose Cross was so indelibly imprinted in their lives. You will recall, too, that one of the most powerful factors contributing to the growth of the early Church was the strength of Christian character and conviction that was exhibited in the blood-stained arenas of the Roman world.

Let me ask you personally and directly, you who acknowledge Christ and bear His name in the profession of your faith: Are you radiating light into the gloom of a darkened world by witnessing for Christ in your home, in your business, in the circle of your acquaintance? “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me,” He says, and if we hide the light of our personal missionary testimony under the bushel of selfishness, of indifference, or of unwarranted timidity, how can we be torch-bearers for the Light of the world? Oh, for that determined zeal of the first apostles who declared, “We cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard”!

Are you walking in the brightness of Christ’s light in the conduct of your daily life, in the abhorrence of sin, and in the sacred imitation of that Savior? Do men “see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven”? Remember the emphatic statement of Jesus, who not only says, “I am the Light of the world,” but, turning to His followers, says, “Ye are the light of the world.” As “a city that is set on an hill cannot be hid,” so you must “walk in the light as He is in the light.” There is no sadder spectacle than the paradox of the profession of faith on Sunday and the compromise of faith on Monday. Even the Christless world will stop to point the finger of scorn at those who cry, “Lord, Lord!” loudly and insistently in church, but whose life away from church ceaselessly screams, “Money, money!” “Lust, lust!” “Me, me!” And there is no more tragic passage in the entire Scriptures than the woe which is pronounced by the gentle Savior upon those whose lives have thus constituted a serious offense and given others an excuse, invalid as it is, for not joining the Church.

And if you ask me how you are to be strengthened to walk in the light and to avoid the darkness, then remember you must turn your heart to look to Jesus alone, to commune with Him daily in the reverent reading of His Scriptures, to pray to Him as the Author and Finisher of your faith, to partake of the Sacrament, which was instituted to seal the forgiveness of your sins and to strengthen your faith, and thus to find in His eternal love and power the spring and fountainhead whence flows the vitalizing energy that transforms human sinfulness and encircles the Christian life with dazzling light.

But to you who have not as yet permitted this light to illumine your souls, but who yearn for the warmth and comfort which the Light of heaven can send into your rigid, frozen hearts, you who need the guidance of that Light to shake off the degrading influences that mar your lives, let me say that by accepting Christ, by believing His Word, which is called “a light unto our path and a lamp unto our feet,” by trusting His promises, you will begin to live in a new world with a new light on your pathway, a new brightness as the goal of your hope. To you tonight the Word of unfailing promise cries out, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Yes, in the glorious, golden tomorrow, when today’s mistakes and inconsistencies are forgiven and forgotten, through Christ, the gloom of darkness will disappear for you, and you will be able to walk as children of the light in the radiance of Him who is “the Light of the world.” Amen.

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

Date: November 13, 1930

Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor that ye through His poverty might be rich.2 Corinthians 8:9

WHAT is the most beautiful, the most wonderful the most magnificent thing in this world? Can it be sought and found in the entrancing splendor of nature, in the rugged grandeur of rock-bound, snow-capped mountains that etch their majestic peaks against the evening background of the flaming skies; or in the sylvan silence of cathedral-like forests, where stately sentinels of leafy green lift men’s gaze from earth to heaven? No; there is something infinitely more beautiful, more wonderful, more magnificent than all this; for the earth and all that is in it is but the footstool of One whose divine power has given us a far nobler and more exalted height of wondrous beauty and magnificence.

We ask again, then: Is this to be sought and found among men, in the exquisite forms of physical beauty, or in the deeper treasures of the inner life? Many there are who would answer, “Yes,” and point us to the charm of blemishless beauty or to the deep and powerful emotion of love, the love of husband and wife, the love of parents and children, the love of friendship, the love of patriotism, love in its purest and noblest human forms. But again comes the echo: There is something more beautiful, far more wonderful, inexpressibly more magnificent, than all this. We read in the Record of Truth of One who is “fairer than the children of men.” We hear of a greater love, that of laying down one’s life for one’s friends. And He who told us of this love Himself laid down His life, not only for His friends, but for His enemies, to reveal to us by that very self-sacrifice the unparalleled height of immeasurable magnificence, the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Unparalleled and immeasurable, I say, because the human intellect, even with its most advanced achievements, lacks every capacity to understand adequately the depth and the meaning of that love which the great apostle describes when he tells us: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor that ye through His poverty might be rich.”


Note how clearly these words point to the magnificent riches of Jesus Christ in these opening words, “though He was rich.” And oh, that it were possible to picture to you the limitless munificence of your Savior! The national wealth of these United States is estimated at about four hundred billion dollars. The wealth of all the nations of the whole earth and of all ages would aggregate staggering totals of inconceivable billions. But if we could take the sum total of all the wealth of which men have ever known and multiply it a thousandfold, all this would be a mere bagatelle compared with the depth of the riches over which our Lord, as the eternal God, held undisputed sway. He was rich, rich in the resources and wealth of the entire universe that is His; rich in the exercise of all power in heaven and in earth, in the control of the myriads of constellations beyond the searching gaze of the most penetrating telescope; rich in the direction of the shifting tides of the oceans, in the shaping of human affairs as they are molded into history. He was rich in the majestic adoration of the heavenly legions that encircle the throne of His divinity; rich in the glory and purity of His divine sinlessness; rich in truth, in wisdom, and in justice. But—endless praise to His holy name!—He was rich in love, in mercy, in grace, toward a corroding and decaying world that had spurned the guidance of God,—so rich that, as unfathomable as it may be to our human reason, He showed the depth of His divine compassion for human souls by the magnificence of that tremendous sacrifice of which our text continues to speak when it adds, “Yet for your sakes He became poor.”


I sometimes wonder how many there are who can adequately measure the abject poverty of our Lord in the depths of His humiliation when He humbled Himself unto death, even the death of the cross. It is true, we speak of His holy cross with reverence and love. We mold it into symbols of gold and precious metals; we place it high upon the spires of our churches, above all the noise and grime of our earth-bound, daily existence; we have made the cross the greatest of all human symbols. Yet how little we sometimes comprehend the love of Him who so inexpressibly impoverished Himself and finally died upon the accursed tree!

And what a death it was! No matter under what circumstances the Grim Reaper may come, there is always a crushing pain and the sorrow of anguish which arises from grief-torn hearts when our loved ones are called home by God. Even if we surround them with all the comforts that money and medical science can offer, even if we give them every possible attention, sit by their death-beds to wipe their fevered brow and pray with all the fervor of which the human heart is capable, even then there is that numb pain, that depressing sorrow, that indescribable grief which always comes with death.

But how immeasurably more intense was our Savior’s crucifixion!—a mode of capital punishment so horrible that it was not recognized by the Church of the Old Testament, so degrading that, as a Latin author tells us, it was a punishment inflicted upon slaves, so painful that it has universally been considered one of the most excruciating modes of torture ever known.

But this does not explain even partially the fulness of the infinite grace of Christ and the appalling depths of His self-assumed poverty. There have been men who have suffered long and intensely and who have died for others, noble and heroic martyrs to the cause of their country. We think, for example of Arnold von Winkelried, who gathered the long spears of the Austrian phalanx and plunged them into the warm life-blood of his heart to make way for his Tyrolian fatherland. With the message of Armistice Day still lingering with us, we think of unnamed and unknown heroes who have suffered and bled and died in order to insure religious and political freedom to us and to our posterity. We think of the noblest examples of such heroic sacrifice; but when we compare all this with the self-sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, it dwindles into less than obscurity. For on the cross, deserted by God and by men, is One who in His marred and tortured body bears the crushing weight of all the sins that have ever been committed throughout the long annals of history. Here, in the poverty of Christ, is the greatest spectacle of love which men have ever beheld or ever will behold—“not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Here, with His divine arms outstretched as though He would embrace sinful humanity in its overwhelming totality, is God’s answer to the plea of mankind for the forgiveness of sins, for the power to counteract evil, for the ability to rise up over the enshrouding gloom of death. Here, in the abysmal poverty of Christ, is the magnificence of grace, pure, saving, sanctifying grace.


Then think of the universality of grace that is embraced in these three words, “for your sakes.” We have become more internationally minded than any previous generation; yet in spite of all the activities of our various world congresses and leagues no human plan or arrangement has ever begun to make the approach to that universal appeal that comes with the Gospel-message of grace. We know that President Chiang Kai-shek recently followed the example of three million Chinese by embracing Christianity; but can you conceive of a President of the United States accepting Confucianism? We know that four million of Mother India’s children have accepted the Christ as their Savior; but the isolated Westerners who have adopted Buddhism or Brahmanism are only the abnormal exceptions. Is there any one in my audience from coast to coast tonight who can name a half dozen normal, healthy-minded Americans who believe in Mohammed’s Koran, with its background of Oriental passion and voluptuousness and its heaven of sensual attractions? But hundreds of thousands of Mohammedans have been brought to Christ. Why all this? Is it not because the message of the great humiliation of Christ “for your sakes” is the promise which holds out hope to every child of the human race regardless of racial, national, or geographical distinctions? The magnificence of the grace of Christ is seen just in this, that, whenever a man looks up to that cross and beholds those arms outstretched to receive him, it does not matter where that man comes from or what his education is, whether he is an illiterate or an intellectual leader; it does not matter what his social standing is, be it that of a criminal behind penitentiary bars or that of one who has ascended to the pinnacle of preeminence in the affairs of the world; it does not matter what his financial status is, whether he be one of the large army of the unemployed who live on from day to day in dread anticipation of the rigors of the coming winter, or whether he be one whose Midas touch has heaped up a fabulous reserve of golden treasures; it does not matter what a man’s color, or his culture, or his reputation, or his age, or his influence may be,—when he comes to that cross and acknowledges that Christ as his Savior, his Lord and his God, he finds in Him all that he needs to answer the pressing question of sin and salvation, of life and death.

No one is excluded from this all-embracing “for your sakes.” While extreme modern philosophy teaches the survival of the fittest and insists that the sick and the weak and the unproductive members of society be removed from the land of the living, here are the riches of Christ’s invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” While India says of its baby girls, “Drown them!” and China echoes, “Sell them!” Jesus places His benediction upon childhood and says, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” While Africa repudiates its aged and infirm and calls out, “Drag them out into the jungle!” and our modern system answers, “Over the hills to the poor­house!” the riches of God’s Word say, “And even to your old age I am He, and even to hoar hairs will I carry you.” In short, never has man known any program which so completely obliterates every mark of human distinction as Christ’s self-impoverization “for your sakes,” that is, for the redemption of the world, in its absolute entirety.


So tonight I invite you to come and to accept this magnificent promise of our text, “that ye through His poverty might be rich.” I appeal directly and especially to those who have come from Christian homes and who have become untrue to the trust of God-fearing parents; to those who may have been members of the Church of Jesus Christ, but who permitted either the cares or the joys of this life to crowd out the feeling of their duties and responsibilities toward God; to those who may regard themselves beyond the pale of grace, who may feel that because of particular, repeated, and grievous sins in their own lives the grace and mercy of God does not extend to them. To all such He, the unfailing Friend of sinners, has promised the inestimable riches which offer to the world today a happiness, a contentment, and a peace that passes all understanding. Have you been confronted by disillusionment and disappointment? Here in Christ’s riches is the hope of the hopeless, the rock which stands firm and steadfast amid the flow and ebb of man’s changing favors. Do you find yourself in the midst of inner struggles, in a surging conflict for which human resources grant no help? Here, in Christ’s riches, you have Him who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Does your heart ache under the crushing pain of recent bereavement and the hurt that lies too deep to be probed by a physician’s skill? Here, in Christ’s riches, is the balm that soothes your sorrow and the radiance that guides you through the lowering darkness to the beacon of happiness, to Him that “doeth all things well.” Are you anxiously striving to learn how to grow in sanctification, how to obtain the crown of life, how to gain the assurance of the blessed companionship with the Lord when life ends? Here is the goal of your search; for here is Christ, who reaches out to you tonight to bestow upon all who will receive it the most magnificent gift in the world, His never-failing, never­ending grace.

Now, if there is some groping, questioning soul that interrupts, “How can I come?” “What does it cost?” “What must I do?”—what an unparalleled privilege is mine to be able to tell such souls tonight, not the opinion of human speculation, but the positive truth of God’s revelation to man: “We are justified FREELY, by His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, His Son”! Christianity is the only free religion on the face of the earth. It must be free because there is not enough money in the world to compensate the price that the Lord Jesus paid for salvation. I read the other day of a manuscript of a child’s story that was purchased for almost $150,000. Not long ago an automobile factory was sold for $146,000,000. Now, if men place such values upon the material things of life, what figures must be placed on the imperishable and everlasting grace of God? And yet, wonder of wonders, it is free! Not only need we pay nothing, but we need do nothing; for a lifetime of the most strenuous effort, intensify it as we may, could never accomplish the humanly impossible task of bringing men from earth to heaven.

Come, then, and take the vast resources of divine love that Christ holds out to you. Led on by rumors of fabulous wealth, men have strained every effort to uncover hidden treasures and to bring to light the unsealed riches of past ages. But here, in the time-defying, decay-challenging riches of the soul that Jesus offers through His abysmal poverty and limitless self-giving, your treasure of treasures is close at hand. Will you not come, then, tonight and take into grateful hearts the outpouring of this most magnificent gift that Heaven has given to men? Will you not through trusting, childlike, implicit faith appropriate this unsearchable wealth of spirit for the enriching of your soul? Come, I beseech you, from sin to grace, from darkness to light, from poverty to riches, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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

Date: November 6, 1930?

Fools make a mock at sin, but among the righteous there is favor.Proverbs 14:9

ON a certain Monday morning, not so long ago, the four morning newspapers of New York City devoted an aggregate of 16,000 words to present summaries of forty­one sermons that had been preached on the preceding day from the pulpits of that metropolis. A close examination of these sermon summaries reveals the astounding fact that with but one exception the word sin was used neither directly nor indirectly. A visitor from Mars, reading these newspaper items, listening to the many “inspirational” sermons of our day, or taking the current issue of a well­ known magazine and finding in the index an article on “The Vanishing Sinner” would doubtless come to the conclusion that here on this North American continent and in our large metropolitan areas the Utopia of the golden age had been found in which sin was outlawed and crime tabu.

Indeed, sin is the most unpopular of all subjects for discussion today, when people love to dwell lingeringly on the inherent goodness of man or try to disguise the hideousness of sin, sugar-coat its bitterness, and explain away its vicious nature under the masquerade of dishonest phraseology. Thus today psychological theories are often substituted for the Ten Commandments. In our current vocabulary a man who uses profanity and abuses the high and holy name of God is said to show “bad taste.” A “racketeer” whose ruthless machine gun sweeps down an innocent pedestrian suffers under a series of “complexes.” A child that refuses to obey its parents is coddled as a “self-expressionist.” Young people who disregard the requirement of premarital chastity claim to enjoy the “new freedom of our new age,” while those who do observe this chastity are said to suffer from “inhibitions.” It’s Not Our Fault, a recent book, is one of the latest literary attacks on the stark reality of personal sin. “Priests Discover Sin, and Theologians Give It Names” is the title of one of the chapters; and the burden of this “handbook for the militantly intelligent” is that there is no absolute basis on which any specific act can be labeled “sin.” It is, the reader is assured, the animal inheritance of animal origin. And behind all of these new and sometimes formidable theories and expressions by which sin often appears “as an angel of light,” to use the words of St. Paul, lies the unwillingness to accept the plain, unswerving statements of the Bible.

Our text tonight speaks out in sharp protest against this palpable perversion and tells us in the inspired wisdom of Proverbs, “Fools make a mock at sin.” And truly, the denial or the ridicule of sin is one of the supreme follies of that farcical philosophy of unbelief that disfigures our modem existence. For the Scriptures, the highest of all high authorities, indeed the only authority in matters of doctrine and morals, employ the most clear and definite tones in rejecting this damnable delusion that there is no sin, or that, if there is, it is not of very great consequence.


Looking to the Bible, we find that in the pages of the Old Testament alone there are more than a dozen different terms that describe sin and wrong, that these words altogether occur more than 2,000 times in the Hebrew sacred writings, and that in the New Testament there is a long array of words in frequent occurrence which similarly express sin. Now, if we remind ourselves that the Bible in thousands of passages thus definitely refers to sin in its various forms as to a hideous reality, who is there that can rise up to shake his puny little fist against this mountain of truth and insist that there is no sin? Who is there that can raise his quavering voice against the reverberating thunder of these words of Scripture to prove that man is naturally good and noble and pure? Our text answers, Only a fool can thus “make a mock at sin”; only one who stubbornly contradicts the truth and to whom, because of this wilful contradiction, the denunciation of St. John applies, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

How thoroughly do our everyday experiences illustrate this Biblical truth, that men are “the servants of sin”! The strange irony in this denial and belittling of sin is seen in the glaring contradiction that just at the time when men have ruled sin out of existence, we find such flooding crime waves, such wide-spread lawlessness, such increasing disregard of authority, that for the first time in our national history a President of the United States has officially called into being a national crime commission. More divorces, more robberies, more murders, more deeds of impurity, more small and large thievery—more sin than ever before in the glittering, golden age in which we live! Again, only a fool can mock at the rushing, sweeping force of such compelling evidence.

But many people readily admit the existence of sin and yet mock at it by following the Pharisee into the temple of their own self-sufficiency and arrogantly thanking God that they are not “as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers”; by engaging in that wide-spread pastime of patting themselves on their shoulders, asking themselves, “What is the matter with me?” and answering with cool complacency and smug self-satisfaction, “I am all right.” But, again, what does the Bible say? Listen to this: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”; “They have all gone aside, they have all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” There you have the Biblical statements, penned in the strongest and most direct language in which human thought may be clothed, statements that leave no room for exemption or exception, but which include every man, woman, and child that ever lived or that ever will live upon the face of this wide earth. Indeed, the Scriptures tell each one of us directly and unhesitatingly that we are burdened by a twofold kind of sin: first, the original and hereditary sin, of which our Lord speaks when He declares, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,”—that is, the consequence of the sin committed by our first parents, who disobediently rose up against God; and then, the sins that men commit of themselves, which the great apostle enumerates in his long catalog under the heading, “The Works of the Flesh” and which he describes as “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.”

To emphasize the truth of the Scriptures when they call you and me and all our fellow-men sinners, there is that unmistakable voice of conscience that heaps up before our mind’s eye all the sins of omission and commission which abound in every human existence. One day they brought to our Lord a woman taken in the act of adultery. But when Jesus challenged her self-righteous accusers, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” we read that the hard-hearted, stiff-necked Pharisees were “convicted by their own conscience” and left without hurling their stones. And today the conscience, that restless, assertive monitor, is both direct and personal testimony to the folly of mocking at sin.

But very often there is only a vague and hazy idea as to what sin is. People will readily grant that deeds of violence, highway robbery, murder, and sexual perversions are sinful; but they often overlook the finer and less violent forms of wrong-doing, particularly the thoughts and words that spring from impure and sinful motives. This is one of the most popular of all modern mockeries, which leads men to parade themselves as paragons of virtue, because, not being severely tempted to despicable acts of sin, they have refrained from indulging in overt and scandalous fractures of the moral code. But once again the Bible leaves no doubt as to the fact that even desires and impulses may be, and often are, sinful and wrong. The definition of sin in the Catechism, “Sin is every transgression of the divine Law in desires, thoughts, words, and deeds,” is entirely Scriptural; for Jesus uses a large part of the Sermon on the Mount to tell those who regard only the consummate act of murder and adultery as sin that even the thought of hate or impurity, even a glance of anger or lust, is a direct and complete fracture of the Law, so that anything that directly or indirectly militates against the holiness of God, anything that is destructive of our neighbor’s or of our own welfare, either in the expression of word or in the impulse of thought,—all this is sin, disgraceful, degenerating, damning sin.

I consciously say damning sin; for if men have been guilty of the folly of endeavoring to rule sin out of existence, they naturally have not shrunk back from the parallel mockery of attempting to eradicate the punishment of sin. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” is a text that fits very appropriately into the modern tendency to laugh away the specter of the punishment of sin. But there is not a more demonstrable fact than the stern reality of the terrifying devastation of sin. I could stand before this microphone for hours and cite to you cold and impartial figures which would show the terrific ravages of sin; I could quote the professional verdicts of physicians in regard to the fearful consequences of the sins of impurity; I could show you that sin robs a man of his self-respect, that it has shortened the life and blasted away the happiness of millions, that it has destroyed kingdoms and nations. The most blatant mockery cannot laugh away such evidence.

Yet all this, even in its most intense and horrifying form, shrinks into the infinitesimal when compared with the final disaster that always follows in the wake of unforgiven sin, and that is death,—not merely the inevitable end of life that awaits every one of us, but particularly the state of spiritual death in the hell that modern enlightenment frantically tries to destroy. What, then, is the result of sin? The Bible warns us, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” And again, “The wages of sin is death.” There, in plain and unmistakable terms, you have a direct expression of the appalling extreme to which sin, as a violation of the will and Law of a just and holy God, can lead—first of all, to a separation from God, then to punishment in the form of affliction and death, and finally to the despair of an endless, hopeless eternity of darkness. Who is there that can make a mock at such terrifying realities? Our text echoes, “Only a fool.”


We can understand, then, that men have sought both for the forgiveness of sins and for the power to counteract sin. And it is a wonderful and comforting message that we read in the second statement of our text, “Among the righteous there is favor.” Yes, as we know, not from man’s reason, but from the revelation of a gracious God in His Word, there is divine favor, there is forgiveness of our sins, there is the immeasurable love of God, that prompted Him to send the “one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus,” who “gave Himself as a ransom for all.” There, in that wondrous Gospel­message, that “He became sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteoumess of God in Him,” in the record of that world-moving transaction, “He hath purchased us with His own blood,” in that promise of purification, that this blood, “the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin,” is the invitation that goes out tonight, addressed to all who may hear these words, to turn away from sin and to come to Christ, not in reliance upon your own accomplishments (for after all, how few and small and unworthy they are!), but trusting solely in the merit of Jesus’ blood and righteousness, in the fathomless favor of God.

It is in His Word that we find further favor—the power to check and restrain sin, that power for which anxious men have sought so long and so vainly. They look about them in this world of vice and crime; they read of the appalling increase in the penal population of our country and of the disastrous losses that follow in the wake of sin; and they ask, “How can we check sin? How can we limit and restrict its frequent and destructive occurrence?” One expert tells us that we need more laws; but the experience of the past years has shown that the more laws there are, the more there are broken. Another expert says we need more education; but experience again tells us that a college degree is no diploma for morality. An uneducated thief will go down to the freight-yard and steal a ride, but an educated thief will steal the whole railway system. Another tells us that we need gland operations and similar services of surgeons; but everybody knows that some of the most brutal criminals have been of almost perfect physique. No, something else is necessary if there is to be a really effective restraint of sin. The Bible tells us what that something else is: the favor of God, which offers the regenerating, reconstructing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is this dynamic, indescribable, miraculous power of which the great apostle speaks when he assures us, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Thus, while sin has led us to behold the ugliest thing on earth, that which has engulfed human existence in immeasurable woes and made men suffer horror, misery, and anguish beyond computation, we have also been privileged to hold out to the world tonight the favor of God, the most sublime message that human ears can ever hear, the promise that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” the message of that all-embracing, never-failing, everlasting, and universal love of God in Jesus Christ. This is God’s gift, as our text puts it, to the “righteous,” to those who, coming to Jesus just as they are, find in His blood and righteousness their beauty and their glorious dress and thus are adjudged righteous by God. They are those who, spurning every claim to their own righteousness or to the righteousness of others, but believing, trusting, in Him whose promises never fail, pray with patient confidence: —

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee!

Let the water and the blood

From Thy riven side which flowed

Be of sin the double cure,

Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Can you pray that prayer? Are you hidden in the cleft Rock of Ages? Are you cleansed from the guilt and power of sin? God grant it for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

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

Date: October 30, 1930

What must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.Acts 16:30-31

TOMORROW, on the thirty-first of October, Christians throughout the world will pause to pay their tribute to the greatest event in the affairs of men since the days of our Lord and His apostles—the beginning of that tremendous and far-reaching upheaval which history calls the Reformation. Yet, while the new and happy order which this movement inaugurated has led recognized historians of all subsequent centuries to acknowledge in the most striking terms the civil, cultural, and social blessings which Luther helped to restore to the world; while we, as Americans, should gratefully concur in the words of an eminent modern authority in political science: “The idea of legally establishing inalienable, inherent, and sacred rights of the individual is . . . in reality the fruit of the Reformation and its struggle,” we pause tonight to remind ourselves that the real and fundamental contribution of the Reformation, which completely overshadows every other issue, the one power from which all of its political and temporal blessings have come, is this, that the work of Martin Luther reemphasized the one and only correct answer to life’s great question, “What must I do to be saved?”

It was a startling incident that provoked this question of our text. Paul and Silas, the intrepid preachers of their crucified Lord, were on the threshold of their conquest of Europe, at the very beginning of their incursion into the selfish philosophies and the destructive vices that marked the decaying paganism of Greece. At Philippi, the frontier city of Macedonia, their campaign for Christ made its inauspicious start. Attacking the superstitious and selfish practises of that city, their preaching excited a riot of such proportions that they were beaten, and, bleeding and exhausted, thrown into the public prison. In the silence of that midnight, while Paul and Silas, locked in the inner prison, their feet clamped into stocks, prayed and in the pain of that hour sang praises to God, a reverberating earthquake shook the very foundations of the prison with such force that the doors were opened and their bands loosened. The bewildered jailer, concerned about the punishment that would follow upon the escape of the prisoners, saw no other release from this catastrophe than suicide. In the crisis of that moment the two prisoners suddenly appeared before him to dissuade him from his course of self-annihilation. And then it was that the question of our text was spoken; for, overcome by this exhibition of divine power, all a-tremble at this startling phenomenon, that prison warden cried out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”


Probably there are some in the far-flung reaches of our country who have just heard the immortal inquiry of that jailer at Philippi and who cannot agree that it is the question of questions, the paramount issue of human life. Undoubtedly there are some who object that they do not need to be saved, some who follow a lavishly publicized sociologist in the eastern part of our country, who asserts that sin is out of date and that the preaching of the message of sin and salvation is but a relic of a superstitious age by which the Church wields a tyrannical control over the lives of its followers. With this convenient philosophy of life proclaimed with increasing insistence, we can understand why there has been a pronounced growth in the number of those who live on in smug self-satisfaction, so entirely engrossed in the pursuit of money and pleasure, so completely self-centered in their desires and ambitions, that they have little time and less interest to ask themselves what they must do to be saved, especially when they entertain the very definite conviction that they do not need to be saved.

But what does the Bible say? Here is just one of a long series of indictments which come, not from man and his faulty and inconsistent opinion, but from God and His holy, infallible Word, “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” No exceptions, no limitations, in this sweeping, unreserved statement of human depravity!

How decisively, too, does the voice of human experience of all lands and ages rise up to show this naked, ugly, damning reality of sin! How does it happen when national disasters sweep over a country, leaving death and destruction in their paths, that people who have lived on day after day and year after year, utterly unconcerned about their moral and spiritual condition, at once begin to think of their souls, of the hereafter, and of the inevitable reckoning that, they know, awaits every one of us? Why is it that, when there is a catastrophe on the high seas, men and women whose whole lives may have been expressions of careless or studied indifference toward religion kneel down and pray to God for forgiveness and for His mercy? Why is it that proud infidels and blasphemous scoffers who have delighted in standing up before large audiences and challenging God to strike them down dead have ended in the most dismal sort of despair? Why all this, if not because, as St. Paul definitely emphasizes, there is within every one of us a conscience, that silent, yet relentless monitor, which heaps up before us all the long catalog of sins with which human life abounds, the sins of greed and envy, of impurity and lust, of hatred and brutality, of anger and pride,—the conscience that reechoes into man’s innermost soul the thunder of the judgment of God’s Word, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die!”? Let the apostles of this improved and advanced age of which we read and hear so much ridicule and reject the fact of sin; every honest person listening in tonight who probes deep down into the hidden recesses of his own heart will find so much of sin and wrong, so much that is impure and selfish, so much that is black and damning, that, instead of insisting upon the alleged moral greatness of the human race, he will cry out when faced by the stem and inexorable demands of a just and holy God: “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.”


So throughout the ages if there has been one effort and one pursuit that has been shared by men of every century, color, and clime, from the very cradle days of humanity down to the stupendous wonders of the marvelous age in which we live, it has been the quest for a soul­ satisfying answer to tonight’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” You can cross the seas and join the excavators in Egypt and find in the lavish splendor and the sepulchral glory of Tutankhamen, amid all its gold and precious stones, traces of the puny, pathetic efforts of this monarch to save himself in the eternity for which his embalmed mummy was to prepare him, by the payment of the fare required to transport his soul to the other side. You can go over to Babylonia and Assyria, where archeologists are revealing the ruins of a dim and hoary past, and in the long list of sacrifices, in the prayers even to unknown gods and goddesses, in the penitential hymns, in their almost superhuman efforts to appease the wrath of their many and conflicting gods and spirits, you will see again how humanity has been led to adopt hopeless extremes in the effort to find a satisfying solution for this insistent question. You can cross over to Palestine and here, as a tragic climax, you can find in the ruins of the old Canaanite civilization brutal and bloody evidences of that most hideous of perversions, the slaughter of innocent children, sacrificed to Moloch, in the desperate effort to secure a release from sin and the assurance of forgiveness.

We sweep over the centuries tonight, and we see that in spite of all the remarkable and God-given advances that have made modern life so attractive and our existence so pleasant, humanity of itself still answers this question, “What must I do to be saved?” by dedicating its hopes and its efforts to the impossible, the delusion that it can and must earn its own salvation. To illustrate that, I need not direct your attention tonight to the misguided millions in India, who think that they can earn a blessed hereafter by holding up their right arm until it withers in its socket or by reposing on a bed of piercing nails or by crushing out their lives beneath the car of Juggernaut; I need not picture to you the anguish of China’s millions who hasten to temples of five hundred decaying gods, shoot off firecrackers, and ring bronze gongs, so that these sleeping idols may rouse themselves from their stupor long enough to tell the worshipers just what they must do, what penance they must perform, and what ceremonies they must undergo in order to secure the remission of their sins.

We can pass by all this and come to the more tragic, if ever so much more refined, situation of those in our own enlightened country and in this superintellectual age who still think that some effort on their part is necessary, that some sacrifice, some contribution, some ceremony, some form of what we call “good works,” is imperative to meet God’s demands and to quiet an insistent conscience. And so, avoiding the stupidity of heathendom and the brutality of their sacrifices, we find that today “salvation by character” is the suave, modern form of this age-old delusion; we find that for the blood of rams and bullocks people are substituting donations and bank checks; that for penances and self-inflicted punishments men offer an act of charity here and the support of some commendable enterprise there, so that the conscious or unconscious answer to our question, “What must I do to be saved?” is, “I must save myself.” Even church-members sometimes like to lull themselves into a false sense of security by thinking that their very acts of worship and their support of the Church’s activity is something which, as it were, is to be credited to their account in the ledger of the Book of Life. The result is that “Deeds, not creeds!” is the watchword of uncounted multitudes in our country today—multitudes that are destined to experience in their own lives that dark and dismal failure of every attempt to purchase heaven with human effort and accomplishment to which Micah of old testifies as he asks: “Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Micah leaves this series of questions unanswered, for they answer themselves and tell us with deadly finality that all that we can do and say, the most lofty sentiments that we can express, the most arduous tasks that we can perform, the most signal services that we can render humanity, all of these together, accompanied by a lifetime of remorse and penance and self-inflicted punishment, cannot atone for a single violation of the rigid rule of right. For in humanity at its best there is not only a tragic inability to win the recognition of God, but also is a natural inclination to sin and wrong.


No wonder, then, that the Church will pause tomorrow to pay its tribute to Luther’s restoration of the one and only complete answer to this supreme question and to tell the world that today, after nineteen hundred years, it is only the immortal answer given to that conscience-stricken, light-seeking jailer at Philippi, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” that holds out to us the ever-satisfying, never­disappointing solution to the problem of sin and the terror of resultant death.

Remember, as Luther has repeatedly emphasized, God does not tell you who are troubled by your sins that your salvation depends upon anything that you of yourself can do or say, pledge or promise, pay or perform. He does not tell you to earn your salvation, to purchase its bounty, or to acquire its blessings by fastings and pilgrimages, by flagellations and self-inflicted tortures. He does not hold out heaven as a reward for the best that you can offer, as a compensation for the most austere and self-effacing penance to which you may subject yourself. But, thank God, in the highest and holiest love of which men have ever heard or can hear, Heaven’s answer to this universal plea, “What must I do to be saved?” is still the same free, unreserved, unconditional o:ffer of merciful compassion, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Accept Him as your full and complete Savior. Trust Him as the Friend of friends, who in that dark, dismal God-forsakenness of Golgotha laid down His divine life for you.

It was this assurance that dawned in the heart of the great Reformer when he read these words of golden truth: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law,”—the assurance that, if you and I today “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”; if you and I confidently rest our assurance for time and for eternity upon the all-sufficient atonement of our Savior, whereby He, the Holy One, “who knew no sin, became sin for us”; if we thus believe that He took upon Himself in His own holy body all the sins that have disfigured the lives of humanity’s billions,—then we have the assurance that we are saved and that, though our “sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” through the inestimable, immeasurable love of the Christ of God, who died that we might live and who rose again to seal unto us the assurance of this forgiveness.

Tonight, then, as these words are wafted out into the ether to all sections of our nation and as we hear this question, “What must I do to be saved?” may we answer:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

It is only this firm assurance that we are saved by grace, pure, free, unlimited, all-embracing grace, and not by any contribution on our part, be it ever so small and insignificant, that offers the secret of a happy and satisfying existence. If among those who hear these words tonight there are some who have thoroughly assimilated the spirit of our age and believe that the world is quite all right as it is and that they themselves are probably just a little better than their fellow-men; if there should be some who feel the restlessness and insistence of a prodding conscience; some who are troubled with the failures and shortcomings of their lives and want something fast and firm and unshaken upon which they can rebuild and reshape their careers; or again, if there should be some who are definitely troubled by the conviction of special, repeated, and depressing sins; some who in the torment of their souls cry out in the words of the great apostle, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”—may they not let this night pass without coming before their God with a full and unreserved admission of their own unworthiness, but with the courageous conviction that we are “justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

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

Date: October 23, 1930?

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.Joshua 24:15

NOT long ago a large newspaper in London offered a prize for the best definition of the word home. More than five thousand replies were received, offering as many different explanations of this momentous four-letter word, which brings up before our mind’s eye some of the noblest conceptions and some of the most treasured memories of which human thought is capable.

More than five thousand different interpretations of this short word home! Yet tonight, as we broadcast this radio message, dedicated to the youth of this North American Continent, a program that is financed and supported by that splendid young people’s organization, the Walther League, we should find indeed, if we could inquire, that the young men and young women of America are likewise divided on the question as to what constitutes a happy home. Take young people as you meet them in all parts of the land and ask them what their conception of an ideal home is, and you will receive many and varied answers. Some—and I fear a large number—will say, “My picture of an ideal home is one that does not feel the pinch of poverty and privation, a home in which there is plenty of money, which contains all the conveniences and attractions and comforts so essential to a happy and complete home.” Others will tell you, “Education and culture produce the ideal home. It is only when people are enlightened that they can attain to happiness in their family relations.” Still others will answer your question by saying, “Affection is the greatest contributory factor to any happy family. When husband and wife love each other, when children regard their parents, and parents regard their children, with affection and devotion, then you have everything that is necessary for happiness in the home.” And there will be those who say, “In addition to all this there must be religion, a creed of some kind. When a home has religion, it has the one power which can make it ideally happy.”

Yet these opinions, which you can read repeatedly in “uplift” magazines and find described in the apparently endless number of books that are being published on the question of the home, fall far short of giving the one and only correct description of a truly ideal home. Wealth is not essential to family felicity. You can go down to the hovels that rise in your city slums, and in some of those poverty-pinched families you will find more real happiness than in many of the aristocratic mansions in the exclusive residential sections, where perhaps a dissolute father, an unfaithful wife, or an ungrateful child has used the money that so many people today regard as essential to blast away every vestige of peace and love. Neither can education and culture alone produce a happy and helpful home-life; for a college degree is no charm against family troubles, as repeated instances in the divorce courts show, and the childless families of the intelligentsia in our country are not only working misery in such homes, but are weakening the physical, mental, and spiritual power of our nation. And love? It is true that there can be no real and full happiness without love; but affection alone cannot guarantee the continuance and growth of happiness in the home. Many a son and many a daughter has been ruined by too much love or by the wrong sort of affection. There must be something else combined with love to purify and strengthen it, something else indeed, if love is to have the right impulse and the right power.


That something else is faith in Christ, the service of the Lord, to which Joshua pledges himself and his household in our text. Mark you, I insist upon Christian faith, because mere religion, any kind of creed, will never satisfy. Over in Africa there is plenty of religion in the kraals of the natives, but it is a religion that tells them to insure the happiness of their homes by murdering the little, helpless babes that are born as twins or by carrying their aged parents and grandparents out to the jungles and leaving them there as prey for man-eating lions. In our country likewise there are many homes in which there is a superabundance of some kind of religion, but the false kind, which permits a father to stand over the prostrate form of his child and refuse to call a physician because it is against his religion; or that vicious brand of religion parading under the name of Modernism,—although it is as old as the hills and the idolatry and immoral worship that was practised on the hills,—which preaches the weakening of the marriage relations, the illegitimate control of offspring, or other satanic delusions, which, if carried through, would spell complete disaster for our country.

If, then, our own home individually is to radiate happiness, if it is to be a haven of spiritual refuge for those who are sheltered within its walls, it must be dedicated to the service of the Lord, it must be pervaded with faith in Christ and with His renewing Spirit. I submit this tonight as a very definite principle, that the first and foremost requirement for the service of the Lord in the attainment of home happiness is the sincere conviction, firmly accepted by every member of the household (which, I pray God, may be in the hearts of all who are listening in tonight), that Jesus Christ is their personal Savior; that, recognizing fully and without any self-justifying reservations the sin and the selfishness, the greed and the envy, the baser impulses and desires that express themselves only too frequently in their lives, they come with contrite, yet trusting hearts to the never-failing, overflowing source of their soul’s redemption, the Cross, and thus consecrate themselves to the Lord’s service. I do not say that there cannot be a certain sort of happiness in the home-life of those who have not answered the charge of sin by pointing to the grace of Christ; but I do say that, just as the joy of life and the happiness of death is known to none but the Christian, so in our family relations there can be no hope of permanent, abiding, satisfying, spiritual happiness without the all-pervading faith in Jesus and without faithful ser­ vice to the Lord.

Now, this is not merely my personal opinion; it is the declaration of Him whose Word is the unalterable, unerring truth and who tells us, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” If you want to realize the absolute certainty of this statement, examine the evidence that crowds in upon us in this day and hour. Why is it that last year more than 200,000 decrees of divorce were issued in our own country? Why is it that our nation is being inundated by a flood-wave of juvenile crime and that our enlarged prisons are being filled with youthful criminals? Why is it that the police radios of our country daily broadcast the names of hundreds of missing young men and young women? Why is it that there is such a rude disregard of the requirements of purity and chastity on the part of young people that even newspaper writers are beginning to throw up their hands in horror? Is all this not finally to be traced to the ugly power of sin and to the fact that many homes, calloused and stolidly indifferent because of cold commercialism and endless pleasure-seeking, have crowded Him out who says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”; that they have not emblazoned this truth in their innermost hearts, “Christ is the Head of this house, the unseen Guest at every meal, the silent Listener to every conversation”?


But because the home should be the basic unit in our modern life, because the Church will never, humanly speaking, be able to rise above the home level, our American homes, blessed above all others, as they certainly are, should hearken to the words of the Savior and the words of His Scripture, which tell us how we must serve God in the daily, practical issues of our home-life. And while there is much that I could say to parents, especially to those who do not show the proper interest and concern as to where their sons and daughters are and what they are doing; while the Seattle Juvenile Court is undoubtedly right in saying that eighty-five per cent. of the young people brought before that court would have been spared this humiliation and disgrace “if the fathers and mothers of these children had safeguarded them with a reasonable amount of affectionate companionship,”—tonight I am speaking especially to young people, and it is to them particularly that I present the constructive suggestions which the Scriptures offer for the service of the Lord and the attainment of happiness in their present as well as in their future homes.

First of all, our young people are told to “obey their parents in all things”; and they are assured that “this is well-pleasing unto the Lord.” Any young man or young woman who knows that until the thirtieth year of His perfect manhood the divine Christ was subject to His earthly parents should also know and believe that through faith in this Jesus there is given to them the power to put into practise that love and devotion to which God has attached such importance that the commandment, “Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother” is the only injunction of the ten bearing a promise, “That it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long on the earth.”

Then, the Bible tells us that children are to love their parents, to “requite” them, that is, to repay their kindness; and again we are told, “That is good and acceptable before God.” It may be up to date for a young man to absent himself from his home until the early hours of the morning, enjoying the intimacies of automobile rides, late dinners, and amusements of a doubtful nature; but it is hard to see how this can be really enjoyable when a care-worn mother, who rarely has the pleasure of enjoying her son’s company, stays at home, forlorn, lonely, and anxious. It may be attractive for a young lady to blossom forth periodically in the latest style of dress; but it is an attraction of a very questionable kind when her father has been obliged to wear his clothing shiny and threadbare to enable her to keep pace with fashion’s demands. When young women spend most of their salary for personal adornment and for useless, but expensive luxuries and never think of the joy that a little gift of love and gratitude would bring to their mother’s heart; or when young men lavish no insignificant part of their salary upon the young lady of their choice for candy, flowers, and entertainment, without ever stopping to think that no father or mother ever grows too old to appreciate gifts of filial love with double gratitude; when young people show their attractive qualities outside of their homes and reserve their less amiable traits for the family circle,—they are guilty not only of a sad lack of consideration, but also of a plain disregard of the divine will.

No, every young man or young woman who has made the pilgrimage out to Calvary, has stood beneath the cross, and witnessed the deep devotion to His prostrate mother which the crucified Redeemer evinced when He cried out, “Son, behold thy mother,” “Woman, behold thy son”; all those in whose ears this thunder of the wrath of God has echoed, “The eye that mocketh at his father and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it,” all such do not need special days and outward celebrations and formalities to remind them of the love and devotion which, through the spirit and power of Jesus, they must extend to their parents.

And to both, Christian parents and Christian children, the Savior looks for a home-life that will be a constant expression of faith in His holy name and that will show the deeper meaning of Joshua’s promise, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Remember there can be no completely Christian home where the family altar has not been established and where the members of a household do not unite in prayer to God, beseeching Him for His comfort and courage and thanking Him for His immeasurable love and bounty. There is something missing in that home where the Book which claims to be, and which we believe to be, a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” remains closed and sealed, where the Bible, with the solution which it offers for all the problems and perplexities of any household, is not read in the quiet devotions of the family circle. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” The humble cottage that is pervaded with the spirit of the Lord Jesus means more in the sight of the just and holy God than the palatial mansions that have accommodations for everything that spells comfort for the body, but are too crowded for Him who provides for the eternal welfare of immortal souls.

Yes, a home where the story of the Cross finds its abode and the message that “there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” than the name of Jesus Christ, is heard and believed by the whole family, that home is indeed blessed and is endowed with the power that makes “Home, Sweet Home” more than a mere song—a blessed reality. In such a home, marriage is something high and holy, not a mere temporary arrangement, which may be discarded as soon as it proves inconvenient. In such a home both husband and wife realize the divine wisdom and love that prompted the all­wise Creator to tell all the generations of men, “Be fruitful and multiply”; children are regarded as the gift of God’s grace, as the objects of special care and affection, and there is no unwillingness to assume the responsibilities and duties of parenthood. In homes that are thus blessed the eternal Redeemer Himself is enthroned, and it is His Spirit of peace and helpfulness and love that can quiet the tempests that arise and adjust the misunderstandings that may crop out as long as human nature still asserts itself.

Give us young people who in the spirit of Jesus Christ will make Joshua’s resolution theirs and dedicate themselves to their Father’s service, and the dawn of a new and happier day will break upon our country, a day in which the home ties will be strengthened, the home influence increased, and the home blessings intensified, especially through the establishment of the family altar, through the uplifting power of family prayer and Scripture-reading. Even more, such young men and young women will be prepared to lay the right foundation when, following the command of God and the impulse of their nature, they enter married life and, taking Jesus with them as the Third in their covenant, build their own homes, where peace and love and comradeship help to make this life of ours as nearly worth living as it ever can be.

Their home may not attract the attention of men; it may not be noted for its luxurious appointments and facilities; but it will have another glory: it will have Christ, the blessed Redeemer Himself—Christ as the Guide and Counselor of husband and wife, Christ as the Guardian and Protector of all who dwell within that home; Christ to share in joy and happiness; Christ to soothe in sorrow and distress; Christ to receive the little children that are born to bless that home; Christ to wipe away the tears that come when a dear one is carried into the heavenly home; Christ first, Christ last, Christ forever uppermost! May this Savior be the crown and glory of all our homes! Amen.

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