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Date: December 27, 1936

Prayer for the Closing Year

Eternal Father, our Help in ages past:

As another eventful year, marred by sin, but marked by Thy loving patience, hastens to its close, we raise our hearts to thank Thee that during the past twelve months Thou hast spared us; that Thou hast kept Thy protecting hand over our country to insure peace and to restore some of those blessings which Thou didst take away from us because of our ingratitude and our pride. But particularly we praise Thy name for this infinite mercy, that Thou didst not deal with us according to our sins, our smallness of faith, our cowardice, our disloyalties. Instead Thou hast accepted that blood-bought atonement achieved by the suffering and dying of Thy holy Son, Jesus, our only, but all-sufficient Savior for this world and the next. Earnestly we entreat Thee, O Father of all love, O Jesus, Thou Ransom of the world at Bethlehem, O Spirit of enlightenment and truth, to bring this joy of free salvation today into the hearts of many who still walk in darkness without having beheld the Christmas Light of the world. Come to them, O never-changing Trinity of grace and power and heavenly wisdom, so that even now in heaven the angels, who exulted over the Savior’s birth, may rejoice over the rebirth in that Savior’s grace by which some lost soul has found its eternal hope in Christ. Hear us; for we ask it in His name, by His promise! Amen.

Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever.Hebrews 13:8

TODAY we write the last of the fifty-two weekly chapters in the current volume of our lives; we have come to the final Sunday of a year, which twelve months ago seemed to lose itself in a broad and distant future. Joyous, yet earnest, is the note that this concluding Sunday strikes, coming upon us, as it does, in the afterglow of Christmas, yet reminding us, as it should, that we are all, the lusty, healthy, happy children and the aged, bowed down under the heavier load of time, a year closer to eternity. If ever we need anything to emphasize the colorful picture of Scripture, when it sketches the one life that you and I have to live as a rushing wind, momentary foam upon the waters, a tale swiftly told, grass and flowers that grow up in the morning, but that wither and are cut down in the evening, the weaver’s thread that is quickly snapped; if ever we are inclined to think that the writers of the Bible speak darkly and see black when they ask, “What is your life?” and answer, “It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away,”—stop to measure the length of the twelvemonth now closing, and you will agree that life at its longest is just a flicker in the ages.

Add to this distressing thought of time’s swift-winged flight the further realization that our existence at its surest is uncertainty itself; that as the close of every year shortens your span of life, but lengthens its shadows, so the past twelve months have wrought deep-grooved changes in many hearts, printed the stamp of death and decay on many lives, and wrought drastic changes in many homes. Some of you listeners who last January greeted the new year with carefree laughter and high hopes have since been flung to your knees in grief. For others the days which came and went have touched the quick of your souls with piercing sorrows. I know—for your letters pour out the overflowing measure of grief—that some of you compute your losses in terms of broken hearts, broken health, broken limbs, in the liabilities of shattered fortunes, crashed hopes, severed friendships, and a hundred other crushing reverses that present themselves when, at the dose of the year, we take annual inventory of our joys and sorrows.

I know, on the other hand, that for thousands of you the past months have built a year of outstanding gain and notable blessing. Yet even you, the richly endowed, who have never known what it means to be cold or hungry or unemployed or destitute, will agree that in our complicated life nothing is secure, nothing immovable, nothing certain. Our generation, which has seen more dynasties disintegrate and more kings abdicate than any other quarter century, this age that has been torn by race war, labor war, trade war, crime war, civil war, world war, and, though staggering on the edge of international bankruptcy, bleeding from a thousand unstaunched wounds, prepares for a new war—this groggy, blood-drunk age is sowing the seeds from which we may reap a harvest of ruin greater than we have yet known. One need not be a prophet to discern the flares of perilous trends and impending dangers. Trade experts, statisticians, and analysts have issued repeated warnings. One need not be a historian, a sociologist, an expert in economics, to understand that our age, far from having solved the problems that the last twenty-five years have intensified, is marked by uncertainty and instability.

But you do need Christian faith, the implicit trust in the Bible from cover to cover and in Jesus from Bethlehem to Calvary and the open grave. You must have that Christ-centered trust to find soul-security for this insecure hour, spiritual certainty for an uncertain world.

On the last Sunday of this year of grace, then, and somewhat in summary of every message that I have been privileged to bring you in the past, I propose to exalt—

THE CHANGELESS CHRIST FOR A CHANGING WORLD

Still lingering in the warmth and light of Christmas (and the Savior’s birthday is charged with too much heavenly radiance to he dismissed with one hasty, hurried day), still under the spell of the Nativity grace, “Unto you is born . . . a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” let us, as we approach the last milestone of this year, with the Spirit’s help take faith, hope, and love from that majestic exclamation in the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter thirteen, verse eight, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.”

THE UNCHANGING MERCY OF CHRIST

Thank God that as this year tapers into history we can rise sheer above our changing world and believe with unswerving conviction that “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever,” never changes His love, shades His compassion, nor alters His grace. Behold the highest devotion that the race knows, the love that centers in the home, and as you witness the hardest and most hopeless of human tragedies, children spurning their parents, parents hating their children, husbands untrue to their wives, wives neglectful of their husbands, you will realize that human affection is often frail and inconsistent, disloyal and traitorous. Take the truest love that moves our hearts, and even in its purest forms it is subject to change. A child trustfully embraces its parents and gives the devotion of its little heart to these dearly beloved guardians and protectors; but as childhood grows into youth and manhood emerges from youth, that love is shared by a helpmate, as it is ordained that a man shall “leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife.” And again, when a bride and groom kneel before God and in that sacred moment pledge themselves to love and honor each other until death do them part, it seems that—outside of their devotion to Christ—their affections will continually and exclusively remain focused on each other. Again, however, in the mysterious cycle of life they receive, as a heritage from God on high, a child, which from the day of its birth lays happy claim to a large share of their affection. Even the most self-sacrificing love which the parents show to that child finally changes when death intervenes to paralyze all human emotions. Many of you, during the twelve months now closing, have bidden a numb, aching farewell to the lifeless remains of a loving father or mother or wept over the sudden death of an only child. You know, better than I can tell you, how quickly an endeared voice may be silenced forever, how suddenly the caress of a beloved hand may give way to the cold rigor of death.

Surrounded by this change and decay, Christ comes to us with a message of unchanging hope. Pay undivided attention to it, you who have trusted your friends and now know that they have betrayed you. Hearken carefully to each word, you who have built your confidence on health, and it failed; on your money, and it disappeared; on your own ingenuity, and it left you the victims of your own folly. Listen closely, you, the distracted of life, dissatisfied with yourselves and your fellow-men, bewildered by your lack of peace in mind and souls. If you are caught by the undertow of life and want a high and mighty rock to which you can cling midst all turbulent tides, here it is in “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.” If in that greatest of yesterdays, the first Christmas, He, “though He was rich, yet for your sakes . . . became poor that ye through His poverty might be rich”; if in the blackest of yesterdays He, all-merciful, all-gracious, all­compassionate Savior, “loved” His own “unto the end” and in that final terror and deepest darkness offered His poor, beaten body for the sins of all the world and its races, for all the crimes of humanity and its ages, then believe that He whose “mercy endureth forever” and who assures you, “I change not,” looks upon you with the same intensity of His divine love that nineteen centuries ago brought Him to the cross. Multiplied passages of God’s deathless Book proclaim Christ’s love for you through His never-changing mercy. In the unaltered grace that once called the world­weary and disconsolate to Him with the pleading invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” His Gospel addresses itself to your heart, crying into your soul, “Christ wants you, for He died for you. The bleeding love of the cross has not grown cold.” In His name I beseech you: “If there is anything in your life that keeps you from Christ, ask God before this year closes for the strength required to tear it out forever.” Jenny Lind, the gifted soprano, whose voice enchanted Europe and America and who never sang her selections from Handel’s Messiah (the gem of oratorios which many of you have heard during these Christmas days) without praying that God would bless her song testimony to Christ in the heart of some one in her audience, retired from the concert stage at the height of her success. And when, in the seclusion of her home near the English shore, a friend sought an explanation for her abandoning the stage, the Swedish Nightingale thoughtfully replied, pointing to the Bible, “When every day made me think less of this, what else could I do?”

If you want Christ and with Him forgiveness of your sins, heavenly counsel in all your problems, His light of love in all the darkness of hatred, His burden-lifting companionship on the roughest of life’s roads, what else can you do, what else dare you do, than pull down the pride and haughtiness of your life, tear out the claims of self­righteousness, break off the treacherous relationships that keep you in sin, and then push through to your Savior? Fall before Him with a heart convicted of great sin, but a soul assured of even greater grace. As you confess, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief,” the mercy of Christ, renewed with each day, will repeat the promise of His Word that neither age, nor fire, nor sword, nor life, nor death can change or suspend, restrict, or modify, “Thy sins, are forgiven,” “Thy faith hath saved thee.”

Jesus Christ, the same self-giving Savior yesterday, the same loving Redeemer today, the same sin-removing atonement tomorrow—yes, forever! Can you think of a greater God and a deeper love than our heavenly Father and His holy compassion in giving His own Son, the Sinless for the sin-stained, the Ever-living for the justly damned? Can you picture a more glorious Savior than the Christ who thanked His Father for the privilege of redeeming the world and who in His unchanged love still intercedes for the sinner, the Christ for every man and every day and every place; the Christ for the sick-bed and the death-bed, yet the Christ for the health and strength of life; the Redeemer of the deserted and destitute, yet the Ransom for the applauded and acclaimed? Can you—or any one else—construct a better faith than the changeless Gospel that has never put a price on its promises or demanded payment for its blessings?

THE UNCHANGING POWER OF CHRIST

“We need more than love,” someone objects. “We need the power which puts this love into blessed operation.” No one doubts the affection of a mother who moans over her dying child; but that devotion will not keep the little one alive. There must be power; and, thank God, our glorious Savior, “the same yesterday and today and forever,” offers us not only His unchanging mercy, but also His enduring power. The closing scenes of the year have impressed upon our minds the truth that, while human authority rises only ultimately to fall and while earthly rule increases only finally to decay, “all power . . . in heaven and in earth” still belongs to the unchangeable, eternally triumphant Redeemer and Ransom of our souls. A President may bask in the plaudits of a nation today and be impeached and discredited tomorrow; an emperor who was the idol of his people yesterday may be a self-exiled failure today. But the eternal cry echoes throughout the ages, “All hail the power of Jesus’ name!”

Every other force that influences one may fluctuate. Our age has witnessed the limitation of brain power, the swift and sudden collapse of dollar-sign power, the unexpected loss of personal prestige, the repeated debacle of military power, more intimately than any other generation; yet we still see the Cross of Christ “towering o’er the wrecks of time.” If the enemies of the Savior in the past of all history have been hurled to destruction and have confessed defeat as did Julian the Apostate, who in his dying moments is said to have thrown some of his own blood toward the sky and screamed, “O Galilean, Thou hast conquered!”—if today Christ is crowned Lord of Lords and King of Kings in His triumph over the rebellious uprisings of a hundred antichrists, then for tomorrow let all the forces that hate His Cross and reject His atoning blood mobilize for a common onslaught. Let them reinforce their ranks a thousand times, increase their number ten thousand times, multiply their power a million times, and as each morning the sun rises in its irresistible splendor over the retreating shadows of night, so Christ, our “Sun of Righteousness,” will blaze forth in His glory to scatter the legions of unbelief in perpetual flight.

It may seem, as we view the past year and the conquests of sin, with godlessness enthroned and crime nourished on the fat of the land, that Christ’s power has been changed and His supremacy restricted. But God moves to victory in mysterious ways, at unexpected times, at unforeseen places. Infidels, too numerous to mention, have officially declared Christ dead and have sung a satirical dirge over His demise; but Christ was never more alive and His power never more decisive than today. Two years ago in Germany, under the influence of a small wilful group seeking to restore the old Wotan cult and the spirit of Teutonic paganism, Christian churches were driven to desperate extremes. Yet as Jesus rebuked and restrained the jealousies of the overbearing churchmen of His day, so that German opposition which robbed pulpits of faithful pastors was recently officially checked by the government. In Russia the pendulum is swinging back within less than twenty years from the extreme left of rampant godlessness to a constitutional tolerance of the Christ who has triumphed for twenty centuries. It may be that this is only a temporary gain for Christ’s cause and that in these countries unbelief will return with even greater power; but in the end Christ never retreats. In the early Church, under the reign of deadly Diocletian, a building filled with hundreds of worshipers, gathered to commemorate the Christmas miracle, was set on fire, and every Christian was burned alive. On Christmas Eve atheists gathered in large cities throughout the world to desecrate the happy festival with obscene caricatures and vulgar rites; and this iniquity will swell into more vicious attacks in the future. But take courage! Can a termite pull down Mount Everest? Can a butterfly hold back a hurricane? Can spawn say to the swelling tides: “So far, and no farther!”?

If ever you doubt Christ’s power over obstinate, self­willed, Christ-denying men, you can gain a dearer understanding when with the psalmist you contemplate their end. Though the enemies of Christ may fare sumptuously and be “clothed in purple and fine linen,” the unavoidable reckoning always awaits them and, as thousands of Christian pastors can testify, makes quaking, gibbering cowards of men who prided themselves on their independence of God. The self-engrossed and self-righteous must remember that Christ’s power is still the same. For the sake of your soul I ask you not to indulge in the folly that exults, “I do not need Christ! I do not want Christ! I do not believe Christ!” but open your heart penitently to the Spirit of God, and the same power that has wrought happiness from misery, soaring faith from groveling unbelief, will “create . . . a clean heart and renew a right spirit within” you.

Perhaps many of you who were Christ’s now stand baffled by the unshared burdens and unrelieved sorrows that came with the past year. You cry out in protest: “Christ has not helped me! My prayers are unanswered, my trust has been misplaced! The power of Heaven is broken!” But will you measure God with the yardstick of twelve short months when a thousand years in His sight “are but as yesterday when it is passed”? Will you dictate to God and say that He must answer your selfish prayers, that He must help here, now, and in this way? Would you pluck the green fruit before it is ripened in the orchard of God’s grace? Would you build your ship of life from unseasoned timbers? Ask Christ for a patient, cheerful faith. Believe with all your soul that, if in the past His miraculous power fed the hungry, cheered the destitute, healed the sick, and strengthened wavering lives, He is “the same . . . today” and that, if it be in accord with your soul’s salvation, He will invoke the resources of His omnipotence to guide, guard, and protect you, in His own better way, His own happier place, His own more appropriate time.

Do not tell me that this is theory. The experiences of thousands prove Christ’s power. As you review the declining year, is it not true that repeatedly, against your own expectations, in utter disregard of your fears, even in contradiction of doctors’ verdicts, in the face of seeming impossibility, Christ’s power sustained you by unforeseen and startling intervention? This whole radio crusade for Christ, a high adventure in faith, is proof of that Savior’s power. In one of the most arbitrary and discriminatory practises that this nation has ever witnessed the Roman Catholic Church is given the free facilities of fifty-seven stations every Sunday for the entire year, radio time which is valued at more than $400,000. Our Jewish friends have similar privileges—again without charge. Protestant denominations united in the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America are granted even more time than this, many more stations, and far more broadcasts each week—absolutely free. But the National Broadcasting Company has refused to permit us, who, as you know, preach the never-changing Christ, the old faith, founded on the old Book, even to pay—at full station rates—for the privilege of raising the cross of the Crucified over the radio firmament of America. But the power of Christ prevails; and while we are grateful to the officials of our broadcasting system and the experts at the great superstation in Cincinnati who have established a special Gospel hookup for us, I cannot let this year close without thanking particularly you, my friends, for your courageous prayers and support which under the power of the changeless Christ have helped us to purchase this time and broadcast for a fourth season. We thank all of you, from the two children in Chicago who mailed our broadcasting fund their pennies, painstakingly saved for Christmas-gifts, to the generous, but anonymous Iowa friend who on the same day had $500 sent to promote this radio mission for America. Your heartfelt determination to maintain this ministry of the air will be blessed by His power, to whom we say in reverence and love, “Lord, Thou canst do all things!”

In your smaller personal problems the same unchanging faith can still carry out its purpose. If you trust Christ for your soul and body and believe His promise “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” in the uncertain tomorrow with its hidden sorrows and unveiled joys, His power will bring the same evidence of His merciful omnipotence. The French artist Tissot, shaken by sudden sorrow out of his gay Parisian boulevard life into a career for Christ, went to Palestine and for years occupied himself with painting the scenes of the Savior’s life. After he had completed the magnificent volumes depicting Christ, he wrote on the last page a plea to the readers asking to be remembered in their prayers. Before you lay aside the present annual of your life that either reechoes your trust in Christ or repudiates it, will you not prepare an inscription for the last page, addressed not to men, but to your God? And may its contents bring the devotion of a faith which declares: “Heavenly Father, on these 366 pages is recorded the evidence of my trust and mistrust. I thank Thee for the grace that has bestowed my blessings; but in Jesus’ name I plead for forgiveness and pardon whenever the record has been disfigured, as it often has been, betraying my inborn weaknesses and traitorous disloyalties. And it is with the resolve that, Thy Spirit helping me, I lay aside the volume of this year to start afresh the new record for the coming year, confident that whatever may befall me, ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever,’ will redeem me with His unchanging love and strengthen me with His unchanging power. As the book of this year closes, hear me for His sake who can save to the uttermost.” Amen.

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

Date: December 25, 1936

Christmas Prayer

Thou Christ of Bethlehem, Thou promised Redeemer of the race:

Incarnate Son of God, how can we approach Thy heavenly throne on the morning of this day of days and thank Thee worthily for the measureless mercy that brought Thee from the glories of heaven to the lowliness of earth? How can we attune our sinful voices to the praise-song of the celestial host on the first Christmas? Give us, as the most holy and hallowed of all Christmas gifts, the unquestioning and triumphant conviction that, because Thou hast come to us, we can come to Thee in faith just as we are, with all the transgression and selfishness in our lives, and under the radiance of the Christmas faith find pardon, peace, and rest, full and free, in Thy heavenly grace. Keep this sacred truth, the blessing that makes this day Christmas, before us, not only until tomorrow, but also after the Christmas lights have been extinguished, the Christmas colors removed, and the holiday rejoicing supplanted by the stern tasks of life. Help us by Thy Spirit to warm our cold hearts with the fire of this faith and by trust in the Christmas Gospel to fight loneliness, poverty, persecution, on the one hand, and pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, on the other. Under Thy benediction let this festival become a day of great blessing for many. Hear us for Thine own name’s sake, O Word Incarnate!  Amen.

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.Luke 2:11

AS I express the Christian wish and prayer that through simple, trusting faith in the Savior the anniversary of His nativity may be a holy, blessed day for you and your loved ones, let me recall the amazing contrasts that we find on Christmas. Do you know, for instance, that in the third gospel’s account of the Savior’s birth the entire record of this history-molding, world-moving event is told in only 273 words? Yet all the millions of volumes written since men first engraved their history in Mesopotamian clay and painted their achievements on Egyptian temple walls have not even faintly approached the mighty influences exerted by this short, concise account of the first Christmas.

Of these 273 words more than four-fifths are plain, everyday words of one syllable, so simple that your children can understand their promise; yet they conceal a divine mystery and a heavenly miracle so profound and inscrutable that the wisdom of the ages cannot plumb their depths. These unpretentious Christmas lines were penned not by a professional writer, but by an eager young man whose life-work seemed to lie in medicine, Luke, “the beloved physician”; and he received not a penny for his gospel. Yet cold commercialism has capitalized his story, drawing billions of dollars of profit from the event that it commemorates; and long after prize-winning novelists have joined the ranks of forgotten authors and their rich annuities have ceased, the evangel of the Nativity will shine forth in ever greater splendor. A few shepherds were the first to behold the Christ-child; yet priceless canvases immortalize the manger at Bethlehem. Viewed casually, the background of the Savior’s birth seemed to hold no hope of promise: a stable, a Galilean man and woman, strangers, eighty miles from home—and there was “no room . . . in the inn.” Politicians would have been disappointed; patriots, disillusioned; publicists, embarrassed. Yet that helpless Infant, cradled in a remote caravansary of far-off Judea, is the universal figure of all history, the most decisive and blessed influence in the lives of hundreds of millions throughout the earth, because He is the Savior of their souls. Recite the morals of Marcus Aurelius to a coolie in China, and he will shake his head in bewilderment; but picture to him the endless mercies of the Christ-child, and he may be ready to offer his life for that Redeemer. Preach the philosophies of Plato to the Bushmen of Australia, and they will turn away unmoved and unaffected; but bring them the message of Christ, and some of them will resolve with eager penitence, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” Born at the beginning of the first century, Jesus was never more needed than in our twentieth century. Notable figures of the past live on in history, in books, in inscriptions on monuments; but the Christ of Christmas seeks to live in our hearts.

Only by centering our faith and hope on the Christ of the manger can we have this supreme and abiding blessing which makes Jesus our Immanuel, our God-with-us. In Correggio’s Holy Night, one of the most famous of all Nativity paintings, the artist depicts the new-born Child not only as the center of interest, but, for the first time in the history of painting, as the Source of light, which illumines the face of His mother, the shepherds, and even the countenances of the exultant angels above. Only when we behold “His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father,” and find in Him “the Light of the world,” can Christmas truly emerge from carnival and color into its radiant fulness as “the day which the Lord hath made,” the festival of exultant soul-rejoicing and tarnish-proof happiness.

Let us, then, on this Christmas morning turn our hearts and minds to the Christ-child and to these—

“TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY”

which come to us and “to all people,” as we hear, believe, and trust the heavenly proclamation, “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (St. Luke 2, 11.)

THE JOYOUS MESSAGE OF THE CHRIST-CHILD’S REDEEMING GRACE

These words express the two sacred, eternal, glorious central truths of the Christmas tidings. Deny one, and you have removed the granite blocks upon which the temple of our faith rests. Deny the other, and you have destroyed the girders that strengthen its towering structure. Because these are life-and-death truths, because your joy and happiness here and hereafter will be made or unmade by your accepting or rejecting these verities, I ask you to behold with me once more the cradled Child of Bethlehem, upon whom the eyes of the entire world, willingly or unwillingly, today focus their attention; for He is, as the angel carols, “a Savior,” a Deliverer, a Redeemer.

Some of you will object immediately and demand, “Why do I need a Savior?” You speak in the tone of our times, when men have frantically tried to get rid of that brief, black word “sin” by changing its name (in its latest disguise it is labeled “social maladjustment”!), by silencing it out of existence, by employing psychological makeup to disguise its agents as angels of light. On Christmas Day let us see eye to eye in regard to Heaven’s foundation truth, that the Christ-child is our Savior from sin. Of course, if you are the man or woman who has never done anything, said anything, thought anything, that dishonors or distresses your God, injures your fellow-men or yourself; if you are a paragon of perfection whose hands have always been active in behalf of truth and justice and faith, whose heart has always beat in measured sympathy with your unfortunate brothers; if your mind has always dwelt on the pure, the clean, the noble,—turn off your radio! You do not need my message! You do not need Christmas! You do not want the Christ, who said, “They that be whole need not a physician”! But in all my life I have never met a sane, normal man who with all the mask of his own self­righteousness could stand before his God and bring an unblemished life record for divine approval and reward.

I am not arguing that you need a Savior; you know your own life better than I do. Conscience, the mysterious bar of justice within you that sits in judgment over every thought, word, and deed, has indicted you. The voice of Scripture, with its multiplied pronouncements on the depravity of the race, has placed this tragic truth above the possibility of debate. I am simply bringing you the plain truth that Christmas, with its heart-warming appeal and its soul-lifting promise, asks us not to excuse or disguise our weakness and selfishness, envies and jealousies, untrue words and unkind actions, rebellious denials of God and ungrateful neglect of His mercies; not to surrender to the folly and blindness of striving for our own peace and pardon, but to believe, with all the radiance and rejoicing of this blessed day, that here, “in the city of David, a Savior” was born.

That Redeemer our Christmas-text calls “Christ.” Have you ever studied the endless wealth of mercies that lie in this much-used, but much-misunderstood name? “Christ” means God’s “Anointed,” the promised Prophet, Priest, and King, through whose redeeming grace men are to be blessed in life and death. The Christ of God! How the whisper of Old Testament prophecy, spoken through mysterious centuries, swells into the chorus of New Testament fulfilment! How the dawnings of hope even at the closed gates of Eden burst into radiant brilliance, when the great Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ, was born! But a dark, spectral shadow beclouds the career of this Christ. He was to be rejected as a servant instead of being acclaimed as a king. The price of blood was to rest on His head in place of a crown of glory. The royal city that had stoned the prophets and killed God’s messengers was to pay thirty pieces of silver for that Christ, drag Him to a skull-shaped hill, and in the torture of a punishment so brutal that it has not been legally invoked in the last fifteen hundred years, nail Him, its own promised Messiah, to the shame and agony of a cross.

That death blesses us with life, and Christ’s resurrection seals for us the everlasting glories of heaven; for the Savior,—and we now approach the great climax of our Christian joy, the second of the sublime “tidings of great joy,”—that Christ, is God incarnate. The Child in the manger (how human reason staggers before this mystery!) is God, the true and living God, the merciful, everlasting, almighty God. As He had to be man to fulfil the Scriptures and suffer and die in our stead, so He had to be God to pay the price demanded for the atonement of all human sin. If you believe that Jesus, who five times calls Himself the Son of God and twenty-seven times calls God His Father, is your Lord; if, as you glance through the Old and New Testaments, you read that in prophecy and in fulfilment He is hailed as divine; that His teachings, His miracles, His power, combine to prove that He is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary,” then you have the pure gold of enduring faith and no tarnished brass of unbelief; radiant jewels for a heavenly diadem instead of tawdry, worthless paste and glass and gilt. You have your Christ and with Him the blessed assurance that, though a thousand sins rise up to accuse you, ten thousand mercies prevail to pardon your penitent soul; that, were the dawn of every day to bring you new trials and temptations, the close of each day would lead you, repentant, closer to the gates of heaven. With this Christmas-gift, the greatest that even God could bestow, you know that through the mercies of Christ the rejected are restored, the alienated reconciled, the unclean purged, the condemned pardoned; you understand that everything you need for body and soul, time and eternity, your faith and life, your hopes and fears, is freely given you.

No wonder the angels who sang at the Nativity will rejoice over every lost soul that is saved. No wonder men traveled from afar to behold the Christ-child, and today from the ends of the earth great multitudes have come to Christ. No wonder that for thousands of years the pleadings and prayers of men were focused on that first Christmas, that humanity sets its clocks at the cradle and the world changed its calendar since the Savior’s birth. And if, by the Spirit’s power, you give your soul this Christmas present of Christ, a new life, a new age, a rebirth in faith, in joy everlasting, begins for you.

THE JOYOUS MESSAGE OF THE CHRIST-CHILD’S UNIVERSAL GRACE

We hear the angelic promise that these tidings of great joy are to be “to ALL people,” and we are reminded that Christmas is every man’s day. It is the day of the child; for how gloriously has childhood been hallowed by that Babe, the brightness of the Father’s glory incarnate as an Infant! I ask you parents, confused by cares and disturbed by your inability to make this Christmas the joyful festival in your home that you desire, not to let these blessed days close without taking your children into your arms and impressing upon them the blessed truth. that beyond all the Christmas lights they must find “the Light of the world,” above starry, glittering decorations they must follow the star that stopped over Bethlehem; beneath all the eager, impatient anticipation of Christmas-gifts they must have the one Gift that exceeds all others.

If we build for tomorrow with granite, iron, or steel, no matter how securely we rear the structures of statesmanship, the temples of our reverent worship, and the towering edifices of commerce and industry, we cannot build with confidence since the tremors of a quaking world and the rust of social decay may destroy our choicest architecture; but if we build with God-fearing, honest, obedient children who have faith in Christ, we are building with permanent and promising hope. Fathers and mothers of America, on this day, when childhood is raised to its greatest glory by the Christ-child, I ask you to drop everything, no matter how important it may seem to you, that prevents you from bringing your own flesh and blood to the Savior. God pity the parents in whose homes Christmas means nothing more than merriment!

Christmas is the day for mothers. Through nothing else has motherhood been more highly exalted than through the birth of Christ. How I wish that today the first two chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel could be studied intently by every young woman in the United States and Canada to emphasize the truth that, when “the Word was made flesh,” when the Savior was born of the Virgin, motherhood was enshrined in the highest glory that we can contemplate. The picture of her who was “blessed . . . among women” singing hymns of praise to God during those mysterious, but blessed days before the birth of her Son; the glory of this believing, trusting mother, who kept all the miracles surrounding the divine Infant as the treasures of her highest love, symbolizes the faith that should live in the hearts of wives and mothers of our generation. So let me ask the young women, “Do you have the faith of Mary? Is Christ your Savior, personally and unmistakably? Do you pray to God for strength and divine help in leading a clean, chaste, high-souled life? Do you look forward to the time when with a Christian husband you will have your own home and your first baby? Do you discover power in prayer when you are tempted and find that the Spirit of God will uplift and sustain you in your battle against sin? If you do not know these joys and this heavenly power for your earthly problems; if you have not accepted Christ as your Savior; if you are one of the blase, sophisticated young women who are trying to find happiness without or against God’s Law—and deep down in your heart you ought to know that you can never be happy in that way—; if you are playing with your life’s happiness and toying with the eternal destiny of your soul, let me, in the name of this Christ of Christmas, speak pleadingly to each one of you and beg you to turn in contrite faith to the mercy of that Christ­child who not only forgives and cancels and removes our sins,—praise be to His never-ending, all-atoning grace!—but who through His Word and ordinances strengthens us for the highest blessings of happiness and the truly abundant life! Are you who within the next weeks or months will shelter within your arms a new gift of God, a tiny, precious mite of love, small and weak as the Infant Jesus, exercising helpful influences? Are you humming Christmas melodies or singing, as Mary did, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ or is it true that for years you have not opened your soul, wide and free and happy, to chorus with the herald angels, ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come’? If you have been poisoning your own happiness, stunting your own soul, choking off your hope for eternity, may these days sing into your soul the greatest message that ever came to earth, the Christmas promise of pardon, the Christmas hope of a better, happier, more radiant life.”

Christmas is the workingman’s day. It is not accidental that the first witnesses of the Savior’s birth were men of the laboring class, common shepherd folk from the nearby fields. Yet how often we fail to find the significance of labor bowing before Christ! Many in the great army of America’s working-men and working-women have been exploited and misled. Some have been self-engrossed and self-centered; others have been disappointed and distracted by the continued reverses of the last years and hardened by the cruelties of our industrial collapse. Still, if every one of the 40,000,000 workers in America could hear the bells of Christmas ring their glad tidings over the cares and worries about employment and come as the shepherds did to the Christ-child, a new sense of blessing and a glorious benediction would rest upon these toilers. Workers of America, never before have as many appeals petitioned your support. You are asked to take up flaming firebrands and, destroying our Government in the fires of Communism, to make the Soviet States of America rise from the ashes. You are asked to trust in your own strength. Rival coalitions are bidding for your support. Politicians are bargaining for your votes. But I ask you on Christmas to bring labor to Christ. I ask you, the factory workers, the tradesmen, the miners, the carpenters, the metal workers, and all others engaged in constructive enterprise, to tear out that propaganda of hatred from across the seas that puts the true Church of Jesus Christ and the working-man into opposing trenches. He chose twelve workingmen to be His disciples, and today He calls to you who may have opposed Him, who sing the Internationale instead of Christmas carols, who crowd labor halls, but remain at a contemptuous distance from the Savior, and He asks you to hasten and with the shepherds to find “the Babe lying in a manger.” Life could never be the same again for these Judean shepherds. With Bethlehem began a new and glorious confidence. And I promise you that with plenteous pardon and joyful trust in Christ you will rise to heights of happiness and rejoicing that you have never scaled before.

Christmas, as we embrace the entire Nativity cycle, is also the rich man’s day. When the Magi brought their treasures to the Christ-child, they represented wealth bowing before the Savior. The Christmas season has an emphatic appeal for the aged. When Simeon and Anna, advanced in years, welcomed their Redeemer in the Temple, you who have traveled far along life’s way were given a strong and personal example for your trust in Christ.

Christmas is every man’s day; and though a hundred forces may surround you to contradict this promise, these glad tidings of a Savior are directed “to ALL people.” Are you poor? Your Savior was born in a stable. Are you neglected? Think of the overcrowded inn. Are you harassed and persecuted by hostile forces within and without your own life? Listen to the voice of lamentation in Rama when bloody Herod massacred the children in Bethlehem and the Holy Family fled to safety in Egypt. Does it seem as though your Christmas must be tear-filled and sorrow-laden because of sickness, family trouble, or the pain of death? Remember that He who came into the flesh was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” and that every sorrow, no matter how deep-rooted it may be, no matter how persistently it besieges your happiness, can vanish before the joy-filled message of Christmas salvation.

Almost six hundred years ago the plague of the Black Death, one of the greatest pestilences of all history, swept over Europe, leaving piled corpses in its terrifying swath. “Men,” we are told, “fled in terror of their fellow-men in awful fear of their breath or touch and for weeks sustained a strange, weird siege of solitude.” This dread fear of contamination continued until Christmas Eve, 1353, when in the city of Goldberg, Silesia, a man who thought he was the only survivor of the entire city went forth at the dead of night. He knew it was Christmas, and he raised his voice to sing:—

To us this clay is born a Child,

God with us!

His mother is a Virgin mild,

God with us!

God with us!

God with us—against us who dare be!

As his voice rang into the stillness of the night, another voice came through a barred door in response to his own, and then a man joined him in the street. Together they sang into the quiet of the midnight hour, the first songs that had been heard in the city since the wails of terror and mourning provoked by the pestilence had entered the gates. Their songs brought strange echoes, and from living tombs survivors to the number of twenty-five—all that were left in the town—came forth and with new courage marched through death-stricken streets, singing:—

God with us—against us who dare be!

If you and I, kneeling at the cradle, will raise eyes of faith to the Christ-child and exult: “God is for us, because He is with us in this Child that is born to us, this Son that is given to us, this ‘Immanuel,’ whose name is ‘Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,’” then the Savior’s joy will be fulfilled in us, and we shall know life at its highest and best because Jesus is ours as our Redeemer and Friend. To this faith and to this newborn Savior I commend you. God bless you on this Christmas, through the Christ-child. Amen.

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

Date: December 20, 1936

Prayer of Welcome to the Savior

Christ, Thou Promised Redeemer of the Race:

As we pause on the threshold of Thy birthday and prepare to contemplate anew the mercy and the miracle of Christmastide, accept, we earnestly ask Thee, the thanks and the praise of our joy-filled hearts that Thou, O precious Savior, didst leave the glories of heaven and come to this earth that by Thy life and death and resurrection we might find pardon for our sins, peace for our consciences, and rest for our souls. We know—and we confess it to our shame—that too often we forget the grace of Thy nativity and spurn Thine atoning love by indifference, unbelief, and doubt. So we come to Thee for forgiveness and ask Thee to help us prepare worthily for the Christmas rejoicing, to find time for communing with Thee amid all the distractions of the holiday rush, and in the glow of true Christmas cheer to discover warmth and light in the cold and darkness of a world that for many of us is cruel and savage. Be with us, Thou sustaining Father, Thou divine and self-giving Son, Thou enlightening Spirit, so that in firm and strengthened faith we may once more proclaim in our hearts and lives the eternal message of the greatest Gift of all: Christ, the Savior, is born! Grant us His perfect peace! Amen.

God so loved the world that He gave His only­-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.John 3:16

IN the memories of most of us, no doubt, one particular Christmas Day stands out with unusual force. Indelibly rooted in my own mind is the Christmas season of 1918, six weeks after the Armistice. While studying at Cambridge, I was commissioned by the Secretary of War to minister to the spiritual needs of a hundred enemy officers and seamen at the United States Army War Prison Camp Number One, located in a remote and dreary section of Central Massachusetts. With a heavy heart I approached the barbed-wire stockade for the pre-Christmas service. During the previous weeks opposition to the Word of God had been organized by these hardened men of the sea—blond young giants and grizzled navigators, captives taken from an enemy submarine and a raider,—all embittered, desperate men, separated from their homeland and their beloved ones for years, crushed under the hopelessness of defeat, caged behind wire barriers charged with death­dealing electricity. Religion was a closed chapter for them, they had furiously protested at our first meeting. Invited to church services within the stockade, they flew into a frenzy, and from their sailors’ bags they produced a scrapbook filled with utterances of famous American wartime preachers relating to the homeland and countrymen of these prisoners,—brutal, hate-filled, vicious quotations, which would seem to have come from gutters rather than from pulpits dedicated to God’s love. So these men were through with the Church, through with the Bible, through with God, they shouted,—if Christianity could champion falsehood and thrive on lies. For weeks, of those one hundred prisoners of war, only seven came to the services.

As the Advent season progressed and the beloved melodies rang through the prison barracks, the ice in their hearts began to melt. One by one they would steal into the rear of that bleak assembly-room and listen in motionless silence. On Christmas Day, when they heard once more the story of the manger, the heavy, black clouds of gloom and hatred were dispersed. Men who had vowed that they would never worship with us eagerly joined in the prayers. Sailors who a dozen times had faced death on the high seas. without a quiver sobbed in new-found joy. It was a new war-prison camp; and prisoners though they were in an enemy’s country, utterly destitute, suffering from loneliness and uncertainty, many of these fighting men of the sea were led by the Spirit back to the lowly manger bed, the cradle of God, their Savior.

I recall this unforgettable Christmas with a prayer in my heart that many of you will likewise lay aside your hate, fear, sorrow, gloom, doubt, disbelief, and find the joy that Christmas and these blessed days before the Savior’s birth would bestow upon every one of you. You can never be so chilled by the frost and ice of life that you cannot be warmed by the penetrating hope and the glowing cheer that these days would bring your heart. The first recorded Christmas service on the North American continent was held in 1619, on the inhospitable shores of Hudson Bay, among a group of Danish Lutheran explorers. These sixty­ six men were harassed by heart-breaking difficulties; within the next three and a half months all but five were to die of exposure, disease, and privation; but on Christmas the joy of the Christ-child reigned in their hearts.

If in these five days which remain before Christmas you would prepare yourself to receive the peace and joy of this blessed season, you, too, must know and believe the true Christmas grace that unveils the loving heart of God and guides us as I now ask the Spirit to lead you to—

THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL

What is the essence of Christmas rejoicing? What makes the birth of Jesus Christ the climax and turning-point of all human history, the day that marks the blessed beginning of the fulfilled promises for your salvation and mine? Is not all this—and much more—answered by that golden summary of Gospel hope that has been prayed on death-beds, repeated in the exaltation of spiritual rejoicing, the passage of which a Christian statesman once said: “These words are worth more than a thousand worlds to me,” the promise which many of you know and all of you should love (St. John, chapter three, verse sixteen): “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

IT IS THE GIFT OF THE TRIUNE AND MERCIFUL GOD

If Christmas is to be a holy day rather than just another holiday, a consecration more than a celebration, you who exhaust yourselves physically in the outward preparation for this day of days must take time, quiet, thought-filled moments, reverently to prepare your souls for this greatest Gift of all. You must learn to separate shallow sentimentalism from the heroic realism of a living faith in God’s mercy. You must have far more than tinsel and ornaments, cards and candles, holly and balsam. There must be more to Christmas than giving gifts and receiving gifts. You must repeat the words, “God so loved the world,” and in the radiant Christmas proof of that truth you must bow before the might and the mercy of God, our heavenly Father.

Christmas—the angels proclaim it, the star of Bethlehem declares it, the fulfilled Scriptures prove it—is the climax and the demonstration of His father-love for us. We cannot prevent atheists from contradicting their own reason as they shout, “There is no God!” Nor can we restrain semiatheists, skeptical churchmen, and hazy philosophers, who continue to banish God from their sermons and their philosophies as they destroy the Biblical revelation of our Father above and reduce Him to an impersonal being, a vague and undefinable force, a mere shadow of His divine glory. But here at Christmas, approaching the heart of God the Father as it had never been revealed before, we know with new conviction that above all life’s rough tides, above all unsolved problems, beyond all baffling mysteries, we have God, who would be our Father and, make us His children.

That God, our Scripture continues, “loved” us. Our conscience may protest and our soul falter when we think of ourselves and the wrongs in our life that must be righted, sins that must be atoned, hatred that must be banished, envy and self-seeking that bring us perilously close to the tooth and the claw of the beast. Yet at Christmas, as the angels chant, “on earth peace, good will toward men,” we, too, should learn to give “glory to God in the highest,” who, as He hates sin, loves the sinner; who, as He punishes transgressions with death, pardons the penitent transgressor and gives life. The God whose fingers created the universe, its hundreds of millions of stars and its planetary bodies, so tremendous that this earth seems trivial,—that Father and Creator is not so remote, so all-pervading, so omnipotent, that He refuses graciously to behold the infinitesimal atoms of poor, perverse humanity that you and I are. That God who in His sinless, stainless purity cannot be approached by sinful men does not leave the race of His fallen children the victims of their own soul-destroying vices. With a mercy before which we of unclean lips can only stammer in amazement our heavenly Father directed the intense and personal power of His love on our redemption.

To prepare our hearts for the real Christmas, however, we cannot stop at the First Article of our Christian faith: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Millions of heathen, a hundred different and contradictory cults, will concede this; yet they are far from the true God of Christmas. Neither can we express the fulness of our faith by asserting vaguely that God is Love and then forget or deny the great revelation of God’s love in Christ. The short, simple blessed words of our text continue, “God so loved the world that He gave HIS ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON.” Kneeling in spirit before the manger, we must go to the Second Article of our faith: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” In the infant Jesus, as the radiance of heaven plays about His face, we must find, in the words of the ancient confession of faith, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” Any other worship is idolatry, any other creed counterfeit, any other hope despair.

Even more than the divinity and the humanity of Christ, our God-man, is revealed at Bethlehem. We must also find at the manger—and praise God that we can find it—His atoning, self-sacrificing love. When we read: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him SHOULD NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE,” we stand awestruck before the sanctuary of the ages, the holy of holies of all history, the very heart of Christmas, the sin-atoning love of Jesus. That Christ-child came from the glory of heaven to the shame of earth, to take the sinner’s place, to suffer in the sinner’s stead and, nailed to a gaunt cross, to die for the sinner’s life.

What a blessed Savior to assure us by His humble birth and His bleeding death of pardon and peace, freedom from sin, hell, and death, and to bestow upon us the promise of salvation and “everlasting life”! Let us shout the glad tidings that cradled at Bethlehem is the life-giving, life­sustaining Christ, the surety for the ages, the hope for eternity, the love forever!

When we ask, “How can this love be ours? How can I be sure that the Christ-child came for me, to bring me the remission of sins?” we learn that God’s grace is full and free and—what pure and blessed mercy this is!—that He “GAVE His only-begotten Son.” The mercy that He has given, we need not, we cannot, earn, or purchase, with all the treasures from the vaults of royalty, all the glittering metals from the mines of earth, all the combined wealth from the banks and the treasuries of the world. Since God “gave” you Christ, you need offer no sacrifices, undertake no pilgrimages, impose no penances and fastings upon yourself. For—and again we are face to face with the greatest gift of all—your Savior has done everything, earned everything, atoned for everything, paid everything, that God in His truth and justice demands for your salvation. Believe this and with all your heart trust His never-ending, never-failing mercy.

Now the Holy Spirit comes with His crowning blessing. Confessing, as you and I must, in the third and last article of our Christian Creed, that we cannot with our own reason or strength believe in the Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him, God’s Spirit calls us to Christ, enlightens us, and by the Word and Sacraments keeps us in true faith. He warms our cold hearts, banishes our fears, strengthens our wavering and weakness, and brings us, just as we are, to Christ and His redemption.

This summary of Christian doctrine presents the sacred facts that should make Christmas a day of rejoicing for you in Christ, your Redeemer, the greatest Gift of all. Could there be a greater gift than this? God loved us in spite of ourselves and our sins; He gave His Son for us; through Christ He offers us “everlasting life” “by grace, without the deeds of the Law,” and His Spirit creates within us the faith and perfect trust by which these blessings become ours for time and for eternity. O blessed God, Father, Son, and Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of our hearts and lives, be with us!

IT IS THE JOYFUL GIFT TO ALL THE WORLD

In addition to all this think of the worldwide sweep and spread of this Christmas-gift, Christ Himself, as His love is offered to all masses and all classes without exception or limitation! At the manger in Bethlehem there are no restrictions or distinctions. “God so loved the WORLD”—from pole to pole, the entire race from the first moment of its existence until the last moment when this world crumbles into everlasting decay, the world of all generations, all races, all ages, the world of all mortal men who in the past have been covered by the wrappings of death, all the two billions that live and hope and strive in the fast and racing present, all marching columns that will yet appear in the pageant of human history as it sweeps on to its close! Before the cradled Christ-child there are no Nordics or Slavs or Semites; no princes of finance, like the forty-one Americans who have an annual income of over $1,000,000, and no destitute, like the 20,000,000 plus who are fed by the open hand of public or private charity. Before that Child, whose name is “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,” there are no barriers separating capitalists from laborers, kings from commoners, doctors of philosophy from illiterates, freemen from slaves, Protestants from Catholics, Jews from Gentiles, Americans from Asiatics. As the angelic message “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” speeds in a ringing chorus round the world; as the adoration of the new-born Savior is proclaimed in a thousand languages, preached in earth’s remotest places, treasured in the hearts of hundreds of millions, from the poorest and the most underprivileged men and women to the internationally acclaimed geniuses, statesmen, and leaders; as we once more read this limitless embrace of our Savior’s loving heart and repeat, “God so loved THE WORLD,” we know that as no other fact in life these “tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” cut sharply through the thin walls of arrogance and prejudice that array men against their fellow-men in class war, race conflict, religious bigotry, and the long catalog of hatred in our tear-stained age and blood-drenched world.

No matter who you are or what you are, God loves you. Will you not resolve: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass”? True, we cannot understand the immeasurable mercy by which Christ loved this world. We have our Christmas-gift lists for our family and friends and for those—how ashamed we ought to be, and yet how true this often is!—who must be remembered because they remember us. But, above our knowledge and understanding in God’s worldwide, eternal gift list no name is omitted. Only the sinner himself, rebellious, unbelieving, blasphemous, can cross off his own name.

Keep your joy undimmed. We have been a long time trying to bring Christmas into the prominence which it deserves. Back in the Pilgrim days at Plymouth, Governor Bradford publicly rebuked young men who refused to work on Christmas. For two hundred years in Massachusetts, business went on as usual on the day of the Savior’s birth. In England, at the middle of the seventeenth century, the Lord Mayor of London rode through the streets of the city setting fire to evergreen Christmas decorations, and for a period of thirteen years the British Parliament sat in session on Christmas Day to preclude any festival observance. As late as the middle of the last century, when a Lutheran pastor of a congregation in Cleveland reverently brought a Christmas-tree into a church, for the first time in America—and this was pilloried from other pulpits as ridiculous and sacrilegious,—members of this congregation were boycotted and threatened with discharge by irate employers. And only thirty-one years ago a great Protestant church convention deplored the tendency to observe such a festival as Christmas.

As we have slowly emerged from this bigotry, there arises another, still greater peril, the campaign to tear Christ out of Christmas, to commercialize this sacred day, to substitute Santa Claus for Christ, to celebrate it as the December festivals of the pagan Romans. I beg you to pray with me that God would bring the Christ-child into all the empty, cold hearts that now hear this appeal; that He would awaken within us who have come to the Infant Redeemer the holy determination to show our gratitude for Christ by bringing the story of this greatest Gift of all to some groping soul in the murky and unillumined darkness of sin. You may not be able to bring material gifts to your friends, but you can and should bring what the apostle called the “unspeakable Gift” during these five days that still remain. It is never too late, as it is never too early, to bring this greatest Gift of all, which can never perish.

If “God so loved the world that He gave His only­begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” will you not believe and trust in the glory of this peerless Christmas-gift? Will you not let God bestow a deeper faith in your hearts and lives and, as this gift has been given to you, help to give it to others?

Come, then, every one of us,

. . . triumphantly sing:

Come, see in the manger our Savior and King!

To Bethlehem hasten with joyful accord!

O come ye, come hither to worship the Lord!

God grant that we will all come and bow before our glorified Redeemer! Amen.

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

Date: December 13, 1936

Prayer for Courageous Trust

Lord Jesus Christ:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNDAUNTED FAITH IN GOD’S PROMISES

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

FAITH THOUGH WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND

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

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

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

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

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

FAITH THOUGH WE SUFFER

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

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

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

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

FAITH THOUGH GOD DELAYS

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

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

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

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

FAITH THOUGH OUR SINS ACCUSE

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

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

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

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

Date: December 6, 1936

Prayer for Affliction

God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

CHRIST SOLVES THE MYSTERY OF SUFFERING

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

CHRIST ALONE SOLVES SORROW’S MYSTERY!

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

CHRIST SOLVES THIS MYSTERY COMPLETELY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date: November 29, 1936

Advent Prayer

Merciful Father:

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

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

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

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

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

GOD PREVAILS

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

THE PREVAILING POWER OF GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PREVAILING LOVE OF GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date: November 26, 1936

The Thanksgiving Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

“AMERICA, GIVE THANKS!”

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

THE NATION’S THANKS

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

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

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

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

OUR INDIVIDUAL THANKS

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

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

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

O that I had a thousand voices,

A mouth to speak with thousand tongues!

and that makes us proclaim:

Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,

Dearest Jesus, unto Thee!

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

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

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

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

Date: November 22, 1936

Prayer for Family Blessings

Heavenly Father:

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

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

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

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

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

THE ABIDING CHRIST IN YOUR HOME

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

THE GRACE OF THE ABIDING CHRIST

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NECESSITY OF THE ABIDING CHRIST

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

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

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

Abide, O dear Redeemer,

Among us with Thy Word

And thus now and hereafter

True peace and joy afford.

THE BLESSING OF THE ABIDING CHRIST

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

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

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

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

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

Abide, O faithful Savior,

Among us with Thy love,

Grant steadfastness, and help us

To reach our home above.

God grant that you will! Amen.

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

Date: November 15, 1936

Prayer for a Clean Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, and in this spirit, let us consider—

THE TOUCH OF JESUS

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

IT IS THE BLESSED TOUCH OF SUSTAINING GRACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IT IS THE SPIRIT’S TOUCH IN SAVING FAITH

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

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

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

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

Take Thou our hands and lead us

O’er life’s rough way;

With heavenly manna feed us

From day to day.

Alone, our footsteps falter

Or straggle wide;

Lord, who our life canst alter,

Be Thou our Guide.

Amen.

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

Date: November 8, 1936

Prayer of Thanks for Reformation Blessings

Lord of all love and mercy:

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

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

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

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

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

GRACE WITHOUT A QUESTION-MARK

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

THE ASSURANCE OF FULL GRACE FOR OUR FAITH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FULL GRACE FOR OUR LIFE

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

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

But for us fights the Valiant One,

Whom God Himself elected.

Ask ye, Who is this?

Jesus Christ it is!

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

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

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