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Date: February 3, 1935

Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God.Isaiah 40:1

As we this day inaugurate a new and, please God, far-reaching crusade for the glory of the eternal Christ, let there be no conjecture or misunderstanding as to the fiber, the tone, the purpose, of the messages that will wing their way Sunday after Sunday into the homes and, as God wills, into the hearts of the nation.

Today we offer you the solemn pledge that in these broadcasts you will not be harangued by misguided churchmen who have deserted their altars for the arena of partisan politics and who endeavor through formidable organization to control the balance of power and thus to institute dangerous legislative programs. We have no organization for which we solicit your membership except the blessed kingdom of Jesus Christ. We have no building project for which we direct our appeals to you except the dedication of a sacred shrine within your heart, a soul sanctuary to your Savior. We propose no hazardous financial conjectures in regard to inflation, banking systems, or the monetary structure of the nation; but we do pledge ourselves to offer the whole counsel of God in order that those who listen to us may be assured of their salvation through the Redeemer of mankind.

We promise you in addition that these Sunday afternoon hours will grant no quarter to that unholy and destructive denial of God’s Word and that despicable betrayal of our Lord and Savior which has laid its curse on too many of America’s churches. Never, God helping us, will there be spoken through this microphone or broadcast over these wavelengths any word or syllable that will leave a shadow of a doubt or question upon any of the infallible truths of Scripture. We deplore and indict that unfair and unAmerican discrimination deliberately practised by large broadcasting interests in our country which have placed the facilities of vast networks at the disposal of leaders in American unbelief (who, after all, represent only a small fraction of the churchgoing public) and have stubbornly withheld the same privileges from those of us who would direct the gaze of men upward to the blood-marked cross of Calvary. With our hand raised in the pledge of loyalty and allegiance to that cross, we commit ourselves here and now to the Bible, not as to a book that merely offers some helpful and stimulating thoughts, sacred writings that contain the truth, but to a divine volume that is the truth from Genesis to Revelation. We commit ourselves here and now to our Christ, not to that vague, thin, anemic shadow of a Christ silhouetted by the high priests of American apostasy, but to the complete Christ, Son of God, yet Son of Man, Servant of servants, yet King of kings,—wounded, bleeding, dying, yet living, conquering, triumphant in eternity,—Christ, my Savior and yours. We commit ourselves here and now to that faith which enables us to look from this life into the next and to declare not only, “We want to be saved,” not only, “We hope to be saved,” not only, “We believe that we shall be saved,” but with Heaven­born conviction to exult, “We know that we shall be saved.” Not the faith which offers this salvation as a reward and compensation for a life of character and accomplishment, but the Christ-centered conviction which seals the blessing within us “By grace are ye saved,”—this, we pledge, will be the heart and center of every message.

We finally promise that in these stirring days, when the hearts and resolutions of men are sorely tried, we shall not pass by the absorbing issues of this disturbed hour without offering the eminently practical help and the divine solution to human difficulties which the resources of Christian faith perpetually proffer. Indeed, because we believe that the grave national issues, the hazardous trends, the burning passions, and the class bigotries of the present scene must be analyzed and interpreted from the Scriptural standards of right and wrong; because we are convinced that, if in our country indifference to the demands of God predominates, this nation will find itself plunged into perils of even more serious proportions, we shall in these broadcasts bring the words of God Himself as they cry out over the confusion of a groping world.

In this inaugural radio message, then, I offer you this

COMFORT FOR A CRITICAL DAY

that has come down through twenty-six centuries, the divine command “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.”

THE CHURCH MUST ANSWER THE CRY FOR COMFORT

This repeated, emphasized “Comfort ye, comfort ye,” once heralded by God’s prophet in the depths of Israel’s despair, must be proclaimed in clarion tones throughout our country in its present crisis; for there is a bewilderment, a delusion, a disappointment, abroad in the land more critical than this generation or any previous generation in our country has ever experienced. The very foundations upon which we were accustomed to build our hopes and ambitions have often crumbled away, and some of the proudest citadels of human achievement have collapsed. We have more gold in the United States than we have had in the heyday of past prosperities; yet at the same time, by startling contradiction, we have more destitution than ever before. The nations suffer, paradoxical as it may seem, from lavish oversupply and superabundance; yet throughout the world 2,400,000 of our fellow-men die of starvation in a single year. The mental resources and the cultural assets of the nation were never as imposing and impressive as today; yet the failure of brain projects and the utter insufficiency of human planning were never as marked as now. Our laws and ordinances have increased by bewildering thousands; but lawbreaking and new atrocities of crime flourish in an unprecedented reign of terror. These and other inexplicable contradictions have demolished the confidence that was once a part of our American heritage and clouded our traditional national happiness. Twenty million of our fellow-men are thrown upon the resources of public and private charity; ten million and more suffer under the deadening monotony of protracted unemployment; further millions face the future terrified in their concern about the trends of these problematical years, distressed by the hazards of financial or social disaster that may overtake them. Add to this somber canvas of a disillusionized world the darker lines that represent all the sickness and sorrow and bereavement, all the blasted hopes, the domestic tragedies, the betrayed confidences, and the complex sufferings in which human grief finds its agonized expression, and you have a realistic portrayal of life as masses live it today, an existence so drab and desperate that suicide reaches new and alarming heights when in a single year 1,200,000 of our fellow-men take that cowardly and irretrievably fatal exit from life—a mass of humanity larger than the city of Detroit, annually sending itself to hell by self-destruction.

Now, over all the din and confusion of our disquieted age this double call of God resounds: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.” Let us remember that according to this divine injunction it is the sacred obligation of Christ’s Church here on earth to comfort, to console, to heal a wounded and bleeding world with Heaven’s balm. The Church of Christ, as its purposes are defined in its Scriptural charter, is not to inflame the passions and prejudices of men by preaching bigotry and class hatred. The Church is not to cross the line that separates its sphere from the domain of the State and usurp political privileges and governmental functions. The Church is not commissioned to preach revolt, the destruction of private property, and the end of an economic system by which men can engage in honest labor in order to make an honest profit. The Church is not organized to entertain or amuse, to foster social ambitions or promote purely civic enterprises. The Church’s duty first, last, and forever—and particularly in crisis moments of history—is summarized in the appeal of our text: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.”

When the Church whole-heartedly dedicates itself to the privilege of fulfilling its destiny as an agency of divine comfort, it becomes the salt of all existence that can preserve human society from decomposition and decay. But when churches become untrue to their trust and incite the masses to ill-conceived action instead of comforting depressed souls; when churches decoy the flock of God from the paths of righteousness, offer the stones of infidelity and the scorpions of poisonous unbelief instead of the sustaining Bread of Life, they become explosive forces that may blast the happiness of men and the welfare of their nation into irreparable fragments. Survey the vast prospects of international history, and as you behold empires fall, national glories disintegrate, scrutinize these calamities more closely, and you will discover churchmen usurping the governmental sword, appealing to mob prejudices, plotting palace intrigues, or tyrannizing trembling souls, stolidly unmoved by this appeal of their God: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.”

THE CHURCH MUST PREACH THE COMFORT IN CHRIST

How, we pause to ask, is the Church to fulfil its mission as a comforter of disturbed souls? Not by a false and unfounded optimism, which slaps the world on the back and vaguely prophesies that conditions will soon improve; for this crying of “prosperity” when there is no prosperity will only push men down to deeper despair. Nor can the Church exert its penetrating soul comfort by championing or repudiating World Court proposals, industrial programs, interracial councils, and international leagues, which sometimes engage much of clerical time and energy; for in the crises of life a harassed soul cannot be sustained by international conferences, slum clearance, and sanitation proposals. In short, the comfort with which God would have His Church sustain the helpless and cheer the cheerless is no program of externals; for the plain injunction of Christ Himself demands: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

Of course, the Church must feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the sick, and do this to a far greater extent than it has in the past. The neglect of this first duty of Christian love, the relegation of the privileges of charity to professional workers and to non-religious or even antireligious groups, and the apathy with which some churches regard the bodily miseries of the underprivileged masses,—all this has impaired the power of many Christians and brought reproach upon the Church. In the rankling bitterness of this hour we must intensify the ministration of that comfort for men’s physical needs which Christ Himself laid upon our conscience. Again the Church must protest against every form of sin and iniquity, even in high and official places, obedient to Scriptural command, as it champions the cause of the neglected and comforts the downtrodden. Indeed, its influence in this direction must be even stronger today than in previous ages because of rampant sin and triumphant iniquity. But above and below all this there must be a comfort which touches the souls of men, which warms their cold hearts, fortifies their fearsome spirits, quiets their disturbed consciences. Without that inner peace of mind, calm of spirit, and quiet of conscience all other creature comforts, all other social uplift, will be but a thin veneer, a passing disguise, a temporary opiate.

That soul-strengthening can be found only in the comfort to which our text is directed. Introducing the majestic Christ-centered predictions that abound in the second part of Isaiah’s prophecies, these words “Comfort ye, comfort ye” point to the entrance of Christ the King into our souls. They form a prolog to that later chapter, where, in the climax of the Old Testament, Isaiah again depicts to us the Comfort of all men and of all ages, the sin-bearing, sin-atoning, sin-removing Savior, who was “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities.” Only in Christ, but wholly in Christ, can men today find Heaven’s answer to their woes and perplexities. For His divine love touches the very origin of all sorrow, sin, which ultimately provokes every distress, every anguish, the blasting of every hope. Rising up over a sordid, selfish world, His benediction penetrates into human hearts with the promise: “Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”

Here, then, is the all-pervading comfort. When the long arm of sin reaches out to strangle our happiness; when we measure the strength of our own resources and realize that with hands worn down to bleeding bones, with a deluge of tears, with a long lifetime of regret, we cannot undo the past or remove the stain of guilt from our spotted souls, then we can crawl to the cross. And as we behold the lacerated brow and the spear-thrust side and learn that God laid upon the Crucified the aggregate of the world’s sin, our quivering souls will know that by this one sacrifice the Lamb of God, spotless and unblemished, achieved the supreme and everlasting comfort by offering a power more potent than all acids and alkalis, all chemicals and antiseptics—His blood, which cleanses us from all scarlet sins.

When the guilt of sin is washed away; when men through Christ can face a reconciled and loving God; when they can hold fast to the hundred times a hundred promises of immeasurable and unconditioned grace that the two Testaments contain, they have the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding,” the Comforter who comes from heaven to heal earth’s woes, the joy that makes them view even the tense and foreboding moments of life with the fortitude of undismayed confidence.

Today that Christ of tender mercy calls out to us as He once spoke peace to the heart of a distressed woman: “Be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” He greets the bereaved, the destitute, and the forsaken as He once cheered the widow outside the gates of Nain: “Weep not.” He comes to all of us if we but answer His solicitous knock at the door of our souls with this pledged comfort: “Let not your heart be troubled. . . . I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.” He raises His scarred hands to bless us as He once blessed His disciples on the last night of His earthly life, and summarizing His Gospel invitation, He declares: “These things I have spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Because Christ is our all-conquering King and we are His through faith, “the victory that overcometh the world” and its sorrows, we have the abiding conviction that our sovereign Lord will rule our individual affairs, solve all personal problems and cause all things, even adversities, unemployment, financial worries, sickness, sorrow, bereavement, to blend into a harmonious choral of courage and comfort. His farewell comfort for His children was: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” What comfort can we lack, even in earth’s deepest sorrows and tragedies, if we have Heaven’s promise: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness”?

May God grant every one of us this supreme comfort in our perplexed day for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

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

Date: December 11, 1930?

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

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

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

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

LIFE IN CHRIST.

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

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

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

THE ABUNDANT LIFE.

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

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

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

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

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

O holy Child of Bethlehem,

      Descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin and enter in,

      Be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels

      The great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us,

      Our Lord Emmanuel!

Amen.

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