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Another year has come and gone.  Each of us is one year closer to eternity:  “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).  Do not mourn that you are closer to death, but instead thank God that you are now that much closer to eternal life.

A generation comes and goes, but the earth remains.  Though all streams flow into the sea, the sea is not full.  The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.  Though we toil on this earth, we can take nothing with us into the next life.  Though we may indulge in the comforts and pleasures of this life, we will never be satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:1-18).  The wise man and the fool, the rich and the poor, the king and the servant all will die (Ecclesiastes 2:1-17). 

As one year passes and another begins, let us remember that we are dust (Genesis 3:19).  Let us remember that at any moment we could be called away from this life.  Who of us knows if he will make it to the end of this year?  Be not like the rich fool who basked in his earthly blessings only to lose his life that very night (Luke 12:13-21).  God forbid that any of us should be found without the oil of faith when we awake from death at our Lord’s return (Matthew 25:1-13).  

Where your treasure is, there your heart is also (Matthew 6:21).  What are the greatest objects of your heart’s desire?  God and his word?  Free salvation through Jesus’ death?  

What is worth more than God?  What on this earth is worth more than hearing His word?  What is a better use of your time than coming to church regularly?  Everything in this world fades, rots, fails, falls apart, does not satisfy you, does not save you, does not last forever.  

Therefore, dear Christian, examine your heart.  Examine your time commitments.  Examine your loves.  This world is passing away.  Do not pass away along with it.  Do not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2).  

Redeem the time, which passes so quickly.  Redeem it by using it to hear God’s word.  Fill your flasks with oil while there is still time (Matthew 25:8-10).  Come to church.  Come regularly.  Meditate on God’s word throughout the week and throughout your life. 

The word of God preserves you for eternal life.  Faith comes from hearing the word.  Faith in Christ’s death saves you from the eternity in Hell you deserve for sinning against God.

Christ has risen from the dead.  He has loosened the chains of the grave.  He has broken through, and risen above, the cycles of meaninglessness and death in Ecclesiastes.  He has opened eternity to all who believe in His life, death, and resurrection.  Into the toil, sadness, and vanity of this earthly life Jesus breathes joy and hope.  Joy because of reconciliation with God.  Joy because of His presence.  Joy due to humble, fearful, grateful faith.  And hope because of God’s promise that he will raise all who believe in Jesus to everlasting life.

The book of Lamentations does not clearly identify its author.  It is concerned with the fall of Jerusalem, which occurred in 586 B.C.  Therefore, it had to have been written at least after that point.  But the vivid grief over the city it expresses suggests that Jerusalem had recently fallen when it was written.  Thus, the author probably witnessed the destruction firsthand.  The most likely and the traditional author of Lamentations is Jeremiah, who fits those parameters.  2 Chronicles 35:25 also notes that Jeremiah composed a “lament for Josiah,” which were “written in the Laments.”  Because Jeremiah also composed several such “jeremiads” or lamentations in the book of Jeremiah, it is thus very likely that this was another such composition (Jeremiah 12:1-4 is one example).

Lamentations is a structurally magnificent series of poems.  The book itself is broken into five chapters, and note that each has 22 verses, except for chapter 3 which has 66.  This is not an accident.  The first four chapters are all acrostic, which means that each line begins with a letter of the alphabet in sequence.  Since there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, this explains why there are 22 verses.  Chapter 5 is not acrostic, though it retains the same number of verses.  Chapter 3 intensifies the pattern, so that the acrostic pattern is a group of three verses instead of a single verse.

This is also worth noting because of another Hebrew thought pattern which tends to place the emphasis toward the middle rather than at the end.  If this is the case here, that would make this reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter the main point of the whole book, since it falls to nearly the numerical middle according to the versification.  This would go far to explain what is otherwise a tone of seeming despair in the face of the destruction of Jerusalem.

While there is not time here to consider the whole book, it is enough to note the beginning of this chapter to bring out the contrast.  Jeremiah says “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath; He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me He turns His hand again and again the whole day long” (Lamentations 3:1-3).  It is the Lord who is against him, which makes his lament much like that of Job (such as Job 6:4, though there are many examples throughout that book).  The Lord has brought this disaster against His faithless people.  “He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; He turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; He has made me desolate; He bent his bow and set me as a target for His arrow” (Lamentation 3:10-12).

This, then, sets the reading for this Sunday focused on comfort into proper perspective.  Lamentations 3:22-33 is not a generic kind of trusting in the Lord, a sort of platitude about how it will “all be right.”  This is a hope which trusts in God’s mercy even in the face of God’s wrath.  It is a hope which knows that “the Lord will not cast off forever” (Lamentations 3:31) those to whom He has brought grief.  It is a hope which clings to the promises of God even while it seems that everything has gone wrong.  Even though everything is taken away which had been given, yet the Lord remains faithful and true.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

Date: April 21, 1935

I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.John 11:25

WHEN Andrew Jackson lay on his death-bed, surrounded by groups of weeping children, relatives, and Negro servants, he slowly spoke these words: “Do not weep for me. It is true, I am going to leave you. I have suffered much bodily pain, but my sufferings are as nothing compared with that which our blessed Savior endured on the accursed cross that we might all be saved by our trust in Him.” After he bade the individual members of his family farewell, having spoken to them at length concerning their souls’ salvation, he concluded, as his eyes lingered on the portrait of his departed wife: “My dear children and friends and servants, I hope and trust to meet you all in heaven, both black and white.”

At the end of his own Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan gave this testimony of glorious triumph to those who watched with him in his last vigil: “We shall meet ere long to sing the new song and remain happy forever in a world without end.”

Now, are these and other oft-repeated hopes of life after death well founded? Is this expectation of a better life after death, confidently proclaimed in the Christian’s valedictory to life, a delusion, or is it a deathless truth? What is the answer to that all-absorbing, universally repeated question which the Book of Job asks: “If a man die, shall he live again?” Is the Easter-story which millions of Americans have heard again today fact or fancy?

There are those—and their number is legion times legion—who sullenly reject every thought of immortality. A brilliant, internationally acclaimed attorney and agnostic sneers: “One might just as well discuss the question of whether a lump of coal burned in a grate is still somewhere in its present form . . . or whether a soap-bubble is still a soap-bubble after it has burst into a million fragments as to discuss the resurrection of the body.” A sophisticated editor and author boasts: “It is my hope, as it is my belief, that death is the end.” A British historian and novelist states: “I do not believe that I have any personal immortality.” Now, if such pronouncements of pessimism and denials of a hereafter are correct; if all ends when the soul departs and the body returns to the dust from which it was taken; if the grave is your goal and mine, then human existence is the most cruel of all delusions, and death proves the utter futility of everything human. Then let the carousal of sin and self-indulgence run their riot as short-lived mortals eat, drink, and in their crude way make merry while the dawn of death streaks tomorrow’s graying horizon.

Eternal thanks be to God, today, on the sacred anniversary of Christ’s triumphant resurrection; for we can reassure ourselves with unalterable conviction that the life beyond the grave is a fact, an inviolable, eternal verity,—unfathomable and mysterious, yet a real and personal truth, to which passage upon passage of divine and inspired promise offers decisive testimony. Let me show you, then, this afternoon as we linger before the open grave

THE IMPERISHABLE HOPE OF OUR RESURRECTION

as we find this pledge of eternity given to the world in the promise of Jesus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

THE IMMOVABLE BASIS OF THIS HOPE

Our hope of eternity rests on an imperishable and immovable foundation. Men have tried to prove the reality of life after death through the processes of human reason. They have argued that, as the flowers blossom forth after a dormant winter, so, after the chill of death, a new and better existence will follow. They have pointed to the butterfly’s emerging from the cocoon and found in that change a symbol of the soul released from the grave to a new and higher life. They have reminded us that down through the aging centuries, since the cradle days of humanity, as early monuments of literature reveal, men have always been guided by some belief in a hereafter, and they have concluded that this universal faith of mankind cannot be wrong. They have claimed that there must be a world to come since there must be a righting of human wrongs of this life and a compensation for its sufferings.

All this, interesting as it may be to the student of human thought, is a meaningless trifle to groping souls in our muddled and misled world. When a man faces eternity, it matters little to him what the Babylonians and Assyrians taught and believed in regard to the mysteries of death. He finds little solace or lasting comfort in the changing wonders of nature, and nothing compels him to believe in a new world where the wrongs of this old existence will be righted. Left to themselves, then, men must individually face this issue of the hereafter, the most profound question of all the ages, only with wistful longings or with gnawing, desperate uncertainty. No philosophies can lead humanity out of this labyrinth of doubt, and no scientific research can give to you and me the sure solution to this problem of our own personal destiny. The false religions and their fraudulent claims of revelations, the spiritist seances and their deceptive communications with the dead can add only confusion and lead bewildered minds more deeply into the jungles of despair.

Thank God we have His own answer to earth’s great perplexity; we have the promise of Christ: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”; and in the imposing array of other Scriptural passages which repeat this truth in parallel terms of glorious certainty we have assurance added to assurance. Some may sneer and snarl their denials of the resurrection; but we hear Jesus say: “If any man keep My saying, he shall never see death,” and we are gripped by a calm, serene confidence. Others may doubt and live on in disconsolate uncertainty; but when we hear Jesus promise: “This is the will of Him that sent Me that every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him may have everlasting life,” every trace of question vanishes from our hearts; for we are face to face with exultant truth, as imperishable and unchangeable as heaven itself.

In His immeasurable and unmerited mercy Christ has not only strengthened us with the promise of the resurrection of the body, but in addition He has blessed us with that convincing historical proof which the Christian Church commemorates on this Easter Day, when we have passed from the miserere of Good Friday to the hallelujah chorus of the resurrection. Christ not only taught the truth of a life beyond the grave, but on Easter He manifested that truth. The facts of the Easter-message are not the conjectures of men, the frail and faulty opinions of mere mortals. They are rather the eternal verities of Heaven’s own infallible truth. Question the fact if you will that there is a sun in the heavens above us which sends light upon this earth. Record your doubt, if you must, concerning the verified events of all secular history; challenge the fact that there is an American nation; deny your own existence if you will go to that extreme; but do not make the fatal mistake of putting a question-mark behind the Easter-story, of doubting the literal truth of this heart and center of the entire Scriptures. If the angel’s exultant “He is not here; He is risen” is not the divine and unimpeachable truth in every syllable of its utterance, then the Bible itself must collapse and destroy the foundation upon which all permanent joy and blessing here and hereafter must rest. For this resurrection is prophesied in the Old Testament, in its prediction that the Messiah’s body would not see corruption nor remain in the grave. It was prefigured by the experiences of Jonah. It was forecast by the Savior Himself, who told His incredulous enemies that, though they might break the temple of His body, yet He would rebuild it in three days. The Easter-victory is attested by each of the evangelists, by St. Paul and St. Peter, by the repeated appearances in which the resurrected Savior presented Himself to the eyes of His believers and at one of which He was seen by more than five hundred witnesses. In short, the bodily resurrection of Christ forms the keystone in the arch of the Christian’s hope, to which scores of New Testament passages pay their plain and inspired tribute; and by the benediction of the Spirit the blessed Easter truth is so impressed on the living consciousness of Christian hearts that all doubt vanishes as we rise with palsied Job to declare: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

With this divinely bestowed assurance, death has lost its terror for every follower of Christ, the gruesomeness of the grave and the despair of decay have weakened their paralyzing clutch. When the heavy night of bereavement encircles our homes, when the dark earth of God’s acre separates the mortal remains of loved ones from our view, let us recall the divine force that split the rock sepulcher asunder, the stone rolled from the open grave, the soldier guard prostrate by divine power, and raising our eyes to the throne of eternity, let us behold the risen, majestically ascended Christ and find in Him the promise and power of our own resurrection.

This promise, the comfort and strength of Easter, is assured by the comprehensive pledge: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Keep that truth locked within the innermost recesses of your hearts and never let any powers of hell or temptations of this earth weaken one word of the triumphant hope it holds forth. You who have traveled far on the pilgrimage of life and know that your sojourn on earth cannot be a matter of many more years; you who linger on sick-beds, suffering from protracted pains that have frustrated the efforts of the best physicians, take heart today as your Savior calls: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” What more powerful antidote can there be to the gnawing sorrows of your suffering than this firm-founded faith in a better life to come and the everlasting companionship with Christ that can never be severed by disease or death? You who within these last days have kept vigils at the death-beds of your loved ones and in agonized helplessness have watched the flicker of life’s flame die away, what more soothing balm can you find than this heavenly benediction from the Savior’s own lips: “I am the Resurrection and the Life”? What more penetrating light can you desire by which to interpret the bitterness and woe of an abrupt tearing away in death than the radiance of Christ’s blood-sealed promise that, when our bodies, sown in corruption, are raised in incorruption, we shall live and through all eternity behold Him face to face?

THE MAGNIFICENT GRACE OF THE EASTER HOPE

This, then, is the benediction of Easter, the gift of immortality. Mark well, this blessed bestowal is a gift; you cannot earn it, you cannot purchase it, you cannot acquire it by exchange or secure it as a compensation; but you can appropriate the Heaven-born assurance of this immortality and keep it as yours forever by faith, by the humble, penitent, trustful acceptance of the risen Redeemer as your Savior. “He that believeth in Me,” our text emphasizes, “though he were dead, yet shall he live.” On the strength of this heavenly pledge and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I promise that those who come to the risen Lord of Life with full, unquestioning faith, as I now ask you to come—you, the world-worn, weary pilgrims on life’s discouraging highways; you, the self-engrossed, self­confident sinners upon whom swift death may descend in the next moments; you, the distressed and disillusioned searchers after happiness, who have drunk the bitter dregs of life; all who banish doubt and stifle skepticism as you kneel down before the Christ of Easter with the plea of the believing disciple, “My Lord and my God!”—all have the promise, pledged in the name of Christ Himself, of the highest blessings which our mortal lives and immortal souls may ever experience—a hallowed eternity in a new, sinless, painless, endless life. And this, so the word of our divine Savior assures us today, is the gift of His mercy bestowed freely, without effort or accomplishment, contribution or cooperation, on our part.

Men devote their lives to the accumulation of wealth; scientists spend long and laborious hours in laboratories and in fields of investigation to find a new key to greater human happiness; scholars dedicate their careers to the solution of historical problems; we work and labor and toil to the point of exhaustion for inconsequential rewards; yet here the greatest blessings of time and eternity, your place and mine in the “armies of the ransomed saints,” are offered to all the children of men by the purest, freest mercy, a mercy that only God could grant.

Because of its deathless and personal significance, Easter from the days of the earliest Church has always been a day of spiritual joy and of personal reconsecration. God grant that, as this second radio message of the Resurrection Day has been wafted out into the unnumbered highways of the air, it may have found hearts and homes in which Christ’s undying promise “I am the Resurrection and the Life” will be welcomed and its blessings translated into victorious lives, which exult: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Amen.

Date: March 31, 1935

Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.Joshua 3:5

WHAT of the future? Will the regiments of unemployed millions continue to tramp through our city streets? Will our governmental deficits increase until we break under their burden and an orgy of sky-rocket inflation casts our land into further confusion? Must we be prepared for a death-thrust against free and representative government, the rise of an American dictatorship, or worse, the triumph of crimson Communism with its reign of Marxian terror?

These are questions which sober-minded people are asking with pointed seriousness. A year or two ago they would have brushed these misgivings aside as the absurd fears of alarmists; for then they were content with the assurance that somewhere in our vast resources and somehow, by the marvels of American ingenuity, men and means would be found to banish the discomfitures of these threadbare years. Today grim uncertainty has seized many otherwise confident hearts. People are beginning to realize that there may be problems too great even for a resourceful President and his Congress. Sixty-six months of their own bitter experience have made them suspicious of the choicest improvement projects. They are closing their ears to the self-constituted wizards who promise the high mountains of happiness, but get no farther than the mole-hills in the ravines of their failure. They know that in Russia governmental authority was overthrown by a group of atheists numerically smaller than the Communists now in the United States. And as people face facts, not fancies, there is an ever-present danger that their conviction may swing from one extreme to the other; that the shoulder-slapping optimism of the past may give way to drab doubt and blank skepticism or even to the panic of pessimism.

Thank God that the Christian Church, while it never gilds the stern realities of life, is everlastingly hopeful. We leave pessimism to agnostics and infidels, to the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, which is organized, in the words of its own charter, to tear down and not to build. Small, shriveled minds may grovel in the gutters of life, but “hope springs eternal” in the Christian’s breast.

How happy I am, then, to be able to present to you

GOD’S PLEDGE FOR TOMORROW,

taken from these words of everlasting Truth: “Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you,” and under the Spirit’s guidance to show you first the command and then the promise implied in this pledge.

THE COMMAND FOR TODAY: “SANCTIFY YOURSELVES”

These words were directed to the children of Israel when, after forty years of the desert’s heat and blister, they had pushed their way, footsore and bedraggled, through rebellion, through their enemies, through their own sins, until at last they rested within sight of the Promised Land. Yet between them and Canaan flowed the treacherous Jordan; and in their future homeland, deeded to them by God’s own covenant, the armies of the militant Amorites and the iron chariotry of their allies were being mobilized against them.

One can hardly read these early chapters of Joshua without unconsciously drawing a parallel between Israel of those days and our country today. Millions in this nation, too, have been on the trek toward a promised land, a better, truer America, a land that shares God’s promise for great and increasing blessings. Through the sweat and blood of 150 years, through the death-grapple of the American Revolution and the agonies of the War of Brothers, through the covered-wagon days and the pioneer decades of exploration and settlement, when homesteaders, in the flow of immigration tides, staked their claims on the prairies of the Indian and buffalo territories, drilled their shafts into the ore-bearing Rockies, or planted their citrus and apple orchards along slopes that dropped gently into the blue Pacific,—through the struggles and achievements of these formative years American Christians have been striving for national ideals, pushing toward a promised land: a nation that would be closer to its God, cleaner in its national life, more honest in its political activities, a land blessed by peace, the hum of industry, and busy marts of commerce, a land of contented, God-fearing homes, constructive, profitable labor, prosperous and progressive growth.

Today we are constrained to confess that we have not reached this promised land, that particularly within the last generation, more especially since these lamentable days of modern history, the years of the cruel and futile World War (which promised to make the world safe for democracy, but instead made it safer for the dictator, the profiteer, and the unscrupulous munitions manufacturer,—the war that was to end all wars, but only sowed the seeds of further dissension and bloodshed), since that turning-point in the history of our country we have realized that we are separated from our promised land by rivers of unrest and smoldering class hatred, by the opposing force of unemployment, financial stagnation, commercial paralysis, and by the mounting antagonism to God, exhibited by our individual and collective sins.

Yet, just as Joshua rose on the banks of the Jordan and with a consciousness of his God-given leadership told the children of Israel that they were not to rely upon themselves, but that they were to sanctify themselves to their Lord, so today the appeal of our New Testament Joshua, Jesus Himself, may be summarized in the words of our text: “Sanctify yourselves.” The prospect of better days lies, under God, in a better people, a morally stronger country, a sanctified America. God does not ask for a wealthy nation or a mighty nation or a cultured nation, but He does demand a God-fearing nation. He measures the permanent and abiding resources of a people not by their industrial turnover, their bank balances, their stock market sales, but by their faith and virtues. He lists as our American liabilities not our mounting deficits and indebtedness, our moral delinquency, our sins, private and national, our godlessness. For the verdict of His Word maintains itself until this modern day: “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

How, then,—and this, whether you realize it or not, should be the crucial question before the conscience of the American people today,—how can we follow the command “Sanctify yourselves”? How can we establish this better nation, this higher morality of a sanctified people?

There are many who hold that this elevating and sanctifying power must be reached by controlling men’s bodies and actions. We must have more and stricter laws, we are told, more speedy and impartial enforcement of these laws; in short, we must legislate ourselves and our nation out of this dilemma. As a consequence we are in the midst of a startling reign of legalism, when the legislative mills of our local, State, and Federal governments endlessly grind out civil codes and commercial codes and criminal codes, until our country has become the most law-ridden nation of all history.

Of course, the Church stands solidly behind all intelligent legislation and pleads for proper enforcement. The vileness of human nature, the stupidity of human ignorance, and the lustful desires of the human heart must be curbed. Yet when men declare that moral evil can be legislated out of existence or that any problem may be solved by making a law against it; when they believe that within a few years Congress will have found some legal panacea to check wrong and to encourage right, both our recent experiences and the truth of God’s Word unite in telling them that they are living in a fool’s paradise. Today, when the flood of American laws has swollen to a new high-water mark, crime likewise has risen to unprecedented heights of frequency and violence.

Others, who have realized the failures and inadequacies of all attempts to find national happiness through multiplied legal codes, tell us that this uplifting power must come through educational processes and scientific advance. We have been led to believe that trained and enlightened minds can understand that wrong is wrong and that iniquity always involves its own punishment. In this age, when we have more and larger schools than ever before, we have more numerous and more abhorrent crimes than ever before. Voices of protest are raised, charging that we are training the brain, but not the heart; teaching the mind, but not the soul; imparting information, but not higher morality. We recall that the most brutal murderers of the century were college killers. The greatest thief of this age was a suave, debonair college man, a cultured charmer. The most pronounced enemy of purity and marital honesty on this side of the Atlantic is a professor at an Eastern college for American girls. Among the most insidious opponents of our fundamental national blessings is the coterie of university instructors who join hands with radicals and flirt with Communism. And the Church, the last line of national defense, has no more sinister adversaries than smooth, self-confident skeptics, whose antipathy to Christ dates back to their college days.

Now, I am not indicting education in itself, of course, but when men deliberately take every divine influence out of education and then brazenly claim that this atheistic culture offers the building power of the nation; when impressionable freshmen are put through the processes of a four-year course and emerge from the tutelage of the real Public Enemy No. 1, the infidel teacher and scoffer, as sneering sophisticators who have earned their diploma at the cost of their spiritual and moral principles; and when all this is held up to us as a process by which a better America and a better tomorrow are to be established, all we can say is: “May God have mercy on this country, its institutions, and its homes!”

While all attempts to mold the mind and control the body have failed to accomplish any regenerative blessings, the Church, under the dictates of God’s Word, directs its energy first of all to the purifying and sanctifying of the soul, that eternal heritage breathed into man by God Himself. So when we are asked how this people can sanctify itself, the answer, which is the very axis on which the hopes of the nation revolve, leads us, as every Christian hope directs us, back to Christ. Whenever a man accepts the full and free mercies of God as they are offered to him in the love of Jesus Christ, that love which nailed Him to the cross for the atonement of all men’s sins, he receives, first and foremost, the forgiveness of all his iniquities, the pardon of God, the benediction of peace upon his life, and the sealed title to his place in the heavenly mansions. The blessings of eternity—and that is the offer which this broadcast extends every Sunday without interruption or exception—are his, not only in hope, but in fact; not in theory, but in blessed reality. Without raising a finger to earn his eternal redemption, he becomes Christ’s, and Christ becomes his with this glorious exultation: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him.”

Now, from the very moment that we entrust ourselves to Christ, ours becomes a sanctified life. Christ, in control of our heart, will manifest Himself in the direction of our lives. The tax-gatherer who became Christ’s devout disciple, the notorious woman who was transformed into a paragon of purity, the scoffing thief on the cross who received the vision of paradise regained, the young zealot of Tarsus who was changed from a scourge of Christianity into its mightiest apostle,—all these prove the blessed truth that, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things,” the sordid associations of sin, “are passed away. Behold, all things are become new.”

THE PROMISE FOR TOMORROW: “THE LORD WILL DO WONDERS AMONG YOU”

Will you not agree with me when I declare that this regenerated, sanctified life holds out God’s promise for tomorrow and that, where other programs fail, God’s pledge, once voiced by Joshua on the banks of the Jordan, “Tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you,” holds for us and for our day? Israel sanctified itself, and the miraculous guidance of God followed. Take your Bible today and in the first half of the Book of Joshua read how Israel crossed the Jordan dry-shod, how impregnable Jericho fell, not by Israel’s might, but by the miraculous power of the Lord, how the armies of thirty-one kings were shattered, how even sun and moon stood still until the victory was gained, and how the conquest of the Promised Land was completed.

As you read this record of fulfilled promise, bear in mind that God’s arm can reach out in benediction over this land and that we, too, can hear this promise: “Tomorrow I will do wonders among you.” Problems that stagger the human mind and that exceed the limits of national resources can be solved in a twinkling by God. The issues that confront your life and that seem to leave you stripped of hope can be removed by a word of His omnipotence.

Do you not agree that God would rather direct the hearts of the leaders of men toward peace and happiness than permit them to ensnare themselves in the inextricable meshes of the next war that military experts and diplomats so confidently predict? Will you not believe that God would send down upon this nation helpful rain and wind and sunshine in their proper seasons and proportions rather than permit sandstorms to ruin the western farmlands, drought to blight the com belt of the nation, floods to inundate the Southland? And finally, will you not concede that God can empty the cornucopia of His blessings upon this country and its inhabitants? “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” the Scriptures challenge; and the pages of history, emblazoned with the evidence of His almighty help, answer in the confession of Jeremiah’s faith: “Ah, Lord God, behold, Thou hast made the heaven and the earth by Thy great power and stretched-out arm, and there is nothing too hard for Thee.” The wonders in the realms of God’s nature, the perpetuation of twentieth-century miracles every day that we live,—all these testify to the ease with which the tangled threads in the weave of our modern life, hopelessly knotted for us as they are, may be untangled and unraveled by His fatherly wisdom and power.

Here, then, is hope, assurance, and promise for the future: “Tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” And because this blessing is bestowed upon a purifying and sanctifying faith, the call of the hour is: “Sanctify yourselves!” Cling closely to your Christ. Believe in Him with the sincerity of a deeper faith. Testify to His grace and power with a better life.

That appeal has now resounded within your heart and soul. For blessing and prosperity upon this distressed nation, for the fulfilment of all worthy aspirations that may lift men from the lower sense-levels of life to the foothills of heaven, I plead with you in the name of our crucified Lord and Savior: Sanctify yourselves today unto your God. Amen.

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

Date: March 17, 1935

There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.Proverbs 19:21

AMERICA is hope-hungry. Millions, shaken by the heartquakes of despondency, have stood by helplessly as one after the other of their cherished hopes has collapsed. Millions are still dragging themselves through a wearisome wilderness, following the will-o’-the-wisp of politicians’ promises, pursuing fantastic rainbows that dissolve into impenetrable fog, chasing the mirages conjured up by scheming agitators and ignorant demagogs, only to find that these elusive shadows always vanish into thinnest air.

So deep-seated and ingrained is this yearning for permanent and abiding surety that any promise of personal security and stability, no matter how impossible it may be, never needs to seek far afield for enthusiastic support. Let any self-styled benefactor of the race advance the most irrational program; as long as he claims to provide a permanent anchorage amid life’s shifting tides, millions will immediately shout unqualified approval. Let fortune-tellers, astrologers, or spiritist mediums boast that they can offer a fast and firm solution to the problems of life by unveiling the future, charting human destinies in the sky, or invoking the counsel of the dead, and eager, expectant multitudes will clamor for appointments. Let rank impostors, male or female, don clerical robes and begin to preach a creed founded on fraud and forgery, bolstered up with bold denials of our Savior’s Gospel, and no matter how grotesque their new religions may be, however absurd their claims to cure cancer and consumption, however ill conceived and unwarranted their intrusion into political affairs; as long as they offer any pledge of hope and permanency, multitudes will reach down deep in their pockets for the funds required to erect massive temples of deceit. So intense, so insistent, is the cry for something fast and firm, for an unshakable and immovable foundation upon which the security of happiness here and hereafter may be built!

Would to God that in this crisis the hearts and minds of men could be opened to the glorious conviction that there is an unfailing and unchanging counsel for every human problem! Would to God that all men could find what I now offer you:—

THE IMMOVABLE HOPE

recorded in these inspired words of the Old Testament sage: “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”

HUMAN DEVICES ARE DESTINED TO FAILURE

I need not stop to convince you of this first truth of our text, that there are many devices in the human heart today. For men have never been so resourceful and versatile in formulating and promoting human projects and proposals. Indeed, if our national prosperity and happiness could be regained by our own initiative and ingenuity; if we could build our hopes according to specifications of human architects, the harrowing sorrows that have swept through the nation would have been checked long ago, and we would now bask securely in a real paradise.

After half a decade of crucial experiences has come the conviction that, when men disregard God and callously formulate their plans as though there were no Director of human destinies in the high heavens, the choicest and most elaborate counsels are often short-lived and destined to abrupt and disheartening failure. Go back with me through the long catalog of innovations that have sprung up within our country during the last decade. How many of the fervently acclaimed proposals for relief and employment are operated today in their original forms? How many of the widely heralded propositions for financial and commercial improvement have remained uncontested and intact? By the token of these past experiences we wonder disconsolately what permanent pledge we can find in the best of our present-day proposals.

We have learned how vain and fleeting are those glittering plans that seek security before the grinning idol of wealth. The $79,000,000,000 in security values that passed out of existence almost in a single day; the 1929 millionaires who are 1935 paupers; the breakdown of our financial and industrial system that too frequently has robbed the American worker of whatever investment or reserve he may have had and reduced his opportunity for earning even a modest livelihood,—these everyday tragedies demonstrate to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the truth of the Scriptural warning: “Riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle.” The dirge of past failure has shown us that there can be no permanent reliance upon human treasuries and monetary plans; that we cannot discover a money formula to banish distress and solve problems overnight that have been years in the making.

We have also lost our confidence in the abiding truth of our technical advisers. With bitter irony we now read the predictions that were uttered,—not by dabbling amateurs, but by leaders in governmental offices, mentors of the nation’s industrial and commercial activities, who soothingly promised that happy, prosperous days would be here two, three, four years ago, but whose sugar-sweet auguries have turned to bitter gall. As we survey the charts and graphs that today would lead prosperity around its elusive corner, must we not pause and wonder if all this is not as futile and fallacious as the past errors of our experts?

Now, it is depressing enough to find in all these calculable issues of business and finance, as in many other branches of human thought and endeavor, a long procession of devices that are here today and gone tomorrow. But it is doubly disheartening to realize that our modem theology offers only hazy codes of conduct and a vague system of generalities that may be revised every hour and revamped every day. As soon as any church or any preacher or any religious teacher—and I do not care how brilliant their intellectual endowments may be, how lavish their financial support, how persuasive their presentations—forsakes the faith of the fathers and champions a religion that people like to hear, because it slides over sin and puts a theological veneer over the sordid passions of men; just as soon as the devices of men amend and nullify the eternal counsels of God, we witness the deplorable spectacle that so unfortunately and unfairly helps to bring the Church into disrepute: these ever-changing, sensation-craving pulpiteers, who turn their sanctuaries into theaters where barefooted ballet-dancers gyrate in the name of Christ’s holy religion; the pulpit performers, who preach sermons on the characters of our comic strips or who break into first-page publicity by telling American parents that they should not permit their children to pray at bedtime lest these evening prayers provoke dark, apprehensive thoughts or even nightmares.

These devices of the weather-vane pulpit are as froth that is blown away with every change of the wind; and these chameleonlike preachers, who can change their color to match every shade of popular favor, only lead men more deeply into sloughs of despair. A high priest of Modernism is honest enough to make this significant confession, which I quote verbatim: “You see, we Modernists pare down and dim our faith by negative abstractions until we have left only the ghastly remainder of what was once a great religion. Then seeing how few our positive convictions are and how little they matter, we end in a mush of general concession.” He admits: “In comparison with the hard-headed candor and fearlessness with which the old theology faced the terrific facts of this world our Modernism often seems soft and lush and sentimental. We fair­weather Modernists, with our too easy Gospel, would rather salute these old Christians. They did not blink at facts; instead, they achieved a faith able to rise above the facts and carry off a spiritual victory in the face of them, and at their best, in the darkest hours that ever fell on human history, they stood like houses built on rock.”

If only the same candor and honesty were shown by those clerics who, instead of focusing their entire attention upon the sacred promises of the Gospel, despise their holy calling and, instead of distributing to famished souls the living water and the Bread of Life, come with the stagnant water and the moldy morsels of elusive theories and private, ill-founded opinions, all of which will not last long enough to be remembered! You can make this test for yourselves. Today I ask you to record this prediction (which requires no prophetic foresight, but which comes as a direct conclusion from common sense, past experience, and the holy Word of God) : Within a few short years every one of these fervently advocated proposals, which disregard the demands of God and substitute human devices for the eternal counsels, will be doomed to failure and to oblivion. Within a single year much of the present shouting and the tumult will have died in its own failure; or if it has been perpetuated by a fanatical appeal to irresponsible masses, it will only have added confusion to confusion; the one evil which it had sought to banish will have returned with seven others for far deadlier destruction.

GOD’S COUNSELS STAND FOREVER

How timely and reassuring, then, to know in the words of our text that, though “there are many devices in a man’s heart,” it is only “the counsel of the Lord that shall stand.” If with all your heart you can turn to Him who is “the same yesterday and today and forever,” the changeless Christ of this changing world; if with repentant, believing souls you heed the Lenten call and follow your suffering Savior along the pathway of His sorrows to the sanctuary of all ages, to Calvary, where He, as both High Priest and sacrificial Lamb, offered His own holy body as the atonement for all human sin, you have made a holy pilgrimage to Heaven’s unchanging truth. Human ordinances may be changed; the American Constitution may be amended; governmental promises may be suspended, as the recent repudiation of gold payments has demonstrated; but of God’s Word and of His divine counsel we read: “Forever, O Lord, Thy Word is settled in heaven.” Jesus pledges: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Enraptured Isaiah prophesies: “The Word of our God shall stand forever.” Inspired Peter reechoes this promise: “The Word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the Word by which the Gospel is preached unto you.”

Sometimes, it may seem, the counsel of the Lord does not stand, as our text promises. On all sides our Savior is assailed by bitter, cut-throat attacks. The Modernist denies His deity. The Communist attacks His sacred ordinances. The libertine assails His morality. The campus infidel ridicules His atonement. The atheist denies His existence. And as their hymns of hatred chant, “Away with Him! Away with His Bible! Away with His Church!” we may wonder whether our faith must surrender to the growing hatred of organized hostility. We may ask why God does not answer with the rumbling thunder of His wrath the furious sarcasm heaped upon “the bleeding Head and wounded,” why the jagged thrusts of His vindictive lightning do not strike down the clenched fists that are raised against Him. God may delay in establishing His counsels. He may postpone. He may appear to suffer the taunting rebukes that men hurl against Him. But the divine will for us and for our Church must prevail in the face of unbelief’s mobilized battalions. “The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand,” finally, universally, perpetually.

In this age of broken promises, crushed hopes, misplaced confidences, thwarted ambitions, surrounded as we are by the frauds and falsehoods with which men have deceived their fellow-men, I ask you to accept the unchanging counsel of God for your salvation. The Christ whom these radio services would bring into your homes and into your hearts is not a fluctuating, changing figure, who needs a new interpretation with each age; not an elusive, shadowlike concept that must be rediscovered and continually altered. He is rather the almighty God, who cannot change, who from eternity to eternity is, was, and always will be the unalterable Christ.

The creed and counsel of this Christ, the faith that I ask you to accept, if you have not yet accepted it, the grace in which you must grow daily if you have come to Christ, are not based on any evolution of religious ideas; they are rather the everlasting mercies of God, renewed unto every one of us every morning of our lives, which offer the blessed merits of Christ’s suffering and death by mercy, not by merit; by faith, not by deeds. Just as Abraham in the patriarchal days believed in the Lord “and He counted it to him for righteousness,” so today, in our modern advance, the same message appeals to our hearts: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house.”

The blessings of this Christ, to whom these radio messages are dedicated, are not subject to change and alteration. Every prophecy of His grace in the Old Testament, every pledge of His mercy in the New Testament, every evidence of His love in the entire history of His Church, holds with undiminished force and with unweakened power for this age and for every subsequent age, as long as the sands of time trickle through humanity’s hour-glass. No one has ever made a mistake by trusting in these gracious pledges of God’s mercy, and those who have taken God at His word know the power of His permanence and His perpetual love.

My appeal to you this afternoon is pointed and direct. If, as many of you know and believe, this Bible of ours is God’s Word with its unchangeable counsels of eternity; if, as the pages of history demonstrate and all human experience corroborates, the divine counsels stand where human foibles and frailties fall, will you not resolve with me today to accept more fully the counsel of God in the direction of your own life? Will you not in the spirit of this solemn Lenten season declare that, God helping you, His Word will be a stronger and more decisive force in your heart and in your home, in your thoughts and in your words? Will you not give God a greater opportunity for showing the immovable power of His grace by strengthening your souls through daily reading of the Scriptures, by establishing the family altar in your home, and by supporting the work of the Church as it proclaims the Gospel?

Your individual welfare, the happiness of your home, the future of your country, depend upon the answer which you and your fellow-countrymen will give to this question. God grant that we may look with faith-filled eyes to the everlasting verities of the Cross and Christ’s open grave and, rising over doubt, fear, and selfishness, cry out: “The counsel of the Lord shall stand!” Amen.

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