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.