Tag Archive for: repentance

Repent, for the kingdom of God is near!  What does repentance look like?  What keeps us from repentance?  How do we bear fruit in keeping with repentance?  Join us as we discuss a doctrine so important that Jesus Himself began His preaching ministry with the call to repent.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 69

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In many people’s minds, the story of Jonah is about a man being swallowed by a whale, but this is only a part of the story. When and where did Jonah prophesy? Why do some people say the book is an allegory? What does it mean that the Lord relents of the disaster he was going to send on Nineveh? How does Jonah’s preaching inform our own? Join us as we discuss these and other questions about Jonah in our latest podcast.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 23

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The ancient Christians classed Psalm 6 as the first of the seven penitential psalms, for good reason.  In it, the psalmist calls upon God to turn away from His burning anger and to look upon him with favor.  Whatever may be causing such distress in the psalm itself is somewhat beside the point.  Physical sickness, the attack of enemies, fear of the final judgment, fear in the midst of disaster, all of them in the end boil down to the same basic cry:  “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger!”

Psalm 6 opens with a clear petition:  “Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, and do not chastise me in Your wrath.  Favor me, Lord, for I am frail.  Heal me, Lord, for my bones are terrified.  And my soul is exceedingly terrified.  But you, Lord, how long?”  It is most likely that the psalmist is being assaulted by enemies, judging by the end of the psalm.  But this is a cry of a soul suffering under God’s wrath, not merely suffering at the hands of men.  It is the Lord who rebukes and chastises David.  The terror in his bones emphasizes the depth of this fear:  it is not merely a formality or psychological, but a deep and abiding fear of the wrath of God.  How long is this going to go on, Lord?  It seems like God is distant and turned away from him in anger.

Note, however, that David does not ask God to stop rebuking or chastising him.  Rather, “do not rebuke me in Your anger,” that is, in wrath visited upon sin.  The Lord rebukes His elect, but for a different reason.  “It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline” (Hebrews 12:7)?  Through such discipline, the Lord teaches.  “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord” (Amos 4:6).  Therefore, we should not flee away from suffering as if it was repulsive and necessarily bad, and this includes the experience of God’s discipline.  A God who only gives us positive experiences, or negative ones that quickly give way to positive ones, is not the God of Scripture.  Through the experience of God’s discipline, the Lord teaches us to rely upon Him above all things.

“Return, Lord, rescue my soul.  Save me on account of your steadfast love.”  David has no recourse before the Lord except His steadfast love.  If God were to turn away from His elect, His honor and glory would perish.  But the Lord is steadfast, even in the midst of intense trial.  He turns away His face from His sons to show them that He will not forsake them.  “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

“For in death there is not remembrance of You.  In Sheol, who will praise you?”  This cannot mean that the dead are insensible or nonexistent, for the souls cried out from under the altar, just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground (Genesis 4:10; Revelation 6:9-11).  Rather, “remembrance” may also be translated as “mention.”  Remembering the Lord is not simply recollection, but calling to mind before the whole congregation what the Lord has done.  God does not, after all, simply think about Noah when He remembered him and those with him in the ark, but sent the winds to push away the waters of the flood!  If remembrance implies action, then those who are dead are no longer able to do what only the living can do:  praise God by recounting His glorious deeds out loud.

“I am weary with my sighing.  I cause my bed to swim the whole night.  With my tears I flood my couch.  My eye has become dark with grief.  It grows old from all my attackers.”  David emphasizes the intensity of his contrition.  Not only do his tears flow without ceasing in grief over his sin, but he also “grows old” under the strain.  I think this should be understood in the same way we use expressions like “this will give me gray hairs.”  David’s contrition and the desire to see God’s face again is more than he wants to bear.  It drives him back to the Lord and causes him to call upon Him without ceasing.

But at this point, there is a remarkable shift.  Something has occurred.  “Go away from me, all you doers of wickedness, for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.  The Lord hears my pleading.  The Lord accepts my prayer.”  His enemies can no longer trouble him, because he knows that the Lord has heard his cries.  It may be that his weeping has turned to trust, recalling the steadfast love of the Lord.  It may also be that he has heard the voice of another, just as Hannah heard the voice of Eli, causing her to rejoice that she had been heard (1 Samuel 1:15-18).  Whether internal or external, the psalmist leaves behind his weeping and knows that the Lord remains with him, even in the midst of distress.

“Ashamed and exceedingly terrified are all my enemies.  They will turn back and be put to shame quickly.”  It is rather remarkable here that everything has turned around.  The Lord has turned from facing away from David to facing toward him.  His enemies turn away from facing him and now face away in terror.  David’s terror has passed, and his enemies are terrified before the Lord.  While the reversal did not happen in an instant or the course of a few minutes, the Lord turns everything around.  Even the last sentence shows this with wordplay that cannot be translated into English.  The words for “turn back” and “be put to shame” share the same basic letters in Hebrew, but the order flips around here.  Even the words themselves emphasize this great reversal!

Christians should therefore pray this psalm in the midst of all their troubles.  “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:31-33).  Though we suffer justly for our sin, the fire of God’s discipline purifies rather than consumes, and through it we will offer up sacrifices of prayer and praise in righteousness (Malachi 3:3).

The Apostle John does not hesitate to identify John as a “man sent from God,” “a witness, to bear witness about the light” (John 1:6-8).  John the Baptist always points away from himself toward the coming Christ, and he is fully aware of the nature of his calling.

The priests and Levites are not on a generic mission from Jerusalem.  They want an answer to a very specific question, even if it seems vague:  “Who are you?”  John’s immediate reply, “I am not the Christ,” and their follow up “What then?  Are you Elijah?” demonstrates that they, with the Pharisees, are wondering whether John is the promised Messiah.  They know that Christ is coming, though they mistake the signs and wonder whether John might be the promised one.  Only with John’s repeated denials do they finally ask him directly about his mission.  That the Pharisees know that Christ is coming, however, only highlights their hardness of heart:  “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).  They knew and expected Him, yet rejected Him when He appeared.

John denies being Elijah, the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6, which is intriguing, since Christ Himself makes this identification (Matthew 11:14).  It may be that John, since he is rejecting the false notions of the Pharisees, speaks against their misunderstandings.  The bystanders at the cross purposely distort Jesus’ words, saying “Behold, he is calling Elijah” (Matthew 27:47; Mark 15:35), which suggests that they are expecting Elijah in the flesh to come in a miraculous way.  Jesus, however, connects John the Baptist to his office, and therefore gives us the correct understanding of Malachi’s prophecy.

John also denies being “the Prophet,” a reference to the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-22.  Moses says that the Lord “will raise up for you a prophet like me,” a qualification that no other Old Testament prophet met, since Moses knew the Lord “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).  Jesus says of John that “among those born of women none is greater” (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28), which implies that John is a greater prophet than Moses.  However, John’s denial here suggests that “the Prophet” is a reference to Christ as the greatest of all the prophets.  If John stands in the office of Elijah, then Christ is the greater Elisha, who worked more miracles than his predecessor and indeed bore a double portion of the Spirit (2 Kings 2:9).

After rejecting their false notions, John identifies himself as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” a plain reference to Isaiah 40:3.  There, the voice is told to cry out the good news:  “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).  It is a preparation to the Lord’s declaration in the following chapters that He is the living God, the Help of Israel.  He will not share his glory with empty idols, but He will act when He sends His servant, “my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (Isaiah 42:1).  John’s call for repentance, therefore, includes this positive affirmation by extension:  Turn away from your sins, your false notions, and your idols, and return to the living God, the Fear of Jacob, the Fortress of Israel!  He will not share His glory with another, but He will act when He sends the one whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

The messengers of the Pharisees again demonstrate the hardness of their hearts by showing that they understand the purpose of Baptism, at least dimly.  If John is not the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, then why is he baptizing, since this practice belongs to them (John 1:25)?  This is also shown by some of the Pharisees and Sadducees who tried to be baptized (Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7).  They recognize that this practice belongs to the coming of Christ, but they have come for the wrong reasons, not by faith, but as if it were based on works (Romans 9:30-33).

John answers them by pointing again to his office and rebuking them for their unbelief.  His baptism, because it would give way to the Sacrament of Baptism (Acts 18:25; 19:1-7), was preparatory and temporary.  It, like John, pointed ahead to the coming of Christ, and it ceased with John’s office when Christ appeared.  However, John’s rebuke that “among you stands one you do not know” shows that the Pharisees, despite knowing the prophecies and knowing that Christ was near, stumbled over the rock of offense.  They knew that Christ was near, and yet seeing, they did not see.  “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).

The reading for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity comes from near the very end of Genesis as well as the end of the “generations of Jacob” which began in Genesis 37:2.  Joseph’s brothers continue to feel guilty about how they treated him.  When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers earlier, he emphasized that “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5).  However, after they had settled in Egypt and Israel died, their guilt returns, imagining that Joseph had been biding his time out of respect for his father.  They even attempt to frame their plea as if Jacob had commanded it, which does not appear to be the case.

Their fear, however, is faithless.  Joseph had already forgiven them when he revealed himself to them, but they have forgotten.  It is not groundless, to be sure, considering their horrific conduct toward their own brother, but to return to such fear of punishment after hearing a word of forgiveness is to treat that word as false.  As John says, “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:10).  “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).  In a similar way, Joseph’s brothers are treating him like a liar, which moves him to tears.

Joseph, nevertheless, reaffirms the word of forgiveness, because the sinful soul is often tempted with memories of past sins.  “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).  “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3).  A Christian troubled by doubts should be pointed to Christ, rather than to himself, and he will see that Jesus is indeed faithful.  Joseph’s brothers have forgotten and have returned to their fear, but they are pointed again to that mercy.

Because Joseph reiterates the same word of comfort from before, he also re-emphasizes the Providence of the Lord.  Paul’s affirmation “that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28) demonstrates that God is not limited.  The temptation is to regard Providence as using primarily those things which we regard as “good” or perhaps focusing on God’s direct actions in history.  Evil, in that sense, tends to be treated as a problem to be dealt with or acted against.  The Lord, to be absolutely sure, is not the author of sin.  But God is not limited in His options.  God will accomplish what He chooses to do without fail, even if He wills to use an evil as the means to that end.  Adam fell because of his own sin and became a lawbreaker, but the Lord uses the Fall toward His purpose of sending Christ into the flesh.  “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

In Joseph’s case, the Lord uses the evil which his brothers intended against him as the means for providing for many people.  History does not just happen and the Lord somehow reacts to it.  God is the Lord of history, and all things fall under His Providence.  The reason why this can be so difficult for us is that we only have a small part of the picture and imperfect knowledge.  We are caught up in the moment and cannot see how everything is working together.  Very often, this becomes clearer in hindsight, though not always, because only God knows all things.

But this should not cause us to fear.  Joseph comforts his brothers by pointing to the Providence of God.  Yes, their action was very evil, but they recognize it as the sin that it is (1 John 1:8-9).  However, despite their wickedness, God uses it for a far greater good.  Not as an afterthought, not as a reaction, but as the means through which many lives were spared in the famine which it pleased the Lord to send.  If the Triune Lord could use even that evil as a means for good, will He not much more give you the good which He promises to give?  “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:21).

Unbelievers are not the only ones prone to sinful security.  Sin certainly hardens the heart of the unbeliever into believing that there is always more time (Luke 2:16-21).  But abused mercy has a way of hardening the heart in a way that unbelief cannot.  The one who sins believing that he has God’s favor is in a more dangerous position than the one who does not believe (Luke 12:47-48).

“Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O sons of Israel, against all the clans that I brought up out of the land of Egypt, saying:  ‘You only have I known out of all the clans of the earth’” (Amos 3:1-2).  The Lord directed this prophecy, which came through the shepherd Amos, against the idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel in the days of the second Jeroboam.  For hundreds of years Israel had walked in the footsteps of the first Jeroboam, who had led Israel into sin (1 Kings 12:25-33).  But they did not imagine themselves to be apostate or idolatrous.  After all, they still offered burnt offerings to the Lord and peace offerings, didn’t they (Amos 5:21-22)?  Didn’t they at least observe the Sabbath, even if they had things to do after the requirement was over (Amos 8:4-6)?  Idolatry is always papered over, serving the Lord in one’s own mind in ways that he has not commanded, or claiming to fear God and yet going after other gods (Zechariah 1:4-6; 1 Kings 18:21; 2 Kings 17:39-41).

This is why it is so easy for sin to blind the one who has received mercy and turn again toward sin as a result.  “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (Matthew 3:9).  “A Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:29).  “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13).  The prophets fought against this hardness, for the people had convinced themselves that the Lord would not bring disaster upon His people.  He has made all of these wonderful promises to our fathers!  Why would He now bring judgment?

But the judgment of God rests heavier upon those who have known His mercy and yet rejected it.  This is why He reminds them of His former mercy in bringing them up out of Egypt.  They have known His grace and His love for them and for their fathers.  The Lord did not choose them because they were unique in any way, but because He loved them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).  Yet they should not lull themselves to sleep because God is long-suffering.  The patience of God does not mean He is unaware or does not care.

“Do two walk together unless they have agreed to meet?”  No.  “Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?”  No.  “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?”  No.  “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?”  No!  These things do not just happen, as if the forces of nature were mindless and independent, the way we so often view them.  Disasters are a call to repentance.  Amos makes this abundantly clear later:  the Lord sends famine, drought, blight, locusts, pestilence, and war as a call to forsake evil and turn toward him, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6-11).

It is true that in Jesus Christ, Christians know the mercy of the Father.  Jesus is our forgiveness and our life.  In Him, the work of our salvation is finished.  But will we look to our Baptism and say that I may do as I please, because I have been baptized into Christ?  Will we receive the Lord’s Supper while holding a grudge in our hearts?  “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1)?  Will we imagine that only the Jews were prone to carnal security?  “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1)!

But disasters are not a blind call to repentance.  It is all too easy to see “acts of God” and attribute them to natural forces.  The Lord has not, however, left us with only a mute witness in the world.  “For the Lord does nothing without revealing His secret to his servants the prophets.  The lion has roared; who will not fear?  The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy” (Amos 3:7-8)?  In His holy Word, the Lord calls us to repentance.  In the Scriptures, we have more than ample warning.

And through His servants, the prophets and also the apostles, the Lord has declared this Word to us.  Through the living voice of those whom He has called to proclaim His message, the Lord declares this Word.  Who can but prophesy?  The living Word proclaimed by the Holy Spirit is a fire in the bones, incapable of being restrained (Jeremiah 20:9).  We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).  “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16)!  The watchman of the house of Israel cannot but speak what he has heard, lest he endanger his own soul also (Ezekiel 3:17-18).

Date: March 24, 1935

If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt be built up.Job 22:23

ONE of the perpetual objections to Christianity is the charge that Christ and His Word are too vague, too other-worldly, too impracticable, for the hard-fisted realities of our modern struggle for existence. “Give us something that we can touch and feel,” discontented minds insist, “a bread-and-butter religion, a dollar-and-cents creed, a capital-and-labor program, a peace-and-prosperity platform, a constructive system that will build us up and our land.”

At a hasty glance it may indeed seem that Jesus offers little to impress our age. When men behold Him in the ordeal of His agonies, crushed in the grinding conflict of dark Gethsemane; when they hear the imperious governor’s appeal “Behold your King!” and see the Christ of God with a cruel crown of thorns instead of the gem-studded crown of majesty; with a scepter plucked from the marshlands instead of the golden staff of royalty; clothed in a casual piece of purple instead of the sovereign crimson and ermine; when in that climax of all history, the desolation of Calvary, men raise their eyes to the Crucified and amid the lowering darkness discern the tortured, writhing body and the Godforsakenness of Him who there died a thousand thousand deaths,—there is no appeal to short-sighted human ambitions in the benediction of those arms nailed to the cross, no program of social security in that fever-racked Sufferer, whose bleeding head dropped into death after the triumphant cry “It is finished”; nothing constructive and upbuilding in this record of the Crucified; nothing indeed, unless the eyes of faith find in that cross of Christ the most dynamic, constructive power of all human experience, the divine and upbuilding energy that can solve all problems of soul and body in your life and in mine.

Now, it is of this

CONSTRUCTIVE CHRIST

and of the practical help which true Christian faith offers in the turmoil of this hour that I would speak to you this afternoon. Answering the inquiry of those who ask what Christ’s creed demands and what inducements church­membership affords, our text, taken from Job’s deep, divine wisdom, declares: “If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt be built up.”

CHRIST’S CONSTRUCTIVE CREED

“If thou return to the Almighty,” our text begins, and with this introduction it presupposes the stark and tragic reality that men have turned their backs to God and, instead of living in unbroken communion with His holiness, have hurried away in the mad pursuit of their lusts. Let there be no misunderstanding on this score; the direct and practical force of Christ’s teaching takes humanity in the raw, men and women with all their vices and passions and follies, all their covetousness and impurity and dishonesty, and, probing beneath the petty veneers of life, declares that “all have sinned,”—all men, not only the racketeer, the embezzler, the adulterer, the kidnapper, the bank robber, the killer; but every one of us,—all “have come short of the glory of God.”

Nothing of course could be more unpopular than this Scriptural indictment of sin. Radical psychologists have long ago ruled God’s will and Christian morality out of existence by telling our young men and women, the pillars of tomorrow’s morality, that sin is passe, that right and wrong are medieval, that purity and impurity are mere complexes. Scientific investigators assure us that immorality and crime often come from cranial bumps, diseased adenoids, overstimulated glands, or an unbalanced diet. Popular preachers persistently ignore sin, delete it from their pulpit vocabulary, and substitute more pleasant and less embarrassing topics; but the verdict of Scripture is final and decisive: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” To corroborate this divine pronouncement, we recall the ravages of crime in our country, the prohibitive price we pay for rampant lawlessness; and if we institute a rigorous self­examination, we shall be compelled to confess that sinful impulses and actions daily find expression in our lives.

Now, Christ does not stop cruelly at this condemnation of the race and leave men the hopeless victims of their own vices, murderers of their souls, estranged from God. The words “If thou return to the Almighty” imply the blessed possibility of a removal of that iniquity which interposes itself in the relation between God and man as a separating wedge. And when that searching question of the ages is asked, “How can we return?” the helpful remedial constructive powers of Christian faith shine forth in their resplendent brilliance. Jesus’ answer is not a creed of complicated and abstract doctrines for a few privileged classes, which may be understood and appropriated only by scholarly minds and superior intellects. The ancient Egyptians prided themselves on their hieroglyphics, the sacred script reserved for the priests and upper castes; the Samoyeds in Russia, insisting on men’s intellectual superiority, boasted that their religion was not for women. And today cults in our own country make patent bids for the upper-class patronage by featuring sententious literature, much of which can be read forward and backward and in either case leaves the reader perplexed as to its meaning. The demands of Christ’s faith do not make its devotees feel the sting of the lash upon their backs. Other creeds have laid tyrannical and tantalizing demands upon the consciences of their worshipers, coaxing them to segregate themselves behind high walls, forego the blessings of family relations, mutilate their bodies, stare into the fiery tropical sun until completely and permanently blinded, sacrifice their children and perform the rituals of other heart-breaking, health-destroying, happiness-wrecking rites and ceremonies. Christ’s is not a vague and hazy system, leaving its followers in doubt as to where they can find the road of return to God; it is not a religion that makes men attempt the impossible by endeavoring to acquire the credentials for a return to God through self-imposed penances, through an entire lifetime spent in atoning for years of sin. No, this message of a return to God is the pure, sweet Gospel of Jesus Christ, Heaven’s offering of its own highest love, which comes with the assurance: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” which reveals this pledge of a gracious, loving, compassionate, forgiving Father: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.”

Remember, there is no return to God except by Christ. His verdict is final: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” You cannot return to God if you regard your Bible as a volume full of human errors and contradictions; for if Christ means nothing more to you than a dozen other reformers who have lived and died in the pursuit of high ideals; if He is not the eternal Son of God and the virgin-born Son of Man; if you question the blessed purpose of His suffering and the power of His death; if you nonchalantly say that Christ may have risen from the dead or may not have risen and that in either case your destinies remain untouched and unchanged; if you have any other picture of Christ than that drawn in the sharp, dear-cut lines of Scripture, as the royal Redeemer of your souls, you have not yet found the crowning hope of a return to God.

CHRIST’S CONSTRUCTIVE PROMISE

Once Christ means everything to you that His unbounded mercies would convey, you have this rich promise: “Thou shalt be built up.” When people ask: “What can I get out of church-membership? What practical benefit is there in Christianity for me? What can Jesus offer me in terms of everyday life?” we cannot answer that, as soon as a man accepts Christ as his Savior, he will find himself on the high road to success with the divine promise for material prosperity. We cannot offer in Christ’s name luxurious homes, stream-line automobiles, high financial ratings, social prominence, and the fulfilment of other ambitions which are often solemnly promised by other agencies. You all know that, if the Church could offer with its membership the ease and affluence of life; if it could say, in effect: “Join the Church and your financial troubles will be over,” there would not now be over 60,000,000 people in our country who have never thought it worth while to lend their effort to its cause. We would not find the empty pews that stare the preachers of the Gospel in the face Sunday after Sunday nor the lethargy and lukewarmness by which the work of the Church too often is retarded.

Yet Christ’s Gospel, neglected and discounted as it is, offers a far more permanent and constructive force and energy than any and all human systems. Christ bestows the divine power that can build us up when everything else fails. He starts with our souls and builds up our faith. He tells men that, once they have entrusted their souls to Him and accepted His saving, guiding leadership for time and for eternity, they can draw near to the mercy-seat fully assured that heaven not only may be theirs or can be theirs, but that heaven is theirs by the final and immovable decree of God Himself. Here, then, we have Christ’s blessing upon us and our fellow-men: heaven, the unspeakable joy of seeing Him face to face, where God Himself “shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

The Savior’s love is not restricted, however, to the life beyond the grave. He does not leave us as the victims of a cruel, harsh fate and reserve His blessings for heaven. His constructive power is demonstrated daily. Now, it can be shown that the eternal principles of truth in Christ’s Gospel will build up our nation, that the appeal “Return to the Almighty” is worth more than all the barrages of oratory, all the legislative debates, all the emergency measures, all the economic proposals that are offered in confusing abundance. For all history, whether it be the record of the early Church, which revolutionized the world, or the story that has recently received much literary attention, the regeneration of Pitcairn Island in the South Seas, or a thousand other examples of the renewing power of Christ, points to the upbuilding forces that radiate from the Cross. Because national development can come only through the individual, and because Christianity offers every one of us a long list of practical, concrete suggestions for the enriching and ennobling of our personal lives, I ask you to remember Christ’s constructive power in your lives.

Christ sustains us against all sorrows and anxieties and places upon our lives a halo of that peace which the world knows not. While the Church is often obliged to repeat the words of the apostle “Silver and gold have I none” and offers instead the sure mercies of Christ for the soul, it is equally true that Christ, as the great Good Shepherd, promises us relief from bodily needs, assuring us that if we seek “first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” all that we need for this life will be added unto us. On the night of His betrayal, racked as He was by the foreboding thoughts of His imminent agonies, He took time to discuss with His disciples the practical questions of their everyday lives. “Lacked ye anything?” He asked them. And the disciples, reflecting upon the course of those three blessed years, during which without money or salary they had gone through Judea and Samaria to preach the message of the Kingdom that had come, were forced to answer with the short, but decisive “No, Lord.” Today, too, as many of you who call Christ their Savior recall the course of the last years, must you not acknowledge that God has provided for you according to His promise? Some of you have been on the relief rolls; some of you have experienced drastic curtailment in money matters and financial distress previously unknown; yet if you now survey the anxieties of the past, you, too, must admit that God has kept His promise in Christ, that He who fed the hungry thousands and provided oil for the widow’s cruse has not deserted you even in the darkest moments, but has built you up and preserved you during these burden-weighted years.

The upbuilding force of Christ’s Word is shown particularly—as contradictory as it may seem—in the disappointments and the shattered hopes that have been ours. I ask you candidly, you who have lost tens of thousands of dollars since 1929, what would be the status of your spiritual and moral life if the lavish, self indulgent prosperity of those years had continued? Is it not a remarkable fact that losses and privations have often helped to bring many of you closer to God and to the reality of His forgiving grace? A business man recently confided to me that, if his affairs had continued in the tempo of five years ago, he would now be divorced from his wife, but that because of steady and continued losses he had been obliged to devote more time to his home and had thus learned to appreciate his family more than before. In a thousand other ways the Christian has this constructive outlook on life which Christ, and He alone, can give, the uplifting assurance that “all things,” even the worst that life may hold in store for the harassed Christian, “work together for good to them that love God”; that once we are Christ’s, come what may, we have the promise of His all-knowing guidance.

We may not be able to comprehend God’s ways with us; our vision may be too self-centered to look beyond the cross to the crown. Yet with the impress of the cross upon our hearts we hold within us the all-conquering faith of which not even a hostile universe can rob us, the heart-deep conviction that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

This, then, is the upbuilding blessing of Christ’s faith: a life that lives with His Spirit, that faces calamity or prosperity, poverty or wealth, dishonor or acclaim, sudden death or prolonged serenity, sieges of harrowing illness or decades of red-blooded vigor, with the unshakable faith that what God ordains is good.

I ask for you of the radio audience none of those fleeting trinkets or baubles that may be eaten by moths or consumed by rust; but I pray that through the constructive Christ and through the “Word of His grace, which is able to build you up,” you may be brought to Christ and grow daily in deeper faith, in stronger love, in more fervent hope, through the royal Redeemer of our souls. Amen.

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

Date: February 17, 1935

O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the Lord!Jeremiah 22:29

PERHAPS no address of the entire Scripture is more impressive in its outward form than this triple repetition, “O earth, earth, earth!” and no appeal of Sacred Writ of more penetrating importance for our perplexed day than these six one-syllable words of divine instruction: “Hear the Word of the Lord.”

An unparalleled crisis provoked this outcry; for days of devastation had dawned upon Israel, days that were soon to seal the doom of the profligate nation. Amid the lowering clouds of black destruction one flash of saving light from God’s high heaven illuminates that darkness. A light­bringer arises, Jeremiah, whose mission pledges the mercy of God. With all the earnest entreaty of his impassioned soul he pleads with his people for repentance and return to God, for the exercise of justice and righteousness toward their fellow-men; and in the name of merciful Jehovah he promises a happier day, a day of dispelled gloom, the restoration of his people to peace and prosperity. Undismayed by public and organized opposition, unmoved by any ambition of earning the empty applause of his audiences through the sugar-coating of their sins and the flattering of their pride, his defiant fury lashes the crimes and the greed and the lust of high and low, particularly the arrogance and the godlessness of Israel’s scheming worldly rulers; and as he draws to the conclusion in his summary of God’s case against Israel, he checks the hot flow of his scathing rebuke to shout this momentous cry: “O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the Lord!”

The exact connection of this sudden outcry may be—and has been—disputed. But I for one cannot read this electrifying outburst without looking deep into the prophet’s soul and finding there fires of an unquenchable passion for his nation’s happiness, under God, for the reunion of his Church with the Lord of hosts, and for rich, resultant blessing upon his fellow-men. And who today, even after twenty-five centuries, can hear this thrice-repeated appeal of the ancient Hebrew prophet without being touched by its modern force, without agreeing that our disquieted world needs for its permanent hope and abiding happiness, not first and foremost a new social order and new social security, not new political alliances and new monetary schemes, not new industrial programs, new religions, and the hundred other new prescriptions which self-constituted specialists prescribe for the sores and sicknesses of humanity, but, more than all this, a prophetic voice calling clear above the hue and cry of our crowding conflicts and agonies:—“O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the Lord!”

As I speak to you this afternoon in the spirit of these words on

CHRISTIANITY’S APPEAL IN THE PRESENT CRISIS: “HEAR THE WORD OF THE LORD!”

I will show you how this divine entreaty addresses itself to the American nation, to the American churches, and to each individual American.

THE APPEAL TO THE NATION

As comprehensive as is this wide address, “O earth, earth, earth!” for us, its force seems to focus itself upon our own anxious and disquieted nation. This country particularly needs prophetic voices on its national ramparts pleading: “Hear the Word of the Lord!” For in spite of the lavish blessings showered upon us we have too often steeled ourselves stubbornly against the teachings of God’s infinite wisdom. Self-sufficient and self-confident, we have strained our ears, not for the words of the Lord, but for the words of men; and no age in American history has so tragically experienced the fundamental folly and the complete collapse of that misplaced reliance.

Twenty years ago we listened to the counsel of the world’s statesmen and diplomats, but again and again they cheated, they falsified, they lied; and by the most despicable poison of propaganda they helped to lead the world’s youth, as dumb, driven cattle, into the bloody shambles of that international slaughter for profit. We can tabulate in dollars the price which the world paid for following the words of men into bloody battle instead of being guided by the eternal verities of God into the pathways of peace; but who can compute the appalling cost in tears and torture, in wounds and deformities, in scurvy and starvation, in insanity and misery, in blood and black death, and in the crushing weight of other burdens under which this generation and the next generations will continue to stagger?

Yet, in the gilded days of postwar prosperity that followed the masses continued to push aside the Word of God and hearkened to siren voices that urged: “Hear the word of men!” As a nation we became worshipers of self; we bowed down before the shrines of cold science; we cast the Word of God from us and substituted a selfish program for life that dethroned the Creator, exalted the ape, reduced man, made in the image of God, to the level of the brute, and choked off the hopes of the hereafter by heaping sarcasm upon every promise of the resurrection and every blessing of heaven. Men glorified the machine as a symbol of power; they preached and practised doctrines which taught the survival of the fittest and championed the eat­drink-and-be-merry ideal for life. And when voices were raised, beseeching: “Hear the Word of the Lord!” when that Word pointed to the thorn-crowned, lacerated Christ as the terrifying evidence of God’s hatred of sin, yet as the gripping evidence of His triumphant love for the sinner, the calloused masses repeated, in effect, that age-old chorus of hate, “Away with Him!” and chose the Barabbas of carnal godlessness in preference to the Savior of their souls.

And then we wonder why our glittering age of lavish luxury was cut off almost overnight, why this selfish, Bible­ridiculing, truth-denying, sin-loving system suddenly collapsed in the height of its heyday. When the measure of God’s patience was exhausted (and remember, “God is not mocked”) , we witnessed, five and a half years ago, the greatest debacle of modern American history. God pricked the bubbles of human pride, pulled the props from beneath human pretenses, and left masses destitute, skeptical of all reconstruction efforts—aimless, hopeless, cheerless.

Now, all the unemployment, the hunger, the destitution that followed, as crushing as many of you know this to be, would have served a remedial purpose if only out of this welter of suffering there had come the resolution to follow the pleading: “O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the Lord!” While we thank our Father above that these lean, hard years have brought some of you closer to your God, is it not an undeniable fact that men all over the world and particularly in our own country have not learned the folly of rejecting God’s holy Word? Are the hopes and the highly publicized programs for a better tomorrow based on God’s specifications or on man’s? You know the answer. We have gone to economists, to business consultants, to trade institutes, deceiving ourselves with the thought that here we might discover formulas to open the doors into a fairy wonderland of prosperity; but our problems have proved too profound for the best brains. We have leaned heavily on our Government and its multiple projects for increased industrial activity; but though these programs may embody high-souled ideals, they cannot offer a pledge for perpetual help because they leave men’s souls untouched. Masses that still feel themselves forgotten are peculiarly attracted by the dazzle of communistic enticements; yet this overthrow of American and Christian principles can lead only to a sham paradise. And all the while, as men roam hither and thither, pursuing the will-o’-the­wisps of human fancies and fictions, the mercies of heaven, renewed every morning, are offered to us in repeated profusion. All the while the Christ of our souls stretches out His holy arms to shelter and protect His children, to direct us to His Word, and to repeat His invitation: “Come; for all things are now ready.”

These facts become inevitable, then, and we can write this down as a truism drawn from every page of history: As long as millions in this country will continue to cheat and lie, to covet and steal, to persecute and oppress, to follow the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life; as long as the present epidemic of crime spreads through the land, together with gang rule, Wall Street spoliation, oppression of the poor, corruption of the courts, graft in high political life; as long as the flood of immorality inundates our homes and the haze of dishonesty hangs low over the entire land; as long as we persist in preferring the human word to the divine, there can be no permanent uplift and improvement. But let this people penitently come back to its God, restore His Word to its high and decisive position, and “the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up,” will inaugurate an effective recovery and reconstruction program.

THE APPEAL TO THE CHURCHES

American churches, too, must heed this prophetic cry, “Hear the Word of the Lord!” For an organized effort is under way to dismantle our Christian faith and to foist upon our credulous age the word of men paraded as new, modern, enlightened, although these delusions are as ancient as the hoariest heresies. Picture, if you will, the brilliant agnostics in almost every denomination who read from the Scriptures with fingers crossed, mental reservations, and tongues in the cheek, who find as much truth in the Koran, Goethe’s Faust, Tolstoy’s novels, the inscriptions of Pharaoh Amenophis, as in the Scriptures, who tear down the Cross of Calvary as they erect the double cross of their deceit. Think of the smooth, oily surrender of the deity of our Savior, His virgin birth, His vicarious death, atonement, and resurrection, His coming to judge the quick and the dead, in short, the denial of every fundamental truth of His Gospel and the substitution of these hazy theories and human inventions that have made God a mere conception, a vague idea, a fantastic being, indifferent to the weal and woe of mankind, delusions that have traced men back to the jungle, made them puppets jerked about by the irreconcilable whims of a brutal fate; and realize that only by a return to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired oracles of God, can there be any hope of real, virile, dynamic Christianity in this land. Remember that almost every major denomination of Protestantism is honeycombed by this disloyalty; that the first step in the disintegration of any church-body is a compromising attitude toward the Scriptures and the tolerance of unbelief, doubt, and suave skepticism. I repeat, the appeal to American churches is: “Hear the Word of the Lord!” And if this be a battle-cry that is to mobilize the latent forces of a complacent laity to action; if it be the rallying summons to a spiritual crusade for Christ; if it mean the splitting of American churches into two groups, one liberal and unbelieving and the other conservative and faithful unto death; if it requires the breaking of conventional ties and the banishment of pulpit Judases, then I still repeat the cry: “Hear the Word of the Lord!”

Restore to American churches hours of divine worship instead of book-review periods, Bible-texts instead of racy excerpts from best sellers, sermons that are reverent expositions of Bible-truths instead of literary exercises, preachers who are prophets of God, not politicians, spiritual shepherds, not social lions who are more concerned about the make of the cars parked before their churches than about the souls of the underprivileged masses. Bring Christ, the full, divine, redeeming Christ, into the hearts and lives, the faith and the practise, of all who call themselves Christians, and the millions who follow our text and “hear the Word of the Lord” have in that Word 10,000 promises of hope and strength and victory; for His Word—and His Word alone—is “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

THE APPEAL TO THE INDIVIDUAL

My pointed appeal to you, my fellow-Americans, is to hear this Word of God and to give it an abiding place in your hearts and lives, to cherish it with reverent love, and to defend it with heroic faith; for this Word, with its sacred culmination, the crucifixion of Christ, who died for a world filled with iniquity, holds out the only definite, undying, unconquerable base on which you and I can rest our hopes for a blessed eternity. You may be disturbed by your sins, by the fatal ease with which you succumb to temptation, by your lack of resistance and your inability to say no. You know that, try as you will, impure thoughts, selfish desires, and lustful longings overpower you; that the one evil impulse you expel from your heart returns with seven, even more insidious temptations. You may cry out with the apostle: “The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do”; yet when you approach the Word of the Lord and raise your troubled eyes to God and hear Him pronounce this benediction: “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” you have a power that is stronger than human might; you have the blood of Jesus Christ, which “cleanseth us from all sin.” You have reinforcements stronger than all the legions of hell—the Spirit that can strengthen your moral fiber and help you enter upon the newness of the abundant and victorious life.

You may be unnerved, particularly in these unsettled days, by a sudden and unexpected blasting away of your high hopes. You may shudder when you think of a carefully accumulated reserve for old age wiped out overnight; of unpaid debts, the discouraging drag of unemployment, and its mounting losses. You may feel, because of broken promises in some affection of your heart, some treachery in your business, some harrowing sorrow in your family affairs, before all of which you stand mute and helpless, that you are doomed to the perpetual pain of sorrow. But when you hear the Word of God, follow His panacea, and in Jesus’ name “cast all your care on Him, for He careth for you”; when the love of the divine and merciful Savior appeals: “Come unto Me” and you come, in trusting and implicit faith, your saddened heart will ultimately leap in exultant joy; for you will know that “earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” You will gain the reassurance that God is stronger than you and can smooth the ruffled seas of your life by a syllable of His omnipotence.

You may find yourself suddenly plunged into the depths of the most agonizing of sorrows. The specter of death may have made its ghastly entrance into your home; your physician may have told you haltingly of a hidden, gnawing disease and of the tragedy which it forebodes; you may have passed the mile-stone of life marked “threescore and ten” and realize that the inevitable cannot long be postponed. And these prospects may clutch at your heart as you cringe in fear before the thought of the skeletal hand that would write Finis at the end of the last chapter in your book of life. You may be ready to sink into despair when you realize that the latest advances of surgery, the most modern arts of medicine, the wealth of aristocracy, and the brains of our intelligentsia cannot extend your life one moment longer than your allotted span. But if you turn away from your own helplessness long enough to “hear the Word of the Lord” and its promise: “If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death,” then, thanks be to our merciful God, you know in the exultation of triumphant faith that your Christ has forever broken the hold of death.

What more sacred privilege and imperative duty is ours, then, in the storm and stress of these turbulent days than to “hear the Word of the Lord” with its warning, its strengthening, its blessing and, discerning Christ in every prophecy and promise, to continue in His saving Word, that Word of truth that makes us free from earth’s tyrannies, freed for heaven’s glory?

God grant us that glory by the grace and mercy of our royal Redeemer! Amen.

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