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Date: April 2, 1931

What shall I do, then, with Jesus, which is called Christ?Matthew 27:22

THERE is a passion today that has taken possession of persons of high and low standing, a madness that distorts all true values and drives heedless men and women relentlessly on and on. It is the craze for greatness, the passion for doing big things, the mad clutching after power and authority. Seventeen years ago this frenzy cast the whole civilized world into the whirling maelstrom of bloody war; but even the appalling total of thirty million lives that were offered up as sacrifices to the grinning idol of greatness have not cured a self-seeking world of this insane affliction. It still grips the rulers of nations and holds up before them the mirage of world dominion; it whispers into the ears of the wealthy and breeds grasping avarice in their hearts; it beckons to the men of the laboring class and tempts them with the will-o’-the-wisp of industrial upheaval and revolution; its siren songs lure the scholar and enflame within him a selfish desire for recognition and preeminence; and, my friends, no matter what your individual position and station in life may be, you, too, feel that pulling, tugging appeal that would draw all of us to the shimmering shrine of bloated greatness; you know that only too frequently do we all kneel down and worship at its altars.

But, oh, what a contrast to the tinsel and the glitter and the glamor of this cold and artificial greatness is the sinking weakness of the eternal Son of God, who “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death,” even that unfathomable, indescribable, immeasurable death on the cross! When on this Thursday, in solemn anniversary, you see Jesus under the olive-trees of Gethsemane, kneeling and imploring Heaven, with anguish that almost breaks His grief-torn heart, terrified by the torturing soul agony of that crushing conflict; when tomorrow you behold Him with a crown of thorns pressed into His bleeding head and hear the sullen, hate-swollen mob cry, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”; when with your mind’s eye you “behold the Man,” “despised and rejected,” “a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief”; when, over the rumbling darkness of that first Good Friday, you hear the shriek of death terror form itself into the groaning “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,”—to human vision there is nothing powerful, nothing dynamic, nothing wonderful and magnificent about that emaciated and fever-racked frame that dies on the accursed tree; nothing masterful and mighty about all this, nothing indeed—unless you know and believe that this suffering, bleeding, dying Christ means more to every one of you than the sum total of all the most vital human issues in your individual lives; that here in the Christ and in His Cross is a power so divine and penetrating, so comprehensive and conclusive, that it brings to every one who has ever heard the story of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday the one, inevitable question of human existence, the ultimate question of the Lenten season, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

It was vacillating Pilate who gave to the world the words of this immortal question. Hardly twelve hours had passed since that never-to-be-forgotten anguish of Gethsemane. Hardly twelve fleeting hours, and yet what an eternity of suffering for Christ! Judas had sold Him, Peter had denied Him, His disciples had forsaken Him. And now He stands before Pilate,—Pilate, who wants to shift the responsibility of making a decision in regard to Christ and who therefore suggests that they take Christ away from him and prosecute Him according to their own laws; Pilate, who endeavors to evade the duty of his office by asking for a popular choice between Christ and Barabbas; who finally tries to rid himself of Christ by washing his hands of the stain of innocent blood,—all hopeless expedients in the desperate attempt to avoid the necessity of answering this inevitable question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” But blinded Pilate did not know that you cannot get rid of Jesus in this way. He did not understand that his silent and inflexible prisoner is a personal issue in every human life, that, though he might wash his hands, he could not wash his conscience clean of Jesus. He did not realize that Christ is the inevitable figure of history and that the question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” must be answered personally, directly, unavoidably, by every one who has ever met Christ in His Word.

THE ANSWER OF UNBELIEF.

And there were others who persuaded themselves that they could escape the responsibility of acknowledging or disavowing Christ. Judas thought that the jingle of thirty pieces of blood money could drown out the voice of Jesus in his conscience; but, again, Judas did not know Jesus. He did not know that there were not billions enough in this world to purchase release and exemption from the necessity of answering this question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” So we see Judas haunted by the suffering of the livid Man of Sorrows, whom he had tried to forget and, driven by a wild and hopeless despair, fade out of human history as his body dangled in the moaning winds. There was Peter, who on that very Thursday night cursed and swore that he did not know Christ and who tried to reassure himself as he hovered over the warmth of the fire in the high priest’s court that his foul and infamous oath would remove the dangerous necessity of acknowledging Christ. But unwittingly Peter spoke the truth when he said, “I know Him not”; for he did not understand Jesus; he, too, did not realize that he could not get rid of Jesus in this way. A few moments later, when he gazed into the blanched face of that majestic Sufferer, we see the rough Galilean fisherman shaking in convulsive sobs, beginning to realize that he cannot avoid the inevitable Christ.

Now, there are some of you who have been trying to get rid of Christ, some of you who may have tuned in tonight, apparently by the merest chance, but in reality by the unsearchable direction of your God, who have deluded yourselves into believing that you do not have to make a decision one way or the other in regard to Christ, that you can ignore Him, that you can leave this question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” to others. To you I want to say tonight with fire-winged words, which, pray God, may burn their way through all the obstacles of self-will into the very center of your sin-sick hearts: Once you have ever read or heard of Christ, once you have been told in the words of the infallible Truth, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; once your gaze has been directed to the Cross and you have seen the Innocent condemned for the guilty, Divinity suffering for humanity, the Creator sacrificed for the creature; once you have asked,—

Whence come these sorrows,

Whence this mortal anguish?

and have heard the answer,—

It is thy sins for which the Lord did languish,

you are unalterably confronted with the question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” You may think what you will about Caesar or Napoleon, about Washington or Lincoln, about Roosevelt or Wilson, without having your knowledge or your ignorance influence in any way the spiritual truths of your life. But here in this bruised, lacerated, pain-torn figure hanging on Calvary’s cross is your destiny for time and eternity.

Remember, too, that there is no other issue in life in which a choice is so unavoidable. A business man can buy or sell, a statesman can choose to run or not to run, and in uncounted thousands of questions in your own life you can follow the dictates of your own desires and conveniences and answer or refuse to answer; but here is one issue in your life that is beyond the reach of your acceptance or rejection, the question that you must answer, “What shall I do with Jesus?” Ignore Christ? Get rid of Him? You can more easily ignore the sternest reality of your own existence than ignore Him; more readily get rid of the past of all ages than get rid of Him. You must deal with this question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” Push it aside today, if you elect to do so, but let me tell you in all the earnestness of this sacred hour that tomorrow you will meet Christ, and this eternal, insistent question will confront you. Laugh Him out of Scriptural existence, as modem atheism and infidelity vauntingly does; yet a recent publication lists no fewer than 350 modern biographies of Christ; and some day the laughter of scorn will change to tears of remorse.

THE ANSWER OF TRUSTING FAITH.

And you must answer definitely and decisively. A nation can maintain its neutrality in war; a scientist can refuse to commit himself on any scientific issue; a jury can disagree; you can answer ten thousand questions with a non-committal “I don’t know” and another ten thousand with an evasive compromise; but you either accept Christ or you reject Him; you either believe in Him and regard Him as the Savior of your soul or disbelieve His Word and find in Him only a poor, pathetic caricature of what He claims to be and what He is; you either cry, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” or, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Now, what will you do with Christ? Tonight, on the anniversary of the last night of the Savior’s natural life, that Thursday when He instituted the Sacrament of His very body and blood, given and shed for the remission of your sins and mine, tonight God sends this question into the innermost recesses of your soul; and before you try to evade or to postpone your decision, come with me to behold the cross. To the morbid crowds at the murder scene it was only two pieces of dead wood, this cross on Calvary; and in the annals of corrupted Roman criminology that emaciated victim who felt the tearing anguish of the nails of death crush through His hands and feet was only one of an uncounted number who had been executed by this legal torture. Even for us who live in an age in which Christian compassion has helped to temper the pains of capital punishment the possibility is by no means remote that we pass too lightly over the brutality of that instrument of death and minimize the horrors of crucifixion, a punishment so excruciatingly painful that because of the violent tension of the body, the burning and festering nail­wounds, the exposure to the sun and the elements, the swelling of the heart, the burning and raging thirst, the inflammatory fever, the soul-racking agonies, has universally been considered one of the most brutal modes of torture men have ever known.

And yet, only once in the seven words which He spoke on the cross is there a cry of physical pain and bodily anguish, for there is a deeper sorrow in the crushing, cracking weight of sin. We learn much of sin and its consequences in history, but there is nothing in all the annals of human depravity that even approaches this. For here, on this cross, is One who bears the aggregate of all sins that have ever been committed, the transgression of every one of the uncounted myriads of millions of men who have ever lived or who ever will live on this earth of sin and crime. O wondrous Love, O divine Love! Jesus, as the holy, spotless Lamb of God, takes away your sins and mine. The eternal Son of an eternal Father, He who “knew no sin, became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He who is adored through all the eternity of eternities “was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities” to give us a forgiveness and a faith and a hope which will prevail even against the gates of hell—and with all this a new, regenerated life and all the blessings of a Christ-dedicated existence.

As you stand in spirit beneath the cross, I ask you, “What will you do with this Jesus?” To reject Him, to crucify Him anew, to attempt the impossible by endeavoring to get rid of Jesus, to be too preoccupied to receive Him, too self-satisfied to want Him, too independent to need Him, all this, if protracted by impenitent unbelief, is but the preliminary to darkness, to never-ending death, to hell; for here is the unavoidable verdict of Christ, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” My fellow-sinners, I beseech you, “Harden not your hearts”; let not that holy, precious blood be shed in vain for you. Come to the Friend of friends, the Savior of your souls, as guilty, as polluted, as spiritually paralyzed as you may be, and believe that He who promised to the penitent crucified with Him the open gates of paradise, He whose death brought a rude pagan captain to the faith, has promised you that, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” He asks of you for your salvation no effort, no contributions, no cooperation, only—thank God for this,—only faith, only repentance and trusting acceptance of Him and His salvation.

What, then, will you do with Jesus? What else can you do if you know and believe the depths of His love as revealed to us by this Passiontide than to grasp Him, to cling to Him, to fall at His wounded feet, and with a heart that lives anew with faith and hope and love to cry out:—

Thou hast borne the smiting only

      That my wounds might all be whole;

Thou hast suffered, sad and lonely,

      Rest to give my weary soul;

Yea, the curse of God enduring,

Blessing unto me securing.

Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,

Dearest Jesus, unto Thee!

Amen.

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

Date: March 26, 1931?

Now, at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude, crying aloud, began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? For he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him for envy. But the chief priests moved the people that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye, then, that I shall do unto Him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify Him! Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath He done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify Him! And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified.Mark 15:6-15

WHEN we call the crucifixion of our Savior the greatest miscarriage of justice history has ever known, even this does not adequately describe the appalling enormity of the injustice to which our Savior was subjected. Practically every phase of His suffering was caused by a direct violation of the laws framed to guide Jewish criminal procedure. First of all, the arrest of Jesus was illegal because it took place at night and because it was brought about through the agency of a traitor, or informer. The private examination of Jesus before Annas was illegal because Hebrew law did not permit the preliminary examination of prisoners and because no judge sitting alone could legally examine an accused person. The trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin was illegal because, in direct defiance of the prescribed procedure, it began long before the offering of the morning sacrifice; because it was held on the day preceding a Sabbath and on the first day of a great festival, when no Jewish court could lawfully convene; and because, in direct contravention of the statutes which forbade haste in such investigations, the entire trial was concluded in one day. And finally the sentence which was passed on Jesus was illegal; for, aside from a long list of more technical considerations, it was based on the contradictory statements of perjured witnesses, the judges were disqualified, and the merits of the defense were completely swept aside.

Thus one injustice, malicious, brutal, blood-hungry injustice, follows upon another; and the Holy One of God, in whose mouth there was not a syllable of guile or deceit and whose whole life was a living monument to truth and love and perfection, goes down to destruction as the victim of the most glaring, damning, heaven-shrieking injustice that debased and debauched humanity has ever committed.

THE ALTERNATIVE OF THE FIRST GOOD FRIDAY.

Yet of all the instances in which the demands of justice were thus brutally shattered, the rejection of the Savior by the great mass of His own fellow-countrymen, assembled before the Roman governor’s palace on Good Friday morning, is the most appalling in its depth of ingratitude and inhumanity.

You will recall that the Savior, during a seemingly interminable night, in which the fury of malice reeked its vengeance on His stainless purity, was brought from Annas to Caiaphas, both high priests; then, as the gray morning dawned upon the blackest day of human history, He was led to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor; then to Herod, the king; and then back again to Pilate.

There it was that Pilate, inwardly convinced of the Savior’s innocence, yet lacking the moral courage to let justice prevail over priestly jealousy, tried to evade the responsibility of his office by making one last desperate attempt to deter the enemies of Christ from demanding that He be crucified. It was a custom that annually, on a certain high festival, the Roman governor would exercise clemency, just as the President of the United States and many of our governors issue pardons on New Year’s Day. The time had come when Pilate was to exercise this clemency; and to him it appeared to be a very opportune moment, for he cherished the secret hope that, if the choice of a prisoner’s release were left to the people, there might be some way of winning their sympathies for the Christ, whom he had several times declared to be innocent.

So he summoned from the imperial prison a notorious criminal, one Barabbas, whose name meant “Son of a Father,” but whose vicious character was unworthy of any father’s name. He was a confirmed criminal, a rebel, a murderer captured in a street-brawl. And now, since it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on which the annual amnesty was pronounced, Pilate put this alternative before the people of Jerusalem: “Whom shall I release unto you, Jesus or Barabbas?”

Under any other situation there could have been no doubt as to the popular decision; but hardly had Pilate’s proposal become known when the priests (repeating the age-old tragedy which gave rise to inquisitions and bloody persecution, when churchmen became murderers of men’s bodies instead of rescuers of their souls), these Jerusalem priests, who arrogantly prided themselves on being preeminently the servants of God, had the word passed around that Barabbas must be freed. So in the last opportunity that was given the Jews to express themselves either for or against Christ, the powers of priestly sin and popular corruption united in formulating the demand, “Away with Jesus! Give us Barabbas!” Even though Pilate, warned by the womanly intuition of his wife, hesitated more than ever; even though he protested, “I find no cause for death in Him”; even though he permitted Jesus to be scourged with lacerating lashes, robed in the mockery of purple, and caricatured with the crown of cutting thorns in the hope that the abject picture of His emaciated frame might move their hearts with the feeling of sympathy which even animals seem to share; even though he took recourse to ridicule and once more presented his silent Galilean prisoner to the morbid crowd with the words, “Behold your King!” the tumult became more raucous and the protests more vehement with every step that he took to liberate Jesus. So the Roman governor washed his hands, but not his conscience, of the blood of “this righteous person,” as he himself called Jesus; and giving way to the hoarse, inhuman “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” screamed out of the same throats doubtless that but a few days before had raised glad hosannas to welcome the coming King, he released Barabbas, the seditious murderer, and handed Jesus over to the venomous hatred of His blood-crazed enemies.

THE ALTERNATIVE OF OUR TWENTIETH CENTURY.

Today we wonder how the hearts and minds of those people of Jerusalem could have become so perverted that they rejected the Christ who lived among them as a Friend in every need, the Physician of their souls and bodies, the mighty Miracle-worker, the Preacher without parallel, the Fulfilment of all their prophecies, the very Incarnation of the eternal Godhead,—how they could reject Him and choose in His stead a thief and murderer notorious even in that cruel age. It has been conjectured that Barabbas was a popular criminal, the kind that we meet so frequently in our supposedly advanced age, when dapper desperadoes are idolized, murderers showered with lavish attention, and racketeers and gangsters honored with funerals which in their imposing display far exceed the burials of some of our eminent and esteemed citizens. It may be that Barabbas was one of these idolized, pampered ne’er-do-wells, but there is not the slightest intimation of this in the facts which the Bible presents. And I tell you that, if Barabbas were a thousand times blacker and more outrageous than he actually was, if he had committed more atrocious crimes than any man ever known in history, those shrieking voices would have screamed, “Give us Barabbas, give us Barabbas!” with the same insistent vehemence.

We need look no longer for an explanation of this amazing selection because the same choice has been made down through the ages and is being repeated in this very day and hour, when the world finds itself confronted by these two opposing forces, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the unbelief that denies and ridicules this truth. When men and women today are asked to choose between these alternatives, the truth personfied in Christ and the wrong and falsehood represented by Barabbas, the choice of humanity often falls just as it fell on the first Good Friday morning; the world declares itself for Barabbas and crucifies Christ.

That is why today, with all the joy and beauty and happiness that faith in Jesus Christ offers, people prefer to grovel in the sordid sins of sensuality. That is why today, with all the truth and light radiated by the Bible, we witness the deep deluge of antichristian literature promoting a hatred of Christ and of the Bible quite parallel to the hostility that moved those throngs in Jerusalem to demand the crucifixion of Christ. That is why today, with the Cross of Jesus Christ as the divine and complete answer to all the concerns of human existence, pulpits are prostituted, scientific truth is outraged, educational trusts are violated in the persistent cry for the Barabbas of godless materialism and in the equally unrelenting demand that the Christ of the Bible be crucified on the cross of unbelief which modern skepticism has built.

But this rejection of Christ and this choice of Barabbas becomes the more disastrous when we pause to picture to ourselves the impressive significance of the fact that the sinless Son of God goes down into death as the Substitute for one who is steeped in the scarlet stain of many and terrible sins. Do you realize that in Barabbas you behold a symbol of the entire human race helplessly sunk in its sin, the perishing victim of its own staggering vices? Do you realize that in Christ you are face to face with that heaven-born Truth which tells you that in order to bring humanity from death to life, from the sorrow of destruction to the joy of regeneration, God decreed that the Holy One should suffer for His unholy children, the Just for the unjust, the Innocent for the guilty, the Pure for the impure, the Truth of God for the lying falsehoods of men, the eternal, glory-crowned Christ for the brutal, bloody Barabbas? Do you know that you are Barabbas and that your pardon was pronounced by Christ’s captivity, martyrdom, and death?

YOUR ALTERNATIVE.

This choice: Jesus or Barabbas? comes to every one of us. I ask you to remember this: If you decide for Christ, you have allied yourself with the greatest and noblest forces in the world, the most heroic figures in human history, the most exalted aspirations of the human mind. You stand shoulder to shoulder with those pioneers in righteousness who have blazed the trail of human happiness upward to the heights on which we now rest. You are united with that world-wide movement of Christian charity and brotherly love that down through the centuries has been happy to extend the helping hand of Christian comradeship in building hospitals and asylums, in caring for the widowed and the orphans, in providing for the poor and the aged, and in dedicating itself to raise the downtrodden masses of humanity that lie hopeless and helpless in the gutter of life. If you decide for Christ, you are cooperating with the agencies which alone can offer the inner incentive and the spiritual basis for the moral improvement that this generation, as few in our country before it, needs; you are laboring for the retardation of crime, the cleansing of our political life, the establishment of true equity in our courts, the increasing of a harmonious relation between capital and labor, the minimizing of war, the promotion of home happiness, and in behalf of many other issues by which constructive Christian minds have applied the Bible, as the one and only divinely appointed means of increasing the sum total of human happiness.

But infinitely exalted above all this, as the spiritual fountainhead from which all these material blessings flow—if you take Christ, you have that which is beyond the power of human disposal, above the reach of human ingenuity. You have Heaven’s answer to the particular problems of your own sinful life, the assurance that stills the condemning voice of your conscience, the promise that answers the accusation of the holy Law, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” with the Christ­centered cry of triumph, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; that, as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

But if you decide against Christ and for any Barabbas of our modern life, let me warn you that you have identified yourself with those dark and destructive forces that war against human welfare. Let me tell you that, although you may follow in the footsteps of brilliant agnostics and widely reputed infidels, you are definitely cooperating with some of the most diseased minds and the most degenerate criminals that have ever walked the face of the earth. Let me remind you that you have cast your lot with those who in Russia are trying to tear down the pillars upon which free and popular government rests; with those who in this country are endeavoring to ruin our Christian family life and to destroy the sanctity of the American Christian home. Let me tell you, above all, that you are throwing away your hope of heaven; for Christ says, “Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.”

Whom, then, shall we choose? Blessed with the assurance (and let this conviction be written with letters of gold into the deep recesses of your heart, and never let any powers of earth or hell tear one letter of it out of your vivid, trusting confidence) that the divine life of Jesus Christ was sacrificed for every one of us, we answer this question by asking it. For what else can any one do who has beheld Christ with eyes of faith than to love that Savior with his whole consecrated heart and soul? What other answer can he give to the question that is put to all who hear these words, “To whom shall we go?” than the answer which is immortalized on the pages of everlasting Truth, “Thou, O Christ, hast words of eternal life”? Amen.

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

Date: March 19, 1931?

Pilate saith unto Him, What is truth?John 18:38

“WHAT is truth?” asks wavering Pilate as he concludes his private cross-examination of our Lord. And as we repeat this question, we often wonder what the motives may have been which led that shrewd, worldly-wise politician to make this immortal inquiry. Was he a seeker after truth or merely a deep-rooted skeptic, an anxious inquirer or a disillusioned cynic? Knowing him as we do, it seems quite remote that he entertained the hope, even for a fleeting moment, that the silent, yet strangely majestic Galilean could end the search for the truth that had eluded the soothsayers of Rome, the philosophers of Greece, and the astrologers of ancient Babylon. To his grasping heathen mentality, Jesus, of despised Nazareth, was but a harmless, high-souled dreamer of dreams, a dealer in dim abstractions. What danger could there be in a young idealist who, despising the strength of Caesar’s legions, maintained that His kingdom was not of this world? Why take this visionary seriously? Above all, why try to kill Him when His purpose was not to clip the wings of the Roman eagle by instigating a rebellion in Judea, but only to bear testimony to what He called the truth? And so, with a half-flippant, half-sarcastic “What is truth?” yet without waiting for an answer, this administrator of Roman justice, able to perceive the right, but unable to follow it, fails in the greatest crisis of his life, and as the reins of justice slip from his careless grasp, he delivers the very incarnate Truth into the crushing power of His tormentors.

THE ANSWER OF HUMAN REASON.

Today, when a restless, disillusioned world echoes, “What is truth?” people often ask the question with a calculated seriousness that is born of distrust and suspicion. Experience has made men skeptical. They have gone through the orgy of a war that was to make the world safe for democracy, but that made graves for eight and a half million combatants, that made the world comfortable for ammunition manufacturers and profiteers, and that in many countries banished every vestige of democratic and representative government. People have been led to believe that through the introduction of political and economic measures a beneficent wave of prosperity and material growth would cover the country; but today, with more than five million wage-earners thrown into demoralizing unemployment, with a riotous and conflicting combination of legislative millstones about our national neck, they have found that the golden age of economists and politicians is farther removed than ever.

All this has had its reflex in things religious and in the questions of the soul, so that, when people today ask, “What is truth?” more than ever before they follow the example of Pilate by refusing to listen to the one Source of supreme truth. Divine revelation has been rejected by our modern, grasping, skeptical age, and human reason has been enthroned, cold, calculating reason, which tells us that the only religious verities are those which can be tested and proved by the results of modern scientific investigation.

As we pause, then, to ask whether this is the inevitable destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ, that it must transfer its faith from God’s Word to man’s word; whether it must turn away from the atonement of Christ to the attainment of man; whether, finally, it must admit that human reason is the foundation for truth and faith, I thank God that I have the privilege of demonstrating that what men call scientific truth is often so faulty, so self-contradictory, sometimes even so dishonest, and always so incomplete that, if we build our hope for time and eternity upon such shifting sands, we may just as well try to promote our wellbeing by dieting on double-strength strychnine.

I want to remind you, in the first place, that often these so-called scientific truths hopelessly contradict one another. For instance, see what happens when we consider the age of the world. According to Professor Chamberlain of the University of Chicago, the age of the earth must be placed between 70,000,000 and 150,000,000 years. But Professor Duane of Harvard declares that the earth’s age ranges between 8,000,000 and 1,700,000,000 years. Now, while you are thinking about this, let me tell you that Professor Millikan of California claims to have proved that the world may be as young as 1,518,000 years, while in England Sir Oliver Lodge asserted that it must be at least 200,000,000,000,000 years old. So you have figures that differ to the extent of more than 199,000,000,000,000 years. Now, if science cannot definitely tell the age of the rocks, but can offer only a hundred variant and contradictory theories, you will realize that it certainly cannot give the world the Rock of Ages for which the spiritual needs of all humanity cry so incessantly; you will appreciate that we must hark back to the warning of St. Paul concerning the “oppositions of science, falsely so called.”

Again, the results of scientific investigation often lack all stability, for they are changed and modified in the most kaleidoscopic fashion. Thus the Bible tells us in the very plainest language that God created this earth. But many modern scientists have dethroned the Almighty and tell us that myriads of millions of years ago there was a fiery mist, or nebula; and from this, it is claimed, our world emerged as a great ball of fire, which gradually cooled and contracted into its present form. But another scientist rises and tells you that this nebular hypothesis is unscientific and out of date and that you must accept the planetesimal hypothesis, which involves a huge disruption instead of the shrinking together demanded by the other theory. And while you are listening to him, a third approaches with one of the still more modern hypotheses, which is diametrically opposed to all the others. Now, which of these conflicting claims will you accept as the truth? Can you accept any when you know that the one you accept today may be rejected tomorrow?

Again, the history of science (the science which modern theology wants to make the basis of religious truth) reveals one error after the other and a long series of misrepresentations. A hundred years ago, when the plans for the construction of railroads were first made, the Academy of Paris, the last word in things scientific in its day, branded railroads as absurdities. That same scientific body denied the existence of meteors, ridiculed the microscope, and became guilty of other unbelievable errors. When Daguerre, the father of modern photography, spoke of reproducing pictures, his scientific comrades thought him insane. When Harvey suggested that the blood circulates through the body, as we now know that it does, he was ridiculed by learned men in all professions. And thus I could continue at great length and enumerate for you an almost endless list of mistakes which have been committed in the name of science. I could prove to you that some scientists have actually stooped to dishonesty and fraudulent misrepresentation in the effort to bolster up their failing causes.

My purpose, of course, is not to cast aspersions upon the heroic accomplishments of really scientific men, who, always conscious of their limitations, have rendered inestimable service to mankind. No statement of gratitude can adequately express our indebtedness to their labors and even to their errors, which have often served to advance the truth of scientific research. The point which I wish to make, however, is this: Can you afford to trust your soul to a system that can make such mistakes? Remember, for the eternal salvation of our souls we must have something that cannot change, something that is surer than the foundations of the earth, something that is as everlasting as eternity. But this is not to be found in the delusions which are being taught our children in many of the tax supported high schools, where the minds of our girls and boys are being perverted by anti-Biblical speculations which real scientists rejected years ago. Neither can this faith and assured hope be formulated in scientific laboratories and expressed in scientific textbooks and preached in scientific lectures. Nor can it be found in any human system of learning, because the human mind, darkened by sin, is too feeble, frail, and fallible to give to the world the final and absolute truth.

THE ANSWER OF DIVINE REVELATION.

But, thank God, tonight the answer to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” comes to us from a divine and infallible source, from the blessed lips of Him in whom the very fullness of the Godhead dwells. None other than the Son of the living God has told us that, if we continue in His Word, we “shall know the truth.” Communing with His Father in prayer, He declared, “Thy Word is truth.” Offering His divine guidance to a perishing world, He pleaded, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” All these and other related passages unite in a convincing answer to Pilate’s question and tell us that the Word of God, our Bible, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which claims to be, which we believe to be, and which proves itself to be, the revelation of God to men, is in every sense of the term the truth, the absolute, definite, positive truth. Let me repeat: This divine Word not only contains the truth, not only presents the truth, not only leads to the truth, but is the truth.

Consider its unchangeableness, portraying to us, as it does, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.” Men have tried to change it, it is true; they have tried to accommodate it to passing fancy and to the absurdities of their own speculations. But while human theories change with depressing haste, as one generation rushes on after another, we have Heaven’s assurance that not one jot or tittle of this sacred truth will pass away.

Remember the imperishable power of this truth, which according to divine promise will outlive heaven and earth. Men have risen up to blast this truth off the face of the earth; a fanatical Roman emperor had this inscription carved on a stone: “The name of Christ has been destroyed.” It was the vain boast of Voltaire that, although twelve men were required to write up Christianity, he himself would prove that one man could write it down. But today this truth of God is annually circulated in more hundreds of millions of copies than ever before—the one, true, deathless volume.

Think of all the unsparing and soul-searching penetration of this truth, which refuses to sugar-coat the inborn perversities and iniquities of the human race, but instead asserts with definite finality, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

But behold especially the unspeakable love of this truth, revealed to us in its highest heights in the tragedies commemorated by this Lenten season, a love so intense and overpowering that human comprehension cannot understand even a fragment of it. I want you to see tonight in that Man of Sorrows the truth of a love so profound that it could uncomplainingly suffer the ruthless disregard of every principle of truth and justice. We hear of corruptions in our courts today; the annals of criminal procedure repeatedly have recorded instances in which the innocent have been pronounced guilty and even sentenced to death; we have all read of men who for this reason or that have taken upon themselves the punishment that should have been meted out to others. Yet all this in its highest and noblest form, magnify it and intensify it as we may, is so pale and insignificant when compared with the mocking injustice to which that suffering Savior was subjected that it completely fades into utter oblivion. For He upon whose naked back those vindictive persecutors rained the lacerating lash, He upon whose exalted brow blasphemous hands crushed a crown of cutting thorns, He is loaded down, not with the punishment of His own sin, for He had none, but with the punishment of the uncounted myriads of millions of transgressions of which humanity in its entirety and throughout all ages had stood condemned. No wonder that, with the sins of every man, woman, and child that ever lived or that ever will live crushing down upon His innocent soul as He wrestled in the agony of Gethsemane, He cried out: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” No wonder that, when He hung suspended on the cross, with His arms stretched wide, as though in this dying gesture to embrace all of humanity for which He was now being slaughtered, He cried in piercing despair from lips moistened with the vinegar of malice, purple in the agony of death, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” We read of the excruciating pain which characterizes the dying hours of some who suffer from appalling diseases or agonizing accidents; we shudder when we hear of the bloody persecutions to which followers of Christ have been subjected by human malice and fiendishness at its worst; yet all of the pain that murder, war, disease, accident, persecution, oppression, in their totality have inflicted upon humanity,—all this is but a temporary annoyance compared with the agony that all but broke the Savior’s heart as He cried, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”

So tonight, as you hear the overpowering immensity of His devotion to humanity rise up to those sublime heights which made Him gasp, blinded in the darkness of death, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”; as you listen to His last cry as He bows His head apparently into defeat, in reality into the world’s greatest triumph, “It is finished”; as you stand under the cross with the centurion, you must realize and believe that above all the loneliness and the never-to-be-measured grief and weakness that marked that black and bitter death you are face to face with truth in the highest love of which even Heaven can tell.

Think of the worldwide sweep of this truth, hurling down all the barriers by which men have been separated into distinct and opposing groups and knocking at every heart that hears these words tonight, with none too exalted or too cultured, none too lowly or too illiterate, to understand and believe its helpful message. Think of the conditionless offer for the gift of this truth. Men may endow millions and devote decades in the attempt to ascertain the truth of our physical life, but here, without any prerequisites and without any price, is the free and unconditioned gift of truth, “By grace are ye saved.” Think of the renewing and regenerating influence and the demonstration of power by which ruined lives have been recast, hopeless careers reborn with high expectations, souls torn from the tyranny of sin by the faith to which the Savior attached this promise, “The truth shall make you free.”

Ask yourself if you have this freedom and remember that the most blessed verity in your life, the positive, immovable, unalterable, imperishable truth, is Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ risen again, Christ everlastingly victorious in your life here and hereafter. Amen.

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

Date: March 12, 1931?

What further need have we of witnesses?Matthew 26:65

TONIGHT we are to resume our pilgrimage along the path of our Lord’s Lenten sorrows and follow Him once more into the national court of His people, where, prosecuted by the jealous hatred of the priests and scribes, He is to become the victim of the most vicious conspiracy and mistrial recorded in the criminal procedure of any people or any age. Long into that dark night, witness after witness presents false and inconsistent testimony, ugly, contradictory lies, that are challenged only by the majestic silence of Christ. Their most impressive charge apparently is that this intruder from out-of-the-way Nazareth told a curious crowd in Jerusalem that, if Herod’s Temple were destroyed, He would in three short days restore this gem of Judean architecture, which had been forty years in building. But, fanatical literalists though they were, they knew that, whatever punishment this claim might involve, it could not send Him to the cross. And that Nazarene must be crucified! There must be a final and unequivocal admission of capital guilt from His own lips. So finally, when all the perjury fails, the high priest, he who was to be the representative of God among God’s people, rises up to face his persecuted victim with the direct and decisive issue, “I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Only now, when silence might be construed as denial or as an evasion, does Jesus speak, and in this crisis moment He gives the clear, concise, and unmistakable answer, “I am.” That answer seals the Savior’s doom. The enraged high priest brands Him as a blasphemer, tears his garments in a gesture of frenzied fury, turns to the conclave of bloodthirsty persecutors, and screams, “What further need have we of witnesses?” From all corners of that hall of inquisition comes the cry of satanic triumph, “He is guilty of death!” Thus ended the vilest miscarriage of justice ever perpetrated in the name of religion.

Yet that question of the high priest, “What further need have we of witnesses?” has become the Church’s triumphant cry of confidence in this skeptical, proof-seeking age, in which people demand, “How do you know that Christ is what you claim that He is?” “How can you prove that this carpenter’s Son of Galilee is the divine Savior of the human race?” “What evidence and witness have you to help us in our struggle against doubt?”

THE TESTIMONY OF A DIVINE SAVIOR.

To this we answer, “What further need have we of witnesses?” Our faith in the divine Saviorhood of Christ is based on the most decisive, infallible, and complete evidence, the testimony of His own words. In the pages of the New Testament we have His own divine, deathless record, which, though contradicted by many and conflicting opponents of truth, has proved itself to be what Jesus claimed it was, the very truth of God. Here, in these inspired pages, we hear the voice of Jesus declaring that He is David’s Lord; that He is “greater than Solomon”; that He existed “before Abraham,” yea, that He was with the Father “before the world was.” We hear Him telling men that He “came down from heaven,” that He “came forth from the Father”; we hear Him insisting that He is the “Light of the world,” that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”; we hear Him asserting that “all power in heaven and in earth” has been given to Him, including the power to forgive sins, to offer rest to the weary and heavy-laden; we hear Him asserting that no man can come to the Father but by Him and that He and the Father are one. And as the conclusive climax to all this we behold Him tonight in that epoch-making moment when under oath, swearing by the living God, His words ring out clearly and authoritatively, “I am the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There, in Christ’s own words, you have the one central reality of Christian conviction, the message of the divine Sonship and Saviorhood of Jesus that pervades the entire Bible. And my plea tonight to those who waver in doubt and unbelief and who have never taken the Christ into their sinful hearts is that they be fair and open enough to consider, not what men say of Jesus, but what He, the blessed, Holy Savior, says of Himself. Give that wonder-working Word of Christ a chance in your hearts, trust it, believe it, and you, too, will exclaim, “What further need have we of witnesses?”

But there is further witness, testimony, in addition to the words of Christ concerning Himself. Jesus lived the truth of these words and gave the startling, convincing testimony of a divine and saving life. Consider the evidence of His sinlessness and of His stainless purity. Men may criticize the weaknesses of the Church and of its servants, but the human mind has never been able to conceive of any life that has been so absolutely free from the stain of sin as the life of Him who could challenge His enemies, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” He was fiercely tempted and assailed by forces too overwhelming for us to comprehend. But where is there another figure in history that has caused men to exclaim as Peter did when confronted by the holiness of Christ, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man”? Leaders of all other religions have been selfish and sinful, in many cases brutal and avaricious; but here, because Christ is God, is that divine perfection against which even the perjury of His bitterest enemies sinks in abject self-indictment.

Consider the testimony of His grace. Human history knows no symbol of love as deep and holy, as unselfish and all-embracing, as the Savior’s cross. Other creeds flourish by promoting bigotry and feeding the flames of hatred; but here, as the world beholds Christ, suspended on the cross between heaven and earth, deserted and rejected by both, and yet bearing in His own sinless body the sins of all the world and all the ages, it is brought face to face with a love too tremendous to be earth-born, too universal to be merely human, too all-embracing to come from selfish humanity. What other human leader is there of whom men could say in truth what the Roman centurion said of Jesus amid the rumbling darkness of Calvary, “Truly, this was the Son of God”? Who else is there in history to whom a dying outcast could turn and find the promise of paradise?

Consider furthermore the testimony of His omnipotence. After a life of miracles and wonders that provoked the admiration and recognition of all unbiased witnesses, Christ died and was buried. But because He was God and because the self-sacrifice of the Son was accepted by the Father, He, the only individual in history to whom this preeminence may be ascribed, rose again; and this, His resurrection from the dead, is the supreme miracle. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” is the inescapable doom that overtakes the greatest of the earth’s great. But where can the annals of human achievement point to anyone who is worthy to receive the adoration which pressed itself to Thomas’s lips as, beholding the lacerated side and the pierced hands of the risen Savior, he cried out, “My Lord and my God!”? Yes, “what further need have we of witnesses” when every act that He performed bears the unmistakable print of the divine, when every step that He takes leads from earth to heaven, from the grave of death to the victory of life?

THE TESTIMONY OF A DIVINE CREED.

But again, there are other witnesses. There is the testimony of a divine creed. Pause for a moment to compare the Gospel of Jesus with the teachings of other systems of religion. Let us start with sin. While other creeds condone sin or gloss over its effect or even glorify it, as every traveler who has ever witnessed the obscenity in Oriental temples knows, as every student of comparative religion readily admits, or as any one acquainted with the fashionable cults of today realizes,—in Christ’s creed sin is the leprous, cancerous evil that deforms human life, the barrier that dooms men to the blight of a never-ending separation from their God.

Yet, wonder of wonders, while hating sin and despising unrighteousness, He loves the sinner and stretches His scarred hands out to the unrighteous. For Him every human soul, that of the lowest outlaw, that of the most bestial degenerate, that of the most filthy reprobate, is a treasure of surpassing grandeur, drawing forth nothing less than the magnificence of the love of God, demanding His own perfect, meritorious self-sacrifice on the cross. While other religious systems draw the strict line of class or caste or cater to the wealthy and the socially prominent, here is Christ’s pledge that wipes away all distinctions of person and position, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, Him will I also confess before My Father which is in heaven.” For Him—and can there be greater love than this?—the blessed reunion of a soul with its God is of such world-moving, heaven-hallowed importance that instead of the guesses and gropings, instead of the conflicting ideas and confusing superstitions, instead of the cramped and rigid rules of other creeds and religions, His Word sends out into the widest reaches of the world this unconditional, all-embracing invitation, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” No wonder that Peter, confessing the heavenly nature of this faith, falls on his knees and cries, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” No wonder that hundreds of millions since his day have turned with their whole souls to this faith that asks no conditions, that for salvation demands no contribution of good works, but that trusts fully and forever in the shed blood of Christ. No wonder that some of you who have heard this heaven-born and heaven-restoring faith for the first time by means of this marvelous Gospel agency have found in this full, free grace the assurance that enables you to tell the world, “What further need have we of witnesses?”

THE TESTIMONY OF A DIVINE POWER.

But we move on to that gripping witness, the power of the Gospel of Christ, which has “turned the world upside down,” to use the significant indictment hurled against the apostles. All history is a sign-board pointing to His divine supremacy, and all geography testifies to the impact of His power. Think of the exaltation of womanhood that He gave to the world. Buddha fervently gave thanks that he had not been born in hell, as the vermin, or as the women. Plato, supreme among the philosophers of the Old World, believed in a community of wives. But when Christ is preached, men are animated by a new ideal: “Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it.” Think of the blessings which Christianity has extended to childhood. The brilliant Frenchman Rousseau is said to have made the successive children born to him public charges at the Paris foundling-houses; Roman society had no such institutions of mercy, and the infants that were not thrown into the Tiber were exposed to be torn to pieces by vicious curs, or just as frequently were reared for prostitution and slavery. But when Christ is accepted, we see that men follow the overmastering power of Christ’s love for the little ones expressed in His immortal invitation, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” Think of the ever-repeated consideration that Christ extended to the poor and afflicted, to wrecked and ruined humanity. Greek philosophy taught that “the poor should be barred from the market-places and that the country be cleaned of that sort of animal.” Modern materialistic philosophy, teaching a stern survival of the fittest, has not hesitated to carry this delusion to the extreme by demanding that the deaf-mutes, the blind, the mentally defective as well as other dependents be removed by euthanasia, or an easy death. But once again, when Christ is proclaimed and when men see Him raise His hands in benediction over the unfortunates of humanity with the promise, “I will not leave thee nor forsake thee,” human selfishness is checked; men follow Christ’s divine example, and the unfortunates of humanity find help and shelter and merciful hands to lift up their burden. Truly, “what further need have we of witnesses” when Christian faith so mightily proves itself “the victory that overcometh the world”?

But let me assure you tonight that the Savior is anxious for you to experience the blessing of His power in your own lives. Christ must be a vital, dynamic, expressive force in every regenerated heart, a powerful and throbbing reality in every twice-born life; for, as the apostle reminds us, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” His heart and his life are changed. Christ lives in him and he in Christ. Not that the Christian normally receives any special signs and wonders, any special visions and manifestations, but in the quiet, unmistakable way in which the Spirit of God operates through the Word and the Sacraments, he has the positive assurance of the ever faithful, ever helpful comradeship of that Savior who has promised, “Lo, I am with you alway.”

How is it that Christians can face the sorrows of a hapless existence with cheerful and buoyant hearts? How is it that a young widowed mother who writes in to tell me that in five weeks she has received only two pay checks, one for fifty-one cents and the other for forty-eight cents, whose hungry little girl makes the rounds of the grocery stores to pick up the wilted lettuce leaves, can still have hope and faith in her Savior, while thousands who do not know Christ take recourse to suicide at the occasion of a relatively slight reverse? How is it that, when death comes, brilliant minds and geniuses that have cast away their only Savior end in a horrible nightmare of unspeakable despair, while even the plainest and simplest Christian can face that end happy in the thought of a blessed homecoming into the waiting arms of his Savior? Why all this if not because the blood-bought grace of Christ is such a living, throbbing, vitalizing power and conviction for everyone who truly believes that we can challenge death, hell, and the cohorts of sin with the Christian’s hymn of victory, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Amen.

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

Date: March 5, 1931?

When they that were about Him saw what would follow, they said unto Him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword? And one of them smote the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. – Luke 22:49-50

Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. – Matthew 26:52

TONIGHT I ask you to come with me to dark Gethsemane, the small grove of olive-trees outside the city wall of Jerusalem. It is the depth of the darkest night in human history, and save for the presence of our Lord and His sleepy disciples the Garden is deserted, enshrouded in the silent, gloomy forebodings of deep tragedy. But that silence is broken by the sound of marching multitudes, and the darkened heavens begin to glow with flames of flickering torches. Nearer and nearer a weird procession wends its resolute way, until suddenly we behold a band of man-hunters, led by a perfidious traitor, stampede into that solitude, surround that gentle, unresisting Savior, and lay their blasphemous hands upon His holy body. Oh, the cowardice, the ingratitude, the damning injustice of it all! A heavily armed, blood-crazed mob, under the protection of night and insolently secure in the approval of the highest churchmen, seeking one solitary individual,—and He the divine Benefactor of the human race, the all-powerful Miracle-worker, the unparalleled Preacher of grace and truth and love! And now, in this crucial moment, with a feeling of human loyalty which, misapplied though it was, we can well understand, St. Peter, mentioned specifically in the fourth gospel, impetuous, fire-breathing Peter, turns to His Lord and asks the question which has been asked down through the centuries as it has helped to form or deform history, our question for this evening: “Lord, shall we smite with the sword?”

PETER’S ANSWER.

We see that Peter, in the impulsiveness that characterized his discipleship, answers the question for himself. He takes a sword, runs in upon the advancing persecutors of his Lord, and clips off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Peter, with a single sword, starting a holy war for Him who could summon the angel hosts of the heavens, yea, whose divine glory and overpowering brilliancy had cast that blood-crazed mob helpless to the ground!

Now, the number of those who since Peter’s day have adopted Peter’s principles is truly legion times legion. Page after page of history bears convincing testimony to the unspeakable woe and agony that have followed all attempts to defend and spread the truth of Christ with the sword. Think of the persecutions of the Waldensians and Albigenses in the thirteenth century, who “were put to the sword without distinction of age or sex, while the numerous ecclesiastics who were in the persecuting army distinguished themselves with a bloodthirsty ferocity.” Listen to the groans of the thousands of martyrs in France on St. Bartholomew’s Eve and in the ensuing massacres, as they ring out piteously into the night of religious intolerance and bloody massacre. See the smoke of the martyr fires in the hideous Spanish Inquisition, cataloguing more than 18,000 unfortunates burned alive in only the beginning of its crimson history. Read the record of all these racked bodies and tortured souls; behold arrogant prelates moving their puppet statesmen with strings of ecclesiastical tyranny, wielding the naked sword of persecution over the lives and destinies of millions, with no prince too exalted in the splendor of his palace and no peasant too obscure in the lowliness of his hovel to escape that vengeance,—and you are face to face with the darkest and bloodiest pages in the records of church history.

But do not for a moment believe that this sword-smiting religion is only a matter of ancient and medieval history. Today, in the year of grace 1931, we think of the modern counterpart of all this in the form of political activities led by professional “reformers” operating under the Church’s sanction and with salaries paid by the Church. We think of the political lobbies maintained by American churches in the national capital and in the political centers of our States, of the conscious and defiant utterances of churchmen who still contend, in spite of all past tragedies to which this principle has given expression, that the Church must direct the political affairs of the American nation. We think of the lamentable fact that too many Scriptural texts become merely political pretexts, that too many militant clergymen are really virulent policemen, and we realize that this spirit of Peter, far from being extinct, flourishes today as one of the greatest dangers threatening the welfare of our country,—flourishes to promote bigotry and intolerance in our own lives, to make us think of the Church, as Peter did, in terms of merely human and perverted ideals.

OUR LORD’S ANSWER.

But this is the very antithesis to that divine and limitless love that filled our Savior’s heart to overflowing. His answer to Peter’s question, “Lord, shall we smite with the sword?” was clear and emphatic: “Put up again thy sword in its place”; and then, to tell us that the battles of His kingdom were not to be fought on bloody fields of religious warfare, He reached over, surrounded as He was by the mad killers, who thirsted after His blood, and healed the ear of wounded Malchus as a divine protest against that kind of militant, maiming, murdering Christianity. Once before, in order to emphasize the importance of this pillar­truth, our Lord had issued a similar protest. He was passing through a village of the Samaritans, that despised, mixed­breed people, half Jew and half heathen. And because the people of that village did not receive Him, two disciples, James and significantly John, the disciple of love, provoked by the insult which their Master had sustained at the hands of these half-breeds, ran to Christ with the proposal, “Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Now, I want to read the answer of Christ especially for the benefit of you who have been harboring the sword of persecution in your own hearts and directing it against those who do not share your religious conviction, for you who hate those who are religiously other-minded. Here are Christ’s words, words of imperishable truth, “The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

If Christ were with us here in the United States today, His voice of warning would also be raised, we may well believe, against those aggressive interferences in the political life of the nation on the part of church organizations which have gone beyond the scope of their province in busying themselves with economic issues, with political problems, and with purely governmental questions. He would not countenance the campaigns conducted by church federations to mold popular opinion in regard to such purely partisan issues as the entrance of our country into the League of Nations or the adoption or modification of international treaties. He would disavow the outspoken pacifist tendencies of certain religious groups, the iron-fisted control which some churches wield in the petty circles of ward and city politics, the customary procedure of church-bodies in passing political resolutions or endorsing political candidates at their annual conventions, and the whole unholy relation by which the spiritual power of the Church is prostituted, its appeal to the soul materialized, and its inner effectiveness hopelessly paralyzed.

No,—His religion is a faith that is founded on love, that manifests itself in love, and that leads to love, unspeakable, indescribable, immeasurable love and compassion. We tell of human love in its noblest and most unselfish forms. We speak of that intense devotion by which a Christian mother protects her little one and shields it from threatening danger. The world is dotted with monuments to those who have followed the call of that greater love and laid down their lives for their brothers. History’s pages again and again record such confessions of patriotic devotion as that which marked Nathan Hale’s last earthly moments, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” But all of this is removed by worlds from the love that animated my Savior and brought Him down from heaven to earth. For here, as we trace the footsteps of Jesus, we see love in its highest heights and in the deepest depths of self-effacing sacrifice. No other love ever embraced the overwhelming totality of mortal men as did that unconquerable love which swept over the whole horizon of history, with the promise, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” No other love ever strained to take in all the impoverished, downtrodden, persecuted, suffering masses throughout the breadth and almost endless reach of human existence, as the love of Him who pleaded, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” No other love could forgive and forget the frailties of His feeble and failing followers, as the divine love of the Holy One of God who forgives Peter, though the cursing denial of that disciple almost breaks His grief-torn heart. No other love—and this is the greatest love—ever went out to those who hated the truth, hated the light, hated God, as did the love of Him who was branded by His enemies as a friend of sinners, who loved the whole sordid, self-indulgent world “unto the end” and in the agony of that end raised His voice to pray the prayer of unparalleled love, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Truly, this love, expressing itself and culminating in limitless self-giving when His bruised and lacerated body was nailed to a felon’s cross, comes from the divine heart of Him whose pierced hands, which never grasped the sword, reach out to us tonight to draw us, as with a huge and heavenly magnet, to the shelter of His home. His love through sixty generations comes to us, lost and disobedient sons that we are, when we plead in the words of the prodigal, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in Thy sight,” and reassures us today in His never-failing pledge, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Wherever men have failed with the sword, Jesus has succeeded with His love. Empires that have been built up by blood and brutality now lie in hopeless ruins, covered by the debris of relentless centuries; for here is His unavoidable condemnation, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” And churches that abuse their holy offices by engaging in the mudslinging of politics, in the commingling of the affairs of the State with those of the Church are doomed to similar failure. They may continue to exist and enjoy popularity and certain preeminence; they may even heap up the prestige of wealth and political influence; but a Church which grasps the sword and permits it to overshadow the Cross has forfeited its right to existence.

MY CHURCH’S ANSWER.

It is by the grace of God that the Church to which I am pledged definitely and unalterably commits its members to follow Christ’s command and “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” Our Lutheran Church in the United States entirely disavows all secular aims and political ambitions and regards every attempt to wield the sword of governmental power as condemned by Jesus. Driven to the shores of America by a sword-bearing government that prohibited the free worship of God according to the dictates of a Christian conscience, my Church has spurned all political entanglements and dedicated its energies to the preaching and spreading of the Gospel of love, which knows no violence, and to the glorifying of the Cross of Jesus Christ as the final hope of humanity. And the promised blessings of God have rested upon this quiet spiritual effort. The first theological institution of our Church was a rude log cabin in Missouri, far removed from the busy cross-roads of life; but tonight, after three generations, these words come to you from that same institution, now the largest ministerial school in the United States, with a total enrolment of more than 540 students, all dedicated to the service of Christ.

That promise of spiritual blessing is extended to you. No matter who you are (and I thank God that these messages penetrate into every stratum of American society, behind the iron bars of Leavenworth and into the presidential chambers of American colleges); wherever you are (and tonight I am thinking of you who live beyond the reach of the Church or who receive these messages on the fringe of modern frontiers, in Newfoundland, British Columbia, Alaska, in the isolated sections of Mexico, and on the islands of the Caribbean Sea); whatever you are (and I know that these words are heard in municipal lodging-houses as well as in homes that have been blessed with affluence and plenty),—to all of you and especially to those who have never taken Jesus into their hearts, but who have come to see that they need Him for their soul’s welfare, we offer and extend, not the sword, or any creed of force of any kind, but the prayerful appeal for Jesus’ sake, “Be ye reconciled to God.” Come to Him whose holy hands never clutched the sword, whose holy lips speak only peace to the contrite sinner. Come to Him just as you are, with the deep and penitent acknowledgment of the imperfections that abound in your life, but with the confident conviction that His shed blood will cleanse us, every one of us, from all sin. Come now to the Christ of Love whom you have neglected, to the Christ of Truth whom you have denied, to the Christ of Hope whom you have betrayed, to the Author of spiritual and eternal life, and from the greatest and truest and purest heart of all history, from the heart of the Son of God and the Redeemer of men, comes this beautiful promise, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” Amen.

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

Date: February 26, 1931

One of the Twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.Matthew 26:14-15

IF it were possible to analyze the causes for the great tragedies in human history, we should find indeed that one of the most devastating forces in our human make-up is the insatiable greed for gold. Think of Genghiz Khan, the gold-crazed Mongol emperor and conqueror of Asia, who in twenty-two years of bloody massacres slaughtered more than 15,000,000 human beings, stripped city after city of its treasures, and left a howling wilderness in the wake of his ravaging hordes. Think of Pizarro, the deceitful butcher, who, in the name of religion and with the cross of Christ on his standards, made the streets of the Andes country run red with the life-blood of native Peruvians. One day he seized the reigning Inca, struck down four thousand princes in cold blood, took possession of their treasures, and demanded a large room filled with gold as the ransom for the Peruvian monarch; and when this extortion price was paid, he perfidiously proceeded to have the unfortunate Inca burned to a horrible death.

THE GRASP OF GREEDY JUDAS.

Think of all this and of other crimson carnages in history that have been instigated by greed-inflamed degenerates; but remember that more staggering than all of these, more depraved than any exhibition of human depravity, is the sin of covetousness and greed that produced the supertragedy of all history, the sale of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of mankind, by Judas Iscariot for thirty pieces of silver.

He was no ordinary criminal, this smirking traitor who delivered our Lord into the hands of the hostile clergy. He was one of the Twelve, one of that wondrously blessed company which for three years had been privileged to walk with Jesus and to receive the precious pearls of instruction that fell from His divine lips. Nor was he an ordinary disciple; for we may believe, as his name indicates, that he was a Judean, a fellow-countryman of our Lord, and not a Galilean, like the rest of the Twelve. Besides, he was the treasurer of what treasury there was in that happy communal life of Christ and His disciples. We should consequently suppose that Judas would be the last to violate the trust that had been placed in him and to betray the Lord of lords, of whose love and power he had been a direct and frequent witness. But the contact with money shriveled his greedy soul; he became so inflamed by the fire of avarice that he stretched out his hand and stole; and when the gentle Savior raised His voice in warning, Judas, with visions of big and easy money, ran to the high priest with this question of betrayal on his lips, “What will ye give me and I will deliver Him unto you?”

And what did they give him after their formal bargaining for innocent blood? Thirty paltry pieces of silver, about $19.50 in our money. Thirty pieces of cold silver! Why, the traffickers in human flesh at the slave-markets would curse and haggle for more than that as the price for the meanest slave that the Nabataean kidnapers might drag across the desert! Thirty pieces of traitor’s money,—only enough to buy the field of blood in a deserted corner outside the city walls where the unclaimed dead might be buried! Thirty pieces of silver,—which sent the Savior to the cross and hurled Judas into hell!

THE TRAGIC PERPETUATION OF THIS GRASPING GREED.

Judas, for whom it had been better had he never been born, died in the agony of horror-stricken despair as his body dangled at the end of a suicide’s noose. But the spirit of Judas lives on, and his question, “What will ye give me?” is the great impulse behind much of the tragedy in our modern life. I believe that people of today, probably more than those of any other previous generation in our country, need to be on vigilant guard against the encroachments of this money-worshiping, “get-what-you-can” spirit. They are surrounded on all sides by men whose right vision has been blinded by the glitter of gold, whose everlasting question is, “What will ye give me?” “What is there in it for me?” Oh, we speak deploringly of the heathen in India and of their prostration before the dumb idols of their own benighted manufacture. We are depressed when we think of the crude and brutal fetishes which pagan unbelief has raised up as its gods. But all this, even in its most sordid and abject forms, is not as appalling and as damnable as when in our own country and in our twentieth and enlightened century men and women, young and old, who lay claim to intelligence and, in some instances, to a knowledge of the Word of God, will prostrate themselves before the dumb and grinning idol that is labeled “Mammon,” and in an endless chorus chant the litany of their worship, “What will ye give me?” “What can I get out of it?”

This love of money, which God’s Word calls “the root of all evil,” has been the destructive impulse in our political life, where officials occupying positions of honor and trust succumb to the spirit of bribery and dishonesty; where judges and jurists, to whom God and man look for the impartial execution of justice and for the conscientious enforcement of the laws of the land, ask, “What will ye give me?” and put a price upon their decisions; where police officials and servants of the public, the guardians of law and order, have become so corrupt that gangsters and racketeers, rum-runners and beer barons, flourish insolently under their protection.

The greedy love of money is the root of our business and economic evils. Let people talk about the laws of supply and demand, overproduction and restricted production, human labor and machine labor, exports and imports,—the really basic human factor in the depression and retardation of industrial happiness is the avaricious reaching after gold. Here is an employer who selfishly builds up his fortune through the sweat and blood of his workmen, through the exploitation of women and children; and here is an employee who greedily opposes the interests of his employer, steals time, and destroys property. Here are the vultures in human form who promote fraudulent investments by which the meager funds of the widow and the orphan are deliberately stolen. Here are the thousands of embezzlers and forgers, profiteers and extortioners, burglars and robbers, because of whom the people of the United States every day lose almost $25,000,000, or more than a million dollars every hour that we live!

The relentless pursuit of the allegedly almighty dollar is likewise the root of many of the unhappy conditions in the Church today. When churches openly cater to the wealthy, forgetting the special emphasis that our Lord and His Word lay upon the poor and the afflicted; when the vast millions of some of America’s leading men of wealth are solicited and accepted to support the modernistic form of unbelief that has no room for the Christ of the Bible; when churches teach in theory and maintain in practise that you can buy the priceless gift of the forgiveness of sins for cold cash, purchase the power of prayer, and sell the grace of God; when churches try to secure their funds, not from the free and loving gifts of church-members, but by wheedling or coercing infidels and scoffers to make unwilling and extortionate contributions or by taking recourse to roulette wheels, games of chance, and forms of gambling, all condemned by the law of the land; when they do this in the holy name of the Lord of love, you can see that the question of Judas, “What will ye give me?” is not at all remote from some of our modern churches.

But the menace of money madness has also invaded the sanctity of our homes. If you could take out of our present-day family life all the quarrels that center around finances, all the blighting influences that have been provoked by the inordinate love of money, you could establish an era of unparalleled happiness and harmony. But these are the conditions that we actually meet: Here is a father who takes a gifted son out of school and puts him to work at some menial form of labor, so that he can bring home a few dollars every week that the family really does not need. Here is a son who earns a fine salary, but who, forgetting the practical implications of the divine command, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” refuses to contribute to the support and the welfare of his home and his parents and squanders his income for selfish purposes. Here at the casket of a self-sacrificing mother is a group of hysterical, high-pitched sons and daughters desecrating her memory by arguing over her property and threatening to air their contentions at court. Here—

But let us draw the curtain over these unpleasant scenes, and let me tell you that in your life and mine this question, “What will ye give me?” plays a more shocking role than most of us like to admit. Every human being, by the endowment of a corrupted nature, is selfish and self-centered. To his perverted vision, life is truly a survival of the fittest financially, with every man for himself. “Get what you can” and “never mind how you get it” is one of the most assertive ideals in our current philosophy of living.

Now, I do not wish to stand before this microphone and condemn those who have a rich supply of this world’s goods. For with the Scriptural endorsement of Abraham, Joseph, Job, David, Lydia, and others, to whom God extended particularly generous temporal blessings, there is nothing reprehensible in wealth itself. Indeed, there are today princes of finance who are humble and grateful followers of Christ and to whom the Church, humanly speaking, owes much. The happiness and joy of soul that is theirs in accepting the privilege of stewardship shows the blessing that is attached to money acquired and distributed in the spirit of Christ.

But the trouble today is this, that too many “lay up treasures for themselves and are not rich toward God.” They forget the words of Christ, “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” While most of us restrain our hands from deliberately stealing our neighbor’s property, the com­ mandments “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not covet,” embrace the thoughts and desires, the words and wishes, of envy and covetousness and greed; and there is not a single person in my audience tonight who must not plead guilty to the accusation of having harbored and nourished such thoughts.

Now, there is no more timely and direct warning against the selfish desire for wealth than the remarkable words which St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Indeed, “if a man gain the whole world and lose his own soul,” as Jesus says, there is no profit for him, nothing but disastrous, damning loss.

THE DIVINE ANTIDOTE.

Remember, there is one, and only one, power that can counteract this inborn, greedy love for money. We can have crime commissions that sit for a hundred years, police regulations and governmental legislations of the most comprehensive and severe kind; these and all other human arrangements will never meet the expectations placed in them. We must have Jesus Christ, first to forgive the sins of greed and avarice in our individual lives and then, through His Spirit, to give us that sense of honesty and truth, that ability to keep things temporal subject to things spiritual, that confident devotion, which makes us declare with St. Paul, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord.”

Your Savior can do all this and more for you. If there are those listening in tonight whose consciences are burdened with acts of dishonesty or theft, let them now, in penitence and contrition, with the avowed intention of making adequate restitution, come to that Savior whom these Lenten weeks picture to us nailed on the cross for the sins of the world; and let them see Him in those hours of agony turn His thorn-crowned head to one of the thieves crucified with Him, answering his plea for forgiveness with the promise of glory, “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” Let them gain the assurance that the blood which dripped from those sacred wounds is the only cleansing power that can purify their lives, give them the assurance of heaven, and send them out into life with new determination and new power.

Of all religions of which men have ever heard the Gospel of your Savior that knocks at your heart tonight is the only creed that relegates money to the insignificant place which it rightly deserves, the only religion that operates “without money and without price.” That love which was freely extended to all, the love that tells us “it is better to give than to receive,” the love that came to serve and not to be served, that love is the great incentive in the lives of the Christian heroes and martyrs, the pioneers in charity and self-sacrificing service, who have offered their lives, their energies, their treasures, for Christ’s service,—not asking the cost, not demanding reward, not insisting “What will ye give me?” but rather thanking God for the blessed privilege of serving in the name of Jesus Christ, content with their food and raiment, satisfied that “we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”

Have you found the secret of profound happiness and contentment? Do you know and believe and trust the Savior, who so despised the tarnished and corroding treasures of human existence that, “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye, through His poverty, might be rich”; that Christ who was offered all the gold and the accumulated possessions of the entire world by Satan in the payment of just one act of disloyalty, but who uncompromisingly refused? Remember, unfailing Source of life and hope that He is, He offers to all who believe in Him and cling to His unfailing promises the treasures of heaven, too divine to be consumed by moth or rust, too precious to be measured by human standards, too priceless to be purchased by the best gold of Ophir,—the gift of His own holy, precious blood, offered to all, free and without price. Oh, tonight, as you behold Him suffering, wounded, rejected for your sins, may God give you the grace to stop in the mad rush of a self-absorbed life, to kneel down before His cross, and to ask in faith:—

Thy life was giv’n for me,

Thy blood, O Lord, was shed,

That I might ransomed be

And quickened from the dead.

Thy life was giv’n for me:

What have I giv’n for Thee?

Amen.

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

Date: February 19, 1931

The high priest asked Him and said unto Him, Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am.Mark 14:61-62

THERE are moments in the varied history of men which we call crisis moments, when the destinies of millions have hung in the balance; and there are words uttered by merely mortal lips that have either sprawled their blighting curse over the pages of history or have helped to raise human happiness and hope to towering heights. But never, throughout the annals of humanity, has any event assumed such tremendous, universal, and everlasting proportions as that crisis nineteen centuries ago, when the Son of God, after a seemingly interminable night of horror, stood on trial before humanity; never have any purely human words so thoroughly changed the fundamental facts of life and death for all men and meant as much to you and to me as that question of the high priest on the first Good Friday morning, “Art Thou the Christ?” and the unhesitating and unreserved answer of Jesus, “I am.”

You may tell me, impressed by the tragedies of the late World War, that people in our age regard the first days of August, 1914, when the rulers of the nations unleashed the dogs of war, as of wider significance than that Friday morning which passed so quietly and unnoticed that Roman history, as far as we know it, rushed on without taking note of its importance. But I tell you that long after the terrors of the last war have been dwarfed by the horrors of the next war, this cross-examination of Christ will have its divine reaction in the spiritual warfare that is to save men’s souls. You may claim that fiery words like those spoken by Patrick Henry before the Virginia Assembly, “Give me liberty or give me death!” have had a greater effect in shaping the affairs of the world and in promoting the ideals of personal and national freedom than that legal—or illegal—cross-examination which was held before the high priest; but I tell you that these words of our text offer freedom from the greatest tyranny that mankind has ever known, emancipation from the damning dominion of death. You may assert, to take one of the most outstanding decisions of all church history, that the answers of Martin Luther to the decisive questions at the Diet of Worms have been of more vital significance to our modern life than the two one-syllable words of Jesus’ answer “I am.” But once more I tell you that the rugged grandeur of Martin Luther, heroic and unequivocal as his answers were, recedes into a shadow in comparison with the world-moving, history-molding answer of Jesus.

THE SACRED IMPORT OF THIS QUESTION.

We pause for a moment at the outset to appreciate the deep significance of this pivotal question of human history, “Art Thou the Christ?” To be the Christ meant to be the Anointed of God, the long-promised Messiah, the Son of the Almighty, the very incarnation of God Himself. To be the Christ meant to be the glorious King whose universal and eternal dominion extended “from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth”; the glorious Prophet like unto Moses, Israel’s national hero; the glorious Priest whose coming would usher in a new and happier day in the religious life of His people. But there was a darker side to this Messiahship, a far less attractive picture of this Christ of God. To be that Christ meant to be the sin-bearing Lamb of God, of whom the Evangelist of the Old Testament prophesied, “Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities.” “He was despised and rejected, a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” It meant to be so lowly, so God-forsaken, so persecuted and oppressed that the Messiah declares prophetically: “I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men and despised of the people.” And because the high priest and the elders and the scribes before whom Jesus stood on that memorable day of His death thought of this promised Christ only in terms of political greatness; because, indeed, Jesus flatly declared that His kingdom was not of this world; because He taught His followers to be more concerned about men’s souls than about their bodies; because He ruthlessly dashed to pieces every selfish ambition of material greatness on which their mistaken hopes loved to linger,—they who could have saved Jesus, these leaders in Israel, these churchmen of Jerusalem, refused to rest until they had persuaded wavering Pilate to consign the pure, stainless, innocent Sufferer to that ignominious death on the cross.

THE MODERN ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION.

Tonight we skip over the centuries, and we find that Jesus is still on trial before the tribunal of unbelieving humanity. The question at issue is still the same, “Art Thou the Christ?” Those who cross-examine Jesus today likewise are churchmen, some of them the leaders of present-day religious thought. And the verdict? It is essentially the same rejection of Christ and denial of His Messiahship that invoked the wrath of God upon that city in which Christ was condemned. There is only one fundamental difference today, and that makes the modern infidelity all the more repulsive and damnable: today the persecutors of our Savior are zealous in their appropriation of the Christian name and profuse in their exaltation of the man Jesus; today the opposition to Christ is disguised as the modem message of the Christian Church and as a deeply spiritual twentieth-century discovery of God. But in the veiled haze of this camouflage comes the swift stab in the back; prompting this mock loyalty to Christ is the traitorous spirit beneath the Judas kiss.

How else can we explain the tragic denial of the Christ of the Bible that disfigures so many churches in our country and in Canada, churches which frown on the use of hymns in which the atoning blood of Christ is the central theme; churches which have degenerated into mere social and ethical societies, in which the foundation messages of sin and grace are unappreciated and unknown? How else can we interpret this supertragedy that just in this Lenten season, when the thoughts of Christendom should be Christ-centered and Christ-conscious, an organization that claims to represent large portions of Protestant Christianity in the United States has issued a Lenten booklet for prayer and personal devotion in which there is no direct mention of the blood of the atonement, no clear-cut admission of the sins in every human heart that have nailed the Savior of mankind to the cross? How else can we analyze the scathing attacks on Biblical Christianity that are featured in our modern periodical literature, the undermining of Christian faith that is promoted by nominally Christian organizations, and the general rejection of the Christ of God in churches that glorify the creature rather than the Creator, that concern themselves with the here rather than with the hereafter? What lies beneath all this, disguised and decorated though it may be? What else, if not the modem perpetuation of the spirit that nineteen hundred years ago nailed Christ to the cross?

Thomas Carlyle spoke sharply, but correctly, when at a Christmas dinner in London which was attended by a number of socially prominent people the question was asked whether Jesus would be accorded the same treatment in our modern world that He received in the days of His flesh. The hostess contended that the world had advanced beyond the bigotry and brutality that had nailed our Lord to the cross. But Carlyle protested and said, “No. If Jesus should appear in London and speak of London life with the same fearless frankness, with the same withering scorn of sham that marked His ministry before, you and your coterie would be among the first to cry, ‘Away with Him! Away with Him! Take Him to Newgate and hang Him!’”

As this willful rejection of the Christ of God brought appalling calamities upon those who cried, “His blood be on us and on our children,” so today the rejection of Christ and the damnable sin of unbelief is responsible for many of the sinister and destructive forces which, if unrestrained, will undermine the foundation of our American Republic, tear down the pillars upon which the structure of our American nation rests, and consign this God-blessed nation to corruption and decay. Remember, “God is not mocked.” If there is one lesson that stands out boldly and clearly on the pages of universal history, it is this: no nation has ever spurned divine grace or ridiculed the message of God from heaven without calling down upon itself the consuming power of divine wrath. And if this apostasy and unbelief in American churches continues and increases, the destiny of our country will be sealed, and we may witness the fulfillment of the prophecy, written by England’s eminent historian Lord Macaulay to a friend in this country more than seventy years ago: “Your Republic will be pillaged and ravaged in the twentieth century, much as the Roman Empire was pillaged and ravaged by the barbarians of the fifth century, with the difference that your barbarians will be the natives of your own country and the product of your own civilization.”

But the rejection of Christ means more—it involves the eternal welfare of our blood-bought souls. The everlasting Truth of God tells us: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” but the name of Jesus Christ. Though men amass staggering fortunes; though they rise to dizzy heights of worldly preeminence, if they are unable or unwilling to give the one, correct, saving answer to this question: Is that stricken, smitten, and afflicted Sufferer whom these Lenten weeks portray for us the Christ of God, the Savior of your soul, the Ransom for your sins, the Substitute who bears the consequences of your iniquities?—if they believe instead that Christ was merely the human victim of unfavorable circumstances, a misunderstood idealist, who lived centuries before His time and paid the penalty of such priority, a social revolutionist, who came to give a new code of ethics to an old world so encrusted in its selfishness that it killed Him,—if men thus reject, reduce, and misinterpret Christ, they are without hope for time and for eternity.

THE SAVING ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION.

If this is all that Christ has meant to you, then may God give you the grace tonight that will help you to join in that unsurpassed confession and adoration of Christ which the great Reformer of the Church, four hundred years ago, clothed in these immortal words as he summarized the Scriptural teaching concerning our Lord: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

There is the answer to this surpassing question, “Is that suffering Jesus of Nazareth the Christ of God?” the answer that is given to us in His own holy and uncompromising declaration “I am”; the answer that is endorsed by the voice that speaks from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”; the answer that has been emphatically verified by His life of miraculous love, by the omnipotence revealed in His miracles, by the unfathomable and immeasurable mercy that led Him, in fulfilling the prophecies of old, to humble Himself and to become “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

That is the answer to which my Church, whose laymen are generously financing this radio mission, is everlastingly pledged. More than five thousand congregations throughout this country and Canada associated with this crusade for Christ stand uncompromisingly committed to this central doctrine of Christian creed and devotion, the priceless and peerless truth that we are saved for time and for eternity, saved in life and in death, saved freely and without charge, saved fully and completely, saved only, but surely by the suffering, death, and resurrection of this Christ of God. These churches, in many instances, may not be able to offer the pretentious dimensions of mighty cathedrals; they may not boast of architectural beauty and artistic adornment; they may not be enabled to rest on the laurels of large endowments; but they will offer to you a faith that is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified; they will give you the assurance that every appeal of every human heart for grace, for mercy, for the love of the Father, has been answered definitely and positively by the grace, the mercy, and the love of His saving Son.

And because of the moral and prayerful support which they offer for this radio crusade for Christ, I want to take a moment to speak to the fine army of Christian pastors who graciously write in week after week to assure us of their keen approval of the Lutheran insistence on the supremacy of the exalted Christ as the royal Redeemer. I want to tell all, but especially these men who are so eminently responsible for the welfare of the immortal souls that God has laid upon their conscience, that, if they have one sacred and unavoidable duty,—or let me call it one superglorious opportunity,—it is the preaching of the old and unchangeable facts of sin and grace, the exaltation of the Cross of Christ as the divine cure-all for human depravity and human helplessness. Strive to keep that golden Gospel first, last, and forever uppermost in our American pulpits, and the Church instead of drifting into politics, instead of dissipating its priceless energies in trivialities, instead of losing itself in the futile effort to become modern, will bring the very hope of heaven by telling ransomed sinners that through Christ there is no death for them, no triumph of hell, no remorseful separation from God. Keep that Christ in our homes, and though the clouds of sorrow may hover over them, though the storms of adversity may rage against them, though the sullen shades of disease and destitution may envelop them, our Christ will rise up serenely and majestically to soothe our aching hearts and to quiet our anxious misgivings with this pledge of His never-failing comradeship, “Fear not, for I am with thee.” Keep that Christ in your heart, enthroned in the sacred devotion of an unquenchable faith, and you have God’s divine covenant for the highest happiness of heaven in this magnificent promise, “No one shall tear you out of My hand.”

What more vital question is there, then, for every one of us than this: Is that suffering, sorrowful figure of the Lenten season your Christ? May the grace of God come into the hearts of those tonight who have been ashamed of this Christ, who have turned their backs to the appeal of His outstretched arms, who have hitherto selfishly and restlessly lived on in sin and without hope for time and eternity! May they accept this invitation of grace and with grateful, trusting hearts declare with Peter: “We believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” Amen.

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

Date: February 5, 1931?

If a man die, shall he live again?Job 14:14

“If a man die, shall he live again?” This immortal query of Job, which has agitated the human heart from the very cradle days of the race, is the question that down through the ages has filled men with paralyzing fear and kept blind humanity groping on the edge of doubt and dismay. It is the question that has been asked repeatedly by you who have stood alone and sorrow-stricken before the tomb as you have bid a tearful farewell to the lifeless remains of one near and dear to you. It is the question that has perplexed every normal and intelligent person; for, unless a man is afflicted with spiritual stupidity or cursed with incurable indifference, his reflections, with ever­recurring insistency, will lead him into that labyrinth of anxiety and wonder which comes with every serious thought of death.

Of all the fears with which human existence is cursed—the fear of poverty, of starvation, of disease, of insanity—none is so withering as that abject terror which makes men cringe before the thought of the inevitable end. It poisons human happiness and intrudes itself as a spectral phantom into moments of peace and quiet. In spite of the garlands of human eloquence that we may strew on the grave of a departed beloved one, when we see the light of the soul quenched and behold the lifeless form that is cold to the pleading of our affection, unmoved by our hot tears, the age-old question raised by Job demands an answer, “If a man die, shall he live again?”

HUMANITY GROPES BLINDLY, DESPERATELY, HOPELESSLY, BEFORE THE GRAVE.

Job’s question expresses, first of all, the uncertainty of all human attempts to answer this question; for the best that men can offer falls woefully short of giving a positive and definite solution to this mystery. Modern science, in spite of its remarkable progress in recent decades, is incapable of offering any helpful information. In the words of a Princeton investigator, “Science is able to say just one definite thing. . . . When a man dies, the soul is not there. It cannot tell whether the soul has perished or whether it has gone elsewhere.” It is true, of course,—and this needs to be reemphasized in this skeptical, unbelieving, anti­religious age,—that most scientific men believe in the immortality of the soul. Thomas Edison, for example, had observed that the sequoia trees of California have lived for four thousand years (or more than 3,900 years longer than the ordinary span of life), and he says that, if the life of the sequoia thus extends through century after century, the immortality of the soul need not startle or surprise us. And he concluded, “Today the preponderance of probability very greatly favors belief in the immortality of the intelligence, or soul, of man.” But, after all, the best that scientific research can offer is merely a strong probability; and all the scientific attempts to prove life after death, all the intricate machines and devices that have been constructed for this purpose, fail to carry any definite and assuring conviction.

Now, if the best human endeavors fall so hopelessly short of the mark, it need hardly be stated that the popular, but fraudulent efforts of modern Spiritists are thoroughly deceptive and ruinous. It has been the boast of Spiritists down through the centuries that they have penetrated deep into the mystery of the next life and that it is incontrovertibly true that they have enjoyed communications from the other side of the grave. But the dead never return. There has never been a bona-fide example of such messages from departed spirits. All that Spiritism has done with its fraud and its failures has been to increase doubt and unbelief, to stir up strife, and to promote soul­destroying superstition. God alone knows how many followers of this fraud have been sent to hell on the suicide road. Spiritism stands convicted on its own pernicious record. And it is one of the unexplainable mysteries of our day that rational and intelligent people, who should know of the exposures of the unscrupulous fraud behind these Spiritist seances, can support this destructive superstition to such an extent that there are, upon reliable estimate, no less than 100,000 mediums and clairvoyants and other members of this unsavory guild in our own so-called Christian nation. My appeal tonight, especially to you fathers and mothers who have the sacred responsibility of watching over the welfare of your homes, is to throw out all the magazines and printed matter that cater to this destructive delusion, as harmless and innocent as they may seem at first glance; to oppose all visits to fortune-tellers and Spiritist seances, even though these visits be regarded only as amusing pranks; and to join with other right-minded citizens in driving out of your communities these people of whom the Scriptures say, “All that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord.”

It follows similarly that the weird revelations of which we read and hear so much in our day of religious mystics can offer nothing better. The number of those who claim to have enjoyed special illumination and to have unsealed the secrets of the hereafter is truly legion. But St. Paul says, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” And those who rise up with their special and anti-Scriptural revelations are merely offering the play of childish and irresponsible fancy, or they are malicious charlatans, who trifle with sacred emotions and trade on religious credulity and ignorance. Yet in the perversity of human nature there has never been a cult too impossible to enlist the support of a large number of deluded followers. Up in Canada a fanatic who called himself the Czar of Heaven claimed that he had visited God three times and in heaven had received definite instruction to wear a crown of oranges. The police reaction to this citrous mythology resulted in his arrest as a disturber of the peace; and if similarly drastic procedures were followed in the case of other cult originators who claim to have revealed the secrets of the next world, perhaps substituting psychopathic investigations for the police cells, there would be much less misfortune here and much less disappointment hereafter.

But with scientific research and mediumistic humbug unable to solve this perplexity, modern, materialistic unbelief tries to answer this question with a stolid resignation to crushing annihilation. Those who deny the existence of a living God tell us that death ends all, that, when a man dies, the only thing that is left is the disintegration and decay of his lifeless remains. So we read of brazen scoffers who request that their ashes be scattered to the four winds or who have carved into their tombs ones the statement that their graves are sealed forever, as though defying God to resurrect their body. Yet with all this there is the torment of an uncertain doubt, which has turned cool and collected scoffers and infidels on their death-bed into hysterical madmen. No! the annihilation theory, the belief that death ends all, is in many ways the most piteous of all human attempts to solve the mystery of death; for it tries to stifle a voice that cannot be stifled, to silence a conscience that cannot be silenced in its insistence upon a retribution and reckoning beyond life’s end. And thus, with all this delusion and uncertainty, with scientific research hopelessly baffled, the great mystery of life after death is answered by the masses with a hopeless question-mark or with a fatalistic indifference, which leads them to eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow they may sleep the mysterious sleep called death. Their answer to Job’s age­old question is a cold, blighting “We do not know.”

FAITH HAS THE PROMISE OF A VICTORIOUS RESURRECTION.

But Job addresses this question to God, the one Source of truth and light from which positive certainty and heavenly comfort can come. And we who likewise crave to know what lies beyond the grave turn to the same Source that today can solve every perplexing problem of every human heart—God’s revelation in our Bible. Here, first of all, we learn to know the cause of death. Man was not created for destruction and decay. As he proceeded from the creative master-hand of God, the climax of His divine workmanship, there was no seed of death and corruption in his body. Pause for a moment to reflect upon the radiant glory and happiness of that existence—no pain or sorrow, no sickness or grief, no death and destruction, and for that reason none of the heartrending sobs, none of that desolate anguish that lies hidden in the strange word death. But that Paradise was shattered by sin and by the wilful uprising of man against God. By sin came death; and from that time on man that is born of woman pays for sin with death; for “the wages of sin is death.” Now, if Paradise Lost is to become Paradise Regained; if death, the punishment of sin, is to be removed, then sin and its tragic consequences must be eliminated. And where—oh, searching question of the ages!—is this sin-removing, death­destroying power?

Where else, I ask you, as we see the Cross of Christ towering over the wrecks of time, everlastingly triumphant as all human efforts to counteract sin fall in hopeless confusion, where else is there assurance for the forgiveness of your sins than in the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ, that cleanseth us, every one of us, from all our sins, as black and damnable and brutal as they may be? So, wondrous truth of truths, with Christ, the Lamb of God, taking away our sins, bearing in His own holy body the iniquity of every one of us, we look beyond the hostile circles of blighted, unbelieving minds, our faith overleaps human doubt and distrust, and from the sacred lips of Him who never uttered one unfulfilled hope or promise we hear this heaven-hallowed pledge, “If any man keep My saying, he shall never see death.” Note the sweeping inclusiveness, the pure grace, the blessed promise of this golden truth. “If any man” (and let me stress as forcefully as I can the wonderful fact that this embraces every one within the range of this invitation tonight, including you who enjoy the admiration and respect of your community, and you who are receiving this message behind prison bars or in the corrective institutions of our country; you who live on in serene and unruffled self-satisfaction, and you who write me that you are troubled with dark and deep sins), “if any man,” Jesus assures us, “keep My saying,”—and that means accepts and believes and follows the divine instructions and the comforting promises of His Savior; if any man humbly and contritely comes to that loving, merciful, forgiving, uplifting, restoring, renewing Christ,—he has this sacred, infallible promise, “He shall never see death.”

But I hear voices raised in protest, asking: “How can Christ promise men that they shall never see death when every one dies?” It is true, man completes the span of his temporal existence and dies; but if he has Christ, he does not see everlasting death. It is like emerging from the dark and gloomy catacombs into the radiant splendor of a new day; his temporal death is not a sad ending, but a joy-filled beginning. To him who keeps the saying of Christ death is but a door to a more abundant and more glorious life; death is but the key which unlocks the perfect fulness of heavenly bliss. The Scriptures well represent this sublime transformation with the picture of a seed sown into the ground, which decays, but later blossoms forth in strength and power. So the body that is consigned to the grave succumbs to the ravages of decay and decomposition, but it bursts forth on that glorious day of the resurrection of all flesh in the glory and beauty of a resurrected body with new power, with new beauty, and joy everlasting.

Again I hear other voices that ask in anxious doubt, “Can Jesus keep His promise?” Let me answer this question by asking other questions: Who was it that stopped that sorrowful procession of mourners outside a city gate in far-off Galilee to restore a dead son to his bereaved and widowed mother? Who was it that called into the grave at Bethany to summon the lifeless corpse of His friend back to a revitalized existence? Who was it that bent His divine form over a Judean maiden slumbering in death to restore her to life with His divine “Maiden, arise”? But above all, who was it that by His own divine and victorious resurrection from the dead, bursting forth from His rock­sealed grave, appeared to hundreds of witnesses during the forty days of His resurrected life on earth? Who is this wonder figure of history before whom the terror of death vanished as a cloud,—who, I ask, if not the very Incarnation of God, the everlasting Son of the Father?

Remember, that gift of endless, deathless immortality is the sacred promise that comes to us again and again in God’s errorless Word; for if there is one truth of strength and belief that stands out with particular emphasis on the pages of the New Testament, it is this holy pledge of Jesus, that there is no death for those who believe in Him. Listen tonight as He tells you, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”; as He assures you, “Because I live, ye shall live also;” as He promises you, “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life”; as He comforts you, “In My Father’s house are many mansions.” Review the dozens of repeated promises of a life that lives beyond the grave, of the hope that rises triumphant over the dust of death, and you will know why the saints of God of all lands and ages have been able to meet grim-visaged Death with the calm and quiet assurance of a ransomed soul. You will be able to understand why the simplest Christian, trusting in these sayings of his Lord, can view the hereafter with a ring of indomitable triumph, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”—while the best that infidels and skeptics like Ingersoll can do is to stand over a form prostrated in death and to mumble the hopeless, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

But the soul that has been ransomed through Christ is not lost. Mark well, this sacred promise is sealed to you with a double affirmation, “verily, verily.” You may doubt and wonder when men pledge themselves in promises or relieve themselves of predictions; you are entitled to place a mental question-mark after the best theories that men may advance to explain life after death; but here, with the repeated assurance of Jesus, is a verity truer than earth’s truest truth; a pledge of heaven’s highest hope, which answers the searching inquiry of your heart by pointing you to the glorious resurrection. There you shall see your Savior face to face, in that indescribably happy reunion with those of your dear ones who have gone before you in faith and who together with you shall see “what eye hath not seen” and hear “what ear hath not heard,”—there in that resurrection unto glory. Amen.

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

Date: January 29, 1931

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

HOW does it happen that two boys, born and reared under much the same surroundings and with equal opportunities, grow up into such varied and conflicting careers that, while one disappears in the battle of life as an abject failure, the other attains to the heights of human preeminence? Why is it that of two marriages solemnized on the same day and in the same place the one turns out to be a veritable caricature of wedded bliss and happiness while the other develops into a rich and beautiful union? Why is it, as the present industrial crisis so frequently and so forcefully reminds us, that, on the one hand, there are families with unemployed fathers and brothers, with cold and cheerless rooms, empty pantries and pocketbooks, and a dismal outlook on an uncertain future, while, on the other hand, there are households that have prospered even in this depression, that seem to be lifted up above the possibility of sorrow and sickness, that enjoy everything which the overflowing cup of life contains, apparently without any trace of bitterness or disappointment? What, in short, is the force and power that rules and directs the destiny of a human life? And where, in the midst of the ebb and flow of life’s ceaseless tides, can you and I find a definite and convincing solution to this mystery of life, a positive assurance midst the engulfing sorrows of our daily existence?

These, of course, are age-old questions; they form the theme of the oldest epic poem known to men, written thousands of years ago, in cuneiform characters pressed into Mesopotamian clay. But they are ever-present questions, asked by many of you, who, as you tell us in your letters, have been shut-ins for more than forty years, who are so completely paralyzed that you can move only your fingers, or who desperately bemoan the tragedy that the wage earners in your family have been without employment so long that you simply cannot make both ends meet.

They are questions, too, which men have tried to answer in their own way, for instance, by magnifying their own importance and by holding up man as the shaper of his own destiny, the creator of his own career. And in a certain sense a man can shape and mold his course of life. The suicide who places an automatic revolver at the temple of his head and literally blasts out his brains has certainly himself cut off his career. The young man who, with careless disregard of the requirements of chastity and health, sows his wild oats and reaps a harvest of ruin can blame no one but himself for the tragic course that his life has taken. The husband and wife who want to have a happy home, but who persistently refuse to apply the fine spiritual principles and the foundation truths of family felicity laid down in the Bible, without which there can be no such happiness, are individually responsible for steering the craft of their wedded bliss off the charted course and upon the rocks of matrimonial shipwreck. Yes, we can mold our lives by forming for ourselves such ill-shaped and tragic developments that we live in a succession of great and increasing sorrows.

THE FOLLY OF FATALISM.

But, as the Scriptures assure us, we alone cannot work out a constructive program of life. It is true, we hear much of self-made men in our materialistic age. Yet the world has never seen the man who made himself and who, unaided, reached the lofty pinnacles of success. In the struggle of life the best efforts of splendid, honest plodders often remain unrewarded, while there are scintillating stars in the firmament of earthly greatness that have attained to their brightness with little or no exertion. When men are unable to say whether they will be alive tomorrow; when some meet success without any appreciable effort or accomplishment on their part, while others are doomed to failure in spite of most persistent and painstaking efforts; when some of the most trivial things in life, like the cackling of the geese that saved Rome or the flight of the land birds that quelled the mutiny on Columbus’s ship of discovery, involve the most vital consequences,—there is no room for reasonable doubt that no man controls his own destiny in a constructive way.

So men have gone to another extreme and have adopted the opposite and contradictory theory that man is in no wise concerned in the shaping of his life, but that there is a power and an inexorable force called Fate which in a despotic manner regulates man’s life and in an unexplainable way leads men on blindly to their inevitable lot. Nothing that you or I can do, according to this theory, can change the course of our careers; we are helpless tools in the hands of a power that is both unexplainable and tyrannical,—mere pawns on the board of life, puppets that are jerked about by a combination of unalterable and unsympathetic circumstances.

Now, we can understand in a measure why Mohammedans, with the irrational and superstitious background of their religious delusions, can believe in the iron rule of brutal fate. We can comprehend how heathen millions have drugged themselves into despondency and resigned themselves into an inevitable pessimism. But how can people who live in this modern and enlightened age of Gospel dissemination subscribe to this pernicious doctrine? How can they tell us that everything you and I do is cut out for us by irresistible and stern necessity, so that the thief himself is not responsible for his thievery, the adulterer for his adultery, the murderer for his murder? How can people today believe that man is but a human robot, whose hands and feet move almost mechanically at the impulse of a tyrannical fate? How can they surrender to this hopelessness when the one power which can help us solve this mystery of life, the sacred revelation of God, the All-knowing and Infallible, tells us that there is a divine solution to this age-old question, a far better philosophy of life than this doctrine of determinism and despair, which makes man a mere mechanical toy, wound up by an unseen hand, played with until its spring breaks and then cast into discard?

THE LOVE OF A GUIDING PROVIDENCE.

I thank God tonight that I have the privilege of standing here in St. Louis and sending out into the nation, yes, far beyond its confines, the happy message that, as soon as we know Jesus Christ as our own, loving, divine Savior, we have a cheering and comforting truth for life and death, a strengthening and ennobling power, offering the plain and direct assurance that you and I are not the weavers of our life’s design nor the passing victims of an unrelenting fate, but that above all this the destiny of every child of God is guarded, protected, and blessed by the almighty ruling of a divine and loving Providence. Casting aside all the delusions of pagan and modern unbelief, the Bible, the errorless truth, tells us, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” These blessed words of golden comfort, and these alone, are the only words men have ever heard that can answer fully and assuredly this mystery of human destiny.

Note that this promise is held out “to them that love God,” that means, to those who first of all hate sin, sin which has engulfed human existence in indescribable woes and made men suffer horror and misery and anguish beyond computation, sin that abounds in your life and mine and that leaves its blighting marks of sickness and death, of sorrow and tribulation, in their various kinds and degrees. As long as you love sin, and as long as your deep-rooted affections still cling to the world with its “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life,” you cannot love God, and you cannot be sure of anything but the consuming wrath of God. But whenever a sin-laden soul looks up to the Cross and realizes that his own sins were brutal and black enough to nail Jesus to that accursed tree and that sin is nothing trivial, nothing that can be laughed away or forgotten; whenever a sin-troubled mortal beholds those wide-outstretched arms that would embrace him just as he is, without any stipulations or conditions, without the payment or performance of any contribution of any kind; whenever a sin-sick soul humbly and contritely accepts these glad tidings, “The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost,” believes His holy assurance, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out”; whenever anyone comes to Christ and is saved and thus learns to love God, he is made the beneficiary of the wonderful promise of our text.

Listen to the universal sweep of this all-embracing assurance, “ALL things work together for good to them that love God.” This means that nothing simply “happens” in the life of a Christian, but that the same God who rules the destinies of the nations also governs our individual lives with loving guidance and merciful foresight. He who “upholds all things by the word of His power,” in whom “we live and move and have our being,” He tells you that you are so precious in His sight that the very hairs of your head—as trifling as one of the hundred and twenty-five thousand hairs on the average head may seem—are all numbered and guarded. He who “giveth to all life, breath, and all things,” so that you and I can trace our origin directly to the creative hand of a merciful God and not to the grinning gorilla of fatalistic, accidental evolution; He who promises by His own holy name, “The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from thee,” tells you that His care for the affairs of His children is so comprehensive and minute that the very sparrows that perch unnoticed on the telegraph wires do not fall to the ground without His will and knowledge and that therefore you, with your immortal soul, to save which Jesus shed His precious blood, are of such vital importance in the eyes of God that, if you will only believe this, everything that happens to you as His child works together for good.

Now remember that God does not promise His children that nothing but good will be showered upon them. Who would not be a Christian today if Christianity could present a charm against tears and sorrows and disappointments? Who of the tens of millions of people in this country that have never thought enough about the Christian Church to join it would not hurry to acknowledge Jesus if He would promise them nothing but the pleasant and attractive things in life? But the rule of the Kingdom is, “From cross to crown,” and sometimes it seems that those who have pledged themselves to Christ suffer an overwhelming share of life’s sorrows, fulfilling the prophecy of St. Paul, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” But though they suffer much or little, here is the never failing promise, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”

All eventualities in a Christian’s life are part of a harmonious whole in which every occurrence, no matter how hard and bitter and heart-breaking, leads up to the sublime climax of our salvation. Just as a surgeon cauterizes a wound, cuts away proud flesh, and adopts other similar painful procedures in his alleviative process of healing, so the fires of affliction and the incisions of misfortune often are but disguised blessings, which clear the way for better and happier things; so in your regenerated life everything works together, cooperates, for greater good and more bounteous blessings.

You may not be able to explain God’s dealings with you as helpful and constructive and as working together for good; for God’s ways are not our ways. He Himself tells us, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Even Christ, when nailed to the cross, asked in His human limitations, “Why?” And we who look out upon life through a clouded glass and through the hazy shadows of human short-sightedness are the more prone to question God’s direction of our life. A young man is snatched out of the land of the living in the very prime of a promising life, and we ask, “Why?” An aged sufferer, weary of this earth, lingers on in a bed of pain and agony, and we ask, “Why?” A tornado wreaks its devastating havoc on a community, leaving the piteous groans of suffering and anguish in its wake; we ask, “Why?” A ship crashes into an iceberg on the high seas, and hundreds sink into a watery grave; we ask, “Why?” And to all of His children who suffer under the long list of other sorrows with which human existence must contend, God says, “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” When envious brothers took the lad Joseph and sold him into Midianite slavery, he, too, doubtless asked why God permitted a calamity of such proportions to overwhelm him. But when in the zenith of his power, as food administrator of Egypt and the recipient of the homage of uncounted millions, he looked back over his life and discerned the hand of God in every epoch of his career, he told his brothers, “Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.” And similarly, if you and I could have the power to perceive the ways of God with us, unsearchable and past finding out as they are, we should recognize, for example, that the money which some of us lost in bad investments or bank failures may have been lost in order to prevent us from using it for unworthy and destructive purposes; that the sickness which we have suffered may have come from the beneficent mercy of God to give us occasion to reflect upon our lives and the course to which they were directed; that the son or daughter whose death we could not explain may have been spared the anguish of tragedies in later life; that the unemployment and disappointments which confront us may be designed to strengthen our character; and that literally all things, even such calamities and misfortunes, work together, in blessed cooperation, for good.

But this good, this blessing of Christian conviction, extends beyond this world and finds its highest fulfillment in the next. “The sufferings of this present time,” the unfailing promise of God assures us, “are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” There is a divine law of compensation, which teaches us that they who sow in tears, in the sorrow of earthly suffering, shall reap in joy, in the unspeakable bliss of the heavenly home. To all of you tonight to whom life has held out little lasting happiness; to you who, like begging Lazarus, look on, sick and sore and hungry, as wealth parades in purple and fine linen to its sumptuous fare, to you comes the comfort and assurance that just as Lazarus, who received evil during his lifetime, was comforted after death in the blessings of a tearless, sorrowless eternity, so you, too, through Christ can bow your heads before God and declare, “Thy will be done,” “Thou doest all things well”; for you will experience the full blessing of the promise that “all things work together for good to them that love God.”

So let me ask you the question of supreme importance, “Do you love God?” Have you found the love of Him who “so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” and have you given your heart and life back to God in grateful devotion? Have you come to the Cross to find life in Him who there found death for you? Have you learned to know and trust and believe in Jesus Christ as God’s complete answer to every need of every sinful heart? Oh, as you hear these words of invitation, may those of you who have never tasted the happiness of confessing Christ come to Him with repentant and believing hearts ere this day of grace closes and hear this benediction of His Savior-love come across a sin-torn world into the quiet of your ransomed soul, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Amen.

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

Date: January 22, 1931?

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereunto according to Thy Word.Psalm 119:9

OURS is a young people’s age. Look where you will today, whether it be in the inner circles of the financial world or in the leadership of educational activities or in the high places of politics, and you will find that modern young men and young women have attained to heights of accomplishment which not so long ago were reserved for more mature years and wider experience. We used to think of youth in terms only of tomorrow; but now, when industries demand young workers, some of them refusing to employ men of forty-five years or more; when the financial experts of one of the greatest money interests of the world assure us that today the age of approximately thirty years is regarded as the most valuable period in a modern life, we are forced to agree, in spite of all the harsh unfairness and the open inaccuracies of such statements, that now we must consider youth in terms of today as one of the most potent forces in the present social order.

Now, if I were to select a question of vital significance to modern youth, an issue of personal and direct importance to all the young men and young women listening in tonight, a topic in the discussion of which such tremendous issues as the welfare of the nation, the growth of the Church, and the happiness of our homes are directly involved, I think I could do no better than to discuss the ways and means of strengthening the moral fiber of the youth of our nation, to present the issue of personal purity, and to answer the question which the Bible, with all its practical applications to the problems of every-day life, asks in these words of our text, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?”

YOUTH ASKS, “WHEREWITHAL SHALL WE CLEANSE OUR WAY?”

To avoid misunderstanding, let me state right at the outset that the Church does not agree with those carping critics who consistently denounce the rising generation as the most godless and perverted the world has ever seen. Such a sweeping denunciation leaves no room for the constructive power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it does not know history, and it does not take cognizance of those admirable young people who march on under the banner of the Cross in such splendid youth crusades as our International Walther League, which makes the coast-to-coast youth messages possible.

Yet, while paying public tribute to the fresh and vigorous Christianity that vitalizes the lives of those who would follow Christ, as twelve young men followed Him in the resplendent young manhood of His early thirties, the Church should not shrink back from its divinely imposed duty of telling modern youth, “Keep thyself pure.” It should not hesitate to warn against the punishments of impurity and emphasize the means, God-given and powerful as they are, of avoiding the temptations which beset modem youth as they have never beset any previous generation.

Thus, the world has always been cursed with immoral literature, but this has never been as cheap and attractive as now, when this flood of printed filth, belched out by savage commercialism, inundates our country with the lurid and sensual appeal of crime and sin and impurity. There has always been immoral amusement and entertainment; but it has become the unholy distinction of our present age that it has drafted the fine facilities of some of the most popular forms of amusement the world has ever known into the service of scarlet sin. There have always been lying and destructive agitators; but it is the notorious accomplishment of this age that men who champion trial marriage, companionate marriage, and similar pernicious arrangements are greeted and feted by enthusiastic thousands throughout the nation. There have always been teachers who have led admiring students away from time­honored ideals of truth and purity; but, again, the twentieth century is the age which has produced the widely heralded university skeptic whose sophisticated sneers at Christian morality are applauded throughout the nation as particularly enlightened utterances.

Now, this contagion has spread its infection among our modern young people and has helped to produce the unfortunate and unmistakable decay of morals that stares us in the face today. A million divorces during the past five years, most of them separating young couples; the investigation of seventeen impartial newspaper reporters in various sections of our country who indict the moral life of present-day young people on the most serious charges; the deplorable increase in juvenile crime; the annual disappearance of 65,000 young women; the lamentable disintegration of the American home,—this is part of the conclusive evidence for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear that modern youth, with probably the worst examples that elders have ever given to the younger members of society, is toying with the dynamite of sin, which can blow into shapeless ruins much of the national and domestic happiness that we now enjoy.

Let those swim-with-the-stream leaders who glory in the dash and abandon of modern youth, who condone the free-and-easy love-making of the day, nod their approval as wild and whirling youth smashes down another pillar that supports the dome of decency in our national structure; let them behold the passionate pursuit of forbidden thrills and then laugh the situation off by stating, as a Pacific Coast educator writes, that youth is simply splashing full into the stream of experience, swimming in muddy waters and taking a little tarnish on its skin. The Bible tells us, with all of the power of God’s truth, that this tarnish is more than skin-deep; it is heart-deep, and unhesitatingly and unreservedly we are told, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” There you have the divine verdict in plain and unreserved language, which tells us that in the life of every young person there are treacherous influences of immorality and impurity.

Now, in the chaos of modern cynicism there are many young people who, forgetting that they must be the architects of decency for a decent tomorrow, listen to this question, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” and tell us that this thing of cleansing your way of life is about as out-of-date as the lavender and lace of the mid-Victorian period and that daring, breath-taking youth is not worried about sin and the Bible’s denunciation of sin. Thus the author of a brutal piece of blasphemy, printed as a poem in a daily publication owned and edited by the student-body of one of our representative American colleges, challenges God to let him sin as he wants to sin and be damned in peace.

But I am here tonight to say that there is no peace either here or hereafter for those who do not remove the poison of impurity from their hearts and lives. Purity of life is so holy and so essential to the happiness of the individual and the sound development of the human race that God has marked its violations with penalties that sometimes take a most abhorrent and destructive form. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” Those who sow to the wind will reap the whirlwind. Blasted careers, wrecked lives, thwarted hopes, unhappy marriages, physical infirmities of various kinds, premature aging,—these afflictions are but a short part of the catalog of visitations that may follow in the wake of a life that lives in brazen protest against God’s demand, “Be ye holy.” Any physician can tell you what God means when He says, Beware of impurity “lest thou mourn at the last when thy flesh and thy body are consumed.” And even if such drastic consequences of sin may be avoided, the inner retribution is positively unescapable. The loss of self-respect, a diseased mind, the sacrificing of ideals, the sensuous groveling of one’s thoughts in the smeary, filthy things of life,—this is a fraction of the price that is paid for a life that will not be cleansed. The full price is separation from God and never-ending death.

You can cheat your way through this world with a lying, deceitful heart; but it is only of the pure in heart of whom Jesus says, “They shall see God.” You can deceive yourself and others by covering up secret sins and trying to whitewash the stain of sin; but you cannot deceive God, who searches the very heart and reins.

THE SCRIPTURES ANSWER: “TAKE HEED ACCORDING TO GOD’S WORD.”

So our appeal tonight, addressed to you who have been troubled with the assaults of sin and who want to cleanse your lives; to you who think that you can “sow wild oats” in the field of your life and still reap a worthwhile harvest; to you who, like the Pharisee of old, thank God that you are not like the rest of the crowd, forgetting that in the holiness of God even impure thoughts, impulses, and desires are unholy; to all of you we appeal tonight to take this question, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” to read the divine answer, “By taking heed thereunto according to Thy Word,” and with the help of God to translate this answer into a definite, constructive policy of life.

Note that the remedy which the Bible offers is diametrically opposed to the many suggestions for character­building that are proposed for young people today. God does not tell us to go to college and learn how to cleanse our way, because He knows that modern education deals with the head and not with the heart. He would endorse the statement of a prominent Eastern educator who admits, “There is a pitiable failure in the main business of education which is or should be the formation of character, the culture of the spirit, the building of the soul. We do everything else well, except just these imponderable things which are, after all, of the most supreme importance.” Neither does God tell us to cleanse our own ways, because bitter experience teaches us that “with might of ours can naught be done” and that, if we fight in our own strength against the principalities and powers of dark sin, we are doomed to disastrous defeat. Nor are we directed by God to cleanse our lives by withdrawing from the world, by living a dark, morose, joy-stifling existence. No, these and all the weird processes of mental hygiene of which we read and hear so much leave us helpless and hopeless. But He does tell us to cleanse our lives “by taking heed thereunto” according to the plain statements of His Word.

The first and foremost requirement of His Word is this, that with all our hearts we take the blessings of our Savior Jesus Christ and believe that His holy blood can wash and cleanse us from the guilt and stain of sin. Here is the sacred promise, in God’s own Word, “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” You young folks who have lived on without Christ (and that means without the inner and lasting happiness of the soul), listen to the wide and sweeping love of these divine words, “The blood of Jesus Christ,” the blood that flowed from His riven wounds when He hung suspended on the cross to pay for our sins with His life; that blood, not anything that you or I could earn or accomplish with a lifetime of regret or a century of our best efforts; that blood “cleanseth us,” every one of us, without limitation or restriction, who believes in this Jesus and accepts Him as the full and effective Redeemer;—that blood cleanses us “from all sin,” both from those flagrant violations of God’s commandments which honorable society condemns, and from those sinful impulses and emotions with which our hearts and minds are contaminated,—all these sins are forgiven and removed for time and for eternity by that priceless, sin-shed blood of Jesus.

That is the first lesson we learn when we go to God’s Word to ask, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” And the second is the surpassing truth that, with Christ in our hearts, we have the assurance of Christ and His blessed influence in our lives. “He that abideth in Me and I in Him,” the Savior promises, “the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me ye can do nothing.” But by taking heed unto Christ and His Word, you have a new outlook on life and a new and effective power to follow in His footsteps as far as this is possible in the weakness of our earth-bound existence. With Christ you hear the warning of His Word, “Flee youthful lusts,” and you will find that His truth and His answer to your prayers gives you the strength to break up friendships that are physically, morally, and spiritually dangerous; to release yourself from the coiling clutches of unworthy and degrading habits; to enjoy all the fine, happy pleasures that God wants you to enjoy, all the splendid companionships that God wants you to have and still not tarnish your soul. With Christ and the promise of His Word you will be able to meet your temptations (and there will be plenty of them) with the resolution of Joseph, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” With Christ and the strengthening power of His Word, even though you stumble and fall in the frailty of your own weakness, you have the sacred promise that His loving hand of divine comradeship will always be ready to raise you up with new strength and new conviction.

But if you resolve to regulate your life according to the directions of God’s Word, that determination involves these practical duties and implications: First of all, since you cannot take heed unto God’s Word if you are unacquainted with that Word, you must not permit a single day to pass without delving deeply into the treasures of spiritual strength that are found within the covers of your Bible. Then you must not place yourself deliberately in the path of temptation and thus preclude the possibility of praying sincerely, “Lead us not into temptation.” Further, you must pledge yourself not to purchase or read any magazines or novels which openly or by insinuation cater to immorality; nor knowingly to witness any motion­picture or stage production which in any degree glorifies the transgression against the commandment of purity; nor to permit yourself to be found in centers of commercialized recreation which in reality are graveyards of purity, where sin stalks unchecked. You must, in addition, conscientiously endeavor to keep busy with helpful methods of self-improvement, realizing that Satan has no difficulty in employing an idle hand and an idle mind; but especially you must employ the power of effective prayer to help you keep true to these high resolves and loyal to the ideals of a Christlike life.

So take heed unto your life according to God’s Word. Take Christ as the one and only effective power for a pure, clean, Christian life. Take Him for the sake of your country, which now, more than ever, needs the moral support which clean-living, clean-thinking citizens can offer. Take Him for the sake of the Church that bears His name and that is strengthened by the Christlike lives of its followers more than by any other human agency. Take Him for the sake of the young man or young woman who is destined to be your helpmate on the path of life. Take Christ, believe in Him, trust in Him for your own sake, so that in the confidence of Christ-centered youth you may face life with the victorious assurance: “My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.” Amen.

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