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Date: May 5, 1935

Thou art my God. My times are in Thy hand. – Psalm 31:14-15

THESE months of broadcasting the eternal Gospel of Christ, months which at their beginning seemed to stretch out into a distant future, this afternoon draw to their inevitable close. If I may give expression to the emotions shared by those in charge of the broadcast, let me say that we today raise grateful hearts to our heavenly Father, who beyond our most roseate hopes endowed this Sunday afternoon half hour with large and responsive circles of friends throughout the greater part of the nation. We know from the thousands of letters which bespeak the conviction of your hearts that there are myriads in the land who have not bowed down before the Baals of unbelief, the Mammon of materialism, and the caricatures of the blessed Christ; myriads who, in the face of sinister infidelity, continue to build their hope on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. And as we review these far-reaching opportunities for proclaiming the sure mercies of Christ during problematical and disappointing days, there is a word of thanks on our lips for your friendship, your encouragement, your support, and a prayer of petition in our hearts that the Spirit of God may bless with His power the Word which we have proclaimed in our weakness, that the seed sown in your hearts may bring forth the bounty of its hundredfold harvest.

Yet we hope that this afternoon marks no final valedictory; for it is our intention to resume the broadcasting of these winged words of Christ’s love in the fall, perhaps on a larger scale and with the hope of even greater support. If, then, it be God’s will and your earnest desire that this exaltation of Christ through the all but limitless reaches of the ether continue and expand, we are only temporarily interrupting these broadcasts. A few short months will pass into history, and God helping us, we shall once more be ready to continue the radio testimony to His grace and power.

As short as these intervening weeks are, however, they may prove a critical, pivotal period in your life or in mine. No one who has not blinded his eyes to the screaming evidence on all sides can escape the conviction that we have reached decisive days, which will speak either curse or blessing for the future. Rumors of war are persistently rising in Europe, where nations, anemic because of lifeblood drained away in the World War, are conscripting their large armies, laying the keels for supercruisers or new-type submarines, planning air armadas of unprecedented power, and raising, bankrupt as they are, military expenditures to horrifying heights. In our own country an oppressive pall continues to hang over our Government, our commerce and industries, and our homes. National indebtedness pyramids itself into towering, toppling heights. Cool judgment recedes as hot passions clash in industrial warfare and political skirmishes, while the regiments of discontent are daily swollen by new recruits. If now we add to the total of world disturbances the realization of our own personal insecurity and the abruptness with which our plans may be frustrated and our happiness shattered, it may be that some of you are disturbed by this panorama of uncertainty with its foreboding specters, disquieted by the realization of your own helplessness in the grinding crush of these world-changing movements.

It is to you, then, who disconsolately scan the unformed horizon of the future for the dawn of a single ray of hope; to you who, lingering on beds of protracted illness, doubt whether you will survive another summer; to all whose hearts plead for an antidote to the penetrating poison of doubt, for an answer to the profound questions of your own life’s happiness, that I direct this farewell radio message, which may strengthen us all until we meet again. On the basis of David’s immortal words “Thou art my God; my times are in Thy hand,” let me show you

THE CHRISTIAN’S UNDAUNTED COURAGE

In the trials of sorrow and persecution David raises his eyes heavenward, reaffirms his full, undiminished trust in God, and pronounces this credo of his faith: “Thou art my God.” Some might seek surcease from sorrow in a self-reliant will to conquer; others might distractedly rack their brains and mobilize their resources to provide an escape from the clutching toils of adversity; but David turns to God.

His experience had taught him the lesson which this generation must yet learn: we need God, for we dare not trust in ourselves. Every failure in the present debacle must ultimately be traced to the tragedy that men have not sought strength and refuge in their heavenly Father through the confident faith that confesses: “Thou art my God,” but that we have turned to ourselves and leaned on the arms of flesh. Bleeding and bruised by the body blows of adversity, our groggy, dizzy, staggering age rises stubbornly, but futilely after each new fall to hammer down its opposition single-handed.

THIS COURAGE TRUSTS IN GOD

We should have realized, as every crisis of history emphasizes, that human power, raised to its highest degree, is but a pitiful gesture in comparison with the mysterious and overwhelming forces that surround us. We build Boulder Dams with a purpose of increasing and controlling the agricultural yield; but grasshoppers and the blight of small insects can cut their swath of destruction in our farmlands and overnight put to naught the plans of crop experts. We mobilize the resources of our brains and wealth to provide health, culture, and opportunity for our children; but bacteria, so small that only a high-powered microscope can detect them, strike thousands of our boys, and girls with paralysis, while a cruel collapse of our complicated financial system leaves them deprived of many opportunities which we have come to accept as self-understood. We solve problems of business on paper; we build elaborate commercial houses of cards; we devise the most comprehensive plans for the advancement of culture and progress and the promotion of cooperation and peace; but the cruel realities of life nullify our best proposals, and a gust of an ill wind blows our fragile creations into shapeless ruins. As a leaf that dances with the gale, as a twig that floats passively with the currents of the river, as a cloud that moves on fitfully until it dissolves into sky-blue nothingness, so our puny plans and ambitions are buffeted by overshadowing forces.

In the narrow spheres of our own affairs you and I, besieged as we are by treacherous and tyrannical influences, must learn to rid ourselves of the delusion that we are the masters of our own fate and that by our own resources we can blaze the path to destiny. Do not build the foundation of your life’s hope on your money, if you have any; for inflation, dishonesty, bad investments, theft, can snatch away the accumulations of years in a single hour; and even if you escape from all this, how much of real peace of mind, of true happiness, of permanent blessings can you purchase by the sum total of every dollar that has ever passed through your hands? Do not rely on your own strength, physical or mental, and proclaim with swelling pride that you are a self-made man. What assurance have you that you can escape a swift and sudden end? During the half hour of this broadcast 2,500 of your fellow-men have succumbed to death, according to the average daily mortality rates of the world, many of them snatched away in the prime of life by the clutching grip of the skeletal hand that may reach out when it is least expected. Do not look for the hope of happiness or the pledge of the permanency for life among the fleeting delusions that parade before you in the procession of our twentieth-century follies. Instead, hear the admonition of your God: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me,” and in conformity with this command from heaven come before our heavenly Father, the God of our Bible, and cry out in confidence: “Thou art my God.”

Let me repeat: Only in the God of our Bible can there be an abiding hope. There is a feeling current in much of modem thought that any kind of religion, however vague, any conception of God, however crude, will suffice. Never before have there been as many hazy and contradictory conceptions of God, never as many different names for the true Lord of lords, never as many hopeless creeds, false altars, misplaced confidences, as in this hour. If you keep only one truth from all these broadcasts, let it be this basic verity of all time and eternity: The only true God is that sovereign Deity who comes to us in the Bible and who, as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of our lives, is revealed in the person and in the teachings of Jesus Christ. All other gods, no matter how attractively they may be pictured, how ceremoniously they may be worshiped, how frantically they may be proclaimed, or how deceptively they may be substituted in modernistic churches for the verity of Scripture, are only the morbid creations of compromise, the products of spiritually stunted minds, the lying phantoms of destruction. The verdict of Christ is final: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” If you would see God without seeing Christ, if your theology pictures to you a supreme being of many titles and multiplied honors, but omits this decisive identification, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” you are worshiping an idol that is just as helpless as the tin gods of China and the totem poles of Alaska.

But—wonder of heaven’s high mercies—when we know God through Christ, we have the irremovable confidence that, selfish, short-sighted, sinful mortals though we be, puny, powerless atoms of humanity that we are, subject to a thousand crushing forces, we can approach the holiness of our heavenly Father, not by our own ingenuity, not in our own strength, not as a reward of our own merits (for what have we that can demand and find recognition before God?), but by the reconciliation through the cross of Jesus Christ, by His enduring the chastisement for our sins, by the shedding of His precious blood in atonement for the world’s iniquities, by that abysmal death which He died for every one of us, and by the power and the glory of His resurrection. If you have that faith as you cry, “Thou art my God!” you may be underprivileged, destitute, forlorn; you may shrink each morning from the fear of new terrors that the day can bring forth and be grateful at night when no new miseries have been added to your burden; or you may be blessed by abundance, by health, by peace and prosperity; yet in strength or in weakness, in honor or in disgrace, in safety or in danger, in rising or in falling, in the flush of success or in the twilight of failure, always, under all circumstances, at all times and in all places, at home or on the highway, by day or by night, at work or at play, in youth or in age, in life or in death, you can have the holy benediction, too precious to be paid for by lifelong labors or vast treasures of gold, too impenetrable for the analysis of laboratories or the acumen of science, too divine to be understood and fully appreciated by the most enlightened mind—the sacred gift of pure grace in Christ by which we can draw near to our heavenly Father and declare: “Thou art my God. My times are in Thy hand.”

THIS COURAGE IS BLESSED BY GOD’S OMNIPOTENT HAND

Let us pause to estimate—as far as we can—the comfort of the words “My times are in Thy hand.” The hand that created the world and ordained the heavens with the immensity that passes comprehension, the precision that makes us gasp in astonishment; the hand that rules the vibrant forces of nature, that shakes the earth and moves its mountains, that lifts the tides and controls the raging seas; the hand that shifts the scenes of human history, topples thrones, cuts off dynasties, and leads armies to victory or to defeat, that hand directs the destiny of your life; that hand is never lost in the all but endless reaches of a universe, nor is it too omnipotent to bestow its guiding power upon the small problems and the trivial issues of your fleeting life. For that hand of God’s power, which not all the regiments of a world in arms, not all the explosives and ammunition stored in grim arsenals, not all the accumulated energy of our dynamos and turbines, not all the laws of legislatures and the tyranny of dictators, can restrain or frustrate,—that hand of power will protect you when the last line of human defense gives way. The hand of God’s wisdom, which marks the flight of His creatures, so that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His will, which scatters the seed and unfolds the fragrant flowers,—that hand of wisdom will direct the small, everyday affairs of your life and number the very hairs of your head. The hand of God’s love, which could send His Son into a sin­cursed world and lay upon Him all the woe of human misery; the hand for which not even all the precious metals and the costly gems of the world could fashion a ring of worthy adornment,—that hand of love extends in its open palm the redeeming grace that can keep you in the eternal mercies of Christ.

God’s hands may sometimes be raised in rebuke when in our self-focused desires we plead for that which would oppose His will. Amid the misleading sign-posts on our life’s road we are often too prone to prefer the smooth, broad boulevards of carnal security and self-indulgent ease to the pathway of penitent faith, the narrow road of self­denial, of protest against sin, of consecrated devotion to our Savior. In those soul hazards, God’s hand, as contradictory as all this may appear, will be raised in chastisement as He draws us back to the pilgrim’s pathway, the steep, uphill climb through adversity, disappointment, and anxiety, but always, like the Savior’s death march to Calvary, from cross to crown.

With this firm-founded faith we entrust “our times” to divine guardianship. They may be prosperous times or adverse; cloudless days or storm-swept; joy-filled hours or desperate moments of agonized terror; but whether our times are lengthened or shortened, joy-charged or embittered, whether they be a lifetime of earth’s choicest endowments or an existence of pain, suffering, opposition, and reproach, our times—every moment of our divinely ordained space of years—are shaped and sheltered in the hand of our heavenly Father. Above all the confusion of our earth-born existence He whose hand creates the harmonies of the universe will blend the discords of your lives into a symphony of salvation, the prelude to the sacred theme that reechoes throughout the eternities, the everlasting doxology of the ten thousand times ten thousand, the ransomed saints in white. Into His hand, my fellow­redeemed, I commend your bodies and souls. Amen.

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

Date: April 28, 1935

It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law.Psalm 119:126

ON March 5, 1917, the American ambassador to the Court of St. James, hailed as one of America’s most distinguished diplomats, sent a cablegram to the President of the United States pleading for the entrance of this country into the World War. In this communication, which has now been printed in the official documents of our country, he repeatedly appeals for war, chiefly as a commercial and financial blessing, and declares pointedly: “The only way of maintaining our present preeminent trade position and averting a panic is by declaring war.” He proceeds to show that by making large loans the United States could promote its war trade and heap up gold reserves. And he concludes with the promise that, having entered the hostilities, “we could keep on with our trade and increase it . . . and after the war Europe would purchase food and an enormous supply of materials with which to reequip her peace industries. We should thus reap the profit of an uninterrupted and perhaps enlarging trade over a number of years.” Within a month after the receipt of this cablegram our President affixed his signature to the declaration of war; and with these selfish ambitions of a larger gold reserve, of increasing European commerce, and of expanding industry stimulated by postwar buying we sacrificed American youth at the twin altars of Mars and Mammon. Tycoons of American business, potentates of American finance, and Caesars of American politics traded in futures of bigger and better business,—and their coin was blood, and sweat, and scurvy, and starvation, and insanity, and death.

Where, we demand, are the bulging millions of promised national war profits? where that favorable balance of trade? where the postwar prosperity which we sought to purchase by the victory that cost the appalling price of 41,000,000 men, women, and children killed, 23,000,000 wounded, and besides this toll in human lives some $500,000,000,000? You know the answer: Closed banks, bankrupt business, smokeless chimneys towering over shut down factories, millions forced to exist on public grants or private charity,—all these rise up as incriminating witnesses and give the lie to the war promises that lured us with the flourish of the dollar sign.

If we now ask why the plans of statesmen miscarried and why the schemes of financiers were so ruthlessly shattered, we ought to be sufficiently intelligent to recognize the hand of divine intervention, to salvage from the debris of ruined ambitions the one truth which, if it were fully believed and universally accepted, would compensate even for the follies of the last two decades—the basic verity of all history, that, when men nullify the will and Word of God, His power intervenes to check their arrogance and His mercy to strengthen the harassed hopes of His children. Because we and our age need this warning and this strengthening, let me set forth this afternoon

THE INEVITABLE INTERVENTION OF GOD

and show why our prayer today, as in every human crisis, should be that of the psalmist in our text: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law.”

GOD’S POWER INTERVENES TO FRUSTRATE SIN

This blood-for-profit tragedy is only one trend that seeks to make void the Law of God and challenge Him to arise and execute His divine justice. Thus God has laid upon the world the commandment of purity and decency and has emphasized the sanctity of the Christian home and the blessings of the God-fearing family. But in this age of slipping standards siren voices sing lyrics of lust that decry Bible standards as outworn delusions. American sociologists, biologists, psychologists, educators, jurists, legislators, and—may God forgive this particularly heinous sin!—even the liberal pulpits of some American churches have combined to disparage the home-life of wedded happiness, the domestic ideals in the Biblical code of family felicity. They have tempted this generation with the forbidden fruit, paraded as a new morality,—as though morals could ever change!—and with the emancipation which they exalt as the new freedom. Yet when we repeat and apply the words of our text: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law,” Thine ordinance of moral decency and marital honor, we see that God has arisen and visited this age and its morbid pursuit of gratified desire with deep-rooted restlessness and domestic disillusion. Instead of the more satisfying life with which these false prophets tempt the masses, we have, as a consequence of God’s intervention, broken homes, parental neglect, increase of juvenile delinquency, marital infidelity, and in myriads of American families only a ghastly caricature of that happiness for which every normal heart yearns.

We made void another fundamental law of God by the wanton destruction of mountains of edible food. By the example of Christ Himself, who, though He could miraculously provide food, nevertheless commanded that all remaining morsels be gathered, so “that nothing be lost,” as well as by the plain injunction of the Scriptures, we know that food is not to be squandered or wilfully wasted. Yet with more hungry people in our country than ever before, we deliberately destroyed hundreds of thousands of tons of foodstuffs in the most tragic food-destruction program of all history. And because we made God’s Law void, He found that it was time for Him to work, and He did. The sand-storms that swept our country, creating new areas of an American desert, the drought of last year, the preceding floods, and the consequent scourge of vermin again reveal to us the chastising hand of God; and the caution printed on the walls of our national structure warns us that the nation which has destroyed its food may suffer, by divine retaliation, from the privations of crop failure and famine.

Again, we have set aside the Law of God in regard to brotherly love and the harmonious cooperation between producer and consumer, employer and employee. God has given to us His Golden Rule, which asks for mutual cooperative endeavor and appeals that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. But greedy men have made void this Law; instead of harmonious cooperation we have the modem robber-barons in the guise of promoters, who waylay working-men, rob them of hard-earned savings, endanger their health, and shorten their lives; gardenia­garnished capitalists, who wax wealthier as the poor, whose funds they misappropriate, grow poorer; speculators, who defiantly sneer at the Biblical estimate of the nobility of labor and operate with the basically incorrect idea of accumulating wealth without effort or contribution to human society; racketeers and agitators, who systematically sow the seeds of class hatred. These disturbing elements help to account for the tragedy that in a country sufficiently large and wealthy to support comfortably a population three times the present number, a nation whose natural resources are bountiful enough to insure happy and profitable labor for every willing worker, we have had the continual battle of capital and labor with their bloody and hate-swollen skirmishes, the collapse of our stock exchanges, the shrinkage of security value, and the sudden plunges from the pinnacles of wealth to the depth of destitution,—all this because God has arisen to vindicate His outraged justice.

Behind this disregard of God’s Law is the basic fallacy by which men seek to elevate themselves over the Almighty, to make the divine will subordinate to the human, to reduce God at best to only a passive partner in human affairs, and to entrust the direction of the world to man-made ordinances and social programs. This tendency in itself is a far-reaching indictment and incrimination. But what shall we say when we see that the Church, which should form the line of first and last defense, has surrendered its sacred responsibilities of upholding the Word and has systematically made void the ordinances of God by joining hands with political agitators in direct contradiction to its divine character? Only last week, in this city, priests, Rabbis, and ministers sat on the same platform with public officials from Washington and cried out in the words of their leader, “We are in politics now.” (Strange associates, this clerical fringe, the one confessing Christ, the other denying Him; one appearing before a legislative committee in Washington to protest against a birth-control proposal, the other enthusiastically endorsing it; the one citing words of Scripture, the other sneering at Holy Writ.)

This intrusion into politics certainly nullifies the code which God Himself has instituted for the clergy. His divine ordinances completely separate the clerical and political domains; they offer not political platforms, but this announcement of divine mercy: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” It is an old story, this picture of preachers with policemen’s clubs, of priests wielding the scepter, of churchmen grasping the governmental sword. The disregard of divine injunction has endorsed bloody butchery, restricted human development, and retarded the course of human progress. Give the bludgeoning demagoguery of these double-robed agitators, clothed in clerical cassocks and in political togas, free sway, and you will reenact on this American continent the church reign of the dark Middle Ages, the tyranny that sent Servetus to the stake at Geneva, and the blight on human happiness that has marked every attempt to nullify the Law of God.

However, this clerical interference will not be granted free course; and when we pray the prayer of our text: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law,” God will rise up to work again as He has done before when churchmen have left the ministration of men’s souls for the exercise of governmental power. He frustrated the wiles of church politicians in the days of His prophet. Four hundred years ago, in the greatest crisis then known, He broke their power. And today, too, their fusillade will fall wide of its mark.

Can you not see with me, then, that our nation needs a revival of individual trust in the wisdom and love of God together with the stern refusal to make His laws void? Will you not see with me the hand of God barricading many of the boulevards along which men march to achievement, confusing their language as He once did, when they would have raised a pretentious tower as a monument to human greatness instead of establishing the living faith as a testimony of their souls’ gratitude toward God? Will you not resolve to ask God for a heart and life, continually renewed by Christ and by His Spirit, that seeks to conform to the will and wisdom of God?

GOD’S GRACE INTERVENES TO STRENGTHEN OUR WEAKNESS

If you make this resolution in sincerity and truth, then you have the pledge of the priceless and imperishable joy of life; for when we, surrendering to the baser impulses of our human nature and to the temptations of an unclean world, make void the Law of God in our lives; when we find ourselves ensnared in the consequences of our own sins or in the unfairness and folly of some one else’s sin and can discover no avenue of escape and no hope of deliverance, then we can turn to our God in Christ and say: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work.”

No one who has ever fixed his mind’s eye upon the Cross as he has prayed this prayer has ever failed to observe the majestic arising of God and the effectual help of His omnipotence. You may be confronted by the long series of obstacles and afflictions that human iniquity can heap up when it brings mortal endurance almost to the breaking point. You may think you have reached the depths of despair only to awaken for another day that will drag you down to even lower depths. You may look back upon years of suffering and want, sickness and disappointment, and then suddenly realize that you must continue to face these sorrows for the future. Yet when you learn to “cast all your care on Him” and in Jesus’ name to beseech His divine help with the prayer: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work,” then the resources of Heaven will combine to fulfil the Savior’s promised grace: “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.”

If your heart is crushed with the weight of many sorrows, if you wander disconsolately along pathways of bereavement as did the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and meet Christ as they did (and you can still walk with your Savior in the Word and in the Sacraments, in prayer and in faith), then, when you tell God that it is time for Him to work, even the most loathsome pains and penalties of life, the most burdensome weariness, will vanish. Your cold heart will be warmed as you witness the love and the power and the glory of the resurrected Redeemer.

If sin challenges you; if the furies of an aroused conscience drive you on in restless terror; if you are distressed by the begging, teasing, coaxing temptations that would lure you into fleshly pride and spiritual cowardice; if you are dismayed by that too human, unholy nature within you which has sworn eternal hostility to the Spirit of Christ, then look not to yourself or to other human ingenuities and devices, but, trusting in the full mercies of the Savior, taking God at His own word as He promises that in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace,” with one hand on the cross and the other hand on the Bible, with eyes of faith directed to the open heavens, revealing the risen Christ sitting at the right hand of His Father, repeat this prayer: “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work.” And from that hallowed throne of the heavens with its encircling host of ministering angels there will come to you this pledge: “I will work; ‘I will not leave Thee nor forsake Thee.’” Amen.

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

Date: April 21, 1935

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE IMPERISHABLE HOPE OF OUR RESURRECTION

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

THE IMMOVABLE BASIS OF THIS HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MAGNIFICENT GRACE OF THE EASTER HOPE

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

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

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

Date: April 21, 1935

EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE

The angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead: and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him; lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy and did run to bring His disciples word. – Matthew 28:5-8

IT is to commemorate the greatest morning of all history that we are met at this unusual hour. More glory­charged and exultant than the dawn of a nation’s final victory after a night of blood and battle, more penetrating and permanent in its power and blessing than any sunrise upon a new day of national promise, more sacred even than the first daybreaks of creation, is this glorious, triumphant Easter morn, this resurrection dawn, this day of gleaming conquest over death’s cold, clutching grip.

Well do we congregate at this early hour, and well do you, our friends in the far-flung reaches of this radio service, worship with us at the break of day; for Easter is a climax to all human experiences, a day of days. The highest pinnacles of human projects and achievements, when paralleled with the sacred significance of Easter, are as anthills beside Mount Everest. The most ingenious triumphs of human brain and brawn, when compared with the resurrection record, lose their importance and become as pebbles beside Gibraltar or as dewdrops in relation to unplumbed ocean depths.

For if Easter were erased from history, men would be reduced to human machines, controlled by whims of a fitful fate, destined, when run down or worn out, to be discarded on the scrap-heap of failure, the silence of the graveyard. Seal the stone before the rock-hewn grave, and you have sealed the world into unrelievable sorrow. Let Christ remain bound in His shrouds, and all history must be rewritten, with chaos substituted for progress, deceit for honesty, and the dirge of defeat for the ringing anthems of the resurrection victory. Accept Easter in the light of Scriptural truth and promise, greet the resurrected Christ with the sincerity of a faith that exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” and men are exalted as the sons of God, blessed by the merciful bounties of Heaven, and perpetually strengthened by the vision of a life in a new and better homeland beyond the grave.

What better can we do, then, as we would pay to God and to His resurrected Son, our living Savior, these daybreak tributes of our believing hearts than to turn back, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to the first Easter story and to strengthen our hearts and lives by considering

THE GLORIOUS EASTER EVANGEL

To this end let us recreate in our minds the world­moving events of the Savior’s resurrection and then apply the pointed lessons taught by the imperishable Easter exultation: “He is not here; He is risen!”

THE GLORIOUS ASSURANCE OF EASTER

Less than forty hours had elapsed between the Savior’s death on Good Friday afternoon and the first visit of the followers of the Crucified to the rock sepulcher which Joseph of Arimathea, the aristocratic benefactor, had generously provided for the repose of Jesus’ body. Hardly a day and a half had intervened, a few hours more than the Sabbath on which the customary rites for the dead were prohibited. Yet those fleeting hours were the prelude to the most startling changes of all human experience. To short­sighted, skeptical vision this change was not apparent. On that Passover eve a shriek of intense anguish, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” had reechoed over the gloom of Golgotha as the fever-racked frame of a Martyr collapsed in death. When, a few dreary moments later, the sun set upon that day of the crucifixion, three crosses planted on a bare hill were silhouetted against the grayish background of the Palestinian dusk; and the central cross seemed to symbolize the starkest tragedy, the deepest defeat. And when that sun rose again on the morning of the third day, the city of Jerusalem slept on securely; for the crucified Galilean, so their blind bigotry concluded, lay harmless in the grave. On that first morning of the new week even His disciples believed that the clutch of death and decay had once more recorded its gruesome victory.

So it was not with hope-filled hearts that the first followers of the Crucified made their painful pilgrimage to the sealed and guarded tomb in the hush of the early morning watches. They were laden with spices and ointment, for they had come to continue the burial rites that had been interrupted by the intervening Sabbath. They would still serve Christ, albeit a dead Christ.

Now, who were these early morning pilgrims, destined to be the first witnesses of the resurrection glory? Today, when murder trials are covered by an army of publicists, we might expect that the resurrection would be staged before an immense throng of curious spectators. But our ways are not God’s ways. The Easter-message was to be proclaimed, as were so many of God’s mighty dispensations, to a restricted, chosen group; it was announced to three women. Perhaps prophetic of the important role which their spiritual sisters were to assume in the growth of the Church, these women who had lingered to the last under the cross were the first at the grave and the first to hear and proclaim the resurrection message. God give us women of this devotion—mothers and wives, sisters and daughters—who can distinguish the froth of our modern follies from the nobler realities of loyal service to their Savior! God give us true and trusting women for the Church and for the nation, daughters of God with the love of Christ in their hearts and the reverence of God in their lives!

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Salome, the mother of James and John, these three first witnesses of the resurrection, were not daughters of priestly, politically prominent, or socially important families; for this phase of the Easter-story, as incidents in the crucifixion, and indeed the entire Gospel-message were to emphasize the glorious fact that all, rich and poor, man and woman, priest and layman, could approach the holy Christ of God and receive the benediction of His mercy. And while we thank God for the assistance of men of wealth, like Joseph of Arimathea, who acknowledged the dead Savior before Pilate; for the guidance of political leaders like Nicodemus, who was not ashamed to plead for the dead Christ before the Roman governor; for the confession of prominent officials, like that of the centurion who, in the shadow of the cross, found in the Crucified the Son of the eternal God, we particularly raise our grateful hearts to Him in acknowledging the grace that made His mercy wide enough for the common folk; comprehensive enough for three socially insignificant, middle-class women of Jerusalem; condescending enough to receive the thief on the cross. Sweeping aside all the barriers which men persistently raise in the attempt to herd their fellow-men together according to standards of race or color, position or authority, wealth and influence, cultural and intellectual attainments, this universal appeal of God’s grace in the crucified, but resurrected Savior comes to all the children of men without respect of person, but with the same common promise of blessedness forever.

Yet the burial rites, so carefully planned by these devout women, were not to be performed. When the three pilgrims arrived at the grave, the Easter miracle had occurred. The earth had been shaken by vibrant tremors; the seal which Christ’s anxious enemies had carefully placed on the grave was broken; and the immense stone which had caused the women distressing concern had been rolled away from the door of the tomb. There sat an angel of the Lord, his countenance like lightning, his raiment white as the snow; a heavenly messenger, altogether so august and awe inspiring that we are told “for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men.” Before the women could overcome their fright and amazement at the sight of this celestial herald, they were even more startled by his announcement, the first in all history, of the Savior’s resurrection: “Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

“He is not here; He is risen,” these words leave no room for any of the many substitute theories that would deny the resurrection of Christ or explain away the very heart of this miracle of miracles. It was no vision of hallucinated women, this triumphant rising of Christ from the bonds of the grave. It was no fraud, as the chagrined churchmen of that day insisted in their endeavor to laugh off the resurrection and spread abroad the lie that the disciples had stolen the body. It was no instance of suspended animation, apparent death, or premature burial. All these and other protesting theories are shattered by the divinely inspired record that the Christ who commended His soul into His Father’s hands as He died on Good Friday was resurrected on Easter and lives and reigns unto all eternity, lives and reigns with the power which inspires His followers to exult this morning:—

I know that my Redeemer lives.

What comfort this sweet sentence gives!

He lives, He lives, who once was dead;

He lives, my ever-living Head.

By the truth which the resurrection-message brought to those women and conveys to us today the open grave becomes the symbol of the open heaven. It proves the deity of our royal Redeemer, Jesus, the Christ. It places the seal of Heaven’s approval and acceptance upon His entire self-giving. It demonstrates His power over death and justifies His challenge: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” It offers the deep pledge of the risen Lord Himself: “Because I live, ye shall live also,” and triumphantly promises that, though this marred and imperfect body of ours must return to the dust from which it was taken, though the skeletal hand of death will reach out to snatch us away from the land of the living, though you and I are destined to corruption and decay, we know that through Christ death is but the passage from the gloom of sin to the radiance of eternity. We hear Christ’s comforting message: “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life”; and: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you”; and at the open grave the full truth dawns upon our souls that Easter, above all question or quibble, means defeated death, resurrected life, and the glories of eternity to all who accept this imperishable hope of their risen Savior.

THE GLORIOUS RESPONSIBILITIES IMPOSED BY EASTER

Need I remind you, then, that Easter is too high and holy to pass by our hearts and lives without leaving its sacred and indelible imprint? The resurrection-message mightily affected those first witnesses; for the startling truth that the Christ for whom they would perform the burial rites had suddenly disappeared from the confines of His tomb filled them with supreme awe, and they left the sepulcher with the deepest reverence their lives had ever known.

Would to God that there were more of this reverence in our modem contemplation of Easter! Too often we have made it a devitalized, innocuous day for children with rabbits and chicks and gamboling lambs. Tradesmen rub gleeful hands as they review the seasonal increase in the sales of millinery and other apparel. Poetic souls rhapsodize on vernal beauties. While there is room for all this in the proper spirit and proportion, yet when Easter is interpreted solely in terms material or reduced to a nature festival, it becomes a paganized holiday. Give us—and this is the appeal of the Church—a reverent Easter!

The early visitors at the empty tomb also found a new happiness. St. Matthew records that they were animated with “great joy.” The unexpected restoration of their Savior and the fulfilment of His promises banished their somber sorrows, and their hearts leaped in exultation. Today, in this decade of disillusion, we frantically grope for the joy of life; but with much sadness and sorrow on every hand, with cherished hopes crushed and high ambitions thwarted, grimly skeptical men and women are facing the question-mark of the future, almost ready to resign themselves to the pessimism of defeat. If only they would not blind themselves to the joy-filled blessings with which Easter can endow their souls and lives! For here, at the unsealed sepulcher, is the end of humanity’s search for abiding happiness. Here is the joy of forgiven sin, the gladness that comes through the strengthening companionship of a living Savior and His purifying Spirit. Here is the answer to every unsympathetic turn of life, the solution to our most grievous problems—the simple, but profound faith which teaches us that through Christ’s resurrection there is, in the next world, a compensation for earthly sorrows and that “the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Here, finally, is the joy that triumphs over the blight and paralysis of death, that soothes our torn hearts when we stand beside the earthly remains of a loved one, with the conviction that those who die in the Lord will live forever in the blessed reunion of eternity.

Because of all this, Easter was the most joyous festival that the early Church knew; and as we remind ourselves that the gift of this resurrection joy is the free gift of Heaven’s grace,—no payment of our virtues, no reward of our good deeds, no honor for our accomplishments,—simply the undeserved and unmerited mercies of the resurrected Lord,—may the dawn of this Easter bring the daybreak of salvation into all the hearts toward which the Spirit now speeds these words!

For those of us who know and with all our hearts believe and trust the Easter joy our text brings a sacred privilege and obligation. These daybreak witnesses were not to conceal this epochal announcement of the resurrection. Emphatically the angel tells them: “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him.” And hardly had this missionary command been issued, when we read: “They departed quickly from the sepulcher . . . and did run to bring His disciples word.”

The call of this disturbed hour is the appeal for twentieth-century disciples, young and old, who with the haste that this high message requires will bring to others the truth and joy of the Easter-message. How unhappy, by contrast with the eagerness of the three women, is the lethargy and indifference of Christians who perhaps in an entire lifetime have never told perishing souls that the Christ who died for their salvation rose again for their victory! If only this Easter would awaken within hitherto apathetic hearts the desire to speak the resurrection-message into the very souls of some of our country’s misguided millions! If only by the indwelling of the Spirit this Easter would stimulate that heroic type of Christianity which cannot refrain from speaking of Christ, from pleading with men to repent and through Christ to return to their heavenly Father! If only this Easter would mark the turning-point, after these years of restricted activities in the Church’s forward march, for the extension of the kingdom of Christ here on earth!

It will take courage to tell men of their Savior, and there will be rebuffs and disappointments; but just as these women hurrying away from the empty grave on that first missionary journey met Christ on the way, so you who today pledge yourselves to become witnesses unto Him will meet Christ on the paths of your duty. He will come to you, and you will feel His presence in the realism of this Easter faith. He will direct you. He will strengthen you. He will be with you alway, even unto your end on this earth, the finale of life, which, because of the Easter glory, is but the prelude to an exalted eternity.

All this is pledged to you by this promise of the risen Christ: “Where I am, there shall also My servant be.” God grant that you may receive this blessing with believing hearts, translate it into a sanctified life, and preserve it unto the victorious eternity of Christ’s ransomed saints! Amen.

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

Date: April 19, 1935

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.Luke 23:34

As we page through the life stories of distinguished leaders in human affairs, we may well pause to study their last utterances. These valedictories to life reveal that the great have not always died great. How often in broken words, whispered by faltering, death-marked lips, have men gasped their craving to inflict cruel suffering, or, driven by hate-swollen revenge, shrieked for blood in their last breaths!

There was Herod, calculating murderer, who decreed that most brutal of all slaughters, the massacre of the innocent babes at Bethlehem. When he lay in his death­struggle and knew that at the end of his despotic reign wild rejoicing would rock the kingdom, he was determined to have his funeral marked with dirge and lament. So in the last moments of his waning strength he sought to wreak his fury upon his enemies by decreeing that they be locked in the arena of Jericho and killed immediately after his death.

When Harun-al-Raschid, calif of a magnificent empire, came down haggard and groaning on his death-bed, a rebel general was dragged before him. Marshaling his drooping energies, this leader of the Mohammedan world shrieked: “Dog! May Allah curse you! If I had only breath for two words, I would say, ‘Kill him!’ May Allah bear me witness that I vow that you shall perish, suffering as no one ever has before!” Within an hour not the official executioner, but the royal butcher was summoned into the death-chamber; and as the dying Harun-al-Raschid looked on in sadistic delight, the captive general was cut to pieces alive, the flesh stripped from the bones of his body.

Now, these songs of dying hatred are not restricted to ancient history, when royal fiends commanded that vanquished enemies be thrown on their funeral pyres. We witness the same spectacles of death-bed depravity in the world that surrounds us. Here is a criminal, led to the gallows, who leaves as his last legacy a string of blood­curdling curses upon mankind in general and upon his captors and executioners in particular. Here is a father breathing his last, but rallying long enough to disinherit an estranged son or to refuse a distant daughter the privilege of kneeling at his bedside. Here are the harrowing death scenes in which desperate atheists and infidels leap into the night of eternity with the thunder of hell upon their lips.

But this noon, as we commemorate the darkest day of all history, we are to recall the benediction of a dying Martyr. We are to hear a prayer uttered in the agony of a tortured soul and a racked body, that has pronounced its blessing upon multiplied millions. We are to stand in spirit on Calvary’s brow and hear our own divine and perfect High Priest breathe His dying prayer for our pardon.

THE GOOD FRIDAY APPEAL

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

AN APPEAL OF HEAVEN-WIDE MERCY

This prayer of the dying Christ seems to have been the first of the seven sacred utterances from the cross. As the nails of death crushed through the hands that had been raised in heavenly benediction and lacerated the feet that had led the Savior on holy errands of mercy; as the morbid spectators mingled their cries of derision with the profanity of the Roman executioners and the stinging rebukes of the Jewish churchmen, Christ’s pleading petition, hardly audible above the din and turmoil of the crucifixion, penetrated to the tribunal of heaven and pleaded for forgiveness, not for Himself, but for His enemies.

Others in the throes of death have implored Heaven’s mercy upon themselves and have rightly prayed: “Father, forgive me!” Charles IX, the craven king, who presided over the dripping shambles on St. Bartholomew’s Night, when thousands of his subjects were cut down in a bloody religious massacre, shrieked in frenzied horror as he faced eternity: “What blood, what murders, what evil counsels, have I followed! O my God, pardon me and have mercy on me if Thou canst!” But Christ’s plea is not: “Father, forgive Me,” but, “Father, forgive them”; and that prayer comes from the soul of one whose entire life was an uninterrupted demonstration of perfect holiness, whose absolute sinlessness could not be discredited even by the perjury of malicious conspirators. And with death approaching, He prays not for Himself, not even for His friends, but—wonder of wonders—for His enemies!

We pay our homage to those who have sunk into the eternal slumber with a final word of love and blessing for their fellow-men. We are thrilled by the lingering love shown in the last moments of life by missionaries who plead with fervent entreaty for their converts, by parents who rally their ebbing strength for a last benediction upon their children, by the nation’s dying heroes whose last words have invoked blessings upon their homeland. But here on the cross the eyes of faith behold the Lord of creation, the incarnate God, the Redeemer of the race, the Holy One, whose every purpose was the purest, whose service to weak, short-sighted sinful men was always unreserved self-giving, whose thoughts were deliberate purposes of grace, whose words were comfort-laden messages of truth, and whose deeds were the divine proof of Heaven’s unquenchable love; and in the travail of that sorrow unto death He thinks in this first word not of Himself, not of the tearing, festering, burning wounds, not of His bleeding back, His bruised face, His thorn-crowned head; not of the mockery, the scorn, the cutting taunts, of snarling hatred. He forgets even His abysmal God-forsakenness and the overpowering weight of humanity’s sins that crush Him into the blackest death. Pushing all the base, earth-shaking ingratitude aside, the Son of God, in this exhibition of His divine love, prays—for His enemies!

What an overpowering demonstration there is in all this of that sublime truth which Jesus had given to the world as His new ordinance: “Love your enemies!” Other religious leaders have preached sword and fire and cruel death to those who dared oppose their selfish programs. Even the disciple whom Jesus loved was so obsessed by an ingrained aversion to the unbelieving Samaritans that he ran to Christ and urged Him to invoke burning destruction from the clouds upon those recalcitrant half-breeds. Our own spiritual emotions are often warped by bigotry, surcharged with personal hatred, blinded by carnal bias. But it is Christ, and He alone, who rises over the sordid selfishness of passion-bound men to declare: “Pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” And to show us that He practised what He preached, that He Himself maintained the high ideals that He demands of us, our Savior not only taught this love, not only lived this love,—He died this love!

Think of the wide, all-embracing reach of His dying compassion. His intimate pleading to the Lord of heaven “Father, forgive them” embraces the Roman legionnaires who had just driven the nails of death through His quivering flesh, these worldly-wise, calloused, judicial murderers. His beseeching “Father, forgive them” includes the vacillating populace of Jerusalem that overnight almost had changed the loud acclaim of its hosannas into the venomous “Crucify Him!” His heaven-moving “Father, forgive them” is uttered in behalf of the false witnesses, the fanatical zealots among the Pharisees, the jealous high priests, the proud, self-esteemed Sanhedrin, coarse-minded, unprincipled Pilate. All who raised a blaspheming voice or lifted a murderous hand against the Christ of God are comprehended in this unlimited, unrestricted, unqualified plea for pardon: “Father, forgive them.”

Yet not these alone. In His boundless love Christ’s mercy extends to all the race, steeped as it is in the rankling hatred of everything holy. Never has history known an amnesty so universal in its forgiving power; never a treaty of peace which, like this, has included all the nations of the earth; never a pledge of pardon spoken upon a doomed soul that is so universally applicable to all the children of men as this plea of our dying Savior for a hostile world. Hurdling the barriers that segregate men into conflicting racial groups, breaking down the walls that separate clashing nationalities, Christ’s prayer would gather all of humanity throughout all history under its benediction. Men may be destitute of wealth; they may be underprivileged in respect to the opportunities of life; they may lack mental brilliance and be deprived of health; they may even be obliged to surrender the liberty and the pursuit of happiness which the Declaration of Independence regards as among the certain and inalienable rights with which all men are endowed; but because “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” this holy pleading of a dying Savior enfolds all generations of all men in its everlasting, world-encircling “Father, for­ give them.”

Remember, this dying plea for forgiveness is not prompted by any sorrow or penitence on the part of Christ’s enemies; it is not an answer to prayers from contrite hearts; it is no pardon spoken in anticipation of later repentance; it is purely Heaven’s deepest, highest, widest mercy, imploring forgiveness for the most heinous sin of all times. No conditions are attached to this plea. The dying Savior does not ask: “Forgive them if they perform these rites, speak these ritual words, earn these prescribed merits.” In the grandeur of His heavenly love He demands no qualifications, insists upon no prerequisites, but pleads the unconditioned petition, “Father, forgive them.”

Nor should we overlook the wealth of solace in this motive of mercy: “For they know not what they do.” It is an evident doctrine of the Scriptures that those who sin in ignorance shall receive less punishment than those who wilfully rebel against better knowledge. Jesus Himself declares: “That servant which knew his Lord’s will and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not and did commit things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes.” Again, reflecting on the tragic fact that the citizens of Galilean cities had rejected His overtures of grace although they were privileged to see His miracles and hear His words, He cried out: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the Judgment than for you.” Thus does God temper justice. But in this word from the cross Jesus goes even farther. He pleads not for a less severe punishment because of their ignorance, but He directly asks God to forgive them this transgression, the most heinous sin of all history. Now, we have no Scriptural authority which entitles us to generalize and to declare that sins committed unawares are exempt from retributive judgment; for our transgressions are pardoned and our sins removed, whether they be done in ignorance or against better instruction, only when our eternal High Priest fulfils Isaiah’s prophetic promise and stands before the bar of justice to make “intercession for the transgressors.” Yet this we do know, that here on Calvary, the focal point of human hopes, Christ adds mercy to mercy and not only raises His voice in behalf of His murderers, He even bases that petition on their ignorance. Others may insist upon the letter of the law or demand the sixteen ounces of their pound of flesh, but these words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” are the halo of Heaven’s mercy in its highest, fullest radiance.

Here, then, is the very heart and center of the Good Friday message. In the pain of this crucifixion, more agonizing than the worst that disease, accident, murder, persecution, war, oppression, in their totality have inflicted upon men, in the death Christ died for all mankind, we have not merely a touching symbol of self-sacrificing love, not only an exalted example of loyalty to high ideals, not simply a magnificent picture of unswerving devotion to a high-souled principle. Pushing these wilful evasions aside, the appeal of the Savior’s day of death would penetrate into our hearts and souls with the seal and assurance of the Scriptural promises that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself”; that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; that “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities”; so that, when Christ cried, “It is finished,” the price for the redemption of our souls and the ransom for sin had been paid and our title to the heavenly mansions sealed forever.

AN APPEAL FOR THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST’S COMPASSION

Need I remind you, then, that this day of all days is the time for repentance, for heart-deep sorrow over our sins; that Good Friday calls for a spiritual inventory, in which, as we prostrate ourselves before the holy God, recognizing the appalling guilt of the sins that drove Christ to Calvary, we ask ourselves whether in the hurry and worry of life as we live it today our faith in Christ is a quickening power within us; whether we love the Crucified with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our might?

There is no more striking evidence of our devotion to Him who loved us first than this, that we apply the spirit of His “Father, forgive them” in the smaller issues of our own lives. Dying Stephen, his body bruised and broken under the impact of the jagged rocks, caught the vision of the opened heaven, with the Son of God sitting at the right hand of the Father, and remembering this plea of his dying Savior, his bleeding lips petitioned God: “Lay not this sin to their charge.” Paul found this conciliatory spirit, and although tracked and persecuted as few men have ever been, he wrote to the Roman Christians: “Bless them which persecute you; bless and curse not. . . . If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.” Now, I ask you as we pause this noon in the shadow of the cross, have we followed the example of the dying Savior? Have we kept close to the path that apostolic love has blazed for us? Distorted ideals brand this sacred duty of forgiveness and reconciliation as an impracticable delusion, a sign of effeminate weakness. The youth of the land finds its model in the fast-riding, swift-shooting hero, implacable in his sworn desire for revenge. Hysterical mobs take the law into their own hands and find satisfaction in lynching; paid propaganda enflames national and racial hatred to white heat; nations that should work together in cooperative harmony and achievement are split apart by artificially stimulated prejudices.

We might be inclined to repeat the Savior’s prayer for forgiveness on the basis of ignorance when we see a blind world that knows not Christ heedlessly following its own passion for revenge. But what can we say of ourselves, we to whom much has been given and of whom much will therefore be required, we who know Christ and have heard His intercession for sinners? Let us reflect for a moment in the hush of Good Friday and ask ourselves whether we have forgiven those who have offended us the “seventy times seven times” the Savior requires. It is one of the most depressing spectacles in all Christian experience to behold a church-member who prays “Forgive us our trespasses,” yet refuses to translate the “as we forgive those who trespass against us” into a life of peace and conciliation. Think of Christian congregations that are split into feudal factions; members of these churches who worship the same Lord of powerful forgiveness, who profess the same faith, and who are guided by the same hope, yet who live in pagan animosity. Above all, let us not overlook our own easily injured pride and our chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, our absurd and unchristian protestation that we are ready to forgive, but that we cannot forget.

It is not a pretty picture, this survey of human passions, and when compared with the holy example of our dying Savior, it is a vile and ugly portrayal of sin, raw and naked. As we prepare our hearts for the dawn of Easter joy and for the reception of the risen King, let us be strengthened by the realization that the plea from the cross, “Father, forgive them” was spoken for us. Let us implore the impulses and the strength of the Holy Spirit for a better, a richer, a holier life through our Savior. And as the dying thief, hearing this prayer, asked that he be remembered when the victorious Christ had entered His heavenly paradise, so let us beseech Christ for forgiveness and be strengthened by the Savior’s inviolable pledge: “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” With the example and power of that grace let us even unto our last hour live and then die with this prayer for the forces of our hostile, antagonizing world, “Father, forgive them!” God grant it for the crucified Savior’s sake. Amen.

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

Date: April 14, 1935

He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He bath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.Isaiah 53:3-4

ON Palm Sunday the Judean capital threw wide its gates to receive a King; on Good Friday it demanded the warrant which would sentence that King to death. On the first day of that most eventful of all weeks broad palm-branches were waved before the Prince of Peace in spectacular public demonstration; five days later a reed scepter was forced into His hands in sarcastic ridicule and rejection. “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!” is the ringing acclaim that reechoes through the streets of Jerusalem when Christ holds His triumphal entry; “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” is the hoarse scream that drives Him out to the felon’s cross. In a short-lived moment of fervent applause, multitudes strew their clothing as a carpet along the processional highway; a few days pass, and soldiers gamble for the garments of the Crucified. First greeted with warm plaudits, He is a popular idol; and then, as the scene swiftly changes, He is nailed to the cross as a maligned Galilean Captive. When one Sabbath closes, Jesus of Nazareth is saluted as the Man of the hour; before another Sabbath breaks, His bruised and beaten body has been borne to the grave.

In these startling contrasts we have the synopsis of the world-moving events of Holy Week, which we begin to commemorate today. As we ask God for cleansed and enlightened hearts with which worthily to approach the most sacred scene in all history, the center of all mortal hopes and aspirations, Calvary, with its cross as a memorial to heaven’s highest love and earth’s deepest sorrow, let us study—

THE REJECTED, BUT REDEEMING CHRIST

on the basis of this immortal, prophetic foregleam of Isaiah: “He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”

“REJECTED OF MEN”

Never was there a hatred as wide and as inclusive as that blinded fury which cried: “His blood be on us and on our children.” You can search through the sordid pages of criminology, and in these darkest chapters of human depravity you will find fiendish perverts, vicious monsters, satanic degenerates; but none of these has ever felt the intense and irreconcilable enmity that built the cross on Calvary. A flint-hearted gangster institutes a reign of terror throughout the land; yet when justice demands its payment, an element of warped public opinion always champions the cause of the killer. A racketeer is riddled by a shower of machine-gun lead; and the funeral pomp often exceeds the tributes of gratitude which a nation extends to its best-beloved public servants. Socially prominent murderers engage attorneys to frustrate the demands of the law, and morbid sympathizers pout in protest when a coddled criminal, the idol of hysterical women, finally pays his penalty. There is sympathy for every outlaw and every outcast; but Christ, with the few exceptions of his faithful followers, was “despised and rejected of men,” all men—his fellow-countrymen, the churchmen, the statesmen, the business men, the tradesmen, the intellectual leaders, and the populace at large.

Never has there been a hatred so ingrained and passionate. At the very mention of Christ’s holy name, the name at which all knees should bow “of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth,” men fall into paroxysms of rage; they spit; they clench their fists; they gnash their teeth; their eyes snap; their countenances flush purple. So hard and relentless is this abhorrence that men have not been satisfied with blaspheming the Christ of God by the vilest uttterances of foul-mouthed profanity, but have also extended their rage to those who have taken up His cross and followed Him in faith. Because they were Christ’s, Christian martyrs were thrown to the lions; they became human fagots to light up the carousal of imperial fiends; they were doomed to slow death as galley-slaves. Because they were Christ’s, His messengers and witnesses were burned at the stake before proud ecclesiastical tribunals; 80,000 were massacred within a single night; and the first Protestants in America were murdered on the Florida coast. Because they were the disciples of this despised and rejected Redeemer, brave bands of witnesses, faithful unto death, have within these last few years faced Soviet firing squads.

For in all history no malice has so perpetuated itself in such unbroken fanaticism as this rankling bitterness toward Christ. Human prejudices may vanish. The enmity that two decades ago threw the world into the chaos of bloody war has waned. The hostility that two generations ago made this nation a house divided against itself has subsided. But despite lofty protests and claims to the contrary, the Christ who lived almost two thousand years ago is still the Sufferer whom Isaiah envisioned in our text as “despised, and we esteemed Him not.” We call ours a Christian nation; but how can this be true when far more than half the inhabitants of the land refuse to accept Christ? We print on our American coins “In God we trust”; but how can we trust in God when we deny Him who says: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me,” and when, instead of relying upon the sacred pledges of our Savior, we put our trust in the fleeting foibles and frailties of our own invention? We count the spires that rise above our cities and congratulate ourselves upon having more churches than any other nation on earth; but the hand of the Almighty has written the ominous ICHABOD, “The glory has departed,” on the walls of many of these pretentious temples, in which modern Pharisees and twentieth-century Sadducees have eliminated the true Christ of God.

Let there be no misunderstanding of this deeply tragic verity. Our American commonwealth, which owes to the Triune God more than any other people on the face of the earth, is too often arrayed against Christ. His Word and His counsel are ignored and contradicted in the circles of our Government and in the maze of the many frail, futile, fleeting projects upon which politicians would pin our hopes. He is rejected, His cross is pulled down, and His Gospel is polluted by the poison of infidelity in churches that should form walls of mighty resistance, but that are only tissue-paper barricades. He is rejected in our American daily life, where the penetrating scream of the police siren drowns out the peal of church-bells; where Sunday evenings find churches closed or services at best attended only by a handful of the faithful, while long queues form before motion-picture box offices and the night clubs with their dim lights and seductive music are crowded to capacity. Christ is repeatedly rejected and His high­souled principles spurned in American industry by that everlasting grapple of selfishness between capitalist and laboring men; in the realm of American finances, where fraud and deceit still run their confident courses; in American homes that are too crowded with personal and preoccupied pursuits to hear Him who says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”; in American education, where His sacred teachings are ignored or wilfully opposed and millions of our youth find themselves farther away from God and Christ than in any previous generation.

With all this rejection of the Holy One of God, do we wonder why the dust-freighted winds are carrying away the rich top soil of our Western plains? why we seem farther from the solution of the most pivotal problems than we were five years ago? why the specters of poverty and even more ominous shadows persist in looming up on the international horizon of tomorrow? All this and the hundred other ills which have laid the nation low as well as the disillusionment and disaster in our lives must, in the final analysis, be attributed to the folly of stolidly casting the boundless mercies of Christ’s blood into discard, of rejecting the invitation of the Cross, and of turning our backs upon the pleading and entreaty of His nail-scarred hands.

You see, then, as you apply these truths to yourselves, that the all-absorbing endeavor of every human soul must be directed toward the avoidance of the fatal sin of rejecting Christ. There are scores of issues in our everyday lives in which our personal attitudes are of no consequence. Millions in the nation endorse certain governmental policies, and other millions disapprove of them; but in both instances the spiritual verities of life remain unchanged. We may think what we will of leading characters in the drama of life without having our conviction influence our eternal destinies. But just as soon as you read these words of our text: “Surely He,” the despised and rejected, “hath borne our grief and carried our sorrows,” you are placed before the alternative of accepting or rejecting Him; you are confronted with the greatest decision of your life. Once we have seen Christ and heard the Lenten message, Heaven’s mystery of love that it is, that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; once we have raised our eyes upward to the atoning Savior, pierced through by the nails of death that suspended Him on a criminal’s cross; once we have found in Him the sin-conquering Son of God, crushed into that never-to-be-measured death by the sins of all centuries of human history, we are inevitably and individually confronted by this question of questions: “What shall I do, then, with Jesus?” Ten thousand casual questions may mean nothing to us, and another ten thousand may be passed with a shrug of the shoulder, without having our destiny and happiness affected; but here, in your attitude toward Christ, is the supreme issue of all human existence, which involves our happiness here and hereafter.

It is sad enough when men rise up against their fellow-men; but who can count the consequences of the folly and ingratitude of rising up against God? And this Christ, the suffering Servant of Isaiah’s Gospel beyond our poor powers to understand and to explain, is very God of very God, the eternal Son of the everlasting Father. It is tragic enough when wilful and selfish men turn against their human benefactors and repudiate those who have signally blessed them; yet it is indescribably more calamitous to push Him out of our lives who “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows,”—and Christ performed just that superhuman task. He took upon Himself the griefs and sorrows of all history, of all races, of all individuals; in His own holy body He bore the vast and limitless sin and perversity that cause all the heartaches and the soul sorrows of our day, which separate us from God and exclude us from the blessings of His heaven.

We rear imposing monuments to those who have earned the trophies of victory on bloody battle-fields; but by the sweat of Gethsemane and the gore of Calvary our Savior triumphed over the legions of hell for you and for me in the most stubbornly contested struggle of all ages. We have a Hall of Fame in which we enshrine the memory of those whose lives have helped to elevate and ennoble humanity; but the marvels of architectural genius and the resources of human construction halt in their own insufficiency when challenged to build a memorial to the Savior, who by living and dying for us has made life so eminently worth living and death worth dying for Him. We mark with commemorative shafts historic spots where great leaders have fallen in the paths of service to their fellow­men; but we no longer know the site of His crucifixion, and the place of His burial has been covered by the obliterating hand of time. And how can we design a monument of thanksgiving to Him who gave all for us, His own holy Self, His own stainless life, His own cleansing blood in that sorrow of sorrows, the deepest and darkest of all agonies, that death of deaths on the cross,—and gave all this out of His immeasurable love, His limitless grace?

The appeal of this solemn week asks us to make our hearts and lives living, breathing monuments to the radiance of Christ’s love for us. As we once more stand on the threshold of these seven solemn days, ready to pull aside the curtain that reveals the inner sanctuary of all history’s holy of holies, the altar where humanity’s High Priest offered Himself as the eternal and ever-valid Sacrifice, I appeal in the name of the Crucified to those who have hardened themselves against the repeated invitations of mercy and ask them: “Is it nothing to you,” this love of your sin- and sorrow-bearing Savior? “Is it nothing to you,” this soul­breaking agony, this abysmal God-forsakenness? If you have never been moved to repentance and faith, then may God in His infinite love make you behold your sins and your Savior in the light of Calvary, so that this week may truly be a holy week for you, and the beginning of the most penetrating and permanent happiness that you can ever know.

I appeal to you who like the Judean multitudes have lost your love and allegiance to Christ, who have forgotten your vows of loyalty, spurned the advice and prayers of God-fearing parents, and, in effect, turned the “hosannas” of your youth into the “Crucify Him” of your more mature years. In the name of the Redeemer again I ask you to return to Him, your heavenly Advocate, who intercedes for you and all the unfaithful with this dying appeal before Heaven’s tribunal: “Father, forgive them.”

I appeal finally to you who have walked hand in hand with the Savior through the trials and temptations of life and who have found in His unfailing companionship strength, guidance, and the joy of life; and I ask in His hallowed name that you continue to worship Him “in spirit and in truth,” singing unto eternity, in strains of unchanging loyalty, “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

Father above, grant us this penitent faith, this return to Thee, this abiding loyalty, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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

Date: April 7, 1935

The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the Law knew Me not: the pastors also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that do not profit. Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, and with your children’s children will I plead.Jeremiah 2:8-9

A FEW short years ago in St. Louis the moaning whistle of a tornado sounded its alarm. Within a flash great squares of our city lay in terrifying ruins of splintered wreckage, twisted steel, uprooted trees—a hideous picture of death and destruction. But with an indomitable will our city cleared away the wreckage and undertook an extensive program of rebuilding, and today one seeks almost in vain for traces of that harrowing disaster.—In the Civil War, when Sherman pushed his way from Atlanta to the seaboard, his marching columns burned villages, destroyed crops, cut down orchards, and altogether blazed a trail of ruin sixty miles wide, which, it seemed, would leave an ineffaceable scar. But today, as you survey that fair Southland, you see that the hand of time has dealt soothingly and that the wounds of the war-torn areas have been healed by the benediction of peace.—After the Thirty Years’ War the exhausted European nations lay prostrate. In Bohemia, where compatriots of John Huss arose to defend the cause for which he had been burned at the stake, of over 35,000 villages hardly 6,000 remained; and in Germany the toll of that religious butchery was so terrible that in some sections the population was diminished by two-thirds. Yet those nations tied up their wounds, set their faces to the task of reconstruction, and ultimately recovered.

You can see from all this that a city, a state, a nation, or a group of nations can emerge from any catastrophe which destroys only external power; they can convalesce from epidemics; they can rise, Phoenixlike, from ashes; they can regain their stability after earthquakes. But there is one catastrophe which is final and irremedial, and that is the neglect or the choking off of true Christian faith and the rejection of God’s Christ—particularly through the apostasy of the spiritual leaders and the degeneracy of the clergy. Wherever proud churchmen wilfully spurn the grace of the almighty God in Christ; wherever the clergy, self-absorbed and self-sufficient, turns away from the Cross, there history inevitably records the reverberating rumble of God’s dynamite as proud national structures totter into irreparable ruin.

Because we in our country must hearken to this repetitious warning of wide human experience, let me discuss with you this afternoon under the guidance of the Spirit of God

THE FATAL FOLLIES IN MODERN CHURCH-LIFE

This discussion is suggested by the words of our text, recording as they do in summary the cause of Israel’s national decline and tragic end.

GOD’S WARNING AGAINST CLERICAL FOLLIES

Why was it that Israel, blessed as no nation since the beginning of the world, could fall victim to swift destruction and be exiled from its homeland? God answers in the words preceding our text: “I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but . . . ye defiled My land.” And if we ask how the land was defiled, the words which I read to you declare: “The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the Law knew Me not; the pastors also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that do not profit.” A misguided and materially minded priesthood was responsible for Israel’s collapse, a clergy that forgot its spiritual duty and drifted over into crass, worldly scheming, that thought more of foreign alliances than of Jehovah’s help, more of political plots than of the sovereign will and mercy of the Almighty.

Today, in this crisis of tremendous proportions, one of the master menaces to American happiness is that growing company of spiritual leaders who, as the priests and prophets and ministers in Jeremiah’s day, ask not, “Where is the Lord?” but, “How about the World Court?” “Where can we find a new monetary program?” “Shall we place colored citizens on the jury lists of our Southern States?” and similar questions, which seem to involve almost all topics except those that pertain to God. We shudder when we picture Nero fiddling while his capital burned to the ground; we shake our heads at the unconcern of Marie Antoinette, who, when confronted by the famished mobs that had stormed out to the Tuileries, suggested that, if the Parisians had no bread, they could eat cake. But all this is a mere gesture of indifference when compared with the unconcern toward the spiritual needs of our nation as demonstrated by uncounted clerics. We have almost 250,000 churches in this country, more than any other nation ever had; yet God alone, whose Spirit drove St. John to write his letters of warning to the seven congregations of Asia Minor, knows how sorely modern American Christianity needs the rebuke of stern disapproval for the seven follies of present-day church-life and the adamant indifference to the fundamental work of the Church, that of saving souls.

Here we have, first of all, the political Church, which asks not, “Where is the Lord?” but, “Where is power?” which attempts to constitute itself a bloc in American governmental affairs; which rides ruthlessly over the Savior’s pronouncement “My kingdom is not of this world”; which surrenders the Scriptural constitutional principle of the separation of Church and State; which tries to mold the influences of American legislators by professional lobbyism; which foists upon the free and sovereign people of our nation a program of selfish and sectarian ambitions; which not only pleads for a platform of purely secular issues, but also systematically organizes a bloc of millions of American votes in the name of religion and rewards financial support with religious medals. To all of those who today would perpetuate on the shores of this tolerant nation the spirit of the Inquisition, the brutality of St. Bartholomew’s Night, the ruthless rule and rote of Puritanism, the conception of a Christian nation established by legislative and judicial force,—to all these the Savior declares: “Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

Then there is the social Church and the preacher who in effect maintains that the Church’s field of first duty is not to bring men into the presence of a merciful God, hut to solve race relations, to fight against industrialism and capitalism, to investigate coal-mines, to picket steel strikes, and in general to present a panacea for the evils of the day by social reform in its varied ramifications, by working for the body instead of for the soul, for the here rather than the hereafter; preachers who have the glitter, but lack the gold, who are more concerned about minimum wages than about the wages of sin, more interested in industrial codes than in the Christian’s code. To all such the Savior, who first forgives sins and then removes the consequences of sin, who first purifies the heart and then the life, raises His voice in reproach and says: “Cleanse first that which is within the cup.”

Again, we have the Church with a financial complex, whose clerics make the end justify the means, who institute raffles and roulette wheels and resort even to the most patent violations of the law of the land. They are the real money-changers in the temples of today, these prophets who have “walked after things that do not profit,” who wheedle unwilling contributions from unbelievers and coerce the indifferent into giving grudging support to the cause of Christ. To them the Savior, who made a scourge of small ropes and lashed the Temple merchants of His day, repeats those words of holy indignation: “Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.”

Then there is the sensational Church, which uses the spring-board of lurid publicity and theatrical drivel to hurl itself into public attention; pastors who “transgressed against Me,” the Lord says,—who feature atheists in their services, children in the pulpits, and dogs in the pew; who seek to lure the unwary into their churches by beauty contests, dramatic productions, the baptism of dolls, an endless list of catchy phrases, and an inexhaustible catalog of bizarre attractions. To all those who thus play while people perish, who, instead of going out on the highways and byways, compelling men to come in, invite notorious celebrities to hear soft sermons, the Lord of Truth declares in rebuke: “My house shall be called the house of prayer.”

The fifth folly is found in two extremes of modern worship. On the one hand, we have the epileptic Church, which, disregarding the Scriptural admonition that everything be done “decently and in order,” works in convulsive jerks and fitful gyrations, with ministers who win endurance prizes for preaching the longest sermon in history, acrobatic pulpiteers who froth and kick and scream, pulpit clowns who make their churches ring with boisterous applause or rock with hilarious laughter, while the Prince of Peace looks on in wounded wonder at these prophets, who also walk “after things that do not profit.” And, on the other hand, there is the opposite extreme, which freezes the warmth of vibrant faith under the chill of emphasized ritualism, sweeps aside the sterling simplicity of the Savior’s worship, and lays inordinate stress on the cut and color of clerical robes, the technique and formalism of worship, the ceremonialism that often leaves worshipers groping for an answer to the fundamental question, “Where is the Lord?”

But equally calamitous is the inactive Church, the smugly self-sufficient, socially secure Church, which takes its talents, the time and the money and the prayer that should be employed in rescuing perishing souls for eternity, wraps them in the napkin of indifference, and buries them in the cemetery of neglect. To those who live on without raising their gaze from the four walls of their narrow environment to look out compassionately into a world crying for its deliverance, who remain impervious to their responsibilities toward a perishing world and indifferent to their duties as Good Samaritans in a world of poverty and hunger and suffering, who do not realize that the Church today must offer its best and widest energies even as the Savior gave His all, the Lord says: “Ye are unprofitable servants.”

The final folly is the worst. The seventh sin of contemporaneous churches is the craving for an up-to-the­minute creed, the passion for creating a new Christianity. This is the subtle and sinister poison that is paralyzing the spiritual hopes of the nation, the brazen pretense creeping over churches built and paid for by believing fathers and mothers, only to be desecrated by the leaders of their children, who do not ask, “Where is the Lord?” who, although they handle the divine Word, do not know God; who deliberately transgress against the Most High; who claim that the essence of religion is not God’s great and free gift to man in Christ, but man’s intelligent and repeated gifts to God; not divine atonement, but human attainment. There, in this infidelity of modern pulpiteers, in the cutthroat preaching of these surpliced buccaneers who have boarded the ship of the Church, thrown overboard every one of its sacred doctrines, and are now (and not altogether unsuccessfully) trying to seize its helm and make those who refuse to join with them walk the plank of church politics into the depths of discard,—there you have the great issue and challenge confronting all Christians who by the grace of God have refused to bow their knees before the Baal of modern unbelief. When preachers can publicly and brazenly reject the inspiration of Scriptures, the deity of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, the reality of sin, the blessed redemption, the resurrection of our Lord, and His second coming; when church alliances and church federations can legislate against the Scriptural teachings on the most intimate and sacred aspects of family life; when American churches have finally attained to the unbelief which flooded Europe a generation or two ago, we do not need to seek far afield for an explanation of the sorrows that have flooded our country.

GOD’S PLEA FOR THE REJECTION OF THESE FOLLIES

Now, as God, in the face of the tragedy which followed the misguided prophets and preachers of that day, promised: “I will yet plead with you” and “with your children’s children will I plead,” so He rises up on the ramparts of our nation to plead with His Church, beseeching this generation, as He will continue to entreat the next, to disavow each and every approach to worldly-mindedness in the Church. Because there is no other foundation on which the Church may be permanently established than that foundation which “is laid, which is Jesus Christ”; because, as the indisputable evidence of experience shows, all human foibles substituted for the uncompromising preaching of the Christ-centered hope ultimately must collapse, God’s Word pleads for loyalty to the faith once given and for a deepening spirituality in our hearts and lives.

Now, if this appeal of God is to be heard; if churches are to be aroused from the lethargy into which they have dropped; if they are to be the salt in our American life and the leaven in our national existence; if our churches are to be what Christ wants them to be, His holy, precious, spotless bride, then they must come back to the old paths, back to the Bible, back to the plain preaching of sin and grace, back to those two decisive doctrines: the divine and inspired authority of the Bible and the full and free grace of Jesus Christ as the never-failing antidote for our personal and collective sins. The Church must offer, not education and culture, not legislation and force, not medicine and surgery, not changed environments and changed diets, not a program of salvation by character and accomplishment, but, thank God, the highest happiness, the truest truth of all ages, the most precious promise that human ears have ever heard, the foundation and cornerstone of all Christian faith and hope, this “faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” There, in the miracle of divine love that Luther has immortalized in his explanation of the Second Article of the Christian Creed: “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, in this changeless Christ for a changing world, the Church finds its hope, its usefulness, its glory, its promise.

Emphasizing the power and the glory of that promise, I appeal especially to you prophets and priests of the truth who this morning again have proclaimed the message of the Crucified to your congregations: “Hold that fast which thou hast that no man take thy crown.” You are not earning public plaudits by your loyalty to your Savior; but this loyalty spells blessing for you and your nation. You will not be rewarded with Congressional medals for the spiritual battles which you may fight, but those conflicts mean more to the nation than victories on the bloodiest fields of conflict. You will not find selfish profit and private advantage by being determined “not to know anything save Jesus Christ and Him Crucified”; but one day, by God’s grace, you will hear this benediction: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

And you who are enrolled in the great army of Christ’s militant Church, will you not look upward to the Captain of our salvation, take heart in His promises, and march on, under His leadership; for the advancement of the highest objective to which any human effort may be dedicated, the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the everlasting Son of the everlasting Father and the Savior of your souls? Will you not, shaking off the fetters that would chain you down to the low levels of doubt and inactivity, climb the heights and, kneeling down before the cross, pledge this promise of loyalty: “Whether I live or whether I die, I am the Lord’s”? Amen.

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

Date: March 31, 1935

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

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

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

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

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

GOD’S PLEDGE FOR TOMORROW,

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

THE COMMAND FOR TODAY: “SANCTIFY YOURSELVES”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date: March 24, 1935

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

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

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

Now, it is of this

CONSTRUCTIVE CHRIST

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

CHRIST’S CONSTRUCTIVE CREED

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

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

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

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

CHRIST’S CONSTRUCTIVE PROMISE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date: March 17, 1935

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

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

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

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

THE IMMOVABLE HOPE

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

HUMAN DEVICES ARE DESTINED TO FAILURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOD’S COUNSELS STAND FOREVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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