THE present age is notably the age of power, the era in which human ingenuity, blessed by divine guidance, has learned to harness the forces of nature and to develop unparalleled reservoirs of energy. Thus we read of a single turbine generator that produces more than 270,000 horse-power; we hear that electrical research has created a current of more than 3,000,000 volts; we are told that the total power generated by machinery in the United States equals that of 12,000,000,000 slaves. Yet with all the fresh triumphs in the conquest of power, men have never found the one impulse by which they can control themselves. Though they dam the course of mighty rivers, they cannot restrain the flood of passion that surges through the human breast; though they transform the sandy sweeps of alkali deserts into blossoming orchards and fields of golden grain, they cannot turn the barren bleakness of a life of sin into a truly happy career. Though they erect beacon-lights of 10,000,000 candle-power to guide our airmen over the treacherous Western mountains, in all their scientific speculations they have not been able to find a light which can lead humanity upward and onward to the life that is really worth living because it has conquered sin.
But there is a power which can change men and bring them into the newness of a sanctified life; there is a light which can dispel the darkness of evil and shed its radiance over humanity to show men how to conquer themselves, how to defeat sin, how to attain to the happiness of a noble and constructive existence. And that is the power and the light of which St. Paul speaks in our text when he tells us tonight,
This inspired promise assures us first of all that, whenever a sin-marked soul comes to Christ, believing and trusting in the full and free grace that He, the royal Redeemer of humanity, offers to every one of us; whenever a sin-laden mortal approaches the Throne of Mercy and appeals for forgiveness, not on the basis of anything he can do or say or offer, but only on the strength of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, — that man (and it does not matter what his past may have been or what his educational, social, financial, physical condition now may be) is born again; he becomes a new creature, with a new purpose in life and a new spirit animating his being. His business life, his homelife, his social life, all are permeated by a new light. That is what the apostle means when he tells the Christians at Ephesus and the Christians in America today, “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.”
Let me pause to emphasize these last words, “Ye are light in the Lord,” because people have tried to find this light without Christ. Men ask themselves the question, “How can I lead a clean, pure, unselfish, helpful life?” and although Christ tells them, “Without Me ye can do nothing,” they seek to find an answer in human endeavors and innovations. That is why we hear so much of character-building, of self-improvement, of cultural advancement; that is why we find the long and imposing array of crime cures and suggestions for the restraint of evil that are being offered today as never before. But because so many of the crime cures and proposals for moral betterment operate with man’s brain instead of with his heart; because they are concerned more about his body than about his soul; because more time and thought and energy is spent in improving man’s environment than in improving man himself, — all these suggestions which set Christ aside are destined to remain abject failures.
In one of his powerful stories, The World Holocaust, Nathaniel Hawthorne brings this out in a striking manner. He tells of a time when men, tired of the frivolities and vanities of life, decided to destroy all the objects of luxury and temptation by heaping them up into a mountainous pile and then applying the flame. As the smoke clouds of this gigantic conflagration rose high into the heavens, the men who made and sold these objects stood around dismayed by the thought that there would be no more market for their products. To these, as Hawthorne tells the story, Satan appeared and declared, “Be not downcast, my sires, for there is one thing these wiseacres have forgotten.” “What is that?” they all cried with one accord. “The human heart,” Satan replied. “Unless they hit upon some way of cleansing that foul thing, the world will be the same as before.”
It was in 1897 that the first major surgical operation was successfully performed upon the human heart; but eighteen and a half centuries before that the one and only successful spiritual operation was completed which answered David’s prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” When the Son of God, suspended on the cross, above the jeering rabble, bowed His head into bitter death; when the open sepulcher, on the third day, placed the seal of divine approval on His self-sacrifice, then and there humanity was offered not only forgiveness, full and free, comprehensive and complete, but, in addition, the one and only power which can dispel the gloom of sin and bring the light of victorious life. It is Christ, and He alone, who can lead humanity from the darkness of sin to the dawn of a new life and a new happiness.
You ask for proof, and I point to those convincing examples of reborn men and women whose names are emblazoned on the glorious pages of Christ’s conquest through the ages. Matthew was taken from a class of intriguing, grafting politicians and transformed into an honest, conscientious disciple. By what process? By law enforcement or by an educational course or by gland control? No; Jesus, whose Gospel he had heard and believed, came to him and said, “Follow Me,” and the Bible records, “And he rose up and followed Him.” A social outcast, a notorious woman, branded with the scarlet of shrieking sins, became the paragon of a pure and consecrated life. How? By joining some culture organization or serving a penitentiary sentence, or reading books that were designed to change her character? No, again; Jesus came to her and through the conviction that the Man before whom she bowed down in abject misery was her Savior, she received the power to change her life. Slaughtering Saul became persecuted Paul and the mightiest apostle of the Lord, whose name he had hated and reviled. Once more we ask, What wrought this stupendous change? Was it Paul’s studies with Gamaliel, his travels, changed environment, or changed diet? He himself tells us that Jesus came to him in a voice from heaven that convicted him of his sin and removed the scales of human blindness from his eyes, so that he acknowledged Jesus as his Savior and joyfully confessed, “I live by the faith of the Son of God.”
But the light-giving character of the Gospel is vividly demonstrated in our modern life. We read of over-crowded penitentiaries; but the inmates who fill these are not the true followers of Jesus Christ. Not long ago a Brooklyn judge examined 4,000 juvenile delinquents and asked them if, during their boyhood, they had enjoyed any religious instruction and Bible-training; and of the 4,000, 3,997 (all but three) replied in the negative. ‘We are depressed by the appalling increase of the divorce rate in the United States. But Christian husbands and wives are not those whose names clutter the crowded calendars of our courts of domestic relations. In a recent investigation covering 61 communities in fifteen different States and embracing 22,001 churchgoing families, it was found that there was only one divorce for every 113 marriages, while, as you may know, the divorce rate for the entire nation is one divorce for every six and a half marriages.
Now, I do not mean to stand before the microphone this evening and create the impression that a true, living faith in Christ ever leads to moral perfection. As long as we are in the world and are surrounded by the weakness of our own flesh, there will be grave inconsistencies in the conduct of a Christian and serious lapses in his following in the footsteps of Christ. There is no perfection on earth. But it is obviously unfair for infidels and skeptics to take the more or less isolated instances in which a church-member denies his faith by some grievous public crime and then to generalize on the alleged failure of Christ’s religion. Unfair, I say, because not every one who outwardly is a member of a Christian congregation is a Christian; unfair, because, after all, such denials of the faith are only the exceptions and should not be enlarged to form sweeping and unqualified indictments; unfair, because this carping criticism, which likes to call Christianity a failure, overlooks the remarkable demonstrations of the power that sanctified Christians have wielded. Think of Lutheran Iceland, where the Church embraces practically the entire population and where jails are closed, where crime is practically unknown, and where honest, happy, industrious communities show what it means to be “light in the Lord.” Think of every ennobling and uplifting force which the world enjoys today, and behind it all you will find the light of Jesus Christ, which has enabled men groveling in the sordid sins of selfishness, held and swayed by passions and prejudices, to bind and to control their lusts and desires and to come into the fullness of a sanctified, Christ- centered life. That is the light which the apostle describes when he tells us, “Now are ye light in the Lord.”
But I remind you to night that the apostle also adds: “Walk as children of the light.” While the wondrous grace of God, which forgives us all our sins, is the free gift of His unlimited mercy, so that there is not even the slightest contribution that you and I must make to the process of our salvation, it is correspondingly true that just as soon as a man comes to Christ and finds in Him the Light of the world, he immediately begins to radiate this light and to show his faith by following in the footsteps of his Savior. “I am the Vine, ye are the branches,” Christ tells us. “He that abideth in Me and 1 in Him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Such statements leave no choice and no doubt for the Christian. He must, as Jesus says, let his light so shine before men that they may see his good works and glorify his Father which is in heaven. Not that these good works are in any wise a cause of our salvation; not that the best that men can offer, the most Christlike life, the most generous sacrifices, can bring us an inch closer to God; but simply because where there is a true, active faith in Christ, there must also be a Christlike life; where people have been brought from darkness to light, they must “walk as children of the light,” that is, as those who have been born in the light, reared under its beneficent brightness, and live happily in its radiant warmth.
Let us not pass lightly over the implication of the apostle’s command, “Walk as children of the light.” This means that it is not only the Christian’s privilege or his happiness or his blessing to walk in the light, but that it is his unavoidable and unescapable duty to let the light of his reborn existence shine before men. There is no choice left for the follower of Jesus Christ. He must be a light-bearer. He must utterly turn away from those occupations and pleasures and spurn those inducements and temptations that jeopardize the heaven-born assurance of eternity.
So tonight I tell you who are members of the Church and who live in the greatest advertising era the world has ever known, American manufacturers and commercial agencies having last year spent more than two billion dollars for various purposes of advertising publicity, — I tell you that one of the most convincing testimonies to the power and truth of the religion of Jesus Christ is the living, breathing, walking advertisement of the Cross of Christ that is found in a sanctified life and in a true Christian character. You will remember that it was the Christian consecration manifest in the life of the first followers of Christ that gave to them and to us the title “Christians” and that made men glorify the same Christ whose Cross was so indelibly imprinted in their lives. You will recall, too, that one of the most powerful factors contributing to the growth of the early Church was the strength of Christian character and conviction that was exhibited in the blood-stained arenas of the Roman world.
Let me ask you personally and directly, you who acknowledge Christ and bear His name in the profession of your faith: Are you radiating light into the gloom of a darkened world by witnessing for Christ in your home, in your business, in the circle of your acquaintance? “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me,” He says, and if we hide the light of our personal missionary testimony under the bushel of selfishness, of indifference, or of unwarranted timidity, how can we be torchbearers for the Light of the world? Oh, for that determined zeal of the first apostles who declared, “We cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard”!
Are you walking in the brightness of Christ’s light in the conduct of your daily life, in the abhorrence of sin, and in the sacred imitation of that Savior? Do men see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven”? Remember the emphatic statement of Jesus, who not only says, ‘7 am the Light of the world,” but, turning to His followers, says, “Ye are the light of the world.” As “a city that is set on an hill cannot be hid,” so you must “walk in the light as He is in the light.” There is no sadder spectacle than the paradox of the profession of faith on Sunday and the compromise of faith on Monday. Even the Christless world will stop to point the finger of scorn at those who cry, “Lord, Lord!” loudly and insistently in church, but whose life away from church ceaselessly screams, “Money, money!” “Lust, lust!” “Me, me!” And there is no more tragic passage in the entire Scriptures than the woe which is pronounced by the gentle Savior upon those whose lives have thus constituted a serious offense and given others an excuse, invalid as it is, for not joining the Church.
And if you ask me how you are to be strengthened to walk in the light and to avoid the darkness, then remember you must turn your heart to look to Jesus alone, to commune with Him daily in the reverent reading of His Scriptures, to pray to Him as the Author and Finisher of your faith, to partake of the Sacrament, which was instituted to seal the forgiveness of your sins and to strengthen your faith, and thus to find in His eternal love and power the spring and fountainhead whence flows the vitalizing energy that transforms human sinfulness and encircles the Christian life with dazzling light.
But to you who have not as yet permitted this light to illumine your souls, but who yearn for the warmth and comfort which the Light of heaven can send into your rigid, frozen hearts, you who need the guidance of that Light to shake off the degrading influences that mar your lives, let me say that by accepting Christ, by believing His Word, which is called “a light unto our path and a lamp unto our feet,” by trusting His promises, you will begin to live in a new world with a new light on your pathway, a new brightness as the goal of your hope. To you to night the Word of unfailing promise cries out, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Yes, in the glorious, golden tomorrow, when today’s mistakes and inconsistencies are forgiven and forgotten, through Christ, the gloom of darkness will disappear for you, and you will be able to walk as children of the light in the radiance of Him who is “the Light of the world.” Amen.
[From the book, “The Lutheran Hour” 1931.]