God of our Fathers:
Thankfully we come before thee, to praise the love which, through the Reformation four and a quarter centuries ago, restored to the world the truth of Thy Word and the assurance of Christ's redeeming mercy. Help us treasure this glorious grace and realize that without Jesus we are lost sinners! But then, O Father of love, turn us to the cross to discover the free forgiveness of all our transgressions, the rebirth of new life and the promise of heaven – not by our own supposedly good works, but by faith in the Savior's atoning blood! Preserve Thy saving truth for us! Rebuke all enemies of the Gospel, and so cleanse Thy churches that they may emerge from this war purer and stronger! Again we beseech Thee, grant us a victory which will insure freedom of religion to all people. Protect all Thy followers in our armed forces! Help them to flee evil, resist temptation! Above the roar of battle let many who do not yet know Thee hear the call to repentance and, answering, accept Thee as their God, and Jesus Christ, Thy Son, as their Savior! We plead in His ever-blessed, never-failing name. Amen!
For millions of Americans today, the thirty-first of October, is just another Sunday, and for far too many a time to recover from wild Halloween celebrations. Why people in our country have time, money, and interest for this pagan carnival, when American men daily lay down their lives in the nation's defense is a deep mystery. A Senator in Washington cries out that the United States is loosing its democracy; but who among the throngs that last night crowded hotels, cocktail bars, taverns, was seriously concerned whether he is right or wrong? Social experts warn that the nation's homes are being broken and family happiness shattered. Who cares? Thousands of young people, including teen-age boys and girls, were swarming the streets until the early hours of this morning. Their parents actually did not know where they were and what they were doing, although some of them were facing moral ruin. A war is still to be fought and a victory won; but you would never have realized it in the thousands of places of amusement, where until early this morning loud, loose carousal held sway. Masses are sleeping off the effects of the night before, with no thought for God, no glance at His Bible, no ear for the church bells that call for Sunday worship.
To millions of Christians this Sunday is simply another Lord's day. In some circles it is true, October 31 has been set aside as Temperance Sunday. As vital as temperance is, during this time of widespread drunkenness that disgraces an increasing number of women, the battle against alcoholism could be observed on any one of a dozen other Sundays. For today – mark this on your calendar! – is one of the most noteworthy of all dates in history. A British writer says that there has been no day like it for 1900 years, except Pentecost. This October 31 brings the 426th anniversary of the day on which God's truth was restored to the world, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ returned to man, the faith of the Bible reaffirmed for a sin-sick world, when Martin Luther – thank God for his courage! – began the blessed work of the Reformation. This day should be commemorated on our battlefields, for it helped give us the first two of the four freedoms for which we are fighting this war: freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The Reformation Festival should be observed by churches in all parts of the world, because as even the foes of Martin Luther have admitted, his epochal work removed many abuses practiced in the name of Christianity. This anniversary should be commemorated in every believing home, for through this mighty re-establishment of God's truth, marriage has been exalted, the Christian education of children promoted, family life hallowed. Reformation Day should be an outstanding, glorious occasion for every one, above all because it marks the beginning of the magnificent movement by which the full and free Gospel of our crucified Savior was given back to the world.
Four hundred and
twenty-six years is a long time – too long,
in fact, for the legions of hell to have reclined in idleness; too long
for many churches to have remained loyal to Jesus. As we survey the
life of America and behold unmistakable evidences of spiritual decay,
and destruction, the conviction forces itself on us that the world
another Reformation; that many churches in our beloved land should be
and purified, reformed, and rededicated to Christ. Therefore let our
Day message send this prayer and appeal to the throne of the Almighty:
American churches today need that loyalty and love for the whole Bible which, Saint Paul promises, "is able to build" us up. We must accept the entire Book, not merely selected portions that we like, while we reject other parts that seem to have no appeal for us. "All Scripture," means every page of God's Word, including sections that are often regarded as valueless. I read recently of a man whose conversion started by reading the fifth chapter of Genesis, one of those widely criticized genealogical lists, which in much the same language tells how old each patriarch was at the birth of his first son, how long he lived after that, and what his total age was. Even Bible students often wonder what spiritual help such ancient records offer; but this man noted that at the end of each section the words followed regularly ". . . and he died." Reading how each patriarch, despite his long life, finally went down to the grave, he realized that he, too, must die and "face God's judgement." This thought so moved him that he sought spiritual guidance and was soon brought to Christ.
It is not enough, however, that the Bible is considered a noble, inspiring, uplifting book; it must be regarded as an absolutely errorless revelation of the divine will. Churches will never have the power and fire of the Holy Ghost if preachers quote Scripture with their fingers crossed; if they study its pages with mental reservation as they read of God's marvelous grace in protecting His people, building His Church, punishing evil, and then, surrendering to unbelief, say, "This can't happen here, in America today!"
The reformation of these anemic, namby-pamby, spineless churches must start not with pulpit antics and novelties designed to lure people into the sanctuary. Ministers have preached on "The sweetest thing in the world" and passed candy to the people in the pews, taken "The Bread of Life" as their theme and distributed biscuits. (They ought to preach on the text – if they use a text – "It is high time to awake out of sleep," and then ring alarm clocks to arouse themselves from their stupor.) The transfusion of full, red-blooded Christian faith must come through an unquestioning, uncompromising return to the Bible.
To help restore the Bible to American churches is definitely the personal and sacred duty of every sincere Christ-confessing believer. Through the Reformation which began 426 years ago today, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses, the Christian layman came into his own once more, because the truth was again taught that in the Savior's Church no minister or priest, no high and mighty official, no ecclesiastical ruler, has any exclusive rights which the simple believer, as a member of the universal priesthood, does not possess. That glorious assurance brings with it the grave responsibility of defending God's truth against error, of speaking up unmistakably when His Word and His honor are attacked. Therefore, Christian laymen of America, if you are members of a church which claims to accept and exalt the Bible, but in which the preacher who is paid with your contributions disloyally seeks to destroy its authority, you have no choice if you would be true to your Lord. You must act; you must prayerfully seek to convince your pastor of his error. If he insists in his perversion, you must seek to have him removed, as hard as this is. If you are unsuccessful and your protracted protests are unheard, you yourself must come out, for "what communion hath light with darkness . . . or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel"? If the American Christianity would begin to assert itself in this way, we would witness the beginning of a startling twentieth-century reformation.
When Hezekiah restored the divine Word, he knew that atonement would have to be made for the sins of his people. For this reason, as our text tells us, "the priests . . . made reconciliation with . . . blood upon the altar." Jesus is the Christians' Reconciliation with the heavenly Father, the "Lamb of God," not having spot or blemish, "that taketh away the sins of the world." Therefore, when Luther undertook the Reformation of the Church and his eyes were opened to the fact that in Christ alone, but in Him completely, every believer has the forgiveness of his sins, it became his all-consuming object in life to exalt the atoning Savior, to preach the crucified, sin-destroying Christ, the risen, life- bestowing Redeemer; and because he humbly dedicated his marvelous mentality and tireless energies to teach Christ, preach Christ, exalt Christ, write Christ, sing Christ, love Christ, live Christ, always as God's Son and the world's Savior, there was not enough power on earth or in hell, among men and devils, to restrain his work. Nor can the churches today ever hope to be used of the Spirit in saving men's souls unless they, too, concentrate their efforts on Jesus. Our creed is not an easy, pretty thing that clusters vaguely around rose windows and chanting choirs, mumbled monotones and wafted incense. The true Christian faith asks us to behold the most shrieking injustice, the most fiendish crime, ever committed the crucifixion and murder of the Lord Jesus Christ by the guilt and sin of those whom He loved with His life, but who sentenced Him to death. And if you are still ignorant of the immeasurable and eternal importance He bears for you, turn your eyes this day to the Savior bleeding on Calvary's cross; see the crimson flow from His pierced hands, His lacerated feet, and His thorn-crowned head; and listen as His faltering lips form His dying words into a heaven-directed plea! He is praying for His executioners. Fellow sinners and fellow redeemed, He is your God, praying for you, as he begs, "Father, forgive them!" He is dying for you as He cries, "It is finished!"
This Christ – and I pray that in these moments some of you will say, "From henceforth He is my Christ" – is the one curative Power also for all the ills of modern churches. Clergymen of America, as I thank you sincerely for the prayer, encouragement, and support many of you, of all denominations have given this broadcast, I plead with you to help bring any Christless, crossless, bloodless, Gospelless churches that you may influence back to Jesus and the central doctrine of Scripture, the cornerstone of the Reformation: justification by faith. Sound forth the triumphant truth, "By grace are ye saved, through faith"! Do not regard any sermon, no matter how forceful, logical, or eloquent it may be, as a Christian sermon unless it preaches the full atonement through God's Son and, in effect, repeats the words of Saint Paul, "We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law"!
In the Savior's name, and as a further appeal for a real twentieth- century reformation, we tell every sin conscious soul in the vast radio audience that through faith in the Redeemer there is a complete canceling of all sins, the positive and absolute removal of all iniquity, so that in God's sight those who belong to Jesus have no sin, since the Father Himself has said, "There is . . . no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." Through faith you realize, even though you know you have never deserved such mercy, that the guilt and the punishment of all your transgressions have been removed, the fearful penalty they incurred fully paid by the glorious grace, the boundless compassion of your Savior. This salvation which you yourself could never have earned in a thousand thousand lifetimes of penance and soul sorrow, which no saint or army of the earth's holiest men or women could secure for you, the pardon and peace that not even the legions of angels could grant you, this limitless love is assured to you without money or price, without punishment in this life or purging in the next, only by the purest, deepest, highest, holiest mercy your Savior showed on the cross.
What Marvelous blessings flowed to God's people from Hezekiah's reformation! They, who had returned to their heavenly Father, were not to be spared the trials of war; but when Sennacherib, the Assyrian wolf, came up against Jerusalem and it seemed that the city would be captured, The Almighty showed His devotion to His reconsecrated people; 185,000 of the Assyrian troops were killed in a single night by the angel of the Lord. What was left of their proud regiments scurried back to Nineveh in overwhelming defeat. Think of the blessings that followed Luther's Reformation, despite the scurrilous attacks on his work – blessings that, according to competent authorities, have helped make the United States what it is today, a haven of religious freedom, with Church and State separated, the rights of man respected, and free course granted to the saving Gospel. Today, too, if American churches would devote themselves to the teaching of Scripture as the inspired Word, to the obedience of every truth it contains, and to the preaching of the Atonement as the only way of salvation, a startling reformation could be recorded in which our people, humble and penitent before the Almighty, yet joyful and exultant in Christ, might be spared many difficulties, dangers, and disasters ahead.
Whatever happens in our country, you individually can find comfort, strength, and love through childlike, trusting faith in Christ; you can be reformed into a new existence, in which the old things of sin have passed away. Keep this truth always before you: nothing but your personal faith in God's mercy can save you! Some of you, I am sure, are coming close to the kingdom. Some of you are almost persuaded to receive the Lord Jesus. Some of you are near the path that leads to life; yet being close and near, being almost convinced of Christianity is not enough. On September 5, in 1870, a party of eleven mountain climbers ascended Mont Blanc. They were overtaken by a blizzard which lasted more than a week. Before it subsided, ten of the eleven died. After having wandered about blindly and bewilderedly over a space only a hundred yards square, they at last fell down in death, not realizing that they were so near the path of safety that five more steps would have led them on to it. So close to deliverance, yet destroyed by death! God grant that today you will follow the Spirit's bidding and take the few steps required to lead you to Him who says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life," even to Jesus Christ. Give yourself to Him now, for time and eternity! Amen.
The preceding "Lutheran
Hour" sermon by Dr. Walter A. Maier aired
on October 31, 1943