God, Eternal and Triune:
We confess to Thee that as a nation, as members of Thy Church, as families, as individuals, we have broken Thy holy Law so repeatedly and grievously that we have no right even to approach Thee. Yet, trusting Thy pledge of mercy, we bow before Thee, contritely and with firm trust. O Father, forgive us all our iniquities for Jesus sake! O cleansing Spirit, purify our hearts and make us new creatures through faith in His crucifixion and resurrection! O precious Savior, as we raise our eyes to behold Thee on the cross paying the penalty of all sin, drive from our selfish hearts thoughts of pride, demands for recognition, requests for reward! Thou, who art Three in One, teach us rather that without Thee we can do nothing, that Thou art strongest in us when we are weakest! Make us humble, thankful, faithful and keep us for Thee and with Thee through time and into eternity. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Almost 150 years ago, during the administration of John Adams, our second president, the United States found itself confronted by opposition remarkably similar in principle to that which faces us today. Our ships were attacked by French fleets; commerce was virtually cut off; our liberties were threatened by European dictatorship; peace was menaced. In that emergency President Adams did what we have done in this crisis; he enlarged the Army, created a strong Navy, and instituted a firm defense program. But he also went farther than we have gone. He issued a presidential proclamation requesting "a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer, that the citizens of these states, abstaining from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of mercies." The dominant spirit in the United States at that time was so penitent that it could ask the people to stop their work or play, fast for a whole day, and in solemn church services fall on their knees before God to confess their sins, individual as national. Even more significant is the fact that the people followed President Adams's plea; and most noteworthy of all is the record that war was averted, peace established, and a period of prosperity begun.
During the dark hours of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, who appealed for national prayer more often than any other chief executive, declared that our people should "confess their sins and transgressions . . . pray with all fervency and contrition for the pardon of their past offenses." The great Emancipator expressed the fear -- and these are his words -- that "the awful calamity of the Civil War that now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins." Pointedly he warned the American citizen, "It behooves us, therefore, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness." By divine grace, when the nation, following Lincoln's guidance, humbled itself before God, the war soon ended, the breach between the North and the South began to heal.
What a contrast all this presents to much of our present-day attitude! We are surrounded by war; labor conflicts increase to menacing proportions; national indebtedness pyramids; industrial and social problems multiply. Our financial outlook, according to some monetary experts, points to inflation, tax confiscation, or even repudiation. Yet at a time when the need for humble, penitent supplication to the Almighty is greater than ever before, we witness an unmistakable religious decline, a more widespread disregard of heaven then in any previous period. Where are the voices like Adams' and Lincoln's pleading for true repentance? Where are national days of humiliation?
Will you not stand
shoulder to shoulder with me, then, when
I say that the plea in this perilous hour, the necessary appeal of our
souls, our families, our churches, our nation, must be
That is always the earnest
petition of every Christian, but it addresses
itself to us with particular force on this Lords's Day, set aside from
olden times as Humiliation and Prayer Sunday. Today as followers of
bow down before the holy God to confess their transgressions and
Christ's mercies, may we similarly humble ourselves to learn the vital
lessons of our text, Second Chronicles, chapter thirty, verse nine, "If
ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find
compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come
again into this land; for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful;
will not turn away His face from you if ye return unto Him."
This remarkable pledge was written by Hezekiah to the inhabitants of his kingdom. The great, good ruler, who had cleansed Jerusalem of its idolatry and restored the worship of Jehovah, sought to bring all the subjects of his realm back to the one true God. In his zeal for the Lord of hosts, he even planned to reunite, all Israel, the ten tribes of the North, and his own southern dominion, not for a political alliance, but the spiritual unity which would recognize Jehovah and Him alone. Therefore he sent messengers throughout both kingdoms, "from Beersheba even to Dan," calling for a solemn celebration of the Passover Festival such as had not been seen since David's day. This appeal was also accompanied by a plea for repentance. Hezekiah reminded the people of the North and of the South that the Lord was "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," In truth, what compassionate love the Almighty had showered on the people of Israel! He chose them above all others to be His own, called by His name. He led them out of Egyptian bondage, through the desert's sand and sweat, unto Canaan, the happy homeland. He marched before them to protect them against formidable foes, far stronger than they. He gave them His Word in writing, the only people in history thus to be honored. He sent them His prophets; and as the climax of His grace He announced that His own Son, the Savior of the world, would be born of a Judean virgin-mother.
Despite the lavish outpouring of these distinctions, Israel had turned from its God and ungratefully denied Him. Again and again during the seven hundred years from Moses to Hezekiah, the twelve tribes had rebelled against the Lord, their Redeemer. But whenever they repented and cried for mercy, His fatherly compassion forgave and restored them. Now, because of their willful, continued uprising, another punishment, the hardest yet experienced, was to overtake this ungrateful people. They were to be led away into captivity. Yet even then Jehovah's long-suffering and love were not exhausted. He permitted Hezekiah to announce, "If ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into his land." Even when it seemed that no hope remained for Israel, they could still regain their lost blessings and the prosperity they had sacrificed through unbelief if through sincere repentance they returned to God. The cry throughout the land, therefore, was, "Back to Jehovah of hosts!"
In all this a powerful lesson presents itself for our country. Gloriously blessed above other nations in our day is America. -- This message comes to you from Canada, and for 3,900 miles from Maine to Washington, Nova Scotia to British Columbia, the borderline is undefended. No land mines, pill-box defenses, underground military tunnels, concrete fortresses mark that boundary. By contrast, picture Europe, bristling with fortifications: and remember that while no enemy air-bomb has even fallen on our United States soil, millions in England and on the continent have lost their homes, their entire possessions, in many cases their limbs, sight, hearing, by the air-raids' shattering destruction!
We have food, otherwise unequaled in quality and in quantity, so much in fact that for years the Government, following a philosophy of scarcity, restricted the size of certain crops. But reports from China tell us food is so scarce in Shantung, once the Orient's richest agricultural province, that worms sell for four dollars a quart. Our wealthier classes display silver-fox neckpieces, chinchilla wraps, matched-pearl necklaces, huge, flawless diamonds. But masses of our fellow men in Europe, Asia, Africa, who came into the world just as you and I did, literally wear rags. We have more coined gold than all the rest of the world; and just now the pay envelopes of multitudes are fat and bulging. To appreciate what we have in America. We ought to visualize, for example, the hopeless poverty in crushed France, the regimentation of most workers throughout Europe. We have comfortable homes -- at least two thirds of us -- the most attractive, convenient houses, on the average, to be found anywhere; but think of the masses huddled in air-raid shelters! And when people open windows to cool a steam-heated apartment, they should picture the long lines in European capitals clutching their ration cards, eager to secure a few sticks of charcoal, so that the whole family can keep warm by crowding into one room.
Or, consider the higher blessings with which the United States has been endowed! We still have a free government, and despite present- day weaknesses of democracy, we are infinitely better off than Nazi Germany and the totalitarian world. We still have freedom of speech; and how much more fortunate are we than some of the belligerents. With our freedom of worship this country is indescribably more blessed, for instance, than Spain, where Protestant churches are banned.
Now, my fellow countrymen, these and many other pre-eminences have been grated us not because our country is racially, morally, or religiously superior to the other nations, but because of God's marvelous mercy in Christ; and the warning of Holy Scripture that bears constant repetition is the reminder "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." America has been mightily favored by God, so that it should be a powerful force for God.
How have we responded to this divine generosity? Have we consistently praised Him, from whom all blessings, and particularly national glory, must flow? Has this country of unparalleled favor been unequaled in its devotion to the Almighty? God forgive us! As Israel in haughty pride turned from Jehovah, so we in the United States have encouraged the bloated conceit that we are the creators of our own greatness, the builders of our own grandeur, the authors of our own prosperity. Millions have swept God aside and sought to revoke the Ten Commandments, to nullify the divine will.
What have we done with our money? Luxury taxes are not strong enough to stop the squandering the destructive vices. Even Christians, who repeat, "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish," love this perishing world so little that they give only on the average thirty-two cents a year for foreign missions.
What have we done with our home life? In too many instances the Lord Jesus Christ has been completely exiled from American households, the divine laws for domestic happiness completely discarded.
Have we shown our appreciation for free government? Masses of American citizens have not raised their hearts to God in thanks for our liberties or to beseech His divine guidance for the President and the Congress. An increasing number of our countrymen are pledged to radical, revolutionary theories which would overthrow the American from of government. Corruption has sometimes taken the place of political honesty.
Has this nation given evidence of its gratitude to the Lord for freedom of conscience and of worship? Have we come closer to the Lord and devoutly acknowledged His power and grace? You know the answer. Unbelief is on the march. Doubt and denial become bolder even within certain churches, the questioning of the divine Word more frequent in schools, the rejection of Christ's redemption more brazen, the evidence of doctrinal indifference and worldliness more repeated and undisguised. -- Let it be said frankly" as a nation we have not grown in faith, progressed in holiness, advanced in spiritual truth!
When multitudes sing lustily, "God Bless America!" it is not easy to proclaim publicly that God will bless only a repentant, contrite America. It is not a light responsibility (when, as last Sunday, a speaker broadcasting after me asserted that we are definitely on the road to universal brotherhood and world-wide peace) to stand before this microphone and tell masses in our country to the contrary, that they are on the road to hell if they do not come to Him who alone is the Way to heaven, Jesus, our Christ. I can imagine a hundred other messages far more popular than Scripture's warning that no nation, no home, no church, no individual can prosper indefinitely without God. But we dare not seek to please men and court popularity. We who are Christ's are to be watchmen, and if we do not warn sinners of their evil ways, their blood will be on our hands.
Therefore, the message of the Christian Church today must be that of our text, "Turn again unto the Lord"! Humble yourselves! Repent, you destroyers of public morals, who with lewd entertainment, filthy books and magazines have increased the love for sin! Repent, you corrupters of the home who have made purity seem old-fashioned and chastity a burden to be scorned! Repent, you rich who have oppressed the poor, and you poor who have hated the rich! Repent, you teachers who lead our youth from Christ! Repent, you adulterous husbands and unfaithful wives, you self-seeking parents and you self-directed children! Repent, you perjurers, blasphemers, abusers of God's holy name? Repent, you public officials who have misused your high office! Repent, you merchants of horrifying death, who delight in war for selfish gain's patriotism! Repent, you scoffers, skeptics, unbelievers, enemies of God, defaming the Lord who made America great! Repent, you preachers of lies who, robed in costly gowns and speaking unctuous words, reject the redemption by God's Son and ridicule His divine Word!
Before all else, however
you and I need repentance for ourselves.
The sins in our own lives that we may seek to deny, over up, excuse,
away; the transgression which, unforgiven, will separate us eternally
Christ and His redeemed -- the depravity of our human nature, our
desires, hot-tempered words, sinful actions -- Oh, confess them all
-- these should bring us down on our knees in humility and contrition
the holy God! A repentant nation is a country in which the individual
unmistakably show their sorrow over sin. Contrition is a personal, not
a political matter. Therefore, the admission to be spoken by every
Christian today should embody the full, unreserved acknowledgment of
own guilt and the statement of our faith in the Savior, taken from the
hymnbook of my Church: "O Almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor
sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have
offended Thee and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment.
But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I
Thee of Thy boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, and
bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be
and merciful to me a poor sinful being.
This confession will help
answer the question, What is real
repentance? Do not confuse repentance with fear for the consequences of
your wrong-doing, the dread that you will be detected, the terror that
your secret sins will be exposed! Some, I know, are burdened by the
that you have stolen money over a period of years and that your theft
soon be revealed. Or you have broken the commandment of purity and may
soon become unwed fathers or mothers. You have neglected your parents,
and people will soon discover your selfishness. But fear of detection
not repentance. Neither is a sense of disgust over your sins. You are
now when you see the hideousness that sin has produced in your life.
regret the spectacle you presented when in a drunken stupor you made a
beast of yourself. You recoil from sordid lusts which in a moment of
passions seemed most enticing. True humiliation, however, means much
It demands, first, that we acknowledge every sin in our lives, even
which the world applauds. Without reservation or restriction we must
to God how often, how grievously we have broken each of His
and then declare humbly, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and
thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son!"
In the second place, true repentance means real, heart-felt sorrow over our misdeeds. Do not get into the habit of blaming the Lord for your errors! People who practice the sins of the flesh often like to say: "I was born with these impulses. They are part of human nature. They cannot be so very wrong. Why did God make me this way?" -- when they should fight against this evil that can destroy both body and soul in hell. Yet remorse is not enough. Endless weeping, ceaseless lamenting, moaning through grief-filled days and sorrow-stricken nights will never bring you before the gracious Father. You must know Him who says, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life! -- Jesus Christ, your Redeemer
Here, once more, we stand before the most glorious assurance heaven has ever given mortal men, the pledge which, I pray, will take blessed root in every stubborn, self-righteous soul. Since God is so perfect in His holiness that nothing sinful can ever approach Him, you and I would be cut off forever from the hope of heaven were it not for our blessed Savior. Praise be His endless grace, He not only canceled our transgressions, paid their penalty assumed their guilt, but He cleansed our sin-marked lives and so completely transferred to Himself our transgressions against God, our fellow men, and ourselves that in our Lord's sight and before the bar of His exacting justice we actually have no sin! Keep this glorious Gospel promise uppermost in your mind:: Our righteous God does not simply forget sin, overlook it, smile indulgently at it, discount, or disregard it! He hates it, He damns it. But He loves the sinner with such depth of devotion that in his measureless mercy He has removed our guilt, every part of its eternal punishment, by accepting as our Substitute the Redeemer on whom all our transgressions are laid, Jesus, His beloved Son. When Christ is yours in trusting faith, the way to God is open. His love has broken every barrier down. Despite past transgressions you can bow before Him whom cherubim and seraphim continually exalt, and plead: "My Father, accept me, just as I am, for Jesus' sake! Look upon me, not in my sins, for Thy Son, my Savior, has removed them forever, but behold me with Thy grace!" And as true as God is eternal, all- powerful, and all-merciful in Christ, every penitent, contrite believer whose "hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness" will hear the God of grace answer, "Thy sins are forgiven fully, freely, forever!" Do not despair of finding a compassionate Lord when you come to bow before Him in that humble, contrite faith! His own Word assures us, "The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace," the peace purchased by our Lord's anguish and death, "be removed.
Genuine repentance, of course, implies sincerity shown by a heart- felt resolve to improve our lives and battle against sin. In the text Hezekiah appeals that all Israel "turn again unto the Lord." Their fathers, the verses before our text explain, had despised Jehovah and continued in evil. If now the people's hearts are changed, their hatred of evil should be evident in a God-fearing, reverent walk of life. Hezekiah himself had unmistakably shown His people what it means to "turn again unto the Lord." He had hardly assumed the kingship at Jerusalem when, as a young man of twenty-six, he restored the true religion, purified the defiled Temple, banished abominations and immoralities. To him real repentance had to be demonstrated by an improved, cleansed, sanctified life.".
Similarly, if you are truly contrite, then on this Day of Humiliation and Prayer, resolve that, God helping you, His Spirit sustaining you, you will break with the evil that seeks to destroy your soul! If you are living in illicit relations, end them today! If you are stealing, stop and begin to make restitution! If you have slandered, curb this ugly sin and, as far as you can, correct every untruth you have uttered! If your heart is filled with hate, ask Christ to cleanse it! Show love to those whom you have wronged! If you have deserted your wife, your husband, or your children, go back to them now! If you are cheating at your work, wasting your employer's time or his materials, quit it and restore what you have destroyed!
If you thus follow divine direction, you will experience a joy of life, a peace of mind which many have never known before. True repentance, then, brings you the assurance of redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ, reconciliation with the Father, restoration to eternal life in heaven. For the sake of your immortal soul, I plead with you, get right with God now!
But more: this humbling yourself before the Lord can be a mighty power for the nation's good. If in place of a regimented America you are eager to preserve a free America; if instead of a war-wracked nation you ask for a country crowned with honorable peace; if rather than class conflict you want class harmony, free government before dictatorship, then bow contritely before the Almighty His invincible power. Let legislatures pass necessary laws, parents make happy homes, teachers maintain good schools, statesmen expert building influences; but more than all else, let us turn to the Almighty in this hour of national need, and we will find divine healing for our land, heaven's solution to our problems, unfailing answer to our perplexities.
True repentance has the promise of divine acceptance. Pointedly Hezekiah's messages proclaim this truth throughout the land, "If ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion...for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away His face from you if ye return unto Him." It is Christ's repeated pledge that he receives the truly contrite. Isaiah proclaims, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon!" David assures all believers, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit."
This true humility must be expressed in prayer, the pleading with God, which proves that we completely accept His Word and confide in Him as children trust their father. To go back to the past of American history again, we ought to recall the remarks by Benjamin Franklin at Philadelphia in 1787 before the convention which was to draft our Constitution. For days this group of distinguished Americans had labored almost in vain. The interests of the various States conflicted , and regional prejudices threatened the whole effort with disaster. Then it was that Franklin, himself no evangelical Christian but far-sighted enough to recognize undeniable evidence, arose to declare: "The longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth--that God governs the affairs of men; and if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it possible that this empire can rise without His aid?...I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning."
The deep-seated difficulty, of course, is this, that many in our country have no desire or time for prayer. They openly boast that it is childish and unmanly; that it destroys self-reliance; that God, if there is a God, is too exalted to be moved by our pleading. If this unbelief increases, perhaps our country will have to suffer far more until by the lessons of bitter experience it learns how completely it must rely on the Lord.
Again, others refuse to take time for prayer. They are not particularly antagonistic to its practice, but because they do not recognize their sins, their needs, and the assurance of divine power, they never realize the necessity of pouring their hearts out to the Almighty. Their souls have shriveled up; their spiritual life is stunted, and when they stand before heavy afflictions, they are bewildered and helpless.
Prayer is often misdirected. To begin with, many do not know to whom their pleas are spoken. They picture God as a vague, impersonal, abstract force, unknown and unknowable, when in truth Jesus has clearly revealed the true God who is no hazy, undefinable force, but the Father, together with Christ and the Spirit, the holy Trinity in blessed Unity. Only He is worthy to receive men's praise, and only he can answer their petitions. The one who can help America and in whom alone there is deliverance and salvation is the God of the Bible, the God of Christian truth, the God of the Apostles' Creed, Father, Son, and Spirit.
Others similarly misunderstand prayer because they have not learned that we must beseech the Almighty in Christ's name, that is, with trusting faith and unquestioning acceptance of His blood-bought atonement, life-giving death, and leaven-assuring resurrection. When we come to the mercy seat with that triumphant faith, we have the Savior's own assurance "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you." Therefore it is doubly to be regretted that men, in public life, often in prominent circles, omit the ever-blessed name of Jesus Christ in their public prayers because they hesitate to mention Him before His enemies. How pointed the warning raised by our Lord Himself, "Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven'!
Prayers are also unanswered because they are spoken from hate- filled hearts, while our Savior warns us that we cannot expect to find forgiveness if we willfully withhold pardon from those who have transgressed against us. Our prayers are often not heard because we ask something destructive, injurious to soul or body, and of course our gracious Father will not give us the means of harming ourselves eternally. Frequently, too, we pray merely by rote and rule. We insult God when we address Him, because our thoughts wander far away, as our petitions become mere recitations.
True, Christian prayer always brings God's blessed answer. I am firmly convinced that if all over the blood soaked earth human hearts were regularly, earnestly raised to the Almighty in Jesus' name, beseeching His help, without any thought of personal or national gain, but with intercessions even for our enemies, as Jesus commanded, we would have a mighty power for ending this war and establishing peace.
Humiliation and Prayer Sunday, then, reminds us "what a privilege it is to carry everything to God" in fervent pleading. If for your own heart and life you want the joy of Christ's salvation, then approach your Savior now in prayer! No matter how unwelcome you may be to others, He is ever ready to receive you provided you come repentant and rely on His full mercy. You need bring no credentials, no one to intercede for you, no record of past performances; for if, kneeling in contrite faith, you pray the publican's prayer, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" you can rise with the assurance that your transgressions have been washed away, the horrors of hell removed and heaven assured you. If you want Christ's peace and blessing in your home, make your dwelling a house of prayer! Have parents and children assemble each day for family worship, and Christ, who in the days of His humility entered Palestinian homes to bring salvation, health after sickness, life after death, will now in the glory of His exaltation, enrich your household far beyond your understanding. For a better America, pray as you have never prayed before that God in His mercy for Jesus' sake would save us from enemies without as from treachery within and continue the outpouring of His miraculous, undeserved, and often thanklessly received mercy! If you want peace--and I mean helpful, co-operative harmony, with tyranny, selfish class-interests, national hatred subdued, the mutual rights and needs of nations respected, a peace with a far better basis for understanding between peoples than we have yet seen--then beseech God for Jesus' sake to grant us that grace! For he who "maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth"; He who "breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear in sunder"; He who "burneth the chariot in the fire" can, if it be His will, grant the world years of necessary reconstruction.
What , then , can we do in this crisis day -- both those who have long loved the Lord and those who, by the Spirit's power, now resolve to accept Him as their Ransom and Redeemer? What, if not humble ourselves in penitence and prayer? What, if not proclaim this divine assurance by God Himself for blessing in our souls, our homes, our country, our churches, "If ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion, . . . for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away His face from you if ye return unto Him"? God grant you this true penitence and the promise of salvation by faith through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen.
The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon
first aired in November 1941, just two weeks before the bombing of