George O. Lillegard
1954 Synod Convention Essay
The evening twilight has long been celebrated in poetry and song for its beauties and glories. It is the hour when the light of day still lingers, but its heat and burden are past; when the gathering shades of night as yet suggest none of its terrors, but only rest from toil and the comforts of the fireside. Certainly it is the hour when Nature appears at her loveliest, whether on land or sea, in the open fields or the rugged mountains. Hence the enduring appeal of such lines as these from a favorite song:
“Just a song at twilight When the lights are low,
And the flickering shadows Softly come and go;”
or as these by Mrs. Norton:
“O Twilight! Spirit that does render birth
To dim enchantments, melting heaven with earth,
Leaving on craggy hills and miming stream
A softness like the atmosphere of dreams;
Thy hour to all is welcome! Faint and sweet
Thy light falls round the peasant’s homeward
Who, slow returning from his task of toil,
Sees the low sunset gild the cultured soil,
And, though such radiance round him brightly glows,
Marks the small spark his cottage window throws.”
When we, then, speak of “Today’s Twilight Hours,” it is to be expected that the period we describe will have its glories and excellencies. It will to all appearances be a most prosperous and pleasant period for rich and poor, great and small, flowering forth in a burst of privileges for all classes and conditions of men; a period when the Socialist dream of a heaven on earth would seem quite within the realm of possibility, if only men would believe in it and strive for its fulfillment. Many of these who live in that period will mistake it for a new dawning instead of the deepening twilight, a harbinger of a better world than has ever been known before, the end result of the onward march of evolutionary progress. Others, whose works are of the darkness, will be glad in anticipation of the coming of the night, to cloak their sinister activities. There will be few, perhaps, who will regret the passing of the day; few whose thoughts will turn with dread to the future; few for whom the twilight will have its sadness and dreary forebodings as they think of the long hours when the cry will be: “Watchman, what of the night?” and when to the echoing: “Watchman, what of the night?” the watchman can only reply: “When the morning comes, it will still be night.” (Is. 21,11.)
We see this principle illustrated in the history of nations as well as of the Christian Church. The flower is at its fullest and best just before it withers and dies. Nations reach the zenith of their power and prosperity just when the seeds of decay and death are growing most prolifically in the body politic. It was no accident that Edward Gibbon began his monumental history of the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” with the reign of Hadrian, one of the most illustrious of all the Roman emperors. Under him Rome attained its greatest extent and power. His legions kept law and order from the Scottish border in the British Isles to the Indus River in Asia. Under him Rome built its grandest architectural monuments and flourished in every way as never before. But it was also then that the seeds of decay, sown by ambitious Caesars to the disintegration of the Roman Republic and its free form of governments, grew and multiplied till they ended in as inglorious a dissolution of a mighty empire as history records. The Empire crumbled, not so much because of the attacks from without by Parthians, Vandals, Goths and Huns, as because of the corruption within, which spread out from the cancer which was Rome to the farthest reaches of the Empire and poisoned the whole body politic till it became ripe for destruction.
From these examples and analogies in Nature and History, we may expect that conditions would be of the same kind in the Christian Church in its twilight hour, the last days of the world. Then the Church will flourish and prosper as never before. But the height of its power and extent in outward appearance will mark the beginning of its de cline and death. When Jesus spoke to His disciples about the end of the world, he said: “The gospel must first be published among all nations,” (Mark 13,10); and again: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matth. 24,14). Thus should be fulfilled the many glorious promises of the Old Testament prophets concerning the Messiah and His kingdom, such as: “In his (the Messiah’s) days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness (i.e. the barbarians) shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. — Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him. — His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.” (Ps. 72,7ff.)
Yet the conquering course of Christ’s Gospel through all the world is not to result in a millennia!period when Christians will live in peace with the world and be able to govern the nations by the Word of God. For the promises of a world-wide diffusion of the Gospel and of the triumphs of the messengers of the Cross over their enemies always go together with warnings of persecutions and afflictions which are to come to all true disciples of Christ. Thus Jesus says in connection with His promise that the Gospel shall be preached in all the world: “They shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matth. 24,9ff.) The circumstance that the gospel is preached to all the world does not mean that it will be believed everywhere. Note that Christ says the Gospel shall be preached in all the world “for a witness unto all nations.” At another time Jesus said: “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” This question implies that there will be little true faith on earth when Christ returns to judge all men by His word, in spite of the world-wide diffusion of the Gospel. Jesus tells us that conditions will be like they were in the days before the Flood, when everyone knew the word of God and heard Noah, the preacher of righteousness, proclaim the end of their world, and yet did not believe. (Matth. 24.) and as they were in Sodom and Gomorrah before the “cities of the Plain” were destroyed by fire from heaven, not even ten righteous men being found in them to save them from the holy wrath of God. (Luke 17.) Men will have to seek far and wide, for true faith, and will scarcely find it, as was the case of Elijah who complained to the Lord: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” (I Kings 19,10.) He believed that he stood alone in the midst of a godless and heathenish generation, although there actually were 7,000, unknown to Elijah, who had not yet bowed the knee to Baal. And so true Christians have always had to sing with Selnecker, and will sing not least in the last days of this earth:
Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide, For round us falls the eventide;
Nor let Thy word, that heavenly light, For us be ever veiled in night.
O God! how sin’s dread works abound, Throughout the earth no rest is found;
And wide has falsehood’s spirit spread, And error boldly rears its head.
And ever is there something new Devised to change Thy doctrine true;
Lord Jesus! as Thou still dost reign, Those vain, presumptuous minds restrain;
And as the cause and glory, Lord, Are Thine, not ours, do Thou afford
Us help and strength and constancy, And keep us ever true to Thee.
But worldliness and lust for earthly power and honor are firmly rooted in the corrupt heart of natural man. And so there is nothing which troubles the Church of Christ more than the Chiliastic hopes for a period of prosperity and power, which crop up continually, not only in heretical sects, but also in the orthodox church. There are many who believe firmly that the Church of Christ is destined to become the ruling power in the world by the gradual spread of the Gospel and its leavening influence on society. There are others who believe that Christ will come again to establish His kingdom of righteousness and peace on this present earth, and that He will reign for a thousand years, making His disciples the lords of all the earth. The Chiliastic hope may take a hundred different forms, from the gross “Jewish opinions” which the Augsburg Confession condemns to the refined “Lutheran Millennialism” which practically all Lutherans condone. The Roman Church strives as craftily and zealously as ever to regain the power over kings and peoples which it possessed in the Middle Ages. There is no retreat from the ancient papal contention that the Pope represents God on earth, so that both Church and State must recognize him as the divinely appointed ruler of the earth. Protestant Churches have to a large extent forgotten their first love for the word of God as their only weapon against the forces of evil and are vying with the Catholic Church for power and influence in the world of politics and statecraft. They look upon it as a part of their mission in the world to put the teachings of Christ into effect in the affairs of the State as well as of the Church. They are not satisfied to save individuals, like brands from the burning, from the fires of Hell, but plan to put out the fire, abolish Hell, and bring in a new “Social Order” where men will no longer be driven by the “profit motive,” but by love for their fellowmen and the desire to serve one another.
Now it is, indeed, true that the Gospel has been brought during this last “Century of Missions” even to the farthest isles of the seas, in accordance with the prophecy: “The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. — The abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee.-Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee.” (Is. 60,3.ff.) It is true that the visible Church exercises more power today than ever before, in spite of its losses to an atheistic Communism; that not only the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Protestant Churches, through such organizations as the World Council of Churches, seek and wield influence in the councils of the nations more than ever before. It is true that the Bible is distributed in larger quantities and reaches more different races and nations than ever before; that the membership of the Churches has increased relatively more than the population has in countries like ours. We could go on to paint a rosy picture of the future of the Christian Church, supported as it is by the wealth and faith of the most prosperous and the most zealous peoples in the history of the world.
But the measure of the outward success of the visible Church is the very measure of its failure as a bearer of the Gospel of the Crucified Redeemer. For Christ did not come to earth to wear a crown, except the crown of thorns, nor to occupy a throne, except the throne of the cross. And it is simply not true that the disciples of Christ are at any time to exercise power over the world or succeed in making a heaven out of this earth or in building the kingdom of glory visibly among men. On the contrary, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” (II Tim. 3,12). Jesus tells us: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matth. 16,24). And again Jesus says of His disciples: “The world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (John 17,14) And St. Paul tells us: “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14,22.) It is only if we suffer with Jesus that we shall reign with Him, (II Tim. 2,12) and be glorified with Him. (Rom. 8,17) Those within the ranks of the Christian Church who seek earthly power for the Church reveal themselves thereby as enemies of the cross of Christ as tares among the wheat, the seed of the Enemy of Christ. Only the persecuted minority, the “very small remnant,” (Is. 1,9) can properly be called the true church of God.
That this must necessarily be the case we see from the example of Jesus Christ Himself. The prophets foretold His sufferings and shameful death in the same breath in which they foretold His triumphant exaltation as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He was the one who should rule in the midst of His enemies, (Ps. 110,2.) The heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing, the kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His anointed, all the while that the Lord has set his king upon his holy hill of Zion and has given him the heathen for his inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. (Psalm 2.) Isaiah spoke of the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief Who hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Who was smitten of God and afflicted, and Who yet was to see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied, Who was to divide him a portion with the great and divide the spoil with the strong, because He had poured out His soul unto death. (Is. 53.)
The New Testament also shows us clearly that it was because of his sufferings and death that Christ was made our King and Lord. St. Paul says: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.” (Phil. 2,5–11). The cross and the crown go together in God’s kingdom. Those who would enter Christ’s kingdom of glory must walk the narrow path that Jesus has trodden before us, to Gethsemane and Calvary first, and then the Mount of Ascension. There is no easy road to heaven. So the time will never come on this earth when it will be popular to confess Christ in the way the Word of God tells us to do. The greater success a man has in proclaiming the Gospel and winning souls for Christ, the greater will the trials and burdens also be with which he will have to contend. Thus St. Paul gives us a long list of afflictions (II Cor. 11) which he had to endure for the sake of the Gospel, at the same time as he tells us of the marvelous visions and revelations of the glory of God which he had received. And he states God’s purpose with these afflictions in the words: “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” (II Cor. 12,7.)
When we speak of Christian cross bearing, then we mean not the trials and griefs which come to all men as a result of their sins, but the temptation and sufferings which result from following Christ!
The cross which Christians bear may, indeed, take a thousand different forms in the different cases. We in this country do not suffer physically for our Christian faith; we may seem rather to be honored and respected for it We are not cast in prison and falsely accused or sent to slave labor camps or slain by brutal executioners. But millions of Christians in other lands which once were counted as Christian have been tortured, banished from their homes or slain for no other crime than for believing in the Triune God of the Bible rather than in the Socialist trinity: Marx, Lenin and Stalin. And it is not only where Communists rule that open persecution decimates the visible church. In several Catholic lands the government has laid restrictions upon Protestant mission work which rival anything we could point to in the Middle Ages of the days of the Spanish Inquisition. In Colombia, during these last six years, 53 Protestants have suffered martyrdom, 43 churches and chapels have been destroyed and 116 schools have been closed. And none can say that such open persecution may not afflict also our land some day, if present trends toward a State religion are not checked. For that would necessarily be a false religion, the common denominator of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant faiths, which would be bound to persecute all those who venture to criticize or condemn the false, anti-Christian teachings of either Jew or Catholic or Modernistic, legalistic Protestant.
But such open persecution is not, as a rule, the most difficult to bear patiently and bravely. There are more insidious attacks on our Christian faith, before which all too many people faint and fall. The devil comes not only as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, but also as an angel of light, promising us many fine and good things, if we only will not expose him too clearly as the foul spirit from the Pit that he is. When Jesus told his disciples “how he must suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day,” Peter began to rebuke him, saying, “Be it far from thee Lord; this shall not be unto thee.” He meant well. He just could not understand that it should be either necessary or possible for the Messiah, the Son of the living God, to be destroyed by his enemies. But Jesus turned and said unto him, “Get thee behind me Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matth. 16,21ff.) Peter had worldly ideas of what kind of kingdom Christ should establish; he did not understand things that be of God. And even as he was an offence and a temptation to Jesus because of this, so we, too, are often tempted, by those who have worldly ideas of what a Christian or the Christian Church should be, to forget the cross and to grasp at a mere earthly crown. We need, then, to review the temptations which meet men under our conditions, so that we may the better learn how to bear the cross of Christ after him.
There is, first, the ever-present temptation to worldliness in life and conduct on the of both pastor and people. Not even the most orthodox person is immune to the siren calls of the world and its honors. He, too, takes his Old Adam with him wherever he goes. We need not grant that an orthodox believer is more prone to worldliness and the sins of the flesh than the heretical pietist or legalist is, as is falsely charged. On the contrary, there is no stronger bulwark against sin than true faith in Jesus Christ as the Redeemer who has taken away our sins by his death and has justified us by his resurrection from the dead. But it is too often the case that those who confess the true faith do not adorn their faith by a godly life. And at the root of their failure lies unwillingness to bear the cross of the world’s scorn and enmity. It is so easy to follow the crowd, to conform to the majority, to set our moral standards by what is popular in a given age or place, instead of by the eternal word of God.
Even when we for the sake of the pure doctrine separate ourselves from those who teach falsely, we still may fall short in our Christian life and in zeal for the work of preaching the Gospel. We hear much in certain church circles about “dead orthodoxy.” And there is no use in denying that there is such a thing, unless we maintain that a “dead Christian” is neither Christian nor orthodox. Nor is it an adequate retort to say there is “dead heterodoxy” also, or that the energy and zeal with which errorists and heretics spread their heresies are derived from the devil who comes with “all power and signs and lying wonders,” (II Thess. 2,9), and whose spirit “now worketh in the children of disobedience.” (Eph. 2,2.) We need every day to repent of our lukewarmness and sinfulness and to ask God for the gift of His Holy Spirit to permeate and inform our every act, word and thought.
The temptation to worldliness is particularly great in a country like ours where temporal prosperity is so general and advanced. A recent European visitor, remarking on this, expressed the opinion that our prosperity had made us as a people “soft” and lacking in independence and character. Surely it is true that luxury and prosperity do have a corrupting influence on Society. When Christians are faced with the choice between giving up some of the luxuries of modern living or of denying important principles or tenets of their biblical faith, it is not everyone who will stand the test. Our Savior warns us of this in his parable of the Sower: “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” (Matth. 13,22.) The wise Agur said: “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” (Prov. 30,8–9). There are too many in our Socialistic age who have accepted the false notion that all the ills of Society could be cured, if only everyone had enough of this world’s goods. They trace all the evils in the world to poverty and unequal distribution of wealth. They should know from experience as well as from the word of God that riches and prosperity are just as prolific a breeding-ground for vice and misery as poverty is. The radical Socialists and Communists of our day are more likely to be found among the wealthy and well-educated than poor and “under-privileged.” But it is no easy matter for Christians, — particularly if they themselves love luxury and fear “the scorning of those that are at ease — and the contempt of the proud,” (Ps. 123,4) — to take a stand against the Mammon-worship and the idolatrous love of pleasure which is such a prominent part of the American scene today.
It is only another aspect of the spirit of worldliness when people want to compromise with such popular and generally respected organizations as the Secret Societies or Lodges, the Boy Scout Movement, and other semi-secular, semi-religious organizations which are so plentiful in our land. These represent in every case the religion of the Law and aim to build character and to promote civic righteousness. It may seem entirely in order for a Christian to join these organizations, if only for the sake of the State and Society, helping them to follow the moral law which forms the very basis for all order and good government. But it is impossible for a Christian through membership in these societies to fulfill his first duty, that of preaching the Gospel of the crucified Redeemer as our only salvation. For the religion of the Law and the religion of the Gospel are two antithetical things. If in doubt about this, read Romans and Galatians again. According to the Lodges, the Boy Scout principles, etc., the essential thing is to do good and keep the Law. But according to the Bible teaching, the essential thing is to admit that there is no good in us, and that we can stand in judgment only by a borrowed righteousness, that of Jesus Christ who “of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (I Cor. 1,30.) Try proclaiming this Gospel in a Lodge meeting or in a Boy Scout camp, emphasizing the fact that “doing a good turn each day” may produce a fine Pharisee, but never a consecrated Christian, and see how far you will get! These organizations could not permit such preaching without giving up their basic tenets. So, if anyone is inclined to think that it should be possible in our day and age to confess Christ without suffering persecution, let him just take a determined stand against Lodges, Boy Scouts, and similar organizations. He will soon find that social ostracism, public ridicule, and the contempt and enmity of the “leading citizens” of his community will be his reward.
The Norwegian writer, Waldemar Ager, in his story, “Christ Before Pilate,” pictures very effectively what happens to an honest, earnest pastor when he tries to hew to the line and apply the word of God to each concrete situation as it arises. The young pastor in this story finds opposition and criticism at every turn and gains strength to go on with his work only by contemplating daily the famous painting, “Christ Before Pilate,” which adorns the wall of his study. The Pharisees hated Christ because he took away from them the righteousness which was their boast and their god. Pilate despised Jesus and counted Him as but a harmless “crack-pot” because He said that He was “the Truth,” – absolute and final truth; and to Pilate there was no such thing as Truth. So today also the Gospel must earn the hatred of self-righteous men and the contempt of all who boast of their wisdom and scientific knowledge. Therefore, more than human strength and courage is required to take a stand for the truth against its enemies within and without the visible church.
The true disciple of Jesus Christ finds himself tempted also by men who claim to be His followers, though they deny His Gospel, particularly such as promote the spirit of unionism and indifferentism with regard to pure doctrine. This spirit finds its culminating expression today in the so-called “Ecumenical Movement,” an ambitious effort to unite all churches in one grand “World Council of Churches,” or to establish a sort of Protestant Papacy. Practically all of the Protestant churches, including the great majority of Lutherans, have already joined this World Council. The image-worshiping Eastern Orthodox Churches also belong, except where they are prevented from doing so by the Communists. Its doors are open to Communists, too, from lands where the church is but a propaganda arm of the Communist State. It is a fundamental principle of this World Council that it must make room for every manner of opposing teachings. It justifies this by the palpable lie that these opposing doctrines represent merely different facets of the same truth, instead of truth on the one hand and error on the other. This “inclusivist principle” makes it impossible for the Church to combat error or to cleanse its house of the leaven of false doctrine. And yet there apparently are very few people left who have the courage and the faith to stand up and be counted against this modern Tower of Babel. The ELC did vote a few years ago not to enter the World Council. But now it has voted to enter a Merger with other Lutheran churches which already belong to the World Council, so that when the Merger is consummated, they will all, no doubt, be dragged into the Council. The Missouri Synod, too, has had contacts with this organization and its daughter, the Lutheran World Federation. The time may soon be here when only such “splinter sects” as our own will refuse to join this Modernistic “super-church,” and resist its interference in affairs of State and its pretensions to speaking for God and the whole Christian Church.
It is the more necessary to avoid the World Council and all its works because its leaders, if not also most of its rank and file members, are Modernists and advocates of the “Social Gospel.” And the Social Gospel is but a foolish attempt to combine the tenets of atheistic, evolutionistic Socialism with the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, and to pass this off on an unsuspecting public as the Gospel for our day and age. As certainly as this is a religion of Law alone and knows nothing of the Gospel concerning the Savior of sinners, so certainly is it a false religion which will at the first opportunity persecute those who adhere to the true Gospel. For it has always been true that the religion of the law persecuted the religion of the Gospel. Thus Paul says, referring to Ishmael and his persecution of Isaac: “But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” (Gal. 4,29) And again he says: “And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.” (Gal. 5,11.) He shows how the fear of persecution determines the conduct of many people when he says: “As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. — but God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Gal. 6,12ff).
“As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh!” — there we have it: the lust for power and honor for the Church of Christ, which so readily takes the place of glorying in the cross; the desire to “make a greater impact on the world,” or to “win the world for Christ,” which so often expresses merely ambition for honor and glory in this world. The Protestant World Council differs not a particle from the Roman Papacy in this regard.
There is an even more sinister aspect of the ambitions and activities of the World Council of Churches, namely that it is being used as a cover for those who would transform our free Republic into a Socialist Dictatorship, and even for such perhaps, as are secret agents of the tyranny called Communism. As stated before, the “Social Gospel” which the World Council openly advocates is nothing else than an application of the theory of evolution to the field of Sociology and the moral teachings of the Bible. It is in practice hardly distinguishable from Socialism itself, except that the forthright Socialist will condemn all religion as but out-of-date superstition, while the Social Gospel preacher will blasphemously use the name of Christ and of God freely in support of his anti-Christian teachings. Hence it is inevitable that the one who believes in the Social Gospel will also accept Socialistic theories in political and social matters and will mouth their cliches about the sins of Capitalism and the present “social order” as glibly as any Bolshevik Then it is only a step from such advocacy of Socialism into the web of Communist intrigue and treason. According to recognized authorities, there are 10,000 ministers in our country who are connected in some way or other with the Communist apparatus. And the churches, Protestant and Catholic both, are called the greatest source of strength for the Communist movement. It is an ironical commentary on the state of affairs in this twilight hour of the world’s history that this should be so. And yet it is nothing new that the Church should welcome its enemies into its bosom. The prophet Hosea, 2,700 years ago said: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.” (13,9) There are suicidal tendencies at work in the Church of Christ, as well as in the hearts of millions of individuals. Our Lord and Savior wept over the Holy City, saying: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killeth the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Luke 13,34.) Time and again the visible church has been destroyed, not by its enemies from without, but by corruption within, and by its failure to exclude from its fellowship those who preach “another gospel” than that of the Crucified One. When God lets persecution come over the Church, it is His way of cleansing it. It grows and thrives by walking the way of the cross, and perishes only when it marches on the broad road of the world. For the blood of the martyrs is ever the seed of the Church. When those, then, who call themselves Christians adopt the teachings, the principles and the ways of the anti-Christian world, there is nothing left for God to do but to condemn them and “spue them out of His mouth.” (Rev. 3,16). The warnings of John, written 1,900 years ago, are meant also for us in these last days of the world: “I have somewhat against thee because thou hast left they first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” (Rev. 2,4–5).
Obvious though these things should be, it is not easy for Christians to meet the propagandists who with such diabolical cleverness pervert the word of God and manage to combine it with atheistic philosophies, and who play such a prominent part in most churches, including the Roman Catholic. Socialism, they say, is “the wave of the future,” a movement which is as useless to resist as it would be to seek to change the stars in their courses. We are told, through almost every medium of education, from grade-school text-books to radio and television, that it is only a question of time until the whole world will be united, as it should be, under one International Socialist government and one Universal Religion. And the saddest part of the picture is that so many who should know better are bemused by the lying propaganda of these children of Belial, until they join in opposing and persecuting those who warn against the enemies of God and of our free institutions, instead of supporting them.
But the hardest test that we as Lutheran Christians must meet today is the temptation to go along with those who would compromise our faith and confession in some way, in order to heal the sad breaches in the walls of our American Lutheran Zion. It is not easy to stand alone, or to break with old friends and associates over differences in doctrine, as we learned in 1918 when our Synod was formed in protest against the unionistic Merger of 1917. There were many then whom we knew as staunch Lutherans, but who fell by the way-side, leaving but a pitiably small minority to carry on the teachings and principles of the old Norwegian Synod. Now, after a long generation, it appears that history may repeat itself. We may have to decide again whether to stand alone rather than compromise the doctrines and principles for which our Synod has stood for a century. If we do find ourselves forced to separate from former brethren, we may be sure that we will again hear the cry: “The Norwegian Synod has no right to exist.” “It is a separatistic sect.” “It should not leave those who after all are as orthodox as anyone else.” No doubt we will be exposed to even greater opposition and ridicule than in 1918. It will surely not be an easy cross to bear for any man.
But then we should remember, whatever form our cross may take, that there are glorious rewards promised to those who remain faithful unto death. God does not promise us freedom from persecutions and trials; but He does tell us that we shall learn to rejoice in them as surely as we trust in Him and believe His word. It is true even of the triumphs and rewards of this world that they are gained only through much tribulation and labor. “Per aspera ad astra,” “Through difficulties to the stars,” — even the pagans knew this to be true. It is hardship, danger, strife and struggle that make life interesting. Without them there would be no sagas or epics, no tales of adventure or of thrilling exploits. And since the rewards of the Christian soldier of the cross are a thousand times greater than any of those to be gained by this world’s heroes, it is only right that their trials and afflictions should be greater also. But with them always go such promises as these:
“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16,33) “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matth. 5,10–12.) “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.” (John 15,20–21). “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8,18) At the end of his life, when he had been condemned as an evil-doer, St. Paul could say: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: And not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (II Tim. 4,6ff.) Cf. also Mark 10,28–30.
We might fill pages with similar statements of Scripture concerning the joy and blessing which come to the Christian along with and even through his afflictions. We might also quote many hymns which express beautifully the comfort which the believer finds in God’s wonderful promises, such as Paul Gerhardt’s hymn:
“Why should cross and trial grieve me? Christ is near With His cheer;
Never will he leave me. Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son For my owm To my faith hath given?
Though a heavy cross I’m bearing And my heart feels the smart,
Shall I be despairing? God, my Helper, who doth send it,
Well doth know All my woe And how best to end it.
God oft gives me days of gladness; Shall I grieve If He give
Seasons, too, of sadness? God is good and tempers ever
All my ill, And He will Wholly leave me never.
Hopeful, cheerful and undaunted Everywhere They appear
Who in Christ are planted. Death itself cannot appall them,
They rejoice When the voice Of their Lord doth call them.
But we shall close with the reminder that the twilight hour of this present world is for the Christian the harbinger of ills final redemption; as Christ says: “And when these things (the signs of the end of the world) begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21,28) For the wicked, the night of eternal death must follow the twilight of the present age. But for the true believer, the growing darkness is not only a warning to be prepared for the coming of the Lord but also the promise of a new day, — the great Day when this sin-cursed world shall pass away and our Lord and Savior shall make all things new; and when the Holy City, new Jerusalem, shall come down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev. 21,1ff) “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 22,5.)
May it in this twilight hour of the world and the church be our constant prayer:
In the hour of trial, Jesus, plead for me
Lest by base denial I depart from Thee.
When Thou see’st me waver, With a look recall
Nor for fear or favor Suffer me to fall.
With forbidden pleasures Should this vain world charm
Or its tempting treasures Spread to work me harm,
Bring to my remembrance Sad Gethsemane
Or, in darker semblance, Cross-crowned Calvary.
Should Thy mercy send me Sorrow, toil, and woe,
Or should pain attend me On my path below,
Grant that I may never Fail Thy hand to see;
Grant that I may ever Cast my care on Thee.
When my last hour cometh, Fraught with strife and pain,
When my dust returneth To the dust again,
On Thy truth relying, Thro’ that mortal strife,
Jesus, take me dying, To eternal life. Amen.