Dear brethren in the Lord: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ!
When the apostle admonishes his co-labourer Timothy that he shall study to show himself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), he is not only implying that he shall properly divide between Law and Gospel, but also that he shall deal out that portion of the truth which best serves the divine purpose. For it is not enough that I speak “as the oracles of God.” 1 Pet. 4:11. I must honestly try to proclaim that particular oracle which will most of all profit the hearers at the time of my speaking. It must be Zeitgemäsz, as the Germans put it. Only then shall I be able to comfort myself with Solomon’s proverb: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Prov. 25:1l.
When I was to choose a text upon which this year’s presidential message might be based, I could think of no more fitting word than that which the Psalmist in his day addressed to souls which might be tempted to despair because of threatening world conditions. After he has described a world so disturbed that he speaks of it as being “removed” and its mighty mountains as being “carried into the midst of the sea,” he still has words of comfort for those who know whom they have believed. The world he describes is pretty much fashioned after the world which confronts us today. For what are the conditions now obtaining? The waters of unrest have indeed been troubled and are still in seething turmoil, the heathen. are raging, kingdoms are moved, desolations have been made in the earth-though withal it is none other than Jehovah who has made them. But in the midst of all this chaos, when the faint-hearted are ready to concede that all is lost, what does God do? His voice is heard, to the discomfiture of all who imagine vain things, telling them that He is still God, who will be the final arbiter in the world’s disorder and confusion. It is Jehovah, “the Creator of the ends of the earth,” who says, to the utter confusion of the godless, but to the everlasting comfort of His own:
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Ps. 46:10.
It is just such a word of divine authority which our war-torn, unruly, and godless world needs to be reminded of at this stage of its martial madness. For while mighty feats of armed force have been performed and are being performed, while men are boasting not only of what they have done, but equally about what they are going to do, the authoritative voice of Him who rules in all the affairs of men is heard above the carnage of battle: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
What a comfort to know that, despite the arrogance, the self-sufficiency, the wicked willfulness, yea, the open defiance of God on the part of most of the world’s mighty ones, there is One who can and does speak to their eternal confusion and humiliation. And the words which strike terror into the hearts of all who stand opposed to Him are full of comfort to those who have learned to believe the eternal truth: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever he will.” Prov. 21:1.
Is it to be wondered at that this very Psalm (the 46th) was Martin Luther’s favorite, and that he on the basis of it composed a hymn which rises like an immovable rock in the midst of all threatening dangers — ”Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”? How could the lowly monk have carried on in the midst of the turmoil and disheartening reverses which the cause of truth seemed to meet on every hand in that storm-filled 16th century, unless he had planted his foot upon a rock that was higher than he? It is no mere bravado, but crystal-clear courage nurtured by a Scripture-filled faith which caused him to sing in the face of it all:
“And were the world with devils filled,
All watching to devour us,
Our souls to fear we need not yield,
They cannot overpower us;
Their dreaded prince no more
Can harm us as of yore;
His rage we can endure;
For lo! his doom is sure,
A word shall overthrow him.”
No doubt this hymn of humble Christian trust and defiant courage was composed during those trying days facing the Lutherans at the Diet of Speyer in 1529, when it seemed that all evangelical efforts at reform were destined to be crushed. That hymn alone would have been sufficient reason for the followers of Luther to be called “Protestants,” a name which they have gladly and proudly borne ever since. But we do know definitely that Luther himself made use of this mighty hymn during the dark days surrounding the Diet at Augsburg in 1530. Confined as he was at the castle in Coburg, while his fellow reformers were presenting their Scripture-true Confession before the Imperial Diet, Luther would, at the open window of his room, daily sing the stirring strains of this “God Almighty’s grenadier march,” as it most fittingly has been called. And he was not put to shame. It might appear as though all were lost. But to him who believes with all his heart that the God of Jacob is the God who always answers the troubled soul’s prayer, though it takes an all-night struggle to get the blessing, there can be no doubt concerning the final outcome.
We know not what incident in Israel’s history the Psalmist had in mind when he wrote this marvelous Psalm. It might have been that fateful day when Israel was encamped between Migdal and the Red Sea, when it seemed as though its flight out of Egypt was to be brought to naught. It took faith to see a way out when the deep waters of the Sea were before them and the well-equipped hosts of Pharaoh pressing from the rear. But Moses was a man of faith. It is concerning this indomitable leader’s faith that Scriptures have recorded: “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” Heb. 11:27. In the midst of the rebellious murmuring on every hand, Moses on that day calmly assures his followers: “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.” Ex. 14:13.
Or the Psalmist might have had that other threatening day in mind, when, during the reign of King Hezekiah, the mighty hosts of the scoffing and blaspheming Sennacherib had completely invested the Holy City. When the arrogant monarch from the east sneeringly asked: “Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (2 Kings 18:33) what was God’s reply? He replied then as He had done at Migdol by the Red Sea, and as He replies to-day: “Be still, and know that I am God.” For if is recorded of that Assyrian who “came down like a wolf on the fold”: “And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.” 2 Kings 19:35.
If we in sincerity and in truth mean what we sing: “A mighty fortress is our God,” then we shall also have the confidence and strength which, in the face of overwhelming odds, will say with the Psalmist: “Be still, and know that I am God.” And it is such God-given confidence, dear members of our synod, we shall need for ourselves and for our children in the trying years before us. For let no one imagine that the millennium is just around the corner, now that the nations are banding together for what is hoped will be the end of all wars. There will be no end of opposition to the true Church of God so long, as “the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing.” And all will be but vain imagination which does not reckon with Jehovah as the final arbiter.
It is true, we have our Saviour’s precious promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. Matt. 16:18. But the Church as we know it may even now be on its way back to the Catacombs. As the early Christian Church was persecuted in the most ruthless and bloody way, so shall the tribulation of the same Church be in the closing era of its day of grace. And the mark by which this shall be known is the mark of Noe. For it is the very Lord of the Church who has foretold: “But as the days of Noe were so shall the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered the ark. And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Matt 24:37–39.
What is wrong about eating and drinking, about marrying and giving in marriage? Nothing at all, unless a person’s whole life is so preoccupied with that which pertains to this present world only that he loses sight of the one thing needful. And it is this wholly carnal concept of life which the Saviour has in mind when He compares the end of the world to the godless days preceding the flood. There has perhaps never before been a more anxious striving for all manner of security than in the days in which we live. Everything must be made secure, from the poor man’s pig sty to the plutocrat’s Pierce Arrow. That is what the masses are clamoring for, and our dear Christians are not wholly exempt from the spirit of the age. The old Adam has not been wholly drowned. Nor do we expect him to be wholly drowned, so long as we are in our earthly house of this tabernacle. But there is one thing which we, by the grace of God, must not fail to do: We must keep him uncomfortably submerged by ducking him under every time he raises his hideous head. With Luther we say: “I cannot prevent the birds from flying over my head, but I can stop them from making their nests in my hair.”
And in the midst of all this world-wide confusion, wishful thinking, and even the most godless thinking, it is highly necessary that the individual members of our congregations search the Scriptures, so that they may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour. The ungodly will, of course, have their day with their defiant threat: “Let us break the bands of the Lord and His anointed asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” But be of good cheer, child of God, it is only their brief day. Yours is eternity’s endless certainty.
“Thy cause is God’s; go at His call,
And to His hand commit thine all;
Fear thou no ill impending:
His Gideon shall arise for thee,
God’s word and people manfully
In God’s own time defending.”
It is Jehovah, who has spoken: “Be still, and know that I am God.” And that has been written as much for your learning as it has been recorded for the warning of all who oppose God’s sovereign majesty, reject His redemption, and do despite to the Spirit of His inimitable grace. Your way, fellow believer, is not hid from the Lord, neither is your judgment passed over from our God. ‘Tis true, His judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out. But of one thing you may be absolutely certain, and that is that His judgment and His ways will prove for you paths of mercy and truth. And with that. divine assurance as our comforting and ever faith-strengthening shibboleth, let us arise and join hearts and voices in our matchless hymn:
“A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
Our help is He in all our need,
Our stay, whate’er doth happen;
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe:
Strong mail of craft and power
He weareth in this hour;
On earth is not his equal.
“Stood we alone in our own might,
Our striving would be losing;
For us the one true Man doth fight,
The Man of God’s own choosing.
Who is this chosen One?
‘Tis Jesus Christ, the Son,
The Lord of hosts, ‘tis He
Who wins the victory
In every field of battle.”
Norman A. Madson