“Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
During the days that our Synod has been summarizing its divinely-appointed work for the year of grace just passed, a great and earnest debate has been occupying the attention of all the thinking people of our country. How shall the Korean conflict with its rising toll of lives lost, bodies maimed and wounded, minds shattered and hearts broken, be brought to a successful close? On this question sincere and earnest men have spoken, men of knowledge and ability, men of stature and experience. On the one side a certain plan is proposed with fervor and conviction, while on the other side another plan is advocated with earnest words as being the wiser course. The man in the street, whether or not he has formed an opinion, is painfully conscious of the fact that while these words are being spoken the war is going on with its intense suffering, excruciating pain, and cruel devastation. Daily, reports are being received by anxious civilians that a son, a husband, a father, a brother has fallen on the field of battle, while at the same time others are tearfully bidding their farewells to loved ones summoned to duty overseas. True it is that “many are the hearts that are weary tonight waiting for the war to cease.” These are experiences not new to man, but experiences through which our fathers passed, our grandfathers, and great-grandfathers in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II, And so it has been since the fall of man into sin and so it will be to the end of time. There will be wars and rumors of war and distress of nations with perplexity.
In the midst of this carnage—on this very scene of blood and sweat and tears, God has placed His Church and given her a message to proclaim which gladdens, uplifts, assures, and sustains. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Is. 40, 1.2. Though wars and rumors of war will continue to the end, the glorious tidings of a warfare that is accomplished, that is completed, that is done sounds forth in the Gospel Word of forgiveness. “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Rom. 6, 14. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rom. 5, 20b–21. It was this conqueror, stronger than Satan, mightier than all the forces of evil, the victor over sin and death, our liberator from the bonds and curse of the law, whom John saw in a vision on the Isle of Patmos. Hear what he wrote by inspiration of the Holy Ghost: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Rev. 19, 11–16. With Jesus Christ the Son, the Man of God’s own choosing, every attack made upon us by Satan our ancient foe, will end in victory for us. Concerning this there is no debate, no room for argument, no call for committee investigation. In the words of Martin Luther, faithful man of God, champion of Gospel truth, we sing with conviction and with thoughts of the strong hand of God that has sustained and upheld us in the most trying days:
Had God not come, may Israel say,
Had God not come to aid us,
Our enemies on that sad day
Would surely have dismayed us;
A remnant now, and handful small,
Held in contempt and scorn by all,
Who cruelly would oppress us.
Their furious wrath, did God permit,
Would quickly have consumed us,
And in the deep and yawning pit
With life and limb entombed us;
Like men o’er whom dark waters roll,
The streams had gone e’ en o’er our soul,
And mightily o’erwhelmed us.
Thanks be to God, who from the pit
Snatched us, when it was gaping;
Our souls, like birds that break the net,
To the blue sky escaping;
The snare is broken—we are free!
The Lord our helper praised be,
The God of earth and heaven.
To the preservation of the Word which speaks comfortably to Jerusalem are we dedicated and to the spreading of this Word which speaks sweet peace to the hearts of men are we consecrated. That this Word shall not be profaned or desecrated, that this Word shall not be abused or mishandled, that this Word shall stand unsullied and unblemished in our confession, to this end we pledge ourselves anew. Not to give up a single jot or tittle, not to cast a shadow of doubt on a single word of Scripture, this is our determination. We are committed to preserve this Word inviolate in order that we may stand with our Savior “to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” Is. 61, 2b–3. And so as we speak, we wish to speak only as the oracles of God. As we minister we wish to minister only as good stewards of the manifold grace of God and as of the ability which God giveth “that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever.”
This then is the mission of the Church. This is our calling as kings and priests. We are duly conscious of the fact that this ministry does not have the color and glamour which will attract the attention and praise of the world. We would not sell our birthright for this mess of pottage and walk in the spirit of antichrist. “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” I John 4, 5.6. We know that our ministry requires of us as faithful stewards to mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which we have learned and to avoid them. It is clear to us that in this ministry of speaking comfortably to Jerusalem we cannot be unequally yoked with unbelievers, have fellowship with unrighteousness or have communion with darkness, but that we must come out from among them, be separate, and touch not the unclean thing, that we may lose the very thing which we seek to preserve for the comfort and salvation of those who are burdened with sin. We know that in this ministry we must bear the cross and be ready to suffer for Christ’s sake, to endure afflictions, to hear the world calling us fools, troublemakers, and pestilent fellows. This we shall endure, keeping watch over our manner of life that it be honest, “that whereas they speak against us, as evildoers, they may by our good works which they shall see, glorify God in the day of visitation.” “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye; and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:” I Peter 3, 14-18. We have counted the cost of bearing testimony in a world that wants no testimony and before men who shy away from positive statements of :truth, but we are willing to pay the price of discipleship, For it is the most precious thing in all the world.
As we see the dwindling number of those who have the courage of their convictions and who in spite of intimidation and specious argumentation, dare to stand alone on the old foundations, it is but human to be filled with a feeling of loneliness and solitude as others gather in great numbers and make great outward advances. In these last days of the world, whereof Jesus says there will be but very few of the faithful, the earnest contenders for the faith may be so depressed with the feeling of isolation that they find it hard to rejoice with the joy which is theirs. But just in these circumstances the doctrine of the Church Universal with Christ’s promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it comes to the rescue with great comfort and consolation. Thus do our confessions speak of this doctrine of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints: “In order that we may not despair, but may know that the Church will nevertheless remain (until the end of the world), likewise that we may know that, however great the multitude of the wicked is, yet the Church (which is Christ’s bride) exists, and that Christ affords those gifts which He has promised to the Church, to forgive sins, to hear prayer, to give the Holy Ghost, this article in the Creed presents us these consolations. And it says Church Catholic, in order that we may not understand the Church to be an outward government of certain nations (that the Church is like any other external polity, bound to this or that land, kingdom, or nation, as the Pope of Rome will say) but rather men scattered throughout the whole world (here and there in the world, from the rising to the setting of the sun) we agree concerning the Gospel and have the same Christ, the same Holy Ghost, and the same sacraments, whether they have the same or different human traditions.” Trig. p. 229. Though we never on this earth can meet with the true believers scattered abroad and often isolated, though we never are able to publish the establishment of altar, pulpit, and prayer-fellowship with them, nevertheless we are comforted to know that we are in spirit and in truth one with all of those who in their hearts believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as their one and only Savior, Lord, and King. This is the unity and union that counts and this is the oneness too for which the Savior prayed in His high-priestly prayer and which receives its answer in the gathering of the saints from the rising to the setting of the sun. This oneness and this gathering of the saints from age to age shall be revealed and manifested on that great day when the trumpet shall sound and all God’s children shall be gathered to the Savior’s side.
O happy day when we shall stand
Amid the heavenly throng,
And sing with hosts from every land
The new celestial song.
O blessed day! From far and near
The servants of the Lord
Shall meet the ransomed millions there
Who heard God’s saving word.
O what a mighty rushing flood
Of love without surcease,
Shall roll about the throne of God
In joy and endless peace!
God, may Thy bounteous grace inspire
Our hearts so that we may
All join the heavenly white-robed choir
Upon that glorious day.