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Walther, Sermon on the Annual Day of Repentance. Jeremiah 5:3

cfw-walther-3C. F. W. Walther, Sermon “On the Annual Day of Repentance”, Brosamen p. 270-278.

Condensed translation by Pastor Karl Hess,

St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, IL.

September 13, 2016

 

Prayer [omitted]

[Introduction]

Hearers, guilty together with me and yet dearly purchased by Christ!

 

The most terrifying punishment which God has ever allowed to happen to a land and people is without doubt the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans…

 

…Outside the city stormed the foe.  Inside was the uproar of fanatical parties which, in wild fury, rent each other even in the face of external foes…hunger, pestilence…thousands of unburied corpses inside and outside the city gates filled the air with pestilence…A mother killed her own baby and prepared it as a last meal; the soldiers killed people in the search for gold.  1.5 million died.  Land laid waste.

 

…Fulfilled word of Jesus…”There will be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world…and if these day’s weren’t shortened, no one would be saved.”

 

…But this was not the worst thing.  The worst thing was this: they didn’t recognize that God’s wrath had come upon them, and they didn’t confess their sins and repent.  If they had, the wrathful rod of God would have turned into His fatherly rod, and He would have snatched their soul like a brand from the fire.

 

But the Jews didn’t see God in it; they saw it only as the work of the Romans. (p.272) They didn’t want to see that it was God who worked through the Romans like an avenging angel.  In the midst of the punishment they thought they were still God’s elect people and that their cause was righteous…and believed that at last God would give them victory, even without repentance and conversion.  No exhortation and no chastening through men helped.  Nor did warning-signs, which were visible in the heavens, nor did offers of peace on the part of the Romans.  The people were hardened until all mercy with God and men came to an end, and the blinded people were thrown into the open doors of death and hell.

 

Oh dear brothers, I wish to God I could call out on this day of repentance and say, “Praise God!  It’s not like this with our land and people!  We recognize God’s punishing hand and repent!”  But if I said that I would be a false prophet….

 

It’s true that not all true Christians have left America like they did Jerusalem for Pella.  I don’t doubt that there are still thousands of believing children of God among our people.  But, my loves, not only has the state of Jerusalem for the most part repeated itself in our land, but also most of the present virgins still here now appear to have fallen asleep, so that they still don’t see the true condition of our nation and people, as He pictures it in the divine Word.  Thus they themselves stand in great danger to their souls.

 

In order that we may envision that condition, this hour has been consecrated.

 

Verse: Jeremiah 5:3

(p. 273)  Lord, your eyes look for faith.  You strike them, but they feel it not; you plague them, but they do not amend.  They have a countenance harder than a rock, and will not be converted.[1]

 

With these words, my loves, the holy prophet Jeremiah describes the state of the Jewish people shortly before the destruction of the first temple before the beginning of the Babylonian captivity.  In these words is also described the present condition of our people.  And that it is then also that I, to the awakening of true contrition in us all, mean now to show you.  Namely:

 

[Theme]

That the prophet’s twofold complaint, “You strike them, but they feel it not,” also applies to our people:

1. The lament: “You strike them,” and

 2. The lament: “But they feel it not.”

I.

That the first part applies to our people no one can deny unless he is an atheist and no longer believes in a God in heaven, and has silenced the loud voice within all men that says “There is one God!”

 

It’s true that pestilence and famine comes as a consequence of failure of harvest from God, and that it is easier to see that these national disasters are not by means of men.  But even if godless people alone were the mediate cause of all wars, the final cause for these [wars] is always God, who uses them as the rod of His discipline and punishment.

 

God is not only the Creator, but the ruler of the world…He isn’t an idle spectator who lets the world do whatever it wants.  Jesus explains that not one sparrow falls from the sky without the will of the Father…and all the hairs on our heads are numbered.

 

“The Lord looks down from heaven and sees all the children of men…He marks all their deeds.”  Psalm 33

 

God is not the cause of sin, but without His will no sinner can move or control heart, tongue, hand nor foot…. (p. 274) ”Whatever, therefore, the sinner would like to do, he can do nothing except fulfill what God has resolved.”

 

Therefore the prophet Amos cries (3:6): “Is there also disaster in the city, and the Lord hasn’t done it?”  and in the prophet Isaiah the Lord Himself says, “I make the light and create the darkness; I give peace and create evil.  I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

 

If we want to know the reason for war and bloodshed, we must lift our thoughts up higher, because no people on earth could terrify another with war were it not, as Daniel says, “Concluded in the council of the watchers, and deliberated on in the discussions of the holy ones.”[2] That is, in the council of the Triune God…Thus in Holy Scripture it is said of God that He is a “true man of war”[3], who “governs the wars in all the world, who breaks the bow, shatters spears, and burns the chariots with fire”…[4]  Also that He visits the peoples’ sin and falling away with war and bloodshed…The prophets threatened His covenant people over and over and finally really punished them with bloody wars, for instance through Nebuchadnezzar, God’s chosen instrument…

 

So it’s clear without a doubt that “You strike them” applies to our people at this time.

 

For a long line of years God rained streams of love on our land and people.  He made it a place of refuge for the poor and oppressed of all nations, and opened thousands of wells of wealth here, gifted us with all the blessings of religious and civil freedom; in short He made this place an earthly paradise, “so that our America stood as a wonder before the eyes of all nations.”

 

He wanted to lead our people to repentance through the riches of His kindness.  But what has happened?  Our people, like Nebuchadnezzar, didn’t give God the glory for these benefits…Our people have propagated the idolatry of themselves, their freedom, their might, their wealth.  Instead of being led to God, we fell from God more and more and said to gold nuggets, “My consolation!”  Open atheism, false oaths, despising of the Word of God and desecration of the Sabbath, disobedience to parents and uproar (p. 275) against authority, murder, unchastity, deceit of all kinds, usury, bribery, false witness, unrighteous judgment—all these have become such everyday horrors that nobody is surprised or appalled by them—horrors which, unpunished by men, now already for long years have cried loudly to heaven for vengeance.

 

Thus God finally decided no longer to look on with His despised, mocked patience; thus He has finally allowed the fulfillment of John’s vision to go forth, who in his Revelation wrote: “And behold, I saw a pale horse, and he who sat on it, whose name was called death, and hell followed after him.”[5]  A terrifying war has broken out, such as has been seldom seen in the world before.  Already hundreds of thousands have fallen…and only God knows how many departed in the midst of their sins and were cast into hell.  Thousands and thousands have turned into weeping widows and orphans, or lie groaning in camps of pain…or live as cripples throughout the land.  Thousands of peaceful homes, yes, whole cities and villages have been transformed into soot and ashes and their formerly blooming…fields into wastes.  Thousands upon thousands of formerly peaceful neighbors have been transformed into bitter foes, who mortally hate each other.  In whole great swathes of land families which once lived in golden peace surrender themselves in fear to murderous raids in the stillness of the night.  And, what is most terrifying of all, thousands upon thousands have lost the little spark of faith and love which had been lit in their hearts in the torrential flood of the passions of war.

 

In His wrath, God has punished sin with sin.  With every further day of wartime, the last sensation of love, morals, discipline, respectability, and domestic happiness dies away in ever more hearts, and the hosts of war, returning home, will deluge the land with still greater hosts of new sins.

 

O the great, O the fearful wrath of God!

 

Still, my loves, this is only one side of the picture of the present condition of our people and our land.  Still another, disproportionately more terrifying, our text shows us, when it not only says, “You strike them,” but rather also, “But they feel it not”; not only: “you plague them,” but also: “But they do not amend themselves.  They have a countenance harder than a rock, and will not be converted.”  Let us then direct our gaze now also on this still darker side.

II.

My loves, if our people had allowed this nearly two-year long distress of war to serve for the purpose for which God sent it to us, then we would have to kiss the bloody rod with tears of joy today, the rod wherewith God has struck us and our people, and with which He still is striking us.  And we would have to thank Him for it.

 

But what is actually happening?  Can we say, “Lord, you strike them and they feel it?”

 

Businessman feels the loss of business…propertied class feels the devaluation of property.  Taxpayers feel the burden of increased taxes. Soldiers in the field feel the hardness of their service.  Father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter and friend feel the pain of fallen loved ones, destruction of their hometowns, fields, the insecurity of their lives.  Servants of mammon, greedy and usurers feel how their speculations of ever greater riches have been crossed out, halted, and ended.  The poor feel how even their barest needs have increased in price.

 

But all of this is not the feeling which the Prophet meant when He said, “You strike them, but they don’t feel it.”

 

He means here the feeling that God is the one who strikes, that this striking is the punishment of our sins, that it is God’s wrath which has come over this Sodomitical land, that these are finally God’s judgments wherewith God in His burning wrath, unto the lowest hell, visits our people’s forgetting of God and godlessness.

 

But where is this feeling?  There is still nothing of this feeling to be observed among our people.  Much more is the old security in sin still ever present, the old pride, the old idolatry in ourselves and our works.

 

As the only reason for all this misfortune that has come upon us, our people regards the foe that is fighting against us; himself justified and blessed.  Therefore only his opponent is execrated and cursed.  But he sees nothing of God’s sword of vengeance [lifted up] over him.  If one bears witness frankly and freely to our people that God is punishing our sins with this war, the answer would be like the answer of those inhabitants of Sodom, of whom it says that when they were informed of God’s judgment “It was laughable to them.”  Yes, not only will people be blind and deaf to this, but still more will declare you to be a traitor to the nation, a desecrator and slanderer of the majesty of the people.  And as against Stephen, who spoke against Jerusalem and the temple, people will pick up stones to throw at you as if against people who are not worthy of having the earth sustain them.

 

So then, in truth, the prophet Jeremiah has described the condition of our people when he writes: “You strike them, but they feel it not; you plague them, but they do not amend their ways.  They have a face harder than a rock, and do not want to be converted.”

 

But now, my listeners, what is our condition?  Must we not also admit to our own shame that even among us the majority have not recognized and felt from the beginning on in this war the punishment of our sins, the wrath and judgment of God over our people?  Where are our tears of repentance over our joint guilt in the common misery?  Where are our daily prayers, supplications, wrestlings, and struggle with God for contrition and grace for us and our unfortunate people?  Haven’t we rather cheered those who in this war saw nothing besides the birth pangs, full of hope, of a new age of perfect freedom and equality?  Haven’t we gotten our opinions about this war from the godless, atheistic newspapers instead of taking them from the unerring Word of God?  Instead of looking to the Lord of all Lords, whose fierceness against our fallen people has been awakened, and who alone, above all, “carries out such desolations on earth”[6], have we not looked to men, and thus nurtured hatred of foes and party-anger within ourselves—indeed, even helped to increase this fire from the netherworld into a bright flame in others?  Have we not taken part in the universal confidence of our people in its own might and intelligence and in its deification of men?  That we have faithfully stood by the authority God has set over us, that was right; but have we not at the same time committed ourselves to the plans of those partisans which puff themselves up hypocritically with their loyalty as long as the government serves their purposes, but which cast away the mask when it appears to want to pursue another course?  Those partisans which intend nothing else than to overthrow everything, and to bring about those conditions in which equality, mob rule, and impudence count for freedom?

 

Oh, how many have fallen into this whirlpool, of whom one frankly expected something completely different!  Truly, twenty years ago such things would not have been possible in our congregation.

 

Twenty years ago (1843), when we were still without our own house of God, we would have considered that fact that we as Christians must follow another way than the world.  We wanted at that time not to be condemned with the godless world.  But we have gone backward.  We have fallen.  The spirit of the world has broken in among us and has carried out terrible devastations among us.

 

Oh my brothers and sisters, it is time; it is already high time that we remember, that we rise up from our fall, that we turn back.  If we don’t want to do this, then the spirit of the world, even if he perhaps still leaves the external form of a right-believing church—still, in short he will have eaten through our core like an evil worm, and we will become an empty shell.  We will have the name of being alive while we are dead.

 

Oh, then hear me to day, in order that you hear God again!  Don’t turn away indignant from your old cure of souls (Seelsorger) who chastens you, that God Himself may not one day depart from you in the hour of your death!  For I don’t speak to you in my own name, but in the name of the Lord, the Most High, to which I have been solemnly called and sworn by you.

 

Let each one then test his previous conduct and his condition according to God’s Word with heartfelt sighs for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

 

Also, as true spiritual priests, help one another to a right knowledge of himself, and let everyone allow himself to be helped to this end.  Confess then to God your deviations from His Holy Word with remorse and a stricken heart, and comfort yourselves against your sins with the sweet promises of divine grace in Christ, given to all repentant sinners.  Let no one here wait on another.  Begin, each one, with himself, without first consulting with flesh and blood.

 

Oh, if we would do that, then the plan which Satan has in mind, to fight through this war against our salvation, and to cheat us through the same, would be foiled.  Because when God strikes, and one feels it; when God plagues, and one amends, then God repents of all the evil that He had thought to do to us; the pain will turn into medicine, the misfortune to good fortune and the bloody war itself to means of, if not temporal, still spiritual and eternal peace.

 

But because God alone can give the willing and the doing, alone can give grace and peace, temporal and eternal salvation to any individual and to whole peoples, let us, in closing, cast ourselves on our knees, and call upon God together for us and our people, for the whole Christian Church, and the whole redeemed world, as we sing the indicated hymn of prayer, no. 368: Kyrie eleison.[7]

[1] Luther’s translation.

[2] Daniel 4:17, Luther’s translation: Solches ist im Rat der Wächter beschlossen und im Gespräch der Heiligen beratschlaget…KJV: This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.

 

[3] Exodus 15:3 (Luther’s translation: Der Herr ist der rechte Kriegesmann.)

[4] Psalm 46:10 (Luther’s translation: Der den Kriegen steuert in aller Welt; der Bogen zerbricht, Spiesse zerschlaegt, und Wagen mit Feuer verbrennt.)

[5] Revelation 6:8 (Luther’s translation: Und siehe, und ich sah ein fahl Pferd, und der daraufsaß, des Name hieß Tod, und die Hölle folgte ihm nach.)

[6] Psalm 46:9 (Luther’s translation: Kommt her, und schauet die Werke des Herrn, der auf Erden solch Zerstoeren anrichtet…)

[7] i.e. the Litany.

Authored By De Profundis Clamavi ad Te, Domine