The First German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, U.A.C.
St. Louis, Missouri
A STENOGRAPHIC REPORT OF FOUR LECTURES
DELIVERED, AND BY RESOLUTION OF THE CONGREGATION,
FIRST PUBLISHED BY
PROFESSOR C.F.W. WALTHER, D. D.
Translated from the German by Rev. D. Simon and published in
1879 by Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis Missouri.
(from the 1947 reprint by The Lutheran Research Society)
“O Lord, how great and how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all, the earth is full of Thy riches.” Such was the language of Thy servant David thousands of years ago, after meditating over the works of Thy creation, preservation and government. We at the present can but repeat this exclamation with Thy servant David, for wherever we turn our eyes, we behold bright and shining traces of Thy endless power, wisdom and goodness.
O preserve Thou us then against that spirit of darkness, which calls itself light, and which is at present poured out upon myriads of unhappy people, which denies Thee the Creator, Preserver and Ruler of all things, or at least maliciously subverts Thy sacred administration and wisely arranged order of things.
Enable us rather, ever more to acknowledge that Thou doest all things well, and that sinful man alone has corrupted Thy work. Grant therefore, that, as often as the troubles- of earth lie heavily upon us, we may reprove ourselves and not Thee. Let us not perish in the rising floods of unbelief, and although thousands and tens of thousands should fall from Thee, help Thou us, that we may continue in the faith to our end, when our faith shall be changed into vision, and our hope into enjoyment. Hear us for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thine only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
All of you here tonight well know the question for our consideration this evening, to wit: Why should and can no reasonable man, much less a Christian, take part in the efforts of communists and socialists?
To this question three answers are given:
- Because their efforts are contrary to reason, nature and experience;
- because these efforts are contrary to Christianity, and finally
- because the charges of communism against the Church and the Christian religion, that they rather hinder than promote the material welfare of man, are confounded and unjust.
[And so the second answer shall be now considered:]
II. Because these efforts are contrary to Christianity
1. What is adduced from the Scriptures in their favor,
either proves nothing, or proves the contrary.
There are particularly four passages of the Holy Scriptures which are adduced to show us, that if we would faithfully adhere to the Bible, we must necessarily also justify the efforts of the communists and socialists. The first passage is found in the first chapter of the Holy Scriptures, where God gives man authority over the earth and all things in the earth. The second [passage] is found in the fourth and fifth chapters of Acts, where the condition of the first Christian congregation at Jerusalem is presented. The third passage is found in the 18th chapter of St. Luke, where an account is given of Christ saying to a rich man: “Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The fourth passage is found in the 20th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. At this place we have a record of the familiar parable of the laborers in the vineyard.
We will, accordingly, in the first place closely examine these portions of Scripture and become convinced whether these are really for or against communism and socialism, i.e. for or against the community of goods or common labor with a common profit.
[First], we read in the first chapter of Genesis:
- Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing, that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image..., and said unto them...: replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth... And God said: behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
But what was done after God the Lord had given the earth, and all things on the earth, to the entire human race? Did perhaps the people in the earliest times institute communism, community of goods, or common labor with a common profit? In the fourth chapter of Genesis we read: “And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof.” We see accordingly that Abel was a keeper of sheep and carried on breeding of cattle, and that Cain was a farmer, and that each one offered unto the Lord of that which he possessed. Neither Cain nor Abel considered his own the common property of both, but each one offered that which he could justly call his own personal property. Otherwise he could not have presented it as his offering.
We see accordingly, that reason already taught the first persons living on the earth, that the holding of personal property was a necessity among men, for the [first] reason, that without the holding of personal property, neither peace, nor unity could be preserved. The communist Fourier indeed said that in his communist republic everyone should have whatever he needed, and everyone should engage in that work for which he was particularly inclined. But it must be remembered that enjoyments are so altogether different. There is good wine produced and also poor wine. There are a great many poor fruits and few that are extra good. Now who would say: “I will take the poor wine?” Who would say: “I will ride the poor horse?” Who would say: “I will do the meanest kind of drudgery?” Everyone would want to engage in the best and the easiest and the most honorable work, and peace would soon be at an end. Just as necessary then as concord and peace are to the human race, so necessary is the holding of personal property.
[Secondly,] to this we must yet add: Reason further requires the holding of personal property, because there dwells in the natural man a certain desire for liberty and independence. If man is not in a measure free and independent, he cannot be happy. Take away personal property and you put an end to liberty. Others would then prescribe to him what he should do, how he should live, what he should eat and drink, where he should live, and where he should be employed. Truly, I would not stay in a society where I had not perfect liberty in self-determination. I would as soon live under the Russian knout, under the police of China or the despotism of Turkey. For I would then at least be conscious of the fact, that I was forced to it in opposition to my will — and here shall I willingly subject myself to all this? Never, no, never! For this reason Cain, when society became oppressive to him after he had committed murder, left and went into another land and there built a city for himself and family, and called it Enoch.
A modern writer gives a graphic description of the wretched condition which a communist must realize in a communist state. He says: “'La loi' (i.e. law or command) plans and tells the 50 millions of Icarians all they shall do and all they shall leave undone. La loi fixes the time for labor at so many hours and so many minutes; la loi prescribes to the young ladies and gentlemen when and how long they shall make their toilet; la loi introduces a 'new dish of vegetables' into every Icarian family; la loi provides for cold meat at the Icarian picnics; la loi commands, similar to Babeuf’s communist state, that all literature not officially recognized, shall be burned as worthless literature,” etc. (“Communismus” von W. Schulz in Bd. 2. der Supplemente zu Rotteck’s und Welcker’s Staatslexicon. Altona 1846. S. 67.)
This is no exaggeration. It is indeed true that the communists do not imagine that such would be the state of affairs, if their ideas were realized. They will say: “This is all false, we do not think of establishing such a state. We are free people, and we will provide that in such a communist state we shall not sacrifice our liberty.” But they may say what they please, and they may twist themselves as they please: whoever accepts the principle, must also accept the deduction, and that is, that man loses his personal liberty; for this is based, as stated, above all things, on the holding of personal property; and on this, that in accordance with my ability, I can choose the service that I would perform, as well as the calling in which I would labor. I must have liberty to leave my position again; I must have liberty to do with my own as I see fit. All this is denied to me the moment I enter into a communist society. For just as soon as such liberty is granted, the principle on which communism is based, would be destroyed.
The third reason, why the people of the earliest times already knew from reason that the holding of personal property was essential to earthly happiness, is this: if no one held any personal property, that incentive, which almost everyone needs, if he would exert himself and do his work well, would be wanting. Why do many persons work from morning till night? Because they would gain something by it. This is of course not the right motive. Christians should not be induced to labor diligently by the desire to gain something, but they should labor for God’s sake, because of God’s order and command. But nearly everyone labors exclusively for gain; some perhaps not just for money and goods, but then it is for honor, respect and fame. This incentive is taken from man just as soon as he ceases to hold personal property.
The first generation of men was further induced to assert the claim of personal property by an intuitive perception of equity. This dictates to everyone that the pay shall he according to the work done. Diligent, faithful and successful labor should be more liberally rewarded. But just as soon as men enter into a society in which the profit of united labor belongs to all, that true equality which justice demands, is at an end.
And besides what would become of the arts and sciences in a communist state? If, for example, one would apply himself to astronomy, or philosophy, or even to theology or architecture, or painting, many would look upon him as an idler. And why? Because he would earn no money for the society by his art or science. The arts and sciences would undoubtedly be banished from the truly communist state.
Every man has certain religious wants. While many of them would know nothing of religion, others have a certain impulse to serve God. The communists say “In our communist State no religion shall be found, and above all, we will not tolerate any religious teachers, they will be excluded.” But of what benefit is it to them to pass such resolutions? They will never be able to banish the religious wants from human nature, even if man should hear nothing of God from his youth up, even if in such a state God had never been mentioned. Conscience would wake up at any rate. But the communist state would supply no means for the building of churches and the support of preachers of the gospel.
These then are the various reasons why our first ancestors did not introduce the community of goods, but divided all the property among themselves, and thus introduced the holding of personal property, although God had given the human race the whole earth and all things on the earth.
It is even true that there are great dangers and great evils connected with the holding of personal property, as we are compelled to see it daily displayed. But here the government should take steps to prevent a few from appropriating everything to themselves. This sin is also most earnestly rebuked in the Holy Scriptures. We read for example in the book of Isaiah 5:8, “Woe unto them that join house to house, field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!” It is of course aggravating to see how a few are buying up all the land and thereby increase its value. It is well known, that the railroad companies have received, as a donation, millions of acres of land which belonged to the United States, that they might carry out their projects. This is scandalous. For if a poor man would now buy good land, he can no longer buy it at the low rate for which he could have bought it formerly from the government. This may suffice as regards the first Scripture passage cited to justify communism.
The second [passage] is found, as stated, in Acts 4:32ff. We read: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart, and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, the son of consolation), a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” This is certainly a glorious example of the ardent love of the early Christians. It must be remembered that at that time too, only a few rich people accepted Christianity; the greater number of those who became Christians were poor. To this must be added the fact that no Christian’s life was safe even for a single hour. The drawn sword of a blood-thirsty Herod threatened the life of every Christian. During that time of great trouble the Christians bound themselves most intimately together, and so that no one might be in want, those of more means than others sold their real estate and placed the proceeds into a common treasury.
Thus far it seems as if these examples really favored communism. We read, however, of no other Christian congregation of the apostolic age in which such an order of things was instituted. And furthermore we read in Acts 5:1ff, “But a certain man” (Luke thus continues) “named Ananias, with Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price (his wife also being privy to it) and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” This Ananias also wanted to be looked upon as a loving benevolent and merciful Christian man. To this end he sold his possessions, but kept back part of the price, and brought the rest to the apostle Peter under the pretense that this was the entire sum that he had realized. “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?”
It is particularly worthy of note that Peter here says: “While it remained, was it not thine own?” We see from this that the first Christian congregation at Jerusalem had not instituted such an order of things that each one would have been compelled to give up his possessions, but the Christians did this without restraint, from free choice. For Peter here testifies to Ananias: “It would not have been wrong for you to keep your house and land.” Yes, he even adds: “And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?” “Thou couldst have said: I will give one-half, and all would have been well; no one could have made it a matter of conscience. The reason why it is such a shameful deed, is because thou wouldst be considered a loving and benevolent Christian, whereas thou hast done secretly just the contrary to what thou pretendest to have done.” We read also that the members of the first Christian congregations had houses and possessions, for example Simon, the tanner in Joppa (Acts 10:6), the wealthy seller of purple, Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:14-15), then even the deacon or almoner Philip in Jerusalem had a house in Cesarea (Acts 21:8) and even the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, owned a house in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).
From this we must necessarily conclude that the first congregation at Jerusalem was not organized according to communist principles, but that the described condition of affairs was but an unrestrained manifestation of their love in times of extreme necessity. After this we read Acts 9:31, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, and were edified and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” From this time forth this arrangement of having in a certain measure all things common ceased in Jerusalem. It continued for a short time only, until after the conversion of Paul about the year 36.
But what we do learn from this example, is this: how a true Christian should be disposed. In his heart, IF RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD, every Christian should be a communist. In other words, a Christian should always be ready and willing to give up all he has for the benefit of his suffering brethren, whenever their necessity requires it. The apostle John accordingly says: “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 Jn. 3:17). The Saviour expressly declares: “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away” (Mt. 5:42). The apostle Paul commands the Christian to “labor working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Ep. 4:28). He does not command him to labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may obtain a capital and become rich, but “That he may have to give to him that needeth.” The apostle Paul further says: “and they that buy, as though they possessed not” (1 Co. 7:30). He that owns property should then be as if he possessed nothing, his heart should not be attached to it, it should create no inward struggle to give up his possessions when his neighbor is in want or the glory of God requires it. That person is no Christian whose heart and money are one. Christ accordingly declares in the very beginning of his sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What does this mean? Blessed are those, whether they have few or many possessions, who are poor in spirit. He is to be poor in his heart and mind. That man who has riches which have really become riches to him, his most precious treasure, which he secures and would not lose for the whole world, that man has not yet learned the first words of Christ’s sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” And if you were very rich, you should be poor in spirit, you should be as if you had none of those things which have fallen to your lot. The Psalmist therefore also says: “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them” (Ps. 62:10).
We shall proceed further. A third passage adduced in defense of communism is Mt. 19:16 ff (compare Lu. 18:18ff):
- And behold one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good, but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother: and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The young man said unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
Why then did Christ address these words to the rich young man? The answer is at hand. This rich man was a ruler, a counselor, who imagined that he had fulfilled all the commandments of God. But although he had, in a general way, led an upright life, he was a wretched miser at heart. Christ, who knows what is in man, knew this. When this man therefore, declared that he had kept all the commandments of God and desired to know what was yet lacking to complete his perfection, the Lord gives him a good lecture from which he can learn where his corruption is to be found, namely, in his infamous heart. Therefore the Lord tells him: “Sell that thou hast and give to the poor.” But when the counselor hears this, he goes away sorrowful. Christ then adds: “A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven; It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” By these words the disciples were so amazed that they exclaim: “Who then can be saved?” But what is Christ’s answer? He adds: “The things which are impossible with men, are possible with God.” In these words Christ accordingly declares that with men it is impossible to be rich and to be saved, but with God all things are possible, and therefore this also. As soon as a man is converted to the Lord with his whole heart, he not only discards every vice and sin, but also bids farewell to his wealth, saying to it without hypocrisy: “Thou art no longer my treasure; if therefore God again requires my money and goods of me. I will gladly give them back again; my heart is not attached to them.” In a case like this, it is possible with God for a person to be very rich and yet to be saved. An especially beautiful example of this is that of Zaccheus [Lu. 19:1-10]. He had become very rich, partly by cheating others. As soon as he was converted to the Lord Jesus, he was prepared, if he had taken anything from any man by false accusation, to restore it to him fourfold, and to give the half of his goods to the poor. If the communists’ interpretation of the passage under consideration be correct, Christ would have said to Zaccheus: “The half is not enough, thou must sell all that thou hast and give to the poor.” But of this we read nothing. Christ, on the other hand, calls Zaccheus a true Israelite, although he would give only half. Do not think that Zaccheus would not have been ready to give up all that he had; but he knew that God did not require it of him, and that now, after his conversion, he could apply his possessions to a much better advantage than if he had been necessitated to give it all away at once. For if I give all I have to the poor, I can from that time forth extend no helping hand, not would God require it of me.
Finally, the fourth passage adduced to prove that the principles of communism are biblical, is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The French communist Proudhon referred to the fact that, according to this parable, those who labored twelve hours received no more than those who labored nine, six and three hours, yes, no more than those who labored but one hour. It is, however, strange, that reference is made to this parable, for there is hardly any passage in the entire Bible more directly in conflict with communism. In the first place we find here a householder who owns a vineyard. In the second place we find laborers who were hired by the householder. In the third place we notice here a contract for wages between the householder and his laborers, to which the householder afterwards refers. In the fourth place we learn that these laborers were hired to labor twelve hours a day. In the fifth place we learn that the master ascribes it all to his mercy and not to justice, that he gave the same wages to those who had labored only one hour as to those who had labored twelve. Every argument adduced in favor of communism on the basis of this parable thus falls to the ground.
These then, are the Scripture passages adduced, in part by believers, and in part by unbelievers, in defense of communism, which, however, either prove nothing or the directly opposite. From this we may know that the efforts of the communists are opposed to Christianity.
2. The efforts of the communists are in conflict with definite doctrines of Christianity.
We not only do not find anything in the Scriptures in defense of the communist system, but the Scriptures teach directly the opposite.
In the first place, it is in conflict with the scriptural doctrine of personal property, as contained in the seventh commandment. The seventh commandment teaches: “Thou shalt not steal,” and with these words overthrows the entire system of communism. Do not misunderstand me. By this I would by no means say that the communists desire to steal from others. No indeed, they say, on the contrary, that the rich are the thieves, as Proudhon has declared: “Holding possessions is theft.” But this is what I would say: just as certain as the seventh commandment declares “Thou shalt not steal,” so certain it is that everyone should have his own personal property. For, if according to God’s will I should hold no personal property, God would not have forbidden others to take anything away from me. If no one is permitted to take anything from me, it is presupposed that I have something, and that, personal property. Consider this well.
The efforts of the socialists and communists are, in the second place, opposed to the Scriptural doctrine of the fifth commandment and other passages, according to which the government alone has the power of the sword. The communists do indeed preach from the housetops that they would have the new order of things, as suggested by them, introduced peaceably; but if they cannot accomplish it peaceably, they are ready to draw the sword and to fill the world with murder and conflagration, that by this means they may accomplish that upon which they claim the salvation of the world depends. But this conflicts with the Holy Scriptures, in which we have the word of God for these declare: “Thou shalt not ki1l,” and respecting the government alone they say: “He beareth not the sword in vain” [Ro. 13:1-4].
The efforts of the socialists and communists are, in the third place, contrary to the doctrine of the sanctity of the marriage state, as taught in the sixth commandment and elsewhere in the Scriptures. There are indeed many communists and socialists who do not sanction the community of wives; but they must acknowledge that there have been many communists who have taught this doctrine; e.g. Enfantin, Proudhon, Marx and the so-called Egaliteurs. They were only the more consistent; and if the fearful catastrophe of communist rule should come upon us, those opposed to the abrogation of marriage could by no means hold the helm, but the equalization would be rigidly carried out, even to the extremity of introducing the community of wives.
These efforts are, in the fourth place, contrary to the differences between man and man as approved in the Scriptures. These differences pertain not only to parents and children, husband and wife, master and servant, but also to rich and poor. I need but refer to these doctrines and every Christian must say: “Verily, if I will be a Bible Christian, I cannot possibly take part in these movements. The moment I connect myself with such an association, I must cast the Bible into the flames, or I am a wretched hypocrite, who is carrying water on both shoulders, and walks lame on both legs.”
They are, in the fifth place, contrary to the doctrine of the Scriptures, that through all kinds of troubles, God would draw man to Himself, try him and prepare him for Eternity. The communists (when I say "Communists" I refer to their leaders and not to everyone who for want of experience may have strayed into the organization) continually declare and preach it from the house top, that they are sick of having the church hold out to them a prospective eternal life. They ridicule the idea that those who bear the cross with patience in this life can expect the glory of heaven in the life to come. “No,” say they, “we would have our heaven here; in this life we would be happy.” Some say that it is after all very doubtful whether anything will be granted us in the future life; but others say: we are certain that all is a delusion. What Christian then could take part in the efforts of the communists and socialists?
They are, in the sixth place, opposed to the doctrine that man shall eat his bread in the sweat of his face. Those therefore who would make it appear that as soon as the communists have gained the supremacy the golden times will come, that then all will be rich, inasmuch as all will then have access to the great treasury, these would have the people expect times of which there is no mention in the Holy Scriptures. Every Christian is not only to eat his bread here on earth, that is, to have what he needs, but he shall eat it in the sweat of his face.
These efforts are, in the seventh place, contrary to the doctrine of the Scriptures that man shall not seek his happiness in this world, but in God and in the hope of a day of recompense and equalization, and in the hope of eternal life. These, therefore, who say that things shall no longer continue thus, that the human race shall after all finally become happy here below, speak against the Scriptures. God did not promise us happiness in this world. If we have food and raiment, we are to be therewith content. We must know that through many tribulations we enter into the kingdom of God. These are truths which the communists ridicule; however, those who firmly believe in Christ and His word, are fully convinced that they are eternal and blessed truths. This is why we can have nothing to do with a system like that of the communists.
And finally, these efforts of the communists contradict the doctrine of the Scriptures which says that sin is the source of all trouble in this world. For the Scriptures say: “Sin is a reproach to any people” [Pr. 14:34],and at another place: “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lamentation 3:39). The new communist movement is based upon this, that it is made to appear that all that is wanting in the world is a proper social organization. Should this once be effected, all trouble would be at an end. It is not so however! The Scriptures tell us that God did indeed create man perfect in the beginning, but that man has fallen, and that all trouble and wretchedness that exist in the world are but the consequence of this fall. Take sin out of the world and you take all trouble and wretchedness out of the world. But as long as sin remains, there will be no heaven on earth.
This would then be the second answer to the question which we are endeavoring to answer in these evening lectures.