Archive for the ‘Dr. Peter Marshall’ Category

“Trial by Fire”

May 26, 2020

A Sermon by the late Dr. Peter Marshall

(Transcribed by James F, Gauss)

During America’s most trying time since the Civil War ―in the midst of the Great Depression and during the onset of World War II―there arose in America an immigrant Scottish preacher that held the ear of America and particularly the rapt attention of its political leaders in Washington. His name was Peter Marshall. Born in Coatbridge, Scotland in 1904, he arrived in America in 1927 with all the worldly wealth of a pauper.

After a year of working in New Jersey, he followed a fellow immigrant Scotsman to Birmingham, Alabama. Members of his church soon recognized God’s calling on his life and his Sunday school class helped pay his way through seminary in Atlanta. He started his ministry at a small church in Covington, Georgia, but was soon called to preach and pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. His charisma and powerful, down-to-earth sermons soon began to draw overflow crowds on Sunday mornings, with people standing outside to the blare of loud speakers in order to glean the nuggets of biblical truths that he preached.

By 1937 he had attracted the attention of the presbyters at the well-known New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. In all humility he resisted their call, but finally succumbed to their persistence, trusting that God would give him the wisdom and ability for such a high pastoral station.

Preaching fluently in a thick, rolling-off-the-tongue Scottish burr, Dr. Marshall enthralled standing-room-only crowds wherever he exhorted the faithful. His devotion and sincerity before the Lord, along with his down-home wholesomeness soon attracted members of the U.S. Senate, as well as captured the hearts of the American people, young and old alike.

Early in January, 1947 he graciously accepted his election as the 57th Chaplain to the U.S. Senate and served until his untimely death at age 45 on January 25, 1949. Senators made it a point to arrive early so they wouldn’t miss his eloquent prayers.   This foreword presents a prophetic sermon by Dr. Marshall, that was not only pertinent for the time and audience for which it was preached, but one that is eerily timeless and apropos for America and its inhabitants of today. It was Dr. Marshall’s fourth and last sermon for the week at the St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, Louisiana on Saturday, March 11, 1944.

The following sermon by the late Dr. Peter Marshall was transcribed by James F. Gauss from an audio tape provided by Dr. Marshall’s now deceased son, Rev. Peter J. Marshall. While many of his prayers in the U.S. Senate were printed in national publications of the day, as far as can be ascertained, this is the first time that this powerful audio-taped sermon has been transcribed and published. It is presented here in its entirety and also in Dr. Gauss’ book, Revelation 18 and the Fate of America. It is long, but well worth your time and sharing with others.

Trial by Fire

Dr. Peter Marshall

March 11, 1944

My text is taken from the first book of Kings, chapter 18, and verse 21: “If the Lord be God, follow Him! But if Baal, then follow him!”

The setting of the text is one of the most dramatic in the Old Testament. The leaders of the nation, including the king, had come together to make a great decision. It was a national emergency; something had to be done.

Elijah, the prophet, had called them to meet on Mount Carmel to settle no less a question than whom should they worship.

It was a day of choice―a day of destiny.

William Penn said, “That men must be governed by God, or they will be ruled by tyrants.”

Here, then, was an ancient Hebrew prophet facing the very same issue, and making his people face it with him.

They all knew the history of their nation. A lot of their fathers had come out of the wilderness; out of bondage into a new land as pioneers. Behind them were great leaders. Moses and Aaron and Joshua―men who had been led by God. They had set up, not a democracy, but a theocracy―a state governed by God.

The true God and His holy law had been written into the nation’s constitution. The Ten Commandments had been to them a Bill of Rights and a Declaration of Dependence. The leaders of the young nation had taken God as their King and Sovereign. They had ample reason to believe―having seen it worked out in their own history―that righteousness alone exalted a nation, and that, that nation was only blessed whose God was the Lord. They had seen it work in the past. Their national history was proof. They had been taught that obedience to the laws of God was the only foundation for national greatness, liberty and security.

As long as the nation could recognize God as Supreme, it could stand. But something had been happening in the national light. The faith and the vision of the founding fathers had faded. Moral decay had set in. There was confusion in the minds of the people. They were beginning to forget the principles that had made them a nation. They had begun to love things more than principles.

All around them paganism flourished. Their neighbors were not without god. They had gods, many of them. Convenient gods. Gods that could be worshipped in ways that appealed to the lower nature.

Materialism had a god. His name was Baal. He offered to his devotees things that human instincts craved. He was a god of the flesh.   His priests encouraged the people to follow their natural inclinations. It was worship and indulgence expressed in lust and adorned in selfishness. It had no inhibitions at all.

It said, “Look after number one! Be yourself. Be natural.” Self-expressions and natural instincts was its program. A good time for everyone according to the flesh, was its goal.

No wonder it grew in popularity.

But still, Israel was confused. Their inheritances of the past―the early teachings of their parents―were not forgotten. Something of conscience was not yet drugged, and they were confused and uneasy. They took a little of Jehovah and a little of Baal. They became by degrees more and more broadminded. Was it not a free country? Who wanted to be old fashioned?

So, morality became a relative thing. The old absolutes were regarded as far too intolerant. The national moral standards were lowered. The worship of Baal and Jehovah got mixed. Somehow, it was hard to draw a line of distinction. Materialism and idealism were often confused.

Now, Elijah saw the danger. He saw what would happen to the nation when its moral fiber was weakened. He knew the end of confusion and indecision. He believed with all

his heart, that national ruin and disaster were inevitable if the nation preempted Jehovah and departed from its charter and constitution.

So he summoned the leaders of the country together on this day of destiny.

“If the Lord be God, follow Him! But, if Baal, then follow him!”

It was a time now for men to take sides. There was no middle ground. They could not be neutral. They had to be on one side or the other. They had to decide whether their nation would be governed by God or ruled by tyrants.

Elijah saw that Israel as a nation could go with God and Baal. It had to be God or Baal. He was a fearless man, this Elijah. He faced the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, the king and the nation’s leaders. It had to be either, or. They had to get on one side or the other.

Remember the dramatic test, the trial by fire? On the slopes of Carmel with the copper sky above them and the parched, sun-baked plains of Jezreel at their feet, the people stood waiting.

Elijah announced his proposed test. Let the matter be decided once and for all. Let sacrifices be laid on the altar. Let him be God who will send down fire and consume the offering. Let Baal have the advantage of priority. Let his priests have the first inning. Everything would be in their favor. The sun climbing to meridian would be at its height. There were four hundred and fifty of them, and if they all prayed, that would be a lot of prayers. Let them call upon their god and let him answer if he could.

Then began the weird pagan performance with Elijah jibbing at them with pointed sarcasm. His words had blades in them. His taunts were razor sharp.

“Cry louder! Why don’t you? Cry louder! He is a god you are crying to. Well, he must be talking to somebody. He must be in the chase. Or perhaps he has gone for a walk. Peradventure he is asleep. He may be taking a nap. Cry louder! Wake him up!”

He taunted them all day long until they were all at the point of exhaustion. Hoarse with their shouting, weary with their dancing. Bleeding and wounding―since in their frenzy they cut themselves, hoping the sight of their own blood spouting from tired arms and legs might cause Baal to relent and to answer. They carried on until evening. But there was neither a voice nor any to answer, nor any that regard it.

Then Elijah, confident and unhurried, called the people closer. And, going over to an abandoned, broken down Jehovah altar, Elijah had them set upon it a sacrifice and drenched it three times with water. Even to make the test more impressive, he soaked the whole altar with water that ran into a trench dug all around it.

Then his prayer to Jehovah―not ranting, or foaming, or shouting. And it was answered in fire that consumed the sacrifice; licked up the water in the trench, and, to the people looking on, cried, as they fell on their faces, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”

Now, I suggest to you that America needs prophets today―men, and women too, because more than once in history, a woman’s voice has stated the issues clearly―to set before the nation the essential choices.

God, give us men! A time like this demands strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and ready hands. Men, whom the lust of office does not kill. Men, whom the spoils of office cannot buy. Men who possess an opinion and a will. Men who have honor. Men who will not lie. Men who can stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking. Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private thinking [1].

For, while the rabble with their thumb-worn creeds, their large professions and little deeds mingled in selfish strife―lo, freedom weeps. Wrong rules the land, and waiting justice, sleeps.

We are engaged in total war and fighting for total victory. Well, it will not be won outside the United States alone. It must be won at home, as well as in Europe and the Pacific.

There are evil forces plotting within the nation as well. For men have become lovers of themselves, more than lovers of their country. All traitors are not enemy agents. Espionage and sabotage are not the only weapons that harm a war effort. Love of power and authority has enslaved the hearts of many Americans.

The seeds of racial hate and intolerance have been sown. And we will reap a bitter harvest. As recent events [race riots] in Detroit and both Boston and Los Angeles have indicated.

Our moral standards have been lowered. Our national moral standards―and no nation makes progress in a downward direction.

The growth of addiction to alcoholic beverages, for example, by women, as well as by men, in great numbers, is of great concern to every patriotic American who loves his country and is anxious about her future. And not all of those concerned are cranks, bluenoses or killjoys. Perhaps it is unfortunate, that those who speak for temperance in the newsreels are not particularly photogenic to begin with, but they are usually posed and quoted in such a way as to provoke derisive laughter in our theaters. The cause of temperance is not advanced, and we who are concerned about it can’t help wondering what will happen to a country that apparently is no longer aware of the dangers.

Illustrations could be multiplied, both of the decay of morals and of the activity of evil forces in our midst. The old time evangelists use to express the tragedy of men and women individually going to hell. But we don’t hear much about that nowadays. Because they say people don’t believe in hell. But I notice that they talk a lot about it in their conversations.

But today we are living in a time when enough individuals choosing to go to hell will pull the nation down to hell with them.

The choices you make in moral and religious questions determine the way America will go. We badly need a prophet who will have the ear of America and who will say, “If the Lord be God, follow Him! But if Baal, then follow him!”

We must decide and decide quickly who is chief―whom we will serve. Millions of people in America live in moral fog. The issues are not clear to them. They cannot face the light that makes them black or white. They want grays and neutral picks. They move in sort of a spiritual twilight. Modified morality on the basis of cleverness guides millions of people. Modified dishonesty within the letter of the law is the practice of millions more.

Surely the time has come―because the hour is late―when we must decide. The choice before us is plain: Jehovah or Baal? Christ or chaos? Conviction or compromise? Discipline or disintegration?

I have not stated the matter too strongly. You may agree mildly or you may disagree violently, but the time has come to face the duties and obligations of our citizenship and willing to assume the disciplines imposed by the things we believe in before we are forced to accept the disciplines of tyranny.

I, for one am rather tired about hearing about our rights and privileges as American citizens. The time has come and now is, when we ought to hear about the duties and responsibilities of our citizenship. It’s just as plain and clear as that.

The average church member has forgotten and forsaken the old disciplines. He attends services when it is convenient. His contribution of time and money is seldom such as to involve sacrifice on his part. The church, the Word, the sacraments have no compulsion over his life apparently. Of course, to be honest about it, the fault is not alone that of the church member. The ministry, the church officers, are also involved in blame, because the church has failed to challenge the faith and vision of the lay people in the pews. The programs of too many churches call for neither effort nor sacrifice―all of that is sadly true.

The remedy for this sad state of affairs will lie, I believe, in the seeking God’s will for the individual church, and the adopting of a daring program to which He is challenging us all. Our strength is limited only by our faith in asking God’s help.

“According to your faith be it unto you.”

That is the measure that would enable us to move mountains. Or, if our faith be limited, to cause us to stumble over mole hills.

So also in the affairs of a nation. “If the Lord be God, follow Him! But, if Baal, then follow him!”

Now, let us be honest about it. If we have thrown away our national heritage; if we no longer believe this nation was founded under God; if, contrary to what is stamped upon our coins, our trust is not in God but in something else, let us say so. Let us at least not be hypocrites.

A nation led by God will lead the world. The world today has many open doors, open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Peoples ready and waiting for the spiritual leadership that could steer the storm-tossed ark of humanity away from the rocks of war and the shoals of selfishness and greed.

Our own country, with all of its sophistication, is filled with people who are hungry for the Gospel. Satiated with the materialistic philosophies that filled our stomachs and starved our souls; that supplied gadgets while they forgot God.

America’s future depends on her accepting and demonstrating God’s government. If America listens to God; if America obeys God, then she can be great among the nations. Here, in America, we have the people, we have the means of communication, we have the genius and the skill, we have the political forums, the wealth, the natural resources, the prestige, and the ability to lead the whole world into a new and bright tomorrow in which dreams and hopes of the human heart may be achieved and the desires and the prayers of the nations all realized in a world where there can be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness available to all men, regardless of their race or their color, because that is precisely what God wishes for all His creatures.

It seems to any student of history, that God has been preparing this great nation to fulfill a destiny in the world. There are many who believe that her first great chance came in nineteen hundred and twenty, when the Christian idealism of a great man, Woodrow Wilson, was not shared by many in power in the Congress―who lacked the vision and idealism of the President.

America refused to accept her destiny in 1920. It may be that God is giving her another chance now. And in the days that follow, as the war enters its final phases, the issues are becoming clearer. Will we fail again? We need to learn and to understand that God can guide and can control in government, in business, in labor, in management, in the home and in the heart of every individual, until the whole nation is under God’s control.

Men can be in touch with God. In every situation, men can know the will of God. They can know exactly what God wants them to do and to be. God’s plans and God’s power are always available. When men seek God, they find Him and are found of Him. When men listen, God speaks. When men give God a chance, He works out His plan. He has a plan for every human life. He has a plan for you and for me. He has a plan for America―and all who truly love America will want America to follow it. But America cannot follow it until we―you and I―as individuals, follow it.

Do you know what God wants you to do? Do you know what God wants you to be? He will tell you, if you ask Him. He will speak, if you give Him a chance―if you listen.

It is not enough that our leaders should be guided by God. The people must be guided also. It is not enough that the minister of the church should seek to discover the will of God, the congregation, likewise, must discover it and follow it.

One challenge that these critical days have flung down to the church people, is that we begin to be truly Christian in all of our relationships, or stop pretending.

When our fighting men come back from Italy, Germany and from Japan, they are going to be brutally frank and honest. They will see through hypocrisy. They know now the things that really count in life and they will not be deceived by displays of piety, or by sham and show. They will look for changed lives. For different ways of living. For different ways of dealing with servants, with employers and with employees. Different standards of values; different outlooks upon life; different dispositions.

It is a lot of nonsense what the beautifully colored advertisements are saying in our magazines―that our fighting men want to come back to an America totally unchanged. That is nonsense! The men who are on the fighting fronts now, know full well; know far more clearly than they ever did before, the things in America that must be changed if their sacrifice is to be worthwhile.

We must not be the same people they left behind. We must be worthy of their sacrifices. We must be worthy of the blood that has been and will be shed. Surely the issue is crystal clear. And they are returning now on hospital ships. They are being guided down the gangplank with bandaged eyes. They are coming creaking, swinging on creaking crutches to stand again on wounded feet on American soil. They are coming with their arms in slings; with empty sleeves tucked in tunic pockets. They are coming with trouser legs pinned up, to stand again on the America for which they fought and bled. And they are hearing in their ears, the newsboys call the headlines” “Twenty-thousand men on strike.” What for? For higher wages? No, not this time. For better living conditions? No, not this time. What then in God’s name? What for? Because of strife and difference between rival labor unions. Jurisdictional disputes. Men seeking power and influence. Men seeking to exalt themselves. Men seeking selfishly their own interests in a time of national crisis.

They hear of squabbles in the Senate as to how the soldiers are to vote. They hear all that with disillusionment. They hear of so many of their fellow countrymen and countrywomen who seem to be totally unaware of the issues involved. And they look at the empty sleeves stuck in tunic pockets. They look at trouser legs pinned up to stumps of legs. They look at the wounds and the scars and the bandages and they ask themselves, Was it worth it?

Was it worth it to storm Tarawa [2]? Was it worth it to fly over the acrid-filled skies over Berlin? Was it worth it to land at Palermo [Sicily, Italy] and leave a leg at Salerno [Campania, Italy] [3]? Was it worth it? To come back to a country that wants to be the same, apparently. That wants to have its selfishness entrenched and encouraged and enforced. Is it worthwhile to shed your blood for people who do not seem to realize that they have got to change? That America must be worth the sacrifices that are being made for her now on every battle front. Was it worthwhile?

We must make the answer, “Yes, by God it was!” We must somehow convince them who have given up legs and not in vain.

Life magazine [December 27, 1943, page 28], in its Christmas issue, has a magnificent editorial from which I shall like to quote this paragraph:

“…The lackadaisical days when it didn’t matter much whether you were a Christian or not, may be numbered. If the reassertion grows strong you may have to declare yourself more definitely than you ever expected, as to whether you believe in the word of Christ―or do not. This choice, if it is really forced on the Christian world, may be the choice that leads finally to the long-awaited religious revival; a revival born in the hearts of the citizens of our time, who, when forced to choose, will find no truth, no comfort, and no inspiration elsewhere.”

We need a prophet who will have the ear of America and say to her now, “How long will you halt and stand between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him! But if Baal be god, follow him!” and go to hell.

Oh God, bless America. May our prayer not be and empty whine of selfish pride and arrogant stupidity. But may it rather be a humble, contrite plea to the God of all nations to make this land that we love so well worth defending; worth fighting for; worth dying for. Oh God, help us to make America God’s country.

And now, may the love of God the Father, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the abiding fellowship of God, the Holy Spirit, rest upon us now and abide with us forevermore. Amen.

Dr. Peter Marshall, Sr.

_________________________________________________

Dr. Marshall’s sermon of over 76 years ago is not only prophetic but clearly illustrates not only how little America has changed but how much more depraved it has become since his day.

“Illustrations could be multiplied, both of the decay of morals and of the activity of evil forces in our midst,” Dr. Marshall preached. “The old time evangelists use to express the tragedy of men and women individually going to hell. But we don’t hear much about that nowadays. Because they say people don’t believe in hell. But I notice that they talk a lot about it in their conversations.

“But today we are living in a time when enough individuals choosing to go to hell will pull the nation down to hell with them.

“The choices you make in moral and religious questions determine the way America will go. We badly need a prophet who will have the ear of America and who will say, ‘If the Lord be God, follow Him! But if Baal, then follow him!’”

Despite Dr. Marshall’s impassioned plea 76 years ago and that of dozens of preachers since, it is abundantly clear that the people of America have decided to follow Baal, the god of licentiousness and depravity. 

Author’s notes.

[1] This poem, God Give Us Men! was by puritan descendent, Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819-1881) and was a favorite of Dr. Marshall.

[2] Tarawa atoll is part of Gilbert Islands in the central Pacific. The small (2.5 miles by 800-foot at its widest) island of Betio was occupied by a small but determined Japanese force that guarded a very strategic military runway. On November 20, 1943, the U.S. Marines with U.S. Navy support offshore launched a tenacious four-day amphibious assault. The taking of this “one square mile of hell” as it was later called, cost the lives of 1,000 marines and 4,000 Japanese soldiers, but was considered to be the “pivotal event” of the military operations in the Pacific theater. The capture of tiny Betio eventually led to a strong U.S. military presence in the Marshall Islands, which provided allied forces with a strike force to hit mainland Japan and thus end the war in the Pacific with the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945.

[3] Both Palermo and Salerno are sites in Italy where there was bitter American fighting against stubborn German resistance during World War II.

This prophetic sermon by Dr. Peter Marshall was published for the first time in Revelation 18 and the fate of America by James F. Gauss in 2013.