Project Canterbury

The Good News

By Bernard Iddings Bell, D.D.

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing, [1921]

Chapter VII. Our Social Duty

SO far in this book we have seen what in the realm of past history, leading up to present times, God has done to show His great love and care for us. We saw that God first of all has taken pity on our human limitations and, to make Himself real and comprehensible to us, has limited Himself, taken our human nature upon Him. Jesus is God, made Man. In the second place we saw that this Jesus, being found in the likeness of man, suffered also for us even unto death that we might, joining our weakness to His strength, get courage and power to live like men instead of like mere beasts. Then we remembered that Jesus has founded a blessed company of His friends, called the Church, with comradeship therein for us with the blessed throngs of martyrs, confessors, and holy ones without number, a Church whose only real business is to bring us in true devotion face to face with Jesus and Jesus face to face with us. In the last three chapters we shall spend some time thinking over just how, in practical ways, the Church performs this chief business of hers, just how she brings us before God and God before us. But before we do that, it is well that we pause here and ask ourselves just what God expects us to do with the aid of all this which He does for us. What sort of people are we to become with the help of Jesus' presence with us?

In the first place, God wishes us human beings to be happy. He wishes us to be happy just as hard as we can possibly desire happiness for ourselves. In order to make us happy it is necessary that God should make plain to us what we must do and what we must not do, and that He should give us assistance in obeying when we have perceived His will. We shall be happy if we observe God's will for human folks. We shall be unhappy, we shall suffer, we shall fail, if we disobey that will. We can no more go against His desires successfully than we can throw a ball in the air and have it stay there, violating the law of gravitation, or than we can put together under proper conditions hydrogen and oxygen without producing water, or add two and two without getting four for a result. We can no more remain happy while resisting the inevitable march of God's intentions than we could turn against, single-handed, a marching regiment of soldiers in close formation and get through them. We should have to march with them or get trampled. We must obey God or get trampled. We modern people are apt to think that the universe revolves around us. It does nothing of the sort. It revolves around God. In revolutionary Paris the people are said at one time to have abolished God. God pays mighty little attention to such decrees, either by collectivists or by individual Americans.

People say that this is all very unmodern. They insist that we must have "democracy in religion". Well, if democracy in religion means that we shall seek to submit the everlasting decrees of the Eternal to a human referendum, and conduct human elections to see whether or not God shall reign or a Bolshevist regime be introduced into the spiritual courts of the eternal Heavens,--if that is the kind of religion that people demand as "democratic", we had best bid a fond farewell to democracy, for its glorious ideal has, if this is true, degenerated into the worst nonsense ever conceived by the human intellect. We can have little patience with such egregious foolishness. We are democrats, I trust, through and through. Nevertheless we must recognize that God Almighty reigns as supreme sovereign over even democracies. To us Isaiah says, "You must honor the Lord's will, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words." Even democracies have but two alternatives: "Obey God or pay the penalty in misery, here and hereafter."

We must face this,--face it squarely. To be happy we must obey God. As the prophet Ezekiel says, "Thus speaks the Lord: Everyone which separates himself from Me, and sets up His own idols in his heart, I the Lord will answer Him."

What is God's will for you and for me, for this nation and for all nations, for this age and for all ages? God has not left it uncertain. You can read it spread all over the pages of history. What has made nations great? What has destroyed nations? Who are the great men of the ages, and why were they great? Who are the hated of the ages, and why are they hated? It is written, too, in the Bible story. There we find a careful interpretation of the history of one nation, the Hebrews, written that we may see how the hand of God moves, how obedience makes success, how disobedience degrades and dethrones. You can hear God's will in the words of Jesus, and see it blazing forth from His Cross. What is His law for human beings?

God's law goes to the fundamentals of conduct. It is this: "That man or that nation or that civilization which lives for itself and its own advantage, perishes by spiritual dry rot. That man or that nation or that civilization which lives for service to other men, to other nations, to other civilizations, spiritually lives forever." God's law is the law of salvation by sacrifice and damnation by selfishness. People talk sometimes as though unselfishness was impractical, unduly idealistic, foolish, contrary to common sense. They substitute what they call "the law of enlightened self-interest." Yet history, biography, the Bible, and Christ join in proclaiming that the man or the nation which follows self-interest, enlightened or otherwise, fails as surely as the sun goes on its course, and that the idealists who throw their lives away in service, whether they be individual idealists or national idealists, are the only ones who survive.

Let America adopt the motto "America first,"--America as an end to be served regardless of anyone else,--and America will be ground to the same powder, and for the same reason, as Babylon, and Egypt, and Alexandrian Greece, and imperial Rome, and Pan-Germanism. Make your own motto "Myself first", and your soul will shrivel, your happiness depart, your joys turn to dust and ashes as you handle them, your days of age be lonely, and your future when you die,--may God have all the mercy on you that is possible.

In the consideration of this, our moral future, let us consider all of us first, and then in the next chapter, each of us as a part of all. Let us recognize first that your personal happiness and mine is conditioned by the happiness of America and America's happiness by the happiness of the whole closely-knit world. Let our civilization go to pieces and where are we? Let disaster come industrially. You and I can not escape. Let either Bolshevism or Jingoism rule. They will rule you and me. You and I are part of the human race. If its heart is rotten, we shall have to pay for it. If it goes down through disobedience to God, you and I cannot extricate ourselves. God deals with peoples as truly as with individuals. Consider then our common problem, first.

God has been waiting for these post-war days, as well as we. The world war was by His permission. Horrible as the war-maker of yesterday may have been, he was, as was Attila his predecessor, as was the Babylonian who destroyed Jerusalem in the time of the prophets, the "Scourge of God." Before the war the world, including America, had gone mad after money, vice, greed, luxury, material gods. Brotherhood was contemned. Men continued to talk the patois of religion, but lives of oblation and obedience they would not live. Their real devotion was given to the pantheon of selfishness. Christianity had come to be a pretty-pretty, sentimental crust over a vicious mess of idolatry. Preachers who said smooth things, who congratulated us, who patted us on the back, who said, "Peace, Peace", when the rumbles of war were already heard afar,--these were the tolerated, fat, bought false-prophets. They who cried for fraternity and justice and humility and righteousness as outward evidences of religion were discouraged even when not positively shut up. To popular feeling God had become a benevolent, deaf, blind, credulous old grandmother. "Tush," we said, "can Jehovah behold it, our life of avarice and luxury and brutality and lies and force? He see not, any more than we are willing to see, our streets of palaces bought at the cost of acres of slums, our steam yachts and trains de luxe which take us far away in summer from the crying, dying babies of the poor, our sheltered women dressed in silks and furs ad libitum while other women sell us their honor for a pair of shoes." We would not admit our faults. God have mercy on us, very largely we did not even know they were faults.

God stood the stench of it all as long as He could.

"Then", said He, "I will arise. I will let loose the evil fires of the world's most vicious and most powerful armed autocracy. I will smash the world in the fire of My fury." Most of us had even forgotten that God had such a thing as fury. And so, the hellish bath of blood! With whips and scorpions has the world been awakened. No gentler message would we hear, and God must needs arouse us, lest we die eternally.

Have we attained to a permanent peace, or only to a lull in the hell let loose? That depends solely upon whether or not we have learned, even yet, the lesson it was sent to teach.

What is our idea of using this peace? Is it to go on again as we were: to keep making the rich richer and the poor poorer; to seek after and revel in luxuries, actual or potential, as the lures to urge men on; to be again a race of money-grubbers, dollar-chasers, scramblers after gold and what it buys, extenders of markets and devotees of commercialized imperialism? Are we after these things yet, fellow-Americans, chosen of God, we whose national traditions and natural resources are greater than those of other peoples, we whose splendid youth turned the tide in the battle? Americans, are our idols still in our hearts? Are we thinking of the fleshpots of peace or of its glorious possibilities of international service and of sacrifice?

I wish I had the splendid enthusiasm and optimism that some have. Would that I might believe that America is a nation regenerated, reawakened, rededicated to the making of a sane new world. I do not see much evidence of it. It seems to me that everywhere I go, everything I read, everyone nearly that I talk to, is one more evidence that as a people we are not any of these things; that for the most part the idols are still in our hearts. Some few have seen the vision. Only a few. I see our government cynically overlooking America's chance for constructive international leadership; content to play again the old and vicious diplomatic game; afraid to lead in the effort for world unity. I look at industry and see capital preparing to get just as much profit as it can and still regarding laborers as essentially and inevitably condemned to wagery. I see labor urging always, regardless of anything else, "More pay and less work is what we are after." No class is free from blame. Each is after its own. None thinks in terms of the whole. Out of this stewing brew of selfish pride and materialistic ambitions can there come peace for the world or here at home? Or anything except continued war, riot, confusion, ruin? It seems to my sight that we have accentuated the selfishness of before the war, not abandoned it. Where are those great passionate enthusiasms of the days of struggle? Fading fast. Where among ns is visible that longing for brotherhood, for rational and Christian industrial adjustments, for international as well as national coöperations, so apparent in the days of struggle? Where is our boasted American idealism? Sinking in morasses of self-seeking and swamps of pettiness? Sometimes it looks woefully that way.

America must be converted, in its heart of hearts, from commercialism to fraternalism, from individualism to collectivism, from a jingo nationalism to a nationalism which is international in aim. It must be or we shall be forced to suffer more, again and again. God's will will be done. That wrath of God which is also the love of God and the justice of God demands it inexorably. People talk of permanent peace. There can be no permanent peace until nations perceive the folly of that politician's wisdom which bids each nation live for itself and its own enjoyment, and start in in alignment with the statesmanlike wisdom of Christ which says that nations must live for one another and for Him. People speak of the possibility of industrial harmony. There can be no industrial harmony until men shall see that men were not made for wealth but wealth for manhood.

The prophets of God must cry this. If our ideal for our nation is an organization which shall seek its own prosperity, and wherein each citizen shall seek his own prosperity, while the rest of the world is forgotten, our nation and we with it must suffer nameless things for disobedience to the Almighty. In that case we have not heard Christ. If our idea of conduct for a businessman or a working-man is to seek only those material things which are symbolized in money, be it profits or wages that they call it, then is the Cross rejected. Then prepare for crass Bolshevism, anarchy, barbarism, and Hell let loose in this old world of ours. To prevent this the Church must speak. That means that you and I, who have found the Christ and know His powerful love, must speak. The time is gone by when a man can call himself a Christian and be industrially, politically, and internationally an apostle of self-interest. The time is gone by when we can preach soothing platitudes to our people in the face of Armageddon. We, you the people and we the priests, with all our brethren in the Lord, we who pray to Jesus, we who receive Him at His Altar, we who are called by His name, must lift our hearts and voices and cry to God, "Forgive us and send us forth to strengthen our brethren". Then we must cry aloud to the world, "hear the word of the Lord. That people which separateth itself from Me and my law of salvation through sacrifice, and setteth up its idols in its heart, I the Lord will answer that nation, and make it a sign and a proverb for peoples yet to come, and cut it off from the peoples of the earth, that it may know that I, Jehovah, am God the Lord."

Dare we do it? If we dare not, then are we, priests and people, unworthy. Can we do it? With Jesus' personal help, we can. Shall we Christians do it? God grant we may, that this nation we so love and all that it ought to be may be saved from even this untoward generation.

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