Project Canterbury


"Has the Church Broken Down"

A Sermon preached March 14, 1915, in the

Cathedral of St. John the Divine,

New York


Canon Robert Ellis Jones, D. D.

Chaplain of the St. David's Society,
of the State of New York


Published by request of the Rev John Williams, M. A,
President of the St. David’s Society,
and others.





Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2009

A part of the 24th verse of the 24th Chapter
of St. Luke's Gospel.


The reign of universal peace seemingly about to begin has been indefinitely postponed; a sudden whirlwind of hate and carnage casts doubt upon the moral efficiency of the religion of Christ. We are told that "The Church has broken down" and that the war proves that Christ is not an all-sufficient source of self-control and progress. The unanswerable argument for the Gospel has hitherto been that Christ is the motive power of advancing peace, purity and love. Outweighing all miracles was the fact of a world progressively transformed by the example and inspiration of the Man of Nazareth, but today six Christian nations, half a world, thirst for their brothers' blood and call upon high Heaven to help them ravage and destroy.

Has the Gospel broken down? Do not the facts justify the fear? If the Gospel has been fully applied and followed, we must look for another master; but if any essential part of the Gospel has been repudiated, if in any considerable province it has not been applied at all, it has not broken down. Our fundamental assertion is that the religion of Christ has never yet been followed in its integrity, its triumphs have been won in the face of a partial and fluctuating obedience; there is truth in the bitter jest of a Jewish critic, "Christianity may be a very good religion, but it has never yet been tried." Christ has led an ever-advancing march, but other forces have energized [1/2] and other leaders have been followed. The responsibility for moral failure can be fixed by the question, "Is the present outbreak the result of obedience to Christ, or is it due to our own preference for some antagonistic anti-Christian person or principle?" The statement of the question answers it, this war is not the result of the Gospel, it is the direct outcome of our own repudiation and but partial application of it. Our present task is to find out how and wherein the Gospel has been imperfectly applied or repudiated.

It cannot be denied that the deepest cause of the present tragedy is, that while Christ has been accepted as the law-giver in private life, in national affairs, in the intercourse of states, Christ's commands have been repudiated or spasmodically applied. International dealings have been shaped by unblushing selfishness and ruthless force. Napoleon not Christ is here the pattern man! The Sermon on the Mount, our accepted private code, is the bitterest indictment that could be framed against political procedure. We are immensely puzzled by the deep piety of those who display an icy disregard for human suffering; this shocking religiosity is possible only because the war-makers look upon individual conduct, with its Christward principles, and national policy resting on fraud and force, as two wholly different and unrelated things.

All nations, our own included, are guilty in varying degrees. Germany may for the present be the chief culprit, but Germany only exhibits in extreme forms, traits and methods which are universal. Only that nation which is without sin may rightly cast a stone. Are we proud of the Mexican War, in which we bullied and despoiled a weaker neighbor to provide for the spread of slavery? When was a treaty with an Indian tribe more than "a [2/3] scrap of paper"? In the immediate past Italy wrenched Tripoli from Turkey. Russia strangled Persia and appropriated the Caucasus. England by the Treaty of Berlin bound herself to protect Turkey's Christian subjects; after the first Armenian massacre the British Government told the Sultan that such things must not happen again, and when they did happen again, in Constantinople at the Sultan's gate and by his order, raised not a little finger. France seized Tunis and Morocco. Austria appropriated Bosnia and Herzegovina, ringing up the curtain on this present bloody scene. The last twenty-five years have been an orgy of colony grabbing. Land-lust is the cause of all this blood-lust.

Continental political technique is summed up in Frederick the Great's axioms. He said, "Never be ashamed of making alliances from which your own nation alone draws advantage. Abandon alliances whenever it is to your interest to do so. Politics and villainy are almost synonymous terms. If, when it is necessary to make a treaty with other powers, we remember that we are Christians, we are undone," and the writer thought himself a godly man!

This is a dark picture, a too general indictment, thank heaven, nations, like men, are not bad clear through or all the time; our moral qualities are spasmodic in both directions, but it is an undeniable fact that we take our private morality from the Gospel and our public morality from paganism. In one we profess to follow Christ, in the other we pay allegiance to Caesar.

How now does it work out to follow Christ and repudiate him by turns? This war shows how! Abraham Lincoln said, "No state can long endure half slave and half free." The results of our partial repudiation of [3/4] Christ are two-fold. First, a breakdown and arrest of civilization. Second, a deterioration of private character. For the last quarter of a century Christ has been progressively crowded out as the guide and law-giver of private life.

It is a law that private morality is increasingly assimilated to public codes. Conduct and conviction tend to become all of one piece. What we actually do at last dictates what we say. The principles that mould conduct are often arrived at unconsciously; they are held for a time without recognition of their real character or of their hostility to traditional codes; but the hour comes when self-deception is no longer possible, a sharp and sudden crisis "Stabs the spirit broad awake." Men repudiate the old traditions and go over heart and soul to their new allegiance.

This war is a tocsin of self-revelation to the world; it breaks upon its self-complaisance, it shows where its discordant code has led it--to a very twilight and dethronement of the gods.

There is also a second indictment that it does not work out well to follow Christ and repudiate him by turns. Our political rejection of Christ has resulted in a theoretical and philosophical repudiation of Him--a denial that Christ is the ultimate ideal of human conduct.

Centuries have rolled by without a challenge of the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ as an ideal of character. Whatever men have been, good or bad, orthodox or skeptics, all have seen in the Man of Nazareth a perfect human life; but today the most learned country in the world, the land that sets our intellectual fashions, accepts an anti-Christ, a monster, compact of pride and selfishness, [4/5] as a more attractive model of what man should be.

Frederick William Nietzsche, a university professor and literary free lance, in a dozen volumes which have had enormous sale, ridicules self-sacrifice and self-restraint, glorifies brute power, and vaunts self-realization by self-indulgence. Nietzsche was a great literary artist. He gave to German prose a matchless lyric beauty--but his entire absence of moral judgment robs his books of any permanent value. Nietzsche taught that power and self-assertion are life's transcendent aims, "To be satisfying at all life must be a state of opulence, luxuriance and prodigality. Happiness is the result of appropriation, injury, conquest of the weak, suppression, severity and the obtrusion of our own wills on others." Might is right. We should strive for the fullest realization of ourselves, regardless of the effect on others. All we need to care for is to build up and enjoy our own personality. Nietzsche says also that there are two moralities, the slave morality (shared alike by Christianity and Democracy) and the morality of the Superman, resting on the rock of ruthless power. "Let the slave demand and cultivate truth and pity for himself and his like. Truth and pity are the conditions of living of bare living--and since that is all the slave can expect, truth and pity are his métier."

The Man of Nazareth is the symbol of the Gospel, the living embodiment of His own teachings. The mightiest argument for Christianity has always been, "Behold the man." Nietzsche could find in all history no actual charACter to stand for his Superman, Christ's opposite and competitor, and so he made a lay-figure and called him "Dionysius," an incarnation of the sensual joy of living, of heartless intellectual brilliancy and of ruthless force and selfishness. Nietzsche's volumes are elaborate efforts to charm the world with his pagan dummy. [5/6] Dionysius is an Anti-Christ. Nietzsche's last words before he relapsed into final madness were, "Christ, or Dionysius, do you understand me? Take your choice." The significant thing is that any man should think the world ready for the choice, that anyone should have dared to say, "Behold the Superman!"

But of what practical importance are the lyric ravings of a half-crazed professor? How do they bear upon the actual situation? The answering fact is that the book most called for by the German soldiers, and supplied in thousands to the men in the trenches, is Nietzsche's masterpiece, "So spake Zarathustra." It has run through eighty editions, for years it has colored the whole literature of Germany, and now the lyric of the Superman is the bible of the Supernation. Private ideals have become assimilated to public policy. The private and public consciousness of Germany is of one piece throughout.

You may think that we Americans stand outside all this, that for us Nietzsche is not significant, but, quite unconsciously perhaps, many of us are faltering between Christ and Dionysius; the Superman has crept into our thinking unawares, his stamp is on our poems and novels and plays. Bernard Shaw (a Pocket Nietzsche in cap and bells) has a little Superman of his own. We hear on every side that self-realization should be unimpeded--unimpeded even by the law of God and the continuance of the family. Any curtailment of the joy of living is condemned as puritanical, and many of us think that Christian morals were made for slaves. We ourselves are in the midst of a renaissance of paganism.

We have also our own militarists who say that the nation can maintain itself only by force of arms. Our history and position have made us more industrial and [6/7] commercial than military, but in our industry and business we have developed repellant traits of grab and push, of exploitation of the weak and admiration of mere success; with us "Business is war." This is the very spirit which in its military shape is the evil genius of Prussia. We are swept into the world currents whether we will or not.

The test of any scheme of private conduct or national policy is, "Will it work?" The fatal defect of the Superman's program is that it will not work. The plain people "rich in saving common sense" will not tolerate it. It would result in anarchy, because there is no may of deciding who is and who is not a Superman, except to fight it out. The Superman would be a sort of mad dog and would be hunted down as such. His social destructiveness would be his death sentence. In private relations we will not tolerate aggressive selfishness. Why then do we tolerate the super-nation? Why do we in international affairs accept as normal conduct which in private life we utterly condemn? Simply because we think we cannot help ourselves. Because we think that force is ultimate and that for nations there is no higher law. Nations are allowed to realize themselves by means of social destructiveness.

The reason that we judge private conduct and national policy so differently, the reason we hold that ethical principles do not bind nations as they do individuals, is that private life has a commonly accepted ideal, a universally accepted standard, to which all must more or less conform, while political life has not. The nations accept no common law paramount to their own desires, gross departures from which bring upon them the reprobation of the world. In private life Christ Jesus is above us all; how we measure up with Him fixes our acceptance and desert.

National life is a struggle for self-realization without regard to the rights of others. Nations becloud their moral judgment by unchecked sell-conceit--they justify land-grabbing and aggression on the ground of their superior culture, their higher type of civilization--which it is benevolent to cram down unwilling throats. There is no accepted higher law by which the value to the world of a nation's culture may be appraised. National sovereignty which all strive to establish amounts to immunity from international obligation. In private life we stamp as anarchistic the personal independence which confounds liberty with immunity from social obligation. The Superman and the Supernation are in the same condemnation.

The application of the higher law of Christ to all national concerns is the only remedy; it must be made paramount and universal. By failing to appraise national conduct by the Gospel, we assert that force is final and commit the world to endless war.

We dream of the time when "Nations shall no longer lift up sword against nations, neither shall they learn war any amore." But listen to what Professor Treitschke, the Berlin historian, one of the chief brewers of this witch's cauldron, has to say: "Since there is no supreme court of international law, and since national interests will always change and clash, war is inevitable, it is justified, and must be conceived as ordained by God." Flat blasphemy against the Prince of Peace, who believed that He would one day subdue all things to Himself.

The world has sought to do without a common standard and ideal of national righteousness; it has held that ethical principles do not bind nations as they do persons; it has rejected Christ in this regard--and it has failed miserably. It is the world and not the church that has [8/9] broken down. We are heartsick at this slaughter, we are appalled lest when this war is finished military madness shall still continue and sweep us into vortex. The agonizing question of the hour is, "Is war to be a permanent thing in human life?" It will be so long as we try to serve two masters. The next step forward is the constitution of an international supreme court, capable of enforcing its decrees, based on the principles of Christ. The only hope of the world lies in the application of the Gospel to the whole domain of human life.

That long-cherished dream, "the parliament of man, the federation of the world," with the mind of Christ for its constitution, is not as impossible of realization as it seemed seven months ago. We have not in the past been able to see how the founding of "the United States of the World" could be effected, disarmament brought about and arbitration made compulsory, but this war may leave the combatants in the mood to accept any way of escape from another similar catastrophe. A distinguished publicist of our own has just said, "The war has already shown that no single nation or group of nations can dominate its neighbors unless the other principal powers consent to that domination, and it is quite clear that no such domination will be allowed; as soon as this proposition is accepted all wars between civilized nations will cease." "This war has already proved that Europe needs one comprehensive union or federation competent to procure and enforce peace through justice." But there is still a larger hope; it may be that this war is God's way of preparing for the federation of the world, and thus the very "wrath of man shall praise Him."

Our most persistent moral heresy is that men and nations can serve two masters, that private life can continue on a high level while business practice and public policy [9/10] are conducted on a baser plane. The lower always wins, and enforces its code throughout. Life tends to become all of one piece. No civilization can long endure half Christian and half pagan. Ethical principles must bind nations as well as individuals. It is only by applying one rule of righteousness to private life and public policy that it shall ever come to pass that "the kingdoms of the earth shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and of His Christ."

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