Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2014
Preaching Good News in Our Troubled World
By the Reverend Theodore O. Wedel, D.D.
On more than one occasion, when I have enjoyed the privilege of leading a classroom hour for a group of clergy, I have tried a pedagogic experiment. I placed upon a blackboard three words--the so-called three "C's" of religion: Creed, Code and Cult. After some rough defining of the areas of Christian life and thought which each of these words might represent, I asked this question: Under which heading would you classify most of the sermons you have preached from your pulpits during the past year? The answer which any one man will make to this question depends, in part, of course, upon the connotations which the three words are made to bear. I confess that I have been guilty in the classroom of some pedagogic trickery, defining Creed, Code and Cult in such ways as might induce the reply which, for my later purposes, I expected and desired. Creed, Code and Cult are interrelated, and not mutually exclusive. Yet, with all discounting of pedagogic trickery, the replies have been uniform and, I think, true to fact. A decided majority of the clergy were ready to confess that most of their sermons fell under the heading of Code. In other words, they were sermons urging ethical application of the teachings of Bible and Church. Sermons dealing with the Church's Cult ranked a distant second and were usually representative of a particular slant in Churchmanship. All of the clergy were unanimous, however, in the admission that Credal sermons ranked a poor third in their preaching. I suspect that all of us here this day would be forced to echo the confession once made by one of our honest brethren in the priesthood, Dean Nes of New Orleans--namely, that he preached his poorest sermons on the great festivals of the Christian Year. On these days our preaching cannot avoid wrestling with the central mysteries of the Gospel, the mighty acts of God in history, which cannot be transformed into mere topics for a moral discourse nor into homilies recommending fasting communion or auricular confession.
I am not concerned in defending my statistical survey. To the extent, however, to which it is true, it should give us occasion for serious thought. Mistaken emphases in our preaching may not have been tragic in the past. The days of testing had not yet arrived. Christianity could still live on long inherited capital. But the Gospel which we preach to our lost world today must be one tried by fire and not found wanting.
I venture, accordingly, to subject to some criticism the three areas of preaching mentioned in my opening paragraph.
 First of all, I take the Cult. Broadly defined, the Cult, of course, is all of Christian Gospel and Christian Life. The Church at worship is the Church at work. To make the liturgy live for our people--surely this is one of the main tasks of the preacher. Even when defined in a narrower sense, the Cult still is important. The worshipper is grateful for explanations of even the little things of ritual. Yet the preaching of the Cult soon runs into difficulties. Particularly is this true when such preaching leaves the broad absolutes of the worship life of the Church and enters the areas where we are a divided worship family. It then runs squarely into the problem of authority. Ours is not the Roman Church. We have neither Pope, nor the Council of Trent, nor the Creed of Pius IV. We have neither Fundamentalist Bible, nor Fundamentalist Cult. We must never forget that Rome clings to both. We make much of our apostolic succession, and rightly so--the Church in time as well as space, the episcopate as outward and visible symbol of the Communion of Saints. But as a center of authority in matters pertaining to our Cult, the episcopate is the embarrassed guardian of liberty in diversity, rather than of unity. Hence, preaching the Cult is in danger of preaching relativities instead of absolutes. Furthermore--and this is the real point of my passing discussion of this thorny subject--the Cult on its more disciplinary side is not itself Good News. It is the response of the Christian Family to the Gospel. Its motivation is thanksgiving for the saving acts of God himself. Hence, the liturgy of the Church always returns to anamnesis, to memorial sacrifice, giving us (first step) a due sense of all God’s mercies, so that (second step) our hearts may be truly thankful, and (third step) that we show forth His praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives. To turn thanksgiving into legalized disciplines reverses this process, and cannot go very far before it begins to defeat its own ends. In other words, Cult must ever return to the Gospel itself for motivation. Good news must invoke response over and over again. Let the lifegiving Spirit flow from Creed to Cult and all comes right. It is a notable fact in Church history that no major controversies occurred in the Church in the field of Cult during the first millennium of its history. The Church’s energies were devoted to guarding its Creed. We may need a great return to the Gospel to unsnarl our divisive tangles as we deal with our Cult today.
This same crying need for a return to the Gospel itself appears even more strikingly when we look at our preaching of the Christian Code. Christianity is, of course, an ethical religion. Every page of the Bible is concerned with morality and the service of God in terms of doing as well as believing. Nor did tradition ever lose site of the ethical nature of Christianity, despite the controversies regarding Works and Faith or Law and Grace. But to base the Christian Gospel upon the Christian Code is a tragic blunder. We of the Episcopal Church have escaped awareness of this blunder. We had a traditional Cult and liturgy to fall back upon, reinforced during the nineteenth century by the Cult revival of the Oxford Movement. The great Fundamentalist--Modernist controversies regarding the Gospel and the Creed seemingly passed us by. We felt that we could safely modernize our orthodoxy, sheltered as we were by our traditional worship life. Our Protestant [4/5] brethren, not so sheltered were exposed to the full impact of nineteenth century enlightenment. They are today passing through a heart-rending repentance--a repentance which, God willing, will have to overtake us also, when our eyes shall be fully opened to the pit into which we have fallen. Listen, for example, to one such voice of repentance, one which could be duplicated many times: "We moderns," so runs a typical confession, "have made a great mistake in our ethical interpretation of Christianity. Perceiving that our religion is shot through with ethical purpose, we have tended to take the Church as a human device based upon this ethical idealism. Jesus, we have said, showed us in His life and teachings the true way of life. The church, so again we have said, exists for the admirable purpose of realizing Jesus' moral ideals. This conception of the Church I must emphatically disavow. I regard it as a grave, if not a terrible mistake. To conceive the Christian Church as resting upon an ethical basis is to sacrifice the substance of the Christian faith. Its basic affirmations are not concerning what ought to be, but concerning what is." [* Charles Clayton Morrison, in "The Christian Century", May, 1934.]
But, you may ask, as you listen to such an emotional outburst of self-criticism, what has this to do with us? Why get excited about ethical preaching? We have not repudiated the Christian Creed. We even preach heavy orthodox doctrine whenever we think our people can endure it. How are we wrong?
Well, the issue is not always easy to make clear. Yet there is an issue and a desperately important one. And until we see it and do our own repenting, all the marching forward of the Church will not get us far.
Perhaps I can clarify the issue best by way of a concrete example: Take the life of our Lord as this is dealt with in our teaching and our preaching. Every Church School in the land has a course in the life of Jesus. With the fact itself I do not quarrel at the moment. But what do our children and our lay people make of this biographical presentation, of Sermon on the Mount, of parable and miracle story? They do not see this story, as did St. Paul and early Church, against a backdrop of the stern revelations of God's Law and Judgment in the Old Testament, nor the equally terrifying eschatological faith of the New. Many of our people think that the idea of God in the Old Testament is precisely what Jesus came to replace. Hence, whatever may be our doctrinal intentions, they see our Lord largely on the human plane alone. We may be able to surround His figure with an aura of mysticism. Our listeners may even welcome some of our doctrinal vocabulary--Son of God, Incarnate Word, very God of very God. These belong to the thought-world of tradition which they accept as part of the history of Christian origins. These concepts give authority to the figure of Jesus as they deal with him. But the evolutionary and humanistic thought-world in which school and college have educated them prevents more than a verbal understanding of such terms. When all is said, Jesus is simply Jesus, not particularly mysterious, [5/6] not really hard to understand, nor to accept by way of sentimental admiration. He is a great ethical stimulus. He is biographical model, He is teacher, He is ideal. He is friend. He is the Christian's Fuehrer, asking for discipleship and loyalty. Whenever moved in will or emotion we give him service. We wish that we might be moved to such ethical surrender more often. The appeal He makes upon us is like that of a positive conscience, more appealing, and happily less uncomfortable than the negative conscience symbolized by the Ten Commandments with their thou shalt nots. Here is instead the appeal of high ideal, far outreaching our grasp, and for that very reason kindly toward compromise so long as our intentions are right. Judgment is a word which this ethicized Christianity largely avoids. But insofar as it appears in our thinking at all, judgment connotes evaluation first of all of our ideals, and only secondarily of our conduct. So long as the ideal is high enough, we have an easy conscience.
Religion becomes simple and human and practical. Given the Golden Rule, the Sermon on the Mount, St. Paul's great hymn to charity and we have the essence of the Bible. To know something of the remainder of this strange old book is interesting, of course, and we don't object when the Church school gives some of it to our children. The Christian ethical idealism came out of a dim Hebrew tradition and is involved in myths and miracle stories. But ignorance of these historical origins is surely not fatal. We don't know much about Plato and Sophocles either or about the history of the technological discoveries in the midst of which we live, yet we manage quite well. The resultant ethical principles alone really count. The rest is an educational luxury. The theological dogmas which are paraded in the sermons preached on Trinity Sunday or a few other festivals seem to us lay folk part of that academic professionalism which the Church demands of its ministers and which we accept as background to our worship techniques. But the sooner it is again translated into ethical idealism the better.
I am ready to grant at once that I am guilty of exaggeration in my descriptive analysis. There is a whole compartment of Christian life and insight, fed by Holy Scripture and the Prayer Book, which lives in a different world. Our Cult is still our partial salvation. But the confessions of the clergy, I know, are still overwhelmingly to the effect that most of our preaching falls under the compartment of ethical challenge and idealism. And here there is something tragically, frighteningly wrong, so wrong that if it is not corrected, the remnant of the faith of our people in our dark days will soon fall like a house of cards. For essentially this Code preaching is not Christianity at all, but a new religion. St. Paul would have stood aghast before it, and so would the Church of the ages, Protestant and Catholic, down to the nineteenth century. We have been seduced into allegiance to something for which the word heresy would be a flattering description. And we live under the illusion that it is the Christian Faith. This illusion can be strikingly illustrated by the currency of the word discipleship in contemporary devotional literature. We have accepted this use naively. I have hitherto not seen a word of criticism of it. Yet look at it and see. The word disciples [6/7] does not occur in the New Testament after the Book of the Acts. And in that book it designates a historic group and does not bear an ethical connotation. Jesus, for the Early Church, was no longer rabbi or teacher or friend on the human plane. He had been this once, and precious was the story of those days. But now he is the risen and ascended Lord. "I am the first and the last. I was dead and, behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell and of death." [* Revelation 1:18] In the Creeds, all the verbs regarding our Lord are in the past tense except those which describe his eschatological status at the right hand of God, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. You cannot speak glibly of becoming a disciple, after his Resurrection, of the Judge of the quick and the dead. The early Church never dreamt of such a thing. Nor can we go back to the days of his earthly companioning. "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." [* Corinthians 5:16] His presence with us now is through the Holy Spirit. We cannot speak glibly of becoming disciples of the Holy Ghost either.
I am not trying to read the ethics of the Christ-Life out of the New Testament. But it differs so radically from the "Be like Jesus" ethics of our day that words almost fail in trying to compare the two. "One may fairly doubt," says A. E. Taylor, in The Faith of a Moralist, "whether any man has ever really been converted to the Christian faith simply by the impression made on him either by the story of Christ's life or by the reports of his moral teaching." [* A. E. Taylor, The Faith of a Moralist (MacMillan, 1932), vol. 2, p. 130.] If A. E. Taylor is right, this one sentence alone would indict whole libraries of our Church, School text-books and of our sermons. Ideals, even ideals personalized in a sacred biography, have no real power. You cannot pray to them. A man can have the highest ideals and yet have no communion with God. The ethical teachings of the Bible don't speak of ideals at all. They speak of commandments--a very different thing. They speak of obedience to the God of the Law and the Prophets and then of being saved by grace and justified by faith and of the final ethical fruits of the Spirit. Christian ethics is grateful penitence. It is our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for what? Certainly not for ideals or values, nor even for an unachievable example. Plato and Aristotle and Confucius could supply us plentifully with these. No. Thanksgiving for the gifts of God himself, for the forgiveness of sins, for the coming of the Holy Ghost with power.
But the most damning comment that can be made upon our preaching of the Gospel as ethical challenge has not yet been said. It is this. Preach the Christian Gospel as ethical idealism and it becomes the opposite of Gospel or glad tidings. It becomes a "dys-angelion." It becomes sad tidings. During the age of optimism and belief in human progress, the sadness of this message was disguised. The gospel of pacifism, of our building the kingdom of God on earth, seemed achievable. All we needed was more urging, more "oughts." We were fond of texts like "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord . . . but he that doeth my Father's will." [7/8] And achievements apparently came. Democracy was on the wing throughout the world. The religion of social works was bearing glorious fruit. Now we open our eyes in dismay and discover that perhaps over that whole era of optimism and progress must be written the sequel to the text just quoted: "Many will say to me, Lord, Lord . . . in thy name we have done mighty works, and I will profess to them, I never knew you . . . ye that work iniquity." [* Matthew 7:21, 22.] Our optimism is likely to turn into despair, our dreams of secular pacifism into universal war, our sentimental idealism into cynicism. Cynicism is rampant among the young today all over this land. We should not have been taken by surprise. Sad tidings have merely born their predestined fruit.
Am I putting my argument too violently? Perhaps so. The ethical Christianity which I am describing is seldom found in isolated form. It comes in disguise. It can use much of the language of Christian tradition--the doctrine of the Incarnation, for example. This incarnational theology, great as it is when properly buttressed, has been a particular pitfall. I can allude to it only briefly, though I venture to quote one warning regarding it, a warning uttered by one of the wisest Anglican bishops of the last generation, Bishop Creighton, the famous historian. "We need seriously to consider," he says, "whether harm has not been done by the prominence given in our day to the doctrine of the Incarnation over the doctrine of the Atonement. It weakens the sense of sin, which is one of the great bulwarks against unbelief and through which we live into larger world." [* Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton, vol. 2, p. 506.]
This, however, only in passing. I return to a further word about the contrast between good news and sad news. To tell me that my salvation consists in being like Jesus and in living according to the unachievable standards of the Sermon on the Mount is sad news. You can tell me that the world will go to ruin if we don't live thus, and this may be true. But this is even worse news--news which I can read in the headlines of the newspapers. It is like having me listen to Fritz Kreisler and telling me I must play the violin as he does, or else--I can't do it. I am like the paralytic boy in a well-known story. His mother took him to the Louvre and they stopped before the Apollo Belvedere. The mother walked about the statue and spoke of its beauty, the example in marble of perfect physical manhood. She turned and saw the boy sobbing his heart out. She asked the reason and he replied, "Mother, I can never be like that."
No, we, too, as we face the Lord Christ, can never be like that. We are sinners. What is more, we are mortal sinners. We had better solve the problems of death and of sin before we tackle perfectionist ethics. Nor will any beautiful doctrine of immortality solve the first of these. For immortality might be for us, in St. John's vivid phrase, merely a terrifying resurrection to damnation. As for the problem of sin--the very word ushers us into a [8/9] thought-world in which all our vocabulary of ethical striving simply does not apply. The Sermon on the Mount, to take but one example, in the frame of reference in which we talk of sin, ceases to be an amiable urge to performance. It becomes, in Bishop Gore's words, "the climax of the Law, the completeness of the letter, the letter which killeth and because it is so much more searching and thorough than the Ten Commandments, therefore, does it kill all the more effectually. It makes us all the more conscious of sin." [* Charles Gore, The Sermon on the Mount (Murray, 1925), p. 4.] The Christian can confront it only in one way, by permitting it to crush his pride and by evoking from him the continuous cry: "God be merciful to me, a sinner."
With words like Death, Judgment, Sin, we have already arrived at the third of the three areas of preaching mentioned at the beginning of this essay--the Creed. We are back to the springs of Christian life and faith. In coming to it we at last listen to good news. For the Creed is not a sermon on ideals. It is not a demand upon our efforts. It is not even a series of opinions about God. It is, first and foremost, the scenario of the great drama of salvation, a great historical is, not an ought. It is full of verbs. It is an action. It is the story of prevenient Grace. St. Paul summarizes it in nine words: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." It is the story of the mightiest act of God himself, His answer to the problem of death and of sin.
Has there ever been a time since the days of the Revelation of St. John the Divine when there has been a greater hunger for this Good News? The horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding again. We thought, even a short generation ago, that we had locked them into their stalls. A little more preaching of good will and brotherhood, so we were persuaded, and a peaceful Christian democracy would circle the globe. This sentimental faith has clearly proved to be an illusion. There will soon be, for those who have not yet turned to the worship of demons, only two alternatives--cynicism or faith in the authentic Gospel, in the God of the Law and the Prophets who is also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And it is precisely the terrible horsemen of the Apocalypse who can become, in our preaching, messengers of the Good News of the rediscovered Christian Faith.
Death, Eternity, Judgment, Sin. The ethical Christianity of the nineteenth century had little to say about these. We all instinctively avoid them and shrink from them as if they had somehow been outgrown. But they are present in the thoughts of our lay folk, if not in our sermons. If we but knew it, they can be turned into good news itself. They are, in the words of a modern saint, the propugnatores Dei, the warriors of salvation. [* Abbé Huvelin, Some Spiritual Guides of the Seventeenth Century (Benziger, 1927), p. 179.]
 Here we face a paradox. These warriors of salvation--Death, Judgment, Sin--are the good news of the Gospel for our generation. They are good news for two reasons. First of all, they bring us out of the hot house of ethical sentimentalism into the open air of realistic fact. They unlock the whole story of the Bible. They make vivid the problems for which the drama of the Creed is the only answer. Take for example just one of them--Death. Think of it as the ubiquitous tragedy of time which poisons every cup and every earthly dream.
Golden lads and girls all must
Like chimney sweepers come to dust.
Fail to answer this problem first, and all our ethical idealisms, all our pacifisms, all our Utopian social schemes, even if they should get their inspiration from the New Testament itself, face disillusionment and despair. Our first problem surely is not whether we can find a great ideal to live by. Ideals have been cheap since the dawn of time. We need to know whether there be a God, and whether he cares for mortal man. Does God care? How can He care for me, a sinner? The Creed replies with the story of Cross and Resurrection. Our people, thanks to our liturgy and Cult, still know that Creed. They indulge in vain repetition of it often enough. We need to make vivid the problem for which it is the solution and it will spring into life in their hearts. This springing to life may even surprise us in terms of ethical response. For now it is response to a gift, not to an unachievable demand. At last it is grateful penitence.
But I cannot linger over this first reason why these warriors of salvation are good news. I have, indeed, only touched on one, Death. They are messengers of good news, not merely because they open our eyes to the story of God's Grace. They are good news in their own right. Particularly is this true of the words Sin and Judgment. The word sin can be misused, of course, as if it implied merely an impersonal missing of the mark, a failure to achieve our own ideals. But it is not thus used in the Bible. For there it is a vivid personal concept. We are sinners before the Law. And Law implies a Law-giver--God, the Judge of all men. The Ten Commandments are not an impersonal code of conduct. They are tokens, instead, of a covenant relationship: "I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Therefore thou shalt have none other Gods but me. The demands of the Law are already a covenant of Grace. God cares. It is only because He cares that my actions, even as a sinner, have any meaning in the universe. St. Paul was right. The most terrible condition of man is to be without the Law. We need a bad conscience before we can come into any covenant relationship with deity. A bad conscience is great good news. It ushers us into the presence of the living God.
And as for Judgment? As a warrior of salvation there is not its equal. A hunger for the good news of Judgment is abroad today. For Judgment means again that Some One cares. It implies a personal relationship, even though this be a relationship with a God who sends his people into exile [10/11] and who destroys His own temple on His own holy mount. Read our contemporary history in the light of our nineteenth century ethical idealism and it can lead us to despair. Read it as a revelation of Judgment and we can lift up our heads, for redemption draweth nigh. We may not be able to believe in pacifism or any other ism any longer. But we can believe in God and in a peace that passeth understanding. We can believe in heaven and hell. We can believe in Judgment Day and the indestructible democracy of Judgment Day, which a million panzer divisions and a dozen Hitlers can never destroy.
But if there is good news in the propugnatores Dei, these advance guard warriors of God, how overwhelming can be the good news of the Gospel itself. For Judgment, Eternity, Sin are not yet the full Gospel of Grace. The Old Testament already knows them as well as the New. They are part of the covenant of the Law which is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. We need the Law as schoolmaster today more than we have for centuries. We need again to read and teach the Bible as it was revealed in history--forwards, not backwards, from Law to Grace, coming finally to the miracle of the outpoured Holy Spirit.
For at the end of this story of salvation are the ethics of the Kingdom of God. Here they come, however, not as sad news but as good news. This final good news of life within the Kingdom is a miracle. Is there, indeed, a greater miracle, even among the mighty acts of God, than the Christian Church, the fellowship of the mystery, the colony of heaven? The Christ-life, which before had been a judgment sharper than any two-edged sword, is here revealed as realized fact. By way of the imagination we can still recapture the surprise of the Church of the New Testament when the Christ-life made its appearance in their midst. A group of ordinary men and women, every one a sinner, gathered together in the Name of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus, suddenly found themselves living by the commandment of love. Love thy neighbor as thyself had been unapproachable Law. Yet here the unapproachable appeared--agape, Christian love, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. The word ethics like the word ideals is not a New Testament word. For this miracle of the Christ-life in the Church is somehow very different, worlds removed from the sad story of human striving after ideals. It was not a human accomplishment at all. It was God himself. It was a mighty wind speaking in tongues. It was a Holy Spirit whom the flock of Christ dared to call the third person of the Trinity, "who, with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified."
The climax of the Creed is also the climax of the drama of salvation. It is such good news that it can still take our breath away--the Kingdom of heaven at hand. But the preaching of the Christ-life in ethical terms must go back to the Creed, to God's mighty acts. Otherwise it becomes sad news, not Gospel. As the horsemen of the Apocalypse ride across our disillusioned earth, may the warriors of salvation and the messengers of the Gospel ride at their side. Ours is again the Day of the Lord. Our is the day of good news.
 BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE
The argument of this essay, while it may seem startling to some, is not original. It is not easy, however, to cite many single books which present a similar argument in full. Among Anglican writers who present it best, I should refer, first of all, to A. E. Taylor (quoted in this essay), whose chapter on "Religion and the Historical" in The Faith of a Moralist contains a sane criticism of the wrong treatment of The Gospels as biography in much modern religious writing. The Apocalypse and the Present Age, by H. L. Goudge, puts the same idea even more strongly, as do the early chapters of A. G. Hebert's Liturgy and Society (Faber, 1935) Indeed, I know of few better books for guidance in our time than this last-named volume. Readers of it may be led back to Hebert's own teachers--above all to Frederick Denison Maurice. The Kingdom of Christ, written by Maurice just a hundred years ago, could be the fountain-head of a revived evangelical catholicism in the Church.
The return to Creed and Gospel for which I argue in my essay is often labeled Barthianism. This is, strictly speaking, an error. I came to my present views regarding the ethical sentimentalism of our day long before I ever heard of Karl Barth or Emil Brunner or Reinhold Niebuhr. A host of Anglican writers throughout the nineteenth century saw the dangers of ethical humanism. Nevertheless, the great return to the orthodox faith which today is sweeping across the Protestant world, and which can be said to "date" from Barth's Commentary on Romans, has much to teach us. Even a short generation ago it would have seemed unbelievable. To dismiss this return from exile with derogatory allusions to its Calvinism or its emphasis on God's transcendence is blind prejudice. We would do well to listen to prophecy in our time. There are few contemporary books more moving than such confessions of conversion as On to Orthodoxy, by D. R. Davies (Hodder, 1939), or A Christian Manifesto, by Edwin Lewis (Abingdon, 1934). Both are Methodist, one British, the other American. None Other Gods (Harpers, 1937), by W. A. Vissert's Hooft, Secretary of the World Council of Churches, is a good popular introduction to this whole Movement. The weightier books, however, by the systematic theologians (Brunner especially) should not be neglected. The Anglican tradition will not suffer from contact with this revival of Biblical theology.
Bishop Manning and Brethren, two things press upon me at this moment. First, the very great honour your Bishop has done me in so graciously inviting me to give the dosing address at this wonderful Conference. Perhaps it is a case similar to that which was recorded in the "Boston Transcript" some time ago where the speaker said that in Virginia he passed a small church displaying a large sign which read: "Annual Strawberry Festival" and below in small letters: "On account of the depression prunes will be served." The only comfort I can take in this is that I am quite sure your physicians would agree that while prunes may be a distinct step down from strawberries they may be better for your health.
The second thought in my mind is the tremendous responsibility you have placed upon me in thus asking me to speak to you ere you disperse and become immersed in the multifarious duties connected with your life and work in the parish and in the Diocese.
I am torn between two desires, one to put away my notes and pour out my soul to you. Perhaps that would be best. It would save you from joining in the criticism of the Scottish beadle. After the sermon the old beadle who was assisting the preacher in the vestry was asked what he thought of the sermon and this is the reply he gave as he looked at him from under his shaggy eyebrows: "Sir-r-r, your sermon had three faults. First, you read it. Secondly, you read it very badly. Thirdly, it was no worth readin'!" It is against my practice to read sermons unless the sermon is being broadcast but I think on this occasion it would be well for me to keep very closely to what I have written and I trust you will bear with me patiently and be given a right judgment in connection with this most important matter which I have been asked to place before you.
The subject was assigned to me by your Bishop and I cannot think of anything more advantageous to us all at this period of stress and strain than that we should have clearly in our minds the Church's position in relation to the present world situation.
I feel it to be so vitally important and so far-reaching in its ramifications that anything I can say in the time placed at my disposal must be very incomplete. May I therefore suggest that you, my Brethren, accept what I have to say merely as a basis for your discussion and for your further and fuller consideration and elaboration.
Before preparing this paper I asked myself what line should be taken and decided that I should keep to the fundamental issues, leaving the members of this Conference to work out the practical details in order that the principles may be made effective.
Let us ask ourselves three questions.
First, what is the task of the Church?
Secondly, how is this related to the present world situation?
Thirdly, what is our individual and immediate responsibility?
First then: It seems to me that the Church has only one main and final objective and that is to bring in the day when the will of God shall control the will of man throughout the world. It is thus that we have been taught to pray by our Lord Himself, "Thy kingdom come." Nothing less than this should be or can be the definite objective of the Church of God. As St. Paul puts it in I Corinthians, chapter 15, the day must come when He "shall have put down all rule, and all authority, and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."
Yes! but this cannot be secured by compelling men to do what is right. It is only when they are brought to the point where they themselves wish for that which is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God that the victory is obtained. The problem is to so woo the hearts and minds of men that their wills and their whole nature become enlisted on God's side. It is only thus the reign of God can come. Men must be "united not only in knowing, but in actively wishing to do the will of God." ('For Christ and the Kingdom' by W. M. MacGregor).
Because the early Christians understood this so dearly, they were wonderful witnesses to the power of the great Evangel committed to the Church. Like St. Paul they counted all else but loss as they pressed on in the fellowship of Christ, confident in the ultimate victory even over death through the power of the resurrection life of Christ their Lord. This fellowship included not only sacrifice but "the fellowship of His sufferings." Whether in apparent failure or success they rejoiced and believed that their God would supply all their needs. Thus were they content in the midst of persecution and entered into that peace of God which passeth all understanding and which the world can neither give nor take away. As far as they were concerned personally, Christ's Kingdom had come and His will was being done in their hearts and lives. Their one anxiety was that this Kingdom should be extended and completed. It was for this they worked and prayed; yea,. it was for this they lived and were prepared to die.
Having said that, however, we have only stated the issue in general terms.
The Church has this as its final objective, but there is "much land to be possessed" before the task is completed.
Let me illustrate. At the present moment a great war is raging. Hitler's objective is to dominate the world and bring all the less "cultural people" into subjection to the "superior" Germanic race. Now while this is his final objective, he has other and immediate objectives, each of which is smaller and less important, but all are necessary if he is ever to reach his main objective, e.g., the conquest of Russia and the overthrow of the British Empire. Then will come the paralysing of the United States of America, Canada and the South American Republics.
So it is with the Church. To overthrow the forces of evil and establish the rule of Christ on earth is its ultimate objective, but there are many smaller and, in some ways, less important issues which must be faced and their victory will be the prelude to the greater and complete victory of the future.
It is my privilege to do a great deal of travel by air and I have learned that when travelling at high altitudes clouds frequently blot out the vision. At such times it is necessary for the pilot to keep the course in faith that the sun will yet shine and in the dear weather the landscape will stand revealed. It is well, therefore, that we should think for a moment in a big way and in general terms first. In that connection I cannot do better than quote your own beloved Bishop in a sermon he preached in Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, in 1934. Here is what he said which I believe is as true today as it was then:--
"We cannot save this world by pacts and leagues and systems in which God does not figure ... We who belong to the Anglican Communion have a great heritage and a great responsibility. We are members of a Church which has been identified with the whole history of the English-speaking peoples from the beginning, a Church which is Evangelical and Apostolic, Catholic and Free, a Church which gives us the Apostolic Faith, the Apostolic Sacraments, the Apostolic Ministry, as these have come down to us from New Testament days. What we need today . . . is a great spiritual awakening, a great call to fuller and more personal faith in Christ. The Creed, the Sacraments, the Priesthood, the Church itself are only means to an end. Their one purpose is to bring us to Christ. Sacred, essential and divinely given as these agencies are, our faith is not in them; our faith is in Jesus, the Son of God. We are the preachers not merely of a doctrine or an ideal, but of a Person, a Person Who is the Lord and Redeemer of the whole world.
"The question today is whether the new world order is to be built on crass materialism and force or on those spiritual foundations which alone give man his freedom of soul and human life its true meaning."
We now turn to the second point. How is this task of the Church related to the present world situation?
Deepest in the breast of every one of us we, as Churchmen, desire to have a clearer understanding of our responsibilities in connection with the great task of destroying the titanic forces of evil that have arisen and the hastening of a righteous and abiding peace. In this, as in everything else, we must be realists. We cannot be content to merely skim the surface of things. We must face the grim realities of life in a war-torn world. To this end I would ask you to go back in imagination to the dosing years of the nineteenth century.
Am I not right in suggesting that at that time and up to the beginning of the first Great War there had grown up in the minds of the educated peoples of Europe and North America the idea that with the increase of learning, the advance of science and the development of our economic structure, man had reached the stage where he was well able to look after himself without any assistance from God?
We were told that the world had entered a new era and that henceforth peace and prosperity would come increasingly to all mankind, the reason being. that as a result of universal suffrage, free education, new and speedy methods of transport and the development of the telegraph and telephone, men the world over would get away from ignorance and superstition which had caused wars in the past. Indeed, Utopia was just around the corner according to this philosophy commonly called "humanitarianism."
More and more people came to believe that while the Christian philosophy of life might have been of good service to mankind, man's ascendency from savagery had gradually but definitely caused that philosophy to become worn out and untrue. It seemed to many as nothing short of an insult to man's dignity and intelligence to suggest that of ourselves we are not able to save ourselves, and to speak of original sin and dependence upon God for deliverance from Sin.
In the new day that had dawned, man was abundantly able to save himself and was dependent upon nobody but himself. With the development of his intellect, with his knowledge and understanding of the laws of the universe he was certainly capable of looking after his own interests without any help from outside.
Then came the first Great War which for a time shook the foundations of our quiet optimism, but when the war was over once again the same philosophy was emphasized and more and more the Christian position was discounted until now we see the logical development of that materialistic world philosophy revealed in the philosophy and action of Nazi Germany.
If we ask who is to blame, can we in all honesty claim exemption for the Church of God? Is it not true to say that to some considerable extent the materialistic philosophy which now has reached its highest development in Germany had its effect upon the leaders in the Church? Is it true to say:
(1) That during the last half century the whole question of sin and man's moral depravity has either been challenged or largely ignored?
(2) That there has been a strange weakening on the part of the Church in dealing with the inherent weakness of human nature?
Instead of emphasizing the goodness of God as shown in His mercy and love towards perishing humanity the Church has ofttimes been sidetracked and the emphasis has been laid not on faith in the living and eternal God in Whom we live and move and have our being, but on good works, forgetting that if there be no dynamic to persuade a man why he should sacrifice his own personal ambitions and desires in order to do these good works, then very soon he will cease to be interested in the matter.
After two years of German aggression in the world with all its diabolical cruelties which are the result of the rottenness of its philosophy, men have awakened to the truth of the words spoken by St. Paul that "No man liveth or dieth unto himself"; yea, no nation liveth or dieth unto itself, no matter how small or how backward that nation may be.
In these days of imminent peril when our way of life is in jeopardy, when the whole world is in flames, and bloodshed, privation and cruelty unspeakable are the order of the day, the Church will do well to ask herself:
First, not what is wrong with the world, but what is wrong with the Church that she has not sounded the battle cry more clearly and more earnestly, and
Secondly, whether the time has not come for her to throw off her complacency and her desire for comfort and well-being.
The clarion call has come for the Church to realize afresh that she is the custodian of the message of the living and eternal God and that her task is in spirit and in deed to follow the footsteps of her divine Lord and Master, and without compromise and with complete abandonment and self-sacrifice to declare the unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
To ring out once more in all its simplicity, in all its strength, in all its mystery, the great truth of the Gospel:
Man is depraved because of his animal nature but by the tender mercy of God he can obtain strength which will enable him to rise above the animal and overcome the things that degrade and destroy because the Lord God Almighty is the Lover of man and so loved man that in tenderest compassion He gave to him a Saviour to deliver him from his sin:
That He gave to man the gift of His own Holy Spirit to guide man's footsteps through the dark and difficult passages of life so that instead of the law of the jungle there might come amongst men the law of love:
That instead of war and tumult and hatred and bitterness and cruelty there might be given to man that peace of God which passeth understanding that comes from His righteousness and brings forth the fruits of the Spirit--"love, joy, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance."
It seems to me, Brethren, that it is in some such way as this that the Church finds herself at the present moment.
The question arises--What can we do about it?
It should never be forgotten that we must express our faith in terms that can be readily understood by those who dwell outside the confines of the Church as organized. As St. James put it, "Faith without works is dead," and it is only as the witness of the Church is backed up by deeds that there can be any hope for the advancement of the reign of peace on earth.
For us who have been ordained to the ministry there must be a revival of the consciousness not only that God can reign and shall reign in the lives of men, but that each man who has been ordained to the sacred ministry shall in spirit cry with the saint of Old: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because He bath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at! liberty them that are bruised."
The Master went down the dark road to Calvary in order that He might win for mankind victory over sin and death and so set men free to live their lives courageously here on earth and open for them the gates of Heaven hereafter.
To make the spiritual real the Church must furnish a working fellowship for the people. Lord Elton is quoted as having said, "When the common man surrenders faith and hope, we shall come to the end of modern civilization," and that is surely true for however much coloured by paganism our civilization has been, its foundation rests primarily on the Christian conception of the dignity of human personality and presupposes the Christian faith.
But we do well to remember what Canon Barry of Westminster Abbey has said, "There can be no Christian civilization without Christians."
The task of the Church therefore is not that of a sect of religious people withdrawing from all the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, but to draw the people nearer to God that they, catching the vision of Him Who gave Himself for the redemption of the world, shall go forth in the Spirit of the Master to do their part in fashioning the whole structure of our common life according to God's will.
To this end the Church will bring comfort and hope in the darkness of sorrow, pain and death.
In dealing with the problem of those outside her borders, who do not share her ideals, she must show herself strong to maintain the unchangeable truths, yet withal patient and compassionate.
She must be more anxious to manifest the LOVE OF GOD than to lay down the LAW OF GOD as interpreted by men. She must ever rejoice in the knowledge that her message is the "Good News" for men of every race and clime and age, and be humble and burdened by the responsibility thus placed upon her for the propagation of the Gospel throughout the world.
Her worship with its services, sacraments and fellowship is for the strengthening of the souls of men in every age and under all circumstances, and therefore she knows that her influence goes far beyond the bounds of any theological, ethical, social or individualistic hinterland.
The Church must never become a political organization. It is a fellowship of those who love the Christ of God and its task is not to set up machinery of State for the social well-being of the people, but to produce men and women energized by the spirit of Christ who will develop a citizenship that is Christian and possessing sufficient spiritual vision and vigour that they will adopt policies designed to abolish social evils and to make the fundamental principles of Christian truth supreme in the land.
This will cause them to use their civil rights and privileges and go to the polling booths to vote for such laws as shall enable the common people to live their lives according to that which is highest and noblest, where the aged and infirm shall be cared for and little children grow up in the atmosphere of faith and purity and love.
I know that to many this will seem like a dream of a land very far off but we must have the same kind of faith our forefathers had for there is no room in the outlook of the Christian for defeatism and there is no place in all the wide world where we get a better illustration of the power of faith in this connection than here on the North American continent.
We of the United States and Canada have for more than a century and a quarter lived side by side with one another at peace and with an unfortified boundary of nearly four thousand miles. To the peoples of Europe this could only appear as an utter impossibility. Our fathers laid the foundations of peace not by erecting mighty war machines on either side of our frontier but by mutual trust and confidence between neighbours so that today not a gun on the shore nor a gun-boat on the Great Lakes is to be found. This was possible because, in spite of the mistakes that had been made and they were many and varied on both sides of the line! our fathers were essentially men of good will. They believed that to build anything worthwhile requires not only time, thought and labour but vision as well. Their vision was of a North American continent founded on the Rock of Ages to plans laid down by the great Master Architect on the solid foundation of faith and good will. The way in Europe and Asia today is dark, oh so dark, and the way before us is dark also. We only have to remember that Berlin, London and Paris are within a few hours by air from New York and Montreal to appreciate the fact that the "dogs of war" are close at hand.
As we look at this thing with a wide sweep, we recognize that we cannot unravel the mystery of living today. It is too hard for us. We want the light of life to shine upon the problems and so enable us to arrive at the proper solution. We need the genius of patriotism backed up by a living faith that guided such men as your Lincoln and Wilson. For us, the challenge comes afresh today outside of all party to make our willing response: to accept the standard and to follow the light crying with David of Old: "Thine are we and on Thy side." Ours is a great and noble heritage.
Lastly, what is our individual and immediate responsibility in connection with this matter--the Church in relation to the present world situation? May I very humbly speak a word more personal.
Religion starts with you--your personal needs, your sins, your whole latent instincts--then later in the face of the experience of life the intellect approves and strengthens it.
The Master asked St. Peter three times over NOT whether he was willing to approve of the message of the Kingdom or to sacrifice himself and become a martyr, or whether intellectually he was satisfied with the philosophy underlying the teaching he had received.
No, He merely asked him one thing--"Lovest thou Me more than these?"
This is at once a very personal and searching question and at first sight might appear to be remote from the larger issue. Why then was the question asked? Because the Master knew that real love is the vital thing.
The world at large goes on the basis that satisfaction is found not in love but in selfishness, that by pleasing self with its lust for money which spells power and the craving for position with all that that implies,. the road to happiness is gained.
You and I know that we can never be happy by merely pleasing ourselves. It is in GIVING not in GETTING that satisfaction is found and real love in the last analysis GIVES MUCH and ASKS LITTLE in return.
It is when a man loves God that he is able to love his neighbour as himself and in so doing he fulfills all the Law and the Prophets. His eyes are then opened and he is re-born of God and cries with St. Thomas, "My Lord and my God"!
Then as love operates in his heart he is filled with gratitude and says with St. Paul, "We love Him because He first loved us."
It is thus that he catches something of Christ's compassionate love for man.
This love revolutionizes his personal life and changes the spirit of the man. He wants justice to be done to others, he is so conscious of the nearness of evil, of his own unworthiness, that he wants mercy and liberty and a good way of life for all men. That, my friends, is the only basis upon which a lasting peace for mankind can be built.
During the last twenty-five years, we have heard so much about different economic systems. We are told today by many that the old Capitalistic system is responsible for all our ills. Far be it from me as a Bishop in the Church of God to attempt to evaluate the present system. There can be no question that it has been responsible for many evils.
At the same time no system however perfectly devised will enable men to live free and happy lives:--unless the spirit of the Christ of God which is love enters in as the guiding factor, the reason for this being that man does not live by bread alone.
He is not merely a cog in the great economic industrial structure. Dr. J. H. Cockburn Hutcheson, the newly appointed Moderator of the Church of Scotland has put it, in the last resort the spirit of man inevitably breaks out and "by means semi-peaceful or wholly bloody seeks freedom for the exercise of its eternal qualities and powers."
In these grim days of war what we as Churchmen should realize is that behind all the great issues affecting the lives of men and the destiny of nations lies this thing we call the Christian religion.
Again, not, as your Bishop so well pointed out in May of this year, "Not a religion of vague humanitarianism, or of mere subjective emotionalism, or of semi-rationalistic intellectualism, (that) has no real power in the lives of men, but faith in God and in Christ and in, the Divine Realities declared to us and to all the world in the Scriptures, in the Christian Creed, and in the Teaching through all the ages of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."
That we must needs have organization in our Church--not more but better--is true, but as Bishop Manning again said, "What we need today more than improved organization, or promotional campaigns, or any new devices is a great call to our people to realize more truly, to practice more faithfully, and to believe more fully, the Religion of the Prayer Book."
A tragic illustration of the truth of this is given in an article in a secular paper of Paris published on the day following the occupation of that city by German troops, which ran in part, "We are going to pay for sixty years of de-Christianization, falling birth rate, decline into paganism and materialism, decline into political anarchy."
France fell because vital religion played no important part in her national life. She was in a state of moral and political anarchy.
Too long have Christian people been evading the issue. Too long have men even in the Church toyed with abstract theories and hairsplitting arguments, spending their strength on these and so dividing the Church instead of promoting the advancement of Christ's Kingdom of truth and love. Now under the pressure of the War with its urgent demands for immediate action and the alleviation of all that makes for disorder, a change is taking place and, as the Archbishop of York wrote in "The Guardian", May 23 of this year, people are "More concerned to extend the Christian way of life than to discuss abstract questions of Christian ethics."
It is the Christian way of life that can meet man's need and the battle is at a crucial stage today. The faith of many in the ultimate goodness of God is strained to the breaking point because of the horrors through which they have passed. You, and I are called upon to face this fact and realize that either Christianity "must penetrate and redeem society or society will overwhelm Christianity" as organized. We know it is the will of God to save and deliver mankind from the powers of evil.
Yes, it is the task of the Church to carry out this redemptive work; through you who are its chosen ministers to seize the opportunity as the storm clouds of war are darkening the sky and give to men the vision of the morning glory of eternal day. But as Lord Halifax said on Tuesday last in an address to the National Foreign Trade Convention in New York City, "This is a total war and nothing less than the total energies of our minds and bodies will be needed in its waging." Only thus likewise shall the Church gain its objective and win its victory. Only thus shall the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and of His. Christ and He shall reign for ever and ever.
Jesus said: "I am the Light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of Life"--that Light which is eternal, that Life which is age-abiding.
"Rise up, O men of God!
The Church for you doth wait;
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up, and make her great!
Lift high the Cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod,
As brothers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O men of God."