Project Canterbury

In Days of War: House of Bishops Pastoral Letter, November 9, 1939.

no place: no publisher, 1939.


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ: Your bishops, as chief pastors of the flock, call upon you to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, to put on the whole armour of God that ye may be able to withstand in this evil day, and having done all, to stand.

This is not a day for Christians to despair. It is a day in which to test the validity of our religious convictions, and to demonstrate to the world the reality and the vitality of our profession as followers of Jesus Christ, as members of that fellowship which alone transcends all national and racial frontiers, and binds men into one brotherhood in Christ.

We call upon you to lay firm hold upon the reality of the sovereignty of a living, righteous, loving, personal God. God has not ceased to reign because men refuse to do His holy will. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the one Sovereign Ruler of the Universe--God.

His laws of moral retribution are as certain, and unbreakable as the law of gravitation. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." And whatsoever a nation soweth that shall it also reap. Upon the foundations of solid faith in God we should build our lives even as a wise man builds his house upon a rock.

The control of all things by God is a control in righteousness.

He is not aloof from men and their affairs. He is God in history. He moves within the will and multitudinous motives behind each human act. He is on the field of human events at every point in space and at every instant in time.

He is not a tribal God. He is not a national deity to be summoned by patriotic incantations or bribed with flattery of words. He has no favorites among races or tongues or peoples. They are all the objects of his boundless love.

Yet let it ever be remembered that He is infinitely just, infinitely righteous, infinitely holy, and any nation that stubbornly refuses to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God invites inevitable disaster because it is opposed to the whole universe in which God reigns.

And this living, reigning, controlling, righteous God is our Father to whom we may address our petitions as we have been taught to do, remembering that Holy is His Name.

Again we must hold firmly to the freedom and therefore the inevitable responsibility of men and nations. Although God is sovereign He has willed men to be free. There can be no morality without freedom. There can be no responsibility without freedom.

God has created us not machines, but men. He has made us in His own image, and has given us the terrible gift of freedom. He has brought into being a human race free to choose. He is not a despot but a Father, and His children can either love and obey Him, or rebel against Him and refuse to obey His laws. Hard as it may be for the mind to reconcile the sovereignty of God and the freedom of the will of man, we all of us have a tingling awareness of our sense of free responsible capacity to choose between ends. We know that we can will to do His will or to reject it. It is wrong therefore to blame God for war, for the cupidity and stupidity of men and nations who devour each other. War as an instrument of national policy is a hideous denial of God, and His condemnation rests upon it. It is rationally unjustifiable, morally indefensible, and religiously irreconcilable with the love of God and our neighbor. And it is wholly incompatible with the teaching and example of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We recognize, however, that there are times when peaceful expedients having failed men are inescapably involved in war, and we sympathize with all those whose consciences then impel them to participate in armed conflict. God does not will war. The vast majority of mankind of every nation do not will it; but man's refusal to accept God's will brings upon the human race this accursed thing. He has shown us the way, and said,--"Walk ye in it,"--but we have refused. "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way." No nation is guiltless; we are all sharers in the evils which beget war. The cross is the very sign of this clash and contradiction between man's will and God's will, and of the agony of love in God's appeal to us to respond to that outpouring of His love.

It is to be remembered, brethren, that we are Christians. If anyone asks us how do you know what God wills,--how can you tell when you are on God's side,--what clear and definite revelation have you of the purpose of God in human life and conduct? our answer is certain and sure. It is not in a book but in a Person, not in a law but in a Life, not in a code of ethics, but in a Spirit which invades us and controls us.--the divine Person and Life and Spirit of Jesus Christ.

We believe in Christ as the supreme revelation of God. We believe that His voice was and is the voice of the Eternal Wisdom speaking out of the highest human experience. We believe that the announcement of angels at His birth is the only realistic peace plan,--"Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among men of good will!" We believe that war will never achieve peace, but only sow the seeds for further wars. We believe that the only sure foundation for peace is mutual understanding, sympathy, fairness, generosity, good will between nations, in a word,--"peace among men of good will." This belief may necessitate surrender by each nation of national sovereignty in such degree as may insure security for all nations. We believe that the teaching of Jesus Christ,--"Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you:--as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise,"--are not mere counsels of perfection, but sound, sober, practical common-sense. To hate your enemies, to attack them that curse you, and to do evil to those that despitefully use you has been shown to be, and is again being shown to be not only wicked, but silly and stupid and senseless and impractical,--the sure way to wreck what we have dared to call our civilization.

Religion is the greatest energizing force in life; when its vigor abates, society decays, and the heart of religion is "to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and will, all thy soul and with all thy mind and your neighbor as yourself." The most disrupting and evil force in the world, coiling itself at the centre of all wars and of all the human barbarisms that beget war is acquisitiveness, greed. Our Lord pierced to the tap-root of these barbarisms when He said, "Beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." Nor does a nation's life consist in the extent of its territories. Men and nations,--including so-called Christian nations, must recognize Jesus Christ not as a Galilean visionary but as a stern and practical realist, not as a voice merely for His day, but as a voice for today, and for all the days even to the end of time, not as remote in history but always our contemporary; if we will listen to Him and submit ourselves to Him there will be an end of war, a reign of good will among men, a triumph of righteousness and peace.

The tragedy is that many Christians who profess to revere Him and even to worship Him will not apply His teachings to their own lives, to their own business, to their own social and economic and political thinking and planning. They persist in abandoning Him at the door of the Church. Having shared in the Sacrament of His broken Body and Blood they go out to crucify Him afresh in the streets by mocking and ignoring and contemptuously dismissing His teaching as remote, impractical and inapplicable to a modern world. They sing hymns to Him and even profess to worship Him, and yet refuse to support Him in His mission to the sick in our hospitals, to our prisoners, to the orphans in our shelters, the neglected on our farms, the poor on relief in our crowded city tenements, and will even say "I do not believe in foreign missions." The mission of Jesus Christ to redeem men in all the earth is never foreign to the Will of God. He is the Son of Man. He belongs to all men, and all men desperately need Him. Without Him we believe there is no world security, no world peace, no world brotherhood, no world salvation. It has been said repeatedly that a close race is on "between education and world catastrophe;" but we believe that the closer race will be between the Christianization of a world and complete world collapse. Yet this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith in Him.

Today the one international interracial fellowship in a divided world is the Christian Church. Today when aggressive and belligerent nationalism is rising again, when the world of nations is pulling asunder, the divided members of the Body of Christ are drawing closer together. The visible unity of the Church the Body of Christ is nearer today than it has been for centuries.

But, brethren, let judgment begin at home. The spread of the Christian spirit must be not merely geographical. It must penetrate as well as spread. Has that spirit, has Christ Himself entered into us, all of us, into our homes, into our business, into our politics, into our social relationships, into our world outlook?

We call upon you in this hour to be good citizens, but not only good citizens of your nation; we call upon you to be loyal, patriotic citizens of the Commonwealth of God. Good citizenship means steadfast uprightness, honesty, soberness, neighborliness, faithfulness to plighted vows, conscientious obedience to laws, considerateness for the rights of others, devotion to duty even at the sacrifice of pleasure, paying one's taxes, voting intelligently, cultivating the sturdy, rugged virtues that undergird society. And it means such passionate love of country that we bend our every effort to make it an active power in the world for peace, a servant of God in reconciling enmities, and in establishing righteousness. Do your duty as citizens who follow their conscience and that an illuminated conscience--a conscience that is not the victim of propaganda nor the voice of rationalized self-interest, nor of cowardice, nor of fear, but the voice of God speaking through Jesus Christ.

Do your duty as Churchmen as you propose to do your duty as citizens! The cross comes before the flag. Be at your place regularly in Church at the appointed hours of divine service. That is your duty. Enlist in the ranks of the Church for definite evangelism. That also is your duty. Say your prayers daily with earnestness, with penitence, with humility, with faith. Make your communions regularly after fervent preparation. Put the cross into your giving by sacrificing to give. Ask for grace to be real and not just nominal Christians, constant and not merely casual Churchmen.

We are all enlisted in a spiritual warfare "not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." This warfare calls for the highest heroism. It is easier to shoot straight than to think straight and to live straight. It is easier to hold a trench than to hold moral ground with agony attained and not to surrender it. It is easier to combat a physical enemy without, than a spiritual enemy within. Do not forget your baptismal vow, "to confess the faith of Christ crucified and manfully to fight under His banner against sin, the world and the devil, and to continue Christ's faithful soldiers and servants unto your life's end."

The Church in this hour must see to it that she holds fast to Christian principles and upholds above all national flags the cross of a Christ who belongs to no one nation or race, but to all men because all men are sinners and all alike need His redemption. We are very members of the Body of Christ the Church. Let there be among us no surrender to the powers of darkness, neither to hatred, nor vengeance, nor bitterness. Let us sternly resist every attempt to use the Church as an instrument of war propaganda. Let us hate covetousness, and hate injustice, and hate deceit and hate lies, and hate war, and hate hate--but let us never hate a child of God. Let us love our country and love our Church, and love our God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Let us do everything in our power to succour the suffering victims of man's inhumanity to man; to aid both Christian and non-Christian refugees; to pour our healing help into the Orient where human beings are suffering from flood and famine, and the ravages of war, to support the Red Cross and every other reliable agency for the amelioration of human suffering; and to bring to all men everywhere the compassionate ministries of Jesus Christ.

Thus in times of stress we shall stand fast in the faith, and quit ourselves like men, with complete confidence in the cause of Our Divine Master, knowing that "He shall not fail, nor be discouraged till He have set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for His law."


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