The Church and the World: A Chronicle and a Comment

[Happy New Year to our Readers.  2014 marks the beginning of the centennial of World War I, the Great War.  Presbyterian Research is beginning a series of articles extracted from The Outlook: The Official Organ of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand related to the Great War.  This is the first article in the series.  It is taken from the Editor’s weekly editorial in The Outlook.  These were published under the heading The Church and the World: A Chronicle and a Comment.  The author is only named as the Editor.  In 1914 this article was most likely written by Mr Alfred Grinling.  This article was originally published January 20 1914.]

The main menace of the times in which we live is the decay of authority, and the added fact that in the endeavour to prop up a decaying authority by force, the force-authority has bred a force-resistance which in its turn is breeding a spirit of anarchy.  The thing was inevitable, and has been forseen by the thoughtful from afar off.  It is the outcome of a vain attempt to rule the world and to organise society without the vital influence of religion at its back; and the hope of the Church consists in the dawning realisation on the part of social reformers everywhere that a real religion is, and must be, the main spring in all permanent reform.  The great need of the moment is an all-round revival of faith, faith in God, and faith in man.  The root reason of our existing social problems and religious difficulties is unbelief, leading to suspicion and distrust. Rev. J. Brierley, who has been contributing to the “Christian World” some inspiring articles on “The Revival of Faith” and on the relation of Faith to Life, has a fine passage, which is exceeding pertinent to the existing condition of affairs:-

Faith, in all the spheres, has shown itself the governing principle, the motor force of human progress, and if there is to be any further progress it will be on its lines.  The next step, if progress there is to be, will lie in a great national and international act of faith. How is the present madness of armaments to be stayed? How is this vampire to be strangled which is sucking the life blood of the people, choking all social reform, all attempts for human betterment? We look to statesmen, to cabinets, in vain. There only talk is of more armaments at home against the more armaments abroad. And, of course, while this class of sentiment is the only one appealed to, the sentiment of fear and the sense of brute force as the one arbiter, there can be only one result — the reaching out to further extremes of frenzy, with ruin at the end. Is there no way out? Suppose we were as individuals, as a nation, to appeal to another grade of sentiment; suppose some one nation — a foremost nation — threw its whole force into a great act of trust! Suppose it appealed to its neighbours on their better side instead of their worst. Suppose it as saying to its neighbours: “We rejoice in your prosperity, believing the prosperity of one people helps that of all people. We have no desire to injure you, and we believe you have no desire to injure us. Possibly we are mistaken, but we will take that risk. And as a proof of our sincerity we will stop this race of military expenditure. We shall devote henceforth our surplus income to the improvement of our social conditions.

“Ah!” it will be said, “you have miscalculated the risk.” But have we? Why is it that all the peoples talk and act on the war level! Is it not that nobody— no State or Government, that is — talks on any other? We are, and, of course, others arm. But to disarm! We have not tried that. Would the disarmed nation be attacked? Supposing it were, it would live henceforth in history as the martyr nation, which had performed the noblest, highest act of courage since the Cross of Christ. But we feel sure it would not be attacked. Instead it would be followed; it would lead the van into a saner, a higher future. If the United States of America would do this — it can best afford it — it would deal a stroke for human liberty far more effective than its own revolution, and would cover itself with a  glory such as its vastness of territory and its accumulated wealth can never secure it.

Mr Brierley’s opinion as to the part the Church is called upon to play in this matter has strong significance.  “We venture to say,” he writes, “that the Church, so far as its relation to the nation is concerned, has no more solemn duty upon it than to express in this direction its faith in faith. It won its triumphs of old by believing that the weapons of its warfare were not carnal, but spiritual. It proved, not for itself only, but for the world, that the spiritual was stronger than the carnal; that the appeal to the higher in man is an irresistible appeal. Jesus believed, that with publican and sinner it was safe to use this spiritual and His faith was justified. If he believed in the spiritual for publicans and sinners, may we not believe it for Germans and Austrians? We have tried the other appeal to them, but not this. We shall have no way out of the present imbroglio till the Christian Church begins once again to indoctrinate the nation with Christian principle; till, by the passion of its own enthusiasm, it fills with this faith the man in the street and the man in the Cabinet; the faith in the highest in man; this faith, with all its glorious risks, with all its glorious and sure results.”  This same thought is borne out by the editor’s comments in the English Review for December, based upon Jim Larkin’s appearance in the Albert Hall, London. We may say in passing that the English Review is one of the publications of the present, which, like the Nation, no man who desires to accurately gauge the modern trend can afford to overlook. There may be much in its pages which one will incline to question, and much with which one will profoundly disagree, but the force, and sincerity, and earnestness of the appeal no one will dare to question. The editor of the English Review, hailing Mr Larkin’s presence on the platform of the Albert Hall as “an event in the public life,” goes on to say:-

He stood thereon as the harbinger of a new Labour policy which now that it has been inaugurated, is not likely to go back. It is the policy of action, the spirit of the time is with it. As the women have succeeded in setting up a kind of reserve of sex anarchy and outlawry — Miss Pankhurst now goes about with a bludgeoned escort — so the conditions themselves have become anarchic. As man too follows woman, so woman have invariably stood in the van of revolutionary movements.  The Carson policy in Ulster is obviously derivative from the women’s example and prompted by the same principles.  Force breed force, as the wind stirs the waves.

The whole of Ulster is arming, preparing to resist the law of England sanctioned by Parliament and the Crown by force of arms.  But in Dublin the transport workers are Home Rulers, are imprisoned by the Government and treated with gross violence because they came out on strike for a wage of bare subsistence . . . Why should Ulster have carte-blanche to stir up rebellion and the poor of Dublin be hounded to gaol, because they are seeking to improve their economic position? . . . in reality this Dublin strike trouble is far more urgent and potentially serious in the world of Labour than is the question of Home Rule, and that the Government should be so preoccupied as not to see it is matter both of regret and wonder.

By Andrew

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