Thoughts On Religion At The Front - Ch. 12
( Originally Published 1917 )
WE all need to be so possessed before peace comes back. For peace, as I have said, is the real test of our religion, not war. We have been plunged into war, rejoicing little in God. We have got to put Him and His will and desire first before peace returns. Or else the thought of Him will sink out of our attention, and we shall return to the getting of gain and to self-service in a mood of perpetual postponement.
God will come last again. He did so in the minds of soldiers at the beginning of the war. Often they looked upon chaplains as no more than preliminary undertakers. At the beginning of the war, officers in my old regiment, in the friendliest way, asked me what there was to do as a chaplain except burial duties. Clearly they thought of life as something apart from God.
What is needed is a new joy in God as Love and. Purpose, here and now. Need, whether the pressure of sickness or danger or anxiety or age or guilt, will often operate in turning the heart Godward. The sense of being thrown in entire dependence upon God can be the God-given turning-point in a man's life and an end to his godlessness. But need will never provide the lasting religious motive which sets the chord of what is noblest in men vibrating within them. The peculiar glory of the Christian religion is that it provides that motiveóit is the motive of God's need. He wants us, for He loves us. He is love. I have found myself at the front pressed to ask men why they should have to do with religion. Is it because they are on active service and exposed to danger and liable to death ? Is that to be the constraining motive ? And, in particular, why pray ? Is it to express their natural sense of need, their desire for security and support ?
Is that to be the main impulse? I try to answer these questions by asking them another question : Why do they write home ?' What keeps them at it in the damp dug-outs with the indelible pencil running smudgily over the paper ? Why do some men write every day ? Is it for what they can getóthe cakes, the fags ? Does the constraining motive lie in their own need ? It does not. It lies in the joy which letters bring to loving hearts at home. Likewise there is joy in Heaven when one forgetful wayward son turns in heart thither homewards.
For God loves us and therefore wants us and desires to use us. It is what He is which is the saving motive of our religion. Every other motive, however natural, is tainted with morbidity, and can never long possess the eager hearts of men nor be their glory in the full tide of life. But in God they can glory as they see what He is, at work with purposes of holy love in the venture of creation ; and this they can see in Christ, living, suffering, dying, rising, and alive for evermore; or else Christianity is nothing in the world. That is the pure metal of our glorious religion, which the fierce fires of war must refine out of its traditional alloy. That is the great golden secret uttered in ChristóGod, all-suffering and all-faithful love, calling out into active alliance the like qualities in His children for the accomplishment of His will on earth as in heaven.