Thoughts On Religion At The Front - Ch. 13
( Originally Published 1917 )
WE need in peace the free and conscious realisation of that of which men are perforce, mid dumbly, aware in war. It is that there is something going on in the world which demands primary allegiance, and the putting second of every self-interest. At the front men hardly know what it is. They are suspicious of rhetoric and unreality in talk about liberty and international equity, and right against might. They only know—a wonderful majority of them that something great and righteous wants them and requires of them their help. So, reluctantly, with grumblings and insistent longing for it all to be over, and yet with the inalienable joy of doing the right thing, they obstinately endure. We can say, without apportioning right wholesale to the Allies or wrong wholesale to Germany, that, however dimly aware of it, they are seeking first the Kingdom of God and is Righteousness.'
Can they maintain this allegiance in peace despite every seduction which will rush to recapture their souls ?
That is the great question which all who call themselves Christians should be considering on their knees while the war is still raging.
The answer lies in a great measure with the Church. She has to enlist in her warfare for the kingdom of God the war which is never over—that capacity in men for service and suffering which the war has disclosed. How can this be ? Would that I had no uncertain answer to utter ! I fling these cries out to comrades in the Lord that we may provoke one another to find the answer. The answer cannot be merely an intellectual solution. It must be spelt out in terms of costly devotion.
Some things are clear. First, the Church has to acknowledge that she is not the kingdom of God but the means to it as an end. There are, I think, a great many carts and horses to be changed round into their right relations.
Religious observances and organisations all the whole apparatus of religion have come to be looked upon as ends in themselves, whereas they are means to an end beyond themselves. People think that the clergy's one concern is the success of ecclesiastical activities and institutions. We clergy think so ourselves ! It is not for her own interests, which are by themselves incurably too small to evoke the heroic in men, that the Church is in the world. She is in the world to change the world, so that its whole extent may be filled with the glory of God, and may become worthy of the eternal destiny of the souls of men. Hers is a high and costly venture. She has strongholds to storm—the entrenchments where the forces of private-mindedness and apathy and money-worship are dug in. In the attempt she can exhaust to its depths the capacity which is in men for dauntless sacrifice.
Secondly, if the Church's conception of her own interests must be changed, so must the individual's conception of personal religion. Self-preoccupation is as fatal to the latter as to the former.
Personal piety is travestied by being thought to be a respectable prudence here for the sake of a reward hereafter. It is not a careful self-salvation at all. Rather it is a salvation from self. It is the being lost to self in devotion nd service to God and one's fellowen.
Lastly, if these changes are to be they depend on one thing—a new vision of God in Christ, such as shall be for Church and individual the over-mastering counter - attraction to self.
What the world needs is theocracy. That is, not the imposition of ecclesiastical shackles upon secular life, but the consecration of all life, with all its ever-multiplying treasures of knowledge and power, to one object—the glory of God. If so, then God, as the centre and magnet of consecration, must be all vitally apprehended. We must fill the horizon of the soul. He must be the delight of men, to draw them out of themselves into childlike selflessness, so that as children they may enter into the Kingdom.