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Thoughts On Religion At The Front - Ch. 16

( Originally Published 1917 )



THERE is also the objection to an insistence upon the will of God in accomplishment in this world, that there is so much in the New Testament which declares (and, as we have seen in the last paragraph, experience seems largely to corroborate the view) that the Kingdom of God does not come in this world but in the next. I refer (only I dislike using a word which few soldiers at the front will understand) to New Testament "apocalyptic," which seems to present a vision of this world as immediately to pass away in catastrophe and of the arrival of another order of things.

It is certainly very perplexing that there seems to be so little in the New Testament outside of the Gospels which is plainly on all fours with the first part of the Lord's Prayer. At the front the Lord's Prayer—as the one island of religious ground, amid marshes of ignorance, common to Englishmen is the padres' great stand - by. It declares better than any words which we can frame what distinguishes the Christian religion from others—that it begins with and glories in what God is Whose Name is to be hallowed, mid Whose kingdom is in arrival and Whose will is in accomplishment not only in heaven but on earth. But elsewhere in the New Testament the terrain, as it were, of these wonderful happenings seems to be changed, and to lie in the hereafter.

It is very hard to say anything simply and shortly about this.

At any rate it is no good blinking the fact that the New Testament expectation of an immediate ending of this world was mistaken.

Yet there remains the reasonable faith—surely burnt into us by the fires of war, surely revealed to us in apocalyptic vision—that this world is but a part of another, and that the other gives to this and to its concerns their supreme importance.

We need to be two-eyed here. It is a one-eyed view to hold that because this life is a pilgrimage to another and this world is passing away, therefore nothing matters here and nothing is happening here. It is equally one-eyed to shut out the goal whither we all journey, and to concentrate on the affairs of this life as alone and sufficiently important.

Indeed we see it change, with surprising ease of adjustment, within the limits of the New Testament itself. In its first form it was not of the essence of the new truth.

The whole view is that through the entire order—here and there—the will of God is at work, and His Kingdom in arrival, but that their full result and accomplishment lies beyond this world.

Here are the partial and unfinished stages, there the end whither they lead. To fall back on metaphor, a city is in the building, a whole righteous social order—a kingdom of souls. 'the building is going on now,—in Birmingham and Bermondsey,—and that gives eternal importance to their perishing and trivial affairs. What whole structure is being built, and how much of Birmingham and Bermondsey can be built into it, is only partially known now. It is partially known here, as days of testing and catastrophe break in on periods of monotony, and lay bare their soul. But full knowledge lies in the future—the great and final Day shall declare it'

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