Modern Prophets[an error occurred while processing this directive]
IF into Christian thought there should come a distinctive, a rising and swelling tide of interest in human welfare, it would be safe to assign a divine inspiration as the cause of such a movement. That such a tide is now invasive of Protestant Christianity admits of no intelligent denial. One of the most accredited seers of the relations of the Church to present-day social conditions says, "There is only one great creative enthusiasm in American Protestantism the gospel of a saved society as well as of saved individuals.'
The evolution of ideals which call for the betterment of human conditions in a sense inclusive of man's entire life, physical, intellectual, moral, is one of the most pronounced, insistent, and irrepressible developments in modern Christian thought. This is not to say that the awakened Christian mind has not always been actively solicitous in the interest of man's all-around welfare. It is in the very nature of Christian experience to kindle in the breast of its possessor the spirit of active sympathy with human needs. A genuine Christianity has always been characterized by a generous charity for the assuagement of man's physical woes. This has been true in Catholic and Protestant Christianity alike.
No better examples in illustration could be asked for than are furnished in Francis Assisi and in John Wesley. Both were eminent as saints, both great preachers, both voluntarily yielded themselves to a life of poverty, both, like their Master, spent themselves in a constant ministry of loving service to the poor, the needy, and the sick. It is safe to say that no man has ever been deeply imbued with the spirit of Jesus Christ who has not been moved to benevolence both inspirit and in action.
But at the heart of the present-day Christian enthusiasm for human welfare there is a motive far more propelling and dominating than that simply which prompts to acts of charity toward the distressed, or almsgiving for the relief of the needy. A deep, pervasive, and growing conviction has come into modern thinking that it is a part, and no small part, of the mission of Christianity to remove the causes, the very conditions, from which so much of the world's needs and illnesses arise. This conviction arises from, or at least is reinforced by, two great facts. First, in the phenomenal and growing wealth of the present age, in the abundant fruitfulness of nature, there is made to appear a sufficiency of resource, if it were equitably distributed, to bring a large measure of physical comfort to every human life.
The fact can neither be obscured nor suppressed that in present-day thinking there is a growing conviction that the products of prosperity are neither being ideally nor equitably distributed among the producers of that prosperity itself. And this thought is by no means confined to socialistic circles, to malcontents in the labor world, nor to anarchistic agitators. It is a conviction which is stirring the warm lifeblood of the sanest Christian thinkers; a conviction which is receiving due exposition and irresistible enforcement at the highest seats of Christian learning. A near-coming age is just as certain to give heed to this conviction as though it were to announce itself by the battering-rams of war thundering against its very doors.
The other great fact, a fact divinely certain at some time in the evolution of Christian thought, to come to full expression and recognition, is that which asserts the rightful claim of every man to an inheritance in the bounties of a common Father. The central revelation of Jesus Christ concerning God's Fatherhood is at once the most revolutionary, the most far-reaching and constructive fact which has ever worked itself into human intelligence. If the stupendous doctrine of God's Father-hood is true, then, the twin doctrine to this, a doctrine equally true, is the brotherhood of man. If all men are the sons of God, this definitely means that the time will surely, come when in our human world there will be no longer room for castes which cruelly separate man from man, no longer room for invidious distinctions between the rich and the poor, between the learned and those less favored, when in society and in business it will be no longer tolerated that any man because he is rich and powerful shall take advantage of his weaker brother.
This principle ramifies itself into all human relations. It is susceptible of infinite application. If man is God's son, if he is embraced in the redemptive love of Jesus Christ, if as immortal he may have a career of deathless citizenship in God's kingdom, then he is a being en-titled to sacred consideration from all men.
It is, of course, very clear nothing is more painfully clear that the world has not yet practically learned to place these values upon man. But if the doctrines of God's Fatherhood and of man's brotherhood are divine truths, then the values and relations for men which these truths call for furnish the only right standards of human measurement. The truths themselves can neither be destroyed nor displaced. God will never vacate his Fatherhood; and only by self-forfeiture can any man be deprived of the rights of sonship. From the beginning God has had to deal with a world made per-verse through ignorance, selfishness, and transgression. But he deals patiently. Gradually the divine light invades and overcomes man's darkness. There are times when light breaks forth suddenly over large areas of thought. God is not failing in his purposes. He is surely working toward a civilization in which the sacred character of man as man shall have central and regulative recognition.
At present, though well-nigh unapprehended by the common thought, there is arising a great new moral education in the Church. This movement is so large, so enlightening, so inspirational, that it would seem fittingly characterized as the foreheralding of the mightiest revival thus far known in the interests of the Kingdom. This movement has as its forerunners and expounders a new school a school of present-day and inspired prophets. This school specially emphasizes the demands for social, business, and civic righteousness. These modern men, with conscience and vision such as mark their kinship with the great prophets of ancient Israel, are fearlessly focusing the white light of investigation upon all conditions social, commercial, and civic of our modern life. With patience and thoroughness, they are mastering the very anatomy of all the forces which shape our modem world. As men moved solely by high and righteous purpose, as men inspired for their task, they are furnishing a new exposition and application of the ethical principles of the gospel to all conditions of presentday life.
We call this a new movement in Christian thought. In its deeper and distinctive character it is really such. It is both a noteworthy and surprising fact that less than two decades ago there was almost no distinctive literature on the social aspects of Christianity.1 Today there is a swarming product of this literature coming from the most virile brain of the Church. One message of this literature to the Church is that its traditional administrative methods are not adapted to deal effectively with the dynamic exigencies of modern life-movements. It is a summons to the churches to unite their counsels for the readaptation of old, or for the creation of new, methods for the better discharge of their mission to the world.
The spirit of the new prophet is not flippant. He is made grave by the magnitude of his tasks. He desires to do no injustice even to those whose practices he feels forced to expose and arraign. He knows but too well how insidious are the motives which hold men in bondage to courses of conduct and of business life which cannot be approved in the light of unclouded Christian convictions. He knows the moral fallacies which deceive men, and under which they sincerely seek self-justification. He utters his message, let it smite where it may, with no fondness for censure of the individual wrongdoer, in no spirit of malice toward any. Turning neither to the right nor to the left, he seeks to place himself securely and only on those principles of equity and truth through which alone the righteous interests of all men can be best served. In this spirit he makes no compromises with corporate selfishness, he stands in no awe of plutocratic dictation.
But the new prophet of today, as the prophet of old, must lift up his voice against wrongs which are powerfully intrenched in the heredities, customs, possessions, in the selfish greeds and ambitions of men. He must direct his message against very principalities and powers founded in social, industrial, and political in-justices. The god Mammon rules in a wide realm, a realm which grades from the highest to the lowest scale in reputational appearances. His worshipers are sometimes numbered among pewholders in fashionable churches. Some of his most loyal subjects take high rank as philanthropists. Their names stand high on the lists of contributors to humane benevolences. But the same Mammon is a chief counselor in the directorates of the saloon and the brothel. It is his minions who manage the nameless underworld traffics, who pass the bribes in politics, who corrupt the police forces, who commit the graft robberies in municipal business, who water and vitiate the stocks of corporations, and who sometimes for their nefarious ends purchase the influence of the press.
And there is nothing which Mammon so much desires as to be let alone. He has great plans in the execution of which he ill brooks interference or disturbance. He takes no stock in fine moral distinctions. He sees no necessity for honest politics. He is no believer in municipal reform. And when it comes to such questions as improving the conditions of the poor, of giving to labor an enlarged share in the fruits of industry, of lessening the evils of the saloon and the brothel, he is an utter skeptic as to the possibilities of betterment in the situations. He says these conditions have always existed, and they always will exist. It is only a Utopian visionary who can think otherwise. He is utterly skeptical and obstructive in the presence of moral propositions because he is the receiver and keeper of the spoils of all disreputable traffics and evil processes.
There is no chapter in man's history more discreditable or hopeless than the ease with which in multitudes of cases he has blinded himself to moral distinctions. In the direction in which selfish interests have impelled him he welcomes no moral corrections. As by the magical illusions of some black art, he makes himself believe that black is white, and that evil is good. Members of the Honorable East India Company, amassing wealth from the untrained and unenlightened populations of India, made themselves believe that the introduction of Christian missions would be "pernicious, imprudent, useless, harmful, dangerous, profitless, fantastic."
Why? Doubtless because they had the instinct to perceive that the spirit of missions would prove inimical to business policies which could not bear the light of the Ten Commandments. It is only a little while since when American slave owners searched their Bibles to find divine justification for their institution. The traffic in human flesh and blood was defended, and no doubt sincerely so, from Christian pulpits. The belief in the legitimacy of slavery had such support, that even in Boston William Lloyd Garrison was mobbed and dragged through the streets because he had the courage to utter his indignant protest against what he believed was a national iniquity.
There is no traffic, however inherently bad, that yields a revenue of lucre which some men will not be found to espouse and defend. There are many lines of business, entirely legitimate in themselves, which are under nonapprovable management. There are industries so conducted as to give ,the impression that their management holds manhood and even life itself as things most cheap, well-nigh as cheap as the very fuel which is cast under the boilers to keep the wheels of these industries moving. Some of these industries employ armies of children, small and tender children, who ought to enjoy the gambol of forest and meadow and open sunlight, children whose sacred right it is to have guaranteed to them the best advantages which organized society can furnish of school and training for future manhood and citizenship, yet these industries, for the sake of keeping pace in the march of competition, for the sake of paying fat dividends to stockholders, take these children from the sunlight and from the schools, and herd them in stuffy factories, and grind their tender fiber into the products of machine and loom, with the result that before normal middle manhood is reached they are cast out withered and bent with premature age, intellectually and morally dwarfed, physically spent, fit only for the slag-heap of wasted humanity.
The average legislature has come to construe this thing as a crime against civilization, and yet it is astounding to note how few Christian (!) proprietors have from any moral compunctions of their own decided to discontinue this kind of childhood employment. There seems in lucrative revenues some fell power both to blind and to bribe the consciences of men who profit by the same.
God only knows how much the Church, in many instances, is shorn of moral strength, robbed of its hold upon the affection, respect, and confidence of the poor, because of the domination in its counsels of some man or men whose business life and methods will not stand the scrutiny of the public conscience. It is interesting to note what clear and positive judgment these men have as to the limitations and proprieties which should be observed by the Christian pulpit. The preacher may feel free to roam eternity as far as his imagination may bear him. He may discourse at will upon the beauties of heaven and upon all post-mortem delights. But there are certain provinces in this world which he may not enter. Except in glittering generalities, he must not preach either political or business ethics. He dwells so habitually in the realm of abstract meditation, so apart in the quiet of his own unvexed professional world, that he can have no practical appreciation of business life. He would be likely to make an unwise exhibition of himself if he should undertake to expound ethical principles for business conduct. If, before election, he should preach on the duties of citizenship, he would be charged with indiscreet meddling in politics.
The truth is that the worshipers of Mammon, both in and out of the Church, desire simply to be let alone. They do not welcome the voice of any true prophet. They are the children of an ancient ancestry who said to the seers, "See not" ; and to the prophets, "Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits." As though thus they could escape a vision of the Holy One of Israel !
The message of the modern prophets, like that of their ancient prototypes, is like the driving of a plow-share through all the subterfuges of unethical social, industrial, mercantile, or political life. The mission that crowned the Hebrew prophets with undying glory, that installed them as the peerless moral teachers of all subsequent ages, was essentially political in its character. It was a mission of patriotism. Their mission was a trumpet-call to the nation for social justice, for the rights of the poor, for righteousness in all human relations. With a united insistence that is most impressive when carefully studied, the prophets declare that God does not accept the ostentatious worship, the offerings of prayer and of sacrifices in the sanctuary, of those who are the oppressors of the poor and the friendless, who are defrauders in deals and who suppress the wages of the laborer.
"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord; I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats... . Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me. . . . When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of For those who violate judgment between a man and his neighbor, who oppress the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, their membership in the Church is a mockery. God may be insulted by the very gifts which they pile upon his altars. Let them not trust in lying words, saying : "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these."' There are those to-day who store up the spoils of violence and robbery in their palaces. But of these houses of robbery, the Lord says, "I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end."' They that have put burdens upon the poor and have robbed him of his share of the wheat have built to themselves houses of hewn stone, and have planted pleasant vineyards. They have afflicted the just, they are takers of bribes, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. But because of their own evil practices "they hate him that rebuketh in the gate" that is, he who exposes dishonest dealings in the market "and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly." They that swallow up the needy and make the poor of the land to fail, who falsify the balances by deceit, making the selling measure small and the price great, who buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes these, however proud and mighty, cannot hope to escape punishment, for the Lord hath sworn: "Surely I will never forget any of their works."
In the commonwealth of Israel, land was the source of common prosperity. Isaiah warns against inordinate private ownership of land. "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field."3 "Woe unto them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds ! when the morning is light, they practice it, be-cause it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away; so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage."4 Not least among the features which excited God's anger against his ancient people were the evil habits of women who lived in luxury and idleness on the fruits of ill-gotten spoils. The prophet likens these women to cattle. "Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy. . . The Lord God hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the day shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.'
A review of the prophetic eras of Israel and Judah cannot fail strikingly to impress us with the similarity of the moral features of those eras as compared with the present. The same evils which excited the indignation of the ancient prophets have sprung up abundantly in our own prosperous civilization. If, anciently, there was a providential demand for the prophet, that demand is certainly not less in the present. Both the wealth and the corruptions of Israel and Judah, as compared with those of our own day, were on a very minute scale. Beyond anything dreamed of in ancient Syria our populations are vast, our social civilizations complex, the power of capital incomparable.
To this civilization, this civilization of great complexity, in which side by side with superlative excellencies there inhere gigantic wrongs, a new race of prophets has come. These men are expert students of modern world conditions. Their task is enormous, but to their aid science has brought every appliance. All that the world's most enlightened advancement can contribute to knowledge is at the disposal of these men. All history, luminously at their command, contributes its lessons of the past. A world-comprehending information comes daily to their hand. The work of innumerable experts in every department of research, in cyclopedic system, is before them. The sociological conditions of both city and country, as scientifically secured, are their possession. International and interracial relations in their action and reaction upon world-interests, and all the problems which these relations reveal for world-solution, are now in view as never before. The power of capital, its multiplex uses in civilization, the regal conditions of wealth; the vast army of labor, the problems of poverty, the growing and crying discontents of the poor; the menacing, and seemingly irreconcilable, alienations between capital and labor-all these, with all other questions which they involve, are lifted into clear light before the vision of these men.
If never before any school of world-students entered upon a mission so large, so difficult, certainly never before did any men enter upon their work with such a wealth of equipment and advantage at their disposal. Who are these modern prophets now facing these numerous problems? They are men of high culture, men of vision who have both large insight into and outlook upon life. They are patriots, men with a large love of country. They are lovers of their kind, men who see the larger possibilities in human nature, and who ardently desire to remove obstacles to progress and to promote the conditions through which all men may come to their best.
They are independent thinkers. They are not the hired creatures of either corporate or private interests. They are not partisans. Their vision is not blinded by greed. They are unselfish workers for humanity. They have the courage of their convictions. The most fruitful source of their ideals is the gospel of Jesus Christ. They exalt Christ himself as the supreme Teacher and Exemplar of the new humanity. They dwell in clear atmospheres of thought and of observation. The moral qualities of the social, industrial, mercantile, and political worlds are by none more clearly seen and measured than by these. To them in an eminent degree is given to view the evils, the frauds, the injustices, the oppressions of society as in the very white light of righteousness. Their indignation is aroused against all monopolistic policies, the execution of which means the depression of the social, intellectual, or moral possibilities of the poor and the defenseless. Their sense of human worth is so supreme, their view of God's impartial love for all his children so clear, that, as in the case of their ancient prototype, the word of the Lord is in their hearts as a burning fire shut up in their bones, so that they cannot refrain from lifting up their voices until the Lord shall have delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evil-doers.
Such are some of the characteristics of the new prophet. Unawed by the traditions of authority or the conspiracies of evil, he utters as clearly and fearlessly the Lord's rebukes against the failures of the Church as against the iniquities of a despotic plutocracy. The new prophetic voice is no passing phenomenon. More and more this voice is commanding the ear and stirring the heart of the age. The new prophecy will be resisted, stoutly and valiantly so, by all the forces of selfish greed; but it will persist until it has clarified the vision of society. There can be no mistaking the signs of the times. A new and divine education is setting into the age. The atmosphere of such a movement is irresistible. Like the touch of a spring sun upon the accumulated snow and ice of winter, the stoutest barriers of misguided opinion, and of greed-born prejudices will be dissolved under its power. New standards of public opinion will be lifted up, old and good ideals will be reinforced and new ones enthroned. God's ideal of man will come into the clearer light, and new views of philanthropy and service will have larger sway.
If we really believe in the earnestness of God's purpose in connection with this human world, it is both our duty and privilege to cherish and to cultivate a prophetic outlook upon the future. God is not lifting his hand from the world. He is touching in innumerable ways, many of them undiscerned by our vision, this world for its uplift and transformation. We cannot picture too bright a vision of what this world will be when upon its face God shall have completed his own holy city, the New Jerusalem. But as transcending as may be our conception of the future glory toward which God is working, we should not permit ourselves to be blind to the processes of the present.
Our own times are astir with the intermingling trends of great moral and spiritual movements. What is it that has begotten at the heart of Protestantism its newborn passion for the saving of human society, for making of this world itself an abode of righteousness? What is this but a divine movement, a movement for the ushering in of Christ's kingdom? Before our very vision, if we have eyes to see, the Spirit of righteousness is subsidizing and inspiring innumerable powers for the upbuilding of the Kingdom. The Church is not to be arraigned as either a failure or derelict because it does not at first-hand direct all these forces. It is to her glory that she has so inspired the spirit of her Master into civilization that the State and a multitude of organizations have taken over many of the functions and much of the work which formerly were directed by the Church alone. This does not mean that the Church has lost its function, nor that the world is growing less Christian. It simply means that God is multiplying the chariots in which the forces of his kingdom are moving to swifter victory.
All movements promotive of civic righteousness, of social purity, of business honesty, of individual justice, of the common rights and brotherhood of man are movements in the upbuilding of the Kingdom. Everything done in the way of giving better piace, atmosphere, and education to childhood, of furnishing improved physical environment to the home, of putting before the common vision better and more correct ideals for practical living, all are agencies of the Kingdom. The passion for the real things of the Kingdom was never so potent, its constructive processes were never so effective and splendid as now. The higher ideals for which the Church has stood are being carried forward to-day in a thousand forms of beneficent activity. The kingdom of Christ on earth was never moving forward so visibly, so vigorously, so triumphantly as now.
If compelled to admit, as is doubtless the fact, that the Church itself is having a somewhat difficult experience in adjusting its formulas to the knowledge and thought-processes of the modern world, that it is confronted with the necessity of critical readaptations of methods to enable it most effectively to meet present-day needs, yet the truth seems to be that one of the profoundest, widest, and most far-reaching revivals in its entire history is now in process. It may be in its present phases a revival of educational ideals, but nevertheless a revival which holds in itself the prophecy of a most fruitful spiritual future.
This revival is a Christian Renaissance. Its significance is in its translation of Christianity into terms of modern world thought, in its correlation of Christian truth with the verified scientific thought of the present age. This means that theology is to be shaped by cosmical and biological rather than by governmental and mechanical conceptions. It means, freed from the restraints of hierarchical edicts, liberty for the individual to pursue his own spiritual life. It means that the coming era of church life will be characterized by a broad hospitality to the quest of truth, that the ruling spirit of the Christian community shall be one of open harmony with scientific methods of thought. It means that the most vital test of orthodoxy, the accepted test, will be where Christ himself placed it that its criterion and credential shall be furnished in character, in the sanity of ethical and intellectual life rather than in a forced subscription to technical dogma. It means that in the organic life of the Church spiritual liberty and intellectual freedom shall be permitted unmolested to walk hand in hand with each other. It means for the Church of the future a richer heritage of thought and a more perfect and luminous spirituality than any which the sons of God have yet known.
Sure as Thy truth shall last,
( Originally Published 1914 )
The Inworking God
Divineness Of Man
The Abiding Church
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