« PreviousContinue »
war, and I found one of the largest stockholders of that enterprise a woman in the city of Boston and one of the best women in this country, entirely without responsibility or knowledge of the enterprise. There is not a man in this room who does not know that things are better in Colorado today after that social war they had there, not because of the plan that Mr. Rockefeller has presented so much as because of his presence there, as because he has gone there and is recognizing his personal and moral responsibility as one of the owners of a great corporation. And that strain is new in history.
Side by side with that is the strain of our political situation. It is a stupid person that does not know that every person in this room is more concerned about social control through government than ever before. Not concerned in jobs, not concerned in party creeds; but concerned in the actual control over life through government. The law reaches out to the ideals, the sanitation, the food, the education, the morals, the industry and the whole life of man. We have broadened the basis of democracy and we are trying to make every individual consciously responsible, but it is a tremendously difficult job. The old class control is breaking down, and group control and the new social control and responsibility and power are not yet fully born. This is a new strain in the life of the republic.
Some years ago I met this situation in this crowded tenement ward. I met it with real personal conversion I think. I was ready to fight for it, at least, and to suffer for it, with a sense of the real and personal gospel of Jesus Christ, believing that what it had done for me it could do for every other soul, and eager to carry it home with conviction to human hearts; and not without some success.
But I was very much as a person standing on the bank of a stream that had overflowed its banks and was bringing down houses and people by the thousand in its swirling waters. Now and again you threw out a rope and some fortunate person caught the rope and was brought to shore. But your joy in the rescue of the soul was largely mitigated by the consciousness that thousands were going down, and you asked yourself, "Is this the real gospel I am trying to preach? Does it
really meet the job? Will it actually do the things that has to be done? Or was this a gospel only for the simple, individualistic life of an earlier time? Will it meet this complex time now in terms of power." I dare say to you tonight that the challenge of the Christian gospel today is not the same challenge that it was then; the emphasis is not there where it was in the first century. The Master said that the whole enterprise was involved in these statements: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy mind and with all thy soul, and the second commandment is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” I undertake to say that the challenge is on the second commandment today.
Now do not let us get confused. You will never redeem this world without redeemed men and women, without men and women in whom the passion of Jesus moves with power; it is the only redeeming force that there is in this human world. But if you only have men with a personal passion for individual conversion you will not save the world either. You have got to do more. The challenge of the first century of Christianity was this: in the midst of a dying civilization, in the midst of perishing and formal faith, when the synagogue had become a mere matter of formality, when the great teachers made broad their phylacteries and prayed long prayers in the market place, when the temples at Rome were discarded and the augurs laughed at as they passed along the street; amid such a time is there any God, any faith, any power that can give back to men a great conviction, a personal righteousness for which they will live, and if need be, die?
The Galilean answered that challenge, answered it with a glorious affirmative, answered it by taking some simple fisher folk and giving them power by which they stood fearlessly in the presence of kings and met the last full issue of their lives unfalteringly. Anyone who knows history knows that there has not been a generation since that there have not been men and women with the power of Christ living the divine life here under the power and authority of Almighty God, the great, dominating personal christian experience.
That is not the challenge. The challenge of the 20th century is this: Have you got a gospel, a Christ, a religion that can reach down here to these disinherited children in this tenement and give them back a decent human life? Have you got a religion that can reach into these sweatshops where these girls are working under conditions that break the health and frequently the morals, and give them back the hope that they shall have a home, a family and a decent life? Have you got a gospel that can go down to these men in front of these furnaces and give them back an eighthour day and a six-day week, and let them be something more than mere machine hands, let them be citizens and fathers as well? Have you got a gospel that will reach into political life in terms of power, and get this crooked chief of police off the job and a good honest chief of police in his place? Have you a religion that can reach down there and take the corrupt cops off the job, so that when we have a policeman with a uniform on in the play places and recreation places of the poor, we shall know that that policeman is protecting the daughters of the poor, instead of being under tribute to the powers that prey upon the daughters of the poor? Have you got a gospel that will reach you in that comfortable and easy place and take you out there where the storm is, where the battle runs?
I met that challenge because I had to meet it. I wanted to try to keep intellectually honest, I wanted to try to keep on the square with myself. I said, “You can't play this game on an individual program only and win this fight, and you might just as well acknowledge it like a man.” Now did the gospel have any program for social regeneration as well as individual regeneration? I went back to the gospel where I have stood for sixteen fighting years. I do not want any part in any program that cannot relate itself to the gospel, but I will fight for economic justice and political justice with anybody.
The first thing I found when I got back to the scripture was that Jesus did not expect to do it alone. He had the power, but he chose ordinary common folk to help him do it. That was a tremendous lift; because if you are going to do anything in this world, in the complex social order where the strain is heaviest, you are going to do it with other folks,
and you can't be so all fired particular as to who the other folks are. If you are, you won't do it with many people. I had to ask myself, "Have I got to wait for a new generation to be born of the elect, of the folks that are as good as I am, before I can start out?” Then I studied the gospels and I found that Jesus took a few fisher folk, that probably smelled of the fish when he called them. He took a doctor. We could get along with him sure, because you can't find a man in the community that knows more about you when the bars are down than the doctor does. Take your leader of society, this woman with millions whose name is printed large in the headlines, give her a little touch of pneumonia and she is a whining baby. Take the business leader of your community, give him a little typhoid and he will whimper around like any child. The doctor knows us when the bars are down. You may lie to your pastor and get by with it, but you will hardly try it successfully with your doctor. But the Master had some adventure of faith, he chose a lawyer to save the world. That was going some. will never save the world without the lawyers. I know a lawyer who took six months out of his corporation practice to go to Oregon to argue the case of the state to protect the daughters of the poor. He went to Washington and did the same thing, without compensation, and made a revolution in the law that extended the police power doctrine to the protection of the working daughters of the people, and to child labor, and to all that whole new doctrine in this land. When he did it he was serving the almighty purposes of the Father in saving human life. You won't get by without the lawyers.
But Jesus had more adventure than that; he took a politician to save the world. And you won't save this world without the politicians either. When Jesus called Matthew he was sitting at the receipt of custom; he was holding down a political job. He could never have had it in the world if he hadn't been able to bring in the delegates. And it was a mean job. There isn't a pot-house politician in Connecticut holding down as mean a job as Matthew held when the Lord called him. He was taking tribute from his own people to pay it to foreign masters, and that has been a disrepu
table service from the beginning of the world. Jesus called him. Then He called two other men, among the best of the group, and after they had been with Him quite a while they so missed the purpose behind all he was doing and saying that they surreptitiously sent some one to find out whether they were going to have the chief seats when he came into his kingdom. I can find people like that. We had a brakeman in the yard in one of our cities who said to me, “I am selfish, I don't like to work for others, I can't help you in the fight.” I said, “Now, Bill, listen," and I read him about the two special chief apostles. “Well," he says, "that is good; they wanted to know what seats they were going to get at the pie counter, didn't they? That is a whole lot like me. I guess I can go along with you and work a little while." And another of the men whom the Master chose was such a coward that in the Master's great need he denied him three times. Another one was a liar, a thief and a traitor. I said to myself, “I can get a dozen men as good as that in any church, I guess.”
I mean to say, there is a tremendous truth behind it. Service in righteousness helps to make men righteous and to enlighten them in the ways of righteousness; and you can start pretty low down if the fellow is going right. If he will go one step with you he is on the road to salvation.
What about joy? Did Jesus care about joy, without any platitudes, without any pious pretensions? I had to ask myself that question, and every one of you that is fighting a real battle will have to ask yourself that question; because the recreation time of the poor is the time when the moral purpose is either strengthened or betrayed. I went back to the Bible again to find if the Master had been interested in joy. I found that the first miracle ever performed was a miracle of joy. You may search the record for a single pious platitude, for a single effort to point a moral; you cannot find it. A marriage feast. We know they were poor, because he and his followers were invited, and we also know they were poor because the wine gave out. If they had been rich they would have had plenty. If any of you are troubled about miracles I wish you would put your troubles under your seat. If you are worried about whether the wine