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THE STRUGGLE FOR THE LIFE OF SELF We are witnessing the most gigantic struggle for self-preservation in the history of humanity. Each warring nation believes that it is defending its very existence. It is fighting recklessly and relentlessly for its integrity and permanence. For the moment, therefore, the struggle for the life of self is so exalted that there seems no room in the world for the gospel of altruism and good-will, the gospel of Jesus.
The present world situation is the inevitable result of certain tendencies which have been evident since the middle of the last century. The view of the natural world that came into being about that time was based almost exclusively upon the struggle for individual life. Tennyson gathered it up in the familiar lines:
"For nature is one with rapine, a wound no preacher can heal; The Mayfly is torn by the swallow, the sparrow speared by the shrike, And the whole little wood where I sit is a world of plunder and prey.”
So nature was seen, "red in tooth and claw.” Only the strong survived, and the individual life alone was precious.
This conception of nature was inevitably transferred into political science, and the egoistic state was glorified in histories that were written in partisan response to the ideal of the survival of the strong. Mighty reënforcement to the general notion came from Nietzsche's doctrine of the superman. It takes but a short look to see these tendencies coming to their inevitable and bloody issue in the world at war.
So we are challenged:
Is the altruism of Jesus valid any longer? Can co-operation and good-will be proclaimed as the supreme laws of life?
Jesus taught these principles. He practised them in his own daily life. He based the kingdom of heaven upon them. He trusted with childlike faith that the future would confirm his ideal. He cast the truth into that perfect definition of his own life: “And for their sakes I sanctify myself.” : It was individual perfection for the purpose of altruistic service.
Today, in a time of war, as never before this is the message of the Christian Church. While every circumstance around us may seem to deny the doctrine, this is good news to a yearning world.
THE COSMIC ROOTS OF LOVE AND SELF-SACRIFICE
And let us remember that we have the wider inductions of natural science and the best findings of politics and economics on our side as we preach our gospel of sacrifice.
The old survey of the summer field which revealed only its warfare and its pain did not go to the root of the matter. The old economics that reckoned only with self-interest and competition was inadequate. There is another side to the picture.
The disturbed ants risking individual life recklessly to carry the unhatched larvae to safety represent that primal struggle for the life of others, which has gone on in unbroken beauty and blessing from creation's morning until the present moment. This is not something that came late into the process; it appears in the beginning; it is wrought into the very constitution of life; it has given us the heroisms and nobilities of parenthood and martyrdom.
It is vindicated by the newer ideal of successful commerce as an output of social benefit rather than an intake of private gain. Those communities that co-operate are happier and richer and more permanent than are those that compete. Because the altruism of Jesus is true, we know that the kingdom of God will come even to a world of commercial materialism and raging war.
Therefore, as we reaffirm Jesus' gospel of the sacrificial life, we know that, although the clouds may just now obscure it, the truth has the sanction of the best accredited science and economics. We are not the defenders of a pale and retreating theory of sacrifice against a ruddy and conquering principle of self-preservation. Our gospel grounds itself in the very constitution of life and we defend and realize it knowing that we have the universe on our side..
The gospel of service confirms and does not contradict the duty of self-development. It affirms that self-realization never is an end in itself. The perfection of the individual is in order that he may better serve his generation. The Christian ideal begins with the development of power; it bids us be strong and achieving; it insists upon the symmetry and the beauty of the perfect life. But the process by which this is attained and the purpose for which it is sought does not consist in crushing competitors and destroying human life. The end of all individual and social power is the uplift and the betterment of the weak and the needy. “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves."
Early in the marvelous process of building the city of Gary, where the great steel industry has touched the dunelands with its magic wand, a lame and friendless man drifted in to fight for his life with crippled powers. He battled with cold and hardship as he sold papers. It was bitter business for Billy Rugh. One day he heard that a woman, a stranger, injured by burning, must die unless sufficient skin could be grafted upon her body. Her friends had given all they could. Billy Rugh thought of his lame leg. He went to the hospital and offered all he could give for the saving of the stranger's life. The "game” leg, as he called it, was cut off; the young woman recovered; the story of the deed caught the imagination of commercialized and cosmopolitan Gary. The people sent money to build Billy a booth from which to sell his papers; they filled the hospital room with flowers; the Chicago papers carried leading editorials on the heroism of the Gary "newsy.” In one way it was too late. Billy Rugh died from the operation; but he said quietly and happily at the end, “I guess I am some good after all.”
'Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends."
“Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Jesus was right. His gospel shines like a pitying sun, touching with creative power the wasted fields where man have fought mistakenly in the mad frenzy of war for the sole right to a place in its splendor.
The practical meaning of the struggle for the life of others is very clear.
In the policies of nations it means that when Cuba is suffering and helpless, the strong neighbor is to use force to free the slave; but the end of the action is the freedom and higher welfare of the people and not the territorial enrichment of the United States.
It means that when police duty calls American marines to land at Vera Cruz and snipers shoot them from the housetops, the civil population is not massacred in return; but instead the city is cleansed, the troops retired and the city turned over again to its people better than ever before.
It means that when a man is a strong leader he gives himself to the service of the weak, as Livingstone did. Thus he, not the men of blood who have plundered it for slaves and ivory and rubber, inherits Africa.
How splendid is the history of the American Board during over a century spent in the practice of this principle. It has been a struggle indeed. Brave men and beautiful women have died in the same spirit in which the men of the first century bore witness to their Master in their winding sheets of flame. Money has been expended in the terms of millions of dollars in order that an inspiration in daily life and a firm faith in death might be given to men nameless and far distant to their helpers. Compared with statistics of property owned and workers employed, this unwritten record of a hundred years of altruism is the glory of the American Board. And now, as never before, in a time of war that is costing us terrific losses, let us keep unshaken faith in the fact that this spirit will yet conquer the world.
FRATRICIDAL WAR AND ITS CHRISTIAN EQUIVALENT In another respect we are compelled to face new issues in this time of war. The world seems for the moment almost forced to consent that the highest expression of the strength of a nation and the supreme energy to evoke the noblest virtues is fratricidal war. The brave but unpopular champions of the faith that there are Christian equivalents for war are just now challenged and hard pressed on every side. The militarists have the field. The noise of the cannon is too near to, let the voice of reason be heard. All the more warrant is there for the gospel of Christ to be proclaimed now with all the force that its disciples and defenders can muster.
It is not a new conflict. The war doctrine lies consistently back of all militarism and navalism and it masquerades in all arguments for a kind of preparedness which makes war practically inevitable. Militarism has been a favorite doctrine of all strong and aggressive races and leaders. It has been defended by the men of letters as well as by the men of action.
“I found ... that all great nations learned their truth of word, and strength of thought, in war; that they were nourished by war and wasted by peace; taught by war, and deceived by peace; trained by war, and betrayed by peace
in a word, that they were born in war and expired in peace."
Bernhardi defends the proposition that "war is not merely a necessary element in the life of nations, but an indispensable factor of culture, in which a true civilized nation finds the highest expression of strength and vitality.”
Over against these judgments of the Briton and the German we place the declaration of Jesus, “He that findeth his life, shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
This was the principle that determined the practical choice of Jesus himself. The people were longing for a military campaign and leader when he began his work. They were ripe for revolt against Rome. Had he put himself at their head, they doubtless would have followed him with their fortunes and their lives. But he chose with unerring insight the Christian equivalent of a martial campaign. He said to Pilate, the representative of the greatest military nation of
“My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.”
Yet the fact of struggle and the worth of the martial virtues are clearly recognized in the teaching of the Master. The life to which he called his disciples was no career of soft
Sharp antagonisms and intense conflicts were involved