No More War
"And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4).
THE THOUGHT of the national crisis is always with us, sleeping and waking, and we can no more escape it than we can escape our own shadow or the air we breathe. Moreover, there is the feeling that it is one's duty to find, if possible, some light of a Christian sort in this perplexing time, and, if he may, some guidance for others, and so one is driven upon a passage like this. A great passage, a great picture of a world at peace - permanent peace; war forsworn forevermore. The instruments of destruction and slaughter converted into implements of production and culture. A most daring dream of a time that is to be - the dream of an enthusiast, a young prophet who is lifting up his face from the troubled earth to the quiet stars, and this is what he saw written there, or rather what he saw written in the decree and purpose of God.
I think some of us are so disappointed and distressed with the present condition of things that we have hardly the patience to listen to such a word as this. And perhaps there are others who would say, this is no time for dwelling on such prophecies; whatever may be at other times, they are out of season just now.
What needs to be remembered is that the passage belongs to a time as disturbed and convulsive as our own. On a much smaller stage the military drama or tragedy was being enacted. The world of Isaiah's day had no idea of millions of men massed for battle, and of course no faintest idea of the monster and terrible engines of destruction which the genius of the twentieth century of the Christian era has invented! War in ancient times had none of the dread aspects of today. But it was amid all the fever and restlessness of great military movements that Isaiah saw and dared to speak this word. You have only to think of what Jerusalem was, or of what your own time is, to see how great is this vision. No doubt verses 6 and 7 of this chapter refer to the alliance with Assyria which Ahaz made, and chapter 3: 8 shows the final result of that alliance, and that verse was a far more daring thing for Isaiah to say than the words of my text. But here is the point: out of those conditions he dared to build this castle in the air, this model for the future. The contrast between his ideal and the actual was enough to make him sick, as the contrast between your actual and your ideal your dream of Sunday and the actuality of Monday, your dream in your hour of devotion and resolve and the actual facts that you come down to - as great a contrast as was the Mount of God on which Moses held communion with the Most High and the scene which greeted him on his descent from the mountain, when he saw the people of the Lord, as he had thought them, in shameless nakedness giving themselves to the lewd indulgences of the heathen.
So you feel the contrast between the Christian ideal towards which you have been striving and the hard fact which you are up against every day, and which greets you every morning with your first waking thought. You cannot help feeling, as Isaiah could not help feeling, after all, how horribly wrong it all is, how it ought not to be - that while we are compelled to this present contest, and there is no other way at the moment and we must endure it for many months to come, yet it is horribly wrong, and we ought never to have been compelled to it. And there is something terribly wrong in the system that compels it. Why should any nation be faced with the alternative that it must either embark on this dread course or be walked over and trodden down and destroyed as to its freedom and self-government? Do you not feel it to be horribly wrong that millions of men - think what a million means! - millions of men, the very flower of the nations' manhood, should be withdrawn from productive pursuits and be set to purely destructive work? That instead of building things of beauty, they should be shattering them; that instead of nourishing life, they should be destroying it? That murder should be legalized on the high seas, or in any spot on the earth where armed Briton or Russian or Frenchman meets German? Can you imagine anything like it being tolerated among individuals in any civilized community? Can you imagine any man allowed anywhere - because he stands over six feet and is proportionately strong and skillful -to beat his smaller neighbor to the ground, and to hold him there until he promises to cede a part of his property to him, or to pay him a large percentage of his earnings for the next twenty years or for ever? In the case of the individual the law steps in and forbids such tyranny. It protects the physically weak; it declares that he has as much right to life and property as the physically strong, and must be as free to go about his business in safety. It would put the man in prison and hang him who strode into this man's garden and house, and beat down his opposition, and killed his sons and his servants who opposed him, and burnt his house to the ground.
But in the life of nations you have no law officer to step in. You cannot arrest a nation, and unfortunately you cannot arrest and hang the rulers and diplomatists of nations. If that could have been done in certain cases - and a ruler who is so by the accident of birth is no more in the sight of God than a common soldier, and there is no more reason why he should not be punished for crime - this war would never have been.
There is no one, in the words of my text, to judge between the nations or to arbitrate between the peoples. Each nation is a law unto itself. It is true that you can have agreements and treaties among nations, and it is also frightfully true that you can disregard such treaties and violate them at your will and when they become inconvenient. You can have an agreement among the surrounding nations to respect and even defend the freedom and integrity and neutrality of little nationalities like Belgium and Holland. But why should you need an agreement? Surely it is a right of Belgium and Holland to exist, if by their own industry and morality they can. And surely the marching of armed men without their consent through any of their territories, and more still the battering of their choicest buildings and the slaying of their women and children, is a crime of the deepest and blackest character.
I suppose if we sifted the matter to the bottom there are not more than fifty people directly responsible for the present war with its appalling devastation and slaughter. But does it not strike you, as you think of the hundreds of thousands of men in the prime of young manhood - on whose education millions of pounds have been spent, smashed and slaughtered, and hundreds of thousands more shattered in nerve or maimed in limb and body, and hundreds of thousands of homes and hearts tortured with anxiety and sorrow and plunged into irreparable loss and grief, that this is the most colossal crime in history, and that no punishment that the mind of man could devise is severe enough for the men who are the prime movers in it? But you cannot lay your hands upon them. There is no law of man that can touch them. So far from being punished, if they can but carry their enterprise through successfully, they will be lauded and crowned as heroes by unthinking millions.
You are quite aware by now that by a certain set of people in Germany, represented by General von Bemhardi, war has been openly preached as the supreme virtue, and peace has been derided as unworthy of a brave nation and fatal to the development of its highest qualities. You know that it has been further taught that smaller nationalities have no right to an independent existence; that a nation, especially Germany, has a perfect right at a convenient moment to strike a smashing blow at any other nation, and seize its possessions if it can, and to disregard treaties and agreements; that the chief business of a nation is to train and drill - to educate and train and drill its men for warfare, and to create such instruments of destruction that it shall become a terror to all the other nations and be a colossus that bestrides the whole world, and that every power that stands in the way of this ambition for worldwide aggression must be humiliated and overthrown.
I do not think I am misrepresenting things - it has been a revelation of the saddest kind to some of us. And in order to further these ends any means may be adopted - the most treacherous and cruel and barbarous. I am not speaking now of the great German people, but I am speaking of the most powerful cult and influence in the land.
Now what are you to do? I mean at the moment. You have no one, as I said, to judge and arbitrate between the nations. You cannot allow that nation to have its way - to thrust itself upon Belgium in spite of her protest; to crush France and appropriate its wealth; and then to invade your own shores, and humble you to the dust, and rob you of your influence in the earth. There is no power in the world that can persuade me that that would have been a worthy or a Christian attitude on the part of this nation, or that we would thus have fulfilled our duty to our great colonies and dependencies throughout the world, to whom the government and shelter of this nation has been a blessing. On the contrary, I believe we would have been traitors to our trust.
But what are we to do? Is there any other way of defending our own liberties and the liberties of others save by taking the sword and entering with solemn resolve into this dread conflict? Is not this such a time as that of which our Lord had spoken: "Now he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one". I am profoundly convinced that there is no other way but this awful way which we are treading just now, and must tread for months to come. It is the path of justice and righteousness.
But here is the question that has been in my mind for a long time past, and I doubt not in yours also: Is there to be no other way? Must things go on for ever like this? At the end of this horrible slaughter, must the nations go on in the old mad way of piling up armaments, withdrawing millions of men from productive occupations that add to the wealth of the world, and setting them upon callings that produce nothing - that simply consume and destroy? I must confess, brethren, that if I felt that I would despair of the world. What I am anxious to know is whether it passes the wit of man to conceive a scheme for the drawing up of an agreement among the nations, the nations of Europe at least - an agreement which should provide for the limitation and diminution of armaments, with some supreme court of arbitration?
I know the reply will be that we have no power to deal with an offending or recalcitrant nation, and we have no guarantee that each nation would respect the agreement; and there would be plotting and scheming on the part of a selfish and offending nation to draw away some other party to such an agreement. I shall be told with some amount of truth that diplomatists are among the last persons in the world to be trusted. But it still seems to me that we must risk something, and if the end of this war be that we are henceforth to trust no man's word and no nation's good faith, then alas! - all the blood and treasure will have been spent in vain, and these precious lives have been laid down for naught.
I must confess that my hopes are otherwise - that the nations will be so sick at heart with this awful slaughter that they will say, "Never again. We must find some less terrible way". Some way of bringing pressure to bear upon an offending and menacing nation, moral pressure - pressure of united refusal to trade with it in any way whatsoever.
My great hope and prayer is, not that the German nation may be shattered by this war, but that its ideals cherished during the last twenty-five years may be shattered beyond hope of recovery, and that its present rulers will never rule again.
Finally I go back to the point from which I started, namely, that the present awful conflict is wrong, terribly wrong - by which I mean that we ought never to have been forced into it. And we never would have been if the first part of my text had been a reality. Be sure, after all, that the fault is there. God - the God who has come to us in Christ Jesus our Lord - has not been allowed to arbitrate and judge among the nations. The teachings of Christ have not been followed. We who profess His name in all the nations of Europe have not followed His way. I know there has been a great deal of profession of piety. No one has been more prominent in that matter than the Kaiser himself. The professors and pastors of Berlin, some time ago, in the manifesto which they published - which was the blindest document I ever saw - declared that this was a war for Protestantism. Considering that Germany's ally in this war was Austria - Hungary, the most bigoted Roman Catholic country in Europe, that was as amazing as the other statements in a document which was peculiarly blind to facts.
What one is constrained to say is this, that if Protestantism requires such methods for its maintenance and progress, it had better fail, and that the cruelest blow has been struck against Protestantism in Belgium and in the world by this war that could have been dealt to it.
No, it is no more Protestantism than it is Christianity. It is because men have departed from the pure teaching of Christ that such an ideal has been cherished and that we are at war this day. And the thing is still to preach Christ to lift Him up whom the nations have forgotten and whose teachings they have forsaken - to proclaim Him still as the true King of nations and the Prince of peace; to declare that the government must be upon His shoulder, and that He must be allowed to shape and mold the policy of the nations. And the effective way to that is this: He must be allowed to rule in our own hearts. There is no way to make Christ King of the nations save by making Him King of the individual heart and life. We can never bring in His Kingdom by Acts of Parliament: the utmost they can do is to prepare His way. But we can make Him the Judge and Arbitrator in our own lives. We can submit the program of our whole life and the program of every day to Him. We can let His will decide in every doubtful and perplexing situation. For be sure that everyone who does that is adding something to the increase of Christ's Kingdom, and nobody will add anything to it by any outside means or efforts until this be done. So I have to make Him Lord in my own life. I have to turn my own sword into a plowshare. I have to cease being quarrelsome and bitter and grasping and jealous and envious and self-assertive, and I have to pray that the strength that has flowed in that channel may now flow into another and purer, and that I may labor to bless and help. And that when I must fight it may be with a pure desire that peace, an abiding peace, may come - that is, that I may fight for the Kingdom of Christ and for the getting of His will done in my own life and in the world.
We thank Thee, Heavenly Father, for the great prophecies and dreams of the inspired men of Holy Scripture, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. May we believe in their visions as in Thine own decrees, and labor with all diligence to bring their realization nearer. Increase Our faith, we beseech Thee, and take out of our hearts all malice and revenge, that we may believe in and work for the coming of the reign of the Prince of Peace. Amen.