The Sermons & Essays of Bernard Gibbs
The Signs Of the Times
Columbus discovered America. His discovery of America was one of the world’s most sublime ventures in faith, the significance of which we can never overestimate. Joaquin Miller, that great poet of the Sierras, has given us a poem which stirs the heart to a profound depth in which he records the log of the Santa Maria, and the program of America:
“Then pale and wan he paced the dock,
And peers through darkness,
Ad that night of all dark nights; and then a speck!
A light! A light! At last a light!
It Grew! A star-lit flag unfurled!
It grew to be time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world: he gave that world its grandest lesson:
On! Sail on!”
George Washington discovered America. In the affirmation of human rights which he made verse the autocracy of the German king who happened to be sitting on the throne of England at that time, he helped to bring into being a new political idea and a new force for freedom which had a might effect in the Old World as well as the New.
Abraham Lincoln discovered American; an America neither of East nor West nor North nor South, nor breed nor birth nor border; but a great people gathered from everywhere and cast into the great melting pot of America to be molded and welded into a national unity, and devoted to the welfare of all, -yes, and of all this world of ours.
And once in our time the Kaiser discovered America. After being notoriously color blinded for an incredible time he was at last enabled to distinguish the red, white, and blue of the Star-spangled banner rapidly moving east from the Marne. And he knew then that America had determined to help give the rest of the world the freedom which she had enjoyed for more than a a century and a quarter. It was the time of our acceptance of the challenge to become as a light that is set upon a hill and cannot be hid. And now all the rest of the world has discovered America.
These are the days of discovery for all of us. The horizons that used to sit so snugly on our minds are having a hard time of it. They are troubled with growing pains. East and west, and all around, the horizons that mark our interest and our knowledge are rapidly stretching out beyond old limits. The map of our country and of our world is replacing the map of the town-ship, and the township mind is bursting its bond. Inevitable! We cannot fit the old ideas into the new day. The old pattern will not fit into the new mold. Truly these are days of discovery for all of us. And they are days of effort and of hope and of burden and of dread for ourselves and for our world. But in every respect they are days that carry us out a long uncharted ways of thinking and living. New ventures!
We can no longer think in terms of the cross roads of the small town. We must think in world terms. We are traveling swiftly. We shall need to be alert in order to catch the beauty and the glory and the measure of the great morning which is dawning on our old world. We shall need to shift the gean if we are to climb the grades, that the rapidly expanding horizons of national and Church interest. Yes; and we must more and more realize that our interest are one – not many. We must know that a man’s a man for a’ that a” that; no matter whether he ride in a Ford or a Cadillac. (story of man who was trailing a Cadillac in a New Ford.) It might be that the man in the Ford shall get ahead. We must not permit ourselves to be under any illusions. We must not allow another to say that we are moving up and rapidly. (story of the boastful farmer and the Negro and the bull). Nor dare we fool ourselves by any imagining. We must not at anytime just fancy that we are getting on just because we wish to, or even earnestly desire to get on (story of Negro witness in murder case in Grand Hotel in Cincinnati).
There is a romance of geography, both on the maps of our world, and in the kingdom of righteousness. It is rather young yet, and still in the making, in every continent, and with swiftly changing maps and conditions. Strange unpronounceable names are becoming intensely interesting these days; and we intensely important as well. Some of us could not tell a few years ago whether Ukraine was the name of a country or of a new breakfast food. And a few of us could not pronounce, “Bolshiviki and Prezemsl. (I got the pronunciation from one of the teachers of old Russian whom I entertained for a week.)
I mention these words among many just to call attention to some people and placed where radical and even tragic changes are taking place these days. We believe, – yea we know that only failure can attend some of those who are trying to find their way to selfhood over there. But let us not forget that we also made some mistakes, and even yet are not perfect. Various peoples of our world are at this time going through the birth throes of becoming self-governing. We look upon them, and are impatient, and sometimes are furious, I fear. I hope that we shall learn to love them. Oh, we are becoming acutely conscious of the map of this world! . . . Flying across all seas, and around this globe… Talking, -every-where through empty space…Question of soldier and sailor: “Where do we go from here?” To heaven we hope. But – till then? Christian leaders as they sit at vantage places on our globe see the startling disclosures of morals and religious conditions open-eyed and frank — –No book of Lamentations; But victory! But not yet…Underprivileged peoples everywhere looking to America. “Help us” Tired? “When will this giving of money and time and talent and energy be at an end?” “Not till the kingdom of Christ be come among men.”
Schools and hospitals at home and abroad…”Making a hog of himself”….”nothing personal in this…..Student to be turned away? Sick to be refused attention at home and abroad? Missionaries to be called from the needy fields of the earth? Dare, I, a minister of this same Son of God whom we all desire to deserve, dare I tell you what is your duty and my duty in such a world, and in the midst of such stir ring surroundings? Pentecost! Oh, I envy you who sit in the layman’s seat today. And I long to see the world to be, which you and Christ shall make. Standing, as I do, in the forenoon of the greatest century that has yet dawned, talking before a company of intelligent men who have ready and heard understandingly, I will but call to your attention once again, that we “follow in his train” who gave himself in sublimest act of service, that He might save us unto service after Him.
The “world of folk [are] made up of two classes -those who want to be left alone, etc [and those who do not]. I shall not stop to tell to which class I belong only that I do not enjoy speaking after dinner. I have always felt that if I had a lot of money I would make a good after-dinner speaker (Uncle Charley).. Really, I am not sure what to say before a club of this kind. I grew up in Eastern Tennessee where the land is so steep that we could work both sides of it-cattle would fall out of the fields and break their necks-[we] had to make holes for the dogs to sit in and bark. Lazy at times of any voluntary effort, would have died of starvation, and they said, “we ought to make a preacher out of him.”
I have always been of inquisitive turn of mind. (my question about the incense burner-something that we do not have in our home). This made me to go on my way wishing that I had some for patent kicker that I could attach to a post and use on myself for a while. And then, too, I thought of the experience of a little four-year-old hopeful who lived in Cincinnati a number of years ago…(What is Rotary Kiwahis?)
Well my inquisitiveness has led me to a partial understanding of what you stand for. The good of getting together, these happy occasions… We must be interested in each-other, and in the general welfare. Social isolation will likely mean moral suicide. We are interested, not only to know how the other man is faring, so that we may help him, but we are concerned as to the quality of his life. “Nobody’s business how I live?”
Changes within the [past] 25 years. The former years better than these? Consider the matter of health. Were the people of those years more robust than we of today, and as a direct consequence of their manner of life? Average life longer today… Great white plaque, formerly and now. Used to take whole families. Fevers formerly thought not to be contagious or infectious unless accompanied by some eruption. Typhoid ran through whole families and through whole neighborhoods, a visitation from the almighty God. [It is] hard to repress a feeling of generous indignation at the thought of how much was laid at the door pf providence which we now know to have been chargeable to the blindness and folly of man.
The Royal preacher in olden time warned his hearers verse the presumption of declaring the former days to have been better than these. He says, “[t]houh dost not enquire wisely concerning this.” Every preacher from then till now might well say the same to the people. We reverence, and wisely, those who stood in their lot in the love of their kind and in the fear of God, leaving a legacy of noble lives and brave deeds. It is not inconsistent with our loving veneration for them to congratulate ourselves upon the improved conditions under which we continue the existence begun under their guardianship. They labored and we have entered into their laborers. I hold with cheerful and unwavering that the world grows better with each passing year, and I would not set the clock of the centuries back by so much as a decade or a year or a day.
Since I began to read and to observe, now intentions and wonderful discoveries have succeeded one another with dizzying rapidity. (Story of first telegram ever received by wife of an eminent Baltimore clergyman.) And she was a woman of unusual intelligence. But this was the first telegram that she had ever seen. Now the six-year old child talks familiarly of the wireless, and is interest, but no-wise amazed, in hearing the tale of the “C.Q.D” flashed through the storm of ships out of sounds and sight of the foundering craft. Puck’s pledge to put a girdle round the earth in 40 minutes is voted by our slangy schoolboys “a black number” and his performance “slow”.
Some here can remember when there were scarcely any
railroads automobiles in the country, and electricity had never been harnessed to do man’s behest. We have lived to see that come to pass in all the civilized world that the old Hebrew prophet Nachum, when he said, “the chariots shall seem like torches; they shall run like lightning; they shall jostle one another in the streets; his riding between the bull.” It reads like grim sarcasm.
This is the most religious age the world ever knew. Less of what Dr. Washington Gladden called “Churchianity; but there is certainly more of Xnity of the practical type. We have lived to see the sectarian prejudices that so rent communities in former years wane before the coming in, like a flood, of the spirit of Him who held out the everlasting arms of love to the great multitude which no man can number which had been gathered from all nations under the sun, those other sheep, not of the home fold but His none the less. We know more of spiritual truth today – guidance and holy spirit. With every year the party walls of denominationalism are lowered and brothers in heart and in aim clasp hands across barriers that signify but little now. Such an organization as this furthers this great [intelligible] and high end. I think that if we will but study upright we will awaken with a start to find that we were born into the most estimable place in all the world, and just in the nick of time.
Most of you read or heard President Hoover’s first speech to the associated press after coming to the White House. It was the most momentous word that any president has spoken in many a day. It was fundamental. It went to the very heart of the difficulty in America at this hour – the general attitude toward the ideals of our government. It flowed through the surface, appealed to the national conscience & uncovered the fact that we are threatened with grave danger. A healthy moral condition is not indicated when the president must call to account the people themselves. This he did when he raised the question whether “the time has not come when we are confronted with a rational necessity of the first degree, that we are not suffering from an [missing text] wove, but from the subsidence of our foundations.” This is what Jeremiah had been feeling and mightily contending against in his own day – “the subsidence of the foundations,” President Hoover’s address should help us to an understanding of Jeremiah. Really, they are striving for the same goal. There is something wrong pedagogically, patriarchally, and spiritually with the teacher who cannot start a profitable discussion by a comparison of the two men. Put this scripture up alongside the president’s address and Jeremiah will not seem out of date. He will glow with meaning.
One of the main features that stand out in these two utterances is this: Individual responsibility. Every responsible citizen will take his part,” said President Hoover. “Everyone shall die for his own iniquity,” said Jeremiah. The old idea was that the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” according to Jeremiah every man was responsible for his own toothache. Now, there is a low of inheritance and social solidarity. These people of Jeremiah’s time were suffering from some of the sour grapes that Manasseh had eaten, for instance. Most people are far more concerned about what their ancestors have done for them than they are concerned about what their ancestors have done to them. Our present youthful generation is in a way, what it is because those who have gone before have made such a mess of things. But this does not do away the responsibility of the individual. Jeremiah put the blame where it belongs. Our fathers may have eaten sour grapes, but we individually decide what we will do with the results, our inherited tendencies. One cannot hide from personal responsibility in the crowd. Though we are set down among one and a half billion people of earth to say nothing of those who have gone before – we must give an account of ourselves before God. Jeremiah discovered the individual.
Jeremiah pointed to a new day. It takes a real man to lament and weep and protest over a dismal situation, to face all facts, and then look forward with hope and good cheer upon a new sun-brightened day – a day that can be and shall be. Jeremiah lived in a time of great anxiety, Jerusalem was in the grip of famine and pestilence. The prospect was dark indeed. Jeremiah himself was a prisoner. It was under such circumstances that he gave a cheerful, hopeful message. A new epoch, a new covenant, a new chance! God was going to reveal himself in a new way. And what was the nature of this new covenant? It is told in the 33rd verse of this 31st ch. of Jeremiah: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and upon their hearts I will write it, saith the Lord.” This from the prophecy of Jeremiah. President Hoover said, “What we are facing today is the possibility of that respect for all law is fading from the sensibilities of our people.” Said Jeremiah, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write it.” This has been called the greatest prophecy in the Old Testament. It implies that were law has failed, a new covenant is to take its place, and it is to be inscribed on the hearts of men. It goes farther still and implies that success and power cannot come till the hearts of men are changed, till the hope of the nation passes from the outer rules to the inner spirit and disposition, wrought into the very structure of thought and will. This is true alike of government and of religion.
President Hoover wanted that there should be a general consciousness of the national need. Here are his words: “That our citizens shall awake to the fundamental consciousness of democracy which is that the laws are theirs and that every responsible member of a democracy has the primary duty to obey the law, and here is what Jeremiah said: “For they shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the Lord. Some great day this inner law shall become universal, so that it shall become a social requirement, and pervade all our life. Here is the hope of government, when the vast majority of our people love the principles and ideals, of our government and spontaneously support them. The constitution lives or dies not on paper, or in the officers and executives, but in the consciousness of the people. Hear this from Jeremiah’s vision: “It shall no more be necessary that a man tell his fellowman about God. For all shall know God, and their knowledge of him shall be based on experience of his forgiveness and lovingness.” And here is Pres. Hoover’s ideal: “The vast majority of citizens making democracy possible by gladly, thoughtfully obeying the laws.” The Jeremiah’s ideal: “In the days to come when the will of God is to be so living in the hearts of men that arbitrary law and outward conformity to it will have lost their meaning and their need. What Jeremiah sees in the distance is the kingdom of God, when the great mass of men will turn to him in filial devotion. Religion is to move out into a new realm, the realm of loving obedience to a father. The Ten Commandments will be outgrown by the tender consciousness of God in the souls of transformed lives. After all there is only one goal before his world and that is that all men should know the heart of God, and be willing to be led by his spirit.
“How to succeed in business,” “By a man who has failed three times.”
May a minister who is no person of excellencies in any regard, and particularly one who must confess his inability to follow out regularly his daily program, be permitted to address others of the cloth on “Method in ministerial life?” then, “Send me your ears.” And if upon hearing of any future date, of my derelictions in these mattes of pastoral and homiletical concern, you should feel inclined to declare unto me that parable: “Physician heal Thy self,” refrain, and reach for a certain volume with which all ministers are supposed to be well acquainted, and read Gal. 6:1 (Quote)
For how is a mere man, though called of God to prophetic ministry, going to follow his program when he is subject to interruption any hour of the twenty-four by the ringing of the doorbell or the telephone. When he is so busied with serving tables and caring for the physical needs of his family and trying to nurse unto [text inconsistent] cantankerous souls of those spiritual morons found in every parish, that he must often do what he feels to be his real work between midnight and the retiring hour?
However, Method in Ministerial Life is a subject worthy of the careful consideration of each of us, and we can each apply it to our own individual circumstances.
The subject involves the statement that there should be no day without some definite work accomplished. Work without a plan or purpose accomplishes little. A study of the men who have done the great work for the world will show that they kept constantly before them a purpose toward which they bent the circumstances and energies of their lives. It is not possible that each hour of the day should witness some definite accomplishment that could be put down to the credit of the major goal of life, but if we fail to labor in such fashion and with such purpose as to accomplish for the benefit of another, or for ourselves, something in feeling or something in doing, or something in development which we did not possess when the day began, it is not a full or satisfactory day.
Of course, our subject involves method in study. By our vocation we are students, or else we should hand in our credentials at once. It is mandatory that we “search the scriptures.” Not only so, but we must search for all sources of light that may make the word of Eternal plain to men. The great Beecher (Henry Ward) was apt to depend upon the inspiration of the moment – not that he did not prepare well for pulpit work; but he lacked the method of Symon Abbott. Gilbert K. Chesterton told us that he wrote when he was in the mood. Till then he was in the mood. Till then he would play with toys anon. The ordinary man of the ministry will accomplish but little unless there be some general plan of study.
It is given only to the few to make those daring mental adventures which enable them to work out into fields afar and to enter into all problems and all values with appreciation and conviction. Not is our salvation ecclesiastically or otherwise, or our success as good ministers of Jesus Christ dependent upon such ability and such research. But we are under obligation to be students, (as well as stewards) of the manifold grace of God. And if we are to give a good account of our studentship and of our stewardship we must study. If we take up any given subject at random as opportunity occurs here and there, we need no Episcopos or elder Presbuteros to tell us that we are foredoomed to comparative failure. The man who sets apart a certain hour each day for the study of one particular subject will find that as the time approaches, his mind will naturally [text missing] live of though in kind of automatic process. His vision will gradually enlarge and his knowledge increase until at length he has systematically developed that subject in harmony with his own words of thinking.
It would be impossible to lay out a plan to study which should be universally adopted. The habits & tendencies of varied minds will determine the method which shall be pursued by each one in the planning of his time. The point on which we insist is that for the accomplishment of the best results it is imperative that we shall have a method which we shall pursue whenever not interrupted by the circumstances beyond our control.
And, then, there must be method in pastoral life. The preacher is essentially a pastor, the shepherd of his flock. Though I like to think of myself as the general of forces, I recognize the eminent wisdom of the preacher’s keeping close to the heart and the weeds of his people. He must feel their heart throbs if he is to be unto them an effective and constructive minister in the things of the spirit. Pastoral visitation is thought by many to be obsolete, (Dr. Fosdick) and yet it is safe to assume that those ministers who come close to the hearts of their people and who win the most souls to Christ are those who give themselves largely to pastoral visitation. And we are now considering the method of pastoral labor – that must vary with individual tastes and environments. How far they should be purely religious and how far the social element should enter into them are not in our thought at this time. No stereotyped rules can be laid down. At times the circumstances are forbidding that we should have a word of prayer in the home. But I venture to say that that minister who regularly fails to suggest a word of prayer in the homes of his people as he goes in and out before their will must have many shiurs to present before the master from the harvest fields of earth. I met recently a defunct church member who was visiting our town. I learned that she was under the pastoral over-sight of a certain dilettante usurper who has been “serving the Lord in his poor, weak way” for quite a number of years, and incidentally trying to become a preacher at the expense of suffering audiences. This lover of pink teas is a minister after the heart of our fair visitor. I mean that as a minister he is highly acceptable, for the reason, as she tells me, that he never says anything to people about religion when he calls in the house. This may be a little aside from the point. I am insisting that our method of life as ministers must include pastoral visitation. And whether that method be the announcing of our plan from the pulpit of Sunday to Sunday as did the great Dr. John Hall, or whether we risk running in on the people unawares, the work must be done in order to a constructive and successful ministry.
But there are other aspect of ministerial life calling for specific mention and suggestion. There is the matter of the pulpit preparation. In running over a symposium not long since in which layman were mentioning things which they wished their ministers would do, or would not do, one layman charged that his pastor evidently depended on the latest issues of certain magazines and on Saturday’s daily papers for Sunday warming disclosure. In one pastorate, a layman told me that one of my predecessors could not preach till he got the latest from Maggie Jiggs. He was a “regular fellow”, such as no man who knows him would call in to pray with him in his last hours. He was great on golf. I can see no particular reason why a minister should not play golf unless it be that his vocabulary is usually inadequate to the best success at the sport. (I am thinking of Dr. Overstreet- [text inconsistent])
But to get back-Brethren, there must be times when we go aside & shut ourselves in for definite preparation for that which we feel is over real work – the preaching of the word. This is specific duty. There is a sacred influence which comes to our aid as we approach this preparation. We must realize that we are face to face with our people, thinking of their conditions & meditating on what is appropriate for the coming Sabbath.
We are no longer busy with the crowd outside. Here we realize as to no other time, our high vocation. Here our spiritual nature is most alive to spiritual truth. This does not involve, of course the exclusion spontaneity. At times the subject and the thought flash upon the mind with special vigor, so that in a brief space the whole outline and range of thought and application rise up in the mind with wonderful vitality. Again, it comes hard. Our homiletical skill is taken to the utmost and we feel that we are going to make a complete failure. But the people will probably tell us that that effort was one of our very best. Though we left our study, with everything looking fuzzy, our study was after all to some definite end. When we faced the people, our minds demonstrated a basal, hidden loyalty to the truth that was so dim in the house of study in preparation. May I hold to our proper vocabulary and say that the Spirit helped our infirmities in that selfsame hour?
Dr. Aked read everything possible on his subject, made an outline, and spoke extemporaneously. (?) Bishop Edwin Holt Hughes is an extemporaneous writer. He advises that young ever, especially, write the sermon in full and commit to memory. What should be the plan when we shut ourselves in, I must not presume to say. But it is essential that our general outline of work include adequate time for this preparation to meet the people.
And then we need to be on guard lest we fall from grace. Method in our ministerial life must include the development of our own personal spiritual life. The graces as well as the virtues need culture. We must have time for religious meditation and devotional study of the ward. We must watch our own spiritual experiences. The spiritual life needs constant culture lest it dwindle and die. The methods of this culture are the well-known means of grace for those of our flocks: The study of the Ward and prayer, private and social. Chiefly the spiritual life is cultivated by prayer. Prayer is the root out of which it grows. In communion with the Father we find our richest spiritual nurture. But prayer and the study of the Ward cannot be dissociated. By these dual graces we feed upon the vitamins of the gospel until they develop in us and through us into the fullness of spiritual experience.
Then, there is involved in our subject not only this budgeting of our time for our daily and weekly service and personal development, but also that program for the year, or for the years to which we commit ourselves and our people, and toward which we press in further justification of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Do not let Ezekiel get away from you. Keep close to him. He has a message for you. Understand his situation and realized what he undertook to do, and you will come into one of the great offers of religion. Ezekiel was pastor in Babylon with a parish of exiled Jews. What Isaiah and Jeremiah had seen coming had come. And Ezekiel with three thousand of his countrymen were waiting in Babylon to hear of the final destruction of Jerusalem. The news of the fall of the city came about midway in Ezekiel’s ministry. After this event, we can see a difference in his approach to the people. This is natural. And in his appeal to the minds of his parishioners he gave utterance to history-waking ideas and religious feeling and experience.
Since I count at this time go into all the detail of it, I would urge that you read carefully chapters 18 and 33. These chapters are the key to Ezekiel. In the 18th chapter we find the prophet meeting a question that was beginning to take form in the minds of these exiles. They were being punished, they feared, for the sins of their fathers while others escaped. It is a weakness of human nature to blame others for our sufferings. Brought upon the theology of the guilt and punishment of the notion as a whole, they even questioned the justice of God. Ezekiel met this despair and this false conception with his tremendous message of personal responsibility, and called on his stubborn brethren to forsake their evil ways so that iniquity might not be their ruin. National retribution was one thing, and individual failure was another.
In chapter 33 the message is somewhat changed. One day the news reached Ezekiel that Jerusalem, their sacred city, was smitten and in the hands of the enemy. To the far-away captives it was the crack of doom. They were firing away, stunned at the judgement that had befallen their nation. And Ezekiel, now that the worst had befallen his people and his nation, faced a very different tasks – that of helping these people get their religious bearings, and of arousing them to the heed of a deeper spiritual life, and to the power of a buoyant hope. In that dreadful time he upheld them with warnings and promises, bringing to them the one necessary message for a time of general disaster- that of personal responsibility. (This is a good suggestion for any day. Argument of prominent statesman one day last week in regard to the way out of our present depression in U.S.- a personal matter(?)). Israel was at the parting of the ways- she was turning the earner into a new day and a new relationship with God, and Ezekiel was the pioneer. You can see here the developing moral sense of the race.
Every generation- every community needs bonded watchmen. Responsibility is the word for the thing that had burned its way into the mind and the heart of Ezekiel. And he begins with the responsibility of the watchman. He likens his own task to that of a watchman on a tower whose duty is to warn the people of approaching danger. At the peril of his own life he must tell the truth, he must report what he sees. If the people heed or refuse to heed, he has delivered his own soul. I think of John Knox in Scotland – of Joseph Parker, that mighty prophet of God in England of the generation just past, who dared to say publicly that he would not speak to the King of England because he was an unclear man. I think of Briand of France today, whose course might well move him to say, as did our own Henry Clay, “I would rather be right than be President.” We have watchmen of today who guard our safety and our lives at many points: The trackwalker on railway lives. (Experience on trip to life – broken rail.); the skilled and conscientious physician, the nurse, the policemen, the parent, the statesmen, the president, the teacher in our own public schools. The minister…
Many a soldier has gone before the firing squad simply because he went to sleep. What a reminder for the teacher of a S.S. class! – Woe to the teacher who takes his job in easy, cavalier spirit! Woe to the teacher who would rather gain a point and put over some hobby than to fire those under his tuition with a zeal and an enthusiasm for personal living as that would make them to be crusaders for civic and social righteousness! Woe to the watchman who fails at his poet!
The Church is the watchman of society, and some say the church must give an account. The weakness of the sense of responsibility in the social world, the low religious life of the masses are the most serious symptoms of our day. (Church is now giving account before the people and before God. Cases of losses- Presbyterians lost more than six to our one …etc.) The one great trouble is that we of the church are too little and too timid to take responsibility. If the people of the churches would take an unequivocal stand for righteousness, they could successfully demand that every menace in social life be done away. Some are afraid for the church to take a stand. Some are too much mixed up with popular sin to feel any genuine enthusiasm in the triumph of righteousness. Would that God may by his Holy Spirit arouse and awaken the churches of our day, and the individual members, to a sense of sin and littleness and neglect and cowardice in the presence of conditions in America Today.
One trouble – the great trouble with the Jewish exiles of Ezekiel’s time was that they did not know the heart of God. They seemed to be utterly overwhelmed during those dark days. “Our transgressions and our sins are upon us,” they cried. “We have gone beyond the danger line. It seems useless to try anymore.” And then Ezekiel showed them the heart of God. It is like this: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Why will ye die?”
Turn ye from your evil ways; do something that will change your relation, that will reverse the working of spiritual laws, so that judgement can turn to mercy.” That was a harbinger of the Gospel of Christ wherein we read: “There is joy in the presence of God over one simmer that repenteth.”
The especially significant contribution of Ezekiel is that he discovered the individual. He separated him from the crowd, brought him farth and stood on his own feet. Individual rights find their sponsor in Ezekiel. Individual hope, away from the mass of men, was first pointed out by him. He held that it is within the power of every man to change his own character and so determine for himself what his lot shall be. For him there was no hereditary guilt or destiny. He held that we must not hang a man for the sins of the crowd. Ezekiel calls to individual responsibility in the face of the evils and failures of any civilization. And finally he declared an individual rescue. None of a man’s sins that he has committed shall be remembered against the one who turns from his iniquity and does what is right. – No matter what his fathers might have done. May God grant us that we may be as clear and as brave as Ezekiel.
The book of Jeremiah is read too little. It is one of the richest sources of religious feeling, thinking and living in all the N.T. It is the longest of all the prophetical writings. It comes to us from one of the most turbulent and tragic times of Judean history. Study the book of Jeremiah fully and carefully. It will pay big dividends. It is well to know that the first twenty-five chapters of the book consist mainly of the discourses of the Prophet Jeremiah. The remainder of the book, for the most part, is taken up with the narratives connected with the life and work of Jeremiah. You should know your Jeremiah.
Because of its lack of orderly arrangement Jeremiah is a very difficult book to understand, and before one can expect to understand it there must be a pretty good acquaintance made with the prophet himself. If you have access to some unabridged Bible dictionary, or to some Bible commentary, look up Jeremiah. I should be glad to accommodate anyone who is interested. But let me introduce Jeremiah. Note these things: Jeremiah Was Born about 650 BC of an aristocratic priestly family at Anathoth, a village about three miles from Jerusalem. He never married. He began to preach (prophecy) at the age of twenty-three, and continued for more than forty years till the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC), after which he was taken into Egypt, where he was probably martyred. It was his fate to be a lovely, misunderstood, intensely unpopular, bitterly hated and persecuted prophet.
His career was the stormiest and most heart breaking of all the prophets. Unfortunately for him, he was called upon to prophecy on his own people and city (or, at least he felt that way about it.) And, so thinking, he predicted the fall of Jerusalem under the Babylonians. The even advised surrender to them. This seemed treason to his countrymen- treason us all Israel. We know more about the personality of Jeremiah, we get closer to him, than to any other prophet. This is because he had a friend who wrote a biography about him. Baruch, the scribe, did for Jeremiah what Boswell did for Ben Johnson. Then, too, Jeremiah had a self-revealing temperament. He was very introspective. He is constantly searching, doubting, confessing, pleading for himself. The mystery of his pain and sorrow is always baffling him (Job). He talks about himself over and over again he lays bare his feelings. He is a man of sorrows, a man of Prayer. The first of the prophets to make intercession. The personal element in the book of Jeremiah is the distinctive thing. He is the only Prophet to say that the essence of religion is the soul’s individual relation to God. The others discuss national salvation. But in those times of national wreck Jeremiah put emphasis on the personal, inward, spiritual trust in God and obedience to his will. He is one of the noblest souls of all Hebrew history.
It is the fundamental importance in the study of Jeremiah to remember that he knew himself to be a prophet of God. The call was clear. He reminded the people anon of his call. He felt certain of his standing and of the genuineness of his message. It is interesting to compare the call of Jeremiah to that of Isaiah. Both were sincere and devout young men. Both realized the tragic condition of their country. Both heard the call. But their actions for different – probably a matter of temperament. One, at first, ready and positive; the other reluctant and afraid. But they both went because they had heard the call of God. Each carried the assurance of God’s approval – of God’s credentials as he went forth to speak his unwelcome message in the face of an unbelieving people. Each felt the urge that he dared not refuse no matter what came. A prophet is one who has something he must say, a mere speaker is one who must say something!
So often the truth hurts. These Judeans didn’t like either the diagnosis or the prescription. Jeremiah had rebuked them for their sins without regard to their standing among their fellows. He had pointed out the supreme importance of morality and spirituality. He had had the authority to declare that their sacrifices and offerings in their Temple would not save their city or their Temple from the wrath of Jehovah. The one possible way out for them- priest and people and King- the one and only way out under heaven was to respect and amend their ways. This was too much. The king and the priests and the people were furious. To prophesy on the sacred city of Jerusalem, on their Temple, was treason! Jeremiah had a mob on his hands – A mob that shouted that he should die. (It sounds familiar). It is so easy, you know, to answer truth by cutting off her head. Instead of pulling out the fire, hang the man who turned in the alarm! They missed the truth on account of their resentment of the thing. It hurt. The truth, you see, didn’t miss them.
God cannot use timid souls in any crisis, or epochal period of human history. At no time, in no place can God use timid men and women to any real advantage. It was according to the wisdom of God, the Eternal, that Gideon sent determined soldiers home before his notable battle on enemies of Israel. An uncertain and timid soldier is useless. Put a coward in the shoes of a prophet? Worse yet, when a prophet speaks from full truth he must have something inside of him that can stand a bombardment. Jeremiah showed that he had that something when he said, “God sent me.” he was no fanatic seeking martyrdom. His words were to paraphrase them; I am in your hands. Do with me as you will. But be careful what you do with the truth. It is rather explosive. The fact remains that reformation is your only hope.” The only thing you can do with a man like that is to rough-handle him. Get him out of the way somehow. His presence will prove embarrassing in almost any community.
The people of Jeremiah’s day needed a cure for their prejudice and passion. They found that cure in some honest thinking and then the recalling of a little history. Integrity and sincerity are always sure to affect somebody. There were some of the people present who thought it over. Here was a God-sent man, and when society assails its God-sent man, society puts out its own eyes. “This man is not worthy of death,” they said, and then some elders remembered a little history. They remembered other prophets- and hung their heads. They remembered the warning words of Micah and the good sense of Hezekiah. History is full of warnings as cutting off the tallest heads and biggest brains, piercing the truest hearts. Before cutting off the reformer’s head and burning his bones, better read history. It was history that sobered them. And so Jeremiah lived to prophecy another day.
Let us speak about Matthew 22: 11. This text is full of wisdom. It establishes the limits, regulates the rights, and defines the jurisdiction of the two empires of the heaven and earth.
What do I owe to Caesar? That which is Caesar’s. What is it that belongs to Caesar? (1) Honor. (2) Obedience. (3) Tribute.
The duties, needs and responsibilities of the American citizen can be properly understood as we study them in the light of the past, and in connection with our present great institutions.
Someone has said that the U.S. is the embodiment and vehicle of a divine purpose to emancipate the human race. Th providential indications in the beginning of our history are, to the serious student unmistakable.
In the study of our history we need to consider the conditions prevailing on the continent of Europe prior to the discovery of America. For centuries Church and State had combined to control the temporal and spiritual affairs of men. Rulers were oppressive, and ecclesiastical sway over the minds of men was supreme. Indulgences were peddled by the servants of the Church until all decent people were horrified. This continued until the 16th century, when Martin Luther, prepared of God for this very occasion, stood forth the colossal figure of the age, – the hero of the Reformation.
Before the seeds of the Reformation were sown on the continent of Europe, Columbus had been strongly impressed, and doubtless divinely led, to press his ideas before different sovereigns of Europe through weary years until he was provided with the necessary equipment to cross unknown seas to this Western World where the seeds of the Reformation were to yield their greatest harvest.
The Declaration of Independence, nearly three centuries after the discovery of America, showed the world what America was discovered for. Individual men of genius had prophesied it many years before, but their forecast was considered only an idle dream, until in a day, as it were, the reality was born.
But there is nothing sudden in history. One great historian has said: “All of Church history from the nailing of the ninety-five theses on the door at Wittenberg, and all of English history from the wresting of Magna Charta from King John by the Barons, and countless other influences traceable to the Gospel of Him who came to make men free, entered into the Declaration of Independence, and were necessary to the production of that matchless document.”
Of the struggles of our forefathers in all the wars which they had to wage in order that a government “By the people and for the people” might be established, and then that it might not perish from the earth, we may not speak at length; but in these wars, much blood was shed – blood more precious than any other except that which flowed on Calvary. He who believes that the hand of God is manifested in the affairs of nations cannot fail to see that the “God of Battles” fought for America in all these struggles.
Thus our freedom has been achieved under the blessing of Almighty God. In a brief span of years great institutions for the amelioration of our people have been established, – institutions such as earth never saw before. The work of attaining this freedom and of establishing these great institutions is accomplished. They are ours under the solemn obligation that we will preserve, exalt, and extend them. And as honor and gratitude have been to those who have attained, so shall honor and gratitude be to those who maintain, develop and extend our noble institutions.
With this country’s birthday individual was first enabled to claim his sovereignty. In this country there is no king to talk of “my affairs,” but even the poorest citizen may speak of “our affairs.” This is the only country where a poor boy, lying upon his bed of straw in the garret, going to sleep gazing between the rafters and the stars, may dream of being President and realize his dream. Here the achievements of men are limited only by their capacity and their ambition. Here men enjoy a hitherto unprecedented condition of social, political and religious liberty.
If such is our goodly heritage, if the great institutions of our country of ours to maintain, develop and extend, if here the individual citizen may claim his sovereignty, what a responsibility rests upon the individual citizen!
If our country and its vastness, with its manifold offices and institutions, and their meaning were spread in panorama before the multitudes they would unanimously exclaim, ” What responsibility rests upon the people of this country!” But as we thus study the responsibility of the whole body politic, there comes to each individual a personal appeal: “If you are not willing to bear your part in making our country what it ought to be, what right have you to expect that any other man will bear his part?”
The theory of American institutions is that in every community, each citizen, high or low, rich or poor, has an equal right to think and speak and act his own convictions upon every measure originating among, and interesting us as a people. The proper development of our institutions demands the full exercise of this right. But since we have not much reason to concern ourselves about foreign foes, our energies have been directed to the development of material resources. Great fortunes have been amassed, fortunes unequaled in any other part of this world’s history. Institutions of learning and charitable institutions have been endowed; the national government has been strengthened, and our outward progress tells of achievements unparalleled. But we have placed too much emphasis upon institutions and not enough upon the individual. (?) Standards of emulation other than patriotism and public spirit have been set up, and the ordinary citizen, on whom the welfare of the State depends, has been lost in the moving mass, and allowed selfish interests of whatever kind to wean him from an interest in public affairs. Thus such interests have fallen into the hands of unscrupulous politicians who have handled them for personal gain. (Advancement more recently– We are finding ourselves.)
Each individual citizen needs to realize that he has a duty in politics. And then this duty is studied in the light of the divine plan in establishing our government, and in the light of the struggles of our forefathers, what sacredness clusters around the ballot-box in this country! Let a man appreciate the dignity of his manhood, and the right of suffrage in our great common wealth, and he will no longer barter his vote for gold or for favors, nor will he be indifferent as to what kind of men are in office or what principles prevail in government.
But I am aware that the ordinary citizen can hardly understand his exalted position, or rise to an appreciation of the importance of great and permanent national policies. Now, if the ordinary citizen does not rise to the proper conception of his country’s need, and of his individual responsibility, then either by expressed consent or by manifest indifference must he delegate to another the God-given right to make a decision for himself. In precinct and country, in city, and state, is the few who do the thinking, and dictate the policies of the people. “What the great ones do the less will prattle of.” Realizing this I plead for a more intelligent citizenship and a larger manhood. The individual citizen must see, not only a great responsibility resting on the country as a whole, but must know his personal responsibility as an individual citizen of this country. [text inconsistent]
Under the American ideal the individual citizen, with proper deference to the opinions and wishes of his fellow-citizens is in duty bound to give his voice and his vote to no measure and to no man which has not the approval of judgement and of conscience. This ideal does not admit selfishness. The citizen must seek the large and permanent interests of the community and the nation and of the race.
Since the general government may not safely interfere with the immunities and sufficiency of the citizen, our political system must feel the strain very greatly unless the individual citizen be developed so that he shall understand his privileges and his duties in politics (Can’t trust associated press).
We do not need to urge the American citizen to be patriotic in the ordinary acceptation of that term. In every emergency, he has offered his life for his country. But we have been inclined to limit too much the sphere of true patriotism. Not merely on the field of battle or in the political arena is manifested true love of one’s country. If the American citizen has a duty in war and in politics, he has a duty in common life as well. And this duty is to stand in opposition to everything that is a menace to his community and to be a positive factor for good. And in this call for service at home there is mingled the voice of our highest manhood. The true test of government is the citizen produced. If our outward progress and development are not an expression of the inner life of our people, our greatness, our glory must be as transient as the mists of the morning. If Americans are to prove America’s greatness, then he is the truest patriot who is engaged and bettering our civilization by the improvement of himself, his home, his community, and all whom his influence may reach. (Apply all this to the fight against the liquor traffic_ for there is a liquor traffic still.) Ships dry?
The Church must be in politics, not partisan. There has developed in this country a surprising disposition to make game of government and law, to regard a political campaign as just another sporting event, or a debate in Congress as just another row, and a court trial as just another contest. The primary object of all- protection, justice, order, improved living conditions- is being lost sight of through excitement over who wins and who loses. Instead of accepting politics as good only in so far as it makes for better government, there is a growing tendency to accept it as just another form of entertainment to be rated by the pathos and humor it contains. Take the case of Texas when she had debarred from the governorship Mr. Ferguson… “Ma Ferguson” put in his place. She had little or no qualification for the place except to do the bidding of her discredited husband. Take the case of John L. Duval, mayor of Indianapolis. After he had been convicted of violating the Indiana Corrupt Practices Act, which carries a sentence of thirty days and a fine of $1000, and debarment from public office for four years, he appointed his wife Controller of the city, so that she could succeed him if he were removed from office or decided to resign. He had to demote the chief of detectives in order to make a soft place for the former Controller, and forced the latter’s resignation in order to make room for his wife. You just wonder where we are going when a discredited public official can juggle public affairs in this way.
A public official, though in jail and though prohibited from holding any kind of office whatever, still dominating the administration of a great City. And myriads of people laugh, as though it were a joke, as though there were nothing more serious involved than just to get a little fun out of it. “The right of free citizens to make laws through their accredited representatives pre-supposes the duty of every citizen to obey the laws has enacted.” (?) We have in our day undertaken some much-needed reforms. In fact, we are living in a great reform period. We have put upon our statues and written into our Constitution some of the most constructive legislation that has ever been put into law since time began. There are some who honestly believe that we are wrong and writing these last amendments into the Federal Constitution. But for the most part the opposition seems to come from those who are profiting, or rather from those who formerly profited, from the sale of intoxicating liquors as a beverage, and from those whose appetite in whatever way has been hindered by the outlawing of the beverage liquor traffic and the enlarged freedom of womankind.
A considerable portion of our Associated Press is aiding and abetting crime in the U.S. by constantly keeping in the minds of the people the preachment that we cannot enforce over laws. If these same editors would spend half the time urging the people to obey the established laws, our law-enforcement problem would speedily be solved. I wish that I could say to all such this day that they are undesirable citizens. I believe in free speech. But when we have in regular procedure enacted law it is the duty of everyone, high and low, rich and poor, to obey the law by precept and by example. The aforesaid editors are simply inciting to rebellion. It is no test of a man’s patriotism when he obeys the law which he personally likes. No man can claim to be patriotic unless he obeys the laws which he does not like. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen to try by constitutional means to cause any law which he does not like to be repealed. But it is quite a different matter when we have organized resistance to the laws which have been written into the Constitution in the manner prescribed by the Constitution itself. (” It was put over on the boys while they were away fighting for human freedom.”)
What our flag has cost- What our flag symbolizes, stand up, when you see “Old Glory” unfurled. Let no one insult our flag. But let us see to it that we seek to make our country worthy of our sires and worthy of our best traditions and worthy of our fondest dreams.
Mr. Guest admits in this article that he had written so many poems about the Fourth of July that he had exhausted his ammunition. Yet he was able to glimpse a new idea when his mind turned to his son, Bud, and he went over the whole list of virtues to pick out just one which he could wish for the kid. And here is how he sums it up:
“Out of a clear sky, my wish came to me with lightning-like clearness. If I could have only one wish for my boy, I said to myself, what is this: That all his life he should love his country… The wish I made that day still stands. If my boy does his best as an American citizen, I shall have no fears for him.”
Maybe encroach further upon Mr. Guest’s marvelous pen by reprinting one of his best poems, seems to fit in with his Fourth of July thought:
“There will always be something to do, my boy,
There will always be wrongs to right;
There will always be need for a manly breed
And men unafraid to fight.
There will always be honor to guard, my boy,
There will always be hills to climb,
And tasks to do, and battles new
From now till the end of time.
“There will always be dangers to face, my boy,
There will always be goals to take;
Men shall be tried, when the roads divide,
And proven by the choice they make.
There will always be burdens to bear, my boy;
There will always be need to pray;
There will always be tears through the future years,
As loved ones are borne away.
“There will always be God to serve, my boy,
And always Flag above;
There shall come to you until life is through
For courage and strength and love;
So these are things that I dream, my boy,
And have dreamed since your life began;
That whatever befalls, when the old world calls,
It shall find you a study man.
No man can divide the destiny of our country. There is no prophet to draw aside the curtain of the future and tell us what is coming to weal or woe. What our country is to be depends entirely, on the human side, on the individual citizen. We have not reached the goal. Our generation will not reach the goal. But every Fourth of July sees it a little nearer. If the individual citizen is true to his sacred trust, when generation after generation shall have passed away, and the coming ages of the far distant future shall have contributed to our noble institutions their beauty and their glory and their strength, our national airs shall then be nobler sweeter strains, and
“The Star Spangled Banner still shall wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave.”