The Teachings of Jesus

By Harris Franklin Rall

Chapter 14


We have studied the law of brotherhood so far as it applies to individual relations. Now we face larger and more difficult questions. What does this law mean for our social problems? Here are three outstanding questions of our time: industrial justice, race prejudice, and war. Has Jesus any answer for these matters? In this chapter we inquire what his message is for the nations and concerning war.

Some Objections

Is There One Law for Individuals and Nations?—There are those who declare at the outset that the law for individuals cannot apply to the nations. The nation must demand love and loyalty, service and sacrifice from each individual. But the nation itself is above such law; its duty is to assert itself against all others and for its own people. One writer has put it thus: "Christian morality is based on the law of love. Love God above all things, and thy neighbor as thyself. This law can claim no significance for the relations of one country to another, since its application to politics would lead to a conflict of duties. The love which a man showed to another country as such would imply a want of love for his own countrymen. Such a system of politics must inevitably lead men astray. Christian morality is personal and social, and in its nature cannot be political. Its aim is to promote morality of the individual, in order to strengthen him to work unselfishly in the interests of the community."

We Cannot Be Half Christian and Half Pagan.—Such words are pagan, but unfortunately they express the principle that has actually governed most nations in the past. Two points must be made in reply. First, we cannot be half Christian and half pagan in our life. The state cannot say to the people, "You follow the Christian law of love and I will follow the pagan law of selfishness." Second: We cannot be half Christian and half pagan in our faith. If the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be not God of the whole earth, then he is no God for us at all. But if this God of love be God of all, then his law of love must rule all, and principalities and powers must own it as well as individual men.

Has Jesus Any Message on the Nation?—More serious would seem to be the fact that Jesus has no teaching about the nation or patriotism or war or international peace. That is true, nor does he discuss the problem of slavery or the woman question or the rights of labor. All this, however, does not disqualify him as guide. What we wish to know is this: Has Jesus those fundamental principles which can be applied to these questions? In our study we must not wrest the words of Jesus and give them meanings that they did not have in his mind. When Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you," and again, "I came not to bring peace, but a sword," he was not siding now with pacifist and now with militarist. But we do need to ask what his fundamental teachings about God and man mean as applied to these matters.

Some Teachings Of Jesus

One Father and One Brotherhood.—Turning to Jesus' teachings now, we do not search for any new passages but only for the larger meaning of those that we have already considered. Here is Matthew 5. 43-48. The God of all the earth is a God of good will. Good will belongs thus to the very heart of the world and underlies all its life. So it becomes the rule for all life, least and greatest, and there can be no other. Matthew 23. 8-12 applies in the same way to nations as to individuals. There is only one Master—not Mars, but Christ. There is only one Father—not of America nor of England nor of Germany, but that God who is the Father of all men equally. And there is one brotherhood—not that of fellow Americans but that of fellow men, the sons of this one Father.

The Stewardship of Nations.—In at least two passages Jesus specifically opposes the idea that a nation is a law to itself, and makes plain that the nation, like the individual, is under the law of stewardship and service. A few of the prophets of Israel had seen this great truth, and it was one of these that Jesus quoted when he drove the traders from the temple. Israel was following this law of national selfishness; she looked on the temple as her own possession, for her own use and glory. And Jesus quotes the word of the prophet: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations." We recognize the fact everywhere to-day, not only in the church but in the state, that a man's possessions are his in trust. He must use them for his family, for the state, for God. But a nation's possessions are just as truly a sacred trust. In this year of 1918, God is saying to America: You have no right to call your possessions your own. Save at your own table, and use your wheat fields to feed the world. Count your liberty not as a selfish possession, but use your strength to help democracy to live in the world, and to insure a lasting peace among men. Israel boasted of her temple and used it for herself. We are no less guilty if we boast of wealth or safety or liberty, and use these only for ourselves. Israel went down as a nation because she was not true to this trust. This also Jesus clearly declared (Matthew 21. 33-43, especially 43). Has any nation to-day the right to expect exemption from such responsibility or such retribution?

Caesar Or Christ

The Failure of Paganism.—One thing should be wholly clear to-day, and that is the failure of the pagan principles which the nations have been so largely following. These are the law of selfishness and the use of cunning and force. We have recognized the practical value of brotherhood, of peace and mutual helpfulness, among individuals. In this country we have applied it to a great federation of states, some of them comparable in size to countries like Germany, France, and Italy. But for the most part each nation has looked upon every other as rival, if not enemy, uniting in alliances only for a period until it could bring to terms some other power that it feared still more. The result has been destructive rivalries, intolerable military burdens, and at length as the natural and necessary result of it all the great world war. With the issue of the conflict still undecided, one thing is clear: whichever side will win, all sides will suffer loss. It is not simply the terrible loss of life and money. There is the harvest of the crippled, the orphaned, the widowed; the decreased birth rate, the increased death rate, even at home; the terrible growth of tuberculosis, and in some countries of typhus and cholera. Sexual immorality grows, and moral standards are lowered. Crime increases among children. Standards of living fall. Family life suffers. All the resources of men and money are drawn from the great tasks of education and social betterment and human upbuilding and devoted to the one end, of making the most effective machine for the killing of our fellow men. And after the war is done, its burdens remain for long years to keep men back from the real work of human progress. No one should close his eyes to the wonderful devotion and heroism which the war has called forth, nor to the large vision and high ideals with which leaders like President Wilson have sought to animate a people that has been forced into conflict and is fighting for a righteous cause. There are many benefits, too, for which we are not directly fighting, that will come from the great struggle. But all this must not blind us to the terrible meaning of war itself, nor make us forget that our one great object is to destroy war itself. For it is the spirit of militarism, the confidence in war and the glorification of war, which has plunged the world into this tragedy, and it is that pagan spirit that must be defeated and destroyed before we can have a world of righteousness and peace.

The World Is One.—Meanwhile there has been another tendency at work. Brotherhood is not merely a command of God. It is a principle which is grounded in the very nature of life. The life of the world is one, and the farther we progress the more clear does that become. No nation lives to itself. That is true in material matters. It is folly to think that one nation can profit permanently by the injury of others. In higher realms it is even more true. Religion, art, letters, science, these know no national borders. They belong to one world, and are for the good of all. The law of strife brings a temporary advantage to the strong or fortunate. The savage may kill Ms neighbor and take the other's weapon and booty, but the richer life of man has come only as men have learned to work together. We have worked out the problem of peace and common interest and cooperation within the community and the nation; we must now work it out in the company of the nations. The nations have tried Caesar, they must now turn to Christ.

The New Nationalism

New Ideals and Old.—What does this mean for America? It means first of all a new nationalism. The old nationalism said, "Our country, right or wrong." The new nationalism says, "Our country, may she always be right; but if she be not right, then let us serve her by helping to right her." We have rightly demanded from foreigners who come to our shores an undivided allegiance, but we have sometimes forgotten our own duty to give them an America that will be deserving of honor as well as of obedience. We must make an America that shall command the respect of these and of all men, that shall be pure in its politics, just and human in its industrial life, and that shall put the power of government at the service of the common man.

The New Patriotism.—Such a nationalism will demand a larger patriotism than before. Across the seas the great war has brought such an outburst of devotion as the world has never witnessed before. Millions of men have adventured their lives at the call of country. Again and again they have flung themselves by thousands into conflicts from which they knew that only a fraction could return. And now American soldiers are crossing the seas. We have patriotism for time of war, will we show it in time of peace? The enemy is still in our midst. We are fighting for democracy and liberty across the seas, but we have not yet fully established them in our own land. Industrial injustice on the one side, violence and murder on the other, race riots and bloodshed, political corruption, these are a standing challenge to the new patriotism. What a new land we could make if we could command for days of peace the unity and enthusiasm and unselfish devotion which the days of war are calling forth!

The New Internationalism

Our Relation to Weaker Nations.—What do these principles of fatherhood, brotherhood, and national stewardship demand of us in our relation to other nations? Certainly a new internationalism, and first of all in relation to weaker peoples. Toward such three policies are possible: we may use them for our advantage, we may let them alone, or we may protect and serve them. Our past record is not without stain; we need only recall our early relations with Mexico and our treatment of the Indian. The third policy is the only Christian one and is avowedly ours to-day. Whether we stay in the Philippines, for example, must be determined not by our desire for national profit or our unwillingness to assume responsibility, but by the question of the welfare of the Filipinos.

The International Mind.—In respect to other nations, also, the same principle of brotherhood must govern us. The first need is not that of a policy, but a spirit, the "international mind." That mind Jesus must give us. We must listen to him again as he says, "One is your Father"; "all ye are brethren." We must see that that which unites us as men is far greater than that which divides us as nations. He must purify us from every trace of bitterness and scorn toward other peoples; and he must deliver us from the selfishness that cannot see beyond its own borders.

Negative Virtue Not Enough.—Nor can the nation be content with a merely negative attitude. There are not a few people whose creed is summed up by saying, "Let us keep away from everybody, that we may keep out of war." Now, this nation does not desire war with anyone, and the mass of its people have good will for all. But brotherhood is not isolation, even if we could avert all peril of war in this way. There are other evils besides war. There are other obligations upon a Christian nation than merely that of saving itself. True peace can come only with righteousness, and righteousness and peace will come only as the great nations of the earth move beyond the stage of selfish aggression or selfish indifference to a positive cooperation for common ends. And one of the first ends of such common effort must be the guarding of the weak and helpless against the exploitation of the strong.

Christianity And War

May a Christian Nation Use Force?—Is it ever right for a Christian nation to bear arms? Is it ever right for a nation to use force? Can there be such a thing as a Christian war? There are really two questions involved, and they are quite different. The first is a question of principle: What is Jesus' rule of life? The second is a question of practice: How shall we apply it? Now, Jesus has but one rule of life for nations as for men, and that is the rule of love; a Christian nation, like a Christian man, must always show this spirit. Our problem lies in the second question: Does the practice of love ever demand or permit the use of force? The answer to this may best be given in the following propositions.

1. Sometimes force must be used with individuals for their own sake as well as for the sake of others. A child must be kept back from the fire, an insane man must be guarded in an asylum, a criminal in a jail. A man might need to strike down another in order to protect child or woman against drunken frenzy or lust. In all such cases the individual restrained is not a full moral personality, and cannot be dealt with purely on the plane of reason. He is, however, still a personal being, and we must follow even here the principle of good will.

2. There may be among nations also, as among individuals, the submoral or imperfectly developed. They may be backward races, or those misled by wrong leaders or wrong ideals. So long as such are present, rational means may sometimes fail, and a state may need to use force in self-defense or in aid of others.

3. There is grave danger in the use of such force and, indeed, in its possession. Nations may be like bullies, imposing upon others simply because they have big fists. The cure for this in each case is not to lay aside the instrument of power, but to gain that spirit and that moral strength that will cause the power to be rightly used. It is exactly the same kind of temptation that assails individual men because they have power (for example, in the industrial world), or that comes with wealth, as Jesus so often pointed out

4. Side by side with military preparation must go another and higher preparation. Here is the task of church and school in particular. We must develop in our people a spirit of love and good will toward others, a broad understanding, a passion for righteousness. We must seek deliverance from all hatred and prejudice, from false ideals of national glory, from all desire for conquest. Side by side we must cultivate a national mind that is Christian in spirit and ideals, and an international mind that is big enough to care for the weal of other peoples and strong enough to insist that our own land shall always stand for the right.

5. The use of force is always provisional and temporary. It marks a lower stage. It is to be used as little as possible, and to be given up as soon as possible. We may have to shut up a criminal by force, but the real work of making

a man of him must be done by moral influences. The new life of the world, in which the nations shall dwell in peace and righteousness, in which the welfare of each shall be the concern of all, will come not by armies and navies, but by a growing spirit of good will and righteousness.

Directions For Study

Read the Scripture references: Matthew 5. 43-48; Mark 11. 15-18; Matthew 23. 8-12; 21. 33-43.

Review Jesus' teaching about brotherhood, noting carefully the different principles that have been discussed as involved in this.

Now consider the objections applying to the use of the rule of brotherhood for the nations. There are others that will easily occur to you. Do not some of these rest upon the misconception that regard for others means having no regard for yourself, or that love is a blind rule to be used without reason?

Taking Jesus' principles one by one, ask yourself what they would mean for this country in relation to others. Remember that men may share the same Christian principles and yet differ widely when it comes to application in definite policies.

Finally, consider what Jesus' principles suggest as regards a right ideal of our own nation and our relation to it.