The Right Social Order is the Supreme Task for Each
The perfect social order is the highest good. In so far as it is a gift of God, offered to the individual like the fertile earth and the oxygen of the air, we must appropriate it and enjoy every approximation to the perfect society. But what is the responsibility of the individual toward the achievement of the ideal social order? What task does it lay on him? How did Jesus see this problem? It is finely stated in the words with which Emile de Laveleye closes his book |Sur la propriete|: |There is a social order which is the best. Necessarily it is not always the present order. Else why should we seek to change the latter? But it is that order which ought to exist to realize the greatest good for humanity. God knows it and wills it. It is for man to discover and establish it.|
What, then, is the responsibility of the individual with regard to the achievement of this highest good?
First Day: The Kingdom of Hard Work
For it is as when a man, going into another country, called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his several ability; and he went on his journey. Straightway he that received the five talents went and traded with them, and made other five talents. In like manner he also that received the two gained other two. But he that received the one went away and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. Now after a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a reckoning with them. And he that received the five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: lo, I have gained other five talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that received the two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: lo, I have gained other two talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where thou didst not scatter; and I was afraid, and went away and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, thou hast thine own. But his lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I did not scatter; thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back mine own with interest. Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath the ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away. And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. -- Matt.25:14-30.
Evidently the sympathy of Jesus was with the two men who hustled, and not with the fellow who took it out in growling and blaming the boss. Jesus would have agreed to the proposition that to live an unproductive life is one of the cardinal sins. Evolution and Christianity agree on that. This exhortation to do good work was given when Jesus was looking forward to his death and his absence. He would leave the Kingdom of God as an unfinished task. He wanted his disciples to carry forward their Master's business under their own initiative when he was not there to direct them. The new conditions would throw even heavier responsibilities on them.
Can you translate this parable into terms of college life and sketch three college students as companion pieces to the three business men?
Second Day: The Call to Action
And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they left the nets, and followed him. And going on a little further, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him. -- Mark 1:16-20.
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And as Jesus passed by from thence, he saw a man, called Matthew, sitting at the place of toll: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. -- Matt.9:9.
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And as they went on the way, a certain man said unto him, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But he said unto him, Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God. And another also said, I will follow thee, Lord; but first suffer me to bid farewell to them that are at my house. But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. -- Luke 9:57-62.
The way in which Jesus called his disciples shows that he felt he had a big business in hand. It was a call to action, to conflict and loss, and there was snap in it. Leaving their boats and nets doubtless seemed a big proposition to these four fishermen; but they did it. Matthew had to give up a government job with pickings. These five rose to their chance with courageous decision, and their names are still borne by millions of boys today. The names of the other three are lost to fame. One of them gushed and Jesus cooled off his emotions. The second and third wanted to procrastinate and hid behind social obligations. Note that epigram about the ploughman. It is a splendid expression of intelligent and concentrated energy. You can't drive a straight furrow while you |rubber.| You've got to |tend to your job.|
Four of the first five are said to have died a violent death. Would they have been wiser if they had looked out for Number One?
Third Day: The Futility of Talk
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof. -- Matt.7:21-27.
Jesus evidently felt deeply the emptiness and futility of much of the religious talk. He was interested only in those emotions and professions which could get themselves translated into character and action. Words have always been the bane of religion as well as its vehicle. Religious emotion has enormous motive force, but it is the easiest thing in the world for it to sizzle away in high professions and wordy prayers. In that case it is a substitute and counterfeit, and a damage to the Reign of God among men.
How about our own religious talk?
Would it be better, then, to give up preaching and public prayer?
What has the utterance of religion done for us?
Fourth Day: This Camel Passed Through
And he entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost. -- Luke 19:1-10.
Zacchaeus was engaged in the profitable but shady business of farming the Roman taxing system in one of the richest districts of Palestine. He was a politician and business man combined, and the kind of man that is |bound to land.| Being only five feet one he had no chance amid a crowd in a narrow street watching a procession. So he climbed a tree. Imagine a corporation president climbing a telegraph post to see Jesus! This spirit of determination appealed to Jesus and he promptly made friends with him, though he well knew he would lose some more of his reputation by identifying himself with a publican. Zacchaeus proved his fitness for the Kingdom of God by parting with his accumulated graft at a single sweep. Fifty per cent of his property given away outright; the balance used to make restitution at the rate of four hundred per cent -- how much was left? Here a camel passed through the needle's eye, and Jesus stood and cheered.
At what points is the moral energy of college men and women most severely tested? Where do they meet their great spiritual decisions?
Fifth Day: Will in Prayer
And he spake a parable unto them to the end that they ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, who feared not God, and regarded not man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came oft unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her continual coming. And the Lord said, Hear what the unrighteous judge saith. And shall not God avenge his elect, that cry to him day and night, and yet he is longsuffering over them? -- Luke 18:1-7.
In most of his sayings on prayer Jesus either objected to the wordiness of prayers (Matt.6:5-13), or he demanded more will and persistence. In the story of the widow and the judge the odds were against the widow. Being only a widow she had no pull and no vote. The judge was frankly a tough case, untouched by religion and conscience, and thick-skinned as to public opinion. Yet the widow won out by sheer doggedness. Surely the mind that sketched the reiterating widow and the collapsing politician had an admiring eye for energy of action. Jesus wanted that spirit and determination put into prayer. But note that he was thinking, not of personal edification, nor of private benefits to be obtained, but of the |avenging of God's elect|; that is, of straightening out the affairs of the world so that the wrongs of the righteous would be redressed. A keen social consciousness about the condition of God's people, coupled with |hunger and thirst for justice,| can turn prayer into action.
Have we any experience of prayer concentrated on great public evils? How does that differ from prayers centering about our own interests? (See Fosdick, |The Meaning of Prayer,| Chapter X.)
Sixth Day: Twelve against the Field
And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons: freely ye received, freely give. Get you no gold; nor silver, nor brass in your purses: no wallet for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff: for the laborer is worthy of his food. And into whatsoever city or village ye shall enter, search out who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go forth.... And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.... And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. -- Matt.10:7-11, 14-15, 28a.
This whole chapter expresses with immense vitality the heroic spirit called forth by the Kingdom propaganda. Jesus sent these twelve men through the villages of Galilee to duplicate and multiply what he was doing. The natural leaders of society, the able, the educated, the powerful, were concerned in setting up their own kingdom and enslaving their fellows to serve them. So Jesus took what material he had, peasants and fishermen, and created a new leadership. He flung them against existing society, knowing well that they would have to face opposition. In fact, they were destined, one by one, to go to death for their cause. He tells them not to mind a little thing like death, but to do their work and rally the people around the idea of the Reign of God.
Can the men and women who are today trying to rebuild human society on a basis of social justice and fraternity claim any right of succession in the sending of the Twelve?
Seventh Day: Doing All, and Then Some
But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat; and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do. -- Luke 17:7-10.
Jesus often boldly took his illustrations from the facts of life even when they were repellent to him. Here he holds up the joyless life of a Syrian agricultural laborer. After plodding all day in the field, this man comes home, tired and hungry. Is he promptly cared for? No, he must first cook and serve his master's meal. Then he can eat what's left. Does he get any thanks for working overtime? Not a thank. Now, says Jesus, what this man does under the hard coercion of his lot, you and I must do of our own free will. After we have done a man's work, let us go and do some more for the sake of the cause, and disclaim praise. That spirit of utter service is, in fact, the spirit in which men work when the Kingdom vision gets hold of them. They become greedy for work and can not satisfy themselves. The strong and inspired men always feel at the end that they have not done half they ought to have done. The last words of Martin Luther, scribbled on a scrap of paper, were: |We are beggars. That's true.|
What would Jesus say to a college student who is chronically tired and who feels that he is laying his professors and his father under heavy obligation by working at all?
Study for the Week
Is it not a strange fate that down to the most recent times art has pictured Jesus all meek and gentle, and theology has emphasized his passive suffering? Yet he was high-power energy. His epigrams and hyperboles crack like a whip-lash. He was up before dawn. He always rose to the sight of human need. To do the will of his Father was meat and drink to him. His life was a combat. He faced opposition without flinching and |stedfastly set his face to go up to Jerusalem| when he knew it meant death. Even when he stood silent before the court and when he hung nailed to the gallows, he was a spiritual force in action and men were disturbed and afraid before him.
He communicated energy to others. He hated mere talk and discouraged fruitless theorizing. He praised energetic action when he found it, as in the case of Zacchaeus, and of the men who climbed the roof with a paralytic man and dug up the roofing to let him down to Jesus. He called that sort of thing |faith.| Faith, in Jesus' use of the word, did not mean shutting your eyes and folding your hands. He said it was an explosive that could remove mountains. He gave three of his disciples nicknames, and they were all given to express forcefulness; Simon he called Peter, the Rock; and James and John he called Boanerges, the sons of thunder. He sent his disciples open-eyed to face trouble; he told them the wolves were waiting for them, but to rejoice and be exceeding glad for the chance of lining up against them. Let us clear our minds forever of the idea that Jesus was a mild and innocuous person who parted his hair and beard in the middle, and turned his disciples into mollycoddles. Away with it!
Though the spirit of Jesus has never had more than half a chance in historic Christianity, yet it is demonstrable that the total efficiency of humanity, the bulk of work done, and the capacity for heroic tension of energies have been greatly increased by it. Taking it on the smallest scale -- every real conversion means a break with debasing habits, with alcoholism, with the waste of sexual energies; it means more self-control, more responsiveness to duty, more capacity to take a long outlook, and consequently better work. We can observe this in ourselves and others. We still need the coercion of stern necessity and of public opinion to keep us straight, but an inward compulsion is added. A Christian carries his policeman around inside of him. Where Christianity gets a really firm hold on men or women, especially if there is a basis of natural ability, it pushes them on to lead in moral movements and they break away for human progress.
When Christianity multiplies such cases, and makes soberness, duty, and hard work the habit of entire communities, we have a social fact of first-class importance; for the human animal is naturally lazy, sluggish, and inclined to live for today. The capacity to subordinate immediate gratification for a future good is scarce; the capacity to subordinate selfish advantage to a great common and moral good is scarcer still.
We can see this force working on a larger scale on the foreign mission field where Christianity is a new social energy. There it is easier to disentangle it from other social forces. What are the comparative results when it gets a lodgment in a single social class or tribal group? This question will bear watching during the next fifty years. The full social results of Christianity will not show till the third generation.
We get another demonstration of increased working efficiency in humanity wherever Christianity has passed through an internal purification which has set free more of its spiritual energies. What, for instance, has been the historic connection between the development of capitalistic industry in Holland, England, and France, and the sober and frugal piety and patient laboriousness created in the Calvinists of Holland, the Puritans of England, and the Huguenots of France?
The contributions made by Christianity to the working efficiency and the constructive social abilities of humanity in the past have been mainly indirect. The main aim set before Christians was to save their souls from eternal woe, to have communion with God now and hereafter, and to live God-fearing lives. It was individualistic religion, concentrated on the life to come. Its social effectiveness was largely a by-product. What, now, would have been the result if Christianity had placed an equally strong emphasis on the Kingdom of God, the ideal social order? Other things being equal, a Christian father and mother are better parents than others because they have more sense of duty, more love, and a higher valuation of spiritual things. But if, in addition, they have a religious desire for a higher social order and realize that noble children are a splendid contribution to it, how will that affect their parenthood? A teacher, artist, or scientist who is also a religious man, will do conscientious work if he works under the motives of individualistic religion. But if he has a vision of the Kingdom of God on earth and sees the contributions he can make to it, will not that raise the character of his output? A business man of strong Christian character will work hard, keep his word in business, and deal fairly with employes and customers. But would not a new direction be given to his moral energies if his religion taught him that he must help to shape the workings of industry and trade so that hereafter there will be no fundamental clash between business and the morals of Christianity?
What the world of Christian men and women needs is to have a great social objective set before them and laid on their conscience with the authority of religion. Then religion would get behind social evolution in earnest.
This would be no new and foreign element imported into our religion. It would be a modern revival of the doctrine of Jesus himself, which has been too long submerged and neglected. One chief reason why it was side-tracked is that no despotic State and no society dominated by a predatory class ever wanted religion applied to a reconstruction of the social order. The idea of the Kingdom of God reawoke with the rise of modern democracy. Now is the time for it.
The idea of the Kingdom of God is not identified with any special social theory. It means justice, freedom, fraternity, labor, joy. Let each social system and movement show us what it can contribute and we will weigh its claims. We want the old ideal defined in modern terms, in the terms of modern democracy, of the power machine, of international peace, and of evolutionary science. But we want to embrace it with the old religious faith and ardor, so that we can pray over it.
This great task of establishing a righteous social life on earth embraces all minor tasks in so far as they are good. The mother who tries to make a good home, the farmer who feeds the people, the teacher who trains them, the scientist who gets the facts for all, the merchant, the workingman, the artist, the leader in play -- they are all contributing to the Kingdom, provided they view their work so, and are trying to put an evolutionary plus into it which will lift the total nearer to the divine will. The Kingdom is the supreme task, and all small tasks are part of it. That gives every man a place in it who works -- where is the idler's place in it? -- and it hallows all good work with religious glory.
It may seem as if this social aim of religion may depreciate the aim of developing our own personality and of saving our souls. It ought not. Sometimes it does for a time. But we are each so enormously important to ourselves that we are not likely to forget ourselves, and the practical struggle with temptation and sorrow will teach us to seek strength for our personal needs from Christ. In time we shall learn to say with Jesus, |For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified.| In time surrender to the Kingdom ideal, toil for it, self-denial for it, cooperation with others for it, will have the strongest kind of reactions on ourselves and our moral fiber. Gymnasium work is all right, but real work in the open is better. We are most durably saved by putting in hard work for the Kingdom of God.
In every great task a religious man is consciously thrown back on the aid of God -- most of all in the greatest task of all. Eternal powers are cooperating with our puny efforts. That alone guarantees that our work is not wasted. We plant and water, but unless God's sun shines upon it, our work is nothing. He is a fool that is not reverent and humble. We sorely need this faith in the collaboration and patience of God today when so much of the best spiritual achievement of mankind is swept away, and we seem far away from a kingdom of love. |As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.|
Here, then, we have another social principle of Jesus. A collective moral ideal is a necessity for the individual and the race. Every man must have a conscious determination to help in his own place to work out a righteous social order for and with God. The race must increasingly turn its own evolution into a conscious process. It owes that duty to itself and to God who seeks an habitation in it. It must seek to realize its divine destiny. |Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven!| This is the conscious evolutionary program of Jesus. It combines religion, social science, and ethical action in a perfect synthesis.
What has this to say to students? Everything, it seems.
First, whatever is to be our particular job, we must relate it to the supreme common task at which God and all good men are working. Unless we see and assert that relation, we are mere day-laborers or slaves, with neither intelligence nor enthusiasm.
Second, anyone who, instead of loyally relating his life-work to God's work, pursues his own ambition at the expense of the Kingdom and damages it to make profit for himself, is like a man who takes pay to damage his country. He makes the work harder for all who are more faithful than he, and their blood will be upon him.
Third, |noblesse oblige.| If we belong to the republic of learning and education, something extra is justly due from us. Here, for instance, is the evangelization of the world in this generation. An organization has been created to accomplish it. Heroic pioneers have died, preparing the way for larger forces. Is our life fit and good enough to put into that? Here is the Christianization of the social order in the next two generations. What have all our social studies been for in the design of God? To fit ourselves for exploiting our fellows or to show them the way to the Kingdom of God?
Suggestions for Thought and Discussion
I. Our Untapped Reserves
1. How far is a person who produces nothing, of use to the community? Is increase of productive efficiency the test of progress?
2. Does religion help to call out reserves of energy in human nature?
II. The Energy of Jesus
1. How far did Jesus give evidence of audacity and high power energy? Has the Christian Church realized this? How about the portrayals of him in art?
2. Furnish evidence that Jesus demanded sincere work. How was this connected with the Kingdom of God in his mind?
3. Give proof that he demanded heroism of his followers as a commonplace thing.
4. How did this temper affect his view of prayer?
III. Christianity and Work
1. Has Christianity ever promoted idleness? If so, what type of Christianity was it?
2. Taken as a whole has Christianity increased the amount of work done, or lessened it? Give historical proof.
3. Would it raise the economic efficiency of an African tribe to become Christians? Would it raise the efficiency of the Mexican people if they adopted a purer type of Christianity? How?
4. Where is the idler's place in the Kingdom of God?
IV. The Reenforcement of Christianity by the Kingdom Ideal
1. Is a call to be converted a call to enjoy spiritual peace or to exert spiritual energy?
2. How has the idea arisen that Christianity is a |dope| to make people contented amid wrong conditions?
3. How would the Kingdom faith give religious quality to the plain man's job?
4. Other things being equal, has a religious man more or less fighting energy against wrong than a non-religious man?
5. If a man passes from an individualistic to a social conception of religion, what change will it make in moral action?
6. To what extent is the enterprise of the Kingdom of God a dynamic expression of accepted sociological principles?
7. What is the special obligation of college men and women to the Kingdom of God?
V. For Special Discussion
1. Is the Kingdom of God to be brought about by an act of God in the future or by the work of men in the present? Does the one exclude the other?
2. Does our social order call out the full energy and intelligence of the working people?
3. Can an overworked and underpaid workman feel that he is working for the Kingdom of God?
4. Does the Kingdom of God necessarily involve elements of social readjustment and change?
5. Would a predatory governing class in the past have allowed the preaching of a social conception of the Kingdom of God?