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The Social Principles Of Jesus by Walter Rauschenbusch

Chapter X. The Conflict With Evil

The Kingdom of God Will Have to Fight for Its Advance

The great objective is the Kingdom of God. In realizing the Reign of God on earth three recalcitrant forces have to be brought into obedience to God's law: the desire for power, the love of property, and unsocial religion. We have studied Christ's thought concerning these in the foregoing chapters. The advance of the Kingdom of God is not simply a process of social education, but a conflict with hostile forces which resist, neutralize, and defy whatever works toward the true social order. The strategy of the Kingdom of God, therefore, involves a study of the social problem of evil.


First Day: The Consciousness of Sin in the Lord's Prayer

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. -- Matt.6:12, 13.

The Lord's Prayer expresses the very mind and spirit of the Master. It begins with the Kingdom of God; it ends with the problem of sin. As we stand before God, we realize that we have loaded up our life with debts we can never pay. We have wasted our time, and the powers of body and soul. We have left black marks of contagion on some whose path we have crossed. We have hurt even those who loved us by our ill-temper, thoughtlessness, and selfishness.

We can only ask God to forgive and give us another chance: |Forgive us our debts.| Looking forward we see the possibility of fatal temptations. We know how fragile our power of resistance is. |Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.| Thus the consciousness of sin is written across this greatest of all prayers.

Is a sense of unworthiness an indication of moral strength or of weakness?

Where do we draw the line between a normal and abnormal sense of sin?

Second Day: Evil Embodied in Character

Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by its fruit. Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things: and the evil man out of his evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. -- Matt.12:33-37.

Character is formed by action, but after it is formed, it determines action. What a man says and does, he becomes; and what he has become, he says and does. An honest and clean-minded man instinctively does what is kind and honorable. But when a man for years has gone for profit and selfish power, you can trust him as a general thing to do what is underhanded and mean. Since selfish ability elbows its way to controlling positions in business, politics, and society, the character reactions of such men are a force with which the Kingdom of God must reckon. They are the personal equipment of the kingdom of evil, and the more respectable, well-dressed, and clever they are, the worse it is.

What man or woman of our acquaintance would we single out as the clearest case of an evil character?

Why do we so judge him?

Third Day: The Social Pressure of Evil

And he said unto his disciples, It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come; but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble. -- Luke 17:1, 2.

A sex story lodging in a young mind, an invitation to companionship and a drink, a sneer at religion which makes faith look silly -- such things trip us up. They are stumbling-blocks, like wires stretched across a path in the dark. Just because we are social and easily influenced by friendship, admiration, or persuasion, one man's suggestion or example draws the other man on. Jesus knew that social solicitation and pressure toward sin was inevitable. It is the price we pay for our social nature. But, all the same, it is a terrible thing to contaminate a soul or steer a life toward its ruin. This saying about the millstone is one of the sternest words ever uttered.

|Three men went out one summer night, No care they had or aim, And dined and drank. |Ere we go home We'll have,| they said, |a game.|

Three girls began that summer night A life of endless shame, And went through drink, disease, and death, As swift as racing flame. Lawless and homeless, foul they died; Rich, loved, and praised the men; But when they all shall meet with God, And justice speaks -- what then?|

Let us enumerate to our own minds cases where others drew us into wrong, and cases where we were a cause of evil for others. About which do we feel sorest now? Why?

Fourth Day: Moral Laziness

No man having drunk old wine desireth new; for he saith, The old is good. -- Luke 5:39.

This is a chance remark, but a keen observation. In wine-raising countries an expert tongue and nice discrimination between the fifty-seven varieties is one of the most coveted talents. A man who would prefer some recent stuff to the celebrated vintage of 18 -- , would commit intellectual hari-kari. It is said that in some of the celebrated vaults of France they breed spiders to cover the bottles with webs and dust to convey the delicious suggestion of antiquity. Jesus uses the preference for old vintage to characterize the conservative instinct in human nature. This is one of the stickiest impediments to progress, one of the most respectable forms of evil-mindedness. |The hereditary tiger is in us all, also the hereditary oyster and clam. Indifference is the largest factor, though not the ugliest form, in the production of evil| (President Hyde). Men are morally lazy; they have to be pushed into what is good for them, and the |pushee| is almost sure to resent the pushing. The idea that men ardently desire what is rational and noble is pernicious fiction. They want to be let alone. This is part of original sin.

Was the above written in haste, or will it stand?

Fifth Day: Satanic Frustration of Good

Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man that sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. And the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it tares? And he said unto them, An enemy hath done this. And the servants say unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he saith, Nay; lest haply while ye gather up the tares, ye root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather up first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn. -- Matt.13:24-30.

Here we encounter the devil. There is more in sin than our own frailty and stupidity, and the bad influence of other individuals. There is a permanent force of organized evil which vitiates every higher movement and sows tares among the grain over night. You work hard on some law to reform the ballot or the primary in order to protect the freedom and rights of the people, and after three years your device has become a favorite tool of the interests. You found a benevolent institution, and after you are dead it becomes a nest of graft. Even the Church of Jesus was for centuries so corrupt that all good men felt its reform in head and members to be the greatest desideratum in Christendom. Evil is more durable and versatile than youth and optimism imagine. The belief in a satanic power of evil expresses the conviction of the permanent power of evil. In early Christianity the belief in the devil was closely connected with the Christian opposition to the idolatrous and wicked social order of heathenism. In the Apocalypse the dragon who stands for Satan, and the beasts who stand for the despotic Roman Empire, are in close alliance.

What are the satanic social forces today?

The parable of the tares grew out of a personal experience. Has our observation ever furnished anything similar?

Sixth Day: The Irrepressible Conflict

Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law: and a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. -- Matt.10:34-39.

Into a world controlled by sin was launched the life of Christ. The more completely he embodied the divine character and will, the more certain and intense would be the conflict between him and the powers dominating the old order. He accepted this fight, not only for himself but for his followers. It would follow them up into the intimacies of their homes. Any faith that takes the Kingdom of God seriously, has its fight cut out for it. Unless we accept our share of it, we are playing with our discipleship. But when the fight is for the Kingdom of God, those who dodge, lose; and those who lose, win.

Which involves more conflict, a life set on the Kingdom of God on earth, or a faith set on the life to come?

Does the idea of a fighting faith attract us?

Would this serve as a |substitute for war|?

Seventh Day: Militant Gentleness

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. -- Matt.5:44, 45.

Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. -- Rom.12:17, 20, 21.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. -- John 18:36, 37.

When we call out the militant spirit in religion, we summon a dangerous power. It has bred grimness and cruelty. Crusaders and inquisitors did their work in the name of Jesus, but not in his spirit. We must saturate ourselves with the spirit of our Master if our fighting is to further his Kingdom. Hate breeds hate; force challenges force. Only love disarms; only forgiveness kills an enemy and leaves a friend. Jesus blended gentleness and virility, forgiving love and uncompromising boldness. He offered it as a mark of his Kingdom that his followers used no force to defend him. Wherever they have done so, the Kingdom of heaven has dropped to the level of the brutal empires. His attack is by the truth; whoever is won by that, is conquered for good. Force merely changes the form of evil. When we |overcome evil with good,| we eliminate it.

What did Paul mean by saying that acts of kindness to an enemy heap coals of fire on his head?

How about moral crusades that aim to put joint-keepers and pimps in prison?

Study for the Week

All great religious teachers have had a deep sense of the power of evil in human life. Jesus apparently was not interested in the philosophical question of the origin of evil, but accepted the fact of evil in a pragmatic way, and saw his own life as a conflict with sin and wrong.

Some facts, as we have seen, were clearly written in his consciousness: the frailty of our will; the consolidation of evil in men of bad character and the automatic output of lies and distortions coming from such; the power of social pressure by which the weak are made to trip and fall; and the pervasive satanic power of evil which purposely neutralizes the efforts leading toward the Reign of God.

The fact that Jesus realized evil in individuals and society, that he reckoned with it practically, and that he set himself against it with singleness of purpose, constitutes another of his social principles. Any view of life which blurs the fact of evil would have seemed to him an illusion. He would have foretold failure for any policy based on it. His great social problem was redemption from evil. Every step of approach toward the Kingdom of God must be won by conflict.

Modern science explains evil along totally different lines, but as to the main facts it agrees with the spiritual insight of Jesus. Psychology recognizes that the higher desires are usually sluggish and faint, while the animal appetites are strong and clamorous. Our will tires easily and readily yields to social pressure. In many individuals the raw material of character is terribly flawed by inheritance. So the young, with a maximum of desire and a minimum of self-restraint, slip into folly, and the aging backslide into shame. Human nature needs a strong reenforcement to rouse it from its inherited lethargy and put it on the toilsome upward track. It needs redemption, emancipation from slavery, a breaking of bonds.


Evangelism is the attack of redemptive energy in the sphere of personal life. It comes to a man shamed by the sense of guilt and baffled by moral failure, and rouses him to a consciousness of his high worth and eternal destiny. It transmits the faith of the Christian Church in a loving and gracious God who is willing to forgive and powerful to save. It teaches a man to pray, curing his soul by affirming over and over a triumphant faith, and throwing it open to mysterious spiritual powers which bring joy, peace, and strength beyond himself. It sets before him a code of moral duty to quicken and guide his conscience. It puts him inside of a group of like-minded people who exercise social restraint and urge him on.

When all this is wisely combined, it constitutes a spiritual reenforcement of incomparable energy. It acts like an emancipation. It gives a sense of freedom and newness. The untrained observer sees it mainly in those cases where the turn has come in some dramatic form and where the contrast between the old and new life is most demonstrable. But the saving force is at work even when it seeps in through home influences so quietly that the beneficiary of it does not realize what a great thing has been done for him.

The saving force has to attack the powers in possession. Only those who have helped in wresting men free from sin can tell what a stiff fight it often is. Here is an intellectual professional man who goes off for a secret spree about once in sixty days; a respectable woman who has come under the opium habit; a boy who is both a cigarette fiend and sexually weak; a man who domineers and cows his wife and family; a woman who has reduced her husband to slavery to supply her expensive tastes; a girl who shirks all work and throws the burden of her selfish life on a hard-worked mother; a college man whose parents are straining all their resources and using up their security for old age to keep him at college, and who gambles -- complete the catalogue for yourself. To make these individuals over into true citizens of the Kingdom of God and loyal fellow-workers of their fellow-men means constructive conflict of a high order. It has been done.(4)


The problem of evil becomes far more complicated when evil is socialized. The simplest and most familiar form of that is the boys' gang. Here is a group of young humans who get their fun and adventure by pulling the whiskers of the law. They idealize vice and crime. Leadership in their group is won by proficiency in profanity, gambling, obscenity, and slugging. The gang assimilates its members; there is regimentation of evil. It acts as a channel of tradition; the boy of fifteen teaches the boy of twelve what he has learned from the boy of eighteen.

How is the problem of evil affected when the powers of human society, which usually restrain the individual from vice and rebellion, are used to urge him into it? Should the strategy of the Kingdom of God be adjusted to that situation? It is not enough to win individuals away from the gangs. Can the gang spirit itself be christianized and used to restrain and stimulate the young for good? Has this been done, and where, and how? Is Christian institutional work sufficient to cope with the problem? What readjustments in the recreational and educational outfit of our American communities are needed to give a wholesome outlet to the spirit of play and adventure, and to train the young for their life work? Would such an outfit do the work without personal leadership inspired by religion?

Christian evangelism in the past has not had an adequate understanding of the power of the group. In what connections has the Church shown a true valuation of the social factor in sin and redemption? At what points has its strategy been ineffective in dealing with socialized evil? What contributions can social science make to the efficiency of evangelism? Would a correct scientific analysis of the constructive and disintegrating forces in society be enough to do saving work?


The bad gangs of the young are usually held together by a misdirected love of play and adventure. The dangerous combinations of adults are consolidated by |the cohesive power of plunder.| That makes them a far more difficult proposition.

Any local attack on saloons and vice resorts furnishes a laboratory demonstration of socialized evil. The object of both kinds of institutions is to make big profit by catering to desires which induce men to spend freely. Music and sociability are used as a bait. The people who profit by this trade are held together by the fear of a common danger. Since the community uses political means of curbing or suppressing the vice business, the vice group goes into politics to prevent it. It seeks to control the police, the courts, the political machines by sharing part of its profits. Lawyers, officials, newspaper proprietors, and real estate men are linked up and summoned like a feudal levy in case of danger. Drugstores, doctors, chauffeurs, messenger boys, and all kinds of people are used to bring in trade and make it secure. The exploded fictions of alcoholism are kept circulating. Like a tape-worm in the intestines, these articulated and many-jointed parasitic organizations of vice make our communities sick, dirty, and decadent.

We have learned to read the sordid trail of the drink and vice traffic in American communities. There is another kind of organized evil, even more ancient, pervasive, and deadly, which few understand, though it has left a trail sufficiently terrible.

Wherever we look in the history of the older nations, we see an alignment of two fundamental classes. The one is born to toil, stunted by toil, and gets its class characteristics by toil. The other is characterized by the pleasures and arts of leisure, is physically and mentally developed by leisure, and proud and jealous of its leisure. This class is always class-conscious; its groups, however antagonistic, always stand together against the class of toil. Its combination of leisure and wealth is conditioned on the power of taking tribute from the labor of many. In order to do this with safety, it must control political power, the military outfit, the power of making, interpreting and executing the laws, and the forces forming public opinion.

Before the advent of industrialism and political democracy, it secured its income by controlling the land and the government of nations; and the effects of its control can be read in the condition of the rural population of Russia, Austria, Eastern Germany, Italy, France before the Revolution, England, and especially Ireland. The development of industry has changed the problem of economic and political control; but the essentials remain, as we can see in the condition of industrial communities and the history of labor legislation.

The fundamental sin of all dominant classes has been the taking of unearned incomes. Political oppression has always been a corollary of economic parasitism, a means to an end. The combination of the two constitutes the largest and most continuous form of organized evil in human history.

Jesus used the illustration of pegs maliciously driven into the path to make men stumble and fall. It would require some illustration drawn from modern machinery to express the wholesale prostration of bodies and souls where covetousness has secured continuous power and has been able to get in its full work. Anyone who has ever looked with human understanding at the undersized and stupid peasants of countries ruled by their landlord class, or at the sordid homes and pleasures of miners or industrial workers where some corporation feared neither God nor the law, ought to get a comprehension of the power of evil that has rested like an iron yoke on humanity.

We think most readily of the children of the poor as a product of exploitation; underfed and overstimulated, cut off from the clean pleasures of nature, often tainted with vice before knowledge has come, and urged along by the appetites and cruel selfishness of older persons, they are a standing accusation against society itself.(5) Jesus would have felt that the children of the rich are an even worse product of exploitation than the poor. When |society| plays, it burns up the labor of thousands like fireworks. The only possible justification for the aggregations of wealth is that the rich are to act as the trustees and directors of the wealth of society; but their children -- except in conspicuous and fine exceptions -- are put out of contact with the people whom they must know if they are to serve them, so that it takes heroic effort on the part of noble exceptions to get in contact with the people once more, and to discover how they live. In all nations the atmosphere of the aristocratic groups drugs the sense of obligation, and possesses the mind with the notion that the life and labor of men are made to play tennis with. The existence of great permanent groups, feeding but not producing, dominating and directing the life of whole nations according to their own needs, may well seem a supreme proof of the power of evil in humanity.


If evil is socialized, salvation must be socialized. The organization of the Christian Church is a recognition of the social factor in salvation. It is not enough to have God, and Christ, and the Bible. A group is needed, organized on Christian principles, and expressing the Christian spirit, which will assimilate the individual and gradually make him over into a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Salvation will rarely come to anyone without the mediation of some individual or group which already has salvation. It may be very small and simple. |Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.| That saying recognizes that an additional force is given to religion by its embodiment in a group of believers. Professor Royce has recently reasserted in modern terms the old doctrine that |there is no salvation outside of the Church,| calling the Church |the beloved community.| Of course the question is how intensively Christian the Church can make its members. That will depend on the question how Christian the Church itself is, and there's the rub.

The Church is the permanent social factor in salvation. But it has cause to realize that many social forces outside its immediate organization must be used, if the entire community is to be christianized.

In the earliest centuries Christianity was practically limited to the life within the Church. Being surrounded by a hostile social order, and compelled to fence off its members, it created a little duplicate social order within the churches where it sought to realize the distinctively Christian social life. Its influence there was necessarily restricted mainly to individual morality, family life, and neighborly intercourse, and here it did fundamental work in raising the moral standards. On the other hand, it failed to reorganize industry, property, and the State. Even if Christians had had an intelligent social and political outlook, any interference with the Roman Empire by the low-class adherents of a forbidden religion was out of the question. When the Church was recognized and favored under Constantine and his successors, it had lost its democratic composition and spirit, and the persons who controlled it were the same sort of men who controlled the State.

The early age of the Church has had a profound influence in fixing the ideals and aims of later times. The compulsory seclusion and confinement of the age of persecution are supposed to mark the mission of the Church. As long as the social life in our country was simple and rural, the churches, when well led, were able to control the moral life of entire communities. But as social organization became complex and the solidarity of neighborhood life was left behind, the situation got beyond the institutional influence of the churches. Evidently the fighting energies of Christianity will have to make their attack on broader lines, and utilize the scientific knowledge of society, which is now for the first time at the command of religion, and the forces set free by political and social democracy. We can not restrict the modern conflict with evil to the defensive tactics of a wholly different age. Wherever organized evil opposes the advance of the Kingdom of God, there is the battle-front. Wherever there is any saving to be done, Christianity ought to be in it. The intensive economic and sociological studies of the present generation of college students are a preparation for this larger warfare with evil. These studies will receive their moral dignity and religious consecration when they are put at the service of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Suggestions for Thought and Discussion

I. The Natural Drift

1. If left alone, which way do we tend? Does a normal and sound individual need spiritual reinforcement to live a good life?

2. How do you account for the fact that the noblest movements are so easily debased?

II. Jesus and Human Sin

1. Did Jesus take a friendly or a gloomy view of human nature? How did the fact of sin in humanity impress him?

2. Why did he condemn so sternly those who caused the weak to stumble? Estimate the relative force of the natural weakness of human nature, and of the pressure of socialized evil, when individuals go wrong.

3. Do you agree with the exposition in the Daily Reading for the Fourth Day? Do men want to be let alone? Is this an evidence of sinful tendency?

4. What personal experiences of Jesus prompted the parable of the tares? Was the conception of Satan in Jewish religion of individual or social origin? When did it have political significance?

III. The Irrepressible Conflict

1. Why did Jesus foresee an inevitable conflict if the Kingdom of God was to come? Has history borne him out?

2. Does mystical religion involve a man in conflict? Does ascetic religion? Which books him for more conflict with social evil -- a life set on the Kingdom of God on earth, or a faith set on the life to come?

3. What form does the conflict with evil take in our personal life? What reinforcement does the Christian religion as a spiritual faith offer us? What personal experience have we of its failure or its effectiveness?

4. What is meant by evil being socialized? In what ways does this increase the ability of evil to defend and propagate itself?

5. What are the most dangerous forms of organized evil today? How do they work?

6. What are the most disastrous |stumbling blocks| today for working people? For business men? For students?

7. The Church sings many militant hymns. Is the Church as a whole a fighting force today?

IV. For Special Discussion

1. How should an individual go about it to fight concrete and socialized evils in a community?

2. How can a church get into the fight? Should the Church go into politics? Why, or why not?

3. Would Christianity be just as influential as a social power of salvation if the Christian Church did not exist?

4. Will the fight against evil ever be won? If not, is it worth fighting?

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