The Social Gospel

Luke 12:32.---' Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.'

A GOSPEL for today must offer man deliverance from social as well as from individual evils---from the evils which set men at quarrelsome disagreement in industrial and political life, from the sins which rouse hatred and strife, and from their impotence to organize life on more cooperative lines. Now we are happily coming to understand that these social evils are among the evils from which the gospel promises deliverance, and that our social ideals are ideals for which the gospel promises its aid. For we are awaking to the fact that the gospel is spoken of by Jesus as the gospel of a Kingdom---the gospel of the Kingdom of God. It is the good news of an ideal society into which men are to be ushered, and for which they are to be made fit. They are, moreover, to have power to penetrate the general life of society with the spirit of the ideal society, and so by degrees make the ideal actual on earth.

In the past the Kingdom of God has sometimes been reduced to nothing more than an individual acceptance of God's sovereignty in the Christian soul. Sometimes it has been banished to the far future or even to another life. But while it is true that the Kingdom or Rule of God comes first in individual souls, and can be consummated only when all redeemed men are perfected, it is equally true that the meaning of the Kingdom cannot be limited as it is by these interpretations. It relates to the present as well to the future, and to the outward as well to the inward life of men.

Three key-words express the moral aspirations of this generation, and they are key words also to the true interpretation of the social meaning of the Kingdom of God. Brotherhood is one of these words. Fellowship is another. Democracy is a third. The thoughts which these words call up chime readily with the teaching of Jesus. For what is the nature of the society which He calls men to set up? He does not sketch its outward form, but He does describe in the Beatitudes and elsewhere its inner spirit. He deprecates wealth and autocracy; in His society it is not to be as it was in pagan society, where the great exercised lordship and posed as benefactors. He invites men to associate on a basis of humble equality, none claiming precedence or superiority. His society is to set before its members as their ideal a minimum of individual aggrandizement and a maximum of service. The material well-being of society is to be found by each striving first for the good of all and leaving his own reward to God. To a society which seeks first the Kingdom of God all other things are promised.

From these descriptions of the proper basis of human association it is no big step to the phrases current in our own day. The Brotherhood of man is an obvious deduction from the principles of Jesus. 'Brotherhood' is a word suggestive of close personal ties uniting man with man; of common affection and common sentiment widely and generously diffused; of an equality of standing gladly accepted; of the friendly sharing of work and benefit as each member of the family is able to work and needs to benefit. It thus suggests a division of material goods very different from that which results from the present system of apportioning wages and profits. 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.' Such is the motto of Brotherhood. In that direction the Spirit of Jesus drives us, however great may be the difficulties of changing the motive and stimulus upon which we have learned to depend.

Fellowship is a word still more suggestive of the spirit of Jesus. It speaks of happy companionship in work and play; of a comradeship of effort and rejoicing voluntarily chosen and gladly preserved; of a partnership in the sharing of responsibility; of the mutual recognition of personal worth. It speaks of common purposes, ambitions and ideals; of a common quest and a common goal. Applied to social life it would mean, for instance, the utter repudiation of the present condition or organized hostility between nation and nation, class and class. Applied to industry it would replace the present condition of strained anxiety about the division of profits by a common ambition to render good service to the community for a reasonable reward, the skill of hand and brain combining to draw forth the treasures of Nature and Art for the use and joy of man.

The word Democracy is less at home in the company of words which Jesus used, but the idea which lies behind its common use and gives the word its moral power is deeply Christian; for it is the grand faith that all men and women have such capacity for growth in knowledge and judgment of matters affecting their individual and social life that they have an inherent right to share in the control of their industry, their city, and their State. They are capable of this responsibility, and they need it for the proper development of their personality. The word has been robbed of its intrinsic dignity by its association with the crudities of political agitation, the cruelties of political administration, and all the present imperfections of party politics and bureaucratic government. Democracy has yet to learn how to elicit from the mass of men that general response to what is good and true, and that readiness to contribute to the public service upon which its title to Christian allegiance rests. Meantime the principle of individual worth which lies behind the democratic movement has so dawned upon the mass of men and women in this and many countries that a man outrages his brother's dignity by treating him any longer as if he were a member of an inferior cast or order of mankind. Moreover, a man denies his own standing as a son of God if he denies that standing to any other. The heart of the democratic ideal is thus deeply Christian.

These three words, then, put us on the road, but they do not take us all the way, to an understanding of Christ's idea of the Kingdom of God. For that, our Brotherhood must recognize the close kinship of each man and woman with Jesus Christ, a recognition which would put the need of love and worship side by side with the need of food and shelter as among the basic necessaries of human life. For that, our Fellowship must be inspired by a common ambition to carry forward the great creative purpose of God, and to turn by degrees the chaos of material life and human passion into an ordered and beautiful whole, expressive of the spirit of the Father. For that, too, our democracy must be penetrated by the understanding of Christ's way of winning the human soul to fellowship with Himself and with His brothers---a way not of rude coercion but of winsome appeal for a voluntary homage and love.

When, therefore, Jesus proclaimed that 'the kingdom of God is at hand' He gave us the promise of a way of life far exceeding in goodness any conceivable Utopia bounded by the horizons of time and space. But the greater includes the less; and so within that vaster hope we find our right to anticipate a state of human society honoring the dignity of every individual and binding all together in a brotherhood of service and enjoyment. 'Fear not, little flock, it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.' The earth will yield its abundance and man's energies will be quickened to their highest achievement only along the line of obedience to this ideal, since it is for this that God has endowed mankind. No fear that the commonwealth will lack material resources or personal energies if these ideals become dominant among men! No fear that the world of work and social administration need remain secular, harsh and unbrotherly! God in His sovereign Fatherhood has made men so capable of fellowship and so responsive to it that it is possible for human life to be lived on a basis of mutual cooperation. All work may be made to reflect the glory of the Divine craftsmanship. All business organization may become an expression of reason and goodwill. All measures for the distribution of wealth may be governed by the ambition to make life rich for everyone. All government may be administered with respect for personality, all laws made increasingly the embodiment of a common mind and will. The whole fabric of social and political organization may be inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. The same love, the same glory, the same peace and joy given to individual religious experience may find their counterpart in the conduct of the organized life of the world. Political wisdom to build up society according to this model is among the gifts promised by Christ to man. They are manifestations of the grace shed abroad in men's hearts by His Spirit.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha

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