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PREACHING IN LONDON. II
BY JOSEPH FORT NEWTON
January 1, 1918. — Christmas is over, thank God! The contrast between its gentle ideals and the ghastly realities round about us almost tears one in two. Here we sing, 'Peace on earth among men of good-will'; out there, the killing of boys goes on. What irony! Still, one remembers that it was a hard old Roman world in which the Angels of the first Christmas sang their anthem of prophecy. How far off it must have seemed that day; how far off it seems today. The world is yet in twilight, and from behind dim horizons comes ceaselessly the thunder of great guns. A frost-like surface of garish gayety sparkles in our cities, as anxiety turns to laughter, or to apathy, for relief.
After all these ages, must we say that the song of Christmas is as vain as all the vain things proclaimed of Solomon? No; it will come true. It is not a myth. It is not a mockery. Surviving ages of slaughter, it returns to haunt us, proving in this last defeat its immortality. Because that music is far off, we know that it is not our own, but was sent into the world by One who is as far above our discordant noises as the stars are above the mists. Whatever befall, we dare not lose Faith, dare not surrender to Hate, since that would be the saddest of all defeats. And the children sang carols at our doors, as in the days of Dickens, as if to rebuke our misgiving and despair.
January 7. — One serious handicap besets a minister who labors abroad: he cannot deal with public questions with the same freedom that he can at
home. Indeed, he can hardly touch them at all — when criticism is required — save as they may be international in their range. Yesterday, on the national Day of Prayer, I made protest in the City Temple against allowing the increase of brewery supplies to stand, on the ground that it is not cricket to destroy foodstuffs at a time when we have no bread fit to eat and cannot get sugar for our children. To-day every brewery paper in the kingdom jumped upon me with all four feet, John Bull leading the pack. It does not matter if every journal in the land stands on its hind-legs and howls, as most of them are doing. What hurts me is the silence of the churches! The majority of Free Churchmen are against the traffic, but hardly so in the Established Church. Indeed, that Church is more or less involved in the trade, at least to the extent of allowing its properties to be used by public houses. Many of the higher clergy refused to forego their wine during the war, even at the request of the King.
The situation is unlike anything we know in America. Liquor is used in England much as we use coffee; it is intrenched in custom, disinfected by habit, and protected by respectability. Moreover, the traffic is less open, less easy to get at in England, and those who profit by it are often of the most aristocratic and influential class in the community. There is, besides, a school of English political thought which holds the sublime doctrine that the way to keep the workingman quiet and contented is to keep him pickled in beer. Any suggestion of abolishing the traffic is, therefore, regarded as an invitation to anarchy, and dire predictions are made. Almost anywhere in London one sees a dozen baby-carts at the door of a public house, while the mothers are inside guzzling beer. Never before have I seen drunken mothers trying to push baby-carts! Surely England has an enemy behind the lines!
January 12. — Had a delicious tilt with Chesterton, who apparently regards the Dogma of Beer is an article of Christian faith. Every time I meet him I think of The Man Who Was Thursday — a story in which he has drawn a portrait of himself. He is not only enormously fat, but tall to boot; a mountain of a man. His head, seen from behind, looks larger than any human head has a right to be. He is the soul of goodfellowship, and as the wine in his glass goes down, one may witness an exhibition worth going miles to see. He leads words into the arena, first in single file, then four abreast, then in regiments; and the feats they perform are hairraising, if he talks in paradoxes, it is for the same reason that more solemn persons talk in platitudes — he cannot help it.
• From the Gospel of Beer, the talk turned to Wells and his new theology; and it was good to hear Chesterton laugh about a God unfinished and still in the making. His epigram hit it off to a dot. 'The Christ of Wells is tidy; the real Christ is titanic.' We agreed that the portraiture of Jesus by Wells is in bad drawing, being too much like Wells himself; but we remembered other portraits by the same hand, — Kipps, Polly, and the rest, — very ordinary men made extraordinary and individual and alluring by the magic of genius.
One may call Chesterton many names, — an irrationalist, a reactionary idealist, a humorist teaching serious truth in
fun, — but his rich humanity and robust common sense are things for which to give thanks. He is a prophet of normal human nature, and his uproarious faith in God is a tonic in days like these. If Dickens was the greatest American ever born in England, some of us feel that Chesterton is the best thing England has given us since Dickens. One loves him for his strength, his sanity, and his divine joyousness. The Holy Spirit, said Hermas, is a hilarious spirit!
January 17. — Dr. John Hutton, of Glasgow, preached in the City Temple to-day, his theme being 'The Temptation,' that is, the one temptation that includes all others — the spirit of cynicism that haunts all high moods. Artfully, subtly it seeks to lower, somehow, the lights of the soul, to slay ideals, to betray and deliver us to base-mindedness. Such preaching! He searches like a surgeon and heals like a physician. Seldom, if ever, have I had anyone walk right into my heart with a lighted candle in his hand, as he did, and look into the dark corners. For years I had known him as a master of the inner life, whether dealing with the Bible A( Close Quarters, or with those friends and aiders of faith, like Browning; and there are passages in The Winds of God that echo like great music. As a guide to those who are walking in the middle years of life, where bafflements of faith are many and moral pitfalls are deep, there is no one like Hutton; no one near him. But, rich as his books are, his preaching is more wonderful than his writing. While his sermon has the finish of a literary essay, it is delivered with the enthusiasm of an evangelist. The whole man goes into it, uniting humor, pathos, unction, with a certain wildness of abandon, as of one possessed, which is the note of truly great preaching. In my humble judgment he is the greatest preacher in Britain.
January 23. — Just returned from a journey into the Midlands. At Manchester I preached on Sunday in the Cavendish Street Chapel, where Joseph Parker ministered before going to the City Temple, and lectured on 'Lincoln and the War' the following evening. No man ever had a more cordial reception in any city. As a preface to my lecture I paid a tribute to the Manchester Guardian as one of the great institutions of this island, and expressed gratitude for its sympathetic and intelligent understanding of America and her President, in the difficult days of our neutrality. The American Consul, in seconding a vote of thanks, told an interesting fact found in the files of his office. A group of Manchester citizens, knowing the admiration of Lincoln for John Bright, — a Manchester man, — had a bust of the Quaker statesman made, and it was ready to be sent when the news of the assassination came. They cabled Mrs. Lincoln, asking what they should do. She told them to send it to Washington; and it is now in the White House.
As a fact, I did not see Birmingham at all, because a heavy fog hung over it when I arrived and had not lifted when I left. I could hardly see my audience when I rose to speak, and felt halfchoked all through the lecture. As it was my first visit to Birmingham, I began by recalling the great men with whom the city was associated in my mind. The first was Joseph Chamberlain. No sooner had I uttered the name than there were hisses and cries, 'No, no! John Bright!' I had forgotten that Bright ever sat for a Birmingham district. The next name was that of John Henry, Cardinal Newman. It was received at first with silence, then with a few groans. But when I mentioned the name of Dr. Dale, there was loud applause; for he was not only a mighty preacher, but a great political influence in the city. Then I reminded my audi
ence that, when Chamberlain was accused in the House of Commons of representing Dr. Dale, he retorted, in praise of the great preacher, that he had no mean constituency. The last man named was J. H. Shorthouse, theauthor of John Inglesant, one of my favorite books. If the name was recognized at all, there was no sign of it.
January 27. — Have been on another short tour, preaching to the men in the camps, including one of the khaki colleges of the Canadian army at Whitley. Twice, when the men were given a choice between a sermon and a lecture, they voted to have a sermon. And what they want is a straight talk, hot from the heart, about the truths that make us men; no 'set sermon with a stunt text,' as one of them explained. When I asked what he meant, he said: 'Such texts as "Put on the whole armor of God," or "Fight the good fight," or "Quit you like men"; they are doing that now.' But they are being undone the while by a terrible shattering of faith, and in many a moral trenchfight.
No end of nonsense has been talked about the men in the armies, as if putting on khaki made a man a saint. No, they are men like ourselves,—our boys, — with the passions and temptations of the rest of us. As one of them put it: —
Our Padre, 'e says I'm a sinner,
And John Bull says I 'm a saint;
And they're both of 'em bound to be liars.
For I 'm neither of them, I ain't.
I'm a man, and a man's a mixture.
Right down from his very birth;
For part of 'im comes from 'eaven.
And part of 'im comes from earth.
And upon this basis — being a man myself, and therefore a mixture — I talked to them, without mincing words, about the fight for faith and the desperate struggles of the moral life. Never can I forget those eager, earnest, upturned faces, — bronzed by war and weather
— many of which were soon to be torn by shot and shell. The difference in preaching to men who have seen little of war, and to those who have been in it for two years or more, is very great. I should know the difference if blindfolded. The latter are as hard as nails. Only now and then does the preacher know the thrill of having dug under, or broken through, the wall of adamant in which they shelter that shy and lonely thing they dare not lose.
February 18. — The American camp at Winchester. Preached four times yesterday in a large moving-picture theatre, — packed to the doors, — and to-day I am as limp as a rag. It was a great experience, talking to such vast companies of my own countrymen
— tall, upstanding, wholesome fellows from all over the Union, among them the survivors of the Tuscania, torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. They are in the best of spirits, having lost everything except their courage, as one of them said; every one with a cold, and all togged out in every kind of garb — for those who did not lose their clothing had it ruined by the sea-water.
Spent to-day in Winchester, a city of magnificent memories, about which clusters more of history and of legend than about any city on this island, except London. It is the city of Arthur and the Round Table. Here the Saxon Chronicles were written; here King Alfred lies buried. It is the very birthplace of our civilization. The College and the St. Cross Hospital have about them the air of the Middle Ages. But the Cathedral is the gem of the scene, having the most beautiful nave I have ever seen. Less a cemetery than the Abbey, even an amateur architect can trace the old Norman style, shading into the early English, and then into the later English styles, showing the evolution of the building while enshrining the history of a race. In the south transept I
came upon the tomb of Izaak Walton, and I confess I stood beside it with mingled feelings of reverence and gratitude. Behind the tomb is a noble window, not more than fifty years old, into which the fishing scenes of the New Testament are woven with good effect — an appropriate memorial to the gentlest and wisest fisherman who has lived among us since Jesus lodged with the fishermen by the sea.
The afternoon service in the ancient temple touched me deeply, as if those who conducted it were awed by the presence of Eternity, and were carrying for a brief time the Torch of Faith, changing but eternal; a faith natural to humanity, and affirmed and expressed by the ordered beauty around them. Such a building is a symbol of that in man which refuses to be subdued, either by the brute forces of life or by the anarchy in his own heart; an emblem of that eternal resolve to love rather than hate, to hope rather than despair.
March 6. — Returning from Edinburgh, I broke my journey at the ancient city of York, where the kindest of welcomes awaited me. Looking out of my hotel window, I saw a music-shop founded in 1768 — older than the American Republic. Preached at three o'clock at the Monkgate Methodist Chapel; at five held an institute for ministers; and at seven lectured on Lincoln to a- huge audience, Mr. Round tree, Member of Parliament, presiding. The Lord Mayor presented me with a resolution of welcome, in which the most cordial good-will was expressed for the people of America.
Earlier in the day I was taken to various places of historic interest, including, of course, the beautiful old gray Minster. Also to the grave of John Woolman, the Quaker, a brief biography of whom I had once written. I knew he died while on a mission to England, but I had forgotten that he was buried in York. Reverently we stood by the grave of that simple man, — daringly radical, but divinely gentle, — who was the incarnation of the spirit of Christ, and whose life of love and service, of pity and prayer, made him a kind of sad St. Francis of the new world. York is a stronghold of the Society of Friends — the noblest body of organized mysticism on earth. Aye, the war is making men either skeptics or mystics, and wisdom lies, methinks, with the mystics whose faith is symbolized in the beautiful Listening Angel I saw the other day in the Southwell Cathedral.
March 12. — The Prime Minister spoke to the Free Church Council in the City Temple to-day, and it was an astonishing performance, as much for its wizardry of eloquence as for its moral camouflage. For weeks he has been under a barrage of criticism, as he always is when things do not go right; and the audience was manifestly unsympathetic, if not hostile. As no one knew what would happen, it was arranged that he should enter the pulpit during the singing of a hymn.
As soon as he rose to speak, — his stout body balanced on tiny, dwarflike legs, — the hecklers began a machine-gun fire of questions, and it looked as if we were in for a war of wits. The English heckler is a joy. He does not deal in slang phrases, but aims his dart straight at the target. In ten minutes the Prime Minister had his audience standing and throwing up their hats. It was pure magic. I felt the force of it. But after it was over and I had time to think it through, I found that he had said almost nothing. On the question of Bread or Beer he turned a clever rhetorical trick, and nothing else. The Evening Star says that the Prime Minister is not a statesman at all, but a stuntsman; and one is half inclined to agree with it. Certainly his genius just now seems to consist in his agility in
finding a way out of one tight corner into another, following a zigzag course. An enigmatic and elusive personality, — ruled by intuitions rather than by principles, — if he never leaves me with a sense of sincerity, he at least gives me a conservative thrill. Despite his critics the record of his actual achievements is colossal, and I know of no other personality in this kingdom that could take his place. Like Roosevelt, he knows how to dramatize what he does, making himself the hero of the story; and it is so skillfully done that few see that the hero is also the showman.
March 25. — At the Thursday-noon service on the 21st, we had news that a great battle had begun, but we little dreamed what turn it would take. Instead of the long-expected Allied advance, it was a gigantic enemy drive, which seems to be sweeping everything before it. Wave after wave of the enemy hosts beat upon the Allied lines, until they first bent and then broke; the British and French armies may be sundered and the Channel ports captured. All internal dissension is hushed in the presence of the common danger, and one sees once more the real quality of the British character, its quiet courage shining most brightly when the sky is lowering.
London is tongued-tied; people look at each other and understand. If there is any panic, it is among the politicians, not among the people. Resolute, allsuffering, unconquerably cheery, men brace themselves to face the worst — it is magnificent! There was no room for'the people in the City Temple yesterday; the call to prayer comes not half so imperatively from the pulpit as from the human heart in its intolerable anxiety and sorrow. These are days when men gather up their final reasons for holding on in the battle of life, seeking the ultimate solace of the Eternal.
What days to read the Bible! Itself