“Doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth.” — Ps. lviii. 10.
I SPEAK to you, Mr Mayor and my fellow townsmen, at one of the great moments of the world’s history. Peace is in sight. And what a peace! You will reckon its value by the measure of the war which it closes. Let us not exaggerate. It is foolish to make comparisons with other wars which we have not known intimately. We know the agony of the world during the last four years, it is enough. It gives a meaning to the promise of peace.
War is judgment. It is the fruit of the folly and the sin of men. Whatever comes upon the world as the natural consequence of sin or folly is a judgment of God the Creator. He has so ordered the world that consequences ensue. The cause will have its effect. When men asked why God did not stop the war, they were asking why He did not alter the whole course of nature, why He did not rob men of their freedom and prevent them from bringing on themselves the consequences of their folly. They were crying out against judgment.
Judgment is terrible. It does not fall only on the guilty. The worst of sin and folly is that it involves the innocent and the wise in its catastrophe. But who is innocent? Who is wise? Let us not lay to our souls the flattering unction of a notion that we had no part in the faults, the follies, and the crimes which brought this war upon the world. Whatever our share in the cause may have been, we had to endure the effect. We could not escape. The solidarity of man forbids it. Mankind is one body, and when one member suffers all the members suffer with it. We might perhaps have made a dishonourable evasion; but that would have been an added fault, to be paid for in due time.
It is seldom possible to assign justly and precisely the responsibility for the outbreak of war. In this case we think — and I believe we think rightly — that the main responsibility can be fixed. Overweening ambition, overweening power, and the lust after more power, moved men to attempt a dominion which was not to be tolerated. Those who broke the peace made a great gamble. They knew what they were doing. Weltmacht oder Niedergang, world-dominion or downfall, was the avowed alternative — and it is Niedergang. Doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth.
Let us to whom God has given the victory look to it that we be not lifted up to a like evil exaltation. It is good for us that victory has been so hardly won. We in England have borne a great part, perhaps the greatest part, in the work. I am glad that we have not done it ourselves alone. I am glad that we have been associated with other nations.
I am glad that we have called in aid our kinsmen from oversea. It is good that the strength of the whole world should be needed to beat down the power that would dominate the world. We are saved from the peril of inordinate pride.
Peace is in sight. It may yet be a vision of many days, but the vision is clear. And what a peace! What labour it entails! What building up of a ruined world! What toil of reconstruction! You must have observed with what a strange quietness Englishmen have taken the news of the last three weeks. More than one cause of this may be identified.
It is due in part, no doubt, to the immensity and swiftness of the events, which leave us stunned and breathless. It is due in part, I trust, to modesty and self-restraint. We have had some rough lessons, and perhaps we have learnt them. But I think it is mainly due to a consciousness of what remains to be done. The problems of war are simplicity itself in comparison with the problems of peace that await us.
It is good for us that in England we have a tradition, a habit, of self-help. Our system of local government is faulty enough, but it is worth having. We have seen other nations, too dependent on a central government, fulling into anarchy when the central government fails. Our tradition, our habit, makes the peril remote. We all share the work of government.
You, Mr Mayor, and your colleagues, have your part in the work of reconstruction that lies before us. Within your sphere there is something to be done. You are come to God’s House to inaugurate the municipal year, and we are here to invoke God’s blessing on your work. Look to Him for guidance. But do not only ask for His help. Offer yourselves rather to His service. “The powers that be are ordained of God.”
Everyone bearing office in the Commonwealth is a minister of God. He orders the world by the ministry of men. Men are the ministers of God’s justice, to pull down, to root up, and to destroy. Men are the ministers of God’s mercy, to build up and to plant. Give yourselves to this ministry. Go forth to your work, and God be your strength and stay.