The Prince of Peace
William Jennings Bryan
A lecture delivered at many Chautauquas and religious gatherings, in, America,
beginning in 1904; also in Canada, Mexico, Tokyo, Manila, Bombay, Cairo
I OFFER no apology for speaking upon a religious theme, for it is the most
universal of all themes. I am interested in the science of government,
but I am more interested in religion than in government. I enjoy making
a political speech—I have made a good many and shall make more—but I would
rather speak on religion than on politics. I commenced speaking on the
stump when I was only twenty, but I commenced speaking in the church six
years earlier—and I shall be in the church even after I am out of politics.
I feel sure of my ground when I make a political speech, but I feel even
more certain of my ground when I make a religious speech. If I addressed
you upon the subject of law I might interest the lawyers; if I discussed
the science of medicine I might interest the physicians; in like manner
merchants might be interested in comments on commerce, and farmers in matters
pertaining to agriculture; but no one of these subjects appeals to all.
Even the science of government, though broader than any profession or occupation,
does not embrace the whole sum of life, and those who think upon it differ
so among themselves that I could not speak upon the subject so as to please
a part of the audience without displeasing others. While to me the science
of government is intensely absorbing, I recognize that the most important
things in life lie outside of the realm of government and that more depends
upon what the individual does for himself than upon what the government
does or can do for him. Men can be miserable under the best government
and they can be happy under the worst government.
Government affects but a part of the life which we live here and does not
deal at all with the life beyond, while religion touches the infinite circle
of existence as well as the small arc of that circle which we spend on
earth. No greater theme, therefore, can engage our attention. If I discuss
questions of government I must secure the cooperation of a majority before
I can put my ideas into practice, but if, in speaking on religion, I can
touch one human heart for good, I have not spoken in vain no matter how
large the majority may be against me.
Man is a religious being; the heart instinctively seeks for a God. Whether
he worships on the banks of the Ganges, prays with his face upturned to
the sun, kneels toward Mecca or, regarding all space as a temp]e, communes
with the Heavenly Father according to the Christian creed, man is essentially
There are honest doubters whose sincerity we recognize and respect, but
occasionally I find young men who think it smart to be skeptical; they
talk as if it were an evidence of larger intelligence to scoff at creeds
and to refuse to connect themselves with churches. They call themselves
“Liberal,” as if a Christian were narrow minded. Some go so far as to assert
that the “advanced thought of the world” has discarded the idea that there
is a God. To these young men I desire to address myself.
Even some older people profess to regard religion as a superstition, pardonable in the ignorant but unworthy of the educated. Those who hold this view look down with mild contempt upon such as give to religion a definite place in their thoughts and lives. They assume an intellectual superiority and often take little pains to conceal the assumption. Tolstoy administers to the “cultured crowd” (the words quoted are his) a severe rebuke when he declares that the religious sentiment rests not upon a superstitious fear of the invisible forces of nature, but upon man’s consciousness of his finiteness amid an infinite universe and of his sinfulness; and this consciousness, the great philosopher adds, man can never outgrow. Tolstoy is right; man recognizes how limited are his own powers and how vast is the universe, and he leans upon the arm that is stronger than his. Man feels the weight of his sins and looks for One who is sinless.
Religion has been defined by Tolstoy as the relation which man fixes between
himself and his God, and morality as the outward manifestation of this
inward relation. Every one, by the time he reaches maturity, has fixed
some relation between himself and God and no material change in this relation
can take place without a revolution in the man, for this relation is the
most potent influence that acts upon a human life.
Religion is the foundation of morality in the individual and in the group
of individuals. Materialists have attempted to build up a system of morality
upon the basis of enlightened self-interest. They would have man figure
out by mathematics that it pays him to abstain from wrong-doing; they would
even inject an element of selfishness into altruism, but the moral system
elaborated by the materialists has several defects. First, its virtues
are borrowed from moral systems based upon religion. All those who are
intelligent enough to discuss a system of morality are so saturated with
the morals derived from systems resting upon religion that they cannot
frame a system resting upon reason alone. Second, as it rests upon argument
rather than upon authority, the young are not in a position to accept or
reject. Our laws do not permit a young man to dispose of real estate until
he is twenty-one. Why this restraint? Because his reason is not mature;
and yet a man’s life is largely moulded by the environment of his youth.
Third, one never knows just how much of his decision is due to reason and
how much is due to passion or to selfish interest. Passion can dethrone
the reason—we recognize this in our criminal laws. We also recognize the
bias of self-interest when we exclude from the jury every man, no matter
how reasonable or upright he may be, who has a pecuniary interest in the
result of the trial. And, fourth, one whose morality rests upon a nice
calculation of benefits to be secured spends time figuring that he should
spend in action. Those who keep a book account of their good deeds seldom
do enough good to justify keeping books. A noble life cannot be built upon
an arithmetic; it must be rather like the spring that pours forth constantly
of that which refreshes and invigorates.
Morality is the power of endurance in man; and a religion which teaches
personal responsibility to God gives strength to morality. There is a powerful
restraining influence in the belief that an all-seeing eye scrutinizes
every thought and word and act of the individual.
There is wide difference between the man who is trying to conform his life
to a standard of morality about him and the man who seeks to make his life
approximate to a divine standard. The former attempts to live up to the
standard, if it is above him, and down to it, if it is below him—and if
he is doing right only when others are looking he is sure to find a time
when he thinks he is unobserved, and then he takes a vacation and falls.
One needs the inner strength which comes with the conscious presence of
a personal God. If those who are thus fortified sometimes yield to temptation,
how helpless and hopeless must those be who rely upon their own strength
There are difficulties to be encountered in religion, but there are difficulties
to be encountered everywhere. If Christians sometimes have doubts and fears,
unbelievers have more doubts and greater fears. I passed through a period
of skepticism when I was in college and I have been glad ever since that
I became a member of the church before I left home for college, for it
helped me during those trying days. And the college days cover the dangerous
period in the young man’s life; he is just coming into possession of his
powers, and feels stronger than he ever feels afterward—and he thinks he
knows more than he ever does know.
It was at this period that I became confused by the different theories
of creation. But I examined these theories and found that they all assumed
something to begin with. You can test this for yourselves. The nebular
hypothesis, for instance, assumes that matter and force existed—matter
in particles infinitely fine and each particle separated from every other
particle by space infinitely great. Beginning with this assumption, force
working on matter—according to this hypothesis—created a universe. Well,
I have a right to assume, and I prefer to assume, a Designer back of the
design—a Creator back of the creation; and no matter how long you draw
out the process of creation, so long as God stands back of it you cannot
shake my faith in Jehovah. In Genesis it is written that, in the beginning,
God created the heavens and the earth, and I can stand on that proposition
until I find some theory of creation that goes farther back than “the beginning.”
We must begin with something—we must start somewhere—and the Christian
begins with God.
I do not carry the doctrine of evolution as far as some do; I am not yet
convinced that man is a lineal descendant of the lower animals. I do not
mean to find fault with you if you want to accept the theory; all I mean
to say is that while yon may trace your ancestry back to the monkey if
you find pleasure or pride in doing so, you shall not connect me with your
family tree without more evidence than has yet been produced. I object
to the theory for several reasons. First, it is a dangerous theory. If
a man links himself in generations with the monkey, it then becomes an
important question whether he is going toward him or coming from him—and
I have seen them going in both directions. I do not know of any argument
that can be used to prove that man is an improved monkey that may not be
used just as well to prove that the monkey is a degenerate man, and the
latter theory is more plausible than the former.
It is true that man, in some physical characteristics resembles the beast, but man has a mind. as well as a body, and a soul as well as a mind. The mind is greater than the body and the soul is greater than the mind, and I object to having man’s pedigree traced on one-third of him only—and that the lowest third. Fairbairn, in his “Philosophy of Christianity,” lays down a sound proposition when he says that it is not sufficient to explain man as an animal; that it is necessary to explain man in history—and the Darwinian theory does not do this. The ape, according to this theory, is older than man and yet the ape is still an ape while man is the author of the marvelous civilization which we see about us.
One does not escape from mystery, however, by accepting this theory, for
it does not explain the origin of life. When the follower of Darwin has
traced the germ of life back to the lowest form in which it appears—and
to follow him one must exercise more faith than religion calls for—he finds
that scientists differ. Those who reject the idea of creation are divided
into two schools, some believing that the first germ of life came from
another planet and others holding that it was the result of spontaneous
generation. Each school answers the arguments advanced by the other, and
as they cannot agree with each other, I am not compelled to agree with
If I were compelled to accept one of these theories I would prefer the
first, for if we can chase the germ of life off this planet and get it
out into space we can guess the rest of the way and no one can contradict
us, but if we accept the doctrine of spontaneous generation we cannot explain
why spontaneous generation ceased to act after the first germ was created.
Go back as far as we may, we cannot escape from the creative act, and it is just as easy for me to believe that God created man as he is as to believe that, millions of years ago, He created a germ of life and
endowed it with power to develop into all that we see to-day. I object
to the Darwinian theory, until more conclusive proof is produced, because
I fear we shall lose the consciousness of God’s presence in our daily life,
if we must accept the theory that through all the ages no spiritual force
has touched the life of man or shaped the destiny of nations.
But there is another objection. The Darwinian theory represents man as
reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hate—the
merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak. If this
is the law of our development then, if there is any logic that can bind
the human mind, we shall turn backward toward the beast in proportion as
we substitute the law of love. I prefer to believe that love rather than
hatred is the law of development. How can hatred be the law of development
when nations have advanced in proportion as they have departed from that
law and adopted the law of love?
But, I repeat, while I do not accept the Darwinian theory I shall not quarrel
with you about it; I only refer to it to remind you that it does not solve
the mystery of life or explain human progress. I fear that some have accepted
it in the hope of escaping from the miracle, but why should the miracle
frighten us? And yet I am inclined to think that it is one of the test
questions with the Christian.
Christ cannot be separated from the miraculous; His birth, His ministrations,
and His resurrection, all involve the miraculous, and the change which
His religion works in the human heart is a continuing miracle. Eliminate
the miracles and Christ becomes merely a human being and His gospel is
stripped of divine authority.
The miracle raises two questions: “Can God perform a miracle?” and, “Would
He want to?” The first is easy to answer. A God who can make a world can
do anything He wants to do with it. The power to perform miracles is necessarily
implied in the power to create. But would God want to perform a miracle?—this is the question which has given most of the trouble. The more I have considered it the less inclined I am to answer in the negative. To say that God would not perform a miracle is to assume a more intimate knowledge of God’s plans and purposes than I can claim to have. I will not deny that God does perform a miracle or may perform one merely because I do not know how or why He does it. I find it so difficult to decide each day what God wants done now that I am not presumptuous enough to attempt to declare what God might have wanted to do thousands of years ago. The fact that we are constantly learning of the existence of new forces suggests the possibility that God may operate through forces yet unknown to us, and the mysteries with which we deal every day warn me that faith is as necessary as sight. Who would have credited a century ago the stories that are now told of the wonder-working electricity? For ages man had known the lightning, but only to fear it; now, this invisible current is generated by a man-made machine, imprisoned in a man-made wire and made to do the bidding of man. We are even able to dispense with the wire and hurl words through space, and the X-ray has enabled us to look through substances which were supposed, until recently, to exclude all light. The miracle is not more mysterious than many of the things with which man now deals—it is simply different. The miraculous birth of Christ is not more mysterious than any other conception—it is simply unlike it; nor is the resurrection of Christ more mysterious than the myriad resurrections which mark each annual seed-time.
It is sometimes said that God could not suspend one of His laws without stopping the universe, but do we not suspend or overcome the law of gravitation every day? Every time we move a foot or lift a weight we temporarily overcome one of the most universal of natural laws and yet the world is not disturbed.
Science has taught us so many things that we are tempted to conclude that
we know everything, but there is really a great unknown which is still
unexplored and that which we have learned ought to increase our reverence
rather than our egotism. Science has disclosed some of the machinery of
the universe, but science has not yet revealed to us the great secret—the
secret of life. It is to be found in every blade of grass, in every insect,
in every bird and in every animal, as well as in man. Six thousand years
of recorded history and yet we know no more about the secret of life than
they knew in the beginning. We live, we plan; we have our hopes, our fears;
and yet in a moment a change may come over anyone of us and this body will
become a mass of lifeless clay. What is it that, having, we live, and having
not, we are as the clod? The progress of the race and the civilization
which we now behold are the work of men and women who have not yet solved
the mystery of their own lives.
And our food, must we understand it before we eat it? If we refused to
eat anything until we could understand the mystery of its growth, we would
die of starvation. But mystery does not bother us in the dining-room; it
is only in the church that it is a stumbling block.
I was eating a piece of watermelon some months ago and was struck with
its beauty. I took some of the seeds and dried them and weighed them, and
found that it would require some five thousand seeds to weigh a pound;
and then I applied mathematics to that forty-pound melon. One of these
seeds, put into the ground, when warmed by the sun and moistened by the
rain, takes off its coat and goes to work; it gathers from somewhere two
hundred thousand times its own weight, and forcing this raw material through
a tiny stem, constructs a watermelon. It ornaments the outside with a covering
of green; inside the green it puts a layer of white, and within the white
a core of red, and all through the red it scatters seeds, each one capable
of continuing the work of reproduction. Where does that little seed get
its tremendous power? Where does it find its coloring matter? How does
it collect its flavoring extract? How does it build a watermelon? Until
you can explain a watermelon, do not be too sure that you can set limits
to the power of the Almighty and say just what He would do or how He would
do it. I cannot explain the watermelon, but I eat it and enjoy it.
The egg is the most universal of foods and its use dates from the beginning,
but what is more mysterious than an egg? When an egg is fresh it is an
important article of merchandise; a hen can destroy its market value in
a week’s time, but in two weeks more she can bring forth from it what man
could not find in it. We eat eggs, but we cannot explain an egg.
Water has been used from the birth of man; we learned after it had been
used for ages that it is merely a mixture of gases, but it is far more
important that we have water to drink than that we know that it is not
Everything that grows tells a like story of infinite power. Why should
I deny that a divine hand fed a multitude with a few loaves and fishes
when I see hundreds of millions fed every year by a hand which converts
the seeds scattered over the field into an abundant harvest? We know that
food can be multiplied in a few months’ time; shall we deny the power of
the Creator to eliminate the element of time, when we have gone so far
in eliminating the element of space? Who am I that I should attempt to
measure the arm of the Almighty with my puny arm, or to measure the brain
of the Infinite with my finite mind? Who am I that I should attempt to
put metes and bounds to the power of the Creator?
But there is something even more wonderful still—the mysterious change that takes place in the human heart when the man begins to hate the things he loved and to love the things he hated—the marvelous transformation that takes place in the man who, before the change, would have sacrificed a world for his own advancement but who, after the change, would give his life for a principle and esteem it a privilege to make sacrifice for his convictions! What greater miracle than this, that converts a selfish, self-centered, human being into a center from which good influences flow out in every direction! And yet this miracle has been wrought in the heart of each one of us—or may be wrought—and we have seen it wrought in the hearts and lives of those about us. No, living a life that is a mystery, and living in the midst of mystery and miracles, I shall not allow either to deprive me of the benefits of the Christian religion. If you ask me if I understand everything in the Bible, I answer, no, but if we will try to live up to what we do understand, we will be kept so busy doing good that we will not have time to worry about the passages which we do not understand.
Some of those who question the miracle also question the theory of atonement;
they assert that it does not accord with their idea of justice for one
to die for all. Let each one bear his own sins and the punishments due
for them, they say. The doctrine of vicarious suffering is not a new one;
it is as old as the race. That one should suffer for others is one of the
most familiar of principles and we see the principle illustrated every
day of our lives. Take the family, for instance; from the day the mother’s
first child is born, for twenty or thirty years her children are scarcely
out of her waking thoughts. Her life trembles in the balance at each child’s
birth; she sacrifices for them, she surrenders herself to them. Is it because
she expects them to pay her back? Fortunate for the parent and fortunate
for the child if the latter has an opportunity to repay in part the debt
it owes. But no child can compensate a parent for a parent’s care. In the
course of nature the debt is paid, not to the parent, but to the next generation,
and the next—each generation suffering, sacrificing for and surrendering
itself to the generation that follows. This is the law of our lives.
Nor is this confined to the family. Every step in civilization has been made possible by those who have been willing to sacrifice for posterity. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience and free government have all been won for the world by those who were willing to labor unselfishly for their fellows. So well established is this doctrine that we do not regard anyone as great unless he recognizes how unimportant his life is in comparison with the problems with which he deals.
I find proof that man was made in the image of his Creator in the fact
that, throughout the centuries, man has been willing to die, if necessary,
that blessings denied to him might be enjoyed by his children, his children’s
children and the world.
The seeming paradox: “He that saveth his life shall lose it and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it,” has an application wider than that usually given to it; it is an epitome of history. Those who live only for themselves live little lives, but those who stand ready to give themselves for the advancement of things greater than themselves find a larger life than the one they would have surrendered. Wendell Phillips gave expression to the same idea when he said, “What imprudent men the benefactors of the race have been. How prudently most men sink into nameless graves, while now and then a few forget themselves into immortality.” We win immortality, not by remembering ourselves, but by forgetting ourselves in devotion to things larger than ourselves.
Instead of being an unnatural plan, the plan of salvation is in perfect
harmony with human nature as we understand it. Sacrifice is the language
of love, and Christ, in suffering for the world, adopted the only means
of reaching the heart. This can be demonstrated not only by theory but
by experience, for the story of His life, His teachings, His sufferings
and His death has been translated into every language and everywhere it
has touched the heart.
But if I were going to present an argument in favor of the divinity of
Christ, I would not begin with miracles or mystery or with the theory of
atonement. I would begin as Carnegie Simpson does in his book entitled,
“The Fact of Christ.” Commencing with the undisputed fact that Christ lived,
he points out that one cannot contemplate this fact without feeling that
in some way it is related to those now living. He says that one can read
of Alexander, of Caesar or of Napoleon, and not feel that it is a matter
of personal concern; but that when one reads that Christ lived, and how
He lived and how He died; he feels that somehow there is a cord that stretches
from that life to his. As he studies the character of Christ he becomes
conscious of certain virtues which stand out in bold relief—His purity,
His forgiving spirit, and His unfathomable love. The author is correct
Christ presents an example of purity in thought and life, and man, conscious
of his own imperfections and grieved over his shortcomings, finds inspiration
in the fact that He was tempted in all points like as we are, and yet without
sin. I am not sure but that each can find just here a way of determining
for himself whether he possesses the true spirit of a Christian. If the
sinlessness of Christ inspires within him an earnest desire to conform
his life more nearly to the perfect example, he is indeed a follower; if,
on the other hand, he resents the reproof which the purity of Christ offers,
and refuses to mend his ways, he has yet to be born again.
The most difficult of all the virtues to cultivate is the forgiving spirit.
Revenge seems to be natural with man; it is human to want to get even with
an enemy. It has even been popular to boast of vindictiveness; it was once
inscribed on a man’s monument that he had repaid both friends and enemies
more than he had received. This was not the spirit of Christ. He taught
forgiveness and in that incomparable prayer which He left as a model for
our petitions, He made our willingness to forgive the measure by which
we may claim forgiveness. He not only taught forgiveness but He exemplified
His teachings in His life. When those who persecuted Him brought Him to
the most disgraceful of all deaths, His spirit of forgiveness rose above
His sufferings and He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not
what they do!”
But love is the foundation of Christ’s creed. The world had known love
before; parents had loved their children, and children their parents; husbands
had loved their wives, and wives their husbands; and friend had loved friend;
but Jesus gave a new definition of love. His love was as wide as the sea;
its limits were so far-flung that even an enemy could not travel beyond
its bounds. Other teachers sought to regulate the lives of their followers
by rule and formula, but Christ’s plan was to purify the heart and then
to leave love to direct the footsteps.
What conclusion is to be drawn from the life, the teachings and the death of this historic figure? Reared in a carpenter shop; with no knowledge of literature, save Bible literature; with no acquaintance with philosophers living or with the writings of sages dead, when only about thirty years old He gathered disciples about Him, promulgated a higher code of morals than the world had ever known before, and proclaimed Himself the Messiah. He taught and performed miracles for a few brief months and then was crucified; His disciples were scattered and many of them put to death; His claims were disputed, His resurrection denied and His followers persecuted; and yet from this beginning His religion spread until hundreds of millions have taken His name with reverence upon their lips and millions have been willing to die rather than surrender the faith which He put into their hearts. How shall we account for Him? Here is the greatest fact of history; here is One who has with increasing power, for nineteen hundred years, moulded the hearts, the thoughts and the lives of men, and He exerts more influence to-day than ever before. “What think ye of Christ?” It is easier to believe Him divine than to explain in any other way what he said and did and was. And I have greater faith, even than before, since I have visited the Orient and witnessed the successful contest which Christianity is waging against the religions and philosophies of the East.
I was thinking a few years ago of the Christmas which was then approaching
and of Him in whose honor the day is celebrated. I recalled the message,
“Peace on earth, good will to men,” and then my thoughts ran back to the
prophecy uttered centuries before His birth, in which He was described
as the Prince of Peace. To reinforce my memory I re-read the prophecy and
I found immediately following a verse which I had forgotten—a verse which
declares that of the increase of His peace and government there shall be
no end. And, Isaiah adds, that He shall judge His people with justice and
with judgment. I had been reading of the rise and fall of nations, and
occasionally I had met a gloomy philosopher who preached the doctrine that
nations, like individuals, must of necessity have their birth, their infancy,
their maturity and finally their decay and death. But here I read of a
government that is to be perpetual—a government of increasing peace and
blessedness—the government of the Prince of Peace—and it is to rest on
justice. I have thought of this prophecy many times during the last few
years, and I have selected this theme that I might present some of the
reasons which lead me to believe that Christ has fully earned the right
to be called The Prince of Peace—a title that will in the years to come
be more and more applied to Him. If he can bring peace to each individual
heart, and if His creed when applied will bring peace throughout the earth,
who will deny His right to be called the Prince of Peace?
All the world is in search of peace; every heart that ever beat has sought
for peace, and many have been the methods employed to secure it. Some have
thought to purchase it with riches and have labored to secure wealth, hoping
to find peace when they were able to go where they pleased and buy what
they liked. Of those who have endeavored to purchase peace with money,
the large majority have failed to secure the money. But what has been the
experience of those who have been eminently successful in finance? They
all tell the same story, viz., that they spent the first half of their
lives trying to get money from others and the last half trying to keep
others from getting their money, and that they found peace in neither half.
Some have even reached the point where they find difficulty in getting
people to accept their money; and I know of no better indication of the
ethical awakening in this country than the increasing tendency to scrutinize
the methods of money-making. I am sanguine enough to believe that the time
will yet come when respectability will no longer be sold to great criminals
by helping them to spend their ill-gotten gains. A long step in advance
will have been taken when religious, educational and charitable institutions
refuse to condone conscienceless methods in business and leave the possessor
of illegitimate accumulations to learn how lonely life is when one prefers
money to morals.
Some have sought peace in social distinction, but whether they have been
within the charmed circle and fearful lest they might fall out, or outside,
and hopeful that they might get in, they have not found peace. Some have
thought, vain thought, to find peace in political prominence; but whether
office comes by birth, as in monarchies, or by election, as in republics,
it does not bring peace. An office is not considered a high one if all
can occupy it. Only when few in a generation can hope to enjoy an honor
do we call it a great honor. I am glad that our Heavenly Father did not
make the peace of the human heart to depend upon our ability to buy it
with money, secure it in society, or win it at the polls, for in either
case but few could have obtained it, but when He made peace the reward
of a conscience void of offense toward God and man, He put it within the
reach of all. The poor can secure it as easily as the rich, the social
outcasts as freely as the leader of society, and the humblest citizen equally
with those who wield political power.
To those who have grown gray in the Church, I need not speak of the peace
to be found in faith in God and trust in an overruling Providence. Christ
taught that our lives are precious in the sight of God, and poets have
taken up the thought and woven it into immortal verse. No uninspired writer
has expressed it more beautifully than William Cullen Bryant in his Ode
to a Waterfowl. After following the wanderings of the bird of passage as
it seeks first its southern and then its northern home, he concludes:
Thou art gone; the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form, but on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.
He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.
Christ promoted peace by giving us assurance that a line of communication can be established between the Father above and the child below. And who will measure the consolations of the hour of prayer?
And immortality! Who will estimate the peace which a belief in a future
life has brought to the sorrowing hearts of the sons of men? You may talk
to the young about death ending all, for life is full and hope is strong,
but preach not this doctrine to the mother who stands by the death-bed
of her babe or to one who is within the shadow of a great affliction. When
I was a young man I wrote to Colonel Ingersoll and asked him for his views
on God and immortality. His secretary answered that the great infidel was
not at home, but enclosed a copy of a speech of Col. Ingersoll’s which
covered my question. I scanned it with eagerness and found that he had
expressed himself about as follows: “I do not say that there is no God,
I simply say I do not know. I do not say that there is no life beyond the
grave, I simply say I do not know.” And from that day to this I have asked
myself the question and have been unable to answer it to my own satisfaction,
how could anyone find pleasure in taking from a human heart a living faith
and substituting therefor the cold and cheerless doctrine, “I do not know.”
Christ gave us proof of immortality and it was a welcome assurance, although
it would hardly seem necessary that one should rise from the dead to convince
us that the grave is not the end. To every created thing God has given
a tongue that proclaims a future life.
If the Father deigns to touch with divine power the cold and pulseless
heart of the buried acorn and to make it burst forth from its prison walls,
will he leave neglected in the earth the soul of man, made in the image
of his Creator? If he stoops to give to the rose bush, whose withered blossoms
float upon the autumn breeze, the sweet assurance of another springtime,
will He refuse the words of hope to the sons of men when the frosts of
winter come? If matter, mute and inanimate, though changed by the forces
of nature into a multitude of forms, can never die, will the imperial spirit
of man suffer annihilation when it has paid a brief visit like a royal
guest to this tenement of clay? No, I am sure that He who, notwithstanding
his apparent prodigality, created nothing without a purpose, and wasted
not a single atom in all his creation, has made provision for a future
life in which man’s universal longing for immortality will find its realization.
I am as sure that we live again as I am sure that we live to-day.
In Cairo I secured a few grains of wheat that had slumbered for more than
thirty centuries in an Egyptian tomb. As I looked at them this thought
came into my mind: If one of those grains had been planted on the banks
of the Nile the year after it grew, and all its lineal descendants had
been planted and replanted from that time until now, its progeny would
to-day be sufficiently numerous to feed the teeming millions of the world.
An unbroken chain of life connects the earliest grains of wheat with the
grains that we sow and reap. There is in the grain of wheat an invisible
something which has power to discard the body that we see, and from earth
and air fashion a new body so much like the old one that we cannot tell
the one from the other. If this invisible germ of life in the grain of
wheat can thus pass unimpaired through three thousand resurrections, I
shall not doubt that my soul has power to clothe itself with a body suited
to its new existence when this earthly frame has crumbled into dust.
A belief in immortality not only consoles the individual, but it exerts
a powerful influence in bringing peace between individuals. If one actually
thinks that man dies as the brute dies, he will yield more easily to the
temptation to do injustice to his neighbor when the circumstances are such
as to promise security from detection. But if one really expects to meet
again, and live eternally with, those whom he knows to-day, he is restrained
from evil deeds by the fear of endless remorse. We do not know what rewards
are in store for us or what punishments may be reserved, but if there were
no other it would be some punishment for one who deliberately and consciously
wrongs another to have to live forever in the company of the person wronged
and have his littleness and selfishness laid bare. I repeat, a belief in
immortality must exert a powerful influence in establishing justice between
men and thus laying the foundation for peace.
Again, Christ deserves to be called The Prince of Peace because He has
given us a measure of greatness which promotes peace. When His disciples
quarreled among themselves as to which should be greatest in the Kingdom
of Heaven, He rebuked them and said: “Let him who would be chiefest among
you be the servant of all.” Service is the measure of greatness; it always
has been true; it is true to-day, and it always will be true, that he is
greatest who does the most of good. And how this old world will be transformed
when this standard of greatness becomes the standard of every life! Nearly
all of our controversies and combats grow out of the fact that we are trying
to get something from each other—there will be peace when our aim is to
do something for each other. Our enmities and animosities arise largely
from our efforts to get as much as possible out of the world—there will
be peace when our endeavor is to put as much as possible into the world.
The human measure of a human life is its income; the divine measure of
a life is its outgo, its overflow—its contribution to the welfare of all.
Christ also led the way to peace by giving us a formula for the propagation
of truth. Not all of those who have really desired to do good have employed
the Christian method—not all Christians even. In the history of the human
race but two methods have been used. The first is the forcible method,
and it has been employed most frequently. A man has an idea which he thinks
is good; he tells his neighbors about it and they do not like it. This
makes him angry; he thinks it would be so much better for them if they
would like it, and, seizing a club, he attempts to make them like it. But
one trouble about this rule is that it works both ways; when a man starts
out to compel his neighbors to think as he does, he generally finds them
willing to accept the challenge and they spend so much time in trying to
coerce each other that they have no time left to do each other good.
The other is the Bible plan—“Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil
with good.” And there is no other way of overcoming evil. I am not much
of a farmer—I get more credit for my farming than I deserve, and my little
farm receives more advertising than it is entitled to. But I am farmer
enough to know that if I cut down weeds they will spring up again; and
farmer enough to know that if I plant something there which has more vitality
than the weeds I shall not only get rid of the constant cutting, but have
the benefit of the crop besides.
In order that there might be no mistake in His plan of propagating the truth, Christ went into detail and laid emphasis upon the value of example—“So live that others seeing your good works may be constrained to glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” There is no human influence so potent for good as that which goes out from an upright life. A sermon may be answered; the arguments presented in a speech may be disputed, but no one can answer a Christian life—it is the unanswerable argument in favor of our religion.
It may be a slow process—this conversion of the world by the silent influence of a noble example but it is the only sure one, and the doctrine applies to nations as well as to individuals. The Gospel of the Prince of Peace gives us the only hope that the world has—and it is an increasing hope—of the substitution of reason for the arbitrament of force in the settlement of international disputes. And our nation ought not to wait for other nations—it ought to take the lead and prove its faith in the omnipotence of truth.
But Christ has given us a platform so fundamental that it can be applied
successfully to all controversies. We are interested in platforms; we attend
conventions, sometimes traveling long distances; we have wordy wars over
the phraseology of various planks, and then we wage earnest campaigns to
secure the endorsement of these platforms at the polls. The platform given
to the world by The Prince of Peace is more far-reaching and more comprehensive
than any platform ever written by the convention of any party in any country.
When He condensed into one commandment those of the ten which relate to
man’s duty toward his fellows and enjoined upon us the rule, “Thou shalt
love thy neighbor as thyself,” He presented a plan for the solution of
all the problems that now vex society or may hereafter arise. Other remedies
may palliate or postpone the day of settlement, but this is all-sufficient
and the reconciliation which it effects is a permanent one.
My faith in the future—and I have faith—and my optimism—for I am an optimist—my
faith and my optimism rest upon the belief that Christ’s teachings are
being more studied to-day than ever before, and that with this larger study
will come a larger application of those teachings to the everyday life
of the world, and to the questions with which we deal. In former times
when men read that Christ came “to bring life and immortality to light,”
they placed the emphasis upon immortality; now they are studying Christ’s
relation to human life. People used to read the Bible to find out what
it said of Heaven; now they read it more to find what light it throws upon
the pathway of today. In former years many thought to prepare themselves
for future bliss by a life of seclusion here; we are learning that to follow
in the footsteps of the Master we must go about doing good. Christ declared
that He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. The world
is learning that Christ came not to narrow life, but to enlarge it—not
to rob it of its joy, but to fill it to overflowing with purpose, earnestness
But this Prince of Peace promises not only peace but strength. Some have
thought His teachings fit only for the weak and the timid and unsuited
to men of vigor, energy and ambition. Nothing could be farther from the
truth. Only the man of faith can be courageous. Confident that he fights
on the side of Jehovah, he doubts not the success of his cause. What matters
it whether he shares in the shouts of triumph? If every word spoken in
behalf of truth has its influence and every deed done for the right weighs
in the final account, it is immaterial to the Christian whether his eyes
behold victory or whether he dies in the midst of the conflict.
“Yea, though thou lie upon the dust,
When they who helped thee flee in fear,
Die full of hope and manly trust,
Like those who fell in battle here.
Another hand thy sword shall wield,
Another hand the standard wave,
Till from the trumpet’s mouth is pealed,
The blast of triumph o’er thy grave.”
Only those who believe attempt the seemingly impossible, and, by attempting, prove that one,
with God, can chase a thousand and that two can put ten thousand to flight.
I can imagine that the early Christians who were carried into the coliseum
to make a spectacle for those more savage than the beasts, were entreated
by their doubting companions not to endanger their lives. But, kneeling
in the center of the arena, they prayed and sang until they were devoured.
How helpless they seemed, and, measured by every human rule, how hopeless
was their cause! And yet within a few decades the power which they invoked
proved mightier than the legions of the emperor and the faith in which
they died was triumphant o’er all the land. It is said that those who went
to mock at their sufferings returned asking themselves, “What is it that
can enter into the heart of man and make him die as these die?” They were
greater conquerors in their death than they could have been had they purchased
life by a surrender of their faith.
What would have been the fate of the church if the early Christians had had as little faith as many of our Christians of to-day? And if the Christians of to-day had the faith of the martyrs, how long would it be before the fulfillment of the prophecy that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess?”
I am glad that He, who is called the Prince of Peace—who can bring peace to every troubled heart and whose teachings, exemplified in life, will bring peace between man and man, between community and community, between State and State, between nation and nation throughout the world—I am glad that He brings courage as well as peace so that those who follow Him may take up and each day bravely do the duties that to that day fall.
As the Christian grows older he appreciates more and more the completeness with which Christ satisfies the longings of the heart, and, grateful for the peace which he enjoys and for the strength which he has received, he repeats the words of the great scholar, Sir William Jones:
“Before thy mystic altar, heavenly truth,
I kneel in manhood, as I knelt in youth,
Thus let me kneel, till this dull form decay,
And life’s last shade be brightened by thy ray.”
(NOTE: This address is not copyrighted and can be republished by anyone desiring to do so.)