A Christian Awakes
With war again threatening the world, here is a a story that will make you think
THE WAKING up of the Rev. Daniel Musgrave, newly ordained curate of the parish of St. Giles, was a gradual, pleasant process. He was a healthy young man and his conscience was good. At college he had distinguished himself on the rugger field, and now he was entering on his duties in the ministry with much the same zeal as that with which a short time before he had been executing flying tackles or plunging into scrums.
He stretched himself, yawned and glanced at his wristwatch. Half-past seven. His shaving water would not appear for another half hour. Should he go down to the river and have a dip? But his bed was warm and comfortable; the air blowing through the wide open window decidedly nippy. He decided to remain where he was.
The tide of consciousness was now flowing strongly. He had remembered that this was Monday morning, and that at Vespers on the previous evening he had preached his first sermon. There had been a good gathering. Mostly elderly people. He frowned, remembering how many wrinkled faces and grey heads had confronted him in the pews. Of course old ladies were most welcome in church, but one would have liked to have seen some young men also. As a matter of fact, he himself had been almost the only young man in the church. Well, that wasn’t good enough. He meant to change that; to see if he couldn’t devise some means of attracting the younger members of his flock back to the fold.
All the same, he couldn’t complain about the size of his audience yesterday evening. There’d been a strong muster of old ladies; almost too strong, he’d felt, during the last verse of the hymn preceding the sermon. When he’d ascended the pulpit steps he had been shaking with nerves. Luckily he had taken a great deal of care over the preparation of his discourse, making copious notes and rehearsing it half a dozen times in a whisper to his mirrored reflection in the privacy of the bedroom where he now lay.
His vicar had advised him not to be too radical, and he had followed his vicar’s advice. As his theme he had taken the importance of ritual. A daring suggestion had recently appeared in some church paper advocating a change in the position of the litany in the new edition of the Anglicized Prayer Book. Mr. Musgrave had preached against that suggestion, demonstrating in a scholarly, restrained manner why the proposed alteration was incorrect. And the elderly ladies had almost nodded their approval. He knew that they thought him a very nice young man. Balanced, conservative in his ideas, and, above all, sound. His vicar, too, had been pleased. Later in the vestry he had bestowed a word of kindly praise.
“A very sound address, Musgrave. The congregation was delighted. And you remembered to pitch your voice toward the end of the nave.”
“I’d have liked to have seen a few young faces among my listeners,” Musgrave remembered himself saying.
But the vicar had had nothing to say to that. He himself had long since given up deploring the absence of the young folk. One could only say that it was the tendency of the age, and leave it at that. Present-day youth was lax, irreligious. Well, you couldn’t compel them to come to church if they didn’t want to.
APART from the absence of young men, however, his first sermon had been an entire success. Mr. Musgrave resolved to write a full description to his mother. She would be the person most likely to be interested, for his father had been killed in the war, and |xx>r Charlie, his eldest brother, took no interest in anything except little bits of wool. He loved little bits of wool, did Captain Charles Musgrave. I íe could spend hours and hours happily arranging them on a tray, but if one happened to drop on the floor he’d scream and try to kick his attendant. And when one saw him like that, one couldn’t help wondering if it wouldn’t really have been better if the shell had killed him outright. For Captain Musgrave was blind as well as mad. Horribly disfigured, too; but not so horribly as some others of the hundred odd still young madmen who were kept in that home for shellshocked ex-servicemen.
Thinking of his eldest brother, Mr. Musgrave moved uncomfortably. He was remembering another sermon he had written while still at Oxford, the sermon he had intended to be his first. He had written it one evening after he had gone with his mother to visit Charlie. It had been one of
Captain Musgrave’s bad days. A most upsetting sight. One could .look at rows of little white crosses with pride, but it is difficult to feel proud of a blind, crowing madman with a face like a plowed field. Anyway, the Oxford undergraduate, as Mr. Musgrave then was, had felt neither pride nor Christian resignation as he looked at his brother. For Charlie w'ould have been a finer specimen of manhood than himself if that shell had not burst where it had. As it was— whitefaced and shuddering himself, he had got his mother out of the room as quickly as possible.
“You mustn’t see him again; it upsets you too much. They ought to let him die . . . ”
Later in the train going back, his mother had talked to him about Charlie. Such a religious, highminded boy, she said. His ambition had been to enter the church. But when the war came he liad known where his Christian duty lay. Only sixteen when he got his commission. He’d been confirmed a few' weeks before going to France. She remembered him kneeling at the altar rails in his uniform. A Christian soldier in very truth. If ever a young man had gone forth to fight for God, he was Charlie . . . And she’d been very upset when out of his bitterness and anger, her youngest son had suggested that possibly the German who
had fired the shell had believed himself firing it to the greater glory of God.
“Probably the German soldier thought God was delighted when his shell knocked out Charlie.”
His mother had thought his attitude both blasphemous and unpatriotic. Whatever had happened to Charlie had been God’s will, she said, and we ought to be thankful.
It was that evening when he was alone in his digs that Mr. Musgrave had sat down to write what he purposed to be his first sermon. Contrary to what might have been expected, it was not a pacifist sermon. He had taken his pen as if he were drawing a naked sword . . .
A F THAT stage in his drowsy reminiscences, Mr.
Musgrave was stirred to chuckle. He was picturing to himself what would have been the scene in St. Giles if lie had preached the Oxford-written sermon the previous evening. The horror and consternation of the old ladies! His vicar’s embarrassed face. No, it wouldn’t have done at all. The congregation would have walked out of the church, and he’d have found himself unfrocked in a month.
Thank heaven, he’d learned some sense in the interim. One shouldn’t write sermons as it were with flashing swords. As a clergyman, he was supposed to be a pacifist; an amen-
able, obedient person, most careful not to shock public opinion. In the past the Church had been led by fearless leaders—grim priests who bowed to no man—-but, of course, times had changed.
Still, he could make allowances for his younger self. The inexperienced divinity student at Oxford had had his reason upset by the sight of his eldest brother. There had been fiery visions racing through his mind. Surpliced priests with upraised crosses defying a host of men. A Church militant with flying banners. Fie had pictured her somehow as a great shining being, clad in armor and wielding a flaming sword in protection of her children . . .
The Mother Church! One didn’t often hear her called that nowadays; her function now was to obey and please rather than protect and guide. Yes, one quite understood now that times had changed. For the better, of course. The w'orld had grown up; men needed a Mother Church no longer.
Oh, one realized that now' when one was a fully fledged curate, but it w as amusing to recall what one had written as a divinity student. A plea for a Church militant—that was w’hat the sermon that would never be preached had amounted to. One had written that she ought to mobilize her forces
without a moment’s delay; that the threat of another war was hanging over the world as if the hosts of darkness were gathering for attack. That the Churches in every Christian country ought to forget petty distinctions in creed and ritual and unite to face the foe. An episcopal League of Nations, in fact. And he had suggested that the clergy of every Christian nation should take a most solemn vow to the effect that if there was another war, on any pretext whatsoever, they would hold themselves aloof.
H’m! Pretty big order that. The last war might have been called the Much Blessed War. Had there been in the whole world a single priest who cursed instead of blessed? Who ordered men in uniform betokening that they intended to slay their Christian brethren not to profane the temples of God with their presence? Who refused to administer the last rites to dying soldiers until they had repented of their wickedness?
Of course not. But in that Oxford sermon, now lying unpreached at the bottom of a locked trunk, the divinity student had dared to suggest that was what the Christian Church—meaning thereby the Church of every Christian land—ought to pledge herself to do in the next war. He had written that from every pulpit in Europe v'ar should be denounced as un-Christian. That the priests should tell the young men in unequivocal language that if they took up arms their Church w'ould no longer regard them as her sons. That if they defied her edict they would be excommunicated could never again enter a holy building or partake of the sacraments. That they’d die unblessed and be buried in unconsecrated ground. In short, that if men insisted on v'ar they must fight without benefit of clergy.
T OOKING back now, Mr. ■*-' Musgrave shuddered at the frame of mind in which he had conceived such ideas. A war without benefit of clergy! No patriotic chaplains giving cigarettes to the wounded and organizing sing-songs behind the lines! No absolution for dying soldiers! No laying of flags on altars, no martial hymns, no blessing of battleships! In the last v'ar the Church had played her part right nobly. He must have been an ungrateful soldier indeed who declared otherwise. The Christians who had been mutilated, burned, gassed, suifocated, drowned and driven mad in the last war could not complain that these things had happened to them without benefit of clergy.
And what il the Church had held aloof? A difficult thing to say, but as a divinity student he had dared a guess. In the w'isely suppressed sermon, he’d described how her attitude v'ould have been received with a roar of anger and derision. Not for an instant would the world have paused on its march to mastodonic slaughter. Churches instantly emptied, clergymen stoned in the streets, furious abuse in the press, ribald jeers in the music halls. How different from what had actually happened when, on the declaration of war, the churches had been filled to overflowing and were almost as popular as the cinemas.
But in the picture the divinity student had drawn, the churches stood dark and silent while the troop trains, filled w'ith laughing, singing, unheeding men, thundered past. Great ships with grinning guns slipped away over the dark seas, cities resounded with marching feet, feverish crowds cheered and waved flags, and no one cared that the church bells rang no longer. When men remembered the Church it w'as only to laugh and deride. Her power had vanished lor ever, they cried. She was an anachronism, a medieval relic. And all men laughed at the priests praying in their deserted churches.
The war w'ent on. The w'hole world was filled with its dreadful cacophony. Guns thundered, shells exploded, writhing, mutilated men hung on barbed wire and screamed for death to end their misery, war-intoxicated crowds cheered paper victories, and women v'ept. Madness, hatred and hysteria rose in dark waves. All as it had been in actual fact, save that the churches held aloof, and men fought, And then a whisper would come. Started perhaps in a front-line trench where some poor man dying in agony amid the stench and roar of battle might remember with passionate joy that his Church had not surrendered, and call his thought as a message of hope to his dazed, despairing comrades. Or perhaps some weary, disillusioned soldier on leave might creep into a church as into a citadel where hell could not follow. Or a bereaved, broken-hearted woman take her burden of sorrow to an altar and feel as if she were passing from a fevered place into the shadow of a great rock. From such as these the word would pass. Our Church has not surrendered. There is still hope for us and our children . . . From mouth to mouth, until the whole world laid down its weapons to listen to bells that rang glad tidings of the victory of love . . .
Continued on page 49
A Christian Awakes
— Continued from page 8—Starts on page 7 —
THAT WAS what the divinity student had written, and even now Mr. Musgrave felt a faint echo of the emotions that b set him when he penned those words. But he knew now that it would never have done to have preached that sermon. People would have accused him of criticizing the attitude of the Church in 1914. They’d have sus-
pected him of sharing the views of those ungrateful ex-servicemen who, having survived an Armageddon fought with full benefit of clergy, swore they’d never enter a church again, and jolly well see their children didn’t either . . .
Those fellows, and there were a good many of them to be met in ex-servicemen’s clubs ' —truculent fellows lacking in proper respect i for the Cloth—would probably have liked : his Oxford sermon. Being soldiers them; selves, they might have approved the idea ol a Militant Church led by fearless leaders. They might even fall in behind her standards ; and support her in a campaign against the possibility of another war.
No! Mr. Musgrave shut the door of his mind firmly against these thoughts. They were silly, disloyal. War was a great evil, but if your country went to war it was the duty of the Church to uphold her. The Church was a patriotic institution. She drew her emoluments from the State on the understanding she had to support the State, even in the suicide of modern war.
He saw all that quite clearly now. The sermon would remain in the locked trunk: never would he stand in a pulpit and deliver the concluding words:
“. . .A Church that countenances war io blaspheming God and betraying man. All thinking people know that Armageddon is imminent. I maintain it is the urgent duty of the leaders of the Christian Church, be they Protestant, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist or any other denomination, to sink their differences, meet as soldiers of the same army and bind themselves by a solemn oath not to participate themselves, and to forbid their followers to take up arms on penalty of excommunication. And I believe that by taking such action and showing herself resolute and fearless, indifferent to the threats of war-minded men and caring only to further the will of God, the Church can not only win back the respect of men she has wellnigh forfeited by her supineness in the past, but save civilization for our children ...”
PHEW! If he’d preached like that in
St. Giles yesterday evening, the old ladies would have reported him to his bishop as one unfit to hold Holy Orders.
He hadn’t, so it was all right. He’d given them a nice little discourse about ritual, and they liked him. From now on it would be plain sailing in the parish. And he wouldn’t
visit Charlie again. What was the use? His blind, mad, disfigured brother had not the faintest idea who he was, and in that home for shellshock cases you saw things that filled you with a fierce anger, most unbecoming in a pacifist priest of God.
So you’d go on comfortably as you’d begun. And if you should read in the papers talk about the next war that made you feel as if you heard the feet of a dark host marching upon the world, you’d do your Christian duty by asking God to make the politicians wise enough to stop it. You knew now that your idea of a Church Militant fighting for her children was but the vain vision of a young man that could never be realized in fact.
Young men? His thoughts took another turn. How entice them back to the fold? A football club? A local branch of the Boy’s Brigade? Essential to make them manly. They said the youth of Germany were very fit.
Ah, he could hear the footsteps of the maid bringing his shaving water ! He would greet her with his usual benign jocularity. The sunlight poured into the room, and from a near-by farmhouse a cock crowed, a shrill, mocking sound that was thrice repeated.