Great Speeches of the War/Nicoll

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SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON NICOLL


[An address delivered at an Intercessory Service in the City Temple on Friday, October 30, 1914.]


We hated war with a steadily growing hatred and abhorrence. We hate it more than ever, and look with longing for its end. A great and powerful movement for peace was at work in the world, and has not been defeated, though it has been stayed. But we never said that all wars were to be condemned. We knew too well that huge armaments were being piled up. We became familiar with the language of menace and hate. We had to say, "I am for peace, but when I speak they are for war." At last the storm burst upon us, and found us but partially prepared, while the enemy had prepared by all means—fair and foul. When the time came, we calmly took our side. Never in any previous war was the nation so united and so steadfast. We had not renounced our quest for peace, but we saw that something came before that. That something was righteousness. Our Lord Jesus Christ is first King of Righteousness, and then King of Peace.

First, righteousness. Had it not been for that we might have had a kind of peace. It would not have lasted long unless we had become so craven as to fear a fight in any cause. It would have been a selfish, ignoble, and cowardly peace, bought at the price of open and cynical treachery. We might have renounced our plighted word, our honour, our obligations. We might have torn up the scrap of paper and left little Belgium to her fate. But it could not be. It would have been a peace which would have made us the scorn of the whole world, and left us without a friend. Such perfidy and such ignominy would have been many times worse than war.

While the battles rage our hearts are often anxious and heavy. They will be for months to come. We shall have bitter news as well as joyful news. Our endurance and our faith will be tested to the uttermost. Consider how much more wretched we should have been if we had been out of this war, if we had been watching the ruin of our Allies and remained passive. Better war, we say from our hearts, than the tame acquiescence in the claim of the German militarism to dominate the world.

But Jesus is first King of Righteousness, Is this an antiquated phrase covering a dead thought? Nay, verily it is the spring of life's hope and of its highest joy. Righteousness is the keyword of the Christian faith. It is the granite foundation of our faith. The idea of righteousness is not a simple rudiment of the spiritual schools. Whoever understands St. Paul's intense conception of righteousness knows that it was the secret spring of the Apostle's spiritual power. To him the Gospel was primarily a declaration of the righteousness of God. Even love took second place to righteousness. This idea was given from above; it was not evolved from the inner consciousness, or from a survey of the world's history. The whole course of revelation is the gradual unveiling of the righteous God, which reaches its end in the New Testament. Once we know what righteousness meant to the Apostles we have not much more to learn.

I agree with the eminent preacher who said that if we as a nation had never known Christ we should have been at peace. It is Christ Who has flung His shield over the weak things of the world. The love of liberty, the abhorrence of tyranny, the care for the rights of other nations, the sacred obligations of honour, would have had no power to move us to battle had it not been for the spirit of Christ within us. The devil would have advised us to be neutral. He would have whispered to us that nothing was to be put in comparison with our own comfort and prosperity and security. He would have advised us to be content with our little island, and to obey the bests of our masters, and to cast to the wind the old superstitions about justice and mercy and courage and faith. No, it is because we are Christians that we are gone to war. It is Christ Himself Who has bidden us draw the sword for the cause of righteousness.

First righteousness, and then peace—by which I mean a righteous peace. There is no other peace worth striving for, no other peace in which men can be happy. It is possible for us to hope that as a result of this frightful war such a peace may come to us? There are many who are comforting themselves during this agony by the thought that this war will mean the end of wars. There are others, less sanguine, who say that as long as sin remains war will remain. To get rid of war we must first get rid of the evil that is in men's hearts. I cannot help thinking that we may look forward hopefully to the end of war if a righteous peace is reached. I decline to accept war as the permanent condition of human society. Slavery has been all but banished from the world, and may not war be banished? When we come to the end of the weary strife we shall see many things in a new light. We shall see, as we do not see even now, the horror, the pity, the futility, the ruin and the waste, which follow in the track of war, I would fain hope that, when the course of this world-war is calmly surveyed, the appeal to the arbitrament of war will cease. We cannot look forward very far, but surely we may expect that at the end the victors will see to it that, as far as it is possible, war and menace of war shall be removed from the terrors of human life. It is for this that we are fighting, and save this we can look for little as the result of our costly sacrifice.

But if the fight goes against us there is no such hope. Imagine—if you can imagine—a triumphant Germany. Imagine—if you can imagine—Britain, France, Russia, India, Canada, Australia, Japan, all the subdued and obedient vassals of the German conqueror? Would this make an end of war? Does any one believe that such a triumph would be more than the triumph of an hour? Only by the sheer wholesale murder of all free men could such a settlement be made permanent. Such an end would be no end. So long as any Briton could lift his arm there would be conspiracies first and battles next, and soon the flames would be burning over the whole earth. There is no peace in that, neither is there a true peace if we merely beat Germany on the land and on the sea. It has been well said that we should be conquerors in that case, but we shall be more than conquerors if we can exorcize the demon of militarism from the German mind and soul, for Germany in her humiliation will learn to take her true place among the fellowship of the nations.

Our hope, however, for the true peace that is built upon righteousness is in the triumph of the King of Salem, Who was first of all King of Righteousness—Who is made of God to all His people wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. When the lightnings flash from one end of heaven to the other, and He returns to the world again, He will take to Himself His great power and reign, and then will come a peace never to be broken more. There is much in the New Testament to suggest that He will come through the ragings and convulsions and earthquakes of the world. As Charles Wesley wrote, in those lines which Charlotte Bronte has quoted:—

"Oh! who can explain
This struggle for life,
This travail and pain,
This trembling and strife?
Plague, earthquake and famine.
And tumult of war,
The wonderful coming
Of Jesus declare."

He will come again to this old, weary, blood-drenched earth, and then will be the reign of peace. Then will all the wild tumult be laid to rest, and instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree, and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.