XII. Sword of Jesus
February 1918. Harold Bell Wright's reflections on World War I and the
threat posed by the Kaiser. (Public domain)
On the wall of my study, opposite my writing table, there hangs a
picture, a large reproduction of Hoffman's "Christ." For all my writing
years, whenever the conditions under which I have worked have made it at
all possible, this picture of Jesus has looked down upon me.
At times, sad times, I have sensed in this pictured countenance of the
Master rebuke and censure, and I have felt ashamed. At other times, glad
times and all too seldom, I have fancied I could almost hear from those
lips the words, "Well done."
At still other times, as I have mused over the tasks set for me, that
face has seemed to invite my questions. It has seemed to say: "Be not
afraid, bring to me the problems of life that trouble you so. Ask of me,
as you would ask of a brother or friend."
And so I ask in this awful hour that is for all mankind so pregnant with
mighty and eternal possibilities: "Jesus, if you were here, now, in the
flesh as you were in Galilee, what would you do in the matter of this
"If you were a citizen of this nation, Jesus, what would you do?
"I do not ask for myself alone, Jesus, I ask for millions of my fellow
citizens. In home and school and church, and by the accepted standards
of our civic, industrial, commercial and social life, we have been
taught that your manhood, Jesus, is the highest conceivable ideal
manhood. We have been reared in the belief that the standards of living
which were set by you, Jesus, are the highest standards of living to
which mankind can aspire.
"Jesus, if you were now a man, as we are men, and under this flag were
subject to this call to arms, what would you do?
"What would you do, Jesus, if, with us, as one of us, you were called to
put on your country's uniform?"
To reach the grain of the answer to our question we must, in our
thinking, cast aside the theological husks that too often hide from men
the humanity of Jesus. We must distinguish between the son of Mary and
the Son of God. We must recognize a difference between the carpenter of
Nazareth and the divine miracle worker. We must think of Jesus as the
man of Galilee, not as the Messiah of Hebrew prophecy and Christian
theology. It is of the man that we must ask our question, not of the
If it be said that we cannot in our thinking separate the man Jesus from
what might be termed his peculiar divinity, then, still, we must look to
the man and not to the God for our answer, because the divinity of Jesus
found expression only in his humanity. His Godhood made itself known
only in his manhood. We in our man life are limited to his man life. He
can have for us in answer to our question nothing more than he can give
us as a man.
And, more, we must ask our question, not of a Jesus living nearly 2,000
years ago, under world conditions peculiar to his day, but we must ask
of a Jesus living now, under the world conditions peculiar to this day.
We must ask of a fellow citizen Jesus.
"Jesus of Maine and Ohio and Kansas and Arizona and California, what
would you do? Jesus of New York and Chicago and San Francisco, what
would you do?"
It is not of a Jesus, bareheaded, with uncut hair and beard, dressed in
flowing robes and sandals, that we must ask our question. We must ask of
a Jesus who wears a hat, patronizes a barber shop, is smooth-shaven. We
must ask of a Jesus in overalls, or business suit – a Jesus of the farm,
the factory, the mine, the store, the office – a Jesus with a home and
family – a Jesus who pays his taxes and votes.
"Jesus, of our common, everyday American life, what would you do?"
Whatever the combinations of political complications that directly
called the nations to arms, no diplomatic fog now clouds the reason of
the world's mighty struggle.
By desolated Belgium, by the shell-torn fields of France, and by the
horrors on the free and open seas the issue has been made clear. In the
language of blood and tears, of brutal murder and wanton cruelty, of
bestial rape and unspeakable outrage, the purpose of the conflict has
been proclaimed. Out of the flaming hell of war itself, the cause has
And that cause is as world-old as the truths taught by the Man of
Galilee, and to which he certified by his death upon the cross.
Jesus, the light of the world, kindled the fire of this world war in
those days when he declared for the divine rights of humanity against
the assumption of those who falsely claimed a divine right to oppress
and enslave humanity. The enemies of the truths that Jesus spoke and
lived extinguished the torch of his earthly light on bloody Calvary.
They could not put out the fire he had kindled; and that fire has spread
until, today, the nations are aflame. And the enemies of humanity, with
the same spirit that nailed the world's Savior to a guide post where the
roads to Heaven, Earth and Hell corner, are fighting now to extinguish
the fire his teaching kindled.
A war of conquest for territory or power? No. A war of revenge or
hatred? No. A war for the insane ambition of a ruler who would stretch
his helpless subjects on the torture rack of indescribable suffering and
death for the vainglory of his house? No. A war to oppress and enslave?
No. A war for humanity? Yes. Dare any professed follower of Jesus
contend that those who war for humanity war not for God?
From the days when Jesus entered the lists to champion the divine cause
of mankind against those forces which held the world in physical, mental
and spiritual slavery, mankind has been moving onward toward this hour
of a decisive world war.
This, our nation, is a Christian nation. We, the people, are a Christian
This is not to say that our every national thought and deed is
Christ-like, any more than it is to assert that each individual citizen
lives true to the teachings of Jesus. But it is to say that as there are
ocean depths where, far beneath the troubled surface of the sea, the
waters lie unmoved by the storms that drive the billows in foaming
madness, so there are the still depths of our national life where,
beneath the surface of our temptation-driven days, we are moved only by
the currents of Christian ideals and Christian principles. The deeps of
our national life are Christian.
In watching the surface life and movement of the waves, we think little
of the vast world of waters that lies so many fathoms beneath. But in
the heaving lift of the mighty tides we sense the power and weight of
that deeper ocean.
So, in this hour of the world-struggle for the divine rights of
humanity, when the Christian principles of government, to which we owe
our very national existence, are threatened with destruction, we are
feeling the mighty lift of our deeper national life, of which, in the
ordinary surface movements of our affairs, we are, too often, but dimly
From the Christian deeps of our national being we are rising with tidal
might to take our place and do our part with those who battle for human
liberty and human rights, and for all that we as a Christian people hold
With the passing of the centuries, the doctrines of the divine rights of
humanity, as taught and lived by Mary's son, gained strength and power
in a world of slavery and serfdom. In the fullness of time, this nation
was born and dedicated to the cause of human liberty. The conception of
this government of the people, by the people, for the people is, without
question, directly traceable to the potent truths of Jesus' teaching.
And the spirit of those who first laid down the firm and enduring
foundations of our government was the spirit of that One who taught,
"And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant."
From our shores this Gospel of the man of Galilee and this gospel of our
national freedom have gone forth to every land. To our shores have come
lives from every nation to be here fused into one national life and to
add thus to our ever-growing strength against this day when, for all the
peoples of earth, the divine cause of humanity is to be won or lost.
In the ranks of those who carry our country's flag are men of every land
and blood – English and French and German and Dutch and Spanish and
Armenians and Chinese and Japanese and Africans and Indians. There is
scarce a race on earth that is not represented in this army of liberty.
Our army is the army of this nation, but is more: It is the army of the
liberty-loving world. Its blood is the blood of humanity, the humanity
of Jesus, the humanity for which Jesus lived and died.
But Jesus said, "Love your enemies." Well, this nation sings no hymn of
hate. The spirit of those who will carry the Stars and Stripes to Berlin
is not the spirit of hatred. When the well-loved and faithful dog of the
household goes mad and menaces the lives of friends and neighbors, it is
not hatred that fires the bullet to end its madness. Because this "mad
dog of Europe" must be stopped in his career of death does not mean that
hatred has raised the army that will accomplish that necessary end.
"Bless them that curse you. Do good to them that hate you," said Jesus.
Well, the blessings of our cause in victory will be to those men who
face our soldiers in battle, as well as to those brave ones in whose
support our men are fighting. The good of liberty will be for the German
people as well and as truly as for all other peoples of earth. No
greater good could come to the people of Germany who are fighting now
the battles of their Kaiser than the defeat and utter annihilation of
the spirit of that ruler who drives them to the battlefield.
Jesus wept over the city that rejected him, even as he pronounced in
solemn and awful terms the doom of that city. It is not at all
inconceivable that in the same spirit Jesus would pronounce the doom of
all for which the German emperor stands, even while he wept over the
sufferings of that emperor's subjects.
This same spirit, indeed, is the spirit of our president when he calls
us to arms. And it is the spirit of our Nation, as we answer that call
with the best manhood that we have to give.
"Woe unto the world because of offenses! Yet it must needs be that
offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."
These words of Jesus are full of meaning for the world today. Woe is
unto the world – bitter, bitter woe. Woe of nations that have seen their
peaceful fields and orchards turned into slaughter yards, and the
streets of their cities slippery with the blood of their unoffending
citizens. Woe of mothers and wives and sisters who have seen the loved
ones of their flesh murdered before their eyes, and then have been
themselves crucified upon crosses of savage lust. Woe of millions of
starving babies. Woe of millions of graves that are filled by the
victims of frightfulness that has made the world a place of mourning.
Woe of millions who, as they drag their mutilated bodies about in
never-ending agony, pray for death as for a blessing that is denied
them. Woe – woe – is come unto the world.
And it must needs be that these offenses have come. The doctrines of
Prussian militarism and the spirit of the Hohenzollerns have brought
this black woe upon the world as certainly as darkness comes with the
going down of the sun. And as certainly as daylight comes with the
morning, woe will be to those by whom the offense has come.
The commandment of Jesus that we forgive men their trespasses cannot be
sanely construed to mean that we must permit men to continue
Jesus was a man of peace.
Yes. But this does not necessarily mean that he was a pacifist. There is
a vast difference between a man of peace and a pacifist. Between the
peace-at-any-price man and the peace-no-matter-what-it-costs man there
is a great gulf fixed.
The man who said: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I
came not to send peace, but a sword," was certainly no
Jesus lived a man's life among men, played a man's part in the game of
life, and died a man's death.
The village carpenter was a man, as he worked at his trade in Nazareth.
He was a man when he went forth from his humble shop and in the name of
humanity faced the priests and those who sat with them in the high
places. He was a man when he dared to tell those mighty ones the truth
about themselves and, in defiance of their power, painted their true
portraits before all the world. He was a man when, against the protests
of his closest friends, he went quietly to Jerusalem where he knew that
his enemies were assembled and plotting to kill him. He was a man when,
single-handed, he drove that crowd of speculators from the temple, upset
their seats, overturned the tables of the money changers, and routed the
whole ungodly crew. He was a man when he said quietly to the Roman
soldiers who came to arrest Jesus of Nazareth, "I am he," and in the
same breath, ever thoughtful of his comrades, added, "Let these go their
way." "Behold the man," said Pilate, when Jesus stood before him.
This man of Galilee was no slacker. From his cradle to his cross, from
Bethlehem to Calvary, he was a man's man, a man of the people and for
Listen to his appreciation of the rugged John. To the truckling mob he
said in scorn, "You are like children sitting in the markets." But of
John, "What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with
the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft
raiment? Behold they which are gorgeously appareled and live delicately
are in kings' courts."
A man of peace? Yes, and this nation is a nation of peace.
The fathers who bid their sons be men in this hour of humanity's
greatest need are peace-loving fathers. The mothers who so bravely give
their boys that the world may be saved from the brutality of those who
have violated the womanhood of Europe are peace-loving mothers. The
young wives who so eagerly watch for the postman and scan the papers for
news of training camp or trench do not love war. And the young men of
this nation, who from college and office and shop and farm are answering
the call of humanity and, putting aside their dreams, denying their
ambitions, surrendering their opportunities, are laying their manhood's
strength a sacrifice upon the altar of the red god – these men, I say,
are not lovers of war. They are lovers of peace.
But because these men of peace are not poor reeds, to be shaken with the
wind, they are fronting the storm of war that threatens to destroy the
peace-loving nations of earth. Because they are not men of soft raiment
who must live delicately in kings' houses, they are giving their lives
to rescue the manhood and womanhood of the world from the savagery of a
And Jesus knew that war would be made on his doctrines of peace until
the armies of peace should finally conquer the world. He knew that those
who would live by his teachings must carry the sword against those who
would in war assail the divine rights of humanity for which he himself
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I came not to send
peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his
father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law
against her mother-in-law.
And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father
the child; and the children shall rise up against their parents, and
cause them to be put to death.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
And every step in the world's progress from those days when Jesus gave
to men his doctrine of the divine right of humanity, to this hour, when
nations are warring to establish those doctrines for all mankind, has
been taken by those who carried the sword of Jesus.
As long as men bring war for the wrong, men must go to war for the
right. As long as evil fights for evil, good must battle for good. As
long as the powers that seek to live by war assail the nations that
would live by peace, the armies of peace must take the field.
There is no essential difference between Jesus using his physical
strength to eject with violence those who defiled the temple, and the
followers of Jesus using physical strength to subdue those who defile
the earth with rape and murder. There is no essential difference between
the whip that Jesus used so effectively and the weapons in the hands of
our soldiers. A 30-centimeter gun may voice the edict of God as truly as
the notes of a cooing dove.
A man may give his life for humanity in a bloody trench as truly as upon
a bloody cross. The world may be saved somewhere in France as truly as
in Palestine. The truths that Jesus gave to the world cost him his life,
and those same truths have cost the followers of Jesus millions of
lives. The world has always crucified its saviors and always will.
That Jesus, a citizen of this Christian nation, today, hearing the call
that has come to us in the name of Christian rights and Christian
liberty, could put his sword in the hands of his fellow citizens and
refuse to offer himself is unthinkable. If we accept Jesus in his own
words as one who has brought us a sword, then we cannot refuse him as
one who would, if need be, carry a sword.
In the light of his life and death for humanity, and in the light of his
teaching, which centuries ago kindled the fire of this war and which
gave to our nation the vitality and strength of its government, it is
easier to see the man of Galilee in the trenches, shoulder to shoulder
with his comrades who have drawn the sword of human liberty, than it is
to imagine him skulking at home under the pretext that he does not
believe in war.
By the manhood of Jesus, and by his love for humanity, by his man life
and his fellowship and labor with men, by the ideals of manhood and his
teachings, by his death and by the millions of his fellows who have died
for the principles of life that he gave to the world, Jesus bids America
take up the sword.
By the conception of human liberty that our fathers had from Jesus'
teaching, by the gospel of freedom and the divine right of humanity
which we have preached through the world, by our growth to the place we
hold today, by the blood of every nation of earth that under the potent
influence of our flag has become the blood of our strength, by the
humanity of Jesus, which is our humanity and the humanity for which we
war, the sword of America is the sword of Jesus.
By the frightful slaughter of women and children, by this war of hatred
against human rights and human liberty, by the murder of sick and
wounded, by the deeds of barbarous cruelty and savage outrage, by the
violation of every principle of Christianity, and by the denial of every
truth that Jesus gave to men, we may hear the man of Galilee charge the
men of this nation: "Go," and, "Lo, I am with you always."