STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS
[This tract was published at the beginning of the Second World War on December, 15th. 1939. Today’s impending war-action in the Middle East, the credit crisis, the present and rapid escalation of fuel costs, the sharp downfall in world trading and the rapid increase in crime rates: all indicate a world of nations ‘out of joint’, and the ever seeking, at all costs, a solution to the complex problems to finding world peace. - Ed.]
the world-storm that is now raging, when the Churches of the world find
themselves in a violent clash of opposing nations, how urgent it is that the
[* The Guardian, Sept. 29, 1939.]
startling peculiarity of the Church in its nature as revealed by God, a
peculiarity which sets it for ever apart, is that it is itself a race, a nation,
a people, and therefore sundered from all other races, and nations, and
are an elect race, a holy nation, a
people for God's own possession" (1 Pet. 2: 9). All other nations are Lo Ammi
- not My people; and the Church is the
only holy nation in the world. We enter
into the elect race by being born again into the family of God: "which in time past were no people" - they were
scattered individuals among all nations - "but now
are the people of God". Its government is not visible; its
territory is not here; its code of laws is not human; and its King is at
present a world-exile. In the words
"Since heaven has become my country, the whole
world is a place of exile; for Constantinople is no nearer
Our relationship to all other nations at once becomes obvious. "I beseech you," says the Apostle, "as sojourners and Pilgrims." The word tanslated ‘strangers’ or ‘sojourners’ means ‘foreigners’ dwellers in a foreign land and the word rendered ‘pilgrims’ is almost our ‘tourists’, that is, travellers bound for another country: the one means that anywhere on earth we are not at home; the other means that in any nation we are not among our own folk. "For they that say such things" - namely, that they are strangers and pilgrims - "make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own" (Heb. 11: 14). As Israel, separated from all nations, made its baptismal plunge into the Red Sea, and rose to walk a lonely nation with God; so the Church, drawn out of all tribes and peoples and nations and tongues, goes down into the baptismal grave many nations, but rises in new life one nation, "where there is neither Greek nor Jew, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free" (Col. 3: 2).
The reason for the creation of this Holy Nation is now given. "That ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his most marvellous light: that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." The visible character of a Christian is a masterly reply to modem propaganda, the most deadly intellectual weapon, of to-day. All that a totalitarian State hears or reads is absolutely controlled; but Christian character and life, even in a prison, is inevitably seen, and, for those around, it is impossible to be hidden; and God is seen in the man. The awful multiplication of spies compels an unintended study of the Christian, and therefore the spy’s coming face to face with God. "All the beauty of self-sacrifice that has ever irradiated a saint, all the heroism of the martyr, all the wisdom and maturity of the teachers, all the love and benevolence in the Church’s ranks, are but the diamond dust, the microscopic fragments, from the solid rock of God’s infinite perfection" (A. Maclaren, D.D.).
But a momentously practical question now arises: what is to be our attitude to the Government, and to the laws, of the land in which national birth has placed us? The Apostle answers:- "Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him." Our submission is not necessarily approval: we submit to the ordinance for the Lord’s sake, not necessarily for the ordinance’s sake: we desire to be winsome, and sympathetic, and obedient wherever possible, so as to commend our Master to the nation in which we live. Our Lord, when about to be executed by the State, openly acknowledged that the power of that State was ordained of God: "Thou wouldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19: 2).* It is manifest, however, that an impassable gulf yawns the moment the human ordinance clashes, in plain black and white, with any command of God. It was Peter himself who said:- "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5: 29), a decision which ultimately cost him his life, and all the martyrs theirs. But, short of that, the Christian - like his Lord, who never entered on a crusade against political or racial corruption, but poured out the truth which can alone cure it - pays the taxes, obeys the laws, ** intercedes for all in authority, and by maintaining his saltedness saves Sodom. Under the terrible totalitarian Emperors of his day, Tertullian said:- "We Christians, looking up to heaven with outspread hands, and without a prompter, because we pray from our hearts, do intercede for all emperors, that their senates may be faithful, their people honest, and their whole empire at peace."
[* It is nowhere written, Christians, submit yourselves to good governments, any more than it is written, Children, submit yourselves to good parents, or, Servants, submit yourselves to good masters - "not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward" (1 Pet. 3: 18). Grace is much more powerful in submission to evil.]
** In this sense we can say, "I am a Briton born," even as Paul cried, "I am a Roman born" (Acts 22: 28), when he invoked the Roman law courts (Acts 25: 11) in defence of his character, though not in defence of his property or life. But, as Paul has himself said:- "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3: 20).]
So the Apostle adds a warning that has by no means been unnecessary down the Christian ages. "As free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God." The word ‘cloak’ aptly expresses some fair and attractive pretence by which we conceal some secret evil, injurious to the State, that we are practising. Our freedom is God-given: "ye are bought with a price, become not bondservants of men" (1 Cor. 7: 23): nevertheless behind our refusal of the State’s law may lurk an unbrotherliness - the word means anything opposite to love and charity - which does not fulfil our real service, which is "bondservice to God". Our sole defence against an iniquitous Government is the Most High (1 Pet. 4: 19). Martin Luther, in his agony of spirit on the night preceding his appearance before the Diet of Worms, prayed:- "Do Thou, my God, do Thou God, stand by me against all the world’s wisdom and reason. Oh, do it! Thou must do it. Stand by me, Thou true, eternal God!"
The Apostle now closes with a general summary virtue in the child of God.
Honour all men. Here is a fundamental command that could
have come only from the God who is love. Peter was surrounded, as we shall be
increasingly, by persecutors and slanderers, by whose hands he was ultimately
killed: nevertheless we are to "honour all
men" - all having infinite possibilities, all made in the image
of God, and all redeemed in their totality by Christ. It is a suggestive little fact that, in the
old days, no Jew would tread on any chance piece of paper on the floor lest the
name of God might be written on it. It must never leave our minds that there is no
man who may not carry, not the name, but the character of God. Tertullian says:- "When the pagans deserted
their nearest relatives in a plague, Christians ministered to the sick and
dying: when the pagans left their dead unburied after a battle, and cast their
wounded into the streets, the Christians hastened to relieve the suffering."
Chiang Kai-Shek wrote recently:-
"The Generalissimo and I feel that no words we
could speak could sufficiently express our debt of gratitude to the missionary
body all over
Love the Brotherhood. In the fierce war of nations, and the
grave mistake of the Churches in identifying themselves with their nations’
erroneous teaching this command becomes much more difficult, yet far more
urgent. We own but one Brotherhood -
those born of God in every nation; and God’s command is that we love these everywhere, and under all circumstances. The
(3) Fear God. Over against the fear of man Scripture invariably counter-poises the fear of God, and not for the world only, but also for the Church. Grace does not cancel the fear of God: the command here is as direct and straight as the love of the Brotherhood: Grace cancels for us the fear of God as Christless sinners, but imposes a real fear of God as His responsible servants. "If we have lost our thought of God as an all-just and all-holy judge who will call us to strict account for all service done or left undone, we must re-capture it" (T. H. Darlow). "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2: 12).
Honour the King. It is simply overwhelming to us,
who are standing on the threshold of Antichrist, that the ‘king’ under whom Peter wrote is Nero, who,
re-incarnated in the murdered ‘seventh emperor’
(Rev. 17: 11), will be the
Antichrist. "There is No power but of God"
The concealed trap-door through which every child of God falls who ignores or denies the Second Coming is this:- that the very prophecies which assert God's complete ultimate triumph, after a decisive Armageddon, he - without the Armageddon - pours over the present situation as a soporific and an anodyne: so that desperate evil which ought to be fought to the death is quietly assumed to be an evanescent by-product of evolution; and God Himself is brought in (by an error which can be perfectly honest and sincere) to establish and authenticate a monstrous misinterpretation of the modern crisis. No man is logically justified in accepting God’s heaven while rejecting God’s hell, or in forecasting a golden age while obliterating the agony (birth-pangs: Matt. 24: 8) which alone can give it birth. For two days after the outbreak of the Great War, Dr. Clifford says, he was too stunned to pray. Happy will be the younger generation if, cradled in a false optimism, and identifying the Most High with a ‘social’ Christianity, it does not turn infidel at the first shock of the last judgments.