Sermon on causes of World War One

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Rev-John-Baird-wA SERMON preached by the father of Helensburgh-born TV inventor John Logie Baird early in World War One was considered at the time to be exceptionally moving and apposite.

The Rev John Baird had been the minister of Helensburgh West Parish Church, later named St Bride’s, for many years, and he came out of retirement to preach the sermon on Sunday September 20 1914. He was 72.

His grandson, Professor Malcolm Baird, who lives in Canada and is president of Helensburgh Heritage Trust, said: “He knew Germany well and he respected its culture, and it obviously pained him to explain how it had followed the wrong path.

“He did so with the aid of well-chosen biblical texts and with deep insight.”

The theme of the sermon was from Psalm 97: The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof. Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.”

This is what he told the congregation . . .

We must speak of the War — for “out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh and the ear heareth”.

We must try to speak of it and to look on it in the light of God’s countenance.  We must speak as standing on the Watchtower to those who eagerly enquire of us: “Watchman, what of the night?”

It is, indeed, a dreadful night which we are passing through. We have not gone this way heretofore, when the future of our native land and of the British Empire is — we might almost say — trembling in the balance.

The foundations of Kingdoms are shaken, and when this War is ended, it will be a different Europe, for it is a war of life and death for the one side or the other.

Our enemies have inscribed on their Standard: “Woe to the vanquished!” No wonder, therefore, we think of it when we are alone, speak of it in company and preach on it in the “house of God”.

And as we meet here our united invocation rises up to Him who is higher than the higher: “O thou who art the high and lofty One, inhabiting Eternity and the Praise thereof, enable us in Thy light to see light and to say ‘the Lord reigneth;  let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof”.  

What was the cause of this War which shakes Europe as the trees of the forest by a tempest?

It is not always easy to diagnose causes. We may have to go deep down and to look far back.

A Serbian assassinating a Prince and Princess of Austria was apparently the cause of it all. But that was not enough to set Europe on fire; it was but the occasion, not the cause.

It was the spark, the combustibles were all there before.

Germany was the cause of the war for which she was quite ready — and was waiting for a pretext to have her long cherished plans and purposes carried out.

She had been seeing visions and dreaming dreams for long, and now, she thought, was the time for realising them.

She had been led up into an exceeding high mountain, and the tempter said: “These shall be thine, these kingdoms and the and the glory of them if you fall down and worship me ‘in blood and iron’.” It was Germany and the old tempter who were the cause of the War.

And the God that Germany has really been worshipping with his Kingdom of the World and the glory of them, is this very devil who tempts every man at one time or another, just as it tempted Christ at the beginning of His ministry.

This is really the German god that you hear so much about , whose Motto is “Might is Right”, to which the End, which is conquest and domination, justifies the means, though these be cruelty and outrage and the deep damnation of their atrocities.

This God is a member of the Hohenzollern House whom he has chosen to himself, elect, precious, and on whose side he fights with equal brutality.

And so they sing praises to and worship this modern Baal, while the God that Jesus Christ declared unto mankind is despised and put to an open shame.

They have crucified the Son of God afresh, forgetting that “Whosoever falleth on that rock shall be broken, and on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder”.  

They asked Abraham Lincoln, one of the best, and gentlest of men, if during the civil war in America, God was on his side? “My first thought,” he replied, “is to know and be sure that I am on God’s side.”

There was the humble and contrite spirit, which felt that above all earthly “Thrones, Denominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers” reigned that Supreme King, who, “tho’ clouds and darkness are round about him, sits on a Throne whose foundations are Justice and Judgment”.

To reach the source of this War we must go deep down, and far back. It was not a sudden outburst — a “bolt from the blue” — as we say.

It was a thing that was coming, and our Watchmen on the Tower saw it coming, and were preparing for it, else it would not be so well with us to-day, as it is.

For it is Great Britain, which Germany hates and would destroy, more than any other of her opponents, for we stand most directly in her way, and thwart her ambition: ‘First clear France out of the way, which can easily be done, then the British Isles – and then all things are ours’.

They thought to put us aside in the meantime, and keep us there until our time came — but Providence meant it otherwise, and hence, dreadful tho’ it is, it is better that the War should have come now — now, and let this menace and threat be faced, and if it be the will of God, be swept away.

In the book of Deuteronomy we read “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked” — he grew prosperous, and became rebellious, and self-willed — “then he forsook God who made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his Salvation”.

Ah, how often is that the way both with man and with nations of man.

“Lifted up thus high I scorned subjection, and thought one step higher would set me highest”.

This is a satanic  “Excelsior” and Germany has become possessed of that evil spirit.

A hundred years ago or thereby, Germany lay at the mercy of Napoleon (and he had not much mercy), but now we may say of that land as Jeshurun: “He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increases of the fields; and he made him suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock”.

The rise and growth of Germany, since the fall of France in 1870, has been the wonder of Europe, but now instead of its Goethe it has its Krupp, instead of its Luther its brutal Superman, and instead of God its Kaiser —– and ‘Deutschland ueber Alles’.

I remember two quaint lines which I read out an old Puritan book when I was in my Father’s house long ago now:

“Unless above himself he can
 Erect himself: how mean a thing is man”

And the other was"

“For man can never be at rest
Till he regains his ancient nest.”

That is not the Spirit of the new Germany.  It is a Godless, materialistic, proud and arrogant Spirit which virtually says ‘Man is God and might is right — who is the Lord that he should reign over us?’

A change has come over the Spirit of Germany, which is now our enemy, and which was once our friend, in Philosophy, Learning, Music, Poetry and Religion.

It is a downwards change — a change which makes us cry in sorrow, disappointment and wrath — “how art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning?”

It is the Spirit that is in a man that makes or mars a man. How often have you not been forced to run away from a person to whom you wished to tell some plain or wholesome truth?

‘Oh that this man breathed a new and different spirit — then I could speak to him: but that spirit of pride and self sufficiency, of avarice, of envy, is like a coat of mail around him, impenetrable as triple brass’. The spirit that is in a man blinds him or enables him to see

Jesus answered his disciples: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” — it is it that is blinding you, and making you speak, so confidently; so boldly; for the spirit that a man breathes makes him infallible in his own eyes, and there is no use arguing or reasoning or pleasing with infallibility!

Hence our first and daily prayer should be that of King David who had been led astray by an evil spirit: “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. Take not the holy spirit from me, nor let me fall a victim to The Prince of the Power of the air” — vain, reckless, ruinous.

Given the inflaming and misleading spirit of pride, envy, hatred, greed, then you have that common enough calamity of “A way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death”.

A man inspired by the evil of self-righteousness may walk up to Heaven’s gate, and demand admittance, and receive the answer “Depart from me. I never knew you, nor you me”.

“Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” Ah my friends, quench not the Spirit of life and love — for you can quench it, if you dare to do so, and insist on loving darkness rather than light.

And this is what we charge Germany with having done during its later years and military ascendancy and material prosperity — it has forgotten God who made it, and lightly esteemed the Rock of its Salvation.

It has worshipped the creature more than the Creator, who is God blessed for ever!

These are the grounds for this War, the root of this matter — “Jeshurun has waxed fat, and kicked” in its pride of power.

It has become a second Babylon, saying in its heart “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”.

Belshazzar was another God, in his own way. You know about the great feast that he made to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine to the thousand out of what St Paul calls “the cup of devils”.

But another King was there, tho’ neither Belshazzar nor his thousand saw him, and he wrote with his finger on the wall “Mene, mene Tekel Upharsin” — “Thou art weighed in the Balances, and found wanting”. “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground”. “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.”

If you have lived long and kept your eyes open, you will have read over and over again this doom “Pride goeth before a fall”.

Men build high, forgetting their foundations, and the only true foundation is humility — as He who was meek and lowly of heart, and whose spirit rules what is best and most enduring in the world to-day has said “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted”.

This Kingdom shall stand when the mushroom Kingdoms of this vain, proud world have passed away. 

To conclude: our Text lies at the heart of the Hebrew prophets, who had their Tiglat Pilezers, their Sennacheribs, their Shalnanezers, their Merodach-Baladans,  the same as we have our Hohenzollerns.

With these great potentates “Might was Right” — might armed with terror and destruction, and a God of their own.

The old prophets kept saying in the darkest night of Israel’s history “the right shall prevail and tho’ clouds of darkness are round about Him, yet justice and judgment are the Habitation and the Throne of the Eternal”.

WW1 Centenary logoThis War will cost us much, it will demand sacrifices of us such as  we in our past peaceful times have never had to pay before.

Many will go forth from their homes never to return again; but death must come to us all in one way or another, and to die fighting for freedom for our native land, for freedom and for Him who was crucified for us, is a glorious death; “Greater love hath no man than this” that a man lay down his life for his native land.

The ages that are to come will look back upon us to see how we stood in our time of danger and distress.

Let us breathe the spirit of our Fathers who fought for their homes and Country in many battles, great in history, and out of this dark tempest to the bright, fresh morning of a better day that shall dawn in the time to come.

Now unto Him who alone is wise — be rendered and ascribed as is most due, all praise might majesty and dominion, world without end, Amen.

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