The History of Leith

March 30, 2012

Sermon delivered at South Leith on the outbreak of World War I

” Call upon me in the day of trouble : I will deliver thee,
and thou shalt glorify me.”—P.SAIM iv. 15.
In humdrum days the majority of people seek out some
kind of excitement congenial to their particular natures
in order to vary the monotony of existence. If people
have enough leisure to be able to select pleasurable
results at which they may aim, the attainment of
emotional thrills comes to occupy a large portion of their
activity. Life thus becomes increasingly artificial, and
especially when bereft of the guidance of distinct religious
principle, increasingly restless. But we have no need
to create excitement for ourselves to-day. It is readymade
for us. The most tremendous convulsion which
has ever sent recurring tremors through society is upon
us. The foundations of civilisation are shaken ; the
pillars of justice and truth which bear up the huge
edifice are trembling beneath the tread of hostile
nations. The business of the world is dislocated:
financial problems are presented to our commercial men
such as they have never formerly been called to face :
the security of those who have for a lifetime lived at
ease in their National Zion has been rudely interrupted :
dread anticipations of local trouble, here and there the
world over, have been dissipated on the spot by the
overshadowing gloom of a war-cloud which has suddenly
darkened the heavens. Those of us who are not irretrievably
foolish appear to be standing on the bleak shore of
a stormy sea. The ship of modern existence is labouring
heavily on a lee shore. AYe are wondering whether she
will ultimately succeed in drawing off clear of the reefs
which threaten her safety.
In olden days it was quite a usual thing for the fiery –
cross to be sent through our glens summoning the clans
to some daring raid or some office of defence. But now
upon our unaccustomed ears there falls a national ” Call
to Arms.” The leaders of the great political parties,
with a harmony none the less admirable that it is born
of necessity, are .taking the platform together in the
capital cities of our United Kingdom, and in their
wake public men of all shades of prominence are
arranging to sound the tocsin of wrar in every town and
hamlet. Surely the cause must be a very clear and
strong one which has brought about this unparalleled
result! It is. AYe are contending for the value of the
plighted word of nations. Germany like Britain and
France, undertook to guarantee the neutrality of
Belgium. At the critical moment when that obligation
impeded her, Germany burst through it, and Belgium
has been plunged into a sea of sorrow to which our
western nations have been strangers for a century.
Now it has become clear to all that the ultimate design
of Germany is to dominate Europe, to displace Britain
from its primacy on the ocean, and to make acquisition
of large territories oversea at the expense of France and
ourselves. If we value freedom as well as honour, we
must leave no stone unturned to maintain in its fullest
integrity the independence of

This fortress built by nature for itself
Against infection and the dread of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in a silver sea ;
AVhich serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands :
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Britain.

In the unprecedented nature of the circumstances, the
Church must keep in line with the State. Parallel to
the “Call to Arms ” and on a level about it must be the
” Call to Prayer ” It is true that the nauseating use
of the Divine name by the Kaiser is apt to put sensitive
people off from dealing with this great problem in a
religious way. AATe ought all to understand his attitude
at least, for are we not both nationally and individually
inclined to summon the Most High to second ouv aims
and desires ? What the Kaiser ought to have done, and
what we ought always to do, is to submit our wills and
our ideals to God. The main anxiety ought always to
be this : are we basing our lives upon those eternal
principles which are revealed both in the Bible and in
history to be laws of God ? Lincoln put the matter
exactly in reply to the man who asked him whether^he
thought that God was on the side of the Korth in the
great war of 1864. “As to that I do not know,”was
the statesman’s reply : “my only anxiety is to be sure
that we are on God’s side.”
The Call to Prayer does not mean that we are calling
in the aid of a powerful, but hitherto neglected ally in
our strenuous campaigns. It means chiefly that we are
acknowledging in a way we have never done before that
we must humble ourselves in the sight of God. In that
attitude, so uncongenial to our pride and self-sufficiency,
we shall^see the smooth and rough of life in better proportion.
The best men in the land have shown, and
our own consciences confirm the truth of it, that we are
taking a stand not merely for self-preservation, but even
for the sake of those who are threatened with oppressive
conquest. In yielding ourselves to God we may then
without presumption intercede for those who are in
danger of losing freedom, one of the most precious of all
possessions: we may pray that justice and judgment
may vindicate themselves as the habitation of His
Now that the “foundations of the great deep have
. been broken up ” prayer, like some other exercises, may
be less difficult for many than it usually is. There is
always the disinclination of the flesh to bow the knee in
prayer, but in addition, the trend of speculation which
has influenced many minds is to the effect that the
universe is so confined by the iron chains .of necessity
that no prayer avails to break it. Loisy, the famous
French scholar, has confessed as follows, ” I have not
for a long time been able to pray to G od as to one from
whom I was asking a favour, but have only retired into
my own mind to make sure that my plans were right or
wrong.” But the Christianity of Christ is an eternal
protest against this attitude. It is a proof that God
both hears and answers prayer. There never has been
an age in which it has not been true that ” the effectual
fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
The “Duty of Prayer” therefore sounds its call in the
soul of the Christian, and never more loudly than to-day.
Once more the text will be verified, “Call upon me in
the day of trouble, and I will answer thee, and thou
shalt glorify me.” David in his distress was marvellously
helped by it, until lie became strong. Daniel,
with a despot and his obsequious minions against him,
yet persevered, and God sent signal deliverance. Paul
and Silas prfcyed, and a “wonderful escape was prepared
for them. Even when God does not send the answer
we desire, he despatches a blessing which we recognise
to be better than would have been a granted request. If
the present distress of the, nations will not help us to
pray, then it must be confessed that the imaginations
of our hearts have been successfully steeled against the
strongest dart that Providence can throw. Oh ! do not
any longer restrain prayer, you who have been comfortable
and worldly, but cast yourselves daily at the feet
of God, that He may exalt you in due time by granting
such an • excess of spiritual life to our country and to
Europe that even this terrible war may turn out to be
a blessing in disguise. Tennyson has seized the moment
of apparently hopeless calamity—the Passing of Arthur
under the shadow of defeat and death—as the moment
to emphasise the immense importance of prayer :—
More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend ?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

Source-south Leith Magazine 1914

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