The History of Leith

April 3, 2012

SERMON Preached in SOUTH LEITH PARISH CHURCH ON 4TH August 1918, THE FOURTH ANNIVERSARY Of THE DECLARATION OF WAR, BY REV. WILLIAM SWAn, B.D.

SERMON Preached in SOUTH LEITH PARISH CHURCH ON 4TH
August 1918, THE FOURTH ANNIVERSARY Of
THE DECLARATION OF WAR, BY REV. WILLIAM
SWAn, B.D.
Iam the Lord Ay God, which teacheth thee to profit,
which leadeth thee by the way thaT thou shouldst
go.”—-ISAIAH xlviii. 17.
We are standing to-day on a momentous threshold.
Amidst stirring events the fourth anniversary of the
War has come round. With our eyes shaded, we look
eagerly to the horizon for signs of victory and of the
coming of peace. Moved by irresistible instinct, we
Iook back and see vanishing into the light of eternity
the heroic figures of the uncounted multitude from the
home lands, from the dominions, colonies, and dependencies,
who counted not their lives dear to them
when weighed in the balances with righteousness and
freedom on the earth. May our memories be a total
blank if we ever forget them !
” The saint and poet dwell apart, but thou
Wast holy in the furious press of men,
And choral in the central rush of life.”
Over and above all, as we remember the appalling
dangers from which we have been delivered, we offer
humble and sincere thanksgiving to Almighty God.
He is the God of battles. -Without His aid no difficulties
can be rightly surmounted. May we not say—
” If that the Lord
Had not our cause maintained ;
If that the Lord
Had not our right sustained,
When cruel men
Against us furiously
Rose up in wrath,
To make of us their prey;
Then certainly
They had devoured us all,
And swallowed quick,
For ought that we could deem ; –
Such was their rage
As we might well esteem.”
This is a fitting day on which to attempt a summary
of the experiences of the four eventful years which
have just closed. The first year of war was one of
rude awakening. Our whole populace was dissolved
in worldly dreams; our statesmen lived in fear of
losing their positions if they told them the awful
prospect of the international situation; civil war
threatened in our own islands by the same men who did
not understand the difference between loyalty and disloyalty
to the national ideal; when suddenly the
trumpet of war sounded, and the invasion of Belgium
awakened us. A facile optimism characterises the
next period. Business was to be as usual; the War
was to end in July 1915, Lord Kitchener’s prediction
of a struggle lasting for at least three years being
received with incredulity; but the discover}’ of a
serious shortage of munitions, and a shortage of fighting
men just as serious, administered a shock to our complacency
and brought about a Coalition Government.
In the following year the iron really entered into the
national soul. Conscription, so much ridiculed and
detested, became a necessity ; bereavement upon bereavement
taught every part of the land that shadows
were gathering thick and fast about us; disastrous
campaigns in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia revealed
the colossal difficulties in front of us ; our pushes, or
offensives, on the Western Front, if they revealed
the dauntless courage of our men, proved at the same
time that there was not the weight and momentum
behind necessary for breaking the power of the foe ;
our Allies were feeling the strain even more heavily
than we. The Colossus still evilly bestrode Europe,
and might have threatened the world but for our
Navy. Then our hopes were almost dashed to the
ground by miscalculation and over-confidence. The
incalculable break-up and defection of Russia ought
to have warned our statesmen that hard times lay
immediately before our soldiers on the Western Hfeent,
thus leading them to enforce conscription on Ireland,
and to call up men in Britain much more rigorously
than they were doing. It always seemed to me that
they were over-confident, not seeing that Germany
would do everything in its power to deliver an incredible
blow before America, brought into the War by the
perfidy and horror of the submarine campaign, could
bring “substantial aid to the Allied cause. Is it any
wonder that we reached the lowest depths when
Germany, in March, drove in one of our armies by
adding trickery to a surprising and skilful massing
of forces ? Then it was that Field-Marshal Haig
told our men that they were fighting with their backs
to the wall, and that they were to die rather than
yield another foot to the enemy. Not only was
Britain roused, but America, after long preparation,
realising the critical situation, poured its legions into
France, and thus helped to stem the awful tide. It
was the answer to Tennyson’s prayer, uttered as if in
sight of this very emergency—
” Should war’s mad blast again be blown,
Permit not thou the tyrant powers
To fight thy mother here alone,
But let thy broadside roar with ours.
0 rise ! our strong Atlantic sons,
When war against our freedom springs,
0 speak to Europe through your guns,
They can be understood by kings ! ”
What an unmasking and an unveiling these eventful
years have seen !
Unmasking ! for the ambition, the welded thoroughness,
the cruelty, the diabolic ingenuity, the Satanic
Pelmanism of Germany stand now.before the world
naked and unashamed. Is not all the horror due to
the rejection of Jesus Christ by the real rulers of
Germany ? A fanatical exponent of this hatred has
said, ” War has done greater things than love of our
neighbour. . . . A new beatitude give I unto you,
that ye hate one another. . . . Christianity. is the
greatest crime.”
Unveiling ! for Britain now lives with a rediscovered
soul; altruism has taken on a new lease of life; if
we trace beneath the surface a foul stream of profiteering
and greed for bonuses, while the men in the battleline
are risking all on a pittance, above it, shining like
the sun, we see the nobility and sacrifice of those who
have died to self both at home and in the bloody
wrestle with wickedness.
Turning from what is behind, let us now look forward.
A military star of the first magnitude has risen in
General Foch. His genius has been so used that we
see the gloomy clouds disparted to-day, and the constellation
of hope shines down on us from heaven.
” Then in such hour of need
Of your fainting, dispirited race,
Beacons of hope jre appear.
Languor is not in your heart,
Weakness is not in your word,
Weariness not on “hour brow.”
But the watchword very clearly is, Beware ! The
lesson has been driven home to us that Britain is never
in such danger as when hope gives an unexpected
turn to our fortunes. There must be no slacking
amongst ourselves, as if the goal were almost within
grasp. We must jealously guard against disunity
among the Allies, a thing sure to occur if separate
interests are dwelt on. The peace manoeuvres of
Germany are a dire danger. With her unwelcome
discovery of the growing might of the American aid,
we may now be certain that her agents will be busy
throwing apples of discord in the track of the Allies.
No attention must be paid to them. The Allies will
not secure the peace of the next generation unless they
break the sword of German militarism across their
knees. The pacifists in our own country must be
watched, for if some of them act from motives of pity
which appeal to us all, others are inspired by ideals
which will only be achieved when they succeed in
poisoning the springs of patriotism throughout the
nation. Beware ! then, for the ends for which we are
fighting are vitally important. Must not the enemy
be decisively defeated ? The only excuse for stopping
short of that would be such an unequivocally sincere
repentance as the world has never yet seen on the
part of any combatant on the field of battle. Must
not the oppressed go free ? How could we sheath
the sword if Belgium, Serbia, and Northern France, if
Poland and Armenia still bore any impress of the
tyrant’s tread ? Could we risk the summoning of a
Peace Congress if the Allies were not in a position so to
arrange the map of the world that excuses for future
wars should be removed out of sight of this generation ?
If we brought the struggle to a prernature’couclusion,
how, in any Day of Judgment, could we look into the
eyes of the brave men who yielded up their lives that
a”golden age of peace and happiness might be founded,
resting on the sure base of their sacrifice ? No ! the
altar has been erected in vain, they have immolated
themselves upon it to no purpose, if we come to terms
with an unrepentant Germany, which only bides its
time to make another spring at the unsuspecting throat
of human liberty.
God will assuredly teach us to profit and lead us in
the way in which we should ga»if these burning years
engrave on our minds the conviction that looking forward
means preparing for the changes which everywhere
are called for in our national life. The sphere
of Economics cries out for attention. Our foes have
taught us what may be accomplished by marshalling
industry with an object in view. Their purpose has
been the evil one of using trade to master the world;
ours must be the nobler one of so developing it that
class wars may disappear, that the time may come
to an end when it will be difficult for a few to be enormously
rich, and for a vast multitude to be disastrously
poor. We ought to keep an open ear for every wise
suggestion which will bring us nearer this goal. But
wtmt about Politics, which so easily becomes an Augean
stable? It takes little trouble to be for Party, but
much to be for the State. Yet only this ideal will
preserve us from the meanness and pettiness of prostituting
public affairs to paltry, if not merely personal,
ends. Righteousness alone exalteth a nation, while
all forms of sin are a disgrace to the people which

tolerates them. Well, then, it will be admitted that
if the War teaches us anything, it is that material ends
must be sternly subordinated to spiritual aims.
Germany has openly inverted the order and we have
been fast, if also unconsciously, following in her train.
Look at what has been happening in the circles of
those who represent the governing and educational
authorities of the land ! The Convention of Royal
Burghs spent some hours very properly in considering
the details of the new Education Bill, and was about
to separate without saying a word about the kernel
of the matter. One of the members, however, greatly
daring, asked if the crisis had not reaffirmed the
urgency of religious education, which had not received
its due place in the Bill. So impressed were all with the
importance of the reference which had been made, that,
I understand, a unanimous resolution was passed.
on the subject. Later, the Grand •Committee of the
House of Commons was discussing the Bill. To the
shame of our Scottish members, it has to be said, they
rejected, by a majority of seven,’ the addition of a
clause to the Bill which would have transferred religious
teaching by Use and Wont from the Preamble of the
Act of 1872 to the heart of the Bill of 1918. The
plea, I understand, for this course was that trouble
might arise in Scotland if the question of religious
education was reopened; that what was asked was
already in fact secured. But if the Roman Catholic
Schools have secured their rights of teaching the tenets
of their faith—with which we disagree—by the Bill,
is it not right that the great majority of the Scottish
people should have the teaching of the Bible secured,
in at least as certain a way, as a minority ? Queen
Victoria said that the Bible was the foundation of
Britain’s greatness, and she uttered no more than the
truth. What is to hinder the teachers of Scotland, in
their Educational Institute, compiling a careful
Syllabus of Religious Instruction, suitable for tie
length and breadth of the land ? There is no matter
in which they are so vitally interested, and the chance
of bringing the teaching of the Bible into integral
connection with the rest of the school work will be
eagerly welcomed by them. The inspectors on their
visits may overlook the religious instruction. Bat
on condition that this instruction is given daily in all
grades, the inspection should be different in kind and
intention from the rest of their work. In this way the
chief end of education would be kept steadily in view,
the steeping of the youthful mind in moral and spiritual
truth—especially in the spirit of Him who is truth
incarnate.
Indisseverable from every other side of life is the
influence of Morals. What meaning or importance can
life have for man unless it is woven on the warp of
right motive and aim ? Without these, we are no
better than motes dancing in the intermittent sunbeams.
Horace said, ” If you expel nature with a
pitchfork, nevertheless it will return.” With evea
more force the same can be said of morality. Try
to ignore it in the conduct of life, and it will return, as
it were, with seven spirits stronger than itself, exacting
the uttermost farthing. You will recall the dreadhi
revenge it takes for sexual incontinence in venerol
disease, both on this generation and on that which is ~j
come—” visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon ti
children unto the third and fourth generation.” Yn*
can have no difficulty in seeing the evil effects a
alcoholic indulgence, not only on the bodily heaja
but also in its innumerable corrupting streams falling
into the river of society. It is seen at its worst, t: ~
mind, in the moral indifference which it breed?
minds of those who should know better, if their
profession of Christian belief has any reality in it,
very core of our religion is a regard for the moral
spiritual welfare of others. Where that is ai
Christianity is like a leaden sea, without any sparkle
.
.
God teaches us to profit, if we cultivate
the mind which is willing to be led by Him. When
the War began, a sudden wave of seriousness swept
over the country. It has been renewed on every
occasion of reverse since, though to a lesser degree.
But worldly minds soon leave off prayer when they
discover that God does not answer them at the time
they want, and in the way they desire. It is something
to suit ourselves, and not to please God, that we
naturally crave for. In many cases, therefore, there
:s observable a coarsening effect from the War. Bereavement,
suffering, death have grown so common that
people fly to the distractions of pleasure rather than to
those thoughts and interests which interpret to the
soul the intense happenings of the time. There has
been a distinct aversion on the part of our statesmen
and public men generally to recognise, with due
emphasis, the penitential aspect of the dire visitation
of this War. Perhaps this is due in some measure to
these facts which I now mention. On the one hand,
there is a triumphant certainty of Tightness in the
choice made by the nation when it entered on the War.
On the other, morally sensitive minds are disgusted
and set on edge by the loud trumpet blasts to the
deity uttered by the German Kaiser. Yet so necessary
is it to see in the War, beyond our championing of
Right, the chastisements which God lets loose on men
and peoples who forget Him in ambition and selfishness,
that we ought to have had, more than once, a
signal Day of Prayer, standing out from the ordinaryday
of worship by its unusualness. America has had
such a day : some of the Colonies have daily moments
when all business is laid aside, and the public men of
the district plead with God for the victory of Righteousness.
Surely the call of the calamity is such that, even
though late, Britain will yet appoint a day in which
for a few hours everything will be laid aside, and the
whole nation will wait at the footstool of God ! I have
heard the story that Queen Victoria and the Government
were so annoyed at the pleasure-hunting indulged
in by BO many on the last Day of Prayer appointed for
a week-day, that it was determined that never again
would such a day be fixed. But surely there were no
circumstances in that happy reign which, for extremity
and /tragedy, could be compared to the exhausting
trials of to-day ! There is a loud call for the Church
to awake from its lethargy and brace itself to do
propaganda work amidst the irreligious mass of the
populace. It is only when men and women in all
ranks, burning with unquenchable zeal, make it their
business to do missionary work for the Kingdom
amongst their fellow-workers and in their social circles,
that the nation will recover, if it ever really had it
indeed, a Christian tone. There is an infinitude of
propaganda for causes much more doubtful and much
less worthy.We are familiar with the words, Repentance,
Separation,and Guarantees. If God is to teach us to profit^
there ought to be a twofold application of them—to
ourselves and to the enemy. How do they affeot us ?
We are bound honestly to remind ourselves that
before God we are called to repent of our luxury and of
our disobedience to Him. This is a hard thing for a
self-sufficient, rich, and wise people to do. We are
bound, again, to remind ourselves that we owe reparation
to those who have sorely suffered in their worldly
prospects by the heroic sacrifice of their relatives. It
can never be adequate, but it must be attempted after
this War on an unprecedented scale. But another
reparation is that of the national business methods and
social habits which call for overhauling on a scale for
which multitudes are by no means yet prepared. We
have also guarantees to give that in the new international
circumstances of the future we shall repgat our
attitude in the present struggle, which is that we did
not enter on it for any other reasons than the service
of liberty and the preservation of our existence as an
Empire. With such plans clearly before our minds,
we can go to Germany, to the incarnation of its evil in
the Kaiser, and say to him when God, in His mercy,
has granted victory to the Allies—” You shall have
peace when you are willing to give proof to the world .,
that you repent of the lust, the cruelty, the deceit,
the inseasate ambition, which have brought infinite
suffering and tears to the heart of the world. You
shall have peace when you repair the ravages committed
on Belgium, on France, on Serbia, on Roumania,
on Poland, on Armenia ; peace when you replace the
ships—you cannot replace the men—which have been
sent to the bottom of the seas by your abominable
submarine warfare. Depleted as Britain is by the
sacrifices of war, it would be flagrantly unjust to allow
you to start on an equality with us in the commercial
race, after you had remorselessly drowned so many
thousands of our bravest seamen by your treachery.
By change of government, by payment of indemnities,
by such guarantees as the knowledge we now have of
your unbounded duplicity compels the Allies to exact
from you, you must make certain that the peace of
the world is not to be endangered by hordes of bestial
and lustful Huns sweeping across the countries of
Europe and drawing into the whirlpool of untimely
death the fair and beautiful youth of half the world.
Only when we are sure that the horror of it has visited
and taught your own dark soul will we withdraw the
lash of condign punishment from your back.” Any
terms less than these would invite a predatory war
from the successors of the treacherous Huns as soon as
they had recovered the foul strength of their national
breath. Any terms less than these would be a stain
on the memory of the heroes whose blood has stained
the battlefields of this awful world-wide war. Such
an attitude, we trust, born of a divine hatred of wrong,
is part of the lesson which comes from the Lord, who
teacheth us to profit, and who leads us along the true
but difficult way of life.
” With aching hands and bleeding feet
We dig and heap, lay stone on stone;
We bear the burden and the heat
Of the long day, and wish ’twere done :
Not till the hours of light return
All we have built do we discern.”

Source-South Leith Magazine 1918

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