The History of Leith

April 11, 2012

SERMON PREACHED IN SOUTH LEITH PARISH CHURCH ON SABBATH 28th DECEMBER 1919 BY REV. WILLIAM SWAN, B.D.

SERMON PREACHED IN SOUTH LEITH PARISH CHURCH ON
SABBATH 28th DECEMBER 1919 BY REV. WILLIAM
SWAN, B.D.
” Lo, in her mouth, was an olive leaf plucked off.”—
Genesis viii. 11,
Perhaps the most coherent, and certainly the simplest,
version of the Story of the Flood, so widespread
through the ancient world, is contained in the book
of Genesis. A natural cataclysm of unprecedented
magnitude swept over the known world. It is directly
associated with the sinful conduct of mankind in a
manner that no religious teacher of to-day could link
up with the untoward catastrophes of nature. We hare
learned, under the tuition of the Master himself, to be
chary of connecting accidents which involve men in
destruction with an unequivocal declaration of the
purposes of God. But the value of the story as it stands
is this. . The moral values of the universe are seen to be
so transcendent that it is regarded as certain that
human conduct has a direct bearing on the attitude of
nature to man. However more complex the understanding
of it has become in later ages, we are glad to
recognise, at the dawn of history, the common purpose
which unites the two gre£6 spheres of life in. the hand
of God. As the waters abated, the patriarch Jfoah sent
forth the raven, strong in powers of flight, from the
ark. It never returned. The dove, weaker in flight,
which wag next sent forth, finding no rest for the sole
of its foot, returned, Oa the second sending, it found
vegetation appearing above the waste of waters, and it
came back with an olive leaf in its mouth. After the
third sending forth, it was never seen again—a proof
that the water was so drained off the surface of the
ground that it no,longer needed the shelter of the ark.
What a natural and tender way it was to take the
soundings of the primitive vessel in which the germs of
the future were preserved ! The wing power of the
strong raven may be taken, not unjustifiably, as a
picture of those natures which are able to meet the
overpowering demands of life with confidence. They
are not many in number, but they are very impressive
in their influence over others. The dove, on the other
hand, is typical of the most of us, in that we feel
intensely our weakness in face of the calls made on us
by the duties, the trials, arid the sorrows of time. Yet
even among the least buoyant of us there are springs:of
hope and expectancy. At the close of one year and at
the opening of another, it is natural for us to wonder at
the strange nature of the elements in which we live,
realising our helplessness beneath the huge forces which
environ us. Time is so • short and our lease of it is so
slender : eternity is so long, and our ability to imagine
it is so fluttering ; events hurry us on, and we are so
impotent in the rushing’ tumbling torrent—all these
considerations, as well as others which will readily
occur to you all, make it appropriate that we should
pausej for breath, and look about us ere we plunge into
the race again.
I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
‘All calm as it was bright;
And round beneath it Time, in hours, days, years,
Driven by the spheres
Like a vast shadow moved ; in which the world
And all her train were hurled.
That is -the imposing background against which our
little lives stand out. It is meant, surely, not to
submerge us, but to lift high the purpose and seriousness
of our lives. It is from’out this vas,t and measureless
temple of God that suggestions of hope and expectancy
come as came the olive leaf in the mouth of the dove to
the ark. With this in front of us let us proceed to
a survey of the troubled waters of time which spread all
around us.
Unnoticed by the great majority, a scientific discovery
has been made during the year, which will have a
revolutionary affect upon our conception of the universe,
•and of the way in which we are to regard it. Einstein
calculated from some astronomical observations that
light is acted on by gravitation. Stars were, photographed
during eclipses round the rim of the sun. and
their positions then- compared with those which are
kno\vn under ordinary conditions when light is flowing
uninterruptedly from them. A minute differenc’e has
been made clear, and the conclusion is drawn that light
is deflected when passing close to a body of enormous
mass. This may alter our conception of space, warping
. it, so to speak ; it may also bring us within reach of a
fourth dimension. In this great calm world of science,
pursuing its way in spite of world commotion, there is
•an impressive suggestion to us not to forget that peace
of God, which is^able to keep our hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus. It is a’oonflrmation of the root principle
of faith, that God has a purpose so lofty, so strong, that
nothing will be able to interfere with it, not even the
forgetfulness and rebellion of the human will.
1. The World around us has been subject to constant
fluctuation during the year. After the Armistice,
mankind felt that, in comparison with the horrors of
war, almost anything could be endured. The blessing
of peace was realised so intensely that it was felt that
almost any load could be borne. Those who had felt the
awful burden of strife and had done their utmost for
the great cause imagined that this same gratitude would
be active in the hearts of all. But they were soon undeceived.
In the country there have been those, all
along, who had no perception of the issues of the
struggle, but Were thinking, all the time, of the interests
of a class, and dreaming of and plotting for the coming
of a time when that class over the world should be in
power. They had used the necessity of war to advance
their own financial interests. They were profiteering,
like the unscrupulous profiteers among ther owners of
capital who lost no opportunity of increasing their
profits at the expense of the community at large. This,
it is safe to say, was done by both classes of profiteers
in excess of the unavoidable rise which had to take
place because of the absence of foreign supply and competition.
Those who were bearing all the risks ought
to have been much better’ paid at the time than they
were ; and the universal game of grab, which went on
parallel to the bloodshed of the war, should he^ve been
sternly repressed. Behind all this, however, have
been the plotters of revolution, as the attempts at
nationalisation and direct action have proved. Probably
such enemies of civilisation have arisen because in the.
past neither the conditions of labour nor the share of
the profit given to the workers have been just. All past
evils bring their revenges in their train, and this social
unrest is an example.
But all such attempts to seize the means of production –
will parSlyse, at the root, the tree of progress. It can
“never grow if the incentive to’individual initiative and
hard work is destroyed. Nor can it thrive if an attempt
is successful to eliminate the moral element from toil,
so that the honest and conscientious man is to be paid
exactly the same share of ths» proceeds as the dishonest
and indolent one. Differences must be allowed for, and
no compromise must be allowed with those who attempt
to rule out the working of the moral laws. The
anarchy which is so terrible a shadow over Europe,
and which has wrought misery so untold, ought to be a
warning to our countrymen ; undoubtedly it is to all
but those who do not wish to see. The ghastly footprints
of Bolshevism, marked by famine, lust, and blood, •
are a renewed reminder to the world of what is certain
to happen when Tyranny, masquerading in the stolen
garments of Democracy, uses as its tools, men of sharp
wit but with no reverence for God or pity for man. The
trouble of the world is indexed in the change of money
.values ; it is as if coins were perpetually ringing on a
vast counter. Is it not like some diabolic and concealed
magician who sits behind and plays upon the frenzy of
humanity’? The only hope of the world lies in such a
League of Nations as will render it almost impossible
for any single1 people or group of peoples to disturb the
harmony of the nations. ‘ Even the most sceptical •>
believed that this was within sigrft when the Treaty of
Peace was signed at Versailles. But what a tragedy is
in human things ! The very statesman who was believed
to represent the most powerful nation in the
world, and because of that belief, was listened to with
more than common deference, has failed to carry his
own people with him. Does it not show how much
depends even in large matters on personality, that
President Wilson, when making herculean efforts toconvert
the nation to his view, took ill, and his withdrawal
has prolonged the unrest of the world and the
misery of myriads ? If the effect of one human life can
be so immense, does not this brief review help us to see
the truth of that great saying of Isaiah, “Behold, all
nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as
the small dust of the balance.”
2. The Country that is so dear to us has reflected,
as in a mirror, the state of the world. We have
.lived in the quietest of the great nations which were .
engaged in the war, and yet we have had far from a
quiet time. Trade disputes, attempts at sudden and
drastic changes in tire coriimercial arrangements of the
laud, a fever of pleasure-seeking, an epidemic of slackness
in the performance of duty, a scramble for money
which is unprecedented, a corruption of the tone and
temper of large classes of the community bjr agitators,
a universal restlessness which really does not know
what it wants—these have been the symptoms with
which we have all been too familiar. After every war
social disturbance may be looked for. As this has been
the most signal upturn in history, the after results are
certain to be on a similar scale. But somehow, one did •
not look for them to show themselves so soon. One”
believed that the reaction of gratitude after victory
would have been so pronounced that every class would
have put up with inconvenience for some length of
time. But it ought to have been so out of thankfulness ;
for our escape, out of joy that our brave fellows had
achieved the impossible, out of consideration for the
enormous debt which had been accumulated in the effort
to dam up the flood that was destroying civilisation.
But unwelcome facts claim recognition. One of these is
that there were evil nests of men in the country busily
engaged in hatching revolution, while their better
fellow-countrymen were standing up to the tyrant who
was intent on’rearing his evil standard over the stunned
and defeated human race. Changes are needed in our
methods, but let us seek them in the approved British
way. Let us avoid the malicious gospel of class hatred,
and seek for progress by way of good feeling and interest
in the good of the whole nation. If there were employers
in the past who ground down those under them
—if even yet the breed is not extinct—let not the others
imagine that the golden age is to be heralded by the
worm of former days transforming itself into a serpent.
The only way of avoiding such a catastrophe is for the
nation to turn itself to God and to seek in the gospel of
loving service which he has committed to His Son the
way of salvation for mankind. Not in the attempt to
perpetuate the methods of the past, but by readiness
for wise changes which will meet the needs of our time,
not by hatred and suspicion, but by mutual regard and
honourable dealing, not by aloofness, but by each
sharing in the appealing ideals of the time, will we
emerge without loss from the congestion of our present
trial.
3. Every citizen among us needs to revise his life,
habits, and character in the light of what has
happened and is happening. It is too lightly assumed
that it is the social gospel alone that counts. If you
bring a team of football players into the field, it is sheer
folly to expect a win if each player has not previously
passed through arsevere course of training concurrently
with his practice of common play with the other members
of his side. This is precisely where religion reveals its
importance. Surrender to God is the first step in the
true life. ” Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and
lean not on thine own understanding.” We begin life
by depending on our parents for everything. We go on
learning the – necessity of personal exertion, and that
lesson often carries us so far that.we imagine that we
need to be independent of God himself. It is the excess
of the personal equation which” leads to so many disastrous
solutions of the vexed problem of life. We only
get on the right track again when we learn to say ” I
will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him,
Father, I -have sinned against heaven and in thy sight,
and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” The
pleasure-seeker, out on the broad flaring highway ; the
social reformer, intent on every scheme but the kingdom
of God ; the churchman mistaking the means for the
end, and seeking in this form of observance or in that
what, can only be found in spirit and in truth ; the
worshipper of gold, dfeying himself everything except
the exertion of heaping up riches—all alike come miserably
short of the kingdom. Only when the feeling of
universal emptiness, of dissatisfaction with everything
arises, are we ready to be ushered into the true shrine,
and clothed with the garments of true service. If
we recover the lost image of God within, and come to
value righteousness, peace, and joy as we ought. Duty
will come to be something different from the repellent
thing which it is to so many. When Pleasure fascinates
the minds, Duty becomes a poor Cinderella among the
princesses that seek to charm. When suspicion and
hatred of those more fortunate than we are, socially, is
active, the mind is filled with vapours which blind and
cwpde like the steam of a volcano, pleasure must
lose its magnetism and suspicion—its septic influence—
before the soul can see God “clear as the sun, fair as
the moon, and terrible as an army with banners.”
Man simply cannot live by the bread or the sweetmeats
moment, and when they are recognised for what they
are, all other things fall into their proper places.
So we remember that our Lord said ” Seek ye first the
kingdom and the righteousness of God and all these
things shall be added to you.” Have you never seen a
home destitute of the barest comforts of existence, and
on asking the reason why, discovered that it was manifestly
a case of the breadwinner neglecting everything
else in his addiction to some vice ? Have you remarked
the change when that same breadwinner turning to God
put first things first in his life ? Gradually the home
assumed a different appearance, comfort began by
degrees to reveal its presence, and the whole atmosphere
was charged with love and trust. That is what the
world is needing now. Let God be put first in the
nation, and sorrow, sighing, and suspicion will flee
away. Let God be put first in your life and mine, and
selfishness and mistrust and indolence will fly like bats
into the darkest oblivion. “The world passeth away
and the lust thereof • but he that doeth the will of God
abideth for ever.” Yes, and the things that abide and
make him to abide are faith and hope and charity.
Wherever you see these you have the dove with the
olive leaf in her mouth, a sign that the flood is abating
and that God has not given over either a nation or a
man to destruction.’ Faith is the only reflector known
which will bring us into touch with Him who otherwise
seems so often far off. Hope is the anchor
of the soul which in the stress and storm of life
holds us that we do not suffer shipwreck on the shoals
of time. LoVe is God Himself changing into the very
air we breathe and turning the hard and arid desert of
life into a garden which blooms and rejoices as the
rose.

Source-South leith Magazine 1920

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