Belligerence

From The Christian Science Journal, November 1887, by


This Journal is sometimes accused of being too belligerent. This adjective comes from two Latin words, bellum (war) and gero (to wage, or make).

The accusation therefore implies that the Journal is too apt to knock the chip from every opposing shoulder, — to pick up every gauntlet thrown down, even though it be but a tiny doll’s mitten.

It may be that the charge is fair. “To err is human.” Nevertheless, let us look deeper into the subject.

Was it not Cardinal Richelieu who said, “Leave patience to the saints, for I am human” ? “There is a time to keep silence,” says the Scripture; but it first says, “There is a time to speak.”

Jesus certainly inculcated non-resistance, commanding the wronged disciple to turn the other cheek to the smiter. Such advice was excellent for those who were about to go forth “as sheep among wolves,” to preach a strange gospel to erring humanity. Belligerence, in such emissaries, would have been sheer foolishness; nay, it would have been madness. With the fighting disposition, the Twelve could have accomplished nothing but their own material destruction, and the Master would have been compelled to find a new dozen of preachers.

The early Abolitionists wisely adopted this policy. When they went forth to proclaim liberty to the bound within the borders of the United States, each reformer “took his life in his hand.” His business was to speak boldly his word, and submit patiently to the indignities which followed, whether in the form of insult, blows, tar and feathers, imprisonment, fines, banishment, or death. His sufferings would speak louder than his tongue, for it is ever true that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Christian Scientists proclaim an unpopular doctrine, opposed to all materialism,— to sin, as well as to sickness.

Of necessity they differ, not only from charlatans and vendors of patent nostrums, but from physicians of every name, and doctors of divinity also. Their teaching rouses the antagonism of Spiritualists, and others whom they must oppose. It is not however from clergymen and regular practitioners that Christian Science specially suffers, for they treat it honorably. Even the Faith-cure has in it an element of divine reliance. The chief peril of Christian Mind-healing is from those Judases who “deny the Lord that bought them,” and “steal the livery of Heaven to serve the Devil in.”

From high-minded enemies Christian Scientists must expect buffets, and they must accept them in meekness, like their Master before them. A fair fight only strengthens the right; but treachery is a demon most malign. The rackand faggot are no longer in fashion ; but the heart is racked, and words can burn. Scientists therefore do well to heed this injunction of the New Testament, “Resist not evil, but rather give place unto wrath.”

But is this all? Nay, verily!

That same Jesus, on another occasion, gave this command to his disciples, “Let him that hath no sword sell his garment and buy one.” He said to Peter once, when that impetuous Apostle would have fought to defend his Saviour from arrest by the Roman officers, “Put up thy sword, for he who takes the sword shall perish by the sword.” Yet this very Peter was included among the friends to whom Jesus gave such a warning of the need of warlike weapons, in the evil days which were upon them.

This clearly indicates that Jesus believed there was a time for fighting as well as a time for praying, — somewhat in the spirit of a declaration in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to kill and a time to heal, . . . a time of war and a time of peace.”

Nay, more ! Most solemnly the Messiah once averred, “I come not to send peace, but a sword,” — referring to the effect of his views, which were at variance with those of respectable representatives of both Church and State.

It is noteworthy that the Greek word here (MATTHEW X. 34) translated send, means to cast out, scatter, or sow, and is elsewhere used in reference to sccattering seed in the ground. Jesus therefore must have meant, not merely that he should cause dissension, but that a crop of contentions would spring from the sword by him planted; and that the resultant troubles would, must, continue until mankind should outgrow the materialism which makes discord with Spirit inevitable.

There is therefore a place for Belligerence in the Christia nscheme of life. Jesus showed this in many ways. “Thou whited wall” was the epithet, not very conciliatory, which Paul thundered at one high in authority; and he borrowed the metaphor from his Master, who called the Pharisees whited sepulchres.

The utterances of Jesus were not always mild as soft moonbeams. “Scribes, Pharisees, — hypocrites,” was a phrase he more than once hurled at his enemies. “How shall you escape the damnation of Hell ? “he asked them. Was not this Belligerence? Such epithets as the following are not soothing to the carnal mind: “Devourers of widows’ houses ; “Children of your father, the Devil; “Generation of vipers.”

A skeptic once objected, in conversation with Dr. Channing, that such language was wrong, and opposed to the teachings of Christ. Channing said, “Let us read the chapter.” He accordingly read these denunciations, in that calm, spiritual way for which the great preacher was noted. When he had finished, the Doctor asked the Infidel if he still felt that Jesus was so far out of the way in using such language. “No , was the reply, not if he spoke in that tone.”

There is everything in tone; and by tone is meant motive, for it is the outcome of motive, of heart. Many a word which sounds gentle carries a barb within. “Go away, you young scamp!” may be so spoken as to sound like, “Come hither, you little darling! While “Come to my arms, dear angel,” may interpret itself to mean,” Hence, you hag ! “It all depends on tone and motive. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” and so is his word. The thought gives color to the utterance.

Now as to Belligerence in Christian Scientists, they ought to have — nay, they must have — regard to the Cause they represent. We should not be quick to take umbrage ; but remember the words of Cassius in the quarrel with Brutus:

In such a time as this, it is not meet
That every nice offence should bear its comment.

Much that is personal we can overlook. What are we, that we should resent every harsh word or unfair assertion?

But how if the spear of detraction touch the Cause dear to us, — or the Leader thereof, the Founder of Christian Science, whose fame is held sacred? Shall we not speak then? Would not the very stones cry out if we held our peace? and would not God, of those very stones, raise up children unto the Abraham of Truth, Life, and Love, in the everlasting covenant?

“The Cause, — it is the Cause, my Soul,” says Othello, when undertaking the murder he mistakenly believes to be a righteous act.

This is what we should ask ourselves: Is it the Cause for whose honor we are jealous? or is our wrath selfish, stirred by some offence against our lower personality ? If the latter, let us suffer and be still; but if the former, let us not fear to “quit us like men.”

We find this illustrated in individual cases. One of the most scholarly clergymen in America was trained, both to learning and athletics, in an English university. He knows no fear, though he is forbearing and courteous. One evening he was walking with his wife through the deserted streets of the old Massachusetts seaport where they lived. Often absent-minded, he paced along, absorbed in thought, while his wife was a rod or two in advance, on the narrow sidewalk hardly wide enough for one. Another man entered the street, and spoke to Mrs Rosely, who presently checked her rapid gait, and waited for her husband to catch up with her. “That fellow has insulted me,” she whispered in his ear.

“Never mind! You go ahead again, as if we were strangers; and I will soon join you, and catch the cad in the very act.”

This program was carried out. The impertinence was repeated, as the lady drew near, and the next instant the cad found himself in the Parson’s grip, which did not relax till they reached the parsonage. The night was dark and faces not clearly visible ; but vainly the miscreant struggled to get away. He was in a vice. Holding his prisoner with one hand, the jailer unlocked his front door with the other; nor did his hold relax till he had found a match and lighted the entry gas. Through his eyeglasses he inspected the insulter’s features narrowly, for his Reverence was very near-sighted; and then released him, with the warning that if ever he caught the cad insulting another woman, or even heard of such a thing, he would pummel him into a jelly. Like Felix of old, the poltroon believed, and therefore trembled, and was glad to get away with unbroken bones.

Another time this muscular Christian was in a steam-car, where a hoodlum made everybody uncomfortable, though nobody had dared to interfere. Straightway the preacher went to the fellow. Opening a window, he said: “Stop this talk, or I’ll put you out of that window!” He meant it and could do it. This the brute saw, and subsided accordingly.

Nor was the Parson’s valor confined to such coarse cases. A young man, a private pupil of Mr. Rosely’s, one day spoke somewhat carelessly about his sister. “Young man,” said the tutor, “do you know what a prize is a noble sister to a man, — such a sister as your Annie?”

“Thereupon,” declared the young man, in repeating the story to the writer, “Rosely gave me a lecture which utterly routed my boyish trifling, — a talking-to which I shall not forget, to my latest day. I was never so ashamed in my life.”

Such men always command human admiration; and who shall say that the Cause of Truth is worth less vigor than a woman’s honor or humanity’s peace?

Nor is such courage found alone among the clergy.

One of the best men the writer ever knew was engaged in the manufacture of paper-mill machinery, in a Vermont town. His boys used to say: “If I can be as good a man as Father, I shall be satisfied.” The eldest son acknowledged that he used to think of his father as awfully nice, but too amiable, lacking in resentment and pluck, and bearing wrong too patiently. One day there came into the office a fellow who had imposed upon the firm, and cheated both in words and money. He undertook to maintain his ground and defend his dishonest conduct. In the twinkling of an eye the good man rose to a white heat. The patient, self-controlled quietist opened his mouth and spoke.

Starr King (was it not?) who said: “Ordinarily I weigh a hundred-and-twenty pounds ; but when I ‘m mad, I weigh a ton.” So it was with Deacon Oldboy. With his tongue he lashed that rascal, till he writhed and slunk away in shame.

Said the son, in describing the scene: “Never thereafter did I, even in my inmost thought, accuse Father of pusillanimity. If he was mild and long-suffering, I knew it was not through fear, but through conscience. He was no coward! He could both speak and act, when principle was at stake and the occasion warranted.”

To such a man might be reverently applied the Bible word about Jehovah: “He will not always chide; neither will He keep [withhold] His anger forever.” (PSALM ciii. 9.) In a like thought Jeremiah (iii. 5) has said: “Will He keep His anger forever? Will He keep it unto the end?”

Cowards are rarely loved, and never respected. Jesus was no coward, but a brave man. In behalf of a persecuted woman he faced a frowning crowd with his awful challenge: “Whosoever is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone! “How we are stirred by the title of that English story, A Brave Lady.

The moral of the thought is this: For ourselves,

Let us be patient! These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume this dark disguise.

Over and over again we must say:

Be not swift to take offence!
Let it pass, let it pass !
Anger is a foe to sense,
Let it pass!

But if the Truth Divine be assailed, the Truth which is to our thoughts as Bethesda’s healing wave, — or as Mecca to the devout Moslem,— what then? It is well to adopt the advice of Polonius to Laertes, for though the Lord Chamberlain was a garrulous old fellow, he could talk wisely on occasion:

Beware

Beware Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear it, that the opposer may beware of thee!

The proverb warns us not to answer a fool according to his folly, “lest thou be like unto him ; “but the next verse (PROVERBS xxvi.) bids us “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” Many petty and false things are said about our Science, its Teacher, and its professors. Let us not descend to the level of such detractors. Let such arrows of malice “pass by as the idle wind, which we regard not.” When, however, our opponents mistake our silence for moral timidity, it is well to let the heel of our indignation give no uncertain tread, lest talking serpents be puffed up by their own venom.

Paul was a Christian, a most eminent Christian, yet he stood up for his judicial rights. He told the Corinthians not to go to law before the Gentiles, but only before the Saints, — that is, before their fellow-members of the Church of Christ; yet when unduly arraigned, he fell back upon his legal privileges as a Roman “citizen, of no mean city.” He blamed the Highpriest for a process contrary to Roman law, and fearlessly appealed, from Agrippa and Festus, to the highest judicial power in the empire, the Emperor himself; and in this appeal Paul carried his point, which led to his preaching in Rome.

There is need of caution, for there is always a liability to mistake wounded vanity for righteous ire ; but let us not be “frighted by false fire.”

When a stone was thrown at the celebrated Universalist pioneer during a sermon, he picked it up and said coolly, “Hard, but no argument.” Let stones never be mistaken for arguments, and let no spiritual powder be wasted in return. Yet be not afraid of belligerent because it is a word of four syllables, and made from the Latin. It will do no harm. Dare to be belligerent, if Truth be misrepresented and cry for defence. “Let not your Good be evil spoke of.” Be valiant for the right.

Be not fearful of being called cantankerous. So were called John the Baptist, the Prophets, the Apostles, Jesus, because they rebuked sin, in high places and low. Doubtless Herodias considered John “a very belligerent party.”

Jesus was “a Lamb led to the slaughter,” dumb before his shearers, and opening not his mouth; yet, as somebody has suggested, there is no wrath so terrible as the wrath of the Lamb, spoken of in the Apocalypse,— a wrath specially directed against the Great Red Dragon, and the Harlot Babylon. These baleful fiends still demand vigilance and need to be put down.

Belligerent? People talk as if the New Testament injunction read thus: “Keep your temper, and sin not!” whereas really it reads, “Be ye angry, and sin not.” From this it appears that anger is sometimes a duty, and that one can be angry in either one of two ways, with sin or without. Men are angry, yet without sin, when sacred fury is roused, not over individual wrongs, but over injustice to others, and especially towards Life, Truth, and Love, as manifested in holy living and holy healing.

“Let not the sun go down upon your wrath!” is the close of the text. What does this mean? Is the passage to be interpreted literally ? Does it mean merely this: Never govto bed angry, lest this mental mood impede your digestion and disturb your dreams ?

A servant in the country was rebuked by the man of the household, for some neglect of duty. The rebuke struck fire. The husband reported to his sick wife what he had said, and they both feared the woman would depart and leave the family in the lurch, — no small matter, where you live five miles from a lemon (as Sydney Smith puts it) , and help does not grow on every bush. After the employer had retired to his chamber, what was his surprise to hear a timid knock at the door. In answer to his “What is it?” he was further surprised by hearing Griselda’s voice: “I hope you will forgive me for what I said. I can’t go to bed angry, or God will be angry with me!”

She took the Scripture literally, and her thought did her good; yet there is a higher thought therein. Materially considered, the sun is ever going down. Somewhere it is always night and bedtime, as well as always dawn and rising-time. What is night to us? The absence of sunlight. What is moral sunset? The fading of Light and Truth. “S e n d out Thy Light and Thy Truth,” says the Psalmist; “Let them lead me ! Let them bring me unto Thy holy hill, and to Thy tabernacles.” (PSALM xlII. 3.) The hill is the summit of Spirit, not an elevation of earth and granite. The tabernacles are habitations of Mind, such as the disciples wished to build for Jesus and themselves, on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The bidding of the text (EPHESIANS iv. 26) is clearly this: Let not the daylight leave your thoughts in the gloom of selfish anger, but rather abide always in the Light, which is God, even though your whole nature is stirred within you, and mortal mind smarts with a sense of “man’s inhumanity to man.”

This interpretation is confirmed by the very next sentence:

“Neither give place to the Devil.” The only Devil is the Evil One, or evil in essence. To give place to him (or it) is to lower the banner of Good in presence of wickedness. This the Christian may not do. He must fight evil in every form, as he would a prairie fire. If the contest requires wholesome Belligerence, let it come. Yet he must beware lest Belligerence become in turn an enshrouding devil, thick enough to muffle from his sight the Sun of Righteousness, and leave him in the murky darkness of selfish irritation, — instead of bringing him into the brightness of unselfish anger, in which there is no sin.

The direction of the Master to his disciples, when he sent them out to preach, was to withdraw from households where they were not cordially received, and shake the dust from their feet. He added to his counsel these significant words: “If the house be not worthy, let your peace return unto you.”

Robbery is a crime. If we see an underling snatch at the king’s sceptre, as Prince Hal donned his father’s crown while the Fourth Henry was yet alive, but lay asleep, shall we not wax indignant? Is the institution beneficial? Let due honor be given to the Founder.

God forbid that ideas should be regarded as less valuable than things, and the theft of them less culpable. Casting lots for the seamless garment of Jesus, even while he hung living “on the accursed tree,” humanity has rightly regarded as a crime.

“With charity toward all and malice toward none,” was the Martyr President’s aphorism. We trust this is the inward motto of this Journal, though oft it must speak strongly in order to unmask evil and remove it.

“Fight the fight of Faith,” holy Scripture saith.
“Fight the fight with Hope,” sounds from Heaven’s cope.
“Fight the fight in Love,” coos the blessed Dove.

The sacred Three, by Jove’s decree,
In Charity and Unity,
Forever be our Trinity.




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