Thy Kingdom Come: A Blumhardt Reader 1a
Leonhard Ragaz (1868-1945) was a highly respected Swiss professor and theologian, one of the early contributors to dialectical theology, and a leader of the religious-socialism movement in Switzerland.
In 1922, he published a book of 321 pages, Der Kampf um das Reich Gottes in Blumhardt, Vater und Sohn--und Weiter! The first 43 pages are an introduction to the Blumhardts and their thought (none of which we will use). The remainder is a presentation of their "message," the outline and headings of which become directly the outline and headings of our Part One, here following. Under each of these headings, Ragaz opened with his own description of and comment upon the Blumhardts' position (none of which we will use). Then he collected quotations and excerpts of the Blumhardts' own words on the topic. Although retaining all of Ragaz's headings, we have selected, to translate and present here, roughly half of the Blumhardt material Ragaz used.
Using Ragaz as compiler and editor, as it were, has given us inestimable advantages.
The translation of the Blumhardt material here presented (via Ragaz) is mine. However, I could not have managed it alone. A rough, first draft translation for part of the material was provided by members of the Bruderhof (The Society of Brothers) who had been at work before I ever entered the picture. A second part was done recently by Professor William Willoughby, my colleague at the University of la Verne. And a third part was done some years ago by Lonna Whipple, then a La Verne College German major who had done her junior-year-abroad at Marburg University. To these people I tender my gratitude for their help. However, at the same time it must be said that, with their drafts beside me, I nevertheless worked directly from the Blumhardt’s German (as given by Ragaz, of course). Thus, although they were most helpful, the translation is mine, and I must take full responsibility for it.
Ragaz made no effort to identify sources for any of the Blumhardt quotations he used; so we can be of no help regarding the items of Part One. -- V.E.
There must be a new reality which is of the truth. It not to be a new doctrine or law, not a new arrangement. The new truth to which we must listen is that which came in the person of the Son of Man himself, namely, that God is now creating a new reality on earth, a reality to come first among men but finally over all creation, so that the earth and the heavens are renewed. God is creating something new. A new history is starting. A new world is coming to earth.
Evil shall be defeated for all generations, and the good shall come into its rightful rule. That was the goal of the people of Israel, and for hundreds of years it was steadily pursued. The cause originally was an earthly one, not, as we Christians think, a heavenly one. It was the heavenly coming to reality upon earth; and to that extent it was earthly. It was earthly because it was a concern that the situation on earth become good and righteous, that God's name be hallowed on earth, that his kingdom come on earth and his will be done right here on earth. The earth is to manifest eternal life. We want to shine so brightly that heaven itself will become jealous of us.
Where in all the scriptures does God comfort man with a hereafter? The earth shall be filled with the glory of God. According to the Bible, that is the meaning of all the promises. Jesus, come in the flesh, what is his will? Of course, nothing other than the honor of his Father on earth. In his own person, through his advent, he put a seed into the earth. He would be the light of men; and those who were his he called "the light of the world" and "the salt of the earth." His purpose is the raising up of the earth and the generations of man out of the curse of sin and death toward the revelation of eternal life and glory.
Why else did he heal the sick and wake the dead? Why did he exalt the poor and hungry? Surely not in order to tell them that they would be blessed, after death, but because the kingdom of God was near. Of course, God has a way out for those who, unfortunately, must suffer death; he gives them a refuge in the beyond. But shall this necessary comfort now be made the main thing? Shall the kingdom of God be denied for earth and perpetuated only in the kingdom of death, simply because God wants also to dry the tears of the dead? It is to discard the whole meaning of the Bible if one argues, "We have nothing to expect on earth; it must be abandoned as the home of man."
Truly, within the human structures of sin, we have no lasting home; we must seek what is coming. But what is it, then, that is coming? The revealing of an earth cleansed of sin and death. This is the homeland we seek. There is no other to be sought, because we do not have, and there cannot come to be, anything other than what God intended for us in the creation.
Nevertheless, today people sit in the churches thinking mostly about themselves. Everyone sighs over himself, looks for something in himself and for himself--and doesn't himself know what it is. One would like to call out to them all: "People, forget yourselves! Think of God's cause. Start to do something for it. Don't be sorry for yourself; or at least be sorry that you have nothing to do but worry about your own petty concerns."
Our greatest lack is that we are of no use to the Lord; no wonder, then, that we go to ruin in spite of all our culture. Any person degenerates, even in a physical sense, if he is not acting as part of a body that has a higher purpose. But those who, in love and enthusiasm, work for something greater than themselves prosper, even regarding their physical well being. And the race declines in its very life-values, both physical and spiritual, if, as people, there is nothing we are producing for the life of the earth, for creation, for God.
To believe in God is easy; but to believe that the world will become different--to do that one must be faithful unto death.
You know, the angels can't do much with "the blessed," because they seek only their own comfort in eternity and are no longer good for anything. One seats them in a comfortable chair and says, "There you are now; stay put." But when the kingdom of God is being fulfilled and many are pressing to enter, then there is really work and life among the angels. For the kingdom of God stands in a direct relationship to the earth; it lives with the earth.
Nothing will be revealed in the hereafter that is not already grounded here. God's goal is the here and now. It is here that the inheritance is to be received; and it comes as a work of creation, not of philosophy or theology.
Christians should take an objective view of the times. Instead, they want to experience everything subjectively within themselves and enjoy inner beatitude. Yet, these feelings have no permanency, and so they become disappointed. But when a person has his eye on a better future for mankind, then he gains a festival of the heart. A great confidence gives us strength for difficult times.
According to our customary false way of thinking, the kingdom of God must give way to our happiness. With many people the words of the Savior already have been altered to read: "Seek first your own blessedness, and all those things shall be added unto you." This is something very deceptive, although I know that for me to say so will rub many people the wrong way. They love themselves; and if only they know that they are safe, they don't much care about the rest of the world--or at most, only so much as to say to others, "See to it that you also get yourself saved, and then I will be happy!" With this little error, my friends, our fellowship with the Father is destroyed. We are like children always coming to our parents demanding candy, pop, and ice cream instead of being concerned about the wishes of our parents, honoring them with fidelity and hard work, in which case our food would come as a matter of course.
The goal of all God's effort is that finally he will be a God whom we will be able to see on earth, a God who will make the earth his footstool, where Jesus will be Lord over all men and where they, in him, once more will be integrated into God's creation.
What do I care about a God of the sort whose being must be demonstrated? The dear Lord came from heaven and spoke; had he not done so, even the philosophers could not have found him. Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling--why, they would all still be heathen if he had not spoken his word on Mt. Sinai. I almost burst sometimes when our modern culture sets classical learning over the Bible. Why, everybody would still be ignorant were it not for the Bible and its God who there speaks upon earth.
God lets us meet him in Christ; and in the days of the apostles when there was talk of faith, of being true until death, everyone who belonged to the body of Christ knew what course his faithfulness would take. Something came over these people, something to which none of them had given thought and which none of them would have been able to explain. Suddenly they found themselves part of a history that proceeded of itself and in which such wonderful powers were discovered that the inevitable impression was: "These powers are stronger than the whole world."
In this situation people had a perfectly dear picture of what God is. There was no need to look up to heaven; the occurrences took place on earth; they were bound up with naming the name of Jesus.
In that regard, we ought not to be ashamed frankly and openly to call our Christ "God," because, with only mental pictures of God, nothing gets started. Our Christ has become Yahweh; he stands upon earth and calls to us, "I am." And we need not make a big ceremony of it but simply fall before him, knowing in him the living God, the Father in heaven. Then, once we've met him, we feel ourselves on solid ground which does not quake but from which the mountains of God's sovereignty burst forth to overwhelm us, as, in the final cataclysm, they shall overwhelm the whole world.
It may be that there is one error that poisons most of our thinking about God's kingdom. Prevailing very widely, this is the understanding that, in order for God's kingdom to come, it is sufficient that we finally and firmly establish and systematize the doctrine. This error works as a poison in that, from this perspective, certain doctrines and conventions soon become almost more important than God himself.
It has become dear to me that no single, dogmatic, fixed, and systematized doctrine will decide the issue of the kingdom: this only the living God himself will do.
As long as you believe sheerly as routine, things are not right. One cannot come drowsing into the kingdom of God. The cause must proceed with clarity and zest; the way must ever be made afresh by God. And therein is true grace demonstrated--that God hurries forth as the God who acts.
I tell you I cannot hold out for a single day unless from somewhere, either in myself or from afar, I have a report or am able to see that "Praise be, God is hurrying forward!" ... Thus we all should become enlightened in spirit so that we become clear about world events, so that we do not fall into religious confusion and other foolishness, so that we know what time it is, so that we have an inner sense about how to comport ourselves. "Shall I hurry? Shall I wait? Shall I do this? Shall I leave that?" In short, we need light.
We are encompassed by a creation; and one piece of it is this ground under our feet. We go forth upon it; we live from it; we have a certain power over it; we are employed with it and yet it nowhere comes completely right.
If one observes the morals, customs, viewpoints, and lives of all the world's peoples, he is amazed that, alongside the glorious appearance of nature's truth, mankind goes as if deranged. As the Chinese who bind a girl's feet are not satisfied until she is so crippled she can't walk, so do all the nations and peoples, be they Christian or heathen, right in the midst of the organism of truth which is creation, manage to make habitual falsifiers of themselves.
You must bear in mind, my friends, that we humans, even the best of us, are poor comrades to the great whole of creation. Something in us is twisted. Now, all of us were created in the image of God, an important part or--to put it pictorially--an important wheel in the great gearworks of creation. But on this wheel the cogs are all crooked and chipped; and the axle is bent. The human part doesn't work right; and the whole creation suffers in consequence. This is sin. Things don't run right with us men. There is much that is awry with every person in the world.
Is this creation to which our bodily life belongs simply to be east aside? Or does there lie within it the embryo of eternity? There are many who see God's creation as of little value and its very loveliness as a sorry thing one would like to leave as soon as possible--preferably with a good kick! I am sad about that.
God did not create mere spirits for this corporeal world but bodies--which he has called his "image." Only through tattering travail can such a body come to be. And every person sees and experiences for himself that death is a judgment that makes him anxious even when he wants to be strong and convince himself that he can die tranquilly and be a spirit.
Men often attribute everything that happens in the world to God; but this is to do him an injustice. There are also works of man and of the devil. These do harm, whereas the works of God always do good--indeed, it is by this they are known. We are the ones responsible for so much that goes awry in the world. So lay off of my God, and don't say, "He's doing it!"
Jesus, who is the glory of God on earth, wants to help us become the same thing. In this man, God again shines forth. It is for a purpose, then, that he is here; he acts as God in the creation, among men. This is his work; consequently, he has eternal life and does not perish even though nailed upon the cross. Nothing, no possible situation, even the most disadvantageous you could conceive, can overcome this man, because he is here to accomplish something.
From him shines forth the Father of creation. And the creation feels that once more it has been given hope, as it were, because this man understands what needs to be done so that the things of God might again be brought into order and the ruined, wasted earth again be restored to him. I tell you, such is the Savior's first order of business. The Savior is, first of all, "for" God and only then "for" you. Bit by bit, man has turned things around and made the case appear as though the Savior had come only for us. Thus people use Jesus to flatter themselves; but this eventually can bring things to a pretty pass. I tell you, therefore, the Savior doesn't care about us--he doesn't even care about people as a whole if they will not help him.
Without further ado he can put us all aside. Already he has begun to cut the threads; and--who knows how things will go? It may happen that even the Christians will be left entirely on their own and have nothing more of a Savior.
He is the glory of God upon earth and the glory of man in heaven. Just as God was blotted out on earth, so also was man blotted out in heaven. Now Jesus comes as the one he is; and God lives upon the earth. Then Jesus is again with the Father in heaven; and humanity lives there in him. Now before God there gleams something of the humanity that was dead--it is the glory of mankind in heaven before God through Jesus.
This is the man Jesus Christ; he is fixed in the creation where his true nature is grounded. As the creation is a work of God, so Jesus the Son is a work of God in the whole of creation. He is far above all angels and all powers of God that drive the world. The highest messengers of God, the life elements and life powers, serve him. He is in the creation, and it must go as he goes. One must understand this tremendous magnitude of Jesus Christ in order to believe that he still is able to help us men.
Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." That is true; nevertheless, it remains night as long as men are unaware of the fact and as long as Jesus is not known universally. We are in the night. That people have believed it to be day simply because Jesus was born, died, and rose again is the greatest error of Christendom. With that error we have been in the darkest night for nineteen hundred years, thinking that everything was complete and good.
But we must undertake great exertions if we are to be apostles of Jesus Christ. Our dead world must first be given light. Then it will be day. All people, all consciousness in heaven, on earth, and under the earth must know that Jesus bears all things and that he, as the glory of the sovereign God, as Son, rules the things of this world. Then it will be day; and then redemption will rush over all heights and into all depths.
One person we know through whom things moved as they should; he is called Jesus Christ. And thus it is that light has again been given to creation. Then why do you wonder at the fact that Jesus has bread for four or five thousand people? It amazes us; but he is simply a true man again, and that is why the powers of the world are subservient to him. Or why are you surprised that when he touches a sick person healing takes place? He is a true man. Things go as they should through him, under the oversight of God. He is the image of God, the Son of God. This makes him a blessing and constitutes a power that also makes others blessed if only they come within his reach. Even people who in themselves are perverted and godless, if only they press to him, are touched by something of his true spirit so that something comes true in them as well.
As long as it depends upon the perceptions merely of the eyes of reason, that understanding which is represented by research into the advent of Christ shall stand opposed to Christ's life in the will of God. So many people write "lives of Jesus" and seek to establish grounds for "the historical appearance of Christ"; and then they despair over the fact that we have such scant records in this regard. Neither the Gospel accounts nor the works of other authors of the time serve to satisfy the lust for the confirmation of this human history of Jesus. The apostles and prophets don't even bother to give us the year of Christ's birth. Neither are they concerned to prove to the world the historicity of his singular life, the facts about his birth and the resurrection following his death on the cross. For the truth does not lie in the rationally verifiable history but in a life--a life which, out of an unpretentious and derided history, breaks forth as the life of God, while history according to the flesh is left behind as a useless shell.
The man whom you seek is not here (Mk. 16:6), but the God-man remains and brings to people life and light. In this and that there may be contradictions in the reports godly people have handed down from those who knew Christ in the beginning, in what must be taken as outward history. It is little wonder if, where all sorts of people worked together in great enthusiasm, imperfect things got mixed in with the perfect; it is ever so with us humans. Also, after the Lord Jesus had given it into the care of the people, his history would have been passed along and elaborated. Yet, against this the Apostle Paul says, "I no longer know Jesus after the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16). He does not intend to say that Jesus had not lived historically but that the outward history has fallen away and the outward history of God remains.
When the Spirit of God moves in a person who is seeking proof of God, that spirit makes his appearance in the life of men actually upon earth and does not allow himself to be shunted into secondary matters. For the spirit knows that the very crux of all truth lies in the kingdom of God--there rather than in the history of man according to the flesh, which shall disappear. A true history of man's life is in process of fulfillment, bound up with God, even though presently developing under the husks of an unfulfilled relationship. The Spirit knows that this life history is not that of tradition or historical research but of God himself entering the scene. Thus, after the history of mankind has been lost, the life of mankind still will be known, because, from beginning to end, it has been represented in the life of God himself.
Humanity indeed has its history. We can learn it--and we also can learn much from it. But this is not the history that truly brings joy to our hearts. The joy of human history is not so great that we would not gladly give it up. But there is also a history made up of experiences which are not confined to man himself but which are informed by something of the divine. That which is human must be touched by the divine.
When we read of the singular experiences of men of God from Abraham to Jesus and the apostles--let us admit it openly--they make us angry. What wouldn't people give if they could take Jesus without having to take in the bargain other events that are, humanly speaking, unexplainable? And to top it all off, in the resurrection Christ is raised to heaven. How unsettling this report is to all those who would like to make this dear man the founder of their religion--if only he had not said things or had things said about him that must make cultured people unculturedly ashamed.
How can those who still have faith in science imagine that a man dies and is buried and then later comes back and now lives beyond death? It is as if death were something one could just strip off, something one could come through without losing his physical existence but--quite the contrary--with the physical body transfigured. Yet all the experiences of the people of God point in this direction; and it is in these experiences, and not in the doctrines that follow from them, that the seeds of God's kingdom are found. The doctrines do not lead to experiences, but experience leads to doctrine; and for better or for worse, it is back to experience we must go if we would see the kingdom of God.
When Jesus came into our company, it was day....
The whole history of humanity pivots, one might say, upon the works of Jesus. All that has come to pass since--the good and the evil, the bright and the dark--everything turns upon these works of Jesus which are directed toward the future of humanity.
It is something like the first beginning, about which, respecting our earth, it is so beautifully and significantly said: "'Let there be light'; and there was light." From that moment on, there was nothing that could stop it. The earth had light, and from that light came everything else--all life, all aspects of life, all the perfecting of life. Everything, down to the deepest depths of the earth, even the coal mines, comes into being through the light. But what a development it all went through! There was much stirring of dust and mire, much destruction, much horror, much abomination--a fearful development--until finally there came out of the earth that which we enjoy today.
In like manner, a kind of light is given in Jesus. It is directed particularly toward man and, to begin with, toward only relatively few men. But whether shining upon many or few, the power of the Spirit's light calls people out to strive for a high purpose and not be satisfied with baseness. This light has appeared and even now shines forth. This light of the Spirit which has been implanted in humanity produces the greatest development, has the greatest power of revolution and advance for mankind, right up to the present day. A great deal of dust has been raised, the hideousness of man has been uncovered, because sin and brutality and vulgarity had to have their day. The history of Christendom following the coming of the light is a horror to behold and study. But what of that?...
It is so obvious in human history: there comes a time when something is born; and then things stand still and nobody follows up. There have been developments, and beginnings have been made, which we have failed to recognize. No one can comprehend the mere three years of Jesus' ministry as being the occasion of the greatest revolution ever to occur in human society. The rise of empires and nations' wars, battles, and victories--these are no "events," no "creations." In comparison to the high calling that is mankind's, all the empires of earth fade to nothing--as do all differences of race and language, all enmity, all hostility and arrogance between man and man. In the light of the creation that has come to us in Jesus Christ, all these things dissolve; nothing of them remains to be found. But that which does remain, which truly is of value for us--that has the permanence of eternity.
It must yet come to pass that we will not simply hold fast to an ancient confession of faith but out of a new experience be able to call to one another: "He is risen indeed! He lives among us! He takes the reins in hand and leads his people, leads them all the way to his death, that, in the death of the flesh, his resurrection and his life might be exalted in mankind to the eternal praise and glory of God."
For this cause is Jesus Christ risen from the dead: so that in him it can be seen that God will bring forth even our lives out of death and will take everything into his own hands once more. Therefore, we should die with Christ so that we also can be awakened and so that whatever should live will then be able to live fully and beautifully and gloriously.
The Lord Jesus stands humanly very near to us; I do not know my best friend as well as I know the Savior, I can't get inside my best friend; it is possible that there is within him that which is not quite trustworthy. But as far away as the Savior is from us, we still are so well acquainted with him through the scriptures that he is, as it were, transparent to us. With the writings of a Cicero it is not so; though a person read Cicero as he will, he does not thereby see into his heart. Likewise with a Plato, a Socrates, a Virgil, all the noblest spirits--however beautifully they have written, they still do not become our friends. But the Savior comes in such a way that each person can be his friend. One has only to make his acquaintance; then everything comes of itself.
Don't comfort yourself with that sort of Christianity which today practices the art of decking out every distress and wrapping everything in phrases to the effect that whatever happens is good. Don't accept such comfort; but seek with me people who stand before God arid say, "Dear Father in heaven, we are not worthy to be called your children--but oh, that you once could use us as your hired servants!"
The Spirit must embody itself. It must enter into our earthly life; it must happen that deity be born in flesh so that it can overcome this earthly world. God is active Spirit only when he gets something of our material underfoot; before that, he is mere idea. The Spirit would govern life.
It is a divine-natural law that body and soul hang together; and whoever would work on one part must take the other into consideration as well. Whoever would divide body and soul may be said to commit murder.
It seems to be the first concern of the human spirit that the body quickly become well; whereas, in silence thee soul should thank God that, in its illness, the body had more rest than in its health--indeed, that it again feels more life and power than it did in healthy days. But many people become almost angry over such a consolation; they are so unaccustomed to being still and considering their lives that they forcibly push themselves back into the turbulence of activity. Yet precisely in this way do they stand in the way of their own health at the very moment God would put them under spiritual restraint, because he does not want them given over to destruction.
Harm to the body is the judgment upon man's drivenness of spirit. Wretchedness and darkening of the soul are judgments upon the vagabond life of the spirit. Therefore, it is important that every sick person who knows Christ should not make it his first impatient wish to become well. ... [Rather,] he should first hold back his spirit and tame its wildness so that, through the person's own will, Christ can truly receive him and immediately bind him to God and his truth. That is to say, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then body and soul will become healthy.
Being healthy is, to God, the same as being righteous. A healthy body, no matter how normal it may be, is not healthy in God's sight if it is dragging around in unrighteousness. In this way, stings of death press in by the thousands; and before they have outward effect, a body that appears healthy to us can be sick from head to foot, sick unto death. Righteousness is our health; and the first point of righteousness is that we allow our-selves to be bound by God so that our spirit no longer desires its own freedom.
As long as our Spiritual piety does not present itself as true for the body, as right for the body, as freeing the body for God--as long as this piety is not free of human customs, insofar as these are perverted and out of harmony with divine laws--so long we remain only pious cripples. We must learn to be genuine creations of God through winch life can stream out in all directions, as is the intention for all creation.
Therefore, we do not pray, "Do miracles," but rather, "Let things go the way of truth." God should do miracles--but only when they are an aspect of the spiritual rectification of mankind. There must be a ground for them, a ground in the kingdom of God renewing and enlightening us from the divine side. It is from this base that miracles should take place; and then--yea, then--we shall shout aloud for joy, when, from within, things get set right. But at that point, outward miracles can disappear.... I do not wish to see a single miracle in anyone that is not the consequence of that person's inner rectification.
Only revelation brings progress; and that is what makes it so important that finally revelation come into the body politic. That would be a real step forward for the world, because until now it has not happened. God has not yet truly entered into the history of the nations. There are only more and more human histories--as, for example, the Boer War. Only after such an incident can the Spirit of God give more light to individuals, Boers as well as Englishmen, so that they can see further. Yet, through revelation, enlightenment also must come into politics.
In several respects these are threatening times; and it is necessary that we keep faith and, in particular, that we not accept the belief that war or anything of the sort would improve our situation. Although it is heard among us, this word is only a form of despair which itself contributes greatly to the chances of war. God will look into such talk. There is absolutely no justification for war; and we can dare to trust his almighty arm even when that seems a very risky thing to do. We can believe that he will bring peace and, under any circumstances, send signs and wonders from heaven to help us. We need no swords or cannon. We should live and let live. So have mercy upon us, 0 Lord our God, that finally, thou wilt create the kingdom of peace winch thou hast promised.
Anyone with eyes in his head can see that in Europe nothing could be more sensible than efforts for peace. Whoever would speak word against peace today is making a mistake. True, there is still a certain political atmosphere winch has been cooked up, as it were. For centuries now a kind of lust for war has been working itself into the flesh and blood of Europeans and other peoples. This war-lust reigns within some sectors of the population; but stable people know nothing of it. Nevertheless, they let themselves too easily become enthused about it, because in the back of their minds still sleeps the idea, "There must be wars."
To this very day, in the political world there are certain questions for which we can find no solution except the sword. But it is scandalous to think that there should be no other solution than knocking one another around to see who is the more fortunate (one hardly can say "more powerful," because there are thousands of instances in winch the more powerful have gone under)....
Whoever can think of it, should think once of how shriveled we are in a political sense. This great, round earth with its peoples, what an unconfined playground it could be for a genuine humanity, and how small we have made it in dividing up ourselves as tigers and lambs, fox and geese--with, naturally, the fox gobbling down the geese. On this earth, things go according to particular rules of animal life, and the life of the Spirit is not to be found.
Of course, thought cannot go too far in this direction before we come upon a word that is very much forbidden today. Yet there is something to be said for it. I will state it right out: "Anarchy!" Regarding the inhabitants of earth, a certain freedom, a veritable rulelessness, would almost be better than this nailed-up-tight business that as much as turns individual peoples into herds of animals dosed to every great thought....
Man is here to make progress; and if he wants peace he must also help bring it about--on has own ground, in has own way, seeking to bring it onto the scene. Mere talking and wishing that it would come of itself is of no value. Thus, everyone who wants peace must undertake peace, must be a man of peace.
And this in particular is what God would have us do now, out of respect for has eternal truth and righteousness. This is our calling; and who knows whether we are not the strongest ones in the present situation? I would not belittle those who strive for peace out of other considerations--out of sympathy, humanitarianism, and the like--but I do not believe that such efforts carry much power. However, there is a particular, invincible power in our efforts: as God wills, as the eternal truth wills, so our will is for peace; our will is that the peoples become changed and this terrible European history come to an end....
If anyone remains stuck in the history we have had until now and thinks to find a solution there, he is a terribly small person.... Yet it is already something worthwhile if in these matters even a few people open their eyes to what is righteous, eternal, and true and thus make a firm resolution, "There must be a change!" To that degree, they are able to rise above the history of their time. And this will not have been done in vain; on the contrary, It will lead toward what we call the kingdom of God.
Is Social Democracy that which rightly should be demanded? Or is it rather--because it so energetically pursues "the state of the future" --that which, as so many assume, should by all means be opposed by every citizen and churchman?
A person must indeed be blind if he cannot see that, during the entire century since the French Revolution, there have arisen movements of ever increasing consequence directed toward a new ordering of society. Where is there a country that has not been agitated by socialistic ideas? It is one impulse, one forward-striving spirit, which seeks this new social order. No one can avoid this movement. Church and state must grant people freedom in this regard. We have lived in a century of revolution and rapid change and are living in the midst of radical movements--and this is in accord with the will of God!
Notice how much our ways of looking at things have changed already! Who wonders today at the fact that every citizen demands political rights and receives them in ever greater degree? Who now is surprised when equal justice is demanded for all, both high and low? Is there anyone who wants to reintroduce slavery and indentured service? Or who would do away with representative government? These are genuinely new ways of looking at things.
In previous centuries, people who demanded the rights of freedom were simply brought to justice and exterminated. And now, when Socialism sets up the goal that every person have an equal right to bread, that matters of ownership be so arranged that neither money nor property but the life of man become the highest value, why should that be seen as a reprehensible, revolutionary demand? It is dear to me that it lies within the Spirit of Jesus Christ, that the course of these events leads toward his goal, and that there is bound to be revolution until that goal is reached. Resistance will be of no avail, because it is God's will that all men in every respect should be regarded equal and that they, rather than being plagued by the earth, should be blessed creatures of God.
That this struggle of the oppressed classes has not always gone pleasantly and that many imperfect things have been thought and done does not discountenance me. The basis of the movement, the energetic will, and the spiritual creativity of the goal are enough for me, so that I can feel myself an ally--and that, indeed, in the Spirit of Jesus Christ who had led me all along....
But, you say, the Social Democrats want bloody revolution, illegal overthrow of the existing order, and general chaos. Now I say simply, that is not true. Many people have a horror of every revolution, because the French Revolution and the revolutionary movements which followed it were of a bloody nature. Yet the Reformation of the sixteenth century was even bloodier; why then do we not hate the Reformation? Because it, at least to some extent, brought religious freedom? Why then do we hate the revolutions of the eighteenth century? Is it because they helped people toward political freedom? The latter seem to me indispensable to the former. The bloodshed of the Reformation pains me just as much as the bloodshed of the Revolution; but I must take both in the bargain and in both see progress toward the freedom of humanity. Why don't we have a general horror of the bloodletting of times both past and present instead of a national prejudice that wants to ignore blood? Indeed, the whole world history is one long, revolutionary stream of blood....
But people say, "Christ kept his distance from all such revolutionary ideas, having in view only the spiritual uplift of mankind." Yet, when he looked upon the temple of the Jews, when he came in touch with the false gods of nationalism and culture which stand opposed to the kingdom of God, he gave warning about the greatest sort of overthrow. "Not one stone shall remain standing upon another" is what he said about the proud national shrine of the Jews; and he saw destruction fast coming upon the capitalistic social system of that time.
He considered that the immediate result of his advent would be the greatest of revolutions; and he warned his disciples that things would be very violent. Of course, he went on to say that this was not the true end. At the very end, things shall proceed without violence. The Son of Man, the Man of Men, will come as a bolt of lightning lighting up the whole world. That suggests that God's thought and will shall drive universally and with power into human hearts, creating the people that God would have. And at that point we will be ready for a new heaven and a new earth.
However, if we were to bring together all the words of Jesus and the apostles dealing with the final purpose of human history, we would soon discover that, in spirit, Jesus concerns himself with the political and social situation, that his kingdom could not come or even be conceived apart from the overthrow of the established order. And he thought of this overthrow in essentially violent terms.
Nevertheless, this does not imply that, as followers of Jesus, we are to do deeds of violence. We are not to be bloody revolutionaries but to be filled with peace and power as we endure through the entire process, having our eyes fixed on the final goal of peace. Yet this end state cannot come without the most shattering of overthrows. Like the whip which Jesus wielded in the temple at Jerusalem, there is still a whip to be wielded upon the whole unrighteous nature of humanity--"a day that shall burn like an oven," as the prophet Malachi said. And even if the judgment begins in the household of God, I will rejoice.
Even so, the Socialist movement is like a fiery sign from heaven warning of the coming judgment. And if Christian society is faced with a judgment, rather than becoming proud, let it consider well what truth there is in that which mounts the attack.
Yes, greed is the root of all evil! And it puzzles me that this truth is not more sharply felt. The truth is that our generation is perishing in its acquiring of money and its desire for money. Today nothing stands more high and holy in our eyes than speculation about money. Even among the wealthiest, many suffer from this burden; they take part in self-serving works of charity and yet are unable to be of real help to the miserable. True help will be brought only by the Christ of the all-encompassing End.
And now an organization arises, born out of bitterest need, and struggles toward this end, toward redemption from this world of money, this time of gold. And who would prevent me from giving this organization a hand in the name of Christ? Who will blame me for declaring the truth of those people's dear witness that we are on a downhill road, of their hope that in spite of all our present decadence we are coming to a better time, a time in which it will truly be said, "Peace on earth," a time giving birth to those who understand what life and salvation mean? Such is the goal of God's kingdom on earth, of the God who is a redeemer for all humanity.
Nota BeneBecause Ragaz's personal predilection was to back Democratic Socialism even more fully than Blumhardt had ever done, he chose to give us only this one statement on the subject. However, if we are to get the total picture of Blumhardt's thought, we need also to hear these words spoken after his somewhat disillusioning experience with the party and as party spokesman In the Württemberg legislature. They are recorded In R. Lejeune's Christoph Blumhardt and His Message, 73. -- V.E.
"[Potentially, Democratic Socialism can] further the thoughts of Jesus in the life of the nations more than any other movement."
"In the social movement there lies an all-embracing concern for the pure human life: quite generally the concern that men be helped. This has been accepted by the broad ranks of the people and is an echo of God's will that all men be helped."
"[Christendom] has never expressed so conclusively this principle, which lies in Jesus."
"The social movement as we see it today still belongs to the world which will pass. It does not contain the fellowship of men as it will one day come through God's Spirit. Too strong a defense of prevailing opinions has a flavor which is disturbing to the pure service of God."
"The attempt to carry my idea of God into earthly things cannot take root at a time when men are filled with the hope that they and they alone can create a blissful humanity. Now they first have to run aground on the rock of earthly things, in order to grasp the higher things."
Nota BenePlainly, Blumhardt does not want to be understood as retracting what he said in the Ragaz quotation; we are not called upon to choose one Blumhardt over the other, the earlier over later or vice versa. What the later Blumhardt did was to introduce a corrective (which may even have been implicit in the earlier statement). The truth, then, is to be found by holding the two positions in tension--letting each correct the other.
Thus, Christians must be open to perceive the hand of God even in those purely secular sociopolitical movements whose goals are compatible with the gospel picture of the kingdom of God. And once perceiving God's hand, we are, of course, under some obligation openly to welcome and support it. However, the later Blumhardt tells us, we dare never give ourselves to any sociopolitical movement as though it were the coming of the kingdom or an equivalent of that kingdom. No, Christian support of any and all such movements must ever include an element of "eschatological reserve," the freedom to criticize and even withdraw when, inevitably, anti-kingdom aspects of the movement show themselves. But it is quite possible to see Blumhardt as being right, as making a true Christian witness, both in joining and, later, in withdrawing from Democratic Socialism.
His total position, then, offers an essential corrective both to those Christians who want to forego all participation in the socio-political world and to those--such as certain proponents of liberation Theology--who commit themselves so completely to particular party programs that, in the name of the gospel, they are willing even to give their blessing to revolutionary violence. -- V.E.
The will of God came forth in Jesus' coming forth upon earth. And what is he? He is the friend of men and of human society. And in a very particular way he holds society by what might be called its lowest part--by the miserable, the despised, the poor, by the masses of mankind who go through life unnoticed--this is where Jesus takes hold with a firm hand....
No one else, even to the present day, no one who has not come from God could take upon himself this mass of mankind. A person representing only education, or only science and philosophy, or only human love and mercy, he would not come to these people. He would always think, "Oh, them; they are not important!" It is when he would meet a distinguished person, an honored one, somebody righteous, he would think, "Yes, it is with him I must join."
If anyone wants to found a party or amount to something, he seeks friends in the upper echelons of society. But the highest spirits, even the highest angels, cannot do what Jesus can. We put our hope in the professors or the exalted spirits of various sorts. We pin our hope on the highest heights of heaven; and Jesus places his hope in the proletariat, the outcasts, people whom kings and Caesars ignore, with whom they dally as with playthings of the mighty--yet that is where Jesus sees the beginning of renewal. Will we follow him in this? It is just here that we must confess Jesus, that is, wholeheartedly press forward--for Jesus is there.
To my last breath I will fight for the sinners, the miserable, the unwanted. And my great joy will be when I, to all that is high, can make clear what rottenness lies in "highness." And to my own house I would like to repeat every day. "Stay with the lowly!" And if we often seem to be a respectable social group, we should be ashamed that we are so respectable. Would to God we respectable people were all pushed into the comer and that those in rags would sit here! We would be a thousand times happier in so proclaiming such a Jesus. Yet the lowly ones must also come in.
The hope of resurrection is an aspect of our longing for God's kingdom; and the abolition of death is undeniably an element of the kingdom of God. Anyone who does not have the courage to accept this in all earnestness and give himself to the fight against death, he, we rightly can say, ought not be called a disciple of Jesus.... All the words and works of God in Christ breathe the abolition of death.
This is the great triumph of the resurrection of Christ: people are born, people who already live. But those who live in sin and death are born again; and in them something new is revealed through the tremendous power of Christ Jesus.... Acts of resurrection take place, new men arise, and here and there new people step forth so that one has to say, "There is a person in whom something new has been born."
I ask you, "Friends, from where does humanity draw its life? From where does Christianity draw its life?" We can answer with certainty: From those in whom the resurrection of Christ has repeated itself, those of whom it truly is said, "Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and every one who lives and believes in me will never die" (Jn. 11:25-26).
It is through those in whom Christ has become the resurrection and the life, through those who have become victorious in faith so that they trample the power of this world underfoot in the strength of eternity, which is the rule and power of Christ--it is through these people that the world endures even today. In them lives Jesus, the one risen from the dead. In them he rules and in them is victor. In them he is grace, is the light of the world. In them he will be glorified through all creation.
The entire Bible looks forward to a colossal time of God, to which all the struggle, need, and suffering of the present time are as nothing. But as I often have said, what is completely new and unbiblical is the idea, "It will soon be all over with me; I will shortly be dead!" No prophet or apostle ever thought that way; rather, they dwelt upon the idea, "Until our God comes! Until there comes that great time for us!" ...
If one has lived a worldly, earthbound life, the dear Lord cannot make him happy even if he is the best of men. He is too greedy for worldly things and doesn't seek the heavenly. The time of God, which finds its center in the people of Jesus Christ and the glory that is the comfort of the whole world and all its creatures--this is what must be sought.
A person can make himself weak by continually looking at his sinful nature and things he sees as wrong in himself. Often the sin has been forgiven long before; but the person hangs on to it and considers himself weak and sinful. What he should do, then, is stand up and be strong, through faith in God being certain of forgiveness.... In principle, sin is forgiven; and we must carry that reality into the world.
When I look at the conversions of today, I see so much lacking that I am afraid they will be a detriment unless people stop making the conversion experience the main thing. The Lord will give nothing, will reveal nothing of that for which we hope, unless the change of heart remains the first and last thing. The gospel always produces repentance.... The outcome of one's own repentance is to produce further repentance--which thought also belongs to the gospel. But whatever does not come out of one's own repentance is about as effective as soap bubbles against fortress walls.
When people come to me in their misery, I always have the feeling, "Oh, here it should be easy to help!" Even when I see a ruined body before me, or someone in the clutches of hell, I often get the powerful impression, "If only these folks had the love of God, they would be helped; but oh, the superstitions and the idols!" They think about all sorts of things, but God does not come into their hearts.... And so people passionately hold on to that which destroys them. This is the distress of lovelessness toward God. Don't look so much on your personal sins; nothing comes of staring at them. Hang on to God; look to him. Otherwise, even if you repent and believe, you are still not converted; your life does not depend upon God. A simple, sober reverence for God, seeking of God in the spirit, the soul's being filled with love for God--by these we can overcome. But we must be whole people.
Leave for a while your begging before God and seek first the way, the way in which we truly can know God, by recognizing our guilt and in truth seeking only the righteousness of God in his rule upon earth. Put aside your own suffering and start doing honest works of repentance, doing them with joy, not with sighing and complaining, giving God the glory in body and soul. Then accept your guilt and its judgment and become a true person. Thus, through Christ, you will be bound to God; and your own suffering and need will fade of itself.
Turn about in the inward man and, instead of looking at yourself and all your need, look to the kingdom of God and its need; it has been held back for so long because of the false nature of man. Then you can be confident that God will treat you as a true child who is seeking his honor, and you will not come to shame in this life.
The first and last word for a disciple of Jesus is, "Obey!" I mean to say that today the word "believe" is not as important as, "You who believe, obey him whom you believe!" Of what use is believing if you cannot obey?
Eternal damnation is not biblical; it is only a notion of the churches.... What the dear Lord will finally do with the disobedient is his business. Here and now the main thing is the battle of history; we should stick with this. What have we to do with the dear Lord's action in an entirely different age? Our concern is solely with what God wants of us in the fight that is in progress here on earth; and that, my friends, we should take seriously.
Our concern is not at all with the outward commandments but rather with the nature of life. That is God's commandment. Thus we find in the Bible a colossal freedom. There are none of the rules that were first formulated about the time of Jesus. Jesus goes completely beyond them; not even the law of the Sabbath is a rule for him. No sacrifice, no temple, no altar, none of them are rules for Jesus. Nothing of the outward but that of the spirit is God's law....
Our people must be permeated by the simple awareness that we are God's. Accordingly, without further talk or churchly nonsense, we become both bound and free.... Go where you will--there is no law--but do it in this awareness: "I do not belong to things; they are no business of mine. I belong to the Father in heaven; it is with God I have to do."
I have for all of you a heartfelt concern before God; and I so much want to help. However, I know of nothing to say but, "Remain firm, firm in doing what God wants." The kingdom of God must be the desire of our hearts; then solutions will come. You can be useful when you are willing to bear the greatest misery for God's sake. Even in a bodily sense you will not go under, whether or not that seems to be the case. It cannot be in vain, bearing what God wills us to bear, when we are following the one who bore the cross.
A light-hearted Christianity is really the greatest foolishness in this world where millions of our brothers and sisters are sinking, where everything goes dark. Therefore, the cry might well be loud, even if it comes to, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Correctly understood, that is not faithlessness but sympathy with the world.... In this cry lies our way to God and God's way to us.
The capacity to hope is extremely important both for the kingdom of God and for our own development, because something very real and powerful has been laid in our hearts with this hope. One might say that we have been given a power that corresponds to the power of God. A power goes forth from God to make something of us; and from us there goes forth a hope that we shall become something. And this power of God and our hope go together hand in hand, as in a marriage, walking together. We in hope and God in his power, we belong together so that we can follow a purpose, the good purpose of God.
Scarcely does a need arise and, as we think, it should be quickly cared for, because we believe in God. Yet, in this we often are disappointed.... Frequently God goes his way high above the needs and suffering of the human way. We think that God should come with his help just as soon as is possible; but God regularly says to us, "Have patience! The goal can be reached in only one way, a way that does not permit me to suit your preference, even in giving you something very special."... But we should not let our faith get away from us just because something was not quickly improved or made more godly. The kingdom of God entails a long, long history. All that is of God must have its own time.
Every disciple of Jesus can acquire some qualities of a redeemer in himself. These are gifts that God wants to give through the Holy Spirit. They then can be shared: one person has a gift for one sort of situation, another for another; but we disciples of Jesus should always have something redeeming for other people.