April 22, 1897
THE great ethical problem of the day is the problem of how to make good that which is bad.
This is not a new problem; it is as old as human nature. From the earliest times, human wisdom has persistently sought its solution in the spheres of both individual and national life.
This problem has entered the sphere of politics, and is to-day the center of movements which are engaging the thought and energies of vast numbers of people. This is nowhere more true than in the United States. We are told that the politics of the country are bad, and they must be made good; or as commonly expressed, they must be “purified.”
How shall the base metal of which politics now consists be transmuted into gold and silver? The political alchemists who have undertaken the task are the “Christian Citizenship” and “Good Citizenship” leagues which are springing up everywhere throughout the land.
In this undertaking they must certainly fail. But it is equally certain that their efforts will not be without important results.
These organizations propose to work by political methods. They resolve the problem therefore into that of politics purifying itself; which is just as possible of accomplishment as that a bitter fountain should make itself sweet.
It is certain that the good at which this movement aims in politics cannot be realized through bad men in politics. The problem of making bad men good, therefore, is the one which is really sought to be solved by these impossible methods.
There is just one way in which that which is bad in human conduct can be made to give place to good. Upon this point we have the testimony of the wisest teacher who ever discoursed upon the natures of good and evil. That teacher is none other than Jesus Christ. It will be worth while to turn our attention to His words.
There was one occasion upon which a certain ruler came to Christ and asked him, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The Master replied: “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but One, that is, God: but it thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
The ruler affirmed that he had kept the commandments. When the Saviour had enumerated them, the ruler said, “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” The answer was, “One thing thou lackest; go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” “And when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.” Matthew 19:16-22.
The young ruler had sought goodness by works; but he had not attained to goodness. He thought that he had been keeping the law of God, but he had not been keeping it at all.
The Saviour’s words to him expressed the truth that God alone is good. He is the personification of goodness, in and of Himself. There can be no goodness anywhere else except that which comes from Him.
A man can become good only by having goodness given him from God. He cannot make himself good. By the gift of God, through faith, a bad man becomes good; and he becomes good in order that he may do good. This is Christianity. The method of human nature, on the other hand, is to do good in order to become good; and this is heathenism.
The heathen race is continually seeking to evolve goodness from works. But it can never come in that way. It can come only as the gift of God, through that which connects the soul with God. And as politics does not connect with God, it is impossible that real goodness should be realized therefrom.
But there is very much in the world which passes for goodness that is not goodness. The young man who came to Christ thought that he was good. He made a show of goodness in his life; and being outwardly a keeper of the commandments, he no doubt passed—and could pass in this day—for a good man. But his goodness was spurious, and only involved him in ruin at last.
God alone is good; and “God is love.” Therefore there can be no goodness apart from love. The young ruler thought he was a good man, but he failed on the test of love. He was not willing to use his riches for the benefit of his fellowmen.
“Good citizenship” and “Christian citizenship” aim to “purify politics,“—to put goodness in the place of evil, in politics. But what kind of “goodness” will it be which will thus be put into politics? Will it be genuine goodness, which is from God alone, or will it be a counterfeit? As certainly as it is a counterfeit, it will involve in ruin all that which depends upon it.
And it is no small thing which is made to depend upon the success of the “Good Citizenship” movement. It is proposed to accomplish by it great things, even to evolve a government in which “Christ and His law” will be the “supreme authority in national as in individual life” (See p. 250). It is proposed by it to usher in the millennium and set up the kingdom of Christ on the earth. If the scheme fails, therefore, what will be the result? What less than the spiritual bankruptcy of all who shall have reared the edifice of their spiritual hopes upon it?
Love is the test of goodness. Will the goodness of “Good Citizenship” stand this test? Will this test be applied to it? Can it be applied by any method of political procedure?
“Love is of God,” and “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” Faith is the link which connects the soul with God. There can be no real goodness without love, no real love without faith. Does “Good Citizenship” operate through faith? Is faith a method of political action?
Human conduct can be purified only through faith in the Word of God? Nothing that is shaped by human conduct can be good or pure apart from the power of God through faith. And faith cannot enter into politics.
Politics is of this world. It has no connection with “Christ and His law,” or with the kingdom of God. It cannot bring “a clean thing out of an unclean.” It can prove only a deception to those who trust in it for good.