Walter Rauschenbusch


American Baptist Preacher, Theological Professor and Key Figure in the Social Gospel Movement

Author Quotes

In a few years all our restless and angry hearts will be quiet in death, but those who come after us will live in the world which our sins have blighted or which our love of right has redeemed.

The Book of Isaiah begins with a description of the disasters which had overtaken the nation and then in impassioned words the prophet spurns the means taken to appease Jehovah's anger. "...Cease to do evil! Learn to do right! Seek justice! Relieve the oppressed! Secure justice for the orphaned and plead for the widow." (Isaiah I. 10-17.)

The prophets were the heralds of the fundamental truth that religion and ethics are inseparable, and that ethical conduct is the supreme and sufficient religious act. If that principle had been fully adopted in our religious life, it would have turned the full force of the religious impulse into the creation of right moral conduct and would have made the unchecked growth and accumulation of injustice impossible.

We shall confine this brief study of the Old Testament to the prophets, because they are the beating heart of the Old Testament.

In general, the Church has often rendered valuable aid by joining the advanced public conscience of any period in its protest against some single intolerable evil, but it has accepted as inevitable the general social system under which the world was living at the time, and has not undertaken any thoroughgoing social reconstruction in accordance with Christian principles.

The Christian movement began with John the Baptist? in his recorded teaching to the people there is not a word about the customary ritual of religion, about increased Sabbath observance, about stricter washings and sacrifices, or the ordinary exercises of piety. He spoke only of repentance, of ceasing from wrongdoing. He hailed the professional exponents of religion who came to hear him, as a brood of snakes wriggling away from the flames of the judgment... The way to prepare for the Messianic era and to escape the wrath of the Messiah was to institute a brotherly life and to equalize social inequalities.

The prophets... interpreted past history, shaped present history, and foretold future history on the basis of the conviction that God rules with righteousness in the affairs of nations, and that only what is just, and not what is expedient and profitable, shall endure.

Western civilization is passing through a social revolution unparalleled in history for scope and power. Its? coming was inevitable. ...By universal consent this social crisis is the overshadowing problem of our generation.

In so far as men believed that the traditional ceremonial was what God wanted of them, they would be indifferent to the reformation of social ethics. If the hydraulic force of religion could be turned toward conduct, there is nothing which it could not accomplish.

The Church had its own law code and its own courts of law which were supreme over the clergy, and had large rights of jurisdiction even over the laity, so that it could develop and give effect to its own ideas of law and right.

The religious ideal of Israel was the theocracy. But the theocracy meant the complete penetration of the national life by religious morality. It meant politics in the name of God.

When the machinery of [Roman] imperial administration broke down in the provinces under the invasion of the barbarians in the fifth century the machinery of the Church remained unbroken... Ancient families became extinct and the Church became the heir of their lands and slaves and serfs. Small proprietors sought security by committing their lands to the Church and becoming its tenants.

Against this current conception of religion the prophets insisted on a right life as the true worship of God. Morality to them was not merely a prerequisite of effective ceremonial worship. They brushed sacrificial ritual aside altogether as trifling compared with righteousness, nay, as a harmful substitute and a hindrance for ethical religion.

In so far as men have attempted to use the Old Testament as a code of model laws and institutions and have applied these to modern conditions, regardless of the historical connections, these attempts have left a trail of blunder and disaster. In so far as they have caught the spirit that burned in the hearts of the prophets and breathed in gentle humanity through the Mosaic Law, the influence of the Old Testament has been one of the great permanent forces making for democracy and social justice.

The Church owns property, needs income, employs men, works on human material, and banks on its moral prestige. Its present efficiency and future standing are bound up for weal or woe with the social welfare of the people and with the outcome of the present struggle.

The social effects which are usually enumerated do not constitute a reconstruction of society on a Christian basis, but were mainly a suppression of some of the most glaring evils in the social system of the time.

When the prophets conceived Jehovah as the special vindicator of these voiceless classes it was another way of saying that it is the chief duty in religious morality to stand for the rights of the helpless.

Sin is a social force. It runs from man to man along the lines of social contact. Its impact on the individual becomes most overwhelming when sin is most completely socialized. Salvation too, is a social force. It is exerted by groups that are charged with divine will and love.

The belief in a satanic kingdom exists today only where religious and theological traditions keep this belief alive.

The Hebrew religion was an unfinished religion. That is one of the best proofs of its divine inspiration. The prophets had the forward look [and] great things were yet to come. As one of the most daring expressed it, the old and hallowed covenant, made by God at the Exodus, would be superseded by a new and higher relation; God would write his law into the hearts of the people; the old drill in outward statutes would disappear, for all men would know God by an inward experience of forgiveness and love.

Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of men, to that extent denies the faith of the Master.

With the slenderest human means at his disposal, within a brief span of time, he raised our understanding of God and of human life to new levels forever, and set forces in motion which revolutionized history.

Words have always been the bane of religion as well as its vehicle. Religious emotion has enormous motive force, but it is the easiest thing in the world for it to sizzle away in high professions and wordy prayers. In that case, it is a substitute and counterfeit, and a damage to the Reign of God among men.

Any faith that takes the Kingdom of God seriously, has its fight cut out for it. Unless we accept our share of it, we are playing with our discipleship. But when the fight is for the Kingdom of God, those who dodge, lose; and those who lose, win. Which involves more conflict, a life set on the Kingdom of God on earth, or a faith set on the life to come?

Every generation tries to put its doctrine on a high shelf where the children cannot reach it.

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American Baptist Preacher, Theological Professor and Key Figure in the Social Gospel Movement