Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Walter Rauschenbusch

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

"The influences that really make and mar human happiness are beyond the reach of the law."

"Life is the sacred spark of God in us, and the best of our race have reverenced it most."

"The Church must either condemn the world and seek to change it, or tolerate it and conform to it. In the latter case it surrenders its holiness and its mission."

"A living experience of God is the crowning knowledge attainable to a human mind."

"We are actors in a great historical drama. It rests upon us to decide if a new era is to dawn in the transformation of the world into the kingdom of God, or if Western civilization is to descend to the graveyard of dead civilizations and God will have to try once more."

"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."

"In all nations the atmosphere of the aristocratic groups drugs the sense of obligation, and possesses the mind with the notion that the life and labor of men are made to play tennis with. The existence of great permanent groups, feeding but not producing, dominating and directing the life of whole nations according to their own needs, may well seem a supreme proof of the power of evil in humanity."

"Our generation is profoundly troubled by the problems of organized society."

"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 As one of the most daring expressed it, the old and hallowed covenant, made by God at the Exodus, would be superseded by a new and higher relation; God would write his law into the hearts of the people; the old drill in outward statutes would disappear, for all men would know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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"Amid the general anarchy, against the coarse vice and brutality of the barbarians, herself harried by the rapacity of the nobles and weakened by the ignorance and barbarism of her own clergy, the Church did what she could, but a thorough social reconstruction was impossible. In modern life her power is broken by the prevalent doubt and apostasy, and the current of materialism and mammonism is now too great to be stemmed."

"Apart from the organized Church, the religious spirit is a factor of incalculable power in the making of history. In the idealistic spirits that lead and in the masses that follow, the religious spirit always intensifies thought, enlarges hope, unfetters daring, evokes the willingness to sacrifice, and gives coherence in the fight."

"Ascetic Christianity called the world evil and left it. Humanity is waiting for a revolutionary Christianity which will call the world evil and change it."

"Christianity has been one of the most powerful causes of democracy, but the conscious influence of the Church has more widely been exerted against democracy than for it."

"Christianity is in its nature revolutionary."

"Christian ritual grew up not as the appropriate and aesthetic expression of spiritual emotions, but as the indispensable means of pleasing and appeasing God, and of securing his favors, temporal and eternal, for those who put their heart into these processes. This Christian ceremonial system does not differ essentially from that against which the prophets protested; with a few verbal changes their invectives would still apply."

"Christianity was rising when the ancient world was breaking down. By the time the Church had gained sufficient power to exercise a controlling influence, the process of social decay, like the breakdown of a physical organism in a wasting disease, was beyond remedy."

"History is never antiquated, because humanity is always fundamentally the same. It is always hungry for bread, sweaty with labor, struggling to wrest from nature and hostile men enough to feed its children. The welfare of the mass is always at odds with the selfish force of the strong."

"I can frankly affirm that I have written with malice toward none and with charity for all. ...I have tried?so far as erring human judgment permits?to lift the issues out of the plane of personal selfishness and hate, and to put them where the white light of the just and pitying spirit of Jesus can play upon them. If I have failed in that effort, it is my sin. If others in reading fail to respond in the same spirit, it is their sin."

"Eminent theologians, like other eminent thinkers, live in the social environment of wealth and to that extent are slow to see. The individualistic conception of religion is so strongly fortified in theological literature and ecclesiastical institutions that its monopoly cannot be broken in a hurry. It will take a generation or two for the new social comprehension of religion to become common property."

"I have written this book to discharge a debt. For eleven years I was pastor among the working people on the West Side of New York City. ...I have never ceased to feel that I owe help to the plain people who were my friends. If this book in some far-off way helps to ease the pressure that bears them down and increases the forces that bear them up, I shall meet the Master of my life with better confidence."

"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."

"If the question of the distribution of wealth were solved for all society and all lived in average comfort and without urgent anxiety, the question would still be how many would be at peace with their own souls and have that enduring joy and contentment which alone can make the outward things fair and sweet and rise victorious over change."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"It became one of the fundamental attributes of their God that he was the husband of the widow, the father of the orphan, and the protector of the stranger. The widows and the fatherless were those who had no concrete power to back their claims, no "influence," no "financial interest," no "pull" with the police, judges and aldermen of that time. The "stranger" was the immigrant who had no part in the blood-kinship of the clan, and hence no share in the land and no voice in the common affairs of the village."

"It is important to note, further, that the morality which the prophets had in mind in their strenuous insistence on righteousness was not merely the private morality of the home, but the public morality on which national life is founded. They said less about the pure heart for the individual than of just institutions for the nation."

"It is this diffused spirit of Christianity rather than the conscious purpose of organized Christianity which has been the chief moral force in social changes. It has often taken its finest form in heretics and free-thinkers, and in non-Christian movements. The Church has often been indifferent or hostile to the effects which it had itself produced. The mother has refused to acknowledge her own children."

"It is only when social movements have receded into past history... that the Church with pride turns around to claim that it was she who abolished slavery, aroused the people to liberty, and emancipated woman."

"Let us do our thinking on these great questions, not with our eyes fixed on our bank account, but with a wise outlook on the fields of the future and with the consciousness that the spirit of the Eternal is seeking to distil from our lives, some essence of righteousness, before they pass away."

"Jesus accepted John as the forerunner of his own work. It was the popular movement created by John which brought Jesus out of the seclusion of Nazareth. He received John's baptism as the badge of the new Messianic hope and repentance. ...He drew his earliest and choicest disciples from the followers of John. When John was dead, some thought Jesus was John risen from the dead. He realized clearly the difference between the stern ascetic spirit of the Baptist and his own sunny trust and simple human love, but to the end of his life he championed John and dared the Pharisees to deny his divine mission. ...In the main he shared John's national and social hope. His aim too was the realization of the theocracy."

"Jehovah was the tribal god of Israel. Fortunately he was stronger and more terrible than the gods of the neighboring tribes, so that he was able to drive them out and give their land to his own people, but he was not fundamentally different from them and they were believed to be quite as real as Jehovah."

"Our modern religious horizon and our conception of the character of a religious leader and teacher are so different that it is not easy to understand men who saw the province of religion chiefly in the broad reaches of civic affairs and international relations."

"Men are seizing on Jesus as the exponent of their own social convictions. They all claim him... But in truth Jesus was not a social reformer of the modern type... he approached these facts purely from the moral, and not from the economic or historical point of view."

"Like all great minds that do not merely imagine Utopias, but actually advance humanity to a new epoch, he [Jesus] took the situation and material furnished to him by the past and molded that into a fuller approximation to the divine conception within him."

"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.)"

"Primitive religions consisted mainly in the worship of the powers of nature. ...the essential thing in religion was not morality, but the ceremonial method of placating the god, securing his gifts, and ascertaining his wishes. He might even be pleased best by immoral actions, by the immolation of human victims, by the sacrifice of woman's chastity, or by the burning of the first born."

"Primitive Christianity cherished an ardent hope of a radically new era, and within its limits sought to realize a social life on a new moral basis. Thus Christianity as an historical movement was launched with all the purpose and hope, all the impetus and power, of a great revolutionary movement, pledged to change the world-as-it-is into the world-as-it-ought-to-be."

"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 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 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 Church, the organized expression of the religious life of the past, is one of the most potent institutions and forces in Western civilization. ...It cannot help throwing its immense weight on one side or the other. If it tries not to act, it thereby acts; and in any case its choice will be decisive for its own future."

"The Church was the preserver of the remnants of intellectual culture, the sole schoolmistress of the raw peoples. Her clergy long had almost a monopoly of education, and were the secretaries of the nobles, the chancellors and prime ministers of kings."