The evidence of blood and tears

The rector of Theale preached on the war at a prestigious annual service at an Oxford College.

Friday, June 25th 1915

War As A World Judgment: St. John the Baptist Service at Magdalen.

Arrangements were yesterday made at Magdalen College for the service which is customarily held on St. John the Baptist’s Day in the quadrangle overlooked by the stone-canopied pulpit, a relic of the ancient Hospital of St. John the Baptist, but at the last moment owing to the rain it was necessary for the service to take place in the chapel. The preacher was the Rev. S. C. F. Angel-Smith (Hertford College), rector of Theale, Reading, and amongst those present were the Principal of Brasenose (Pro-Vice-Chancellor), the President of Magdalen (Sir Herbert Warren), the Senior and Junior Proctors, and a number of senior and junior members of the University.

The Rev. Angel-Smith took as his text St. Matthew III. 1-2 “In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He urged them in this “dies irae,” when the world was plunged into the whirlpool of war, when

“Human sorrow fills the air,
Death is reigning everywhere.”

To try and read the secret of the world-tragedy, that they might catch, if it might be, a ray of hope for the world’s redemption. Let them pass from the Baptist’s message of “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to another kingdom the very contradiction of it. He reminded them of the temptation and the offer to Christ of the kingdoms of the world, and added the devil, discomfited by the Christ, had gained many a victory through the subsequent ages. In these last days could they fail to credit him with perhaps his most conspicuous success in the world’s history?

The German Emperor, or the German people – it mattered not which, for they were described by themselves as indissolubly united, belonging to one another, as one mind and one body. The German Emperor, then, at once inspiring and reflecting the nations’ mind and ideals, its motives and will, had been taken up into an exceeding high mountain, lifted thither by successive victories, marvellous growth of population and wealth, immense energy in pursuit of every source of power, physical, intellectual, material, and swollen with pride at this success, with an unbounded conceit of Germany’s indisputable superiority to the rest of mankind – he beheld from that high mountain the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and to behold was to covet. The soil had been well prepared, and the tempter’s world, “All these things will I give thee,” falling on it took root and sprang up, are bore fruit a hundredfold.

But he who yielded to lust of the eye and pride of life, who demanded his place in the sun through his baneful shadow darken the lives of others, who gratified an unbridled ambition for power and domination through it crushed the weak beneath his iron heel, who craved for his own “the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them! Which the prince of this world held out to him, must pay the price which he exacted, must own his sovereignty and fall down and worship him, must work by his methods and fight with his weapons, even his, the adversary, the deceiver and slanderer, the prince of darkness and father of lies, a murderer from the beginning, as a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour.

To apply such terms to their enemy was to lay an awful indictment against him; it were unpardonable were not every item of it proved by indisputable evidence written in blood and tears drawn from human agony.

Continuing, the preacher pointed out that every moral advance, every step towards the spirit’s perfecting, was gained through conflict and pain, and so in this time of world conflict and world pain the needed world was still, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and so with the tidings of the coming kingdom were always heard words of warning and of judgment. What if it be true that the world stood face to face with Divine judgment! Was it possible, they might ask in fear and trembling, that that judgment had to bring the world to repentance? Did it need the efforts to gain the whole world had lost its own Mammon that the service of God had become impossible? Were they so engaged in laying up treasure on earth that treasure in heaven became of no account?

There would be few to deny that the love of money and luxury, the craving for pleasure and excitement, and the determination to get as large a share of this world’s goods as possible, had more and more engrossed the energies and infected the character of all classes in our own land. And then right into this temper of mind, this materialistic conception of life, this living to self and to the world, cut the sword of war. The blow fell, and it was seen that a life of luxury and amusement, or even if comfortable, self-indulgent ease, was not only a repudiation of every high ideal and spiritual capacity of man, but was likely soon to become an impossibility. The war had changed the face of the world and man’s outlook upon it, and forced men to face realities.

The preacher spoke of the changes which the war had produced in Russia, in France, and in our own country, of the birth of a new spirit in the heart of the nation, or happy promise for the reign of love, of righteousness and peace, and a nearer approach to the Kingdom of Heaven on earth for the generations to come.

Oxford Chronicle, inserted in Theale parish magazines (D/P132B/28A/4)

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