How can we be calm in days like these?

A sermon preached by the Revd W. Britton as he began his ministry at St John’s, Reading, on Sunday evening, January 9th, 1916, impressed parishioners enough to reprint in the parish magazine.

I come tonight to give you a message at a time like this when this people of England undoubtedly is faced by a great danger and by a great difficulty. He that denies we are compassed about by danger and difficulty and that our future is going to be no easy future dwells in a fool’s paradise. We live in dangerous days and difficult. This empire which has been built up by our fathers is being tried and tested in these days of their sons.

What does this empire most need? I say without any hesitation that the greatest need of this empire today is that her sons and daughters should be tranquil people, calm people, not flurried, not flustered, not uneasy; calm because strong, strong because they have faith, strong and able to strengthen their brethren. Those are the men we want, at home as well as abroad. Men who are not intimidated by danger, men who are not cast into abysses of despair because plans miscarry, and armies have to be withdrawn; men who meet disaster with unruffled composure and repair mistakes – mistake after mistake if need be; men who move forward in loyal and unflinching obedience to their leaders, and in a trust which never falters in the justice of their cause and the certainty of its ultimate triumph. We have such men in our ships upon the seas.

I have had this text, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength”, often on my mind these last few weeks. It rarely comes without this thought – that in that great Navy, which does its work so quietly, with so little fuss and with such great efficiency, we have almost its best example. These men are efficient, and they are confident; they have a certain faith in the speed of their ships, in the great range of their guns; they have a certain strength and faith in their own efficiency for every call which shall come. They are strong, they are confident; they know something, that is why they are strong.

We have such men on the seas, in the trenches, in the air. But look at home. Have we got such men in our editorial chairs; have we got such men representing every constituency in Parliament? Are there such men in the streets; are the men as they chatter in the clubs such men as these? it is not confidence, it is not strength that bubbles out in indiscreet questions in Parliament; that gushes out in fatuous and foolish advice in the columns of our newspapers, or in peevish complaints in the mouth of the citizen….

You may say legitimately, “I am an uneasy sort of being, and I cannot help it. I have enough to make me uneasy. My boys are out in the Dardanelles; my business is in the worst of conditions; my home is even threatened; how can I be quiet with all this coming upon me?” Sir! There can be no quietness where there is no confidence; there can be no strength where there is no faith. But the finest tempered strength is bred of a certain conviction, a faith that our God lives and that he goes marching on. That is what we need if we are to be calm and strong. If you had such a conviction your friend who met you in the street might say, “Calm in days like these?” And you might answer, “I am calm, quiet, tranquil, because I know something.” “O! you have got hold of some military secret, some great naval secret, some political secret.” “O no, it is not a secret I have got hold of… it is the eternal truth that God lives”… Though our foes roll up in ever increasing numbers, though Turkey be added to Germany and Austria, though Bulgaria adds itself to them…

Reading St. John parish magazine, February 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

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