By S.D. Gordon
The October Panic.
A man walked up the steps of a well-known bank in lower New York one morning, about a half-hour before opening-time, and stood before the shut door. In a few minutes another came, and stood waiting beside him. Others came, one by one, until soon a small group stood in line, waiting for the door to open.
A messenger boy, coming down the street, quickly took in the unusual sight. He wasn't old enough to have been through any of New York's notable panics, and he had never witnessed a run on a bank; but quick as a flash, or as a Wall-Street messenger boy, he knew as though by instinct that a run was on at that bank. Instantly he started running down the street to tell others.
No prairie wild-fire ever spread so quickly as the news ran over 'phone wires of the beginning of that run. As though by some sort of invisible ether-waves, the news seemed to spread through the financial district. Every bank president seemed to know at once. Then it spread throughout the city, and the greater city.
So began what has been called the October panic of last year, which quickly spread through the land, and then throughout the world until every country bank here, and every capital city abroad, felt the sharp tightening of the money-bag strings.
It was a strange panic. You couldn't just tell what was responsible for it. The very variety of explanations, editorial and other, told of the lack of a common understanding of what caused it. There had been no famine or drought. The crops, the chief financial barometer of the country's condition, had been remarkably abundant. There had been no overproduction or glutting of the industrial world. Indeed, great numbers of concerns had been embarrassed by orders that they couldn't fill fast enough. The cause seemed to be wholly in people's minds. A spirit of distrust of some of the great money leaders and of their methods was abroad. That feeling of fear sent a few men, by an unplanned concert of action, to a certain bank before ten o'clock one morning.
The unusual sight of a few men standing in line waiting for the opening of that bank door was like a lighted match to a barn full of dry hay. At the first inkling of a suggestion of a financial panic money began to disappear. Nothing is so cowardly in its cautiousness as money. Scholarship comes next to it. The savings of years have the tightest grip on most human hands. As though by magic, money began hunting dark holes in stockings and cellars and safety-deposit boxes. And the hard grip of the panic was quickly felt everywhere. It was a fear panic. A terrible danger was at hand.
At once the regular habit of life was disturbed for great numbers of men. The Secretary of the Treasury quit his Washington desk and spent several days in New York so as to be able to give the help of the Government's funds and enormous prestige where they would count for most, and to give promptly. Bank officials and other financial leaders cut social engagements and everything else that could be cut, and devoted themselves to meeting the sudden emergency. They ate scantily, both to save time and for lack of appetite, and to help keep their heads clear for quick decisive thinking and action. The tension was intense. Men sat up all night conferring on best measures.
A group of the leading money men met in the private quarters of one of their numbers, about whose rugged personality and leadership they instinctively rallied. More than one night the gray dawning light of the morning found them, with white, drawn faces, still in conference. The emergency gripped them. An emergency always does. The habits of life are upset, helter-skelter, in the effort to avert the threatening danger. That was an emergency in the money world. Grave danger threatened. Everything else was forgotten, and every bit of available resource strained to turn the danger aside. It was turned aside. That was a splendid achievement. And even though men have been feeling the effects for this whole year, what they have felt is as nothing compared with what might have come.
Danger and Victory Eying each other.
An emergency means a great danger threatening, perhaps the very life. But it means, too, that if the danger can be gripped and overcome there will be great victory. Two possibilities come up close and stare each other angrily in the face; the possibility of great disaster impending, and of great victory over it within grasp, if there be a reaching hand to grasp it. The deciding thing is the human element, the strong, quick hand stretched out. If strength can be concentrated, the situation gripped, then great victory is assured. But it takes the utmost concentration of strength, with rare wisdom and quick steady action, to turn the tide toward flood. If this is not done, either because of lack of leadership or of enough strength or enough interest, disaster comes.
Just such emergencies come to us constantly. A severe illness lays its hand upon a loved one in the home. The crisis comes. Death and life stand in the sick-room eying each other. Either one may be victor. No one can tell surely which it will be. And every effort is strained, the habit of life broken, other matters forgotten and neglected, that death may be staved off, and life wooed to stay. And when the crisis passes safely the joy over the new lease of life makes one forget all the cost of strain and effort.
Who of us cannot recall some time back there, when some emergency came in personal business matters, and personal and home expenses and plans were cut down to the lowest notch, to the bleeding-point, that the emergency might be safely met.
Teachers and parents know that moral emergencies come at intervals in a child's life, until young manhood and womanhood are reached. One of the greatest tasks in child-training is to note the emergency, and meet it successfully. And what keenness and patience and subtlety it does take only he knows who has been through the experience.
Emergencies come in spiritual matters, too. They are the hardest kind to meet. It is hardest to make people see them and grip them. In the life of many a church a spiritual emergency has come, but has not been met. The church goes on holding services, raising money and paying it out, going through all the proper forms, but with the life itself quite gone out of it. The thing is being kept in motion by a humanly manipulated electric current; there is no free life-movement.
Evangelistic leaders say that such emergencies come in their campaigning. There has to be a struggle of spirit forces. And the victory that comes, comes only as a result of close hand-to-hand conflict of soul by the leaders.
We all know that such crises come in our personal experience. And those who know about changing things by prayer do not need to be told of the emergency that comes at times; nor of how it requires a tightening of all the buckles, a new reviewing of the promises on which prayer rests, a new steadying of one's faith, a quietly persistent hanging on, an intenser insistence of spirit in prayer and more arrow-praying in the daily round of work--sending out the softly breathed heart-pleadings while busy with common duties, until the assurance comes that the danger is past and the victory secure.
It is remarkable to what an extent the great events of history have been emergency events. With the greatest reverence, it can be said that history's central event, the dying of Jesus, was an emergency action. Even though we understand clearly that it was known and counselled from before the foundation of the world, that He was to shed His precious blood for our salvation, His dying can never be fully understood save as a great emergency measure, the great emergency measure, because of the crisis made by sin.
Now that is the sort of thing--an emergency--that is now on in this great task of world-wide evangelization which Jesus has committed to our hands. Some of you may be strongly inclined to lift your eyebrows and ask--Is there really any such emergency? I know that people don't like those words "crisis" and "emergency." It is much more comfortable to think that things are going on very smoothly and well. Even though all is not just as we might choose to have it, yet we like to think that it will turn out well. There is a sort of optimism that is very popular. Things will all come out right somehow, we like to think. But the fact is that things don't turn out right of themselves. They have to be turned by somebody who gives heart and life to the turning.
It can be said with sane, sober sense that without doubt there is an emergency, and a great one, in this foreign-mission enterprise. It is, of course, true that in a sense there is a continual emergency here. There are thousands of these foreign brothers of ours slipping the tether of life daily. The light might easily have been taken to them, and have changed their choices. But then it hasn't been, and the dark shadow of the possibility of their separating themselves forever from God, through wrong choice persisted in, hangs down over each one of them. There can be no darker shadow except the actual knowledge that they have so separated themselves from life in Him.
A Crisis of Neglect and Success.
But quite distinct from that, and in addition to it, it is quite safe to say that there is an emergency now on in the heathen world such as it has never known before. Such is the mature judgment of our missionary leaders.
And we do well to remind ourselves that we have some remarkable men among these leaders. There are men on the foreign fields and at the missionary helm at home of most remarkable ability and genius. There are to-day men of statesmanlike grasp and power, who could easily have taken front rank in public life, in diplomacy, and professional life, men fully able to fill the Presidential chair and do it masterfully, who are giving their life-blood to this great missionary task.
The sober judgment of these men, taken from every angle of vision, is that the present is a time of unparalleled emergency. It exists peculiarly in Asia, the greatest of all foreign-mission lands. It has been caused by a number of things that now come together with such force as to make a crisis, the crisis of missions, the gravest that has yet come, and that, it is probably safe to say, will ever come. For the future will be largely settled, one way or the other, within a few years.
At the basis of all is the great need, of course. That looms big and gaunt and spectral in any survey of the matter.
Then the neglect by the Church for many generations has greatly intensified the present situation. The Master's plan plainly is that every generation of the Church shall give the Gospel to its generation; that is, to all the people living in the world at that time. Every generation of men must have the Gospel afresh. No land is beyond the need of a fresh gospelizing. If Christian America were to lose its churches and the Gospel, it would surely revert to the heathen type from which we sprung.
But many generations went by with practically nothing of this sort being done. These generations of inactivity have piled up on the present generation. The undone work of the past adds greatly to the task of the present. The present situation is abnormal because of what hasn't been done.
Then the success of the present has played a big part. Modern missionary activity has had a big share in making this emergency. A century of missions is reaching a tremendous climax. The splendid aggressiveness of church leaders and missionaries is now an embarrassment to a Church, or any one in the Church, who doesn't want to keep up the pace. It is an emergency of success, the logical result of what has been accomplished. So much has been done, and been done so well by a comparatively few, that now more must be done by the rest of us.
It's because the heathen world is awake that there is an emergency. Their awakeness is the thing that crowds in on us. And we waked them up. We must now do more and better, because we have done so well. We have indeed waked them up, but--to what? A business man would stamp it as rank foolishness to fail to take advantage of the splendid opening that we have made in the foreign-mission world.
A Westernized Heathenism.
Now, let us look just a bit at this present pressing emergency. There are grave perils threatening, and a great victory possible.
Well, first of all there is real danger of a new aggressive heathenism; a new, energetic, but distinctly un-Christian civilization, in the heathen world. Many thoughtful men who are keenly watching the world movement believe that without doubt there is to be a new leadership of the human race in the Orient. It may be a heathen leadership. That danger is a distinct possibility. The new world-leadership may have all the enormous energy and mental keenness of Christian peoples, but without the Christian spirit.
That means practically a new heathenism, no longer asleep but wide-awake; no longer being manipulated by the Western nations, but maybe manipulating and managing them. An aroused, organized, energized heathen world, with all the science and inventiveness and restless aggressiveness of the western nations and, mark you--and all the spirit of the old, Godless, Christless heathenism dominating its new life--that is the danger.
The heathen world is awake at last after a sleep of centuries. It is sitting up, rubbing its eyes, and taking notice. It is entering upon a new life. That's as clear as a sunbeam on a cloudless morning. What that life shall be depends entirely on the Church waking up. That means, to be more practical, that it depends on you and me waking up, just now, and doing what we easily can. It may be a new Christian life, shot through and through with the blessed principles and spirit of Jesus. It may be a new life of energized, Westernized heathenism! They may get merely our energy and mental awakeness without the Christian spirit that gave these to us.
These two opposite things are standing by the bedside eying each other. Which will get the patient? Who knows? If the Church fail--!
This is a real peril seriously threatening. It is probably far more grave and far more likely than the best-informed and keenest observer is aware of.
A Powerless Christianity.
Then there is a second danger climbing in fast on the heels of this, that is already being plainly felt. These peoples may turn away from a Christianity that seems powerless to them. As they come to know better the simple principles of our faith they may see that we are not true to it. Our Master bade us go everywhere and tell all men of Him, and tell them most and best by the way we live. But we haven't done it. The Church of the past nineteen centuries, taken as a whole, hasn't done it. The Church to-day, taken as a whole, isn't doing it.
How many times have the missionaries been obliged to listen to the question, which is a reproach rather than a question, "Why didn't you come before? My father lived and died in distress, seeking for this light you bring us now. Why didn't your father come and tell my father?" If they find that our faith hasn't gripped us enough to master our lives they will naturally doubt if, after all, there is any more real practical power in it than in their own heathen beliefs.
It seems better in theory, but it seems to lose its ideals in the stiff test of practice. They would be wrong in thinking that, of course. But what conclusion more natural to the crowd that never thinks deep. When all the difficulties and hardships come in the way of their acceptance of Christ, and the easiest way is not to, how easy to throw the whole thing aside.
The story is told of a Chinaman in this country who applied for a position as house-servant in a family which belonged to a fashionable church. He was asked:
"Do you drink whiskey?"
"No, I Clistian man."
"Do you play cards?"
"No, I Clistian man."
He was engaged, and proved to be a capable servant. By and by the lady gave a bridge-party, with wine accompaniments. The Chinaman did his part acceptably, but the next morning he appeared before his mistress.
"I want quit," he said.
"Why? What is the matter?"
"I Clistian man. I told you so before; no heathen; no workee for 'Melican heathen."
These heathen brothers of ours are not fools. They are a keen lot. They judge our religion by us who profess it, as we do with them and theirs. There may come a wide-spread practical disbelief, or lack of belief, that there is any practical power in Christ to change a man's life, and really control his actions. And it will be a perfectly logical conclusion from what they find in us Christian nations as a whole.
Death or Deep Water.
And then there are some mighty bad dangers on the other side--our side. If it be true that every generation needs the Gospel, it is just as true that every generation of Christians needs to give the Gospel. It is the very life of a Christian to give himself out in earnest service for others. The man who is failing there has started on the down grade in his Christian life. If we lose the spirit of "go" we have lost the very Christian spirit itself. A disobedient church will become a dead church. It will die of heart failure.
It was John's Man with eyes of searching flame, and tongue of keen-edged sword, and feet that had been through the fire, who said to a Christian church, "I will move thy candlestick out of its place except thou change thy ways." The candlestick isn't the light. It holds the light. The Church's great mission is to be the world's light-holder.
But unsnuffed candles and cobwebby window-panes seem to have been in evidence sometimes. The Christian Church in some lands has plainly lost its privilege of service, and lost its life, too. The old organizations are kept up, but all life has gone. There's a grave danger threatening the American Church and the British Church just at this present time.
Long years ago, in the days before steam navigation, an ocean vessel came from a long sea voyage, up St. George's Channel, headed for Liverpool. When the pilot was taken on board, he cried abruptly to the captain, "What do you mean? You've let her drift off toward the Welsh coast, toward the shallows. Muster the crew." The crew was quickly mustered, and the pilot told the danger in a few short words, and then said sharply, "Boys, it's death or deep water, hoist the mains'l!" And only by dint of hardest work was the ship saved.
If I could get the ear of the Church to-day, I would, as a great kindness to it, cry out with all the earnestness of soul I could command, "It's death or deep water; deep water in this holy service of world-winning, or death from foundering."
Saved by Saving.
And then there's a yet graver peril threatening. It's quite the common thing to appeal to selfish motives. It is striking that the great strides that prohibition has made of recent years, have been due to a sort of legislation and to business regulation that appeal to selfish motives. The economic motive, and the disagreeable and injurious likelihood of a saloon being close to one's own home, have had greater influence than higher moral motives. And we are glad of any motive that will put the damnable traffic down and out.
Well, I'm going to come down a step here, and remind you of a yet graver peril that threatens. There is serious danger of a heathenized Christianity dominating our boasted Christian civilization and Christian lands. And in time that would be a serious menace to our pocket-books.
That is to say, there may be the energy and keen mental life without the mellowing and sweetening influence of the Christian spirit. The restless aggressiveness may come without the poise; the ceaseless activity without the deeper steadying quality; the keenness without the softening touch of the true life. In other words, if we don't Christianize heathendom, they will exert an influence on us that will practically amount to their heathenizing Christendom.
Already such influences are seeping in at more than one crack. Mohammedanism has an active propaganda in Great Britain. Heathen wedges are slipping their thin edges in, in our land. More and more it will extend, in time influencing our whole moral fabric, and affecting our whole national life.
During some recent researches among the ruins of Pompeii the explorers turned up a find that told its own story. It was the body of a crippled boy. He was lame in his foot. And around the body there was a woman's arm, a finely shaped, beautiful, bejewelled arm. The mute find told its simple story. The great stream of fire suddenly coming from the volcano, the crowd fleeing for life, the little cripple unable to get along fast enough, the woman's heart touched, her arm thrown about the boy to aid his escape; then the overtaking fire-flood, and both lost. The arm that was stretched out to save another was preserved, and only that. All the rest of the brave rescuer's body had gone. The saving part was saved. Only that mercifully outstretched to save another was itself saved.
The Church or the man that selfishly saveth his life shall lose it. He that forgetteth about his own life in eagerly saving others shall find that he has saved his own life, and that it has grown into a new fulness and richness of life.
These are some of the dark ugly faces peering into ours. But there's another face among them. It is a very bright face, with eyes all aglow, and features all shining with light. It is the face of victory over every danger and difficulty that threatens. Many believe that the emergency will be met. The victory will surely be achieved. But the fact to mark keenly, just now, is that it will be achieved only by a vigorous, masterful gripping of the present pressing emergency.
Ah! God, may Thy Church--we men who make Thy Church, who are Thy Church--may we see the emergency, and be gripped by it; for Jesus' sake; aye, for men's sake; for the Church's sake; for our own sake; in Jesus' great name.