The Social Significance
of Jesus Christ
by Samuel G. Craig
[Christianity Today 2.5 (Mid-September 1931): 1-2.]
IT would be misleading to speak of Jesus Christ as a social reformer. It is well within the truth, however, to say that He has been the most effective of social reformers. A comparison between the social conditions that prevailed before His advent and those that prevail in Christendom today, supplemented by a comparison between social conditions in Christian and non-Christian lands, evidence His unique effectiveness as a social reformer. Bad as are existing social conditions throughout Christendom, they would be infinitely worse were it not for the leaven He cast into the meal of humanity. Moreover if Christianity should cease to function in this world, there is every reason to believe not only that no further progress would be made along these lines but that what has been gained would be lost. The thought we have in mind has perhaps received its most eloquent expression in the oft-quoted words of James Russell Lowell
“When the microscopic search of scepticism which has hunted the heavens and sounded the seas to disprove the existence of a Creator has turned its attention to human society, and found a place on this planet, ten miles square, where a decent man can live in decency, comfort and security, supporting and educating his children, unspoiled and unpolluted; a place where” age is reverenced, infancy protected, manhood respected, womanhood honored, and human life held in due regard—when sceptics can find such a place, ten miles square on this globe, where the gospel of Christ has not gone and cleared the way, and laid the foundations, and made decency and security possible, it will be in order for the sceptical literati to move thither and ventilate their views. But as long as these very men are dependent upon the very religion which they discard for every privilege which they enjoy, they may well hesitate a little before they seek to rob the Christian of his hope, and humanity of its faith in that Saviour who alone has given to man that hope of life eternal which makes life tolerable and society possible, and robs death of its terrors and the grave of its gloom.”
Wherein lies the secret of Christ’s unique effectiveness as a social reformer? Unquestionably it lies in His ability to deal with sin. Other social reformers, except as they have been His followers, have had much to say about imperfect legislation, unfavorable environment, and such like; but they have had little to say about sin, notwithstanding the fact that sin on the part of somebody is the great root-cause of social misery. “Take away from the history of humanity,” to cite the late James Orr, “all the evils which have come on man through his own folly, sin, and vice; through the follies and vices of society; through tyranny, misgovernment and oppression; through the cruelty and inhumanity of man to man; and how vast a portion of the problem of evil would already be solved! What myriads of lives have been sacrificed on the shrines of Bacchus and Lust; what untold misery has been inflicted on the race to gratify the unscrupulous ambitions of ruthless conquerors; what tears and groans have sprung from the institution of slavery; what Wretchedness is hourly inflicted on human hearts by domestic tyranny, private selfishness, the preying of the strong on the weak, the dishonesty and chicanery of society! . . . If all the suffering and sorrow which follows directly or indirectly from human sin could be abstracted, what a happy world after all this would be!” If Jesus had had as little to say about sin as have so many of our modern social reformers, His efforts along the line of social betterment would have been as ineffectual as theirs. His work has proven effective while that of others has proven ineffective because He alone is able to deal adequately with sin. It is this ability that puts Him in a class by Himself among social reformers; moreover it is because He possesses this ability that in Him alone is found any adequate warrant for supposing that a kingdom in which justice shall prevail, in which love shall be the law and happiness the universal condition, may yet prevail on the earth.
But while Christians, because of their faith in Jesus Christ, may expect a renewed earth wherein dwelleth righteousness we are not to suppose that as a class they are committed to any specific social scheme. Christianity as such does not take sides between the advocates of the present social order and that proposed, for instance, by the Socialists. Unquestionably there is much in the present social order, such as child labor, sweat shops, white slavery, alcoholism, unfair distribution of wealth, race hatred, militarism, that must be eliminated before anything like Christianity’s hope for this world will have been realized. Equally unquestionable it is that there is much about Socialism (as it is commonly advocated), such as its irreligion, its materialism, its class hatred, that must be eliminated before it can even pretend to be in harmony with a social order that could rightly be called Christian. Continue reading “Jesus as Social Reformer?”