The problem with which we have here to do is also stated more or less in the form of an accusation against Christianity. Earnest men in political circles of a socialistic tendency, who would gladly be guided by Jesus Christ, complain that in this matter the Gospel leaves them in the lurch. They say that it imposes restraint upon aspirations which with a clear conscience they feel to be justified; that in requiring absolute meekness and submission it disarms everyone who wants to fight; that it narcotises, as it were, all real energy. Some say this with pain and regret, others with satisfaction. The latter assert that they always knew that the Gospel was not for the healthy and the strong, but for the broken-down; that it knows, and wants to know, nothing of the fact that life, and especially modern life, is a struggle, a struggle for one’s own rights. What answer are we to give them?
My own opinion is that these statements and complaints are made by people who have never yet clearly realised with what it is that the Gospel has to do, and who rashly and improperly connect it with earthly things. The Gospel makes its appeal to the inner man, who, whether he is well or wounded, in a happy position or a miserable, obliged to spend his earthly life fighting or quietly maintaining what he has won, always remains the same. “My kingdom is not of this world”; it is no earthly kingdom that the Gospel establishes. These words not only exclude such a political theocracy as the Pope aims at setting up and all worldly dominion; they have a much wider range. Negatively they forbid all direct and formal interference of religion in worldly affairs. Positively what the Gospel says is this: Whoever you may be, and whatever your position, whether bondman or free, whether fighting or at rest—your real task in life is always the same. There is only one relation and one idea which you must not violate, and in the face of which all others are only transient wrappings and vain show: to be a child of God and a citizen of His kingdom, and to exercise love. How you are to maintain yourself in this life on earth, and in what way you are to serve your neighbour, is left to you and your own liberty of action. This is what the apostle Paul understood by the Gospel, and I do not believe that he misunderstood it. Then let us fight, let us struggle, let us get justice for the oppressed, let us order the circumstances of the world as we with a clear conscience can, and as we may think best for our neighbour; but do not let us expect the Gospel to afford us any direct help; let us make no selfish demands for ourselves; and let us not forget that the world passes away, not only with the lusts thereof, but also with its regulations and its goods! Once more be it said: the Gospel knows only one goal, one idea; and it demands of a man that he shall never put them aside. If the exhortation to renounce takes, in a harsh and onesided way, a foremost place in Jesus’ words, we must be careful to keep before our eyes the paramount and exclusive claims of the relation to God and the idea of love. The Gospel is above all questions of mundane development; it is concerned not with material things but with the souls of men.