The Cross and Flag: World War I Experiences – By George Ridout

Chapter 17

Some Messages of the War

“Be sure your sin will find you out.” Num. 32 -23. The nation that is proving this text true today in terms of suffering, sorrow and bitterness, is Germany. Nearly fifty years ago (it was in 1870) Germany through the wicked manipulations of her man Bismarck, worked up through a forged telegram a declaration of war upon France, and followed it up by an onslaught upon the French that eventuated in its total defeat. The victorious Prussians marched into Versailles and took possession of it, and would have set up themselves also in Paris had not the French begged them off. At Versailles they not only had their headquarters but it was here they created formally the German empire and here in the Hall of Mirrors on January 18, 1871 William I. was crowned German Emperor. Now in the very room where that happened the Peace Conference has been meeting and it will be in the same room that Germany will have to sign the Treaty of Peace which seals her doom as a great nation, and means the loss to her with a thousandfold interest of all that Bismarck gained in his wicked war upon France in 1870.It will be God preaching a sermon to all the nations and to all peoples. “Be sure your sin will find you out.” “Whatsoever a nation soweth that shall it also reap.”

A few weeks ago I was in Cologne, Germany. It is a great and wonderful and beautiful city on the Rhine. One of the great sights of the city is its great Cathedral which stands as a wonder of the architect’s and artist’s genius. I spent a little time in the Cathedral, and attended one of the services. It has some great bells. Two of them are the products of the war of 1870, and one is called “The Emperor,” the other “Gloriosa.” “The Emperor” bell is specially in honor of William I, who had it cast, and it bears the following inscription: “William, the Most Illustrious Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia, in pious remembrance of the heavenly aid granted him in the fortunate course and conclusion of the last French war, has ordered, after the restoration of the German Empire, a bell to be cast from captured cannon, of the weight of 50,000 pounds, which is to be suspended in the house of God, now nearly completed. In accordance with this pious desire of the victorious prince, the society formed for the completion of the cathedral has caused it to be cast, under Roman Pontiff Pius IX. and the Archbishop of Cologne, Paul Melchers, in the year of our Lord 1874.”

One of the peculiarities of this bell is, that the six arms that form the crown are decorated with angels’ heads above and end where they join the bell in lions’ feet. Angels with lions’ feet! What a contrast, and what a commentary on the German nature as shown in this war! The saintly and the beastly! Angels with lions claws! Certainly as a roaring lion, Germany went forth to devour France, Belgium and England in this war.

“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad” is an old proverb and certainly it would seem to be so in German’s case in this war. She became mad with learning and philosophy and false culture, mad in her negation of God, mad in her rejection of the Bible of Martin Luther, mad in her rejection of Revelation and Reason, and mad with war lust — lust for power, lust for world dominion, and a place in the sun!

It was the boast of Bismarck, that the war he brought about in 1870 had paid a thousand per cent. The big war indemnity imposed upon France then and so speedily paid Germany used to start building up a great army and a great navy wherewith to conquer the world. The Kaiser in his insane ambition to be lord of all creation time and again uttered blasphemies and imagined himself to be peculiarly a Regent of God Almighty having power to smite and blast and destroy everything that opposed his will, but again the words of the old Bible ring out “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

The Palace Royal where the ex-Kaiser used to delight to speak from to his devotees, and where, from the upper balcony, he made a memorable speech to a great multitude of war intoxicated people in the opening day of the great war, is now little more than a wreck. The Kaiser’s own subjects have done the bombing and they have smitten the palace unmercifully. Its royal gates are nothing but twisted iron, its doors are crushed, its windows smashed, and the place once so revered and honored as the habitation of royalty is now a wreck and the object of contempt.

The Emperor who destroyed palaces and churches and sacred shrines without compunction, who dealt out ruin and death to innocent thousands is himself today a refugee in a foreign land, his palace a ruin, his family scattered, his home destroyed and his name dishonored. God is preaching to the Emperor: “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

When God preaches His sermons He puts His arguments in concrete form and all His propositions become requirements. God preaches in terms imperative and His every word becomes a law. God speaks not in the abstract, but the concrete, and in preaching to Germany in this war and her defeat, God has said not only your sins are found out but you must return the stolen goods and make restitution for the wrongs you have done.

I have seen the sermon work itself out on this wise. Germany marched into France and Belgium and everything that she wanted She took. She robbed their railway stock, carrying off locomotives and carriages and freight cars. I have seen the work of restitution taking place. I have seen long trains of cars with German marks all over them filling the tracks in France. I have seen locomotives coming through — it was a case of returning stolen goods! Then the gold she stole from Belgium and Romana and Russia she has had to send back, and now Belgium is demanding the sending back of stolen machinery, and France is making the same demand, and the great art centers from which Germany stole priceless art treasures are putting up a plea for the return of them, and on every hand Germany is finding out that the way of the transgressor is hard.

Again, “Be sure your sin will find you out” was emphasized at Sedan in November, 1918. It was with our troops in the Argonne — our last desperate fight, and I heard much about an oncoming onslaught of the enemy if the war kept up much longer. Foch was preparing for a consummate blow which would have resulted possibly in completely smashing what remains of the German Army. The armistice happened just in time to witness the complete collapse of the enemy at Sedan! Remember it was at Sedan in 1870 that Bismarck made Napoleon III capitulate to him and surrender all!

Now — forty and nine years after — seven times seven — Foch, the Frenchman, was at Sedan with his victorious army ready to deal a death blow to Germany in one final and terrific blow, but the wily foe knowing what was coming, cried “Kamerad” and exchanged the sword for the pen and signed up under Foch’s dictation, an armistice that broke the despoiler’s power and ended the worst war of all the ages. Sedan 1870, Germany in triumph!

Sedan, 1918, Germany beaten, humiliated, crushed. “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

* * *

Under Fire

(Address delivered at Marseilles, France, at religious service, YMCA Hall, Wednesday night, of Passion Week, April, 1918.)

I would like to remind you of one very special thing tonight and that is, this is Passion Week. Friday coming will be Good Friday in which we will celebrate the death of our Lord. Tonight I want to speak to you on the subject of “Under Fire,” and base it upon the words of Luke 4, where we read of the temptation Jesus suffered during those forty days in the wilderness. Of course you will remember the significance of the forty days of Lent. They are forty in recognition of Christ’s forty days of fast and temptation as recorded in the gospels. Now speaking of “Under Fire” some of you know what it has meant in this war to be under fire. I myself was under fire nearly five months and know what it means in all its awfulness and peril. I think possibly the most perilous time I experienced under fire was once when I was assisting the wounded at St. Gilles just a little outside of Fismes. We had our dressing station in an old house on the main road, and unfortunately we were under German observation. Away in the distance yonder we could see that tell-tale observation balloon and we knew the fellow up there had our number. In a little while shells came screaming our way. We had several ambulances at the station to carry out the wounded. One shell fell within about fifteen yards from us and the shrapnel came back on the ambulances, putting two of them out of commission. In a few minutes another shell came whizzing through the air and it fell in front of our station and the shrapnel flew right in on top of us killing two and wounding four, including the Surgeon, and giving me a bit on the cheek and the back. For a few moments the place was a screaming, howling station of dead, dying, wounded, scarred set of men, and we did not know but that in another minute another shell might hit us and finish us all, but thank God the other shells fell in another direction and we were enabled to attend to the screaming and suffering wounded. That was an awful morning, and I thank my God that my life was spared and that I am alive to spend a few more years in preaching the gospel.

Now there are some of you who have not been under shell fire, but there is this that must be said. Every man of us knows what it is to be under fire of temptations fierce and long since we have been in the Army. I suppose also, that many of you have suffered forms of temptations over here in France altogether different from any that you had to undergo when at home, and where you had religious environments that shielded and sheltered you.

From the story of the Temptation of Jesus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, we notice that Satan tempted Him from three angles:

(1) He tempted Him along the lines of the appetite.
(2) He tempted Him to doubt, “If thou be the Son of God.”
(3) He tempted Him along the lines of ambition.
I suppose the most common forms of temptation you have suffered in the army have been those of the appetites and senses. Here is where you have had your fiercest tests and trials. Then you have suffered along the line of your faith. The most fatal thing that can strike a man is when he begins to doubt God, his Savior or his Bible. Oh, I plead with you to stand by your faith and at all costs keep a steady faith in God, your Bible and in Christ, the mighty Savior. Then there is ambition, which someone speaks of as “that last infirmity of noble minds.” This was the fatal blunder of Napoleon — ambition. He wanted to have the whole world fall down and worship him. And this also was the fatal crime of the Kaiser, he wanted the whole world to bow to him and acknowledge him supreme lord, and in consequence the whole world has been plunged into an abyss of sorrow and suffering without parallel in history.

Now in conclusion. How shall we best overcome temptation? Well, think of how Jesus resisted the tempter. By saying, “Thus saith the Lord” His appeal was to God, and to the word of the Lord. I have known what severe tests and temptations are in France. I have had them rage in the arena of the soul, but this I have found an effective remedy: I have gone out somewhere in the woods alone with my little Bible and there with my Bible and my God I have fought the battle till I got victory.

Men, we shall have lots of heroes going home. Many from the battlefields, but we shall have some going home who have never been at the front but they shall be heroes nevertheless because some of the greatest battles have been fought, not on the Marne or Argonne but in the arena of the human conscience and the soul.

I will finish this with those words which have been circulated in our Reading Room’s in France:

What will you say, Sonny,
What will you say
When the troopship brings you home–
Kneeling at last by your mother’s chair, You and your mother alone?
What will you say, Sonny,
What will you say,
As She searches your face to see
If the boy She gave to the Country’s call
Is still her Sonny — free?
Free of the taint of lust and drink,
Free of all hidden shame,
Free of the bonds that slave the soul–
Her son — in heart and name?
What will you say, Sonny,
What will you say?
Will your heart be full of mirth–
Holding her close in your strong young arms,
The Mother who gave you birth.
What will you say, Sonny,
What will you say
As Her dear eyes turn to you–
The Mother who guarded your boyhood years?
Say, was She ever untrue?
And now what answer have you for Her,
Her fair regard to win–
That for the faith She placed in you,
You fought your fight with sin?
What will you say, Sonny,
What will you say?
Will you answer — “Mother of Mine,
Look in my eyes, look in my heart,
Yea, read them line on line?
Days of fighting in field or trench,
Nights mid the city’s lure,
Battle by day, or battle by night–
I kept your son’s heart pure!”