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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVI. Later Theology

§ 12. Washington Gladden

Many Christian Pastors have attempted to live in the spirit of this gospel, but it is scarcely invidious to single out Washington Gladden (1836–1918) as the best-known and the most effective worker for the regeneration of the social organism in the pulpit of our period. He was pastor in North Adams and Springfield, Massachusetts, and, for over thirty years, in Columbus, Ohio. He was the author of many books on the social and religious readjustment, of which perhaps On Being a Christian(1876), Applied Christianity (1886), Who Wrote the Bible? (1891), Tools and the Man (1893), The Christian Pastor (1898), and The Labor Question (1911) have had the largest sale. No one of these volumes, however, was written merely in order to be published; they grew out of the pressing problems of his ministry. His fine-spirited Recollections (1909) indicates the stormy theological and sociological times through which he lived. He refused to be silent and he was fortunately mediatory by nature. His fairness won him a hearing and his good-will gave him effectiveness. He challenged the official conservatism of the Congregational churches, he threw his influence into the struggle for untrammelled investigation of the Bible, he insisted upon a larger share of the profits of industry for the labourers, he initiated the movement for the change of the time of election in Ohio from October to November, he had himself elected to the city council in Columbus when important franchises were to be decided, and became firmly convinced of the necessity of municipal ownership of public works. He writes: “Dishonest men can be bought and ignorant men can be manipulated. This is the kind of government which private capital, invested in public-service industries, naturally feels that it must have.…I do not think that the people of any city can afford to have ten or twenty or two hundred millions of dollars directly and consciously interested in promoting bad government.” During a fierce street-car strike in Cleveland in 1886 he journeyed thither and spoke to a great meeting of employers and employees on “Is it Peace or War?” openly favouring the right of the workingmen to combine for the defence of their interests. In a later street-car strike in his own city he intervened, insisting upon the arbitration which the labourers desired and the employers refused. He was an enemy of war. As late as 1909 he declared that he wished secession had been tried: “I cannot help wishing that the the ethical passion of the North for liberty had been matched with a faith equally compelling in the cogency of good-will.” An enemy of socialism, he became at length convinced that the functions of government should be extended. His opinions moved slowly but somewhat in advance of the opinion of the churches. When he died in 1918 the New York Evening Post remarked: “Washington Gladden seemed to have an extra sense.… In matters affecting religion and church organization, in matters political, in matters social, in matters international, he had an almost uncanny way of anticipating what was to come.” The truth of this comment may be tested by a paragraph from his essay on The Strength and Weakness of Socialism, written as far back as 1886.

  • Out of unrestricted competition arise many wrongs that the State must redress and many abuses which it must check. It may become the duty of the State to reform its taxation, so that its burdens shall rest less heavily upon the lower classes; to repress monopolies of all sorts; to prevent and punish gambling; to regulate or control the railroads and telegraphs; to limit the ownership of land; to modify the laws of inheritance; and possibly to levy a progressive income-tax, so that the enormous fortunes should bear more rather than less than their share of the public burdens.
  • He was a strong believer in profit-sharing; he was president of an association for Christian education of the negroes and Indians and backward peoples; he was the moderator of the Congregational National Council; he was the champion of international peace. He was withal a Christian pastor and conscientious preacher. He said, indeed:

  • I maintain that good sermons may be and ought to be good literature; that the free, direct, conversational handling of a theme in the presence of an audience makes good reading in a book. If I am permitted to judge my own work, I should say that the best of my books as literature is the book of sermons, Where Does the Sky Begin?