I have been pondering the thoughts that Jacques Ellul expressed in Presence au monde moderne. I don’t know if this book has ever been translated into English, as most of his other books have. This book was first published in 1948, shortly after World War II. The following excerpts are my translation.
“Thus we see that ethics are inseparable from the preaching of the Word for it is the conduct of the Christian that truly ruins the work of Satan and tends to the edification of the body of Christ in the world. But . . . ethics is not a recipe for being righteous, it is not a synthesis of Christian faith and the values of the world, nor a means given to the Christian that allows him to live without the Holy Spirit. It is the opposite of all that.”
“I believe there is a great and serious confusion. It is not by acting as other s do and participating in the technical works of the world that a Christian can effectively participate in the preservation of the world, but in filling his specific role . . . This does not mean that the technical work does not need to be done or that it is useless, but everyone is doing it . . . For the world must be preserved by the ways of God and not by the works of man. . . . it must be preserved in the order desired by God and not by the plan that men make of this order.”
“The will of the Lord that is presented both as judgement and forgiveness, law and grace, commandment and promise, is revealed to us in the Scriptures, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. It must be explained in the present time, but it does not change.”
“The will of the world is always a will leading to death, leading to suicide . . . The world is not capable of preserving itself, nor capable of finding the remedies for its spiritual condition (which controls all the rest) . . . If we do not want to be totally abstract, we are then obliged to know the depth and the spiritual reality of the fatal tendency of our world, and this is where we must direct our efforts (and not toward the false problems that the world poses, or with a clumsy application of an order of God that has become abstract). If we are to act thus, we must understand that the work of preaching must accompany the work of material recovery.”
I do not necessarily agree with everything that Jacques Ellul writes, but I believe that here he is putting his finger on the real condition of the world. All the efforts made by the world to do good, to right wrongs, to teach moral values, all of these things when done by the world tend toward death. Spiritual death first of all, which leads to the death of civilization.
This has been the case in all the great empires of the past. Rome was not overwhelmed by the uncivilized Germanic tribes until she was so thoroughly decayed that there was no real power to resist. We will not fix the decline of our present day Western democracies by political action, but by submitting ourselves to the will of God so that He can bring about a spiritual revival.