The Christian Concept Of Social Justice -- By: W. Stanford Reid

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 15:1 (Nov 1952)
Article: The Christian Concept Of Social Justice
Author: W. Stanford Reid


The Christian Concept Of Social Justice

W. Stanford Reid

SOCIAL Justice is today a phrase which is on most people’s lips. Wherever one turns whether to recently made laws of the land, to magazine articles, to sermons, to political addresses one finds men discussing this subject. Even in private conversation it has come near to the weather as a topic of importance. That this is so is quite understandable, for in the past twenty-five years throughout the world there have been many examples of social injustice which have influenced men’s thinking. The wide gap between individuals’ shares of this world’s goods has been more noticed since World War I, partially owing to the great depression of the early thirties. At the same time the rise of despotic and dictatorial governments such as those of the Nazis and Fascists, or the appearance in all its might of Communist despotism, has forced men, particularly in the western democratic world, to give to this matter of social justice very careful consideration. It is a problem which today one cannot avoid.

Modern Materialistic Social Justice

Yet one must not think this is the first time that men have been interested in social justice. Repeatedly in human history the problem has arisen, but never more insistently than in the last century, during the Industrial Revolution. A hundred years ago it was Christian forces, directed by men such as Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and Chalmers, which took the lead. Deeply moved by the depressed state of both the African slave and the industrial worker at home, they went out in a great campaign to bring help to their fellow men as a duty of Christian love, and they achieved much. But with the growth of unbelief in the latter part of the century, and with a growing material prosperity in which most of the people shared, the

nineteenth century sense of urgency largely disappeared. True, men such as Keir Hardie, William Booth and Samuel Gompers kept the flag flying, but the old feeling that something had to be done and done quickly was lost. Now in our own day, under new conditions, our own generation is once again facing the issue.

Because of the changed situation and outlook, it must be realized that the present concept of social justice is, to a considerable degree, different from that of the last century. The modern point of view really finds its source in the ideology of the French Revolution. The present interest is solely in man. Social justice is something necessary to make man contented and happy. It has therefore the objective of making him free, in order that he may do very much as he pleases. Social justice thus becomes tied up with the distribution of economic goods, the opportunity to enjoy onese...

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