In keeping with the theme “The Times of the Judges” when every man did that which was right in his own eyes, it seems so appropriate to reproduce the following article from the pen of Brother Islip Collyer taken from “The Guiding Light” pages 15–20. As he demonstrates in the article it is very easy to pull down and destroy and this may even at times be justified, but how do we go about the work of reconstruction? The answer is that our motivation and work must always be with a positive constructive aim in view.

We urge this proposition that our work must be constructive, as a first principle of life not only for “Christians” but for all decent human beings. It is a principle which ought to be accepted without any need for argument, and men who desire to live worthy lives should repeat the thought to themselves continually, using it as a guiding light to test their work.

You have ruthlessly rooted out the weeds; what have you planted in the ground thus cleared? You have destroyed the ugly hovels; what worthy buildings have you erected in their place? You have overthrown false ideas and have killed foolishness with ridicule; where is the true and wise teaching that you have put in their room?

The world has often been cursed by the destructive tyrant who is content merely to destroy. It is fortunate that eventually he destroys himself, which is probably his only useful act. There have been great military leaders who have been of this character. They have wasted lands and have achieved great success in war, but they have constructed nothing; in the result there has been no real stability even in their most complete conquests. There have been others who have united with the military talent a capacity for administration. Their work has been partly constructive, though often faulty and greatly restricted by human greed and frailty. Nevertheless, this feeble effort at constructive work has produced results presenting such a contrast to the work of the mere destroyer, that all readers of history may well learn a lesson.

The principle of constructive work, like other principles, can be applied on many planes, material, mental, moral and spiritual. It seems so obvious that there should be no need to mention it. Yet it is so much neglected that there is hardly any subject in which men need instruction more.

We may often dislike the present position or the prevailing idea. Reflection on that which offends us, especially if our opinions are antagonized, may easily intensify the dislike until it becomes unreasonable and even fanatical. The instinct then is to destroy, without a thought as to what we desire to build. “Anyhow, we can smash the present hateful system”, says the social agitator. The appropriate comment on this is that it does not need men to smash things. Some of the brutes can accomplish such work well enough. Moreover, a little reflection will surely lead to the conclusion that the hatefulness of the present social system arises very largely from such senseless destructiveness in the past, while everything useful or desirable in civilized life arises from constructive work. A man who was dissatisfied with the house in which he lived would hardly be so foolish as to pull the building down on top of him without any plans being ready for the new home. Yet in other matters, where the folly is not quite so obvious, that is what men are doing continually. Some who call for reform have no idea in their minds except to pull down. The great revolution comes, and there is simply an orgy of destruction until men weary of their extremes and revolt against the nauseating effects of their own folly. Then, when they begin to build again, it is with broken tools, with inadequate plans, and with weary minds, which tend feebly to repeat the old defects.

History records many instances of such wasted effort, not merely in the development of nations, but with religions, political parties, businesses, and even families. Much of the evil could be avoided if men made an intelligent effort to grasp the Christian principle of constructive work. Christ applied to human life the rule that a tree should be known by its fruits (Matt 7:19,20). In a practical lesson which has been the subject of some uninformed criticism, he emphasized the lesson that a fruit tree is valueless if it only brings forth leaves. He rebuked his disciples for wanting to destroy those who opposed him, telling them that he had come to save men and not to destroy (Luke 9:54). He gave a picture of the judgment seat in which the whole emphasis is put upon the positive side—the righteous accepted for the good that they have done, and the wicked rejected for having failed to do such work; and no mention is made either of negative virtues or of sins of commission. Indeed, the whole life of Christ emphasizes this principle that we must work constructively. It is all in harmony with the words of the Apostle: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”.

The natural tendency with most vigorous and zealous men is in the opposite direction. When their zeal is aroused by the presence of that which they regard as evil, all their energy is directed for combat. They become impatient of anything that would stay their hands. “This is a time of war”, they say, “let us first destroy this evil, and then we will talk of plans for the development of good.” Such intemperate zeal never prospers. The hated tyranny is overthrown and a worse tyranny put in its place. The faulty building is destroyed and nothing is erected on the ruins until weakened and impoverished men perhaps try to restore the old house as it was before. Such pitiful results are found on all planes—physical, mental, and moral—for on all these planes it is a fact that if men are too ready to fight and destroy they lose both the desire and the capacity for construction.

“Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” So wrote the wise man in the book of Proverbs (Prov 14:1). There is, perhaps, a significance in the woman of this proverb, only to be appreciated by those who have a full belief in the inspiration of Scripture and a recognition of the fact that “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world”. Whether we should be justified in this extension of the idea or not, there can be no doubt as to the wide application of this proverbial expression of the great principle we are emphasizing that our work must be constructive.

We have seen even a literal pulling down of the house by thriftless, foolish people, loose boards from stairs and shelving being burned to save the trouble of fetching proper fuel. Much of the squalor of the slums is due to this demon of destructiveness and the sad lack of all constructive instincts. On another plane we have seen people who would never be so foolish as to damage the material structure of the house, pulling to pieces the far more important fabric of love, confidence, and good feeling that should hold the family together. There are some unseen girders binding the true home, however small or humble it may be. The wise woman builds; the foolish through selfishness, ill-temper, suspicion, surmising, jealousy, and other fleshly evils, pulls the girders down, and the family falls apart. So throughout every plane of human experience the proverb proves true, right up to the activities of the wise and virtuous woman who is permitted to be a fellow-worker with God in the greatest task of all.

We may well devote a little thought to the bearing of this principle on the work of the agitator. We may all in turn play this part in greater or less degree. Agitation is not always wrong. Sometimes it is good for society to be stirred up by the unpleasant activities of a writer or speaker who refuses to conform to the prevailing ideas of the day. “He who would be a man must be a nonconformist”, said Emerson, and we have to agree that the most vigorous of men have usually been of this character. They may be uncomfortable companions, but we may benefit by association with them. But while agitation is not necessarily evil, it is certainly not always good. It depends on the motive and the reasonableness of the relationship between aim and effort. This brings us back to our principle. The real test is whether the work is constructive. Agitation tends to prevent construction, so that in itself it is nearly always evil. It may be a necessary evil, however, preparing the way for work much better than any that it hinders.

If we are inclined to be agitators, then we should ask ourselves the question, What is our aim? And if the aim is good, what reasonable prospect is there of achieving it? It is not sufficient to be satisfied that the general purpose is a worthy one. Most agitators would probably feel satisfied that their ultimate aim is excellent. Often, however, there is a deplorable absence of reasonable connection between the aim and the effort. Sometimes there are other motives for the agitation; motives which are not brought to light even in the minds that they dominate. It is this hidden, unadmitted motive that explains the bitterest form of agitation, whether in State or Church, factory or school. The agitation will not help friends, but it will hurt foes, and this unrecognized root of bitterness is often the real cause of all the trouble.

Then there are some agitators who really seem to regard agitation as an end in itself. They have no particular aim and no special grievance. They are not really bitter, but they are always in revolt. They really seem to think that the leaders in any constructive work ought to be opposed. How much heartache and headache would be spared for those who try to build, if all agitators of this kind could only recognize the principle that all work should be constructive!

There is an impressive record of an agitation and a drastic solution of the difficulty in the book of Numbers. Korah, Dathan and Abiram, with some sympathizers, protested that Moses and Aaron “took too much upon themselves”, and lifted themselves up above the congregation. Moses fell upon his face when he heard this criticism, for he realized the spirit of it and the probable consequences. Everyone who is at all acquainted with the Bible will remember how this rebellion ended, but probably there are many who have not noticed the interesting and very human fact that the agitators were not by any means united. Korah and his immediate followers were really not so guilty as the others, and that is perhaps why the children of Korah were not involved in his ruin (see Num 26:11). Korah really seemed to believe that he was a heaven-born leader and that God would sustain him. He and his immediate supporters were ready to put the presumptuous claim to the test. The egotist was rejected by God, as such proud men must always be, but his children were spared. Dathan and Abiram were of different calibre. When a decisive test was proposed, they were neither prepared to support Korah nor put in a claim for leadership themselves. They changed the ground of complaint. It was no longer that Moses took too much upon himself, but he had not accomplished enough. He had not brought them into the promised land and they were tired of the wilderness. They refused to leave their tents to effect a settlement of the issue. So they agitated and perished where they stood.

We have met the Korah type, and have, perhaps, felt sorry for the ill-balanced little man who wants to lead. Still more sorry have we been for the wife and children who have adorned him with a home-made halo. We cannot sympathize with the Dathan and Abiram type, also quite common figures in human experience. They agitate for the sake of agitation, refuse to put anything to a reasonable test, and change the ground of complaint with every effort to meet their objections. They are the worst of all negationists.

If we want to be Christians, our work must be constructive on whatever plane we may labour. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, strengthen the feeble, encourage the fearful, instruct the ignorant, and help other men and women who are engaged in such work, or at least refrain from hindering them. If we need sometimes to pull down, let us be quite clear as to our plans for building and that the end justifies the means. If we feel called upon to agitate, let us make sure that we have a worthy aim and that every stage of the agitation is related to it. Work, moral teaching, discussion and criticism can all be constructive. Here and now, with such material as may be given to us, we can help to build if we will. The earth is ready to swallow up all destroyers and aimless agitators. There is a “book of remembrance” kept for those who fear God and help each other. Every man’s work will be tested whether he has built with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or stubble. Some of the work that is unworthy will be burned, but even then there is a possibility that the man may be saved, if he really tried to build (1 Cor 3:12).