Lord Roberts’ words – WW1 and the Bible 100 years on
It has now been more than 100 years since the outbreak of WW1 – let’s consider some words from Lord Roberts, last Commander-in-Chief of the Forces.
On the 4th of August 1914, the British Empire entered what was to become the First World War, and her allies soon followed. To remember WWI is not to celebrate war or to glorify it, but to mark and honour great loss of life and sacrifice, and to say (against the backdrop of a world still in conflict today) “no more” and “never again”.
When war broke out in 1914, a cry went out across Europe for bibles, testaments, and gospels to share. Scripture Gift Mission (now SGM Lifewords) began a “mobilisation” of its own printing an Active Service Gospel to provide hope for our troops. These Gospels were given freely at training camps and recruitment halls and more. Chaplains passed out pocket Gospels to men crossing to France, and soldiers slipped them into their tunic pockets to carry. Later, copies were printed for the YMCA and Church Army, and different covers were printed for the different Armed Services. There are endless different editions, only some of which have survived for archives. Gospels were also printed in Russian, with the help of the Tsar and his family, as well as German and Flemish Gospels. Forty-three million booklets of scripture were printed and distributed during WW1. An astonishing number that demonstrates the great effort and urgency with which countless people took up the challenge of sharing the Bible.
What all these Active Service Gospels had in common was a message on the inside cover from Lord Roberts, former Commander-in-Chief of the Forces. SGM Gospels can be identified, whatever their cover and however they were used, by the appeal made by Lord Roberts in the front:
“I ask you to put your trust in God.
He will watch over you and strengthen you.
You will find in this little book guidance when you are in health,
comfort when you are in sickness, and strength when you are in adversity.”
Lord Roberts recognised that the gospels offer guidance, comfort, and strength. The cover instructed recipients, “Please carry this in your pocket and read it every day.” Read the story of God with us every day. Read the words of The Evangelist promising the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5 | NIV. Read about the kind of love that goes all the way to death. Read about the promise of “life from above” for those who “put your trust in him”. These Gospels didn’t come with a sermon inscribed in the front, or instructions on doctrine and belief, they were given out in the darkness and horror of war as “guidance, comfort, and strength”.
We are offering a replica edition of the Active Service Gospels as “guidance, comfort, and strength.” Almost one million copies of the Gospel have been given around the world, offered as words to make of what you will, and what God will. Words that speak directly to hearts today, just as they did 100 years ago. Without comment, without a sermon, simply the story of Jesus told by John, offered as the most important story we could tell.
Will you join in making the same appeal Lord Roberts made?
“I ask you to put your trust in God”