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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 3

'Am I my brother's keeper?': a sermon preached in aid of the funds of the Hornbrook Ragged Schools Association, in Chalmers' Church, Melbourne, on Sunday, August 22, 1869

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"Am I My Brother's Keeper?"

A Sermon

Preached in and of the Funds of the Hornbrook Ragged Schools Association,

In Chalmers' Church, Melbourne,

On Sunday, August 22, 1869,

Melbourne: Samuel Mullen, 55 Collins Street East. 1869.

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Sermon. "Am I My Brother's Keeper?"

Genesis iv. 9.—"And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I Know not: Am I my bother's keeper?"

It will be acknowledged to be a striking fact that this question first occurs on the lips of a murderer: for just as in the first hungry look of concupiscence there is the germ of all actual impurity, so he who disowns responsibility for his brother's good will be prepared, when occasion comes, to hate him; and hating him, may any day strike a sudden dagger into his breast, and go down to the grave accursed by the silent voice of a brother's blood.

Have you ever thought—you who as a man of business advocate the strictest principles of equity, and these alone—that when you resolve to insist on your rights, heedless of the utter destruction which this may bring upon a less successful rival; and quiet compunctions by some such speech as, "He is there to look after his own interests, I am here to attend to mine—have you ever thought, that there is incipient murder in the act? Yes: beyond doubt, he who was a murderer from the beginning put that speech into Cain's mouth: and any of us looking back upon it in the light of a saying of the greatest of Christians, "Every man shall bear his own burden" (Gal. vi. 5), may probably think it a curious triumph of diabolic skill which has been able thus to cast the very words of inspiration in the face of God. Wickedness becomes hopeless indeed when it calls in the sophistry of text-quoting to shelter the atrocities of blackest crime.

Ever and anon in the history of mankind, either by selfish customs, or by sordid philosophy, or by blind unthinking sloth, the question page 4 has been raised again, "Am I my brother's keeper?" and one of the most certain facts known to us is, that the character of the answer given it, has invariably presaged salvation or ruin, nothing less, to the nation whom it concerned. "Am I my brother's keeper?" asked degenerate Israel, after she had grown so proud of her unique position, her Temple, her mercy-seat, her sacrificial institutes, her new moons and appointed feasts, that she forgot the grand end for which those blessings were bestowed. "And in thee, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blest" (Gen. xxii. 18; xxvi. 4). And to the question as thus put, Christ tells us that the answer commonly given, in practice among the Jews, was, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy" (Matt. v. 43): deal leniently and live peaceably with every Jew: be indulgent to a Jewish debtor: take no interest from a Jewish borrower: dare not to sell any Jewish child into slavery. But with a Gentile it is different. When you see a robbed and wounded stranger lying on the roadside where the cowardly thieves had left him naked and covered with blood, though you should go near and look, and then pass by on the other side, it will be no so great a sin. Why should the children's bread be taken and cast to dogs? What part hath he that believeth with an infidel? Will God be so unfair as to grant to the Gentiles also repentance unto life? This was, it would seem, the practical answer of the vulgar Jewish morality. And because this was Israel's answer; because she would be bitter in her exclusiveness and narrow in her love; because the only alternative she could offer to the vast mass of mankind was circumcision or everlasting contempt, because she made Jewish physiognomy the test of brotherhood, refused to be the keeper of any other brother; yes, and killed the Holy One and the Just whom God raised up to be the Keeper and Saviour of all mankind,—therefore, by one of the tremendous catastrophes of history, she fell into social and political extinction. "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day the things which belong unto thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes" (Luke xix. 42).

And give me leave to say, the issues are every whit as great, as solemn, which are bound up with the new and altered form in which the question is presented to many modern societies, notably page 5 to every society which has been formed under the influence of British traditions or derived from British blood. To be sure, there is no longer any theoretical distinction between the dignity of one blood and that of another: no longer any prescriptive religious rights claimed by one section of our race as against all other sections of it; or if so, the claim is derided by the intelligence of all civilised men. What Paul told the Athenians—"God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts xvii. 26); what a greater than Paul impressed upon his disciples, "One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren" (Matt, xxiii. 9), has, after sore and curiously manifold struggles, been conceded. The equal admissibility of all nations, all classes, ail colours—outlandish barbarian and polished European, sensual Australian savage and highbrowed English philosopher—to the privileges of the Gospel, to the mercy of God in Christ, to the benefits of the covenant ratified by a blood "which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel" (Heb. xii. 24), is no longer a proposition which any influential voice disputes; or, disputing, hopes to convince men of the contrary.

The murderous restrictions as to privilege are removed; but tell me, is the murderous indifference in feeling? Is the removal of our neighbour's disabilities to be considered a full discharge of Christian obligations to him? Is it enough, not to exclude him by specific oppressive enactments from his fair share of such wealth, wisdom, and happiness, as existence offers him? Or does there not remain after all this an infinite debt of unfulfilled obligation? a debt which can never or earth be utterly exhausted? a responsibility which commands us to shield and shelter him with our sympathy, with our prayers, with our affection, with our blessing? For is it not written, and is it not one of the grand and distinctive utterances of the Gospel, that the fulfilling of the law is love? (Rom. xiii. 10.)

If you consider for a moment with me some of the existing relations between one section of society and another (it matters not whether we think of England or the colonies), you will see that there is some reason for asking whether the fraternal obligations of Christianity are duly recognised. Think of the circle in which your rich friends live; think again of the circle in which page 6 any labouring men of your acquaintance live; and tell me whether there is not an absolute and complete separation of these two circles the one from the other: and whether if so the fact does not stare you in the face that in no sense which does not turn the words into a pitiful mockery, is the one section the Christian keeper of the other.

Have you any reason to doubt this fact—that the two extremes of society live in vital separation from each other? And can you suppose that where there is practical separation there may not readily enough arise bitter hostility? How many of the employers of labour in this large city know their employes personally; know where they live; how many rooms they dwell in; what children they have, and how they are bringing up these children for time and for eternity? Is it often witnessed that all the education, refinement, and good sense at the rich man's command enable him to govern or even influence the poor man's opinion, in opposition to that of any ignorant and eloquent demagogue who may chance to belong to the same class? Has not the rich man his haunts, and the poor man his? The rich man his set of amusements, the poor man his? The rich man his church or chapel, the poor man his? In point of fact might it not be affirmed with truth that there is just one point where the two waves of life meet (alas they do not always meet without a collision!) and that point is the relations of pure business? The one expends so much capital, and gets so much physical service in exchange for it; the other gives so much manual or skilled labour, and receives in return the stipulated pay. That is the whole: these transactions accomplished both return to their several homes utter strangers in feeling, thoughts, ambitions, everything!

We need not unthinkingly or unkindly lay the blame of these things on one class only. We might rather attribute it to the action of certain general laws, which have not been benignly modified by the consistent operation of the Christian spirit. Yet surely I am here entitled to ask; surely I am keeping within the lawful province of a Christian teacher when I ask, is not this a prodigious evil? Is not this an evil which involves both sections of society in a signal injustice, each to each? Few will deny that it does. It involves an injustice to the rich man, insensibly narrowing him and hardening him. It shuts him out from that knowledge of page 7 personal detail in the life of his brother, in which the most real sympathy and love are likely to arise. It compels him when he gives alms at all, to do so without the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of it tell, of witnessing the actual alleviation of the suffering, and so enjoying the personal gratitude of the sufferer who has been relieved. It exposes him to continual misconception and misrepresentation at the hand of his poorer brother, who knowing him in no other relation than that of his master in business, is apt, often quite mistakenly, to suppose that the one idea of his soul is to grind out of his servant as much work for as little pay as possible. Thus it is terribly damaging to the rich man's reputation and subversive of his true social influence.

But alas! it is on the poor, that the more immediate and calamitous share of the mischief rests. There are, we all know, occasions of falling into poverty which no amount of prudence or of principle will always be able to avoid. There are many poor men whose characters are thoroughly virtuous, whose sufferings nothing but the tongue of calumny would ever impute to their personal sins. Just imagine the case of such a poor man. If his rich employer really knew him: and if he had any opportunity of really knowing his employer, and learning to believe in the sterling kindness that may and probably does exist in that gentleman's heart, the practical remedy would be found at once. The ease would be explained, the explanation accepted, and the true relief readily found. There are endless ways of helping a poor man's distress without at all wounding his sense of honour, nay, which give him the opportunity of conferring a positive happiness upon the rich, the luxury of doing a kind act to a worthy object. But, as society works at present, in the isolated state of the poor man's life, shut up in his own lonely circle, he has just these alternatives: either he must bear the worst without a remedy, or he must come under unpleasant obligations to friends of his own class who can little afford to help him, or he must submit to the inconceivable degradation of accepting pauper relief: I say pauper relief: for charities which are devised to meet extensive evils must, in whatever way managed, act by rules, and these rules, devised against imposture, carry on the very face of them a stigma on the poor man's honour.

It is only a natural result of such an unhappy isolation as I page 8 have described, that the burdens of charity fall greatly upon a few; and that with these illustrious individual exceptions the richer classes contribute scarcely more than a mere fraction of what they ought for the relief of the public misery. Large charities, managed officially by a few, cannot fail to glide into mechanical hardness. The imputation of imposture rankles like a thorn in the hearts of the deserving poor. The amount of squalid penury that lurks in large cities is increasing at a terrible ratio of speed; and no efficient effort is put forth to grapple with it. At the other extreme of life, many who live in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day, are falling, from pure ernui, from the absence of proper life-occupation, into sins and crimes all the more odious and shameful than those of the poor, that they have larger opportunity to sin, and more extensive knowledge of the art of sinning.

Hear me on this point just a minute longer. I must not stop short at the actual evils which are already produced in our own day by this lamentable estrangement in life, if not in feeling, of poor from rich, and rich from poor. I will ask, what must be the outcome hereafter of such a state of things? To what, if unstayed and unchecked, must it infallibly lead? There is but one answer possible. As sure as God lives, to national decay. No community can possibly develop a healthy, not to say a splendid, future out of such sickly germs. As it is, even already, precursors of that degeneracy which we may expect are beginning to appear, in literature, art, philosophy and politics. Clever writers affect an unmanly cynicism in expression, and even in thought, and glory in the habit of playing with momentous subjects, as if it were beneath the literary dignity of the nineteenth century to be serious. There is an appetite for purely sensual enjoyment among those from whose intellectual refinement better things might have been expected, which cannot be described as anything else than appalling. The rapacity shown by so many, as well in political as in mercantile circles, need not here be commented on. I say these things are symptomatic. They indicate a diseased state of society. And no deeper cause of such disease could be named than this, that we have not always been careful to build the structure of our society on that strong foundation of Christian principle, love to God and love to man, without which there is no abiding prosperity possible.

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Yet do not mistake the spirit in which these observations are offered. I do not myself cherish gloomy views of the destiny that lies before our Anglo-Saxon race. I do not wish to leave melancholy impressions upon you. I see no better race on the earth's surface arising at present to supplant us. I do not believe there are worthier representatives of human nature anywhere than among the rich and the poor of British origin. I do not believe the selfish spirit is stronger in the bosom of this generation than it has been in all other generations before us. But our attention cannot too earnestly be called to the fact, that great social energy, a high state of civilisation does develop separative tendencies between class and class, and never yet have we taken sufficiently active measures to modify or counteract these tendencies. That we must do now; in earnest, not under the influence of any sudden impulse created by an appeal to the feelings, but as the fruit of deep, strong, and rational conviction. We must do it as those who need God's grace always should do everything, with much self-distrust and profound reliance on the wisdom and blessing of Him who is the Maker alike of rich and poor. We must do it with the soberest, largest, most enlightened intelligence: for a zeal that is not according to knowledge will create many new evils for every old one it extinguishes. We must do it in that faith which is prepared to remove mountains of difficulty because its hand touches the Omnipotent arm that never wearies: but oh! above all things we must do it, and do it now; as we value our own immortal souls, and the souls of unborn generations on whom we shall set our mark for good or for evil.

But here, you say, comes the critical difficulty. What can be done? Point it out. Assume that we wish to be our brother's keeper; assume the existence in us of a brotherly love, which a sense of redemption, as well as simple nature itself inspires; and show us how we can dry up even in any considerable measure these stagnant pools of vicious pauperism; save untarnished lives from being sucked into pollution; divert our surplus wealth and refinement into some of those dark channels and hope forsaken desolations where lust, when it has conceived, brings forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.

Language like this is held by many. All are ready to help you if you will but show the way. The pulpit wastes itself in stimu- page 10 lating high and hallowed feeling which is not practically expressed; seldom does it condescend to give any definite counsel as to how the gigantic evils in question are to be grappled with. It is not enough to create the spirit of duty. It must be shown what duty is. Now, I will partly accept this blame. I believe we may err in stimulating only the spiritual emotions, without directing them with sufficient care into a practical channel. Yet I accept the blame only in part. Surely by far the sublimest part of a preacher's function is performed when, by the use of God's appointed means, he has made men willing to do and to suffer for Christ's sake. The very essence of our calling is to bring you under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that, looking with faith to Christ and living in union with Him, you may advance yourselves nearer to spiritual perfection and save the souls of others also. But to expect that the wisdom of the pulpit alone should be able to grapple with anything more than the broad principles of active philanthropy, i.e., should present matured schemes for social revival, and lay the draft of definite plans before a public so intelligent and enlightened as we are accustomed to address—to expect this is surely too much; nor do I believe that those who cherish the expectation have fully grasped the gravity of that responsibility which they are throwing upon us. Nevertheless, even the inspiring and guiding principles of practical Christian beneficence are not so well understood or recognised as they ought to be. And I shall, therefore, occupy a few minutes longer in touching upon two of the more important of these.

I. It is our Christian wisdom, first of all, in all efforts to do good to our fellow-creatures, to meet them on the ground of human equality. We must recognise their brotherhood. We must feel, and show that we feel, a respect the same in kind for the honest hand which wields the hammer, grasps the chisel, guides the plough, that we do for whiter hands and paler countenances devoted to duties more refined, and which have never been required to come in contact with the rougher dust of creation. I put it to you. Why should any man be slow to acknowledge a fact? It is a fact that men are brethren. It is a fact that God owns us all as His creatures, as His children. Moreover, this brotherhood of mankind is a fact so boldly and openly presumed by the whole scheme of Christianity, as well as so deeply engraven on the natural conscience, that one page 11 wonders how argument should have been needful to establish it, how bloodshed should ever have occurred over it. "Call no man your father upon earth: for one is your Father even God." "Ye have one Master, and all ye are brethren." "Now in Christ Jesus, ye, i. e., Gentiles, who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." "For He is our peace who hath made both one and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us." "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Could any announcement be more explicit? And this is only the open statement and Divine consecration of a truth written upon the fleshy tables of every human heart, not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God. Why should any selfish prejudice be encouraged which tends to smother this so deep and blessed consciousness? Yet how far arc we from treating men as our brothers and our equals! The man of means, of social position is not content without a pointed manifestation of deference. Well, quite right that deference should be paid to all that is manly in him. But it needs not me to assure you that the slightest tincture of patronage in the bestowal of a kindness, even the careless dash of condescension with which the coin is pressed into the poor man's hand, will upon the hearts of the great mass destroy the effect of your most charitable feeling. Ah, dear friends, God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble. Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted, but the rich in that he is made low. How beautiful is humility! How beautiful it is when the finest culture and the noblest piety walk with uncovered head among the sorrows of the poor, and while pitying the misfortunes of the sufferer, respect the indestructible majesty of the man! Until we are prepared to take the worst and weakest by the hand, as brothers, they will, with one voice, answer us: "Man, who made you a ruler or a judge over us?" We care not for the kindness which must be purchased by servility.

II. It must not be forgotten, secondly, that though no benevolent action can be efficient which is not well organised, yet the strongest of all influence for good is personal influence. Above all things, in charity, in acts of real philanthropy, the heart of the donor should act on the heart of the recipient as directly as possible. Wherever the wide growth of page 12 various forms of misery, especially physical distress, has excited the sympathetic attention of good men, there it has been uniformly found necessary to organise; to employ the services of many agents doing different things on one complete plan, in which there was the requisite co-ordination and subordination of parts. And not only so, but those who take an interest in the history of this subject will find that comparatively successful attempts have already been made in one or two large cities, for example, Liverpool and New York, to form a federation of the more important charities. That is, leading representatives of the working committees of each meet together and settle the broader principles on which all are to be wrought; and these are in possession of detailed information from every part of the organism.* In that way one formidable evil incident to the bestowal of charity in this city is avoided, viz., it is impossible for a thorough impostor or an impudent mendicant of the more sordid type to be receiving largely from two or three different charities at the same time. And what is more. Whilst in London, it is a common occurrence any winter for men to die of pure starvation, and the thing is not wholly unknown among ourselves, it is, happily, a very rare event in cither of the two cities I named, simply from their admirable principle of filiating and federating the distinct forms of charitable work. Whether it may be found practicable to centralise to the same splendid extent in this city; whether we have among us citizens sufficiently chivalrous, self-denying, and Christ-like, to form such a Board, and to bring all their best business habits to bear upon the management of it; whether we can hope for such a happy future or not, certain it is that indiscriminate charity is a great evil; that distress prevailing among any large mass of people must be met by an organised system; and that it is our clear duty, on conviction, for Christ's sake, in the high self-devoting Spirit of Him who saved others when Himself He did not save, to come forward with one heart and one mind, and attempt some combined action at once.

But while the economist, and justly, bids you organise, there is another counsel which the Christian lays even more imperatively page 13 upon you. And that is, if permanent good is to be done, if society is to be thrilled through with the sense of living God-like unity, the soul that believes and loves must be allowed to act directly upon the soul of his brother. Not otherwise can he be his brother's keeper as Christ would have His sheep watched and tended. Ask England, ask man's heart, the secret of the failure of every poor-law that ever has been or that ever will be tried. It is this, that the best feelings and the best life of men are called forth not by invisible corporations, not by official agencies, but by the life that glows in the souls of brother men. It is impossible to feel gratitude to the exchequer of a state. It is impossible to be warmly impressed with affection for officials, who neither have nor pretend to have any particular interest in the individual recipient. The whole thing is mechanical and degrading in the last degree; as far as possible from harmonising with the infinite tenderness and delicacy of the Spirit of Christ. I trust that the curse of such a state provision for the poor will long be averted from this country. Let our benevolent friends bestir themselves. Let our rich men and rich women treat their heart to the delight of personally ministering to those who need: let them act so far in concert that the work may be done regularly and done well: but above all let them not shrink from personal action, let them shed the light of their intelligence, their refinement, their pure Christianity, their unworldly longings for God and God's gracious presence, over the threshold of the homes of want and misery: and I am confident the joy of acting thus upon the souls of friendless creatures of God will stimulate them to tenfold exertion, will supersede for ever the cold charities of officialism, and make our rich and poor one great loving family dwelling together in unity, and affectionate peace. Then and not till then shall the black waters of sorrow retire before the wind that God shall cause to blow over them. Then the nation shall cease to breathe heavily and weep secretly for the slain of the daughter of our people. Then, best of all, men shall begin better than ever before to feel that they are brothers, the gulf between rich and poor shall vanish, and a springtime of better hopes for all who dwell under these skies succeed the dreary winter of human wretchedness and human wrong.

Is this too much to hope from those who are bound together by such a sacrament as Christians are? Is it too much to expect of page 14 those who believe that the rich Lord of the universe for their sakes became poor that they through His poverty might be rich? Do you not know how wretched are many in this city? Do you not know that drunkenness like a horror of great darkness sits brooding everywhere, leaving men without hope and without God? Do you not know that the pestilence of an unbridled sensuality cloaked under whatever fair name it be, is eating the very heart out of a large section of our society? Are we to know these things and keep silence? Are we to talk for ever and not act? Are we to wait till the conflict of confusions shall bring forth order? Tell me, if these things are done in the green tree what shall be done in the dry? If the cancer of a neglected and criminal population assumes already such fearful dimensions in a city not half a century old, what shall be the state of society when our great grand children drive highways and railways over our graves? Ye can discern the face of the sky: but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

God calls you to be the keepers of these poor uncared for brothers! He calls you, adding the promise even of a blessing in this life. Did not at least one leper out of the ten turn back to glorify Christ for his cleansing? The heart of the most desponding, most degraded, is not for ever proof against the influence of love. But He calls you by a stronger and mightier summons than any hope of selfish reward. He calls you by the remembrance of the sacrifice that has been made for you, and the precious blood of Christ wherewith you have been bought. He calls you by the respect you have for the human nature which Christ wore, which Christ perfected, for which Christ died, and round which He now has cast in Heaven the rays of an imperishable glory. He calls you to have mercy upon the forsaken, the friendless, the poor, as you hope to have mercy from Him in that great day when the throne shall be set and the Books be opened, and the dead, small and great, shall rise to judgment. He calls you because they are limbs of his own blessed body, and He wills not that they should sicken and die. Their blood will He require at your hands. We cannot let them bleed or starve under the starry heavens on this cold earth without storing up a heavy reckoning. Rise then to the height of your calling, and be kind to Christ's poor ones for the sake of the Lord that bought them. Has He not promised to acknowledge you and them, in his own bright heavens, saying, page 15 "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto Me."

Worthy of deep veneration is the memory of that sainted lady who, after thinking what she could do for Jesus and His cause remembered that sweet commandment, "Feed my lambs." If they who have ceased from their labours can behold from heaven what is done on earth, she who gave her name to this association must rejoice with a truly heavenly unselfishness over the conquests which this institution called by her into existence is making from the kingdom of Satan. Many hundreds of children receive from these Hornbrook Schools all the studied instruction they shall ever get under the sun. They are taught to read, write, and cipher, and look at the face of this world with the intelligence of reasonable beings. They are kept clean and orderly, are taught the laws of modesty, punctuality, and industry; above all they are taught to remember that God has given them a spark from His own everburning light that cannot be quenched. They are taught that they arc sinners in a sinful world, but that the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin. They are taught that one Eye sees them which can form no false judgments, and that they shall one day tremble before that terrible purity to give an account of all they have been and done. But they are taught that the mercy of God has provided for their recovery, that a Lamb has been slain from the foundation of the world: that the merciful High Priest waits for them, weeps for them with an unutterable affection. And so through Him they are taught to despise all clanger and to hope for the mercy of the God who wills not that any should perish. I commend to your earnest friendly prayerful support this excellent cause. Let us be dealt with liberally. Oh, call upon God in an acceptable time and make your offerings. Most precious are the promises which He has made to those who give even a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple.

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Melbourne: Walker, May and Co., Printers, 99 Bourke Street West

* The writer desires to acknowledge obligations to a little work on "Social Duties, by a Man of Business ": Macmillan and Co., London and Cambridge.