Which is the Best Friendly Society?
A Lecture on Ancient and Modern Rechabitism.
Guardian Letterpress and Lithographic Works. Manchester1875
The Best Friendly Society.
Forethought is the characteristic of civilised man, as distinguished from the brute and the barbarian in general; and is, in fact, the foundation of all true civilisation. Yet some degree of forethought is found among savages, and much special thrift among certain of the lower animals, such as the squirrel and the beaver, the ant and the bee. These care for the morrow, by a natural and inherited instinct; and provide food in summer for the wants of the bitter winter that is to come. But man, to be civilised and powerful, must have incessant and far-reaching forethought, and make provision against a thousand accidents or liabilities, alike in health and sickness, in peace or war, on land or sea. In truth, the main business of life is that of an Insurance Society or of a Benefit Institution; from the marriage of a man and woman, to the foundation of a State. Life is an endeavour to ensure the development of our nature against the operation of all forces that would hinder or destroy it, and by employing such forces as we can command to resist those which tend to our injury. The beginning of this line of life is self-denial—the primary virtue of man. We must sacrifice the pleasure of the moment present, for the benefit of the years to come. We must toil more to-day than the needs of the day require, in order that the surplus produce may meet an emergency, or a new want, to-morrow. The husband must lay up 'store' for the needs of the wife and child—the strong man of to-day must work while the sun shines in order to produce, that which he will need when weakness and age comes upon him, as come they will. As the Proverbs say, "Make hay while the sun shines," and so "Provide for a rainy day." He who idles in his prime, must starve, or beg, or steal, in his later years. He who spends his own 'thrift' or produce now, will spend his neighbour's in his old age. Hence, while the thrifty man is a benefactor of society, the spendthrift will become a beggar and a bane.page 4
So much for the principle of forethought, or of thoughtlessness, as regards extremes. There are, however, degrees of accidents and conditions, for which the individual cannot fully provide, let him be never so prudent. Fortune is fickle; the laws and forces in nature and art are so complicated that their working cannot always be foreseen; and human nature is so weak, physically and mentally, that we shall suffer unexpectedly from its perturbations. This leads men, in civilised life, to combine for mutual protection, against fire, storm, collision, death, sickness, and loss of property in any way. Friendly or Benefit societies are only insurance societies for working men, with small payments equal to their means.
Our Saxon forefathers had societies of this kind, and the Middle Ages were full of 'Guilds' answering the same end. But it is only in modern times, when careful registrations of births and deaths became common, and when statistics of Sickness were gathered into form, that these societies could be constructed on scientific principles. It is now well understood that sickness and death depend on conditions, or causes. People are not always alike sick, or die at one age. They die or are sick, therefore, according to a law of circumstance. The results of this law can be ascertained for each epoch, or country, or class; and so referred to the causal conditions—the 'circumstances' of that epoch, country, or class. For example, a country that is ill drained, subject to cold and damp winds, will have a greater sickness and higher death rate than one that is sandy, well drained, and of a genial climate. A town population, as a rule, will have more sickness and shorter lives, than an agricultural district, other things being the same. The class of ministers and gentry, living easy and regular lives, under good sanitary arrangements, will have less sickness by one-half than hard working, hard drinking labourers, who live in small, ill-ventilated, and often undrained hovels. But even their death rate again is not so high by nearly one-half as that of Publicans, who are killed by their own dreadful business: so that charity to them, as well as patriotism, demands the abolition of their fatal traffic.
When the Science of this question is understood, those who are virtuous, temperate, and industrious, will be able To Select the Circle for Insurance within which health is highest, and disease lowest. At present, in various forms and ways, they are not only absurdly, but mischievously, paying to meet the risks, and mitigate the sufferings, of the idle, the foolish, and the vicious. They interpose a power between violation of law and penalty, and thus offer a premium to vice, just as truly as the State does in the bad and impolitic Insurance Society called "Poor Laws." Not one teetotaler in ten thousand ever finds his way to the Poor House—even by accident. But almost all other representatives of society page 5 get there. Thus honest men eventually keep the dishonest, industrious men the idle, the sober the intemperate, or, in one word, the public keep the beggared customers of the publican! "Benefit Societies" assembling at drink-shops really meet for the "good of the house," which means the ruin of the men, and often the bankruptcy of the club. Under any circumstances, however, many of the Friendly Societies of the country are virtual frauds upon the innocent and the ignorant. Young men are made to pay as much as old men, though it is plain (1) that they will have less sickness; (2) they will have to pay longer; and (3) they may be sober and healthy while the bulk of the old members may be lame and lushy. One sees this every day. Now to call such a society a Mutual Benefit Society is to deceive—and if it is to continue, let it be named a "Charitable Society," chiefly for the benefit of one class, the careless and the selfish.
But the importance of such societies, founded on correct principles, cannot be overrated, either as regards the Temperance Reformation, or the general interests of the community. However noble the bond of brotherhood may be, however pure the inspiration of Temperance-man or Good Templar; fidelity to the pledge and habit of abstinence will be greatly confirmed by having a pecuniary pledge in addition. Sympathy, Duty, and Interest will form a chain not easily broken; and it is a curious fact in human nature, that interest will successfully resist sudden temptation where higher principles fail. And the general advantages of such societies are apparent. The labouring man, with a family, finds it hard, even with the utmost frugality, to provide for "the rainy day"; but here the Friendly Society comes to his aid, and out of his small contributions has accumulated a fund to meet the exigency, without privation or suffering to his wife and children. He receives no degrading charity, for he is his own Almoner, and can retain his independence and self-respect. A person acting on such principles, just as one practising abstinence, must necessarily be more amiable and considerate than one who overlooks them; must be, by virtue of his self-reliance and self-denial, a better servant, a better father, and a better citizen. Knowing his own rights, he performs his corresponding duties, and, instead of contributing to that mass of pauperism which at once burdens the industry and blights the character of our people, he lessens the rates of the parish while he increases the wealth of the nation.
Forty-four years ago a new social condition was introduced into the lives of a Class of the People which has thrown quite a novel light upon the facts of health, sickness, and mortality. Then, almost all the men drank intoxicating liquors, and fathers gave them to their wives and children. They were supposed to be a daily need, like our page 6 "daily broad."* It was not known, save to a select and thoughtful few, that alcohol is a poison to the blood and body of man, and produces weakness, disturbance, and disease, as surely by circulating in the domain of life, as foetid gases and microscopic fungi produce infection in our cities. Even now our prating and priggish Sanitary Reformers cannot see that the drainage and water supply which is most important to us, is that within us rather than that without us! But stern facts have revealed the truth, that The One Circumstance of Drinking, or not Drinking, as much Affects Health and Life as all other Sanitary Circumstances put Together. We have in our country 3,000,000 of teetotalers, and though they are mainly of the humbler orders of society, with the least sanitary advantages of ease, fresh air, and large houses, They have Less than Half the Average Sickness and Mortality of the Best of the Community.
* Even still, it seems, we need not refer to fossil specimens of the class, for Six W. Cunninghame. M.P., said at Ayr the other day, that "there are many who think that
Grog cures the gont, the cholic, and the phthisic,
And is to all men the very best of physic."
"I believe," adds he, "that spirituous refreshment is beneficial, and has been placed in our hands by Providence for use "!!!
As the members of temperance societies became numerous, thirty or thirty-five years ago, they naturally looked with dissatisfaction at the way in which the ordinary Benefit and Friendly Societies were conducted. Not only were unsteady men freely admitted, but by meeting mostly at Public-Houses temptations were held out which made men unsteady. Drink must be had for "the good of the house," which meant the injury of the members, and this often led (as it still leads) to a system of drinking fatal to the true ends of the institution. The result was, that the Teetotalers here and there began to found Benefit Clubs amongst themselves, and the results became more remarkable, year by year. Finally, two large societies were formed—The Independent Order of Rechabites and the Temperance Provident Institution.
John Tidd Pratt, Esq., the late Registrar-General of Friendly Societies, said, some years ago, "The number of members of such societies is 2,500,000. A great foe to economy is, that the meetings are held at public-houses. In most of the old societies the members spend on an average, five or six shillings per annum. If these meet fortnightly and 300,000 are abstainers, and the rest spend 2d. page 7 each club night, the total amount in twelve months would be half a million of pounds!" What a grand capital for self-help is thus wasted. In his report for 1860, Mr. Tidd Pratt says, "In the course of last year I found that in Herefordshire, since 1793 the number of societies enrolled and certified was 136. Of this number 123 were held at public-houses, and 13 in schools or private rooms. Of those held at public-houses no less than 43 had broken up, but of those held in schools or private rooms only one had been dissolved."
Let me state a physiological fact here, which will explain the figures that are to follow. Every ounce of alcohol (and a pint of beer contains two) produces 4,300 extra heart beats in a day. It is exactly like spur and whip—it takes steam out of a man; it cannot (like food) put strength into him. Hence the 'weariness' that follows drinking. It is a voluntary going to the tread-wheel—for the love of it!
Before I state the facts elicited by thirty years' experience in these great societies founded upon temperance principles, it will be well to give a number of illustrations which crop out from various local and even compound experiences, for contrasts are themselves instructive.
One preliminary remark is needed—namely, that the natural law of health is, that when the Constitution of Man is in its greatest vigour, the least deviation from health is found. Health, in fact, means strength, and weakness disease and death. Thus youth is the healthiest period, middle age next, and old age least healthy, though an absurd idea to the contrary once prevailed, founded doubtless upon a partial induction of exceptional cases of weak young men outgrowing their ailments! The figures of Mr. Neison, the actuary, show that the average amount of sickness between the ages 20 and 60, a period of 40 years, is 60 weeks 3½ days, while between the ages 60 and 70, a period of only 10 years, it is 77 weeks and 2 days; or, in other words, there is nearly 5 times greater liability to sickness. Hence the supreme folly of young men paying the same amount as old men.
- 1000 Non-abstainers have 23.3 sick per annum.
- 1000 Teetotalers have only 13.9 sick per annum.
7 weeks 4 days is the average period of sickness with the Drinker.
3 weeks 2 days is that amongst the Teetotalers.
£2. 16s. 1d. is the average sum paid to, or for, each Non-abstainer.
£1. 9s. 2d. that to the Teetotaler.page 8
I have here a paper which shows the same remarkable exemption from sickness and death in a country club—namely, the Northwich Abstinence Benefit Sick Society's Report for 1860. "During 24 years the average number of Members has been 80, the deceased members only 9—which number is surprisingly small, and cannot fail to impress the unprejudiced mind in favour of entire abstinence."
Nor is this unparalleled: for I find that the Teetotal Security Tent of Preston, with an average of 45 members, were 14 years without a death; and they had no death last year, with 129 members.
In the following year, my friend, Mr. James Hawkins, of Colet Place, London East, informed me that he had attended three Benefit Clubs of Abstainers for three years, and had only had one death, and that of a consumptive patient admitted without medical certificate. Now it must be always borne in mind, that all Temperance Clubs necessarily include a number of persons who have been reformed from intemperate habits, which will be more than a set-off against the cases of excess that may, by carelessness of medical men, or by growth of appetite, affect the class of moderate drinkers in the statistics of a high class Assurance Society, which will be pretty careful in the examination of candidates for admission.
Dr. Henry Munroe, F.L.S., of Hull, has had two Friendly Societies under his care for years, of which he gives this account:—
Drinkers, including several Abstainers. Average sickness of each sick member per year, 11 days, 21 hours. Deaths, 3 in 200.
Abstainers (of whom several had been drunkards): Average sickness, If days. Deaths—at the rate of 1 in 500.
But I will take the case of a Forester's Lodge, formed at Streatham, near London, to evince the extraordinary difference in the health of the two contrasted classes.
|98 Drinkers received sick money amounting to||£96||15||0|
|22 Teetotal members sick money amounting to||1||5||0|
Had these last been as sick as the former, their proportion of the sum would have been £17. 15s. 8d., in which case the whole of the membership would have had to pay £16. 10s. 8d. extra.
|111 Drinkers received in sick money||£90||6||0|
|25 Teetotalers received in sick money||0||14||0|
The proportion of these last would have been £16. 14s. 6d., and £16. 0s. 6d. extra would have had to be paid by the membership.
|105 Drinkers (some had been converted) received.||£68||0||0|
|45 Teetotalers received||0||0||0|
The proportion of these last would have been £20. 8s. 0d., which thus is saved by all and for all; but the effect seems to have been potent in producing conviction : since nearly half the Lodge had become abstainers, and thus reduced the sickness and consequent cost.
After such experiences, one can no longer wonder at a testimony like the following, given at St. George's Hall, Bradford, in March, 1873, by Dr. Robert Martin:—"I was surgeon to a Lodge held at a public-house, and gave it up after two years' trial, because they had so much sickness that they were never off the door-step. I was surgeon also to a Rechabite Tent at the same time, and I made up my mind to give them up also—but for a totally different reason—the Rechabites never came for medicine at all, so I said to them, Gentlemen, I can no longer, for shame, take your money, for you never require my services."
Some years after its formation, the Temperance Provident became the Temperance and General Provident Institution, by accepting carefully selected lives of Moderate Drinkers (Department IX.), but of course keeping the Books and Accounts distinct. This was an admirable thought, and two or three quinquennial divisions of profits afterwards began to show the differences of value in the respective lives. The following appeared in the Report of 1861:—
"In Department I., which belongs to the Temperance Section, the Reversionary Bonus will range, according to the age of the Assured, from 35 to 86 per cent, on the amount of Premiums paid since 1855, showing an average of above 60 per cent.
"In Department IX., which belongs to the General Section, the Reversionary Bonus will range from 24 to 59 per cent., showing an average of above 41 per cent.
"In Department XI., comprising Policies on Joint Lives, the Reversionary Bonus will range from 25 to 48 per cent., showing an average of above 36 per cent.
"The difference in favour of Department I., as compared with Department IX., is equal to £19 upon £60. 10s.; in other words, if the Reversionary Bonus upon a Policy in Department IX., should page 10 be £41. 10s., in Department I., upon a Policy which has paid the same Premiums, and has the same time to run, it will be £60. 10s."
The latest divisions fully bear out this promise, as the following tables will demonstrate :—
Mortality Returns of the Temperance and General Provident Institution, for eight years, from January 1, 1866, to December 31, 1873.
|Years.||Expected Deaths.||Actual Deaths.|
|1866 to 1870.||549||411|
|Total eight years.||957||691|
|Years.||Expected Deaths.||Actual Deaths.|
|1866 to 1870.||1008||944|
|Total eight years.||1739||1689|
Thus, while in Department I., the claims were nearly 28 per cent below the expectation founded upon the Life tables, Department IX. was less than 3 per cent below.
The superior value of the Temperance Lives is no less distinctly shown in the difference of monetary result. Being a Mutual Society, a certain proportion of the profits are divided every five years. At the last division of profits where an assurer in the General Department for £1,000 would receive £72, an Insurer in the Temperance Department for the same sum would receive £114. A neighbour of mine was insured for £2,000, and at his death £250 was paid in addition to his widow, as his share of the profit: being £100 more than a Moderate Drinker would have got, insuring for the same sum.
I now come to the Independent Order of Rechabites, the oldest and most influential of the Temperance Benefit Societies. It is also the richest, for it was given in evidence (October, 1871), before the Commissioners on Friendly Societies, that while the funds of other Friendly Societies, with the same ratio of subscriptions, averaged only from £2 to £4 per member, the Rechabite Order averaged £6. 18s.
It is somewhat unfortunate that sufficient care has not been devoted by the Council of the Order to the collation of its statistics; but still very important facts have turned up. Here is a statement recently made by one of the late Chief Rulers, my friend, Mr. Joshua Pollard, of Bradford:—page 11
During the year 1872, the Bradford District of Rechabites had only amongst their 700 members an average sickness of 3 days and 4 hours per member, at a cost of only 4s. 7¼d. per member, being two-thirds less both in time and money paid for sickness, than the best mixed Friendly Society. The death rate is equally remarkable, for during the year 1872, out of 703 persons insured in the Funeral Fund there were only three deaths, which is one death in 234 persons, an average of little over four deaths per 1,000. At Denholme, near Bradford, there is a Tent of Rechabites of over 30 members, which has been established five years, and up to this time they have had no sickness, nor a single death. Where is the mixed society of moderate drinkers, drunkards, and teetotalers, which can show such a death rate?
Let us now compare the Bradford District of Rechabites (3,000 members) with the Oddfellows of the same district (16,741 members), for the years 1868 to 1872.
First, as regards Sickness.
- Oddfellows had an average sickness of 13 days, 3 hours.
- Rechabites had an average sickness of 3 days, 12 hours
- Cost per head to the former, 12s. 9d. To the latter, 5s. 3d.
Second, as regards Death.
- Oddfellows proportion to Members is 1 in 51
- Rechabites proportion to Members is 1 in 155
Only one deduction can be made from these startling contrasts : viz., that the average age of the Rechabites is over 30 years, while that of the Oddfellows is 40 years per member, showing that there is a rush of the younger generation into the newer and safer order. Still this difference will not materially affect the result, which, calls for immediate reflection and corresponding action from the best and most thoughtful of the Working Classes of our beloved England.
Passing from the Brotherhood of Modern Rechabites, I point to an ancient and not yet extinct fraternity of whom they are the nominal descendants, though let me hope in some sort the 'spiritual'—for a nobler people, and more genuine example and inspiration, they could hardly select out of the compass of history. They were brave, faithful, persistent, self-denying, open-minded, tolerant, truth-seeking—whose very virtues cast reproach upon the cant, the compromise, the self-indulgence, and the corruption of modern society.page 12
They have a genealogy which casts ridicule upon the bastard aristocracy of William the Conqueror, and the titled descendants of Charles' Courtezans. Moses and David knew them as Kenites, and Diodorus Siculus describes them under the name of Nabathæans.
"The Rechabites were a sort of votaries among the Hebrews, descended from Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, and his son Hobab, from whom came Rechab, who was called The Just. It is uncertain when they first formed themselves into a Society; but they always had orders and regulations peculiar to themselves. They were remarkable for their strict piety and integrity of life, and were originally called Kenites. They likewise had the name of Scribes, because they studied the law, and were very ready in the expounding of it. Jonadab seems to have refined their old discipline; and they always appealed to his injunctions as the founder of the fraternity. . . . They were bound to drink no wine, nor to build houses, but to dwell in tents [a sanitary and politic law, not at all unpleasant in the soft climate of Palestine]; nor to sow seed, nor to plant vineyards, nor to have any; but to give themselves up to a contemplative life, and avoid all occasions of luxury and avarice. This Religious Society was highly approved of by God."
"All the soveraine acts, dare I say,
Of Victories in the old Testament,
Thro veray God that is omnipotent.
Were done in abstinence and in prayere;
Look in the Bible, you may learn it there."
"These words seem to indicate the main purpose of the regulations of Jonadab, the son [i.e. descendant] of Rechab. . . Their observance, would, he supposed, keep them on good terms with the Jews, as they would have fewer possessions to excite envy, . . . and would possess more self-command, and more caution in avoiding quarrels."
"I said to them—Drink ye wine. But they said, We will not drink wine."
"Then came the Word of Jehovah to Jeremiah, saying:—The words of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, in which he commanded his sons not to drink wine, have been performed; for they have drunk no wine to this day," etc.
"Jonadab, the son of Rechab, our Father, commanded us saying, Ye shall drink no wine,* ye nor your sons, for ever, . . . . .That Ye may Live Long in the Land Wherein Ye are Strangers."
They would dwell for ever, even as strangers, in the land, if they might but know God who revealed himself there. Hence, that they might be neither expelled nor destroyed as a people, through intemperance—that they might avoid the sin and pride of Ephraim,—that they might live long in the land where Israel dwelt,—they would drink no wine. They had a right to expect, both on grounds of reason and experience, the continued existence of their tribe. The word confirms this; it promises that the very object of their hopes shall be realised, in substance, if not in form. God himself is pledged to fulfil their expectations, enlarging indeed the very blessing which they sought.
"Thus Saith Jehovah of Hosts. . . . there shall not fail in the line of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, Men to Stand Before me for ever."
He who made the preserving law of temperance, and foresaw the consequences of its rigid observance to the end of time,—also fore-saw, what the sons of Rechab did not, that Israel should himself be expelled from the land of his fathers, which could then be no habitation for his allies. Hence, the promise is not limited, as were their expectations, to the land of Israel, but extended in its substance to The Entire Duration of Humanity. There, or elsewhere, if faithful to the preserving law, the posterity of the Rechabites should maintain their existence as a people.page 15
Now comes the question, Have these people been faithful to their pledge, and God to his promise? The answer must be in the affirmative. Rabbi Benjamin, of Tudela, in the twelfth century, mentions their existence; and Dr. Joseph Wolff, in his first Journal of Travel, records having met with some of them thirty-five years ago. He found them to resemble their ancestors; willing to receive truth, and though Jews, to read and circulate the New Testament; simple in their manners, kind, courteous, brave, intelligent, and as horsemen, the most accomplished cavaliers of the orient. One of them whom he saw, and who referred to Rechab as his ancestor, read fluently both in Arabic and Hebrew, and invited Dr. Wolff to visit his tribe in the vicinity of Mecca, calculating their number at about 60,000. The Missionary was struck with the fine appearance of the man, and notices that he had a loud voice, and was distinguished by "a more lively countenance than the Arabs." These tribes dwell in tents, which they have pitched in three oases of the desert, and they neither sow seed nor plant vineyards.
In the Ethnology Section of the British Association, at Cambridge, 1862, the proceedings commenced with the reading of a paper by Signor Pierotti, "On recent Notices of the Rechabites," the sum of which was, that towards the end of April, 1860, the Signor, travelling south of the Dead Sea, and in a valley about two miles therefrom, met a tribe of Rechabites, whose object it was to procure a supply of linen and salt. The next day another tribe arrived on a similar errand. They were exceedingly clean in their dresses and persons (cleaner than other Bedouins), hut the most singular point connected with them was, that they had a copy of the Scriptures in Hebrew. The chief location of the tribe is south-east of the Mountains of Moab. Their general sojourn is on the west shore of the Dead Sea, and some of their members had been heard to say prayers, at the tomb of a Jewish Rabbi, in the Hebrew language.
Thus amidst the clash of conquest and the crush of kingdoms,—while the mighty Empires of Persia and of Greece, of Rome and of Parthia, have risen in glory and declined in shame,—and while the desolating armies of the Saracen and the Crusader, of the Mongol and the Turk, have rolled over the battle field of the east,—amidst the long and sad eclipse of Israel, and the triumph of the Crescent over the banner of the Cross,—in short, amid the ruin and revolution of twenty-four centuries,—the noble and united Band of Rechabites have preserved their simplicity, their sobriety, and their freedom,—remaining amidst the wrecks of time, an impressive monument of Prophetic truth, and a living witness to the imperishable nature of the Divine laws.page 16
For the critical, moral, and theological relations of this subject of the Ancient Rechabites, the reader is referred to the following-named work:—
Third Edition, with Supplement, Price 6s.,
The Temperance Bible Commentary,
Giving at one view Version, Criticism, and Exposition in regard to 700 passages of Holy Writ bearing on "Wine" and "Strong Drink," or illustrating the principles of the Temperance Reformation. By Dr. F. R. Lees and Rev. Dawson Burns, A.M.
London: S. W. Partridge & Co., 9, Paternoster Row.
The Commentary can also be procured by post direct from Dr. Lees, Meanwood Lodge, Leeds.
"The more I look into this noble work, the more do I admire its breadth, depth, and exhaustiveness. It is a truly grand contribution."—Professor Guthrie, Glasgow.
Highly favourable reviews of the Temperance Bible Commentary have appeared in British and American publications, and several of the Scholars engaged in the Revision of the English Translation of the Bible have expressed themselves concerning it in language exceedingly eulogistic. Among the latest of the editorial notices are the following:—
The Coleraine Chronicle—"This is the third and improved edition of a work of great research, critical acumen, and general information, and which has elicited the eloquent commendation of bishops, professors, and doctors of divinity. There is no warping of Scripture, no exaggeration of statement; all is honest and indisputable. As an impartial, learned, and valuable work, we confidently predict for it a high place in the religious literature of the day."
The Christian Age—"This is a most interesting and valuable work. The light which it throws on many portions of the Sacred Word, and the help it renders in elucidating the original languages in disputed passages, will make it a welcome and much-valued addition to the library of the Bible teacher."
Head Offices of the G. O. of Rechabites: 98, Lancaster Avenue, Fennell-street, Manchester. Corresponding Secretary—R. Hunter.
* The tent-law they occasionally departed from, for they were then in Jerusalem; but the reason of this law was universal.