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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

As to Labor

As to Labor.

The socialist economy, we saw, would at once plunge a large part of mankind into starvation; while the socialist morality, making life not to be worth living, might speedily extinguish the human race altogether, without any manifestly supernatural "vengeance" of God (Gen. vi. 7; Jude 7). On the other hand, we have seen, under the existing order, the system of wages provides, in an honest, wholesome way, for making the amount of reward of labor as great as the nature of things will permit, while growing fitness for making a good use of earnings is accompanied with growing amount of those earnings. But now, passing from the subject of reward of labor, we come to the point as to labor page 41 itself. And the point which Christianity here makes is that of—

The nobleness of service.—Socialism profanes man, not only in the innermost of social relations and the relative affections, but individually, in his innermost core of manhood, the freedom of self-determination, Fletcher of Saltoun,—" the patriot,"—alarmed at seeing all Scotland full of "sturdy beggars," proposed that they should be "held to labor" as slaves. Socialism is in its nature a system of universal and permanent forced labor. This is a necessity of the nature of a system which lays on the community the care of providing for all individuals a means of living out of a common stock. The community has to make all capable individuals contributors to that common stock, placing them under a necessity of labor.

But now we will consider only the condition of those who at present are in view as laborers—the existing laboring class, Their condition is to be bondage: the individual workman is to be a slave; not permitted to dispose of his earnings as he may desire; but only promised rations, a morsel of meat, at the discretion of a godless Epicurism.

The will, as "will of the flesh." a resultant of animal impulses, is to survive in the community; but in the individual that rational spontaneity, without which man is a mere thing, is in the life of labor to cease to exist. That is to say, the whole of the workman's characteristic life is to be nonhuman or mechanical. Labor is debased into drudgery, manhood sinks into mechanism. And that profanation, too, is by Christianity prohibited in the name of God and made impossible in the heart and soul of man. This religion saves manhood from that profanation by making service to be noble, where socialism perpetrates the profanation in a vain endeavor to abolish the service which is natural to man.

To be in subjection (Eph. v. 21) one to another ought to be the choice of all men, because it is variously conform- page 42 able to the nature of man as social, and natively beneficent in its influence upon the individual's moral and spiritual condition; tending to the full formation of true manhood (Eph. iv. 13—where the Greek for "man" means not simply human being, but male human being—the species in completed fulness of formation). The sort of individualism that is the ideal in the view of some is exclusive of the society from the individual's life, so far as can be compatibly with the bare existence of social connection; and thus is a selfism strongly contrasted with Christian individuality, which is a stone of a temple, a branch of a tree, a member of a body. And out of the varied relations of the individual to the society there arise various modes of .subjection, which Christianity lays hold of as opportunities of manhood in the nobility of service.

The phraseology about a "dignity of labor" is sometimes intended to conceal the fact of service, of obligation to obey. There is really no dignity of labor as such. It is true that Paul delights 1 in thinking of himself as the laborious apostle. But a criminal on the tread-mill is laborious. And the symbol of labor simply as labor is, not man, but the drudging ox. When (Ps. civ. 24) among the creatures of earth, "man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor unto the evening," the new thing that appears under the sun is, freedom in the worker, rational spontaneity of labor. And that freedom, which the socialist plan of life destroys, at the cost of profaning manhood, Christianity employs in its redemption of man's life, by the method of ennobling service.

In this whole matter, of the freedom of labor, Christianity has what may be spoken of as a vested interest, if not a vested right of interference with [unclear: a] civil constitution; in that the modern freedom of labor is distinctly a creation of Christianity, But irrespectively of the past, in the pres- page 43 ent and future wherever and so far as this religion exists in power, there it will make socialism impossible by keeping alive a flame of individual freedom in the soul of man, and feeding that flame with the idea of the nobility of service, Service (1 Cor. iv. 1—"ministry") is the highest office it can see on earth, and (Rev, xxii. 3) to its apprehension the loftiest of creature conditions in the eternal world. It sees (Phil ii. 6-10) the eternal Son of God making the infamous cross to be most glorious upon earth and in the universe by "taking upon him the form of a servant"; and (1 Pet, ii. 21) in this it sees the Crucified One set us an example that we should follow in his steps.

Our new industrial epoch, at a time of general awakening among the peoples passing out of the Middle Ages, was, inaugurated by the discovery of America and of a sea-passage to the East Indies, giving a great impulse to commercial enterprise among the peoples of the western Christian world. The epoch has been carried into its present ripeness of manifestation of industrialism in its character, especially by the invention of the power-loom and the application of steam-power to machinery, occasioning a vast expansion of manufacturing and of other industrial arts of life—so that a laboring class is now a very great proportion of mankind. But the distinguishing characteristic of this new industrial epoch is, that the laboring class is free; and this freedom of the laboring class is distinctly a creation of the gospel. It nowhere existed m the heathen Roman empire of Augustus and of Nero; it everywhere existed in the Christian Roman empire of Charles V, And it is the gospel, working in the hearts and lives of men down through the Middle Ages, that wrought the change.

The "servants" addressed in the apostolic Epistles were almost all bond-servants (" under the yoke") or slaves, Free service was in the civilized "world" (Luke ii. 1) almost unknown, while almost all really laborious work was done by page 44 servants. The condition of the mass of mankind, thus doomed to an inglorious toil, was practically hopeless; and its desperate misery was evinced by those formidable slave-insurrections—" servile wars"—which had deluged the plains of Italy and Sicily with blood. Slaves and slave-owners became Christians. Bond-servants formed a very large part (1 Cor. i. 26–28) of the membership of the primeval apostolic church. And the duties arising out of the relation thus existing were a leading subject of the moral instruction of Christianity through its apostles. Children's duty is only referred to in one of the two apostolic directories for common duty; servants' duties are carefully emphasized in both (1 Pet. ii. 18–25; Eph. vi. 5–9). In only one of the two are masters' duties referred to, and the reference there is a sort of pendant to what is said about servants.

The new religion did not prohibit the outward relation of bond-service. On the contrary, that was allowed to remain undisturbed (Philemon). The Christian (1 Cor. vii. 20–24) was taught while recognizing the greater desirableness of freedom, yet, if his position was that of bondage, not to imagine that as a Christian he was entitled or bound to break away from it. On the contrary, a Christian's ordinary duty was to remain in the position where God had found him: to "abide with God" there, there "serving Christ." And the result was, not perpetuation of slavery, but emancipation of the slave.

The process through which this great result was brought about is in its nature spiritual, and is represented by the word of Paul to a slave-owner about a runaway slave, now, when Christianized, coming back to his place, a "brother beloved" (Philem. 16). Men brought into right relation to God as the Father were thereby (Eph. ii, 11–18) rightly placed in relation to one another as brethren. A new heart thus came into the relation, and the light of life kept shining. It was the spring-time: the sun went on shining, and page 45 the frosty snow-dad winter gave place to the summer from that spring. This was the real emancipation. The formalities of outward emancipation cannot in many cases be distinctly traced. The reality, making freedom of labor to be inevitable, and socialism so far to be impossible, is where Christianity lives in men.

Mr. Lecky, in a passage to be quoted further on (p. 59), describes the Christian idea, which was thus operative, as being that of "universal brotherhood." The description is vague, and may mislead. Universal "brotherhood" is not a biblical expression. The Christian principle which wrought the slave's emancipation did not need to be expounded in the apostolic age. It had been exhibited at full length under the Old Covenant, From Abraham's time downward (see John viii. 33) the bond-servant, one of the chosen people, was on the same level of spiritual privilege with the free (Ex. xix. 6; 1 Pet. ii. 9; Rev. i. 5). The "brotherhood" was through redemption, bringing about a new and true filial relation to God (Gal iv. 26–29). This, instated in the mind and heart of men, was the true spring, by which the winter of heathen bondage was made to pass away.

In Israel, the bond-servant's condition was from the outset essentially different from that of a heathen slave. And the emancipating principle so worked, quietly—as "the kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation"—that in the gospel history it is impossible to find a trace of bond-service as continuing to exist in Israel: thus far, Palestine was (cf. John viii 33) a land of freedom in a world of bondage. In the sisterhood of nationalities which arose in Christendom, there took place the same process, through the same principle, as in that oldest of the nations—which alone of ancient peoples made public statutory provision for the protection of slaves.

The position of a Christian slave, especially of a female page 46 slave, of a heathen, must in that first age have often been terribly perilous as well as painfully revolting. The apostles in bidding their converts remain there, "with God," "serving Christ," put a strain upon their human "endurance n as compared with which the short agony of ordinary battles or campaigns is nothing. But the obscure "endurance" of those weak despised things which are not (1 Cor. i. 26–29) achieved the vast result for mankind of retrieving the position of labor, and showing service to be noble.

Of the nobleness of service Ave have a most beautiful picture (2 Sam. xxiii 14–18) in the old heroic story of David's longing for drink "of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate." There, at the place of resort, he must often have mingled with the people in his boyhood. Now, though his heart draw him to the spot, the commander is restrained by an overmastering heathen force around the little town. But three paladins twice break through that flame girdle of heathenism, to appease the human longing in the heart of their great hero-captain. And he will not drink the water so procured: he "poured it out before the Lord "—deeming that which was the equivalent of three such devoted lives, too sacred for every lower purpose than solemn libation (cf. Phil. ii. 17) to the Lord of hosts and' King of heaven. The "three mighty ones" were servants of the king; and they made service noble.

The working-man has opportunities of this high thing in life: not only if his employer's factory be on fire, or his flock in peril of snow-storm or flood, or his dwelling assailed by robbers or by rioters. The old Lochee operative had fifty years of opportunity, filling ten or twelve hours of every working-day. The grand opportunity is in the service; doing that "heartily, as unto the Lord" (Col. iii. 23).

Hugh Miller elected not to aim at being an employer. He reckoned that he would be more free, for the career of self-culture on which his heart was set, by simply earning page 47 wages. A very large proportion of the working-class may prefer the security of wages to the chances of co-operative association. The position of a wage-earner is in Christian communities thoroughly appreciated as honorable. And for those who have the ambition and the gifts for rising to a higher external position, ways are open, and new ways are opening. But for the real happiness of mankind, so largely consisting of a laboring class, the one thing needful in this relation is, practical realization of the nobleness of service. The Christian slave at Ephesus or Coloss æ might have a very different master from Philemon, and a very different place from "the church in the house" (Philem. 2). But John Knox as a galley-slave could maintain "a reasonable merry countenance."And of that slave's place Paul said," Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, there abide with God."

One who has ever learned to swim is a swimmer ever after, and a language once learned is not forgotten when the learning process ends. It is a question whether, when the community of mankind have once attained to freedom of labor, it would not be physically impossible to revert to the condition of bond-service. If it were possible, it would be infamous. But service is never infamous, and can be made always glorious.

1 Concordance, "labor."