The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70
As to Poverty
As to Poverty.
By poverty we will understand not scantiness of means, but dependence upon others for means of living. Under the received economic order, the provision made for the poor is regarded as matter of charity, and as being thus a specifically different thing from wages, which is matter of right. Socialism, abolishing that distinction which makes dependence disgraceful for those who are physically capable of self-support, creates a dangerous facility and temptation for multiplication of "sturdy beggars": whom, without the proverbial "patriotism" of Fletcher, it has to "hold to la- page 48 bor" as slaves. And economists and philanthropists alike are of opinion that the abolishing of the distinction would be a grievous misfortune to the genuine poor, by its closing the fountain of that charity, which is nature's own provision for sympathetic help to them in their sad need.
Upon the socialist view, that the care of all individuals is properly incumbent on the civil community, it would be no good ground of reproach to Christianity though it should have made no distinct provision for poverty, but left that matter, like the criminal law, entirely in the hand of the civil powers that be. But the religion proceeds upon the fact, that u the poor we have always with us": there will always be need of occasional private charity, as distinguished from the systematic operations of the state; and there may be call for a testimony of Christianity to the state as to the mind of God regarding the care of the poor. We now will consider the question, whether Christianity has in it an energic force for the offices that may thus come to be in request upon its part.
In our time there have, with reference to the common Christianity of English-speaking peoples, been voices in the air about "a selfish middle class," which by interpretation is otherwise heard of as" the comfortable church-going classes,"—to the effect of saying, that the common Christianity of the peoples is now torpidly effete, wrapped up in a comfortable selfishness, regardless of the suffering of mankind; so that the world has need of a new Christianity, to inaugurate and take the lead of a new economic order. The new Christianity may be found leaving out the old gospel of Christ.1 But we now have room only for some observations on the previous question of fact: Is the common Christianity really effete, or otherwise wanting in resource of charity, as an affection that maybe found an available "balm in Gilead" for the case in view?
1 Rigg, Modern Anglican Theology.
1. There still is the "physician there."—Christ is far the greatest power in Christendom, The Bible is the common law of the Christian peoples, the text-book of their teachers, the vade-mecum of their true believers in a daily walk with God. The light of Scripture on this matter is not seen by us as by men out on a darkly troubled sea who catch glimpses of a dim light in an ancient Pharos tower on a distant long-forsaken shore. It is the sunlight of the daily life of Christians round about us. The new heart which it labors to create in them is "an heart of flesh." And we may expect to find in them, who are continually under its influence, some result of that humanizing operation of the word of God.
Christ himself is set forth (Act. x. 38) in the first view of him given to the Gentile world, "as going about doing good." His apostles, at their memorable conference (Gal. ii.) regarding the plan of campaign, while they agreed to go their several ways with the one gospel for the soul, as regards the body covenanted (ver. 10) that they all, go where they might, "should remember the poor," A persistent appeal for contributions, in relief of distressed brethren at Jerusalem, is a curiously interesting side-work in the great career of the apostle of the Gentiles. And he is privileged to transmit (Act. xx. 35). as a sort of fifth Gospel "according to" Paul the Magnanimous, the only known word of the Lord Jesus not recorded in the Gospel histories, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"—which he makes an argument for laboring "to support the weak," We need not dwell on the great place which this privilege and duty of charity had in the teachings of the apostles (cf. 1 John iii. 16, 17; James i. 27; 1 Con viii. 9; Gal. vi. 10; Eph. iv. 28).
The whole matter is summed up in the Old Testament declaration of the true spirit of Christianity or Messiahism in Isa. lxi 1, along with what is said of the fulfilment of page 50 this prophecy by Christ himself (1 Luke iv. 16–22; Matt. xi. 3–6, where observe the Spirit's anointing, and the fact that the Hebrew for "anointed" is Messiah, and the Greek for it is Christ). There the believer sees, that relief of temporal distresses, with a special reference to "the poor," is of the very essence of the religion of Christ. Thus the "peace" which is "like a river," is intended, in its progress through the lands, to bring to them a blessing and g]ad song of comfort and of healing for the body as well as of salvation to the soul.1
1 It is in this connection an important fact, that the Redeemer's work on earth was a campaign for deliverance from natural evil on account of its being a stronghold of tyranny of spiritual evil (Acts x. 38). Exorcism with him was "medicine to a mind diseased" (Luke viii. 35); and (xiii. 16) bodily ailment, making a" spirit of infirmity," was pronounced a bondage of Satan, Healing of the body led on to joyful assurance of being forgiven. The whole campaign of miracles, in Palestine as (Ex. xii. 12) in Egypt, had thus a spiritual purpose to serve through operation on the natural world and life. But on the other hand it is an important fact that, in addition to such bearing on the spiritual condition of mankind, the Bible shows that God, and men who are like him, have a real regard of complacency to men's temporal well-being on its own account. The following notes have reference to that aspect of the matter:—
1. The New Testamernt in this relation only the interpretation clause of a "law" which (Matt, v. 17–20) is given in the Old, The bearing of Christ in the Gospel history toward the natural life of man is humanely sympathetic genial He is the realized ideal of the saying, "I am a man, and all that touches man comes home to me" (cf. Heb. iv. 14, 15; ii. 17, 18; v. 1, 2). Hence the Christian feasting with those who rejoice, as well as weeping with those who mourn. Such, too, (witness the Parables,) was his bearing toward the natural world of man; whence (?) the Christian "love of nature." In the apostolic age his followers had occasion to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and showed themselves willing, not only to be bound, but to die for the name of the Lord Jesus. But they were not inhuman. The inhuman asceticism, which represses natural affection connected with the body, was by apostolic authority condemned as antichristian (1 Tim. iv. 1–9); as in the Gospel history (Mark iii. 15) the only thing on which those eyes which are as a ñame of fire, are said to have looked "with anger," was that inhuman asceticism of imagined spirituality which is real carnality, and which by being inhuman is shown to be ungodly. In order to see what was the feeling of the first Christians in relation to temporal good, we must take into view the fact, that in the primeval times the Bible of Christians was the Old Testament (2 Tim. iii. 14–17; 2 Pet. i. 19–21). as it had-been the "It is written" of Christ himself (Matt. iv. 3–19).
2. In the Old Testament the matter is set forth as if leisurely at full length. This has reference to the church's childhood: in which as to the body she learned to sing, that God the Father "giveth food to all flesh, because his mercy endureth forever."
(1) In creation and providente, his "goodness" (the key-note of the psalmody) appears; markedly in the temporal well-being of man favored by God (cf. Chalmers' Bridge water Lectures," adaptation of the eternal world to making a virtuous species happy "); (2) in connection with redemptions, a good estate on earth (Gen. xviii. 8) is in the foundation gift of divine redeeming love. The "rest" of God for his redeemed is outwardly in a "good land" (Deut. viii. 7–10—a realistic description of the best conceivable land for settlement). "a land flowing with milk and honey."
The (partially) realized ideal, sung in Ps. lxxii. is shown in 1 Kings iv., with reference to the nation's temporal prosperity in Solomon's long, glorious reign of peace. Two things were countlessly multitudinous: (i) the manifold royalty of wisdom in the great heart and capacious intelligence of the king (1 Kings i v. 29); and (2) the covenanted population of the country, prosperous outwardly as well as inwardly, and safely guarded in the prosperity (vers. 20, 25). That picture of a happy golden age of the past shows what, as good for man, God loves to bestow on those men whom he loves. The idea of it—never fully realized, because Israel did not keep the covenant of their tenure of the land—fills the book of Psalms, and is everywhere on the background of the Prophecies, alike in threatenings and in promises. "This God doth abide our god." The Old Testament was "the law" of Christianity in the formative epoch of its first heroic age. All who really are formed, as Paul was, and Peter and James and John, and the Son of Mary, in accordance with the spirit of it, will seek (Prov. xxx. 8) to place man free from sordid care and want that is demoralizing; and, having learned to sing (Ps. cxilv. 15), "happy is the people that is in such a case," will desire for men true godliness on account of its promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.
Here, too, the fundamental "law" (Matt. v. 17–20) is that of the Old Testament (2 Tim. iii. 15–17), to which the New Testament is as interpretation clause, The whole Old Testament revelation of God's mind toward man—in history, prophecy, and song—proceeds upon the view, that temporal prosperity is among those blessings which God has it in his heart to bestow upon man as the object of his love (cf. Deut. viii. 7–10). And in the Old Testament we see that the miracles of Moses were, like those of Jesus in the New, a campaign for man's deliverance from a tyranny of spiritual evil of which the stronghold was seated in material ill conditions (cf. Acts x. 38, with what the same historian says in Luke viii 35; xiii. 16).
This latter fact has a parallel m the fatal effects, in our time, of evil material conditions in relation to moral and spiritual well-being and well-doing. Abraham's God Almighty, who calleth things which are not as things which are, and raised up the Lord Jesus from the dead, is able to bring a clean thing out of an unclean. He can keep his regenerate stainless amid "the pollutions" (2 Pet. ii. 20) as white sun-rays in a sepulchre, and scatheless amid a very sea of searching fiery trials (1 Pet. iv. 12) as (Dan. iii. 25) he guarded the three children in the seven-times heated furnace, But here there is a something that can be done by man in the destruction of strongholds of moral pollution in physical evil. And when that is so, it is the Christian's part to consider, not only the omnipotence of God (Isa. xl. page 53 25–31) as a ground of comfort, but also and especially, as a guide of action, his manifested will: his will as manifested, e, g., in that constitution of man's nature which he has created, and in the permitted course of evils under his adorable providence.
Now in the present case the fact is (Prov. xxx. 8) that, while riches have their temptations and their perils,—which are wide of our present point—poverty demoralizes: it is ensnaring, not only as tempting to break the law of man, but as tending toward that desperate self-abandonment (Eph. iv. 19) which opens the flood-gates of wickedness in life; and still more, toward a mental condition of sullen discontent, fatal to religion, represented by the expression which Mr. Rae puts dramatically into the mouth of his typical socialist of the artisan class—" We are not atheists, but we have done with God."
It is this view that especially moved Chalmers to his great labors at economics, in his public administration and through the press. His large heart, full of the milk of human kindness, was naturally grieved with seeing his fellow-countrymen suffering, so that sweet life itself was made bitter to them, through mere want of means of living. The born and bred economist within him—with his "kingly governing faculty "—was indignant at the shameful waste of manhood thus occasioned to the community by mismanagement on the part of perverse imbecility of statesmanship. But on a memorable occasion he publicly owned, that he had been too much absorbed in calculations about finite quantity, so as not to be duly mindful of that quantity—infinity—which is the one thing needful. And yet it is after the great change in the whole tenor of his inward life, that we find in its outward course all his really memorable labors in theoretical and practical economics. The deep abiding conviction, that certain material ill-conditions are effectively fatal to religion and morality among mankind, burned as a fire in his page 54 bones, and bore him through those labors as in a mighty river of divine compassions for the perishing lost. Why should we think that the heart which beat in him was a stone in the bosom of his brethren (2 Cor. iii. 18)?
2. As to the actual state of things, relatively to the feelings and practices of Christians, and the tendency and effect of their activity. We must remember that Christianity as an institute can directly operate on political and civil constitutions only through moral suasion, and indirectly, only through bringing men individually into a right state of mind and heart; while a large part of mankind puts itself beyond reach of the influences of this religion (Ps. ii.; John v. 40–42). And if there be a real short-coming on the part of those who profess it, the just inference may be not that their Christianity is not of God (Matt. v. 45–48). but that they are not sufficiently under the power of it.
(1) Why are the "church-going classes" "comfortable"? (Cf. Luke viii. 35.) William Jay answers,1 after he has preached the gospel seventy years, having begun when he was a mason's apprentice at sixteen. He has known all sorts and conditions of real Christians but one,—namely, the destitute poor. And for the non-existence of that sort of real Christians he has seen two reasons: (a) good character and conduct, keeping real Christians out of poverty; and (b) good friends; who, if a real Christian should fall into poverty, will not allow him to sink into destitution. The same fact, of the "comfortableness," was observed by another trustworthy aged man, who had been a pastor twenty-eight hundred years before. He put it into a song (Ps. xxxvii. 25). It really is a thing to be glad of (Isa. xxxv);—and it is an important contribution to the economical welfare of the community,—a heart of "innocence, and health, and sweet content" (prayer of Burns).
1 See his Autobiography.
(2) There maybe unnoticed such contributions to that welfare,—e. g. of purity (Judges xv. 3; Ezek xlvii. 1–5). The statistics regarding a religious nation exhibit a painful prominence of one mode of "uncleanness." And some imagine (2 Pet. iii. 12 and 10) that the national type of religion is to blame for that. But one who sets himself to inquire as to facts, finds cause to believe that, in fact, where the national type of religion really has hold of that nation, namely, in its "evangelical" churches, that offence is almost unknown. This is impressive as showing what a purifying influence on life there is in even outward connection with Jehovah's temple, amid the "pollutions" of the world: esspecially in view of the fact that all other temples are found to be, like socialism, polluting in their influence (though they may not, like socialism, make pollution statutory). That purifying influence, counteracting poison in the body politic (Isa. i. 9), is a very great economical advantage to a community—and every one knows the fact of its existence,
Of unobserved positive beneficence, there may thus be a vast amount reaching the whole community (Gal vi. 10; cf. Matt. v. 45–48). Who, within the community as known to us individually, are as a class benefactors? Has socialism ever been like Isa. xxxv.? In an important town, far from being universally Christian in profession, a memorial is got up, of such a nature that those who sign it are of course the pronounced Christians of the community. Then, when one calls attention to the point, every one sees the fact, that, almost with no exception, the memorial has in it the names of all those individuals, then alive in the town, who in that generation have done anything worth remembering in the way of self-sacrificing endeavor to promote the temporal wellbeing of that community, especially of the poor. The town is now adorned with magnificent public gardens, free library, town hall, people's park and fountains,—all of which are the gifts of individuals who, rivals in trade, but emulous page 56 in beneficence, are members of the churches. There may be similar facts everywhere in Christendom, unobserved as the vital air, or as the goodness of God, who "giveth food to all flesh, because his mercy endureth forever."
(3) There are general facts, which are solid ground of inference in the whole question of diagnosis as to the life of Christianity,—looking at the complexion, feeling the pulse-beat from the heart. The following two general facts, regarding the time when the invective—on the part of men whose philanthropy appeared mainly in that invective—about a torpid inefficiency of Christianity was beginning to flash its maiden sword, are of that character, and full upon the mark.
1 Title of Hawkesley's work, cited by Greg in "Mistaken Aims," etc.
The following tale of fact points more distinctly to Christianity as the benefactor:—
1 Life, by Hanna.
Some can travel from Dan to Beersheba and find all barren; because "to him that hath shall be given." It has not been so with us. But here it is satisfactory to have what we now proceed to cite, namely—
1 Essays: Political and Social—"The Scotch Poor-law."
The following quotations are from his "Rationalism in Europe." 1 The numbering and the headings are ours.
1. The great stream is now flowing.—"If it be true Christianity to dive with a passionate energy into the darkest recesses of misery and vice, to irrigate every quarter of the world with the fertilizing stream of an almost boundless benevolence, and to in chide all the sections of society in the circle of an intense and efficacious sympathy; if it he true Christianity to destroy or weaken the barriers which separated class from class and nation from nation, to free war from its harshest elements, and to make a consciousness of essential equality and of a genuine fraternity dominate over all accidental differences; if it be, above all, true Christianity to cultivate the love of truth for its own sake, in a spirit of candor and of tolerance toward those from whom we differ—if these be the marks of a true and healthy Christianity, then never since the days of the apostles has it been so vigorous as at present" (vol. i. pp. 186, 187).
2. The perennial fountain of that stream.—" Although it is true that during many centuries the philanthropist was placed on a far lower level than at present, it is not the less true that charity was one of the earliest, as it was one of the loveliest, creations of Christianity; and that, independently of the incalculable mass of suffering it has assuaged, the influence it has exercised in softening and purifying the character, in restraining the passions and enlarging the sympathies of mankind, has made it one of the most important elements of our civilization. The precepts and examples of the gospel struck a chord of pathos that the noblest philosophies of antiquity had never reached" (vol. ii. p. 244).
1 Fifth Edition.
4. Illustrative case of slavery.—[The view which Mr. Lecky gives, we had long ago formed independently as now expressed in this article. He states, that among the Greeks and Romans labor had come to be despised, and to be deemed infamous for freemen—cf. "mean whites" in American slave States—; and that of the mass of slaves the condition was hopeless: but that there came in two ameliorating circumstances,—(I) a certain sentiment of tenderness toward slaves, which rose in the moral ruin of the Roman empire, and (a) the "barbarian M invasion, tending toward abolition of slavery. Then he proceeds as follows],—
"But when the fullest allowance is made for these influences, it will remain an undoubted fact that the reconstruction of society was mainly the work of Christianity, Other influences could produce the manumission of many slaves, but Christianity alone could produce the profound change of character that rendered possible the abolition of slavery. There are few circumstances more striking, and at the same [few] more instructive, than the history of that great transition. The Christians did not preach a revolutionary doctrine. They did not proclaim slavery altogether unlawful, or, at least, not until the Bull of Alexander III. in the twelfth century. But they steadily sapped at the basis, by opposing to it the doctrine of universal brotherhood, and by infusing a spirit of humanity into all the relations of society" (p. 236).
5. Civilization an effect of the gospel.—"Missionary enterprises an d commercial enterprises are the two main agents for the diffusion of civilization. They commonly advance together, and each has very frequently been the precursor of the other" (p. 249).
The reference to the civilizing effect of this religion (emollit mores, Nec sinit esse feros) recalls to mind the fact that, while it has created the modern civilization, it is every day now producing the same beneficent effect; e. g., in the South Sea islands transforming communities which within our memory were sunk in the lowest cannibal savagery, into orderly societies, which in important respects would favorably compare with the best conditioned Christian communities in the northern hemisphere. There are tragic illustrations of the need, where commerce has broken the ground, of Christianity for planting and watering. It is the only power on earth that is doing such work (Isa. lv. 10–13). page 61 Socialism has shown itself powerful only to destroy (the word for "power" in Acts, i. 8, is dynamis—but the dynamite there is not atheistic force).
At the beginning of the first of the above quoted passages, Mr. Lecky has passed from a strain of in effect disparagement of the catholic doctrines of Christianity, regarding the divine-human person and redeeming work of Christ. in favor of the Christian practice he proceeds to eulogize. The historical fact is—as was anticipated by Christ and his apostles (John xv. 3; xx. 31; Matt. xvi. 16–19)—that the practice has been the fruit of the doctrines vitally apprehended. Slavery was destroyed, not by a viewy sentimental humanitarianism, but by the apprehended fact of redemption through the atoning sacrifice of God incarnate.1 So of the whole great work of new creation in the primitive time, and all that is characteristic in the philanthropic life of recent Christendom. As a matter of historical fact, it all has been, and is. in substance and heart, a fruit of belief in incarnation and redemption. Movements which appear to have a different origin may be found on close inspection to be only eddies of that great stream, satellites of that sun (Gen. iii. 15. xii. 3).
1 See in Shakespeare the theology of the Crusades, of the heroic new life in the Middle Ages.