A Lay Sermon on the Land:
Advertiser Printing Office Adelaide : Waymouth Street.1884.
A Lay Sermon on the Land.
No man can serve two masters; for, either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. Therefore, I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the birds of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the field lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Therefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore, take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.—Matthew VI., 24 to 34.
Sisters and Brothers—All of you have probably heard many sermons on portions of the passage from the Sermon on the Mount, which forms the text or motto of the discourse that I am about to address to you; but I confidently venture to page 4 assert that not one of you ever heard any official expounder of Christian doctrine, at any time, or on any occasion, refer, even in an inferential and casual way, to the teaching of the Founder of the Christian Faith on the land question; or, to be more precise, on the relation which human beings occupy, or ought to occupy, towards the land on which they live. And yet this is manifestly the subject dealt with in the paragraph I have selected for our consideration this morning. On this most vital, important, and urgent of all the economical, political, social, moral, and religious questions of the day, the Church has been silent; and, if we except the Catholic Bishop of Meath, the Catholic Archbishop of Cashel, and a few Protestant as well as Catholic clergy, whose utterances on the subject, I may remark, have been strictly non-official, I know of no clergyman of any denomination who has denounced and condemned the inherent and heinous injustice of the existing land system. The attitude of the Christian church in all its varied branches towards the dominant institution of private property in land is, at the present moment, exactly similar to that occupied by the Christian church towards the institution of private property in human beings, before the advocates of the abolition of slavery had virtually triumphed in their noble and heroic endeavours to rid the earth of that foul iniquity. That great and glorious cause was fought for and gained by men and women who were "without the gate" of every ecclesiastical organisation, and they won it by their own devoted efforts, without the assistance of any of the recognised authorities or officials of any of the churches. The emancipation of the bodies and souls of human beings from the thraldom of slavery has now, however, been heartily welcomed and adopted by the vast majority of the men and women who bear the Chistian name, and it has even been accepted by them as a practical application of Christianity to the regulation of the relations of human beings towards one another. But as yet very few Christians are aware that there is flourishing in every Christian country an institution which is essentially as unjust and as iniquitous, and which, perhaps, exercises even a still more widespread, disastrous, and evil influence on the souls and page 5 bodies of men than slavery ever did. In these circumstances, when the clergy of all the churches and their flocks are equally insensible and indifferent to the gigantic evils that reside in and flow from the existing land system, I hope I may be excused if I, a layman, destitute of anything that could possibly be described as authority—and not, I may say, at all concerned about its absence—should attempt, to the best of my ability, to direct attention to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth on this great and most important subject.
I shall begin with an exposition of the passage I have chosen as my text or motto, as the reader may not at a first glance see its bearing upon the land question; and I shall confine myself strictly to it, and avoid reference to other scriptural texts which might be cited in support of my interpretation. It will not be necessary to attempt to give any exhaustive account of the two masters who are contrasted with and opposed to each other in the two opening sentences. God and Mammon embody the conflicting ideas and motives of unselfishness and selfishness; and the preacher assumes that those he addresses hold by the former and despise the latter. It is upon this assumption that his whole argument is based. "Therefore"—that is because you cannot serve God and Mammon, because you cannot, in a spirit of self-sacrifice, devote yourselves to the promotion of the welfare and the elevation of the minds and hearts of your fellow-men, as you in your hearts really wish to do, if you are engrossed in self-seeking, and worried by carking cares—"Therefore," he proceeds, "take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on." There is more than meat and drink and raiment and shelter—which is but another sort of raiment, though it does not directly touch the skin—there is more than these things needed; for, "Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? " Then follows, as the reason why men should not worry themselves about food and clothing, a reference to what some of us would call the economy of Nature, but which Jesus termed the economy of God, as it affects the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Your Heavenly Father feedeth the fowls of the air and clotheth the grass of the field. "Are ye not much page 6 better than they? O, ye of little faith !" Think you, that God, who has provided so bountifully for the wants of the animal creation, and has so sumptuously clothed the lilies of the field, has neglected to provide for the wants of his human creatures? Your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things,—of meat, and drink, and raiment—and He has provided them all for you in amplest abundance. "Therefore," Jesus reiterates, "take no thought," [or to give more emphatic and correct expression to the idea, "take no anxious thought,] saying, What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall webeclothed? " Your trouble and worry cannot really accomplish anything. "Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for the rest? " It is God alone who giveth the increase. Human labor and skill cannot actually and really produce anything. Our economists tell us, and tell us truly, that land and labor are the primary factors of production, the primary sources of all wealth. The land, indeed, is the source of all wealth, of everything that maintains human existence, and contributes to human comfort; and the land, including the sea and the atmosphere, is the only source of wealth. All wealth, in short, comes originally from nature. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof."
Labor and skill may, however, increase the yield of the soil, and the water, and the heat, and the light; and may, and do, fashion the produce into forms that render it more attractive and useful, and more permanently attractive and useful, to man than it was in its natural state; and this service is not only of the very greatest importance, but it is even absolutely indispensable. Man has high and necessary functions to perform with hand, head, and heart; and is not, like the rest of the animal and vegetable creation, like the birds of the air and the grass of the field, an involuntary and unconscious element in the natural order of things; but, by his mind and will, he can assist, or retard and defeat—within certain limits, no doubt, but to an extent that may determine the fate or fortune of countless thousands of his fellow beings—the obvious designs, the aims, and the objects of creation. He lias a choice before him; he can, as Jesus puts it, serve either page 7 God or Mammon. He may neglect and ignore and trample upon the rights of his fellow beings, and concentrate his whole heart and mind and soul on the promotion of his own interests, and the interests of his family, and of the class who enjoy similar privileges to himself; or he may strive devotedly to redress the wrongs of the poor and the weak, and to live and act in the spirit of what Theodore Parker well calls "the one religion—love to the Father and love to the Son—to mankind here on earth, for mankind is the Son of God."
I shall only be following out this line of thought if I pass on, and complete my survey of the argument in the paragraph with which I am dealing. Having counselled his hearers against taking anxious thought about the necessaries of life, and shown them that their Heavenly Father knoweth that they have need of all these things, and plenteously provides them all, Jesus at once proceeds to state the conclusion of the whole matter. "But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." What is the Kingdom of God? That is the first question that has to be grappled with; and, if it be possible, answered conclusively. Well, I think that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom or realm where good prevails. Justice, equity, and fraternity must prevail there; and, mark, it is not only the "Kingdom of God" that Jesus urges his hearers to seek to establish, and to maintain, but also the "righteousness" of God; and the certain result of the establishment of the kingdom or righteousness of God, and even of an earnest and true seeking after it, will, the Great Teacher assures us, be that all these things—meat and drink and raiment—will be "added" unto us. God has provided meat and drink and raiment to supply all the wants of the human family as bountifully and beneficently as He has supplied the wants of the birds of the air and the grass of the field; but the distribution of the necessaries of life, which God has furnished for mankind, is determined, in a large measure, by man himself, and if man does not "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness," and manage his affairs in accordance with the principles of God's kingdom and God's righteousness, the vast page 8 majority of the human race will be deprived of the bounty of Heaven. The solution that Jesus indicates of the problem raised by the widespread and constant anxiety caused by poverty in a world where there is superabundance to supply all the needs and desires of the whole human race, seems to me to be the establishment of a system of Government by laws that embody the principle of righteousness; and this is the principle which is most utterly frustrated by the land system under which the people of this country, and the people throughout nearly the whole of Christendom, are now keenly suffering.
It would certainly be a serious defect in the Christian religion if it did not comprise any maxim or principle by which the justice or injustice, the legitimacy or illegitimacy, of property in land could be decided; for on the land system, or the relation in which the people stand towards the soil on which and from which they live, the fabric of society is necessarily based, and its character and stability are determined. Does the soil and the water—sea, river, and lake, as well as continent and island—rightly belong to the people, or only to a small section of the people, who, through "possession," and not through any merit of their own, neither through their wisdom and their virtue, nor through any service they have ever rendered to their fellow men, hold these natural agents as their exclusive private property. In truth, and as a necessary consequence of that unjust and immoral position they have occupied and now occupy, the landlord class has exercised, and will ever exercise, a most baneful influence alike on the moral and material condition of the community that is subject to its rule. There is no possibility of denying that the power which property in land puts into the hands of a few has had a most demoralising influence on its holders; and it is even, if possible, still more clear and unmistakable that the power of life and death which the possession of land as private property allows the landlord class to wield has sunk the masses in every country in which it has been instituted to extreme depths of poverty and degradation, and has even not infrequently starved thousands to death, in this fair world of page 9 God. To be sure, the great body of the people have been themselves largely to blame. They have not had the intelligence to discern, except fitfully, their natural and inalienable, because indispensable, right to the land on which and from which they have always lived, and always must live, and they have not had the necessary public spirit, the necessary interest in and loyalty towards their fellow men; or, in Jesus' words, they have not sought after "the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" with that earnestness which would have enabled them to repel the inroads that the sons of Mammon have made on their heritage. Consequently, they find themselves in a far inferior position to that of the birds of the air and the grass of the field as regards the supply of the necessaries of life; being practically excluded from all participation in the bounty provided by their Creator and the Creator of the world, and reduced to a state of subjection and servitude, under which they owe their very existence to the sufferance of the privileged class that legally, but unjustly, hold possession of the soil.
Here it occurs to me to ask if it was the aim and intention of the founder of the Christian religion to establish "the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" upon this earth, during the lapse of time; or, as many of the official expounders of his doctrines seem to believe and teach, did he only entertain the idea of establishing God's Kingdom in Heaven, throughout the eternity of the future, or in some other world than this? In my opinion, Jesus clearly meant to establish God's Kingdom here and now. In the prayer that He taught His disciples the very first petition to the Father runs:—"Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven," and God's will, certainly, can never be done on earth so long as the gigantic evil and injustice of property in land prevails, and the vast majority of the human race are deprived of and excluded from their primary and indispensable right to a natural element that is as necessary to their existence and their welfare as is the air they breathe. Heinrich Heine was, perhaps, a somewhat strange apostle of these latter days; but he was, as he described himself, "A gallant soldier of the Holy G host," and he believed in the possibility of establishing, and in his own queer way worked for the establishment of, the page 10 Kingdom of Heaven here, under the sky, as well as above it. One of his poems opens with this verse:—
Ein neues lied, ein besseres lied,
O, freunde, will ich euch dichten,
Wir wolleu hier, auf erden, schou,
Das Himmel's—reicli errichten.
(A new song, a better song, O ! friends, will I sing to you. We shall here, on this earth, soon set up the very Kingdom of Heaven).
One word more before closing, or rather, before breaking off, this discourse. Of course, the layman who has given utterance to these somewhat disjointed thoughts will be laughed at for seriously and earnestly advocating the seeking after an earthly "Kingdom of Heaven" that would secure the just distribution of meat and drink and raiment to all mankind; and I fear that Christian men and women will regard him as an enthusiast, or even as an ecstatic, notwithstanding the plain injunctions of the Founder of their Faith. He will, doubtless, be told that the world cannot be governed by just and noble and self-denying men, but must always be under subjection to "sovereigns and statesmen," and be ruled by "blood and iron." And I frankly confess that but little progress has been made since the execution of Jesus towards the establishment on earth of anything approximating to His Kingdom of Heaven, but, nevertheless, I shall continue to cherish the aspiration, and to seek after and work for its practical realisation; and it is my firm conviction that, at the present moment, the best and most needed service that can be done to the human race is the promulgation of sound doctrines in regard to the land, with the view to its eventual, and, I hope, speedy resumption by the people whose inalienable and indispensable heritage it is.
Printed at the Advertiser General Printing Offices, Adelaide
The South Australian
Land Nationalization Society.
1.—To stop the further sale of all Crown Lands.
2.—To, by repurchase, restore to the State the ownership of land already sold.
3.—To provide for the leasing of all lands on such terms as shall ensure to the State a fair rental, and to the tenant full security for his improvements and the results of his industry.
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