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Churchmanship and Labour
Sermons on Social Subjects Preached at S. Stephen's Church, Walbrook.

Compiled by the Rev. W. Henry Hunt.

London: Skeffington and Son, 1906.

Sermon IV. The Church v. Individualism.

By George W. E. Russell, M.A., LL.D., Lay-Reader in the Diocese of Southwark.

THE motto for this series of addresses will be found in the saying familiar to all of us in a hundred forms: "Am I my brother's keeper? "I say, familiar in a hundred forms, for this saying, which was uttered by the first murderer in extenuation of his crime, has passed into the common language of mankind; it turns up perpetually in literature, in conversation, and in journalism. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Words to that effect, are constantly on men's lips. And the object of these addresses is to remind us that each is in a very real and true sense his brother's keeper. During these next few days I shall try to bring before your minds two or three very small and humble, but I hope practical, ways of realizing the obligation which is imposed upon us.

And if in these addresses I speak more of politics than is usual in a consecrated building, I would plead in extenuation that I am not talking of politics in any controversial or party sense, but of Politics in that larger and higher sense of the word, which concerns the "polis" or "state"--the social interests of the community to which we belong.

Queen Victoria's reign, glorious in many respects as it was, reached in its earlier and middle part the high-water-mark of pure Individualism. Philosophy and politics all tended in one direction; literature and journalism were honeycombed with the same thought. And this doctrine of Individualism took its rise mainly from the great Manchester school, whose ideas dominated the thought of the early and middle part of Queen Victoria's reign. Undoubtedly that school produced some great leaders of thought and action; and their chief work was to set every man and woman free to work out his or her own vocation as God would have them work it out, without let or hindrance. And so far it was good. So far we have every reason to be thankful for those who secured our civil and individual freedom.

But before very long the doctrine of Individualism was played out, for it rested on some absolutely false assumptions. One of these was that every man and woman, even every child, was capable of finding his or her own level in the world, of working out his or her own salvation, without the assistance of anyone from outside. Another was that universal selfishness could do the work of universal love. The utilitarian creed was, in effect, if not in actual words, "Every man for himself, and the Devil take the hindmost." It was the gospel of the Survival of the Fittest, which is the scientific expression of the same thought.

Presently (but not until Individualism had enjoyed a long and disastrous reign), men began to rebel against the intolerable pressure or Labour which was produced by this gospel of unrestricted competition. The conscience of mankind revolted against the doctrine that every man must think of himself, and of himself alone. This revolt found expression in the Chartist movement of 1848; it was expressed by Charles Kingsley, and the Christian Socialists, as well as by the secular Chartists of the time. They taught that Political Reform is related to Social Reform merely as the means to the end, and that the end is the creation of better moral and material surroundings for those who cannot help themselves. It took shape in Trades Unions, and in Co-operation. By these and many other forms mankind began to express its disapprobation of a system which cultivated individual interests, and then trusted the social interests and well-being of the world to luck or chance.

During the last twenty or thirty years there has been a renewed revolt against that teaching in Christian and religious circles. The sense that Social Reform should be an object of paramount importance to Christians, has spread widely in the Church. The existence of the Christian Social Union alone is a witness to that conviction. We feel the obligation to do something to make the load of life more tolerable to our fellow-Christians. Socialism, Social Democracy, and even Communism, I suppose, were attempts to realize the same great ideal.

Now the instinct of social work, the idea of self-sacrifice for the many, of united effort for the common cause which is the good of all, is perfectly satisfied by the conception of the Holy Catholic Church. Of course I know that to many the Church has come to mean simply an institution for the spiritual advantage chiefly of the wealthier classes; but that, surely, is a grotesque parody of the Church, which in its fulness and glory means nothing else than a spiritual society founded by our Lord Himself, to be His Kingdom on earth. The Church is a great Mutual Benefit Society, the greatest which has ever existed among men, and the salvation which the Church offers us is no selfish or solitary thing. It might have pleased God to save us simply as individuals; instead it has pleased Him to save us in and through the Church; we are saved as "members of a body," here and hereafter.

And if we realize what is involved in being members of the Holy Catholic Church, we cannot rest until we are doing something, however little it may be, towards making this mutual helpfulness a more real thing than it was before. The Bible comes to us with lessons tending in this direction on every page. We are "Members one of another;" "Let him that loveth God, love his brother also;" "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;" "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." S. John the Divine, the loved disciple, who lay on our Lord's bosom at the Last Supper, and who was the deepest theologian of the early Church, is the strongest and clearest of all the inspired writers on this great lesson of mutual love and social service. He makes it a test: "By this we know that we have passed out of death into life." Why? How? Not because we have accepted the Christian Creed, not even by participation in the Sacraments, but "because we love the brethren."

The Church then, in its Ideal, is a great Union for the purpose of helping the world onward, and making it a better place--that is the Ideal. But how different is the Reality!

Every year we live I think we must see more clearly that the social idea of the Church is really the truest; that it makes just the difference between being saved as units and individuals, and being saved as Church-people.

We are members of a body, bound to one another by mutual obligations. This ideal, when it first flashes into our minds, seems to open up quite a new view of life; to colour and glorify all human existence. In the Bidding Prayer which we have just prayed, we pray for the whole human race, and although as we know the whole human race is not yet included in the Church, yet for the whole human race the Church holds a commission and charge from her Lord. The Church is not the Church of any nation, race, place, or state. Her Divine Master intended that she should be co-extensive with humanity. And everyone of us may do something towards turning that Ideal into Reality.

But our practice falls painfully short of what it ought to be and might be. Some of us have shaken off the fetters of Individualism. We have accepted, with our lips, at least, this much more glorious creed of mutual service and cooperation; but how little there really is of social life even in the best organized Parish Church! I know, of course, quite well, that things are much better than they were twenty years ago, and that is due in great measure to the labours and teaching of the men who founded the Christian Social Union, but even so it falls very, very far short of what it ought to be.

When we call ourselves Churchmen, we think first and foremost of our citizenship of the Kingdom of Christ; but for everyone of us that Kingdom is represented on a small scale by the particular Church to which we belong, in which we worship, at whose altar we receive the Most Holy Sacrament. And that is the place, the sphere, in which we should carry out, though on a small scale, the great principles of mutual co-operation and sympathy.

But very few of us consider that the fact of being fellow-communicants creates any real demand on our sympathy or help. Most of us worship year after year in a church, seeing the same faces round us, kneeling next to us at the altar, and yet go out into the world and treat them as strangers.

Again and again complaint has reached me from young men who have come up to London to seek their fortunes; they have left home and friends and all companionship behind them, and have come up to hard toil in this grasping, grinding city. They are cut off from all the enjoyments and amenities of a young man's natural life; and the Church is just the place where they might find what they need. The Church might supply a young man with these natural enjoyments, all the more delightful because they would be pure and good. But does the Church? That is the point. Again and again it has been said to me, "I have found such and such a church; I like the preaching and the ritual; I make my Communions there; but I don't know anybody. Nobody has taken me up. Nobody has shown me any help; nobody has said anything to me; nobody is interested in me."

Well, there is a way in which everyone of us could do something to realize the social ideal of the Catholic Church. We could stretch out the right hand of fellowship to our brother-worshippers, and do something to break down a little of our national English stiffness and shyness, and enable people to realize what, as a matter of fact they do feel in their hearts--the bond which unites all those who meet together in the mystical Body of Christ. Very different would be the aspect of the world if we all did that.

I shall try during the next few days to bring out other aspects of this truth; to represent the Church as an "Army" embattled against evil; the Church as a "Family" united in mutual love and service, and the Church in its relation to Citizenship.

These thoughts may teach us something of habitual self-discipline and unselfishness, and may inspire us with a real desire to help others who need it; they may teach us the way of sacrifice which, after all, is the way of the Holy Cross; they may help us to attain to a more perfect realization of that love and brotherhood which is the ideal of the Church on earth.

And as we reflect on the great victories for Righteousness and Mercy which the Church has won in the long battle-line of history, and then compare them with the spectacle all around us of Christian congregations which have fallen so far below the ideal, and feeble efforts made for human good, and indifference to human wretchedness, then we may bethink ourselves, not unprofitably in this time of special self-examination, whether after all the fault may be, not in the Church itself, but in us who compose it.

Truly said Charles Kingsley, a man who sympathized, if ever man did, with the social and religious questionings of his day:--

"Wake again, Teutonic father-ages,
Speak again, beloved Primaeval Creeds;
Flash ancestral spirit from your pages--
Wake the drowsy age to noble deeds.

"Tell us how, of old, our Saintly Mothers
Schooled themselves by vigil, fast, and prayer;
Learn'd to love, as Jesus loved before them,
While they bore the Cross which poor men bear.

"Tell us how our stout crusading fathers
Fought and won for God, and not for gold;
Let their love, their faith, their boyish daring,
Distance-mellowed, gild the days of old.

"Ye, who built the churches where we worship,
Ye, who framed the laws by which we move;
Fathers, long belied and long forgotten,
Oh! forgive the children of your love."

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