Sermon VII. The Church and Citizenship. By George W. E. Russell, M.A., LL.D., Lay-Reader in the Diocese of Southwark.
HITHERTO I have been speaking of what we may do in our private capacity to realize in a practical way our obligations of mutual service. To-day I turn to what we can do in our public capacity--what we can do as voters and citizens. I said in my first address that I might possibly be led by my subject into language more political than is commonly heard in churches. But you will understand that I do not use the word "political" in any party sense, but in that wider sense which concerns the secular well-being of the State.
I believe that some of the doctrines which I propose to advance are accepted by most men in both of the two great political parties which divide the State. Indeed, representatives of every form and shade of political opinion are to be found in the Christian Social Union.
It was S. Paul's boast that he was "a citizen of no mean city," and every Londoner can say the same; and the reason I have chosen for to-day's subject "Citizenship" is that I wish to enforce on your attention the truth that, professing to be Christians, we are bound to take our Citizenship seriously, and exercise it in accordance with what we believe to be our Divine Master's Will. Our Lord Jesus Christ, from all eternity God, is also perfect Man; He is the King of all human life, secular as well as sacred, and our loyalty to Him, if it is a reality, must govern us on week-days as well as on Sundays, and must regulate not only our Churchmanship, but our vote, and all our conduct and life as citizens.
A vote is, in a scriptural sense, a "Talent," for the right use of which we shall have one day to render an account. Citizenship is a trust confided to us, not for our own advantage, but for the benefit of those who are unable to help themselves: We, as self-governing citizens, as partners in our small degree in this great Empire, are trustees for the well-being of "those for whom misgovernment means not mortified pride, or stinted luxury, but pain, -and want and degradation, and risk to their own lives and their children's souls."
I do not distinguish to-day between the various kinds of votes, between votes at Parliamentary elections, votes for Municipal Governing bodies, for County Councils, Borough Councils or Boards of Guardians, for the same principle of responsibility applies to all.
Believing in the Incarnation, and that by the Incarnation our Lord sanctified human nature for all time, we must reverence the body as being by Him redeemed, and with Him incorporated, and must set the highest value on human life. The maintenance of human life, the cultivation of public health as leading up to that, is one of the prime duties of a Christian state. And yet I fear that during the greater part of English history, almost down to within the last twenty years, the creed of most public bodies with reference to sanitary administration has practically been that of the sarcastic couplet from Clough's poem, "The New Decalogue ":--
"Thou shalt not kill, but need's! not strive Officiously to keep alive."
Well, our duty as Christian voters is exactly the opposite of that. It is our duty by all means in our power to keep alive those whose very existence depends in so large a degree on the conditions under which they do their daily work. And legislation, sanitary legislation, the administration of laws already passed; care for a pure water-supply, the improvement of insanitary and overcrowded dwellings, are practical ways in which the bodies, of which you and I are electors even if we are not members, can serve .the interest of the State.
What chance, for instance, in the matter of overcrowding, is there--I will not say for longevity, but .for ordinary health and decency or morality, when whole families are herded together in a single room?
Your friend and neighbour in this City, Henry Scott Holland, some few years ago threw out this thought of the horrors of London overcrowding in words of burning eloquence:--"'Home, sweet Home?' Yes, that is a song which goes straight to every English heart. For forty years we have asked Adelina Patti to sing nothing else. It is a song which speaks to every English heart, and from the four quarters of the globe it is echoed by those whose eyes turn longingly to home, and fills them with tender and sweet memories. But there is another side of the picture. There are thousands of our people living to-day in one room for each family, and for all these the word 'home' has ceased to have any meaning. What memories can it have, what experiences to which we can appeal when we bring to the poor the saving news of a 'home' in heaven and a 'household' of God? 'Home, sweet Home;' yes, indeed, a song that stirs our hearts with tender memories, but which is sung to-day to the devil's piping in many a dingy London street."
It is the duty of Governing Bodies to deal sharply with "bad houses" in the sense of insanitary and overcrowded houses; and it is not less a duty in a State which realizes what is meant by manly virtue, to keep a sharp eye on those which are "bad houses" in another sense--places of sin and of crime as well. It is for the Church to deal with the sin; it is for the State to deal with the crime; and the Borough Councils, which have full authority to make an end of these glaring evils within their jurisdiction, if only they choose to do so, should enforce the well-known Act of George II.
Then with regard to Education. This has been entrusted by recent legislation to that great administrative body, the London County Council. And we must see to it that we use our vote so as to return to Council fit men who will do their utmost according to their legal power for the physical, intellectual, and moral interests of the children entrusted to their care. There can be no meaner or more pitiful outcry than that which is sometimes raised by the well-to-do, comfortable, prosperous classes about expenditure on the education of the poor. To put the issue in its vulgarest form, compare what, as a nation, we spend on drink and what, as a nation, we spend on education, and we shall have good reason to be ashamed of our national housekeeping.
Some seventy years ago, Sydney Smith, who is better known to most of us as a humorist than as an educationist, preaching here in S. Paul's Cathedral, said, "When I see the village school and the tattered scholars, and the aged master or mistress, imparting the mechanical art of reading or writing, and thinking they are doing nothing else, I feel that they are really protecting life, insuring property, fencing the Altar, guarding the Throne, giving scope and liberty to all the finer powers of man, lifting him up to his proper place in the order of creation." These are not bad words for an educationist preaching nearly seventy years ago. I think we who are Churchmen may take pride in the fact that in this matter, as in many other matters of secular beneficence, the Church has led the State. In the darkest days of social exclusiveness the Church gave freely to men what is now secured to them by law. Bishop Butler, the great author of the "Analogy," preaching in 1745, on behalf of the Charity schools of Westminster, anticipated and rebutted by anticipation, the views of those who 150 years later selfishly opposed the demands for popular education. He speaks of the successive changes in the world, and shows that there are certain forms of knowledge which have now become necessary. He urges the hardship of excluding children from that knowledge, and ridicules with characteristic satire the absurdity and selfishness of those who are "so extremely apprehensive of the danger to poor persons therefrom, while they do not appear at all concerned at the like danger for themselves or their own children in respect of riches or power, although the danger of perverting these advantages is surely as great, and the consequences more serious."
And now having spoken of education, let me state my own strong conviction that if we compel children to learn -we are bound also to supply them with food. To compel a child to work with a half-nourished body is to torture it. Of course one knows that there are very great difficulties in the way of offering charity to all alike. But there could surely be some method of distinguishing between those who want it, and those who do not. It ought to be possible under some reasonable system to provide the children who are in want with one good meal in the day. And if anyone is found to grumble at the cost, let him ask any teacher in a National or Elementary school to describe the miserable scraps of food on which some of the children subsist, and compare that with the comfortable meals which he deems necessary for his own children; and let -him ask God to take away his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh.
The bodies and intellects of the children are our national capital, to be traded with and accounted for in the great Day of all Accounting. If we waste it we shall certainly suffer for it here, and are not unlikely to fall out of our place in the commercial life of the world. Within the last ten years five or six boys educated at Board Schools, as we used to call them, have attained the very highest mathematical honours at Cambridge; and the present Cabinet contains as we know two Board School boys. Surely we ought not to rest until we are able to say to any little urchin whom we can rake in, taking him by the hand, and pointing to these two examples, "Go thou and do likewise!"
Then there is another governing body, the Board of Guardians. It has always seemed to me extraordinary, considering how great is the power of a Board of Guardians in mitigating the sufferings of the very poor, that so little attention is bestowed as a rule upon elections for that most important Local Authority. We ought to see to it that we do our best to return men who will do their utmost to bring the working of the Poor Law into harmony with Christian charity. For my own part I hold rather strongly that a difference should, and can in many instances, be made between deserving and undeserving poverty. For the poverty which a man brings on himself by idleness, drunkenness, etc., the workhouse may be the proper place--a place of penance and possibly of restoration; but for undeserved poverty, which overtakes old, honest and hardworking people, when their day's work is done, when their working power has failed, and they have no children to support them, for such as these, I maintain, Christian instincts require that provision should be made at home. When a man has done his level best to serve his generation, and keep himself off the rates, he is entitled in the evening of his days to public assistance such as shall make the end of life endurable to him; he is entitled to this as well as the soldier, the sailor, policeman, or the Civil Servant. Until Parliament gives us some rational scheme of Old Age Pensions I submit that a Board of Guardians ought to make far more liberal use than hitherto has been the case, of a system of outdoor relief.
Men, who were undergraduates of Oxford when I was, will probably remember' as well as I do myself, the great sermon by Dr. Pusey, in which he exposed with characteristic solemnity the harshness and un-Christian working of the Poor Law as then administered. He said:--
"Shall we say to our Lord when He comes down to be our Judge, when we shall behold Him Whom we, by our sins, have pierced--'True Lord, I denied myself nothing for Thee; the times were changed, and I could not but change with them. I ate and drank, for Thou too didst eat and drink with the publicans and sinners. I did not give to the poor, but I paid what I was compelled to the Poor Rate, of the height of which I complained. I did not take in little children in Thy Name, severed indeed from father and mother, but they were provided for, they were sent to the workhouse to be taught or not about Thee, as might be. I did not feed Thee when hungry, Political Economy forbade it, but I increased the work of the labour market with the manufacture of my luxuries. I did not visit Thee when sick, but the parish doctor looked in on his ill-paid rounds. I did not clothe Thee when naked, I could not afford it, and the rates were so high, but there was the workhouse for Thee to go to. I did not take Thee in as a stranger, but it was provided that Thou mightest go to the casual ward. Had I known it was Thou!' And He shall say, 'Inasmuch as thou didst it not unto one of the least of these, thou didst it not unto Me.'"
I hope that I have not unduly obtruded my own private and particular views. I have appealed to that deep-rooted conviction we all have in common that if we are the followers of the Lord Jesus, the attempt to follow Him must mean something more than a matter of mere religious observance. It must mean a practical effort to relieve the bodies as well as the souls of our brothers and sisters in the great human family, and towards doing so our private and individual efforts may help much in this direction. But we have not exhausted our duty when we have done what we can privately. We have to carry the same principle into our political action, and use our vote so as to secure that the Governing Bodies which administer temporal concerns should be manned by men who really will have a heart and a conscience in the matter, and who, though they may not call themselves by the Christian name, yet recognize the justice and the reasonableness of the demands which we make upon them in the Name of Christ.
Our Lord has given us as citizens of England the power, and with the power most assuredly the duty, of helping to enlarge the boundaries of the Kingdom of God by making the lives of men brighter, sweeter, and more human. Let nobody fob himself off with the miserable excuse that he is too poor, too insignificant, too unknown or unimportant to make any contribution to this great end. Wherever the duties of citizenship are done, or the privileges of citizenship exercised, there the Christian obligation of social service may be gloriously fulfilled or shamefully abandoned. Truly said George Eliot:--"The growing good of the world is mainly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not as ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and now rest in unvisited graves."