I PROPOSE to bring these addresses to a conclusion by an unusual step, and to read you a sermon of Charles Kingsley's. And I do this because I feel that all I have been trying to say to you is gathered up and emphasized in what you will admit to be a very powerful discourse. I do not apologize for reading the sermon; I do not think it likely that many of you have come across it. It is not m-. eluded in any collection or book of Kingsley's sermons of which I know.
The circumstances in which it was preached are memorable.
The year 1851 was the year of the Great Exhibition, the forerunner of all other exhibitions all over the world. It was regarded by the enthusiasts of the time as a sort of great International Sacrament of peace and goodwill and brotherhood among men, and it had gathered round it a quite unusual amount of popular sympathy and interest. The artisans of the Midlands and the North of England crowded into London to see this new thing. The more enterprising clergy arranged special services for the benefit of these visitors. At one of these services, the evening service on Sunday, the 22nd June, 1851, in S. John's, Fitzroy Square, the invited preacher was Charles Kingsley, and the subject put before him was "The Message of the Church to Working Men." He preached this sermon; and at the end of it the vicar got up in his stall and said publicly to the congregation that he wholly disagreed with the social doctrine which Kingsley had laid down. Kingsley's friends at once sent his sermon to the press. It was printed exactly as delivered, without one word being altered, indeed Kingsley did not see it again till it was in print. '
In this sermon we have his teaching on Social Churchmanship. It is for you to judge between him and the offended vicar.
The text, was taken from S. Luke iv. 16-21: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted., to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
"The notion of the Christian Church is associated in the minds of many, with the notion of priest-craft and kingcraft; of the slavery of the intellect, persecution and tyranny; and it would be ridiculous to deny that they have cause enough for connecting the thought of it with those fearful sins of man against man. The history ot the Church in every age is full of sad tales ot the sins of the clergy against the people. But the honest and thoughtful man who reads such tales, whatever just indignation he will feel against the doers of them, will pause before he condemns and throws away from him the Church and Christianity itself, for the sins of the men who had the preaching thereof. He is bound by every law of fairness, to ask himself--These tyrannies, persecutions, enslavements of the intellect, trucklings to the rich and the powerful of the earth, were they in accordance with the spirit of the Church, or were they contradictory to it? Were men priests in as far as they did such things; or may they not, in doing them, have been acting exactly contrary to their 'own calling, denying their own orders, and making themselves no priests at all by the very act of tyranny and bigotry? I assert the latter. I assert that the business for which God sends a Christian priest to a Christian nation is to preach and practise liberty, equality, and brotherhood, in the fullest, deepest, widest, simplest meaning of these three great words; that, in so far as he so does, he is a true priest, doing his Lord's work, with his Lord's blessing on him; that in as far as he does not, he is no priest at all, but a traitor to God and man; and that if he persevered in his mistake--and a wilful mistake it must be--about his own work, the Lord of that priest will come in an hour when he is not aware, and in a way that he thinketh not of, and will, in fearful literalness, cut him asunder and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers, where will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
"I assert this in solemn earnest. I believe that the awful words which I have just spoken mean far more than I can conceive. I believe that they apply to me as much as to anyone else; that in saying them I have testified against myself, and called down on my own head the curse of God, if I do not preach the message of God. But I must do so. I must confess the truth, and give every man here a handle against me, on the strength of the words which I have chosen for my text. I say those words express the very pith and marrow of a priest's In! si ness. I say that they preach liberty, equality, and brotherhood to the poor and rich for ever and ever.
"You will all agree, at least, that there is nothing tending to excuse tyranny, pride of class, persecution, or the enslavement of the intellect in them.
"Picture to yourselves, a poor young man, the son of a village girl, who professes to be the Son of God, one with the Almighty Father of heaven and earth. He professes that he is come to show forth God--to declare the likeness of the Almighty Father, Whom no man hath seen or can see--He proves that likeness to be the likeness of a Father. By mighty works of love and mercy, of healing and deliverance, he shows that God is love; that His likeness is not the likeness of a taskmaster, but of a deliverer; not of a tyrant, but of a father, whose love is over all His works. This strange man, going into one of the churches of the country village where he had been brought up, asserts that the Spirit of the Lord fs on him to preach good news to the poor. He elsewhere says what this Gospel or good news is--the good news of the Kingdom of God. The good news that this world is governed by the All-good and All-righteous Maker of it. That He has not left or forgotten it; that all things in it, sad and fearful as they may seem at first sight, are surely for good to the humble, the gentle, the righteous, the sorrowful, the poor, the persecuted. He arrogates for himself the highest spiritual rank and honour, in words which, the moment we attempt to explain them away, or to deny his own assertion that he was indeed Very God the Son of God, become the most frantic blasphemy; and yet he breathes no word of arbitrary power, no word of what the devourers of the earth style a paternal government, no word about implicit and unreasoning submission to His teaching. He is sent, not to drug, not even to comfort, but to heal the broken-hearted; to proclaim deliverance to the captives, whether it be their bodies, their minds, or their hearts that are enslaved. To proclaim to the blind, not that they are to have a guide who will lead them by the hand in their blindness, but recovery of sight, recovery of the power of using their faculties, of seeing their own way, and guiding themselves by their own judgment. Nay, more, he is actually to ' send away at liberty,' so runs the original Greek, those who are crushed. For God's sake, my dear friends, look honestly at the simple straightforward meaning of those words, and see whether they can mean anything but one thing--Freedom. "But if there was one expression of the Lord Jesus on that day which must above all others have given hope to the oppressed poor of Judaea, and struck terror into the hearts of those who had been enslaving their countrymen--adding house to house, and field to field, and making a few rich at the expense of many poor--it must have been the last sentence which He quotes from Isaiah: 'The spirit of the Lord hath anointed Me to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.' Now there would be no doubt in the minds of His hearers as to what He meant, for that year of the Lord, justly called acceptable and pleasant to the many, was one of the wisest of Moses' institutions by which, at the expiration of a certain period, all debtors and bondservants were released, and all the land which had been sold, returned to its original possessor; so that in Judaea there could be no absolute or eternal alienation of the soil, but only, as Moses ordered, a lease of it, according to its value, between the time of sale and the next year of Jubilee. If I wanted proof above all others of the inspired wisdom of Moses, I should choose this unparalleled contrivance for preventing the accumulation of large estates, and the reduction of the people into i the state of serfs and day-labourers. And the acceptable year, the Lord said He was come to preach--that the Spirit of God had anointed Him to proclaim it--that Eternal Spirit of eternal justice and eternal righteousness, whose laws cannot change for any consideration of men's expediency, but true once, are true for ever; and, therefore, if those words of the Lord of all the earth mean anything, my friends, they mean this, that all systems of society which favour the accumulation of capital in a few hands, which oust the masses from the soil which their forefathers possessed of old, which reduce them to the level of serfs and day-labourers, living on wages and on alms, which crush them down with debt, or in any wise degrade or enslave them, or deny them a permanent state in the Commonwealth, are contrary to the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed, contrary to the eternal justice and righteousness of the Spirit of God, contrary to the constitution of man and the Will of his heavenly Father, and contrary to the idea of the Church which witnesses for God's kingdom upon earth and calls all men and nations to enter it and be saved therein in body, and soul, and spirit. And therefore I hold it the duty of every Christian priest, upon the strength of that one single text--even if the whole lesson did not run through the whole of Scripture from beginning to end--to lift up his voice like a trumpet and cry aloud, as I do now, ' How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God.' Woe unto you that are full, for ye have received your consolation already.' Woe unto you that add house to house and field to field, that ye may stand alone in the land till there be no room left.' Woe unto you that make a few rich to make many poor. Woe unto you that make merchandise out of the need of your brethren. Woe unto you who on the hustings and on the platform fall down and humble yourselves, that the congregation of the poor may fall into the hands of your leaders. Woe unto you, for God, the Father of all, is against you; God the Son, the Poor Man of Nazareth, is against you; God the Holy Spirit, Who cannot lie, is against you. There is a way which seemeth right unto a man but the end thereof is death. There is One above Who hath sworn by Himself and cannot lie, that when the people are diminished and brought low through oppression, through any plague or sorrow, then He will pour contempt upon princes, and make them wander out of their way in the wilderness of their own suicidal folly, while He sets the poor on high from affliction and maketh Him households like a flock of sheep."
Here I must epitomize, for time is running short. Kingsley goes on to say that these great watchwords, Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood, it is the duty of every Christian priest to proclaim to men. But he warns his hearers that they must never forget "that alongside of every great truth is certain to be a sham and a counterfeit of that truth, springing from the self-will and narrow views of men, while the truth itself springs from the all-seeing and almighty love of God."
Thus, he says, there are two kinds of Liberty; false liberty, in which a man is free to do as he likes; true liberty, in which he is free to do what he ought--to do, in short, the will of his Father in heaven.
"Again, of Equality there are two kinds, the false which reduces all intellects and all characters to a dead level, and gives the same power to the bad as to the good to the wise as to the foolish, ending thus in practice in the grossest inequality. And there is the true equality wherein each man has equal powers to educate and to use whatsoever faculties or talents God has given him, be they less or more. And there are equal opportunities for unequal characters, and every man is rewarded, not according to the quantity which he has done, but according to the proportion between what he has done and what he was able to do.
"And of Brotherhood, likewise, there are two kinds, the false and the true: the false when a man chooses who shall be his brothers, and whom he will treat as such; when he claims his own class as brothers, and not other classes also; when he claims men of his own opinion, and not men who differ from him; and true brotherhood in which a man believes that all are his brothers, not by the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of the will of God, Whose children they all are alike; when he feels it impossible and absurd to fraternise with one class and not with another, to fraternise with his friends and not with his enemies, as absurd as it would be in him if from private prejudice he called only one of his mother's sons his brother and denied the rest. And this Divine brotherhood which is real and actual and independent of all class and party or opinion or private liking, I say the Church proclaims as a fact, and pronounces the wrath of God against those who break it, and proclaims it as nothing else does."
Then Kingsley says that the Church has three great God-given treasures, the Bible, Holy Baptism, and the Holy Communion.
"Though man may hold his peace, yet God will speak, and through these three great signs. Though man may forget the meaning of the very signs which God has preserved to him, yet to the poor there will always be in the Church a message from their Heavenly Father. In the Bible which proclaims man's freedom, in Baptism which proclaims his equality, in the Supper of the Lord which proclaims his brotherhood. And that not as dim and distant possibilities, for which he is to crave and. struggle, but as his absolute and eternal right which God the Father has given him, which God the Son has bought for him with His Blood, and which God the Holy Spirit will give him wisdom and strength to take possession of and realise whenever he casts under the guidance of God."
I have not time, unfortunately, to read what he says about the message of Freedom in the Bible, but must pass on to the witness of the Sacraments.
"Look again at Baptism, a Sacrament or sign, and what a sign! Thoughtless men have sneered at it from its simplicity, and laughed at the Church for attributing, as they say, miraculous virtues to the sprinkling of a little water, as if the very simplicity of the sign was not in itself a gospel, i.e., good news to the poor, proclaiming that Baptism is the witness of a blessing, and meant not merely for the highborn, or the philosopher, or the genius, but like the rain of heaven and the running brook, free to all, even to the poorest and most degraded; his right, as water is, simply because he is a human being. Baptism works no miracle, it proclaims a miracle which has been from all eternity. It proclaims that we are members of Christ, children of God, citizens of a spiritual kingdom, of a kingdom of love, justice, self-sacrifice, freedom, equality.
"To take a single instance of what I mean--what is the plain and simple meaning of the Baptismal sign but washing, purification, and that alike of the child of the queen and the child of the beggar? It testifies of the right of each, because the will of God for each is that they should be pure.
"And what better witness do you want, my working friends, against that vile neglect which allows tens of thousands in our great cities to grow up hogs in body, soul, and spirit? If we really believe the meaning of that Baptismal sign, we should need no further arguments in favour of sanitary reform, for every savage in St. Giles' would feel that he had a right to say, God's will is that my children should be pure, washed without and within from everything that defiles and degrades man; my child is God's child, God's spirit is with it. It is the temple of the living God, and whosoever defiles the temple of God, him will God destroy.
"And what, my friends, is the message of the Lord's Supper? What more distinct sign and pledge that all men are equal? Wherever in the world there may be inequality, it ceases there. One table, one reverential posture, one bread, one wine, for high and low, for wise and foolish. That Sacrament proclaims that all alike are brothers, because they are all alike brothers of One, all equally His debtors, all equally in need of the pardon which He has bought for them, and that that pardon is equally ready and free to all of them.
"Oh, my dear friends, if the heartfelt experience of one man can bring home to your minds the power of that blessed Sign, hear me and believe me when I tell you, in the hearing of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Poor Man, that to this blessed Sacrament and pledge of brotherhood I at least owe all the little lukewarm love for the people which I do trust and hope I feel. When I have been proud, it has humbled me and said to me, These toilsome labourers and stunted drudges are as great in God's sight--greater, for aught thou knowest, than thou..... When I have been inclined to enjoy myself at ease and let the world run past me, heedless of its moans, Sunday after Sunday has that beloved Sacrament rebuked me and seemed to say to me with the voice of the Poor Man of Nazareth Himself, Look what God would have these poor creatures be, and look what they are. Art thou not living in a lie, fighting against Him Whom thou professest to serve, if thou dost not devote thy every energy to give them those blessings of the Kingdom of God their share which they have claimed here, to educate, civilize and deliver them, in body, mind, and heart?
"When I have been inclined to take offence at people because they disagreed with me, because they seemed ungrateful or unjust to me, then, beyond all arguments, that blessed Sign has recalled me to my senses and said to me, 'See these men with whom thou art angry are thy brothers after all. Their relation to thee is God-given and eternal. Thou didst not choose them; thou didst not join thyself to them; God chose them; God joined thee to them, thou canst not part thyself from them hate them and turn from them if thou darest!'"
"God is my witness I speak the truth when'l tell you that these thoughts are not matters of doctrine but of experience. There is one man at least in this church now who has been awakened from the selfish luxurious dreams of his youth, by that message of the Bible and of the Sacraments, to see the dignity of the people's cause, to feel it at once the most peremptory of duties and the most glorious of privileges to proclaim in the name of Jesus of Nazareth the message of the Church of Christ--that the will of God is good news to the poor, deliverance to the captives, healing to the broken-hearted, light to the ignorant, liberty to the crushed, and to the degraded masses the acceptable year of the Lord, a share and a stake for them and for their children after them, in the soil, the wealth, the civilization, and the government of this English land."