"And all that believed were together and had all things common; and parted them to all men, as every man had need." Acts ii. 44.
NO doubt many of us often wonder what kind of a city was that City of Destruction from which Bunyan fled. We may perhaps think that it was something like the evil side of London. We feel that, although the Christian Religion does not consist in fleeing from the Cities of Destruction, but in undertaking the heroic task of reforming them, we cannot help sympathising with Bunyan, because the task seems so tremendous, the task of building the City of God in London, in Liverpool, in Manchester! Matthew Arnold has said: "We call ourselves in the sublime and aspiring language of religion, 'Children of God.' Children of God! It is an immense pretension, and how are we to justify it? By the work which we do, by the words which we utter, and the works which we collectively, as children of God, do? Our grand centre of life, which we have builded for ourselves to dwell in, is: LONDON." London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds--England, a nation of cities, with five million lives whose existence, according to Sir Richard Giffin, is a stain on our civilisation.
Mr. Frederick Harrison has said: "To me at least it would be enough to condemn modern society as hardly an advance on slavery or serfdom if the permanent condition of industry were to he that which we behold. Ninety per cent, of the actual producers of wealth have no home that they can call their own beyond the end of the week; they have no bit of soil, or so much as a room that belongs to them; they have nothing of value of any kind except as much old furniture as will go on a cart, and the precarious chance of weekly wages which barely suffice to keep them in health; and they are housed for the most part in places that no man thinks fit for his horse."
Professor Huxley, writing in the Nineteenth Century in 1888, said: "Anyone who is acquainted with the state of the population of all the great industrial centres, whether in England or in other countries, is aware that amidst a large and increasing body of that population there reigns supreme that condition which the French call La Misere, a word for which I do not think there is any exact English equivalent. It is a condition in which the food, warmth, and clothing which are necessary for the mere maintenance of the functions of the body in their normal state cannot be obtained."
In the early Church certain obligations were felt, and they were considered to be absolutely binding on all Church people. One was the care of the aged; another was the care of the children; and another (strange as it may seem) was to find work for the workless, for those who desired to work and genuinely tried to get it, but could not obtain it.
As Professor Harnack points out conclusively in his book, "The Expansion of Christianity," this was invariably felt to be an obligation, not only in their writings, but in their practical administration, for they carried it out, so much so that if a man came to any little local Church or commune, and was able-bodied, they would say: "If any will not work, neither shall he eat;" but they would go on to say: "And therefore as we may have no idlers among us, we also have the obligation placed upon us to find work for those who cannot obtain work." And they felt that they must discover some means of livelihood for each member of their little communes. And they did actually find work for the workers,
Of course someone may say (not here, perhaps, but I have heard it said): There is no unemployed problem, because all those who really want work can get it quite easily. But I remember, not very many years ago, that in the tremendous rush to obtain work at certain dock gates, one man was trampled to death, killed- And yet they dare to tell us that everyone vvho wants work can get it! Of course anyone who has any practical experience of life among the very poor knows that that is a lie. He knows perfectly well that there are many cadgers and wastrels who won't work, even if it is offered to them; that their profession in life is to look for work, and that if they found it their profession would come to an end. That is perfectly true; but to say that everybody who wants work can find it, is not true. Well, then, we do not seem to apply the early Christian rule about finding work for the workless.
How do we treat the aged? I remember when I was working in Salford that we discovered an old woman of between eighty and ninety years, who seemed to be absolutely starving. Directly we discovered her, of course, we sent round food and so on; and asked why she had not gone into the workhouse. Futile question! You know that it is not the best of the poor who go into the workhouse, but generally the worst. The point is not whether they are right or wrong, but there is the fact. They do not say as a merely melodramatic utterance: We would rather starve than go into the workhouse: that is not the point. They do starve, they die rather than go into the workhouse. If it were merely a way of speaking it would not very much matter, but it id a fact. Over and over again people who might have gone into the workhouse are found dead from starvation. Before we could give that old woman of whom I have spoken enough nourishment to keep in life, she was dead; she died rather than face what she considered the horrors of our workhouse system. Very unreasonable, you say, but still if our brothers and sisters in the Church of God would rather die than go into the workhouse, surely their objection must be founded upon some small amount of reason; they must have some reason for it. And yet we go on quite contentedly, and say: There is the workhouse; we are not responsible!
In London alone in 1902 no fewer than thirty-four persons, of whom twenty-four were fifty years of age and upwards, were certified by the verdicts of Coroner's Juries to have died of starvation, or of starvation accelerated by privation. Actual starvation is, however, returned as the cause of death in but a few cases, but it is well known that many thousands of deaths are directly due to long-continued under-feeding and exposure.
The early Church felt it an obligation on her to care for the aged. We, a Christian nation, and apparently a vigorous and healthy Church, do not feel our obligation to care for them. Why?
Perhaps you will say: We deal very gently with the children. But one of H.M. principal Inspectors of Schools put the number of underfed children in London alone at 122,000, and justified his view by a closely reasoned argument from which it is very difficult to dissent. He also mentioned a Board School in Lambeth where he estimated that ninety per cent, of the children were unfit for work because of their physical condition. Of course I know it is argued that you must not feed the children in case, in some instances, their parents might be wastrels or drunkards; that is to say, you are to teach the parents morality, or your ideas 'of morality, through doing the children to death. But of course the early Church did not think that was a very wise or a very humane way of teaching morality! In the case of these underfed children, think of the torture of mental and bodily exercise without sufficient food to maintain life in the body. In the New Testament we read: "If a child ask his father for bread, will he give him a stone?" The children are asking us for bread, and we give them--Verbs!
And remember, I am quoting to you from no sensational or extremest pamphlets; I am quoting to you solid hard facts out of Government Blue Books and Official Reports. And really, to tell you the truth, what I had first thought of giving you was so ugly that I hardly dared bring it here. It was a good deal worse than the things I have read to you. And then people have the extraordinary assurance to tell us that the Church must not interfere with politics! I read some time ago in a Church paper a kind of apology for suggesting that keen Churchmen should take part in the last General Election; and the paper said that, of course, as the Church's interests were likely to be attacked, it thought an exception might be made in a case where the Church's endowments, the Church's treasury, was threatened, or the Church's right (and she has the right) to give dogmatic instruction to her children in the common schools. But it never seemed to strike our contemporary that the Church's endowments, the Church's treasury, her real treasury, was being attacked in a larger and more fundamental way. The Church's treasury is always being attacked. You remember what the early Church considered to be her treasury? You will remember that when a bishop and certain elders of an early Christian community were had up in the Courts, suspected of harbouring great treasures, and were told by the magistrate to "show their wealth, they put forward an artisan, his hands rough with toil, and his coat a bit shabby, and they said: Such are the treasures of the Church of God!
And while children are being starved to death in this country, while we refuse to find work for the workless, while we refuse to provide for the aged, and underpay and overwork our people, the Church's treasures, the Church's true endowment, is attacked, for every baptised person in this country is as much a member of the Church of God as you or I. We think of the Church and talk of the Church as if it were a little clique of priests. It means nothing of the sort. Priests are the representatives of the Church of God, but all are kings and priests unto God, and the poor, and all those who have been baptised into Christ, are members of the Church of God equally with us; and, therefore, it is absolutely our duty to see that these wrongs are righted, and that these Babylons of the modern world are destroyed, and that the City of God is built up.
I remember some time ago, in one of the Midland cities of Dreadful Night, the case of an old chain maker. By working thirteen or fourteen hours a day he could sometimes, if he was very lucky, make three shillings a day. But he was getting old, and he could not work very fast, and he felt the work more and more a burden upon him. And having worked for thirteen hours one day, he took his work the next morning to his master, and he heard that prices had been reduced, and that he could not have his three shillings a day. The next day he got up even earlier, and he began working very hard; but he worked slowly because he was an old man. At last he had finished the chain he was making. I dare say many of you who have studied political economy, remember that economists draw a distinction between production for use and production for profit, for other people's profit. All his life this man had been producing for profit, and this day he produced for use, for his own use. He did not take the chain to his master, but he slung it across a beam, and he tied a noose in it, and hanged himself. Well might Bunyan flee from these Cities of Destruction.
But still, the thing that lies before us is a better thing than that. We want first to face the facts, and undertake this colossal--for it is a colossal task, of righting all these injustices and bringing about the Kingdom of God, the City of God, on earth in our midst, turning these Babylons of the world into the Cities of God and of His Christ.
Now, you know, the things I have been saying to you this morning are not very popular, I am afraid. But, after all, one cannot always be popular. The people in this country are awfully good when they face the facts of the situation; there is a lot of moral grit in English people, and when they once face the facts, they really begin to do something. But the difficulty is to get them to face facts. They hate facts, English people do, perhaps all people do; I don't know. I was saying something once about these things (and I generally try and verify my facts carefully); I was telling a lady in fairly good circumstances about some of them, and she said to me, "I don't believe that." I said, "Why?" She said, "Because if it were true it would be too horrible! "And that is why people do not believe it, they do not want to believe it--if it were true it would be too horrible, and there is enough horror in the world already, they think, and therefore they won't face any more. And they won't do anything, because they won't face the facts.
Now, get up the facts! Learn about these things, drench yourselves, and drench your friends with facts! That is the first thing to do. Make them see them. Verify what I am saying to you, see whether it is true or not, and if it is true, by God's grace take an oath that you will alter these things; that you, in so far as you are Christians with any influence and any power in your lives, even if it be merely the power of talking about them to other people, will devote yourselves to the service of God.
This is Lent; this is a time when our spirits ought to bow before God, and we ought to re-devote and re-consecrate ourselves to His service; not by reading silly little books about our own selfish little souls; the right spiritual devotion is to be just and true in all our dealings before God and our fellow-men.
Not popular! But it is the duty of every man and every woman to face the facts, however ugly those facts may be.
And you would not like it said of England that the priests preached smooth things, and that the prophets prophesied falsely, and that you liked to have it so? Do you like to have it so?