SERMON XLIII. THE RICH AND THE POOR
Chapel Royal, Whitehall, 1871.
Proverbs xxii. 2. "The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all."
I have been asked to preach here this afternoon on behalf of the Parochial Mission Women's Fund. I may best describe the object for which I plead, as an attempt to civilise and Christianise the women of the lower classes in the poorer districts of London and other great towns, by means of women of their own class--women, who have gone through the same struggles as they have, and who will be trusted by them to understand and to sympathize with their needs and difficulties. These mission women are in communication with lady-superintendents in each ecclesiastical district. These are, I understand, usually the wives of small tradesmen, or of clerks. They, again, are in communication with ladies at the West End of London, who are willing to give personal help and money for certain objects, but not indiscriminate alms. And thus a series of links is established between the most prosperous and the least prosperous classes, by means of which the rich and the poor may meet together, and learn--to the infinite benefit of both--that the Lord is the maker of them all. Considering this excellent scheme, I could not help seeing as a background to it, a very different and a far darker scene. I could not help remembering that during these very days, the poorer classes of another great city had taken up an attitude full of awful lessons to us, and to every civilized country upon earth. We have been reading of a hundred thousand armed men encamped in the suburbs of Belleville and Montmartre, with cannon and mitrailleuses, uttering through their organs, threats which leave no doubt that the meaning of this movement is--as some of them boldly phrase it,--a war of the poor against the rich. There is no mistaking what that means. This madness has been stopped for the time, we are told, principally (as was to be expected), by the superior common sense of their wives. But only, I fear, for a time. Such men will go far, if not this time, then some other time. For they believe what they say, and know what they want. They have done with phrases, done with illusions. They are no longer deceived and hampered by party cries against this and that grievance, real or imaginary, the abolition of which the working classes demand so eagerly from time to time, in the vain belief that if it were only got rid of the millennium would be at hand. They have done long ago with remedial half-measures. Landed aristocracy, Established Church, military classes, privileged classes, restricted suffrage, and all the rest, have been abolished in their country for two generations and more: but behold, the poor man finds himself (or fancies himself, which is just as dangerous) no richer, safer, happier after all, and begins to see a far simpler remedy for all his ills. He has too little of this world's goods, while others have too much. What more fair, more simple, than that he should take some of the rich man's goods, and if he resists, kill him, crying, "Thou sayest, let me eat and drink, for to-morrow I die. Then I too will eat and drink, for to-morrow I die?" And so will the rich and poor meet together with a vengeance, simply because neither of them has learnt that the Lord is the maker of them all.
This is a hideous conclusion. But it is one towards which the poor will tend in every country in which the rich are merely rich, spending their wealth in self-enjoyment, atoned for by a modicum of alms.
I said a modicum of alms. I ought to have said, any amount of alms, any amount of charity. Throughout the great cities of Europe--in London as much as anywhere--hundreds of thousands are saying, "We want no alms. We intend to reconstitute society, even at the expense of blood, so that no man, woman, or child, shall need the rich man's alms. We do not choose, for it is not just, that he should take credit to himself for giving us a shilling when he owes us a pound, ten, a hundred pounds--owes us, in fact, all by which he and his class are richer than us and our class. And we will make him pay his debt."
I do not say that such words are wise. I believe them to be foolish-- suicidal. I believe that it is those who patiently wait on the Lord, and not the discontented who fret themselves till they do evil, who will inherit the land, and be refreshed in peace. I believe that all those who take the sword will perish by the sword; that those who appeal to brute force will always find it--just because it is brute force--always strongest on the side of the rich, who can hire it for evil, as for good.
I only say, that so hundreds of thousands think; so they speak, and will speak more and more loudly, as long as the present tone of society endures,--good-natured and well meaning, but luxurious, covetous, ignoble, frivolous, ignorant; believing--all classes alike, not only that money makes the man, but worse far--that money makes the woman also; and all the while half-ashamed of itself, half-distrustful of itself, and trying to buy off man by alms, and God by superstition.
So long as the great mass of the poor of any city know nothing of the great mass of the rich of that city, save as folk who roll past them in their carriages, seemingly easy while they are struggling, seemingly happy while they are wretched, so long will the rich of that city be supposed, however falsely, to be what the French workmen used to call mangeurs d'hommes--exploiteurs d'hommes--to get their wealth by means of the poverty, their comfort by means of the misery of their fellow-men; and so long will they be exposed to that mere envy and hatred which pursues always the more prosperous, till, in some national crisis, when the rich and poor meet together, both parties will be but too apt to behave, through mutual fear and hate, as if not God, but the devil, was the maker of them all.
These words are strong. How can they be too strong, in face of what is now passing in a neighbouring land? Not too strong, either, in view of the actual state of vast masses of the poor in London itself, and indeed of any one of our great cities.
That matter has been reported on, preached on, spoken on, till all other civilized countries reproach Britain with the unique contrast between the exceeding wealth of some classes and the exceeding poverty of others; till we, instead of being startled by the reproach, take the present state of things as a matter of course, a physical necessity, a law of nature and society, that there should be, in the back streets of every great city, hordes of, must I say, savages? neither decently civilized nor decently Christianized, uncertain, most of them, of regular livelihood, and therefore shiftless and reckless, extravagant in prosperity, and in adversity falling at once into want and pauperism. You may ask any clergyman, any minister of religion of any denomination, whether the thing is not so. Or if you want to read the latest news about the degradation of your fellow-subjects, read a little book called "East and West," and judge for yourselves, whether such a population, numbered by hundreds of thousands, are in a state pleasing to God, or safe for those classes of whom they only know that they pay them wages, and that these wages are as small as they can be forced to take. Read that book; and then ask yourselves, is it wonderful that, in one district, before the mission of the society for which I plead was established, the poor used seriously to believe that it was the wish and endeavour of the rich to grind them down, and keep them poor. We, of course, know that the poor folk were mistaken but do we not know, too-- some of us--that there are political economists in the world, who, though they would not willingly make the poor poorer than they are, are still of opinion that it is good for the nation, on the whole, that the present state of things should continue; that there should be always a reserve of labour, in plain English, a vast multitude who have not quite work enough to live on, ready to be called on in any emergency of business, and used, to beat down, by their competition, the wages of their fellow-workmen? Is this theory altogether novel and unheard of? Or this theory also, that for this very reason, Emigration, which looks the very simplest remedy for most of this want,--while nine-tenths of the bounteous earth is waiting to be subdued and replenished by the poor wretches who cannot get at it--that Emigration, I say, is an unnecessary movement--that the people are all wanted at home--to be such as the parson and the mission women find them?
And it may be that the poor folk have heard--for a bird of the air may carry the matter in these days of a free press--that some rich folk, at least, hold this opinion, and translate it freely out of the delicate language of political economy, into the more vigorous dialect used in the fever alleys and smallpox courts in which the poor are left to wait for work. But if there be any rich persons in this congregation who hold these peculiar economic doctrines, let me recommend to them, more than to any other persons present, that they would support a society which alleviates the hard pressure of their system; which helps to make it tolerable and prudent by teaching the poor to save; by teaching them, in London alone,--how to save œ54,000 in the last eleven years. Let them help this society heartily.
The children of this world are--in their generation--wiser than the children of light. But how long their generation will last, depends mainly (we are told) on how far they make themselves friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness.
But if, again, there be rich people in this congregation, as I trust there are many and many, who start, indignant, at such an imputation, and utterly deny its truth--then,--if it be false, why in the name of God, and of humanity, and of common prudence, why do they not go to these people and tell them so? Why do they not prove that it is not so, by showing a little more human sympathy, not merely for them behind their backs, but sympathy with them face to face? If they wish to know how much can be done by only a little active kindness, they have only to read the pages of that painful, and yet pleasant, book--"East and West,"-- which I have just quoted; and to read, also, an appendix to it--a Paper originally read at the Church Congress, Manchester, by the present Lord Chancellor--a document which it would be an impertinence in me to recommend or praise.
Bring yourselves then boldly into contact with these classes, and especially into contact with the women--with the wives and mothers. For it is through the women, through them mainly, if not altogether, that civilization and religion can be introduced among any degraded class. It was so in the Middle Age. The legends which tell us how woman was then the civilizer, the softener, the purifier, the perpetual witness to fierce and coarse men, that there were nobler aims in life than pleasure, and power, and the gratification of revenge; that not self-assertion, but self-sacrifice was the Divine ideal, toward which all must aspire. These old legends are immortal; for they speak of facts and laws which will endure as long as there are women upon earth. Through the woman, the civilizer and the Christianizer must reach the man. Through the wife, he must reach the husband. Through the mother, he must reach the children. I say he must. It is easy to complain that the clergy in every age and country have tried to obtain influence over women. They have been forced to do so, because otherwise they could obtain no influence at all. And if a priesthood should arise hereafter, whose calling was to teach not religion but irreligion, not the good news that there is a good God, and that we can know Him; but the bad news that there is no God, or, if there is, we cannot know Him; then would that priesthood find it necessary to appeal like all other priesthoods, to the women, and to teach them how to teach their children.
But more. It is not religion only which must be taught through the wives and mothers, but sound science also, and sound economy. If you intend (as I trust some here intend) to teach the labouring classes those laws of health and life, on which depend the comfort, the wholesomeness, often the decency and the morality of the poor man's home, then you must teach those laws first to the house-mother, who brings the children into the world, and brings them up, who puts them to bed at night, and prepares their food by day. If you wish to teach habits of thrift, and sound notions of economy to the labouring classes, you must teach them first to the housewife, who has to make the weekly earnings cover, if possible, the week's expenses. If you wish to soften and to purify the man, you must first soften and purify the woman, or at least encourage her not to lose what womanliness she has left, amid sights, and sounds, and habits which tend continually to destroy her womanhood. You must encourage her, I say, to remember always that she is a woman still, and let her teach-- as none can teach like her--true manfulness to her husband and her sons.
And how can you best do that? Not by giving her shillings, not by preaching at her, not by scolding her: but by behaving to her as what she is--a woman and a sister--and cheering her heavy heart by simple human kindliness. What she wants amid all her poverty and toil, her child-bearing and child-rearing, what she wants, I say, to keep her brave and strong, is to know by actual sight and speech that she is still not an outcast; not alone; that she is still a member of the human family, that her fellow-woman has not forgotten her; and that, therefore, it may be, He that was born of woman has not forgotten her either. That she has, after all, a God in heaven, who can be touched with the feeling of her infirmities, and can help her and those she loves, to struggle through all their temptations, seeing that He too was tempted in all things like them, yet without sin.
It is only personal intercourse with them--only the meeting of the rich and poor together, in the belief that God is the maker of them all, that will do that. But it will do it.
Only personal intercourse will reconcile these people to their condition, in as far as they OUGHT to be reconciled to it. But personal intercourse will reconcile them to it, as far as it ought, but no further. And I think that the system of personal intercourse attempted by this Society is, on the whole, the best yet devised. It is imperfect, as all attempts to make that straight which is crooked, and to number that which is wanting--to patch, in a word, a radically vicious system of society,-- must be imperfect; but it is the best plan which I have yet seen. I find no fault with other plans, God forbid! Wisdom is justified of all her children; and the amount of evil is so great, and (as I believe, so dangerous), that I must bid God-speed to any persons who will do anything, always saving and excepting indiscriminate almsgiving.
But it seems to me that the soothing and civilizing, and in due time Christianising, effect of personal intercourse cannot begin better than through a woman, herself of the working class, who has struggled as these poor souls have struggled, and conquered, more or less, where they are failing. That through her they should be brought in contact with women of the more comfortable and cultivated class, who are their immediate employers, if not their immediate neighbours; and through them, again, brought in contact with women of that class, of whom I shall only say, that if they were not meant for some such noble work as this--and not for mere pleasure and mere display, then for what purpose, in heaven or earth, were they made? and why has Providence taken the trouble (as it were) to elaborate, by long ages of civilization, that most exquisite of all products of nature and of art--A Lady?
Ah! what the ladies of England might do, and that without interfering in the least with their duties as wives and mothers, if they would work together, as a class! If they would work as well and humanly while they are in towns, as most of them do work while they are in the country; as some of them do, to their honour, in the towns already! But how many? what proportion do those who do good bear to those who do nothing? What a small amount of humanizing and civilizing intercourse with some women of the labouring class is there in the case of the wives of rich men who come up to town, merely for the season, and forget that it is their temporary and uncertain stay in London which causes much of the temporary and uncertain employment of the London poor, and their consequent temptation to unthrift and recklessness! How little humanizing and civilizing intercourse with the poor is carried on by the wives of those employers of labour who surely, surely owe something more to their husband's work people, than to be aware (by hearsay) that they are duly paid every Saturday night?
But I shall be told: We need not fear--we can justify ourselves before God and man. I shall be reminded of all that has been done, and done well too, for the poor during the last generation, and bidden not to calumniate my countrymen. True, much has been done; and done well. And true also it is that no effort to make the rich and poor meet together, to bring the different classes of society into contact with each other, but has succeeded--has sown good seed--which I trust may bring forth good fruit in the day when every tree shall be judged by its fruit. The events of 1830, startling and warning, and those of 1848, more pregnant, if possible, with warning than the former, awakened a spirit of humanity in England, which was also a spirit of prudence and of common sense.
But I cannot conceal from myself, or you, that the earnestness which was awakened in those days is dying out in these. The richer classes of every country are tempted from time to time to fits of laziness--fits of frivolity and luxury, surfeits, in which men say, with a shrug and a yawn--"Why be very much in earnest? Why take so much trouble? Somebody must always be rich, why should not I? Somebody must enjoy the money, why should not I? At all events, things will last my time." And that such a surfeit has fallen upon the rich of this land, is a fact; for that this is the tone of to-day, and that the tone increases, none can deny who knows that which calls itself the WORLD, and calls itself so only too truly; the world of which it is written, that all that is in the world-- the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-- is not of the Father, but of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof. But he who doeth the will of God, he alone abideth for ever.
God grant that we, who have just seen the most cunningly organized and daintily bedizened specimen of a world, which ever flaunted on the earth since men began to build their towers of Babel, collapse and crumble at a single blow, may take God's hint, that the fashion of this world passeth away. Let the idle, the frivolous, the sensual, and those who, like Figaro's Marquis, have earned all earthly happiness by only taking the trouble to be born--let them look back on this last awful Christmas-tide, and hear, speaking in fact unmistakeable, the voice of the Lord. Think ye that they whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, "Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
There are those who will hear such words with a smile, even with a sneer, and say, Such wholesale judgments of God, even granting that there are such things, are, after all, very rare: it is very seldom that a whole class, a whole system of society, is punished in mass--and why then need we trouble ourselves about so remote a probability?
Then know this--that as surely as God sometimes punishes wholesale, so surely is He always punishing in detail. By that infinite concatenation of moral causes and effects, which makes the whole world one mass of special Providences, every sin of ours will punish itself, and probably punish itself in kind. Are we selfish? We shall call out selfishness in others. Do we neglect our duty? Then others will neglect their duty to us. Do we indulge our passions? Then others, who depend on us, will indulge theirs, to our detriment and misery. Do we squander our money? Then our children and our servants will squander our money for us.
Do we?--but what use to go on reminding men of truths which no one believes, because they are too painful and searching to be believed in comfort? What use to tell men what they never will confess to be true-- that by every crime, folly, even neglect of theirs, they drive a thorn into their own flesh, which will trouble them for years to come, it may be to their dying day? And yet so it is.
Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.
As those who neglect their fellow-creatures will discover, by the most patent undeniable proofs, in that last great day, when the rich and poor shall meet together, and then, at least, discover that the Lord is the maker of them all.
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