Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Sermon XIX: Civilized Barbarism

(Preached for the Bishop of London's Fund, at St. John's Church, Notting Hill, June 1866.)

ST. MATTHEW ix. 12.

They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

-

I have been honoured by an invitation to preach on behalf of the Bishop of London's Fund for providing for the spiritual wants of this metropolis. By the bishop, and a large number of landowners, employers of labour, and others who were aware of the increasing heathendom of the richest and happiest city of the world, it was agreed that, if possible, a million sterling should be raised during the next ten years, to do what money could do in wiping out this national disgrace. It is a noble plan; and it has been as yet--and I doubt not will be to the end--nobly responded to by the rich laity of this metropolis.

More than 100,000l. was contributed during the first six months; nearly 60,000l. in the ensuing year; beside subscriptions which are promised for the whole, or part of the ten years. The money, therefore, does not flow in as rapidly as was desired: but there is as yet no falling off. And I believe that there will be, on the contrary, a gradual increase in the subscriptions as the objects of this fund are better understood, and as its benefits are practically felt.

Now, it is unnecessary--it would be almost an impertinence--to enlarge on a spiritual destitution of which you are already well aware. There are, we shall all agree, many thousands in London who are palpably sick of spiritual disease, and need the physician. But I have special reasons for not pressing this point. If I attempted to draw subscriptions from you by painting tragical and revolting pictures of the vice, heathendom, and misery of this metropolis, I might make you fancy that it was an altogether vicious, heathen, and miserable spot: than which there can be no greater mistake. These evils are not the rule, but the exceptions. Were they not the exceptions, then not merely the society of London, and the industry of London, and the wealth of London, but the very buildings of London, the brick and the mortar, would crumble to the ground by natural and inevitable decay. The unprecedentedly rapid increase of London is, I firmly believe, a sure sign that things in it are done on the whole not ill, but well; that God's blessing is on the place; that, because it is on the whole obeying the eternal laws of God, therefore it is increasing, and multiplying, and replenishing the earth, and subduing it. And I do not hesitate to say, that I have read of no spot of like size upon this earth, on which there have ever been congregated so many human beings, who are getting their bread so peaceably, happily, loyally, and virtuously; and doing their duty--ill enough, no doubt, as we all do it--but still doing it more or less, by man and God.

I am well aware that many will differ from me; that many men and many women--holy, devoted, spending their lives in noble and unselfish labours--persons whose shoes' latchet I am not worthy to unloose-- take a far darker view of the state of this metropolis. But the fact is, that they are naturally brought in contact chiefly with its darker side. Their first duty is to seek out cases of misery: and even if they do not, the miserable will, of their own accord, come to them. It is their first duty too--if they be clergymen--to rebuke, and if possible, to cure, open vice, open heathendom, as well as to relieve present want and wretchedness: and may God's blessing be on all who do that work. But in doing it they are dealing daily--and ought to deal, and must deal--with the exceptional, and not with the normal; with cases of palpable and shocking disease, and not with cases of at least seeming health. They see that, into London, as into a vast sewer, gravitates yearly all manner of vice, ignorance, weakness, poverty: but they are apt to forget, at times--and God knows I do not blame them for it in the least--that there gravitates into London, not as into a sewer, but as into a wholesome and fruitful garden, a far greater amount of health, strength, intellect, honesty, industry, virtue, which makes London; which composes, I verily believe, four-fifths of the population of London. For if it did not, as I have said already, London would decay and die, and not grow and live.

Am I denying the spiritual destitution of this metropolis? Am I arguing against the necessity of the Bishop of London's Fund? Am I trying to cool your generosity towards it? Am I raising against it the text--'They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick?' Am I trying to prove that the sick are fewer than was fancied, the healthy more numerous; and, therefore, the physician less needed? Would to heaven that I dare so do. Would to heaven that I could prove this fund unnecessary and superfluous. But instead thereof, I fear that I must say--that the average of that health, strength, intellect, honesty, industry, virtue, which makes London--that the average of all that, I verily believe, is to be counted (though it knows it not) among the sick, and not among the sound. It is sick, over and above those personal sins which are common to all classes; it is sick of a great social disease; of a disease which is very dangerous for the nation to which we belong; which will increase more and more, and become more and more dangerous, unless it is stopped wholesale, by some such wholesale measure as this. That disease is (paradoxical as it may seem) Want of Civilization; Barbarism, which is the child of ungodliness. And that can, I verily believe again, be cured only (as far as we in the nineteenth century have discovered) by an extension of the parochial system.

And yet--let us beware of that expression--Parochial System. It seems to imply that the parish is a mere system; an artificial arrangement of man's invention. Now that is just what the parish is not. It is founded on local ties; and they are not a system, but a fact. You do not assemble men into parishes: you find them already assembled by fact, which is the will of God. You take your stand upon the merest physical ground of their living next door to each other; their being likely to witness each other's sayings and doings; to help each other and like each other, or to debauch each other and hate each other; upon the fact that their children play in the same street, and teach each other harm or good, thereby influencing generations yet unborn; upon the fact that if one takes cholera or fever, the man who lives next door is liable to take it too--in short, on the broad fact that they are members of each other, for good or evil. You take your stand on this physical ground of mere neighbourhood; and say--This bond of neighbourhood is, after all, one of the most human--yea, of the most Divine--of all bonds. Every man you meet is your brother, and must be, for good or evil: you cannot live without him; you must help, or you must injure, each other. And, therefore, you must choose whether you will be a horde of isolated barbarians--your living in brick and mortar, instead of huts and tents, being a mere accident--barbarians, I say, at continual war with each other: or whether you will go on to become civilized men; that is, fellow-citizens, members of the same body, confessing and exercising duties to each other which are not self-chosen, not self- invented, but real; which encompass you whether you know them or not; laid on you by Almighty God, by the mere fact of your being men and women living in contact with each other.

Out of this great and true law arises the idea of a parish, a local self-government for many civil purposes, as well as ecclesiastical ones, under a priest who--if he is to be considered as a little constitutional monarch--has his powers limited carefully both by the supreme law, by his assessors the church-wardens, and by the democratic constitution of the parish--influences which he is bound, both by law and by Christianity, to obey.

Arising, in the first place, from the fact that our forefathers colonized England in small separate families, each with its own jurisdiction and worship; our country parish churches being, to this day, often the sites of old heathen tribe-temples, and this very place, Notting-hill, being possibly a little colony of the Nottingas- -the same tribe which gave their name to the great city of Nottingham; arising from this fact, and from the very ancient institution of frank-pledge between local neighbours, this parochial system, above all other English institutions, has helped to teach us how to govern, and therefore how to civilize, ourselves. It was overlaid, all but extinguished, by the monastic system, during the latter part of the Middle Ages. It re-asserted itself, in fuller vigour than ever, at the Reformation. But with its benefits, its defects were restored likewise. The tendency of the mediaeval Church had been to become merely a church for paupers. The tendency of the Church of England during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, was to become merely a church for burghers. It has been, of late, to become merely a church for paupers again. The causes of this reaction are simple enough. Population increased so rapidly that the old parish bounds were broken up; the old parish staff became too small for working purposes. The Church had (and, alas! has still) to be again a missionary church, as she became in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when feudal violence had destroyed the self-government of the parishes--often the parishes themselves-- and filled the land with pauperism and barbarism. But that is but a transitional state. Her duty is now becoming more and more (and those who wish her well must help her to fulfil her duty) to reorganize the ancient parochial system on a deeper and sounder footing than ever; on a footing which will ensure her being a church, not merely for pauper, nor merely for burgher, but for pauper and for burgher equally and alike.

But some will say that parochial civilization is only a peculiar form of civilization, because its centre is a church. Peculiar? That is the last word which any one would apply to such a civilization, if he knows history. Will any one mention any civilization, past or present, whose centre has not been (as long as it has been living and progressive) a church? All past civilizations--whether heathen or Mussulman, Jew or Christian--have each and every one of them, as a fact, held that the common and local worship of a God was a sign to them of their common and local unity; a sign to them of their religion, that is, the duties which bound them to each other, whether they liked or not. To all races and nations, as yet, their sacred grove, church, temple, or other place of worship, has been a sign to them that their unity and duties were not invented by themselves, but were the will and command of an unseen Being, who would reward or punish them according as they did those duties or left them undone. So it has been in the civilizations of the past. So it will be in the civilization of the future. If the Christian religion were swept away--as it never will be, for it is eternal--and a civilization founded on what is called Nature put in its place, then we should see a worship of something called Nature, and a temple thereof, set up as the symbol of that Natural civilization. So the Jacobins of France-- when they tried to civilize France on the mere ground of what they called Reason--had, whether they liked it or not, to instal a worship of Reason, and a goddess of Reason, for as long as they could contrive to last.

To the world's end, a church of some kind or other will be the centre and symbol of every civilization which is worthy of the name; of every civilization which signifies, not merely that men live in somewhat better houses, travel rather faster by railway, and read a few more books (which is the popular meaning of civilization), but which means--as it meant among the Greeks, the Romans, the Jews, the Christians, among those who discovered the idea and the very words which express it--that each and every truly civilized man is a civis, a citizen, the conscious and obedient member of a corporate body which he did not make, but which (in as far as he is not a savage) has made him.

How far from this idea are the great masses of our really wealthy and well-to-do Londoners? How much is it needed, that wise men should try to re-awaken in them the sense of corporate life, and literally civilize them once more!

Consider the case, not of the average wretched, but of the average comfortable man. The small shopkeeper, the workman, skilled or unskilled--how small a consciousness has he of citizenship. What few incentives to regard civism as a solemn duty. For consider, of what is he a member?

He is a member of a family; and, in general, he fulfils his family duties well.

Yes, thank God, the family life of Englishmen is sound. The hearts of the children do not need to be turned to their fathers, or the hearts of the fathers to the children, as they did in Judea of old. Family life, which is the foundation of all national life--nay, of all Christian and church life--is, on the whole, sound. And having that foundation we can build on it safely and well, if we be wise.

But of what else is the average Londoner a member? Of a benefit- club, of a trades' union, of a volunteer corps. Each will be a valuable element of education, for it will teach him that self- government, which is the school of all freedom, of all loyalty, of all true civilization.

Or he may be a member of some Nonconformist sect. That, too, will be a valuable element, for it will teach him the solemn fact of his own personality; his direct responsibility to God for his own soul.

And I cannot pass this point of my sermon without expressing my sense of the great work which the Dissenting sects have done, and are doing, for this land (with which the Bishop of London's plan will in no wise interfere), in teaching this one thing, which the Church of England, while trying to carry out her far deeper and higher conception of organization, has often forgotten; that, after all, and before all, and throughout all, each man stands alone, face to face with Almighty God. This idea has helped to give the middle classes of England an independence, a strong, vigorous, sharp-cut personality, which is an invaluable wealth to the nation. God forbid that we should try to weaken it, even for reasons which may seem to some devout and orthodox.

But all these memberships, after all, are only voluntary ones, not involuntary. They are assumed by man himself--the worldly associations on the ground of mutual interest; the spiritual associations on that of identity of opinions. They are not instituted by God, and nature, and fact, whether the man knows of them or not, likes them or not. They are of the nature of clubs, not of citizenship. They are not founded on that human ground which is, by virtue of the Incarnation, the most divine ground of all. And for the many they do not exist. The majority of small shopkeepers, and the majority of labourers too, are members, as far as they are aware, of nothing, unless it be a club at some neighbouring public-house. The old feudal and burgher bonds of the Middle Age, for good or for evil, have perished by natural and necessary decay; and nothing has taken their place. Each man is growing up more and more isolated; tempted to selfishness, to brutal independence; tempted to regard his fellow-men as rivals in the struggle for existence; tempted, in short, to incivism, to a loss of the very soul and marrow of civilization, while the outward results of it remain; and therefore tempted to a loss of patriotism, of the belief that he possesses here something far more precious than his private fortune, or even his family; even a country for which he must sacrifice, if need be, himself. And if that grow to be the general temper of England, or of London, in some great day of the Lord, some crisis of perplexity, want, or danger,--then may the Lord have mercy upon this land; for it will have no mercy on itself: but divided, suspicious, heartless, cynical, unpatriotic, each class, even each family, even each individual man, will run each his own way, minding his own interest or safety; content, like the debased Jews, if he can find the life of his hand; and:-

'Too happy if, in that dread day, His life he given him for a prey.'

Our fathers saw that happen throughout half Europe, at a crisis when, while the outward crust of civilization was still kept up, the life of it, all patriotism, corporate feeling, duty to a common God, and faith in a common Saviour, had rotted out unperceived. At one blow the gay idol fell, and broke; and behold, inside was not a soul, but dust. God grant that we may never see here the same catastrophe, the same disgrace.

Now, one remedy--I do not say the only remedy--there are no such things as panaceas; all spiritual and social diseases are complicated, and their remedies must be complicated likewise--but one remedy, palpable, easy, and useful, whenever and wherever it has been tried, is this--to go to these great masses of brave, honest, industrious, but isolated and uncivilized men, after the method of the Bishop of this diocese, and his fund; and to say to them,--'Of whatever body you are, or are not members, you are members of that human family for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and to suffer death upon the Cross; over which He now liveth and reigneth, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. You are children of God the Father of spirits, who wills that all should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. You are inheritors--that is, members not by your own will, or the will of any man, but by the will of God who has chosen you to be born in a Christian land of Christian parents--inheritors, I say, of the kingdom of heaven, from your cradles to your graves, and after that, if you will, for ever and ever. Behave as such. Claim your rights; for they are yours already: and not only claim your rights, but confess your duties. Remember that every man, woman, and child in your street is, prima facie, just as much a member of Christ as you are. Treat them as such; associate yourselves with them as such. Accept the simple physical fact that they live next door to you, as God's will toward you both, and as God's sign to you that you and they are members of the same human and divine family. Enter with them, in that plain form, into the free corporate self-government of a Christian parish. Fear no priestly tyranny; from that danger you are guaranteed by the fact, that the great majority of the promoters of this fund are laymen, of all shades of opinion. You are guaranteed, still further, by the fact, that in the parochial system there can be no tyranny. It is one of the very institutions by which Englishmen have learnt those habits of self-government, which are the admiration of Europe.

'Do, then, the duty which lies nearest you; your duty to the man who lives next door, and to the man who lives in the next street. Do your duty to your parish; that you may learn to do your duty by your country and to all mankind, and prove yourselves thereby civilized men.

'And confess your sins in this matter, if not to us, at least to God. Confess that while you, in your sturdy, comfortable independence, have been fancying yourselves whole and sound, you have been very sick, and need the physician to cure you of the deadly and growing disease of selfish barbarism. Confess that, while you have been priding yourselves on English self-help and independence, you have not deigned to use them for those purposes of common organization, common worship, for which the very savages and heathens have, for ages past, used such freedom as they have had. Confess that, while you have been talking loudly about the rights of humanity, you have neglected too often its duties, and lived as if the people in the same street had no more to do with you than the beasts which perish.

'Confess your sins. We monied men confess ours. We ought to have foreseen the rapid growth of this city. We ought to have planned and laboured more earnestly for its better organization. And we freely offer our money, as a sign of our repentance, to build and establish for you institutions which you cannot afford to establish for yourselves. We excuse you, moreover, in very great part. You have been gathered together so suddenly into these vast new districts, or rather chaos of houses, and you have meanwhile shifted your dwellings so rapidly, and under the pressure of such continual labour, that you have not had time enough to organize yourselves. But we, too, have our excuse. We have actually been trying, at vast expense and labour to ourselves, for the last forty years, to meet your new needs. But you have outgrown all our efforts. Your increase has taken us by surprise. Your prosperity has outrun our goodwill. It shall do so no more. We are ready to do our part in the good work of repentance. We ask you to do yours. You are more able to do it than you ever were: richer, better educated, more acquainted with the blessings of association. We do not come to you as to paupers, merely to help you. We come to you as to free and independent citizens, to teach you to help yourselves, and show yourselves citizens indeed.'

I hope, ay, I believe, that such an appeal as this, made in an honest and liberal spirit, which proves its honesty and liberality by great and generous gifts out of such private wealth as no nation ever had before, will be met by the masses of London, in the same spirit as that in which it has been made.

I am certain of it, if only the ecclesiastical staff employed by this Fund will keep steadfastly in mind what they have to do. True it is, and happily true, that they can do nothing but good. If they confine themselves to the celebration of public worship, to teaching children, to giving the consolations of religion to those with whom want and wretchedness bring them in contact--all that will be gain, clear gain, vast gain. But that, valuable, necessary as it is, will not be sufficient to evoke a full response from the people of London.

But if they will, not leaving the other undone, do yet more; if they will attempt the more difficult, but the equally necessary and more permanent labour--that of attacking the disease of barbarism, not merely in its symptoms, but in its very roots and its causes; if they will recognise the fact, that with the disease there coexists a great deal of sturdy and useful health; if they will have courage and address to face, not merely the non-working, non-earning, and generally non-thinking hundreds, but the working, earning, thinking thousands of each parish; in fact, the men and women who make London what it is; if they will approach them with charity, confidence, and respect; if they will remember that they are justly jealous of that personal independence, that civil and religious liberty, which is theirs by law and right; if they will conduct themselves, not as lords over God's heritage, but as examples to the flock; if they will treat that flock, not as their subjects, but as their friends, their fellow-workers, their fellow-counsellors--often their advisers; if they will remember that 'Give and take, live and let live,' are no mere worldly maxims, but necessary, though difficult Christian duties; then, I believe, they will after awhile receive an answer to their call such as they dare not as yet expect; such an answer as our forefathers gave to the clergy of the early Middle Age, when they showed them that the kingdom of God was the messenger of civilization, of humanity, of justice and peace, of strength and well-being in this world, as well as in the next. The clergy would find in the men and women of London not merely disciples, but helpers. They would meet, not with fanatical excitement, not even with enthusiasm, not even with much outward devotion; but with co- operation, hearty and practical though slow and quiet--co-operation all the more valuable, in every possible sense, because it will be free and voluntary; and the Bishop of London's Fund would receive more and more assistance, not merely of heads and hands, but of money when money was needed, from the inhabitants of the very poorest and most heathen districts, as they began to feel that they were giving their money towards a common blessing, and became proud to pay their share towards an organization which would belong to them, and to their children after them.

So runs my dream. This may be done: God grant that it may! For now, it may be, is our best chance of doing it. Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation. If these masses increase in numbers and in power for another generation, in their present state of anarchy, they may be lost for ever to Christianity, to order, to civilization. But if we can civilize, in that sense which is both classical and Christian, the masses of London, and of England, by that parochial method which has been (according to history) the only method yet discovered, then we shall have helped, not only to save innumerable souls from sin, and from that misery which is the inevitable and everlasting consequence of sin, but we shall have helped to save them from a specious and tawdry barbarism, such as corrupted and enervated the seemingly civilized masses of the later Roman empire; and to save our country, within the next century, from some such catastrophe as overtook the Jewish monarchy in spite of all its outward religiosity; the catastrophe which has overtaken every nation which has fancied itself sound and whole, while it was really broken, sick, weak, ripe for ruin. For such, every nation or empire becomes, though the minority above be never so well organized, civilized, powerful, educated, even virtuous, if the majority below are not a people of citizens, but masses of incoherent atoms, ready to fall to pieces before every storm.

From that, and from all adversities, may God deliver us, and our children after us, by graciously beholding this His Family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was content to suffer death upon the Cross; and by pouring out His Spirit upon all estates of men in His holy Church, that every member of the same, in his calling and ministry, may freely and godly serve Him; till we have no longer the shame and sorrow of praying for English men and women, as we do for Jews, Turks, infidels, and heretics, that God would take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of His Word, and fetch them home to that flock of His, to which they all belong!

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *       *       *       *       *       *

Charles Kingsley