1915 CHAIRMAN'S ADDRESS
DEAR BRETHREN AND SISTERS,-
UNLIKE the writer of a Conference Paper, who is bound by the theme prescribed by you, the brother called to the honour of the Presidential Chair is entirely free in the choice of subject upon which he will address you.
Following that custom, therefore, I must ask your forbearance while I endeavour to lay before you a few thoughts on 'Some Social aspects of Christianity.'
While it is true that religion is primarily an individual matter, since each man must seek 'to make his calling and election sure,' and 'to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling,' yet it has, too, a wider range; and, if it be genuine, will make its influence felt on our every social relationship - in the home, in the Church, in the world; in a word, on all the manifold complex phases of what we call 'Society.'
Now the Bible makes known to us the characteristic working of God, 'the ways of the Lord. Even a very brief examination of God's dealings with His ancient people will show that, while He called for personal holiness, He was also continually active in their everyday national life, giving them their laws, leading them directly and prescribing the limits of their operations. In obedience to His will, they were happy and prosperous, but miserable and defeated at. every turn when separated from Him and choosing their own way.
His servants the prophets, as spokesmen of the Divine message, were not merely religious teachers, but pre-eminently
statesmen and social reformers. They arranged alliances, counselled or forbade wars, rebuked employers of labour who paid unfair wages or built themselves luxurious houses by oppression of the poor. Their denunciations were aimed, not merely at individual religious shortcomings, but also at social abuses. How sternly does Isaiah upbraid the prince of Israel who 'loved gifts and followed after rewards: who judged not the fatherless, neither did the cause of the widow come unto them,' and those who 'beat the people to pieces and ground the faces of the poor.'
Read at your leisure his scathing denunciation of the luxury and extravagant dress of the women of Israel; note, too, his strong condemnation of those who 'join house to house, that lay field to field,' and of those 'who rise up early in the morning that they may follow strong drink, that continue until night till wine inflame them!'
Again, in a. passage of singular power and poetic beauty he shows that 'pure religion and undefiled' cannot be severed f from social service. 'Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a. day for a. man to afflict his soul? is it to bow dawn his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?' 'Then shall thy light break forth in the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily, and thy righteousness shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord will answer: thou shalt cry, and He will say, Here am I.'
Now it is a truism that the Lord is unchanging and unchangeable, 'the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.'
His 'laws' may alter with the evolution of the centuries and the development of the race, but His 'will' is immutable, His nature eternally the same. Thus His interest in the social life of His creatures, seen under the old dispensation, is nowhere more clearly shown than in the great fundamental fact of Christianity, the Incarnation of the Deity, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the fulness of time God became man, went in and out among men, in all human feeling and experience save that of sin - in the family circle, in the national Church of His race, in the wider sphere of citizenship. His presence among us hallows every human relationship, and every social tie; it proves that there is no phase of our life outside the ken and care of God.
Consider the earthly ministry of our Redeemer! How beautifully it has been described by Dickens as that 'of Him, who through the round of human life, and all its hopes and griefs, from birth to death, from infancy to age, had sweet compassion for and interest in its every scene and stage, its every suffering and sorrow.'
Jesus might well have said of Himself, in the words of the Roman poet Terence: 'Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum esse puto' - 'I am a man: nothing human do I deem foreign to myself.' Observe His manifest concern for the temporal wants and woes of men: how often He used His miraculous powers in aid of suffering, hungering humanity, and that, too, seldom, if ever, to induce faith in Himself, but again and again because 'He had compassion on the multitude, who were as sheep having no shepherd.'
These miracles show conclusively the importance, in His eyes, of the relief of bodily affliction and distress; and if anything be sought from His teachings to support this view, we have but to study the picture of the judgment given in Matthew 25, as it came from His own lips. What are the tests there used? Is it a question of creed, or dogma, of a particular Church,
or of rites and ceremonies? No! it is just this: What was done to feed the hungry, to satisfy the thirsty, to look after the alien, the ill-clad, and the prisoners? Surely the lesson here is plain: if we neglect suffering humanity, we neglect God; the goats are those who will not understand that the wants of the poor are the wants of our Lord Himself. It seems to me, indeed, that the Saviour's word-picture of the Judgment is a perfect, ample, and complete justification for every movement towards social reform to which Christian men and women can put their hands.
All along the line of the centuries deeds of mercy, charity, and love have been objects of Christian effort. Alms have been given, hospitals and societies have been founded for the relief of distress: but to-day the need is greater and wider, and we must seek to deal with the evils in our midst in other ways. By common consent it is right to give food to a workman's starving family: is it not equally right to seek to deal with the causes that bring them to such a condition? It is right to take medicines and delicacies to hapless children suffering from typhoid and diphtheria: is it not equally right to set the sanitary inspector to work to attend the drains that produced the disease, and to join a. reform league to fight the landlord who let them get wrong, and to agitate against jerry building? It is right and good to preach the Gospel of the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus to the drunkard and the prostitute: is it not equally in accord with the teachings of our Divine Lord that we try to remove from our midst the means that lead men to drunkenness, and to banish from our modern society the awful conditions of female labour that make our despairing sisters ready to lead a life of shame for the sake of the bare necessities of existence.
While many schemes of social reform are excellent in their aim to change man's environment, the religion of Jesus Christ has this enormous advantage, in that it, and it alone, has in itself the power of moulding human character to suit new and better conditions of: life. The
Gospel inspires man with a desire far better things: it gives hope to the despairing, because it proclaims that human nature, no matter how bad, may be changed, cleansed, purified, made meet to partake of the inheritance of the saints in light, fit for an abiding place in the glorious mansions of the eternal city of God.
It is precisely because the Gospel has this power and this hope in itself that I plead that the Church of God and of His Christ should take the lead in all movements towards social reform.
Now, in all kindliness, I want to ask the question, 'What are we doing, as Churches of Christ, or what have we done, with the great social problems that have been agitating our nation, and will inevitably demand even more attention in the near future?'
Sorrowfully, and with a sense of shame, one feels sometimes that, to use a significant sporting phrase, we are just among those 'who also ran.' To-day the opportunity is ours! Men everywhere are seeking some sure foundation for their soul's belief: sorrow and affliction are on every hand; perplexity and doubt are in the very air we breathe. We have an unique position: a glorious message for the nations, a magnificent heritage of liberty and peace and joy in Christ Jesus our Lord. How are we using our opportunity? Sometimes one is impressed with the feeling that our thoughts are turned too much inward upon ourselves, and that we are spending too much time and energy on unimportant questions of names and titles, precedence and procedure, When we might be thinking more of a world needing and awaiting the knowledge of a Christ that can save, cleanse, and purify. So the conviction comes home to one at times that we may be in danger of belittling the Kingdom of God into another Lilliputia - a kingdom of the infinitesimally small.
The question is not infrequently raised, 'Why do not the Churches reach the masses of the working
community?' Surely a partial answer may be found in the fact that, to a large extent, the Churches have shown a criminal apathy toward many of the questions that vitally affect the masses. Singularly enough, the two bodies that have manifested deepest practical interest in these matters are, in other respects, at the poles asunder - the High Church party of the Church of England and the Salvation Army. Do we wonder why these organizations have such a hold to-day? Do we deplore the fact that Ritualism is rapidly gaining ground? Here, at least, I believe, is one reason: they both have sought to know and to solve some of the problems that are vital to the very existence of the masses of our fellow-men.
Perhaps you will pardon me if I borrow an illustration from my own profession. A man may be a brilliant mathematician: he may know all the theorems of geometry, conics, trigonometry, and the calculus, and may be proud of it, and the world may be little the better for his erudition. It is only when he applies these theories and principles to the service of men, in building bridges and railways, and the construction of machinery to save human life and labour, that his vast learning becomes a real benefit to society. So with the most exact knowledge of the perfect will of God. I am pleading for applied Christianity to be superadded to pure doctrine: if we be content to stop at merely knowing the principles, rejoicing in our own favoured position, without applying them to the solution of human problems, we are but poor stewards of the treasures of the Kingdom of God.
It may be said that, on such points as have been named, public opinion must be educated. Granted, but what agency can better educate public opinion along the lines of truth and justice and righteousness than the Church of the living God?
At every point, the root of the evil is sin somewhere, and the only power that can eradicate sin and its fell
consequences is the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The call, then, comes clear and unmistakable to all who love God and their fellow-men, to go forward vigorously and persistently to cleanse the body politic, to renew society, not merely to alleviate want and suffering, but to provide better dwellings and better sanitation, to assist with consecrated commonsense in solving the problem of shorter hours and better wages, to rescue women and children from overwork, to banish the temptations to strong drink from our midst, and to make it possible for our sisters to be pure and chaste and yet live.
It may be urged that these are very big questions, and that progress must perforce be slow: that we are but a small body, whose power and .influence are not great or extensive; what can we do? At least, beloved brethren, We can seek to know. To quote the words of P.Y. Seddon: 'Ignorance causes indifference, indifference begets selfishness, and so nations and humanity suffer.' More often men do wrong through lack of knowledge than from lack of heart. This is not a case where ignorance is necessarily bliss, and 'wisdom consequently folly:' nay, verily, ignorance in these matters is criminal rather than foolish.
If we be among the fortunate ones who hold shares in any big industrial concern, as Christians we cannot lie content to pocket our half-yearly dividend, without a thought for the men whose labour has made that dividend possible. It will not do to stifle conscience with the comfortable reflection that such things are the concern of managers and directors; those whose capital carries on the business are in reality the employers, and, if they be Christians, they will recognize that theirs is the responsibility for the welfare of the men who serve them.
Again, all of us, rich and poor alike, are responsible for what we individually use. Do we ever ask how the articles for our consumption are produced: whether the
conditions of labour are good, and the rate of wages to the actual workers sufficient to enable them to live decently and honestly? When the tempting bargains are displayed f or sale, do we trouble to enquire how it is possible to produce and sell them at such a price? Let us remember the miserable, sweated workers in the dark and noisome dens of our great cities, living, eating, sleeping, and working, herded together, of all ages and of both sexes, in spaces that many a man would consider too small for his horse or his dog, and certainly too mean for his motor-car: delicate women racked with rheumatism or dying of consumption, making 'lined dress skirts for 7/- per dozen, and finding their own thread and sundries.' Think of five men, working fourteen hours a day for seven days of the week, in a room 7ft. by 8ft., cumbered with a large table and their boot lasts, and supplies of cardboard, leather, and other materials, and earning only 30/- per week during a short, busy season of three months, and but 10/- or 12/- a week for the rest of the year, and out of that must come the cost of brads, grindery, cardboard, rent, and light. Picture an old woman trying to support herself and four grandchildren by making matchboxes for the munificent sum of 2 1/4d. per gross: and by working incessantly for fourteen hours every day of the week, just able to earn 4/- 10 1/4 per week, from which must be deducted the cost of paste and thread and the rent of the 'home.' Think of women workers earning less than 1/- for a twelve hours' day at coat making, or 3/- to 4/- per week at trouser making.
These are not flights of imagination to harrow your feelings, but just a few simple facts of the everyday life of thousands of our hapless brothers and sisters.
'What can we do?' you ask. Simply and absolutely decline to purchase or to use any article unless we can find out, on careful enquiry, that the actual producers are justly paid and work under decent conditions. Patronize no establishment that overworks its
employees or does not give them reasonable time for recreation. Do our shopping earlier in the day, and make it possible for the young men and women who serve us to have the leisure that we ourselves enjoy.
But suppose we cannot find such establishments: suppose we cannot get such assurances of the welfare of the workers; what then? Can we not seek out among our own brethren and sisters, among men and women whom we know, those who will work honestly and conscientiously? Can we not employ them to do our work, paying them a just wage for a fair day's work and giving them time and opportunity for recreation, for leisure, for study, for meditation, for prayer - time and space for God and Christ in their lives.
These suggestions, however, are of a personal, rather than collective, application: let us consider for a short time what, as Churches, we may do to meet the needs of the hour.
It is just twelve months since our nation became involved in the greatest and most devastating war that the world has ever known. What scope does the present crisis offer to the Churches of Christ for a fuller manifestation of the Spirit of their Lord?
Surely there is a call for a wider Christian charity, a greater readiness to find common ground where we may combine with all good men, of whatever class, creed, or Church to serve the common weal.
To quote some striking words once uttered by Abraham Lincoln: 'We are not bound to win but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to live up to the light we have. We must stand with anybody that stands right - stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.'
Recently we had an ideal opportunity to show, by prompt and decisive action, an absolutely undivided attitude on the great question of Temperance.
In the early days of the war His Majesty the King, to his lasting honour, publicly pledged himself to abstain from all intoxicants at least for the period of the war. What has been our response as a community? One has looked in vain for a lead among the Churches: one expected that at once each Church would have its roll signed by every member, and sent on to strengthen the hands of those in authority. Days passed into weeks, and weeks into months, till at last it was left for the sisters to organize a roll of those who would pledge themselves to abstain. It may be argued that, seeing so many of us are already abstainers, there is no need for such a pledge. This, however, is assuredly a case where there must be no hiding the light under a bushel. It is not enough simply to abstain: what is needed here is that our rulers should know that in their crusade against the drink they have the active support of everyone who bears the name of Christ.
It may perhaps be urged that this might have been initiated among the Churches by our Temperance Committee. Stop right there. As an organized Co-operation, we have no Temperance Committee. The practical, official interest of this Conference in Temperance work is well reflected in our Year Book, where the Report of the Temperance Committee and its Conference is relegated to the last few pages on sufferance, and rigorously separated from the body of the book by an impassable barrier of virgin white paper. Even in our A.M. programmes it is not unusual to see a pointed intimation that the work and meetings of the Temperance Committee are not under the auspices of the Conference, and form no part of its operations, but that the Temperance Committee are graciously permitted to take up a collection at the teatable on a given day for the support of their work. Such an attitude recalls Pope's memorable lines in reference to his whilom friend Addison, as one who would
'Damn with. faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer.'
Again, one has heard it urged that Temperance. and other social work is outside the 'limits of our Co-operation,' the object of which is defined to be 'evangelizatian only.' If that be indeed so, then in God's name, and for the sake of our suffering, stricken, tortured brothers and sisters, it is high time 'to enlarge the place of our tent, to stretch forth the curtains, to spare not, but lengthen the cords and strengthen the stakes,' and to widen the limits of our co-operation so that at least it shall not exclude from its purview or labours any good movement having for its aim the temporal, physical, moral, and spiritual well-being of humanity.
But I submit that the principle of engaging in 'social' work as a means to more effective evangelization has already been accepted, not only in our Foreign Mission effort, but also in the labours of the sisters who serve the G.E.C. Their work - visiting and nursing the sick, alleviation of distress, administering aid to the needy - undertaken with a view to securing opportunities of telling the glad news of a Saviour crucified, is warmly appreciated by this Conference.
It is true that the Sisters' Committee is not appointed by the Conference; but, singularly enough, while the report presented by the Temperance Committee is separated from that of Standing Committees in the Year Book, that of the sisters is found in full in the midst of, and apparently of equal authority with, those of the Standing Committees of this Conference.
Do not misunderstand me! I am not urging that the sisters should not have full recognition, but rather that both their work and that of the Temperance Committee should have more recognition - in a word, that both these Committees should be appointed by this Conference for the specific work they have in hand, should present their annual reports to us, and have the same
right of appeal to the whole brotherhood, backed by all the influence and weight that appointment by this Conference can give.
One other thought, and I have done. We call ourselves Churches of Christ, and glory in the simple name: then it behoves us to reflect the character and fulfil the mission of our Redeemer. In the glowing words of Isaiah, afterwards used by Jesus of Himself, God has given us a picture of Him: 'The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek: He hath sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound: to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.'
Such was His mission: how completely did He fulfil it! Read the sacred records, and mark how often 'the people followed Him and He received them, and spake unto them of the Kingdom of God and healed them that had need of healing;' how 'the people followed Him on foot out of their cities, and Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them and healed their sick;' again, most beautiful of all, how 'at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were sick and them that were possessed with devils, and all the city was gathered together at the door.'
Such was the character and work of the Christ of God, and such must be the Church of Christ if it be true to its name - a centre of hope, joy, comfort, healing, and blessing for body and soul.
To-day the opportunity is ours! Every individual Church has a magnificent part to play. It should be known as a source whence weary men and stricken women may draw comfort and help, and it should know the conditions of the masses that surround it.
Is there a sorrowing mother whose son lies buried in the blood-stained trench? A young widow, whose hapless child has been made fatherless by the ruthless hand of war? A husband and breadwinner 'perplexed in the extreme' by the stern struggle of life? An erring, sin-stricken sister who would fain falter out her penitence on some motherly breast? A maiden whose heart is torn by cruel suspense for her lover?
Have these, and thousands like them, been found coming into our chapels as into a harbour refuge? Have we, as Churches, found that we are gathering them in, by our reflection of the love and sympathy and tender compassion of the Saviour?
For these, and all the sorrowing, the worn, and the weary, the Church of Christ should be known as a haven of rest, where pleasant smile and kindly hands will welcome, where the sympathetic tear will flow, where loving counsel will greet them, where no Pharisaic self-righteousness will chill the reviving love for God, but where, as there are means to do it, help will be given, and the great heart of God will be seen and known in the loving ministrations of His children. Oh, my brethren, the Churches of Christ to-day have a glorious opportunity and a stupendous responsibility. We have a joyful Gospel to preach, telling of a Saviour who is able to save to the uttermost: a message of salvation where the way is plain and easy to follow, and the blessing sure: a Church founded by our Lord and perfected by his divinely inspired Apostles - one in which there is a call and scope for the highest talents and consecrated powers of every brother and sister, where, subject only to the
divine law of brotherly love, every one may live out his life to the full, finding an outlet for every energy, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, bond nor free, but all one in Christ Jesus - a perfectly planned society suited to effect the divine purpose of winning the world to Himself. It needs but that we enter into the open door, and, in the grace of God, go forward to fulfil our destiny, to work out the will of God in the salvation of men, and to hasten the day when the isles shall no longer wait for His law, but shall rejoice, with all the redeemed sons of Adam, in the glory of His revealed love: and when, according to His Word, the kingdoms of this world shall indeed become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.
W.B. AINSWORTH INDEX