CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIAL REFORM.*
Jr the present writer were asked what, in his judgment, was the greatest change which had come over organised Christianity during the last half-century, especially in England, he would say that it lay in a different conception of the aspect of religion towards actual life, and by actual life we mean life in the secular order here and now. It is not true to say that Christianity is solely a religion for the next world, or that it is a sort of spiritual anodyne for soothing the victims of misery in this present life. That it has often been so presented there can be no doubt, and that such presentation is based on a certain truth is also clear. Christianity does not find our actual life here that wholly good thing which mere naturalism supposes; it does not find man entirely good. The close of the great Christian vision reveals the earth and the works that are therein being burnt up ; it reveals the forces of evil let loose. If we say that this is a dream during the terrible per- secution of the Church under Nero, and that the doctrine of Christ is different, it must be said that Christ urged his fol- lowers to strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many would strive and would not be able. There is a distinct note of terror and warning in Christianity which some of our easy- going preachers of to-day ignore or gloss over, a note marking the infinite distinction, to use Carlyle's words, between a good and a bad man. But while the Christian doctrine, whether in the hands of Christ himself, of Paul, of Peter, or of John, does seem to regard this present life as a probation, a rough school of education and discipline for the will, and looks to the true issues of life as only revealing themselves after the curtain of the secular order has been rung down, yet Christianity itself in the mouth of Christ declares the future judgment as hinging upon what men have actually done to their fellow-men in this life. In other words, we create our own heaven or hell by our attitude towards our human associates. Have we visited, helped, and comforted them, or have we passed them by? That is the test. The two aspects of Christianity are not irreconcilable, but at different times in history the Church has dwelt upon one aspect or another; and whereas religion formerly leaned on the more purely individual side of Christian life, it now tends to lay stress upon the social side.
Of this tendency the two volumes before us are excellent examples. They are conceived in the vein of the Epistle of James, faith being viewed in the works in which they issue. Not that the author of either would regard that "epistle of straw," as Luther called it, as containing the whole gospel, but it indicates the side on which emphasis is now laid. The selfish
• (1.) Christian Aspects of Life. By Brooke Foga Weecott, D.D.. Bishop of Durham. London: Macmillan and Co. [711. 6d..] —(2.) The Service of God : Ser- mons, Dump. and Address. By Samuel A. Barnett, Canon of Bristol cathedral. London Longman' and Co.
dreams of heavenly bliss in a cushioned pew while the outside multitude is perishing of hunger, disease, ignorance, vice, and crime, while war is preparing to strike down its victims, while the habitations of the earth are full of cruelty, will not satisfy the conscience of the Church at the close of this century. The movement is not without its dangers. Tender souls, filled with enthusiasm, may unintentionally do much harm, for the problems of population, of machinery, of finance, of municipal wellbeing will not yield to mere goodness of heart without the special training involved in an intellectual grip of these problems. But there are signs that the lesson of the lives of some of the great mediwval Churchmen and founders of religious Orders, of St. Bernard, St. Francis, St. Gregory the Great, are not lost upon our religious teachers of to-day. Those great men not only sympathised with the poor and suffering, they also intellectually apprehended the social problems of their time, and some of our modern Church- men are endeavouring to grasp some of the problems of ours. Among these the Bishop of Durham and Canon Barnett are honourably distinguished, and in these volumes they have given utterance to their thoughts on the relation which religion should bear to the social question. Ultimately both hold that there is no great gulf between the sacred and the secular, but that the sacred is expressed through the secular. There is no "other-world," but there is one continuous and universal life, in which we share, and it is our sphere of duty to address ourselves to that section of eternity in which we now are, and make of it what Christ called the Kingdom of Heaven. That is practically the drift and purpose of both these volumes. Most of the leading social questions of the day are discussed in both volumes,— labour, co-operation, international arbitration, benefit societies, education, the position and duties of the Church of England, the social misery which we find blighting, as with a curse, our powerful and wealthy civilisation. It is argued that the religious man, as such, has duties with regard to these matters laid upon him, that he must carry his religion into his civic life and make it felt as a power there.
This is not an easy task. It involves the most subtle problem as to the relation of the eternal to the temporal, the problem that has haunted Europe since the dawn of Christianity. Is the Church as a body to enter the political arena ? If she does, will she not lose her distinctive character and miss her true vocation ? Will she not be soon involved in party passions ? We all know that the Church of England for a long time was largely identified with Toryism, and that, as Dr. Arnold said, she preached at the poor. On the other hand, were not the Nonconformists identified with the great Liberal party, and did not their religious life become secularised and narrowed thereby ? We can explain how this twofold phenomenon came about, but we cannot ex- plain away the harm it did to Christianity in England. Both the Bishop of Durham and Canon Barnett are very far from desiring any political partisanship among Christians as such. Their position is plain. The religious man is born into a State, and consequently must share the civic life of that State, which itself is but a member of the community of nations. In the old Pagan world the State was in itself the end, and the sole end of human endeavour; in it the per- fection of life was assumed to be realised. Christianity has introduced into life the element of infinity, so that we know that our perfection cannot be realised in the State; we have an outlook beyond, our hopes stretch "beyond this bourne of time and place." But at the same time we have principles of life which we must try to realise in the actual world, or we shall die of inanition, our spiritual life will become thin and spectral. Therefore, though we cannot regard the State as furnishing a field for the display in all its unfoldings of a life that is infinite, we are bound to apply those truths in which we believe to actual society, and the liberty of speech and organisation which has been won permits of our doing this. Thus we have given us the mean between mystic quietism and complete immersion in mere secular politics, and both these volumes hint at the line of action we should take in carrying out these principles into social life. This may be said to be the special task which both authors keep ever in view.
In attempting social reform the great danger is to rely on mere machinery, to apply secular tests to spiritual things. Christianity is interested in character, not in statistics ; its ideal results cannot be probed and analysed by vulgar material tests. In an address entitled "Philanthropists and Others' Needs" Canon Barnett has some excellent remarks on this subject, which are perhaps the most significant utter- ances in either volume : "Reliance on sensations, on u.t.eason, and on party spirit must, indeed, be fatal to the individual character on which the existence of religion depends. Results are no proof of success if the methods have weakened character." This is the keynote of Canon Barnett's book. That of Bishop Westcott is the paramount duty of placing the ideal of what Christ called the Kingdom of Heaven first of all. In an address on "Citizenship, Human and Divine," he uses these words : "We have transposed the Divine sequence of duties. Instead of placing our search for the Kingdom of God first, we postpone it till we have satisfied every secular want. We have forgotten the claims of life in our desire to accumulate the means of living. A truly human life, whatever be its nature, requires leisure and quiet and reflection ; and still day by day we seem to strive more eagerly to make them unattainable." We have, therefore, a conception of the way in which Christianity may work in relation to social and political reform,—the furtherance of the Kingdom of Heaven by every legiti- mate means, but also the development of character as itself the first need of that Kingdom. Not giving to every one "a good time," not thinking only of bodily needs, but labouring to draw out the best in every human being,—that is true Christian politics, as we read it in these volumes. The subject of education itself (which in a very real sense is the bottom question) is dealt with in both books, especially in an admirable address delivered at Birmingham by the Bishop of Durham, in which the true methods of education, from which our cramming and much-examined age has departed so widely, are set forth. The gentle wisdom of this fine address, as of most of Bishop Westcott's utterances, is beyond praise. Canon Barnett is on the same lines when he says that, instead of the crude machinery summed up as missions to the poor, each poor man needs individual help, and that, consequently, individual service instead of aiding people in a lump is the need of the time. In a word, soul and character, not machinery, is the solution of the social problem. This idea is the connected line running through both these volumes, and no social reformer but will be the better for studying both.