5 SEPTEMBER 1885, Page 17


MR. LLEWELYN DAVIES ON SOCIAL QUESTIONS.* THE main characteristic of these contributions to the theology of social questions is their wisdom. Sometimes they may appear to the reader to concede somewhat more than need be conced:d to the assailant of Christian theology. Sometimes, as in the last sermon in the volume,—the one on " Faith and Tolerance,"—Mr. Llewelyn Davies appears to take what might be called a somewhat needlessly anxious view of the perils of the day. But even when that is the first impression of the reader, it is apt to give way under the treatment of the writer ; and before one has finished the special sermon or paper in question, one is persuaded that more has been gained than lost by the apparent under-estimate of Christian resources or over-estimate of the resources of the scepti- cal world, by which one had been at first struck. For Mr. Llewelyn Davies never, like some modern preachers, surrenders the essence, while defending the form, of the truth to which he bears his testimony. He is as firm and simple in his confidence in the Gospel he has to preach, as he is candid in facing the facts * Social Questions from the Point of View of Christian Theology. By the Rev. J. Llewelyn Davies, Rector of Christ Church, St. Marylebone. London : Macmillan and Co. arrayed against him. If he over-estimates sometimes the force of the enemy, it is clearly a misapprehension on the right side, and produces the effect which is, after all, the most encouraging to others, namely, that there is nothing in the force of the en emy, how - ever strong it may appear, before which a man who knows what the real depth and strength of the Christian foundations of society are, need recoil in dismay.

Perhaps the most impressive sermons in the volume are not those with which it opens, nor even that, striking as it is, with which it concludes, but rather those on " The Economic Precepts of Christ" and on "Almsgiving," in which Mr. Davies expounds the tree drift of some of the most remarkable of Christ's precepts, and shows how rich a meaning they have, apart from that literal significance which "kills " instead of illustrating their true purpose. It is long since we have read anything abler or more truly persuasive than the sermon on "The Economic Precepts of Christ," preached from the text, " Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." gr. Davies insists that the idea of the whole of this passage is not the absolute undervaluing of earthly things, but the relative undervaluing of them as compared with any- thing really essential to the Christian character. It would, we think, be difficult to illustrate this more powerfully than in the following passage :-

" With whatever consequences, at whatever cost,—the Christian is called upon to set his affections on the things above. This is what Christ's decisive language in the Sermon on the Mount is intended to convey to our minds. He means that we should say, without reserve, ' Perish whatever stands in the way of our devotion to spiritual interests, to duty, love, self-sacrifice, to the will of God and the true welfare of our brethren. Let earthly industry, earthly accumulation, take its chance after these. The claim of Heaven is absolute ; the claim of earth is relative and subordinate.' What sort of doctrine is this ? Is it extreme, visionary, impracticable ? What- ever it may seem to you, do not allow yourselves to doubt that it is the teaching of our Lord and Master, and that he addresses it in all its stringency to every one of us. It is no matter that we have our wants, our businesses, our tastes, our fears, our burdens. None of these things must interfere with the imperious claims of the spiritual divine order upon the human soul. It is the very idea of a Christian that he acknowledges this order, and consents to be taken into it. This is the really important part of Christ's teach- ing, because it has to deal with the rooted tendencies in our flesh, which are so hard to get under ; because we all have such strenuous desires to be rich, to be pleased, to be comfortable, to be safe, to be in a good position. But we need not leave out of our consideration those other words of Christ, If ye seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these other things shall be added unto you.' Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.' I said that we must let earthly industry take its chance after the things above. But we may safely do so. The industry which produces and earns is in no danger of being destroyed by the predominance of heavenly interests, rightly understood. A second place is quite good enough for the prudence, the providence, that puts by earthly treasure, that stores up the grain in barns, and invests capital in industrial enterprises. But it holds that place securely when the spiritual divine order has the first place. I know that men may be tempted into idleness by the notion that they are caring for spiritual interests. Some of the Christians who had been taught by St. Paul were not proof against this temptation. He was obliged to warn those wbo were idly waiting for the appearing of the kingdom, that steady industry was an ordinance of God, that if a man wanted to eat he must work, that to neglect to provide for a man's household was to be worse than an infidel. In all ages there have been Christians who have failed to see the sacredness and heavenly authority of the laws which form families, societies, and nations, and have fancied that God was to be served by a renunciation of social and domestic ties. But Christ's teaching is not to be credited with errors like these. The impulses of duty and love which he would foster are the best correctives of the idle and careless instincts. You cannot suppose that a spiritual temper would make a man lazy and self- indulgent, or thoughtless as to the welfare of his parents or his children. No ; whatever paradox there may be in the statement, the voice which insists with authority, Lay not up treasures on earth : but treasures in heaven,' is that which best promotes industrious and provident habits in a community. Those who care for the real well- being of any community are obliged to contend earnestly against im- providence, and to do their best to encourage people to lay by. But they see plainly enough that what they are thus led to contend against are the fleshly instincts, and by no means the heavenly aims of God's children. A man is improvident because he likes taking his ease better than working, the indulgence of his appetites better than self-denial. The most effectual way of checking improvidence is to awaken the sense of duty, the care for higher things, the feelings and habits of one who thinks of human beings as the redeemed of Christ and God's children. Providence, I say again, may take its. chance, can be trusted to take care of itself, in a society of which the members are bent on realising the kingdom of God and his righteous- ness."

And the same subject is continued with equal, if not with even greater power, in the sermon on " Almsgiving." Mr. Davies refers to somebody's remark that if he had reused help to the apparently hungry, he could not eat his own dinner in comfort; and he tarns round upon this objector with the reply that such a statement is thoroughly irrelevant. Nobody wants him to eat his own dinner in comfort. It may probably be very good for him to be reflecting uncomfortably as he eats his dinner, how many thousands there are who have no dinner to eat, and how un- satisfactory is the social condition which leaves so many hungry while the few have more than they want. If that should lead him to help in any movement, however humble, which alters for the better the actual condition of things, which improves the prospects of the industrious poor, and helps them to wealth which now goes to swell the excessive gains of the over-rich, so much the better. The discomfort will then have had its right effect upon his mind, instead of its wrong effect in tempting him to give what does the poor harm instead of good. Who can fail to feel the truth, the beauty, and the strength of the following passages P- " What we want, in order to make as very cautious about giving relief, is not less pity, less consideration, less love ; but more pity, more consideration, more love. Oar blessed Lord was speaking not to mechanical creatures, but to men and women, to spiritual beings, to children of the Father in heaven, about their behaviour to other children of the same Father. ' Give to him that asketh thee.' Does be mean that we are to give some trifling dole to each beggar who happens to ask for it ? What an unworthy interpretation to put upon his words! Does he not call upon us to treat every suffering person as a partner, as a brother or sister F And would he allow us to say that, when we know suffering persons to be undeserving, we are discharged of all obligation towards them ? Ah, let us not think so, my fellow-sinners. It is sometimes a convenient, a com- pendious, way of speaking, to say that such a case of distress is not a deserving one ; but what we mean is, not that the undeserving have lost all claim upon us—God forbid, but that it is not wise to relieve them in the ways they would like. Careless almsgiving breeds directly, in the most obvious manner, certain vices, such as im- posture, improvidence, drunkenness, servility, religions pretence. Dreadful things to have any hand in creating! Well, what is meant when people are warned not to give to the undeserving, is that by giving to them they will certainly be promoting those vices. Give, yes, give freely ; but do not give a knife to a madman who asks for it, do not give sweet poison to a child who cries for it. Give what it is really kind to give ; give what will be of real advantage to those who ask ; give what may do some little good to a fellow-sinner as a child of God : and therefore give sometimes, in the tenderest Christian charity, a stern refusal. Is it charity to use the rod to a wayward rebellions child, and may it not be the truest charity to refuse a dole to the drunkard ? if I had the power of per- suading you who are in this church to sell all that you have and give away the proceeds to the poor, I would not do it ; for it seems to me certain that snob action would almost inevitably do more harm than good. But I have still lees doubt that Christ demands in all his dis- ciples such brotherly feeling, such a sense of partnership, as would be capable of that large renunciation if it were shown to be our best way of helping the poor. And I think we are bound to be uneasy in the comfortable enjoyment of so much that our brethren have to go with- out. We need some such uneasiness to prick us into brotherly action; and if we have the grace to be disturbed by it, we shall not fail to find opportunities of lessening it It seems to me that God has purposely made the helping of our brethren a difficult and perplexing business. If we find it. so, be must have purposely made it so; and he must have had our better training in view. It costs much, we can plainly see, to redeem souls. Doing good is no obvious easy occupation. It is beset by great disappointments, disappoint- ments the more and the sorer for those who conscientiously keep their eyes open to see the results of what they are doing. I believe that we shall be rightly guided,—what Christian could doubt it ?—if we seek and ask for guidance with sufficient earnestness. In all things it is the great point to get hold of the right principles, to look facts in the face, and to go on doing the best we know. St. Paul said, Let each of us please his neighbour.' But he did not stop here. It is possible to please a neighbour to his injury, and that could not be a Christian act. So he added, for that which is good unto edifying.' There we have the true principle of relief set before us. 'Let each of us give to his neighbour for that which is good unto edifying.' " In the opening sermons on " Morality," " The Aim of Christian Morality," and on the relation of faith to righteousness, Mr. Davies deals with his subject with much power; but it is a subject which requires a volume rather than two or three sermons ; for of course Mr. Llewelyn Davies raises almost as many issues as he settles in these interesting and thoughtful sermons. The idea which he throws up that the ' righteousness ' of God means, as applied to God, the eternal ' order ' which he impresses on the universe,—a conception developed with great skill by Jonffroy in his COW'S de Droit Natiarel,—seems to us to substi- tute a less impressive and significant idea for a more impressive. And we think Mr. Davies hardly does justice to what he calla "independent morality," when he regards It as antagonistic to the theological conception of righteousness as the law of fl-od's will. For surely it is not simply as the volition of an omni- potent being that God's will is recognised by us as the law of our life ; it is, as Mr. Davies himself admits, as the will of an all.righteous being; but if so, morality is in its essence inde- pendent of all " will," even of God's, though our morality is

not so, consisting in conformity to the will of a being whom we are taught by our nature to recognise as intrinsically perfect.

We drew attention last week to the striking paper on "The Advance of Women," and will conclude our review by referring to the fine sermon which concludes the volume on "Faith and Tolerance." In that sermon Mr. Davies recognises, as he always recognises in the fullest way, that there have been ages of the world in which the education of man required practical rules different from those which are imposed upon us now. He thinks it difficult to suppose that the stern laws against idolatry were not of the highest advantage to the Jews in the pre- Christian era; and he appears to suggest to us that St. John's strong prohibition against holding close communication with men who taught false doctrine concerning Christ, may have been suited to the age in which it was given and to the Christians to whom it was addressed. Yet he admits in the strongest way that for us it is absolutely necessary to recognise all that is good in the thoroughgoing materialists and sceptics by whom we are surrounded on every side; and that it will not do to shrink from contact with a world which nevertheless has much in it tending to undermine faith :— " The misgivings of Christians are not likely to be quieted by the satisfaction and confidence with which non-Christians are antici- pating the complete disintegration of supernaturalism. Their cause seems to be in the ascendant. The Christian world, through the long ages of its domination, had been endeavouring to suppress heresy and infidelity, if not by the sword and the stake, at least by disabilities of various kinds and by civil and social exclusion ; Christianity had been made a part of the law of the land in all Christian countries : but the Church has been rent by divisions ; toleration has become the only condition of peace; doubt has entered the general mind, and has admittedly shattered some of the tradi- tional forms of Christian theology ; liberty in its turn seems to create more of doubt, to stir np more and more of open revolt :—who can wonder that the advocates of materialistic unbelief should be triumphant, and should look for the speedy expulsion of all the old dreams about the supernatural from men's minds ? Their watchword is free competition of opinions ; the only truth to be relied on, in their view, is that which can stand every kind of questioning, and which, the more it is doubted, thrives and establishes itself the more ; beliefs which do not welcome free competition, seem to them self-condemned and doomed to extinction. The characteristic movements of the time,—such as the progress of natural science, the universal liberty of inquiry and discussion, the popularisation of superficial knowledge, —seem to be all in their favour. We who are Christians cannot cheerfully accept the challenge of free competition, though we may have some uneasy feeling of being at a disadvantage in declining it. We cannot be sure that the speculating and arguing and affirming of all the busy minds in the world would produce as their resultant the truth which we chiefly value. In a sense, no doubt, the establish- ment of the Christian faith was a result of competition. But it was not the result of a free competition of argument. The Christian faith has owed more, perhaps, to persecution than to freedom. It throve, not indeed, by persecuting, but by being persecuted. The strength of the Church, as of other causes by which the world has been ' wrought to sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not,' has been in possessing adherents who knew how to die. If believers in Christ should ever come to be persecuted again, their faith will recover an intensity which the atmosphere of freedom is not likely to impart to it."

But it is clear that we must not wit for religious earnestness till persecution brings it. It is by no means impossible that Christianity may one day be persecuted again ; but if all the earnestness is to go out of Christians till that consummation arrives, it will arrive too late to save Christianity ; nor would Christianity be worth saving if it could only flame into vitality under the pressure of adversity. That which rests upon God will not dwindle and vanish away solely because the world is willing to smile at it and let it alone. Indeed, though admitting that persecution has often made Christianity more vivid and intense than ever, we should not admit that the most characteristic features of our faith have been developed under persecution. There is no trace of the influence of persecution in the greater number of the teachings of the Gospels, or in the nobler writings of the Christian Church of other ages. Perhaps, indeed, there has never been a larger and deeper faith in Christ than there is at present, though there is also so much mockery, so much unbelief, and so much doubt.