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CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTORY

IN the year 1694, H. A. Francke was profoundly moved by the saying of the Apostle Paul: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” The words henceforth never lost their hold over him, but became the source and impulse of his activity. The origin of very much that has since been done in our country in the name of Christian charity may be dated from that time, and the bold confidence expressed in the Apostle’s words has led to the accomplishment of projects that at one time appeared impossible.

And now, after two hundred years, there is again especial need of that same confidence. It is not that we belong, as did Francke, to a Church in which the duty of Christian charity is neglected, but that the nature of that duty itself has clearly changed, and is now 4so new and so vast that all our old methods appear inadequate. It seems to be no longer a problem with which individuals can deal, and the principal object of this Congress is to take counsel together, with a view to right action. While particular points require to be discussed on the lines appropriate to each, it is essential to have the whole question set clearly before us, to see plainly what it is we are aiming at, and examine the means at our disposal. We are not, however, now concerned with the problem of social questions in general, but with the duty of the Church and the Christian community.

Such a duty is obvious if we are to apply the Gospel to present circumstances, and I can easily understand the radical tendency of some who would exclude all remoter matters. It is true that historical retrospect is not always free from danger. A good steersman must look ahead, not behind; and a backward glance over the past may check bold action, and see impossibilities where really it is only a question of difficulties. Furthermore, history can never throw light on the path that lies before us. Among the members of this Congress, however, there will be no doubt that the social mission of the Church to-day can be determined 5only by the help of history, not merely because this is a guide to the shallows and reefs to be avoided, but still more because the different churches in all their aspects, including that of charitable societies, are, in their gradual growth, historic institutions. Unless we are prepared to undervalue all the experience gained in the course of history, we must make up our minds to preserve the links between the present and the past.

Before proceeding to deal with the problem itself, I must call attention to a fact that may well inspire us with hope and gladness. Throughout the whole civilised world questions are now being discussed concerning economic: arrangements and the relations between capital and labour; this is in itself proof that much social work has already been accomplished. It is not long since culture, rights and human dignity were the monopoly of some few thousands amongst all the inhabitants of Europe, while the great masses of people lived dreary lives under tyrannous oppression, possessing neither rights nor education, their whole existence being one long misery. To-day, on the contrary,—at least in our own country, and among many other kindred nations,—all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law; all enjoy the 6same legal protection; slavery and serfdom are things of the past; a fair amount of knowledge and education are within the reach of all; and labour is respected. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are in many ways no mere empty words, but the real framework of our individual and social life, the pillars of the building we are raising. All this has been accomplished in the lifetime of a few generations, and it is absurd to question the fact of progress, amidst improvements so obvious and immense.

Yet the retort is frequently made: What in practice have this Liberty, this Equality, this Fraternity proved to be? Have we not been deceived by them in the past? Do they not, on the one hand, threaten us with the rule of ignorance and folly, and, on the other hand, are they not mere catchwords, deprived of real meaning by the dependence of Labour upon that Capital which it does not itself possess? The truth,—say these pessimists,—is that the old oppression still prevails,—in a different cloak, it may be, but, for all that, in an aggravated form; the worst kind of servitude is rife; legal equality, besides being imperilled by the existence of Capital, is at best but a negative good; and education for the masses is a mere possibility, of which they cannot avail themselves! 7Nominally we are all equal; but in reality a minority lives as before at the expense of a vast majority, whose members are still consumed by cares, and find the rights they have won to be in part but a niggardly instalment of their dues, and at the same time a mockery of their helpless condition.

Those who argue thus are not wholly wrong, but they are not right. The above-mentioned blessings, in which all are supposed to share, may indeed be, and to some extent really are, mere delusions. But just try to remove them now, or even to imagine that they do not exist! They are great and lasting possessions, won with effort, and none the less valuable because not all-sufficient. Blessings they still would be, even though at the present time they should result in intensifying economic difficulties. Retrogression is no longer possible for us; and shame upon those who desire it! Let us rather rejoice in having already achieved much that, a few generations ago, seemed but an empty dream.

I must now, after these introductory remarks, ask you to follow me in a historical retrospect. Before entering upon this, however, it is necessary to consider the underlying historical question of the general attitude of 8the Gospel towards social arrangements. We shall then glance at the successive epochs of ecclesiastical history, and finally endeavour to answer the question, What is the social mission of the Church of to-day?

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