Preached for the Kirkdale Ragged Schools, Liverpool, 1870.
St Matt, xviii. 14. "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."
I am here to plead for the Kirkdale Industrial Ragged School, and Free School-room Church. The great majority of children who attend this school belong to the class of "street arabs," as they are now called; and either already belong to, or are likely to sink into, the dangerous classes--professional law-breakers, profligates, and barbarians. How these children have been fed, civilized, christianized, taught trades and domestic employments, and saved from ruin of body and soul, I leave to you to read in the report. Let us take hold of these little ones at once. They are now soft, plastic, mouldable; a tone will stir their young souls to the very depths, a look will affect them for ever. But a hardening process has commenced within them, and if they are not seized at once, they will become harder than adamant; and then scalding tears, and the most earnest trials, will be all but useless.
This report contains full and pleasant proof of the success of the schools; but it contains also full proof of a fact which is anything but pleasant--of the existence in Liverpool of a need for such an institution. How is it that when a ragged school like this is opened, it is filled at once: that it is enlarged year after year, and yet is filled and filled again? Whence comes this large population of children who are needy, if not destitute; and who are, or are in a fair way to become, dangerous? And whence comes the population of parents whom these children represent? How is it that in Liverpool, if I am rightly informed, more than four hundred and fifty children were committed by the magistrates last year for various offences; almost every one of whom, of course, represents several more, brothers, sisters, companions, corrupted by him, or corrupting him. You have your reformatories, your training ships, like your Akbar, which I visited with deep satisfaction yesterday- -institutions which are an honour to the town of Liverpool, at least to many of its citizens. But how is it that they are ever needed? How is it--and this, if correct, or only half correct, is a fact altogether horrible--that there are now between ten and twelve thousand children in Liverpool who attend no school--twelve thousand children in ignorance of their duty to God and man, in training for that dangerous class, which you have, it seems, contrived to create in this once small and quiet port during a century of wonderful prosperity. And consider this, I beseech you--how is it that the experiment of giving these children a fair chance, when it is tried (as it has been in these schools) has succeeded? I do not wonder, of course, that it has succeeded, for I know Who made these children, and Who redeemed them, and Who cares for them more than you or I, or their best friends, can care for them. But do you not see that the very fact of their having improved, when they had a fair chance, is proof positive that they had not had a fair chance before? How is that, my friends?
And this leads me to ask you plainly--what do you consider to be your duty toward those children; what is your duty toward those dangerous and degraded classes, from which too many of them spring? You all know the parable of the Good Samaritan. You all know how he found the poor wounded Jew by the wayside; and for the mere sake of their common humanity, simply because he was a man, though he would have scornfully disclaimed the name of brother, bound up his wounds, set him on his own beast, led him to an inn, and took care of him.
Is yours the duty which the good Samaritan felt?--the duty of mere humanity? How is it your duty to deal, then, with these poor children? That, and I think a little more. Let me say boldly, I think these children have a deeper and a nearer claim on you; and that you must not pride yourselves, here in Liverpool, on acting the good Samaritan, when you help a ragged school. We do not read that the good Samaritan was a merchant, on his march, at the head of his own caravan. We do not read that the wounded man was one of his own servants, or a child of one of his servants, who had been left behind, unable from weakness or weariness to keep pace with the rest, and had dropped by the wayside, till the vultures and the jackals should pick his bones. Neither do we read that he was a general, at the head of an advancing army, and that the poor sufferer was one of his own rank and file, crippled by wounds or by disease, watching, as many a poor soldier does, his comrades march past to victory, while he is left alone to die. Still less do we hear that the sufferer was the child of some poor soldier's wife, or even of some drunken camp-follower, who had lost her place on the baggage-waggon, and trudged on with the child at her back, through dust and mire, till, in despair, she dropped her little one, and left it to the mercies of the God who gave it her.
In either case, that good Samaritan would have known what his duty was. I trust that you will know, in like case, what your duty is. For is not this, and none other, your relation to these children in your streets, ragged, dirty, profligate, sinking and perishing, of whom our Lord has said--"It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish?" It is not His will. I am sure that it is not your will either. I believe that, with all my heart. I do not blame you, or the people of Liverpool, nor the people of any city on earth, in our present imperfect state of civilisation, for the existence among them of brutal, ignorant, degraded, helpless people. It is no one's fault, just because it is every one's fault--the fault of the system. But it is not the will of God; and therefore the existence of such an evil is proof patent and sufficient that we have not yet discovered the whole will of God about this matter; that we have not yet mastered the laws of true political economy, which (like all other natural laws) are that will of God revealed in facts. Our processes are hasty, imperfect, barbaric--and their result is vast and rapid production: but also waste, refuse, in the shape of a dangerous class. We know well how, in some manufactures, a certain amount of waste is profitable--that it pays better to let certain substances run to refuse, than to use every product of the manufacture; as in a steam mill, where it pays better not to consume the whole fuel, to let the soot escape, though every atom of soot is so much wasted fuel. So it is in our present social system. It pays better, capital is accumulated more rapidly, by wasting a certain amount of human life, human health, human intellect, human morals, by producing and throwing away a regular percentage of human soot--of that thinking, acting dirt, which lies about, and, alas! breeds and perpetuates itself in foul alleys and low public houses, and all dens and dark places of the earth.
But, as in the case of the manufactures, the Nemesis comes, swift and sure. As the foul vapours of the mine and the manufactory destroy vegetation and injure health, so does the Nemesis fall on the world of man; so does that human soot, these human poison gases, infect the whole society which has allowed them to fester under its feet.
Sad, but not hopeless! Dark, but not without a gleam of light on the horizon! For I can conceive a time when, by improved chemical science, every foul vapour which now escapes from the chimney of a manufactory, polluting the air, destroying the vegetation, shall be seized, utilised, converted into some profitable substance; till the black country shall be black no longer, the streams once more crystal clear, the trees once more luxuriant, and the desert which man has created in his haste and greed shall, in literal fact, once more blossom as the rose. And just so can I conceive a time when, by a higher civilisation, formed on a political economy more truly scientific, because more truly according to the will of God, our human refuse shall be utilised, like our material refuse, when man, as man, even down to the weakest and most ignorant, shall be found to be (as he really is) so valuable, that it will be worth while to preserve his health, to develop his capabilities, to save him alive, body, intellect, and character, at any cost; because men will see that a man is, after all, the most precious and useful thing on the earth, and that no cost spent on the development of human beings can possibly be thrown away.
I appeal, then, to you, the commercial men of Liverpool, if there are any such in this congregation. If not, I appeal to their wives and daughters, who are kept in wealth, luxury, refinement, by the honourable labours of their husbands, fathers, brothers, on behalf of this human soot. Merchants are (and I believe that they deserve to be) the leaders of the great caravan, which goes forth to replenish the earth and subdue it. They are among the generals of the great army which wages war against the brute powers of nature all over the world, to ward off poverty and starvation from the ever-teeming millions of mankind. Have they no time--I take for granted that they have the heart--to pick up the footsore and weary, who have fallen out of the march, that they may rejoin the caravan, and be of use once more? Have they no time--I am sure they have the heart--to tend the wounded and the fever-stricken, that they may rise and fight once more? If not, then must not the pace of their march be somewhat too rapid, the plan of their campaign somewhat precipitate and ill-directed, their ambulance train and their medical arrangements somewhat defective? We are all ready enough to complain of waste of human bodies, brought about by such defects in the British army. Shall we pass over the waste, the hereditary waste of human souls, brought about by similar defects in every great city in the world?
Waste of human souls, human intellects, human characters--waste, saddest of all, of the image of God in little children. That cannot be necessary. There must be a fault somewhere. It cannot be the will of God that one little one should perish by commerce, or by manufacture, any more than by slavery, or by war.
As surely as I believe that there is a God, so surely do I believe that commerce is the ordinance of God; that the great army of producers and distributors is God's army. But for that very reason I must believe that the production of human refuse, the waste of human character, is not part of God's plan; not according to His ideal of what our social state should be; and therefore what our social state can be. For God asks no impossibilities of any human being.
But as things are, one has only to go into the streets of this, or any great city, to see how we, with all our boasted civilisation, are, as yet, but one step removed from barbarism. Is that a hard word? Why, there are the barbarians around us at every street corner! Grown barbarians--it may be now all but past saving--but bringing into the world young barbarians, whom we may yet save, for God wishes us to save them. It is not the will of their Father which is in heaven that one of them should perish. And for that very reason He has given them capabilities, powers, instincts, by virtue of which they need not perish. Do not deceive yourselves about the little dirty, offensive children in the street. If they be offensive to you, they are not to Him who made them. "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." Is there not in every one of them, as in you, the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world? And know you not Who that Light is, and what He said of little children? Then, take heed, I say, lest you despise one of these little ones. Listen not to the Pharisee when he says, Except the little child be converted, and become as I am, he shall in nowise enter into the kingdom of heaven. But listen to the voice of Him who knew what was in man, when He said, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Their souls are like their bodies, not perfect, but beautiful enough, and fresh enough, to shame any one who shall dare to look down on them. Their souls are like their bodies, hidden by the rags, foul with the dirt of what we miscall civilisation. But take them to the pure stream, strip off the ugly, shapeless rags, wash the young limbs again, and you shall find them, body and soul, fresh and lithe, graceful and capable--capable of how much, God alone who made them knows. Well said of such, the great Christian poet of your northern hills--
"Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home."
Truly, and too truly, alas! he goes on to say--
"Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing boy."
Will you let the shades of that prison-house of mortality be peopled with little save obscene phantoms? Truly, and too truly, he goes on--
"The youth, who daily further from the east Must travel, still is Nature's priest, And by the vision splendid, Is on his way attended."
Will you leave the youth to know nature only in the sense in which an ape or a swine knows it; and to conceive of no more splendid vision than that which he may behold at a penny theatre? Truly again, and too truly, he goes on--
"At length the man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day."
Yes, to weak, mortal man the prosaic age of manhood must needs come, for good as well as for evil. But will you let that age be--to any of your fellow citizens--not even an age of rational prose, but an age of brutal recklessness; while the light of common day, for him, has sunk into the darkness of a common sewer?
And all the while it was not the will of their Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Is it your will, my friends; or is it not? If it be not, the means of saving them, or at least the great majority of them, is easier than you think. Circumstances drag downward from childhood, poor, weak, fallen, human nature. Circumstances must help it upward again once more. Do your best to surround the wild children of Liverpool with such circumstances as you put round your own children. Deal with them as you wish God to deal with your beloved. Remember that, as the wise man says, the human plant, like the vegetable, thrives best in light; and you will discover, by the irresistible logic of facts, by the success of your own endeavours, by seeing these young souls grow, and not wither, live, and not die--that it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.