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All Saints' Day and Other Sermons, 36 - USELESS SACRIFICE

By Charles Kingsley


      Preached at Southsea for the Mission of the Good Shepherd. October 1871.

      Isaiah i. 11-17. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: . . . When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."

      I have been asked to plead to-day for the mission of the Good Shepherd in Portsea.

      I am informed that Portsea contains some thirteen thousand souls, divided between two parishes. That they, as I feared, include some of the most ignorant and vicious of both sexes which can be found in the kingdom; that there are few or no rich people in the place; that the rich who have an interest in the labour of these masses live away from the place, and from the dwellings of those whom they employ--a social evil new to England; but growing, alas! fearfully common in it; and that vice, and unthrift, uncertain wages, and unhealthy dwellings produce there, as elsewhere, misery and savagery most deplorable. I am told, too, that this mission has been working, nobly and self-denyingly, among these unhappy people for some years past. That it can, and ought to largely extend its operations; that it is in want of fresh funds; that it is proposed to build a new church, which, it is hoped, will be a centre of civilization and organization, as well as of religion and morality, for the district; and I am bidden to invite you, as close neighbours of Portsea, to help in the good work. I, of course, know too little of local facts, or of the temper of the people of Southsea. But I am bound to believe it to be the same as I have found it elsewhere. And I therefore shall confine myself to general questions, and shall treat this case of Portsea, as what it is, alas! one among a hundred similar ones, and say to you simply what I have said for twenty-five years, wherever and whenever I can get a hearing. And therefore if I seem here and there to speak sharply and sternly, recollect that I pay you a compliment in so doing--first, that I speak not to you, but to all English men and women; and next, that I speak as to those who have noble instincts, if they will be only true to them:--as to English people, who are not afraid of being told the truth; to English people who do wrong rather from forgetfulness and luxury, than from meanness and cruelty aforethought; who, as far as I have seen, need, for the most part, only to be reminded that they are doing wrong, to reawaken them to their better selves, and set them trying honestly and bravely to do right.

      Let me then begin this sermon with a parable. Alas! that the parable should represent a common and notorious fact. Suppose yourselves in some stately palace, amid marbles and bronzes, statues and pictures, and all that cunning brain and cunning hand, when wedded to the high instinct of beauty, can produce. The furniture is of the very richest, and kept with the most fastidious cleanliness. The floors of precious wood are polished like mirrors. The rooms have every appliance for the ease of the luxurious inmates. Everywhere you see, not mere brute wealth, but taste, purity, and comfort. There is no lack of intellect either:--wise and learned books fill the library shelves; maps and scientific instruments crowd the tables. Nor of religion either;--for the house contains a private chapel, fitted up in the richest style of mediaeval ecclesiastical art. And as you walk along from polished floor to polished floor, you seem to pass in review every object which the body, or the mind, or the spirit, of the most civilized human being can need for its satisfaction.

      But, next to the chapel itself, a scent of carrion makes you start. You look, against the will of your smart and ostentatious guide, through a half-open door, and see another sight--a room, dark and foul, mildewed and ruinous; and, swept carelessly into a corner, a heap of dirt, rags, bones, waifs and strays of every kind, decaying all together.

      You ask, with astonishment and disgust, how comes that there? and are told, to your fresh astonishment and disgust, that that is only where the servants sweep the litter. But crouching behind the litter, in the darkest corner, something moves. You go up to it, in spite of the entreaties of your guide, and find an aged idiot gibbering in her rags.

      Who is she? Oh, an old servant--or a child, or possibly a grand-child, of some old servant--your guide does not remember which. She is better out of the way there in the corner. At all events she can find plenty to eat among the dirt-heap; and as for her soul, if she has one, the clergyman is said to come and see her now and then, so probably it will be saved.

      Would you not turn away from that palace with the contemptuous thought-- Civilized? Refined? These people's civilization is but skin-deep. Their refinement is but an outside show. Look into the first back room, and you find that they are foul barbarians still.

      And yet such, literally such and no better, is the refinement of modern England; such, and no better, is the civilization of our great towns. Such I fear from what I am told, is the civilization of Southsea, beside the barbarism to be found in Portsea close at hand. Dirt and squalor, brutality and ignorance close beside such luxury as the world has not seen, it may be, since the bad days of Heathen Rome.

      But more, if you turned away, you would say to yourselves, if you were thoughtful persons--not only what barbarism, but what folly. The owner and his household are in daily danger. The idiot in discontent, or even in mere folly, may seize a lighted candle, burn petroleum, as she did in Paris of late, and set the whole palace on fire. And more, the very dirt is in itself inflammable, and capable, as it festers, of spontaneous combustion. How many a stately house has been burnt down ere now, simply by the heating of greasy rags, thrust away in some neglected closet. Let the owner of the house beware. He is living, voluntarily, over a volcano of his own making.

      But more--what if you were told that the fault lay not so much in the negligence of servants as in that of the owner himself, that the master of that palace had over him a King, to whom all that was foul, neglectful, cruel, was inexpressibly hateful, so hateful that He once had actually stepped off the throne of the universe to die for such creatures as that poor idiot and her forgotten parents? Would you not question whether the prayers offered up in that chapel would have any answer from Him, save that awful answer He once gave? "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood."

      Oh, my friends, you who understand my parable, has the awful thought never struck you that such may be God's answer to the prayers of a nation which leaves in its midst such barbarism, such heathenism, as exists in every great town of this realm? And what if you were told next that the laws of His kingdom were eternal and inexorable, and that one of His cardinal laws is--that as a man sows, so shall he reap; that every sin punishes itself, even though the sinner does not know that he has sinned; that he who knew not his master's will, and did it not, shall be beaten with few stripes; that the innocent babe does not escape unburnt, because it knew not that fire burns; that the good man who lives in a malarious alley does not escape fever and cholera, because he does not know that dirt breeds pestilence; that, in a word, he who knew not his master's will, and did it not, shall be beaten with few stripes; but that he who knew his master's will, and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes? Then of how many and how heavy stripes, think you, will the inhabitant of that palace be counted worthy, who has been taught by Christianity for the last fifteen hundred years, and by physical science and political economy for the last fifty years, and yet persists, in defiance of his own knowledge, in leaving his used-up servants, and their children and grand-children after them, to rot, body, mind, and soul, in the very precincts of the palace, having no other excuse to offer for this than that it is too much trouble to treat them better, and that, on the whole, he can make money more rapidly by thus throwing away that human dirt, and leaving it to decay where it can, regardless what it pollutes and poisons; just as the manufacturer can make money more rapidly by not consuming his own smoke, but letting it stream out of the chimney to poison with blackness and desolation the green fields where God meant little children to gather flowers?

      Ladies, to you I appeal, not merely as women, but as Ladies, if (as I am assured by those who know you), ladies you are, in the grand old meaning of that grand old word.

      If so--you know then, what it is to be a lady and what not. You know that it is not to go, like the daughters of Zion in Isaiah's time, with mincing gait, and borrowed head-gear, and tasteless finery, the head well-nigh empty, the heart full of little save vanity and vexation of spirit, busy all the week over cheap novels and expensive dresses, and on Sunday over a little dilettante devotion. You know, I take for granted, that whatever the world may think or say, that to be that, is not to be a lady.

      For you know, I take for granted, what that word lady meant at first. That it meant she who gave out the loaves, the housewife who provided food and clothes; the stewardess of her household and dependants; the spinner among her maidens; the almsgiver to the poor; the worshipper in the chapel, praying for wild men away in battle. The being from whom flowed forth all gracious influences of thought and order, of bounty and compassion, of purity and piety, civilizing and Christianizing a whole family, a whole domain. This it was to be a lady, in the old days when too many men had little care save to make war. And this it is to be a lady still, in the new days in which too many men have little care save to make money. Show then that you can be ladies still. That the spirit is the spirit of your ancestresses, though the form in which it must show itself is changed with the change of society.

      To you I appeal; to as many in this church as are ladies, not in name only, but in spirit and in truth. Say to your fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and say too, and that boldly, to the tradesmen with whom you deal--Do you hear this? Do you hear that there are savages and heathens, generations of them, within a rifle-shot of the house? And you cannot exterminate them; cannot drive them out, much less kill them. You must convert them, improve them, make them civilized and Christian, if not for their own sakes, at least for our sakes, and for our children.

      And if they should answer: My dears, it is too true. But we did not make them or put them there, and they are not in our parish. They are no concern of ours, and besides they will not hurt us.

      Answer them: Not made by our fault! True, our hands are more or less clean: but what of that? There they are. If you had a tribe of Red Indians on the frontier of your settlement, would you take the less guard against them, because you did not put them there? Not in our parish, and what of that? They are in our county; they are in England. Has man the right, has man the power in the sight of God to draw any imaginary line of demarcation between Englishman and Englishman, especially when that line is drawn between rich and poor? England knows no line of demarcation, save the shore of the great sea; and even that her generosity is overleaping at this moment at the call of mere humanity, in bounty to sufferers by the West Indian hurricane, and by the Chicago fire. Will you send your help across the Atlantic; and deny it to the sufferers at your own doors? At least, if the rich be confined by an imaginary line across, the poor on the other side will not--they will cross it freely enough; and what they will bring with them will be concern enough of ours. Would it not be our concern if there was small- pox, scarlet fever, cholera among them? Should we not fear lest that might hurt us? Would you not bestir yourselves then? And do you not know that it is among such people as these that pestilence is always bred? And if not, is not the pestilence of the soul more subtle and more contagious than any pestilence of the body? What is the spreading power of fever to the spreading power of vice, which springs from tongue to tongue, from eye to eye, from heart to heart? What matter whether they be one mile off or five? Will not they corrupt our servants; and those servants again our children?

      And say to them, if you be prudent and thrifty housewives, Do not tell us that their condition costs you nothing. Even in pocket you are suffering now--as all England is suffering--from the existence of heathens and savages, reckless, profligate, pauperized. For if you pay no poor-rates for their support, the shop-keepers with whom you deal pay poor-rates; and must and do repay themselves, out of your pockets, in the form of increased prices for their goods.

      And when you have said all this, ladies, and more,--for more will suggest itself to your woman's wit,--say to them with St Paul--"And yet show we unto you a more excellent way,"--a nobler argument--and that is Charity.

      Not almsgiving. I had almost said, anything but that; making bad worse, the improvident more improvident, the liar more ready to lie, the idler more ready to idle. But the Charity which is Humanity, which is the spirit of pure pity, the Spirit of Christ and of God.

      Say then, Even if these poor creatures did us no harm, as they must and will do--civilize and christianize them for their own sakes, simply because they must be so very miserable--miserable too often with acute and conscious misery; too often with a worse misery, dull and unconscious, which knows not, stupified by ignorance and vice, that it is miserable, and ought to be more miserable still. For who is so worthy of our pity, as he who knows not that he is pitiable?--who takes ignorance, dirt, vice, passion, and the wretchedness which vice and passion bring, as all in the day's work, as he takes the rain and hail, the frost and snow,--as unavoidable necessities of mortal life, for which the only temporary alleviation is--drink?

      If the refined and pure-minded lady does not pity such beings as that, I know not of what her refinement is made. If the religious lady will not bestir herself, and make sacrifices to teach such people that that is not what God meant them to be--to stir up in them a noble self-discontent, a noble self-abhorrence, which may be the beginning of repentance and amendment of life--I know not of what her religion is made.

      One word more--I know that such thoughts as I have put before you to-day are painful. I know that we all--I as much as anyone in this church--are tempted to put them by, and say, I will think of things beautiful, not of things ugly; of art, poetry, science--all that is orderly, graceful, ennobling; and not of dirt, ignorance, vice, misery, all that is disorderly, degrading. Nay, even the most pious at times are tempted to say, I will think of heaven and not of earth. I will lift up my heart, and try to behold the glory and the goodness of God, and not the disgrace and sin of man.

      But only for a time may they thus think and speak. Happy if they can, at moments, lift up their hearts unto the Lord, and catch one glimpse of Him enthroned in perfect serenity and perfect order, governing the worlds with that all-embracing justice, which is at the same time all-embracing love, and so, giving Him thanks for His great glory, gain heart and hope to--what? To descend again, even were it from the beatific vision itself, to this disordered earth, to work a little--and, alas how little- -at lessening the sum of human ignorance, human vice, human misery--even as their Lord and Saviour stooped from the throne of the universe, and from the bosom of the Father, to toil and die for such as curse about the streets outside.

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