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Good Words 1860
The Broken Link in our Social Chain


It is evident to every thinking mind that there is a link wanting in the social chain. Poets have sung that one of the seven "sweet influences" of Pleiades has fallen from the heavens, but the chain of the universe is strong and united as before; and if the bright sphere be lost, it is yet not missing. It cannot, however, be thus on our planet. No link can be torn from the living, loving chain, without injury. Nothing can be broken or lost from the social system, without causing social confusion and social misery. We feel the fracture and the blank at every turn. If we look above us and beneath us —to the right hand and the left—we find classes between whom there is no friendship, no sympathy, no mutual exchange of love, and honour, and helpfulness. If we turn to the numerous class of employers and employed—be they masters and "hands," mistresses and servants, dressmakers and fine ladies, buyers and sellers, we too frequently find insubordination, oppression, haughtiness, discontent, mutual dislike, or mutual indifference and mutual ignorance, existing between those who, in spite of adventitious differences, are in reality bone of the same bone, and flesh of the same flesh. If we advance a little further in social life, we find between those, not thus dependent on each other, distinctions and shades of difference which must appear strange indeed to the listening and onlooking dignities of heaven. If the various "circles" of Great Britain had each had a separate "centre of creation," instead of a common Fatherhood and a common Brotherhood, there could not be a more complete isolation than exists between many "sets" and classes in this our Christian land. This exclusiveness might be part and parcel of the reprobated "caste" of heathendom, were it not for one essential difference and superiority in the land of Juggernaut. Caste is there identical with the religion taught by their priests and their books;— caste is here in direct opposition to the law of revealed love—to the precepts of Him who saith, "Have no respect of persons."

The effects of the missing link are never seen more clearly than when spasmodic efforts are made, not to bring it back in its strength and its beauty, but to cement the broken ends of the chain. Thus many, occupying the high places of society, are found stooping frankly and gracefully to those of the lower or lowest rank. They can penetrate into the dens of Westminster or the Canongate with no risk of "confusion of ranks." They can make friends of the pauper or the pensioner with no danger of "losing caste." They can stretch down helping hands from their pedestals, and enjoy the while the fullest sense of their own superiority of clay. But when it comes to the classes next their own, they pause—there is danger—they draw back, "people must be kept in their proper places." The governess, or the retired shopkeeper's wife, or the would-be fashionable Mrs Smith, or Mrs Brown, might forget the difference between, and the exclusiveness of the ''upper ranks" would be intruded upon. There is no golden link between classes so near, and yet so far; or, at best, there is only the brassy link of patronage and condescension.

Nor is it only with those who assume the posture of looking down that the evil can be traced. Those who are looked down upon do their best to increase it. We find in almost every class, every "set," every town, and every neighbourhood, some who are busily striving up the weary ladder of society, or eagerly claiming a hard and embittered place in its treadmill; others who are always trying to be something that they are not—competing with those above them in dress, entertainments, and habits of life; others who, toadying and tuft-hunting on the one hand, look down in their turn upon those occupying the place which, in fancy at least, they have vacated. Society such as this resembles the stormy sea, the waves whereof cannot rest, but which busily pursue each other, only to sink uselessly in the wide arid sands.

Were these class or "caste" errors found exclusively among those of the earth earthy, and of the world worldly, they might be lamented over in the same category with many another grievous sin, as one of the "works of the flesh." But they cannot be thus dealt with, and the peculiarity consists in this, that they infest and cling to Christians, as well as worldlings, all the more obstinately that the sin is rarely acknowledged to be a sin at all, and still more rarely bewailed and forsaken.

There are many who profess a high standard of Christian zeal, activity, and spirituality, who yet erect a marvellously lower and limited one of Christian love; many who create tests for themselves of their own and their friends' advancement or retardment in the Christian life, who quite forget the second great scriptural test, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," when that neighbour happens to be in a class with whom it is inconvenient, and unusual, and difficult to amalgamate; many who keep scrupulously all the great laws of love affecting visibly the welfare of society, who love their relations, their Christian friends, and their enemies, because God commands it, who neglect altogether the mutual love, and sympathy, and wisdom, which God requires to be exercised between "classes," each made up of "neighbours." The sweet dew, and the sunshine, and the slimmer rain, fall not hither and thither as they list upon the grass or the flowers with which they have most affinity, or for which they feel most admiration, but they bestow their blessings according to the will of their Father in heaven, upon the evil and the good, upon the just and the unjust, upon the high and the low, upon all who need their gracious kindly influences.

Often is the answer made, "But we do love our neighbours of other classes; only the best way to shew our love is to do them any good we can, and to keep them in their proper places." O haughty and exclusive man, or woman, know thou that love at a distance is but another name for hatred? It was not thus that God so loved the world, with its varied classes of rich and poor, high and low. It was not thus that the Son came down from the glorious ranks of heaven, to touch, to raise, to walk with, to love, to die for the unclean, the ignorant, the degraded. Love to our neighbour must be shewn with a neighbour's nearness, and a neighbour's heart, and a neighbour's hand.

One, who will be long lamented in literary and social life, spoke of class evils at the very moment of his death, and passed away with the word "sympathy" upon his lips, as a needed and efficacious remedy. I would ask, in addition, whether "reverence" may not be, at least, one of the component parts of the missing link?

I. Reverence to ourselves.
II. Reverence to our fellow-men,
III. Reverence to God.

I. REVERENCE TO OURSELVES.

It may seem a needless injunction, in these our days of universal self assertion, to say to man or woman, "Reverence thyself,"—but there is a wide difference between the two. If we had a full, deep sense of the dignity of our own position, be it what it may, as a gift from God; if we remembered that He has appointed the bounds of our habitation, the amount of our worldly store, the precise spot in the scale of society in which He has work for us to do; if we acknowledged meekly, that, just as we are, we have a true and appreciable value in God's glorious universe, that God's angels watch and guard us, that God's Spirit promises "to direct our work in truth,"—there would be no need to assert for ourselves what God has asserted for us. Our souls would be filled with a great calm in the quiet and thankful recognition of our own "place," though it may be small as the single leaf of a huge western forest, or as one drop in the mighty waters of the Atlantic. There would then be no room for heartburnings against those who equally occupy what is God's "place" for them above us; no striving to emulate or resemble them; no haunting fears of being or appearing their inferiors, for such we cannot be— God has no respect of persons, and therefore acknowledges no inferiority, save of love and service; no dread of "compromising" ourselves and our own dignity, knowing that we are not our own but bought with a price, and therefore that God's dignity never can be compromised. Then would our hearts be set "at leisure from themselves to soothe and sympathise " with those who are apparently beneath us, and to welcome as "neighbours" those who, by differences of education, and station, and habits of thought, are indifferent or even repugnant to our natural feelings; then would we be free to use every earnest and loving method to help them on to the same spiritual and intellectual platform upon which we ourselves may stand, and to teach the same lesson which we have been taught, of reverentially recognising our own position, and trusting to God for strength to fulfil the duties attached to it.

"Know thou that pride, Howe'er disguised in its own majesty, Is littleness; that he who feels contempt For any living being, hath faculties Which he hath never used,—that thought with him Is in its infancy. The man whose eye Is ever on himself, doth look on one, The least of Nature's works, one who might move The wise man to that scorn which wisdom holds Unlawful evil. Oh, he wiser thou, Instructed that true knowledge leads to love; True dignity abides with him alone, Who in the silent hours of thought, Can still suspect and still revere himself, In lowliness of heart."—Wordsworth.

II. REVERENCE TO OUR FELLOW-MEN.

Let none think that the preceding remarks would countenance the levelling principles of the Radical or the Chartist. Equality, in that sense, has no legitimate place in the visible or invisible universe, or in that which is to come. The sun which rules by day, and the moon which rules by night, the little flower and the great tree, leviathan in his deep ocean waves and the microscopic dwellers of the coral and the tangle, have their varied and unequal ranks. The angels and archangel who depart on God's messages, or stand and wait around His throne,—the Cherubim who know more, and the Seraphim who love more,—have their diverse places. In the resurrection, as one star differeth from another star in glory, so shall the risen and redeemed shine and reign variously, some over "five cities," others over "ten," in the kingdom of their Father. God's ranks are, however, different from the world's ranks. The head that is couched beneath a palace upon earth, and the Lazarus at the palace gate, may both enter heaven; but it may be that the beggar's head lies nearer the Saviour's bosom than that which bore the crown; or it may be that the coronet was laid with more humility at the Redeemer's feet than the beggar's rags,— and so that which was first on earth, may also be first in heaven. It would appear too often as if the "chief end of man," whether despot or radical, or, what comes to the same thing, simply the self-absorbed, were to elevate themselves to their "proper place," and to depress others to what, by the same standard of judgment, they consider their "proper place." Were men, however, instead, to pay "honour where honour is due," to reverence others instead of asserting their own, and to obey the plain command, to do nothing through strife and vain-glory, but to esteem others better than themselves, and to look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others, what a change there would be on the troubled surface of society! — what treasures would come forth from its depths!—what righting of wrongs!—what setting at rest of vexed questions! —what sure and certain occupation of the "right places by the right men!" Would this be levelling? It might level hearts, but it would never level ranks. None will so readily have a high place in society accorded to them as those who, forgetful of themselves, are constantly labouring to help others, not, indeed, out of their rank, but in their rank.

Reverential sympathy and helpfulness to the beggar, because God hath fashioned all the inhabitants of the earth alike; and to the rich man, who may need it more in his saloon than the poor 'man in his hovel; and to the shopkeeper, whose heart answereth your heart as in water face answereth face, though you may have hitherto passed him by on the other side; and to the man who has sprung up like a mushroom, and from whose familiarity and habits of life you shrink, but who has within him the same soul, the same needs, the same eternity of destiny,—I say, were all this reverence to others to be even attempted,—were each thoughtful lover of his kind even to contribute his small mite towards it, it might be as a beginning of millennial peace and love.

This may sound utopian, and it is utopian when addressed solely to those who have no higher motives for the attempt to amalgamate classes than amiability and a desire to be "popular;" but it is not Utopian when addressed to the Christian, who alone can go forth to such a work resting on the assurance that "the Lord works with him." It is peculiarly to each, therefore, that I offer these few concluding remarks.

III. REVERENCE TO GOD.

There are many ways in which Christians shew their reverence for God ; but there are also many small daily occasions in which they forget to render this homage to God. We are not so slow to render it when it concerns Him, and His work, and His majesty; and we are very ready to blame the slightest want of it from our fellows; but when it comes to reverence shewn to God in our everyday dealings with our fellow-men, we often ignore it altogether. 1st, We disregard God's example and God's Word. God hath no respect of persons. He gives not honour to the rich because he is rich; neither does He give honour to the poor because he is poor. Now, as in the days of Jesse's seven goodly sons, He judges not by the stature or the countenance. He passes by the gold and the costly apparel, and judges the man by that which is the man. We have respect • of persons. We pass by the heart and the spirit, and look principally to the outer man,—to that which shall be burned up in the day when ermined robes and tattered rags will be equally as small dust in the balance. Neither do we act as God acts. We say to some, "Come up hither," who are already heady and high-minded; and to others, whose hearts are sunken and weary, and in need of "good words," we say negligently, "Sit thou here under my footstool." Christ received not honour from men, and emphatically declared it as a great fact in His history; but we, all unheeding of His example, claim, and grasp, and pay, and joyfully receive the honour which comes one of another, and we neglect the honour, both for ourselves and others, "which comes from God only." To ignore God's example, and disobey His Word, is surely want of reverence. Let us amend ourselves in these things, or we will never amend others. 2d, We forget the order and the value of God's creation. He created man in His own image; but the trappings of wealth, nor the devices of heraldry, nor the array of courts and castles, were not therein,—neither were the ragged garments of penury, nor the squalid huts of disease and misery. Man and sin created all these external tilings. Will it not, therefore, be an act of honour to God, when we look past these things, into the actual work of His hands, and search out His likeness on every side, and let that be the rule of our judgment, and the check to our exclusiveness. Among the Jews, there was a custom that none trampled on a piece of paper for fear of the name of God being written upon it. Would it not be well to shew a somewhat similar reverence to God the Creator, by fearing to speak slightingly, or judge harshly, or look down exclusively upon any of His created upon whom may be stamped God's seal and signature of likeness more clearly than on ourselves? What a wide range of kindly and gracious feeling and influence might thus be opened up which is now closed or limited! There is a German national song, of which three lines run thus:—

"Where'er is heard the German tongue,
Where German hymn to heaven is sung,
There is the German's Fatherland."

Something of this feeling might be spread amongst all bearing the human name, speaking the human tongue, feeling with the human heart. But far deeper would be the work and the obligation thus laid upon the Christian. It ought to be his, not only to recognise the general, though fallen, likeness of God's image, but to help on the new creation into the likeness of Jesus, who is the " express image of the Father;" it ought to be. his to teach the symphony of the new song of heaven—the rudiments of the new language of Canaan—instead of that which is merely human. In these days "good words" are taking their right place. Christians feel and acknowledge that dumbness does not become them,—out of the abundance of the heart, far more than formerly, the mouth is speaking, and the lips of the righteous are feeding many; but too often "good words" are spoken either to equals or to the poor; but there is a needs-be that this communicative and missionary principle be carried into all classes. Are you a Christian mistress, tempted to declaim piteously against the insolence and negligence of your servants? Stop that wasted speech, and speak instead " good words " of reverence and kindliness, and soon reverence will be repaid to you; speak to them of Him who took upon Him their rank—"the form of a servant," and not yours—and you will find the effect in their daily service, in their expanding hearts, and, with God's blessing, in their saved souls. Are you a railway traveller? Do not wrap yourself in your exclusiveness, looking askance upon the shabbily-dressed man, or vulgar looking woman, but remember that there is the image of God,—if re-created, you can hold reverential fellowship and communion; if still marred and defaced, you may, by God graciously putting "good words" into your month, be the means of restoring an immortal soul to the Divine likeness. Are you sitting next a quiet, depressed governess, and are you inclined to do as others do, and let her —a lady occupying as honourable and far more useful position than your own—remain untended and unnoticed? Her heart is "stooping" with heaviness, try the effect of a "good word" to make it glad. Have you dealings with shops and shopkeepers? Do not be contented with buying and selling the world's gear. The pearl of great price is offered by God to them exactly as it is to you; can you not help them to accept of it? They have wives and children, brothers and sisters; are you to be ignorant of their welfare—their condition, spiritual and temporal— only because they are "shopkeepers" and shopkeepers' families? Is your foot to be withheld from their threshold, and the "good words" of inquiry and sympathy left unspoken, which might be blessed pioneers of a gospel message of gladness? Are you in frequent contact with dressmakers and seamstresses? Do you give your orders and retire superciliously and indifferently, without a thought of the trials and temptations which are paling the cheek and dimming the eye? Yet in the sight of God there is "no difference" between the maker and the wearer of that costly dress. Will you not take a message to her of mercy and comfort, so that you two may yet meet in "white robes" in the presence of the Lamb? These things are not easy—nay, they are "impossible" in our own strength; for shyness, nervousness, barriers of class and education, fear of ridicule, and dislike to being peculiar, all come between; but all things are possible through Christ strengthening us. Let Christians combine, then, to do their part to cast down the idols of silver and gold — to dethrone the false worship of earthly rank—to remove the barriers out of the way of social reform, and gospel progress, and extended mission work which are erected by caste in Christendom.


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