Wednesday, 3 July 2013


The following sermon was preached on Sunday evening last:— " Ye have the poor always with you." -Matt. 26th, 11th verse.
 In the days of Christ there were the poor. Before the era of Christianity, among the Greeks and Romans there was penury. In the times of the Pharoahs of Egypt, the same anomalies prevailed. Whenever society exists among the civilised or barbarian we find the same conditions—that there is always a certain portion of humanity in poverty. The poor have always been a thorn in the sides of statesmen and political economists. Governments have always been harassed in endeavouring to ameliorate the sufferings of that unfortunate class, and readjust the conditions of society so that these terrible anomalies might disappear. But though political economists and statesmen have for centuries attempted to grapple with these profound problems, yet the poor are still in existence. Without taking a world wide view of the question, it will suffice for us to look at our colony. With only a little over a million inhabitants, with a beautiful climate, splendid rain falls and watersheds; and fertile soils. Forests crying out for the yeoman's axe to pave the way to the tilling of the soil so that it might blossom into golden corn fields. Apart from all our natural resources, our coal fields, our gold mines, our wool, wine, wheat and butter ex ports, only a new country, and yet our Government is completely embarrassed. The vexed question of the unemployed becomes a national question. Apart from the terrible depression that has plunged men of opulence into penury and desolated thousands of homes, apart from these extraordinary causes that have ruined business houses; smitten banks to reconstruct, yet how many are poor : and in the throes of direst misery, for the want of lucre by which body and soul are sustained.
 What creates poverty? Why should there be opulence on one hand, and the dark shadow of want on the other? Why should thousands roll in wealth, and millions be steeped in awful misery? Why should men lack bread? whilst their fellow men riot in luxuries.
 Is it because nature has not been overlavish in her gifts? Has she not enough land for as all? Does she not dole out sufficient stores for our subsistence? Are we overpopulated and impoverishing nature? I do not presume to be an authority on these great questions; but through some countries may be overcrowded, yet there is sufficient room for all on the face of the earth, and quite enough in nature to provide for all the natural wants of man. It is not in nature where we shall discover the difficulties. She cannot be charged with unfruitfulness or partiality. There is no favouritism with her in relation to man. But the greatest difficulties, and the causes of all these dark spots on humanity (the creation of poverty and its dire attendant evils) lie in the conditions of society; in her laws, her commercial relationships; and in the accidents of birth and potent factors of environment. Let us consider a few causes that create poverty.
 1. First and foremost—Land monopoly. Do not imagine I am a rabid socialist. That right or wrong I would advocate the bursting op of these great estates. Wresting them from their legitimate owners; and forcing them to cut them up into small homesteads for people to cultivate. But one cannot shut their eyes to these great facts, that all man receives in the shape of food, and wealth of different types, come from the ground; and when so many magnificent properties (that could be cut up and give homes, food and occupation to hundreds, and sometimes even thou sands, of people who are actually starving), are only ministering to the wants of one or two families; and that the products of those estates in the shape of wealth is often expended away from where those properties are situated. When men are crying out for land, when the great earth hunger is setting in, and thousands or hard working men who are out of employment are turning with longing eyes and craving for land, where they might build themselves humble abodes and cultivate the soil for food for their starving wives and children. And then to behold such lands in the hands of a few. Some of whom even do not live in the same country, are not in touch with the wants of the people, but are spending their money abroad. No wonder then some men are asking should these things exist? Has a man a right to hold property at the expense of his starving brothers? Should there be allowed by the laws of the country a monopoly of land? Of course extreme socialism and communism would snatch these lands away, divide them equally among the people without any compensation to the owners. "Liberty, equality, and fraternity" being their warcries, but a wrong can never make another wrong right. Seizure of property would not have the sanction of Divine acquiescence. The question is, how would our Lord act in relation to these matters? How would he view this great question of land monopoly? Would he advocate stern measures? Would be openly declare that these lands must be given up for the benefit of the starving? I dare not presume to say what He would say or do? But if I read His methods aright He would not he found on the side of the so-called communist. He would not be a party to act acts that must be stigmatised as unnatural and false to the principles of brotherhood. He would appeal to the instincts of brotherhood; and would advocate and inaugurate laws that would modify these evils, and place society on a better foundation and read just the conditions of that society on a more equitable basis. And no doubt what is needed the wide world over, is special legislation, to modify the evils of land monopoly. Either so to tax the land as to compel the owners in self defence to throw it open for farm and homesteads, so heavily to tax unimproved lands that land owners shall be compelled to cultivate, or pass laws that if a man will not for the general good utilise his lands a law of limitation of acreage shall be the statute law of the realm. But I dare not pronounce dogmatically on this great question. For this problem is fraught with many difficulties that have the taxed to the utmost the brains and energies of statesmen, governments, and political economists.
 Another great cause of poverty is the tyranny of capital. Capital is a power. It can to a very great extent dictate its own terms; fix its own wages, and compel labor to obey its behests. Labor is almost absolutely at the mercy of capital, if she chooses to be tyrannical in her demands. Hence in self defence labor has had to combine. Unions have been born. Unionism is strength. But labor is at times as grasping, tyrannical and avaricious as capital and hence combined labor has been found at deadlock with capital, with the result that strikes have taken place and labor has been beaten. And so poverty, want of employment, shattered homes, have sprung into existence, through the strife of these great powers. And where these two come into collision both suffer; but labor suffers most. There is no denying the fact that monopoly of wealth creates poverty for others. The fewer hands that wealth flows into, the more are thereby plunged into want, and the monopoly of wealth gives the wealthy, greater powers in controlling, guiding, and shaping the labor market, and labor is thereby compelled for its own protection to combine; out what has ruined trades unions and brought untold misery into thousands of homes is not unionism but unionism badly governed by unprincipled men, mere demagogues, stump orators, agitators, who themselves fatten on the blood of the poor, at the same time caring nothing for the poor. We have spoken of two great factors: Land and wealth monopolies. But as far as our colony is concerned another great factor might be ventured, namely, The Fiscal Policy of Protection. The schools are divided. The doctors differ. The "Age" and "Argus" wage unceasing warfare on the rival claims of protection and free trade. The colony is divided. The "Argus"   and farmers are realising that the curse of the colony is it's over protection. The farmers are wakening to the fact that everything they eat, drink, or clothe themselves with their implements, everything is taxed except sleep. Whilst the other side would have more protection, more taxes on imports. The freetraders say here is our evil, we are overtaxed. Our burdens are too great. But where the schools are divided, it is not for a minister of religion to declare his political views, though privately he may be a free trader or protectionist.
 But whether it be land and wealth monopolies or the fiscal policy of our country: One thing we have very strongly to bear in mind is that God himself in the creation of man has not made men equal. We all differ in our temperaments, brain power and acumen. There is no such thing as equality. Take a given family. In that family some will he found cleverer and shrewder than others: one will be intellectual; another dull. One will be a lover of plants; another will have a mechanical turn of mind; another the art of converting everything to gold. And if in a given family we behold unequal distribution of gifts, so in the world at large there is no equality.
 There can never be equality in the race of life. Some men are bound to succeed, others to go to the wall. Some will be rich, others will always be in poverty. Though the race is not always to the swift, yet assuredly does swiftness win the race of life. There can be no equality, and if the rabid communists were to have their way and pull down all that society has reared. If they were to distribute all estates, wealth industries in equal proportions to all, yet ere the sun had gone down that same day, some would win and acquire more, and others would have lost. The world of wealth and poverty is to-day as much the result of the varying temperaments and unequal distribution of intellectual and financial gifts of nature as it is the outcome of the conditions of society. No legislation in the world could give man equality in the things of this life.
 Another factor included in the above is Accident of Birth. One is born in a royal palace; another in the hut of extreme poverty. One is the child of a lord; the other of a humble peasant. One inherits land; titles wealth. Another inherits the miseries of penury. Some are thus born exceedingly fortunate, with a fortune at their disposal. No legislation can affect or control the accident of birth. So landed estates are handed down from father to son. And so properties, titles, wealth,are kept within the family circles of the privileged few. And with the accident of birth,there is the great factor of environment. Some are fortunately placed. The fortunate class either have no need to work or else simply step into businesses, into professions and callings that are theirs without any seeking. The unfortunate class are surrounded by poverty, squalor, wretchedness, by filth, diseases and immoral surroundings. These form the dregs of society. The great unwashed, who are out of the pale of commercial society. The great lapsed masses that create profound problems for politicians to solve, how to meet the cries of the unemployed. Then there is another class who are not surrounded by squalor or vice, but the surroundings are humble yet virtuous, poor but respectable. So by accident of birth and environment we have the anomalies created by wealth and penury by abundance and famine.
 Even these great factors mentioned ; Land monopolies, wealth monopolies, the fiscal policy; Natures unequal distribution of gifts, accidents of birth, and environments do not explain all the causes of poverty. We have to remember that there are causes, which man himself creates, by which poverty is born.
 Extravagance is a terrible factor. Some do not know the value of money: who are always living above their incomes : who are always in debt: who are always borrowing and thus go a-sorrowing. Speculation, has hurled men of wealth into dire misery. The haste to be rich has been the ruin of thousands.
  Speculation is the bane of our colony. Merchant princes, legislators, business men, lawyers, clergymen have been flung into the vortex of ruin by speculating in land and market shares. The boom time was when men were drunk with the liquor of unhealthy expectations, when men lost their heads. Drunkenness, gambling, false living, have been and are terrible powers, and all legislation in the world will not save the thriftless, speculators, drunkards, gamblers from ruin.
 The great question which includes the gospel of Christ is how shall poverty be cured? If the gospel of our Lord Jesus does not recognise the misery of the poor and cannot in any shape alleviate all their distresses and endeavour to readjust the conditions of society, which to a great extent are responsible for these anomalies, then the gospel of Christ has strangely lost its original power and colour. For Christ was a poor man. He was the poor man's friend, He associated with them, healed their sicknesses and the gospel was preached to them; and it is the gospel of Christ to-day to do what we can to alleviate the miseries of the poor. And if we only recognise the souls of men and fail to feed their bodies: Then assuredly have we only a caricature of the blessed gospel of Christ. It is the glory of Christianity to do what she can, to touch the seat of disease and pave the way for the unfortunate to secure a livelihood. Of this more anon.
 How can poverty be cured? Can there be a condition of affairs that there shall be poverty. No, never. The poor we will always have with us, but there can and must be such a change as shall enable every honest man and woman to secure homes, food and clothes. No man who can work shall lack bread. No woman shall and must be without employment.
 How then shall the poor be relieved? Shall the States and Governments everywhere pass such severe enactments as shall compel the rich to disgorge their wealth. Landed proprietors to cut up their magnificent estates? Shall legislation compel the wealthy to support the poor ? No, certainly these measures will never he equitable and righteous. But the Government can modify many existing evils; can arbitrate between the deadlock of capital and labor; can readjust many taxes that press heavily on the poor and lightly touch the rich.
 Our present Patterson Government is on the right track. The cry has been for some time, back to the land. Our metropolitan city is overcrowded, and whilst men rush the city, and leave the farms neglected, the lands untilled, the virgin forests untouched, our lands idle, poverty will always stalk through the land. The soil must be the solution of our difficulties, Mother earth must be wooed by honest toil to yield her riches. She has riches: Her mineral wealth of coal and gold; her liberal gifts are yet to be secured by cultivation; and so the unemployed art being placed on village settlements, and eventually the colony will bless the cry of "back to the land." True we cannot here touch the question of overproduction, or speak of the laws of supply and demand. The cultivation of land is but a slight factor. Men must be taught to learn the evils of speculation. Men must cultivate the habits of thrift and industry. Economy and frugality must be rigidly practised.
 Then, too, the relationships of the great world of capital with labor must, by Christian legislation, be so readjusted that in every land work of a profitable nature shall be in the reach of all. And men who will not work must be compelled to work in the service of her Majesty.
 But Christianity must be the great power of solving these problems. The Gospel of Christ which shall so turn the hearts of man, that true brotherhood shall be established. All legislation cannot solve these difficulties, but when the Gospel of Christ enables men to realise their fellowmen are their brothers then will the true millenium set in of prosperity; then will the conditions of society alter; then will all be fed and all shall have work. Only the gospel of our blessed Saviour can accomplish this.
The preacher closed his discourse by spiritualising the lessons of poverty, and spoke of spiritual insolvency, urging his hearers to seek true wealth in Christ.  

  Portland Guardian 1 November 1893,             

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