Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

senile were enumerated for military or ecclesiastical service; all from earliest infancy were to be devoted to God, being represented through the first born of each family, and these again being “ redeemed by the Levites. The eldest male represented all the household, male and female ; for all were to be spiritually dedicated to God; though but a portion were called to actual ministerial service, any more than to bear arms.

The second census was that which was commanded in the plains of Moab, just before the entrance into the Promised Land. The secular male population, from twenty years old and upwards, was now 601,730: the ecclesiastical, from one month old, 23,000. In this enumeration “ there was not a man" of those who were numbered in the wilderness of Sinai ; this mortality being caused not merely by a lapse of years, and the protracted hardships of the wilderness, but by the retributive justice which declared that those who had obsti. nately rebelled against God should not enter into the promised rest.

There are other enumerations recorded in Holy Writ. Thus Joshua numbered the people (Joshua viii. 10); again they were numbered about five and forty years after (Judges xx. 15); Saul also numbered them, as recorded 1 Sam. xi. 8; and a second time 1 Sam. xv, 4; and they were numbered i Kings xx. 27; and also at the return from the captivity. (Ezra ii.) In none of the above instances is there the slightest intimation that God was displeased at the people being numbered; on the contrary, his approbation is implied, and in some of them, as we have seen, he himself commanded the proceeding.

The case of David's numbering the people, from which some persons have hastily inferred that a national census is sinful, does not conclude the question. An action may be unlawful under certain circumstances, or as originating in wrong motives, which in itself is indifferent or lawful. It is said, i Chronicles xxi. 1, that “Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number the people;" and we read, 2 Samuel xxiv. 1, that “ The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go number Israel and Judah :" which passages, taken in conjunction, may imply, that God, to chastise the people, permitted Satan to “provoke David” to number them. It is not necessary that we should be able to ascertain in what consisted the guilt of the transaction ; whether, as some have conjectured, because persons under twenty years of age were included (1 Chron. xxvii. 23); or as others, because the half shekel for the sanctuary was not required (Exod. xxx. 12); or as others, because the enumeration might imply doubts of the faithfulness of God's promise to Abraham that he would abundantly multiply his seed; or whether, as we incline to believe, because David did not inquire of the Lord as he was bound to do, and that not only generally, as Christians are, but under the special expectation of a direct command how to rule his conduct in concerns of national import; nay, because he perhaps acted in actual violation of some express intimation, being impelled to do so by pride, or some other sinful motive.

But be this as it may, there cannot be anything abstractedly sinful in a national census, seeing that it was sometimes commanded, was often practised, and is never blamed but in this particular instance. But even if we had no Scriptural precedents upon record, still if an action appears useful, and there is nothing to shew that it is contrary to the will of God, it is not only lawful, but in its measure it is a bounden duty, according to the nature and degree of that utility. In the matter in question the utility is of no grovelling character; for highly important is it to ascertain the numbers of a people, in order the better to understand and provide for their wants, physical, moral, and religious. Statistics are among the essential elements of sound legislation ; and the late census is of great importance in regard to the economics of trade, manufactures, insurances, taxation, hospitals, prisons, schools, churches, peace, war, colonies, and other national and social interests. Nor even with relation to directly spiritual concerns is such an enumeration unfraught with solemn monitions ; teaching us, like the years of Methusaleh or the lament of Xerxes, so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto heavenly wisdom. If we look back at the four decades of the present century, what changes in churches and nations ! what vicissitudes in families ! Of individuals, the great majority of those who were in the first census are in another world! The survivors are in middle or old age ; and each successive enumeration repeats the same “tale that is told” of man's probationary life and rapid mortality. “Our fathers, where are they?” Nay, since the opening year- perhaps within a few hours of the census-in one house a bride has entered ; in another a parent or child has been taken ; in another an infant has called forth joy at its birth, or tears at its rescue ; and a nation's scroll, like that of the prophet, has been inscribed with many pages of lamentation and woe. In all this, are there no lessons for the ignorant? no warnings for the careless ? no anticipations of joyful emancipation for the righteous; when, escaped from the burden of the flesh, and no longer enrolled in the registers of the living, he shall be for ever with that “great number whom no man can number," whose names are recorded in the Lamb's book of life? In selecting then, from the memoranda of the year, the national solemnity of the census as a special subject for notice, we are strictly following out the appropriate design of our publication.

The following are the returns from 1801 to 1841 :

1801. 1811. 1921. 1831. 1841. England . | 8,331,434 | 9,538,827 11,261,437 13,091,005 14,995,508 Wales. . 541,546 611,788

611,788 717,438 | 806,182 | 911,321 Travellers, &c.

4,896

Eng. & Wales 8,872,980 10,150,615 11,978,875 13,897,187 15,911,725
Scotland . | 1,599,068 | 1,813,688 2,093,456 2,365,114 | 2,628,957
Channel Is-2
lands, &c. S

89,508 103,710 | 124,079

Total . .

10,472,048 (11,964,303 14,161,839 16,366,011 (18,664,761

If to this total of 18,664,761, we add 8,205,382 for Ireland, and allow for army, navy, merchant seamen, &c., her Majesty Queen Victoria has not fewer than 27 million native subjects ; besides the enormous population in the British colonies and dependencies ; which swells the number very far beyond that belonging to any other civilized nation upon earth. The rapid increase, also, as well as the aggregate amount, is of great importance to be noted. The home increase since 1831, is more than two millions ; an astonishing addition, when it is considered that Great Britain is not a new country, possessing vast tracts of available surface, but a small and densely-peopled island, in which the population presses hard upon the necessaries of life, and from which there has also been of late years a constant shoal of emigration.

Now taking Holy Writ for our guide, we are taught to consider the enlargement of the population of a land as a signal blessing. It was promised to Abraham that God would make his seed “ as the dust of the earth ;” and the wisest of mortal men has left upon record (Proverbs xiv. 28) that “ In the multitude of people is the king's honour; but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince." But political economy is often made to appear to speak a different language. We hear much of our “overgrown population ;” our “superfluous hands ; " the national weakness engendered by “the masses;" and the need of safety-valves to prevent a volcanic explosion. But true political economy does not really contradict inspired writ; the contrariety is only in appearance. As long as a population are wellfed, well-clothed, aud well-conditioned—which last epithet in the Christian's view includes the observances of the first as well as of the second table of the Decalogue,-every sound political economist will account them “the king's honour," and a mutual benefit to each other; but if they be otherwise, Solomon would have been among the first to declare that they are a curse to themselves and a reproach

to their rulers ; for it is not by the adjustment of Divine Providence that the increase of mankind should become a bane and pest; and where it is so, man, and not God, is the cause of the catastrophe. Sin in varied forms—as, for example, pride, covetousness, hard-heartedness, party-spirit, discontent, evil legislation, injustice, oppression, and war—is at the root of the evil ; for even where ignorance is the directly visible cause, as is the case in much that deforms the face of human society—take, for instance, ill-judged laws, baneful customs, and the many miseries of an ill-directed population—there is still national sin, if the means of instruction and improvement, whether among high or low, have not been duly provided and made use of to prevent the exigency.

And here we may bring the statistics of the census to bear upon the moral and religious, as well as upon the civil and physical, wellbeing of the people. It is no light thing that such an overwhelming population as that above specified should be able to procure the prime necessaries of bodily existence; still less that they should be fed, clothed, and housed, in decency and comfort. Many causes have counterworked this desirable result, the investigation and removal of which we leave to secular political economists and statesmen. But are there no moral causes which, as Christian Observers, it is peculiarly our province to search out and expose? We have seen that the God of nations provided during many years, in a waste howling wilderness, for a population which included 603,550 warriors, and therefore several times that number of persons, reckoning women, children, and sick and aged men. He did this indeed by direct miracle,

-by the smitten rock, and the manna from heaven ; and even to the preservation of their shoes and garments—for to the Omnipotent nothing is too great, and to the Omniscient nothing too little ;-but the facts were left upon record for our learning : nor are we to doubt that in the ordinary course of God's providence, a righteous nation will be under his care and protection, as certainly, though not as visibly, as the Israelites in the wilderness. “Shall there be evil in a city,"—we may add, Shall there be good ? -" and the Lord hath not done it?" We may trace national blessings or afflictions to second causes; we may speak exultingly of our admirable laws and constitution, and of our ships, colonies, and commerce ; or despondingly of bad harvests, falling markets, home panics, and foreign jealousies ; - we may harangue upon poor-laws, corn-laws, and currency; but our political economy is miserably short-sighted if it do not range far beyond the circumscribed sphere of local cause and effect; and go to the ultimate question, Is God pleased with us, or displeased with us? There is indeed a right side and a wrong in legislative measures, and they require wisdom, justice, and patriotism, for their

due adjustment; but a higher influence is necessary to direct them to good ends; as much as God's rain and sunshine are requisite to raise and ripen the golden harvest on the best cultivated field, and with the most promising seed. Why, then, should it seem far-fetched, as some who would not wish to be considered infidels, much less atheists, account it, to catalogue national calamities with national sins; and to read in the many appalling distresses which almost habitually hang over vast masses of our population, à measure of righteous retribution for the iniquities of our legislation and commerce ; for our ostentation and luxury; for our intemperance and Sabbathbreaking; for our boasting confidence and our vanity even in our charities; for the heathenized education of many of the rich, and the brutalised non-education of multitudes of the poor ; for building towns without churches, and factories without schools ; and for the virulent political divisions which, while we enjoy perhaps the best frame of civil society which the world has ever beheld, separate class from class, and man from man, in unbrotherly and ungodly contention ?

Yet all is not gloom. We could descant, as Britons and as Christians, upon much that is cheering. Mournful as is the physical and moral condition of large bodies of our fellow countrymen, even their pittance of good exceeds that of other populations equally dense, in ancient or modern times. Our civil and religious institutions, also, are invaluable national blessings. And if, in order not to be lost in the wide landscape, we confine our view to the improved state of our church, we have ample reason to bless God and take courage. Were we not fearful of collecting more figures than most readers would care to wade through, we should rejoice to compare the little that was doing in 1801, with the more in 1821, and the much in 1841, as respects the circulation of the Holy Scriptures; the establishment of Schools, especially those under the auspices of the Church of England ; the building of churches, and the propagation of the Gospel in our colonies and in heathen lands. Or, to name only one of the bright Anglican memorials of the present year, is it a small thing that a few months since our Right Reverend Fathers agreed to carry out extensively the principles of the Church, and to emulate the zeal of Apostolic days, by instituting thirteen new bishoprics in the colonies and dependencies of the British empire, and more as soon as these first wants are supplied ; and that already a bishop has been consecrated for New Zealand, that bright illustration of the trophies of the Saviour's cross under the zealous missionary labours of his servants; and that another, a converted Hebrew, is to be stationed in Jerusalem, for the benefit of Protestant Episcopalians resident in Palestine and the neighbouring countries, and to open friendly communications with the Eastern churches, four of

« PoprzedniaDalej »