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SERMON XVIII.-A SHORT HARVEST.
I Middle Class.
PROVERBS XXX. 8, 9.
GIVE ME NEITHER POVERTY NOR RICHES; FEED ME WITH FOOD CONVENIENT FOR ME: LEST I BE FULL AND DENY THEE, AND SAY, WHO IS THE LORD ? OR LEST I BE POOR, AND STEAL, AND TAKE THE NAME OF MY GOD IN VAIN.”
MIDDLE CLASS, where none are over poor, none over rich, has been praised by writers
on political philosophy from the days of Aristotle, as the very making and salvation of States; since by goods and possessions and political influence being more evenly distributed among a very large number of such citizens, the spirit of envy cannot ferment sufficiently among the poorest to give them any chance of successfully rising up and overturning the State ; while among the great and rich, any one man who might wish to overturn the commonwealth and constitute himself autocrat, would be more likely to be kept in check by the sturdy independent spirit of such a brotherhood of the middle class enjoying and valuing their equal political rights.
Contentment, the very foe of revolutions, will in such a commonwealth be most widely diffused.
We in England are a good example of the stability which the existence of such a middle class affords to the institutions of a State. If
ask me to define where the great middle class in this country begins and where it ends, I confess I cannot. I should be inclined to place its lower limit with the honest artisan, who, through sobriety and thrift, has saved out of his wages, and through the instrumentality of a building society made his own the cottage he dwells in ;, while at the upper limit one seems obliged to place the younger scions of the families of noblemen, who in one of the learned professions, or, nowa-days, even in a merchant's office, have learnt and labour truly to get their own living. Yet the artisan, though belonging, through his little property, to the middle class, has strong bonds of union with the lower; while the nobleman's son who has entered the merchant's trade or the learned professions, the stronghold of the middle class, has, through his birth, a natural affinity with the aristocracy. Here a strong, large, wide, middle class is held to be the salvation of the body politic.
II. But the wise man asserts that this is precisely the class he wishes to be in, with a view to the cultivation of his personal religion, and the growth of his individual moral nature.
What advantages, then, does the middle rank afford for good living ?
Is it a fact, first of all, that it affords any ?
Now, who were the founders under God of our religion? Let us say Peter and John and Paul. Peter and John were fishermen : true, but master fishermen, for they had boats and nets, and so far were men of some little capital, not living quite from hand to mouth ; moreover, they had “hired servants” under them; and thus in my judgment belonged most distinctly to the lower middle class. Paul, on the other hand, belonged to the higher middle class ; he was a citizen of Rome (a good deal more than is implied in our idea of “a forty shillings freeholder"); he was an educated man, well taught at Tarsus in secular learning, and in religious instruction at the feet of Gamaliel. Luke, too, the physician, was a professional man. Now take out the labours and the writings of Peter and John and Paul and Luke from what we call Christianity; in other words, take out the upper and lower middle-class element, and what have you left ?
I assert, then, that historically, the middle class has been from the beginning found very favourable to the growth of our religion. Let us try now and see why.
If a man is born into a wealthy and luxurious family, he will naturally take the tone of that family. Outside culture, perhaps, may be his, but the chances are he imbibes wrong principles as to the object of our life. He probably, from what he sees around him, conceives that pleasure, or at least self-pleasing, is the key-note of life : all around him is ordered with, or at least not without, this idea ; and very often in the house arrangements, in the treatment of servants, 'in the behaviour of tenants and dependents, the idea is fostered in his mind that he himself is some great one, and accordingly he has a tendency to treat himself as such ; and this finds its practical outcome in his setting before himself pleasure, ease, comfort, luxury, self-seeking, perhaps, ambition-at any rate self-pleasing in some shape or other-as the main thing in life.
If a man, on the other hand, be born among the very poor, his conception of life is a state in which there is a struggle to live; where to get food and the first necessaries of life is the principal, almost the only thing ; for “there is little to earn and many to keep." Hence, to keep the wolf from the door is the great problem, in comparison with which all else sink into insignificance. Culture, the study of science, a love of art, literature, even rudimentary education, come not native, but as strangers needing introduction to a mind so surrounded : and hence there is not so much a narrowness of mind, as a frost sealing up the faculties and forbidding them to expand
“Chill penury repress’d their noble rage
And froze the genial current of the soul.” But it is well if thoughts of a deeper dye do not find a home in a heart so surrounded from infancy; the inequalities, the injustices of life come up before it-envy at those who are better off, the glance of unbelief towards the Father of all who tolerates this—these are some of the things which tend to make the very poor man take the name of his God in vain, to make him wish to curse God and die.
But he to whom God has in mercy given neither poverty nor riches, is brought up usually with different surroundings. His father, perhaps, was a tradesman, or a professional man with no large income, lawyer, clergyman, or doctor. He saw him day by day attending regularly and punctually to his work, yeť not so oppressed by it as never to have