Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed;…
A common objection of workingmen to going to church is that they will be brought into subjection to the priesthood. They stay away therefore to protect their freedom. Now let us look at —
I. THE ENGLISH SLAVE WHO GOES TO CHURCH. He is a man who dares not think for himself, or dares not say what he thinks.
1. No one can deny that some forms of religion frighten people from the use of their faculties on religious subjects; hence they give themselves over to a priesthood who tell them how they must and how they must not think. And so wherever we find religious teachers organized into a priesthood, we find a mighty instrument for the enslavement of the mind. It was so of old. Whenever there was an organized national priesthood, the nation lost its senses, and became slaves to caste, as in Egypt and India; but wherever the priests of the different temples had no organic connection, or the monarch was priest, as in Greece, and Rome, there the people retained some of their freedom. The same holds good in England today. In proportion as priests congregate in councils, unchecked by the laity, to issue decrees, candid thought is extinguished. But to what a miserable condition is the man reduced whose soul is a sort of parrot, kept by a priest to repeat the phrases authority has taught him.
2. But there are slaves who are not under the thumb of the priesthood, but dare not think or speak for themselves for fear of their congregation or party. Thus it is that so many persons never grow wiser. In order to grow wiser you must drop some old opinion or form some new one; and to do either of these you must defy the world and use your faculties without asking anyone's leave. And this is what many are not prepared to do, because it might involve loss of repute, friends or position.
3. Now, whatever they may profess, neither the priest or party ridden are true worshippers of God. True worship is based on personal conviction — "In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
II. THE ENGLISH SLAVE WHO DOES NOT GO TO CHURCH. The influence of men upon each other is at its maximum where there is the closest association and the freest speech. This is the case among the working classes. Here, therefore, it requires most courage for a man to stand on his own feet and be true to his own conscience. And there is a large proportion of skilled artizans who are not strong minded enough to resist the dictation of their leaders or equals. Suppose a man who works in a large factory finds himself in the midst of a system of drinking and conversation which disgusts his better nature, and where his conscience commands him not to go with this multitude to do evil, but to assert his manhood; does every skilled workman obey that inward voice? Is it not notorious that thousands dare not? And is it not as bad to be in slavery to bad people as to good? Or if an intelligent workman finds himself surrounded by men who have resolved that the clumsy and idle shall be paid at the same rate as the industrious and skilful, and who in his heart abhors this part of the system, has he the courage to say so and to act accordingly? There is in some parts a reign of terrorism, so that few would dare to say that the present exaggerated system of combination and intimidation in strikes is crushing the spirit of personal liberty, and the chivalrous, independent character of the old English artificer. Now such, notwithstanding all their other excellencies, are the last who ought to point to the enslavement of men's minds in the churches. The secret of national greatness and dignity is the setting free of thought, labour, trade, capital. Combine voluntarily for trade purpose as much as you please, but intimidate no man.
III. THE TRUE METHOD OF BECOMING FREE.
1. Slavery requires two parties — the tyrant who domineers, and the slave who submits. The true remedy therefore is to teach men not to submit to unlawful authority; and this is what Christ came to do. All external slavery proceeds from internal. When men dare to think and speak honestly, and act out their convictions, the tyrant's occupation is gone. To set free the thinking power, therefore, is the secret of all other liberties. But this is enslaved. What is freedom? To have the proper use of one's powers and faculties. The condition of the free action of the understanding is that the animal appetites be restrained within certain limits. If a man give way to his thirst for drink, then his intellect ceases to act freely, and thus he is a slave. And so with the other passions.
2. Christ offers to set us free.
(1) By setting before us the only Being who has a right to control our thoughts, and by demanding that we should fear Him and no one else. Out of this springs all true freedom. This is what gave boldness to the early Christians. "We ought to obey God rather than man."(2) By supplying the only adequate motive — love to God and man.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;