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[Delivered to the Adult Scholars of the Middle Ward Relief School, at the
Oddfellows' Hall, Stockport, Oct. 3, 1863.]
HE COMMITTEE decided, some time since, to relieve the
routine of school-work by one of them delivering a weekly reading or interesting lecture on plain subjects. This has no pretence to being a learned discourse; but if other relief committees, or bodies of working men, should be stimulated to try either to amuse or instruct the large numbers of workmen who are now forced to be idle, the object of the writer will be amply repaid.
From the time our first parents disobeyed their Maker, to the present moment, men through all ages and every nation of the world have been struggling to regain their lost Freedom. That freedom was once enjoyed, and is lost, every one present is a living witness, every day, and in every action when he aims at and fails to arrive at perfection. From the earliest historical record to the present moment, we find men, bad as well as good, struggling to be free sometimes to redress real, sometimes supposed griev
How thoroughly freedom was lost, and with what variety of means men in every age have tried to regain it, proves the greatness of that loss to man. You and I, when we think, or say, or do wrong in our daily actions, feel we are not free. When we strive to atone the wrong, we strive to be free. How often, alas ! does the wrong prevail !
Perfect freedom I understand to mean man unfettered both in body and mind—free from bad passions, such as
hatred, jealousy, revenge, and the multitude of evils, doubts, and fears, suggested by the father of evil, and too readily listened to by man. In the present discourse I shall quote much from the Bible, not only because it is the Word of God to man—which I hope no one present doubts-but also because it is the oldest and best historical record of man, spiritual and natural, social and political. Also because it is the poor man's book, in which, in all circumstances and trials of life, he may find advice for health or sickness, for ease or poverty, for joy or sorrow, for life or death ; also because it contains warnings and examples of good men rewarded and evil men punished, naturally as well as spiritually ; also because it contains reproof and correction for the child and the parent, for the young and the old, for the widow and the fatherless. And because it is the cheapest book in the world.
The first example we have on record of man struggling to be free, is related of Cain and Abel,—the first brothers born in the world. This was a supposed grievance. A bad man was ashamed to face the good man's obedience ; an idle man was ashamed to compare with the industrious. Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. This only means he was more industrious, more attentive to his duties, and therefore more prosperous. This prosperity was a constant reproach to Cain's laziness. He must either reform to his brother's standard, or be constantly degraded. An easy remedy is suggested to his mind : hearken, young men, to his decision; what is it ? “What so easy as to remove my brother? then I can have it all my own way-no reproach, or shame, or constant accusation against me then. No, then I shall be free! I can kill him, and nobody will be the wiser.” So Cain determines to be free. Free of what? his brother. Here, young men, we have the first illustration in the world of a tyrant, and a striking example to all time of the foundation of all tyrannies the world has since produced-brute force !
Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice, and Cain was jealous of his brother's reputation. Bad men to this day imitate Cain. They kill their brothers in envious thoughts, in slanderous words and deeds.
We all, more or less, frequently find ourselves the slaves of evil thoughts, and often, even before we are aware, of slanderous words; and frequently we are only brought to see and know truly what we are doing by the better principle within us—the love of freedom, which is justice. Here we have an example not to be surpassed of the slavery of the wrong-doer. His conscience will not allow him to look his associates in the face, and if accused of wrong-doing he invents a lie.
Mark the consequence : Cain did evil to be free (and, strange as it may appear, thousands are copying his example every day): what did he purchase ?-perpetual slavery! That liberty of conscience, stifled until then, burst forth with unextinguishable power, and rivetted his own chains of slavery a thousand times more firmly, because they had their seat in his breast. Cain wandered about the earth, a conscience-stricken wretch a murderer and a liar.
“ Thy sin will find thee out" is as true now with me and with you as it was with Cain. In our everyday life, and in every class of society, the liar and habitual wrong-doer are detested even by their own friends. Which of you would think for a moment of recommending a man in whom you have no confidence ? Look at it as we will, or call it by whatever name we please,
the wrong-doer is a slave. We read also in the Bible—“The truth shall make you sfree."
Yes, my poor brethren, however much despised or cast down you may be, a strict adherence to truth shall make you free. It has made millions in all ages of the world free, and is still as mighty for every one of us.
As wrong-doing is the foundation of all slavery, so are truth and justice the foundation of all freedom. This is no religious cant, as some thoughtless men call it, but the everyday experience of every man in the world.
The poorest among you would never make a companion of one he knew would deceive him : but with what pleasure do you confide your inmost secrets to your friend, who will not betray you! If so with your common everyday affairs, how much more if you had larger and more beneficial trust at your disposal ! This is the secret of the success of honourable men in every situation in life. They are selected to fill every situation worth having: yet the bad man, like Cain, ascribes the cause to everything else. Being full of malice and envy themselves, they judge every other man's actions by their own standard. The Scripture saith-by a man's acts shall
Here is the essence of freedom :-a man just in all his dealings, looking with charity on the faults of his neighbour; a man strictly honest, not because he is compelled, but from principle; this is the man who enjoys real freedom. How much less are the cares of the world to such a man! This is the slave:-a man jealous, envious, slanderous, untruthful; a tyrant who, like Cain, would kill his brother, if his envious thoughts told him he would be benefited thereby. The enjoyments of life to him are made sour at every step, and all things worth living for are sources of dissatisfaction. He proclaims to the world what he is—a slave!
It is pleasant, after reviewing the career of a bad man, to dwell on the character of the good and noble. Nearly 2,000 years had passed away from
the days of Cain to the birth of Abraham, known by readers of the Bible as the Father of the Faithful, and founder of the Jewish kingdom, which for the next 2,000 years was the most remarkable nation in the world; for though a small nation, they could never be entirely deprived of their freedom by all or any of the powerful nations by whom they were surrounded. To the historian of antiquity, the Jewish nation is the silver thread running through the corrupt mass of idolatry and Pagan darkness by which they were surrounded on every side. They were a nation struggling to retain their freedom, through all this long period, against the most powerful nations ; the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, and others, being unable to conquer permanently this handful of remarkable people. By their means we are furnished with a continuous history, through this long period, quite as remarkable for its exposition of social life, of genealogy, its teachings of men and manners, and its political institutions, as it is for its teachings of natural and religious truths.
The writings and teachings of the famous men of the Jewish nation, are household and personal property in every Christian country in the world. The Commandments by Moses are self-evident truths, that for all time will guide men in their social as well as spiritual duties.
It is as true now as then, that he who steals shall be punished by his fellow-man as well as by his Maker ; it is just as true now as then, that nature, as well as spirit, needs a Sabbath, or day of rest. Every hard-working man in the world knows this, as he goes forth refreshed to his labour after the enjoyment of the Sabbath. If there be one greater enemy than another to the poor man, it is he who would
rob him of his day of rest. It is just as true now as then, d that the sins of the father shall descend to the children, 21 morally as well as spiritually. Philanthropists and teach
ers in every country, who try to raise the morals and better by the condition of the people, know this. Every man who
battles to remove prejudice in all its variety of forms, knows this.
The lives and teachings of the prophets, as related in the Bible, in every department of social life are models today as they were the day they were written, and they guide the law-maker, the ňistorian, the naturalist, and the scientific man, as niuch as the religious man, by the duties they teach. The patience of Job is as much needed to-day, as when that reinarkable man lived. Have we, my friends, no trials to endure? The fact of our being here to-day says we have.
The Psalms of David will live, and be as true teachings hi of nature as they are of religion, so long as man is an imi perfect being. The Proverbs of Solomon, and the teachings
of the vanity and deceits of worldly pleasure, are as true as they were in the days of old. Oh ! for more of his wisdom, to teach us how to be—what we wish to befreemen!
Having wandered so far away, let us return to the father and founder of all these remarkable men. We read in the history of Abraham, that he had been promised to be the founder of a great nation, and he believed it. He was old; his wife was old; he had an only son, through whom alone he could, naturally and legally, have descendants. He was called upon to offer this only son as a sacrifice : not for one moment doubting, he obeyed the call. Here, my friends, is an example!-a man willing to give up everything he held dear—the only tie by which the promise he so earnestly wished and believed could be fulfilled. Not doubting, at the call of duty he is ready to offer up even his only son. Worthy ancestor of such an illustrious race of descendants ! Oh! that I and you were prepared to make greater sacrifice to our duty ! how much less selfish, how much less avaricious, how much less over-reaching, in our dealings; how much less jealous of our neighbours prosperity, should