On the Contagious Diseases Acts
July 3, 1871 — a public meeting, Croydon, England
“Midnight is past, the Cross begins to bend,” is the cry of the sailor in the Southern Seas when he marks the inclination of that beautiful constellation called the “Southern Cross,” and knows that the darkest hours of his midnight watch are drawing to a close. I have often thought of these words of late, when it seemed that the labours of the last two years for the repeal of an unrighteous law were drawing to a close. We have borne a heavy cross in contending against the introduction into England of the worst of all the immoral customs and institutions of France, and we were scarcely aware low great had been the strain upon us until the weight began to be lightened oy the dawning hope of success. Now, I trust we may say, “Midnight is past, the Cross begins to bend.”
But when we shall have obtained the repeal of these Acts, our great work will only be at its beginning. The bitter contest to which we have been called by God’s providence in opposing this legislation, has but opened the door, so to speak, to future work. It has revealed to us our vast responsibilities; it has quickened thought, it has awakened extraordinary energies, it has brought about powerful combinations of workers, it has promoted grave and deep friendships, and has opened up to us a mighty work in the future. I am not about to speak to you this evening of any limited or special work, nor to define the duties of individuals. You will each find for yourself your allotted portion of the great work of which I am about to speak, if you are willing to aid it.
The legislation which we have opposed deals, as you know, with the evil of prostitution; but how does it deal with it? It attempts to facilitate the practice of sin; — to make a soul-destroying vice conformable with health, good order, and public comfort. I need not tell you that vice can never be regulated so as to be compatible with the health and welfare of the people; but the attempt to regulate vice in this manner is so impious, that, if continued, I expect it will sooner or later draw down the judgments of heaven upon our country, as they have been drawn down upon France. For recollect that this attempt is founded on a belief which I must call a blasphemy against God and against human nature — a belief that purity is impossible or unhealthful, and that man cannot be any other than the slave of sin. Now, it is the great evil of prostitution against which our future must be, in a large measure, directed; and before we can fairly attack this evil we find it absolutely needful to get rid of the Acts whose repeal we seek. We must needs retrace a false step before we can enter on the right path. This legislation is as strong walls built round the city we are to besiege. We must break down the walls before we can attack the citadel within.
If I were a preacher, I would choose for my text to-day the words, “The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.” Let us pause upon these words a moment. Do you believe this prophetic utterance, which is echoed through every part of the Scriptures of God? I believe it with all my heart and soul; and I shall fearlessly speak to you as if you believed it too. If, then, this hope of our hearts is ever to be realized, we must not continue any longer, in thought or in practice, to exclude any region whatsoever of life or action from the possibility of the sanctifying power of that Holy Spirit under whose dispensation we live, and whose life-giving influences God has promised shall be poured forth on all flesh, as floods upon the dry ground. Let me speak plainly, friends. Those who are truly religious among you, too commonly believe, — you were born and have been brought up, perhaps, in the belief—that individual souls may indeed be reclaimed to God, that piety may reign in families apart, that religious communities scattered through the land may exist as a protest against prevailing evil, as a light amidst surrounding darkness; but that there are certain portions of society, regions of human thought and activity which are shut off from hope of sanctification and of complete redemption to God. The Jews of old commonly supposed that the whole body of the Gentiles were excluded from the divine favour, partly by the mysterious limitations of Providence, partly by the enormity of their own pollutions. Let us take heed that that exclusive dogma does not infect our own souls.
The religious among you shudder, perhaps, at the word politics. If an angel from heaven were to tell you that the whole region of politics could and would be reclaimed to God and to Christ, I think many of you would still remain incredulous. But what are politics, except the relations in society of one human being to another, of class to class, of rulers and ruled, of one nation with another nation? So long, however, as Christians doubt that all our social and political relations can be purged and leavened with holy principles, just so long will Satan retain his grasp upon them; for according to your faith it will be unto you, both individually and nationally. It is written as you know, that the great enemy took our Lord and Savior to the top of a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth in a moment of time, and declared unto him, “All these are mine; all this power and glory is mine, and to whomsoever I will I give it.” Thus spoke the evil one, and thus he speaks also at this day; but he lied then; he lied unto the Holy One, and he lies now. The kingdoms of this world, the power and the glory are not his. There is no region of human thought or action which is irreclaimable. Our laws and public institutions are not beyond the reach of the Spirit of God; it is not impossible that our rulers should learn the fear of God, and should govern the people in of God, and should govern the people in righteousness. If all these things are impossible, then in vain do we daily pray, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as in heaven.” Hear again the word of God, “The whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea,” “As truly as I live,” saith the Lord, “the whole earth shall be filled with the glory of God.”
It breaks my heart to see the spineless and the shutting of the eyes of Christian people on this subject. They “separate , themselves,” they say, “from the world.” They are content to adhere to the primitive limitations of Christian effort—limitations which were unavoidable for the early disciples of Christ; for then the people of God were like the grain of mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds—whereas now they ought to resemble the widespreading tree which grew out of that seed. The first Christians could only try to relieve the poor, they did not attempt to reach the causes of poverty; they endeavoured to rescue the vicious, but not to extirpate the social roots of vice; to comfort and instruct the slave, but not to cast down slavery; to defy evil law and wicked governors, but not to displace and replace them. “Their action was upon individuals, not upon society; it was palliative, not radical.” But their actions, limited as they were, were all profoundly typical of that larger and wider work to which Christian workers in a later age are called.
It is true also that Christ at first called his disciples a “little flock,” when as yet there were but a few converts, like a few lambs among heathen wolves. But was this figure meant to apply to all time: On the contrary, I read in St. John’s vision of what the church’s future should grow to be; he speaks of a multitude whose voice is as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, a multitude whom no man could number, of every kindred and tongue, and people and nation. There is certainly very little resemblance between the feeble bleating of hat miserable little flock which Christians are too content to remain, and that voice as of many waters and of mighty thunderings. I do not ascribe this view to pride in good people, for they are not proud; I do not ascribe it to indolence, for these Christians whom I complain of are many of them men and women who are wearing out their lives patiently and devotedly in doing good. I look upon it rather as a traditional error, a repetition of words from father to son, which has become stereotyped; but this error seems to me to be at the bottom of our want of power to move the world in the right direction. We need a vast and deep renewal of faith, vital faith. The word faith has come however to mean far too exclusively among us a belief in the doctrines of Christianity. The faith I speak of is more than that. It is a hope, a confident expectation that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. For lack of this faith we do not, and cannot succeed; and discouraged by the [?] we have already done, we imagine that little can be done; we continue to call that common and unclean which God is able and ready to cleanse: we continue to assert that the spheres of religion and of politics are widely apart and opposed. We think the world, as we call it, must go its way, and we ours. But to whom did Christ come? Did he not come to the world? To whom did he send forth teachers and evangelists? Was it not to “every creature?”
Yet I think if we look back on history we shall see that all the most farsighted Christians regarded it as a first and most important object to make the institutions of the State virtuous, and to purify social custom. In Calvin, in John Knox, in the noblest of the Puritans, there was this zeal, this public spirit; and we see in Scotland, and in New England at this day, the blessings of the inheritance they bequeathed by their efforts. William Penn, the Quaker, achieved solid and lasting good by his public laws and institutions in Pennsylvania. John Howard, the philanthropist, went far beyond relieving the sufferings of single prisoners; he stimulated the public authorities to improve the prisons, and is a benefactor to Europe down to the present time. Again, those holy men, John Wesley and Whitfield, beginning at the inward life of each converted heart, went on to labour for the chastening of popular customs and public laws, and their success is permanently felt in regard to wakes and fairs and other sources of demoralisation, In later days, Clarkson and Wilberforce, passing on from the charities of private life, accomplished the extinction of W., Indian slavery, and the overthrow of public lotteries. May we not hope to see wide-spread a religion such as these and others like these possessed, at once deeply spiritual and public spirited in the fullest sense? With God all things are possible. Let us rebuke our unfaithful hearts! Let us cast away our unworthy narrowness, at least for this one evening, and look boldly forth towards the dawning day.
When we read the writings of the Hebrew prophets we cannot but be impressed with the fact that their glorious predictions seem to swell far beyond the measure of the occasion. The voice of the prophets was too loud for that narrow strip of land, the Palestine in which they lived. It was meant to fill the universe. The words of those prophets had a boundless prophetic meaning, which increased in direct proportion to the misfortunes and degradation of the people, insomuch that the voice of glad and glorious prophecy was never more commanding or more confident than when that nation was all but annihilated. For those Hebrew prophets looked far onward to a day of grace that was to come. The Hebrew are, as it were, one “long-drawn sigh of sorrowful hope,” uttered from every rank and state of humanity. And we my friends, living nearly nineteen hundred years after the birth of Christ, are nearer to that day of grace than they were. If they dared, in the midst of their country’s decay and ruin to speak confidently of the redemption of all created things, and of the fulness of peace and righteousness to come, much more shall we dare to speak so. At this crisis of our national history, when England stands (like Hercules in the Greek fable) at the parting of the two paths between which we are to choose, when our future seems hanging in the balance, as it were, between heaven and hell, when our foundations are shown to be rotten, and we totter to our fall; at this awful crisis, I will yet dare to prophecy of good; I will yet speak of the undying promise of God, which has not yet been accomplished, but which shall be accomplished.
I have spoken of political redemption. The redemption of social and political life in this our old and almost decrepid civilisation is as urgently needed for the fulfilment of the eternal promise as the conversion of the heathen in distant lands, to which missionary zeal is chiefly directed. Our representative system, worked by a people imbued with vital faith, and taught of God, should be an irresistible power for the recovery of pure principles in legislation. It has lately been said, “means must be taken to form into one resistless phalanx the whole forces of the Christian church, and direct them to the polling booth. It is time that the kingdoms of this world should become the kingdoms of our God; but that time will never come if Christian electors allow merely worldly men, whose only claim to legislative function is their rank or wealth, to fill all offices. Free Christian principle must be entrenched in Parliament if society is ever to advance.” These are bold words, and true.
Now nothing is more manifest than that the temporal and spiritual welfare of this nation is hindered and turned into the opposite mainly by the same causes, which must be boldly entitled the lusts of the flesh—not all equally base or hateful; but this it is that lies at the root of our threatening national decay. The most familiar to us of these, particularly among the humbler classes, is the lust of intoxicating drink, which even when it does not induce flagrant drunkenness, pauperises, and keeps families on the edge of want, while it accustoms the head of the family recklessly to expend on his own selfish indulgence funds which he was morally bound to reserve for wife and children. More terrible still and closely connected with this vice, is the great curse of prostitution: and here it is not the poorer classes who are the most guilty. Immorality among the poor, bad as it is, is a less deadly poison in society than the profligacy of the upper classes. There are men among us, thousands of them, who have had every advantage of birth, education, and fortune, yet who can only be truly described as “lewd fellows of the baser sort;” of the baser sort undoubtedly, although the boasted “best blood” of the aristocracy may flow in their veins.
Permit me to read to you some words which were spoken in Parliament, about two hundred years ago, by a leader in the House and in the country: — “Would you keep up the nobility and gentry of this land? — then the way to keep them up is not to suffer them to be patronisers or countenancers of debauchery and disorders! A man may tell as plainly as can be what will become of us, if we grow indifferent and lukewarm in repressing evil, under whatsoever weak pretences. I am confident our liberty and prosperity depend on reformation. Make it a shame to see men bold in sin and profaneness, and God will bless you; you will be a blessing to the nation, and more repairers of breaches than by anything in the world. Truly these things do respect the souls of men, and the spirits,-which are the men. The mind is the man. If that be kept pure, a man signifies somewhat: if not, I would very fain see what difference there is between him and a beast; he hath only some activity to do more mischief. There is a general grievance, but that there be some laws that are. The truth of it is. there are wicked and abominable laws, which it will be in your power to alter, and I wish it may not lie upon this nation’s con science a day longer than you can give it a remedy; it hath been a great grief to many honest hearts and conscientious people, and I hope it is in all your hearts to rectify it. . . . . Truly I believe God hath chosen this Parliament to be a blessing to this nation and to the world. . . . . . . Therefore I pray and beseech you, in the name of Christ, “Quit yourselves like men! It doth not infer any reproach if you shew yourselves Christian men, which alone will make you ‘quit yourselves.’ I do not think that to the work we have in hand, a neutral spirit will do. . . . . Now, if I had the tongue of an angel, I could rejoice, for your sakes, and for this nation’s sake, and for the sake of God and of his cause, which we are all engaged in, if I could move affections in you to do that which, if you do it, will save this nation; if not, you plunge this nation into irrecoverable ruin.” These words were spoken in the English House of Commons. O noble leader and noble Parliament, which could give ear to and follow such a leader. In our own days, it is not only the name of Christ of which too many of our leaders and public men are ashamed; they are ashamed apparently to confess boldly the authority of the moral law in framing laws for the people, and as the guide of their own actions.
Now for the most part all we have hitherto been able to do in regard to the great evil of prostitution is to gather a few of the victims of it, out of the multitude, and try to win them back to purity and peace. St. Augustine tells us that as he was one day walking along the sea shore, he saw a little child who had dug a small hole in the sand, and was going back and forward to the sea with a little cup, which he filled from the sea and emptied into the hole. St. Augustine asked him what his object was, and the child answered, “I am going to put all that large sea into this hole.” Such an attempt seems hardly more hopeless than at times has seemed to me the attempt to lessen the great social evil, that sea of human misery, by merely delivering one victim here and there. I beg you not to think, however, that I under value these individual ministerings. They are blessed-thrice blessed, both to the giver and receiver. For every soul of these outcasts is infinitely dear to God. There is joy among the angels of God, at this day as of yore, over one sinner that repenteth; and there is much enlightenment and precious instruction to be gained to ourselves by personal work among such outcasts. I knew a lady who was very heard hearted towards the fallen, — “infamous women” as she always called them. She believed they were all wilfully depraved. I managed one day to take her to see a poor “unfortunate” in a hospital, without her knowing the character of he girl. I saw the lady’s heart was softened, and then I told her, as we left the hospital, that this poor girl was what she called an “infamous woman.” “Oh! she said, I think it must have been misfortune more than wilful sin in her case,”— the tears were in the lady’s eyes, as she added, “I was drawn to her; there was something about her eyebrows and forehead which so strikingly resembled my sweet daughter who died.” The lady had lost a beloved daughter. From that day I never heard her speak a harsh word of fallen women. A little face-to-face intercourse with that class which is most generally condemned by society will often reveal to us some of those delicacies and sublimities which belong to our common humanity, and are seldom wholly lost, however poor and fallen hat humanity may be. But valuable as such individual efforts are, they can never accomplish the work to which we are called at his time, of a wide, a national purification; nay they will not even prevent the increase of this evil on every land. “The Lord gave the word, and great was the company of the preachers.” Ah! if that word would go forth again to summon thousands and tens of thousands to the work! But I think that word has gone forth — we are called — and I trust we are about to realise the promise. that God will “make His people willing in the day of his power.”
Legislative measures which deal with prostitution, have up to this time been devised and set on foot by men alone, without the aid of women. Nay, not only have women been debarred from attempting to deal in any large sense with this evil, but they have been systematically drilled into silence on this topic. Men have demanded of them an affectation at least of ignorance on the subject, albeit it is one which more intimately and terribly concerns the whole of womankind than any other. Can the soul of my sister be defiled and my own soul not be the worse for it? It cannot; unless, indeed, I rise up in wrath for her redemption, and through the long toils, and pains, and anguish of my life. I render back to God my soul for hers. Is it possible that pure and Christian women can bear any longer to look on, in silence, at this costly and impious sacrifice of souls, this wholesale destruction of women, born with like capacities with themselves for a life of honour and an eternity of peace? I do not believe they can; and when they rise, by thousands, to the rescue, it will not be now for the reclamation of women only, but in order to penetrate to the causes of the evil, and to elevate the moral standard of the other sex.
The history of man’s treatment of this fallen class of women is for the most part a history of alternate patronising and punishing. Their best repressive measures have been almost exclusively directed against one sex. They have seldom practically acknowledged the fact that these female sinners have in every every case male accomplices; and therefore they have failed to put down the evil. As well might you attempt to do away with the slave trade by making it penal to be a slave. If we had punished every slave who was bought and sold, and if we had left the buyers untouched, we should I ever have got rid of the slave trade. Similarly, it is the buyers who have the first interest in prostitution. It is this stronghold which must first be attacked if we are ever to hope to stem the torrent of evil which, from this source, threatens to overflow us.
Our Parliament must undergo a great regeneration before it will deal justly with all these legislative matters which bear on this question. There are just and courageous men in Parliament (most gratefully we acknowledge it), but the justice and courage of the majority are not up to the mark of dealing impartially and unflinchingly with this question. A man who sets himself to war against this evil is no true warrior unless he first turns his sword against his own breast. Here is a searching test. How many men in our two Houses of Parliament are willing to do this ‘ Let us suppose that a measure could be devised for the cure of prostitution, the carrying out of which measure would involve.” necessity every member of Parliament saying to himself,” this means death, from this hour, to every selfish and sinful indulgence in my own person,” would a large majority in Parliament, think you, cheerfully consent to such a measure being passed.’ I well know that some would consent: but I think there would be not a few who would slink out of that house in the condition of mind of those rulers to whom it was said, “Let him that is without sin among you first cast a stone at her?”
We shall never have faith and courage enough in Parliament to attack this monster evil in its sources until the convictions of women as well as of men are represented there, until we admit all the light which women — not wise indeed in their own wisdom, but enlightened from a holy and unerring source — are able to con tribute to the dispersion of the darkness; for in order to the solution of this chief mystery of iniquity, above all others, the united wisdom and strength of man and of woman is required.
Many think that silent intercession to God, and the exercise of a quiet influence on their own nearest male relatives, are the limit of the means which a woman can use. But a time has come when we require more than this. We must have a holy league, a national league of men and women banded together, to make war against this evil from every side, patiently, valiantly to fight it at all points at once. Unless we make common cause in an open, a recognised, and a determined manner, our country will go down before the tide of evil. It is as if we were passengers in a water-logged ship, when all hands are called to the pumps; passengers in such a crisis do not stand aside and bid the crew alone do the work, nor must we stand aside: we are all called to labour for the salvation of our country.
Now let me state to you by what cause the thousands of women who were previously careless about these national questions have during the last year become awakened into vehement — I may say passionate — desire to be able to influence public and social life and institutions. When they came to understand that male legislators, desiring to attack some of the effects of sexual vice, had made laws which are directly protective of profligate men, and that those male legislators had, for this purpose, invaded the English constitution, had established recklessly unconstitutional procedures against women, and had deprived them of jury trial when under an accusation of the most destructive kind, they saw the question of woman’s work and influence in a far more solemn, and in some respects a new light. They now see the granting of their present claims in regard to the enactment of pure and equal laws, to be absolutely necessary and just, and their refusal a gross iniquity, in the interests of all poorer women, whom chivalry scorns and tramples under foot. They see the granting of their demands, further, to be, in the providence of God, all but necessary — to be indeed obvious wisdom — for the purity of the male sex.
Those who are not uninstructed in history are aware that when nations become populous and wealthy, and wealth is very unequally distributed, society almost uniformly decays in the most odious immoralities, which, beginning with male profligacy, undermine family life, patriotism, truthfulness, self-respect, and make religion a lie, or a foul excuse for carnality. We have seen England itself to have reached this crisis. We have seen her statesmen secretly scoffing at the idea of Christian purity, and enacting laws which assume male chastity to be utopian and absurd. We know that such demoralisation means political slavery, means corrupt tribunals and corrupt parliaments, means practical atheism and carnal enormities domineering in private, with necessary misery suffered first and worst by the weakest portion of the nation — its poorer women.
We cannot believe that Christ the Lord would ever have sanctioned the public registration of women by Government as the servants of shame. We believe that if the Pharisees had enacted laws for the protection of profligates, Christ would have poured down on them His bitterest invectives. Hence not only Christian women, but the great mass of the most Christin part of this nation turns away with grief and sickness of heart from that page of shame which has recently darkened our nation’s history. England is now on her trial, before the whole world. If she do not from this time begin to put away these abominations and to acknowledge higher and purer principles in all her social and political transactions, then her decadence is sure, her rôle among the nations will soon be played out to the end, and God will assuredly raise up some other race, some nobler nation to take her place as pioneer of the world in all true progress, and as a dispenser of blessings to new communities and distant isles. Ah! how grand, how glorious is the work which England might do, the work to which God is calling her! but how fearful, how imminent are the dangers which threaten her, not from without, but from within. Our hope is in God, that he will raise up his power and come among us, and with great might succour us. If ten righteous men would have saved Sodom, will not tens of thousands of righteous men and women save our Britain? I know that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, though it should involve the annihilation of those who madly resist Him and make a choice of evil.
I would not have you to suppose that I feel much confidence in what legislation can do in directly promoting morality. Its power is limited. It is absolutely necessary to get rid of all unjust, partial, oppressive, and impure laws, for though laws may have little power to make men good, they have very great power to confuse the conscience and to increase wickedness. Certain laws for the protection of children and to remove injustice to which women are subject are rightly and loudly called for — and we mean to have them. But I hope more, under God, from the collateral movements of the day, from improved education, and other things which I need not here specify. The great thing undoubtedly that has to be done is to create a pure moral tone among men. I know nothing for which I am inclined so sternly to blame my countrywomen as for their selfish cowardliness in trying to please men by fashioning their ideas and speech about male and female morality upon the standard which men — not the best men — have set up. I cannot too strongly condemn the cowardice of women in suffering this “lying spirit” to prevail with them, until they are really almost persuaded that it is a light thing in a man to be a fornicator, and unclean, while for a woman to fall from virtue is to be treated as an unpardonable offence. If I search the Scriptures from beginning to end I find no such distinction there.
A gentleman once said to me, expressing the generally accepted opinion, “I own that a profligate man is a disagreeable thing, but it is obvious to all that a vicious woman is an infinitely more degraded being.” I replied to him, “I beg your pardon, sir; you see it from your point of view, but I am a woman and I must say that, although a vicious woman is a dreadful thing, to my mind a profligate man is an infinitely more degraded being.” He was quite astonished at my expression of what I truly felt and feel. Probably the revulsion is greater in most minds against sinners of the opposite sex, and women are therefore the more deeply guilty ever to have allowed men to cherish the theory that they (women) do not look with displeasure on vice in men. It will be our duty henceforward, fellow-women, to require, sternly to require of men that they be pure, to demand it of them as they have hitherto demanded it of us. The history of human life is encouraging, inasmuch as it shows that men are not generally slow to come up to the mark of what the women around them require, whether it be in folly or in goodness. See then what a responsibility rests on us!
It is a solemn thing to meet face to face with a multitude of people whom one may never see again, and to confer with them upon such momentous subjects as these. Richard Baxter once said of himself after addressing an audience, “I spoke as a dying man to dying men.” It is with something of that feeling that I have spoken to you this evening. I am, as many of my fellow workers are also, a good deal tired and worn out with the labours of the last two years. Strength may not be granted me for a continuance of work of a public nature, and it may be, as this is the first, so it will be the last time I shall address you in this place. The occasion is therefore to me the more solemn. Knowing that I should meet you here, I have borne you on my heart, in prayer, for many days past, desiring that the Holy Spirit might descend on us here, and that from this hour many might be filled with an undying impulse to obey some higher call of God which may be awaiting us, and to labour each after His power to change the tangled wilderness around us into the garden of the Lord. May we have the happiness of bearing testimony to each other of the reality of this higher call when through God’s goodness we meet again “where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”
Source: Butler, Josephine Elizabeth Grey, Address Delivered at Croyden July 3rd, 1871 (London: Office of the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts) 1871, pp. 3-15.