W.T. Stead to Rev. Hugh Price Hughes

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W.T. Stead to Rev. Hugh Price Hughes (1886)

First published in the Methodist Times (1886), reprinted in W.T. Stead, My First Imprisonment (1886) pp. 26-32

Holloway Gaol, Sunday Morning.

My Dear Mr. Hughes,—I am glad to see from your kind letter that you mean going ahead. So do I. Not because I ought, or because I want to, but because I must. Compulsion is ever upon me, that I cannot withstand. If I incline to tarry and lag behind, I am driven as by the pressure of an irresistible destiny, in which I am glad to recognise the will of God. What my precise line of action will be I do not know, because as yet it has not been shown to me. I shall be told in time to catch the train, and that is all I know. In the meantime I must wait. All that is clearly and vividly present to me is that my first and most urgent duty is to finish the book which I have been labouring at since I came to my pleasant new study at Holloway, which I entered with delight at the change from Coldbath cells, and which I shall quit with many a loving regret in grateful memory of the strange and to me unprecedented luxury of literary leisure which it afforded. In that book I tell the story of the New Crusade; briefly in the opening chapters, which deal with the work of Mrs. Butler, Miss Ellice Hopkins and Mr. Benjamin Scott; but in full detail, so far as last year was concerned. So many foolish things have been said as to the damage done to the Report of the Secret Commission by my inability—from the very nature of the case—to produce legal evidence of one transaction, the account of which covers about half a column of a report extending over fifty-six, that it became necessary to tell the whole story of the “Maiden Tribute ” in detail, showing exactly who our authorities were, what our method of investigation, and how we accumulated the facts which, when strung together, produced so memorable an effect. An insuperable obstacle, however, intervened. The General Election was impending, the New Crusade was in full swing, every hour till the end of the year seemed to be preoccupied. Suddenly, however, thanks to the fortunate decision of Mr. Justice Lopes, the obstacle was cleft in twain. I was spirited away to a secret place apart, where I had leisure to write the book which I hope shortly to send to you for review. As I wrote articles for the Pall Mall Gazette all the time I was at Holloway, I could have done with another month nicely, but I shall have to finish my book as best I can outside. Whether those persons who so considerately afforded me the opportunity of vindicating the substantial truth of our famous report, will have reason to regret their action or not, you will best be able to judge when you see the book. Of one thing I am quite certain, and that is, not only that our report is in substantial accordance with the report of the Lords’ Committee, as all know who have read it, but that the inquiries of the Secret Commission—even if there had been none of the much criticised reconnoitring in disguise—were conducted much more carefully, extended over a much wider field, and were,—of course excepting the inquiries at Brussels, with which we had nothing to do,—much more exhaustive than the investigations of the Lords’ Committee.

What will be my special task after I finish this book, I do not know. We seldom see more than one duty at a time. By the time that is performed the order will have come for the next. But of course I am bound so far as in me lies, whether by word of mouth or pen, to rouse men and women to a higher, deeper, truer sense of their duty to each other in this matter. How, or where, or when, I know not. All that I know is, that I shall say this, which I will deliver to you in informal fashion as one delivers a message to a friend:—

The supreme word is that we all want more God. Not God in the Bible, nor God in heaven, nor even God in the earth, but God in us. That is the great want, the sum of all our wants. If we had more of God then we should be all right. The social evil, and all other evils are only the lack of God made manifest in the flesh. All these things are the fruits of atheism. Not the Infidel’s atheism, but the Christian’s atheism, which is far worse; first, because there is more of it, and secondly, because it is filmed over, and covered up, and forgotten by a blasphemous hypocrisy. We are all atheists, as I frequently say, half our time, and often three-quarters. We only let God in now and again, and bundle Him out without ceremony on any trivial excuse. And the result is what we see. Not merely social evils, in which our atheism bears its evil crop ripe for the devil’s sickle, but that social malaise and ennui and apathy and worry, and all the legion of devils, whose presence within testifies that God is without. When a man ceases to rejoice he ceases to believe. All fretful impatience is sheer atheism. So is fear. We are timid because we do not feel God’s hand in the darkness, and sometimes our atheism takes the odd shape of thinking God cannot do the work He has on hand because He entrusts part of it to such weak and unworthy instruments as ourselves. We have got very little faith in God if we think that our weakness is an appreciable minus to His strength. And all bitterness, and rancour, and hate, are due to the same root—want of faith, and the lack of God. Indignation is often divine, and intense flaming wrath is a passion which often purifies the soul. But the sense of sourness, the unresting fret, the angry and inflamed chafing of soul which I have lamented to see in many who have written to me and of me since the trial, has grieved me much. For that is not faith. Do these friends of mine think then that God did not know how to manage His own business? It is true He often seems to neglect it. But it is only seeming. Evil is present everywhere, a universal “frost in the world’s prime,” but good, though unseen, exists, and will be all the better for the frost. Those who walk by sight believe in the devil, for evil is only too palpable. But those who walk by faith know that “evil its errand hath as well as good,” and they do not become atheists because even God needs elbow-room to bring about His ends.

As the lack of God is the cause of all vice, so His presence is the spring of all virtue. It sounds as stale as a text, but how few realise it? If they did, would we not feel how vain is the praise of man? For instance, many over-kind and indulgent friends have praised me for courage, and I know not what heroic virtues. In reality I had none. I only believed, and if you believe it is easy to seem courageous, but it is only seeming. I am a poor, weak creature, but let the weakest poltroon know that he has Hercules at his back, and he will step out lustily like a very Mars. And why should men, who profess to believe that God Almighty is with them, be afraid? Hence the truth that all glorying is excluded, seeing that salvation,—whether salvation from fear or from any other evil, is of faith not of works. Only believe really enough, and everything is easy. The measure of our apparent virtue is only the measure of our belief.

Believe in God. Some say in what God? In God as revealed in Christ. For God was in Christ, and if He is in us, we shall be as Christ, so far as God is in us. Henceforth I shall never say unto anyone, Be a Christian. It is not Christians who will save the world. No, nor even Churches. What we want is not to be Christians, but to be Christs. Christian has come to mean with many an infinitesimal semblance of a shadow of Christ, and a whole ocean of self. Christian has come to mean Christ and water. We have got to be real Christs or the world will never be saved; only Christs can save the world. And what was the Christ? Absolute identity with God, real unity with Man. Are we united with man? A whole gulf cuts us off from all but a few of our fellow-creatures. Yet we are one with them; one with the thief, the harlot; that is, we ought to be. And until we are, we are not Christs. As long as any supposed goodness, or rank, or ability interrupts the freest possible flow of sympathy, born of consciousness of complete identity with the weakest and meanest of our kind, we are out of Christ, even out of His humanity. And mayhap there are as many out of Christ on that side as out of Christ on the side of His identity with God. And what was Christ in relation to God? “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” Who ever “thwarts and bilks that inward must” is not a Christ. And what was His Father’s business? It is shown in His life. God’s business is to spend life in serving those who will crucify you for your pains. Pleasant! But it is God’s business, and if Christ felt that He must go through with it, who are ye who call yourself by His name who feel no imperative “must” driving you through Gethsemane to Calvary?

And that brings me close to my particular crusade. What is that we are called to do in relation to fallen women, and girls who are likely to fall; to fallen men, and they who will in turn fall? Simply this, to be a Christ to them. This only is laid on every believer. If he does not feel it then he is not a believer. For if he believes in God as revealed in Christ then he must “be about his Father’s business,” and that business is personal service for the weak, the suffering, the tempted, the fallen, and the lost. This work cannot be done by subscriptions. Christ did not bribe a superfluous angel by liberal subscriptions in order to be crucified by deputy; neither can individual Christians be Christs by deputy. All are not called to all kinds of this work, but all are called to some branch or other, even if it only be the witnessing for Christ by a sympathising look or word to the sorrowing and the outcast…Good people work for the most part aimlessly, without concert, without intercommunication. Many of them have the most unscientific objection to ascertain facts, and still worse to communicate them; and so it goes on until it has come to pass that there are great Churches standing side by side with great brothels, and no one in the Churches can say what it is that drives so many to the brothel. Nay, in the case of Mrs. Jeffries, the vicar of the Church close to her establishment in Church Street was unaware even of her existence. All that must cease if Christ’s work is to be done.

And the third thing that is much borne in upon me is the importance of attending to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I have been surrounded with the lives and journals of the Friends. These men believed in God; they were the Christs of their time, and they were conscious of the constant guidance of God. That is what we need renewing badly just now. The very idea that God can and will guide you and me as much as He guided any of the ancient notables whose lives got written about in the Bible, is to many absurd. But it seems to me that God has as much work needing doing here as in the Wilderness of Sin, and that there is as much need for God-inspired teachers in this nursery of nations as there was down in Judea. We need to keep our souls more “open on the Godward side,” if we would hear the Oracle Divine. But if we do, if we are “Ready, aye, Ready,” we shall be guided as much as Abraham was when he came from Ur of the Chaldees, or Cromwell when he framed his New Model, or Mrs. Pry when she went to Newgate.

The great weakness is to profess to believe in the God of the Bible, and not to believe really in the God of to-day.

God is not dumb that He should speak no more.
If thou hast wanderings in the wilderness,
And find’st not a Sinai; ’tis thy soul is poor;
There towers the mountain of the voice no less,
Which whoso seek shall find; but he who bends
Intent on manna still, and mortal ends,
Sees it not, neither hears its thundered lore.

Nor is it from “the Mountain of the Voice” alone God speaks. His word is heard in the silence of the secret places of the heart of man. I am afraid this is a somewhat disconnected letter. I have been repeatedly interrupted. But in substance it is to me the vital essence of a saving creed.

I am, dear Mr. Hughes, yours faithfully,

W.T. Stead