Speech by Stead on Spiritualism
Spiritualists’ National Union Convention, Grand Theatre, Halifax (July 4, 1909). Quoted in Edith Harper, Stead: the Man, Personal Reminiscences, (1918) pp.158-161
I speak to-night with a sense of peculiar responsibility. I have given up public speaking, as the strain was more than I could stand in addition to my journalistic and other work. To-morrow is my sixtieth birthday, and I do not think I can end my fifty-ninth year better than by bearing my testimony to you, most of whom I have never seen before, and shall probably never see again, as to the words of truth that have proved my greatest help and inspiration.
I was talking the other day to a distinguished statesman, a High Churchman, who said “Religion depends chiefly in reliance upon the unseen.” If he be right, religion in this country is in a very bad way. Cecil Rhodes told me that whenever he met a Jew he always asked him if he ever heard in the synagogue any reference to a future life. He never met a Jew who gave an affirmative answer. I have applied the test to many churches. It is seldom you hear an expression of real faith in another world from any Christian pulpit, and very seldom any reference to ministering angels and spirits. The fact is, the Church has become practically materialistic. I hope that we possess in Spiritualism the means of a real revival in religion. But many Spiritualists are tinged with materialism ; you do not like people to talk about religion, and I hope you will bear with me when I tell you I detect a materialistic note in many of your publications. Most of you are Atheistic the greater part of your time. You never can do wrong unless you cease to believe in God as a living force. We never can mourn or lament without having first lost faith in God. The great mission of Spiritualism is to make men spiritual. It is not the extension of materialism into the other world. That is a damnable error. The peculiar notion that Spiritualism teaches that there is no such thing as retribution for life lived in selfish neglect of the duties to God and humanity has no foundation ; in fact, no spiritualist teaches an everlasting Hell. I do not think any religious man believes it.
But behind the doctrine is an eternal truth. As a man leaves this world, so will he wake in the other world. You may find yourself in a state of utter, outer darkness, if you have lived a loveless, selfish life on earth.
I remember David M’Cree, who was turned out of his church, saying to me: “I do not object to Hell, I want to rehabilitate it.[“] Men have got rid of the idea that life here entails consequences hereafter.
A friend of mine, a distinguished foreign lady, living in London, some time ago began to work the spirit indicator. She was only a beginner. Imagine her astonishment when the name of a great personage was spelt out. Slowly, letter by letter, he gave his name. And then in pathetic terms begged her to pray for him. “Where are you?” asked my friend. “In utter darkness, pray for me, pray for me.” He was not an exceptionally bad man, he had only lived a life of thoughtless indifference and self-indulgence. Soon after, he came again: “Why have you not prayed for me; why have you not kept your word?” But I have prayed for you, in church, and all your countrymen, too, have prayed for you.” “That matters nothing. I want, and must have, the fervent prayer of a loving soul.” “But what is your condition?” “I do not know, I am like a shipwrecked sailor, in darkness and loneliness, on an unknown shore. Oh, if you could only tell my relations of my experience it might help them to avoid my fate.” The same thing may wait for you and me. We think we are just men and women; in reality we are spirits spending a few years of education in this world which is but as a preparatory school for a larger life who in a few years will pass on to another state in which our position will be governed by the use we have made of our life here.
I do not want any one present to be able to say that he stood within the range of the voice of W. T. Stead and that he did not warn him to flee from the wrath to come. But while it is necessary to say this, Spiritualism is at the same time one of the most beneficent agencies for interpreting the love of God.
I know my son would not care to come back to earth, that he is enjoying vistas of usefulness and ever-increasing knowledge that fill existence with increasing interest. Am I not bound to communicate to my fellows what has been such a joy to myself? Ought we to sit in our corner, contentedly munching our cake all to ourselves? Is that right? What answer can we make to our elder brother Christ, when He meets us and asks: “What have you done for my other brethren?” You may say: “Lord, I took in The Two Worlds, and read Light, and I went to the meetings when there was a specially interesting medium…”
I have been a journalist for forty years. I do not know a single leader-writer who warns his readers that they will have to answer for their actions in a world to come.
…Some of you may believe Jesus Christ never existed. If He never did exist, then it is high time that some one set about realizing the ideal. Others of you share my belief that He exists as our leader to a better world. I will tell you about the beginning of my mediumistic career so far as I am a medium. When I was in Holloway Gaol one Christmas you are all so busy catching trains and ringing up telephones, that you never have time to listen to the voice of your soul I had been trying to write a letter to a poor girl who had been rescued. She was finding the new life very dull and was in danger of falling back, and it was suggested that if I were to write to her it might have some influence over her for good.
I left the letter unfinished to attend morning service, and was looking down from the organ loft on my six hundred fellow prisoners, when I heard a voice: “Why are you telling that girl to be a Christian? Never tell any one any more to be a Christian, always tell them to be a Christ.”
My mind revolted, and I said: “What blasphemy!” But the voice went on: “The word Christian has become a mere label, covering much of self, little of Christ.”
I pondered the matter deeply. I wrote to all those on whose judgment and spiritual insight I could rely – to Cardinal Manning, to Hugh Price Hughes, to Josephine Butler, to Benjamin Waugh, and others. What would these spiritually-minded men and women think of it? With one exception all said: “These words contain the essence of the Christian religion.”
Ever since then I have always passed on this message to my fellows. What does it mean? First, that you have to love all beings, not only the nice ones, the attractive ones, but those who seem less attractive, even repulsive. Secondly, you must sacrifice yourself for the well-being of others. Thirdly, you have to interpret the love of God to those around you. Each of you is the centre of a group of souls to whom, if you are not a Christ, perhaps no other interpreter of the love of God and the character of Christ may be sent.
When you return to your home to-night you may be able to say a kindly word, or do a sympathetic action. And you do not speak that word, you do not perform the kindly deed. You are not a Christ. You speak the word, you show your sympathy by your actions, and you are a Christ to those persons. Even though you may call yourself an Atheist you are God’s Christ to those people…
But my last word is not of warning, but of triumph. Christ came to bring not only peace—peace is a negative thing—but joy, joy supreme in the absolute assurance that God is in His heaven, and that, therefore, all is right with the world.