I’ve talked to a lot of people in a lot of places in my travels. A guy in Ocho Rios, in Jamaica, collared me one day. He asked if I thought that what we, the Brits, that is, had done to Jamaicans in the past was wrong. He was taken aback when I agreed with him. Then he asked if I thought reparation should be made. He was astonished when I said yes. But, I said, I’m only a preacher, not a politician, above my pay grade. Then talking to another guy just the other day from Kenya, and the subject of British guilt arose again. Not, mind you, that he raised it. I don’t recall quite how it did arise. Yes, we have plundered many a land and enslaved many a people in the past. It is appalling. It seems that the British ruling class, whoever they are, are past masters at oppressing and robbing people blind, wherever they can find them. But, listen, get this, they did it to us too.
I hail from Scotland, the northern part of the British Isles. The industrial era, which spanned the years 1830-1950 approximately. It should have been a time of great prosperity for us, but it wasn’t. The industrial revolution brought prosperity to a tiny little country like Denmark and a larger one such as North America. Just about everyone prospered in those countries as a result of the industrial boom, workers and bosses alike. Why didn’t it in Britain? In Scotland even? It was for us a century of abject poverty of the most appalling nature. The wealth of Great Britain was expanding rapidly, where was it all going? With failed potato crops thousands were at the risk of starvation in the Highlands. In Ireland, the same famine caused the deaths of between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 people, while London did nothing. Then came the Highland clearances of people by greedy Lairds and Sheep Farmers from the most fertile areas. In the Lowland industrial areas, it was no better, pitiful wages, with slum living conditions that were appalling.
In the Lowland industrial regions, it was an age of appalling social deprivation, with no solution to its terrible problems. The tolerance of the people for so long is astonishing, in a country with its high moral standards and basking in the spiritual leadership of a Thomas Chalmers. Yet unspeakable urban squalor, compounded with drink-abuse, bad housing, low wages, long hours and sham education, prevailed. The great triumphs of the Victorian age of industry? But so many folks unspeakably oppressed by its operations. And this for the best part of a century. It started to improve in the 1950-60’s when all were complaining about the decline of the industry, whose operations were used to oppress us. You couldn’t make it up. Oh, and yes, Wales and the North of England suffered likewise. Plundering and enslavement? The British ruling class are past masters at it and still are. Their greed knows no bounds. They know, they have a knack of keeping their iron foot on the necks of people, at home and abroad. So next time, wherever you be, you want to tell me how we treated your ancestors? Please, remember, they did the same to mine. You can call it by whatever name you like, but my ancestors were nothing but ‘Home-born Slaves’!
But during those terrible years, the gospel prospered in Scotland. There was a need that God in Jesus Christ alone could fulfil. Life was hard but they lived in the expectancy of a better life to come. Life was short and eternity was close and forever. There is still poverty in Scotland, but for different reasons and not so prevalent. The advent of socialism with its abundant benefits system, even the lower echelons of society’s needs are provided for. There is material prosperity now. Therefore, no need for God, no need of Jesus, no need of anything, all are provided for. Medical care has so improved that life expectancy goes way beyond the three score years and ten that so many in the past never even saw or expected. The proverb says: “Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Proverbs 30-7-9). Prosperity is no friend of the gospel, it’s a killer, who is the Lord is what they say today?
So is the answer a return to those dark Satanic days of oppression, of slavery? No, we would not wish that on any nation or people. But as the proverb says, neither one nor the other, poverty nor riches. Alas, the social fairness so often spoken of in the Bible, demanded by God is still absent in our nation. What is needed is the freedom that only the gospel of our Lord Jesus can bring about. The regenerating power of the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with the preaching of the word of God. Because underlying the conditions faced by my ancestors, and by people in far-flung places, and our condition today, is caused by one thing alone, our individual enslavement to sin. We and our children are conceived and born in sin. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2Corinthians 3:17). “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). May God open our eyes to see the greatness of our need, whatever our station in life be, and no matter how we have been treated in the past by others, to grant us that liberty he alone can give us. What shall it profit us if we shall gain the whole world, and lose our precious, never-dying souls?
(©️ James R Hamilton, August 2018)