The Christian and the Trades Union

R.W.W. writes asking whether he, a Christian man employed on the railway, ought to join the Trades Union in view of the pressure that it is threatened will be brought to bear upon him to make him do so. He appeals to us not to tell him that it is a case of individual responsibility, and so cast him back upon himself, but to help him.

The importance and seriousness of this appeal for help cannot be exaggerated, and the question is whether the truth as to what God is as He has made Himself known to us in Christianity is of sufficient practical value to be of real help to one in our correspondent's position. We can only state what we believe to be the truth; the reception of it, and the acting upon it must be entirely a matter of individual faith; but in saying this we would not cast our friend back upon himself, but UPON GOD, who is more than able to maintain him in the difficult way of faithfulness to the truth.

Only a blind and foolish prejudice would deny that the working man has had in the past, and may still have, many grievous causes for complaint, and if he has nothing beyond and outside this world we do not wonder at his discontent and his endeavour to secure for himself better conditions of life. We know at the same time that if he could gain at once every advantage for which he has combined in Unions he would still be an unsatisfied man, for in Christ only is true life found, the life that satisfies, and makes a man rejoice with a joy that is not dependent upon his circumstances. We also know that selfishness and sin characterize this world out of which Christ has been cast, the only One who could have righted its wrongs, and turned its turmoil into rest and peace; and whether it be the Capitalist who grinds the workman to increase his gains, the agitator who exploits the workman to satisfy his own ambition, or the workman himself who rebels against present conditions and casts envious eyes upon those whom he thinks to be more fortunate than himself: all alike are moved by the same motive and power — selfishness and sin.

But the question is, should the Christian working man, the man who has Christ as his Saviour, life, pattern, and hope, and who has God as his Father, join a Trades Union? The answer to the question will be very simple if we ascertain the aim and character of the Union.

Let us go to the Scriptures for our guidance: "And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD seek after: and your Father knows that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God: and all these things shall be added to you. Fear not, LITTLE FLOCK; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:29-31).

Two classes are here brought into striking contrast: "the nations of the world," and "the little flock." And the things they pursue are equally striking in their contrast. "These things" — food, clothing, earthly things — and "the kingdom of God." "The nations of the world" are the unconverted, those that know not God, whose hopes and desires are bounded by things of the world and the present time; "the little flock" are they who can call God their Father, and He must be supreme with them; their faith and hope is in Him. His things are the things they seek, and while they follow after these, He will see that their earthly needs are met, for He careth for them.

What is the object that the Trades Unions have in view? There is but one answer. Trades Unionism avowedly seeks, after the things of this life; it seeks after them seven days in every week, for Sunday is the day for all its greatest demonstrations. Probably cold, dead orthodoxy and new theology are greatly to blame for this latter fact, and for much of the disgust in the working man's mind with religion; be that as it may, Trades Unionism's one great and all-absorbing pursuit is the things of this life, and if a movement is to be judged by its aims, then, without question, this one comes under the head of "the nations of this world," in which are also included every society and individual, whether rich or poor, that does not give the things of God the sovereign place. Consequently we do not see how the "little flock" — those who know God as their Father and rejoice in His care for them — can consistently and happily throw in their lot with Trades Unions.

No! Their motives and aims are different, their roads lie in opposite directions. How can they walk together? Will "the nations of the world" tread the heavenly way and seek the things of God? Unless they are converted they cannot. Then if the child of God walks with them at all he must go their way entirely.

It may be urged that unless a man does join the Union he will be prevented from earning his living. Well that is only the manifestation of the tyrannical intolerance of the world, in spite of its boasted progress and love of freedom, and it ought to make the Christian glad that he does not belong to it, and the more determined to keep clear of it; we cannot see that it makes a good argument for the Christian to surrender the dignity of his independence of it, and the path of faith, and throw himself into it. The spirit that animates it seems to be the earnest of that which is yet to come when that great and powerful personage called the beast, in Revelation 13, shall cause all, "both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand and in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark of the beast, or the number of his name" (vv. 16-17). We do not believe that any Christian living today would say that the people of God who shall be put to that severe trial ought to yield to the power of the beast and join his vast union of all classes of mankind; neither can we believe that any Christian should yield to that which bears so striking a resemblance to it now. That the refusal to receive the mark of the beast in the future day of trial receives God's full approval is evident from Revelation 20, where we read, "And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years" (v. 4). And we believe that those who, believing in the living God, stand clear of these present day movements will also be approved of Him; indeed, for our encouragement it is said, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." The prize and the reward are on before, and meanwhile, in the midst of the trial, God is the refuge and resource of His children.

If the Christian workman serves a hard master, the Scripture instructs him how to act: "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God" (1 Peter 2:18-20). (See also Eph. 6; Col. 3:22; 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:9). But the Trades Union says, "You must not be subject, but 'down tools.'" If the Christian's circumstances and conditions of life are hard, again the Scriptures instruct. "But GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (1 Tim. 6:6-8). "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He has said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me" (Heb. 13:5-6). But Trades Unionism preaches discontent This lies at the root of all its doctrines, and to men who are contented it has nothing to offer. In its doctrines and commands then it is opposed to the Word of God, and no man can serve two masters; if a Christian who is in a Trades Union obeys its commands, he will run many a time counter to the Word of God; if he is subject to the Word of God he must often refuse to obey the commands of the Union. Let him choose then whether he will obey God or man.

But we must come back to that with which we began. The Christian workman must be cast upon God. If God is a living and present reality to his faith, his path will be clear and simple, but one Christian cannot dictate to another, and of every Christian it is true, "To his own Master (the Lord) he stands or falls."