Hannah More, born in the 18th century, became an author, social activist, and philanthropist because of her brilliant mind and Christian convictions.
Her fiancé broke off their long engagement at a time when a breach of that sort of promise by a man was taken very seriously. He settled an annual annuity on her, and this gave her the freedom to pursue her interests in a way many women could not. She moved to London, wrote popular books, and moved in elite literary circles before she became a follower of Jesus.
Hannah realized that Christianity was not about performance, but “a turning of the whole mind to God.” This influenced how she spent her time, energy, and talents the rest of her life.
Hannah and her sister pursued many of their activities together. The two were as well read as university professors. They read from a wide variety of literature, including Puritans' writings and secular philosophers of the time. Hannah read John Newton’s autobiography and attended his church. He advised her, “You have great gifts; now believe in the giver of the gifts and do the work of that righteous judge in the public sphere.” Newton and her friend William Wilberforce encouraged her to retain her relationships in the fashionable world so she could have influence on the rich and powerful.
She was part of the religious Clapham community, which included many leaders in the abolition movement. They influenced her commitment to evangelism and helping the needy with their philosophy that “The Church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”
Her writing made her very influential in British culture. She wrote books and tracts on improving social manners and therefore quality of life that became bestsellers. Hannah wrote a response to Thomas Paine’s book The Rights of Man. His book encouraged social change through revolution, and it became popular in England. More wrote equally popular responses to Paine’s argument showing the practical realities that helped readers see the dangerous consequences. She recommended a peaceful way of making important and necessary social changes. Marc Baer, in his book Mere Believers, says that “it can be argued that no one played a more important role in preventing revolution in late eighteenth– and early nineteenth-century Britain than did Hannah More.” More also wrote attacking the French atheist politician whose rhetoric drove Catholic priests into exile to escape violence. And More used the profits of her pamphlet to provide for these exiles.
Hannah and her sister opened a school for the poor at a time when there was no public education and the majority of British citizens were illiterate. The classes met on Sunday, the only day the working people had off. Children were taught to read and write, using the Bible as one of the textbooks. They were taught skills that would help improve their circumstances. Adults were also taught, and job placement services were offered. Within a decade, the sisters opened 16 schools. Hannah continued her direct involvement in the schools for 30 years until she was old and too ill to continue. Three of her schools survived into the 20th century and were models for continuing education.
Hannah encouraged women, and specifically poor women, to get an education to improve their position and wellbeing. She believed that an educated wife was a more suitable companion than a merely ornamental woman. She thought that women could be significant influencers in improving society by getting an education and making wise and moral life choices. British men’s clubs are well known. More endowed clubs for women. Through these clubs, women were encouraged to become self-reliant, taught financial management, and provided services for difficult circumstances.
More was the first woman involved in the organized abolitionist movement. She wrote pamphlets and poetry to advance the abolitionist movement. She helped sponsor the publication of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, the account of a former slave. She helped promote the boycott of slave-grown sugar. She believed strongly that God had created all people equally valuable.
Hannah More led an extraordinary life. She had tremendous influence on society and used it to make positive reforms. She was motivated and guided by her Christian convictions.
Olaudah Equiano was born in an Igbo village in West Africa about 1745. He and his sister were captured and sold as slaves when he was 11 years old. Marc Baer, author of Mere Believers, argues “that because Equiano became a believer, the enslavement of Africans by Europeans came to an end.”
Equiano led an extraordinary life. He was brought to the Virginia colony on a slave ship and sold to a British naval officer. Equiano became a skilled seaman, learning “English, mathematics, the art of navigation, and several trades.” These are skills he would put to use in adventures all over the globe and make a living when he was free.
On July 10, 1766, he bought his freedom. He said later in his autobiography that it was the happiest day he had ever experienced.
On October 6, 1774, he experienced an even happier day. He “acknowledged my transgression to God, and poured out my soul before him with unfeigned repentance.” He had been reading the Bible but had thought that he was a moral person, obeying enough of the law to please God. On that day, he meditated on Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
Equiano became a spokesman for abolition. His personal experience and his Christian convictions gave him the moral justification to show why slavery was horrendously wrong. He “became the most important Afro-British voice in the growing opposition in the 1780s to the slave trade.” He pointed out what is taught in Acts 17:26 – all of us have one ancestor and we’re all made by God. “He publicized the true identity of those oppressors as nominal or false Christians because they did what God would not, placing shackles on other humans, and thus had behaved as if they were greater than God.”
He published his autobiography in 1789, which became a bestseller for years. “He was the first ex-slave to tell the story of his African roots, kidnapping, the horror of traveling on a slave ship and the terrible experiences that followed.” He self-published his book with the sponsorship of two British women, the Countess of Huntingdon and Hannah More. Equiano printed eight more editions and promoted the book across the British Isles.
His book influenced John Wesley and William Wilberforce. It rallied readers to the abolitionist movement. Wilberforce introduced a bill outlawing the slave trade six weeks after its publication. It was the beginning of many years of persuasion before it passed.
Equiano gave “voice, respect and dignity to black seamen and other poor African men and women who daily negotiated for their very survival in the colonies and in London.”
I read Martin Short’s autobiography this weekend. I’ve had the impression that Short is one of those celebrities who seems like a regular guy; he’s led a pretty normal life despite his celebrity. A family man, married for 30 years. I enjoyed reading the book.
Something has kept me thinking. Short was the fifth of five kids, and by far the youngest in the family. His oldest brother was killed in a car accident when Short was about 12 years old. At the time, he wondered why God would do this, allow this. He thought about some of the misadvised things people said to comfort the family. And he rejected God then because of this evil thing that had happened to his family.
Not long after his brother’s death, his mother became gravely ill with cancer and was expected to die. The doctors weren’t treating her because it was so advanced. Short’s sister, a nurse, talked to her mom about the prognosis, and their mom, in her typical spunk, rejected the idea of dying because she had one more child to finish raising (Short). And she asked her daughter to pass the grapes. This phrase, “Pass the grapes,” became family shorthand for coping with bad news and carrying on. Amazingly, their mother rallied and was in good health within six months. The doctors had no explanation. She survived several more years until Short was nearly finished with high school. She managed to get him to adulthood. He reflects on how much more difficult it would have been had he lost her at 12 and how significant those extra years were.
But he never indicates that this amazing event was the corollary to his brother’s death, that this great good was a reason to believe in God. But if the very personal problem of evil is a reason to reject God, isn’t the gift of good a reason to consider He exists? And none of the other great gifts in his life have ever caused him to rethink.
Greg has written about the problem of good. Christians need to answer the problem of evil. But atheists have to answer the problem of evil – and the problem of good. What makes something good in a world without objective standards? Where does good come from in a purely random world?
It’s a curious and sadly common trait of humans that we focus on the evil we experience and reject God, but take for granted the great good we experience.
Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, was a remarkable woman in her time. She was born in 1707 to aristocracy, suffered loss, family disputes, and bad health. She married the ninth earl of Huntingdon, descended from kings, and was part of royal social circles. Her early traditional life gave no indication of her extraordinary activities later in life.
She was raised in the Church of England, but had not experienced personally God’s grace. Revival came to England in the 1730s with preaching from John Wesley and George Whitefield. The Countess heard their message and experienced conversion. She became an evangelist herself, engaging anyone she met – high or lowly standing – about the Gospel. She invited preachers to her house to teach her guests. She became passionate. And she examined her beliefs and actions to live out her Christian convictions.
She believed that generosity and charity were not individual actions, but a way of living. She visited debtor’s prison and personally paid off what was owed by inmates, freeing them. She reached out to coal miners, offering them help. Through the chaplains she sponsored, she helped needy people, giving away today’s equivalent of millions of dollars. She practiced what she read: “When I gave myself up to the Lord, I likewise devoted to Him all my fortune.”
Decades before William Wilberforce and his circle made abolition of the slave trade a national cause, Selina opposed slavery. She sponsored black authors and activists.
She helped found a college called Trevecca for training preachers that was eventually incorporated into Westminster Collge, Cambridge University. The students didn’t pay anything to attend. Many were poor. The Countess paid their expenses from her own pocket and raised support for their education. Trevecca graduates became some of the most influential pastors of their time. She sponsored 64 chapels in England. The school also produced missionaries. The Countess sponsored missionaries to the East Indies, Africa, America, and the South Pacific.
She corresponded with George Washington about founding a college in America for Native Americans. She used property she inherited to found the Bethesda Home for Boys in Georgia.
Selina’s conversion transformed her; God transformed her life. And she lived out the grace she received as thoroughly and generously as she could.
Brittany literally became the cover girl for doctor-assisted suicide when she went public with her decision and was on the cover of People magazine. She was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor and chose to end her life at her own timing rather than die of the disease. This is called death with dignity.
There has been criticism for those who have publicly disagreed with her decision. But Brittany went public in order to spark a change in public policy, so it’s in the public square for discussion.
“Death with dignity” is a phrase that suicide proponents have used. Of course, there’s rhetorical power to the phrase to identify it with suicide, bypassing the difficulty and suffering of dying naturally. But dignity has nothing to do with the mode of death, but the way someone handles dying. There’s nothing at all undignified about needing the care of others when we can no longer care for ourselves. There’s nothing undignified about a difficult death. Dignity is a virtue of how the person handles the very difficult circumstances they find themselves in.
I’ve become more personally acquainted with suffering and dying. For the last year my mother’s heart conditions have worsened. She’s become incapacitated and needs care for virtually every need she has. She’s bedridden and her memory is worsening. It’s nothing very unusual for someone nearly 90. She’s slowly dying. It’s very difficult for her and there have been times she’s yearned for it to end. But my mother has accepted every degradation in her condition with grace. She’ll die of natural causes. She is dying with dignity.
My mother often says she never imagined she’d be like this. She would rather die than linger like this. I can’t imagine how hard it is to be in her situation. And I know there are families dealing with much, much worse.
It isn’t pointless.
There’s a community aspect to anyone’s death. Each person’s death and how we handle it either communicates the intrinsic value of human life or the lack of it. It speaks of our value for those virtues or says they’re unimportant. It tells everyone that life is precious and not ours to take, or it says that we are our gods and personal autonomy is paramount.
Brittany Maynard went public because she wanted her death to tell us what she thought about suffering and dying. We need to think carefully about what she told us because it has consequences for all of us and how we treat the suffering and dying, the very vulnerable. My mom’s dying process also tells us something. And I hope that it teaches us that we aren’t the masters of our fate. That life is precious and valuable even when it’s extremely difficult and painful. That we need to care for the sick and dying with patience and compassion. And that there is dignity in the way we accept dying by natural means even when it’s very, very hard. In caring for the sick and dying, we affirm the value of every person by treating them humanely through sickness until death.
Obviously, there are worldview issues involved in this. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, the virtues gained during the end of life aren’t very valuable. If you don’t believe that we are God’s creatures and He gives us life and value, then we are the masters to exercise autonomy over our fate. The value – or lack of it – we put on life at the worst moments in life and death will have consequences for how we treat people at any point in life. This will have consequences for how we as a society provide for the suffering and dying. It will have consequences for the kind of people we are.
These are the issues that need to be part of the public discourse.
He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.
God's new mercies give us refreshment and rest when we're suffering or just dealing with the normal stress of the day.
For a few years now, I've read Paul David Tripp's three tweets on grace and mercy every morning. It's been a good reminder, a good way to meditate for even a few moments daily on the significance of God's grace and how it works out in my life. Even when things are going well, it's good to be reminded that all I am and have is because of God's grace and no merit in me. It's a good attitude adjustment no matter my circumstances and feelings. Shifting my focus to God's grace gives my soul rest.
So I was very excited to see Tripp's new daily devotion book New Morning Mercies published by Crossway. I've read several of Tripp's books and have used the ones on the Psalms for daily devotion to meditate on the Psalms for a few weeks. His meditations are insightful and practical. Some are poems. I'm not really a poetry lover, but I have learned a lot from his creative expressions.
I'm using this actually for evening devotion, to rest my soul a bit after busy days. I've given a copy to a friend who also needs some rest. Tripp's books are always helpful and I'm glad to have one now that is a daily reading and meditation.
Historian Rodney Stark writes in The Triumph of Christianityabout the significant contrast Christian mercy and compassion was in comparison to pagan religions. Before this passage quoted here, Stark gives the details of the truly horrible conditions in the ancient world. It's worth reading to get a better picture of the terrible conditions Christian mercy intervened to change.
In the midst of the squalor, misery, illness, and anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity provided an island of mercy and security.
Foremost was the Christian duty to alleviate want and suffering. It started with Jesus: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35-40).
James 2:15-17 expresses a similar idea….In contrast, in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice. As E.A. Judge explained, classical philosophers taught that “mercy” indeed is not governed by reason at all,” and humans must learn “to curb the impulse”; “the cry of the undeserving for mercy” must go “unanswered.” Judge continued: “Pity was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up.”
This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues – that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful. Moreover, the corollary that because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another was even more incompatible with pagan convictions. But the truly revolutionary principle was that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and even those of faith, to all in need. As Cyprian, the martyred third-century bishop of Carthage explained, “there is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people with the due attentions of love….Thus the good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith.”
It wasn’t just talk. In 251 the bishop of Rome wrote a letter to the bishop of Antioch in which he mentioned that the Roman congregation was supporting fifteen hundred widows and distressed persons. This was not unusual. In about the year 98 CE, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, advised Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, to be sure to provide special support for widows. As the distinguished Paul Johnson put it: “The Christians…ran a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.”…
These charitable activities were possible only because Christianity generated congregations, a true community of believers who built their lives around their religious affiliation….Even if they were newcomers, they were not strangers, but brothers and sisters in Christ. When calamities struck, there were people who cared – in fact, there were people having the distinct responsibility to care! All congregations had deacons whose primary job was the support of the sick, infirm, poor, and disabled.
Critics of Christianity consider it a patriarchal religion that relegates women to "second class citizens" at best. This isn't the case at all. Christianity values all humans equally, and the behavior and practices of the early church demonstrate that women were valued just as highly as men. And this was in stark contrast to the treatment of women in literally any other culture and religion at that time. Though the Bible teaches complementary roles in marriage, it elevated the status of women in marriage, placing equal value on each spouse. Christianity placed new obligations on husbands for the treatment of their wives and daughters. And this played out quite clearly in the early church.
Rodney Stark offers the evidence in his book The Triumph of Christianity (p. 144-154).
Because Jesus, the twelve apostles, Paul, and the prominent leaders in the early church in Jerusalem were all men, the impression prevails that early Christianity was primarily a male affair. Not so. From earliest days women predominated.
In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul begins with personal greetings to fifteen women and eighteen men who were prominent members of the Roman congregation. If we may assume that sufficient sex bias existed so that men were more likely than women to hold positions of leadership, then this very close sex ratio suggests a Roman congregation that was very disproportionately female. Indeed, the converts of Paul “we hear most about are women,” and many of them “leading women.” Thus, the brilliant Cambridge church historian Henry Chadwick (1920-2008) noted, “Christianity seems to have been especially successful among women. It was often through the wives that it penetrated the upper classes of society in the first instance.”…
The question persists, Why? The answer consists of two parts. First,…religious movements always attract more women than men…. Far more important is the second part of the answer, which suggests that Christianity was attractive to women far beyond the usual level of gender differences. Women were especially drawn to Christianity because it offered them a life that was so greatly superior to the life they otherwise would have led….
Christian writers have long stressed that Jesus’s “attitude toward women was revolutionary…. For him the sexes were equal.”….[R]ecent objective evidence leaves no doubt that early Christian women did enjoy far greater equality with men than did their pagan and Jewish counterparts. A study of Christian burials in the catacombs under Rome, based on 3,733 cases, found that Christian women were nearly as likely as Christian men to be commemorated with lengthy inscriptions. This “near equality in the commemoration of males and females is something that is peculiar to Christians, and sets them apart from the non-Christian populations of the city.” This was true not only of adults, but also of children, as Christians lamented the loss of a daughter as much as that of a son, which was especially unusual compared with other religious groups in Rome.
Of course, there is overwhelming evidence that from earliest days, Christian women often held leadership roles in the church and enjoyed far greater security and equality in marriage….
In Romans 16:1-2 Paul introduces and commends to the Roman congregation “our sister Phoebe” who is a deaconess “of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.” Deacons were important leaders in the early church, with special responsibilities for raising and dispersing funds. Clearly, Paul saw nothing unusual in a woman filling that role. Nor was this an isolated case or limited to the first generation of Christians….
Prominent historians now agree that woman held positions of honor and authority in the early Christianity….
The superior situation of Christian women vis-à-vis their pagan sisters began at birth. The exposure of unwanted infants was “widespread” in the Roman Empire, and girls were far more likely than boys to be exposed….Even in large families, “more than one daughter was hardly ever reared.” A study based on inscriptions was able to reconstruct six hundred families and found that of these, only six had raised more than one daughter.
In keeping with their Jewish origins, Christians condemned the exposure of infants as murder. As Justin Martyr (100-165) put it, “we have been taught that it is wicked to expose even new-born children… [ for] we would then be murderers.” So, substantially more Christian (and Jewish) female infants lived….
The Christian position on divorce was defined by Jesus….This was a radical break with past customs. A survey of marriage contracts going all the way back to ancient Babylon found that they always contained a divorce clause specifying payments and divisions of property and the cause of divorce need be nothing more than a husband’s whim…. But the early church was unswerving in its commitment to the standard set by Jesus, and this soon evolved into the position that there were no grounds for remarriage following divorce. In addition, although like everyone else early Christians prized female chastity, unlike anyone else they rejected the double standard that gave men sexual license. As Henry Chadwick explained, Christians "regarded unchastity in a husband as no less serious a breach of loyalty and trust than unfaithfulness in a wife.”