Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Seventh Earl

I mentioned Lord Shaftesbury, an evangelical Anglican of the last century, the other day. Here is the blurb to The Seventh Earl by Grace Irwin.

    The figure of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, cuts a remarkable swathe across the history of 19th century Britain. Far ahead of his own time, he laboured unceasingly for social reform, not out of a sense of commitment to a cause, but out of a profound Christian concern for the poor and friendless. His story is especially poignant because his solicitude for others often made him an object of ridicule, and his determination to act in accordance with his convictions accounted at least in part for the lifelong financial difficulties with which he struggled.

    He is most widely remembered as a philanthropist and factory reformer, who was famous for his Ten Hour Law, who took an interest in missionary work, and who came to the aid of Florence Nightingale in her schemes for army welfare.
Shaftesbury worked his entire life to improve the life of children. He was involved in the Ragged School Movement, acts for children working in factories, chimney sweeps and climbing boys. He wrote articles on Elizabeth Fry, helped Florence Nightingale. He worked for the cause of slaves, prisoners, soldiers and the insane. He worked for better sanitary conditions.

One specific event of his life he shares with Augustine. That is the loss of his son at the age of 16. Augustine lost his only son, at the very age where he was feeling closest, at the peak of devoting time to his education.

Shaftesbury lost his second son Francis at the age of 16. Although he had 10 children this was the only one who shared his vision and passion for social reform. What was their last conversation about? His mother had been distracting him by talking to him about prophecy, how many years to the end of this age. Francis responded,

    "Think of the poor people, the children, who suffer every year - in spite of all you do, Papa. And multiply it by one hundred and sixty years and cancel those years out, 'Even so, come, Lord Jesus.' I remember when you first taught us to pray that. I didn't realize then what it meant. I suppose I don't now, but a little more, Mamma, I feel hungry. Do you think they would let me have something to eat?"
His father left the room and half an hour later he died. Now we are somewhat insulated from this kind of pain. It is only the unusual circumstance that brings about the death of a child. The susceptibility to illness, the misery of the poor, these things caused Christians of previous centuries to long for the end of this age.

Do we wonder that every generation since New Testament times has seen in their own era the last days? No, they yearned for those last days, the hope of Christ's return, a reunion with precious children lost and peace for the poor and war ravaged.

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