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Practical Lessons
FROM THE LIFE OF RICHARD COBDEN

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the September 1865 Sword and Trowel

Spurgeon

EARNEST MEN CAN ALWAYS LEARN from one another. The path of the man who blessed a nation by cheapening their daily bread, and snapping the chains of commerce, having devoted the flower of his days to that single purpose, must be full of instructive teaching to men consecrated to the yet higher end of glorifying God by spreading abroad the gospel of his Son. It is not our intention to give even so much as a complete outline of the life of Mr. Cobden, we only aim at gathering from his memoir such incidents and reflections as may be made to bear on the service of God so as to stimulate the zeal of those engaged in it.
    Mr. Cobden's success is a singular proof that early failures ought not to discourage the hope of future usefulness. His first public address was a signal failure. "He was nervous, confused, and in fact practically broke down, and the chairman had to apologize for him;" little could those who heard him have dreamed that his eloquence would command the respectful attention of senates, and the rapturous applause of thousands, on the other hand those who have heard him

"Pour the full tide of eloquence along,
Serenely pure, and yet divinely strong,"

would scarcely believe that he could have ever sat down a blushing man, longing to hide his head, because his tongue refused to do his bidding. Young believers must not be daunted if their early efforts should bring them little but regrets and disappointments; it is good for them that they bear the yoke in their youth; let them persevere, and they may yet have many crowns to lay at their Savior's feet. God forbid that wounded pride should so reign in the bosom of a servant of Christ as to deprive him of the bliss of doing good. What matters it if we are made nothing of, and are even the theme of laughter, Jesus deserves that we should bear even this for his sake, and since he scorns us not, but accepts our poor attempts as being what our motives and wishes would have made them, we may well press on, hopeful of better days ere long. One talent at interest will speedily become two, and the two will grow into five; let us do what we can for Jesus, and we shall soon be able to do more. Stretch thy wings fledging, and flutter, though it be feebly, for in so doing thou wilt learn to fly.
    One is struck with the way in which Cobden wholly gave himself up to his one master-idea. From the time when his judgment was convinced of the truth of that great doctrine so elaborately and conclusively advocated by Adam Smith as the fundamental principle of the wealth of nations, the freedom of industry and the unrestricted exchange of the objects and results of industry, he ceased not for a moment to denounce the system of protection, and to enlighten the people of England upon a matter so essential to their country's prosperity. His generous heart was grieved at the fearful distress which the Corn Laws brought upon the operatives; he saw them lying by the sides of hedges and walls seeking a miserable, shelter, he found them starving while plenty reigned on the other side the Channel, and was not allowed to send her stores among the hungry millions; his great heart beat high with sympathy, and swelled with a grand ambition to slay the monster which wrought his country such widespread evil, and he gave himself heart and soul to the work. To him all other aims were merged in this: his business which was at first large and lucrative, was all but sacrificed upon the altar of Free Trade; wealth was just within his reach, but the golden apples could not entice him from the race. Political partisanship, so potent over some men, could not sway him for a moment; he said in his place in Parliament, "I assure the House that the declarations I have made were not made with a party spirit. I do not call myself Whig or Tory. I am a Free-trader opposed to monopoly wherever I find it." There lay the secret of his power, he was given up to the dominion of one great object, and would not subdivide the kingdom of his manhood by admitting a second. The life-floods of his soul were not squandered in a thousand miserable streamlets to feed the marshes of superficiality, but concentrated in one deep channel so as to gladden the earth with a river of power for good. What a lesson for believers in Jesus. When will love to the Redeemer, after the same manner eat us up, and cause us to cry, "One thing I do"? Worldly ends rule in many professors, party spirit governs others, self more or less intrudes into all; it were the sure sign of a golden era if we had among us a host of men of the old apostolic spirit, for whom to live would be Christ only. Believers, whether you are actively engaged in business, or in spiritual labors. Strive to do everything for Jesus; in the power of the Holy Spirit, living for him alone. Dead as the withered fig-tree be all other designs and desires save the glory of Jesus, ay, and buried let them be in the abyss of oblivion. On that cross where died our Savior, let us crucify self in all its forms, and let us live with the name of Jesus burned into our very hearts.
    A mightily dominant passion will frequently subdue the griefs of human life, and bury them in holy ground. John Bright, who married young, lost his wife shortly after marriage. He went to Leamington, where Cobden visited him, and found him bowed down by grief. "Come with me," said Cobden, "and we will never rest until we abolish the Corn Laws." Bright arose from his great sorrow, girded his loins to fight side by side with his friend, and thus found consolation for his terrible loss, How often would deep despondeneies and heavy glooms be chased away if an all-absorbing love to Jesus, and a fiery zeal for his honor burned within our bosoms. One fire puts out another, and a grander agony of soul quenches all other grief. The hands of holy industry pluck the canker of grief from the heart, and shed a shower of heavenly dew, which makes the believer, like the rose, pour forth a sweet perfume of holy joy. As quaint old Fuller says, "A divine benediction is always invisibly breathed on painful and lawful diligence." The clappers of sacred industry drive away the evil birds of melancholy and despair.
    Commanding talent seldom achieves much unless it be coupled with perseverance. The runner wins not the race by making a spurt at first and loitering afterwards, he who would earn the prize must press on with all his strength until the goal is reached. Johnson tells us that human "all the performances of art, at which we look with praise and wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance; it is by this that the quarry becomes a pyramid, and that distant countries are united by canals. If a man were to compare the effect of a single stroke of the pickaxe, or of one impression of the spade with the general design or the last result, he would be overwhelmed by the sense of their disproportion; yet those petty operations incessantly continued, in time surmount the greatest difficulties, and mountains are leveled and oceans bounded by the slender force of human beings." The great freetrader's motto was that of the needle, "I go through." Having given himself to the cause, he was not the man to desert it; undismayed by reproach and laughter, and undaunted by the tremendous power of his opponents, he pushed on in his arduous task, clearing the way foot by foot by dint of clogged resolution and unflagging energy. He had to deal with men of ability and skill, whose interests were at stake, and who, therefore, bestirred themselves to repel his attacks with the utmost energy. In the market-place, in the House of Commons, everywhere indeed, the champion heard "the harsh and boisterous, tongue-of-war;" contentions fierce, ardent and dire, raved round him, and the weapons used were not always, such as the scrupulous would allow, but our hero showed no sign of relinquishing the field of battle, or yielding a single inch to the enemy. Jeers and sneers have often fretted other men into passion, or broken their spirits into despair, but he passed scathless though the darts fell thick as hailstones. "When Mr. Miles, a Protectionist, said that Charles Bullet had made an appeal to the 'appetites, as well as the passions of the people,' this reference to the horrid starvation then prevailing, was received with 'loud laughter.' Similar 'merry descants on a nation's woe' greeted Dr. Bowring's reference to anything so miserably vulgar as the reduction in the wages of shoemakers and tailors. When he said women were crying for work, there was more 'laughter:' they were making trousers for sixpence a pair—more 'loud laughter:' thousands were hungry and naked—the founts of laughter proved as prodigal as before; and 'peals of loud laughter' greeted the inquiry, what was to become of the women of Manchester?" Scorn may be more grievous than the pains of death, and ridicule more piercing than the pointed sword, but the bold, good man who, in this instance was the subject of it, was clad in armor of proof and laughed to scorn both scorn and laughter. On, on, on, was the voice which sounded in his ear, and he was not disobedient to it. He flew like an eagle to his quarry, and bore others of feebler spirit upon his wings. In the midst of the conflict he concluded one of his speeches with these telling sentences, "We must not relax in our labors, on the contrary, we must be more zealous, more energetic, more laborious, than we ever yet have been. When the enemy is wavering then is the time to press upon him. I call then on all who have any sympathy with our cause, who have any promptings of humanity, or who feel any interest in the well-being of their fel1ow-men, all who have apprehensions of scarcity and privations, to come forward to avert this horrible destiny, this dreadfully impending visitation." This enthusiastic continuance in the path of duty is to be coveted by all servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. The way of service is not always smooth, but the constant friend of Jesus puts on the dauntless spirit of resolution and journeys on come hill or dale, fair or foul, until he reaches the end. Our purposes, if at all worthy of men of God, will involve much labor and anxiety; and he alone is worthy of the kingdom who, unmoved by difficulties and unabashed by rebukes, marches onward with steady step toward the object of his life. Would to God that we were half as resolute to establish the reign of Divine truth as others have been to enforce the domination of a political dogma. The great want of many professed Christians is the spirit of continuing in well doing, patiently waiting for the promised reward.
    Shrewd common sense is called to the aid of enthusiasm by the leader of the Anti-Corn Law League. All means were put in operation. Lecturers went through the country, mass-meetings were held, funds were contributed, bazaars were opened, petitions were signed, elections were contested, and the whole country was kept in a state of perpetual ferment. That mighty engine, the printing press, was never allowed to rest. Tracts by the million flooded the country, broadsides and sheets of all sizes covered the walls, and condensed libraries enriched the patriot's shelves. Mr. Cobden spoke of printing a million copies of each of three prize essays, and of having every press in Manchester in full swing on behalf of Free Trade. All that ingenuity could devise or liberality procure was brought to bear upon the one great object. The power of this ceaseless activity so well directed was felt in all circles: from the palace to the cottage, all classes became interested in the struggle, nor was that interest ever allowed to flag. Whigs and Tories were both assailed or petitioned, good harvests and bad seasons were equally telling arguments, foreigners as well as Englishmen were made to serve the cause, in fact all the world was ransacked for allies. The children of light are not always so shrewd in their methods of procedure, they leave many occasions unimproved, and many means untried. It were well for our Churches if all the members were earnestly employing their talents in ravening modes of usefulness, or better still in working them out. If all were at it with all their hearts, we might yet make Antichrist tremble and fill the world with the knowledge of the Lord. To reform the abuses of our national establishment and separate it from the state were a task worthy of a thousand lives; what shall be said of the even loftier aim of making the gospel known to the teeming masses of our increasing population? O for one tremendous, long continued effort for London. Our impetuous desire to see the truth of God triumphant, makes us mourn and even loathe the lethargy of those who come not to the help of the Lord against the mighty.
    The virtue of disinterestedness shone very brightly in the character of Richard Cobden. One who was well qualified to speak for the working classes thus; truthfully describes him:—"He was one of the few members of Parliament who thought for the people, and what is more and rarer, gave himself trouble to promote their interests. He never knew apathy or selfishness. He cared for principle, not to serve his own ends, but the ends of the people. With him, a great principle was a living power of progress, and not to apply it and produce by it the good which was in it, seemed to him a crime. To him apathy was sin. A cause might be despised, obscure, or poor: he not only helped it all the same—he helped it all the more. He aided it openly and intentionally. Fresh from the honors of great nations, who were proud to receive him as a guest, he would give an audience to a deputation of poor men. The day after he arrived from the Court of an Emperor, he might be found wending his way to a remote street, to attend a committee meeting, to give his personal advice to the advancement of some forlorn hope of progress. In the day of triumph he shrank modestly on one side, and stood in the common ranks; but in the dark or stormy days of unfriended truth he was always to the front."
    Mr. Miall testified of him in the Nonconformist, "To do the good he was qualified to do was the only reward he ever craved. Wealth, ease, reputation, popularity, social distinction, were all as nothing when he had a duty to do. When that duty had been done, he was satisfied. He cared not to claim the merit. He delighted in lavishing it upon those with whom he had been associated. You might be in his company for days together without hearing a single expression calculated to remind you of his own superiority of position. He seemed to have no self-consciousness save for what he took to be his defects. He assumed no airs of authority. He recoiled from the very appearance of acting the great man. His affections all tended outwards. He was the soul of generosity. But in one respect he firmly and tenaciously held his own—he never parted with his convictions—he would suffer no blandishments to rob him of his self-respect. There were times when he was beset by temptations that would have been powerful for other men. None of them moved him. He put them aside and went on his way, neither caring to deny nor glorying in what he had done." Preeminently is such high disregard of self to be cultivated in the Church of God. If a politician could refuse a seat in the cabinet, and afterwards all the honors of the house of Lords, because he found it sufficient reward to have served his country and his age, surely those who are of "the royal priesthood," should despise all mercenary motives and sinister aims, and hate all selfishness with perfect hatred.
    All of us remember how Mr. Cobden espoused the cause of the Peace Society, and was not ashamed to be caricatured and ridiculed for its sake. The war mania carried away with its madness many a good and true man, but the hero of the Freetrade battle was a man of another mettle. Right in the face of the strong current of the war-feeling among us, he declared our folly and denounced our ferocity. His warmest admirers thought him unwise, and the verdict of the electors of England was, that he was in error; but this did not affect his testimony nor muzzle his free speech. He was the enemy of war just as he had been the enemy of monopoly, and he made no compromise with his second enemy as he had made no truce with the first. Manliness in religion is a mark of nobility of soul, such nobility as grace alone can give. He who wears it is more than a match for ten thousand slaves of custom who cut their consciences as tailors cut their cloth according to the fashion. Better not to be, than have to beg permission to think, and crave allowance to speak one's thoughts with bated breath. He who loves God as he should, is no time-server. His flag is nailed to the masthead, and never will he, like the pirate, run up false colors to escape attack.

"He holds no parley with unmanly fears;
Where duty bids, he confidently steers,
Faces a thousand dangers at her call,
And, trusting in his God, surmounts them all."

    The close of his career cheers us when we observe how he had managed to win the respect of his enemies, and retain the deep, fervent love of his friends. He had spoken severely, but never with personal animosity; he had triumphed by the strength of reason and not of physical force, and hence those who had been defeated by his logic owed no grudge to the man however much they might rue the day in which they met him in conflict. Mr. Disraeli paid a most graceful tribute to his memory, declaring him to have been an honor to the House of Commons, and an honor to England. On the other hand, his comrade, Mr. Bright, was overwhelmed with sorrow at his loss, and could scarcely say more than "after twenty years of most intimate and almost brotherly friendship with him, I little knew how much I loved him until I found that I had lost him." So to fight is to war a good warfare. Christians cannot avoid setting men at variance, it is a sad necessity of fallen nature that truth should provoke hostility; but the spirit which we breathe has no quarrel with persons, but with sins, or with the persons only because of the sins. Friends of all men are we, and in some sense the servants of all; yet we seek no friendship by a trimming policy, and serve no man by slavishly bowing to his unholy desires. If our spirit can be one of genuine, manifest, sincere, hearty, fervent love, we may be as vehement reformers as this age requires, and yet we may command the esteem of all with whom we come in contact, by the awful and almighty power inherent in holiness and zeal. Those who hate us for the doctrine which we teach, may yet be made to admire us for the lives we lead; and if they see not the truths which we believe, they cannot help seeing the fruits which they bring forth. Actions are strong reasons with the most of men, and they have a voice far louder than words: let us commend our faith by our works, and shut the mouths of our enemies by the excellence of our conversation. May we live for Jesus, die in Jesus, glorify Jesus, and reign with Jesus.

C. H. S.

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