[from The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, VI.11., November 1868. 330-334.]
THE following articles were occasioned by the inquiry of “Guilty,” in our September number. As they do not go over entirely the same ground, we publish both.
MESSRS. EDITORS—The subject of Life Insurance is claiming some attention in your Magazine. Although it is not one of paramount importance, it is yet worthy of some consideration. Few, if any, either of our ministers or people, believe in the criminality with which they have been charged. Even if we take for granted that there is nothing wrong in life insurance, the parties concerned might be regarded as imprudent; but to say that, in neglecting the advantages which this institution offers on terms which are available to all, “they are despising one of Heaven’s choicest blessings,” and are guilty of great wickedness, is to assert what no thoughtful man believes.
The question is simply this: Ought a Christian man to get his life insured? Can we justify ourselves in not doing this? In discussing this matter, a few thoughts may be premised. In view of the array of authority paraded to show “what wise men say,” it might seem in us daring to entertain a negative.
Dr. Storrs, of Brooklyn, is lavish in the praise of the institution. “It contributes to make life itself longer, society happier, and increases the aggregate prosperity of the community.” This El Dorado of modern discovery he represents as able to produce “a serene old age.”
Henry Ward Beecher asserts, positively, “Life assurance is nothing but a mode of laying up for one’s family or dependents. Bonds and mortgages may be seized for debt, and all property may fall into the bottomless gulf of bankruptcy, but money secured to your family by life assurance will go to them without fail or interruption. It is as nearly sure as anything earthly can be.”
Dr. Barnes, of Philadelphia, says, with earnestness: “I have wondered that ministers of the gospel have availed themselves so little of the advantages of such institutions. I know of no way they can provide so well for their own wants in advanced years, or of their families when they die, as by availing themselves of these advantages.”
Dr. Smith, of Dartmouth College, not seeming to forget the wants of the sacred profession, whispers the advice, with singular benevolence, “It would be a most admirable thing for parishes to effect an insurance on the lives of their pastors.”
The venerable list might be increased greatly, including Bishop Potter, of Pennsylvania, and the eloquent Spurgeon across the Atlantic, but if these names do not avail, others are unnecessary. The fox in fable, it will be recollected, when he first saw the lion, was alarmed out of his wits; the second time, dared to come to him; and the third time, inquire about his family. Those who have seen much of men, find out that “great men are not always wise.” Besides, every one knows that few ministers who attend to their lawful calling with assiduity pay much attention to the general details of business. Dr. Barnes confesses that he leaves these matters mostly to an officer of “the Mint,” and Dr. Smith strangely overlooks the fact, that most ministers need to have their salaries increased, rather than to have a monument in the shape of a life insurance, when they die. When “they ask for bread,” you need not give them a stone. A few negative arguments may be presented in brief.
1. The very plausible terms with which these institutions put forth their claims, savor very largely of the programmes of those stock concerns, whose certificates of deposit prove more profitable to those who sell them than to those who purchase. Few of our ministers are so young as to believe that officers of stock companies transact business on principles of pure benevolence. Let us hear the pompous pretensions of one popular insurance company: “If the benevolent results could be gathered up and presented in one view, nothing more would be required to secure the warmest admiration. More than twenty millions of dollars have been paid to bereaved families, or representatives of the assured, most of whom, without these provisions, would have been left penniless.”
Like many other pecuniary establishments which are chartered to do great things, they are ready to do what was done for Mr. Newcome, in the story—they “will heap coals of fire on your head” by saving your money for you. Only listen, and they will treble your capital in a single year, with the interest immensely increased; the benefactions are princely, the profits enormous.
2. The law which shields and protects those who are said to be benefited, is of doubtful morality. Ward Beecher says, “Bonds and mortgages may be seized for debt, but money secured to your family by life assurance, will go to them without fail or interruption.” If a man becomes bankrupt, the customs of fashionable society may justify the procedure of saving a little from bankruptcy for the family, but we must not forget the morality which requires us “to owe no man anything.” Christ declares, “He that is unjust in little, is unjust also in much.”
3. The savings bank might answer the purpose just as well. It is denied that we should make the discontinuance of life the basis of commercial bargaining. If then the transaction proceeds on this principle, it will follow, that leaving out the advantages derived from accidents and diseases to the surviving friends, the advantages are as great in one case as in the other. The man who employs the insurance company will have paid, at sixty or seventy years of age, all that his survivors would receive, provided the insurance bears date from early life. Moreover, where wealth is by accident gained suddenly from such companies, it rarely enriches the possessor. The few are benefited at the expense of the many. Besides, the morality of the transaction, to say the least, is doubtful to those who value conscience more than money.
4. The social evils resulting from life insurance often prove a warning. More than one murder during the past year is traceable to this origin. Yet where such unnatural results have not followed, the consolation derived in the hour of bereavement has not always been from the most spiritual source. It is painful to some to have poverty staring them in the face, and possibly even ministers of the gospel may be tempted by Satan to command that “these stones shall be made bread,” but still they should exemplify that more than Roman fortitude, and stoical indifference to wealth, which raises the soul above the world. The believer knows full well that the best of human prospects are precarious and transient. In vain shall we say to the sun of prosperity, “Stand thou still,” when a Supreme authority bids it decline into the twilight of fear, or the gloomy night of darkness and tribulation.
5. Seeking life insurance is a seeming distrust of Providence. We are well aware that Providence works by means. God is honored by those who use his gifts and do all they know how to do, and do it well; but there is certainly much belonging to the uncertain future which we must leave with him. The Divine Saviour commands, “Take no thought for the morrow.” If the insurance companies can do this thing for you, it is but reasonable to call in their aid; but the command teaches another lesson, for whilst we must not indulge in anxiety for the things of the world, we may cultivate a wholesome trust in the Almighty, and inscribe on our altar of worship, “Jehovah Jireh,” the Lord will provide. Mr. Beecher regards the pecuniary gains derived from insurance, “as nearly sure as anything earthly can be,” but there is something more sure than anything earthly can be. “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth richly all things to enjoy, that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
A more noble maxim need not be sought than the one recorded by the inspired bard, “Trust in the Lord, and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” The prophet Jeremiah, who may be supposed to have owned no stock in the “Home Life Insurance Company,” would likely have hesitated before he would have charged his indigent brethren with “criminality.” We might gather his disinterested opinion when, raised above corrupting influences, he was inspired to utter a word of consolation to all the ages to come: “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in me.” The faith which sustains the intelligent father, he is willing to recommend to his offspring when he shall be removed. He will neither be too much concerned for the present, nor try to take the future out of the hands of the Almighty.
J. B. W.
MESSRS. EDITORS—In the September number of the Ref. Pres, and Cov., your correspondent, “Guilty,” says he hopes to see this question discussed in the Magazine, saying that if it is the doctrine of our Church to condemn the whole system, “then many of our most influential members are very guilty and then by his signature he confesses himself one of the faulty ones. I also hope to see it discussed, and hope that “most eloquent and deservedly popular preacher,” whoever he may be, who “recently preached a sermon on the subject in which he condemned the whole system,” &c., and that others, also, will ventilate and illuminate the subject, so that we may walk in a pure atmosphere and the true light. And that we may have light given to us by those who may discuss it, I here make a few inquiries, which I would like to have answered in the discussion. 1st. Does the taking out a policy of life insurance exemplify or manifest much trust in God? And if so, how? 2d. Were we to hear a brother, who is about to take a journey on the rail road cars, at family worship in the morning, singing that beautiful and consolatory 121st Psalm, closing thus:
“The Lord shall keep thy soul: he shall preserve thee from all ill,
Henceforth thy going out and in God keep forever will,”
And then reading in Jer. 49:11: “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in me,” and then praying thus: “ In the Lord do I put my trust. We know that it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man or in princes, or to trust in either chariots or horses, or horsemen, or great numbers or associations of men. We know that there is no want to them that fear and trust in thee. We therefore cast our burden upon thee, as thou hast commanded, relying upon the promise that thou wilt sustain us. And now, Lord, trusting that no evil shall befall us, nor plague come nigh our dwelling, and that thou wilt give thine angels charge over us to keep us, both at home and by the way, that no accident may befall us while we, as a family, shall be separated, for a time we commit ourselves entirely and unreservedly to thy care and guidance,” &c. And then see him go to the ticket office and give his ten cents to have his life insured, so that if, in the providence of God, he should be killed that day, his family should have the promise of the insurance company to trust upon for $3,000, and so not be entirely dependent upon Divine Providence for provision. What conclusion, I ask, shall we come to in regard to the brother’s sincerity in expressing his trust in God with so much assurance in the morning? Shall we say in our heart, “Oh that we could have such confidence in God’s promise of protection and provision as this brother manifests by his actions?” or shall we feel like saying, “Ah, thou hypocrite, who, after thy profession of trust in God, givest evidence that thou hast greater confidence in, man, and wouldst have thy widow trust in the insurance company rather than upon God, for provision?” Should the reply be that the brother used but the proper means for obtaining a living for his family, and in doing so he could exercise greater confidence in God’s promise of protection and provision, then we ask, did the post-deluvians, in building the tower of Babel for the preservation of themselves and their name, in case of another flood, use the proper means, and so strengthen their confidence in God’s providence that he would no more destroy the world of mankind by a flood ? 3d. As we often ask others for a “Thus saith the Lord,” or some good example at least, in the Bible, for doing what we think not right, where shall we find the command or example in the Bible for life insurance?