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‘Commerce and Christianity’: The Rise and Fall of a Nineteenth-Century Missionary Slogan*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

Andrew Porter
King's College, London


‘“What,” some simple-minded man might say, “is the connection between the Gospel and commerce?”’ Speaking in Leeds in May 1860 on behalf of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce was characteristically robust with his rhetorical question and no less direct in furnishing the answer. ‘There is a great connection between them. In the first place, there is little hope of promoting commerce in Africa, unless Christianity is planted in it; and, in the next place, there is very little ground for hoping that Christianity will be able to make its proper way unless we can establish a lawful commerce in the country’. Britain's part in forging the connexion was abundantly clear. It was effect of training the human race to a degree of excellence which it could never attain in non-Christian countries', giving ‘value to life’, ‘dignity to labour’ and ‘security to possession’, with the result that a Christian people would tend to be ‘a wealth-producing people, an exporting people and so a commercial people’.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1985

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