XIV. THE TRUE LIFE OF NATIONS AND OF MAN.
[Lincoln's Inn, Sunday after Ascension (Thanksgiving-day), May 4, 1856.]
St. John VI. 62.
What and if you shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?
On this day the order of our Services would lead me to speak of our Lord's Ascension. On this day the Queen commands us to give thanks for the restoration of Peace. My text will tell you that I need not break the order of my discourses on St. John, if I desire to speak on the Church Festival. I believe there are lessons in the passage which would naturally come under our notice this afternoon, that belong equally to the National Festival. As long as we think of the Peace without any reference to God, — we mean by Peace, the Treaty of Peace; we question whether such and such articles in it are commensurate with the cost and success of the war, — whether boundary lines are fairly and wisely drawn, — whether new concessions might not have been obtained by a longer struggle? Or perhaps we mean by Peace merely the cessation of those hostilities by which all the nations that have taken part in them are more or less exhausted. Or perhaps we identify it with the material prosperity of the classes which have money, — a prosperity that seems to some closely connected with social and intellectual progress, if not the source of it. All these subjects deserve our most serious consideration. I believe that a Thanksgiving-day is to increase the earnestness with which we reflect on them, to take away the looseness and levity of our thoughts respecting them. But it must do this by opening to us another view of Peace, — not as based upon treaties and conventions, — not as being sustained by these; but as deriving its ultimate strength from the mind and will of Him who rules the universe, its subordinate security from our conformity to His mind and will. Such a day teaches us to look upon Peace not merely as the end of a war, but as the normal state of a Christian and human society; a state which is interrupted by the lusts that war in our members, — the interruption being most terrible when it exhibits itself in internal strifes and hatreds. Such a day calls upon us to reflect that what, in the dialect of the money-market, is called prosperity, is not one of those symptoms of Peace which we are to rest in with confidence, — not one which we are ever to contemplate without trembling. For it does not mean the growth and vital energy of the whole body, but an unnatural swelling and bloating of certain portions of the body. It often leads to ignoble aims, frantic speculations, systematic fraud, — to everything that destroys the force of a people, and makes it a silly, gambling, slavish people. It compels wise men frequently to regard war, with all its horrors, as an inevitable punishment; no, even as a positive blessing. Therefore such a day as this obliges us to seek diligently for the springs of the moral life of societies, — for the secret of their inward peace and coherency.
The Lawgiver of the Jewish people had told them that all the discipline they passed through in the wilderness had been to teach them that 'man does not live by bread alone, but that by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God, does man live.' He was speaking to them as the members of a nation. He was telling them that the endurance of their national polity from age to age would depend not upon material bread, but upon another kind of nourishment and strength which it would derive from an unseen Presence. The lesson was repeated by every prophet, ratified by the darkest and the brightest passages of Jewish history. They were a wise and understanding people, strong and united, — however poor in numbers and physical appliances, — just so far as they believed in a One God, who watched over them, in whom they might confide. They were a contemptible people, essentially weak, full of elements of strife and dissolution, — however numerous they were, however rich, — when numbers and riches became the objects of their worship, when the righteous and living King was forgotten. Do you think that this, which is the maxim of the Old Testament, is forgotten in the New? Do you think that Jesus introduced a new law which set this law aside, — a law that had reference to individuals merely, and not to societies? I believe that the great misery and sin of the Jews, in the time when our Lord appeared among them in the flesh, was that they had lost the feeling of national unity, — that they had become mere covetous individuals, herding together in sects, knit to each other by opinions and antipathies, not by the sense of a common origin, a common country, a common Lord. Jesus came to gather together the lost sheep of the house of Israel under their true Shepherd. Jesus claimed publicans and sinners as part of the same nation, as heirs of the same covenant with the most devout. Jesus was in continual conflict with the sects, because they were substituting a self-seeking religion for the faith of Israelites. It is true that He was unfolding the faith of Israelites into a human and universal faith; but in doing so, He was establishing, not undermining, that which sustained the nation, and must sustain every nation.
When, therefore, He answered those who spoke to Him of the manna which their fathers ate in the wilderness, by telling them of the true Bread which came down from Heaven, He was, I conceive, expounding the words of Moses, — those which He had used in His own temptation. He was showing that neither the life of Israel nor the life of humanity can be sustained by earthly bread; that both demand another food; that He could tell them what that food was, where it came, how it might be received. By keeping this thought in our minds through the latter part of this wonderful discourse, I believe we shall do something to rescue it from the fangs of systematisers and controversialists, as well as to deduce needful instruction from it for England on this day.
The 40th verse of this chapter appears, as I observed last Sunday, to close our Lord's dialogue with the people who had crossed the lake to see Him, because they had eaten of the loaves on the previous day. An interval has passed before the 41st verse. Then we hear of certain Jews who were murmuring at the words, 'I am the bread that came down from heaven.' These Jews, I conjectured, were Scribes belonging to the synagogue of Capernaum, — men who had caught the notions and habits of the Scribes in the capital, and yet could avail themselves of the local prejudices of Galilæans. Their temper is clearly indicated in the 42d verse: — 'And they said, Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that He said, I came down from heaven?' The difficulty about Heaven, of which I spoke last week, was really not less for the Scribe than for the peasant, — only the one could talk learnedly about a second, or third, or seventh heaven, while the other, more honestly and more wisely, did not pretend to know about anything but the actual firmament which was over his head. Yet the consciousness which man has of some better heaven than this, was indicated by the confused experiments of the former to conceive one, and dwelt in the heart of the latter, awaiting some divine touch to call it forth. The spring was touched when our Lord spoke of a Father; the new heaven which the spirit of man in each man craves for, is contained in that name; where the Father is, it is. If we demand a more accurate definition, we may try our skill in framing it, — God's revelation will not help us. For that revelation does not cheat us with formulas when we are in want of realities; does not give us stones when we ask for bread.
Jesus, therefore, told the cavillers just what He had told the crowd. 'Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.' All their reasonings and debatings would not bring them nearer to Heaven or to Him, than the feet and the eyes of the people who had eaten of the loaves had brought them. The Father of spirits must draw their spirits to Him who was the source of their life and light, whom He had sent to raise their spirits out of their darkness and death; when they were drawn, when they did embrace Him as their deliverer and friend, no death of the body, no darkness of the grave, should have power over them; He will raise them up to the fulness of life in the last day.
Was this new doctrine? 'Was it not written in their Prophets, You shall be all taught of God?' Was it not the very promise, — the highest promise, — to the people of God's covenant, to those who were circumcised and withdrawn from fleshly idols, that they should hear His voice speaking to them? What did that promise imply but that God was a Father who was educating the creatures who are formed in His image to know that image? 'Every man therefore that has heard and learnt of the Father, comes to Me.' 'He comes to Me as that Word who was in the beginning with the Father, — as that Word who has been, and is, and will be always, the light of men.'
'Not — He goes on — that any man has seen the Father, save He which is of God, He has seen the Father.' It is not that any man has had a vision of Him who, by a thousand mysterious influences, is every hour acting upon him, and whom he has either obeyed or resisted; only He who is of God — only the Son, who has come forth from the Father — has had this vision; only He has entered into that Love which has been guiding the universe, and penetrating into the hearts of human beings.
This doctrine respecting the Father and the Son, which we have been tracing through every passage of this Gospel — which we have found to lie beneath all its other announcements — is the necessary preparation for the answer which He makes to the murmurers: — 'Verily, verily, I say to you, He that believes on Me has everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. And the bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.'
This contrast between these two kinds of life has gone with us through this discourse, as well as through all our Lord's previous discourses: we ought by this time to be sufficiently familiar with it. The eternal life we have found is the life of the spirit; the life which is supported by material bread is the life of the flesh. Faith or belief is here, as elsewhere, described to be the proper act and exercise of the spirit, as feeding upon bread is the natural act or exercise of the flesh. That which is presented to the spirit must be as real as that which is presented to the flesh. The spirit cannot provide its own nourishment; faith cannot create its own object. Jesus says, 'He that believes has eternal life.' He adds, 'I am that bread of life.' 'I am the Word of Life to man at all times, whether he knows it or not — whether he desires a heavenly life, or is content with an earthly life. And as your fathers received manna from God to sustain the life of that body which was to die at its appointed season, I, the Word of Life, have come from God to sustain the life of the spirit — to keep that from perishing, to give it the immortality which He intended for it. I am the living Bread which came down from Heaven; I am that Word, in whom is life, made flesh. If any man acknowledge Me as that Word of Life — if his spirit participates of that life which is in Me — he shall live for ever; and this flesh which I have taken, which I have united to My living and eternal substance, I will give for the life of the world.'
I keep closely to the letter of the Evangelist. I dare not depart from it; and I dare not seek the interpretation of it anywhere but in himself. There are a hundred scholastical interpretations of the reason why the Son of God was made Man — why His death was necessary for the deliverance of men. Those who think these explanations better than St. John's may make what use they can of them. I find in St. John all that I want — infinitely more than I can embrace. I will try, with God's help, to learn what the Spirit is saying to us by him before I look elsewhere.
When He says, 'The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,' does He speak of His death on the cross? Does He speak of some mysterious life which He will communicate to those who truly believe in Him? Does He speak of that Sacrament which we believe that He has commanded us to receive? You know how these questions have been debated in all times — how they are debated now. Perhaps we are on the point of a tremendous conflict on this very subject — a conflict which, however slight in its beginnings, may in its issues be more serious and practical than the one from which we have just escaped. Do not, therefore, let us evade the question, or any of the great moral difficulties which are involved in it. Do not let us strive to discover a poor unsatisfactory compromise upon it. Do not let us treat with contempt or indifference any of the earnest feelings which are enlisted on one side or another of it. One man or another may be condemned; there may be shouts of party triumph, or groans of defeat. What are all these when the question is about the life of the world, the life of eternity — about that which is to be when we are all standing together before an all-righteous Judge, to answer for the idle words we have spoken against each other, and for our mockeries of His Name? If we are giving thanks to God for peace, in the Name of God let us be labouring for peace — such peace as He only can give us!
Let us be sure, then, that when Christ speaks of giving His flesh, He does mean, as all have supposed Him to mean, that He would give up His body to die upon the cross. Let us be sure that, when He speaks of giving His flesh for the life of any, He must speak of a real, hidden, divine life, such as he has been speaking of throughout. Let us be sure, lastly, that when He speaks of giving up His flesh for the life of the world, He must mean that the blessing which He would confer by giving up His flesh would be one for mankind — for the whole earth — not for a little portion of mankind, — not for a few inhabitants of the earth. Whether I can grasp these truths or not, I must acknowledge them all to be true, if I acknowledge the Gospel to be true; I must believe that God understands them, if I do not. And this is what I mean when I come to the Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ. I do come to give thanks there that in Him is the life of the world, and that He gave His flesh for the life of the world. I do not want a separate life either here or hereafter. I come to renounce that separate life, to disclaim it, to say what a wretch I have been for pretending to have it, for trying to create it. I come to say that I find a separate life to be a detestable and damnable life — another name for death. I come to say, that if God leaves me to that separate life, I know that I am doomed to the second death, — the eternal death; but that I understand that the Son of God, by sacrificing Himself, has given me a share and a property in another life — the common life, the universal life which is in Him; and that, understanding this, I have come to give God thanks for it — thanks for myself, thanks for my brethren, thanks for the universe; and I have come to pray that, through His Son, He will deliver me, and my brethren, and the universe from that separate and selfish life which is the cause of all our woes and miseries, spiritual and fleshly, inward and outward.
In this way, brethren, I reconcile the faith in that sacrifice which was made once for all — the full sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world — with that faith in each man to which Christ promises eternal life. In this way, I believe that the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper explains and justifies both truths, not because there is some strange mingling in the elements of a body which must be received, — whether there is a spiritual organ to receive it or not, — but because it testifies to man of the eternal Lord of his spirit — of the Word who is his life, of the Word who was made flesh for the life of the world. I regard that Sacrament as looking backward to the beginning, onward to the end of all things — as speaking of Him from whom all things have proceeded, and in whom all shall be gathered up, whether things in heaven or things in earth. I do not think St. John had anything new to tell us respecting the Lord's Supper: it was already adopted in all the churches. Though he dwells so much on the last passover, he does not record again the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the wine. He had a different task. He had to show why that act was not a formal religious ceremony, the badge of a profession; he had to show the eternal law upon which it rested — the ground there is for it in the relations of God and man. If you ask me, then, whether he is speaking of the Eucharist here, — I should say, 'No.' If you ask me where I can learn the meaning of the Eucharist, — I should say, 'Nowhere so well as here; for here I find the very signification of the sign. Here I may discover what the Eucharist has been to Christendom — what it has been to each man who has desired to be one of the great Christendom family — what it may be as a means of binding that family together — how it may become a bond to nations which are as yet lying beyond the circle of that family.'
But, first, we must learn how hard it is to acknowledge either the sign or its signification. 'The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' That strife which began in the synagogue of Capernaum has gone on, in every nation of the modern world in which the name of Christ has been proclaimed, even to this day. Some think they can quiet their own minds, and settle all debate, by saying, 'Of course, the eating is metaphorical.' But I do not find that the use of that phrase has brought much contentment to any living soul. I do not think that any man's spirit can be satisfied with the bare imagination of a feast any more than his body. When vain men feed upon praises, — when angry men feed upon the acts which provoke them to rage, — when men who have received kindnesses feed on these kindnesses, — when earnest patriots feed upon the deeds that have been done by those who have saved their country, — you may, if you please, call this fantastic, imaginary, metaphorical feeding. I know that the results are real; that the vain man does vain acts, and acquires a vain character; that the angry man does acts of revenge, and becomes in spirit, if not openly, a murderer; that all gentle acts come from that upon which the grateful man has nourished himself — all that is most blessed to mankind, from the courage and self-denial which the lover of his country has cultivated in himself. These skilful intellectual explanations of facts — the haughty and self-complacent formula, 'This only means' — may serve very well the purposes of those who write books; for those who have to live and die, they are good for nothing. They take for granted that which the conscience of mankind denies, — that which every language on the face of the earth denies, — that the words which represent acts of the senses, needs of the senses, the satisfaction of the senses, do not also represent acts of the spirit, needs of the spirit, the satisfaction of the spirit. They introduce an unreal middle world between the senses and the spirit — a world of shadows, from which the most absolute materialism is a deliverance; because that, at least, is honest, and because against that there must be a re-action.
The mere animal people, who had eaten of the loaves and were filled, did not strive and fight as these intellectual people of the synagogue did. They wanted actual food; they had real hunger, if the deeper and nobler hunger had not yet been awakened in them. To them Christ could offer Himself as the Bread of Life. He does so also to these; but it is in sterner and more terrible language. 'Then Jesus said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whosoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eats me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eats of this bread shall live for ever. These things said He in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum.'
Our Lord does not argue with these men. He makes an assertion, appealing to the after-history of the world for the confirmation or refutation of it. I believe the history of Christendom, from beginning to end, is nothing else than a commentary on these words; that we may read it by the light of them. Immediately after the age of the Apostles, if not in the age of the Apostles, there arose sects which affirmed Christ to be a spiritual being, an emanation from God, but which utterly denied that He was the Word made flesh, — which were utterly scandalized at the notion that He actually and literally died upon the cross. The leaders of these sects were, many of them, very able men; they had perceived some high principles of the Gospel, — they had perceived the relation of those principles to the doctrines that were current both in Jewish and Heathen schools. They were not put down by the persecutions of their brethren, for they existed before the Church could persecute, — when it was the object of persecution. They were not in themselves offensive to the Roman empire, for they were like the religious or philosophical sects which it always tolerated; they were not politically dangerous. And yet these sects came to nothing. They had no cohesion, — they had no relation to humanity; in our Lord's simpler and higher language, 'they had no life in them;' for though they dwelt upon His spiritual nature, they did not feed upon His flesh and drink His blood.
Look on through all the centuries which follow. You find divisions, hatreds, secularity, hypocrisy in the Church; you find strifes about its doctrines, — about the relation of its ministers to each other, — about its relation to civil governments, — about its sacraments. What is it that has held this strange divided body together? What is it that enables us to say there has been such a thing as Christianity in the world, — that it has had an influence upon the civilization and order of the world? I can find but one answer. I do discover through all these ages the recognition of a Son of Man who actually took human flesh and blood, — who actually offered up that flesh, and poured out that blood upon the Cross. I do find that there has been here a common centre of life to all these ages, — something that has held them together in spite of their divisions and hatreds, — something that has been stronger than the division of castes, and classes, and sects, of the lord and the serf, of the prelate and the beggar. I do find the Cross the source of all that was noble, chivalrous, self-denying in the Middle Ages, — of all that was not base, tyrannical, superstitious. I do find the flesh and blood of Christ the strength of the Reformers, the bond of Protestants, the spring of all in them that has not been sectarian, disputatious, selfish, hateful. I cannot explain this in any other way than by believing that this flesh and blood of the Son of Man has been a divine food and drink, which has been ministered by God, in ways I know not, to Christian society, to Christian men, through all these times. I cannot but believe that there is a spiritual and eternal life in that flesh and blood which has given them this quickening power. I cannot account for that quickening power by any faith, or wisdom, or virtue which I see in Roman Catholics or Protestants, — in the members of one nation or Church or another. Whatever faith, or wisdom, or virtue, I do discern in them, — and, thank God, there is no corner of the earth, no moment of history, in which they may not be seen by those whose eyes are open, — I must trace to a higher source. I can find the only interpretation of it in the words, — 'As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eats me, even he shall live by me.' I must refer the Bread itself which has come down from heaven, and all the life of faith, and hope, and love that it has sustained, not to the creature, but to the Creator; not to the child, but to the living Father. I must suppose that He has been drawing men into the state for which He created them; that He has been proving that they were originally formed in His Son; that to be separated from the Son of Man is an unnatural, inhuman condition: that every good and blessed fruit which has grown on the soil of human nature, has been produced from union with Him.
It is the next passage which contains the words that I have chosen for my text. 'Many therefore of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples murmured at it, He said to them, Does this offend you? What and if you shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him. And He said, Therefore said I to you, that no man can come to me, except it were given to him of my Father.'
Why does the allusion to the Ascension occur here? What has it to do with the previous discourse? I think brethren, that here again the history of Christendom is the interpreter of the words of Christ. It has been a 'hard saying,' that we must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ, in order that we may have life in us. To make that 'hard saying' easier to the understanding, easier to the flesh, various devices have been resorted to. One has been that to which I alluded just now, of representing the saying as only metaphorical. Another has been that of supposing that we may eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ, provided He descends into the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and transmutes them into His body and blood. I call this hypothesis an experiment to make the words which were hard, easier to the carnal understanding. I fully admit that there has been a Nemesis of that understanding. That which was framed to aid its conceptions, has become the most intolerable bondage to it. Decrees must compel it, under awful penalties, to accept the explanation which its impatience craved for. And what has been the consequence? The blessed and elevating mystery which this week speaks of, has been practically lost sight of. The ascended Christ, at the right hand of the Father, has been thought at a hopeless and incredible distance from the suppliant upon earth. The glorified Humanity has been entirely overshadowed by the thought of the cradle at Bethlehem. One vast section of Christendom has acknowledged the words, — 'Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you.' But it has denied that other sentence which proceeded from the same lips, — 'It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life.' The spirit in man is as impatient of those fetters that bind it to the earth, as the carnal understanding is of all that is not of the earth, earthy. The message which Christ brings from the living Father to that spirit is, — 'I can raise you above the earth; I can enable you to share those treasures of wisdom, and righteousness, and love which are the treasures of the kingdom of heaven. I can make you partakers of that Divine Humanity which I have redeemed and exalted to the Father's right hand.' And our gospel to the spirit of man is; Either you must feed metaphorically upon Christ's flesh and blood, or you must force yourselves to think that He is come down again into lower and baser conditions than those which He took when He 'did not abhor the Virgin's womb!'
But, — as the last words of the passage I have quoted remind us, — no power of man can awaken in us that faith, however greatly we may want it, which thus ascends to Christ, and dwells with Him where He is. It must be given us of the Father. That mighty drawing, which has been spoken of so often in this chapter, must lift individuals, must lift nations, out of the death of notions and opinions, into the life and freedom which the Son of Man came to bring them. Is that a reason for despondency, brethren? Is it not a reason for all hope? If we had nothing better to look for, than that the disciples of Christ, of one Church or another, should discover the meaning of His words, the power of His life, the last verses of this chapter would cause us the deepest despondency. 'From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him. Then said Jesus to the twelve, Will you also go away? Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that You are that Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spoke of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray Him, being one of the twelve.'
Those sentences which declared what is the very life of the Church, drove back the first disciples from Christ. They could believe in a prophet, — they could believe in any notions or doctrines; they could not believe in a Divine Word who would give His flesh for the life of the world. There is a sadness, a human sadness, in our Lord's question to His own apostles, which proves that even they might have been staggered by the thought that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, and that even they might desert Him. And though Peter's answer was a noble one, because it showed that he would cling to his Master, in spite of all ignorance and confusion, — because it showed that he trusted in Him as a Person, and that he was sure there was eternal life in Him, however little he might understand the way in which that life was to be received, — yet the allusion to Judas, at the close of all, has in it a depth of sorrow and of meaning which no one can fathom. It is quite evident, I think, that the sin of Judas is in some way connected by our Lord with unbelief in that lesson which He had been teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. But how could that unbelief convert him into a devil? I answer with trembling. Judas is represented elsewhere as a covetous man. In following Christ, he was seeking not Christ but himself. He could believe in One who would give him a place in the Church below or the Church above. He could not believe in a Son of Man who came to give life to the world. But a person who has lived with Christ, and been a minister and an apostle of Christ, and yet sinks into a separate selfish existence, answers to the Scripture definition and idea of a devil.
If the early disciples deserted Christ, — if His own apostle betrayed Him — because He said that He would in very deed prove Himself to be the Son of Man, by pouring out His blood for men, and by feeding the spirit of man, why may not His latest disciples give up Him; why may not His priests now betray Him because they, too, desire a Christ for themselves, and not for the universe? But if our trust is not in them, but in the living Father, we shall see all things working together for the manifestation of the Son in this His true and proper character, — for the discovery of Him to all nations as the source of their highest life. The war which we have just passed through has brought us, the most exclusive of nations, into strange proximity with nations with which we have had no previous sympathy. We have fought side by side with one which was called for ages our natural enemy; we have fought for one who has been regarded as the enemy of Christendom. The alliance will have done us harm, if it has made us value our position as Englishmen less, — if it has made us understand less the position which our fathers in the seventeenth century occupied, when they struggled against Louis XIV. for Protestantism and for national life. It will have done us good, if it has made us feel that our fathers were fighting against a tyranny which was hostile to Protestantism and nationality because it was hostile to humanity, — that there is a Son of Man who is Lord of Frenchmen as well as Englishmen, whom both in their creeds confess, whom both in their acts are continually denying, for whom each is disposed to set up some other Lord. Our struggle in behalf of Turkey will have done us harm, if it has led us to think less than our fathers did of that which divides the Crescent from the Cross, — the symbol of mere power, and the symbol of strength perfected in weakness. It will have done us good, if it has taught us that we are bound to resist injustice and wrong as much when it is done to Mahometans as Christians, — if it leads us to remember that the Son of Man gave His flesh for the life of the world, — for Mahometans, therefore, as well as for Christians.
A phrase has gone forth, and has become almost proverbial among us, which was spoken by one who was our enemy — spoken, we thought, with no honest intention, but one which has been recognised as containing a reasonable prophecy. It concerned the sickness and coming death of that empire for which we have been fighting. If sickness has overtaken, if death is to overtake, that once vigorous kingdom, this, I believe, is the explanation: — It bore at one time a strong and terrible witness for a living God, a Ruler of men, a Destroyer of idols; — God endued it with strength to bear that witness. It bore no witness for a Son of God and a Son of Man. It put humanity at a hopeless distance from God. Therefore seeds of weakness were latent in it when it was mightiest. They were certain to develop themselves in it more and more. They were certain at last to make its belief in God ineffectual, because it denied Him to be a Father. To adopt the modes of European civilization — to tolerate enemies of the prophet — may delay or may hasten the dissolution which has been foretold Certainly there is not in any of these things a power to restore life. Would the acceptance of Christianity restore it? If Christianity is taken up just as these changes have been taken up, as part of a new system — as the condition of admission into fellowship with more powerful states, I can conceive nothing so worthless, so detestable. The old Mahometan fanaticism is worthy of reverence; for it was real and honest. This profession of Christ would be a pretence and a mockery. The faith in Jesus which the Moslem does cherish is better than this; — he does confess Him as a great, though an inferior, Prophet. This would be to degrade Him into the head of a rival sect, which it is convenient for state purposes to make supreme.
But how can we teach them to regard Jesus in any other light than this? The first step to such a consummation is, to see that we do not degrade Him to this level ourselves. Let our Christianity be something more than a surface thing — more than an exclusive thing — more than a particular form of opinion; then those that are without our circle may feel its power, because then it will be a power. We need not, as some fancy, reduce the Gospel into a set of moral maxims, that we may meet the believers in the Koran on a common ground. By taking that course, we enter into a foolish competition with the Koran; we do set up our religion against the Mahometan religion, and so insult the prejudices of those who profess it. We need not bring proofs that Mahomet was an impostor, or that Jesus was the Messiah. But starting from that which is the strong and vital truth of Mahometanism — proclaiming mightily an unseen God and a living God — we may go on to declare that which is the specially Christian truth, — that this God is united to His creatures in a Son; that this Son has taken man's flesh, and has given His flesh for the life of the world. The deepest mystery of our faith is the most universal; when we are most Christian, we are most human. Only we must not stop short at the Incarnation; we must go on to the Ascension; — so we do justice to the Mahometan demand that we should not exalt humanity above Godhead; so we escape the danger which Mahometans too justly imputed to Christians, that they turned the flesh of Christ into an object of idolatry; — when Christ Himself said, 'It is the spirit which quickeneth.'
There is a design of establishing an English Church at Constantinople. If it is accomplished, God grant that the Gospel which is preached there may be the same which has been preached already by English lips and English hands in the hospital at Scutari! God grant that we may not seek there or here to set up an English religion, — for that cannot be the religion of Jesus Christ; that must be a denial of the Son of Man! If we fulfil the obligations which our Church lays upon us, we shall tell all men that there is a life for them in Him who died for all. We shall show the Turks that we hold the Second Commandment as sacred as Mahomet held it; that we are Islamites, confessing the will of God to be the only foundation of all the acts and energies of man. We shall show the Greeks that we regard the Son of Man as the one universal Bishop of His Church. We shall show the Latins that we are members of a one Holy Catholic Church, to which all nations belong, and which, by its unity, is to testify of the Unity of the Father and the Son in one blessed Spirit. And so we shall vindicate our own position as Englishmen; so the Church which we build on a foreign shore will prove that the countrymen whose bones lie on that shore have not died in vain. They will have fallen in war that there might be the sacrament of a true and eternal peace between the nations. And whensoever the bread is eaten and the wine is drunk which testifies that the Son of Man has given His body and His blood for the life of man, their thanksgivings will be joined with those of the Church militant, for the sacrifice and oblation that was once made for all, — their prayers will rise with those of their brethren to the Father of spirits — through Him who has ascended on high, leading captivity captive — that all tyranny, and oppressions, and wars, may cease for ever upon that earth which He has redeemed.
From the Gospel of St. John by FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, M.A, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Combridge. Published by MACMILLAN AND CO in 1882; Produced by Charlene Taylor, Julia Neufeld and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
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Gospel of St. John - F.D. Maurice
ON THE BOOK SHELF
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