R. O. Hall on F. D. Maurice's Theology

Source: Theology LXIV (1961): 189-193

Revised Reviews: V. --  F. D. Maurice's The Doctrine of Sacrifice

Compiled by Michael Poon

Return to CSCA Sheng Kung Hui Source Documents

(189) 1. I must begin this "Revised Review" by "declaring an interest" in the works of F. D. Maurice. They have been my trusted friends and counsellors for the last near thirty years that I have found myself carrying the doctrinal responsibility of a somewhat isolated episcopate. The Doctrine of Sacrifice has been especially helpful. It consists (190) of teaching sermons preached to refute the false doctrines of contemporary popular preaching that Christ's death had changed the mind and heart of God: and that this change of heart was limited in its operation to a chosen few. In Hong Kong to-day we are embarrassed by the extent and popularity of Protestant Sects preaching the same false doctrines as those against which Maurice was contending. These sermons have been to me quite invaluable, and to my amateur mind are much more useful to the parish priest than the traditional doctrinal teaching involving Augustine, Abelard, Anselm and Co. I find it hard to understand why I was not introduced to them by my theological college, and why they are not a "must" in all clerical training to-day.

Though written in 1854 these sermons are in line with modern biblical theology in their determination to unfold what in fact till biblical writers mean by their words. We should find some of Maurice's arguments unnecessary; for we do not hold as he did so closely to the God-givenness of every section of the Scriptures. But his theology is not based on the Bible alone but on the Church and the Creeds of the Church. In his first book, The Kingdom of Christ, he shows us God acting through a worshipping Church with the Bible in its hand, a Church and a Bible revealing God as ruling mankind not by giving them a book, but by giving them himself.

The thoughtful laymen for whom these sermons were prepared were taken step by step through the Bible, beginning with the sacrifices of Cain and Abel and closing with the Lamb on the throne of Heaven and the King on the White Horse, whose garments are dipped in his own blood.

2. The following extracts from the Introduction written by the author illustrate his point of view.

(a) Two views of sacrifice. "In these sermons I have compared (on the one hand) the sacrifice which manifests the mind of God, which proceeds from God, which accomplishes the purposes of God in the redemption and reconciliation of His creatures, which enables those creatures to become like their Father in Heaven by offering up themselves; and (on the other hand) the sacrifices which men have dreamed of in one country or another, as means of changing the purposes of God, of converting Him to their mind, of procuring deliverance from the punishment of evil, while the evil still exists" (p. xlv).

(b) The Straight Line and the Crooked Line. "My desire is to ground all theology upon the Name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; not to begin from ourselves and our sins; not to measure the straight line by the crooked one. This is the method which I have learnt from the Bible. There everything proceeds from God; He is revealing Himself, He is acting, speaking, ruling. Next, my desire is to ground all human morality upon the relation in which man stands to God; to exhibit whatever is right and true in man, as only the image and reflex of the original Righteousness and Truth. I cannot base this morality upon the dread of some future punishments, upon the expectation of some future rewards. I believe the attempts to make men moral by such means have failed always; I believe that they fail because they are in conformity with our notions, and not with God's purpose, as set forth in Holy Scripture" (pp. xli-xlii).

(c) Man's Corrupt Heart makes "Man's Theology". I find from the (191) history of the world expounded by the Bible, that there has been always a tendency in the corrupt heart of man to make Sacrifice itself the minister of man's self-will, self-indulgence, self-glorification. Instead of giving himself up to God, man seeks to make his God, or his gods, give up to him; he offers sacrifices, that he may persuade the power which he thinks he has wronged, to exempt him from the punishment of his wrong. This is man's theology; this is what has produced all the hateful superstitions under which the world groans. If I say that the seeds of this theology, of these superstitions, are not in your hearts and in mine, I contradict the Bible, I contradict the witness of my conscience. If I suppose that there is any heathen tendency to which a Christian man is not liable, I deny the fact of the corruption in the heart of every man of the progeny of Adam, or I suppose that, by some marvellous accident, we are exempted from the operation of it. I must, therefore, ask the Bible, the book of God, to explain to me in what form that evil is likely to appear in my age and in me; I must ask God Himself to tell me how I may be delivered from it, -- how I may receive the true sacrifice which taketh away the sins of the world, and so be prevented from accepting notions of sacrifice which increase and deepen the sin of the world, which suggest thoughts of God that destroy His righteousness, and make Him after the image of my unrighteousness, which lead men to practices that are hateful to Him, and destructive of themselves" (pp. xliii-iv).

3. The Contents

The first sermon in the book deals with the sacrifice of Cain and Abel and the apparent arbitrariness of God's acceptance of one and rejection of the other. Maurice insists that we read this arbitrariness into the text, and that it is not what the Bible says. The Bible shows that Cain's sacrifice was not given in obedient worship but with a desire to move God to do what Cain wanted. "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?" (Gen. 4. 7). The same emphasis on purity of intention and the desire to obey God is demonstrated, in Noah's sacrifice, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, the Passover sacrifice, the Legal sacrifices and David's sacrifice.

The Seventh Sermon begins the study of the New Testament record. It is significant that it is entitled The Lamb before the foundation of the world. In this title is the heart of the whole book, and indeed of the essential Catholicity of Anglican theology, as distinct from the deviationism of much Roman and Protestant popular preaching. I cannot help noticing in this City, in which we Anglicans are about 1/15th of the total Christian population, that we alone habitually use the Nicene Creed in the Communion Service. If you do not share my own gratitude for the Nicene Creed and its interpretation of man's experience of God as recorded in the Holy Scriptures and confirmed in the Church, then I beg you to read more and more of F. D. Maurice. In his Life and Letters there is recorded how he came through from Unitarianism to this Catholic Truth.

In the remaining twelve chapters all the great texts and passages of the New Testament are reviewed from the standpoint: "Here is God incarnate, reaching out to man, seeking and demanding their response and their obedience." "Redemption", "the Curse of the Law", "Propitiation", "Sin for us", "The Advocate", "The High Priest" are all examined in their biblical context. The book closes with a chapter on "The Word of God conquering by Sacrifice".

(192) In his study of these great themes Maurice will not allow that St Paul's emphasis is less universalist than St John's:

"I shall have to speak hereafter, for another purpose, of those words in which he (St John) declares, that we liave an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for tile sins of the whole world. But I cannot pass them over here; because, if you will read them in connection with the first chapter of the Epistle, you will see how marvellously they sustain that doctrine of propitiation which St Paul preached to the Romans. The object of St John is expressly to bring a message concerning Him who was from the beginning; to proclaim Him as the Light, in whom is no darkness at all. And Jesus Christ is set forth as the Propitiaton by the Great Father of all, that He might be declared in this character, that the sins of them and of the world might be taken away. It may be that this Gospel sounds even broader, freer, than St Paul's. But it is not really so. In the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans he declares, that as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. We cannot enlarge the force or application of such a Gospel. God will confound us, if we dare, by any arrangement of ours, to narrow it" (pp. 159-60)

4. Man's Notions and God's Actions

Maurice who, as a philosopher, was an "existentialist" before that name had been invented, is emphatic that we must not make the words of the Bible fit the names and the titles which we give to the doctrines of the Gospel "but rather to ask the New Testament to tell us what these names and titles signify and to show us the bonds of living connexion between them". In Sermon XIII he writes:

"In the Epistle to the Ephesians St Paul is teaching of God and Man; what the relations between them are; how it has pleased God to establish them, restore them, make then known; He is not announcing certain conceptions which we may reduce under classes or formulas that we find convenient. I am far from wishing you to forget the names and titles by which, both in popular and learned treatises, what we call the doctrines of the Gospel are denoted. They may be of great value to us, if instead of translating the New Testament phrases into them, we ask the New Testament to tell us what they signify, to show us the bonds of living connexion between them, to remove the confusions which torment us when we think of them. For this purpose I have considered those different aspects of Sacrifice, which associate themselves with Redemption; with the deliverance from the curse of the Law; with propitiation; with remission of sins; with Christ as the Lamb known before the foundation of the world; with Christ as made Sin for us, though He knew no sin" (pp. 202-3).

Sermon XVI on Christ the Advocate has as text the familiar words "If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous". The sermon begins as follows:

"I do not know whether we ought to complain of our translators for rendering the same word 'Advocate' in this passage, which they rendered 'Comforter' in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters of St John's' Gospel. It was not a sufficient reason for introducing a new word, that the subject which is brought before us here is different from the one of which our Lord is speaking to His disciples there. St John might have thought that it was very desirable and important to denote the Spirit of Truth, who should testify of Christ, who should bring all things to the remembrance (193) of the disciples, who should convince the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment, by the very same title which he gives here to Jesus Christ the Righteous. Interpreters have no business, in any case, to act as if they were wiser than their author, and to guard against confusion by departing from the course which he has adopted" (pp. 242-3).

This passage and many others in the book and in Maurice's other writings might suggest that Maurice was so dominated by the Eternal Being and activity of the Second Person of the Godhead that he gives less attention than is correct to the Third Person. If this is due to his being essentially Trinitarian and not Tri-theistic we would do well to follow him (see also the last sentence of this review).

5. The Cross and the Chosen People

The following passage gives an indication of how Maurice deals with "election" and its relation to the Cross of Christ.

"St Paul's own education as a Jew, enabled him to see a further truth which the Gentile, however simple and serious his faith might be, was only beginning to apprehend. The Covenant of Promise -- the Commonwealth of Israel -- witnessed that God had adopted and still cared for Israelites, stiff-necked as they were. That had been a source of comfort and pride to St Paul till he had perceived that the law demanded actual righteousness; and certainly not less from the Jew than the Gentile. Then the thought of a formal covenant could no longer sustain him, or in the least diminish his terrors. Now when he had seen in the cross of Christ the full revelation of the God of Abraham, he perceived also the deep and true foundation of that divine election, which he had taken to be artificial and arbitrary. The Cross told him. in whom it was that God had elected them, in whom He had blessed them with all spiritual blessings. It showed him the Eternal Mediator, the Living Word, in whom God had created the worlds, in whom He had held converse with the sons of men. It unfolded the mystery of the past; the Law, the Prophets, the Priesthood, the Sacrifices. But it took away the exclusiveness, the merely Jewish character, of them all. They were witness of the Man, in whom God looked not upon the sons of Abraham, but on the sons of. men, in whom He would at last gather together all things, both which are in heaven and which are in earth" (pp. 201-2).

6. The King Conquering by Sacrifice

The subject of the last sermon is the King Conquering by Sacrifice. The text is some verses from the XIX Chapter of the Revelation: The King riding on a white horse, his garments red with his own blood, "and on His vesture and on his thigh a name written King of Kings and Lord of Lords". This sermon, and the book, close with the following words, which can appropriately close this review.

"What we want is not that we should attain some separate and selfish bliss, but that He, who has been striving with us all our lives through, to deliver us from the separation and selfishness which have been our torment and our curse, should finally effect His own purpose; that He should be manifested to us, and to the world, as the King who has vanquished by sacrifice; that we should be His willing servants, the free children of His Father, formed into one family and body by His blessed Spirit for ever. Amen" (p. 314).

R. O. Hall, Bishop of Hong Kong.