Project Canterbury

Some Defects in English Religion and Other Sermons

By John Neville Figgis

London: Robert Scott, 1917.
Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1917.

[97] X

Tabor: Love Transfigured

"He was transfigured before them." S. MARK ix. 2.

TRANSFIGURATION is an element in the life of Love. It was fitting that our Lord should be transfigured before His chosen intimates. The Transfiguration might well have a greater place than it has in the round of the Church's year. How rarely, too, does one find a Church with this dedication: though there is one dear to many in New York. Touching beyond words is this mystery. Its teaching for the Christian is yet more penetrating. As a modern critic says, the account in S. Mark bears the stamp of authentic experience. It comes after the great confession of S. Peter, who saw in the poor man of Nazareth the Messiah long expected. It revealed to the wondering companions something of what that more than earthly charm in their Master did in reality imply. Since then, the whole of human life has been transfigured.

Love transfigures its object. It reveals its inner meaning. To the Apostles was manifested [97/98] our Lord's true being. I suppose that even His enemies would not have done what they did had they known this. Not love it is but hatred that blinds most. Men say that love idealizes, that it paints an untrue picture, that it deludes the imagination. But as a fact it does this less than unbalanced hatred. Even dislike of a person sets one's judgment strangely wrong. Likes and dislikes have much to do with our estimate of the artistic or literary work of persons of the second rank. Love often reveals the inner powers of a person, unsuspected before.

The Transfiguration of our Lord showed Him in converse with departed spirits. It removed any Sadducean misgivings about the other world that may have lingered in the minds of the Apostles. Probably it had another effect. It damped their political ardour. "They spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." When this topic of the rejection came on, we know how hard of hearing the disciples were, how bitterly S. Peter resented the insult to his Master. In after-thought the dazzling vision must have been to the three far from exhilarating. Passing strange it would seem to them that the heavenly visitants had nothing better to do than discuss "the decease which He should shortly accomplish in Jerusalem."

That warning to the Apostles is needed; [98/99] needed more than ever. The Cross itself has been transfigured. Most of us think of it as a symbol of our religion. Few of us realize how right Mr. Shaw was in his facts when he derided Christianity as Crosstianity. The Cross has become a decoration, an ornament, something to hang on your watch-chain--but something to die on? Never. "Be that far from thee." Its criminal and contemptible associations have been blotted out by the blood of Jesus. We forget what it means not merely of pain but of disgrace and scorn. We resent these things when they come to us.

This and every age has to learn afresh the lesson. Jesus may be accepted as a teacher and even as a prophet by many who repudiate His divine claims. Yet more. Some will follow Him as Lord, honouring the Incarnation, and all the while find the Atonement a difficulty. "To the Jews a stumbling-block, to the Greeks foolishness." This was a defect of the last century, confined to no one party. Bishop Westcott made everything of the Logos doctrine. He was fundamentally Alexandrine, assimilative in his method. His Epistle to the Hebrews lays more stress in the life than the death of Christ to say the least. Many followed this line. Crudities of expression and an undue emphasis on the Evangelical side led to a reaction which [99/100] went too far. Now, however, the era which culminated in Moberley's book on the Atonement is at an end. Westcott and Moberly and McLeod Campbell and others will continue to make their contribution to religious thought. Some of their work is permanent. We need the other side no less. A stronger and more vital hold on the Cross will be the note of all effective religion in the age now beginning. His death marks not the close of a series but the meaning and purpose of His life on earth. Bishop Rhinelander will be found of much help in this direction. In his Paddock Lectures on the Faith of the Cross he writes as follows:

"It is the Cross that really makes the difference. It is the Cross which is the crux. It is the Death of the Cross which quite literally creates what we call Christianity. All our thought and study, if it is to be really Christian, and really occupied with Christian history, that is, with the documents and sources, must converge upon the death of Christ as the spokes of a wheel converge upon the hub, which holds them all together just as the whole experience of any Christian, of the wisest saint no less than of the last converted sinner, comes through and in the broken Body and the shed Blood. The Cross illumines, warms and vivifies the entire realm of Christendom just as, the sun, once [100/101] risen, lights and heats and quickens the whole earth."

We owe a debt also to writers like Canon Simpson and Dr. Forsyth, and to the brief but learned monograph of Mr. Mozley, an honoured name in English theology. It is to be hoped that his balanced judgments will carry far. The "cruciality of the Cross" is an ugly phrase, but it sets forth a truth.

Love transfigured on Mount Tabor occupies itself with thoughts of the supreme sacrifice. The transfiguring of all human life by love has its lesson for those who hold strongly to the Atonement, who are not afraid of such phrases as "imputed righteousness." Some of those who value most an objective Atonement have made this error. So well are they satisfied with the one "Sacrifice once offered" by the Redeemer that they deem superfluous all sacrifice of their own. The costly gift of Redemption is theirs, and they settle down comfortably to enjoy it. Catholics are sometimes blamed because it is said they substitute the Cross as an example, cross-bearing for the Cross as an achievement, God's gift in Christ. If they do this they are wrong. Are not some of those who blame them also wrong? Do not they often tend to rest in the Cross as an achievement and to ignore it as an example.

[102] Religion is no anodyne. It does not take away all suffering from the world. What it does is to make it worth while.

Love does not remove pain. It transfigures it. Any mother's love shows this. How much of suffering both in body and mind must every mother go through. All is made worth while by love. We know this by the opposite. Instances too common there are of selfish women refusing the privilege of child-bearing because of the sacrifices it entails.

This is true no less in regard to minor interests. Not one of us but will face drudgery and hardship for something we care about, even though in any other cause we might cry out against it. The idlest schoolboy will take pains over some private hobby, stamp or butterfly collecting. This transfiguration of suffering by love is the meaning of the Cross of Christ. Nothing inhuman or perverse, as some charge, is taught under this name. It is the voluptuary who is inhuman. Nations have perished for no other cause but this. They have all become hedonists. Then when the crisis comes they have not the nerve left to make the needful sacrifice. This is what the Germans thought had happened to the English. Families and business firms and prosperous towns have gone to ruin through the same cause. Do not let us ever be deluded [102/103] by the loud clamour of our adversaries into treating Christian ethics as against nature. Because Christianity is superhuman it is not therefore inhuman. As I have said before, the Cross philosophy "dying to life " is the postulate of education, the hope of art, the condition of success in business, the inspiration of the soldier and the lover, no less than it is the laurel of the martyr and the glory of the saint. S. Paul expressed a part of his own experience when he used those words "as dying, and behold we live; as having nothing and yet possessing all things." Some now fighting in the trenches will tell you that it is true. An officer (before the war in good professional practice) with artistic tastes wrote to me that he did not know what was going to happen, that privately he was, he supposed, ruined, but he had never been so happy. Only such people have the sense of freedom. These things will always take place. The sacrifice of mothers, of lovers, of patriots, will be found in all systems. The point is what gives them their true ground. Christianity is the true humanizer, for it gives to the pieties of human life their meaning and their end. This is shown by contraries. Already those who have no faith are openly repudiating humanity as an ideal. Facts are disproving the notion that human life will be cared for in proportion as we reject supernatural [103/104] sanctions. Vicarious sacrifice is a universal law of life. Its supreme expression is the Cross of Christ, which shows it as an element in the life of God. The other side, "dying to live," is not a perverse asceticism, but the condition of progress for spiritual beings who grow: the necessary means of overcoming the gulf between what we are and what we want to be.

The Cross is a paradox, I grant, the supreme paradox. But it is that kind of paradox which expresses the mystery of life. Otherwise it would never be worth while to take trouble for anything. This may be a help to us all: God's grace is given not to take away the Cross, but to help us to bear harder ones. Nor must we expect ever to be rid of the Cross. Always we are hoping to have done with it. This and that difficulty will be overcome. We ourselves shall be better trained. All will be easy. Ah! it is not so. When we find this out we think that we are cheated, and God is hard. He is. That is the condition on which we serve Him. To quote Bishop Rhinelander once more:

"The Cross is, first of all, the climax of His own personal and perfect obedience and holiness. The Cross is, secondly, the Divine sacrifice of love which works the miracle of our redemption and relief. The Cross, because it is these two, is something even greater still; it is the principle [104/105] of Christian fellowship, the way in which man comes into and lives in union with his God. No one follows Christ the Crucified without a cross of his own upon his shoulders. No one can plead the merits of Christ's sacrifice for his own sin, unless he by Christ's grace is himself being sacrificed by sin."

Did you read those words of Mr. Locker-Lampson, that brilliant young M.P. who has gone with our air squadron to Russia. "He asked others to join them and said: 'I promise you not rewards or decorations or money. I promise you difficulties, dangers, and perhaps death.'" Jesus Christ is like that. He does not insult us by promising only ease. To each of His servants He says the same thing: "In the world ye shall have tribulation." "If a man will not take up his cross and deny himself, he cannot be My disciple."

Only remember two things. The Cross is not hardest in its most obvious form. It is easier to be heroic in face of pain than in face of scorn. Martyrdom of some sort we think we can face. It is the icy contempt, the refusal to inquire, to know, and so forth that is harder.

Secondly, the Cross to many, especially now, is best found in the ordinary vicissitudes of life. Anxiety, bereavement, peril for those you love, perhaps their lifelong suffering, that you all are [105/106] facing. You face it whether you have any religion or none. But, if you unite it with the Passion of Jesus, it may become to you His Cross. The hardest thing of all is to accept in the spirit of Jesus those kinds of trouble which come to us in the course of life, and in no way distinguish us. Our pride in all the other cases sometimes turns the Cross into a source of distinction. But we cannot do this in matters that are common to all men. All we can do is to offer it in silence. Let us pray, that He may give us grace to do this.

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