Project Canterbury

Some Defects in English Religion and Other Sermons

By John Neville Figgis

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

[107] XI

Jerusalem: Love Acclaimed

"Hosanna to the Son of David." S. MATT. xxi. 9.

IT was a poor little pageant. A rabble of peasants from a province of a province, a few of the humbler class in its insignificant capital, a place that was to Rome what Hyderabad is to London; the central figure a wandering preacher seated on a donkey; boys and girls shouting, that is all. That is the triumphal beginning of a universal empire. What was there here to excite anger or even interest? Sights more moving might be seen hourly in the metropolis. Ephesus and Alexandria, Antioch and far Massilia, "crowded with culture," would smile less at the scene, which was common, than at the anger which it aroused in the rulers of the Jews.

Yet these Galileans were right. He Whom they hailed was King, is King. Disloyal and weak His subjects may be, yet even to this day He reigns. Even His foes admit that He is a King of Hearts. Of all His rivals none has yet [107/108] come near Him. In the worldly sense that is true. The acclaiming of Jesus expressed a fact. So far it was no more than acclamation. Calvary is the real beginning of the reign. This unstudied recognition of the King of Gentleness changed the face of human life.

Clearly, His "kingdom is not of this world." It never has been. Faith has ever been its foundation, faith and a willing loyalty. Errors are made by those who try to model the Kingdom on an earthly state. That is the error of the mediƦval Church, an error still made by some. The Puritans made a like error. These things do not affect the fact that the imperial crown of Jesus Christ is unlike any earthly diadem. Its jewels are thorns.

Kingship commonly implies a coercive power over human acts enforced by the sword. But the highest royalty is theirs who win the free allegiance of men to new ideals. Jesus changed the things that men admire.

First of all, He is, as the acclamation expressed, the Messiah. Through Jesus Christ the Hebrew mind came to rule the world. Ideas, characteristically Hebrew, of righteousness, of the holiness of God, of sin, and redemption, became predominant. I do not say that no such ideas, especially that of salvation, are not to be found elsewhere. But in their totality they are Hebrew. [108/109] Modern civilization is far from perfect. Men are for ever sinking back into the beast, as the Wittenberg story proves. For all that, this civilization had as its foundation the Hebrew doctrine of fellowship, of love to our neighbour, even though some may forget that this love is rooted in the Love of God. True, the Jewish governing caste rejected Jesus of Nazareth. By that rejection, and by the death which followed it, they gave to the root ideas of Hebrew religion a universal power. That it would never have had, had they maintained their narrow notions of political sovereignty. True, therefore, it is to say that Jesus re-established the throne of David. He turned a tribal chieftaincy into the lordship of the world. He did more. He changed the ideals of men. The royalty of Jesus Christ is the royalty of One Who sets forth a new way of life. He made people want different things. He made them admire different kinds of people from what they did before. Much that He said is not clear. A thousand years hence men will laugh at us for not understanding Him better. Still, we know this much. Jesus Christ set a new value on certain types of character. As against the old pagan ideal of force, He set the new ideal of gentleness. He made men see that strength is not greatest when it explodes, but when it is controlled and refined by love. Against [109/110] the old ideal of pride He set the new ideal of humility. What a change that was. Even now we hardly realize how much it meant, nor do those who think it a change for the worse. How Aristotle would have scoffed at the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, long-suffering (save the mark!), meekness, gentleness. Why, they are merely emotional sentiment, or they are contemptible, the notes of the slave, not the great-souled man.

"We live by admiration, hope, and love." What men do depends in the long run on what they admire. I do not mean that they live up to their ideals. No one does that. The higher the ideal the wider is the gap between our acts and our aims. That is why there seems so much more unity about a man with low aims than another with high ones. Yet in the long run human action is conformed to what men admire. That is the way things tend. No one can help trying to be like those whom he admires. That is where Jesus was so wonderful. He got men to admire Him, and so insensibly to begin to copy Him. The worst Christian who loves does that, does it more than he knows, more than we can see.

Owing to Jesus, everybody to-day thinks differently, judges differently, values things and people by different standards from what he [110/111] would do otherwise. This is true even of those who reject His Lordship.

Lordship is His claim. It is a Lordship of Love. But it is a mastery, no mere title. It means a willing acceptance of Jesus as King. We speak of Him as our Lord, Master, King. How much do these terms mean in our lives? Let us be enthusiastic for the Church and the corporate expression of religion. After what I said in the second address, you will not think that I undervalue that. Only let us not forget the meaning of the Church. If we do, we lay ourselves open to the attack that we put the Church in the place of Christ. The Church is the expression in human society of the Spirit of Jesus. Membership in the Church means personal loyalty to Him. To that text we must ever bring ourselves back. It helps us to judge our acts and our policy. Had this reflection been more common, some of the worst errors in history would have been escaped.

Loyalty to Jesus, that is the essence of Christianity. In thinking of others, we must always bear this in mind. Let us never regard, or behave as though we regarded, as outside the Christian circle those who are living by that loyalty, even though they may come short in our judgment of the manifold riches of His gifts to the Church. Some unity there [111/112] must be, however hidden, that binds together all for whom Jesus is Lord, and that though their formal creeds are not the same, and their external societies mutually exclusive. Unity comes of unity of will. All who call Jesus Lord must mean something which separates them from those who do not.

This is not the point on which I would dwell to-day. It is this rather. Is your personal relation to Jesus a reality to you? You call Him Lord? Is that to you more than a cant phrase? "Why call ye Me Lord and do not the things which I say?" "Many signs came from Jesus that He knew there would be many camp-followers in His army. Do you really try to do what He wants because He wants it? Has His friendship any hold on you, to keep you from what gives Him pain? "How can you ask me?" is the reply. "Those parts of the liturgy, of the Bible, that most appeal to me are those which have to do with this. All my favourite hymns express this. 'Jesus, the very thought of Thee,' 'How sweet the name of Jesus sounds,' 'Oh! my Saviour lifted!' and so forth." Precisely. Yet nothing is more deceptive. The two pitfalls into which the religious man may fall are (a) legalism, (b) sentimentalism. I know not which is the worse. It is not enough to feel love for Jesus Christ. We are to be His servants. It [112/113] is a long way from sentimental affection to that word of S. Paul, "I am crucified with Christ."

You know how a certain kind of child behaves. To its mother or father, as to some older friend, it is full of affection. If very young, it hangs round your neck. If a little older, it is brimful of welcome when it meets you; it takes the most obvious and flattering delight in your society. It is rich in endearing expressions, inconsolable when you leave. But it never does anything to please you. It never gives up a whim. It pouts at rebuke. It tries to get its own way by threatening to withhold that winning look if you refuse it. If of later growth, the boy or girl asks advice; but only to have his own sentiments confirmed. If it does not, it makes no trouble about letting you know you really are rather stupid. For its own comfort, or merely out of want of consideration, it will put you to needless trouble. Yet it would be scandalized if you said it was selfish or vain, or that its affection was a form of self-indulgence. Such beautiful feelings it has, they must never be hurt by the truth. If you seek to let in light, it frankly tells you that you are a little crude and cannot understand so delicate a mind.

Is not this the way in which many of us treat our Lord? We fix our own standards, or to be [113/114] more correct, we adopt the standards of the world, about spending money, pleasures, getting on, amusements, and so forth. Our Lord's will plays no part in this. Still more is this the case for many when they plan for their children their education, their future, though they are shocked if they go off the lines. All of us want our own way. Some good folks demand in addition that our Lord, like an indulgent friend, shall tell us that it is also His.

What we need is not sentimental affection, however sincere. The sincerity of the people I think of is appalling. Not insincerity, but a lack of sense of humour is the matter. What we want is the consecrating of our will to His. That is a hard thing. It means a long discipline; all that I said last week about the Cross. We need not be surprised if we have it not all at once. We ought to be surprised if we find ourselves making no effort to attain it.

The opposite error marks our penitence. There we become legalists. We are sorry for our sins. Of course we are. They annoy us. They humiliate us. Sometimes they almost compel us to doubt our own professions. We confess them. So far so good. But do we think of them as anything more than breaches of a code? Here it would be well if we had a little more of that personal feeling. We need to think of sin as [114/115] grieving the Sacred Heart. "Crucifying the Son of God afresh"; what a terrible phrase How terrible, that it means so little to most of us!

When I think of my own failures, they weigh me down. Sometimes I am deeply depressed. Then I begin to wonder whether this is because I fail where I would like to succeed; or really because I have done harm to Jesus? What is the use of staking your all on a cause if you are over and over again to sleep at your post? These things are pertinent just now. This National Mission, of which we hear so much, is to bring the nation to a sense of sin. The way to do this is not to go about bewailing the wickedness of irreligious people. Rather let us meditate on the shallowness of our own penitence. Good folks when anything of this sort comes think it is meant for any but themselves; they are to be distributing agents, like helpers at a school treat. We shall get no way if we think only about the unconverted. It is ourselves who want to be changed. Let us use this season to deepen our sense of sin, as meaning treachery to a friend. Then and then only shall we be fit to help others.

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