Project Canterbury

Some Defects in English Religion and Other Sermons

By John Neville Figgis

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

[116] XII

Love Triumphant

"Christ, Who is our Life." COL. iii. 4.

THE triumph of Love is the triumph of life. No more foolish notion has ever occurred even to a clever man than the notion that a religion of love is a religion of death. Death in the sense of decay is the polar opposite of Love. Death in the sense of sacrifice, suffering, even physical death, may have much to do with the Love. These things are the price which Love must pay in order to realize itself.

Love is the most triumphant, absorbing and overflowing fount of action. It gives stimulus to mind and body. By its nature it is creative; it is opposed to all that is morbid and decadent. It is the most positive force in the world. For it is life concentrated at its highest expression.

True, Love involves self-denial. It is essentially giving, out-going from self. Yet, that self-denial is only a case of reculer pour mieux sauter. It is a dying in order to live. Whoso will lose [116/117] his life for My sake shall save it. Not Christ it is, but Oriental pessimism, which teaches men to lose their lives, so as to annihilate the evil of personal existence. Our Lord says the contrary. We cannot possess even ourselves, so long as there is any outer boon, physical health, wealth or life, which we will not risk, rather than lose such possession. "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

Love always individualizes the lover. A man devoted to the mistress of his dreams may deem the world well lost for her smile. In so doing he is not less, but more a person, than he was before. So with a motherhood or friendship. Individuality grows with every act of self-sacrifice. Look at S. Paul. Was ever a more dominating personality? Yet he could say, "I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."

Love's final conquest is the Resurrection of our Lord. One of the Apostles puts it with profound insight. He was loosed from the pains of death, because it was not possible he should be holden thereby. Jesus of Nazareth was a being of such rare quality, that Death could not do with Him what it did with every one else. People who find it hard to believe the Resurrection forget this. All through the life of Jesus on earth this fact is evident, unless you are prepared to jettison the [117/118] Gospel narrative. His being, His "make," not merely spiritual but physical, was finer, rarer, and more mysterious than that of other men. So it was doubtless with our Lady. One difficulty about the Birth story is due to people thinking she was just an average, respectable woman. Mary was of a nature highly uncommon. She was " highly favoured:" That was possible to her, which would not have been possible to her sisters.

Long since men have known that our Lord's spiritual nature was unique. Only by a false abstraction do we fail to see that His bodily organization was also unique. We have standardized mankind. Evidence is forthcoming that in the strange borderland between the physical and the psychical the human race is subject to even wider differences than those hitherto known. Even as it is we know the vast difference between the intellect of a Hottentot and that of an ordinary member of the higher races. Yet it is not of differences of intellect that I am thinking. Rather, it is the whole personality. Our Lord was Incarnate Love. That is admitted by some among His enemies; men who think the worse of Him on that ground. If Love be the Eternal reality, the stuff of which all things are made, and other powers be but the vehicle of Love, then we can see how in regard [118/119] to this final and most difficult barrier of all, Love was able by its perfection to surmount what in other cases is insurmountable. I do not say that we can see how this was done. The Resurrection would no more be a miracle, were we able to analyse it, as we analyse ordinary phenomena. Even in them, however, it must be remembered that in regard to the simplest operation of nature, such as the effects of light, modern science does not explain. It only describes the how of phenomena, and the claim to explain has been given up. The peculiar difference between blue and green to our consciousness is in no way explained by saying that one represents more vibrations than the other. This merely states the fact in different terms. The psychical facts of "blueness" and "greenness" remain what they were. Still less can we expect any explanation of the Resurrection, at least in detail. What we can rest in is the fact. A detailed account, like that of Latham's Risen Master, makes us realize it better, and strengthens the impression of the evidence. It does not explain the fact.

The Resurrection surprised the disciples. It surprises us still. That is strong evidence of its truth. This shows how false is the view that the story was created by faith. Faith to that degree was precisely what the disciples had not [119/120] got. Slowly and with reluctance did they come to own that Love had achieved its triumph. Worn and dispirited, they had witnessed the failure of their hopes as they stood round the Cross. All that was left was to inter with reverence the body. Then came the flash of revelation dazzling them. "The narratives are not easy to harmonize." They are not. A great lawyer said to me only the other day, that is no difficulty. No one acquainted with evidence and the discrepancies in quite ordinary narratives could regard that as a ground for disbelief. Only on the long-discarded theory of literal inspiration are these discrepancies a difficulty. That theory still lives to do harm both to orthodox and infidel. In one point all the narratives do agree. None of the disciples, not even our Lord's mother, expected the Resurrection. Only after the event did they see the drift of much that He had said on this topic. The change of mind wrought by this event in the disciples is admirably brought out in Mr. Neville Talbot's book on The Mind of the Disciples.

Some men admit a spiritual resurrection but deny the bodily. This tampers with the best attested part of the narrative, the story of the Empty Tomb. Or else they admit the story, but seek other means of explaining it, as that the Jews had stolen the body. [1] [(1) Cf. Le Roy, Dogme et Critique.] The Christian [120/121] institution of Sunday replacing the Jewish Sabbath is one of the strongest evidences for the Rising on the Third Day, and is opposed to the notion of merely spiritual appearances. Besides, to separate in this way between soul and body is to indulge in that false abstraction which treats the spiritual as something entirely apart from the physical, and by implication banishes God from the world. As a fact we know neither body nor spirit apart from the other. Westcott defines body as "the expression of the life in terms of the environment!" If our Lord be alive still, as distinct, we may be assured that His life clothes itself in appropriate form. That form is in the semblance of triumphant Love. Such triumph could come only through pain and death. Without such assurance there is no hope for faith in the only God that is worth having. Jesus Christ torpedoed all other notions of God. We cannot worship a power which is not in the highest sense good, i.e., does not will the good of the world. But for the Resurrection the tragedy of the Passion would be an irrefragable argument for pessimism. For it would show us Love conquered by selfishness, and, nothing to repair the disaster. Easter reminds us that it is not so. "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord."

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