Project Canterbury

Canon Liddon: A Memoir
With the Four Sermons Preached at St. Paul's Cathedral in April
And His Last Sermon Preached at St. Mary's, Oxford on Whitsunday

London: "The Family Churchman Office," 1890.


(Preached in St. Paul's Cathedral on Sunday afternoon, the 20th April, being the Second Sunday after Easter, 1890)

Ephesians iv. 15.

"That we may grow up unto Him in all things which is the head, even Christ."

HERE is a statement of the object, or of one of the objects, for which the Church of Christ received her spiritual endowments from her ascended Lord. "He gave some Apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." His purpose, the Apostle tells us, was to bring Christians to moral and spiritual perfection,--"for the perfecting of the saints;" to advance the work for the sake of which the ministry had been instituted,--"for the work of the ministry"; to build up the fabric of the Christian life in the Church and in the soul,--"for the edifying of the body of Christ." A time should be looked forward to when in the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God Christians would reach a perfection which is described as "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." That perfection would contrast sharply with the old Pagan life which had preceded it, when uncertainty and division had been the order of the day, when they had been as "children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine." This new and higher life would be prompted by sincerity, governed by love, and its vital principle would be "to grow up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ."

So St. Paul wrote thirty years, or more than thirty years, after the Ascension; but the aspiration, the hope, the effort which he thus described would have taken at least some shape in Christian souls at a much earlier time, nay, we may be bold to say, immediately after the great events, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, even during those forty days which we are now traversing in memory. During those days our Lord [39/40] was still lingering on the earth; He was seen from time to time,, by a few or by many of His faithful followers, but the old period of intimate and unbroken companionship, which had preceded the Crucifixion, had passed away.

Memory can sometimes interpret events more accurately than present experience. It sees them in their true proportion, as the traveller sees the higher Alps in their real grandeur, not from the valley at their feet, but from the distant plain. In those forty days the disciples of Christ would have understood the meaning of their Master's life better than when they were with Him day after day in the villages and fields of Galilee. And now that He was preparing for His triumphal departure they would have discerned with increasing clearness, as to-day's Collect says, that He had been given by the Eternal Father, not merely to die as a Sacrifice for sin, but also to live as an Ensample of Godly life, a model of what human life should be. They would have anticipated St. Paul's desire to "grow up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ," and the prayer which we have offered to-day "that we may daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of His most holy life."

Now, the most obvious truths are often the most overlooked. They do not provoke opposition and the defence which opposition calls forth, and as a consequence they are apt to be less before the minds of men than other truths which are much more disputable. If this were not the case it would be unnecessary to observe that the first requisite for all good work is a good model. If a model does not exist, it must be projected by the artist before he touches his brush, or his chisel. He must have clearly placed before his mind's eye, and perhaps outlined in pencil, or shaped in clay, the conception to which he hopes to give a lasting embodiment. Not to, have a model is to waste time, skill, temper, material, in efforts which have no promise of even moderate success, or of anything other or better than pathetic failure and confusion. Even the Almighty Artist when He made the worlds beheld the archetypal forms of things to which He was giving existence, traced out in His co-equal wisdom, or Word, or Son. And no human workman, be he on a higher or a lower level in the school of production, can dispense with this first requisite--a model of that which he desires to achieve. When from this it is inferred that the moral or [40/41] spiritual artist needs a. model no less than the architect or painter, or sculptor, it will perhaps be objected that moral or spiritual success is a matter not of workmanship so much as of growth. Each tree keeps close to the type of its species. The elm as it grows up has no model elm before it, and yet it does not wander away from its type into that of the oak, or the beech: it grows, and lives, and dies an elm, and this not in obedience to any outward model but by the spontaneous prompting from within and the law of its life.

And the Apostle in the very words before us speaks of the Christian life also as a growth--a comparison which at first sight might appear to do away with the need of an external model. No metaphor, my brethren, can be pressed with impunity to warrant any conclusions beyond its immediate purpose, and when St. Paul speaks of the Christian life as a growth, he does not forget that man is much more than a tree, that he is a being with a free, self-determining will. This will of man, both for good and evil, can very largely modify the growth, whether of natural character and propensities, or of spiritual powers and endowments within him. Undoubtedly the natural character which we inherit from our parents goes for a great deal.

Much is said in our day, and with a large measure of substantial truth, about heredity, the transmission of a type of body and mind and character from father to son, from one to another generation of a race; but this transmission is always subject to modifications on the part of the individual. Each separate will may mould into new varieties the type of life which has come down from the parent stock; and it is the sense of this liability to variation--possibly in a large number of cases for the worse--which makes each nation instinctively fix upon certain men who are held most perfectly to represent all that is best in it as models for the imitation of those who are just entering on their share in its life.

Every country in Europe, and England not less than others, has its representative men, its heroes, some of them numbered with the dead, some of them still tarrying among us, though their day of active labour may have passed; and as we direct the attention of boys and of young men to these great Englishmen, we say: "There, and there, and there, is a model which in your measure, in your circumstances, [41/42] according to your abilities, you should try to copy. Keep it before you, study the temper and the characteristics which it offers, and you will not disgrace the country which has produced it, the England which is also your own."

Indeed most of us do for ourselves practically feel the need of a model, and the natural thing for a well-disposed boy is to make a model of his father. His father, he assumes-, is a sample of what a man should be, a model ready made and placed by God's providence in his way, so that he should have daily and hourly opportunities of studying it. A generous son will see nothing but what is good in his father, will admit no deficiencies in him if he can possibly help. Some forty years ago some friends were talking in the presence of John Keble, the poet, of the evils which pluralism--the holding by clergymen of more benefices than one at a time--had in bygone generations inflicted on the Church of England. "I don't know," observed Mr. Keble somewhat briskly, "my father was a pluralist, and he was not a bad sort of person," the fact being that the old clergyman had at one time in his life held two very small benefices at no great distance from each other. Certainly pluralism of that kind was no great harm. But what a serious consideration have we here for thoughtful parents; that a bad, or even a defective example on their part may do mischief in the exact ratio of the trustfulness and dutifulness of their children! Have we not lately had one terrible example of this brought home in the course of public justice to every one in the country, showing, on even a tragical scale, that where a home is not ruled by love, where a father's life presents nothing to his children that can win their affections or that can command their respect, deeds are possible which make ordinary murder seem by comparison tame and almost venial, deeds which even the heathen world would brand as the worst--since parricide most violently outrages the better feelings of unassisted human, nature--that it is within the compass of human opportunity to achieve.

There is, indeed, a profound law of our nature which alone explains the immense importance of a pattern or model in life. Whether we will or not, we men do become like that which we admire. If our heroes should be men of ability, but not men of principle, more intent upon personal credit or success than upon the public advantage, more [42/43] anxious to outwit opposition than to secure the triumph of what is right and true, we shall insensibly but surely become like them too. And if they are men whose first idea is to promote, so far as they can, the reign of righteousness in themselves and among other men, amid whatever failures, and with whatever mistakes in detail, as to what righteousness may imply or mean, we shall become in our measure, but to our great and lasting gain, like them too. In this matter we may adapt, from another and a much more solemn connection, those words of the Apostle: "As is the earthy such are they also that are earthy, and as the heavenly such are they also that are heavenly."

A model, then, is a necessity in man's moral as well as in his artistic activities, and there are at least as many models as there are races of men, nations, callings in life, kinds of occupation. Is there any one model higher than these, supreme, archetypal, a model not for the men of one trade or art, but for the men of all, not for one age, or country, or racer but for all, a model not only for Englishmen, or Frenchmen, for Europeans, or Asiatics, for the men of the old, or of the modern world, but for all, a model for man as man, in gazing on whom, in admiring whom, in striving to imitate whom, man makes the very best he can of his manhood, gives scope and play to all in it that is highest and noblest, and carries it forward to those heights of excellence at which its real place in the universe, moral as well as material, is most clearly discerned? Yes, the Apostle says, there is such a Model, Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the ideal Man. His excellence is dwarfed by none of the limitations which make all other models less than universal in their value. Although a Jew, He belongs plainly to all the races of the world, although a peasant He offers that which the greatest monarchs may do well to imitate, although untrained in school or university, His majestic intelligence dwarfs down the wisdom of other men to the relative rank of crude guesses, or of scarcely disguised nonsense, although living in the world eighteen centuries and more ago, He is not less a Model for the men of our day than for the men of His own.

No one type of character, or temperament, has an unbalanced ascendency in that supreme humanity, because all are represented, and all are kept in their due place. With our finite capacities we can at the outside only imitate Him [43/44] piecemeal, and from generation to generation His servants have fixed, one on this and another on that feature of His human excellence in the process of doing so. "I," exclaims one, "will copy His humility"; and another, "I, His charity "; and another, "I, His patience "; and another, "I, His self-denial"; and another, "I, His tenderness with those who misunderstand Him"; and another, "I, His zeal for the Divine glory"; and another, "I, His compassion for the suffering." And thus the rays of moral beauty which centre in and proceed from the Sun of Righteousness are distributed among His servants in varying measures of excellence, but all of them look up to Him, all know and feel, and act upon, the truth that He is the one Standard of human perfection, all say with one voice, and in a never-ending chorus: "Let us if we may, let us if we can, grow up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ."

But beyond this there is another level of attainment to which the Model offered us in our Lord invites us--I mean the perfect balance which He holds between what may appear to us to be incompatible forms of excellence. Ordinary goodness among men, as we may often observe, constantly means the practice of one virtue at the cost of another. It seems incapable of keeping its eye upon the whole circle of excellences while endeavouring to excel in one particular. In tbe supreme type of goodness, there is no such one-sided-ness or lack of balance as this. In Him no excellence is ever stunted down by pressure into imperfect virtue, or exaggerated by impulse into something that looks as though it were on the confines of vice. Thus, in our Lord, complete detachment from the ordinary interests and pleasures of the world was combined with an address and manner as far as possible removed from the ostentation of austerity, and His unrivalled dignity of character, based on, and inseparable from/* His inevitable consciousness of greatness, did not check a perfectly simple and lowly bearing with every human being that approached Him. In Him there is no opposition between public duties and private attachments, no such compassion for the sinner as to involve the semblance of indifference to sin, no such strong feelings about men or events as to imperil for a moment His perfect self-possession, no such calmness under opposition as to shade off into moral or intellectual lukewarmness about the truth.

[45] Illustrations might be extended, but in those which I suggest there is surely abundant material for our attention and our effort. The Apostle, beyond doubt, has a high ambition when he writes of Christians growing up to Christ in all things. He would have the lofty type of excellence, the great formative principles supplied by his Divine Master's example, appropriated by Christians in every department of public and private activity. Politics, literature, art should be Christian, no less than domestic life, and philanthropy, and worship. As the Supreme Pattern Christ has something to teach men in every district of human activity, and in every sphere of effort we are to aim at nothing less than growing up unto Him in all things which is the Head.

But here a difficulty may be interposed which we cannot put aside without consideration, because of late years it has been insisted on with ever-increasing pertinacity. We are reminded that, according to the creed of the Church of Christ, Christ our Lord is much more than man, that He is "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God." "How," it is asked, "can we imitate such a Being as is here described, even though He is made Man and dwells on the earth in human form?" "We can imitate,'' it is urged, "a perfectly good man, who is merely a man, but if Christ is indeed so removed from us as the Church belief implies, imitation seems to be out of the question; the only possible attitude of the human soul towards such a Being must surely be that of wonder and adoration."

Undoubtedly, my brethren, the Divinity of our Lord is the central truth of the creed of the Christian Church, and before it can be even modified the whole Gospel of St. John, and no inconsiderable portion of the writings of St. Paul, must be cut out of our Bible. But does this faith destroy the value of our Lord's human life as a Model for our imitation? Those who say so appear to assume that imitation is only possible where the sphere of life, and the range of interests and opportunities, are strictly the same in the imitator and the model, and this assumption would disqualify, not merely our Lord, but many good men and women, for the office of an example to others. For instance, it is a matter of common remark that the Queen sets an example to her subjects of attention to domestic duties and of care for the suffering and [45/46] the distressed which we all of us might follow with very great advantage, and, considering how far-reaching is the influence of the throne in a society constituted such as ours, it is difficult to overrate the moral gain to the country of such an example. But supposing a person should object that the Queen lives in so totally different a sphere of life, that she has interests, occupations, an outlook so essentially unlike that of her subjects, that any real imitation of her in the particulars specified is out of the question. Would not the objection be felt to be irrational? We may indeed be unable to imitate the dealings of the sovereign with her ministers, with foreign powers, with questions of prerogative and the constitution: these things belong to an office with which she is, and we are not, entrusted, but she is not therefore beyond our imitation in the general principles of her conduct or in the sphere of duties which are common to her and to ourselves. And, although the comparison is even infinitely below the purpose with which it is made, although the greatest of earthly monarchs is as nothing, or less than nothing, before the majesty of the King of Kings, still the analogy holds good thus far, that the value of an example is not forfeited by the fact that the being who offers it is in certain respects beyond the reach of imitation.

Our Lord's true Divinity did not interfere with the truth of His manhood, or lessen--nay, surely in some respects it enhanced--the value of the example which He set us, from those early years of submission in the holy home at Nazareth to that solemn hour on the cross when He commended His Spirit to the Father. Indeed we may observe that excellence, like vice, is not a mere attribute of a living being: it is a thing in itself, no matter who offers an example of it. A lie is a lie, whether it is uttered by the fallen archangel in Eden or by a child of six years old in the nursery; and humility is humility whether it be practised by one of ourselves or by the Son of the Highest. Our Lord's eternal Person does not make the virtues which are so apparent in His earthly life inimitable by us, since they belong to that common nature which is ours by inheritance, and which in His mighty love and condescension He took upon Himself. Certainly we cannot heal the sick, or still the tempest, or raise the dead; we cannot assume towards our brethren a bearing which implies that in us they will find inexhaustible sources of strength [46/47] and consolation; we cannot die for the sins of the whole world and rise again the third day, and ascend to heaven, but we can each of us in his place and sphere, though it be at an infinite distance, grow up towards the love of which these deeds of power and compassion were the magnificent expression; we can share the mind, though we cannot reproduce all the works, of our Divine and glorified Redeemer.

There is, then, I submit, no real speculative difficulty which bars imitation of Him. But no doubt there are moral obstacles and motives which are wont to array themselves in intellectual finery, and with which we must grapple if we would not utterly fail. Self-love in all its forms is constantly holding us back from growing up to the standard of our Divine Head, and self-love must be conquered if we would see things as they are, if we would be as He would have us. In order to be practical let us fix our attention for a few minutes earnestly on one very prominent excellence in our Lord's human example, an excellence about which happily there is no room for controversy, and which, if difficult of imitation, is yet imitable by and incumbent upon every one of us--I mean His superiority to injuries.

Christians often cherish a spirit of retaliation and revenge, but they know that they are wrong in this, because, both by precept and example, Jesus Christ has told them so. But when our Lord appeared upon the earth the right and duty of revenge for injuries was almost universally recognised. A few philosophers timidly hinted that it might be a mistake, but no one had as yet taught men to realise their true greatness by showing kindness and attention to opponents and persecutors in imitation of the disinterested providence of the Father in Heaven. Our Lord's precept was, "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you,"--and why? "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven, for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."

And what He taught He practised, especially during His Passion, when no wrongs, no insults, could provoke Him to any act or word that was inconsistent with His universal charity, or that could check, or even chill, the prayer, "Father, [47/48] forgive them!" As St. Peter reminds us in the Epistle for to-day, "When He was reviled He reviled not again, when He suffered He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously." It has been thought that a special danger to Christians attaches to neglect of any human excellence that was especially conspicuous in our Lord's earthly life, and certainly the history of the Early Church offers, at least, one illustration of how much may depend upon the growing up to Jesus Christ in matters where there is no doubt whatever about the force of His example or about the possibility of imitating it. Some of you probably know something of the well-authenticated history of Sulpicius.

After the issue of his second edict against the Christians by the Emperor Valerian in the year of our Lord 258, Sulpicius, a Presbyter of Antioch, of high character, was arrested and brought in the course of justice before the imperial legate. The usual questions were asked and answered: "What is thy name?" "Sulpicius." "Of what family art thou?" "I am a Christian!" "Art thou a priest or a layman? ""I am of the order of Presbyters." "Very well; know, then, that our august lords, the Emperors Valerian and Gallienus, have ordered that all who call themselves Christians should sacrifice to the immortal gods. If any despise this edict he is to be tortured and put to a cruel death." "We Christians," replied Sulpicius, "we Christians have for our King Christ, Who is also God; He is the true God, Creator of Heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is therein; the gods of the nation are evil spirits."

Sulpicius was then put to the torture, and, when he had endured this with great patience, he was taken away to be beheaded. As he was on his way to execution a Christian, called Nicephorus, rushed forward and fell at his feet. Between him and Sulpicius there had been a dispute over some trifle, followed by a coolness of long standing, and Nicephorus felt that he must win, if he could, forgiveness from, and reconciliation with, Sulpicius while there was time. "Martyr of Christ!" he cried, "Martyr of Christ, forgive me, for I have wronged thee." Sulpicius did not reply. A little further on Nicephorus repeated his request: Sulpicius still took no notice of him. The pagans asked Nicephorus what he expected to get from a fool who was on his way to well-deserved punishment. But Nicephorus renewed his [48/49] prayer even when the place of execution had been reached, and still Sulpicius was inexorable; he still maintained that persistent, that significant silence.

And then there ensued a scene which struck all the beholders with astonishment, which struck the Christians with awe. It seemed as if Sulpicius, who had not flinched under the torture, was growing paler as he beheld the sword of the executioner. "Kneel down," said the lictors, "kneel down, Sulpicius, that thou mayest be beheaded." "Why should I?" said Sulpicius. "Because," said they, "thou hast refused to sacrifice to the gods; thou hast despised the edict of the august Emperors Valerian and Gallienus." "Do not strike me," cried the unhappy Sulpicius, "I obey the Emperors, I will sacrifice."

Once more Nicephorus rushed forward, and this time it was to implore Sulpicius not to forfeit the heavenly crown which was already well-nigh won by so much previous agony. But it was all in vain. "Then," said Nicephorus, "I will take his place; tell the legate there that I am a Christian," and he was forthwith taken at his word. That history sank deep into the heart of the ancient Church. The fall of Sulpicius was quoted to show that the greatest of all sacrifices which a man can offer, the sacrifice of his life, is not accepted on high when it is offered by those who have not learned from Jesus Christ how to pardon injuries.

That attainment to the standard set before us by our Lord in His human life is wholly impossible without aid from God is a truth of which those persons will be most surely convinced who have endeavoured to achieve it. "Without Me ye can do nothing" is a word from Heaven that is ever sounding in our ears. Christ in you, in you, is the hope of glory, not only of heavenly glory after death, but also of the moral and spiritual glory which is possible for Christ's servants here on earth.

By His Spirit, by His Sacraments, our Lord takes up His abode in the soul and body of a Christian, and makes him what, left to his own natural resources, he never could be. If in the Church of Jesus Christ men have been, not merely moral, but also holy, not merely courageous, and faithful, and sober, but also humble and self-sacrificing and unworldly, this is because a higher force has taken possession o£ them and has made them what of themselves they could [49/50] not be. If you would grow up unto Christ, pray "for a larger outpouring in your souls of His Holy Spirit, make frequent and devout use of His holy Sacraments and of other means of grace: and be quite sure that "what is impossible for man is possible with God." But as you grow remember that you are also free agents; keep your eye fixed on the great Model. "There is one thing," said John Bowdler, an excellent layman of the Church of England in the last generation--and he said it when he was on his death-bed--"There is one thing that I regret more than anything else in life, and that is that I have not always set before me every morning of my life some one saying or action of our Lord Jesus Christ for my guidance and imitation throughout the day."

Certain it is that, as time passes, whether we will or not, we are growing in some sense, "growing up" to something. Neither the soul nor the body of man is ever stationary. They say that within seven years the whole substance of man's body changes by the mere processes of exhaustion and nutrition, and who that watches what goes on in that more important part of his being, the soul, can be insensible to the changes, many and profound, that must surely come with the lapse of time? Neither feeling nor thought are ever stationary, growth and decay are always in progress, but the vital question is, what it is that is decaying, and what it is that grows. Is it what the Apostle calls epigrammatically "the old man" that is decaying, or is it the new? Is it "the new man created in Christ Jesus in righteousness and true holiness" who is growing, or is it the old? A vital question most assuredly for all of us, especially as life draws towards its close, and the day approaches when the result of all such growth and change will become fixed and unalterable.

Surely the time is short,
Endless the task and art
To brighten for the ethereal Court
A soiled earth-drudging heart.
But the dread proclaimer of that hour
Is pledged to thee in love as to thy foes in power.

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