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Thoughts on Present Church Troubles
Occurring in Four Sermons Preached in St. Paul's Cathedral in December, 1880

By H.P. Liddon, D.D.
Canon Residentiary of St. Paul's, and Ireland Professor at Oxford

London, Oxford and Cambridge: Rivingtons, 1881

"Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,--
Lead thou me on!" Lyra Apostolica.

Sermon III. Fourth Sunday in Advent. The Law and the Gospel.

"Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."--GAL. iii. 24.

ON the Sunday next before Christmas Day we cannot do wrong in thinking about some one of the agents or influences which prepared the world for Our Lord Jesus Christ. The whole people and history of Israel was, in a large sense, a preparation for Him: He was its climax, its finished product; and when He had appeared, Israel had done its real work in the world. Israel prepared the world for Christ in many ways. All that was excellent and saintly in its great men was a shadow of some aspect in the character of Him That was to come, as the Flower and Prime of the human family. Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David; the great messengers, who from age to age proclaimed God's truth to Israel; the strong and heroic leaders who brought Israel back from the darkness and the chains of Babylon;--these were all, in their various ways, types of the Redeemer. But Israel made ready His path of suffering and victory, by two means beyond all others.

First, Israel was the. people of prophecy. And [43/44] prophecy, among many other achievements, achieved this;--it "testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." It told the world all about Him before He came; and men might have read, if they would, in the pages of the prophets, what they read afterwards, expressed in other terms, in the pages of the apostles and evangelists. In the earlier as in the late' literature are proclaimed Christ's pre-existent life, His birth of a Virgin mother, the character and effects of His ministry, His profound humiliation and agonizing death, His triumph and His glory. Over all the sacred books of Israel He Himself has traced the motto, "They are they which testify of Me."

But Israel was also the people of the Law. The legislation of Sinai was one of seven distinctive glories, which, in a passage of crucial importance, St. Paul ascribes to Israel. And the Law, thus given, was like prophecy in this;--it also was meant to lead to Christ; it "was a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."


"Law" is one of the group of words round which the thought of St. Paul constantly moves, and he uses it in more senses than one. Here he means by it generally [44/45] the five books of Moses, to which the Jews commonly gave the name; and, more particularly, he means those parts of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, in which are contained the various rules which God gave to Moses, for the moral, social, political, and religious or ceremonial conduct of the people of Israel. This was "the Law" in which, as St. Paul said, the Jew made his boast; he was proud to belong, to the race which had received it. This was the Law, the possession of which made Israel a peculiar people, marking it off by a deep-cut line of separation from all the other nations of the world. This was the Law which it was the business of every Israelite to obey. In obeying it he would become just, that is, such as he ought to be when measured by a Divine standard; and this legal righteousness it was the object and the glory of his life to acquire, if he could, in the greatest perfection possible.

Of this Law, then, St. Paul says bluntly, that its main purpose was not present but prospective. It was not so much to be prized for what it could give as for the sake of that to which it was to lead. It was really like those slaves who were kept in well-to-do households in the ancient world, first in order to teach the children of their master roughly, or as well as they could, and afterwards to lead them down day by day to the house of the philosopher, at whose hands they would receive real instruction. And this was the business of the Law; it did whatever it [45/46] could do for the Jews as an elementary instructor, and then it had to take them by the hand and guide them to the school of Jesus Christ; to that great Institute which He, the true Light of the World, had opened, that He might give in it the best and highest education to all the races of mankind.

St. Paul had a very strong reason for insisting on this aspect of the Law in his Letter to the Galatian churches. These churches had quite recently been visited by certain teachers, who made free and unwarrantable use of the names of the great apostles St. Peter and St. James. By this means they tried to persuade the Galatians that the Christian Church had not abandoned the ceremonial part of the Jewish Law; that since it was practised, more or less, by the Christians of the Church of Jerusalem, it was binding upon converts from heathenism all the world over; and that if the Galatians meant to be genuine Christians, and not merely half-Christians, they must lose no time in thus complying with the requirements of the perfect Christian life. To begin with, as they were converts from heathenism, they must forthwith be circumcised. Thus, when St. Paul wrote, the Galatians, though they were already baptized into Christ, and had put on Christ, were actually busying themselves about being circumcised. [Gal. iii. 27.] It was too much for the Apostle. He could keep no terms with these reactionary Christians. He exclaimed indignantly, "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should [46/47] not obey the truth?" "Behold, I, Paul, say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing."

But here, as always, St. Paul rests particular directions upon broad and general truths. Why was circumcision so entirely out of the question for baptized Christians? Because it was the shadow of the substance which they already enjoyed; because the Law which prescribed it had done its true work in the world and in history; because the Law was meant to lead men to Christ, that they might at His hands, secure a real righteousness. And Christ had come; He had been incarnate and crucified; He had risen and had ascended into heaven. The law had left mankind at the door of the School of Christ; where then was the sense of leaving the feet of the Great Instructor, to rejoin the slave who had only shown the way to Him?


Now here the question arises, How did the Law lead men to Christ?

The Law led men to Christ first of all by foreshadowing Him. This was true especially of the ceremonial part of it, which St. Paul had immediately in view when he wrote to the Galatians, although the principle which he lays down applies to the whole Law. Now the ceremonies of [47/48] divine service which were prescribed to Israel in the Law were not ceremonies with no end beyond themselves. It indeed may be doubted whether there are any purely meaningless ceremonies, whether civil or religious; since, human nature being what it is, a ceremony is dropped as soon as it ceases to mean something, and, while it lasts, it is valued because it does mean something whether present, or past, or future. The ceremonies of the Jewish worship, prescribed by such high authority, and in themselves so detailed and elaborate, were not for nothing; and they meant more than the general duty of offering to God praise and sacrifice, since this object might have been set forth by much simpler rites. What, for instance, was the full meaning of the solemn and touching observance of the Jewish Day of Atonement? Many a Jew must have asked himself the question; some Rabbis nearly guessed the answer; but every Christian knows what the answer is, when he has read the Epistle to the Hebrews. We know that what passed in the old earthly sanctuary was from first to last a shadow of the majestic self-oblation of the true High Priest of Christendom, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour; that every action in the ancient service has its counterpart in His self-presentation as the Crucified before the Majesty of the Father; that while it was impossible that the "blood of bulls and goats should take away sin," it is equally certain that we Christians are sanctified by " the offering of the Body [48/49] of Jesus Christ once for all," and that "by one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified."

It may be urged with justice that this aspect of the ceremonial law is plain enough to us, who look back on it all, with the New Testament in our hands; but that it can hardly have been plain to the Israelites themselves. We have the key to the meaning of their Ritual: they knew little more than that their Ritual meant something that awaited them in the Providence of God; that it was a "shadow of good things to come." But thus much at least they did know, and this knowledge kept them on the look-out for what might be in store for them; each ceremony was felt to have a meaning beyond the time then present, and so it fostered an expectant habit of mind; and as the ages passed, expectations, thus created, converged more and more towards a coming Messiah, and in a subordinate but real way the ceremonial law did its part in leading the nation down to the School of Christ.

Secondly, and more effectively, the Law trained men for Christ by creating in man's conscience a sense of want which He alone could relieve. This was the work of the moral Law; it was the work of every moral precept in the books of Moses, but especially of those most sacred and authoritative precepts which we know as the Ten Commandments. Now as a rule of life the Law was elaborate and exacting; and yet if the righteousness [49/50] which it was to confer was to be secured, nothing less than a complete obedience was necessary. The Law was guarded by these great sayings to which the Christian apostles refer. "The man that doeth these things, shall live by them" "Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the Law to do them." "Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." [St. James ii. 10. St. James transfers the maxim to the Christian law of liberty.]

Righteousness, then, under the Law, depended on exact obedience: but what were the probabilities that this would be rendered by man in his unassisted weakness? What was the fact, obvious to all who looked about them and saw what was passing in Jewish society and life? St. Paul prefers to answer this painful question in the inspired language of an earlier age. "It is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; there is zone that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God; they are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one." [Rom. iii. 10, 11, cf. Psalm xiv. 1, 2, 3; liii. 1.] And then to obviate the objection that this language was originally used by the Psalmist of the enemies of Israel, St. Paul adds, "We know that whatsoever things the Law saith"--here by law he means the whole of the old Testament--"it saith to them that [50/51] are under the Law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God."

This was indeed the hard matter of fact, the Law was universally disobeyed. Bat was it therefore useless? No. Its main purpose was to discover human sin, of which, but for it, man would have been unconscious: "by the Law is the knowledge of sin." It was like a torch carried into the dark cellars and crevices of human nature, that it might reveal the foul shapes that lurked there, and might rouse man to long for a righteousness whit h it could not itself confer. Nay, more, in the process of doing this the Law incidentally aggravated the very evil which it brought to light. The presence of a Divine Rule, which forbade the indulgence of human passions, had the effect of irritating these passions into a self-asserting activity. "I had not known sin but by the Law; for I had not known lust unless the Law had said, Thou shalt not covet." In the absence of the Law the sinful tendency had been inert: "without the Law sin was dead: but when the commandment"--that is, a given precept of the Law--"came, sin revived and I died." Not that the Law was answerable for this result. The Law, in itself, was holy and just and good. The cause lay in the profoundly sinful tendency of fallen human nature; but the general result was an aggravated sense of shortcoming. So far from furnishing man with a real righteousness: so [51/52] far from making him such as he should be, correspondent to the true ideal of his nature, the Law only inflicted on every conscience, that was not fatally benumbed, a depressing conviction that righteousness was, at least in the way of legal obedience, impossible. [Rom. iii. 20.] And this conviction of itself prepared men for a righteousness which should be not the product of human efforts, but a gift from heaven; for a righteousness attained by the adhesion of faith to the perfect moral Being, Jesus Christ, whereby the believer's life becomes incorporate with His, and man becomes such as he should be, or, in other words, is justified by faith.

But, thirdly, the Law led men to Christ by putting them under a discipline which trained them for Him. And this is a point which requires, even more than the preceding, your careful attention.

Look around you, my Brethren, and ask yourselves what is the Divine plan for training, both men and nations? Is it not to begin with rule and to end with principle; to begin with law and to end with faith; to begin with Moses and to end with Christ?

Take the case of a study; say grammar. A boy begins with rules. He learns them by heart without seeing the reasons for them, and he applies them. His one business, first of all, is to follow the rule. By-and-by, he comes to see that the rules of grammar are not arbitrary things, made by the old schoolmasters out of their own heads, [52/53] but that they could not be other than they are, since they only put into a practical and working shape what he now dimly recognizes as the principles of language. In other words, he ascends from rule to principle; he does not give up rule, but he rests it upon the reason or principle which warrants it; he obeys it, not merely for the sake of obedience, but because, in view of his larger knowledge, he cannot help doing so. [I recollect hearing the Rev. John Keble use this and the next illustration in a sermon twenty years ago at Horsley.]

Or take the case of a nation. In its earlier history, if it is to hold together, it mast have a very strict and stern code of laws. All the earlier national codes are of this character: the first object of a nation and of its ruler is to preserve order. During these earlier ages of its history a nation is at school: but a time comes when it reaches manhood. Does it then discard law, and dissolve, through some process of revolution, into anarchy? If it is wise, most assuredly not. It retains law; although probably in a milder form. But it rests law, more and more, upon the public apprehension of the principles which warrant it. The principles of the earlier laws pass into and become identified with the public feeling; public feeling does two-thirds of the work which was done by mere law at earlier stages of the national life. In other words, the nation has passed by a process of inevitable growth from the reign of law to that of principle.

Or take the growth of a man in his apprehension, well, [53/54] of moral truth. What is the rule of development? The child learns from his mother that he must not tell a lie; and that if he is found out, he will be punished. Thus gradually the habit of truthfulness is formed by rule; and' by rule enforced by punishment. But a time comes, when the mind of the boy has grown, and when the rule is seen to rest on principle. This principle is that the practical recognition of truth is the very first condition of all true moral life. When this point has been gained, the old rule, "Tell no lies," does not indeed disappear; but, if all goes tolerably well, it is not needed. The man who has passed under the sway of principle does not wish to tell a lie: he could not tell a lie without doing rude violence to his better nature; the reasons against lying have become with him a ruling instinct. In other words he has been led by law or rule, as by a servant of the God Who has arranged his education, to the school of principle.

Well, Brethren, this is what happened on a great scale in God's religious education of the world, St. Paul describes the condition of the people of Israel as that of an heir to a great property, who, while he is a child, practically lives the life of a servant, though he is really lord or proprietor of the estate; he is "under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the Father."

God began with rule; He gave the Mosaic Law, and the moral parts of that Law, being also laws of God's [54/55] essential Nature, could not possibly be abrogated. But as rules of life, the Ten Commandments were only a preparation for something beyond them. In the earlier Revelation, God said, "Do this," "Eschew that." In the later or Christian Revelation, He did much more; He said in effect, "Join yourselves by an adhesion of your whole moral nature to the Perfect Moral Being; " in other words, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." When you have done this, and He, accepting your faith, has in His appointed ways, by His Spirit and His Sacraments, infused into you His Divine Life, so that you are one with Him, you will not depend mainly on rules of conduct. You will not disobey them; knowingly to disobey them will be for you impossible. But they will have ceased to be merely outward rules through being absorbed into the life of principle. " How shall, we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." The whole question has been already decided on higher ground; and thus we see the Apostle's meaning when he says that "what the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh,"--that is, through the inability of fallen human nature to obey it,--"God sending His own Son in the likeness. of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the Flesh" which He made His own, "that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, which walk not after the flesh; but after the Spirit."


Such, then, is one great aspect of justification by faith. It is so far from being moral anarchy, that it is the absorption of rule into the higher life of principle. "Faith" corresponds to the empire of principle, in the growth of individual character, and in the development of national progress; while "the law" answers to that elementary stage in which outward rules are not yet absorbed into principles. And this leads to one or two practical remarks.

Why do the children of excellent parents often turn out so badly? Why is there ever any truth in the comparison of the sons of admirable clergymen to the sons of Pericles--or to the sons of Eli?

Here we must avoid the danger of attempting to account for all the instances by a single reason. But what is the reason of some, if not of many of the failures, about which I am thinking? Is it not that parents, when bringing up their children, forget the Divine order; first. Rule, then Principle; first Moses, then Christ?

Many a parent seems to think that the inverse of this order is the road to educational success. He says to himself, that the severe education of children two generations or one generation ago was a great mistake. He will have no rules for his children, but will try to supply them with fine, and true, and elevating principles. Thus [56/57] children are talked to about sentiments, and feelings, and general principles of conduct, which they do not understand; while they are allowed all the while to have their own way, and there is no approach to discipline in their early life. Yet a child's mind understands the concrete, not the abstract; it understands a rule enforced by a reward or a penalty; it does not understand a principle. And if it has no rules to obey and is only dosed with principles, or what are said to be such, it is not educated at all. The foolish parent thinks that the time for applying rule will come when the boy is approaching manhood, and finds himself surrounded by temptations. But the boy who has never learnt to obey a rule when he was six or eight years old, will not obey anything very easily, be it rule or principle, when he is nearly twenty. No! education must begin with the discipline of the law, with tender discipline if you will, but still with real discipline, if it is to end safely in the freedom of a life of principle. You cannot begin with Christ and go back to Moses, in education or in anything else; and a thoughtless sentimentalism which ventures on the experiment is doomed beforehand to the most cruel of human disappointments.

Here, too, we have a word for the guidance of Church government and discipline. A Christian Church, from the necessity of the case, is based on faith, that is on principle: it represents by its existence the definitive triumph of believing principle over merely outward [57/58] correspondence with rule. It does not discard rule, far from it, but it provides for the good to be achieved by rule, by insisting on the higher influence of principle. Thus the true characteristics of the Church's life would seem to be stem adherence to principle, combined with generous freedom as to all that touches mere outward rule. In modern and practical language, Holy Scripture, the Three 'Catholic Creeds, and those organic conditions whereby the transmission of the means of grace is assured from age to age, would be maintained and defended to the last extremity, because they feed and protect that living and working faith which is the governing and informing principle of the Church's life. In matters of mere ceremonial there should be, on the contrary, as much freedom as is compatible with the elementary requirements of order. Where the Faith is held sincerely, rules of outward observance may be largely left to take care of themselves; the margin of liberty within which devotional feeling, representing very different stages of spiritual growth, finds congenial and varying expression, should surely, if the Apostle is to decide, be as wide as possible.

We can imagine, it may be, a different condition of things from this. We can imagine a Church in which principle, that is adhesion to the truths of Faith, is regarded as of comparatively little moment, while rules concerning strictly outward matters are treated as vital. We can imagine a Church which thus instructs her [58/59] ministers: "Bid men hope what you will as to the penalties which await the lost in the life to come, even although the Author of your Faith should have taught, in the plainest words, that those penalties last for ever. [The reference in this and the following sentence is to the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the cases "Wilson v. Fendall" and "Williams v. Bishop of Salisbury." That no reference was or could be intended to any particular clergyman at the present day must be plain from the context. The practical attitude of the modern interpretations of Church law towards the rejection both of our Lord's teaching respecting the Future World, and of the received belief of the Christian Church respecting Holy Scripture, on the one hand, is contrasted with its practical attitude towards what has been in recent years for the first time ruled to be an illegal ceremonial, on the other.] Maintain, if you like, that your Bible is honeycombed with mistakes and legends, provided only that you do not maintain it too coarsely and too provokingly. But beware--oh! beware--of the crime for which our modern wisdom practically reserves its sternest condemnations, the crime of wearing a vestment too many or a vestment too few; since this error may perchance expose you to ruder punishments than any which are at the disposal of a spiritual society." We can imagine, I had said, a Christian Church holding this language; but I correct myself--we cannot imagine it. We can only suppose, that if she should seem thus to speak, some other ruling influence than hers must, for the moment, have taken the seat of her own pastors, and that it is using terms which they would fain repudiate if they could. [The Judgments above referred to reversed that of the old Ecclesiastical Court of Arches. And they were publicly dissented from in important particulars, by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.]

[60] There are few men in ancient history to whom more injustice has been done, ay, in the pulpits of the Christian Church, than Junius Annceus Gallio, who was proconsul of Achaia in the year of our Lord 53, when St. Paul was conducting his great mission in Corinth. In thousands of sermons, Gallio has been held up to pitying condemnation as the typical example of indifference to the great concerns of religion; whereas in point of fact Gallio was a Roman magistrate of the highest character, who had a clear idea of the subjects which did and did not fall properly within his jurisdiction. His well-known brother Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, said of Gallio that he was loved by everybody; and Seneca dedicated to him two of his treatises, in terms which show us what he thought of his brother's disposition. Gallio, we all remember, refused to listen to the Jews when they dragged St. Paul before his tribunal, on the ground that he was asked to interfere in what seemed to him to be a matter of "words and names;" words and names relating to the profound questions which, as we Christians know, divided the faith of St. Paul and the Christian Church from the beliefs of the Jewish synagogue. [Acts xviii. 12, 15.] But let us suppose that Gallio, pagan as he was, had taken a different view of his duty; that he had undertaken to decide, not merely the worth of St. Paul's theological position, [60/61] as against the claims of the synagogue, but' also those various questions, internal to the Christian Church, which St. Paul discusses in his first Epistle to the Corinthians; the rivalries between the disciples of Paul, and Cephas, and Apollos, the penalty due to the incestuous Corinthian, the advisability of marriage or of single life in Christians, the lawfulness of the use of meat offered in sacrifice to idols, the dress of Christian women in Christian churches, the behaviour of Christians at the Holy Communion, or--graver far--the relation of those who denied the Resurrection of the dead to the faith of the Christian Church." If we could imagine Gallio first studying and then pronouncing on these subjects, can we imagine how St. Paul would have received his conclusions? My Brethren, we are here altogether in the region of the imaginary; but this at least is certain, that to lay great emphasis upon minute ceremonial rules in an ancient Christian Church is not in accordance with the Divine plan of education, whether of the Church or of the world; and that when an emphasis is laid on such rules, not by the Church herself, but by some other than a properly Church authority, the divergence from that plan is greatly aggravated, and the prospect of resulting confusion indefinitely enlarged. In Church policy not less than in education it is impossible to go back with impunity from Christ to Moses.

[62] But lastly, and above all, here we see what must be the main effort of a Christian life. We Christians are justified by faith; by taking our Lord at His word; by believing what He has told us about Himself; by clinging with the whole strength of our inmost life to Him, the Perfect Moral Being, Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, Incarnate, Crucified, Risen, Ascended, for us men, and fo r our salvation. When this act of adhesion, which we call faith, is sincere, all else will follow. The life of principle implies, as a matter of course, all the results that could be secured by the life of rule. United with Christ by faith, we share His righteousness; [Gal. iii. 26.] we are before the eyes of the All Holy what we should be, not through our own merits, but through His. [Eph. i. 6.] God grant that we may all know, with increasing clearness, the happiness of this vital union; since it is the end of God's wisdom in the education of each one of us and of the world; since it is the condition which alone enables us to look forward with hope and peace to the dread hour of the Judgment.

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