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Churchmanship and Labour
Sermons on Social Subjects Preached at S. Stephen's Church, Walbrook.

Compiled by the Rev. W. Henry Hunt.

London: Skeffington and Son, 1906.

"The City of God"

Sermon XIX. The Ideal City.

By the Rev. Conrad Noel.

"Our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we expect a deliverer, the Lord Jesus, who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory." Phil. iii. 20, 21. (R.V.M.)

IN the margin of the Revised version we have the word "citizenship"--the Authorised version having "conversation" or "manner of life." The Greek word politeuma is one of the two words used for "citizenship," or "living as citizens."

They say, "God made the country, and man made the towns." But it would have been curious to tell that to a citizen of Philippi. He would have been very much amazed, and a little bit incredulous. God made the country and man the towns! he would have said. Why, the life of the townsmen is life, the countryman is a boorish, uneducated, slow-witted person. We may ascribe existence to him, but hardly life. And if you had told S. Paul that God made the country and man the towns I doubt if he would have been any better pleased. He prided himself on being a citizen, a citizen of no mean city; and no doubt he was right, for Tarsus was one of the greatest commercial centres of the ancient world. Tarsus was famed for its schools, and scientific institutions, and was proud of having turned out more great and learned men than any other city of that time. A citizen of no mean city was S. Paul. And to the townsmen of Ephesus he writes, that their ideal life should be that they might be "fellow-citizens" with the saints; and, describing his private life, his manner of life among them, he says, "I have lived the life of a citizen," or, "I have lived the good life among you."

This word to politeuma means first of all to be a free citizen, it then comes to mean "to live as a citizen," and then in Greek it comes simply to mean "to live," because the Greek could not understand any life that was not the life of a citizen, the life of the town. And Aristotle, Plato, and other Greek writers contrast the life of the town, which they call "life," with the mere "existence" of the country.

Well, of course, the Gospel of Christ would make no such distinction as that, and yet it is true that unless in your country life you have some elements of fellowship, it is impossible for it to be the full, rich, catholic life of the Church of God. And so it seems that there is a great opportunity offered to the townsman of living the good life, the life of the citizen, the life of the Kingdom of God. So S. Paul writes to the citizens at Philippi, "Let your manner of life be"--or "behave as"--"citizens." The Authorised version has, "Let your conversation be as becometh the Gospel of Christ," but the Greek means, "Behave as citizens," and you get that in the Revised margin; and again here he writes, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we expect a Deliverer."

And this is a very noteworthy thing, because where does he write from? He writes from a prison in the city of Rome. He had not much to expect from the citizens of Rome, and yet, when he is persecuted by the cities, he still is proud of being a townsman, a citizen, and writes, "our citizenship is in heaven." For to S. Paul religion might be summed up in the word "Fellowship." To S. Paul it was certainly true that "Fellowship is Heaven: and the lack of fellowship is hell."

Of course the Gospel was first preached under the form of the family, because, although Galilee was permeated with Greeks and Greek ideas, it was, at the same time, mainly a pastoral country; and therefore it was necessary to present the Gospel to the Galileans under the form and image of a family and of a kingdom rather than under that of a city. But with the rapid growth of the Gospel, there came into use alongside of these metaphors, these images of the kingdom and the family, this new image of the city, and the people who adopted the fellowship of Christ's religion came to call themselves heavenly citizens. And indeed, we find (as Harnack points out in that wonderful book of his, "The Expansion of Christianity") that the Christian religion fared very badly in the country for many hundreds of years. It was the great cities of the coast that took up the new religion and became to a large extent Christian, while the dweller in the country would have nothing to do with it. It permeated the cities along the coast; it ran like fire throughout them all; and there is a very curious passage in S. John's Gospel which you may remember, where some Greeks (belonging possibly to the free Greek cities in Palestine) came to our Lord (S. John xii. 20) and desired to speak with Him, and He is reported to have said: "Now is the hour come when the Son of Man shall be glorified."

Now that is a very remarkable passage, whether you interpret it as a real and actual saying of our Lord's with Mahaffy ("The Progress of Hellenism"), and take it to mean as he does, "Now is the hour come that I am glorified because my gospel is at length going to reach the Greeks, without which it cannot spread throughout the world," or whether you prefer to take the interpretation of Harnack that it was a later saying, a commentary upon Christ and His point of view by the Church of a later date. The lesson for us is in either case significant. Either Christ Himself, or His immediate followers, felt that it was only when the Gospel was uprooted, as it were, from the country of Palestine, and got its footing in the city life of the great commercial centres, that the Son of Man would be glorified, and the good news accepted and carried out among men. Because, you see, there is a real congruity, a real relationship between the central ideas of the Gospel of Christ and the Greek ideal of a citizen. For surely Christ's Gospel may be summed up in the ideas of the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man. Christ came to reveal that the foundation and the meaning of our life was Fellowship, the life of the divine citizen.

Already then, the question which is so often asked, as to whether religion and politics have anything to do with each other, is answered by the sketch I have made. Of course the question as to whether religion has anything to do with politics would have been absolute Greek to an ancient Jew, and Chinese to an ancient Greek. The question never arose, nor could it ever have arisen among early Christian converts, nor Churchmen of any later date until the sixteenth century; the thing was absolutely unheard of until the great divorce took place, which is called the Reformation. Possibly the seeds of that divorce were sown in the fifteenth century, and made the Reformation inevitable. It is to the spirit of individualism that was creeping into the Church of God, not in the earlier middle ages, but in the fifteenth century, that very corrupt century, that we owe the individualism of the Reformation. With the Reformation came in this external divorce between religion and politics. After this you find developing this extraordinary idea of religion being a thing concerning only the soul, the individual soul and God. With what amazement Christ would have viewed such a proposition! With what amazement His Apostles, and especially S. Paul, who said that he would be accursed from Christ for the sake of his fellow-countrymen, would have viewed it!

Religion and Citizenship have always been bound up one with the other. It is only after the Reformation and in the worst days of individualistic religion that you get Charles Wesley (a very different man from his brother) saying things like this:--

"Nothing is worth a thought beneath
But how I may escape the death
That never, never dies;
How make my own election sure,
And when I fail on earth secure
A mansion in the skies."

Well, surely, a religion of that kind is not only completely anti-Christian, but is a convenient and complete summary of the religion of the devil! because it is bad enough merely to care about one's individual and isolated self in this world, and to live only for this world and the material pleasures of this world, but a religion which isolates the soul of man, even the spirit of man, and turns good into evil and evil into good, and says "Nothing is worth a thought, not all the miseries of your fellow-creatures, not all the life of fellowship that might be lived here on earth, nothing is worth a thought but how I, my miserable, shrivelled, damnable little self may escape the death that never, never dies," that seems to me the direct contradiction of the Gospel of Christ.

In the Middle Ages what do you find? If you would open a little guide to the confessional, for the use of priests, and compare that mediaeval guide with modern books, the ridiculous little modern books which are put out for the guidance of the faithful, what would you find? You would find great stress laid on avarice as a mortal sin. The penitent must be asked--Had he been avaricious? Had he wanted to gain in business more than he gave? Had he committed that kind of sin upon which the whole of modern commerce is founded? All that lust of gain was condemned (whether rightly or wrongly) by the mediaeval confessional, and a person could not be absolved unless he repented him that he had wanted to get more than he gave.

And if you read the Christian Fathers in earlier ages, you find that their writings are riddled with this idea of fellowship. The test of a man's orthodoxy was not only the Creed as we say it, divorced in a great measure from life (the Creed properly understood is, as it were, a shorthand expression of the Kingdom of God, a short way, a summary of the social religion of the Kingdom of God); the test of orthodoxy then was whether a man had been keen about this life of fellowship, or whether he had been living a life of separate and selfish isolation.

Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we expect a deliverer.

Have you noticed one thing about the really religious man--the prophet, the man who sees, who has perceptions, who has insight into the hidden things of God? He, in a way is a roan at peace with all the world, and yet he is a warrior, utterly discontented with things as they are. That is a curious thing. How is it? Is it not because he sees that this world belongs to God, and he sees God's presence in the world and in all the beautiful things of life, and is stirred to the very depths when he compares what man's ignorance has made the world with the world as it might be, the world as God dreams it and intends it to be. He is discontented, he is never at rest. He is a warrior for a different conception and a different order of society, because deep down in his heart is mirrored the City of God.

They say that the state of many of our fellow-countrymen hardly an advance on servitude or slavery; that ninety per cent, of the wealth producers have no home beyond the end of the week, no room, even, that they can call their own. Overloaded with work, underfed, underpaid, how can they live the good life, the full, rich life that God intends man to live? Well, it is our business to see that the "dream" comes true, to turn men into realising their citizenship of God's City.

You say, Well, I haven't time to be a dreamer; I am a practical man, a man of affairs, a man of business. I do not believe in dreams; they are very beautiful for a Sunday afternoon, but what is the good of these idealists? And yet, don't you believe in dreams, and that dreams come true? The image of what one wants in the world of material affairs, the image of the way we want things to shape, must first be a dream, however practical it becomes afterwards. The steam-engine was a dream, an ideal, a mental picture in the mind of George Stephenson and of other inventors, before it became a reality. Stand on the rails at Woking Junction when one of the South Western expresses is signalled, and murmur to yourself, "It is a beautiful dream," and see what happens! Dreams do become realities sometimes.

Have you ever realised that God made you, but first dreamed of you, first conceived you in His mind? The life of this world was a dream in the Mind of God, just as the City of God is a dream in His mind and in the mind of man. We owe our actual and material existence to that dream of God being fulfilled; God dreamed you, He dreamed of making you, and then He made you, and you came into being and took shape in the arena of this world. Have you ever realised that He meant you for Himself? that He meant you to right the insufferable wrongs that people suffer? that He meant you to be a citizen and to lead the good life?

And what are you doing with your life? Are you living what is called "merely for self," though most absurdly so-called, because, of course, it is not living for the real self at all; is it? Are you living that isolated, miserable, shrivelled, anxious life, or do you realise that God meant you to live the good life?

Are you living the good life?

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