THE BISHOP OF PETERBOROUGH'S SERMONS.* The Bishop of Peterborough, like most great orators, is never -adequately represented by reports. Probably few reports give his sermons absolutely as he delivered them ; and no 'reports can reproduce the manner and power of the speaker. Nevertheless, this volume of sermons will arrest the attention of the world ; and though we often seem to miss the expansion which the speaker must have given to a thought that is here presented only in germ, there are passages in which it is easy to discern the full power of the preacher.
On one of the sermons,—that entitled " The Ethics of For- giveness,"—we have already made some remarks, to which the Bishop replied iu our last issue ; and though it would be impossible to exhaust in any space at our command the interest of the deep subject of which he treats, we will just say a word by way of defining, if we cannot altogether remove, the difference between us, a difference certainly diminished by the Bishop's reply. Our position had been that the mystery which the Gospel everywhere attaches to the doc- trine of the divine sacrifice does not consist in this that it enables God to forgive the truly penitent,—for God declares everywhere his purpose and, if we may so say, his joy in for- giving the truly penitent,—but rather in this that that mysterious sacrifice is needful in order to inspire true penitence in the heart of evil, in order to make us see what moral evil is, in order to inspire in us the horror of it that it deserves, and the passion of love for him who can alone purify us from that evil. The Bishop has replied that he, too, recognises no barrier between God and the pitiful • The Gospel and the Age: Sermons on Special Occasions. By W. C. Magee, D.D., Bishop of Peterborough. London Isitar and Co.
welcome which God accords to true penitence ; that there is no anger towards the penitent in the mind of God, nothing but compassion and desire to forgive ; but that forgiveness implies two elements,—an element of feeling, and an element of con- duct ; and that whereas all alienation of feeling between God and man is removed by the penitence of man, there yet remains an insuperable obstacle to practically treating the sinner as if he had not sinned, and that this insuperable obstacle can only be removed by the "moral miracle" of Christ's atonement. However truly God may welcome back the penitent to a new life, the perfect righteousness cannot as we understand the Bishop, blot out all reference to the sins committed, for the future, " cannot consistently with the maintenance of those laws of moral government of which he is the author, deal with the offender as if he had never offended,—i.e., cannot remit to him his debt, and make him as if he had never incurred it, without a miracle, or (if the word miracle be objected to) without trans- ferring him from the kingdom of merely natural law of sin and death into the supernatural kingdom of forgiveness and life."
To that we can only say that, as we understand both the natural moral law and the supernatural, the latter, so far from being the law of a different world from the other, is the law of the very same world, more profoundly and spiritually understood. Directly we come to see that it is not in the external act, but in the will that sin really consists ; directly we apprehend our Lord's teaching that the yielding to a single evil desire may be a greater and deeper sin for him who has been brought up in true love of God, than even the most frightful crime in one brought up under darker and coarser influences ; directly we learn this, there is no longer one moral law which regulates outward acts and another which regulates the secret thoughts, but the two are identical, and the latter includes the former. More- over, penitence seen by God to be true, cannot exist except by such a transformation of the heart as would render it impossible to treat the subject of that penitence as inferior to the mere moral man who had not yet learned the infinite worthlessness of his own self-confidence and virtue. If it would be simply absurd to regard Augustine's passionate penitence as of inferior moral value to the stoical purity of Marcus Antoninus, the reason is surely this, that, as St. Paul would have said, both are concluded under the same law of self-condemnation, while the former has subdued his heart far more effectually to the influence of the divine spirit than the latter. But surely that does not mean that the cross of Christ has enabled God to forgive Augustine's sins, and has not enabled him to forgive those of Marcus Antoninus ; but that the knowledge of Christ, and of Christ's sacrifice, has poured quite a new life into Augustine, which, during his earthly life at least, had not been poured into Marcus Antoninus. As we understand the matter, the dis- pensation of grace and forgiveness is nothing but the dispensa- tion of natural right and wrong, deepened and transfigured by
the entrance of God into the human world ; and, therefore, wherever you really get what God sees to be true penitence,
you get the guarantee of divine forgiveness, not merely in the removal of all alienation of feeling, but in the removal of that penal indebtedness to God and man which every one who knows himself would acknowledge to be the natural outcome of his selfish nature, and this whether it had embodied itself in external acts of evil or not. So far as we can judge, the mystery of the divine sacrifice is necessary for forgiveness, only because it is necessary to bring men into true communion with God at all.
It is the consummation and transfiguration of the natural moral law, not the suspension or dissolution of it.
But we must hasten on to give our readers some conception of one or two others among the fine sermons to be found in this volume. The finest, in our judgment, is the Oxford Lent sermon, preached in 1867, on Christ as " The Victor manifest in the
Flesh." There is a passage in this sermon on the victory of Christ over circumstances, presenting that conflict between " the Gospel and the Age," whereof these sermons chiefly treat, with a power that has not often been surpassed. Take the following :-
" His is the mastery, the only perfect mastery over outward cir- cumstances; that which comes not from the power to change, nor even merely to endure, but from the power to subdue ; the power to make that which is outwardly unfavourable minister to the inner life. He conquers want by wanting, weariness by wearying, pain by suffering, grief by grieving, death by dying. All these outward ills are His ministering servants ; out of all these His life gathers its growth, its perfection. They minister to His glory, as earth and sun and shower bring forth the glory of the perfect flower from the life of the seed submitted to their influences. This is victory for tho flesh; the only victory that fully and entirely overcomes the world. This
is the victory that comes from the faith which places man, above and beyond the world, which makes humanity the lord of nature and time and change and chance, because it makes all these subservient to that life, which has its source not in the creature, but in the Creator, not in the world, but in God. Compared with this one great lifelong viotory for humanity, this conquest over all outward circumstances, those other occasional miraculous conquests of His,—those victories, not of endurance, but of change of circumstance, that strike us so much at first—seem infinitely smaller conquests. We might con- ceive of our being able to work all these works, and greater than these, and yet gaining no real victory. What would it avail us, though we could turn stones into bread and water into wine, if our gluttony and intemperance made ns slaves to the food and the wine We had miraculously produced ? What would it avail us, if we could heal diseases with a touch, and recall the dead with a word, if the health we regained and the loved we called back, were to us more than God, were sources to us therefore not df life, but of death ? Is not this the mistake, the sad mistake, man is ever making, when he imagines that his discoveries of the powers of nature are giving him increasing power over nature. The truth is that they are all of them giving nature increased power over him. These new forces in nature which man discovers, as we apply them to the uses of human life, what do they do for us ? They quicken the pace at which we must all live. We must live now faster, harder far than our fathers did. Steam and electricity are our masters, not we theirs. We are like hands in some great factory,—the faster the wheels revolve, the more unremitting and exhausting is our work to keep up with them. Cir- cumstance is our master and conditions our life as much as ever. It is not in oar surroundings—change or improve them as we may—but in ourselves that true power over nature is to be found. Which do you think is most truly lord and master of outward nature, he who could by one wonder-working word bind the old world and the new with such a link as binds them now, or he who could hear with patient trusting heart, with calm unshaken faith, the message those wires might send him, that all he loved and all be possessed in life were gone ? The world might be the master of the one ; the other would be the master of the world !"
Surely it is true that the greater the variety of the forms in which the world fascinates the spirit, the greater the fields of knowledge, the more subtle the devices of the arts, the more potent the secrets of the sciences, the more marvellous the spells of music, the more subduing the voice of poetry, the mightier the power of politics,—the greater, and not the less, is the danger that man may succumb to circumstances, instead of winning the victory over circumstances as Jesus Christ won it.
Another very fine sermon, on "The Happy Servants and the Unhappy Son," is founded on the parable of the Prodigal Son. In it the Bishop compares the materialistic theories of the day with the facts of man's nature, and maintains that those theories do not explain what is most characteristic in that nature,—the fact that gratified desire, instead of leaving men, as it leaves other animals, satisfied till new desires arise, leads to the two greatest tormentors of man,—satiety and remorse --
" Give man all the portion of goods that can fall to him, or that in his wildest dreams of covetousness and ambition he can desire for himself; give him health, wealth, strength, keen intellect, vivid imagination, gratified ambition; heap these upon him in overflowing abundance until he revel in the fulness of his enjoyment of them all ; and if human history and human experience tell us anything they tell us this : that when he has enjoyed these to the very fall, and just because he has so enjoyed them, there begins to be felt a famine in his pleasures, there comes the weariness of satiety into his heart and soul. The eye is not satisfied with all its seeing, nor the ear with all its hearing ; worn, biased, exhausted by the pursuit of pleasure, which still something in him compels him to pursue, the man wearies at last of his very life. He finds that, somehow or other, there seems to be still some end of his being, beyond possession and enjoyment, which he cannot attain unto ; that, somehow or other, his life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses. How is this? Why is this ? How is it that you find an animal—when you come to man—which, the more its instincts are gratified, the more unhappy does it often become ? Mark now the other source of human pain and sorrow. It is remorse. How does it come to pass, that often when man obeys the strongest impulses and instincts of his nature he is not, like other animals, therefore happy, but therefore miserable ? How is it that when he does this, he does not, as we are told all other animals before him did, ascend a step in the scale of creation, but that he sinks and knows be has sunk and fallen back towards the brute ? What is the reason that when a man has yielded himself to some one or other of the strong inherent instincts or passions of his nature, there so often wakes np in him a feeling of shame and re- morse? Why is it that he is haunted by the furies of an accusing conscience ? It is a strange fact, when you consider it in the dry light of science, that when an animal, because be is an animal, does that which is natural, he becomes unhappy. Test this by a single instance. Take a case in which you see some stronger human animal dealing with a weaker one. Take the case in which some strong and savage man has jest savagely stamped out the life from the weaker creature whom he once vowed to cherish and protect. The strong animal stands beside the weaker, a triumphant illustration of the law of the survival of the fittest. The human herd has just been weeded of one of its weaker elements, as happens in herds of other animals, by a useful violence. Why is it that each deed of violence fills you with indignation, and that you proceed to denounce that man and to charge him with having broken law ? What law ?' he may ask you ; 'the law of society, the law that you have made for year oonveni- ence and your protection against my strength,—what other law ?' ' The law of your nature,' you will tell him. ' What law, and what nature ? My nature! Why what I have done is natural, or else I could not have done it. It was just because my nature moved me to do this that I have done it ; why do you tell me then that it is un- natural ? You appeal to my conscience. My conscience has proved itself feebler than the passion which has overmastered it. In the name- of science, then, in the name of purely materialistic science, which knows of nothing but force, I maintain and plead that this force in me which you call conscience, has not the right to rale, has not the scientific-
right to command. It has proved itself the weaker element in my nature by the very fact that it has given way. Why, then, am I to
mutilate one part of my being at the bidding of another ? How do you know that I am not the new type of future humanity, stronger and fiercer than yourself, and therefore all the more likely to survive you ? True, I am in the minority jest now, and so has ever been the type of the new creature, in the first exercise of its new and nascent strength. But what is there in me that you can point out to me, and say, by virtue of that fact in my nature, that I am doing what is un- natural and wrong ? You might as well blame the balance because it inclines to the heaviest weight, or the chain because it snaps at its weakest point, as blame me for doing that which I am most inclined to do."
That is finely put, and so is the subsequent passage, in which the Bishop shows that Revelation treats man, not as a being of uninterrupted progress, but of interrupted progress, and that the secret of the interruption is the abase of moral free- dom :—
"It [Revelation] tells us that the disease and disorganisation of man's. nature have come from this, that in the exercise of that mysterious power of free-will with which he was gifted, he has wandered away from his Father's home and claimed selfish and solitary possession of the goods the Father lavished on him. It tells us that the origin of all human sin and sorrow has been that man has said, ' Give me the por- tion of goods that falleth to me,'—give me the wealth of the imagi- nation, the treasures of the affection, the strength of the intelleot- give me all that distinguishes and glorifies me as man, and let me carry all these away into the far country of selfish possession and enjoyment without God. The Bible reveals to us that all man's misery is the result of this vain effort on his part to do, in this world of God, without the God who made him ; that all the immense ennui of life, all that wretchedness of satiety which makes man from time. to time, and now more than ever, ask =Is life worth the living ?'—is but the sublime discontent of the soul that was made to rest in God and cannot find its rest in anything leas than God : the seal that was made to find its life and sustenance in the infinite and therefore can- not satisfy itself in the finite. This is the Bible explanation of the satiety and of the remorse of man whenever the lower part of his nature conquers the higher."
The careful reader might, we think, gather from this volume, what is known from other sources of information, that the Bishop of Peterborough is, politically, a Conservative. We, at least, should have argued this, not from his fine sermon on the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, which is entirely free from political bitterness, but from the impatience he evinces at some political attempts to make the lot of the poor less miserable than it is. In the following passage, it is only fair to say that the Bishop is speaking not of the politician generally, but of those politicians who make politics a substitute for religion :— "And what is the gospel of the politician for the poor ? It is this. That poverty is not natural, but unnatural and artificial ; thq it is entirely the result of cruel, cunning laws made by the rich for their own advantage, and that if the masses would only believe this and rise in their might, they would reconstitute society, and give to every man enough and not too much for any. This has the sound of good news. It might be a Gospel only for one thing, namely, that it is a lie, a wicked, creel and misleading lie, a lie to which all philosophy, all experience, all history supply the denial and the refutation. A lie, because it is based upon a denial of the fundamental facts of human nature itself ; a dream and a folly, because it proposes to reconstitute society, and forgets that the only element out of which society as it ought to be can be constituted, is jest that very human nature which by its necessary workings has produced society as it is. A cruel lie —and for none more cruel that for the poor—for it is in the convul- sions of society that the weakest ever suffer must : a false, mad, wicked dream of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity ' that gives only liberty of evil, equality in misery, and the fratricidal brotherhood of Cain. There is no Gospel for poverty in communism."
And in another sermon he tells ns that "civilisation and pro- gress mean just this,—the refined, the graceful, peaceful lives of the few, purchased by the toil, the temptation, the weariness, the shortened, saddened lives of the many." That is very much the doctrine of Mr. George's Progress and Poverty ; but we can- not say that we think that the Bishop is here speaking of true civilisation. True civilisation warm, we should say, that growing community of feeling, that growing sense of common, citizenship, between all classes which best cements a State, and, in consequence, such a disposition of the law as removes all the artificial hindrances which selfish privilege has interposed to the rise of the ignorant to knowledge and culture, and of the poor to wealth. Surely the Bishop of Peterborough, when he admits, as he does admit, that states- manship may lighten the inequalities of condition under which the poor labour, has virtually admitted that Christian states- manship is bound to do this; and that, true though it is, that you can never extinguish the condition of poverty,—which will always be the condition of the most helpless,—you may greatly relieve thehopelessness of that condition by rendering it compara- tively easy for the more capable among the poor and ignorant to become by their own exertions rich and wise. On the whole, however, the passages in which political feeling enters into these sermons are certainly few ; and we may say of the whole volume that it states the chronic controversy between " the Gospel and the Age" with earnestness, eloquence, and force.