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THE UNWORLDLY KINGDOM1616Preached at Balliol, Jan. 22, 1882..


JOHN viii. 36.

How far religion and morality should enter into politics is a question not easily answered. There are some who say that ‘what is morally wrong can never be politically right, but they forget how rarely this truth or truism is capable of application. Nor can the question always receive the same answer. For, in different ages of the world, Church and State, as we now call them, religion and politics, the outer and the inner life of man, stand in different relations to one another. In the beginning of history, and in the times before history, they are not yet divided. Religion rather than reason, or reason taking the form of religion, is the light of human existence in the dawn of the world’s day. The founder of the city is the god of the city, the temple of Athena crowns the Acropolis, the forces of nature which are too much 231for man, the uncontrollable passions or inspirations within him, are also supposed to be protecting or guiding powers. The institutions of the state are received by some legislator from heaven. Though among the Greeks individuals may have been stigmatized as atheists, yet there was no city without gods. At every turn human life was regulated by ceremonies, of which the meaning was often lost in after ages. Religion was the bond of society as well as of the state. In later ages it became divided into two parts—the icy crust and the living stream—the prescribed routine of sacrifice and offering and the better mind of the worshippers rising in almost unconscious thought to a divine power and goodness.

Such was the ordinary progress of the Gentile religions which are best known to us. The Jewish theory was of a higher type and attained to a nobler conception. The Israelites, without losing altogether the national idea of God, yet thought of Him also, though confusedly, as the God of the whole earth, ‘sitting upon the circle of the heavens,’ perfect in justice and holiness and truth. Whether this nobler conception of God was part of an original revelation to Moses, or a new life infused into the decaying nation long afterwards by psalmists and prophets, is a matter of controversy. For the Hebrew religion may be regarded in two ways, either as declining from a more perfect idea, or, like the Greek, progressing towards it. In the latter case the laws of Moses 232may be compared with similar works of legislators in ancient Hellas, while the Jewish prophets, though so different, would have a certain analogy to the philosophers of Hellas. However this question may be determined, the ideal, whether of the past or of the future (as indeed is ever the case in this world), remained unrealized. The prophets and psalmists are always lamenting over the backsliding of their countrymen. They were a rebellious race, never good for much at any time. After the return from captivity they sank into Pharisaism and Sadduceeism, as their ancestors had fallen into Phœnician and Egyptian idolatry. At length in the minds of good men arose a settled belief, that ‘there remained yet a rest for the people of God.’ Somehow—they could not tell where, whether at Jerusalem or in the distant heaven, a King would reign in righteousness, and there would be a kingdom comprehending all nations. And any premature efforts to establish this kingdom, like those of the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, ended only in disappointment, fanaticism and death. In our own age the outward connexion between religion and politics has been to a great extent given up. Religious observances no longer inaugurate all public occasions, and when they are retained they often partake of the nature of a form. Church and State are more and more divided, and in our own country they abstain to a great extent from interference with one another. The days of Corporation 233and Tests Acts, of Roman Catholic exclusion, have passed away, and no one wishes to revive them. One distinguished man, Dr. Arnold, living between the old and the new worlds of politics, and forming his opinion too entirely on the study of the Old Testament and of ancient history and philosophy, used to maintain the identity of Church and State; whence he deduced the somewhat perilous inference that none but Christians should be members of a state. The contemporary representation of a some what different school of thought was equally strenuous in asserting that the state was only a machine for the protection of life and property, assuming that if these were secured the interests of religion and morality would best take care of themselves. And the political reformers of that day, probably not from any vulgarity of mind, but because they felt the necessity of having a single and definite principle, based their doctrine chiefly on the philosophy of utility. In the greatest happiness of the greatest number they saw, or thought they saw, the firmest safeguard or bulwark against war, against priestcraft, against the various forms of selfishness and class-interest. Such a principle offered a guiding thread through the tangle of human actions and motives; and many who held it were among the most disinterested of mankind. In our own generation we are beginning to feel that there was a want which this system had not supplied. It was too dry and logical, neither appealing in the 234right way to the imagination nor touching the heart, though furnishing a useful corrective to many errors and prejudices.

The change from religion and divine right to the greatest happiness of the greatest number, though very real and important, is less important from some points of view than it appears. The best men, though they have different theories about the nature of human actions, and sometimes entertain the greatest dislike to one another, yet come round in practice to the same point. When the question is, What is honest? What is pure? What is true? What is disinterested? though the effect of these general speculations on the human mind may be very different, they will not be found to vary in the answer. For where the sense of duty is, religion is not far off. When men are serving their fellows they are serving God also. The protests against the introduction of religion into politics are really protests against the abuse of it. When religion became a craft, the most subtle of all crafts, and the priest stood behind the soldier, when men saw the best, i. e. the most religious of men, Bossuet and Massillon, defending the massacres and tortures of the Huguenots, can we wonder that they should have wished to banish a religion of which these were the fruits? Nor can we be surprised at the noblest minds revolting from religion, or at whole countries like Italy and France falling into a reaction against it, and not even now recovering their equilibrium. But 235when we consider how deep and powerful an influence religion has exerted in all ages and countries we can hardly suppose that her power is exhausted, or that the aberration of human nature from itself is destined to be permanent. The day may be coming when a larger idea of Christianity, the true religion of Christ, may win back the hearts of those who have been repelled by the perversions and disfigurements of it.

At this time, when our thoughts are turned more than usually to political events, the question ‘What has religion and morality to do with politics? has a peculiar interest. Must we insist that they are always identical, or shall we admit that they may diverge? Is an answer to be found to great political and social problems in Scripture? or can we solve them by an immediate reference of them to the will of God, or to the conscience of man? There are obviously false ways in which religion and politics are pressed into the service of each other. There must also be a true connexion between them, if we could only find it. And, first, I will consider some of the false modes of connecting them which have prevailed in other ages, and which even in our own day continue to pervert and entangle the natural course of human progress. For ideas remain in men’s minds, and affect parties, when they have ceased to be embodied in noble institutions, and may even be most dangerous when least recognized. Secondly, having 236examined the false, I will proceed to consider the true connexion, which is not necessarily less real because it is not displayed in outward signs and symbols as was formerly the case in mediæval and other ages. Religion may be the greatest blessing of the human race, and also a curse; it may guide men into light and truth; it may plunge them into darkness and false hood. It may raise them above human nature; it may depress them below it. There is a religion which is the imitation of Christ; there is also a religion which is the incentive to any wickedness, and the disguise of it. And, when we would introduce religion into politics, we must be careful what sort of a religion it is. When I try a public act by this standard, when I ask, Is this declaration of war, this annexation of territory, this protection of slavery, according to the will of God? I must begin by asking what is the true notion of God: Is He a Being to whom war is acceptable or in whose service wars can be waged? Is He the God of Christ, or of Mahomet? Even in the Hebrew Scriptures there are expressions which fall very far short of the conception of Him which is declared to us in the New Testament, and which, independently of the New Testament, receives the witness of our own heart and conscience; and until we have purified our conception of God from every dark shadow of human prejudices, we cannot safely make His will the rule of political action or of our daily life. We must see Him as the prophet saw 237Him, ‘having the body of heaven in His clearness,’ not the mere reflection of our own religious opinion or of the traditions of our ancestors.

But, supposing the true idea of the divine nature to be ever present to our minds, it by no means follows that it would be a sufficient guide to the conduct of politics or of life. For the greater number of human actions cannot be immediately tried by the standard of truth and right. The great end of all this, the happiness, the elevation of human life, may be clear and plain to us, but the means by which the end is to be attained can be only known from experience. Nor is the end altogether separable from the means: it will often appear to be the sum of the means, or the spirit which animates the use of them. To the question, What shall I do? the answer, both in political and ordinary life, is generally, not ‘what is right’ (this would in most cases be no answer), but what is best. Nor is there any rough and ready way of resolving politics into morals. Take for example the case of temperance: while all men are agreed in denouncing the evil of drinking, yet the particular measure by which the evil may be cured can only be chosen after patient thought and reflection on the facts. The means may not always conform to the supposed les sons of Scripture, they may be even at variance with them. To take an instance: David, in numbering the people, is said to have committed a sin which was punished by a pestilence. In our own day it would 238be a sin not to number the people, for we should remain in wilful ignorance of the laws by which God governs the world, including the ways of that very pestilence by which He was supposed to have punished Israel. Consider, again, the relief of the poor: How often has an unthinking appeal to Scripture been made on this behalf! It is our duty to do much more for them than we do. But ought we to remedy an evil by increasing it? or alleviate physical suffering at the expense of moral degradation? The whole question of their condition lies deep in the constitution of society, and cannot be got rid of by the distribution of alms, or by indulging the first impulses of pity and compassion. What we do for them must be done wisely, or it will effect more harm than good.

Again, let us illustrate the question which we are discussing by the case of war. Who would doubt that Christianity and all true religion is opposed to war? We do not hold with a recent theologian that the religion of Christ stands by and is only a looker-on when the question of war and peace hangs in the balance, and when men have fought it out there appears on the battlefield, bending over the dead and dying, saint-like, the ministering angel, shedding holy influences in the foul and corrupted atmosphere. For against many wars, that is to say against all wars of selfish ambition and aggression, religion and morality alike lift up their voice. But of other wars, again, we cannot judge in this decided manner. Peace may be 239only secured by the threat of war, and war may be hastened by the knowledge that another nation is secure in peace. There is more than one illusion to which we are naturally subject on this question—the horror of the war may deter us from considering the duty and necessity of self-defence; the heroism of war may gild the aggression of a tyrant. Who can tell whether the sufferings of one generation may not be compensated by the safety and liberties of another, or by the example which they have bequeathed to posterity? We cannot say of all battles that it would have been well for the world if they had not been fought—the virtues of war tend in a measure to correct the vices of peace. There is no greater responsibility than that of declaring war; but considering the complexity of human affairs and the uncertainty of consequences, this is not a question which can be always decided simply as a matter of right and wrong.

The attempt to form moral judgements on politics is a temptation which naturally besets us, for if we can raise political questions into moral ones we effectually place ourselves in the right and our opponents in the wrong. We elevate ourselves on a sort of moral platform; we appeal to the heart against the head, to the feelings against the reason. We trust to the force of general principles weighed in the balance with doubtful or disputed facts. These are arts which most men unconsciously practise in times of political 240excitement, and a generous person who has any insight into human nature is apt to revolt from them, because he knows that religion and morality are the disguises of party spirit. I will add one more illustration of the wrong way in which religion may be introduced into politics. I am old enough to remember the time when a respectable section of the community believed that the judgements of God were about to fall upon this country. And for what? For our neglect of education? for the sufferings of the poor? for our toleration of slavery (now happily abolished)? for the severity of our criminal code? For none of these things, but because we had admitted our Roman Catholic brethren to Parliament, or, about twelve years later, because we had given a grant for the education of poor Roman Catholic priests! It was argued that if a nation, like an individual, had a conscience, it must, like an individual, have one conscience; and upon this fallacy of composition or division, as logicians would term it, and under the still greater fallacy that in gratifying their own party feelings they were doing God service, the peace of nations was imperilled, the risk of civil wars was incurred. For, if such a doctrine could be maintained, there would seem to be no stopping until the members of all religions but the dominant and established one were excluded from civil and political rights. We must wade through oceans of blood to an unmeaning uniformity in religion; and, although this religious 241tyranny is overpast, it cannot be said even now that the sympathies and antipathies of churches and religious bodies have no influence on the enmities and wars of nations. The immediate interests of their own order may often be strong in them, while they have little or no feeling for all that is without.

But is there, then, no rule of right and wrong by which the statesman must guide his steps, no true way in which morality and religion enter into politics? First of all, he has the rule not to do anything as a statesman which as a private individual he would not allow himself to do. A great and good man will not flatter, will not deceive, will not confuse his own interests or those of his party with the interests of his country, will fear no one, will, if he can help it, offend no one. He will feel, though he will not say, that he has a trust committed to him by God, and the greatest of all trusts, for which he must give an account. And sometimes he will need to steady himself in the thought of immortality and eternity against the forces which oppose him, whether the frowns of a sovereign or the dislike of a class or the clamour of the populace. He will sometimes think of another kingdom which is not to be found upon earth. But he will not be fond of arguing merely political questions on moral grounds, because he knows that in this way he is likely to miss their real drift. He will not expect to learn from Scripture whether the authority of princes shall be maintained, whether some tax or 242tithe shall be imposed or repealed, whether certain regulations respecting degrees of affinity in marriage shall be enforced or not, whether usury laws are good or bad. The example of Christ will not enable him to determine what measures of relief should be taken in an Irish or Scotch famine, or even in the ordinary management of the poor. These are questions of expediency, in which the best thing to be done is also the right thing, and the best can only be discovered by a close and conscientious study of the facts. There is no revelation of this from heaven; but the spirit of Christ may still be the underlying motive of the statesman’s life. And sometimes, amid the piles of statistics, in the hurry and distraction of his work, that motive may be very near and present to him. But he must think as well as feel; he must balance the greater evil which is seen against the lesser which is unseen; he must know how much of a evil must be endured. He has to work through means; he cannot drop out the intermediate steps, or in a mistaken spirit of faith undertake some great enterprise.

Thus he will have to be on his guard against religion out of place. He is, as some would say, the creature of expediency—that is to say, God’s expediency—for he must act according to the laws which God prescribes for him, and which are known to us through experience only. He must understand the world in which he lives. Himself above party and 243selfish interest, he will seek to inspire the greatest unity among his followers at the cost of the least enmity among his opponents. He will sternly repress in himself all dislike of persons, for the sake of the cause which he has in hand, and also because he knows that, while the struggle is going on, he is no fair judge of them. His religion will be never or hardly ever on his lips, for he fears lest it should become a political engine. But the impress of his character, his seriousness, his patriotism, his elevation, will communicate itself to others and mould the thoughts of a generation.

This, then, is one way in which religion connects with politics—through the lives of statesmen. And there are other ways also. For a state or nation is a living being, not a mere adaptation of means to ends. To a certain extent it is like one man and has the feelings of a man, and is subject to common impulses towards good and evil. No human being can be governed merely on mechanical principles; no nation can be administered according to the rules of profit and loss. The bonds of commerce are but as green withes if it is expected by them to secure the blessings of peace. The poorest and humblest have their attachments and hatreds, their religious belief, their questionings about this world and another. They are inwardly conscious of a truth and right far higher than exists here; they hope, after their long life of labour, for the promised rest; and by the side 244of this world, in which there are so many things wrong, they place the image of a city whose builder and maker is God. Here, then, is another field for religion in politics—to draw forth the nobler elements which exist in all societies, to express them and to present them to the mind anew, to reflect them through many mirrors on the sight of all men, to infuse them into a parliament or into a nation. This is a religious mission, and the noblest of all religious missions, on which gifts of poetry and eloquence and philosophy can be bestowed.

Once more, politics are limited by morality, and in this sense we may truly say that what is morally wrong cannot be politically right. If cruelty is wrong in individuals, it is wrong in nations or churches; if falsehood is wrong, if injustice is wrong, in individuals, they are wrong also in nations or churches. If the desire to do good should exist in individuals towards each other, it should exist also and be felt in nations towards each other. We ought not to stand unthinkingly by, happy in our island home, while half a continent is being wasted and oppressed. But then at once arises the question how to interfere so as not to introduce evils greater than those which we are seeking to remedy. For in all cases we must consider the imperfect and constrained character of collective action. A nation, like an army, can never have the agility or life of a single man; and sometimes even tyranny may be better than anarchy, and we may 245hesitate to displace even a bad government when we can only let loose antagonistic forces.

Yet we note also with satisfaction that religion and morality have leavened politics in a very striking manner during the last century. They may have disappeared in words, but they have asserted themselves in the spirit of our legislation. The abolition of slavery and the slave trade, the mitigation of the criminal code, the removal of religious disabilities, are not the result of the utilitarian philosophy, how ever valuable that may have been in its effect on many points of our legislation, but of an increased sense of humanity and justice. Men have felt their common brotherhood more and more; they have been more conscious of their duties to the weak and suffering; the spirit of Christ has had a great hold on their minds; and if there be some who lament a certain appearance of decay in the outward institutions of religion, they should also remember that there is another aspect of religion, under which the nineteenth century will bear comparison with the so-called ages of faith or the traditions of the primitive church. The best fruit of every institution is, not that which is without but that which is within, not the house made with hands, nor the system of doctrine laid down in books, nor the rites of churches, but the spirit which animated them, the better mind, the higher conscience, the sound public opinion, the simplicity of social life: by these they should be judged.


Thus far I have been discussing the question raised by Aristotle in the Politics, whether the good citizen is also the good man, which is his way of stating what in modern language would be called the relation of morals to politics. The converse question may also be asked, ‘whether the good man must also be the good citizen.’ The same question might also be put in another form—whether a religious man, or a patriot, or a philosopher may withdraw from the world. For he may live at a time when circumstances are against him, when by struggling he would do harm to his own cause; he may be before his age, and would at once lose his life if he engaged in the passing conflict: or he may feel some special incapacity for dealing with his fellow men; his mind may not be practical, but speculative or meditative; though full of humanity he may wish to live at peace and not to strive; he may be thinking more of another world than of this. I am not speaking of a man shutting himself up in a monastery, and leaving all active duties towards his fellow men unperformed, but only of his with drawing from agitation and party movement and the bustle of the world, that he may lead a more composed and considered life.

The question which I have asked there is not time to answer; yet the answer to it may be sufficiently gathered from the example of Christ Himself. The life of Christ is the life of a private man, which stands in no relation to the history of the Jewish nation. He 247belongs neither to this political party nor to that. He is not one of the faction who call no man master, the fanatics or patriots who stirred up the war of the Jews with the Romans until they also perished. He would not have counted for anything in the disputes of Pharisees and doctors of the law. Their language would not have been uttered, perhaps not even under stood, by Him; we cannot tell. ‘He shall not strive nor cry, nor shall any man hear His voice in the streets; a bruised reed shall He not break, nor quench the smoking flax.’ This is not the description of a politician or a partisan. All the ordinary motives of human ambition He rejects: ‘It shall not be so among you, but whosoever will be great among you shall be your minister; even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister.’ Yet He is gifted with a sort of divine insight—favoured, may we say, by His manner of life—into the hearts and minds of men. ‘He knew what was in man.’ Nor was He wanting in the power of evading a subtle question: ‘Whose wife shall she be in the resurrection?’ and ‘Shall we pay tribute unto Cæsar or not?’ But he does not determine whether human relations shall continue in another world, or distinguish what things belong to Cæsar and what things to God. He only seeks to confound the ambiguities and perplexities by which we set aside the moral law; whether a child should support his parents, whether a husband might put away his wife, and the like. He fights the battle 248of human nature against hypocrisy and self-deceit everywhere.

He has a vision, too, of a kingdom not of this world, nor to be realized in ecclesiastical buildings or apostolical succession of bishops, but a kingdom which is to affect all others, and to which as to a standard they are to be compared. It is a kingdom not to be manifested by outward signs, nor to be fought for by earthly weapons, but to be a real power in the hearts of men. He was and He was not a king; not in the ordinary sense, but in a higher one, in a natural one; not a king surrounded by armies, a Messiah or deliverer such as the Jews expected, such as His own disciples hoped that He would proclaim Himself; but a Deliverer from sin and suffering, a Saviour Prince, leading men on to victory over themselves and over the evils of the world.

And if there be any one among the followers of Christ who feels himself unsuited to the turmoil of active life, who would fain withdraw from political strife, who dislikes theological controversy, who is confused by the conflict of opinions, and seeks only to possess his soul in peace and to go about doing good, the example of Christ Himself will be a sufficient justification for him. The silent life of a poor woman may be of more account in the sight of God than the careers of many politicians. ‘Mary hath chosen that better part which shall not be taken from her.’ There are times when men are called upon to be patriots 249and heroes; there are times also when it is well for them to lead, like Christ, a private life only, and through that to work upon their fellow-men. There are characters and gifts which find a natural sphere in politics; there are men who are most useful when they are speaking or acting; there are other characters and men who find the truest expression of themselves in thinking or writing, who live with God or in the heaven of ideas rather than with their fellow-men. There are practical and speculative natures. Either of them may supply the defect of the other; and both may equally be the servants of Christ.

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