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Elements of a Religious Movement.
by H. P. Liddon
from Advent in St. Paul's:  
Sermons Bearing Chiefly on the Two Comings of Our Lord, 
Volume I.  Rivingtons, London, 1889 [Second Edition, Revised]
Sermon I. for the First Sunday in Advent.
 St. Matt. xxi. 10.
And when He was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, 
Who is this?

IT is natural to ask why the account of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday should be read as the Gospel for Advent Sunday. At first sight it looks like a misapplication of the Evangelical history. In Advent we are thinking of the two extreme points, if we may so term them, of our Lord’s relationship to us; of His coming to take our nature upon Him eighteen centuries and a half ago, and of His coming to judge us hereafter. But lo! we suddenly find ourselves in the very midst of His earthly life—at its very crisis. He has just wrought His greatest recorded miracle, and He is consciously on His way to die. What is the connection, we ask, between this entry into Jerusalem and either of Christ’s Advents —whether His past Coming to take our nature upon Him of His Virgin Mother, or His still future Advent in the clouds of heaven as Judge of the quick and dead? Is the Connection more than a fanciful one, and might it not have been better, as is the case with other Churches of  Christendom, (Note: In the Roman Missal the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent is St. Luke xxi. 25-33, which is used in the English Prayer-book on the following Sunday. The Prayer-book on the following Sunday. The Prayer-book follows the Sarum Missal.) to have chosen the Gospel for to-day from some passage in which our Lord describes His Second Coming, as He does in the Gospel for next Sunday?

This is, perhaps, what we think. But these old Liturgical arrangements were originally made by people who knew very well what they were about; they have been continued to our day, because they have been found, by the experience of some thirteen or fourteen centuries, to have a deep lesson for the human soul. They are not often interfered with now without loss. It may be questioned whether we are the men to improve upon the works of the great masters of the Christian life; nor do we make the attempt, even on a small scale, in our new lectionaries and revised Prayer-books, without bungling into crude mistakes, which another age will criticize sharply and justly, in the light of an older and deeper mastery of spiritual things. This Gospel has been chosen for to-day because Advent-time brings before us two truths, not one. If we were only thinking of the first Coming of the  Divine Saviour into the world, or only of His Coming to judgment, passages of Scripture describing either of those momentous events would have been obviously appropriate. But, to do justice to the solemn time on which we enter to-day, we want to keep the two truths clearly before the eye of the soul.  And, therefore, here we have a history in which they meet; a repetition, as it were, of our Lord’s first coming to His own, when His own received Him not; (St. John i. 11.) an anticipation of His coming to judgment, “when every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him.” (Rev. i. 7.)

For His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was certainly an act of grace. It was a last opportunity of embracing the Gospel, of learning Who and what He was, and what He had to teach, and what He, and He alone, could do for those who would listen to Him to any real purpose. The offer which He made to His countrymen at large, by being born of a Jewish mother and under the Law (Gal. iv. 4.) the offer which He made and makes to all mankind, by taking our nature upon Him (Phil. ii. 7.) and coming among us as one of ourselves ;—this offer He repeats on a smaller scale, but, if we may so put it, in an intenser way, by this entry into Jerusalem. His entry was indeed a day of grace to the otherwise doomed city; a last but supreme opportunity, on which previous errors, perversenesses, cruelties, might be redressed by a free acceptance and pardon. It was to Jerusalem what the dawn of the Nativity was to mankind at large; it was a day of grace, in which God’s Blessed Son showed the light of His countenance, and was merciful to the people of His ancient choice. If it was a day of grace, it was also a day of judgment. Judgment means originally, in the sacred language, separation; separation is the first step in judgment. It is so in the things of this world. To decide on relative degrees of merit is, from the necessity of the case, to separate this man from that, this class from that. To criticize in art or in literature is to say that this or that statue, or painting, or book belongs to this or that degree of excellence or of demerit. To award prizes in a school is to separate between those who gain and those who lose them. To deliver a verdict in a court of justice is to distinguish between innocence and guilt. Separation is the very first step in any process of judgment; and separation was the order of the day when our Lord entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He seemed to be, or to be about to be, on His trial; but in reality He was Judge, and His seeming judges were in the dock before His tribunal. They it was who were, of their own free will and motion, separating themselves at His approach into opposite classes; taking their sides almost involuntarily, and so writing themselves down in the Eternal Book as His enemies or His worshippers. It was, in very truth, a day of judgment; only the Judge was not in His robes, and the parties before Him had for the minute scrambled on to the material seat of judgment, and were apparently “they that ought to speak.” (Ps. xii. 4.) 

The point, however, upon which St. Matthew insists, is that when Christ entered Jerusalem “all” the city was moved. He says “all the city.” It can have been no ordinary occasion which produced this effect. It is comparatively easy to interest a single class, a profession, a coterie of thinkers, a political party. Local interests will move those who live in particular districts; mercantile interests those who are engaged in particular lines of business; literary interests those who are devoted to special departments of study; political interests those who are engaged in public life, or have devoted time and thought to the mastery of public questions. But what is the sort of interest that can move all ages, all classes, all characters, in a great and varied community? Certainly we may witness something of the kind when a great sorrow, such as the death of a popular prince or minister, or a great loss, such as defeat in war, or a deadly pestilence, or a famine, or revolutionary violence, or a vast conflagration, falls upon a country or a capital. But, even in these rare cases, the interest is distributed unequally; the loss, or sense of loss, falls with a very varying weight of incidence on different classes: there are always some who have not much to lose, or who do not feel much, and who are at least tranquil amid the prevailing agitation. That which moves a whole community to its depths, is that which touches man as man; not man as a capitalist, not man as a citizen or a subject, not man as belonging to this class or to that, but man as a being who has a consciousness of his mighty destiny; who knows that he is here for a few years and upon trial; who feels the solemnity, the pressure, of life in his soul and conscience; who has a perpetual presentiment of coming death and of the world beyond it.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem all were moved, because Jesus, by His very Presence and bearing, spoke to the souls of all. The power of His Presence was felt in very different ways, but universally. But the movement which it occasioned was very far indeed from being always a movement in the right direction. Truth is too strong to be without effect. But it repels when it does not attract: it exacts either the homage of love or—at least as a rule —the homage of animosity. The remarkable thing in Jerusalem was that, according to St. Matthew, there was no class of persons who were or professed to be indifferent. We know how large a body of persons in different classes of society make this profession in London. They profess really not to care about religion; they stand outside it with folded arms, or they occupy themselves with other matters, letting those who have a religious taste follow it as they please. Whether at bottom they are really indifferent; whether such a thing as bona fide indifference towards religion is possible—may very well be questioned. It is, of course, possible to be unconcerned in a subject the claims of which have never really been brought before you; but when this has been done, the profession of indifference is generally the veil of a scarcely disguised opposition. Jerusalem, at any rate, was small enough in point of population for every one to know something about the significance of Christ’s entry, and we may without difficulty catalogue the elements of which the movement which it created was made up.


First of all, we may take it for granted that a main element in the general excitement would have been curiosity. Crowds of Galilaean pilgrims to the great festival were arriving in their caravans, day by day, with reports of the beneficent miracles of Jesus, of the startling nature of His teaching, of the vast influence which He had exerted among the simple, straightforward people of the northern province. “Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” (St. Matt. xxi. 11.) was already a name known more or less to every inhabitant of Palestine who took any interest whatever in questions of the day; and there were, as was to be expected, wild stories afloat, such as gather round every distinguished man—stories which are produced by, and which stimulate, the general interest. Nor was Jesus unknown in Jerusalem itself.  Only in the preceding September, at the Feast of Tabernacles, He had worked a miracle on a man born blind, which had become the subject of a special and strict investigation before a committee of the great council, or Sanhedrin; (St. John ix. 13-16) and this inquiry had notoriously failed to shake the evidence of the person who had been its subject. After a short journey into Galilee, He had again appeared in Jerusalem at the end of December, during the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, when an attempt had been made on His life, in consequence of His clear assertion of a claim to be a Divine Person. (St. John x. 31.) But since that date an event had occurred which had raised the feeling of the capital to the highest pitch of excitement. At the village of Bethany, not quite three quarters of an hour’s walk from the city gate, and only just hidden by a spur of the hill known as the Mount of Olives, Jesus had raised from the dead, nay, from the very putrefaction of the tomb, the body of Lazarus, who belonged to a well-known family in the place. (St. John xi. 43, 44.) This miracle had excited great attention; and when, six days before the Passover, on His return to Bethany, Jesus, as it would seem, by way of acknowledgment, was entertained by the villagers at the house of Simon the leper, St. John says that a large number of Jews came out from the city expressly to see Lazarus, who was present at this entertainment. Lazarus had returned to his family, not from a distant colony, but from that other mysterious world, of which in this life we can know so little while we long to know so much. “Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom He had raised from the dead.” (St. John xii. 9.)

Much of the interest which is felt on the subject of religion in all ages belongs, in one way or another, to the impulse of curiosity. If a man is moderately intelligent; if he is alive to the nature and strength of the influences which, whether rightly or wrongly, do as a matter of fact govern numbers of human lives, he must feel that religion is a subject well worth careful attention. He may himself know, at least practically, little or nothing about it. He may be wanting in the moral and spiritual sympathies which alone enable us to understand what it is in itself as at once the purest passion and the highest virtue of which man is capable. And yet, if he have only, in ever so little a degree, the eye of a statesman, he must see that it is a mighty power swaying the minds, and purifying and strengthening the affections, and invigorating the wills of millions of men, and that as such it is a most worthy subject for careful inquiry. At this very day, read the newspapers, or listen to the ordinary run of conversation, and consider how much of current interest in religion is this interest of curiosity. Why religious people act as they do; what it is that impels them; how they have come to cherish such convictions; who are the persons, and what the books and opinions and states of feeling, which most influence them now ;—all this moves the curiosity of the intelligent world. The world stands outside the Sacred Temple, but it strains its eyesight very hard in order to see as much of the interior as it possibly can through the windows, or the half-open door. If, indeed, religion is dormant; if the Church is possessed by a spirit of lethargy; public curiosity takes little heed of it, except in the way of an occasional expression of languid contempt. But when life and activity return, there is a change, and that quickly. In George III’s time the public prints in this country scarcely alluded to religion in any way whatever, except as a sort of decoration of the body politic, which came into view on State occasions. We have but to read the papers of our own day, whatever their principles, to appreciate the change. Jesus has come into the city in the two great religious movements which have taken place during this century. He first reanimated faith in His own precious Atonement for sin, and in the converting and sanctifying work of His Spirit; and then he recalled men to what He had revealed respecting the nature and the constitution of His Body, the Church, and the value of those Sacraments by which we are united to Him. And so for good or evil, from one motive or another, but very largely from a curious wish to learn what it is all about, “all the city is moved.”


A second element in the excitement was assuredly fear. The ruling sect of the Pharisees, which largely, although by no means entirely, influenced the opinions and conduct of the priesthood, was alarmed at the moral influence of Jesus. They felt that between Him and themselves there was a fundamental opposition; and they instinctively foresaw that, in the long-run, He would be stronger than they. Thus they were quite prepared to persecute Him to the death. They had actually issued a public notice, that information might be given as to His residence, with a view to arresting Him. (St. John xi. 57.) The Herodians, who viewed the success of Jesus as likely to interfere with their political plans, would have agreed with the Pharisees in fearing the influence of Jesus, though for another reason. Fear, of course, is a form of interest; it tends to be very practical. For irrational fear, if it is armed, soon becomes cruel. Persecution is more frequently the resource of the timid than the counsel of the strong: to persecute is to make a public confession of weakness. In rare cases persecution may succeed, but it can only succeed on the condition of literally exterminating its victims. Still you must take a great interest any religion in order to persecute it. The Pharisees, who hated the religious teaching of Jesus, and the Herodians, who thought that it would injure their cherished plans for the political future, eyed the entry into Jerusalem with sincere anxiety.

In all ages this is the case. Is not much of the public interest in religion at the present day dictated by secret fear? Men who are not themselves religious, and who see the vast power of religion upon other minds, do fear religion; just as savages suspect witchcraft in a new scientific apparatus or discovery. Thus, for example, the Jews said that our Lord had a devil. (St. John vii. 20.) Thus it was that St. Paul was accused in Corinth of want of straightforwardness. (2 Cor. xii. 16.) When men do not understand the real secret of the power which religion exerts over simple and purified hearts, they go about to invent an imaginary one. In truth, they are frightened; and the violence of their language when they have no power, and of their acts when they have, is the measure of their alarm. Still this alarm is undoubtedly a species of interest: it is a protest against the notion that religion is insignificant. And when, as in the first ages, it is taken as a matter of course by the servants of Christ, who are in nothing terrified by their adversaries, (Phil. i. 28.) this is to such adversaries a manifest “token of perdition,” of a virtually ruined cause, while to Christians it is “of salvation, and that,” as the Apostle says, “of God.”


A third element in the general excitement would have been due to the imitative habit which influences so many people in all ages and countries. They are always anxious to keep pace with the most recent enthusiasm, not because it is the best, but because it is the most recent. They have a stock of sympathy ready in hand to be lavished on any promising eccentricity that may present itself and that may be sufficiently recognized by persons whom they think of weight. They are sensitively afraid of being behind the age—behind its last phase of opinion or of fashion. They do not originate, but they are always at the disposal of those who do. Jerusalem would have contained many such; indeed, that it must have contained them is plain, if we compare the scene of the great entry with the scene at the foot of the Cross. Many a man must have cried “Crucify!” on the Friday who had cried “Hosanna!” on the previous Sunday; and in each case only because the majority of other people whom he saw about him on those very different days had cried “Hosanna!” or “Crucify!” before him.

Imitative religion is capable of doing a great deal of work upon occasion; it is far better than no interest in religion at all. It may always lead on to something deeper and more solid than itself. But—do not let us mistake—it is not deep. It has no root in the soul; it belongs strictly to the social atmosphere. It will not stand a strain or shock; it dies with the occasion or influence that has provoked it. Like other fashions, it arises and wanes and disappears; and then men who have gone through it imagine that they have made a real trial of religion, and have discovered its weakness, and, as they say, “see through” it, and are entitled to speak on the subject from experience. Alas! they were merely swept away by a current which was too strong for them; they had been using religious language and going through religious acts, and trying, perhaps, to fan themselves into phases of religious feeling, because they were in hard reality being carried down by a strong social tide which swept them before it, and they only did not wish to be wanting to the supposed proprieties of their position. The wonder would be if their interest had lasted; still, while it did last, it was a bond fide interest, and contributed, perhaps, some real ingredients to this or that movement of the day. What it would be worth on their death-beds, or beyond, is quite another matter.


These three elements in the movement of Jerusalem on the day of Christ’s entry would have implied a fourth. Curiosity on the subject of religion is only aroused when religion has power at the least over some persons. Hostility to religion is only possible when religion is felt to be a real influence in some quarters; shaping principles and habits, and determining lines of conduct. Nor do the imitative care to follow any who are not themselves really moved. So it would have been on the day of the great entry. There was an inner circle around our Lord, consisting of disciples from Galilee, and of some of the inhabitants of the Holy City itself. They had reflected on the miracles which they had witnessed, or of which they had heard. They had opened their understandings to the force and range of Christ’s teaching, and their hearts to the beauty of His human character. Putting these things together—the impression made by a faultless Life, by a teaching which carried its own evidence of a superhuman origin, by a series of miracles which ratified the anticipations alike of the understanding and the heart— they believed in Him. Whether their faith was, as yet, as clear and definite as St. John’s, when he wrote His Gospel half a century later, or St. Paul’s, when he wrote his great Epistles, may very well be questioned. It was a faith in process of growth. But it was strong enough to move social mountains, to excite curiosity, apprehension, imitation, in the masses around. These men were, in point of numbers, by far the weakest, in point of moral force, by far the strongest of the various elements in the movement of that eventful day. Moral and spiritual strength has no more necessary relation to numbers, than our mental power has to the size of our bodies; it belongs to a different order of being, and acts not seldom as if in an inverse ratio to natural energy. This little company was the heart and centre of all that passed on that eventful day—it was the only permanent element in the general movement. The curious would soon sate their curiosity when Jesus had declared Himself in the Temple. The hostile would gratify their vengeance before the week was over, only to find themselves irrecoverably defeated. The imitative would cease to imitate when imitation became dangerous; and, indeed, during the dark hours of the Passion a cloud would pass over the faith even of the small and devoted band which was bound to the Heart of Jesus. But this would be but temporary; with the morning of the Resurrection their faith would burn more brightly than before. They were the real motive power of the present; they alone had at command the secret of the future. So it was then; so, depend upon it, it is now.

It is, I know, the fashion to treat this sort of language as a kind of conventional rhapsody in which clergymen, from whatever motive, indulge in the pulpit, but in which it is not to be supposed that they will command the assent of the sensible and educated laity, for the simple reason that there is nothing to correspond to their ecstasies in the world of fact. And yet, my brethren, is there nothing? Who of us has not heard within the last week of the death of one of the noblest and greatest of contemporary Englishmen, Bishop Patteson, who perished some two or three months since by a murderous hand in one of the Melanesian Islands of the Pacific? Well do I remember him, two and twenty years ago, in the full flush of youthful manhood, commanding the admiration of his friends by the qualities which win a young man’s love most readily—by activity of body as well as activity of mind, by geniality, by large-heartedness, by all that is included in that most inclusive quality — generosity. Well do I remember how it was believed, even then, that beneath that simple, unaffected, unpretending exterior, there were in contemplation deeper and nobler schemes of life than those of ordinary men; although, indeed, he was the last man to make any unnecessary display of his religious convictions—of those “still waters which run deep” in great souls. He went on, apparently, like other people;—and then one day he astonished the world by leaving his college, his home, his great University prospects, on a mission to the South Sea islanders. Few men of our day had a gift such as his of mastering languages, of mastering the shades and dialects of cognate languages; he knew, it is said, no less than thirty, which were spoken by the islanders to whom he brought the blessings of the Gospel. These languages were not fixed, like the languages of Europe, by a written literature; and, as a consequence, they were in a condition of perpetual unsettlement, changing their forms and words with inconceivable caprice and rapidity at very short intervals of time. Bishop Patteson could follow and note these variations; he not merely learnt these strange tongues, but he kept pace with their wayward eccentricities, not for the sake of any such work itself, but for the sake of the higher work beyond it. He might, indeed, with so rare a capacity, have aspired to almost any philological chair in the Universities of Europe; and, as it was, the greatest living masters of the science of language, such as Professor Max Muller, were frequently in communication with him, and not a little indebted to him. But he looked beyond any such renown as can be won at a seat of learning; he had higher aims in view. His fine philological tact was strewn, like the garments of the disciples of old, in the path of the advancing Redeemer. He certainly did not fall away from that companionship when it became perilous: he was in the Hall of Judgment; he was at the foot of the Cross. He has reached Jerusalem in good earnest; and at the report of the deed of blood, whereby an early entrance has been opened for him into the Eternal Presence, a thrill runs through the hearts of his fellow-Churchmen and fellow-countrymen; and even “all the city,”—all that part of our languid, easy, indifferent society, which is ever capable of any moral interest—is in some sense moved. As of old, so now, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. As we bend in thought over his early grave, we are lifted for the time into a higher atmosphere, where the meaning of life and the meaning of death, as at most an incident which ushers in a new phase of life, are read in other characters than those of our ordinary thoughts.

The beginning of a new period of time will be felt to be a natural occasion for asking ourselves solemn questions; and although we are still a month from the beginning of the secular year, the Church of Christ begins her new year to-day. And to-day we are face to face with the two Comings of Christ. His first Coming is a matter of history. He has been here either in Person, or by His Spirit and His representatives, for nearly nineteen centuries. His second Coming is, as far as the exact date goes, just as much a matter of uncertainty now as it was in the days of the Apostles; we cannot say, “Lo here! or, lo there!” (St. Luke xvii. 21) to-day or a thousand years hence. We only know that He Whose words shall not pass away has said that He will come, (Rev. iii. 11) and that, though He tarry, it is our business to wait for Him, since He will surely come, and will not really tarry.  (Hab. ii. 3.)  The question is, when He does come, whether in death or judgment, will He find us among the hostile, or the curious, or the imitative, or the faithful? What is our relation towards His first Advent and its momentous consequences now? During our few remaining years, or months, or weeks of life, are we to be interested in religion only as we might be interested in any political question of the day? Or are we secretly jealous of it? Or is it a matter of fashion with us, in which we follow a prevailing taste without any strong personal convictions? Or have we found that Jesus Christ is to us what no other is or can be—our one real Instructor in the highest truth; our lawful and indulgent Master, Who has a right to the entire control of our secret wills as well as of our outward actions; our Priest, as well as our Teacher and our King, Whose Death is a sacrifice of unending power, and Whose Blood cleanses from all sin? They who know this live as it were between the two Advents; rejoicing in the graces and blessings of the first, and looking forward, if not with-out awe, yet certainly without terror, to the second. They it is who accompany Christ in His procession across the ages with festal songs; strewing His path with the best offerings they can make, and waving on high, amid a world which is curious, or angry, or imitative by turns, their palms of victory. One or the other of these we must be; for we have seen something, even to-day, of Jesus Christ. At His entry into any soul all its faculties are moved. At the approach of this Blessed and Awful Visitant, for good or for evil, in homage or in hate, the understanding, the will, the affections, the imagination, are all of them interested; they must, perforce, in the last resort blaspheme, if they do not adore. The religions of curiosity and of imitation soon resolve themselves into one of the two permanent attitudes of the soul towards its highest object—love or aversion. How is it with us? God grant that we may answer that question honestly, at least between this and Christmas; with our eye on the Eternal Son of God lying in the manger; with our eve on the once crucified Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven.