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Town and Country Sermons, 1 - HOW TO KEEP PASSION WEEK

By Charles Kingsley

      (Preached before the Queen.)

      Philippians ii. 5-11. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

      This the first day of Passion Week; and this text is the key-note of Passion Week. It tells us of the obedience of Christ; of the unselfishness of Christ; and, therefore, of the true glory of Christ.

      It tells us of One who was in the form of God; the Co-equal and Co- eternal Son; the brightness of his Father's glory, the express image of his Father's person: but who showed forth his Father's glory, and proved that he was the express likeness of his Father's character, by the very opposite means to those which man takes, when he wishes to show forth his own glory.

      He was in the form of God. But he did not (so the text seems to mean) think that the bliss of God was a thing to be seized on greedily for himself. He did not think fit merely to glorify himself; to enjoy himself. He was not like the false gods of whom the heathen dreamed, who sat aloft in heaven and enjoyed themselves, careless of mankind.

      No. He obeyed his Father utterly, and at all costs. He emptied himself (says St. Paul). He took on him the form of a slave. He humbled himself. He became obedient; obedient to death; and that death the shameful and dreadful death of the cross.

      Therefore God has highly exalted him; has declared him to be perfectly good, worthy of all praise, honour, glory, power, and dominion; and has given him a name above all names, the name of Jesus--Saviour. One who saved others, and cared not to save himself.

      And therefore, too, God has given him that dominion of which he is worthy, and has proclaimed him Lord and Creator of all beings and all worlds, past, present, and to come.

      It is of him; of his obedience; of his unselfishness, that Passion Week speaks to us. It tell us of the mind of Christ, and says, 'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.'

      How, then, shall we keep his Passion Week? There are several ways of keeping it, and all more or less good. Wisdom is justified of all her children.

      But no way will be safe for us, unless we keep in mind the mind of Christ--obedience and self-sacrifice.

      Some, for instance, are careful this week to attend church as often as possible; and who will blame them?

      But unless they keep in mind the mind of Christ, they are apt to fall into the mistake of using vain repetitions, as the heathen do; and of fancying, like them, that they shall be heard for their much speaking, forgetting their Father in heaven knows what they have need of, before they ask him. And that is not like the mind of Christ. It is not like the mind of Christ to fancy that God dwells in temples made with hands; or that he can be worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed anything; seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. For in him we live, and move, and have our being; and (as even the heathen poet knew), are the offspring, the children, of God.

      It is not according to the mind of Christ, to worship God as the heathen do, in order to win him to do our will. It is according to the mind of Christ to worship God, in order that we may do his will; to believe that God's will is a good will, good in itself, and good for us, and for all things and beings; and, therefore, to ask for strength to do God's will, whatever it may cost us. That is the mind of Christ, who came not to do his own will, but the will of him who sent him; who taught us to pray, as the greatest blessing for which we can ask, 'Father, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven;' who himself, in his utter agony, cried, 'Father, not my will, but thine, be done.'

      Therefore, it is good to go to church; and good, for some at least, to go as often as possible: but only if we remember why we go, and whom we go to worship--a Father, who asks of us to worship him in spirit and in truth. A Father who has told us what that worship is like.

      'Is this (God asked the Jews of old) the fast which I have chosen? Is it a day for a man to afflict his soul, and bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him (playing at being sad, while God has not made him sad)? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?'

      'Is not this the fast which I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and to bring the poor that are cast out to thine house; when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh.'

      This is that pure worship and undefined before God and the Father, of which St. James tells us; and says that it consists in this--'to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction; and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.'

      In a word, this worship in the spirit, and in truth, is nought else but the mind of Christ. To believe in, to adore the Father's perfect goodness; to long and try to copy that goodness here on earth. That is what Christ did utterly and perfectly, that is what we have to do, each according to our powers; and without it, without the spirit of obedience, all our church-going is of little worth in the eyes of our heavenly Father.

      Others, again, go into retirement for this week, and spend it in examining themselves, and thinking over the sufferings of Christ. And who, again, will blame them, provided they do not neglect their daily duty meanwhile?

      But they, too, need to keep in mind the mind of Christ, if they mean to keep Passion Week aright.

      They need it, indeed. And such a man, before he shuts himself up, and begins to examine himself, would do well to examine himself as to why he is going to examine himself, and to ask, Why am I going to do this? Because it is my interest? Because I think I shall gain more safety for my soul? Because I hope it will give me more chance of pleasure and glory in the next world? But, if so; have I the mind of Christ? For he did not think of his own interest, his own gain, his own pleasure, his own glory. How is this, then? I confess that the root of all my faults is selfishness. Shall I examine into my own selfishness for a selfish end--to get safety and pleasure by it hereafter? I confess that the very glory of Christ is, that there is no selfishness in him. Shall I think over the sufferings of the unselfish Christ for a selfish end--to get something by it after I die? I am too apt already to make myself the centre, round which all the world must turn: to care for everything only as far as it does me good or harm. Shall I make myself the centre round which heaven is to turn? Shall I think of God and of Christ only as far as it will profit me? And this week, too, of all weeks in the year? God forgive me! Into what a contradiction I am running unawares!

      No. If I do shut myself up from my fellowmen, it shall be only to think how I may do my duty better to my fellowmen. If I do think over Christ's sufferings, it shall be only that I may learn from him how to suffer, if need be, at the call of duty; at least, to stir up in me obedience, usefulness, generosity, that I may go back to my work cheerfully, willingly, careless what reward I get, provided only I can do good in my station.

      But, after all, will not the text tell us best how to keep Passion Week? Will not our Lord's own example tell us? Can we go wrong, if we keep our Passion Week as Christ kept his?

      And how did he keep it? Certainly not by shutting himself up apart. Certainly not by mere thinking over the glory of self-sacrifice. He taught daily, we read, in the temple. Instead of giving up his work for a while, he seems to have worked more earnestly than ever. As the terrible end drew near; and his soul was troubled; and he was straitened as he looked forward to his baptism of fire; and the struggle in him grew fiercer (for the Bible tells us that there was a struggle) between the Man's natural desire to save his life, and the God's heavenly desire to lay down his life, he threw himself more and more into the work which he had to do. We hear more, perhaps, of our Lord's saying and doings during this week, up to the very moment before he was betrayed to death, than we do of the whole three years of his public life. His teaching was never, it seems, so continual; his appeals to the nation which he was trying to save were never so pathetic as at the very last; his warnings to the bigots who were destroying his nation never so terrible; his contempt for personal danger never so clear. The Bible seems to picture him to us as gathering up all his strength for one last effort, if by any means he might save that doomed city of Jerusalem, and in his divine spirit, courting death the more, the more his human flesh shrank from it.

      This--the pattern of perfect obedience, perfect unselfishness, perfect generosity, perfect self-sacrificing love--is what we are to look at in Passion Week. This, I believe, is what we are meant to copy in Passion Week; that we may learn the habit of copying it all our lives long.

      Why should not we, then, keep Passion Week somewhat as our Lord kept it before us? Not by merely hiding in our closets to meditate, even about him: but by going about our work, each in his place, dutifully, bravely, as he went? By doing the duty which lies nearest us, and trying to draw our lesson out of it.

      Thus we may keep Passion Week in spirit and in truth; though some of us may hardly have time to enter a church, hardly have time for an hour's private thought about religion.

      Amid the bustle of daily duties; amid the buzz of petty cares; amid the anxieties of great labours; amid the roar of the busy world, which cannot stop (and which ought not to stop), for our convenience; we may keep Passion Week in spirit and in truth, if we will do the duty which lies nearest us, and try to draw our lesson out of it.

      For practice--and, I believe, practice alone--will teach us to restrain ourselves, and conquer ourselves. Experience--and, I believe, experience alone--will show us our own faults and weaknesses.

      Every man--every human spirit on God's earth has spiritual enemies-- habits and principles within him--if not other spirits without him, which hinder him, more or less, from being all that God meant him to be. And we must find out those enemies, and measure their strength, not merely by reading of them in books; not merely by fancying them in our own minds; but by the hard blows, and sudden falls, which they too often give us in the actual battle of daily life.

      And how can we find them out?

      This at least we can do.

      We can ask ourselves at every turn,--For what end am I doing this, and this? For what end am I living at all? For myself, or for others?

      Am I living for ambition? for fame? for show? for money? for pleasure? If so, I have not the mind of Christ. I have not found out the golden secret. I have not seen what true glory is; what the glory of Christ is--to live for the sake of doing my duty--for the sake of doing good.

      And am I--I surely shall be if I am living for myself--straggling, envying, casting an evil eye on those more fortunate than I; perhaps letting loose against them a cruel tongue? If I am doing thus, God forgive me. What have I of the mind of Christ? What likeness between me and him who emptied himself of self, who humbled himself, gave himself up utterly, even to death? Is this the mind of Christ? Is this the spirit whose name is Love?

      And yet there should be a likeness. A likeness between Christ and us. A likeness between God and us. For Christ is the likeness of his Father; and not only of his Father, but of our Father, The Father in heaven. And what should a child be, but like his father? What should man be, but like God?

      But how shall we get that likeness? How shall we get the mind of Christ which is the Spirit of God?

      This at least we know. That the father will surely hear the child, when the child cries to him. Perhaps will hear him all the more tenderly, the more utterly the child has strayed away.

      Our highest reason, the instincts of our own hearts, tell us so. Christ himself has told us so; and said to the Jews of old: 'If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?'

      Shall give? Yes; and has given already. From that Spirit of God have come, and will always come, all our purest, highest, best thoughts and feelings.

      From him comes all which raises us above the animals, and makes us really and truly men and women. All sense of duty, obedience, order, justice, law; all tenderness, pity, generosity, honour, modesty; all this, if you will receive it, is that Christ in us of whom St. Paul tells us, and tells us that he is our hope of glory.

      Yes, these feelings in us, which, just as far as we obey them, make us respect ourselves, and make us blessings to our fellow-men; what are they but the Spirit of Christ, the likeness of Christ, the mind of Christ in us; the hope of our glory; because, if we obey them, we shall attain to something of the true glory, the glory with which Christ himself is glorious.

      Then let us pray to God, now in this Passion Week, to stir up in us that generous spirit; to deepen in us that fair likeness; to fill us with that noble mind. Let us ask God to quench in us all which is selfish, idle, mean; to quicken to life in us all which is godlike, and from God; that so we may attain, at last, to the true glory, the glory which comes not from selfish ambition; not from selfish pride; not from selfish ease; but from getting rid of selfishness, in all its shapes. The glory which Christ alone has in perfection. The glory before which every knee will one day bow, whether in earth or heaven. Even the glory of doing our duty, regardless of what it costs us in the station to which each of us has been called by his Father in heaven. Amen.

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