By John Percival
"Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity in itself. . . . O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sakes I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek to do thee good."--PSALM cxxii. 3, 6-9.
As we draw near to the end of our summer term, when so many are about to take leave of their school life, there is sure to rise up in many minds the thought of what this life has done for them or failed to do, and of what the memory of it is likely to be in all their future years as they pass from youth to age.
And it should be our aim and desire, as need hardly be said, that from the day when each one comes amongst us as a little boy to the day when he offers his last prayer in this chapel before he goes out into the world, his life here should be of such a sort that its after taste may have no regrets, and no bitterness, and no shame in it, and the memories to be cherished may be such as add to the happiness and strength of later years. And if, as we trust, this is your case, your feeling for your school is almost certain to be in some degree like that which is expressed in this pilgrim psalm. Its language of intense patriotism, steeped in religious feeling, which is the peculiar inspiration of the Old Testament Jew, will seem somehow to express your own feelings for that life in which you grew up from childhood to manhood.
Indeed, the best evidence that your school life has not failed of its higher objects is the growth of this same sort of earnest patriotic enthusiasm. Do you feel at all for your school as that unknown Jewish pilgrim who first sung this 122nd Psalm felt for the city of his fathers and the house of God? "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. For my brethren and companions' sakes I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek to do thee good."
Experience shows us that those English schools have been the best in which this feeling has been strongest and most widely diffused; and that those are the best times in any school which train up and send forth the largest proportion of men who continue to watch over its life, and to pray for it in this spirit: "For my brethren and companions' sakes I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek to do thee good." On the other hand, if this feeling is weak in any school, or among the former members of it, or if it assumes debased forms, as sometimes happens, we see there a sure sign of degeneration. He who, having grown up in any society like ours, is possessed by no such love for it, and stirred by no enthusiasm for its good name, and no desire to do it good, and to see good growing in every part of it, such an one has somehow missed the chief blessing that his membership of his school should have brought to him. He may have been unfortunate, or he may have proved unworthy. The atmosphere of his school life, and the associations amidst which he grew up, may have been such that the best thing he can do is to shake himself clear of them and forget them. To such an one his school time has been a grave and lifelong misfortune; and it is the condemnation of any society if there are many such cases in it.
It is, however, exceptional in English life for men who have grown up in a great school to be stirred by no glow of patriotic feeling for it. Whatever their own experience of it may have been, they are not altogether blind to the things that constitute its greatness, and they love to hear it well spoken of.
But the quality of their patriotism will depend very much on the quality of their own life; so that the task we have always before us is to be infusing into our community such a spirit and purpose, as shall infect each soul amongst us with those higher aims, and tastes, and motives, with that hatred of things mean or impure, and that love of things that are manly, honest, and of good report, which distinguish all nobler characters from the baser, and which are produced and fostered, and made to work strongly in every society that has any claim to good influence.
Seeing, then, that a man's patriotism is to a great extent the expression of his personal life, how instructive is this picture of the patriot which the 122nd Psalm sets before us. We see thus first of all how he feels the unity of his people--their one pervading life, and himself a part of it, though possibly far away--"Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity in itself: thither the tribes go up." Those were times when Israel suffered from division of tribe against tribe, times when the pulse of common life hardly beat at all, times of isolation or of jealousy; but the true patriot in Israel, as everywhere, was always possessed by the intense feeling of the oneness of his people under one Lord; and whenever this feeling fails, we look in vain for the higher forms of common life.
But we note, too, this Psalmist's passionate personal devotion to the object of his patriotic love--"They shall prosper that love thee"--"For my brethren and companions' sakes I will wish thee prosperity." Who can read unmoved these noble and generous outpourings?
We see, moreover, how his feeling expresses itself, as true love always does express itself in the desire to do good to its object, and, above all, how it breathes the spirit of moral and religious earnestness. "Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek to do thee good." If ever you desire to test the sincerity and the worth of any love you bear to person, place, institution, or society, you have only to turn to this Psalm, and see if these words fit your thoughts, desires, and endeavours--"They shall prosper that love thee--For my brethren and companions' sakes I will wish thee prosperity--Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek to do thee good." Here are the notes of true patriotic feeling--personal love, public spirit, sanctified by moral and religious purpose, desire to do good. These are the qualities which are the salt of all societies, and it is by virtue of these that they win their good name, if they do win it.
In the history of our own school we can point to abundant illustrations of this truth. I will mention one only, familiar to those who know our history. "I verily believe," wrote a School-house boy to his friend fifty-three years ago--"I verily believe my whole being is soaked through with wishing and hoping and striving to do the school good, or, rather, to hinder it from falling in this critical time, so that all my cares, and affections, and conversation, thought, words, and deeds, look to that involuntarily."
Such was one of your predecessors as he sat here Sunday by Sunday, a boy like any of you.
He was eager to follow those friends who had preceded him to Oxford as scholars of Balliol; he was keenly interested in all intellectual pursuits; he turned for his daily pleasure to literature or history; but alongside of it all, or rather through it all, underlying it all, giving earnestness and fervour, the true unselfish quality, to it all, there was burning in his heart a consuming zeal for the good of his house and school. "For my brethren and companions' sakes I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek to do thee good."
It was through the spirit and the lives of such as he, growing up here, and leavening all the life around them, and then going forth in the same spirit, to live the noble and earnest type of life elsewhere, that the name of Rugby School became honoured among schools, and this chapel came to be looked upon as a sacred home of inspiring influences; and it is only through an unfailing succession of such Rugbeians--growing up here in the same spirit, and going forth endowed with the same character and the same purpose--that this honourable name, this tradition of good influences, can be perpetuated.
And, if we desire to see how close this is to the spirit and the work of our Lord, how it is, in fact, one manifestation of that spirit which is the saving influence in human life; we have only to turn from the text with which I started to that with which I may conclude, from the Psalmist meditating on the city and temple of his heart's affections, to the Saviour, as He drew near to the Cross, praying for His disciples--"Father, the hour is come. . . . I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work Thou gavest Me to do. I have manifested Thy name unto the men whom Thou gavest me out of the world." . . . "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word."
The only change we see as we step from the Psalms to the Gospel, from the Jewish pilgrim to the Saviour whom we worship, is that religious patriotism has expanded into the love of souls, the love of Him who laid down His life to save us from the power of sin and death.
It was for you and me that Christ was praying; and His prayer for us will be answered so soon as it inspires us to follow in His footsteps, so that we too, as we kneel before God each morning, each night, and think of our duty to those around us, may be able to say, in these words of His, which are at once a prayer and a consecrating vow--"For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified.'"