The greatest thing that can happen to any human soul

Posted in Blog, Christianity, Devon

In February 1931, the thoughts of the then Archbishop of York, Devon-born William Temple, put love in its most sacred context. He was conducting a mission on 8 successive evenings in St Mary’s church, Oxford. On the sixth evening, when his theme was The Holy Spirit in Life, the power of his address was typical of the qualities which ensured his election as Archbishop of Canterbury eleven years later.

He opened his talk by saying this: ‘This evening our subject is the Holy Spirit. We often hear it said that this is a peculiarly difficult and remote part of Christian belief. I have even heard clergymen say that they find Whit Sunday the hardest of all the Church festivals to preach upon. If so, I think it shows, among other things, that we very easily let our distinctively religious thought get detached in a very disastrous fashion from our ordinary thought, because, in plain point of fact, the Holy Spirit is the Person in the Trinity with Whom we are most constantly in conscious contact.’

As he developed his theme, he warmed to his subject: ‘you must begin with Jesus Christ. The way to find His power in your heart is to be perpetually turning your eyes towards the objective revelation there given on the stage of history. Jesus is not only the revelation of the Spirit; He is the source of that Spirit to us. Into our lives, as in the Being of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but from the Father through the Son. This power which develops in our hearts is the response which God calls out from our hearts by the revelation given in His Son, and you cannot know the power of the Holy Spirit in its fullness except by the companionship of Jesus Christ.’

Enlarging on this theme, later in his talk, he said this: ‘If the true life of man whereby he fulfils his destiny of fellowship with God is the life of Jesus Christ, then true self-realisation must always consist very largely of self-sacrifice. If there is no sacrifice in a life, the self you are realising cannot be your true self, but only some conventional self which you have formed in your mind and like to dwell upon. Real self-realisation will always include self-sacrifice; and there is no self-sacrifice so thorough-going that it cannot be the completest self-realisation.

‘The greatest thing that can happen to any human soul is to become utterly filled with love; and self-sacrifice is love’s natural expression. There can be no sacrifice so great that it may not be the true realisation of the true self. But in this life of companionship with Christ which we secure by discipline, we find also the surest promise that we shall discover, each of us, our own vocation. And here I come once more to a theme I have already spoken of; that the duty of any one of us is—so far as we may—to find out what God requires of us, and to do it as the work which God has given us. Whatever the work you do for your living, it must be a form of service of some kind, for no one will pay you for your work if he does not want it done.

‘What makes all the difference is what you are thinking of first and foremost, as you consider the spirit and temper in which you carry out your work. Is it your livelihood or is it God’s service? The work in itself is both. But which do you think of first? Nothing would bring nearer the promised day of God than that all Christian people should enter on their profession in the spirit of those who regard it as their chief sphere of serving God. And if we are to attain to that, we come back to the thing I have spoken of so often that it must seem I have no other thought in my mind—the companionship of Christ, out of which springs that divine power in our hearts which is our answer to it. Over and over again we are filled with despair because our love is so cold and feeble. No; it is not feeble; it is almighty; for it is God the Holy Ghost, waiting until we give Him opportunity. For here, as always. He will force nothing on us. But the strength He gives, even to love Him, is always sufficient if we try to obey His command, relying not on our own power, but on His—His Spirit, Who is His very Self at work within our souls.’

I wish I had been in St Mary’s church that evening for there seems no doubt that God was at work through his servant. Has Devon ever produced a more powerful missioner?