From “The Word Was Made Flesh” in On Behalf of Belief; Sermons Preached in St. Paul’s Cathedral (1889)

Christian asceticism starts from above. The life of the Lord is not a movement of the human spirit upward, attaining its release at death, but a descent of the Divine Spirit downwards, to inhabit, and possess, and secure for its own our frail and fleshly nature. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The root of our revelation lies in the dignity, the work, the honor, that is brought in upon the flesh of man. It becomes the assured temple of the Word; it receives into itself the glory of God.

The Incarnation of Christ is the measure of God’s respect for human nature. He places his Son under its limitations, and so recognizes, justifies, eternalizes them. He devotes himself to saving, illuminating, redeeming it ; and this, out of His supreme love for it, which forbids him to leave it to its sins, or to slay it for its guilt, or to desert it in its shame. God so loves it — loves the human, loves the body, loves the earth — that He sent His only Son to win it again into glory; and so loving it as his child, he takes it as it stands, in its natural earthly condition, just as history had made it, with all its poverties, bruises, diseases, infirmities, with all its blindness, hardness, frailty. All of this he takes into himself. He will share it all; none of it shall be despised or spurned.

Here is the motive, the spirit of Christ’s suffering, Christ’s asceticism, Christ’s Cross. It exhibits, not the pride of the human spirit over against the infirm flesh, but the pity of Divine Spirit for the broken and bruised flesh. It is a display, not of the worthlessness of human life, but of its high and immeasurable worth. The agony and the Passion of Christ embody the price at which God considers it worthwhile to redeem the flesh of man. There is his estimate of the value of humanity. God, the Blessed Father, will send His Son to endure even that, if only by so enduring he may recover the body out of sin into salvation. It is all a tribute to the Divine attachment to man, its own creation; it is all a witness to the dignity of that for which the Son of God is content to die.

The Rev. Canon Professor Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918) was among the best-known Anglican clerics of the Victorian era. A prominent high churchman, he was a canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral for decades, where his sermons were greatly admired. He worked to alleviate the sufferings of the urban poor and founded the influential Christian Social Union, which advocated for socialist policies rooted in Christian principles.  Eight years before his death he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.