The Spear of St. MIchael

From “The Sword of St. Michael,” Logic and Life, 266-268 (1882)

Have we, as a ministry — have we, as individual ministers — had enough of the spirit of St. Michael in our moral life? in our moral ideal? I want you to ask yourselves this question, each in the way he knows best: Have we as a priesthood, in the history behind us, shone in upon the dark and cruel habitations of this world with the sudden glory of deliverance? Have we flashed in, with the splendor of the warrior angel, to succor the oppressed? to bid the captive go free?

We have spoken of peace — well enough; but have we sold our coat to buy a sword? Have we avenged the heathen, and rebuked the people? Have we bound their kings in chains, or their nobles with links of iron? The praises of God have been in our mouths; but has there been a two- edged sword of the Spirit in our hands? Where has been the helm of salvation? where the spear of St. Michael?

We have toiled for the relief of the poor and the unhappy; but have we toiled for their release, for their deliverance, for their enfranchisement? We have comforted; but have we set free? Have we broken bonds in sunder? Have we thrown open the cruel gates of brass? We have pleaded; but have we denounced? We have listened in the secret chambers; but have we proclaimed upon the housetops? We have moved with the still secrecy of the wind; but have we leaped with the power of the flame? We have refreshed with cool waters; but have we run and kindled, as a fire?

And yet, if not, why not? Has there been no need? Is there no need now? Ah, my friends, we know too well to our bitter shame what it is in the midst of which we stand! — we, who have seen and touched, however briefly, the wild life that rages up and down the crowded and reeking streets of our vast cities, — the cruelties, the brutalities that rend and tear ; the wicked selfishness, the heartless indifference, that deaden, and corrupt, and blind; the sensuality that devours; the gambling that maddens; the pride that tramples; the ambition that slaughters; the violence that tyrannizes; the covetousness that feeds on blood; the loathsome diseases of the soul, that sicken, and debase, and kill.

We know the sins, large, and gross, and vile, not of individuals, but of classes. We know the villainies which society perpetrates in the mass, — villainies at which any single member of society would shudder with horror. We know the enormous evils of mere heedlessness in wealth, of mere carelessness in luxury, of mere recklessness in commerce. We know how whole masses are driven under by the mere pressure of competition— driven down into that dark and tyrannous domain of ignorance or crime, of drink or lust. We know how herds of men and women are shoved and huddled along the hard roads of a dreary world, without hope, without light, without comfort, without grace, without God. We know how many souls lie shut up in dull and dumb despair, whom the sickness of doubt has troubled, and discolored, and withered.

All this we see with fearful eyes and failing hearts. We know it but too well. No need for St. Michael! Oh, when was the need more sore? when was the cry for help more loud and dreadful?

The Church has her task clear and decisive before her — the task not only to work within the heart of all this trouble in the gracious activities of consolation; but more than this — in complete consistency with this inward work — to come down from above as a deliverer; to break in as the dayspring from on high. Men who lie, bound with chains, between soldiers, ought to feel her shine in their prison as an angel, as she smites them on the side, and raises them up, bidding them rise up quickly, so that the chains fall off from their hands.

The Church has her high task of emancipation. But how has she fulfilled it? Do men, who lie in sore need, in oppression, in social degradation, look to the Church — look to us, her priests, to be to them as their St. Michael — to save and deliver? Do men, in the pride of selfish power — in the lust of reckless success — fear the Church or fear her priests? Do they hear her loud judgments — her swift denunciations? Do they feel her victorious spear, as Satan feels the onset of St. Michael? Does her sword smite? Are the vast sins of society seen, and detected, and condemned by the glory of her eyes?

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.

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