From “The Communion of Saints,” Repton School Sermons (1910)
We shall never have any real belief in the truth of this fellowship or communion unless we try to make it actual in our own lives and in our dealings with those who are still on earth. We have allowed the sense of our Christian fellowship to be blunted by worldliness. We read with amazement Christ’s praise of poverty and disparagement of wealth, because it seems to us that the best things in life the society of refined people and even the affection of our intimate friends are dependent on at least a moderate supply of this world’s goods. If a man loses all his money, he must, in our day, lose most of his friends as well; they will not deliberately leave him; but he will have to retire to live where expenses can be avoided, and they will not follow him.
If we had the true spirit of fellowship this would not be so. The sting of poverty is often the worldliness of a man s friends; and poverty can only deserve the blessing which Christ pronounced upon it when the sense of fellowship between His disciples is strong enough to overcome the natural worldliness of men.
How are we to acquire that sense of fellowship? It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul speaks of the “fellowship of the Holy Ghost,” and we repeat his words often enough. But he did not mean what most of us mean by them; he did not mean that the Holy Spirit was to be our comrade, but that we were to be comrades of one another, because we all possess, or rather all are possessed by, the One Spirit of God.
It is always found that the way to bridge class divisions and create sympathy where it does not naturally arise, is to bring men together under the influence of some great purpose or ideal which all pursue. This has been a common experience of men; people who are timid and shy of one another may be brought to mutual understanding and friendship if they come together to carry out some great purpose, to achieve some reform, to conduct some research, to seek after truth together. And greatest of all such bonds ought to be that which arises from common devotion to the greatest of all causes, the growth of the Kingdom of God; yet for most of us there is no link with other men to be found in our religion; we have no fellowship of the Holy Ghost, no sense that we belong to one another because we all belong to him.
If some stranger came up to one of us and claimed a rather intimate acquaintance on the ground that he worshipped the same God in the same Church, we should be outraged. That is all wrong. We allow people to claim our acquaintance because they belong to our house or to our school; that is recognized as a real bond of union; but merely to be worshippers of the same God is not enough to draw us to one another because our worship is something laid over the surface of our lives, not something bursting from their inmost depths. We know some little fragment of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Love of God;” of “the fellowship of the Holy Ghost” we know nothing whatsoever. And if we feel no fellowship of Holy Spirit with those who are still fighting the battle by our side on earth, how can we realize the communion or fellowship of saints in which the departed also are included?
The cure for this deficiency, as for all others, is that we should make more frequent and more intimate our intercourse with Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Holiness which will draw us to each other pervades the world, for it proceeds from the Father, and wherever the Father works it may be found ; but to us it comes chiefly through our intercourse with Christ; it “proceedeth from the Father and the Son.” It is as we fix our thoughts and wills on the Lord Jesus and His work that we become filled with the Holy Spirit, with passion for righteousness and forgetfulness of self.
William Temple (1881-1944) was an English bishop and theologian, and an influential advocate for ecumenism and social reform. He taught at Oxford before serving as a headmaster and a canon of Westminster Abbey, and then was Bishop of Manchester and Archbishop of York, and, finally, Canterbury. Repton School Sermons is a collection of his early sermons, published when he was headmaster of the public school in the English Midlands. Temple is commemorated on November 6 on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican churches.