The Joy of Self-Dedication

From “The Sacrifice of Innocence,” Logic and Life (1882)

What, then, is man’s offering? What his holy service? Surely this, the offering of himself.

Man has the power to contemplate, to lay hold of himself: he looks himself all over, and sees himself, and all that he is, to be in no sense his own, but entirely and altogether a created thing, existent in and by another.

This created thing, which is himself, his whole self, his whole body, his whole passions, his whole force, his whole mind, his whole will, his whole soul — the whole of it — he, by the power of the Spirit which is in him, can lay hold of, can embrace all round, can take up in his hands, and lift and raise on high before God, and offer, and present. He is himself the offering; he is, by the Divine Spirit in him, himself the priest.

This is religion; this is its root-life. Religion is man’s recognition that he himself, with all that he possesses, is entirely and absolutely the possession of God. Hence religion is, primarily, an act of homage, an act of dedication, a sacrifice— not of blood, or agony, or overwhelming dismay, but the sacrifice of a delighted and exultant confession in the glad lordship of God — the thrilling confession which is felt stirring half blindly in all those thousand forms of heathen offering, whether of fruit or flower or rice or bread or lamb, which startle us by their constancy amid all the varieties of so many heathen faiths.

The thought is obscure, and darkly hid. Often it works underground, and the signs of its movement are, it may be, low, and strange, and coarse, and mean; it manifests itself in fear rather than in love; in self-will, instead of in self-abandonment. But it is there, and it prompts, always, the offering and the sacrifice; for, always, the root-spring of all religion lies in the intense joy of the discovery: ” I am not mine own. I have nothing of myself. O my God, I am altogether Thine ! Receive what is mine, in symbol of myself.”

And observe; Sacrifice, in this sense, carries us back behind and beyond all pain, and sin, and suffering. It is, in its primary premise, not the sad means of recovering a lost state, but the delightful recognition of what actually is, and has never ceased to be.

It is the symbolic act of a discovery, the discovery by the creature of its Creator. Even if no dividing sin had ever severed man and God, still religion would consist in the joy of self-dedication, the joy of homage, the joy of an offering, the joy of a sacrifice. There would still be the altar, and still the priest; an altar of joy, and gladness, and thanksgiving, and praise; a High Priest, royal, enthroned, wonderful in blessing, after the order of Melchisedec, ever living and supreme.

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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