Sermon given at the Service attended by the Judges, 2018
The justice of God Jesus embodied was one of mercy, constantly merciful, straining every sinew to encourage and to find the good in people, offering his life to open a new way of peace and love for sinful human beings to the holiness and beauty of God.
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall Dean of Westminster
Monday, 1st October 2018 at 12.15 PM
Later this month Her Majesty The Queen will have the pleasure of receiving on a State Visit King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. Their visit is timed to mark 330 years following the arrival of the king’s ancestor, William of Orange, who reigned with Queen Mary II as King William III. I expect the King and Queen to come to the Abbey to lay a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior and to pray with me for peace. I do not expect them to bring an army.
Thirty years ago, on 7th July 1988, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, introduced in the House of Commons a motion that a humble address be presented to Her Majesty, having in mind the acceptance by Their Majesties King William and Queen Mary of the Declaration of Rights presented to them on 13th February 1689 and recalling also the Bill of Rights passed by the Parliament of England. The Prime Minister proposed that Parliament beg leave to express to Her Majesty "great pleasure in celebrating the tercentenary of these historic events of 1688 and 1689 that established those constitutional freedoms under the law" enjoyed in the intervening three hundred years.
The Leader of the Opposition, Neil Kinnock, responded approving the motion, mentioning the differing Whig and Tory opinions in the 17th century, and asserting that the alternative to the triumph of William of Orange would have been a second revolutionary civil war 50 years after the first with incalculable consequences. He quoted the former Master of Balliol, the Marxist historian Christopher Hill, whose academic work had always been on the 17th century, as saying of this Glorious Revolution that it "re-established effective parliamentary control over the executive, the rule of law and the political independence of judges, [and] restored traditional local government and greater freedom of the press."
Tony Benn later joined the debate, opposing the motion, and concluded his remarks saying, "I beg hon. Members not to make the House of Commons look a fool by endorsing this Humble Address … so that at least we do not have to tell children that democracy had nothing to do with the franchise; William of Orange had to justify the fact that he landed an army in Torbay and took over in order to repress the Catholics and the Irish."
In Westminster Hall on 20th July 1988, at formal celebrations of the tercentenary, The Queen said, "It is an irony of history that James II, by uniting the major political interests in opposition to him, unwittingly produced a balanced Government not of King nor of Parliament but of the Crown in Parliament.” She went on to say, “The Revolution Settlement put into practice the cardinal principles of the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament and the separation of powers, ushering in an epoch of freedom under the law in which, happily, we still live. Experience has taught that peoples can enjoy the full fruits of liberty, security and justice only when they are represented in a sovereign legislature whose laws are interpreted by an independent judiciary."
However we describe the events of 1688 and 1689, and whatever we think of other times of revolutionary change – in 1399 the murder of Richard II by his cousin, in 1485 the defeat in battle of Richard III, in 1649 the beheading of Charles I, in 1832 the Reform Act when the mob in Canterbury overturned the archbishop of Canterbury’s coach as reprisal for his and most of the bishops having voted against the Bill, and perhaps how narrowly we avoided revolution in the 19th century after the Peterloo massacre, and later as revolution swept Europe – nothing in this country has seen anything like the French or Russian revolutions. Our way has been evolution in stability.
Some no doubt do seriously consider whether revolution would have served our nation better, or still could; or even defeat in conflict, giving the nation a chance to reinvent ourselves, to arise from the ashes: a national death and resurrection as experienced in Germany.
Jesus Christ is indeed interpreted by some theologians as at least having talked up revolution. He seems to have attracted some revolutionaries to his cause, although Judas Iscariot saw him in the end as a traitor and betrayed him. But the change Jesus wanted was of hearts and minds, of the will. The justice of God he embodied was one of mercy, constantly merciful, straining every sinew to encourage and to find the good in people, offering his life to open a new way of peace and love for sinful human beings to the holiness and beauty of God. So, no priest can preach political revolution, unless the circumstances of the lives of the people he serves are blighted by official cruelty, random violence and illegality.
Not revolution then, but evolution within stability. Stability requires stabilisers. What are the stabilisers in our society? The Monarchy for sure; the Church, I trust, certainly as seen from the Abbey; Parliament and Whitehall, enduring great turmoil but toiling for the good; the Law: God bless our judges and those who work with them and God keep them true and righteous. Much depends on them.