The Laws of Eternal Life
Being studies in the Church Catechism.

By Stewart D. Headlam. London, William Reeves, [1897]


My duty -- that which I acknowledge to be due -- what I owe -- what I ought to do, this is what each baptized person learns from the Commandments of the Emancipator. It may interest Atheistic Secularists and leisurely Agnostics also to consider what is the Christian standard of duty, for so far as their public utterances go they seem to be in grievous ignorance about it. And first what I owe to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. "My duty towards God is to believe in Him, to fear Him and to love Him." For it is not the unknown God of the Parliamentary oath, but the Christian God who is here spoken of: God, Who after gradually and dramatically revealing Himself to the Hebrew people, has perfectly revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and is now reigning in His Church, and inspiring all good everywhere; God who is the source of beauty, love, and fellowship. When we remember this, we shall understand how it is that the Church teaches every child that it is his duty to believe in God. Of course to those, who, owing to the monstrous notions about God engrained into them, have argued themselves into "Atheism," these words must seem meaningless: but if they would understand what we Christians mean by them, let them see how a child believes in a father, or a friend in a friend, and then let them make an independent study of the life and character of Jesus Christ, and see whether their whole nature is not drawn out to Him, whether they can help believing in Him. Let them further remember that according to His own word, loyalty to Him is ipso facto loyalty to the Father -- that we see God in the face of Jesus.

"To fear Him:" that is to have awe and reverence for Him: not of course to cringe before Him or to be afraid of Him, but to feel strongly in His Presence what you feel partially in the presence of the best man or woman you know. Not to think that we can comprehend Him, but to know that He comprehends us; that His love wraps us round. Not to be "Titanic," not to think that we can with impunity disobey any of His laws, but to know that in His service alone is perfect freedom, that it is by being governed by Him that we shall be lifted up for ever. This awe, this reverence seems to us one of the most important qualities to be cultivated now-a-days, to save us from the impudence of scientists and from the fear of man, which now as heretofore bringeth a snare.

"To love Him:" "we must needs love the highest when we see it." It is natural, human to love what is beautiful, and so love and duty, too often in antagonism, are here at one. God has dwelt among us full of beauty, and it is our duty to love Him because it is our duty to keep under all that is mean, to be at one with all that is noble. He answers to our wants; we are incomplete without Him.

And this faith, fear and love, are to be exercised "with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, with all my strength:" the affections, the intellect, the religious nature, the bodily nature, are all entirely sacred and due to God. "Set your affection on things above," said St. Paul; the command is not that we are to love God most and men and women a little; but it is all your heart which is due to God: and therefore unless, as we know to be the case, the human affections are part of the "things above," and the heart given wholly to God is therefor given wholly to man, human affection is unchristian. The Church Catechism allows no half measures, boldly assumes that the manhood has been taken into God, that everything which is secular and human is sacred and divine. The intellect included: so far from allowing any contradiction between faith and freethought, the Church calls upon her members to use their reason, their wit, their mental powers to the very fullest degree possible. So also with their spiritual and bodily powers -- all their soul and all their strength, their flesh and their spirit -- let both be strong and "lust one against the other," so that, fortunately for us, we cannot do the things which we would, but are led rather to do our duty towards God.

"To worship Him, to give Him thanks:" we are after all but half developed stunted men, if we do not give full play to our faculties for worship. The practical life is good, but no human being is complete unless he is also contemplative; we must adore in order that we may work and fight. This is the main object of our Churches and our Christian festivals. Our worship is thanksgiving -- Eucharistic adoration -- it is not like that given to Woden or Thor. We Englishmen have been gospelled (though from the way in which preachers talk, one can hardly believe it) and we worship, not to bribe an angry God, but to give thanks to a loving one; not to wring something out of Him, but to give something to Him. Our worship, our adoration must be Eucharistic; all joy, mirth, beauty, are sanctified by it.

"To put my whole trust in Him," that is to say, to be completely and utterly loyal to Him. No argument from design, or Great First Cause, or Architect of the Universe could possibly avail for this: it is Jesus Christ alone Who is thus capable of drawing out the human trust.

"To call upon Him:" there are many hypocrites who neglect this duty, who in secret worship God and trust Him, but who, led away by the cant about "not making a profession," pretend to be much less religious than they rally are. The Church teaches them not that they may if they are good enough call upon God, but that they must, that it is their duty to do so.

"To honour His Holy name and His word," that is to say, to have reverence for His character, and for every expression which He gives of Himself. Not to libel Him, or to sully His fair name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as men do when they attribute to Him any characteristics which are contradictory to love, grace, and fellowship. Not to say that we cannot know Him, but to remember that He has spoken and is constantly speaking to men, in every conscience and in all history, as well as by the Hebrew poets and prophets, and that in Jesus the Word has been made flesh and dwelt among us full of beauty and truth.

"And to serve Him truly all the days of my life." This, notice, is the Church's explanation of the Fourth Commandment. It is not only on Sundays -- or rather Saturdays -- that we are to serve God, but on all days: not only in worship, but in work: not only in prayer, but in politics: not only in church, but in the theatre. And this is taught as part of our duty towards God; we are doing a wrong to Him as well as to Humanity -- depriving Him of His rights, if we draw lines between what is secular and sacred. It is the whole of our nature, and not only our religious nature, which is His: every human faculty is sanctified by the Incarnation.

This then is the Christian ideal of duty towards God: in proportion as we act up to it, Atheism must disappear.


We will take it for granted that all our readers are at one with the opening sentences of the Second Duty. We will merely notice that if we attempt to carry them out we are led into the very midst of Christian Socialism; that they are the absolute contrary to the teaching of "every man for himself, and the devil take the hindermost."

But the general statement that it is "my duty towards my neighbor to love him as myself and to do unto all men as I would they should do unto me," is immediately followed by a more particular one: "To love, honour, and succour my father and mother:" an awful command too for those many religious societies and those various philanthropists who feel it their duty to "institutionize" the poor, and to establish Homes which are no home. Anything in parents, or in children, or in the anarchy of the nation, which makes it impossible for children to love, respect, and be in a hurry to help their parents is here borne witness against.

"To honour and obey the Queen and all that are in authority under her:" the national life here again is shewn to be dependent on the family life. For of course it is the Queen as the constitutional Head and Representative of the unity of the English people, and not as a mere arbitrary power, who is here referred to. It is the sacredness of the State -- of Civil Government as such -- which is here asserted by the Church. History and politics, in the light of this duty, can never be called merely secular: any class or section of the people, who do not take their place in the national life, are not modestly refraining from claiming rights, but ignorantly, and in a cowardly fashion, shirking duties.

"To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters." If we would be lifted up, we must consent to be governed; "uncharted freedom tires," and sooner or later we all "feel the weight of chance desires:" hence we owe it to our neighbor, in order that we may put forth our full force for the common good, that we put ourselves under good guides. It is not that we are to take for granted all they say, or obey implicitly all they command, but it is that we are to be submissive, humble, teachable; so only can we receive God's Holy Spirit. And this, let it be remembered, is an absolute condition of every kind of learning or working: the hard, callous, sceptical, self-sufficient person quite "cock-sure," will come to grief just as badly in learning Science as in Theology, in Politics as in Religion. Neither is it well to think that the clergy or religious ministers are our only spiritual pastors. We are having our spirits shepherded, our inner life guided, our conscience caught, by the press, by every book we read, by every play we see, by the man or woman we love, as well as by the clergy.

"To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters." Reverence is always, but more especially now, even of more importance than knowledge. But the reverence which the Church enjoins is not that snobbery and flunkeyism which exalts a man because he is rich or of "high rank;" it is simply moral worth which we are taught to order ourselves lowly and reverently towards; to those who are better, not to those who are richer, than we are. And this "duty" let be it here and throughout remembered, is taught to all sorts and conditions of men and women. Christian equality by no means brings all to one level, but it would alter the present levels not a little.

"To hurt nobody by word or deed;" the duty is national and international, as well as individual and domestic. Moreover the hurting may be done secretly and legally and ignorantly, as well as openly and consciously; by thoughtless ladies, as well as by the whip of the slave driver, by pious manufacturers, who, when they grow rich, build chapels, as well as by publicans and others whom the religious world denounces.

scales"To be true and just in all my dealing:" to be sincere and fair, for instance, about the conditions under which our coat or dress was made; to face the question whether we are giving back a fair share of what we produce in return for what we consume: and if we find that, under our modern competitive system, we are, many of us, indeed most of us, thieves and murderers, to say so, and never rest until we find a remedy.

"To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart:" not, be it noticed, to like everybody equally, or to be deficient in divine anger, but not to carry about with us spite or cherish revengeful feelings. To remember that even Dives had the germs of brotherhood in him, which when he was stripped of his purple and fine linen began to grow.

"To keep my hands from picking and stealing:" -- yes, the apples from the orchard, but also the land from the people, the common from the goose as much as the goose from the common. Would to God we could have a debtor and creditor account drawn up of what the poor have stolen from the rich, and the rich from the poor. Meanwhile let th robbed remember that revenge is but a kind of wild justice, and that if they, in their poverty will remain true, and not sink into callous contented indifference, He to whom vengeance belongeth will shew Himself, and the God of armies Himself fight for the defrauded labourer.

"And my tongue from evil-speaking, lying and slandering." Foul talk which implies an ignorance of the value of words; lies which help to make the brotherhood impossible; and misrepresentations, whether of individuals or of classes, to which all are prone, or of the teachings of dead men, such as abound in the religious world and in the woodcuts of the Freethinker, or worst of all misrepresentations of the God of beauty, love and fellowship Himself, who is slandered by too many who use His name.

"To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity." Note that the Church teaches this as part of our duty to our neighbor. Adultery, Prostitution, Drunkenness, Dirt, Greed, and so forth, damage society: and self love will not be a sufficient motive power to prevent them. . .

"Not to covet or desire other men's goods, but to learn and labour truly to get mine own living." The "but" is very important; the alternative is between earning our own living, and falling into that sin of covetousness, which both in the Bible and by the Church is denounced as the very worst of sins. It cannot be too emphatically enforced upon all Christians, that when they are not getting their own living they are living on the goods of their fellows: that all the unproductive rich are living upon the blood, bone, brain, and sinew of the poor. While therefore the Catechism makes plain that all the workers, simply because they are workers, are doing their duty to their neighbors and are blessed, it makes it quite as plain that all the idlers, women as well as men, simply because they are idlers, because they are producing nothing, or nothing adequate, in return for what they consume, are not doing their duty and are cursed. It may, however, be necessary here to remark, such is the self-conceit of some men, that a woman who is a true wife or mother, or who manages a house, is indeed a worker, and that a large number of the working girls and women in England do about double their share of work, working at home as well as outside. This overwork of theirs should press heavily on the consciences of tghose ladies of leisure who neither cook, sew, nor scrub at home, nor earn their living elsewhere or otherwise.

"And to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me." Not unto which it has pleased God to call me, as if placid contentment with things as they are were the Christian's duty; not "into which the devilish anarchy and competitive tyranny of the times has crushed me." No! the God Who calls us to our duty has made it plain what conditions of life are hateful to Him, and what are pleasing. It is not of the Lord of Hosts that the people should labour in the very fire, and weary themselves for vanity. Into a far different state of life than that into which they have been crushed, or in which they have been born, is God now calling His English people. Perhaps the future of England depends on how far some few of rich and poor, robbers and robbed, will hear His voice and obey it. Shall the revolution be Christian or devilish?


Anyone who has learnt how far-reaching and penetrating the "Two Duties" are, will welcome the fatherly words which follow them: My good child, know this, that thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve Him, without His special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer." It is only the fact that there is a gracious, beautiful Power at work upon us, lifting us up out of ourselves -- One whose business it is to have mercy; who if our hearts condemn us is greater than our hearts' one in whom we can trust, with whom we can communicate -- that enables us to face Duty. And therefore, admonished by sacred precepts, and following the divine institution, we are bold to say "Our Father:" therefore we pray not in order to wring this or that our of a Supreme Being, not to get a harsh Being on to our side, but because by means of prayer we hold communion with a gracious Father.

"Our Father which art in heaven:" not "my God who art in the sky." The brotherhood of men, the fatherhood of God, the fact that to define heaven would be blasphemy, for that where our Father is, there heaven is: this, and all that this implies, is what has to sink into our life, and grow up with our growth as we say this Prayer.

"Hallowed be Thy Name:" make me, make all mankind, above all make the Church, treat Thy character as`perfectly holy, let us not dare to attribute to Thee qualities which would be monstrous even in one of us Thy children.

"Thy Kingdom come:" let the righteous Socialistic order, which Thou revealest as the true human order, spread throughout the world. Let the Devil's selfish competitive anarchy, and all who support it, be brought to utter confusion: let none of Thy children sink so deep into the abyss of selfishness as to invert Thy prayer, and say, "let me go to Heaven when I die," but rather --

"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven:" Thy will which Thou hast revealed to be that all men should be saved, that disease and premature death should be abolished, that men and women should live happy, orderly lives on a beautiful earth.

"Give us this day our daily bread:" us not me. If I am getting my daily bread at the cost or at the risk of depriving others of theirs, I pray Thee, oh Father, take it from me. If I have bread enough for many days, and others have not bread enough for to-day, I pray Thee to take it from me and give it to them. I pray for a distribution of wealth according to Thy just and Fatherly laws.

"And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us." Take away, not the punishment -- let that work its appointed purification -- but the sin: make me to know that Thou bearest no malice nor hatred against me in Thy heart, because I sin against Thee: that the whole world, though it lie prone in the wickedness of narrow religion and selfish life, is not hated but loved by Thee, and that so as Thou forgivest we can forgive: forgive us as Hosea forgave his three times adulterous wife -- aye, and to seventy times seven.

"And lead us not into temptation." Oh Father, Thou hast made us so that we are influenced by circumstances; heredity and environment make it often hard for us to do right. We pray thee guide the hearts, nerve the will, and if need be strengthen the arms of Thy faithful servants, in order that none may any more be born and brought up damned, damned by a fatal heredity, damned by an evil environment.

"But deliver us from evil." Of old Thou wast wont to reveal Thyself as the national Deliverer. In Thy Son Jesus Christ, Thou art the Saviour, the Emancipator of mankind: Thou foundedst Thy Church to be militant against evil: and when Thy Church is false, then Thou makest the pestilence or the sword to work Thy will. Raise up Thy power we pray Thee, and deliver us now as of old.


"When ye pray say "Our Father," was the teaching of Jesus Christ: and in our Catechism it is over and over again impressed upon the learner that we have not to do with a mere God Almighty, one whose will is law, a despot even if a benevolent despot, but as brothers one of another with a Father: "I desire my Lord God our Heavenly Father."

"Who is the giver of all goodness." The young Churchman has no encouragement given to him to be narrow or exclusive. Having been taught that all mankind has been redeemed by Christ, he is here taught that all goodness comes from our Father. He may not speak of any goodness as being merely natural: Heretic, Heathen, Atheist, whoever he may be, who in any way does any little good, the Churchman knows, and is bound to bear witness to, the Source of that good.

"To send His grace unto me and to all people." Grace, God's grace, that is what we want for ourselves and for everyone. Not until we realize, and all men realize, how beautiful God is, not until we are attracted by His character rather than terrified by His law, shall we get what we desire, shall we be able to "worship Him, serve Him, and obey Him as we ought to do." It is but little use, the Catechism seems to teach, telling people they must worship, serve, and obey. Get them to see how beautiful, how gracious their Lord and Master, the object of their worship is, and then they will be unable to resist Him.

"And I pray unto God that He will send us all things that be needful, both for our souls and bodies." Material and spiritual wealth, not for a few, but for all, is what we pray for. If through anything we do, or neglect to do, any grow up with imaginations dull or foul, with faculties undeveloped, with bodies weak or stunted, then the Lord's Prayer becomes blasphemy on our lips; everything which tends to make men and women strong in thought and action -- "to think clear, feel deep, bear fruit well" -- is helping to fulfill this prayer. For our bodies at any rate it is certain what we want: God's ministers, the men of science, have taught us: -- "fresh air, food and drink, warmth, light, cleanliness, exercise, rest." Our prayer pledges us to work till all have these at least.

"And that He will be merciful unto us and forgive us our sins." It is God's business, His property, His metier, to have mercy and to forgive: it is not that in some exceptional cases He will let off men the punishment due to their sins; but rather that, while punishment is always sooner or later inevitable, it is not the punishment but the mercy which takes away sin; it is according to the multitude of His mercies that God does away our offences, forgiveness being stronger than resentment.

"And that it will please Him to save and defend us in all dangers, ghostly and bodily." This is the salvation we pray for: we do not ask to be saved, by some magic of applied substitution, from the punishment of our sins after death, but rather that our body and our character may be kept healthy and strong, notwithstanding any noxious influences which may be brought to bear upon them: cleanliness and morality, drainage and true religion are here brought into close connection.

"That He will keep us from all sin and wickedness." We shall miss the mark at which we are aiming, we shall wander beyond the limits which experience and conscience and the will of God as revealed in Jesus Christ show to be necessary for a true human life, unless we allow God's Fatherly hand to guide us, to hold us, to curb and retrain us. It is not that God wants to deprive His children of joy, but that if they will let Him He will keep them from those acts and habits which would stunt their life and kill their joy. The Catechism recognizes that we are so constituted, that it is only by being righteous that we can enjoy life to the full, that it is in accordance with the law of our being, in harmony with our true nature, to be good, that the notion that vice is pleasant and virtue painful, is one of the devil's worst lies. And so we pray not only to be kept from sin and wickedness, but also from our "ghostly enemy:" we are forced to acknowledge that there is an evil influence, outside ourselves, deceiving us, from which we can and must be kept.

"And from everlasting death." It is most important to notice, when we compare the Church Catechism with the teaching of the Sects, what it does not teach, as well as what it does teach. Speaking generally there are none of those terrible dogmas about the infallibility of the Bible, or Substitution, or torture after death, which have become part of the popular religion and the main causes of popular infidelity; it would be well indeed if the Clergy would stick to their Catechism, or at any rate strive to make their teaching follow its lines. But while it is important to notice that there is nothing in the Catechism to teach that a man, if he dies unconverted or impenitent, will be kept by God in torments forever, it is equally important to notice that the Catechism teaches that the wages of sin is always death. Experience will have taught many who read these words that this is true" happy those who also have been taught by experience that the gift of God is eternal life.

"And this I trust He will do of His mercy and goodness thorough Jesus Christ our Lord." It is in Jesus that God's mercy and goodness are revealed: and to any sceptic now to whom the words "Our Father which art in Heaven" seem beautiful perhaps but meaningless, to any who in word or aspiration say "Show us the Father and it sufficeth us," we answer in Jesus Christ's own words, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." Let your heart's desire go out to Jesus, and you are, whether you know it or not, holding communion with the Father. And therefore you too can say Amen, so be it.

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