Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex
22nd May 2018
Your Royal Highnesses
As a Christian minister, I am writing to you first, to congratulate you on your wedding and to assure you of the prayers of our church. It is our great desire that God should bless you through your marriage and preserve you and your family for many years to come.
And second, to do all that is in my power to bring to your attention the central blessing that God wants to give you: namely, his love, and the power to love, in his Son Jesus Christ.
This is made more difficult by the sermon you heard at your wedding. Its wonderful delivery was entirely worthy of your responsive ‘wow’. Many ordinary and unremarkable preachers like me are this week in awe of Michael Curry’s ability to engage and communicate with passion and power.
And yet, the content of the sermon was sadly unworthy of an occasion as great as your Highnesses’ wedding; moreover, unworthy of a Christian sermon. To urge you to love one another is something that every wedding guest is surely delighted to do, but a Christian minister is charged by God with a higher, nobler, and weightier duty than that. For he is charged with the proclamation of Jesus’ salvation. As the Nicene Creed says:
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven…
And it is here that Rev. Curry’s sermon failed. For he told you that the power to save lies in our hands. His message was an urge to harness the power of love; for love, he said, like fire, has a power to redeem and save. And he told you that if you, if we all, love like that, then ‘that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.’
He presented this message as if it were the Christian gospel. He even invoked Jesus’ self-sacrificial love on the cross as an example of this power of love. But in doing so he presented it to you as if this power to harness love – the power to bring in a new world – is a power we possess.
‘… we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.’
When we discover love, you were told, we will make of this old world a new world. That is the message that was preached to you at your wedding.
And yet this is not Christianity. It would more accurately be described as its exact opposite.
For the Christian gospel is that God, in his love, sent his Son to save us from human love. Yes, that’s right: from human love. For while we are made to love God and our neighbour, as Jesus said, our capacity to love has been horribly twisted by sin. And so our love – our warped, untamed, and ugly love for all sorts of wrong things – is exactly our problem. Jesus was clear and insistent on this: it is out of the human heart that all evil things flow (Mark 7:2-23). Human love is not our salvation. It is the, rather, the thing from which we desperately need to be saved.
Both of you know from your own experience the destructive power of human love. For the sake of what they love people abandon wives and husbands, destroy their families, steal from the poor, abuse women, tear children from the arms of their mothers, abandon their parents, betray their countries. And even when we love rightly we love so poorly that we hurt most sorely those closest to us and damage most deeply those we should care for most passionately. As Jesus said, he brought light into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19). Human love is not our salvation; for it is the heart of our problem.
And so, Rev. Curry should have warned you, it will be in your marriage. To resolve to follow love will not place your marriage on a firm foundation; rather, it will quite possibly destroy it. But the wonderful news of Christianity is that God in Christ has done, and promises he will do in us, what we absolutely cannot do ourselves.
God, in his pure and holy love, so utterly, fundamentally different to our weak, miserable and twisted human love, sent his Son to redeem us. This is how the Apostle Paul puts it:
…our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:13–14 ESV)
‘Redeem’ means to buy out of slavery. That is what Jesus did for us. Our slave-master was, and without Jesus Christ it still is, our natural human love. Like a slave-master it drives and compels us to do things which lead to our own destruction. And God’s love in Jesus came to save us from that. To set us free. Not just to show us a pattern of love for us to copy, as Rev Curry implied the point of Jesus’ death to be, but through that act of infinite, pure, holy love on the cross to set free from our human loves, to forgive all the terrible things they have driven us to do, and to transform sorry and sinful human love into an image and a reflection, even if only for now a pale one, of God’s love for us. We cannot do that for ourselves. Only Jesus Christ can do it for us.
Rev. Curry held out to you the hope that if you love with all your own strength that love will have a power to transform your lives and the lives of those around you. That is, I am sorry to say, a lie. You have no such power, and nor does any other human being on planet earth. The Christian gospel is richer, stronger, infinitely more potent, and infinitely more challenging than that. It is this: You do not have that power, but Jesus Christ does. You cannot make a new world, but Jesus Christ is doing so. You cannot transform either those around you or even yourselves, but Jesus Christ can. More than that, if you will turn from trusting in your own power to love, turn from loving the things that you naturally love, grieve over your misdirected loves and trust in his unique, life-giving, life-transforming love, then he most certainly will.
Jesus does indeed have a balm that can make your marriage a vast blessing to you and to those around you. That balm is indeed his death on the cross. God raised him to new life so that he could share it with all who will bow the knee before him and take his name on their lips. But we must either receive it from him, or not receive it at all. That is why Jesus’ message was not a vague exhortation to love, but a command to repent and believe: repent of our proud confidence in our own powers of goodness, and believe in his unique power to forgive, to save, and to transform.
In short, my prayer is that you will not seek redemption in the power of your own love. There is none there to be had. But rather that you will seek redemption from your own powers of love by the one who loved us with all the power and purity and holiness of the Triune God himself, Jesus Christ, the only Lord and Saviour.
Yours in the name of Jesus
Rev. Dr. Matthew Roberts
Minister, Trinity Church York
Moderator of Synod, International Presbyterian Church