Matthew Arnold could not be described as an orthodox Christian, or even, possibly, a Christian at all – but he was a significant commentator on religion and belief, as was many a great Victorian bloke. Arnold (1822-88) is probably better remembered now as a poet, famously as the author of Dover Beach, with its haunting lines
The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar . . .
Why am I thinking of Matthew Arnold? Because on Sunday evening we had as our second reading one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament, Philippians 4.4-7:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In his preface to a rather polemical piece called ‘ST. PAUL AND PROTESTANTISM WITH AN ESSAY ON PURITANISM AND THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND’ Matthew Arnold translates the rather awkward Greek word in verse 5 rendered as 'gentleness' as 'sweet reasonableness'. I just love that. Sweet reasonableness. Arnold writes
This mildness and sweet reasonableness it was, which, stamped with the individual charm they had in Jesus Christ, came to the world as something new, won its heart and conquered it. Every one had been asserting his ordinary self and was miserable; to forbear to assert one's ordinary self, to place one's happiness in mildness and sweet reasonableness, was a revelation.
In our politics - both national and international - and in so much else in the discourse of church and world, I note a lot of people whose sole way of being seems to be the assertion of self. Would it not be refreshing to find some difference in the tenor and tone of what we read and hear? Would it not be good for our leaders to learn moderation, to recognize it is a gift, and to nurture it in their souls?
And would it not be even better to start with ourselves? To learn moderation, to recognize it is a gift, and to nurture it in our souls? Others might recognize it too, and learn from it. And a miracle might be wrought - the peace of God, which passes all understanding, would keep not only our hearts and minds, but the hearts and minds of all those in authority. A world of sweet reasonableness.
What a world that would be.