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The Queen’s Jubilee

Category Articles
Date September 24, 2002


Fifty years is a long time, and much has happened since our Queen came to the throne. Indeed, the world that existed then has passed away.


[An address given at the Annual Assembly of the Church of England (Continuing) on 6th July 2002]

IN the hall of the University of Hull are inscribed some words by Winston Churchill delivered in a speech in the 1920s. I saw them often as I climbed the stairs and they have etched themselves in my memory. They read: "Religion is the rock upon which the British people have built their hopes and cast their cares." The fact that such words were chosen by the founders of this northern university speaks volumes. It represented the culture, the hopes, and faith of people generally at that time. Moreover they were true. Religion, the Christian religion, has been the rock of this nation. As we celebrate our Queen’s golden jubilee it is good to be reminded of that fact. And, indeed, the Queen herself drew attention to it in her Christmas broadcast, when she testified to the importance of Christian faith in her own life.

Changing times

However, we live now in times of momentous change, and the role of religion in our national life, and in the lives of people individually has changed profoundly in the fifty years since the Queen came to the throne. It is my intention in this address to look at the changes which have taken place during that time; to try to assess their significance, to consider where we stand today, and how we should address ourselves to the new situation.


Fifty years is a long time, and much has happened since our Queen came to the throne. Indeed, the world that existed then has passed away. The words of Kipling’s Recessional, written for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, are also true for us:

"Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!"

But it is not so much the departure of our pomp and circumstance that concerns us here. We could live, and live usefully and to some purpose, without all that. But there has been another decline, which strikes at the heart of our nation, and at our very existence, and it is that with which I must now deal.

New Elizabethan Age

At the time of our Queen’s accession to the throne, comparisons were drawn between the reign of the first Elizabeth and the new monarch. She was of the same age as that other queen who, four hundred years before, looked out upon as menacing a world as that of the 1950s and triumphed over it. The nation looked forward to what was termed at the time "a new Elizabethan age". The atomic bomb had recently been used in war, but there was a new spirit of hope which attended the coronation of the young queen.

The religious ethos of the nation was still strong. The Christian content of the Coronation service still struck a cord in the nation’s heart. The teaching of the church on marriage was sufficiently strong in the years immediately following the Coronation to lead Princess Margaret to bow to it in the matter of her relationship with Group Captain Peter Townsend. "It might have been possible," she said, "for me to contract a civil marriage. But mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble.. .I have resolved to put these considerations before others."

Alternative Society

The television and radio schedules of the time reflect this. The Christian religion featured prominently in the daily programmes. A strict control of blasphemy and bad language and other offensive things was maintained. But already there were in the 1950s voices heard heralding the alternative society. John Osbome’s play, Look Back in Anger was staged in London in 1956 and made into a film in 1958. It bred a new vogue of "angry young men" bent on overturning the structure and values of the society they had known.

All this was given a powerful impetus in the 1960s by the advent of "Rock ‘n Roll" which embodied the rebellion felt by the new generation towards the Christian morals of society. Popular music was no longer simply a medium of light relief, but a battering ram for moral and social change.

Change in the Church

These attacks, however, came from without the citadel, as it were. But with the advent of the obscenity trial of D. H. Lawrence’s book, Lady Chatterley’s Love,; insurrection arose from within, for a bishop of the established church, Dr. John Robinson, appeared for the defence. It was to be the precursor of an even greater revolution that was to be effected in the church in this country, for in 1965 Dr. Robinson’s little book, Honest to God, was published by the Student Christian Movement Press. In it Dr. Robinson argued that our traditional understanding of God was no more than an idol which had to go. God is not a supernatural being outside the world or the universe, but the "ground of our being". The whole argument of the book was a reductionist exercise. God was being accommodated to the natural world and effectively removed from the picture. Alistair Macintyre, the philosopher, said: "What is striking about Dr. Robinson’s book is first and foremost that he is an atheist." People wrote to Dr. Robinson to say that he had lifted a burden from their hearts, they no longer felt it necessary to believe in God.


Some have tried to argue that all this was not important, and that underneath everything remained the same. But this was not the case. In retrospect it clearly marked a watershed, a dividing of the ways. From that time the liberal consensus has predominated and pervaded, not only in the national church, but in the churches generally in this country.

We can see the fruit of this now quite unmistakably, when church services are interrupted to bring worshippers the latest football score, and giant screens are erected in churches for worshippers to view the World Cup. What does that signify, but the death of real religion? What does it reveal, but a great void spiritually at the heart of the institutional churches?

Ending of censorship

In the 1960s and ’70s bad language and obscenity began to make its presence felt on the stage and television. Mary Whitehouse led protests against it. She showed great courage and others identified with her, but the tide was running strongly the other way, and all protests were impatiently swept aside. The ending of stage censorship in 1968 allowed the musical Hair to be staged in London, which received tumultuous applause, and the Dean of St. Paul’s invited the cast to a special service in the Cathedral. Kenneth Tynan’s obscene review, 0 Calcutta! appeared in 1970. London became the swinging capital. Is it at all surprising that now a major political party is complacent about receiving financial support from a man who has made his fortune out of pornography?

Landmarks of decadence

Once begun, the downward rush of the Gadarene swine has been swift. Let me rehearse some of the most significant landmarks of our decay as a moral society over the last fifty years. in 1965 capital punishment was abolished. in 1967 the Abortion Act was passed. Since then the lives of 6,000,000 potential citizens of this country have been destroyed. It is a crime against humanity. Every pagan culture has sacrificed its children. This is a version of the same thing. We now find that we have an Ageing population, and we need millions of young people to support the economy. To supply that need we are turning to immigrants.

Also in 1967 the Sexual Offences Act legalising sodomy was passed, and in 1994 the Criminal and Public Order Act reduced the age for homosexual acts to eighteen. Strenuous attempts are being made to reduce it further. In 1969 the Divorce Reform Act was passed which made the irretrievable breakdown of marriage the ground of divorce, and in 1973 the Matrimonial Causes Act introduced "quickie divorces". Britain has the highest divorce rate in Europe. In 1977 the Obscene Publications Act made it difficult to control pornographers.

In 1993 the Sunday Trading Act set about dismantling the legislation protecting the Lord’s Day. It has become a day of godless pleasure-seeking. in 1994 the National Lottery was introduced which now funds many anti-Christian causes.

Lawless Society

These are just some of the acts of so-called liberating legislation that have over the past fifty years changed the character of our society. They have not been happy and glorious years, and despite all this so-called "progressive" legislation our society seems to be becoming increasingly insecure. The architects of this state of affairs take pride in calling it the "permissive society", but it is, in fact, the lawless and licentious society which they have created. A crime is committed in England and Wales every five seconds, we are now told, and the criminal justice system is creaking under the workload. The opposition say the government is to blame, but the truth is that successive governments have created this problem, by flying in the face of common sense, and flouting the laws of God. In the past fifty years a sea-change has taken place in Britain. The high-water marks of our culture were there for all to see, at the beginning of that time. A young airman writing to his mother in 1940 expressed himself in the following words: "Those who serve England must expect nothing from her. We debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep. . . I firmly and absolutely believe that evil things are sent into the world to try us. . . God knows what is good for us. The Bible is full of cases where the easy way out has been discarded for moral principles.

On the walls of the BBC in Langham Place are inscribed, in large letters, the principles that first inspired public service broadcasting: "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8). Where are they now?

Spiritual Deprivation

From these high principles and aspirations we have plunged into the abyss. The official culture of our country is now the culture of youth, whose icons are the pop-idols and their dissolute lives. The aspirations of a great many people today rise little higher than that of obtaining enough money to support a round of pleasure, escapism and sensual indulgence, and, of course, football. They have been systematically deprived of any higher understanding of life, by the indoctrination of science, falsely so-called, which has given them to understand that human life is the mere product of chance and evolution over millions of years, and is therefore meaningless in any absolute sense. We lament the fate suffered by children brought up in Victorian slums, who were deprived of food, and suffered malnutrition, cloaked in the smogs of London, and housed in hovels. But what kind of spiritual and cultural slum have we created in the nation today, which deprives young people of the knowledge that they are the children of a Heavenly Father, and were created by Him to be more than mere animals to be human beings made in the image of God, with immortal souls?

Or take another comparison. Wilfred Owen, the First World War poet, wrote an Anthem for Doomed Youth. He saw his contemporaries, young men in their teens and early twenties, going to the Western Front and dying like cattle. But what about an anthem for the doomed youth of today – doomed to a miserable, low and false understanding of themselves? Condemned to a trivial, empty, brutish existence by our modern atheistic culture. Mankind is sick and has lost faith in the meaning of human existence. Young people have been betrayed by the godlessness and unbelief of our society.

That is the state of things today. That is the low point at which we have arrived. And we can measure how far we have fallen when we compare it with words I quoted from a representative of a previous generation.

Jubilee celebrations

Now it must be abundantly clear that we do not hold the Queen responsible for this moral and spiritual landslide that has happened during her reign. On the contrary, she has given the nation a good example of family life and of Christian principles. The Royal Family have often been the unhappy victims of the moral changes in our society as other families have been. When you get such a sharp falling away from Christian standards the whole nation is affected by it, even those who seek to live by different and higher standards. "No man is an island."

However, those who have advised the Queen in what they consider are the best interests of the monarchy, have been mistaken in the advice they have given. it seems that particularly in the last few years, and especially at the time of the Jubilee, the advice has been to take in, and to be seen to identify with, those very elements that have had a conspicuous role in our moral decline and growing decadence as a nation. I am thinking particularly of the Jubilee celebrations when Buckingham Palace was thrown open to a vast pop concert. Those who organised it considered that it was a great success, but it was bought at a price. It has been described by one commentator; who is not an avowed enemy of that kind of thing, as "a gruesome, vulgar and demeaning occasion".

I will not go into the details as they have been described in the press and I think it would be offensive to you, my hearers. It seems that the Queen herself was perplexed, though she only attended for the last half hour of the concert. I cannot believe that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh enjoyed it, or even that Prince Charles really liked it. It was as, one journalist said, "an unbelievable tacky occasion". It was an attempt to recast the monarchy in a populist mould to make the Queen "the People’s Queen". The monarch sadly entered into this agreement out of weakness, not strength. It is a disturbing and ominous sign.

Inherent dangers

It will not surprise you to know that republicans have taken heart from all this. A monarchy, they say, which has to rely on bread and circuses will not last long. And secondly, the fact that pop-music and the cult of the 1960s had to be co-opted reveals a fundamental weakness, for it is associated with all the things that have undermined decent society
cohabitation, divorce, drugs, homosexuality. Yet here was the Royal Family associating with Eric Clapton, Sir Paul McCartney, Ozzie Osboume and "Queen". Popular acclaim is bought at a price and it can be too high a price. It is too high a price when the principles of a truly moral and ordered society are threatened and undermined. Those who advise the Queen and seek to stabilise the monarchy and secure its future on the basis of populism are making a great mistake. People are fickle. Popular acclaim and sentiment are like quicksand, always changing and shifting, and afford no firm or enduring basis or support. It is not wise to trust to it or to admit it on such a large scale, for it can very soon take over and assume ascendancy. In the fable of the Arab and the camel, the Arab was unwise enough to admit the camel by degrees into his tent, because the camel complained that it was cold outside. But when the camel was fully in, the Arab found it very uncomfortable and objected that there was not enough room for both of them. To which the camel replied: "Very well then, get out!"

Secret of true strength

A sure foundation for the monarchy and the nation must be sought elsewhere and not in mere populism. That foundation must be the Word of God. "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people." It is said that Queen Victoria was once asked what was the secret of Britain’s greatness. She replied: "The Bible
– our greatest possession." The secret of any strength we have had as a nation and of any good we might have done in the world has been attributable to this fact that at one time we were "the people of the book, and that book the Bible". If that is no longer true of us, then it is to our shame and we are all the losers, and the monarchy and the nation are fundamentally weakened.

It is a basic truth of human existence that if people are to be truly free and prosperous they must learn how to govern themselves from within rather from without. Disraeli once said: "The character of a people is ultimately more important than its laws or constitution." Only people who are free in their spirits make a free nation. Are we the slaves of possessions, appetites, instincts, and feelings? Then we are not a free people. And if we are not a free people in the true sense, then sooner or later we shall succumb. It is written large in history. Hedonistic, self-indulgent, voluptuous societies succumb to their enemies and go under. They have not the will and self-discipline to resist.

Who are the real slaves?

Samuel Smiles, the Victorian writer and moralist, has some salutary advice for our generation: "The greatest slave is not he who is ruled by a despot; great though that evil be, but he who is in thrall of his own moral ignorance, selfishness and vice. Nations who are thus enslaved at heart cannot be freed by any mere changes of masters or institutions; and so long as that fatal delusion prevails, that liberty solely depends upon and consists in government; so long will such changes, no matter at what cost they may be effected, have as little practical and lasting result as the shifting of the figures in a phantasmagoria."

All the trends of the last fifty years have been towards loosening the inward restraints of behaviour; giving free reign to impulses, appetites, and desires, "doing your own thing", and relying solely for order upon the external constraint of laws. As a consequence, the soul of the nation has become licentious and the outward constraints are seen to be giving way.

Let me give an illustration. The other morning on the radio it was said that McDonald’s are playing classical music in their restaurants in order to try to calm people down and make them less unruly. Well it is true that "music can charm the savage breast". Music can have a good or a bad influence upon people. But it is the same principle that is operating here; people are being treated more like automata than real human beings – automata which have to be controlled by external influences, by throwing a switch. The element of personal responsibility for behaviour is being set aside and consequently people are degraded.

Our society has now adopted this understanding of the problem. It habitually approaches the matter in this way from the wrong direction. The permissive society has taught people to think in terms of the immediate gratification of desires and appetites. It has made them slaves, not free. Probably one of the things that has most contributed to his state of affairs in which we find ourselves today is the fact that we are suffocated with government. The advent of the Welfare State has done material good to our society, but with it has come dependence. It has bred a supine, indolent, thoughtless attitude to life. The government now must provide and undertake everything. It must initiate, control and order the whole of life, which has led to a loss of responsibility for the life and actions of the individual.

Sure foundation

It is clear as we look back upon the last fifty years, and look forward to the future, that the only firm and sure foundation upon which we can build is the teaching of the Bible. Philosophies have been tried and found wanting and if we reject the Bible we shall simply repeat the mistakes of the past.

The truth is that the Scriptures have a central place in the life of our nation – in the crowning of the monarch. If that is not to be merely an empty charade, which brings upon us the wrath of God, we must resolve to make it a reality.

The story of how the Bible found its place and position of significance at the heart of the Coronation service is said by Bishop Bale to date back to the time of the boy king Edward Vl. As the King entered Westminster Abbey he observed the three swords of his three kingdoms and said, "There is one sword yet wanting". He was asked what that was, and answered, "The sword of the Spirit; which is the Word of God ". The king, who had been taught by the great Reformer, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, declared: "That Book is the Sword of the Spirit and to be preferred before these swords. Without that sword we are nothing, we can do nothing, we have no power." How true that is. We lack power to reform the nation, and to live as we ought, because the Word of God is not truly at the centre of our lives and the life of our nation. It is there in the Coronation, but not really believed and taught, not truly operative in the life of the nation. That perhaps is worse than not having it there at all, for the Lord says: "Them that honour me, I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30).

Source of spiritual power

If the Word of God were truly to occupy the place in our lives and in the life of the nation that we acknowledge in the Coronation service it should have, then the life of the nation would be transformed. That may seem to those who have little understanding of spiritual power, an astonishing claim to make, but it is true, and perfectly reasonable. When you go to board an airliner and stand beside it on the runway it must seem incredible that that great machine fully loaded can take to the air at all. It seems so vast and heavy that it could not possibly leave the ground. Yet we do not reckon with the power of the engines and the dynamics of flight, if we think like that. We are ignorant of the possibilities. The Word of God, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the power of God. It represents enormous spiritual power, which when it operates in the lives of people and societies, is capable of lifting them up, saving them from sin, transforming their lives and making them the children of God. It lifts people individually and as a society on to a different and higher plane.

Some time ago I read the well-known story of the mutiny on the Bounty. I suppose you are familiar with it, but it has an astonishing sequel, which is perhaps less well known. The mutineers made their way to the uninhabited island of Pitcairn. Their hopes of an idyllic life there were not fulfilled. Jealousies, fuelled by alcohol, led to mayhem and murder. Soon there was only one of the original crew left with several Tahitian woman and their children. That man, John Adams, was converted in a remarkable way. He visited the wreck and rescued the ship’s Bible. Having brought it ashore, he began to read it. His life was changed and in time the life of the island was transformed. He began to instruct the women and the children in the teachings of the Bible; they met for regular worship; and peace and order were restored. When, some fifteen years later, a British warship called at the island, they found an exemplary Christian community. Such is the power of God’s Word for "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people".

New beginning

What happened in that small community can happen elsewhere, in fact, wherever people will submit themselves to the Word of God and accept its authority and teaching. A new beginning is called for in our nation. What better time to seek such a reformation than now when we look back upon the past fifty years and see how far we have fallen short of the great commitments entered into on behalf of us all at the Coronation in 1953. At least we can see clearly what is our duty as a people. Either the solemn commitment made at the Coronation service is a binding obligation and duty upon our Queen and the nation, or it is an empty charade. If by our disobedience and disregard of it we make it the latter, God will most certainly judge us. Of that we can see the signs already. But if we repent and turn to Him and seek to honour Him and His Word, then we shall enjoy His blessing. We stand at the cross-roads at a great juncture of our history. I believe the next few years will be decisive for us as a people.

The Gospel Magazine September-October 2002: with permission

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