Cathedrals were designed to invoke a sense of awe and wonder. Cathedrals are intended to move within the worshiper, an internal sense of smallness in contrast to the grandeur of God. Surely, in your travels, some of you have experienced just this.
In 1880, JC Ryle became the first Bishop of Liverpool in England. As a new bishop, Ryle agitated for the building of a cathedral, due to the pro-cathedral being an “ugly building” that did not reflect the majesty of a bishopric or capture the glory of God. The Parish Church of St. Peter, the pro-cathedral, would eventually be demolished and the Cathedral Church of the Risen Christ would be erected in all it’s Gothic Revival glory. The new cathedral's construction would not begin until 1901 (the year after Ryle’s death), but Ryle desired that the majesty and glory of God would be reflected in the cathedral, built following his appointment as the first Bishop of Liverpool. As Ryle was installed into his bishopric, he would have opportunity to speak to the gathered ministers of his diocese, warning them of the dangers they faced approaching the twentieth century. He said,
Of course, we are all apt to exaggerate the importance of our own times. But I venture to think that the present position of the Church... is more critical and perilous than it has been at any period during the last two centuries. On every side the horizon is dark and lowering. There seems to be breakers ahead and breakers astern, dangers on the right hand and dangers on left, dangers from within and dangers from without. Whether the good old ship will weather the storm remains to be seen. (No Uncertain Sound, 19.)
In the speech, Ryle advocated for the glory of God being elevated as the cathedral was built; glory demonstrated in rock, wood, and glass. The building needed to capture God's glory. He spoke positively about the diocese being able to raise the money for the grand building, which would become one of the largest religious buildings in the entire world. While agitating for glory in the cathedral, he warned of the dangers of the time.
The western windows of the cathedral tower were stained glass of lapis lazuli, capturing the light, capturing a sense of awe, and capturing majesty. Ryle wanted that. Despite glory, there were dangers that needed to be spoken against. Ryle then spoke concerning four dangers he saw as the most pressing of dangers for his time:
- Changes in the Lord’s Supper—elevating the sacrament over the preaching of the Word.
- The “Romanizing” of the Church of England.
- Diminishing use of and belief in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the doctrinal standards of the English church.
- The movement to disestablish the church from the state and the rise of volunteerism.
In all of these propounded dangers, and with the desire to see the glory of God captured in the building of the cathedral, Ryle never imagined that the biggest danger was in believers themselves losing a sense of the glory of God. Majesty and honor and reverence would be lost—or greatly diminished—in the 20th century church. The glory has departed.
We have lost something of the glory of God.
Below the lapis lazuli stained glass windows in the cathedral, in 2008, were installed the following words in bright pink neon:
"I felt you and I know you loved me.”
I felt you and I know you love me is not the glory statement expected in a cathedral attempting to capture something of the awe sought in Liverpool Cathedral.
Glory and majesty is not captured in the medium of pink neon letters.
I felt you...
...and I know you loved me.
Glory and majesty is not captured in a font reminiscent of “Dirty Dancing” or the disco.
I felt you...
...and I know you loved me.
Glory and majesty is not captured in looking into the holiness of God the creator and exegeting “feels” and “love.” Feeling God in all his glory and majesty is not intended to drive one to know the love of God—that’s what Christ does.
Feeling God in all his glory and majesty ought to cause one to fall to one's knees in humility before the LORD.
I felt you and I know you love me?
I felt you and I know to fear you.
John Bunyan, writing a couple of centuries before Ryle would say: "But what a shame is this to man, that God should subject all his creatures to him, and he should refuse to stoop his heart to God? The beast, the bird, the fish, and all, have a fear and dread of man, yea, God has put it in their hearts to fear man, and yet man is void of fear and dread...Sinner, art thou not ashamed, that a silly cow, a sheep, yea, a swine, should better observe the law of his creation, than thou dost the law of thy God?(John Bunyan, Treatise on the Fear of God, 1:478.)
I felt you and I know to fear you--may that fear drive you, and drive the church, to Jesus Christ.
Ryle saw dangers in the church that would prove to be battles needing to be fought—but losing the glory of God and the fear of the Lord was not among the warnings he put before his church. Do we see the danger in our day? The beasts--the cow, the bird, the fish--can teach us.
Feel and fear.