MARGARET THATCHER AND THE ASSEMBLY HALL
OF THE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND, THE MOUND, EDINBURGH
Sermon on the Mound
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Margaret Thatcher's Sermon on the
It follows the full text transcript of
Margaret Thatcher's Sermon on the Mound, delivered at
the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, The Mound,
Edinburgh, United Kingdom - May 21, 1988.
I am greatly
honored to have been invited to attend the
opening of this 1988 General Assembly of the
Church of Scotland; and I am deeply grateful
that you have now asked me to address you.
I am very much
aware of the historical continuity extending
over four centuries, during which the position
of the Church of Scotland has been recognized in
constitutional law and confirmed by successive
Sovereigns. It sprang from the independence of
mind and rigor of thought that have always been
such powerful characteristics of the Scottish
people, as I have occasion to know. It has
remained close to its roots and has inspired a
commitment to service from all people.
I am therefore very sensible of the important
influence which the Church of Scotland exercises
in the life of the whole nation, both at the
spiritual level and through the extensive caring
services which are provided by your Church's
department of social responsibility. And I am
conscious also of the value of the continuing
links which the Church of Scotland maintains
with other Churches.
Perhaps it would be best, Moderator, if I began
by speaking personally as a Christian, as well
as a politician, about the way I see things.
Reading recently, I came across the starkly
about spiritual redemption, not social reform".
debate on these matters has become too polarized
and given the impression that the two are quite
separate. But most Christians would regard it as
their personal Christian duty to help their
fellow men and women. They would regard the
lives of children as a precious trust. These
duties come not from any secular legislation
passed by Parliament, but from being a
But there are a number of people who are not
Christians who would also accept those
responsibilities. What then are the distinctive
marks of Christianity?
They stem not from the social but from the
spiritual side of our lives, and personally, I
would identify three beliefs in particular:
First, that from the beginning man has been
endowed by God with the fundamental right to
choose between good and evil.
And second, that
we were made in God's own image and, therefore,
we are expected to use all our own power of
thought and judgment in exercising that choice;
and further, that if we open our hearts to God,
He has promised to work within us.
And third, that
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when
faced with His terrible choice and lonely vigil
chose to lay down His life that our sins may be
forgiven. I remember very well a sermon on an
Armistice Sunday when our Preacher said, "No one
took away the life of Jesus , He chose to lay it
I think back to many discussions in my early
life when we all agreed that if you try to take
the fruits of Christianity without its roots,
the fruits will wither. And they will not come
again unless you nurture the roots.
But we must not profess the Christian faith and
go to Church simply because we want social
reforms and benefits or a better standard of
behavior; but because we accept the sanctity of
life, the responsibility that comes with freedom
and the supreme sacrifice of Christ expressed so
well in the hymn:
"When I survey the
wondrous Cross, On which the Prince of glory
died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour
contempt on all my pride."
May I also say a
few words about my personal belief in the
relevance of Christianity to public policy—to
the things that are Caesar's?
The Old Testament lays down in Exodus the Ten
Commandments as given to Moses , the injunction
in Leviticus to love our neighbor as ourselves
and generally the importance of observing a
strict code of law. The New Testament is a
record of the Incarnation, the teachings of
Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of
God. Again we have the emphasis on loving our
neighbor as ourselves and to
I believe that by taking together these key
elements from the Old and New Testaments, we
gain: a view of the universe, a proper attitude
to work, and principles to shape economic and
We are told we must work and use our talents to
create wealth. "If a man will not work he shall
not eat" wrote St. Paul to the Thessalonians.
Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a
legitimacy which derives from the very nature of
Nevertheless, the Tenth Commandment—Thou shalt
not covet—recognizes that making money and
owning things could become selfish activities.
But it is not the creation of wealth that is
wrong but love of money for its own sake. The
spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one
does with the wealth. How could we respond to
the many calls for help, or invest for the
future, or support the wonderful artists and
craftsmen whose work also glorifies God, unless
we had first worked hard and used our talents to
create the necessary wealth? And remember the
woman with the alabaster jar of ointment.
I confess that I always had difficulty with
interpreting the Biblical precept to love our
neighbors "as ourselves" until I read some of
the words of C.S. Lewis. He pointed out that we
don't exactly love ourselves when we fall below
the standards and beliefs we have accepted.
Indeed we might even hate ourselves for some
None of this, of course, tells us exactly what
kind of political and social institutions we
should have. On this point, Christians will very
often genuinely disagree, though it is a mark of
Christian manners that they will do so with
courtesy and mutual respect. What is certain,
however, is that any set of social and economic
arrangements which is not founded on the
acceptance of individual responsibility will do
nothing but harm.
We are all responsible for our own actions. We
can't blame society if we disobey the law. We
simply can't delegate the exercise of mercy and
generosity to others. The politicians and other
secular powers should strive by their measures
to bring out the good in people and to fight
down the bad: but they can't create the one or
abolish the other. They can only see that the
laws encourage the best instincts and
convictions of the people, instincts and
convictions which I'm convinced are far more
deeply rooted than is often supposed.
Nowhere is this more evident than the basic ties
of the family which are at the heart of our
society and are the very nursery of civic
virtue. And it is on the family that we in
government build our own policies for welfare,
education and care.
You recall that Timothy was warned by St. Paul
that anyone who neglects to provide for his own
house (meaning his own family) has disowned the
faith and is "worse than an infidel".
We must recognize that modern society is
infinitely more complex than that of Biblical
times and of course new occasions teach new
duties. In our generation, the only way we can
ensure that no-one is left without sustenance,
help or opportunity, is to have laws to provide
for health and education, pensions for the
elderly, succor for the sick and disabled.
But intervention by the State must never become
so great that it effectively removes personal
responsibility. The same applies to taxation;
for while you and I would work extremely hard
whatever the circumstances, there are
undoubtedly some who would not unless the
incentive was there. And we need their efforts
Moderator, recently there have been great
debates about religious education. I believe
strongly that politicians must see that
religious education has a proper place in the
In Scotland, as in England, there is an historic
connection expressed in our laws between Church
and State. The two connections are of a somewhat
different kind, but the arrangements in both
countries are designed to give symbolic
expression to the same crucial truth: that the
Christian religion—which, of course, embodies
many of the great spiritual and moral truths of
Judaism—is a fundamental part of our national
heritage. And I believe it is the wish of the
overwhelming majority of people that this
heritage should be preserved and fostered.
[Applause] For centuries it has been our very
life blood. And indeed we are a nation whose
ideals are founded on the Bible.
Also, it is quite impossible to understand our
history or literature without grasping this
fact, and that's the strong practical case for
ensuring that children at school are given
adequate instruction in the part which the
Judaic-Christian tradition has played in molding
our laws, manners and institutions. How can you
make sense of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott,
or of the constitutional conflicts of the 17th
century in both Scotland and England, without
some such fundamental knowledge?
But I go further than this. The truths of the
Judaic-Christian tradition are infinitely
precious, not only, as I believe, because they
are true, but also because they provide the
moral impulse which alone can lead to that
peace, in the true meaning of the word, for
which we all long.
To assert absolute moral values is not to claim
perfection for ourselves. No true Christian
could do that. What is more, one of the great
principles of our Judaic-Christian inheritance
is tolerance. People with other faiths and
cultures have always been welcomed in our land,
assured of equality under the law, of proper
respect and of open friendship. There's
absolutely nothing incompatible between this and
our desire to maintain the essence of our own
identity. There is no place for racial or
religious intolerance in our creed.
When Abraham Lincoln spoke in his famous
Gettysburg speech of 1863 of "government of the
people, by the people, and for the people", he
gave the world a neat definition of democracy
which has since been widely and enthusiastically
adopted. But what he enunciated as a form of
government was not in itself especially
Christian, for nowhere in the Bible is the word
democracy mentioned. Ideally, when Christians
meet, as Christians, to take counsel together
their purpose is not (or should not be) to
ascertain what is the mind of the majority but
what is the mind of the Holy Spirit—something
which may be quite different.
Nevertheless I am an enthusiast for democracy.
And I take that position, not because I believe
majority opinion is inevitably right or
true—indeed no majority can take away God-given
human rights—but because I believe it most
effectively safeguards the value of the
individual, and, more than any other system,
restrains the abuse of power by the few. And
that is a Christian concept.
But there is little hope for democracy if the
hearts of men and women in democratic societies
cannot be touched by a call to something greater
than themselves. Political structures, state
institutions, collective ideals—these are not
We Parliamentarians can legislate for the rule
of law. You, the Church, can teach the life of
But when all is said and done, the politician's
role is a humble one. I always think that the
whole debate about the Church and the State has
never yielded anything comparable in insight to
that beautiful hymn "I Vow to Thee my Country".
It begins with a triumphant assertion of what
might be described as secular patriotism, a
noble thing indeed in a country like ours:
"I vow to thee my
country all earthly things above; entire, whole
and perfect the service of my love".
It goes on to
speak of "another country I heard of long ago"
whose King can't be seen and whose armies can't
be counted, but "soul by soul and silently her
shining bounds increase". Not group by group, or
party by party, or even church by church—but
soul by soul—and each one counts.
That, members of the Assembly, is the country
which you chiefly serve. You fight your cause
under the banner of an historic Church. Your
success matters greatly—as much to the temporal
as to the spiritual welfare of the nation.
I leave you with
that earnest hope that may we all come nearer to
that other country whose "ways are ways of
gentleness and all her paths are peace."