A Course of Sermons on Solemn Subjects
chiefly bearing on Repentance and Amendment of Life, Preached in St. Saviour's Church, Leeds,
During the Week after its Consecration on the Feast of S. Simon and S. Jude, 1845.
(Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).
THE deep and kind interest which many, both of the Clergy and Laity, took in the Consecration of St. Saviour's, as well as the love of the poor people for whom the Church was intended, seemed to furnish an occasion which ought not to be neglected, for essaying, by the blessing of Almighty God, to fix the feelings which that Solemnity called forth, even beyond the impressive service of the day of Consecration. The expectation, also, that many of the Clergy would be present, seemed a reason the more, why they should not disperse, without an attempt, in what way they might, to benefit the place where they were for the time gathered. Any thing too, which might be done, seemed the more natural and less of an effort, as flowing out of the circumstance of their being brought together. The Editor, accordingly, (with the aid of one of the friends who afterwards, although absent in body, assisted in the work, and whose society he was at the time enjoying,) formed a plan for a course of Sermons, beginning with very solemn and aweful subjects, which might, they hoped, by God's mercy, be the means of awakening in some a sense of the end and awefulness of their being, the deadliness of sin, the nothingness of all beside God, the necessity for repentance for sin, the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and of deepening and fixing these thoughts in others. A general outline of the plan was transmitted to the Bishop of the Diocese, with the assurance that nothing was further from the mind of the Editor than to enter upon controversy; his one object being to bring solemn truths before the hearers, with the hope and prayer that God would bring them home to their souls. The simple aim to benefit the souls committed to his care could not but obtain the concurrence of the chief Pastor of the Diocese, (whose anxiety for the spiritual benefit of his Diocese it would ill become such as the writer to speak of,) as well as of his friend the devoted and laborious Vicar of the Parish. The Editor was much cheered by the words, "I heartily pray God to bless the efforts to convert and build up souls which will then be made."
As the time drew near, trial seemed to hang over the plan. Heavy distress, still more for the Church's sake than for his own, broke at last suddenly on the writer; and for the first time, he had to go forth to his labour, apart from the friend of above twenty-two years, who was to him as his own soul, with whom had been shared the little had himself been enabled to do to God's service in our Church, and whose counsel had been to him for the last twelve years, in every trial, the greatest earthly comfort and stay. Of those also, to whom he looked to assist him in the plan, some who would kindly have shared in it, were hindered; and of those who did aid most effectually, three were visited with sickness, either in those very near them or themselves. Still, what was undertaken simply for the Glory of God and the good of souls, it seemed wrong to abandon; and the plan was continued in Him, to Whom, it was hoped, souls might thereby be won.
It has seemed necessary to explain thus much, because it might seem to some unfitting that, in the midst of those first distresses, the Editor should any where be taking any prominent part, (although he trusts that it was altogether of the Good Providence of God,) while those other distresses compelled him actually to take a much larger share in the plan, than he had originally thought of, and in appearance, a yet larger. For, unwilling to lose the concurrence of those whose bodily presence was hindered by sickness or attendance upon a sick-bed, he himself delivered the Sermons of those who were thus hindered. He did thereby greatly gain both by their help and their prayers while absent, and himself meditating on what he had of theirs to deliver; and he felt even the more united with them, in that every thought of theirs which he had to deliver, became his own.
With regard to his own Sermons, he has thought it best to say, that the Sermon on All-Saints Day had been previously preached before the University of Oxford, the great pressure of occupation preventing him from preparing any thing anew for that Festival. It stands nearly as it was originally preached, except that some things local, and others, slightly controversial, were omitted in the delivery, and are not now inserted. Of the other Sermons, he may just say, that in the three "on the Bliss of Heaven," he thought that, after the very solemn subjects of the preceding days, he might safely venture to speak upon the very deep Mysteries he has there dwelt upon; in which, for his own sake as well as for his hearers, he has employed the words and thoughts of holy writers, rather than his own. Since then the thoughts are mostly not his own, he may venture to say, that the reverential attention, with which these very solemn subjects were listened to, shewed that our congregations would well with benefit on such contemplations of Almighty God. This he may say the rather, because he has, for many years, had a very deep conviction, that we undergo a very great loss and risk, through not dwelling more upon the Mysteries of the Faith, as brought out in the Nicene and especially the Athanasian Creed. We undergo loss; for it has been observed by S. Augustine, how God, "Who useth to good even the evil," overrules even heresies to the benefit of the Church, in that, in order to defend sacred truth against "the crafty restlessness of heretics," "many things belonging to the Catholic Faith are both considered more diligently, and understood more clearly, and preached more earnestly; and thus the question raised by the adversary becomes an occasion of learning." Especially upon the sacred doctrine of the Holy Trinity, heretical error has been, through the goodness of Divine Providence, of great benefit to devotion, by occasioning the Church, through the aid of Gods Holy Spirit, to clear the many points upon which we might otherwise be in doubt, and thus to enlarge the rich pastures in which the soul might safely range, even while she was drawing a boundary around them, which is not to be passed. We are then losing a portion of our inheritance, if we avail not ourselves of this benefit; while, at the same time, so natural is heresy to the human mind, (for it is the very produce of the natural man,) we must be in great peril of falling in to it, if we are not on our guard against it. To have no fears of it, is but too sure a road to it; to follow ones own thoughts in Divine Truth, is to go astray.
It may just be said further, that the Editor has added notes in some places in which he has introduced such high doctrine, lest to any who might not happen to be acquainted with the Theologia, he might seem to be entering upon subjects which would be "too high for him," had he not herein been following upon the steps of the Fathers. But, in meditating upon these solemn subjects, it would be evidently misplaced to dwell upon controversy even with heretics, and such notes had therefore then best be passed by.
With regard to the course generally, an order of subjects has been introduced, which was broken in the delivery, chiefly through the fear, lest such very aweful subjects coming so close upon each other, three times in the day, might have an oppressive effect upon tender minds. The more comforting subjects were accordingly intermingled with those which must, of necessity, be distressing. And this was the more necessary, since the congregation consisted, at first, in great degree, of strangers. The case might be different, if it should seem good to any to adopt any similar plan, at solemn seasons, in places where all the flock should be known to their Clergy.
And indeed, there seems no reason for withholding that it was the hope of the Editor that, should the blessing of Almighty God rest upon this plan, others might be encouraged to attempt the like, who might be better qualified than himself for that great office, "to preach the Gospel to the poor." Not that there is any thing new in the plan. It was but the employment of the daily services of our Church, daily Communion, frequent Sermons, so as to occupy the minds of those who had leisure, in a series of prayer, hearing of Holy Scripture, meditation on solemn subjects, and the great Act of Christian Worship and Communion, at periods through the day. It was hoped that they who could thus retired to be with their Lord, might return to their duties in the world, with more fervent devotion to Him; while on others, who were less prepared or were unprepared for the whole extent of services so continuous and so sacred, impression, it was hoped, might, by Gods mercy, be made by the solemnity of the subjects preached on. Thus, "by the dew of His blessing," might, it was hoped, both the faithful grow, and sinners be converted. Private intercession on the part of the Clergy engaged could not but form a part of the plan; and the prayers of distant friends were asked and obtained. More than they asked, they had through the mercy of their God, and the Christian love of their brethren.
Indeed, there was nothing peculiar or distinctive in the plan; the only circumstance in which it perhaps went beyond what has been usual of late was the frequency of the services [g]. Courses of Sermons on special subjects have been, in the Church, a great instrument of revival [h] of religion in the United States. In this country also, Lent and Advent Sermons are, of course, frequent. Indeed it seems to have been felt, for some time, that Sermons, confined to the Sunday, are more calculated for tending those who are already within the fold, than to bring those yet astray. Whatever impression is made, occurs at too great intervals; and mostly they who need to be aroused from an habitual sinful state are not there to hear. Some feeling of this kind has probably suggested the evening lectures, which have for some years been introduced; and if this has too often been done at the cost of morning devotions, especially the Litany, this, of course, cannot be necessary. Rather, the more, persons are awakened out of a lethargic state, the more they would value and be upheld by daily devotional services, especially our more penitential, those of the Wednesday and the Friday. Yet, so far, we owe thanks to those who have zealously used preaching as a means of conversion. Rightly viewed, it is a great gift of Him Who saith, "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father Which speaketh in you," "not in words which mans wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth." It needeth not to depreciate any gift of God in order to exalt another.
On the late occasion, God did bless very visibly the solemn services. There seemed, so to say, an atmosphere of blessing hanging around and over the Church. How should not one hope it, when, besides those gathered there, many were praying Him, in Whose Hands are the hearts of men, and Who turneth not away the face of those who seek Him? It was the very feeling of those engaged, that God was graciously in a Heavenly manner present there. He seemed amid the solemn stillness of those services to speak in silence to the soul of each; and many hearts were there by His secret call, and through the Holy Eucharist which we were permitted daily to celebrate, stirred to more resolute devoted service. To Him be the Praise, Whose was the Gift.
In conclusion, the Editor hopes that the purpose to avoid controversy, and to speak that only which might bear directly on the souls of the hearers, has been steadily kept in view. This, amid our manifold distresses, is the strong ground of present hope, and of looking for brighter days, that God is stirring in their very depths the souls of men, and calling them to serve Him more earnestly and more early. It seems hopeless, for the time, that many of us can understand one another. It will be a great gain if (except, of course, in cases of plain heresy) we can censure not one another. Thee are enemies enough abroad, moral and intellectual, which may gain possession of the citadel, while our attention is drawn off in another direction. This is no new device of Satan. Even, in human affairs, the presence of a common enemy brings those together, who before were alienated. There are too many tokens of the presence of the enemy of all Faith, and of a fiercer and subtler assault than the Faith has undergone hitherto. There are too many forms of idolatry set up and worshipped; idolatry of wealth, luxury, power, intellect. If we, as Christ's faithful soldiers, are, within and without, in earnest warfare against His enemies, we shall, in the very warfare itself, the armour we bear, His watchword, His gracious help, His love, the more readily recognize those whom He vouchsafes to call "My friends." God give us grace more and more to seek Him; so, if we find Him, we shall in Him find each other who shall have sought Him our common Centre; shall in His light and love at length understand one another; shall see in one another he work of His Grace, and love one another in Him, and Him in one another.
O Lord, we beseech Thee, incline Thy merciful ears to our prayers, and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy Visitation, Who livest.
Advent Ember Week, 1845.
a Some of the subjects were altered, in consequence of the change of the day of Consecration, (some legal forms having been delayed,) through which All Saints' Day fell on the ensuing Saturday. It became necessary to bring the austerer subjects into a narrower space. Other changes were involved by the hindrances alluded to.
b It becomes necessary in consequence to distinguish the Sermons, lest the Editor should claim what is not his. The 2d and 3d Sermons, then, are the contribution of the Rev. C. Marriott; the 4th, 5th, and 6th, of the Rev. John Keble; the 7th of the Rev. W. U. Richards; the 9th of the Rev. W. Dodsworth; the 10th of the Rev. Isaac Wiliams, as also the 8th, although unfinished in consequence of sever illness; the rest are by the Editor. In delivering those of others, the Editor found that he could not but add something of his own, following out their thoughts, or closing some of the Sermons as seemed natural to himself. These additions at the close have been retained, and marked by an prefixed.
c Many of these are distinguished in the notes; others were perhaps too much interwoven in his own mind to distinguish; and to attempt to mark all, might have tended to distract the mind of any readers from the solemn subjects themselves.
d De Ci. Dei xvi.2. 1. see Conf. vii. 25. Oxf. Tr. de vera relig. 15. et al.
e The days upon which the several Sermons were preached, have been noted at the wish of some, who were desirous of recurring to them, in connection with the memory of that blessed, peaceful, week.
f The dread of this occasioned the suggestions at the end of the first, and the beginning of the sixth Sermon. The like invitation to any distressed in mind, was also premised at the beginning of what is now the third Sermon.
g Morning Prayer was at 7; then later, the Holy Communion with a Sermon; and prayers and Sermons in the afternoon and evening. The Holy Communion was celebrated at the later hour, since many, who came from a distance, would have been unable to attend at the earlier; daily prayers were in other Churches.
h The Writer was much impressed many years ago by some accounts given by Bishop McIlvaine. He mentioned that, on such occasions, the only external attraction used, was a public notice of a course of Sermons, specially related to some class, as "on the duties of young men." Of 80 converts, at one such season, two only, many years afterward, had apparently gone back.