Project Canterbury

Henry Parry Liddon: A Memorial Sermon
by A. C. A. Hall

New York: Pott and Co., 1890. 24 pp.


THIS sermon was preached in the Mission Church of St. John the Evangelist, Boston, in a somewhat different form, on the Sunday following Dr. Liddon's death, September 24th; and later at St. Stephen's, Providence, at a special service arranged by the Bishop Seabury Association of Brown University, on Sunday evening, October 19th; at St. Clement's, Philadelphia, on Sunday, November 16th; and in the Chapel of the Episcopal Theological School at Cambridge, November 25th.

The author's reason, or excuse, for printing the discourse is that, as it now stands, it incorporates valuable quotations from English reviews, which, even if they were at all widely read in this country, would soon be lost in the mass of periodical literature.

Dr. Liddon is widely known as a controversialist and as a sacred orator. There are other aspects of his life and work which those who, like the author, owe to his teaching and example more than they can express, would fain present, both for the imitation of the clergy and in the assurance that his writings will gain in interest as the beauty and strength of the writer's spiritual character is appreciated.

The author ventures to call attention to the plan for a memorial to Dr. Liddon, to which probably many readers of his sermons in this country might be glad to contribute if they had an opportunity of sending small sums, and to offer to receive and forward to the Treasurers in lyondon any contributions for this purpose which may be sent to him at the address given below.

It was resolved at a meeting held immediately after Dr. Liddon's funeral:

"That a fund be raised to do honor to the memory of the late Dr. Liddon, and that it be applied, in the first instance, to provide a fitting memorial of him in St. Paul's Cathedral, and after that for assisting members of the University of Oxford to study theology more thoroughly.''

Subscribers are free to allot their subscriptions, if they please, to one or other of these objects.

44 Temple street, Boston, Mass.


DANIEL xii. 3.

"They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever."

DURING the last year Christendom has had to mourn the loss of many such eminent teachers. Lightfoot, Dollinger, Delitzsch, Hatch, Newman, Liddon, have all been taken away from active participation in the controversies and struggles of the Church Militant. Assuredly the English Church has no need to be ashamed of her representatives in this goodly fellowship of modern prophets.

Nor will the latest of them to be called to his rest, of whose life and work I am to speak to you to-night, be reckoned the least beautiful or bright among the lights in the spiritual firmament.

Since it is as a preacher that Dr. Liddon is most widely known, it maybe well first to point out some secrets of his singular power in the pulpit, and then to note some other elements of his influence. The fact of his power as a preacher none could doubt who has ever attended the University Church at Oxford when Dr. Liddon was the appointed preacher, and seen each portion of the building (the undergraduates' galleries, the doctors' stalls, the masters' and bachelors' benches, the aisle in which strangers found a few sitting and more standing accommodation) absolutely packed with an eager throng listening in breathless attention to a discourse of seldom less than an hour's duration; or who has been one of the multitude, of all ranks and conditions, under the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral on a Sunday afternoon during his months of residence.

To what in particular may his singular power and attractiveness be attributed?

A remarkably able paper on "Dr. Liddon as a Preacher" appeared in the London Guardian during the summer of last year. The writer of that paper, evidently no superficial observer, confining himself to the consideration of "the distinctive mental habits" of a great teacher, points out five such special characteristics of Dr. Liddon's sermons (readers of his sermons will at once recognize the accuracy of the description): (i) Lucidity of thought and expression; (2) Logic without stiffness (the singular power of leading a large and diverse audience through the course of a careful argument); (3) Learning without pedantry; (4) A sincere and unfailing respect for those to whom he preaches; (5) A steady and resolute reference to the plain duties of life.

Concerning these last two points, which border more closely on those inner spiritual qualities which most of all contribute to the value of a man's teaching, and of which now alas! Dr. Liddon's death allows us to speak more fully than is possible in reviewing the work of a living writer, I may quote freely from this paper. "No man, of course," the writer says, "can really teach men or even children, unless he has somewhere in the background a feeling of respect towards them, a conviction of spiritual capacity in them. But it is not often that one whose gifts are so rare and brilliant as Dr. Liddon's can refrain so steadily from any sign of conscious superiority in their exercise. It never seems to cross his mind that any man in the multitude to whom he speaks might not, if he were ordained, speak just as well. And in this bearing he is so simple and unvarying that it clearly rests on a deliberate and deep conviction. He cannot be unconscious of his remarkable gifts; but he is much more vividly conscious of certain other things, about which he is quite sure that they matter infinitely more than the advantages of intellect and training. 'The supremacy of goodness;' the issues that are within sight when Divine truth is being presented to immortal souls; the tremendous gravity of any work that is done in God's name; the beauty and the greatness and the severity of the Gospel--these are vivid and dominant in his mind, and they make it as inappropriate and impertinent to be thinking of intellectual advantages or natural ability as it would be to presume upon good looks or high connections in a storm at sea. It is a magnificent outcome of a Christian view of things. It has probably gone far to help him against the peril of one of the most perilous positions that a man can hold; it secures for him in the heart of his hearers a return of attention and respect which they are glad to yield. It is felt to preclude with perfect justice that attitude of self-defence which is the most decisive barrier against the approach of truth. Men may not always like what Dr. Liddon says to them; they may sometimes say he is too confident; but no fair critic can deny that all his confidence rests wholly and simply in his message, and none of it in "himself or his ability."

Again with reference to the other point:--"Practice, conduct, character: These are never out of sight when Dr. Liddon preaches. People may not be prepared to link their lives with the truths of which he speaks; but they are made to feel that it might be done, and that there is something incongruous and inadequate and unappreciative in any commendation which they may bestow upon his sermon without some inner intention to let it tell on what they do.

"It is, of course, quite possible to praise the style of what he says without any thought of letting it awaken one's conscience or affect one's conduct; but the proceeding would be analogous to admiring the color of one's medicine instead of taking it. All along the sermon protests against being treated as anything but practical; it is wholly bent on getting at the conscience, and lodging something near the springs of action; and the critical faculties, confident and unabashed as they are apt to be, cannot but feel, even as they render their tribute of approval, that the preacher was not talking to them, or thinking about them at all; that they are like uninvited guests, or like the fringe of rich people at a party got up for the poor. But if a man is really wanting among the difficulties and temptations of London to live by the grace of God a pure and honorable and religious life, he is fairly sure to feel the reality of Dr. Liddon's insight into the practical trials which beset the effort.

"There must be very many men who look forward to the times [alas! to be enjoyed no more] when they may see the familiar form hurrying quietly into the pulpit of St. Paul's, and then may hear that voice, in its wonderful power and passion, ringing through the vast Church, as the hours of surest refreshment and renewal for their hope of holiness amidst all that tends to lower and defile the soul in a great and- over-crowded city, in an age of manifold perplexity and peril. For there they learn from one who is much more than a great scholar, theologian, and orator; one who knows them with a strangely penetrating-sympathy and insight; one who seems somehow quite naturally to take his stand with them in their temptations, and who for all his understanding of their lives and for all his undisguised severity, is not afraid to point them to the very highest hope that can enter into the heart of man."

"Such" (concludes this writer, whom I have quoted at length; you would not, I am sure, have wished a word curtailed)--"such seem to be some of the elements in Dr. Liddon's power as a preacher. They are qualities of a very high order; and when they are controlled and animated by an intense conviction of the absolute certainty of the Divine revelation, by an absorbing zeal for the salvation of men, by a fearless trust in God, and by a constant recollection of our Saviour's presence and of the day of judgment, it is not strange that they should hold a high place in the life and hope of England."

In a word there was an intense reality about Dr. Liddon's preaching. It was clear to everyone not only that the preacher was thoroughly convinced of the absolute truth of every word he said; but also that this conviction was not merely intellectual, but that the truth insisted on was felt to be of the greatest importance, a possession of priceless value. The Apostle's words, "We believe and therefore speak," might most appropriately be applied to Dr. Liddon's sermons.

It was this intensity of personal conviction which made Dr. Liddon at once so keen and strenuous in upholding principles, and so absolutely fearless as to temporal and personal consequences. Again and again it seemed to us younger men that he deliberately threw away chances of preferment by the uncompromising attitude he would adopt in reference to some vexed question--ecclesiastical or political, of doctrine or of morals--concerning which it was known that his line would be displeasing to those in authority. If such a consideration ever presented itself to the mind of Liddon, it would have been repudiated with indignant abhorrence. To him office and influence told only of responsibility; any thought of human favor was simply outshone by the continual contemplation of His judgment, "Whose I am and whom I serve," and in Whose Name I am bound to speak the word He gives me.

And so (note it my brothers) if Dr. Liddon did not attain high place, he gained respect (as will every true man in his sphere); he wielded power. I quote the words of the most thoughtful of the English secular papers, the Spectator. "Though admired by all his order, honored by Universities, and singularly reverenced by the community, some prejudice in high places [not, let me emphatically say, that embodied in the silly story which has gone the round of the newspapers] kept him from reaching dignities which he would have illustrated. He remained 'only a preacher;' but as a preacher he was a genuine power, a man who advanced piety, and who was felt not only by his own party, but by the whole Church, and by millions outside of it, to be a reserved force for the defence of historic Christianity. He was a great religious influence, one of those men who keep Churches visible on earth, and whose opinions can neither be overlooked nor despised by those who claim a monopoly of intellectual clearness."

In the same way his controversial keenness was due to no mere love of dialect; it sprang from a strenuous conviction of the value of truth, from a passionate personal devotion to Him who is the Truth. It was loyalty to Jesus Christ that made Dr. Liddon so jealous for the doctrine of His absolute Godhead. It was the keen appreciation of a well-trained mind, seeing how closely linked together is truth with truth, that made him so anxious concerning- any tendency that seemed--whether rightly or wrongly--to be inconsistent with loyalty to central and fundamental truths. The Sacraments and Ministry of the Church he could not allow any to regard as of little consequence, seeing they formed an integral (however subordinate) part of the mystery of the Incarnation--Divinely ordained and covenant means for the communication of Divine grace to the quickening and sanctification of the soul.

In this connection I may give an instance at once of Dr. Liddon's ready, chivalrous championship of an unpopular cause, and at the same time of the careful balance that was always a marked characteristic of his teaching. At the time of a popular outcry in England about Confession (in 1875), he seized the opportunity of an appointment to preach before the University at Oxford a sermon (which he afterwards published) on "Sacerdotalism;" in which he boldly and plainly vindicated the real priestly power and prerogative of the clergy as Christ's ministers and representatives on earth; and then took pains to point out the real object for which such powers are bestowed, the spirit in which they must be exercised.

Hear his words: "When the Apostle says that the word of the reconciliation has been committed to us, he tells us that we are trustees: and our safety consists, perhaps, in dwelling on the responsibilities of a great trust, rather than on any other aspect of our office.

"A conscientious trustee thinks first of the interests committed to him, next of the office which he fills as guarding them, least of all of himself.

"A conscientious clergyman will think more of his office than of his person, but he will also take less account of his office than of his work. After all, the first is only a means, the last is the end. Ministerial powers are given, not to confer importance on a man or on an order, but to promote a work; the highest work that can be carried on in time and for eternity, among, or by, human beings."

This high sense of the responsibility of his office was eminently characteristic of Dr. Liddon. It was closely allied with three virtues which were particularly noticeable in his life: (i) His profound humility; (2) His unsparing diligence,--the way in which he placed himself at the service of those who sought his help; (3) His resolute concentration on the work actually committed to him.

(i) Something has already been said of his humility; but it shone out conspicuously in all his life and conduct. Rather it was the background or soil of many kindred graces--his unfailing courtesy to all with whom he came in contact, his generous appreciation of others' work and endeavours (more especially in the case of younger men), the absolute reverence (which in any one less transparently truthful and sincere would have seemed unreal) that he would pay to some missionary bishop or priest, or layman either, endowed perhaps with no conspicuous natural gifts, but engaged earnestly in some noble enterprise. Natural gifts, of whatever kind or however brilliant, he would constantly urge, are as nothing when compared with high moral and spiritual qualities: as nothing in the sight of Almighty God, who regards the heart; as nothing for the accomplishment of real spiritual results. The somewhat dull but laborious and plodding student, he would say, was entitled to far more respect than the man of brilliant parts who failed to cultivate to the utmost the gifts he had received, or to use them for the highest ends.

The holy priest, really "a man of God," a man of prayer, of self-denial, of faith, of loving toil, would have far deeper and more abiding influence over souls, would effect more for the real interests of the Church of God, than the ecclesiastic, however eloquent or able or conspicuous, who trusted in natural means, or neglected the cultivation of his own inner life. It was undoubtedly the combination of natural gifts and spiritual graces, the consecration and interpenetration of the former by the latter, which gave to Dr. Liddon his singular power and influence as a preacher, as a counsellor, as an example.

(2) Closely connected with the humility, which is the outcome of a sense of the soul's true relation of dependence upon God and of responsibility to Him, was the rigid concentration of his powers on appointed work. I do not mean only that Dr. Liddon fulfilled as perfectly as one could well conceive it to be realized the vow made by a priest at his ordination to be "diligent in prayer and in reading of the Scriptures and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the flesh;" but I mean that in his ministry he followed out so laboriously and unintermittingly the particular line of service to which he felt himself called, to be a student (he would not have said a Doctor) of the Church, and in this way to advance the interests of his Lord and serve his brethren.

Of course he was constantly besought to preach here, there, and everywhere, on occasions great and small, of local and of wider interest. Such invitations he almost invariably refused, even at the risk sometimes of seeming ungracious, alleging that his work at Oxford and later at St. Paul's must not be interrupted; that to do it well, and as it should be done, required all his energies. Thus refusing to allow his powers to be dissipated, his work was always of the very highest order, his sermons and lectures the utterance in perfect form of thoroughly matured thought. He was not only a great preacher, he was emphatically a preacher of great sermons. There was never anything petty either about his choice of a theme or about its treatment. While its lessons were brought to bear on the events of the day in the Church or Nation (and few great events or remarkable happenings escaped notice in his sermons, either at the time of their occurrence or in his sermon on the last Sunday of the year), or their application shown to the daily duties and trials of his individual hearers, these lessons always came home with tremendous force because they were seen to be particular applications of great and far-reaching principles. The details of earthly life were shown in the light of Heaven.

(3) But then these great sermons were always regarded as having a practical end. He was by no means content in this sense to be "only a preacher." Sermons he regarded as having for one of their chief objects the drawing persons to a closer individual ministry. For the exercise of such a ministry, whether in person for receiving confessions or giving advice, or by correspondence in explaining matters of difficulty, he placed himself almost unreservedly at the service of those who sought his help. With reference to this last point I may again quote from a singularly appreciative article in the Spectator:--

"Dr. Liddon made it a rule to answer every letter addressed to him, and he seldom preached at St. Paul's without being asked by entire strangers to explain or justify some statement in his sermon. Many men would have taken no notice of such requests, or would have dismissed them with a stereotyped form of acknowledgment. But Dr. Liddon answered them, tried to make his meaning plain, and to make his correspondent see the grounds of his belief. He regarded this as part of his responsibility as a preacher. In every sermon the one thing before his mind was the effect on the hearer. So great an artist must have felt pleasure in the perfection of the work, but it was a pleasure of which he never seemed to take any account. The object he had perpetually in view was the edification of those he saw crowding--the great area beneath the St. Paul's pulpit--how to make them better Christians in action and conviction. Consequently the letter of explanation was the natural complement of the sermon. The hearer would not have written to him had there not been something which prevented the sermon from taking its full effect on him, and to remove that something was in Dr. Liddon's view just as much his business as it had been to preach in the first instance." Truly this was to "do the work of an Evangelist, to fulfil his ministry." "Whatever we do," he would often say, "let us do it heartily, as unto the Lord."

His stores of knowledge he held in trust for all who sought his counsel. I remember in an address he gave many years ago to a Guild or Brotherhood of University students at Oxford, his urging upon us the importance, the religious duty, of using to the utmost the opportunities the University offered; and his quoting in this connection the words of St. Bernard as shewing the unselfish motive for study and training.

"Sunt qui scire volunt, ut sciant, et curiositas est;

Sunt qui scire volunt, ut scientiam suam vendant, et avaritia;

Sunt qui scire volunt ut aedificentur, et prudentia;

Atque sunt qui scire volunt, ut aeclificent, et caritas."

This last assuredly was his motive.

I may quote in this connection another thoughtful and most true estimate that has appeared in print:

"What in Dr. Liddon's heart, beyond all that the world praised or criticised, and liked and disliked, was the enthroned and steadfast motive, which employed as so many implements all his intellectual gifts, none who knew him well could doubt. It can be told most plainly in St. Paul's words 'That I might by all means save some.' Men talked of him as a great orator, a leader among High Churchmen, uncompromising in controversy, and so forth; but the impulse of all his eagerness, the stay of all his determination, was as simple a care for the souls of men as ever filled the heart of a parish priest. That care he never seemed to lay aside. Men, women, and children, as he met them, as he spoke to them, through all external difference, had this one supreme and common interest for him, that he might perhaps make it easier for them to know and do God's will, that he might somehow help forward in their lives the victory of God's love. That unflagging care commanded all the forces he could wield; he lived for it; and it was the secret of much that men might wonder at, or fear or love, or smile at in his ways. The dominance of that one interest gave a curious uniformity to the view he took of life, of its events and opportunities; and it gave a rare, unworldly courtesy to his dealings with all men. For in all alike he saw the same great drama moving to its vast issue; of all alike in simplest sincerity he held himself the slave for Christ's sake.

"'That I might by all means save some.' No one was outside the range of that hope, of that task. The great people whom he came to know, in social or political or literary life; the athletic or pleasure-loving undergraduate on whom he had been asked to call; the poor woman who begged of him in the street; the cleverest man he met in an Oxford common room, or in a London dinner party; the servants who waited on him; the tradesmen with whom he dealt; the Arab sailors of his boat on the Nile; the idle or fussy people who wrote him unnecessary letters; towards all he held himself bound by the very same necessity, and the great appeal that all, through the wide differences that severed them, could make to him, was still the same; it was possible that he might somehow help them forward in the knowledge and love of God. That was the one object for which he was always ready to spend and to be spent."

Of the charm of his private life, which made his companionship so perfectly delightful and exhilarating to those who had the privilege of his friendship, this is not the place, nor is there time, to speak. Only this I may say: his overflowing humor, his brilliant repartee, his keen sense of the ludicrous--all those intellectual gifts were absolutely under the control of a chastened Christian spirit, were never allowed exercise save on what he sincerely believed to be the side of Christ.

"No man, indeed, (as has been said) could speak with greater severity when he thought that severity was deserved. He knew neither weak compliance nor unmeaning complacency. But his habitual habit of mind led him to think more-of the weaknesses of his opponents than of their faults; to dwell with kindly amusement on their inconsistencies, on their want of logic, on their [happy] omission to carry out their own premises to their legitimate conclusion. 'Seasoned with salt,' was always an exact description of Dr. Liddon's conversation; and though the intention to ' minister grace to the hearer,' was always present, it was never visible. Everything about him was perfectly natural and spontaneous, because it was governed by a purpose so habitual that it was no longer noticed."

Dr. Liddon's share in the Oxford movement, "the Catholic revival," as it has been called in the English Church, was most important; his place in a sense unique. He was himself a link between the earlier Tractarian School and the later Ritualists.

On this point I will quote from a memorial notice of Dr. Liddon in the Contemporary Review, by one who was formerly his pupil at Oxford, and lately a junior colleague at St. Paul's, Canon Scott Holland.

What is called "Ritualism," in effect he says, only means the effort to diffuse and popularize the principles which the Tractarians had proclaimed at the University.

"This diffusion carried the movement far afield; it had to make adventurous experiments, often in young hands, under rough and irregular conditions. It might have got quite out of hand. And then, of course, the children of those who had stoned Tractarianism were now ready to glorify their old foe at the expense of their new and swarming enemy. They spoke of the academic dignity, of the illustrious learning, of the lofty intellectual calibre, of the great leaders of Tractarianism. They scornfully contrasted with these great names the unknown crowd of clergy, fervent but ignorant, who were spreading the new movement in lanes and slums. They were rash; they were reckless; they were silly. The movement once so dignified was vulgarized. So men complained, and it was everything that at such a moment there should be a personality like Liddon's in fullest touch with the new men; in fullest sympathy with all that they were attempting, and yet himself lodged tight and fast in honorable places in the old University,--a professor, a theologian, a unique figure in its pulpit; and moreover one to whom the outside public was compelled to listen with respect; who had a reputation which told on the imagination of the world at large."

A few words you will allow me in conclusion concerning Dr. Liddon's influence at St. Paul's Cathedral. If in some ways he fought--fought courageously--a losing battle at Oxford, in vainly resisting the secularizing of the University as a corporate institution (the effects of recent changes many of us cannot but think Dr. Liddon's fears considerably exaggerated), at St. Paul's, at any rate he found ample grounds for encouragement, not only in the influence over vast numbers of individuals which he there exercised, but also in the many steps taken toward the realization of his ideal of what the great Cathedral Church of London should be and do. To Dr. Liddon, during the twenty years that he held his canonry, more than to any one else, is undoubtedly due (though not without the hearty co-operation of his several colleagues in the Chapter) the wonderful transformation St. Paul's has undergone. Instead of a great national monument, as some of us remember it, it has become a centre of vast spiritual power in London. And the influence of its renewed vigor has extended to almost every Cathedral in England. Its daily Eucharist, its solemn services, the midday prayers for business men, the late Compline office for clerks living in the neighborhood, the constant preaching, the beautifying of the interior of the Church, the gathering of numberless societies for their regular-meetings or for their anniversary services in the Mother Church of the diocese, are all largely due to Dr. Liddon's inspiration. He loved St. Paul's, for its magnificent structure, for its history and associations, but most of all for its splendid opportunities. He delighted in himself conducting all over the Cathedral building parties of working-men whom clergy from different parts of London or from the country would bring on a holiday or a Saturday afternoon, and in explaining to them its many points of interest.

It is fitting that the great preacher to whom, as his former colleague, Bishop Lightfoot, said in the dedication to him of his last published work, God had given singular gifts and the corresponding sphere for their exercise, should be laid to rest within the walls to which his ministry has given a new interest and value. He is buried, beneath the dome, in the crypt, the most interesting portion of the Cathedral, where at the eastern extremity are gathered nearly all the remains of the tombs which were saved from the old St. Paul's. Near Dr. Donne, the poet Dean, whose sermons, in the words of Dean Milman, held the congregation "enthralled, unwearied, unsatiated;" close to Milman himself, the historian of the Church of God in both dispensations, and of St. Paul's; by Sir Christopher Wren, the great architect of the Cathedral, by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Turner, representatives of the highest forms of modern English art in literature, in building and in colour; and near also to England's great naval and military heroes, to Nelson wrapped in the flags of the "Victory," and to Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, there is laid all that is mortal of the preacher who revived the glories of Paul's Cross and made the Cathedral pulpit of the metropolis a power in the land.

St. Paul's and Oxford will seem different without his living presence; many in all parts of the world will feel that one is gone to whom they could always appeal, to think of the possibility of referring to whom was in itself a stay. But he lives on in his words, his influence. St. Paul's and Oxford, aye and the whole Anglican Communion, are different for his having lived and worked therein. His works do follow him. Apart from the truths he has made more clear for many of us, and of which he has taught us the living force, it is a grand example he has bequeathed of a stainless life, of a single-hearted and joyous devotion to the cause of an unseen but ever present Master, of splendid gifts splendidly used.

"They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever."

Project Canterbury