SOME VOLUMES OF SERMONS.* No apology is needed for a
volume which supplies the reader with characteristic specimens of the teaching given from the . University pulpit of Cambridge. Most of these sermons attain a high level of merit ; some of them, notably those delivered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. A. W. Robinson, and Mr. Moule, Principal of Ridley Hall, are of quite uncommon excellence. The editor, by a happy inspira- tion, has found a connecting-link for the first nine in the list .of Christian virtues enumerated by the writer of 2 Peter ; the remainder, he tells us, " have been selected with a view to present-day thoughts and questions in order to show the characteristic attitude of the University as expressed by her preachers." The characteristic attitude of Cambridge during the theological movements of the last half-century has been one of "magnificent calm," to quote the only half-admiring expression of a well-known writer; and this is not unfaithfully represented by these discourses. The utterances of Professor Ryle on Inspiration are distinctly conservative, though he does not pretend to defend the hopeless position of the verbalist ; while Professor Kirkpatrick, in treating of the relation of the Old Testament to the New, keeps within strictly orthodox lines.
One of the most distinct, and to our mind most valuable, deliverances in the volume, is Mr. Robinson's sermon, entitled "The Divine Purpose." After quoting a piece of practical advice given by an eminently successful parish priest, to the effect that he had always "worked from a centre," and drawn a few as close as possible to himself, and influenced others through them, he goes on :-
" What if working from a centre ' be the true way of influencing, not simply a parish, but a world ? What if our Lord were but stating this law when He said that the kingdom of heaven was to be likened unto 'leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened : ' and when He said near the close of His ministry to His disciples, I have chosen you and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain,'—as if this were indeed the true secret of work that should abide P What if that which we are asked to believe be really this, that the Divine Purpose is working on to its accomplishment along the generally well-defined lines of a predetermined method ; that according to this method the peculiar graces of the Christian dispensation are offered as a rule to those who have received the call to member- ' -ship in a divinely constituted society, designed expressly to ex- hibit the true type of human life and fellowship, and pledged to yearn and strive and pray for the regeneration of the race in the time present and the time to come ?"
The Archbishop's discourse on "Love's All-embracing Activity," is one of the ablest and clearest expositions that we have ever seen of the duty, principle, and method of -Christian philanthropy, while no words could be too strong in praise of the spirituality, combined with a singularly perfect literary expression, of Mr. Moule's sermon on " The Consummation of Love and Peace." Hero is a passage the
depth and eloquence of which it would' not be easy to surpass:
"The Gospel, the sbecyvatas, what is it ? Subordinately, it is many things. It is the revelation of the Redemption of our nature, by the work of the Incarnate Son wrought once and for ever for us. It is the message of the unutterable mercy of that Pardon which moved the prophet's awe-stricken wonder : Who is a God alike unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity ? ' It is the message of the bringing of the guilty, in penitent faith, into the sublime amnesty of the Holy One, because of His own gift of His Own Begotten, Who died the just for the unjust, the Propitiation for our sins. It is the message of the more than restoration of our fallen nature in our second Head. It is the bringing out of life • (1.) Combrldge Sermons, Preached before the University, 1889-911. Selected and Edited by C. H. Prior, M.A. London : Methuen. 1893.-01) Christ and Modern Infe Present-Day Aspects of Faith and Duty. By Henry Bickersteth Ottley, M. London : Wells Gardner and Co.—(3.) The Search for God, and other Sermons. By Robert Eyton. London : Regan Paul, Trench, and Co. 1893 —(4.) Nutford P:ace Sermons. By Bradley Alford. London: David Stott. 1891. and immortality from shadows into the light. It is the revelation of wonderful possibilities of benefit and blessing for this life present, in even its temporary aspects, over since it has been possible to say of all men, yea, of the lowest and the worst of human persons, or human tribes, `for whom Christ died.' But the inmost glory of the Gospel, the mysterious central brightness of its message, what is it ? It is the giving by God of Himself to man. It is man's union, and then communion, with none other than God in Christ. For this end was prophecy and preparation ; patriarchs, and priests, and kings. For this was Bethlehem ordained, and Nazareth, and Golgotha, and Joseph's Garden, and the Hill of the Ascension, and the fiery shower of Pentecost. For this was righteousness imputed,' and holiness imparted, and the immortal redemption of our body revealed. Here, and no lower, from our point of sight, lies the final cause of Blithe saving process. It was in order that God, with infinite rightness, and with all the willingness of eternal love, might give Himself to man, and dwell in man, and walk in him, and shine out from him, in measure here, hereafter perfectly."
Mr. Ottley's sermons show something of the effects of what
may be called the modern competition among preachers. There are so many voices raised to catch the public ear that each speaker is tempted to produce some peculiar note that will arrest the attention. It is difficult to imagine how two centuries ago listening crowds hung with breathless attention on the unimaginative, unimpassioned discourses of Barrow and Tillotson. It is necessary now to be original, or at least novel, to be unusual, if not actually eccentric. Here is a passage which seems to exemplify our criticism :-
" For the winds of God are loose over the ocean of human life ; —the Breath of God is moving, and with ever freshening force, upon the face of the waters. Here, and to-day, we may feel that mighty Breath. His life-giving Presence, I say, is abroad upon the ocean of our time ; and the waters are stirred from their depths ; and the waves of human Reason are lashed into foam- flakes of pride, of insolence, of rebel self-sufficiency ; and the frail crafts of human Resource, moored in the perilous currents of our restless age, are trembling under the shock of political and moral storm. They are chafing at the cables by which they have attached themselves to anchors that cannot hold against the strain ; they labour in the racing tideway which sets between the shoals of Superstition and of Atheism, upon the dark headland of Despair."
But if Mr. Ottley sometimes yields to the temptation of a fanciful analogy, he has the substantial merits of courage and candour, of a cogent logic, of felicitous illustrations drawn from a reading of no common extent, and of a sympathetic
appreciation of difficulties, practical and theoretic. The first ten sermons, under the two titles of " Athirst for God," and " Creed and Science," are, taken as a whole, an effective state- ment of the case for belief, not the less effective for the earnestness with which the preacher mingles the hortatory element with the apologetic.
Mr. Eyton's volume is almost entirely practical. One might wish him somewhat better equipped for the work of a preacher than he seems, in some respects at least, to be. It was not necessary to hazard a theory as to the date and authorship of the Book of Job; but it is certainly injudicious to say that the " most probable hypothesis of its origin " is that it is an ancient tradition, which took a dramatic form in the days of Solomon, and to describe those days as " the most cultured and literary period of Hebrew history." This is surely to antedate this period by two or three centuries. The view of the Scholastic theology given in Sermon IX. is narrow and unsympathetic. It is safe to conjecture that Mr. Eyton does not know much about St. Thomas Aquinas, especially when we find him apparently under the impression that " schoolman" and " scholiast " are convertible terms. After telling us " we can easily imagine the mind of St. Thomas formulating questions in the same fashion " as that of the lawyer in Matthew xxii., 35-40, we read, " In much the same spirit which animated the scholiast," &c. But the simplicity, the directness with which the preacher addresses himself to questions of practical ethics, is worthy of all praise. The able vindication (in the same sermon) of the necessary connection between religion and morality, the discourse on " Hin- drances," with its somewhat quaint yet forcible applications, are especially worthy of praise. Some of Mr. Eyton's homely images are good, as when he compares the street-loafer to the "reflection in a somewhat dirty looking-glass of idle men who happen to have inherited enough to enable them to be idle." The argument about Gambling (Sermon on " Waste,") is
which the wrong is put down as a failure in stewardship, is as forcible as any that we have seen on a very difficult subject. Mr. Alford's sermons are prefaced by a very full and even humble acknowledgment of indebtedness to others. The feeling has, he says, for "long hindered me from publishing what seemed less mine than that of many others." And indeed the volume is full of indications of wide study, some- times pursued in unfamiliar directions; but Mr. Alford is far from deserving the censure which Robert Hall once passed on a learned preacher of his acquaintance, that "the man had put so many books on his head that his brain could not move." There is plenty here of mental agility and freedom. Freedom is, indeed, a characteristic note of Mr. Alford's
utterances. If ever a school of Christian Anarchists should arise, he is not unfit to be their prophet. Here is a fine statement of his principle :-
" Then what is the application of theocracy to modern life ? Is it mighty before God to the casting down of authority' ? No ; but it is revolutionary in its ideas concerning the action of authority. The monarch who is minute in his regulations for conduct, is overstepping his own limits and intruding within the sphere of God. The most thoughtful of kings may be the worst of kings, because it is the tendency of law to weaken resource ; and through resource and versatility, not of restraint, true order comes. The Hebrew creed was not merely Jehovah supreme over kings, but man also, in his proper region, supreme over kings. And it is not so much now that autocrats encroach, as that the despotic people encroaches, and justifies such encroachment as righteous, because men practise it over themselves. But a multi- tude can intervene between heaven and earth and bring darkness, as well as an individual ; and they do intervene and darken, when they regulate by decree what God alone can rightly regulate by persuasion. There is nothing to me more pathetic than the vision of the future which the down-trodden classes have conceived for them- selves. They are to dwell in a paradise of inspection. Officials are to see all houses solidly built, all food wholesome, all habits cleanly, all books untainted, all children taught, and most adults sober. Will any vigorous impulse to do well for its own sake survive this well-meant pestilent supervision ? Loyalty to those in power is good, but there is something better, and that is loyalty to self, which the other form of loyalty may extinguish ; for where reliance is fixed upon the Saul of physical strength, or the David of spiritual piety, or the Solomon of mental culture, where is room left for reliance upon the energies within, and upon the besetting God without ? The nineteenth century is saying to the prophet, Nay, but a king shall reign over us ; ' and the prophet should answer, The Lord your God is your ging? o We would gladly quote, did our limits of space allow, the argument in " The Action of a Christian" against Prohibition. Mechanical restraints of evil, or encouragements of good, find no favour with our preacher. " What would happen," he asks, with a very felicitous sarcasm, "to our modesty, what would happen even to coats, if we took to advertising each self- denial we practised by its appropriate ribbon?" (The italics, we should say, are ours.) We must be content with men- tioning, as a specimen of a more constructive mood, the sermon on "The Perception of Mary of Bethany." For depth of feeling and eloquence of expression it stands at the head of a very able series of sermons.