IT is impossible to deny that all those clergymen from whose
vigour of mind and piety of heart we expect the best teach- ing on any critical religious question, devoted themselves last Tuesday to explaining away the Humiliation Day, rather than to moulding their audience into the state of mind suggested by the word ' humiliation.' One bold, pious, and apparently High- Church clergyman in Worcestershire, to whom we shall presently refer, openly declined to appoint any fast at all, denounced the whole thing as a mockery of God, told his parishioners roughly that it was all a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, that there was no fear of famine, that they had better subscribe out of their wealth for the poorer cattle-owners injured or ruined by
the cattle plague, eat their bread in cheerfulness, and not go whining and clamouring to God for cheap beef. But even some of those who celebrated the day—even the Bishop of London, who at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury invited his clergy to open their churches for prayer and humiliation last Tuesday,— did their best to strike at the proper idea of the day. That idea undoubtedly was, as hinted in the Archbishop of Canterbury's letter requesting the service, that as all other remedies had failed, and the plague still continued unabated, we should do well to regard it as the scourge of some unobserved national sin; which, if we could only detect and give up, the scourge would cease. In fact, there is precisely the same notion. ins yolved as that of the attempt of the Greeks • in the first book of the Iliad to discover and remove the cause of their punishment, where Apollo goes through the Greek camp "like unto the night," his quiverfal of arrows rattling on his shoulders, and shoots, his arrows striking first the cattle and the 'swift slogs,' and afterwards the army themselves. (Indeed with us, too, does not the prayer against the cattle plague contemplate some- what anxiously cholera in the background, and wish to see it kept "far from our borders,"—say among Greeks, or Italians, or -other comparatively worthless persons?) The Greeks in the Iliad had, however, the advantage of us, for Calchas, the son of Thestor, was able to tell them exactly why the plague came, and what 'would remove it,—while we humiliate ourselves vaguely and in the dark, hit or miss, as it were, with no better guidance than the Bishop of Ely's, who tells us that since a nation, qua nation, hasno immortality, all national sins are punished by national calamities -on earth, and that therefore this cattle plague, with possible • cholera looming behind it, must be the judgment on some national crime or vice,—particulars unspecified. It is, how- ever, the wiser wish of the Bishop of London to deprecate speculation on the special moral cause of this calamity. He took as his text our Lord's too often forgotten words —which we notice are abbreviated by the Record with a most unseemly " &c.," so little does it like them, and it leaves out .altogether the Bishop's special explanation of them,,—" Or those -eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them, think _ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt hi. Jerusalem? I tell you nay." Now the Bishop took care to explain. that special -calamity must not be supposed to imply special sin, that the cattle plague comes from God only as the whole government of the world is God's, and that we are not to speculate on the• special sins -which caused it, but rather each of us. to repent of the sins of which each knows himself to be guilty, and to use this national affliction just as every private grief that comes really home to us :is used, —as a special occasion for learning to know ourselves better as. we are, and therefore of approaching nearer to. God. That is true teaching no doubt, only that many of the events of any week would bring it more closely home to us than this, which we do not hesitate to say is an unfortunate occasion for inculcating it. The courageous. Dean of Westminster must have felt this *wen more strongly than the Bishop of London. His sermon was a yet more radical blow at the theory of special humi- liation than the Bishop's. "The nations of Europe," he said, *46 on whom this cattle plague has fallen are not to be. thought on that account sinners above the rest of Europe ; the counties of England and Scotland which have suffered most from this grievous pestilence are not therefore Fannon' above the rest of Great Britain.; the individuals on whom it has fallen with greatest severity are not therefore greater sinners than. those, who have altogether escaped. We are hushed into silence. We are raised -out of ourselves in the presence of the Almighty." And the lemon
• of the calamity is, according to the Dean, first, resignation of heart to all trouble ;—next, a call to patient scientific inquiry—why did not the Dean rebuke Parliament for having put a. violent end to almost all chance of scientific inquiry by slaying at once every creature attacked ? —lastly, pity and sympathy fou the poor suffer- ing brutes themselves, and the larger sympathy, and pity for all Inman suffering. All this is fine and true, but it is impossible not to be struck with the feet that it is a protest against the day of humiliation rather than an apology for it. Is not the, suffering of the small class ruined or injured by this plague. a drop in the ocean to the normal and regular suffering of a large class at the base of •Engliah society, who have never known what it is like to possess a cow, much less to lose one? If we are to humi- liate ourselves, and feel bowed down in heart because a few thousand farmers, graziers, and drovers,—whom a subscription- properly, applied would soon relieve,—are suffering bitterly, what are we to say to the chronic misery of our paupers, to the deep-dyed chronic sins -of every great city and every agricultural parish? We have no
humiliation days for these,—none for hurricanes which make thousands into widows and orphans in an hour,—and yet we make this small pecuniary calamity a special subject for humiliation. and prayer. Is there not too much reason to fear, with our courageous Worcestershire clergyman, that it is not the suffering of eitherfarmer or cow that moves us so deeply, but a prospect of a rise in the price of beef ? Mr. Crauford, whose sermon is full of a seines what ascetic, and yet also cheerful,, piety,—indeed, as our readers will see, he quotes Punch to. his people the, better. to illustrate his
"What ? Shall it be, and that, of all seasons of the Christian Year, in Lent,—a season of fasting and abstinence—of subduing the flesh to the
Spirib,—of roerdifying,all carnal and worldly hate.—of' drawing up our minds from care or consideration for the.triftes, of earth te meditation on high and heavenly things, and thus preparin& is the deep sympathy of devout and grateful hearts, to accompany the Redeoater—the Man of sorrows, of poverty, of privation, of suffering—the Man whose meat it was to do hia,Divine Father's will, and to finish His glorious work—thus to accompany Him, through the dark and drew/Jul scenes of His Passion, and thence through the grave and gate of death, to the ineffable glories of His Resurrection—shall it be that at-this season, of all others, anuin- ber of rubicund and full-fed Christians. shall congregate in solemn as- sembly, and while too many of them are,- we may well feel sure—(for, I ask you, are not too many of you ?)—roarelese, or at least comparatively careless, of ' the meat which endureth unto, everlasting- life,' shall they use the holy office of prayer—prayer, the sinners' refuge, the saints' de- light, the connectingliak between earth and heaven, the voice of the soul speaking to her most dread, moat awful Lord—shall they use, this office, for what ? To pray for pardon of their scandalous neglect • of the great and solemn Day of Iltuniliation, of highest human authority, and of im- memorial observance, the day with, which Lent commenced? To pray for growth in grace, for nearer conformity to the image of the Redeemer, here in saintly suffering and self-denial, hereafter in eternal glory—for ampler participation in the Broad which cometh down from heaven, that we may eat thereof and not die? No.!' Bat to pray to their Heavenly Father that He will be graciously pleased to sparethe.Ii yes of their/Wiese- creatures (for the-same God made us both), not to relieve- the sufftrings of these poor beasts, for those sufferings the framers, of our Prayer seem to regard as beneath their notice —but that God will be, *Nock to spare their lives, that upon their bodies our corniverans -appetite al*Whe. more fully-gorged—that He will condescend more abundantly to simply the shambles, and suffer not theLvictirea of the pek-axe to diler0450 Such spiritual prayers will doubtless be matched, in due season,, by equally spiritual thanksgivings ! When the disease has run its destined course, and our cattle once more abound, I suppose men heedless of- God's greater mercies—heedless, comparatively at least of the means of grace, and of the hope of glory, will. assemble once more to thank Him that He has given them their hearts' desire—that, meat being once more abundant, they are not disappointed of their lust; and their 'maim of thanksgiving, no doubt will be to the tune of 0, the Boast Beefof Old England.' Come not into their, assembly, 0 my soul I If indeed, we were suffering such horrors ax one reads of as occurring in an Irish or an Indian famine-4f thousands were perishing around as in the direst extremities of hunger, then doubtless there would be Dignits vindice.nodus, and we might well humble, ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and beseech Him to sustain the lives which, for high and holy pups:gas, He hag&given,. But what is the fact ? There is likely to be a salacity of beef, and are wee we, who pretend to be self-denying, holy, Christian men—are we such mere Beef-eaters as to make this a subject of solemn. prayer and humi- liation liefore God ? Why really (the weaker brethren may think what I am about to say unseemly in this sacred place, but I deem nothing un- seemly which best expresses the sentiments I feel it my duty to convey to you), really all this humiliation about beef puts-me in mind of a hor- rible case of destitution recorded in a well known periodical, and illus- trated by the. figure of-an alderman begging. On hia. portly person is displayed a placard, inscribed with the touching tale of his distress—el. have not tasted turtle these three days.' "
And though we cannot fully concur in the .whole spirit of this passage, we think it expresses more freely and more courageously the true criticism of a religious mind upon this day of humiliation than either the. Dean of Westminster or the Bishop of London.
In short we- believe this prayer against a rise in beef to be really precisely as objectionable as a prayer against a fall in the funds, and for the same reason,--that whatever- may- he said for it to make it look decent, we should not in fact have heard.of it at all but for that unreal and fussy sort of religiousness which represents it as permanently gratifying to God, and therefore productive of happy results for man, that we should find new occasions for abasing ourselves in the abstract,—not because we feel new and special abasement, not because there is a new flow of shame and self-reproach which we need the opportunity to express, but because it is a complimentary sort of act to our Father in heaven to discover that we have been even wickeder than we had thought ourselves, as often as may be, and especially at a moment when anything like a Heavenly signal that we need new punishment is supposed to be discerned. The cattle plague is taken in short almost as a wave of the hand from an Eastern monarch might be taken as a signal to his courtiers to cast themselves on their faces ;—it is a hint that we have forgotten our inferiority too much, and that we must be reminded of it.
Now, while heartily agreeing iu everything that the Bishop of London and the Dean of Westminster appear to have said—except that this is a natural occasion for their saying it, —we maintain that the condition of mind which marks this appointment of a humilia- tion day is really a powerful impulse to the offering up of demoraliz- ing prayers; and we mean by demoralizing prayers, all prayers which widen the gulf between man and God. If there is any practice which tends to do this, it is, we believe, the introduction of a film
of falsehood, of insincerity, and make-belief, into that act of the spirit in which every disguise should be stripped away. These humiliations because of " the judgment" of the cattle plague in- troduce all sorts of films of falsehood of this kind. It suggests most vividly that because I am sinning in London God may be punishing a farmer in Worcester without any connection between us,—or that because I repent of my sins in London God may relieve the Worcester farmer of his punishment,—a piece of moral false- hood which only requires to be stated to be exposed. It sug- gests still more strongly that mere acts of ecclesiastical etiquette, —prostration before the throne of God,—are likely to appease His wrath. It suggests in the same hazy way,—which is the more dangerous because it is hazy and never comes directly before the mind in a clear light,—that if instead of helping your suffering neighbours whose purses are suddenly emptied by mis- fortune in the only practical way by giving some of your super- fluity, you go through the form of taking some of the moral re- sponsibility for their sufferings on to your own head, and telling God that your guilt has been the part cause of those sufferings (which it certainly is not), you thereby exempt yourself from the duty of helping them. Above all, it suggests that there is a sort of humility in guessing that God is judging you, whether He is or not, for vague conceivable sins,—a ceremonial humility which too often casts out the true humility that confesses that God is judging you, as you may have reason to know that He is, for defi- nite and actual sins. There is nothing like the habit of crying " Culpa mea !" when it is not your fault at all, for relieving men from the disposition to say so frankly to God when it is.
Then these sort of prayers are demoralizing and productive of insincerity in another way. When men can once get themselves a decent form of praying for what they like, they cease altogether to think that they may be liking it a great deal too much, that it may be filling up all their thoughts to the exclusion of God. There is a danger, by no means unreal, of turning prayer into a little chatty mention of human wishes, and then conceiving that by the very fact of having mentioned these wishes in prayer you have got a sort of divine sanction for them. We doubt if any man ever prayed to be allowed to sin in so many words, but a good many men have prayed for things they secretly knew were evil for them under the form of begging, as Balaam is said to have done, for a clearer and more positive answer. We cannot imagine anything that would sooner demoralize worship than the habit of praying for pecuniary gains or exemption from pecuniary losses. Of course if a man feels, or thinks he feels, that his moral and spiritual life hangs on any event, even though it be one involving money, he is perfectly right in pouring out his whole heart to God on the subject, but it must be his whole heart, and not merely his whole wish. Nothing is a fit subject of prayer but that which goes down to the very centre of man's being—and if you once begin to veneer your prayers with superficial fancies and aversions, you might just as well give up praying altogether. One great evil of the Catholic doctrine of the intercession of the saints is that simple and ignorant people do not mind addressing a trivial prayer through a saint, which they would not choose to ask God for directly. But we are in a worse position than the Roman Catholics themselves if we stud our prayers with trifles, for then we have spoiled real prayer, while the Catholics have only spoiled prayers to the saints. If the prayer against the cattle plague really means, as we suspect it does,—" Grant, Oh Lord ! that beef may never rise above 14d. a pound,"—we say that it is almost as demo- ralizing as that of a man who should pray for the odd trick at whist. Not that we would not pray, and pray heartily—pseudo- scientific arguments to the contrary, in any wise notwithstanding— for fuller daily bread for the poor. But this is not a prayer of that kind. The really poor scarcely ever touch beef, and their daily bread at present —except perhaps cheese—is not even threatened. The only persons injured are certain poor farmers, whom we can help if we will, and the lower middle class, who are
well able to spend a great deal more on beef than there is any likelihood of their being obliged to do, or to go without it alto- gether if they must.
But after all the true danger in these humiliation prayers is their sophisticating insincerities. We can easily imagine a state of heart so simple, childlike, and confidential towards God, that the expres- sion of trivial wishes in any number might not really smother the expression of the deeper and more spiritual wants ; but we cannot imagine any tincture of falsehood, however slight, in the attitude of the soul in prayer, any exchange of responsibilities with others, any affectation of ceremonial abasement, any prudential and pro- pitiatory prostration of the mind towards God, not eating into the very heart of true prayer, and threatening us with a practicak atheism.