MR. SELBY'S SERMONS.*
IT is not often, in the somewhat barren records of pulpit literature, that such a noble and striking volume of sermons as this by Mr. Selby is given to the public. The author is not unknown, since his " Fernley Lecture" for 1896 dealt with no little power with " The Theology of Modern Fiction." But the present volume strikes a higher note, and elevates its author to a front rank among the preachers of the time. It is not easy to characterise in a word the quality of Mr. Selby's utterances. He has undoubted literary ability, yet it is not that which makes the chief appeal to the reader. He is deeply in earnest, yet there are good, earnest preachers to whom we can pay heed, no. not for one hour, or for five minutes. He takes a very wide survey of life, but sometimes wide surveys are apt to be thin. Yet there is no thinness of quality or of mental texture here. We think it is perhaps partly that Mr. Selby compels you to do some think- ing-with him, that he is never slight, never superficial, that he ie enabled to make his appeal to you. Men of any earnestness prefer to be braced, prefer to be roused to serious thought, prefer to have the intellect employed, dislike were emotional religion, and many of them do not go to church because the sermon is far too jejune, because no demand is made on the intellect. No greater harm to religion has been done than to persuade people that the Gospel is void of any intellectual claim, that it is for weak women, for mental invalids. That was not the Pauline belief, nor was it the creed of the great thinkers who helped to build up the theology of the Catholic or the Protestant Church. But, even more than his intellectual force, the sense of the serious, of the awful nature of human life and destiny, is to earnest winds an attractive element in this volume. The present generation, immerred as it is in an absorbing secular life, has largely forgotten the fact of sin. It was, doubtless, too permanently present before the minds of the devoted men who embodied the Methodist and Evangelical revivals in the last century and the early part of this. Bat, we may depend on it, no religions movement will ever take hold of the souls of men which ignores or subordinates the doctrine of the terrible and destroying nature of sin, and the necessity for deliverance from its power. It is not mere secular improvement, it is spiritual renewal, which is to make over • The Unheeding God. By Th0122141 G. Selby, London: Hodder and Stoughton. 168.1 the world again, and it is this idea which needs reinforcement now that the " world is too much with us."
The title of the volume is taken from 'the first sermon which, in great measure, is more characteristic of the central fact in Mr. Selby's teaching than any other. It is a powerful warning against what he terms a " Laodicean travesty of God? Natural science on the one band, secular business on the other, have caused the idea of God in all its awful majesty to fade in the modern breast. But, even more than these two factors in the disintegration of a living faith, is a third, your
modern, good-tempered, easygoing optimism. We do not, of course, mean optimism as a philosophic creed, but as a con-
stant frame of mind. God is regarded, if we may use the term, as fundamentally a good-natured being, who will never be so hard-hearted as to punish men very severely. At the judgment day the black cap of the old Puritan theology will be replaced by the white gloves of a maiden assize. Our literature is fall of this idea. Novels are written whose heroes have committed every sin human power can compass, but they are " redeemed " by the devotion of a comrade, or the light affection of some romantic girl. It is not thus that Christ looked on sin, it is not thus, even in the
days before Christ, that the grim inspired prophets of Israel looked on sin. Nor will any religious teacher who is to lay
hold of the minds of men and to bring about a new-birth of faith among us take such a mild, amiable view of human nature and destiny as this. We quote the following striking passage from Mr. Selby's striking sermon on this theme :— " We cannot be tepid in our moral sensibilities without making God tepid also. The moral indifference so commonly attributed by our own century to God, is the shadow cast by the self-indul. gence and cold-blooded lethargy of all classes of society, especi- ally the prosperous. The strenuous man will believe in a strenuous God, and will turn atheist if asked to do homage tc an Olympian dilettante who lounges on a couch of ivory with cupbearers at his side. This indolently amiable God we all worship to-day, so much like the God of the apostate Jews of Zephaniah's time, this Deity who impersonates upon an enormous scale the easy-going ways of a man about town, this languorous clubland magnate is as much an idolatrous fabrication as Dagon, Ganesha, or Mumbo Jumbo. It is perhaps a more insulting thing to make God a Laodic-an like ourselves than to think of Him as a fiction of the imagination. A denial of his existen.:e may be better than wholesale misrepresentation. He is a mammoth mechanism without a soul forsooth, a por- tentous force driving the firmamental merry.go-rounds, supreme in the natural order, but of an aborted moral life. Can a graver impeachment be levelled against Him than that ?"
While there are many subjects dealt with in this volume, this particular note is maintained throughout, as the tea-motif of Mr. Selby's theme. And a much-needed thought it is for a generation which seems to have forgotten that awful judgment which Dante saw passed in the Inferno on those
thin, frivolous souls who were neither for God nor against Him, but only for themselves.
It is impossible for us to summarise the whole of these sermons, each one of which contains so much food for re-
flection, so much stimulus to action and endeavour. We can but refer to one or two others which appeal to us as being fresh and original. That on " The V.iciliations of Faith"
comes home, alas! to many a soul. The act of i aitb, the initial belief, is priceless, " but an act which stands by itself without any progeny of after-acts, is all but useless and woe- fully disappointing." As the apostle has it, " Ye did run Well," but why this stagnation, this arid heart of unbelief ? How maintain those heights we have gained ? How prevent the soul which h, a known the radiance of faith from slipping
back into the dark night of gloom and unbelief ? We must evermore strive,—that is the asconfl note in these sermons, " If a wan shows us goodwill we want him to show it through all chenges. When he has professed to follow our lead in art, literature, statesmanship, we feel as though we bad been stabbed when he forsakes us. And God wants permanent things, settled principles and convictions, mature and ma- fluctuating habits of soul from us, and can never be pleased if we give Him merely spurts and spasms of faith." Con-
nected with this sermon may well go that on "Order and Steadfastness" and that on " Self-Possession." These two
discourses breathe a manly and sane spirit of religious
endeavour. We are to be ourselves always, but especially ourselves in religion. The beautiful mysticism, the tender feminine shrinking piety of an A'Sempis is attractive to many a soul. But the manly religion which, like that of the Hebrew prophets, speaks face to face with God as a man with his friend, is also a needed element of the true life. "Courage before •men is a characteristic of the genuine prophet; a timid, blushing, disconcerted herald from God's throne is an incongruous compound." We may also specially commend the sermon called "An Early Chauvinist," a con- sideration of the career of Lamech and his sons, and a warning to those who in our time spread disease, vice, and poverty under the pretext of pushing civilisation among the barbarians of the earth ; and that on " Bondage to an Ignoble Age," which insists on detachment from the world, not by going out of it, but by resolute rejection of its vulgar standards and refusal to participate in its spirit of secularity. No more timely discourses than these could possibly be pieached.