THE SERMONS OF ARCHBISHOP MAGEE.* THERE is a pathos in
the sermons of a preacher after he has passed into the silence of death, which is greater than the pathos of any other posthumous publication. There is nothing so personal, so individual, as the influence of a great preacher. 'Though he speaks to the crowd, it is never the crowd that he addresses, but the inmost heart and conscience of each individual. He deals, not with general interests only, but with the most momentous of the private interests of each of his bearers. And if his message is a true and earnest as well as an eloquent one, then the man who is, for the time at least, devoting himself and all his gifts to our service, rouses in us an answering sympathy, an intimately personal interest. When one of these strong helps in the difficulties of life has passed away, how anxiously, and not without misgiving, do we seize upon the records of his spoken words! How great in reality were the thoughts that were made great for us by his eloquence —and how much of his power over us lay in his personality P Those who for the first time, now that they can no longer hear the living voice, prepare to read the sermons of Archbishop Magee, may be inclined to say to themselves : "We expect so much, that we know we shall be disappointed." For what we have been saying is specially applicable to extempore preach- ing like that of this great orator. Such preaching is most tinder the treacherous power of eloquence, most filled with the life and soul of the individual, most likely to have carried us beyond our sober judgment at the moment.
The volume before us will then, as we have said, be opened by many with the expectation of disappointment, and their enjoyment of it will be all the greater from the futility of their fears. The Archbishop—as quoted in the editor's preface—speaks of the extempore sermon as the "religious speech;" and we have here the "religious speech" in wonderful perfection. His sermons are singularly free from the defects of the academical discourse. They hardly condescend to the pleading of the advocate. The style is peculiarly manly, simple, and free. They are addressed equally to opponents and to followers. They might be the speeches of a great
• Growth in Grace. and other Sermons. By W. C. Magee, DD., late Arch- bishop of York. Edited by C. B. Magee. London : Isbister and Co. 189L
statesman in a moment of crisis, who, while quite aware of the urgency of the danger, is so full of the wealth and great- ness of his own cause, that he can hardly restrain his irony at the folly of human nature which gives him such grave cause for fear. There is hardly a passage that is not eloquent, and there is not one passage in which there is any straining after eloquence. It is restrained in its display, as a man of good taste who is fabulously rich will dislike too much show, being unwilling to rest on anything so mean his claim to distinction.
With the characteristics of a speech, extempore eloquence of this kind has also its limitations, and we see them most clearly when we contrast the "religious speech" with the "religious essay." The speech must be laid on broad lines, must bear its meaning immediately into the mind of its audience, and must be fitted for the varied capacities of many men ; while the essay is laid before the cultivated few, sug- gesting more than it can undertake to demonstrate, elabora- ting, refining upon some central idea. The essay is a better vehicle for thought, and is more likely to take its permanent place in literature. In it ordinary commonplaces are hardly excusable, arguments that have not been most thoroughly sifted are not allowable. But the statesman or extempore preacher may make use of the veriest truism and of any wholesome, truthful argument that can best con- vey his meaning to the ordinary mind. The English nature seems peculiarly suited to the practical, manly, straight- forward characteristics of the speech, and nothing could be in this respect more essentially English than the method and spirit of this Irish preacher.
Would space permit, a most interesting comparison might be drawn between this volume and perhaps the most perfect specimens of the religious essay in our language, Newman's Oxford Sermons. The Archbishop seems to us least remark- able where Newman is most so, and that is in the subtle knowledge of human nature. With what powerful irony Dr. Magee can describe the worldliness of the religious world !— but we do not find in his pages Newman's subtle, piercing analysis of human motives, partly, it would seem, from a certain contempt, a certain want of patience with men and women who are in any degree self-deceived. Newman can sympathise, can believe in their aspirations while he is un- sparing to the insincerities. That there are many, especially women, to whom to be wholly without self-deception is extremely difficult, and who may yet have a most sincere desire for perfection, is a truth which Newman had deeply understood.
We will endeavour to cite some characteristic samples of the Archbishop's quality. Here is a passage on the popular canonisation of free-thought. Modern society speaks of interference with free-thought as an infringement of personal liberty. It resents the exclusive claim of Christianity on its beliefs. It demands in the name of freedom to be allowed to think as it will. Such a demand, the Archbishop contends, is opposed not only to the supernatural, but to the natural order. "Think rightly, or you will be punished," is not a mere threat of Christianity ; it is a threat of the whole system of Nature. Punishment does come on those who break the laws of Nature, and if in this respect the spiritual world is analogous to the natural, are not the Christian preacher's threats the warnings of a friend, rather than the interference of an intruder ? The preacher adds, indeed, something to the analogy between the laws of the physical and the spiritual world, but that something is not a message of terror, but of hope. In place of relentless law, we have the lawgiver who can spare the penitent offender. Here
are the Archbishop's words :— 4C think for a moment of the constitution of nature— of the laws which govern the universe. Do those laws allow of free-thought ? Do those laws allow men to make mistakes con- cerning any of the facts of nature ? Try it. Let any man think wrongly of any of the forces of nature and let him see what nature will do. Let him freely think that fire does not burn or water drown ; let him think that fever is not infections, or that ventila- tion is unhealthy ; let him think wrongly concerning any law of nature, and he will find that he will be visited by a sharp and merciless punishment. Those who talk about appealing from Christianity to the beneficent laws of nature forget this fact, that there are no laws so merciless—so utterly unforgiving— ay, and so utterly regardless of whether a man has transgressed ignorantly or purposely : he who transgresses ignorantly and he who transgresses wilfully, are alike beaten with many stripes. The great machinery of the world will not arrest its revolutions for the cry of a human creature who by a very innocent error, by the mistaken action of his free-thought, is being ground to pieces beneath them. Slowly, surely, relentlessly, eternally it moves on ; oppose it in your free-thought, and it will grind you to powder. There is no room for free-thought there. Where, then, is there room for free-thought ? Law restrains, society punishes it, science laughs at it, nature crushes it out. And yet not without warnings, too. Nature and science have their priests and their prophets. The man of science will warn you of the consequences of transgressing the laws which he has discovered. He foresees the judgment-days that are coming in your life, and he tells you you are free, perfectly free, to think differently from him,—yon exercise your own free-thought about it ; but you do it at your own proper peril, you may refuse to believe him, your thought is perfectly free, but so surely as you do it you suffer for it. And, mark you, it is not his prophecy that has created the judgment. It is not his warning that brings down punishment upon you. It is not his book about sanitary laws that brings diphtheria or scarlet-fever into your house. It is not the sinking of the mercury in the glass that brings on the storm. The written prophecy in the one case, the mute prophecy in the other, foretell the evil, but they do not create it. Nature and science, then, have their warnings and threatenings of penalty, and nature and science avenge themselves upon free-thought. And mark this, further ; the more you lose sight of a personal will, the more you have to do with law and the less with the Lawgiver, fainter and fainter seems to grow the chance of forgiveness, less and leas room does there seem to be for free-thought. A.h ! there is some- thing after all in that word, I believe in God the Father Almighty ; ' there is something in knowing and believing in an omnipotent and loving will, that has the power to save the free-thought of an erring creature from the terrible punish- ment which comes from the soulless and merciless machinery of law."
Here is another typical specimen of the Archbishop's eloquence. The thought will be familiar to every Christian. The sense of novelty, of startling reality, which it gives in these pages, is therefore all the more striking :—
"Religions, like constitutions, may be drawn up on paper in the study by the score ; they must be tested in the street. Try then in this way your new and improved religion. The trial at least is easy. The next street that you turn into will very likely furnish us with a sufficient test. Here comes one who needs some help to save her from the ruin that seems to have marked her for its prey. Shame and misery, want and the fear of want, and late remorse and grim despair, have done their work on
her, and left their marks upon a face, whence sin has swept with its effacing fingers, every trace of the beauty of woman- hood and the modest comeliness of innocence. Dark thoughts are busy at her heart, mingling the memories of the long past, the agony of the present, and the dread of the future, all in one wild weary wish for the rest and refuge of the grave. What shall we say to her ? We may not speak to her of Him who suffered the woman that was a sinner to wash His feet with her tears—that is a Christian myth ; nor tell her that His blood cleanseth from all sin—that is a Jewish dogma repugnant to our better moral sense. But you may open your Emerson, and read her the exhortation that bids her say,—' I love the Right. Truth is beautiful within and without for evermore. Virtue, I am thine : save me, use me : thee will I serve day and night, in great and small, that I may be—not virtuous, but Virtue !' And you may cheer her sad heart by assuring her that 'when she attains to say this,' then will the end of her creation be answered, and God will be well pleased!' And doubtless she will thank you for this, and will tell you that it is a great help to aid her to struggle against sin, shame, and misery, and the madness of her despair. Try it. We challenge you teachers of the new religion to try your faith. We have tried ours. There have been those who have gone into the streets of our great cities and said to such a one,—' You are an outcast, you are lost, and that is just the very reason the Son of God came from Heaven to save you. Christ our Saviour has come to seek and to save the lost.' And somehow this gospel does save these outcasts. Will you try yours instead, and tell us what it has done? And when you have saved one soul by your way, then it will be time for us to begin to think of changing ours. Or will you try the efficacy of your new remedy for sin upon even a worse and more hopeless case ? Will you try it upon him who has made that poor lost one what she is—upon the accomplished, polished gentleman, let us suppose, whom education and civilisation have somehow failed to cure of selfish and cruel lust ? Will you address him in another exhortation from the same gospel, and say,—' Oh, sinful and selfish man, do you not know 'that the law of gravitation is iden- tical with purity of heart ' ? Listen to me while I tell you 'that duty is one thing with science, with beauty, and with joy.' Try it ! and come and tell us what the result has been. And we will tell you meanwhile of those like him, who have been brought to kneel in bitter penitence before a Cross, that tells of unselfish, of self-sacrificing love!"
Such quotations might be multiplied, but they are enough in themselves to give some indication of the power of Dr. Magee's irony, the beauty of his pathos, and the rare eloquence which gave expression to that which is still more rare—his genius for what we may venture to call religious common-sense.