WORSE SERMONS THAN " THE WORST." [To THE EDITOR OF
THE " SPECTATOR.") must confess that I have been at times astonished at the
civility with which you have, on the whole, treated our clergy when attacks have been made upon them, as a body, on the sub- ject of preaching. After reading your article of the week before last, and the short correspondence which has followed it, I wonder no longer. I do indeed most heartily congratulate you that the " worst sermon you ever heard" did not consist of anything more unsatisfactory than a highly sophistical explanation of one of the parables.
That which is, however, most forcibly brought home to my
mind by the severity of your criticism on this particular sermon is the conviction that you, and those who like you are dwelling for the greater part of the year in London, have no conception of the nature of the evil of which those complain who assert that a congregation ought to be able, in some way, to free itself from the necessity of listening Sunday after Sunday to mere impertinent trifling. As the sermon you have described is " the worst you have ever heard," the words "impertinent trifling" will appear to you to savour of provincial vehemence, but if you will allow me to give you very concise sketches of a few out of many similar sermons to which it has been my fate to listen, in various parts of the country, north, south, and west, within the last few months, I think you will agree with me that no words less strong would be accurately descriptive. I can name the church where each sermon was preached, and with a little trouble the exact date of each. For the fidelity of my reports I do not ask your readers to trust to my personal veracity, though I could, in almost every instance, produce the evidence of others to corrobor- ate my own ; but I would have them ask themselves, if it would be possible for one man to invent such a concatenation of absur- dities.
I pass over two sermons, one of which reached its climax when in speaking of the fertility of nature the preacher directed the attention of a somewhat fastidious audience to the subject of rotten eggs,—and in the other the full fervour of the sermon was directed against " sins which it is a shame to speak of in this place, even by those that do them," because in the first there was an idea, partly borrowed from Mr. Carlyle, stumbling about in it somewhere, and any kind of real thought, however confused, is so rare in the specimens I have to produce, that I do not like to see it in such company, while in the second sermon the man had evidently lost his head, and I do not want to be severe on special casualties of that kind.
The first I shall report was preached on Christmas Day to some old pensioners. After pointing out to the old men how Christ's childhood had been spent in giving three examples of obedience— one moral, one natural, one ecclesiastical, the preacher went on to condole with them on the difficulty they must have in believing in the full sympathy of one who had died when thirty-two years old, and console them with the reflection that as we had heard of some whose " hair had turned white in a single night," so perhaps we might believe that the sufferings of the Garden and the Cross had rendered our Lord a decrepid old man before his time ; concluding his sermon with an elaborate description of the falling away of every feature.
In the second, preached at Easter in a fashionable watering-
place, the preacher after declaring his belief that Pharaoh was a much abused man, and that " nothing in his life became him like the end of it, which was that of a man, a monarch, and a hero," proceeded thus :—" But while I think it my duty as an historian to rehabilitate Pharaoh, I must confess as a theologian that his fate appears to me to have been an entirely just one," and he ended by explaining that though he saw no moral reason for the destruction of the tyrant (who had ordered the death of every male child of an entire nation, and was for the mere pleasure of tyranny endea- vouring to enforce impossible labour), his conscience yet entirely approved of Pharaoh's punishment, because it so happened that the people whom he was oppressing had in some way or other become great favourites of God.
The third, preached in the most fashionable church of another watering-place, consisted almost solely of the most disgusting and loathsome medical details on the subject of leprosy. I must not offend your readers by a too accurate description, but it will per- haps be enough to say that the rise, progress, and decay of the " indurated scabs," which, as I learned, I hope correctly, from this sermon, are the most offensive feature of the disease, were most minutely described.
The fourth was on the subject of the resurrection of the body, in which, as we were informed, few of us believed as fully as it was our duty to believe. The right faith was of course that we should rise with the very dust which composed our bodies here, but the difficulty arose,—were the decrepid old man and the baby that died in arms to rise as they had died? No, that could not be. There- fore " as many believed " (and among the many the preacher, if he believed anything, was evidently one), as our Lord had died when he was thirty-two,—thirty-two was the age at which all were to rise again. The baby was to fill out to the proportions it would have attained at that age, the old man to be as he had been then.
Am I wrong, Sir, in thinking that were some congregations pro- tected only from that which came under the strictest definition of "impertinent trifling" it would to them be a very important con-