3 MARCH 1939, Page 25


IT may be asserted without any fear of contradiction that there is no living Englishman better qualified to introduce a volume of this character than Dr. Hensley Henson. A good deal has been written within the present century upon the art of preaching, but—with the possible exception of half a dozen shrewd and searching pages in The Opportunity of the Church of England (1905), written by the present Archbishop of Canterbury when Bishop of Stepney—nothing comparable in importance with the Bishop of Durham's Ordination Charges printed in his Church and Parson in England (1927). Further- more, Dr. Henson still remains one of our leading authorities, if not the leading authority, on English religion during the seventeenth century, which was one of the two greatest periods of English pulpit eloquence: while his centenary sermon on Robertson of Brighton is sufficient to attest his knowledge and his study of the one preacher in the historic annals of the Church of England whose sermons are still alive, not merely as literature, but as sermons.

For the majority of sermons in this little book are frankly " museum pieces." They belong to the history of English literature or to the history of the English genius. Few of the earlier specimens, at least, could be adapted to the needs, let alone the tastes, of a modern congregation. They can be read with pleasure and, indeed, with profit : they are intel- lectually stimulating and suggestive: but they are cast in an idiom and in a form which are no longer native to our thought. Some of them undoubtedly belong to the ages; but few of them belong particularly to our generation, or are particularly congruous with it.

Now, there are various plans on which an anthology of ser- mons may be compiled. It is possible, for example, to make a point of including sermons which are, in a technical sense, " historic "; sermons which have provoked historic controver- sies or which have initiated historic movements; sermons with which even the secular historian may be presumed to be familiar. Such, within the limits of the period under con- sideration, were Sacheverell's sermon on " Perils among False Brethren " (5709), Hoadly's sermon on " The Nature of the Kingdom or the Church of Christ " (17i7), the first of Hugh James Rose's sermons on " The Commission and Consequent Duties of the Clergy " (1826) which heralded the Catholic Revival in the Church of England, Keble's sermon on " National Apostasy " (1833), and, in a minor measure, Hook's sermon on " Hear the Church " (1838), which gave conspicuous annoyance to thz Whigs. There are also other sermons which belong rather to ecclesiastical than to general history, of which Pusey's " The Holy Eucharist a Comfort to the Penitent " (May, 1843) and Newman's " The Parting of Friends " (Sep- tember, 1843) are perhaps the most notable examples. But neither category is represented here.

Again, it is possible to illustrate the history of English homiletics by the inclusion of representative sermons by men whose style of pulpit oratory was in their generation, and per- haps long after it, accepted as the model of what preaching ought to be. " His Sermons were so well heard and liked, and so much read," said Burnet of Archbishop Tillotson, " that all the Nation proposed him as a Pattern, and studied to copy after him ": while Professor Sykes' article on the sermons of Parson Woodforde, the diarist, in the current number of Theology (February, 5939) illustrates the persistence and the tenacity of the Tillotsonian tradition. To Lancelot Andrewes, Tillotson's biographer (the Rev. Thomas Birch) rightly attri- buted what he regarded as " the great corruption of the oratory of the pulpit " in the Jacobean age. Charles Simeon's adapta- tion of Claude's Essay on the Composition of a Sermon (Dis- cussion by Explication, Discussion by way of Observation, Discussion by Propositions, Discussion by Perpetual Applica- tion) was less universally accepted : but his ingeniously con- structed Skeletons still rattled their bones through a good deal of early nineteenth-century Evangelical preaching. But neither Andrewes nor Tillotson nor Simeon is represented in this selec- tion. The exclusion of Tillotson is understandable: his sober advocacy of a rational morality is uncongenial to our modern piety, except in the more suburban idiom of St. Michael's, Chester Square. It is also doubtful whether any of Simeon's sermons would bear reprinting now, although attention may he drawn to the Rev. C. M. Chavasse's lecture on Simeon and his love for the Bible in Charles Simeon : An Interpretation (1936). But surely one of Andrewes' sermons on the Nativity might have been included on its merits.

For merit, literary and intellectual, is evidently the criterion employed by the compiler of this antho7o:y of English sermons. What is, however, more than a little puzzling is that, whereas the earlier preachers are for the most part represented by what may be described as their acknowledged masterpieces, the later preachers are for the most part repre- sented by sermons with the very titles of watch the modern reader is likely to be unfamiliar. Thus we are given Latimer's " Sermon on the Plough," Donne's " Death's Duel," Taylor's " The Marriage Ring." These are conventional, but none the less admirable, choices. Yet J. B. Mozley is represented not by the sermon on " War," but by a sermon on "The Reversal of Human Judgment "; Newman, not by "The Parting of Friends," but by a sermon on "The Invisible World "; Liddon by a sermon on " Influences of the Holy Spirit," and not either by " Five Minutes After Death " or by " A Father in Christ." These choices, though not readily intelligible, are no doubt defensible on other grounds. But it is extraordinarily difficult to see why South should be represented by " Chris- tianity Mysterious and the Wisdom of God in Making it so," instead of by his one acknowledged masterpiece, " Man Created in God's Image," which contains the famous passage concluding with the words, "An Aristotle was but the rubbish of an Adam, and Athens but the rudiments of Paradise."

On all these grounds, then, it may be argued that this selection is less satisfactory than Canon Douglas Macleane's Famous Sermons by English Preachers (19t1), which must still remain the best anthology of its kind available to the student of English homiletics. Not that Selected English Sermons does not possess compensating merits of its own. For one thing, it is less overwhelmingly Anglican. It includes Martincau and R. W. Dale, and even Caird and Chalmers, though these can hardly be regarded as English preachers ; and here, again, it may be noted that Chalmers is represented by a sermon on "The Restlessness of Human Ambition," and not by "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection." Moreover, it includes the Puritan, Thomas Adams (with a typically mediaeval treat- ment of " The City of Peace "), and the Ever Memorable John Hales, of Eton College, and that forgotten orator, Magee. On the other hand, there is nothing by Wesley, Whitefield, Robert Hall, or Spurgeon. And we are still waiting for an anthology that shall include the sermon preached by Archbishop Frederick Temple at the consecration of Truro Cathedral in 1887, of which Scott Holland said that it was the greatest sermon on the Church that had been preached in modern times. Indeed, we should welcome a really adventurous selec- tion that should include such minor masters as John Berridge, and Charles Kingsley (something from the Twenty-Five Village Sermons), and C. J. Vaughan (who is technically excellent : consider, for example, the sermon on " Three Part- ings," from Last Words at Doncaster), and, of course, Thomas Hancock, of St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey. Such an anthology would be really useful and suggestive to the modern preacher. 'This is not.

No doubt, it was not constructed for that purpose. It presents the Sermon To Be Read As Literature, presumably on the unfortunate analogy of The Bible To Be Read As Literature (a purpose for which it was plainly not intended). As such, it is a reminder that sermons were once read—and, alas, written—as " literature " up to the end of the eighteenth century. Moreover, it comes to us commended and adorned by Dr. Hensley Henson's introduction, which, though slight, is stimulating. But the Bishop's conclusion is, perhaps, unduly pessimistic. That the Biblical sermon is still possible, and can still be magnificent, is fully demonstrated by Sir Edwyn Hoskyns' Cambridge Sermons (1938); and that there is still a field, as there is certainly a need, for courses of expository sermons, is shown by Bishop Karney's An Ambassador in Chains (1937). Secondly, the decline of the University Sermon, at least at Cambridge, is largely due to the fact that the hour at which it is delivered has been put back from midday to the impossible hour of half-past two, and its place is gradually being taken by the 12.0 sermon at St. Bcne't's.