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HAVING, in a former article, said something about the classic preachers of our favoured island in connection with a series of lectures delivered at St. James's Church, Westminster, we will, on this occasion, devote attention to an array of great books, which, in their way, are perhaps even more imposing than great men. The fact is, that acting on the suggestion of the Bishop of Derry, the Rector of St. James's the Rev. J. E. Kempe, M.A., arranged for a series of lectures on Books to follow the course on Men; and these now constitute a highly suggestive volume, published by Mr. Murray, under the title of “Companions for the Devout Life.” The books selected by the several preachers are all old and established favourites, although, with some of them, it is probable that our readers will be totally unacquainted. In saying this we refer to such partially obsolete authors as Fenelon, Pascal, and Andrewes; but we might go even further and say, that too few now-a-days are familiar with the works in our literature whose titles are “familiar in their mouths as household words.” Who, for example, reads The Saint's Rest as Baxter left it; and what “general reader” is there who displays any competent knowledge of Paradise Lost 7 The very richness of our literature has the effect of promoting dissipation; and numberless readers resemble persons at a banquet whose uncultivated, or eccentric taste, prefers inspid entremets, while the best dishes of the centre remain untouched. The defective knowledge of such persons, however, may possibly make them the more desirous of knowing what such competent critics as Dean Howson, Cannon Farrar, and the Archbishop of Dublin, and ten more, have respectively to say on The Pilgrim's Progress, De Imitatione Christi, The Saint's Rest, and other works, which complete the list we are now considering. These books have all exercised an amazing influence on the world; they have been read without having their statements questioned by a very large number of admirers; and yet, with Mr. Kempe, we can well believe, that, as human works, there is not one of them free from many defects. It is not only a personal gain, the authors themselves occupy vantage ground when we, as readers, clearly comprehend their characteristics. We cannot take any uninspired author to set him up as a perfect model without danger; and the eye is quickest to discover excellencies which is able to detect a fallacy. Though it would be easy to sneer at the thirteen distinguished men who, on successive Sunday evenings gave their expectant congregation what may be called a review instead of a sermon, we are not disposed to do so, because we should certainly have profited had we been among the occupants of the pews. There is wisdom in a little diversity; while nature is so full of it, the church must not be afraid of now and then getting away from the dull routine of stereotyped uniformity.
Speaking to us like a voice from the Middle Ages, “The Imitation of Christ” is undoubtedly the most popular book that was ever written next to the Bible; and even if its popularity is in any sense on the wane, the book is still exceedingly popular. Written in an age of relentless war and of fierce disputation, in the age of the Great Schism, when Christendom beheld the edifying spectacle of one pope in Italy and another in France cursing each other with unapostolic warmth, the
CLASSIC BOOKS OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH. 5
authorship of the book is one of those enigmas of literary history which no one can solve. It was to be expected that a work which can boast of between two and three thousand translations and editions should excite curiosity regarding its author; but when we take account of the persevering ingenuity which has been expended on this unfruitful theme, especially when we think of the hundred forgotten volumes which have been composed in support of this or that favourite theory, we are constrained to say the game has not been worth the candle. To borrow Canon Farrar's words, “Moods indeed differ at different times; but, in point of fact, no one person wrote, or perhaps could have written, this book exactly as it stands. It is the legacy of ages; it is the Gospel of Monasticism; it is the psalter of the solitary; it is the cyclic utterance of the mystic; it is the epic poem of the inward life. It is all involved in the rule of St. Benedict, with its glorification of humanity.” Our own judgment is, that whosoever may have written the book, it is no more the work of Thomas a Kempis than the Letters of Junius are the work of Sir Philip Francis. Even the Israelites in Egypt could not get along without straw; and what common-place truth is more obvious, than that to construct a work of genius the workman must have material to work with. When judged by the pieces which are known to have come from their pens, neither a Kempis nor Francis rise above respectable mediocrity, and thus the probability—it might almost be said the possibility of each having written a solitary masterpiece, is nil.
Whether Gerson, “the most Christian Doctor,” and the contemporary of A Kempis, had any share in the work, we need hardly stay to enquire. Mr. Townsend, in his “Great Schoolmen,” disfavours the theory; while Canon Farrar catches in many a sentence the “faint echo of accents which once rang with passion.” These latter might have come from Gerson, who, in a barbarously turbulent age, was, as a Nominalist Schoolman, so much a man of war that he became a chief instrument in sacrificing John Huss, because Huss happened to be a Realist, and, in Gerson's opinion, by means of his evangelical doctrines, a disturber of the peaceful unity of the church. A Kempis, on the contrary, lived the life of a recluse and a copyist until he was over ninety years of age.
Though we may not cease to set a high value on such a book for the sake of its intrinsic merits, we may remember, that through its having been composed for readers living under a condition of things quite different from our own, The Imitation of Christ is not altogether a healthy companion for these times. Thankful as we may be that the unknown author was able to produce such a protest against mere sacerdotalism, the book still bears abundant evidence of having been written to solace the life of monks and nuns, or at least to comfort those who, sick and weary with the savage turmoil and selfishness of the age, turned to religion in hope of finding consolation. Such were consoled with just such counsel as we should expect to come from a pious monk of the middle ages whose church system was virtually a fabric of self-righteousness. It is, in large measure, the teaching of a Christian Pharisee in despair as regards the present world, who presses upon his reader's acceptance the supposed panacea of spiritual selfishness.
How different a kind of book is The Pilgrim's Progress, which is a
6 CLASSIC BOOKS OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH.
“miracle of genius” in more ways than Macaulay supposed, since the allegory is adapted to reign as a favourite among all classes, with persons of all ages, and through all time. It is hardly possible to conceive of genius securing any more signal triumph in a world constituted like our own. Even Shakespeare is not a universal favourite; while Baxter, Milton, Keble, and others, have each to be content with ministering to a limited constituency; but Bunyan is the friend, as well as the servant, of all. Critics of different schools have accorded the Dreamer his due with a unanimity which is at least convincing that the tributes paid were other than compliment. So long as exceptions prove the rule we need not even leave out of the reckoning the courageous simpleton, the distinguished minority of one, who, in the Penny Cyclopædia pronounced, The Pilgrim's Progress to be “mean, jejune, and wearisome.” However full the world may become of wise men, one fool will doubtless be needed to set them off; but no one in this generation, we may presume, would venture to exemplify a critical temerity similar to the above specimen. “Concerning The Pilgrim's Progress,” says Dean Howson, “there is no question of its power to rise upwards, and to secure its triumph as it rises, from the homely ground on which first it came into being. On that homely ground it still holds its sway undisputed. The language is that of the common people still. In The Pilgrim's Progress are choice bits of old English which linger yet in country places, while they have disappeared from the fashionable circles of society. It is full of proverbial sayings which sum up the sagacity and wisdom of unlettered men. Its characters have their counterparts in every town and village.” Ever since it was written the work has been a prime favourite with Christian people; and on this account we are somewhat surprised to find Dean Howson accepting the too hastily formed opinion of Macaulay, that “till a recent period all the numerous editions of The Pilgrim's Progress were evidently meant for the cottage or the servants' hall.” To judge of Bunyan's popularity in the last century we have not only to take note of the tributes paid to his worth and genius in such organs as The Gentleman's Magazine, but are justified in taking account of the quality of the various editions of his works; and these, in many instances, were more sumptuous than we usually expect to find either in the cottage or servants’ hall. Because Cowper appears to have been fearful of giving offence by mentioning a despised name, people have rushed to the conclusion that every one else was equally fastidious, which was certainly far from being the case. A century ago the book was what Dean Howson declares it to be to-day, “a bond that unites us. . . . Common ground to Church people and Nonconformists.” What greater praise can be accorded, especially when the same writer is able to add, “No sharp lines of ecclesiastical demarcation are to be traced in the histories of Christian and Christiana. There is none of that visible separation here which is sterotyped in the duplicate chapels of our cemeteries, as though, after lives unlovely, we were even in our deaths to be divided. No one could ascertain, I think, from any part of The Pilgrim's Progress, that its author was a Baptist.” As coming from a Churchman of the standing of Dean Howson, we shall, at all events, not undervalue such words as these: “I venture to add that it is good for the world—good, at least, for ourselves—that The Pilgrim's Progress was written not by a Churchman, but by a Nonconformist. This fact
CLASSIC BOOKS OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH. 7
ought to stop some of those harsh words which we are liable to use towards those who are ecclesiastically separated from us. The Pilgrim's Progress is a returning of good for evil: and in that it is a blessing received by us from the Nonconformists, it must be a blessing to those who gave it; for it is ever more blessed to give than to receive.”
What we said concerning defects in all human work will, of course, apply in a degree to The Pilgrim's Progress; but while Dean Howson is able to point out that the references to the Holy Spirit are too scanty, and that the Lord's Supper is unmentioned, all readers are aware that Bunyan was sound on both points. Persons of all evangelical denominations feel that they are being led by a perfectly trustworthy guide, whose book, free from all morbidities, is intended to train for this world as well as the next. In its utter unselfishness, in its inculcation of broad sympathy for all fellow travellers in the narrow way, in its hopefulness and good cheer, The Pilgrim's Progress is a real De Imitatione Christi, and no mere human ideal picture of what the saint should be, and how he should walk. The Baptist author, from his room in Bedford gaol,” looked out upon the world, saw men and women as they were, and yearned for their welfare individually and collectively; but the mediaeval author had his vision bounded by his own cell. It is difficult, indeed, to realize that the two books were written in the same Gospel dispensation, and only three centuries apart, so immeasurably is one author before the other in his appreciation of truth, and in his ability to interpret the spirit of Christ. The one is the voice of mediaeval asceticism calling on all who would be saved to withdraw from society and draw near to God; the other is the Gospel as understood by the Puritans,—a guide-book in which the world, with its varied associations, is seen to be the very pathway to heaven.
We had intended to give some attention to other classics, such as Paradise Lost, and The Christian Year, etc.; but having come to the end of our space we cannot do so at present. In the meantime, we are glad to welcome such a book as “Companions for the Devout Life;” for while it is valuable in itself, it helps to show how much Churchmen and Dissenters have in common if they build upon the same Rock.
G. HOLDEN PIKE.
G. A. SALA. ON SMOKING.
OLD travellers (who are generally old smokers as well) will duly appreciate the value of the boon due to the munificence of the Messrs. Rothschild. With the smoker, a pipe of tobacco allays the pangs of hunger, smooths away the asperities of wayfaring, and makes him generally cheerful and contented with his lot. The wounded man who can smoke forgets half his pain. As to smoking stupifying a man's faculties, or blunting his energy, that allegation I take to be mainly nonsense. The greatest thinkers and workers of modern times have been inveterate smokers. At the same time, it is idle to deny that smoking to excess weakens the eyesight, impairs the digestion, plays havoc with the nerves, and interferes with the action of the heart. I have been a constant smoker for nearly forty years; but, had I my life to live over again, I would never touch tobacco in any shape or form. Our soldiers in Egypt have no time to smoke immoderately; and an occasional pipe may do them no harm. It is to the man who sits all day long at a desk poring over books and scribbling “copy” that smoking is deleterious-Illustrated London News, Sept. 16, 1882.
* The County Prison, and not the Gate-house on the bridge, or on the Quse. . Though the latter has been engraved numberless times, it can be clearly proved that the Allegorist was never a tenant of that dreary place, which was a mere hovel.
Conference on the Conditions of
“ Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”—Paul.
“Be not influenced by the authority of the writer, his reputation for small or great skill in writing, but let the love of the pure truth lead thee to read.”
“Great wisdom is not to be hasty in action, and not to stand too obstinately by our own opinions.—Thomas á Kempis De Imitatione Christi.
“Good sense-never the product of a single mind-is the fruit of intercourse and collision.”—Isaac Taylor.
VIII.-THE LAW OF LOVE IN RELATION TO BAPTISM.
“ Love one another, as I have loved you."
In all the discussion hitherto carried on in the G. B. Magazine on the question of open or close fellowship, it has been admitted that many who do not see eye to eye with us in the matter of baptism, are Christ's disciples; therefore our brethren, not only in the broad sense of the brotherhood of humanity, but in the special sense designed by the Master when He used the above words to those who were bound together by the common tie of love for, and devotion to, Him and His cause. To these Pædo-baptist brethren in Christ Jesus, then, how are we to act in order to carry out the above principle ?
Let us put ourselves in the position of one of these brethren. He comes, with his wife and family, to the neighbourhood of one of our churches, and goes, naturally, to the Congregational or Wesleyan chapel. If he is contented with the spiritual food supplied, he remains there; but, if not, he comes to hear our minister. He is helped to what his new nature craves for, and is satisfied. He applies for church membership. Now what answer should love give to that brother in Christ Jesus ? There are three answers which are given by Baptist churches—which of these is most consistent with the law of love?
1st. “There are plenty of Pædo-baptist places of worship; why do you not go and join one of them ?”
This almost appears the very refinement of cruelty! He would not have come to us had he been able to profit equally well elsewhere. It is contrary to reason that he would leave his own particular denomination were all other things equal; and so he and his family must be driven where their spiritual natures cannot grow better, or purer, or wiser, and where, also, they will miss the influence of our teaching and example on the subject of baptism itself, just because we will not admit a brother of the Lord Jesus to be our brother until he has conformed to our method of administering baptism. Is this following out the law of love ?
* This subject having been taken up by the authority of our Annual Assembly, I have deemed it helpful to the progress of truth, and the welfare of the churches, to arrange for a “Conference" in these pages on the topic, to be conducted in the frank, free, courteous, and admirable spirit which marked the discussion at Derby. Our one desire, I am sure, is to know the will of our ONE MASTER, CHRIST, We are all ready to do anything, or leave anything undone, He bids.
For articles on this theme see General Baptist Year Book, 1882, and General Baptist Magazine for 1882, pp. 245, 298, 325, 381, 407, 447, by Revs. J. C. Jones, M.A., C. Payne, E. W. Cantrell, w Lees, W. Chapman, w. Orton, and w. Sharman.