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Good Words 1860
Latimer in the Pulpit


(Concluded from page 174.)

The peculiarity of Latimer's preaching which we have next to notice, is the fact that he often brings into his discourses topics which, in these days, would be considered too secular in their character to be treated of from the pulpit. Our readers should recollect, however, that in Latimer's day there was no such person as the Thunderer of Printing-House Square. The newspaper press had no existence. If any injustice was committed by a magistrate, if any act of tyranny was perpetrated by a landlord, if any trickery was practised by a tradesman, the pulpit was really the only organ through which such iniquities could be exposed, denounced, and brought under the restraint of public opinion. The pulpit, in that day, had to discharge its own proper functions, and those now discharged by the platform and the press besides. This apology, however, is perhaps unnecessary; for, notwithstanding the fact of our having the platform and the press, it is very questionable whether it would at all detract from the dignity of the pulpit, whether it would not add very considerably to the power and the usefulness of the pulpit, if Christian ministers condescended to notice every form of evil, as it is seen in the world of practical, every-day life. All kinds of injustice and wrong, whether on the part of great people or small, call forth Latimer's censures, and he is sometimes terribly severe. Even the king does not altogether escape. It is true that sometimes Latimer used to flatter his sovereign; as, for example, when he says in Edward VI.'s presence, "Have we not a noble king? Was there ever a king so noble, so godly, brought up with so noble counsellors, so excellent and well-learned schoolmasters? I will tell you this, and I speak it even as I think, his Majesty hath more godly wit and understanding, more learning and knowledge, at this age, than twenty of his progenitors, that I could name, had at any time of their life." Well, this does sound rather fulsome, but it was not always thus that Latimer spoke before his sovereign. If there is anything of which a young man is impatient, and justly impatient, it is the interference on the part of others with regard to his choice of a wife; and to be publicly advised on such a matter would be intolerable. But Latimer thought it his duty, in one of his sermons, and in the presence of no one knows who, thus to address the king, hinting rather disagreeably at the king's father: ''And here I would say a thing to your Majesty: . . For God's love beware where you marry; choose your wife in a faithful flock. Beware of this worldly policy. Marry in God; marry not for the great respect of alliance; for thereof cometh all these evils of breaking off wedlock which is among princes and noblemen." And he not only ventures to give the king plain advice, he has the boldness to find fault with him occasionally. He is anxious that the young king should be industrious, that he should personally administer justice: "I require you, (as a suitor rather than a preacher,) look to your office yourself, and lay not all upon your officers' backs; receive the bills of supplication yourself; I do not see you do so now-a-days, as ye were wont to do the last year." The judges must have been a sorry lot in Latimer's time, or he would never have come out in this style : "If a judge should ask me the way to hell, I should shew him this way: first, let him be a covetous man; then let him go a little farther, and take bribes ; and, last, pervert judgment. There lacketh a fourth thing to make up the mess, which, so God help me, should be hangum tuum, a Tyburn tippet to take with him ; and it were the Judge of the King's Bench, or Lord Chief-Justice of England, yea, and it were my Lord Chancellor himself, to Tyburn with him." On the taking of bribes, he says in one of his sermons preached before the king, and probably in the presence of many of the judges, "A good fellow on a time bade another of his friends to a breakfast, saying, ' If you will come you shall be welcome, but I tell you beforehand, you shall have but slender fare, one dish, and that's all.' 'What is that?' said he. 'A pudding, and nothing else.' 'Marry,' quoth he, 'you cannot please me better; of all meats that is for mine own tooth; you may draw me round about the town with a pudding,' These bribing magistrates and judges follow gifts faster than the fellow would follow his pudding." Here is another specimen of Latimer's attacks upon the magistrates: "Cambyses was a great Emperor. It chanced he had under him, in one of his dominions, a briber, a gift-taker, a gratifier of rich men ; he followed gifts as fast as he that followed a pudding; a hand-maker in his office, to make his son a great man, as the old saying is, ' Happy is the child whose father goeth to the devil.' The cry of the poor widow came to the Emperor's ear, and caused him to flay the judge quick (alive), and laid his skin in the chair of judgment, that all judges who should give judgment afterwards should sit in the same skin. Surely it was a goodly sign, a goodly monument! I pray God we may once see the sign of the skin in England."

Latimer's strictures on dishonesty are not confined to judges and patrons; he attacks the commercial immorality of his age, and introduces some very quaint and homely illustrations of the subject. It seems to have been a common trick to take to market a cow that gave no milk and a calf with her, "pretending that this cow hath brought this calf. The man which buyeth the cow cometh home; peradventure he hath a many children, and hath no more cattle but this cow, and thinketh he shall have some milk for his children ; but, when all things cometh to pass, this is a barren cow, and so this poor man is deceived. The other fellow, who sold the cow, thinketh himself a jolly fellow and a wise merchant, and he is called one who can make shift for himself. But," adds old Latimer, who feels for the poor starving children, and rises to a storm of honest rage,—"But I tell thee, whosoever thou art, do so if thou list; thou shalt do it of this price—thou shalt go to the devil, and there be hanged on the fiery gallows, world without end." In a sermon preached before the king, Latimer does not think it beneath the dignity of the occasion to expose the trickery of the cloth manufacturers,—"If his cloth be eighteen yards long, he will set him on a rack and rack him while he hath brought him to twenty-seven yards long. When they have brought him to that perfection, they have a pretty feat to thick him again. He makes me a powder for it; they call it flock-powder. They were wont to make beds of flocks, and it was a good bed too ; now they have turned their flocks into powder, to play the false thieves with. Oh, wicked devil! what can he not invent to blaspheme God's Word ! These mixtures come of covetousness; they are plain theft. Wo worth that these flocks should so slander the Word of God; as He said to the Jews, ' Thy wine is mixed with water,' so might He have said to us of this land, ' Thy cloth is mingled with flock powder.'" Latimer, it is to be presumed, did not understand the principles of political economy; these are quite a modern discovery; and therefore we must not blame our preacher for complaining bitterly of the high price of commodities, ascribing it to the villany of tradesmen In some of his sermons he enters into the question of cheap food and dear, and, of course, strikes at the corn-merchants with a will. Speaking of the rich fool, whose barns were not large enough to contain his store, Latimer observes,—"We read not that this covetous farmer or landed man of the Gospel bought corn in the market to lay it up in store to sell it again. But, and if it please your Highness, I hear say that in England we have landlords, nay step-lords I might say, that are become graziers; and burgesses are become regraters; and some farmers will regrate and lay up all the corn that cometh to the markets, and lay it up in store, and sell it again at a higher price when they see their time. Yea, and as I hear say, aldermen now-a-days are become colliers. . . , I. wish he might eat nothing but coals till he had amended it. There cannot a poor body buy a sack of coals but it must come through their hands." Again, speaking of landlords, and their practice of raising the rents of their farms, he says, "Of this .... cometh such dearth, that poor men, who live of their labour, cannot, with the sweat of their face, have a living; all kinds of victuals are so dear, pigs, geese, capons, chickens, eggs, &c. These things, with others, are so unreasonably enhanced; and I think, verily, that, if it thus continues, we shall at length be constrained to pay for a pig a pound." The price of pork is rather a curious topic to introduce into a sermon, rather a homely matter to bring under the notice of royalty; but possibly some of the grand sonorous periods of a modern preacher do not contain half as much practical value as Latimer's energetic protest against pacing "for a pig a pound." We venture to ask our readers a question, which we hope they will not deem impertinent. That question is, Do you pay your income-tax, fairly, fully, faithfully ? If not, Latimer has a word to say to you. He puts the matter in a very strong light, too strong, probably, for many people. "It is allowed by parliament, by common authority, that the king shall have one shilling in every pound; and there be certain men, appointed in every shire, which be valuers. When I, then, either corrupt the valuer, or swear against my conscience that I am not worth an hundred pounds when I am worth two hundred, here I am a thief before God, and shall be hanged for it in hell. Now how many thieves, think ye, are there in England, which will not be valued above ten pounds when they be worth an hundred pounds?" Persons who do not pay their income-tax, or make false and deficient returns, are very likely to pronounce Latimer coarse and vulgar, likely perhaps to object that he does not preach evangelical truth; but, as Latimer himself would say, "When a man casteth stones among dogs, he that is hit will cry." Latimer is often unfair in his censures, and there is one very useful and honourable profession which he has assailed with most unjustifiable roughness. If the medical profession were, like the clerical, endowed by the state, then we might expect and demand the attendance and advice of the physician on the same terms as those on which we expect and demand the attendance and advice of the parson of our parish; but, as things stand, it is too much to expect medical men to work solely from a spirit of benevolence; it was more, perhaps, than Latimer himself was prepared to do. And therefore we think that he was altogether wrong when he thus attacked the doctors:—"But now, at our time, physic is a remedy prepared only for rich folks, not for poor, for the poor man is not able to wage the physician. God indeed hath made physic for rich and poor; but physicians now-a-days seek only their own profits, how to get money, not how they might do good unto their poor neighbour; whereby it appeareth that they be for the most part without charity, and so, consequently, not the "children of God; and no doubt but the heavy judgment of God hangeth over their heads." We need scarcely remark that, whatever might be the character of medical men in Latimer's time, it is most certainly true now, that medical men do far more, give far more, and forego more lawful claims, than the members of any other profession, or the followers of any kind of business in this land. One of Latimer's finest allusions to secular matters, one of his best statements of the great principle, that in the faithful discharge of every duty we may glorify God, is given in these words; he is speaking to servants, and says of their work, "Whatever it be, do it with a good will, and it is God's service. Therefore you ought to do it, in respect that God would have you do it; for I am no more assured in my preaching that I serve God, than the servant is in doing such business as he is commanded to do—scouring candlesticks, or whatever it be." Some may think it shockingly undignified for a bishop in the pulpit to talk about scouring candlesticks, to declare that he does not think that he, in discharging his sacred functions, more truly serves God than a servant does in scouring candlesticks. Well, that was Latimer's belief, and a very sound belief too. And this principle requires to be insisted on from the pulpit, far more generally, far more plainly, than is customary. The common notion is, that we serve God only, or at all events chiefly, specially, pre-eminently, when we preach, and pray, and sing, and read the Bible, and listen to sermons, and when we contribute money to the missionary fund; but Paul says, "Whether ye eat or drink or whatsoever ye do,"—and this word whatsoever includes very many things, includes the scouring of candlesticks,—"whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Yes, religion can enter even into the scouring of candlesticks. There is a religious and an irreligious way of scouring candlesticks; let them be scoured well and within the proper time, that's scouring them religiously. There is a religious and an irreligious way of cobbling a pair of shoes; let the cobbler do his very best to make the shoes strong and water-tight, and he cobbles them religiously. He does not cobble them religiously, because, as he cobbles, he reads a tract upon the value of the soul, or hums and sings snatches of pious hymns ; there is far more religion in one honest stitch, than in all that reading and singing, if the result is a clumsy and imperfect cobbling of shoes. Talk no longer of Christian ministers as the men who do the work of God. God's work is done by every man who does his own work upon godly principles. All such work is God's, down to the lowest and most ill-paid drudgery; it is God's work if it be done in a godly spirit. The merchant conducting his great transactions with distant cities, the physician exercising his skill in the relief of human suffering, the seaman bravely doing his duty in the midst of the raging storm, the engine-driver watching for the signals, and bringing his train safely and punctually to the terminus, the artisan rendering a hard day's work for his stipulated wages, the scavenger sweeping the crossing, and sweeping the crossing as well as his besom will permit,—all these, and all others also who faithfully discharge their own duties, "not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart," all these, in their daily toils and daily cares, are doing their heavenly Master's work, as truly, and, for aught we know to the contrary, as acceptably, as any minister of the gospel, however earnest and efficient his ministry may be. Let us thank old Latimer for this grand saying, "I am no more assured in my preaching that I serve God, than the servant is in scouring candlesticks."

Now, let us advert briefly to some specimens of Latimer's way of expounding Scripture. His exegesis is not always very elegant, nor can we say that it is remarkable for its correctness. He generally quotes the Latin Vulgate, and then translates, and his translations are certainly of the character known as free.

For example, take Latimer's version of the words of the Pharisees, "Are ye also deceived? have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed on Him?" "What, ye brain-sick fools, ye hoddy-pecks, ye dodipoles, ye huddies, do ye believe Him? are ye seduced also? . . . Did ye see any great man or any great officer take His part? Did ye see anybody follow Him but beggarly fishers and such as have nothing to take to." More extraordinary still is Latimer's paraphrase of the words addressed to Christ, "Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth,"—"Master, we know that thou art Tom Truth, and thou tellest the very truth, and sparest for no man; thou art plain Tom Truth." ''What went ye out for to see? a man clothed in soft raiment?" . Oh that we could let all clerical coxcombs and ecclesiastical dandies hear Latimer's observations on this passage! What a sermon for St George's-in-the-East is here! ''John was a clergyman; it behoved not him to wear such gear; . . . how our clergymen wear them, and with what conscience I cannot tell; but I can tell it behoveth them not to wear such delicate things. St Peter doth disallow gorgeous-ness in women; how much more, then, in men . . . He warneth women because they are more given to vanity than men be; but"—and here is the sting ; how far Latimer is critically correct we will not say; "but Scripture useth, sometimes, by this word women to understand men too. . . . Here were a good place to speak against our clergymen who go so gallantly now-a-days. I hear say, that some of them wear velvet shoes and velvet slippers. Such fellows are more meet to dance the morris-dance than to be admitted to preach. I pray God amend such worldly fellows." By the way, the edifying spectacle which may be witnessed, for nothing, every Sunday, at St George's-in-the-East, was no rarity in Latimer's time. The congregations were often disorderly, even when Latimer himself was the preacher. ''The people came to hear the Word of God. They heard Him, (saith St Chrysostom,) in silence, not interrupting the order of His preaching. He means they heard Him quietly, without any shuffling of the feet or walking up and down. Surely it is an ill misrule that folk shall be walking up and down in the sermon time, (as I have seen in this place this Lent,) and there shall be such huzzing and buzzing in the preacher's ear, that it maketh, him oftentimes to forget his matter." Very often Latimer's expository remarks are very beautiful; take this for instance; he supposes this question to be asked, Why did not Jesus stand on the water instead of sitting in Peter's boat? He replies thus, "True it is, so He might have done; but as it was sometimes His pleasure to shew his Godhead, so He declared now the infirmity and imbecility of His manhood." Speaking of the woman who touched the hem of Christ's garment, he observes, "All England, yea, all the world, may take this woman for a schoolmistress, to learn by her to trust in Christ, and to seek help at His hands."

Many of the pulpit orators of our day, and most of the admirers of pulpit eloquence, would scorn the extreme plainness of Latimer's style. The preacher often takes great pains with the exordium of his discourse. He must make a fine show at the start. The sermon must at least have a grand front; like a slop-shop, the front is everything, no matter what the wares are inside. This great exordium is often very much out of place. It is as if you built a facsimile of the Arch of Titus at the entrance to a farm-yard, or erected a counterpart of the Parthenon for a butter-shop. There is a great flourish of trumpets, designed probably to arouse and arrest the attention of the congregation. It is a great deal better not to arrest attention at all, if it cannot be sustained. Many a man, in his public speaking, instead of being vexed because his hearers are asleep, ought, perhaps, to be thankful; they don't hear what a simpleton he is making of himself, and they cannot afterwards accuse him either of heresy or any other fault. "Do pay a little attention," said a worthy, but rather heavy, preacher to his congregation, one hot Sunday afternoon; whereupon a hearer, as worthy and heavy as himself, responded, "Sir, we are paying as little as we can." It is a mercy to some men when such is the case, for then, if the congregation has not the charity which covereth a multitude of sins, sleepiness and inattention will do the work of charity. Latimer begins his sermon in a very unambitious way. He is going to preach before the king and court, and to preach in their presence for the first time. What an important occasion ! How careful our preacher will be, how well-weighed and measured will be his every word; and he will commence with some grand and weighty sentences, which shall produce a deep and favourable impression, and cause his hearers to wait in breathless expectation of a flood of glorious oratory. But no; he gives out his text, and begins thus—"In taking this part of Scripture, most noble audience, I play as a truant, which, when he is at school, will choose a lesson wherein he is perfect, because he is loth to take pains in studying a new lesson, or else feareth stripes for his slothfulness." That is Latimer's grand exordium for his first sermon preached before the king. And here is another specimen; his text is, "Take heed and beware of covetousness;" and, after reading it, he then commences—"Take heed and beware of covetousness; take heed and beware of covetousness; take heed and beware of covetousness. And what if I should say nothing else these three or four hours, (for I know it will be so long in case I be not commanded to the contrary,) it would be thought a strange sermon before a king, to say nothing else but, Take heed and beware of covetousness." But if the exordium be a matter of such great concern to our pulpit orators, what shall we say of the peroration? All hands to the peroration; this, at all events, must be fine. If the body of the sermon has been poor, so much the more need for a noble peroration, a masterly, an effective peroration. So bring the gold, and the silver, and the gems; bring all the colours of the rainbow; bring all the spices of eastern and eke of western climes; let mountains and vales, streams and waterfalls, calm and storm, sunshine and, above all, moonshine, be beautifully blended to form a brilliant and imposing peroration. Poor old Latimer did not in the least understand this speech-making and spouting craft. In one of his perorations, he has the bad taste to perpetrate a joke; he speaks of Elias having stopped the rain, and says, "I think there be some Elias about at this time, which stoppeth the rain; we have not had rain a good while." Another of his sermons concludes in this unadorned but very sensible and practical manner—"There is a poor woman that lieth in the Fleet, and cannot come, by any means she can make, to her answer; and would fain be bailed, offering to put in sureties with one thousand pounds, and yet she cannot be heard. Methinks this is a reasonable cause. It is a great pity that such things should be. I beseech God that He will grant, that all that is amiss may be amended, that we may hear His Word and keep it, that we may come to the eternal bliss; to the which bliss, I beseech God to bring both you and me!" Sometimes, however, there is grandeur in Latimer's perorations, grandeur, but no glitter; listen to the conclusion of his sermon preached at the Convocation of the clergy—"Come, go to, my brothers; go to, I say again; and once again, go to; leave the love of your profit; live for the glory and profit of Christ; seek in your consultations such things as pertain to Christ; and bring forth, at least, somewhat that may please Christ. Feed ye tenderly, with all diligence, the flock of Christ. Preach truly the Word of God. Love the light, walk in the light, and so be ye the children of light, while ye are in this world, that ye may shine in the world to come, bright as the sun, with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; to whom be all the honour, praise, and glory."

Latimer's life was useful, perhaps his death was more useful still; and with a passage in which he may almost be said to have foretold his own noble end, we bring these remarks to a close,—"The highest promotion God can bring His unto in this life is to suffer for His Word; and it is the greatest setting forth of His Word—it is God's seed; and one suffering for the truth turneth more than a thousand sermons."


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