Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Good Words 1860
Latimer in the Pulpit

Of all the names connected with the Reformation in England there are few, if any, more highly or more deservedly honoured than that of Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester. It is not our intention to draw a sketch of the good bishop's life; but, as the title of this article indicates, we wish to give our readers some notion of Latimer as a preacher. That Latimer was the son of a Leicestershire yeoman; that he graduated at Cambridge; that, until his thirtieth year, he was a most zealous and bigoted Papist; that the devout and enlightened Bilney led him to forsake the errors of his way; that he became as uncompromising in his hostility to Romanism as he had been in its favour and defence; that, through the influence of Thomas Cromwell, he was appointed chaplain to Anne Boleyn, and raised to the episcopal bench; that, under the law of the Six Articles, he was confined for six years in the Tower; that, though liberated on the accession of Edward VI., he declined, on account of his advanced age, to resume the responsibilities of his see; that he then spent his time in faithfully preaching the word, often publicly addressing the king and court; that the privy-council, under Mary, sent him again to the Tower, and thence to Oxford, there to defend his opinions; that he heroically refused to recant; that, at the age of eighty-three, he was committed to the flames, cheering his fellow-sufferer with these memorable words, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out:"—that these are the leading incidents of Latimer's life is probably well known to all our readers. We would fain linger a little while, meditating on the consistent life and noble death of the venerable Reformer, whose character and conduct contrast favourably with some of his associates. Unlike Cranmer, for example, Latimer cannot be attacked by enemies, and therefore needs not to be defended by his friends. No worldly ambition filled his heart; no worldly policy influenced his course of action; no vacillation in his last days clouded the glory of his testimony. He "fought the good fight," and fought it well; he "finished his course," and finished it without a. fall, without a stumble; he "kept the faith," and kept it fast; and in all the "great cloud of witnesses," there are few whose history more forcibly teaches us to "run with patience the race that is set before us." But the limits within which this article must be contained warn us against saying more of Latimer the man and Latimer the martyr; so now to our text, Latimer the preacher, Latimer in the pulpit.

Were any man to stand up and preach, in these days, after the manner of Latimer, we think that he would scarcely be tolerated by those classes who listened with such admiring attention to the sermons of the old Reformer. The Christian minister, following apostolic example, may speak of practical Christianity as a race, or a wrestle, or a battle; and he may go into the scientific or the commercial world for his illustrations; but the whole religious public would put its hands to its ears, and cry, "Shame, shame!" were any clergyman, of any denomination, to represent the duties and results of personal religion under the figure of a game at cards. We do not attempt to justify, much less to recommend to any preacher of the present day. such a metaphor; but we find it in one of Latimer's discourses:—"I intend to deal unto you Christ's cards, wherein you shall perceive Christ's rule. The game that we will play at shall be the triumph, (or trump,) which, if it be well played, he that dealeth shall win, the players shall likewise win, and the standers and lookers upon shall do the same; insomuch that there is no man that is willing to play at this triumph, with these cards, but they shall be all winners and no losers." We must confess that Latimer makes use of many expressions calculated rather to shock the modern sermon-hearer's sense of propriety. Those who now listen to the dignitaries of the English Church would be rather astonished to hear Moses pronounced "a glorious fellow;" Isaiah, "a good, plain fellow;" John the Baptist, "that hardy knight;" and the devil, "that strong fellow." Although the ladies have borne, with admirable patience and dignity, the foolish and ill-natured remarks that have been made with reference to their crinolines, we fear that even their all but angelic meekness would give place to anger were the present Bishop of Oxford or London to comment in this style upon the poverty of the Virgin Mary's wardrobe:—''I think, indeed, that Mary had never a vardingal, for she used no such superfluities as our fine damsels do now-a-days; for, in the old time, women were content with honest single garments; now they have found out these roundabouts; they were not invented then; the devil was not so cunning to make such gear ; he found it out afterward." Those gentlemen, however, who hope to alter what they deem so monstrous a fashion by abusing it, will do well to listen to Latimer's experience :—"I have been desired to exhort some, and, with some, I could do little in that matter." The ladies will, we fear, be still further offended with our preacher when they are informed that he considered some of them rather tyrannical towards their "Adams." "They lay out their hair in tussocks and tufts .... because they will be quarter-masters with their husbands. Quarter-masters? Nay, half-masters; yea, some of them will be whole masters, and rule the roast as they list themselves." Poor Latimer ! we are almost afraid to confess some of his sins against refinement; but, patience, worthy reader. Consider the age in which the honest Reformer lived, and do not blame him too severely for saying that when Joseph's brethren had sold him, and sprinkled his coat with blood, "they thought all was cock-sure;" do not be too hard upon him for exclaiming, " Oh, there is a writer that hath a jolly text here;" do not be shocked when he tells you that the antediluvians, "like dodipoles," laughed Noah to scorn. There is another offence which we most reluctantly bring ourselves to mention; it is this, that Latimer, in his energetic mode of speaking, was in the constant habit of using a word which is in reality an oath,—the word "Marry," which means "by St Mary." However, he apologises for this:—"I myself have had sometimes in use to say, in my earnest matters, 'yea, by St Mary,' and such like things, which, indeed, is naught, (evil,) for we are commanded not to swear at all." If, according to the law as laid down by Lord Chesterfield, the practice of quoting common proverbs is ungentlemanly, then we fear that Latimer must be pronounced unfit for the polite circles of the present age, for of this practice he is guilty; but when our readers see to what excellent purpose he turns some of the people's old saws, we hope that even the most fastidious amongst them will be reconciled to the preacher, and allow him to utter his proverbial philosophy from the pulpit. Speaking of the hereditary transmission of moral qualities, Latimer explains the subject to the humblest capacity by quoting the proverb, "An evil crow, an evil egg." Referring to the mortality of the young, he mentions the certainly not elegant saying, "There come as many skins of calves to the market as there do of kine." The value of early piety, and the probability of its not proving a failure in after years, he illustrates thus,—"The earthen pot will long savour of that liquor that is first put into it." The indolence, carelessness, and dishonesty of servants frequently called forth from Latimer most energetic reproofs, in connexion with which he tells the employers of servants that they must look well to their affairs, for "the master's eye makes the horse fat." The worthy bishop had a very low opinion of the commercial morality of his own times:—"The merchant commonly, in every city, doth teach his 'prentice to sell false wares." "There never was such falsehood among Christian men as there is now." "No man setteth anything by his promise; yea, and writings will not serve with some, they be so shameless that they deny their own handwriting." What marvel, then, that he should quote the proverb,— "When a man will be rich, he must set his soul behind the door," and admit that there is a worldly sort of truth in the old saying, "Happy is the child whose father goes to the devil?" He found that men did not like to be told of their faults, and complained that his preaching was too pointed and personal, whereupon he remarks—"There is a common saying, that 'when a horse is rubbed on the gall he will kick;' 'when a man casteth stones among dogs, he that is hit will cry;' so it is with such fellows too; belike they be guilty, because they cannot suffer to be again said." Preaching before the king, he took occasion to advert to the conduct of the magistrates, which was anything but upright in Latimer's estimation. "It is a dangerous thing to be in office;" "He that meddleth with pitch is like to be spotted with it;" "Beware of pitch, ye judges of the world; bribes will make you pervert justice." Perhaps the most curious instance of Latimer's use of proverbs is that in which he gives us the whole history of the famous saying, "Tenterden steeple is the cause of Goodwin Sands." The story is well known. Latimer gives it bodily in one of his sermons preached before Edward VI., introducing it in this quaint manner, "And here, by the way, I will tell you a merry toy." The use which Latimer makes of the proverb is this :— "Here was preaching against covetousness all the last year in Lent, and the next summer followed rebellion; ergo, preaching against covetousness was the cause of rebellion—a goodly argument." Then follows the story, which concludes thus:—"And even so, to my purpose, is preaching of God's word the cause of rebellion, as Tenterden steeple is the cause Sandwich haven is decayed." Such was Latimer's mode of adapting common proverbs to pulpit use ; and we hope that our readers, instead of condemning the practice as "out of order," will reflect whether it might not be resorted to with good practical results by the preachers of our own time.

Of course Latimer came down heavily, almost savagely, upon the Romish Church; and, after exposing and denouncing its errors in such strong but not unjust terms, it is no wonder that, as he passed through Smithfield on his way to the Tower, he exclaimed, "This place hath long groaned for me."

Towards the pope he is so disrespectful as to call him "that Italian bishop yonder, the devil's chaplain." Christ chose to preach from Peter's boat;— "Now come the Papists, and they will make a mystery of it; they will pick out the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome in Peter's boat.....Well, he comes to Simon's boat; and why rather to Simon's boat than another? I will answer as I find in experience myself. I came hither to-day from Lambeth in a wherry; and when I came to take boat, the watermen came about me, as the manner is, and he would have me, and he would have me; I took one of them. Now, ye will ask me why I came in that boat rather than in another? Because I would go into that that I see stand next me; it stood more commodiously for me. And so did Christ by Simon's boat; it stood nearer for Him, he saw a better seat in it. A good natural reason." Sitting in Simon's boat Christ taught. "If I were a Papist," observes Latimer, with keen and contemptuous irony, "I would tell what he said, .... and Pope Nicholas and Bishop Lanfranc shall come and expound this place, and say that our Saviour Christ said—'Peter, I do mean this by sitting in thy boat, that thou shalt go to Rome and be bishop there five-and-twenty years after mine ascension; and all thy successors shall be rulers of the universal Church after thee." The pope found no favour in Latimer's eyes; it fared no better with the cardinals. Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, "was made a cardinal at Calais, and thither the Bishop of Rome sent him a cardinal's hat. He should have had a Tyburn tippet, a halfpenny halter, and all such proud prelates. These Romish hats never brought good into England." On Christ's saying to Judas, "What thou doest, do quickly," Latimer observes: "He spake in the singular number to him; ergo, he gave him some pre-eminence. Belike he made him a cardinal; and it might full well be, for they have followed Judas ever since." Purgatory is "that fiery furnace that hath burned away so many of our pence." On the worship of saints we read: "If thou wilt needs worship them, will you hear how you shall worship them? Live godly and uprightly after their example, follow their charitable life and steadfast faith; then you worship them as they ought to be worshipped."

The persons who came in for Latimer's severest censures were "unpreaching prelates;" in fact, although a bishop himself, he perpetually spoke of bishops in most disrespectful, and, we fear, uncharitable terms. The staunchest Presbyterian, the most thoroughgoing Congregationalist, would neither dare nor desire to apply to any member of the right reverend body such language as Latimer was in the habit of using. Speaking of some prelates who had given their sovereign improper advice, he exclaims, "Woe worth such counsellors! Bishops! Nay, rather Buzzards." He really goes out of his way, and sets historical fact at defiance, in order to have a fling at his mitred brethren; for whenever he speaks of the scribes, Pharisees, and priests who opposed Christ and put him to death, he takes a delight in calling them all bishops. "The Jewish people consented to His death by the persuasion of the bishops." "Now, what doth Herod? Forthwith he calleth all the bishops and learned men, and inquireth of them the time at the which Christ should be born." He even has the audacity to ridicule the ancient mode of giving the episcopal blessing. "What is blessing? Not wagging of the fingers, as our bishops "were wont." He gives King Edward this advice, in a sermon preached before his Majesty: "I will be a suitor to your grace, that ye will give to your bishops charge .... to look better to their flock, .... and send your visitors in their tails. And if they be found negligent or faulty in their duties, out with them; I require it in God's behalf; make them quondams, all the pack of them." The advice becomes more strange and startling as we hear a bishop go on to say—"If your Majesty's chaplains and my Lord Protector's be not able to furnish their places," (the places of the quondams,) "there is in this realm, thanks be to God, a great sight of laymen well learned in the Scriptures, and of virtuous and godly conversations, better learned than a great Eight of us of the clergy." But he is more severe than this. "If one were admitted to view hell thus, and behold it throughly, the devil would cry, 'On yonder side are punished unpreaching prelates.' I think a man might see as far as a kenning, and see nothing but unpreaching prelates. He might look as far as Calais, I warrant you." On clergymen who absented themselves from their parishes, Latimer lays the lash unmercifully. In connexion with this subject he tells a story, in one of the sermons preached before King Edward. A bishop, going on his visitation, arrived at a town, and entered it without the customary welcome from the church steeple. On making inquiry he found that "the great bell's clapper was fallen down, the bell was broken, so that the bishop could not be rung into the town." His lordship was '"somewhat quick with the chief of the parish." "They made their answers, and excuse themselves as well as they could. . . . Among the others, there was one wiser than the rest, and he comes me to the bishop—'Why, my lord,' saith he, 'doth your lordship make so great a matter of the bell that hath lost his clapper! Here is a bell,' saith he, and pointed to the pulpit, 'that hath lost his clapper these twenty years. We have a parson that fetcheth out of this benefice fifty pounds every year, but we never see him.'" Again, referring to the fee-farming of benefices, he says, "When any man hereafter shall have a benefice, he may go where he will, for any house he shall have to dwell upon, or any glebe to keep hospitality withal; but he must take up a chamber in an ale-house, and there sit to play at the tables all the day. A goodly curate !" There were in Latimer's days, as there are in our own, preachers whose discourses were the reverse of awakening. But this Latimer will not hear of as an excuse for not attending public worship; "I had rather ye should come, as the tale is, by the gentlewoman of London. One of her neighbours met her in the street, and said, ' Mistress, whither go ye?' 'Marry,' said she, 'I am going to St Thomas of Acre's to the sermon; I could not sleep all this last night, and I am going thither now; I never failed of a good nap there.'" But, if the preacher be an inefficient man, what is to be done by the unfortunate parishioners? Are they to dismiss him, or to starve him out? No; let us hear Latimer's advice. "But some will say, 'Our curate is naught, an ass-head, a dodipole, a lack-latin, and can do nothing. Shall I pay him my tithes that doth us no good, nor never will do?' 'Yea,' I say, 'thou must pay him his due, and if he be such a one, complain to the bishop,' ' We have complained to the ordinary; but he is as negligent as he.' 'Complain to the council.' 'Sir, so we have done, but no remedy can be had.' ' Well, I can tell thee where to complain—complain to God; He will surely hear thee, and remedy it. . . . Therefore pray unto God, and He will either turn his heart and make him better; or remove him from thee, and send a better in his place; or else take him away altogether!'"

With one passage more, illustrative of the plainness and simplicity of Latimer's style, we bring these observations to a close, hoping soon to resume the subject, and to present our readers with some illustrations of Latimer's mode of expounding Scripture, and some specimens of his best and brightest sayings. The simplicity of Latimer's style may be seen in all his discourses. We have taken this passage almost at random. "What is Jesus? Jesus is a Hebrew word, and signifieth, in our English tongue, a Saviour and Redeemer of all mankind born into this world. This title and name, to save, per-taineth properly and principally unto Him; for He saveth us, else we had been lost for ever. Notwithstanding, the name of saviour is used in common speech: as the king is called a saviour, for he saveth his subjects from all danger and harm that may ensue of the enemies. Likewise the physician is accounted a saviour, for he saveth the sick man from the danger of his disease with good and wholesome medicines. So fathers and mothers are saviours, for they save their children from bodily harm that may happen unto them. So bridges leading over the waters are saviours, for they save us from the waters. Likewise ships and boats are saviours, great and small vessels upon the seas are saviours, for they save us from the fury, rage, and tempest of the sea. So judges are saviours, for they save, or at least should save, the people from wrong and oppression. But all this is not a perfect saving; for what availeth it to be saved from sickness, calamities, and oppression when we shall be condemned after our death, both body and soul, for ever to remain with the devil and his angels? We must therefore come to Jesus, who is the right and true Saviour, ' and He it is that hath saved us from sin.' Whom hath He saved? His people. Who are His people ? All that believe in Him, and put their whole trust in Him, and those that seek help and salvation at His hands; all such are His people. How saved He them? First, by magistrates He saved them from oppression and wrong; the children He saved, through the tuition of the parents, from danger and peril; by physicians He saveth from sickness and diseases; but from sin He saveth only through His passion and blood-shedding. Therefore He may be called and is the very right Saviour; for it is He that saveth from all infelicity all His faithful people." The reader, accustomed to what he calls, erroneously perhaps, more intellectual preaching, may smile at such a simple method of discourse; but this was the sort of speaking that made Latimer the most useful preacher of his day; and the age we live in, with all its boasted progress, would perhaps be none the worse if its religious instructors condescended, in this respect, to imitate his example.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus