Lamps, Pitchers and Trumpets - lectures on the vocation of the preacher

Second Series, 1869 -  'On the Mental Tools and Apparatus' p 243 ff - Edwin Paxton Hood 

Hood (1820-85) was the son of one of Nelson's sailors, and was ordained as a Congregational minister in 1852, serving in London, Brighton and Manchester - where his political sermons against jingoism led to his resignation, after which he preached in a local town hall. After a long visit to the USA, he was invited to become minister of Falcon Square Chapel in New York, where he attracted a large congregation. An obituary noted that Mr Hood, notwithstanding an unpleasant peculiarity in his voice and a somewhat eccentric mannerism, obtained no little popularity as a preacher and lecturer; he possessed a great store of originality and wit and humor. His two series of lectures on preaching certainly demonstrate this, with touches like 'the oracle of Mudfog' and imaginary preachers such as 'Dr Windy Doctrine' and 'the Rev. Cloudy Screech', though his humour, as a nonconformist critic of preaching standards in the established church, is barbed and sarcastic. Dr Blunt, Vicar of Scarborough, was one of his antagonists, criticising nonconformist practice.

Secretan's reported sermon is certainly strange, even for a 'Broad Churchman', though he was obviously passionate to share the insights of the new German learning, and given the remarks above there is perhaps an element of the pot calling the kettle black!

Because this is transcribed from a digitised version, a few words (marked with an ellipsis) are unreadable.

I was so fortunate the other day in the course of a ramble into Yorkshire, as to alight upon one of the most remarkable of the many remarkable sermons it has been my ... to peruse. It appears to have been preached not very long since, in the parish church of Howden, by its then curate, who is, also, the master of its Grammar School, the Rev. Samuel Secretan, B.A., and the delectable little brochure carries the information upon its title-page that its treasures are to be obtained for the sum of six pennies. Those bishops who hold the pastoral crook over the sheep and shepherds of the Church of England, delegate the function of the shepherd to strangely qualified characters. I have often had occasion to marvel at the wondrous teachers ordained and set apart to the task of instructing, but I never felt a disposition to marvel more loudly than when I read the performance of Mr. Secretan.  What adds to the interest of the performance is, that several of his hearers, the parishioners had expressed dissatisfaction at the strange. obfuscatory character of his elucidations and emendations of Divine truth when, in simple self-defence, the good young man published the remarkable performance into which I have struck my fangs.

In the sermon, Mr. Secretan boasts very loudly of his Greek and Hebrew; and informs his hearers, that the meaning of Scripture depends upon a Hebrew or Greek dictionary. How far he is acquainted with the German lights we know not, but, before his astonished hearers, and in the pages of this astonishing sermon, he most certainly out-Hegels Hegel, out-Schellings Schelling, and out-Strausses Strausse; in fact, the sermon — which seems to be on no subject or topic, or text either, in particular, Genesis chapter i. being the somewhat liberal allowance of Scripture he sets before himself to open — the sermon, I say, is that veritable old hag Atheism, dressed up in gown and bands, made sacerdotal, and led to bob about her old skeleton in all the gimcrackery of scholastic bathos. That I do not express myself too severely, may be seen by the following:

We are soon struck with the peculiar manner in which Moses speaks of the Elohim — the reverences. He speaks of those spiritualities as if they were a person. He supposes them to possess bodily organs, such as the tongue and the eye. This appears in the words "Elohim said" — Reverence said, "Elohim saw that it was good."  I am not pretending to explain that spirit which, under the name of Elohim — reverences — is stated by Moses to have created the heavens and the earth. Far from it. But I only submit to you the necessity of remembering that as the Creator is a spirit, having no body, or parts, He has no tongue, nor eye and consequently cannot speak or see.

I will now draw your attention to the words — the Spirit of the Elohim moved upon the waters. This I would attempt to explain thus: — That agency, of which Moses had so grand a conception, that he gave it the name of reverence, mysteriously operated in the formation of physical matter. In other words, the wind, the breath, the principle of life, which abstract qualities such as reverence must have, exerted itself in the work of creation. The breath of abstract ideas — the life of the spirit consists of wisdom, excellence, ...  These brooded over nothing — and lo! the heavens and the earth ...

I must, however, quote one other paragraph : —

I believe that the terms now used in reference to the Creator, whom we ought to reverence, worshipping the spirit of understanding, excellency, power; — honouring, that is, whatsoever is spiritual, intellectual, pure, moral, noble — are the terms conveying best the idea which Moses had of the Creator.  And, if we descend to later times, to those of the writers of the New Testament, I think we get another idea still of the Hebrew word Elohim.  We get the idea of the Greek word Theos, which is supposed to come from the word theo, to set in order, to arrange. The three languages together — the Hebrew, the Greek, the Saxon — Elohim, Theos, God — Reverence,  Arranger, Goodness — impress our minds with the high worth that the Creator Spirit has — of the indisputable claim which he has upon our sympathy and devotion!

Let us take a passage of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in which the Greek word Theos, Arranger, occurs, and let us substitute the Hebrew idea for that Greek idea, and notice how the passage reads. Let us select this passage — "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you; if any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." Now, instead of the Saxon idea of Goodness attributed to the Spirit here referred to, substitute the Hebrew idea of Reverence ........ high spiritual qualities, worthy of reverence; — "Know ye not that ye are the temple of high spiritual qualities, worthy of reverence; and that the spirit of these qualities dwelleth in you: if any man defile the temple of these high spiritual qualities, him will these spiritual qualities destroy.'" To me this seems a deeply sensible reading of the passage. High spiritual qualities, worthy of reverence, dwell in man. If you defile your understandings, your excellence, your power, they will defile you. Privileges abused become their own Nemesis — avenger.  Your spiritual qualities will become that two-edged sword — a remorseful conscience. These high spiritual qualities, worthy of reverence, that dwell in you in this gospel age, are the perfume of Christ. They are a sweet savour or perfume, though you abuse them. They are a sweet perfume in those that are being saved, and in those that are perishing. In you that are being saved is made manifest the savour or perfume of Christ's knowledge. In you that are perishing is still the perfume of Christ's knowledge — still there, hoping, and knocking, and warning, and assisting.

What more useful, and therefore I must think Scriptural, advice can I give than that we take care of "those high spiritual qualities, worthy of reverence, which dwell in us — created at first with a shadow of them — in their likeness — and renewed into them now by the sweet savour of Christ's knowledge. Taking this care of them because they are the representatives in us of that Great Unknown Creator Spirit, whose earliest name in the Scripture is Reverence."

Such are specimens of this astounding utterance, delivered in the venerable church of the small old town in the east riding of Yorkshire. An intelligent little town. I have had some knowledge of, and affection for it for nearly twenty years; but whatever may be the mental calibre of the town in general, you may conceive the utter bewilderment of the upturned eyes and wide open mouths of farmers and labourers, and artizans, at these amazing discourses from the oracle of Mudfog. For myself, I may tremble lest Mr Secretan should issue an injunction against me for printing the whole of his sermon; the extracts will not seem to you lengthy, but I assure you that I have quoted the greater part of the published sermon. Mr. Secretan, heretic as he is to his prayer-book and his creed, is orthodox enough as to time; to think of it, that a man cannot talk for more than a quarter of an hour, and scarce a syllable of sense in the whole fifteen minutes; and Mr. Secretan is an ordained clergyman and faithful watch-dog of the Church of England, one who would receive Mr. Blunt's commendations as "possessing a structure of knowledge substantial and massive," such as no Dissenting minister, "not even Robert Hall, can attain unto or approach."

Once more I say — What will these bishops ordain next? I should like to know whose were the episcopal hands whose fingers transferred power and might to that much-thinking and penetrative brain. I should be curious to  know the name of the chaplain who examined him for ordination. Certainly he could not say, "Thine eyes shall see thy teachers", here is "false doctrine, heresy, and schism"; and it will be well to recollect that, in Paul's view, there was no schism like that of "not holding the head." Yet it is probable that Mr. Secretan is not much more heretical than many of that theological school he represents. I suppose he would pass muster with many a clergyman better known, and occupying a far higher position in the establishment as a Broad Churchman. Many of these gentlemen seem to allow for their theology a margin of uncommon breadth. Perhaps most of them would be more at home in Mr. Secretan's region of "Abstract ideas", than among explicit texts and statements. Like our singular and eccentric Yorkshire curate, their minds seem to be either possessed by, or in the possession of (it really does not matter which), a vast number of incognizable, ... , and inexpressible ideas, not particularly edifying to themselves, and utterly worthless, for all purposes of edification to their hearers. It really was a very wise thing in the Church of the Establishment, when it was first settled on something like a solid basis, to provide for the exigencies of religious clerical ignorance, or egregious clerical heresy, by the publication of the Homilies, though this did not always avail, as you will very well recollect in the instance of the erudite clergyman of the last century, who got hold of a volume of Comedies instead of Homilies, and read one off for the practical edification of his interested audience. I sometimes think, amidst the entanglements of clerical wisdom or folly, it would be well if the Bishops saw a little more vigilantly into the reading of these Homilies, or parts of them, to congregations.

It would appear that the Privy Council never had much faith in the average gifts of the clergy. We poor Congregationalists have had strange people amongst our teachers — blacksmiths and shoemakers — so at any rate say the members of the Establishment — tinkers and sweeps; but, whatever may have been the depth of social ignorance from which our preachers have emerged, it has never been necessary to provide them with a volume of sermons, because they could not make a deliverance of some kind for themselves; not that we are disposed to harp too much upon this as a very peculiar excellence. I have even sometimes thought it might be well to prepare, compile, and publish some volumes of sermons, which might be recommended to the innumerable, incompetent heads we have amongst us. I have long felt how great a calamity it is, while our shelves are crowded with admirable sermons suited to every capacity, with all the pith and power of puritanism, or the music and majesty of the great masters of mind and diction, our congregations should be compelled to listen to long discourses from that remarkable preacher. Dr. Windy Doctrine, or his equally eminent brother-in-law, the Rev. Cloudy Screech. It has occurred to us, that it would sometimes be a good thing to call upon a brother, and put into his hands a piece of old Thomas Watson, or Thomas Adams, or Brooks, or perhaps old John S... , and say to him — "It must be very clear to you, you have nothing very distinct to say to your people from yourself, this is Monday — now take this, read it over twice every day ; here is material for two sermons " (for people were not only better preachers, but better listeners two hundred years ago), "drill this thoroughly into you, and then go you up next Sunday into your pulpit and give it to your people — they will thank you — the probability is they will understand you, or the stupidity will be on their part." Such reflections have passed through our minds as we have meditated the performance of Mr. Secretan.

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