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Sermons Preached At Brighton by Frederick W. Robertson



|For while hapless Englishmen complain in the papers, and in private, in many a varied wail, over the sermons they have to listen to, it is very apparent that the work of the preacher has not fallen in any respect out of estimation. Here is a book which has gone through as great a number of editions as the most popular novel. It bears Mudie's stamp upon its dingy boards, and has all those marks of arduous service which are only to be seen in books which belong to great public libraries. It is thumbed, dog's-eared, pencil-marked, worn by much perusal. Is it then a novel? On the contrary, it is a volume of sermons. A fine, tender, and lofty mind, full of thoughtfulness, full of devotion, has herein left his legacy to his country. It is not rhetoric or any vulgar excitement of eloquence that charms so many readers to the book, so many hearers to this preacher's feet. It is not with the action of a Demosthenes, with outstretched arms and countenance of flame, that he presses his gospel upon his audience. On the contrary, when we read those calm and lofty utterances, this preacher seems seated, like his Master, with the multitude palpitating round, but no agitation or passion in his own thoughtful, contemplative breast. The Sermons of Robertson, of Brighton, have few of the exciting qualities of oratory. Save for the charm of a singularly pure and lucid style, their almost sole attraction consists in their power of instruction, in their faculty of opening up the mysteries of life and truth. It is pure teaching, so far as that ever can be administered to a popular audience, which is offered to us in these volumes.|


|They are Sermons of a bold, uncompromising thinker -- of a man resolute for the truth of God, and determined in the strength of God's grace to make that truth clear, to brush away all the fine-spun sophistries and half-truths by which the cunning sins of men have hidden it.... There must be a great and true heart, where there is a great and true preacher. And in that, beyond everything else, lay the secret of Mr. Robertson's influence. His Sermons show evidence enough of acute logical power. His analysis is exquisite in its subtleness and delicacy.... With Mr. Robertson style is but the vehicle, not the substitute for thought. Eloquence, poetry, scholarship, originality -- his Sermons show proof enough of these to put him on a level with the foremost men of his time. But, after all, their charm lies in the warm, loving, sympathetic heart, in the well-disciplined mind of the true Christian, in his noble scorn of all lies, of all things mean and crooked, in his brave battling for right, even when wrong seems crowned with success, in his honest simplicity and singleness of purpose, in the high and holy tone -- as if, amid the discord of earth, he heard clear, though far off, the perfect harmony of heaven; in the fiery earnestness of his love for Christ, the devotion of his whole being to the goodness and truth revealed in him.|


|It is hardly too much to say, that had the Church of England produced no other fruit in the present century, this work alone would be amply sufficient to acquit her of the charge of barrenness.... The reputation of Mr. Robertson's Sermons is now so wide-spread, that any commendation of ours may seem superfluous. We will therefore simply, in conclusion, recommend such of our readers as have not yet made their acquaintance, to read them carefully and thoughtfully, and they will find in them more deeply suggestive matter than in almost any book published in the present century.|


|They are distinguished by masterly exposition of Scriptural truths and the true spirit of Christian charity.|


|These Sermons are full of thought and beauty, and admirable illustrations of the ease with which a gifted and disciplined mind can make the obscure transparent, the difficult plain. There is not a Sermon that does not furnish evidence of originality without extravagance, of discrimination without tediousness, and of piety without cant or conventionalism.|


|We hail with unaffected delight the appearance of these volumes. The Sermons are altogether out of the common style. They are strong, free, and beautiful utterances of a gifted and cultivated mind. Occasionally, the expression of theological sentiment fails fully to represent our own thought, and we sometimes detect tendencies with which we cannot sympathize: but, taken as a whole, the discourses are fine specimens of a high order of preaching.|


|Very beautiful in feeling, and occasionally striking and forcible in conception to a remarkable degree.... Even in the imperfect shape in which their deceased author left them, they are very remarkable compositions.|


|We should be glad if all preachers more united with ourselves, preached such Sermons as these.|


|To those who affectionately remember the author, they will recall, though imperfectly, his living eloquence and his living truthfulness.|


|Mr. Robertson, of Brighton, is a name familiar to most of us, and honoured by all to whom it is familiar. A true servant of Christ, a bold and heart-stirring preacher of the Gospel, his teaching was unlike the teaching of most clergymen, for it was beautified and intensified by genius. New truth, new light, streamed from each well-worn text when he handled it.|


|When teaching of this description keeps the popular ear and secures the general attention, it is unquestionable proof that the office of the preacher has, in no way, lost its hold on the mind of the people. The acceptance of a voice so unimpassioned and thoughtful, so independent of all vulgar auxiliaries, so intent upon bringing every theme it touches to the illustration and sanctifying of the living life of the hour, that which alone can be mended, and purified, and sanctified, is a better tribute to the undying office of the preacher than the success of a hundred Spurgeons. Attention and interest are as eager as ever where there is in reality any instruction to bestow.|


|In earnestness of practical appeal, and in eloquent and graceful diction, Mr. Robertson has few rivals, and these characteristics are sufficient to account for his unusual popularity.|


|A volume of very fine Sermons, quite equal to the previous series.|


|There is in the Sermons in this volume the same freshness, vigour of thought and felicity of expression, as characterised whatever Mr. Robertson said.|


|Mr. Robertson's Sermons have the great and rare merit of neutralising by a more charitable and affectionate spirit, and by a wider intelligence, all that may appear rigid and doctrinaire in the Church of England. The result seems to have been his special mission: it most fully explains the mind of the man.... We recommend the Sermons to the perusal of our readers. They will find in them thought of so rare and beautiful a description, an earnestness of mind so steadfast in the search of truth, and a charity so pure and all-embracing, that we cannot venture to offer praise, which would be, in this case, almost as presumptuous as criticism.|


|When Mr. Robertson died, his name was scarcely known beyond the circle of his own private friends, and of those among whom he had laboured in his calling. Now, every word he wrote is eagerly sought for and affectionately treasured up, and meets with the most reverent and admiring welcome from men of all parties and all shades of opinion.... To those that find in his writings what they themselves want, he is a teacher quite beyond comparison -- his words having a meaning, his thoughts a truth and depth, which they cannot find elsewhere. And they never look to him in vain.... He fixes himself upon the recollection as a most original and profound thinker, and as a man in whom excellence puts on a new form.... There are many persons, and the number increases every year, to whom Robertson's writings are the most stable, satisfactory, and exhaustless form of religious teaching which the nineteenth century has given -- the most wise, suggestive, and practical.|


|To our thinking, no compositions of the same class, at least since the days of Jeremy Taylor, can be compared with these Sermons delivered to the congregation of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, by their late minister. They have that power over the mind which belongs only to the highest works of genius: they stir the soul to its inmost depths: they move the affections, raise the imagination, bring out the higher and spiritual part of our nature by the continual appeal that is made to it, and tend to make us, at the same time, humble and aspiring -- merciful to others and doubtful of ourselves.|

[From a SERMON preached at the CONSECRATION of the BISHOP of NORWICH, by the REV. J.H. GURNEY, late of MARYLEBONE.]

|I do not commit myself to all his theology; I may differ from the preacher in some things, and listen doubtfully to others. But I know of no modern sermons at once so suggestive and so inspiriting, with reference to the whole range of Christian duty. He is fresh and original without being recondite: plain-spoken without severity; and discusses some of the exciting topics of the day without provoking strife or lowering his tone as a Christian teacher. He delivers his message, in fact, like one who is commissioned to call men off from trifles and squabbles, and conventional sins and follies, to something higher and nobler than their common life: like a man in earnest, too, avoiding technicalities, speaking his honest mind in phrases that are his own, and with a directness from which there is no escape. O that a hundred like him were given us by God, and placed in prominent stations throughout our land!|


|Without anything of that artificial symmetry which the traditional division into heads was apt to display, they present each reflection in a distinct method of statement, clearly and briefly worked out; the sentences are short and terse, as in all popular addresses they should be; the thoughts are often very striking, and entirely out of the track of ordinary sermonising. In matters of doctrine such novelty is sometimes unsafe; but the language is that of one who tries earnestly to penetrate into the very centre of the truth he has to expound, and differs as widely as possible from the sceptic's doubt or the controversialist's mistake. More frequently Mr. Robertson deals with questions of practical life, of public opinion, and of what we may call social casuistry -- turning the light of Christian ethics upon this unnoticed though familiar ground. The use of a carriage on Sunday, the morality of feeing a railway porter against his employers' rules, are topics not too small for illustration or application of his lessons in divine truth.|


|As an author, Mr. Robertson was, in his lifetime, unknown; for with the exception of one or two addresses, he never published, having a singular disinclination to bring his thoughts before the public in the form of published sermons. As a minister, he was beloved and esteemed for his unswerving fidelity to his principles and his fearless propagation of his religious views. As a townsman, he was held in the highest estimation; his hand and voice being ever ready to do all in his power to advance the moral and social position of the working man. It was not till after his decease, which event created a sensation and demonstration such as Brighton never before or since witnessed, that his works were subjected to public criticism. It was then found that in the comparatively retired minister of Trinity Chapel there had existed a man possessed of consummate ability and intellect of the highest order; that the sermons laid before his congregation were replete with the subtleties of intellect, and bore evidence of the keenest perception and most exalted catholicity. His teaching was of an extremely liberal character, and if fair to assign a man possessed of such a universality of sympathy to any party, we should say that he belonged to what is denominated the 'Broad Church.' We, with many others, cannot agree in the fullest extent of his teaching, but, at the same time, feel bound to accord the tribute due to his genius.|


|A volume of very excellent Sermons, by the late lamented Incumbent of Trinity Chapel, Brighton.|


|But the Sermons now under notice are, we venture to say, taking all the circumstances into consideration, the most remarkable discourses of the age.... They are throughout vital with the rarest force, burning with an earnestness perhaps never surpassed, and luminous with the light of genius.... We suspect that even Brighton little knew what a man Providence had placed in its midst.|

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On the |Analysis of Mr. Tennyson's In Memoriam:| --


|An endeavour to give, in a few weighty words, the key-note (so to speak) of each poem in the series. Those will best appreciate the amount of success attained by Mr. Robertson who try to do the same work better.|

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From a few of the Notices on Mr. Robertson's |Lecture on the Epistles to the Corinthians:| --


|It was Mr. Robertson's custom every Sunday afternoon, instead of preaching from one text, to expound an entire chapter of some book in the Scriptures. The present volume is made up from notes of fifty-six discourses of this kind. 'Some people were startled by the introduction of what they called secular subjects into the pulpit. But the lecturer in all his ministrations refused to recognize the distinction so drawn. He said that the whole life of a Christian was sacred -- that common every-day doings, whether of a trade, or of a profession, or the minuter details of a woman's household life, were the arenas in which trial and temptation arose; and that therefore it became the Christian minister's duty to enter into this family working life with his people, and help them to understand its meaning, its trials, and its compensations.' It is enough to add that the lectures now given to the public are written in this spirit.|


|Such discourses as these before us, so different from the shallow rhapsodies or tedious hair-splitting which are now so much in vogue, may well make us regret that Mr. Robertson can never be heard again in the pulpit. This single volume would in itself establish a reputation for its writer.|


|... Were there no name on the title-page, the spirit which, shines forth in these lectures could but be recognized as that of the earnest, true-hearted man, the deep thinker, the sympathizer with all kinds of human trouble, the aspirant for all things holy, and one who joined to these rare gifts, the faculty of speaking to his fellow-men in such a manner as to fix their attention and win their love.... In whatever spirit the volume is read -- of doubt, of criticism, or of full belief in the truths it teaches -- it can but do good; it can but leave behind the conviction that here was a genuine, true-hearted man, gifted with the highest intellect, inspired by the most disinterested motives and the purest love for his fellow-men, and that the fountain at which he warmed his heart and kindled his eloquence was that which flows from Christ.|


|This volume will be a welcome gift to many an intelligent and devout mind. There are few of our modern questions, theological or ecclesiastical, that do not come up for discussion in the course of these Epistles to the Christians at Corinth.|


|No one can read these lectures without being charmed by their singular freshness and originality of thought, their earnest, simple eloquence, and their manly piety. There is no mawkish sentiment, no lukewarm, semi-religious twaddle, smacking of the Record; no proclamation of party views or party opinions, but a broad, healthy, living, and fervent exposition of one of the most difficult books in the Bible. Every page is full of personal earnestness and depth of feeling; but every page is also free from the slightest trace of vanity and egotism. The words come home to the reader's heart as the utterance of a sincere man who felt every sentence which flowed from his lips.|


|One of the most marked features of these lectures is the deep feeling which the preacher had of the emptiness and hollowness of the conventional religionism of the day. The clap-trap of popular ministers, the pride and uncharitableness of exclusive Evangelicalism, the pomp and pretension of ritualism and priestly affectation -- the miserable Pharisaism which is lurking underneath them all -- form the subject of many strikingly true and often cutting remarks. He has no patience with the unrealities of sectarian purism and pedantic orthodoxy. His constant cry, the constant struggle of his soul is for reality. Hence while his views of objective truth are at times deficient, or, at least, very imperfectly stated, he leaves a deep impress of subjective religion upon the mind, by a style of teaching which, far from uninstructive, is yet more eminently suggestive.|


|The Notes on Genesis -- sketches more or less full of lectures on Genesis, delivered by Mr. Robertson -- will be welcomed by the many who have read, with a profound interest, those writings of his which have already been given to the world.... Few will be able to read this volume without having brought before them certain passages out of their own lives, which they will be compelled to reconsider from a fresh point of view. As an interpreter of Scripture also, Mr. Robertson nowhere appears to greater advantage. While not ignoring difficult points, he is always looking for, and never fails to find, that which is profitable and edifying.|

From a few of the Notices on Mr. Robertson's |The Human Race and other Sermons.|


|It need not be said that there is here much that is beautiful and happily expressed.|


|The volume is as fresh and striking and suggestive as any of its predecessors. For unconventional and spiritual conceptions of Bible teachings; for unexpected, penetrating, and practical applications of them, and for general spiritual truth and force, these Sermons and Notes of Sermons are as noble as their predecessors.|


|We are glad to see the publication of the eloquent Sermons now before us, especially those of a devout and practical character, such as those on the human race and education.|


|These Sermons exhibit many of those features of unsurpassable excellence which have gained for the preacher a reputation which has had no equal in our time. They are full of thought and suggestiveness, and are marked by that rare beauty of style which Mr. Robertson's readers have learned to associate with all his Sermons. His devoted admirers -- and how numerous they are -- will be sure to place this new volume upon their shelves.|

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