Parochial and Plain Sermons. By John Henry Newman, B.D., formerly Vicar of St. Mary’s, Oxford. Edited by W.J. Copeland, B.D. Saturday Review, 5th June 1869.
Dr. Newman’s Sermons stand by themselves in modern English literature; it might be said, in English literature generally. There have been equally great masterpieces of English writing in this form of composition, and there have been preachers whose theological depth, acquaintance with the heart, earnestness, tenderness, and power have not been inferior to his. But the great writers do not touch, pierce, and get hold of minds as he does, and those who are famous for the power and results of their preaching do not write as he does. His sermons have done more perhaps than any one thing to mould and quicken and brace the religious temper of our time; they have acted with equal force on those who were nearest and on those who were farthest from him in theological opinion. They have altered the whole manner of feeling towards religious subjects. We know now that they were the beginning, the signal and first heave, of a vast change that was to come over the subject; of a demand from religion of a thoroughgoing reality of meaning and fulfilment, which is familiar to us, but was new when it was first made. And, being this, these sermons are also among the very finest examples of what the English language of our day has done in the hands of a master. Sermons of such intense conviction and directness of purpose, combined with such originality and perfection on their purely literary side, are rare everywhere. Remarkable instances, of course, will occur to every one of the occasional exhibition of this combination, but not in so sustained and varied and unfailing a way. Between Dr. Newman and the great French school there is this difference—that they are orators, and he is as far as anything can be in a great preacher from an orator. Those who remember the tones and the voice in which the sermons were heard at St. Mary’s—we may refer to Professor Shairp’s striking account in his volume on Keble, and to a recent article in the Dublin Review—can remember how utterly unlike an orator in all outward ways was the speaker who so strangely moved them. The notion of judging of Dr. Newman as an orator never crossed their minds. And this puts a difference between him and a remarkable person whose name has sometimes been joined with his—Mr. F. Robertson. Mr. Robertson was a great preacher, but he was not a writer.
It is difficult to realise at present the effect produced originally by these sermons. The first feeling was that of their difference in manner from the customary sermon. People knew what an eloquent sermon was, or a learned sermon, or a philosophical sermon, or a sermon full of doctrine or pious unction. Chalmers and Edward Irving and Robert Hall were familiar names; the University pulpit and some of the London churches