My favourite Presbyterian preacher.
I have always read other people’s sermons (and sometimes I have preached them!). As a young priest in Scotland, I discovered many fine sermons from the Oxford Movement Fathers and the Caroline Divines, which is what you would expect a pious Anglo-Catholic to read (though in those days it was fashionable to call ourselves “Scoto-Catholics”!)
What was less likely was that I would find a preacher of the United Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland and fall for the beauty and the lucid orthodoxy of his sermons. But that’s what happened when I opened a collection of the sermons of The Revd Dr G.H. Morrison who was minister of Wellington Church in Glasgow at the beginning of the twentieth century. He had the knack of taking biblical texts (some of them quite obscure) and preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and his love, no matter where he started from.
Here are a few examples, but to get the full benefit, you must read whole sermons. I’ll list some of his books of sermons at the end of this post.
The Bible for all ages
“For that is one mark of our inspired scripture, that it alters and deepens with our deepening life … The schoolboy’s copy that he carries in his satchel, and the well-worn copy by the bedside of old age – syllable for syllable they are the same. Yet what a different book it is in the school days from what it is in the valley of the shadow, and the difference is not in the print, but in the heart. Joys have illumined it, sorrows have enriched it, tears have transfigured it, prayers have unlocked it. The rocking of the cradle has explained its love, and the open grave its message of eternity. Fatherhood, motherhood, loneliness, disappointment – all that we strive to be, all that we fail to be – these things transform into ten thousand messages the book that is in everybody’s hand.”
The Anti-climaxes of God
“My brother, if you have studied God, as some of us have tried to study God, you will have found how he loves an anti-climax. He takes the sun, and makes the daisy beautiful. He takes the gift of life, and makes the insect. He takes the mightiest forces of millenniums, and uses them to shape the tiny crystal. And so he takes the vision of the Christ, the love and power of the great Redeemer, and says to you, Employ it for your drudgery, and make the common beautiful thereby. It may be the mark of genius to do unusual things. It is rarely the hall-mark of the Christian. The Christian does not do unusual things, but he does usual things in an unusual way. He finds a meaning in what before was meaningless; detects a beauty in what before was ugly; sees in the commonest tasks that may be set him an avenue to the feet of Jesus Christ.”
The Problem of Pain
“Another fact which we shall pick up as we pass is this, that pain is at the root of life and growth. It is not through its pleasures but through its pains that the world is carried to the higher levels. You remember how Burns wrote about our pleasures?
“But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed”
And that is not only true of men; it is true also of the progress of the world. It is through suffering that we are born, and it is through suffering that we are fed. It is through agony that we have won our poetry; it is through blood that we have reached our freedom. It is through pain – pain, infinite, unutterable, the pain which was endured by Christ on Calvary – that you and I are ransomed and redeemed. Now that is a fact, explain it how you will, and we are here tonight to deal with facts. I do not deny that pain may be a curse – remember that it is also a power. We owe our laws to it, and all our art. We owe to it our immortal books and our salvation. We owe to it the fact that we are here, and able to look the problem in the face.”
These extracts are all from sermons in “The Unlighted Lustre” published in 1905 by Hodder & Stoughton.