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There is certainly a fashion in sermons. However good and popular in their day a preacher's discourses may have been, there will come a time when they will lose a hold on the public attention and drop out of sight, buried beneath a mass of more modern literature. Only those which are really good are reprinted and enjoy a second life after a season of oblivion; for things move in cycles, which, at given periods, recur. As truths drawn from the Bible have more of the permanent about them than other writings, so one would naturally expect that whatever has been as well written as possible, and the style and language of which cannot be improved, would be as acceptable to succeeding generations as to the one to whom it was addressed. Whatever is once good and beautiful in its nature can never wholly cease to be so; it may for a time suffer eclipse, but the time will come when its charms will be again recognised, and it will be reinstated in its true position. This is so true in literature, as in other things, that the three first lines of Keats' “ Endymion,” which express it, are amongst the most hackneyed passages in our language, even amongst people who could not repeat any other passage from that poet.
There was a time when the name of Charles Bradley was as supreme, as the best “sermon-writer” of his
” day—the second quarter of this century-as Samuel Johnson's name was, in the eighteenth century, amongst men of literature at “the Club.” Canon Havergal only expressed the opinion of the clerical world when he called Bradley“ the prince of sermon-writers.”
In his day, although he did not print cheap editions for the million, his seven volumes of sermons had an immense sale (of which I shall speak in detail presently), and in repeated editions of half-guinea volumes produced him, for several years, about four hundred a year of income.
There has always been a demand for the second-hand volumes which were being thrown from time to time on the market. When, in 1882, I wrote a sketch of him as a "successful preacher" in the Guardian newspaper, the public attention was drawn to his works, and the second-hand booksellers cleared their shelves of all that bore the name of Charles Bradley.
It should perhaps here be stated what is meant by “Selections.” The sermons are selected by one who has for thirty years been familiar with all the volumes, and some are taken from each volume. No writer is at all times and on all subjects equally happy, and therefore a less number of pages may probably introduce a voluminous writer with advantage to the busy reader.
I should also add that, care being taken to present this great master of sermon literature to the public in his own style as much as possible, sermons of thirty pages, which that age demanded, have been reduced to our more modern requirements. I have attempted to reproduce each discourse, as a large oil-painting is reduced to a miniature, in which the hand of the great inaster who painted it may still be observed.
If a work be good, it is no disparagement to say it was written for a former generation; for now the cry is,
“ Read the Fathers !” “Read the great AngloCatholic divines !” And if these, why not the best writers of thirty, forty, or fifty years ago—the Bradleys, the Blunts, and the Melvills of the beginning of the nineteenth century ? For Dean Vaughan has very justly remarked that there is no theology so valuable, or served up in so pleasant a form, as the best discourses of our modern sermon-writers. They do not tempt you far off the beaten track they are pursuing, by side quests, as was the case with writers of the age of Jeremy Taylor, who never let slip a chance to show their learning by introducing a quotation, however irrevelant to the matter in hand. The new writers furnish us with style as well as matter.
If these things be so, no excuse is needed for reproducing the works of a great master; the only wonder is how such good things ever dropped out of the first line of popular favourites. To a certain extent because, about twelve thousand being printed of each work, the printers held their hand, and the volumes ceased to be advertised, except in second-hand catalogues.
Again, though truth must in all ages of the Church be more or less the same, yet modern criticism, and the increase of learning and research, do, to a certain extent, alter the proportion in which various doctrines are produced. Old people can recollect the time when half the sermons which were preached were on the Christian Evidences; then a generation followed which dwelt most on Justification and Sanctification and the