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It has been often observed, that in all the great changes that have affected the moral condition of mankind, instruments have been raised up endued with a spirit and talents adapted to the peculiar circumstances of the time and the sphere in which their services have been employed. This was remarkably the case in the wonderful revolution which occurred in the sixteenth century, when the stupendous fabric of papal domination, that had for so many ages kept mankind in awe and darkness, suffered a sudden disruption and let in, through the opened chasm, a flood of light upon the benighted world.
The agents engaged in producing this marvellous phænomenon were not such as human foresight would have selected, or human policy have employed in an undertaking of so momentous a nature, where the chances of success to all appearance were infinitely overbalanced by the probabilities of failure. Popery had been so long established and was so interwoven with all the civil institutions of Europe; it had taken such a firm hold upon the prejudices of the people, and was so artfully rendered subservient to the intrigues of princes, that the attempt to abridge its influence, or to check its powerful ascendancy, must have seemed preposterous to those who grovelled in
the dust before the footstool of a spiritual despot wearing a triple diadem, as the emblem of universal government.
The papal authority in a particular case having be come a question, in the agitation of which-new: points arose, led many to examine the scriptures that they might be enabled to form a decisive conclusion respecting the matter in controversy; and thus in proportion as inquiry extended, the sacred oracles were found to contain truths to which men in general had for many ages been strangers. The doctrine of complete redemption by Christ now became directly opposed to the perplexed system of theology introduced by the schoolmen; and the
foundation being once discovered, all the fallacies to which the church of Rome was indebted for her control over the consciences of men, began to be despised as wood, and straw and stubble. Simplicity took place of sophistry, and the truths of the gospel put to shame all the pageantries and follies of unsupported tradition. But it was not in the nature of things that such a shock to old opinions and usages which constituted the craft of a formidable hierarchy, should pass without a contest. It was therefore soon seen that if the reformers were armed with the word, they who remained intrenched in the citadel of superstition had the sword, of which they soon gave tremendous proofs. The dæmon of persecution was let loose, and the fires of persecution were lighted up in all those countries where the supremacy of the pope prevailed. To reduce minds by force was an assumed principle of right, and to punish those with death who
refused to submit to the decisions of the church was considered essential to the general interest. In the midst, however, of this conflict the cause of evangelical religion made a rapid progress, nor could the fear of death damp the ardour of the reformed preachers, who having themselves drank of the water of life felt the generous desire of making all around them partakers of the same blessing. Among these self-devoted and zealous promulgators of the gospel, none stood more conspicuous in this country, and none contributed more effectually to open men's minds to the delusions of popery than Hugh Latimer, both before and after his advancement to the bishopric of Worcester. This apostolic man by his commanding and familiar eloquence, became a popular favourite, and the wellknown disinterestedness of his character made him generally respected for his zeal, as well as revered for his sanctity. His sermons however were so enlivened with strokes of caustic severity against the prevailing deformities in church and state, that the bigotted papists hated the preacher for his powers, while the ambitious courtiers dreaded him for his honesty. The discourses of Latimer, like those of Chrysostom, exhibit a faithful portraiture of the national manners, and though far enough from aiming at the higher qualifications of oratory, they have charms that gave them in the delivery a fascinating influence, of which even the lapse of near three centuries has not deprived them.
The first collection of his sermons was made by one Thomas Soame, who wrote down those that were
preached before king Edward the Sixth, which with some others were published in one volume not long afterwards. In 1562 John Day made a larger collection in one small quarto volume, to which Augustine Bernher, the bishop's faithful Swiss servant, and afterwards a minister, prefixed a long but highly interesting epistle dedicatory to the duchess of Suffolk. This edition has a wood cut of father Latimer preaching in the privy garden before the young king, who is represented with some of his courtiers looking out of a window in front, while the area below is filled with hearers of various descriptions. This print is also given in Fox's Acts and Monuments, which work also contains the bishop's two famous sermons on the Card. In 1584 another edition of Latimer's Sermons came out, with some additions, and in 1635 the whole were reprinted in a Roman letter, with a portrait of the bishop preaching, engraved by George Giffard. All these editions were in quarto; but in 1758 an octavo one was printed in two volumes, with a memoir of the martyr, and a number of prolix and for the most part impertinent notes, giving an account of scriptural characters and places mentioned in the text, while the obsolete phrases and peculiar allusions remained unelucidated, and what was still worse several passages were mutilated under the mistaken notion of giving the sense correctly in a modern dress.
It is presumed, therefore, that no apology, can be deemed necessary for republishing these valuable discourses at the present time when the expediency of re
calling Protestants, particularly the members of the Church of England, to the fundamental grounds of the reformation, is called for by the increase of schism on the one hand, and the endeavours made on the other, to recommend popery. To use, therefore, the language of a great living ornament of religion and the Church of England upon this subject : “ The zeal of both parties in support of their own system should teach us a lesson of diligence in our's. The zeal of the Romanist especially, should operate as a strong caution against indifference to the corruptions of their church. The indulgences granted to them of late years should not in our minds relax the force of those principles on which the Reformation was founded. We must not suffer our supineness to become an occasion of reproach to us, that the venerable fathers of the Reformed Church have sacrificed their lives in vain."*
One mean, and that perhaps the most desirable, of confirming Protestants in their faith, would be to revive the writings of those divines to whom, under divine providence, we owe in a great measure the establishment of the Reformation upon the principles and practice of the Primitive Church. In conjunction with the epistles and apologies of the early fathers, those valuable remains most of which are now so scarce as to be accessible to few, would furnish an effectual preservative from the evils of superstition and schism.
With this view the sermons of the venerable Latimer are now reprinted, carefully collated by the early
Charge delivered by the bishop of Durham to his clergy in 1808, 410.