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seal his testimony with his blood—such a man is, I think, among the greatest.
One such great man I believe we have before us this evening, though I fear that the records we have of him may scarcely enable me to present him to you as such. I fear I cannot make
feel how great a man he was, in the short time I have to speak to you ; more especially as his greatness is not of a startling nor of an imposing kind ; but of a most unassuming though selfsubstantiating one : a greatness which impresses itself upon you only after a careful consideration of the times in which he lived, and a comparison of him with those who went before him.
Wycliffe comes before us in the great scenes of history as a figure in outline only—scarcely a portrait ; no man of flesh and blood—a statuary man; a man of the Baptist type; a Voice crying in the wilderness, and little more. We have no story of his childhood ; no memorial of his school-boy days, nor of his young manhood ; nay, no anecdote of him at any time, no saying of his festive hours, no legacy of his dying ones. No; there the man stands before us, a specimen of true manhood indeed ; but if without its weakness, yet also without a record of its sympathies ; loving God's truth better than man or woman ; a spiritual labourer and warrior withal from his youth ; waking or sleeping with tools in his hands, and girt about with the whole armour of God; fighting with one hand and working with the other; dying of the palsy mail-clad.
But let us note him more closely. Perhaps the first thing that strikes us is the exceeding self-oblivion of the man- - his personal modesty. Though Wycliffe wrote perhaps a hundred books, there is no allusion to himself in any one of them. This is surely noteworthy. We can get no anecdote of him out of them ; no trace of personal peculiarities ; no stories of his daily life. He comes before us, as I said before, the mere figure of a man ; full-formed indeed, but colourless ; no brother man, but the dwelling-place of a spirit only. He was not a household man ; you hear of no father or mother of his, no sister, no wife, no friend. However, he was not a rude, hard man ; far from it. In all that he does he appears gentle, meek, calm. We do not find that he had any personal enemies, for he had no personal pretensions: he was an humble-minded and very earnest man ; so intent about finding and teaching truth, that he never thought about any pretensions
of his own.
A very fine specimen of a reformer he is, for this very thing. A great many reformers and preachers of truth deserve much of the opposition which they excite, because they often make themselves as prominent as the truths they preach. There is often in them a pretension and a presumption which makes the bitter medicine of truth more bitter; and they often have too readily counted themselves martyrs to their cause, when they have been perhaps fully as much the victims of their own vanity. But not so Wycliffe : he was as gentle as a John, as courteous as a Paul. Whatever he suffered, he had the satisfaction of suffering for the very Truth's sake. But that he was not weak, or timid, or time-serving, I need not say. Energy and unremitting labour were his characteristics. Indeed it is only intense earnestness and downright straightforwardness that will ever make an unworldly cause prevail. And that Wycliffe's cause has prevailed we know ; that it did prevail in his own time we have abundant evidence from his enemies. One of them tells us that “you cannot travel any whither in England, but of every two men you meet on the road one of them would be a Lollard.” And after a generation or two, when the disciples of Wycliffe's Lollards became martyrs, we have the testimony of one of Erasmus's cold, bright jokes, wherein he expresses the hope that either Lollardism or persecution would stop before winter, as it raised the price of firewood so much.
And now a word or two to compare Wycliffe and Luther. In one respect the likeness between their missions and their works is peculiarly striking. It was the glory of each to give the Holy Scriptures to his countrymen in their native language. In vehemence of temperament, in hardihood of deed, in exceeding daring; in large, bold, free thoughts of things ; in Titanic strength, and all that constitutes the hero of history, Luther may indeed be said to stand above Wycliffe. It is impossible to think of Luther at Worms, or burning the bull outside the gate of Wittemberg, and think also at the same time of any man his equal in these respects. But the very grandeur of these scenes—the very pomp of that position--may have imparted to Luther something of that spirit which he needed. And we must not forget that he entered into the labours of Wycliffe, and reaped some of the seed which he had sown. For a long while before Luther, there had been pleadings against the abuses of the papacy, and cries for vengeance for the murder of John Huss; and perhaps there needed but a voice so strong that clamour could not drown it, to make the claims of righteousness to be listened to and obeyed. But till the days of Wycliffe—who was the spiritual father of Huss—the whisper even of what Rome called heresy, had not been heard in England. Resistance to the Pope of Rome indeed there had been before Wycliffe's preaching ; but that resistance had been by monarchs and by parliaments, by mailed barons and weapons of a carnal warfare, rather than by any of those which are divinely ordained for the pulling down of strongholds. Among some few Englishmen before Wycliffe, there was assuredly the deep sense of wrong, and an earnest looking for better and purer times ; but these did not deepen into act: there was no giving vent to the aspirations of the heart in stern death-struggle with the
power that oppressed them. No man of them stood up in his generation and declared himself the champion of the unseen truth, and the enemy unto death of all the adversaries of men's souls. This was a deed Wycliffe was the first of Englishmen to do ; and herein is his greatness, in his being the first. Remember it was a century and a half before Luther; and no man but he had had the courage to speak, though similar corruption had been existing for ages. Luther, too, attacked a slumbering, lethargic, bloated enemy. In the early days of Luther, the papacy was a creature which had, as it were, fed itself to sleep ; it had taken its fill of the good things of this world, and was resting to ruminate. Thus Luther grew strong before his enemy was aroused. The outcry for reformation had been occasionally before, loud and vehement ; but the clamour had been so often raised in vain, that it was listened to at length with indolent, insolent composure ; and thus the lethargy of the Vatican was disturbed only when the voice that could wake it was strong enough also to rebuke it. Not so in the case of Wycliffe. The papacy then was in the fulness of its strength, and its activities had been kept keen and vigilant in England, from its having been denied its usual supply of food. Those thousand marks a year which John had paid as tribute had not been paid for thirty years, and when arrears were demanded were refused. And Wycliffe was the man who counselled the refusal. This gave a keenness to the opposition to Wycliffe, which was wanting in the case of Luther. And therefore a voice like his—demanding reformation, not apologizing for opposition—a voice denouncing the temporalities of the clergy as the destruction of the church, and calling upon the Holy Father himself to cast away his crown of pride and his wealth, and do the work of an evangelist—and all this, too, in a tongue understood, not only by the scribe, and the recorder, and the priest, but also by the people sitting on the wall—a voice like this, I say, from the chiefest and most fruitful paradise of the papacy—that land on which heresy never yet had taken root, and liberty always flourished--a voice like this must have sounded on its first blast like a trumpet-note of apostasy, and at once awakened in the papal autocrat the combined energies of fear and of hate. And yet, in spite of all—foreseeing all—Wycliffe counted the cost, and counted wisely ; he deliberately sold himself to do well; he weighed the infinite ethereal unseen, against the definite material present, and found it weightier ; so he walked by faith and not by sight; and, staking all on an appeal to heaven's invisible help against earth’s visible force, heaven heard the appeal, and hearing honoured it.
And now we must bid farewell to Wycliffe. A good man and true was he; no self-seeker ; a preacher of pure truth as well as an assailant of corruption—the morning star of that Reformation of which Luther was the noonday luminary. Allowing, then, to Luther the first place in that portion of the temple of Christian fame which is sacred to preachers of truth and reformers of the church, I know not who can be chosen to fill the next, if Wycliffe be not worthy.
Lectures on Great Men.
EDWARD IRVING. Now, as the apostle, in writing to the Hebrews concerning the priesthood of Christ, calls upon them to consider Melchizedek, his solitary majesty, and singular condition and remarkable honour
; so call we upon the church to consider David, the son of Jesse, his unexampled accumulation of gifts, his wonderful variety of conditions, his spiritual riches and his spiritual desolation, and the multifarious contingencies of his life ; with his faculty, his unrivalled faculty of expressing the emotions of his soul, under all the days of brightness and days of darkness which passed over his head. For thereby shall the church understand how this, the lawgiver of her devotion, was prepared by God for the work which he accomplished, and how it hath happened that one man should have brought forth that vast variety of experience, in which every soul rejoiceth to find itself reflected. There never was a specimen of manhood so rich and ennobled as David, the son of Jesse, whom other saints haply may have equalled in single features of his character ; but such a combination of manly, heroic qualities, such a flush of generous, godlike excellencies, hath never yet been seen embodied in a single man. His Psalms, to speak as a man, do place him in the highest rank of lyrical poets, as they set him above all the inspired writers of the Old Testament—equalling in sublimity the flights of Isaiah himself, and revealing the cloudy mystery of Ezekiel ; but in love of country, and glorying in its heavenly patronage, surpassing them all. And where are there such expressions of the varied conditions into which human nature is cast by accidents of providence, such delineations of deep affliction and inconsolable anguish, and anon such joy, such rapture, such revelry of emotion, in the worship of the living God ! such invocations to all nature, animate and inanimate, such summonings of the hidden powers of harmony, and of the breathing instruments of melody! Single hymns of this poet would have conferred immortality upon any mortal, and borne down his name as one of the most favoured of the sons of men.
But it is not the writings of the man which strike us with such wonder, as the actions and events of his wonderful history. He was a hero without a peer, bold in battle and generous in victory ; by distress, or by triumph, never overcome. Though hunted like a wild beast among the mountains, and forsaken like a pelican in the wilderness, by the country whose armies he had delivered from disgrace, and by the monarch whose daughter he had won—whose son he had bound to him with cords of brotherly love, and whose own soul he was wont to charm with the sacredness of his minstrelsy--he never indulged malice or revenge against his unnatural enemies. Twice, at the peril of his life, he brought his blood-hunter within his power, and twice he spared him, and would not be persuaded to injure a hair upon his head—who, when he fell in his high places, was lamented over by David with the bitterness of a son, and his death avenged upon the sacrilegious