Practical religion

John Keble

Keble urges someone with a melancholic self-obsession `to go out and do something kind to somebody or other.’ ‘Objects either rich or poor will generally present themselves in the hour of need to those who look for them in earnest.’ ‘Do not indulge in remorse as a matter of feeling or fancy. There is none of us but has reason enough to make himself miserable in that way, if it were at all allowable to do so.’ A correspondent is concerned about the strictness of Christ’s teaching.

Keble replies, the misgivings are ‘perfectly right and reasonable – and the more you allow them, in a quiet way, to influence you in practice, the happier and wiser you will be.’ The strict sayings of Jesus should be viewed not as tasks, or conditions for entering heaven, but as ‘friendly advice… practices and tempers of mind, naturally and reasonably flowing from what we know to be the truth of our condition, and of God’s dealings with us.’

Keble is for a wise and tolerant moderation. His curate goes on to tell us that Keble, though strong for discipline, is always concerned for a true joy and cheerfulness in religion. ‘He, who takes the injunction ‘do all to the glory of God,’ in the most literal sense, appears to me to come nearest to the true sense of it. But…I do not think the glory of God best promoted by a rigid abstinence from amusements, except they be either sinful in themselves, or carried to excess, or in some other way ministering occasion to sin.’

To a correspondent, a priest, Keble wrote, ‘all my life long, I have been used to take what many would call the laxer view of common recreations and the ordinary pleasures of life. The Bible itself, besides being the Word of God, gives many ‘secondary satisfactions’ – poetry, language and history, … its blessings on conjugal love, family delights, the ways of little children, the beauties and mysteries of art and nature. It seems to say, ‘Take all these and make much of them, for God’s glory.

Such a course, he suggests, is recommended by the greatest Anglican writers, such as Hooker, Jeremy Taylor, George Herbert and Izaak Walton. To a bereaved father he writes of the comfort to be gained from the ancient church of the knowledge that ‘we may innocently and piously pray for our departed, and that they no doubt remember and pray for us,’ and he commends Lancelot Andrewes commemoration of the departed in his Preces Privatae.

Conduct is not to be measured by feeling – ‘This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.’ ‘Our conduct He leaves to ourselves, but our feelings He keeps, in great measure, in His own Hands.’ To make sensible comfort and assurance a ‘sure or necessary sign of God’s favour, must be a mistake, if it were only that it contradicts the Lord’s agony and the feeling that he had on the Cross.’

Edited by Arthur Middleton ND