John Keble’s Observation

This post is reblogged from my other blog, 19th Century Life, where I try to explore the way that the 19th Century shaped our present one.

Saints Stephen and Samuel

In 1833, Rev. John Keble gave a sermon in St. Mary’s Church, Oxford, entitled “National Apostasy.”

This sermon is widely regarded as the beginning of the Oxford Movement of the 19th Century which saw an exodus of priests and laypeople from the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic Church.

Among these thousands of converts were John Henry Newman, Gerard Manly Hopkins and Augustus Pugin.

The sermon begins with a reference to the Old Testament Book of Samuel: ‘As for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way.
—1 SAM xii. 23.

I have chosen an excerpt from Rev. Keble’s sermon, which seems particularly appropriate to our times.

One of the most alarming, as a symptom [of the Apostate mind], is the growing indifference, in which men indulge themselves, to other men’s religious sentiments.
Under the guise of charity and toleration we are come almost to this pass; that no difference, in matters of faith, is to disqualify for our approbation and confidence, whether in public or domestic life.
Can we conceal it from ourselves, that every year the practice is becoming more common, of trusting men unreservedly in the most delicate and important matters, without one serious inquiry, whether they do not hold principles which make it impossible for them to be loyal to their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier?
Are not offices conferred, partnerships formed, intimacies courted,—nay, (what is almost too painful to think of,) do not parents commit their children to be educated, do they not encourage them to intermarry, in houses, on which Apostolical Authority would rather teach them to set a mark, as unfit to be entered by a faithful servant of Christ?

Of course, Keble was preaching about his concern that the Church of England was losing its authority in that country, and that practical atheists were endeavouring to influence and control its government. Little did he realise that his desire to reform the Anglican Church would lead so many to reject its tenets in favour of Roman Catholicism. But, his observations about the rise of humanism, and its insidious influence are as relevant as ever. We have handed the governance of our ostensibly democratic countries to atheists, but expect them to pass laws which safeguard Christian principles. How did this happen? To find the answer to that question is something I often contemplate.
How did the world go from being almost completely evangelised, almost completely Christian to the immoral, post-Christian world, that we live in now, is the space of less than three centuries? I think Keble has given us a clue to the mystery.