Sermons for the Christian Year

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JOHN KEBLE. Sermons for the Christian Year. Selected and introduced by Maria Poggi Johnson. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, England: William B. Eerdmans, 2004. Pp. xi + 208, Index of Scripture References. $23.00 (paper).

John Keble is today one of the lesser known luminaries of the Oxford Movement. The two things for which he may be remembered are the 1833 Assize Sermon: National Apostasy, which John Henry Newman considered the opening shot of the Oxford Movement, and The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holidays throughout the Year, published anonymously in 1837. The collection of verse was long mined for hymnals, and the current Episcopal hymnal includes the everpopular "New Every Morning Is the Love" and "Blest Are the Pure in Heart." "Son of My Soul, Thou Saviour Dear," included in the 1940 hymn book, was purged for the 1982 edition, probably because it was considered too Victorian in its sentiment.

Today it is difficult to imagine the popularity of Keble's verse, just as it is difficult for some to imagine the popularity of Pilgrim's Progress. A priest friend told me his elderly grandmother kept a copy of The Christian Year next to her prayer book and Bible. The sermons are rarely if ever read, I suspect. Maria Poggi Johnson undertook the task of reading through a multi-volume edition of Keble's sermons in order to put together this collection of twenty-four, which she offers as representative of seasons and occasions in the life of the church.

Probably the most rewarding part of this slim volume is Johnson's own thirty-five page introduction. As I said earlier, Keble is at best a shadowy figure to most of us, and Johnson successfully brings him into the light. Of his biography and character I would make only a couple of points. He left an Oriel College fellowship to serve a rural parish at Hursley. There, as Charlotte Yonge tells the story, a certain parishioner, when asked about the meaning of predestination, replied that it was "some'at about the innards of a pig. …