Remembering The Country Parson – George Herbert

Today the church commemorates the life of George Herbert. Herbert was a great priest of the church in the Late16th and early 17th centuries. He wrote plenty. When I was in Seminary at Huron University College in the mid 1990’s, The Right Rev’d John Chapman (now Bishop of Ottawa) was rector of St. Jude’s Church in London and he taught a course on Pastoral Care. A part of the assigned reading was a book called The Country Parson by George Herbert. It was among my favourite reading in the three years of study that I was there. I still read it today.

While it is dated, and some of it no longer is applicable, Herbert’s ideas of how to be attentive to prayer, education, Sabbath keeping, preaching, pastoral care, and all duties of being a priest, etc., are valuable to all who follow this vocation yet today. While the practices and theology that he sets out may at times seem foreign today, the passion that he holds for the values of being priest are timeless.

I want to share three little pieces if his writing on the day of his commemoration:

“He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven.”

Perhaps there is no better time of year to be reminded of this than during Lent. At this time, when we are implored to journey into our wilderness and live with the wild beasts of our own minds, we often find that what we need more than anything else is to forgive those who have sinned against us. How many of us are carrying burdens today that should have been set down many moons ago? How imprisoned are we who have broken that bridge between us and another? How isolated have we left ourselves because we have forgotten that as much as we long to be forgiven we also must be willing to forgive?

Another gem is about preaching:

“When he preacheth, he procures attention by all possible art, both by earnestnesse of speech, it being naturall to men to think, that where is much earnestness, there is somewhat worth hearing; and by a diligent, and busy cast of his eye on his auditors, with letting them know, that he observes who marks, and who not; and with particularizing of his speech now to the younger sort, then to the elder, now to the poor, and now to the rich. This is for you, and This is for you; for particulars ever touch, and awake more then generalls.”

This note has been a guide for me in preaching. I remember the day I read it for the first time. Even though this was written so very long ago it remains so very true today. We parsons are preachers and our duty as such is to take time to care enough to use ‘all possible art’ to communicate the transformative love of Jesus to the community to which we are entrusted. Speaking in generalities may be safe, but Herbert reminds us all that the Word has a very real and particular implication for those of us who follow Jesus today. He knew that to be true in 1652 and I know it to be true today. Those of us who have been entrusted with such an awesome and humbling responsibility need to remember that the Word is relevant and in more that ‘generalls.’

His book concludes with this Prayer after Sermon:

“Blessed be God! and the Father of all mercy! who continueth to pour his benefits upon us. Thou hast elected us, thou hast called us, thou hast justified us, sanctified, and glorified us: Thou wast born for us, and thou livedst and diedst for us: Thou hast given us the blessings of this life, and of a better. O Lord! thy blessings hang in clusters, they come trooping upon us! they break forth like mighty waters on every side. And now Lord, thou hast fed us with the bread of life: so man did eat Angels food: O Lord, blesse it: O Lord, make it health and strength unto us; still striving &prospering so long within us, untill our obedience reach the measure of thy love, who hast done for us as much as may be. Grant this dear Father, for thy Son’s sake, our only Saviour: To whom with thee, and the Holy Ghost, three Persons, but one most glorious, incomprehensible God, be ascribed all Honour, and Glory, and Praise, ever. Amen.”

Until our obedience reach the measure of thy love…… I love this!

2 thoughts on “Remembering The Country Parson – George Herbert

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  1. I could be wrong, but, I think, I remember reading some profound poetry (at least I thought it was profound as a teenager over 50 years ago) by George Herbert. Is he the poet I’m thinking of?

    1. GOOD FRIDAY – George Herbert

      O my chief good,
      How shall I measure out thy blood?
      How shall I count what thee befell,
      And each grief tell?

      Shall I thy woes
      Number according to thy foes?
      Or, since one star show’d thy first breath,
      Shall all thy death?

      Or shall each leaf,
      Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?
      Or cannot leaves, but fruit be sign
      Of the true vine?

      Then let each hour
      Of my whole life one grief devour:
      That thy distress through all may run,
      And be my sun.

      Or rather let
      My several sins their sorrows get;
      That as each beast his cure doth know,
      Each sin may so.

      Since blood is fittest, Lord to write
      Thy sorrows in, and bloody fight;
      My heart hath store, write there, where in
      One box doth lie both ink and sin:

      That when sin spies so many foes,
      Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes
      All come to lodge there, sin may say,
      ‘No room for me’, and fly away.

      Sin being gone, oh fill the place,
      And keep possession with thy grace;
      Lest sin take courage and return,
      And all the writings blot or burn.

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