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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Frederick Denison Maurice (1805–1872)

FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE takes high rank among the religious teachers of this century, more by virtue of what he was than of what he wrote. He is of those elect souls whose insight becomes a guiding force both to themselves and to their fellows. Of a generation which knew Carlyle and Mill and Darwin, which was given over to the dry-rot of intellectual despair in all matters concerning the religious life of man, Maurice seemed born out of due time. He belonged apparently to an earlier or to a later day. Yet by force, not of his intellect but of his faith, he succeeded in turning many of his contemporaries to the Christian ideal which haunted him throughout his life, and which perpetually dominated his nineteenth-century inheritance of skepticism. Unlike Newman, with whom he was associated at Oxford, Maurice was content to find in the Church of England, as in all churches, only a partial realization of his ideal of righteousness. He is of those who believe that the whole truth can never be revealed to one generation. He shares the Platonic belief that the vision of God becomes gradually apparent through many sons. This liberalism was the mainspring of his power as a religious teacher.

His early training had enlarged his sympathies and prepared the way for his future ministrations. He was born in 1805 of a Unitarian father, and of a mother who adhered to the doctrines of Calvin. His first religious problem was to reconcile these differences of faith. Later his education at Cambridge deepened within him the evangelical sympathies, which made him long to unite the world under one banner as Sons of God. Upon leaving Cambridge he undertook the editorship of the Athenæum in London, and while engaged upon this work became a member of the Church of England. His residence at Oxford was the natural outcome of this step. The stronghold of mediævalism was then vital with the presence of Newman, of Pusey, of Keble, and of others who were seeking with passionate eagerness a refuge from the insistent doubts and difficulties of the age. The spirit of the age was then trying all men through the religious faculty. Maurice, as if anticipating the Christianity of the twentieth century, found the key to all problems, not in an infallible church nor in infallible reason, but in the everlasting love and fatherhood of God, and in the universal sonship of men. Cambridge had increased his liberality; Oxford deepened his idealism. Maurice would exclude no man, whether Jew, Turk, infidel, or heretic, from the Divine family; yet in his exalted worship of Jesus he was linked to the mediæval mystic. This rare combination gave him charm, and drew to him thoughtful and cultured men who were too large for narrowed and dogmatic Christianity, yet who longed to give expression to the soul of worship within them. It drew to him also the workingmen of London. After Maurice left Oxford he was appointed to the chaplaincy of Guy’s Hospital in London. He held also the chairs of history, literature, and divinity in King’s College, and the chaplaincy of Lincoln’s Inn and of St. Peter’s. During his long residence in London, from 1834 until 1866, the broad and fervent religious spirit of Maurice found expression in social work. The man who would knit together all the kindreds of the world in the bonds of Divine fellowship could not limit his ministrations to certain classes of society. He was in strong sympathy with workingmen, believing that their lack of education by no means debarred them from the apprehension of the highest spiritual truths. His foundation of the Workingman’s College was the outcome of this sympathy. He founded also Queen’s College for women; and thus established still further his claim to be ranked with the prophets of his time. In 1866 he became professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge. He died in 1872.

Frederick Denison Maurice was the author of many religious works, but his pre-eminent power is in his sermons. His ‘Lectures on Ecclesiastical History,’ his ‘Theological Essays,’ his ‘Kingdom of Christ,’ his ‘Unity of the New Testament,’ have literary value in proportion as they exhibit the spirit of the preacher. In his sermons the luminous spirituality of Maurice and his strength as a writer find completest expression. The man himself can be most closely approached in his sensitive and thoughtful letters to his friends.