Sunday, 27 March 2016

Journeying into Easter 2016
with Samuel Johnson

Resurrection in Lichfield … John Piper’s window ‘The Christ in Glory’ in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I took time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

I reached the end of this journey with Samuel Johnson yesterday, and today [27 March 2016] is Easter Day.

On Easter Day, 22 April 1764, Samuel Johnson wrote:

Having before I went to bed composed the foregoing meditation and the following prayer, I tried to compose myself but slept unquietly. I rose, took tea, and prayed for resolution and perseverance. Thought on Tetty, dear poor Tetty, with my eyes full. I went to church, came in at the first of the Psalms, and endeavoured to attend the service which I went through without perturbation. After sermon I recommended Tetty in a prayer by herself, and my Father, Mother, Brother, and Bathurst, in another. I did it only once, so far as it might be lawful for me.

I then prayed for resolution and perseverance to amend my Life. I received soon, the communicants were many. At the altar it occurred to me that I ought to form some resolutions. I resolved, in the presence of God, but without a vow, to repel sinful thoughts, to study eight hours daily, and, I think, to go to church every Sunday, and read the Scriptures. I gave a shilling, and seeing a poor girl at the Sacrament in a bedgown, gave her privately a crown, though I saw Hart’s hymns in her hand. I prayed earnestly for amendment, and repeated my prayer at home. Dined with Miss W. went to prayers at church; went to Davies’s, spent the evening not pleasantly. Avoided wine and tempered a very few glasses with Sherbet. Came home, and prayed.

I saw at the Sacrament a man meanly dressed whom I have always seen there at Easter.


On the first day of the week … the women who had accompanied Jesus came to the tomb (Luke 24: 1) – a window in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Later, he prayed:

Almighty and most merciful Father, who hast created and preserved me, have pity on my weakness and corruption. Deliver me from habitual wickedness and idleness, enable me to purify my thoughts, to use the faculties which thou hast given me with honest diligence, and to regulate my life by thy holy word.

Grant me, O Lord, good purposes and steady resolution, that I may repent my sins, and amend my life. Deliver me from the distresses of vain terrour, and enable me by thy Grace to will and to do what may please thee, that when I shall be called away from this present state I may obtain everlasting happiness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Christ is Risen ... a Resurrection scene in a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On Easter Day, 15 April 1770, Samuel Johnson wrote:

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast preserved me by thy fatherly care through all the years of my past Life, and now permittest me again to commemorate the sufferings and the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ grant me so to partake of this holy Rite, that the disquiet of my mind may be appeased, that my Faith may be encreased, my hope strengthened, and my Life regulated by thy Will. Make me truly thankful for that portion of health which thy mercy has restored, and enable me to use the remains of Life to thy glory and my own salvation. Take not from me O Lord thy Holy Spirit. Extinguish in my mind all sinful and inordinate desires. Let me resolve to do that which is right, and let me by thy help keep my resolutions. Let me, if it be best for me, at last know peace and comfort, but whatever state of life Thou shalt appoint me let me end it by a happy death, and enjoy eternal happiness in thy presence, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Wood Library in the Samuel Johnson Birthplace and Museum in Lichfield holds Johnson’s personal copy of the 1720 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, which it regards as ‘one of the most significant books in the collection.’ At Easter 1777, he wrote a Latin note in the back. It translates:

Resolved; to order my life, to read the Bible, to study theology, to serve God with gladness.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Noli me tangere ... a Resurrection image in a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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