John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 12 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

is, and your heart. Out of the abundance of your heart your mouth
speaketh words " seasoned with salt." We sometimes find men who
aim at doing their duty in the common course of life, suprised to hear
that they are ridiculed, and called hard names by careless or worldly
persons. This is as it should be ; it is as it should be, that they are
surprised at it. If a private Christian sets out with expecting to make
a disturbance in the world, the fear is, lest he be not so humble-minded
as he should be. But those who go on quietly in the way of obedience,
and yet are detected by the keen eye of the jealous, self-condemning,
yet proud world, and who, on discovering their situation, first shrink
from it and are distrest, then look to see if they have done aught v/rongly,
and after all are sorry for it, and but slowly and very timidly (if at all)
learn to rejoice in it, these are Christ's flock. These are they who
follow Him who was meek and lowly of heart. His elect in whom He
sees His own image reflected. Consider how such men show forth
their light in a wicked Avorld, yet unconsciously. Moses came down
from the mount, and " wist not that the skin of his face shone" as one
who had held intercourse with God. But " when Aaron and all the


children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and
they were afraid to come nigh him."* Who can estimate the power of
our separate words spoken in season ! How many of them are recol-
lected and cherished by this person or that which we have forgotten,
and bear fruit ! How do our good deeds excite others to rivalry in a
good cause, as the Angels perceive though we do not ! How are men
thinking of us we never heard of, or saw but once, and in far countries
unknown ! Let us view this pleasing side of our doings, as well as the
sad prospect of our evil communications. Doubtless, our prayers and
alms are rising as a sv/ect sacrifice, pleasing to God ;f and pleasing to
Him, not as an office of devotion, but of charity towards all men. Our
businesses and our amusements, our joys and our sorrows, our opinions,
tastes, studies, views and principles, are drawn one way, heavenward.
Be we high or low, in our place we can serve, and in consequence glorify
Him who died for us. " A little maid," who was " brought away captive
out of the land of Israel, and waited on Naaman's Avife,"J pointed out
to the great captain of the host of the king of Syria the means of re-
covery from his leprosy, and " his servants'^ spoke good words to him
afterwards, and brought him back to his reason when he would have re-
jected the mode of cure which tac prophet prescribed. This may quiet
impatient minds, and console the over-scrupulous conscience. " Wait
on God and be doing good," and you must, you cannot but be showino-
your light before men as a city on a hill.

3. Still it is quite true that there are circumstances under which a
Christian is bound openly to express his opinion on religious subjects
and matters ; and this is the real difficulty ; viz. how to do so without
display. As a man's place in society is here or there, so it is more or
less his duty to speak his mind freely. We must never countenance
sin and error. Now the more obvious and modest way of discounte-
nancing evil is by silence, and by separating from it ; for example, we
arc bound to keep aloof from deliberate and open sinners. St. Paul ex-
pressly tells us, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother
(i. e. a Christian) be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer,
or a drunkard, or an extortioner ; tvith such a one, no not to eat."§
And St. John gives us the like advice with respect to heretics. " If
there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, (i. e. the true
doctrin3 of Christ,) receive him not into your house, neither bid him
God spead ; for he that biddeth him God speed, is partaker of his evil
deeds." II It is plain that such conduct on our part requires no great

* Exod. xxxiv. 29, 30. t Acts x. 4. t 2 Kings v. 2,

§lCor. V. 11. 1|2 JohnlO, 11.


display, for it is but conforming to the rules of the Church ; though it
is often difficult to know on what occasions we ought to adopt it, which
is another question.

A more difficult duty is that of passing judgment, (as a Christian is
often bound to do,) on events of the day and public men. It becomes
his duty, in proportion as he has station and influence in the community,
in order that he may persuade others to think as he does. Above all,
clergymen are bound to form and pronounce an opinion. It is some-
times said, in^familiar language, that a clergyman should have nothing
to do with^politics. This is true, if it be meant that he should not aim
at secular objects, should not side with a political party as such, should
not be ambitious of popular applause, or the favour of great men, should
not take pleasure and lose time in business of this world, should not be
covetous. But if it means that he should not express an opinion and
exert an influence one way rather than another, it is plainly unscriptural.
Did not the Apostles, with all their reverence for the temporal power,
whether Jewish or Roman, and all their separation from worldly ambi-
tion, did they not still denounce their rulers as wicked men, who had
crucified and slain the Lord's Christ 1* and would they have been as a
city on a hill if they had not done so 1 If, indeed, this world's con-
cerns could be altogether disjoined from those of Christ's kingdom,
then indeed all Christians, (laymen as well as clergy,) should abstain
from the thought of temporal affairs, and let the worthless world pass
down the stream of events till it perishes ; but if ('as is the case) what
happens in nations must affect the cause of religion in those nations,
since the Church may be seduced and corrupted by the world, and in
the world there are myriads of souls to be converted and saved, and since
a Christian nation is bound to become part of the Church, therefore it
is our duty to stand as a beacon on a hill, to cry aloud and spare not, to
lift up our voice like a trumpet, and show the people their transgressions,
and the house of Jacob their sins.f And all this may be done without
injury to our Christian gentleness and humbleness, though it is difficult
to do it. We need not be angry, npr use contentious words, and yet
may firmly give our opinion, in proportion as we have the means of
forming one, and be zealous towards God in all active good service, and
scrupulously and pointedly keep aloof from the bad men whose evil
arts we fear.

Another and still more difficult duty is that of personally rebuking
those we meet with in the intercourse of life who sin in word or deed,
and testifying before them in Christ's name ; that is, it is difficult at

« Acts ii. 23, iii, 13—17. iv. 27, xiii. 27. t Isa, Iviii. 1.


once to be unassuming and zealous in such cases. We know it is a
plain and repeated precept of Christ to tell others of their faults for
charity's sake ; but how is this to be done without seeming, nay, without
being, arrogant and severe? There are persons who are anxious to do
their duty to the full, who fear that they are deficient in this particular
branch of it, and deficient from a blameable backwardness, and the
dread of giving offence ; yet, on the other hand, they feel the painful-
ness of rebuking another, and, (to use a common word,) the awkwardness
of it. Such persons must consider that, though to rebuke is a duty, it
is not a duty belonging at once to all men ; and the perplexity which is
felt about it often arises from the very impropriety of attempting it in
the particular case. It is improper, as a general rule, in the young to
Avitness before the old, otherwise than by their silence. Still more im-
proper is it in inferiors to rebuke their superiors ; for instance, a
child his parent, of course ; or a private person his natural and divinely-
appointed governor. When we assume a character not suited to us,
of course we feel awkward ; and although we may have done so in hon-
esty and zeal (however ill-tutored,) and so God may in mercy accept
our service, still He, at the same time, rebukes us by our very feeling of
perplexity and shame. — As for such as rudely blame another, and that
a superior, and feel no pain at doing so, I have nothing to say to such
men, except to express my earnest desire that they may be led into a
more Christian frame of mind. They do not even feel the difficulty of
witnessing for God without display.

It is to be considered, too, that to do the part of a witness for the
truth, to warn and rebuke, is not an elementary duty of a Christian.
I mean, that our duties come in a certain order, some before others, and
that this is not one of the first of them. Our first duties are to repent
and believe. It would be strange, indeed, for a man who had just be-
gun to think of religion, to set up for " some great one," to assume he
was a saint and a witness, and to exhort others to turn to God. This is
evident. But as time goes on, and his religious character becomes
formed, then, while he goes on to perfection in all his duties, he takes
upon himself, in the number of these, to witness for God by word of
mouth. It is difficult to say, wJieii a man has leave openly to rebuke
others ; certainly not before he has considerable humility ; the tests of
which may be the absence of a feeling of triumph in doing it, a con-
sciousness that he is no better by nature than the person he witnesses
before, and that his actual sins are such as to deserve a severe rebuke,
were they known to the world ; a love towards the person reproved, and
a willingness to submit to deserved censure in his turn. In all this I
am speaking of laymen. It is a clergyman's duty to rebuke by virtue


of his office. And then, after all, supposing it be clearly our duty to
manifest our religious profession in this pointed way before an-
other, in order to do so modestly we must do so kindly and
cheerfully, as gently as we can ; doing it as little as we can help ;
not making matters worse than they are, or showing our whole Christian
stature (or what we think to be such), when we need but put out a hand
(so to say) or give a glance. And above all, (as I have already said,)
acting as if we thought, nay really thinking, that it may be the oflender's
turn some day to rebuke us ; not putting ourselves above him, feeling
our great imperfections, and desirous he should rebuke us, should occa-
sion require it, and in prospect thanking him ; acting, that is, in the
spirit in which you warn a man irr walking against rugged ground,
which may cause him a fall, thinking him bound by your friendly con-
duct, to do the like favour to you. As to grave occasions of witnessing
Christ, they will seldom occur, except a man thrusts himself into society
where he never ought to have been, by neglecting the rule, " Come ye
out, and be separate ;" and then he has scarcely the right to rebuke,
having committed the first fault himself. This is another cause of our
perplexity in witnessing Christ before the world. We make friends of
the sinful in spite of the rules of the Church, and then they have the
advantage over us.

To conclude, — The question is often raised, whether a man can do
his duty simply and quietly, without being thought ostentatious by the
world. It is no great matter to himself whether he is thought so or not,
if he has not provoked the opinion. As a general rule, I would say the
Church itself is always hated and calumniated by the world, as being in
duty bound to make a bold profession. But, whether individual mem-
bers of the Church are so treated, depends on various circumstances in
the case of each. There are persons, who, though very strict and con-
scientious Christians, are yet praised by the world. These are such, as
having great meekness and humility, are not so prominent in station or
so practically connected with the world as to offend it. Men admire
religion, while they can gaze on it as a picture. They think it lovely
in books ; and as long as they can look upon Christians at a distance,
they speak well of them. The Jews in Christ's time built the sepul-
chres of the prophets whom their fathers killed ; then they themselves
killed the Just One. They " reverenced" the Son of God before He
came, but when their passions and interests were stirred by His coming,
then they said, " This is the Heir, come, let us kill Him, and the inheri-
tance shall be ours."* Thus Christians in active life, thwarting (as

* Mark xii. 7.


they do) the pride and selfishness of the world, are disliked by the world,
and have " all manner of evil said against them falsely for Christ's
sake."* Still, even under these circumstances, though they must not
shrink from the attack on a personal account, it is still their duty to
shelter themselves, as far as they can, under the name and authority of
the Holy Church ; to keep to its ordinances and rules ; and, if they are
called to suffer for the Church, rather to be drawn forward to the suffer-
ing in the common course of duty, than boldly to take upon them the
task of defending it. There is no cowardice in this. Some men are
placed in posts of danger, and to these danger comes in the way of duty ;
but others must not intrude into their honourable office. Thus in the
first age of the Gospel, our Lord told His followers to fly from city to
city, when persecuted ; and even the heads of the Church, in the early
persecutions, instead of exposing themselves to the fury of the heathen,
did their utmost to avoid it. We are a suffering people from the first ;
but, while on the one hand, we do not defend ourselves illegally, we do
not court suffering on the other. We must witness and glorify God, as
fights on a hill, through evil report and good report ; but the evil and
the good report is not so much of our own making as the natural conse-
quence of our Christian profession.

Who can tell God's will concerning this tumultuous world, or how He
will dispose of it ? He is tossing it hither and thither in His fury, and
in its agitation He troubles His own people also. Only, this we know
for our comfort. Our light shall never go down ; Christ set it upon a
hill, and hell shall not prevail against it. The Church will witness on
to the last for the Truth, chained indeed to this world, its evil partner,
but ever foretelling its ruin, though not believed, and in the end pro-
mised a far different recompense. For in the end the Lord Omnipotent
shall reign, when the marriage of the Lamb shall come at length, and
His wife shall make herself ready ; and to her shall be granted " fine
linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints."!
True and righteous are His judgments ; He shall cast death and hell
into the lake of fire, and avenge His own elect which cry day and night
unto Him !

" Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the
Lamb." May all we be in the number, confessing Christ in this world,
that He may confess us before His P'ather in the last day!

* Matt, V. 11. t Rev. xix. 6—8.

Vol. L-7



Matthew xxi. 28 — 30.

" A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work
to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not ; but afterward he
repented, 2ind went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he
answered and said, I go, Sir ; and went not."

Our religious professions are at a far greater distance from our acting
upon them, than we ourselves are aware. We know generally that it is
our duty to serve God, and we resolve we will do so faithfully. We
are sincere in thus generally desiring and purposing to be obedient, and
we think we are in earnest ; yet we go away, and presently, without
any struggle of mind or apparent change of purpose, almost without
knowing ourselves what we do, — we go away and do the very contrary
to the resolution we have expressed. This inconsistency is exposed by
our Blessed Lord in the second part of the parable which I have taken
for my text. You will observe, that in the case of the first son, who
said he would not go to work, and yet did go, it is said, " afterward he
repented ;" he underwent a positive change of purpose. But in the case
of the second, it is merely said, " he answered, I go. Sir ; and went
not ;" for here there was ?io revolution of sentiment, nothing deliberate ;
he merely acted according to his habitual frame of mind ; he did not
go work, because it was contrary to his general character to work ;
only he did not know this. He said, " I go. Sir," sincerely, from the
feeling of the moment ; but when the words were out of his mouth,
then they were forgotten. It was like the wind blowing against a
stream, which seems for a moment to change its course in consequence,
but in fact flows down as before.

To this subject I shall now call your attention, as drawn from the
latter part of this parable, passing over the case of the repentant son,
which would form a distinct subject in itself. " He answered and said,
I go, Sir ; and went not." We promise to serTe God, we do not per-
form ; and that, not from deliberate faithlessness in the particular case,
but because it is our nature, our way not to obey, and we do not know


this ; we do not know ourselves, or what we are promising. — I will give
several instances of this kind of weakne.«;s.

1. For instance; that of mistaking good feelings for real religious
principle. Consider how often this takes place. It is the case with the
young necessarily, who have not been exposed to temptation. They
have (we will say) been brought up religiously, they wish to be reli-
gious, and so are objects of our love and interest ; but they think them-
selves far more religious than they really are. They suppose they hate
sin, and understand the Truth, and can resist the world, when they
hardly know the meaning of the words they use. Again, how often
is a man incited by circumstances to utter a virtuous wish, or propose
a generous or valiant deed, and perhaps applauds himself for his own
good feeling, and has no suspicion that he is not able to act upon it !
In truth, he does not understand where the real difficulty of his duty
lies. He thinks that the characteristic of a religious man is his having
correct notions. It escapes him that there is a great interval between
feeling and acting. He takes it for granted he can do what he wishes.
He knows he is a free-agent, and can on the whole do what he will;
but he is not conscious of the load of corrupt nature and sinful habits
which hang upon his will, and clog it in each particular exercise of iU-
He has borne these so long, that he is insensible to their existence. He
knows that in little things, where passion and inclination are excluded,
he cqn perform as soon as he resolves. Should he meet in his walk two
paths, to the right and left, he is sure he can take which he will at
once, without any difficulty ; and he fancies that obedience to God is^
not much more difficult than to turn to the right instead of the left.

2. One especial case of this self-deception is seen in delaying repent-
ance. A man says to himself, " Of course, if the worst comes to the
worst, if illness comes, or at least old age, I can repent." I do not
speak of the dreadful presumption of such a mode of quieting conscience,
(though many persons really use it who do not speak the words out, or
are aware that they act upon it,) but, merely, the ignorance it evidences
concerning our moral condition, and our power of willing and doing.
If men can repent, why do they not do so at once ? they answer, that
" they intend to do .so hereafter ;" i. e. they do not repent because they
can. Such is their argument ; whereas, the very fact that they do not
now, should make them suspect that there is a greater difference between
intending and doing than they know of.

So very difficult is obedience, so hardly won is every step in our
Christian course, so sluggish and inert our corrupt nature, that I would
have a man disbeheve he can do one jot or tittle more than he has al-
ready done ; refrain from borrowing aught on the hope of the future,


however good a security for it he seems to be able to show ; and never
take his good feehngs and wishes in pledge for one single untried deed.
Nothing hut past acts are the vouchers (or future. Past sacrifices, past
labours, past victories over yourselves, — these, my brethren, are the
tokens of those in store ; and doubtless of greater in store, for the path
of the just is as the shining, growing light.* But trust nothing short
of these. "Deeds, not words and wishes," this must be the watch-
word of your warfare and the ground of your assurance. But if you
have done nothing firm and manly hitherto, if you are as yet the cow-
ard slave of Satan, and the poor creature of your lusts and passions,
never suppose you will one day rouse yourselves from your indolence.
Alas ! there are men who walk the road to hell, always the while look-
ing back at heaven, and trembling as they pace forward towards their
place of doom. They hasten on as under a spell, shrinking from the
consequences of their own deliberate doings. Such was Balaam.
What would he have given if words and feelings might have passed for
deeds ! See how religious he was so far as profession goes ! How did
he revere God in speech ! How piously express a desire to die the
death of the righteous ! Yet he died in battle among God's enemies ;
— not suddenly overcome by temptation, only on the other hand, not
suddenly turned to God by his good thoughts and fair purposes. But
in this respect the power of sin diflfers from any literal spell or fascina-
tion, that we are, after all, willing slaves of it, and shall answer for fol-
lowing it. If " our iniquities, like the wind, take us away,"* yet we
can help this.

Nor is it only among beginners in rehgious obedience that there is
this great interval between promising and performing. We can never
answer how we shall act under new circumstances. A very little know-
ledge of life and of our own hearts will teach us this. Men whom we
meet in the world turn out, in the course of their trial, so differently
from what their former conduct promised, they view things so differ-
ently before they were tempted and after, that we, who see and wonder
at it, have abundant cause to look to ourselves, not to be "high-
minded" but to " fear." Even the most matured saints, those who im-
bibed in largest measure the power and fullness of Christ's Spirit, and
worked righteousness most diligently, in their day, could they have been
thoroughly scanned even by man, would (I am persuaded) have ex-
hibited inconsistencies such as to surprise and shock their most ardent
disciples. After all, one good deed is scarcely the pledge of another,
though I just now said it was. The best men are uncertain ; they are

* Prov. IT. 18. t Isaiah Ixiv. 6.


great, and they are little again ; they stand firm, and then fall. Such
is human virtue ; — reminding us to call no one master on earth, but to
look up to our sinless and perfect Lord ; reminding us to humble ourselves
each within himself, and to reflect what we must appear to God, if even
to ourselves and each other we seem so base and worthless ; and show-
ing clearly that all who are saved, even the least inconsistent of us, can
be saved only by faith, not by works.

3. Here I am reminded of another plausible form of the same error.
It is a mistake concerning what is meant by faith. We know Scripture
tells us that God accepts those who have faith in Him. Now the ques-
tion is. What is faith, and how can a man tell that he has faith ? Some
persons answer at once and without hesitation, that " to have faith, is
to feel oneself to be nothing, and God everything ; it is to be convinced
of sin, to be conscious one cannot save oneself, and to wish to be saved
by Christ our Lord ; and that it is, moreover, to have the love of Him
warm in one's heart, and to rejoice in Him, to desire His glory, and to
resolve to live to Him and not to the world." But I will answer, with
all due seriousness, as speaking on a serious subject, that this is not faith.

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 76)