John Henry Newman.

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Not that it is not necessary (it is very necessary) to be convinced, that
we are laden with infirmity and sin, and without health in us, and to
look for salvation solely to Christ's blessed sacrifice on the cross ; and
we may well be thankful if we are thus minded ; but that a man may
feel all this that I have described, vividly, and still not yet possess one
particle of true religious faith. Why ? Because there is an immeas-
urable distance between feeling right and doing right. A man may
have all these good thoughts and emotions, yet, (if he has not yet haz-
arded them to the experiment of practice,) he cannot promise himself
that he has any sound and permanent principle at all. If he has not yet
acted upon them, we have no voucher, barely on account of them, to be-
lieve that they are any thing but words. Though a man spoke like an
angel, I would not believe him, on the mere ground of his speaking.
Nay, till he acts upon them, he has not even evidence to himself, that
he has true living f\iith. Dead faith, (as St. James says,) profits no
man. Of course ; the Devils have it. What, on the other hand, is living
faith 1 Do fervent thoughts make faith livvig ? St. James tells us
otherwise. He tells us works, deeds of obedience, are the life of faith.
"As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead
also."* So that those who think they really believe, because they have
in word and thought surrendered themselves to God, are much too hasty
in their judgment. They have done something, indeed, but not at all

* James ii. 26.


the most difficult part of their duty, which is to surrender themselves to
God in deed and act. They have as yet done nothing to show they will
not, after saying " I go," the next moment " go not ;" nothing to show
they will not act the part of the self deceiving disciple, who said,
" Though I die with Thee, I will not deny Thee ;" yet straightway went
and denied Christ thrice. As far as we know any thing of the matter,
justifying faith has no existence independent of its particular definite
acts. It may be described to be the temper under which men obey ;
the humble and earnest desire to please Christ which causes and attends
on actual services. He who does one little deed of obedience, whether
he denies himself some comfort to relieve the sick and needy, or curbs
his temper, or forgives an enemy, or asks forgiveness for an offence
committed by him, or resists the clamour or ridicule of the world, such a
one (as far as we are given to judge) evinces more true faith than could
be shown by the most fluent rehgious conversation, the most intimate
knowledge of Scripture doctrine, or the most remarkable agitation and
change of religious sentiments. Yet how many are there who sit still
with folded hands,* dreaming, doing nothing at all, thinking they have
done every thing, or need do nothing, when they merely have had these
good thoughts, which will save no one !

My object has been, as far as a few words can do it, to lead you to
.some true notion of the depths and deceitfulness of the heart, which we
do not really know. It is easy to speak of human nature as corrupt in
the general, to admit it in the general, and then get quit of the subject ;
as if, the doctrine being once admitted, there was nothing more to be
done with it. But in truth we can have no real apprehension of the
doctrine of our corruption, till v e view the structure of our minds, part
by part ; and dwell upon and draw out the signs of our weakness, in-
consistency, and ungodliness, which are such as can arise from nothing
but some strange original defect in our moral nature.

1. Now it will be well if such self-examination as I have suggested
leads us to the habit of constant dependence upon the Unseen God, in
whom " we live, and move, and have our being." We are in the dark
about ourselves. When we act, we are groping in the dark, and may
meet with a fall any moment. Here and there, perhaps, we see a
little ; — or, in our attempts to influence and move our minds, we are
making experiments (as it were) with some delicate and dangerous in-
strument, which works, we do not know how, and may produce unex-
pected and disastrous effects. The management of our heart is quite
above us. Under these circumstances it becomes our comfort to look

* Prov. ixiv. 33,


up to God. " Thou, God, seest me !" Such was the consolation of the
forlorn Hagar in the wilderness. He knoweth whereof we are made,
and He alone can uphold us. He sees with most appalling distinctness
all our sins, all the windings and recesses of evil within us ; yet it is
our only comfort to know this, and to trust Him for help against our-
selves. To those who have a right notion of their weakness, the
thought of their Almighty Sanctifier and Guide is continually present.
They believe in the necessity of a spiritual influence to change and
strengthen them, not as a mere abstract doctrine, but as a practical and
most consolatory truth daily to be fulfilled in their warfare with sin and

2. And this conviction of our excessive weakness must further lead
us to try ourselves continually in little things, in order to prove our own
earnestness ; ever to be suspicious of ourselves, and, not only to refrain
from promising much, but actually to put ourselves to the test to keep
ourselves wakeful. A sober mind never enjoys God's blessings to the
full ; it draws back and refuses a portion to show its command over
itself It denies itself in trivial circumstances, even if nothing is gained
by denying, but an evidence of its own sincerity. It makes trial of its
own professions ; and if it has been tempted to say any thing noble
and great, or to blame another for sloth or cowardice, it takes itself at
its word, and resolves to make some sacrifice (if possible) in little things,
as a price for the indulgence of fine speaking, or as a penalty on its cen-
soriousness. Much would be gained if we adopted this rule, even in
our professions of friendship and service one towards another; and
never said a thing which we were not willing to do.

There is only one place where the Christian allows himself to pro-
fess openly, and that is in Church. Here, under the guidance of Apos-
tles and Prophets, he says many things boldly, as speaking after them,
and as before Him who searcheth the reins. There can be no harm in
professing much directly to God, because, while we speak, we know He
sees through our professions, and takes them for what they really are,
prayers. How much, for instance, do we profess when we say the
Creed ! and in the Collects we put on the full character of a Christian.
We desire and seek the best gifts, and declare our strong purpose to
serve God with our whole hearts. By doing this, we remind ourselves
of our duty ; and withal, we humble ourselves by the taunt (so to call it)
of putting upon our dwindled and unhealthy forms those ample and
glorious garments which befit the upright and full-grown believer.

Lastly, we see, from the parable, what is the course and character of
human obedience on the whole. There are two sides of it. I have
j^aken the darker side ; the case of profession without practice, of say-


ing " I go, Sir," and of not going. But what is the brighter side ?
Nothing better than to say, " I go not," and to repent and go. The
more common condition of men is, not to know their inabihty to serve
God, and readily to answer for themselves ; and so they quietly pass
through hfe, as if they had nothing to fear. Their best estate, what is
it, but to rise more or less in rebellion against God, to resist His com-
mandments and ordinances, and then poorly to make up for the mis-
chief they have done, by repenting and obeying ? Alas ! to be alive as
a Christian, is nothing better than to stru^le against sin, to disobey and
repent. There has been but One among the sons of men who has said
and done consistently ; who said, " I come to do Thy will, O God," and
without delay or hindrance did it. He came to show us what human
nature might become, if carried on to its perfection. Thus He teaches
us to think highly of our nature as viewed in Him ; not (as some do) to
speak evil of our nature and exalt ourselves personally, but while we ac-
knowledge our own distance from heaven, to view our nature as renewed
in Him, as glorious and wonderful beyond our thoughts. Thus He
teaches us to be hopeful ; and encourages us while conscience abases us.
Angels seem little in honour and dignity, compared with that nature
which the Eternal Word has purified by His own union with it. Hence-
forth, we dare aspire to enter into the heaven of heavens, and to live
for ever in God's presence, because the first fruits of our race is already
there in the Person of His Only-begotten Son.



Mark sir. 31.

" But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with Thee I will not deny
Thee in any wise."

It is not my intention to make St. Peter's fall the direct subject of
our consideration to-day, though I have taken this te.xt ; but to suggest
to you an important truth, which that fall, together with other events
at the same season, especially enforces ; viz. that violent impulse is not
the same as a firm determination, — that men may have their religious


feelings roused, without being on that account the more hkelv to obev
God in practice, rather the less likely. This important truth is in
various ways brought before our minds at the season .sacred to the
memory of Christ's betrayal and death. The contrast displayed in the
Gospels between His behaviour on the one hand, as the time of HLs
crucifixion drew near, and that both of HLs dLsciples and the Jewish
populace on the other, is full of instruction, if we will receive it ; He
steadily fixing His face to endure those sufferings which were the
atonement for our sins, yet without aught of mental excitement or agi-
tation ; His disciples and the Jewish multitude first protesting their
devotion to Him in vehement language, then, the one deserting Him,
the other even clamouring for His crucifixion. He entered Jerusalem
in triumph ; the multitude cutting down branches of palm-trees, and
strewing them in the way, as in honour of a king and conqueror.* He
had lately raised Lazarus from the dead ; and so great a miracle had
given Him great temporary favour with the populace. Multitudes
flocked to Bethany to see Him and Lazarus ; f and when He set out
for Jerusalem where He was to suffer, they, little thinking they would
soon cry, " Crucify Him," went out to meet Him with palm-branches,
and hailing Him as their Messiah, led Him on into the holy city. Here
was an instance of a popular excitement. The next instance of excited
feeling is found in that melancholy self-conlidence of St. Peter, con-
tained in the text. When our Saviour foretold Peter's trial and fall,
Peter at length " spake the more vehemently. If I should die with Thee,
I will not deny Thee in any wise." Yet in a little while both the peo-
ple and the Apostle abandoned their Messiah ; the ardour of their devo-
tion had run it.s course.

Now, it may, perhaps, appear as if the circumstance I am pointing
out, remarkable as it is, still is one on which it is of Uttle use to dwell,
when addressing a mixed congregation, on the ground tjiat most men
feel too little about religion. And it may be thence argued, that the aim
of Christian teaching rather should be to rouse them from insensibiUtv",
than to warn them against excess of religious feeling. I answer, that
to mistake mere transient emotion, or mere good thoughts for obedience,
is a far commoner deceit than at first sight appears. How many a
man is there, who, when his conscience upbraids him for neglect of
dutTi", comforts himself with the reflection that he has never treated the
subject of rehgion with open scorn, — that he has from time to time had
serious thoughts, — that on certain solemn occasions he has been affected
and awed, — that he has at times been moved to earnest prayer to God,

» Matt. xii. 8. John xii. 13. t John lii. 1—18.


— that he has had accidentally some serious conversation with a friend !
This, I say, is a case of frequent occurrence among men called Chris-
tian. Again, there is a further reason for insisting upon this subject.
No one (it is plain) can be religious without having his heart in his
religion ; his affections must be actively engaged in it ; and it is the
aim of all Christian instruction to promote this. But if so, doubtless,
there is great danger lest a perverse use should be made of the affec-
tions. In proportion as a religious duty is difficult, so is it open to abuse.
For the very reason, then, that I desire to make you earnest in religion,
must I also warn you against a counterfeit earnestness, which often
misleads men from the plain path of obedience, and which most men
are apt to fall into just on their first awakening to a serious considera-
tion of their duty. It is not enough to bid you serve Christ in faith,
fear, love, and gratitude ; care must be taken that it is the faith, fear,
love, and gratitude of a sound mind. That vehement tumult of zeal
which St. Peter felt before his trial failed him under it. The open-
mouthed admiration of the populace at our Saviour's miracle was sud-
denly changed to blasphemy. This may happen now as then ; and it
often happens in a way distressing to the Christian teacher. He finds
it is far easier to interest men in the subject of religion, (hard though
this be,) than to rule the spirit which he has excited. His hearers, when
their attention is gained, soon begin to think he does not go far enough ;
then they seek means which he will not supply, of encouraging and
indulging their mere feelings, to the neglect of humble practical efforts
to serve God. After a time, like the multitude, they suddenly turn
round to the world, abjuring Christ altogether, or denying Him with
Peter, or gradually sinking into a mere form of obodiGnce, while they
still think themselves true Christians, and secure of the favour of
Almighty God.

For these .reasons I think it is as important to warn men against
impetuous feelings in religion, as to urge them to give their heart to it.
I proceed, therefore, to explain more fully what is the connexion between
strong emotions and sound Christian principle, and how far they are
consistent with it.

Now that perfect state of mind, at which we must aim, and which
the Holy Spirit imparts, is a deliberate preference of God's service to
every thing else, a determined resolution to give up all for Him, and a
love for Him, not tumultuous and passionate, but such a love as a child
bears towards his parents, calm, full, reverent, contemplative, obedient.
Here, however, it may be objected, that this is not always possible :
that we cannot help feeling emotion at times ; that, even, to take the
case of parents and children, a man is at certain times thrown out of that


quiet affection which he bears towards his father and mother, and is
agitated by various feelings ; again, that zeal, for instance, though a
Christian virtue, is almost inseparable from ardour and passion. To
this I reply, that I am not describing the state of mind to which any one
of us has attained, when I say it is altogether calm and meditative, but
that which is the perfect state, that which we should aim at. I know
it is often impossible, for various reasons, to avoid being agitated and
excited ; but the question before us is, whether we should think much
of violent emotion, whether we should encourage it. Doubtless it is no
sin to feel at times passionately on the subject of religion ; it is natural
in some men, and under certain circumstances it is praiseworthy in
others. But these are accidents. As a general rwle, the more religious
men become, the calmer they become ; and at all times the religious
principle, viewed by itself, is calm, sober, and deliberate-
Let us review some of the accidental circumstances I speak of.

1. The natural tempers of men vary very much. Some men have
ardent imaginations and strong feelings ; and adopt, as a matter of
course, a vehement mode of expressing themselves. No doubt it is
impossible to make all men think and feel aUke. Such men of course
may possess deep-rooted principle. All I would maintain is, that their
ardour does not of itself make their faith deeper and more genuine ; that
they must not think themselves better than others on account of it ;
that they must beware of considering it a proof of their real earnest-
ness, instead of narrowly searching into their conduct for the satisfac-
tory /ruzVs of faith.

2. Next, there are, besides, particular occasions on which excited
feeling is natural, and even commendable ; but not for its own sake,
but on account of the peculiar circumstances under which it occurs.
For instance ; it is natural for a man to feel especial remorse at his
sins when he first begins to think of religion ; he ought to feel bitter
sorrow and keen repentance. But all such emotion evidently is not
the highest state of a Christian's mind ; it is but the first stirring of
grace in him. A sinner, indeed, can do no better ; but in proportion
as he learns more of the power of true religion, such agitation will wear
away. What is this but saying, that repentance is only the inchoate
state of a Christian? Who doubts that sinners are bound to repent and
turn to God? yet the Angels have no repentance; and who denies
their pcacefulness of soul to be a higher excellence than ours ? The
woman who had been a sinner, when she came behind our Lord wept
much, and washed his feet with tears.* It was w ell done in her ; she

* Luke vii. 38.


did what she could ; and was honoured with her Saviour's praise. Yet
it is clear this was not a permanent state of mind. It was but the first
step in religion, and would doubtless wear away. It was but the acci-
dent of a season. Had her faith no deeper root than this emotion, it
would have soon come to an end, as Peter's zeal.

In like manner, whenever we fall into sin, (and how often is this the
case !) the truer our faith is, the more we shall for the time be distress-
ed, perhaps agitated. No doubt ; yet it would be a strange procedure
to make much of this disquietude. Though it is a bad sign if we do
not feel it according to our mental temperament, yet if we do, what
then ? It argues no high Christian excellence ; I repeat it, it is but the
virtue of a very impeifect state. Bad is the best offering we can offer
to God after sinning. On the other hand, the more consistent our habit-
ual obedience, the less we shall be subject to such feelings.

3. And further, the accidents of hfe will occasionally agitate us: —
affliction and pain ; bad news ; though here, too, the Psalmist describes
the higher excellence of mind, viz. the calm confidence of the believer,
who is "not afraid of evil tidings," for "his heart is fixed, trusting in
the Lord."* Times of persecution will agitate the mind; circum-
stances of especial interest in the fortunes of the Church will cause
anxiety and fear. We see the influence of some of these causes in
various parts of St. Paul's Epistles. Such emotion, however, is not
the essence of true faith, though it accidentally accompanies it. In
times of distress religious men will speak more openly on the subject of
religion, and lay bare their feelings ; at other times they will conceal
them. They are neither better nor worse for so doing.

Now all this may be illustrated from Scripture. We find the same
prayers offered, and the same resolutions expressed by good men, some-
times in a calm way, sometimes with more ardour. How quietly and
simply does Agur ofter his prayer to God ! " Two things have I required
of Thee ; deny me them not before I die. Remove far from me vanity
and lies ; give me neither poverty nor riches ; feed me with food con-
venient for me.' St. Paul, on the other hand, with greater fervency,
because he was i;i more distressing circumstances, but with not more
acceptableness on that account in God's sight, says, " I have learned in
whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to
be abased, and I know how to abound ; " and so he proceeds. Again,
Joshua says, simply but firmly, " As for me and my house, we will
serve the Lord." St. Paul says as firmly, but with more emotion, when
his friends besought him to keep away from Jerusalem : — " What, mean

* Psalm cxii. 7


ye to weep and to break mine heart 1 for I am ready not to be bound
only, but also to die at Jerusalem for* the name of the Lord Jesus."
Observe how calm Job is in his resignation : " The Lord gave, and the
Lord hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the Lord." And on
the other hand, how calmly that same Apostle expresses his assurance
of salvation at the close of his life, who, during the struggle, was acci-
dentally agitated : — " I am now ready to be offered I have

kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righte-

These remarks may suffice to show the relation which excited feel-
ings bear to true religious principle. They are sometimes natural,
sometimes suitable ; but they are not rehgion itself. They come and
go. They are not to be counted on, or encouraged ; for, as in St.
Peter's case, they may supplant true faith, and lead to self-deception.
They will gradually lose their place within us as our obedience becomes
confirmed ; — partly because those men are kept in perfect peace, and
sheltered from all agitating feelings, whose minds are stayed on God ;f
partly because these feelings themselves are fixed into habits by the
power of faith, and instead of coming and going, and agitating the mind
from their suddenness, they are permanently retained so far as there is
any thing good in them, and give a deeper colour and a more energetic
expression to the Christian character.

Now, it will be observed, that in these remarks I have taken for
granted, as not needing proof, that the highest Christian temper is free
from all vehement and tumultuous feeling. But, if we wish some evi-
dence of this, let us turn to our Great Pattern, Jesus Christ, and exam-
ine what was the character of that perfect holiness which He alone of
all men ever displayed.

And can we find any where such calmness and simplicity as marked
His devotion and His obedience? When does He ever speak with
fervour or vehemence ? Or, if there be one or two words of His in
His mysterious agony and death, characterized by an energy which
we do not comprehend and which sinners must silently adore, still how
conspicuous and undeniable is His composure in the general tenour of
His words and conduct ! Consider the prayer He gave us ; and this is
the more to the purpose, for the very reason that He has given it as a
model for our worship. How plain and unadorned is it l How few
are the words of it ! How grave and solemn the petitions ! What an

* Prov. xxxi. 7, 8. PhU. iv. 11, 12. Josh. xxiv. 15. Acts, xxi. 13. Job, i. xii.
2 Tim. iv. 6-8.
t Isaiah xxyi. 3.


entire absence of tumult and feverish emotion ! Surely our own feel-
ings tell us, it could not be otlterwise. To suppose it otherwise were
an irreverence towards Him. — At another time when He is said to
have " rejoiced in spirit," His thanksgiving is marked with the same
undisturbed tranquillity. " I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven
and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent,
and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed
good in Thy sight." — Again, think of His prayer in the garden. He
then was in distress of mind beyond our understanding. Something
there was, we know not what, which weighed heavy upon Him. He
prayed He might be spared the extreme bitterness of His trial. Yet
how subdued and how concise is His petition ! " Abba, Father, all
things are possible unto Thee : take away this cup from Me ; never-
theless, not what I will, but what Thou wilt."* And this is but one
instance, though a chief one, of that deep tranquillity of mind, which
is conspicuous throughout the solemn history of the Atonement. Read
John xiii., in which He is described as washing His disciples' feet,
Peter's in particular. Reflect upon His serious words addressed at

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 76)