John Henry Newman.

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several times to Judas who betrayed Him ; and His conduct when
seized by His enemies, when brought before Pilate, and lastly, when
suffering on the cross. When does He set us an example of passionate
devotion, of enthusiastic wishes, or of intemperate words ?

Such is the lesson our Saviour's conduct teaches us. Now let me
remind you, how diligently we are taught the same by our own Church.
Christ gave us a prayer to guide us in praying to the Father ; and
upon this model our own Liturgy is strictly formed. You will look in
vain in the Prayer-book for long or vehement Prayers ! for it is but
upon occasions that agitation of mind is right, but there is ever a call
upon us for seriousness, gravity, simplicity, deliberate trust, deep-seated
humility. Many persons, doubtless, think the Church prayers, for this
very reason, cold and formal. They do not discern their high perfec-
tion, and they think they could easily write better prayers. When
such opinions are advanced, it is quite sufficient to turn our thoughts to
our Saviour's precept and example. It cannot be denied that those
who thus speak, ought to consider our Lord's prayer defective ; and
sometimes they are profane enough to think so, and to confess they
think so. But I pass this by. Granting for argument's sake His 'pre-
cepts were intentionally defective, as delivered before the Holy Ghost
descended, yet what will they say to His example 7 Can even the full-
est light of the Gospel revealed after His resurrection, bring us His fol-

» Luke X. 21. Mark xiv. 36.


lowers into the remotest resemblance to our blessed Lord's holiness ?
yet how calm was He, who was perfect man, in His own obedience!

To conclude : — Let us take warning from St Peter's fall. Let us
not promise much ; let us not talk much of ourselves ; let us not be
high-minded, nor encourage ourselves in impetuous bold language in
religion. Let us take warning, too, from that fickle multitude who
cried, first Hosanna, then Crucify. A miracle startled them, into a
sudden adoration of their Saviour ; — its effect upon them soon died
away. And thus the especial mercies of God sometimes excite us for a
season. We feel Christ speaking to us through our consciences and
hearts ; and we fancy He is assuring us we are His true servants, when
He is but caUing on us to receive Him. Let us not be content with
saying "Lord, Lord," witiiout "doing the things which He says."
The husbandman's son who said, " I go, sir," yet went not to the vine-
yard, gained nothing by his fair words. One secret act of self-denial,
one sacrifice of inclination to duty, is worth all the mere good thoughts,
warm feelings, passionate prayers, in which idle people indulge them-
selves. It will give us more comfort on our death-bod to reflect on one
deed of self-denying morcy, parity, or humility, than to recollect the
shedding of many tears, and the recurrence of frequent transports, and
much spiritual exultation. These laLter feelings come and go ; they
may or may not accompany hearty obedience ; they are never tests
of it ; but good actions are the fruits of faith, and assure us that we are
Christ's ; they comfort us as an evidence of the Spirit working in us.
By them v/e shall be judged at the last day ; and though they have no
worth in themselves, by reason of that infection of sin which gives its
character to every thing we do, yet they will be accepted for His sake,
who bore the agony in the garden and suffered as a sinner on the cross.



Romans iv. 20, 21.

"He staggered not at the promise of God through unhehef ; but was strong in faith,
giving glory to God : and being fully persuaded that what He had promised He
was able also to perform."

There are serious men who are in the habit of describing Christian
Faith as a feeUng or a principle such as ordinary persons cannot enter
into ; a something strange and pecuhar in its very nature, different in
kind from every thing that affects and influences us in matters of this
•world, and not admitting any illustration from our conduct in them.
They consider that, because it is a spiritual gift, and heavenly in its
origin, it is therefore altogether superhuman ; and that to compare it to
any of our natural principles or feelings, is to think unworthily of it.
And thus they lead others, who wish an excuse for their own irreligious
lives, to speak of Christian Faith as extravagant and irrational, as if it
■were a mere fancy or feeling, which some persons had and others had
not ; and which, accordingly, could only, and would necessarily, be felt
by those who were disposed that certain way. Now, that the object on
which Faith fixes our thoughts, that the doctrines of Scripture are most
marvellous and exceeding in glory, unheard and unthought of elsewhere,
is quite true ; and it is also true that no mind of man will form itself to
a habit of Faith without the preventing and assisting influences of
Divine Grace. But it is not at all true that Faith itself, i. e. Trust, is a
strange principle of action ; and to say that it is irrational is even an
absurdity. I mean such a Faith as that of Abraham, mentioned in the
text, which led him to believe God's word when opposed to his own
experience. And it shall now be my endeavour to show this.

To hear some men speak, (I mean men who scoff at religion,) it
might be thought we never acted on Faith or Trust, except in religious
matters ; whereas we are acting on trust every hour of our lives. When
faith is said to be a religious principle, it is (I repeat) the things believed,
not the act of believing them, which is pecuhar to religion. Let us
take some examples.


It is obvious we trust our memory. We do not now witness what
we saw yesterday ; yet we have no doubt it took place in the way we
remember. We recollect clearly the circumstances of morning and
afternoon. Our confidence in our memory is so strong, that a man
might reason with us all day long, without persuading us that we slept
through the day, or that we returned from a long journey, when our
memory deposes otherwise. Thus we have faith in our memory ; yet
what is irrational here ?

Again, even when we use reasoning, and are convinced of any thing
by reasoning, what is it but that we trust the general soundness of our
reasoning powers ? From knowing one thing we think we can be sure
about another, even though we do not see it. Who of us would doubt,
on seeing strong shadows on the ground, that the sun was shining out,
though our face happened to be turned the other way ? Here is faith
without sight ; but there is nothing against reason here, unless reason
can be against itself.

And what I wish you particularly to observe, is, that we continually
trust our memory and our reasoning powers in this way, though they
often deceive us. This is worth observing, because it is sometimes said
that we cannot be certain our faith in religion is not a mistake. I say
our memory and reason often deceive us ; yet no one says it is therefore
absurd and irrational to continue to trust them ; and for this plain
reason, because on the whole they are true and faithful witnesses, because
it is only at times that they mislead us ; so that the chance is, that they
are right in this case or that, which happens to be before us ; and (again)
because in all practical matters we are obliged to dwell upon not what
may he piss My, hui what is likely to he. In matters of daily life, we
have no time for fastidious and perverse fancies about the minute chances
of our being deceived. We are obliged to act at once, or we should
cease to live. There is a chance (it cannot be denied) that our food
to-day may be poisonous, — we cannot be quite certain, — but it looks
the same and tastes the same, and we have good friends round us ; so we
do not abstain from it, for all this chance, though it is real. This
necessity of acting promptly is our happiness in this world's matters ; in
the concerns of a future life, alas ! we have time for carnal and restless
thoughts about possibilities. And this is our trial ; and it will be our
condemnation, if with the experience of the folly of such idle fancyings
about what may be, in matters of this life, we yet indulge them as
regards the future. If it be said, that we sometimes do distrust our
reasoning powers, for instance, when they lead us to some unexpected
conclusion, or again our memory, when another's memory contradicts
it, this only shows that there are things which we should be weak or
YoL. I — 8


hasty in believing ; which is quite true. Doubtless there is such a fault
as credulity, or believing too readily and too much, (and this, in religion,
we call superstition,) but this neither shows that all trust is irrational,
nor again that trust is necessarily irrational, which is founded on what
is but likely to be and may be denied without an actual absurdity.
Indeed, when we come to examine the subject, it will be found that,
strictly speaking, we know httle more than that we exist, and that there
is an Unseen Power whom we are bound to obey. Beyond this we
must trust ; and first our senses, memory, and reasoning powers ; then
other authorities : — so that, in fact, almost all we do, every day of our
lives, is on trust, i. e. faith.

But it may be said, that belief in these informants, our senses, and
the like, is not what is commonly meant by faith ; — that to trust our
senses and reason is in fact nothing more than to trust ourselves ; — and
though these do sometimes mislead us, yet they are so continually about
us, and so at command, that we can use them to correct each other ; so
that on the whole we gain from these the truth of things quite well
enough to act upon ; — that on the other hand it is a very different thing
from this to trust another person ; and that faith, in the Scripture sense
of the word, is trusting another, and therefore is not proved to be rational
by the foregoing illustrations.

Let us, then, understand faith in this sense of reliance on the words
of another, as opposed to trust in oneself. This is the common meaning
of the word, I grant ; — as when we contrast it to sight and to reason ;
and yet what I have already said has its use in reminding men who are
eager for demonstration in matters of religion, that there are difficulties
in matters of sense and reasoning also. But to proceed as I have pro-
posed. — It is easy to show, that, even considering faith as trust in
another, it is no irrational or strange principle of conduct in the concerns
of this hfe.

For when we consider the subject attentively, how few things there
are which we can ascertain for ourselves by our own senses and reason !
After all, what do we know without trusting others ? We know that
we are in a certain state of health, in a certain place, have been alive
for a certain number of years, have certain principles and likings, have
certain persons around us, and perhaps have in our lives travelled to
certain places at a distance. But what do we know more ? Are there
not towns (we will say) within fifty or sixty miles of us which we have
never seen, and which, nevertheless, we fully believe to be, as we have
heard them described ? To extend our view ; — we know that land
stretches in every direction of us, a certain number of miles, and then
there is sea on all sides ; that we are in an island. But who has seen


the land all around and has proved for himself that the fact is so 1 What,
then, convinces us of it ? the report of others, — this trust, this faith in
testimony, which, when religion is concerned, then, and only then, the
proud and sinful would fain call irrational.

And what I have instanced in one set of facts, which we believe, is
equally true of numberless others, of almost all which we think we

Consider how men in the business of life, nay, all of us, confide, are
obliged to confide, in persons we never saw, or know but slightly ; nay,
in their hand- writings, which, for what we know, may he forged, if we
are to speculate and fancy what may be. We act upon our trust in
them implicitly, because common sense tells us that with proper
caution and discretion, faith in others is perfectly safe and rational.
Scripture, then, only bids us act in respect to a future life, as we are
every day acting at present. Or, again, how certain we all are (when
we think on the subject) that we must sooner or later die ? No one
seriously thinks he can escape death ; and men dispose of their pro-
perty and arrange their affairs, confidently contemplating, not indeed
the exact time of their death, still death as sooner or later to befal
them. Of course they do ; it would be most irrational in them not to
expect it. Yet observe, what proof has any one of us that he shall die 1
because other men die 1 how does he know that ? has he seen them die ?
he can know nothing of what took place before he was born, nor of
what happens in other countries. How little, indeed, he knows about
it at all, except that it is a received fact, and except that it would, in
truth, be idle to doubt what mankind as a whole witness, though each
individual has only his proportionate share in the universal testimony !
And, further, we constantly believe things even against our own judg-
ment ; i. e. when we think our informant likely to knov/ more about
the matter under consideration than ourselves, which is the precise
case in the question of religious faith. And thus from reliance on
others we acquire knowledge of all kinds, and proceed to reason, judge,
decide, act, form plans for the future. And in all this (I say) trust is
at the bottom ; and this the world calls prudence (and rightly) ; and not
to trust, and act upon trust, imprudence, or (it may be) headstrong
folly, or madness.

But it is needless to proceed ; the world could not go on without it.
The most distressing event that can happen to a state is (we know) the
spreading of a want of confidence between man and man. Distrust,
want of failh, breaks the very bonds of human society. Now, then,
shall we account it only rational for a man, when he is ignorant, to believe
Ms fellow-man, nay, to yield to another's judgment as better than his


own, and yet think it aganisl reason when one, like Abraham, gives ear
to the Word of God, and sets the promise of God above his own short-
sighted expectation ] Abraham, it is true, rested in hope beyond hope,
in the hope afforded by a Divine promise beyond that hope suggested
by nature. He had fancied he never should have a son, and God
promised him a son. But might he not well address those self-wise
persons who neglect to walk in the steps of his faith, in the language
of just reproof? "If we receive the witness of men," (he might well
urge with the Apostle, " the witness of God is greater."* Therefore,
he " staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was
strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that
what He had promised He was able also to perform."

But it may be objected ; " True, if we knew for certain God had
spoken to us as He did to Abraham, it were then madness indeed in us
to disbelieve Him ; but it is not His voice we hear, but man^s speaking
in His name. The Church tells us, that God has revealed to man His
will ; and the Ministers of the Church point to a book which they say
is holy, and contains the words of God. How are we to know whether
they speak truth or not 1 To believe this, is it according to reason or
against it V

This objection brings us to a very large and weighty question, though
I do not think it is, generally speaking, a very practical one ; viz. what
are our reasons for believing the Bible came from God ? If any one
asks this in a scoffing way, he is not to be answered ; for he is profane,
and exposes himself to the curse pronounced by St. Paul upon the
haters of the Lord Jesus. But if a man inquires sincerely, wishing to
find the truth, waiting on God humbly, yet perplexed at knowing or
witnessing the deeds of scorners and daring blasphemers, and at hear-
ing their vain reasonings, and not knowing what to think or say about
them, let him consider the following remarks, with which I conclude.

Now, first, whatever such profane persons may say about their
willingness to believe, if they could find reason, — however willing they
may profess themselves to admit that we daily take things on trust,
and that to act on faith is in itself quite a rational procedure, — though
they may pretend that they do not quarrel with being required to
believe, but say that they do think it hard that better evidence is not
given them for believing what they are bid believe undoubtingly, the
divine authority of the Bible, — in spite of all this, depend upon it, (in a
very great many cases,) they do murmur at being required to beheve,
they do dislike being bound to act without seeing, they do prefer to

* 1 John V. 9.


trust themselves to trusting God, even though it could be plainly proved
to them that God was in truth speaking to them. Did they sec God,
did He show Himself as He will appear at the last day, still they would
be faithful to their own miserable and wretched selves, and would be
practically disloyal to the authority of God. Their conduct shows
this. Why otherwise do they so frequently scoff at religious men, as if
timid and narrow-minded, merely because they fear to sin ? Why do
they ridicule such conscientious persons as will not swear, or jest
indecorously, or live dissolutely ? Clearly, it is their very faith itself
they ridicule ; not their believing on false grounds, but their believing
at all. Here they show what it is which rules them within. They do
not like the tie of religion ; they do not like dependence. To trust
another, much more to trust him implicitly, is to acknowledge oneself
to be his inferior ; and this man's proud nature cannot bear to do. He
is apt to think it unmanly, and to be ashamed of it ; he promises him-
self liberty by breaking the chain (as he considers it) which binds him
to his Maker and Redeemer. You will say, why then do such men
trust each other if they are so proud? I answer, that they cannot
help it ; and, again, that while they trust, they are trusted in turn ;
which puts them on a sort of equaUty with others. Unless this mutual
dependence takes place, it is true, they cannot bear to be bound to
trust another, to depend on him. And this is the reason that such men
are so given to cause tumults and rebellions in national affairs. They
set up some image of freedom in their minds, a freedom from the
shackles of dependence, which they think their natural right, and
which they aim to gain for themselves ; a liberty, much like that which
Satan aspired after, when he rebelled against God. So, let these men
profess what they will, about their not finding fault with Faith on its
own account, they do dislike it. And it is therefore very much to our
purpose to accustom our minds to the fact, on which I have been
insisting, that almost every thing we do is grounded on mere trust in
others. We are from our birth dependent creatures, utterly dependent ;
dependent immediately on man ; and that visible dependence remmds
us forcibly of our truer and fuller dependence upon God.

Next, I observe, that these unbelieving men, who use hard words
against Scripture, condemn themselves out of their own mouth ; in
this way. It is a mistake to suppose that our obedience to God's will is
merely founded on our belief in the Avord of such persons as tell us
Scripture came from God. We obey God primarily because we
actually feel His presence in our consciences bidding us obey Him.
And this, I say, confutes these objectors on their own ground ; because
the very reason they give for their unbelief, is, that they trust their own


sight and reason, because their own, more than the words of God'a
Ministers. Now, let me ask, if they trust their senses and their reason,
why do they not trust their conscience too 1 Is not conscience their
own? Their conscience is as much a part of themselves as their
reason is ; and it is placed within them by Almighty God in order to
balance the influence of sight and reason ; and yet they will not attend
to it ; for a plain reason, — they love sin, — they love to be their own
masters, and therefore they will not attend to that secret whisper of
their hearts, which tells them they are not their own masters, and that
sin is hateful and ruinous.

Nothing shows this more plainly than their conduct, if ever you
appeal to their conscience in favour of your view of the case. Sup-
posing they are using profane language, murmurings, or scoflings at
religion ; and supposing a man says to them, " You know in your
heart you should not do so ;" how will they reply 1 They immedi-
ately get angry ; or they attempt to turn what is said into ridicule ;
any thing will they do, except answer by reasoning. No ; their
boasted argumentation then fails them. It flies like a coward before
the slight stirring of conscience ; and their passions, these are the
only champions left for their defence. They in effect say, " We do
so, because we like it :" perhaps they even avow this in so many-
words. " He feedeth on ashes ; a deceived heart hath turned him
aside ; that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in
my right hand ?"*

And are such the persons whom any Christian can in any degree
trust ? Surely faith in them would be of all coJiceivable confidences
the most irrational, the most misplaced. Can we allow ourselves to
be perplexed and frightened at the words of those who carry upon
them the tokens of their own inconsistency, the mark of Cain?
Surely not ; and as that first rebel's mark was set on him, " lest any
finding him should kill him," in like manner their presence but reminds
us thereby to view them with love, though most sorrowfully, and to
pray earnestly, and do our utmost, (if there is ought we can do) that
they may be spared the second death ; — to look on them with awe, as
a land cursed by God, the plain of Siddim or the ruins of Babel, but
which He, for our Redeemer's sake, is able to renew and fertilize.

For ourselves, let us but obey God's voice in our hearts, and I will
venture to say we shall have no doubts practically formidable aboi t
the truth of Scripture. Find out the man who strictly obeys the law
within him, and yet is an unbeliever as regards the Bible, and then it

* Isa. xliv. 20.


will be time enough to consider all that variety of proof by which the
truth of the Bible is confirmed to us. This is no practical inquiry for
us. Our doubts, if we have any, will be found to arise after disobe-
dience ; it is bad company or corrupt books which lead to unbelief.
It is sin which quenches the Holy Spirit.

And if we but obey God strictly, in time (through His blessing)
faith will become like sight ; we shall have no more difficulty in
finding what will please God than in moving our limbs, or in under-
standing the conversation of our familiar friends. This is the blessed-
ness of confirmed obedience. Let us aim at attaining it ; and in
whatever proportion we now enjoy it, praise and bless God for His
unspeakable gift.



John iii. 9,
" How can these things be ?"

There is much instruction conveyed in the circumstance, that the
Feast of the Holy Trinity immediately succeeds that of Whit Sunday.
On the latter Festival wo commemorate the coming of the Spirit of
God, who is promised to us as the source of all spiritual knowledge
and discernment. But lest we should forget the nature of that illumi-
nation which He imparts, Trinity Sunday follows to tell us what it is
not ; not a light according to the reason, the gifts of the intellect ;
inasmuch as the Gospel has its mysteries, its difficulties, and secret
things, which the Holy Spirit does not remove.

The grace promised us is given, not that we may know more, but
that we may do better. It is given to influence, guide, and strengthen
us in performing our duty towards God and man ; it is given to us as
creatures, as sinners, as men, as immortal beings, not as mere rea-
soners, disputers, or philosophical inquirers. It teaches us what we are,
whither we are going, what we must do, how we must do it ; it enables

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 76)