John Henry Newman.

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us to change our fallen nature from evil to good, " to make ourselves
a new heart and a new spirit." But it tells us nothing for the sake of
telling it ; neither in His Holy Word nor through our consciences has
the blessed Spirit thought fit so to act. Not that the desire of knowing
sacred things for the sake of knowing them is wrong. As knowledge
about earth, sky, and sea, and the wonders they contain, is in itself
valuable, and in its place desirable, so doubtless there is nothing sinful
in gazing wistfully at the marvellous providences of God's moral gov-
ernance, and wishing to understand them. But still God has not given
us such knowledge in the Bible ; and therefore to look into the Bible
for such knowledge, or to expect it in any way from the inward teach-
ing of the Holy Ghost, is a dangerous mistake, and (it may be) a sin.
And since men are apt to prize knowledge above holiness, therefore it is
most suitably provided, that Trinity Sunday should succeed Whit
Sunday ; to warn us that the enlightening vouchsafed to us is not an
understanding of '' all mysteries and all knowledge," but that love or
charity which is " the fulfilling of the Law."

And in matter of fact there have been very grievous mistakes
respecting the nature of Christian knowledge. There have been at all
times men so ignorant of the object of Christ's coming, as to consider
mysteries inconsistent with the light of the Gospel. They have
thought the darkness of Judaism, of which Scripture speaks, to be a
state of intellectual ignorance ; and Christianity to be, what they term,
a "rational religion." And hence they have argued, that no doctrine
which was mysterious, i. e. too deep for human reason, or inconsistent
with their self-devised notions, could be contained in Scripture ; as if
it were honouring Christ to maintain that when He said a thing, He
could not have meant what He said, because they would not have said
it. Nicodemus, though a sincere inquirer, and (as the event shows) a
true follower of Christ, yet at first was startled at the mysteries of the
Gospel. He said to Christ, " How can these things be ?" He felt the
temptation, and overcame it. But there are others who are altogether
offended and fall away on being exposed to it ; as those mentioned in
the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel, who went back and walked no
more with Him.

The Feast of Trinity succeeds Pentecost ; the light of the Gospel
does not remove mysteries in religion. This is our subject. Let us
enlarge upon it.

1. Let us consider such difficulties of religion, as press upon us inde-
pendently of the Scriptures. Now we shall find the Gospel has not
removed these ; they remain as great as before Christ came. — How
excellent is this world ! how very good and fair is the face of nature !


how pleasant it is to walk into the green country, and to meditate in the
field at the eventide !"* As we look around, we cannot but be persuaded
that God is most good, and loves His creatures ; yet amid all the splen-
dour we see around us, and the happy beings, thousands and ten thou-
sands, which live in the air and water, the question comes upon us,
" But why is there fain in the world?" We see that the brutes prey
on each other, inflicting violent, unnatural deaths. Some of them,
too, are enemies of man, and harm us when they have an opportunity.
And man tortures others unrelentingly, nay, condemns some of them to
a life of suffering. Much more do pain and misery show themselves
in the history of man ; — the numberless diseases and casualties of
human life, and our sorrows of mind ; — then, further, the evils we
inflict on each other, our sins and their awful consequences. Now
why does God permit so much evil in His own world ? This is a diffi-
culty, I say, which we feel at once, before we open the Bible ; and
which we are quite unable to solve. We open the Bible ; the fact is
acknowledged there, but it is not explained at all. We are told that
sin entered into the world through the Devil, who tempted Adam to
disobedience ; so that God created the world good, though evil is in it.
But why He thought fit to suffer this we are not told. We know no
more on the subject than we did before opening the Bible. It was a
mystery before God gave His revelation, it is as great a mystery now ;
and doubtless for this reason, because knowledge about it would do us
no good, it would merely satisfy curiosity. It is not practical know-

2. Nor, again, are the difficulties of Judaism removed by Christianity.
The Jews were told, that if they put to death certain animals, they
should be admitted by way of consequence into God's favour, which
their continual transgressions were ever forfeiting. Now there was
something mysterious here. How should the death of unoffending crea-
tures make God gracious to the Jews 1 They could not tell, of course.
All that could be said to the point was, that in the daily course of human
affairs the unoffending constantly suffer instead of the offenders.
One man is ever suffering for the fault of another. But this ex-
perience did not lighten the difficulty of so mysterious a provision-
It was still a mystery that God's favour should depend on the death
of brute animals. Does Christianity solve this difficulty 1 No ;
it continues it. The Jewish sacrifices indeed are done away, but
still there remains One Great Sacrifice for sin, infinitely higher
and more sacred than all other conceivable sacrifices. According

* Gen. xxiv. 63.


to the Gospel message, Christ has voluntarily suffered, "the just
for the unjust, to bring us to God." Here is the mystery continued.
Why was this suffering necessary to procure for us the blessings which
we were in ourselves unworthy of? We do not know. We should not
be better men for knowing why God did not pardon us without Christ's
death ; so He has not told us. One suffers for another in the ordinary
course of things ; and under the Jewish Law, too ; and in the Christian
scheme ; and why all this, is still a mystery.

Another difficulty to a thoughtful Israelite would arise from consider-
ing the state of the heathen world. Why did not Almighty God bring
all nations into His Church, and teach them, by direct revelation, the
sin of idol worship ? He would not be able to answer. God had chosen
one nation. It is true the same principle of preferring one to another
is seen in the system of the whole world. God gives men unequal
advantages, comforts, education, talents, health. Yet this does not
satisfy us, why He has thought fit to do so at all. Here, again, the
Gospel recognises and confirms the mysterious fact. We are born in
a Christian country, others are not ; ice are baptized ; we are educated ;
others are not. We are favoured above others. But why 1 We cannot
tell ; no more than the Jews could tell why they were favoured ; — and
for this reason, because to know it is nothing to us ; it would not make
us better men to know it. It is in^nded that we should look to our-
selves, and rather consider why we have privileges given us, than why
others have not the same. Our Saviour repels such curious questions
more than once. "Lord, and what shall this man do?"* St. Peter
asked about St. John. Christ replied, " If I will that he tarry till I
come, wliat is that to thee ? Follow thou ilfe."

Thus the Gospel gives us no advantages in respect to mere barren
Tcnowledge, above the Jew, or above the' unenlightened heathen.

8. Nay, we may proceed to say, further than this, that it increases
our difficulties. It is indeed a remarkable circumstance, that the very
revelation that brings us practical and usefid knowledge about our souls,
in the very act of doing so, nay, (as it would seem) in consequence of
doing so, brings us mysteries. We gain spiritual light at the price of
intellectual perplexity ; a blessed exchange doubtless, (for which is bet-
ter, to be well and happy within ourselves, or to know what is going on
at the world's end ?) still at the price of perplexity. For instance, how
infinitely important and blessed is the news of eternal happiness ? but
we learn in connexion with this joyful truth, that there is a state of end-
less misery too. Now, how great a mystery is this ! yet the difficulty

♦John xxi.21,22.


goes hand in hand with the spiritual blessing. It is still more strikingly
to the point to refer to the message of mercy itself. We are saved by
the death of Christ ; but who is Christ 1 Christ is the Very Son of
God, Begotten of God and One with God from everlasting, God incar-
nate. This is our inexpressible comfort, and a most sanctifying truth
if we receive it rightly ; but how stupendous a mystery is the incarna-
tion and sufferings of the Son of God ! Here, not merely do the good
tidings and the mystery go together, as in the revelation of eternal life
and eternal death, but the very doctrine which is the mystery, brings
the comfort also. Weak, ignorant, sinful, desponding, sorrowful man,
gains the knowledge of an infinitely merciful Protector, a Giver of all
good, most powerful, the Worker of all righteousness within him ; at
what price t at the price of a mystery. " The Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory ;" and he laid down His
life for the world. What rightly disposed mind but will gladly make
the exchange, and exclaim in the language of one whose words are
almost sacred among us, " Let it be counted folly, or frenzy, or fury
whatsoever ; it is our comfort and our wisdom. We care for no
knowledge in the world but this, that man hath sinned, and God hath
suffered ; that God hath made Himself the Son of man and that men
are made the righteousness of God."*

The same singular connexion between religious light and comfort,
and intellectual darkness, is also seen in the doctrine of the Trinity.
Frail man requires pardon and sanctification ; can he do otherwise than
gratefully devote himself to, and trust implicitly in his Redeemer and
his Sanctifier 1 But if our Redeemer were not God, and our Sanctifier
were not God, how great would have been our danger of preferring crea-
tures to the Creator ! What a source of light, freedom, and comfort is
it, to know we cannot love Them too much, or humble ourselves before
Them too reverently, for both Son and Spirit are separately God ! Such
is the practical effect of the doctrine ; but what a mystery also is therein
involved ! What a source of perplexity and darkness (I say) to the
reason, is the doctrine which immediately results from it ! for if Christ
be by Himself God, and the Spirit be by Himself God, and yet there
be but One God, here is plainly something altogether beyond our
comprehension ; and, though, we might have antecedently supposed
there were numberless truths relating to Almighty God which we could
neither know nor understand, yet certain as this is, it does not make
this mystery at all less overpowering when it is revealed.

And it is important to observe, that this doctrine of the Trinity ts

* Hooker on Justification.


not proposed in Scripture as a mystery. It seems then that, as we draw
forth many remarkable facts concerning the natural world which do
not lie on its surface, so by meditation we detect in Revelation this re-
markable principle, which is not openly propounded, that religious light
is intellectual darkness. As if our gracious Lord had said to us ;
" Scripture docs not aim at making mysteries, but they are as shadows
brought out by the Sun of Truth. When you knew nothing of revealed
light, you knew not revealed darkness. Religious truth requires you
should be told something, your own imperfect nature prevents your
knowing all ; and to know something, and tiot all — partial knowledge,
— must of course perplex ; doctrines imperfectly revealed must be

4. Such being the necessary mysteriousness of Scripture doctrine,
how can we best turn it to account in the contest we are engaged in
with our evil hearts 1 Now we are given to see how to do this in part,
and as far as we see, let us be thankful for the gift. It seems then,
that difficulties in revelation are especially given to prove the reality of
our faith. What shall separate the insincere from the sincere follower
of Christ? When the many own Christ with their lips, what shall try
and discipline His true servant, and detect the self-deceiver ? Ditfi-
culties in revelation mainly contribute to this end. They are stumbling-
blocks to proud and unhumbled minds, and were intended to be such.
Faith is unassuming, modest thankful, obedient. It receives with re-
verence and love whatever God gives, when convinced it is His gift.
But when men do not feel rightly their need of His redeeming mercy,
their lost condition and their inward sin, when, in fact, they do not seek
Christ in good earnest, in order to gain something, and do something, but
as a matter of curiosity, or speculation, or form, of course these difhculties
will become great objections in the way of their receiving His word
simply. And I say these ditliculties were intended to be such by Him
who "scattereth the proud in the imagination of their hearts." St.
Peter assures us, that that same corner-stone which is unto them that
believe ^^ precious," is "unto them which be disobedient, a stone of
stumbling, and a rock of offence," " Whereunto also (he adds) they were
appointed.''''* And our Lord's conduct through His ministry is a con-
tinued example of this. He spoke in parables,"]' that they might see
and hear, yet not understand, — a righteous detection of in.sincerity ;
whereas the same difficulties and obscurities, which offended irreligious
men, would but lead the humble and meek to seek for more light, for
information as far as it was to be obtained, and for resignation and con-

• 1 Pet. ii. 7, 8. t Vide Mark iv. 11—25, &c.


tentedncss, where it was not given. When Jesus said, ..." Except
ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have

no life in you Many of His disciples .... said, This

is a hard saying : who can hear it ? . . . and from that time many
-. . . . went back, and walked no more with Him .... Then said
Jesus unto the twelve. Will ye also go away ? Then Simon Peter an-
swered Him, Lord, to whom shall we gol Thou hast the words of eter-
nal life." Here is the trial of faith, a difficulty. Those " that beheve
not " fall away ; the true disciples remain firm, for they feel their eternal
interests at stake, and ask the very plain and practical, as well as affec-
tionate question, " To whom shall we go, if we leave Christ V*

At another time our Lord says, "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of
heaven and earth, that Thou has hid these things from the wise and pru-
dent, (those who trust reason rather than Scripture and conscience,) and
hast revealed them unto babes (those who humbly walk by faith.)
Even so. Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."f

6. Now what do we gain from thoughts such as these 1 Our Saviour
gives us the conclusion, in the words which follow a passage just read
to you, "Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me,
except it were given him of my Father." Or, again, "No man can
come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me, draw him."
Therefore, if we feel the necessity of coming to Christ, yet the diffi-
culty, let us recollect that the gift of coming is in God's hands, and
that we must pray Him to give it to us. Christ does not merely tell
us, that we cannot come of ourselves, (though this he does tell us-,) but
He tells us also with whom the power of coming is lodged, with His
Father, that we may seek it of Him. It is true, religion has an austere
appearance to those who never have tried it ; its doctrines lull of mys-
tery, its precepts of harshness; .so that it is uninviting, offending differ-
ent men in different ways, but in some way offending all. When then
we feci within us the risings of this opposition to Christ, proud aver-
sion to His Gospel, or a low-minded longing after this world, let us
pray God to draw us ; and though we cannot move a step without
Him, at least let us try to move. He looks into our hearts, and sees
our strivings even before we strive, and he blesses and strengthens even
our feebleness. Let us get rid of curious and presumptuous thoughts
by going about our business, whatever it is ; and let us mock and baffle
the doubts which Satan whispers to uj I y nctina again t them. No
matter whether we believe doubtingly or not, or know clearly or not,
so that wc act upon our belief. The rest will folio .v in ; part m

• John vi. 53—68. t Matt. xi. 25, 26.


this world, part in the next. Doubts may pain, but they cannot harm
unless we give way to them ; and that wc ought not to give way our
conscience tells us, so that our course is plain. And the more we are
in earnest to " work out our salvation," the less shall we care to know
how those things really are, which perplex us. At length when our
hearts are in our work, we shall be indisposed to take the trouble of
listening to curious truths, (if they are but curious,) though we might
have them explained to us. For what says the Holy Scripture ? that
of speculations " there is no end," and they are "a weariness of the
flesh ;" but that we must " fear God and keep His commandments, for
this is the whole duty of man."*



1 Cor. iii. 18, 19.

" Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this
world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world
is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own crafti-

Amoxg the various deceptions against which St. Paul warns us, a prin-
cipal one is that of a /a /sc i^^/^rfom; as in the text. The Corinthians
prided themselves on their intellectual acuteness and knowledge ; as if
any thing could equal the excellence of Christian love. Accordingly
St. Paul, writing to them, says, " Let no man deceive himself. If any
man among you seemeth to be wise in this world," (i. e. has the reputa-
tion of wisdom in the world,) " let him become a fool, (what the world
calls a fool,) that he may (really) be wise." " For," he proceeds, (just
as real wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of the world, so in turn,) '• the
wisdom of this world is fooHshness with God."

This warning of the Apostle against our trusting our ovm wisdom, may
lead us, through God's blessing, to some profitable reflections to-day.

The world's wisdom is said to he foolishness in God's sight ; and the

» Ecclee. xii. 12, 13.


end of it, error, perplexity, and then ruin. " He taketh the wise in
their own craftiness." Here is one especial reason why professed in-
quirers after Truth do not find it. They seek it in a wrong way, by a
vain wisdom, which leads them away from the Truth, however it may
seem to promise success.

Let us then inquire, what is this vain wisdom, and then we shall the
better see how it leads men astray.

Now, when it is said that to trust our own notions is a wrong thing
and a vain wisdom, of course this is not meant of all our own notions
whatever ; for we must trust our own notions in one shape or other, and
some notions which we form are right and true. The question, there-
fore, is, what is that evil trusting to ourselves, that sinful self-confi-
dence, or self-conceit, which is called in the text " the wisdom of the
world," and is a chief cause of our going wrong in our religious in-
quries ?

These are the notions which we may trust without blame ; viz. such
as come to us by way of our Conscience, for such come from God. I
mean our certainty, that there is a right and a wrong, that some things
ought to be done, and other things not done ; that we have duties, the
neglect of which brings remorse ; and, further, that God is good, wise,
powerful, and righteous, and that we should try to obey Him. All
these notions, and a multitude of others like these, come by natural
conscience, i. e. they are impressed on all our minds from our earliest
years without our trouble. They do not proceed from the mere exer-
tion of our minds, though it is true they are strengthened and formed
thereby. They proceed from God, whether within us or without us ;
and though we cannot trust them so implicitly as we can trust the
Bible, because the truths of the Bible are actually preserved in writing,
and so cannot be lost or altered, still, as far as we have reason to think
them true, we may rely in them, and make much of them, without in-
curring the sin of self-confidence. These notions which we obtain
without our exertion will never make us proud or conceited, because
they are ever attended with a sense of sin and guilt, from the remem-
brance that we have at times transgressed and injured them. To trust
them is not the false wisdom of the world, or foolishness, because they
come from the All-wise God. And far from leading a man into error,
they will, if obeyed, of a certainty lead him to a firm behef in Scrip-
ture ; in which he will find all those vague conjectures and imperfect
notions about Truth, which his own heart taught him, abundantly sanc-
tioned, completed, and illustrated.

Such then are the opinions and|feelings of which a man is not proud.
What are those of which he is likely to be proud ? those which he ob-


tains, not by nature, but by his own industry, ability, and research ;
those which he possesses and others not. Every one is in danger of
valuing himself for what he does ; and hence truths (or fancied truths)
which a man has obtained for himself after much thought and labour,
such he is apt to make much of, and to rely upon ; and this is the
source of that vain wisdom of which the Apostle speaks in the text.

Now (I say) this confidence in our own reasoning powers not only
leads to pride, but to ^^foolishness" also, and destructive error, because
it will oppose itself to Scripture. A man who fancies he can find out
truth by himself, disdains revelation. He who thinks he has found it
out, is impatient of revelation. He fears it will interfere with his own
imaginary discoveries ; he is unwilling to consult it ; and when it does
interfere, then he is angry. We hear much of this proud rejection of
the truth in the Epistle from which the text is taken. The Jews felt
anger, and the Greeks disdain, at the Christian doctrine. " The Jews
required a sign, (according to their preconceived notions concerning
the Messiah's coming,) and the Greeks seek after wisdom, (some subtle
train of reasoning,) but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a
stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness."* In another place the
Apostle says of the misled Christians of Corinth, " Now yc are full" of
your own notions, " now yc are rich, ye have reigned as kings loithout
«5;"f i. e. you have prided yourself on a wisdom, "without," separate
from, the truth of Apostolic doctrine. Confidence, then, in our own
reasoning powers leads to (what St. Paul calls) foolishness, by causing
in our hearts an indifference, or a distaste for Scripture information.

But, besides thus keeping us from the best of guides, it also makes
us fools, because it is a confidence in a bad guide. Our reasoning
powers are very weak in all inquiries into moral and religious truth.
Clear-sighted as reason is on other subjects, and trust-worthy as a guide,
still in questions connected with our duty to God and man it is very
unskilful and equivocating. After all, it barely reaches the same great
truths which are authoritatively set forth by Conscience and by Scrip-
ture ; and if it be used in religious inquiries without reference to these
divinely-sanctioned informants, the probability is, it will miss the Truth
altogether. Thus the (so called) wise will be taken in their own crafti-
ness. All of us, doubtless, recollect our Lord's words, which are quite
to the purpose : " I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, be-
cause Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, (those who
trust in their own intellectual powers,) and hast revealed them unto
hahes-X^ those, i. e. that act by faith, and for conscience-sake.

* 1 Cor. i. 22, 23. t 1 Cor. iv. 8. X I\Iatt. xi. 25.


The false wisdom, then, of which St. Paul speaks in the text, is a

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 76)