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trusting our own powers for arriving at religious truth, instead of taking
what is divinely provided for us, whether in nature or revelation. This
is the way of the world. In the world, Reason is set against Conscience
and usurps its power ; and hence men become " wise in their own
conceits," and "leaning to their own understandings,"' "err from the
truth." Let us now review some particulars of this contest between our
instinctive sense of right and wrong, and our weak and conceited

It begins within us when childhood and boyhood are past, and the
time comes for our entrance into life. Before that time we trusted our
divinely-enlightened sense of duty and our right feeling implicitly ; and
though (alas !) we continually transgressed, and so impaired this in-
ward guide, at least wc did not question its authority. Then we had
that original temper of faith, wrought in us by baptism, the spirit of httle
children, without which our Lord assures us, none of us, young or old,
can enter the kingdom of heaven.*

But when our minds became more manly, and the world opened upon
us, then in proportion to the intellectual gifts with which God had hon-
oured us, came the temptation of unbelief and disobedience. Then
came reason, led on by passion, to war against our better knowledge.
We were driven into the wilderness, after our Lord's manner, by the
very Spirit given us, which exposed us to the Devil's devices, before the
time or power came of using the gift in God's service. And how many
of the most highly-endowed then fall away under trials which the sin-
less Son of God withstood ! He feels for all who are tempted, having
Himself suffered temptation ; yet what a sight must He see, and by
what great exercise of mercy must the Holy Jesus endure, the bold and
wicked thoughts which often reign the most triumphantly in the breasts
of those (at least for a time) whom He has commissioned by the abun-
dance of their talents to be the especial ministers of His will !

A murmuring against that religious service which is perfect freedom,
complaints that Christ's yoke is heavy, a rebellious rising against the
authority of Conscience, and a proud arguing against the Truth, or at
least an endurance of doubt and scoffing, and a light, unmeaning use
of sceptical arguments and assertions ; these are the beginnings of apos-
tacy. Then come the affectation of originality, the desire to appear
manly and independent, and the fear of the ridicule of our acquaint-
ance, all combining to make us first speak, and then really think evil of
the supreme authority of religion. This gradual transgression of the

* Matt, iviii. 3.
Vol. L— 9


first commandment of the Law is generally attended by a transgression
of the fifth. In our childhood we loved both religion and our home ;
but as we learn to despise the voice of God, so do we first aflfect, and
then feel, an indifference towards the opinions of our superiors and
elders. Thus our minds become gradually hardened against the purest
pleasures, botll divine and human.

As this progress in sin continues, our disobedience becomes its own
punishment. In proportion as we lean to our own imderstanding, we
are driven to do so for want of a better guide. Our first true guide, the
light of innocence, is gradually withdrawn from us ; and nothing is left
for us but to "grope and stumble in the desolate places," by the dim,
uncertain light of reason. Thus we are taken in our own craftiness.
This is what is sometimes called pidicial blindness ; such as Pharaoh's,
who, from resisting God's will, at length did not know the difference be-
tween light and darkness.

How far each individual proceeds in this bad course, depends on a va-
riety of causes, into the consideration of which I need not enter. Some
are frightened at themselves, and turn back into the right way before it
is too late. Others are checked ; and though they do not seek God with
all their heart, yet are preserved from any strong and full manifestation
of the evil principles which lurk within them ; and others are kept in a
correct outward form of religion by the circumstances in which they are
placed. But there are others, and these many in number, perhaps in
all ranks of life, who proceed onward in evil ; and I will go on to de-
scribe in part their condition — the condition, that is, of those in whom
intellectual power is fearfully unfolded amid the neglect of moral truth.

The most common case, of course, is that of those who, with their
principles thus unformed, or rather unsettled, become engaged, in the or-
dinary way, in the business of life. Their first simplicity of character
went early. The violence of passion followed, and was indulged ; and
it is gone, too, leaving (without their suspecting it) most baneful effects
on their mind ; just as some diseases silently change the constitution of
the body. Lastly, a vain reason has put into disorder their notions
about moral propriety and duty, both as to religion and the conduct of
life. It is quite plain that, having nothing of that faith which " over-
comes the world," they must be overcome by it. Let it not be sup-
posed I am speaking of some strange case which does not concern us ;
for what we know, it concerns some of us most nearly. The issue of
our youthful trial in good and evil, probably has had somewhat of a de-
cided character one way or the other ; and we may be quite sure that,
if it has issued in evil, we shall not know it. Deadness to the voice of
God, hardness of heart, is one of the very symptoms of unbelief. God's


judgments, whether to the world or the individual, are not loudly spoken.
The decree goes forth to build or destroy ; Angels hear it ; but we wo
on in the way of the world as usual, though our souls may have been,
at least for a season, abandoned by God. I mean, that it is not at all
unlikely that, in the case of some of those who now hear me, a great
part of their professed faith is a mere matter of words, not ideas and
principles ; that what opinions they really hold by any exertion of their
own minds, have been reached by the mere exercise of their intellect,
the random and accidental use of their mere reasoning powers, whether
they be strong or not, and are not the result of habitual, firm and pro-
gressive obedience to God, not the knowledge which an honest and
good heart imparts. Our religious notions may lie on the mere surface
of our minds, and have no root within them ; and (I say) from this cir-
cumstance, that the indulgence of early passions, though forgotten
now, and the misapplication of reason in our youth, have left an indeh-
bly evil character upon our heart, a judicial hardness and blindness.
Let us think of this ; it may be the state of those who have had to en-
dure only ordinary temptations, from the growth of that reasoning
faculty with which we are all gifted.

But when that gift of reason is something especial, — clear, brilliant,
or powerful, — then our danger is increased. The first sin of men of
superior understanding is to value themselves upon it, and look down
upon others. They make intellect the measure of praise and blame ;
and instead of considering a common faith to be the bond of union
between Christian and Christian, they dream of some other fellowship
of civilization, refinement, literature, science, or general mental illumi-
nation, to unite gifted minds one with another. Having thus cast
down moral excellence from its true station, and set up the usurped
empire of mere reason, next, they place a value upon all truths exactly
in proportion to the possibility of proving them by means of that mere
reason. Hence, moral and religious truths are thought little of by
them, because they fall under the province of Conscience far more than
of the intellect. Religion sinks in their estimation almost altogether ;
they begin to think all religions alike ; and no wonder, for they are
like men who have lost the faculty of discerning colours, and who
never, by any exercise of reason, can make out the difference between
white and black. The code of morals they acknowledge in a measure,
that is, so far as its dicta can be -proved by reasoning, by an appeal to
sight, and to expedience, and without reference to a natural sense of
right and wrong as the sanction of them. Thinking much of intel-
lectual advancement, they are much bent on improving the world by


making all men intellectual ; and they labour to convince themselves,
that as men grow in knowledge they will grow in virtue.

As they proceed in their course of judicial blindness, from undervalu-^
ing they learn to despise or to hate the authority of Conscience. They
treat it as a weakness, to which all men indeed are subject, — they
themselves in the number, — especially in seasons of sickness, but of
which they have cause to be ashamed. The notions of better men
about an over-ruling Providence, and the Divine will, designs,
appointments, works, judgments, they treat with scorn, as irrational ;
especially if (as will often be the case) these notions are conveyed in
incorrect language, with some accidental confusion or intellectual
weakness of expression.

And all these inducements to live by sight and not by faith are
greatly increased, when men are engaged in any pursuit which properly
belongs to the intellect. Hence sciences conversant with experiments
on the material creation, tend to make men forget the existence of
spirit and the Lord of spirits.

1 will not pursue the course of infidelity into its worst and grossest
forms, but it may be instructive before I conclude, to take the case of
such a man as I have been describing, when under the influence of
seme relentings of conscience towards the close of his life.

This is a case of no unfrequent occurrence ; that is, it must fre-
quently happen that the most hardened conscience is at times visited
by sudden compunctions, though generally they are but momentary.
But it sometimes happens, further than this, that a man, from one
cause or other, feels he is not in a safe state, and struggles with him-
self, and the struggle terminates in a manner which afibrds a fresh
illustration of the working of that wisdom of the world, which in God's
sight is foolishness-
Hew shall a sinner, who has formed his character upon unbelief, trust-
ing sight and reason rather than Conscience and Scripture, how shall
he begin to repent ? What must he do ? Is it possible he can over-
come himself, and new make his heart in the end of his days? It is
possible — not with man, but with God, who gives grace to all who
ask for it ; but in only one way, in the way of His commandments
by a slow, tedious, toilsome, self-discipline ; slow, tedious, and toilsome,
that is, to one who has been long hardening himself in a dislike of it,
and indulging himself in the rapid flights and easy victories of his
reason. There is but one way to heaven ; the narrow way ; and he who
sets about to seek God, though in old age, must begin at the same door
as others. He must retrace his way, and begin again with the very be-
ginning, as if he were a boy. And so proceeding, — labouring, watching,.


and praying, — he seems likely, after all, to make but little progress during
the brief remnant of his life ; both because the time left to him is
short, and because he has to undo while he does a work ; — he has to
overcome that resistance from his old stout will and hardened heart,
which in youth he did not experience.

Now it is plain how humbling this is to his pride : he wishes to be
saved ; but he cannot stoop to be a penitent all his days ; to beg he is
ashamed. Therefore he looks about for other means of finding a safe
hope. And one way among others by which he deceives himself, is the
idea that he may gain religious knowledge merely by his reason.

Thus it happens, that men who have led profligate lives in their
youth, or who have passed their days in the pursuit of wealth, or in
some other excitement of the world, not unfrequently settle down into
heresies in their latter years. Before, perhaps, they professed nothing,
and suffered themselves to be called Christians and members of the
Church; but at length, roused to inquire after truth, and forgetting
that the pure in heart alone can see God, and therefore that they
must begin by a moral reformation, by self-denial, they inquire merely
lay the way of reasoning. No wonder they err ; they cannot under-
stand any part of the Church's system whether of doctrine or discipline ;
yet they think themselves judges ; and they treat the most sacred
ordinances and the most solemn doctrines with scorn and irreverence.
Thus "the last state of such men is worse than the first." In the
words of the text, they ought to have become fools, that they might
have been in the end really wise ; but they prefer another way, and are
taken in their own craftiness.

]May we ever bear in mind that the " fear of the Lord is the begin-
ning of wisdom ;" * that obedience to our conscience, in all things,
great and small, is the way to know the Truth ; that pride hardens the
heart, and sensuality debases it, and that all those who Uve in pride
and sensual indulgence, can no more comprehend the ways of the
Holy Spirit, or know the voice of Christ, than the devils who believe
with a dead faith and tremble.

"Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have
right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the
city" . . . where there is " no need of the sun, neither of the moon to
shine in it ; for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the
light thereof."!

» Prov. i. 7. t Rev. xxi. 23. xxii. 14.



Psalm xxxvii. 34.]
" Wait on the Lord, and keep His way, and He shall exalt thee to inherit the land."

The Psalm from which I have taken my text, is written with a view of
encouraging good men who are in perplexity, — and especially perplexity
concerning God's designs, providence, and will. "Fret not thyself;"
this is the lesson it inculcates from first to last. This world is in a state
of confusion. Unworthy men prosper, and are looked on as the
greatest men of the time. Truth and goodness are thrown into the
shade ; but wait patiently, — peace, be still ; in the end, the better side
shall triumph, — the meek shall inherit the earth.

Doubtless the Church is in great darkness and perplexity under the
Christian dispensation, as well as under the Jewish. Not that Christi-
anity does not explain to us the most important religious question, —
which it does to our great comfort ; but that, from the nature of the
case, imperfect beings, as we are, must always be, on the whole, in
a state of darkness. Nay, the very doctrines of the New Testament
themseves bring with them their own peculiar difficulties ; and, till we
learn to quiet our minds, and to school them into submission to God, we
shall probably find more perplexity than information even in what St.
Paul calls " the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ."* Revelation
was' not given us to satisfy doubts, but to make us better men ;
and it is as we become better men, that it becomes light and peace to
our souls ; though even to the end of our lives we shall find difficulties
both in it and in the world around us.

I will make some remarks to-day on the case of those who, though
they are in the whole honest inquirers in religion, yet are more or less
in perplexity and anxiety, and so are discouraged.

The use of difficulties to all of us in our trial in this world is
obvious. Our faith is variously assailed by doubts and difficulties, in

* 2 Cor. iv. 4.


order to prove its sincerity. If we really love God and His Son, we
shall go on in spite of opposition, even though, as in the case of the
Canaanitish woman, He seem to repel us. If we are not in earnest,
difficulty makes us turn back. This is one of the ways in which God
separates the corn from the chaff, gradually gathering each, as time
goes on, into its own heap, till the end comes, when He " will gather
the wheat into His garner, but the chaff He will burn with fire

Now I am aware that to some persons it may sound strange to speak
of difficulties in religion, for they find none at all. But though it is
true, that the earlier we begin to seek God in earnest, the less of
difficulty and perplexity we are likely to endure, yet this ignorance of
religious difficulties in a great many cases, I fear, arises from ignorance
of religion itself. When our hearts are not in our work, and we are
but carried on with the stream of the world, continuing in the Church
because we find ourselves there, observing religious ordinances merely
because we are used to them, and professing to be Christians because
others do, it is not to be expected that we should know what it is to
feel ourselves wrong, and unable to get right, — to feel doubt, anxiety,
disappointment, discontent ; whereas, when our minds are awakened,
and we see that there is a right way and a wrong way, and that we
have much to learn, when we try to gain religious knowledge from
Scripture, and to apply it to ourselves, then from time we are troubled
with doubts and misgivings, and are oppressed with gloom.

To all those who are perplexed in any way soever, who wish for light
but cannot find it, one precept must be given, — obey. It is obedience
which brings a man into the right path ; it is obedience keeps him
there and strengthens him in it. Under all circumstances, whatever
be the cause of his distress, — obey. In the words of the text, " Wait
on the Lord, and keep His way, and He shall exalt thee."

Let us apply this exhortation to the case of those who have but lately
taken up the subject of religion at all. Every science has its difficul-
ties at first, why then should the science of living well be without them.
When the subject of religion is new to us, it is strange. We have
heard truths all our lives without feeling them duly ; at length, when
they affect us, we cannot believe them to be the same we have long
known. We are thrown out of our fixed notions of things ; an embar-
rassment ensues ; a general painful uncertainty. We say, " is the
Bible true? Is it possible?" and are distressed by evil doubts, which
we can hardly explain to ourselves, much less to others. No one can

* Luke iii. 17.


help us. And the relative importance of present objects is so altered
from what it was, that we can scarcely form any judgment upon them,
or when we attempt it, we form a wrong judgment. Our eyes do not
accommodate themselves to the various distances of the objects before
us, and are dazzled ; or like the blind man restored to sight, we " see
men as trees, walking."* Moreover, our judgment of persons, as well
as of things, is changed ; and, if not every where changed, yet at first
every where suspected by ourselves. And this general distrust of our-
selves is the greater, the longer we have been already living in inatten-
tion to sacred subjects, and the more we now are humbled and ashamed
of ourselves. And it leads us to take up with the first religious guide
who offers himself to us, whatever be his real fitness for the office.

To these agitations of mind about what is truth and what is error, is
added an anxiety about ourselves, which, however sincere, is apt to lead
us wrong. We do not feel, think, and act as religiously as we could
wish; and while we are sorry for it, we are also (perhaps) somewhat
surprised at it, and impatient at it, — which is natural but unreasonable.
Instead of reflecting that we are just setting about our recovery from a
most serious disease of long standing, we conceive we ought to be able
to trace the course of our recovery by a sensible improvement. This
same impatience is seen in persons who are recovering from bodily in-
disposition. They gain strength slowly, and are better perliaps for
some days, and then worse again ; and a slight relapse dispirits them.
In the same way, when we begin to seek God in earnest, we are apt,
not only to be humbled, (which we ought to be,) but, to be discouraged
at the slowness with which we are able to amend, in spite of all the
assistances of God's grace. Forgetting that our proper title at very
best is that of penitent sinners, we seek to rise all at once into the bless-
edness of the sons of God. This impatience leads us to misuse the
purpose of self-examination ; which is principally intended to inform us
of our sins, whereas we are disappointed if it does not at once tell us of
our improvement. Doubtless, in a length of time we shall be conscious
of improvement too, but the object of ordinary self-examination is to
find out whether we are in earnest, and again, what we have done wrong,
in order that we may pray for pardon, and do better. Further, reading
in Scripture how exalted the thoughts and spirit of Christians should
be, we are apt to forget that a Christian spirit is the growth of time ;
and that we cannot force it upon our minds, however desirable and ne-
cessary it may be to possess it ; that by giving utterance to religious
sentiments we do not become religious, rather the reverse ; whereas, if

* Mark viii. 24.


we strove to obey God's will in all things, we actually should be gra-
dually training our hearts into the fulness of a Christian spirit. But, not
understanding this, men are led to speak much and expressly upon sa-
cred subjects, as if it were a duty to do so, and in the hope of- its
making them better ; and they measure their advance in faith and hoh-
ness, not by their power of obeying God in practice, mastering their
will, and becoming more exact in their daily duties, but by the warmth
and energy of their religious feehngs. And, when they cannot sustain
these to that height which they consider almost the characteristic of a
true Christian, then they are discouraged, and tempted to despair.
Added to this, sometimes their old sins, reviving from the slumber into
which they have been cast for a time, rush over their minds, and seem
prepared to take them captive. They cry to God for aid, but He seems
not to hear them, and they know not which way to look for safety.

Now such persons must be reminded first of all, of the greatness of
the work which they have undertaken, viz. the sanctification of their
souls. Those, indeed, who think this an easy task, or (which comes
to the same thing) who think that, though hard in inself, it will be easy
to them, for God's grace will take all the toil of it from them, such men
of course must be disappointed on finding by experience the force of
their original evil nature, and the extreme slowness with which even a
Christian is able to improve it. And it is to be feared, that this disap-
pointment in some cases issues in a belief, that it is impossible to over-
come our evil selves ; that bad we are, bad we must be ; that our innate
corruption lies like a load in our hearts, and no more admits of improve-
ment than a stone docs of life and thought ; and, in consequence, that
all we have to do, is to boheve in Christ who is to save us, and to dwell
on the thoughts of His perfect work for us, — that this is all we can do,
— and that it is presumption as well as folly to attempt more.

But .what says the text ? " Wait on the Lord and keep his way."
And Isaiah ? "They that wait upon the Lord shall reneiv their strength ;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles ; they shall run and not be
weary; and they shall walk and not faint."* And St. Paul ? "lean
do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."f The very
fruit of Christ's pa.ssion was the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was to
enable us to do what otherwise we could not do — to work out our own sal-
valion.^'l — Yet, while we must aim at this, and feel convinced of our
ability to do it at length through the gifts bestowed on us, we cannot
do it rightly without a deep settled conviction of the exceeding difficulty
of the work. That is, not only shall we be tempted to negligence, but
to impatience also, and thence into all kinds of unlawful treatments of

• Isa. xl. 31. t Phil. iv. 13. t Pliil. ii. 12.


the soul, if we be possessed by a notion that rehgious discipHne soon be-
comes easy to the beUever, and that the heart is speedily changed.

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 76)