John Henry Newman.

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*' Christ's yoke is easy :"* true, to those who are accustomed to it, not to
the unbroken neck. " Wisdom is very unpleasant to the unlearned,
(says the son of Sirach,) he that is without understanding will not remain
with her." "At the first she will walk with him by crooked ways, and
bring fear and dread upon him, and torment him with her discipline,
until she may trust his soul and try him by her laws. Then will she
return the straight way unto him, and comfort him, and show him her
secrets, "f

Let, then, every beginner make up his mind to suffer disquiet and
perplexity. He cannot complain that it should be so ; and though he
should be deeply ashamed of himself that it is so, (for had he followed
God from a child, his condition would have been far different, though,
then, perhaps, not without some perplexities,) still he has no cause to
be surprised or discouraged. The more he makes up his mind manfully
to bear doubt, struggle against it, and meekly to do God's will all through
it, the sooner this unsettled state of mind will cease, and order will rise
out of confusion. " Wait on the Lord," this is the rule ; " keep His
way," this is the manner of waiting. Go about your duty ; mind little
things as well as great. Do not pause, and say, " I am as I was ; day
after day passes, and still no light ;" go on. It is very painful to be
haunted by wandering doubts, to have thoughts shoot across the mind
about the reality of religion altogether, or of this or that particular doc-
trine of it, or about the correctness of one's own faith, and the safety
of one's own state. But it must be right to serve God ; we have a voice
within us answering to the injunction in the text, of waiting on Him,
and keeping His way. David confesses it. " When Thou saidst, Seek
ye my face ; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face. Lord, will I seek."J
And surely such obedient waiting upon Him will obtain his blessing.
^^ Blessed are they that keep His commandments." And besides this
express promise, even if we had to seek for a way to understand His
perfect will, could we conceive one of greater promise than that of
beginning with little things, and so gradually making progress? In all
other things is not this the way to perfection ? Does not a child learn
to walk short distances at first? Who would attempt to bear great
weights before he had succeeded with the lesser? It is from God's
great goodness that our daily constant duty is placed in the performance
of small and comparatively easy services. To be dutiful and obedient
in ordinary matters, to speak the truth, to be honest, to be sober, to

* Matt. xi. 30. t EccleB. ri. 20. iv. 17, 18. I Pealraxxvii. 8.


keep from sinful words and thoughts, to be kind and forgiving, — and all
this for our Saviour's sake, — let us attempt these duties first. They
even will be difficult, — the least of them ; still they are much easier
than the solution of the doubts which harass us, and they will by de-
grees, give us a practical knowledge of the Truth.

To take one instance, out of many which might be given : suppose
we have any perplexing indescribable doubts about the Divine power of
our Blessed Lord, or concerning the doctrine of the Trinity ; well, let
us leave the subject, and turn to God's will. If we do this in faith and
humility, we shall in time find that, while we have been obeying our
Saviour's precepts, and imitating His conduct in the Gospels, our diffi-
culties have been removed, though it may take time to remove them ;
and though we are not, during the time, sensible of what is going on.
There may, indeed, be cases in which they are never removed entirely,
— and in which doubtless some great and good object is secured by the
trial ; but we may fairly and safely look out for a more comfortable
issue. And so as regards all our difficulties. " Wait on the Lord, and
keep His way." His word is sure; we may safely trust it. We shall
gain hght as to general doctrines, by embodying them in those par-
ticular instances in which they become ordinary duties.

But it too often happens, that from one cause or other men do not
pursue this simple method of gradually extricating themselves from
error. — They seek some new path which promises to be shorter and
easier than the lowly and the circuitous way of obedience. They
wish to arrive at the heights of Mount Zion without winding round its
base ; and at first (it must be confessed) they seem to make greater
progress than those who are content to wait, and work righteousness.
Impatient of " sitting in darkness, and having no light," and of com-
pleting the prophet's picture of a saint in trouble, by " fearing the
Lord, and obeying the voice of His servant,"* they expect to gain
speedy peace and holiness by means of new teachers, and by a new

Many are misled by confidence in themselves. They look back at
the first seasons of their repentance and conversion, as if the time of their
greatest knowledge ; and instead of considering that their earliest reli-
gious notions were probably the most confused and mixed with error, and
therefore endeavouring to separate the good from the bad, they consecrate
all they then felt as a standard of doctrine to which they are bound to ap-
peal ; and as to the opinions of others, they think little of it, for religion
being a new subject to themselves, they are easily led to think it must be

* Isaiali 1. 10.


a new and untried subject to others also, especially, since the best men
are often the least willing to converse, except in private, on religious
subjects, and still more averse to speak of them to those who they think
will not value them rightly.

But, leaving the mention of those who err from self-confidence, I
would rather lament over such as are led away from the path of plain
simple obedience by a compliance with the views and wishes of those
around them. Such persons there arc all through the Church, and ever
have been. Such perhaps have been many Christians in the commu-
nion of the Church of Rome ; who, feeling deeply the necessity of a
religious life, yet strive by means different from those which God has
blessed, to gain His favour. They begin religion at the very end of it,
and make those observances and rules the chief means of pleasing Him,
which in fact should be but the spontaneous acts of the formed Chris-
tian temper. And others among ourselves are bound by a similar yoke
of bondage, though it be more speciously disguised, when they subject
their minds to certain unscriptural rules, and fancy they must separate
in some self-devised way from the world, and that they must speak and
act according to some arbitrary and novel form of doctrine, which they
try to set before themselves, instead of endeavouring to imbue their hearts
with that free, unconstrained spirit of devotion, which lowly obedience in
ordinary matters would imperceptibly form within them. How many
are there, more or less such, who love the Truth, and would fain do God's
will, who yet are led aside, and walk in bondage, while they are promised
superior light and freedom ! They desire to be living members of the
Church, and they anxiously seek out whatever they can admire in the
true sons of the Church ; but they feel forced to measure every thing by
a certain superstitious standard which they revere, — they are frightened
at shadows, — and thus they are, from time to time, embarrassed and
perplexed, whenever, that is, they cannot reconcile the conduct and lives
of those who are really, and whom they wish to believe eminent Chris-
tians, with that false religious system which they have adopted.

Before concluding, I must notice one other state of mind in which the
precept of " waiting on God and keeping His way," will avail, above all
others, to lead right a doubting and perplexed mind.

It sometimes happens, from ill health or other cause, that persons fall
into religious despondency. They fancy that they have so abused God's
mercy that there is no hope for them ; that once they knew the Truth,
but that now it is withdrawn from them ; that they have had warnings
which they have neglected, and now they are left by the Holy Spirit,
and given over to Satan. Then, they recollect divers passages of Scrip-
ture, which speak of the peril of falling away, and they apply these to


their own case. Now I speak of such instances, only so far as they can
be called ailments of the mind, — for often they must be treated as ail-
ments of the body. As far as they are mental, let us observe how it will
conduce to restore the quiet of the mind, to attend to the humble ordinary
duties of our station, that walking in God's way, of which the text
speaks. Sometimes, indeed, persons thus afflicted, increase their disor-
der by attempting to console themselves by those elevated Christian
doctrines which St. Paul enlarges on ; and others encourage them in it.
But St. Paul's doctrine is not intended for weak and unstable minds.*
He says himself: "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect;"
not to those who are (what he calls) " babes in Christ."! In proportion
as we gain strength, we shall be able to understand and profit by the full
promises of the Christian covenant ; but those who are confused, agita-
ted, restless in their minds, who busy themselves with many thoughts,
and are overwhelmed with conflicting feelings, such persons are, in gen-
eral, made more restless and more unhappy, (as the experience of sick
beds may show us,) by holding out to them doctrines and assurances
which they cannot rightly apprehend. Now, not to speak of that pecu-
liar blessing which is promised to obedience to God's will, let us observe
how well it is calculated, by its natural effect, to soothe and calm the
mind. When we set about to obey God, in the ordinary business of daily
life, we are at once interested by realities which withdraw our minds
from vague fears and uncertain indefinite surmises about the future.
Without laying aside the thoughts of Christ, (the contrary,) still we learn
to view Him in His tranquil providence, before we set about contem-
plating His greater works, and we are saved from taking an unchristian
thought to morrow, while we are busied in present services. Thus our
Saviour gradually discloses Himself to the troubled mind ; not as He is
in heaven, as when He struck down Saul to the ground, but as He was
in the days of His flesh, eating and conversing among His brethren, and
bidding us, in imitation of Him, think no duty beneath the notice of those
who sincerely wish to please God.

Such afflicted inquirers, then, after truth, must be exhorted to keep a
guard upon their feelings, and to control their hearts. They say they
are terrified lest they should be past hope ; and they will not be persua-
ded that God is all-merciful, in spite of all the Scriptures say to that
effect. Well, then, I would take them on their own ground. Suppos-
ing their state to be as wretched as is conceivable, can they deny it is their
duty now to serve God 1 Can they do better than try to serve Him ?
Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. ''J They say

» 2 Pet. iii. 16. + 1 Cor. ii. 6. iii. 1. t Job xiii. 15.


they do not wish to serve God, — that they want a heart to serve Him.
Let us grant (if they will have it so,) that they are most obdurate ; still
they are alive, — they must be doing something, and can they do ought
better than try to quiet themselves, and be resigned, and to do right rather
than wrong, even though they are persuaded that it does not come from
their heart, and is not acceptable to God? They say they dare not ask
for God's grace to assist them. This is doubtless a miserable state ; still,
since they must act in some way, though they cannot do what is really
good without His grace, yet, at least, let them do what seems like truth
and goodness. Nay, though it is shocking to set before their minds such
a prospect, yet even were they already in the place of punishment, will
they not confess, it would be the best thing they could do, to commit then
as little sin as possible? Much more then now, when even if they have
no hope, their heart at least is not so entirely hardened as it will be then.
It must not be for an instant supposed I am admitting the possibility
of a person being rejected by God, who has any such right feelings in
his mind. The anxiety of the sufferers I have been describing, shows
they are still under the influence of Divine grace, though they will not
allow it ; but I say this, to give another instance in which a determina-
tion to obey God's will strictly in ordinary matters tends, through His
blessing, to calm and comfort the mind, and to bring it out of perplex-
ity into the clear day.

And so in various other cases which might be recounted. What-
ever our difficulty be, this is plain. '• Wait on the Lord, and keep His •
way, and He shall exalt thee." Or in our Saviour's words ; '« He that
hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me ;
and he that loveth Me, shall be loved of My Father, and I will love
him, and will manifest Myself to him." Whosoever shall do and teach
these least commandments, shall be called great in the kingdom of
heaven." " Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have
more abundance."*

» John xiv. 21. Matt. v. 19, xiii. 12.



Matthew vi. 6.

" Thou, when thou praycst, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door,
pray to thy Father, which is in secret ; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall
reward thee openly."

Here is our Saviour's own sanction and blessing vouchsafed to private
prayer, in simple, clear, and most gracious words. The Pharisees
were in the practice, when they prayed by themselves, of praying in
public, in the corners of the streets ; a strange inconsistency according
to our notions, since in our language prayer by oneself is ever called pri-
vate prayer. Public private prayer, this was their self-contradictory
practice. Warning, then. His disciples against the particular form of
hypocrisy in which the self-conceit of human nature at that day
showed itself, our Lord promises in the text His Father's blessing on
such humble supplications as were really addressed to Him, and not
made to gain the praise of men. Those who seek the unseen God,
(He seems to say,) seek Him in their hearts and hidden thoughts, not
in loud words, as if He were far off from them. Such men would re-
tire from the world into places where no human eye saw them, there
to meet Him humbly and in faith, who is " about their path, and about
their bed, and spieth out all their ways." And He, the searcher of
hearts, would reward them openly. Prayers uttered in secret, accord-
ing to God's will, are treasured up in God's Book of Life. They seem,
perhaps, to have sought an answer here, and to have failed of their ob-
ject. Their memory perishes even in the mind of the petitioner, and
the world never knew them. But God is ever mindful, and in the last
day, when the books are opened, they shall be disclosed and rewarded
before the whole world.

Such is Christ's gracious promise in the text, acknowledging and
blessing, according to His own condescension, those devotional exer-
cises which were a duty even before Scripture enjoined them ; and


changing into a privilege that work of faith, which, though bidden by-
conscience, and authorized by reason, yet before He revealed His
mercy, is laden, in every man's case who attempts it, with guilt, re-
morse and fear. It is the Christian's unspeakable privilege, and his
alone, that he has at all times free access to the throne of grace boldly-
through the mediation of his Saviour.

But, in what I shall now say concerning prayer, I shall not consider
it as a privilege, but as a duty ; for till we have some experience of the
duties of religion, we are incapable of entering duly into the privileges ;
and it is too much the fashion of the day to view prayer chiefly as a
mere privilege, such a privilege as it is inconsiderate indeed to neglect,
but only inconsiderate, not sinful ; and optional to use.

Now, we know well enough that we are bound to be in one sense in
prayer and meditation all the day long. The question then arises, are
we to pray in any other way 1 Is it enough to keep our minds fixed
upon God through the day and to commune with Him in our hearts, or
is it necessary, over and above this habitual faith, to set apart particular
times for the more systematic and earnest exercise of it 1 Need we
pray at certain times of the day in a set manner ? Public worship indeed,
from its very nature, requires places, times, and even set forms. But
private prayer does not necessarily require set times, because wc have
no one to consult but ourselves, and we are always with ourselves ; nor
forms, for there is no one else whose thoughts are to keep pace with
ours. Still, though set times and forms of prayer are not absolutely
necessary in private prayer, yet they are highly expedient ; or rather,
times are actually commanded us by our Lord in the text, " Thou, when
thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door,
pray to thy Father which is in secret ; and thy Father which seeth in
secret, shall reward thee openly."

In these words certain time for private prayer, over and above the
secret thought of God which must ever be alive in us, are clearly en-
joined ; and the practice of good men in Scripture gives us an example
in confirmation of the command. Even our Saviour had His peculiar
seasons of communing with God. His thoughts indeed were one con-
tinued sacred service offered up to His Father ; nevertheless we read
of His going up " into a mountain apart to pray," and again, of His
"continuing all night in prayer to God."* Doubtless, you will recol-
lect that solitary prayer of His, before His passion, thrice repeated,
" that the cup might pass from Him." St. Peter too, as in the narra-
tive of the conversion of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, in the tenth

• Matt. xiv. 23. Luke vi. 12.


chapter of the Act^', went un upon the house-top to pray about the
sixth hour ; then God visited him. And Nathaniel seems to have been
m prayer und ;r the fig-tree, at the time our Saviour saw him, and
Phihp called him.* I might multiply instances from Scripture of such
Israelites without guile ; which are of course applicable to us, because,
though they were under a divine government in many respects different
from the Christian, yet personal religion is the same at all times ;
"the just" in every dispensation "shall live by faith," and whatever
reasons there were then for faith to display and maintain itself by
stated prayer, remain substantially the same now. Let two passages
suffice. The Psalmist says, " Sev vi times a day do I praise Thee, be-
cause of thy righteous judgments."! And Daniel's practice is told us
on a memorable occasion : " Xow when Da a ,•] knew that the writing
was signed, (the impious decree, forbidding prayer to any but king
Darius for thirty days,) he went into his house, and his windows being
open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled u;> j i his knees three
iim •? a day, and prajed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did

It is plain, then, besides the devotional temper^in which fwe should
pass the day, more solemn and direct acts of worship, nay, regular and
periodic I, are required of us by the precept of Christ, and His own
example, and that of His Apostles and Prophets under both covenants.

Now it is necessary to insist upon this duty of observing private
prayer at stated times, because amid the cares and hurry of life men
are very apt to neglect it : and it is a much more important ^duty than
it is generally considered, even by those who perform it.

The following are two chief reasons for its importance.

1. It brings religious subjects before the mind in regular course.
Prayer through the day, is indeed the characteristic of a Christian spirit,
but we may be sure that, in most cases, those who do not pray at stated
times in a more solemn and direct manner, will never pray well at other
times. We know in the common engagements of life, the importance
of collecting and arranging our thoughts calmly and accurately before
proceeding to any important business, in order to the right performance
of it ; and so in that one really needful occupation, the care of our eter-
nal interests, if we would have our minds composed, our desires subdued,
and our tempers heavenly through the day, we must, before commencing
the day's employment, stand still awhile to look into ourselves, and
commune with our hearts, by way of preparing ourselves for the trials
and duties on which we are entering. A like reason may be assigned

* John i. 48. t Psalm cxix. ie4. i Pan. vi. 10.

Vol. I 10.


for evening prayer, viz. as affording us a time of looking back on the
past day, and summing up (as it were) that account, which, if we do
not reckon, at least God has reckoned, and written down in that book
which will be produced at the judgment ; a time of confessing sin, and
of praying for forgiveness, of giving thanks for what we have done well,
and for mercies received, of making good resolutions in reliance on the
help of God, and of sealing up and setting sure the day past, at least as
a stepping-stone of good for the morrow. The precise times indeed of
private prayer are no where commanded us in Scripture ; the most
obvious are those I have mentioned, morning and evening. In the
texts just now read to you, you heard of praying three times a day, or
seven times. All this depends of course on the opportunities of each
individu 1. Some men have not leisure for this ; but for morning and
evening prayer all men can and should make leisure.

Stated times of private prayer, then, are useful as impulses (so to say)
to the continuous devotion of the day. They instruct us and engage
us in what is ever our duty. It is commonly said, that what is every
one's business is practically no one's ; this applies here. I repeat it,
if we leave religion as a subject of thought for all hours of the day
equally, it will be thought of in none. In all things it is by small be-
ginnings and appointed channels, that an advance is made to extensive
works. Stated times of prayer put us in that posture, (as I may call it,)
in which we ought ever to be ; they urge us forward in a heavenly di-
rection, and then the stream carries us on. For the same reason it is
expedient, if possible, to be solemn in the forms of otSr private worship,
in order to impress our minds. Our Saviour kneeled down, fell on His
face, and prayed,* — so did His Apcs+los ;| and so did the Saints of
the Old Testament. Hence many persons are accustomed (such as
have the opportunity) to set apart a particular place for their private
devotions ; still for the same reason, to compose their mind, — as Christ
tells us in the text, to enter into our closet.

2. I now come to the second reason for stated private prayer.
Besides is tending to produce in us lasting rehgious impressions, which
I have already enlarged upon, it is also a more direct means of gaining
from God an answer to our requests. He has so sanctioned it in the
text : — " Shut thy door, and pray to thy Father which seeth in secret,
and He ^-liall reward thee openly." We do not know how it is that
prayer receives an answer from God at all. It is strange, indeed, that
weak man should have strength to move God ; but it is our privilege to
know that we can do so. The whole system of this world is a history

* Matt. xxvi. 39. Luke xxii. 41. + Acts xx. 36. xxi. 5. Eph. iii. 14.


of man's interfering with Divine decrees; and if we have the melan-
choly power of baffling His good-will, to our own ruin, (an awful, an
incomprehensible truth !) if when He designs our eternal salvation, we
can yet annul our heavenly election, and accomplish our eternal
destruction, much more have we the power to move Him (blessed be
His name !) when He, the Searcher of hearts, discerns in us the mind
of that Holy Spirit, which " maketh intercession for the saints according
to His will." And, as He has thus promised an answer to our poor
prayers, so it is not more strang3 that prayers offared up at particular

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 76)