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perversions and excesses of real virtues, such as zeal and reverence ;
and we, instead of limiting and purifying them, have taken them away
root and branch. Why 1 because we have not acted from a love of
the Truth, but from the influence of the Age. The old generation has
passed, and its character with it ; a new order of things has arisen.
Human society has a new framework, and fosters and developes a new
character of mind ; and this new character is made by the enemy of
our souls, to resemble the Christian's obedience as near as it may, its
likeness all the time being but accidental. Meanwhile the Holy
Church of God, as from the beginning, continues its course heaven-
ward ; despised by the world, yet influencing it, partly correcting it,
partly restraining it, and in some happy cases reclaiming its victims,
and fixing them firmly and for ever within the lines of the faithful host


militant here on earth, which journeys towards the City of the Great
King. God give us grace to search our hearts, lest we be4)linded by
the deceitfulness of sin ! lest we serve Satan transformed into an Angel
of light, while we think we are pursuing true knowledge ; lest, over -
looking and ill-treating the elect of Christ here, we have to ask that
awful question at the last day, while the truth is bursting upon us^
" Lord, uhcn saw we Thee a stranger and a prisoner ? " when saw we
Thy sacred Word and Servants despised and oppressed, " and did not
minister unto Thee ?"*

Nothing shows more strikingly the power of the world's rehgion, as
now described, than to consider the very different classes of men whom
it influences. It will be found to extend its sway and its teaching both
over the professedly religious and the irreligious.

1 Many religious men, rightly or not, have long been expecting a
millenium of purity and peace for the Church. I will not say, whether
or not with reason, for good men may well differ on such a subject.
But, iitiy how, in the case of those who have expected it, it has become
a temptation to take up and recognise the world's religion as already
delineated. They have more or less identified their vision of Christ's
kingdom with the elegance and refinement of mere human civilization ;
and have hailed every evidence of improved decency, every wholesome
civil regulation, every beneficent and enlightened act of state policy,
as signs of their coming Lord. Bent upon achieving their object, an
extensive and glorious diffusion and profession of the Gospel, they have
been little solicitous about the means employed. They have counte-
nanced and acted with men who openly professed unchristian principles.
They have accepted and defended what they considered to be reforma-
tions and ameliorations of the existing state of things, though injustice
must be perpetrated in order to effect them, or long-cherished rules of
conduct, indifferent perhaps in their origin but consecrated by long
usage, must be viola, sd. They have sacrificed Truth to expedience.
They have strangely imagined that bad men were to be the immediate
instruments of the approaching advent of Christ ; and, (like the de-
luded Jews not many years since in a foreign country,) they have
taken, if not for their Messiah (as they did,) at least for their Elijah,
their reforming Baptist, the Herald of the Christ, children of this world,
and sons of Belial, on whom the anathema of the Apostle Hes from
the beginning, declaring, " If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, .
let him be Anathema Maran-atha."f

2. On the other hand, the form of doctrine, which I have called the

* Matt. XXV. 44. t 1 Cor. xvi. 22.


religion of the day, is especially adapted to please men of sceptical
minds, the^- opposite extreme to those just mentioned, who have never
been careful to obey their conscience, who cultivate the intellect with-
out disciplining the heart, and who allow themselves to spc^culate freely
about what religion ought to be, without going to Scripture to discover
what it really is. Some persons of this character almost consider
religion itself to be an obstacle in the advance of our social and politi-
cal well-being. But they know human nature requires it ; therefore
they select the most rational form of rehgion, (so they call it,) which
they can devise. Others are far more seriously disposed, but are cor-
rupted by bad example or other cause. But they all discard (what they
call) gloomy views of religion ; they all trust themselves more than
God's word, and thus may be classed together ; and are rcaly io em-
brace the pleasant consoling religion natural to a polished age. They
lay much stress on works on Natural Theoloi'y, and think that all
religion is contained in these ; whereas, in truth, there is no greater
fallacy than to suppose such works in themselves in any true sense to
be rehgious at all. Religion, it has been well observed, is sonufhing
relative to us ; a system of commands and promises from God toiiards
us. But how are we concerned with the sun, moon, and stars ''. or
with the laws of the universe ? how will they teach us our dvty ? how
will they speak to sinners ? They do hot speak to sinners at all. Tiiey
were created before Adam fell. They " declare the glory of God." but
not His will. They are all perfect, all harmonious ; but tha* bright-
ness and excellence which they exhibit in their own creation, a d the
Divine benevolence therein seen, are of little moment to fallen man.
We see nothing there of God's lorath, of which the conscience of a tjio-
ner loudly speaks. So that there cannot be a more dangerous (i hough
a common) device of Satan, than to carry us off from our owa secret
thoughts, to make us forget our own hearts, which tell us of a God of
justice and holiness, and to fix our attention merely on the God who
made the heavens ; who is our God indeed, but not God as maMifostcd
to us sinners, but as He shines forth to His Angels, and to His elect

When a man has so far deceived himself as to trust his desliny to
what the heavens tell him of it, instead of consulting and obeying his
conscience, what is the consequence ? that at once he misinterprets
and perverts the whole tenor of Scripture. It cannot be denied that,
pleasant as religious observances are declared in Scripture to bs to the
holy, yet to men in general they are said to be difficult and distasteful ;
to all men naturally impossible, and by few fulfilled even with the
assistances of grace, on account of their wilful corruption. Religion is


said to be against nature, to be against our original will, to require
God's aid to make us love and obey it, and to be commonly refused and
opposed in spite of that aid. We are expressly told, that " strait is the
gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and few there be that find
it ;" that we must " strive" or struggle " to enter in at the strait gate,"
for that " many shall seek to enter in," but that is not enough, they
merely seek and do not find it ; and further, that they who do not
obtain everlasting life, " shall go into everlasting punishment."* This
is the dark side of religion ; and the men I have been describing
cannot bear to think of it. They shrink from it as too terrible. They
easily get themselves to believe that those strong declarations of Scrip-
ture do not belong to the present day, or that they are figurative. They
have no language within their heart responding to them. Conscience
has been silenced. The only information they have received concern-
ing God has been from Natural Theology, and that speaks only of
benevolence and harmony ; so they will not credit the plain word of
Scripture. They seize on such parts of Scripture as seem to counte-
nance their own opinions ; they insist on its being commanded us to
" rejoice evermore ;" and they argue that it is our duty to solace our-
selves here, (in moderation of course,) with the goods of this life, — that
we have only to be thankful while we use them, — that we need not
alarm ourselves, — that God is a merciful God, — that repentance is quite
sufficient to atone for our offences, — that though we have been irregu-
lar in our youth, yet that is a thing gone by, — that we forget it, and
therefore God forgets it, — that the world is, on the. whole, very well dis-
posed towards religion, — that we should avoid enthusiasm, — that we
should not be over-serious, — that we should have enlarged views on the
subject of human nature, — and that we should love all men. This
indeed is the creed of shallow men, in every age, who reason a little,
and feel not at all, and who think themselves enlightened and philoso-
phical. Part of what they say is false, part is true, but misapplied ;
but why I have noticed it here, is to show how exactly it fits in with
what I have already described as the peculiar religion of a civilized
age ; it fits in with it equally well as does that of the (so called) reli-
gious world, which is the opposite extreme.

One further remark I will make about these professedly rational
Christians ; who, be it observed, often go on to deny the mysteries of
the Gospel. Let us take the text : — " Our God is a consuming fire."
Now supposing these persons fell upon these words, or heard them
urged as an argument against their own doctrine of the unmixed

* Matt. vii. 14. Luke xiii. 24. Matt. xxv. 46.


satisfactory character of our prospects in the world to come, and sup-
posing they did not know what part of the Bible they occurred in,
what would they say 1 Doubtless they would contidently say that they
applied only to the Jews and not to Christians ; that they only described
the Divine Author of the Mosaic Law ;* that God formerly spoke in
terrors to the Jews, because they were a gross and brutish people, but
that civilization has made us quite other men ; that our reason, not our
fears, is appealed to, and that the Gospel is love. And yet, in spite of
all this argument, the text occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews, writ-
ten by an Apostle of Christ.

I shall conclude with stating more fully what I mean by the dark
side of religion ; and what judgment ought to be passed on the super-
stitious and gloomy.

Here I will not shrink from uttering my firm conviction that it would
be a gain to this country, were it vastly more superstitious, more bigot-
ed, more gloomy, more fierce in its religion, than at present it shows
itself to be. Not, of course, that I think the tempers of mind herein
implied desirable, which would be an evident absurdity ; but I think
them infinitely more desirable and more promising than a heathen obdu-
racy, and a cold, self-sufficient, self-wise tranquillity. Doubtless, peace
of mind, a quiet conscience, and a cheerful countenance are the gift of
the Gospel, and the sign of a Christian ; but the same effects (or, rather,
what appear to be the same) may arise from very different causes.
Jonah slept in the storm, — so did our Blessed Lord. The one slept in
an evil security: the Other in "the peace of God which passeth all
understanding." The two states cannot be confounded together, they
are perfectly distinct ; and as distinct is the calm of the man of the
world from that of the Christian. Now take the case of the sailors on
board the vessel ; they cried to Jonah, " What meanest thou,
sleeper^" — so the Apostles said to Christ; "Lord, we perish." This
is the case of the supestitious ; they go between the false peace of Jonah
and the true peace of Christ ; they are better than the one, though far
fcelow the Other. Applying this to the present religion of the educated
world, full as it is of security and cheerfulness, and decorum, and benevo-
lence, I observe that these appearances may arise either from a great
deal of religion, or from the absence of it ; they may be the fruits of
lightness of mind and a bhnded conscience, or of that faith which has
peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And if this alternative
be proposed, I might almost leave it to the common sense of men, (if
ihey could get themselves to think seriously) to which of the two the

* Deut. iv. 24.


temper of the age is to be referred. For myself I cannot doubt, seeing
what I see of the world, that it arises from the sleep of Jonah ; and it
is therefore but a dream of religion, far inferior in worth to the well-
grounded alarm of the superstitious, who are awakened and see their
danger, though they do not attain so far in faith as to embrace the
remedy of it.

Think of this, I beseech you, my brethren, and lay it to heart, as far
as you go with me, as you will answer for having heard it at the last
day. I would not willingly be harsh ; but knowing " that the world
lieth in wickedness," I think it highly probable that you, so far as you
are in it, (as you must be, and we all must be in our degree,) are, most
of you, partially infected with its existing error, that shallowness of re-
ligion, which is the result of a blinded conscience ; and, therefore, I
speak earnestly to you. Believing in the existence of a general plague
in the land, I judge that you probably have your share in the suffer-
ings, the voluntary sufferings, which it is spreading among us. The
fear of God is the beginning of wisdom ; till you see Him to be a con-
suming fire, and approach Him with reverence and godly fear, as being
sinners, you are not even in sight of the strait gate. I do not wish,
you to be able to point to any particular time when you renounced the
world, (as it is called,) and were converted ; this is deceit. Fear and
love must go together ; always fear, always love, to your dying day.
Doubtless ; — still you must know what it is to sow in tears here, if you
would reap in joy hereafter. Till you know the weight of your sins,
and that not in mere imagination, but in practice, not so as merely to
confess it in a formal phrase of lamentation, but daily and in your heart
in secret, you cannot embrace the offer of mercy held out to you in the
Gospel, through the death of Christ. Till you know what it is to fear
with the terrified sailors or the Apostles, you cannot sleep with Christ
at your Heavenly Father's feet. Miserable as were the superstitions
of the dark ages, revolting as are the tortures now in use among the
heathen of the East, better, far better is it, to torture the body all one's
days, and to make this life a hell upon earth, than to remain in a brief
tranquillity here, till the pit at length opens under us, and awakens us
to an eternal fruitless consciousness and remorse. Think of Christ's
own words : — " What shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?"
Again, He says, " Fear Him, who after he hath killed, hath power to
cast into hell ; yea, I say unto you, fear Him," Dare not to think
you have got to the bottom of your hearts ; you do not know what
evil lies there. How long and earnestly must you pray, how many
years must you pass in careful obedience, before you have any right to
lay aside sorrow, and to rejoice in the Lord ? In one sense, indeed,.


you may take comfort from the first ; for, though you dare not yet
anticipate you are in the number of Christ's true elect, yet from the
first you know he desires your salvation, has died for you, has washed
away your sins by baptism, and will ever help you ; and this thought
must cheer you while you go on to examine and review your lives, and
to turn to God in self-denial. But, at the same time, you never can be
sure of salvation while you are here ; and therefore you must always
fear while you hope. Your knowledge of your sins increases with your
view of God's mercy in Christ. And this is the true Christian state,
and the nearest approach to Christ's calm and placid sleep in the tem-
pest ; — not perfect joy and certainty in heaven, but a deep resignation
to God's will, a surrender of ourselves, soul and body to Him ; hoping
indeed, that we shall be saved, but fixing our eyes more earnestly on
Him than on ourselves ; that is, acting for His glory, seeking to please
Him, devoting ourselves to Him in all manly obedience and strenuous
good works ; and, when we do look within, thinking of ourselves with
a certain abhorrence and contempt as being sinners, mortifying our
flesh, scourging our appetites, and composedly awaiting that time when,
if we be worthy, we shall be stripped of our present selves, and new
made in the kingdom of Christ.



John v. 2, 3.

" There is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew
tongue Bcthesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent
folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water."

What a scene of misery this pool of Bethesda must have presented !
of pain and sickness triumphing unto death ; the " blind, halt, withered,
and impotent," persuaded by the hope of cure to disclose their sufferings
in the eye of day in one large company ! This pool was endued, at
certain times, with a wonderful virtue by the descent of an Angel into


it ; so that its waters efTected the cure of the first who stepped into it,
whatever was his disease. However, I shall not speak of this wonderful
pool ; nor of our Saviour's miracle, wrought there upon the man who
had no one to put him in before the rest, when the water was troubled,
and had been for thirty-eight years afflicted with his infirmity. With-
out entering into these subjects, let us take the text as it stands in the
opening of the chapter which contains it, and deduce a lesson from it.

There lay about the pool '' a great multitude of impotent folk, of
blind, halt, and withered." This is a painful picture, such as we do
not like to dwell upon, — a picture of a chief kind of human suffering,
bodily disease ; one which suggests to us and typifies all other suffering,
— the most obvious fulfilment of that curse which Adam's fall brought
upon his decendants. Now it must strike every one, who thinks at all
about it, that the Bible is full of such descriptions of human misery.
We know it also abounds in accounts of human sin ; but not to speak
of these, it abounds in accounts of human distress and sufferings, of
our miserable condition, of the vanity, unprofitableness, and trials of
life. The Bible begins with the history of the curse pronounced on the
earth and man ; it ends with the book of Revelations, a portion of
Scripture fearful for its threats, and its prediction of judgments ; and
whether the original curse on Adam be now removed from the world or
not, it is certain that God's awful curses, foretold by St. John, are on
all sides of us. Surely in spite of the peculiar promises made to the
Church in Christ our Saviour, yet as regards the world, the volume of
inspiration is still a dreary record, " written within and without with
lamentations and mourning and wo." And, further, you will observe
that it seems to drop what might be said in favour of this life, and en-
larges on the unpleasant side of it. The history passes quickly from
the Garden of Eden, to dwell on the sufferings which followed, when
our first parents were expelled thence ; and though, in matter of fact,
there are traces of paradise still left among us, yet it is evident, Scrip-
ture says little of them in comparison of its accounts of human misery.
Little docs it say concerning the innocent pleasures of life ; of those
temporal blessings which rest upon our worldly occupations, and make,
them easy ; of the blessings which we derive from " the sun and moon
and the everlasting hills," from the succession of the seasons and the
produce of the earth ; — little about our recreations and our daily do-
mestic comforts ; little about the ordinary occasions of festivity and
mirth, which occur in life, and nothing at all about those various other
enjoyments which it would be going too much into detail to mention.
Human tales and poems are full of pleasant sights and prospects ; —
they make things better than they are, and pour tray a sort of imagin-


ary perfection ; but Scripture, (I repeat) seems to abstain even from
what might be said in praise of human hfe as it is. We read, indeed,
of the feast made when Isaac was weaned, of Jacob's marriage, of the
domestic and religious festivities of Job's family ; but these are excep-
tions in the tenor of the Scripture history. " Vanity of vanities, all is
vanity;" "man is born to trouble:" these are its customary lessons.
The text is but a specimen of the descriptions repeated again and again
throughout Scripture, of human infirmity and misery.

So much is this the case, that thoughtless persons are averse to the
Scripture narrative for this very reason. I do not mean bad men, who
speak hard presumptuous words against the Bible, and in consequence
expose themselves to the wrath of God ; but I speak of thoughtless per-
sons ; and of these there are many, who consider the Bible a gloomy
book, and on that account seldom look into it, saying that it makes
them melancholy Accordingly there have been attempts made on
the other hand to hide this austere character of Scripture, and make it
a bright interesting picture of human life. Its stories have before now
been profanely embodlished in human language, to suit the taste of
weak and cowardly minds. All this shows that in the common opin-
ion of mankind, the Bible does not take a pleasant sunshine view of
the world.

Now why have I thus spoken of this general character of the sa-
cred history ? — in order to countenance those who complain of it ? —
let it not be imagined ; — far from it. God does nothing without some
wise and good reason, which it becomes us devoutly to accept and use.
He has not given us this dark view of the world without a cause. In
truth, this view is the ultimate true view of human life. But this is
not all ; it is a view which it concerns us much to know. It concerns
us (I say) much to be told that this world is, after all, in spite of first
appearances and partial exceptions, a dark world ; else we shall be
obliged to learn it, (and, sooner or later, we must learn it,) by sad ex-
peri "iice ; whereas, if we are forewarned, we shall unlearn false no-
tions of its excellence, and be saved the disappointment which follows
them. And therefore it is that Scripture omits even what might be
said in praise of this world's pleasures ; — not denying their valuo, such
as it is, or forbidding us to use them religiously, but knowing that we
arc sure to find them out for ourselves without being told of them, and
that our danger is on the side, not of undervaluing, but of overvaluing
them ; whereas, by being told of the world's vanity, at first, we shall
learn, (what else we should only attain at last,) not indeed to be
gloomy and discontented, but to bsar a sober and calm heart under a
smiling cheerful countenance. This is one chief reason of the sol-


-emn character of the Scripture history ; and if we keep it in view, so
far from being offended and frightened away by its notes of sorrow,
because they grate on the ear at first, we shall steadfastly listen to
them, and get them by heart, as a gracious gift from God sent to us,
as a remedy for all dangerous overflowing joy in present blessings, in
order to save us far greater pain, (if we use the lesson well,) the pain
of actual disappointment, such as the overthrow of vainly cherished
hopes of lasting good upon earth, will certainly occasion.

Do but consider what is the consequence of ignorance or distrust of
•God's warning voice, and you will see clearly how merciful He is, and
how wise it is to listen to Him. I will not suppose a case of gross sin,
or of open contempt for religion ; but let a man have a general be-
coming reverence for the law and Church of God, and an unhesitating
faith in his Saviour Christ, yet suppose him so to be taken with the
goods of this world, as (without his being aware of it) to give his heart
to them. Let him have many good feelings and dispositions ; but let
him love his earthly pursuits, amusements, friends, too well ; — by which
I mean, so well as to forget that he is bound to live in the spirit of
Abraham's faith, who gave up home, kindred, possessions, all his eye
ever loved, at God's word, — in the spirit of St. Paul's faith, who
«' counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 76)