John Henry Newman.

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Christ Jesus his Lord," to win whose favour " he suffered the loss of
all things" How will the world go with a man thus forgetful of his
real interests ? For- a while all will be enjoyment ; — if at any time
weariness comes, he will be able to change his pleasure, and the vari-
ety will relieve him. His health is good and his spirits high, and easily
master and bear down all the accidental troubles of life. So far is well :
but, as years roll on, by little and little he will discover that, after all,
he is not, as he imagined, possessed of any real substantial good. He
will begin to find, and be startled at finding, that the things which once
pleased, please less and less, or not at all. He will be unable to recall
those livelv emotions in which he once indulged ; and he will wonder
-why. Thus, by degrees, the delightful visions which surrounded him
will fade away, and in their stead, melancholy forms will haunt him,
such las crowded round the pool of Bethesda. Then will be fulfilled
the words of the wise man. The days will have come, " when thou
shalt sav, I have no pleasure in them ; the sun and the light and the
moon and the stars shall be darkened, and the clouds return after the
rain ; then they who look out of the window shall be darkened, the
doors shall be shut in the streets, all the daughters of music shall be
brought low, fears shall be in the Avay, and desire shall fail."* Then
*Eccles. xii. 1 — 3.


a man will begin to be restless and discontented, for he does not know
how to amuse himself. Before, he was cheerful only from the natural
flow of his spirits, and when such cheerfulness is lost with increasing
years, he becomes evil-natured. He has made no effort to change his
heart, — to raise, strengthen, and purif}^ his faith, — to subdue his bad
passions and tempers. Now their day is come ; they have sprang up
and begin to domineer. When he was in health, he thought about his
farm, or his merchandise, and lived to himself ; he laid out his strength
on the world, and the world is nothing to him, as a worthless bargain
(so to say,) seeing it is nothing worth to one who cannot take pleasure
in it. He had no habitual thought of God in the former time, however
he might have a general reverence for His name ; and now he dreads
Him, or, (if the truth must be said) even begins to hate the thought of
Him. Where shall he look for succour ? Perhaps, moreover, he is a
burden to those around him ; they care not for him, — he is in their
way. And so he will lie year after year, by the pool of Bethcsda, by
the waters of health, with no one helping him ; — unable to advance
himself towards a cure, in consequence of his long habits of sin, and
others passing him by, perhaps unable to help one who obstinately re-
fuses to be comforted. Thus ho has at length full personal, painful
experience that this world is really vanity or worse, and all this because
he would not believe it from Scripture.

Now should the above description appear overcharged, should it be
said that it supposes a man to be possessed of more of the pleasures of
life than most men have, and of keener feelings, — should it be said
that most men have little to enjoy, and that most of those who have
much, go on in an ordinary tranquil way, and take and lose things
without much thought, not pleased much in their vigorous days, and
not caring much about the change when the world deserts them, —
then I must proceed to a more solemn consideration still, on which I
do not like to dwell, but would rather leave it for your own private
reflection upon it. There is a story in the Gospels of a man who was
taken out of this life before he had turned his thoughts heaven-ward,
and in another world he lift up his eyes being in torments. Be quite
sure that every one of us, even the poorest and the most dull and insen-
sible, is far more attached to this world than he can possibly imagine.
We get used to the things about us, and forget they are necessary for
our comfort. Every one, when taken out of this world, would miss a
great deal that he was used to depend on, and would in consequence
be in great discomfort and sorrow in his new abode, as a stranger in an
unknown place ; every one, that is, who had not, while on earth, made
God his Father and Protector, — that Great God who alone will there
Vol. I.— 13


be found. We do not, then, mend the matter at all in supposing a man
not to find out the world's vanity here ; for, even should the world
remain his faithful friend, and please him with its goods, to his dying
day, still that world] will be burnt up at the day of his resurrection ;
and even had he little of its comforts here, that little he will then miss.
Then all men, small and great, will know it to be vanity, and feel their
infinite loss if they have trusted it, when all the dead stand before God.

Let this suffice on the use we must make of the solemn view which
the Scripture takes of this life. Those disclosures are intended to save
us pain, by preventing us enjoying the world unreservedly ; that we
may use it as not abusing it.

Nor let it seem as if this view of life must make a man melancholy
and gloomy. There are, it is true, men of ill-constituted minds, whom
it has driven out of the world ; but, rightly understood, it has no such
tendency. The great rule of our conduct is to take things as they
come. He who goes out of his way as shrinking from the varieties of
human life which meet him, has weak faith, or a strangely perverted
conscience, — he wants elevation of mind. The true Christian rejoices
in those earthly things which give joy, but in such a way as not to care
for them when they go. For no blessings does he care much, except
those which are immortal, knowing that he shall receive all such again
in the world to come. But the least and the most fleeting, he is too
religious to contemn, considering them God's gift ; and the least and
most fleeting, thus received, yield a purer and deeper, though a less
tumultuous joy. And if he at times refrains, it is lest he should
encroach upon God's bounty, or lest by a constant use of it he should
forget how to do without it.

Our Saviour gives us a pattern which we are bound to follow. He
was a far greater than John the Baptist, yet he came, not with St.
John's outward austerity, — condemning the display of strictness or
gloominess, that we, His followers, might fast the more in private, and
be the more austere in our secret hearts. True it is, that such self-
command, composure, and inward faith, are not learned in a day ; but
if they were, why should this life be given us ? It is given us as a
very preparation time for obtaining them. Only look upon the world
in this light ; — its sights of sorrows are to calm you, and its pleasant
sights to try you. There is a bravery in thus going straight-forward,
shrinking from no duty little or great, passing from high to low, from
pleasure to pain, and making your principles strong without their
becoming formal. Learn to be as the angel, who could descend among
the miseries of Bethesda, without losing his heavenly purity or his per-
fect happiness. Gain healing from troubled waters. Make up your


mind to the prospect of sustaining a certain measure of pain and trouble
in your passage through hfe ; by the blessing of God this will prepare
you for it, — it will make you thoughtful and resigned without inter-
fering with your cheerfulness. It will connect you in your own
thoughts with the Saints of Scripture, whose lot it was to be patterns of
patient endurance ; and this association brings to the mind a peculiar
consolation. View yourselves and all Christians as humbly following
the steps of Jacob whose days were few and evil ; and David, who in
his best estate was as a shadow that declineth, and was withered like
grass ; and Elijah who despised soft raiment and sumptuous fare : and
forlorn Daniel who led an Angel's life : and be light-hearted and con-
tented, because you are thus called to be a member of Christ's pilgrim
Church. Realize the paradox of making merry and rejoicing in the
world because it is not yours. And if you are hard to be affected, (as
many men are,) and think too little about the changes of life, going on
in a dull way without hope or fear, feeling, neither your need nor the
excellence of religion ; then, again, meditate on the mournful histories
recorded in Scripture, in order that your hearts may be opened thereby
and roused. Read the Gospels in particular ; you there find accounts
of sick and afflicted persons in every page as mementos. Above all,
you there read of Christ's sufferings, which I am not now called upon to
speak of ; but the thought of which is far more than enough to make
the world, bright as it may be, look dark and miserable in itself to all
true believers, even if the record of them were the only sorrowful part of
the whole Bible.

And now I conclude, bidding you think much of the Scripture history
in the light in which I have put it, — that you may not hereafter find
that you have missed one great benefit which it was graciously intended
to convey.



1 Cor. xiii. 11.

" When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a
child ; but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

When our Lord was going to leave the world and return to His Father,
He called His disciples orphans ; children, as it were, whom he had been
rearing, who were still unable to direct themselves, and were soon
to lose their Protector ; but He said, " I will not leave you comfortless
orphans, I will come to you ;"* meaning to say. He would come again
to them in the power of His Holy Spirit, who should be their present
all-sufficient Guide, though He Himself was away.. And we know,
from the sacred history, that when the Holy Spirit came, they ceased
to be the defenceless children they had been before. He breathed
into them a divine life, and gifted them with spiritual manhood, or
perfection, as it is called in Scripture. From that time forth, they put
away childish things ; they spake, they understood, they thought, as
those who had been taught to govern themselves ; and who, having
" an unction from the Holy One, knew all things."

That such a change was wrought in the Apostles, according to
Christ's promise, is evident from comparing their conduct before the
day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on them, and after.
I need not enlarge on their wonderful firmness and zeal in their Mas-
ter's cause afterwards. On the other hand it is plain from the Gospels,
that before the Holy Ghost came down, that is, while Christ was still
with them, they were as helpless and ignorant as children ; had no
clear notion what they ought to seek after, and how, and were carried
astray by their accidental feelings and their long-cherished prejudices.
What was it but to act the child, to ask how many times a fellow-
Christian should offend against us, and we forgive him, as St. Peter
did 1 or to ask to see the Father, with St. Philip ? or to propose to

* John liv. 13.


baild tabernacles on the mount, as if they were not to return to the
troubles of the world t or to dispute who should be the greatest 1"* or
to look for Christ's restoring at that time the temporal kingdom to
Israel ?f Natural as such views were in the case of half-instructed
Jews, they were evidently unworthy those whom Christ had made His,
that He might " present them perfect" before the throne of God.

Yet the first disciples of Christ at least put off their vanities once for
all, when the Spirit came upon them ; but as to ourselves, the Spirit
has long since been poured upon us, even from our earliest years; yet
it is a serious question, whether multitudes of us, even of those among
us who make a profession of religion, are even so far advanced in a
knowledge of the Truth as the Apostles were before the day of Pente-
cost. It may be a profitable employment to- day to consider this ques-
tion, as suggested by the text, — to inquire how far we have proceeded
in putting off such childish things as are inconsistent with a manly
honest profession of the G ospel.

Now, observe, I am not inquiring whether we are plainly living in
sin, in wilful disobedience ; nor even whether we are yielding through
thoughtlessness to sinful practices and habits. The condition of those
who act against their conscience, or who act without conscience, that
is, lightly and carelessly, is far indeed from bearing any resemblance
to that of the Apostles in the years of their early discipleship. I am
supposing you, my brethren, to be on the whole followers of Christ, to
profess to obey Him ; and I address you as those who seem to them-
selves to have a fair hope of salvation. I am directing your attention,
not to your sins, not to those faults and failings which you know to be
such, and are trying to conquer, as being confessedly evil in themselves,
but to such of your views, wishes, and tastes, as resemble those which
the Apostles cherished, true believers as they were, before they attained
their manhood in the Gospel : and I ask, how far you have dismissed
these from your minds as vain and trifling ; that is, how far you have
made what St. Paul in the text seems to consider the first step in the
true spiritual course of a Christian, on whom the Holy Ghost has de-

1. For example, Let us consider our love of the pleasures of life. I
am willing to allow there is an innocent love of the world, innocent in
itself. God made the world, and has sanctioned the general form of
human society, and has given us abundant pleasures in it ; I do not
say lasting pleasures, but still, while they last, really pleasures. It is
natural that the young should look with hope to the prospect before

• Matt. xvii. 4 ; xviii. 21 ; xx. 20. John xiv. 8. t Acts i. 6


them. They cannot help forming schemes what they will do when
they come into active life, or what they should wish to be had they
their choice. They indulge themselves in fancyings about the future,
which they know at the time cannot come true. At other times they
confine themselves to what is possible ; and then their hearts burn,
while they dream of quiet happiness, domestic comfort, independence.
Or, with bolder views, they push forward their fortunes into public life,
and indulge ambitious hopes. They fancy themselves rising in the
world, distinguished, courted, admired ; securing influence over others,
and rewarded with high station. James and John had such a dream
when they besought Christ that they might sit at His side in the most
honourable places in His kingdom.

Now such dreams can hardly be called sinful in themselves, and
without reference to the particular case ; for the gifts of wealth, power,
and influence, and much more of domestic comfort, come from God,
and may be religiously improved. But, though not directly censurable,
they are childish; childish either in themselves, or at least when
cherished and indulged ; childish in a Christian, who has infinitely
higher views to engross his mind ; and, as being childish, excusable
only in the young. They are an offence when retained as life goes
on ; but in the young we may regard them after the pattern of our
Saviour's judgment upon the young man who was rich and noble. He
is said to have " loved him ;" pitying (that is) and not harshly de-
nouncing the anticipations which he had formed of happiness from
wealth and power, yet withal not concealing from him the sacrifice of
all these which he must make, " if he would be perfect," that is, a
man, and not a mere child in the Gospel.

2. But there are other childish views and habits besides, which must
be put off", while we take on ourselves the full profession of a Christian ;
and these, not so free from intrinsic guilt as those which have been
already noticed ; — such as the love of display, greediness of the world's
praise, and the love of the comforts and luxuries of life. These, though
■wrong tempers of mind, still I do not now call by their hardest names,
because I would lead persons, if I could, rather to turn away from them
as unworthy a Christian, with a sort of contempt, out-growing them as
they grow in grace, and laying them'aside as a matter of course, while
they are gradually learning to " set their affections on things above,
not on things on the earth."

Children have evil tempers and idle ways which we do not deign to
speak seriously of. Not that we, in any degree, approve them or en-
dure them on their own account ; nay, we punish some of them ; but
we bear them in children, and look for their disappearing as the mind


becomes more mature. And so in religious matters there are many
habits and views, which we bear with in the unformed Christian, but
which we account disgraceful and contemptible should they survive
that time when a man's character may be supposed to be settled. Love
of display is one of these ; whether we are vain of our abiUties, or our
acquirements, or our wealth, or our personal appearance ; whether we
discover our weakness in talking much, or love of mp^naging, or again
in love of dress. Vanity, indeed, and conceit are always disagreeable,
for the reason that they interfere with the comfort of other persons, and
vex them ; but I am here observing, that they are in themselves odious,
when discerned in those who enjoy the full privileges of the Church, and
are by profession men in Christ Jesus, odious from their inconsistency
with Christian faith and earnestness.

And so with respect to the love of worldly comforts and luxuries,
(which, unhappily, often grows upon us rather than disappears from our
character,) whether or not it be natural in youth, at least, it is (if I
may so say) shocking in those who profess to be ♦' perfect," if we would
estimate things aright ; and this from its great incongruity with the
spirit of the Gospel. Is it not something beyond measure strange and
monstrous, (if we could train our hearts to possess a right judgment in
all things,) to profess that our treasure is not here, but in heaven with
Him who is ascended thither, and to own that we have a cross to bear
after Him, who first suffered before He triumphed ; and yet to set our-
selves deliberately to study our own comfort as some great and suffi-
cient end, to go much out of our way to promote it, to sacrifice any
thing considerable to guard it, and to be downcast at the prospect of
the loss of it ? Is it possible for a true son of the Church militant,
while " the ark, and Israel, and Judah abide in tents," and " the ser-
vants of his Lord are encamped in the open field," to " eat and drink"
securely, to wrap himself in the furniture of wealth, to feed his eyes
with " the pride of life," and complete for himself the measure of
this world's elegances ?

Again, all timidity, irresolution, fear of ridicule, weakness of purpose,
such as the Apostles showed when they deserted Christ, and Peter espe-
cially when he denied Him, are to be numbered among the tempers of
mind which are childish as well as sinful ; which we must learn to
despise, — to be ashamed at ourselves if we are influenced by them, and,
instead of thinking the conquest of them a great thing, to account it
as one of the very first steps towards being but an ordinary true be-
liever ; just as the Apostles, in spite of their former discipleship, only
commenced (surely) their Christian course at the day of Pentecost,
and then took to themselves a good measure of faith, boldness, zeal.


and self-mastery, not as some g^rcat proficiency and as a boast, but as
the very condition of their being Christians at all, as the elements of
spiritual life, as a mere outfitting, and a small attainment indeed in that
extended course of sanctification through which the Blessed Spirit is
wiUing to lead every Christian.

Now in this last remark I have given a chief reason for dwelling on
the subject before us. It is very common for Christians to make much
of what are but petty services ; first to place the very substance of re-
ligious obedience in a few meagre observances, or particular moral pre-
cepts which are easily complied with, and which they think fit to call
giving up the world ; and then to make a great vaunting, about their
having done what, in truth, every one who is not a mere child in Christ
ought to be able to do, to congratulate themselves upon their success,
ostentatiously to return thanks for it, to condemn others who do not
happen to move exactly along the very same line of minute practices in
detail which they have adopted, and in consequence to forget that, after
all, by such poor obedience, right though it be, still they have not ap-
proached even to a distant view of that point in their Christian course,
at which they may consider themselves, in St. Paul's words, to have
" attained" a sure hope of salvation ; — just as little children, when they
first have strength to move their limbs, triumph in every exertion of
their newly -acquired power, as in some great victory. To put off idle
hopes of earthly good, to be sick of flattery and the world's praise, to
see the emptiness of temporal greatness, and to be watchful against
self-indulgence ; these are but the beginnings of religion, these are but
the preparation of heart, which religious earnestness implies ; without
a good share of them, how can a Christian move a step ? How could
Abraham, when called of God, have even set out from his native place,
unless he had left off to think much of this world, and cared not for its
ridicule 1 Surely these attainments are but our first manly robe, show-
ing that childhood is gone ; and, if we feel the love and fear of the
world still active within our hearts, deeply must we be humbled, yes,
and alarmed ; and humbled even though but the traces remain of former
M^eaknesses. But even if otherwise, what thank have we ? See what the
•ipostles were, by way of contrast, and then you will see what is the
true life of the Spirit, the substance and full fruit of holiness. To love
our [brethren with a resolution which no obstacles can overcome, so as
almost to consent to an anathema on ourselves, if so be we may save
those who hate us, — to labour in God's cause against hope, and in the
midst of sufierings, — to read the events of life, as they occur, by the
interpretation which Scripture gives them, and that, not as if the lan-
guage were strange to us, but to do it promptly, — to perform all our


relative daily duties most watchfully, — to check every evil thought,
and bring the whole mind into captivity to the law of Christ, — to be
patient, cheerful, forgiving, meek, honest, and true, — to persevere in
this good work till death, making fresh and fresh advances towards per-
fection, — and after all, even to the end, to confess ourselves unprofitable
servants, nay, to feel ourselves corrupt and sinful creatures, who (with
all our proficiency) would still be lost unless God bestow on us His
mercy in Christ ; — these are some of the difficult realities of religious
obedience, which we must pursue, and which the Apostles in high mea-
sure attained, and which, we may well bless God's holy name, if He
enables us to make our own.

Let us then take it for granted, as a truth which cannot be gainsaid,
that to break with the world, and make religion our first concern, is,
only to cease to be children ; and, again, that in consequence, those
Christians who have come to mature years, and yet do not even so much
as this, are " in the presence of the Angels of God," an odious and un-
natural spectacle, a mockery of Christianity. I do not say what such
men are in God's sight, and what are their prospects for the next world ;
for that is a fearful thought, — and we ought to be influenced by motives
far higher than that mere slavish dread of future punishment to which
such a consideration would lead us.

But here some one may ask, whether I am not speaking severely in
urging so many sacrifices at the beginning of true Christian obedience.
In conclusion, then, I observe, in the first place, that I have not said a
word against the moderate and thankful enjoyment of this life's goods,
when they actually come in our way ; but against the wishing earnestly
for them, seeking them, and preferring them to God's righteousness,

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 23 of 76)