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lost ; the Church might have perished ; and, though Christ had died
for the world, the world might not have received the knowledge or the
benefits of His death The channels of grace might have been de-
stroyed, the Sacraments withdrawn from the feeble and corrupt race
which has such need of them.

Now it may be said, that many men suffer pain, as great as Martyr-
dom, from disease, and in other ways : again, that it does not follow
that those who happened to be martyred were always the most useful
and active defenders of the faith ; and therefore, that in honouring the
Martyrs, we are honouring with especial honour those to whom indeed,
we may be peculiarly indebted, (as in the case of Apostles,) but never-
theless who may have been but ordinary men, who happened to stand
in the most exposed place, in the way of persecution, and were slain as
if by chance, because the sword met them first. But this, it is plain,
would be a strange way of reasoning in any parallel case. We are
grateful to those who have done us favours, rather than to those who
might or would, if it had so happened. We have no concern with the
question, whether the Martyrs were the best of men or not, or whether

* 1 Tim. vi. 13. t 1 John iii. 16.


others would have been Martyrs too, had it been allowed them. We
are grateful to those who were such, from the plain matter of fact that
they were such, that they did go through much suffering, in order that
the world might gain an inestimable benefit, the light of the Gospel.

But, in truth, if we could view the matter considerately, we should
find that (as far as human judgment can decide on such a point) the
Martyrs of the primitive times were, as such, men of a very elevated
faith ; not only our benefactors, but far our superiors. The utmost to
which any such objection as that I have stated goes, is this : to show
that others who were not martyred, might be equal to them, (St. Philip
the Deacon, for instance, equal to his associate St. Stephen,) not that
those who were martyred were not men eminently gifted with the Spirit
of Christ. For let us consider what it was then to be a Martyr.

First, it was to be a voluntary suflferer. Men, perhaps, suffer in vari-
ous diseases more than the Martyrs did, but they cannot help them-
selves. Again, it has frequently happened that men have been perse-
cuted for their rehgion without having expected it, or being able to avert
it. These in one sense indeed are Martyrs ; and we naturally think
affectionately of those who have suffered in our cause, whether volun-
tarily or not. But this was not the case with the primitive Martyrs.
They knew beforehand clearly enough the consequences of preaching
the Gospel ; they had frequent warnings brought home to them of the
sufferings in store for them, if they persevered in their labours of
brotherly love. Their Lord and Master had suffered before them ; and,
besides suffering Himself, had expressly /ore/o7d f^etV sufterings : "If
they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."* They were
repeatedly warned and strictly charged by the chief priests and rulers,
not to preach in Christ's name. They had experience of lesser pun-
ishments from their adversaries in earnest of the greater ; and at length
they saw their brethren, one by one, slain for persevering in their faith-
fulness to Christ. Yet they continued to keep the faith, though they
might be victims of their obedience any day.

All this must be considered when we speak of their sufferings. They
lived under a continual trial, a daily exercise of faith, which we, hving
in peaceable times, can scarcely understand. Christ had said to His
Apostles, " Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as
wheat."! Consider what is meant by sifting, which is a continued
agitation, a shaking about to separate the mass of corn into two parts.
Such was the early discipline inflicted on the Church. No mere sudden
stroke came upon it ; but it was solicited day by day, in all its mem-

• John XV. 20. t Luke xxii. 31.

234 ST. STEPHEN. [Serm.

bers, by every argument of hope and fear, by threats and inducements,
to desert Christ. This was the lot of the Martyrs. Death, their final
suffering, was but the consummation of a Hfe of anticipated death.
Consider how distressing anxiety is ; how irritating and wearing it is to
be in constant excitement, with the duty of maintaining calmness and
steadiness in the midst of it ; and how especially inviting any prospect
of tranquillity would appear in such circumstances ; and then we shall
have some notion of a Christian's condition, under a persecuting hea-
then government. I put aside for the present the peculiar reproach
and contempt which was the lot of the primitive Church, and their ac-
tual privations. Let us merely consider them as harassed, shaken as
wheat in a sieve. Under such circumstances, the stoutest hearts are
in danger of failing. They could steel themselves against certain defi-
nite sufferings, or prepare themselves to meet one expected crisis ; but
they yield to the incessant annoyance which the apprehension of per-
secution, and the importunity of friends inflict on them. They sigh for
peace ; they gradually come to believe that the world is not so wrong
as some men say it is, and that it is possible to be over-strict and over-
nice. They learn to temporize and be double-minded. First one falls,
then another ; and such instances come as an additional argument for
concession to those that remain firm as yet, who of course feel dispir-
ited, lonely, and begin to doubt the correctness of their own judgment ;
while, on the other hand, those who have fallen in self-defence become
their tempters. Thus the Church is sifted, the cowardly falling off, the
faithful continuing firm, though in dejection and perplexity. Among
these latter are the Martyrs ; not accidental victims, taken at random,
but the picked and choice ones, the elect remnant, a sacrifice well-
pleasing to God, because a costly gift, the finest wheat-flour of the
Church : men who have been warned what to expect from their profes-
sion, and have had many opportunities of relinquishing it, but have
'* borne and had patience, and for Christ's name sake have laboured
and have not fainted."* Such was St. Stephen, not entrapped into a
confession and slain (as it were) in ambuscade, but boldly confronting
his persecutors, and, in spite of circumstances that foreboded death,
awaiting their fury. And if Martyrdom in early times was not the
chance and unexpected death of those who happened to profess the
Christian faith, much less is it to be compared to the sufferings of dis-
ease, be they greater or not. No one is maintaining that the mere un-
dergoing pain is a great thing. A man cannot help himself when in
pain ; he cannot escape from it, be he as desirous to do so as he may.

* Rev. ii. 3.


The devils bear pain, against their will. But to be a Martyr, is to feel
the storm coming, and willingly, to endure it at the call of duty, for
Christ's sake, and for the good of the brethren ; and this is a kind of
firmness which we have no means of displaying at the present day,
though our deficiency in it may be, and is continually evidenced, as
often as we yield (which is not seldom) to inferior and ordinary temp-

2. But, in the next place, the suffering itself of Martyrdom was in
some respects pecuHar. It was a death, cruel in itself, publicly in-
flicted ; and, heightened by the fierce exultation of a malevolent popu-
lace. When we are in pain, we can lie in peace by ourselves. We
receive the sympathy and kind services of those about us ; and if we
like it, we can retire altogether from the siglit of others, and suffer with-
out a witness to interrupt us. But the sufferings of Martyrdom were
for the most part public, attended with every circumstance of ignominy
and popular triumph, as well as with torture. Criminals indeed are put
to death without kindly thoughts from bystanders ; still, for the most
part, even criminals receive commiseration and a sort of respect. But
the early Christians had to endure " the shame" after their Master's
pattern. They had to die in the midst of enemies who reviled them,
and, in mockery, bid them (as in Christ's case) come down from the
cross. They were supported on no easy couch, soothed by no attentive
friends ; and considering how much the depressing power of pain de-
pends on the imagination, this circumstance alone at once separates
their sufferings widely from all instances of pain in disease. The un-
seen God alone was their Comforter, and this invests the scene of their
suffering with supernatural majesty, and awes us when we think of
them. '* Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil ; for Thou art with me."* A Martyrdom is a season
of God's especial power in the eye of faith, as great as if a miracle were
visibly wrought. It is a fellowship of Christ's sufferings, a commemo-
ration of His death, a representation filling up in figure, "that which is
behind of His afflictions, for His body's sake, which is the Church."f
And thus, being an august solemnity in itself, and a kind of Sacrament,
a baptism of blood, it worthily finishes that long searching trial which I
have already described as being its usual forerunner in primitive times.

I have spoken only of the early Martyrs, because this Festival leads
me to do so ; and, besides, because, though there have been Martyrs
among us since, yet, from the time that Kings have become nursing
fathers to the Church, the history of Confessors and Martyrs is so im-
plicated with state affairs, that their conduct is not so easily separable

* Psalm xxiii. 4. t Col. i. 24.

236 ST. STEPHEN. [Skrm. IV.

hy us from the world around them, nor are we given to know them so
clearly : though this difficulty of discerning them should invest their
memory with peculiar interest when we do discern them, and their con-
nection with civil matters, far from diminishing the high spiritual ex-
cellence of such true sons of the Church, in some respects even in-
creases it.

To conclude. — It is useful to reflect on subjects such as that I have
now laid before you, in order to humble ourselves. " We have not re-
sisted unto blood, striving against sin."* What are our petty suffer-
ings which we make so much of, to their pains and sorrows, who lost
their friends, and then their own lives for Christ's sake ; who were as-
saulted by all kind of temptations, the sophistry of Antichrist, the blan-
dishments of the world, the terrors of the sword, the weariness of sus-
pense, and yet fainted not ? How far above ours are both their afflic-
tions, and their consolations under them ! Now, I know that such re-
flections are at once, and with far deeper reason, raised by the thought
of the sufferings of Christ himself; but commonly, His transcendent
holiness and depth of wo do not immediately affect us, from the very
greatness of them. We sum them up in a few words, and speak with-
out understanding. On the other hand, we rise somewhat towards the
comprehension of them, when we make use of that heavenly ladder by
which His Saints have made their Avay towards Him. By contem-
plating the lowest of His true servants, and seeing how far any one of
them surpasses ourselves, we learn to shrink before His ineffable purity,
who is infinitely holier than the holiest of His creatures ; and to con-
fess ourselves with a sincere mind to be unworthy of the least of all His
mercies. Thus His Martyrs lead us to Himself, the Chief of jMartyrs
and the King of Saints.

May God give us grace to receive these thoughts into our hearts, and
to display the fruit of them in our conduct ! What are we but sinful
dust and ashes, grovellers who are creeping on to Heaven, not with any
noble sacrifice for Christ's cause, but without pain, without trouble, in
the midst of worldly blessings ! Well ; but He can save in the hum-
blest paths of life, and in the most tranquil times. There is enough
for us to do, far more than we fulfil, in our own ordinary course. Let
us strive to be more humble, faithful, merciful, meek, self-denying than
we are. Let us " crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts."f
This, to be sure, is sorry Martyrdom ; yet God accepts it for His Son's
sake. Not^vithstanding, after all, if we get to Heaven, surely we shall
be the lowest of the Saints there assembled ; and if all are unprofitable
servants, we verily shall be the most unprofitable of all.

* Heb. xii. 4. t Gal. v. 24.



1 John iv. 7.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.

St. John the Apostle and Evangelist is chiefly and most familiarly
known to us as " the disciple whom Jesus loved." He was one of the
three or four who always attended our Blessed Lord, and had the privi-
lege of the most intimate intercourse with Him ; and, more favoured
than Peter, James, and Andrew, he was His bosom friend, as we com-
monly express ourselves. At the solemn supper before Christ suffered,
he took his place next Him, and leaned on His breast. As the other
three communicated between the multitude and Christ, so St. John
communicated between Christ and them. At the Last Supper, Peter
dared not ask Jesus a question himself, but bade John put it to Him,
who it was that should betray Him. Thus St. John was the private
and intimate friend of Christ. Again, it was to St. John that our Lord
committed His Mother, when He was dying on the cross ; it was to
St. John that He revealed in vision after His departure the fortunes of
His Church.

Much might be said on this remarkable circumstance. I say remark-
hie, because it might be supposed that the Son of God Most High
could not have loved one man more than another ; or again, if so, that
He would not have had only one friend, but, as being All-holy, He
would have loved all men more or less, in proportion to their holiness.
Yet we find our Saviour had a private friend ; and this shows us, first
how entirely He was a man, as much as any of us, in His wants and
feelings ; and next, that there is nothing contrary to the spirit of the
Gospel, nothing inconsistent with the fulness of Christian love, m hav-
ing our affections directed in an especial way towards certain objects,
towards those whom the circumstances of our past Hfe, or some peculi-
arities of character, have endeared to us.

There have been men before now who have supposed Christian love


was so diffusive as not to admit of concentration upon individuals ; so
that we ought to love all men equally. And many there are, who,
without bringing forward any theory, yet consider practically that the
love of many is something superior to the love of one or two ; and
neglect the charities of private life, while busy in the schemes of an
expansive benevolence, or of effecting a general union and conciliation
among Christians. Now I shall here maintain, in opposition to such
notions of Christian love, and with our Saviour's pattern before me»
that the best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it
duly and wisely, is to cultivate an intimate friendship and affection
towards those who are immediately about us.

It has been the plan of Divine Providence to ground what is good
and true in religion and morals, on the basis of our good natural feel-
ings. What we are towards our earthly friends in the instincts and
wishes of our infancy, such we are to become at length towards God
and man in the extended field of our duties as accountable beings.
To honour our parents is the first step towards honouring God ; to love
our brethren according to the flesh, the first step towards considering
all men our brethren. Hence our Lord says, we must become as little
children, if we would be saved ; we must become in His Church, as
men, what we were once in the small circle of our youthful homes. —
Consider how many other virtues are grafted upon natural feelings.
What is Christian high-mindedness, generous self-denial, contempt of
wealth, endurance of suffering, and earnest striving after perfection,
but an improvement and transformation, under the influence of the
Holy Spirit, of that natural character of mind which we call romantic T
On the other hand, what is the instinctive hatred and abomination of
sin, (which confirmed Christians possess,) their dissatisfaction with
themselves, their general refinement, discrimination, and caution, but
an improvement, under the same Spirit, of their natural sensitiveness
and delicacy, fear of pain, and sense of shame 1 They have been chas-
tised into self-government, by a fitting discipline, and now associate an
acute sense of discomfort and annoyance with the notion of sinning.
And so of the love of our fellow Ciiristians and of the world at large, it
is the love of kindred and friends in a fresh shape ; which has this use,
if it had no other, that it is the natural branch on which a spiritual fruit
is grafted.

But again, the love of our private friends is the only preparatory
exercise for the love of others. The love of God is not the same thing
as the love of our parents, though parallel to it ; but the love of man-
kind in general should be in the main the same habit as the love of our
friends, only exercised towards different objects. The great difficulty


in our religious duties is their extent. This frightens and perplexes
men, — naturally ; those especially, who have neglected religion for a
while, and on whom its obligations disclose themselves all at once.
This, for example, is the great misery of leaving repentance till a man
is in weakness or sickness ; he does not know how to set about it. Now
God's merciful Providence has in the natural course of things narrowed
for us at first this large field of duty ; He has given us a clue. We
are to begin with loving our friends about us, and gradually to enlarge
the circle of our affections, till it reaches all Christians, and then all
men. Besides, it is obviously impossible to love all men in any strict
and true sense. What is meant by loving all men, is, to feel well-
disposed towards all men, to be ready to assist them, and to act towards
those who come in our way, as if we loved them. We cannot love
those about whom we know nothing ; except indeed we view them in
Christ, as the objects of His atonement, that is, rather in faith than in
love. And love, besides, is a habit, and cannot be attained without
actual practice, which on so large a scale is impossible. We see then
how absurd it is, when writers (as is the manner of some who slight
the Gospel,) talk magnificently about loving the whole human race
with a comprehensive affection, of being the friends of all mankind,
and the like. Such vaunting professions, what do they come to ? that
such men have certain benevolent feelings towards the world, — feelings
and nothing more ; — nothing more than unstable feelings, the mere
offspring of an indulged imagination, which exist only when their
minds are wrought upon, and are sure to fail them in the hour of need.
This is not to love men, it is but to talk about love. — The real love of
man jmist depend on practice, and therefore, must begin by exercising
itself on our friends around us, otherwise it will have no existence.
By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their
wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities,
by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling
on their excellences, and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form
in our hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may,
like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth. The vain
talkers about philanthropy, just spoken of, usually show the emptiness
of their profession, by being morose and cruel in the private relations
of life, which they seem to account as subjects beneath their notice.
Far different indeed, far different, (unless it be a sort of irreverence to
contrast such dreamers with the great Apostle, whose memory we are
to-day celebrating,) utterly the reverse of this fictitious benevolence
was his elevated and enlightened sympathy for all men. We know
he is celebrated for his declarations about Christian love. " Beloved,


let us love one another, for love is of God. If we love one another,
God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. God is love, and
he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."* Now did
he begin with some vast effort at loving on a large scale ? Nay, he
had the unspeakable privilege of being the friend of Christ. Thus he
was taught to love others ; first his affection was concentrated, then it
was expanded. Next he had the solemn and comfortable charge of
tending our Lord's Mother, the Blessed Virgin, after His departure.
Do we not here discern the secret sources of his especial love of the
brethren 1 Could he, who first was favoured with his Saviour's affec-
tion, then trusted with a son's office towards His Mother, could he be
other than a memorial and pattern (as far as man can be,) of love,
deep, contemplative, fervent, unruffled, unbounded ?

Further, that love of friends and relations, which nature prescribes,
is also of use to the Christian, in giving form and direction to his love
of mankind at large, and making it intelligent and discriminating. A
man, who would fain begin by a general love of all men, necessarily
puts them all on a level, and, instead of being cautious, prudent, and
sympathizing in his benevolence, is hasty and rude ; does harm, per-
haps when he means to do good, discourages the virtuous and well-
meaning, and wounds the feelings of the gentle. Men of ambitious
and ardent minds, for example, desirous of doing good on a large scale,
are especially exposed to the temptation of sacrificing individual to
general good in their plans of charity. Ill-instructed men, who have
strong abstract notions about the necessity of showing generosity and
candour towards opponents, often forget to take any thought of those
who are associated with themselves ; and commence their (so called)
liberal treatment of their enemies by an unkind desertion of their
friends. This can hardly be the case, when men cultivate the private
charities, as an introduction to more enlarged ones. By lading a foun-
dation of social amiableness, we insensibly learn to observe a due har-
mony and order in our charity ; we learn that all men are not on a
level ; that the interests of truth and holiness must be religiously ob-
served ; and that the Church has claims on us before the world. We
can easily afford to be hberal on a large scale, when we have no affec-
tions to stand in the way. Those who have not accustomed themselves
to love their neighbors whom they have seen, Avill have nothing to lose
or gain, nothing to grieve at or rejoice in, in their larger plans of bene-
volence. They will take no interest in them for their own sake ; rather,
they will engage in them, because expedience demands, or credit is

* 1 John iv. 7. 12. 16.


gained, or an excuse found for being busy. Hence too we discern
how it is, that private virtue is the only sure foundation of pubUc vir-
tue ; and that no national good is to be expected, (though it may now
and then accrue,) from men who have not the fear of God before their

I have hitherto considered the cuUivation of domestic affections as
the source of more extended Christian love. Did time permit, I might
now go on to show, besides, that they involve a real and difficult exer-
cise of it. Nothing is more likely to engender selfish habits, (which is
the direct opposite and negation of charity,) than independence in our
worldly circumstances. Men who have no tie on them, who have^no
calls on their daily sympathy and tenderness, who have no one's com-
fort to consult, who can move about as they please, and indulge the
love of variety and the restless humours which are so congenial to the
minds of most men, are very unfavourably situated for obtaining that
heavenly gift, which is described in our Liturgy, as being " the very
bond of peace and of all virtues." On the other hand I cannot fancy
any state of life more favourable for the exercise of high Christian
principle, and the matured and refined Christian spirit, (that is, where
the parties really seek to do their duty,) than that of persons who differ

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 27 of 76)