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in tastes and general character, being obliged by circumstances to live
together, and mutually to accommodate to each other their respective
wishes and pursuits. — And this is one among the many providential
benefits (to those who will receive them) arising out of the Holy Es-
tate of Matrimony ; which not only calls out the tenderest and gent-
lest feelings of our nature, but, where persons do their duty, must be
in various ways more or less a state of self-denial.

Or, again, I might go on to consider the private charities, which
have been my subject, not only as the sources and as the discipline of
Christian love, but further as the perfection of it ; which they are in
some cases. The Ancients thought so much of friendship, that they
made it a virtue. In a Christian view, it is not quite this ; but it is
often accidentally a special test of our virtue. For consider ; — let us say
that this man, and that, not bound by any very necessary tie, find their
greatest pleasure in living together ; say, that this continues for years,
and that they love each other's society the more, the longer they enjoy
it. Now observe what is implied in this. Young people, indeed, readi-
ly love each other, for they are cheerful and innocent ; more easily
yield to each other, and are full of hope ; — types, as Christ says, of
Hs true converts. But this happiness does not last; their tastes
change. Again, grown persons go on for years as friends ; but these
do not live together ; and, if any accident throws them into familiarity

Vol. I.— IG


for a while, they find it difficult to restrain their tempers and keep on
terms, and discover that they are best friends at a distance. But what
is it that can bind two friends together in intimate converse for a course
of years, but the participation in something that is Unchangeable and
essentially Good, and what is this but religion ? Pieligious tastes alone
are unalterable. The Saints of God continue in one way, while the
fashions of the world change ; and a faithful, indestructible friendship
may thus be a test of the parties so loving each other, having the love
of God seated deep in their hearts. Not an infallible test certainly ;
for they may have dispositions remarkably the same, or some ingross-
ing object of this world, literary or other ; they may be removed from
the temptation to change, or they may have a natural sobriety of tem-
per which remains contented wherever it finds itself. However, under
certain circumstances, it is a lively token of the presence of divine
grace in them ; and it is always a sort of symbol of it, for there is
at first sight something of the nature of virtue in the very notion of
constancy, dislike of change being not only the characteristic of a
virtuous mind, but in some sense a virtue itself.

And now I have suggested to you a subject of thought for to-day's
Festival, — and surely a very practical subject, when we consider how
large a portion of our duties lies at home. Should God call upon us
to preach to the world, surely we must obey His call ; but at present,
let us do what lies before us. Little children, let us love one another.
Let us be meek and gentle ; let us think before we speak ; let us try to
improve our talents in private life ; let us do good, not hoping for a re-
turn, and avoiding all display before men. Well may I so exhort you
at this season, when we have so lately partaken together the Blessed
Sacrament which binds us to mutual love, and gives us strength to
practise it. Let us not forget the promise we then made, or the grace
we then received. We are not our own ; we are bought with the blood
of Christ ; we are consecrated to be temples of the Holy Spirit, an
unutterable privilege, which is weight}- enough to sink us with shame
at our own unworthiness, did it not the while strengthen us by the aid
itself imparts, to bear its extreme costliness. May we hve worthy of
our calling, and realize in our own persons the Church's prayers and
professions for us !



Matt, xviii. 3.

Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the
kincfdom of Heaven.

The longer we live in the world, and the further removed we are from
the feelings and remembrances of childhood, (and especially if remov-
ed from the sight of children,) the more reason we have to recollect
our Lord's impressive action and word, when He called a little child
unto Him, and set him in the midst of His disciples, and said, " Verily
I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children,
ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. Whosoever, there-
fore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in
the kingdom of Heaven.'' And in order to remind us of this our Sa-
viour's judgmment, the Church, like a careful teacher, calls us back
year by year upon this day from the bustle and fever of the world.
She takes advantage of the Massacre of the Innocents recorded in St.
Matthew's gospel, to bring before us a truth which else we might think
little of ; to sober our wishes and hopes of this world, our high ambi-
tious thoughts, or our anxious fears, jealousies, and cares, by the pic-
ture of the purity, peace, and contentment which are the characteris-
tics of little children.

And, independently of the benefit thus accruing to us, it is surely
right and meet thus to celebrate the death of the Holy Innocents ; for
it was a blessed one. To be brought near to Christ, and to suffer for
Christ, is surely an unspeakable privilege ; to suffer any how, even
unconsciously. The little children whom He took up in His arms,
were not conscious of His loving condescension ; but was it no privilege
when he blessed them ? Surely this massacre had in it the nature of a
Sacrament ; it was a pledge of the love of the Son of God towards
those who were encompassed by it. All who came near Him, more


or less suffered by approaching Him, just as if earthly pain and trouble
went out of Him, as some precious virtue for the good of their souls ; —
and these infants in the number. Surely His very presence was a
Sacrament ; every motion, look, and word of His conveying grace to
those who would receive it ; and much more was fellowship with Him.
And hence in ancient times such barbarous murders or Martyrdoms
were considered as a kind of baptism, a baptism of blood, with a sacra-
mental charm in it which stood in the place of the appointed Laver of
regeneration. Let us then take these little children as in some sense
Martyrs, and see what instruction we may gain fiom the pattern of
their innocence.

There is very great danger of our becoming cold-hearted, as life
goes on ; afflictions which happen to us, cares, disappointments, all tend
to blunt our affections and make our feelings callous. That necessary
self-discipline, too, which St. Paul enjoins Timothy to practise, tends
the same way. And, again, the pursuit of wealth especially ; and
much more, if men so far openly transgress the word of Almighty
God, as to yield to the temptations of sensuality. The glutton and
the drunkard brutalize their minds, as is evident. And then further, we
are often smit with the notion of our having become greater and more
considerable persons than we were. If we are prosperous, for instance,
in worldly matters, if we rise in the scale of (what is called) society,
if we gain a name, if we change our state by marriage, or in any-
other way so as to create a secret envy in the minds of our companions,
in all these cases we shall be exposed to the temptation of pride. The
deference paid to wealth or talent commonly makes the possessor arti-
ficial, and difficult to reach ; glossing over his mind with a spurious
refinement, which deadens feeling and heartiness. Now, after all,
there is in most men's minds a secret instinct of reverence and affection
towards the days of their childhood. They cannot help sighing with
regret and tenderness when they think of it ; and it is graciously done
by our Lord and Saviour, to avail Himself (so to say) of this principle
of our nature, and, as He employs all that belongs to it, so to turn this
also to the real health of the soul. And it is dutifully done on the part
of the Church to follow the intimation given her by her Redeemer, and
to hallow one day every year, as if for the contemplation of His word
and deed.

If we wish to affect a person, and (if so be) humble him, what can
we do better than appeal to the memory of times past, and above all to
his childhood 1 Then it was that he came out of the hands of God,
with all lessons and thoughts of Heaven freshly marked upon him.
Who can tell how God makes the soul, or how he new-makes it ? We
know not. We know that, besides His part in the work, it comes inta


the world with the taint of sin upon it ; and that even regeneration,
which removes the curse, does not extirpate the root of evil. Whether
it is created in Heaven or hell, how Adam's sin is breathed into it,
together with the breath of life, and how the Spirit dwells in it, who
shall inform us? But this we know full well, — we know it from our
own recollection of ourselves, and our experience of children, — that
there is in the infant soul, in the first years of its regenerate state, a
discernment of the unseen world in the things that are seen, a realiza-
tion of what is Sovereign and Adorable, and an incredulity and igno-
rance about what is transient and changeable, which mark it as the fit
emblem of the matured Christian, when weaned from things temporal,
and Hving in the intimate conviction of the Divine Presence. I do
not mean of course that a child has any formed principle in his heart,
any habits of obedience, any true discrimination between the visible
and the unseen, such as God promises to reward, for Christ's sake, in
those who come to years of discretion. Never must we forget that, in
spite of his new birth, evil is within him, though in its seed only ; — but
he has this one great gift, that he seems to have lately come from God's
presence, and not to understand the language of this visible scene, or
how it is a temptation, how it is a veil interposing itself between the
soul and God. The simplicity of a child's ways and notions, his ready
belief of every thing he is told, his artless love, his frank confidence,
his confession of helplessness, his ignorance of evil, his inability to
conceal his thoughts, his contentment, his prompt forgetfulness of
trouble, his admiring without coveting ; and above all, his reverential
spirit, looking at all things about him as wonderful, as tokens and types
of the One Invisible, are all evidence of his being lately (as it were) a
visitant in a higher state of things. I would only have a person reflect
on the earnestness and awe with which a child listens to any descrip-
tion or tale ; or again, his freedom from that spirit of proud indepen-
dence, which discovers itself in the soul as time goes on. And though,
doubtless, children are generally of a weak and irritable nature, and
all are not equally amiable, yet their passions go and are over like a
^ower ; not interfering with the lesson we may gain to our own profit
from their ready faith and guilelessness.

The distinctness with which the conscience of a child tells him the
difference between right and wrong should also be mentioned. As
persons advance in life, and yield to the temptations which come upon
them, they lose this original endowment and are obliged to grope about
by the mere reason. If they debate whether they should act in this
way or that, and there are many considerations of duty and interest
involved in the decision, they feel altogether perplexed. Really and


truly, not from self-deception, but really they do not know how they
ought to act ; and they are obliged to draw out arguments, and take jl
great deal of pains to come to a conclusion. And all this, in many
cases at least, because they have lost through sinning a guide which
they originally had from God. Hence it is that St. John, in the Epistle
for the day, speaks of Christ's undefiled servants as " following the
Lamb whithersoever he goeth." They have the minds of children, and
are able by the light within them to decide questions of duty at once,
undisturbed by the perplexity of discordant arguments.

In what has already been said, it has been implied how striking a
pattern a child's mind gives us of what may be called a church temper.
Christ has so willed it, that we should get at the Truth, not by ingenious
speculations, reasonings, or investigations of our own, but by teaching.
The Holy Church has been set up from the beginning as a solemn re-
ligious fact, so to call it, — as a picture, a revelation of the next world,

as itself the Christian Dispensation, and so in one sense the witness of
its own divinitvi as is the Natural World. Now, those who in the first
place receive her words, have the minds of children, who do not reason,
but obey, their mother ; and those who from the first refuse, as clearly
fall short of children in that they trust their own powers for truth,
rather than informants which are external to them.

In conclusion, I shall but remind you of the difference, on the other
hand, between the state of a child and that of a matured Christian ;
though this difference is almost too obvious to be noticed. St. John
says, " He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous;"
and again, " Every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him."*
Now it is plain a child's innocence has no share in this higher blessed-
ness. He is but a type of what is at length to be fulfilled in him.
The chief beauty of his mind is on its mere surface ; and when as
time goes on, he attempts to act, (as is his duty to do,) instantly it dis-
appears. It is only while he is still, that he is like a tranquil water, re-
flecting Heaver. Therefore, we must not lament that our youthful
days are gone, or sigh over the remembrances of pure pleasures and
contemplations which we cannot recall ; rather, what we were when
children, is a blessed intimation, given for our comfort, of what God
will make us, if we surrender our hearts to the guidance of His Holy
Spirit, — a prophecy of good to come, — a foretaste of what will be ful-
filled in heaven. And thus it is that a child is a pledge of immortality ; .
for he bears upon him in figure those high and eternal excellences in
which the joy of heaven consists ; and which would not be thvs sba-

* 1 John iii, 7. ii. 29.


dowed forth by the All-gracious Creator, were they not one day to be
realized. Accordingly, our Church, for the Epistle for this Festival,
selects St. John's description of the Saints in glory.

As then we would one day reign with them, let us in this world learn
the mind of little children, as the same Apostle describes it : " My
little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed
and in truth. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and
every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that
loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love."*



Matt. iii. 15. '1
Suffer it to be so now ; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.

Whex our Lord came to John to be baptized. He gave this reason for
it, " Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness ;" which seems to
mean, — " it is becoming in Me, the expected Christ, to conform in all
respects to all the rites and ceremonies of Judaism, to every thing
hitherto accounted sacred and binding." Hence it was that He came
to be baptized, to show that it was not His intention in any way to
dishonour the Established Religion, but to fulfil it even in those parts of
it (such as Baptism) which were later than the time of Moses ; and
especially to acknowledge thereby the mission of John the Baptist, His
forerunner. And those ordinances which Moses himself was commis-
sioned to appoint, had still greater claim to be respected and observed.
It was on this account that He was circumcised, as we this day com-
memorate ; in order, that is, to show that he did not renounce the reli-

* 1 John iii. 18. iv. 7,8.


gion| of Abraham, to whom God gave circumcision, or of Moses, by
whom it was embodied in the Jewish Law.

We have other instances in our Lord's history, besides tJiose of His
circumcision and baptism, to show the reverence with which He
regarded the religion which he came to fulfil. St. Paul speaks of Him
as " born of a woman, born under the Law,"* and it was His custom to
observe that Law, like any other Jew. For instance, He went up to
the feasts at Jerusalem ; He sent the persons He had cured to the
priests, to ofigr the sin-offering commanded by Moses; He paid the
Temple-tax ; and again, He attended as "a custom" the worship of the
synagogue, though this had been introduced in an age long after
Moses ; and He even bade the multitudes obey the Scribes and Phari-
sees in all lawful things, as those who sat in Moses' place.f

Such was our Saviour's dutiful attention to the religious system
under which he was born ; and that, not only so far as it was directly
divine, but further, where it was the ordinance of uninspired though
pious men, where it was but founded on ecclesiastical authority. His
Apostles followed His pattern ; and this is still more remarkable : —
because after the Holy Spirit had descended, at first sight it would have
appeared that all the Jewish Ordinances ought at once to cease. But
this was far from being the doctrine of the Apostles. They taught
indeed that the Jewish rites were no longer of any use in obtaining
God's favour ; that Christ's death was now set forth as the full and
sufficient Atonement for sin, by that Infinite Mercy who had hitherto
appointed the blood of the sacrifices as in some sort means of propi-
tiation ; and, besides, that every convert who turned from Christ back
to Moses, or who imposed the Jewish rites upon his brethren as neces-
sary to salvation, was grievously erring against the Truth. But they
neither abandoned the Jewish rites themselves, nor obliged any others
to do so who were used to them. Custom was quite a sufficient rea-
son for retaining them ; every Christian was to remain in the state in
which he was called ; and in the case of the Jew, the practice of them
did not necessarily interfere with a true and full trust in the Atone-
ment which Christ had offered for sin.

St. Paul, we know, was the most strenuous opposer of those who
would oblige the Gentiles to become Jews, as a previous step to their
becoming Christians. Yet, decisive as he is against all attempts to
force the Gentiles under the rites of Law, he never bids the Jews
renounce them, rather he would have them retain them ; leaving it for
a fresh generation, who had not been born under them, to discontinue

* Gal. iv. 4, t Malt, xxiii. 2, 3


them ; so that the use of them might gradually die away. Nay, he
himself circumcised Timothy, when he chose him for his associate ; in
order that no offence might be given to the Jews.* And how freely
he adhered to the Law in his own person, we learn from the same
inspired history ; for instance, we hear of his shaving his head, as
having been under a vow,"!" according to the Jewish custom.

Now from this obedience to the Jewish Law, enjoined and displayed
by our Blessed Lord and His Apostles, we learn the great importance
of retaining those religious forms to which we are accustomed, even
though they are in themselves indifferent, or not of divine origin ; and,
as this is a truth which is not well understood by the world at large, it
may be of use to make some observations upon it.

We sometimes meet v/ith men, who ask why we observe these or
those ceremonies or practices ; why, for example, we use Forms of
prayer so cautiously and strictly, or why we persist in kneeling at the
Sacrament of the Lord's Supper ? why in bowing at the name of
Jesus ? or why in celebrating the public worship of God only in con-
secrated places ? why we lay such stress upon these things ? These
and many such questions may be asked, and all with this argument ;
" They are indifierent matters, we do not read of them in the Bible."

Now the direct answer to this objection is, that the Bible was never
intended to enjoin us these things, but viatiers of faith ; and that
though it happens to mention our practical duties, and some points of
form and discipline, still, that it does not set about telling us v/hat to
do, but chiefly what to believe ; and that there are many duties and
many crimes which are not mentioned in Scripture, and Avhich we
must find out by our own understanding, enlightened by God's Holy
Spirit. For instance, there is no prohibition of suicide, duelling,
gaming, in Scripture ; yet we know them to be great sins ; and it
would be no excuse in a man to say that he does not find them for-
bidden in Scripture, because he may discover God's will in this matter
independently of Scripture. And in like manner various matters of
form and discipline are binding, though Scripture says nothing about
them ; for we learn the duty in another way. No matter how we
learn God's will, whether from Scripture or Antiquity, or what St.
Paul calls " Nature," so that we can be sure it is His will. Mat-
ters of faith indeed He reveals to us by inspiration, because they are
supernatural ; but matters of moral duty, through our own conscience
and divinely guided reason ; and matters of form, by tradition and
long usage, which bind us to the observance of them, though they are

* Acts xvi. 1—3. t Acts xviii. 18.


not enjoined in Scripture. This, I say, is the proper answer to the
question, " Why do you observe rites and forms which are not enjoined
in Scripture ?" though, to speak the truth, our chief ordinances are to
be found there, as the Sacraments, Pubhc Worship, the Observance of
the Lord's day. Ordination, Marriage, and the hke. But I shall make
another answer, which is suggested by the event commemorated this
day, our Lord's conforming to the Jewish Law in the rite of circum-
cision ; and my answer is this.

Scripture tells us what to believe, and what to aim at and maintain,
but it does not tell us how to do it ; and as we cannot do it at all un-
less we do it in this manner or that, fact we must add something^
to what Scripture tells us. For example. Scripture tells us to meet
together for prayer, and has connected the grant of the Christian bless-
ings on God's part, with the observance of union on ours ; but since it
does not tell us the times and places of prayer, the Church must com-
plete that which Scripture has but enjoined generally. Our Lord has
instituted two Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper ; but has
not told us, except generally, with what forms we are to administer
them. Yet we cannot administer them without some sort of prayers;
whether we use always the same, or not the same, or unpremeditated
prayers. And so with many other solemn acts, such as Ordination, or
Marriage, or Burial of the dead, it is evidently pious, and becomes
Christians to perform them decently and in faith ; yet how is this to
be done, unless the Church sanctions Forms of doing it 1

The Bible then may be said to give us the s-pirit of religion ; but the
Church must provide the body in which that spirit is to be lodged.
Religion must be realized in particular acts, in order to its continuing^
alive. Religionists, for example, who give up the Church rites, are
forced to recall the strict Judaical Sabbath. There is no such thing
as abstract religion. When persons attempt to worship in this (what
they call) more spiritual manner, they end, in fact, in not worshipping
at all. This frequently happens. Every one may know it from his
own experience of himself. Youths, for instance, (and perhaps those
who should know better than they,) sometimes argue with themselves,
" What is the need of praying statedly morning and evening ? why
use a form of words ? why kneel 1 why cannot I pray in bed, or walk-
ing, or dressing ?" they end in not praying at all. Again, what will
the devotion of the country people be, if we strip religion of its external

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 28 of 76)