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men, it is true, are contented with partial and indistinct views of reli-
gion, and mixed motives. Be you content with nothing short of per-
fection ; exert yourselves day by day to grow in knowledge and grace ;
that, if so be, you may at length attain to the presence of Almighty

Lastly ; v;hile we thus labour to mould our hearts after the pattern
of the holiness of our Heavenly Father, it is our comfort to know, what
I have already implied, that we are not left to ourselves, but that the
Holy Ghost is graciously present with us, and enables us to triumph
over, and to change our own minds. It is a comfort and encourage-
ment, while it is an anxious and awful thing, to know that God works
in and through us.f We are the instruments, but we are only the in-
struments, of our own salvation. Let no one say that I discourage him,

* 1 Pet. iv. 18. + 1 PliU. ii. 12, 13.


and propose to him a task beyond his strength. All of us have the
gifts of grace pledged to us from our youth up. We know this well ;
but we do not use our privilege. We form mean ideas of the difficulty
of our duties, and in consequence never enter into the greatness of the
gifts given us to meet it. Then afterwards, if perchance we gain a
deeper insight into the work we have to do, we think God a hard
master, who commands much from a sinful race. Narrow, indeed, is
the way of life, but infinite is His love and power who is with the
Church, in Christ's place, to guide us along it.



Matthew xvi. 26.

" What shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?"

I SUPPOSE there is no tolerably-informed Christian but considers he
has a correct notion of the difference between our religion and the
paganism which it supplanted. Every one, if asked what it is we have
gained by the Gospel, will promptly answer, that we have gained the
knowledge of our immortality, of our having souls which will live for
ever ; that the heathen did not know this, but that Christ taught it, and
that His disciples know it. Every one will say, and say truly, that this
•was the great and solemn doctrine which gave the Gospel a claim to be
heard when first preached, which arrested the thoughtless multitudes,
who were busied in the pleasures and pursuits of this life, awed them
with the vision of the life to come, and sobered them till they turned to
God with a true heart. It will be said, and said truly, that this doctrine
of a future life was the doctrine which broke the power and the fascina-
tion of paganism. The poor benighted heathen were engaged in all
the frivolities and absurdities of a false ritual, which had obscured the
light of nature. They knew God, but they forsook Him for the inven-
tions of men ; they made protectors and guardians for themselves ; and
had " gods many and lords many."* They had their profane worship,
their gaudy processions, their indulgent creed, their easy observances,
their sensual festivities, their childish extravagances, such as might
suitably be the religion of beings who were to live for seventy or eighty
years, and then die once for all, never to live again. " Let us eat and
drink, for to-morrow we die," was their doctrine and their rule of life.
" To-morrow we die ;" — this the Holy Apostles admitted. They taught
so far as the heathen ; " To-morrow we die ;" but then they added,
" And after death the judgment ;" — ^judgment upon the eternal soul,

* 1 Cor. viii. 5.


which lives in spite of the death of the body. And this was the truth,
which awakened men to the necessity of having a better and deeper
reUgion than that which had spread over the earth, when Christ came, —
Avhich so wrought upon them that they left that old false worship of
theirs, and it fell. Yes ! though throned in all the power of the world,
a sight such as eye had never before seen, though supported by the
great and the many, the magnificence of kings and the stubbornness of
people, it fell. Its ruins remain scattered over the face of the earth ;
the shattered works of its great upholder, that fierce enemy of God, the
Pagan Roman Empire. Those ruins are found even among ourselves,
and show how marvellously great was its power, and therefore how
much more powerful was that which broke its power ; and tliis was
the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. So entire is the revolution
Avhich is produced among men, Avherever this high truth is really re-

I have said that every one of us is able fluently to speak of this doc-
trine, and is aware that the knowledge of it forms the fundamental
difference between our state and that of the heathen. And yet, in spite
of our being able to speak about it and our "form of knowledge,"* (as
St. Paul terms it,) there seems scarcely room to doubt, that the greater
number of those who are called Christians in no true sense realize it in
their own minds at all. Indeed it is a very difficult thing to bring home
to us ; and to feel that we have souls ; and there cannot be a more fatal
mistake than to suppose we see what the doctrine means, as soon as we
can use the words which signify it. So great a thing is it to under-
stand that we have souls, that the knowing it, taken in connexion with
its results, is all one with being serious, i. e. truly religious. To discern
our immortality is necessarily connected with fear and trembling and
repentance, in the case of every Christian. Who is there but would
be sobered by an actual sight of the flames of hell fire and the souls
therein hopelessly enclosed ? Would not all his thoughts be drawn to
that awful sight, so that he would stand still gazing fixedly upon it and
forgetting every thing else ; seeing nothing else, hearing nothing, en-
gi'ossed with the contemplation of it ; and when the sight was with-
drawn, still having it fixed in his memory, so that he would be hence-
forth dead to the pleasures and employments of this world, considered
in themselves, thinking of them only in their reference to that fearful
vision ? This would be the overpowering effect of such a disclosure,
whether it actually led a man to repentance or not. And thus absorbed
m the thought of the life to come are they who really and heartily re-

* * Rom. ii. 20,


ceive the words of Christ and His Apostles. Yet to this state of mind,
and therefore to this true knowledge, the multitude, of men called
Christian are certainly strangers ; a thick veil is drawn over their eyes ;
and in spite of their being able to talk of the doctrine, they are as if
they never had heard of it. They go on just as the heathen did of
old : they eat, they drink ; or they amuse themselves in vanities, and
live in the world, without fear and without sorrow, just as if God had
not declared that their conduct in this life would decide their destiny in
the next ; just as if they either had no souls, or had nothing or little to
do with the saving of them, which was the creed of the heathen.

Now let us consider what it is to bring home to ourselves that we
have souls, and in what the especial difficulty of it lies ; for this may
be of use to us in our attempt to realize that awful truth.

We are from our birth apparently dependent on things about us. We
see and feel that we could not live or go forward without the aid of
man. To a child this world is everything : he seems to himself a part
of this world, — a part of this world, in the same sense in which a branch
is part of a tree ; he has little notion of his own separate and indepen-
dent existence ; that is, he has no just idea he has a soul. And if he
goes through life with his notions unchanged, he has no just notion,
even to the end of life, that he has a soul. He views himself merely
in his connexion with this world, which is his all ; he looks to this
world for his good, as to an idol ; and when he tries to look beyond
this life, he is able to discern nothing in prospect, because he has no
idea of any thing, nor can fancy any thing, but this life. And if he is
obliged to fancy something, he fancies this life over again; just as the
heathen, when they reflected on those traditions of another life, which
were floating among them, could but fancy the happiness of the blessed
to consist in the enjoyment of the sun, and the sky, and the earth, as
before, only as if these were to be more splendid than they are now.

To understand that we have souls, is to feel our separation from
things visible, our independence of them, our distinct existence in our-
selves, our individuality, our power of acting for ourselves this way or
that way, our accountableness for what we do. These are the great
truths which lie wrapped up indeed even in a child's mind, and which
God's grace can unfold there in spite of the influence of the external
world ; but at first this outward world prevails. We look off from self
to the things around us, and forget ourselves in them. Such is our
state, — a depending for support on the reeds which are no stay, and
overlooking our real strength, — at the time when God begins His pro-
cess of reclaiming us to a truer view of our place in His great system
of providence. And when He visits us, then in a little while there is


a stirring within us. The unprofitableness and feebleness of the things
of this world are forced upon our minds ; they pfomise but cannot per-
form, they disappoint us. Or, if they do perform what they promise,
still, (so it is,) they do not satisfy us. We still crave for something,
we do not well know what ; but we are sure it is something which
the world has not given us. And then its changes are so many, so
sudden, so silent, so continual. It never leaves changing ; it goes on
to change, till we are quite sick at heart : — then it is- that our reliance
on it is broken. It is plain we cannot continue to depend upon it, un-
less we keep pace with it, and go on changing too ; but this we cannot
do. We feel that, while it changes, we are one and the same ; and
thus, under God's blessing, we come to have some glimpse of the mean-
ins of our independence of things temporal, and our immortality. And
should it so happen that misfortunes come upon us, (as they often do,)
then still more are we led to understand the nothingness of this world ;
then still more are we led to distrust it, and are weaned from the love
of it, till at length it floats before our eyes merely as some idle veil,
which, notwithstanding its many tints, cannot hide the view of what is
beyond it ; — and we begin, by degrees, to perceive that there are but
two beings in the whole universe, our own soul, and the God who
made it.

Sublime, unlooked-for doctrine, yet most true ! To every one of us
there are but two beings in the whole world, himself and God ; for, as
to this outward scene, its pleasures and pursuits, its honours and cares,
its contrivances, its personages, its kingdoms, its multitude of busy
slaves, Avhat are they to us 1 nothing — no more than a show : — " The
world passeth away and the lust thereof." And as to those others
nearer to us, who are not to be classed with the vain world, I mean
our friends and relations, whom we are right in loving, these, too, after
all, are nothing to us here. They cannot really help or profit us ; we
see them, and they act upon us, only (as it M^ere) at a distance, through
the medium of sense ; they cannot get at our souls ; they cannot enter
into our thoughts, or really be companions to us. In the next world it
will, through God's mercy, be otherwise : but here we enjoy, not their
presence, but the anticipation of what one day shall be ; so that, after
all, they vanish before the clear vision we have, first, of our own ex-
istence, next, of the presence of the great God in us, and over us, as
our Governor and Judge, who dwells in us by our conscience, which is
His representative.

And now consider what a revolution will take place in the mind that
is not utterly reprobate, in proportion as it realizes this relation between
itself and the most high God. We never in this life can fully under-
stand what is meant by our living for ever, but we can understand


what is meant by this world's not living for ever, by its dying never to
rise again. And learning this, we learn that we owe it no service, no
allegiance ; it has no claim over us, and can do us no material good
nor harm. On the other hand, the law of God written on our hearts
bids us serve Him, and partly tells us how to serve Him, and Scripture
completes the precepts which nature began. And both Scripture and
conscience tell us we are answerable for what we do, and that God is
a righteous Judge,; and, above all, our Saviour, as our visible Lord
God, takes the place of the world as the Only-begotten of the Father,
having shown Himself openly, that we may not say that God is hidden.
And thus a man is drawn forward by all manner of powerful influences
to turn from things temporal to things eternal, to deny himself, to take
up his cross and follow Christ. For there are Christ's awful threats
and warnings to make him serious. His precepts to attract and elevate
him, His promises to cheer him, His gracious deeds and sufferings to
humble him to the dust, and to bind his heart once and for ever in
gratitude to Him who is so surpassing in mercy. All these things act
upon him ; and, as truly as St. Matthew rose from the receipt of
custom when Christ called, heedless what bystanders would say of
him, so they who, through grace, obey the secret voice of God, move
onward contrary to the world's way, and careless what mankind may
say of them, as understanding that, they have souls, which is the one
thing they have to care about.

I am Avell aware that there are indiscreet teachers gone forth into
the world, who use language such as I have used, but mean something
very different. Such are they who deny the grace of baptism, and
think that a man is converted to God all at once. But I have no need
now to mention the difference between their teaching and that of
Scripture. Whatever their peculiar errors are, so far as they say that
we are by nature blind and sinful, and must, through God's grace and
our own endeavours, learn that we have souls and rise to a new life,
severing ourselves from the world that is, and walking by faith in what
is unseen and future, so far they say true, for they speak the words of
Scripture ; which says, " Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the
dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circum-
spectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days
are evil ; wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will
of the Lord is."*

Let us, then, seriously question ourselves, and beg of God grace to

do so honestly, whether we are loosened from the world ; or whether,

living as dependent on it, and not on the Eternal Author of our being,

we are in fact taking our portion with this perishing outward scene, and

* Eph. V. 14—17.


ignorant of our having souls. I know very well that such thoughts are
distasteful to the minds of men in general. Doubtless many a one there
is, who, on hearing doctrines such as I have been insisting on, says in
his heart, that religion is thus made gloomy and repulsive ; that he
would attend to a teacher who spoke in a less severe way ; and that
in fact Christianity was not intended to be a dark burdensome law, but
a religion of cheerfulness and joy- This is what young people think,
though they do not express it in this argumentative form. They view
a strict life as something offensive and hateful ; they turn from the
notion of it. And then, as they get older and see more of the world,
they learn to defend their opinion, and express it more or less in the
•way in which I have just put it. They hate and oppose the truth, as
it were upon principle ; and the more they are told that they have souls,
the more resolved they are to live as if they had not souls. But let us
take it as a clear point from the first, and not to be disputed, that religion
must ever be difficult to those who neglect it. All things that we have
to learn are difficult at first ; and our duties to God, and to man for His
sake, are peculiarly difficult, because they call upon us to take up a
new life, and quit the love of this world for the next. It cannot be
avoided ; we must fear and be in sorrow, before we can rejoice. The
Gospel must be a burden before it comforts and brings us peace. No
one can have his heart cut away from the natural objects of its love,
without pain during the process and throbbings afterwards. This is
plain from the nature of the case ; and, however true it be, that this or
that teacher may be harsh and repulsive, yet he cannot materially alter
things. Religion is in itself at first a weariness to the worldly mind,
and it requires an effort and a self-denial in every one who honestly
determines to be religious.

But there are other persons who are far more hopeful than those I
have been speaking of, who, when they hear repentance and newness
of life urged on them, are frightened at the thought of the greatness of
the work ; they are disheartened at being told to do so much. Now
let it be well understood, that to realize our own individual accountable-
ness and immortality, of which I have been speaking, is not required
of them all at once. I never said a person was not in a hopeful way
who did not thus fully discern the world's vanity and the worth of his
soul. But a man is truly in a very desperate way, who does not wish,
who does not try, to discern and feel all this. I want a man on the
one hand to confess his immortality with his lips, and on the other, to
live as if he tried to understand his own words, and then he is in the
way of salvation ; he is in the way towards heaven, even though he
has not yet fully emancipated himself from the fetters of this world.
Vol. L— 2


Indeed none of us (of course) are entirely loosened from this world.
We all use words, in speaking of our duties, higher and fuller than we
really understand. No one entirely realizes what is meant by his
having a soul ; even the best of men are but in a state ofprogress towards
the simple truth ; and the most weak and ignorant of those who seek
after it cannot but be in progress. And therefore no one need be
alarmed at hearing that he has much to do before he arrives at a right
view of his own condition in God's sight, i. e. at faith ; for we all have
much to do, and the great point is, are we willing to do it ?

Oh that there were such a heart in us, to put aside this visible world,
to desire to look at it as a mere screen between us and God, and think
of Him Avho has entered in beyond the veil, and who is watching us,
trying us, yes, and blessing, and influencing, and encouraging, us
towards good, day by day ! Yet, alas, how do we suffer the mere
varying circumstances of every day to sway us ! How difficult it is to
remain firm and in one mind under the seductions or terrors of the
world ! We feel variously according to the place, time, and people
we are with. We are serious on Sunday, and we sin deliberately on
Monday, We rise in the morning with remorse at our offences and
resolutions of amendment, yet before night we have transgressed again.
The mere change of society puts us into a new frame of mind ; nor do
we sufnciently understand this great weakness of ours, or seek for
strength where alone it can be found, in the Unchangeable God. What
will be our thoughts in that day, when at length this outward Avorld
drops away altogether, and we find ourselves where Ave ever have
been, in His presence, with Christ standing at His right hand !

On the contrary, what a blessed discovery is it to those who make
it, that this world is but vanity and without substance ; and that really
they are ever in their Saviour's presence. This is a thought which it
is scarcely right to enlarge upon in a mixed congregation, where there
may be some who have not given their hearts to God ; for why should
the privileges of the true Christian be disclosed to mankind at large,
and sacred subjects, which are his peculiar treasure, be made common
to the careless liver? He knows his blessedness, and needs not
another to tell it him. He knows in whom he has believed ; and in
the hour of danger or trouble he knows what is meant by that peace,
which Christ did not explain when He gave it to His Apostles, but
merely said it was not as the world could give.

" Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on
Thee, because he trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever,
for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength."* ■
* I-.!r,h xxvl. 3, 4.



John xiii. 17. ';
" If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."

There never was a people or an age to which these words could be more
suitably addressed than to this country at this time ; because we know
more of the way to serve God, of our duties, our privileges, and our re-
ward, than any other people hitherto, as far as we have the means of
judging. To us then especially our Saviour says, " If ye know these
things, happy are ye if ye do them. "

Now, doubtless, many of us think we know this very well. It seems a
very trite thing to say, that it is nothing to Tcnow what is right, unless
we do it ; an old subject about which nothing new can be said. When
we read such passages in Scripture, we pass over them as admitting them
Avithout dispute ; and thus we contrive practically to forget them.
Knowledge is nothing compared with doing ; but the knowing that
knowledge is nothing, we make to be something, we make it count, and
thus we cheat ourselves.

This we do in parallel cases also. Many a man instead of learning
humility in practice, confesses himself a poor sinner, and next iwides
himself upon the confession ; he ascribes the glory of his redemption to
God, and then becomes in a manner proud that he is redeemed. He is
proud of his so-called humihty.

Doubtless Christ spoke no words in vain. The Eternal Wisdom of
God did not utter His voice that we might at once catch up His words
in an irreverent manner, think we understand them at a glance, and pass
them over. But his word endureth for ever ; it has a depth of meaning
suited to all times and places, and hardly and painfully to be understood
in any. They, who think they enter into it easily, may be quite sure
tliey do not enter into it at all.

Now then let us try, by His grace, to make the text a^living word to
the benefit of our souls. Our Lord says, " If ye know, happy arc ye,
if ye do. " Let us consider Iioioayq; commonly read Scripture,


We read a passage in the Gospels, for instance, a parable perhaps, or
the account of a miracle ; or we read a chapter in the prophets, or a
psalm. Who is not struck with the beauty of what he reads 1 1 do not
wish to speak of those who read the Bible only now and then, and who
will in consequence generally find its sacred pages dull and uninterest-
ing ; but of those who study it. Who of such persons does not see the
beauty of it ? for instance, take the passage which introduces the text.
Christ had been washing His disciples' feet. He did so at a season of
great mental suffering ; it was just before He was seized by His enemies
to be put to death. The traitor. His familiar friend, was in the room.
All of his disciples, even the most devoted of them, loved Him much less
than they thought they did. In a little while they were all to forsake
Him and flee. This He foresaw ; yet he calmly washed their feet, and
then He told them that He did so by way of an example ; that they
should be full of lowly services one to the other, as He to them ; that
he among them was in fact the highest who put himself the lowest.
This he had said before ; and his disciples must have recollected it.
Perhaps they might wonder in their secret hearts why He repeated the
lesson ; they might say to themselves, "We have heard this before."
They might be surprised that His significant action. His washing their
feet, issued in nothing else than a precept already delivered, the com-
mand to be humble. At the same time they would not be able to deny,
or rather they would deeply feel, the beauty of His action. Nay, as
loving Him (after all,) above all things, and reverencing Him as their

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 76)