John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 31 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 31 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

suality debases it to a brutal nature. The Holy Spirit is quenched by
open transgressions of conscience and contempt of His authority. But,
when men err in ignorance, following closely their own notions of right
and wrong, though these notions are mistaken, — great as is their sin, if
they might have possessed themselves of truer notions, — (and very great
as was St. Paul's sin, because he certainly might have learned from the
Old Testament far clearer and diviner doctrine than the tradition of the

* Acts xxiii. 1, xxvi. 5 ; Phil. iii. 6. j Matt, xxiii. 25. 27.

I John xii. 43. II 1 Cor. i. 22. § Acts xvii. 32.


Pharisees,) yet such men are not left by the God of all grace. God
leads them on to the hght, in spite of their errors in faith, if they con-
tinue strictly to obey what they believe to be His will. And, to declare
this comfortable truth to us, St. Paul was thus carried on by the Provi-
dence of God, and brought into the hght by miracle ; that we may learn,
by a memorable instance of His grace, what He ever does, though He
does not in ordinary cases thus declare it openly to the world.

Who has not felt a fear lest he be wandering from the true doctrine
of Christ ? Let him cherish and obey the holy light of conscience
within him, as Saul did ; let him carefully study the Scriptures, as Saul
did not ; and the God who had mercy even on the persecutor of His
saints, will assuredly shed His grace upon him, and bring him into the
truth as it is in Jesus.




Luke xviii. 20.
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.

We commemorate on this day the Presentation of Christ in the Tem]
pie, according to the injunction of the Mosaic Law, as laid down in the
thirteenth chapter of the book of Exodus and the twelfth of Leviticus.
When the Israelites were brought out of Egypt, the first-born of the
Egyptians (as we all know) were visited by death, " from the first-born
of Pharaoh that sat on his throne, unto the first-born of the captive that
was in the dungeon ; and all the first-born of cattle."* Accordingly,
in thankful remembrance of this destruction, and their own deliverance,
every male among the Israelites, who was the first-born of his mother,
was dedicated to God ; likewise, every first-born of cattle.J Afterwards,

* Exod. xii. 29.


tj;ie Levites were taken, as God's peculiar possession, instead of the first-
born :* but still the first-born were solemnly brought to the Temple at a
certain time from their birth, presented to God, and then redeemed or
bouo-ht off at a certain price. At the same time certain sacrifices were
offered for the mother, in order to her purification after child-birth ; and
therefore to-day's Feast, in memory of Christ's Presentation in the
Temple, is commonly called the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Our Saviour was born without sin. His Mother, the Blessed Virgin
Mary, need have made no offering, as requiring no purification. On
the contrary, it M'as that very birth of the Son of God which sanctified
the whole race of woman, and turned her curse into a blessing. Never-
theless, as Christ Himself was minded to " fulfil all righteousness," to
obey all the ordinances of the covenant under which He was born, so
in like manner his Mother Mary submitted to the Law, in order to do
it reverence.

This then is the event in our Saviour's infancy, which we this day
celebrate ; His presentation in the Temple, when His Virgin INIother
was ceremonially purified. It was made memorable at the time by the
hymns and praises of Simeon and Anna, to whom He was then revealed.
And there were others, besides these, who had been " looking for re-
demption in Jerusalem," w^ho were also vouchsafed a sight of the Infant
Saviour. But the chief importance of this event consists in its being a
fulfilment of prophecy. Malachi had announced the Lord's visitation
of His Temple in these words, " The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly
come to His Temple ;"t words which, though variously fulfilled during
His Ministry, had their first accomplishment in the humble ceremony
commemorated on this day. And, when we consider the grandeur of
the prediction, and how unostentatious this accomplishment was, we are
led to muse upon God's ways, and to draw useful lessons for ourselves.
This is the reflection which I propose to make upon the subject of this

I say, we are to-day reminded of the noiseless course of God's provi-
dence, His tranquil accomplishment, in the course of nature, of great
events long designed ; and again, the suddenness and stillness of His
visitations. Consider what the occurrence in question consists in. A
little child is brought to the Temple, as all first-born children were
brought. There is nothing here uncommon or striking, so far. His
parents are with him, poor people, bringing the offering of pigeons or
doves, for the purification of the mother. They are met in the Temple
by an old man, who takes the child in his arms, offers a thanksgiving to

* Numb. iii. 12, 13. t Mai. iii. 1.


God, and blesses the parents ; and next are joined by a woman of a
great age, a widow of eighty-four years, who had exceeded the time of
useful service, and seemed to be but a fit prey for death. She gives
thanks also, and speaks concerning the child to other persons who are
present. Then all retire.

Now, there is evidently nothing great or impressive in this : nothing
to excite the feelings, or interest the imagination. We know what the
world thinks of such a group as I have described. The weak and help-
less, whether from age or infancy, it looks upon negligently and passes
by. Yet all this that happened was really the solemn fulfilment of an
ancient and emphatic prophecy. The infant in arms was the Saviour
of the world, the rightful heir, come in disguise of a stranger to visit
His own house. The Scripture had said, " The Lord whom you seek,
shall suddenly come to his Temple, but who may abide the day of his
coming, and v»'ho may stand when he appeareth ? " He had now taken
possession. And further, the old man, who took the child in his arms,
had upon him gifts of the Holy Ghost, had been promised the blessed
sight of his Lord before his death, came into the Temple by heavenly
guidance, and now had within him thoughts unutterable, of joy, thank-
fulness, and hope, strangely mixed with awe, fear, painful wonder, and
" bitterness of spirit." Anna too, the woman of fourscore and four
years, was a prophetess ; and the bystanders, to whom she spoke, were
the true Israel, who were looking out in faith for the predicted redemp-
tion of mankind, those who (in the words of the prophecy,) " sought "
and in prospect " delighted" in the " Messenger" of God's covenant of
mercy. " The glory of this latter House shall be greater than of the
former,"* Avas the announcement of another prophecy. Behold the
glory ; a little child and his parents, two aged persons, and a congre-
gation without name or memorial. " The Kingdom of God cometh not
Avith observation."

Such has ever been the manner of His visitations, in the destruction
of His enemies as well as in the deliverance of His own people ; — silent,
sudden, unforeseen, as regards the world, though predicted in the face
of all men, and in their measure comprehended and waited for by His
true Church. Such a visitation was the flood ; Noah, a preacher of
righteousness, but the multitude of sinners judicially blinded. "They
did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage,
until the day that Noe entered into the Ark, and the flood came and
destroyed them all." Such was the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah.
" Likewise as it was in the days of Lot ; they did eat ; they drank,

* Hagg. ii. 9.


they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded ; but the same day
that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from Heaven,
and destroyed them all ;"* Agai n, " The horse of Pharaoh went in with
his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea; and the Lord brought
again the waters of the sea upon them."f The overthrow of Sennacherib
was also silent and sudden, when his vast army least expected it ; " The
Angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians
a hundred fourscore and five thousand.":}: Belshazzar and Babylon
were surprised in the midst of the king's great feast to his thousand
lords. While Nebuchadnezzar boasted, his reason was suddenly taken
from him. While the multitude shouted with impious flattery at
Herod's speech, then " the Angel of the Lord smote him, because he
gave not God the glory. "§ Whether we take the first or the final judg-
ment upon Jerusalem, both visitations were foretold as sudden. Of the
former, Isaiah had declared it siiould come ^^ suddenly, at an instant ;"||
of the latter, Malachi, " The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come
to his Temple." And such too will be His final visitation of the whole
earth : men will be at their work in the city and in the field, and it will
overtake them like a thunder-cloud. "Two women shall be grinding
together ; the one shall be taken and the other left. Two men shall
be in the field ; the one shall be taken and the other left. "IT

And it is impossible that it should be otherwise, in spite of warnings
ever so clear, considering how the world goes on in every age. Men,
■who are plunged in the pursuits of active life, are no judges of its
course and tendency on the whole. They confuse great events with
little, and measure the importance of objects as in perspective by the
mere standard of nearness or remoteness. It is only at a distance
that one can take in the outlines and features of a whole country. It
is but holy Daniel, solitary among princes, or Elijah the recluse of
Mount Carmel, who can withstand Baal, or forecast the time of God's
providences among the nations. To the multitude all things continue
to the end, as they were from the beginning of the creation. The
business of state affairs, the movements of society, the course of nature,
proceed as ever, till the moment of Christ's coming. " The sun was
risen upon the earth," bright as usual, on that very day of wrath in
"which Sodom was destroyed. Men cannot believe their own time is
an especially wicked time ; for, with Scripture unstudied and hearts un-
trained in holiness, they have no standard to compare it with. They
take warning from no troubles, or perplexities ; which rather carry

* Luxe xvn. 27—29. t Exod. xv. 19. t Is. xxxvii, 36.

§ Acts. xii. 23. 1| Is. xxx. 13. IT Luke xvii. 35, 36.


them away to search out the earthly causes of them, and the possible
remedies. They consider them as conditions of this world, necessary
results of this or that state of society. When the power of Assyria be-
came great, (we might suppose) the Jews had a plain call to repentance.
Far from it ; they were led to set power against power, they took refuge
against Assyria in Egypt their old enemy. Probably they reasoned
themselves into what they considered a temperate, enlightened, cheerful
view of national affairs ; perhaps they might consider the growth of
Assyria as an advantage rather than otherwise, as balancing the power
of Egypt, and so tending to their own security. Certain it is, we find
them connecting themselves first with one kingdom, and then with the
other, as men who could read (as they thought) " the signs of the times,"
and made some pretences to political wisdom. Thus the world pro"
ceeds till wrath comes upon it and there is no escape. " To-morrow, '
they say, *' Shall be as this day, and much more abundant."*

And in the midst of this their revel, whether of sensual pleasure, or
of ambition, or of covetousness, or of pride and self-esteem, the decree
goes forth to destroy. The decree goes forth in secret ; Angels hear
it, and the favoured few on earth ; but no public event takes place to
give the world warning. The earth was doomed to the flood one
hundred and twenty years before the " decree brought forth,"f or men
heard of it. The waters of Babylon had been turned, and the con-
queror was marching into the city, when Belshazzar made his great
feast. Pride infatuates man, and self-indulgence and luxury Avork
their way unseen, — like some smouldering fire, which for a v/hile leaves
the outward form of things unaltered. At length the decayed mass
cannot hold together, and breaks by its own weight, or on some slight
and accidental external violence. As the Prophet says ; " This iniquity
shall be to your as a breach ready to fall, swelling out (or bulging) in a
high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.'^ The same
inward corruption of a nation seems to be meant in our Lord's words,
when He says of Jerusalem ; " Wheresoever the carcass is, there will
the eagles be gathered together.":]:

Thoughts, such as the foregoing, are profitable at all times ; for in
€very age the world is profane and blind, and God hides His Providence,
yet carries it forward. But they are peculiarly apposite now, in pro-
portion as the present day bears upon it more marks than usual of pride
and judicial blindness. Whether Christ is at our doors or not, but
a few men in England may have grace enough safely to conjecture
but that He is calling upon us all to prepare as for His coming, is most

* Is. Ivi. 12. + Zeph. ii. 2. + Matt. xxiv. 28.

Vol. I.— 18


evident to those who have religious eyes and ears. Let us then turn
this Festival to account, by taking it as the Memorial-day of His visita-
tions. Lot us from the events it celebrates, lay up deep in our hearts
the recollection, how mysteriously little things are in this world con-
nected with great, how single moments, improved or wasted, arc the
salvation or ruin of all-important interests. Let us bear the thought
upon us, when we come to worship in God's House, that any such sea-
son of service may, for what we know, be wonderfully connected with
some ancient purpose of His, announced before we were born, and have
its determinate bearing on our eternal welfare ; let us fear to miss the
Saviour, while Simeon and Anna find Him. Let us remember that
He was not manifested again in the Temple, except once, for thirty
years, while a whole generation, who were alive at His first visitation,
died off in the interval. Let us carry this thought into our daily con-
duct ; considering that, for what we know, our hope of salvation may
in the event materially depend on our avoiding this or that momentary
sin. And further, from the occurrences of this day, let us take comfort,
when we despond about the state of the Church. Perhaps we see not
(jJod's tokens ; we see neither prophet nor teacher remaining to His
people ; darkness falls over the earth, and no protesting voice is heard.
Yet, granting things to be at the very worst, yet when Christ was pre-
sented in the Temple, the age knew as little of it, as it knows of His
Providence now. Rather, the worse our condition is, the nearer to us
is the Advent of our Dehverer. Even though He is silent, doubt not
that His army is on the march towards us. He is coming through the
sky, and has even now His camp upon the outskirts of our own world.
Nay, though He still for a while keep His seat at His Father's right
hand, yet surely He sees all that is going on, and waits and will not
fail His hour of vengeance. Shall He not hear His own elect, when
they cry day and night to Him? His services of prayer and praise
continue, and are scorned by the multitude. Day by day, Festival by
Festival, Fast after Fast, Season by Season, they continue according to
His ordinance and are scorned. But the greater His delay, the heavier
will be His vengeance, and the more complete the deliverance of His

May the good Lord save His Church, in this her hour of peril ; when
Satan seeks to sap and corrupt where he dare not openly assault ! May
He raise up instruments of His grace, " not ignorant" of the devices
of the Evil One, with seenfting eyes, and strong hearts, and vigorous
arms to defend the treasure of the faith once committed to the Saints,
an i to rouse and alarm their slumbering brethren ! " For Sion's sake
will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until


the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof
as a lamp that burncth .... Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep
not silence, and give him no rest, till he establish, and till He make
Jerusalem a in the earth .... Go through, go through the gates ;
prepare ye the way of the people, cast up, cast up the highway, gather
out the stones, lift up the standard for the people."* Thus does Al-
mighty God address His " watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem ;" and
to the Church herself He says, to our great comfort: " No weapon that
IS formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise
against thee in juigment, thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of
the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the



Rev iii. 11.
Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

This is the only Saint's-day Avhich is to be celebrated with mingled
feelings of joy and pain. It records the fall, as well as the election of
an Apostle. St. Matthias was chosen in the place of the traitor Judas.
In the history of the latter we have the warning recorded in very deed
which our Lord in the next gives us in word, " Hold that fast which
thou hast, that no man take thy crown." And doubtless many were
the warnings such as this, addressed by our Lord to the wretched man
who in the end betrayed him. Not only did He call him to reflection
and repentance by the hints which He let drop concerning Him during
the Last Supper, but in the discourses previous to it, He may be supposed
to have intended a reference to the circumstances of His apostate dis-
ciple. " Watch ye, therefore," He said, " lest coming suddenly, He

* Isa. Ixii. 1.6, 7. 10, f Isa. liv. 17.

276 ST. MATTHIAS. [Serm.

find you sleeping." — I called Judas just now wretched; for we must not
speak of sinners according to tiie falsely-charitable way of some, styling
them unfortunate instead of wicked, lest we thus learn to excuse sin in
ourselves. He was doubtless inexcusable, as we shall bo, if we follow
his pattern ; and he must be viewed, not with pity, but with fear
and awe.

The reflection which rises in the mind on a consideration of the
election of St. Matthias, is this ; how easily God may effect His pur-
poses without us, and put others in our place, if we are disobedient to
Him. It often happens that those who have long been in His favour
grow secure and presuming. They think their salvation certain, and
their service necessary to Him who has graciously accepted it. They
consider themselves as personally bound up with His purposes of mercy
manifested in the Church ; and so marked out, that, if they could fall.
His word would fail. They come to think they have some peculiar
title or interest in His promises, over and above other men, (however
derived, it matters not, whether from His eternal decree, or on the other
hand from their own especial holiness and obedience,) but practically
such an interest, that the very supposition that they can possibly fall
offends them. Now this feeling of self-importance is repressed all
through the Scriptures, and especially by the events we commemorate
to-day. Let us consider this subject.

Eliphaz the Temanite thus answers .Tob, who in his distress showed
infirmity, and grew impatient of God's correction. " Can a man be
profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself ?
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous 1 or is it gain
to Him, that thou makest thy ways perfect V* And the course of His
providence as recorded in Scripture, will show us, that, in dealing with
us His rational creatures. He goes by no unconditional rule, which
makes us absolutely His from the first ; but, as He is " no respecter of
persons," so on the other hand righteousness and judgment are the basis
of His throne ; and that whoso rebels, whether Archangel or Apostle,
at once forfeits His favour ; and this, even for the sake of those who do
not rebel.

Not long before the fall and treachery of Judas, Christ pronounced a
blessing, as it seemed, upon all the twelve Apostles, the traitor included.
" Ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of
Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve
thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."f Who would not have
thought from this promise, taken by itself, and without reference to the

* Job xxii. 2, 3. i Matt. xix. 28.


Eternal Rule of God's government, which is always understood, even
when not formally enunciated, that Judas was sure of eternal life ? It
is true our Saviour added, as if with an allusion to him, " many that
are first shall be last ;" yet He said nothing to undeceive such as might
refuse to consult and apply the fundamental law of His impartial Provi-
dence. All His twelve Apostles seemed from the letter of His words, to
be predestined to life ; nevertheless, in a few months, IMatthias held the
throne and crown of one of them. And there is something remarkable
in the circumstance itself, that our Lord should have made up their
number to a full twelve, after one had fallen ; and, perhaps, there may
be contained in it some symbolical allusion to the scope of His decrees,
which we cannot altogether enter into. Surely, had He willed it,
eleven would have accomplished His purpose as well as twelve. Whj'-,
when one had fallen, should He accurately fill up the perfect number ?
Yet, not only in the case of the Apostles, but in that of the tribes of
Israel also, if He rejects one, He divides another into two.* Why is
this, but to show us, as it would appear, that in this election of us. He
does not look at us as mere individuals^ but as a body, as a certain defi-
nite whole, of which the parts may alter in the process of disengaging
it from this sinful world, — with reference to some glorious and harmo-
nious design beyond us, who are the immediate objects of His bounty,
and shall be the fruit of His love, if v/e are faithful? Why, but to show
us, that He could even find other Apostles to suffer for Him, — and much
more, servants to fill His lower thrones, should we be wanting, and
transgress His strict and holy law ?

This is but one instance out of many, in the revealed history of His
moral government. He was on the point of exemplifying the same
Rule in the case of the Israelites, when Moses stayed His hand. God
purposed to consume them, when they rebelled, and instead to make of
Moses' seed a great nation. This happened twice. f The second time,
God declared what was His end in view in fulfilling which the Israel-
ites were but his instruments. " I have pardoned according to thy
word ; but as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled wilh the glory
of the Lord. ''^ Again, on the former occasion. He gave the Rule of
His dealings with them. Moses wished for the sake of his people to
be himself excluded from the land of promise ; " If thou wilt forgive
their sin ; — and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which
Thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath
sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book." So clearly has he

» Rev. vii. t Eiod. xxxii 32, 33. Numb. xiv. 20, 21.

278 ST. MATTHIAS. [Skrii.

shown us from the beginning, that His own glory is the End, and jus-
tice the essential Rule of His Providence.

Again, Saul has chosen and thought himself secure. His conduct
evinced the self-will of an independent monarch, instead of one who
felt himself to be a mere instrument of God's purposes, a minister of
his glory, under the obligation cf a law of right ar:d wrong, and strong
only as wielded by Him who formed him. So, when he sinned, Samu
el said to him, " Thou hast done foolishly, thou hast not kept the com-
mandment of the Lord thy God. ... for now uouid the Lorl have
established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom
shall not continue ; the Lord hath sought him a man afier his own

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 31 of 76)