John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 34 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 34 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


feelings, and states, were not a necessary condition of a saving state ;
but so it is, the Apostle does not insist upon it, as if it were sure to fol-
low, if our hearts do but grow into these two chief contemplations,
the view of God in Christ, and the diligent aim to obey Him in our
conduct.

I conceive that we are in danger, in this day, of insisting on neither

* Eph.i. 17, 18. Col. iii. 10. 2 Pet. i. 2. John ivii. 3.



XIV.] SAVING KNOWLEDGE. 297

of these as we ought ; regarding all true and careful consideration of
the Object as of faith, as barren orthodoxy, technical subtlety, and the
like, and all due earnestness about good works as a mere cold and for-
mal morality ; and, instead, making religion, or rather (for this is the
point) making the test of our being religious, to consist in our having
what is called a spiritual state of heart, to the comparative neglect of
the Object from which it must arise, and the works in which it should
issue. At this season, when we are especially engaged in considering
the full triumph and manifestation of our Lord and Saviour, when He
was " declared to be the tfon of God with power, by the resurrection
from the dead," it may be appropriate to make some remarks on an
error, which goes far to deprive us of the benefit of His condescen-
sion.

St. John speaks of knowing Christ and of keeping His command-
ments, as the two great departments of religious duty and blessedness.
To know Christ is, (as I have said,) to discern the Father of all, as
manifested through His Only-begotten Son Incarnate. In the natural
world we have glimpses, frequent and startling, of His glorious Attri-
butes ; of His power, wisdom, and goodness, of His holiness, His fear-
ful judgments. His long remembrance of evil. His long-suffering to-
wards sinners, and His strange encompassing mercy, when we least
looked for it. But to us mortals, who live for a day, and see but an
arm's length, such disclosures are like reflections of a prospect in a
broken mirror ; they do not enable us in any comfortable sense to know
God. They are such as faith may use indeed, but hardly enjoy. This
then was one among the benefits of Christ's coming, that the Invisible
God was then revealed in the form and history of man, revealed in
those respects in which sinners most required to know Him, and nature
spoke least distinctly, as a Holy, yet Merciful Governor of His crea-
tures. And thus the Gospels, which contain the memorials of this won-
derful grace, are our principal treasures. They may be called the text
of the Revelation ; and the Epistles, especially St. Paul's, are as com-
ments upon it, unfolding and illustrating it in its various parts, raising
history into doctrine, ordinances into sacraments, detached words or ac-
tions into principles, and thus every where dutifully preaching His
Person, work, and will. St. John is both Prophet and Evangelist, re-
cording and commenting on the Ministry of his Lord. Still, in every
case, He is the chief Prophet of the Church, and His Apostles do but
explain His words and actions ; according to His own account of the
guidance promised to them, that it should " glorify" Him. The like
service is ministered to Him by the Creeds and doctrinal expositions of
the early Church, which we retain in our Services. They speak of no



29S EASTER MONDAY. [Serbt.

ideal being, such as the imagination alone contemplates, but of the
very Son of God, whose life is recorded in the Gospels. Thus every
part of the Dispensation tends to the manifestation of Him who is its
centre.

Turning from Him to ourselves, we iind a short rule given us, " If
ye love Me, keep My commandments." " He that saith he abideth in
Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked." " If ye then:
be risen with Christ, seek those things which arc above, where Christ
sitteth on the right hand of God."* This is all that is put upon us^
difficult indeed to perform, but easy to understand ; all that is put upon
us, — and for this plain reason, because Christ has done every thing
else. He has freely chosen us, died for us, regenerated us, and now
ever liveth for us ; what remains 1 Simply that we should do as he has
done to us, showing forth His glory by good works. Thus a correct, or
(as we commonly call it,) an orthodox faith and an obedient life, is the
whole duty of man. And so most surely, it has ever been accounted.
Look into the records of the early Church, or into the writings of our
own revered Bishops and Teachers, and sec whether this is not the sum
total of religion, according to the symbols of it in which children
are catechized, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Command-
ments.

However, it is objected that such a view of religious duty encoura-
ges self-deception ; that a man who does no more than believe aright^,
and keep God's commandments, is what is called a formalist ? that his
heart is not interested in the matter, his affections remain unrenewed ;
and that till a change takes place there, all the faith and all the obedi-^
ence which mind can conceive, are but external, and avail nothing ;
that to his heart therefore we must make our appeal, that we must bid
him search himself, examiae his motives, look narrowly lest he rest up-
on himself, and be sure that his feelings and thoughts are spiritual be-
fore he takes to himself any comfort. The merits of this view of re-
ligion shall be considered hereafter : at present, let us take it merely in
the light of an objection to what has been already stated. I ask then
in reply, how is a man to know that his motives and affections are right
except by their fruits 1 Can they possibly be their own evidence I
Are they like colours, which a man knows at once without test or cal-
culation ? Is not every feeling and opinion, of one colour or another^,
fair or unpleasant, in each man's own judgment, according to the cen-*
tre light which is set up in his soul ? Is not the light that is in a man
sometimes even darkness, sometimes twilight, and sometimes of thia

* John xiv. 15. 1 John ii. 6. Col. iii. 1.



XIV.] SAVING KNOWLEDGE. 299

hue or that, tinging every part of himself with its own pecuUarity ?
How then is it possible that a man can duly examine his feelings and
afiections by the light within him ? how can he accurately decide up-
on their character whether, Christian or not 1 It is necessary then
that he go out of himself in order to assay and ascertain the nature of
the principles which govern him ; that is, he must have recourse to his
works, and compare them with Scripture, as the only evidence to him-
self, whether or not his heart is perfect with God. It seems there-
fore, that the proposed inquiry into the workings of a man's mind
means nothing at all, comes to no issue, leaves us where it found us ;
unless we adopt the notion, (which is seldom however openly maintain-
ed,) that religious faith is its own evidence.

On the other hand, deeds of obedience are an intelligible evidence,
nay, the sole evidence possible, and, on the whole, a satisfactory evi-
dence of the reality of our faith. I do not say, that this or that good
work tells any thing ; but a course of obedience says much. Various
deeds done in different departments of duty, support and attest each
other. Did a man act merely a bold and firm part, he would have cause
to say to himself, " perhaps all this is mere pride and obstinacy." Were
he merely yielding and forgiving, — he might be indulging a natural
indolence of mind. Were he merely industrious, — this might consist
with ill-temper, or selfishness. Did he merely fulfil the duties of his
temporal calling, — he would have no proof that he had given his heart
to God at all. Were he merely regular at Church and Holy Commu-
nion, — many a man is such who has a lax conscience, who is not scru-
pulously fair-dealing, or is censorious, or niggardly. Is he what is
called a domestic character, amiable, affectionate, fond of his family ?
let him beware lest he put wife and children in the place of God who
gave them. Is he only temperate, sober, chaste, correct in his lan-
guage ? it may arise from mere dullness and insensibility, or may consist
with spiritual pride. Is he cheerful and obliging ? it may arise from
youthful spirits and ignorance of the world. Docs he choose his friends
by a strictly orthodox rule ? he may be harsh and uncharitable ; or, is
he zealous and serviceable in defending the Truth ? still he may be una-
ble to condescend to men of low estate, to rejoice with those who
rejoice, and to weep with those who weep. No one is without some
good quality or other ; Balaam had a scruple about misrepresenting
God's message, Saul was brave, Joab was loyal, the Bethel Prophet
reverenced God's servants, the witch of Endor was hospitable ; and
therefore, of course, no one good deed or disposition is the criterion of
a spiritual mind. Still, on the other hand, there is no one of its charac-
teristics which has not its appropriate outward evidence ; and, in pro-



300 EASTER MONDAY. [Serm.

proportion as these external acts are multiplied and varied, so does the
evidence of it become stronger and more consoling. General consci-
entiousness is the only assurance we can have of possessing it ; and at
this we must aim, determining to obey God consistently, with a jealous
carefulness about all things, little and great. This is, in Scripture
language, to " serve God with a perfect heart ;" as you will see at once,
if you compare the respective reformations of Jehu and Josiah. As
far then as a man has reason to hope that he is consistent, so far may he
humbly trust that he has true faith. To be consistent, to " walk in all
the ordinances of the Lord blameless," is his one business ; still, all
along looking reverently towards the Great Objects of faith, the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Three Persons, One God, and the Son
incarnate, for our salvation. Certainly he will have enough to direct
his course by, with God in his eye, and his work in his hand, though he
forbear curious experiments about his sensations and emotions ; and, if
it be objected that an evidence from works is but a cold comfort, as
being at best but faint and partial, I reply, that after all, it is more than
sinners have a right to ask, — that if it be little at first, it grows with our
growth in grace, — and, moreover, that such an evidence, more than any
other other, throws us in faith upon the loving-kindness and meritorious
sufferings of our Saviour. Surely, even our best doings have that taint
of sinfulness pervading them, which will remind us ever, while we re-
gard them, where our True Hope is lodged. Men are satisfied with
themselves, not when they attempt, but when they neglect the details of
duty. Disobedience blinds the conscience ; obedience makes it keen-
sighted and sensitive. The more we do, the more we shall trust in
Christ ; and, that surely is no morose doctrine, which, after giving us
whatever evidence of our safety can be given, leads us to soothe our
.selfish restlessness, and forget our fears in the vision of the Incarnate
Son of God.

Lastly, it may be objected, that, since many deeds of obedience are
themselves acts of the mind, to do them well we must necessarily ex-
amine our feelings ; that we cannot pray, for instance, without reflect-
ing on ourselves as we use the words of prayer, and keeping our thoughts
upon God ; that we cannot repress anger or impatience, or cherish
loving and forgiving thoughts, without searching and watching ourselves.
But such an argument rests on a misconception of what I have been
saying. All I would maintain is, that our duty lies in acts, — acts
of course of every kind, acts of the mind, as "well as of the tongue, or
of the hand ; but any how it lies mainly in acts ; it does not directly
lie in moods or feelings. He who aims at praying well, loving sin-
cerely, disputing meekly, as the respective duties occur, is wise and



XIV.] SAVING KNOWLEDGE. 301

religious ; but he who aims vaguely and generally at being in a
spiritual frame of mind, is entangled in a deceit of words which gain a
meaning only by being made mischievous. Let us do our duty as it
presents itself ; this is the secret of true faith and peace. We have
power over our deeds, under God's grace ; we have no direct power
over our habits. Let us but secure our actions, as God would have
them, and our habits will follow. Suppose a religious man, for instance,
in the society of strangers ; he takes things as they come, discourses
naturally, gives his opinion soberly, and does good according to each
opportunity of good. His heart is in his work, and his thoughts rest
without effort on his God and Saviour. This is the way of a Christian ;
ho leaves it to the ill-instructed to endeavour after a (so called) spiritual
frame of mind amid the bustle of life, which has no existence except
in attempt and profession. True spiritual-mindedness is unseen by
man, like the soul itself, of which it is a quality ; and as the soul is
known by its operations, so it is known by its fruits.

I will add too that the office of self-examination lies rather in detect-
ing what js bad in us than in ascertaining what is good. No harm can
follow from contemplating our sins, so that we keep Christ before us,
and attempt to overcome them ; such a review of self, will but lead to
repentance and faith. And while it does this, it will undoubtedly be
moulding our hearts into a higher and more heavenly state ; but still
indirectly, — just as the mean is attained in action or art, not by di-
rectly contemplating and aiming at it, but negatively, by avoiding
extremes.

To conclude, the essence of Faith is to look out of ourselves ; now,
consider what manner of a believer he is, who imprisons himself in his
own thoughts, and rests on the workings of his own mind, and thinks of
his Saviour as an idea of his imagination, instead of putting self aside,
and living upon Him who speaks in the Gospels.

So nmch then, by way of suggestion, upon the view of Religious
Faith, which has ever been received in the Church Catholic, and which,
doubtless, is saving. To-morrow, I propose to speak more particularly
of that other system, to which these latter times have given birth.



SERMON XV.



TUESDAY IN EASTER WEEK.
SELF-CONTEMPLATION.



Hebrews xii. 2.
Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Surely it is our duty ever to look off ourselves, and to look unto Jesus ;
that is, to shun the contemplation of our own feelings, emotions, frame,
and state of mind, as if it were the main business of religion, and to
leave these mainly to be secured in their fruits. Some remarks were
made yesterday upon this " more excellent " and Scriptural way of con-
ducting ourselves, as it has ever been received in the Church ; now let
us consider the merits of the rule for holy living, which the fashion of
this day would substitute for it.

Instead of looking oflf to Jesus, and thinking little of ourselves, it is
at present thought necessary among the mixed multitude of religionists,
to examine the heart, with a view of ascertaining whether it is in a
spiritual state or no. A spiritual frame of mind is considered to be one
in which the heinousness of sin is perceived, our utter worthlessness,
the impossibility of our saving ourselves, the necessity/ of some Saviour,
the sufficiency of our Lord Jesus Christ to be that Saviour, the un-
bounded riches of His love, the excellence and glory of His work of
Atonement, the freeness and fulness of His grace, the high privilege of
communion with Him in prayer, and the desirableness of walking with
Him in all holy and loving obedience ; all of them solemn truths, too
solemn to be lightly mentioned, but our hearty reception of which is
scarcely ascertainable by a direct inspection of our feelings. Moreover,
if one doctrine must be selected above the rest as containing the essence
of the truths, which (according to this system,) are thus vividly under-
stood by the spiritual Christian, it is that of the necessity of renounc-
ing our own righteousness for the righteousness provided by our Lord
and Saviour ; which is considered, not as an elementary and simple
principle, (as it really is,) but as rarely and hardly acknowledged by



Serm. XV.] SELF-CONTEMPLATION. 303

■any man, especially repugnant to a certain (so-called) pride of heart,
which is supposed to run through the whole race of Adam, and to lead
every man instinctively to insist even before God on the proper merits
of his good deeds ; so that, to trust in Christ, is not merely the work of
the Holy Spirit, (as all good in our souls is,) but, is the especial and criti-
cal event which marks a man, as issuing from darkness, and sealed unto
the privileges and inheritance of the sons of God. In other words, the
doctrine of Justification by Faith, is accounted to be the one cardinal
point of the Gospel ; and it is in vain to admit it readily as a clear
Scripture truth (which it is,) and to attempt to go on unto perfection : the
very wish to pass forward is interpreted into a wish to pass over it, and
the test of believing it at all, is in fact to insist upon no doctrine but it.
And this peculiar mode of inculcating that great doctrine of the Gos-
pel, is a proof, (if that were wanting,) that the persons who adopt it are
not solicitous even about it on its own score merely, considered as (what
is called) a dogma, but as ascertaining and securing (as they hope) a
certain state of heart. For, not content with the simple admission of
it on the part of another, they proceed to divide faith into its kinds,
living and dead, and to urge against him, that the Truth may be held
in a carnal and unrenewed mind, and that men may speak without real
feelings and convictions. Thus it is clear they do not contend for the
doctrine of Justification as a truth external to the mind, or article of
faith, any more than for the doctrine of the Trinity. On the other
hand, since they use this same language about dead and living faith,
however exemplary the life and conduct be of the individual under their
review, they as plainly show that neither are the fruits of righteousness
in their system an evidence of spiritual-mindcdness, but that a something
is to be sought for in the frame of mind itself. All this is not stated
at present by way of objection, but in order to settle accurately what
they mean to maintain. So now wc have the two views of doctrine
clearly before us : — the ancient and universal teaching of the Church,
insisting on the Objects and fruits of faith, and considering the spiritual
character of that faith itself sutRciently secured, if these are as they
should be ; and the method, now in esteem, attempting instead to secure
directly and primarily that " mind of the Spirit," which may savingly
receive the truths, and fulfil the obedience of the Gospel. That such
a spiritual temper is indispensable, is agreed on all hands. The simple
question is, whether it is formed by the Holy Spirit immediately acting
upon our minds, or, on the other hand, by our own particular acts,
(whether of faith or obedience,) prompted, guided, and prospered by
Him ; whether it is ascertainable otherwise than by its fruits ; whether
such frames of mind as are directly ascertainable and protess to be



304 EASTER TUESDAY. [Serm.

spiritual, are not rather a delusion, a mere excitement, capricious feel,
ing, fanatic fancy, and the like. — So much then by way of explanation.
1. Now, in the first place, this modern system certainly does dis-
parage the revealed doctrines of the Gospel, however its more moderate
advocates may shrink from admitting it. Considering a certain state
of heart to be the main thing to be aimed at, they avowedly make the
Truth as it is in Jesus, the definite Creed of the Church, second in their
teaching and profession. They will defend themselves indeed from the
appearance of undervaluing it, by maintaining, that the existence of
right religious affections is a security for sound views of doctrine. And
this is abstractedly true ; — but not true in the use they make of it : for
they unhappily conceive that they can ascertain in each other the
presence of these affections, and when they find men possessed of them,
(as they conceive,) yet not altogether orthodox in their belief, then they
relax a little, and argue that an admission of (what they call) the strict
and technical niceties of doctrine, whether about the Consubstantiality
of the Son or the Hypostatic Union, is scarcely part of the definition
of a spiritual believer. In order to support this position, they lay it
down as self-evident, that the main purpose of revealed doctrine is to
afiect the heart, — that that which does not seem to affect it, does not
affect it, — that what does not affect it is unnecessary, — and that the cir-
cumstance that this or that person's heart seems rightly affected, is a
sufficient warrant that such Articles as he may happen to reject, may be
universally rejected, or at least are only accidentally important. Such
principles, when once become familiar to the mind, induce a certain dis-
proportionate attention to the doctrines connected with the work of
Christ, in comparison of those which relate to His Person, from their
more immediately interesting and exciting character ; and carry on the
more speculative and philosophical class to view the doctrines of Atone-
ment and Sanctification as the essence of the Gospel, and to advocate
them in the place of those " Heavenly Things " altogether, which, as
theologically expressed, they have already assailed ; and of which they
now openly complain as mysteries for bondsmen, not Gospel consolations.
The last and most miserable stage of this false wisdom, is to deny that
in matters of doctrine there is any one sense of Scripture such, that it
is true and all others false ; to make the Gospel of Truth (so far) a reve-
lation of words and a dead letter ; to consider that inspiration speaks
merely of divine operations, not of Persons ; and that that is truth to
each, which each man thinks to be true, so that one man may say that
Christ is God, another deny His pre-existence, yet each have received
the Truth according to the peculiar constitution of his own mind, the
Scripture doctrine having no real independent substantive meaning.



XV.] SELF-CONTEMPLATION 305

Thus the system under consideration tends legitimately to obliterate the
great Objects brought to light in the Gospel, and to darken what I called
yesterday the eye of faith ; to throw us back into the vagueness of
Heathenism, when men only felt after the Divine Presence ; and thus
to frustrate the design of Christ's incarnation so far as it is a manifesta-
tion of the Unseen Creator.

2. On the other hand, the necessity of obedience in order to salvation
does not suffer less from the upholders of this modern system than the
articles of the Creed. They argue, and truly, that if faith is living,
works must follow ; but mistaking a following in order of conception
for a following in order of time, they conclude that faith ever comes
first, and works afterwards ; and therefore, that faith must first be se-
cured, and that by some means in which works have no share. Thus,
instead of viewing works as the concomitant development and evidence,
and instrumental cause, as well as the subsequent result of faith, they
lay all the stress upon the direct creation, in their minds, of faith and
spiritual-mindcdness, which they consider to consist in certain emotions
and desires, because they can form abstractedly no better or truer notion
of those qualities. Then, instead of being " careful to maintain good
works," they proceed to take it for granted, that since they have attained
faith, (as they consider,) works will follow without their trouble as a
matter of course. Thus the wise are taken in their own craftiness ;
they attempt to reason, and are overcome by sophisms. Had they kept
to the Inspired Record, instead of reasoning, their way would have been
clear ; and, considering the serious exhortations to keeping God's com-
mandments, with which all Scripture abounds, from Genesis to the
Apocalypse, is it not a very grave question, which the most charitable
among Churchmen must put to himself, whether these random ex-
pounders of the Blessed Gospel are not risking a participation in the
wo denounced against those who preach any other doctrine besides that
delivered unto us, or who " take away from the words of the Book" of
revealed Truth ?

3. But still more evidently do they fall into this last imputation, when



Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 34 of 76)