John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 4 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Lord and Teacher, they would feel an admiration and awe of Him ; but
their minds would not rest sufficiently on the practical direction of the
instruction vouchsafed to them. They knew the truth, and they ad-
mired it ; they did not observe what it was they lacked. Such may be
considered their frame of mind ; and hence the force of the text, deliv-
ered primarily against .Tudas Iscariot, who knew and sinned deliberately
against the truth ; secondarily, referring to all the Apostles, and St.
Peter chiefly, who promised to be faithful, but failed under the trial ;
lastly, to us all, — all of us here assembled, who hear the word of life
continually, know it, admire it, do all but obey it.

Is it not so ? is not Scripture altogether pleasant except in its strict-
ness? do not we try to persuade ourselves, that to feel religiously, to
confess our love of religion, and to be able to talk of religion, will stand
in the place of careful obedience, of that self-denial which is the very
substance of true practical religion ? Alas ! that religion which is so
delightful as a vision, should be so distasteful as a reality. Yet so it is,
whether we are aware of the fact or not.

1. The multitude of persons even who profess religion are in this state


of mind. We will take the case of those who are in better circum-
stances than the mass of the community. They are well educated and
taught ; they have few distresses in life, or are able to get over them
by the variety of their occupations, by the spirits which attend good
health, or at least by the lapse of time. They go on respectably and
happily, with the same general tastes and habits which they would have
had if the Gospel had not been given them. They have an eye to what
the world thinks of them ; are charitable Avhen it is expected. They
are polished in their manners, kind from natural disposition or a feehng
of propriety. Thus their religion is based upon self and the world, a
mere civilization of the mind ; the same (I say,) as it would have been
in the main, (taking the state of society as they find it,) even supposing
Christianity were not the religion of the land. But it is ; and let us go
on to ask, how do they in consequence feel towards it ? They accept
it, they add it to what they are, they ingraft it upon the selfish and
worldly habits of an unrenewed heart. They have been taught to
revere it, and to beheve it to come from God ; so they admire it, and
accept it as a rule of life, so far forth as it agrees with the carnal princi-
ples which govern them. So far as it does not agree, they are blind to
its excellence and its claims. They overlook or explain away its pre-
cepts. They in no sense obey because it commands. They do right
where they would have done right had it not commanded ; however,
they speak well of it, and think they understand it. Sometimes, if I
may continue the description, they adopt it into a certain refined ele-
gance of sentiments and manners, and then their religion is all that is
graceful, fastidious, and luxurious. They love religious poetry and elo-
quent preaching. They desire to have their feelings roused and
soothed, and to secure a variety and relief of that eternal subject which
is unchangeable. They tire of its simplicity, and perhaps seek to keep
np their interest in it by means of religious narratives, fictitious or embel-
lished, or of news from foreign countries, or of the history of the pros-
pects or successes of the Gospel ; thus perverting what is in itself good
and innocent. This is their state of mind at best ; for more commonly
they think it enough merely to show some slight regard to the subject of
religion ; to attend its services on the Lord's day, and then only once,
and coldly to express an approbation of it. But of course every descrip-
tion of such persons can be but general ; for the shades of character are
so varied and blended in individuals, as to make it impossible to give an
accurate picture, and often very estimable persons and truly good Chris-
tians are partly infected with this bad and earthly spirit.

2. Take again another description of them. Tliey have perhaps
turned their attention to the means of promoting the nappiness of their


fellow-creatures, and have formed a system of morality and religion of
their own ; then they come to Scripture. They are much struck with
the high tone of its precepts, and the beauty of its teaching. It is true,
they find many things in it which they do not understand or do not
approve ; many things they would not have said themselves. But they
pass these by ; they fancy that these do not apply to the present day,
(which is an easy way of removing any thing we do not like,) and
on the whole they receive the Bible, and they think it highly serviceable
for the lower classes. Therefore, they recommend it, and support the
institutions which are the channels of teaching it. But as to their own
case, it never comes into their minds to apply its precepts seriously to
themselves ; they k7iow them already, they consider. They hww them
and that is enough ; but as for doing them, by which I mean, going
forward to obey them with an unaffected earnestness and an honest
faith acting upon them, receiving them as they are, and not as their
own previously formed opinions would have them be, they have nothing
of this right spirit. They do not comtemplate such a mode of acting.
To recommend and affect a moral and decent conduct, (on whatever
principles,) seems to them to be enough. The spread of knowledge
bringing in its train a selfish temperance, a selfish peaceableness, a
selfish benevolence, the morality of expedience, this satisfies them.
They care for none of the truths of Scripture, on the ground of their
being in Scripture ; these scarcely become more valuable in their eyes for
being there written. They do not obey because they are told to obey,
on faith; and the need of this divine principle of conduct they do not
comprehend. Why will it not answer (they seem to say,) to make
men good in one way as well as another 1 " Abana and Pharpar, rivers
of Damascus, are they not better than all the waters of Israel ?" as if
all the knowledge and the training that books ever gave had power to
unloose one sinner from the bonds of Satan, or to effect more than an
outward reformation, an appearance of obedience ; as if it were not a
far different principle, a principle independent of knowledge, above it
and before it, which leads to real obedience, that principle of divine
faith, given from above, which has life in itself, and has power really to
use knowledge to the soul's welfare ; in the hand of which knowledge
is (as it were) the torch lighting us on our way, but not teaching or
strengthening us to walk.

3. Or take another view of the subject. Is it not one of the most
common excuses made by the poor for being irreligious, that they have
had no education 1 as if to know much was a necessary step for right
practice. Again, they are apt to think it enough to know and to talk
of religion, to ftiake a man religious. Why have you come hither


to-day, my brethen ? — not as a matter of course, I will hope ; not merely
because friends or superiors told you to come. I will suppose you have
come to church as a religious act ; but beware of supposing that all is
done^and over by the act of coming. It is not enough to be preseii
here ; though many men act as if they forgot they must attend to what
is going on, as well as come. It is not enough to hsten to what is
preached ; though many think they have gone a great way when they
do this. You must pray; now this is very hard in itself to any one
who tries (and this is the reason why so many men prefer the sermon
to the prayers, because the former is merely the getting knowledge, and
the latter is to do a deed of obedience) : you must pi-ay ; and this I
say is very difficult, because our thoughts so are apt to wander. But
even this is not all ; — you must, as you pray, really intend to try to
practice what you pray for. When you say, " Lead us not into tempta-
tion," you must in good earnest mean to avoid in your daily conduct
those temptations which you have already suffered from. When you
say, "Deliver us from evil," you must mean to struggle against that
evil in your hearts, which you are conscious of, and which you pray to
be forgiven. This is difficult ; still more is behind. You must actually
carry your good intentions into effect during the week, and in truth and
reality war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. And any one
here present who falls short of this, that is, who thinks it enough to
come to church to learn God's will, but does not bear in mind to do it
in his daily conduct, be he high or be he low, know he mysteries and all
knowledge, or be he unlettered and busily occupied in active life, he is a
fool in His sight, who maketh the wisdom of this world foolishness.
Surely he is but a trifler, as substituting a formal outward service for the
religion of the heart; and he reverses our Lord's words in the text, " be-
cause he knows these things, most unhappy is he, because he does them

But some one may say, " It is so very difficult to serve God, it is so
much against my own mind, such an effort, such a strain upon my
strength to bear Christ's yoke, I must give it over, or I must delay it at
least. Can nothing be taken instead ? I acknowledge His law to be
most holy and true, and the accounts I read about good men are most
delightful. I wish I were like them with all my heart ; and for a little
while I feel in a mind to set about imitating them. I have begun
several times, I have had seasons of repentance, and set rules to myself;
but for some reason or other I fell back after a while, and was even
worse than before. I know, but I cannot do. _0 wretched ,man that
I am !"

Now to such a one I say, You are in a much more promising state


than if you were contented with yourself, and thought that knowledge
was every thing, which is the grievous blindness which I have hitherto
been speaking of; that is, you are in a better state, if you do not feel
too much comfort or confidence in your confession. For this is the
fault of many men ; they make such an acknowledgement as I have
described a substitute for real repentance; or allow themselves, after
making it, to put off repentance, as if they could be suffered to give a
word of promise which did not become due (so to say) for many days.
You are, I admit, in a better state than if you were satisfied with your-
self, but you are not in a safe state. If you were now to die, you would
have no hope of salvation : no hope, that is, if your own showing be
true, for I am taking your own Vv'ords. Go before God's judgment-seat,
and there plead that you know the Truth and have not done it. This
is what you frankly own ; — how will it there be taken ? " Out of thine
own mouth will I judge thee," says our Judge Himself, and who shall re-
verse His judgment ? Therefore such a one must make the confession
with great and real terror and shame, if it is to be considered a promising
sign in him ; else it is mere hardness of heart. For instance : I have
heard persons say lightly, (every one must have heard them,) that they
own it would be a wretched thing indeed for them or their companions
to be taken off suddenly. The young are especially apt to say this ;
that is, before they have come to an age to be callous, or have formed
excuses to overcome the natural true sense of their conscience. They
say they hope some day to repent. This is their own witness against
themselves, like that bad prophet at Bethel who was constrained with
his own mouth to utter God's judgments while he sat at his sinful meat.
But let not such a one think that he will receive any thing of the Lord:
he does not speak in faith.

When, then, a man complains of his hardness of heart or weakness
of purpose, let him see to it whether this complaint is more than a mere
pretence to quiet his conscience, which is frightened at his putting off
repentance : or, again, more than a mere idle word, said half in jest and
half in compunction. But, should he be earnest in his complaint, then
let him consider he has no need to complain. Every thing is plain and
easy to the earnest ; it is the double-minded who find difficulties. If
you hate your own corruption in sincerity and truth, if you are really
pierced to the heart that you do not do what you know you should do,
if you would love God if you could, then the Gospel speaks to you words
of peace and hope. It is a very different thing indolently to say, "I
would I were a different man,'' and to close with God's offer to make
you different when it is put before you. Here is the test between
earnestness and insincerity. You say you wish to be a different man;


Christ takes you at your word, so to say ; He offers to make you differ-
ent. He says, " I will take away from you the heart of stone, the love
of this world and its pleasures, if you will submit to My discipline."
Here a man draws back. No ; he cannot bear to lose the love of the
world, to part with his present desires and tastes ; he cannot consent to
be changed. After all he is well satisfied at the bottom of his heart to
remain as he is, only he wants his conscience taken out of the way.
Did Christ offer to do this for him, if He would but make bitter sweet,
and sweet bitter, darkness hght and light darkness, then he would hail
the glad tidings of peace ; — till then he needs Him not.

But if a man is in earnest in wishing to get at the depths of his own
heart, to expel the evil, to purify the good, and to gain power over him-
self, so as to do as well as know the Truth, what is the difficulty ? — a
matter of time indeed, but not of uncertainty is the recovery of such a
man. So simple is the rule which he must follow, and so trite, that at
first he will be surprised to hear it. God does great things by plain
methods; and men start from them through pride, because they are
plain. This was the conduct of Naaman the Syrian. Christ says,
" Watch and pray ;" herein lies our cure. To watch and to pray are
surely in our power, and by these means we are certain of getting
strength. You feel your weakness ; you fear to be overcome by temp-
tation : then keep out of the way of it. This is watching. Avoid
society which is likely to mislead you ; flee from the very shadow of
evil ; you cannot be too careful ; better be a little too strict than a
little too easy, — it is the safer side. Abstain from reading books which
are dangerous to you. Turn from bad thoughts when they arise, set
about some business, begin conversing with some friend, or say to
yourself the Lord's Prayer with seriousness and reverence. When you
are urged by temptation, whether it be by the threats of the world,
false shame, self-interest, provoking conduct on the part of another, or
the world's sinful pleasures, urged to be cowardly, or covetous, or unfor-
giving, or sensual, shut your eyes and think of Christ's precious blood-
shedding. Do not dare to say you cannot help sinning ; a little attention
to these points will go far, (through God's grace,) to keep you in the
right way. And again, pray as well as watch. You must know that
you can do nothing of yourself; your past experience has taught you
this; therefore look to God for the will and the power; ask Him
earnestly in His Son's name ; seek His holy ordinances. Is not this
in your power ; Have you not power at least over the limbs of your
body, so as to attend the means of grace constantly? Have you
literally not the power to come hither ; to observe the Fasts and Festi-
vals of the Church; to come to His Holy Altar and receive the Bread


of Life ? Get yourself, at least, to do this ; to put out the hand, to take
His gracious Body and Blood ; this is no arduous work ; — and you say
you really vnsh to gain the blessings He offers. What would you have
more than a free gift, vouchsafed " without money and without price?"
So, make no more excuses ; murmur not about your own bad heart,
your knowing and resolving, and not doing. Here is your remedy.

Well were it if men could be persuaded to be in earnest; but few are
thus minded. The many go on with a double aim, trying to serve
both God and mammon. Few can get themselves to do what is right,
because God tells them ; they have another aim ; they desire to please
self or men. When they can obey God without offending the bad
Master that rules them, then, and then only, they obey. Thus religion,
instead of being the first thing in their estimation, is but the second.
They differ, indeed, one from another what to put foremost : one man
loves to be at ease, another to be busy, another to enjoy domestic com-
fort: but they agree in converting the Truth of God, which they
know to be Truth, into a mere instrument of secular aims ; not discard-
ing the truth but degrading it.

When He, the Lord of Hosts, comes to shake terribly the earth, what
number will He find of the remnant of the true Israel 1 We hve in an
educated age. The false gloss of a mere worldly refinement makes us
decent and amiable. We all know and profess. We think ourselves
wise; we flatter each other; we make excuses for ourselves when we
are conscious we sin, and thus we gradually lose the consciousness that
we are sinning. We think our own times superior to all others.
"Thou blind Pharisee!" This was the fatal charge brought by our
blessed Lord against the falsely enlightened teachers of His own day.
As we desire to enter into life, may we come to Christ continually for
the two foundations of true Christian faith, — humbleness of mind and
earnestness !



Psalm xix. 12.
" Who can understand his errors ? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults."

Strange as it may seem, multitudes called Christian go through life
with no effort to obtain a correct knowledge of themselves. They are
contented with general and vague impressions concerning their real
state ; and if they have more than this, it is merely such accidental
information about themselves as the events of hfe force upon them.
But exact, systematic knowledge they , have none, and do not aim
at it.

When I say this is strange, I do not mean to imply that to know .
ourselves is easy ; it is very difficult to know ourselves even in part,
and so far ignorance of ourselves is not a strange thing. But its
strangeness consists in this, viz., that men should profess to receive and
act upon the great Christian doctrines, while they are thus ignorant of
themselves, considering that self-knowledge is a necessary condition
for understanding them. Thus it is not too much to say that all those
who neglect the duty of habitual self-examination are using words with-
out meaning. The doctrines of the forgiveness of sins, and a neio
birth from sin, cannot be understood without some right knowledge of
the nature of sin, that is, of our own heart. We may, indeed, assent
to a form of words which declares those doctrines ; but if such a mere
assent, however sincere, is the same as a real holding of them, and be-
lief in them, then it is equally possible to beUeve in a proposition the
terms of which belong to some foreign language, which is obviously
absurd. Yet nothing is more common than for men to think that be-
cause they are familiar with words, they understand the ideas they
stand for. Educated persons despise this fault in illiterate memvho
use hard words as if they comprehended them. Yet they themselves,
as well as others, fall into the same error in a more subtle form, when
they think they understand terms used in morals and religion, because
such are common words, and have been used by them all their lives.

Now (I repeat) unless we have some just idea of our hearts and of


sin, we can have no right idea of a Moral Governor, a Saviour, or a
Sanctifier, that is, in professing to beheve in Them, we shall be using
words without attaching distinct meaning to them. Thus self-know-
ledge is at the root of all real religious knowledge ; and it is in vain, —
worse than vain, it is a deceit and a mischief, to think to understand
the Christian doctrines as a matter of course, merely by being taught
by books, or by attending sermons, or by any outward means, however
excellent, taken by themselves. For it is in proportion as we search
our hearts and understand our own nature, that we understand what is
meant by an Infinite Governor and Judge ; in proportion as we com-
prehend the nature of disobedience and our actual sinfulness, that we
feel what is the blessing of the removal of sin, redemption, pardon,
sanctification, which otherwise are mere words. God speaks to us
primarily in our hearts. Self-knowledge is the key to the precepts and
doctrines of Scripture. The very utmost any outward notices of reli-
gion can do, is to startle us and make us turn inward and search our
hearts ; and then, when we have experienced what it is to read our-
selves, we shall profit by the doctrines of the Church and the Bible.

Of course self-knowledge admits of degrees. No one, perhaps, is
entirely ignorant of himself : and even the most advanced Christian
knows himself only " in part." However, most men are contented ^vith
a slight acquaintance with their hearts, and therefore a superficial faith.
This is the point which it is my purpose to insist upon. Men are satis-
fied to have numberless secret faults. They do not think about them,
either as sins or as obstacles to strength of faith, and live on as if they
had nothing to learn.

Now let us consider attentively the strong presumption that exists,
that we all have serious secret faults; a fact which, I believe, all are
ready to confess in general terms, though few like calmly and practi-
cally to dwell upon it ; as I now wish to do.

1. Now the most ready method of convincing ourselves of the exist-
ence in us of faults unknoAvn to ourselves, is to consider how plainly we
see the secret faults of others. At first sight there is of course no rea-
son for supposing that we differ materially from those around us ; and
if we see sins in them which they do not see, it is a presumption that
they have their own discoveries about ourselves, which it would surprise
us to hear. For instance : how apt is an angry man to fancy that he
has the command of himself! The very charge of being angry, if
brought against him, will anger him more ; and in the height of his
discomposure, he will profess himself able to reason and judge with
clearness and impartiality. Now, it may be his turn another day, for
what we know, to witness the same failing in us ; or, if we are not


naturally inclined to violent passion, still at least we may be subject to
other sins, equally unknown to ourselves, and equally known to him as
his anger was to us. For example : there are persons who act mainly
from self-interest at times when they conceive they are doing generous
or virtuous actions ; they give freely, or put themselves to trouble, and
are praised by the world, and by themselves, as if acting on high prin-
ciple ; whereas, close observers can detect desire of gain, love of ap-
plause, shame, or the mere satisfaction of being busy and active, as the
principal cause of their good deeds. This may be our condition as well
as that of others ; or, if it be not, still a similar infirmity, the bondage
of some other sin or sins, which others see, and we do not.

But, say there is no human being sees sin in us, of which we are not
aware ourselves, (though this is a bold supposition to make,) yet why
should man's accidental knowledge of us limit the extent of our imper-
fections 1 Should all the world speak well of us, and good men hail us
as brothers, after all there is a Judge who trieth the hearts and the reins.
He knows our real state ; have we earnestly besought Him to teach
us the knowledge of our own hearts ? If we have not, that very omis-
sion is a presumption against us. Though our praise were throughout
the Church, we may be sure He sees sins without number in us, sins
deep and heinous, of which we have no idea. If man sees so much
evil in human nature, what must God see,? " If our heart condemn us,
God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." Not ads alone
of sin does He set down against us daily, of which we know nothing,

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 76)