John Henry Newman.

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is conceivable ; yet, in matter of fact, has not this twofold character of
the Dispensation been in such measure realized, as substantially answers
to the words of the prediction ? Consider only the wars and tumults of
the middle ages, of which the Church was the occasion, and at the
same time, its salutary influence upon the fierce and lawless soldiers
who then filled the thrones of Europe. Take the Prophecy, take the
History ; and say fairly, whether, in accordance with the Scripture
prospect, we do not actually find in the centuries I speak of, a political
power, making vassals of the kings of the earth, humbling them beneath
its feet, afibrding matter of endless strife, yet acting as the very bond of
peace, as far as peace was really attained. How truly have " the sons
of them that afflicted" the Church, "come bending unto her; and they
that despised her, bowed themselves at the soles of her feet,"* and " the
enemies of Christ been made His footstool !"

It may help us in entering into the state of the case, to consider
what our surprise would be, did we in the course of our researches into
history, find any resemblance to this prophetic forecast in the annals of
other kingdoms. Even one poor coincidence in the history of Rome,
viz. of the anticipated and the actual duration of its greatness, does not
fail to arrest our attention. We know that even before the Christian
era, it was the opinion of the Roman Augurs, that the twelve vultures
which Romulus had seen previous to the foundation of the city, repre-
sented the twelve centuries, assigned as the limit of its power ; an anti-
cipation which was singularly fulfilled by the event. f Yet what is this
solitary fact to the series of varied and circumstantial prophecies which
ushered in, and were fidfilled in Christianity ? Extend the twelve cen-
turies of Roman dominion to an additional half of that period, preserve
its monarchical form inviolate, whether from aristocratic or popular in-
novation from first to last, and trace back the predictions concerning it,
through an antecedent period, nearly of the same duration, and then you
will have assimilated its history — not altogether, but in one or two of
its features, tp the characteristics of the Gospel Dispensation. As it is,
this Roman wonder only serves to assist the imagination in embracing
the marvcllousness of those systematic prophecies concerning Christ's

» Is. Ix. 14.

t Vide Gibbon, ch. xxxv. fin. The ancient prediction concerning the fortunes of
Russia is a more remarkable instance. A brazen equestrian statue, which had been
originally in Antioch, is said by historians of the beginning of the 12th century to be
" inscribed with a prophecy, how the Russians in the last days should become mas-
ters of Constantinople." Vide Gibbon, ch. W.


kingdom, which, from their number, variety, succession, and contempo-
rary influence, may ahnost be accounted in themselves, and without
reference to their fulfihnent, a complete and independent dispensa-

4. Lastly, the course of Providence co-operated with this scheme of
prophecy ; God's word and hand went together. The state of the
Jews for the last four hundred years before Christ was a preparation
deliberately carried on for that which was to follow ; just as the wan-
derings of Abraham and his heirs, the descent into Egypt, and the
captivity there, for the same period, constituted a process introductory
to the establishment of the Jewish Church. Consider the nature of
this preparation : the overthrow of the nation by the Chaldeans, issued
in the dispersion of its members all over the civilized world, so that in
all the principal cities Jewish communities existed, which gradually
attracted to their faith Gentile converts, and were in one way or other
the nucleus of the Christian Church, when the Gospel was at length
published. Now, here, I would tirst direct your attention to this strange
connexion, which is visible at first sight between the dispersion of the
Jews and the propagation of Christianity. Does not such a manifest
appearance of cause and effect look very much like an indication of
design ? Next, I remark that this dispersion was later than the predictions
concerning the Christian Church contained in the Jewish Scriptures ;
which in consequence cannot be charged with borrowing the idea of it
from any actual disposition of things. And further, let it be observed,
that the disposition arose from the apparent frustration of all their hopes ;
a signal instance, as it would seem, of an overruling Providence,
which would not be defeated as regards its object, in spite of the fail-
ure of those instruments, in which alone a human eye could see the
means of accomplishing it.

Before concluding, I must explain myself on one point which has
been incidentally mentioned more than once in the foregoing remarks,
viz. as to the connection between the temporal fortunes of the Church,
in the middle ages, and the inspired predictions concerning it. It
may seem, before due attention has been given to the subject, as if
none but members of the Roman Communion could regard them as
parts of the Divine Dispensation ; I therefore observe as follows : —

There is a considerable analogy between the history of (what is
called) the Papacy and that of the Israelitish monarchy. That mon-
archy was perversely demanded, and presumptuously realized by the
nation, when God had not led the way ; it terminated in the dissolution
of the federal union of the Tribes, the corruption of the peoj)lc, and the
ruin of their temporal power. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied, that

Vol. I.— 23

354 WHIT-TUESDAY. [Sbrm.

in one sense that kingdom was the scope of the Mosaic Institutions,*
and a fultiiment of prophecy. Its kings were many of them highly
favoured in themselves, and types of the promised Saviour ; and their
government and subjects were singularly blessed. Consider the cir-
cumstances attendant upon the building of the Temple. This may be
accounted as the most glorious event in their history, the fruit of Moses'
anxieties and David's labours, the completion and resting-place of the
whole Dispensation, and the pledge of the more spiritual blessedness
Avhich was to come. Connect it with Solomon's reign, its peace and
prosperity, — on the other hand with its voluptuousness, its departure
from the simplicity of the Mosaic Law, — with Solomon's personal
character, degenerating from faith and purity into sins which we are
not given to fathom. Are we able rightly to adjust the relation be-
tween the blessings destined for Israel, and the actual prosperity and
greatness of this kingdom set up in rebellion against God, so as to be
able to say how far it was recognised in His counsels, how far not ? Can
we draw the line between God's work and man's work ?

I am not maintaining that the case of the Papacy is parallel to that
of the Jewish Monarchy ; nay, I do not introduce the latter for the
sake of the analogy at all, be it stronger or fainter ; but merely in order
to show that it is possible for certain events to be in some sort a fulfil-
ment of prophecy, without considering every part of them, the manner
of their accomplishment, the circumstances, the instruments, and the
like, to be approved by God. The Latin ecclesiastical system of the
middle ages may be, for what we know, the shadow, of that gracious
design, which would have been accomplished, had Christians possessed
faith enough to keep closely to God's revealed will. For what we
know, it was intended that all the kingdoms of the earth should have
been made subject to the spiritual rule of the Church. The presump-
tion of man defeated this purpose ; but it could not so far defeat it, but
some sort of fulfilment took place. The mustard-plant, stopped in its
natural growth, shot out irregular branches. Satan could not hinder,
he could but corrupt the kingdom promised to the Saints. He could
but seduce them to trust in an arm of flesh. He could but sow the
seeds of decay among them by alluring them to bow down to " Astoreth
the goddess of the Zidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the
Ammonites ;" to take a king over them like the nations, " when the
Lord was their king." Had it not been for this falling away in divers
times and places, surely Christendom would not be in its present mise-
rable state of disunion and weakness ; nor the prophecies respecting it

* Deut. xvii. 14—20,


have issued in any degreee in defeat and disappointment. Still, dim
and partial as is their fulfilment, there is more than enough, even in
what is and has been, to attest in the Church the presence of that
Almighty Hand, whose very failures (so to say) and losses are deeds
of victory and triumph.

As for ourselves, what was the exact measure of the offences of our
forefathers in the faith, when they, tired of the Christian Theocracy,
and clothed the church with " the purple robe " of Caesar, it avails not
to determine. Not denying their sin, still, after contemplating the
glories of the Temple which they built, we may well bewail our pre-
sent fallen state, the Priests and Levites, and chief of the Fathers, all
of us " weeping with a loud voice," though the many shout for joy, —
" praising " indeed, and giving thanks unto the Lord, because He is
good, for His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel,"* not undervaluing
the blessings we have, yet humbling ourselves as the sinful offspring of
sinful parents, who from the first have resisted and frustrated the grace
of God, and seeing in the present feebleness and blindness of the
Church, the tokens of His righteous judgments upon us ; yet withal,
from His continued mercies towards us, drawing the comfortable hope,
that for His Son's sake He will not forsake us in time to come, and
cherishing a sure trust, that, if we "give Him no rest " by our services
of prayer and good works, he will at length, even yet, though doubtless
in a way which we cannot understand, " establish and make Jerusalem
a praise in the earth."

♦ Ezra iii. 11, 12.



1 Tim. vi. 20, 21.

O Timothy, keep that whicli is committed to Thy trust, avoiding profane and vain
babbhngs, and oppositions of science, falsely so called ; which some professing, have
erred concerning the faith.

These words are addressed in the first place to the Ministers of the
Gospel in the person of Timothy ; yet they contain a serious command
and warning for all Christians. For all of us, high and low, in our
measure are responsible for the safe-keeping of the Faith. We have
all an equal interest in it, no one less than another, though an Order of
men has been especially set apart for the duty of guarding it. If we
Ministers of Christ guard it not, it is our sin, but it is your loss, my
brethren ; and as any private person would feel that his duty and his
safety lay in giving alarm of a fire or of a robbery in the city where
he dwelt, though there were ever so many special ofiicers appointed for
the purpose, so, doubtless every one of us is bound in his place to con-
tend for the Faith, and to have an eye to its safe custody. If indeed
the Faith of Christ were vague, indeterminate, a matter of opinion or
deduction, then, indeed, we may well conceive that the Ministers of
the Gospel would be the only due expounders and guardians of it ; then
it might be fitting for private Christians to wait till they were informed
concerning the best mode of expressing it, or the relative importance
of this or that part of it. But this has been all settled long ago ; the
Gospel Faith is a definite deposit, — a treasure, common to all, one and
the same in every age, conceived in set words, and such as admits of
being received, preserved, transmitted. We may safely leave the cus-
tody of it even in the hands of individuals ; for in so doing, we are
leaving nothing at all to private rashness and fancy, to pride, debate and


strife. We are but allowing men to " contend earnestly for the Faith
once delivered to the Saints ;" the Faith which was put into their hands
one by one at their baptism, in a form of words called the Creed, and
which has come down to them in that very same form from the first
ages. This Faith is what even the humblest member of the Church
may and must contend for ; and in proportion to his education, will the
circle of his knowledge enlarge. The Creed delivered to him in Bap-
tism will then unfold, first, into the Nicene Creed (as it is called,) then
into the Athanasian ; and, according as his power of grasping the sense
of its articles increases, so will it become his duty to contend for them
in their fuller and more accurate form. All these unfoldings of the
Gospel Doctrine will become to him precious as the original articles,
because they are in fact nothing more or less than the one true expla-
nation of them, delivered down to us from the first ages, together with
the original Baptismal or Apostles' Creed itself. As all nations confess
to the existence of a God, so all branches of the Church confess to the
Gospel doctrine ; as the tradition of men witnesses to a Moral Gover-
nor and Judge, so the tradition of Saints witnesses to the Father Al-
mighty, and His only Son, and the Holy Ghost. And as neither the
superstitions of polytheism, nor the atheistic extravagances of particular
countries at particular times, practically interfere with our reception of
the one message which the sons of Adam deliver ; so, much less, do
the local heresies and temporary errors of the early Church, and its
superadded corruptions, its schismatic offshoots, or its partial defections
in later ages, impair the evidence and the claim of its teaching, in the
judgment of those who sincerely wish to know the Truth once delivered
to it. Blessed be God ! we have not to find the Truth, it is put into
our hands ; we have but to commit it to our hearts, to preserve it invi-
olate, and to deliver it over to our posterity.

This then is the meaning of St. Paul's injunction in the text, given
at the time when the Truth was first published. " Keep that which is
committed to thy trust," or rather, " keep the Deposit ;" turn away from
those " profane emptinesses" which pretenders to philosophy and sci-
ence bring forward against it. Do not be moved by them ; do not alter
your Creed for them ; for the end of such men is error. They go on
disputing and refining, giving new meanings, modifying received ones,
still with the idea of the True Faith in their minds as the scope of their
inquiries ; but at length they " miss " it. They shoot on one side of it,
and embrace a deceit of their own instead of it.

By the Faith is evidently meant, as St. Paul's words show, some de-
finite doctrine ; not a mere temper of mind or principle of action,
much less, vaguely, the Christian cause ; and accordingly, in his Second


Epistle to Timothy, the Apostle mentions as his comfort in the view of
death, that he had " kept the Faith." In the same Epistle he describes
it more particularly as " the Form" or outline •' of sound words," " the
excellent Deposit ;" phrases, which show that the Deposit certainly was
a series of truths and rules of some sort, (whether only doctrinal, or
preceptive also, and ecclesiastical,) and which are accurately descrip-
tive of the formulary since called the Apostles' Creed.* And these
same sacred truths which Timothy had received in trust, he was bid
" commit" in turn " to faithful men," who should be " able to teach
others also." By God's grace, he was enabled so to commit them ;
and they being thus transmitted from generation to generation, have
through God's continued mercy, reached even unto us, " upon whom
the ends of the world are come."

I propose, in what follows, to set before you, the account given us in
Scripture of this Apostolic Faith ; being led to do so on the one hand
by the Day, on which we commemorate its fundamental doctrine, and
on the other, by the mistaken views entertained of it by many persons
in this day, which seem to require notice.

Perhaps it may be right first to state what these erroneous opinions
are ; which I will do briefly. They are not novel, as scarcely any reli-
gious error can be, and assuredly what has once or twice died away in
former times, will come to its end in like manner once more. I do not
speak, as if I feared it could overcome the Ancient Truth once delivered
to the Saints ; but still, our watchfulness and care are the means ap-
pointed for its overthrow, and are not superseded but rather encouraged,
and roused, by the anticipation of ultimate success.

It is a fashion of the day, then, to suppose that all insisting upon
precise Articles of Faith, is injurious to the cause of spiritual religion,
and inconsistent with an enlightened view of it ; that it is all one to
maintain, that the Gospel requires the reception of definite and posi-
tive Articles, and to acknowledge it to be technical and formal ; that
such a notion is superstitious, and interferes v/ith the " liberty where-
with Ciirist has made us free ;" that it argues a deficient insight into
the principles and ends, a narrow comprehension of the spirit of His
revelation. Accordingly, instead of accepting reverently the doctrinal
Truths which have come down to us, an attempt is made by the rea-
soners of this age to compare them together, to weigh and measure

* Vide also, among other passages, 1 John ii. 21 — 27, wliich refers to nothing short
of a definite doctrine ; e. g. " Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard
from the beginning. Again, 2 Tim. ii. 18, "Who concerning the Truth have erred,
saying that the Resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some."


them, to analyze, simplify, refashion them ; to reduce them to system,
to arrange them into primary and secondary, to harmonize them into
an intelligible dependence upon each other. The teacher of Chris-
tianity, instead of delivering its Mysteries, and, (as far as may be) un-
folding them, is taught to scrutinize them, with a view of separating
the inward holy sense from the form of words, in which the Spirit has
indissolubly lodged them. He asks himself, what is the use of the
message which has come down to him ; what the comparative value
of this or that part of it. He proceeds to assume that there is some
one end of his ministerial labours, such as to be ascertainable by him,
some one revealed object of God's deaUngs with man in the Gospel.
Then, perhaps, he arbitrarily assigns this to be the salvation of the
world, or the conversion of sinners. Next he measures all the Scrip-
ture doctrines by their respective sensible tendency to effect this end.
He goes on to discard or degrade this or that sacred truth as superflu-
ous in consequence, or of inferior importance ; and throws the stress
of his teaching upon one or other, which he pronounces to contain in
it the essence of the Gospel, and on which he rests all others which he
retains. Lastly, he re-constructs the language of theology to suit his
(so-called) improved views of Scripture doctrine.

For instance, you will meet with writers who consider that all the
Attributes and Providences of God are virtually expressed in the one
proposition " God is Love ;" the other notices of His unapproachable
Glory contained in Scripture being but modifications of this. In con-
sequence they are led on to deny, first, the doctrine of eternal punish-
ment, as being inconsistent with this notion of Infinite Love ; next,
resolving such expressions as the " wrath of God " into a figure of
speech, they deny the Atonement, viewed as a real reconciliation of an
offended God to His creatures. Or, again, they say, that the object of
the Gospel Revelation is merely practical, and therefore, that theologi-
cal doctrines are altogether unnecessary, mere speculations, and hin-
drances to the extension of religion ; or, if not purely injurious, at least
requiring modification. Hence, you may hear them ask, " what is
the har7n of being a Sabellian, or Arian 1 how does it affect the moral
character ?" Or, again, they say that the great end of the Gospel, is
the union of hearts in the love of Christ and each other, and that in
consequence. Creeds are but fetters on souls which have received the
Spirit of Adoption ; that Faith is a mere temper and a principle, not
the acceptance for Christ's sake of a certain collection of Articles.
Others, again, have rested the whole Gospel upon the doctrines of the
Atonement, and Sanctification. And others have seemed to make the
doctrine of Justification by Faith the one cardinal point, upon which


the gates of life open and shut. Let so much suffice in explanation of
the drift of the following remarks.

St. Paul, I repeat, bids us hold fast the Faith which is entrusted to
our custody ; and that Faith is a " Form of sound words," an " Out-
line," which it is our duty, according to our opportunities, to fill up and
complete in all its parts. Now, let us see how much the very text of
Scripture will yield us of these elementary lines of Truth, of the un-
changeable Apostolic Rule of Faith, of which we are bound to be so

Its essential doctrine of course is what St. John terms generally
" the doctrine of Christ," and which, in the case of evey one calhng
himself Christian, is the profession necessary, (as he tells us,) for our
receiving him into our houses. St. Paul speaks in much the same com-
pendious way concerning the Gospel Faith, when he says, " Other
foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus, the Christ."
However, in an earlier passage of the same Epistle, he speaks more
explicitly : " I determined not to know any thing among you, save
Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." Thus the crucifixion of Christ was
one essential part of the outline of sound words preached and delivered
by the Apostle. In his Epistle to the Romans, he adds another article
of faith : " If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and
shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead,
thou shalt be saved." Here then the doctrine of the Resurrection is
added to that of the Crucifixion. Elsewhere he says : " There is One
God, and One Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,
who gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time ; even
whereunto I am ordained a preacher." Here Christ's Mediation and
Atonement are added as doctrines of Apostolical preaching. Further,
towards the end of an Epistle already quoted, he speaks still more dis-
tinctly of the Gospel which he had preached, and had deUvered over
to his converts ; and which he adds, all the other Apostles preached
also. " I put into your hands, first of all, what had before been put
into mine, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day accord-
ing to the Scriptures."* Here we find an approximation to the Arti-
cles of the Creed, as the Church has ever worded them.

But the letter of Scripture gives us still further insight into the sub-
jects of the Sacred Deposit, of which St. Paul speaks in the text. In
the course of the very Epistle in which it occurs, he delivers to Timo-
thy a more explicit " form of sound words" than any I have cited from

* 2 John 9— 11. 1 Cor. iii.ll; ii.2. Rom. x. 9. 1 Tim. ii. 5— 7. 1 Cor. xv. 3, 4.


his writings. He writes to tell him " how to conduct himself in the
Church of the Living God," which he had to govern, and how to pre-
serve it as " the pillar and ground of the Truth ;" and proceeds to
remind him what that Truth is. " God was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit, seen of Angels, preached unto the Gentiles,
believed on in the world, received up into glory." Here is mention,
among other doctrines, of the Incarnation and the Ascension. It seems
then to have been an article of the original Apostles' Creed, that Christ
was not a mere man, but God incarnate. In like manner, when the
Ethiopian asked to be baptized, and Philip said he might if he " believ-
ed with all his heart," this was his confession ; " I believe that Jesus
Christ is the Son of God." This, it should be observed, is his confes-
sion, after Philip had '■'■preached unto him Jesus.''*

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 40 of 76)