John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 42 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 42 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

great deal of thoughtful kindness among us, of conceding in little mat-
ters, of scrupulous propriety of words, and a sort of code of liberal and
honourable dealing in the conduct of society. There is a steady regard
for the rights of individuals, nay, as one would fain hope in spite of
misgivings, for the interest of the poorer classes, the stranger, the fa-
therless, and the widow. In such a country as ours, there must always
be numberless instances of distress after all ; yet the anxiety to relieve
it existing among the more wealthy classes is unquestionable. And it
is as unquestionable, that we are somewhat disposed to regard ourselves
favourably in consequence; and in the midst of our national trials and
fears, to say (nay sometimes with real humility and piety) that we do
trust that these characteristic virtues of the age may be allowed to come
up as a memorial before God, and to plead for us. When we think of
the commandments, we know Charity to be the first and greatest ; and
we are tempted to ask with the young ruler, " What lack we yet ?"

I ask then, by way of reply, does not our kindness too often degene-
rate into weakness, and thus become not Christian Charity, but lack of
Charity, as regards the objects of it 1 Are we sufficiently careful to do
what is right and just, rather than what is pleasant 1 do we clearly un-
derstand our professed principles, and do we keep to them under tempta-
tion 1

The history of St. Barnabas will help us to answer this question hon-
estly. Now I fear we lack altogether, what he lacked in certain occur-


rences in it, firmness, manliness, godly severity. I fear it must be con-
fessed, that our kindness, instead of being directed and braced by prin-
ciple, too often becomes languid and unmeaning; that it is exerted on
improper objects, and out of season, and so is uncharitable in two ways,
indulging those who should be chastised, and preferring their comfort to
those who are really deserving. We are over-tender in dealing with sin
and sinners. We are deficient in jealous custody of the revealed Truths
which Christ has left us. We allow men to speak against the Church,
its ordinances, or its teaching, without remonstrating with them. We
do not separate from heretics, nay, we object to the word as if unchar-
itable ; and when such texts are brought against us as St. John's com-
mand, not to show hospitality towards them, we are not slow to answer
that they do not apply to us.

Now, I scarcely can suppose any one really means to say, for cer-
tain, that these commands are superseded in the present day, and is
quite satisfied upon the point ; it will rather be found that men who so
speak, merely wish to put the subject from them. For a long while
they have forgotten that there were any such commands in Scripture ;
they have lived as though there were not, and not being in circum-
stances which immediately called for the consideration of them, they
have familiarized their minds to a contrary view of the matter, and
built their opinions upon it. When reminded of the fact, they are
sorry to have to consider it, as they perhaps avow. They perceive
that it interferes with the line of conduct to which they are accus-
tomed. They are vexed, not as if allowing themselves to be wrong,
but as feeling conscious that a plausible argument (to say the least)
may be maintained against them. And instead of daring to give this
argument fair play, as in honesty they ought, they hastily satisfy
themselves that oI)jections may be taken against it, use some vague
terms of disapprobation against those who use it, recur to, and dwell
upon, their own hal)itual view of the benevolent and indulgent spirit of
the Gospel, and then dismiss the subject altogether, as if it had never
been brought before them. Observe how they rid themselves of it ; it
is by confronting it with other views of Christianity, which they con-
sider incompatible with it ; whereas the very problem which Christian
duty requires us to accomplish, is the reconciling in our conduct oppo-
site virtues. It is not difficult (comparatively speaking) to cultivate
single virtues. A man takes some one partial view of his duty,
whether severe or kindly, whether of action or of meditation ; he
enters into it with all his might, he opens his heart to its influence, and
allows himself to be sent forward on its current. This is not difficult ;
there is no anxious vigilance or self-denial in it. On the contrary,

372 ST. BARNABAS. [Serit.

there is a pleasure often in thus sweeping along in one way ; and espe-
cially in matters of giving and conceding. Liberality is always popu-
lar, whatever be the subject of it ; and excites a glow of pleasure and
self-approbation in the giver, even though it involves no sacrifice, nay,
is exercised upon the property of others. Thus in the sacred province
of religion, men are led on, — without any bad principle, without that
utter dislike or ignorance of the Truth, or that self-conceit, which are
chief instruments of Satan at this day, nor again from mere cowardice
or worldliness, but from thoughtlessness, a sanguine temper, the excite-
ment of the moment, the love of making others happy, susceptibility of
flattery, and the habit of looking only one way, — led on to give up
Gospel Truths, to consent to open the Church to the various denomi-
nations of error which abound among us, or to alter our Services so as
to please the scofler, the lukewarm, or the vicious. To be kind is their
one principle of action ; and, when they find offence taken at the
Church's creed, they begin to think how they may modify or curtail it,
under the same sort of feeling as would lead them to be generous in a
monev transaction, or to accommodate another at the price of personal
inconvenience. Not understanding that their religious privileges are a
trust to be handed on to posterity, a sacred property entailed upon the
Christian family, and their own in enjoyment rather than in possession,
they act the spendthrift, and are lavish of the goods of others. Thus,
for instance, they speak against the Anathemas of the Athanasian
Creed, or of the Commination Service, or of certain of the Psalms, and
wish to rid themselves of them. Undoubtedly, even the best speci-
mens of these men are deficient in a due appreciation of the Christian
Mysteries, and of their own responsibility in preserving and trans-
mitting them ; yet, some of them are such truly " good " men, so amiable
and feeling, so benevolent to the poor, and of such repute among all
classes, in short, fulfil so excellently the office of shining like lights in
the world, and witnesses of Him " who went about doing good," that
those who most deplore their failing, will still be most desirous of excus-
ing them personally, while they feel it a duty to withstand them-
Sometimes it may be, that these persons cannot bring themselves to
think evil of others ; and harbour men of heretical opinions or immoral
life from the same easiness of temper which makes thein fit subjects
for the practices of the cunning and selfish in worldly matters. And
sometimes they fasten on certain favourable points of character in the
person they should discountenance, and cannot get themselves to
attend to any but these ; arguing that he is certainly pious and well-
meaning, and that his errors plainly do himself no harm ; — whereas the
question is not about their effects on this or that individual, but simply


whether they are errors ; and again, whether they are not certain to
be injurious to the mass of men, or, on the long run, as it is called. Or
they cannot bear to hurt another by the expression of their disap-
probation, though it be that " his soul may be saved in the day of the
Lord." Or perhaps they are deficient in keenness of intellectual per-
ception as to the moral mischief of certain speculative opinions, as they
consider them ; and not knowing their ignorance enough to forbear
the use of private judgment, nor having faith enough to acquiesce in
God's word, or the decision of His Church, they incur the respon-
sibility of serious changes. Or, perhaps they shelter themselves
behind some confused notion, which they have taken up, of the peculiar
character of our own Church, arguing that they belong to a tolerant
Church, that it is but consistent as well as right in her members to be
tolerant, and that they are but exemplifying tolerance in their own
conduct, when they treat with indulgence those who are lax in creed
or conduct. Now, if by the tolerance of our Church, it be meant
that she does not countenance the use of fire and sword against those
who separate from her, so far she is truly called a tolerant Church ;
but she is not tolerant of error, as those very formularies, which they
wish to remove, testify ; and if she retains within her bosom, proud
intellects, and cold hearts, and unclean hands, and dispenses her bless-
ings to those who disbelieve or are unworthy of them, this arises from
jother causes, certainly not from her principles ; else were she guilty of
Eli's sin, which may not be imagined.

Such is the defect of mind suggested to us by the instances of imper-
fection recorded of St. Barnabas ; it will be more clearly understood by
contrasting him with St. John. We cannot compare good men togeth-
er in their points of excellence ; but whether the one or the other of
these Apostles had the greater share of the spirit of love, we all know,
that any how the Beloved Disciple abounded in it. His General Epis-
tle is full of exhortations to cherish that blessed temper, and his name is
associated in our minds with such heavenly dispositions as are more im-
mediately connected with it, — contemplativeness, serenity of soul, clear-
ness of faith. Now see in what he differed from Barnabas ; in uniting
.charity with a firm maintenance of the Truth as it is in Jesus. So far
were his fervour and exuberance of charity from interfering with his
zeal for God, that rather, the more he loved men, the more he desired
to bring before them the great unchangeable Verities, to which they
must submit, if they would see life, and on which a weak indulgence
suffers them to shut their eyes. He loved the brethren, but he "loved
Ihem in the Truth."* He loved them for the Living Truth's sake which
* 3 John 1.

374 ST. BARNABAS. [Sb»k...

had redeemed them, for the Truth which was in them, for the Truth
which was the measure of their spiritual attainments. He loved the
Church so honestly, that he was stern towards those who troubled her.
He loved the world so wisely, that he preached the Truth in it ; yet, if
men rejected it, he did not love them so inordinately as to forget the
supremacy of the Truth, as the Word of Him who is above all. Let it
never be forgotten then, when we picture to ourselves this saintly Apos-
tle, this unearthly Prophet, who fed upon the sights and voices of the
world of Spirits, and looked out heavenwards day by day for Him, whom
he had once seen in the flesh, that this is he who gives us that com-
mand about shunning heretics, which whether of force in this age or
not, still certainly in any age is (what men now call) severe ; and that
this command of his is but in unison with the fearful descriptions he gives
in other parts of his inspired writings of the Presence, the Law, and the
Judgments of Almighty God. Who can deny that the Apocalypse from
beginning to end is a very fearful book ; I may say, the most fearful
book in Scripture, full of accounts of the wrath of God ? Yet, it is
written by the Apostle of love. It is possible then, for a man to be at
once kind as Barnabas, yet zealous as Paul. Strictness and tenderness
had no "sharp contention " in the breast of the beloved Disciple ; they
found their perfect union, yet distinct exercise, in the grace of Charity,
which is the fulfilling of the whole Law.

I wish I saw any prospect of this element of zeal and holy sternness
springing up among us, to temper and give character to the languid
unmeaning benevolence which we misname Christian love. I have no
hope of my country till I see it. Many schools of Religion and Ethics
are to be found among us, and they all profess to magnify, in one shape
or other, what they consider the principle of love ; but what they lack
is, a firm maintenance of that characteristic of the Divine Nature,
which, in accommodation to our infirmity, is named by St. John and
his brethren, the wrath of God. Let this be well observed. There
are men who are advocates of Expedience ; these, as far as they are
religious at all, resolve conscience into an instinct of mere benevo-
lence, and refer all the dealings of Providence with His creatures to the
same one Attribute. Hence, they consider all punishment to be reme-
dial, a means to an end, deny that the wo threatened against sinners
is of eternal duration, and explain away the doctrine of the Atone-
ment. There are others, who place religion in the mere exercise of the
excited feelings ; and these too look upon their God and Saviour, as far
(that is) as they themselves are concerned, solely as a God of love.
They believe themselves to be converted from sin to righteousness by
the mere manifestation of that love to their souls, drawing them on to


Him ; and they imagine that that same love, untired by any possible
transgressions on their part, will surely carry forward every individual
so chosen to final triumph. Moreover, as accounting that Christ has
already done every thing for their salvation, they do not feel that a
moral change is necessary on their part, or rather, they consider that
the Vision of revealed love works it in them spontaneously ; in either
case dispensing with all laborious efforts, all " fear and trembling," all
self-denial in " working out their salvation," nay, looking upon such
qualifications with suspicion, as leading to a supposed self-confidence
and spiritual pride. Once more, there arc others of a mystical turn of
mind, with untutored imaginations and subtle intellects, who follow the
theories of the old Gentile philosophy. These, too, are accustomed
to make love the one principle of life and providence in heaven and
earth, as if it were a pervading Spirit of the world, finding a sympathy
in every heart, absorbing all things into itself, and kindhng a rapturous
enjoyment in all who contemplate it. They sit at home speculating,
and separate moral perfection from action. These men either hold, or
are in the way to hold, that the human soul is pure by nature ; sin an
external principle corrupting it ; evil, destined to final annihilation ;
Truth attained by means of the imagination ; conscience, a taste ;
holiness, a passive contemplation of God ; and obedience, a mere
pleasurable work. It is difficult to discriminate accurately between
these three schools of opinion, without using words of unseemly fami-
liarity ; yet I have said enough for those who wish to pursue the subject.
Let it be observed then, that these three systems, however different from
each other in their principles and spirit, yet all agree in this one respect,
viz., in overlooking that the Christian's God is represented in Scripture,
not only as a God of love, but also as " a consuming fire." Rejecting
the testimony of Scripture, no wonder they also reject that of conscience,
which assuredly forebodes ill to the sinner, but which, as the exclusive
rehgionist maintains, is not the voice of God at all, — or is a mere bene-
volence, according to the disciple of Utility, — or, in the judgment of
the more mystical sort, a kind of passion for the beautiful and sublime.
Regarding thus " the goodness" only, and not " the severity of God,"
no wonder that they ungird their loins and become effeminate ; no won-
der that their ideal notion of a perfect Church, is a Church which lets
every one go on his own way, and disclaims any right to pronounce an
opinion, much less inflict a censure on religious error.

But those who think themselves and others in risk of an eternal curse,
dare not be thus indidgent. Here then lies our want at the present day,
for this we must pray, — that a reform may come in the spirit and power
of Elias. We must pray God thus " to revive His work in the midst of


the years ;" to send us a severe Discipline, the Order of St. Paul and
St. John, "speaking the Truth in love," and " loving in the Truth," —
a Witness of Christ, " knowing the terror of the Lord," fresh from the
presence of Him " whose heads and hairs are white like wool, as white
as snow, and whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and out of His mouth a
sharp sword," — a Witness not shrinking from proclaiming His wrath, as
a real characteristic of His glorious nature, though expressed in human
language for our sakes, proclaiming the narrowness of the way of life,
the difficulty of attaining Heaven, the danger of riches, the necessity
of taking up our cross, the excellence and beauty of self-denial and
austerity, the hazard of disbelieving the Catholic Faith, and the duty of
zealously contending for it.

Thus only will the tidings of mercy come with force to the souls of
men with a constraining power and with an abiding impress, when
hope and fear go together ; then only will Christians be successful in
fight, " quitting themselves like men," conquering and ruling the fury
of the world, and maintaining the Church in purity and power, when
they condense their feelings by a severe discipline, and are loving in
the midst of firmness, strictness, and holiness. Then only can we
prosper, (under the blessing and grace of Him who is the Spirit both of
]ove and of truth,) when the heart of Paul is vouchsafed to us, to with-
stand even Peter and Barnabas, if ever they are overcome by mere
human feelings, to " know henceforth no man after the flesh," to put
away from us sister's son, or nearer relative, to relinquish the sight of
them, the hope of them, and the desire of them, when He commands,
who raises up friends even to the lonely, if they trust in Him, and will
give us " within His walls a name better than of sons and of daughters,
an everlasting name that shall not be cut off."*

* Isai. Ivi. 4, 5.



Mark vi. 18.
John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.

In the Collect of this day, we pray God to enable us " boldly to rebuke
vice" after the example of St. John the Baptist, who died a Martyr in
the faithful discharge of this duty.

Herod the Tetrurch had taken his brother's wife. John the Baptist
protested against so heinous a sin ; and the guilty king, though he could
not bring himself to forsake it, yet respected the prophet, and tried to
please him in other ways ; but Herodias, the proud and cruel woman
whom he had married, resented his interference, and at length effected
his death. I need not go through the details of this atrocious history,
which are well known to every reader of the Gospels.

St. John the Baptist had a most difficult office to fulfil ; that of re-
buking a king. Not that it is difficult for a man of rude arrogant mind
to say a harsh thing to men in power, — nay, rather, it is a gratification
to such a one ; but it is difficult to rebuke well, that is, at a right time,
in a right spirit, and a right manner. The Holy Baptist rebuked Herod
without making him angry ; therefore he must have rebuked him with
gravity, temper, sincerity, and an evident good-will towards him. On
the other hand, he spoke so firmly, sharply, and faithfully, that his rebuke
cost him his life.

We who now live have not that extreme duty put upon us with which
St. John was laden ; yet every one of us has a share in his office, inas-
much as we are all bound " to rebuke vice boldly," when we have fit
opportunities for so doing. I proceed then to make some remarks upon
the duty, as enforced upon us by to-day's Festival.

Now, it is plain that there are two sorts of men in the world ; — those
who put themselves forward, and speak much ; and those who retire, and

378 ST. JOHN BAPTIST. [Serm-

from indolence, timidity, or fastidiousness, do not care to express an
opinion on what comes before them. Neither of these classes will act
the part of St. John the Baptist in their intercourse with others : the
retiring will not rebuke vice at all ; the bold and ill-mannered will take
a pleasure in giving their judgment, whether they are fit judges or not,
whether they ought to speak or not, and at all times proper and improper.

These self-appointed censors of vice are not to be countenanced or
tolerated by any serious Christian. The subjects of their attack are often
open to censure, it is true ; and should be censured, but not by them.
Yet these men take upon them, on their own authority, to blame them ; —
often, because those whose duty it is, neglect to do so ; and then they
flatter themselves with the notion that they are energetic champions of
virtue, strenuous and useful guardians of public morals or popular rights.
There is a multitude of such men in these days, who succeed the better,
because they conceal their names ; and are thus relieved of the trouble
of observing delicacy in their manner of rebuking, escape the retaliation
which the assailed party may inflict on an open assailant, and are able
to dispense with such requisites of personal character and deportment
as are ordinarily expected from those who assume the office of the
Baptist. And, by speaking against men of note, they gratify the bad
passions of the multitude ; fond, as it ever is, of tales of crime, and male-
volent towards the great ; and thus they increase their influence, and
come to be looked up to and feared.

Now such officious accusers of vice are, I say, to be disowned by all
who wish to be really Christians. Every one has his place, one to obey,
another to rule, a third to rebuke. It is not religious to undertake an
office without a commission. John the Baptist was miraculously called
to the duties of a reformer and teacher. Afterwards, an Order of men
was appointed for the performance of the same services ; and this order
remains to this day in an uninterrupted succession. Those who take
upon them to rebuke vice without producing credentials of their authority,
are intruding upon the office of God's Ministers. They may indeed
succeed in their usurpation, they may become popular, be supported by
the many, and be recognised even by the persons whom they attack, still
the function of Censor is from God, whose final judgment it precedes
and shadows forth : and not a whole generation of self-willed men can
bestow on their organ the powers of a divine ambassador. It is our
part, then, anxiously to guard against the guilt of acquiescing in the
claims of such false prophets, lest we fall under the severity of our
Lord's prediction : " I am come in My Father's name," he says, "and
ye receive Me not. If another shall come in his own name, him ye
win receive."*

» 1 John V. 43.


I notice this peculiarity of the Reprover's office, as founded on a
X>ivine Commission, and the consequent sin of undertaking it without a
call, for another reason. Besides these bad men, who clamour against
vice for gain and envy's sake, I know there are others of a better stamp,
who imagine that they ought to rebuke, when in truth they ought not ;
and who, on finding that they cannot do the office well, or on getting
into trouble in attempting it, are perplexed and discouraged, or consider
that they suffer for righteousness' sake. But our duty is commonly a far
more straightforward matter than excited and over-sensitive minds are
apt to suppose, that is, as far as concerns our knowing it ; and, when
we find ourselves perplexed to ascertain it, we should ask ourselves,
whether we have not embarrassed our course by some unnecessary or
self-willed conduct of our own. For instance, when men imagine it to
be their duty to rebuke their superiors, they get into difficulties, for the
simple reason, that it is and ever will be difficult to do another man's
duty. When the young take upon them to set right their elders, private
Christians speak against the Clergy, the Clergy attempt to direct their
Bishops, or servants their masters, they will find that, generally speak-
ing, the attempt does not succeed ; and perhaps they will impute their
failure to circumstances, — whereas, the real reason is that there was no

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 42 of 76)