John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 47 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 47 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

it may be added, there is a considerable tendency in occupations con-
nected with gain to make a man unfair in his deahngs, that is, in a
subtle way. There are so many conventional deceits and prevarica-
tions in the details of the world's business, so much Intricacy in the
management of accounts, so many perplexed questions about justice
and equity, so many plausible subterfuges and fictions of law, so much
confusion between the distinct yet approximating outlines of honesty
and civil enactment, that it requires a very straightforward mind to
keep firm hold of strict conscientiousness, honour, and truth, and to look
at matters in which he is engaged, as he would have looked on them,
supposing he now came upon them all at once as a stranger.

And if such be the effect of the pursuit of gain on an individual,
doubtless it Avill be the same on a nation ; and if the peril be so great
in the one case, why should it be less in the other ? Rather considering
that the tendencies of things are sure to be brought out, where time and
numbers allow them fair course, is it not certain that any multitude,
any society of men, whose object is gain, will on the whole be actuated
by those feelings, and moulded into that character, which has been above
described ? With this thought before us, it is a very fearful considera-
tion that we belong to a nation which in good measure subsists by
making money. I will not pursue it ; nor inquire whether the especial
political evils of the day have not their root in that principle, which St.
Paul calls the root of all evil, the love of money. Only let us consider
the fact, that we are money-making people, with our Saviour's declara-
tions before us against wealth, and trust in wealth ; and we shall have
abundant matter for serious thought.

Lastly, with this dreary view before us of our condition and prospects
as a nation, the pattern of St. Matthew is our consolation ; for it sug-
gests that we, Christ's ministers, may use great freedom of speech, and

416 ST. MICHAEL. [Skrm.

state unreservedly the peril of wealth and gain, without aught of harsh-
ness or uncharitableness towards individuals who are exposed to it.
They may be brethren of the Evangelist, who left all for Christ's sake.
Nay such there have been (blessed be God !) in every age ; and in pro-
portion to the strength of the temptation which surrounds them, is their
blessedness and their praise, if they are enabled amid the " wares of the
seas " and the " great wisdom of their traffic " to hear Christ's voice, to
take up their Cross, and follow Him.



Pbalm civ. 4.
Who maketli His Angels spirits, His Ministers a flaming fire.

On to-day's Festival it well becomes us to direct our minds to the thought
of those Blessed Servants of God, who have never tasted of sin ; who
are among us, though unseen, ever serving God joyfully on earth as well
as in heaven ; who minister, through their Maker's condescending will,
to the redeemed in Christ, the heirs of salvation.

There have been ages of the world, in which men;have thought too much
of Angels, and paid them excessive honour ; honoured them so perversely
as to forget the supreme worship due to Almighty God. This is the sin
of a dark age. But the sin of what is called an educated age, such as
our own, is just the reverse ; to account slightly of them, or not at all,
to ascribe all we see around us, not to their agency, but to certain as-
sumed laws of nature. This, I say, is likely to be our sin, in proportion
as we are initiated into the learning of this world ; — and this is the danger
of many (so called) philosophical pursuits, now in fashion, and recom-
mended zealously to the notice of large portions of the community,
hitherto strangers to them, — chemistry, geology, and the like ; the
danger, that is, of resting in things seen, and forgetting unseen things
and our ignorance about them.


I will attempt to say what I mean more at length. The text informs
us that Almighty God makes His Angels spirits or winds, and His Min-
isters a flame of fire. Let us consider what is implied in this.

1. What a number of beautiful and wonderful objects does Nature
present on every side of us I and how little we know concerning them !
In some indeed we see symptoms of intelligence, and we get to form
some idea of what they are. For instance, about brute animals we
know little, but still we see they have sense, and we understand that
their bodily form which meets the eve is but the index, the outside token
of something we do not see. Much more in the case of men ; we see
them move, speak, and act, and we know that all we see takes place in
consequence of their will, because they have a spirit within them, though
we do not see it. But why do rivers flow ? Why docs rain fall ? Why
does the sun warm us ? And the wind, why does it blow ? Here our
natural reason is at fault ; we know, I say, that it is the spirit in man
and in beast that makes man and beast move, but reason tells us of no
spirit abiding in what is commonly called the natural world, to make it
perform its ordinary duties. Of course, it is God's will which sustains
it all ; so does God's will enable us to move also, yet this does not hinder,
but, in one sense, we may be truly said to move ourselves ; but how do
the wind and water, earth and fire move ? Now here Scripture
interposes, and seems to tell us, that all this wonderful harmony is the
work of Angels. Those events which we ascribe to chance as the
weather, or to nature as the seasons, are duties done to that God who
maketh His Angels to be winds, and His Ministers a flame of fire. For
example, it was an Angel which gave to the pool at Bethesda its medi-
cinal quality ; and there is no reason why we should doubt that other
health-springs in this and other countries are made such by a like unseen
ministry. The fires on Mount Sinai, the thunders and lightnings, were
the work of Angels ; and in the Apocalypse we read of the Angels re-
straining the four winds. Works of vengeance are likewise attributed
to them. The fiery lava of the volcanoes, which (as it appears) was
the cause of Sodom and Gomorrah's ruin, was caused by the two angels
who rescued Lot. 'i'he hosts of Sennacherib were destroyed by an
Angel, by means (it is supposed) of a suffocating wind. The pestilence
in Israel when David numbered the people, was the work of an Angel.
The earthquake at the resurrection was the work of an Angel. And
in the Apocalypse the earth is smitten in various ways by Angels

» John V. 4. Exod. xix. 16—18. Gal. iii. 10. Acts vii. 53. Rev. vii. 1. Gen.
xii. 13. 2 Kings xix. 35. 2Sam. xxiv. 15 — 17. Matt, xxviii. 2. Rev. viii. ix. xvi.
Vol I.— 27

418 ST. MICHAEL. [Serm.

Thus, as far as the Scripture communications go, we learn that the
course of Nature which is so wonderful, so beautiful, and so fearful, is
effected by the ministry of these unseen beings. Nature is not inani-
mate ; its daily toil is intelligent ; its works are duties. Accordingly,
the Psalmist says, " The heavens declare the glory of God, and the
firmament showeth His handy-work." " O Lord, Thy word endureth
for ever in heaven. Thy truth also remaineth from one generation to
another ; Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth, and it abideth.
They continue this day according to Thine ordinance, for all things
serve Thee:'*

I do not pretend to say, that we are told in Scripture what matter
is ; but I affirm, that as our souls move our bodies, be our bodies what
they may, so there are Spiritual intelligences which move those won-
derful and vast portions of the natural world, which seem to be inani-
mate ; and, as the gestures, speech, and expressive countenance of
our friends around us enable us to hold intercourse with them, so in the
motions of universal Nature, in the interchange of day and night, sum-
mer and winter, wind and storm, fulfilling His word, we are reminded
of the blessed and dutiful Angels. Well then, on this day's Festival,
may we sing the hymn of those Three Holy Children whom Nebuchad-
nezzar cast into the fiery furnace. The Angels were bid change the
nature of the flame, and make it harmless to them ; and they in turn
called on all the creatures of God, on the Angels especially, to glorify
Him. Though many hundreds of years have passed since that time,
and the world now vainly thinks it knows more than it did, and that it
has found the real causes of the things it sees, still may we say with
grateful and simple hearts, " all ye works of the Lord, O ye Angels
of the Lord, O ye sun and moon, stars of heaven, showers and dew,
winds of God, light and darkness, mountains and hills, green things
upon the earth, bless ye the Lord, praise Him, and magnify Him for-
ever." Thus whenever we look abroad, we are reminded of those most
gracious and holy Beings, the servants of the Holiest, who deign to
minister to the heirs of salvation. Every breath of air and ray of light
and heat, every beautiful prospect, is, as it were, the skirts of their gar-
ments, the waving of the robes of those, whose faces see God in hea-
ven. And I put it to any one, whether it is not as philosophical, and
as full of intellectual enjoyment, to refer the movements of the natural
world to them, as to attempt to explain them by certain theories of
science ; useful as these theories certainly are for particular purposes,

» Psa. xix. 1 ; cxix. 89—91.


and capable (in subordination to that higher view) of a rehgious appli-

2. And thus I am led to another use of the doctrine under con-
sideration. While it raises the mind, and gives it matter of thought
it is also profitable as a humbling doctrine, as indeed I have already
shown. Vain man would be wise, and he curiously examines the works
of Nature, as if they were Ufeless and senseless ; as if he alone had
intelligence, and they were base inert matter, however curiously con-
trived at the first. So he goes on, tracing the order of things, seeking
for Causes in that order, giving names to the wonders he meets with,
and thinking he understands what he has given a name to. At length
he forms a theory, and recommends it in writing, and calls himself a
philosopher. Now all these theories of science, which I speak of, are
useful, as classifying, and so assisting us to recollect, the works and ways
of God and of His ministering Angels. And again, they are ever most
useful, in enabling us to apply the course of His providence, and the
ordinances of His will to the benefit of man. Thus we are enabled to
enjoy God's gifts ; and let us thank Him for the knowledge which en-
ables us to do so, and honour those who are His instruments in commu-
nicating it. But if such a one proceeds to imagine that, because he
knows something of this world's wonderful order, he therefore knows
how things really go on, if he treats the miracles of Nature (so to call
them) as mere mechanical processes, continuing their course by them-
selves, — as works of man's contriving (a clock, for instance,) are set in
motion, and go on, as it were, of themselves, — if in consequence he is,,
what may be called, irreverent in his conduct towards Nature, thinking
(if I may so speak) that it does not hear him, and see how he is bearing
himself towards it ; and, if moreover he conceives that the Order of
Nature, which he partially discerns, will stand in the place of the God
who made it, and that all things continue and move on, not by His
will and power, and the agency of the thousands and ten thousands of
His unseen Servants, but by fixed laws, self-caused and self-sustained,
what a poor weak worm, and miserable sinner he becomes ! Yet such,
I fear, is the condition of many men now-a-days, who talk loudly, and
appear to themselves and others to be oracles of science, and as far as
the detail of facts goes, do know much more about the operations of
Nature than any of us.

Now let us consider what the real state of the case is. Supposing
the inquirer I have been describing, when examining a flower, or a herb,
or a pebble, or a ray of light, which he treats as something so beneath
him in the scale of existence, suddenly discovered that he was in the
presence of some powerful being who was hidden ^behind the visible

420 ST. MICHAEL. [Serm.

things he was inspecting, who, though conceaUng his wise hand, was
giving them their heauty, grace, and perfection, as being God's instru-
ment for the purpose, nay, whose robe and ornaments those wondrous
objects were, which he was so eager to analyze, what would be his
thoughts ? Should we but accidentally show a rudeness of manner
towards our fellow man, tread on the hem of his garment, or brush
roughly against him, are we not vexed, not as if we had hurt him, but
from the fear we may have been disrespectful ? David had watched
the awful pestilence three days, not with curious eyes, but doubtless
with an indescribable terror and remorse ; but, when at length he " hfted
up his eyes and saw the Angel of the Lord," (who caused the pesti-
lence) " stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword
in his hand stretched out ©ver Jerusalem, theii David and the elders,
who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces."* The mysteri-
ous irresistible pestilence became still more fearful when the cause was
known ; — and what is true of the painful, is true on the other hand of
the pleasant and attractive operations of Nature. When then we walk
abroad, and "meditate in the field at the eventide," how much has
every herb and flower in it to surprise and overwhelm us ! For, even
did we know as much about them as the wisest of men, yet there are
those around us, though unseen, to whom our greatest knowledge is as
ignorance ; and, when we converse on subjects of Nature scientifically,
repeating the names of plants and earths, and describing their proper-
ties, we should do so religiously, as in the hearing of the great Servants
of God, with the sort of diffidence which we always feel when speaking
before the learned and wise of our own mortal race, as poor beginners
in intellectual knowledge, as well as in moral attainments.

Now I can conceive persons saying all this is fanciful ; but if it
appears so, it is only because we are not accustomed to such thoughts.
Surely we are not told in Scripture about the Angels for nothing,
but for practical purposes ; nor can I conceive a use of our linowledge
more practical than to make it connect the sight of this world with the
thought of another. Nor one more consolatory ; for surely it is a
great comfort to reflect that, wherever we go, we have those about us,
who are ministering to all the heirs of salvation, though we see them
not. Nor one more easily to be understood and felt by all men ; for
we know that at one time the doctrine of Angels was received even
too readily. And if any one would argue hence against it as danger-
ous, let him recollect the great principle of our Church, that the abuse
of a thing does not supersede the use of it ; and let him explain, if he

* 1 Chron. xxi. 16.



can, St. Paul's exhorting Timothy not only as " before God and
Christ," but before " the elect Angels" also. Hence, in the Commu-
nion Service our Church teaches us to join our praises with that of
" Angels and Archangels, and all the Company of heaven ;" and the
early Christians even hoped that they waited on the Church's seasons
of worship, and glorified God with her. Nor are these thoughts with-
out their direct influence on our faith in God and His Son ; for the
more we can enlarge our view of the next world, the better. When
we survey Almighty God surrounded by His Holy Angels, His thou-
sand thousands of ministering Spirits, and ten thousand times ten
thousand standing before Him, the idea of his awful Majesty rises
before us more powerfully and impressively. We begin to see how
little we are, how altogether mean and worthless in ourselves, and how
high He is, and fearful. The very lowest of His Angels is indefinitely
above us in this our present state ; how high then must be the Lord of
Angels ! The very Seraphim hide their faces before His glory, while
they praise Him ; how shame-faced then should sinners be, when they
come into His presence !

Lastly, it is a motive to our exertions in doing the will of God, to
think that, if we attain to heaven, we shall become the fellows of the
blessed Angels. Indeed what do we know of the courts of heaven,
but as peopled by them ? and therefore doubtless they are revealed to
us, that we may have something to fix our thoughts on, when we look
heavenwards. Heaven indeed is the palace of Almighty God, and of
Him doubtless we must think in the first place ; and again of His Son
our Saviour, who died for us, and who is manifested in the Gospels, in
order that we may have something definite to look forward to ; for the
same cause, surely, the Angels also are revealed to us, that heaven may
be as httle as possible an unknown place in our imaginations.

Let us then entertain such thoughts as these of the Angels of God ;
and while we try to think of them worthily, let us beware lest we
make the contemplation of them a mere feeling, and a sort of luxury
of the imagination. This world is to be a world of practice and la-
bour ; God reveals to us glimpses of the Third Heaven for our com-
fort ; but if we indulge in these as the end of our present being, not
trying day by day to purify ourselves for the future enjoyment of the
realities, they become but a snare of our enemy. The Services of re-
ligion, day by day, obedience to God in our calling and in ordinary
matters, endeavours to imitate our Saviour Christ in word and deed,
constant prayer to Him, and dependence on Him, these are the due
p reparation for receiving and profiting by His revelations ; whereas
many a man can write and talk beautifully about them, who is not at
all better or nearer heaven for all his excellent words.



Exodus xxxi. 6.
In the hearts of all that are wise-hearted, I have put wisdom.

St. Luke differed from his fellow-evangelists and disciples in having
received the advantages of (what is called) a liberal education. In
this respect he resembled St. Paul, who, with equal accomplishments,
appears to have possessed even more learning. St. Luke is said to
have been a native of Antioch, a city celebrated for the refined habits
and cultivated intellect of its inhabitants ; and his profession was that
of a physician or surgeon, which of itself evidences him to have been
in education something above the generality of men. This is con-
firmed by the character of his writings, which are superior in composi-
tion to any part of the New Testament, excepting some of St. Paul's

There are persons who doubt whether what are called " accomplish-
ments," whether in literature or the fine arts, can be consistent with
deep and practical seriousness of mind. They think that attention to
these argues a lightness of mind, and at least takes up time which
might be better employed ; and, I confess, at first sight they seem to
be able to say much in defence of their opinion. Yet, notwithstanding,
St. Luke and St. Paul were accomplished men, and evidently took
pleasure in their accomphshments.

I am not speaking of human learning ; this also many men think
inconsistent with simple uncorrupted faith. They suppose that learn-
ing must make a man proud. This is of course a great mistake ; but
of it I am not speaking, but of an over-jealousy of accomplishments, the
elegant arts and studies, such as poetry, literary composition, painting,
music, and the like ; which are considered, (not indeed to make a man
proud, but) to make him irijling. Of this opinion, how far it is true,
and how far not true, I am going to speak ; being led to the considera-


tion of it by the known fact, that St. Luke was a polished writer, and
and yet an Evangelist.

Now, that the accomplishments I speak of have a tendency to make
us trifling and unmanly, and therefore, are to be viewed by each of us
■with suspicion as far as regards himself, I am ready to admit, and shall
presently make clear. I allow, that in matter of fact, refinement and
luxury, elegance and effeminacy, go together. Antioch, the most
polished, w^as the most voluptuous city of Asia. But the abuse of good
things is no argument against the things themselves ; mental cultiva-
tion may be a divine gift, though it is abused. All God's gifts are
perverted by man ; health, strength, intellectual power, are all turned
by sinners to bad purposes, yet they are not evil in themselves : there-
fore an acquaintance with the elegant arts may be a gift and a good,
and intended to be an instrument of God's glory, though numbers who
have it are rendered thereby indolent, luxurious, and feeble-minded.

But the account of the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness,
from which the text is taken, is decisive on this point. It is too long to
read to you, but a few verses vv'ill remind you of the nature of it.
" Thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled
with the Spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments to con-
secrate him, that he may minister unto Me in the priest's office." " See
I have called thy name Bezaleel . . . and have filled him with the
Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and
in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in
gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them,
and in carving of timber, to work all manner of workmanship." " Take
ye fr.;m among you an offering unto the Lord ; whosoever is of a will-
ing heart let him bring it, an offering of the Lord, gold, and silver, and
brass, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goat's hair,
and rams' skins dyed red, and badgers' skins, andshittim wood, and oil
for the light, and spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense, and
oynx stones, and stones to be set for the ephod, and for the breastplate,
and every wise-hearted among you shall come and make all that the
Lord hath commanded."*

How then is it, that what in itself is of so excellent, and (I may say)
divine a nature, is yet so commonly perverted 1 I proceed to state
what is the danger, as it appears to me, of being accomplished, with a
view to answer this question.

Now, the danger of an elegant and polite education is, that it sepa-
rates feeling and acting ; it teaches us to think, speak, and be affected

* Eiod. xiviii. 3. xixi. 2—5. xxxv. 5 — 10.

424 ST. LUKE. [Serm.

aright, without forcing us to practice what is right. I will take an illustra-
tion of this, though somewhat a familiar one, from the effect produced
on the mind by reading what is commonly called a romance or novel,
which comes under the description of polite literature, of which I anm
speaking. ^ ;ich works contain many good sentiments; (I am taking
the better sort of them,) characters too are introduced, virtuous, noble,
patient under suffering, and triumphing at length over misfortune.
The great truths of religion are upheld, we will suppose, and enforced i.
and our affections excited and interested in what is good and true.
But it is all fiction ; it docs not exist out of a book which contains the
beginning and end of it. We have nothing to do ; we read, are
affected, softened or roused, and that is all ; we cool again, — nothing
comes of it. Now observe the effect of this. God has made us feel in
order that we may go on to act in consequence of feeling ; if then we'
allow our feelings to be excited without acting upon them, we do mis-
chief to the moral system within us, just as we might spoil a watch, or
other piece of mechanism, by playing with the wheels of it. We
weaken its springs, and they cease to act truly. Accordingly, when
we have got into the habit of amusing ourselves with these works of
fiction, we come at length to feel the excitement without the slightest
thought or tendency to act upon it ; and, since it is very difficult to
begin any duty without some emotion or other, (that is, on mere princi-
ples of dry reasoning,) a grave question arises, how, after destroying-
the connection between feeling and acting, how shall we get ourselves
to act when circumstances make it our duty to do so ? For instance,

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 47 of 76)