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but the thoughts of the heart too. The stirrings of pride, vanity, covet-
ousness, impurity, discontent, resentment, these succeed each other
through the day in momentary emotions, and are known to Him. We
know them not ; but how much does it concern us to know them !

2. This consideration is suggested by the first view of the subject.
Now reflect upon the actual disclosures of our hidden weakness, which
accidents occasion. Peter followed Christ boldly, and suspected not
his own heart, till it betrayed him in the hour of temptation, and led him
to deny his Lord. David hved years of happy obedience while he was
in private life. What calm, clear-sighted faith is manifested in his an-
swer to Saul about Goliath : — " The Lord that dehvered me out of the
paw of the hon, and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out
of the hand of this Phihstine."* Nay, not only in retired hfe, in severe
trial, under ill usage from Saul, he continued faithful to his God ; years
and years did he go on, fortifying his heart, and learning the fear of the
Lord ; yet power and wealth weakened his faith, and for a season over-

* 1 Sam. xvii. 37.



came him. There was a time when a prophet could retort upon him^
" Thou art the man"* whom thou condemnest. He had kept his prin-
ciples in words, but lost them in his heart. Hezekiah is another instance
of a rehgious man bearing trouble well, but for a season falling back
under the temptation of prosperity ; and that, after extraordinary mer-
cies had been vouchsafed to him.f And if these things be so in the of the favoured saints of God, what (may we suppose) is our own
real spiritual state in His sight 1 It is a serious thought. The warning
to be deduced from it is this : — Never to think we have a due know-
ledge of ourselves till we have been exposed to various kinds of tempta-
tions, and tried on every side. Integrity on one side of our character is
no voucher for integrity on another. We cannot tell how we should act
if brought under temptations different from those which we have hitherto
experienced. This thought should keep us humble. We are sinners,
but we do not know how great. He alone knows who died for our sins.

3. Thus much we cannot but allow ; that we do not know ourselves
in those respects in Avhich we have not been tried. But farther than
this ; What if we do not know ourselves even where we have been
tried, and found faithful ? It is a remarkable circumstance which has
been often observed, that if we look to some of the most eminent saints
of Scripture, we shall find their recorded errors to have occurred in those
parts of their duty in which each had had most trial, and generally
showed obedience most perfect. Faithful Abraham through want of
faith denied his wife. Moses, the meekest of men, was excluded from
the land of promise for a passionate word. The wisdom of Solomon
was seduced to bow down to idols. Barnabas, again, the son of conso.
lation, had a sharp contention with St. Paul. If then men, who knew
themselves better than we doubtless know ourselves, had so much of
hidden infirmity about them, even in those parts of their character
which were most free from blame, what are we to think of ourselves ?
and if our very virtues be so defiled with imperfection, what must be the
unknown multiplied circumstances of evil which aggravate the guilt of
our sins ? This is a third presumption against us.

4. Think of this too. No one begins to examine himself, and to pray
to ktiow himself, (with David in the text,) but he finds within him an
abundance of faults which before were either entirely or almost entirely
unknown to him. That this is so, we learn from the written lives of
good men, and our own experience of others. And hence it is that the
best men are ever the most humble ; for, having a higher standard of
excellence in their minds than others have, and knowing themselves

* 2 Sam. xii. 7. t 2 Kings xx. 12-19.


better, they see somewhat of the breadth and depth of their own sinful
nature, and are shocked and frightened at themselves. The generality
of men cannot understand this ; and if at times the habitual self-con-
demnation of religious men breaks out into words, they > think it arises
froiK affectation, or from a strange distempered state of mind, or from
accidental melancholy and disquiet. Whereas, the confession of a good
man against himself, is really a witness against all thoughtless persons
who hear it, and a call on them to examine their own hearts. Doubt-
less the more we examine ourselves, the more imperfect and ignorant
we shall find ourselves to be.

5. But let a man persevere in prayer and watchfulness to the day of
his death, yet he will never get to the bottom of his heart. Though he
know more and more of himself as he becomes more conscientious and
earnest, still the full manifestation of the secrets there lodged, is re-
served for another world. And at the last day who can tell the affright
and horror of a man who lived to himself on earth, indulging his own
evil will, following his own chance notions of truth and falsehood, shun-
ning the cross and the reproach of Christ, when his eyes are at length
opened before the throne of God, and all his innumerable sins, his ha-
bitual neglect of God, his abuse of his talents, his misapplication and
waste of time, and the original unexplored sinfulness of his nature are
brought clearly and fully to his view ? Nay, even to the true servants
of Christ, the prospect is awful. " The righteous," we are told, " will
scarcely be saved."* Then will the good man undergo the full sight of
his sins, which on earth he was labouring to obtain, and partly succeeded
in obtaining, though life was not long enough to learn and subdue them
all. Doubtless we must all endure that fierce and terrifying vision of
our real selves, that last fiery trial of the soulf before its acceptance, a
spiritual agony and second death to all who are not then supported by
the strength of Him who died to bring them safe through it, and in
whom on earth they have beheved ?

My brethren, I appeal to your reason whether these presumptions are
not in their substance fair and just. And if so, next I appeal to your
consciences, whether they are new to you ; for if you have not even
thought about your real state, nor even know how little you know of
yourselves, how can you in good earnest be purifying yourselves for the
next world, or be walking in the narrow way ?

And yet how many are the chances that a number of those who now
hear me have no sufficient knowledge of themselves, or sense of their

*"l Pet. iv. 18. t 1 Cor. iii. 13.


ignorance, and are in peril of their souls ! Christ's ministers cannot tell
who are, and who are not, the true elect ; but when the difficulties in
the way of knowing yourselves aright are considered, it becomes a most
serious and immediate question for each of you to entertain, whether or
not he is living a life of self-deceit, and thinking far more comfortably
of his spiritual state than he has any right to do. For call to mind the
impediments that are in the way of your knowing yourselves, or feel-
ing your ignorance, and then judge.

1. First of all, self knowledge does not come as a matter of course;
it implies an effort and a work. As well may we suppose, that the
knowledge of the languages comes by nature, as that acquaintance with
our own heart is natural. Now the very effort of steadily reflecting, is
itself painful to many men ; not to speak of the difficulty of reflecting
correctly. To ask ourselves why we do this or that, to take account of
the principles which govern us, and see whether we act for conscience'
sake or from some lower inducement, is painful. We are busy in the
world, and what leisure time we have \ye readily devote to a less severe
and wearisome employment.

2. And then comes in our self-love. We hope the -best ; this saves
us the trouble of examining. Self-love answers for our safety. We
think it .sufficient caution to allow for certain possible unknown faults at
the utmost, and to take them into the reckoning when we balance our
account with our conscience : whereas, if the truth were known to us,
we should find we had nothing but debts, and those greater than we can
conceive, and ever increasing,

3. And this favourable judgment of ourselves will especially prevail,
if we have the misfortune to have uninterrupted health and high spirits,
and domestic comfort. Health of body and mind is a great blessing,
if we can bear it ; but unless chastened by watchings and fastings,* it
will commonly seduce a man into the notion that he is much__better than
he really is. Resistance to our acting rightly, whether it proceeds from
within or without, tries our principle ; but when things go smoothly,
and we have but to wish, and we can perform, we cannot tell how far
we do or do not act from a sense of duty. When a man's spirits are
high, he is pleased with every thing ; and with himself especially. He
can act with vigour and promptness, and he mistakes this mere consti-
tutional energy for strength of faith. He is cheerful and contented ;
and he mistakes this for Christian peace. And, if happy in his family,
he mistakes mere natural affection for Christian benevolence, and the
confirmed temper of Christian love. In short, he is in a dream, from

« 2 Cor. xi. 27.


which nothing could have saved him except deep humiUty, and nothing
will ordinarily rescue him except sharp affliction.

Other accidental circumstances are frequently causes of a similar
self-deceit. While we remain in retirement from the world, we do not
know ourselves ; or after any great mercy or trial, which has affected
us much, and given a temporary strong impulse to our obedience ; or
when we are in keen pursuit of some good object, which excites the
mind, and for a time deadens it to temptation. Under such circum-
stances, we are ready to think far too well of ourselves. The world is
away ; or, at least, we are insensible to its seductions ; and we mistake
our merely temporary tranquillity, or our over- wrought fervour of mind,
on the one hand for Christian peace, on the other for Christian zeal.

4. Next we must consider the force of habit. Conscience at first
warns us against sin ; but if we disregard it, it soon ceases to upbraid
us ; and thus sins, once known, in time become secret sins. It seems
then, (and it is a startling reflection,) that the more guilty we are, the
less we know it ; for tiie oftener we sin, the less we are distressed at it.
I think many of us m,ay, on reflection, recollect instances, in our expe-
rience of ourselves, of our gradually forgetting things to be wrong which
once shocked us. Such is the force of habit. By it (for instance) men
contrive to allow themselves in various kinds of dishonesty. They bring
themselves to affirm what is untrue, or what they are not sure is true, in
the course of business. They overreach and cheat ; and, still more are
they likely to fall into low and selfish ways without their observing it,
and all the while to continue careful in their attendance on the Christian
ordinances, and bear about them a form of religion. Or, again, they
will live in self-indulgent habits ; eat and drink more than is right ; dis-
play a needless pomp and splendour in their domestic arrangements,
without any misgiving ; much less do they think of simphcity of man-
ners and abstinence as Christian duties. Now we cannot suppose they
always thought their present mode of living to be justifiable, for others
arc still struck v/ith its impropriety ; and what others now feel, doubt-
less they once felt themselves. But such is the force of habit. So
again, to take as a third instance, the duty of stated private prayer ; at
first it is omitted with compunction, but soon with indifference. But it
is not the less a sin because we do not feel it to be such. Habit has
made it a secret sin.

5. To the force of habit must be added that of custom. Every age
has its own v/rong ways ; and these have such influence, that even good
men, from living in the world, are unconsciously misled by them. At
one time a fierce persecuting hatred of those who erred in Christian
doctrine has prevailed ; at another, an odious over-estimation of wealth
Vol. I.— 3


and the means of wealth ; at another, an irreHgious veneration of the
mere intellectual powers ; at another, a laxity of morals ; at another,
disregard of the forms and discipline of the Church. The most rehgious
men, unless they are especially watchful, will feel the sway of the fash-
ion of their age ; and suffer from it, as Lot in wicked Sodom, though
unconsciously. Yet their ignorance of the mischief does not change
the nature of their sin ; — sin it still is, only custom makes it secret sin.
6. Now what is our chief guide amid the evil and seducing customs
of the world ? — obviously, the Bible. " The world pa.sseth away, but
the word of the Lord endureth for ever."* How much extended, then,
and strengthened, necessarily must be this secret dominion of sin over
us, when we consider how little we read the Scripture ! Our conscience
gets corrupted, — true ; but the words of truth, though effaced from our
minds, remain in Scripture, bright in their eternal youth and purity.
Yet, we do not study Scripture to stir up and refresh our minds. Ask
yourselves, my brethren, what do you know of the Bible ? Is there any
one part of it you have read carefully, and as a whole ? One of the
Gospels, for instance 1 Do you know very much more of your Sa-
viour's works and words than you have heard read in church ? Have
you compared His precepts, or St. Paul's, or any other Apostle's, with
your own daily conduct, and prayed and endeavoured to act upon them ?
If you have, so far is well ; go on to do so. If you have not, it is plain
you do not possess, for you have not sought to possess, an adequate no-
tion of that perfect Christian character which it is your duty to aim at,
nor an adequate notion of your actual sinful state ; you are in the num-
ber of those who " come not to the light, lest their deeds should be re-

These remarks may serve to impress upon us the difficulty of know-
ing our.selves aright, and the consequent danger to which we are ex-
posed, of speaking peace to our souls, when there is no peace.

Many things are against us ; this is plain. Yet is not our future
prize worth a struggle ? Is it not worth present discomfort and pain,
to accomplish an escape from the fire that never shall be quenched ?
Can we endure the thought of going down to the grave with a load of
sins on our head unknown and unrepented of ? Can we content our-
selves with such an unreal faith in Christ, as in no sufficient measure
includes self-abasement, or thankfulness, or the desire or effort to be
holy ? for how can we feel our need of His help, or our dependence on
Him, or our debt to Him, or the nature of His gift to us, unless we know

* Isaiah xl. 8. 1 Pet. i. 24, 25. IJohn ii. 17.


ourselves ? How can we in any sense be said to have that " mind of
Christ," to which the Apostle exhorts us, if we cannot follow Him to the
height above, or the depth beneath ; if we do not in some measure dis-
cern the cause and meaning of His sorrows, but regard the world, and
man, and the system of Providence, in a light different from that which
His words and acts supply ? If you receive revealed truth merely
through the eyes and ears, you believe words, not things ; you deceive
yourselves. You may conceive yourselves sound in faith, but you know
nothing in any true way. Obedience to God's commandments, which
implies knowledge of sin and of holiness, and the desire and endeavour
to please Him, this is the only practical interpreter of Scripture doctrine.
Without self-knowledge, you have no root in yourselves personally;
you may endure for a time, but under affliction or persecution your
faith will not last. This is why many in this age, (and in every age,)
become infidels, heretics, schismatics, disloyal despisers of the Church.
They cast off the form of truth, because it never has been to them more
than a form. They endure not, because they never have tasted that
the Lord is gracious ; and they never have had experience of his power
and love, because they have never known their own weakness and need.
This may be the future condition of some of us, if we harden our hearts
to-day, — apostasy. Some day, even in this world, we may be found
openly among the enemies of God and His Church.

But, even should we be spared this present shame, what will it ulti-
mately profit a man to profess without understanding ? to say he has
faith when he has not works ?* In that case we shall remain in the
heavenly vineyard, stunted plants, without the principle of growth in us,
barren ; and, in the end, we shall be put to shame before Christ and the
holy Angels, " as trees of withering fruits, twice dead, plucked up by
the roots," even though we die in outward communion with the Church.

To think of these things, and to be alarmed, is the first step towards
acceptable obedience ; to be at ease, is to be unsafe. We must know
what the evil of sin is, hereafter, if we do not learn it here. God give
us all grace to choose the pain of present repentance before the wrath
to come ?

* James ii. 14.



Romans xiii. 11.
" Now it is high time to awake out of sleep."

By " sleep," in this passage, St. Paul means a state of insensibility
to things as they really are in God's sight. When we are asleep, we
are absent from this world's action, as if we were no longer concerned
in it. It goes on without us, or, if our rest be broken, and we have
some slight notion of people and occurrences about us, if we hear a
voice or a sentence, and see a face, yet we are unable to catch these
external objects justly and truly; we make them part of our dreams,
and pervert them till they have scarcely a resemblance to what they
really arc ; — and such is the state of men as regards religious truth.
God is ever Almighty and All-knowing. He is on His throne in
Heaven, trying the reins and the hearts ; and Jesus Christ, our Lord
and Saviour is on His right hand ; and ten thousand Angels and Saints
are ministering to Him, rapt in the contemplation of Him, or by their
errands of mercy connecting this world with His courts above ; they
go to and fro, as though upon the ladder which Jacob saw. And the
disclosure of this glorious invisible world is made to us principally by
means of the Bible, partly by the course of nature, partly by the floating
opinions of mankind, partly by the suggestions of the heart and con-
science ; — and all these means of information concerning it are col-
lected and combined by the Holy Church, which heralds the news
forth to the whole earth, and applies it with power to individual minds,
partly by direct instruction, partly by her very form and fashion, which
witnesses to them ; so that the truths of religion circulate through the
world almost as the light of day, every corner and recess having some
portion of its blessed rays. Such is the state of a Christian country.
Meanwhile how is it with those who dwell in it ? The words of the
text remind us of their condition. They are asleep. While the Minis-
ters of Christ are usiag the armour of light, and all things speak of
Him, they " walk" not "becomingly, as in the day." Many live alto-
gether as though the day shone not on them, but the shadows still
endured ; and far the greater part of them are but faintly sensible of


the great truths preached around them. They see and hear as people
in a dream; they mix up the Holy Word of God with their own idle
imaginings; if startled for a moment, yet they soon relapse into slum-
berf they refuse to be awakened, and think their happiness consists m
continuing as they are, ■ ^i,^

Now I do not for an instant suspect, my brethren, that you are .n the
sound slumber of sin. This is a miserable state, which I should hope
was, on the whole, the condition of few men, at least m a place hke this.
But allowing this, yet there is great reason for that very many
of you are not wide awake : that though your dreams are

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 76)