John Henry Newman.

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believe that His Truth will not be heartily received by the many, that
it is against the current of human feeling and opinion, and the course of
the world, and so far forth as it is received b)^ a man, will be opposed by
himself, i. e. by his old nature which remains about him, next by all
others, so far forth as they have not received it. " The light shining in
darkness " is the token of true religion ; and, though doubtless there are
sea.sons when a sudden enthusiasm arises in favour of the Truth, (as in
the history of St. John the Baptist, in whose "light" the Jews " were



v.] RELIGIOUS EARNESTNESS 39

willing for a season to rejoice,"* so as even " to be baptized of him,
confessing their sins ;"f ) yet such a popularity of the Truth is but sudden,
comes at once and goes at once, has no regular growth, no abiding stay.
It is error alone which grows and is received heartily on a large scale.
St. Paul has set up his warning against our supposing Truth will ever
be heartily accepted, whatever show there may be. of a general pro-
fession of it, in his last Epistle, where he tells Timothy, among other
sad prophecies, that " evil men and seducers shall wax worse and
worse.":]: Truth, indeed, has that power in it, that it forces men to
profess it in words; but when they go on to act, instead of obeying it,
they substitute some idol in the place of it. On these accounts, when
there is much talk of rehgion in a country, and much congratulation
that there is a general concern for it, a cautious mind will feel anxious
lest some counterfeit be, in fact, honoured instead of it ; lest it be the
dream of man, rather than the verities of God's word, which has be-
come popular, and lest the received form have no more truth in it than
is just necessary to recommend it to the reason and conscience ; — lest,
in short, it be Satan transformed into an angel of light, rather than the
Light itself, which is attracting follovv-ers.

If, then, this be a time, (which I suppose it is,) wlicn a general pro-
fession of religion is thought respectable and right in the virtuous and
orderly classes of the community, this circumstance should not diminish
your anxiety about your own state before God, but rather (I may say)
increase it ; for two reasons, first, because you are in danger of doing
right from motives of this world, next, because you may, perchance be
cheated of the Truth, by some ingenuity which the world puts, like
counterfeit coin, in the place of Truth.

Some, indeed, of those who now hear me, are in situations where they
are almost shielded from the world's influence, whatever it is. There
are persons so happily placed as to have religious superiors, who direct
them to what is good only, and who are kind to them as well as pious
towards God. This is their happiness, and they must thank God for
the gift ; but it is their temptation too. At least they are under one of
the two temptations just mentioned ; good behaviour is in their case
not only a matter of duty, but of interest. If they obey God, they gain
praise from men as well as from Him ; so that it is very difficult for
them to know whether they do right for conscience' sake, or for the
world's sake. Thus, whether in private families, or in the world, in all
the ranks of middle life, men lie under a considerable danger at this day,
a more than ordinary danger, of self-deception, of being asleep while
they think themselves awake.

* John V. 35. t Matt. iii. 6. t 2 Tim. iii. 13.



40 SELF-DENIAL THE TEST OF [Serm.

How then shall we try ourselves ? C.in any tests be named which
will bring certainty to our minds on the subject ? No indisputable
tests can be given. We cannot know for certain. We must beware
of an impatience about knowing what our real state is. St. Paul
himself did not know till the last days of his life, (as far as we know,)
that he was one of Cod's elect who shall never perish. He said, "I
know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified,"* i. c. though I
am not conscious to myself of neglect of duty, yet am I not therefore
confident of my acceptance. Judge nothing before the time. Accor-
dingly he says in another place, " I keep under my body, and bring it
into subjection lest, that by any means, Avhen I have preached to others,
I myself should be a castaAvay."f And yet though this absolute cer-
tainty of our election unto glory be unattainable, and the desire to
obtain it an impatience which ill befits sinners, nevertheless a comforta-
ble hope, a sober and subdued belief that God has pardoned and justified
us for Christ's sake, (blessed be His name !) is attainable, according to
St. John's words, " If our heart condemn us not, then have we confi-
dence toward God.":{: And the question is, how are we to attain to
this, under the circumstances in which we are placed ? In what does
it consist ?

Were we in a heathen land, (as I said just now,) it were easy to
answer. The very profession of the Gospel would almost bring evi-
dence of true faith, as far as we could have evidence ; for such pro-
fession among Pagans is almost sure to involve persecution. Hence
it is that the Epistles are so full of expressions of joy in the Lord
Jesus, and in the exulting hope of salvation. Well might they be
confident who had suffered for Christ. " Tribulation worketh patience,
and patience experience, and experience hope."§ " Henceforth let no
man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. "||
" Always bearing about in the body the d3ang of the Lord Jesus ; that
the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body."1I " Our
hope of you is steadfast, knowing that as ye are partakers of the
suffering, so shall ye be also of the consolation."** These and such
like texts, belong to those only who have witnessed for the Truth hke
the early Christians. They are beyond us.

This is certain ; yet since the nature of Christian obedience is the
same in every age, it still brings with it, as it did then, an evidence
of God's favour. We cannot indeed make ourselves as sure of our
being in the number of God's true servants as the early Christians

* 1 Cor. iv. 4. t 1 Cor. ix. 27, I 1 John iii. 21 § Rom. v. 3, 4.

II Gal. vL 17. 1i 2 Cor. iv. 10. *« 2 Cor. i. 7.



v.] RELIGIOUS EARNESTNESS. 41

were, yet we may possess our degree of certainty, and by the same
kind of evidence, the evidence of self-denial. This was the great
evidence which the first disciples gave, a«d which we can give still.
Reflect upon our Saviour's plain declarations, *' Whosoever will come
after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me."*
" If any man come to Me, and hate not his father and mother, and
wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life
also, he cannot be My disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his
cross and come after Me, he cannot be My disciple."t " If thy hand
offend thee, cut it off .... if thy foot offend thee, cut it off ... .
if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out .... it is better for thee to
enter into life maimed .... halt .... with one eye, than to be
cast into hell.":}:

Now without attempting to explain perfectly such passages as these,
Avhich doubtless cannot be understood without a fulness of grace which
is possessed by very few men, yet at least we learn thus much from
them, that a rigorous self-denial is a chief duty, nay, that it may be
considered the test whether we are Christ's disciples, whether we are
living in a mere dream, which we mistake for Christian faith and
obedience, or are really and truly awake, alive, living in the day, on
our road heavenwards. The early Christians went through self,
denials in their very profession of the Gospel ; what are our self-
denials, now that the profession of the Gospel is not a self-denial ?
In what sense do we fulfil the words of Christ 1 have we any distinct
notion what is meant by the words "taking up our cross?" in what
way are we acting, in which we should not act, supposing the Bible
and the Church were unknown to this country, and religion, as
existing among us, was merely a fashion of this world ? What are we
doing, which we have reason to trust is done for Christ's sake who
bought us 1

You know well enough that works are said to be the fruits and
evidence of faith. That faith is said to be dead which has them "not.
Now what works have we to show of such a kind as to give us " con-
fidence," so that we may "not be ashamed before Him at His
coming ?"§

In answering this question I observe, first of all, that, according to
Scripture, the self-denial which is the test of our faith must be daily.
*' If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up
his cross daily, and follow Me."|| It is thus St. Luke records our

» Mark viii. 34. t Luke xiv. 26, 27. t Mark ix. 43—47.

§ 1 John ii. 28. II Luke ix. 23.



42 SELF-DENIAL THE TEST OF [SERMJi

Saviour's words. Accordingly, it seems that Christian obedience does
not consist merely in a few occasional efforts, a few accidental good
deeds, or certain seasons of repentance, prayer, and activity ; a mis-
take, which minds of a certain class are very apt to fall into. This is
the kind of obedience which constitutes what the world calls a great
man, i. e. a man who has some noble points, and every now and then
acts heroically, so as to astonish and subdue the minds of beholders, but
who in private Ufe has no abiding personal religion, who does not
regulate his thoughts, words, and deeds, according to the law of God.
Again, the word daili/ implies, that the self-denial which is pleasing to
Christ consists in little things. This is plain, for opportunity for great
self-denials does not come every day. Thus to take up the cross of
Christ is no great action done once for all, it consists in the continual
practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.

If, then, a person asks how he is to know whether he is dreaming on
in the world's slumber, or is really awake and alive unto God, let him
first fix his mind upon some one or other of his besetting infirmities.
Every one who is at all in the habit of examining himself, must be
conscious of such within him. Many men have more than one, all of
us have some one or other ; and in resisting and overcoming such,
self-denial has its first employment. One man is indolent and fond of
amusement, another man is passionate or ill-tempered, another is vain,
another has little control over his tongue ; others are weak, and
cannot resist the ridicule of thoughtless companions ; others are tor-
mented with bad passions, of which they are ashamed, yet are over-
come. Now let every one consider what his weak point is ; in that is
his trial. His trial is not in those things which are easy to him, but in
that one thing, in those several things, whatever they are, in which to
do his duty is against his nature. Never think yourself safe because
you do your duty in ninety-nine points ; it is the hundredth w^hich is
to be the ground of your self-denial, which must evidence, or rather
instance and realize your faith. It is in reference to this you must
watch and pray ; pray continually for God's grace to help you, and
watch with fear and trembling lest you fall. Other men may not
know what these weak points of your character are, they may mistake
them. But you may know them ; you m^y know them by their
guesses and hints, and your own observation, and the light of the Spirit
of God. And oh, that you may have strength to wrestle with them
and overcome them ! Oh, that you may have the wisdom to care
lotiit for the world's religion, or the praise you get from the world, and
your agreement with w hat clever men, or powerful men, or many men,
make the standard of religion, compared with the secret consciousness



v.] RELIGIOUS EARNESTNESS. 43

that you are obeying God in little things as well as great, in the hun-
dreth duty as well as in the ninety-nine ! Oh, that you may (as it
were) sweep the house diligently to discover what you lack of the
full measure of obedience ! for be quite sure, that this apparently
small defect will influence your whole spirit and judgment in all
things. Be quite sure that your judgment of persons, and of events,
and of actions, and of doctrines, and your spirit towards God and man,
your faith in the high truths of the Gospel, and your knowledge of your
duty, all depend in a strange way on this strict endeavour to observe
the whole law, on this self-denial in those little things in which
obedience is a self-denial. Be not content with a warmth of faith
carrying you over many obstacles even in your obedience, forcing you
past the fear of men, and the usages of society, and the persuasions of
interest ; exult not in your experience of God's past mercies, and your
assurance of what he has already done for your soul, if you are con-
scious you have neglected the one thing needful, the "one thing"
which " thou lackest," — daily self-denial.

But, besides this, there are other modes of self-denial to try your
faith and sincerity, which it may be right just to mention. It may so
happen that the sin you are most liable to, is not called forth every
day. For instance : anger and passion are irresistible perhaps when
they come upon you, but it is only at times that you are provoked, and
then you are off your guard ; so that the occasion is over, and you
have failed, before you were well aware of its coming. It is right
then almost io find out for yourself daily self-denials ; and this because
our Lord bids you take up your cross daily, and because it proves your
earnestness, and because by doing so you strengthen your general
power of self-mastery, and come to have such an habitual command of
yourself, as will be a defence ready prepared when the season of temp-
tation comes. Rise up then in the morning with the purpose that
(please God) the day shall not pass without its self-denial, with a self-
denial in innocent pleasures and tastes, if none occurs to mortify
sin. Let your very rising from your bed be a self-denial ; let your
meals be self-denials. Determine to yield to others in things indif-
ferent, to go out of your way in small matters to inconvenience your-
self, (so that no direct duty suffers by it,) rather than you should not
meet with your daily discipline. This was the Psalmist's method, who
was, as it were, "punished all day long, and chastened every morn-
ing."* It was St. Paul's method, who " kept under," or bruised " his
body, and brought it into subjection."t This is one great end

* Psalm Ixxiii. 14. t 1 Cor. ix. 27.



44 SELF-DENIAL THE TEST OF [Serm. VI.

fasting. A man says to himself, "How am I to know I am in
earnest?" I would suggest to him, Make some sacrifice, do some dis-
tasteful thing, which you are not actually obliged to do, (so that it be
lawful,) to bring home to your mi id that ia fact you do love your
Saviour, that you do hate gin, that ycu do hate your sinful nature,
that you have put aside the preceat v/crld. Thus you will have an
evidence (to a certain }x>i ;t) tl at you are cot using n-iore words. It is
easy to make profeRsions, easy to say fine things in speech or in
writing, easy to astonish men with truths v/hich they do not know,
and sentiments which rise above human nature. " But thou, O ser-
vant of God, flee these thisjgs, and follow after righteousness, god-
liness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Let aot your words run on ;
force every one of them into action as it goes, and thus, cleansing
yourself from all pollution of the (lesh and epirit, perfect h



Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 76)