John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 60 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 60 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

during Paul adding to his necessary tribulations a self-inflicted chastise-
ment of the flesh, and yet allow themselves to live delicately, and fare
sumptuously every day. They saw the image of Christ reflected in
tears and blood, in the glorious company of the Apostles, the goodly
fellowship of the Prophets, and the noble army of Martyrs ; they read
in prophecy of the doom of the Church as " a woman fed by God in the
wilderness,"* and her witnesses as "clothed in sackcloth;" and they
could not believe tliat they were meant for nothing more than to enjoy
the pleasures of this life, however innocent and moderate might be
their use of them. Without deciding about their neighbours, they
felt themselves called to higher things ; their own sense of the duty

» Vide Rev. xii. 6 ; xi. 3.


became the sanction and witness of it, They considered that God at
least would afflict them in His love, if they spared themselves ever so
much. The thorn in the flesh, the buffetings of Satan, the bereave-
ment of their eyes, these were their portion ; and in common prudence,
were there no higher thought, they could not live out of time and meas-
ure with these expected visitations. With no superstitious alarms, or
cowardly imagination, or senseless hurrying into difficulty or trial, but
calmly and in faith, they surrendered themselves into His hands who
had told them in His inspired word that affliction was to be their fa-
miliar food ; till at length they gained that distaste for the luxuries of
life as to be impatient of them from their very fulness of grace. Even in
our latter days, when " the fine gold has become dim," such has been
the mind of those we most revere.* But such was it especially in pri-
mitive times. It was the temper too of such of the Apostles as were
removed, more than their brethren, from the world's buffetings ; as if
the prospect of suffering afterwards were no dispensation for a present
self-inflicted discipline, or rather demanded it. St. James the Less was
Bishop of Jerusalem, and was highly venerated for his uprightness by
the unbelieving Jews among whom he lived unmolested. We are told
that he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat any animal food,
nor indulge in the luxury of the bath. " So often was he in the Tem-
ple on his knees, that they were thin and hard by his continual suppli-
cation, "f Thus he kept his " loins girded about and his lamp burn-
ing," for the blessed martyrdom which was to end his course. Could
it be otherwise ? How could the great Apostle, sitting at home by his
Lord's decree, " nourish his heart," as he calls it, " as for the slaugh-
ter !" How could he eat and drink and live as other men, when " the
Ark, and Israel, and Judah were in tents," encamped in the open fields,
and one by one, God's chosen warriors were falling before the brief tri-
umph of Satan ! How could he be " delicate on the earth and wan-
ton," when Paul and Barnabas, Peter too and John were in stripes and
prisons, in labours and perils, in hunger and thirst, in cold and naked-
ness ! Stephen had led the army of Martyrs in Jerusalem itself, which
was his own post of service. James, the brother of John, had follow-
ed him in the same city ; he first of the Apostles tasting our Lord's
cup, who had unwittingly asked to drink it. And if this was the feel-
ing of the Apostles, when in temporary safety, why is it not ours, who
altogether live at ease, except that we have not faith enough to realize

* " It is a most miserable state for a man to have every thing according to his de-
«ire, and quietly to enjoy the pleasures of life. There needs no more to expos* him to
•eternal misery." — Bishop Wilson — Sacra Privata. Wednesday.

t Euseb. Hist. ii. 23.


what is past ? Could we see the Cross upon Calvary, and the list of
suflferers who resisted unto blood in the times that followed it, is it pos-
sible that we should feel surprise when pain overtook us, or impatience
at its continuance ? Is it strange though we are smitten by ever so
new a plague ? Is it grievous that the Cross presses on one nerve or
limb ever so many years till hope of relief is gone? Is it, indeed, not
possible with the Apostle to rejoice in " bearing in our body the marks
of the Lord Jesus ? And much more, can we, for very shame's sake, suffer
ourselves to be troubled at what is but ordinary pain, to be irritated or
saddened, made gloomy or anxious by inconveniences which never
could surprise or unsettle those who had studied and understood their
place as servants of a crucified Lord ?

Let us then determine with cheerful hearts to sacrifice unto the
Lord our God our comforts and pleasures, however innocent, when He'
calls for them, whether for the purposes of His Church or in His own
inscrutable Providence. Let us lend to Him a few short hours of
present ease, and we shall receive our own with abundant usury in the
day of His coming. There is a Treasurer in heaven stored with such
offerings as the natural man abhors ; with sighs and tears, wounds and
blood, torture and death. The Martyrs first began the contribution,
and we all may follow them ; all of us, for every suffering, great or
little, may, like the widow's mite, be sacrificed in faith to Him who
sent it. Christ gave us the words of consecration, when He for an
ensample said, " Thy will be done." Henceforth as the Apostle
speaks, we may " glory in tribulation," as the seed of future glory.

Meanwhile, let us never forget in all we suffer that, properly speak-
ing, our own sin is the cause of it, and it is only by Christ's mercy
that we are allowed to range ourselves at His side. We who are
children of wrath, are made through Him children of grace ; and our
pains, which are in themselves but foretastes of hell, are changed by
the sprinkling of His blood into a preparation for heaven.



Hebrews v. 7, 8.

Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications '
with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and
was heard in that He feared ; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience
by the things which He suffered.

The chief mystery of our holy faith is the humiUation of the Son of
God to temptation and suffering, as described in this passage of Scrip-
ture. In truth, it is a more overwhelming mystery even than that
which is involved in the doctrine of the Trinity. I say, more over-
whelming, not greater, for we cannot measure the more and the less in
subjects utterly incomprehensible and divine ; but with more in it to
perplex and subdue our minds. When the mystery of the Trinity is
set before us, we see indeed that it is quite beyond our reason ; but, at
the same time, it is no wonder that human language should be unable
to convey, and human intellect to receive, truths relating to the in-
communicable and infinite essence of Almighty God. But the mys-
tery of the Incarnation relates, in part, to subjects more level with our
reason ; it lies not only in the manner how God and man is one Christ,
but in the very fact that so it is. We think we know of God so much
as this, that He is altogether separate from imperfection and infirmity ;
yet we are told that the Eternal Son has taken into Himself a crea-
ture's nature, which henceforth became as much one with Him, as much
belonged to Him, as the divine attributes and powers which He had
ever had. The mystery lies as much in what we think we know, as
in what we do not know. Reflect, for instance, upon the language of
the text. The Son of God, who " had glory with the Father" from
everlasting, was found, at a certain time, in human flesh, offering up
prayers and supplications to Him, crying out and weeping, and exer-
cising obedience in suffering !

Do not suppose, from my thus speaking, that I would put the doc-
trine before you as a hard saying, as a stumbling-block, and a yoke of


bondage, to which you must perforce submit, however unwillingly.
Far be it from us to take such unthankful account of a dispensation
which has brought us salvation ! Those who see in the Cross of
Christ the Atonement for sin, cannot choose but glory in it ; and its
mysteriousness does but make them glory in it the more. They boast
of it before men and Angels, before an unbelieving world, and before
fallen spirits, with no confusion of face, but with a reverent boldness
they confess this miracle of grace, and cherish it in their creed, though
it'gains them but the contempt and derision of the proud and ungodly.
And as the doctrine of our Lord's humiliation is most mysterious, so
the very surface of the narrative in which it is contained is mysterious
also, as exciting wonder, and impressing upon us our real ignorance of
the nature, manner, and causes of it. Take, for instance, His temp-
tation. Why was it undergone at all, seeing our redemption is ascribed
to His death, not to it 1 Why was it so long 1 What took place during
it ? What was Satan's particular object in tempting Him 1 How came
Satan to have such power over Him as to be able to transport Him
from place to place ? and what was the precise result of the temptation ?
These and many other questions admit of no satisfactory solution.
There is something remarkable too in the period of it, being the same
as that of the long fasts of Moses and Elijah, and of His own abode on
earth after His resurrection. A like mystery again is cast around that
last period of His earthly mission. Then He was engaged we know
not how, except that He appeared, from time to time, to His Apostles ;
of the forty days of His temptation we know still less, only that " He
did eat nothing," and " was with the wild beasts."*

Again, there is something of mystery in the connection of this temp-
tation with the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Him on His baptism.
After the voice from Heaven had proclaimed, " This is My beloved
Son, in whom I am well pleased," ^^ immediately,^' as St. Mark says,
" the Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness." As if there were some
connection, beyond our understanding, between His baptism and temp-
tation, the first act of the Holy Spirit is forthwith to "drive Him'-'
(whatever is meant by the word) into the wilderness. Observe, too,
that it was almost from this solemn recognition, " This is My beloved
Son," that the Devil took up the temptation, " If Thou be the Son of
God, command that these stones be made bread ;"f yet what his
thoughts and designs were we cannot even conjecture. All we see is a
renewal, apparently, of Adam's temptation, in the person of the
"second man."

* Luke iv. 2. Mark i. 13. f Matt. iv. 3.


In like manner, questions might be asked concerning His descent
into hell, which could as little be solved, with our present limited
knowledge of the nature and means of His gracious Economy.

I bring together these various questions in order to impress upon you
our depth of ignorance on the entire subject under review. The dis-
pensation of mercy is revealed to us in its great and blessed result, our
redemption, and in one or two other momentous points. On all these
we ought to dwell and enlarge, mindfully and thankfully, but with the
constant recollection that after all, as regards the dispensation itself, but
one or two partial notices are revealed to us altogether of a great
Divine Work. Enlarge upon them we ought, even because they are
few and partial, not slighting what is given us, because it is not all,
like the servant who buried his lord's talent, but giving it what increase
we can. And as there is much danger of the narrow spirit of that
slothful servant at the present day, in which is strangely combined a
profession of knowing every thing, with an assertion that there is
nothing to know concerning the Incarnation, I propose now, by God's
blessing, to set before you the Scripture doctrine concerning it, as the
Church Catholic has ever received it ; trading with the talent com-
mitted to us, so that when our Lord comes He may receive his own
with usury.

Bearing in mind, then, that we know nothing truly about the man-
ner or the ultimate ends of the humihation of the Eternal Son, our
Lord and Saviour, let us consider what that humiliation itself was.

The text says, " though He were a Son." Now, in these words,
"the Son of God," much more is impHed than at first sight may
appear. Many a man gathers up, here and there, some fragments of
religious knowledge. He hears one thing said in Church, he sees
another thing in the Prayer-book ; and among religious people, or in
the world, he gains something more. In this way he gets possession of
sacred words and statements, knowing very little about them really.
He interprets them, as it may happen, according to the various and
inconsistent opinions which he has met with ; or he puts his own mean-
ing upon them, that is, the meaning, as must needs be, of an untaught,
not to say a carnal and irreverent mind. How can a man expect he
shall discern and apprehend the real meaning of the language of Scrip.
ture, if ho has never approached it as a learner, and waited on the
Divine Author of it for the gift of wisdom ? By continual meditation on
the sacred text, by diligent use of the Church's instruction, he will come
to understand what the Gospel doctrines are ; but, most surely, if all the
knowledge he has, be gathered from a sentence caught up here, and an
argument heard there, even when he is most orthodox in word, he has


but a collection of phrases, on which he puts not the right meaning,
but his own meaning. And the least reflection must show you what a
very poor and unworthy meaning, or rather how false a meaning, " the
natural man " will put upon " the things of the Spirit of God.'' I have
been led to say this from having used the words, " the Son of God,"
which, I much fear, convey, to a great many minds, little or no idea,
little or no high, religious, solemn idea. We have, perhaps a vague
general notion that they mean something extraordinary and super-
natural ; but we know that we ourselves are called, in one sense, sons
of God in Scripture. Moreover we have heard, perhaps, (and even
though we do not recollect it, yet may retain the impression of it,) that
the Angels are sons of God. In consequence, we collect just thus
much from the title as applied to our Lord, that He came from God,
that He was the well-beloved of God, and that He is much more than a
mere man. This is all that the words convey to many men at the
most ; while many more refer them merely to His human nature.
How different is the state of those who have been duly initiated into
the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven ! How different was the mind
of the primitive Christians, who so eagerly and vigorously apprehended
the gracious announcement, that in this title, " the Son of God," they
saw and enjoyed the full glories of the Gospel doctrine ! When times
grew cold and unbelieving, then indeed, as at this day, public explana-
tions were necessary of those simple and sacred words ; but the first
Christians needed none. They felt that in saying that Christ was the
Son of God, they were witnessing to a thousand marvellous and salu-
tary truths, vv'hich they could not indeed understand, but by which they
might gain life, and for which they could dare to die.

What, then, is meant by the " Son of God V It is meant that our
Lord is the very or true Son of God, that is. His Son by nature. We
are but called the sons of God, — we are adopted to be sons, — but our
Lord and Saviour is the Son of God, really and by birth, and He alone
is such. Hence Scripture calls Him the Only-begotten Son. " Such
knowledge is too excellent for " us ; yet, however high it be, we know
from His own mouth that God is not solitary, if we may dare so to
speak, but that in His own incomprehensible Essence, in the perfection
of His one indivisible and eternal nature, His Dearly-beloved Son has
ever existed with Him, who is called the Word, and being His Son, is
partaker in all the fulness of His Godhead. " In the beginning was
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Thus
when the early Christians used the title, " the Son of God," they meant,
after the manner of the Apostles when they use it in Scripture, all we
mean in the Creed, when, by way of explaining ourselves, we confess


Him to be " God from God, Light from Light, Very or True God from
True God." For in that He is the Son of God, He must be whatever
God is, all holy, all wise, all powerful, all good, eternal, infinite ; yet
since there is only one God, He must be at the same time not separate
from God, but ever one with and in Him, one indivisibly, — so that it
would be as idle language to speak of Him as separated in essence from
His Father, as to say that our reason, or intellect, or will, was separate
from our minds, — as rash and profane language to deny to the Father
His Only-begotten Word, in whom He has ever delighted, as to deny
His Wisdom, or Goodness, or Power, which aLso have been in and with
Him from everlasting.

The text goes on to say : " though He were a Son, yet learned He
obedience by the things which He suffered." Obedience belongs to a
servant, but concurrence, accordance, co-operation, are the character-
istics of a Son. In His eternal union with God there was no distinc-
tion of will and work between Him and His Father ; as the Father's
life was the Son's hfe, and the Father's glory the Son's also, so the Son
was the very Word and Wisdom of the Father, His Power and Co-
equal Minister in all things, the same and not the same as He Himself.
But in the days of His flesh, when He had humbled Himself to " the
form of a servant," taking on Himself a separate will and a separate
work, and the toil and sufferings incident to a creature, then what had
been mere concurrence became obedience. This, then, is the force
of the words, " Though He was a Son, yet had He experience of obe-
dience." He took on Him a lower nature, and wrought in it towards
a will higher and more perfect than it. Further, " He learned obedi-
ence amid suffering," and, therefore, amid temptation. His mysterious
agony under it is described in the former part of the text ; which declares
that " in the days of His flesh," He " offered up prayers and supplica-
tions with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him
from death, and was heard in that He feared." Or, in the words of
the foregoing chapter. He " was in all points tempted Uke as we are,
yet without sin."

I am only concerned here in setting before you the sacred truth itself,
not how it was, or why, or with what results. Let us, then, reverently
consider what is implied in it. " The Word was made flesh ; by which
is meant, not that he selected some particular existing man and dwelt in
Him, (which in no sense would answer to the force of those words, and
which He condescends to do continually in the case of all His elect,
through His Spirit,) but that He became what He was not before, that
he took into His own Infinite Essence man's nature itself, in all its
original fulness, creating a soul and body, and, at the moment of crea-


tion, making them His own, so that they never were other than His,
never existed by themselves or except as in Him, being properties or
attributes of Him (to use defective words,) as really as His divine
goodness, or His eternal Sonship, or His perfect likeness to the Father.
And, while thus adding a new nature to Himself, He did not in any
respect cease to be what He was before. How was that possible ? All
the while He was on earth, when He was conceived, when He was
born, when He was tempted, on the cross, in the grave, and now at
God's right hand, — all the time through. He was the Eternal and Un-
changeable Word, the Son of God. The flesh which he had assumed
was but the instrument through which He acted for and towards us.
As He acts in creation by His wisdom and power, towards Angels by
His love, towards devils by His wrath, so He has acted for our redemp-
tion through our own nature, which in His great mercy He attached
to His own person, as if an attribute, simply, absolutely, indissolubly]
Thus St. Paul speaks, — as in other places, of the love of God, and the
holiness of God, — so in one place expressly of " the blood of God," if
I may venture to use such words out of the sacred context. " Feed
the Church of God," he says to the elders of Ephesus, " which He hath
purchased with His own blood."* Accordingly, whatever our Lord
said or did upon earth was strictly and literally the word and deed of
God Himself. Just as we speak of seeing our friends, though we do-
not see their souls but merely their bodies, so the Apostles, Disciples,
Priests, and Pharisees, and the multitude, all who saw Christ in the
flesh, saw, as the whole earth will see at the last day, the Very and
Eternal Son of God.

^Sl After this manner, then, must be understood His suffering, tempta-
tion, and obedience, not as if He ceased to be what He had ever been,
but having clothed Himself with a created essence. He made it the
instrument of His humiliation ; He acted in it. He obeyed and suf-
fered through it. Do not we see among men, circumstances of a
peculiar kind throw one of our own race out of himself, so that he, the
same man, acts as if his usual self were not in being, and he had fresh
feelings and faculties, for the occasion, higher or lower than before ?
Far be it from our thoughts to parallel the incarnation of the Eternal
Word with such an accidental change ! but I mention it not to explain
a Mystery (which I relinquished the thought of from the first,) but to
facilitate your conception of Him who is the subject of it, to help you
towards contemplating Him as God and man at once, as still the Son
of God though He had assumed a nature short of His original perfec-
tion. That Eternal Mind, which, till then, had thought and acted as
» Acts XX. 28.


God, began to think and act as a man, with all man's faculties, afFec-
tions, and imperfections, sin excepted. Before he came on earth He was
infinitely above joy and grief, fear and doubt, pain and ignorance ; but
afterwards all these properties and many more were his as fully as they
are ours. Before He came on earth, he had but the perfections of God
but afterwards He had also the virtues of a creature, such as faith, meek-
ness, self-denial. Before he came on earth He could not be tempted of
evil ; but afterwards He had a man's heart, a man's tears, and a man's
wants and infirmities. His Divine Nature indeed pervaded His man-
hood, so that every deed and word of His in the flesh savoured of eternity
and infinity ; but on the other hand, from the time he was born -of the
Virgin Mary, he had a natural fear of danger, a natural shrinking from
pain, though ever subject to the ruling influence of that Holy and Eter-
nal Essence which was in Him. For instance, we read on one occasion
of His praying that the cup might pass from Him ; and, at another,
when Peter showed surprise at the prospect of His crucifixion. He re-
buked him sharply as if for tempting Him to murmur and disobey.

Thus He possessed at once a double assemblage of attributes, divine
and human. Still He was all-powerful, though in the form of a ser-
vant ; still He was all knowing, though partially ignorant ; still inca-
pable of temptation, though exposed to it ; and if any one stumble at
this, as not a mere mystery, but in the very form of language a contra-
diction of terms, I would have him reflect on those peculiarities of
human nature itself, which were just now hinted at. Let him consider
the condition of his own mind, and see how like a contradiction it is.
Let him reflect upon the faculty of memory, and try to determine
whether he does or does not know a thing which he cannot recollect,
or rather, whether it may not be said of him, that one self-same person
that in one sense he knows it, in another he does not know it. This
may serve to appease his imagination, if it startles at the mystery. Or
let him consider the state of an infant, which seems, indeed, to be with-
out a soul for many months, which seems to have only the senses and
functions of animal life, yet has, we know, a soul which may even be
regenerated. What, indeed, can be more mysterious than the Baptism
of an infant ? How strange is it, yet how transporting a sight, what a

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 60 of 76)