John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 63 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 63 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the rule of faith ? and if we find fault with our teacher, even while he is
restrained by the Church's rule, how much greater would be our com-
plaint when he was not so restrained 1 Let us not then be impatient of
an appointment which effects so much, on the ground that it does not
effect all. Let us not forget that rules pre-suppose the risk of error, but
rather reflect whether they do not do more than they fail to do. Let us
be less selfish than to think of ourselves only. Let us look out upon
the whole community, the poor, the ignorant, the wayward, and the mis-
taken. Let us consider whether it will be prudent to become responsi-
ble for the Church's ultimately withdrawing from our land, which we
shall be (as far as in us lies) by our withdrawing from it.

4. But it may be said, " Faith is not a matter of words, but of the
heart. It is more than the formal doctrine, it is the temper and spirit
of this or that teacher which is wrong. His creed may be orthodox, but
his religion is not vital ; and surely external order must not lie upon us
as a burden, stifling and destroying the true inward fellowship between
Christian and Christian." Now let it be carefully noted that, if order

* 1 Sam. xviil. 14,


•3s to be preserved at all, it must be at the expense of what seems to be
of more consequence, viz. the so-called communion of the heart between
Christians. This peculiarity is involved in its very nature ; and surely
■our Saviour knew this when he enjoined it. For consider a moment.
True spiritual feeling, heartfelt devotion, lively faith, and the like, do
not admit of being described, defined, ascertained in any one fixed way ;
as is implied indeed in the very objection under consideration. We
form our judgment of them, whatever it be, by a number of littlo
•circumstances, of language, manner, and conduct, which cannot be put
Into words, which to no two beholders appears exactly the same, insomuch
that if every one is to be satisfied, every one must have the power of
drawing his line for himself. But if every one follow his own rule of
fellowship, how can there possibly be but " one body," and in what sense
are those words of the Apostle to be taken 1

Again, this or that person may be more or less religious in speech and
conduct ; how are we to draw the line, even according to our own indi-
vidual standard, and say who are to be in our Church and who out of
it ? Scandalous offenders indeed, and open heretics might be excluded
at once ; but it would be far easier to say whom to put out than whom
to let in, unless we let in all. From the truest believer to the very infi-
del, there may be interposed a series of men, more or less religious, in
human eyes, gradually filling up the whole interval. Even if we could
infallibly decide between good and bad, hfe would be spent in the
work ; — what our success really will be, may be foretold from the in-
stances of those who attempt to do so, and who not unfrequently mis-
take for highly-gifted Christians men who are almost unbelievers. But,
granting we have some extraordinary gift of discernment, still any how
we could not see more than He sees, who implies that the faith of all
of us is but immature and in its rudiments, by His very postponement
of the final judgment : — so that to draw a line at all, and yet to include
just all who seem religious, are things of necessity incompatible with
each other.

On the other hand, forms are precise and definite. Once broken,
they are altogether broken. There are no degrees of breaking them ;
either they are observed or they are not. It seems then, on the whole,
that if we leave the Church, in order to join what appears a less formal,
a more spiritual, religion elsewhere, we break a commandment for cer-
tain, and we do not for certain secure to ourselves a benefit.

6. Lastly, it may be asked, "Are we then to keep aloof from those
whom we think good men, granting that it would be better that they
should be in the Church?" We need not, we must not, keep aloof. We
\are not bound, indeed, to court their society, but we are bound not to


shrink from them when we fall in with them, except, indeed, they be the
actual authors and fomenters of division. We are bound to love them
and pray for them ; not to be harsh with them, or revile or despise them,
but to be gentle, patient, apt to teach, merciful to make allowance, to
interpret their conduct for the best. We would, if we could, be one
with them in heart and in form, thinking a loving unity the glory and
crown of Christian faith ; and we will try all means to effect this ; but
we feel, and we cannot conceal it, we feel that, if we and they are to be
one, they must come over to us. We desire to meet together, but it
must be in the Church, not on neutral ground, or rather an enemy's, the
open inhospitable waste of this world, but within that sheltered heritage
whose landmarks have long since been set up. If Christ has constituted
one Holy Society (which He has done) ; if His Apostles have set it in
order (which they did), and have expressly bidden us (as they have in
Scripture) not to undo what they have begun ; and if (in matter of fact)
their Work so set in order and so blessed is among us this very day (as
it is), and we partakers of it, it were a traitor's act in us to abandon it,
an unthankful shght on those who have preserved it for so many ages,
a cruel disregard of those who are to come after us, nay of those now
alive who are external to it and might otherwise be brought into it. We
must transmit as we have received. We did not make the Church, we
may not unmake it. As we beheve it to be a Divine Ordinance, so we
must ever protest against separation from it as a sin. There is not a
dissenter living, but, inasmuch, and so far as he dissents, is in a sin. It
may, in this or that instance, be a sin of infirmity, or carelessness, nay
of ignorance ; it may be a sin of the society a man is in, not his own,
a ceremonial offence, not a personal ; still it is in its nature sinful. It
may be mixed up with much that is good ; it may be a perversion of
conscience, or again, an inconsistency in him ; it may be connected
more or less with piety towards his forefathers ; still, considered as such,
it cannot but be a blemish and a disadvantage, and, if he is saved, he will
be saved, not through it, but in spite of it. So far forth as he dissents,
he is under a cloud ; and though we too may, for what we know, have
as great sins to answer for, taking his sin at the greatest, and though we
pray that Christ will vouchsafe, in some excellent way, known to Him-
self, to " perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle," all " who love Him uncor-
ruptly," even if separate from the glories of His Church on earth, still
protest we should and must against separation itself, and wilful continu-
ance in it, as evil,— as nothing short of " the gainsaying of Core," and
the true child of that sin which lost us Eden.

Nor does the sin of separation end in itself. Never suppose, my
brethren, whatever the world may say, that a man is neither better nor


worse, in his own faith and conduct, for separating from the Church.
Of course we cannot " try the heart and the reins," or decide about
individuals ; still thus much seems clear, that, on the whole, deliberate
insubordination is the symptom, nay often the cause and first beginning
of an unhumbled, wilful, self-dependent, contentious, jealous, spirit ; and
as far as any man allows himself in acts of it, so far has he upon him
the tokens of pride or of coldness of heart, going before or following
after. Coldness and pride, — these sins are not peculiar, alas ! to those
who leave us ; that we know full well. We all have the seeds of them
within us, and it is our shame and condemnation if we do not repress
them. But between us, if we be cold or proud, and those who are active
in dissent, there is this clear difference ; that proud reliance on self, or
that cold formality, which may also be found in the Church, these, though
found in it, are not fruits of it, do not rise from connection with it, but
are inconsistent with it. For to obey is to be meek, not proud ; and to
obey for Christ's sake is to be zealous, not cold ; whereas wilful separa-
tion or turbulent conduct, forming religious meetings of our own, op-
posing our private judgment to those who have the rule over us, disaf-
fection towards them, and the like feelings and courses, are the very
effects and the sure forerunners of pride, or impatience, or restlessness
or self-will, or lukewarmness ; so that these sins in members of the
Church are in spite of the Church, and in separatists are involved in
their separating.

" Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from
thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight
before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be estab-
lished. Turn not to the right hand, nor to the left ; remove thy foot
from evil." What have we, private Christians, to do with the hopes
and fears of earth, with schemes of change, the pursuit of novelties, or
dreams of reforms ? The world is passing like a shadow ; the day of
Christ is hastening on. It is our wisdom surely to use what has been
provided for us, instead of lusting after what we have not, asking flesh
to eat, and gazing wistfully upon Egypt or on the heathen around us.
Faith has no leisure to act the busy politician, to bring the world's lan-
guage into the sacred fold, or to use the world's jealousies in a divine
polity ; to demand rights, to flatter the many, or to court the powerful.
What is faith's highest wish and best enjoyment ? A dying saint shall
answer. It is related of a meek and holy confessor of our own, shortly
before his departure, that when after much pain he was asked by a friend,
" What more special thing he would recommend for one's whole life 1"
he briefly replied, " uniform obedience ;" by which he meant, as his bio-
grapher tells us, that the happiest state of life was one, in which he had


not to command or direct, but to obey solely ; not having to choose for
ourselves, but having our path of duty, our mode of Hfe, our fortunes
marked out for us.* This lot, indeed, as is plain, cannot be the lot of
all J but it is the lot of the many- Thus God pours out His blessings
largely, and puts trial on the few ; but men do not understand their own
gain, and run into trials as being unfit for enjoyment. May He give
us grace to cherish a wiser mind ; to make much of our privilege, if we
have it, to serve and be at rest ; and if we have it not, to covet it, and
to bear, dutifully, as but a misfortune to a sinner, that freedom from re-
straint which the world boasts in as a chief good !



Matt. xiil. 47,

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of
every kind ; which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gath-
ered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.

In the Apostles' age, the chief contest between Truth and Falsehood
lay in the war waged by the Church against the world, and the world
against the Church : — the Church, the aggressor in the name of the
Lord ; the world, stung with envy and malice, rage and pride, retalia-
ting spiritual weapons with carnal, the Gospel with persecution, good
with evil, in the cause of the Devil. But of the conflict within the
Church, such as it is at this day, Christians knew comparatively little.
True, the Prophetic Spirit told them that " even of their ownselves
should men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples
after them;" that "in the last days perilous times should come."f
Also they had the experience of their own and former times to show

* Fell's Life of Hammond. t Acts xx. 30, 2 Tim. iii. 1.


them, as in type, that in the Church evil will always mingle with the
good. Thus, at the flood, there were eight men in the Ark, and one of
them was reprobate ; out of twelve Apostles, one was a devil ; out of
seven Deacons, one (as it is said) fell away into heresy ; out of twelve
tribes, one is dropped at the final sealing. These intimations, however,
whether by instance or prophecy, were not sufficient to realize to them,
before the event, the serious and awful truth implied in the text, viz.
that the warfare which Christ began between His little flock and the
world should be in no long while transferred into the Church itself, and
be carried on by members of that Church one with another.

This, I say, the early Christians did not .see fulfilled, as our eyes see
it ; and, so hard is it to possess ourselves of a true conviction about it,
that, even at this day, when it may be plainly seen, men will not see
it. They will not so open and surrender their minds to Divine truth,
as to admit that the Holy Church has unholy members, that blessings
are given to the unworthy, that " the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net
that gathers of every kind." They evade this mysterious appointment
in various ways. Sometimes they deny that bad men are really in
God's Church, which they think consists only of good men. They
have invented an Invisible Church, distinct and complete at present,
and peopled by saints only, as if Scripture said one word anywhere, of
a spiritual body existing in this world separate from, and independent
of, the Visible Church ; and they consider the Visible Church to be no-
thing but a mere part of this world, an establishment, sect, or party.
Or, again, while they admit it as a Divine ordinance, they lower its
standard of faith and holiness, and its privileges ; and, considering the
communion of saints to be but a name, and all Christians to be about
alike, they effectually destroy all notions, whether of a Church or of a
conflict. Thus, in one way or other, they refuse to admit the idea con-
tained in the text, that the dissimilitude, the enmity and the warfare
which once existed between the world and the Church, is now transfer-
red into the Church itself.

But, let us try, with God's blessing, to get a firm hold upon this
truth, and see if we cannot draw some instruction from it. The text
says, that *' the Kingdom of Heaven," that is, the Christian Church,
'' is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every
kind." Elsewhere St. Paul says, " In a great house there are not only
vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some to
honour and some to dishonour."* Now passages such as these admit
of a very various appUcation. I shall consider them here with refer-
ence to the contest between Truth and Falsehood in the Church.

♦ 2 Tim. ii. 20.


Doubtless it would, in the eye of natural reason, be a privilege, were
the enemies of Christ and our souls separated from us, and did the trial
of our faith take place on some broad questions, about which there could
be no mistake ; but such is not the fact " in the wisdom of God."
Faith and unbelief, humbleness and pride, love and selfishness have
been from the Apostles' age united in one and the same body ; nor can
any means of man's device disengage the one from the other. All who
are within the Church have the same privileges ; they are all baptized,
all admitted to the Holy Eucharist, all taught in the Truth, all profess
the Truth. At all times, indeed, there have been those who have
avowed corrupt doctrine or indulged themselves in open vice; and
whom, in consequence, it was easy to detect and avoid. But these are
few ; the great body in the Christian Church profess one and the same
faith, and seem one and all to agree together. Yet, among these per-
sons, thus apparently unanimous, is the real inveterate conflict proceed-
ing, as from the beginning, between good and evil. Some of these
are wise, some foolish. Who belong to the one, and the other party is
hid from us, and will be hid till the day of judgment ; nor are they at
present individually formed upon the perfect model of good or evil ; they
vary one with another in the degree and mode of their holding to the
one or the other ; but that there are two parties in the Church, two
parties, however vague and indefinite their outlines, among those who
live, in one sense, as famihar friends, I mean, who eat the same spiritual
Food, and profess the same Creed, is certain.

Next, what do they contend about ? how and where their conflict ?
The Apostles contended about the truth of the Gospel with unbelievers ;
their immediate successors contended, though within the Church, yet
against open heresies, such as they could meet, confute, and cast out ;
but m after times, — in our own day, — now, — what do the two secret
parties in the Church, the elect and the false-hearted, what do they con-
tend about ?

It is difficult to answer this question suitably with the reverence due
to this sacred place, in which the language of the world should not be
heard. Yet, in so important a matter, one would wish to say something.
That contest, which was first about the truth of the Gospel itself, next
about the truth of doctrine, is now commonly about very small matters,
of an every-day character, of public afiairs, or domestic business, or
parochial concerns, which serve as tests of our religious state, quite as
truly as greater things, in God's unerring judgment, — serve as power-
fully to form and train us for heaven or hell.

1 say, that as the early Christians were bound to " contend earnestly
for the faith once delivered to the saints," so the trial of our obedience


commonly lies in taking this or that side in a multitude of questions, in
which there happen to be two sides, and which come before us almost
continually ; and, before attempting to explain what I mean, I would
have you observe how parallel this state of things is to God's mode of
trying and disciphning us in other respects.

For instance, how is our devotion to Christ shown ? Ordinarily, not
in great matters, not in giving up house and lands for His sake, but in
making little sacrifices which the world would ridicule, if it knew of
them ; in abridging ourselves of comforts for the sake of the poor, in
sacrificing our private likings to religious objects, in going to Church at
a personal inconvenience, in taking pleasure in the society of religious
men, though not rich, or noble, or accomplished, or gifted, or entertain-
ing ; in matters, all of them of very little moment in themselves.

How is self-denial shown ? Not in literally bearing Christ's Cross,
and living on locusts and wild honey, but in such light abstinences as
come in our way, in some poor efforts at fasting and the like, in desiring
to be poor rather than rich, solitary or lowly rather than well-connected,
in living within our income, in avoiding display, in being suspicious of
comforts and luxuries ; all of which are too trifling for the person ob-
serving them to think about, yet have their use in proving and improving
his heart.

How is Christian valour shown ? Not in resisting unto blood, but in
withstanding mistaken kindness, in enduring importunity, in submitting
to surprise and hurt those we love, in undergoing little losses, incon-
veniences, censures, slights, rather than betray what we believe to be
God's Truth, be it ever so small a portion of it.

As then. Christian devotion, self-denial, courage, are tried in this day
in little things, so is Christian faith also. In the Apostles' age faith was
shown in the great matter of joining either the Church, or the pagan
or Jewish multitude. It is shown in this day by taking this side or that
side in the many questions of opinion and conduct which come before
us, whether domestic, or parochial, or political, or of whatever kind.

Take the most unlettered peasant in the humblest village ; his trial
lies in acting for the Church or against it in his own place. He may
happen to be at work with others, or taking refreshment with others ;
and he may hear religion spoken against, or the Church, or the king ;
he may hear voices raised together in scoffing or violence ; he must
withstand laugh and jest, evil words and rudeness, and witness for
Christ. Thus he carries on, in his day, the eternal conflict between
Truth and Falsehood.

Another, in a higher class of society, has a certain influence in parish
matters, in the application of charities, the appointment of officers, and


the like ; he, too, must act, as in God's sight, for the Truth's sake, as
Christ would have him.

Another has a certain political power ; he has a vote to bestow, or
dependents to advise ; he has a voice to raise, and substance to con-
tribute. Let him act for religion, not as if there were not a God in
the world.

My brethren, I must not venture to keep silence in respect to a pro-
vince of Christian duty, in which men are especially tried at this day,
and in which they especially fail.

It is sometimes said that religion is not (what is called) political.
Now there is a bad sense of the word " political," and religion is noth-
ing that is bad. But there is also a good sense of the word, and in this
sense whoever says that religion is not political speaks as erringly, and
(whether ignorantly or not) offends with his tongue as certainly, as if in
St. Paul's time a man had said it mattered not whether he was Christian
or heathen ; for what the question of Christian or no Christian was in
the Apostle's day, such are questions of politics now. It is as right to
lake one side, and as wrong to take the other, now, in that multitude
of matters which comes before us of a social nature, as it was right to
become a Christian in St. Paul's day, and wrong to remain a heathen.
I am not saying which side is right and which is wrong, in the ever-
varying course of social duty, much less am I saying all religious peo-
ple are on one side and all irrehgious on the other; (for then would
that division between good and evil take place, which the text and
other parables assure us is not to be till the day of judgment ;) I only
say there is a right and a wrong, that it is not a matter of indifference
which side a man takes, that a man will be judged hereafter for the
side he takes.

When a man (for instance) says that he takes part against the King
or against the Church, because he thinks kingly power or established
Churches contrary to Scripture, I think him as far from the truth as
light is from darkness ; but I understand him. He takes a religious
ground, and, whatever I may think of his doctrine, I praise him for
that. I had rather he should take a religious ground (if in sincerity)
and be against the Church, than a worldly selfish ground, and be for it ;
that is, if done in earnest, not in pretence, I think it speaks more hope-
fully for his soul. I had rather the Church were levelled to the ground
by a nation, really honestly, and seriously, thinking they did God ser-
vice in doing so, fearful indeed as the sin would be,) than that it should
be upheld by a nation on the mere ground of maintaining property, for
I think this a much greater sin. I think that the worshipper of Mam-
mon will be in worse case before Christ's judgment-seat than the mis-


taken zealot. If a man must be one or the other (though he ought to
be neither,) but if I must choose for him, I had rather he should be
Saul raging like a wild beast against the Church, than Gallio caring for
none of these things, or Demas loving the present world, or Simon
trafficking with sacred gifts, or Ananias grudging Christ his substance,
and seeking to be saved as cheaply as possible. There would be more
chance of such a man's conversion to the Truth ; and, if not converted,
less punishment reserved for him at the last day. Our Lord says to
the church of Laodicea, " I would thou wert cold or hot. So then be-
cause thou art luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will cast thee
from My mouth."*

Men, however, generally act from mixed motives ; so I do not mean
that they are at once in a fearful peril, or as bad as fanatical revolu-
tionists, for having some regard to the security of property, while they
defend what is called the Church Established ; — far from it, though I
still think it would be better if the thought of religion absorbed all

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 63 of 76)