John Henry Newman.

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leaders in dissent, be meant, they are to be put out of it by the com-
petent authority. As to those who are not such, we cannot determine
about their real condition, for we cannot see their hearts. Many may
seem fair and specious to us, who are really dead in God's sight ; and
these, of course, cannot possess the gifts of grace any more than
Simon Magus. Or they may be lukewarm, unstable, inconsistent ; and
may thus have forfeited, more or less, the privileges which have gra-
ciously been committed to them. But how does all this show that the
"Visible Church has not the true and spiritual gifts of the Gospel at-
tached to her.

2. Now, to consider the second objection that is urged, viz. that
*' there are good men external to the Visible Church, therefore there is
a second Church, called the Invisible." In answer, I observe, that as
every one, who has been duly baptized, is, in one sense, in the Church,
even though his sins since have hid God's countenance from him ; so,
if a man has not been baptized, be he ever so correct and exemplary
in his conduct, this does not prove that he has received regeneration,
-which is the peculiar and invisible gift of the Church. What is re-
generation ? It is the gift of a new and spiritual nature ; but men
have, through God's blessing, obeyed and pleased Him without it. The
Israelites were not regenerated ; Cornelius, the Centurion, was not
regenerated, when his prayers and alms came up before God. No
outward conduct, however consistent, can be a criterion, to our mortal
judgments, of this unearthly and mysterious privilege. Therefore, when
you bring to me the case of religious Dissenters, I rejoice at hearing of
them. If they know no better, God, we trust, will accept them as he
did the Shunammite. I wish, with all my heart, they partook the full
blessings of the Church ; but all my wishing cannot change God's


appointments ; and Ilis appointment, I say, is this, that the Chu ch
Visible should be the minister, and Baptism the instrument of Regene-
ration. But I have said not a word to imply that a man, if he knows no
better, may not be exemplary in his generation without it.

So much in answer to this objection ; but the same consideration
throws light upon the former difficulty also, that of inconsistent men
being in the Church. Regeneration, I say, is a new birth, or the giving
of a new nature. Now, let it be observed, there is nothing impossible
in the thing itself, (though we believe it is not so,) but nothing impos-
sible in the very notion of a regeneration being accorded even to im'
penitent sinners. I do not say regeneration in its fulness, for that
includes in it perfect happiness and holiness, to which it tends from the
first ; yet regeneration in a true and sufficient sense, in its primary
qualities. For the essence of regeneration is the communication of a
higher and diviner nature ; and sinners may have this gift, though it
would be a curse to them, not a blessing. The devils may have a nature
thus higher and more divine than man, yet they are not preserved
thereby from evil.

And if this is the case even with sinners, much more is regeneration
conceivable in the instance of children, who have done neither good nor
evil. Nor does it at all follow, even though they grow up disobedient,
and are a scandal to the Church, that therefore the Church has not
conveyed to them a great gift, an initiation into the powers of the world
to come.

If, indeed, this gracious privilege ensured religious obedience, then,
truly, disobedience in those who have been admitted into the Church
would prove that the Church had not conveyed it to them. But until a
man is ready to maintain that the Spirit cannot be " quenched," he has
no warrant for saying that it has not been given.

Now then, after these explanations, let me ask, in what is this whole
doctrine concerning the Church, which I have been giving, inconsistent ?
What difficulty does it present to force us to reject the plain word of
Scripture about it, and to imagine a Visible Church with no privileges
at all, and an Invisible Church of real Christians exclusively with
them ? Surely, nothing but the influence of a human system, acting
on us, can makt; us read Scripture so perversely ! and how is it a less
violence to deny that the Church which the Apostle set up, and which
is, in matter of fact, among us at this day, is (what Scripture says it
is) the pillar and ground of the Truth, the Mother of us all, the House
of God, the dwelling place of the Holy Ghost, the Spouse of Christ, a
glorious Church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, and des-
tined to remain even to the end of the world, — how is this a less


violent perversion of Scripture truth than theirs, who, when Scripture
says that Christ is God, obstinately maintain He is a mere man ?

I will notice in conclusion one objection which subtle minds may
make the statements now set before you. It may be said that the
Church has forfeited its early privileges, by allowing itself to remain in a
state of sin and disorder which Christ never intended : for instance,
" that from time to time there have been great corruptions in it, espe-
cially under the ascendancy of the Papal power : that there have been
very many scandalous appointments to its highest dignities, that infidels
have been bishops, that men have administered baptism or ordination
not believing that grace was imparted in those sacred ordinances, and,
that in particular in our own country, heretics and open sinners, whom
Christ would have put out of the Church, are suffered, by a sin on the
part of the Church, to remain within it unrebuked, uncondemned.**
This is what is sometimes said ; and I confess, had we not Scripture
to consult, it would be a very specious argument against the Church's
present power, now at the distance of eighteen hundred years from the
Apostles. It would certainly seem as if the conditions not having been
fully observed on which that power was granted, it was forfeited. But
here the case of the Jewish Church affords us the consoling certainty,
that God does not so visit, even though He might, and that His gifts
and calling " are without repentance."* Christ's Church cannot be in
a worse condition than that of Israel when He visited it in the flesh ;
yet He expressly assures us that in His day " the Scribes and Phari-
sees," wicked men as they were, " sat in Moses' seat," and were ,to be
obeyed in what they taught ; and we find, in accordance with this
information, that Caiaphas, " because he was the high priest," had the
gift of prophecy, — had it, though he did not know he had it, nay, in
spite of his being one of the foremost in accomplishing our Lord's
crucifixion. Surely, then, we may infer, that, however fallen the
Church now is from what it once was, however unconscious of its
power, it still has the gift, as of old time, to convey and withdraw the
Christian privileges, " to bind and to loose," to consecrate, to bless, to
teach the Truth in all necessary things, to rule, and to prevail.

But if these things be so if the Church Visible really has invisible
privileges, what must we think, my brethren, of the general spirit of
this day, which looks upon the Church as but a civil institution, a crea-
tion and a portion of the state ? What shall be thought of the notion that
it depends upon the breath of princes, or upon the enactments of human
law ? What, again, shall be thought of those who fiercely and rancor-^

* Rom. li 29.


ously oppose and revile what is really an Ordinance of God and the
place where His honour dwelleth ? Even to the Jewish priesthood after
the blood of the Redeemer was upon it, even to it St. Paul deferred,
signifying that God's high priest was not to be reviled ; and if so, surely
much less the rulers of a branch of the Church, which, whatever have
been its sins in times past, yet is surely innocent (as we humbly and
fervently trust) of any inexpiable crime. Moreover, what an unworthy
part they act, who knowing and confessing the real claims of the Church,
yet allow them to he lightly treated and forgotten without uttering a
word in their behalf; who, from secular poUcy, or other insufficient
reason, bear to hear our spiritual rulers treated as mere civil functiona-
ries, without instructing or protesting against or foregoing intimacy with
those who despise them, nay even co-operating with them cordially, as
if they could serve two masters, Christ and the world ! And how me-
lancholy is the general spectacle in this day of ignorance, doubt, per-
plexity, misbelief, perverseness, on the subject of this great doctrine, to
say nothing of the jealousy, hatred, and unbelieving spirit with which
the Church is regarded ! Surely, thus much we are forced to grant,
that, be the privileges vested in the Church what they may, yet, at pre-
sent, they are, as to their full fruits, suspended in our branch of it by our
present want of faith ; nor can we expect that the glories of Christ's
Kingdom will again be manifested in it, till we repent, confess " our
offences and the offences of our forefathers ;" and, instead of trusting to
an arm of flesh, claim for the Church what God has given it, for Christ's
sake, " whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear."



Heb. xii. 1.

Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us
run with patience the race that is set before us.

The warning and consolation given by the Apostle to the Hebrews,
amid their sufferings for the truth's sake, were as follows : they were to
guard against unbelief, that easily-besetting sin under temptation,
chiefly, and above all, by " looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher
of faith ;" but, besides this, a secondary stay was added. So glorious
and holy is our Lord, though viewed in His human nature, so perfect
when He was tempted, so heavenly even upon earth, that sinners, such
as we are, cannot endure the sight of Him at first. Like the blessed
Apostle in the book of Revelation, we " fall at His feet as dead." So,
in mercy to us, without withdrawing His presence, He has included
within it. His Saints and Angels, a great company of created beings,
nay, of those who once were sinners, and subjects of His kingdom up-
on earth ; that thus we may be encouraged by the example of others
before us to look unto Him and Uve. St. Paul, in the foregoing chap-
ter, enumerates many of the Ancient Saints who had run the course of
faith ; and then he says in the text, " Wherefore, let us also, being
compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every
weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with
patience the race that is set before us." And presently he speaks in still
more high and glowing language of the Christian Church, that august
assemblage which Christ had formed of all that was holy in heaven and
earth. " Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the City of the Liv-
ing God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of
Angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, and to
the spirits of the just made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the
New Covenant."


And much is needed, in every age as a remedy against unbelief, that
support which St. Paul suggested to the Hebrews in persecution, the
vision of the saints of God, and of the Kingdom of Heaven. Much
is it needed, in every age, by those who have set their hearts to serve
God, because they arc few, and faint for company. We are told, ex-
pressly, " Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there
be which go in thereat." On the other hand, " Strait is the gate, and
narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find
it."-*" Alas ! is it not discouragement enough to walk in a path of self-
denial, to combat with our natural lusts and high imaginations, to have
the war of the flesh, that the war with the world must be added to it 1
Is it not enough to be pilgrims and soldiers all our days, but we must
hear the mutual greetings, and exulting voices, of those who choose
the way of death, and must walk not only in pain but in solitude ?
Where is the blessing upon the righteous, where the joy of faith, the
comfort of love, the triumph of self-mastery, in such dreariness and
desolateness ? Who are to sympathize with us in our joys and sorrows,
who are to spur us on by the example of their own success before us ?
St. Paul answers us, — the cloud of witnesses of former days. Let us
then consider our need and its remedy.

1. Certainly it cannot be denied that, if we surrender our hearts to
Christ and obey God, we shall be in the number .of the few. So it has
been in every age, so it will be to the end of time. It is hard indeed,
to find a man who gives himself up honestly to his Saviour. In spite
of all the mercies poured upon us, yet in one way or other we are in
danger of being betrayed by our own hearts, and taking up with a pre-
tence of religion instead of the substance. Hence, in a country called
Christian, the many live to the world. Nay, it would seem that as
Christianity spreads, its fruit become less ; or at least, does not increase
with its growth. It seems (some have said) as if a certain portion of
truth were in the world, a certain number of the elect in the Church,
and, as you increased its territory, you scattered this remnant to and
fro, and made them seem fewer, and made them feel more desolate.

" Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves ;"t what
our Lord addressed to His Apostles is fulfilled to this day in all those
who obey Him. They are sprinkled up and down the world ; they are
separated the one from the other, they are bid quit each other's dear
society, and sent afar off to those who are differently minded. Their
•choice of profession and employment is not their own. Outward cir-
•curastances, over which they have no control, determine their line of

• Matt. Tii. 13, 14. t Matt. x. 16.


life ; accidents bring them to this place or that place, not knowing
whither t)iey go ; not knowing the persons to whom they unite them-
sslves, they find, almost blindly, their home and their company. And
in this, moreover, differing from the Apostles, and very painfully ; that
the Apostles knew each other, and could communicate one with an-
other, and could form, nay, were bound to form one body ; but now,
those honest and true hearts, in which the good seed has profitably
fallen, do not even know each other ; nay, even when they think they
can single out their fellows, yet are they not allowed to form a separate
society with them.

They do not know each other ; they do not know themselves ; they
do not dare take to themselves the future titles of God's elect," though
they be really reserved for them ; and the nearer they are towards
heaven, so much the more lowly do they think of themselves. " Lord,
I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof,"* was the
language of him who had greater faith than any in Israel. Doubtless,
they do not know their own blessedness, nor can they single out those
who are their fellows in blessedness. God alone sees the heart ; now
and then, as they walk their way, they see glimpses of God's work in
others ; they take hold of them awhile in the dark, but soon lose them ;
they hear their voices, but cannot find them. Some few, indeed, are
revealed to them, in a measure. Among those with whom their lot is
cast, whom they see continually, one or two, perhaps, are given them
to rejoice in, but not many even of these. For so it has pleased the
Dresser of the Vineyard, who seems purposed that His own should not
grow too thick together ; and if they seem to do so, He prunes His vine
that, seeming to bear less, it may bear better. He plucks off some of
the promise of the vintage ; and they who are left, mourn over their
brethren whom God has taken to Himself, not understanding that it is
no strange providence, but the very rule of His government to leave His
servants few and solitary.

And, even when they know each other, (as far as man can know
man,) still, as I have said, they may not form an exclusive communion
together. Of course, every one will naturally live most with those
whom he likes most ; but it is one thing to have a preference, and quite
another to draw a line of exclusion, and to form a select company within
the Church. The Visible Church of God is that one only company
which Christians know as yet ; it was set up at Pentecost, with the
Apostles for founders, their successors for rulers, and all professing
Christian people for members. In this Visible Church the Church In-

* Matt. viii. 8.


visible is gradually moulded and matured. It is formed slowly and va-
riously by the Blessed Spirit of God, in the instance of this man and
that, who belong to the general body. But all these blessed fulfilments
of God's grace are as yet but parts of the visible Church ; they grow
from it ; they depend upon it ; they do not hang upon each other ; they
do not form a body together ; there is no Invisible Church yet formed ;
it is but a name as yet ; a name given to those who are hidden, and
known to God only, and as yet but half formed, the unripe and gradu-
ally ripening fruit which grows on the stem of the Church Visible. As
well might we attempt to foretell the blossoms which will at length turn
to account and ripen for the gathering, and then counting up all these
and joining them together in our minds, call them by the name of a
tree, as attempt now to associate in one the true elect of God. They
are scattered about amid the leaves of that Mystical Vine which is seen,
and receive their nurture from its trunk and branches. They live on
its Sacraments and its Ministry ; they gain light and salvation from its
rites and ordinances ; they communicate with each other through it ;
they obey its rulers ; they walk together with its members ; they do
not dare to judge of this man or that man, on their right hand or their
left, whether or not he is absolutely of the number of those who shall be
saved ; they accept all as their brethren in Christ, as partakers of the
same general promises, who have not openly cast off Christ, — as really
brethren, till death comes, as those who fulfil their calling most strictly.
Yet, at the same time, while in faith they love those, all around them,
"who are called by Christ's name, and forbear to judge about their real
state in God's sight, they cannot but see much in many of them to hurt
and offend them ; they cannot but feel, most painfully, the presence of
that worldly atmosphere which, however originating, is around them ;
they feel the suffocation of those vapours in which the many are con-
tent to remain ; and while they cannot trace the evil to its real authors
individually, they are sure that it is an evil to be avoided and pointed
out, and originating somewhere or other in the Church. Hence, in
their spheres, whether high or low, the faithful few are witnesses ; they
are witnesses for God and Christ, in their lives, and by their protesta-
tions, without judging others, or exalting themselves. They are wit-
nesses, in various degrees, to various persons, more or less, as each
needs it, differing from the multitude varioasly, as each of that multi-
tude, before whom they witness, is better or worse, and as they them-
selves are more or loss advanced in the truth ; still, on the whole, they
are witnesses, as light witnesses against darkness by the contrast ; —
giving good and receiving back evil ; receiving back on themselves the
contempt, the ridicule, and the opposition of the world, mixed, indeed,


with some praise and reverence, reverence which does not last long, but
soon becomes fear and hatred. And hence it is that reUgious men need
some consolation to support them, which the Visible Church seems, at
first sight, not to supply, when the overflowings of ungodliness make
them afraid.

2. Now then, secondly, in such circumstances what shall we say ?
Are they but solitary witnesses, each in his place ? Is the Church which
they see really no consolation to them at all, except as contemplated by
faith in respect of its invisible gifts ? or does it, after all, really afford
them some sensible stay, a vision of Heaven, of peace and purity, an-
tagonist to the world that now is, in spite of the evil which abounds in
it, and overlays it ? Through God's great mercy, it is actually, in no
small degree, a present and a seiLsible consolation, as I proceed to show.

In truth, do what he will, Satan cannot quench or darken the Light of
the Church. He may incrust it with his own evil creations, but even
opake bodies transmit rays, and Truth shines with its own heavenly
lustre, though " under a bushel." The Holy Spirit has vouchsafed to
take up His abode in the Church, and the Church will ever bear, on its
front, the visible signs of its hidden privilege. Viewed at a little dis-
tance, its whole surface will be illuminated, though the light really streams
from apertures which might be numbered. The scattered witnesses
thus become, in the language of the text, " a cloud," like the Milky Way
in the heavens.

We have, in Scripture, the records of those who hved and died by
faith in the old time, and nothing can deprive us of them. The strength
of Satan lies in his being seen to have the many on his side ; but, when
we read the Bible, this argument loses its hold over us. There, we find
that we are not sohtar\- ; that others, before us, have been in our very
condition, have had our feelings, undergone our trials, and laboured for
the prize which we are seeking. Nothing more elevates the mind than
the consciousness of being one of a great and victorious company. Does
not the soldier exult in his commander, and consider his triumph as his
own ? He is but one, yet he identifies himself with the army, and the
cause in which he serves, and dwells upon the thought of victories, and
those who win them, more than on ceisual losses and defeats. Does not
a native of a powerful country feel it a joy and boast to be so ? Do
we not hear men glory in being born in Englishmen ? And they go to
and fro, gazing on the works of their own davs, and the monuments of
their forefathers, and say to themselves that their race is a noble one.
Much more fully, much more reasonably, is this the bocLst of a Christian,
and without aught of arrogant or carnal feeling. He knows, from God's
word, that he is "citizen of no mean city." He feels that his is no


upstart line, but very ancient ; Almifrhty God having purposed to
bring many sons unto glory through His Son, and begetting them again,
in their separate ages, to do Him service. He is one of a host, and all
those blessed Saints he reads of are his brethren in the faith. He finds,
in the history of the past, a peculiar kind of consolation, counteracting
the influence of the world that is seen. He cannot tell who the saints
are now on earth ; those yet unborn are known to God only ; but the
Saints of former times are sealed for Heaven and are in their degree re-
vealed to him. The spirits of the just made perfect encourage him to
follow them. This is why it is a Christian's characteristic to look back
on former times. The man of this world hves in the present, or specu-
lates about the future ; but faith rests upon the past and is content. It
makes the past the mirror of the future. It recounts the list of faithful
servants of God, to whom St. Paul refers in the text, and no longer feels
sad as if it were alone. Abraham and the Patriarchs, Moses, Samuel,
and the prophets, David and the kings who walked in his steps, these are
the Christian's forefathers. By degrees he learns to have them as fami-
liar images before his mind, to unite his cause with theirs, and, since
their history comforts him, to defend them in his own day. Hence he
feels jealous for their honour, and when they are attacked he answers
eagerly, so as to surprise those who are contented with things as they
are ; but, truly, he is too grateful, too affectionate, too much interested
in the matter, to be complimentary and generous towards their assailants.

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 65 of 76)