John Henry Newman.

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removes your difficulty. He bids you bring them to Him from the
first, and then take and educate them in His name. Like Pharaoh's
daughter. He takes them up when you, their natural kin, have been
forced to abandon them to inevitable death ; and then He gives thena
back to you to nurse for His sake. " Suffer the little children to come
unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God."*
Again in the text, " Whoso shall receive one such little child in My
name, receiveth Me." Observe how He speaks, as if He would give
you some great and urgent encouragement ; not only does He give per-
mission, but He promises a reward to those who dedicate children to
Him. He not only bids us do the very thing we wish to do, but be-
stows on the doing it a second blessing. He promises that if we bring
children to Him for His blessing, He will bless us for bringing them ;
if we receive them for His sake, He will make it as if we received
Himself, which is the greatest reward He could give us. Thus, while
we are engaged in this work of receiving children in His name, let us
recollect, to our great comfort, that we are about no earthly toil ; we
are taking part in a joyful solemnity, in a blessed and holy ordinance,
in which our Saviour Christ not only comes to them, but is spiritually
received into our own souls.

These reflections arise on the first view of the subject. However it
may be objected, that after all, numbers fall away from God, even with
the advantages of Baptism, and if so, the birth of children is not a less
awful subject of contemplation now than before, nay, rather more so,
inasmuch as a heavier doom awaits those who sin after grace given,
than those who have not received it.

• Mark i. 14.


But this objection surely brings us to a very different question. What
I have been saying comes to this : — that a child seems by its very na-
ture, which is corrupt and ungodly, to complain of those parents who
gave it him ; I mean, seems to do so in the parents' estimation, when
they think of him. Their tender love towards him is humbled and dis-
tressed by this thought : "This dear and helpless object of our affection
is a sinner through his parents, shapen in iniquity, conceived in sin,
born a child of wrath. Now, I conceive this dreadful thought is at
once removed, directly it is known that they who gave him his natural
Jbeing may also bring him to a second birth, in which original sin is
washed away, and such influences of grace given and promised as
make it a child's own fault, if he, in the event, fails of receiving an
eternal inheritance of blessedness in God's presence. They undo their
own original injury. Now that Christ receives u^in our infancy, no
one has an}' ground for complaining of his fallen nature. He receives
by birth a curse, but by Baptism a blessing, and the blessing is the
greater ; and to murmur now against his condition is all one with mur-
muring against his being created at all, his being created as a responsi-
ble being, which is a murmuring, not against man but against God ; for
though it was man who has made our nature inclined to evil, yet, that
•we are beings on a trial, with moral natures, a power to do right or
wrong, and a capacity of happiness or misery, is not man's work, but
the Creator's. Thus parents being allowed to bestow a second birth
upon their offspring, henceforth do but share and are sheltered in His
responsibility, (if I may dare so speak,) who is ever " justified in His
sayings, and overcomes when He is judged."

However, it may be asked, how this applies to the case of the hea-
then ? They cannot bring their children to Baptism, therefore they do
incur the responsibility of giving being to souls who live and die in the
wrath of God. I answer, that a man cannot be responsible for that
about which he is altogether ignorant. The heathen have no knowl-
edge of the real state of mankind, and therefore they can have none of
the duties which arise out of that knowledge. None of us, not even
Christians, know fully our own condition, and the consequences of our
actions ; else, doubtless, we should be too much overpowered to act at
all. Did we see the complete consequences of any one sin, did we see
how it spread by the contagion of example and influence through the
Avorld, how many souls it injured, and what its eternal effects were,
doubtless we should become speechless and motionless, as though we
saw the flames of hell fire. Enough light is given us to direct us, and
to make us responsible beings, not so much as to overwhelm us. We
are not told the secret of our guilty nature, till we are told the means


to escape from it ; we are not told of God's fearful wrath till we are
told of His love in Christ. The heathen do not know of Baptism, but
they do not know of original sin ; for God would allot fear, faith, and
hope to all men, despair to none. Again the heathen know nothing of
the eternity of future punishment, yet our Lord, in His account of the
judgment, when " all nations" shall be gathered before Him, does not
except them from the risk of it. They know neither of eternal death
nor eternal life. Let us loave the case of the heathen, about which
nothing has been revealed to us ; they are in the hand of God, the
righteous and merciful God ; " Shall not the Judge of all the earth do

But further, it may be objected that though Baptism is vouchsafed to
the children of Christian parents, yet we are expressly assured that tho
few, not the many,%hall be saved ; so that the gift, however great, does
not remove the dithculty in our way or make it less of a risk to bring
into existence those who are more likely to be among the wretched
many than the blessed few. But, surely, this is a misconception of our
Saviour's words. Where does He say that only few of the children of
His sincere followers shall be saved ? He says, indeed, that there
will be but few out of the whole multitude of the regenerate ; and
the greater number of them, as we know too well, are disobedient
to their calling. No wonder if their children turn out like them-
selves, and live to this world. But, because the mass of men abuse
their privileges, which we see they do, and because we dare not enter-
tain any sanguine hopes of the children of careless parents, how does
this prove that those who do live in God's faith and fear, and are la-
bouring and tending to be in the number of the elect few, may not cher-
ish the confidence that their children, in like manner will in due season
obey God's calling, yield to His Holy Spirit, " be made like the image
of His Only-begotten Son, walk religiously in good works," and at
length attain to everlasting glory ? Solomon, even under the Law,
assures us that, if a child be trained up in the way he should go, when
he is old he will not depart from it."! Much more (please God) will
this be true, where the parents' prayers and the children's training are
preceded by the grant of so great and present a benefit as regenerating
Baptism ; much more, when His Son has so graciously made the little
children patterns to grown men, declaring that then, and then only, we
become true members of His Kingdom when we become like them, and
when, in sign of His favour, " He took them up in his arms, put His
hands upon them, and blessed them." Let a man consider how much
is contained in the declaration, that God "hath not appointed us unta

» Gen. xviii. 25. t Prov. xiii. 6.


M'rath, but to obtain salvation ;"* and he will feel that he may safely-
trust his children to their Lord and Saviour, — reluctance being no lon-
ger a serious prudence, but an unbelieving and unthankful jealousy, and
the care of them no burdensome nor sorrowful toil, though an anxious
one, but a labour of love, a joyful service done to Christ.

Lastly, it may still be asked what encourgement after all has been
gained through Christian Baptism, which we should not have had with-
out it, since it seems the children's hopes are to be ultimately rested not
on the Sacrament admnistercd, but on the parents' faith and prayers
and careful training of them. These means, it may be objected, might
and would have been used by religious men, even though they had
known only of Christ's merits and gifts without direction how to con-
vey and apply them to individuals ; they would have prayed and been
careful then, and so gained grace for their children, and they can do no
more now. But can you indeed thus argue ? What ! is there no dif-
ference between asking and receiving ? for prayer is an asking and
Baptism is a receiving. Is there no difference between a chance and
a certainty ? How many infants die in their childhood ! is it no differ-
ence to know that a child has gone to heaven, or that he has died as
he was born? But supposing a child lives, is not regeneration a real
gain ? does not it renew our nature, exalt us in the scale of being, give
us additional powers, open upon us untold blessings, and moreover
brighten in an extreme degree the prospect of our salvation, if religious
training follows ? I will say more. Many men die without any
signs of confirmed holiness, or formed character one way or the other.
Vfe know, indeed, that privileges not improved will save no one ; but
yre do not know, we cannot pronounce, whether in souls where there is
but a Httle strength, yet much conflict, and much repentance, their re-
generation may not, as in the case with children, avail them hereafter
in some secret manner which, with our present knowledge, we cannot
speak about or imagine. Surely it is not a slight benefit to have been
" made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasted of the heavenly gift
and the powers of the world to come."f

Now I trust that these considerations may suffice, through God's
grace, to open on you a more serious view oi the subject treated of,
than is often taken even by those who are not without religious thoughts
upon it. I fear indeed that most men, though they profess and have a
regard for religion, yet have very low and contracted notions of the
dignity of their station as Christians. To be a Christian is one of the
most wondrous and awful gifts in the world. It is, in one sense, to be

• 1 Tliess. T. 9. t Heb. vi. 4, 5.


higher than Angel or Archangel. If we have any portion of an enlight-
ened faith, we shall understand that our state, as members of Christ's
Church, is full of mystery. What so mysterious as to be born, as we
are, under God's wrath 1 What so mysterious as to be redeemed by
the death of the Son of God made flesh ? What so mysterious as to
receive the virtue of that death one by one through Sacraments ? What
so mysterious as to be able to teach and train each other in good or
evil 1 When a man at all enters into such thoughts, how is his view
changed about the birth of children ! in what a different light do his
duties, as a parent, break upon him ! The notion entertained by most
men seems to be, that it is a pleasant thing to have a home ; — this is
what would be called an innocent and praiseworthy reason for marrying ;
that a wife and family are comforts. And the highest view a num-
ber of persons take is, that it is decent and respectable to be a married
man ; that it gives a man a station in society, and settles him. All
this is true. Doubtless wife and children are blessings from God : and
it is praiseworthy and right to be domestic, and to live in orderly and
honourable habits. But a man who limits his view to these thoughts,
who does not look at marriage and at the birth of children, as some-
thing of a much higher and more heavenly nature than any thing we see,
who does not discern in Holy matrimony a divine ordinance, shadomng
out the union between Christ and the Church, and does not associate
the birth of children with the Ordinance of their new birth, such a one,
I can only say, has very carnal views.

It is well to go on labouring, year after year, for the bread that perish-
eth ; and, if we are well off" in the world, to take interest and pleasure
in our families rather than to seek amusements out of doors ; it is very
well, but it is not religion ; and let us endeavour to make our feelings to-
wards them more and more religious. Let us beware of aiming at
nothing higher than their being educated well for this world, their form-
ing respectable connexions, succeeding in their callings, and settling
well. Let us never think we have absolved ourselves from the responsi-
bility of being their parents, till we have brought them to Christ, as in
Baptism, so by religious training. Let us bear in mind ever to pray for
their eternal salvation ; let us " watch for their souls as those who must
give account." Let us vemernbcr that salvation does not come as a mat-
ter of course ; that Baptism, though administered to them once and
long since, is never past, always lives in them as a blessing or as a bur-
den : and that though we may cherish a joyful confidence that " He
who hath begun a good work in them will perform it," then only have
wc a right to cherish it, when we are doing our part towards fulfilling it.



Hkb. X. 25.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but
exhorting one anotlier ; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

The first Christians set up the Church in continual prayer. " They
persevering daily with one mind in the Temple, and breaking bread from
house to house, did share their food with gladness and singleness of
heart, praising God."* St. Paul in his epistles binds their example upon
their successors for ever. Indeed we could not have conceived, even if
he and the other Apostles had been silent, that such a solemn opening
of the Gospel, as that contained in the book of Acts, was only of a tem-
porary nature, and not rather a specimen of what was to take place
among the elect people in every ago, and a shadow of that perfect ser-
vice which will be their blessedness in heaven. However, St. Paul re-
moves all doubt on this subject by expressly enjoining this united and
unceasing prayer in various passages of his epistles : as for instance,
" I will . . . that men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands."!
" Persevere in prayer, and watch in the same with thanlisgiving ;":j: and
in the text.

But it will be said, " Times are altered ; the rites and observances of
the Church are local and occasional ; what was a duty then, need not
be a duty now, even though St. Paul happens to enjoin it on those
whom he addresses. Such continual prayer was the particular form
which the religio?i of the early Christians took, and ours has taken
another form." Do not suppose, because I allow myself thus to word
the objection, that I therefore, for an instant, allow that continual united
prayer may religiously be considered a mere usage or fashion ; but so
it is treated, — so, perhaps, some of us in our secret hearts have at times
been tempted to imagine : that is, wc have been disposed to think that

» Acts. ii. 46, 47. + 1 Tim. ii. 8, I Col. iv. 2.


public worship at intervals of a week has in it something of natural
fitness and reasonableness which continual week-day worship has not.
Still, supposing it, — granting daily worship to be a ceremony, or an
usage, and Sunday worship not to be, calling it by any title the most
slighting and disparaging, — the question returns, was this ceremony or
usage of continual united prayer intended by the Apostles, for every
age of the Church, or only for the early Christians 1 A precept may
be but positive, not moral, and yet of perpetual obligation. Now, I
answer confidently that united prayer, unceasing prayer, is enjoined by
St. Paul, in a passage just cited from an epistle which lays down rules
for the government and due order of the Church to the end of time.
More plausibly even might we desecrate Sunday, which he does not
mention in it, than neglect continual prayer, which he does. Observe
how explicitly he speaks, " I will therefore that men pray in every
place ;'' not only at Jerusalem, not only at Corinth, not only in Rome,
but even in England ; in England at this day, in our secluded villages,
in our rich populous busy towns, whatever be the importance of those
secular objects which absorb our thoughts and time.

Or, again, take the text, and consider whether it favours the notion
of a change or relaxation of the primitive custom. " Not forsaking the
assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhort-
ing one another ; and so much the more, as ye see the Day approach-
ing."' The increasing troubles of the world, the fury of Satan, and the
madness of the people, the dismay of sun, moon, and stars, distress of
nations with perplexity, men's hearts failing them for fear, the sea and
the waves roaring, all these gathering tokens of God's wrath are but
calls upon us for greater perseverance in united prayer. Let those men
especially consider this, who say that we are but dreaming of centuries
gone by, missing our mark and born out of time, when we insist on such
duties and practices as are now merely out of fashion ; those who point
to the tumult and fever which agitates the whole nation, and say we
must be busy and troubled too, in order to respond to it ; who say that
the tide of events has set in one Avay, and that we must give into it, if
■we would be practical men ; that it is idleness to attempt to stem a cur-
rent, which it will be a great thing even to direct ; that since the pres-
ent age loves conversing and hearing about rehgion, and does not like
silent thought, patient waiting, recurring prayers, severe exercises, that
therefore we must obey it, and, dismissing rites and ordinances, convert
the Gospel into a rational faith, so called, and a religion of the heart ;
let these men seriously consider St. Paul's exhortation, that we are to
persevere in prayer, — and that in every placo, — and the more, the more


troubled and perplexed the affairs of this world become ; not indeed
omitting active exertions, but not, on that account, omitting prayer.

I have spoken of S.. Paul, but, consider how this rule of " continu-
ing in prayer " is cxemplifi,^d in St. Peter's history also. He had learned
from his Saviour's pattern not to think prayer a loss of time. Christ
had taken Him up with Him into the holy mount, though multi-
tudes waited to be healed and taught below. Again, before His
passion, He had taken him into the garden of Gethsemane; and
while He prayed Himself, He called upon Him likewise to " watch
and pray lest he entered into temptation." In consequence, St.
Peter warns us in his first Epistle, as St. Paul in the text, "The
end of all things is at hand, be ye therefore sober, and watch unto
prayer."* And in one memorable passage of his history he received a
revelation of a momentous and most gracious truth when he was at his
prayers. Who would not have said that he was wasting his time, when
he retired to the house of Simon at Joppa, for many days, and went up
upon the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour ? Was that, it might
be asked, the part of an Apostle, whose commission was to preach the
Gospel ? Was he thus burying his Hght, instead of meeting the exi-
gencies of the time ? Yet, there God met him, and put a word in his
mouth. There he learned the comfortable truth, that the Gentiles were
no longer common or unclean, but admissible into the Covenant of
Grace. And if continual prayer was the employment of an Apostle,
much more was it observed by those Christians who were less promi-
nently called to labour. Accordingly, when St. Peter was in prison,
prayers were offered for him, "without ceasing," by the Church ; and
to those prayers he was granted. When miraculously released, and ar-
rived at the house of Mary, the mother of Mark, he found •' many
gathered together praying." f

Stated and continual prayer, then, and especially united prayer, is
plainly the duty of Christians. And if we ask how often we are to pray,
I reply, that we ought to consider prayer as a plain privilege, directly
we know that it is a duty, and therefore that the question is out of place.
Surely, when we know we may approach the Mercy-seat, the only fur-
ther question is, whi tlier there be any thing to forbid us coming often,
any thing implying that such frequent coming is presumptuous and ir-
reverent. So great a mercy is it to be permitted to come, that a hum-
ble mind may well ask, " is it a profane intrusion to come when 1 will?'
If it be not, such a one will rejoice to come continually. Now, by way
x)f removing those fears, Scripture contains most condescending intima-

• 1 l*et. ir. 7 t Acts xii. 12.

Vol. I.— 40


tions that we may come at all times. For instance, in the Lord's
Prayer petition is made for daily bread for this day ; therefore, our Sa-
viour intended it should be used daily. Further, it is said, " give us,"
" forgive us ;" therefore it may fairly be presumed to be given us as a
social prayer. Thus in the Lord's Prayer itself there seems to be sanc-
tion for daily united prayer. Again, if we consider His words in the
parable, twice a day at least seems permitted us, " Shall not God avenge
His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him,"* though this is to
take the words according to a very restricted interpretation. And since
Daniel prayed three times a day, and the Psalmist even seven, under
the Law, we may infer, that Christians, certainly, are not irreverent,
nor incur the blame of using vain repetitions, though they join in many

Now I do not see what can be said in answer to these arguments,
imperfect as they are, compared with the whole proof that might be ad-
duced, except that some of the texts cited may, perhaps, refer to mere
secret prayer almost without words, and some speak primarily of private
prayer. Yet it is undeniable, on the other hand, that united prayer,
not private or secret, is principally intended in those passages of the
New Testament, which speak of prayer at all ; and, if so, the remain-
der may be left to apply indirectly or not, as we chance to decide,
without interfering with a conclusion otherwise proved. If, however,
it be said, that family prayer is a fulfilment of the duty, without prayer
in Church, I reply, that I am not at all speaking of it as a duty, but as
a privilege ; I do not tell men that they must come to Church, so much
as declare the glad tidings that they may. This surely is enough for
those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness," and humbly desire
to see the face of God.

Now, I will say a few words on the manner in which the early
Christians fulfilled this duty.

Quite at first, when the persecutions raged, they assembled when and
where they could. At times they could but avail themselves of Christ's
promise, that if two of His disciples ^^ agree on earth, as touching any
thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of their Heavenly
Father;" though, by small parties, and in towns, they seem to have
met together continually from the first. Gradually, as they grew
stronger, or as they happened to be tolerated, they made full proof of
their sacred privilege, and showed what was the desire of their hearts.
Their most solemn Service took place on the Lord's day, as might
be expected, when the Holy Eucharist was celebrated. f Nex to Sun-
day came Wednesday and Friday, when, also, assemblies for worship
* Luke xviii. 7. t Binghani's Antiq. liii. 9.


continued till three o'clock in the afternoon, and were observed with
fasting ; in some places with the Eucharist also. Saturday too was
observed in certain branches of the Church with especial devotion, the
Holy Mysteries being solemnized and other Services performed as on
the Lord's day.

Next must be mentioned, the Festivals of the Martyrs, when, in ad-
dition to the sacred Services used on the Lord's day, there was read
some account of the particular Martyr commemorated, with exhorta-
tions to follow his pattern.

These holy days, whether Sunday or Saint's day, were commonly
ushered in by a Vigil or religious watching, as you find it noted down
in the calendar at the beginning of the Prayer Book. These lasted
through the night.

Moreover, there were the sacred Seasons ; such as the forty days of
Lent for fasting, and the fifty days between Easter and Whitsuntide

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 69 of 76)