John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 73 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 73 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ished, and the heart was most affectionate and least selfish. Nor would
I deny, that a care for the souls of other men may be the first symp-
tom of a man's beginning to think about his own ; or that persons, who
are conscious to themselves of much guilt, often pray for those whom
they revere and love, when under the influence of fear, or in agony, or
other strong emotion, and, perhaps, at other times. Still it is true, that
there is something incongruous and inconsistent in a man's presuming
to intercede, who is an habitual and deliberate sinner. Also it is true
that most men do, more or less fall away from God, sully their baptis-
mal robe, need the grace of repentance, and have to be awakened to
the necessity of prayer for self, as the first step in observing prayer of
any kind.

" God heareth not sinners ;" nature tells us this ; but none but God
Himself could tell us that He will hear and answer those who are not
sinners ; for " when we have done all, we are unprofitable servants,
and can claim no reward for our services." But He has graciously
promised us this mercy, in Scripture, as the following texts will show.

For instance, St. James says, " The effectual fervent prayer of a
righteous man availeth much." St. John, " Whatsoever we ask, we
receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those
things that are pleasing in his sight."* Next let us weigh carefully
our Lord's solemn announcements uttered shortly before His crucifixion,,
and, though addressed primarily to His Apostles, yet, surely, in their
degree belonging to all who " believe on Him through their word."
We shall find that consistent obedience, mature, habitual, lifelong holi-
ness, is therein made the condition of His intimate favour, and of power
in Intercession. " If ye abide in Me," He says, " and My words abide

* James v. 16. 1 John iii. 22.



IXIV.] INTERCESSION. 665

in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein
is my Father glorified, that ye bear much frjit : so shall ye be My dis-
ciples. As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you ; abide ye in
My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love.
Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth
I call you not servants ; for the servant knoweth not what his lord
doeth ; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard of My
Father, I have made known unto you."* From this solemn grant of
the peculiarly Gospel privilege of being the " friends" of Christ, it is
certain, that as the prayer of repentance gains for us sinners Baptism
and justification, so our higher gift of having power with Him and
prevaihng, depends on our " adding to our faith virtue."

Let us turn to the examples given us of holy men under former dis-
pensations, whose obedience and privileges were anticipations of the
evangelical. St. James, after the passage already cited from his epistle,
speaks of Elijah thus : " Elias was a man subject to like passions as we
are, yet he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on
the earth by the space of three years and six months." Righteous Job
was appointed by Almighty God to be the effectual intercessor for his
erring friends. Moses, who was " faithful in all the house " of God,
affords us another eminent instance of intercessory power ; as in the
Mount, and on other occasions, when he pleaded for his rebellious peo-
ple, o; in the battle with Amalek, when Israel continued conquering as
long as his hands remained lifted up in prayer. Here we have a striking
emblem of that continued, earnest, unwearied prayer of men " lifting
up holy hands," which, under the Gospel, prevails with Almighty God.
Again, in the book of Jeremiah, Moses and Samuel are spoken of as
mediators so powerful, that only the sins of the Jews were too great for
the success of their prayers. In like manner it is implied, in the book
of Ezekiel, that three such as Noah, Daniel, and Job, would suffice, in
some cases, to save guilty nations from judgment. Sodom might have
been rescued by ten. Abraham, though he could not save the aban-
doned city just mentioned, yet was able to save Lot from the overthrow ;
as at another time he interceded successfully for Abimelech. The very
intimation given him of God's purpose towards Sodom was of course an
especial honour, and marked him as the friend of God. " Shall I hide
from Abraham that thing which I do, seeing that Abraham shall surely
become a great and mighty nation ; and all the nations of the world
shall be blessed in him ?" The reason follows, '^'^ for I know him, that
he will command his children and his household after him, and they

* John XV. 7 — 15.



656 INTERCESSION. [Seek.

shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment, that the
Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him."*

4. The history of God's dealings with Abraham will afford us an
additional lesson, which must be ever borne in mind in speaking of the
privilege of the saints on earth as intercessors between God and man.
I can fancy a person, from apprehension lest the belief in it should in-
terfere with the true reception of the doctrine of the Cross, perplexed at
finding it in the foregoing texts so distinctly connected with obedience :
I say perplexed, for I will not contemplate the case of those, though
there are such, who, when the text of Scripture seems to them to be at
variance with itself, and one portion to diverge from another, will not
allow themselves to be perplexed, will not suspend their minds and hum-
bly wait for light, will not believe that the Divine Scheme is larger and
deeper than their own capacities, but boldly wrest into apparent agree-
ment what is already harmonious in God's infinite counsels, though not
to them. I speak to perplexed persons ; and would have them observe
that Almighty God has in this very instance of Abraham our spiritual
father, been mindful of that other aspect under which the most highly
exalted among the children of flesh must ever stand in His presence.
It is elsewhere said of him, " Abraham believed in the Lord, and He
counted it to him for righteousness,"f as St. Paul points out, when he
is discoursing upon the free grace of God in our redemption. Even
Abraham was justified by faith, though he was perfected by works ;
and this being told us in the book of Genesis, seems as if an intimation
to the perplexed inquirer that his difficulty can be but an apparent one,
— that, while God reveals the one doctrine, He is not the less careful of
the other also, nor rewards His servants (though He rewards them) for
works done by their own strength. On the other hand, it is a caution to
us, who rightly insist on the prerogatives imparted by His grace, ever
to remember that it only can ennoble and exalt us in His sight. Abra-
ham is our spiritual father ; and as he is, so are his children. In us,
as in him, faith must be the foundation of all that is acceptable with
God. " By faith we stand," by faith we are justified, by faith we obey,
by faith our works are sanctified. Faith applies to us again and again
the grace of our Baptism ; faith opens upon us the virtue of all other
ordinances of the Gospel, — of the Holy Communion, which is the high-
est. By faith we prevail " in the hour of death and in the day of
judgment." And the distinctness and force with which this is told us
in the Epistles, and its obviousness, even to our natural reason, may be
the cause why less stress is laid in them on the duty of prayer for self.

» Gen. xviii. 17—19, t Gen. xv. 6.



XXIV.] INTERCESSION. 657

The very instinct of faith will lead a man to do this without set com-
mand, and the Sacraments secure its observance. — So much then, by-
way of caution, on the influence of faith upon our salvation, furthering
it, yet not interfering with the distinct office of works in giving virtue
to our intercession.

And here let me observe on a peculiarity of Scripture, its speaking as
if separate rewards attended on separate graces, according to our Lord's
words, " To him that hath more shall be given ;" so that what has been
said in contrasting faith and works, is but one instance under a general
rule. Thus, in the sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes are pronounced
on separate virtues respectively. " Blessed are the meek, for they shall
inherit the earth ;" " Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see
Ood ;" and the rest in like manner. I am not attempting to determine
what these particular graces are, what the rewards, what the aptitude
of the one to the other, what the real connection between the reward and
the grace, or how far one grace can be separated from another in fact.
We know that all depend on one root, faith, and are but differently de-
veloped in different persons. Again, we see in Scripture that the same
reward is not invariably assigned to the same grace, as if, from the inti-
mate union between all graces, their rewards might (as it were) be lent
and interchanged one with another ; yet enough is said there to direct
our minds to the existence of the principle itself, though we be unable
to fathom its meaning and consequences. It is somewhat upon this
principle that our Articles ascribe justification to faith only, as a symbol
of the free grace of our redemption ; just as in the parable of the Phari-
see and publican, our Lord would seem to impute it to self-abasement,
and in His words to the " woman which was a sinner," to love as well
as to faith, while St. James connects it with works. In other instances
the reward follows in the course of nature Thus the gift of wisdom is
the ordinary result of trial borne religiously ; courage, of endurance.
In this way St. Paul draws out a series of spiritual gifts one from ano-
ther, experience from patience, hope from experience, boldness and con-
fidence from hope. I will add but two instances from the Old Testa-
ment. The commandment says, " Honour thy father and thy mother
that thy days may be long ;" a promise which was signally fulfilled in
the case even of the Rechabites, who were not of Tsrael. Again, from
Daniel's history we learn that illumination, or other miraculous power,
is the reward of fasting and prayer. " In those days I, Daniel, was
mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came
flesh r wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three

whole weeks were fulfilled And he said unto me, Foar not,

Daniel ; for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to under-
Vol. I— 42



668 INTERCESSION. [Skrm.

stand and to chasten thrjself before thy God, thy words were heard, and
I am come for thy words Now I am come to make thee un-
derstand what shall befal thy people in the latter days." With this
passage compare St. Peter's vision about the Gentiles while he prayed
and fasted ; and, again, our Lord's words about casting out the " dumb
and deaf spirit," " This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer
and fasting."* And it is by a similar appointment, that Intercession is
the prerogative and gift of the obedient and holy.

5. "Why should we be unwilling to admit what it is so great a conso-
lation to know? Why should we refuse to credit the transforming
power and efficacy of our Lord's sacrifice? Surely He did not die for
any common end, but in order to exalt man, who was of the dust of the
field, into " heavenly places." He did not die to leave him as he was,
sinful, ignorant, and miserable. He did not die to see His purchased
possession, as feeble in good works, as corrupt, as poor-spirited, and as
desponding, as before He came. Rather He died to renew him after
His own image, to make him a being He might delight and rejoice in,
to make him " partaker of the divine nature," to fill him within and
without with a flood of grace and glory, to pour out upon him gift upon
gift, and virtue upon virtue, and power upon power, each acting upon
each, and working together one and all, till he becomes an Agel upon
earth, instead of a rebel and an outcast. Ho died to bestow upon him
that privilege which implies or involves all others, and brings him into
nearest resemblance to Himself, the privilege of Intercession. This, I
say, is the Christian's especial prerogative ; and if he does not exercise
it, certainly he has not risen to the conception of his real place among
created beings. Say not he is a son of Adam, and has to undergo a fu-
ture judgment ; I know it ; but he is something besides. How far he
is advanced into that higher state of being, how far he still languishes
in his first condition, is, in the case of individuals, a secret with God.
Still every Christian is in a certain sense both in the one and in the
other : viewed in himself he ever prays for pardon, and confesses sin ;
but viewed in Christ, he " has access into this grace wherein we stand,
and rejoices in the hope of the glory of God."f Viewed in his place
in " the Church of the First-born enrolled in heaven," with his original
debt cancelled in Baptism, and all subsequent penalties put aside by
Absolution, standing in God's presence upright and irreprovable, accept-
ed in the Beloved, clad in the garments of righteousness, anointed with
oil, and with a crown upon his head, in royal and priestly garb, as an
heir of eternity, full of grace and good works, as walking in all the

« Ex. XX. 12. Jer. ixxv. 18, 19. Dan. x 2—14. Mark ix. 29, t Rom. v. 2



XXIV.] INTERCESSION. 659

commandments of the Lord blameless, such an one, I repeat it, is plainly
in his fitting place, when he intercedes. He is made after the pattern
and in the fulness of Christ, — he is what Christ is. Christ intercedes
above, and he intercedes below. Why should he linger in the doorway,
praying for pardon, who has been allowed to share in the grace of the
Lord's passion, to die with Him and rise again ? He is already in a
capacity for higher things. His prayer thenceforth takes a higher
range, and contemplates not himself merely, but others also. He is
taken into the confidence and counsels of His Lord and Saviour. He
reads in Scripture what the many cannot see there, the course of His
providence, and the rules of His government in this world. He views
the events of history with a divinely enlightened eye. He sees that a
great contest is going on among us between good and evil. He recog-
nizes in statesmen, and warriors, and kings, and people, in revolutions
and changes, in trouble and prosperity, not merely casual matters, but
instruments and tokens of heaven and of hell. Thus he is in some sense
a prophet ; not a servant, who obeys without knowing his Lord's plans
and purposes, but even a confidential " famihar friend" of the Only-be-
gotten Son of God, calm, collected, prepared, resolved, serene, amid this
restless and unhappy world. O mystery of blessedness, too great to
think of steadily, lest we grow dizzy ! Well is it for those who are so
gifted, that they do not for certain know their privilege ; well is it for
them that they can but timidly guess at it, or rather, I should say, are
used, as well as bound, to contemplate it as external to themselves lodged
in the Church of which they are but members, and the gift of all saints
in every time and place, without curiously inquiring whether it is theirs
peculiarly above others, or doing more than availing themselves of it as
any how a trust committed to them (with whatever success) to use.
Well is it for them ; for what mortal heart could bear to know that it is
brought so near to God Incarnate, as to be one of those who are perfect-
ing hoUness and stand on the very steps of the throne of Christ ?

To conclude. If any one asks, '' How am I to know whether I am
advanced enough in holiness to intercede ?" he has plainly mistaken the
doctrine under consideration. The privilege of Intercession is a trust
committed to all Christians who have a clear conscience and are in full
communion with the Church. We leave secret things to God, — what
each man's real advancement is in holy things, and what his real power
in the unseen world. Two things alone concern us, to exercise our gift
and make ourselves more and more worth}' of it. The slothful and un-
profitable servant hid his Lord's talent in a napkin. This sin be far from
us as regards one of the greatest of our gifts ! By words and works
we can but teach or influence a few ; by our prayers we may benefit



ggQ INTERCESSION. [Serm. XXIV.

the whole world, and every individual of it, high and low, friend stranger,
nnd enemy. Is it not fearful then to look back on our past lives even
in this once respect ? How can we tell but that our king our country,
our Church, our institutions, and our own respective circles would be
•n fai happier circumstances than they are, had we been in the practice
of more earnest and serious prayer for them ^ How can we complain
of difficulties, national or personal, how can we justly blame and de-
Lunce evil-minded and powerful men, if we have but I'S^tly -ed U^e
intercessions offered up in the Litany, the Psa ms, and in the Holy
Communion 1 How can we answer to ourselves for the souls who have,
in our time, lived and died in sin ; the souls that have been lost and are
now waiting for judgment, the infidel, the blasphemer, the Proffigat^'
the covetous, the extortioner ; or those again who ^ave died w.th but
doubtful signs of faith, the death-bed penitent, the worldly, he double-
linded, the ambitious, the unruly, the trifling, the self-willed, seeing
Lt, for what we know, we were ordained to influence or reverse their
nresent destiny and have not done it ?

Tecondly and lastly. If so much depend on us, "What manner o
persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godhness ! O that
we may henceforth be more diligent than heretofore, in keeping the
xnirror of our hearts unsullied and bright, so as to reflect the image of
the Son of God in the Father's presence, clean from the dust and stains
of this world, from envies and jealouses, strife and debate, bitttrness and
harshness, indolence and impurity, care and discontent, deceit and
meanness, arrogance and boasting ! O that we may labour not m our
own strength but in the power of God the Holy Spirit, to be sober,
chaste, temperate, meek, affectionate, good, faithful, firm, humble, pa-
tient, cheerful, resigned, under all circumstances, at all t.mes^ among
all people, amid all trials and sorrows of this mortal life ! May God
graat us the power, according to His prom.se, through His Son our
Saviour Jesus Christ !



SERMON XX\.



THE INTERMEDIATE STATE.



Revelation vi. 11.



And white robes were given unto every one of them ; and it was said unto them, that
they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also, and their
brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

In taking these words as a text, I do not profess to give you any suf-
ficient explanation of



Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 73 of 76)