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of God, and freemen in the Gospel, is by our sinfulness made our
shame ; for it puts us upon duties, and again upon the use of privileges
which are above us. We attempt great things with the certainty of
faihng, and yet the necessity of attempting ; and so while we attempt,
need continual forgiveness for the failure of the attempt. We stand


before God as the Israelites at the passover of Hezekiah, who desired
to serve God according to the Law, but could not do so accurately from
lack of knowledge ; and we can but offer, through our Great High
Priest, our sincerity and earnestness instead of exact obedience as
Hezekiah did for them. " The good Lord pardon every one, thatjpre-
pareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be
not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary ;"* not per-
forming i. e. the full duties of his calling.

And if such be the deficiencies, even of the established Christian,
in his ordinary state, how great must be those of the penitent, who has
but lately begun the service of God ? or of the young who are still
■within the influence of some unbridled imagination, or some domineer-
ing passion ! or of the heavily depressed spirit, whom Satan binds with
the bonds of bodily ailment, or tosses to and fro in the tumult of doubt
and indecision ! Alas, how is their conscience defiled with the
thoughts, nay the words of every hour ! and how inexpressibly need-
ful for them to relieve themselves of the evil that weighs upon their
heart, by drawing near to God in full assurance of faith, and washing
away their guilt in the Expiation which he has appointed !

What I have said is a call upon you, my brethren, in the first place,
to daily private prayer. Next, it is a call upon you to join the public
services of the Church, not only once a week, but whenever you have
the opportunity ; knowing well that your Redeemer is especially present
where two or three are gathered together. And, further, it is an espe-
cial call upon you to attend upon the celebration of the Lord's Supper,
in which blessed ordinance we really and truly gain that spiritual Ufe
which is the object of our daily prayers. The Body and Blood of
Christ give power and efficacy to our daily faith and repentance. Take
this view of the Lord's Supper ; as the appointed means of obtaining
the great blessings you need. The daily prayers of the Christian do
but spring from and are referred back to, his attendance on it. Christ
died once, long since : by communicating in His Sacrament, you re-
new the Lord's death ; you bring into the midst of you that Sacrifice
which took away the sins of the world : you appropriate the benefit of
it, while you eat it under the elements of bread and wine. These out-
ward signs are simply the means of a hidden grace. You do not
expect to sustain your animal life without food ; be but as rational in
spiritual concerns as you are in temporal. Look upon the consecrated
elements as necessary, under God's blessing, to your continual sanctifi-
cation ; approach them as the salvation of your souls. Why is it more

» 2 Chron. xxs. 18, 19.


strange that God should work through means for the health of the soul,
than that He should ordain them for the preservation of bodily life, as
He certainly has done ? It is unbelief to think it matters not to your
spiritual welfare whetlicr you communicate or not. And it is worse
than unbelief it is utter insensibility and obduracy, not to discern the
state of death and corruption, into which, when left to yourselves, you
are continually falling back. Rather thank (iod, that whereas you are
sinners, instead of His leaving the mere general promise of life through
His Son, which is addressed to all men, He has allowed you to take
that promise to yourselves one by one, and thus gives you a humble
hope that He has chosen you out of the world unto salvation.

Lastly, I have all along spoken as addressing true Christians, who
are walking in the narrow way, and have hope of heaven. But these
are the " few." Are there none here present of the " many" who walk
in the broad way, and have upon their heads all their sins, from their
baptism upwards ? Rather, is it not probable that there are persons in
this congregation, who, though mixed with the people of God, are really
unforgiven, and if they now died, would die in their sins ? First, let
those who neglect the Holy Communion ask themselves whether this
is not their condition ; let them reflect whether among the signs by
which it is given us to ascertain our state, there can be, to a man's
own conscienco, a more fearful one than to know he is omitting what
is appointed as the ordinary moans of his salvation. This is a plain
test, about which no one can deceive liimself. JUit next, let him have
recourse to a more accurate search int(j his conscience ; and ask him-
self whether (in the words of the text) he " draws noar to (Jod with a
true heart," i. e. whether in spite of his prayers and religions services,
there be not some secret, imresistcd lusts within liim, which make his
devotion a mockery in the sight of God, and leave him in his sins ;
whether he be not thoughtless, and religious only as far as his friends
make him seem so, — or light-minded and shallow in his religion, being
ignorant of the depths of his guilt, and resting presumptuously in his
own innocence (as he thinks it) and God's mercy ; — whether he be not
set upon gain, obeying God only so far as His service does not inter-
fere with the service of mammon ; — whether he be not harsh, evil-
tempered, — unforgiving, unpitiful, or high-minded, — self-confident, and
secure ; — or whether he be not fond of the fashions of this world, which
pass away, desirous of the friendship of the great, and of sharing in the
refinements of polished society ; — or whether he be not given up to
some engrossing pursuit, which indisposes him to the thought of his
God and Saviour.

Any one dehberatc habit of sin incapacitates a man for receiving


gifts of the Gospel. All such states of mind as these are fearful symp-
toms of the existence of some such wilful sin in our hearts ; and in pro-
portion as we trace these symptoms in our conduct, so must we dread,
lest we be reprobates.

Let us then approach God all of us, confessing that we do not know
ourselves ; that we are more guilty than we can possibly understand,
and can but timidly hope, not confidently determine, that we have true
faith. Let us take comfort in our being still in a state of grace, though
we have no certain pledge of salvation. Let us beg Him to enlighten
us, and comfort us ; to forgive us all our sins, teaching us those we do
not see, and enabling us to overcome them.



1 John v. 3.

" This is the love of God, that we Keep His commandments ; and His command-
ments are not grievous."

It must ever be borne in mind that it is a very great and arduous thing
to attain heaven. "Many are called, few are chosen." "Strait is
the gate, and narrow is the way." " Many will seek to enter in
and shall not be able." " If any man come to Me, and hate not his
father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and^sisters, yea,
and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple."* On the other hand,
it is evident to any one, who reads the New Testament with attention,
that Christ and His Apostles speak of a religious life as something easy,
pleasant, and comfortable. Thus, in the words I have taken for my
text : — " This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments ;
and His commandments are not grievous. In like manner our Saviour
says, •' Come unto Me .... and I will give you rest .... My
yoke is easy and my burden is light. "f Solomon also, in the Old Testa-
ment, speaks in the same way of true wisdom : — " Her ways are ways

»Matt. xxii. 14. vu. 14. Luke xiii. 24. xiv. 26. tMatt. xi. 28—30.


of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to
them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that retaineth her.
. . . When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid ; yea, thou shalt
lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet."* Again, we read in the prophet
Mieah : *' What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to
love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God ?"f as if it were a little
and an easy thing so to do.

Now I will attempt to show how it is that these apparently opposite
declarations of Christ and His Prophets and Apostles are fulfilled to us.
For it may be objected by inconsiderate persons that we are (if I may
so express it) hardly treated ; being invited to come to Christ and re-
ceive His light yoke, promised an easy and happy life, the joy of a good
conscience, the assurance of pardon, and the hope of Heaven ; and
then, on the other hand, when we actually come, as it were, rudely
repulsed, frightened, reduced to despair by severe requisitions and evil
forebodings. Such is the objection, — not which any Christian would
bring forward ; for we, my brethren, know too much of the love of our
Master and only Saviour in dying for us, seriously to entertain for an
instant any such complaint. We have at least faith enough for this,
(and it does not require a great deal,) viz. to believe that the Son of
God, Jesus Christ, is not " yea and nay, but in Him is yea. For all the
promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him amen, unto the glory of
God by us.":j: It is for the very reason that none of us can seriously
put the objection, that I allow myself to state it strongly ; to urge it
being in a Christian's judgment absurd, even more than it would be
Avicked. But though none of us really feel as an objection to the Gos-
pel, this difference of view under which it is presented to us, or even as a
difficulty, still it may be right (in order to our edification) that we should
see how these two views of it are reconciled. We must understand how
it is both 'severe and indulgent in its commands, and both arduous and
easy in its obedience, in order that we may understand it at all.

" His commandments are not grievous," says the text. How is this ?
— I will give one answer out of several which might be given.

Now it must be admitted, first of all, as matter of fact, that they are
grievous to the great mass of Christians. I have no wish to disguise a
fact which we do not need the Bible to inform us of, but which common
experience attests. Doubtless even those common elementary duties,
of which the prophet speaks, *' doing justly, loving mercy, and walking
humbly with our God," are to most men grievous.

Accordingly, men of worldly minds, finding the true way of life
unpleasant to walk in, have attempted to find out other and easier roads ;

* ProT. iii. 17—24. t Micah. vi. 8. 1 2 Cor. i. 19, 20.


and have been accustomed to argue, that there must be another way
which suits them better than that which rehgious men walk in, for the
very reason that Scripture declares that Christ's commandments are not
grievous. I mean, you will meet with persons who say, " After all it is
not to be supposed that a strict religious life is so necessary as is told us
in church ; else how should any one be saved? nay, and Christ assures
us His yoke is easy. Doubtless we shall fare well enough, though we
are not so earnest in the observance of our duties as we might be ; though
we are not regular in our attendance at public worship ; though we do
not honour Christ's Ministers and reverence His Church as much as
some men do ; though we do not labour to know God's will, to deny
ourselves, and to live to His glory, as entirely as the strict letter of
Scripture enjoins." Some men have gone so far as boldly to say, " God
will not condemn a man merely for taking a little pleasure ;" by which
they mean, leading an irreligious and profligate life. And many there
are who virtually maintain that we may live to the world, so that we do
so decently, and yet live to God ; arguing that this world's blessings are
given us by God, and therefore may lawfully be used ; — that to use
lawfully is to use moderately and thankfully ; — that it is wrong to take
gloomy views, and right to be innocently cheerful, and so on ; which is
all very true thus stated, did they not apply it unfairly, and call that use
of the world moderate, and innocent, which the Apostles would call being
conformed to the world, and serving mammon instead of God.

And thus, before showing you what is meant by Christ's command-
ments not being grievous, I have said what is not meant by it. It is not
meant that Christ dispenses with strict religious obedience ; the whole
language of Scripture is against such a notion. "Whosoever shall
break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he
shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven."* " Whosoever shall
keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."f
Whatever is meant by Christ's yoke being easy, Christ does not en-
courage sin. And again, whatever is meant, still I repeat, as a matter
of fact, most men find it not easy. So far must not be disputed. Now
then let us proceed, in spite of this admission, to consider how He fulfils
His engagements to us, that His ways are ways of pleasantness.

1 . Now, supposing some superior promised you any gift in a particular
way, and you did not follow his directions, would he have broken his
promise, or you have voluntarily excluded yourselves from the advan-
tage? Evidently you would have brought about your own loss; you
might, indeed, think his offer not worth accepting, burdened (as it was)
with a condition annexed to it, still you could in no propriety say that

* Matt. V. 19. + James ii. 10.


he failed in his engagement. Now when Scripture promises us that his
commandments shall be easyj it couples the promise with the injunction
that we should seek God early. " I love them that love Me, and those
that seek Me early shall find Me."* Again : " Remember now thy
Creator in the days of thy youth."f These are Solomon's words ; and
if you require our Lord's own authority, attend to His direction about
the children : " Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid
them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.":}: Youth is the time of
covenant with us, when He first gives us His Spirit ; first giving then,
that we may then forthwith begin our return of obedience to Him ; not
the^n giving it, that we may delay our thank-offering for twenty, thirty,
or fifty years ! Now it is obvious that obedience to God's command-
ments is ever easy and almost without effort to those who begin to serve
Him from the beginning of their days ; whereas, those who wait a
while, find it grievous in proportion to their delay.

For consider how gently God leads us on in our early years, and how
very gradually He opens upon us the complicated duties of hfe. A
child at first has hardly anything to do but to obey his parents ; of God
he knows just as much as they are able to tell him, and he is not equal
to many thoughts either about Him or about the world. He is almost
passive in their hands who gave him life ; and, though he has those
latent instincts about good and evil, truth and falsehood, which all men
have, he does not know enough, he has not not had experience enough,
from the contact of external objects, to elicit into form and action those
innate principles of conscience, or make himself conscious of the exist-
ence of them.

And, while on the one hand his range of duty is very confined, observe
how he is assisted in performing it. First, he has no bad habits to
hinder the suggestions of his conscience ; indolence, pride, ill-temper,
do not then act as they afterwards act, when the mind has accustomed
itself to disobedience, as stubborn, deep-seated impediments in the way
of duty. To obey requires an effort, of course ; but an effort like the
bodily effort of the child's rising from the ground when he has fallen on
it ; not the effort of shaking off drowsy sleep ; not the effort (far
less) of violent bodily exertion in a timeof sickness and long weak-
ness : and the first effort made, obedience on a second trial will
be easier than before, till at length it will be easier to obey than
not to obey. A good habit will be formed, where otherwise a bad habit
would have been formed. Thus the child, we are supposing, would be-
gin to have a character ; no longer influenced by every temptation to
anger, discontent, fear, and obstinacy in the same way as before ; but
with something of firm principle in his heart to repel them in a defensive

* Prov. viii. 17. t Eccles. xii. 1. t Mark x. 14.


way, as a shield repels darts. In the mean time the circle of his duties
would enlarge ; and, though for a time the issue of his trial would be
doubtful to those who (as the Angels) could see it, yet, should he, as a
child, consistently pursue this easy course for a few years, it may be
his ultimate salvation would be actually secured, and might be predicted
by those who could see his heart, though he would not know it himself.
Doubtless new trials would come on him ; bad passions, which he had
not formed a conception of, would assail him ; but a soul thus born of
God, in St. John's words, " sinneth not, but he that is begotten of God,
keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."* " His seed
remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."f And
so he would grow np to man's estate, his duties at length attaining their
full range, and his soul being completed in all its parts for the due per-
formance of them. This might be the blessed condition of every one
of us, did we but follow from infancy what we know to be right ; and
in Christ's early life, (if we may dare to speak of Him in connexion with
ourselves,) it was fulfilled while He increased day by day sinlessly in
wisdom as in stature, and in favour with God and man. But my present
object of speaking of this gradual growth of holiness in the soul, is, (not
to show what we might be, had we the heart to obey God,) but to show
how easy obedience would in that case be to us ; consisting, as it would,
in no irksome ceremonies no painful bodily discipline, but in the free-
will offerings of the heart, of the heart which had been gradually, and
by very slight occasional efforts, trained to love what God and our con-
science approve.

Thus Christ's commandments, viewed as He enjoins them on us, are
not grievous. They would be grievous if put upon us all at once ; but
they are not heaped on us, according to His order of dispensing them,
which goes upon a harmonious and considerate plan ; by little and
little, first one duty, then another, then both, and so on. Moreover,
they come upon us, while the safeguard of virtuous principle is forming
naturally and gradually in our minds by our very deeds of obedience,
and is following them as their reward. Now, if men will not take their
duties in Christ's order, but are determined to delay obedience, with the
intention of setting about their duty some day or other, and then making
up for past time, is it wonderful that they find it grievous and difficult to
perform 1 that they are overwhelmed with the arrears (so to say) of
their great work, that they are entangled and stumble amid the intrica-
cies of the Divine system which has progressively enlarged upon them 1
And is Christ under obligation to stop that system, to recast His provi-
dence, to take these men out of their due place in the Church, to save

* 1 John V. 18. t 1 John iii. 9.


them from the wheels that are crushing them, and to put them back
again into some simple and more childish state of trial, where (though
they cannot have less to unlearn) they> at least, may for a time have
less to do ?

2. All this being granted, it still may be objected, since (as I have
allowed) the commandments of God are grievous to the generahty of
men, where is the use of saying what men ought to be, when we know
what they are ? and how is it fulfilling a promise that His command-
ments shall not be grievous, by informing us that they ought not to be 1
It is one thing to say that the Law is in itself holy, just, and good, and
quite a different thing to declare it is not grievous to sinful man.

In answering this question, I fully admit that our Saviour spoke of
man as he is, as a sinner, when He said His yoke should be easy to him.
Certainly he came not to call righteous men, but sinners. Doubtless
we are in a very different state from that of Adam before his fall ; and
doubtless, in spite of this, St. John says that even to fallen man His
commandments are not grievous. On the other hand I grant, that if
man cannot obey God, obedience must be grievous ; and I grant too
(of course) that man by nature cannot obey God. But observe, nothing
has here been said, nor by St. John in the text, of man as by nature
born in sin ; but of man as a child of grace, as Christ's purchased pos-
session, who goes before us with His mercy, puts the blessing first, and
then adds the command ; regenerates us and then bids us obey. Christ
bids us do nothing that we cannot do. He repairs the fault of our na-
ture, even before it manifests itself in act. He cleanses us from origi-
nal sin, and rescues us from the wrath of God by the sacrament of bap-
tism. He gives us the gift of His Spirit, and then He says, " What
doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and
to walk humbly with thy God ?" and is this grievous ?

When, then, men allege their bad nature as an excuse for their dislike
of God's commandments, if, indeed, they are heathens, let them be
heard, and an answer may be given to them even as such. But with
heathens we are not now concerned. These men make their complaint
as Christians, and as Christians they are most unreasonable in making
it ; God having provided a remedy for their natural incapacity in the
gift of His Spirit. Hear St. Paul's words, " If through the offence of
one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace,
which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many ....
Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound ; that as sin hath
reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness
unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord."*

* Rom. V. 15—21.


And there are persons, let it never be forgotten, who have so followed
God's leading providence from their youth up, that to them His com-
mandments not only are not grievous, but never have been : and that
there are such, is the condemnation of all who are not such. Thev
have been brought up " in the nurture and admonition of the Lord ;"*
and they now live in the love and " the peace of God which passeth all
understanding. "f Such are they whom our Saviour speaks of, as "just
persons v/hich need no repentance.":}: Not that they will give that ac-
count of themselves, for they are full well conscious in their own hearts
of sins innumerable, and habitual infirmity. Still, in spite of stumbhngs
and falls in their spiritual course, they have on the vrhole persevered.
As children they served God on the whole ; they disobeyed, but they
recovered their lost ground ; they sought God and were accepted. Per-
haps their young faith gave way for a time altogether ; still they con-
trived with keen repentence, and strong disgust at sin, and earnest
prayers, to make up for lost time, and keep pace with the course of
God's providence. Thus they have walked with God, not indeed step
by step with Him ; never before Him, often loitering, stumbling, falling
to sleep ; yet in turn starting and " malcing haste to keep His command-
ments," " running and prolonging not the time." Thus they proceed,
not, however, of themselves, but as upheld by His right hand, and guid-
ing their steps by His Word ; and though they have nothing to boast of,
and know their own unworthiness, still they are witnesses of Christ to
all men, as showing what man can become, and what all Christians
ought to be ; and at the last day, being found meet for the inheritance
of the saints in light, they " condemn the v/crld " as Noah did, and be-
come " heirs of the righteousness which is by faith," according to the
saying, " this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."§

And now, to what do the remarks I have been making tend, but to

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 76)