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this ? — to humble every one of us. For, however faithfully we have
obeyed God, and however early we began to do so, surely we might have
begun sooner than we did, and might have served Him more heartily.
We cannot but be conscious of this. Individuals among us may be
more or less guilty, as the case may be ; but the best and the worst
among us here assembled, may well unite themselves together so far as
this, to confess they " have erred and strayed from God's ways like lost
sheep," " have followed too much the devices and desires of their own
hearts," have " no health " in themselves as being " miserable offen-
ders." Some of us may be nearer Heaven, some further from it ; some
may have a good hope of salvation, and others, (God forbid ! but it may

* Eph. vi. 4. t Phil. iv. 7. I Luke xv. § 1 John v. 4.

Vol. I.— 5


be,) others no present hope. Still let us unite now as one body in con.
fessing, (to the better part of us such confession will be more welcome,
and to the worse it is more needful,) in confessing ourselves sinners,
deserving God's anger, and having no hope except " according to His -
promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord." He who
first regenerated us and then gave his commandments, and then was
so ungratefully deserted by us. He again it is that must pardon and .
quicken us after our accumulated guilt, if we are to be pardoned. Let
us then trace back in memory (as far as we can) our early years ; what
we were when five 3'ears old, when ten, when fifteen, when twenty !
what our state would have been as far as we can guess it, had God taken
us to our account at any age before the present. I will not ask how it .
would go with us, v/ere we now taken ; we will suppose the best.

Let each of us (I say) reflect upon his own most gross and persever-
ing neglect of God at various seasons of his past life. How con-
siderate He has been to us! How did He shield us from temptation!,
how did He open His will gradually upon us, as we might be able to
bear it ! * how has Ha done all things well, so that the spiritual work
might go on calmly, safely, surely ! Haw did he lead us on, duty by
duty, as if step by step upwards, by the easy rounds of that ladder whose
top reaches to Heaven ! Yet how did we thrust ourselves into tempta-
tion ! how did we refuse to come to Him that we might have life ! how
did we daringly sin against light ! And what was the consequence I
that our work grew beyond our strength ; or rather that our strengths
grew less as our duties increased ; till at length we gave up obedience
in despair. And yet then He still tarried and was merciful unto us ; He
turned and looked upon us to bring us into repentance ; and we for a
while were moved. Yet, even then our wayward hearts could not keep
up to their own resolves ; letting go again the heat which Christ gave
them, as if made of stone, and net of living flesh. What could have
been done more to His vineyard, that He hath not done in it If " O
my people (He seems to say to us) what have I done unto thee, and
wherein have I wearied thee ? testify against me. I brought thee up
out of the land of Egypt, and redeem :d thee out of the house of ser-
vants ; . . . . what doth the Lord require of thee, but justice, mercy,
and humblenes ' ( f mird ?";[; He hath showed us what is good. He
has borne and carried us in His bosom, " lest at an}^ time we should dash
our foot against a stone. "§ He shed His Holy Spirit upon us that we
might love him. And " this is the love of God, that we keep His com-
mandments, and His commandments are not grievous." Wh}^, then,.

* 1 Cor. X. 13. t Isaiah v. 4.

X Micah Ti. 3—8. § Psalm xci. 12.


have they been grievous to us ? Why have we erred from His way.s, and
hardened our hearts from His fear ? Why do we this day stand
ashamed, yea, even confounded, because we bear the reproach of our
youth ?

Let us then turn to the Lord, Avhile yet vvc may. DifFicuh it will
be, in proportion to the distance we have departed irom Him. Since
every one might have done more than he has done, every one has suf-
fered losses he never can make up. We have made His commands
grievous to us : we must bear it ; let us not attempt to explain them
away because they are grievous. We never can wash out the stains of
sin. God may forgive, but the sin has had its work, and its memento
is set up in the soul. God sees it there. Earnest obedience and pray ex
will gradually remove it. Still, v/hat miserable loss of time is it in our
brief life, to be merely undoing (as has become necessary) the evils
which we have done, instead of going on to perfection ! If by God's
grace we shall be able in a measure to sanctify ourselves in spite of our
former sins, yet how much more should we have attained, had we al-
ways been engaged in His service !

These are bitter and humbling thoughts, but they are good thoughts
if they lead us to repentance. And this leads me to one more observa-
tion,^ with which I conclude.

If any one who hears me is at present moved by what I have said, and
feels the remorse and shame of a bad conscience, and forms any sudden
good resolution let him fake heed to follow it up at once by acting upon
it. I earnestly beseech him so to do. For this reason ; — because if he
does not, he is beginning a habit of inattention and insensibility. God
moves us in order to make the beginning of duty easy. If we do not
attend. He ceases to move us. Any of you, my brethren, who will not
take advantage of this considerate providence, if you will not turn to
God now with a ivarm heart, you will hereafter be obhged to do so, (if
you do so at all,) icith a cold heart, — which is much harder. God keep
3 ou from this !


Luke viii. 38, 39.

" The man out of whom the devils were departed, besought Him that he might be
with Him ; but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and show
how great things God hath done unto thee."

It is very natural in the man whom our Lord had set free from this
dreadful visitation, to wish to continue Avith Him. Doubtless his
mind was transported with joy and gratitude ; whatever consciousness
he might possess of his real wretchedness while the devil tormented
him, now, at least, on recovering his reason, he would understand that
he had been in a very miserable state, and he would feel all the light-
ness of spirits and activity of mind, which attend any release from
suffering or constraint. Under these circumstances he would imagine
himself to be in a new world, so to say ; he had found deliverance ; and
what v/as m.ore, a Deliverer too, v/ho stood before him. And whether
from a v/ish to be ever in His divine presence ministering to Him, or
from a fear lest Satan would return, nay, with seven-fold power, did he
lose sight of Christ, or from an undefined notion that all his duties and
hopes were now changed, that his former pursuits were unworthy of
him, and that he must follow up some grand plan of action with the new
ardour he felt glowing within him ; from one or the other, or all of
these feelings combined, he besought our Lord that he might be with
Him. Christ imposed this attendance as a command on others ; He
bade, for instance, the young ruler follow Him ; but He gives opposite
commands, according to our tempers and likings ; He thwarts us, that
He may try our faith. In the case before us He suffered not, what at
other times He had bidden. " Return to thine own house," He said, or
as it is in St. Mark's Gospel, "Go home to thy friends, and tell them
how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion
on thee."* He directed the current of his newly awakened feelings
into another channel ; as if He said, "Lovest thou me ? this do ; return
home to your old occupations and pursuits. You did them ill before,

* Mark, V. 19.


you lived to the world ; do them well now, live to Me. Do your du-
ties little as well as great, heartily for My sake ; go among your
friends ; show them what God hath done for thee ; be an example to
them, and teach them."* And further, as He said on another occasion.
Show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded for
a testimony unto them ?"f — show forth that greater light and truer love
which you now possess in a conscientious, consistent obedience to all
the ordinances and rites of your religion.

Now from this account of the restored demoniac, his request, and our
Lord's denial of it, a lesson may be drawn for the use of those who,
having neglected religion in early youth, at length begin to have serious
thoughts, try to repent, and wish to serve God better than hitherto,
though they do not well know how to set about it. We know that God's
commandments are pleasant and "rejoice the heart," if we accept them in
the order and manner in which he puts them upon us ; that Christ's
yoke, as he has promised, is (on the whole) very easy, if we submit to
it betimes ; that the practice of religion is full of comfort to those, who
being first baptized with the Spirit of grace, receive thankfully His influ-
ences as their minds open, inasmuch as they are gradually and almost
without sensible effort on their part, imbued in all their heart, soul, and
strength, with that true heavenly life which will last for ever.

But here the question meets us, " But what are those to do who 7iav3
neglected to remember their Creator in the days of their youth, and so
have lost all claim on Christ's promise, that His yoke shall be easy, and
His commandments not grievous ? I answer, that of course they must
not be surprised if obedience is with them a laborious up-hill work all
their days; nay, as having been "once enlightened, and partaken of
the Holy Ghost" in baptism, they would have no right to complain,
evei though " it were impossible for them to renew themselves again
unto repentance." But God is more merciful than this just severity ;
merciful not only above our deservings, but even above His own promi-
ses. Even for those who have neglected Him when young, He has
found some sort of remedy, (if they will avail themselves of it,) of the
difficulties in the way of obedience which they have brought upon them-
selves by sinning ; and what this remedy is, and how it is to be used,
I proceed to describe in connexion with the account in the text.

The help I speak of, is the excited feeling v/ith which repentance is
at first attended. True it is, that all the passionate emotion, or fine
sensibility, which ever man displayed, will never by itself make us
change our ways, and do our duty. Impassioned thoughts, high aspi-

* 1 Col. iii. 17. t Matt viii. 4.


- rations, sublime imaginings, have no strength in them. They can no
more make a man obey consistently, than they can move mountains.
If any man truly repent, it must be in consequence, not of these, but
of a settled conviction of his guilt, and a deliberate resolution to leave
his sins and serve God. Conscience, and Reason in subjection to Con-
science, these are those povi'erful instruments (under grace) which
change a man. But you -vvill observe, that though Conscience and
Reason lead us to resolve on and attempt a new life, they cannot at
once make us love it. It is long practice and habit which makes us
love religion ; and in the beginning, obedience, doubtless, is very griev-
ous to habitual sinners. Here then is the use of those earnest, ardent
feelings of which I just spoke, and which attend on the first exercise of
conscience and reason, — to take away from the beginnings of obedi-
ence its grievo7isness, to give us an impulse which may carry us over
the first obstacles, and send us on our way rejoicing. Not as if all
this excitement of mind were to last, (which cannot be,) but it will do
its office in thus setting us off"; and then will leave us to the more
sober and higher comfort resulting from that real love for religion, which
obedience itself will have by that time begun to form in us, and will
gradually go on to perfect.

Now it is well to understand this fully, for it is often mistaken.
When sinners are led to think seriously, stronger feelings generally pre.
cede or attend their reflections about themselves. Some book they
have read, some conversation of a friend, some remarks they have
heard made in church, or some occurrence or misfortune, rouses them.
Or, on the other hand, if in any more calm and deliberate manner they
have commenced their self-examination, yet in a little time the very
view of their manifold sins, of their guilt, and their heinous ingratitude
to their God and Saviour, breaking upon them, and being new to them,
strikes, and astonishes, and then agitates them. Here, then, let them
know the inlention of all this excitement of mind in the order of Divine
providence. It will not continue ; it arises from the novelty of the view
presented to them. As they become accustomed to religious contem-
plations, it will wear away. It is not religion itself, though it is acci-
dentally connected with it, and may be made a means of leading them
into a sound religious course of life. It is graciously intended to be a
set-off" in their case against the first distastefulness and pain of doing
their duty ; it must be used as such, or it will be of no use at all, or
worse than useless. My brethren, bear this in mind, (and I may say
this generally, not confining myself to the excitement which attends re-
pentance only, but all that natural emotion prompting us to do good,
which we involuntarily feel on various occasions,) it is given you in


•order that you may find it easy to obey at starting. Therefore obey
yrompi^y ; make use of it whilst it lasts ; it waits for no man. Do you
feel natural pity towards some case v/hich reasonably demands your
charity ? or the impulse of generosity in a case \vhcre j^ou are called to
act a manly self-denying part 1 V/hatever the emotion may be, whether
these or any other, do not imagine you will always feel it. Whether
you avail yourselves of it or not, still any how you will feel less and less,
and, as life goes on, at last will not feel such sudden vehement excite-
ment at all. But this is the difference between seizing or letting slip
these opportunities ; — if you avail yourselves of them for acting, and
yield to the impulse so far as conscience tells you to do, you have made
*a leap (so to say) across a gulf, to which your ordinary strength is not
equal; you will have secured the beginning of obedience, and the fur-
ther steps in the course are (generally speaking) far easier than those
which first determine its direction. And so, to return to the case of
those who feel any accidental remorse for their sins violently exerting
itself in their hearts, I say to them, Do not loiter ; go home to jour
friends, and repent in deeds of righteousness and love ; hasten to com-
mit yourselves to certain definite acts of obedience. Doing is at a far
greater distance from intending to do than you at first sight imagine. Join
them together while you can ; you will be depositing your good feelings
into you heart itself by thus making them influence your conduct ; and
they v.ill "spring up into fruit." This v»as the conduct of the con-
science-stricken Corinthians, as described by St. Paul; who rejoiced
-*'not that they were made sorry, (not that their feelings merely were
moved,) but that they sorrowed to change of mind . . . For godly
sorrow (he continues) worketh repentance to salvation not to be repent
ed of; but the sorrow of the v/orld worketh death."*

But now let us ask how do men usually conduct themselves in
matter of fact, when under visitings of conscience for their past sinful
lives? They are far from thus acting. They look upon the turbid
zeal and feverish devotion which attend their repentance, not as in part
the corrupt offspring of their own previously corrupt state of mind, and
partly a gracious natural provision, only temporary to encourage them
to set about their reformation, but as the substance and real excellence
of religion. They think that to be thus agitated is to be religious;
they indulge themselves in these warm feelings for their own sake,
resting in them as if they were then engaged in a religious exercise,
^nd boasting of them as if they v/ere an evidence of their own exalted
spiritual state ; not using them, (the one only thing they ought to do,)

* 2 Cor. vii. 9, 10.


using them as an incitement to deeds of love, mercy, truth, meekness,,
hohness. After they have indulged this luxury of feeling for some
time, the excitement of course ceases ; they do not feel as they did
before. This (I have said) might have been anticipated, but they do
not understand it so. See then their unsatisfactory state. They have
lost an opportunity of overcoming the first difficulties of active obedi-
ence, and so of fixing their conduct and character, which may never
occur again. This is one great misfortune ; but more than this, what
a perplexity they have involved themselves in ! Their warmth of feel-
ing is gradually dying away. Now they think that in it true religion
consists; therefore they believe that they are losing their faith, and
falling into sin again.

And this, alas, is too often the case : they do fall away, for they have
no root in themselves. Having neglected to turn their feelings into
principles by acting upon them, they have no inward strength to over-
come the temptation to live as the world, which continually assails
them. Their minds have been acted upon as water by the wind, which
raises waves for a time, then ceasing, leaves the v/ater to subside into
its former stagnant state. The precious opportunity of improvement
has been lost ; and the latter end is worse with them than the begin-

But let us suppose, that when they first detect this declension (as they
consider it) they are alarmed, and look around for a means of recover-
ing themselves. What do they do ? Do they at once begin those
practices of lowly obedience which alone can prove them to be Christ's
at the last day ? Such as the government of their tempers, the regu-
lation of their time, self-denying charity, truth-telling sobriety. Far
from it ; they despise this plain obedience to God as a mere unenlight-
ened morality, as they call it, and they seek for potent stimulants to
continue their minds in that state of excitement vv^hich they have been
taught to consider the essence of a religious hfe, and which they can-
not produce by the means which before excited them. They have re-
course to new doctrines, or follow strange teachers, in order that they
may dream on in this their artificial devotion, and may avoid that con-
viction which is likely sooner or later to burst upon them, that emotion
and passion are in our power indeed to repress, but not to excile ; that
there is a limit to the tumults and sv.ellings of the heart, fester them as
we will ; and, when that time comes, the poor, mis-used soul is
left exhausted and resourceless. Instances are not rare in the world of
that fearful, ultimate state of hard-heartedness which then succeeds ;,

* 2 Pet. ii. 20,


when the miserable sinner beheves indeed as the devils may, yet not
even with the devils' trembling, but sins on without fear.

Others, again, there are, who, when their feelings fall off in strength
and fervency, are led to dcsjwnd ; and so are brought down to a super-
stitious piety, when they might have been rejoicing in cheerful obedi-
ence. These are the better sort, who, having something of true reli-
gious principle in their hearts, still are misled in part, so far, that is, as
to rest in their feelings a^ tests of holiness ; therefore they are dis-
tressed and alarmed at their own tranquiUity, which they think a bad
sign, and, being dispirited, lose time, others outstripping them in the

And others might be mentioned who are led by this same first eager-
ness and aeal into a different error. The restored sufferer in the text
wished to be with Christ. Now it is plain all those who indulge them-
selves in the false devotion I have been describing, may be said to be
desirous of thus keeping themselves in Christ's immediate sight, instead
of returning to their own home, as He would have them, that is, to the
common duties of life ; and they do this, some from weakness of faith,
as if He could not bless them, and keep them in the way of grace,
though they pursued their worldly callings ; others from an ill-directed
love of Him. But there are-others, I say, who when they are av/akened
to a sense of religion, forthwith despise their former condition alto-
gether, as beneath them ; and think that they are now called to some
high and singular office in the Church of Christ. These mistake their
duty, as those already described neglect it ; they do not waste their
time in mere good thoughts and good words, as the others, but they are
impetuously led on to tcrong acts, and that from the influence of those
same strong emotions which they have not learned to use aright or
direct to their proper end. But to speak of these now at any length,
would be beside my subject.

To conclude ; — let me repeat and urge upon you, my brethren, the
lesson which I have deduced from the narrative of v/hich the text forms
part Your Saviour calls you from infancy to serve Him, and has
arranged all things well, so that his service shall be perfect freedom.
Blessed above all men are they who heard His call then, and served
Him day by day, as their strength to obey increased. But, further, are
you conscious that you have more or less neglected this gracious oppor-
tunity, and suflered yourselves to be tormented by Satan ? See, He
calls you a second time ; He calls you by your roused affections once
and again, ere He leave you finally. He brings you back for the time
(as it were) to a second youth by the urgent persuasions of excited fear,
gratitude, love, and hope. He again places you for an instant in that


early, unformed state of nature when habit and character were not.
He takes you out of yourselves, robbing sin for a season of its in-
dwelling hold upon you. Let not those visitings pass away " as the
morning cloud and the early dew."* Surely, you must still have oc-
casional compunctions of conscience for your neglect of Him. Your
sin stares you in the face ; your ingratitude to God affects you. Fol
low on to know the Lord, and to secure His favour by acting upon these
impulses ; by them He pleads with you, as well as by your conscience ;
they are the instruments of his Spirit, stirring you up to seek your true
peace. Nor be surprised, though you obey them, that they die away ;
they have done their office, and, if thej/ die, it is but as blossom changes
into the fruit, which is far better. They must die. Perhaps you will
have to labour in darkness afterwards, out of your Saviour's sight, in
the home of your own thoughts, surrounded by sights of this world, and
showing forth His praise among those who are cold-hearted. Still be
quite sure that resolute, consistent obedience, though unattended with
high transport and warm emotion, is far more acceptable to Him than
all those passionate longings to live in His sight, which look more like
religion to the uninstructed. At the very best these latter are but the
graceful beginnings of obedience, graceful and becoming in children,
but in grovv'n spiritual men indecorous, as the sports of boyhood would
be in advanced years. Learn to live by faith, which is a calm, delib-
erate, rational principle, full of peace and comfort, and sees Christ, and
rejoices in Him, though sent away from His presence to labour in the
world. You will have your reward. He will " see ycu again, and your
heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.f "

* Hosca vi. 4.

* John xvi. 22. Tho foregrojng Sermon may bo illustrated by the following pas-
sage from Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living, iv. 7. " Do not seek for dcliciousness and
sensible conBolations in the actions of religion ; but onl}' regard the duty and the
conscience of it. For, although in the beginning of religion, most frequently, and,
at some other times, irregularly, God complies with our infirmity, and encourages
our duty with little overflowings of spiritual joy, and sensible pleasure, and delicacies
in prayer, so as we seem to feel some little beam of Heaven, and great refreslmicnt

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 76)