Sermon 13. Judaism of the Present Day Seasons - Easter

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Heb. xi. 13.

[Note] {174} WHAT St. Paul here plainly states is a paradox to many persons of this day, viz. that any should have faith, and yet should not have the promise. Yet the whole of this chapter is about the faith of the old fathers; and again and again in the course of it does the Apostle deny them the object of their faith. "They died in faith," yet "not having received the promises," being "persuaded of them, and embracing them," yet only "seeing them afar off;" and "confessing that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau:" concerning what? "about things to come." Again he says, "These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise." And observe in the text the strong words, "persuaded of them, and embraced them;" in modern language, their faith apprehended the promise, yet {175} they had it not. It is one thing, then, to have faith, another thing to receive the promise through faith. Faith does not involve in itself the receipt of the promise.

It is equally clear what the promise is which is spoken of,—regeneration. "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel,"—thus was it announced in the prophets,—"After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." Again, "I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring." And again, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you ... And I will put My Spirit within you." Accordingly, when our Lord was going away, He said to His Apostles, "Behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you." Again, "Wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me." And hence, when the multitude asked St. Peter what to do, he said, "Repent, and be baptized … for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; for the promise is unto you, and to your children." And St. Paul, in like manner, says that we receive "the promise of the Spirit through faith." Soon after he speaks of "the promise by faith of Jesus Christ." [Jer. xxxi. 33. Isa. xliv. 3. Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. Luke xxiv. 49. Acts i. 4; ii. 38, 39. Gal. iii. 14, 22. Eph. i. 13.] Elsewhere he speaks of our being "sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise."

It appears, then, that faith gains the promise, and that the promise is the great gift of the Spirit; and moreover (from the instance of the old Fathers, spoken {176} of in the chapter from which the text is taken), that it is not the same thing to have faith, so as to embrace and apprehend the promise, and to enjoy it; that faith is a condition of Christ's grace, and yet not a token. A man may have true faith, and still not yet be justified; he may have a faith for justification, he may be ordained unto justification, yet the time of justification not yet have arrived; or, rather, though justification is not yet his, still in God's secret counsels he may be ordained unto it.

This doctrine seems to me a very consolatory one at this time, when so many persons have not, or have not certainly, the grant of justifying grace. When we consider that baptism of water is solemnly connected with regeneration by our Lord, and that such numbers among us either are not baptized at all, or in such a way, or by such persons, or under such circumstances, as to make it very doubtful whether it is real efficacious baptism or no, it is a great consolation to believe, that though they are not new-born and justified, yet they may have faith, as the old saints had, who were not justified in the Spirit; and that if they have faith, even though they have not Christian justification to the day of their death, they are but in the condition of the old believers; and He who allowed the latter to die without receiving the promise, He who justified martyrs of old time, not through baptism, but in their streaming blood, may at the moment of death, or before death, should it so please Him, justify them too, even though unbaptized, in His own secret way. This, of course, allows no one to slight baptism when he can {177} obtain it, nor to quench the whispers of grace within him, suggesting to him the necessity of baptism; nor does it warrant us rashly to assert that this or that unbaptized person has true faith, much less that he is justified; nor to suppose that such persons as are in a measure accepted without baptism, would not have a much higher acceptance with it; but it comforts us with the thought, that if a man has faith, he has or will have justification. Sooner would an Angel descend from heaven, or an Apostle be provided, than one, whose prayers and alms had gone up before God, should not, at one time or another, receive the gift. Almighty God has declared the immutability of His counsel to the heirs of promise; that whom He calls, them He justifies; whom He justifies, them He glorifies. The when and the where are with Him. He will do it in His time;—as, according to His will, sooner or later, He takes from earth and brings into paradise those whom He has justified, so, sooner and later, does He translate from the world into the Church, through His Spirit, those whom He has called by faith. But it is not for us "to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power." [Acts i. 7.]

Now there can be no doubt that Christ meant no length of time to interfere between faith and the cleansing and justifying new birth. A long and dreary interval had intervened in past ages, but that was over. St. Peter's words are sufficient to show this, "Repent {178} and be baptized," or our Lord's, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." [Acts ii. 38. Matt. xvi. 16.] Sufficient too is the history of Cornelius, to whom regeneration was conveyed by a series of miracles; and still, nevertheless, in Cornelius's instance, some interval there was; and thus in the case of Cornelius and of the Jews we have specimens given us, at least in kind, of that long and miserable delay which so often occurs now, when the times of the Law seem to have returned, and men believe and embrace what they die without possessing.

Now if we have in various ways gone back unwittingly to the state of the Law; if without our fault, being falsely educated, or for other reasons, we have rested on faith solely, in an unscriptural way, and neglected God's ordinances; if we have remained without baptism or have not been confirmed, or have not been frequent at the Lord's Table, or have fallen away to religious bodies where that sacred rite cannot be administered, or in any way have been deprived of that full circle of privileges which Holy Church dispenses; if we have thus been at disadvantage in one or other way, and yet are not without faith; if, I say, we have fallen into a Jewish state, it might be expected that we should display also a Jewish character of mind, and course of conduct, and should exemplify in ourselves that paradox, which we so wonder at when recorded of the Jews in the text, of embracing promises which we do not or do but partially enjoy;—and we are, I think, in such circumstances, as I now proceed to show. {179}

If the Jews had not received the promised Spirit, it is not wonderful that they did not show forth the special fruits of that Spirit which was promised. Now the office of the promised Spirit was to mortify the flesh, to write the law in our hearts, to enable us to fulfil the righteousness of the law, to pour into our hearts "that most excellent gift of love," to enable us to do works acceptable to God, and to be conformed in body, soul, and spirit to Him. The Jews were aided by God's grace (else they could not have had faith), but they were not inhabited by it; they did good actions, they had holy desires and tempers, but they had not that regenerate life within them which Christians are promised. I am not speaking of this or that highly-favoured saint, but of the people; they were at best great now, and little again; in some points high, and in others low; with one grace, and not another. Some graces they had, because they had faith; all they had not, because they had not the Indwelling Spirit. This is seen in some of the instances of faith given by St. Paul in the chapter immediately before us. For instance, he says, "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not;" and what is still more to the purpose, he refers to Samson and Jephthah as examples of true and acceptable faith; yet is the history of these men, particularly of Samson, consistent with their faith? Nay, did we possess merely the Old Testament, and knew not of St. Paul's inspired comment upon it, should we say that Samson had faith at all? See what it is to be in that middle state between faith and justification of the Spirit, between title and possession. {180} And hence it has been the belief of many, that the old Fathers did not, after departing this life, at once enjoy the blessed rest of a justified people, till Christ came, and, having overcome death and risen again, gave them to be justified by that faith, with which they had so long waited for Him, and to become members of His spiritual kingdom.

Again, the Apostle says, "By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land." Now this is said of that people "whose carcases fell in the wilderness," and who could not enter into the promised land:—why? "because of unbelief," as St. Paul tells us in the same Epistle. Here, you see, even their faith failed them. How different is it with the faith of Christ's disciples! "Simon, Simon," said our Lord to St. Peter, "behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." [Luke xxii. 31, 32.] Peter had before this been commended for his faith, and now it was in jeopardy; but in truth that faith was not from flesh and blood, it was attended with the beginnings of those Gospel gifts which the Jews had not; and which are "without repentance," for they are as inward habits, and He who begins a good work in us, in his mercy carries it forward to an end.

Again; St. Paul, in his own history, gives us an account of the state of the Jews, whose faith was not supported, strengthened, spiritualized by the gift of inward justification. "The law is spiritual, but I am {181} carnal, sold under sin; for that which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!" How different this from St. John's description of the true regeneration; "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for His seed remaineth in him"—what is that seed but the Spirit?—"His seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." [Rom. vii. 14, 15, 24. 1 John iii. 9.]

Such is the case of those who have faith, yet are not yet justified with the grace of the Gospel; and may we not, with all reverence to so great and holy a prophet, say this in a measure even of David? Surely it is no irreverence to speak of what he seems to have been in the flesh, if we think that now he is with Christ in the spirit, in the lot of the blessed, and the light of the justified, though in his earthly life the fulness of that gift had not yet been accorded to him. Surely it is no irreverence to speak of what he was before he had received the promise, now that he has received it, more than to speak of what St. Paul was when he was Saul. Nay, far less, if we may talk of less where there is none. For St. Paul was even under God's displeasure before he was Christian; but David was the man after God's own heart, and an inspired prophet. His Psalms are our portion even to this day. We reverence him as one who was favoured on earth, and destined to be more favoured in heaven. We see in him much actually secured, though we allow that much was but in rudiment. {182} And therefore even we, without blame may notice, and profitably consider, the imperfections of holy David's life in this point of view, viz. as showing the state in which men are found when they have faith, but have not yet received the promise. Consider, then, the high excellences of his character; view him leading the worshippers to the house of God; think of his zeal for God's service; his lofty devotional spirit; the tenderness and the piety of his thoughts; his dutifulness to God's commands; his humility, simplicity, generosity, nobleness, and affectionateness; and then, on the other hand, view him in those particular passages of his history which inspiration records for our instruction, and you will, I think, see by the instance even of so great a light, what the case was with the multitude, who, however inferior to him in gifts and graces, had faith, yet had not yet Gospel justification.

And now, after these remarks on the state of the Jews, let me ask you to turn to the present state of this country, and to say whether numbers are not, by their own confession, in that same Jewish state; and therefore whether it is not true of them, as of the Jews, in a certain sense, that, granting they have faith (and it is a consolation to believe they have), yet they are at best, in matter of fact, in that intermediate, provisional, unspiritual state in which we view them, who hold that the Sacraments of the Church are, over and above faith, necessary for justification.

If, I say, justification is conveyed through Baptism and the other sacred rites, those who reject the latter, either have not received, or have lost the former. But {183} on the other hand, if true faith gives men a title to be justified, then they will be justified in God's own time, provided their faith endure. Such, then, being the state of good men who, from involuntary ignorance are in dissent, or in other grievous ecclesiastical error, do they not, I say, stand exactly in the state of the Jews? Certainly; for the Jews had faith, yet had not yet received the promise of the Spirit, which is Christian justification. Well then, I repeat, if this be so, we should expect that their opinions and lives would actually show that they were in a Jewish state. This is what I am now insisting on. I have said what the state of the Jews was, moral and spiritual, and now I am going to show that just in that state, and in no other, according to their own confession, are Christians now, who neglect the justifying ordinances of the Church. And,

1. Great numbers absolutely confess and believe, that the Christian ordinances are just the same as the Jewish. They own themselves to be in the state in which the Church lay before Christ suffered and rose again. They distinctly assert that Baptism is no more than circumcision. Thus they bear witness against themselves. They do not look for any high mysterious gift in Holy Communion, but they think it the same as the Jewish Passover; each, as they think, figures our Lord's passion; the difference being that, in the one case, it was yet to come, in the other it is past. The Passover prefigured, the Lord's Supper commemorates it; the Jews looked forward, Christians look back. This is what they hold. They claim to be in the state of the {184} Jews, in the state of those who had faith without Gospel justification.

2. Next, let it be observed, that they consider justification to be nothing more than God's accounting them righteous, which is just what justification was to the Jews. Justification is God's accounting a man righteous; yes, but it is, in the case of the Christian, something more; it is God's making him righteous too. As beasts live, and men live, and life is life, and yet life is not the same in man and beast; but in man consists in the presence of a soul; so in somewhat the same way Jews were justified, and Christians are justified, and in the case of both justification means God's accounting men righteous; but in Christians it means not only an accounting, but it involves a making; so that as the presence of a soul is the mode in which God gives man life, so the presence of the Holy Spirit is the mode in which God gives him righteousness. This is that promise of the Spirit of life, because of which the Gospel is called "a ministration of righteousness." But the multitude of religious professors at this day whom I speak of, do not admit this; they even protest against the notion. They think justification to be something, not inward, but merely outward; that is, they acknowledge themselves, they claim to be, in the state of the Jews, and though of course they contend that they are justified, yet they own that their own justification is not more than an outward or imputative justification. There is no room here for difference in the use of words, and mutual misunderstandings. If we maintain that they have not inward justification, it is not as if they maintained that {185} they had, as if they aspired to it; it is no more than they allow as well as we. They only contend they are justified in their sense, that is, in such sense as we allow they may be, if they have true faith; I mean in that sense in which the Jews were justified, who died, not having received the promise.

3. Again. They lay an especial stress upon faith for salvation, and comparatively neglect love; they put faith before love. Now, is not this in so many words to assent to us when we place them with the Jews? For, whereas faith is the essence of all religion, and of the Jewish inclusive, love is the great grace of Christianity; Christianity is religion, and something more; and the spirit of love is faith, and something more. Christian faith is faith developed into love, it lives in love, and love is greater than faith, because it is its Gospel perfection, according to the Apostle's declaration, "Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." "The just shall live by faith," is a Jewish truth as well as a Christian; "Love is the fulfilling of the Law," is Christian only. When these persons say that faith is all in all, what do they but allow that they are on a level with the Jews,—with those who had indeed faith, but had not yet attained the Christian promise?

4. Again. The Jews, as I have said, had the will without the power; whereas Christ has unfettered the will, and enabled it to obey. "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead," He says. "The Law of the Spirit of Life hath made me free from the law {186} of sin and death." [Eph. v. 14. Rom. viii. 2.] Christ, by fulfilling the Law for us, has given us also power to fulfil it after our measure, "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." The very test of a mature Christian, of a true saint, is consistency in all things. Now, is it not a very remarkable fact, that the bodies of men I speak of unhesitatingly appropriate that melancholy seventh chapter to the Romans, to which I have been referring, and claim it as being accurately descriptive of their own state? Nay, so strongly and earnestly, that sometimes they will even say that no one is, in their sense, a true Christian, who does not claim it also;—and why? because they say that if a man does not find his own experience bear witness to the truth of the Apostle's statement in that chapter, he cannot possess that state of mind which they consider essential to all believers. O true confession to the misery of having faith without inward justification! They make the test of a true Christian to be, not spiritual perfection, but confession of sin. Thus they glory, I will not say in their shame, but in their misfortune. They are in bondage; they are carnal, sold under sin; they confess it; they are like the Jews, and they call this a spiritual mind, and say that none are true Christians but those who are in a similar state. Do I mean to promise men that they shall be at once and altogether free from their natural bondage if they follow Christ in His Church? Do I mean to say that we do not, as well as the Jews, in a certain sense recognize those miserable cries of human nature as our {187} own? No, but I mean to say, that so far as we feel them, we too are in an inferior Jewish state; that there is a higher state, that we are bound to seek after it, and that we can attain to it. But the multitudes I speak of, own that their peculiar and intended condition, that state to which they give the name of spiritual, is one in which the Spirit has no power. Such is the consequence of starting with faith rightly, but stopping short of the Sacraments wrongly.

5. Once more. There is one virtue which of old time good men especially had not. Indulgences were allowed the Jews on account of the hardness of their hearts. Divorce of marriage was allowed them. More wives than one at once were not denied them. If there is one grace in which Christianity stands in especial contrast to the old religion, it is that of purity. Christ was born of a Virgin; He remained a virgin; His beloved disciple was a virgin; He abolished polygamy and divorce; and He said that there were those who for the kingdom of heaven's sake would be even as He. Now, as the Apostle says, "Every man hath his proper gift of God." I accept the word; I do not outstep it; but as surely as each has his gift, so, according to the Apostle, some have this gift. But now, my brethren, who will question that the way of the world at present is to deny that there is such a gift? I am not objecting here, I am not wondering, that all men have it not; but what I wonder at is, that none have it; and I ask, does not this, if there were no other reason, show, that we have fallen back into a Jewish state? It is now a recognized principle with the world, that there can be no certainty of {188} holiness except in married life; and that celibacy is all but a state of sin. Nay, so far has this gone, that some of the greatest masters of the doctrine of faith without love and sacraments, have actually sanctioned bigamy in particular cases, and advocated polygamy in writing. Too well then does that religion, which they promulgated, bear witness against itself, that, though faith still be among its followers, which I am far from denying, and have comfort in thinking, yet it is but the faith of Jews, who had a law in their members warring against the law of their mind, and who died indeed in faith, but without having received the promise.

To conclude, though it is our Church's blessedness to have withstood the torrent of that error to which I have been referring, yet it could not be expected that her individual members should have kept themselves free from it. And in proportion as the acts of individuals can counteract her own intentions, so far doubtless we have suffered as others have, and in no slight degree. It is our business, instead of exalting ourselves over others, to repent of our own sins, and to try to escape from the disadvantages under which we find ourselves after all. Especially should we turn our thoughts to the consideration of Holy Communion, which in ancient times was used in many or most places to be celebrated daily, but now is celebrated commonly but three or four times a year. If that holy ordinance be the continual life of the Church, if the Jews "did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead," but if any man "eat of this bread he shall live for ever," [John vi. 51.] is it wonderful that those of us who relinquish {189} this Gospel gift, and rest in our faith for salvation, should fall back into a state like the Jews? Is it wonderful that we who are the children of promise should not enjoy the promise, seeing we will not accept it; seeing we think it enough to believe that we already have it, or though God offers it, will not put out our hand to take it? Is it wonderful that we have no command over ourselves, when we do not come to Christ, "that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood?" Is it wonderful that we are so inconsistent and variable, when we will not seek of Him such daily sustenances of grace as He offers to us?—when we do not pray to Him daily, or seek His house daily,—that day by day we may walk with Him, and not after our own hearts? Is it wonderful that we have no love, when we neglect altogether that great ordinance whereby love is nurtured, abstinence and fasting?

We cannot hinder others thus acting; we cannot change the course of things, nor heal what is sick, nor bind up what is broken, at our will. But we can act for ourselves, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear; and, while we so act, they may oppose us, but, through God's grace, they will at length be moved to follow us, till at length He will fulfil in them "all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power."

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Note

Easter.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.