Topic - Apostolic Faith Sermon 19. The Apostolical Christian

"Know ye not, that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? so run, that ye may obtain." 1 Cor. ix. 24.

{275} THERE was one who came running to Christ, and kneeled to Him, yet he did not obtain; for that haste of his and hurry was no type of the inward earnestness with which the true soul goes sedately forward unto salvation. He was one of the many who, in some sort, run the race, yet do not receive the prize, because they run in self-will, or lightness of mind. "If a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." "I have not sent" them, says the Lord by His Prophet, "yet they ran." [2 Tim. ii. 5. Jer. xxiii. 21.] Many there are, who are not open sinners, who do not deny Christ, who honour Him with their lips—nay, in some sort with their lives—who, like the young man, are religious in a certain sense, and yet obtain not the crown. For they are not of those who, with the blessed Apostle who speaks in the text, {276} observe the rules of the contest. They have no claim upon the prize, because they run on their own ground, or at their own time; or, in other respects, after their own pleasure. They make a religion for themselves, and they have a private idea what a Christian ought to be; and they never get beyond, even if they attain, the regulation of their lives and conduct upon this self-devised standard of truth. They can never be said to have "finished their course," for, in truth, they have never entered on it. Or they begin it, and turn aside in some other direction, mistaking the path. "Ye did run well," says St. Paul to the Galatians; "who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" [Gal. v. 7.]

Let us then, with this thought before us, leave for a while our own private judgment of what is pleasing to God and not pleasing, and turn to consider the picture which Scripture gives us of the true Christian life, and then attempt to measure our own life by it. He alone who gives us eternal happiness, has the power of determining the conditions for attaining it. Let us not take it for granted that we shall know them by our own common sense. Let us betake ourselves to Scripture to learn them.

Now it is very certain, that the New Testament abounds in notices, suggestions, and descriptions of the temper and mode of living of the disciples of Christ; that is, as they were characterized at the time when it was written. The idea of a Christian, as set forth in Scripture, is something very definite. We may conceive we have some general notion from Scripture what {277} a Jew was, but we know much more what a Christian was. As a Jew had a very peculiar character, as an Englishman has a character all his own, so the Christian, as described in the inspired writings, is like himself, and unlike any one else. He is not like Pharisee, not like Sadducee, not like Herodian, not like Greek, not like Roman, not like Samaritan; but he is like a follower of Christ, and none but him. Now, whether Christians at this day need be like what Christians were in the primitive times, is a further question. I want, in the first place, to consider what the primitive Christians were like, as represented in Scripture. As an historical question, as a matter of fact, thus only I would consider the subject; afterwards will be time enough for us to apply it to our own case, and to settle how far it is necessary for men of this day to conform their lives to the pattern given them once for all by inspiration.

Now so far is certain, that this one peculiar Christian character and life, and none but it, is attributed in Scripture to our Lord, to St. John Baptist, to the Apostles, and to Christians generally. Very different is our Lord from St. John Baptist; very different St. John from the Apostles; very different the Apostles from private Christians. John came in the garb of an ascetic, dressed in a garment of camel's hair, and eating locusts and wild honey. Our Lord came eating and drinking; He lived in the world as St. John in the desert. The Apostles were the teachers of grace, as St. John of repentance; and Christians in general were hearers, not preachers; numbers of them besides were {278} women, and thereby still more unlike Christ and St. John and the Apostles: and yet on the whole one only character distinguishes all of them in Scripture; Christ Himself, and the Baptist, and St. Peter, and St. John, and St. Paul, and the Christian multitude, men and women. And now to draw out what that character is; though, in doing so, I shall say nothing, my brethren, but what you know well already, and shall be doing little more than quoting texts of Scripture. And yet you have heard these texts so often, that perhaps they fall dead upon your ear, and they leave you as they found you, impressing no definite image of their meaning upon your minds.

1. Now the first great and obvious characteristic of a Bible Christian, if I may use that much abused term, is to be without worldly ties or objects, to be living in this world, but not for this world. St. Paul says, "our conversation is in heaven," [Phil. iii. 20.] or in other words, heaven is our city. We know what it is to be a citizen of this world; it is to have interests, rights, privileges, duties, connexions, in some particular town or state; to depend upon it, and to be bound to defend it; to be part of it. Now all this the Christian is in respect to heaven. Heaven is his city, earth is not. Or, at least, so it was as regards the Christians of Scripture. "Here," as the same Apostle says in another place, "we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come." [Heb. xiii. 14.] And therefore he adds to the former of these texts, "from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." This is the very definition of {279} a Christian,—one who looks for Christ; not who looks for gain, or distinction, or power, or pleasure, or comfort, but who looks "for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." This, according to Scripture, is the essential mark, this is the foundation of a Christian, from which every thing else follows; whether he is rich or poor, high or low, is a further matter, which may be considered apart; but he surely is a primitive Christian, and he only, who has no aim of this world, who has no wish to be other in this world than he is; whose thoughts and aims have relation to the unseen, the future world; who has lost his taste for this world, sweet and bitter being the same to him; who fulfils the same Apostle's exhortation in another Epistle, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth, for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." [Col. iii. 2-4.]

Hence it follows, that watching is a special mark of the Scripture Christian, as our Lord so emphatically sets before us: "Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come ... Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." [Matt. xxiv. 42, 44.] "At midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet Him ... Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh." [Matt. xxv. 6, 13.] "Watch ye therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he {280} find you sleeping; and what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch." [Mark xiii. 35-37.] And St. Peter, who once suffered for lack of watching, repeats the lesson: "The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." [1 Pet. iv. 7.]

And accordingly, prayer, as St. Peter enjoins in the last text, is another characteristic of Christians as described in Scripture. They knew not what hour their Lord would come, and therefore they watched and prayed in every hour, lest they should enter into temptation. "They were continually in the temple praising and blessing God." [Luke xxiv. 53.] "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women." [Acts i. 14.] "They, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart." [Acts ii. 46.] "They were all with one accord in one place," [Acts ii. 1.] at "the third hour of the day." Again, "Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour." [Acts iii. 1.] "Cornelius, ... a devout man, … which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway," saw "in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God;" [Acts x. 1-3.] and he says himself, "I was fasting until this hour, and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house." "Peter went up upon the house-top to pray about the sixth hour." "At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God." [Acts xvi. 25.] "And they all brought us on our way, {281} with wives and children, till we were out of the city; and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed." [Acts xxi. 5.] This habit of prayer then, recurrent prayer, morning, noon, and night, is one discriminating point in Scripture Christianity, as arising from the text with which I began, "our conversation is in heaven."

In a word, there was no barrier, no cloud, no earthly object, interposed between the soul of the primitive Christian and its Saviour and Redeemer. Christ was in his heart, and therefore all that came from his heart, his thoughts, words, and actions, savoured of Christ. The Lord was his light, and therefore he shone with the illumination. For, "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." [Matt. vi. 22, 23.] And, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things." [Matt. xii. 34, 35.] Or, as Christ says elsewhere, "Cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also." [Matt. xxiii. 26.] Observe this well, my brethren; religion, you see, begins with the heart, but it does not end with the heart. It begins with the conversion of the heart from earth to heaven, the stripping off and casting away all worldly aims; but it does not end there; it did not end there in the Christians whom Scripture describes, whom our Lord's precepts formed: it drew up all the {282} faculties of the soul, all the members of the body, to Him who was in their heart. Let us then now go on to see in what that inward Christianity issued; what Christians then, in that early time, looked like outwardly, who were citizens of heaven within.

2. Christians, then, were a simple, innocent, grave, humble, patient, meek, and loving body, without earthly advantages or worldly influence, as every page of the New Testament shows us. A description of them is given in the beginning of the Acts: "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things common ... Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the Apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." [Acts iv. 32-35.]

Such, of course, was the natural consequence of a deep conviction of the nothingness of this world, and the all-importance of the other. Those who understood that they were "fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God," could not but show it in their actions. In circumstances like theirs they would have been using idle words, had they said that their conversation was in heaven, yet had gone on eating, and drinking, and conversing like children of men. But here our Lord's words may well take the place of ours. Consider then, how solemnly He had warned them. {283}

"As the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." [Matt. xxiv. 37-39.] "They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all." [Luke xvii. 27-29.] Again, "They all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." [Luke xiv. 18-20.] Again, "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day." [Luke xvi. 19.] Again, "Take heed and beware of covetousness ... The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully; … and he said ... I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." Again, "Sell that ye have, {284} and give alms: provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning." [Luke xii. 15-20, 33-35.] Again, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" [Mark x. 23.] Again, "Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" [Matt. vi. 31.] And hence St. Paul, after the pattern of his Lord and Saviour, is careful to remind us that "the time is short;" [1 Cor. vii. 29.]—we are labourers in the eleventh hour of the day. "The time is short; it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passeth away." And again, "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." [2 Tim. ii. 4.]

This separation from the world which marked the Christian character as drawn by Christ and His Apostles, is displayed in a variety of details scattered up and down the sacred volume. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world," says St. John [1 John ii. 15.]. "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind," says St. {285} Paul [Rom. xii. 2.]. Again, of himself, "By the Cross of Christ" ... "the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." [Gal. vi. 14.] The first Christians were separated from their earthly kindred and friends. "Henceforth," says he, "know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." [2 Cor. v. 16, 17.] Or, in our Lord's words, "He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me." [Matt. x. 37.] They parted with property: "Every one that hath forsaken houses, … or lands, for My Name's sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life." [Matt. xix. 29.] They put off from them things personal: "Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass, in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat." [Matt. x. 9, 10.] They sacrificed to Christ their dearest wishes and objects, things nearer and closer to them than the very garments they had on them: "If thy hand or thy foot offend thee," says our Lord, in figurative language, "cut them off, and cast them from thee; it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire." [Matt. xviii. 8, 9.] They {286} forfeited the common sympathy of humanity, and were cruelly used, or rather, hunted down, as some separate race of beings less than man: "Ye shall be hated of all men for My Name's sake ... The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord ... If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household!" [Matt. x. 22, 24, 25.]

This, to speak briefly on a great subject, is the picture of a Christian as drawn in the New Testament. Christians are those who profess to have the love of the truth in their hearts; and when Christ asks them whether they so love Him as to be able to drink of His cup, and partake of His Baptism, they answer, "We are able," and their profession issues in a wonderful fulfilment. They love God and they give up the world.

3. And here we are brought to a third and last characteristic of the Christianity of the New Testament, which necessarily follows from the other two. If the first disciples so unreservedly gave up the world, and if, secondly, they were so strictly and promptly taken at their word, what do you think would follow, if they were true men and not hypocrites? this—they would rejoice to be so taken. This, then, is the third chief grace of primitive Christianity—joy in all its forms; not only a pure heart, not only a clean hand, but, thirdly, a cheerful countenance. I say joy in all its forms, for in true joyfulness many graces are included; joyful people are loving; joyful people are forgiving; joyful people are munificent. Joy, if it be Christian joy, the refined joy of the mortified and persecuted, makes men peaceful, {287} serene, thankful, gentle, affectionate, sweet-tempered, pleasant, hopeful; it is graceful, tender, touching, winning. All this were the Christians of the New Testament, for they had obtained what they desired. They had desired to sacrifice the kingdom of the world and all its pomps for the love of Christ, whom they had seen, whom they loved, in whom they believed, in whom they delighted; and when their wish was granted, they could but "rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for, behold, their reward was great in heaven:" [Luke vi. 23.] blessed were they, thrice blessed, because they in their lifetime had evil things [Luke xvi. 25.], and their consolation was to come hereafter.

Such, I say, was the joy of the first disciples of Christ, to whom it was granted to suffer shame and to undergo toil for His Name's sake; and such holy, gentle graces were the fruit of this joy, as every part of the Gospels and Epistles shows us. "We glory in tribulations," says St. Paul, "knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." [Rom. v. 3-5.] Again, "Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place, and labour working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we intreat; we are made as the filth of the earth, and are the off-scouring of all things unto this day." [1 Cor. iv. 11-13.] How is the {288} very same character set before us in the Beatitudes, so holy, so tender, so serene, so amiable! "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted; blessed are the meek, they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peace-makers, they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake." [Matt. v. 3-10.] And again, "Let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." [Matt. v. 37.] "I say unto you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also:" "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." Again, "Judge not, that ye be not judged; ... and why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" [Matt. vii. 1, 8.] And again, "In your patience possess ye your souls." [Luke xxi. 19.] Again, "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet." [John xiii. 14.] Again, "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." And again, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." [John xiv. 27.] Or again, consider the special prayer which the Lord Himself taught us, as a pattern of all prayer, and see how it corresponds to that one idea of a Christian {289} which I have been drawing out. It consists of seven petitions; three have reference to Almighty God, four to the petitioners; and could any form of words be put together which so well could be called the Prayer of the Pilgrim? We often hear it said, that the true way of serving God is to serve man, as if religion consisted merely in acting well our part in life, not in direct faith, obedience, and worship: how different is the spirit of this prayer! Evil round about him, enemies and persecutors in his path, temptation in prospect, help for the day, sin to be expiated, God's will in his heart, God's Name on his lips, God's kingdom in his hopes: this is the view it gives us of a Christian. What simplicity! what grandeur! and what definiteness! how one and the same, how consistent with all that we read of him elsewhere in Scripture!

Alas! my brethren, so it is, when you have subjects like this dwelt upon, too many of you are impatient of them, and wish to hurry past them, and are eager to be reminded by the preacher in the same breath with his presenting them—nay, you remind yourselves—that you of this day can have no immediate interest in them,—that times are changed. Times are changed, I grant; but without going on to the question of the obligation now of such a profession of the Gospel as I have been describing, do persuade yourselves, I entreat you, to contemplate the picture. Do not shut your eyes, do not revolt from it, do not fret under it, but look at it. Bear to look at the Christianity of the Bible; bear to contemplate the idea of a Christian, traced by inspiration, without gloss, or comment, or tradition of man. Bear {290} to hear read to you a number of texts; texts which might be multiplied sevenfold; texts which can be confronted by no others; which are no partial selections, but a specimen of the whole of the New Testament. Before you go forward to the question, "How do they affect us, must we obey them, or why need we not?" prevail on yourselves to realize the idea of a Scriptural Christian, and the fact that the first Christians really answered to it. Granting you have to apply and modify the pattern given you, before you can use it yourselves, which I am not denying, yet after all, your pattern it is; you have no other pattern of a Christian any where. No other view of Christianity is given you in Scripture. If Scripture is used, you must begin with accepting that pattern; how can you apply what you will not study? Study what a Bible Christian is; be silent over it; pray for grace to comprehend it, to accept it.

And next ask yourselves this question, and be honest in your answer. This model of a Christian, though not commanding your literal imitation, still is it not the very model which has been fulfilled in others in every age since the New Testament was written? You will ask me in whom? I am loth to say; I have reason to ask you to be honest and candid; for so it is, as if from consciousness of the fact, and dislike to have it urged upon us, we and our forefathers have been accustomed to scorn and ridicule these faithful, obedient persons, and, in our Saviour's very words, to "cast out their name as evil, for the Son of man's sake." But, if the truth must be spoken, what are the humble monk, and the holy nun, and other regulars, as they are called, but {291} Christians after the very pattern given us in Scripture? What have they done but this—perpetuate in the world the Christianity of the Bible? Did our Saviour come on earth suddenly, as He will one day visit it, in whom would He see the features of the Christians whom He and His Apostles left behind them, but in them? Who but these give up home and friends, wealth and ease, good name and liberty of will, for the kingdom of heaven? Where shall we find the image of St. Paul, or St. Peter, or St. John, or of Mary the mother of Mark, or of Philip's daughters, but in those who, whether they remain in seclusion, or are sent over the earth, have calm faces, and sweet plaintive voices, and spare frames, and gentle manners, and hearts weaned from the world, and wills subdued; and for their meekness meet with insult, and for their purity with slander, and for their gravity with suspicion, and for their courage with cruelty; yet meet with Christ every where—Christ, their all-sufficient, everlasting portion, to make up to them, both here and hereafter, all they suffer, all they dare, for His Name's sake?

And, lastly, apply this pattern to yourselves; for there only will you have power to apply it rightly. You know very well, most of us know it too well, that such precepts and examples do not directly apply to every one of us. We are not severally bound to give up the world by so literal a surrender. The case of Ananias and Sapphira is enough to show us this. Their sin lay in professing to do what they need not have done; in making pretence of a voluntary renunciation which they did not execute. They kept back part of the price of {292} the land which they made a show of giving up: and St. Peter urged it against them. "Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" A most awful warning to every one, not to affect greater sanctity or self-denial than he attempts; but a proof withal, that those great surrenders which Scripture speaks of, are not incumbent on all Christians. They could not be voluntary if they were duties; they could not be meritorious if they were not voluntary. But though they are not duties to all, they may be duties to you; and though they are voluntary, you may have a call to them. It may be your duty to follow after merit. And whether it is you cannot learn, till first you have fairly surrendered your mind to the contemplation of that Christianity which Scripture delineates. After all, it may prove to be your duty to remain as others, and you may serve Him best and most acceptably in a secular life. But you cannot tell till you inquire; enough do we hear of private judgment in matters of doctrine; alas! that we will not exercise it where it is to a certain extent allowable and religious; in points, not public and ecclesiastical and eternal and independent of ourselves, but personal,—in the choice of life, in matters of duty!

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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