Sermon 23. Grounds for Steadfastness in our Religious Profession

"Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." John iv. 42.

{343} RELIGIOUS persons are sometimes taunted with having only what is called an hereditary religion; with believing what they believe, and practising what they practise, because they have been taught so to do, without any reasons of their own. Now it may very possibly happen that they have no reasons to produce, that they do not know their own reasons, that they have never analyzed what passes through their minds, and causes their impressions and convictions; but that is no proof that they have no reasons; and in truth they have always, whether they recognize them or not, very good reasons. It does not make a man more religious that he knows why and how he became so; many a man, doubtless, was converted by the Apostles' miracles, who could not draw out accurately into words the process through which his thoughts went, and who, had he {344} tried so to do, would have done himself injustice, and exposed himself to the criticism of the practised disputant. And so, again, in this day, when our discipleship is confessedly, in the first instance, the act of others not our own (for we were baptized and taught in our first years without ourselves having a will in the matter); though in this sense our religion may be called hereditary, yet, for all that, it may be much more than hereditary, when we have lived long enough to have made trial of it, and that, although we have not the skill to bring out into words the details and the result of that trial, or to show in a clear logical form that we have this or that good reason for believing.

I am speaking of religious men; for doubtless it is true of others, that good grounds they have none for their religious profession; they may, indeed, have got together some reasons from books, and may make a show with them; but they have none of their own. And if they produce ever so many, still, I repeat, it is because they have been taught them. They have been taught the truths, and taught the reasons; but the reasons are their own as little as the truths; the reasons are hereditary or traditionary as well as the truths: they have no root in themselves; they have nothing within them connecting the reasons with, and grafting them upon, the divine doctrines. And be they ever so intellectual and acute, ever so able to investigate, and argue, and reflect upon themselves, this will avail them nothing. What avails the form of searching, when there is nothing to find? What avail scientific forms, when we have no subject matter to work upon? {345}

But so it is, from the circumstance that these sensual, gross-hearted, indevout, or insincere persons are often men of education and ability, they show to advantage in the world, talk loudly and largely, are powerful controversialists, are considered bulwarks of the truth, and cast into the shade humble and religious men, who have not their gifts. But he who has the truth within him, though he cannot evolve it out of his heart in shape and proportions for another's inspection, is blessed beyond all comparison above him, who has much to say, and says what is true, but says it not from himself, but by rote, and could say quite as well just the reverse, did it so happen that he mistook it for truth. His, indeed, is in the worst sense mere hereditary religion, though he will commonly think himself of all men the least in danger of it; and will be among the foremost to impute it to religious men instead, who feel what they cannot express.

Surely, as the only true religion is that which is seated within us, a matter, not of words, but of things, so the only satisfactory test of religion is something within us. If religion be a personal matter, its reasons also should be personal. Wherever it is present, in the world or in the heart, it produces an effect, and that effect is its evidence. When we view it as set up in the world, it has its external proofs, when as set up in our hearts, it has its internal; and that, whether we are able to elicit them ourselves, and put them into shape, or not. Nay, with some little limitation and explanation, it might be said, that the very fact of a religion taking root within us, is a proof, so far, that it is true. If it {346} were not true, it would not take root. Religious men have, in their own religiousness, an evidence of the truth of their religion. That religion is true which has power, and so far as it has power; nothing but what is divine can renew the heart. And this is the secret reason why religious men believe, whether they are adequately conscious of it or no, whether they can put it into words or no; viz. their past experience that the doctrine which they hold is a reality in their minds, not a mere opinion, and has come to them, "not in word, but in power." And in this sense the presence of religion in us is its own evidence. I am not at all denying the use of either of those arguments for religion which are external to us, or of the practice of drawing out our reasons into form; but still so it is, we go by external reasons, before we have, or so far as we have not, inward ones; and we rest upon our logical proofs only when we get perplexed with objections, or are in doubt, or otherwise troubled in mind; or, again, we betake ourselves to the external evidence, or to argumentative processes, not as a matter of personal interest, but from a desire to gaze upon God's great work more intently, and to adore God's wisdom more worthily.

This, surely, is what may be called the common-sense view of the subject. We wander from one form of religion to another, when we have not found its power; if we have found it, then we not only remain where we are, but we are shocked at the very notion of a change; and in proportion as we have found, are we contented and zealous adherents of our present position. I do not say that all who wander are seeking, nor that all who {347} are contented with their state, have found; nor, again, that all who, in their degree, have found, remain contented; else there were no such sin as unthankfulness. Nor do I mean that all who fail to find are justified in wandering, as if waiting were not necessary, or as if youth, or the consciousness of faults on our part, would not account for our having as yet received so little personal benefit from our religion. Nor, after all, do I mean to imply that no conceivable circumstances can arise when this rule is allowably broken: unless a voice from without may, in certain cases, supersede the feeling from within, Nathanael would not have been converted, nor Apollos. But still it holds good, that a man's real reason for attachment to his own religious communion, why he believes it to be true, why he is eager in its defence, why he feels indignant at being invited to abandon it, is not any series of historical or philosophical arguments, not any thing merely beautiful in its system, or supernatural, but what it has done for him and others; his confidence in it as a means by which men may be brought nearer to God, and may become better and happier. Would you know why holy men believe even in an age of miracles? Hear St. Polycarp's words, when the heathen magistrate urged him to blaspheme Christ: "Eighty and six years," said he, "have I served Him, and He hath never wronged me; and how can I blaspheme my King, who hath saved me?" Or, as St. Paul said, "I know whom I have believed." It is these inward effects (I speak of the matter of fact), according to the degree in which they are realized, which guarantee to a man the divinity of {348} his form of religion, which make him willing to risk his salvation upon it; as is expressed, in another form, by the Samaritans in the text, when they say to their countrywoman, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."

You will observe, that neither the blessed Martyr, who had served Christ so long, nor the ignorant Samaritans, who were beginning to acknowledge Him, stated what their reasons were, though they had reasons. And, in truth, it is very difficult to draw out our reasons for our religious convictions, and that on many accounts. It is very painful to a man of devout mind to do so; for it implies, or even involves a steadfast and almost curious gaze at God's wonder-working presence within and over him, from which he shrinks, as savouring of a high-minded and critical temper. And much more is it painful, not to say impossible, to put these reasons forth in explicit statements, because they are so very personal and private. Yet, as in order to the relief of his own perplexity, a religious man may at times try to ascertain them, so again for the service of others he will try, as best he may, to state them.

If then we are asked for "a reason of the hope that is in us," why we are content, or rather thankful, to be in that Church in which God's Providence has placed us, would not the reasons be some or other of these, or rather all of them, and a number of others besides, which these may suggest, deeper than they?

1. I suppose a religious man is conscious that God {349} has been with him, and given him whatever he has of good within him. He knows quite enough of himself to know how fallen he is from original righteousness, and he has a conviction, which nothing can shake, that without the aid of his Lord and Saviour, he can do nothing aright. I do not say he need recollect any definite season when he turned to God and gave up the service of sin and Satan; but in one sense every season, every year is such a time of turning. I mean, he ever has experience, just as if he had hitherto been living to the world, of a continual conversion; he is ever taking advantage of holy seasons and new providences, and beginning again. The elements of sin are still alive within him; they still tempt and influence him, and threaten when they do no more; and it is only by a continual fight against them that he prevails; and what shall persuade him that his power to fight is his own, and not from above? And this conviction of a Divine Presence with him is stronger according to the length of time during which he has served God, and to his advance in holiness. The multitude of men—nay, a great number of those who think themselves religious—do not aim at holiness, and do not advance in holiness; but consider what a great evidence it is that God is with us, so far as we have it. Religious men, really such, cannot but recollect in the course of years, that they have become very different from what they were. I say "in the course of years:" this it is, among other things, which makes young persons less settled in their religion. They have not given it a trial; they have not had time to do so; but in the course of years a religious {350} person finds that a mysterious unseen influence has been upon him and has changed him. He is indeed very different from what he was. His tastes, his views, his judgments are different. You will say that time changes a man as a matter of course; advancing age, outward circumstances, trials, experience of life. It is true; and yet I think a religious man would feel it little less than sacrilege, and almost blasphemy, to impute the improvement in his heart and conduct, in his moral being, with which he has been favoured in a certain sufficient period, to outward or merely natural causes. He will be unable to force himself to do so: that is to say, he has a conviction, which it is a point of religion with him not to doubt, which it is a sin to deny, that God has been with him. And this is of course a ground of hope to him that God will be with him still; and if he, at any time, fall into religious perplexity, it may serve to comfort him to think of it.

2. And I suppose that every religious person is conscious of this, that he never has so profited by God's grace as he might have done; that he has never fathomed God's mercies towards him; that God is present with him to an extent, with a fulness, in a depth, which he knows not; that, whatever other reasons there may be for his parting company with us, at least he need not go elsewhere for more grace, for the power to be better than he is. When he has exhausted what is offered him here, then will be the time for looking about him and providing for his necessity: but as yet he has sufficient for his day.

3. Again, every religious man may be expected to {351} have experience more or less of wonderful providences, which he cannot speak about to others, but which make it certain to him that, in spite of his own unworthiness, God is with him. We are told in Scripture to "cast all our care upon Him, for He careth for us;" to "ask and we shall receive;" [1 Pet. v. 7. Matt. vii. 7, 8.] and surely what Jacob felt and said, will in its degree—nay, rather more abundantly—be fulfilled in our case. "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant." "God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil." [Gen. xxxii. 10; xlviii. 15, 16.] Is it not, I may say, most touching and affecting to read in patriarchal history things which are fulfilled in us at this latter time?—but He is the Lord, He changes not. You may see what He is to us, by what Jacob tells us He was to him. Scripture gives certain specimens or criteria, what it is to have God with us, to be guided by God, as in the history of Jacob or of David. Now consider Jacob's life and confessions, or consider David's overflowings of heart in the Psalms—are they not in our measure ours also? is there not a sympathy of heart, is there not a concordant testimony as to God's providences in the ancient Saints and in ourselves? Well, then, are we not therefore in their case? do not we stand with them? have not we the God of Jacob for our help, and is not David's Lord and David's hope ours also? We are under just the sort of guidance they {352} were under: why should we break away from it? it has wrought upon us in and through that form of religion, those doctrines, those Ordinances, those Sacraments, those teachers, under which we find ourselves; what want we more?

4. It is impossible to speak, without the risk of misconception, on the subject of answers to prayer; I mean, this is just one of those sacred matters upon which one man deceives himself, and another does not. A man will tell you, as an excuse for his following the wildest and most pernicious errors, that he has consulted God, that God has answered him, and that he is obeying God. What can you say in reply? Nothing. You think, and think rightly, that the man is deceiving himself; but you cannot show to his own satisfaction, or that of others, that he has not as much right as another to believe that God has revealed to him His will. Yet, because some men are presumptuous and mistaken in this most sacred subject, this does not show that another may not judge rightly. In dreams, in delirium, in madness, men think they see and hear what they do not; yet, for all that, do not men, awake and in their senses, see and hear? And, in like manner, religious men are right in thinking their prayers answered, and half-religious men are wrong; and the real answers which religious men receive are an evidence to them, whereas the apparent answers made to half-religious men are no evidence; because in the case of religious men such tokens are in addition to those other tokens arising from their habitual obedience and subjection to Christ, but in enthusiasts they are the very {353} foundation of their faith, which conscience, sense of duty, love of truth, and the Divine Law, ought to be. But let us turn from such as make much of the lesser and secondary tokens of God's favour to the disparagement of the greater, to those who are possessed of the greater and lesser also, who strive to please God in their hearts and lives, and are in many ways rewarded. We are told, that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much;" now, of course, the more fully he realizes that God is thus mercifully dealing with him, the less he will like to speak about it; and this is one reason why the pretenders whom one meets in the world have not the real insight into the course of Providence which they think they have, viz. because they talk of it so freely. Were the privileges of which they boast what they think they are, they would not speak of them. Religious men, on the contrary, are very reserved, if only that they dare not betray, if we may so speak, God's confidence. This circumstance, however, makes it the more difficult to speak on the subject without unreality; still I suppose it is true that religious men have their prayers answered in a wonderful way, and with sufficient distinctness to be, in addition to other evidences, a ground of confidence to them that God is with them.

5. I might go on to mention a still more solemn subject, viz. the experience which, at least, certain religious persons have, of the awful sacredness of our Sacraments and other Ordinances. If these are attended by the Presence of Christ, surely we have all that a Church can have in the way of privilege and blessing. The {354} promise runs, "Lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." That is a Church where Christ is present; this is the very definition of the Church. The question sometimes asked is, whether our services, our holy seasons, our rites, our Sacraments, our institutions, really have with them the Presence of Him who thus promised? If so, we are part of the Church; if not, then we are but performers in a sort of scene or pageant, which may be religiously intended, and which God in His mercy may visit, but if He visits, will in visiting go beyond His own promise. But observe, as if to answer to the challenge, and put herself on trial, and to give us a test of her Catholicity, our Church boldly declares of her most solemn ordinance, that he who profanes it, incurs the danger of judgment. She seems, like Moses, or the Prophet from Judah, or Elijah, to put her claim to issue, not so openly, yet as really, upon the fulfilment of a certain specified sign. Now she does not speak to scare away the timid, but to startle and subdue the unbelieving, and withal to assure the wavering and perplexed; and I conceive that in such measure as God wills, and as is known to God, these effects follow. I mean, that we really have proofs among us, though, for the most part, they will be private and personal, from the nature of the case, of clear punishment coming upon profanations of the holy ordinance in question; sometimes very fearful instances, and such as serve, while they awe beholders, to comfort them;—to comfort them, for it is plain, if God be with us for judgment, surely He is with us for mercy also: if He punishes, why is it {355} but for profanation? and how can there be profanation, if there is nothing to be profaned? Surely, He does not manifest His wrath, but where He has first vouchsafed His grace.

6. And, further, much might be said, were not a suggestion sufficient, of the manifestation of Christ which often attends on death-beds for the benefit of survivors. Consider whether, under certain circumstances, an evidence is not thereby given to the reality of our religious principles, and the divine origin of our Church, as great as any note or token of any kind which can be given. What is any note of the Church, but an indication that Christ is invisibly within it? It cannot prove more than this; a hundred notes cannot prove more. If so much as this is proved, it is enough, and there are single tokens which, by themselves, suffice to prove it; and such, surely, to those who witness them, are many of the scenes which take place on death-beds. May not we reverently hope, that Almighty God does sometimes vouchsafe to show bystanders then, that our Church, in spite of its manifold disorders, is a safe Church to die in?

7. And, lastly, I might say much on what is a more ordinary evidence, yet perhaps as cogent,—the evidences of sanctity in the living, which we are from time to time vouchsafed. Surely that is a Church visited by the influences of Divine grace, which contains in her pale men so saintly in their lives, so heavenly in their hearts and minds, so self-denying, so obedient, as are vouchsafed to her even in this degenerate time. Is it not safe to trust our souls in their company? is it not {356} dangerous to part company with them in our journey across the trackless wilderness?

On such subjects as I have been led to treat, whatever be the words made use of, they will be sure not precisely to touch and satisfy the feelings of others, nor even to be adequate to one's own meaning; they must, after all, be poor and unreal. Yet the great use of language is, not to represent, but to suggest and convey thought; and we must bear to use words which we feel to be deficient, if they serve to rouse the mind, and to begin trains of reflection which they do not end. I think there is a truth in such considerations as I have been urging, which will be acknowledged by the serious and thoughtful, though it may be cavilled at and denied by others.

And should any one consider, that the very raising the question of the Catholicity of our Church, entertaining objections to it, and replying to them, is a great irreverence towards her, and inconsiderate and cruel towards hearers who are thus introduced to them, I would have him reflect that his objection strikes very deeply, considering how very frequent have been defences, in Sermons and other religious works, of Revelation altogether. I am not defending the tone of divinity prevalent among us during a century and a half past; but such persons at least as justify the writers of that period, in admitting the possibility of the Gospel being false, on the ground that they were but solving, not raising, a difficulty, cannot blame others who, in a similar necessity, do that towards their Church which these authors have ventured towards their Lord. {357}

And now, in conclusion, I shall take notice of one or two objections to which the foregoing representation may give rise. It may be said, first, to proceed upon an unsound method of reasoning; and next, to be no protection after all to the sacred interests which it professes to advocate.

1. On the one hand, it may be urged that it is very dangerous to guide ourselves by our feelings in religious inquiries, and very unwarrantable to judge of creeds by their effects. If we seek to determine what truth is, what falsehood, by evidence taken from the course of things, then evidence on both sides of the question must be taken into account. Almighty God, it may be said, often seems to be fighting against a man, and to be driving him away from the religion he at present professes, as the Angel resisted Balaam. Providences befall him which he is justified in interpreting as a suggestion to seek God elsewhere; and thus the search after religious truth is made a matter of mere feeling, or imagination. I reply, that I have said nothing to sanction such a proceeding. I have said nothing to lead men to consult the fluctuations of their minds in the passing hour, for information concerning God's will. We all are depressed at one time, and encouraged and revived at another; we have our times of gloom, of disquiet, of doubt, of impatience, of disgust. And further, if we have but lately turned to God at all, we have no real experience whatever of God's dealings with us to which we can appeal; and if we attempt to judge by such personal evidences, we are guided as a matter of necessity by the feeling of the moment. It is also {358} certain that we are apt to magnify present evils; and we may easily be led to fancy that any communion, or, at least, that some communions are more in the light of day than our own, with less of dimness and of scandal. And of course we may act according to such feelings while we are under them, and may consider such a procedure as an acting from what is within us, not without us.

All this we certainly may do, but without any sanction from the doctrine which I have been laying down. The simple question is, whether such temporary frames of mind can be proved to come from God. Now we cannot be sure of the divine origin of any suggestion which comes to us for the first time. He indeed is always like Himself, and is Himself, whether He comes once or many times; but to our limited faculties, the Tempter is able to represent Christ so closely at first sight, that Christ alone can enable us to detect the difference; and He generally grants the knowledge by careful waiting on Him and examination, not at once. Now when we look back on the course of our whole lives, we secure two advantages: first, the absence of present excitement, and next, a sufficient extent of time to make our remarks upon. And, moreover, what we must look for is proof of improvement in our heart and life, and not mere comfort or transport. And, again, we should look for plain external facts, however private and secret, not for mere emotions, to determine whether or not God is with us. Now all these conditions being observed, the inquirer being a consistent Christian, and that for years, and the motions and works of holiness being taken as {359} the sign of Christ's presence, and calmness and sobriety having their due place in his inquiry, I really do not think that, however he might determine, we could justly find fault with the process, or throw the blame of his error, if he made one, upon it; nor, again, that it would often happen that a son of our Church would not find evidence that Christ is with us still, in spite of our many sins and great corruptions.

And let no one say, that to judge of the religious communion in which we find ourselves, by its fruits, is worldly-wise and unbelieving. To judge of doctrines indeed in this way, is presumptuous, because these are divine revelations, and are commonly mysteries, and are to be received on faith, whatever comes of them. But it is otherwise with religious bodies; they are to be tested and judged of by their visible effects,—our Lord saying expressly of the false prophets, "Ye shall know them by their fruits;" and St. Paul, "There must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you;" and St. John, "They went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us;" and Gamaliel, "If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought;" and the Psalmist, "I went by, and lo, he was gone;" and the Prophet, "Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled; ... let them bring forth their witnesses that they may be justified, or let them hear and say, It is truth. Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and My servant whom I have chosen;" and again, "Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let {360} them bring them forth, and show us what shall happen, that we may know that ye are gods; yea, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together." [Matt. vii 16. 1 Cor. xi. 19. 1 John ii. 19. Acts v. 38. Ps. xxxvii. 37. Isa. xliii. 9, 10; xli. 21-23.] And if the outward notes of the Church are thus matter for our judgment, surely its inward power may be religiously inquired into also.

2. But now, in the next place, it may perhaps be asked, whether there never was an instance when it was a person's duty to leave the communion in which he finds himself; and if so, whether what I have been saying about private tokens of grace would not apply to his case as well as ours. If it serves to keep religious persons in the Church, it will equally well serve to keep religious persons in dissent. Abraham, it may be urged, was doubtless under God's Providence, even in Chaldea, yet he had to quit his country; and the Jews were under God's Providence, yet they were commanded to quit the Law for the Gospel. Nor can we doubt that the merciful Hand of God has before now dealt with man in those far-spreading communions, though heretical, which have so long existed in the East; yet it is a duty to leave them for the One True Church. And as little can we doubt that the secret influence of Christ operates at this day in the large dissenting bodies which exist here and in another continent; and yet we think it right to invite their members to Catholic communion, though they surely might in like manner appeal to their experience of God's Providences, and turn a deaf ear to our call. {361}

I answer, that there seem to be two reasons which may lead a man to leave the communion in which he was born: first, some clear indisputable command of God to leave it, and secondly, some plain experience that God does not acknowledge it. The Ethiopian eunuch came to Jerusalem to seek Him; and the Christians left Jerusalem to obey Him. If Almighty God moves away from us, or if we are away from God, in either case we must go forward at all risks, and "forget our own people and our father's house." But consider what great signs have generally been attendant upon the calls of God. What prophecies, what miracles, what portents, what judgments were displayed to convince the Jews that Judaism was at an end! Consider what plain tokens of God's wrath rested on those ancient heresies which I have spoken of, especially the perishable nature of certain of them; how they began from the first swiftly to "draw to an end, and had no sign of virtue to show," so that they left the world almost before men had time to leave them, or at least to leave them was but to be beforehand with them. And as to heathen religions, consider what plain contrariety to the first laws of all true faith and morality is involved in many of their first principles; how they sin against sincerity, purity, and mercy. Here then are abundant indications afforded to the thoughtful and honest inquirer, who is born in such religious body as is in question, that the Divine Presence does not go with it, as a body.

And then, as to the various forms of religion of this day, let this be considered, that we call their members to join us indeed, but we do not call them really to quit {362} any thing, for in truth they have nothing to quit; they profess they have nothing to quit. The Jews had a Church; even heretics and schismatics profess to have Churches, and often are possessed of a succession from the Apostles; but the religious sects around us profess to be nothing more than mere voluntary assemblies of men, each complete in himself, each a Church to himself, bound together by no Divine bond, but merely at their own will. Whatever might have been professed in their origin, such is the belief of their members now: so far from believing that Christ's Presence is with their own communion as such, they consider this ascription of grace to a corporate body, this belief that ordination is a Divine act and by an Apostolical succession, this doctrine of a priesthood under the Gospel—for all these are but aspects of one and the same great truth—alas! they consider it the beginning of all error and evil in religion, and make it accordingly a first principle, the principle of their own religious existence, the essence of their faith, to deny it. Accordingly, they take no religious account whatever of the bodies to which they happen to belong, nor of the rites and ordinances which they use, except as a matter of order, more commonly of taste and liking. They are, it is most certain, indifferent to their particular communion, as a communion; eager to exalt themselves above it; sensitive of the appearance of subjection to it; proud of insubordination; jealous of forms and ordinances; destitute of any definite creed; willing to fraternize with any who will but profess a like disbelief of the doctrine of a Church; ready to change, because it is really no change, whenever it {363} occurs to them, and is open to them; nay, familiar in many cases to the use of two or three religious communions at once. Surely they may be called upon to change to the Church, who by their very principle may change about to any thing else; surely they have not found, who profess to be ever seeking; surely they may be taught something new, who have nothing old, or rather, nothing to lose at all; surely they may be made loyal to the Church, who are not the willing servants, or the loyal subjects, or the dear children of any other sovereign and parent. This is the great distinction between our Church and all these bodies round about her. A great multitude of our people, to say the least, feel and know that the Church in herself, and considered as a Church, is a great blessing. They are convinced that Christ is in her; that she is here that favoured spiritual body which is present in many places, one and the same all over the earth, perfect and entire here and there and every where, as if she were nowhere else, and called in Scripture, "the Bride, the Lamb's wife." They do not merely dislike other forms of worship, but they love and revere hers. They are witnesses to themselves—yes, and to each other—that Christ is in them of a truth. But it is seldom indeed that a member of a seceding body is zealous for that body; he is zealous for what he considers the Gospel, that is, at the utmost for what he would call a doctrine,—though that means, if we may so speak, his own particular doctrine, which is, properly speaking, no doctrine at all, in any accurate sense of the word, but an opinion, his own private opinion; he is zealous for what he thinks to be the {364} message which Christ brought from heaven, whatever it be, and that, whether any other person in the whole world agrees with him or not, not for that communion external to himself, to which he happens to belong. He has not found Christ in that communion. He confesses that, in his judgment, religion is but a solitary matter; he thinks he has found the truth, but not in his sect or party, but in himself merely; so as to be lodged in himself, and to go with him wherever he goes, whether he stays in it or leaves it. In calling him away then from his particular communion into our own Church, I am calling on him to violate no principle of obedience, no sentiment of reverence or loyalty, for he has none; I am but using his private judgment in behalf of the Church, as he has hitherto used it in opposition to it. In leaving his present sect, he does injury to no dutiful feeling; in leaving it he is leaving nothing valuable; he was of value to it, not it to him. I am calling him to a great idea which it never before entered into his mind to conceive, to a something over and above what he has at present; to what is distinct, for what is vague and confused, to what is real and living, for what is nominal,—to a visible body with invisible privileges,—to God dwelling in very deed upon earth, the King of Saints upon the holy hill of Zion, Him who inhabiteth eternity abiding invisibly, not in buildings made with hands, but in a chosen company, which He both formed at the first and has continued ever since. This awful and great sight is a new thing to the inquirer in question; he did not know there was such a one any where; we invite him to turn aside and see: but we {365} turn him merely from the wilderness which lies around him, from nothing else. We are not unsettling his mind, we find it unsettled; we are not showing disrespect to his present communion, it has never been reverenced even by himself; his personal religious experience was not built upon and united to its rules and ordinances; ours is united to those of our Church. They who call us to quit our Church, must first refute our long experience of her benefits; but he has had no such experience of benefits at all. We have personal tokens, not only that we are in grace, but that this great blessing is given through our sacraments; he not only does not profess the like, but protests against such a profession. In resting then our allegiance to our Church on her private and secret notes, not on her public ones, I am giving no advantage to disputers and heretics of this day in their warfare against her.

However, so much I will grant, and will not grudge it,—that if there be persons born in dissent, and filially attached to their own communion, and "fearing God and working righteousness in it," in them, we may humbly trust, is fulfilled St. Peter's saying, that "in every nation," such men are "accepted with Him." I am far indeed from wishing rudely to disengage such persons from the sect in which they find themselves, if they are zealous for it, little as I may think it part of the true Church. We must not do evil that good may come; sudden changes are in themselves an evil, though they are unavoidable when the truth is preached to many at once, and in the conflict of the Church and the world. St. Paul's conversion, it is true, was sudden; {366} but then it was miraculous also: yet no one would call miracles the ordinary or the appointed means of Divine teaching. Such persons then as I am speaking of, I would humbly leave in God's hands, to work His blessed will in them; whether to lead them forward through their present creed into a purer one, or, if such be His inscrutable pleasure, to save them, though not through it, yet in it, by a mercy overflowing the bounds of His revealed covenant [Note].

That time will never come in this world, when the strife of tongues and the alienation of hearts shall cease; but let us at least beseech the Prince of Peace, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; that He would vouchsafe to hide us for a little moment under the shadow of His wings, until this tyranny be overpast, in anticipation of that blessed time when "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all His holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." [Isa. xi. 9.]

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Note

Nothing that is here said about uncovenanted mercies must be taken to imply that individuals ought to be satisfied in remaining external to the Catholic Church, when they are once convinced of the fact; but mere impressions, impulses, fancies, frames of mind, logical deductions, or the blindness which follows on religious carelessness, may easily be mistaken for convictions. It is a duty, then, to doubt about what appear to be such—nay, to resist them, and often for a very long time; and under this painful and weary trial, though not under other circumstances, surely the mind may religiously dwell on the thought of God's extraordinary dispensations of grace, as a relief of its apprehensions.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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