Sunday, April 21, 2013

Faith and the World

An excerpt from Newman's sermon of that name, preached on November 18, 1838, and published in 1843 as number 7 in Sermons on Subjects of the Day.

Prov. xi. 21. - "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered."

Another consideration which the world urges in its warfare against religion, as I have already implied, is, that religion is unnatural. It is objected (what indeed cannot be denied, and is almost a truism) that religion does not bring the elementary and existing nature of man to its highest perfection, but thwarts and impairs it, and provides for a second and new nature. It is said, and truly, that religion treats the body hardly, and is severe with the soul. How different is the world, which conceives that the first object of life is to treat our inferior nature indulgently, that all methods of living are right which do this, and all wrong which do not! Hence men lay it down, that wealth is the measure of all good, and the end of life; for a state of wealth may be described as a state of ease and comfort to body and mind. They say that every act of civil government is wrong, which does not tend to what they thus consider to be man's happiness; that utility and expedience, or, in other words, whatever tends to produce wealth, is the only rule on which laws should be framed; that higher objects are a mere dream; that the only thing substantial is this life, and the only wisdom, to cherish and enjoy it. And they are so obstinate in this their evil view of things, that they will not let other people take their own view and rest in it; but are bent on making all men (what they call) happy in their way. In their plans of social and domestic economy, their projects of education, their mode of treating the poor, the one object which they think sufficient for happiness is, that men should have the necessaries of life according to their condition. ON the other hand, they think that religion in all its duties clashes with this life, and is therefore unnatural. Almsgiving they think the virtue of a barbarous or half-civilized or badly-managed community. Fasting and watching are puerile and contemptible, for such practices interfere with nature, which prompts us to eat and sleep. Prayer again is a mere indolence. It its better, they say, to put the shoulder to the wheel, than to spend time in wishing it to move. Again, making a stand for particular doctrines is thought unnecessary and unmeaning, as if there were any excellence or merit in believing this rather than that, or believing anything at all...

If, indeed, men will urge that religion is against nature, as an objection to religion, certainly we must become infidels at once; for can any thing be so marvellously and awfully beyond nature, both the nature of man and the nature of God, as that the Eternal Son of God should take flesh and be born of a virgin, and suffer and die on the cross, and rise again? Let us cease, then, to fear this taunt, that religion makes us lead an unnatural or rather supernatural life, seeing it has no force, except it withal persuade us to disown our Saviour, who for us took on Him another nature not His own, and was in the economy of grace what by His Divine generation from the Father He could not be...

The world promises that, if we trust it, we cannot go wrong. Why? because it is so many - there are so many men in it; they must be right. This is what it seems boldly to say, - "God cannot punish so many." So it is, we know, in human law. The magistrate never can punish a very great number of the community at once; he is obliged to let the multitude of culprits escape him, and he makes examples; - and this is what we cannot help fancying God will do. We do not allow ourselves to take in the idea that He can, and that He has said He will, punish a thousand as easily as one. What the poor and ignorant man, who lives irreligiously, professes, is what all really profess. He, when taxed with neglect of religion, says that "he is as good as his neighbors," he speaks out; he speaks abruptly, but he does but say what multitudes feel who do not say it. They think that this world is too great an evil for God to punish; or rather that therefore it is not an evil, because it is a great one. They cannot compass the idea that God should allow so great an evil to exist, as the world would be, if it is evil; and therefore, since He does allow it, it is not an evil. In vain does Scripture assure them that it is an evil, though God allows it. In vain does the whole Psalter, from beginning to end, proclaim and protest that the world is against the truth, and that the saints must suffer. In vain do Apostles tell us, that the world lieth in wickedness; in vain does Christ Himself declare, that broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat. In vain do Prophets tell us, that in the end the saints shall possess the kingdom, - implying they do not possess it now. In vain is the vast judgment of the Deluge; in vain the instant death of the first-born in Egypt, and of the hosts of the Sennacherib. No, we will not believe; the words of the Tempter ring in our ears, - "Ye shall not surely die!" and we stake our eternal interests on sight and reason, rather than on the revealed Word of God.

O how miserable in that day, when the dead bones rise from their graves, and the millions who once lived are summoned before their Omnipotent Judge, whose breath is a fiery stream, and whose voice is like the sound of many waters! How vain to call upon the rocks to fall on us; or to attempt to hide ourselves among the trees of the garden, and to make our brother's sin cover our own; when we are in His presence, who is everywhere at once, and is as fully and entirely our God and Judge, as if there were no other creature but each of us in the whole world! Why will we not learn here, what then to a certainty we shall discover, that number is not strength? Never was a greater fallacy than to suppose that the many must necessarily be stronger than the few; on the contrary, power is ever concentrated and one, in order to be power. God is one. The heathen raged, the people imagined a vain thing; the kings of the earth and the rulers joined hands and took counsel together; and Christ was one. Such is the Divine rule. "There is one Body and one Spirit," and "one hope," and "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all." No; the number of the wicked will be but an increase of their misery; they will but crowd their prison.

Let us then leave the world, manifold and various as it is; let us leave it to follow its own devices, and let us turn to the living and true God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. Let us be sure that He is more true than the whole world, though with one voice all its inhabitants were to speak against Him. And if we doubt where the truth lies, let us pray to Him to reveal it to us; let us pray Him to give us humility, that we may seek aright; honesty, that we may have no concealed aims; love, that we may desire truth; and faith, that we may accept it. So that when the end comes, and the multitudes who have joined hands in evil are punished, we may be of those who, in the words of the text, are "delivered."

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