Topic - World, Worldliness Discourse 1. The Salvation of the Hearer the Motive of the Preacher

{1} WHEN a body of men come into a neighbourhood to them unknown, as we are doing, my brethren, strangers to strangers, and there set themselves down, and raise an altar, and open a school, and invite, or even exhort all men to attend them, it is natural that they who see them, and are drawn to think about them, should ask the question, What brings them hither? Who bids them come? What do they want? What do they preach? What is their warrant? What do they promise?—You have a right, my brethren, to ask the question.

Many, however, will not stop to ask it, as thinking they can answer it without difficulty for themselves. Many there are who would promptly and confidently answer it, according to their own habitual view of things, on their own principles, the principles of the world. The views, the principles, the aims of the world are very definite, are everywhere acknowledged, and are incessantly acted on. They supply an explanation of the conduct of individuals, whoever they be, {2} ready at hand, and so sure to be true in the common run of cases, as to be probable and plausible in any case in particular. When we would account for effects which we see, we of course refer them to causes which we know of. To fancy causes of which we know nothing, is not to account for them at all. The world then naturally and necessarily judges of others by itself. Those who live the life of the world, and act from motives of the world, and live and act with those who do the like, as a matter of course ascribe the actions of others, however different they may be from their own, to one or other of the motives which weigh with themselves; for some motive or other they must assign, and they can imagine none but those of which they have experience.

We know how the world goes on, especially in this country; it is a laborious, energetic, indefatigable world. It takes up objects enthusiastically, and vigorously carries them through. Look into the world, as its course is faithfully traced day by day in those publications which are devoted to its service, and you will see at once the ends which stimulate it, and the views which govern it. You will read of great and persevering exertions, made for some temporal end, good or bad, but still temporal. Some temporal end it is, even if it be not a selfish one;—generally, indeed, it is such as name, influence, power, wealth, station; sometimes it is the relief of the ills of human life or society, of ignorance, sickness, poverty, or vice—still some temporal end it is, which is the exciting and animating principle of those {3} exertions. And so pleasant is the excitement which those temporal objects create, that it is often its own reward; insomuch that, forgetting the end for which they toil, men find a satisfaction in the toil itself, and are sufficiently repaid for their trouble by their trouble,—by the struggle for success, and the rivalry of party, and the trial of their skill, and the demand upon their resources, by the vicissitudes and hazards, and ever new emergencies, and varying requisitions of the contest which they carry on, though that contest never comes to an end.

Such is the way of the world; and therefore, I say, it is not unnatural, that, when it sees any persons whatever anywhere begin to work with energy, and attempt to get others about them, and act in outward appearance like itself, though in a different direction and with a religious profession, it should unhesitatingly impute to them the motives which influence, or would influence, its own children. Often by way of blame, but sometimes not as blaming, but as merely stating a plain fact, which it thinks undeniable, it takes for granted that they are ambitious, or restless, or eager for distinction, or fond of power. It knows no better; and it is vexed and annoyed if, as time goes on, one thing or another is seen in the conduct of those whom it criticises, which is inconsistent with the assumption on which, in the first instance, it so summarily settled their position and anticipated their course. It took a general view of them, looked them through, as it thought, and from some one action of theirs which came to its knowledge, assigned to them {4} unhesitatingly some particular motive as their habitual actuating principle; but presently it finds it is obliged to shift its ground, to take up some new hypothesis, and explain to itself their character and their conduct over again. O, my dear brethren, the world cannot help doing so, because it knows us not; it ever will be impatient with us for not being of the world, because it is the world; it is necessarily blind to the one strong motive which has influence with us, and, tired out at length with hunting through its catalogues and notebooks for a description of us, it sits down in disgust, after its many conjectures, and flings us aside as inexplicable, or hates us as if mysterious and designing.

My brethren, we have secret views—secret, that is from men of this world; secret from politicians, secret from the slaves of mammon, secret from all ambitious, covetous, selfish, and voluptuous men. For religion itself, like its Divine Author and Teacher, is, as I have said, a hidden thing from them; and not knowing it, they cannot use it as a key to interpret the conduct of those who are influenced by it. They do not know the ideas and motives which religion sets before that mind which it has made its own. They do not enter into them, or realise them, even when they are told them; and they do not believe that a man can be influenced by them, even when he professes them. They cannot put themselves into the position of a man simply striving, in what he does, to please God. They are so narrow-minded, such is the meanness of their intellectual make, that, when a Catholic {5} makes profession of this or that doctrine of the Church,—sin, judgment, heaven and hell, the blood of Christ, the power of Saints, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, or the real presence in the Eucharist—and says that these are the objects which inspire his thoughts and direct his actions through the day, they cannot take in that he is in earnest; for they think, forsooth, that these points ought to be his very difficulties, and are at most nothing more than trials to his faith, and that he gets over them by putting force on his reason, and thinks of them as little as he can; and they do not dream that truths such as these have a hold upon his heart, and exert an influence on his life. No wonder, then, that the sensual, and worldly-minded, and the unbelieving, are suspicious of one whom they cannot comprehend, and are so intricate and circuitous in their imputations, when they cannot bring themselves to accept an explanation which is straight before them. So it has been from the beginning; the Jews preferred to ascribe the conduct of our Lord and His forerunner to any motive but that of a desire to fulfil the will of God. To the Jews they were, as He says, "like children sitting in the market-place, which cry to their companions, saying, We have piped to you, and you have not danced; we have lamented to you, and you have not mourned." And then He goes on to account for it: "I thank Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it been pleasing to Thy sight." {6}

Let the world have its way, let it say what it will about us, my brethren; but that does not hinder our saying what we think, and what the eternal God thinks and says, about the world. We have as good a right to have our own judgment about the world, as the world to have its judgment about us: and we mean to exercise that right; for, while we know well it judges us amiss, we have God's testimony that we judge it truly. While, then, it is eager in ascribing our earnestness to one or other of its own motives, listen to me, while I show you, as it is not difficult to do, that it is our very fear and hatred of those motives, and our compassion for the souls possessed by them, which makes us so busy and so troublesome, which prompts us to settle down in a district, so destitute of outward recommendations, but so overrun with religious error and so populous in souls.

O my brethren, little does the world, engrossed, as it is, with things of time and sense, little does it trouble itself about souls, about the state of souls in God's sight, about their past history, and about their prospects for the future. The world forms its views of things for itself, and in its own way, and lives in them. It never stops to consider whether they are sound and true; nor does it come into its thought to seek for any external standard, or channel of information, by which their truth can be ascertained. It is content to take things for granted according to their first appearance; it does not stop to think of God; it lives for the day, and (in a perverse sense) "is not solicitous for the morrow." What it sees, tastes, handles, is enough for it; this is {7} the limit of its knowledge and of its aspirations; what tells, what works well, is alone respectable; efficiency is the measure of duty, and power is the rule of right, and success is the test of truth. It believes what it experiences, it disbelieves what it cannot demonstrate. And, in consequence, it teaches that a man has not much to do to be saved; that either he has committed no great sins, or that he will, as a matter of course, be pardoned for committing them; that he may securely trust in God's mercy for his prospects in eternity; and that he ought to discard all self-reproach, or deprecation, or penance, all mortification and self-discipline, as affronting or derogatory to that mercy. This is what the world teaches, by its many sects and philosophies, about our condition in this life, this and the like; but what, on the other hand, does the Catholic Church teach concerning it?

She teaches that man was originally made in God's image, was God's adopted son, was the heir of eternal glory, and, in foretaste of eternity, was partaker here on earth of great gifts and manifold graces; and she teaches that now he is a fallen being. He is under the curse of original sin; he is deprived of the grace of God; he is a child of wrath; he cannot attain to heaven, and he is in peril of sinking into hell. I do not mean he is fated to perdition by some necessary law; he cannot perish without his own real will and deed; and God gives him, even in his natural state, a multitude of inspirations and helps to lead him on to faith and obedience. There is no one born of Adam but might be saved, as far as divine assistances are {8} concerned; yet, looking at the power of temptation, the force of the passions, the strength of self-love and self-will, the sovereignty of pride and sloth, in every one of his children, who will be bold enough to assert of any particular soul, that it will be able to maintain itself in obedience, without an abundance, a profusion of grace, not to be expected, as bearing no proportion, I do not say simply to the claims (for they are none), but to the bare needs of human nature? We may securely prophesy of every man born into the world, that, if he comes to years of understanding, he will, in spite of God's general assistances, fall into mortal sin and lose his soul. It is no light, no ordinary succour, by which man is taken out of his own hands and defended against himself. He requires an extraordinary remedy. Now what a thought is this! what a light does it cast upon man's present state! how different from the view which the world takes of it; how piercing, how overpowering in its influence on the hearts that admit it.

Contemplate, my brethren, more steadily the history of a soul born into the world, and educated according to its principles, and the idea, which I am putting before you, will grow on you. The poor infant passes through his two, or three, or five years of innocence, blessed in that he cannot yet sin; but at length (oh woeful day!) he begins to realise the distinction between right and wrong. Alas! sooner or later, for the age varies, but sooner or later the awful day has come; he has the power, the great, the dreadful, the awful power of discerning and pronouncing a {9} thing to be wrong, and yet doing it. He has a distinct view that he shall grievously offend his Maker and his Judge by doing this or that; and while he is really able to keep from it, he is at liberty to choose it, and to commit it. He has the dreadful power of committing a mortal sin. Young as he is, he has as true an apprehension of that sin, and can give as real a consent, as did the evil spirit, when he fell. The day is come, and who shall say whether it will have closed, whether it will have run out many hours, before he will have exercised that power, and have perpetrated, in fact, what he ought not to do, what he need not do, what he can do? Who is there whom we ever knew, of whom we can assert that, had he remained in a state of nature, he would have used the powers given him,—that if he be in a state of nature, he has used the powers given him,—in such a way as to escape the guilt and penalty of offending Almighty God? No, my brethren, a large town like this is a fearful sight. We walk the streets, and what numbers are there of those who meet us who have never been baptized at all! And the remainder, what is it made up of, but for the most part of those who, though baptized, have sinned against the grace given them, and even from early youth have thrown themselves out of that fold in which alone is salvation! Reason and sin have gone together from the first. Poor child! he looks the same to his parents. They do not know what has been going on in him; or perhaps, did they know it, they would think very little of it, for they are in a state of mortal sin as well as he. {10} They too, long before they knew each other, had sinned, and mortally too, and were never reconciled to God; thus they lived for years, unmindful of their state. At length they married; it was a day of joy to them, but not to the Angels; they might be in high life or in low estate, they might be prosperous or not in their temporal course, but their union was not blessed by God. They gave birth to a child; he was not condemned to hell on his birth, but he had the omens of evil upon him, it seemed that he would go the way of all flesh: and now the time is come; the presage is justified; and he willingly departs from God. At length the forbidden fruit has been eaten; sin has been devoured with a pleased appetite; the gates of hell have yawned upon him, silently and without his knowing it; he has no eyes to see its flames, but its inhabitants are gazing upon him; his place in it is fixed beyond dispute;—unless his Maker interfere in some extraordinary way, he is doomed.

Yet his intellect does not stay its growth, because he is the slave of sin. It opens; time passes; he learns perhaps various things; he may have good abilities, and be taught to cultivate them. He may have engaging manners; anyhow he is light-hearted and merry, as boys are. He is gradually educated for the world; he forms his own judgments; chooses his principles, and is moulded to a certain character. That character may be more, or it may be less amiable; it may have much or little of natural virtue: it matters not—the mischief is within; it is done, and it spreads. The devil is unloosed and abroad in him. For a while {11} he used some sort of prayers, but he has left them off; they were but a form, and he had no heart for them; why should he continue them? and what was the use of them? and what the obligation? So he has reasoned; and he has acted upon his reasoning, and ceased to pray. Perhaps this was his first sin, that original mortal sin, which threw him out of grace—a disbelief in the power of prayer. As a child, he refused to pray, and argued that he was too old to pray, and that his parents did not pray. He gave prayer up, and in came the devil, and took possession of him, and made himself at home, and revelled in his heart.

Poor child! Every day adds fresh and fresh mortal sins to his account; the pleadings of grace have less and less effect upon him; he breathes the breath of evil, and day by day becomes more fatally corrupted. He has cast off the thought of God, and set up self in His place. He has rejected the traditions of religion which float about him, and has chosen instead the more congenial traditions of the world, to be the guide of his life. He is confident in his own views, and does not suspect that evil is before him, and in his path. He learns to scoff at serious men and serious things, catches at any story circulated against them, and speaks positively when he has no means of judging or knowing. The less he believes of revealed doctrine, the wiser he thinks himself to be. Or, if his natural temper keeps him from becoming hard-hearted, still from easiness and from imitation he joins in mockery of holy persons and holy things, as far as {12} they come across him. He is sharp and ready, and humorous, and employs these talents in the cause of Satan. He has a secret antipathy to religious truths and religious doings, a disgust which he is scarcely aware of, and could not explain, if he were. So was it with Cain, the eldest born of Adam, who went on to murder his brother, because his works were just. So was it with those poor boys at Bethel who mocked the great prophet Eliseus, crying out, Go up, thou bald head! Anything serves the purpose of a scoff and taunt to the natural man, when irritated by the sight of religion.

O my brethren, I might go on to mention those other more loathsome and more hidden wickednesses which germinate and propagate within him, as time proceeds, and life opens on him. Alas! who shall sound the depths of that evil whose wages is death? O what a dreadful sight to look on is this fallen world, specious and fair outside, plausible in its professions, ashamed of its own sins and hiding them, yet a mass of corruption under the surface! Ashamed of its sins, yet not confessing to itself that they are sins, but defending them if conscience upbraids, and perhaps boldly saying, or at least implying, that, if an impulse be allowable in itself, it must be always right in an individual, nay, that self-gratification is its own warrant, and that temptation is the voice of God. Why should I attempt to analyze the intermingling influences, or to describe the combined power, of pride and lust,—lust exploring a way to evil, and pride fortifying the road,—till the first elementary truths {13} of Revelation are looked upon as mere nursery tales? No, I have intended nothing more than to put wretched nature upon its course, as I may call it, and there to leave it, my brethren, to your reflections, to that individual comment which each of you may be able to put on this faint delineation, realising in your own mind and your own conscience what no words can duly set forth.

His secular course proceeds: the boy has become a man; he has taken up a profession or a trade; he has fair success in it; he marries, as his father did before him. He plays his part in the scene of mortal life; his connexions extend as he gets older: whether in a higher or a lower sphere of society, he has his reputation and his influence: the reputation and the influence of, we will say, a sensible, prudent, and shrewd man. His children grow up around him; middle age is over,—his sun declines in the heavens. In the balance and by the measure of the world, he is come to an honourable and venerable old age; he has been a child of the world, and the world acknowledges and praises him. But what is he in the balance of heaven? What shall we say of God's judgment of him? What about his soul?—about his soul? Ah, his soul; he had forgotten that; he had forgotten he had a soul, but it remains from first to last in the sight of its Maker. Posuisti sęculum nostrum in illuminatione vultūs Tui; "Thou hast placed our life in the illumination of Thy countenance." Alas! alas! about his soul the world knows, the world cares, nought; it does not recognise the soul; it owns nothing in him but an intellect {14} manifested in a mortal frame; it cares for the man while he is here, it loses sight of him when he is there. Still the time is coming when he is leaving here, and will find himself there; he is going out of sight, amid the shadows of that unseen world, about which the visible world is so sceptical; so, it concerns us who have a belief in that unseen world, to inquire, "How fares it all this while with his soul?" Alas! he has had pleasures and satisfactions in life, he has, I say, a good name among men; he sobered his views as life went on, and he began to think that order and religion were good things, that a certain deference was to be paid to the religion of his country, and a certain attendance to be given to its public worship; but he is still, in our Lord's words, nothing else but a whited sepulchre; he is foul within with the bones of the dead and all uncleanness. All the sins of his youth, never repented of, never really put away, his old profanenesses, his impurities, his animosities, his idolatries, are rotting with him; only covered over and hidden by successive layers of newer and later sins. His heart is the home of darkness, it has been handled, defiled, possessed by evil spirits; he is a being without faith, and without hope; if he holds anything for truth, it is only as an opinion, and if he has a sort of calmness and peace, it is the calmness, not of heaven, but of decay and dissolution. And now his old enemy has thrust aside his good Angel, and is sitting near him; rejoicing in his victory, and patiently waiting for his prey; not tempting him to fresh sins lest they should disturb his conscience, {15} but simply letting well alone; letting him amuse himself with shadows of faith, shadows of piety, shadows of worship; aiding him readily in dressing himself up in some form of religion which may satisfy the weakness of his declining age, as knowing well that he cannot last long, that his death is a matter of time, and that he shall soon be able to carry him down with him to his fiery dwelling.

O how awful! and at last the inevitable hour is come. He dies—he dies quietly—his friends are satisfied about him. They return thanks that God has taken him, has released him from the troubles of life and the pains of sickness; "a good father," they say, "a good neighbour," "sincerely lamented," "lamented by a large circle of friends." Perhaps they add, "dying with a firm trust in the mercy of God;"—nay, he has need of something beyond mercy, he has need of some attribute which is inconsistent with perfection, and which is not, cannot be, in the All-glorious, All-holy God;—"with a trust," forsooth, "in the promises of the Gospel," which never were his, or were early forfeited. And then, as time travels on, every now and then is heard some passing remembrance of him, respectful or tender; but he all the while (in spite of this false world, and though its children will not have it so, and exclaim, and protest, and are indignant when so solemn a truth is hinted at), he is lifting up his eyes, being in torment, and lies "buried in hell."

Such is the history of a man in a state of nature, or in a state of defection, to whom the Gospel has never {16} been a reality, in whom the good seed has never taken root, on whom God's grace has been shed in vain, with whom it has never prevailed so far as to make him seek His face and to ask for those higher gifts which lead to heaven. Such is his dark record. But I have spoken of only one man: alas! my dear brethren, it is the record of thousands; it is, in one shape or other, the record of all the children of the world. "As soon as they are born," the wise man says, "they forthwith have ceased to be, and they are powerless to show any sign of virtue, and are wasted away in their wickedness." They may be rich or poor, learned or ignorant, polished or rude, decent outwardly and self-disciplined, or scandalous in their lives,—but at bottom they are all one and the same; they have not faith, they have not love; they are impure, they are proud; they all agree together very well, both in opinions and in conduct; they see that they agree; and this agreement they take as a proof that their conduct is right and their opinions true. Such as is the tree, such is the fruit; no wonder the fruit is the same in all when it comes of the same root of unregenerate, unrenewed nature; but they consider it good and wholesome, because it is matured in so many; and they chase away, as odious, unbearable, and horrible, the pure and heavenly doctrine of Revelation, because it is so severe upon themselves. No one likes bad news, no one welcomes what condemns him; the world slanders the Truth in self-defence, because the Truth denounces the world.

My brethren, if these things be so, or rather (for {17} this is the point here), if we, Catholics, firmly believe them to be so, so firmly believe them, that we feel it would be happy for us to die rather than doubt them, is it wonderful, does it require any abstruse explanation, that men minded as we are should come into the midst of a population such as this, and into a neighbourhood where religious error has sway, and where corruption of life prevails both as its cause and as its consequence—a population, not worse indeed than the rest of the world, but not better; not better, because it has not with it the gift of Catholic truth; not purer, because it has not within it that gift of grace which alone can destroy impurity; a population, sinful, I am certain, given to unlawful indulgences, laden with guilt and exposed to eternal ruin, because it is not blessed with that Presence of the Word Incarnate, which diffuses sweetness, and tranquillity, and chastity over the heart;—is it a thing to be marvelled at, that we begin to preach to such a population as this, for which Christ died, and try to convert it to Him and to His Church? Is it necessary to ask for reasons? is it necessary to assign motives of this world, for a proceeding which is so natural in those who believe in the announcements and requirements of the other? My dear brethren, if we are sure that the Most Holy Redeemer has shed His blood for all men, is it not a very plain and simple consequence that we, His servants, His brethren, His priests, should be unwilling to see that blood shed in vain,—wasted I may say, as regards you, and should wish to make you partakers of those benefits which have {18} been vouchsafed to ourselves? Is it necessary for any bystander to call us vain-glorious, or ambitious, or restless, greedy of authority, fond of power, resentful, party-spirited, or the like, when here is so much more powerful, more present, more influential a motive to which our eagerness and zeal may be ascribed? What is so powerful an incentive to preaching as the sure belief that it is the preaching of the truth? What so constrains to the conversion of souls, as the consciousness that they are at present in guilt and in peril? What so great a persuasive to bring men into the Church, as the conviction that it is the special means by which God effects the salvation of those whom the world trains in sin and unbelief? Only admit us to believe what we profess, and surely that is not asking a great deal (for what have we done that we should be distrusted?)—only admit us to believe what we profess, and you will understand without difficulty what we are doing. We come among you, because we believe there is but one way of salvation, marked out from the beginning, and that you are not walking along it; we come among you as ministers of that extraordinary grace of God, which you need; we come among you because we have received a great gift from God ourselves, and wish you to be partakers of our joy; because it is written, "Freely ye have received, freely give;" because we dare not hide in a napkin those mercies, and that grace of God, which have been given us, not for our own sake only, but for the benefit of others.

Such a zeal, poor and feeble though it be in us, has {19} been the very life of the Church, and the breath of her preachers and missionaries in all ages. It was a fire such as this which brought our Lord from heaven, and which He desired, which He travailed, to communicate to all around Him. "I am come to send fire on the earth," He says, "and what will I, but that it be kindled?" Such, too, was the feeling of the great Apostle to whom his Lord appeared in order to impart to him this fire. "I send thee to the Gentiles," He had said to him on his conversion, "to open their eyes, that they may be converted from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." And, accordingly, he at once began to preach to them, that they should do penance, and turn to God with worthy fruits of penance, "for," as he says, "the charity of Christ constrained him," and he was "made all things to all that he might save all," and he "bore all for the elect's sake, that they might obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with heavenly glory." Such, too, was the fire of zeal which burned within those preachers, to whom we English owe our Christianity. What brought them from Rome to this distant isle and to a barbarous people, amid many fears, and with much suffering, but the sovereign uncontrollable desire to save the perishing, and to knit the members and slaves of Satan into the body of Christ? This has been the secret of the propagation of the Church from the very first, and will be to the end; this is why the Church, under the grace of God, to the surprise of the world, converts the nations, and why no sect can do the like; this is why Catholic missionaries {20} throw themselves so generously among the fiercest savages, and risk the most cruel torments, as knowing the worth of the soul, as realising the world to come, as loving their brethren dearly, though they never saw them, as shuddering at the thought of the eternal woe, and as desiring to increase the fruit of their Lord's passion, and the triumphs of His grace.

We, my brethren, are not worthy to be named in connexion with Evangelists, Saints, and Martyrs; we come to you in a peaceable time and in a well-ordered state of society, and recommended by that secret awe and reverence, which, say what they will, Englishmen for the most part, or in good part, feel for that Religion of their fathers, which has left in the land so many memorials of its former sway. It requires no great zeal in us, no great charity, to come to you at no risk, and entreat you to turn from the path of death, and be saved. It requires nothing great, nothing heroic, nothing saint-like; it does but require conviction, and that we have, that the Catholic Religion is given from God for the salvation of mankind, and that all other religions are but mockeries; it requires nothing more than faith, a single purpose, an honest heart, and a distinct utterance. We come to you in the name of God; we ask no more of you than that you would listen to us; we ask no more than that you would judge for yourselves whether or not we speak God's words; it shall rest with you whether we be God's priests and prophets or no. This is not much to ask, but it is more than most men will grant; they do not dare listen to us, they are {21} impatient through prejudice, or they dread conviction. Yes! many a one there is, who has even good reason to listen to us, nay, on whom we have a claim to be heard, who ought to have a certain trust in us, who yet shuts his ears, and turns away, and chooses to hazard eternity without weighing what we have to say. How frightful is this! but you are not, you cannot be such; we ask not your confidence, my brethren, for you have never known us: we are not asking you to take for granted what we say, for we are strangers to you; we do but simply bid you first to consider that you have souls to be saved, and next to judge for yourselves, whether, if God has revealed a religion of His own whereby to save those souls, that religion can be any other than the faith which we preach.

[Preached 2 Feb 1849, at the opening of the Oratory at Alcester Street—Ian Ker, John Henry Newman, p. 342.]

Top | Contents | Works | Home

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