Lecture 13. On Preaching the Gospel

{312} IT may be asked, What was the fault of the Jews in their use of their Law, which led them to reject Christ when He came? That Law was from God; they honoured it as such; they were told to adhere to it, and they did adhere; they thanked God for it; they thanked God for the power of obeying it; they thanked God for the electing grace which had given them in it a pledge of His favour above the rest of mankind. All this surely, it may be said, was right and praiseworthy; it was proceeding in the way of God's commandments, and seemed to promise, that when His perfect truth was revealed, it would be obeyed as dutifully as that portion of it which had already been given. This might have been expected; yet when Christ came, He was rejected.

We all know how to answer this question, viz. by explaining that the Jews considered their Law, not imperfect, as it was, but perfect; not as a means, but as the end. They rested in it, and though they nominally expected a Messiah, they did not in their thoughts place Him above the Law, or consider Him the Lord of the Law, but made their Law everything, and "the Desire of all nations" nothing. He was the true mode of approaching God, the sole Justifier of the soul; they considered their Law to be such. And so, in the words {313} of the Apostle, "they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, did not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God." They imagined that they could be both justified and sanctified by the Law, whereas Christ was the end of the Law both for holiness and acceptance. Now it is a very common charge against the Ancient and Catholic view of the Gospel, that it throws us back into a Jewish state, and subjects us to the dominion of the Law. On the other hand, from various remarks made in the course of these Lectures, it may be seen that that modern system, whose very life and breath (as I may say) consist in the maintenance of this charge, is itself not altogether free from the error which it denounces. Rather, as I would maintain, it is deeply imbued with it, having fallen, after the usual manner of self-appointed champions and reformers, into the evil which it professed to remedy. This, then, shall be our subject in this concluding Lecture, in which I shall suggest some remarks on the imputation of legalism, as it is called, wrongly urged against Catholic Truth, rightly urged against Protestant error;—not that I propose to enter upon a formal discussion of it, which would carry us far away from our main subject.


1. It may be objected, then, that as Judaism interposed the Mosaic Law between the soul and Christ, turning a means into an end, a resting-place into an abode, so the Christian Church, Ancient and Catholic, also obscures the sight and true worship of Him, and {314} that, by insisting on Creeds, on Rites, and on Works;—that by its Creeds it leads to Bigotry, by its Rites to Formality, and by its doctrine concerning Works to Self-righteousness. Such is the charge.

Now here I most fully grant that those who in their thoughts substitute a Creed, or a Ritual, or external obedience, for Christ, do resemble the Jews. Nay, I do not care to deny (what, however, I leave it for others to prove), that there are, and have been, Catholic Christians open to the charge of forgetting the "One Thing needful," in their over-anxiety about correct faith, ceremonial observances, or acts of charity and piety. But I will say this:—that, on the face of the case, such an error is a great inconsistency; and no system can be made answerable for consequences which flow from a neglect of its own provisions. When, for instance, the Church bids us be accurate in what we hold concerning the Person of Christ, she is thereby declaring that Christ is the Object of our worship; when she bids us frequent His House, she implies that He is in it; when she says, good works are acceptable, she means acceptable to Him. The Church has never laid it down that we are justified by Orthodoxy only, or by Baptism only, or by Works only; much less by some certain spiritual feelings or experiences; and less still has she decided that to believe this was the one fundamental truth of religion. And if this be turned into a charge against her, that whereas there is One only Saviour Invisible, she has made the visible instruments and means of approaching Him many, and so by their very multiplicity has hidden Him, I reply, that if this were a fair argument, it ought {315} to tell against the Mosaic Law also, as if its divinely appointed ceremonies themselves were to blame for the blindness of the Jews; but if the Jews themselves were in fault, and not their Law, so there is no antecedent objection against Catholic Christianity, (and such objections only have I here to consider), for its insisting on Baptism and Orthodoxy and Works, and many things more, even though in individual cases it has occasioned forgetfulness of Him, by whom these conditions and channels of grace have been appointed.

So much at first sight: now let us descend into particulars.


(1.) As to the doctrine of works leading to self-righteousness, I pass it over here, though much might be said about it, both because I have incidentally answered the charge in the foregoing Lectures, and in various Sermons, and because it is a mere theory set up to frighten the mind from strict obedience, which a man will best refute for himself, by obeying, and trying whether he becomes self-righteous, except so far as all we are and all we do will be used as weapons against our souls by our spiritual enemy, unless we are on our guard. So I pass on.

(2.) Next, as to the Creeds of the Church; I grant that the Athanasian Creed certainly may be taken by careless readers to imply that orthodoxy is the ultimate end of religion; but surely it will seem otherwise on due consideration. For no one can deny, looking at it as a whole, that it is occupied in glorifying Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in declaring Their infinite perfections; so much so, that it has sometimes been considered what it {316} really is in form, a Psalm or Hymn of Praise to the Blessed Trinity, as the Te Deum is, rather than a Creed. Nay, this is its characteristic, not only in its general structure, but in its direct enunciation of the Sacred Mystery; which is put forth not as an end in itself, but evidently in order to glorify God in His incomprehensible majesty, and to warn us of the danger of thinking of Him in a chance way, and of speculating concerning Him without reverence. For instance, it begins by stating that the purpose of the Catholic Faith is, not intellectual accuracy, but "that we worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;" and ends its confession with a similar intimation, that "in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped." And this agrees with what we know historically, that doctrinal statements on these high subjects are negative rather than positive; intended to forbid speculations, which are sure to spring up in the human mind, and to anticipate its attempts at systematic views by showing the ultimate abyss at which all rightly conducted inquiries arrive, not to tell us anything definite and real, which we did not know before, or which is beyond the faith of the most unlearned. Or, again, they are safeguards, summing up in brief what the whole Scripture doctrine on the subject implies, and thus directing us as landmarks in speaking and teaching on the subject. Thus, for instance, the statement "Not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God," has somewhat the same drift as the formula of "justification by faith only," as explained by Melanchthon and adopted by our Church; except that the latter {317} expresses a principle, and the former a fact. However, they both are framed by the mind's reflecting, in the latter case on Christ's work, in the former on His Person. By resting on our mere knowledge of the one or the other, and making the statement itself our end, we become bigots; and not less in the latter case than in the former. As, then, the doctrine of justification, as held by our Church, is not answerable for such abuse of itself, neither, on the other hand, is the statement in the Athanasian Creed. Each may be used as a touchstone or measure of doctrine; neither has a direct and immediate reference to practice. I shall say no more on this part of the subject either; but pass on to the consideration of the Ordinances.

(3.) The Ordinances of the Church then are specially accused of detaining the worshipper from Him towards whom they profess to lead, and of causing formality and superstition. Now it must be borne in mind, that whether our doctrine concerning them is superstitious or not, depends simply on the circumstance whether it is true or not. If it be not true, I grant it becomes ipso facto superstitious. To ascribe regeneration to the Word and Water in Baptism, is either a Scripture duty, or a virtual breach of the second commandment.

Superstition is the substitution of human for divine means of approaching God. Before He has spoken, it is religious to approach Him in what seems the most acceptable way; but the same principle which leads a pious mind to devise ordinances, when none are given, will lead it, under a Revelation, to adhere to those which are given. He who made the creature, gives it its uses; {318} He can make bread of stones, or bid the fig-tree wither. Things are what He makes them, and we must not "make to ourselves," lest we make idols. Thus it was a superstition in the Jews to use other than the appointed rites under the Law, and a superstition to observe those rites under the Gospel; a superstition to sacrifice to Baal then, and to keep the Sabbath now. It was a superstition to worship graven images, no superstition to "rise up and worship" towards "the cloudy pillar" when it "descended." [Exod. xxxiii. 10.] It is a superstition in the Christian Church to assign such a virtue to penance or to an indulgence as Christ has not given; it is a superstition to pay an honour to images, which Christ has forbidden. Superstition, then, keeps the mind from Christ, because it originates in a plain act of self-will: a rite is not properly superstitious, unless it is such will-worship. And hence it is but one form of presumptuousness or profaneness, as the history of the Jews shows us. It is superstitious to ascribe power to the creature where God has not given it; and profane to deny it where He has. If then, to look for regeneration through Baptism be superstitious, as it would be, supposing God has not made Baptism the channel of it, so, if He has, it is profane not to look for it through that rite. The question lies in this alternative of profaneness or superstition. If the Catholic doctrine be true, it is not superstitious; if the Anti-catholic be not true, it is profane. This is the real state of the case, and can be settled only by an appeal to the matter of fact, whether the doctrine is or is not revealed. Hence it is plainly nugatory to urge against us that our {319} ordinances are superstitious, for this is (what is called) "to beg the question." The only real definition of a superstitious ordinance is, that it is one which God has actually or virtually forbidden; so the objection when drawn out will really stand thus:—"The Catholic ordinances are mere inventions of man because they are superstitious; and they are superstitious, because they are not divine appointments." When they are proved to be not divine, we will grant, without the intermediate step, that they are human.

However, it may be objected that we are open to the charge of formality at least, whatever difficulties may beset the question of superstition; that any system of religion which so multiplies and diversifies its visible means of grace, as thereby to deny the direct communion of God with the soul, effectually shuts out the thought of Him; that it makes the worshipper practically dependent on things sensible, and introduces a Pantheistic spirit into the Gospel. Whatever be the force of this antecedent objection in a question of fact, such as that concerning the contents of a Revelation, let those answer to whom it applies. If there be a Church system anywhere, which makes itself co-extensive with the Gospel Dispensation, which professes to be the mirror of all that passes before the Divine Mind, and the organ of His diversified dealings with the conscience of man, which keeps pace with what is infinite and eternal, and exhausts the Abyss of grace, such a system is certainly open to the objection. And as far as any theology, such as that of the Roman Schools, has approximated to such an assumption in practice, so far it is concerned to {320} answer it. But how does it apply to our own, which on the face of it has never so represented the Church's office, or claimed for her so vast a delegation of power? It is often said of us, by way of reproach, that we leave Dissenters to the "uncovenanted mercies of God;" nay, in a sense, we leave ourselves; there is not one of us but has exceeded by transgressions the revealed Ritual, and finds himself in consequence thrown upon those infinite resources of Divine Love which are stored in Christ, but have not been drawn out into form in the appointments of the Gospel. How can we be said to place the Church instead of Christ, who say that there is no other ordained method on earth for the absolute pardon of sin but Baptism; and that Baptism cannot be repeated? Surely, while English divines deny the existence of any Sacrament like Baptism after Baptism, whatever objections are brought against them, they cannot be accused of substituting the Church for Christ.


But it may be said that the real objection to Forms lies, not in their number, be they many or few, nor in their being unauthorized, though this of course is all aggravation, but in this, that they are forms; that by a form is meant a standing rule, a permanent ordinance; and that it is this which keeps the soul from God, whatever degree of spiritual benefit, greater or less, be ascribed to the observance of it. Whatever Baptism be supposed to effect, if it effects anything, if it is necessary for any blessing, if it be of continual obligation in the Church, so far it throws a shadow, not light, upon her. {321}

All we mean by one thing being the cause of another, it may be said, is its being its invariable antecedent. As we all call the Sun the cause of summer, because its presence is the one necessary condition of summer, with as good a reason may Baptism be called the cause of regeneration, if it must always precede regeneration. And if even educated persons are found to consider the Sun the cause of light, and forget God, much more will the imagination of the multitude practically substitute Baptism for regeneration. Accordingly this, it may be argued, is the great advantage of considering preaching as the ordinary means of regeneration and conversion, that it obviates the possibility of an invariable condition, and the formality consequent thereupon. Preaching cannot be called a form, because it is not of a permanent and uniform character. Preachers rise and fall, come and go; no two are alike; no two speak in the same way; they allow us the liberty of judging for ourselves concerning them, and of depending on our own convictions. They do but stimulate and feed our mind,—they do not oppress it with a yoke of bondage. They are amenable to their flocks; and are honoured, not for their office-sake, but for their usefulness; whereas the ministers and rites of the Church are idols, worse than pagan, because the worshipper cannot break them at his will.

Now it is plain that such a line of reasoning would prove, did not our senses convince us otherwise, that the Sun could not be constituted as the fountain of light and heat. Were the arguments for considering Baptism an ordained means of grace ever so insufficient, the danger {322} of its superstitious use would be no proof against its being so ordained, while the miserable idolatries are on record which have been directed towards the Sun. Moreover, this argument from the abuse of a thing against the use, comes with a bad grace from an age, in which, more than in any other, the powers of nature are extolled to the neglect of Divine Providence and Governance. If the doctrines of the Church are chargeable with having led to reliance on the creature, are not the useful arts much more? Does not Baptism, even when most mistaken and abused, remind us more of heaven, than do those physical sciences, and mechanical and other inventions, which are now regarded as almost the long sought summum bonum of the species? If Catholic teaching has led to superstition, has not the new philosophy led to profaneness?

This objection is still more unreasonable when applied to the visible instruments of religion, because neither under the Law nor under the Gospel have they been, strictly speaking, of an abiding nature, not permanent in actual and material form; but only in the abstract ordinance. The means, through which the gifts are conveyed, are transitory; as our Lord's appearances after His resurrection. His glory in the cloud, at which the people "rose up and worshipped," was but now and then and according to his will; the manna might not be kept till the morning; again, of the Paschal Lamb nothing was to remain till the morning; and the Brazen Serpent, which for a moment they were bid "look upon," that they might live, became an idol on being kept, and was broken by Hezekiah because honoured "unto those days," {323} and therefore, as was thereby necessarily implied, not as a mere symbol, but for its own sake, and with idolatrous worship. In like manner our ordinances are transitory; and it is remarkable, that the imputation of idolatry cast by Protestants upon the Church of Rome mainly arises from her giving a permanence to objects or instruments of devotion, as an examination of her religious observances obviously suggests.

Moreover, it may fairly be questioned whether religion does not necessarily imply the belief in such sensible tokens of God's favour, as the Sacraments are accounted by the Church. Religion is of a personal nature, and implies the acknowledgment of a particular Providence, of a God speaking, not mercy to the world at large, but to this person or that, to me and not to another. The Sacred Volume is a common possession, and speaks to one man as much and as little as to his neighbour. Our nature requires something special; and if we refuse what has been actually given, we shall be sure to adopt what has not been given. We shall set up calves at Dan and Bethel, if we give up the true Temple and the Apostolic Ministry. This we see fulfilled before our eyes in many ways; those who will not receive Baptism as the token of God's election, have recourse to certain supposed experiences of it in their hearts. This is the idolatry of a refined age, in which the superstitions of barbarous times displease, in consequence of their grossness. Men congratulate themselves on their emancipation from forms and their enlightened worship, when they are but in the straight course to a worse captivity, {324} and are exchanging dependence on the creature for dependence on self.


2. And thus we are led to the consideration of the opposite side of the question before us, that is, whether at this day it is not rather the accusing party itself than the Church that is accused, to which the charge of Judaism properly attaches. At first sight a suggestion of this kind will look like a refinement, or as only a sharp retort urged in controversy, and not to be seriously dwelt on. But I wish it dwelt on most seriously, and if rejected, rejected after being dwelt on. I observe, then, that what the Jews felt concerning their Law, is exactly what many upholders of the tenet of "faith only," feel concerning what they consider faith; that they substitute faith for Christ; that they so regard it, that instead of being the way to Him, it is in the way; that they make it a something to rest in; nay, that they alter the meaning of the word, as the Jews altered the meaning of the word Law; in short, that, under the pretence of light and liberty, they have brought into the Gospel the narrow, minute, technical, nay, I will say carnal and hollow system of the Pharisees. Let me explain what I mean.

I would say this then:—that a system of doctrine has risen up during the last three centuries, in which faith or spiritual-mindedness is contemplated and rested on as the end of religion instead of Christ. I do not mean to say that Christ is not mentioned as the Author of all good, but that stress is laid rather on the believing {325} than on the Object of belief, on the comfort and persuasiveness of the doctrine rather than on the doctrine itself. And in this way religion is made to consist in contemplating ourselves instead of Christ; not simply in looking to Christ, but in ascertaining that we look to Christ, not in His Divinity and Atonement, but in our conversion and our faith in those truths.

Of course nothing is more natural or suitable than for a Christian to describe and dwell on the difference between one who believes and one who does not believe. The fault here spoken of is the giving to our ''experiences" a more prominent place in our thoughts than to the nature, attributes, and work of Him from whom they profess to come,—the insisting on them as a special point for the consideration of all who desire to be recognized as converted and elect. When men are to be exhorted to newness of life, the true Object to be put before them, as I conceive, is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever;" the true Gospel preaching is to enlarge, as they can bear it, on the Person, natures, attributes, offices, and work of Him who once regenerated them, and is now ready to pardon; to dwell upon His recorded words and deeds on earth; to declare reverently and adoringly His mysterious greatness as the Only-begotten Son, One with the Father, yet distinct from Him; of Him, yet not apart from Him; eternal, yet begotten; a Son, yet as if a servant; and to combine and to contrast His attributes and relations to us as God and man, as our Mediator, Saviour, Sanctifier, and Judge. The true preaching of the Gospel is to preach Christ. But the fashion of the day has been, {326} instead of this, to preach conversion; to attempt to convert by insisting on conversion; to exhort men to undergo a change; to tell them to be sure they look at Christ, instead of simply holding up Christ to them; to tell them to have faith, rather than to supply its Object; to lead them to stir up and work up their minds, instead of impressing on them the thought of Him who can savingly work in them; to bid them take care that their faith is justifying, not dead, formal, self-righteous, and merely moral, whereas the image of Christ fully delineated of itself destroys deadness, formality, and self-righteousness; to rely on words, vehemence, eloquence, and the like, rather than to aim at conveying the one great evangelical idea whether in words or not. And thus faith and (what is called) spiritual-mindedness are dwelt on as ends, and obstruct the view of Christ, just as the Law was perverted by the Jews.


I will take two passages from writers of the last century, out of a hundred which might be selected, in illustration of this over-earnest dwelling upon the state of our minds, with a view to effect in us real and spiritual conversion.

The following is an extract from a letter addressed to a person ignorant of the truth, and whom the writer was endeavouring to enlighten. After having mentioned the doctrine of the Trinity, he says, "I believe, that, whatever notions a person may take up from education or system, no one ever did, or ever will, feel himself and own himself to be such a lost, miserable, hateful sinner, {327} unless he be powerfully and supernaturally convinced by the Spirit of God." Doubtless; but the question is whether we should simply preach the doctrine of the Trinity, trusting to God to rescue it from being a mere notion, and to bring it home with power to the mind, or whether we are more likely to prevent its being a notion by cautioning men against its being a notion. To proceed: "There is, when God pleases, a certain light thrown into the soul, which differs not merely in degree, but in kind, toto genere, from anything that can be effected or produced by moral suasion or argument. But, (to take in another of your queries), the Holy Spirit teaches or reveals no new truths, either of doctrine or precept, but only enables us to understand what is already revealed in Scripture." Most true; but to tell a person so is not the way to convert him. We do not affect people by telling them to weep or laugh; let us preach Christ, and leave the effect to God, to prosper it or not. He continues: "Here a change takes place; the person that was spiritually blind begins to see. The sinner's character, as described in the word of God, he finds to be a description of himself; that he is afar off, a stranger, a rebel; that he has hitherto lived in vain. Now he begins to see the necessity of an Atonement, an Advocate, a Shepherd, a Comforter; he can no more trust to his own wisdom, strength, and goodness; but accounting all his former gain but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, he renounces every other refuge, and ventures his all upon the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer … Without this awakened state of mind a divine, reputed orthodox, will blunder {328} wretchedly even in defending his own opinions." [Note 1] Now that no effect follows upon such representations I am very far from saying; experience shows the contrary. But for the most part it will be produced by sympathy, and will consist in imitation. Men will feel this and that, because they are told to feel it, because they think they ought to feel it, because others say they feel it themselves; not spontaneously, as the consequence of the objects presented to them. And hence the absence of nature, composure, unobtrusiveness, healthy and unstudied feeling, variety and ease of language, among those who are thus converted, even when that conversion is sincere. Convulsions are in their view the only real manifestation of spiritual life and strength.

The other passage which I proposed to quote runs as follows:—"Beware of mistaking mere external works for true holiness. Holiness is seated in the heart; every act receives its goodness from the principles from which it flows, and the end to which it is directed. The external works of the generally esteemed, devout, decent, and charitable, are usually as far from being acts of real holiness, as any of the enormities of those who proclaim their shame as avowed children of disobedience: they proceed from as unrenewed hearts, from as unchristian tempers, and are directed to as unsanctified ends." Still, supposing it, the question is whether one tends ever so little {329} to escape the danger of having counterfeit holiness instead of true in consequence of this sort of warning. Just the reverse; the more you fasten men's thoughts on themselves, the more you lead them to unconscious show, pretence, and duplicity. To proceed: "You may attend your Church twice on Sunday; you may go on weekdays too. You may frequent the Sacrament. You may say prayer in your house and alone. You may read the Psalms and Lessons for the day. You may be 'no extortioner or unjust.' You may be in many things unlike other men; neither given to swear, nor drink, nor lewdness, nor extravagance. You may be a tender parent, a careful master, and what the world calls an honest man; yea, you may withal be very liberal to the poor; be regarded in the world as a pattern of piety and charity, and respected as one of the best sort of people in it; and yet, with all this, be the very character, which, 'though highly esteemed amongst men, is an abomination in the sight of God.'

"For if you have never seen" (not your Saviour, but) "your 'desperately wicked heart,'—been united to Christ" (by His love and grace? no, but) "by faith,—renounced your own righteousness to be found in Him, and receive from Him newness," (receive, as if the great thing was not His giving but our taking), "if you know not experimentally what is meant by 'fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ;'" (observe, not "if you have not fellowship," but "if you know not you have;" and this self-seeking, as it may be truly called, is named experimental religion;) "if your devotion hath not been inspired 'by faith which worketh by love;' if your {330} worship hath not been in 'spirit and truth,' from a real sense of your wants, and an earnest desire and expectation of receiving from Him 'in whom all fulness dwells;' if this hath not been your case, your devotions have been unmeaning ceremony, your book, not your heart, hath spoken: and instead of the fervent effectual prayer of the righteous man, your babblings have been no better than the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal." [Note 2] Poor miserable captives, to whom such doctrine is preached as the Gospel! What! is this the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and wherein we stand, the home of our own thoughts, the prison of our own sensations, the province of self, a monotonous confession of what we are by nature, not what Christ is in us, and a resting at best not on His love towards us, but in our faith towards Him! This is nothing but a specious idolatry; a man thus minded does not simply think of God when he prays to Him, but is observing whether he feels properly or not; does not believe and obey, but considers it enough to be conscious that he is what he calls warm and spiritual; does not contemplate the grace of the Blessed Eucharist, the Body and Blood of His Saviour Christ, except—O shameful and fearful error!—except as a quality of his own mind [Note 3]. {331}

Even Luther, in his zeal against the undue estimation of works in his own day, teaches his followers a lesson {332} here. Commenting on the text, "Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," He uses the following energetic words:—"[Note 4] Here," says he, "the Apostle clearly shows how he lives; and he teaches what Christian righteousness is, viz. that with which Christ lives in us, not that which is in our own person. And so when we treat of Christian righteousness, we must altogether put away our person … If I look at myself only, Christ being excluded, it is over with me. For then immediately the thought comes across me, 'Christ is in heaven, thou upon earth, how wilt thou now come to Him?' I will live spiritually, and do as the Law demands, and so as to enter into life. Here reflecting on myself, and considering what is the quality of my mind, or what it ought to be, also what I ought to do, I let go Christ from my eyes, who is my sole righteousness and life …We should accustom ourselves, turning from ourselves, in such distress of conscience, from the Law and works, which only force us to reflect on ourselves, simply to turn our eyes to the Brazen Serpent, Christ fixed to the Cross, on whom fixing our earnest gaze we may be sure that He is our righteousness and life." What Luther wrote against the conscience-stricken Catholic of his day, applies still more forcibly {333} to the unduly triumphant Protestant; for surely it is better not to have Christ and to mourn, than to let Him go and to think it gain.

To the same purpose is a passage from the Homily on Salvation:—"Our faith in Christ, as it were, saith unto us thus: It is not I that take away your sins, but it is Christ only, and to Him only I send you for that purpose, forsaking therein all your good virtues, words, thoughts, and works, and only putting your trust in Christ."


And now if we proceed to inquire where the real difference lies between this view, which our Church does hold, and that which pretends to be hers, it will be found to be this, which it is worth while insisting on;—that the Church considers the doctrine of justification by faith only to be a principle, and the religion of the day takes it as a rule of conduct. Principles are great truths or laws which embody in them the character of a system, enable us to estimate it, and indirectly guide us in practice. For instance, "all is of grace," is a great principle of the Gospel. So are the following:—"we conquer by suffering,"—"the saints of God are hidden,"—"obedience is of the spirit not of the letter,"—"the blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church,"—"to gain happiness we must not seek it." It is a characteristic of such statements of principles to be short, pointed, strong, and often somewhat paradoxical in appearance. Such, for example, is the political maxim, which has a clear and true meaning, but in form is startling, "The King can do no wrong;" or in physics, that "nature abhors a {334} vacuum." They are laws or exhibitions of general truths; and not directly practical. I mean, a man will be sure to get into difficulty or error if he attempts to use them as guides in matters of conduct and duty. They mean nothing, or something wide of the truth, taken as literal directions. They are like the Sun in the heavens, too high, too distant, to light your lamp by, though indirectly and secondarily useful even for that.

Proverbs, again, are of the same nature; we recognize their truth in the course of life, but we do not walk by them. They come after us, not go before. They confirm, they do not explore for us. They are reflections upon human conduct, not guides for it. Thus "honesty is the best policy," suggests the natural reward of honesty, not the way to be honest.

Such are principles:—rules, on the other hand, are adapted for immediate practice; they aim at utility, and are directed and moulded according to the end proposed, not by correctness of reasoning or analysis. We follow blindly; content, so that we arrive where we propose, whether we know how or not. We take them literally and without reasoning, and act upon them. Thus, if I ask my way, I shall be told, perhaps, to go first right forward, then to take a bend, then to watch for a hill or a river. There is no room for philosophy here; it were out of place; all is practical.

Now justification by faith only is a principle, not a rule of conduct; and the popular mistake is to view it as a rule. This is where men go wrong. They think that the long and the short of religion is to have faith; that is the whole, faith independent of every other duty; {335} a something which can exist in the mind by itself, and from which all other holy exercises follow;—faith, and then forthwith they will be justified; which will as surely mislead them as the great principle that "the Saints are hidden" would mislead such as took it for a rule, and thought by hiding themselves from the eyes of the world to become Saints. They who are justified, certainly are justified by faith; but having faith is not more truly the way to be justified, than being hidden is the way to be a Saint.

The doctrine of justifying faith is a summary of the whole process of salvation from first to last; a sort of philosophical analysis of the Gospel, a contemplation of it as a whole, rather than a practical direction. If it must be taken as a practical direction, and in a certain sense it may, then we must word it, not, "justification through faith," but, "justification by Christ." Thus, interpreted, the rule it gives is, "go to Christ;" but taken in the letter, it seems to say merely, "Get faith; become spiritual; see that you are not mere moralists, mere formalists, see that you feel. If you do not feel, Christ will profit you nothing: you must have a spiritual taste; you must see yourself to be a sinner; you must accept, apprehend, appropriate the gift; you must understand and acknowledge that Christ is the 'pearl of great price;' you must be conscious of a change wrought in you, for the most part going through the successive stages of darkness, trouble, error, light, and comfort." Thus the poor and sorrowful soul, instead of being led at once to the source of all good, is taught to make much of the conflict of truth and falsehood within itself as the {336} pledge of God's love, and to picture to itself faith, as a sort of passive quality which sits amid the ruins of human nature, and keeps up what may be called a silent protest, or indulges a pensive meditation over its misery. And, indeed, faith thus regarded cannot do more; for while it acts, not to lead the soul to Christ, but to detain it from him, how can the soul but remain a prisoner, in that legal or natural state described by the Apostle in the seventh of Romans?—a passage of Scripture which the upholders of this doctrine confess, nay boast that they feel to be peculiarly their own. Such is their first error, and a second obviously follows. True faith is what may be called colourless, like air or water; it is but the medium through which the soul sees Christ; and the soul as little really rests upon it and contemplates it, as the eye can see the air. When, then, men are bent on holding it (as it were) in their hands, curiously inspecting, analyzing, and so aiming at it, they are obliged to colour and thicken it, that it may be seen and touched. That is, they substitute for it something or other, a feeling notion, sentiment, conviction, or act of reason, which they may hang over, and doat upon. They rather aim at experiences (as they are called) within them, than at Him that is without them. They are led to enlarge upon the signs of conversion, the variations of their feelings, their aspirations and longings, and to tell all this to others;—to tell others how they fear, and hope, and sin, and rejoice, and renounce themselves, and rest in Christ only; how conscious they are that their best deeds are but "filthy rags," and all is of grace, till in fact they have little time left them to guard against what {337} they are condemning, and to exercise what they think they are so full of. Now men in a battle are brief-spoken; they realize their situation and are intent upon it. And men who are acted upon by news good or bad, or sights beautiful or fearful, admire, rejoice, weep, or are pained, but are moved spontaneously, not with a direct consciousness of their emotion. Men of elevated minds are not their own historians and panegyrists. So it is with faith and other Christian graces. Bystanders see our minds; but our minds, if healthy, see but the objects which possess them. As God's grace elicits our faith, so His holiness stirs our fear, and His glory kindles our love. Others may say of us "here is faith," and "there is conscientiousness," and "there is love;" but we can only say, "this is God's grace," and "that is His holiness," and "that is His glory."


And this being the difference between true faith and self-contemplation, no wonder that where the thought of self obscures the thought of God, prayer and praise languish, and only preaching flourishes. Divine worship is simply contemplating our Maker, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and Judge; but discoursing, conversing, making speeches, arguing, reading, and writing about religion, tend to make us forget Him in ourselves. The Ancients worshipped; they went out of their own minds into the Infinite Temple which was around them. They saw Christ in the Gospels, in the Creed, in the Sacraments and other Rites; in the visible structure and ornaments of His House, in the Altar, and in the Cross; and, not content with giving the service of their eyes, they gave {338} Him their voices, their bodies, and their time, gave up their rest by night and their leisure by day, all that could evidence the offering of their hearts to Him. Theirs was not a service once a week, or some one day, now and then, painfully, as if ambitiously and lavishly given to thanksgiving or humiliation; not some extraordinary address to the throne of grace, offered by one for many, when friends met, with much point and impressiveness, and as much like an exhortation, and as little like a prayer, as might be; but every day and every portion of the day was begun and sanctified with devotion. Consider those Seven Services of the Holy Church Catholic in her best ages, which, without encroaching upon her children's duties towards this world, secured them in their duties to the world unseen. Unwavering, unflagging, not urged by fits and starts, not heralding forth their feelings, but resolutely, simply, perseveringly, day after day, Sunday and week-day, fast-day and festival, week by week, season by season, year by year, in youth and in age, through a life, thirty years, forty years, fifty years, in prelude of the everlasting chant before the Throne,—so they went on, "continuing instant in prayer," after the pattern of Psalmists and Apostles, in the day with David, in the night with Paul and Silas, winter and summer, in heat and in cold, in peace and in danger, in a prison or in a cathedral, in the dark, in the day-break, at sun-rising, in the forenoon, at noon, in the afternoon, at eventide, and on going to rest, still they had Christ before them; His thought in their mind, his emblems in their eye, His name in their mouth, his service in their posture, magnifying Him, and {339} calling on all that lives to magnify Him, joining with Angels in heaven and Saints in Paradise to bless and praise Him for ever and ever. O great and noble system, not of the Jews who rested in their rights and privileges, not of those Christians who are taken up with their own feelings, and who describe what they should exhibit, but of the true Saints of God, the undefiled and virgin souls who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth! Such is the difference between those whom Christ praises and those whom He condemns or warns. The Pharisee recounted the signs of God's mercy upon and in Him; the Publican simply looked to God. The young Ruler boasted of his correct life, but the penitent woman anointed Jesus' feet and kissed them. Nay, holy Martha herself spoke of her "much service;" while Mary waited on Him for the "one thing needful." The one thought of themselves; the others thought of Christ. To look to Christ is to be justified by faith; to think of being justified by faith is to look from Christ and to fall from grace. He who worships Christ and works for Him, is acting out that doctrine which another does but enunciate; his worship and his works are acts of faith, and avail to his salvation, because he does not do them as availing.


But I must end a train of thought, which, left to itself would run on into a whole work. And in doing so I make one remark, which is perhaps the great moral of the history of Protestantism. Luther found in the {340} Church great moral corruptions countenanced by its highest authorities; he felt them; but instead of meeting them with divine weapons, he used one of his own. He adopted a doctrine original, specious, fascinating, persuasive, powerful against Rome, and wonderfully adapted, as if prophetically, to the genius of the times which were to follow. He found Christians in bondage to their works and observances; he released them by his doctrine of faith; and he left them in bondage to their feelings. He weaned them from seeking assurance of salvation in standing ordinances, at the cost of teaching them that a personal consciousness of it was promised to every one who believed. For outward signs of grace he substituted inward; for reverence towards the Church contemplation of self. And thus, whereas he himself held the proper efficacy of the Sacraments, he has led others to disbelieve it; whereas he preached against reliance on self, he introduced it in a more subtle shape; whereas he professed to make the written word all in all, he sacrificed it in its length and breadth to the doctrine which he had wrested from a few texts.

This is what comes of fighting God's battles in our own way, of extending truths beyond their measure, of anxiety after a teaching more compact, clear, and spiritual, than the Creed of the Apostles. Thus the Pharisees were more careful of their Law than God who gave it; thus Saul saved the cattle he was bid destroy, "to sacrifice to the Lord;" thus Judas was concerned at the waste of the ointment, which might have been given to the poor. In these cases bad men professed to be more zealous for {341} God's honour, more devotional, or more charitable, than the servants of God; and in a parallel way Protestants would be more spiritual. Let us be sure things are going wrong with us, when we see doctrines more clearly, and carry them out more boldly, than they are taught us in Revelation.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


1. Newton's Cardiphonia, Letter II. to Mr. S. Again: "As you tell me you never remember a time when you were not conscious before God of great unworthiness, and intervals of earnest endeavours to serve Him, though not with the same success, yet something in the same way as at present; this is but saying in other words, you never remember a time when old things passed away, and all things became new."
Return to text

2. Haweis' Sermons, p. 221-3.
Return to text

3. A remarkable contrast between our church's and this false view of religion is afforded in the respective modes of treating a death-bed in the Visitation of the Sick, and a popular modern work, the Dairyman's Daughter. The latter runs thus:—"My dear Friend, do you not FEEL that you are supported? The Lord deals very gently with me, she replied.—Are not His promises very precious to you? They are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus.—Are you in much bodily pain? So little, that I almost forget it.—How good the Lord is! And how unworthy am I ... Do you experience any doubts or temptations on the subject of your eternal safety? No, sir; the Lord deals very gently with me, and gives me peace.—What are your views of the dark valley of death, now that you are passing through it? It is not dark," etc. etc. Now, if it be said that such questions and answers are not only in their place innocent, but natural and beautiful, I answer, that this is not the point here, but this: viz. they are evidently intended, whatever their merits, as a pattern of what death-bed examinations should be. Such is the Visitation of the Sick in the 19th century. Now let us listen to the nervous and stern tone of the 16th. In the Prayer Book the Minister is instructed to say to the person visited,—"Forasmuch as after this life there is an account to be given unto the Righteous Judge, etc. … I require you to examine yourself and your estate, both towards God and man; so that, etc. Therefore I shall rehearse to you the Articles of our Faith, that you may know whether you do believe as a Christian man should, or no. Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty?" etc. ... After mentioning the Objects of faith, the Service proceeds to speak of the Works: "Then shall the Minister examine whether he repent him truly of his sins, and be in charity with all the world; exhorting him to forgive from the bottom of his heart all persons who have offended him; and if he hath offended any other to ask them forgiveness; and where he hath done injury or wrong to any man, that he make amends to the utmost of his power … The minister should not omit earnestly to move such sick persons as are of ability, to be liberal to the poor." Then the sick man is to be "moved to make a special confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter." Creeds and Works! let but Rites be added, and then we shall have all three offences, as men now speak, Bigotry, Superstition, and Self-righteousness; and in truth the third stumbling-block does follow. "After which Confession, the Priest shall absolve him, if he humbly and heartily desire it, after this sort; 'Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to His Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in Him,'" etc. Such is the contrast between the "dreamy talk" of modern Protestantism, and "holy fear's stern glow" in the Church Catholic.
Return to text

4. Ibi ostendit clare, quomodo vivat. Et docet, qu sit justitia Christiana, ea scilicet, qua Christus in nobis vivit, non qu est in persona nostra. Itaque cum disputandum est de justitia Christiana, prorsus abjicienda est persona. Nam si in persona hreo, val de ea dico, fit ex persona, velim, nolim, operarius Legi subjectus. Sed hic oportet Christum et conscientiam meam fieri unum corpus, ita ut in conspectu meo nihil maneat nisi Christus crucifixus et resuscitatus. Si vero in me tantum intueor, excluso Christo, actum est de me, etc. etc.—In Gal. ii. 20.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

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