Sermon 6. The Spiritual Mind

"The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." 1 Cor. iv. 20.

{72} HOW are we the better for being members of the Christian Church? This is a question which has ever claims on our attention; but it is right from time to time to examine our hearts with more than usual care, to try them by the standard of that divinely enlightened temper in the Church, and in the Saints, the work of the Holy Ghost, called by St. Paul "the spirit." I ask then, how are we the better for being Christ's disciples? what reason have we for thinking that our lives are very different from what they would have been if we had been heathens? Have we, in the words of the text, received the kingdom of God in word or in power? I will make some remarks in explanation of this question, which may (through God's grace) assist you, my Brethren, in answering it.

1. Now first, if we would form a just notion how far we are influenced by the power of the Gospel, we must evidently put aside every thing which we do merely in imitation of others, and not from religious principle. {73} Not that we can actually separate our good words and works into two classes, and say, what is done from faith, and what is done only by accident, and in a random way; but without being able to draw the line, it is quite evident that so very much of our apparent obedience to God arises from mere obedience to the world and its fashions; or rather, that it is so difficult to say what is done in the spirit of faith, as to lead us, on reflection, to be very much dissatisfied with ourselves, and quite out of conceit with our past lives. Let a person merely reflect on the number and variety of bad or foolish thoughts which he suffers, and dwells on in private, which he would be ashamed to put into words, and he will at once see, how very poor a test his outward demeanour in life is of his real holiness in the sight of God. Or again, let him consider the number of times he has attended public worship as a matter of course because others do, and without seriousness of mind; or the number of times he has found himself unequal to temptations when they came, which beforehand he and others made light of in conversation, blaming those perhaps who had been overcome by them, and he must own that his outward conduct shapes itself unconsciously by the manners of those with whom he lives, being acted upon by external impulses, apart from any right influence proceeding from the heart. Now, when I say this, am I condemning all that we do without thinking expressly of the duty of obedience at the very time we are doing it? Far from it; a religious man, in proportion as obedience becomes more and more easy to him, will doubtless do his duty unconsciously. It will {74} be natural to him to obey, and therefore he will do it naturally, i.e. without effort or deliberation. It is difficult things which we are obliged to think about before doing them. When we have mastered our hearts in any matter (it is true) we no more think of the duty while we obey, than we think how to walk when we walk, or by what rules to exercise any art which we have thoroughly acquired. Separate acts of faith aid us only while we are unstable. As we get strength, but one extended act of faith (so to call it) influences us all through the day, and our whole day is but one act of obedience also. Then there is no minute distribution of our faith among our particular deeds. Our will runs parallel to God's will. This is the very privilege of confirmed Christians; and it is comparatively but a sordid way of serving God, to be thinking when we do a deed, "if I do not do this, I shall risk my salvation; or, if I do it, I have a chance of being saved;"—comparatively a grovelling way, for it is the best, the only way for sinners such as we are, to begin to serve God in. Still as we grow in grace, we throw away childish things; then we are able to stand upright like grown men, without the props and aids which our infancy required. This is the noble manner of serving God, to do good without thinking about it, without any calculation or reasoning, from love of the good, and hatred of the evil;—though cautiously and with prayer and watching, yet so generously, that if we were suddenly asked why we so act, we could only reply "because it is our way," or "because Christ so acted;" so spontaneously as not to know so much that we are doing right, as that we {75} are not doing wrong; I mean, with more of instinctive fear of sinning, than of minute and careful appreciation of the degrees of our obedience. Hence it is that the best men are ever the most humble; as for other reasons, so especially because they are accustomed to be religious. They surprise others, but not themselves; they surprise others at their very calmness and freedom from thought about themselves. This is to have a great mind, to have within us that "princely heart of innocence" [Note] of which David speaks. Common men see God at a distance; in their attempts to be religious they feebly guide themselves as by a distant light, and are obliged to calculate and search about for the path. But the long practised Christian, who, through God's mercy, has brought God's presence near to him, the elect of God, in whom the Blessed Spirit dwells, he does not look out of doors for the traces of God; he is moved by God dwelling in him, and needs not but act on instinct. I do not say there is any man altogether such, for this is an angelic life; but it is the state of mind to which vigorous prayer and watching tend.

How different is this high obedience from that random unawares way of doing right, which to so many men seems to constitute a religious life! The excellent obedience I have been describing is obedience on habit. Now the obedience I condemn as untrue, may be called obedience on custom. The one is of the heart, the other of the lips; the one is in power, the other in word; the one cannot be acquired without much and constant vigilance, generally not without much pain and trouble; {76} the other is the result of a mere passive imitation of those whom we fall in with. Why need I describe what every man's experience bears witness to? Why do children learn their mother tongue, and not a foreign language? Do they think about it? Are they better or worse for acquiring one language and not another? Their character, of course, is just what it would have been otherwise. How then are we better or worse, if we have but in the same passive way admitted into our minds certain religious opinions; and have but accustomed ourselves to the words and actions of the world around us? Supposing we had never heard of the Gospel, should we not do just what we do, even in a heathen country, were the manners of the place, from one cause or another, as decent and outwardly religious? This is the question we have to ask ourselves. And if we are conscious to ourselves that we are not greatly concerned about the question itself, and have no fears worth mentioning of being in the wrong, and no anxiety to find what is right, is it not evident that we are living to the world, not to God, and that whatever virtue we may actually have, still the Gospel of Christ has come to us not in power, but in word only?

I have now suggested one subject for consideration concerning our reception of the kingdom of God; viz. to inquire whether we have received it more than externally; but,

2. I will go on to affirm that we may have received it in a higher sense than in word merely, and yet in no real sense in power; in other words, that our obedience may be in some sort religious, and yet hardly deserve the {77} title of Christian. This may be at first sight a startling assertion. It may seem to some of us as if there were no difference between being religious and being Christian; and that to insist on a difference is to perplex people. But listen to me. Do you not think it possible for men to do their duty, i.e. be religious, in a heathen country? Doubtless it is. St. Peter says, that in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him [Acts x. 3.]. Now are such persons, therefore, Christians? Certainly not. It would seem, then, it is possible to fear God and work righteousness, yet without being Christians; for (if we would know the truth of it) to be a Christian is to do this, and to do much more than this. Here, then, is a fresh subject for self-examination. Is it not the way of men to dwell with satisfaction on their good deeds, particularly when, for some reason or other, their conscience smites them? Or when they are led to the consideration of death, then they begin to turn in their minds how they shall acquit themselves before the judgment-seat. And then it is they feel a relief in being able to detect, in their past lives, any deeds which may be regarded in any sense religious. You may hear some persons comforting themselves that they never harmed any one; and that they have not given in to an openly profligate and riotous life. Others are able to say more; they can speak of their honesty, their industry, or their general conscientiousness. We will say they have taken good care of their families; they have never defrauded or deceived any one; and they have a good name in the world; nay, they have in one sense lived in the fear of {78} God. I will grant them this and more; yet possibly they are not altogether Christians in their obedience. I will grant that these virtuous and religious deeds are really fruits of faith, not external merely, done without thought, but proceeding from the heart. I will grant they are really praiseworthy, and, when a man from want of opportunity knows no more, really acceptable to God; yet they determine nothing about his having received the Gospel of Christ in power. Why? for the simple reason that they are not enough. A Christian's faith and obedience is built on all this, but is only built on it. It is not the same as it. To be Christians, surely it is not enough to be that which we are enjoined to be, and must be, even without Christ; not enough to be no better than good heathens; not enough to be, in some slight measure, just, honest, temperate, and religious. We must indeed be just, honest, temperate, and religious, before we can rise to Christian graces, and to be practised in justice and the like virtues is the way, the ordinary way, in which we receive the fulness of the kingdom of God; and, doubtless, any man who despises those who try to practise them (I mean conscientious men, who notwithstanding have not yet clearly seen and welcomed the Gospel system), and slightingly calls them "mere moral men" in disparagement, such a man knows not what spirit he is of, and had best take heed how he speaks against the workings of the inscrutable Spirit of God. I am not wishing to frighten these imperfect Christians, but to lead them on; to open their minds to the greatness of the work before them, to dissipate the meagre and carnal views in which the Gospel has come {79} to them, to warn them that they must never be contented with themselves, or stand still and relax their efforts, but must go on unto perfection; that till they are much more than they are at present, they have received the kingdom of God in word, not in power; that they are not spiritual men, and can have no comfortable sense of Christ's presence in their souls; for to whom much is given, of him is much required.

What is it, then, that they lack? I will read several passages of Scripture which will make it plain. St. Paul says, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Again: "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." "The love of Christ constraineth us." "Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye; and above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body, and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts." Lastly, our Saviour's own memorable words, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." [2 Cor. v. 14, 17. Gal. ii. 20. Col. iii. 12-16. Gal. iv. 6. Luke ix. 23.] Now it is {80} plain that this is a very different mode of obedience from any which natural reason and conscience tell us of;—different, not in its nature, but in its excellence and peculiarity. It is much more than honesty, justice, and temperance; and this is to be a Christian. Observe in what respect it is different from that lower degree of religion which we may possess without entering into the mind of the Gospel. First of all in its faith; which is placed, not simply in God, but in God as manifested in Christ, according to His own words, "Ye believe in God, believe also in Me." [John xiv. 1.] Next, we must adore Christ as our Lord and Master, and love Him as our most gracious Redeemer. We must have a deep sense of our guilt, and of the difficulty of securing heaven; we must live as in His presence, daily pleading His cross and passion, thinking of His holy commandments, imitating His sinless pattern, and depending on the gracious aids of His Spirit; that we may really and truly be servants of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in whose name we were baptized. Further, we must, for His sake, aim at a noble and unusual strictness of life, perfecting holiness in His fear, destroying our sins, mastering our whole soul, and bringing it into captivity to His law, denying ourselves lawful things, in order to do Him service, exercising a profound humility, and an unbounded, never-failing love, giving away much of our substance in religious and charitable works, and discountenancing and shunning irreligious men. This is to be a Christian; a gift easily described, and in a few words, but attainable only with fear and much trembling; {81} promised, indeed, and in a measure accorded at once to every one who asks for it, but not secured till after many years, and never in this life fully realized. But be sure of this, that every one of us, who has had the opportunities of instruction and sufficient time, and yet does not in some good measure possess it, every one, who, when death comes, has not gained his portion of that gift which it requires a course of years to gain, and which he might have gained, is in a peril so great and fearful, that I do not like to speak about it. As to the notion of a partial and ordinary fulfilment of the duties of honesty, industry, sobriety, and kindness, "availing" [Gal. vi. 15.] him, it has no Scriptural encouragement. We must stand or fall by another and higher rule. We must have become what St. Paul calls "new creatures;" [Gal. vi. 15.] that is, we must have lived and worshipped God as the redeemed of Jesus Christ, in all faith and humbleness of mind, in reverence towards His word and ordinances, in thankfulness, in resignation, in mercifulness, gentleness, purity, patience, and love.

Now, considering the obligation of obedience which lies upon us Christians, in these two respects, first, as contrasted with a mere outward and nominal profession, and next contrasted with that more ordinary obedience which is required of those even who have not the Gospel, how evident is it that we are far from the kingdom of God! Let each in his own conscience apply this to himself. I will grant he has some real Christian principle in his heart; but I wish him to observe how little that is likely to be. Here is a thought not to keep us {82} from rejoicing in the Lord Christ, but to make us "rejoice with trembling," [Ps. ii. 11.] wait diligently on God, pray Him earnestly to teach us more of our duty, and to impress the love of it on our hearts, to enable us to obey both in that free spirit, which can act right without reasoning and calculation, and yet with the caution of those who know their salvation depends on obedience in little things, from love of the truth as manifested in Him who is the Living Truth come upon earth, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." [John xiv. 6.]

With others we have no concern; we do not know what their opportunities are. There may be thousands in this populous land who never had the means of hearing Christ's voice fully, and in whom virtues short of evangelical will hereafter be accepted as the fruit of faith. Nor can we know the hearts of any men, or tell what is the degree in which they have improved their talents. It is enough to keep to ourselves. We dwell in the full light of the Gospel, and the full grace of the Sacraments. We ought to have the holiness of Apostles. There is no reason except our own wilful corruption, that we are not by this time walking in the steps of St. Paul or St. John, and following them as they followed Christ. What a thought is this! Do not cast it from you, my brethren, but take it to your homes, and may God give you grace to profit by it!

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Christian Year, Sixth Sunday after Trinity.
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.