Sermon 12. The New Works of the Gospel Seasons - Epiphany

"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Cor. v. 17.

[Note] {164} NOTHING, is more clearly stated, or more strongly insisted on, by St. Paul, than the new creation, or second beginning, or regeneration, of the world, which has been vouchsafed in Christ. It had been announced in prophecy. "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor, come into mind." Again: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah ... I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people." And again: "A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and {165} ye shall keep My judgments and do them." [Isa. lxv. 17. Jer. xxxi. 31, 33. Ez. xxxvi. 26, 27.] In the text, St. Paul declares the fulfilment of these promises in the Gospel. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away," as the heavens and earth shall pass away, at the end of the world; "behold, all things are become new." And hence he calls Christ, not only "the Image of the Invisible God," but also "the first-born of every creature;" or, as He calls Himself in the book of Revelation, "the beginning of the creation of God." [Col. i. 15. Rev. iii. 14.] St. Paul also speaks of "the new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through His flesh;" of Christians having "put off the old man with his deeds," and having "put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the Image of Him that created him;" of "newness of life," and "newness of spirit;" of "ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit;" and of our being God's "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." [Heb. x. 20. Col. iii. 9, 10. Rom. vi. 4; vii. 6. 2 Cor. iii. 6. Eph. ii. 10.] Elsewhere he says, that true and availing "circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God;" and that "circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping the commandments of God." [Rom. ii. 29. 1 Cor. vii. 19.]

Now it may be asked, Is there not some contrariety in these statements? The Gospel is said to be a new covenant, and yet, after all, it is to consist in "walking {166} in God's statutes" and "doing His judgments," and "keeping His commandments," and being "created unto good works." Now these were but the terms of the old covenant: "Fear God and keep His commandments;" "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments;" "The man that doeth those things shall live by them." [Eccles. xii. 13. Rom. x. 5.] If the new Covenant be of works too, how is the Gospel other than the Law? how can it justly be called new? If the way of salvation be now what it ever has been, how are we gainers? What privilege is there in being brought under the Gospel? What has Christ done for us? Hence some persons have concluded that salvation under the Gospel is not of works; and in confirmation of this they urge, that St. Paul elsewhere speaks expressly of salvation as being not of works but of faith; and they allege that faith is a new way of salvation, though works of obedience are not and cannot be.

Now there can be no doubt at all that salvation is by faith, and that its being by faith is one of those special circumstances which make the Gospel a new covenant; but still it may be by works also; for, to use a familiar illustration, obedience is the road to heaven, and faith the gate. Those who attempt to be saved simply without works, are like persons who should attempt to travel to a place, not along the road, but across the fields. If we wish to get to our journey's end, we shall keep to the road; but even then we may go the wrong road. This was the case with the Jews. They professed to go along the road of works,—they {167} did not wander into the fields,—so far well: but they took the wrong road. That particular road of which faith is the gate, that particular obedience, those particular works, which commence in faith, these are the only right and sure road to heaven. It is wrong to leave the road for the open country; again, it is wrong to go along the wrong road;—but it is not wrong to go along the right road. And in like manner it is sinful to attempt no obedience whatever; it is blind perversity to attempt obedience by the Jewish law or the law of nature; but it is not sinful, it is not perverse, it is nothing else than wisdom, nothing else than true godliness, to follow after that obedience which is of faith.

The illustration may be pursued further. A road may want repairing,—it may get worse and worse as we go on, till it ceases to be a road: it may fall off from a road into a lane, from a lane to a path, or a wild heath, or a marsh; or it may be cut off by high impassable mountains; so that a person who attempts that way will never arrive at his journey's end. This was case with the works of the Law by which the Jews thought to gain heaven,—this is the case with all works done in our natural strength: they are like a road over fens or precipices, which is sure to fail us. At first we might seem to go on well, but we should find at length that we made no progress. We should never get to our journey's end. Our best obedience in our own strength is worth nothing; it is altogether unsound, it is ever failing, it never grows firmer, it never can be reckoned on, it does nothing well, it has nothing {168} in it pleasing or acceptable to God:—and not only so, it is the obedience of souls born and living under God's wrath, for a state of nature is a state of wrath. On the other hand, obedience which is done in faith is done with the aid of the Holy Spirit; it is holy and acceptable in God's sight; it grows habitual and consistent; it tends to possess the soul wholly; and it leads straight onward to heaven. This was the very promise of the Gospel as the prophet Isaiah announces it. "An highway shall be there and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness: the unclean shall not pass over it ... the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." [Isa. xxxv. 8.] This being understood, we shall have no difficulty in understanding St. Paul's language. The way of salvation is by works, as under the Law, but it is by "works which spring out of faith," and which come of "the inspiration of the Spirit." It is because works are living and spiritual, from the heart, and by faith, that the Gospel is a new covenant. Hence in the passages above quoted we are told again and again of "the law in our inward parts;" "a new heart;" "a new spirit;" the Holy "Spirit within us;" "newness of life," and "circumcision of the heart in the Spirit." And hence St. Paul says, that though we have not been "saved by works," yet we are "created unto good works;" and that "the blood of Christ purges the conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Salvation then is not by dead works, but by living works. The Jews could but do dead works; but Christians can do good and spiritual works. The Gospel Covenant, then, is both a new {169} way and not a new way. It is not a new way, seeing it is in works: it is a new way, in that it is by faith. It is, as St. Paul words it, the "obedience of faith;"—new because of faith, old because of obedience.

And thus there is no opposition between St. Paul and St. James. St. James says, that justification is by works, and St. Paul that it is by faith: but, observe, St. James does not say that it is by dead or Jewish works; he mentions expressly both faith and works; he only says, "not faith only but works also:"—and St. Paul is far from denying it is by works, he only says that it is by faith and denies that it is by dead works. And what proves this, among other circumstances, is, that he never calls those works, which he condemns and puts aside, good works, but simply works: whenever he speaks of good works in his Epistles, he speaks of Christian works; not of Jewish. On the whole, then, salvation is both by faith and by works. St. James says, not dead faith, and St. Paul, not dead works. St. James, "not by faith only," for that would be dead faith: St Paul, "not by works only," for such would be dead works. Faith alone can make works living; works alone can make faith living. Take away either, and you take away both;—he alone has faith who has works,—he alone has works who has faith.

It is not at all wonderful, then, that though the way of salvation under the Gospel is new, still in certain respects it is still what the Jews, nay, and what the heathen thought it to be. The way of justification has in all religions been by means of works; so it is under the Gospel; but in the Gospel alone it is by the means of good works. {170}

However, this statement, simple and obvious as it is, is a hard saying to many persons, who think that the way of salvation should be altogether new under the Gospel, altogether different from what is prescribed under other religions; whereas they think little has been gained for us by Christ, if after all He has left us, as before, to be saved by obedience. This is a difficulty with them. They think Christianity is made Jewish, or almost heathen, if salvation is attained by what is the old way; and this being the case, I shall make some remarks, with the hope of reconciling the mind to it.

I observe, then, that whether it came from Noah after the flood or not, so it is, that all religions, the various heathen religions as well as the Mosaic religion, have many things in them which are very much the same. They seem to come from one common origin, and so far have the traces of truth upon them. They are all branches, though they are corruptions and perversions, of that patriarchal religion which came from God. And of course the Jewish religion came entirely and immediately from God. Now God's works are like each other, not different; if, then, the Gospel is from God, and the Jewish religion was from God, and the various heathen religions in their first origin were from God, it is not wonderful, rather it is natural, that they should have in many ways a resemblance one with another. And, accordingly, that the Gospel is in certain points like the religions which preceded it, is but an argument that "God is One, and that there is none other but He;"—the difference between them {171} being that the heathen religions are a true religion corrupted; the Jewish, a true religion dead; and Christianity, the true religion living and perfect. The heathen thought to be saved by works, so did the Jews, so do Christians; but the heathen took the works of darkness for good works, the Jews thought cold, formal and scanty works to be good works, and Christians believe that works done in the Spirit of grace, the fruit of faith, and offered up under the meritorious intercession of Christ, that these only are good works, but that these really are good:—so that while the heathen thinks to be saved by sin, and the Jew by self, the Christian relies on the Spirit of Him who died on the Cross for him. Thus they differ; but they all agree in thinking that works are the means of salvation; they differ in respect to the quality of these works.

Let us take some parallel instances in religious doctrine and worship, for they abound.

1. For example: Religion, considered in itself, cannot but have much which is the same in all systems, true and false. It is the worship of God. This involves saying prayers, postures of devotion, and the like, whatever the particular worship be; nor is the Gospel less a new covenant, because it retains these old usages, unless it ceases to be new, because it retains religion. While man is man, it could not be otherwise. These observances are right when performed well, evil when performed ill; evil as performed by the heathen, right as performed by Christians. The heathen worship devils, as St. Paul tells us. As is their god, such is their service. The Gospel came to {172} destroy the worship of devils, not to destroy worship; we do not cease to have a new worship, because we worship, not devils, but Almighty God.

2. Again, meetings for worship have been in all religions from the first. But it does not follow from this that "old things" have not been made to pass till coming to church is denounced as a sin. On the contrary, St. Paul expressly tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, though "all things have become new." What had been done of old time for bad purposes or in a bad way, is to be done for a holy purpose and in a heavenly way under the Gospel. A new life is infused into what once was evil, or at least profitless; so that, whereas of old time men came together to worship as "dry bones," in consequence of the creative power of Christ, "the dead bones live."

3. Again, religion has ever existed in a large organized body, with orders and officers, with ministers and people. It has always exercised an influence over the State, and it has ever been what is called established, or had rank and property. Now there is abundant evidence that this was intended to be the condition of religion under the Gospel, in spite of its being a new religion. Ranks existed from the first,—Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, Bishops, and Deacons, as we read in Scripture. And property was held by the Church, for the rich gave up their wealth, and laid it at the Apostles' feet. And St. Paul used his privilege as a citizen of Rome. Here again, then, though salvation be of faith, and religion be spiritual, and old things be passed away, and all {173} things have become new, yet the old framework remains as far as this, that there are men set apart to preach the Gospel, and that they "live by the Gospel."

4. Again, all religions, before the Gospel came, had their mysteries; I mean alleged disclosures of Truth, which could not be fully understood all at once, if at all, and which were open to some more than to others. The Gospel, though it be light and liberty, has not materially altered things here. It has mysteries as we all know; such as the doctrines of the Holy Trinity, and the Incarnation. And these mysteries cannot be equally entered into by all, but in proportion as men are humble and holy, and intellectually gifted, and blessed with leisure. St. Paul speaks of "the hidden wisdom;" and declares that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." And elsewhere he declines to speak to the Hebrews about Melchizedec, "of whom" he had "many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing" they were "dull of hearing." [1 Cor. ii. 14. Heb. v. 11.]

5. Again, religions before Christ came ever had holy days and festivals, both among heathen and Jews. The Gospel has not done away with holy days, only it has changed them, and made them more truly holy. For instance, it has not destroyed the Feast of one day in seven, or the Lord's day; not to mention other instances. This is the more remarkable, because St. Paul's words are at first sight very strong against the observance, under the Gospel, of any days above others, {174} as a matter of religion. He finds fault with the Galatians, because they observe "days, and months, and times, and years." And he bids the Colossians not to let any man "judge them in meat or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ." [Gal. iv. 10. Col. ii. 16, 17.] Who would not, at first sight, suppose from these words, that all holy days, all holy seasons, were to be done away, under the Gospel, as mere shadows,—Sunday, Christmas-day, Easter-tide, Lent, and all the rest? Yet it is not so. The Apostles in the Acts, and St. John in the Revelation, observe and recognise the Lord's day as a Gospel festival. Jewish days are shadows, but Christian are not; just as Jewish works, or works of the Law, avail not, but Christian works avail. The weekly festival is not one of the "old things" which have "passed away" in Christ, neither have righteous works. The Sabbath has "become new" by becoming the Lord's day; works become new, by becoming spiritual.

6. Again, washing with water was a heathen rite of purification, and also a Jewish rite. Yet it remains under the Gospel; and with the same change. The "divers washings" of the Jews were "carnal ordinances;" [Heb. ix. 10.] but Baptism, our washing, is a washing of the Spirit; and because the former are annulled, it does not follow that the latter should be. On the contrary, our Lord distinctly commanded His Apostles, "Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them." [Matt. xxviii. 19.] {175}

7. Once more. The heathen had temples; the Jews had a temple; and our Lord said to the Samaritan woman, that the hour was coming when the true worshippers should worship, not in the temple at Jerusalem, but "in spirit and in truth." But this did not mean that there were to be no Christian temples, or churches, as we call them; at least it has never been taken so to mean. All it would seem to mean is, that the Jewish temple is not like a Christian temple, but differs in some essential points.

I have said enough to explain St. Paul's statement in the text, that "old things are passed away," and "all things new" under the Gospel. By all things being "new" is meant that they are renewed; by "old things passing away" is meant that they are changed. The substance remains; the form, mode, quality, and circumstances are different and more excellent. Religion has still forms, ordinances, precepts, mysteries, duties, assemblies, festivals, and temples as of old time; but, whereas all these were dead and carnal before, now, since Christ came, they have a life in them. He has brought life to the world; He has given life to religion; He has made everything spiritual and true by His touch, full of virtue, full of grace, full of power: so that ordinances, works, forms, which before were unprofitable, now, by the inward meritorious influence of His blood imparted to them, avail for our salvation.

This one point, in addition, is clear from what has been said; that if all Christian worship is "in spirit and in truth," nothing has a place under the Gospel which is not spiritual. It is very inconsistent then, to {176} say, as some people do say, that Baptism should be observed, and yet that it does not convey Divine grace, and is a mere outward ordinance; for if so, it is nothing better than a Jewish rite, and instead of being observed, it ought to be abolished altogether. And again, unless the Church itself, and the ministerial order attached to it, be a means of grace and the instrument of the Holy Ghost, they are no better than the Jewish temple and the Jewish priests, which have come to nought, and have no part in the spiritual system of the Gospel. And so, in like manner, works of obedience also, if they are no better than "the works of the Law," which cannot justify; if they are not pleasing to God, if they be filthy rags, as some persons say, and as the works of nature are; if so, then I do not see that they need be attempted at all; for all works of the Law are done away. Everything is done away in the Gospel but what is spirit and truth; and our works, our ordinances, our discipline, are spirit and truth, or they are done away.

And, lastly, hereby we see why justification must be of faith: because, as Christ, by means of His Spirit, makes a new beginning in us, so faith, on our part, receives that new beginning, and cooperates with Him. And it is the only principle which can do this: for as things spiritual are unseen, so faith is in its very nature that which apprehends and uses things unseen. We renounce our old unprofitable righteousness, which is from Adam, and accept, through faith, that new righteousness which is imparted by the Spirit; or, in St. Paul's words, "we, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." {177}

To conclude. Let us think much, and make much, of the grace of God; let us beware of receiving it in vain; let us pray God to prosper it in our hearts, that we may bring forth much fruit. We see how grace wrought in St. Paul: it made him labour, suffer, and work righteousness almost above man's nature. This was not his own doing; it was not through his own power. He says himself, "Yet not I, but the grace of God which was in me." God's grace was "sufficient for him." It was its triumph in him, that it made him quite another man from what he was before. May God's grace be efficacious in us also. Let us aim at doing nothing in a dead way; let us beware of dead works, dead forms, dead professions. Let us pray to be filled with the spirit of love. Let us come to Church joyfully; let us partake the Holy Communion adoringly; let us pray sincerely; let us work cheerfully; let us suffer thankfully; let us throw our heart into all we think, say, and do; and may it be a spiritual heart! This is to be a new creature in Christ; this is to walk by faith.

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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