Monday, May 23, 2005

Newman on Interreligious Issues

It may be objected, that, if the feeling of a good conscience be evidence to us of our justification, then are persons in a justified state who are external to the Church, provided they have this feeling. I reply briefly,--for to say much here would be out of place,--that everyone will be judged according to his light and his privileges; and any man who has really the testimony of a good conscience is acting up to his light, whatever that is. . . It but shows that he is accepted in that state in which he is, be it one of greater favour or less, heathenism, schism, superstision, or heresy; and that, because his faults and errors at present are not wilful.

John Henry Newman, Plain and Parochial Sermons Volume V, "Sermon 17: The Testimony of Conscience."
But when he really gives himself up to God, when he gets himself honestly to say, "I sacrifice to Thee this cherished wish, this lust, this weakness, this scheme, this opinion: make me what Thou wouldest have me; I bargain for nothing; I make no terms; I seek for no previous information whither Thou are taking me; I will be what Thou wilt make me, and all that Thou wilt make me.

John Henry Newman, Plain and Parochial Sermons, Volume V, "Sermon 17: The Testimony of Conscience."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Plain and Parochial Sermons: Volume 4 Sermon 20 The Ventures of Faith

“They say unto Him, We are able.”—Matt. xx. 22.

• “These words of the holy Apostles James and John were in reply to a very solemn question addressed to them by their Divine Master.”
• “They coveted, with a noble ambition, though as yet unpractised in the highest wisdom, untaught in the holiest truth,-- they coveted to sit beside Him on His Throne of Glory.”
• Jesus’ reply was that “they must venture for it.”
• He asked them if they were able to drink of the cup he’ll drink and if they would be baptized with the baptism he would baptized with
• They reply, “we are able”
• “Here then a great lesson is impressed upon us, that our duty as Christians lies in this, in making ventures for eternal life without the absolute certainty of success.”
• “Success and reward everlasting they will have, who persevere unto the end. Doubt, we cannot, that the ventures of all Christ’s servants must be returned to them at the last day with abundant increase.”
• “But I am speaking of individuals, of ourselves one by one. No one among us knows for certain that he himself will persevere; yet every one among us, to give himself a chance of success at all, must make a venture.”
• A venture always has that sense of risk, danger and anxiety and “in this consists the excellence and nobleness of faith”
• Faith is singled out among other graces in the course of our justification “because its presence implies that we have the heart to make a venture.”
• Paul shows this in Hebrews 11 which opens with a definition of faith and then gives examples of it
• Faith is the “realizing” of things hoped for and the evidence or “ground of proof” of things not seen
• The Apostles had this faith. They saw the promises and mysteries afar off and were persuaded of them and were willing to drink of the cup and be baptized with suffering for the sake of the promise of eternal life, even though they did not understand fully
• These were ventures made in faith and in uncertainty
• Jesus in Luke 14 gives a parable that illustrates that to be disciples we must be willing to give up all we have, warning us of the full sacrifice we must make
• The rich young man however was unwilling to make such a sacrifice. He did not have the “faith to make the venture of this world for the next, upon His word.”
• “If then faith be the essence of a Christian life, and if it be what I have now described, it follows that our duty lies in risking upon Christ’s word what we have, for what we have not; and doing so in a noble and generous way, not indeed rashly or lightly, still without knowing accurately what we are doing, not knowing either what we give up, nor again what we shall gain; uncertain about our reward, uncertain about our extent of sacrifice, in all respects leaning, waiting upon Him, trusting in Him to enable us to fulfill our own vows, and so in all respects proceeding without carefulness or anxiety about the future.”
• We need to ask ourselves what stake we have in the truth of Christ’s promise
• “What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of His promise?”
• In our world, when people venture on certain things, like a business, there is hope of gain, but risk of personal failure
• “What have we ventured?”
• Do we abandon anything on the faith of Christ’s word?
• If the Gospel turned out to be a fable, would we have any loss? If not, then we have not ventured anything for Christ
• We trust human words in our daily transactions, but many Christians would not risk on the basis of Christ’s word
• The giving of alms, as seen in Scripture, is an “intelligible venture” and “evidence of faith.”
• Those who give up good prospects in this world to be nearer to Christ have ventured in faith
• Those who give up worldly comforts in order to work for Christ have ventured in faith
• Those who live lives of public penance or those who submit their will to Christ’s have ventured in faith
• “Such a one is taken at his word, while he understands not, perhaps, what he says; but he is accepted, as meaning somewhat, and risking much.”
• These generous hearts are taken at their word when they say “we are able” to drink of your cup, even though they have no idea what all it entails, their promise is recorded in heaven
• So also at sacramental moments like confirmation and holy orders, when promises are made, yet without full knowledge of what all it entails, the promise is record in heaven
• “I repeat it; what are our ventures and risks upon the truth of His word? For He says expressly, ‘Everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”

If the Gospel of Christ turned out to be a fable, what you lose anything? Have you risked anything for your faith? Do you believe it so absolutely that if it wasn't true, you have much to lose?

We are called to take Christ at his word and risk it all for him, just as he risked it all for us in his incarnation, life and death.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Plain and Parochial Sermons: Volume 4 Sermon 19 The Mysteriousness of Our Present Being

“I will praise thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.”—Ps. cxxxix. 14

• It is worth noting that the inspired writer “finds in the mysteries without and within him, a source of admiration and praise.”
• This subject is appropriate for the feast day being celebrated, Trinity Sunday
• The doctrine of the Trinity is set forth as clearly as humanly possible in the Athanasian creed
• However, the difficulty we have in expressing the doctrine of the Trinity is no more difficult than we have when speaking about earthly things that we experience and whose existence we cannot deny
• 1. We are made of body and soul
• If we weren’t then, how do we account for the idea of the soul and abstract reason?
• “By soul we mean that invisible principle which thinks.”
• “We are conscious we are alive, and are rational; each man has his own thoughts, feelings, and desires; each man is one to himself, and he knows himself to be one and indivisible,—one in such sense, that while he exists, it were an absurdity to suppose he can be any other than himself; one in a sense in which no material body which consist of parts can be one.”
• We know that our souls are distinct from our bodies but that both are not a collection of different unities.
• Our souls can use the body thus show themselves superior to the body
• No one can possible mistake his body for himself. “It is his, not he.”
• The soul is spiritual and immaterial, it has no size or form
• How then do we say that the soul is in the body or joined or connected to the body?
• “It is certain, then, that experience outstrips reason in its capacity of knowledge, why then should reason circumscribe faith, when it cannot compass sight?”
• 2. “Again: the soul is not only one, and without parts, but moreover, as if by great contradiction even in terms, it is in every part of the body.”
• The soul is in every part of the body otherwise it would not be called one
• When put into words we appear to have a contradiction, when we know that there is no contradiction in fact
• This is the same problem we encounter with the Trinity
• God himself is hidden from us and all we know is what has been revealed to us from the inspired writers and from the Son of God
• The Trinity is a fact for us as Christians but there appear to be contradictions in terms when we articulate what it is we believe
• 3. “Further consider what a strange state we are in when we dream, and how difficult it would be to convey to a person who had never dreamed what was meant by dreaming.”
• He would have no vocabulary to express what was going on
• There is nothing wrong with being wrong on matters of opinion, but in matters that bear upon our soul, it is unwise to stumble at mysteries
• We should be thankful for the ministry of the Apostles who presented the mysteries of God in limited human language
• We take what we are taught and are content with them
• We are mysterious and this is normal, just as many other situations we find in life in which we know things to be true, yet, we are unable articulate them fully
• If it is this difficult to articulate our nature then how much more difficult is it then to articulate God’s nature
• The religious mind looks at these mysteries and marvel while the proud scoff
• The benefit of the mystery of the Trinity is to humble the wise in this world and elevate the lowly

How do we respond to mystery? How should we respond to mystery? It is a complicated question that provides no easy answer. On the one hand, we are called to humilty in accepting the mysteriousness of the world and of God, on the other hand, it is not in our nature to not seek out answers.

This problem is solved by the state of mind we assume. Seeking answers is commensurate with our nature, but we cannot prod and probe without the knowledge that we are limited beings and unable to conquer mystery. If we put on a humble spirit, then our achievements do not become marred by pride.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Plain and Parochial Sermons Volume 4: Sermon 13 The Invisible World

“While we look not at the thing which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal,”—2 Cor. iv. 18

• There are two worlds the visible and the invisible
• The invisible world really exists even though we don’t see it
• There is a more wonderful, far reaching and close world all around us that we don’t see
• Our eyes can’t see this world, but faith can
• We are born into a world of senses. We experience things sensually and are aware that we experience them as such
• The invisible world likewise acts on us but we are not conscious of it
• The invisible world is, on the whole, a higher world than the visible
• God is in this invisible world and we haven’t and don’t perceive him sensually
• In the invisible world also, are the souls of the dead
• Angels are part of this world and they are active among us
• This invisible world exists now and is happening all around us
• “We are then in a world of spirits, as well as in a world of sense, and we hold communion with it, and take part in it, though we are not conscious of doing so.”
• This is not as absurd as it is may seem. We share this earth with animal species and we are oblivious to the myriad of events going on as we speak at different levels in the animal world all around us
• In human society, we have many different “worlds,” such as the scientific, literary, religious, etc, and sometimes these worlds overlap yet to those uninvolved are invisible to each other
• “The world of spirits then, though unseen, is present; present, not future, not distant. It is not above the sky, it is not beyond the grave; it is now and here; the kingdom of God is among us.”
• This is a practical truth which is to influence our conduct
• We also have a duty to contemplate this invisible world
• This invisible world will be revealed someday
• Humans think that they are lords of this earth and may do what they please, but are unaware that there are higher lords of this earth in the invisible world
• The spring season, the season of this sermon, is a powerful reminder of the life hidden in and around us that bursts forth in due season
• This material world will similarly burst forth into a new world of light and glory
• It is hard to conceive of the spring in the fall or winter, the vibrancy of spring is so absent then. But it does happen in due season
• So also is the season of eternal spring that we all await coming. That’s why we pray “Thy kingdom come.”
• This world, even at its most beautiful, does not satisfy us. It is, however, only a promise of that which is to come. We know that much more lies within it than we can see: the world of angels, glory and saints
• “What we see is the outward shell of an eternal kingdom; and on that kingdom we fix the eyes of our faith.”
• There is a blessing for those who believe yet do not see.
• Someday, we will see that world for what it is
• “All flesh is grass, and all the goodlines thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth and the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the Word of our God shall stand for ever.”

Paul calls on us to walk by faith and not by sight. To do this we need to be become consciousness that there is an invisible kingdom of which we are a part. In that kingdom we are royal people, a holy nation, a kingdom of priests, called to make spiritual sacrifices. These responsibilities must influence our lives for the better. This is how we get to live our lives as children of God.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Plain and Parochial Sermons: Volume 4 Sermon 2 Obedience Without Love as Instanced in the Character of Balaam

“The word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.”—Numb. xxii. 38

• The story of Balaam is very important and the major story is not simply the miracle of a donkey speaking
• What does this story teach us?
• Balaam was blessed with God’s special favor, not necessarily given to him due to his merits but because God showers blessings on all people
• “Balaam was favored in an especial way above the mere heathen. Not only had he the grant of inspiration, and the knowledge of God’s will, an insight into the truths of morality, clear and enlarged, such as we Christians cannot surpass; but he was even admitted into conscious intercourse with God, such as we Christians have not.”
• Balaam was a very conscientious man
• Scripture shows us that he had an enlightened and admirable view of moral and religious obligation
• When Balak sent him to curse Israel he first prayed and consulted God unlike most people would do. He also did not go with Balak’s messengers until the Lord let him do so
• When it came time to prophesy, Balaam, against the wishes of Balak, prophesied good things to Israel and not curses as Balak requested
• He followed his conscience
• A strange thing happens with Balaam, he seems to be under God’s favor and displeasure at the same time. He receives a green light from God to go to Balak, but then an Angel stops him with sword drawn and then lets him go. Also he was unaware that he had trespassed until he saw the angel.
• “Summing up then what has been said we seem, in Balaam’s history, to have the following remarkable case, that is, remarkable according to our customary judgment of things; a man divinely favored, visited, influenced, guided, protected, eminently honored, illuminated,--a man possessed of an enlightened sense of duty, and of a moral and religious acquirements, educated, high minded, conscientious, honorable, firm; and yet on the side of God’s enemies, personally under God’s displeasure, and in the end (if we go unto that) the direct instrument of Satan, and having his portion with unbelievers.”
• This is disturbing for many of us who feel that we are conscientious in our duty.
• “And now it is natural to ask, what is the meaning of this startling exhibition of God’s ways?”
• “Is it really possible that a conscientious and religious man should be found among the enemies of God, nay, should be personally displeasing to Him, and that at the very time God was visiting him with extraordinary favor?”
• It is impossible that a really conscientious man should be displeasing to God
• It is possible, though, to be “generally conscientious” and lack the true religious fear and strictness “which God calls conscientiousness, but which the world calls superstition or narrowness of mind.” This may provide a way to address Balaam’s situation
• “And here I would make a remark; that when a passage of Scripture, descriptive of God’s dealings with man, is obscure or perplexing, it is as well to ask ourselves whether this may not be owing to some insensibility, in ourselves or in our age, to certain peculiarities of the Divine law or government therein involved.”
• While Balaam was right to inquire about God’s will, he inquired second time attempting to change it. This is what kindled God’s anger
• The is a common trait of the respectable and conscientious, the seek how to please themselves without displeasing God
• “I say confidently,--that is, if we may judge of men in general by what we see. –that they make this world the first object in their minds, and use religion as a corrective, a restraint, upon too much attachment to the world.”
• The seek too attain a religious end but by means of their own choosing
• “Men are just, honest, upright, trustworthy; but all this not from the love and fear of God, but from a mere feeling of obligation to be so, and in subjection to certain worldly objects. And as such they are what is popularly called moral, without being religious. Such was Balaam.”
• He made such a great point of following God’s direction but his end was not to please God
• “He who loves does not act from calculation or reasoning;”
• “Why did Almighty God give Balaam leave to go to Balak, and then was angry with him for going? I suppose for this reason, because his asking twice was tempting God.”
• By asking twice, he displayed an irreverence towards God
• In conclusion there are three points to take
• 1. “First, we see how little we can depend, in judging of right and wrong, on the apparent excellence and high character of individuals.”
• Good people may find themselves on the side of evil because their minds are not on God but things of this world
• 2. “A second reflection which rises in the mind has relation to the wonderful secret providence of God, while all things seem to go on according to the course of this world.”
• Balaam sinned and the angle moved in against him, yet he was unaware of this judgment against him
• 3. “Here too is a serious reflection, if we had time to pursue it, that when we have begun an evil course, we cannot retrace our steps.”
• We get entangled with bad situations thinking that God gave us leave to act so
• “They are in bondage, and they must make the best of it; being the slave of the creature, without ceasing to be the responsible servants of God; under His displeasure, yet bound to act as if they could please Him. All this is very fearful.”
• 4. “Lastly, I will say this in addition,—God gives us warning now and then, but does not repeat them. Balaam’s sin consisted in not acting upon what was told him once and for all.”

Jesus gives a parable about two men who go to pray in the temple. One, confident of his righteousness, prays with thtat confidence. The other, knowing his sinfulness, throws himself on God's mercy. In the end, Jesus tells us that the latter was justified.

Could not the self righteous man see through his shallowness? When we create moral principles or when we adopt an existing body of principles to live by, we have an easy checklist to determine the level too which we are righteous. But as Jesus tells us, often our righteousness falls short. It is safer and more profitable to acknowledge that we are always sinners and fall on God's mercy.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Plain and Parochial Sermons: Volume 3 Sermon 23 Religious Worship A Remedy for Excitements

“Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing Psalms.”—James v. 13

• “St. James seems to imply in these words that there is that in religious worship which supplies all our spiritual need, which suits every mood of mind and every variety of circumstances, over and above heavenly and supernatural assistance which we are allowed to expect from it. Prayer and praise seem in his view to be a universal remedy, a panacea, as it is called, which ought to be used at once, whatever it be that affects us. And, as implied in ascribing to them this universal virtue, they produce very opposite effects, according to our need; allaying or carrying off the fever of the mind, as the case may be. The Apostle is not speaking of sin in the text; he speaks of the emotions of the mind, whether joyful or sorrowful, of good and bad spirits; and for these and all other such disturbances, prayer and praise are a medicine.”
• “Indisposition of body shows itself in a pain somewhere or other;--a distress, which draws our thoughts to it, centers them upon it, impedes our ordinary way of going on, and throws the mind off its balance. Such too is indisposition of the soul, or whatever sort, be it passion or affection, hope or fear, joy or grief. It takes us from the clear contemplation of the next world, ruffles us and makes us restless. In a word, it is what we call an excitement of mind. Excitements are the indisposition of the mind; and of these excitements in different ways the services of divine worship are proper antidotes. How they are so, shall now be considered.”
• There two kinds of excitements, secular and religious
• Secular excitements occur when the mind is totally absorbed in a worldly pursuit and it excludes all but narcissistic thoughts
• In this case a man is “sold over in bondage to the world.”
• His pursuit becomes his idol
• The most ordinary of these excitements is the pursuit of gain in many varied forms which dominate the mind and the force of which pushes out the thought of religion
• “Now, then, observe what is the remedy. ‘Is any afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry, let him sing Psalms.’ Here we see one of the very momentous use of prayer and praise to all of us; it breaks the current of worldly thoughts.”
• Daily prayer and worship force us to take time out for worship against temptations to do otherwise
• The interruptions of our schedules to pray serve to remind us about the important things in life. It is akin to the hand of a friend on our shoulders that makes us reconsider unkind utterances
• This is also why Sunday is important because it is a break and saves one from being engrossed in the activities of the world which may otherwise negatively affect our spiritual lives
• “Next, let us consider how religious excitements are set right by the same Divine medicine.”
• Those who grow up “in the way of light and truth, obeying God from childhood,” do not have the disturbances of soul that most of us have
• They are calm and have an “equable piety.”
• Not so with recent converts, who tend to get overly excited and joyful and unbalanced
• Such enthusiasm leads many astray
• Such enthusiasm was present in the early Church. So how then did they escape going astray?
• “Now certainly, looking at external and second causes, the miracles had much to do in securing this blessed sobriety in the early Christians. They kept them from willfulness and extravagance, and tempered them to the spirit of godly fear.”
• Persecution was another way of checking their enthusiasm
• “But the more ordinary means was one which we may enjoy at this day, if we choose, the course of religious Services, the round of prayer and praise, which, indeed, was also part of St. Paul’s discipline, as we have seen, and which has a most gracious effect upon the restless and excited mind, giving it an outlet, yet withal calming, soothing, directing, purifying it.”
• Sometimes people have a religious awakening and in seeking to fulfill it they leave the Church due to their excited mind
• For such a stricter life of worship will help to “relieve him of his uneasiness”
• The way to counter sects that attract people away from the Church is for the Church to live a more noble life in Christ
• “Is any one then desirous of gaining comfort to his soul, of bringing Christ’s presence home to his very heart, and of doing the highest and most glorious thing for the whole world? I have told him how to proceed. Let him praise God;”
• “Thus, in both ways, whether our excitements arise from objects of this world or the next, praise and prayer will be, through God’s mercy, our remedy; keeping the mind from running to waste; calming, soothing, sobering, steadying it; attuning it to the will of God and the mind of the Spirit, teaching it to love all men, to be cheerful and thankful, and to be resigned in all the dispensations of Providence towards us.”

Sometimes we need to view our salvation journey as a ship on the water. There are times when the desire is to make the ship stationary. For this an anchor is used. At other times, the ship sails. Either way, the captain never leaves the ship to drift where purposelessly with the currents. Our natural enthusiasm is like water on which our soul sails. It is a powerful force that is capable to carrying us places we did not intend to go. To steer our souls in the right direction or to anchor them, we need to guiding stable hand of worship and prayer.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Plain and Parochial Sermons: Volume 3 Sermon 19 Regenerating Baptism

“By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.”—1 Cor. xii. 13

• “As there is One Holy Ghost, so there is one only visible Body of Christians which Almighty God ‘knows by name,’ and one Baptism which admits men to it.”
• The Holy Ghost admits into the Church by means of baptism and it is the Holy Ghost that baptizes
• “[I]n other words, that each individual member receives the gift of the Holy Ghost as a preliminary step, a condition, or means of his being incorporated into the Church; or, in our Savior’s words, that no one can enter, except he be regenerated in order to enter it.”
• Some do not accept this
• “This defective view of the Sacrament of Baptism, for so I must not shrink from calling it, shall now be considered, and considered in its connection with a popular argument for the Baptism of infants, which, most true as it is in its proper place, yet is scarcely profitable for these times, as seeming to counter the error in question. I mean, the assumed parallel between Baptism and Circumcision.”
• “When, then, it is found to be the chief and especially approved argument in favour of Infant Baptism among Christians, there is some reason for anxiety, lest this circumstance should betoken, or introduce, insufficient views of a Christian sacrament.”
• We baptize infants because the Church has always done so
• Jesus also commands to bring the children to him for his blessing
• Jesus said that children were to be members of his kingdom and also that baptism is the only entrance into that kingdom
• “We administer, then, Baptism to children as a sure benefit to their souls”
• Some people refuse to accept the doctrine of baptismal regeneration for infants and find other reasons to continue its practice. They say that the infant is not old enough to have faith and exhibit repentance
• “We administer it whenever we do not discover some actual obstacle in the recipient to hinder its efficacy, as we give medicine to the sick.”
• These people suggest that infant baptism is like circumcision in that it symbolizes admission into the covenant even though there is no explicit understanding in the child
• However, circumcision is simply a rite because unlike the sacrament of baptism, it does not confer grace
• “Time and space have no portion in this spiritual Kingdom which He has founded; and the rites of His Church are as mysterious spells by which He annuls them both. They are not like the Jewish ordinances, long and laborious, expensive or irksome, with aught of value or merit in themselves: they are so simple, so brief, with so little of outward substance, that the mind is not detained for a moment from Him who works by means of them, but takes them for what they really are, only so far outward as to serve for a medium of the heavenly gift. Thus Christ shines through them as through transparent bodies, without impediment.”
• “Further, let us consider the instances of the administration of Baptism in the Acts of the Apostles.”
• On the day of Pentecost when people ask for the next step, Peter told them to repent and be baptized in order to received the gospel privileges
• Then there is the example of the Ethiopian Eunuch, Paul, Cornelius, and others
• All this shows the superiority of Baptism over circumcision
• Baptism is not mere symbolism with no power within it, it is a sacrament
• All the sacraments have life
• “Christ has lodged virtue in His Church, and she dispenses it forth from her in all her words and works.”
• Even if we can’t see the power, we are blessed in believing without seeing

If you lived at the time of Jesus, knowing what you know now, how would you react to Jesus. Would you ask him every question you ever wondered about? Would you touch him at every opportunity? would you ever let him out of your sight? Jesus ascended to the Father but he let us sacraments of his presence through which we can experience what the disciples experienced. If you ever wondered what it would be like to experience Jesus physically, the sacraments afford you that possibility.