Friday, June 21, 2024

Preview: Part Three of Three: Newman on "The Greatness and Littleness of Human Life"

On Monday, June 24, we'll conclude our series on Newman's "The Greatness and Littleness of Human Life" with the final paragraphs in which he sums up the purposes of the sermon. I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at my usual time, about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern. Please listen live here or listen to the podcast later.

It's good to remember that the power of Newman's preaching at the time was not through rhetorical flourishes, raising and lowering his voice--mostly, he used the pause to add emphasis. Otherwise, he read his Parochial and Plain Sermons and looked mostly at his text, not at his congregation. It was his words that captivated people (even those who never shared his faith in God), his imaginative style of helping us spiritual things and ideas in new ways. Newman took as one of his models the great Roman orator Cicero, but he took the Holy Bible and, when he was an Anglican, the "Church Catholic" as he called it, searching for the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as his guides for truth and content.

The concluding paragraphs of this sermon demonstrate Newman's skill in reaching the souls of his congregation as he exhorts them to prepare to see Jesus in Heaven and their loved ones too more truly than they ever have on earth. 

Let us then thus account of our present state: it is precious as revealing to us, amid shadows and figures, the existence and attributes of Almighty God and His elect people: it is precious, because it enables us to hold intercourse with immortal souls who are on their trial, as we are. It is momentous, as being the scene and means of our trial; but beyond this it has no claims upon us. "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity." We may be poor or rich, young or old, honoured {223} or slighted, and it ought to affect us no more, neither to elate us nor depress us, than if we were actors in a play, who know that the characters they represent are not their own, and that though they may appear to be superior one to another, to be kings or to be peasants, they are in reality all on a level. The one desire which should move us should be, first of all, that of seeing Him face to face, who is now hid from us; and next of enjoying eternal and direct communion, in and through Him, with our friends around us, whom at present we know only through the medium of sense, by precarious and partial channels, which give us little insight into their hearts.

While he challenges them to see their lives in the right perspective, he also shows them how "this attractive but deceitful world"--God's Creation!--in its beauty and glory is preparing them for even greater glory and splendor:

These are suitable feelings towards this attractive but deceitful world. What have we to do with its gifts and honours, who, having been already baptized into the world to come, are no longer citizens of this? Why should we be anxious for a long life, or wealth, or credit, or comfort, who know that the next world will be every thing which our hearts can wish, and that not in appearance only, but truly and everlastingly? Why should we rest in this world, when it is the token and promise of another? Why should we be content with its surface, instead of appropriating what is stored beneath it? To those who live by faith, every thing they see speaks of that future world; the very glories of nature, the sun, moon, and stars, and the richness and the beauty of the earth, are as types and figures witnessing and teaching the invisible things of God. All that we see is destined one day to burst forth into a heavenly bloom, and to be transfigured into immortal glory. Heaven at present is out of sight, but in due time, as snow melts and discovers {224} what it lay upon, so will this visible creation fade away before those greater splendours which are behind it, and on which at present it depends. In that day shadows will retire, and the substance show itself. The sun will grow pale and be lost in the sky, but it will be before the radiance of Him whom it does but image, the Sun of Righteousness, with healing on His wings, who will come forth in visible form, as a bridegroom out of his chamber, as His perishable type decays. The stars which surround it will be replaced by Saints and Angels circling His throne. Above and below, the clouds of the air, the trees of the field, the waters of the great deep will be found impregnated with the forms of everlasting spirits, the servants of God which do His pleasure. And our own mortal bodies will then be found in like manner to contain within them an inner man, which will then receive its due proportions, as the soul's harmonious organ, instead of that gross mass of flesh and blood which sight and touch are sensible of. For this glorious manifestation the whole creation is at present in travail, earnestly desiring that it may be accomplished in its season.

Then he closes with a call to repentance and the desire for God's grace and forgiveness:

These are thoughts to make us eagerly and devoutly say, "Come, Lord Jesus, to end the time of waiting, of darkness, of turbulence, of disputing, of sorrow, of care." These are thoughts to lead us to rejoice in every day and hour that passes, as bringing us nearer the time of His appearing, and the termination of sin and misery. They are thoughts which ought thus to affect us; and so they would, were it not for the load of guilt which weighs upon us, for sins committed against light and grace. O that it were otherwise with us! O that we were fitted {225} duly to receive this lesson which the world gives us, and had so improved the gifts of life, that while we felt it to be perishing, we might rejoice in it as precious! O that we were not conscious of deep stains upon our souls, the accumulations of past years, and of infirmities continually besetting us! Were it not for all this,—were it not for our unprepared state, as in one sense it may truly be called, how gladly should we hail each new month and year as a token that our Saviour is so much nearer to us than He ever has been yet! May He grant His grace abundantly to us, to make us meet for His presence, that we may not be ashamed before Him at His coming! May He vouchsafe to us the full grace of His ordinances: may He feed us with His choicest gifts: may He expel the poison from our souls: may He wash us clean in His precious blood, and give us the fulness of faith, love, and hope, as foretastes of the heavenly portion which He destines for us!

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

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