19th January 1840
“Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; that, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:30, 31).
St Paul is engaged, in the chapter from which these words are taken, in humbling the self-conceit of the Corinthians. They had had gifts given them; they did not forget they had them; they used, they abused them; they forgot, not that they were theirs, but that they were given them. They seem to have thought that those gifts were theirs by a sort of right, because they were persons of more cultivation of mind than others, of more knowledge, more refinement. Corinth was a wealthy place; it was a place where all nations met, and where men saw much of the world; and it was a place of science and philosophy. It had indeed some good thing in it which Athens had not. The wise men of Athens heard the Apostle and despised him, but of Corinth it was said to him by Christ Himself; “I have much people in this City.” (Acts 18:10) Yet, though there were elect of God at Corinth, yet in a place of so much luxury and worldly wisdom, difficulties so great stood in the way of a simple, humble faith, as to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect,-as to bring it to pass that those who were saved were saved “as by fire.” (1 Cor 3:15) In spite of the clear views which the Apostle had doubtless given them on their conversion of their utter nothingness in themselves; in spite too of their confessing it (for we can hardly suppose that they said in so many words that their gifts were their own), yet they did not feel that they came from God. They seemed, as it were, to claim them, or at least to view their possession of them as a thing of course; they acted as if they were their own, not with humbleness and gratitude towards their Giver, not with a sense of responsibility, not with fear and trembling, but as if they were lords over them, as if they had sovereign power to do what they would with them, as if they might use them from themselves and for themselves.
Our bodily powers and limbs also come from God, but they are in such sense part of our original formation, or (if I may say so) of our essence, that though we ought ever to lift up our hearts in gratitude to God while we use them, yet we use them as our instruments, organs and ministers. They spring from us, and (as I may say) hold of us, and we use them for our own purposes. Well, this seems to have been the way in which the Corinthians used their supernatural gifts, viz. as if they were parts of themselves,-as natural faculties, instead of influences in them, but not of them, from the Giver of all good,-not with awe, not with reverence, not with worship. They considered themselves, not members of the Kingdom of saints, and dependent on an unseen Lord, but mere members of an earthly community, still rich men, still scribes, still philosophers, still disputants, who had the addition of certain gifts, who had aggrandized their existing position by the reception of Christianity. They became proud, when they should have been thankful. They had forgotten that to be members of the Church they must become as little children; that they must give up all, that they might win Christ; that they must become poor in spirit to gain the true riches; that they must put off philosophy, if they would speak wisdom among the perfect. And, therefore, St. Paul reminds them that “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble arc called;” and that all true power, all true wisdom flows from Christ, who is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God;” (1 Cor 1:26) and that all who are Christians indeed, renounce their own power and their own wisdom, and come to Him that He may be the Source and Principle of their power, and of their wisdom; that they may depend on Him, and hold of Him, not of themselves; that they may exist in Him, or have Him in them; that they may be (as it were) His members; that they may glory simply in Him, not in themselves. For, whereas the wisdom of the world is but foolishness in God’s sight, and the power of the world but weakness, God had set forth His Only-begotten Son to be the First-born of creation, and the standard and original of true life; to be a wisdom of God and a power of God, and a “righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” of God, to all those who are found in Him. “Of Him,” says he, “are ye in Christ Jesus, who is made unto us a wisdom from God, namely, righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; that according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:24)
In every age of the Church, not in the primitive age only, Christians have been tempted to pride themselves on their gifts, or at least to forget that they were gifts, and to take them for granted. Ever have they been tempted to forget their own responsibilities, their having received what they are bound to improve, and the duty of fear and trembling, while improving it. On the other hand, how they ought to behave under a sense of their own privileges, St. Paul points out when he says to the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13) God is in you for righteousness, for sanctification, for redemption, through the Spirit of His Son, and you must use His influences, His operations, not as your own (God forbid!), not as you would use your own mind or your own limbs, irreverently, but as His presence in you. All your knowledge is from Him; all good thoughts are from Him; all power to pray is from Him; your Baptism is from Him; the consecrated elements are from Him; your growth in holiness is from Him. You are not your own, you have been bought with a price, and a mysterious power is working in you. Oh that we felt all this as well as were convinced of it!
This then is one of the first elements of Christian knowledge and a Christian spirit, to refer all that is good in us, all that we have of spiritual life and righteousness, to Christ our Saviour; to believe that He works in us, or, to put the same thing more pointedly, to believe that saving truth, life, light, and holiness are not of us, though they must be in us. I shall now enlarge on each of these two points.
1. Whatever we have, is not of us, but of God. This surely it will not take many words to prove. Our unassisted nature is represented in Scripture as the source of much that is evil, but not of anything that is good. We read much in Scripture of evil coming out of the natural heart, but nothing of good coming out of it. When did not the multitude of men turn away from Him who is their life? when was it that the holy were not the few, and the unholy the many? and what does this show but that the law of man’s nature tends towards evil, not towards good? As is the tree, so is its fruit; if the fruit be evil, therefore the tree must be evil. When was the face of human society, which is the fruit of human nature, other than evil? When was the power of the world an upholder of God’s truth? When was its wisdom an interpreter of it? or its rank an image of it? Shall we look at the early age of the world? What fruit do we find there? “(Gen 6:11) The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” “God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.” (Gen 6:5.6) Shall we find good in man’s nature after the flood more easily than before? “And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do, and now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do … So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth.” (Gen 11:6-8) Shall we pass on to the days of David? “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one.” (Ps 13:2.3) Thus three times did God look down from heaven, and three times was man the same, God’s enemy, a rebel against his Maker. Let us see if Solomon will lighten this fearful testimony. He says, “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” (Eccl 9:3) Shall we ask of the prophet Isaiah? He answers, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities as the wind have taken us away.” (Jes 64:6) Or Jeremiah? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” (Jer 17:9) Or what did our Lord Himself, when He came in the flesh, witness of the fruits of the heart? He said, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies.” (Mt 15:19) And will His coming have improved the world? How will it be, when He comes again? “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (Lc 18:8) What then human nature tends to, is very plain, and according to the end, so I say must be the beginning. If the end is evil, so is the beginning; if the termination is astray, the first direction is wrong. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” (Mt 12:34) and the hand worketh; and such as is the work and the word, such is the heart. Nothing then can be more certain, if we go by Scripture, not to speak of experience, than that the present nature of man is evil, and not good; that evil things come from it, and not good things. If good things come from it, they are the exception, and therefore not of it, but in it merely; first given to it, and then coming from it; not of it by nature, but in it by grace. Our Lord says expressly, “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit. Marvel not that I say unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (John 3:7) And again, “Without Me ye can do nothing;” (John 15:5) and St. Paul, “I can do all things through Christ, that strengtheneth me.” And again, in the Epistle before us, “Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor 4:7)
This is that great truth which is at the foundation of all true doctrine as to the way of salvation. All teaching about duty and obedience, about attaining heaven, and about the office of Christ towards us, is hollow and unsubstantial, which is not built here, in the doctrine of our original corruption and helplessness; and, in consequence, of original guilt and sin. Christ Himself indeed is the foundation, but a broken, self-abased, self-renouncing heart is (as it were) the ground and soil in which the foundation must be laid; and it is but building on the sand to profess to believe in Christ, yet not to acknowledge that without Him we can do nothing. It is what is called the Pelagian heresy, of which many of us perhaps have heard the name. I am not, indeed, formally stating what that heresy consists in, but I mean, that, speaking popularly, I may call it the belief, that “holy desires, good counsels, and just works,” can come of us, can be from us, as well as in us: whereas they are from God only; from whom, and not from ourselves, is that righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, which is in us,-from whom is the washing away of our inward guilt, and the implanting in us of a new nature. But when men take it for granted that they are natural objects of God’s favour,-when they view their privileges and powers as natural things,-when they look upon their Baptism as an ordinary work, bringing about its results as a matter of course,-when they come to Church without feeling that they are highly favoured in being allowed to come,-when they do not understand the necessity of prayer for God’s grace,-when they refer everything to system, and subject the provisions of God’s free bounty to the laws of cause and effect,-when they think that education will do everything, and that education is in their own power,-when, in short, they think little of the Church of God, which is the great channel of God’s mercies, and look upon the Gospel as a sort of literature or philosophy, contained in certain documents, which they may use as they use the instruction of other books; then, not to mention other instances of the same error, are they practically Pelagians, for they make themselves their own centre, instead of depending on Almighty God and His ordinances.
2. And, secondly, while truth and righteousness are not of us, it is quite as certain that they are also in us if we be Christ’s; not merely nominally given to us and imputed to us, but really implanted in us by the operation of the Blessed Spirit. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, when He came on earth in our flesh, made a perfect atonement, “sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” He was born of a woman, He wrought miracles, He fasted and was tempted in the desert, He suffered and was crucified, He was dead and buried; He rose again from the dead, He ascended on high, and “liveth ever” with the Father,-all for our sakes. And as His incarnation and death were in order to our salvation, so also He really accomplished the end which that humiliation had in view. All was done that needed to be done, except what could not be done at a time, when they were not yet in existence on whom it was to be done. All was done for us except the actual grant of mercy made to us one by one. He saved us by anticipation, but we were not yet saved in fact, for as yet we were not. But everything short of this was then finished. Satan was vanquished; sin was atoned for; the penalty was paid; God was propitiated; righteousness, sanctification, redemption, life, all were provided for the sons of Adam, and all that remained to do was to dispense, to impart, these divine gifts to them one by one. This was not done, because it could not be done all at once; it could not be done forthwith to individuals, and salvation was designed in God’s counsels to be an individual gift. He did not once for all restore the whole race, and change the condition of the world in His sight immediately on Christ’s death. The sun on Easter-day did not rise, nor did He rise from the grave, on a new world, but on the old world, the sinful rebellious outcast world as before. Men were just what they had been, both in themselves and in His sight. They were guilty and corrupt before His crucifixion, and so they were after it; so they remain to this day, except so far as He by His free bounty and at His absolute will, vouchsafes to impart the gift of His passion to this man or that. He provided, not gave salvation, when He suffered; and there must be a giving or applying in the case of all those who are to be saved. The gift of life is in us, as truly as it is not of us ; it is not only from Him but it is unto us. This must carefully be borne in mind, for as there are those who consider that life, righteousness, and salvation are of us, so there are others who hold that they are not in us; and as there are many who more or less forget that justification is of God, so there are quite as many who more or less forget that justification must be in man if it is to profit him. And it is hard to say which of the two errors is the greater.
But there is another ground for saying that Christ did not finish His gracious economy by His death; viz. because the Holy Spirit came in order to finish it. When He ascended, He did not leave us to ourselves, so far the work was not done. He sent His Spirit. Were all finished as regards individuals, why should the Holy Ghost have condescended to come? But the Spirit came to finish in us, what Christ had finished in Himself, but left unfinished as regards us. To Him it is committed to apply to us severally all that Christ had done for us. As then His mission proves on the one hand that salvation is not from ourselves, so does it on the other that it must be wrought in us. For if all gifts of grace are with the Spirit, and the presence of the Spirit is within us, it follows that these gifts are to be manifested and wrought in us. If Christ is our sole hope, and Christ is given to us by the Spirit, and the Spirit be an inward presence, our sole hope is in an inward change. As a light placed in a room pours out its rays on all sides, so the presence of the Holy Ghost imbues us with life, strength, holiness, love, acceptableness, righteousness. God looks on us in mercy, because He sees in us “the mind of the Spirit,” for whoso has this mind has holiness and righteousness within him. Henceforth all his thoughts, words, and works as done in the Spirit, are acceptable, pleasing, just before God; and whatever remaining infirmity there be in him, that the presence of the Spirit hides. That divine influence, which has the fulness of Christ’s grace to purify us, has also the power of Christ’s blood to justify.
Let us never lose sight of this great and simple view, which the whole of Scripture sets before us. What was actually done by Christ in the flesh eighteen hundred years ago, is in type and resemblance really wrought in us one by one even to the end of time. He was born of the Spirit, and we too are born of the Spirit. He was justified by the Spirit, and so are we. He was pronounced the well-beloved Son, when the Holy Ghost descended on Him; and we too cry Abba, Father, through the Spirit sent into our hearts. He was led into the wilderness by the Spirit; He did great works by the Spirit; He offered Himself to death by the Eternal Spirit; He was raised from the dead by the Spirit; He was declared to be the Son of God by the Spirit of holiness on His resurrection: we too are led by the same Spirit into and through this world’s temptations; we, too, do our works of obedience by the Spirit; we die from sin, we rise again unto righteousness through the Spirit; and we are declared to be God’s sons,-declared, pronounced, dealt with as righteous,-through our resurrection unto holiness in the Spirit. Or, to express the same great truth in other words; Christ Himself vouchsafes to repeat in each of us in figure and mystery all that He did and suffered in the flesh. He is formed in us, born in us, suffers in us, rises again in us, lives in us; and this not by a succession of events, but all at once: for He comes to us as a Spirit, all dying, all rising again, all living. We are ever receiving our birth, our justification, our renewal, ever dying to sin, ever rising to righteousness. His whole economy in all its parts is ever in us all at once; and this divine presence constitutes the title of each of us to heaven; this is what He will acknowledge and accept at the last day. He will acknowledge Himself,-His image in us,-as though we reflected Him, and He, on looking round about, discerned at once who were His; those, namely, who gave back to Him His image. He impresses us with the seal of the Spirit, in order to avouch that we are His. As the king’s image appropriates the coin to him, so the likeness of Christ in us separates us from the world and assigns us over to the kingdom of heaven.
Scripture is full of texts to show that salvation is such an inward gift. For instance: What is it that rescues us from being reprobates? “Know ye not,” says St. Paul, “that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor 13:5) What is our hope? “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) What is it that hallows and justifies? “The Name of the Lord Jesus, and the Spirit of our God.” What makes our offerings acceptable? “Being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” (Rom 15:16) What is our life? ” (Rom 8:10) The Spirit is life because of righteousness.” How are we enabled to fulfil the law? “The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) Who is it makes us righteous? “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.” (Eph 5:9).
To conclude.-I have said that there are two opposite errors: one, the holding that salvation is not of God; the other, that it is not in ourselves. Now it is remarkable that the maintainers of both the one and the other error, whatever their differences in other respects, agree in this,-in depriving a Christian life of its mysteriousness. He who believes that he can please God of himself, or that obedience can be performed by his own powers, of course has nothing more of awe, reverence, and wonder in his personal religion, than when he moves his limbs and uses his reason, though he might well feel awe then also. And in like manner he also who considers that Christ’s passion once undergone on the Cross absolutely secured his own personal salvation, may see mystery indeed in that Cross (as he ought), but he will see no mystery, and feel little solemnity, in prayer, in ordinances, or in his attempts at obedience. He will be free, familiar, and presuming, in God’s presence. Neither will “work out their salvation with fear and trembling;” for neither will realize, though they use the words, that God is in them “to will and to do.” Both the one and the other will be content with a low standard of duty: the one, because he does not believe that God requires much; the other, because he thinks that Christ in His own person has done all. Neither will honour and make much of God’s Law: the one, because he brings down the Law to his own power of obeying it; the other, because he thinks that Christ has taken away the Law by obeying it in his stead. They only feel awe and true seriousness who think that the Law remains; that it claims to be fulfilled by them; and that it can be fulfilled in them through the power of God’s grace. Not that any man alive arises up to that perfect fulfilment, but that such fulfilment is not impossible; that it is begun in all true Christians; that they all are tending to it; are growing into it; and are pleasing to God because they are becoming, and in proportion as they are becoming like Him who, when He came on earth in our flesh, fulfilled the Law perfectly.
Bl. John Henry Newman, PPS V, 10