The Great End Which He Was Seeking

From “Faith the Title for Justification,” Parochial and Plain Sermons, VI.12 (1841).

Consider the case of the Ethiopian eunuch. “Faith comes by hearing; and hearing by the word of God.” This was fulfilled in his case. He read the Prophet Isaiah concerning Christ’s atoning sufferings. He heard Philip preaching on the sacred text. He had faith in Christ. He had a title to justification; but he was baptized in order to receive it.

Hear his own words declaring it. “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?,” (Acts 8:36). You see, baptism was the great end which he was seeking. Why, except that it conveyed the gift of life? Would it have been rational to have been so earnest for a dead ordinance, for a mere outward rite? —especially since now he had heard and had believed. Would he have asked about “hindrances” to a mere outward rite, when he had already obtained the inward gift? No, he sought baptism because it was worth seeking…

At length it was finished. The deed was done — the gift was given, justification was accomplished — and therefore, “when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip.” He did not take him away before; he did not think it enough for Philip to preach. Philip preached and baptized; and then he was caught away. Had Philip but preached, and not baptized, and the eunuch still had had faith, then doubtless, in God’s great mercy and good providence, another messenger from God would have baptized the eunuch.

St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was among the most widely influential English theologians of the nineteenth century. One of the principal leaders of Anglicanism’s Catholic revival at Oxford in the 1830’s, he became a Roman Catholic in 1845, and was an Oratorian for the remainder of his life. He was made a cardinal shortly before his death and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2019. His Parochial and Plain Sermons, first published in 1863, were written in his years as an Anglican priest, while serving as vicar of Oxford’s Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. His feast day on the Roman Calendar is October 9 and he is commemorated on other days on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican Churches.


Online Archives