They Have a Life in Them

From “The New Works of the Gospel,” Parochial and Plain Sermons (1840)

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; I 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 a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them.” (Isa 65:17; Jer 31:31-33; Ezek. 37:26-27)

In the text, St. Paul declares the fulfilment of these promises in the Gospel. “If anyone is 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 Paul calls Christ, not only “the image of the invisible God,” but also “the first-born of every creature;” or, as Christ calls himself in the book of Revelation, “the beginning of the creation of God” (Col 1:15; Rev 3:14) …

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…

[Regarding the statement about old things passing away and making all things new] 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. Christ 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…

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 Christ. 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.”

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 labor, 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.

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.

 

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