Sunday, February 13, 2005

From Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations
by Venerable John Henry Newman, C.O.

No one sins without making some excuse to himself for sinning. He is obliged to do so: man is not like the brute beasts; he has a divine gift within him which we call reason, and which constrains him to account before its judgment-seat for what he does. He cannot act at random; however he acts, he must act by some kind of rule, on some sort of principle; else he is vexed and dissatisfied with himself. Not that he is very particular whether he finds a good reason or a bad, when he is very much straitened for a reason; but a reason of some sort he must have. Hence you sometimes find those who give up religious duty altogether, attacking the conduct of religious men, whether their acquaintance, or the ministers or professors of religion, as a sort of excuse—a very bad one—for their neglect. Others will make the excuse that they are so far from church, or so closely occupied at home, whether they will or not, that they cannot serve God as they ought. Others say that it is no use trying to do so, that they have again and again gone to confession and tried to keep out of mortal sin, and cannot; and so they give up the attempt as hopeless. Others, when they fall into sin, excuse themselves on the plea that they are but following nature; that the impulses of nature are so very strong, and that it cannot be wrong to follow that nature which God has given us. Others are bolder still, and they cast off religion altogether: they deny its truth; they deny Church, Gospel, and Bible; they go so far perhaps as even to deny God's governance of His creatures. They boldly deny that there is any life after death: and, this being the case, of course they would be fools indeed not to take their pleasure here, and to make as much of this poor life as they can.

And there are others, and to these I am going to address myself, who try to speak peace to themselves by cherishing the thought that something or other will happen after all to keep them from eternal ruin, though they now continue in their neglect of God; that it is a long time yet to death; that there are many chances in their favour; that they shall repent in process of time when they get old, as a matter of course; that they mean to repent some day; that they mean, sooner or later, seriously to take their state into account, and to make their ground good; and, if they are Catholics, they add, that they will take care to die with the last Sacraments, and that therefore they need not trouble themselves about the matter.

Now these persons, my brethren, tempt God; they try Him, how far His goodness will go; and, it may be, they will try Him too long, and will have experience, not of His gracious forgiveness, but of His severity and His justice. In this spirit it was that the Israelites in the desert conducted themselves towards Almighty God: instead of feeling awe of Him, they were free with Him, treated Him familiarly, made excuses, preferred complaints, upbraided Him; as if the Eternal God had been a weak man, as if He had been their minister and servant; in consequence, we are told by the inspired historian, "The Lord sent among the people fiery serpents". To this St. Paul refers when he says, "Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted, and perished by the serpents;" a warning to us now, that those who are forward and bold with their Almighty Saviour, will gain, not the pardon which they look for, but will find themselves within the folds of the old serpent, will drink in his poisonous breath, and at length will die under his fangs. That seducing spirit appeared in person to our Lord in the days of His flesh, and tried to entangle Him, the Son of the Highest, in this very sin. He placed Him on the pinnacle of the Temple, and said to Him, "If Thou art the Son of God, cast Thyself down, for it is written, He has given His Angels charge of Thee, and in their hands they shall lift Thee, lest perchance Thou strike Thy foot against a stone;" but our Lord's answer was, "It is also written, Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God". And so numbers are tempted now to cast themselves headlong down the precipice of sin, assuring themselves the while that they will never reach the hell which lies at the bottom, never dash upon its sharp rocks, or be plunged into its flames; for Angels and Saints are there, in their extremity, in their final need,—or at least, God's general mercies, or His particular promises,—to interpose and bear them away safely. Such is the sin of these men, my brethren, of which I am going to speak; not the sin of unbelief, or of pride, or of despair, but of presumption.


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