Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Anglican Newman on the Falsity of Extreme Versions of the Protestant "Faith Alone" Viewpoint

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The following are excerpts from my upcoming book of quotations from Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: The Quotable Newman: Theology and Church History.

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Still dwelling on the sin and misery of our unrenewed nature! still anxiously turning to the corruption and odiousness of the flesh, and refusing to contemplate the work of the Spirit, lest grace should fail of being exalted, lest glory should be given to man, lest Christ's work should be eclipsed! What a strange and capricious taste, to linger in the tomb, to sit down with Job among the ashes, by way of knowing him who has called us to light, to liberty, to perfection! How eccentric and how inconsequent,—how like, (unless sometimes seen in serious and well-judging men,) how like an aberration, to argue that to extol the work of the Spirit, must be to obscure the grace of Christ? Yet this is firmly held,—held as if in the spirit of confessors and martyrs,—held, mordicus, as a vital, sovereign, glorious, transporting truth, by the dominant ultra-Protestantism. Regenerate man must, to the day of his death, have in him nothing better than man unregenerate. In spite of the influences of grace, there must be nothing in him to admire, nothing to kindle the beholder, nothing to gaze upon, dwell on, or love, lest we glory in man. Grace must do nothing in him, or it is not duly upheld. The triumph of grace is to act entirely externally to him, not in him. To save and sanctify is not so great a work as to save and leave sinful. There must be nothing saintly, nothing super-human, nothing angelic in man regenerate, because man unregenerate is the child and slave of evil. Sin must be his sole characteristic, his sole theme, his sole experience . . . Faith is to be made everything, as being the symbol and expression of this negative or degraded state; and charity, which is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment, and the greatest of Christian graces, must not be directly contemplated or enforced at all, lest it be thereby implied that the Christian can be better with grace than he is without it. Such is supposed to be, . . . spiritual religion, the religion in which the Spirit is supposed to do little or nothing for us.

(Review of The Life of Augustus Hermann Franké, by H. E. F. Guerike, British Critic, vol. 21, July 1837)

. . . a system of doctrine has risen up during the last three centuries, in which faith or spiritual-mindedness is contemplated and rested on as the end of religion instead of Christ. I do not mean to say that Christ is not mentioned as the Author of all good, but that stress is laid rather on the believing than on the Object of belief, on the comfort and persuasiveness of the doctrine rather than on the doctrine itself. And in this way religion is made to consist in contemplating ourselves instead of Christ; not simply in looking to Christ, but in ascertaining that we look to Christ, not in His Divinity and Atonement, but in our conversion and our faith in those truths. . . . The fault here spoken of is the giving to our ''experiences" a more prominent place in our thoughts than to the nature, attributes, and work of Him from whom they profess to come,—the insisting on them as a special point for the consideration of all who desire to be recognized as converted and elect.

(Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification [1838 / 1874; London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 3rd edition, 1908], ch. 13)

True faith is what may be called colourless, like air or water; it is but the medium through which the soul sees Christ; and the soul as little really rests upon it and contemplates it, as the eye can see the air. When, then, men are bent on holding it (as it were) in their hands, curiously inspecting, analyzing, and so aiming at it, they are obliged to colour and thicken it, that it may be seen and touched. That is, they substitute for it something or other, a feeling notion, sentiment, conviction, or act of reason, which they may hang over, and doat upon. They rather aim at experiences (as they are called) within them, than at Him that is without them. They are led to enlarge upon the signs of conversion, the variations of their feelings, their aspirations and longings, and to tell all this to others;—to tell others how they fear, and hope, and sin, and rejoice, and renounce themselves, and rest in Christ only; how conscious they are that their best deeds are but "filthy rags," and all is of grace, till in fact they have little time left them to guard against what they are condemning, and to exercise what they think they are so full of.

(Ibid., ch. 13)

To look to Christ is to be justified by faith; to think of being justified by faith is to look from Christ and to fall from grace.

(Ibid., ch. 13)

. . . it is not an uncommon notion at this time, that a man may be an habitual sinner, and yet be in a state of salvation, and in the kingdom of grace. And this doctrine many more persons hold than think they do; not in words, but in heart. They think that faith is all in all; that faith, if they have it, blots out their sins as fast as they commit them. They sin in distinct acts in the morning,—their faith wipes all out; at noon,—their faith still avails; and in the evening,—still the same. Or they remain contentedly in sinful habits or practices, under the dominion of sin, not warring against it, in ignorance what is sin and what is not; and they think that the only business of a Christian is, not to be holy, but to have faith, and to think and speak of Christ; and thus, perhaps, they are really living, whether by habit or by act, in extortion, avarice, envy, rebellious pride, self-indulgence, or worldliness, and neither know nor care to know it. If they sin in habits, they are not aware of these at all; if by acts, instead of viewing them one and all together, they take them one by one, and set their faith against each separate act.

(Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. V, 1840, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907; Sermon 13: “The State of Salvation”)

Faith is the tenure upon which this divine life is continued to us: by faith the Christian lives, but if he draws back he dies; his faith profits him nothing; or rather, his drawing back to sin is a reversing of his faith; after which, God has no pleasure in him. And yet, clearly as this is stated in Scripture, men in all ages have fancied that they might sin grievously, yet maintain their Christian hope. They have comforted themselves with thoughts of the infinite mercy of God, as if He could not punish the sinner; or they have laid the blame of their sins on their circumstances; or they have hoped that zeal for the truth, or that almsgiving, would make up for a bad life; or they have relied upon repenting in time to come. And not the least subtle of such excuses is that which results from a doctrine popularly received at this day, that faith in Christ is compatible with a very imperfect state of holiness, or with unrighteousness, and avails for the pardon of an unrighteous life. So that a man may, if so be, go on pretty much like other men, with this only difference, that he has what he considers faith,—a certain spiritual insight into the Gospel scheme, a renunciation of his own merit, and a power of effectually pleading and applying to his soul Christ's atoning sacrifice, such as others have not;—that he sins indeed much as others, but then is deeply grieved that he sins; that he would be under the wrath of God as others are, had he not faith to remove it withal. And thus the necessity of a holy life is in fact put out of sight quite as fully as if he said in so many words, that it was not required; and a man may, if it so happen, be low-minded, sordid, worldly, arrogant, imperious, self-confident, impure, self-indulgent, ambitious or covetous, nay, may allow himself from time to time in wilful acts of sin which he himself condemns, and yet, by a great abuse of words, may be called spiritual. . . . Instead of faith blotting out transgressions, transgressions blot out faith.

(Ibid., Sermon 14: “Transgressions and Infirmities”)

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