Christ is risen! On this day, and in this Easter season, the good news breaks through the clouds that the circumstances of each day bring into our lives. We are reminded that no matter what state we find ourselves in, we have the one thing that matters; or rather, the one person that matters has us. He has saved us, come to live with us and called us to bring him to others. The Great Commission is a natural consequence of Easter, for it is in our very nature to share the good that we have received with others. But as we look to share, we should consider how well we understand the Easter message, and our faith in general, so we can communicate it to others. St. John Henry Newman, in his sermon “Faith, the Title for Justification,” walks us through one of the most basic questions about the faith: Is faith all that is necessary for salvation? Besides giving us the Church’s answer, he teaches us how to read Scripture, how to reason and how to approach others.
There are many passages in Scripture, Newman admits, that seem to indicate that faith is the only thing necessary for salvation. Jesus himself seems to imply it when He says that by faith the Gentiles would sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 8:11). St. Paul confirms: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (Gal. 3:8). Despite appearances, Newman warns us against this simplistic approach to the Word of God: “It is unfair and dangerous to insist on certain texts to the exclusion of others; that true though it be, that some texts speak of faith and nothing else, still others speak of Church communion and nothing else, as being the way of salvation; and if so, both, both faith and Church communion, are necessary, and that one will not save without the other; that our duty is to come to Christ in faith, through the Church.”
Besides helping us approach Scripture properly, Newman also challenges us to engage our reason in thinking through these ideas. To say that faith is necessary is not to say that it is the ONLY necessary thing. Far from excluding communion with the Church as necessary, “it may be shown, that nothing can be more natural than this union of various distinct means, in order to gain some particular benefit, and that there is nothing forced in thus interpreting the one set of expressions in harmony with the other; and nothing in the impression conveyed by the one inconsistent with the impression conveyed by the other.”
Moreover, while faith is the “title to receive the gifts purchased for us by our Lord Jesus on the Cross,” this fact tells us nothing about how those gifts are possessed. Newman gives an example of the difference by asking us to imagine a person giving away a great treasure. While he may tell the beneficiary that they have the sole right to the treasure, it would not be inconsistent for the giver to tell the beneficiary to go to a certain location to obtain the money. “So in like manner Christ may say by Himself or His Apostles, ‘Ask, and ye shall receive.’ ‘Believe, and ye shall be saved,’ and yet may mean to enjoin upon us certain rules, and to appoint a certain treasure-house, for our gaining that gift to which our asking and our faith are sufficient to entitle us.”
And that’s precisely how it works in the stories of Scripture that describe conversion. For example, when Paul and Silas tell the Philippian jailor to believe in Christ and he would be saved, they then tell him to be baptized. After Baptism, “’he rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.’ He had believed before baptism, but he did not rejoice before baptism—he rejoiced after baptism. Men rejoice when they have found what they seek. Both the noble Ethiopian and the humble jailor rejoiced on their being baptized. Faith gave a title: baptism gave possession. Faith procured them what nothing else would procure, and baptism conveyed it.”
Newman says very plainly that we cannot be justified without being grafted into the Church. There are many, therefore, who have faith, but enjoy none of the privileges of being grafted into the Church. Because of their faith, they will one day obtain justification, but the promise remains at a distance. This fact should inspire us to pray not only for those who have not heard the Gospel and those who have heard but have rejected it, but also for our brothers and sisters in faith who have yet to taste what they have claimed by faith.
The joy we have today will make us bold witnesses to the miracle of God’s forgiveness, but love will spur us to learn more about the truth and to exhaust every means of becoming an effective evangelist (simply put, someone who brings the good news). With greater knowledge of the faith and a desire to continue learning, we will be prepared to explain to others the source of our joy so that it can become their own. He is risen indeed!