“Are you saved?” This question is posed to strangers by some who worship in certain protestant denominations; though asked with good intentions, it often seems out of place. The motivation for asking the question is to share the good news of Jesus Christ, to impart “saving knowledge.” What is this saving knowledge and just what is its purpose? Nothing less than “eternal life, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.” [Eph. i. 17, 18. Col. iii. 10. 2 Pet. i. 2. John xviii. 3.] But how do we gain this knowledge and how do we know if we are “saved?” It is just this that Newman teaches in his sermon, “Saving Knowledge.”
Gaining this knowledge, Newman posits, should be our goal on earth. The unseen God Who made us desires to draw us to Himself, but humanity, with fickle mortal eyes, repeatedly turned their backs on Him; it was therefore necessary that He be physically seen. St. John Henry writes: “He who was before unseen has shown Himself in Christ; not merely displayed His glory . . . but really He Himself has come upon earth, and has been seen of men in human form . . . man has seen the Invisible God; and we have the history of His sojourn among His creatures in the Gospels.” These gospels, written by eyewitnesses of Christ, are the good news that teach us the saving knowledge.
Newman continues, “To know God is life eternal, and to believe in the Gospel manifestation of Him is to know Him.” He follows with this logical question . . . “but how are we to ‘know that we know Him?’ How are we to be sure that we are not mistaking some dream of our own for the true and clear Vision?” Newman notes that Christians give varied answers to this question though the Biblical answer is clear: “Obedience is the test of Faith.”
St. Newman then expands upon this quite clearly: “Thus the whole duty and work of a Christian is made up of these two parts, Faith and Obedience; ‘looking unto Jesus,’ the Divine Object as well as Author of our faith, and acting according to His will.” But Newman warns against certain stumbling blocks for the Christian. One is a sentimentality which depends on “certain notions, affections, feelings, and tempers [which are] not a necessary condition of a saving state.” Neither, he says, is rote rule-following and a scrupulosity practiced without love. On the contrary! In keeping with Jesus’ teaching and St. James’ explanation he says that a Christian’s duty lies in practicing the faith; for herein lies the secret of inner peace.
A Christian’s “saving knowledge” is manifest in the witness of his life, rather than in uttered phrases. In discourse with others he should act soberly and with naturalness. His faith is manifest in his work and inner thoughts. In Newman’s words: “His heart is in his work, and his thoughts rest without effort on his God and Saviour. This is the way of a Christian . . . True spiritual-mindedness is unseen by man, like the soul itself, of which it is a quality; and as the soul is known by its operations, so it is known by its fruits.”
Newman reminds us of the necessity of an examination of conscience, with the desire to rid oneself of evil inclinations by repentance in order to ‘mould our hearts’ heavenward. But rather than trying to ascertain one’s salvation, which may lead to a morbid and counterproductive introspection and self-contemplation, the Christian should dwell on God. He concludes: “The essence of Faith is to look out of ourselves; now, consider what manner of a believer he is who imprisons himself in his own thoughts, and rests on the workings of his own mind, and thinks of his Saviour as an idea of his imagination, instead of putting self aside, and living upon Him who speaks in the Gospels . . . which has ever been received in the Church Catholic, and which, doubtless, is saving.”
In these troubled times, when the world has been sent reeling by the coronavirus pandemic, and the threat of death is heavy around us, we can take comfort in this saving knowledge, this truth, which will set us free. “’If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.’ [John xiv. 15. 1 John ii. 6. Col. iii. 1.] This is all that is put upon us, difficult indeed to perform, but easy to understand . . . because Christ has done everything else. He has freely chosen us, died for us, regenerated us, and now ever liveth for us; what remains? Simply that we should do as He has done to us, showing forth His glory by good works. Thus a correct . . . an orthodox faith and an obedient life, is the whole duty of man.”
Are you striving to live a holy life, to practice the faith, even without recourse to the sacraments in the present situation of churches closed by quarantine? Perhaps these difficult and uncertain times can provide the necessary distance from the normal hustle and bustle, allowing us to turn more purposefully in our reliance on Him, Who bore human suffering for us.