St. John Henry Newman “The Apostolical Christian”
Each person who knows and loves Christ desires to live a life in a manner that pleases Christ, or this is what a Christian should desire. But sometimes it’s easier said than done, to use the cliché phrase. How do we live a life pleasing to Christ, an apostolical life, with this goal in mind? In the sermon, “The Apostolical Christian” (1843) St. John Henry Newman gives practical advice. He writes,
“Let us . . . leave for a while our own private judgment of what is pleasing to God and not pleasing, and turn to consider the picture which Scripture gives us of the true Christian life, and then attempt to measure our own life by it. . . . Let us not take it for granted that we shall know them by our own common sense. Let us betake ourselves to Scripture to learn them.”
Newman stresses that “The idea of a Christian, as set forth in Scripture, is something very definite” and then he helpfully gives three marks of the Christian life. “1. Now the first great and obvious characteristic of a Bible Christian . . . is to be without worldly ties or objects, to be living in this world, but not for this world.” This is a precept we have heard often. St. John Henry explains that though we live in the world we should keep our eyes on the heavenly city, which entails staying alert. We should watch and wait, for we know not the day or the hour that the Lord will come, as stated in St. Matthew 24: 42, 44. “Hence it follows” he continues, “ that watching is a special mark of the Scripture Christian, as our Lord so emphatically sets before us.”
In society we are tempted to give into material enjoyment or seek riches or fame. These are poor substitutes for God. Advent is a perfect time to be mindful of this special sign of a Christian, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, and think of his second coming.
From the beginning of the book of Acts, Newman gleans the second mark of the Christian: “2. Christians, then, were a simple, innocent, grave, humble, patient, meek, and loving body, without earthly advantages or worldly influence, as every page of the New Testament shows us.” These virtues are practiced by the one striving for the heavenly city, who is mindful of the transitory nature of life on earth. Newman remarks that this happens in a Christian life because : “[Christians] love God and they give up the world.” The Christian exercises the virtues which with God’s grace identify him with Christ and, he will grow in divine filiation.
St. John Henry gives in this very instructive sermon the third mark of a Christian as found in the New Testament, a mark which he says results from the other two. 3. If we, like the first disciples, give up the world, what follows is this—we would rejoice and have joy in all its forms which results in a cheerful countenance . . . . “joyful people are loving; joyful people are forgiving; joyful people are munificent. Joy, if it be Christian joy, the refined joy of the mortified and persecuted, makes men peaceful, serene, thankful, gentle, affectionate, sweet-tempered, pleasant, hopeful; it is graceful, tender, touching, winning.” These fruits come, Newman teaches us, to the Christian who has given up the world for love of Christ, for they know whom they had believed. [Luke vi. 23.]
In contrast with the worldly person and the lukewarm Christian, the one who takes his faith seriously, whom Newman calls the Apostolical Christian, has joy. His life has a clear purpose and worthwhile goal. Many who have material possessions are lacking joy; as St. Paul spoke of those who live without God and faith in the world; it is not possible for them to live with joy. Advent is a time of hope which leads to the great joy of Christmas.
St. John Henry Newman ends this sermon with a sobering thought: “[If] our Saviour [would] come on earth suddenly, as He will one day visit it, in whom would He see the features of the Christians whom He and His Apostles left behind them . . . ?” With this in mind, we can begin anew this Advent, striving to live our lives soberly and seriously but with joy, as we await the miracle of God come to man as a baby child. By keeping our eyes fixed on the heavens like the shepherds who followed the star, we too one day will see Christ, not as an infant, but face to face.