The Christian Character ~ Card. Newman

Equanimity, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol 5.

Following a sermon for Advent, exhorting Christians to self-examination and watchfulness for Christ’s second coming, Newman comments in a sermon for Christmas on St. Paul’s exhortation in the passage: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. iv. 4). St. Paul teaches Christians the equal necessity for a “a calm and cheerful frame of mind.” Newman explains that it is a wonder that St. Paul so used to facing the vicissitudes encountered by first century Christians should say this as if he were living in a desert monastery or some country parsonage.

St. Paul suffered and achieved so much: “And yet he who “laboured more abundantly than all” his brethren, is also a pattern of simplicity, meekness, cheerfulness, thankfulness, and serenity of mind. These tempers were especially characteristic of St. Paul, and are much insisted on in his Epistles. For instance.—”Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits … Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”

He exhorts men, women, and children alike to be holy, just, temperate and single-minded in their love for God. Thoughts of God’s second coming give men a new vantage point: “”Be careful for nothing,” he says, or, as St. Peter, “casting all your care upon Him,” or, as He Himself, “Take no thought” or care “for the morrow, for the morrow will take thought for the things of itself.” [l Peter v. 7. Matt. vi. 34.]”  The Christian has before his mind Christ’s second coming and acts as if he were to come tomorrow.

“So, again, it is with all forebodings, anxieties, mortifications, griefs, resentments of this world. “The time is short.” It has sometimes been well suggested, as a mode of calming the mind when set upon an object, or much vexed or angered at some occurrence, what will you feel about all this a year hence? It is very plain that matters which agitate us most extremely now, will then interest us not at all; that objects about which we have intense hope and fear now, will then be to us nothing more than things which happen at the other end of the earth. So will it be with all human hopes, fears, pleasures, pains, jealousies, disappointments, successes, when the last day is come. They will have no life in them; they will be as the faded flowers of a banquet, which do but mock us.”

Another element of the character of Christians is called moderation. Unlike persons given over to critical thoughts and bigotry, “the Christian has no keen expectations, no acute mortifications. He is fair, equitable, considerate towards all men, because he has no temptation to be otherwise. He has no violence, no animosity, no bigotry, no party feeling. He knows that his Lord and Saviour must triumph; he knows that He will one day come from heaven, no one can say how soon.”

The Christian knows that Christ’s cause will triumph in the end: “He does not fear; fear it is that makes men bigots, tyrants, and zealots; but for the Christian, it is his privilege, as he is beyond hopes and fears, suspense and jealousy, so also to be patient, cool, discriminating, and impartial;—so much so, that this very fairness marks his character in the eyes of the world, is “known unto all men.”

The passage in St. Paul’s epistle is reminiscent of the paradoxes in Scripture; men are bid to rejoice and fear at the same time: “when we are told both to fear and to rejoice, we gain thus much at first sight, that our joy is not to be irreverent, nor our fear to be desponding; that though both feelings are to remain, neither is to be what it would be by itself.” The one feeling corrects the other: “It is as clear a duty to rejoice in the prospect of Christ’s coming, as if we were not told to fear it. The duty of fearing does but perfect our joy; that joy alone is true Christian joy, which is informed and quickened by fear, and made thereby sober and reverent.” To reconcile both these attitudes seems inconsistent yet holy person are able to do so. And worldly people who are unable to understand “are fond of criticising those who, in seeming to be inconsistent, are but like Scripture teaching.”

Of course when someone sins gravely he must feel sorrow because sin is wrong but after some time, aware of God’s mercy, the person experiences joy in proportion to his decision to give up the world and follow Christ.

Newman continues commenting on the text in the Letter to the Philippians: “Once more, peace is part of this same temper also. “The peace of God,” says the Apostle, “which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” There are many things in the Gospel to alarm us, many to agitate us, many to transport us, but the end and issue of all these is peace.” He explains that the tears and distress of the Apostle for the churches were at times like fearful tempests on the surface of the ocean yet these commotions did not reach the foundations of the ocean which are as tranquil and calm in the storm as in calm. “So is it with the souls of holy men. They have a well of peace springing up within them unfathomable; and though the accidents of the hour may make them seem agitated, yet in their hearts they are not so.”

The Christian can bear all things; he is at peace within himself: “He can bear, he finds it pleasant, to be with himself at all times,—”never less alone than when alone.” He can lay his head on his pillow at night, and own in God’s sight, with overflowing heart, that he wants nothing,—that he “is full and abounds,”—that God has been all things to him, and that nothing is not his which God could give him.”

Christ was once “born of a pure Virgin” and bids us as “newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the Word, that they may grow thereby.” As years go by we must grow in faith and love. Newman concludes with a masterful description of the character of a mature Christian: “The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence, no affectation, no ambition, no singularity; because he has neither hope nor fear about this world. He is serious, sober, discreet, grave, moderate, mild, with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man. There are persons who think religion consists in ecstasies, or in set speeches;—he is not of those.”  But Newman is careful to distinguish this from the false calm and composure of men who fear nothing or the liberality of those who do not expect Christ’s coming.