Sunday, November 09, 2008

Newman: The Testimony of Conscience

The quote in the last post comes from a really good sermon (I haven't read any bad ones by Cardinal Newman.) It's on St. Paul's statement: "For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience". Newman brings up similar statements in the New Testament and many in the Psalms, which all describe, "that state of heart, which Scripture calls simple and sincere, or perfect, or innocent; and which is such, that a man may know he has it, and humbly rejoice in it."

Now how can be possible for Christians to say, like St. Paul, "I am conscious of nothing against myself," when we know we're sinners and it doesn't lie in our power to be perfect? It's a rather important question; who doesn't want to have a conscience that's completely clear? Newman's solution is something like this: our conscience is clear when we have surrendered ourselves to God, when we fully intend to try to do His will no matter what it is, when we're not avoiding prayer or self-examination because we're afraid of what He might ask of us. A man knows when he's in this state because there's such a difference between holding out on God and fully surrendering to Him:
He may have made resolves before, he may have argued himself into a belief of his own sincerity, he may have (as it were) convinced himself that nothing can be required of him more than he has done, he may have asked himself what more is there to do, and yet have felt a something in him still which needed quieting, which was ever rising up and troubling him, and had to be put down again. But when he really gives himself up to God, when he gets himself honestly to say, "I sacrifice to Thee this cherished wish, this lust, this weakness, this scheme, this opinion: make me what Thou wouldest have me; I bargain for nothing; I make no terms; I seek for no previous information whither Thou art taking me..."—what a difference is this! what a plain perceptible change, which cannot be mistaken! what a feeling of satisfaction is poured over the mind! what a sense that at length we are doing what we should do, and approving ourselves to God our Saviour!
I love Cardinal Newman's writing. He gets to me. He's highly intelligent and he also knows the human heart, so his sermons have this trick of leading the reader, by a line of steady, thoughtful, logical argumentation, straight into an ocean crash of emotion.

In the tradition of excerpting bloggers everywhere, I utter the standard injunction: Read The Whole Thing!

But if you'd rather not, here's how he ends:
Let us then, since this is our privilege, attempt to share in St. Paul's sincerity, that we may share in his rejoicing. Let us endeavour to become friends of God and fellow-citizens with the saints; not by sinless purity, for we have it not; not in our deeds of price, for we have none to show; not in our privileges, for they are God's acts, not ours; not in our Baptism, for it is outward; but in that which is the fruit of Baptism within us, not a word but a power, not a name but a reality, which, though it can claim nothing, can beg everything;—an honest purpose, an unreserved, entire submission of ourselves to our Maker, Redeemer, and Judge. Let us beg Him to aid us in our endeavour, and, as He has begun a good work in us, to perform it until the day of the Lord Jesus.

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