Friday, March 2, 2012

John Henry Newman: "No One Will Find Happiness in Heaven Who Is Not Holy"

"If holiness be not merely the doing a certain number of good actions, but is an inward character which follows, under God's grace, from doing them, how far distant from that holiness are the multitude of men! They are not yet even obedient in outward deeds, which is the first step towards possessing it. They have even to learn to practice good works, as the means of changing their hearts, which is the end. It follows at once, even though Scripture did not plainly tell us so, that no one is able to prepare himself for heaven, that is, make himself holy, in a short time; - at least we do not see how it is possible; and this, viewed merely as a deduction of the reason, is a serious thought. Yet, alas! as there are persons who think to be saved by a few scanty performances, so there are others who suppose they may be saved all at once by a sudden and easily acquired faith. Most men who are living in neglect of God, silence their consciences, when troublesome, with the promise of repenting some future day. How often are they thus led on till death surprises them! But we will suppose they do begin to repent when that future day comes. Nay, we will even suppose that Almighty God were to forgive them, and to admit them into His holy heaven. Well, but is nothing more requisite? are they in a fit state to do Him service in heaven? is not this the very point I have been so insisting on, that they are not in a fit state? has it not been shown that, even if admitted there without a change of heart, they would find no pleasure in heaven? and is a change of heart wrought in a day? Which of our tastes or likings can we change at our will in a moment? Not the most superficial. Can we then at a word change the whole frame and character of our minds? Is not holiness the result of many patient, repeated efforts after obedience, gradually working on us, and first modifying and then changing our hearts? We dare not, of course set bounds to God's mercy and power in cases of repentance late in life; yet, surely, it is our duty ever to keep steadily before us, and act upon, those general truths which His Holy Word has declared. His Holy Word in various ways warns us, that, as no one will find happiness in heaven, who is not holy, so no one can lean to be so, in a short time, and when he will."


Father Ron Smith said...

And it is well known that the good cardinal did have unto himself what the Church calls a 'Special Friendship', with whom he was buried in the same grave.

Honi soit qui mal y pense!

Bryan Owen said...

I am familiar with that story, Fr. Ron. Is there something in particular about this excerpt from one of Newman's earliest sermons that brings it to mind?

Robert F said...

I wonder, though, how much holiness is adequate to be in the presence of God? I think this statement ignores the fundamental issue that motivated the Reformation, and its hard to see how this doesn't amount to salvation based on works. How does one "make himself holy"? And how does one avoid a Pharasaical attitude to "the multitude of men"?

Bryan Owen said...

Those are important concerns and questions, Robert F.

I seem to recall C. S. Lewis making points similar to what Newman is saying here, but I can't remember exactly where at the moment.

I hear what Newman is saying as having to do with sanctification (or, to put it in Orthodox terms, theosis) rather than justification. This is not about "salvation based on works" (we do not save ourselves), but rather about growth in holiness. As I read the New Testament (particularly the epistles), that is a major concern.

A recent book that has helped me with this matter - and also with the question you raise about how someone can "make himself holy" - is N. T. Wright's After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. I highly recommend it!

As to the question, "how does one avoid a Pharisaical attitude to 'the multitude of men'" - perhaps by always including one's self among that multitude. Again, I find myself turning to the Orthodox tradition, in this case the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Compared to the holiness of God, even the most "advanced" Christian falls pitifully short of the mark.

Robert F said...

In C.S. Lewis book LETTERS TO MALCOLM: CHIEFLY ON PRAYER there is a section that explores some of the same issues, but in those passages Lewis is speculating (approvingly, I think) on the possibility of a form of purgatory that might exist after death to prepare those who have Christian faith, but have not adequately prepared themselves, become holy enough, to "merit" the Beatific Vision. In fact, I think Lewis says that there are likely not many who could bear the intensity of the Beatific Vision immediately after death without being purged of their imperfections first, and that purging is as though through fire, as I believe is written somewhere in Scripture.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the Lewis reference, Robert F. I think I may be recalling something from elsewhere in Lewis' work, but I still cannot put my finger on it.