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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : SERMON XII. Vanity of Human Glory.

Parochial And Plain Sermons Vol Viii by John Henry Newman

SERMON XII. Vanity of Human Glory.

|The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.| -- 1 John iii.1

Of St. Simon and St. Jude, the Saints whom we this day commemorate, little is known. St. Jude, indeed, still lives in the Church in his Catholic epistle; but of his history we only know that he was brother to St. James the Less, and nearly related to our Lord and that, like St. Peter, he had been a married man. Besides his name of Jude or Judas, he is also called Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus in the Gospels. Of St. Simon we only know that he was called the Canaanite, or Zealot, for the words have the same meaning, belonging, before his conversion, to a certain fierce sect, who, under the idea they were doing God service, took upon themselves to execute the law upon offenders without legal authority, and without formal accusation or trial. It is said that both Apostles were at length martyred in the course of their efforts to gather together God's elect into His fold.

Little is known of St. Simon and St. Jude; they laboured and they taught in their generation; they were gifted with miraculous powers, and by their preaching founded churches and saved souls; they travelled into the East and West, till at last they were taken away from the earth. Yet we know little of their history now. Although |honoured in their generation, and the glory of their times,| yet they |have no memorial, but are perished as though they had never been.| St. Jude's Epistle, indeed, is a standing monument, yet not of his doings, but of his gifts. What he wrote leads us to conjecture indeed what he was; but of his history, we know no more than of that of St. Simon.

And hence we draw an important lesson for ourselves, which, however obvious, is continually forgotten by us in the actual business of life; viz. to do our duty without aiming at the world's praise. Mankind knows nothing of St. Simon's and St. Jude's deeds and sufferings, though these were great; yet there is One who |knows their works, and labour, and patience, . . . and how they bore . . . and for His Name's sake laboured, and fainted not.| Their deeds are blotted out from history, but not from the Lamb's book of life; for |blessed are they who die in Him, . . . that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.|

On this great practical rule, viz. to do what we do heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men, I shall now make some remarks; and in doing so, I shall be pointing out a mode in which we may follow these blessed Saints, whose lives at first sight seem to have left no pattern behind them for our imitation.

In heathen times, when men understood that they had souls, yet did not know what was the soul's true happiness, or how it was to be gained, much was thought, and more talked, of what they called glory, fame, honour. This was natural, as a little consideration will show. For before men begin to exercise their minds, while they remain ignorant and dull, the common pleasures of sense satisfy them -- eating, drinking, and making merry. They do not think of the morrow. They have no end in view, and act on no plan. But when intelligence is awakened, and they learn to feel, reflect, hope, plan, and exert themselves, then mere animal indulgences are not enough for them, and they look about for some higher pleasures, more lasting and more refined. This is the real effect of that civilization which is so much extolled; it gives men refined wishes, and sets them on gratifying them. An enlightened age is one which feels the wants of human nature. Knowledge and mental cultivation render men alive to the things around them, busy, and restless; but they do no more than make men sensible of their wants; they find no remedy for them; they bring no appropriate food to the hunger they create: for it is religion alone can do this.

Now the ancient heathen whom I speak of were just in this state; having minds cultivated and refined intellectually, they felt the capabilities of man for acting on a large field, and the need of some stimulus to make him act thus. They saw that human nature was capable of great things, and they perceived that some great goods must be attainable in some way or other, though they did not well know what they were. Feelings such as these, acting upon men in the tumult of life, with their passions awake, keenly set on (what are called) political objects, and averse to those self-denying habits which conscience (if listened to) would have suggested to be the way to that unknown happiness which their heart was imagining, led them to think of what they called glory and popularity as the greatest of goods, and that to which they ought especially to aspire.

Now what exactly they wished to signify by the word |glory,| is difficult to say, for they were apt to speak of it as if it were some real thing, and that, too, which one could possess and make one's own; yet, if we come to consider its real meaning, it plainly stands for nothing else than the praise of other men, the being admired, honoured, and feared; or, more commonly, having a celebrated name; that is, for a something external to ourselves. But whatever precise notions they wished to attach to the word, they used to talk in glowing language of the necessity of going through dangers and sufferings for glory's sake, -- labouring to benefit the world for glory, -- and dying for glory.

Now when we read of poor heathens using this language, it is our duty to pity them, for it is plain enough to any sober reasoner, that nothing is so vain as to talk of this glory being a real and substantial good; for there is no better reason for my being happy because my name is celebrated, than because any thing else is celebrated which, accidentally, and for a time, is connected with myself, and called mine. My name is my own only in the case of those who use it in speaking of me; i. e. of those who happen to see and know me. But when those who never saw me talk much of my name, they do me no more good or harm than if they celebrated any thing else which I may know to be mine. They may praise a house that was once mine -- that is not praising me; nor, in like manner, is it doing me any good, or honouring me, when those who never saw me use my name respectfully. It is a mere imagination, which can give no solid or lasting pleasure. There is some meaning and sense (though great wickedness) in coveting our neighbour's house or garden, horse or ass; the unjust steward, though a bad man, at least acted wisely, i. e. according to a worldly wisdom; but those who covet honour, I mean a great name, really covet no substantial thing at all, and are not only |the most offending men alive,| inasmuch as this passion for fame may carry them on to the most atrocious crimes, but also the most foolish of men.

Now, in the ancient heathen we may blame, but we must pity this sin, because it at least evidenced in them a knowledge of a great want of human nature, and was so far the sign of a higher state of mind than that of others who did not feel any wants at all, who had no notion of any but selfish enjoyments, and were content to live and die like the brutes that perish. Their sin lay, not in being anxious for some good or other, which was not before their eyes, but in not consulting their own hearts on the subject, and going the way which their conscience told them. But, I say, they were heathens, -- they had no Bible, no Church; and therefore we pity them; and by their errors are reminded to look to ourselves, and see how far we are clean from their sin.

Now it is a most melancholy fact, that Christians are chargeable, for all their light, with the same foolish irrational sin. This was not at first sight to be expected. This is a peculiar case. Observe; I do not say it is wonderful that we should seek the praise of persons we know. This I can understand. We all naturally love to be respected and admired, and in due limits perhaps we may be allowed to do so; the love of praise is capable of receiving a religious discipline and character. But the surprising thing is, that we should leave the thought of present goods, whether sensual enjoyments, or the more refined pleasure which the praise of our friends brings us, yet without going on to seek the good of the next world; that we should deny ourselves, yet not deny ourselves for a reality, but for a shadow. It is natural, I say, to love to have deference and respect paid us by our acquaintance; but I am speaking of the desire of glory, that is, the praise of a vast multitude of persons we never saw, or shall see, or care about; and this, I say, is a depraved appetite, the artificial produce of a falsely enlightened intellect; as unmeaning as it is sinful, or rather more sinful, because it is so very unmeaning; excusable indeed in heathen, not only because they knew no better, but because they had no better good clearly proposed to them; but in Christians, who have the favour of God and eternal life set before them, deeply criminal, turning away, as they do, from the bread of heaven, to feed upon ashes, with a deceived and corrupted imagination.

This love of indiscriminate praise, then, is an odious, superfluous, wanton sin, and we should put it away with a manly hatred, as something irrational and degrading. Shall man, born for high ends, the servant and son of God, the redeemed of Christ, the heir of immortality, go out of his way to have his mere name praised by a vast populace, or by various people, of whom he knows nothing, and most of whom (if he saw them) he would himself be the first to condemn? It is odious, yet young persons of high minds and vigorous powers, are especially liable to be led captive by this snare of the devil. If reasoning does not convince them, let facts, -- the love of glory has its peculiar condemnation in its consequences. No sin has been so productive of wide-spread enduring ruin among mankind: wars and conquests are the means by which men have most reckoned on securing it. A tree is known by its fruit.

These remarks apply to the love of indiscriminate praise in all its shapes. Few persons, indeed, are in a condition to be tempted by the love of glory; but all persons may be tempted to indulge in vanity, which is nothing else but the love of general admiration. A vain person is one who likes to be praised, whoever is the praiser, whether good or bad. Now consider, how few men are not in their measure vain, till they reach that period of life when by the course of nature vanity disappears? Let all Christians carefully ask themselves, whether they are not very fond, not merely of the praise of their superiors and friends -- this is right, -- but of that of any person, any chance-comer, about whom they know nothing. Who is not open to flattery? and if he seems not to be exposed to it, is it not that he is too shrewd or too refined to be beguiled by any but what is delicate and unostentatious? A man never considers who it is who praises him. But the most dangerous, perhaps, of all kinds of vanity is to be vain of our personal appearance, most dangerous, for such, persons are ever under temptation -- I may say, ever sinning. Wherever they go they carry their snare with them; and their idle love of admiration is gratified without effort by the very looks of those who gaze upon them.

Now I shall say something upon the natural and rational love of praise, and how far it may be safely indulged. As I have already said, it is natural to desire the esteem of all those with whom we have intercourse, all whom we love. Indeed, Almighty God intends us to do so. When we love a person, we cannot but wish he should love us; but he cannot love us, without also feeling respect and esteem towards us. And as to the question, from whom we should desire praise, and how far, we have this simple rule -- from all who stand to us in Christ's place. Christ Himself is our great Judge; from Him we must supremely seek praise; and as far as men are in His place, so far may we seek it from men. We may desire the praise of our parents and superiors, and the praise of good men -- in a word, all whom we have a value for; but the desire of indiscriminate praise, the praise of those for whom we have no respect or regard, this is the mischief. We may desire the praise of those we have never seen, if we believe them to be good men. St. Paul not only speaks of the mutual rejoicing between himself and the Corinthians, who knew each other, but likewise returns thanks that the fame of the faith of the Romans was spread all over the Christian world. And in this way we may desire the praise of good persons yet unborn -- I mean the Church of God, to the end of time. St. Mary, in the hymn we daily use, returns thanks that |from henceforth all generations shall call her blessed.| But this feeling of hers is very different from the desire of what is called glory, posthumous fame, fame after death; as if, forsooth, it were a great thing to have one's name familiar to the mouths of the mixed multitude of this world, of swearers, and jesters, and liars, and railers, and blasphemers, and of all those men, who even if they do not sin grossly in deed, yet use their tongues for evil, speak the words of the world, slander the Church, speak evil of dignities, propagate error, and defend sinners; a great thing truly, and much to be desired, to be honoured by that evil world which dishonours God and His Son!

One additional caution I must add, about allowing ourselves the praise of others; not only must we desire the praise of none but good men, but we must not earnestly desire to be known even by many good men. The truth is, we cannot know, really know, many persons at all, and it is always dangerous to delight in the praises of strangers, even though we believe them to be good men, and much more to seek their praises, which is a kind of ambition. And further than this, it is more agreeable to the Christian temper to be satisfied rather to know and to be known by a few, and to grow day by day in their esteem and affection, than to desire one's name to be on the lips of many, though they profess religion, and associate us with religious objects. And it is our great privilege to have the real blessing in our power, while the fancied good alone is difficult to be gained. Few Christians can be great or can leave a name to posterity; but most Christians will, in the length of their lives, be able to secure the love and praise of one or two, who are to them the representatives of Him whom |having not seen they love,| and in whose presence, or at least in whose memory, they may comfort their heart till He come. This doubtless has been the happiness of many saints who have not even left their names behind them. It was the privilege doubtless of St. Simon and St. Jude. They, indeed, were not simply unknown to the world in their lifetime, but even hated and persecuted by it. Upon them came our Saviour's prophecy, that |men should revile them . . . and say all manner of evil against them falsely for His sake.| Yet in the affection the Church bore them, in the love they bore to each other, and, above all, the praise of that Saviour whom they had followed on earth, and who named them in the number of those who had continued with Him in His temptations, and were written in heaven, they had a real glory, not as the world giveth. Who can estimate, who can imagine the deep, the wonderful, the awful joy which the approbation of Christ would impart to them? When we consider how intimately they were allowed to associate with Him, how they were witnesses of His heavenly conversation through the days of His flesh, of His acts of mercy, of His Divine words, of the grace, the tenderness, the sanctity, the majesty, the calmness, which reigned within Him; of His knowledge, His wisdom, His perfect love of God, His zeal for God's service, His patient obedience, -- and much more when they knew the dread secret of what He was before He came on earth, what He was even while on earth in presence, -- to have had a smile, an encouraging word, from Him, was it not a privilege to treasure in memory beyond any thing else, a remembrance so bright that every thing else looked discoloured and dim? and would it not have amounted to a loss of reason in them to have even had the thought of seeking the praise of weak, ignorant, sinful mortals?

Let us seek this praise which cometh of God, though we shall not have that sensible experience of it which the Apostles were vouchsafed. Let us seek it, for it is to be obtained; it is given to those worthy of it. The poorest, the oldest, and most infirm among us, those who are living not merely in obscurity, but are despised and forgotten, who seem to answer no good purpose by living on, and whose death will not be felt even by their neighbours as a loss, these even may obtain our Saviour's approving look, and receive the future greeting, |Well done, good and faithful servant.|

Go on, then, contentedly in the path of duty, seeking Christ in His house and in His ordinances, and He will be your glory at His coming. He will own you before His Father. Let the world record in history the names of heroes, statesmen, and conquerors, and reward courage, and ability, and skill, and perseverance, with its proud titles of honour. Verily, these have their reward. Your names will be written in Heaven, with those of St. Simon and St. Jude, and the other Apostles. You will have the favour of Him whose favour is life. |The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.|

Preached on the Festival of St. Simon and St. Jude.

Eccles. xliv.7, 9.

Rev. ii.2, 3.

Rev. xiv.18.

2 Cor. i.4

Rom. i.8.

Luke i.48.

Matt. v.11.

Luke xxii.28-30.

Ps. xxv.14.

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