Tuesday, May 14, 2013

John Henry Newman on St Matthias' Day

The first act of the apostolic community in the days between Ascension and Pentecost was to fill up the number of the apostles themselves by replacing Judas with one of the men who had been a disciple from the very beginning, that is, from the baptism of Jesus by John until the Ascension itself. The reason for this was simple, the new apostle must be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Matthias was elected. That’s the first and the last we hear of him in Scripture. Of course, there are also legends arising out of the memory of the ancient Church indicating St Matthias’ faithfulness in fulfilling his evangelistic ministry, in spite of persecution, and martyrdom in the service of the Lord.

I share with you today the last paragraph of a sermon (“Divine Decrees “) John Henry Newman preached on St Matthias. It was published in Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 2 on Feb. 21st, 1835. 

What solemn overpowering thoughts must have crowded on St Matthias, when he received the greetings of the eleven Apostles, and took his seat among them as their brother! His very election was a witness against himself if he did not fulfil it. And such surely will ours be in our degree. We take the place of others who have gone before, as Matthias did; we are "baptized for the dead," filling up the ranks of soldiers, some of whom, indeed, have fought a good fight, but many of whom in every age have made void their calling. Many are called, few are chosen. The monuments of sin and unbelief are set up around us  . . . The fall of one nation is the conversion of another. The Church loses old branches, and gains new. God works according to His own inscrutable pleasure; . . . Thus the Christian of every age is but the successor of the lost and of the dead. How long we of this country shall be put in trust with the Gospel, we know not; but while we have the privilege, assuredly we do but stand in the place of Christians who have either utterly fallen away, or are so corrupted as scarcely to let their light shine before men. We are at present witnesses of the Truth; and our very glory is our warning. By the superstitions, the profanities, the indifference, the unbelief of the world called Christian, we are called upon to be lowly-minded while we preach aloud, and to tremble while we rejoice. Let us then, as a Church and as individuals, one and all, look to Him who alone can keep us from falling. Let us with single heart look up to Christ our Saviour, and put ourselves into His hands, from whom all our strength and wisdom is derived. Let us avoid the beginnings of temptation; let us watch and pray lest we enter into it. Avoiding all speculations which are above us, let us follow what tends to edifying. Let us receive into our hearts the great truth, that we who have been freely accepted and sanctified as members of Christ, shall hereafter be judged by our works, done in and through Him; that the Sacraments unite us to Him, and that faith makes the Sacraments open their hidden virtue, and flow forth in pardon and grace. Beyond this we may not inquire. How it is one man perseveres and another falls, what are the exact limits and character of our natural corruption,—these are over-subtle questions; while we know for certain, that though we can do nothing of ourselves, yet that salvation is in our own power, for however deep and far-spreading is the root of evil in us, God's grace will be sufficient for our need.


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