Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Poverty as Sacrifice--Newman on Risk of Faith

In the previous post I had written about how I wrap my head around the poverty thing, by seeing poverty as sacrifice of opportunity cost and less about lack of wealth. Well today, as I continued my lent reading on Newman's sermons, I found myself reading a sermon of his called, "The Venture of Faith."

Basically, his point is that faith must be for us a venture. He says:

If then faith be the essence of a Christian life, and if it be what I have now described, it follows that our duty lies in risking upon Christ's word what we have, for what we have not; and doing so in a noble, generous way, not indeed rashly or lightly, still without knowing accurately what we are doing, not knowing either what we give up, nor again what we shall gain; uncertain about our reward, uncertain about our extent of sacrifice, in all respects leaning, waiting upon Him, trusting in Him to fulfil His promise, trusting in Him to enable us to fulfil our own vows, and so in all respects proceeding without carefulness or anxiety about the future.

That sense of risking all we have on Christ's promise for what do not have, i.e, the promise of eternal life, is what I feel to an authentic sense of poverty. Not the sole sense, but a sense.

Newman again:

This is the question, What have we ventured? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolve, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, nothing we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolve, and do, and not do, and avoid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us.

This is related to Paul's point in 1 Cor 15 when he says that "if only in this life we have hope, then we are of all men, most miserable." Why? Because, we sacrifice much in the present for a future in the world to come and if it happened to be a false hope then we've practically wasted our lives. That is the kind of risk that Christ calls us to.

What is evidence of this risk, or what kinds of things constitute a true faith venture?

Thus almsdeeds, I say, are an intelligible venture and an evidence of faith.

So again the man who, when his prospects in the world are good, gives up the promise of wealth or of eminence, in order to be nearer Christ, to have a place in His temple, to have more opportunity for prayer and praise, he makes a sacrifice.

Or he who, from a noble striving after perfection, puts off the desire of worldly comforts, and is, like Daniel or St. Paul, in much labour and business, yet with a solitary heart, he too ventures something upon the certainty of the world to come.

Or he who, after falling into sin, repents in deed as well as in word; puts some yoke upon his shoulder; subjects himself to punishment; is severe upon his flesh; denies himself innocent pleasures; or puts himself to public shame,—he too shows that his faith is the realizing of things hoped for, the warrant of things not seen.

Or again: he who only gets himself to pray against those things which the many seek after, and to embrace what the heart naturally shrinks from; he who, when God's will seems to tend towards worldly ill, while he deprecates it, yet prevails on himself to say heartily, "Thy will be done;" he, even, is not without his sacrifice. Or he who, being in prospect of wealth, honestly prays God that he may never be rich; or he who is in prospect of station, and earnestly prays that he may never have it; or he who has friends or kindred, and {304} acquiesces with an entire heart in their removal while it is yet doubtful, who can say, "Take them away, if it be Thy will, to Thee I give them up, to Thee I commit them," who is willing to be taken at his word; he too risks somewhat, and is accepted.

I highlight the second paragraph because that's what I was talking about in the previous post: sacrifice of opportunity cost.

And then Newman ends with this great exhortation:

Alas! that we, my brethren, have not more of this high and unearthly spirit! How is it that we are so contented with things as they are,—that we are so willing to be let alone, and to enjoy this life,—that we make such excuses, if any one presses on us the necessity of something higher, the duty of bearing the Cross, if we would earn the Crown, of the Lord Jesus Christ?

I repeat it; what are our ventures and risks upon the truth of His word? for He says expressly, "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name's sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." [Matt. xix. 29, 30.]


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