Home      Back to Sunday Next before Advent





Sermon 1. The World's Benefactors 
by John Henry Newman 
Note that this sermon was preached for the Feast of St. Andrew.
"One of the two which heard John speak, and followed Him, 
was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother." John i. 40.

{1} WITH this Festival we begin our year,—thus ushering in, with a few weeks of preparation, the day of Christ's Nativity. St. Andrew, whom we now commemorate, has been placed first of the Apostles, because (as far as Scripture informs us) he was the first among them who found the Messiah, and sought to be His disciple. The circumstances which preceded his call are related in the passage of the Gospel from which the text is taken. We are there informed that it was John the Baptist who pointed out to him his Saviour. It was fitting that the forerunner of Christ should be the instrument of leading to Him the first-fruits of his Apostles.

St. Andrew, who was already one of St. John's disciples, was attending on his master with another, when, as it happened, Jesus passed by. The Baptist, {2} who had from the first declared his own subordinate place in the dispensation which was then opening, took this occasion of pointing out to his two disciples Him in whom it centred. He said, "Behold the Lamb of God;" this is He of whom I spake, whom the Father has chosen and sent, the true sacrificial Lamb, by whose sufferings the sins of the world will be expiated. On hearing this, the two disciples (Andrew, I say, being one of them) straightway left John and followed Christ. He turned round and asked them, "What seek ye?" They expressed their desire to be allowed to wait upon His teaching; and He suffered them to accompany Him home, and to pass that day with Him. What He said to them is not told us; but St. Andrew received such confirmation of the truth of the Baptist's words, that in consequence he went after his own brother to tell him what he had found. "He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias ... and he brought him to Jesus."

St. John the Evangelist, who has been guided to preserve various notices concerning the separate Apostles which are not contained in the first three Gospels, speaks of Andrew in two other places; and introduces him under circumstances which show that, little as is known of this Apostle now, he was, in fact, very high in the favour and confidence of his Lord. In his twelfth chapter he describes Andrew as bringing to Christ certain Greeks who came up to Jerusalem to worship and who were desirous of seeing Him. And, what is remarkable, these strangers had first applied to St. Philip, who, though an Apostle himself, instead of {3} taking upon him to introduce them, had recourse to his fellow-townsman, St. Andrew, as if, whether from age or intimacy with Christ, a more suitable channel for furthering their petition. "Philip cometh, and telleth Andrew; and again, Andrew and Philip tell Jesus."

These two Apostles are also mentioned together in the sixth chapter of the same Gospel, at the consultation which preceded the miracle of the loaves and fishes; and there again Andrew is engaged, as before, in the office of introducing strangers to Christ. "There is a lad here," he says to his Lord, a lad who, perhaps, had not courage to come forward of himself, "which hath five barley loaves and two small fishes."

The information afforded by these passages, of St. Andrew's especial acceptableness to Christ among the Apostles, is confirmed by the only place in the other Gospels, beside the catalogue, in which his name occurs. After our Lord had predicted the ruin of the Temple, "Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, Tell us when shall these things be?" [Mark xiii. 3.] and it was to these four that our Saviour revealed the signs of His coming, and of the end of the world. Here St. Andrew is represented as in the especial confidence of Christ; and associated too with those Apostles whom He is known to have selected from the Twelve, on various occasions, by tokens of His peculiar favour.

Little is known of St. Andrew in addition to these inspired notices of him. He is said to have preached the Gospel in Scythia; and he was at length martyred {4} in Achaia. His death was by crucifixion; that kind of cross being used, according to the tradition, which still goes by his name.

Yet, little as Scripture tells us concerning him, it affords us enough for a lesson, and that an important one. These are the facts before us. St. Andrew was the first convert among the Apostles; he was especially in our Lord's confidence; thrice is he described as introducing others to Him; lastly, he is little known in history, while the place of dignity and the name of highest renown have been allotted to his brother Simon, whom he was the means of bringing to the knowledge of his Saviour.

Our lesson, then, is this; that those men are not necessarily the most useful men in their generation, not the most favoured by God, who make the most noise in the world, and who seem to be principals in the great changes and events recorded in history; on the contrary, that even when we are able to point to a certain number of men as the real instruments of any great blessings vouchsafed to mankind, our relative estimate of them, one with another, is often very erroneous: so that, on the whole, if we would trace truly the hand of God in human affairs, and pursue His bounty as displayed in the world to its original sources, we must unlearn our admiration of the powerful and distinguished, our reliance on the opinion of society, our respect for the decisions of the learned or the multitude, and turn our eyes to private life, watching in all we read or witness for the true signs of God's presence, the graces of personal holiness manifested in His elect; {5} which, weak as they may seem to mankind, are mighty through God, and have an influence upon the course of His Providence, and bring about great events in the world at large, when the wisdom and strength of the natural man are of no avail.

Now, first, observe the operation of this law of God's government, in respect to the introduction of those temporal blessings which are of the first importance in securing our well-being and comfort in the present life. For example, who was the first cultivator of corn? Who first tamed and domesticated the animals whose strength we use, and whom we make our food? Or who first discovered the medicinal herbs which, from the earliest times, have been our resource against disease? If it was mortal man, who thus looked through the vegetable and animal worlds, and discriminated between the useful and the worthless, his name is unknown to the millions whom he has benefited. It is notorious, that those who first suggest the most happy inventions, and open a way to the secret stores of nature,—those who weary themselves in the search after Truth, who strike out momentous principles of action, who painfully force upon their contemporaries the adoption of beneficial measures, or, again, who are the original cause of the chief events in national history, are commonly supplanted, as regards celebrity and reward, by inferior men. Their works are not called after them; nor the arts and systems which they have given the world. Their schools are usurped by strangers; and their maxims of wisdom circulate among the children of their people, forming, perhaps, a nation's {6} character, but not embalming in their own immortality the names of their original authors.

Such is the history of the social and political world; and the rule discernible in it is still more clearly established in the world of morals and religion. Who taught the Doctors and Saints of the Church, who, in their day, or in after times, have been the most illustrious expounders of the precepts of right and wrong, and, by word and deed, are the guides of our conduct? Did Almighty Wisdom speak to them through the operation of their own minds, or rather, did it not subject them to instructors unknown to fame, wiser perhaps even than themselves? Andrew followed John the Baptist, while Simon remained at his nets. Andrew first recognised the Messiah among the inhabitants of despised Nazareth; and he brought his brother to Him. Yet to Andrew Christ spake no word of commendation which has been allowed to continue on record; whereas to Simon, even on his first coming, He gave the honourable name by which he is now designated, and afterwards put him forward as the typical foundation of His Church. Nothing indeed can hence be inferred, one way or the other, concerning the relative excellence of the two brothers; so far only appears, that, in the providential course of events, the one was the secret beginner, and the other the public instrument, of a great divine work. St. Paul, again, was honoured with the distinction of a miraculous conversion, and was called to be the chief agent of the propagation of the Gospel among the heathen; yet to Ananias, an otherwise unknown saint, dwelling at Damascus, was {7} committed the high office of conveying the gifts of pardon and the Holy Ghost to the Apostle of the Gentiles.

Providence thus acts daily. The early life of all men is private; it is as children, generally, that their characters are formed to good or evil; and those who form them to good, their truest and chief benefactors, are unknown to the world. It has been remarked, that some of the most eminent Christians have been blessed with religious mothers, and have in after life referred their own graces to the instrumentality of their teaching. Augustine has preserved to the Church the history of his mother Monica; but in the case of others, even the name is denied to us of our great benefactress, whosoever she was, and sometimes, doubtless, the circumstance of her service altogether.

When we look at the history of inspiration, the same rule still holds. Consider the Old Testament, which "makes us wise unto salvation." How great a part of it is written by authors unknown! The book of Judges, the second of Samuel, the books of Kings, Chronicles, Esther, and Job, and great part of the book of Psalms. The last instance is the most remarkable of these. "Profitable" beyond words as is the instruction conveyed to us in every word of Scripture, yet the Psalms have been the most directly and visibly useful part of the whole volume, having been the prayer-book of the Church ever since they were written; and have done more (as far as we dare judge) to prepare souls for heaven, than any of the inspired books, except the Gospels. Yet the authors of a large portion of them are altogether unknown. And so with the Liturgies {8} which have been the possession of the Christian Church from the beginning; who were those matured and exalted Saints who left them to us? Nay, in the whole system of our worship, who are the authors of each decorous provision and each edifying custom? who found out the musical tunes, in which our praises are offered up to God, and in which resides so wondrous a persuasion "to worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker?" Who were those religious men, our spiritual fathers in the "Catholic faith," who raised of old time the excellent fabrics all over the country, in which we worship, though with less of grateful reverence for their memory than we might piously express? Of these greatest men in every age, there is "no memorial;" they "are perished as though they had never been, and become as though they had never been born."

Now I know that reflections of this kind are apt to sadden and vex us; and such of us particularly as are gifted with ardent and enthusiastic minds, with a generous love of what is great and good, and a noble hatred of injustice. These men find it difficult to reconcile themselves to the notion that the triumph of the Truth, in all its forms, is postponed to the next world. They would fain anticipate the coming of the righteous Judge: nay, perhaps they are somewhat too favourably disposed towards the present world, to acquiesce without resistance in a doctrine which testifies to the corruption of its decisions, and the worthlessness of its honours. But that it is a truth, has already been showed almost as matter of fact, putting {9} the evidence of Scripture out of consideration; and if it be such, it is our wisdom, as it will become our privilege, to accustom our minds to it, and to receive it, not in word merely, but in seriousness.

Why indeed should we shrink from this gracious law of God's present providence in our own case, or in the case of those we love, when our subjection to it does but associate us with the best and noblest of our race, and with beings of nature and condition superior to our own? Andrew is scarcely known except by name; while Peter has ever held the place of honour all over the Church; yet Andrew brought Peter to Christ. And are not the blessed Angels unknown to the world? and is not God Himself, the Author of all good, hid from mankind at large, partially manifested and poorly glorified, in a few scattered servants here and there? and His Spirit, do we know whence It cometh, and whither It goeth? and though He has taught men whatever there has been of wisdom among them from the beginning, yet when He came on earth in visible form, even then it was said of Him, "The world knew Him not." His marvellous providence works beneath a veil, which speaks but an untrue language; and to see Him who is the Truth and the Life, we must stoop underneath it, and so in our turn hide ourselves from the world. They who present themselves at kings' courts, pass on to the inner chambers, where the gaze of the rude multitude cannot pierce; and we, if we would see the King of kings in His glory, must be content to disappear from the things that are seen. Hid are the saints of God; if they are known to men, it is accidentally, in their {10} temporal offices, as holding some high earthly station, or effecting some mere civil work, not as saints. St. Peter has a place in history, far more as a chief instrument of a strange revolution in human affairs, than in his true character, as a self-denying follower of his Lord, to whom truths were revealed which flesh and blood could not discern.

How poor spirited are we, and what dishonour we put upon the capabilities and the true excellence of our nature, when we subject it to the judgment and disposal of all its baser specimens, to the rude and ignorant praise, and poor recompensing of carnal and transgressing man! How shall the flesh be at all a judge of the spirit? or the sinner of God's elect? Are we to look downwards, not upwards? Shall we basely acknowledge the right of the Many, who tread the broad way, to be the judges of holiness, which comes from God, and appeals to Him? And does not the eye of faith discern witnesses of our conduct, ever present, and far worthier of our respect, than even a world of the ungodly? Is man the noblest being in the creation? Surely we, as well as our Divine Lord, are "seen of Angels;" nay, and ministered unto by them, much as they excel us in strength! St. Paul plainly tells us, that it is God's purpose that "His manifold wisdom should be known to the heavenly principalities and powers, through the Church." [Eph. iii. 10.] When we are made Christians, we are baptized "into that within the veil," we are brought near to an innumerable company of Angels; and, resembling them in their hidden condition, {11} share their sympathy and their services. Therefore, the same Apostle exhorts Timothy to persevere in obedience, not only by the thought of God, but by that of the Angels; and surely we ought to cultivate the habitual feeling, that they see us in our most private deeds, and most carefully guarded solitudes.

It is more than enough for a sinful mortal to be made a fellow-worker and fellow-worshipper with the Blessed Spirits, and the servant and the son of God Most High. Rather let us try to realize our privilege, and withal humble ourselves at our want of faith. We are the elect of God, and have entrance "through the gates into the" heavenly "City," while we "do His commandments," [Rev. xxii. 14.] following Christ as Andrew did, when pointed out to us by His preachers and ministers. To those who thus "follow on to know" Him, He manifests Himself, while He is hid from the world. They are near Him, as His confidential servants, and are the real agents in the various providences which occur in the history of nations, though overlooked by their annalists and sages. They bring before Him the temporal wants of men, witnessing His marvellous doings with the barley loaves and fishes; they, too, lead strangers before Him for His favourable notice, and for His teaching. And, when He brings trouble and distress upon a sinful people, they have truest knowledge of His will, and can best interpret His works; for they had lived in contemplation and prayer, and while others praise the goodly stones and buildings of the external Temple, have heard from Him in secret {12} how the end shall be. Thus they live; and when they die, the world knows nothing of its loss, and soon lets slip what it might have retained of their history; but the Church of Christ does what she can, gathering together their relics, and honouring their name, even when their works cannot be found. But those works have followed them; and, at the appearing of their Lord in judgment, will be at length displayed before all the world, and for His merits eternally rewarded in His heavenly kingdom.

Copyright © 2000 by Bob Elder. All rights reserved.   
Used with permission.  See the Newman website.