Vol II No. 5
Oxford Movement

J.H. Newman on Galatians v. 17

by William J. Martin
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other…

True faith is not shown here below in peace, but rather in conflict; and it is no proof that a man is not in a state of grace that he continually sins, provided such sins do not remain on him as permanent results, but are ever passing on into something beyond and unlike themselves, into truth and righteousness, As we gain happiness through suffering, so do we arrive at holiness through infirmity, because man’s very condition is a fallen one, and in passing out of the country of sin, he necessarily passes through it. This prevents holy men from regarding themselves with satisfaction, or resting in anything but Christ’s death as their ground of confidence. The following are some of the infirmities which, while they certainly beset those who are outcasts from God’s grace, are also possible in a state of acceptance, and do not necessarily imply absence of true faith.

1. Original sin. An evil principle within, dishonouring our best service. The old Adam, pride, profaneness, deceit, unbelief, selfishness, greediness, the inheritance of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; sin which the words of the serpent sowed in the hearts of our first parents, which sprang up and bore fruit, some thirty fold, some sixty, some an hundred, and which have been by carnal descent transmitted to us.

2. Sins arising from former evil habits, now abandoned. Sin once committed retains power over our souls; it has given a colour to our thoughts, words, works; and though, with many efforts, we would wash it out from us, yet this is not possible except gradually. Sloth, self-conceit, self-will, impurity, worldly-mindedness; sins such as these, though cast off, cling like a poisoned garment to the soul.

3. Sins arising from went of self-command; the conscience informed, but the governing principle weak. Difficult to do as one would wish — to govern the feelings, the tongue, the thoughts.

4. Sins which we fall into from being taken unawares.

5. Sins which rise from the devil’s temptations, inflaming the wounds and scars of past sins healed, or nearly so; exciting the memory, and hurrying us away; and thus making use of our former selves against our present selves contrary to our will.

6. Sins which rise from a deficiency of practical experience, or from ignorance how to perform duties which we set about. Men attempt to be munificent, and their acts are prodigal; they wish to be firm and zealous, and their acts are cruel; they wish to be benevolent, and are indulgent and weak; they do harm when they mean to do good; they engage in undertakings, or promote designs, or put forth opinions, or set a pattern, of which evil comes; they mistake falsehood for truth; they are zealous for false doctrines; they oppose the cause of God.

7. Unworthy motives, low views, mistakes in principle, false maxims.

8. Negligences and ignorances. Forgetfulness, heedlessness, want of seriousness, frivolity. All these infirmities may be and are found in persons living consciously sinful lives, and in them of course they only serve to heighten transgression and hasten judgment; but they are also to be found in persons free from wilful sin, and such persons need not despond, or be miserable on account of failings which in them are not destructive of faith or incompatible with grace. Who these are is only known for certain by God. He is able, amid the maze of contending motives and principles within us, to trace out the perfect work of righteousness steadily going on there, and the rudiments of a new world rising from out the chaos. He can discriminate between what is habitual and what is accidental; what is on the growth and what is in decay; what is a result and what is indeterminate; what is of us and what is in us. He estimates the difference between a will that is honestly devoted to Him, and one that is insincere. And where there is a willing mind He accepts it, “according to that a man hath, and net according to that he hath not.” In those whose wills are holy He is present for sanctification and acceptance; and, like the sun’s beams in some cave of the earth, His grace sheds light on every side, and consumes all mists and vapours as they rise.

(J. H. Newman, D. D.)