In the Gospel, the “Good News,” we have a treasure so precious it must be guarded and shared. But unlike coins or cars or clothes, with the Gospel we guard it when we share it.
Although many of us flinch at the thought of sharing our faith, wanting to tell our Lord, “You’re trusting me?! What if I blow it? Leave it to the experts,”—retreating is the surest way to lose it. As Robert Frost wrote, “The only way out is through.” This is our way, and thankfully we have St. John Henry Newman to strengthen and guide us as he does in his sermon “The Gospel, a Trust Committed to Us.”
We have to get over our reluctance, Newman says, by understanding how simple the job really is. Guarding the faith is just about keeping what has been given to us, not about coming up with new ideas, formulas or interpretations. “We have not to find the Truth, it is put into our hands; we have but to commit it to our hearts, to preserve it inviolate, and to deliver it over to our posterity.” It’s that straightforward, and yes, while ministers of the Gospel have a special role to play in guarding the faith, there are no experts when it comes to faith.
Still we have questions like “what exactly is the faith?” Newman tells us plainly: “By the Faith is evidently meant, as St. Paul’s words show, some definite doctrine; not a mere temper of mind or principle of action, much less, vaguely, the Christian cause … ” There was a tendency in Newman’s time that persists today, to water down the message of the faith because it is so big and hard to grasp. Teachers were and still are encouraged to invent new syntheses and interpretations that exclude specific doctrines in order to make the faith easier to comprehend and to get all the different factions to agree. This is an error, Newman says, because by emphasizing one doctrine, these teachers abandon another: “For instance, you will meet with writers who consider that all the Attributes and Providences of God are virtually expressed in the one proposition, ‘God is Love;’ the other notices of His Unapproachable Glory contained in Scripture being but modifications of this. In consequence, they are led on to deny, first, the doctrine of eternal punishment, as being inconsistent with this notion of Infinite Love. … ”
The articles of our faith are big and tough to grasp; in fact, that’s why we need faith to believe them, a life-long faith that requires perseverance, constant work and learning. But there are not many articles and they have been firmly held and articulated since the Church’s inception. Belief in the One Triune God, God as Creator and Judge, Divine Revelation, Christ for salvation, the Eucharist, baptism, confession of sin—they are all right there in Scripture! To invent new doctrines or to reduce others is to abandon the faith begun with Christ Himself and transmitted by the Apostles and other believers down through history to ourselves. We are duty bound to to believe and share each and every one of them as our circumstances allow.
Newman points out that precisely because the faith is too large for us to grasp completely, we must be careful not to lose any one aspect of it. “This sense of the seriousness of our charge is increased by considering, that after all we do not know, and cannot form a notion, what is the real final object of the Gospel Revelation. Men are accustomed to say, that it is the salvation of the world, which it certainly is not. If, instead of this, we say that Christ came ‘to purify unto Himself a peculiar people,’n then, indeed, we speak a great Truth; but this, though a main end of our preaching, is not its simple and ultimate object. Rather, as far as we are told at all, that object is the glory of God; but we cannot understand what is meant by this, or how the Dispensation of the Gospel promotes it.”
In the Christian economy, to give is to receive, and the more we give the faith that has been entrusted to us, the more of it we will receive in return. Ultimately, we should keep this trust just as it is because God has told us to. We, who in this twenty-first century are unaccustomed to mystery, should remember this especially. And we should invoke the Holy Spirit, our teacher and comforter, who will not only help us understand and share our faith, but give us the courage to live by it.