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fasting, or steadfast waiting, the end is one and the


game, the getting in position for God's occupancy. As
the navigator of a ship does nothing for the voyage,
save what he does by setting the ship to her course, and
her sails to the wind, so our human doings in rehgion,
tliose I mean, which make up our self-compelHng, self-
adjusting, self-constraining discipline, are all to be con-
cerned in setting us before God, in the way to receive
the actuating impulse of his will and character. We
are not called, of course, to work a religion thus, our-
selves, or by our own will. Setting sails to the wind
does not propel the ship, or give it the least onward
movement, as regards the voyage; and yet, without
such holding of it in position, the voyage could never
be made. So also a seed must have position, else it
can not grow ; if it is laid on a rock, or buried in sand,
or sunk in water, or frozen up in ice, it will be inert as
a stone ; but in good warm soil, and sun, and rain, and
dew, it will quicken easily enough, because it is in po-
sition. A tree will die out of position, a clock will
stop out of position, a plough wants holding, a saw
wants guiding, a compass wants setting ; nothing in the
world works rightly that has not position given it.
And the reason is that every thing to be operated upon
must be fitly presented to that which operates ; tele-
scopes to their objects, mills to water-falls, and souls to

And here is our particular human part in religion —
all that we can do is summed up in self-presentation to
God, or the putting of ourselves in position for his ope-
ration Hence the call to salvation is "come," and the



complaint is, " ye will not come to me that ye might
have life.' So also, when the casting down of pride
and self- will is required, the forsaking of all things, the
yielding up of life and whatever is most dear, these
ways of self-renunciation are only the taking down of
bars thnt fence away God's entrance and free move-
ment from the soul. Faith ag^ain is made the condition
of salvation, in just this view, and no other; because,
when a sinning soul trusts itself up to Christ, to be
cared for, regenerated in good, and saved by his mercy,
it IS put in exactly the position toward God that is most
open, and admits him most freely ; even as the brazen
serpent, lifted up before Israel, was to be effective in
their healing, when looked upon. Out of position,
with their backs toward it, there was no virtue to be
received from it, because there was none expected or

So it is in the matter always of conversion, or the
beginning of a new life — it is always begun, just as
soon as the subject comes into position far enough to let
it be. And then the same holds true of all proper
Christian doings afterward — they are all summed up,
either in keeping position toward God, or in regaining
it after it is lost. Thus, if by reason of a still partially
remaining subjection to evil, the soul should be stolen
away from its fidelitj^ and the nuptial day of its liberty
should somehow be succeeded by a void, dry state,
without any proper light or evidence left, then the dis-
ciple has it given him to recover himself, by getting
himself in position again before God. He will take


time by forcible resolve, and gird himself to a careful
revision. He will set himself upon his idols to cleai
them away, take up his cross invoking sacrifice itself to
})e his helper, rectify his misjudgments, make good his
injuries, slay his resentments and grudges, mortify his
appetites, crucify his bosom sins, tear open all the sub-
tleties of distemper and treason — watching all the while
his new beginnings, saving carefully his little advances,
doing first works humbly and tenderly, and by this
drawing into position, will, if possible, make ready for
the festal coming of his Lord, and the restored liberty
of a son.

In this kind of struggle the disciple will get on
most effectively, when for the time, he is much by
himself, and much apart from the world, and even its
pleasurable scenes and gifts. In one view, there will
be a certain violence, or desperation sometimes in the
fight of his repentances. "For behold what careful-
ness it wrought in you ; yea what clearing of your-
selves ; yea what indignation ; yea what fear ; yea what
vehement desire ; yea what zeal ; yea what revenge."
By these stern rigors of will, these mighty throes of
battle, the disciple out of liberty will in fact be only
putting himself in position to recover it. He takes
himself in hand in fiery self-chastening, and rigidly en-
forced subjection, that he may prepare himself to God'
help. He gets confidence in this manner, by his thor-
oughness, to believe that God accepts him, and has the
testimony given him that he pleases God. Kestored in
this manner to his liberty, the enemy that came in at the


postern goes out at the front, and God again will have
his full dominion.

Neither let any one object that all such stresses and
strains of endeavor must be without merit, because thej
are forced and are, in one sense, without inclination.
Such kind of endeavor God honors because it is prac-
tical, and not for the merit of it. What should he
more certainly honor than the true endeavor of souls
to present themselves to him, and get position for the
complete admission of his will. If these struggles of
enforcement do not belong to the perfect state of good,
it must be enough that they are struggles after that
state. God is practical, and without prudishness; if
nothing is really good to him that is not from the heart's
inclination, he will yet be drawn to such struggles
against inclination, as he is to the cries of the ravens,
and will put his benediction upon them, under that
same fatherly impulse, if no other.

Holy scripture has no such dainty way of reasoning
in this matter, as they give us, who, by affected rever-
ence, excuse themselves from all rough discipline, be-
cause they have no inclination for it. It even com-
mands us to serve, when we are not in a key to reign.
" Mortify therefore, your members which are upon the
earth" — do men mortify themselves by inclination?
"Ye have crucified the flesh with its affections and
lusts" — do we this self-crucifying by inclination?
*• Deny thyself, take up thy cross " — do we deny our-
selves by inclination, or take up the cross for inclina-
tion's sake? When Christ again, to get a certain rich


moralist or formalist into position for God, bids liim sell
all that he has and give to the poor and come and fol-
low — whereupon he " goes away sorrowful " — does
the sad questioner sorrow because he is required to
have his inclination ? The Saviour too has even a more
cutting requirement than this — " And if thy right eye
offend thee pluck it out ; if thy right hand offend thee
cut it off." Is there any thing in which we are farther
off from inclination, than in plucking out right eyes and
cutting off right hands? What in fact is the very
point of the Saviour's meaning here but to say, pur.
your will down upon whatever is hardest and most
against your inclinations — any thing for position.

How feeble, superficial, sophistical, and withal how
very like to a practical mockery of all deep movement
in religion is that word so often ventured, and of which
I have already spoken — " Why should I pra}^ when I
do not feel inclined to it? Why should I go to church,
why should I read the scriptures, why should I give
alms, why should I hold myself to observances, all
which I am weary of, and in fact really dislike? If I
can not offer God from the heart, what better is my
offering given than withheld ? Just contrary to all such
feeble platitudes Christ, we have seen, appoints a
grandly rugged, thoroughly real, massive discipline,
by which souls, at best only half inserted into good are
to hold on their way, and press themselves down upon
the constancy their fickle hearts would fly. Filling
them to the full, if he possibly may with holy inspira-
tions and loving impulses, he counts even this a gospel


on one foot, if he may not also put them every man
to a hard fight of discipline, and watch, and drill and
resisting even unto blood. When the inspiration ia
upon them, he will let the festive movement flow in its
liberty. And when the grace-power lulls or is gone, he
will have them take their turn of discipline, to gather
up by their will, and bring into position for God's occu-
panc}^, all their vagrant and unsteady functions ; so to
strengthen the things that remain and are ready to die.
These two things, in fact, he will hold, if possible, at
all times, to a close and practically guarded comprehen-
sion, the festive and the restrictive, the movement of
love and the self-girding watch.

But I should not produce any just impression of the im-
mense reach of this very practical matter — the so ordering
of our life, on the side of self-discipline, as to be always
squaring ourselves to God, and holding true position
before him — if I did not specify some of the humbler
and more common matters in which it is to be, or may
be, done.

Order, for example — how great a thing is it for a
Christian, or indeed, for any one, to keep his life and
practice and business in the terms of order? Holding
himself steady, and squaring his habit thus carefully
b}^ sj^stem in God's will, his very order is itself posi-
tion — the orbit he traverses having God to trav-
erse it with him ; and the worlds of the sky will not be
more surely and steadily moved in their rounds, than
he by God's impelling liberty. Fallen out of this
order into all disorder and confusion, how can he ever


be in position for God, till lie comes back into the ex-
actness and true discipline of the same ?

A responsible way has the same kind of value. An
irresponsible man has no place for God or God's lib( rty.
But a soul that stays fast in concern for all good things —
responsible for the church, for the brethren, for the wel-
fare and salvation of perishing men, for the vices and
woes of society, for the good of the country — is just so
far in position with God, and ready for his best in-
spirations. God loves responsible men, and delights
to keep them in the full endowment of strength and

Openness and boldness for God, the readiness to be
found on God's side ia the full acknowledgment of his
name and people, is an absolute requisite, as regards the
effective revelation of God in the soul. Whoever will
not thus acknowledge God, in a bold commitment of
himself before the world to his cause, wants the firm
courage and manly truth of feeling which puts him in
position. Eeal and bold devotement is magnanimity,
and where there is nothing of one, there is nothing of
the other — as little receptivity therefore for God. God
loves to be trusted, and loves the men that can boldly
take their part with him. When they stand openl}^ for
his name, he stands by them, and puts his might upon

Descending to what is in a still humbler key, let me
gpeak of honesty — how a large and faithfully complete
honesty puts every soul in true position before God. A
single eye — ^that is honesty ; and " if thine eye be sin-


p;le, thy whole body shall be full of light." But the
honest}^ of which I thus speak, is more and higher, you
will observe, than mere commercial honesty. That will
do justice to customers and laws of trade, but not to
en(3mies, and least of all, to God. There is no reality
in it therefore, more than there would be in doing jus-
tice to customers of one country, or color, and not to
those of another. Called honesty in the market, it still
may, and, many times, certainly is, hypocrisy and a lie.
Real honesty takes in principle, engaging to do justice
every where, every way, every day, and specially to
God's high truth and God. 0, what a presentation that,
to invite the incoming of God ! Who is in position for
God but he that will clear himself, thus impartially, of
every wrong and injury ; and how certainly will God's
spirit flow into such a bosom, in how full a tide of lib-
erty ! How completely open here is the gate of possi-
bility for all greatest and divinest things I

I could speak of things yet humbler and more com-
mon; such, for example, as dress and society. These
are matters which we commonly put even outside of
the pale of religious concern, or responsibility. And
yet there is how much in them to fix the soul's position
toward God. How perfectly evident is it that one ma?
dress for the Holy Spirit and the modest opening of the
soul to God's manifestation ; or so as to quite shut away
any possible visitation from the divine. In the same
way, society may be observed in such a way of sobriety
and grandly true hospitality, that angels, much more
Christ and God, will gather to it unawares ; or in such


a way of ambition, flashiness, and worldly assumption,
that the Holy Spirit can not get room in it for any
smallest dispensation of his gracious impulse. I speak
DOt here for any sumptuary, or morbidly scrupulous, re-
striction. I only say that there may be enough, in the
modes of dress and society, to quite settle the matter of
the soul's position toward God.

Not pursuing these illustrations further, it must be
enough that we have found, and practically verified,
two elements in Christian life and experience, liberty
and discipline, God's free movement and our own self
constraining will. That is the heavenly state of bless-
ing and perfection ; this our human concern to get, as in
conversion, recover, as in dryness and decay, or keep, as
in all most ordinary goings on of life, the position toward
God that commands his bestowment of the other.

But what, of fasting? the very thing about which my
text is itself concerned, and about which I have said as
nearly nothing as possible. In one view it is even so ;
in another I have been speaking of nothing else ; for
the whole course of argument pursued has been tracing
its fit place and relationship, as an integral part, or fac-
tor, of the true Christian discipline.

Are we then to allow, some will ask, that fasting be-
longs to Christianity ? I certainly think so. Did not
Christ himself declare that his disciples should fast
after he was gone? Did he not also begin his great
ministry, by a protracted fast, which duly considered,
and rightly conceived, constitutes one of the grandest


and most impressive chapters of bis story ? It is easy,
doubtless, to assume, in self-compliment, that we have
now come to an age of maturity that permits us to con-
ceive the Christian grace more worthily ; but no such
assumption will be very impressive as against the ex-
ample of Christ himself! Some will also maintain,
more argumentatively, that fasting is a bodil}^ penance,
excluded by the genius of Christianity; but when
Christ is heard, in his great first sermon, discoursing
of it just as he does of prayer and of alms, and giving
it exactly the same promise of reward, the conclusion
appears to be not far off" that, either they do not, or
Christ did not, understand Christianity !

It is a great mistake of many, in our time, that
they are so easily carried by a certain half-illuminated
declamation against asceticism. Let us have nerve
enough to withstand the odium of a word, and be less
superficial, and just as much stronger in our prfictical
life. For there is — I put the issue boldly that it may
not be missed — a good asceticism that belongs to Chris-
tianity, as a worthy and even rationally integral func-
tion ; the same which an apostle describes when he
says, "I exercise myself (aCxw) to have a conscience
void of offense." By which he means that he pats
himself to it by the direct training of his will, even aa
.a rider trains a horse by the rein.

In this good asceticism, we take ourselves away
purposely, when it seems to be needed, from soci
ety, from gain, and from animal indulgence, thai
we may assert, with more emphasis, the principle of


self-subjection to God, or gird ourselves anew to the
divine keeping. Thrusting down a whole side of our
nature that habituaLy assumes to be uppermost, w^e get
in this manner a powerful shove of reaction ; for the
great law of action and reaction holds universally, both
in the worlds of matter and mind. In this manner
painstaking itself is a great element of success; not
because it is the taking of so much pain, as if there
were some merit in that, but because the mind gets a
confidence of honest meaning in it, such as nerves the
soul to sacrifice, and gives it assurance with God.
Christianity, as I have shown, takes in this element.
Filling us with great inspirations, it puts us to a stout
self-discipline also, that we may get position for still
greater, and a still more victorious liberty.

Over against this good asceticism, there is also a
false and a bad, as already intimated. It makes a vir-
tue of self- torment, contrives artificial distresses to
move on God's pity, or pacify his resentments, or pur-
chase his favor. It macerates the body to make the
soul weak and tender. It dispenses, in fact, with
faith itself, and even thinks to square its account
with God, by a due contribution of bodily pains and

This bad asceticism we exclude, the good we accept.
And in this, we shall train ourselves, sometimes even
naturally, by a fast. If we are mortified by the dis-
covery that the body is getting uppermost, if our
Sundays are choked, our great sentiments stifled, by
indulgences of the body we meant not to allow, we


sliall turn upon it in this good asceticism, and say to itj
with a meaning — "I keep under the body." In the
same waj^, if we can not find how to bear an enemy, if
we recoil from sacrifices that are plainly laid upon us,
if we have no great courage to meet a great call, we
shall emulate the example of Cromwell's soldiers, who
conquered first the impassive state, by their fastings
and prayers, and then sailing into battle as men iron-
clad, conquered also their enemies; or better still, we
shall emulate those martyrs, who could sing in the crisp
of their bodies, because they had trained their bodies
to serve. So again if we are losing ground, getting
under the world, heated by prosperity, soured by disap-
pointment, bittered by resentments and grudges, we
shall do well to seek the wilderness, taking our tempta-
tion with us to be mastered. So again if we have some
great crisis upon us, even as our Master had, some turn
of life to settle that will settle every thing; or if we
have great endowments coming upon us, or coming out
in us, that we must be responsible for — property, place,
eloquence, fame, beauty, genius — what a girding do we
need to meet our occasions, or even to effectually stifle
the nonsense of pride and foolish suggestion. 0, if we
could set ourselves in position thus for God's call and
his Christly inspirations, how cheap the discipline
would be.

Observed on occasions like these, a fast will some-
times wonderfully clear the atmosphere of the mind.
The sentiments will be quickened in their play. The
imagination, which is a great organ for religion, wiU


get a more reverberative ring. The conscience w ill be*
come at once more rigid and more tender. All the
powers will be girded up, and God will have the soul
in position, waiting to be filled with his eternal life and

No such good results of fasting will follow, or will
be expected, where it is improperly observed. No one
should ever go into a fast, when he has the bridegroom
consciously with him. Such fasting is untimely. Turn-
ing sunshine inco night, and making misery ^?-a^/5, when
we are not miserable, is any thing but Christian, though
alas ! some very good people do sometimes make a merit
of it.

Some persons, who are not practiced in the art, so to
speak, of fasting, complain that they are only troubled
and mentally confused by their hunger, and get no ad-
vantage from it. But when they have learned the way
to set their mind facing Godward, instead of facing the
body, and moving in the low range of the gastric energy,
it will not be so — they will even forget to be hungry. It
might be well for such to begin with a prolonged half-
fast, or Lenten reduction, instead of abstinence. Feeding
the body circumspectly thus, as between cage bars, they
may still the growling of nature, and learn at last how to
get a spring of reaction for the mind. A prolonged bri-
dle check upon the body is good both for it and for the
lider; for what both most especially need is to get ac-
customed to the rein !

At the same time, fasting should always be a reality,
never a semblance. To pretend a fast, when all the


routine of table, office, and shop, is still going on aa
Qsunl, is to make a cheat of it; such as takes away the
mind's honor, and leaves a most sorry conviction of hy-
pocrisy in place of any benefit. But let no one make
the fast excessive under pretense of making it real. It
should never amount to a maceration of the body ;
though sometimes the benefit gained by a disciple will
even tempt him to make a luxury of it. Let it be
a rule that the fasting should never be more fre-
quent or more stringent, than is necessary to maintain,
for the long run of time, the very clearest, strongest,
healthiest condition both of mind and bod}'-. For the
digestive function wants its Sabbaths, just as truly as
any other, and will keep the soundest health when it
has them.

Instead of recoiling now, my brethren, from this more
rugged kind of discipline, there ought even to be a fascina-
tion in the severities of it. As it is profoundly real and
earnest, it will also make us strong. How often are we
oppressed with the feeling that our modern piety wants
depth and spiritual richness. It is as if it were in the
skin and not in the heart — thin, flashy, flavorless, desti-
tute of the heroic and sturdy qualities. It never can
be otlierwise, till we consent to endure some hardness,
or at least to find some way of painstaking. The gym-
nastic we are in must be strong enough to make muscle,
else we shall not have it. Hence the profound neces-
sity, as I conceive, that there should be an ascetic side
or element in this free salvation, where the disciple
"exercises himself," as the apostle has it, putting him-


self in training and self-chastening for success. For as
the competitors in games of wrestling, and rowing, and
racing, do not despise the toughest severities of train-
ing for the victory, no more should the Christian repel
that nobler discipline that is to be the girding of his
cliaracter. It would not do, for a way of grace, to only
fondle or coddle us, in tenderings of favor and soft
mercy and overflowing bounty ; we could not be float-
ed into the heights of character by any such gentle
tide-swing as many look for, and conceive to be the
grace offered to their faith. Such a kind of treatment
qualified by nothing more sturdy and severe, might
even soften the brain of our piety. No, there must be
an ascetic self-girding for us, as well as a gracious im-
pulsion, something which is more than fasting, but of
which that is a type. There needs to be a side of tough
endeavor, in which we undertake a mighty becoming,
even punishing ourselves, so to speak, into right posi-
tion for God. We must come into the vise of a rugged
and fiery self-discipline, where, if we wince for the severi-
ties suffered, we still forbid our cowardly, soft nature
to yield. If there is to be any fibre in our character,
there must be a Spartan discipline to make it. There
was nev(.^T a strong Christian, or a Christian hero, that
did not put himself to being a Christian with cost.
To be merely wooed by grace, and tenderly dewed by
sentiment, makes a Christian mushroom, not a Chris*
tian man. It is even difficult to conceive, how those
angels that excel in strength, and are called the char-
riots of God, ever got their vigor without some fit


training ; nay, it is most certain that they never did
So much meaning has our master, when charging it

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 29)