Horace Bushnell.

Select works (Volume 1) online

. (page 17 of 29)
Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and making it honorable, not before the remote alti-
tudes, but before the sinning souls of this world by
whom it has been trampled. How else shall they ever
be regained ? God is an essentially practical and not a
romantic being. He will not concern himself about
the figure he makes in the forgiveness of sins, before
the outlying populations of his realm, if only he can
bring transgressors down to ask forgiveness here on
earth, by making the pinnacles of order smoke before
their guilty consciences.

See then how he does it in the matter of Christ's
physical suffering. He came into the world with a per-
fect right to be exempted from such suffering. There
is nothing in his character to require this kind of disci-
pline, or even to make it just. He also had power to
put all suffering by, and sail over the world as the
stars do, in a region of calm and comfort above it. He
could have exorcised the wild hate of his enemies, as he
did the poor lunatics of the Gergesenes. By his power
of miracle, if not without, he could have driven Pilate
and his accusers out of the judgment-hall into th?


street, passing intact through all the conspirfxies of his
enemies, even as Moses passed through the sea. But
he would not so far infringe on the penal order of
God's retributions. Looking on society, in its madness
against him and against the truth, as grinding in God'a
mill of retribution, swayed, and rent and tortured by
exasperating causes in the guilt of its own transgres-
sion, he refuses to take himself out of the general
torment. Having taken humanity, he takes all the
judicial liabilities of human society under sin, prefer-
ring, in this manner, to submit himself to the corporate
order of God's judgments, and testify in that manner,
his profound homage to law and justice. He will not
so much as parry any one of the bad causations loos-
ened by sin. He will let the world be to him just that
river of vinegar and gall which its sins have made it to
itself So he bears the world's bitter curse, magnifying,
even by his pains, the essential sanctity of law and

He suffers nothing as from justice to himself, and
therefore makes no satisfaction to the justice of God.
But he powerfully honors that justice in its dealings
with the world, by refusing to let even his innocence
take him out of the murderous and bloody element it
mixes. Hence the marvelous, unheard-of power his
life and gospel, and especially his suffering death, have
exerted in men's consciences. His suffering has this
wonderful divine art in it, that it sanctifies both for-
giveness and justice, and makes them common factors
of good, in the conscience of all transgression.

258 THE

2. The physical suffering of Christ has an immediate
value, under that great law of human nature, that or-
dains the disarming of all wrong, and the jDrostration
oi all violence, by a right suffering of the evils they
inflict. Nothing breaks the bad will of evil so com-
p^etely, as to have had its way, and done its injury, and
looked upon its victim. And if the victim, suffering
even the worst it could do, still lives unvanquished, the
defeat is only a more absolute and stunning paralysis.
Thus in the bitting of horses, the animal champs the
bit as if he would crush it, and throws himself on the
rein as if he would snap it, till finding that he only
worries and galls himself, he at last gives way to what
has not given way to him, and so is tamed, or, as we
say, broken to the rein. So when the wrath of trans-
gression hurls itself upon the Lord's person, sparing
not his life, nor even letting him die easily or in respect,
the bad will is only the more fatally broken that, ac-
complishing so much in a way so dreadful, it has yet
accomplished nothing. It has mocked him, tortured
him, thrust him out of life, only to find him still alive
and see him go up to reign ! In one view it has suc-
ceeded against him, and he has been seemingly crushed
under the heel of its malignity. It has pierced the
noblest heart and seen it bleed. It has finished the
worst, most shocking deed of murder ever conceived.
And yet that murdered one still lives and loves ! How
dreadfully crest-fallen now and weak is that bad will,
how nearly slain itself by what it has done ! Nay, to
have only spent so great malignity, and come to the


point of exhaustion, would produce a nearly mortal
weakness. Suffering kills, how often, the wrong-doing
that inflicts it. The man of blood who looks upon his
murdered enemy is disarmed by the sight. Even if
there seemed to have been some provocation, how ten-
der, and soft, and low-spoken, how visibly gentled in
feeling is he, standing in the room where his lifelesa
adversary lies ! That dead face looks imploringly up
to him, and his fire is extinguished by natural relent-
ings. How much more when the murdered one is a
friend inherently good, bearing a much honored name
and great ; how much more, if he is the incarnate Son
of God; -still more, if he is not only killed, but cruci-
fied, hung up thus to be looked upon depending from
his cross — sad, broken flower, which the spite of so
^Teat beauty has plucked ! how weak, irresolute,
guilt-broken, now, is all sin, when confronted by that
suffering goodness which reveals at once, both its spite
and its impotence! "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom
thou persecutest " — How piercing is the word !

8. The sublime morality, or moral worth of Jesns,
could never have been sharply impressed, except for
the sensibilities appealed to by his physical suffering.
If he had come as one born of a good family, if he had
been a considerable owner of real estate, if he had
made his journeys in a chariot, lodging, at night, witli
distinguished senators and persons of consideration, if
he had been a great scholar among the Kabbis, or had
been familiar to the people in the livery of a judge, or
a priest, winning great popularity by the profasenes*


of his charities, and exciting even applause by hia
attention to low people and his tender ministry to their
diseases ; dying finally by some of the modes that are
common, to be followed to his burial by multitudes that
come to weep their loss at his grave — if, I say, he had
lived in condition, and died as one admired for his ex-
cellence, the real depth of his virtue could never even
have been conceived. He would only have been looked
upon as fulfilling the type of a graciously benevolent
gentleman, and described as the John Joseph Gurney
of his time. Ko, it was only as he waived the honors of
condition in his birth, and the comforts of property in
his life, became a wayfarer, hungered often, slept under
the sky shivering with cold, spent himself daily in ex-
hausting sympathies and got almost no sympathy in
return, met the looks of crafty messengers and spies on
every side, and scarcely found a place, except in the lone
recesses of the mountains, where his ear was not all
day, perhaps all night, saluted by the carping sounds of
bigot voices quarreling with his doctrine, ending finally
his hunted, hated, weary life, by a slave's death on the
cross — this too, even for enemies, as truly as for his
friends — it is here that we begin to really look down
into the deeps of his great bosom, deeps holy and div.'ne,
that no mortal plummet has sounded ! And so he is
made perfect through sufferings, able to wake a sense in
oar bosoms of what love is, quickening thoughts in ua
that are new, opening sensibilities never before con-
sciously opened. All the most effective powers, in short,
of moral impression, contained in his character, would


have been wanting, if he had not borne the lot of
wrong and bitter suffering.

4. It is only by his suffering in the flesh that he
reveals or fitly expresses the suffering sensibility of
God. As eertainly as God has any sensibilitj^, such as
belongs to a perfect mind and heart, that sensibilit}^
must be profoundly moved by all misery, impurity and
wrong. Impassible, physically speaking, he is not im-
passive to evils that offend, or grieve, his moral perfec-
tions. Indeed his vast and glorious nature is, in this
view, nothing but an immense sensibility, whose dis-
likes, disgusts, indignations, revulsions of pity, wounded
compassions, afflicted sympathies, pains of violated ten-
derness, wrongs of ingratitude, are mingling and com-
mingling, as cups of gall, for the pure good feeling of
bis breast. So far he suffers because he is a perfect be-
ing, and according to the measure of his perfection.
Why, if he could not hate what is hateful, pity what is
pitiful, mourn for the hopeless, burn against the cruel,
scent the disgusts of the impure — if all bad things and
all good were just alike to him, what is he better than
granite or ice ? No, the glorious, all-moving fact is, that
there is a great sensibility at the head of the worlds,
and a mental suffering as great, when the worlds go
wrong !

This accordingly it is, that we, as sinners, need m.ost
of all to know and to feel, and this that Christ, for our
salvation's sake, has taken the flesh and suffered even
death, to impress. ISTature, in her scenes and objects,
had no po\^ er to express this moral pain of God's heait.

262 THE

The ancient providential history Avas trying always
vainly to elaborate the same ; testifying, in almost every
chapter, of God's sorrows, griefs, repentings, loathings,
displeasures, and his afflictions over the afflicted.
Nothing could ever express it but the phj^sical suffer-
ing of Jesus. Here, for the first time, a vehicle ig
found that will sufficiently bring home to our guilty
feeling God's wounded feeling, and put us in real ac-
quaintance with that suffering state of love, which hia
unseen goodness feels.

And every thing turns here, you will perceive, on
the matter of physical suffering ; foi;, to our coarse hu-
man habit, nothing else appears, at first, to have much
reality. In the agony, for example, the real suffering
is mental, and the great struggle, a struggle purely of
feeling. But if it were not for the physical symptoms
attendant, the prostrations, the audible groans, and
above all, the body dripping, in blood-like drops,
forced through the skin by the pains of the mind —
were it not for these physical tokens we should get no
impression of a suffering sensibility, that would be of
much account. We should only look on drowsily,
doubting probably how much, or what kind of, reality
there may be in this rather dull scenic of the gospels !

And here is the precise relation of the agony and the
cross. One is the reality, the other is the outward sign
or symbol. Having all the niental sensibility Christ has
regarding our sin, and shame, and wrong, and fearfully
loot statCj he still needs to be made perfect through
physical sufferings, or by these to have his higher sen-


gibility brought forth into power. He is perfect before,
in all the pains of his perfect sensibility, but to our
coarse, sensuous, undiscerning habit, there is nothing of
much meaning in him, till we watch him undergoing
liis murder! This physical suffering we can under-
stand ; the other is a great way off and very dim.

In one view it is even a scandal that we make so
much more of the cross than we do of the agony.
And yet the cross was appointed for the culminating
point of the gospel, partly in a way of condescension
to our lowness and the want of our coarseness, and ia
really the greater for that reason. The grand thing to
be revealed is that which stands in the agony ; and the
superior value of the cross, or physical suffering, lies in
the fact that it comes to us, at our low point, speaking
to us of the other, in a way that we can feel. When
we look on Jesus suspended by nails through his hands
and feet, and set up to die a slow death, in delirium and
thirst and fever, we do have raised in our bosoms a lit-
tle natural sensibility. And, taken hold of by that,
our apprehensions will perhaps be sufficiently fixed, at
last, to let us in where that deeper, and warmer, and
more agonizing, sensibility heaves unseen in the mental
compassions of God !

Let us not be too much taken, my friends, by
the typology in which our gospel is here and there so
feebly and pretensively dressed — the low perceptions,
and the short culture, always putting their cheap hon-
ors and ornaments upon it. I speak not here of the
cross set up as a symbol on our peaks of architecture,


worn upon the person, painted on the banners of the
religion itself; bat I speak of the crucifixes, and the
carefull}' carv^ed distresses of the dying Lord, the drop-
pings of blood, the contortions of form, the pallors of
death so elaborately p linted, and the generally over-
done studies of art, by which Christ's dying woe is
magnified as being, not the sign, but the all of his suf-
fering. The very shallow, feeble look of such art,
the want of all high insight in it, is abundantly morti-
fying. There is scarcely a doubt that Christ suffered
more intensely in the agony, where the pain was wholly
mental, than he did upon the cross. Even the exter-
aal signs appear to indicate as much. In the same way
too, his chief suffering, on the cross, was probably men-
tal and not bodily. For some reason, his suffering on
the cross was so much more severe than that of the
malefactors crucified with him, that he died w^hole
hours before them ; not because they did not suffer as
great physical pain as he, but because he had a moral
sensibility so vast, a horror of wrong so deep, a con-
cern of love for his enemies so wrenched with agony,
that his heart broke and his breath stopped, as it w^ere
before the time. This now — would that we could
think it — was the real suffering to him ! and the physi-
cal suffering of the cross was probably a matter of con-
sequence to him principally in the fact that, considering
our low, dull habit, there might be force enough in it
to initiate, or prick in, as it were, some faint impression
of the other. And this it is, this only, that makes it a
salvation. It is a cross before the eyes, for beings thai


live in their eyes, and are too coarse to apprehend the
spiritual things of God in a spiritual manner — in that
way a type of the more wondrous -and tremendous cross
that is hid in God's perfections from eternity. O, it is
for this, to make sin feel this unseen, tender sensibility,
this pain of goodness, this fatherhood of sorrow — this
it is that Christ has undertaken to impress, and for
this end he is made perfect through sufferings. Once
more —

5. It was necessary that Christ should suffer in the
body, and get power over men by that kind of suffer-
ing, because the world itself is put in a tragic economy,
requiring its salvation to be an essentially tragic salva-
tion. God has made the world, we all agree, for the
great sentiments it will otganize and bring into play,
and souls themselves to be lifted by that play, in those
great sentiments. Hence the wonderful affinity of our
human nature for the tragic exaltations.

There may have been a prior necessity that a free
moral kingdom should include peril, disorder, suffering,
great struggles to escape great woes, sacrifices in the
good, wrongs suffered by the good, to regain and restore
the evil; in other words, there may have been a prior
necessity that the plan of God's moral universe should
be essentially tragic in the cast of it. But, whatever
may be true in this respect, we can see, every man for
Idmself, that so it is. No merely fine sentiment, or
morally high,- is quite sufficient for us. The festive,
the gay, the triumphal, the melo-dramatic tenderness,
the pastoral sweetness, the flutes of domestic arbors, the



gongs of public liberty — none of these quite satisfy,
not even the mighty love-passion strikes our highest corda
of tension till it draws blood ! Blood ! blood [ we must
have blood ! Human history therefore moves on trail-
ing in blood, tragic in its characters, and scenes, and its
material generally.

The great crimes are tragic, and the great virtues
scarcely less so. The tribunals sprinkle their gate-posts
with blood. The stormy passions, honor, jealousy, and
revenge, are letting blood in all ages; and the quiet ones
of trust, and truth, and worth, do the bleeding.
And then all the epics and romances, and a great part
of the world's poetry go on to add imaginary pangs
and troubles, and torture us still more with bloody feli-
cities that are fictitious. Practically the world has a
general fashion of suffering. Eight is trampled every-
where, goodness fights with wrong, nations fall, heroes
bleed, and all great works are championed by suffering.
Some Prometheus, torn by his eagle, bleeds painfully on
every rock waiting to be loosed from his chain. So if
Christ will pluck away eternal judgment for the world, he
must bleed Tor it. So great a salvation must tear a
passage into the world by some tragic woe — without
shedding of blood there is no remission.

This blood — 0, it is this that has a purifying touch,
working lustrally, as the divine word conceives, on all
the stains of our sin, washing us, making us clean,
sprinkling even our evil conscience. This tragic power
of the cross takes hold, in other words, of all that is
dullest, and hardest, and most intractable, in our sin, and


moves our palsied nature, all through, in migh.y tlirobs
of life.

And this is Christianity; meeting us just where we
most require to be met. Christ is a great bringer on
for us because he suffers for us. Christianity is a
mighty salvation, because it is a tragic salvation.
Why my friends, if it were not for this generally tragic
way in things about us, and especially in religion, I fear
that we should have a more dull time of it than we
think. Indeed I suspect that even the same is true of
the general universe — it probably is and is forever to be
an essentially tragic universe. With a fall and an
overspreading curse at the beginning, and a cross in the
middle, and a glory and shame at the end, where soula
struggle out, through perils, and pains, and broken
chains, or bear their chains away unbroken still and still
to be — how moving, and mighty, and high, must be the
sentiment of it ! O how grandly harrowing is that joy,
how tremulous in tragic excitement is that song of as-
cription, roaring as a sea-surge round the throne —
" unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins
in his blood!"

Concluding at this point, my brethren, the exposition
I have undertaken, you will not fail to note how it
gathers in its force .ipon this table and rite of com-
munion before us. These symbols, bread and wine,
body and blood, represent exactly what is most physi-
cal in Christ's suffering. But they do not stop in that,
as if there were a value in the pains. They are even

268 THE

a language, as that was, bearing an impression of some-
thing higher. Thej say " made perfect through suffer-
ings;" calling up to be thought, and received, just all
that I have here been trying to unfold, ^f the power
which our Master was obtaining, by his dreadful cross
and passion.

Back of the wood and the nails, back of the suffer-
ing body, there was another cross, another suffering,
even that of God's deep love, struggling out through
the blood and the pain, to make its revelation felt in us.
And this for what? To bring many sons, that is to
bring us all, unto glory.

Suffering and glory ! even so ; in that tragic copula,
the gospel stands, and it is remarkable how many times
it recurs. " Ought not Christ to suffer these things, and
to enter into his glory ?" " For the suffering of death,
crowned with glory and honor" — "The sufferings of
Christ and the glory that should follow" — "A witness
of the suffering of Christ, and a partaker of the glory
that should be revealed" — "Who hath called us unto
eternal glory, by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered
awhile" — responses all, as it were, to the word —
" made perfect through sufferings in bringing many
sons unto glory."

Here, too, as you have noted, Christ's sufferings for
UP, and ours for him, and his glory, and our glory, are
blended all together, heaving in a common passion,
Bhining in a common glory. And thus it is, my breth-
ren, that our ascended Master, by these communioD
tokens, pledges us to-day our right to suffer with him,


and to be strengthened with him according to hig
glorious power. And what we call his glory, is, if we
rightly understand, but this same glorious power, oi
powerful ness of glory — no phantom of displa}^, or daz-
zling crown, conferred by servile worshipers wanting a
liero, but that most solid kind of merit which is an ele-
ment and power of day, on all who are blessed in tho
sisht. When Christ was transfigured in the mount,
the shining as the sun, the glistering whiteness, which
are called "the excellent glor}^," were yet but a surface
glory in themselves, and were only good as types
of that inherent, practical glory, that belonged to his
nature, and was just now dawning on discovery in his
suffering sacrifice. The immense power he gets in
being made perfect through sufferings, is itself his
glory. And so the state of glory in us is the solid
power that we are to obtain, by following in our Mas-
ter's steps, by suffering patience and sacrifice. When
Christ says, "the glory which thou gavest me I have
given them," that glory is the sense we have in them,
as God's martyrs and servants, of a somehow divine
brightness and transforming luster. There is some-
thing felt which yet w^e do not see, and we call that
invisible something, glory. It is splendor of soul, or
the halo that is on it, when the blur and disorder and
opaque mixture of wrong are all gone by ; or it is the
state of perfect strength, concord, liberty in good, free-
ness of knowledge, purposes eternally set, great sentiment
hallowed hy great principle, and uttered by and through
great action, when Christ, who is himself the glory of



the Father, has put himself full}^ upon us, and when
so the divine splendor and power, and truth, and right-
eousness, are become our eternal investiture. And
therefore it is, that the very state of glory for which we
nope is set forth as a daylight element bathing h^)\y
minds forever ; whose sun is the Eevelation of God by
suffering — "For the Glory of God doth lighten it and
the Lamb is the light thereof." O, thou divine Lamb ;
suffering symbol in the flesh, of God's suffering love
in the spirit, what shall be the light of our seeing
forever, but that which may shine out from thee!



For since by man came death, hy man came also the
resurrection of the dead, — i. CoR. xv. 21.

It can not, of course, be the apostle's meaning, that
mankind are going literally to raise themselves from
the dead. When he says " by man," he mentally refers
to Christ ; only taking advantage of the fa,ct that, since
Christ the Son of God incarnate, is become a proper
man, a member of the race, it is therefore permitted ns
to regard the whole remedy of sin, or power of salva-
tion, as being included in humanity itself. Eedemp-
tion, life, resurrection — all are, in a sense, being and to
be, by man. When we say humanity, there is inclosed
and, as it were, closeted in it, all the inspiration, all the
light, all the life-impulse of the divine man, and so all
the supernatural, resurgent powers of a complete salva-
tion, even up to the resurrection force itself. It is not
as if God had called us here from a distance, or had
sent his Son to sit upon the circle of the heavens and
lecture us from those supernal heights, but he haa


gotten him into the race by a birth, and lias entered, in
that manner, a corporate grace of life into the race

What I propose then at the present time, is the prac-
tically important fact that Christ is in no sense to be
thonglit of as a being external, or dispensing salvation
from above, but as a second Adam in the race itself,
a regenerative and redemptive power, so inserted into
humanity as to be, in a sense, of it. Just as the apos-
tle's language intimates — " For since by man came
death, by man came also the resurrection of the
dead." For this word '^ since ^^ is a word of rational

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 29)