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nature and required to stay there ; the incarnation, the
miracles, the Gethsemane, the Calvary, all the flaming
glories of the gospel are stifled as extravagances, and
the new Christianity, the more liberal, more advanced
belief, turns out to be a discovery that we are living in
nature, just as nature makes ns live. Salvation there
is none, nothing is left for a gospel but development,
with a little human help from the very excellent per-
son, Jesus.

Now the blessed Lord wants room, we all agree ; we
even profess that we ourselves want mightily to be en-
larged. Why then is it always turning out, hitherto,
that when we try to go deepest, we drag every thing
down with us? What, in fact, do we prove but that,
when we undertake to shape theologically the glorious
mystery of salvation by Christ, we just as much reduce
it, or whittle it down, as human thought is narrower
and tinier than the grand subject matter attempted.

But saddest of all is the practical depreciation of
Clirist, or of what he will do as a Saviour, experiment-
ally, from sin. The possibilities of liberty, assurance,
a good conscience, a mind entered into rest, are, by one
means or another, let down, obscured, or quite taken
away. To believe much is enthusiasm, to attempt
much, fanaticism. The assumption is, that Christ will,


in fact, do onl}^ a little for us, just as there is only a lit-
tle done ; when the very sufficient reason is, that there
is only a little allowed to be done. As to any common
fL»oting with the ancient saints in their inspirations,
guidances, and gifts — it is even a kind of presumptio.i
to think of it. They had their religion at first hand,
we are now a degree farther off. They had the inbirth
of God, and knew him by the immediate knowledge of
the heart. "We only read of him and know about him
and operate our minds, alas ! how feebly, toward him,
under the notions, or notional truths, gotten hold of by
our understanding. it is a very sad picture ! Dear
Lord Jesus can it never be that better room shall be
given thee?

True there is no grace of Christ that will suddenly
make us perfect; but there is a grace that will take
away all conscious sinning, as long as we sufficiently
believe, raising us above the dominating power of sin
into a state of divine consciousness, where we are new-
charactered, as it were, continually, by the righteous-
ness of God, spreading itself into and over and through
the faith, by which we are trusted to his mercy. All
this Christ will do. In this state of power and holy
endowment, superior to sin, he can, he will, establish
every soul that makes room wide enough for him to
enter and bestow his fullness. He will be a Saviour,
in short, just as mighty and complete as we want him
to be, just as meager and partial and doubtfully real as
we require him to be. O what meaning is there, in
this view, in the apostle's invocation — "That he would


grant jou, according to the riches of his glory, to be
strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner
man ; ihat Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith ;
that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be
able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the length,
and breadth, and depth, and height; and to know the
love of Christ that passeth knowledge, that ye might be
filled with all the fullness of God." This heavy, long-
drawn sigh, whose wording carries such a weight of
promise still — what does it invoke but that Christ may
somehow, any how, get fit room, as he never yet has
done, in these stunted human hearts.

And this same sigh has been how fit a prayer for all
ages. Probably nothing comparatively of the power
of Christ, as a gift to the world, has ever yet been seen
or realized in it. And a main part of the difiiculty is,
that Christ is a grace too big for men's thoughts, and
of course too big for their faith, — the Eternal Word of
God robed in flesh, the humanly manifested love and
feeling of God, a free justification for the greatest of
sinners and for all sin, a power of victory in the soul
that raises it above temptation, supports it in peace,
and makes obedience itself its liberty. Such a Christ
of salvation fully received, embraced in the plenitude
of his gifts — what fires would he kindle, what tongues
of eloquence loosen, what heroic witnessings inspire I
But, as yet, the disciples are commonly men of only a
little faith, and it is with them according to their faith.
They too often almost make a merit of having no
Dicrit, and think it even a part of Christian modesty to


believe that Christ will do for them, only according to
what they miss, or really do not undertake for them-

And so it comes to pass, my brethren, that our gos-
pel fails, hitherto, of all its due honors, because we so
poorly represent the worth and largeness of it. What
multitudes are there, under the name of disciples, who
maintain a Christian figure scarcely up to the line of
common respect — penurious, little, mean, sordid, foul
in their imaginations, low-minded, coarse-minded every
way. Until Christ gets room in the higher spaces of
iheir feeling, and theil* consciousness gets ennobled by
a worthier and fuller reception, it must be so. Others
are inconstant, falling away so feebly as to put a weak
look on the gospel itself; as if it were only able to
kindle a flare in the passions, not to establish a durable
character. This too must be so, till Christ is fully
enough received to be the head of their new capacity
and growth. Multitudes, again, are not made happy as
they should be, wear a long-faced, weary, dissatisfied,
legally constrained look, any thing but a look of cour-
age and joy and blessed contentation. Yes, and for the
simple reason that there is nothing so wretched, so very
close to starvation, as a little, doubtfully received grace.
True joy comes by hearts-full ; and when there is room
enough given for Christ to flood the feeling, the peace
becomes a river — never till then.

Discordant opinions and strifes of doctrines endlessly
propagated are another scandal. And since heads are


little and many, full of fractious and gaunt notions, all
horning or hoofing each other, as hungry beasts in their
stall, what wonder is it if they raise a clatter of much
discord? ISTo, the true hospitality is that of the heart,
and if only the grand heart-world of the race were set
open to the full entertainment of Jesus, there would be
what a chiming of peace and unity in the common love.
Why, again, since Christianity undertakes to convert
the world, does it seem to almost or quite fail in the
slow progress it makes? Because, I answer, Christ
gets no room, as yet, to work, and be the fire in men's
hearts he is able to be. We undertake for him as by
statecraft and churchcraft and priestcraft. We raise
monasteries for him in one age, military crusades in
another. Raymond Lull, representing a large class of
teachers, undertook to make the gospel so logical that
he could bring down all men of all nations, without a
peradventure, before it. Some in our day are gomg to
carry every thing by steam-ships and commerce ; some
by science and the schooling of heathen children ; some
by preaching agents adequately backed by missionary
boards ; some by tracts and books. But the work, how-
ever fitly ordered as respects the machiner}^, lingers,
and will and must linger, till Christ gets room to be a
more complete inspiration in his followers. The}" give
him the stable when they ought to be giving him the
inn, put him in the lot of weakness, keep him back
from his victories, shut him down under the world,
making his gospel, thus, such a secondary, doubtfully
real affair, that it has to be always debating in the


evidences, instead of being its own evidence, and
marching forward in its own mighty power.

But what most of all grieves me. in such a review, is,
that Christ himself has so great wrong to endure, in
tlie slowness and low faith of so many ages. Why, if I
had a friend, who was always making me to appear
weaker and meaner than I am, putting the flattest con-
struction possible on my words and sayings, professing
still, in his own low conduct, to represent my ideas and
principles, protesting the great advantage he gets, from
being much with me, in just those things where he is
most utterly unlike me — I could not bear him even for
one week, I should denounce him utterly, scouting all
terms of connection with him. And yet Christ has a
patience large enough to bear us still ; for he came to
bear even our sin, and he will not start from his bur-
den, even if he should not be soon through with it.

All the sooner, brethren, ought we to come to the
heart so long and patiently grieving for us. Is it not
time, dear friends, that Christ our Master should begin
to be fitly represented by his people — received in liis
true grandeur and fullness as the Lord of Life and Sav-
iour of all mankind; able to save to the uttermost ; a
grace all victorious ; light, peace, liberty, and power ;
wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,
Be it yours then so to make room for him, even accord-
ing to the greatness of his power — length, breadth,
de})th, height. Be no more straitened in your own
bowels, stretch 3'ourselves to the measure of the statu ru
of the fullness of Christ. Expect to be all that he will


make you, and that you may be, open your whole
heart to him broad as the sea. Give him all the widest
spaces of your feeling — guest-chambers opened by your
loving hospitality. Challenge for him his right to be
now received by his disciples, as he never yet has been.
Tell what changes and wondrous new creations will ap-
pear, when he finally breaks full-orbed on human ex-
perience — his true second coming in power and great
glory. For this great consummation it is that every
thing is preparing, and if there be voices and calls
chiming through the spaces round us, which, for deaf-
ness, W3 have all these ages failed to hear, what is their
burden but this — Lift up your heads, ye gates, and
be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of
Glory shall como in.



"77??/ gentleness hath made me great." — Ps. xviii. 35.

Gentleness in a deity-'-what other religion ever
took up such a thoaght? When the coarse mind of
sin makes up gods and a religion by its own natural
light, the gods, it will be seen, reveal both the coarse-
ness and the sin together, as they properly should.
They are made great as being great in force, and terri-
ble in their resentm ";nts. They are mounted on tigers,
hung about with snakes, cleave the sea with tridents,
pound the sky with thunders, blow tempests out of
their cheeks, send murrain upon the cattle, and pesti-
lence on the cities and kingdoms of other gods — always
raging in some lust or jealousy, or scaring the world
by some vengeful portent.

Just opposite to all these, the great Grod and creator
of the world, the God of revelation, the God and Fa-
ther of our Lord Jesus Christ, contrives to be a gentle
being; even hiding his power, and withholding the
stress of his will, that he may put confidence and cour-
age in the feeling of his children. Let us not shrink
then from this epithet of scripture, as if it must imply
some derogation from God's real greatness and maj-


estj; for we are much more likel}^ to reach the impros-
sioti, before we have done, that precisely here do liia
greatness and majestj^ culminate.

What then, first of all, do we mean by gentleness?
To call it sweetness of temper, kindness, patience, flexi-
bility, indecisiveness, does not really distinguish it.
We shall best come at the true idea, if we ask what it
means when applied to a course of treatment. When
you speak, for example, of dealing gently with an en-
emy, you mean that, instead of trying to force a point
straight through with him, you will give him time, and
ply him indirectly with such measures and modes of for-
bearance as will put him on different thoughts, and
finally turn him to a better mind. Here then is the
true conception of God's gentleness. It lies in his con
senting to the use of indirection, as a way of gaining his
adversaries. It means that he does not set himself, aa
a ruler, to drive his purpose straight through, but that,
consciously wise and right, abiding in his purposes
with majestic confidence, and expecting to reign with a
finally established supremacy, he is only too great to
fly at his adversary, and force him to the wall, if he
does not instantly surrender; that, instead of coming
down upon him thus, in a manner of direct onset, to
carry his immediate submission by storm, he lays gentle
siege to him, waiting for his willing assent and choice.
He allows dissent for the present, defers to prejudice,
watches for the cooling of passion, gives room and
space, for the weaknesses of our unreasonable and per-
verse habit to play themselves out, and so by leading



US round, tljrongli long courses of kind but fairliful ex-
ercise, he counts on bringing us out into the wtn^s of
obedience and duty freelj chosen. Forc^e and crude
ab.-olutism ard thus put by ; the irritations of a jealous
littleness have no place ; and the great God and Fa-
ther^ intent on making his children great, follows them
and plies them with the gracious indirections of a faith-
ful and patient love.

It is scarcely necessary to add that there are many
kinds of indirection, which are wdde, as possible, of any
character of gentleness. All policy, in the bad sense
of the term, is indirection. A simply wise expedient
has often this character. But the indirections of God
are those of a ruler, perfectly secure and sovereign, and
their object is, not to turn a point of interest for him-
self, but simply to advance and make great the un-
worthy and disobedient subjects of his goodness.

This character of gentleness in God's treatment, you
will thus perceive, is one of the greatest spiritual beauty
and majesty, and one that ought to affect us most ten-
derly in all our sentiments and choices. And that we
may have it in its true estimation, observe, first of all,
how far off it is from the practice and even capacity
generall}^ of mankind. We can do almost any thing
more easily than consent to use any sort of indirection,
when we are resisted in the exercise of authority, or en-
counter another at some point of violated right.

There is a more frequent approach to gentleness, in
the parental relation, than any where else among men.


And 3^et even here, how common is the weak display
of a violent, autocratic manner, in the name of author-
ity and government. Seeing the child daring to resist
his will, the parent is, how often, foolishly exasperated.
With a flush of anger and a stern, hard voice, he raises
the issue of peremptory obedience; and when, either
b}^ force oi- without, he has carried his way, he proba-
bly congratulates himself that he has been faithful
enough to break his child's will. Whereas, raising an
issue between his own passions and his child's mere
fears, he is quite as likely to have broken down his
conscience as his will, unnerving all the forces of char-
acter and capacities of great manhood in him for life.
Alas, how many parents, misnamed fathers and mothers,
fancy, in this manner, that when self-respect is com-
pletely demolished in their poor defenseless child, the
family government is established. They fall into this
barbarity, just because they have too little firmness to
hold their ground in any way of indirection or gentle-
ness. They are violent because they are weak, and
then the conscious wrong of their violence weakens
them still farther, turning them, after the occasion is
past, to such a misgiving, half apologizing manner, as
just completes their weakness.

It will also be observed, almost universally, among
men, that where one comes to an issue of any kind
with another, matters are pressed to a direct point-
blank Yes or No. If it is a case of personal wrong, or
a quarrel of any kind, the parties face each other, pride
against pride, passion against passion, and the hot e&-


deavor is to storm a way tlirongh to victory. There ia
no indirection nsed to soften the adversary, no waiting
for time, nothing meets the feeling of the moment but
to bring him down upon the issue, and floor him by a
direct assault. To redress the injury by gentleness, to
humble an adversary by his own reflections, and tame
his will by the circuitous approach of forbearance and
a siege of true suggestion — that is not the manner of
men, but only of God.

True gentleness, we thus perceive, is a character too
great for any but the greatest and most divinely tem-
pered souls. And yet how ready are many to infer
that, since God is omnipotent, he must needs have it as
a way of majesty, to carry all his points through to
their issue by force, just as they w^ould do themselves.
What, in their view, is it for God to be omnipotent, but
to drive his chariot where he will. Even Christian
theologians, knowing that he has force enough to carry
his points at will, make out pictures of his sovereignty,
not seldom, that stamp it as a remorseless absolutism.
They do not remember that it is man, he that has no
force, who wants to carry every thing by force, and
that God is a being too great for this kind of infirmity ^
that, having all power, he glories in the hiding of his
power; that holding the worlds in the hollow of hig
hand, and causing heaven's pillars to shake at his re-
proof, he still counts it the only true gentleness for
him to bend, and wait, and reason with his adversary,
and turn him round by his strong Providence, till he
is gained to repentance and a volunteer obedience.


But God maintains a government of law, it will be
remembered, and enforces his law bj jast penalties,
and what room is there for gentleness in a government
of law ? All room, I answer ; for how shall he gain us
to his law as good and right, if he does not give us
time to make the discovery of what it is? To receive
law because we are crammed with it, is not to receive it
as law, but only to receive it as force, and God would
spurn that kind of obedience, even from the meanest of
his subjects. He wants our intelligent, free choice of
duty — that we should have it in love, nay have it even
in liberty. Doubtless it is true that he will finally pun-
ish the incorrigible ; but he need not therefore, like some
weak, mortal despot, hurry up his force, and drive
straight in upon his mark. If he were consciously a
little faint-hearted he would, but he is great enough in
his firmness to be gentle and wait.

But some evidence -will be demanded that God pur
sues any such method of indirection, or of rectoral gen
tleness with us. See then, first of all, how openly he
takes this attitude in the scriptures.

"When our first father breaks through law, by his
act of sin, he does not strike him down by his thunders,
but he holds them back, comes to him even with a
word of promise, and sends him forth into the rough
tiials of a world unparadised by guilt, to work, and
suffer, and learn, and, when he will, to turn and live.
The ten brothers of Joseph are managed in the same
way. When they could not speak peaceably to him,


or even endure his presence in the flimily, God lets tliera
sell liim to the Egyptians, then sends them down to
Egj^pt, by the instigations of famine, and passes them
back and forth with supplies to their father, allowing
them to feed even the life of their bodies out of Joseph's
bountj; till finally, when he is revealed as their brother
and their father's son, they are seen doing exactly what
they had sworn in their wrath should never be done —
bowing their sheaf to the sheaf of Joseph. Here too is
the solution of that very strange chapter of history, the
forty years' march in the wilderness. The people were
a slave-born people, having all the vices, superstitions,
and unmanly weaknesses, that belong to slavery. God
.will not settle his land with such, and no thunders or
earthquakes of discipline can drive the inbred weak-
ness suddenly out of them. So he takes the indirect
method, puts them on a milling of time and trial,
marches them round and round to ventilate their low
passions, lets some die and others be born, till finally
they become quite another people, and are fitted to in-
augurate a new history.

But I need not multiply these minor examples, when
it is the very genius of Christianity itself to prevail
with man, or bring him back to obedience and life by a
course of loving indirection. What we call- the gospel
is only a translation, so to speak, of the gentleness of
God—a matter in the world of fact, answering to a
higher matter, antecedent, in the magnanimity of God.
I do not say that this gospel is a mere effusion of divine
sentiment apart from all counsel and government. It


comes by counsel older than the world's foundations.
The salvation it brings is a governmental salvation.
It is, at once, the crown of God's purposes and of his
governmental order. And the gentleness of God must
institute this second chapter of gracious indirection, be-
cause no scheme of rule could issue more directly in
good without it. For it was impossible in the nature
of things that mere law — precept driven home by the
forces of penalty — should ever establish a really princi-
pled obedience in us. How shall we gladl}^ obey and
serve in love, which is the only obedience having any
true character, till we have had time to make some ex-
periments, try some deviations, sting ourselves in some
bitter pains of trial, and so come round into the law
freely chosen, because we have found how good it is ;
and, what is more than all, have seen how good God
himself thinks it to be, from what is revealed in that
wondrous indirection of grace, the incarnate life and
cross of Jesus. Here the very plan is to carry the pre-
cept of law by motives higher than force ; by feeling,
and character, and sacrifice. We could not be driven
out of sin by the direct thrust of omnipotence ; for to
be thus driven out is to be in it still. But we could be
overcome by the argument of the cross, and by voices
that derive a quality from suffering and sorrow. And
thus it is that we forsake our sins, at the call of Jesus
and his cross, freely, embracing thus in trust, what in
willfulness and ignorance we rejected.

ISTor does it vsiry at all our account of this gospel,
\hat the Holy vSpirit works concurrently in it, with


Christ and his cross. For it is not trne, as some CLris-
tian teachers imagine, that the Holy Spirit works con-
version by a direct, soul-renewing fiat or silent thun(l(3r«
stroke of omnipotence. He too works by indirection,
not by any short method ot absolute will. Working
efBciently and, in a certain sense, immediately in the man,
or subject, he still circles round the will, doing it respect
by laying no force upon it, and only raising appeals to
it from what he puts in the mind, the conscience, the
memory, the sense of want, the fears excited, the aspi-
rations kindled. He moves upon it thus by a siege,
and not by a fiat, carries it finally by a process of cir-
cumvallation, commonly much longer even than the
ministry of Jesus. He begins with the child, opening
his little nature to gleams of religious truth and feeling
— at the family prayers, in his solitary hours and
dreams, in the songs of praise that warble on the
strings of his soul, and among the heavenly affinities of
his religious nature. And thenceforward he goes with
him, in all the future changes and unfoldings of his life,
turning his thoughts, raising tender questions in him,
working private bosom -scenes in his feeling, forcing
nothing, but pleading and insinuating every thing
good; a better presence keeping him company, and
preparing, by all modes of skill and holy inducement,
to make him great. So that, if we could follow^ a soul
onward in its life-history, we should see a Spirit- history
running parallel with it. And when it is really born
of God, it will be the result of what the Spirit has
wrought, by a long, and various, and subtle, and


beautiful process, too delicate for hunuin thought to

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 29)