Horace Bushnell.

Select works (Volume 1) online

. (page 22 of 29)
Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

by faith ; wheeling his chariot on through all the tu-
mults and overturnings of time, till his universal king-
dom is complete.

I am well aware that our brethren, who look for
Christ's visible coming, will not allow the inconven-
iences, or almost absurdities, I have here sketched, to
be any proper results of their doctrine. " We believe,"
they will say, "that he will come in a spiritual body,
such as he had after his resurrection, not in a coarse,
material body. It will be such a body that he can be
here, or there, at any given moment, hampered by no
conditions of space; even as he came into the room
where his disciples were gathered, when the doors were
shut." But they only impose upon themselves by such
a conception. If their spiritual body is to be visible, it
must be as in space and outward appearing ; for that is
the condition of all visibility. And then we have a
flitting Saviour, breaking out here or there, at what
time, or on what occasion, no mortal can guess. And
the result will be that they are in a worse torment than
they would be, if he were established in some known
locality. Going after their eyes, they are taken off
from all faith, and where their eyes shall find him they
know not.

Pardon me then if I suggest the suspicion that they


are more carnal in tlieir expectation than they know.
If it is so much better to have a visible Saviour, are
they not more weary of faith than they should be, and
secretly longing, catching at straws of prophecy, to get
away from it? There is nothing, I must frankly say,
that would be so nearly a dead loss of Christ to any
disciple who knows him in the dear companionship of
faith, as to have him come in visible show ; either set-
ting up his reign at some geographic point, or reigning
aerially, in some flitting and cursitating manner which
can not be traced. How beautifully accessible is he
now everywhere, present to every heart that loves him ,
consciously dear, as friend, consoler, guide, and stay, in
all conditions ; close at hand in every sinking ship in the
uttermost parts of the sea ; the sweet joy of dungeons
under ground, where there is no light to see him in a
body ; immediately and ail-diffusively present, to com-
fort every sorrow, support every persecution, and
even to turn away the tempting thought before it
comes. A Saviour in the body and before the eyes
can serve no such of&ces. Kone can find him, but
them that come in his way, or chance to spy him with
their eyes.

We have no want then of a locally related, that is of
a bodily resident Saviour; we perceive, without diffi-
culty, the expediency of which Christ speaks, that he
should go away and not continue the incarnate, or visi-
ble state, longer than to serve the particular objects for
which he assumed that state. But he gives us to un-
derstand, that he is not going to be taken utterly away


in the proposed removal, but rather to be as much
closer to his disciples as he can be, when all conditions
of time and space are cast off. And accordingly the
question rises at this point, how is Christ related now to
the knowledge and friendship of his people? "Ye
ijave heard how I said unto you I go away and come
again unto you." And again — "I will not leave you
comfortless, I will come to you." And again — "but
ye see me." And again — "Lo, I am with you always."
He evidently means to put himself thus in a practically
close and dear relation with his people — what is thai
relation? how set open? how maintained?

Obviously what we want ourselves, is to be somehow
with him, and to know that he is with us. We want a
social, consciously open state with him, as real as if he
were with us bodily, and as diffusive as if he were
everywhere ; thus to have a personal enjoyment of him,
and rest in the felt sympathies of his personal compan-
ionship. This, too, exactly is what he means to allow
us ; not in the external way, but in a way more imme-
diate, and blessed, and evident, and as much more ben-
eficial. If we had him with us in the external way, as
his own disciples had, when they journeyed, and talked,
and eat, and slept, in his company, we should be living
altogether in our eyes, and not in any way of mental
realization. And, as a result, we should not be raised
and exalted in spiritual force, or character, as we spe-
cially need to be. What we want, therefore, is to have
a knowledge of him, and presence and society with him,
that we can carry with us, and have as the secret joy,



and streDgth, and conscious blessing of our inmost life
itself; that we may see him, when we are blind and can
see nothing with our eyes ; that we may hear him speak,
when we are deaf and can hear nothing with our ears;
that we may walk with him, when we can not walk at
all ; sit in heavenly places with him, when we can not
sit at all; rise with him when he rises, reign with him
when he reigns; never away from him, even when
beyond the sea, or passing through the valley of the
shadow of death.

Now it is just this relation that he undertakes to fill,
when he goes away. Being himself a Comforter, [Par-
aclete,] for this is the word translated Advocate, he
promises "another Comforter;" that is, in some proper
sense, another self Indeed, he really calls the Com-
forter promised, another self; for he says expressly, in
this very connection — "Even the Spirit of truth, whom
the world can not receive because it seeth him not;
neither knoweth him, but ye know him ; for he dwell-
eth with you and shall be in you ;" striking directly
into the first person, to say the same thing over again,
as relating to himself — " Yet a little while and the world
seeth me no more, but ye see me ; because I live, ye
shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am
in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." And then,
to be still more explicit, he gives the promise, that who-
soever of his followers follows faithfully, keeping his
commandments, shall have the immediate manifestation
always of his presence — " I will manifest myself unto
him," — " If a man love me he will keep my words, and


my Father will love him, and we will come unto hira
and make our abode with him."

The great change of administration thus to be inti'o-
duced, by the going away and coming again, includes
several points that require to be distinctly noted.

1. That Christ now institutes such a relationship be-
tween him and his followers, that they can know him
when the world can not. Before this, the world had
known him just as his disciples had, seeing him with
their eyes, hearing his doctrine, observing his miracles,
but now he is to be withdrawn, so that only they shall
see him — " the world seeth him not." As being rational
persons, they may recollect him, they may read other
men's recollections of him, but his presence they will
not discern, he is not manifest unto them, but only to
his followers. He that loveth knoweth God, and he

2. It is a point included that the new presence, oi
social relationship, is to be effected and maintained by
the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. And he it is that
Christ, in the promise, calls so freely himself The New
Testament writings are not delicate in maintaining any
particular formula, or scheme of personality, as regards
the distributions of Trinity. They call the Spirit " the
Spirit of Christ." They say, " God hath sent the Spirit
of his Son into your hearts." They speak of "the su|)-
ply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." They speak also of
" the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." They
Bay, " the Lord [Christ] is that Spirit." Christ also is


shown, more than once, fulfilling the official functions
of the Spirit ; as in Paul's conversion, where the invisi-
ble Christ, that is the Spirit, sajs "I am Jesus of Kaza-
reth whom thou persecutest ; or again, when Paul him
self describes his conversion by sa3nng, " when it pleased
God to reveal his Son in me." No theologic scruples
are felt in such free modes of expression, and indeed
there never should be ; for to every one but the strict
tritheist, Christ must, in some sense, be the Spirit, and
the Spirit, Christ. And when Christ calls the Comforter
he promises, himself, he gives precisely the best and
truest representation of the Spirit, in his new office,
possible to be given. It is to be as if the disincarnated
soul, or person of Christ, were now to go away and
return as a universal Spirit invisible ; in that form " to
abide forever." And the beauty of the conception is,
that the Spirit is to be no mere impersonal effluence, or
influence, but to be with us in the very feeling and
charity of Jesus. All the fullness of Christ is in him ;
the gentleness, the patience, the tenderness, the self-
sacrifice ; all that makes Jesus himself such a power of
personal mastery in us. He is to be with us in Christ's
name as a being with a heart, nay, to be the heart itself
that was beating in the Son of Mary. All the charities,
and even the blessed humanities of Jesus are to be in
him, and, in fact, to be ministered socially, and socially
manifested by him ; even as Christ expressly declared- -
" He shall glorify me ; for he shall receive of mine and
show it unto you." This inward showing is, in fact,
the virtuality of Christ. He will be to the soul all thai


Christ liimself would wisli to be ; for he loves the world
with Christ's own love. He will be as forgiving a3
Christ in his passion, as tenderly burdened as Christ in
his agony, as really present to physical suffering, as
truly a Comforter to all the shapes of human sorrow.
All which Christ outwardly expressed, he will inwardly

3. In this coming again of Christ by the Spirit, there
is included also the fact that he will be known by the
disciple, not only socially, but as the Christ, in such a
way as to put us in a personal relationship with him,
even as his own disciples were in their outward society
with him. " Ye shall know that I am in the Father, and
ye in me, and I in you." " But ye know him." " But
ye see me." Many persons appear to suppose that the
Holy Spirit works in a manner back of all consciousness,
and that there is even a kind of extravagance in the disci-
ple who presumes to know him. And so it really is, if
the conception is that he knows him by sensation, or by
inward phantasy. But what means the apostle when
he says — " the Spirit itself beareth witness with our
Spirit that we are the children of God"? That bearing
witness with imports some kind of inward society, or
interchange, in which a divine testimony flows into
human impression, or conviction, else it imports nothing.
Tlie real Christian fact in regard to this very important
subject appears to be, that the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of
Christ, though not felt by sensation, or beheld by men-
tal vision, is yet revealed, back of all perception, in the
consciousness. We are made originally to be conscious



of God, just as wc of ourselves, and know liim hy
that immediate light. Tliis is our normal state and it
is now so far restored. Our finite beina: was to be com-
plete in the infinite, and apart from that, could only be
a poor dead limb, or broken fragment, worthless to it-
self. And this accordingly is the wonder of a true re-
ligious experience begun, that the soul, awakened to the
consciousness of God, not knowing how, has a certain
mysterious feeling of otherness imparted, which is some-
how a new element to it — a pure, inwardly glorious,
free element. By and by it gets acquainted with the
new and glorious incoming, and dares to say, it is
Christ, it is God. A whole side of the nature turning
Godward thus, and before closed, is now open, and the
man is even more impressively conscious at times of the
divine movement in his feeling, than of his own. And
this fulfills the promise — "I will manifest myself unto
him." A promise which Paul bravely answers, when
he says, out of his own conscious experience — " Christ
liveth in me," — " who loved me and gave himself for

Here then is the relationship we seek — Christ is so
related now, to the soul of them that receive him, that
he is present with them in all places, at all times, bear-
ing witness with their spirit, in guidance and holy
society ; a friend, a consoler, a glorious illuminator, all
that he would or could be, if we had him each to him
sdf in outward company. Yes, and he is more than
this ; for if we simply had him in such outward com-
pany, the contrast perceived would be even mortifying


and oppressive ; but now, as he comes np from within,
through our personal consciousness itself, we are raised
in dignity, and have him as the sense of a new and
nobler self unfolded in us. O, what a footing is this for
a mortal creature to occupy, an open relationship with
Christ and Grod, in which it shall receive just all which
it wants, being consciously girded with strength foi
whatever it has to do, patience for suffering, wisdom
for guidance. His very nature is penetrated by a
higher nature, and, being spirit to Spirit, he moves in
the liberty of that superior impulse and advisement.
His relationship to Christ is that of the branch to the
vine, and the presence that he has with Christ is imme-
diate, vital, and if he will suffer it, perpetual. Its
whole gospel in one view it has in the promise — " Lo, I
am with you always, even to the end of the world."

But there is a different conception of this whole
matter, which I must briefly notice. Many persons ap
pear to assume, that we have, and can have, no relations
to Christ, more immediate than those which we have
through language aud the understanding. The Spirit,
they say, works by truth, and only as the truth gets
power in our thoughts and choices. Their conception
is that we have nothing to do with God, except as we
get hold of notions, or notional truths, concerning him —
reported facts, for example, and teachings, and doctrinal
deductions. Undoubtedly we are to have this notional
furniture in the understanding, but it is never "to be a
fence between us and God, requiring us to know him
only at second hand, as we know China by the repor*


of the geographers. We are still to know God, oi
Christ, by our immediate experience; nay, to know him
as we know ourselves, by consciousness. It is useful
for us to know ourselves scientifically, intellectually, ^-e-
flectively ; but this kind of artificial self-knowledge is
not enough. Some of us, in that way, would scarcely
know ourselves at all, and none of us more than par-
tially, intermittently, and in spots. We want to know
ourselves all the while, and without study, so as to be
all the while possessing and going along with ourselves,
and therefore we are gifted with an immediate con-
sciousness of ourselves. But we want, just as much, to
know God by this immediate and perpetual knowledge ;
for apart from God we are nothing, we do not even half
exist. Our finite existence becomes complete existence,
only as we are complete in him, and this we can not
be, save as he is manifested, or participated, by our
consciousness. Thus we might have our advantage in
a notional, or scientific conception of the atmosphere,
but if we could breathe only by such scientific self-
regulation, many of us would stop breathing entirely,
and all of us wo aid be gasping for air a great part of the
time ; what we want is a continual fanning of the brea.h
that shall keep the air at work, feeding our life all the
time, without intermission, and without any kind of
notional self-regulation. So, too, we want a perpetual
inbreathing of God, a witnessing of the divine Spirit
with our spirit, else our very nature is abortive and
worthless. It is not enough that we have notions, oi
doctrines, of God, which we may use, or apply, to obtaiD


flavors of good effect thrcugh sucli media — we want the
immediate manifestation of God himself. And then, lest
we should sink away into the abysses and trances of
contemplation, with Plotinus and others who struggle
out vaguely into and after the infinite, we have the in-
finite humanly personated in Christ ; so that, instead of
wandering off into any abysses at all, we simply let tho
Son of Man be God in our feeling, and fashion us in the
molds of his own humanly divine excellence. Christ
we say liveth in us ; and therefore by the faith of the
Son of God, we live.

But is not this a kind of mysticism, some will ask,
better therefore to be avoided than received? I hardly
know what is definitely meant by the question ; unless
perhaps it be that a word is wanted that will serve the
uses of a stigma. A great many will begin to suspect
some kind of mysticism, just because they are mystified,
or misted, and see things only in a fog of obscurity.
But if this be mysticism, nothing is plainer than that
Christ is the original teacher of it, and his two disciples,
John and Paul, specially abundant teachers of it after
him. Every man is a mystic in the same way, who
believes that Christ is the Life — in such a sense the life
that he truly liveth in his followers, and giveth them to
live by him. God as the Life, the all-quickener, the
all-mover and sustainer, the inward glory and bliss of
souls — this may be set down as a thing too high to be
any but a mystical notion. And yet all highest things
are apt to be most rational, and, at bottom, most credible.
What can be more rational, in fact, than to think that


God will give us most certainly what is most wanted-
water, and ligbt, and air, and yet more freel}^, Himself?
He will not put us off to know only things about him,
truths, notions, items of fact, but will give us to know
Himself. And since all souls are dark, living only to
grope, without him — poor, blind pilgrims, straying on
the shores of eternity — what will he do, what, in all true
reason, must he do, but make himself the true sunrising
to them, and the conscious revelation of their inward day.
Our answer then to the question what are Christ's
present relations to his followers? is that he is present
to them as he is not, and can not be to the world ; pres-
ent as an all-permeating Spirit; present as the all-
quickening Life ; consciously, socially present ; so that
no explorations of science, or debates of reason are
wanted to find him, no going over the sea to bring him
back, or up into heaven to bring him down ; because
he is already present, always present, in the mouth and
in the heart. In this manner tie will be revealed in all
men, waits to be revealed in all, if only they will suffer
it. The word for every loving, trusting heart is, "I
will come unto you, I will be manifest in you. Lo, I
will be with you always."

But the answer at which we thus arrive is a purely
spiritual answer, you perceive, one that is real and true
only as it is opened to faith, and experimentally proved.
But all such spiritualities waver and flicker ; we are too
much in the senses to hold them constantly and evenly
enough to rest in them. Therefore to keep us in the


raiig(.' cf tliis relationship, God has contrived to fasten
us in tlie sense of it, and make it good, by two fixed,
partly outward institutes, that are to stand as forts, ot
f'-^rtrcsses, in the foreground of it ; viz., by the church
and by the sacraments.

"Behold the kingdom of God is within you," says
the Saviour, meaning that he will be there, and there
will have his reign. But he also lays the foundations
of a great, perpetual, visible institute, that he names the
church, calling it to be the light of the w^orld, even as
he, in the body, was the light of the world himself, and
because he is now, in the Spirit, to be entered into and
fill the body of the church with light. His apostle
calls it too " the pillar and ground of the truth," because
it is to be that corporate body that never dies, receiving
the written word as a deposit and trust for all ages to
come, and becoming itself a living epistle, answering
faithfully to it, and shedding, from its own luminous
property, a perpetual light of interpretation upon it.
Of this body, called the church, he is to be the Head
himself, and all the members joined together in him,
are to be so related to him as to make a virtually real,
and perpetually diffusive, incarnation of him in the
world. While, therefore, it was expedient for him to go
away as the Son of Man, or of Mary, it was yet to be
found, as he comes again by revelation to the conscious-
ness of his disciples, that he is again taking body, in
fact, for all time, in them ; so to be manifested organi-
cally, ani, as it were, instituted in their undying and
corporate membership — " Head over all things to the


churcli which is his body, the fullness of him that iilletb
all in all." The members are to know him personally^
each in his own immediate life, and then thej are to
know him again even the more firmly, that they are
consciously instituted and framed into body by his life.
Jt is to be as if their divine consciousness itself were
certified, and sealed, and made visible, by its own or-
ganizing power — that power which ages and times can
not weaken, which outlives the kingdoms and their
persecutions, and defies the gates of hell. "From
whence the whole body, fitly joined together and com-
pacted by that which every joint snpplieth, according
to the effectual working in the measure of every part,
maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself
in love." What solidity is there now in such a relation
to Christ ! Spiritual as the relation is, it is yet even more
intellectually fixed, and carries better evidence, than
Christ in the body was ever able to give his followers.

But the spiritualities of the relation Christ maintains
with his disciples were to be settled and fortified by
still another institute ; I mean the sacraments, and es-
pecially the sacrament of the Holy Supper. The very
object of the supper appears to be the settlement, and
practical, or experimental, certification of that revelation
to consciousness, of which we have been speaking.
' This is my body, take and eat." " This is my blood,
drink ye all of it." And this, to establish, as by insti-
tute, the fact that Christ here present, is to be commu-
Qicated and received, as by nutrition, or as life. And
this is what is meant by discerning his body, and tho


showing forth of his death ; for there is to be an accept-
ing, in the partaker, of his here represented embodiment
and a confession of trust in his death, to which he will,
by these instituted symbols and pledges, be inwardlj?
discovered, as certainly and as often as the rite is dul}'
observed. When, therefore, he says, " this do in remem-
brance of me," we are not to take his words in the
lightest, shallowest possible meaning, as if he were only
giving us a mnemonic to refresh our memories, but in
the deepest and most sacredly inward sense; viz., that
he is giving it to us here, to receive the dearest hospi-
tality, the communion of his own divine Life. All that
famous discourse of his about the bread and the blood,
in the 6th chapter of John, is but the fit opening of his
meaning. "I am the bread of life — the living bread
that came down from heaven — if any man eat of this
bread he shall live forever. My flesh is meat indeed, and
my blood is drink indeed. Except ye eat the flesh of the
Son of Man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you."
And this exactly is the great institute of the supper.
Christ engages to be present in it, by a most real pres-
ence, without a miracle of transubstantiation ; so tha,t
when we come to offer to him ourselves, and open our
inmost receptivities to the appropriation of his presence,
it is no vague, volunteer, possibly presumptuous thing
that we do, as if venturing on some almost aerial flight,
in the way of coming unto God, but we have the grace
by institution, firmly pledged, and given, as it were, by
routine. Here is Christ to be communicated. Here
aie we to commune. There is no miracle, but what if



a great deal better, viz., life; commnnity of life witt
Christ and God. What we get in the conscious reve-
lation of his Spirit, we here receive by an outward and

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 29)