Horace Bushnell.

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majesty. He, then, is to be the judge, as he himself
openly declares, and before his judgment-seat all man-
kind, including all his rejectors, shall be gathered. He
will separate them to their fit award. He will say, " ye
did it not to me." He will speak the " depart." Who-
ever has joined himself wholly to evil, put himself to
the uses of evil, that is, of the devil and his angels, he
will consign to the devil and his angels, according to
their real affinities and according to what they deserve.
And this is the wrath, and this the day of wrath ; "for
the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be
able to stand ?"

But it will be objected, I suppose, by some, that in
the view now presented, the hope of a possible salva-
tion is quite taken away. You can not, any more,
deserve God's favor, how then can you be saved, unless
God's justice be somehow satisfied in your behalf? You
could not, I answer, if God were obliged to execute
justice, having no option concerning it. But exactly
contrary to this, the wrath-principle in him is OTily that



judicial impulse that backs him in the infliction of jus-
tice, whenever justice requires to be inflicted. And il
does not require to be inflicted always ; it never ouglit
CO be, when there is any thing better that is possible.
The law of right, or righteousness, is absolute and eter-
nal. Not so the vindicatory principle of justice. Since
penal justice is only a matter of means to ends in gov-
ernment, backed by the wrath-impulse, the means and
occasions are to be regulated by counsel, and the wrath
moderated by counsel. It is with God, in these mat-
ters, as it is with us. We are never bound to do by
men as they deserve, simply because the wrath-impulse
moves us to this, if only we are able to do what is bet-
ter for them, and involves no injury to others. We do
not want our justice satisfied before we can forgive.
No more does God. As certainly as we may, at any
time, do by our enemy and for him, better than he de-
serves, however pungently we may feel the wTong he
has done us, so also may God. Something may be
necessary on his part to save an appearance of laxity,
when he forgives — some kind of honor paid to the in-
stituted order of justice, that will keep it in as high
respect as the exact execution of it. Christ will see to
that. I can not here describe the provision he has made ;
enough that when he remits the penalties of justice, in
his moral distributions, he shows most convincingly
still, that he adheres to justice in his feeling as firmly as
ever. It does not follow, when I forgive my enemy,
that I condemn any the less heartily, or hotly, the
wrongs he has done me. The very heat, too, of my


rebukes, and of my decisive measures of redress, may
be the means, in part, by which he is subdued, and the
redress of justice made unnecessary.

Put it down, then, first of all, at the close of this
great subject, that the N'ew Testament gives us no new
God, or better God, or less just God, than we had be-
fore. He is the I Am of all ages ; the I Am that was,
and is, and is to come ; the same that was declared from
the beginning — " The Lord God, gracious and merciful,
forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sin, and that will
by no means clear the guilty."

At the same time, let no one be concerned to find
how God's justice has been satisfied, or please himself
in the discovery how Christ has made up the needed
satisfaction, by the pains and penalties of his cross.
For if Christ has satisfied God's justice, then who is
going to satisfy the justice of Christ? If the offered
Lamb has propitiated, or appeased, the wrath of God
against transgressors, then a question of some point re-
mains, viz., who is going to propitiate the wrath of the
Lamb ? Furthermore, if the lighter penalty of justice
has been taken ofi^, on the original score of retribution,
who is going to lift the more tremendous liabilities of
justice incurred by those who have trodden under foot
the blood of the Son of God, and cast away forever all
the glorious mercies and helps of the cross? 0, it
grieves me to think of the poor, speculated inventions
we have wearied ourselves to set up on this summit, and
most central point, of gospel truth ! Wood, hay, stub-


ble — God grant that when it is burned we may not
perisli in the fire ourselves.

Hovr plain is it, also, in such a view of God and the
inevitable wrath-principle of his nature, that the charity,
so called, of our modern philauthropism, is an effemi-
nate and false charity. It reprobates all condemning
judgments and all inflictions of penalty. It does not
really believe in government, or in sin as an act of re-
sponsible liberty. Sin is only misdirection, and the
misdirecting power is circumstance. Are we not all
what our conditions make us to be? Why, then, do
we lay severe judgments, or even torments of penalty,
on the head of transgression ? Just contrary to this,
we have seen that no man even is a proper man, whose
moral nature is not put in armor by the wrath-principle.
Much less is God true God, when no such central fire
burns in his bosom, to make him the moral avenger of
the world. Neither let any one argue that God, as he
is good, must desire the happiness of all, and that, being
omnipotent also, what he desires he will certainly bring
to pass. What if it should also be true, that there is a
wrath-impulse in his nature, burning to have every
wrong chastised by the pain it deserves; is not the
argument as good to show that the chastisement will
certainly be inflicted? The argument, in fact, holds
neither way, least of all in showing that God will make
ever J creature happy ; for we know, as a plain matter
of fact, that he does not. There may seem to be a c(]in-
siderable show of reason in the vaunted liberality of
this new pk'lanthropism ; still it is only that weak light


of moonsliine whicti the higher light of day dispels.
The eternal King is King indeed, and no such dis-
penser only of the confections and other sweet delecta-
tions of favor, as this feeble gospel of philanthropy
requires him to be. O, the wrath of the Lamb! — there
is the rugged majesty of meaning that transgression
;v^ants to meet ! Smooth and soft things only will not
do. As certainly as God is God, and Christ his prophet,
he will not come bringing pardons only, suing and suing
to the guilty, but over against all obstinacy he will
kindle his fires of justice, and by these he will reign —
even where by love he can not.

We are brought out thus, at the close, just where
John began, when he came to make prophetic an-
nouncement of the new dispensation. He looks, you
may see, for no merely soft salvation,- but for a great
and appalling salvation rather. " Now the axe will be
laid," he says, "unto the root of the trees. He that
Cometh after me is mightier than I, his fan is in his
hand, he will thoroughly purge his floor, the chaff he
will burn with unquenchable fire." The doctrines of
religion will now be more spiritual and the tests more
severe. God will not be changed, but will only be
more peifectly shown. Responsibilities will not be
diminished, but increased with the increase of light.
If Christ bends low at his cross, no such fearful words
of warning and severity as his were ever before spoken.
The Old Testament is a dew-fall in comparison with
the simply judicial, spiritual, unbending, and impartial
wrath of the New. And this exactly is the impression,


we can see, of Christ liimself — putting fortli liis most
ominous warning in the tender shape even of a bless-
ing — " Blessed is he whosoever is not offended in me."
He speaks also of a taking away, and a still farther
taking away, in his parable of the talents, where he
seems to be looking distinctly on the fact that, as life
progresses, every soul is descending more and more
closely down to justice; losing out the conditions and
prospects, one after another, of being treated better
than it deserves ; to be finally suited in the only alter-
native left — treated in strict justice as it deserves. In
his tenderest accents of mercy, there is always blended,
as it were, some reverberative note of judgment; as if
there was a voice behind saying, behold, therefore, the
goodness — and severity of God ! It does not signify
as much when he unmasks his judgment throne, and
'jhows the gathering in, and tells the issues to be made,
as it does that his very love is so visibly tempered with
dread, in the sense of what his rejectors are doing. O,
how far away the conceit of that clumsy speculation
which shows him smoothing down the rugged front of
justice. No such conception of his gospel mission has
he, as we can easily see for ourselves. Christianity to
him, my friends, is not the same thing that it has been
to many of you. Doubtless it is a great salvation to
him ; and 3^ou may also think it such yourselves ; but
if you take it simply as a penal satisfaction for your
sins, placing its value wholly in that, so great an abuse
will scarcely suffer it to have been, or in fact ever to bo,
any real salvation to yon at all. You presume upon


the cross. You take it for granted that Christ is going
to do bj you better than you deserve, whereas that
depends in part on you. If you can not be turned
away from your sin, then he is preparing to do by you
exactly as you deserve. Christ understands Christi-
anity — hear him therefore say, with a manner of dread
how deep, in words that toll in a warning as deep for
you — Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be
"broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind
him to powder.



^^Forgiving one another^ even as God for Chrisi^s sake
hath forgiven you.'''' — Eph. iv, 32.

Under these words, '■^ even as,''^ and the relation or
comparison they introduce, a very serious and high
truth is presented; viz., that our human or Christian
forgivenesses are to correspond with the forgiveness of
sins by Christ himself; to be cast in the same molds of
quality and bestowed under similar conditions. And
that we may not fail of receiving such an impression,
the principle or idea is made to recur many times over,
and in such wa3^s that we can not miss of it, or throw a
doubt upon it. Thus we read again — "forgiving one
another, if any man have a quarrel against any ; even
as Christ forgave you so also do ye." Again, in the
gospels, it is given us in Christ's own words — "forgive,
and ye shall be forgiven " — "for if ye forgive men their
trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you ;
but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will
your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses." He
will not even allow us to pray for forgiveness, save as we
ourselves forgive — " Forgive us our trespasses, even as
we forgive those who trespass against us." All this on


the ground that there is such an analogy between the
forgiveness of Christ to us, and ours to our brethren
and our fellow-men, as makes them virtually alike ii»
spirit and kind, though not equal of course in degree.
G he quality of the virtue, the greatness of feeling, and
height of meaning, will be so far correspondent, at least,
that the smaller will represent the larger, and, according
to its measure, reveal the same properties.

I state the point thus distinctly, because, in the matter
of forgiveness among men, a kind of lapse, or sinking
of grade, appears to have somehow occurred ; so that,
holding still the duty of forgiveness, we have it in a
form so cheap and low, as to signify little when it is
practiced. " O, yes," says the brother, finally worn out
hy much expostulation, on account of the grudge he is
holding against another who has greatly injured him,
"I will forgive him, but I hope never to see him again.''
Christ does not say that to the man whom he forgives,
and I suppose it would commonly be regarded among
brethren, as a rather scant mode of forgiveness — such a
mode of it as scarely fulfills the idea. Another degree
of it, which would probably pass, says — "Yes, let him
come to me and ask to be forgiven, and it will be time
for me to answer him." Probably a quotation is made,
in this connection, of the scripture text which says — " If
thy brother repent forgive him." And most certainly
he should be thus forgiven, when the repentance appears
to be an actual and present fact ; but suppose that no
Buch repentance has yet appeared. Is it then enough
to say, " let him come and ask to be forgiven?" Many



think so, and the argument appears to be conclusive,
when they demand — "How can I be expected to for-
give, where there is no repentance, and the wrong ia
just as stubbornly adhered to as ever? What but a
mockery is it for me to forgive, when there is no for-
giveness wanted, and my adversary has not even come
into the right?"

Well then, suppose that Christ had stopped just there.
IS'obody is asking to be forgiven, all are in their sina
and mean to be there. They love their sins. They
have asked no release or forgiveness. They are not re-
pentant in the least degree. What then is there for him
to do ? Is he not absolved from any such matter as the
preparing and publishing of forgiveness, by the simple
fact that nobody wants it, or asks for it?" "If they
were penitent," he might say, "it would lay a heavy
charge upon me. But they are not, and what is for-
giveness thrust upon souls that do not even so much as
care for it?"

Why, my friends, it is just here that Christ and his
gospel begin — just here, in fact, that his forgiveness
begins ; viz., in for-giving, giving himself for, and to,
the blinded and dead heart of unrepentant men, to make
them penitent, and regain them to God. The real gist
of his forgiveness antedates their penitence ; it is what
he does, shows, suffers, in a way of gaining his enemy —
bringing him off and away, that is, from his wrongs, to
seek, and, in a true sorrow, :ind, the forgiveness that
has been searching beforehand so tenderly after him.

If we are to understand this matter accurately, as it


stands in the New Testament, we need to observe that
two very distinct and, in some respects, dissiioilar
Grreek words are employed here, to denote the virtue
under consideration; both of which are translated by
the single, very beautiful, but strangely dishonored
English word, forgiveness. One signifies merely a let-
ting go, a release of charges, an exemption from pun-
ishment, the merely negative good of not being held in
condemnation ; a word accurately translated here and
there by the word " remission." The other signifies the
very positive and operative matter of sacrifice and
suffering to gain the heart of an adversary ; that which
not merely lets go, but prepares men to be let go. Lit-
erally this word means "to bestow grace." Thus in
the text, where it is translated forgive, we may read —
" dealing grace, one towards another, even as God for
Christ's sake, hath dealt grace towards you." There is
also this remarkable contrast between the two words,
translating both by forgiveness, that one fixes on the
very last point, or final effect of forgiveness, viz., the
release, the letting go of charges, the absolution which
says, " go in peace ;" and the other finds its main idea in
the first things of forgiveness, the love, the going after,
the giving-for, by which the soul is taken hold of sooner
than it asks to be ; that which did not wait for peni-
tence to come, that it might let penitence go, but which
undertook to bring on penitence, prepare it, melt tlie
heart into it, and so to execute the letting go of the soul,
by making the sins let go of it.

Now both of these words are names, we have said, of


the same grace; viz., the grace of forgiveness; only
one names it from a last incident or effect, and the
other from the initiative movement of love and opera-
tive goodness, in which it took its spring — -just as one
might name the dawn, as a mere effect, or call it the
sun rising, as denoting the cause or spring of the re-
turning light ; where of course the names are coinci-
dent, though inherently different from each other. In
the present case, there is an immense difference between
the two words employed, as regards the dignity and the
real amount of their meaning — all the moral greatness,
or high beneficence, appears to lie in the grace-dealing
of love and sacrifice that prepares the remjission ; and
yet when the lower, feebler word is used, as it is in a
majority of cases, all that is in the other word is sup-
posed to pass into its meaning, and keep along with it.
Nothing is further off from Christ and his apostles, than
to suppose, in any case, that the forgiveness they speak
of is nothing but the simple letting go of charges against
the penitent. They have it understood always that the
grand reality of the forgiveness preached is that which
went before, in the putting by of so much injured feel-
ing, the going after them that w^ant no forgiveness, the
giving for, and suffering for, by which they may be
drawn to Grod ; — just that which is described historically
and transactionally, when the apostle says, " "Who gave
himself a ransom for all," " who gave himself for me."
For it is precisely this which goes into the higher word
"grace-dealing" and composes the reality of its mean-
ing. This is the grace, that Christ gives himself for us,


Aiid SO works in us, by his sacrifice, that we are trans-
formed, reconciled, covered in with God's feeling, in
one word, forgiven.

Do not understand me to say that the higher Greek
word is made up of the verb to give^ with the preposi-
tion /or, like our English word. It is not; it signifies
literally and simply '■''dealing grace^'' or "doing grace
upon;" which is represented by the genius of our
tongue, in the word " for-giving ;" and, what is remarka-
ble, the Latin and all the principal modern tongues, [aa
in con-dono^ par-don^ ver-gehen^'] make np their word
signifjdng remission in the same way, by compounding
their verb to give with a preposition answering to for ;
giving it, as it were by vote, and declaring it as their
inward sense or conviction, that the true forgiving of
wrong and evil is that which has its beauty and great-
ness and the spring of its operative power, in a giving-
for the sinners and the sins to be forgiven.

And lest this might seem to be scarcely better than a
suggestion of the fancy, or a curiosity of speech, let ua
glance a moment at the practical, or practically Chris-
tian, import of forgiveness when it is received. What
is it practically to ns, or in us? What does it do for
us? What internal changes of position, or experience,
does it bring? Answering these questions, we shall
find that forgiveness, when ascribed to Christ, haa
suilbred a lapse or fall in our understanding, much
like that which it has suffered when applied to men.
For the wr^rd is taken by multitudes, including even
teachers of theology, as if it had no reach of meaning



above the lower and more negative of the two words
just referred to. Thus we say that Christ first prepaies
a ground of forgiveness, by suffering before God (pe-
nal iy or not penally) in a manner to even the account
of our sin ; and then, having magnified the justi^^e of
God, lie is able to let go, remit, release the charge of, in
that Sense, forgive our sin. AVell, suppose the absolu-
tion is passed and we are let go, declared to be let go,
as I let go verbal!}^ my enemy when I forgive him.
What does this signify, that God has let go, taken off"
all charges against, his enemy? Just nothing but a
most barren mockery, unless he has somehow got into
the man's bosom and executed his pardon, by making
the sins let go of him. And precisely here is the stress,
the struggle, the wonder and glory of the forgiveness ;
that Christ, going before, has gotten him away from his
sin ; and, in all this previous grace-dealing, the reality
of the letting go, otherwise nothing but empty words, is
accomplished. Why, the man to be redeemed had a
hell of retributive causes tearing in his disordered na-
ture, and the mere letting him go only lets him have
that hell to himself! No, the grand effort of forgive-
ness begins farther back, in what is undertaken for the
sinner to win upon him, change him, get him loose
from sin, loose from retribution, and then the letting go
is only the ending off^, or completion declared. And so
the real forgiveness is that Jesus came, to be for his ad-
versarj^ and execute the great release in him. Long
ages ago, before the foundation of the world, his mind
of love began to grapple with the wrong and bitt(3r woe


of Lis adversary. He was not saying, " let liim come to
nie, in his day, and ask it if lie will, and then I will
forgive him ;" as little was it in him to say, " let him be
a better man and by-gones shall be by-gones." But
}!8 was the Lamb slain already. He was contriving
how to get beforehand in his forgiveness, postponing
his just indignations, laying himself into the case of Lis
adversaries to gain them back, planning a descent into
the flesh and a suffering life — giving himself for, in a
word forgiving, in all profoundest reality of feeling,
ages before they arrive, and of course before they come
to ask forgiveness. And when they come along in
their day, and say for their scanty testimony in receiv-
ing such a grace, "Christ has let ns go, Christ has re-
mitted our sins," he will himself have a deeper solution,
in the consciousness of having long ago given himself
for them, and had the enjoyment of their forgiven state.
Neither will he ever think of it as any fit summation
of his work in the world, to say that he has first pre-
pared a ground of forgiveness, and then that having
made forgiveness safe in that manner, he is able to re
lease or let go, or in that sense forgive sins. No, but
he will understand that he was lifted up to draw men
away from their sins, and be the release in them ; that,
by showing how God suffers in feeling for sinners, he
Las gotten a power in tLeir feeling ; in a word, tliat, by
giving himself for his adversaries, in such burdens of
sympathy, and fear, and care, and against such tempests
of murderous and bloody wrong, he has slid himself
into the secret place of their sins and made them all let


go — in that manner executed the release ; so that no^w
he can saj, with real truth in the words, " thj sins are
forgiven thee."

We go back now from this excursion, to the subject-
matter at which we began ; viz., the duty of forgive-
ness between brethren, or fellow-men. And we carry
back ihis verj^ important principle or discover}?-; that
the realit}^ of forgiveness, or the grace of a forgiving
spirit in us, lies not so much in our ability to let go, or
to be persuaded to let go, the remembrance of injuries,
as in what we are able to do, what volunteer sacrifices
to make, what painstaking to undergo, that we may get
our adversary softened, to want, or gently accept, our
forgiveness. If it is in us to forgive, in any real and
properly Christian sense of the term, it will not be that
we can somehow be gotten down to it, by the expostu-
lations of brethren, nor that we only do not expressly
claim a right to stay in our grudge, or the hurt feeling
raised by the wrongs of our adversary, till he comes to
us in a better mind. Perhaps he ought to come, or to
have come long ago, but that is nothing as regards our
justification. If we know how to forgive, we shall be
like Christ our Master, we shall be giving ourselves for
our adversary, circumventing him by our prayers, con-
triving ways to reach his tenderness and turn the bad
will he is in, taking pains, even to the extent of great
loss and suffering, that we may get him mto the right
again ; thus to accept our remission, and be joined to
us openly for Christ our Master's sake.


But this, it may be objected, carries the obligation
too high — Christ was a peculiar being, in a ver}^ pe-
culiar office, and it can not be expected of us to follow
him and be like him, in what belonged rather to his
official work, than to the merely inherent principle of

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 24 of 29)