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personal excellence in his character. Now it may be
very true that we are not called to work out the same
problems of divine government, but we are required to
have, in our degree, exactly the same modes of charac-
ter, and all that he did was the simple coming out of
his character. He had no good ways, or qualities, that
were more than good, no merits of character that were
superlative and above all the known standards of merit.
On the contrary one of the great and blessed objects of
his mission was to consist in the true unfolding of God's
feelings, graces, perfections, so as to draw us into the
same, or impregnate our fallen life with the same. No
matter what relations he may have filled, or solved, in
the great inj^stery of government, still every thing he
undertook and bore was for forgiveness' sake, and he
had precisely the same reasons of feeling for withhold-
ing himself that we have, when we withhold from our
adversaries. He had his personal indignations against
the wrong of transgressors, he had his disgusts towards
their character, he had feelings wounded by the sense
of their wrongs, and if he could have let a little pride
play among his passions, he would have had his bitter,
invincible grudges against them; so that when he
thought of them he would have said, "I want no more
to do with them. Perhaps I will consider them, if they


come to me in a better mind, but until they do, I shall
let them take the wages of their sin, giving mj^self no
farther trouble." The only reason why he did not do
this was that he was too perfect in excellence to do it.
ITe must dispense forgiveness. He must go before, and
^'ive himself for, and watch, and wait, and suffer, and
sue, at the gate of his adversaries. And why not we?
Because, says the objection, Christ was peculiar, and
could do things out of his peculiarity that are too high
for us. No! no! his great peculiarity was that he
could be right. "Faithful and just," says an apostle,
*' to forgive us our sins." He could not be faithful to
his trust as Creator and Lord, could not be consciously
just or righteous, (for that is what the term here
means,) if he did not prepare and offer the forgiveness
of sins. If there be some kind of rectoral, or public,
justice that required to be maintained by some fit com-
pensation, or compensative expression, that is another
matter, but there wanted nothing in him better than
that most solid justice, which is everlasting, immutable,
righteousness, to make him a forgiver of sin. And in
all' that you distinguish of a nobler and diviner life, in
his bearing of his enemies and their sins, he is simply
showing what belongs, in righteousness, to every moral
•nature from the Uncreated Lord down to the humblest
created intelligence. Forgiveness, this same Christly
forgiveness, belongs to all; to you, to me, to every
lowest mortal that bears God's image.

Do we, then, undertake to saj^, that there is no salva-
tion, out of this same Christly forgiveness — has no man


a right to expect salvation, whose soul hangs fire at the
point of such forgiveness? must he forgive, in this
Christly manner, going before and giving himself for,
his adversary, if he is to be forgiven ? What then does
the Saviour himself say to this? When he has taught
you to pray — " forgive us our debts as lue forgive our
debtors," and has added, "but if ye forgive not men
their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father for-
give your trespasses," what does it mean, or to w^hat
does it bring you ? Can you turn off the bad conclusion,
by contriving a sort of forgiveness that is lower, such
barely as can manage to choke down a grudge, or not
choke down an adversary, when he comes to ask a re-
conciliation ? And was that Christ's meaning? was he
saying " forgive in your own sense, or else I will not for-
give in mine?" O, these niggard forgivenesses! He
would even make you repent of them ! He wants you
to be with him in his own! He wants such a feeling
struggling in your bosom, that you can not bear to
have an adversary, can not rest from your prayers and
sacrifices and the life-long suit of your concern, till you
have gained him away from his wrong, and brought
him into peace. This in fact is salvation ; to be with
Christ, in all the travail of his forgivenesses.

Besides, there is another answer to this question of
salvation. As we just now said that Christ was simply
fulfilling the right in his blessed ways of forgiveness, so
we may conceive that he is simply fulfilling the eternal
love. For what is right coincides with love, and love
with what is right. Now Christ is in this kind of forgive-


ness — unable to stand for tlie relenting of Lis adversa-
ries, going before them, and giving himself for them —
just because it is in the nature of love to do so. For it
is a vicariaus principle and must insert itself into what-
ever sorrow, sin, suffering, danger, it looks upon ; and,
for this most affecting reason, can not rest till it has
either gotten its adversary to its bosom, or discovered
the impossibility that he ever should be. Are we then
to look for salvation, when we are out of this love?
"What do we most readily believe and most commonly
hold, but that our salvation lies in loving God and
having his love upon us? The being in heaven's love
is, we all agree, the bond of heaven's perfectness, the
very life and constituent beatitude of heaven itself
And what will this love do in us but just what it does
in Christ ? If it keeps down all grudges and hard judg-
ments in him, if it makes forgiveness his dearest oppor-
tunity, if it puts him into the case of his adversary,
bearing his wrongs, and contriving only how to prepare
him to forgiveness — if, I say, the love so works in him,
what will it do and how will it work in you ? Let it
not be disguised from you, that there are many kinds
of mock love, and but one that is true, even that which
works so sublimely in the self-sacrificing ways of Jesus
our Master. Thus there is a theologic love, a state that
is tested by merely defined contrasts of feeling, apart
frcm any effects in the practical sacrifices of the life.
There is also a sentimental love, taken with God's
beauty. And again there is a philanthropic love,
which is caught with great expectations for man, coming


out of its own prodigious, better than Christian, reforms.
Now the test of all these mock species of love is that
there is no forgiveness in them. You may be in this,
or that, or all of them, and thej will not help you to
bear one enemy, or put you into any tender ways of
seeking after an adversary. Could there be any
more damning evidence against your love, whether it
be the defined evangelical, or the sentimental, or the
philanthropic, than that there is no Christly forgiveness
in it? That being true, how is any salvation to come
out of it? ISTo, my friends, this is the love — the only
true — " Hereby perceive we the love of God, because
he laid down his life for us ; and we ought to lay down
our lives for the brethren."

Taking now this high view of the Christian spirit as
related to Christ, it would not surprise me, if there
should be a feeling of special revulsion, or repulsion,
rising up in some of your hearts, to thrust away even
farther than ever the claims of religion. " I could not
be a Christian after this kind," you will say, " and I
never can be. If I must forgive all the wrongs I meet,
after this manner, I must give up any right to be a
proper man. Such a volunteering of forgiveness before
it is sought, and even ^when smarting under the bitter
wrongs of an enemy, is too spiritless and w^eak in the
look of it — I could not endure being held down to any
such forgiving way." All this, my friends, may be
very true, regarding only the present key of your feel-
ing and life — I presume it is. But it may be equally



true, at the same time, tliat your judgment is a false
one, and that this very impossible looking forgiveness,
when you are once really in it, by the grace of God,
will be such an element of dignity, and r(^st, and
ptrength, and conscious superiority to all wrong-doers
Und wrongs, that you will even seem to be raised by it
in the relative grade of your nature itself. Wh}^, my
friends, instead of being humbled, and tamed, and put
in mortification, by this entering into forgiveness witli
Christ, you will ascend rather into greatness and con-
scious sovereignty with him, and will then, for the first
time, begin to conceive what it is to be free and a king !
No, the forgiveness you so much distaste is probably
not the forgiveness I describe, but the low, false kind
of your old associations ; that niggard, misnamed for-
giveness that cheapens the grace by putting all sacrifice
out of question, and makes it distasteful by reducing it
to so low a figure, that pride can be just goaded into it.
Sticking fast in its bitternesses, resentments, and
grudges, and contriving how little and late to forgive, it
is only dogged into some verbal letting go, which is the
more certainly cross to self-respect, that there is no
genuine meaning in it, and nothing genuine but the fit
mortification. Not so is it, but far otherwise, with the
really Christly forgiveness. Here the soul has a really
great feeling to begin with, and the moment it under-
takes for its adversary, it goes above him. No matter
what his power and the dignity of his station, the hum-
blest peasant puts him under, when he begins to pray
for him, and contrive and labor for his sake. No mat-


ter what, or how great, the wrong you have Huflered, the
way to make it greater is to hug it fast in grudges and
blistering resentments. Pride, passion, hate, will make
a great wrong out of a very small one ; but in the true
forgiveness, you ascend to a range of feeling so high, so
immovably serene, that the greatest wrong looks small
under you, and quite as truly the greatest wrong-doer.
0, there is no greatness possible to man, none that lifts
him so nearly out of the world, and above it, as the
true Christly forgiveness. This was the greatness of
Christ himself Did any being ever tread the world in
such majesty as he? And his wrongs were bitter
enough, and his adversaries high enough, and, what is
quite as conspicuous, he keeps the true sense always of
their wrongs, and hates the hateful in their sins, and
feels a lit disgust for what is disgusting in their charac-
ter, holding all his judgments level and true, as if he
were going to proceed entirely by them ; yet giving
himself, as it were out of majesty, for the wrongs he
condemns and the enemies he is obliged to pity. Do
you call this an humble, mortifying key to live in?
Must you shrink from this? Why, my friends, the
moment you are born into this high consciousness you
will feel that your heads strike heaven rather.

Brethren in Christ, let me also turn the lessons of
this subject specially towards you; for it was specially
Christian brethren, even those of Ephesus, that the
apostle was addressing when he exhorted — "forgiving
one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven


You have seen what this forgiveness means, what a
volunteering tliere is in it, how the true Christian works
in it, long before the forgiveness is wanted, works in
sacrifice and patience, even as all love must. What I
want therefore to know, mj brethren, is whether you
find this forgiveness in you? Can you give yourself
for your brother, or do you hold off in the stifP pretense,
that he must come to you first and right himself? Can
yoa be the Christian tow^ards him, or can you more
easily hug your injury, as a wound bleeding internally,
and hold yourself aloof? Let me tell you then how
very bad the sign is, when a Christian is slow to forgive.
It does not show, it is true, that he is a vicious, or
viciously depraved, man, as other kinds of fault, or de-
viation would, but it shows a great amount of unsancti-
fiod nature in him — none can tell or guess how much.
For it is our proud, wild nature, just that in kind,
though not in degree, that is observed to burn so inex-
tinguishably, in the bloody resentments of savages,
which makes it so hard for us to forgive. Therefore,
if any one finds it more easy to stay in the savage feel-
ing, than to go after his adversary in the Christian, the
indication is fearfully bad. Nay, it is even a very un-
pleasant and doubtful sign, when one has an adversary
long to forgive ; for when a true Christian goes after
his adversary, in such temper as he ought, tender, as-
siduous, proving himself in his love, by the most faith*
ful sacrifices, he is not like to stay by his enmity long.
As the heat of a warm day will make even a willful
man take off his overcoat, so the silent melting of for


giveness at the heart will compel it, even before it ia
aware, to let the grudges go. Still a really good man
may have enemies, all his life-long, even as Christ had,
and the real blame may be chargeable not against him,
but against them, and it would be too much to make
their obstinacy a certain proof against his fideHty.
Enough that he follows his Master, and allows them no
reasor. for their obstinacy, by the stint of his own
affectionate and self-sacrificing endeavors. Commonly
the wrong-doer of two parties will be the most unfor-
giving, and, for just that reason, the wrong sufferer will
be readiest and most forward in forgiveness.

Sometimes the alienated, or aggrieved parties, will
both of them be Christian brethren; and how very sad
a sight is it, and how much to be pitied when two
brethren fall into an enmity ! How frightfully fallen is
their look v/hen you look at them ! How much worse
their internal look to themselves ! When they go to
pray in secret, how are they choked in their prayers !
How very likely are they also, to be even choked off
soon from prayer itself. How certain are they in this
manner, even against much endeavor, to go down in
their piety. The warm heart they once had, or seemed
to have — where is it? If they beamed in rich feeling
once on every body, and it was a blessing to meet them
and be warmed in the glow of their faces, the blessing
and the glow are soon gone, and we may almost say the
fu(*es too ; for there is scarcely any but a negative
meaning left in them. O, ye pitiable and sad pair of
disciples^ that are paired in your enmity ! How easilj


and beautjfull)^ paired might jou be in yoni forgive-
ness. Go apart and think of this ! go apart and pray
over it ! Nay, come together and pray over it ! Pray
especiall}^, as you most need, that God will forgive you,
even as you forgive each other — thus or — never.

Sometimes it will happen that a whole brotherhood
of disciples will be scored and scorched b}^ disaffections,
jealousies, wounded feelings that are akin to enmit}^, in
the same manner. There is much talk and a general
talking down of course, and as a famil}^ quarrel brings
down family respect, so it is w^hen brethren are set to
the work of diminishing each other's worth and charac-
ter. Believe them and they are all no better than they
should be. If they once loved each other, and were
■firml}^ locked together in their common caxise, so much
the worse now, for the dishonor falls on their tender-
nesses and prayers, and all the good things that seemed
to be in their love. The Holy Dove flies their assem-
blies, or only hovers doubtfully over them, unable to
light where there is no peace. When they come to pray
together, it is only locally together, and not in spirit that
they pray. There is a dreary chill in their assemblies.
Neither the prayers appear to go up, nor the preaching
to come down. There is no savoring element for the
word, and of course there is as little due sense of savor
from it. It is neither fire, nor hammer, but a chill
made audible rather, like the ripping, rifting noises of
some ice-clad lake or river in a silent, freezing night
The power is all gone, fatally benumbed. The power
of the word, the power of the living epistle, that of the


prayers — every sort is gone, and there is no fire of
heaven left.

"What then shall they do ? Some of them perhaps will
finally begin to say, let ns take the counsel of Lot and
Abraham — go to the right, and go to the left. Yes
but there is a difference; these friends, Abraham and
Lot, parted because they were agreed, not because they
were at variance ; parted to save their agreement and
not to comfort their repugnances. Have then Christian
brethren, under Christ's own gospel, nothing better left,
than to take themselves out of sight of each other? —
going apart just to get rid of forgiveness ; going to carry
the rankling with them, live in the bitterness, die in the
grudges of their untamable passion? What is our
gospel but a reconciling power even for sin itself, and
what is it good for — cross, and love, and patience, and
all — if it can not reconcile ? No, there is a better way ;
Christ lays it on them, by his own dear passion where
he gave himself for them, by his bloody sweat, by his
pierced hands, and by his open side, to go about the
matter of forgiving one another even as he went about
forgiving them. 0, it is a short method, and how
beautiful, and one that never failed. When they are
ready to go before all relentings, and above all grudges,
and be weary, and sick, and sad, and sorrowful, and so
to give themselves for their adversaries, weeping on
their necks in tender and true confession, they will not
oe adversaries long, but tliey will be turning all together
to the cross, and joining in the prayer — forgive us our
trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us


They had much to say before of forgiveness, they were
all ready to forgive, but they could not find how much,
or when, or how, because they took forgiveness in too
light a key. Now they take it in Christ's meaning, and
how shortly are their troubles ended. They can not
forgive enough, or soon enough, or with half as much
love as they would. The bitterness, and wrath, and
anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, are put away,
with all malice. They are kind one to another, tender-
hearted, forgiving one another, EVEN AS GoD, rOR
Christ's sake, has forgiven them.



"aSo Christ was once offered to hear the sins oj manyP —
Eeb. ix, 28.

Christ bearing our sins ouglit to be the tehderest and
most soul-subduing of all facts conceivable. And yel
it may even be made quite revolting, by the over literal,
and legally hard face put upon it. Perhaps I ought tc
say that it too often is, and that what is given to be the
new-creating power of God in our lives, is made, in this
manner, to be an offense that even balks our repent-
ances. What I propose then, at the present time^ is to
answer, in a very practical way, the very practical
question —

In what sense, or manner^ is it that Christ hears the sins
of the ivorld f

To make the answer clear, I begin by specifying some
things which are not to be understood by it.

Thus we are not to understand that the sins of the
world are put upon him, or transferred to him, so as to
be his. That is impossible. Guilt is a matter sc strictly
and eternally personal, that nobody can be in it^ but the
transgressor himself to whom it belongs. Apart from
him it is nothing. Strike him out of existence and it


no longer exists. The bad conscience, the blame, the
damning self-conviction, is a^ incommunicablj his, evei)
as his brain, or his will. Indeed, the creatorship of the
world can as well be transferred, as the doership of a
sin. The meum and tuum of property can be transfer-
led, but the meum and tuum of sin is even absolute. If
I !)we a debt, another man can make himself a debtor in
my place, but if I am a felon, no other man can be the
felon for me.

It follows, in the same view, that Christ does not bear
our sins in the sense that he bears our punishment.
Everlasting justice forbids any such commutation of
places in punishment. What is this justice? An in-
dignation against wrong that wants pain out of some-
body, caring only that the quantum be made up ? Or
is it, rather, an indignation against the wrong-doer him-
self, and no other ? I^o matter if another consents to bear
that indignation, and suffer all the deserved pains of the
wrong-doer, when that second person comes to offer
himself, God's justice will forthwith object in the
question — "Are you guilty of this man's sin ? Doubt-
less you may be his friend, but the only thing you can
do for him is to be innocence in him, and you can as
well do that as to be guilty instead of him. But as long
us you are innocence yourself, what kind of transaction
is it that you undertake, when you come to be punished
in innocence? "What opinion have you of n\j justice,
when you expect me to release the pains deserved, if
only I can get enough that are not deserved? Did I
ever threaten to punish the guilty man, or soniebodj


else, wIkii my law should be broken? Yoa ask more
tlian is possible, when you ask me to smooth over even
tlie everlasting distinctions of principle, and be satisfied
with the punishment of innocence. I can only be re-
vclted by the thought, and should be everlastingly by
the deed."

Again, it is not conceivable that Christ bears our sin,
in the sense that the abhorrence of God to our sin ia
laid upon him, and expressed through, and by means
of, his sufferings. How can God Isij abhorrence upon
what is not abhorrent? Is he going to abhor goodness,
truth, beauty itself? And if Jesus, being all this, comes
in as a volunteer into the place of transgressors, chal-
lenging upon him^self the abhorrence due to them, will
God falsify and mock all his own approving judgments
and moral affinities, by acting an abhorrence which he
must renounce every one of his perfections to feel?
Perhaps it will be imagined that he only puts great
pains on Christ, which we ourselves are to look upon as
tokens of abhorrence to us. That would be very in-
genious in us, but how are we going to take up such a
thought? In the first place, God did not inflict those
pains, but we ourselves. Are we then going to put
Christ to death and take it up as a religious discovery,
having a gospel in it, that God's abhorrence to us is so
far expressed by our very abominable deed of murder,
that it need not be any more, by our punishment ? We
3an easily enough imagine God's abhorrence, in such a
case, to the sin perpetrated, and the murderers by whom
it is perpetrated, but the difficulty is to get either Christ


or his suffering into the same line ; for the last thing anj
human soul can think of will be, that God's abhorrence
touches him any how, or looks out anj where from h-a

We come now, having dismissed these rather common
misconceptions, to the positive matter of the question,
or the positive answer to be given. And here let me
indicate, beforehand, a certain point of fact that will
probably distinguish any true answer ; viz., that Christ,
in bearing the sins of transgressors, simply fulfills prin-
ciples of duty, or holiness, that are common to all moral
beings, and does it as being obliged by those principles.
If there is any fundamental truth in morals, it is that
there is no superlative kind of merit or excellence;
that as far as kind is concerned, the same kind is for
all, and there is no other. Thus, if Christ has it in-
cumbent on him, as a point of beneficence, or love, to
bear the sins of transgressors, it will be incumbent on
every moral being in the universe, ourselves included,
to bear sins ; only not perhaps in the same degree, or
with the same effect. If he is to be a sacrifice for sin,
it will be laid upon us to be, every man, a sacrifice and
an offering in like manner, only not to accomplish all
the same results. We are not then to look for some
artificial, theologically contrived, never before heard of,
kind of good, in the bearing of sins, but simply to look
after what lies in the first principles of religious love and
devotion, as related to the conduct of all. Having thii
intent in view I shall make out —


T A general or inclusive answer to the question, and

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 25 of 29)