Horace Bushnell.

Select works (Volume 1) online

. (page 26 of 29)
Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

then, secondly, a threefold, particular answer, the points
of which are included under it. The general is this —
that Christ bears the sins of the world in a certain rep-
resentative sense, analogous to that in which the priests
and the sacrifices of the former altar-service, bore the
sins of the people worshiping. The phrase, "he shall
bear his sin," or "bear his iniquity," means, it is true,
when applied to the guilty person, that he shall be pun-
ished for his sin. But when it is applied, as it is many
times, to the priests and sacrifices at the altar, we are
not to conceive that the priests, or the altar victims,
have the guilt actually put upon them — nothing could
be more absurd — but we are to take the words in an
accommodated, ritually formal sense, where the same
thing is true representatively ; the design being to let the
people feel or believe, that their sins are being taken
away, as if put over upon the priests, or upon the head
of the victims. Not to multiply instances, we have the
phrase " to bear sins " used in both senses in a single
passage, (Numb, xviii, 22, 23) — "Neither must the
children of Israel henceforth come near the tabernacle
of the congregation, lest they bear sin [that is, their
own sin] and die. But the Levites shall do the service
of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear
their iniquity." No one will be so absurd as to imagine,
that the iniquity of the people is here declared to be
literally put on the priesthood. They are only to bear
it representatively, coming so far in place of the people
before God, as to conduct their sacrifice for them, and



ns God accepts the sacrifice, put them in the state, for-
mally at least, of reconciliation. In a similarly repie-
sentative sense, the prophet Ezekiel lies upon his left
side three hundred and ninety days, "bearing," as he
says, "the iniquity of the house of Israel," and upon his
right side forty days " bearing the iniquity of the house
of Judah;" where it is simply meant that the iniquity
was made visible representatively in that sign. So
when "all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all
their transgressions in all their sins," were put, as we
read, upon the head of their scape-goat, and he was
driven out into the desert, they knew not where, there
was neither any sin upon the goat, nor any punishment.
The reality of the whole matter stood in what was rep-
resentatively signified ; viz., the removal and clearance
of their sin.

And here is the ready solution of all those expressions
in the Kew Testament, which are brought OA^er from the
priesthood and sacrifices of the Old Testament, and used,
with so great power, to represent the relation of Christ
to' the sins of the world. Thus he is declared to be
" made sin for us," just as the Levites were, in bearing
the iniquities of the congregation. Thus also it is de-
clared that he "was once offered to bear the sins of
many." The meaning is that he comes representatively
in our place, undertaking, or taking on himself, the case
of our sin, even as the priests at the altar did. Such
forms of speech come to be natural, as it were, to the
Jewish mind, under the uses of their ritual, and pass
into new applications of a different shade. Thus Paul


speaks of Christ " being made a curse for us." Eegard-
ing Christ as having come into our state of corporate
evil, under the curse, and borne the bitterness of it, and
at so great expense delivered us from it, he takes up the
representative figure of the altar-service, and shows him,
in that manner, bearing the curse for us. He does not
mean that Christ was literally and legally substituted,
in the matter of our punishment, but that he was sub-
stituted, as the priests were, in bearing the sins of the
people, and with a like result. Thus also Peter says, in
the fervor of his obligation to Christ — " Who his own
self bare our sins, in his own body on the tree;" as if
our very sins were personally chastised, or punished, in
the pains of his cross; and yet he does not say it, but
turns the sentence, in what follows, in a way to show
that he means no such thing — " that we being dead to
sin, might live unto righteousness ; by whose stripes ye
were healed." After all he is only showing, at what
expense, Christ takes us away from our sin, and makes
us " live unto righteousness." And though he speaks
of "stripes," a penal word, he does not say "by whose
stripes God's justice was satisfied," but, "by whose
stripes ye were healed."

Christ then bears our sin, we answer inclusively and
generally, in the sense that he has come representatively
into our place and got such power in us by his sacrifice,
as to take it wholly away.

Pause here now a moment at the threshold, and raise
the question, whether we, as human beings, can have
any thing in common with him, in such a sacrifice?


Of course we can not do the same things ; for we have
not the same grade of character and power over human
sentiment, nor the same undertaking for the world upon
us. We are sinners ourselves, wanting, for outfit in
(httj, just that taking away of sin and renewing in good,
which are to be the fruit of his sacrifice. It is not to be
expected, therefore, that we shall come into any such
answering for sin, as to have the representative figures
of the altar applied to us ; unless it be in ways more
restricted and partial. We shall only follow him, as
our very much abused faculty, and humbler key of
being, allow us to follow.

Still it is remarkable how many of the scripture terms
of sacrifice and priestly intervention are applied to
Christian disciples, and how constantly they are called
to maintain precisely the way of the cross. Nothing,
in fact, is farther off from the New Testament, than to
conceive that Christ is in a superlative kind of virtue,
inappropriate, or impossible, to mortals.

Thus we are called to be sacrifices and priests of sacri-
fice. " I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies
of God, [that is, in Jesus Christ,] that you present your
bodies a living sacrifice, [in the same manner,] holy,
acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service,"
[the dictate of your moral nature as it was of his.] The
phrase " acceptable to God," you will also observe, is a
sacrificial phrase, bearing an allusion to God's acceptance
of the sin offerings. And, in this sense, it occurs again
— "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual
house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices


acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." The disciples are
taken often as being thus a priesthood, all, with their
Master — "Kings and priests unto God," "entering into
the holiest with boldness ;" entering in thither also to
act the part of intercessors — to anoint and raise up the
sick, as James represents ; to obtain forgiveness of sins
for the brethren that have committed sin ; to con vert
sinning brethren from the error of their ways, in such
a sense as to be in fact their human saviours — "saving
their souls from death and hiding the multitude of their
sins." And this word hiding it should also be observed
is a word of sacrificial atonement ; for to atone is liter-
ally to cover^ that is, to hide ; put away, forever, make
as naught. Not that we are to do these things in our
own right, and by our own power, as Christ did, but;
as in the language just now cited, " by Jesus Christ."
The conception is that our life is to be so far in the
analogy of his, and moved by his inspirations, that the
same words, priest, sacrifice, intercession, saving of souls,
converting sinners, hiding, or covering sins, will be fitly
applied to us — that is, in senses modified by our human
capacities and conditions.

Having sketched this general outline of what is to be
understood by the bearing of sins, we now proceed —

II. To fill up the outline by a more particular state-
ment of the subject matter included under it. Christ,
we have seen, bears the sins of the world representa-
tivsly, in a figure, ni ich as the priesthood or the scape-
goat bore them, only procuring an absolution for them



as much more real and spiritual, as th(^, heavenly things
themselves are more quickening and substantial in him,
than their shadows in the forms of the altar. This Ibi
the general statement; which includes, we shall find,
when w^e look into the subject matter of his life more
closely, three particular modes, or distinctly and ration-
ally conceived methods, of bearing sin by him, in big
mission as a Redeemer.

1. He bears the sin of the world, by that assumption
which his love must needs make of it. Love puts every
being, from the eternal God downward, into the case of
all sufferers, wrong-doers, and enemies, to assume their
8vils, and be concerned for them. Being love, it as-
sumes their loss, danger, present suffering, suffering to
be ; all their w^ant, sorrow, shame, and disorder ; and
goes into their case to restore and save. As a father,
who has a dear son straying from honor and virtue, as-
sumes that son to be an inevitable burden on his love,
and bears him, sin and all, as a heavy load upon his
feeling, striving after him in many tears, and prayers,
and weary contrivings, and it may be under great per-
sonal abuse, that he may regain him to a better life, just
so God assumes in Christ all transgressors and ene-
mies, and all their sin, and all their coming woes, and
bears them on his paternal feeling, through great waves
of living conflict and dying passion — " For God so loved
the w^orld that he gave his onlj^ begotten son, that
w^hosoever believeth in him should not perish but have
everlasting life." The assumption is such that we may
even look upon it and speak of it, as a kind of substitu


tion. Hence the strongly substitutional language em-
ployed concerning it. But there is no room for mis-
taking the meaning of such language. The precise nar-
ture of the assumption, or substitution, is given when
the evangelist says of Christ's healing works — " That i?
might be fulfilled that was spoken by Esaias the
prophet, himself took our infirmities, and bare our sick-
nesses." It does not mean that Christ literally took into
his body, and bore, himself, all the fevers, pains, lame-
nesses, blindnesses, leprosies he healed, but simply that
he took them upon his sympathy, bore them as a burden
upon his compassionate love. In that sense, exactly, he
assumed and bore the sins of the world ; not that he be-
came the sinner and suffered the due punishment himself,
but that he took them on his love, and put himself by
mighty throes of feeling, and sacrifice, and mortal passion,
to the working out of their deliverance. And these
were the throes in which we find him often struggling;
declaring now that his soul is troubled, heaving now, in
prostrate weakness, and bloody sweat, on the ground.
In these throes he died, saying, "It is finished" — viz.,
the bearing of sins that he had undertaken to bear.
The sins were never his, the deserved pains never
touched him as being deserved, but they were upon his
feeling in so heavy a burden as to make him sigh, "my
soul is exceeding sorrowful." And just because the
world in sin took hold of his feeling in this manner, was
he aole, in turn, to get hold of the feeling of the world,
and become its true deliverer and Saviour. In this fact
lay oosomed the everlasting gospel.


Let me not be understood now, in transferring this
analogy, to say, or suggest, that Christ came into such
a life of sympathy and death of passion, just to give U3
an example which we are to copy. Nothing could be
more impotent, or farther from the truth. Giving and
copying examples is too tame a rrjatter to be conceived
as making out a gospeL Ko, Christ took our sin upon
him in this manner and bore it as the burden of his
mission, just because it was in his love to doit; and
that same love, in any being, of any world, in us just
struggling up out of our lowness and bondage, will put
us, in our human grade, and according to the measure
of our love, on making the same kind of assumption.
We shall take the child of sin, or sorrow, our friend,
our enemy, any one, every one we see to be in cahI, on
our feeling, and make him a charge upon our sacrifices
and prayers. Paul knew exactly what this meant when
he said — " Bear ye one another's burdens and so fulfill
the law of Christ;" — that is, the eternal love-law, or
standard of obligation, that he himself fulfilled. Paul
had the meaning too, the very Gethsemane of it, in his
own heart, when he cried, under his burden — " I have
great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart. For
I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for
my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh." And
he same we find recurring, in one form or another, in all
the apostles, all the brethren. When they hear the Mas-
ter lay it on them to minister — " Even as the Son of Man
same, not to be n^inistered unto, but to minister and to ,
give his life a ransom for many " — they take the sense


of it; for, "having his love in them, they are not afraid
to find a cross of sacrifice in the love, just the cross that
he called them to bear as followers. Thus also it is that
he institutes a communion for them, and calls them to
show forth his death ; by which he means, not that they
are to simply remember his death, or make mention of
it, but that they are to show the love that can bear sins
with him, and be a sacrifice even up to that stern limit.

O, what a calling is this, my brethren, the bearing of
sins, with Christ. Of course you have not the same
things to do that he had, or the same capacity to do
them ; you have not even the same things to do, one as
another ; but if his love has really been quickened in
you, the fact will be known by the burdens that have
come upon your heart; covetousness, world-greedi-
ness, self-indulgence, prejudices, resentments, feelings
wounded by injury — none of these will hold 3^0 u ; but
there will be a most dear love going forth in you, not
to your friends only, but even more consciously to your
enemies, and Grod's enemies. There will be times when
you seem to be well nigh crushed, by the concern you
feel and the burdens you bear. Is it so with you? Is
it here that you sometimes find even joiit joy — the same
w^hich Christ himself had and bequeathed to you?
Have you found, as every mother, for example, has.
and ever}'- Christian may, that love-pains are the deepest
attainable joys ; tragic exaltations of a consciously great
feeling that, in bearing enemies and sins, challenges
eternal affinity with Christ and with God ?

2. It is another and equally true conception of the


hearing of sins by Clirist, that he is incarnated into the
state of sin, including all the corporate woes of penalty,
or natural retribution, under it — woes that infest the
w^orld, the body, and the social and political depart'
ments of human affairs. These disorders and mischiefs
comprehend what is called, in scripture, " the curse ;" for
the curse is just that state of retributive disorder, and
disjunction, that follows, under natural laws, the out-
])reak of sin The virus of disease, possibly of all dis-
ease, is generated under and by these laws. Natural
causes are beneficent henceforth, only in the qualified
sense, that they are attacking sin with due mixtures of
pain, as well as with favors undeserved. Dreadful su-
perstitions cloud the general understanding. Truth is
obscured. Passion is made coarse and violent. Envies,
ambitions, grudges, hatreds, are loosened, and bloody
wrongs are instigated everywhere by them. Oppres-
sions, persecutions, rebellions, wars, roll across the na-
tions, and turn the world's history into a kind of Acel-
dama. This now is the curse, the corporate woe of the
world, and when Christ comes down into the world to
be incarnate in it, and do his work of love, he enters
himself into its corporate evils, and takes them just as
they are ; even as a man, plunging into the sea, w^ould
take the waves and the monsters coursing in it as
they are. All which is described by an apostle, when
he says, that Christ " was made a curse for us." Nor,
when he adds, " for it is wa^tten, cursed is every one
that hangeth on a tree," does he mean to say that Christ
is made a curse for us only in the sense that he is


crucified, or at the particular point of liis crucifixion ;
he merely drops in this allusion, touching that particular
point, taken as a good type of all that he does and
suffers in the world ; for he meets the corporate woe
and retribution of the world at every step. His body,
as being born of the flesh, has the mortal maladies and
temptations of the curse working subtly in it. When
there is no room at the inn but only in the manger, that
is the corporate mischief and curse of society, where the
great rule down the humble, and respect goes only by
appearances. The jealousy of Herod is the curse, before
which he flies into Egypt. The bigotry of the priests
was the curse. The slowness of his friends, the denial
by one, the betrayal by another, the flight of all, was
the curse. The chief priests and the rabbis, and the
council, and Pilate, and Herod, all combined against
nim, only represent the corporate wrath, and wrong,
and curse, of the world. Incarnated thus into the curse,
he had the living contact of it at every breath. The
waves of Grod's retribution dashed against him all the
way, as he waded through on his course. Innocent he
was, but had none of the rights, or proper fortunes, of
innocence. Not that any thing befell him as punish-
ment, and yet he was scorching, every hour, under the
great world's corporate evils ; those which God's retri-
butions had kindled for the chastisement of its sin.
And why is he here, for what is he bearing thus the sin
of the world? Wot that he may suffer, not that he may
idly brave so much of suffering — of what possible use
were this ? — no, but he is here because he has an errand


that brought him, or required him to come. His olject
is to gain the human heart; and, to do it, he must open
the heart of God ; and to do that, he must not come
flying over the world, but must be incarnated into it,
put upon the same human footing in his human life, that
we are — all this to make God's feeling intelligible, or
what is the same, to open God's sympathies to us, and
open our sympathies to God ; thus to beget us anew in
God's likeness. If he had come to be an exceptional
man, whom the waves of the world's corporate evils
could not touch, or if he had come as a man of brass,
not to feel their touch, he were in fact nothing to us.
But now that we have him struggling in the waves with
us, touched with all our infirmities, and bearing, in
deep sympathy, all our human evils, 0, how tenderly
do we cling to him and what strength do we get from
his power and patience in our hearts !

Now, my friends, it would seem, at first view, to be
very wide of all possibility, that we should be called to
any such bearing of sin as this. Are we going to be
incarnated like our divine Master ? Even so ! Drop-
ping only the form of the word, the coming into flesh,
it is no inconsiderable part of our dignity and God-like-
ness in sacrifice, that we are able to go directly down
into the corporate evils of men, for their good ! — into
some house, for example, or village, or city, where a
dreadful pestilence rages, to minister to their sick ones
and comfort their dying; into the disgusts of low and
filthy society, where vice rages, rescuing the victims
and their children; into works of reformation, or


maintenances of truth, that are unpopular, just because
society has lost the truth. Christ bids you make a feast
and call the lame, the halt, and the blind, passing, for
the time, into their range of sympathy — what is that but
a kind of incarnation, like that which brought him down
out of heaven's orders of glory, into the lame and hah-
irg sorrows of our human apostasy. When, too, you go
out, in God's love, into scenes of dissipation, or of
splendid profligacy, it is an almost literal incarnation —
a going into the flesh to be tempted as Christ was.
Perhaps you are just now in the question, whether you
shall forsake the refinements and comforts of a Christian
home, and go down as a missionar}^, for all your future
life, into the level of a barbarous and idolatrous people,
where your motives will not, for many long years, be
even so much as conceived, where your sjanpathies will
oe repelled, your operations looked on with jealousy,
your beginnings crushed by violence, and many a sad
long night of tears and groanings, witness your Geth-
semane? Will you go, or wdll you not? What is it,
in fact, but the question, whether you can be incarnated
w^ith your Master, under a little different version of the
word ? Almost half our duties come to us in this shape,
raising the question, whether we can take the corporate
evils of some condition that is unpopular, distasteful,
'in appreciative, hostile, or without dignity ? In these
Inings it is one of our greatest privileges to follow, and
know that we follow, our Master - are we ready ?

3. Christ bears the sin of the world, in the sense that
be be^-rs, Gonsentingl\^, the direct attacks of wrong, or



sId, upon his person; doing it, of course, in but a few
instances, such as may have been included in his com-
parativel}^ short life, but showing, in those few instances,
bow all the human wrongs are related to his feeling, or
would be if he suffered them all. And here again it is
that he gets an amazing power, as a redeemer, over the
sins of the world. He did not come into the world to
sulfer these wrongs as an end, or to brave them by an
ostentation of patience, as possibly some may under-
stand, when they hear him commanding one who is
smitten on one cheek to turn the other. He is not
counseling, in such words, a defiant, but only a total,
non-resistance. Coming into the world thus as the in
carnate Word of God, God manifest in the flesh, he
bears the wrong-doing of sin, not defiantly, but as feel-
ing after the sin ; letting it see what wrong it has in its
own nature to do, when the Son of God comes to it
ministering love and forgiveness. And what a spectacle
is this to look upon ! the Eternal King coming in love to
win transgression back — mocked in his doctrine, hated
for his miracles, insulted, struck, spit upon, crucified!
And the more strangely impressive is the spectacle, that
the sufferer is dumb, makes no protestation of his rights,
parries no accusation, answers none. Pilate himself is
"afraid" before such dignity. All that he will answer
is, that he is come into the world "to bear witness to
the truth." He does not say that he is here to bear the
worst they can do upon him, nor that he is here to suffer
at all as an end, but that his end is everlasting truth.
That accordingly which so visibly shook the courage of


Pilate, at the trial, fell with as heavy a sliock, on all
sin, everywhere, afterwards. When the sin found such
a being, even the incarnate Word of the Father, taking
its blows, in such patience, and dying under the blows,
how dreadful the recoil of feeling it suffered ! How
wild, and weak, and low, was it made to appear in itj-
own sight. Thus it was that, in his bearing of sin upon
his cross, Christ broke it down forever. Or, if it better
please, thus it was that sin broke itself across the silence
of Jesus, and the wood, and the nails, of his cross. And
thus it was that the just now angry multitudes, "all the
people that came together to see that sight, beholding
the things that were done, smote their breasts and re-
turned." All sin was broken, as it were, in that sight ;
it was the sight of Lucifer falling from heaven, even as
he had testified in vision before.

And this kind also is for us, my brethren. Here we
also are to take the cross and follow, as our Master bade
us. Many persons appear to suppose, that we are re-
quired to submit ourselves to wrong as a kind of tax, or
tariff, levied upon us, without any particular end.
They take it as a mere blind appointment, and think it

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 29)