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But the little gospel, so to speak, of this 'loving woman*s


devotion, "he declares shall go forth with his, to be
spoken of, and felt in its beauty, and breathed in its
fragrance, in all remotest regions of the world, and
latest ages of time.

Ami what is the lesson or true import of this so
much commended example? What but this? — do for
( 'hrist just what is closest at hand, and be sure that you
will so meet all his remotest, or most unknown times
and occasions. Or, better still, follow without question
the impulse of love to Christ's own person; for this
when really full and sovereign, will put you along
easily in a kind of infallible way, and make your con-
duct chime, as it were, naturally with all God's future,
even when that future is unknown ; untying the most
difficult questions of casuistry without so much as a
question raised.

And precisely here, not elsewhere, is the great con-
tribution Christ has made to moralit}'', or the depart-
ment of duty. He inaugurates, in fact, a new Christian
morality, quite superior to the natural ethics of the
world. Not a new morality as respects the body of
rules, or code of preceptive obligations, though even
here he instituted laws of conduct so important as to
create a new era of advancement, but new in the sense
that he raised his followers to a new point of insight,
where the solutions of duty are easy, and the otherwise
perplexed questions of casuistry are forever suspended;
even as this woman friend of Jesus saw more through
her love, and struck into a finer coincidence wuth his
sublime future, than all the male disciples arouni) Uer


had been able to do bv the compntations of reflective
reason. Nay, if Judas who, according to John, was the
more forward critic, had been writing just then a treat-
ise on the economics of duty, her little treatise of unc-
tion was better.

But we shall not understand either her. or the sub-
ject we are proposing to illustrate, if we do not —

L Bring into view the inherent difficult}^ that besets
all questions of casuistry that rise under the laws, or
precepts of natural morality. By casuistry we mean,
as the word is commonly used by ethical writers, the
settlement of cases^ sometimes called cases of conscience.
The rules or precepts of morality are easy for the most
part, it is only their applications to particular cases that
are difl&cult. And they are often so diffic"ult as to
cause the greatest perplexity in the most conscientious
and thoroughly Christian minds; as many of you will
know perhaps from the struggles of your own moral
experience. Eeady to do any thing which duty re-
quires, ready to fulfill any precept, or law, which is obli-
gatory, you have yet been tormented often with doubts,
it may be, regarding what this or that rule of duty re-
quired of you, in the particular case which had then
arrived. For the rules, or precepts of obligation, are
all general or generic in their nature, while the cases are
particular, and appear to even run into each other, by
subtle gradations of color, so as to be separable by no
distinct lines. Every case is peculiar, it is more, it is
less, it is different — does the rule of duty apply?


Take for example, the statute ''thou shalt not kill,'*
either as a statute of the decalogue, or of natural mor-
ality. Under this, as an accepted law, there will come
up, in the application, questions like these — Whether
one can rightly be a soldier for the defense of his coun-
try ? Whether he can rightly execute a criminal under
tlie sentence of death ? Whether it is murder to shoot
a robber at one's bed-side in the night ? Whether one
can rightly defend a poor fugitive, hunted by his mas-
ter, by assailing the master's life ? Whether as a chris-
tian he may rightly pursue the murderer of his child,
and bring him to trial, under a charge that subjects him
to capital punishment ? Whether he may order a sur-
gical operation done upon a child, which there is much
reason to fear will only shorten life ? Whether he can
run this or that considerable risk of his own life for
purposes of gain, without incurring the guilt of suicide?

The same is true of any other main precept of mor-
ality or statute of the decalogue. Accepting the law
general, endless questions arise regarding its particular
applications, which it seems impossible to solve.

Or we may take the great principle which requires
doing good, the utmost good possible. And then the
question will arise continually, in new forms endlessly
varied; what is best to be done? And here we find
ourselves thrown at every turn, upon a search that re-
quires an immense fore-reaching, or impossible, knowl-
edge of the future. What are God's plans in regard to
th(5 future? shall we meet them and chime with them,
by this course or by that ? Or, if we only try to find


what will be most useful, we can see but an inch for
ward, and how can we decide. Thus if the woman
had been asking how she could use her box of oint-
ment so as to do most good with it, she would either
have fallen into utter doubt and perplexity, or else she
would have taken up the same conclusion with tfudas,
and given it to the benefit of the poor. And so if
you have on hand the question, whether, in the way
of being useful in the highest possible degree, you will
educate your son as a Christian minister? there come
up immediately questions like these — Whether he will
live to be of any service to the world ? Whether he
has talents to be useful? Whether he will maintain a
character to be useful ? Whether even God will make
him eloquent, or keep him grounded thoroughly in the
truth? A thousand unknown matters regarding his
future, baffle yo\i in coming to any intelligent solution
of your duty. Any sort of business you propose to
undertake as a way of usefulness, depends in the same
way on a thousand unknown contingencies — the prob-
able characters of partners and customers, the winds,
wars, fires, seasons, markets of the years to come. In
this manner you are brought up shortly, under the
questions of duty, by the discovery that you can see
but a little way, whatever you propose, and that all
V our computations of usefulness or means of usefulness
to be obtained, are too short in the run to allow the
satisfactory settlement of any thing.

These difficulties, it is true may be exaggeiatecl
Some men never have a trouble about duty in their


lives, just because they have practically do conscienc(3
about it. Eeally conscientious persons, too, settle most
of their questions as they rise, without debate. It is here
exactly as it is in the law ; for what is called the common
law is a product of pure moral casuistr}^ from beginning
to end —ten thousand obligations are discharged with-
out litigation to one that is settled by it, and yet the
few to be thus settled are how many and troublesome.
The reported volumes multiply till no one can read
them, and yet the new cases come; the work is never
done — never in fact to be done. Just so it is with our
troubles of casuistry. The really conscientious man
will be continually graveled by some question he can
not solve by his reason, and one such question is
enough to break his peace. However perfect and sim-
ple the code of preceptive dutj', the applications of it
will often be difficult, ^id sometimes well nigh impos-
sible, without some better help than casuistry, which
better help I now proceed,

II. To show is contributed by Christ and his gospel.
By him is added to the code of dutj^, what could, by no
possibility be located in it, a power to settle right applica-
tions to all particular cases, without casuistry, or any such
debate of reasons as allows even a chance of perplexity.

Thus, begetting in the soul a new personal love to
himself, practically supreme, Christ establishes in it all
law, and makes it gravitate, by its own sacred motion,
.oward all that is right and good in all particular cases.
This Icve will find all good by its own pure affin


it J, apart from any mere debate of reasons; even as
a magnet finds all specks of iron hidden in the com-
mon dust. Thus if the race were standing fast in love,
perfect love, that love would be the fulfilling of the
law without the law, determining itself rightly by its
own blessed motions, without any statutory control what-
ever. It is only under sin, where the love is gone out
as a principle, that we get up rules, work out adjudica-
tions, creep along toilsomely into moral customs and
codes, contriving in that manner to fence about life
and make society endurable. These are laws that God
enacts for the lawless and disobedient ; or which they,
under Grod, elaborate for their own protection. But
who w^ill go to love and say, thou shalt not steal, or
kill, or lie — does not love know that beforehand?
1*hese decalogue statutes — love wants none of them,
she fulfills them before they are |fiven. She can shape
a life more beautifully by her own divine impulse, than
it could be done by any and all ethical statutes, or
refinements under them. And accordingly when
Christ restores this love in a soul, it will be a new inspi-
ration of duty, just according to its degree of power.
In so far as the love is weak, or incomplete, the fencea
of precept and rule will be wanted. But the now
affinity it creates, ought to be so clear as to make all
questions of duty more and more easy, till finally the
sense of all such rules is nearly or quite gone by, leav-
ing only the love to be its own interpreter and light
of guidance.

Again it is a further consideration, drawing toward


the same conclusion, that Christ incarnates a perfect and
comp]<-te morality in his own person, so that when the
soul in its new love embraces his person, it embraces,
or takes into its own affinities, a complete morality.
Consider who Christ is ; the eternal Word of God for
whom, and by whom, all the worlds were made ; in whom
as being in the form of God, all God's ends, creations,
principles, counsels, providences, and future ongoings,
are in a sense contained and totalized. Whoever loves
him, therefore, loves in fact, all that he is in his perfec-
tion, and all that he means in the world, all that he is
doing and going to do in it ; and so loving him, all
the currents of his soul run out with his, to meet as by
a true inspiration, all his deepest purposes and most
future and remotest appointments. He is in a state of
mind that cleaves instinctively, and by hidden sympa-
thies, to all that is in the Lord's person. Where the
reasons of the understanding are short of reach, and
ethical solutions of all kinds doubtful, he is drawn by
the indivertible affinities of his heart, into easy coinci-
dence with all that Christ means for him, and so into a
certain divine morality. He is not a philosopher, not
wise, as we commonly speak, and yet Christ, who is
being formed in him, is made unto him wisdom. As
the worlds are fashioned to serve His plans, and work
out, in the sublime progression of ages, all His counsels
of good, he falls into that same progression to roll on
with it, not knowing whither, and how, and why, by
any wisdom of the head, yet chiming faithfully with all
that Christ is doipg, or wants to be done.


At the risk now of a little repetition, let us recur a
moment to tlie singularly beautiful example of the
woman, whose conduct gives us our subject, and see
how completely these suggestions are verified. Tlie
wi^i) male brethren who stood critics round her, had all
1 1: e casuistic, humanly assignable reasons plainly enough
with them. And yet the wisdom is hers without any
reasons. She reaches further, touches the proprieties
more fitly, chimes with God's future more exactly, than
they do, reasoning the question as they best can. It is
as if she were somehow polarized in her love by a new
diviae force, and she settles into coincidence with Christ
and his future, just as the needle settles to its point
without knowing why. She does not love him on
debate, or serve him by contrived reasons, but she is so
drunk up in his person, so totally captivated by the
wondrous something felt in him, that she has and can
have no thought other than to love him, and do every
thing out of her love. To bathe his blessed head with
what most precious ointment she can get, and bending
low to put her fragrant homage on his feet, and wind
them about in the honors of her hair, is all that she
thinks of, and be it wise or unwise, it is done. Where-
upon it turns out that she has met her Lord's future, as
no other one of his disciples had been able ; anointed
his brow for the thorns, his feet for the nails, that both
thorns and nai s may draw blood in the p>erfume of at
least one human creature's love. And this she has
done, you perceive, because her life iS wholly in
Christ's element; tempered to him more iitly and


totally than it could be; by her understaiicling. By a
certain delicate affinity of feeling that was equal 1o
insight, and almost to prophecy, she touches exactly
her Lord's strange, unknown future, and anoints him
for the kingdom and the death she does not even think
of, or know. Plainly enough no debate of consequences
could ever have prepared her for these deep and beauti-
fully wise proprieties.

Now in just this manner it is, that Christianity comes
to our help, in all the most difficult, most insoluble
questions of duty, those I mean which turn upon a
computation of consequences. To compute such con-
sequences, we need to know, in fact, a thousand things
that belong to the future, and we know scarcely one
of them — on what particular ends God is moving, by
what means he will reach them, what effects will follow,
or not follow, a supposed act of usefulness, what trains
of causes will be put agoing, what trains checked and
baffled. Here it is that our casuistry breaks down con-
tinually. At this point, all merely preceptive codes
are inherently weak and well nigh impracticable. They
command us to good, or beneficence, and leave us to
utter perplexity in all computations of consequences
that reach far enough to settle the real import or effect
of any thing. Nothing plainly but some inspiration,
or some new impulsion of love, such as puts the soul
at one with all God's character and future, as when it
embraces Christ and a completely incarnated morality
in his person can possibly settle our applications of
duty and give us confidence in them. Just whal



li el peel the woman to come aforeiiand in the anointing
of the Lord's body, is wanted hy us all, at every turn
of life.

And this I will now add, as a last consideration, h
what every Christian has found many times, if not
always, in his own experience. ThuSj in some trying
(condition, where he has not been able, b}^ the under-
standing, to settle any wise course of proceeding, how
very clear has everything been made to him, step by
step, by the simple and consciously single-eyed impulse
of love to his Master. And when all is over, when his
crisis is past, his course fought out, his adversaries con-
founded, his cause completely justified, his sacrifice
crowned, how plain is it to him that he has been guided
by a wisdom in his loving affinities, which he had not
in the reasons of his understanding; all in a way so
easy as even to be an astonishnaent to himself. Not to
say 'this, my brethren, out of my own exper'ence
would be to withhold a good confession that is due.
And I can not persuade myself that any thoroughly
Christian person is ignorant of the experience I de-
scribe. All our best determinations of duty are those
which come upon us in the immediate light of our im-
mediate union to Christ.

I ought, perhaps, to add that the doctrine I am wish-
ing to unfold, does not exclude the use of the under-
standing. It is one thing to use the understanding
under love, as being liquified and molded by it, and
quite another to make it the oracle or sole arbiter
oi' duty. Christ himself gives precepts to the under-


standing, just because we are not perfected in love, and
require, meantime, to have the school-master's keeping,
under a preceptive and statutory control. Nothing was
fai-ther off from God's design than to add so many pre-
ceptive regulations by Christ and the apostles, to hel]!
out the natural code of morality, and be applied as that
code is, and with it, by natural reason. He gives them
only because we are not ripe enough in the good im-
pulse of love to be kept right by that alone. We
might take our passions for love, and become fanatics
and fire-brands of duty. The false heats of our indig-
nations against wrong, too little qualified by love,
might fill us with personal animosities. Our lusts
might steal the name of love and fool us b}^ the coun-
terfeit. Therefore he puts dry precepts in the under-
standing for a time, where, if they are legal and precis-
ional in their way, the fogs of distemper and passion
will be just as much less able to reach them.

Let me add now, a few distinct suggestions that
crowd upon us naturallj^, in the closing of such a sub-
ject. And —

1. The great debate which has been going on for
some time past, with our modern infidelity, is seen to
be joined upon a superficial and false issue. The su-
perior preceptive morality of the Gospel of Christ,
which used to be conceded, is now denied, and the
learned champions of denial undertake to refute out
claim, by citing from the explored literature of the
ancient Pagan writers, every particular maxiin. or pre-


cept that we most value, or suppose to be most original
in the teachings of Christ. Which if they can do, as
they certainly can not, their argument is only a vei-y
1 cansparent sophistry. For, when they have hunted all
treasures of learning through, picking up here one thing
and here another, to match the teachings of Christ, and
claim as the result, that they have matched every thing,
their conclusions amounts to simply this, not that Christ
is the equal of some man, but that he is just as compe-
tently wise as all men taken together. Besides they
make him none the less original ; for no one can pre-
tend that Christ obtained, or raked together so many
precepts, by any such hunt of learned exploration as is
here resorted to ; he must have given them out of his
own creative intelligence. And then again, what sig-
nifies a great deal more, it is not here after all, that
he made his grand contribution to the life of duty.
The issue tried is wholly one side of his chief merit;
viz., that he brings relief and clearness where all the
natural codes of duty break down. These codes are
grounded in natural reason, by that also to be ap-
plied. The chief maxims may be right, but the ap-
plications are still to be settled as no mortal man can
settle them — by analogies, by subtle distinctions, drawn
where there are no definite lines of distinction ; by
computations of usefulness depending on a knowledge
of the future that is impossible. Every maxim wants
a volume of casuistry to settle its application to this or
that case in practice; and then new cases, equally difii-
oult, will be rising still— even as they do at coiiimon


law, -which covers only a very small corner of the gen-
era] field of duty. Baxter wrote an immense folio on
cases of conscience, thinking, I suppose, that he had
made every thing clear to the end of the world ; when
in fact he had started more questions in doing it than
twenty folios could settle. Handled in this way, the
law of duty runs to endless refinements ; and as men
are corrupt, to endless sophistries and abortions ; yield-
ing codes in fact, that are codes of immorality, framing
mischief by a law ; codes of Jesuitry, codes of hideous
a^id disgusting practice, such as heathen peoples propa-
gate with endless perversity. How much then does it
mean that Christ has a perfect morality incarnated in
his person — all beauty, truth, mercy, greatness, wise
counsel of life ; so that when he is embraced, all casu
istries are well nigh superseded, and the humblest, most
unreasoning disciple, is able by a course of applications,
wiser than he knows himself, to fill up a beautiful life,
meet, with a glorious consent of practice, all the grand-
est meanings, and remotest future workings of God.
The life of duty passes in a clear element, tossed by no
perplexities, happy and sweet and strong, because the
soul in Christ's love has a light of immediate guidance.
In presence of this manifestly divine fact, how weak
and sorry is the attempt to break down Christ's sublime
superhuman evidences, by showing that bis contribu-
tions to tbe mere preceptive code of duty, have been
more or less nearly anticipated.

2. All conscientious Christian persons who got con-
fused and fall into painful debates of duty in particalar



cases, may here discover the secret of their trouble and
the way to have it relieved. Their difficulty is that
th'jy fall back on the modes of casuistry, and attempt
lo settle their question of duty, as Jesuits or heathens
Mo, by computations of reason. Shall I do this? shall
I do that? shall I give myself, or my son, or my hus-
band to the army of my country? keeping one day
in seven, how shall I keep it? training up my child for
God, what indulgences shall I give, what pleasures
shall I allow? having adversaries, shall I be silent?
willing to make every thing a sacrifice for God, shall I
give or not give all my time and talent to the imme-
diate duties of religion ? — ten thousand such questions
are rising every hour, this with one person, this with
another. The debate is begun and kept up day and
night, till the soul is weary. The darkness increases,
the confusion grows painful, the longer and more critical
the debate is, till finally the soul, thrown back upon
itself, sinks into a kind of nervous dread, close akin to
horror. How many such cases have I met, in past
years, and they are among the saddest to which I have
been called to minister. The question of duty was turned
round and round, till the multitude of reasons made
distraction. It was even as if duty were the only thing
impossible to be found. Have I any such afflicted soul
before me now? 0, my friend, that I could show you
the root of your difficulty. You carry your case to the
wrong tribunal, to the casuistries of ethics and not to
Christ. You get tangled in questions, when you should
be clear in love. Go where Mary went, or rather whore


Mary's heart went. Cease from your refinements, re-
fuse to be caught any more in the mouse-trap questions
and scruples of duty, and let it be enough to lay your
soul on Christ's bosom. Resting quietly thus, in tlie
sacred bliss of love to Christ's person, wanting nothing
but to be with him and for him, your torment will sooji
be over. The question of duty will be ended even be-
foreliand, just because the soul of all duty is in you.
The current of your feeling will run to it and settle it,
even before you ask where it is.

3. It is no good sign for a Christian person, that he
is always trying to settle his duty by calculations, and
wise presagings of the future ; and it is all the worse,
if he pleases himself in the confidence that he succeeds.
Doing nothing by faith, making no room for impulse
or the inspiration of christian love, he takes the easy
method of sagacity — easy to the fool as to the wise
man — determining his questions of course mostly in
the negative ; for, if there is any doubt, it is always a
brave thing, and always looks sagacious to say. No ;
and then, since he undertakes no duty which he can not
sef3 to the end of, even by his eyes, which is about the
same as to undertake no duty at all, he conceives that
^le has a more solid way of judging than others. lie
will do nothing out of a great sentiment of course, he
will break no box of ointment on the head of anybody f
be will educate no son for the ministry, for example,
lest possibly he should be only a martyr for the truth,
and all that ha.s been spent upon him, should only be
anointing him for his burial. Meantime, what is the


love of Clirist doing in him? great impnlse of
love does he trust enough to follow it? He makes a

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 29)