Horace Bushnell.

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time, he is just as much more disturbed and revolted,
probably, as he is more consciously divine. In those
forty days of trial, instinctively withdrawn from men,
how often, looking out upon them, did his divine chas-
tity recoil from the fearful and even shocking relation-
ship into which he was come. This in great part is the
cross — not the wood, nor the nails, nor the vinegar, but
the men, and the breath of hell their malignity is
])reathing upon him.

2. It is not to be doubted that he had internal strug-
gles of a different nature, growing out of his hereditary
t?.onnection with our humanly disordered and retribu-
lively broken state. I refer, more especially, to what
must have come upon him under the law of bad sug^


gestion. How it was with liini in the clos-'ng scene,
after he began to be an hungered — the bad thouglits
that came to him, as by satanic suggestion — we are
expressly told. And it is not to be doubted that his
very call and spiritual endowment, raising, as they did,
the sense of his kingly dignity and power, would also
call out from his infected humanity, whole troops of
bad thoughts or treacherous suggestions, even as tlie
history declares. Raised in order and power, it is only
human to be tempted by suggestions of the figure he
can make, and the prodigious things he ma}- do. It is
not probably true that Jesus was contending, for the
whole forty daj^s, with such kind of temptations as
came upon him at the close. But as certainly as his
mind had a man-wise way of thinking, he must have
had many thoughts coming upon him that required him
to repeat his "get thee behind me," and turn his great
nature home upon God and his work closely enough to
pre-occupy it, and take away the annoyance. Keither
let us shrink from such a mode of conceiving him, as
if it were a derogation from his perfect character.
Mental suggestion is not voluntary, but takes place
under mental laws, going where it will, and running
more or less wildly, where there is any contact of the
nature with disorder. No crime is incurred by evil
suggestion, when there is no encouragement of it, or
yielding of the soul to it. As then Jesus was to be
tempted in all points like as we are only without sin,
it is even a fact included, that, when his tremendous call
took him, an immense irruption of evil suggestions,



bursting up from his lo^v-bo^ll Inimanity, must have
taken hiiri ai»o. And this, I conceive, is what is meant,
when he is declared to have been driven of the Spirit
into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Tlic
very call of the Spirit brought this contest upon him.
I do not exclude the possibilit}^ of some access of bad
spirits concurrently working with the bad thoughts;
for he was tempted just as men are, and as being a man.
And he gained his victory, doubtless by a struggle often
renewed and variously protracted.

3. It is not to be doubted that his human weakness
made a fearful recoil from the lot of suffering, and the
horrible death now before him. Human nature is
keenly sensitive to suffering; but we manage often to
bear a great deal of it, because we do not know of it
beforehand, but have it coming upon us by surprises,
or turns of Providence not expected. Hence there is
nothing so common as the remark, from one or another,
that he could not have borne such trials as have come
successively upon him, if he had been advised of them,
and had them in full view beforehand.

But the call of Christ, as it now opened, was a call
to suffering ; a call to be fulfilled by sorrow and pain,
and consummated by the ignominy of a cross. The
great Messiahship, in which he was inaugurated, was to
be a power of salvation for the world, as being a sub-
lime tragedy of goodness. In this respect, his career
of suffering was different, widely, from that of any
mortal of the race, in the fact that he came into it with
a full knowledge flashed upon him, of all that he was


to bear from the sin lie was to conquer. As we "hear
him speak in one of his earliest discourses of being
" lifted up," recurring more than once to the same thing
afterward, and using the same expression, calling his
disciples also, many times over, to "take up the cross"
and follow him, we can see for ourselves how the sor-
row, and buffeting, and shame, and cross, all met him
and stood in their appalling certainty always before
him, from the first hour of his call onward. The recoil
of his human nature from such a prospect must have
been dreadful — mortally regarded, insupportable.

Let us not be misled, at this point, by the fact that
he is a superior nature incarnate, imagining that he
must also be superior, in that manner, to suffering.
He has taken the human nature, and taken it as it is,
by inheritance, and though it is good for symbol, as
being the express image of Grod — better than all nature
up to the stars beside — still it is weak for the matter of
suffering, and is, in fact, only the more perfect for his
uses on that account. Good, therefore, as symbol, it
has to be conquered as organ, to be made staunch
for so dreadful a service, by some strong mastery, be it
that of a fast, or of any other kind of discipline.
Otherwise, being all weakness, it would even be treason
if it could. Nothing could be farther off from the
heroic in sacrifice, more susceptible to fear, more instinc-
tively averse to the hatred of men, more unwilling to
die, and die hard, and die low. And what shall he
do more naturally, in the confused struggles of his feel-
ing, than withdraw till the terrible revulsion is quelled;


or, what is the same, till he gets the poor, unsteady^
low-bred organ of his life brought up, into the scale ol
his sacrifice ?

4. There comes upon him also, at the point of h*H
call or endowment, still another and vaster kind of
commotion, that belongs even to his divine nature,
holding fit proportion with the greatness and perfection
of it. The love he had before to mankind was prob-
ably more like that of a simply perfect man. Having
now the fallen world itself put upon his love, and the
endowment of a Saviour entered consciously into his
heart, his whole divinity is heaved into such commo-
tion as is fitly called an agony ; answering, in all re-
spects, to the agony of the garden. How differently
do we feel for any subject of benevolence the mo-
ment we have undertaken for him. He lies upon our
heart-strings night and day, as a burden. We watch
for him with a painful concern, we agonize for him.
So when Jesus takes the world upon his love, it plunges
him at once, into what may be called the suffering state
of God ; for it belongs to the goodness of God, just
because it is good, to suffer, as being burdened in feel-
ing for all wrong-doers and enemies. Every sort of
love, the maternal, the patriotic, the christian, has for
its inseparable incident, a moral suffering in behalf of
its subjects. God has the same, in a degree of intensity
equal to the intensity and compass of his love. And it
is this moral suffering that now comes upon Christ, and
is to be revealed by his incarnate ministry. The stress
upon his feeling is too heavy to be supported by the frail


and tender vehicle of his humanity. It rolls in like
a sea, and his human nature can not breast the teavy
surge of it. He goes apart in the terrible recoil, both
of his divine feeling and his human nature, sinks away
into the recesses of the wilderness, crushed by the
burden that has come upon his agonizing heart. As
was just now intimated, his experience corresponds with
that of his agony ; for it was the same burden return-
ing upon him, at that crisis, that threw him on the
ground, and wrenched his feeling, in such throes of
concern for his enemies, that his too feeble body gave
way, and the gates of the skin flew open before the
terrible pressure on his heart. I do not say that any
such scene is transacted here in these forty days. I only
know that Christ has the same weak body, and the
same great feeling, burdened now for men, and, what is
much to be considered, it has come upon him just as
suddenly as the investiture and ofl&cial endowment of
his call. I do not see his prostrations. I do not catch
the wail of his prayer, "let this cup pass from me," I
only see that a great and dreadful commotion must be
upon him — leaving him to cope with it as he best may,
in that mysterious silence and solitude into which he
has retreated from our human inspection.

Once more, the mind of Jesus, in his forty days
retirement and fasting, must have been profoundly
engaged and powerfully tasked in the unfolding of the
necessary plan. He can not bolt into such a work,
embracing such an immense reach of territory and
time and kingly rule, without considering, beforehand,


and distinctly conceiving the what, and how, and when,
and why, of his work. Doubtless there is a divine plan
ready for him, and has been even from before the world's
creation, but he, as being man, must think it consecu-
tively out, step by step, in a certain human way of
reception, or development, else he is not in it. No
matter if the plan lay perfect in him as the Ancient
of Days before he came into the world, still the counsel
of it lay, not in words, or specific judgments, but in
the infinite abyss of his boundless intuition. Now, in
consenting to be man, he consents to be unfolded grad-
ually in body and mind, to grow as he feeds, and know
as he thinks. Nor does it make any difference if his
thinking draws on the infinite; for to think the infinite
into the finite, deific light into form and particularity,
is a very considerable work that will not soon be done.
His plan, therefore, must be thought, in order to be
humanly had. Yesterday he had it not, to-day the
call has come that requires it, and a great soul-labor
begins. Doubtless he has thought much, coasting round
the subject before; he has read the Messianic prophets,
and had their visions opened to his understanding,
probably, as no other ever had before ; his every fac-
ulty is clear, and broad, and deep, and rapid, in a de-
gree surpassing all genius. Still, making all such
allowance, how far off is he, at the coming of his call,
from having any complete fact-form plan ready for it.
The matter of it includes even the reasons of the creation,
also the last ends of the creation, what between baa
been already done and what remains to be, in the great


new future, all that affects God's relations to men, and
men's to God, and the eternal kingdom as connecting
both. In this great salvation-problem, therefore, touch-
ing always the infinite and finite together, what he shall
do and teach ; what, and when, and how, he shall suffer;
b}' whom he shall organize, and for a time how long —
in this problem, to be wrought out in a train of finite
human thinking, his forty days will have enough to do
pour in fast and free as the stupendous revelation wilL
Full of all heaviest commotion therefore, on the side of
his feeling, the great deep of intelligence also in Jesus
must be mightily heaved, that his counsel may be ade-
quately settled. thou grim solitude of wilderness,
what work is going on, these days, in thy silence!

How great and rapid the movement of his counsel has
been, we may see, .when coming out, after the forty
days, into his ministry, he opens his mouth in his beati-
tudes and goes on with his wonderful first sermon,
speaking, how decisively and calmly and with what
evident repose ; then beginning straightway his mira-
cles, calling his apostles, and organizing his cause ; evi-
dently master of his plan even as a practiced general of
his campaign — ready in all ripe counsel, to spread him-
self out on the great world-future of his kingdom.

Beginning thus at the call of Jesus, and making this
large induction from what we know concerning him, I
thinlc you will agree, my friends, that these forty days
of his in the wilderness must have been the most events
ful days of his Messiahship, including beyond question^
a vast, unknown, scarcely imaginable, but necessary


and sublime preparation for liis work. Ko other cLap
ter, I may safely say, in tlie whole history of Jesus, has
a more ftiscinating and mysterious interest to our feel-
ing, covered though it be in dimness and silence.

I have alluded once or twice to the agony of Jesus.
I might also refer you to hours when the same deep
conflict more than once, rolls back on him for a space,
and his mighty "soul is troubled," venting itself in words.
I can not resist the impression that the real agony of
Jesus took him at the Yery first. How he bore himself
in it for so many daj^s in those desert wilds, his atti-
tudes, his sleep or want of sleep, his prostrations and
prayers, his groanings in spirit, his spaces of brightness
and victorious courage and peace, his deep ponderings by
day or night, sitting under the grim rocks — -none of
these are given us, but our heart will indulge itself in
them and rightly may.

Some few incidents are given us which, taken to-
gether, signify much. Thus, he is not hungry, he is too
powerfully wrought in by his thoughts and emotions to
have the sense of hunger.

He is also alone. In the agony of the garden he has
his friends with him, and looks to their sympathy for
support. Here he has no friend with him, because he
has not yet any friend enlisted, who can at all under-
stand hmi, or yield him even a word of comfort.

I said he was alone — no he is not alone, but as Mark
very casually intimates, "he is with the wild beasts."
And this word with indicates a strange concomitancy,
by which they are somehow drawn to come about him


and be witli him, in a way of harmless atteiition. Fot
the term '■'' ivilcl beasts''^ does not mean simply wild ani-
mals, but the savage beasts of prey, such as lions, ]ian-
thers, wolves, and the like. These are with Jesus,
coming about him in his prostrations, drawing near in
the meanings of his sleep, fawning about him tenderly
when he sits in silence ; going back, as it were, to the
habit of paradise, and symbolizing, by their harmless
companionship, that future paradise which he is to restore.
Glad sign most surely, they, to his struggling heart.

Still another and very different class of beings come
to him — I mean the angels. These we are told minis-
tered unto him. Great joy was that to the angels ! and
it must have been as great to him ! In such a state of
long, long conflict and trial, how blessed were these vis-
itors from the great world of peace above, their com-
munications how sweet, how rich in assurance ! So be-
tween the beasts and the angels, men being wholly
away, Jesus gets tokens of sympathy that minister com-
fort, and help him to compose himself to the opening
tragedy of his life.

We come, at last, to the final crisis of the trial, which
many, by what appears to me a very great mistake,
call the temptation; as if it covered the whole ground
of the forty days. Exactly contrary to this the history
says expressly — "And when he had fasted forty days
and forty nights he was afterward an hungered." Or
according to another gospel, — " when they were ended,
he began to be an hungered." The three temptations
follow. So powerfully had his mighty soul been



wrought in, that he had not, till this time, been conscioua
of hunger. But now, at last, he is spent, and nature
breaks under exhaustion. The representation appears
to be that the fevered, half delirious state of hunger is
upon him ; and the phantoms of Ij'ing suggestion rush
into liis weakened brain, to bear down, if possible, his
integrity. But it is not possible; even his broken,
reeling faculty is too strong in its purity for the utmost
art of his enemy. And his triumph is thus finally com-
pleted, in the fact that any shred of his sinless majesty
is seen to be enough to hold him fast, when the shat-
tered vehicle of his humanity has quite given way.

That this, or something like it, is the true account to
be taken of the story, is hardly to be questioned. It
must have been derived from his own report ; for no
one else was privy to the matter of it. And he simply
meant, I have no doubt, in the three temptations recited,
to report what appeared to him, visionally speaking ;
or how they stood before his fevered brain. To believe
that he was actually taken up by the devil, and set on
the pinnacle of the temple, when fifty miles awaj^; or
that he w^as taken up into a mountain so exceedingly
high, that he could see all the kingdoms of the round
world from the top, is fairly impossible. He onl}^ re-
ported the seemings of his hunger-fevered state. All
temptations are but seemings. The devils bait their
hook, never with truths, always with illusions. Nor
were the temptations any the less real, or satanic, as being
phantoms of exhaustion. This, in fact, was to be his vic-
tory, that not even his unsettled, weakened faculty could


be seduced bj such phantoms, whether of internal or ex-
ternal suggestion. In this victory the trial of Jesus was
finished — " And when the devil had ended all the tempt-
ations, he departed from him for a season." Now
therefore he is ready, and the great Messianic ministry

Scarcely necessary is it, my brethren, to say that it will
be such a ministry as the great first chapter of the fast
prepares — such and no other. I know not any point
beside, in the history of his life, where you may take
your stand and see the whole course of it open, with such
intelligible unity and clearness. As the dawn prepares
the day, so the forty days prepare the three wonderful
years. Taking the fast for your initial point, and care-
fully distinguishing what goes on there, and is done or
made ready, every thing appears to come out naturally,
in a sense, from it. Here, in fact, as you may figure,
Christ, officially j^oung, levels himself to his aim ; and
then, as age is not the count of years but of works, puts
himself into his great ministry with such momentum
and constancy, giving so much counsel, expending so
much sympathy, suffering so great waste of sorrow, that
he dies, at the end of three years, like one ripened by
full age. The unsteadiness, the overdoing, the ro-
mance, of unpracticed energies, nowhere appears, but
the regular gait of sagacity, patience, sound equilibrium,
as of one who has his counsel ready, brings him on to
his close. Whether this maturity is unfolded by the
very rapid development of his crowded, heavy -pressing^


all-doing ministry, or was really prepared, for the most
part, in the fiery forty days of his trial, it may be diffi-
cult to say. Only this is abundantly clear, that he
came out of that trial, to make his beginning, both
strong and ready. If he did not seem to be as old
when he gave the sermon on the mount as when he
answered before Pilate, he was as thoroughlj^ assured,
and as completely master of the situation. From that
time onward his equipoise is perfect, and his movement
restful and. smooth — never hurrying after counsel not
yet arrived, but visibly set on by counsel, such as leaves
no room for surprise, or a moment's faltering. The
sweetness, and repose, and readiness he is in, are such
as indicate a mental graduation into counsel, and vic-
tory already accomplished — as he had, in fact, con-
quered, beforehand, the world, and the devil, and hia
own humanity, and had come to such kind of settle-
ment as a victor only gets. Many martyrs have borne
themselves heroically when the doom was on them, and
the pressure of the hour riveted their firmness. But
Christ was a martyr at large and beforehand, who had
taken the sentence of death in the wilderness, and
bowed himself in consecration upon it, coming out to
live martyr-wise; but as strong, as steady, as free, as
the felt mastery both of death and of himself could
make him. Figuring himself to himself, deliberately,
as a grain of wheat falling into the ground to die, and
BO to live again more fruitfully, he settles calmly into
his appointment, without misgiving or regret. Having
aLso a great baptism, as he knows, to be baptized with,


he is nowise appalled by the prospect, but only op-
pressed by tlie delay ; exclaiming, " liow am I strait-
ened till it be accomplished." In all which, we may see,
that the highest nerve of courage, endurance, and reso-
lute equability, may be set, only in the silence and soli-
tude of a complete self-devotion, never in the noisy
tumult of commotions and great throes of public excite-
ment. What other being among men ever graduated
into such glory of public life as Jesus, when he came
out of the desert and his forty days of silence !

I do not mean, of course, in hanging so much upon
the temptation of the forty days, to say that Jesus was
never tempted before, or after that time. All such tempt-
ations were casual, matters by the way, having a certain
consequence, but no principal consequence in fixing the
tenor of his life. But the forty days temptation had
this distinction, that it took him at the point of crisis,
so that every thing was turned by the settlement, and
went with it. There could be only one such crisis, and
the turning of it rightly was the grand inaugural of all
that came after, in his wonderful and gloriously conse-
crated ministry.

In just the same manner, there is, I conceive, in the
life of almost every Christian disciple, a crisis, where
every thing most eventful, as regards the Christian value
of his life to himself, and of his consecration to God, es-
pecially hinges, and where, as we may figure, his grand
temptation meets him. Other temptations have gone
before, others will come after, here is the temptation of
his personal call and opportunity. What it will be, or


in what form it will come, can not of course, be speci-
fied ; enough that it will commonly bring the strong
present conviction with it of a great Christian crisis ar-
rived, on which all the heaviest results of character and
service done for God are depending. At such a time,
there is to be no haste or precipitation. The time for a
grand, ])ractical settlement of the life has come, and if
the man has any gravity of meaning or high aspiration,
he will meet the crisis practically, and if possible, un-
derstandingly. To let go society, pleasure, profit, and
the table, nay, to get away from them, will be a kind
of relief. Any thing, any campaign of prayer, and
thought, and self-devotement, will be accepted heartily,
and be long enough protracted to settle the result finally
and firmly. One great reason, brethren, why we make so
poor a figure of fitfulness and inconstancy, is that we
go by jets of emotion, or gusts of popular impulse, or
sallies of extempore resolve ; we do not settle our ques-
tion upon a footing of counsel, and inward consecra-
tion, and, in fact, do not take time to settle any thing;
least of all, any such great crisis of life. Moses drew
off into the wilderness and was there forty years, get-
ting ready for the call that was already half uttered in
his heart. Paul retired into Arabia, and was there
three years, gathering up his soul and soul's fuel, for
the grand apostleship of word and sacrifice. So the
Christian, every Christian, who has come to his crisis,
will take time for the settlement of his plan, and the
equipment of his undertaking — if not forty days, then
as many as are wanted.


Having inis high work uptrn you, brethren, silence and
solitude will be congenial, and the fasting of Jesus wip
be remembered by you with a strange sympathy-
all in the endeavor to come out on your future,
thoroughly consecrated to it, even as he was to his.
Drawn to him in such profoundest sympathy with hia
temptation, how tenderly and approvingly will he
be drawn to you, pouring, as he best may, all the riches
of his forty days struggle and consecration to sacrifice
upon you. " For in that he himself hath suffered being
tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted."
Any life is great and blessed, into which you are en-
tered, upon this high footing with Christ your Master.
You can not be worse handled by men, or by what is
called fortune, than he .was; can not be more faithful
to God's high purpose in you, or more consciously great,

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 29)