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Horace Bushnell.

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.whole world ; and so far you possess the world.

The same, again, is true of all the arts, professions,
trades and grades of employment, in a given com
munity. They are at work for each other in ways of
concurrent service. All injustice, wrong, and fraud
excluded, they so far own each other. Their indus
tries and gifts are all so many complementary contri
butions. The capital, the science, the contriving
heads, the operative hands, the powers of every sort,



152 THE PROPERTY RIGHT

are mutually concurrent, mutually own each other,
and taken together, constitute a complete whole of
endowment called a community because the unity is
for all, and a commonwealth because the w r eal or
wealth is common to all.

And again, what we discover in these mere econ
omic relations is the type of a mutual interest and
ownership, in qualities that are personal. The very
idea of society and the social nature is that we shall
be a want, and a gift of enjoyment, one to another ;
necessary in such* a sense to each other, that existence
itself can be only worthless, save as we lay hold of
each other in some fellow feeling, and fulfill answering
conditions of social benefit. We possess, in short, so
ciety, and society is universal ownership.

To see what reality there is in this, you have only
to imagine how desolate, and how truly insupportable,
your life would be in a state of complete soKtude, or
absolutely sole existence. Not that you want merely
to receive outward conveniences, such as no one per
son can produce, or prepare for himself the privation
is not a merely economic privation you want society-
of soul, though by the supposition you have never
known what it is ; to speak and be spoken to, to
play out feeling and have it played back by some an
swering nature ; to see, in the faces of men like your
self, the beaming intelligence of kindred beings, who
are struggling with the same thoughts, and suffering
the same dread mystery of experience with yourself.
For this hitherto unknown something you ache,



WE ARE TO GET IN SOULS. 153

though you can not imagine where it is, or whence it
may come. So pressing is this want, that even life
itself becomes a silent agony. You wade the rivers,
and creep through the forests, and climb the hills,
looking for you know not what, resting nowhere, sigh
ing and groaning everywhere. You gaze into* the sky
and try to get a look of recognition from the stars ;
you listen to the wind as if it were trying to vent
itself in sighs like your own ; you peer into the faces
of the animals and, though they are faces plainly
enough, the fellow something is not there. The
world, in short, even up to the sun and the stars, is
nothing but a prison about you of absolute solitary
confinement ; a vast grand prison, indeed, but yet a
prison ; nay, a horrible dungeon, dark at noonday to
your heart ; and it will not be strange if, for the sim
ple want of society, you crumble down at last into
idiocy, as malefactors are so often known to do,
under the heavy years of unnatural torture to which
they are subjected, in what is called their discipline
of solitary confinement.

What we call society, in this manner, is the usu
fruct we have of each other, and has a property value
as truly as the food that supplies our bodies. We
may not commonly think of it in this way, and yet
we are making constant experiment of the fact, even
when we do not. Almost every full aged man, for
example, has, at some time, been a weary traveler,
picking his way through some wide forest, or roaming
across some solitary prairie. From early morn till



154 THE PROPEUTY HIGHT

noon, and toward evening, he has seen no human
being, heard no voice. Consciously his tone of feel
ing has been sinking, and a kind of oppression has
been coming upon him. The long solitude of so
many hours has damped his spirits, and he begins to
imagine how good it would be to meet and speak to
some person. At last he sees a man approaching in
the distance. They stop, of course the two stran
gers and change salutations, multiplying inquiries
that have no object but simply to protract the inter
change or feeding time of their social nature ; talking
about the w T eather, and the w^ay, which both of them
knew well enough before ; giving volunteer suggestions
about the place whence they are from, and the object,
very likely, of their journey ; till finally, when they
start again, which they will do with a lighter heart
and a freer motion, the humanity they have given out,
and the humanity they have taken in, will be a bath
of refreshment to them for whole hours after. The
same thing may be seen, under another form, in the
case of those monks and eremites, w r ho, like St. An
thony, withdrew voluntarily from the society of man,
to live in deserts and solitary places alone ; violating,
in the name of religion, all God s appointments for
their life. The remarkable thing is that, in so many
cases, they began to be assaulted as they thought, and
even seemed with their eyes to see by many and
fierce devils of temptation. It was only the necessary
wail of their own disordered, fevered soul, shaping
into. visible demons the crazy woes of its inward life,



WE ARE TO GET IN SOULS. 155

exasperated and frenzied by the unnatural torment
of their solitude. What should they see but devils,
when they refuse to see their fellow men for whom
Christ died?

Again, what interest every soul may have, or what
property get, in other souls, will be seen still more af-
fectingly, in the fact that, bittered as we are by self
ishness, almost every thing we do looks, in some way,
to the approbation, or favoring opinion, or inspiration
of others. AYe dress, we build, we cultivate our be-
stowments generally, with a view to the impressions
or opinions of others. See, for example, how the
great soul of a ISTewton bows itself to study for years
and years, in the intensest self-application, that he
may discover and give to the world s mind his grand
expositions of light, and of the laws of the astronomic
worlds. He values that mind, and even lives for what
he may put in it, or dispense to it, or be in its
thought. So of the great poets, painters, sculptors,
antiquarians, writers of history, travelers, magistrates,
heroes no matter how selfish they may be, they are
looking still to other souls, or minds, and resting
their great expectations there.

I have lingered thus in the domain of the natural
life, because the illustrations here furnished are so im
pressive. Let us enter now the field of Christian love
and duty, and carry our argument up into the higher
relations here existing. If selfishness even finds so
great value in the sentiments, opinions, homages of
other men, how shall it be with goodness and benefac-



156 THE PROPERTY RIGHT

tion ? Here it is that we come out into the great
Apostle s field where he says " not yours but yon."
" It is not," he would say, " what you can give me, or
withhold from me, but it is what I can do to you, and
be in you, and make you to be to raise you up out
of sin into purity and liberty and truth, to fill you
with the light of God and his peace, to make you like
God, and transform your disordered nature so that
your inmost currents of thought, and feeling, and life
shall be changed by me forever this is my reward,
which, if I may get, I want no other. For this I
journey, and preach, and write, and pray, and will do
so, till I have made you my joy and crown of re
joicing." He does not conceive that he is saving
souls simply as being valuable to themselves, but as
being valuable also to him, just according to the bene
fits he enters into them. He makes them in this man
ner a property to himself.

Let us look a little into this matter of property.
How does it come ? How does a man, for example,
come to be acknowledged as the owner of a piece of
land and to say to himself, " it is mine?" The gen
eral answer given to this question, for I can not stay
to settle it by discussion, is that we get a property in
things, by putting our industry into them, in ways of
use, culture and improvement. This makes our title,
and then the ownership is bought or sold as by title.
Just so when a Christian benefactor enters good into
a soul ; when he takes it away from the wildness and
disorder of nature, by the prayers and faithful labors



WE ARE TO GET IN SOULS. 157

lie expends upon it, the necessary result is that he gets
a property in it, feels it to be his, values it as being
his. ^Neither is it any thing to say that he gets, in
this manner, no exclusive title to it, therefore no prop
erty at all. K"o kind of property is exclusive. God
is still concurrent owner of all the lands we hold in
fee. The State is so far owner, also, that we hold
them as of the State, and so far subject to State
ownership or eminent domain, that they may be
rightfully taken for public uses, when it is necessary.
So a man may get ownership in his neighbor, and his
poor brother, and the State may have ownership in
both, and God a higher ownership in all. And the
ownership in all such cases is only the more real be
cause it is not exclusive. So then, it comes to pass
that improvement in a soul gets ownership in it, even
as it does in land ; and the Christian disciple makes
any soul that he saves valuable to himself and a prop
erty, just according to what it is made to be to itself,
by the good he has entered into it. And how great
and blessed a property it is to him, we can only see
by a careful computation of the values by which he
measures it.

First, as he has come to look himself on the eternal
in every thing, he has a clear perception of souls as
being the most real of all existences more real than
lands and gold, and a vastly higher property be
cause they are eternal, and the title once gained is
only consummated by death, not taken away.

Next, finding this or that human spirit or soul, in a
14



158 THE PKOPERTY HI GUT

condition of darkness and disease and fatal damage,
lie begins forthwith to find an object in it, and an in
spiring hope to be realized in its necessity. He takes
it thus upon himself, draws near to it, hovers round it
in love, and prayer, and gracious words, and more
gracious example, to regain it to truth and to God.
"For if it be a matter so inspiring to a Newton that lie
may put into other minds the right scientific concep
tion of light, or of the stars, how much greater and
higher the interest a good soul has in imparting to
another goodness ; the element of its own divine
peace and well being.

Then, again, as we get a property in other men by
the power we exert in them, how much greater the
property obtained by that kind of power which is
supernaturally, transformingly beneficent ; that which
subdues enmity, illuminates darkness, fructifies ster
ility, changes discord to harmony, war to peace, and
raises a spirit in ruin up to be a temple of God s in
dwelling life. If it be something great to make our
selves felt, acknowledged, respected in a diseased soul,
how much more to change that disease itself into
health ; if it be something to fill a place in bad souls,
how much more to make them beautiful in truth and
love and purity. What a thought, indeed, is this for
a Christian disciple to entertain, that he may exalt the
consciousness of a human soul, or spirit, forever, and
live in it forever as a causality of joy and beauty.
And this it was that so fervently kindled the disin-



WE ARE TO GET IX SOULS. 159

terested zeal of our Apostle " For ye are our glory
and joy."

Furthermore, when one has gained another to God
and a holy life, there is a most dear, everlasting rela
tionship established between them one leading, so to
speak, the other s good eternity, and the other behold
ing in him the benefactor by whose work and example
he is consciously exalted forever and this gracious
relationship will give them an eternally mutual prop
erty in each other. And so all Christian friends will
have gotten a property in each other, as they have
done each other good, being entered thus into one
another, and so into the sense of relationships an
swering to their mutual benefactions and the good
offices by which they have bought an everlasting inte
rest in the feeling, history, personal well being and
inmost life, one of another. In this manner it is
given us for our beautiful divine privilege to have a
property in every one we meet, if only we can find
how to bless him. Owning society, we have a field
where mines richer than those of gold are open to us
on every side. Going after what men have, we get
nothing ; after men themselves, a property that is
everlasting.

Hence, also, it is, that the Scriptures of God s truth
are so much in the commendation of this heavenly
property. If we go after fame, they tell us that the
name of the wicked shall rot. If we go after riches
and cover ourselves with the outward splendors of
fortune, they tell us that we must go out of life as



160 THE PROPERTY RIGHT

poor as any ; for, that having brought nothing mate
rial into the world, we can carry nothing material out.
And then they add, do the works of love and truth,
and these shall go with you. He that winneth souls
is wise. They that turn many to righteousness shall
shine as the stars forever and ever. Be fishers of
men. Watch for souls. If thy brother sin against
thee, gain, if possible, thy brother. Be all things to
all men, if by any means you may gain some. And
then, when you have worn out all your powers in
benefactions put upon souls, and believe that you have
many who will be your crown of rejoicing in the day
of the Lord Jesus then, I say, when the last hour is
come, and the scenes of your mortal labor are retiring
from your sight, have it for your song of triumph, and
leave it to be chanted over your rest " Blessed are
the dead that die in the Lord ; for they rest from their
labors, and their works do follow them." All mate
rial properties are left behind ; these can not follow :
but all the properties of duty and love must follow,
and be gathered in after you to bless your fidelity, and
crown your peace, and be your sacred wealth forever.
Then it shall be seen w r hat is meant by the value of
one soul to another.

Just here, in fact, will be opened to your now puri
fied love the discovery of this great truth ; viz., that
there is indeed no real property at all but spirit-prop
erty, or property in spirit ; a possession, that is, by
each soul of what he has added to the moral universe
of the good. All values here become social, values of



WE ARE TO GET IN SOULS. 161

truth, and feeling, and worship, and conscious affinity
with God. And this is heaven; the state of mutual
ownership and everlasting usufruct, prepared in all
God s righteous populations, by what they have right
eously done.

Accepting now the solid and sublimely practical
truth thus carefully expounded, the salvation of men
is seen to be a work that ought to engage every Chris
tian, and a work that to be fitly done, must be hear
tily and energetically done. If we talk of it simply
as a duty, and push ourselves into it by that kind of
compulsion, we shall do nothing but simply to make a
feint of it. We may tell how great value the souls
we are after have to themselves ; but, if they have no
value to us, they might as well have none at all. It
is unfortunate, in this matter, that we speak of souls
and not of men ; for soul is a ghostly word, and we
are doubting, half the time, whether a creature so far
out of body is any thing. If we speak of souls, let
them be men, everlasting men, whom we everlastingly
want, and have it for our privilege to gain, our right
to enjoy ; and then what practical energy and holy
stress will there be in our endeavor. Our difficulty,
in this matter, is that we are too delicate, too tenderly
conventional, too mindful of the respectabilities. We
are so careful to avoid excess that we can not be
earnest enough to show any due valuation of our ob
ject. See what stress of exertion we display in the
pursuit of gain what sharpness of attention we prac
tice, what watching of opportunities, what indefatiga-
H*



162 THE PROPERTY RIGHT

ble contriving, what persistency. See, again, liow we
put ourselves to the work in a political campaign.
What mean these great assemblages, these nightly
harangues, these processions, these thousand and one
consultations at the corners of the streets all this
heavy strain of action, what does it mean ? Simply
that a great cause is earnestly pressed according to its
supposed value. The object is to gain voices or votes,
and the words are, " yours but not you." "What, then
shall be the stress of any single man, or church of
God, when the point is to gain everlastingly the men
themselves ? If there is so little fear of excess when
we are after votes, how much less should there be
when we are after the men. The in tensest energy in a
work so nearly divine, the most earnest endeavor, the
wisest adjustment of means in the possible compass of
invention, labor in season and out of season, supplica
tions that are groanings with Christ in his Gethsemane
these are the way of all true Christian men and as
semblies.

To this end, my brethren, consider well that you are
set to gain a property in every man you save. In
some dearest, truest sense, he is to be yours forever, to
own you as his benefactor, and to be your crown of
rejoicing, having your life entered into and working
through his forever. Taking it as the law of his
ministry " not yours but you," what a glorious com
pany did our great Apostle gather in to be with him,
to pack, as it were, the heavenly mansions, and be in
the everlasting unfolding of their life and blessedness,



WE ARE TO GET IN SOULS. 163

liis ever increasing property ! What a world of
riches, too, is that great commonwealth of blessing to
be, where so many ties of mutual ownership and bene
faction are to exist forever. There are mothers that
have brought in their children, pastors that have
brought in their flocks, teachers that have won their
classes, employers that have gained their employed,
young friends that have led in their comrades, sick
and solitary, whose prayers have brought salvation to
strangers, or the great in high places, who never knew
till now their nameless benefactors. These all have
taken possession, so to speak, of one another. As
they learned to say " not yours but you," so they are
allowed henceforth, in loving thought, to say, " these
are mine." And this adjective mine, how steadily are
we educated into it ; as if it were God s purpose, first
of all, to waken the sense of property in us, that we
may be set every one upon the endeavor to win a pos
session for eternity. This property notion that puts
us delving, striving, going to the death for gain, is
only to be converted, not to be disappointed. A bub
ble in itself, it foreshadows an everlasting reality.
For when it is fulfilled in the grand, eternal future to
which we are going, we shall find that heaven itself is
but a glorious, enduring ownership.

Consider, also, how this double-acting property re
lation holds good, even between Christ and his people.
" Xot yours but you " is the principle that brings him
into the world. Understand how a perfectly good,
great, unselfish, loving and true mind will value a



164 THE PROPERTY RIGHT

populous world of mind in ruins, and the seeming dis
proportion of the cross vanishes. And when we hear
him say and repeat, in words of visible endearment,
" those whom thou hast given me," we can see that he
is counting over his property beforehand. For this he
travels in the greatness of his strength, for this he is
red in his apparel, and treads the wine-press alone.
All the amazing stress of his sacrifice is crowded on
by the immense valuation he has of the prize to be
gained. And then when he has made that gain, and
his everlasting property in those that were given him
is established by the purchase of his sacrifice, what
stronger tap-root of confidence could we have than to
hear him add " and no man shall pluck them out of
my hand." We can even see that he would sooner
die again than give us up. O, thou timid, misgiving
soul, distrust thyself as thou wilt, only do not distrust
the unalterable ownership of thy Master ! As thou
art Christ s sure property, given him before the
foundation of the world, that foundation will sooner
break down than his strong title of possession. Did
he not also say " I will that those whom thou hast
given me be with me where I am ?" What, then,
shall we answer, each one for himself, but this " I
will, O Master and Lord, that I be with thee where
thou art have me thus for thy possession, and I ask
no more."

And yet there is more ; for as there is no exclusive
right in the benevolent properties all brothers, in all
circles of brotherhood, owning each other so it is



WE AKE TO GET IN SOULS. 165

given us to own even Jesus himself; to say, " O Christ
thou art mine,"" My Lord and my God," " Whom
have I in heaven but thee." Having thee, I can
easily renounce, or lose, all things beside. I would
not care to possess, even if I could, thy stars. Enough
that I shall possess the internal contents and the
bosom furniture of thy divine excellence ; the sea-full
of thy love wherein the leviathans of thy purposes
play ; the splendors of thy intelligence, which make
my day eternal without any sun ; thy great will which
makes me sufficient in power ; all thy goodness and
beauty, all thy plans and dispositions ; and shall I not
be so established forever let me humbly dare to
speak it in the dear blessed ownership of Christ and
his kingdom ?



IX.

THE DISSOLVING OF DOUBTS.



" And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations and
dissolve doubts." Dan. 5: 16.

DOUBTS and questions are not peculiar to Nebuchad
nezzar, but they are the common lot and heritage of
humanity. They vary in their subjects and times, but
we have them always on hand. We live just now in
a specially doubting age, where almost every matter
of feeling is openly doubted, or, it may be, openly de
nied. Science puts every thing in question, and liter
ature distils the questions, making an atmosphere of
them. We doubt both creation and Creator; whether
there be second causes or only primal causes running
db ceterno in ceternu/n ; whether God is any thing more
than the sum of such causes ; whether he works by will
back of such causes ; whether he is spirit w r orking su-
pernaturally through them ; whether we have any per
sonal relation to him, or he to us. And then, when we
come to the matter of revelation, we question the fact
of miracles and of the incarnation. We doubt free
agency and responsibility, immortality and salvation,
the utility of prayer and worship, and even of repent
ance for sin. And these sweeping, desolating doubts
(166)



THE DISSOLVING OF DOUBTS. 107

run through all grades of mind, all modes and spheres
of life, as it were telegraphically, present as powers
of the air to unchristen the new born thoughts of re
ligion as fast as they arrive. The cultivated and ma
ture have the doubts ingrown they know not how, and
the younger minds encounter their subtle visitations
when they do not seek them. And the more active
minded they are, and the more thoughts they have oru
the subject of religion, the more likely they are, (un
less anchored by true faith in God,) to be drifted away
from all the most solid and serious convictions, even
before they are aware of it. Their mind is ingenuous,
it may be, and their habit is not over speculative, cer
tainly not perversely speculative ; they only have a
great many thoughts raising a great many questions
that fly, as it were, loosely across their mental land
scape, and leave no trace of their passage that is,
none which they themselves perceive, and yet they
wake up by and by, startled by the discovery that they
believe nothing. They can not any where put down
their foot and say, " here is truth." And it is the
greatest mystery- to them that they consciously have
not meant to escape from the truth, but have, in a cer
tain sense, been feeling after it. They have not been
ingenious in their questions and arguments. They
have despised all tricks of sophistry, they have only
been thinking and questioning as it seemed to be quite
right they should. And yet, somehow, it is now be
come as if all truth were gone out, and night and no
where had the world. The vacuity is painful, and



168 THE DISSOLVING OF BOUBTS.

they are turned to a wrestling with their doubts, which



Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 10 of 29)