Horace Bushnell.

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is only the more painful that they wrestle, as it were,
in mid-air, unable to so much as touch ground any

The point I am sketching here is certainly in the
extreme, and yet it is an extreme often reached quite
early, and one toward which all young minds grav
itate, as certainly as they consent to live without God
and carry on their experience, steadied by no help from
the practical trust of religion. Probably some of you,
my friends here before me, are at one point of doubt or
unbelieving, and some at another ; I sincerely hope
that none of you have reached the dark extreme just
described. But whatever point you have reached, I
propose for my object this morning to bring in what I
can of countervailing help. I shall speak of the dis
solving of your doubts, showing how you may have
them dissolved in all their degrees and combinations.
If they do not press you, or at all trouble you ; if you
like to have them, and amuse yourself in what you
count the brilliancy of their play, if you love to be in
ventive and propagate as many and plausible as you
may, I have nothing for you. But if you want to
know the truth all truth and be in it, and have all
the fogs of the mind cleared away, I think I can tell
you in what manner it may, without a per ad venture,
be done. Shall I go on ? Give me then your atten
tion, nothing more. I shall not ask you to surrender
up your will or suppress your intelligence, would not
even consent to have you force your convictions or


opinions. All that I ask is a real desire to find the
truth and be in it.

Before proceeding, however, in the principal matter
of the subject, it may be well to just note the three
principal sources and causes whence our doubts arise,
and from which they get force to make their assault.
They never come of truth or high discovery, but al
ways of the want of it,

In the first place, all the truths of religion, .are- inlre-
rently.,dubitable. They are only what are called prob
able, never necessary truths like the truths of geome
try or of numbers. In these we have the premises in
our very minds themselves. In all other matters we
have the premise to find. And there is almost no
premise out of us that we do not some time or other
f doubt. We even doubt our senses, nay, it takes a very
dull, loose-minded soul, never to have, or to have had
a doubt of the senses. Xow this field of probable truth
is the whole field of religion, and of course it is
competent for doubt to cover it in every part and

In the second place, we begin life as unknowing
creatures that have every thing to learn. We grope,
and groping is doubt ; we handle, we question, we
guess, we experiment, beginning in darkness and
stumbling on towards intelligence. We are in a doom
of activity, and can not stop thinking thinking every
thing, knocking against the walls on every side ; trying
thus to master the problems, and about as often getting
mastered by them. Yeast works in bread scarcely


more blindly. When I draw out this whole conception
of our life as it is, the principal wonder, I confess, is
that we doubt so little and accept so much.

And, again, thirdly, it is a fact, disguise it as we can,
or deny it as we may, that our faculty is itself in dis
order. A broken or bent telescope will not see any
thing rightly. A filthy window will not bring in even
the day as it is. So a mind wrenched from its true
lines of action or straight perception, discolored and
smirched by evil, will not see truly, but will put a
blurred, misshapen look on every thing. Truths will
only be as good as errors, and doubts as natural as

ISow it will be seen that as long as these three
sources or originating causes of doubt continue, doubts
will continue, and will, in one form or another, be mul
tiplied. Therefore, I did not propose to show how
they may be stopped, for that is impossible, but only
liow they may be dissolved, or cleared away. I may
add, however, that the method by which they are to be
dissolved, will work as well preventively as remedially ;
for though it will not stop their coming, it will stop
their coining with damage and trouble to the mind,
and keep it clear for all steadiest repose and highest
faith in religion.

And the first thing here to be said, and it may be
most important, is negative; viz., that the doubters
never can dissolve or extirpate their doubts by inqui
ry, search, investigation, or any kind of speculative en
deavor. They must never go after the truth to merely


find it, butf to practice it and live by it. It is not
enough to rally their^ inventiveness, doing nothing to
polarize their aim. To be simply curious, thinking of
this and thinking of that, is only a way to multiply
doubts ; for in doing it they are, in fact, postponing all
(the practical rights of truth. They imagine, it may
be~ that they are going first, to settle their questions,
and then, at their leisure, to act. As if they were go
ing to get the perfect system and complete knowledge
of truth before they move an inch in doing what they
know ! The result is that the chamber of their brain
is filled with an immense clatter of opinions, questions,
arguments, that even confound their reason itself.
And they come out wondering at the discovery, that
the more they investigate the less they believe ! Their
very endeavor mocks them, just as it really ought.
For truth is something to be lived, else it might as well
not be. And how shall a mind get on finding more
truth, save as it takes direction from what it gets ; how
make farther advances when it tramples what it has
by neglect ? You come upon the hither side of a vast
intricate forest region, and your problem is to find your
way through it. Will you stand there inquiring and
speculating forty years, expecting first to make out
the way ? or, seeing a few rods into it, will you go on 4
as far as you see, and so get ability to see a few rods
further ? proceeding in that manner_jta^ad-ofe- the un- *
known, by advancing practically in the knowji.

No, there is no fit search after truth which does not,
first of all, begin to live the truth it knows. Alas !


to honor a little truth is not in the doubters, or they do
not think of it, and so they dishonor beforehand all the
truth they seek, and swamp it, by inevitable conse
quence, in doubts without end.

Dropping now this negative matter, we come to the
positive. There is a way for dissolving any and all
doubts, a way that opens at a very small gate, but
widens wonderfully after you pass. Every human soul,
at a certain first point of its religious outfit, has a key
given it which is to be the open sesame of all right dis
covery. Using this key as it may be used, any lock is
opened, any doubt dissolved. Thus every man acknowl
edges the distinction of right and wrong, feels the real
ity of that distinction, knows it by immediate con
sciousness even as he knows himself. lie would not
be a man without that distinction. It is even this
which distinguishes him from the mere animals. Hav
ing it taken away, he would, at the same instant, drop
into an animal. I do not say, observe, that every man
is clear as to what particular things may be fitly called
right and what wrong. There is a great disagreement
here in men s notions ; what is right to some, or in
some ages and some parts of the world, being wrong to
others, in other times and countries. I only say that
the distinction of idea or general principle is the same in
all ages and peoples, without a shade of difference.
Their ideas of space and time are not more perfectly
identical. So far they are all in the same great law ;
constituted, in that fact, men, moral beings, subjects
of religion. Their whole nature quivers responsively


to this law. To be in the right, and of it, to mean the
right, and swear allegiance to it forever, regardless of
cost, even though it be the cost of life itself, they can
as well disown their existence as disown this law.
There may be now and then a man who contrives to
raise a doubt of it, and yet, driven out with rods, it
will come back, a hundred times a day, and force
its recognition ; especially if any one does him a

Here, then, is the key that opens every thing. And
the only reason why we fall into so many doubts, and
get unsettled by our inquiries, instead of being settled
by them as we undertake to be, is that we do not be
gin at the beginning. Of what use can it be for a man
to push on his inquiries after truth, when he throws
away, or does not practically honor, the most funda
mental and most determinating of all truths? He goes
after truth as if it were coming in to be with him in
wrong ! even as a thief might be going after honest
company in stolen garments. How can a soul, unpo-
larized by wrong, as a needle by heat, settle itself in
the poles of truth 2 or who will expect a needle, hung
in a box of iron, turning every way and doubting at
every point of compass, to find the true North ? But
a right mind has a right polarity, and discovers right
things by feeling after them. ~Not all right things in
a moment, though, potentially, all in a moment ; for its
very oscillations are true, feeling after only that which
is, to know it as it is.

The true way, therefore, of dissolving doubts, as I


just now said, is to begin at the beginning, and do the
first thing first. Say nothing of investigation, till you
have made sure of being grounded everlastingly, and
with a completely whole intent, in the principle of
right doing as a principle. And here it is, let me say,
that all unreligious men are at fault, and often without
knowing, or even suspecting it. They do right things
enough in the out-door, market sense of the term, and
count that being right. But let them ask the ques
tion, " Have I ever consented to be, and am I really
now, in the right, as in principle and supreme law ; to
live for it, to make any sacrifice it will cost me, to be
lieve every thing it will bring me to see, to be a confess
or of Christ as soon as it appears to be enjoined upon
me, to go on a mission to the world s end, if due con
viction sends me, to change my occupation for good
conscience sake, to repair whatever wrong I have
done to another, to be humbled, if I should before my
worst enemy, to do complete justice to God, and, if I
could, to all worlds ? in a word, to be in wholly right
intent, and have no mind but this forever?" Ah, how
soon do they discover possibly, in this manner, that
they are right only so far as they can be, and not be at
all right as in principle right as doing some right
things, nothing more. Of course, they are not going
to be martyrs in this way, and they have not had a
thought of it.

P After this there is not much use in looking farther,
for if we cannot settle ourselves practically in (this
grand first law which we do know, how can we hope


to be settled in what of truth we do not ? Are we
ready, then, to undertake a matter so heavy ? for the
struggle it requires will be great, as the change itself
must be well nigh total ; a revolution so nearly com
plete, that we shall want every help we can get. And
let us not be surprised by the suggestion that God,
perchance, may come to our help unseen, when we do
not so much as know how to believe in him, only
let it occur to us how great a comfort it should
be, to have a God so profoundly given to the right;
for that subtle gleam of sympathy may be itself a
kind of prayer, prayer that he will answer before
the call is heard. And then, as certainly as the
new right mind begins, it will be as if the whole
heaven were bursting out in day. For this is what
Christ calls the single eye, and the whole body is inev
itably full of light. How surely and how fast fly away
the doubts, even as fogs are burned away by the sun.

Now to make this matter plain, I will suppose a case
in which the dissolving of doubt in this manner is illus
trated. Suppose that one of us, clear all the vices,
having a naturally active-minded, inquiring habit, oc
cupied largely with thoughts of religion, never mean
ing to get away from the truth, but, as he thinks, to
find it, only resolved to have a free mind, and not al
low himself to be carried by force or fear or any thing
but real conviction, suppose that "such a one going on
thus, year by year, reading, questioning, hearing all the
while the gospel in which he has been educated, some
times impressed by it, but relapsing shortly into greater


doubt than before, finds his religious beliefs wearing
out, and vanishing, he knows not how, till finally he
seems to really believe nothing. He has not meant to
be an atheist, but he is astonished to find that he has
nearly lost the conviction of God, and can not, if he
would, say with any emphasis of conviction that God
exists. The world looks blank, and he feels that exist
ence is getting blank also to itself. This heavy charge
of his possibly immortal being oppresses him, and he
asks again and again, " What shall I do with it?" His
hunger is complete, and his soul turns every way for
bread. His friends do not satisfy him. His walks drag
heavily. His suns do not rise, but only climb. A kind
of leaden aspect overhangs the world. Till finally,
pacing his chamber some day, there comes up suddenly
the question, " Is there, then, no truth that I do be-


lieve ? Yes, there is this one, now that I think of it,
there is a distinction of right and wrong, that I never
doubted, and I see not how I can ; I am even quite sure
of it." Then, forthwith, starts up the question, " Have
I, then, ever taken the principle of right for my law ?
I have done right things as men speak, have I ever
thrown my life out on the principle to become all it re
quires of me ? No, I have not, consciously I have
not. Ah ! then here is something for me to do ! No
matter what becomes of my questions, nothing ought
to become of them, if I can not take a first principle so
inevitably true and live in it." The very suggestion
seems to be a kind of revelation ; it is even a relief to
feel the conviction it brings. " Here, then," he says,


"will I begin. If there is a God. as I rather hope
there is, and very dimly believe, he is a right God. If
I have lost him in wrong, perhaps I shall find him in
right. Will he not help me, or, perchance, even be dis
covered to me ?" Now the decisive moment is come.
lie drops on his knees, and there he prays to the dim
God dimly felf, confessing the dimness for honesty s
sake, and asking for help, that he may begin a right
life. lie bows himself on it as he prays, choos
ing it to be henceforth his unalterable, eternal en

It is an awfully dark prayer, in the look of it, but
the truest and best he can make, the better and
more true that he puts no orthodox colors on it ; and
the prayer and the vow are so profoundly meant that
his soul is borne up into God s help, as it were by some
unseen chariot, and permitted to see the opening of
heaven even sooner than he opens his eyes. He rises
and it is as if he had gotten wings. The whole sky is
luminous about him, it is the morning, as it were, of
a new eternity. After this, all troublesome doubt of
God s reality is gone, for he has found Him ! A being
so profoundly felt, must inevitably be.

Now this conversion, calling it by that name, as we
properly should,, may seem, in the apprehension of
some, to be a conversion for the gospel and not in it or
by it ; a conversion by the want of truth, more than
by the power of truth. But that will be a judgment
more superficial than the facts permit. No, it is ex
actly this : it is seeking first the kingdom of God, and


his righteousness, exactly that and nothing less. And
the dimly groping cry for help what is that but a feel
ing after God, if haply it may find him, and actually
finding him not far off. And what is the help obtain
ed, but exactly the true Christ-help ? And the result
what also is that, but the Kingdom of God within ;
righteousness, and peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost 1

[There is a story lodged in the little bedroom of
one of these dormitories, which, I pray God, his re
cording angel may note, allowing it never to be lost.]*

Now the result will be that a soul thus won to its
integrity of thought and meaning, will rapidly clear
all tormenting questions and difficulties. They are not
all gone, but they are going. Revelation, it may be,
opens some troublesome chapters. Preaching some
times stumbles the neophyte, w T hen he might better
be comforted by it. The great truths of God often
put him in a maze. The creation story, the miracles,
the incarnation, the trinity, the relations of justice and
mercy, in all these he may only see, for a time, men
walking that have the look of trees. But the ship is
launched, he is gone to sea, and has the needle on
board. He is going now to sell every thing for the truth,
not the truth to keep as a knowledge, but the truth
to live by. He is going henceforth to be concentered
in the right, nay, the righteousness itself of God ; and
his prayers he will be hanging, O how tenderly, on

* Y. C. c.


God, for the inward guidance of his Spirit. He will
undertake shortly some point that is not cleared at
once by the daylight of his new experience, and will,
by and by, master it. That will give him courage to
undertake shortly another, and he will go to it with
new appetite. And so he will go on, not afraid to
have questions even to the end of his life, and will be
nowise disturbed by them. He will be in the gospel as
an honest man, and will have it as a world of wonder
fully grand, perpetually fresh discovery. He comes
now to the lock with the key that opens it in his hand,
fumbling no more in doubt, unresolved, because he has
no key.

The menstruum, then, by which all doubts may be
dissolved, appears to be sufficiently shown or provided.
It only remains to add a few more promiscuous points
of advice that relate to the general conduct of the
mind in its new conditions.

1. Be never afraid of doubt. Perhaps a perfectly
upright angelic mind well enough might, though I am
not sure even of that. We, at least, are in the fog
eternal of wrong, and there is no way for us to get
clear but to prove all things and hold fast. Make free
use of all the intelligence God has given you, only tak
ing care to use it in a" consciously supreme allegiance
to right and to God. Your questions then will only
be your helpers, and the faster they come, the better
will be your progress in the truth.

2. Be afraid of all sophistries, and tricks, and strifes


of disingenuous argument. Doting about question?,
and doubting about them are very different things.
Any kind of cunning art or dodge of stratagem in your
words and arguments will do you incalculable mischief.
They will damage the sense of truth, which is the worst
possible kind of damage. False arguments make the
soul itself false, and then a false, un candid soul can see
nothing as it is. ]N r o man can fitly seek after truth
who does not hold truth in the deepest reverence.
Truth must be sacred even as God, else it is nothing.

3. Have it as a fixed principle also, that getting into
any scornful way is fatal. Scorn is dark, and lias no
eyes ; for the eyes it thinks it has are only sockets in the
place of eyes. Doubt is reason, scorn is disease. One
simply questions, searching after evidence ; the other
has got above evidence, and turns to mockery the mod
est way that seeks it. Even if truth were found, it could
not stay in any scorning man s bosom. The tearing
voice, the scowling brow, the leer, the sneer, the jeer,
would make the place a robber s cave to it, and drive
the delicate and tender guest to make his escape at the
first opportunity. There was never a scorner that
gave good welcome to truth. Knaves can as well
harbor honesty, and harlots chastity, as scorners

4. Never settle upon any thing as true, because it is
safer to hold it than not. I will not say that any one
is to have it as a point of duty to be damned, or will
ing to be, for the truth. I only say that truth brings
often great liabilities of cost, and we must choose it,


cost what it will. To accept the Bible even because it
is safest, as some persons do, and some ministers very
lightly preach, is to do the greatest dishonor both to it
and to the soul. Such faith is cowardly, and is even a
lie besides. It is basing a religion, not in truth,
but in the doctrine of chances, and reducing the salva
tion of God to a bill of insurance. If the Bible is
true, believe it, but do not mock it by assuming for a
creed the mere chance that it may be. For the same
reason, take religion, not because it will be good for
your family, or good for the state, but because it is the
homage due inherently from man to God, and the king
dom of God. What more flashy conceit can there be,
than a religion accepted as a domestic or political nos
trum ?

5. Have it as a law r never to put force on the mind,
or try to make it believe ; because it spoils the mind s
integrity, and when that is gone, what power of ad
vance in the truth is left ? I know very well that
the mind s integrity is far enough gone already,
and that all our doubts and perpetual self-defeats
come upon us for just that reason. All the more
necessary is it that we come into what integrity we
can, and stay there. Let the soul be immovable as
rock, by any threat of danger, any feeling of risk ; any
mere scruple, any call to believe by sheer, self-compel-
ing will. The soul that is anchored in right will do no
such thing. There must, of course, be no obstinacy,
no stiff holding out after conviction has come. There
must be tenderness, docility, and, with these, a most


firmly kept equilibrium. There must be no gustiness
of pride or self-will to fog the mind and keep right
conviction away.

6. Never be in a hurry to believe, never try to con
quer doubts against time. Time is one of the grand
elements in thought as truly as in motion. If you can
not open a doubt to-day, keep it till to-morrow ; do not
be afraid to keep it for whole years. One of the
greatest talents in religious discovery, is the finding
how to hang up questions and let them hang without
being at all anxious about them. Turn a free glance
on them now and then as they hang, move freely
about them, and see them, first on one side, and then
on another, and by and by when you turn some corner
of thought, you will be delighted and astonished to see
how quietly and easily they open their secret and let
you in ! "What seemed perfectly insoluble will clear it
self in a wondrous revelation. It will not hurt you,
nor hurt the truth, if you should have some few ques
tions left to be carried on with you when you go hence,
for in that more luminous state, most likely, they
will soon be cleared, only a thousand others will be
springing up even there, and you will go on dissolving
still your new sets of questions, and growing mightier
and more deep-seeing for eternal ages.

Now, my friends, it would not be strange if I had in
the audience before me all sorts of doubts, and varie
ties of questions, all grades of incipient unbelief, or, it
may be, of unbelief not incipient, but ripe and in full
seed. But I have one and the same word for you all,


that is, look after the day, and the night itself will join
you in it. Or, better still, set your clock by the sun ;
then it will be right all day, and even all night besides,
and be ready when he rises, pointing its finger to the
exact minute where he stands, in the circle of his
swift motion. Be right, that is, first of all, in what
you know, and your >oul will be faithfully chiming
with all you ought to know. All evidences are with
you then, and you with them. Even if they seem to be
hid, they will shortly appear, and bring you their
light. But this being right implies a great deal, ob
serve, and especially these two things : First, that
you pray for all the help you can get ; for without this
you can not believe, or feel, that you truly want to be
right. Secondly, that you consent, in advance, to be a

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 11 of 29)