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Christian, and begin a religious life, fulfilling all the
sacrifices of such a life, provided you may find it nec
essary to do so, in order to carry out and justify your
self in acting up to the principle you have accepted.
Undertaking to be right, only resolving not to be a
Christian, is but a mockery of right. You must go
where it carries you. You must even be a Mahom
etan, a Jew, a Pagan, any thing to have a clear con
science. There is no likelihood, it is true, that you
will have to be either of these, but there is an almost
certainty that you must be a Christian. Be that as it
may, you must consent to go where right conviction
carries you. And there is even some proper doubt
whether you can get out of this place of w r orship with
out being carried to Christ, if you undertake to go out


as a thoroughly right man. For Christ is but the Sun
of Righteousness, and you will assuredly find that, in
being joined to the RIGHT, you are joined eternally to
him, and walking with him in the blessed daylight of
his truth.



" And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto him,
saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever
we shall desire." Mark 10 : 35.

HAD Christ ever been willing to indulge in satire, I
think lie would have done it here. These young gen
tlemen make a request so large, and withal so very ab
surd, that we at least can scarcely restrain a smile at
their expense. " "JVliatsoever we desire," - what
power in the creation could give it? And then it
would be strange, above all, if they themselves could
endure the gift. Still the Saviour hears them kindly
and considerately, only showing them, when they
come to state the particular thing they want, that
even that thing the sitting on his right and left-
means perhaps a good deal more than they imagine,
viz. : that they drink of his bitter cup and be bap
tized with his fiery baptism. And when he finds them
eager enough to answer still that they can do even
that, he only turns them off in the gentlest manner,
as children that he sees are looking after a toy which
it would cost them a tragedy of suffering to accept. I
think we can see, too, in his manner, that he regards
16* (185)


them with a pity so considerate, simply because the
absurdity they are in is nothing but the common ab
surdity of the whole living world. For what are we
all saying, young and old, the young more eagerly,
the old more indivertibly, but exactly what amounts
to the same thing, under one form of language or
another " Let us have this, that, the other, any
thing and every thing we desire." Sometimes, if we
could see it, we are really saying it in our prayers ;
though if we should pause long enough upon the mat
ter to let our apprehension run a little way, I think
we should almost any one of us begin to suspect that,
having his particular desire, he might sometimes have
more than he could bear, and might perfectly know
that, if all of us could have it, we should make the
world a bedlam of confusion without even a chance
of order and harmony left. The first and most for
ward point accordingly which meets us in the con
sideration of this subject, is that

Our human desire, in the common plane of nature and
the world, is blind, or unintelligent out of all keeping with
our real wants and possibilities.

I mean, by this, that we are commonly desiring
just what would be the greatest damage to us, or the
misery worst to be suffered, and do not know it ; that
our tamest desires are often most untamed as regards
the order of reason ; and that we are all desiring un
wittingly, what is exactly contrary to God s counsel,
what is possible never to be, and if it might, would


set us in general repugnance with each other, and so
ciety itself.

We are apt to imagine that, since we are con
sciously beings of intelligence, our desires must of
course be included, and be themselves intelligent as
we are. But we are not intelligent beings it happens
in the sense here supposed. We are only a little in
telligent, in a very few things, and we do not mean
by claiming this title, if we understand ourselves,
much more than that we are of another grade in com
parison with the animals able that is to be intelli
gent if we get the opportunity, as they are not. We
get room thus, large enough for the fact of a gen
eral state of unreason in our desires. After all they
may be about as far from intelligence as they can
be possibly not more intelligent than our pas
sions, appetites, and bodily secretions are. In one
view still, they are motive forces of endowment for in
telligent action, instigators of energy, purpose and
character, and if we knew them only as they move in
their law, bound up in the original sweet harmony of
an upright state, we should doubtless see them work
ing instinctively on as co-factors with intelligence, if
not intelligent themselves. But, in their present wild
way, w r e see them plainly loosed from their law by,
transgression heavings all and foamings of the in
ward tumult aspiration, soul-hunger, hate, ambition,
pride, passion, lust of gain, lust of power ; and what
do they signify more visibly, than that all right har
mony and proportion are gone, as far as they are con-


cerned. Nothing has its natural value before them,
because they are reeking themselves in all kinds of dis
order bodily and mental. They are phantoms without
perception. Even smoke is scarcely less intelligent.

That we may better conceive this general truth,
revert, first of all, to the grounds out of which they
get their spring. They do not come after reason com
monly, asking permission of reason, but they begin
their instigations from a fund of raw lustings in the
nature clean back of intelligence ; rushing out as
troops in a certain wildness and confused, blind
huddle, that allows us to think of them with no great
respect. Understanding well their disorder and con
fusion, we have it as a common way of speaking that
reason must govern them which supposes, clearly,
that reason is not in them. And what do we better
know, than that only a very partial government of
them is possible ; that they swarm so fast and fly so
far and wildly, that no queen bee of reason can possi
bly control the hive.

The next thing to be noted is that they have no re
spect to possibilities and causes, and terms of moral
award. Thus one man desires dry weather, and an
other rain, one office, and another the same office, one
to own a house, another the same house, some to be
honorable without character, some to be useful with
out industry, some to be learned without study. We
desire also to own what we mortgage, keep what we
sell, and get what nobody can have. We cypher out
gains against the terms of arithmetic, and even pray


God squarely against each other. We run riot in this
manner all the while, even against possibilities them
selves. A child crying after the moon is in the same
scale of intelligence.

Causes again we as little respect. Having it as a
clear test of insanity to be reaching after what every
body knows eternal causes forbid, we are yet all the
while doing it. We want our clocks to move a great
deal faster in the playtimes appointed for childhood,
and a great deal slower in the payment times ap
pointed in the engagements of manhood. We want
poor soils to bear great crops, indolence to be thrifty,
intemperance to be healthy, and to have all good sup
plies come in, doing nothing to earn or provide

Against all terms and conditions of morality, also,
we want to be confided in, having neither truth nor
honesty. We desire to be honored, not having worth
enough even to be respected. We want the comforts
of religion without religion, asking for rewards to
come without duties, and that evils fly away which
are fastened by our bad deserts. Of course our judg
ment goes not with the nonsense there may be in such
desires, but they none the less make haste, scorning all
detentions of judgment.

We get also another kind of proof in this matter,
by discovering afterwards how absurd our desires
have been that the marriage we sought would have
kept us from a good one, and would have been itself
a bitter woe ; that the bad weather of yesterday, so


much against our patience, kept us from the car that
was wrecked, or the steamer that w r as sunk by an
explosion ; that the treachery of a friend, so much de
plored, saved us from the whirlpool of temptation into
W hich w^e were plunging ; that the failure of an ad
venture w^e were prosecuting with high expectation,
was the only thing that could have sobered our feel
ing, and prepared us to a penitent life. Sitting down
thus, after many years, and looking back on the de
sires that have instigated our feeling, w r e discover what
a smoke of delusion was in them, and how nearly ab
surd they were. How often has their crossing been
our benefit, and how many thousand times over have
we seen it proved by experiment, that they were blind
instigations, thrusting us omvard, had they not been
mercifully defeated, on results of unspeakable dis

There is yet another fact concerning them which
has only been adverted to, and requires to be more
formally stated, viz. : that they are not only blind or
wild, as I have been saying, but are also a great part
of them morally bad, or wicked ; reeking with sel
fishness, fouled by lust, bittered and soured by envies,
jealousies, resentments, revenges, w r ounded pride, mor
tified littleness. Thus it was that even Goethe, no
very staunch confessor of orthodoxy, w r as constrained
to say " There is something in every man s heart,
which if we could know, would make us hate him."
And why not also make him hate himself? Hateful is
the only fit epithet for this murky-looking crew, that


arc always breaking into the mind, and hovering in
among its best thoughts. Who that is not insane can
think it possible to set them in right order, and tame
them by his mere will ?

What then, is there no possibility but to be driven
wild, and hag-ridden always by these phantoms ? I
think there is, and I shall now undertake, for a second
stage/ in my subject, to show

That Christ new-molds the desires in their spring, and
configures them inwardly to God ; regenerating the soul at
this deepest and most hidden point of character.

We commonly speak of a new creating grace for
souls, in the matter of principle, will, the affections,
and we magnify our gospel in the fact that it can
undertake a work so nearly central. I think it can
do more, that it can even go through into what is
background, down into substructure, where the im
pulsions of desire begin to move unasked, and, by
their own self-instigation, stir on all the disorders of
the will and the heart ; that it can go through, I say,
and down among them, reducing them to law, and
setting them in harmony with God as they rise.

I do not mean by this that we are put on this work
of reduction ourselves, under the divine helps given
us. Thus it may be conceived that we are only now
to undertake, ourselves, more hopefully the govern
ment of our desires. But this matter of government
begins too late, for it supposes that the desires to be
governed, at any given time, are already broken loose


in their rampages, so that if, by due campaigning, we
should get them under, there will always be new ones,
not less wild, coming after. Besides, we do not see
far enough to govern them understandingly, or in any
but a certain coarse way. Such as are most plainly
wild, vaulting as it were above the moon, we can well
enough distinguish and repress. We can know some
thing, and can see a little way, but if we could see
just one inch farther, how often should we stand back
from a desire that seems to be quite wise, even as from
a precipice. You would see for example that the
horse you are desiring and bargaining for to-day, will
kick you into eternity to-morrow. And so a single
stage farther of perception would almost every hour,
set you back in recoil from some other and still other
desired object. We can do something, of course, by
self-government in this matter, ought to do what we
can, or what God will help us do wisely, but we want
most visibly some other more competent and less par
tial kind of remedy.

Sometimes a different kind of work is undertaken,
that is supposed to be more adequate. A certain class
of devotees, meaning to be eminently Christian, set
themselves to the task of extirpating their desires ;
counting it the very essence of perfection to have no
desires. It is not as if they were merely in a ferment
of misrule, but as if they were properties of nature
inherently bad. Hence the attempt is, by abnega
tions, penances, macerations, poverties, mortifications,
vows of solitude, and complete withdrawment from


the world to kill them off, expecting that when they
are dead sin itself will be dead, and all the goings on
of the soul will be in purity, whereupon the vision of
God will follow. Alas ! it is not seen that when these
impulsive forces of the soul are extirpated, the corro
sive will be left in as much greater activity. And the
result is that the imagination goaded by remorse,
breaks into riot, and the poor anchorite, how often has
it been the fact, begins to see devils, and falls into a
kind of saintly delirium tremeiis which is real in

Our gospel, as I now proceed to show, has a better
way. It is never" jealous of the desires, puts us to no
task of repression, or extirpation. It proposes to keep
them still on hand, as integral and even necessary
parts of our great moral nature. In them it beholds
the grand impulsions of activity, the robustness of
health, the spiritual momentum of all noblest ener
gies, including even the energies of prayer itself. It
even undertakes to intensify the desires, in, the highest
degree possible, only turning them away from what is
selfish and low to what is worthy and good ; giving
promises for arguments, and saying, " ask what ye
will," " open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."

And it is most refreshing to see how .these two
young men, James and John, who came to Jesus in
their most absurd request, had afterwards got on, and
had learned to have not smaller desires, but larger
and more free, because now trained to be in God s
own order. They write books of Scripture under their


names, and one of them says " Whatsoever we ask,
we know that we have the petitions that we desired
of him ;" " whatsoever we ask we receive of him, he-
cause we keep his commandments, and do those things
that are pleasing in his sight." He was in God s
order, and now his desires went all to their mark.
The other in his book is yet closer to the point, saying,
" If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that
giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not. But
let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." And again
he lectures more at large " From whence come wars
and fightings among you ? come they not hence even
of your lusts, that war in your members ? Ye lust
and have not, ye kill and desire to have and can not
obtain, ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye
ask not. Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask
amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Do
ye think that the Scripture saith in vain the spirit
that dwelletli in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth
more grace." Yes, more grace, all the grace that is
wanted to set the soul in God s harmony, and give it
such desires as he can fitly grant. So these two
greedy ones of the former day, we can see, had now
made great progress. Living for so long a time in
Christ, they had learned to have all their wild lust-
ings put in accord with him, and so to have them lib
erally filled without upbraiding.

Let us now see how this grace, w T hich is called
" more grace," draws the desires, in this manner, into
their true cast of relationship with God.


It is done partly, we shall see, by prayer itself; that
is by prayer, helped as it is and wrought in by the
Spirit of God. For how grand a fact is it, and how
full of hope, that the Spirit of God has presence in us
so pervasively, being at the very spring point of all
most hidden movement in us, even back of all that
we can reach by our consciousness. And there by his
subtle, most silent, really infinite power, he works,
configuring the desires, before they are born into con
sciousness, to the reigning order and will of God. So
that when we know not what we should pray for, he
helpeth our infirmities and, so to speak, maketh inter
cession for us, heaving out our groanings of desire,
otherwise impossible to be uttered, into prayers that
are molded according to the will of God. And so
all prayer is encouraged, by promises that make an in
stitute of it, for the schooling and training of our de
sires, and drawing them into conformity with God
and the everlasting reason of things. In this way of
prayer we obtain our request, because we have been
drawn closely enough to be in true chime with his
will, and so to make an authorized pull on his favor,
by our right-deserving ; even as the bow-line from a
boat, pulling on some object to which it is fastened,
draws not so much the shore to it, as it to the shore.
In this way it comes to pass, that souls which are
much in prayer, and get skill in it, obtain their desires
in great part, by learning how to have good ones mod
erated in the will of God, being drawn so closely to
him by their prayers, that bad ones fall away more


and more completely, and leave them petitioning out
of purity. In passing through which process the
Spirit helps them on, preparing them to prayer hy the
restored quality of their desires.

Again, there is a power in the new love Christ be
gets in the soul, to remold or recast the desires, in
terms of harmony with each other and with God.
When the supreme love is changed, being itself an
imperial and naturally regnant principle, all the
powers of misrule, including the desires, fall into
chime with it. The love also is luminous and pure, so
that no base underling, that would kennel back of
knowledge in the mind, can hide from it, Besides, it
does not have to govern or keep down, for it bathes
and tinges all through, so to speak, even the desiring
substance, with a color from itself. And then it fol
lows that, as the love is, so the desires will be. Loving
my enemy, I shall desire only his good. Loving God
I shall desire all that belongs to his will, and the ad
vance of his kingdom. And so, indirectly and by
association, all the wild ferment of the corrupted na
ture, all the desires that belong to a sensual, earthly,
selfish habit will be gradually changed, and the whole
order, and scale, and scheme of desire will be re
placed by another. In this love even the drunkard s
appetite will be silent; for he will have only to
abide in this love, to be free almost without a struggle.
For it is a tide so full, that every basest longing is
submerged by it. " Breadth, length, depth, heighth,
and to know the love of God that passeth knowl-


edge," says an apostle, " that ye might be filled with
all the fullness of God." And when the soul is full in
this manner, it wants nothing more, because it can
hold nothing more, least of all any thing contrary.
All the wild wishes and vagrant longings settle now
into rest, when the fullness of God is come. Unruly
desires will of course begin to have their liberty again
when the love abates, but abiding lone; enough in God


as we may, they will even die.

And just here it is that we duly conceive the
Christian wise man. He is not any prophet or seer,
neither is he any philosopher, but he is a *nan whose
tempers and aspirations have found their equilibrium
and right keeping in the love of God. He is called
wise because his judgments are not overset by the
tempests of wild desire, and because all the gusty in
stigations of his nature are laid, leaving it open to the
sway of right reason and of God s pure counsel.

Our gospel also brings us yet another kind of power
by which we have our desire remolded gradually,
without superintending the process ourselves. The
Christian soul is a soul that by its faith in Jesus
Christ is entered into a most dear personal fraternity
with him. It walks with him as in a companionship,
has its conversation with him, admires him all the
while the more, because it gets a deeper knowledge or
insight of what is in him, and so, by a kind of social
contagion, takes the mold of his feeling, and comes
into configurations of temper that accord with his.
For what do we better know, than that every man,


especially every young person, who is allowed to join
himself to any great, much admired character, and
pass even years in travel and work, and private coun
sel with him, takes his type insensibly, and grows
into a mold that is largely correspondent. He im
bibes, so to speak, the man, and that in matters too
subtle even to be noted by himself. Not unlikely
even his voice and accent will be affected, when he
has no thought of it. How then shall it be with the
disciple that walks in the dear great company of his
Master ? Suppose he has no thought of his desires,
will he not be taking the type of his Master insensibly
even in these ? Is it too much to believe that all his
inmost tempers and configurations will be recast, by a
companionship so widely different from all mortal
companionships, so unselfish and pure and true ?

But suppose there still are left some traces of the
old misrule and disorder, there is yet a will of Provi
dence put running for him, to reduce all these and
finish him, as it were, in God s order. Or it may be,
if the sensual and low lustings of his former habit are
already somewhat reduced, that there is too much
eagerness left in his new Christian habit, and that he
is sometimes rushing against God in it, even in his
prayers. He loses patience, it may be, and is sorely
galled that he can not make the good come to pass as
he expected. Beaten back thus and discouraged, he
protests that he is almost ready to give over desiring
any thing ; for what efficacy is there even in his good
desires ? Or he breaks out in a mourner s grief, per-


haps, saying " Why should God take away my tal
ented and promising son, when I was going to make
him such a blessing to the world ? Or why my friend
who was such a blessing already, and was so much
wanted by us all ?" By and by, after such sallies, it
is discovered, perhaps, that the desires put forward so
peremptorily were a good deal more romantic or am
bitious, or subtly selfish than they should be, and
could only be tamed by discipline. So God has us all
the while in schooling under his providence, reducing
our foolishness, and wearing out or worrying down
our dictations. "We roll up tumultuously, as the
w r aves drive up their masses, break into foam and
flatten out on the shore, but there is this very im
portant difference, that our desires tire down at last,
under God s strong discipline, while the waves never
tire, and of course get no such benefit. So there is a
grand tiring out principle in this rule of Providence,
by which w r e are all the while being schooled into
God s order. And in this manner the old Christian
gets, at last, to have a wonderful wisdom in his ex
perience without even knowing it, because it is hid in
his more chastened tempers, and never thinks of
being a rational knowledge at all.

Pressing on thus close upon his last limit, wrought
in by Christ s word and Spirit and Providence, his
secret mind, if not perfectly conformed to God, gets
to be so very nearly conformed, that when he drops
into the river to cross over, and mounts the rampart
on the other shore, his last shred of discord dies out


in him, and lie is everlastingly free. Now that he sees
Christ in clear vision as he is, he is thoroughly and
completely like him. This now is the redintegration,
the restored order of the desires the most wonderful
work, the deepest and sublimest* achievement of man s
redemption. How it has been done, I have told you
in a certain far off way closer in a more interior way,
I could not for these roots of impulse and springs of

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 12 of 29)