Horace Bushnell.

Sermons on living subjects online

. (page 13 of 29)
Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 13 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

movement are clean back of our consciousness. We
never saw them, or descended where they are, we only
see what wells up from them, and how they jostle us
and drive us on, by impulsions first known when they
are first felt. Come they whence ? out of what murk-
iness, or steam, or smoke, or night, or morning, or
heat, or noonday fire within ? Little as we know
whence, we do at least know well their awful power,
and how they drive on thick and wild, hurling aside,
as in storms of the mind, all self-regulative order, will,
and principle. They war in our members, they chafe
and seethe, and boil, and burn all unsatisfied, all dis
appointed, and the man wears out, and dies at last
of anarchy, not knowing why. They breed aims that
are meagre and mean, which is about the worst mis
chief that can befall any man whether young or old,
they blast the affections, they smirch and smoke out
.the principles, they both drug and stimulate the will,
as by contrary instigations, they addle, and muddle,
and turn to confusion about every thing in us that be
longs to the order of a well-ordered life. Being all
in some sense misbegotten infestations of out* sin


foul birds, jackals, hungry wolve packs, let loose in
the mind they cost us about all the worry and tor
ment we suffer, and a great part of all fatal disaster
beside. O if this terrible ferment could be stilled,
settled in heaven s order, the wildness and bitter non
sense taken out, what a smoothing of this world it
would be !

And this exactly is what our gospel undertakes and,
as I have shown you, performs, or at least makes pos
sible. *I know not how it is that the religious teachers
have so little to say of the desires when the gospel
grace moves on them, in so great stress of atten
tion. Perhaps it is because they class them with the
merely instinctive motions, calling them irresponsible,
and letting them be so ruled out of the account.
Whereas they are at the very bottom, in one view, of
all responsibility cast off, and the soul must be ham
pered, and galled, and fouled everlastingly by their
misdoing, unless they are rectified. They are in fact
the hell of the mind, and nothing is salvation which
does not restore them. Clearly enough, we can not
purge them or set them in order, by any course of
training. We educate the intellect so as to harmonize
it largely with nature, and law, and truth ; we edu
cate the taste, the sentiment, and to a certain extent
the affections ; also form, color, music ; also the hand,
the eye, the muscular force schools on schools, col
leges on colleges we organize for these and other such
kinds of training. But we have no colleges for the


desires, and see not how we could have if we would.*
For where shall such kind of training begin, and by
what course go on? Where are the diagrams?
where is the logic? what objectivities are there to
work by ? Diogenes, I believe, was the only professor
in this line, and he undertook to moderate the desires
by his gibes much as he might still a tempest by
w T histling it down. And yet it is but fair to say that
he did what he could. Should he soberly reprove
them, they would only laugh at him. Should lie rea
son with them, what care have they for reason ? In
venting a guage for them, where is the guage ? who
shall keep it ? when shall it be applied ? No discipline
requiring eyes can enter intelligence into these blind
factors. Not amenable to reason, or capable of it ;
able on the other hand to obfuscate all reason ; able to
be a robber talent as against the strength and fair suc
cess and peace of all the others ; able, in short, as was
just now intimated, to make a hell of the mind, where
is the heaven ? Here in Christ Jesus, have I not
shown you. In him, coming forth to die, have you
not, after all, the needed university, the sufficient and
complete discipline. Drawing near to him, as he to
you, and finding how to walk with him, will not even
your desire be learning tenderly to say, " Whom have
I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth
that I desire besides thee." In this most difficult mat
ter come and see what he will do for you ; or rather
what he will not do. Indeed I know not any other
* Y. c. C.


change in mind that can abate so many frictions,
quell so many distractions, invigorate so great con
centration of thought in such evenness of repose ;
nothing in short that will so much advance the possi
bilities of a good and great life.

And saying this I can not forget or keep out of
mind the example of a once dear classmate and friend,
who not long ago took, his reward on high. He was
not a brilliant man as we commonly speak, but there
was a massive equipoise and justness in the harmon
ized action of his powers that was remarkable to us
all. The robust life he had in body and mind and
moral habit, required him never to be gathering up
his equilibrium, for it was never lost. He was not in
his own opinion at that time a Christian, but he
scarcely could have been a more sound integer, if he
had been, to others. A few months after his gradua
tion, he wrote me that he was a good deal tossed by
the question to what he should turn himself, as the
engagement of his life. We had supposed that he
would of course take his place in the law. But " the
law," said he, " is for money, and money I do not want.
I have enough of that already, (he belonged to an im
mensely rich family,) therefore I am questioning
whether I can do better than to put in my life with
the best, even with Chriat and his cause. I think I
shall there be satisfied, and I do not see any thing else,
where I can be." The result was that his whole de
sire fell into this current, and grew large upon him,
getting volume to fill his great nature full ; and he


went into his clearly divine call as a preacher of
Christ, with such energy and such visible devotion,
that he was pushed forward shortly into a high, church
leadership that widely signalized his life, and made
his name, in his death and before it, a name of great
public honor. And I think of him now as probably
the happiest, best harmonized, noblest keyed man of
all my acquaintance here. Would to God, my
friends, that in such high example he might quicken
you to follow.

And if he should, let me tell you, in this short cata
logue of specifications, what the result will be.

You will be wishing less and doing more.

Your momentum will be heavier, and your impulse

You will have a more piercing intellectual percep

Your inspirations will range higher, because your
desires do.

Your serenity will be more perfect, as the sky of
your mind is more pure.

Your enjoyments will be larger and less invaded by

You will have a more condensed vigor of will.

1 ou will have a great deal less need of success, and
a great deal more of it.

You will die less missing life, and more missed
by it.

All which may God in his mercy grant.



"And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judg
ment." Ifcb. ix: 27.

IT is a form of opinion frequently held, and received
with increasing favor in these times, that there is to be
some better chance given to bad men after this life is
over ; a second or renewed trial, that may be expected
to result more favorably ; a third, possibly a round
of trials that will finally wind up all disaster, and
bring the most intractable spirits into a genuinely per
fected character. This hope I could not encourage,
because I see no benefit to come of it nothing, in
fact, but damage and loss.

Observing this word " once," and reading it more
exactly, " once for all," we discover an aspect of final
ity in the declaration that has little agreement with the
expectation referred to implying, in fact, a fixed be
lief that our present probation, or state of trial, is to
be both first and last, a trial once for all. That a
great many thoughtful minds recoil from w T hat appears
to be the undue severity and rigor of such an appoint
ment is not wonderful. That God should give us but
a single chance one short trial and hang every thing
18 (205)


in our great life-problem on it, indicates, they imagine,
some deplorable fault of beneficence. It is as if he
had set our trial as a trap to catch us. We begin it,
they say, in a state of unknowing infancy, and scarcely
get on far enough in knowledge to act our part wisely,
when we are hurried away. If God is really willing
to do the best thing for us, why does he not, will he
not, give us a second trial, or a lengthened, partly re
newed probation ; that we may have our advantage in
correcting the mistakes and repairing the wrongs of the
first ? Do we not learn a great deal from our first
trial that could now be turned to account ? And how
often are we sighing, all of us, at the recollection of
our misdoings, and washing we could only go over life
again. Every thing now would be differently done, we
think, because we have learned so much from that ex
perience. We could hardly make any such bad mis
takes again as we have made, for we have seen exactly
what results follow. The good opportunities we
should now value and improve, the temptations that
have had their mask taken off we should scornfully re
ject, the perils that before overcame us we should un-
derstandingly face and vigorously master. And so, try
ing life once more, we should come out safely, one and
all, in a character fully consummated and established.
If now this kind of argument were goo(J, if it would
be for our real advantage as respects the training of
our character, God would certainly allow us to go over
life again. He would give us, I verily believe, twenty
or a hundred trials, if it were morally best for us, and


would secure a greater amount of good or holy virtue
as the result. But that it would not, I am firmly con
vinced, for reasons that I now undertake to set forth.
Notice then :

1. The most prominent and forward argument above
referred to viz., the very many valuable regrets pre
pared by our first trial, which ought not to be lost for
want of another, such as will permit us to get our ad
vantage in them. Such regrets in abundance are, no
doubt felt ; but we must not make more of them than
is to be made. A really solid, practical regret is next
thing to repentance, and it will not wait, if we have it,
for a second trial to give us a chance of amendment ; it
will seize its opportunity now, and be forthwith con
summated in repentance and the beginning of a right
life. All such true regrets are different from the lazy
kind, which want another life to ripen them. Being
honest and true, they are prompt also, ready for the
present trial, and looking for no other so far off as to
let them evaporate. It is, in fact, one of the very pre
cise, undeniable objections to the plan of a second trial,
that it is a way the most certain way possible of
making all our bad regrets barren ; for what can spoil
their integrity more inevitably than that we are look
ing for some good time to come, when we shall turn
them to account more easily and with less distraction ?
The precise thing not wanted here is a second trial.
The most unpropitious thing possible for a soul, wad
ing deep in the conviction of neglected opportunities,
and abused powers, is the proffer of some posthumous,


second-life chance of amendment, that dispenses with
the disagreeable necessity of prompt amendment now.
Consider next :

2. As a matter partly coincident, the very self-evi
dent fact that, if we had two or more trials offered ns,
we should be utterly slack and neglectful in the first,
and should bring it to its end almost inevitably in a
condition utterly unhopeful. For the supposition now,
as you observe, is not that a second trial is going to be
sprung upon us in the after state by surprise; but that
it is to be such a kind of change or transition as we
have argued for beforehand. We are to have it here as
our deliberate conclusion that, however the present first
trial may go, we shall at any rate have another. Be it
so ; let the argument be sure, and then, if a second
trial is certainly to come, what shall hold us to any
least concern for the first ? The very promise itself is
license and chartered recklessness. It even lies in the
plan, we may say, that it shall be only a failure ; a
bad, foul chapter any kind of chapter we may like in
lust and wild caprice to make it. Put into language
outspoken, it says, " Plunge thyself uncaringly into
evil. Fear nothing, be as irresponsible as you will ;
and, if it suits your fancy or your appetite, or the
wild, bad impulse that takes you, be a devil. And
then, when you have burned away your finest capaci
ties and highest possibilities of good in the hells of
your lust, know that a second chance is coming in
which you will easily make the damage good." Ah ?
that second chance which is to mend the bad issues of


the first, what is it but a bid for the misimprovement,
moral abandonment, irrecoverable damage and sacrifice
of the first? It is even doubtful whether Christian
men enough could be raised in it to make up, for the
present world, a church, or man its gospel offices and
functions. Again :

3. It is important or even quite decisive on the ques
tion, to observe and make due account of the fact that
the second trial must, in any case, begin where the
first leaves off. It is ice, by supposition, that are to go
into this second trial ; not some other we, new-created
and set in our place. We carry dow r n with us all the
old history lived, and the results matured, as they are
garnered in us, and with that dismal outfit we begin
again. Righteous men, if such there are, will not, of
course, be kept back here in embargo to go through a
second trial. Only to the bad will any such going
over of the round again have any look of opportunity.
And they must be thoroughly bad for that matter, else
they will beg to be excused ; for such as are only less
good than they would be, and have got some tolerable
confidence of their future, will recoil from the new
trial proposed, with unutterable dread. For one, I
should not dare to choose it for my privilege. I should
say, and I think a great many would join me in a like
confession, that I consciously have made but a poor,
sad figure, and seem rather to have slighted than duly
profited by what my God has done for me ; and yet,
having gotten some benefit, such as gives me hope of my
future, it is not enough that I might possibly do better


on a second trial ; the experience I have had of myself
makes me rather afraid that I should do worse, even
fatally worse. I can not risk it ; indeed, I shudder at
the possibility, in such misgivings that nothing short
of God s compulsions can ever bring me to it. And
yet almost every man who is in the same general state
mortified and troubled by his own short-comings and
the self-dissatisfaction he feels has saicl, how often,
with a sigh, not considering all it means, " O, I
should love above all things to live my life over
again !" No, I deny it ; you would not. Coming
to the real point, your courage would utterly
fail. If you must begin where you leave off as you
must, if you are the same being you would see no
look of promise or charm of opportunity in the new
trial permitted, but would draw back rather in utter re
vulsion. Possibly certain worn-out hacks of grace and
judgment might be so far bereft of perception, as to
think it a good thing to have a second turn thus under
grace and judgment, But they must begin their sec
ond turn where they ended their first, with all their
finest capabilities deflowered, and all their sins stuck
fast in them pinned through their moral nature by
habit with a dry, bad mind, and a heart poisoned by
its own passion, and a wild, distempered will ; and,
having only this poor, battered, broken furniture, they
must now set themselves to another chapter of trial,
and make it a good one. They must, I say ; they un
dertake to do it, but who can believe that they will ?
4. Considering the fact that our second trial must


begin where the first leaves off, we shall find it quite
impossible to conceive the state supposed, in a way
that does not make it utterly unpromising and very
nearly absurd. We imagine, it is true, what a beauti
ful thing it would be to live our life over again, begin-
.ning at our childhood and. carrying back into it all the
experiences we have gained ; and w r e are so much fas
cinated that we do not see the nonsense of it. We are
really conceiving the old spoiled cargo of an old bad
life carried onward and put upon or put into a very
young child ; and are nowise shocked, either by the
absurdity of the plan or the woe of the child. What
now is the hapless creature going to do, or be, or how
to carry himself? Kot, certainly, to act his old in
fancy over again. To handle again, see, touch, taste,
question, learn : in that way to stock the mind with
symbols, and get in the timber of thought and feeling
and fancy and action which is the beautiful office of
childhood that is no more wanted. The timber is all
in beforehand, and the supposition is that the child-
soul, thus completely stocked already, will begin to be
wise off hand. But look again at this very absilrd
creature a little child with a grown man s wisdoms,
follies, vices, sins, all packed in, to be the furniture of
a certainly wise, good life ! Why, the creature is not
a child, if you call him so ; but a tiny old man, who
has worn out one life to no good purpose, and is stock
ing another out of it to begin again. The unknow-
ingness, the innocence, the sweet simplicity of child
hood, the all-questioning observation none of these


are in him ; but only what a sinner knew and was,
when he left off his former trial and died with the
guilt of it on him. We hardly know whether to laugh
or be sad when we fall upon one of these premature,
old children, seeing him walk and hearing him talk
agedly, as if getting ripe in the green. But here we
have the oldness without the innocence a full-grown.


rank-grown sinner that was, tottling again upon his
tender feet ; an old, sixty-year-old man, it may be,
who has been actually set up as a child again to make
his beginnings of w r isdom ; all which he is to do by the
help of old miscarriages and sins, and it may be vices.
Childhood, they say, is the hopeful thing now for him ;
but hapless, utterly hapless creature, is the child !

Clearly enough there is no such thing possible as a
second trial beginning at the point of childhood ; that
is only a very absurd fiction that w T e raise when we are
playing with our idle regrets. The second trial, if
there be one, has, of course, no time of childhood in it.
What we call the ductilities, flexibilities-, tender possi
bilities of childhood and family training are gone by.
Family itself is gone by, and the family spheres and
affections possible only in the terms of family repro
duction are henceforth left behind. If conscious ties
of fatherly and filial relationship remain, they remain
as to persons who have already graduated in them,
and have them only as in memory. What there is of
society now, in this second state, is made up of beings
sole and separate ; existing in full maturity and com
ing to their second trial in such characters and habits


as they have shaped by their first. Almost of neces
sity, they will now be more selfish than ever ; for, the
unselfish industries that, in their first trial, were gener
ously occupied in providing a home where hospitali
ties should be dispensed to friends, and wife and chil
dren have their free supply are now displaced by in
dustries that only make dry providence for self. They
are now sole monks and nuns, we may say, in their
conventual only monks and nuns that have not found,
as yet, their piety coming hither to see, if possibly
the dreariness of their grown-up, blasted condition
may not do something for them. To any rational
mind the prospect must be dismally discouraging.

Probably the very best arrangement for a second
trial that can be conceived will be made by simply giv
ing a new lease of life, that doubles the length of it
here ; because, in that case, family feelings and con
nections, and the wonted social relations of time, will
to some extent be continued. Add another thirty,
fifty, or eighty years, and let the addition be the new
trial. And what will be the result ? Exactly the
same that befel the old primeval race of reprobates be
fore the flood viz., that having lived out their first

O _

five hundred years, they went on to live a second
five hundred, and grow worse, instead of better, for
their opportunity. If they wanted a second trial, they
had it in the very best and most favorable conditions
possible far better and more favorable than if they
had passed through death to receive it in the after
life ; because they are not torn away from their kind,


or from the society of the good, but are permitted to
enjoy, in some degree, all the tender offices of natural
affection, and live in all the bonds of family providence
and duty. And what, in fact, was proved by these
ante-diluvial men but that, when too much of time or
trial is given, no stringent motive for decisive choice in
good is left. That last five hundred years was a very
generous allowance, given, we might say, for the
amendment of their wretchedly bad life in the first
five hundred ; but, instead of amendment, it only
made them more completely reprobate. Too much
trial, as they found, is damage diminishing, and not
increasing, the chances of a good result.

Let us not be deceived here by a certain off-hand
way of judgment ; as if the great shock to be suffered
in passing to another world, supposing that we are to
have our second trial there, initiated the new experi
ence in a way to make it more promising. Thus, if we
had actually gone through death, and begun to live
again, having it shown us at God s bar that we have
made a dreadful issue of our trial, we should know r our
immortality, it will be thought, by experiment, and
should have our sensibility awakened, as it were, by a
shock of "tremendous discovery ; and so we should be
set in a position of immense advantage, as regards the
improvement of our new opportunity. Just as every
malefactor, I suppose, who is caught in a crime, thinks
that he shall certainly make an upright life, if now,
this once, he can be respited and allowed another op
portunity. No ! he will do no such thing ; but will


pitch himself into any crime that is worse, about as
soon as the sljock of his arrest passes off, and he begins
to act himself again. So, the prison convict goes his
dreary round of work and solitude and silence, saying
inwardly : " O, what a fool am I to be here ! Would
that I could live my life over again, and I would not!"
But he will be a most remarkable felon if, when his
time expires, he does not go out to live his life exactly
over again, making good his return within a short six
months. So we think a man must assuredly become a
saint, if only a second trial after death is given him :
when it will turn out as a matter of fact that the
saints are not made by occasions, opportunities, or ap
palling necessities, least of all where the noblest occa
sions and highest opportunities and most cogent neces
sities are already trampled .and lost. Great shocks felt
or crises past have no value as respects the begin
nings of a right life, save as they induce consideration,
and by such consideration, make a new atmosphere of
truth and feeling for the soul s engagement and recov
ery to good. But where consideration has so often
been freshened by new providences and new revela
tions of God, and all best capacities of truth and feel
ing have been mocked and hardened by the abuses of
a life, what magic is there to be in the strange environ
ments and discoveries of another state of being, that
they are going to make men susceptible without sus
ceptibilities left, and turn them back to the right which
they have lost the sense of, and from which they have
all their life long turned uncaringly away ? Their


shock of novelty in the transition will pass off in a
very short time, and they will settle back into their

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 13 of 29)