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Horace Bushnell.

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wild, wrong habit, or willfully neglectful obstinacy, to
choose and live and be precisely as before. Again :

5. We have large material for the settlement of this
question in our own personal experience and observa
tion. The likeliest times of duty and character we
every day perceive are not the last or latest, but the
times of youth, and probably quite early youth ; for
the capital stock or fund most wanted, as regards the
finest possibilities of character, is made up of ingenuous
feeling, sentiments unmixed with evil-doing, unsophis
ticated convictions, free and pure aspirations, not of
knowledges and wise sagacities, gotten by experience.
These prudentials, these wise knowledges, are too com
monly bad knowledges, gotten by irrecoverable losses.
If we say that a soul must have them, and that, having
gotten in a good stock of them on its first trial, it is,
therefore, ready, on a second, to act wisely, w r e very
certainly mistake. The sad thing is that a soul may
know too much, -obtaining knowledges that cost many
times more than they are worth such as come of self-
damaging vices and the flagrant excesses of a bad life.
All such ways of abuse create a knowledge, doubtless ;
but what can these desolating knowledges, these burnt-
in, branded curses of an old and evil life, do for the
immortal prospects of a soul ? "What, in fact, is the
reason why a great many never can, or will, be
come true men of God here in this life ; but that they
have been going too deep into knowledge, and have



BETTER THAN MANY. 217

gotten too much experience at too great cost ? Their
knowledges are vitriol in their capabilities, eating out
and searing over all the noblest affinities and finest as
pirations God gave them to be the stock and possibility
of their future. And, therefore, it becomes a fixed
conclusion with us that a man going into his trial shall
make much of his unsophisticated age, and the noble,
inborn sensitiveness of his early moral convictions, and
be sadly, fearfully jealous of the wisdom he will get by
their loss. This dreary and dry wisdom, that is going
to be ripened by the practice of unrighteous years, can
do little for the subject, however much he values it.
His green first third of life has grand possibility of
fruit ; his wise last third has probably none ; and he
draws himself very close upon the discovery of this
fact as he approaches the end of his trial. The gold-
washers of California, having passed their dirt once
through the sluice, drop what they call " the tailings "
below ; and sometimes they discover a very little gold
in these, enough to pay for milling them over again.
But the tailings of an old, bad life, which has yielded
no gold on the first trial who will go to work on
them with any least prospect of success ? As certainly
as the man understands himself, he will see that his
good possibilities will be gone, and will feel the least
imaginable desire of a second trial, to mill over the
dregs of his unblest experience. We ourselves, at
least, know perfectly that nothing will come of it.

But the new state expected, as some will perhaps
remind us, is to be a state of punishment, and the
19



218 A SINGLE TRIAL

pains of it, working purgatorially, must have great
and decisive effects. Whereas, the very thing best
proved by observation is that pains are nearly unrela-
tional as respects the improvement of character. The
fears of pain or penalty, so much derided commonly
by these prophets of purgatorial benefit, might do
something as appeals to consideration and prepara
tives in that manner of repentance ; but pain, pain
itself, nothing. It even disqualifies consideration.
Pain is force, necessity, a grinding stress of abso
lutism, which may do something in breaking down a
will, but never in the world was known to lift up a
will out of weakness and evil, or ennoble it in the
liberty and free ascension of good. Breaking down a
will too, be it observed, is not conversion, but catas
trophe rather and death just that which is the un-
dergirding import and reality of second death.

Observation gives us also another fact, which is
even more impressive viz., that with all that is said
and assumed and argued for, and stiffly asserted, as
regards the fact of a second trial hereafter, the whole
world tacitly concedes, nevertheless, that no such new
condition is, in fact, expected. For no unbeliever, no
practically godless and really apostate believer, no bad
man groaning under his vices, no drunkard writhing
under his chains, no scoffing Altamont overtaken by
remorse, no human creature, whether uninstructed
Pagan or best instructed philosopher, and (what is
most significant of all) no loosest, largest freethinker,
who asserts most confidently the faith of a second



BETTER THAN MANY.

trial hereafter, goes out of life I never heard of such
a case talking of the new chance now to be given
him, and the high, free time he is going to have, in
the more propitious trial that will suffer him to mend
his defects and the consciously bad ways that have
corrupted him. All such advocates of a basement
gospel, under the world and after the grave, convince
themselves, by what they consider most indisputable
and profoundly wise arguments, that their ultimation
gospel, their posthumous salvation, will have power to
mend all damage and smooth away all woes of char
acter begun; but when we look to see those deep
natural instincts, which are always the spontaneous
interpreters of our humanity, giving out their indica
tions, we find our believers in the underworld oppor
tunity clinging fast to life, as if they had no such
faith at all in them, recoiling with instinctive shudder
from death, and hailing never in glad welcome the
better day now come to help their recovery in which
they may discover, as plainly as need be, themselves,
that their arguments are one thing, and the verdict of
their immortal, deep-discerning judgments another.
They contrive how it is to be, they reason, they prom
ise, they encourage ; but their always demonstrative
nature nowhere runs up a flag of hope or gives any
slightest indication. If the question be whether we
are immortal, all the flags of natural hope are out
streaming on every hill ; but here expectation is dumb
and shows no sign !

But my object in this argument, drawing it here to



220 A SINGLE TRIAL

a close, is not so much to show that no second trial is
to be had as to show the nn desirableness of it. The
matter itself is variously conceived. According to
some, the wicked dead will be manipulated by long
tractations in the better gospel of the pains, and will
so, at last, be purified. According to others, they will
be softened by long annealings under undeserved and
extra comfortable indulgences. By some it is believed
that we were not made immortal by nature, and shall,
therefore, cease altogether if we do not take hold of
the eternal life in Christ to make us immortal. Others
think we w r ere made to be immortal, but fell out of
immortality in our sin, and so are to quite die out if
we do not forsake it. Some think that the future pun
ishment will itself wear out life in the bad, and linally
make a complete end of it. I say nothing of these or
any other varieties in the unbeliefs current. I say
nothing of eternal punishment itself. One thing at a
time, I am saying, one thing at a time; and then,
having the one thing settled, as I think it now is, that
no second trial hereafter is either to be desired or al
lowed, we have at least one very great point estab
lished, and can well enough allow the other questions
to fare as they may. Make what you will of all these
other questions, only have it as a fact made clear,
which I think I have shown as decisively as it need
be, that there is no possible advantage in a second
trial promised beforehand, and that we are better off
without the supposed advantage than with have this
clear, I say, and all the other last things may be left



BETTER THAN MANY. 221

to find their own settlement. Enough that there is no
severity in having but a single trial, and that, if more
than one were offered, we should do well to petition
against it. Beyond a question, God, in giving us our
one opportunity and no more, fixes this close limit be
cause one will do more for us than many. A greater
number two, ten, twenty we could not have with
out unspeakable damage and loss.

My argument appears to be thus ended, but I must
not shut up the conclusion before it is ready. And is
no better account then to be made, some one may ask,
of the multitudes brought up under heathenism, or
the drill of vice, or the taint of bad society ? If there
is no second chance for them, what chance have they ?
I admit the seeming severity of their lot, but a great
many things are none the less true because they seem
to be severe. They are certainly not as unprivileged
as we commonly think. They have all great light.
They all condemn and blame themselves. The Spirit
of God is with them. Some of them are truly born
of the Spirit, and all might be. At any rate, all the
arguments I have been urging to show the absurdity
of a second trial, apply to them as to others they
have lost the tractabilities of childhood ; their staple of
good possibility is worn out; they are gotten com
pletely by the opportunity of a new beginning. We
must therefore leave them to God, certain that he will
somehow mitigate any look of hardship in their lot.
Only coming back here on our conclusion, that a sec-
19*



222 A SINGLE TRIAL

ond trial can do nothing for them, and that whatever
else may befall them this will not.

And since we are looking at questions raised by
doubt, I will not shrink from naming another which I
can not so explicitly answer ; viz., the seeming look
of fitness in a second trial, for such as die in their in
fancy, or in youth, so far unspent as to allow their
carrying all best possibilities with them. Why should
not such have a state given them, wherein they may
unfold the character they are made for? And why, it
may be asked in reply, were they not kept here to do
it, where the advantages are so many and so evidently
great ? Perhaps we can as little answer one question
as the other. However, we do not certainly know
that any one of these infants and youths is not taken
away to another and more genial state, there to be un
folded and trained, just because there are seeds of
holy possibility already planted in them which might
otherwise be extirpated. Their second state is not, in
that case, their second trial any more than that of
such as die in the full maturity of a sanctified habit.
In these young-life souls there may certainly be rich
stores of rudimental possibility, waiting for the edu
cating forces of a pure, sweet world, and it may be
that so many are carried forward thus early, to make
a larger infusion of unsophisticated character than a
world of natures fully matured would reveal.

Here, then, we are, my friends, face to face with our
conclusion ; and a most serious one it is. It raises
questions for us that we can not wisely push aside.



BETTER THAN MANY. 223

All of us are on our way, in our one decisive lifetime
trial; and what are we doing with it? How is it
turning ? Some of us are but a little way advanced
in it, and all the fine possibilities of our outfit are still
on hand, scarcely if at all abridged. Great, my young
friends, is your advantage, greater than if a hundred
other stages of probation were promised you. Precious
are the gifts, and precious are the moments as they fly.
Act, every one, as if this eventful experiment were
now on its way and passing rapidly. Allow no ex
pectation of another to beguile you. Bring in all
your powers, and center them on this point of crisis,
now so close at hand, knowing that God s friendship
can not be too soon secured. Others of your number,
it may be, are getting farther on. A considerable or
even principal part of their trial, it may be, is now
gone by. Is it going well ? If the tree is to lie as it
falls, is it falling rightly ? Have you good confidence
of the end? Once for all, remember, once for all.
And it is appointed unto men once for all to die, but
after that the judgment.



XII.

SELF-EXAMINATION EXAMINED.



" Examine uie, Lord, and prove me, try my reins and my
heart." Ps. 26: 2.

SELF-EXAMINATION is to many disciples a kind of
first point in practical religion. We have also labored
treatises from the press, in which set rules are drawn
out, whereby the self-examining process may be skill
fully and scientifically conducted. In one way or
another, this particular type of Christian exercise has
come so near being the staple matter of a good life,
that any common disciple called to address some
brotherhood of strangers, will probably not get on
many sentences without falling into the exhortation al
mood and beginning to say " Brethren, let us examine
ourselves." All which is the more wearisome that it
signifies so little, and requires only the dryest kind of
sanctimony to carry it on. AVe might very naturally
presume, that there must be a great deal of Scripture
for this kind of practice ; and yet I do not know
more than two passages that can be cited for it at all ;
one of which certainly has no such meaning, and the
other of which has, at most, only a doubtful, or vari-
antly shaded meaning, such as carries no sufficient
(224)



SELF-EXAMINATION EXAMINED. 225

authority for the practice. The first named passage is
the standing proof-text always cited " Examine your
selves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own
selves." (II Cor. 13 : 5.) Where it will be seen, at a
glance, by the mere English reader, and much more
certainly b} r a scholar versed in the original language,
that the apostle is simply referring the Corinthians
here to their own new spiritual state, for proof that
he has had a power in them for good, and has even
transformed them inwardly by his ministrations.
" Some of you pretend," he says, " that I am weak, and
bring no divine witness in my preaching. Since then
ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to
youward is not weak but mighty in you, examine
yourselves [not whether, but if, or since] you are in the
faith. Look into your own bosoms know you not
that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates."
He is not putting these Corinthians on a course of
analytic self-study, or self-examination to settle the
evidence of their discipleship. He has no thought of
it, that is not his subject. His point is the great in
justice they are doing him, in running down the
significance of his ministry. Therefore to correct
them, he says, just look into your own bosom and you
will see, that I have not been weak but mighty in
you. He assumes their discipleship here, and is not
putting them to the proof, but only drawing from it
ex concerns, an undeniable test of his own apostleship.
How this passage ever came to be applied, as it has
been, to the testing and self-certifying security of



226 SELF-EXAMINATION EXAMINED.

character, I really do not know. There could not be
a plainer case of total misapplication. The other
passage has a little more show of authority, but is not
by any means decisive. It says : (I Cor. 11 : 28,)
" Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat ;"
that is, " discerning the Lord s body." But the point
here is to merely interpose a caution, an appeal of cir
cumspection, that will prepare the receiver of the
supper to partake with reverence let him put him
self to the proof sufficiently to make sure of this
there is no thought of putting him on a retrospective
study and testing of his discipleship. At any rate,
this would be a very doubtful construction, at the
best, and as it puts the text wholly by itself, no other
to that effect being found in the whole Scripture, it is
certainly more reverent not to force it on a construc
tion so very insufficiently supported.

To make these strictures is not altogether pleasant,
for it may even shock the feeling of some, as if it
were about the same thing as a virtual tearing out of
the most approved foundations of piety. But I hope
all such will be sufficiently comforted, on more ma
ture reflection, if I turn them over to God s own way,
in what is nearest at hand in the Scripture, and let
them have it as a compensation for what has been
taken away. The Scripture sends us to God for the
examinations wanted, and not, in any case, to our
selves; knowing that when God proves us, we shall
be thoroughly and truly proved, and that what as-



SELF-EXAMINATION EXAMINED. 227

surance he may give us, will be more than a guess, or
opinion, or conclusion of our own, a veritable witness
of God in our hearts. In this way the Psalmist
prays " Examine me, O Lord, and prove me, try my
reins and my heart." And again " Search me, O
God, and know my heart, try me and know my,
thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting." It was also an
accepted Proverb even in the same view " The
fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold, but
the Lord trieth the hearts."

Here then for I am going to speak to-day, not so
much for impression as for instruction here is the
true and proper method of examination ; it must be
accomplished under and through the scrutiny, or inspecting
power of God; we truly prove our selves y when he proves
us, and may rightly approve ourselves, only when he ap
proves us. Accordingly

1 . I put forward as a fact, in unfolding the subject
stated, that God certainly can examine us, and we can
not in any but the most superficial and incomplete
sense, examine ourselves. For, in the first place, our
memory is too short and scant, to recall or restore the
conception of one in a hundred millions of our acts,
leaving all the innumerable fugacities that make up
our lives, to fly away and print no track of passage
on the air passed through. In the next place if we
could recall them, every one, we could never go over
the survey of a material so vast, and multiplicities so
nearly infinite, in a way to make up any judgment of



228 SELF-EXAMINATION EXAMINED.

them, or of ourselves as represented in them. And
then, in the next place, since the understanding of our
present state is impossible without understanding all
the causes in our action, that have been fashioning the
character and shaping the figure of it, our faculty is
even shorter here than before. Plainly enough om
niscience only is equal to that ; which is the same as
to say that God only is able, or even proximately
able. Besides, when we propose to examine ourselves,
we do not really mean much by it only that we pro
pose to question ourselves by certain rules or tests,
which in fact would touch and try almost nothing.
We suppose indeed that we are going to make very
serious and thorough work, when, in fact, we are only
proposing to make up a sound verdict on our state, by
two or three mere dabs of questioning. How differ
ent a matter to be examined by God, who knows all
the historic connections by which our present state is
linked to our past life, and is able to trace all the
nicest shades of our character to the subtleties of ac
tion by which they have been sketched and colored in
our minds. And yet, again, if we let go all inquiring
into the ways in which we have grown to be what we
are, the question, what we are, is scarcely less diffi
cult. How shall we fathom* the abysses, and dis-

/

tinctly conceive the infinite subtleties of our present
state itself all the more nearly out of understanding,
or beyond it, because of the intricacies, disorders, and
falsities, bred in us by our fallen condition. " Know
thyself" we have all heard was given out by the phi-



SELF-EXAMINATION EXAMINED. 229

losophers, as a first maxim of wisdom. And if they
only meant that so we are to get the facts of our phi
losophy, they were right enough, for these can be got
ten, if at all, only by self-observation. But natural
faculties and functions are one thing, moral states and
spiritual affinities another, and if they imagined that
a human creature under sin can know himself, in this
latter method, or can so untwist the subtle threads of
his motive, and meaning, and character, and want of
character, as to really discover the exact import of his
condition, they know little themselves of what it is to
be men. How much deeper goes the scripture seer,
when he protests " who can understand his errors,
cleanse thou me from secret faults." And again,
" the heart is deceitful above all things, and des
perately wicked, who can know it?"

But we are conscious beings, are we not, and what
is that but to say that we are self-knowing beings ?
But in simply noting things as they pass in us, which
is all we mean by consciousness, we scarcely do more
than to just have a look on the huddle of their transi
tions. We do not trace their complexions, causes,
apologies, deserts, and all the other thousand things
concerned in their character. We only look on as we
might on the passing of a river, seen from its banks.
We examine nothing. Thus if we speak of exam
ining our affections, they are so variable, and change
ful, mixed with such multiplicities, and colored by so
many crosses, that it is too much like examining the
shadows of the clouds sailing, two or three tiers deep,
20



230 SELF-EXAMINATION EXAMINED.

under the sun. Or if we examine our purposes or
intentions, we shall know them a great deal better, by
just noting what they do, and letting them go ; in
deed we never know so little about our intentions, and
their real desert, as when we are inspecting or handling
them, to find how they go in what temper, by what
motive, and the like. Again, it most of all concerns
us to know our tendencies, which are the deepest
quality and drift of our nature, and they are so very
subtle, and twisted together in combinations so intri
cate, and withal so destitute of harmony, that
nothing less penetrating than the all-searching eye
of God, can possibly discover, w r ith any real pre
cision, what is in us. Besides, our knowing or ex
amining power itself is in a state of deep spiritual
disorder, a creation that groan eth and travaileth in its
own discords. And for that reason any effort of a
man to adequately know himself, by a direct act of
voluntary self-inspection, must be fruitless. He could
examine God s great and wide sea in fact from shore
to shore and clean down to the bottom ooze, and
judge it much more reliably, than he can the abysses
of darkness, wrath, and storm, in his own disordered
and tumultuating spirit. On the whole it is plain,
whichever way we look, or whatever view we take,
that God only is able really and discerningly to ex
amine the human soul or spirit. No man thinks it
possible, by an act of self-examination, to comprehend
the subtle and infinitely multiform processes going on
in his body, the contractions, the alternating motions,



SELF-EXAMINATION EXAMINED. 231

the secretions, the circulations, the pains, the health
whence it comes, the medicine whither it goes. But
the soul is a. creature infinitely more complex, and
subtle, and mysterious, and as much less possible to be
read and comprehended by any but the all-piercing in
telligence of God.

~ 4

2. It is a matter deserving of our distinct notice,
that in what is frequently understood by self-examina
tion, there is something mistaken or deceitful, which
needs to be carefully resisted. In the first place, it is
a kind of artificial state, in which the soul is drawn
off from its objects, and works, and its calls of love
and sacrifice, to engage itself in acts of self-inspection.
Instead of doing all the while, and only, what God
requires, it suspends, for so long a time, its work, and
is occupied with a study of its own figure and char
acter. The will is called off to be questioned, when
of course it is out of that engagement where it other
wise would be found even as a workman might
withdraw himself for a day, or a week, from his work,
to examine whether he is industrious or not. So one
falls to examining his affections, when of course his
mind is introverted, and called off from God and Christ,
where only right affections have their object and rest.
And the result not seldom is accordingly, that persons
who become thoroughly bent down upon this matter of
examining their affections, are doomed to see them
wither and even die out in the process. The wonder
then is, that the more faithful they are and surely
they mean to be faithful the darker they become.



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