Horace Bushnell.

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They sigh and groan, they try to be yet more faithful
in their tests, and press the search harder, and yet
they still lose ground only the more rapidly ; till
finally they begin to imagine that God has utterly
cast them off, to receive them no more. Whereas the
fact is simply this, that they have turned away their
mind from God, and of course do not see him, can not
find him. Then follows a hard chapter. Where is
now their love ? They do not see that they have any.
How can they love God distinctly, w r hen they are
wholly taken up with self-inspection ? Their mind
itself is just as much withdrawn from God as it is oc
cupied with itself, and will of course have just as
little outgoing trust and affection, just as little of
God s light, as it is required to have, when it is all
the while poring over itself, and its own dark

Many years ago, I knew an excellent, much-esteemed
Christian mother, who had become morbidly intro
verted, and could not find her love to God. Seeing
at once that she was stifling it by her own self-inspect
ing engrossment, which would not allow her to so
much as think of God s loveliness, I said to her, " but
you love your son, you have no doubt of that." " Of
course I love him, why should I not $" To show her
then how she was killing her love to God, I said,
" but take one week now for the trial, and make thor
ough examination of your love to your son, and it will
be strange if, at the end of the week, you do not tell
me that you have serious doubt of it." I returned,


at the time, to be dreadfully shocked by my too cruel
experiment. " No," she said, " I do not love him, I
abhor him." She was fallen oif the edge, and her
self-examination was become her insanity !

And I must not omit to say, that we may even be
so far engrossed, in this matter of self-examination, as
to become thoroughly and even morbidly selfish in it ;
for what can be more selfish than to be always boring
.into one s self? No matter if it is done under pre
text of beins: faithful to God, still if one wants to be


faithful only for his own sake, as he certainly will
when neglecting every thing else to do a work upon
and for himself, he is as truly selfish as if religion were
wholly out of the question. And then if he should
perchance bring himself on through this selfish struggle,
into the opinion or verdict of approval, which he pos
sibly may for after all most men are likely to make
out somehow that they are right then he will only
have crowned his selfishness, and established the de
ceit that he will probably carry with him to his grave.
No character is more hopeless, as regards the matter
of review and rectification, than one that has been
smouldering whole years, in a process of self-devoted,
self-scrutinizing, introverted life, and has come out in
the opinion that he is assuredly right. The conclusion
reached is the more certainly irreversible, in the fact
that he is wrong ; and is reached, not by any act of
faith, but by a merely human, and for the most part
selfish process of spiritual incubation, separated from



3. It is important also, as regards a right impres
sion of this subject, to observe how much is implied in
a hearty willingness or desire to have God examine
us and prove us. If we undertake to examine our
selves in our own power, it may be to make out a
case for ourselves, or, as sometimes happens, in a
morbid state of depression, to make out a case against
ourselves. False influences in all complexions black
and white assail us, and go into the endeavor with us.
But if we are ready to have God examine us, and
bring us to an exactly right verdict, that is a state so
simple, so honest, so impartial, so protected against
every false influence, that we scarcely need to look
any further ; for it is already clear that we are in a
right mind, ready to receive the truth, seeking after
the truth, waiting on God for the discovery, and pre-.
pared to admit his holy will whatever it may be. In
deed I might even go so far as to say, that a soul
breaking forth naturally in the prayer Examine me,
O Lord, and prove me, try my reins and my heart,
need examine or inquire no farther ; it is already
found to be in God s friendship, and is sealed with the
witness of his acceptance.

The only true and safe conception then of the duty
called self-examination is, not that we are to examine
ourselves by our own self-inspection merely, but that
we are to be rather examined and proved by God.
And this brings me

4. To the point that there is a way of coming at the
verdict of God, whatever it may be. None will doubt


the superior ability of God to examine our state, and
know what it is, compared with any ability we have
to investigate ourselves, but they will see no possi
bility of making the judgment of God, in our case,
available. How can we know, they will ask, what the
verdict of God is respecting us, and if it be true, as it
must be, how can it be of any benefit to us ? Because,
I answer, God designs to give us, and has planned to
give us always, the benefit of his -own knowledge of
our state. That we should never be able to make out
an accurate or reliable judgment of ourselves, by mere
self-inspection, is taken for granted. God has never
set us on that footing as regards the conduct of our
lives. Many or indeed the general mass of mankind
have only the smallest degree of power, in the way of
reflective exercise. They are little exercised in this
way almost none but philosophers are thus exer
cised their lives flow outward in a way wholly ob
jective, just as the springs flow outward from under
the hills and never go back to retrace their courses
and inspect their origin. Therefore, God never puts
us on the work of testing ourselves. He expects to
do this for us, and if we will take his judgment, al
ways to allow us the advantage of it. We are not
complete beings or beings perfectly equipped for ac
tion apart from God. We are complete only in him.
He is, and is ever to be, our light. We are to know
ourselves in and through him, just as we are to do our
will in his will, and have our majesty in his majesty,
reigning with him in his throne.


If then we are in a truly right state towards Him,
he will know it, and he has planned to give us witness,
infallible and immediate witness of the fact. For as
unbelief and wrong separate the soul forthwith
from God, so where there is no such separation, or
where the separating force is abated, God is imme
diately revealed in the soul s consciousness. It
abideth in the light, it recognizes God as a divine
other, present within. Even as the Saviour himself
declared " but ye see me," and again " I will mani
fest myself unto him." God then is manifested al
ways in the consciousness of them that love him, and
are right towards him. They need not go into any
curious self-examination, that will only confuse and
obscure the witness. They will know God by an im
mediate knowledge or revelation. They will have his
spirit witnessing with theirs. They will have the tes
timony that they please God. In their simple love
they will know God s love to them ; for he that loveth
knoweth God. For a man then to be obliged to ex
amine himself, and study and cypher over himself to
find out whether he is a child of God or not, is no
good sign ; for if he is, he should have a witness more
immediate, and should want no such information at
all. God knows him perfectly, and if God has re
vealed himself in the consciousness, if he has the wit-
ness of God and the testimony that he pleases God,
what more can he have ? and if he has not this at all,
what can he have, or what, by self-scrutiny, find to
make good the want of it ?


But we have a great many defects and errors and
bad qualities lurking in us, and here again we shall
discover that God has planned to bring us into a per
ception of these, and set us in the same judgment of
them that he has himself. As the fining pot is for
silver, and the furnace for gold, so the Lord trieth the
hearts. It is wonderful to see with what skill God
has adjusted all our experiences, in this mortal life, so
as to make us sensible of our errors and defects. As
the invisible ink is brought out in a distinct color, by
holding what is written to the fire, so God brings out
all oar faults and our sins by the scorches of expe
rience through which we are ever passing in the fiery
trials of life. If we are proud, he has a way to make
us see it, and to break down our pride. If we
cherish any subtle grudge, or animosity, he will some
how call it out and make us see it. If we are selfish,
or covetous, or jealous, or frivolous, or captious, or
self-indulgent, or sensual, or self-confident, or fanatical,
or self-righteous, or partial, or obstinate, or prejudiced,
or uncharitable, or censorious whatever fault we have
in us, whether it be in the mind, or the head, or the
body, or I might almost say the bones, no matter how
subtle, or how ingeniously covered it may be, he has
us in the furnace of trial and correction, where he is
turning us round and round, lifting us in prosperity,
crushing us in adversity, subduing us with afflictions,
tempting out our faults and then chastising them,
humbling us, correcting us, softening, tempering,
soothing, fortifying, refining, healing, and so man-


aging us, as to detect all our drossy and bad qualities,
and separate them from us. He sits as a refiner and
purifier of silver, and allows nothing to escape either
his discovery or our correction. Ko self-examination
we could make would discover, at all, what he is con
tinually bringing to the light, and exposing to our de
tection. The very plan of our life is so to handle us
that we shall come into the full advantage of his
perfect knowledge of our state and character. He is
proving us at every turn, making us apprized of our
selves, trying even the reins and the heart, that our
most secret things may be revealed.

It can not then be said that there is no way of
making God s examination of us available ; for he is,
all the while, and in every possible manner, giving us
advantage of it. If the trial of our faith is precious,
he for just that reason leaves it not to us alone to
make the trial, but his plan is, knowing what we are
and what we want, to conduct every point of the trial

I will only add, and this perhaps I ought to add,
that if there be any legitimate place for self-examina
tion, it is in the field last mentioned, where we go into
self-inspection just to discover our faults, and the sins
that require to be forsaken or put away. This would
be a very honest kind of endeavor, and I see no
objection to it, save that it is very likely, when pur
sued too closely, to produce a morbid state, and sink
the soul in the disabilities of fatal discouragement.
No prudent Christian, therefore, will even dare to set


himself down upon the discovery of his sins, and
make it his chief engagement. He can not be always
looking down this gulf, and not wither in a prospect
so niigeiiial. lie must have a little gospel somehow,
and if he*does not have a great deal, so much sin will
starve him to death. It will generally be much better
to just let God put him on such ways of discovery
here, as will be best for him. But this is not what
most disciples go to self-examination, or by their
teachers are put on self-examination, for ; they are set
to it, not to find out their faults, and correct them, but
to settle and try out their, Christian evidences. Our
great and godly Edwards writes his book on the Affec
tions, for exactly this, and taking his book for what he
verily thought was to be the use of it, I as verily think
it one of the most mistaken books that a good and
saintly man was ever allowed to write it is a kind of
morbid anatomy for the mind. And we have hun
dreds of others in the same strain. Evidences of
piety are a great deal more likely to be hidden, or
ruled out in that way, than they are to be found, and
the most sensitively delicate disciple is the one that
will suffer. It is well if he does not push himself into
spiritual distraction by it. On the other hand, when
evidences are sought in this manner, that class of
persons who are commonly finding what they look
for, will be almost certain to fish up the evidences
they want. This whole method of self-examination,
to settle the question of Christian evidence, is decep
tive, unscriptural, and bitterly injurious.


And it is injurious, I must add, not only in mis
leading, but also in hindering the disciple. How
can he get on with any sort of growth, when totally
occupied in the matter of self-inspection ? The very
engagement becomes a dry and weary funtbling of
his own state. Even as the lad I knew, who had
undertaken to grow a patch of watermelons, looked
to see them ripen long before they were grown ; went
to them every day and examined and tested them,
pressing his thumb down hard upon them, to see if
the rind w r ould snap ; for that -was to be the sign
when they were ripe. But the poor things, under so
many indentations, fell to rotting, and did not ripen
at all. They were examined to death. God s winds,
and rains, and suns, and dews, were doing a much
better examination upon them with the advantage
that it gave them time to grow, and a chance to nat
urally live.

The real wisdom of the Christian, then, for this is
the conclusion to which we are brought, is that he
shall be more natural ; not facing round as he walks,
to examine the tracks he makes, but asking the way
to Zion with his face thitherward. This dismal re-
troversion is the bane of character, giving it a twisted
and hard look, a sorely and even selfishly circum
spective look. You see at a glance, how often, that
the man or woman writes a diary, and puts down all
the frames passed through, keeping them in tally, and
considering the figure they make. Not that every
man who writes a diary does it of course in this self-


regarding way. George Fox writes two heavy vol
umes of diary, and after he has fairly opened his
Christian story, from its birthday beginning, he
scarcely so much as alludes to any frame of feeling,
or score of evidence in his life, but simply puts his
face right onward, telling where he went, and whom
he saw, and what in God s name he did. He never
once intimates a misgiving, and when he conies to
die, he is so little concerned for it, that in what is
called his death, he simply forgot to live ! Such a
disciple grows less conscious and not more conscious
in his habit, and there is such plain, forward-going
simplicity in him, that he visibly bears the stamp of
God s approving, not of his own self-approving.

God forbid, my hearers, that in ruling out so much
that has been held in sacred esteem and reverence,
and carefully observed and practiced by the faithful
and godly in Christ Jesus, I should seem willing to
encourage lightness and looseness of life. Is it a light
thing to be said, or only a true, that a man does not
want to examine himself to find whether he is cold or
hungry, whether he loves his child, whether he is an
honest man ? No, the sturdy fact is that all such an
swers sought come and ought to come without seeking,
and can only come of themselves in simply being true.
And if they do not, if a man has to make a case on
the question of his honesty, he is very certainly a good
deal less honest than he should be. No, my friends,
the thing wanted here, and that which only yields the
true evidence, is the genuine down-Tightness of


our life that it covers no shams, gets Tip no mock
virtues and no pretexts of proceeding scientifically,
but goes right on, putting its lace the way it goes, and
.not backwards. It is consciously right, and God is
consciously yielding it his immediate testimony. And
let there be no doubt of this, as if it were a way not
safe. God will make it safe as he only can. And if
you are afraid that some looseness may creep in, or
some false hope steal you away, be upon your watch,
for watching is one thing, and self-examination a very
different thing. Watch and pray that you may not
enter into temptation, and let the prayer be this,
which God will never disregard " 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." Then forward,
forward in that way.



" Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with
the same, and made them other five talents." MaWt. 25 : 16.

Ix these words of parable, tlie Saviour had proba
bly no thought of expressing his formal approbation
of trade, as a human occupation ; but we only see the
more convincingly, in what he says, that he has not
even a thought of disapprobation concerning it. His
man of five talents he lets go and trade with the
same, and regards it as a legitimate or even com
mendable success, that he returns, after a time, with
his little capital doubled by his profits. Taking, then,
his words, as a verdict for trade and trade profits, I
propose a discourse on this particular calling or en
gagement, showing I. The fair possibility of being;
and II. How to be, a Christian in trade.

I undertake the subject, as I ought perhaps to say,
because of the immense number of persons who are in
this occupation, and are drawing their livelihood from
it ; and especially because of the great number of
young men who are just about going into it, or look
ing to it with more or less desire, as the probable
engagement of their lives. That I can raise any im-

(243) "


pressions, in minds a long time submitted to its
temptations, which will have the power to mend what
moral damage and disaster they have sutl ered, I
hardly dare to hope. But the very large class of
young persons just entering, or just about to enter,
this field some of them getting tinder sinister influ
ences even beforehand, from the false impressions they
have taken up these I do hope to set in juster modes
of thought, and more Christian ways of expectation,
that will steady their engagement and make it safe.
Some of them are going into it with a purpose wholly
ingenuous, and really meaning to be Christian men,
if possible, in their now chosen occupation. Others, I
very well know, are a little poisoned already by cer
tain false notions they have taken up, and allowed to
sharpen their appetite. They do not propose to earn
their living in it, but they are going into it to get
their living without labor, out of the profits they make
by their transactions of buying and selling. And
this word profits means, they think, no reward of ser
vice done to the public, but what they are to get by
their sharpness. They expect success just as any
specially sharp tool is visibly expecting to cut. Under
this profligate and really degraded impression, run
ning, alas ! how very low in multitudes of cases, they
hurry in to make, as they say, their fortune. Trade,
in their view, is illicit, and they go to it in fact as a
reputable kind of larceny. They expect sharp practice,
or to profit by getting unfair advantages. They would
not say it, and probably they do not know it, but they


nevertheless really expect to thrive by a strictly
filching operation, which operation they call trade.
Kow these false impressions of trade, by which so
many young persons going into it are so dismally cor
rupted, are gotten up, I grieve to say, largely by the
sophistries and shallow detractions of Christian people,
who ought to know better. What, they ask, is the
very operation of merchandising but a drill exercise
in selfishness ? And what is the law of price or profit,
but the law of possibility ; viz., to ask the highest
price the market will bear, be the cost what it may, or
the value what it may. What too is current price
itself, but a market graduation, settled by the con
trary bulling and bearing of two selfishnesses, that
of the sellers and that of the buyers ? And then
what is the trader doing but feeling after, all the
while, and having it even for his life, to wait on, the
adjustments of selfishness, even as barometers wait on
the air- waves, and their fluctuating levels? which
waiting always on the unsteady, unsteadies even the
sense of principle. Besides the very working of a bar
gain what is it but an adroit wrestling match ; a talk
ing up of the market and the goods perhaps on one side,
and a talking down on the other, or a magnifying by
shrewd silences that is even more cunningly and skill
fully insincere ? There is besides, how often, what a con
trary play and parry of "opposing magnetisms; the sell
ing airs and plausibilities holding a match with the buy
ing airs and plausibilities, and each watch ing each, even
as an eagle watches the prey, to find how the game is


turning, or what will turn it. How often also is it
testified, that untruths are a staple matter here, and
so far necessary that a clerk or apprentice, who is
known to have let a bargain slip for want of a mere
lie, will be almost sure to lose his place, as one who
has proved his in competency. By so many poisons,
and chemistries of poison, it is imagined that trade is
inevitably saturated. Possibly one may be in it, and
keep the repute of a Christian. But how many nom
inally Christian merchants will even maintain it as by
argument, that a Sunday goodness, a churchly feeling,
or prayer-meeting mood, is about the utmost grace of
religion permitted them. The man of trade, they will
say, is a man sandwiched between such mere times of ob
servance, and the downright selfishness of his engage
ments. How few young men going into trade, under
such impressions, will expect to make their life a
properly Christian life in it. And of those already in
it, not one can be a true living disciple, save under a
wholly different set of impressions. Moved by this
conviction, I now undertake

1. To show that there is no necessary moral detri
ment in trade ; that there is quite as good a chance
of Christian living in it as in any other kind of en

And here I put forward, at the front of all that
comes after, the very certain fact that there have been
good christians in trade ; and if that be so, then it fol
lows by a very short argument, that what has been
can be that is, can be again and often. And what


examples of this fact do we meet with in the
records of Christian living ; such as the well-known,
much honored father Markoe, the merchant saint of
Kew York ; such as our own high-working, nobly
Christian, trading brother, A. M. Collins, Or such
again as the world-famous British man of God and
merchant, Samuel Budgett. These I know are super
lative examples, and yet we have hundreds in the
world s record to match them, and thousands in a
grade only one degree below, and millions in a really
honorable grade of worth and Christian respect that is
only a little more common still. There is, in fact, no
human employment that has yielded better, and pro
portionally more numerous examples of Christian liv
ing than trade. Ko matter if there be some disad-


vantages and hindrances to piety in it, the same is
true of every other kind of business which can be
named. That most tenderly beautiful saint of God,
the Quaker "VVoolman, began w r ith merchandise, and
being apprehensive lest he might find it " attended
with much cumber," drew off to another occupation
that was like to be more simply industrious in the
sense of. labor, viz., that of a tailor ; but he left that
even more speedily, because the call of God that was
on him put him in silent affinity with another, which
I have no doubt was to him more w T holesome than
cither of his two former callings, because more con
genial to the sacred bent of his nature. Otherwise he
could have been as good a Christian in either as in


Sometimes it is urged as a proof of the anti-Christian
affinities of trade, that the man who gets deeply en
gaged in it becomes eager and sharp, dropping out the
soft amenities and charities, and carrying his points of
mercantile justice, with a peremptory squareness and

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 15 of 29)