Horace Bushnell.

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mechanical hardness not pleasant to encounter. That
exactly was the accusation most commonly set against
two of the distinguished characters just named, Mr.
Collins and Mr. Budgett. And the reason was wholly
to their credit. They were never known to veer by a
hair from integrity in any transaction of business, but
they would have veered a hundred times a day, falling
into a muddle where all distinctions of principle are
lost, if they had not done their trade as trade, under
the law of trade, and reserved their charities all
their sympathies, allowances, mitigations, merciful ac-
commo,dations for a separate chapter of life. But
here it would come out how surely, that no tenderest,
most simple hearted child was more easily moved
in his compassions, or more unstinted whether in
gifts or favors. And for just this reason it is, that
so many of the best and most valuable Christian dis
ciples we have, are such as come up out of the walks
of trade. They do not dawdle in their life-work, but
they mean business. They know how to engineer
operations, how to move with alertness, and turn their
hand nimbly as things require, keeping every tiling
still in the training of order and practical system ;
playijig in, under these, and as it were to fill them out,
all most practical mercies and tenderest graces. So


that if we want the best engineering of counsel, and
the most energetic flexibilities of movement, we are
more likely to get our supply from the class of disci
ples in trade, than from any other. Operations are
their study, and they get limbered in it for all most
cautiously safe and practically efficient operations, in

The next point to which I ask your attention, is
that all apprehensions of a specially harmful exposure
in trade are mistaken. What it calls profits are just
as truly earnings, as any of the fruits of hand labor.
For it is a calling grounded in nature, even as mining,
or agriculture, is conceived to be. Thus one clime
produces ice, another oranges and figs, another sugar
and coffee, another cotton, another furs. In like man
ner iron, gold, silver, salt, and coal, are distributed
locally in spots, on different or distant shores. Medi
cines are sprinkled here*and there, some in one region
and some in another. And then all these supplies
and comforts of the different regions must be gathered
by the merchants, transported to the parts where they
may be wanted, distributed into small parcels, and
sold out to customers for use. All which requires a
great risk of capital, great contriving, long corres
pondences, expensive transportations, adding as much
and real comfort to the uses of life, as if the articles
were drawn out of the soil by the hand labor of the
persons engaged. They do, in fact, a work very much
like that of the rain, or the rain clouds, which instead
of leaving the world to be watered by waterspouts


falling here or there once in a thousand years, take np
the water that is wanted in parts remote from the sea,
carrying it off thither by their wind sails, and there,
making small the drops for a gentle and general dis
tribution, let it fall on the ground, sprinkling it all
over. These rain-clouds are the merchants of the sky,
and trade is distribution in a like beneficent way.
Trade in things is the kinsman of tradition in facts, as
any one may see on the faces of the words, and there
is a commerce of delivery and distribution in both,
that fulfills a like beneficence. And if any one doubts
whether the goods distributed can be rightly sold for
a profit, or at more than their cost, let him go without
these conveniences of trade and its distributions for a
few months, let every product stay at home, every box
and bale unbroken, every piece uncut, and he will
begin to understand what work trade is doing, how
real it is, how deserving of profit.

But granting there may be some service rendered
by trade, what price shall be fitly paid for it, and to
what is this matter of price left, but to" the rapacity of
the merchant ? Just contrary to that, in the common
articles of traffic, almost nothing is left to him ; for he
can not much advance upon the current price, which
is always determined, so to speak, by the common vote
of the market. A conspiracy may be gotten up by some
merchant, to buy the market bare of some necessary
article, or he may do it as a single operator by him
self, but then he ceases from any thing which can be
properly called trade, and becomes a robber. His


very operation casts off the laws of trade, and prefers
the chances of plunder. Or, again, it may some
times happen that a blight, a frost, a lire, disturbs the
ratio of supply, and gives opportunity for exactions
that are cruelly extortions. Doubtless it is sometimes
possible, in such a case, to carry prices up to the pitch
of starvation, but the man who does it is sure to dis
cover, at last, that he has offended against the laws of
trade at bitter cost to himself. Who will come to
him for trade, after he has shown himself a pirate ?
Much wiser, and in how much better keeping with
the laws and possibilities of trade, was the course of
that rough lumberman of a large mountain village of
California, who could say to his townsmen driven out
by a fire which, in a single hour, had swept every
thing bare "here is your material, give me just
what price I have been receiving, no more, and it is
yours." This man, be it noted, was the man, after all,
who best fulfilled the laws of trade.

Ordinarily the transactions of merchandise en
counter no such temptation. The undertaking is to
sell under and by the laws of current price, and the
productions of agriculture, and the wages of hand
labor, go by exactly the same law. Nor is it any ob
jection that current price is being all the while adjust
ed, by the contrary pull of two selfishnesses, for it is
even doubtful whether two benevolences could do it
any more justly. The seller does not settle the price,
and the buyer does not settle it. It is finally settled
in despite of both, and by those higher laws that


make the contrary pull of the parties about as good a
measure of want and supply as can be contrived, even
though perhaps because it settles the price at just
that point which is disliked by both. And if men
were angels, there would really be no likelier and
j uster method than to let supply and demand work at
the case each on its side, and make the prices vibrate
by their oscillations, in just this manner. There is
now and then a case, it is true, where some merchant
very nearly fixes current price, for the time, under the
autocratic principle, putting it down thus and thus for
himself; which is understood to be the manner to a
principal degree of a certain immense trading house,
too vast to have a rival, in the city of New York.
But even this almost dictator of prices has a very
close eye to what is possible, and what is not, some
times marking up his prices, and sometimes marking
them down ; consenting virtually to the fact, that
price is not by him, but by what after all is above

But what shall we say of trading under variable
prices, and practicing on the customer accordingly as
he will bear it. The guage of price is not, in that
case, in the goods, but only in the unquestioning facility
of the customer a way of trade that even proposes
to fleece all the customers best entitled to favor and
protection by their generosity, and make up the gen
eral score of the profits at their cost. At the same
time it is a very hard, forbidding way of trade to main
tain prices absolutely invariable. It is even doubtful


whether variation, within a certain small range, may
not best serve the flexibilities of courtesy, and best
serve the interest of both seller and buyer. Possibly
some very great millionaire of trade may set his own
prices, and mark off his goods to be sold only by the
mark. But it must be said in justice to the small
trader, that he very often can not well ascertain what
the current price really is, and is even obliged to do it
by feeling of his customer, and giving a certain faith
to representations brought him thus, of what is going
on in the street. Perhaps the current price itself has
veered a little since yesterday. But this is a very dif
ferent thing from having no price at all, and going for
such amount of prey as the customer will suffer.
That is not trade, and there is no bad effect of trade to
be thought of in it. It is the way of a knave, or a
jockey, and these are not included under any proper
definition of trade.

As little room is there, under any thing properly
called trade, for what many seem to regard as the nec
essary skill, in raising color by glosses of false recom
mendation, or by small lies sprinkled in for the due
stimulation of the customer. That is not an accom
plishment belonging to the genuine operation of trade,
but only to the low-lived, inbred habit of the man.
Such arts I know are practiced, but never to ad
vantage. They are sometimes even a fatal hindrance
to success ; for as certainly as what is contemptible
carries contempt, the man who is willing to sell his
integrity with his goods, will appear to be just the


character he is. Undeviating adherence to truth and
justice may possibly lose to-day s customer, but in the
long run it will bring as many more as it is more im
plicitly trusted. There is, I know, a certain, low-
minded folk who have a general liking to high talk,
and can hardly imagine they have made a good bar
gain, till they have gotten the price down a great way
below the talk. And yet most men are wiser, loving
to buy of one who puts them at their ease, by his
quiet ways of integrity. They make a study instinct
ively of the salesman, and if they find him pressing
his point by much talk, and that which is manifestly
reckless, they are taken both by a disgust and a cau
tion, and leave him to the knavish airs of his practice.

Of course it will be understood that no one, caring
to be a Christian in trade, wants to be certified of any
such possibility in sales and distributions that are
themselves illicit, or immoral. Moreover trade itself
is a grand republic of commerce, under laws of use
and beneficence. These illicit engagements are
outside of morality, doing no service, satisfying no
beneficent use outrages often of liberty, insults to
purity, instigations of appetite and of course are
just as far outside of trade. They are even mockeries
of it in its prime idea ; selling what they call goods,
which they know to be evils.

There are then, as we have now discovered, no rea
sons why a young man going into trade, may not ex
pect to be a Christian in it. The contrary impression
so often held is without any sufficient foundation.


But the possibility does not make sure of the fact, and
we now pass on

II. To show how the trading man may be surely
Christian, and more decidedly and strongly Christian
for his engagement.

At this point we ascend of course to a higher point,
above the plane of morality, and begin to look after
what belongs to the life of religion. Ko man of
course expects to be a Christian in trade, without
being a religious man in it. And just here, alas ! is
the difficulty most commonly encountered the diffi
culty, viz., of continuing to be a Christian without be
ginning to be ; the difficulty of being kept safe in re
ligion, or religious character, by a business carried on
without such character, and wholly outside of re
ligion. I even suppose it will be objected mentally,
at least, by some, that after all I only undertake to
show how a man may be a Christian in trade by being
one. Undoubtedly I do ; for it would be a very sin
gular thing if I could show how one may be a chris-
tian in trade, without having it on hand to be, or with
out any responsibility accepted for being a Christian
at all. Xo, the point I undertake to show is how a
man, who is in the beginning of a Christian life, or
seriously bent on such a beginning, can maintain the
love of God, and grow up into God, by faith and
prayer, and go on to make all most solid attainments
of character, in the life-occupation of trade. And
then when the question how is raised, the. very first,
always indispensable, thing is that he shall be faith-


fully set to it, and expect to succeed only by making
cost for it by enduring hardness, by fighting out the
great human battle with self-seeking and the love of
money, and by standing fast in God s name in all
holiest integrity. He must not go into trade as any
sharp work, to be sharply, shrewdly done, he must not
pitch himself recklessly into making his fortune, he
must not look upon his business future with a mind
wholly slack towards God and religion, willing to be
floated whither the tide will carry him. JSTo true
character is ever made in that way, in any employ
ment. A going in upon chance, with a slack mind
submitted to the drift of the occupation, is enough to
make sure as possible of not being a Christian any
where. And it is precisely in that way that trade has
come to be regarded as a kind of life so preemi
nently hostile to the interests of character.

It is also another very important consideration that
you are permitted, if at all, to go into this occupation
by a really divine call. Not man3 r , I suspect, ever
think of any such possibility for a merely secular em
ployment, or for any but that perhaps of the Christian
ministry. And very few, I fear, thoroughly believe
in even that; simply because it is held to be a thing
so entirely special, a call of God that stands by itself,
with no other to match it, or keep it company.
Whereas the real and really grand truth is that God
has a place for every man, in what is to be his par
ticular employment, as he has a place for every rock,
and tree, and river, and star. And exactly this we


assume, perhaps without knowing it, when we speak of
this or that man s employment as being this or that
man s calling. ~We use the word as in a smothered mean
ing, to signify only his engagement or life-occupation ;
but there lingers in it, we may see, a certain divine re
collection, as if he were in it, or it were his privilege to
be, as by God s personal and particular call. He may
not so believe, himself, but just as surely as he is in
his own right place, he is in that to which he is called,
whether he has ever thought of it in that way or not.
Some are not in their place, and it is their sad in
felicity that they never can be. But the great major
ity of men I do think are led, drawn, beckoned, whis
pered into their calling, some pushed in by stern ne
cessities, some by urgent wants or incapacities, some
crowded in by Providential circumventions. Mean
time a blessed few find their places by going to God
for them. And this most sublime and really glorious
privilege is for all, and for all kinds of places and em
ployments. There is such a thing as spiritual guid
ance for men. You can form some judgment of your
calling by finding what others think of you; by
considering also your tastes, and tempers, and capa
bilities ; what kind of loads you can carry ; what kind
of annoyances you can bear ; also by considering what
opportunities of good are afforded ; and where you
can make yourself of greatest consequence to man
kind, and the salvation given to mankind ; but then,
when all such inquiries are ended, you can be ab
solutely sure of your calling, by seeking unto God s


oracle for it. Tided inwardly by his divine Spirit,
as you may be, you will flow in sweetly, as by si
lent drift, into the very thing which is to be your
calling ; whether it be trade, manufacture, or any
other calling. And then having found your occupa
tion, and come into it by the calling of God, what sat
isfaction will you have in it ! how reverently, lovingly,
safely, will you invest your life in it !

Now, again, after being thus installed in trade, as
by the call of God, how surely may you have God s
help in the prosecution of it. How surely, that is, if
you ask it, and train your ways of practice so that you
can fitly receive it. Here, too, I shall encounter, as I
well understand, a certain kind of unbelief that makes
it extravagant, or even a merely pietistic illusion, to
be looking for God s help in such a matter as the car
rying on of a trade ! As if the Spirit of God, by his
private concourse, or the Providence of God, by his
government of the world, could descend to the care of
the very small, very secular matter of helping a man
succeed in a concern of traffic ! Of course he can not
and will not, if traffic is the really selfish and low con
cern we are all the while assuming it to be. But if it
be a proper and most real industry, if it undertakes* to
gain a profit by doing a service, and a profit propor
tioned to the service, if it is and is to be a beneficent
matter, such as any call of God must be ; then I see
not why even God should scorn it, or refuse to be a
helper in it. lie did not scorn to give a special in
spiration to Bezaleel the artificer in brass, and Aho-


liab the carpenter, filling them " with the Spirit of
God, in wisdom and in understanding," to " devise
cunning works," " in all manner of workmanship."
God indorsed the patriotic prayers of Nehemiah and
sent him back with money and much timber to rebuild
the city. Paul commanded in the shipwreck, by the
Spirit, even down to the matter of dining before the
break. If we think that all things secular are too
common for God s care, we dishonor both ourselves
and him. God helps nothing wrong, and omits to
help nothing right. All right employments are call
ings into which he puts his servants for their good, and
what will he more surely do than help them to find
their good ! The trader is not a man by himself, and
yet in some sense he is ; for his purchases are often
a very blind problem, his rivals are many and some
times bitterly unjust, his risks depend on things ex
ceedingly occult, his liabilities of panic when great
storms of revulsion overturn the confidences of credit,
are such as not even military commanders often en
counter in disastrous campaigns. Customers too are
how often unreasonable, creditors unjust and rapa
cious, the laws a trap, and the courts more careful to
be ingenious than to be just. In all which, as by
these mere glances we discover, the merchant, going
into trade, most truly goes to sea. His calling is
verily on the deep unstable, stormy, set about by com
binations and complexities that require high courage,
a firm, steady-judging mind, a perception that is next
thing to a prophecy of event. Therefore he wants, if


any man does, true God-help always at hand, and
much of it. He needs, for his mere business sake and
the solid composure of his counsel, a steadfast ground
ing in God, and a conscious strengthening with might
by God s Spirit in the inner man. Scarcely does even
an apostle need it more.

It is another consideration also that reaches far, that
the merchant in his calling of trade is put in a relation
to God so inherently religious, if he will undertake it
in that manner, that he is justified in passing his vow
not to be in trade, or even for a day to stay in it, if he
can not have the enjoyment of God in it. This
is true of all legitimate occupations, and all right
works of industry, and not less true of trade than of
any other, that the man who is in it can have and is
bound to have God with him in it ; to begin his day
with God s smile, to end it in God s approbation, and
to pass it all through in the testimony that he pleases
God. Going thus into and onward in trade, he will
have no difficulty in being a Christian in it. He is
fast anchored, in all right practice and right living, by
holding himself to courses that permit the enjoyment
of God, and then the enjoyment of God will in turn
hold him to his courses. Doubtless a man may be a
very poor Christian, who settles by mere hap-hazard into
such kind of courses as will fill up his money-making
days ; a great many poor Christians are made in that
way, and a great many more that are no Christians at
all. And so it is in every lawful business the world
knows. No carpenter, blacksmith, weaver, clothier,


no simplest and purest of all tradesmen, gets on well
as a Christian, who does not set himself to such a kind
of living that he can have the enjoyment of God in it.
But having that, how smoothly does he sail out on his
course, and how sweetly do the gales of the Spirit
waft him on. Such a man can be a Christian any
where, and will as certainly be in trade as any where

Again there are even special advantages in trade as
regards the development of a Christian life, which do
not occur as largely in any other employment. The
transactions are many, crowding thick upon the
shelves and counters all the day. The temptations of
course are just as much more numerous as the transac
tions ; and it must not be forgotten that the more
tempted a man is, the more opportunities are given
him to grow. Scarcely could he grow at all if none
at all were put in his w r ay. Besides, the thicker
temptations are huddled, the less chance they have to
prevail; there is no time in fact to do much more
than to reject them. Whereas if temptations only
come single, one a day for example, hanging round the
mind in still approaches of seduction, and holding as
it w T ere all day their magnifiers np before it, the poor
disciple s chances of resistance are how greatly dimin

There is also a considerable Christian advantage in
the relation that subsists between the merchant and
his customer. To be a customer signifies more


or less of favor and confidence. The customer, in


being such, commits himself in a large degree to the
honor of the merchant, and then the merchant in turn
accepts him naturally as a man who conies in expres
sion of trust, and is fairly entitled to generosity. And
if the customer is an old customer, coming to his old


haunt of trade, where the old fair-dealing trader has
for so many years been proving his integrity, you will
see that they meet as friends, and not as sharpers com
ing to the prey. And if they are Christian men, you
will see that also, even though they do not say a word
about religion. There is no barrier visibly between
them, but a perfectly open confidence, and their
meeting does them good, as truly as if there
were some grace of communion in it as, in fact,
there is.

Sometimes again the proposed transaction of trade
includes a question of credit. And here the merchant
is put to a trial that always yields him benefit. He is
getting insight thus into men, and learning whom he
may safely trust. His whole exercise goes to sharpen
his perceptions of character. He learns in it also to
respect modesty and neatness of person, with plain
ness of dress. And above all he learns to observe
who a man s friends are, as the most significant token
of all. He gets a way of moral sharpness in this way
that has an immense value in his understanding even
of himself. Specie payments and pay-down trade
would make a very stupid and morally stupefying ele
ment in comparison.

Trade also furnishes occasions of beneficence to the


poor, which are all the better for both parties, that
they make no parade of charity* but may pass for a
buying and selling between them. The merchant, I
have said, should do his trade by the strict law prin
ciples of trade, and never let his operations be mixed
up with charities. But how many beautiful charities
may he dispense under the nature of trade, which not
even the receiver will know, and which he himself
will enjoy the more, that he has them for his unknown
secret before God. Thus he parcels off what he may
consider to be more or less nearly the waste of trade,
all which he would otherwise put in auction, and sell
at great loss to himself and great profit to the buyer,
and marking it down to the very lowest rate he could
hope to receive remnants, faded, and smirched, and
smoked, and shelf-worn-goods, and styles of goods
gone by gives his silent order to sell in that mark,
to chosen candidates hard-pressed by want, and ready
because of their want, to find a relief most welcome
in the opportunity. It is trade on one side, and

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 16 of 29)