Copyright
Horace Bushnell.

Sermons on living subjects online

. (page 18 of 29)
Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 18 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


formed about us. Thus, living in the temporals and
for them, we call them nature, and nature we con
ceive to be a wall impervious to God and Spirit, and
all supernal visitations. And therefore he sends down
his Son from above,, to re-reveal and re-empower the
eternals we have ceased to see. And it is as if he
came tearing open the wall, riddling it as it were with
interstices all through, letting in the love of God, the
mercy and salvation provided, and calling us to come
up through into the eternal life.

Besides, once more, we have eternals garnered up in
us all, in our very intelligence ; immortal affinities,
which, if we forget or suppress, are still in us ; great
underlaid convictions also, ready to burst up in us
and utter even ringing pronouncements ; and besides
there is an inevitable and sure summons always
close at hand as we know, and ready for its hour ;
whose office it is to bring the great eternals near and
keep them in power. True this instituted fact of
death does not logically prove any thing as regards
the existence of realities unseen, or of a second
life. It may be that we drop into nihility. But



ARE GIVEN THINGS ETERNAL. 281

we are very little likely to think so, if only we can
fully admit, what we so perfectly know, that these
temporal things are only a snow-bank, dissolving
under us to let us through. No man is likely to miss
the eternal when once he has let go the temporal.
Consent that you are dying, and that time is falling
away, and your soul will arrive at the conviction of
God s eternity, and of things beyond this life, very
soon. Nay, she will hear voices of eternity crying out
in her own deep nature, and commanding her on to a
future more solid and reliable than any mere tem
poralities can afford.

Here then we are, all going on, or in rather, to be
unsphered here, and reinsphered, if we are ready for
it, in a promised life more stable and sufficient. The
eternal has been with us all the way, even w r hen we
could not find it. Now it is fully discovered, and be
come our mansion state. The fugacities are left be
hind us. The poets, too, we leave chanting their sad
refrain,

" Naught may endure but mutability ;"

the disappointed and world-weary, sighing over the
mere shadows which they say were all that was given
them to possess or pursue ; the groping ones praying
as it were to the darkness, " O that I knew where I
might find him," and complaining if there be a God,
and things eternal, that they should be so strangely
hidden by the curtains of sense, so dimly seen, so
completely shut away by the coarse temporalities of
24*



282 IN AND BY THINGS TEMPORAL

things all these we leave behind, with only the
greater pity, that they are so miserably defrauded and
deplore so bitterly the not seeing, of what they simply
have no eyes to see. We did see something, and we
now see more. The eternal things are now most dis
tinctly seen, and the temporal scarcely seen at all.
So that as we now look back on the old physical order,
it was arranged, we see, to be a kind of transparency,
and w r e were set in among and behind its objects and
affairs, before open windows as it were, there to look
out on the everlasting and set our life for it. These
temporal things, we .now perceive, were sometimes
dark to us, just because we insisted on using them as
they were not made to be used, even as a telescope is
dark to them who will only look into the side of it.
How could they be otherwise than dark, when we
never sought God in them, but only the things them
selves. Or if we sought him only a little, with a
clouded and partly idolatrous love, how could they be
much less dark ? God, as we now see, meant to have
the eternities stand up round us, even as they do here ;
so visible and tall that mere temporalities should
dwindle and become shadows in comparison. To the
truly great and godly soul they always were so, as
they now are to us.

Two things now, having reached this point, let me
ask you to note, or have established. First, that you are
never to allow yourself in the common way of speak
ing, that proposes to look away from the things of
time, or calls on others to do it. Never speak as if



ARE GIVEN" THINGS ETERNAL. 283

that were the way of an unworldly Christian, for it is
not. The unworldly Christian, if he has the true
mettle of a great life in him, never looks away from
the things of time, but looks only the more piercingly
into them and through. He does not expect to find
God beyond them, but in them, and by means of them.
Besides, this call to look away from the things of time,
good enough as a figure sometimes, has yet a weak
and sickening sound. It is not a living piety that,
speaks in this manner, but a frothy and debilitated
sentiment. God help you rather to be manly enough
to use the world as it is, and get your vision leveled
for eternal things in it, and by it. You will come up
unto God by uses of mastery, and not by retreat and
feeble deprecation. These are they that endure and
faint not." This world has no power to baffle them, or
turn them away. They live in it always, having a
sound respect to it, because they see God in it, and
love to watch his footsteps. O these grand, un
worldly souls, how majestic their aspirations, how
solid their objects, how firm their sense of God. They
live in the present as a kind of eternity, never sick of
it, and never wanting more, but only what, this sig
nifies.

Another correspondent caution, secondly, needs to
be noted, and especially by those who are not in the
Christian way of life. They inevitably hear a great
deal said of spiritual mindedness, and they see not
any meaning to give it, which does not repel them.
What are called spiritual things appear to them to be



284 IN AND BY THINGS TEMPORAL, ETC.

only a kind of illusion, a fog of mystic meditation, or
mystic expectation, which the fonder, less perceptive
believers press out thin, because they have not strength
enough to body their life in things more solid and
rational. Living therefore in this spiritually minded
way appears to be living in phantasm, or breathing
only hydrogen, or some kind of fetid air, which can
not sustain a properly vigorous life. There could not
be an impression farther from the truth. For the
spiritually minded person spiritualizes temporal things
and the temporal life, by nothing but by just seeing
them in their most philosophic sense. He takes hold
of the laws, finds his way into the inmost thoughts,
follows after the spirit-force everywhere entempled,
and puts the creation moving, at every turn, in the
supreme order of Mind. If this be illusion, God give
us more of it. The spiritual habit is, in this view,
reason, health, and everlasting robustness.



XV.

GOD ORGANIZING IN THE CHURCH HIS ETER
NAL SOCIETY.



"But ye are come to Mount Zion, arid unto the city of the living God,
the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to
the general assembly and church of the first born which are written in
heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men
made perfect." Ueb. 12: 22,3.

WHEN we read this passage of Scripture, we seem
to scarcely know what world it is in or about, and not
much better what world we are in ourselves. " But
ye are come," says the apostle, are come, in the pres
ent tense that is, come already. And yet a great
part of the terms that follow, city of the living
God, heavenly Jerusalem, innumerable company of
angels, general assembly and church of the first-born
whose names are written in heaven, appear to be
upper-world terms, proper only to the kingdom of
G.od above. Which blending, again, of celestial scene
ries, in terms of the present tense, with sceneries part
ly terrestrial, is permitted the apostle, it may be, on the
ground of a large analogy and comprehensive unity,
including both spheres of life together. All the more
competent and commensurate is the grasp of idea in
the specification given ; all the more fit, too, we shall
(285)



280 GOD ORGANIZING IN THE CHURCH

see, -is the double compass of the language, to the pur
pose I have now in hand ; viz., to magnify the church
of God, and freshen up, if possible, some due con
ception of its universality and of our responsibility
for it.

It is one of the remarkable, and, it seems to me,
gloomy signs of our time, that we are so evidently
losing interest in the church and respect for it. It is
not a thing so very new, that a great many persons
outside of the church take up a prejudice against it,
and begin to prophecy, with airs of exultation, its
shortly going by, to be among the things that were ;
but it is a matter of far more appalling significance
that so many of its own members appear to be some
how losing out even their confidence in it. They do
not really care much for it, and for this reason prob
ably, appeals of duty made for it get as little fixed hold
of impression, or practical conviction, as in such a case
they must. Even if they pray for it, and occasionally
speak in a way to magnify the duties we owe it, there
is yet a certain slackness in their manner, which indi
cates rather a wish to have some concern for it, than
a real concern. I sometimes hear the question raised
by such, what, after all, is the use of the church ?
Would it not be just as well if it were given up, or
disbanded ? Is it not in fact gone by already ?

No, it is not, I am sure, and never can be. Do
we not know that Christ gave himself for it, that he
purchased it with his own blood, and set it on a rock,
and declared that not even the gates of hell should



HIS ETERNAL SOCIETY. 287

prevail against it ? Is it then going clown just now ?
Is it coining to be an outgrown fact ? Not unless Jesus
Christ is outgrown and his kingdom antiquated, which
I do not think will very soon appear. Until then, be
the look just now as it may, until then, the church
will stay, and w*e may as well be sure of it. Besides,
I think we shall finally discover, after we have fairly
worn out our extempore and shallow strictures, that
there is interest and meaning enough in it, to make it

O O

the grand, everlasting fact of the creation of God all
which I now proceed to show.

The church is bottomed, for its final end or cause,
in society. Man, as we are all the while saying in the
tritest manner possible, is a social being ; only we con
ceive but very partially and dimly what we are to
mean by it. We ought to mean, as regarding both
him and all other like moral natures in other like
worlds, that they are items only or atoms incomplete
beings, and scarcely more than candidates for being
till they become organically set and morally joined in
society. Existing simply as units, in their natural
individualities, they are not of much consequence
either to themselves or to each other. In that kind of
merely sole existence they have nothing to raise the
pitch of their consciousness, no moral dues of brother
hood or sentiments of justice and charity, no religious
affinities that put them reaching after God and things
above the world, and no high sense of being approved
by God and other kindred beings. They make, in
short, no part of a divine whole or society, sweetened



288 GOD ORGANIZING IN THE CHURCH

by the possession they take of it, and in being taken
possession of by it. As being merely creatures made,
they are scarcely better than nobodies waiting to get
some consequence, when society arrives at them, and
they at society. Calling them men, they are not so
much whole natures related to society outside, but
they own, as we may say, scarcely a one-tenth part
of their personality, and society the other nine-tenths.
Or if we conceive that they own their complete whole
constitutionally, that whole, existing chiefly for society,
is chiefly owned by society. They are made for soci
ety as a moral affair, and have their property in it as
being owned by it, and morally configured to it. In
their natural instincts and family affections and such
like fellow-fondnesses, they begin a faint preluding of
society on the footing of mere nature ; but this is only
the sign, so to speak, or type, of that vaster, nobler
society, which is to be fulfilled, under and through the
great love-principle that claims their moral and socially
religious nature. In this love principle they are
kindled as by a kind of infinite aspiration, wanting
in fact the whole universe all there is in it, or can
be, of righteous mind each to possess it, and in the
possession be himself complete. And it would even
pain them to know that there is or can be any living
nature which they can not touch, or be touched by, any
society that must be unrelated to them, in any out
most world, or kingdom of God, known or unknown.
The principles that are to organize the society are of
course identical in all worlds, and the love by which



HIS ETERNAL SOCIETY. 289

it is organized is an all-worlds love. Hence, the soci
ety organized must be an all- worlds society.

Inasmuch now as the great society is to be, and to
have any real significance can only be, a moral affair,
it will be seen at once that it could not be organized
by mere natural constitution. The animals could have
a certain rudimental show of society prepared in their
natural instincts. But when we speak of moral soci
ety as appointed for men, the most that could be done
for its organization was to make them capable of it
capable that is of acting themselves into it, in all the
qualities, and tempers, and divine principles, that com
pose it. They must be capable, that is, of law, truth,
love, and sacrifice ; and then the whole body of the
society will be fitly joined together and compacted by
that which every joint supplieth. Creation first, then
society this much we say preparatory to any right
and living conception of the church, such as we are
now after.

And here we strike into the text we began with,
proposing henceforward to keep the vein of it. It is,
we have noted already, a kind of both-worlds Scrip
ture, bearing, as it were, a church celestial and a
church terrestrial on the face of its terms. And the
distinction of the two is, that heaven, the upper-world
church, is SOCIETY ORGANIZED ; and the church below,
SOCIETY ORGANIZING both in fact one, as regards
their final end or object, and the properties and prin
ciples in which they are consummated. Of course
the incomplete society below comprehends aberrations,
25



290 GOD ORGANIZING IN THE CHURCH

miscon junctions, half conjunctions, and a great many
mere scaffoldings which the other does not. Let us
look now at the two in their order.

I. The Society Organized. It is called a city, the
city of the living God ; because it is the most con
densed, completest form of society. It also includes
or takes in angels an innumerable company," some
of them, w r e are to believe, from worlds more ancient
than ours and from empires afar off, quite unknown to
us. It gathers in also " the first born " of the church,
and puts their names in register on the roll of the grand
all-worlds society. And " the spirits of just men
made perfect," are either there or on the way up, to
be joined in the general city life and order, for which
they are now made ready. All the indications are
that a complete organization is so far made, and all its
distributions and relations adjusted ; as when men of
all grades and races are gathered into and unified in,
the state of city organization.

In this organized society it is one of the first points
to be noted that there is no distribution by sect or
sectarian names. Not even the peoples of different
worlds, and of old-time, gone-by creations come in as
sub-societies, under names to be maintained against
other names, though it will not be strange if matters so
grandly historical are somehow kept in memory, as by
calling these Ilranians, these Saturnians, these Orion-
ites, these the Earth-born people ; for in being so repre
sented, they are not antagonized, but are only made to



HIS ETERNAL SOCIETY. 291

show the variety of their populations. Meantime the
myriads that arrive, new coiners from the church be
low, drop off the names of their sects, having left them
in their graves not raised for there is no resurrection
promised of these names. They are not Romish any
more, not Anglican, not Calvinistic, not Arminian,*or
Wesley an, their general assembly is not the Presbyte
rian, their crowns are not brimmed as being Friends,
and since baptism is no more wanted, there are
no Baptists. But they are all earth s people and
Christian to a man, all other names being sunk and
forgot in their now complete society.

Again, the organization is not bodied under official
magistracies. There are no pontiffs, patriarchs, or
prelates ; no bishops, priests, deacons. Probably it w^as
so bodied, in what was called the church order below,
and the magistracies too were in a large variety. But
the organization was never in any respect from them,
but from God and the headship of his Son ; in being
joined to whom every man by his faith the whole
body was fitly joined together and became the fullness
of him that filleth all in all. Still the magistracies
had their day and their uses, not equally well appoint
ed, perhaps, but sufficiently authorized in all cases
when doing a good work. They were not mere straws
on the flood, and yet the flood has moved directly on,
leaving them we know not where. In the completed
society they are all gone by and forgot, and not
even ministers, in the cleric sense, any longer re
main only all are made priests unto God in their



292 GOD ORGANIZING IN THE CHURCH

ransomed state of exaltation, and all do service work,
as ministers for the common good of all. I do not by
this intend to say that there are no precedences in
stature, and personal weight, and consequent dignity
land power.- They move in great quaternions doubt
less, and holy satrapies thrones, dominions, principal
ities, powers but we are only to see, in this, that they
are all regnant alike in their order, which is what
these figures signify. Some of them are as much
above all priestly and pontifical orders, and carry a
sway as much more advanced, as they are more tran-
scendently advanced in thought, and weight, and char
acter. And yet they fall into their places, unenvied,
undecried, there to be admired and loved, arid had in
reverence gladly, because they are wanted for the per
fect society by the humbler natures themselves. In
one view these more advanced ones are lifted into vir
tual leadership, because they have such weight of
being and true counsel as makes them leaders gladly
accepted.

It is another point to be observed, that there js no
theologic base in the society thus organized. Because
the new faith now is alive all through in the society
finished ; which is itself a confession unwritten, only
more full and perfect than there could be in any most
rtigged articulations of doctrine. They require of
course to be fastened by no bonds of catechism or
creed, in order to keep their liberty safe ; for being the
truth themselves they can bear to be free. Some of
us here below are much concerned for these matters,



HIS ETERNAL SOCIETY. 293

much concerned for theology ; and perhaps with rea
son, considering how much of trammel is wanted to

O

keep organization safe among creatures that are un
safe. But there is no such concern above. Theology
is there even quite gone by, and nothing but truth
remains. And there is more truth alive in a single
one of the now free saints, than there ever was in all
the fathers, and councils, and schools of the world.
These are grown up now into Christ the head, from
whom the whole body is fitly joined together.

Bat these are negatives mainly. Passing over then
to what is more positive, we begin to look after the
crystallizing power in wliicli the grand celestial so
ciety is organized. And

First of all and at the base of all we find the
righteousness and love of God. The righteousness of
God is God in everlasting, absolute right, and all
created beings who are with him in it, standing fast in
sinless integrity, will be organized by it, as their com
mon inspiration. For not even they will be self-
righteous in their integrity, but will have the right
eousness of God by faith upon them an everlasting
inbreathing, or influx, an eternal radiation from the
central sun and be organized by it, as the common
bliss of their conduct and character. But as far as
the great all- worlds society is made up of spirits that
were fallen, these could not be organized till the right
eousness gone by is somehow restored, and become a
new inspiration. And here comes in the love of God
as the quickening grace of the cross, Tor it is at once
25*



294 GOD ORGANIZING IN THE CHUliCH

the wonder of God s love, and the organizing power
of it, that he loves against all unloveliness, loves what
offends him, what disgusts his feeling, the wrong, the
cruel, the abhorrent, descending to any bitterest sacri
fice that he may gather even such into his family and
friendship. Could he only love the lovable it would
not signify much ; and not any more, as respects or
ganization, if we should do the same. The society
organized w r ould only be a society of mutual admira
tion a picture gallery in perfect good taste and no
thing more. No, there is a grandly tragic side of
God s glory which is not here. That can only be
seen when his love takes hold of the bad, the wrong,
the shameful, and defiled, able to suffer cost and be
redeeming love. Only blood can show these tragic
depths in God. Of course we can not congratulate
ourselves that we have sinned, but if there be vast
orders of being, as many think, who have not, one can
not but regret the very little knowledge they must
have of what is in the love of God. All that is deep
est, grandest in God s character must be to them, so
far, a hidden book. And if they have not learned
themselves to love, and suffer cost for the bad, even
their noble integrity will leave them something to
regret, though perhaps they will make up in chastity
what they lack in experience, and obtain also by their
questions what they have not learned by defilement
and sorrow.

Again the great all-worlds society is still farther
advanced in organization by worship. It coalesces in



HIS ETERNAL SOCIETY. 295

worship ; .and worship, as it is the grandest felicity, so
it is the most effective spell of organization. Of
course we do not take the impression that singing
hymns about the throne of God and the Lamb , is the
total occupation of the everlasting society. We only
take such representations of concord in song as figures
that completely express the glorious harmonies of feel
ing, and the common felicities and homages by which
it is swayed. Worship is the highest joy of mind,
because it is the looking up to behold and feel what is
highest and most adorably great. Thus we take long
journeys, to just behold and feel what of physical
grandeur there may be in a cataract; which feeling of
physical grandeur is a kind of natural worship, a
feebly effective symbol of what takes place in the
worship of the adoring, all-worlds society. And
in that common joy of worship oftener silent prob
ably than expressed they are forever coalescent in
closer and more powerful bonds, because they feel
themselves together everlastingly in it.

Again they have also common works, no doubt, in
which they are yet more practically organized, even
as a team is brought into line by the stress of a com
mon draught. What their works are we do not know,
save as we catch brief glimpses here and there ; some
times sent forth as for guard and watch, also as cou
riers, also as convoys home of spirits departed, also to
be escort trains for the Almighty chariots of God
counting twenty thousand, even thousands of angels.
One of them, great Michael, is sent forth to head a



296 GOD ORGANIZING IN THE CIIURCn

war against the dragon power of persecution, though
exactly what that means we may not know. Perhaps
they go forth on excursions among distant worlds and
peoples, reporting, for new study, what of God may be
discovered among them. Doubtless they have all
enough to do forever, and that which is good enough
and high enough for their powers.

They are united and consolidated also in the society
life by their victories ; for whether they have van
quished all sin, or all temptation, or great forces of
hate and cruelty banded against them, they come in
all as victors bearing palms, to be organized by the



Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 18 of 29)