Horace Bushnell.

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a dreadful collapse in character, than this most treach
erous doctrine, which makes it even a law, that we
surrender every thing to our inclinations. Let me
ask your attention now

2. To the grand analogies of time and routine
movement in the world you live in. Nature is, on
one hand, a world of routine or of prescribed times
and recurrences, and on the other a realm of versatile
changes and endlessly varied occasions or appearances.
The days and years, the moon and tides, the mornings
and evenings, the eclipses and even wandering comets,
have their times exactly set, and their rounds exactly
measured. We can even make up their almanac for the
most distant ages and cycles. What we call the al
manac is, in fact, an exhibition to the eye, of the grand
principle of routine in nature. So far the vast empire
of being is grounded in a sublime principle of routine


everywhere manifest ; it is ordained for signs, and for
seasons, and for days and years. And without this,
or apart from this, it would be only a medley of con
fusion, a chaos of interminable disorder. What could
we do in a world where there are no appointed times,
no calculable recurrences, no grand punctualities,
where the seasons are moved in different orders of suc
cessions, days and nights coming at random, and stay
ing for such time as they please, the heavenly bodies a
chapter of celestial accidents in their motions, the
moon quartering once a month, or ten times a month,
the tides rising with or without the moon, the dews
falling on the snows, and the snows on the verdure of
June such a world would really be valueless; we
could do nothing with it, and simply because it has no
fixed times. And for just this reason God has con
sented to inaugurate the sublime routine necessary to
its uses, determining the times before appointed, and
the bounds of our habitation.

And so very close does God come to us in this mat
ter of times or of natural routine, that our heart beats
punctually in it, our breath heaves in it like the panting
tides of the ocean, and the body itself, and with it also
the mind, yes even the mind, is a day s man only in
its power, a creature of waking and sleeping, of alter
nating consciousness and unconsciousness, like the
solar day and night of the world.

And yet some can riot think it a matter sufficiently
dignified to have any prescribed times in religion.
Though God himself is a being of routine, though the


everlasting worlds are bedded in routine 2 though their
very bodies and minds are timed in it, like a watch,
or the earth s revolution, still they are jealous of any
such thing in religion, and refuse it, as an infringe
ment on their liberty ! Is this, I ask, the lesson which
they draw from the great teacher in whose bosom they
live ? And if the world itself, apart from its fixed
rounds, or prescribed times, were only an uninhabit
able chaos, what greater value is there like to be, in
their own acts and doings, when there is no fixed time
for doing any thing.

3. I refer you again to the analogy of your own
courses in other things, and also to the general analo
gies of business. As we are by nature diurnal crea
tures in the matter of waking and sleep, so we are
voluntarily creatures of routine and of fixed hours in
the matter of food. In this respect the wild Indians
of the forest differ, w r e are told, from us eating im
mensely when it is convenient, or the necessary game
is taken, and then fasting even to the door of starva
tion, till the fortune of the hunt brings another
supply. We, on the other hand, have our appointed
times just so many times of repast each clay, at an
exact hour by the clock and we take it as a hardship,
or a constraint on our liberty, if we are obliged, by
any circumstance or pressure, to fail of our time.
Which then do we suppose to be in the best conditions
of comfort, dignity, and -good keeping, the savage
tribes that have no times, or we that feed in the exact
routine of the civilized table ? How is it also in the


matter of business, or the transactions of trade and in
dustry ? What figure of success will any man make
in business, who has no fixed hours ; who goes to his
work, or sends out his men, at any and all hours of
the day five o clock, or ten, or two, as best suits his
convenience, and despises the oppressive and slavish
law of prescribed times as if a man who respects
himself could submit to be wheeled on through his
works by the tick of the watch, or to keep time with
the shadows of the sun ! Or suppose he is equally
averse to the bondage of times in his engagements,
gathering his dues when they chance to come, ex
pecting his interest money at just . such times as he
pleases, and paying his notes when it is convenient
will such a man succeed, or will he find that in re
fusing any law in times he refuses all success, all
credit, name and character. If then there is nothing
men do with effect in the world of business, despising
the law of times, how does it happen that they can
expect, with any better reason, to succeed in the mat
ter of their religion their graces, charities, and
prayers ? Wherein does it appear to be absurd, to
assume that the soul wants times of feeding as regu
lar, and frequent, and punctual, as the body ? Again,
4. Consider the reason of the Sabbath, where it is
assumed that men are creatures, religiously speaking,
of routine, wanting it as much as they do principles,
fixed times as much as liberty. Indeed a very con
siderable part of the value of the Sabbath consists in
the drill of its times ; that it comes when we do not


ask for it, commands us to stop when we desire to go
on, calls us off to worship by a summons astronomic
ally timed, and measured by the revolutions of the
world. In this view it is, I conceive, that the fourth
commandment is set in the decalogue. The design is
to place order in the same rank with principle, and
give it honor in all coming ages, as a necessary ele
ment of religion, or the religious life and character.
And what we discover in the reason of the Sabbath
holds equally well of other observances and duties.
As we are creatures of impulse, inspiration, liberty,
so also we are creatures of drill, and there was no way
to perfect or establish us in any thing, unless we C9uld
be required to do what \ve are not inclined to do ; to
appoint our times of prayer, keep ourselves in rounds
of observance, and hold fast in the punctual discipline
of times.

Indeed we could not have any fixed appointment of
public worship, or common prayer at all, under the
mischievous doctrine I am contending against. There
is no true worship, I agree, in public more than any
where else, unless the heart is in it. Why then
should we give attendance, you may ask, in public
worship, when we have no heart in it ? Why keep
one day in seven, if we have no inclination for it?
And so common worship goes down, the prayer meet
ing falls out of possibility, and all the powerful means
of piety thus ordered, is even lost to the world.

5. The Scriptures recognize the value of prescribed
times and a fixed routine of duty, in other ways more


numerous than can be well recounted. Thus in the
old religion, the sacrifices, the great feasts or festivals,
all the observances and forms had a fixed rotation,
and the power of a military drill on the mind of the
people. The entire calendar, in fact, was set off in
sevens of days, and years, and the sacred number
seven was carried so far that even the march about Jer
icho was to be in it, in order to the mystic sevenfolding
under God that winds up the spell of its fall. The holy
men had all their times ; one was accustomed to ob
serve the sacred number iri his worship, having it seven
times a day, as the fixed order of his life. Another
went to prayer three times a day. In the New Testa
ment the observance of fixed times appears less dis
tinctly ; and partly because many of the zealots and
precisionists made a righteousness -of their observ
ances, apart from any meaning or honest purpose in
them. Wherefore Paul was obliged even to rebuke
this kind of superstition " the observing days, and
months, and times, and years," the respecting " holy
days, new moons, and Sabbaths." To break up this
subjection to ordinances, the new religion even went
so far as to abolish the seventh day. Not however
because the routine was itself evil ; for the first day
^was, at the same time, substituted as a time of stated
worship. The object w^as to strip away the bondage
that had come to be an oppression, because it was a
superstition in that view a beggarly element. And
that only this was the object is made clear, in the fact
that Christ himself, in the interval between his resur-


rection and ascension, keeps day with his disciples,
meeting them by a weekly manifestation of his pres
ence, as if purposely to give them stated times even
as he had taught them in his first sermon to have
each day their time of prayer, saying, " Give us this
day our daily bread." All the teachers after him
made it a point, in the same manner, to institute a
piety whose rule is order, and whose liberty itself is
regularity. Thus John is in the Spirit, and meets the
vision even of his prophecy on the Lord s day. Paul
observes that day, and gives it as a good rule to lay
by what may go for charity on that day, that so there
may be order in charity ; remembering, also, in the
very chapter that forbids the observance of holy days,
new moons, and Sabbaths, to commend the brethren,
"as joying and beholding their order, and the stead-
fasness [or regular working] of their faith." Had
they no fixed times and rounds of duty, doing every
thing by impulse or fancy, or caprice, he would have
found any thing but order to rejoice in. Which

Again brings me to say that if we have no times in
religion but such as we take by mere impulse, or in
clination, we shall fall away, at last, from all times
and all duties. Let any one take the ground, for ex
ample, that he will never pray except w r hen he is
drawn to it, and he will less and less frequently be
drawn. If any one tells me that he can not pray,
when he is disinclined, or not moved to it, and would
feel it even to be an act of insincerity, I understand
that he prays very seldom, and perhaps never. Such


a rule of prayer would gradually let down the best
Christian, and finally take him quite away from the
exercise. In his ordinary state he may have been
commonly inclined to the exercise. But there will
be times when he is not, and then, if instead of gird
ing himself to what interest he may find, he yields to
his mere self-indulgence, that self-indulgence will rot
away his confidence, exterminate his peace, turn itself
into habitual disinclination, and so, by a fixed law,
put an end to his praying altogether. Doubtless he
will have a great many plausible reasons to comfort
him, as he goes down the descent, but the descent he
will make. Though he is now sure he practices no in
sincerity, and does not force himself in that which
ought to be free, he will also be as clear, that he has
not the nearness to God he once had, and is losing the
relish of God s friendship, by which he once was
drawn so fondly to the exercise.

After- all, however plausibly we may reason about
forced exercises, or a want of sincerity in them, we
have really never any great sincerity where we do not
sometimes cross our inclinations, by the salutary com
pulsion of prescribed times and duties. A scholar is
not in the true idea of scholarship, till he becomes
able to bury himself in study for the pure love of
knowledge. But no scholar ever comes to that, w T ho
does not put on the harness of work, and set himself
to the drill of regularity, and the fixed routine of the
class or the school. A merchant is never deep enough
in his engagement to have any title to success, or


chance of it, who does not set his times and proceed
by system, and when lie feels a little disinclination,
does not use compulsion enough to hold himself to
his engagements. And if he has not manliness
enough or energy enough in him to do this, we take it
for granted that there is no earnestness in his engage
ment, and never can be any real success. In fact, no
man ever does any thing which he has no times for
doing. And if a man is too delicate to suffer any
fixed times in religion, it will fare with him as it does
with other men, who are always about to do some
great thing, but never find the time for executing
their romantic intentions.

Once more the true way to come into liberty and
keep ourselves in it, is to have our prescribed rules,
and in some respects, at least, a fixed routine of
duties. I do not say or suppose that a mere round of
repetitions can accomplish any thing, or that any
mere observance of times and years can, of itself, pro
duce in a soul the grace of a true discipleship. Noth
ing done as a matter of mere observance is better
than the fasting Pharisaically twice in a week, which
Christ condemned. But if any Pharisee had taken it
upon him to fast twice in a week, not for the merit of
the fasting, but to have it as a means and exercise of
repentance, looking unto God, in the engagement, for
grace to make it effectual in the renovation of his life,
no matter how distant he may have been at the be
ginning, from the state of faith and liberty, he would
assuredly have found a living grace of piety in it.


Many a child brought up to begin and close each day
with prayer, is guided by that simple routine exercise,
connected with the other influences of life, into the
true spirit of a disciple, and grows up in the kingdom
as one imperceptibly initiated. Let any most dull and
worldly minded Christian gather himself up to the
established rule of prayer, for three times, twice, or
even once a day, determined not to have it as a mere
observance, but as an exercise of grace and practical
waiting on God, and it will not be long before he is
truly restored and walks in liberty. So that if we
grant the inherent ^defect of any and all prayers in
which there is nothing better than a forced exercise,
no impulse, no liberty, the true way to be in liberty
and be kept habitually there, is to live in that holy
routine which is the bond of all true application, and
the certain method of all earnestness and fidelity. And
accordingly it will be found, as a matter of fact, that
they who are readiest to endure hardness, and have least
delicacy about forcing themselves in constrained ex
ercises, have really most liberty, live closest to God,
enjoy most of his smile, and as they keep up the
rounds of duty most faithfully, will have really least
feeling of constraint, or even think of it as no con
straint at all.

I need not undertake to show you how exactly what
I am here saying is borne out by the experiences of
holy men. I will simply note one or two examples.
Thus when you find young Taylor recording it as his
rule, " the last thing before retiring every night, to


commit to memory a portion of scripture, and re
joicing in the computation of what this may amount
to in eight years," the time of his preparation, now
begun, for the ministry, you will- discover that spirit
of application that augurs infallible success. And
this is not the man to wear out his life in a drill of
legalities, but he will be one of the freest, most joyful
and jubilant of the saints. So also when you find a
Jonathan Edwards, at the age of twenty, recording it
as one of his fixed resolutions " Resolved to ask my
self at the end of every day, week, month and year,
wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done
better," you may see a great mind engineering in the
solemn routine of appointed times and fixed methods,
to keep himself in the way of fidelity ; so to be a liv
ing and free soul in the faith, and fill up his life with
holy impulse, and cover it with the radiance of God s
free manifestation. Few men have enjoyed more of
God on earth, or been less drudged by the punctuality
and system in which he so cautiously lived. There is,
I know, such a thing as a legal, barren, painful ob
servance, which like the sorrow of the world worketh
death, just as there are martinets in place of com
manders, and regiments in drill that will be cowards
in the fight, but of this we may be sure, there never
was or will be a successful man in any thing, least of
all in religion, who can not gird himself to applica
tion by some fixed rules and times of action.

I regard this subject, my brethren, as one that has a


most intimate and vital connection with all sound ad
vance or possibility of advance in your Christian life.
Most true it is that God has no pleasure in any mere
formalities or observances you can offer him. He de
mands the heart, he looks with respect and favor on
no tribute which is not the tribute of the heart s free
domunless it be that he lovingly draws nigh to
them that are pining and sighing for the want of such
a o-ift. It is no tread-mill service of routine that wins
you his friendship. Inspiration, impulse, liberty, a
service of freedom and gladness, this only is his de
light. But in order to this, there must also be sub
jection to his rule, a systematic care, a prescribed
obedience of duty, a holy drill of times patiently ac
cepted. The way to find liberty is to come into the
schooling of order and law, and let our will be har
nessed in a punctual keeping of holy times.

Have you never observed that where there is no
order, there is no piety ; or if any, none but such as
represents the confusion, the irresponsibility, the loose
ness and chaotic chance-work of the life ?

You have noticed with wonder and sorrow, it may be,
the fact that so many Christians have no reliable exact
ness in their dealings with their fellow men. It is partly
because they have no exactness with God. They are
loose in their representations, grazing close upon the
gates of falsehood, and sometimes hard against them.
They are not reliable. They are as loose in their
times and engagements as in their statements. Their
honor is not maintained. And the reason is that they


are loose with God. They do not keep their vows.
They have no times of prayer. They let their life
float on as it may, or as self-indulgence or convenience
will determine. There is, in fact, a very close sym
pathy between punctuality in routine, and exactness
in principle, such that no man will ever be a man of
principle who has no times. And then again there is
a sympathy equally close, between high principle and
God, for it is only a very exact conscience that is
capable of a sharp confidence, and then it is only a
delicately sharp confidence towards God that can have
a clear and glorious access to his presence and his

If a Christian shuns routine, therefore, having no
times of prayer, observing with his brethren no ap
pointments of prayer, praying in his family only now
and then, or perhaps never, because he may not al
ways be inclined to it, you can easily see why he will
get on poorly in his piety, and why his light will be
darkness. Because his conscience will be loose, and
his confidence low, and his will in no keeping, and as
no pains are taken for Christ, no sacrifices made, no
fidelity observed, he will of course be as ignorant of
liberty as he is ambiguous in duty.

Brethren, how is it with you in this matter ? Do
you live in the girdle of law or without ? Do you
give your charities when some fit of the impulse takes
you, or when some hard importunity presses you, or
do you try to settle carefully before God your meas
ures, and times, and objects? Do you have your


times of prayer, and keep them, cost what it may, or
do you pray by the rule of inclination or conve
nience ? Do you keep time with your brethren, in
their weekly hour of prayer, or do you fall in late,
or fall utterly away excusing yourself from attend
ance because the place is dull, making it more dull
by a lack of attendance ? Do you lag and grow slack
everywhere, and contrive to think you are waiting for
God to give you appetite? such waiting will be long
before it wins. If the sun waited below the horizon
for fair weather, fair weather would certainly wait for
the sun. Ah, it is a greater thing than you imagine
to stand fast in your order, and the system of a faith
ful life. Half the benefit you get in holy times, and
punctualities, lies in the fact that for Christ s sake
you keep them. You can not be too rigid in this
matter. A loose way makes a loose man. Prove
your fidelity by your painstaking, and it will be
strange if you do not stand fast even though you
stand alone blessed and great honor this, to stand
alone ! Such a man has no dull time any where, his
inspiration is full, his confidence sure, his peace the
calm deep flow of a river.

I knew a man of fortune, whose business was a
care equal to a small kingdom, and who had it as
the rule of his life, to be always up in the morning
before the day, or by the early dawn, and to spend
one or two hours in the exclusive exercises of re
ligion reading, meditation, and prayer. The result
was that what was begun as a law, became, in a


short time, liis privilege. lie had such enjoyment,
such delight in the unmolested good of the time,
that it became the chief blessing of his day ; and
all its works were done under the sacred impulse,
and the smoothed flow and buoyant spring of the
sense of God there received. It was in fact his
luxury ; just that luxury which every humblest, poor
est saint could have as well as he ; arid in which
all the gifts and orders of life are how nearly equal

JSTow there may be some of you that have never had
so much as a question about these routine observances
in duty. What is there for. you in them, w T hen, as re
spects the matter of religion, you have never come
into that kind of duty at all ? What can you do in
religion, having no heart to it, but wait till the heart
is given ? What are your sacrifices, till then, but an
abomination? Of course your prayers or sacrifices
are an abomination, when they are offered in a wicked
and abominable spirit. But not so if they are offered
in a real desire to get help in clearing the bad spirit,
and beginning a right life. Considering then calmly
the fact, that religion is the first errand of existence,
and the chief import of your life-charge itself, give
yourself to it in set times of thought and spiritual en
deavor. No matter what your present feeling may
be, or how great your want of feeling ; no matter
how indifferent you may be, or how dark as regards
all Christian subjects. Set your times of prayer not
for a mere experiment, but as a fixed appointment


never to be discontinued. Go to it in the cold to tret


lieat. Go to it in the dark to wait and watch for
the light. Go to it without inclination, pleading the
promise of God s Spirit to give you inclination.
All this in the rational conviction that, as religion
is your greatest practical concern, God will be wait
ing, on his part, to open the gate for you ; to greet,
accept and bid you everlasting welcome. Now,
doing this, I can not tell you precisely in what
manner God will deal with you. I can only prom
ise that, as certainly as your times are kept, and
kept in a desire to find him, he will be found
discovered suddenly, it may be, in a revelation un
expected ; or you may be drawn along in a way
more nearly imperceptible, till finally, you scarce
know when, the conclusion is upon you that you are
somehow changed. What you began with constraint,
you somehow love. Your affinities, feelings, princi
ples, motives, aspirations, you know not in what way,
are certainly recast, and become wondrously new.
Thus in one way or another it will be with you. Ac
cording to the fidelity of your times, and the steadi
ness of your meaning in them, God will give you,
and with that you must be content. There is no per
son living, as I verily believe, w r ho will not thus,
after some due time, be established in the faith, and
filled with the revelation of God. Your dawn may
come straightway like the sun flaming over the hori
zon as an outbursting power of day ; or it may take
even three or four whole days to bring it ; but it will

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 20 of 29)