Copyright
Horace Bushnell.

Sermons on living subjects online

. (page 21 of 29)
Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 21 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


328 ROUTINE OBSERVANCE, ETC.

come. After two days he will revive us, in the third
day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his
sight. We shall as certainly know as we follow on
to know the Lord, for his going forth is prepared as
the morning.



XVII.

DUE ADVANTAGE IN BEING FINITE.



"Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst
him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of thy
hands." Htb. 2 : 7.

BECAUSE we are created and finite, the conclusion
is sprung at once, by many, that we are insignificant.
And sometimes they will even make a merit of it,
counting it a way of doing honor to God, that we
draw as dejected and sorry a figure as possible of our
selves. Even as we see in Job s friend Eliphaz, one
of those old-time sophists of the East, whose trick it
is always to be laying, first, their slant of contempt on
whatever is finite, and then spreading themselves out
in high airs on the infinite, as if it were altogether in
their province! "Behold he put no trust in his serv
ants, and his angels he charged w r ith folly. As to
them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is
in the dust they are crushed before the moth." I read
from ITmbreit s version. But the sophist keeps on with
his prating as he began. He not only puts down the
poor mortal under such frailty that even the moth will
trample him, but goes on to add that he perishes with-
28* (329)



330 OUK ADVANTAGE

out any regarding it, lives in but the empty show of
excellency, and dies without wisdom. I do not call
the citing of this libel on God s work in man, quoting
Scripture. I only do it, that I may controvert
and refute the libel. Putting with it also what our
new-time Eliphazes add, in what they conceive to be
their more sovereign philosophy ; showing that our
finite consciousness is only a pleasant conceit of being
something we are not; that what we think our liberty
is only fate ; our sin a thing of circumstance in which
we foolishly make ourselves guilty ; our immortality a
merely fond illusion. So we get a last shove towards
nothingness, and in that we go down, sometimes quite
out of sight of ourselves; saying, how often, "]STo
matter, let God, or fate take care of us ; for we are
really too nearly nothing, to be of any great conse
quence, whether to ourselves or to each other." Atro
phy, complete moral atrophy, is the certain result of
this most unnecessary and unjust self-depreciation ;
and there can be no other.

In the passage from which I speak, I begin at quite
another point, where God s well authorized teacher
shows Him magnifying his creature putting even
glory and honor upon him, enduing him with prerog
ative, setting him in dominion. He is not proposing
to magnify God by crushing down his creature, but by
raising him up, rather, into power and majesty.
When I read this passage of Scripture, indeed, I am
not quite sure that the Uncreated being is more privi
leged than the created ; and it is this grand positivity



IN BEING FINITE. 331

of privilege that I now undertake to show. Dis
tinguishing between the two great conditions or kinds
of being, the Uncreated and the created, the Infinite
and the finite, the Supreme and the subject, I propose,
using these terms interchangeably, for they mean, as
far as we are now concerned, the same thing, to give
a merely calm, just statement of the created, the finite,
the subject, which will show them in place, as the ge
ologist might say, and will practically magnify their
significance as no most flaming and declamatory exhi
bition possibly can.

It is a very conclusive and short argument that I
put at the head in this discussion ; viz., that all the wis
dom and character there may be in the Uncreated, will
of course be entered somehow into the advancement
of the created. So that whoever depreciates his work,
depreciates him. Of course he has not put his infinite
quantities into every or any finite creature, but all the
wisdom he has, all the goodness, all the privilege of
nature that he has in himself, is just so far entered
into his creature as it can be. It is not so with other
kinds of creatures, such as animals and stones, for
they are not reciprocal natures. But the moral nature
of man is reciprocal, and is, by supposition, open as
by right, to all there is of good in God that can be
communicated, or received. In this simple fact, of
answering property and perpetual participation, what
a conception have we of the privilege of every cre
ated moral bein^, as related to the Uncreated ! What



332 OUR ADVANTAGE

is it thus for any created mind to be, but glory, and
honor, and dominion over God s works ?

But we have a specification to make, in which we
may begin to see, more distinctly, what advantage we
have in being finite, or created. I begin with the fact
that we have a whole class of virtues permitted us
which are interesting and beautiful in themselves, and
yet no wise pertinent to God. Temperance, for ex
ample, is one ; a self-containing, manly habit, as
respects the uses both of mind and body, that has been
abundantly admired and praised by the ripest teachers
of philosophy. Contentment, in like manner, is a vir
tue that has no place with God, because he has no
uneasy, malcontent properties in his nature that re
quire any such kind of self-regimen to compose and
sweeten them. Candor is a lovely and just character,
that is able to hold the reins of judgment impartially,
against the sway of prejudice and passion. Having
no such liabilities, God wants no such virtue. Cour
age we make heroes of courage ; but as God has
nothing to fear, no perils to subdue, he is eternally out
of range, as regards this noble virtue. Gratitude, most
honorable to show, and a real beatitude to feel, is no
privilege of the supreme, or of any but a subject na
ture. So of prudence, fortitude, economy, and a great
many other like qualities; all humble flowers, yet
even such as God will look upon with delight, though
not in dignity for Him crocuses, blooming in the
low chill air of human life, anemones, violets, arbu
tuses, of virtue, pricking out close down in the margin,



IN BEING FINITE. 333

as it were, of the snows ; fair as they know how to be,
fragrant as they can be, -tokens, in that manner, of our
finite privilege.

2s"ext as being creatures and finite we are allowed to
grow, as the Supreme Infinite, can not. He encoun
ters no new ideas, acquires nothing which he had not
before, beholds what he beheld, and is ever the same
that he was. We, as being finite, have our best enjoy
ment in the sense of progress. We advance in
thought, we accumulate force, we run with larger vol
ume and momentum, as rivers fed by new and larger
tributaries on their way to the sea. It is very difficult
for us to conceive the Infinite being as existing in a
way of eternally stationary completeness, without as
sociating some concern lest he be staled in the exactly
full orbed perfectness of his knowledge and power.
Thus the scholar, the clerk, the apprentice, who should
have it forced upori him, that he is going never to take
a new idea, never to acquire a more ready dexterity
in his employment, never to advance upon himself,
would be utterly crushed by the discovery. Of course
it is in point to remember that the Eternal Wisdom
wants no new ideas, because he has all that can ever
be true already gathered in ; fresher too in their old-
ness, than any that are newly arrived and not yet half
apprehended can be. He wants no growth, because
he is full grown already, and like truth itself, he never
can be staled in ripeness because he is in beauty ever
lastingly fresh born. But since any such mental stock
is impossible for us, what is it but our noble privi-



334 OUR ADVANTAGE

lege, to advance upon ourselves, in a more phenomenal
and transitional way ?

Again, it is a very great advantage of our subject
and created state, that it has a perfectly unknown fu
ture. I know it is not so regarded. It everuchokes
our patience, that we can not tear away this veil, or
fly over this mountain. We worry ourselves in throes
of curiosity and auguries of would-be divination, and
break into bitter complaints, that w^e can not know what
shall be on the morrow. But we must be infinite, by
definition, to have all the future commanded by our
knowledge, and that by supposition we can not be.
Most happy for us too, it is. For if we could know
things future by direct inspection, as God does, it
would rob us of a great part of the satisfactions of our
life, and reduce us to a condition of dullness and dry-
ness quite insufferable. Xow, as we have it, every
moment is rolling up into knowledge out of the un
known, and to live is to discover. We are greater
discoverers in fact than Columbus, discovering, each
man, his own new world every day. The very zest
of life as things are now is enterprise ; that going upon
a venture, which dares the unknown, to wrest victories
from it. Hope is now the consummate flower of life ;
whereas if we had the future mapped distinctly out to
our knowledge, we could hope for nothing. Now
among all the felicities of God, there is to him no
place for hope. It is the uncertainty also of life, as a
future unknown, that constitutes the ever-pressing
argument for faith, shoving us out upon the help that



IX BEING FINITE. 335

is invisible, and the good that is unseen which faith-
power is the grand sixtli sense of life, out-reaching all
the other senses, and grasping worlds of reality that
lie beyond their compass altogether. The Infinite be
ing doubtless dwells in other felicities that are proper
to his all-knowing state ; but any such kind of knowl
edge of the future would plainly enough be a suffoca
ting knowledge to us.

Again, we have relations to equals, and vast oppor
tunities of happiness proper to such relations, which
of course the Infinite being has not, because it is im
possible for him to have equals. How much this
means we can easily discover, if we note what kind of
unsociety we suffer when we have about us only per
sons very unequal too far above us, or too far below.
These great inequalities it is that furnish picturesque
opportunities of favor bestowed or benefit received,
and so impart a high-toned relish to life ; and yet our
staple enjoyments come, for the most part, from such
as are more nearly our equals, and there is a peculiar
and most welcome flavor in such. The acts we per
form and the sentiments we cherish towards such, are
what they perform and cherish towards us. Ko im
mensely superior being among ourselves could give us
any such common-level tributes of respect or approba
tion ; and we could not easily aspire to render such to
him. We are commonly jealous, too, of what we im
agine to be patronizing airs. Or perhaps these high
ones flatter us, to win our returning suffrages of ap
plause. It is not as when old comrades in school, in



336 OUR ADVANTAGE

suffering and labor, in shipwreck and battle, come to
us in their unaffected, unexaggerated offices of friend
ship. Oa this plane of mortal equality, therefore, we
have a whole set of principles, virtues, and felicities,
that belong to our finite privilege, in a way that is
exclusive ; duties and deeds of courtesy, society, vol
untary differences, hospitable customs, modes, man
ners, entertainments, generosities and ways of free
dom, that have no fear of cringing, or desire of being
cringed to, no thought of trespassing, or being tres
passed on all which belong to equals only, and be
come a virtue in them that is strictly their own.
Thus it is the privilege of men, and a very great priv
ilege, to know what equals think of them. God has
no such privilege. It is even impossible for him to
value what any but creatures vastly inferior, and com
paratively low, can think of him, for there are no other.
We have a certain value of some men s opinion, but
God never valued the opinion of any body, unless it
were to somehow mend it and make it more adequate.
lie may enjoy us certainly, and he does, but only as
enjoying weakness to make it strong, or such as grope
that he may give them light much as we value the
tottling of a child when we help it to walk.

Meantime it is another privilege related to tins of
having equals, that our finite range permits us to have
superiors, and especially to have and enjoy one great
superior, the Universal and Supreme Himself Where
as He, whatever joy beside is allowed him, can never
know what it is to look up to, rest in, or enjoy, any



IN BEING FINITE. 337

being greater than himself. As being infinite, lie is
shut up to the solitude of his o\vn incomparable ai.-.l
immeasurably transcendent greatness. Therefore,
some have been so much concerned for his felicity, as
to be set on contriving how he gets society in the ever
lasting Three ; supposing that to be even the neces
sary condition of his comfortable bestowment. But a
trinity not viciously conceived makes God numerally
one, not any such plurality, or congress in society.
And even if it made him three co-equal Gods, it
would not give him a superior. In that respect we
still have our advantage. We are set thus everlast
ingly, in a most dear relation to one, who can be, and
is, our Infinite Friend. His all-seeing eye keeps
watch. His all-hearing ear listens. His all-govern
ing power is regnant in us and about us. In him we
have a grandly fortified state. We dwell among mag
nitudes and in masses that are centered in his will,
as secure from injury by them, as if we had infinite
power and wisdom in ourselves to manage them.
We live, as it were, in dialogue with infinite great
ness. Small in ourselves, we have contemplations,
and contacts of it, that are putting us always in the
sense of majesty and strength everlasting, and giving
us an experience above our own me asures. We are
complemented, infinited, so to speak, in our Great Su
perior. The having such a superior is, in fact, our
principal significance. Better not to have eyes and
never to see the sun, than not to know this blessed
relationality with Him. O what beauty, what ever-
29



338 OUR ADVANTAGE

during freshness, what satisfying fullness, what depth
and height of measure, does it give to our otherwise
little affairs ! Our sceneries have thus an overtowering
summit, but the lowly valleys and green dales we live
in are not the less gladdened by warmth, that they
are sheltered by heights that look solitary and cold.
It would of course be freezing cold to any one of us,
to be shot up, in our littleness, into such solitudes of
preeminence. But we must not allow the impres
sion, that infinite being is of course unprivileged by
reason of its own magnitudes ; for God is not any so
cold mountain peak of greatness in the world as we
may think, but a sun of goodness rather, above all
worlds, having heat in himself for his own. everlasting
comfort and ours besides. Only he can never have
the peculiar kind of joy in us or any other, that we
have in Him ; because there is and can be no other
liio;h enough to command his admiration, or support
his homage and trust.

At this point, again, we naturally pass to a notice
of the great and even immeasurable advantage we
have in being such as may fitly have our opportunity
in worship. Here we go beyond the mere sense, or
certified consciousness, of relationality just spoken of.
We pass into act, and set ourselves adoringly before
the object of worship. We regard, too, not so much
his preeminent order and the natural greatness of his
person, but we are occupied more with his holiness,
and the beauty and majesty of his moral greatness.
To worship is to find a joy in prostration before a



IN BEING FINITE. 339

being infinitely pure and perfect. It is to say and to
sing " hallowed be thy name," and be hallowed by it
ourselves. Brought up, as we are, under the blue
heaven, symbolizing always the purity of God, and
letting fall its image to waken correspondence in our.
feeling, we are trained, so to speak, for worship. I
believe it is not commonly thought of, as being in it
self a privilege to worship, but it is considered to be
only a good much commended, because it comes along
as a prescribed part of our duty in religion. On the
contrary, as we are constituted, there is nothing to be
thought of, or desired, or done, out of the most licen
tious liberty of choice, at all comparable to the exer
cise permitted and provided for, of worship itself. In
it we rise highest, think the noblest things, burn with
the divinest fires our nature can support. Even as we
receive the highest, dearest, sentiments that visit our
eyes, in the ranges of nature, making long journeys,
and putting ourselves to undertakings most exhausting
and perilous, just to get the privilege of wonder, and
have the sense of beauty and sublime admiration
stirred in our feeling. The joy we obtain thus is a
kind of natural worship, paid to sceneries and sounds,
to waterfalls and heaven-piercing mountains, and
storms of the land, and storms of the sea, to wrath,
and thunder, and power, find color, and beauty. In
all which we discover, in a lower key and a compara
tively feeble example, what joy we are made for. in
having our finite mind exalted by the contemplations,
and kindled by the glow of worship. And it is a joy



3-10 OUR ADVANTAGE

of the finite and created only. The Infinite being has
of course no right or possibility of worship ; for there
is nothing abov r e him to move his homages, or set him
in the beatitude of praise. The glorious Amen, the
awful joy of w r orship, is permitted creature minds
alone.

Not to multiply points of advantage in the finite,
without limit, there is yet one other which is not
strictly incidental, it may be, or necessary to, the rela
tion of infinite and finite being, like the points already
named, but is even instituted or appointed by Ood s
will and counsel. It is referred to by the apostle him
self, w T onderingly and with praise, when he names the
very impressive fact that our Creator has set us over
the works of his hands. For it is niost remarkable
that finite creatures have it given them, on so vast a
scale, to come in after Him and put their finishes on
his works. Thus he becomes Creator and we sub-crea
tors ; Saviour, we sub-saviours. In almost every thing,
finite being is set of course in a subaltern office, where
nevertheless it is called to fulfill or complete what the
infinite has begun. Thus God creates in the rough-
land, sea, rivers, mountains, and wild forests. So far
only does lie make scenery, but he never creates a
proper landscape. The rich fields, and gardens, and
green meadow r s and lawns, the open vistas of orna
ment, the road-ways, bridges, cottages and cleanly
dressed shores of water all that constitutes the special
beauty of the world, is something added, as finish,
after the world is made ; even as our first father was



IN BEING FINITE. 341

set to dress and keep the garden, and make a finer and
more properly artistic scene of it. We look abroad
over almost any landscape, and every thing we see,
except the mere skeleton form, is from the finite crea
tors who have taken up the rough work that was given
them, to put their final touch upon it. So of all
fruits, grains, animals of use; taken as being made,
they were only wild, half-begotten, misbegotten crea
tures apples that were crabs, wheat of a bitter wild-
rice-looking kernel, horses of the mustang type, and
size. Xot even the flowers, lurking in the woods,
could show much beauty till they were transplanted
and taught what shape they might take in their kind,
and into what colors they might blush. So again of
government, the infinite of it is represented far back,
in moral natures, simply configured to right, and then
it is their finite action that is to build up codes of
manners, duties, and rights ; framing also states, and
laws, and constitutions, and setting all the ranges of
family care at work, as so many mills of discipline, to
mold and model the manhood, that shall be, in the
childhood that is. In like manner, mind, in its rough
original, is but a ray of possibility from the infinite,
which can never be intelligence, in fact, till it strug
gles forth itself, or is brought forth by some educating
help from its kind. Here too laws are from the infi
nite, science from the finite coming out after a long
time, but always expected to come. So of all high
culture, in thought and art, and language. "What a
magnificent temple is built in every great language.
29*



342 OUH ADVANTAGE

Passing, last of all, to religion, or the Christian form
of it, what do we see, but that when it is done as to
the making, it is yet to be finished by the propagation.
It does not even propose the conversion of the world,
save by men themselves. It must have its ministries
in them; it must be reincarnated in the finite genera
tions, age upon age, and theirs it must be, to live its
divine beauty into the w r orld, to preach, and sow, and
cultivate, and suffer, if need be, till they have leav
ened all sin, by the love that is in them. And so it
comes to pass universally, with how great honor, I
might almost say deference, shown to creatures in the
finite, that God, who is the infinite beauty Himself,
wants to see it bloom in his children. Perhaps it
could not be distinctly apprehended till they had given
it their touch themselves.

But if there be so many advantages in our subject
nature, and finite order of being, an objection will
most likely be interposed, asking what of sin, or moral
evil, and the liability under which it appears ? Is it
not the natural and all but necessary incident of our
limited and progressive endowments. I have no time
or space here to discuss so large a subject. It is in
this fact referred to, as we can not but see, that our
existence becomes a tragic affair, and are we not
aware that all greatest movements, and highest exalta
tions, whether of action, or sentiment, are closest
bound up with tragedy ; yielding, in this manner, the
tenderest and most thrilling delights. Even its woes
are delights. Shall we not also come up out of our



IN BEING FINITE. 343

shame and sorrow, knowing good by the fiery scorch
of evil, and have it better good because of evil?
Have we no grand privilege, in this bitter and deep
story ? Of course we are not put into it as privilege,
for, in some principal sense we put ourselves into it ;
but the very unmaking of it what can it do but make
us gods, climbing up out of it into God s plane, as not
even the lying serpent imagined. One thing, at least,
is clear, that our eternal Word can never know, as he
has given us to know, what it is in so great mortal
shame and hopelessness, to be visited by a superior na
ture s love, sorrowing tenderly about him, and dying in
to him, as it were, to rally him and win him back to life.
That is a felicity most grand which never can be his !

It will probably occur to some of you, in the tracing
of these illustrations and discovering in them what
dear privilege there may be, in our subject form
of being, that possibly we are to apprehend some se
cret reason herein of the incarnation, which is not
often adverted to or conceived. Thus over and above
what benefits of grace and salvation were proposed, it
is not absurd to imagine some attractiveness felt in
our subject conditions themselves. Just as some great
hero, or apostle, now and then, will love in mere ten
derness to become a little child among children, and
have his part and place with them as an equal. Noth-
ing is more evident from Christ s own word and way,
than that he had great satisfaction in it. Did he not
come for the joy set before him set before him, not



OUR ADVANTAGE

as in prospect, but as a table is set for a gnest ? Was
it not confessedly his meat and drink, to be subject
thus under the Father? Was he not tasting finite
privilege in it ? Was he not acting himself into the
created, and harvesting in it the fruits of a sweet hu
man obedience ? In what deep welcome also did he re
ceive the witness " This is my beloved son in whom I
am well pleased ;" remembering just there, we may sup
pose, how a good, right man of the old time felt, when
he had " the testimony that he pleased God." Not that
any such humanized privilege was needful to him, but
that he might magnify our finite lot, by letting the joy
of it beam out through his sorrow, and so might give
us a sufficiently dear, and really divine, opinion of it.
And so praying that we might have his joy fulfilled
in us. what did he mean, but that what he found him



Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 21 of 29)