Horace Bushnell.

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self, in our finite molds of good, we also might find ?
What honor therefore did he put on our human form
of being, that he came into it in such ready humility,
and went through it so gloriously himself. And what
has he done for us more impressively, than by setting
his own divine honors on all our duties and trials and
even tears tempted as we are, faithful as we should
be, joyful as we may be. Is it then a low, dull life,
that is given us ? Do we long for higher ranges of
experience ? Do we disesteem the scale of our engage
ments ? Far be it from us, since our own great Lord
is with us, and every thing we look upon here is hon
ored by his part with us in it. If we think it trivial
and low to be finite, it was not so to him !


At the same time, while we dare to magnify our
finite privilege in this manner, let it not be with of
fense. If we count it a great thing to be finite, and
sometimes even a condition of privilege beyond what
belongs to the infinite, we only take the honor and the
good that are given us. There is no frothiness or con
ceit, in this boasting. No, we magnify humanity
overmuch only when we praise it for a goodness it has
not, or cover with vain words the sin it has ; when we
make it our gospel to have faith in the dignity of hu
man nature, apart from any dignifying power of grace
and salvation ; when we puff ourselves up into magni
tude, by recounting possibilities of greatness already
trampled and lost, or dress ourselves in shows and
draperies of virtue too thin to be soundly respected.
None of these will at all advance the proper estimate
of our quality. We rise highest, when we discover
what grand privilege belongs to our finite range itself,
and level ourselves up towards it in the recovery of
w r hat we have lost ; w T hen we settle into modesty, and
set ourselves hopefully down to the honest sorrows of
repentance ; w T hen w r e have it as our just ambition to
be completely, perfectly finite, filling out the privilege
of our creature being, in exactly the measures God has
set for it. Then too we have gifts how many, and vir
tues how beautiful, and joys how blessed, that do not
some of them belong even to Him having no longer
any good to hope, or desire, in the conceit of merits
and virtues that do not anywise belong to us. This in
fact is the real faith in man, though not exactly that


of which we hear so much. It is that man can
reach high enough in his repentances to be so full and
great, and be drawn relation ally so close to the All-
Father, as to be complemented everlastingly in his
nobler measures.

It ought also to be added in this connection, that our
very subject should itself sufficiently humble us, to
keep off any thought of pride for our humanity ; for
behold what revelation it makes of the sin of sin,
showing us exactly what it is, and wherein its crimi
nality lies ; viz., in the refusal to be lovingly and just
ly finite. It refuses control, and will not have God to
reign over it. It does not formally undertake to be
infinite, for it would see the absurdity of that, but it
does undertake, in the negative way, to be exactly
that, in refusing to accept the conditions of a merely
creature life. It shakes off allegiance, it is annoyed
by commandments and claims of authority. To be
controlled in duty, to be limited in opportunity, to be
restricted in liberty, provokes irritation. It bolts, in
fact, the finite state itself; calls it a chain, tears its law
aside and breaks away. What could be more grand,
or a higher appointment, than to fulfill just the true
creation-measure of God, and be his created, such as
he has meant and means us to be. Ah, we do not un
derstand, my friends, what sin there is in this our sin
how perverse against reason it is, how unjust to God,
who is only contriving in all he appoints for us, and
all he requires of us, to bring us in, just where we
shall be most truly and completely ourselves. With-


out being infinite, and plainly enough there can be
only one that is, we can not even conceive a state more
advantaged, than this in which we are set. In a great
many points it has seeming advantage over even Su
preme Being itself. And yet this horrible riot of our
sin spurns all such advantage, refuses to be so exalted,
and lets us down, below limitation itself, into woes of
self-extirpation, such as we must suffer from the waste
of our disorder, and the bitterly consuming pangs of
our remorse. God forgive such madness. Still the
really sad bent of our time, I grieve to say, is towards
the denial of sin ; we resolve it into circumstance,
we call it a necessity, we even think it a good mis
named. In one way or another, we contrive to let

down the guilt of it. I confess that when I draw out

this conception of advantage in our finite order, I feel
a more unspeakable horror of this wrong than I know
how to express 1 . It throws me back on those oft-derid
ed words of Scripture, " the exceeding sinfulness of
sin." After all, there is no so faithfully just and
soundly significant testimony as that.

There is yet a particular point, on which this subject
has been pressing from the first, and I can not fitly
close without demanding for it your special attention ;
I speak now of the immense and really religious sig
nificance it gives to human education. It is in this
fact of our being finite progressives, that w T e are edu-
cable ; capable that is of being drawn out towards
the infinite. Thus, in our human scale, we think one
thought at a time ; the infinite Father all thoughts at


a time and forever. Our thought runs in successions,
making only rills or rivulets of motion ; his broader,
vaster measure holds all thoughts in static equilibrium
together, as an all-comprehending sea, towards which
our rivulets run. We begin at some given date think
ing our first thought, and going on thus, in our human
curriculum, we try things, we discover, we deduce,
we memorize ; all which is finite operation ; the infinite
has none of it. But there is attainable and is to be,
and that is what all education reaches after, a condi
tion of correspondence, w r here every subject thought
answers exactly to what is in the Supreme thought ;
even as David s, when he sang, " how precious are thy
thoughts unto me, O God," or as Kepler s, when he
sprang up in the fresh discovery of his problem and
cried, " O God I think thy thoughts after thee !" So it
is that all the truth we find is truth to God, and if we
find any thing which is not truth to God, it is a lie.
The same is to be said of moral opinions and princi
ples ; we find no law of righteousness which is not a
law for all beings and worlds ; for the finite, and as
certainly too for the infinite. Science makes no true
discovery save as it opens into some law, which is
God s thought threading the creation.* Learning or
literary culture approaches its true end only as it at
tains to ideas, inspirations, and modes of skilled com
posure that belong to the everlasting proprieties. All
true education travels up thus towards the infinite
reason, and the culmination of it is religion ; other

* \Vritten for T. C. C., but not delivered.


culmination it lias none, and without this it is alto
gether headless and chaotic.

How grand a thing then, in this view, is education,
and withal if we could see it, a thing how nearly
sacred. It is even a kind of church life in the temple
of knowledge, whose inmost shrine contains the ark
of God; and if it does not bring us finally to Him, the
cuUus operated by our study is but a kind of nonsense.
To make a study of astronomy, without looking up, is
not a whit more absurd. All knowledge that refuses
to know the highest, and be ended off in the highest,
is but a sham, a living in the bran that rejects the
flour. We encounter also just here in this low feed
of knowledge, and also in the non-improvement or
misuse of educational advantages generally, the fur
ther, more appalling mischief of a stunting of our
souls ; in which we suffocate the very highest func
tions of our intelligent nature. Uncreated being, as
we have seen, has no attribute or possibility of
growth. Insensate things, such as rocks, and seas of
water, do not grow. Animals and trees grow a little,
for a little time, and come to their limit. But the
grandest attribute of our created minds, one that be
longs to no other finite creature whatever, is that they
have the gift of a growth everlasting. A fact which
makes it only the more dreadfully appalling, that they
can so easily and also fatally shorten back this capac
ity, and give it a forever stunted force ; for no really
stunted creature, whether animal or plant, or mind,
after a certain early period, which may be called its


growing day, is over, is ever set back to its full grow
ing rate again. Even the faithful scholar gets through
growing size and staple force in a very few years, and,
after that, only gathers in further contents without
much enlargement of volume. And what. an argu
ment have we here for the faithful improvement of all
opportunities ; always and every where too for a sound
self-discipline ; for a nobly pure life ; for a godly habit,
and a vision purified and cleared by the grace of relig
ion. For these helps of education rightly improved,
propose as we have seen, a larger man, and to give him
everlastingly enlarged consequence to himself; while
the poor idler, the light-headed trifler, who rejects ap
plication, gadding always after pleasures and dissipa
tions, goes forward into his future to be as insignificant
there as here, as incapable of thought, as insipid and
trivial as any growing creature that has lost its day,
and stopped short in making volume, inevitably must
be. To break out there, after his education day is
over, and recover his lost volume, is as little to be ex
pected as that any dwarf will grow up into a hero.
O my friends there is no question for a finite creature,
in his schooling day, like this what shall my nature
be worth, and what amount of being shall I carry
witli me, when I enter the great world before me ?
The old trivialities are now gone by, the nonsense
hours are over, and now it only remains to be set
down in such quantity of being and character, as are
left and what shall it be? His privilege was to make
volume for himself; to be so far a voluntary re-creator


of himself; for his education -right was to be summed
up, not in his acquirements, but in his enlargements.
Is he then to be a stunted child when his education
.day is over? that is the question or is he to be a
MAX? Ah, my friends, that is what you will very
soon have decided.



" Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. But
in every nation, ho that feareth God and worketh righteousness is
accepted with him." Acts 10: 34-5.

Tins most grandly catholic platform of salvation,
Peter the apostle derives partly from his vision of the
sheet, and partly from the outside brotherhood which
his vision of the sheet has prepared him to know and
acknowledge ; the brotherhood, I mean, of Cornelius.
This man is a born Pagan, a military captain brought
up doubtless in the superstitions of the Pantheon, who
yet gives our apostle to see plainly that he is, in heart,
a Christian a Christian, that is, outside of Christian
ity. He has been largely known for a long time as a
man of prayer, and a thoroughly devout character,
lie is also discovered and approved by God, before he
is by Peter ; for God even sends an angel to tell him
" thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a me
morial before God." And as there is always some
thing better coming, when a man gets heaven s in
dorsement in this manner, word is given him to send
to Joppa after Peter, and receive from him a more
competent knowledge of these things.


Peter then goes down to Csesarea at liis call, and
becomes a guest with him in his house ; where he
hears the whole story of his faith, and learns appar
ently about as much from him, as he from Peter-
brings out, or matures by his Pagan brother s help,
the great banner-principle, from which I am now pro
posing to speak.

In it he corrects the superstition by which his own
apostleship had been disfigured; viz., the Jewish no
tion of an exclusive right in Israel to the salvation of
God; taking the broader doctrine of a salvation
everywhere, and for every body who truly seeks God s
light, or whom God s light effectually finds.

Have we no similar misconceptions that require to
be corrected ? When we assume, as we do, the inex
cusable guiltiness, and the certain exclusion from God,
of all idolaters, and all the born subjects of the false
religions, as in fact we very often do 5 is not Peter s
vision of the sheet as truly for us as for him ? Neither
does it signify any thing, in this matter, that we can
cite so many denunciations of the Old Testament, to
just this effect, against the idolaters ; for these denun
ciations were not made to the idolaters they never
heard of them but to the people of God, dwelling in
God s own light, to deter them from lapsing into idol
atry. So when we cite the declaration of the New
Testament, that " there is no other name given under
heaven among men, whereby we can be saved, but the
name of Christ," do we not fall into just the same mis
take, of not observing, that it is we who have heard of


Christ and known his gospel, that are put under this
ban of exclusion, and not any Pagan people, who
have never heard of him, or seen any light but what
they have in a way more immediate ? Nothing is
more certain than that Peter s grand charter-principle
forbids any and all such denouncements. If, in every
nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteous
ness is accepted, how many may there be that never
heard of Christ, and scarcely know God more suffi
ciently than as the unknown God, who yet are so far
right with God, and so truly found of God, as to be
fitly joined with us in the common hope of life. We
hope from within the Bible and the church, and they
from without, or on the outside of the same. They
compose the church beyond the church, the unhis-
toric discipleship, sprinkled over the world in distant
ages and realms of idolatry, who, without a gospel,
have found a virtual gospel by their faith, and learned
to walk in God s private light. That private light is
truth unstated probably even by themselves, begin
ning at the feeling, more or less distinct, that there is
some Father of all whose offspring they are, which
unknown Father loves them, and has set them down
here, in the grand trial of life, to feel after him and,
if they may, to find him. They are such as have
come into the way of -holiness by invisible God-help,
which God-help way of living is in fact a living "by,
faith. Such examples may not be numerous, and yet
they may be more numerous than we think. If they
were only such as seek after God of their own motion,


they might be very few, but since God is seeking after
them after all men everywhere it should not be in
credible that some are found by him, and folded in his
fold, which they do not so much as know. A glance
also at certain great first principles, particularly the
three that follow, would induce the hope that many
more than we commonly suspect, are thus harvested
for the kingdom

First. That God loves all men impartially, and is no
respecter of persons ; having the same desire to be
loved by all, and be known as their Friend.

Second. That he is never afar oif from any, but is
close at hand, putting them always on seeking after
him, in a desire to have them find him.

Third. That the Spirit of God is present, going
through all minds, all over the world, moving them
inwardly, in a way to kindle their yearnings, and
draw their inclinings towards the inborn grace, that
will be in turn his finding of them.

Do not imagine that, in stating these three particu
lar premises, I am preparing to discuss the possibility
of a salvation for the outsiders of the gospel. My ob
ject is different; viz., to show how God finds access to
such, or by what methods and means works their piety and
engages them in a felt devotion to his friendship.

The method I propose to adopt in this inquiry will
perhaps not be expected. I shall not spread myself
on nature and Providence, showing what truths of
natural theology and practical discipline are set open

there to all, and how the outside men have, to this ex-



tent, precisely the same revelation that is given to
those of the inside. Neither do I propose, in looking
after such examples, to range the general field of pro
fane history, and draw out the characters, here -and
there, that appear to have a tinge of goodness and re
ligious devotion. Making the most we can of such
examples, there will yet be reason left for a good deal
of doubt in regard to them all. I am going therefore
inta the Bible itself, to find our outside brethren ; just
where we so often assume that we are not of course to
look for them. I do it because I shall have them here
on a right orthodox footing of trust, and shall have
nothing in fact to do but to consider them, in their su
pernatural relations, receiving their calls and private
lessons, and finding how to know God in the unwrit
ten bible of their own personal experience.

I begin with the case of Enoch. There was no
written Scripture in his day, and probably no church.
He appears to have lived a kind of solitary life, which
is therefore called his walking with God. He was
probably much derided by the men of his time, which
made it the almost necessary comfort of his days to
live u in the testimony that he pleased God." And
this testimony was not any audible witness, but the
witness of the Spirit, who came in at the open door
of nature set open wider by his faith, till finally he
became so permeated and leavened by the divine
affinities, that he went up, and could not any more be

Noah appears to have been a character not less sep-


arated from liis time. He was a preacher called to
preach without a Bible a preacher of righteousness,
even as God taught him to be. But there were no
ears to hear. Society itself was a godless and wild
crew, given up to all kinds of wrong and violence,
and lost, as it would seem, to even the distinctions of
virtue. It does not appear that there was any single
person, out of his own family, that knew any thing
about God, or had any care for religion. And the
oracle that found him, and that he himself had no
skill of his own to find, improbable as it was, so
verified itself as to put him 011 building his ark, amid
the jeers of his people ; for God by a process strange
ly mysterious, which he could only trust, and could
not understand, was preparing him to be the new-
stock father of a new and better age.

These two examples belong to an outside life, when
there is no church. "We corne down next to Abra
ham, who stands at the fountain head, or on the fron
tier line. In him the church begins, and so far he is
inside of it. And yet he is prepared, in all important
respects, by a previous outside training. He had no
written revelation, and had seen no organized form of
religion. But he came out of the east, a profoundly
religious and nobly just character, so far opened to
God s Spirit, by his acquaintance with God, that he
could receive a life-call at first hand, and take the
necessary guidance in that call. It finds him at
Haran, far back in the plains of Syria, and going
forth in it, he begins the church history. Under what


kind of training, uniting what kind of advantages, he
had been brought up, in the far east, we do not know ;
but it afterwards appears, when he sends his servant
back to the east country, to obtain a wife for his son,
that all his relations there are, in some sense, religious
people. Thus when Abraham s servant arrives, he is
welcomed in the name of Jehovah, and in some, at
least, of the proprieties of religion. Still there was
a mixture of idolatrous corruption that largely in
fected their Jehovah worship. Thus when Eachel
came away, a generation later, pursued by Laban to
recover the lost gods of his religion, it appears that
she had hidden among her effects certain little idols,
or amulets, called teraphiin, that were much in vogue,
at least, amoug the women. And the coarseness of
Laban, as also the petty thieving of the gods by his
daughter, indicate the general style and merit of their
religion. But how grandly marches out Abraham
into his call, clearing forever all such trumperies of
idolatry, and growing into such high intimacy with
God, that a pure divine religion crystallizes, and begins
to be organic in his life. He knows nothing of piety
by definition, or intellectual dissection. He has never
read Edwards on the Affections, and knows not how
to square his life by distinctions of motive; has no tests
of regeneration, practices self-abnegation artlessly,
without analysis, or even asking what it is. But God
has him in training, and knows exactly by what les
sons to bring him on, as we see in the story of his sac
rifice. The problem here is to teach what is yet un-


formed in thought, by what is done as in act. The
two great elements of obedience and trust are set in,
as by a tragic practice. lie is held in deep maze all
the while as he goes on, emerging at last and brighten
ing out in the discovery, that what God is most ex-
actingly demanding, he is always providing himself a
lamb to supply. It makes no great difference whether
we conceive this lesson by action, to be given outside
of the church or in it ; for it could have been there
and is wanted here. It is alphabetic, any way, and
the book is to come after the alphabet is made.

Having given us five books of scripture, Moses will
naturally be put down as a scripture character. lie
was born moreover of the Jewish stock. And yet, as
lie was a foundling, picked up in the flags of the jSTile,
and carried directly into the Egyptian court, to be
brought up as the son of Pharaoh s daughter nursed
meantime for only a little while by his own Jewish
mother and largely separated afterward from his
race, scarcely knowing more, it would seem, than the
fact of his mere blood connection ; as he was entered
directly into the Egyptian schools, and applied him
self with such enthusiasm as to master all the learn
ing of the Egyptians, who at that time were the fore
most of all peoples, especially in science ; and as we
find him afterwards building a close commonwealth,
that is not in any sense Abrahamic, or pastoral, but
territorial, and legal, and penal, set oif in orders and
tiers, both priestly and civil, and having incorporate
in its laws all the Egyptian therapeutics, and partly


their notions of clean and unclean food having all
these facts to be digested, our minds preponderate in
the conviction that he is to be conceived, up to early
manhood, as a properly Egyptian character. But the
fact of his Jewish origin had reached him, and by
force of that he broke out in the naturally explosive
heat of his youth, to be the avenger of a much abused
kinsman of his people. From that moment he was
launched in his mission, as yet even to himself un
known, and being obliged to flee for his life, he is
taken far aw r ay to the region back of Iloreb, where
God has him forty years in training, to get him quali
fied in the matter of a religion. There also it is


that afterward, Jethro, his father-in-law, a priest of
Midian, intervenes to be his teacher and counselor,
and Jethro is a wholly outside man, grandly religious
and nobly just, able also to help him in his religious
development. He also comes back to him after the
exode, with his nobly paternal and statesmanlike ad
vice, sketching for him Midian for Israel a complete
and masterly outline of his whole civil service plan.
So that, on the whole, we are led to look on Moses as
a virtual outsider himself, down to the time of his
call in the burning bush. His religion, as we can see,
is mainly by God s immediate light, getting appar
ently no help below, save from a man whose religious
traditions, if he has any, are as far out of all historic
connection as his own.

A strangely curious episode challenges our attention

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 22 of 29)