Horace Bushnell.

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next, in the case of Balaam, the eastern soothsayer.


This man is a great problem, any way, and specially
in his religious inspirations. The sharpness, and
beauty, and truly evangelic richness of his oracles, are
really inimitable. There is nothing finer in the Scrip
ture, or at all more vigorously self-evidencing. Nor
is it any objection that divination was forbidden, about
this time, by Moses, and declared to be an abomina
tion to the Lord ; for it had not been forbidden to
Balaam and the Mesopotamians. And therefore it
was only natural, perhaps, that he should mix, or be
supposed to mix enchantments with his oracles just
as our astrologists and alchemists sought religious
light with mixtures of incantation. He was certainly
faithful to his convictions, against all the blandish
ments employed to win his consent. On the whole, I
think this man would be acknowledged universally,
in his truly weird story and character, as a man pro
foundly enlightened by God s secret revelations, if it
were not for the very harsh strictures put upon him
afterwards, by the perhaps unjust prejudice of the

In the book and character of Job we have another

and more grand episode, so to speak, in the historic

train of the Bible. Job is not a Jew; the book is

clearly not a Jewish book ; for there are, in fact, no

Jewish references or allusions in it. The world of

thought which it opens is a new, unjewish, outside

-world. The piety is real and profound, but unhis-

torical, out of all connection with the Bible history.

The argument, is a matter by itself, supposing a de-



bate with opinions not Jewish. And thus you have
one of the most remarkable books of the Scripture
a book that reveals the clearest evidences of inspira
tion, and presents the highest summits of sublimity in
thought and diction, which is, in fact, the book of an
outsider ; some prince of the Land of Hz, some Ara
bian or Mesopotamia^ poet, some Persian or Baby
lonish teacher, wrestling with the great themes of
God and human life, in the uncovenanted mercies of
an alien, framing thus a theodice or vindication of God,
for all the after ages of the world and the church.

At a later period we have the example of Cyrus,
one of the most remarkable and best characters of the
ancient history, a great commander and conqueror,
a great statesman, according to XenopTion a great
benefactor to his people, humane and just, and withal
a protector and firm friend of the people of God. lie
it was that gave the decree to Ezra, providing him
with funds and forces to go back and build the temple
of his religion, saying " the God of Israel he is
God." And the reason of his conduct is given by the
prophet, who declares that God unseen has liolden his
right hand, raised him up in righteousness, and direct
ed all his ways. lie was a monotheist in his re
ligion, as all the Persians were, and was therefore con
scious of no change in the favor he showed to the peo
ple of God ; but the prophet declares that God has all
the while been visiting him unseen, and tempering
him to his own high counsel " I have called thee by
thy name, I have surnamed thee though thou hast not


known me." And it is a great felicity in this ex
ample that the unseen access and visitation of God are
so grandly affirmed in it. What better footing of
original, first-hand discovery could be desired.

At the very opening of the ISTew Testament we en
counter the Magi, religiously related, in a sense, to
Cyrus. They were priests of the Medo-Persian re
ligion ; astrologers living among the stars, and watch
ing there, to spell God s oracle, in the changing mo
tions. And many of them too became so raised and
spiritualized in habit, as to be not unfitly honored by
the guidance of a star, and led in to offer the world s
first tribute of worship to the new-born Messiah.

The Syrophenician woman, whose faith the Saviour
so heartily commended, was a Pagan-born woman
probably, and by some heavenly guidance, not unlike
ly, went to Christ for help.

The case of Cornelius we have traced already.
That of the centurion was like it. And in deliberate
comparison of his character with that of his own coun
trymen, Christ says " Verily I say unto you, I have not
found so great faith, no, not in Israel." And he can
not stop there " I say unto you that many shall come
from the cast and from the west, and from the north
and from the south all these from the outside and
shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob,
in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the
kingdom shall be cast out into outei\ darkness."

I might also turn off here and gather in a roll of
names from classic story ; such as Numa, Marcus An-


toninus, Plotinus, Plato, and liis master Socrates ; the
list fully given would be a long one, and I have no
room left me to sketch the persons, or verify them as
men whom God has called to be partakers in his pri
vate light. I can only say that the Greek and Roman
literature, still preserved to us as that of most Pagan
peoples is not, allows us to look directly into the work
ing of the religious nature, in multitudes of serious,
thoughtful men outside of revelation, and to see just
where they are their notions of God and the better
notions they are struggling after, their half-discoveries,
their expressed longings after a revelation, their sighs,
suspirations and prayers, their belief in dreams and
lying down for dreams, their gropings or almost find
ings, their premonitions, their sturdy argumentations,
their trances of contemplation. Instead of rinding
them quite dead to such themes, it is as if their re
ligious nature were packed full of questions, and the
Spirit of God were just about to burst open their
prison and let them out into the day. They even go
long journeys, hoping to find perchance some one who
can tell them what they want to know. Their own
yearnings sometimes put them in a state in which they
lay hold of Christ, at the very first discovery, even as
a starving man of bread. Thus it is that multitudes
of souls without a Bible, are turning God ward here
and there, as being inwardly sought after by God.
Even as Paul says to the Athenians" though he be
not far from every one of us ; for in Him we live, and


move, and have our being for we are also his off

If accordingly we go apart still further from the
region of mental life and culture, among the savage
tribes, for example, of our own Xortli American con
tinent, we shall find many traditions that seem almost
to have the sanctity of a revelation ; and now and then
a character appears springing up as a strange solitary
flower in the wilderness, and assuming all the most
remarkable distinctions of a genuine piety as for ex
ample in the wild Indian disciple of Brain ard ; a man
who lived apart, as it were, from his time and people,
coming out among them now and then as a kind of
saint, to restrain their murderous passions, or call them
away from the ruinous vice of drink ; and when he
could not prevail, running off into the woods in tears
of grief which he could not restrain. " Ah, there
must be some one," he would say, " who thinks like
me ; where shall I find him ?" So also there came to
light not long ago in the wilds of Africa, a woman
who had been praying many years to some Power Un
known, and who, as soon as the story of Jesus was
given her, exclaimed " O that is he, the same that I
have found, and now have always with me." And
what should be more credible than just such visita
tions, occurring here and there among peoples most
unfavored ? If God is a being whom we need to
know and naturally yearn after, and if he wants to
bestow himself on us, why should we wonder that he
sometimes finds a way through even incapacity itself,


bringing his unchurchly help and sympathy to the
miserably forlorn one in his outcast lot?

I will not pursue this exposition farther. I have
undertaken to show you what God is doing and can
do, for the outsiders of his Bible and church. And to
make the exposition more convincing, I have taken
my examples almost wholly from the part such
outside men have had in the Bible story itself. God
has had his witnesses, you now see, in every age of the
world, apart from all connection with his covenant,
and the organic institutions of his grace in the earth;
men that have been visited and called by him in the
solitudes of nature, and there have burned as the si
lent, separated lights of their times.

It now remains to say that, in tracing this subject, I
have had deliberate respect altogether to uses needed
by ourselves, in our inside field of gospel truth and
privilege. My object has not been, to answer the per
haps merely curious question, what possibilities are
given to idolaters and heathens, but to gain a position
of discovery in regard to the Bible itself how it
came, how to use it, what to get under it, and do for
it ; what need of it, in a word, the inside people have,
and how they are to get their best advantage from it.

First of all, then, we are not to judge that the
mere possibility of a revelation outside of the Bible
supersedes the want of it. That was not the opinion
of God when he sent his angel, even by miracle, to
Cornelius, to put him in the way of an apostle, who


should teach him Christ and baptize him in the faith
of a disciple. The souls most enlightened too by cul
ture have been most apt to sigh for authorized teach
ers and appointed rites, and a veritable revelation.
Having gleams of insight, and almost visions of God,
they wanted it the more. ,They sighed, and waited,
and even groaned for it, knocking piteously at the
gate they knew not how to open. And such as nei
ther sighed, nor groaned, nor cared, only wanted it the
more. Christ not wanted ! the Bible not wanted !
just as well to be without a revelation ! What could
show more affectingly the insupportable destitution of
such a state, than the gropings and only casual find
ings of its hungry millions ? Doubtless there is a pos
sible salvation for all men without a revelation I
verily believe there is but a naked possibility is alas !
how slender a footing, where the interest and peril are
so great.

Then again, secondly, having reached this conclu
sion as regards the immense want of a revelation, and
of Christ as a Saviour, let no one turn the blame upon
God, that what is so much wanted everywhere, is not
everywhere given. Doubtless God might rain show
ers of Bibles, just as he does the showers of rain all
over the lands and even seas of the world, but he
must also rain written languages too, and a power to
read them, beside. And then the readers, if they
were read, would want to know how the book grew to
be a book, the revelation how revealed. And there
was no way but to begin, here and there, with natures


most open, most susceptible, gathering in their several
seeings and testimonies, and bodying for holy truth
the word they have received. If a Bible could be
gotten up mechanically, as showers are gotten up in
the chambers of the sky, it might be justly concluded
that all men ought to have it. But it has first to be
incarnated, so to speak, and wrought into humanity,
much as Christ was, and so revealed through human
ity ; for the fact is that all such kind of truths must be
enunciated in persons ; even as the truths of astronomy
require to be enunciated in orbs and orbits. And
then, forever after, the truth has to be lived over and
acted out, by a kind of reincarnation in good men s
lives, in order to have its meaning. There must be a
ministry of love and character going with it ; graces
to shine, patience to suffer, sacrifices, labors, prayers,
ordinances and rites of worship, and assemblies kin
dled by their glow, else the book is dead, or too nearly
so, both for want of meaning and of evidence. Arid
so you perceive that Bibles could not be made faster
than men are good enough to have revelations made
through them ; and could not be multiplied or dissem
inated faster or farther than the graces of love and
sacrifice, and the patiently enduring and bravely dar
ing enterprises are quickened, that shall carry them
abroad and preach them. Bibles therefore can not
outgrow or outrun the church. And God is not to
blame for this. However much they are wanted, they
can not, in the nature of things, out-travel the grace
they nourish. If it takes a million of years to get


them published in this way everywhere, then it must
take a million of years. Enough that Christ began to
speed them on, at once, by his word, saying " Be
hold the fields already white to the harvest." And
again that he gave it for his parting charge" Go ye
into all the world and preach the gospel to every
creature." Long ages ago, God was ready, going be
fore his people, wanting to be revealed in every soul s
knowledge. O ye long-delaying ages, linger no more.

/ t/ O O o

Gird us with salvation, Lord, for the dear Bible s sake,
that we may give it speedily to every hungry, darkened
soul on earth !

But here another and third lesson meets us ; viz.,
that we are not to push the dissemination of this gos
pel by any false argument that dishonors God. Tell
us not that every idolater, every man ignorant of
Christ must perish does everlastingly perish. Why
should we push ourselves to this work of gospeling
the world, by putting it on God, that he has given no
possibility of life to so many millions of immortal
creatures, reserving them all unto wrath, just because
they were born into a lot of darkness ? Rather let us
tell what God is doing always for them, how nigh he
is to them, how tenderly he works in them, what pos
sibilities he opens for them, and how certainly he
sometimes gains them to his love. Let it be enough
that their disadvantages are so great ; that they are
humbled to a point so low by their idols, rotted into
falsehood, buried in lust and shame, made crafty, per
fidious, cruel and wretched in society ; not finding how


to interpret their own longings in religion, when snch
longings rise, or to climb up out of the thraldom in
which they lie. Then, as we are so gloriously privi
leged, what shall we do but give them our privilege,
and have it as argument enough that if we do it not,
we show how very little our privilege has done for us.
Meantime, fourthly, let us have it as one of our
most sacred duties to the Bible, not to use it, so as to
shut ourselves and all that have it, away from God s
immediate revelation by it. The external, verbal rev
elation is not given to be a substitute for the internal
and immediate, but to be a guide into that. We are
to find God after all by an immediate knowledge our
selves, just as all the outside saints have found him,
only -with an immense help in the Bible, which they
had not. We are not to know God simply as reading
the book, and getting notions or distillations of dogma
and catechism from it in our head, living thus on a
mere second-hand knowledge. That is making a fence
of the book, requiring us to get all light from it. and
not from God. No, the Bible is received only when
it is spiritually discerned ; that is when it brings us
in where God is, to know him by our faith and love,
and have him in a first-hand knowledge, even as
Abraham had, or Job, or Jethro, or Cornelius. And
then when the unbelievers about us complain that God
is so far off, wondering why he does not show himself
to his children, if lie exists, by signs and wonders that
can not be doubted, we shall not have made their dif
ficulty just what it is ourselves, by setting up the Bible


as the sum and last limit of knowledge, and not as a
helper to find it. If we desire to know Boston,
the map of the way will not show it, but will only
take us thither, and let us get the knowledge for our
selves. The Bible in like manner tells us how others
found Him, that we may find Him also. We do not
know God in simply knowing their work. "We only
know him by an immediate knowledge, even as they
did. If we use the book only for the notions, or the
second-hand knowledge it gives us, we even make a
barrier of it, and put God further away. The right use
of it will not give us notions about God, but God him
self. It will make God nigh, and make it felt that he
is nigh, both to ourselves and to others, present to
knowledge, pressing into knowledge in all human

It is a most sad thing, my friends, that many of yon,
not in the way of religion, so little conceive the near
ness of God to you. You know the Bible, and what
may be known about God as reported in it, still noth
ing appears to be concluded ; you are not established
in any thing, but filled with questions only, and put
groping. The Bible, after all, leaves God a practically
hidden subject, and you turn away from it, wondering
still where God is, and why he does not somehow
show himself. Little do you conceive how very nigh
he is, and how he is pressing in, through the Bible,
through nature, everywhere and always, to be known
by you, and by every human creature in the world.
It is with you here and with all men, as it is with cer-


tain valleys in our great country, where the soil is un
derlaid with vast stores of water, pressing upward to
get vent, and the people have nothing required to set
fountains spouting at their doors, but simply to bore a
passage through the crust of earth, and let the waters
up. Just so all created mind is underlaid with the
knowledge of God, having oracles set in its secret
depths, so that whosoever will let the everlasting love
and presence force itself in, or up, will have an imme
diate and pure, an original and free knowledge : a liv
ing water that will freshen its life, and slake its thirst
forever. He gives you his revelation without, only
that he may be thus revealed within. He loves to be
known, publishes himself in all things visible, speaks
in all things audible, fills all height and depth with
his presence, besets you behind and before by his
counsel, and there is no soul living that he does not
breathe in by his Spirit. All souls are his children,
yours among the number. As he came to Job, and
Cyrus, and Cornelius, so he will to you, if only you
are sufficiently opened to him by your prayers and
alms, and works of faith to let him in. Having
one revelation of Christ in your hand, you will have
another in your heart. You will grow into a full, orig
inal, clear beholding, not needing that any man teach
you, having that anointing that teacheth all things.
This is your privilege would that you could see it
in this light of God to live, and in its ever brightening
splendor to die.

In closing this subject let us not forget to cast a


glance forward to the future life, in which all right
eous souls are to be gathered. Many of them will be
long to the class of inside saints, some to the class of
outside saints ; the former will have known Christ all
their lives long, and been fashioned by his new cre
ating gospel and character; the latter will now meet
him perhaps for the first time, and will salute him in
blissful discovery, as the unknown friend they had al
ways with them, and the conscious helper of their life:
When therefore, my brethren, you lift your song of
praise to the Lamb, some of these will be able to
tell you more of his worth, it may be, by their
want of him, and their struggles after God with
out him, than you by all you have gotten from him.
To meet and commune with these outside saints,
outside no longer how blessed will it be ? And
what a beautiful variety will they give to the gen
eral brotherhood ! They are brothers whom you
did not know, but you embrace them even the
more tenderly, and hold them in the dearest honor.
Thus grandly now is the Master s word fulfilled
" Other sheep I have which are not of this fold ;
them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice,
and there shall be one fold and one shepherd."



" If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be dis
posed to go, whatever is set before you eat, asking no question for con
science sake." 1 Cur. 10: 27.

THESE feasts to which the Corinthian disciples are
invited, are sometimes rated by the apostle himself as
" banquetings and abominable idolatries." Though
probably the feasts thus designated were the great reli
gious festivals, which were often mere orgies of lust
celebrated of course, not by invitation, but at times
of stated recurrence. The feasts to which he is refer
ring here appear to be only ordinary entertainments
or feasts of invitation ; though even at these the guest
will not seldom encounter many disgusting excesses
and laxities of behavior a fact which even makes it
somewhat remarkable, that a disciplinarian as positive
and faithful as our great apostle, does not forbid the
acceptance of such invitations.

I discover two points included in the advice he
gives, neither of which stands out on the face of his
words, but they only need to be named to be dis
tinctly seen. The first is that down upon the low
plane of mere ethical observance, he does not think it



incumbent on him, as a teacher of the gospel, to
enforce any Puritanically close terms of restrictive
morality. It is not for him to legislate over such
questions. In this field the disciples must have their
own liberty, and be responsible for their own judg
ments and the right understanding of their own liabil
ities. So far the world s law is also theirs, and he will
not undertake at all to settle the casuistries occurring
under it. And to set them on a yet manlier footing
of liberty, he shoves restriction still further away by
telling them, when they accept such an invitation, to go
with a free mind, hampered by no foolish scruples that
will make them an annoyance, both to the host and
the company.

So far then he sets them free free that is in the
exercise of their own responsible judgment, clear of
any mere scruples not intelligent. But we have
scarcely noted the position given them under this lib
erty, when we begin to see that he is thinking of a
second, higher kind of liberty for them, which, in his
own view, makes the other quite insignificant. Thus
he drops in, as it were in undertone, at the middle of his
sentence, this very brief but very significant clause
" and ye be disposed to go " putting, I conceive, a
partly sad cadence in his words, as if saying inwardly,
I trust not many will be so disposed ; for the dear love
of God, in the glorious liberty of our discipleship,
ought to be a liberty too full, and sweet, and positive,
and blessed, to allow any such hankering after
questionable pleasures and light-minded gaieties.


In that we are free, and in this more free ; too
free to want the other kind of freedom, or care any
thing for it. Which distinction thus developed I
now propose to use, in its application to another, but
not very different subject ; viz., the true law and right
use of amusements. I think we can see that the apostle
would speak on this question, precisely as he does of
mingling in the entertainments and festivities of the
unbelievers. Indeed the two matters are too nearly
one to be easily distinguished in their reasons and gov
erning principles. Entertainments are amusements,
and amusements entertainments. We begin then

I. At the free ; taking up the question of amuse
ments as a question of ethics, or common morality ;
which, in all the discussions I have seen, is taken to
cover the whole ground of the subject ; as if it were
the only matter to settle our opinion of what is right
under the world s law what is proper, becoming, and
safe. And here it is that the apostle begins, though
he has other and higher points to raise, we shall see,
in a different key. In this view, or in this plane of
ethics, it is not to be judged a sin, he says, if you go
to the entertainments where you are invited. It may
be, or it may not, and of that you must every man
judge for yourselves, in your own freedom, at your
own responsibility. If you want the exhilaration,
there is nothing morally wrong in exhilaration. If
you want the festive play, such play is forbidden by
no common principle of life. But it is incumbent on

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 23 of 29)