Horace Bushnell.

Sermons on living subjects online

. (page 27 of 29)
Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 27 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ors, surrounded representatively, at least, and so far
truly, by innumerable hosts offering their homage,
wielding also, as in rule, a majestic and complete
Providence that regulates the world s affairs, and,
makes it now his kingdom. And the result appears
at last in w r hat may rightly be called the coronation
of the Lamb. Where, emerging from his subject,
bleeding state, he ascends to his rightful dominion,
and is entered into his glory. He now is God, as be
fore he was the Lamb, and the more completely God,
that he is God more gloriously known for the addition
thus made. Three times over in a very short space
the two words God and Lamb occur together, as if to
be henceforth forever joined in like ascriptions.
First no other temple is wanted, " for the Lord God
Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof."
Secondly no other light is wanted ; for " the glory of
God lightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
And last of all, thirdly, " the pure river of the water
of life," the river of universal healing, is seen " pro
ceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb."


At this point the sublime progression of the Lamb is
ended, for it can go no farther.

We behold him now enthroned, everlastingly, at the
summit of all order, majesty, dominion, truth and
worship ; as truly God as God, and God more truly
and sufficiently God, that his image is complete in the
glorious addition of the Lamb. The grand acclaim
and coronation hymn is lifted by multitudes and na
tions without number, and by the angels round about


the throne ten thousand times ten thousand and
thousands of thousands" Worthy is the Lamb that
was slain." And the word goes under the earth, and,
as it were telegraphically, under the sea, filling all
masses and spaces of the creation " Blessing, and
honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth
upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and


Of course it will not be understood when we trace,
in this manner, the stages by which the Lamb ascends
to his throne, that he is actually promoted to another
grade of being. The real exaltation is to be in us, or
in the raising and filling out of our ideas. For the
long-drawn, visibly predestinated progress we. trace in
the outward history, is a progress for our sake, and
not a progress in God. And the object of it is, to
help our ascent towards the full and practically true
conception of God God as he has been forever, and
will forever be. The real coronation, after all, is nqt
complete till it is completed in us, in our thought, in
our advanced apprehensions of God, as a character
centralized, in some sense, in the sensibilities of his
lambhood. This advance in our thought this new
God-sense, I go on accordingly to show will contain,
especially, these three very important factors.

1. The received impression that God is a being mor
ally passible ; capable, that is, of a suffering propor
tionate to his goodness.

2. Also that his nature itself is relational constitu
tionally to both sin and redemption.



3. That lie is most powerful, does liis greatest and
most difficult things, by his freeness to suffering.

On these three points, I conceive, our thought is
moving and to move. Taking the point first named,
what does it signify, that God has now the Lamb
throned with him, but that He is now to be more and
more distinctly conceived as a susceptible being ; to
be great, not as being absolute, or an infinite force,
not as being impassive a rock, a sea, a storm, a fire
but as having great sentiments, sympathies and sensi
bilities. Nothing has been so difficult for men as to
think of God in this manner. The human soul is over
borne, at first and for long ages, by the statural di
mensions of God ; filling up his idea with mere quan
tities ; putting omnipotence ii; the foreground, and
making him a grand positivity of force ; adding om
niscience, or absolutely intuitive knowledge, adding
ajso will, purpose, arbitrary predestination, supralap-
sarian decrees ; exalting justice, not as right or recti
tude, but as the fearful attribute of redress, that backs
up laws regarded mainly as rescripts of will in God,
and not as principles. And just here, in fact, is the
reason why the Lambhood nature of God was so late
to be revealed, emerging, as it were, a completed fact,
in the very last chapters of the Revelation. The
dynamic notions of God had covered the whole
ground of liis attributes, and there was no room, no
capacity for any the least conception of him, as a
being able to endure an enemy, and suffer even bur-


dens of sorrow for his sake. So calls out the prophet
in his wonderful chapter of the Messiah Lamb just re
ferred to "Who hath believed our report, and to
whom is the arm of the Lord revealed " who, that
is, in this coarse age, can even take the sense of my
story ? Why it shows a tender plant wilting in a dry
ground. There is no high look in him. He is not a
green bay-tree, nor a "fire, nor a storm. The story
comes too soon for us, and what can we do but hide
our faces from him ? And we of this late year ANNO
MUNDI could not any better apprehend the matter of
God s passibility if it had not been inwoven or inter-
threaded with external story, by the suffering Lamb.
Slowly and very gradually the sense of some such
thing is taken. But I hardly dare guess how many
centuries longer it will take, for even our theologians
to conceive God in the greatness of his feeling, and
the depth of his sacrifice, without putting forward
trains of argument that begin at his omnipotence, and
all-sufficient absolutism, and the gross bulk matter of
his infinity. He has always been at work to mend
this defect in us ; protesting by his prophets, in the
matter of his sensibilities, that he is " hurt," " of
fended," " weary," " was grieved forty years," that
" in the affliction of his people he was afflicted, and
bear and carry them all the days of old." All this in
words to little or no effect ; but now he shows us in
the Lamb, as the crowning fact of revelation, that he
is a God in moral sensibility able to suffer wrong,
bear enemies, gentle himself to violence, reigning thus


in what is none the less a kingdom, that it is the king
dom and patience of Jesus. All this we see, as dis
tinctly as we can see human feeling in a human per
son ; and still we do not actually see it, when we
look on it with our eyes. A great part even of our
Christian theologians do not believe that God is any
way passible or can be. Only the human nature suf
fers, they argue, that alone can feel the touch of a sor
row. Furthermore if God is passible, what is left,
they ask, of his greatness ? And yet moral greatness,
without great feeling, great moral passibility, is even
absurd ; for a morally great and perfect being is, by
supposition, a being in great sensibility ; the more
easily wounded because of his sensibility. And what
is compassion but a kind of passibility? What is
long suffering but a way of suffering? And the
loving of the unlovely, is there not a pain struggling
also in that ? Is not purity quick to be disgusted ?
tenderness to be wounded ? righteousness to be stirred
with displeasure? Instead therefore of being set
aloof from suffering because of his moral greatness,
God is in a liability of suffering just according to his
greatness. Physical suffering is of course excluded
by the fact of his infinite sufficiency, but that is a
matter quite insignificant for him, compared with his
moral suffering.

Under such conceptions of God we of course ap
proach the great matter of atonement, in a wholly dif
ferent predisposition. We shall look for something
that belongs to the Lamb, something in the nature of


suffering patience, and sorrow. If lie prepares a new
footing of forgiveness, it will not be by what he enters
into the legal, or politically legal and dynamic factors
of government. He will not square oif the law and
level up the dues of transgression under the law but
he will simply turn a crisis in feeling. The very
problem is, in great part, to bring out the everlasting
Lamb element in God s nature, so that he may be the
saving power of- a new worship. A God who is
mainly supreme will, or absolute force, having his
greatness largely in his quantities, w T ill really have no
place for the Lamb as integral in his nature. He will
therefore be conceived chiefly as the grand avenger,
standing for the satisfaction of his justice, and re
quiring to have it taken even from the innocent, if it
is to be released in the guilty. If he is to forgive, the
law-score must be made up in the same manner, and
the penal dues of the law exactly paid, the curse of it,
without a peradventure, suffered. Which forgiveness,
pledged and praised as free, is really no forgiveness,
but is only a release passed under the squaring-up
principle, and simply signifies that the books are made
even, leaving nothing to forgive. Ko such freezing
scheme of legality appears when the Lamb is con
ceived, as from within God s nature, tenderly bearing
his enemy, and so making good the proof that what
ever may be due to his polity, he is not hampered by
it, but is able to forgive without pay. Even as I for
give my adversary or enemy, when I can make cost
for him, and suffer bitter loss for his sake unable to


perfectly smooth the recoil of my nature from his
wrong, and make clean work of my forgiveness, save,
as by such cost endured, I am effectually propitiated
towards him. So also we conceive the propitiation of
God ; for the Lamb is not other than God, outside of
God, suffering before God, but he is with God most
internally, necessary to the very balance of his per
fections, even as he is with God in his throne. "What
we call grace, forgiveness, mercy, is not something
elaborated after God is God, by transactions! work be
fore him, but it is what belongs to his inmost nature
set forth and revealed to us by the Lamb, in joint su

We come now to the second point above stated, as
involved in the coronation of the Lamb ; viz., the con
viction to be more and more distinctly felt, that God s
nature itself is relational to both sin and redemp
tion. Dealing only with dynamic factors in God s na
ture, that is with what belongs to his mere stature
and capacity, imposing doubts of sin are crowded on
us. God, we say, being omnipotent, can prevent all
sin ; since then he does not, he must prefer to have it
hence our convictions of blame are only illusions.
Sin is misdirection therefore, circumstance, an evil
planted in the seed, that is going to be good in the
fruit. But our God, as we see in the Lamb, is not all
force, he does more than to just swing the hammer of
his will and purpose ; he can suffer, he can bear the
contradictions of evil, he can win a cause by triumph


in a sorrow could from eternity do it. For there
stands in the throne as it had been a Lamb slain from
the foundation of the world ; and this Lamb-creator
could create in self-sacrificing patience, just as he re
deems in the same. Thus he wanted, for love s sake,
moral natures about him, and could even bear any
thing to bring them out perfected in their true good
and glory. Their sin for sin they assuredly would
would hurt him all through ; but he is one who, for
so dear an object can bear to be disgusted, and dis
pleased, and burdened with sorrowing concern.
Therefore sin could be, and we do it as in God s warm
bosom, that can so far let us sting its suffering benigni
ties. It is not the run of causes, not bad-going cir
cumstance, no flour of the gods which their millstone
of necessity grinds. The Lamb could suffer it, and
for it ; therefore it could be and is. As sin is relation
al to the Lamb afterward, so the Lamb was relational
to sin beforehand. We are not going therefore to
pitch our tent and stay in the desert of the All, where
nothing answers to nothing, save as one kind of soph
ism answers to another, but we shall begin to have it
as a discovery most dear, that so much of what is
greatest in God is relational to sin. Instead of doubt
ing so ingeniously whether sin is sin, we shall even
begin to look upon our Lamb, standing in the world s
throne, with his scars and blood-stains on him, and
we shall find a grandly philosophic cheer in believing
our sin, as we did not in denying it.

Sometimes we begin to imagine that the sense of


sin is likely, as tilings are just now going, to quite die
out. !N"o, the Lamb is in the throne, and it is impossi
ble henceforth, that a God unrelational to sin, or a
Fate unbeneficently relational, should ever be accepted
by the settled faith of the world. If our faith, as we
have it, is not regularly progressive, the same is true
of many rivers running toward the sea ; they run
backward in long circuits often, still they are even
running towards it when running away from it, and
are sure to reach it at last. Let us have no concern
for this matter. We shall never get by the sense of
sin, till the Lamb in the throne becomes a lost idea.
Simply to think the supreme eminence there of the
Lamb is to look on him we have pierced, and see him
rising higher and yet higher, age upon age, and feel
the arrow r s that were hid in his sorrows growing even
more pungently sharp in our guilty sensibility. All
the more resistless too will be the stabs of bad
conviction, that they are meant to be salutary,
and are in fact the surgery of a faithful healing

We are also shown by this revelation of the Lamb
in the thrdne, and shall more and more distinctly see,
that the nature of God is, in like manner, relational
to redemption. The two points, in fact, go together
and are verified by the same evidence. But while sin
is not any work of God or of the Lamb, we are con
tinually calling Christ s life and death his work, or his
work of salvation. And we often put such operative
force into the language, that one might think it a


wholly perfunctory matter that we speak of an under
taking or enterprise accomplished. It is true, I admit,
that the Scriptures speak of Christ s engagement as a
work ; he also himself calls it his work ; but it is only
so far a work as it needs must be, to bring out a char
acter and a feeling. It does not create the character
or the feeling, it only gives them to us as they were in
God before. He opened a way of forgiveness, as we
often say, but the opening is to us and not to God.
He was just as truly a forgiving God before. That is,
it was in him and always before had been, to smooth
out his heart in forgiveness to enemies, by making cost
for them, and enduring them in the patience of sacri
fice. The bleeding Lamb was in his nature before he
bled on Calvary. His very being and character were
relational to redemption, before they were related to
our redemption. It is not for one moment to be im
agined that Christ the Lamb has somehow softened
God and made him better. He came down from God
as the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the
world, and the gospel he gave us is called the ever
lasting gospel, because it has been everlastingly in
God, and will everlastingly be. It does not simply
mean that God is able, and always had been, to put
himself on terms of benevolence with us. He is on
such terms originally, with all beings of all worlds,
and even with the animals. The free forgiveness of
sin implies a great deal more than any such well mean
ing disposition. For in every moral nature most right
eous, and partly because it is righteous, there is a cer-


tain recoil from the bad, a certain moral anger that
does not cease because he says the word " forgive."
Well- willing, or benevolence, signifies nothing in the
matter ; there must be sorrow, suffering, bleeding en
dured ; something that makes cost on the passive side
of the nature. Then, and not till then, the true for
giveness comes ; a blessed and clean reconciliation,
thinking no more of just letting the culprit go, but re
joicing in the fact that it has gained a brother. And
this is what we mean when we speak of propitiation.
~VVe mean that God s nature is so far relational to re
demption, that his glorious passibilities are bleeding
always into the bosom of evil. There is a fixed ne
cessity of blood, and he has the everlasting fountain
of it in his Lambhood. So that condemnation for
evil, or sin, is not a whit more sure to follow than for
giveness, sweetened by self-propitiation.

It was proposed to show, thirdly, that having the
Lamb now in the throne, it will be more and more
clear to men s thoughts that God s most difficult and
really most potent acts of administration are from the
tenderly enduring capacity of his goodness, represent
ed by the Lamb. The richness and patience of his
feeling nature, in one word his dispositions, are the
all-dominating powers of his reign. What he is in
the Lamb determines what he is and does univer

Thus if you look in upon the stock-powers of his
mind and character, you will be very soon convinced


that his dispositions are the first matter with him, just
as they are with us. From them every thing pro
ceeds. The Lambhood of his dispositions will subor
dinate every other function. His counsel, wisdom,
plans, cosmical order, purpose, will-force and creative
iiat begin at his dispositions, and not his dispositions
at them ; for what could they do in preparing disposi
tions that by supposition are not ? Always, in all
rational beings, the dispositions are first, and the act
ings afterward. The Lambhood nature therefore in
God dominates all other nature in Him beside. What
we have been calling the dynamic factors of His
being, which in fact the philosophers commonly take
to be the whole of it, are only purveyors and execu
tive servitors to the dispositions. And all they do
w r ill be done to further the ends and fulfill the man
dates of the dispositions. So that, looking in upon
the glorious realm of attributes and powers in God s
internal armory, we may not scruple to say, that even
there the Government is on the shoulder of the Lamb.
And if it be something for God to rule the world, it
can not be less for the Lamb to bear like sway in God.
A second illustration of the supreme potency of the
Lamb, or of God as represented by his painstaking
love and sacrifice, may be discovered in the fact that
he is able to love the bad; that is to love directly
across moral distinctions, and even in spite of all
deserts of character. He can love the cruel, the blas
phemers of his name, the mean, the filthy, the dis
gusting. It is true that by his gracious help we our-


selves can be raised up to the same high level with
him in tins prerogative of his Lambhood. But it is
not the teaching or conceived honor of the world.
Outside of the gospel, it is universally assumed that
love is related to loveliness, and that loveliness is the
qualifying base, or quickening cause of love, save that
in what is called natural affection the love is purely
instinctive and goes by necessity. But in proper vol
untary love, what man or teacher of morality ever
imagined the possibility of loving the bad, and even
of loving them into love and the goodness of a new
born life ? And is there any greater stretch of power
conceivable than that ? Let any mightiest soul
of mankind, who is not in the way of sacrifice with
Christ, try what he can do in loving the bad ?

Observe again also that the Lamb assumes to go
through souls with a lustral and transforming power,
from his passion. Therefore behold, behold the Lamb
of God that taketh away the sin of the world. He
undertakes, in this manner, by the quickening force
of his cross, to beget them, as it were, anew, and be
the new creator of their life. All this by the depth
of his feeling and the sovereignty, so to speak, of his
sacrifice. And who is there that, without him, will
undertake, in any such way, to new character the
race, or even a single man. What other power of
gods or men can cope witli such a problem ? Doubt
less a man may be managed correctively, in a way of
partial improvement, by his fellow man, but to be
transformed regeneratively, and have the sin taken


out of his fiber, who will do that? Yet in Christ
there is a godly or rather lambly sorrow, tender as the
dews of the morning, and liquidly vital as they ; there
is a bleeding out of God s own sensibility on the rock
no mortal persuasions could melt, which is his inev
itably dissolving baptism, and from out of this our re
pentances run clear, even as the brooks run out from
their springs. And so, with a meaning how deep, how
grandly triumphant we chant our confession " For
the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin."

And again it is a singular and mightily impressive
demonstration for the Lamb, that he goes into causes,
retributive causes, incorporated in the system of na
ture itself, and turns them off from their victims.
The grace does not stop at "nature, as if here was a
barrier impassable, but it undertakes boldly, instead,
to so far stop even the wages of sin itself. But it does
not call on the dynamic forces of God to intervene,
and shake off by a fiat the retributive laws and
causes that have fastened their grapple on the man,
but it infuses gently into him or into his faith, that
personal, supernatural, life-giving spirit, that will go
through his disordered members, and touch, as it


were solvently, all the secret bonds and propagative
chains of causes by which he is held, and is otherwise
so to be holden forever. It does not require force in
such a case to break the chains of causes ; any drop of
the blood of the Lamb, any tenderest touch, that is,
of God s sorrowing life and feeling is enough. Why
the very joints of the rocks did they not burst open


when the blood of the Lamb fell on their faces ? And
when that Lambly power gets entered into any
bosom of transgression, what shall we see but that all the
retributive laws of all the worlds, crowding in, can no
longer hold him fast, or keep him back from his liberty.
We make another very wide and very impressive
stage of advance in our apprehensions of the essential
supremacy of the Lamb, w r hen we discover that our
notions of the governmental order of the world, or
what we call Providence, are becoming, and will here
after seem to be, more and more graciously mitigated.
Having now the Lamb in the throne, we are to have
no more a merely punitive and dry absolutism ; our
Providence will be a true Lamb-Providence. I mean
by this a complete world-government working in the
interest, fulfilling the counsel, and dispensing even
judgment, in the feeling of the Lamb. We shall re
member his word when he went up " All power is
given unto me, in heaven and in earth. Go ye there
fore and teach all nations, and lo, I am with you al
ways." We shall not look to see him bursting out in
retribution suddenly, and hurrying on his judgments,
as many in their feeble panic have been wont to do,
but making gentle suit rather, and waiting as in
pauses of sorrow. He will set all things civil and re
ligious working together for his great kingdom s sake,
as a being absolutely one in all ; purifying churches
by their dissensions, truths defiled by their corruptions,
principles of order and liberty by great conspiracies
and public wars, learning and science by the ravages


they muster of unbelief and presumption ; leading in
and out thus the successive ages of history, to settle
new problems and winnow clean away the chaff of
society. His work is silent, and commonly shows no
sign ; the timepiece runs without any click of sound
but yet it runs ! And when some great world-
crisis comes, in earthquake, or storm, or fire, we know
that only a seal of the everlasting, seven-sealed book
of Providence is going now to be opened for a new
chapter, and that Christ hath prevailed to open the
book himself. And we hear the four-and-twenty
elders round about the throne crying " worthy art
thou to take the book and open the seals thereof, for
thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 27 of 29)