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trusted the very gospel story is made of such. These
too must be Relieved, but the believing of them is not
faith at all, and never did or can save any body.
Saving faith is person trusted to person that and
nothing else.

5. It is a fact to be carefully noted, that all the
best saints and most impressive teachers of Christ are
those who have found how to present him best in the
dramatic forms of his personal history. Such were
Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Tauler, "Wesley.
These great souls could not be shut up under the
opinional way of doctrine, or even under their own
opinions. Their gospel was not dry, and thin, and
small in quantity, as being in man s quantity, and
therefore soon exhausted ; it was no part of their idea
to be always hammering in, or hammering on, some
formulated article, but they had a wonderful out
spreading of life and volume, because they breathed
so freely the supernatural inspirations of Christ, and
let their inspirations forth in such grand liberties of
utterance. They were men thoroughly Christed by
their inspirations and deep beholdings in the gospel
facts. They had gotten such insight into the ways
and times and occasions of their Master s life, that sub
jects enough, and truths always fresh, were springing
into form, in all points of the story. And they were
not mere surface subjects, but they were cogent, mass-


ivc, piercing, pricking in conviction, melting ice
bound states away, battering down every citadel of
prejudice, and flowing out in senses of God that
make a wonderfully divine atmosphere about the
circles they live in, and the audiences before which
they appear.

Such now I conceive is the true gospel of Christ
and our question is answered. But the answer itself
will be questioned in two or three points which also
require to be noticed.

Thus it may be questioned, whether certain persons
of a sharply inquisitive mold will not do best in con-
conducting their processes more analytically and ab
stractively, that being the form in which all subjects
have most reality to them, and take the deepest hold
of their convictions. But if what is simply beheld or
presented takes no hold of their convictions, if only
what they reason or think, or logically sift, has mean
ing to them, it may be questioned with quite as good
reason whether they are living in God s light at all.
There certainly are many such, just as there are many
children who can never be satisfied when a flower is
given them, till they have picked it in pieces when
of course it is no flower at all. Fire is the greatest
analyzer in the world, and the product, ashes. Anal
ysis requires dead subjects, but the gospel is not
dead, and ought not to be killed. Any character an
alyzed, Hamlet for example, and put in terms of ab
straction, is therefore dead. The only Hamlet is


Hamlet himself, alive in his own mystery, and not the
particular salts of tragedy into which he has been
resolved. So when the disciple, instead of knowing
Christ himself, a person abnormal, in some sense infi
nite, more than we can think, deeper in his mystery
than human soul can fathom, thinks of nothing but
analytic powders sifted through his mill of logical
opinion, the powders may be very abundant and very
fine, but the Christ is nowhere.

But there is a duller kind of objection that may
possibly arise, asking what shall we find to feed us in
this manner ? Shall we not soon have used up all the
fact of our story, and then what shall we do ? As if
nothing could be inexhaustible but some mere sylla
bus or prepositional wisdom ; or as if we were likely to
find that we have used up the gospel ! No, rather
judge there is a poverty of soul in the objection itself,
that very nearly disqualifies the man. Why, my
friends, the miners of Nevada will sooner have bored
out all the silver of the globe and made an empty honey
comb of it. Such words spoken by such a character,
seconded by such miracles, representing visibly two
worlds, opening vistas into God s deep nature and
feeling and counsel, and declaring in self-evidencing
majesty, the kingdom of God in the world such a
gospel vaster than the sea, will not soon be exhausted.
If the objection were, that one s soul must be op
pressed and stifled rather by the overwhelmingly
grand subjects it will be raising, it might be more dif
ficult to answer.


I was thinking, a few days ago, of the large blank
chapter, so to speak, of the Master s life, between his
dispute with the doctors in the temple and his public
ministry " those eighteen silent years, would that we
knew something of them." Whereupon it came up,
that Jesus w T as all this time, " subject to his parents,"
training his great presentiments in a key of filial duty
both domestic and lowly ; that able to dispute with doc
tors, he does not hasten to the schools to be occupied
with books and questions, but is meditating his " Fa
ther s business " O what meditation that ! in the
trade of a carpenter ; that his custom was " to be
always at the synagogue in the Sabbath worship, feed
ing his great thoughts in what of grace and fellowship
he could find, among the rustic elders of his people ;
that he must have been reading the scriptures largely,
or at least hearing them read, to know exactly where
the scripture was, relating most to himself, as he
plainly did, when he stood up, on his last synagogue
day, to read ; having, all the while, O what emotions
rolling through his soul in the discovery of what the
prophets were thinking beforehand, of what is now
dawning in his personal consciousness ; till finally his
patience, in the waiting of these eighteen silent unhis-
toric years, occupied with so many thrilling fore-
gleams of his future, lift him rustic boy and man
that he is to a pitch of dignity almost inconceivable.
And so I was sketching a volume, without knowing it,
and the matter was coming faster than I could
seize it. Facts that are divine will open wonder-


fully fast. Propositions are poor and fruitless,
in comparison. Thus it is for example with every
most silent, most scantily expressed thing in the life
of Jesus ; his forty days in the wilderness, his " Go
and sin no more," his turning to the lepers afar off,
the box of ointment, the hem that was touched, the
"tear that stood on his face at the grave of Lazarus, his
sleep in the boat, his look at the penny, his look up at
Zaccheus in the tree, his look down upon the city.
He can not turn his eyes, without turning ours into
some wondrous discovery of his meaning and glory.

It is as if he were the index hand of the creation
and of all God s works and meanings in it beside,
and yet there is a misgiving felt in some lest this
glorious, mysterious, ocean-deep life of Jesus will
shortly give out; when one or two dull formulas, per.-
haps, drawn out in a few short lines, which a man
may learn, as an ancient poet said, " standing on one
leg," are a quite sufficient gospel stock, ready to be
preached and kept in preaching, ready to be pivoted
and kept in seesaw, year by year. !N~o, it is sheer in
dolence and sterility that can be stocked in this man
ner, and ask to be excused from the real gospel, lest
it should not yield enough ; as to them it certainly will
not to keep them in supply. The secret of the im
posture is evident. If the preacher wants a syllabus,
and then to call it bread, he scarcely knows, I think,
his Master s face, and the light of the knowledge of
the glory of God has scarcely flickered in his listless
mind. O, it ought not, whether we make much or


little of formula, to be a very irksome tiling to study
the Lord Jesus Christ himself; and whoever does it
will have subjects rise upon him faster, and vaster,
and deeper in riches than he can ever even name,
without some painful sense of only brushing surfaces
and saying adequately nothing.

At this point be it also understood as a fact that
must not be disguised, that it requires a very deep and
grandly vitalized experience to know Christ well
enough to preach him. One may preach a formula
and know almost nothing of him nothing but what
is verbally stuck in his head, or pigeon-holed in his
memory. But the real Christ is what a Christ may
be ; what he shall signify in a man s heart ; what he is
to feeling, and faith, and guilt, and bondage, and ever
lasting hope, and liberty that makes a sinner free. It
wants a Christed man to know who Christ really is,
and show him forth with a meaning. He must be had
by inspiration ; manifested within ; opening his gates
outward, and upward, and abroad, into all height, and
depth, and length, and breadth.

And yet no mere way of study and inward expe
rience will suffice. Christ is no deep meditationist,
no recluse working out his problems and living in his
frames, but a wonderfully out-door character. He
never had a study. He lives on foot, mingles with
men in the market-places, touching and touched by
every thing human, chambered not seldom in his sleep
under the open sky. Common life is the element of
his sanctities, and his very intuitions have an out-door


way ; hitting every human creature, low or high, at
his exact point of merit. He moves about among all
grades of people, the humble, the weak, the guilt-
stricken, the proud, the learned, the great ecclesiastics,
and high public magistrates, superior alike to all,
gentle as he should be, dreadfully severe as he ought
to be, doing always what a perfect insight, tempered
by divinest benefaction, requires. He can not be a
leveler, will not be a moral or political reformer,
steadily refuses on principle to be a revolutionist, and
yet there is no problem of society, as we are discov
ering more and more distinctly, that is not somehow
illuminated by his teachings and conduct. No man
really knows him, therefore, who can not take the
open air of society with him. If his disciple was
never out-doors in his life, as many disciples never
were ; or if he never saw any thing, or felt any thing,
or had any thing touch him when he was, he can not
have the right sort of experience, and will rather con
ceive him as the God-recluse, than as the gloriously

real and true God-man.

I will not turn this great subject wholly on the
faults of preaching ; for it is a fact most remarkable
that Christ has notwithstanding, at this very time, the
attention, so to speak, of the world as never before?
He is not only the chief problem of theology and
theologic learning, but the literature of the day recog
nizes him, and society has a kind of hope in him, and
the unbelievers, in all grades and conditions, think of


him with respect and a certain half-developed expecta
tion. This dim feeling after him, is everywhere.
The report that was brought him by his disciples,
" all men seek for thee," was never, I think, so widely
true. I do not mean, of course, that it is the Christ
of the church articles, or the Christ of the saints, that
is thought of so desiringly ; it is only some wonderful
first-fair, it may be, bursting up out of humanity and
kindling hope in man s possibilities ; who he is to be,
and whether he is to be any Saviour of sinners at all,
is the question perhaps to be decided. What is
wanted, therefore, now, and silently called for, is the
preaching of the fact-form Christ, just such a Christ
as the charities, and miracles, and fellow tendernesses,
and death, and resurrection of Jesus put in outline be
fore us : God in Christ reconciling the world ; he that
could suffer, the just for the unjust, to bring us unto
God ; he that could endure enemies and came down
from heaven to bear the curse of their bad lot to gain
them ; he that loved the poor and feared not the
great ; he that flavored the world by living in it ; he
that went through society and made his quickening,
medicating power felt everywhere ; he that has gone
up to prepare mansions and to set his judgment seat
for the world. O, if he could now be preached, as he
might be and sometime will, what a cleaving to him
would there be. And the supernatural glory of his
life and works, instead of being an objection, would
only kindle the greater fire. Men want the super
natural, after all, and even hunger for it, if only they


can have it in its own self-evidence and concrete self-

One thing more yet remains which must not be
omitted. The very same reason that required the
gospel to come in by the face of Jesus Christ, or to be
impersonated by him, and get expression through his
gentle emotions and the sanctities of his divine sor
row, holds good still, as before he went up to the Fa
ther. We are always imagining that we want some
better qualified advocacy high preaching, sturdier
argument on points of theology, better command of
logical resources, more science, more fine rhetoric,
more I know not what. No, the thing that we most
want is what we miss or lose out, in toiling after these
expected vanities, namely, a divine light in souls, the
light of the knowledge of the glory of God in such
power as to light up faces. Come what will of
preaching, or come not what w T ill not, the grand law
of Christian power goes with faces. The gospel is
nothing now, any more than it was at the first, unless
it is reincarnated, and kept incarnate. It must get
expression not through tongues and prepositional
wisdom, and the clatter of much argument, but
through living persons, seen in all the phases of the
better life they live. The real sermons are the great
pure feelings, the generosities of holy sacrifice, the
patience, the abiding with Christ in his sorrows, the
worship of humility. By these every best preacher
will preach his best ; by these every humblest, most
downtrodden believer will be the best preacher. Into


this field then, one and all, God bids us come, and re
ceive the power from on high which came on the first
disciples, and which comes on all, when the light of
the knowledge of the glory of God shines in their
faces and irradiates their persons. More briefly, gen-
nine good living is the gospel, and that not because
the man lives well as for himself but because he
LIVES born into Life from above.



"And ye arc complete in him which is the head of all princi
pality and power." Col. 2: 10.

IF then we are only to be complete in Christ, the
inference must be that we are incomplete without
him. It follows in this view, or is rather a part of it,
that a soul, after being made or created, is still to be
completed. It may be a germ to be developed, or a
blasted germ to be restored, or it may be both. In
either view, it is not the full completed integer it was
made to be. Here accordingly is the true work of
Christ and his gospel. We may say, that he is here
for the salvation, or, with equal truth, for the comple
tion of the soul. And this latter is now to be my
subject, viz., The completing of the soul.

We do not commonly speak in this way. Our man
ner is to regard the soul as God s highest, noblest
work, and we love to think of it as being even more
complete than any thing else. But we do not ob
serve, that it is only the greater, or is seen to be, in
the fact that so much is necessary to its completion.
If it were some lower form of being, a rock, or a sea,
or a srm, it could be struck out by a fiat of God, and


be complete at the first ; but being a moral nature to
be unfolded by its own action into thought and char
acter and deific inspirations, and so into an eternal,
self-affirming greatness and beauty, it must needs pass
through great changes and lofty trainings after it is
made, and in them be completed, as otherwise, or as
being merely created, it was not and could not be.

What then, following in this train, do we mean by
the completing of the soul ? how does it appear to
need any such completion ? and how is the fact ac
complished ?

Without putting the subject in this form, it is re
markable that we so readily and constantly assume the
necessity of a great after-work to be done upon the
soul of our child, to make it the complete man or
woman we desire it to be. Taken as being merely
born, we look upon it as a barely embryonic life, the
possibility or rudimental germ of a man, and not a
man. What we call our child s training, or education,
is only our attempt to advance or bring him on to
wards completeness. He is to be instructed, we as
sume, corrected, governed, formed to self-government,
unfolded in his intelligence, fashioned in his tastes,
configured to principles of honor and truth. The re
sult is a being in higher quantity, dignity, and power,
in a finer quality, and in a capacity, both of action
and enjoyment, immensely enlarged. Could we look
in upon the inner scenery of thought and working in
two human creatures, one a wild, the other an educated


man, how different should we perceive them to be in
their apprehensions, currents of feeling, prejudices,
superstitions, resentments, satisfactions, pleasures,
causes of trouble, views of life, and thoughts of what
is beyond. Neither will be really complete, but how
different one from the other he perhaps that was
originally most gifted, how far inferior to the less

At the same time, it is not to be assumed that we
are right in all our conceptions of what takes place in
the education or training of minds. They will not be
complete because they are full educated in the intel
lectual sense. Sometimes they will in fact be ham
pered and stunted by their education, or even by w r hat
is considered to be their wonderful attainments in
scholarship ; crippled in their inventiveness, drugged
by the wisdoms of their great authorities, in that
manner incapacitated by the overload they have
taken. Perhaps one hour with God would have done
more for the widening out of their consciousness, and
the kindling of all divinest fires in their powers of
thought and feeling, than many such whole years of
drill in the schools.

Sometimes we allow ourselves to think, that our
child is going to be complete only when he is educated
above and away from certain ranges of employment.
"We measure his completeness, perhaps, by the range
for which we prepare him. If he can only be a
blacksmith, or a tanner, or even a school-teacher, we
perhaps think he is too little complete, and that we


have not made enough of him. Were he a qualified
commander, banker, physician, lawyer, we should be
better satisfied, and think him more nearly up to the
measure of his possibilities. But God does not grade
our completeness by any such law. He may have
rated Bezaleel the brazier, far above Aaron the priest,
and considered him to be a man far more nearly com
plete I really suppose that he was. He has no such
thought as that a blacksmith, or a tailor, or a shep
herd, or even a fisherman at his net, is of course a
man incomplete, or at all less complete than if he
were the light of a college. Who ever came nearer
to being mated with Shakspeare than the tinker
Bunyan ? A great, growing, grandly unfolding soul,
can be fashioned any where, if only God is with him,
and his faculty, it may be, will be completing itself,
as truly in one employment as in another. His heart
will grow as big, his imagination kindle itself in fires
to him of as great beauty, he will be as original, as
deep, as free, and will swing his nature into as high
force every way, in using a hammer as in using a pen.
He may not pass the scholarly conventionalities as
well, but may pass the eternal dignities better. God
nowhere allows, what we so constantly assume, that
souls are kept back from their completeness, by their
trades, and grades, and employments. He is going to
complete them all, if they will suffer it, in the highest
and most perfect form of being possible. In what
manner, and by what means, will be shown hereafter.
I only go thus far before my subject, in a way of en-


larging and correcting our too insufficient, merely
earthly conceptions of what the soul s completion im
plies. No mere schooling, or human training, to
whatever grade of life or social estimation it may
raise, is any but the faintest approximation to a true
completion of the soul.

This now will appear more fully and determinately,
as we go on to consider the supposed incompleteness,
and show wherein it lies. If it were a question re
lating to the first man, Adam, in his lot of innocence,
the answer would be more simple but far less evident.
We should say, at once, that with all his perfect har
monies and beautiful instincts, he is yet unexercised,
unformed, a full grown, beautiful child, but yet a
child. That his perceptions are all to be gotten, his
will to be trained, his habits formed, his memory
stored, his love unfolded by its objects, his acquaint
ance with God practically matured, and all that con
stitutes a great and true wisdom learned. Until then
lie is an essentially incomplete creature ; so incom
plete that he will not stand fast in good, but plunge
himself into wrong, and all the unspeakable disasters
of wrong. Indeed we shall begin to see that our first
man, commonly thought to be so great and grandly
perfect, is put on probation only that he may get his
nature completed in knowledge and right habit, and
so matured in good that he will come out able to

Our question, after this, relates to him partly under


the conditions of moral disaster, into which he is
fallen. We take the soul as it is, in our present moral
state, and the moment we fasten our thought down
squarely upon it, we see, by every sort of evidence
crowding upon us, how very incomplete it is.

In the first place it is universally conceded that it
scarcely at all answers its true end. There might be
some disagreement as to what that true end is. No
matter ; whatever it be, there is a feeling everywhere,
in every body, that there is something out of joint, and
that souls are going wide of their mark in a thousand
ways. Some call it sin, some call it circumstance,
some mistake, some misdirection. Be that as it may,
while the heavenly bodies keep their track to the
thousandth part of a hair, and every great power of
nature exactly performs its office, for some reason or
other, souls go amiss, jerked out of their places and
turned away from all conceivable ends. And the fact
is proof beyond a question of their incompleteness.
A watch is complete when it keeps time, not when it
quarrels with all the notations of suns, and dials, and
almanacs. A vintage process is complete when it
makes wine, not when it makes vinegar. Souls in
like manner are complete when they make the good
they were made for, whatever it be, fulfilling exactly
their glorious ends and uses. And as long as they
fail of that, even in the least degree, they are of course

They are seen again to be incomplete, in the fact
that their enjoyment is not full, but confessedly a


great ways short of it. Their instincts are unfulfilled,
their wants are nnsupplied, their objects are not
found. They seem to themselves to be living in con
fined quarters. They are hungry. They are tor
mented by a general unrest. It would not be so if
they were complete. They would be exactly, abso
lutely full of enjoyment, just as by their sublime, in
born necessity they crave to be. When every thing is
complete, all outreaching instincts are filled. No bee
misses the shape of his cells, no bird of passage misses
the direction of his flight, no plant aspiring towards
the light misses the color and kind of its flower. No
more will a soul, as being a creature set for joy, miss
the state of absolutely full enjoyment, unless it is
somehow incomplete, sweltering in some torment of
negation, or inbred disorder.

Souls again do not, as we know them, meet, or at
all fulfill the standards of beauty, truth, and right.
These are standards we all admit for souls, just as all
fruits and flowers of nature have the standard figures
and colors of their kind. An apple is not complete
when it comes out a gourd. A rose is not complete
when it comes forth blue or in a sandstone grey. An
orange is not complete when it turns out a melon or a

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 6 of 29)