Horace Bushnell.

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potato. What then does it signify, when a soul for
gets and misses its kind, when it puts forth itself in
deformity, falsity, and wrong ? Requiring itself all
exactest and most perfect beauty, all divinest truth
and right, and having these for the standard of its
kind, how comes it thus to be turned off, into all abor-


tions of kind evidently, confessedly, nay even uni
versally falling away from itself and its own high
nature ? Just so far is it incomplete, and there is no
other answer to be given.

Take another and more entirely surface view of
mankind, and let the question settle itself, as it will
inevitably, under mere first impressions. Why then
is it, and how, that so much meanness, trickishness,
oppression, unregulated and wild passion, self-corro
sion, painfulness, bitterness, distraction, are found in
the world ? How is it that no soul is able to assert
the power of self-government, steadily and stiffly
enough to keep itself in harmony ? Or if we look
away at society and the outward relations of persons,
how is it that they are in so many quarrels, and com
plaints of wrong, and suits of redress, so continually
plagued by acts of injustice and robbery and fraud,
tormented by so many resentments, scorched by so
many hatreds, weeping so much, bleeding so often,
dying on so vast a scale, by a really criminal careless
ness in the use of their machineries, or by the skillful,
scientific use of machineries and armies gotten up to
kill ? What can we think, looking on such facts, but
that human souls are under some terrible dispossession
that crazes their action? Who can even imagine
them to be creatures complete in their order. To put
the whole matter under the eye, in a very comprehen
sible example, suppose all the grains in a bushel of
wheat were to commence acting in themselves, and
towards and upon one another, in just the same man-


ner as souls are seen to be doing in the specifications
just made, what a bushel of tumult would it be! how
wild, and hot, and fierce the little stir so many mal
contents would make, whirling one another out of the
measure, and finally burning up the measure -itself.
The only reason why such kernels of Avheat do not
behave in this way, is that they are every one Com
plete creatures, resting in their own perfect mold, and
in quiet harmony with each other they that are at
the top lying just as heavily, and they that are at the
bottom supporting the weight just as bravely as they
must. Souls completed in their order would do the
same, just as all God s finished worlds and societies in
glory are able to do, without one rasping of bad
thought, or pang of mutual accusation.

Take another kind of illustration still. We have a
way of saying, how often, concerning this or that
man, that he is a ruined man, or we take a different
figure and say, that he is a man blasted by his vices or
his moral distempers ; in which we refer mentally to
the incomplete state of the flower, or the germ setting
in the flower, which we say is blasted when it does not
come to fruit. And the figure is rightly chosen.
These men so blasted are incomplete men, men in the
process of being completed, which they never in fact
are or can be. And so in the awful desolations of
talent, power, liberty, and hope, we see about us
strewing the world under the heavens, as the blasted
germs the ground under a tree we have just so many
proofs that man who can not fully and completely be,


perishes so miserably, because lie can not bear the ex

I must name yet one other evidence of the incom
pleteness of souls, which, though apprehended by few,
will be to such as it reaches most convincing of all.
It is a very curious and remarkable distinction of souls
tli at, being finite, they have yet infinite wants and as
pirations ; their very longing is to be somehow cleared
of all bounds or completed in the outspreading of
some infinite possession. And this, I think, however
extravagant it may seem, is the exact and sober im
port of their problem in life. They are creatures to
be somehow infinited, to be eternized in their contin
uance of good, to have all truth, to possess all things
and wield all power, as completely as if it were theirs,
and reign with a supreme will, having every thing
done just as if it were, or as in fact being, from their
own will and counsel. To this end their instinct rims,
and stops not any where short of it. They are so
made as to be possibly completed, only as they take pos
session of the infinite just as in God they may, and as
it is the sublime purpose of our gospel that they shall.
What a falling short, therefore, is it, when they
fall short of God. In their love they were to possess
him ; in their self-centered, bitterly stringent littleness,
they tear themselves away ; and the result is that their
soul, which wants to fly all boundaries, shrivels to a
point and only aches, where it should joyfully spread
itself on boundless good, and in that element begin to


But if souls are so far incomplete, as by manifold
tokens we see, we have it as a matter next in point to
find, how in Christ they can be made complete. And
here we shall discover three great powers and agencies
provided for this purpose.

1. Inspirations. Separated from God, man dwin
dles to a mere speck, he is nothing. He was made to
have magnitude and be in flood, by having great in
spirations roll under him and through him. Existing
therefore in mere self-hood, he can not push himself
out any way to be complete as from himself. A
sponge might as well complete itself out of the sea, in
dry mid air. It must have the sea, it must let in and
possess the sea all the currents, and tides, and even
the salt of it drinking and swaying, and feeding in
its element, and then, as being sea-like in its habit, it
fulfills its kind and is complete. Just so a soul must
have all God s properties and perfections flowing in
and through liberty and life in his life, power in
his power, counsel in his counsel. It must be true in
his truth, righteous in his righteousness, secure in his
security. That is, it must have the Infinite Life,
which it was originally made for, flowing through it,
and wafting in upon it, all the divine properties that
feed and freshen, empower and impel, a really great
and complete nature. It only gasps till the infinite
touches it, and then it lives.

Now it is this everlasting inspiration-force that
Christ arranges for, and promises in the gift of the
Spirit. He enters the soul to fill out every lack, and


every secret fault, knowing it all through, with a most
subtle and perfect knowledge. He communicates, im-
breathes, sheds abroad himself, configuring it in
wardly to all that is most perfect in himself. He does
it by a working in the nature of inspiration, not put
ting the will on forming this or that particular trait
for itself, but by flooding and floating it on towards
this or that, by his own divine motion, turning its
very liberty towards all it wants and needs to receive.
These inspirations are to be currents running exactly
where it requires to be carried, and it is just as if
every ship in the sea were to have a Gulf Stream
given specially to it, running the exact course of its
voyage, and drifting it on to its port. The inspira
tions are all perfect, they are adequate, exact, and
steady, so that no completes! issue may be missed.
Then again

2. We have ideas and ideals in Christ, who lives
God in the human figure and relation, so that when
we think him as a person, or take hold of him in be
lief, we have the exact figure in our feeling of what
requires to be fashioned and completed in us. We
not only have inspirations thus from behind, as we just
now saw, but we have ideals before us to kindle inspi
rations in our eyes ; so that while we could not even con
ceive any such perfect form of character, item by item,
we can yet be fashioned by it, as a whole displayed to
our love, in the living, loving person of our Master.
We have nothing to do but to be in the Spirit, and
keep ourselves in Christ s dear walk and company,


and -we shall be set on surely and constantly, towards
the completeness required. Christ is the mirror that
glasses God s image before us, and the Spirit is the
plastic force within, that transfers and photographs
that image ; and so, beholding as in a glass the glory
of the Lord, we are changed into the same image
from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the

Then once more

3. To make the provision perfect, we are set in a
wonderfully various scheme of relations, that we
may have a training in duties, qualities, virtues,
equally various, and be perfected in them and by
means of them. Nothing could be done by setting us
to the fashioning and finishing of a character, con
ceived by ourselves to be complete. We are too
coarse and clumsy and half-seeing to even form the
notion of a nobly complete excellence ; the only way
is to put us milling in rounds of duty, and drill, and
sacrifice, wherein we shall be trained to completeness
without conceiving it. And we have it as our remark
able advantage in Christ and the faith that seals our
unity with him, that we have him as the perfect di
vine man with us in all these manifold human condi
tions. And we go into relation with our fellows, hav-
( ing him in company. We admire him, and by our
love he is copied into us, when it is not our particular
intent to copy him. We see how he lives for man
kind, and we make common cause with him, in the
practice of a like self-sacrifice. All our human rela-


tions in this way become a drill of occasions. And
we are to get an experience in these relations, that is
both corrective and creative. In our relations to the
church and the ministry of the word ; in our rela
tions to the state and to public law ; in our relations
to the schools ; in our relations to the family, where
age, and sex, and fatherhood, and motherhood, and
wifehood, and husbandhood, and childhood, and fam
ily property, and family want, and ten thousand other
things are concerned ; in our relations of business,


and debt, and credit, and hire, and employment ; in
our relations of neighborhood and society ; in our re
lations with unbelievers, neglectors, irreligious, unre-
ligious, them that go to public worship, and them that
do not ; in our relations to the poor and the rich, to
superiors and to inferiors, to friends, and flatterers,
and enemies, and such as do us wrong in all these
multiformities, which no inventory can exhaust, we
are put on just as many multiformities of duty and
experience, so that trying to do the exact Christly
thing in them all, we are to get benefit in so many
forms and degrees, and be brought on thus at last,
when all is done and suffered, to a real and full com
pleteness in the will of God. In this wondrous mill,
this laboratory of training, every blemish is to be re
moved, and the soul cut into form, after the similitude
of a palace, polished as it were sapphire, sharpened as
the point of a diamond. There will at last be no
spot or wrinkle left, or any such thing. It will be
washed, whitened, made clean, all glorious without,


all beautiful within, a divinely gifted creature, com
plete and perfect in God s own image forever ready
for the enjoyment of God in all his sacrifices, beati
tudes, benedictions, and judgments; ready for all
God s future, and to have that future as its own.

This now as I conceive is the real completeness of
man. And the impression into which we are inevita
bly brought, is that religion, the gospel and graces of
the Lord Jesus Christ, are the only power that is able
to bring man forward into the principal intents and
highest summits of his nature.

As already intimated, we try education, getting
much from it, but never any thing which even ap
proaches the standard of completeness.* Meantime,
we perfectly know that we only run the risk in it of
making a small misery more miserable, and a small
incapacity a greater, fearfully damaged incapacity.
Nothing is completed by it, rounded out, and put at
rest in good. In. what we call self-improvement, a
great deal more is attempted, because the endeavor is
to cover the whole ground of the moral and religious
nature. But if there is no cultivation of God or of
Christ within, no inspirations moving, the work is a
poor, desultory affair, polishing one thing, while an
other more important goes rough by neglect ; and
the result is, finally, that the great self-improvement
issues in a great self-consciousness, painful to behold ;
a self-pleased finish of patch-work painfully made up,
*Y. c. c.


and destitute of all great liberty, Also, to itself, how

We try self-government and self-regulation under
the standards of morality, but the most we obtain or
accomplish is to pile up what we think good acts on
one another, as some day s man might the cents of his
wages, but they will even be as dry as cents, with as
little continuity in the pile. There is no life either in
the acts or in ourselves. O if there be any tiling
tedious beyond measure, it is the legality method,
going after a total of merit to be gotten up in our
selves, by good acts singly and persistently done. It
would even choke a saint, much more a sinning man.

There is also another more superlative way which is
greatly praised and magnified, and is therefore much
aspired to by some, I mean philosophy. But the
ideals raised in this discipline, will be forever outrun
ning the possible attainments, and the fine philosophic
consciousness will be only a kind of equilibrium under
dryness and felt limitation ; a bitter kind of wisdom
whose quiet is the assumed quiet only of a mind with-
holden from all highest truth, and bending itself down
upon its own low thoughts and opinions. The wars
of the mind, its disorders and dissatisfactions, are ken
neled perhaps under what is called the philosophy, but
not composed.

There is nothing in short but religion, or the life in
God, that can be looked to for the completion Df a
soul. And it has three great advantages that differ it
from every thing else. (1.) That it takes hold of the


soul s eternity and its sin, to raise up, harmonize, in
wardly purify, glorify and settle it, in a rest of ever
lasting equilibrium in God. (2.) That it takes hold
of all possible conditions and callings, completing asj
truly the menial as the employer, the bondman as the
master, the unlettered as the scholar, the man that is
grimed by labor as the man of leisure or the monk in
his cell. (3.) That it completes one degree of ca
pacity as certainly as another, preparing even the fee
blest to fill out its measure as roundly and blissfully
as the highest.

Such is religion, the great all-formative grace for
man. Nothing but this can even dare to promise any
fit completion of humanity. All the harmonies, all
the great inspirations, all the immovable and immor
tal confidences, all the contacts of infinity and seals of
infinite possessorship are here. And yet, after all,
how impossible is it, when we show all this, to get
by the feeling of men not religious, that there is
something humiliating in religion ? "What absurdity !
what pitiable unreason ! Religion humiliating to
men ! Religion a humiliation not to be endured ! O
my friends, if it be so with you, if you have so far
lost the proportions of reason, that you can see noth
ing to respect and draw, in the becoming a really
complete soul, there is nothing I am sure that can
ever beget a right mind in you, but to go apart and
listen for the secret monitions of God. Who but he
can ever set in truth, over a barrier of false pride so
irrational and so unaccountably blind.


Some of you, I know, have better thoughts, and yet
have many great struggles with your own remaining
disorders. You are mortified often, you sometimes half
despair of yourselves. Be it so, you had best despair
of yourselves ; for you can not complete yourselves,
and can only fail when you undertake it. But the
more incompetent you seem to be, the more fatally
mixed up with disorder and sin, the more glorious it is
that Christ, the complete man, the only complete man
that ever trod the earth, is with you. Him therefore
you are to follow, in his brotherhood to walk. Being
complete in himself, all that you are apprehended for
he knows, and will help you to attain. Enough !
enough ! blessed is the assurance. But ye are washed,
but ye are sanctified, but ye are glorified in the name
of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God
complete in him who is the head of all principality
and power. O the grand conception of that world we
have before us, that it is to be made up of men ever
lastingly complete ! God grant that we may every one
be there..



" For some have not the knowledge of God." 1 Cor. 15 : 34.

WHO then are these Corinthian disciples, that they
have not so much as the knowledge of God ? Plainly
enough our apostle is not charging them here with ig
norance, but with some lack of the divine illumination
which ought, if they are true disciples, to he in them.
They certainly know God in the traditional and merely
cognitive way. Indeed the apostle is discoursing to
them here of the resurrection of the dead, which is
itself a matter based in Christian ideas. Besides, he
adds, " I speak this to your shame ;" having it in view
that they are not Pagans, but so far informed, as dis
ciples, that they ought to know God in a way more

We shall best understand the point assumed in this
impeachment, I think, if we raise the distinction be
tween knowing God, and knowing about God. Doubt
less, it is much to know about God, about his opera
tions, his works, his plans, his laws, his truth, his perfect
attributes, his saving mercies. This kind of knowl
edge is presupposed in all faith, and constitutes the
rational ground of faith, and so far is necessary even


to salvation. But true faith itself discovers another
and more absolute kind of knowledge, a knowledge of
God himself ; immediate, personal knowledge, coming
out of no report, or statement, or any thing called
truth, as being taught in language. It is knowing
God within, even as we know ourselves. The other is
only a knowing about God, as from a distance. To
put this matter of the immediate knowledge of God
in its true doctrinal position, it may be well to say,
that we have two denials set against it, both as
nearly fatal as need be to any such possibility.*
One is the denial of the philosophers outside of Chris
tianity, speculating there about the cognitive functions,
and making what they conceive to be their specially
profound discovery, that knowledges are possible only
of things relative. Therefore, God being infinite, can
not be known God is unknowable. They say
nothing of faith, they have no conception of any such
super-eminent, almost divine talent in our humanity,
shut up or drawn away from God by our sin an im
mediate sensing power, to which God may be as truly
known, as we know the distinct existence of objects
perceived by the eyes. Could they simply trust them
selves over to God, to live by his tender guidance and
true inward revelation, they would never again call
him the unknowable. Meantime, there will be many
children of sorrow, unlearned and simple, who will
easily know the God they have it as their point of
philosophy to show can not any way be known ! This
* Y. c. C.


most false and feeble doctrine of negation, I do not feel
called upon to discuss it will die of inanity sooner
than it can by argument.

The other and second form of denial as regards the
immediate knowledge of God, sets up its flag inside
of the Christian church and among the muniments of
doctrine. Here the possibility of faith is admitted,
and the necessity of it abundantly magnified. But
the faith power is used up, it is conceived, on proposi
tions ; that is propositions which affirm something
about God. It does not go through, and over, and be
yond, such propositions, to meet the inward revelation
or discovery of God himself. The accepted doctrine
is that we know, or can know God, only so far as
we know something about Him, no immediate knowl
edge of Him being at all possible, or even conceivable.
The continually reiterated assumption is that never,
in our most sacred, dearest, deepest moments of holy
experience, do we get beyond being simply acted on
by certain truths we know about God. And when
men are called to God, saying, " Come unto me,"
they understand the meaning to be, that they are
called only to believe something about him put in
words, and work their feeling or their faith by what
the words supply. They do not even conceive it as a
possibility, that we should know God himself as a
presence operative in us ; even as we know the sum
mer heat by its pervasive action in our bodies. We
do not know the heat by report, or debate, or infer
ence, or scientific truth interpreting medially between


us and it ; we do not see it, or hear it, or handle it,
and yet we have it and know that we have, by the in
ward sense it creates. So in what is called the Chris
tian regeneration, our being born of God implies the
immediate revelation of God within all which these
teachers can not so understand, but imagine that we
are born of something about God rather ; that is of
truths, affirmations, notions, working medially or in-
strumentally between us and God.

What then is the truth in this matter ? Why it is
that human souls, or minds are just as truly made to
be filled with God s internal actuating presence, as
human bodies are to be tempered internally by heat,
or as matter is made to be swayed by gravity, or the
sky-space to be irradiated by the day. God is to
them heat, gravity, day, immediately felt as such, and
known by the self-revelation of his person. So at
least it was originally to be, and so it would be now,
had not this presence of God internally and personally
to souls, this quickening, life-giving God-sense, been
shut off by sin. For by this they tear themselves
away from God, and become self-centered, separated
creatures, even as growths in a cavern, or as fishes on
the land, having no longer that immediate knowledge
of God which is their normal state of subsistence.
Henceforth they know or may know, much about
God, but they do not know God. They are shut up
as to God, dark to God, except, as by the head, they
may think, discover, learn, or reason something about
llim. K ever do they know him till he becomes cen-


tered in their soul again as its life, and the crowning
good and blessing of its eternity. And this is fitly
called being born of God, because it is the entering of
God again into his place to be the beginning there
of a new movement and life derivative from him, and
fed by the springs of his fullness in the heart. Which
entering in of God supposes, in fact, a new discovery
of God. Not that the Subject is put back now into a
new cognitive relation ; his cognitive function is no
wise altered, and if there were no other, would still be
as blind to God as before. The new discovery made
is made by faith, opening the heart to receive, and
in receiving feel or inwardly sense, what should
have been the original and always normal revela

Is it then to be said or imagined that, in this new-
birth, or new-begun life of faith, the subject really
knows God by an immediate knowledge? He may not
so conceive it, I answer, but it is none the less true.
He will speak, it may be, only of his peace, but it will
seem to him to be a kind of divine peace. He will
testify that God is wondrously near to him, and he
will put into that word near something like a sense of
Him. He will be conscious and will say that he is,
of a strangely luminous condition, as if his whole body,
in the words of Christ, were full of light ; and all the
scripture terms that set forth God as a light, and a
sun, and a power opposite to darkness, will come in,
as it were, to answer, and to interpret the force of his
experience. Still he will not conceive, it may be, of

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 7 of 29)