Horace Bushnell.

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ral desire, want, sentiment God-ward, do not make a
religious character. They are even compatible and
consistent often with a character most profoundly irre
ligious. What does it signify that the nature is feel
ing after God, when the life is utterly against him ? If
a man has a natural sense of honor, does it make him
an honorable man, when he betrays every trust and vi
olates every bond of friendship ? If a man has a fine
natural sensibility to truth, does it make him a true
man, when he is a sophist or a liar in all the practice
of his life ? Where there is naturally a fine sense of


moral beauty, and a capacity to draw the picture of
it even with admirable justice and artistic skill, does it
make the man a morally beautiful character, when his
life, as will not seldom happen, is a life in utter disor-,
der and deformity ? Even a thief may have a good
sentiment of justice, and be only the more consciously
guilty because of it. There may even be a wondrously
tender sensibility in the heart of a robber or assassin ;
such, that in his family, or among his clan, he will be
abundant in the most gentle and kindest offices. And
in just the same way a man may have the finest feel
ing of natural reverence to God, the highest senti
ments of admiration for God s character, the grandest
rational convictions of his value to the world, as its
moral Governor and providential Keeper, and yet not
have so much as. a trace of genuine piety in the life.
He may even go so far as to enjoy the greatness and
beauty of God, and have the finest things to say of
him, and have no trace of a genuinely religious charac
ter, any more than if he were enjoying or praising a
landscape. He will do the two things, in fact, in ex
actly the same manner ; and one will have just as
much to do for his piety as the other. "

What, then, is it to be a practically religious man ?
When is it and how, that a man begins to be religious
in the sense of religious character ? To conceive this
matter distinctly, two things need to be understood be
forehand. First, that religious character is more than
mere natural character, and different from it, as what
we are by constitution is different from what we do,


and practically seek, and freely become. It is that
which lies in choice, and for which we are thus re
sponsible. It is made by what the soul s liberty goes
after, with a reigning devotion, what it chooses and
lives for as its end. If the man, therefore, lives for
himself, or for the world, as all men do in the way of
sin, he is without God, without religious character,
and is all the more guilty in it, that his nature is feel
ing after God in throes of disappointed longing. Then
again, secondly, it must be understood that souls are
made for God, to have him always present in them,
and working in their liberty itself, even as gravity is
in matter, impelling its motions. They are to know
God and be conscious of him, even as they know and
are conscious of themselves. They are to live and move
and have their being in him, not as omnipresence
only, but as inward revelation. Inspiration is to be
their life, and their freedom is to be complete in the
freedom and sovereignty of God. As they are God s
offspring, they are to live in his Fatherhood, and have
their finite being complemented in the sense of his in
finite greatness and perfection inwardly discovered.

Assuming these two points, it follows that a man is
never in religious character till he has found God ; and


that he will never find him, till his whole voluntary na
ture goes after him, and chimes with him in his princi
ples and ends. Whatever ends he has had of his own
must be given up, as being his own, and God s must be
enthroned in him by a supreme devotion. " Ye shall
seek for me and find me, if ye search for me with all


your heart." God can not have room to spread him
self in the soul, and fill it with his inspirations, when it
is hugging itself, and is habitually set on having its
own ways. A great revolution is so far needed, there
fore, if it is to find God ; for God can not be revealed
in it, or born into it, save when it comes away from all
its lower ends to be in God s. No movings of mere
natural sentiment reach this point. Nothing but a
voluntary surrender of the whole life to his will pre
pares it to be set in this open relation to God. And
just here it is, accordingly, that religious character be
gins. The soul, as a nature, feeling instinctively after
him, baffled still and kept back by self-devotion, has
in fact no trace of piety. It is only when God is mov
ing into it, and living in it, that the true piety begins :
this is the root and life of the religious character.
Now it communes knowingly with God, receives of
God, walks with God, and lives by a hidden life from
him. Now, for the first time, the religious nature is
fulfilled, and all its longings rest in the divine fullness.
It has found God. Observe now,

3. How easily, and in how many ways, the workings
of the mere religious nature may be confounded with
the workings of religious character, and, as successful
counterfeits, take their place. The admiration of
God s beauty what is it, some will say, but love ? Do
we not, then, all of us, love God ? The sentimental
pleasure felt in God s qualities, what is it but the real
joy of religion ? and how satisfactory it is to think so !
Even the soul s deep throbs of want, what are they


but its hungerings after righteousness? and that void of
hunger must be filled, even though it refuses to be. So
they think. In short, there is a vast religious poetry
in the soul s nature ; and what is it all but a religious
character begun ? Is any thing more certain, as we

O /

look on man, than that he is a religious being ; and

* O CT* "

what is this, by a straight inference, but to say that he
has a naturally religious character ? And so it comes
to pass, that religion is the same thing as mere natural
sentiment ; and the feeling after God poor, flashy
delusion ! substitutes the finding God altogether.
And this it is thought, by alas how many, is the
more intelligent kind of religion ! They love to hear
of it, because it plays on their natural sentiment so
finely. It is almost a modern discovery, and they love
to be religious in this way. It will not organize a
church, or raise a mission, or instigate a prayer, or help
any one to bear an enemy, and even quite dispenses
with finding God ; the Spirit of God bearing witness
with our spirit is not in it ; but, for all this, it seems to
be a more superlative kind of religion !

We can hardly think it possible that a feeble impos
ture like this should beguile the most common under
standing ; and yet we have had a most eloquent teacher
of this religion vaunting himself in it, here in our Xew
England, as if it were the true Christianity ! He finds
a natural reverence for God in souls, sentiments of
adoration towards him, longings that feel after him ;
and that he calls religion. All men have it ; no man,
even the worst, wants it. And the true doctrine is,


that, living in the plane of nature, we are to cultivate
ourselves in it, and grow better always certain always
of being religious because of it. And this kind of
mock gospel is infusing itself, by a subtle contagion,
into the general mind of our times ; appearing and re
appearing in our literature, sometimes in our sermons,
and turning our youth quite away from every thing
most vital and solid in the supernatural, soul-renewing
doctrine of Christ.

It is exactly the religion of Herod, who did many
things under John s preaching, and heard him gladly,
and then took off his head to please a dancing woman.
He had all the sentiments of religion, and loved to
have them brought into play ; but the graceful trip of
dancing feet pleased him a great deal more ! Pilate,
the Roman, had the same religious nature, felt the
greatness, quivered in sublimest awe of Jesus, and de
voutly washed his hands to be clear of the blood, and
ended by giving up the glorious and majestic victim to
his murderers. Felix had the same religion ; so had
Agrippa ; so had Balaam ; and the world is full of it,
sensibility to God, truth, right, coupled with a prac
tical non-reception of all.

It results, accordingly, just as we should expect, that
there are always two kinds or classes of religion in the
world ; those which are the product of a religious sen
timent more or less blind, and those which look to the
regeneration of character ; religions that are feeling
after God, and a true religion that finds him, and dis
covers him inwardly to the soul. The religion of the


Athenians was of the former class, and all the idola
trous religions of the world are of the same kind.
What a sublime and almost appalling proof of the re
ligious nature of man, feeling dimly, groping blindly
after God, imagining that he is somewhere and every
where ; in the sun, in the moon, in the snakes of the
ground, the beetles of the air, the poor tame vegeta
bles of the garden, the many-headed monsters carved
in wood or stone, that never were any where but in the
crazy fancy of superstition ! Look on these, and see
how man feels after God : does he therefore find him ?
And if we speak of character, truth, love, mercy, pu
rity, in what do those blind struggles of our almost di
vine nature issue, but in a defect of every thing heav
enly, and even comely ? What but hells of character
are these idolatrous religions ?

Under the guise of Christianity, too, we may distin
guish at least two kinds of religion, that are corrupted
in a greater or less degree by infusions of the same
error. One is the religion of forms, where the soul is
taken by them as a matter of taste ; loves to play rev
erence under them ; has a great delight in their beau
ty, antiquity, order ; and takes the mere sentimental
pleasure it has in them, and the hope of being buried
in them, for the certain reality of religious character.
The other is a religion of sentiment throughout, and
fed by reason ; feeling after God in the beautiful and
grand objects of nature ; pleased to have such high
sentiments towards him ; taking hold of these senti
ments to cultivate them more and more ; delighted


with Christ s beautiful lessons of natural virtue ; and
praising him even as the finest of all the great men of
the world ! It is not intended, under either of these
mistaken forms of worship, to renounce Christianity ;
and the mischiefs they propagate in their adherents are
in all degrees. Sometimes the infusion of sentiment
ality is slight, sometimes it quite takes the place of pi
ety, and there is no room left for so much as a vestige
to grow. Now, the true gospel is that which brings a
regenerative power, and creates the soul anew in God s
image. Any religion that has not this is so- far a mock
religion. The true test question, therefore, by which
every man is to try his religion is this, have I found
God in it? Has it more than pleased me? has it
pierced me, brought me to the light, given me to know
God? If it has not done this for you, too little can
not be made of it. And the sooner it is cast behind
you, with all its fine sentiments, in a total turning of
your heart to God himself, the better. The life of God
in the soul of man, that is religious character, and be
side that there is none. And that is salvation, with
out which there is no salvation. For this it is that
makes salvation ; that the soul, before without God
alienated from the life of God, is won back to a real
God-welcome, and has him revealed inwardly in holy
Fatherhood, as the life of its life. Hungry as the prod
igal, it lias come back from its wanderings in shameful
penitence, to be greeted with a kiss, and clothed again,
and feasted, and hear its Father say, " O dead, tliou
art alive again !"


Having endeavored, in this manner, to impress the
wide distinction between a religious nature and a relig
ious character, between feeling after God and finding
him, I must bring my illustrations to a close.

The sum of the whole matter is this, understand,
have it never to be disguised from you, that your sal
vation lies in finding God, and that you may know
your salvation only as you know that you have found
him, know that you have found him as the graciously
felt preserver, the conductor, guide, peace, joy of your
heart. You will not know him outwardly, but with
in by the secret flood of his movement in your life.
You will be consciously configured to his character as
once you were not ; raised, exalted, married to his ends,
one with him. Count yourself no Christian, because
you like thoughts and discourses about God. Be
jealous of any gospel that merely pleases you, and
puts your natural sentiments aglow. See God in the
flowers, if you will ; but ask no gospel made up of
flowers. Look after a sinner s gospel, one that brings
you God himself. Doubtless you are hungry ; there
fore you want bread, and not any mere feeling after
it. Understand the tragic perils of your sin, and
think nothing strong enough for you but a tragic sal
vation. Require a transforming religion, not a pleas
ing. Be enticed by no flattering sentimentalities,
which the children of nature are everywhere taking
for a religion. Eefuse to sail in the shallows of the
sea ; strike out into the deep waters where the surges
roll heavily, as in God s majesty, and the gales of the


Spirit blow. Man your piety as a great expedition
against God s enemies and yours, and hope for no deli
cate salvation, not to be won by great sacrifices and

Let me add in this connection, also, a word of ne
cessary caution respecting a particular form of unbe
lief that is now common. How many are beginning
to say, and have it for a fine discovery, that there is
no such thing as a distinction of kind among men ;
nothing to hang a distinction of w r orlds upon ; noth
ing to make that distinction better than a superstitious
moonshine of the past ages ! Saints, and not saints ;
born of God, and not born ; sons of God, and aliens,
these are all a kind of fiction that has come to an
end. Are we not all religious, all good? some a
little, some more, and some very good? Even where
there is no pretense of piety, where there is great
wrong, corruption, brutality of life, is there not still a
little sense of God that only wants to be increased ;
some tender yearnings after God, however suppressed ?
What have we, then, but distinctions of degrees, and
no distinction of kind?" Where, then, is the footing
for heaven and hell ? Let this fiction go : it is time
now to be clear of it. I have shown you here, I think,
where the true distinction lies, and the profound reality
of it. Ko great gulf fixed was ever thought of that is
wider or deeper, or more absolute. It is the distinction
between a religious nature and a religious character.
We all have such a nature, feeling after God ; but we
have not all found him. We all have religious senti-


ments, desires, yearnings ; but how many never choose
a religious end ! how many, in fact, never did any
thing in the practical life, but trample the sentiments,
desires, yearnings of their nature, in lives of disobedi
ence, and a light of rejection against God and every
holy thing! Ko, my friends, the gospel distinctions
are not gone by ; the heaven and hell of the Scripture
are not yet antiquated. Here they stand, based in the
everlasting distinction of kind : darkness and light,
chaos and order, falsehood and truth, are not more op
posite, more impossible to be reconciled. A religious
nature signifies nothing where there is no religious
character; nothing, I mean, but the greater wrong
and wrath the more deserved.

Once more, it must strike you all alike, the most un-
religious as truly as the others, that it is a very great
thing, in such a view as that now presented, to have a
religious nature. Oh, if you had any true sense of it,
you would even begin to tremble at the thought of
yourselves ! See, the whole world over, in all ages
and times, men shaping their strange religions : they
are groping all and feeling after God, to them the un
known God. And you, it may be, are doing the same.
Your great nature, made in his image, answers to him,
reaches after him in suppressed longings, A sublime
uneasiness keeps you astir, and you know not what it
means. You think of it often, perhaps, or even speak
of it complainingly, that God has made your life so
strangely barren. The secret of it is, that yon are
empty, hungry, shivering in the cold, for want of God ;


and that because you seek him not. Always feeling
after what you always have not, and even refuse to
have : how can it he otherwise ? And what is to be
come of this great, almost divine nature, that is heaving
thus in your bosom ? This will become of it, and noth
ing else. It will grope and writhe and sigh, only tast
ing now and then little admirations of God, till finally
its lofty affinities will all go out and die. All faculties
that can not have their use grow stunted and thin and
withered, as inevitably even as an arm or a leg.
How much more the godlike powers and affinities of
the religious nature, when for years and years they
can not have their God, receptivities all, yet never al
lowed to receive.

So God understands himself; and therefore keeps
himself near, wanting to be found. Even as the apos
tle told those groping, blind men of Athens, " Though
he be not far from any one of us." They were all
feeling after him instinctively, even in their vices and
grim idolatries ; and still he was nigh, ready, behind
their thinnest veils of thought, to break through into
the discovery of their heart. God was pronounced, in
fact, upon their whole nature, in every faculty and
fibre. And yet they could not find him. Therefore,
also, he became at last incarnate in his Son, and put
himself before their senses, and took society with them,
and showed them what they might have thought im
possible, that the unseen, infinite Being has a suffering
concern for just those hungry natures that in sin are
groping after him. And this Christ is for us all,


" the light of the knowledge of the glory of God."
The veil is taken away. To come unto Jesus now,
and believe in him as one come out from God is really
to find him. No one can earnestly seek him now, and
miss of him. Mere feeling after him by dim instinct
will not find him, but earnest, honest, prayerful seek
ing will. And therefore he declared himself, in his
first sermon, when he took up his ministry, would
that all ye hungering and groping souls could hear
the promise ! " Ask, and ye shall receive ; seek and
ye shall find ; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seek-
eth findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be
opened." What an opening is that which opens the
discovery of God ! and what a finding is that which
finds him !




" For I seek not yours but you." 2 Cor. 12 : 14.

IT is our common way as well as delusion, to be de
siring what men have, and not the men themselves ; to
get a property if possible out of their property, and
not to create the same by our own industry. The
manner of our great Apostle is exactly contrary. He
has sought these wayward Corinthians in two voyages
and two campaigns of gospel service, and is writing
now his second long epistle to them, promising to
come a third time and restore them, if possible, from
their aberrations and scandals. They have heretofore
not even borne his expenses, it would seem, or so
much as taken him to their hospitality, and now they
are most ungratefully decrying and depreciating his
ministry. But he can not let them go, though the
more abundantly he loves them the less he be loved.
Is he not their father ? and it is not the common way,
he reminds them, for children to lay up for the pa
rents, but the parents for the children. Uninvited,
therefore, expecting neither welcome nor reward, he
says he will come to them again for their sakes only
" for I seek not yours but you." He Lad come into his


master s way so perfectly, in short, that other men, or
souls, were valuable to him, even as children to par
ents the best, the only substance that he cared to
seek. Here,, then, is the subject I propose for your
consideration, viz :

The value one man has to another ; or, what is the same,
the real interest of property which a true disciple has, or
may have, in the souls of other men.

It is common to speak of the immense value of the
soul, that is, the value it has to itself; it is common to
speak of the love which one soul ought to have to
other souls ; neither of these is the subject I propose ;
but it is to show the real value of one soul, or man to
another, as being in some very true sense a possessory

I suppose there may be some who had never such a
thought occur to them in their lives. And the rea-


son, if we care to understand it, is that in the great
life-struggle we maintain with each other, under the
dominion of selfishness, we take up the impression
that we all stand in the way of each other, and are
really nothing but a hindrance to the comfort and hap
piness one of another. We have so many public wars
and private quarrels, so many rivalries, the problem
of obtaining wealth is so often nothing bm? a finding
how to get what belongs to others ; we have so many
frauds, hatreds, oppressions, envies, jealousies, and are
brewing so constantly in these selfish turbulences, that
it becomes a great part of our life to keep off, or if


possible to keep under, one another. Hence it can
not even occur to many, as their grandest right and
privilege, to get a property in one another, and have
it for a permanent and dear possession.

Furthermore, we get accustomed to thejdea that
there is no property but legal property ; no property
right, therefore, in a man to be thought of, save the
ownership that makes him a slave. Whereas the
dearest, broadest properties we have are not legal.
The wife does not legally own her husband, though
she says, with how much meaning, " he is mine."
~No man legally owns his friend. So, also, we all have
a most real, but not legal, property in all beautiful
landscapes, in the air and the light, in the stars and
the ranges of the sea. In a still different view, what
ever and whomsoever we love, in the sense of religion,
becomes a positive value to us, though it be no legal
value ; for it is the nature of this love that it gets a
property in its objects ; so that if we love a man s suc
cesses, or his grounds, or his gains, we possess the
usufruct, in a more complete enjoyment, possibly,
than he does himself. Putting aside then all such in
sufficient or false impressions, I now undertake to
show that one man has to another a value more real
than gold, or lands, or any legal property of the world
can have. *

And I open the argument here by calling your at
tention to the fact that God so evidently means to
make every community valuable to every other, and


so far, at least, every man to every other. We see
this on a magnificent scale in the article of com
merce. Here we find the nations all at work for each
other, in so many different climes and localities, pre
paring one for another articles of comfort, sustenance,
and ornament ; and then commerce intervening,
makes the exchanges ; so that every people is receiv
ing back to itself supplies that the whole human race,
we may almost say, have bean at work as producers
to contribute. Even if they owned the industry one
of another, they could not turn it to better account.
Thus if you raise the question at your breakfast-table,
on almost any morning of the- year, whence come
these simple comforts of food, and condiment, and
furniture, you will find that almost every people and
clime under heaven is represented as a contribu
tor the coffee is from one, the tea from another, the
urns, and cups, and plates, and spoons, it may be,
from as many others ; and so on down to the sugar,
and salt, and pepper, and all the outfit of the table.
Your breakfast is gotten up for you, as it were, by the

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 9 of 29)