By Horace Bushnell
HE THAT KNOWS GOD WILL CONFESS HIM.
WHAT any true poet will say is commonly most natural to be said and deepest in the truth; for his art is to be unrestrained by art, and to let the inspiration of his inmost, deepest life vent itself in song. And this exactly is the manner of our great Psalmist. We are not to understand that, in using the indicative form, he is merely reciting a historic fact, and telling us that he has not hic. God's righteousness in his heart. His meaning is deeper; viz., to say that he could not do it, but must needs testify of the goodness, and sing of the sweetness, and exult in the joy, he had found in the salvation of God and the secret witness of his Spirit. Nay, he must even send his song into the temple, and call on all the great congregation of Israel to sing it with him, and raise it as a chorus of praise to the great Jehovah. What I propose, accordingly, at the present time, is to speak of--
The necessary openness of a holy experience; or, in other words, of the impossibility that the inward revelation of God in the soul should be shut up in it, and remain hid, or unacknowledged.
I shall have in view especially two classes of hearers that are widely distinguished one from the other; first, the class who hide the grace of God in their heart undesignedly, or by reason of some undue modesty; and secondly, the class who, pretending to have it, or consciously having it not, take a pleasure in throwing discredit on all the appropriate expressions of it, such as are made by the open testimony and formal profession of Christ before men.
The former class are certainly blamable in no such sense or degree as the others. They are naturally timorous and self-distrustful persons, it may be, and do not see that they are distrusting God rather than themselves. They seem to themselves to have been truly renewed in the love of God, but they have some doubts, and they make it appear to be wiser that they should not, just now, testify their supposed new experience. It is better, they think; to wait till they have had a long, secret trial of themselves, and learned whether they can endure,--better, that is, to see whether they can keep alive the grace under suppression; when it must be infallibly stifled and can not live, except in the open field of duty and love and holy fellowship. They are not simple; they are unnatural; what is in them, in their feeling, their secret hope, their joy begun, they regulate and suppress. If they were placed in heaven itself, they would not sing the first month, pretending that they had not tried their voices, or perchance doubting whether it is quite modest in them to thank God for his mercy, till they are more sure whether it is really to be sufficient in them. There is a great deal of unbelief in their backwardness; a great deal of self-consciousness ill their modesty; and sometimes a little will is cunningly mixed with both. Sometimes they wait to be exhorted and made much of by the sympathy of others. Sometimes the very wicked thought is cunningly let in, behind their seeming delicacy, that God should do more for them, and give them an experience with greater circumstance.
In opposition now to both these classes, and without assuming to measure and graduate the exact degree of their blame before God, I undertake to show that, where there is a true grace of experience in the heart, it ought to be, must, and will be manifest. And I bring to your notice--
1. The evident fact that a true inward experience, or discovery of God in the heart, is itself an impulse also of self-manifestation, as all love and gratitude are--wants to speak and declare itself, and will as naturally do it, when it is born, as a child will utter its first cry. And exactly this, as I just now said, is what David means; viz., that he had been obliged to speak, and was never able to shut up the fire burning in his spirit, from the first moment when it was kindled. He speaks as one who could not find how to suppress the joy that filled his heart, but must needs break loose in a testimony for God. And so it is in all cases the instinct of a new heart, in its experience of God, to acknowledge him. No one ever thinks it a matter of delicacy, or genuine modesty, to entirely suppress any reasonable joy; least of all, any fit testimony of gratitude toward a deliverer and for a deliverance. In such a case no one ever asks, what is the use? where is the propriety? for it is the simple instinct of his nature to speak, and he speaks.
Thus, if one of you had been rescued, in a shipwreck on a foreign shore, by some common sailor who had risked his life to save you, and you should discover him across the street in some great city, you would rush to his side, sieze his hand, and begin at once, with a choking utterance, to testify your gratitude to him for so great a deliverance. Or, if you should pass restrainedly on, making no sign, pretending to yourself that you might be wanting in delicacy or modesty to publish your private feelings, by any such eager acknowledgment of your deliverer, or that you ought first to be more sure of the genuineness of your gratitude, what opinion must we have, in such a case, of your heartlessness and falseness to nature. In the same simple way, all ambition apart, all conceit of self forgot, all artificial and mock modesty excluded, it will be the instinct of every one that loves God to acknowledge him. He will say with our Psalmist, on another occasion,--Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. Verily God hath heard me, he hath attended to the voice of my prayer.
2. The change implied in a true Christian experience, or the revelation of God in the heart, is in its very nature the soul and root of an outward change that is correspondent. The faith implanted is a faith that works in appropriate demonstrations, and must as certainly work, as a living heart must beat or pulsate. It is the righteousness of God revealed within, to be henceforth the actuating spring and power of a righteous and devoted life. It will inform the whole man. It will glow in the countenance. It will irradiate the eye. It will speak from the tongue. It will modulate the very gait. It will cuter into all the transactions of business, the domestic tempers, the social manifestations and offices. It will make the man a benefactor, and call him into self-sacrifice for God and the truth. It will send him forth to be God's advocate with men, and require him, in that manner, to make full testimony, either formally or by implication, of what God has done for him. Of this, now, a true Christian experience is the root and beginning, else it is nothing. The inward change is no reality, but a pure fiction, if it does not issue in this. In this it will issue, when it is allowed to act unrestrainedly, even though it be, at first, the smallest seed of grace possible. And O, what multitudes are there, in whom God is just beginning to be revealed, who by some false modesty, some morbid thought of prudence, refusing to be natural and simple, take the mode of silence, secresy, or suppression, and so, in a very few days or months, fatally stifle the grace of their salvation. The result is worse, only in the fact that the abuse is more wicked, when the subject dares, in the hour of his holy visitation, to deliberately make up his mind that he will have his new-born joy as a secret, and live in it for some years, at least; until he has absolutely proved the genuineness of his faith. It will not be long, in such a case, before he gets evidence enough against it; for the only and the absolutely necessary proof of its genuineness is that it reveals itself; comes out into action, becomes a life and a confession. The good tree will show the good fruit. It can not go on to bear the old, bad fruit out of modesty, or a pretended shrinking from ostentation; it must reveal the righteousness of God within, by the fruits of righteousness without, else it is only a mockery.
3. If any one proposes beforehand, in his religious endeavors, or in seeking after God, to come into a secret experience and keep it a secret, his endeavor is plainly one that falsifies the very notion of christian piety, and if he succeeds or seems to succeed, he only practices a fraud in which he imposes on himself. He proposes to find a grace, or obtain a grace from God, that he will hide and will not acknowledge, a grace, too, that will neither grow nor shine. Instead of taking up his cross to follow Christ, sacrificing openly wealth, reputation, friends, home, every thing dear for his Master's sake, he is going to find a grace that brings in fact no cross, requires no sacrifice. He is going to be saved in a more easy and more agreeable way than to come out and take his Master's part and bear the rough work of his Master's calling. To meet the scorn of the world, and endure the hardness that distinguishes a soldier, is not in his thoughts. Perhaps he does not expect to be so much of a Christian, so high in his attainments, and so eminently useful, but he hopes to be just enough Christian, in this more delicate and secret way, to save him; beyond which he cares for nothing more. But you have only to look into his heart, in such a case, to see that his motive is bad, even beyond respect. fie is only fawning about the cross, to get some private token of grace, when he does not mean to make any expense, or suffer any loss or self-denial for it. To come out and be separate, to make the cause and truth of Jesus a care of his own, to live a life that witnesses for God, is not his plan. He means no such thing. He wants, in fact, to be saved by a fraud; that is, by a secret experience hid in the heart, which makes no open testimony, costs no sacrifice for God. To say that such a state of mind is untruth itself, and that any spiritual experience it may assume to have had is no better, would be an insult even to your understanding.
4. It is not less clear, as I have already said incidentally, and now say only more directly, that the grace of God in the heart, unmanifested or kept secret, as many propose that it shall be, even for their whole life, will be certainly stifled and extinguished. The thought itself is a mockery of the Holy Spirit. The heart might as well be required to live and not beat, as the new heart of love to hush itself and keep still in the bosom. Nothing can live that is not permitted to show the signs of life. Even a tree, a solid, massive oak, embracing the earth in roots equal to half its volume, and drawing out of the rich soil its needed nutriment, will be stifled and yield up its life, if it can not put on leaves at the extremities and grow. So let any, the best and ripest Christian, if such a one could be induced to do it, (as most assuredly he could not,) retire from all the acts and forbid himself all the duties, by which he would manifest his love to God, and declare God's love to men, and -that love would very soon be so far smothered in his bosom, as to leave no evidence there of its existence. Accordingly you will find that all that class of persons, who take the turn described, give the most abundant proofs, ere long, that God is not with them. How can he be with them, when they propose even to be disciples in such a way that, if all others were to follow and be like them, Christ would not have a church, or even one acknowledged friend or follower on earth? Will he consent, by his Spirit, do you think, to uphold a race of secret, unacknowledged followers, in this manner; followers who turn their back to him, will not confess, will not even speak, or act the grace they receive? Be it rather a faithful, as it is a most evident saying,--For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.
5. This is the express teaching of the gospel, which every where and in every possible way calls out the souls renewed in Christ to live an open life of sacrifice and duty, and to witness a good confession.--Come and follow me, is the word of Jesus. Deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow me. If it is a lowly calling, if we can not descend to it, then he says,--Blessed is he who is not offended in me. If our pride, or the pride of our position, is too great, then he says,--Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his glory. To exclude any possible thought of a secret discipleship, he says,--I have chosen you and ordained you, that ye should bring forth fruit,--I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you, and will persecute you as it has persecuted me. In the same way his apostles call upon all that love him to come out and be separate, to put on the whole armor of God and stand, to fight openly the good fight, to endure hardness, to make a loss of all things for his sake, to be his witnesses before men; leading always the way by their own bold, faithful testimony. When you look, for example, on such a character as Paul, it is even difficult to conceive how there can ever be any real communion of spirit, in any future world, between him and one so opposite as to think of living a secret, unavowed piety. Between that craven way of secrecy and mere self-saving on one hand, and his great heart of love and labor on the other, can any bond of sympathy ever exist? Scarcely does an open transgressor, acting out, with strong audacity, the unbelief and wickedness of which he dares to take the responsibility, appear to be as far removed, or as radically unlike. It never once occurs to Paul that he can keep the grace hid in his heart. He does not appear to come forth and speak because he has it as a point of obligation, as perhaps Daniel opened his window to let his prayer be heard, but he has a testimony to give for Jesus that he must give, because of the fire it kindles in his heart. So before the Areopagus, and Felix, and Agrippa, and Caesar, and on every shore touched by his feet, he goes preaching the word and telling the story of his wonderful experience on the way to Damascus. Who that looks on this heroic figure, and sees how the heavenly ardor raised in this man's breast by the revelation of Jesus, impels him forth and sends him through the world, in a life-long testimony which no sacrifices or perils are able to arrest, can descend, for one moment, to so mean a thought, as the possibility of being saved by u secret piety. Again--
6. It deserves to be made a distinct point that there is no shade of encouragement given to this notion of salvation by a secret piety, in any of the scripture examples or teachings. If there is to be a large body of the secret heirs of salvation, such as will greatly surprise the m ore open, more pretentious friends of God, when they see the number, there ought to be at least some examples in the scripture to encourage such an expectation. The nearest approach to such encouragement any where given, is that which is afforded by the case of the two senators, Joseph and Nicodemus. One of them we are told was a disciple secretly, for fear of the Jews. And the other came to Jesus by night, to inquire of him, that he might not be counted a disciple. Both of them appear to have kept silence on his trial before the council, letting the decision go against him there, and taking no responsibility on his account. But after he was crucified, they came to ask the body and brought spices to embalm it. They were good as disciples to bury Jesus, but not to save his life, or serve him while living. Indeed if they had truly embalmed him in their hearts, so that we could hear of them afterward, making common cause with the disciples, it would greatly comfort us concerning them. Shall we ever hear any thing more of them, in that world where God's true witnesses are gathered and crowned? The truth is that there is a very heavy shade over these two delicate and courtly friends of Jesus. They were men of society, and therefore saw the dignity of Jesus, but if you would like to be reasonably confident of your salvation, it certainly becomes you to do something a great deal more positive than to let your Master die, making no stand for him even in the council where his death is voted, and then come in with spices to bury him. The most fragrant spices are those that honor one's life, and not the posthumous odors that embalm his body. How singular is it too that not even the Pentecost calls out these disciples of the tomb. It is as if they had been buried with their Master and had not risen. In that wondrous scene of fellowship where so many, from all parts of the world, are surprised to find themselves confessing and embracing, in open brotherhood, strangers of all climes and orders, and selling even their goods to relieve the common wants, it does not appear that any spices of the heavenly charity are brought in by these two secret friends of Jesus. When all beside are of one accord, rejoicing in acts of communion, such as the world has never seen, they have no part in it. Ananias and Sapphira had as much, or even more.
Is it such examples that give encouragement to a secret piety? These two had certainly some notion of such a discipleship, but who will care to receive it from them? No, the real disciple is different; he is thought of as a man who stands for his Master, and is willing to die for his Master, Ye are the light of the world; and the light of the world is lighted up, of course, to shine. Men do not light a candle, he says, and put it under a bushel. Let your light so shine, that others, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Drawing our subject now to a conclusion, we notice, first of all, in a way of practical application, the very absurd pretense of those who congratulate themselves on having so much of secret merit, which they even count the more meritorious because they keep it secret. Some persons of a generally correct life are put on this course by the flatteries of others, who love to let down the honors of religion, and hold them up as a foil in doing it. Some do it willfully and scornfully, hinting that people who make so great a noise about religion would do well to be more modest, and that, if they were willing to proclaim their own merits, perhaps they might make as good a show themselves. And yet how many are there, if we may trust the world's report, of these secret saints!--not the least, but the greatest of all saints! It is very much as if a nation, fighting for its liberties, had vast armies of secret patriots, who did not believe in making so great a noise in the dust and carnage of the field, but, since they are too modest to put their superior bravery forward, and rush to the onset shouting for their country, are to be counted, for their modesty's sake, the bravest and truest patriots of all.
The real truth is, in respect to almost all these pretenders to a secret religion, that they are persons who know nothing of it. They are moralists, it may be, practicing at what they call a virtue by themselves, but they do nothing that brings them into any relationship with God. It is not the righteousness of God which they have hidden so carefully, but it is their own,--which, after all, is not hid. They never pray, they have no experience of God, they are as ignorant as the worst of men of any such thing as a divine joy in the heart. They do not break out and confess the Lord, simply because he is not in them. Nothing is in them but themselves, and they do confess themselves, they even boast themselves. Just as naturally would they boast and testify the love of God, if they felt its power. They really publish all the merit they have now, and, when religion dawns in their hearty they will as certainly declare the grace of God in that.
And this again brings us to notice the significance of the profession of Christ, when, and why, and with what views, it should be made. It should be made, because where there is any thing to be professed, it can not but be made. If a man loves God he will take his part with God, just as a citizen who loves his country will take the part of his country. He will draw himself to all God's friends and count them brothers, rejoicing with them in the fellowship o' the common love. He will set himself, in every manner, to strengthen, comfort, edify, stimulate them in their fidelity and application to good works. All this he will do by the simple instinct of his love to God. If there were no such thing enjoined upon the disciples of Christ, as a formal profession, or church organization, there would yet be generated, within six months, exactly the same thing. The disciples would come out of the world in a body, testifying what God has done for them in the quickening grace of Christ shed abroad in their hearts, and claiming their fellowship with each other. As our fathers in the Mayflower bound themselves in a kind of civil covenant on their passage, they would band themselves together in holy covenant before God, to co-operate in a form of spiritual order,--a church. They would have their officers and leaders. They would watch for each other. They would have terms adjusted by which to separate themselves from hypocrites and impostors,--all that we now have in our formal polities and church compacts. Co-operation is the strength of such as have a common cause, and organization is the certain requisite of this. In this way the followers of Jesus must and will be set in solid phalanx, to co-operate in the maintenance of their common cause.
This matter of professing Christ appears to be regarded by many as a kind of optional duty. Just as optional as it is for light to shine, or goodness to be good, or joy to sing, or gratitude to give thanks, or love to labor and sacrifice for its ends. No! my friends, there is no option here, save as all duties are optional and eternity hangs on the option we make. Let no one of you receive or allow a different thought. Expect to be open, outstanding witnesses for God, and rejoice to be. In ready and glorious option, take your part with such, and stifle indignantly any lurking thought of being a secret follower.
Following in the same train, we notice, again, what value there may be in discoveries of christian experience, and the legitimate use they may have in christian society. Some of the best and holiest impulses ever given to -the cause of God in men's hearts are given by testimonies of christian experience. Like all other things, they are capable of abuse. They may run to a really pitiful conceit, being not only misconceived by the subjects themselves, but even made a gospel of and thrust forward, on occasions where they are out of place and against all holy proprieties. Still there will be times, more or less private, when the humblest and weakest disciples can speak of what God has done for them, with the very best effect. Nor is there any thing so unpractical and destitute of christian respect as the shyness of some fastidious people in this matter. It never exists in a truly manly character, or in connection with a full-toned, living godliness. That will be no such dainty affair. It will speak out. It will declare what God has done, and show the method by which he works. The new joy felt will be a new song in the mouth, and every new deliverance will be fitly, gratefully confessed. There will be no shallow affectation of delicacy shutting the lips and sealing them in a forced dumbness, as if the righteousness of God had been taken by a deed of larceny. How often will two disciples help and strengthen each other by showing, each the other, in what-way God has led him, what his struggles have been, and where his victories. And, if there should be three or four included, or possibly, and in fit cases, more, a whole church, what is there to blame? They spake often, one to another, says the prophet, and God hearkened and heard it. God listens for nothing so tenderly as when his children help each other by their testimonies to his goodness and the way in which he has brought them deliverance. Besides there is a higher view of these personal testimonies and confessions. All these experiences, or life-histories of the faithful, will be among the grandest studies and most glorious revelations of the future,--a spiritual epic of wars, and defeats, and falls, and victories, and wondrous turns of deliverance, and unseen ministries of God and angels, that, when they are opened to the saints, will furnish the sublimest of all their discoveries of Christ and of God. Exactly as an apostle intimates in those most hopeful, inspiring words of his,--When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe. May he not be glorified in them here, and, in some feebler measure, admired for the testimonies yielded by their experience, as their warfare goes on.
And now, last of all, let this one thing be impressed: for every thing I have been saying leads to this, that the true wisdom, in all these matters of holy experience, is to act naturally. If you seem to yourself to have really passed from death unto life, and to have come into God's peace, interpose no affectations of modesty, no restrictions of mock prudence, but in true natural modesty and a sound natural discretion, testify the grace you have received. Take upon you promptly every duty, enter the church, obey the command of Christ, in the confession of his name and the public remembrance of his death. O, if we could get rid of so many affectations in religion, and so many unnatural, artificial wisdoms, how many more real Christians would there be, and these how much better and heartier. How many are there in our christian communities that are living afar off and apparently quite inaccessible, who, if, at a certain time in their life, they had gone forward and taken the places to which they were called, would now be among the shining members of the great body of saints. And how many in the church cripple themselves and all but extinguish their life, by allowing nothing good or right in them to be naturally acted out. They stifle every beginning of grace by their over-persistent handling, scrutinizing, and testing of it. They read Edwards on the Affections, it may be, till their affections are all worn out and killed by so much jealousy of them, when, if only they could give them breath in the open life of duty and sacrifice, they would flame up in the soul as heavenly fires, indubitable and irrepressible.
If any of you, either out of the church or in, have lost ground in these artificial and restrictive ways, come back at once to your losing point and consent to be natural, to act out whatever grace God will give you, and, when you are conscious of his love to you, or his new creating presence and peace in your heart, be as ready to trust your consciousness as you are the consciousness that you think, or doubt, or do any thing else. In a word, do not hide the righteousness of God in your heart, lest you make a tomb of your heart and bury it there. Go forward and act out naturally, testify freely, live openly, the grace that is in you.
Thus it was, I have already said, with the sturdy warriors of the faith in the first ages of the church. They were men who took the grace in them as a call. The love that broke into their hearts burned up all their false modesty. Their humble position was exalted by the faith of Jesus, and they stood forth in all the singularity of the cross, cowed by no superiors, daunted by no perils. God made them heroes by simply making them natural, and the time of Christly heroism will never he restored, till men can take their lives in their hands and go forth, in downright good faith, to follow their Master, acting out the spirit he has kindled in them, and testifying to mankind the riches of the grace they have found in his gospel What we want, above all things, in this age, is heartiness and holy simplicity; men who justify the holy impulse of grace in their hearts, and do not keep it back by artificial clogs of prudence and false fear, or the sham pretenses of fastidiousness and artificial delicacy. These are they whom God will make his witnesses in all ages. They dare to be holy, dare just as readily to be singular. What God puts in them that they accept, and when he puts a song, they sing it. They. know Christ inwardly, and therefore stand for him outwardly. They endure hardness. They fight a fight. And these are the souls, my brethren, who shall stand before God accepted. And we shall be accepted as we stand with them,--otherwise never, It will be a gathering of the true soldiers, a gathering of them that have made sacrifices, conquered perils, and lived their open testimony for God and his Son. They will come in covered with their dust and scars, and Christ will crown them, as heroes that have stood and kept their armor. And then how deep and piercing are those words of his,--Will they slay us forever, or will they make us alive?--Whosoever, therefore, shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father, which is in heaven. But, whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father, which is in heaven.