By Horace Bushnell
CHRIST AS SEPARATE FROM THE WORLD.
WITH us of to-day, it is the commendation of Jesus that he is so profoundly humbled, identified so affectingly with our human state. But the power he had with the men of his time moved in exactly the opposite direction, being the impression he made of his remoteness and separateness from men, when he was, in fact, only a man, as they supposed, under all human conditions. With us, it is the wonder that he is brought so low. With them, that he could seem to rise so high; for they knew nothing, as yet, of his person considered as the incarnate Word of the Father. This contrast, however, between their position and ours is not as complete as may, at first, seem to us; for that which makes their impression, makes, after all, a good part of ours. For when we appeal thus to his humiliations under the flesh, and as a man of sorrows, M really do not count on the flesh and the sorrows, as being the Christly power, but only on what he brought into the world from above the world, by the flesh and the sorrows,--he holiness, the deific love, the self-sacrificing greatness, the everlasting beauty; in a word, all that most distinguishes him above mankind and shows him most transcendently separate from sinners. Here is the great power of Christianity--the immense importation it makes from worlds of glory outside. Hence the intimation of the text, that it became our Lord, as the priest of our salvation, to be not only holy, harmless, and undefiled, but separate also from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; that so he may be duly qualified for his transcendent work and office.
What I propose, then, for my present subject, is,--The separateness of Jesus from men; the immense power it had and must ever have on their feeling and character.
I do not mean by this that Christ was separated as being at all withdrawn, but only that in drawing himself most closely to them, he was felt by them never as being an their level of life and character, but as being parted from them by an immense chasm of distance. He was born of a woman, grew up in the trade of a mechanic, was known as a Nazarene, stood a man before the eye, and yet he early began to raise impressions that separated him, and set him asunder inexplicably from the world he was in.
These impressions were not due, as I have said, to any distinct conceptions they had of him as being a higher nature incarnate; for not even his disciples took up any such definite conceptions of his nature, till after his death and ascension. It was guessed, indeed, that he might be Elias, or some one of the old prophets, but we are only v see, in such struggles of conjecture, how powerfully he has already impressed the sense of his distinction, or separateness of character; for such guesses or conjectures were even absurd, unless they were instigated by previous impressions of something very peculiar in his unearthly manner, requiring to be accounted for.
His miracles had undoubtedly something to do with the impression of his separateness from ordinary men, but a great many others, who were strictly human, have wrought miracles, without creating any such gulf between them and mankind as we discover here.
It is probably true also that the rumor of his being the Messiah, the great, long-expected prince and deliverer, had something to do in raising the impressions of men concerning him. But their views of the Messiah to come had prepared them to look only for some great hero and deliverer, and a kind of political millenium under his kingdom. There was nothing in their expectation that should separate him specially from mankind, as being a more than humanly superlative character.
Pursuing then our inquiry, let us notice, in the first place, how the persons most remote and opposite, even they that finally conspired his death, were impressed or affected by him. They deny his Messiahship; they charge that only Beelzebub could help him do his miracles; they are scandalized by his familiarity with publicans and sinners and other low people; they arraign his doctrine as a heresy against many of the most sacred laws of their religion; they charge him with the crime of breaking their Sabbath, and even with excess in eating and drinking; and yet we can easily see that there is growing up, in their minds, a most peculiar awe of his person. And it appears to be excited more by his manners and doctrine and a certain indescribable originality and sanctity in both, than by any thing else. His townsmen the Nazarenes, for example, were taken with surprise, by his discourses in the synagogue and elsewhere, knowing well that he had never received the aids of learning. Is not this the carpenter's son? they inquired. Do we not all know his brothers and sisters, living here among us? Whence then these gracious words that we hear him speak? When his wonderful sermon on the mount was ended, what said the multitude? The very point of their astonishment was that he spoke with such an original and strong authority, and not as the Scribes; who were, in fact, the Sophists of Jewish learning, but were held in high respect as a learned order. The expressions made use of by these hearers of Jesus indicate, in fact, a raising of their own thoughts by what they had heard, and the sense they had of some sacred and even celestial freshness in his manner and doctrine. Without including the centurion at Capernaum among his enemies, we may gather something from him, in respect to the probable impression made by the bearing and discourse of Jesus. He was a Roman, but appears withal to have been a man of religious worth and culture. He had even built a synagogue for the people. of Capernaum, at his own expense. In that synagogue he had probably been rewarded in hearing Jesus speak; for the Saviour had been making Capernaum a kind of center for some time past. But we observe that when he sends to Jesus to obtain the healing of his servant, he has been so deeply impressed with the Saviour's manner, that he does not presume on his military position as keeping guard over a vanquished country, takes on no high airs of negotiation, but even requests that Jesus will not think it necessary to come under his roof, for he is really not wor. thy of so great honor. He may have apprehended that Christ might have some religious scruples in respect to the implied defilement of such intercourse with a nominal pagan. If so, there was the greater respect in his delicacy.
Beginning with impressions like these, we can easily see that the public mind is gradually becoming saturated with a kind of awe of his person; as if he might be some higher, finer nature come into the world. This was the feeling that shook the courage of the traders and money-changers in the temple and made them fly, in such feeble panic before him. For the same reason it was that a band of officers sent out at an early period, to arrest him, returned without having executed their commission; for, they said,--Never man spake like this man. Such words of clearness and repose and purity fell on them, as excited their imagination, starting the conception apparently of one speaking out of eternity and worlds unknown. He put them under such constraints of fear, in short, by his words and manner, that they did not dare to arrest him. And just this kind of feeling grew upon the people, as his ministry advanced, till it became a superstition general; for it is the way of minds infected by any such tendencies, to make ghosts of the fancy out of mere impressions of superior dignity, and even goodness. Hence, so far from supposing that he could be captured as safely as a lamb, and with less of resistance, they appear to have had a kind of suspicion that he would strike blind, or annihilate the first man that touched him. Indeed one reason why they wanted to get him in their power, apparently was, that he was reported to have given out his determination to shake down the temple, and they were even much concerned lest he might do it. Hence the problem with them was, not how to arrest any common man, or sinner of mankind, but a superior, mysterious, fearful one, and there wanted, as they imagined, some kind of magic to do it. They took up thus an impression, that if they could suborn one of his followers, it would break the spell of his power and they could proceed safely. They bought off Judas accordingly, and he was to conduct them--not that they could not otherwise find the Saviour, not that Judas could do any thing physically in the matter of the arrest, which they could not do themselves; but they seem to have imagined that if Judas would bring them directly before him, and speak to him, it would assure them, and be a kind of token to him that his power was broken; for they believed greatly in spells and other such conceits of the fancy. And yet when they came upon him--a large band of marshals and assistants with torches and lanterns and all strong arms of defense--they were smitten with such dread at the thought of being actually before him, that they even reeled backward and fell to the ground! He was such a being, in their apprehension, that their chances of living another minute were doubtful!
It is easy also to see that Pilate, even after his arrest, is profoundly impressed with the sense of something superior, more wise, or holy, or sacred, than he had seen before. The dignity of Christ's answer, and also of his manner had awakened visibly a kind of awe in his mind. It was as if he had undertaken to question a king in deed; one superior in all majesty to himself. Unaccountably to himself he grows superstitious, as if dealing with some divinity, he knows not who, and he can not so much as give his mere negative sentence of permission, pagan though he be, without washing his hands as religiously as if he were some Pharisee, to be clear of the guilt of the transaction. The centurion too, that kept guard by the cross, another Roman, is so affected, or impressed by the majestic manner of Jesus in his death, that he bears spontaneous witness, out of his own feeling, probably in words which he had heard, but only dimly understood as having some very mysterious and high meaning,--Truly this was the Son of God!
If now it should be objected here that the enemies of Jesus would never have dared to insult his person so brutally in his trial and crucifixion, if they had been really impressed, as we are supposing, with the wonderful sacredness and separateness of his character, it is enough to answer that exactly this is the manner of cowardice. Only yesterday these same men were in such awe of him that they trembled inwardly at the sound of his name; and now that they find him strangely in their power, submit. ting to them in the meekness of a lamb, they grow brave, pleased to find that they can be; and to make it sure, they multiply their blows and other indignities, in a manner of low and really ignominious triumph over him. But how soon does the true shame and bitterness of their sin return upon them. For when they saw the funeral weeds of nature's sorrow hung over the sun, and felt the shuddering ague of the world, their spirit fell again. And all the people, says Luke, that came together to that sight, beholding the things that were done, smote their breasts and returned.
Turn now, secondly, to the disciples, and observe how they were impressed or affected by the manner and spirit of Jesus. And here the remarkable thing is, that they appear to be more and more impressed with the distance between him and themselves, the longer they know him, and the more intimate and familiar their acquaintance with him. He took possession of them strangely even at the very first, much as you will see in the case of Matthew the publican. The man is sitting at the receipt of custom, and Christ, who is passing by, says to him--Come, follow me. That word has a mystery in it, which can not be withstood; he forsakes all and follows at command. At first, however, the impression had of Jesus is more shallow in all the disciples. It fared with them much as with the woman at the well, who took him first, for a common traveler, then for a prophet, and finally as the great Messiah, having only the faintest conception of him probably even then. But they grew more and more impressed with his greatness, and the strangeness of his quality; for there was so much in his authority, purity, love, wisdom, that they could only spell him out by syllables.
Thus we may take Peter as an example for all the others; for, in the surname, Peter, that was early given him by his Master, and also by the promise that on him, as the rock of its foundation, the church was to be built, every thing was done to keep him assured and help him to maintain a footing of confidence. How then was it, as he came into closer acquaintance with his Master? At the first, when his brother Andrew conducted him to Jesus, he felt much as his brother did the day before, when he and his friend, having heard John's remarkable apostrophe--Behold the Lamb of God--accosted him freely, put themselves, as it were, upon him and spent, if we may judge, whole hours in their private questioning. Peter's exclamation, shortly after, at the miraculous draught of fishes,--Depart from me O Lord, for I am a sinful man, might seem to indicate a very wide sense of distance already felt between him and Christ; but it rather signifies after all, the violence of his wonder at the miracle, than any deep moral sense of the dignity, purity, and superior majesty of Christ. Accordingly it will be seen, sometime after this, that he is bold enough to take the Saviour to account and rebuke him, with a degree of emphasis not a little offensive, for the conceit of it. At the washing of the disciples' feet he breaks out again less boldly, but as soon as he finds that he is in a mistake, recalls his strong asseveration, saying in the gentlest manner,--not my feet only, but my hands and my head. Then again, at the scene of the table, where the revelation is--"One of you shall betray me," he has been so far removed, sunk so low, by the wonderful discourses of Jesus to which he has been listening, that he does not even dare to accost his Master with a question spoken aloud, but beckons to John to whisper it for him, as he lies reclining on the Saviour's breast. Then, once more, after having openly denied him and foresworn all connection with him, seeing that he is now stripped of his power and his very Messiahship is a virtually exploded hope, Peter is nevertheless under such an habitual awe of his person, that the simply catching a look of his eye, as he goes out of the hall of Caiaphas, and seeing it turned full upon him, breaks him quite down, and even overwhelms him with sorrow. He was in the most unlikely mood for it possible; fresh in the wrong, flushed by the very oaths he has taken, all in a tremor, unstrung for any consideration of truth by the inward disturbance of his falsity, and yet he is riven by that mere look of Jesus, as if it were a glance of the Almighty.
The same thing could be shown by other examples, but it must suffice to say that, while the miracles of Christ do not increase in grandeur with the advance of this ministry, his disciples are visibly growing all the while more and more impressed with the sense of distance between him and themselves, and of some unknown, transcendent mystery, by which he is separated, as another kind of being, from the world he is in. This, in part, is their blessing; for, as they are humbled in it, so they are raised by it, feel the birth of new affinities, rise to higher thoughts, and are wakened to a conscious struggle after God.
What now, thirdly, is the solution of this profound impression of separateness, made by Christ on the world? That his miracles and the repute of his Messiahship do not wholly account for it we have already observed. It may be imagined by some that he produced this impression artificially by means of certain scenes and observances designed to widen out the distance between him and the race; for, how could he otherwise obtain that power over them which he was properly entitled to have, by his own real eminence, unless he took some pains to set them in attitudes in which his eminence might be felt: In other words, if he is to have more than a man's power, he must somehow be more than a man. Thus, when he says to his mother,--Woman, what have I to do with thee, my hour is not yet come? or when, being notified that his mother and brethren are standing without waiting to see him, he asks,--Who then is my mother and who are my brethren? it will be imagined that he is purposely suggesting his higher derivation and his more transcendent affinities But, even if it were so, it must be understood only that he is speaking out of his spiritual consciousness, claiming thus affinity with God and with those who shall embrace him in the eternal brotherhood of faith; not as boasting the hight of his natural sonship.
So, again, in the scene of the baptism and the vision of the dove descending upon him, introduced by the very strange outburst of prophetic utterance in John, when he sees the Saviour coming,--Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world! it may be imagined that the design is to usher him into his ministry as a superior being. But what, in that view, shall we say of the great soul-struggle previous, called the temptation? It is not to be denied that the scene of the baptism connects impressions of some very exalted quality in the subject, and yet, if we bring in the temptation, and regard the transaction as a solemn inaugural of Christ's great ministry,--God's act of separation, his own act of assumption here passed,--there is nothing in it to set him off distinctly from men, save as he is set off by his character and his consecration to his work. Indeed, no one took up the impression from this inaugural scene that he was a being above the human order.
On a certain occasion he is transfigured, and Moses and Elias appear as only secondary figures in the scene; by which it may be designed, some will fancy, to widen out the chasm between himself and men, showing himself to be the compeer and more,--even the Lord of angels aid glorified spirits. This may have been the design, or rather it probably was; at least, so far as to have that effect on the future ages; for it was important, we may believe, to right impressions of his person, in the coming time, that his excellent glory should some time have been discovered or uncovered to men, and the facts reported as historical proofs of his divinity. But it does not appear that the three, by whom the transfiguration was seen and reported, ever disclosed the fact during the Saviour's life-time; and it is remarkable that one of these, even after the fact, had such confidence and assurance toward his dear Lord, that he even dared to lay his head on that once transfigured breast! In which it is made clear that, however much we may imagine Christ to have been lifted in order by the scene of the transfiguration, he still remained a properly fellow nature, even to one who was present as a beholder; who felt, in his deepest center, the separateness of Christ, and the transcendent mystery of his character, but does not appear to have been at all removed, or thrown out of confidence by the sacred awe in which he saw him invested. He could never have laid his head on the bosom of a person regarded as being really deific.
But what shall we say of the really astounding assumptions put forth by Christ? Were they not designed as declarations, or assertions of a superhuman order in his natural person? When he asks,--Who convinceth me of sin? when he declares,--Ye are from beneath, I am from above,--I am the bread that cometh down from heaven; when he dares to use the pronoun we, as relating to him self and the Father,--We will come unto him, and make our abode with him; when he speaks of the glory he had with the Father before the world was; when he engages, himself, to send down the Holy Spirit after his ascension,--I will send you another comforter; when he claims to be the judge of the world, and speaks of holding the world's throne; nay, when, to give his most ordinary and familiar mole of doctrine, he says,--I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me; it is most certainly true, that he is challenging, in all such utterances, honors and prerogatives that are not human. At the same time, if he had not before separated himself heaven wide from men, by his character, and produced, in that manner, a sense of some wonderful mystery in him, he would have been utterly scouted and hooted out of the world for his preposterous assumptions. These very assumptions, therefore, presuppose a separation already realized, even more remarkable than that which is claimed, or asserted. Indeed, the minds of his disciples were so much occupied with the impressions they felt, under the realities of his character, that they scarcely attended to the strange assumptions of his words, and did not even seem to have taken their meaning till after his death.
The remarkable separation, therefore, of Christ from the sinners of mankind, and the impression he awakened in them of that separation, was made, not by scenes, nor by words of assertion, nor by any thing designed for that purpose, but it grew out of his life and character,--his unworldliness, holiness, purity, truth, love; the dignity of his feeling, the transcendent wisdom and grace of his conduct. He was manifestly one that stood apart from the world, in his profoundest human sympathy with it. He often spent his nights in solitary prayer, closeted with God in the recesses of the mountains. He was plainly not under the world, or any fashions of human opinion. He was able to be singular, without apparently desiring it, and by the simple force of his superiority. Conventionalities had no power over him, learning no authority with him. He borrowed nothing from men. His very thoughts appeared to be coined in the mint of some wisdom higher than human. There was also this distinction in all his virtues, that they did not open, like those of men at the larger end, growing less and less, the further in they might be penetrated; but at the smaller, as if no strain, or ostentation were possible, growing larger therefore, and wider, and fuller, the more conversant and the more familiar with them any one might be. His whole ministry, therefore, was a kind of discovery and so a process of separation. The purity of his life grew tall; the truth of his doctrine more than mortal, or that of any mortal prophet; his love itself deific; and so--this is the grandeur and glory of his life,--he rose up out of humanity or the human level into deity and the separate order of uncreated life, by the mere force of his manner and character, and achieved, as man, the sense of a divine excellence, before his personal order as the Son of God was conceived. And so it finally became established in men's feeling, as it stood in his last prayer, that there was some inexplicable oneness, where his inmost life and spirit merged in the divine and became identical. His human fire had already mingled its blaze with the great central sun of deity.
Accordingly what we see in his resurrection and ascension, and the scenes of intercourse between, is only a kind of final consummation, or complete rendering of what was already in men's hearts. There it begins to come out that he is the King, even the Lord of Glory. Death can not hold him. The earth can not fasten him. The parting clouds receive him and let him through to his throne, not more truly but only more visibly separate than before, in that he is made higher than the heavens.
How great a thing now is it, my hearers, that such a being has come into our world and lived in it,--a being above mortality while in it; a being separate from sinners, bringing unto sinners, by a fellow nature, what is transcendent and even deific in the divine holiness and love. Yes, we have had a visitor among us, living out, in the molds of human conduct and feeling, the perfections of God! What an importation of glory and truth! Who, that lives, a man, can ever after this think it a low and common thing to fill these spheres, walk in these ranges of life, and do these works of duty, which have been raised so high, by the life of Jesus in the flesh! The world is no more the same that it was. All its main ideas and ideals are raised. A kind of sacred glory invests even our humblest spheres and most common concerns.
Consider, again, as one of the points deducible from the truth we have been considering, how little reason is given us, in the mission of Christ, for the hope that God, who has such love to man, will not allow us to fail of salvation, by reason of any mere defect, or neglect, of application to Christ. What then does this peculiar separateness of Christ signify? Coming into the world to save it, taking on him our nature that he may draw himself as close to us as possible, what is growing all the while to be more and more felt in men's bosoms, but a sense of ever-widening, ever-deepening, and, in some sense, incommunicable separateness from him? And this, you will observe, is the separateness, not of condition, but of character. Nay, it grows out of his very love to us in part, and his profound oneness with us; for it is a love so pure and gentle, so patient, so disinterested, so self-sacrificing, that it parts him from us, in the very act of embrace, and makes us think of him even with awe! How then will it be; when he is met in the condition of his glory, and the guise of his humanity is laid off? There is nothing then to put him at one with us, or us at one with him, but just that incommunicable and separate character which fills us even here with dread. If then your very Saviour grows more and more separated from you, in all your impressions, the more you see of him, how will it be, when you drop the flesh and go to meet him, invested only in your proper character of sin? If before you thought of him with awe, and even with a holy dread, how little confidence will be left you there, when you see him in. the fullness of his glory, even that which he had with the Father before the world was. If he was separate before, how inevitably, insupportably separate now.
Consider also and accurately distinguish, as here we may easily do, what is meant by holiness, and what especially is its power, or the law of its power. Holiness is not what we may do or become, in mere self-activity or self-culture, but it is the sense of a separated quality, in one who lives on a footing of intimacy and oneness with God. The original word, represented by our word holiness, means separation, or separateness; the character of being drawn apart, or exalted, by being consecrated to God and filled with inspiration from God. It supposes nothing unsocial, withdraws no one from those living sympathies that gladden human life. On the contrary, it quickens all most gentle and loving affinities and brings the subject just as much closer in feeling to his fellow-man, as he is closer to God, and less centralized in himself. But it changes the look or expression, raising, in that manner, the apparent grade of the subject and separating him from whatever is of the world, or under the spirit of the world. He is not simply a man as before, but he is more, a man exalted, hallowed, glorified. The divine tempers are in him, the power of the world is fallen off, his words have a different accent, his acts an air of repose, dignity, sanctity, and the result is that mankind feel him as one somehow become superior. It stirs their conscience to speak with him, it puts them under impressions that are consciously not of man alone. This is holiness--the condition of a man, when he is separated visibly from the world and raised above it, by a divine participation. It is, in fact, the greatest power ever exerted by man, being not the power of man, but only of God himself manifested in him.
But the great and principal lesson derivable from this subject is, that Christianity is a regenerative power upon the world, only as it comes into the world in a separated character, as a revelation, or sacred importation of holiness.
We have in these times, a very considerable and quite pretentious class, who have made the discovery that Christ actually eat with publicans and sinners! This fact indeed is their gospel. Christ they say was social, drew himself to every human being, poured his heart into every human joy and woe, lived in no ascetic manner as a being withdrawn from life. And so it becomes a principal matter of duty with us, to meet all human conditions in a human way and make ourselves acceptable to all. They do not observe that Jesus brought in something into every scene of society and hospitality, which showed a mind set off from all conformities. When he eat with publicans and sinners, he declared expressly that he did it as a physician goes to the sick, did it that he might so call sinners to repentance. So when he dined with Zaccheus, he there proclaimed himself the Son of Man, who was come to save the lost. When he shared the assiduous hospitality of Martha, what did he but remind her of the one thing needful, quite passed by in her over-doing carefulness? And when he dined with one of the great rich men of the Pharisees, what did he but strike at the very usurpation of all high fashion, by openly rebuking those who seized on the highest places of precedence? and what did he propose to the host himself, but that true hospitality is that which is given, with no hope of return?--in which also, he touched the very quick of all heartlessness and all real mockery in what is called society. Yes, it is true that Jesus eat with publicans and sinners. He never stood apart from any advance of men. But how visibly separated was he there and everywhere, from the shallow conventionalities of the world; how pure, majestic, free, and faithful to his great ministry of salvation!
We have also a great many schemes of philanthropy started in these days, that suppose a preparation of man, or society to be moved directly forward, on its present plane, into some advanced, or nearly paradisaic state. The manner is to address men at their present point, in their present motive, under their present condition, with some hope of development, some scheme, truth, organization, and so to bring them into some compact, or way of life that will discontinue the present evils and make a happy state. As if there were any such feasibility to good in man, that he can be put in felicity by mere invitation, or consent! Christ and Christianity think otherwise. For the blessed Redeemer comes into the world, ill the full understanding that, in being identified with the world, he will become a great power, only as he is also separated from it. And in this lies the efficacy of his mission, that he brings to men what is not in them, what is opposite to them, the separated glory, the holiness of God. Come then ye holiday saviours, ye reformers, and philanthropic regenerators of the world, send forth your invitations to society, summon the world to come near and make even a fixed contract to be happy, and one that shall be indissoluble forever! Bring out your paper coaches and bid the sorrow stricken peoples ride forth, down the new millenium you promise without prophecy; do your utmost; stimulate every most confident hope, and then see what your toy-shop apparatus signifies!
No, we want a salvation, which means a grace brought into the world, that is not of it. When the real Saviour comes, there will be great falling off, for the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. He will not be a popular Saviour. He that puts men in awe, as of some higher spirit and more divine of which they know nothing; he that visits the world to be unworldly in it, and draw men apart from it and break its terrible spell--he, I say, will not be hailed with favor and applause. Indeed I very much fear that many who assume even now to be his disciples, would not like him, if he were to appear on earth. His unworldly manner, his profound singularity as a being superior to sin, and to all human conventionalities, would offend them, and drive them quite away. Who of us, here to-day, would really follow Jesus and cleave to him, if he were now living among us? This brings me to speak of what is now the great and desolating error of our times. I mean the general conformity of the followers of Christ to the manners and ways, and, consequently, in a great degree, to the spirit of the world. Christ had his power, as we have seen, in the fact that he carried the impression of his separateness from it, and his superiority to it. He was no ascetic, his separation no contrived and prescribed separation, but was only the more real and radical that it was the very instinct, or freest impulse of his character. He could say;--The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me; counting the bad kingdom to be only a paste-board affair, whose laws and ways were but a vain show, that he could not even so much as feel. This now is what we want, such a fullness of divine participation, that we shall not require to be always shutting off the world by prescribed denials, but shall draw off from it naturally, because we are not of it. A true Christian, one who is deep enough in the godly life to have his affinities with God, will infallibly become a separated being. The instinct of holiness will draw him apart into a singular, superior, hidden life with God. And this is the true Christian power, besides which there is no other. And when this fails every thing goes with it.
Neither let us be deceived in this matter, by our merely notional wisdoms, or deliberative judgments, for it is not a matter to be decided by any consideration of results--the question never is, what is really harmful and so, wrong, but what will meet the living and free instinct of a life of prayer and true godliness? I confess that when the question is raised, whether certain common forms of society and amusement are to be indulged or disallowed, the argument sometimes appears to preponderate on the side of indulgence. What is more innocent?--must we take the morose and, as it were, repugnant attitude of disallowing and rejecting every thing harmless that is approved by men? in what other way could we more certainly offend their good judgment and alienate their personal confidence? ought we not even to yield a certain allowable freedom for their sake? So stands the computation. Let it be granted that, as a matter of deliberation, the scale is turned for conformity. And yet the decision taken will not stand; for there is no truly living Christian that wants, or at all relishes such conformities. On the other hand, you will see that such as argue for them and make interest in them, however well disposed in matters philanthropic, have little or nothing in them of that which is the distinctively Christian power, and do not add any thing to the living impression of the gospel. For the radical element of all great impression is wanting--viz., the sense of a separated life. Their instinct does not run that way. What they want is conformity, more conformity, to be always like the world, not different from it, and in that gulf they sink, lost to all good effect, nay a hindrance to all.
There is no greater mistake, as regards the true manner of impression on the world, than that we impress it as being homogeneous with it. If, in our dress we show the same extravagance, if our amusements are theirs without a distinction, if we follow after their shows, copy their manners, bury ourselves in their worldly objects, emulate their fashions, what are we different from them? It seems quite plausible to fancy the great honor we shall put on religion, when we are able to set it on a footing with all most worldly things, and show that we can be Christians in that plausible way. This we call a liberal piety. It is such as can excel in all high tastes, and make up a figure of beauty that must needs be a great commendation, we think, to religion. It may be a little better than to be openly apostate but alas! there is, how little power in such a kind of life! No, it is not conformity that we want, it is not being able to beat the world in its own way, but it is to stand apart from it, and produce the impression of a separated life; this it is and this only, that yields any proper sense of the true Christian power. It is not the being popular that makes one a help to religion, no holy man was ever a truly popular character. Even Christ himself, bringing the divine beauty into the world, profoundly disturbed the quiet of men by his very perfections. All really bad men adhering to their sin, hated him, and their animosity was finally raised to such a pitch, that they crucified him. And what does he say, turning to his disciples, but this very thing--The servant is not greater than his lord--if they have persecuted me they will persecute you. I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. We are certainly not to make a merit of being hated, for the worst and most wicked can do that; as little are we to make a merit of popularity and being even with the world in its ways. There is no just mode of life, no true holiness, or fruit of holy living, if we do not carry the conviction, by our self-denial, our sobriety in the matter of show, and our withholding from all that indicates being under the world, that we are in a life separated to God. Therefore his great call is--Come out from among them and be ye separate and touch not the unclean thing, and ye shall be my sons and daughters saith the Lord Almighty. And there is a most profound philosophy in this. If we are to impress the world we must be separate from sinners, even as Christ our Master was, or at least according to our human degree as being in his spirit The great difficulty is that we think to impress the world, standing on the world's own level and asking its approbation. We conform too easily and with too much appetite. We are all the while touching the unclean thing, bowing down to it, accepting its law, eager to be found approved in it. God therefore calls us away. O that we could take our lesson here, and plan our life, order our pursuits, choose our relaxations, prepare our families, so as to be truly with Christ, and so in fact that we ourselves can say, each for himself,--The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me.
And this exactly is our communion with Jesus; we propose to be one with him in it. In it, we connect with a power transcendent, the Son of Man in glory, whose image we aspire to, and whose mission, as the Crucified on earth, was the revelation of the Father's love and holiness. We ask to be separated with him and set apart to the same great life. Our communion is not on the level of our common humanity, but we rise in it; we scale the heavens where he sitteth at the right hand of God; we send our longings up and ask to have attachments knit to him; to be set in deepest, holiest, and most practical affinity with him; and so to live a life that is hid with Christ in God. In such a life, we become partakers of his holiness, and, in the separating grace of that, partakers also of his power.