Christian Nurture

By Horace Bushnell

Part I. The Doctrine.

Chapter 8


"And did he not make one? Yet had he the residue of the Spirit. And wherefore one? That he might have a godly seed."--Malachi, ii. 15.

THE prophet is enforcing here a strict observance of marriage. And he adverts, in his argument, to the single and sole state of the first human pair, as a standing proof against polygamy, inconstancy, and all similar abuses of the marriage state. God was not spent, he says, in creating a single man, Adam, and a single woman, Eve, but he had such a residue, or overplus of creative energy left, that he could have created millions if he would. Wherefore then did he cease, producing only just one man and woman, and no more? The answer is--That he might have a godly seed. In that lies the reason, he declares, of God's economy in this family institution. We perceive, accordingly,

That God is, from the first, looking for a godly seed; or, what is nowise different, inserting such laws of population that piety itself shall finally over-populate the world.

To be more explicit, there are two principal modes by which the kingdom of God among men may be, and is to be extended. One is by the process of conversion. and the other by that of family propagation; one by gaining over to the side of faith and piety, the other by the populating force of faith and piety themselves. The former is the grand idea that has taken possession of the churches of our times--they are going to convert the world. They have taken hold of the promise, which so many of the prophets have given out, of a time when the reign of Christ shall be universal, extending to all nations ant peoples; and the expectation is that, by preaching Christ to all the nations, they will finally convert them and bring them over into the gospel fold. Meantime very much less, or almost nothing, is made of the other method, viz: that of Christian population. Indeed, as we are now looking at religion, or religious character and experience, we can hardly find a place for any such thought as a possible reproduction thus of parental character -and grace in children. They must come in by choice, on their own account; they must be converted over from an outside life that has grown to maturity in sin. Are they not individuals, and how are they to be initiated into any thing good by inheritance and before choice? It is as if they were all so many Melchisedecs in their religious nature, only not righteous at all--without father, without mother, without descent. Descent brings them nothing. Born of faith, and bosomed in it, and nurtured by it still, there is yet to be no faith begotten in them, nor so much as a contagion even of faith to be caught in their garments.

What I propose, at the present time, is to restore, if possible, a juster impression of this great subject; to show that conversion over to the church is not the only way of increase; that God ordains a law of population in it as truly as he does in an earthly kingdom, or colony, and by this increase from within, quite as much as by conversion from without, designs to give it, finally, the complete dominion promised.

Nor let any one be repelled from this truth, or set against it, by the prejudice that piety is and must be a matter of individual choice. The same is true of sin. Many of us have no difficulty in saying that mankind are born sinners. They may just as truly and properly be born saints--it requires the self-active power to be just as far developed to commit sin, as it does to choose obedience. This individual capacity of will and choice is one that matures at no particular tick of the clock, but it comes along out of incipiencies, grows by imperceptible increments, and takes on a character, in good or evil, or a mixed character in both, so imperceptibly and gradually, that it seems to be, in some sense, prefashioned by what the birth and nurture have communicated. We may fitly enough call this character a propagated quality--in strictest metaphysical definition, it is not; in sturdiest fact of history, or practical life, it is.

Nor let any one be diverted from the truth I am going to assert, by imagining that a propagated piety is, of course, a piety without regeneration, dispensing with what Christ himself declared to be the indispensable need of every human creature. For aught that appears, regeneration may, in some initial and profoundly real sense, be the twin element of propagation itself. The parentage may, in other words, be so thoroughly wrought in by the Spirit of God, as to communicate the seeds or incipiencies of a godly, just as it communicates the seeds of a depravated and disordered, character. In one view, the child will be regenerate when he is born; in another view, he will not be, till the godly life is developed in his own personal choice and liberty.

Dismissing these, and other like prepossessions, let us go on to examine some of the evidences by which this doctrine of church population is to be substantiated.

1. I name, as an evidence, the very important fact that in the matter of infant baptism and infant church membership, grounded as they are in the assumption that a believing parentage sanctifies the offspring, God is seen to frame the order of church economy, so as to bring in the law of increase, or family propagation; looking to the populating principle for growth, just as the founder of a new colony, on some foreign shore, would look. He declares that parents are to be parents in the Lord, and children to grow up in the nurture of the Lord. The whole scheme of organic unity in the family and of family grace in the church, is just what it should be, if the design were to propagate religion, not by conversions only, but quite as much, or more, by the populating force embodied in it--just that force which; in all states and communities, is known to be the most majestic and silently creative force in their history.

2. It is a matter of consequence to observe, that the Abrahamic order and covenant stood upon this footing, formally proposing and promising to make the father of the faithful a blessing to mankind, by and through the multitude of his offspring. "Look now," says the word of promise, "toward heaven and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them. So shall thy seed be." Again, "I will make thee a father of many nations." And again, "All the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him." Neither was it to be the only blessing, that Jesus, the Saviour of mankind, was to be born of this honored family. "I will make thee exceeding fruitful," was the form of the promise; and the blessing, as we may see, by all the modes of expression used, was to turn as much on the wonderful populousness of the stock, overspreading the world, as it was, on the new-creating grace to be unfolded in it. For if it be matter of debate, in what precise manner the Christian church has connection with this more ancient and apparently mere family bond, there is certainly no doubt in the mind of the great Christian apostle, that there is a real and valid connection of some kind, such that the promise passes and spreads, and is to get its fulfillment, only when the godly seed has filled the world. The spread of Christianity is, in his view, the blessing of Abraham come on the Gentiles, through Jesus Christ. These Gentile converts, too, he calls the seed of Abraham--"And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise." He looks, you will perceive, on the Gentile converts as being grafted in upon the ancient stock; which also he expressly says, in another place, counting them to be so unified with Abraham, as to be the outgrowth of his person. Just as the proselytes were taken to be sons and daughters of Abraham, naturalized into his stock, so are these converts to become the channel of his over-populating force, till such time as the natural branches, broken off, are grafted in again. And, in this view, it is that the Gentile converts are called "a seed," that being the word that contemplates the fact of their multiplication as a family of God.

3. It is an argument which ought to be convincing, that the universal spread of the gospel, and the universal reign of Christian truth--that which prophets and apostles promise, and which we, in these last times, have taken up as our fondest, most impelling Christian hope--plainly enough never can be compassed by the process of adult conversions, but must finally be reached, if reached at all, by the populating forces of a family grace in the church. We expect that, in that day, all flesh shall see the salvation of God, and that every thing human will be regenerated by it; that the glory of God will cover the earth like a baptism of water--even as the waters cover the sea. These are to be the times of the restitution of all things. God, we believe, will put his laws now in the mind, and write them on the heart, and "all shall know him from the least to the greatest." I do not care to press these epithets least and greatest--perhaps there is no reference to children in them. It would scarcely make the text more significant if there were; for this universal triumph of the word, in which we all believe, this imprinting of it on men's hearts, all over the world in such manner as to make the day of glory--that great day of light which figures so grandly in the visions of God's prophets and apostles, and is promised by Christ himself--such a day, I say, can plainly enough never be reached, as long as the children of the world grow up in sin, as we now assume to be the fact, still to be called and prayed for as now and preached into the kingdom. When the little child shall lead forth in pairs the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf and the young lion; when the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp unstung, and the weaned child shall put his hand unbitten on the cockatrice's den; we not only take hold of it as the prophet's meaning that there is to be a great universal mitigation of the ferocities of appetite, and prey, and passion, in the world, but that the little ones are to have their part in the joy, and be raised in dominion by that all-renewing grace which has now restored and imparadised the world. Otherwise our day of glory would be such a kind of jubilee as shows the adult soils only of the race to be gathered into the kingdom, while the poor, unripe sinners of childhood, a full fourth in the total number, are in no sense, in it, but are waiting their conversion-time on the outside! This is not our millennial day; we have no such hope.

We conceive that Christ will then overspread all souls with his glory, and that children, filled according to their age and measure with the divine motions of grace, will be unfolding the heavenly beauty, as they advance in years, even as the flowers unfold their colors in the sun. These colors no one sees in the root, and the clear, transparent sap it circulates, and yet the color ii there. Just so will God, in that great day of grace, bring out of infancy and childhood, sanctifyingly touched by his Spirit, what creates them children of God, as truly as their parents, though too subtle to be seen, or defined, till it has blushed into color, in the sunlight of their intelligence in the truth. Such a day of glory then contemplates a great in-birth of sanctification, or renewing life. Conversions from without are to have their part in preparing it, but the consummation hoped for is even impossible, as regards a third or fourth part of the race, save as it is reached by a populating process which enters them into life itself, through the gate of a sanctified infancy and childhood.

4. Consider a very important fact in human physiology which goes far to explain, or take away the strangeness and seeming extravagance of the truth I am endeavoring to establish, viz., that qualities of education, habit, feeling, and character, have a tendency always to grow in, by long continuance, and become thoroughly inbred in the stock. We meet humble analogies of this fact in the domestic animals. The operations to which they are trained, and in which they become naturalized by habit, become predispositions, in a degree, in their offspring; and they, in their turn, are as much more easily trained on that account. The next generation are trained still more easily, till what was first made habitual, finally becomes functional in the stock, and almost no training is wanted. That which was inculcated by practice passes into a tendency, and descends as a natural gift, or endowment. The same thing is observable, on a large scale, in the families of mankind. A savage race is a race bred into low living, and a faithless, bloody character. The instinct of law, society, and order is substituted, finally, by the overgrown instinct of prey, and the race is lost to any real capacity of social regeneration; unless they can somehow be kept in ward, and a process of training, long enough to breed in what has been lost A race of slaves becomes a physiologically servile race in the same way. And so it is, in part, that civilization descends from one generation to another. It is not merely that laws, social modes, and instrumentalities of education descend, and that so the new sprung generations are fashioned after birth, by the forms and principles and causes into which they have been set, but it is that the very type of the inborn quality is a civilized type. The civilization is, in great part, an inbred civility. There is a something functional in them, which is itself configured to the state of art, order, law, and property. The Jewish race are a striking and sad proof of the manner in which any given mode of life may, or rather must, become a functional property in the offspring. The old Jewish stock of the Scripture times, whatever faults they may have had, certainly were not marked by any such miserably sordid, usurious, garbage-vending propensity, as now distinguishes the race. But the cruelties they have suffered under Christian governments, shut up in the Jews' quarter of the great cities, dealing in old clothes and other mean articles for their gains, hiding these in the shape of gold and jewels in the crevices of their cellars, to prevent seizure by the emissaries of the governments, and disguising their prosperity itself by the squalid dress of their persons--these, continued from age to age, have finally bred in the character we so commonly speak of with contempt. Our children, treated as they have been for so many generations, would finally reveal the marks of their wrongs in the same sordid, miserly instincts.

Now if it be true that what gets power in any race, by a habit or a process of culture, tends by a fixed law of nature to become a propagated quality, and pass by descent as a property inbred in the stock; if in this way whole races of men are cultivated into properties that are peculiar--off into a savage character, down into a servile or a mercenary, up into civilization or a high social state--what is to be the effect of a thoroughly Christian fatherhood and motherhood, continued for a long time in the successive generations of a family? What can it be but a general mitigation of the bad points of the stock, and a more and more completely inbred piety. The children of such a stock are born, not of the flesh only, or the mere natural life of their parentage, but they are born, in a sense most emphatic, of the Spirit also; for this parentage is differed, as we are supposing, age by age, from its own mere nature in Adam, by the inhabiting grace of a supernatural salvation. Physiologically speaking, they are tempered by this grace, and it is all the while tending to become, in some sense, an inbred quality. Hence the very frequent remark--"How great a privilege and order of nobility to be descended of a pious ancestry!" It is the blessing that is to descend to the thousandth generation of them that love God and keep his commandments.

In this view it is to be expected, as the life of Christian piety becomes more extended in the earth, and the Spirit of God obtains a living power in the successive generations, more and more complete, that finally the race itself will be so thoroughly regenerated as to have a genuinely populating power in faith and godliness. By a kind of ante-natal and post-natal nurture combined, the new-born generations will be started into Christian piety, and the world itself over-populated and taken possession of by a truly sanctified stock. This I conceive to be the expectation of Christianity. Not that the bad heritage of depravity will cease, but that the second Adam will get into power with the first, and be entered seminally into the same great process of propagated life. And this fulfills that primal desire of the world's Creator and Father, of which the prophet speaks--"That he might have a godly seed."

And let no one be offended by this, as if it supposed a possible in-growth and propagation of piety, by mere natural laws and conditions. What higher ground of supernaturalism can be taken, than that which supposes a capacity in the Incarnate Word, and Sanctifying Spirit, to penetrate our fallen nature, at a point so deep as to cover the whole spread of the fall, and be a grace of life, traveling outward from the earliest, moss latent germs of our human development. It is only saying, with a meaning--"My substance was not hid from Thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth." Or, in still another view, it is only conceiving that those sporadic cases of sanctification from the womb, of which the Scripture speaks, such as that of Samuel, Jeremiah, and John, are to finally become the ordinary and common fact of family development.

In such cases, the faith or piety of a single pair, or possibly of the mother alone, begets a heavenly mold in the predispositions of the offspring, so that, as it is born of sin, it is also born of a heavenly grace. If then we suppose the heavenly grace to have such power, in the long continuing process of ages, as to finally work the general stock of parentage into its own heavenly mold, far enough to prepare a sanctified offspring for the world, what higher, grander fact of Christian supernaturalism could be asserted? Nor is it any thing more of a novelty than to say, that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." The conception is one that simply fulfills what Baxter, Hopkins, and others, were apparently struggling after,16 when contriving how to let the grace of God in our salvation, match itself by the hereditary damage, or depravation, that descends upon us from our parentage, and the organic unity of our nature as a race. And probably enough they were put upon this mode of thought, by the familiar passage of Paul just referred to.

Christianity then has a power, as we discover, to prepare a godly seed. It not only takes hold of the world by its converting efficacy, but it has a silent force that is much stronger and more reliable; it moves, by a kind of destiny, in causes back of all the eccentric and casual operations of mere individual choice, preparing, by a gradual growing in of grace, to become the great populating motherhood of the world. In this conviction, we shall be strengthened--

5. By the well known fact, that the populating power of any race, or stock, is increased according to the degree of personal and religious character to which it has attained. Good principles and habits, intellectual culture, domestic virtue, industry, order, law, faith--all these go immediately to enhance the rate and capacity of population. They make a race powerful, not in the mere military sense, but in one that, by century-long reaches of populating force, lives down silently every mere martial competitor. Any people that is physiologically advanced in culture, though it be only in a degree, beyond another which is mingled with it on strictly equal terms, is sure to live down and finally live out its inferior. Nothing can save the inferior race but a ready and pliant assimilation.

The promise to Abraham depended, doubtless, on this fact for its fulfillment. God was to make his family fruitful, above others, by imparting Himself to it, and so infusing a higher tone of personal life. Hence also the grand religious fact that this race unfolded a populating power so remarkable. Going down into Egypt, as a starving family, it begins to be evident in about four hundred years, that they are overpopulating the great kingdom of Egypt itself. "The children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, and multiplied and waxed exceeding mighty, and the land was filled with them." Till finally the jealousy of the throne was awakened, and the king began to say--"Behold the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we!"

Afterwards little Palestine itself was like a swarm of bees; building great cities, raising great armies, and displaying all the tokens, age upon age, of a great and populous empire. So great was the fruitfulness of the stock, compared with other nations of the time, owing to the higher personality unfolded in them, by their only partial and very crude training, in a monotheistic religion.

And again, at a still later time, when the nation itself is dismembered, and thousands of the people are driven off into captivity, we find that when the great king of Persia had given out an edict of extermination against them, and would like to recall it but can not, because of the absurd maxim that what the king has decreed must not be changed, he has only to publish another decree, that they shall have it as their right to stand for their lives, and that is enough to insure their complete immunity. "They gathered themselves together in their cities, and throughout all the provinces, and no man could withstand them, for the fear of them fell upon all people." In which we may see how this captive race had multiplied and spread themselves, in this incredibly short time, through all the great kingdom of the Medo-Persian kings.

Or we may take a more modern illustration, drawn from the comparative history of the Christian and Mohammedan races. The Christian development begins at an older date, and the Mohammedan at a later. One is a propagation by moral and religious influences, at least in part; the other a propagation by military force. Both have religious ideas and aims, but the main distinction is that one is taken hold of by religion as being a contribution to the free personal nature of souls; and the other is taken hold of by a religion whose grip is the strong grip of fate. For a time, this latter spread like a fire in the forest, propagated by the terrible sword of predestination, and it even seemed about to override the world. But it by and by began to appear, that one religion was creating and the other uncreating manhood; one toning up a great and powerful character, and the other toning down, steeping in lethargy, the races it began to inspire; till finally we can now see as distinctly as possible, that one is pouring on great tides of population, creating a great civilization, and great and powerful nations; the other, falling away into a feeble, half-depopulated, always decaying state, that augurs final extinction at no distant period. Now the fact is that these two great religions of the world had each, in itself, its own law of population from the beginning, and it was absolutely certain, whether it could be seen or not, that Christianity would finally live down Mohammedanism, and completely expurgate the world of it. The campaigning centuries of European chivalry, pressing it with crusade after crusade, could not bring it under; but the majestic populating force of Christian faith and nurture can even push it out of the world, as in the silence of a dew-fall.

What a lesson also could be derived, in the same manner, from a comparison of the populating forces of the Puritan stock in this country, and of the inferior, superstitious, half Christian stock and nurture of the South American states. And the reason of the difference is that Christianity, having a larger, fuller, more new-creating force in one, gives it a populating force as much superior.

How this advantage accrues, and is, at some future time, to be more impressively revealed than now, it is not difficult to see. Let the children of Christian parents grow up, all, as partakers in their grace, which is the true Christian idea, and the law of family increase they are in, is, by the supposition, so far brought into the church, and made operative there. And then comes in also the additional fact, that there are causes and conditions of increase now operative in the church which exist nowhere else.

Here, for example, there will be a stronger tide of health than elsewhere. In the world without, multitudes are perishing continually by vice and extravagance, and, when they do not perish themselves, they are always entailing the effects of their profligacy on the half-endowed constitution of their children. Meantime, in the truly Christian life, there is a good keeping of temperance, a steady sway of the passions, a robust equability and courage, and the whole domain of the soul is kept more closely to God's order; which again is the way of health, and implies a higher law of increase.

Wealth, again, will be unfolded more rapidly under the condition of Christian living than elsewhere; and wealth enough to yield a generous supply of the common wants of life, is another cause that favors population. True piety is itself a principle of industry and application to business. It subordinates the love of show and all the tendencies to extravagance. It rules those licentious passions that war with order and economy. It generates a faithful character, which is the basis of credit, as credit, of prosperity. Hence it is that upon the rocky, stubborn soil, under the harsh and frowning skies of our New England, we behold so much of high prosperity, so much of physical well-being, and ornament. And the wealth created is diffused about as evenly as the piety. A true Christian society has mines opened, thus, in its own habits and principles. And the wealth accruing is power in every direction, power in production, enterprise, education, colonization, influence, and consequent popular increase.

There will also be more talent unfolded in a Christian people, and talent also takes the helm of causes everywhere. Christian piety is itself a kind of holy development, enlarging every way the soul's dimensions. It will also be found that Christian families abound with influences, specially favorable to the awakening of the intellectual principle in childhood. Religion itself is thoughtful. It carries the child's mind over directly to unknown worlds, fills the understanding with the sublimest questions, and sends the imagination abroad to occupy itself where angels' wings would tire. The child of a Christian family is thus unsensed, at the earliest moment, and put into mental action; this, too, under the healthy and genial influence of Christian principle. Every believing soul, too, is exalted and empowered by union to God. His judgment is clarified, his reason put in harmony with truth, his emotions swelled in volume, his imagination fired by the object of his faith. The church, in short, is God's university, and it lies in her foundation as a school of spiritual life, to energize all capacity, and make her sons a talented and powerful race.

Here, too, are the great truths, and all the grandest, most fruitful ideas of existence. Here will spring up science, discovery, invention. The great books will be born here, and the highest, noblest, most quickening character will here be fashioned. Popular liberties and the rights of persons will here be asserted. Commerce will go forth hence, to act the preluding of the Christian love, in the universal fellowship of trade.

And so we see, by this rapid glance along the inventories of Christian society, that all manner of causes are included in it, that will go to fine the organization, raise the robustness, swell the volume, multiply the means, magnify the power of the Christian body. It stands among the other bodies and religions, just as any advanced race, the Saxon for example, stands among the feebler, wilder races, like the Aborigines of our continent; having so much power of every kind that it puts them in shadow, weakens them, lives them down, rolling its over-populating tides across them, and sweeping them away, as by a kind of doom. Just so there is, in the Christian church, a grand law of increase by which it is rolling out and spreading over the world. Whether the feebler and more abject races are going to be regenerated and raised up, is already very much of a question. What if it should be God's plan to people the world with better and finer material? Certain it is, whatever expectations we may indulge, that there is a tremendous overbearing surge of power in the Christian nations, which, if the others are not speedily raised to some vastly higher capacity, will inevitably submerge and bury them forever. These great populations of christendom--what are they doing, but throwing out their colonies on every side, and populating themselves, if I may so speak, into the possession of all countries and climes? By this doom of increase, the stone that was cut out without hands, shows itself to be a very peculiar stone, viz: a growing stone, that is fast becoming a great mountain, and preparing, as the vision shows, to fill the whole earth.

We are not, of course, to suspend our efforts to convert the heathen nations--we shall never become a thoroughly regenerate stock, save as we are trained up into such eminence, by our works of mercy to mankind. It is for God to say what races are to be finally submerged and lost, and not for us. Meantime, we are to gain over and save as many as possible by conversion, and so to hasten the day of promise. And what feebler and more pitiful conceit could we fall into, than to assume that we have the grand, over-populating grace in our own stock, and sit down thus to see it accomplish by mere propagation, that which of itself supposes a glorious inbred habit of faith, and sacrifice, and heavenly charity. I only say that, when we set ourselves to the great work of converting the world, we are to see that we do not miscondition the state of childhood, and throw quite away from us, meantime, all the mighty advantages that God designs to give us, in this other manner; viz., in the religious nurture and growth of the godly seed.

Once more, it is a consideration that will have great weight with all deeply thoughtful persons, that the vindication of God in sin, suffering, punishment, and all evil pertaining to the race, probably depends, to a great degree, on just the truth I am here endeavoring to establish. How constantly is the question raised, why God, as an infinitely good and gracious Father, should put on foot such a scheme of existence as this; one that unites such oppressive disadvantages, and is to be such a losing concern? We begin life, it is said, with constitutions depravated and poisoned, and come thus into choice with predispositions that are damaged even beforehand. Idolatry, darkness, and guilt, overspread tie world, in this manner, from age to age, and the vast majorities of the race, rotting away thus into death under sin, are being all the while precipitated into a wretched eternity, which is their end; for they go hence in a state visibly disqualified for the enjoyment, either of themselves, or of God. The picture is a very dark one, though I feel a decided confidence that every single part of God's counsel in it can be sufficiently vindicated. But this is not a matter in the compass of my present inquiry, except so far as the general difficulty is relieved by the possibility and prospect of great future advantages that are to accrue, in the fact of a grand over-populating righteousness, which is finally to change the aspect of the whole question. We are not to assume, with many, that the world is now just upon its close, but to look upon it as barely having opened its first chapter of history. Its real value, and what is really to come of it, probably does not even yet begin to appear. When its propagations cease to be mere propagations of evil, or of moral damage and disaster, and become propagations of sanctified life, and ages of life; when the numbers, talents, comforts, powers of the immense godly populations are increased to more than a hundred fold what they now are; and when, at some incomputable distance of time, whose rate of approach is only hinted by the geologic ages of the planet, they look back upon us as cotemporaries almost of Adam and forward through ages of blessing just begun, beholding so many worlds-full of regenerated mind and character, pouring in from hence to over people, as it were, eternity itself; they will certainly have a very different opinion of the scheme of existence from that which we most naturally take up now. Then it will be confessed that the nurture of the Lord has meaning and force enough to change the aspect of every thing in God's plan. Our scheme of propagated and derivative life is no longer a scheme of disadvantage, but a mode of induction that gives to every soul the noblest, safest beginning possible. On the other hand, if we cling to the present way and state as the measure of all highest possibilities, and expect to go on converting over, out of heathenism and death, the sturdy, grownup aliens of depravity, it will be a most difficult--always growing more and more difficult--thing to vindicate the ways of God in what he has put upon the world. Shall we miss, and give it to the future ages to miss, a vindication of God's way so inspiring ill itself and so often promised in his word?

Having reached this closing point or consummation of the doctrine of nurture, we are able, I think, to see something of the dignity there is in it. How trivial, unnatural, weak, and, at the same time, violent, in comparison, is that overdone scheme of individualism, which knows the race only as mere units of will and personal action; dissolves even families into monads; makes no account of organic relations and uses; and expects the world to be finally subdued by adult conversions, when growing up still, as before, in all the younger tiers of life, toward a mere convertible state of adult ungodliness. Such a scheme gives a most ungenial and forlorn aspect to the family. It makes the church a mere gathering in of adult atoms, to be in creased only by the gathering in of other and more numerous adult atoms. It very nearly makes the scheme of existence itself an abortion; finding no great law of propagative good and mercy in it, and taking quite away the possibility and prospect of that sublime vindication of God which is finally to be developed, and by which God's way in the creation is to be finally crowned with all highest honors of counsel and beneficence. Opposite to this, we have seen how it is God's plan, by ties of organic unity and nurture, to let one generation extend itself into and over another, in the order of grace, just as it does in the order of nature; to let us expect the growing up of children in the Lord, even as their parents are to be parents in the Lord, and are set to bring them up in the nurture of the Lord; on this ground of anticipation, permitting us to apply the seal of our faith to them, as being incipiently in the quickening of our faith, even before they have intelligence to act it, and consciously choose it; so accepting them to be members of the church, as being presumptively in the life of the church; in this manner incorporating in the church a great law of grace and sanctifying power, by which finally the salvation will become an inbred life and populating force, mighty enough to overlive, and finally to completely people the world. And this is what we call the day of glory. It lies, to a great degree, in the scheme of Christian nurture itself, and is possible only as a consummation of that scheme. If I rightly conceive the gospel work and plan, this is the regeneration [παλιγγεννεσία] which our Lord promises, viz.: that he will reclaim and re-sanctify the great principle of reproductive order and life, and people, at last, the world with a godly seed.

The church, as being made up of souls that are born of the Spirit, is a new supernatural order thus in humanity; a spiritual nation, we may conceive, that was founded by a colony from the skies. It alights upon our globe as its chartered territory. Can it overspread the whole planet and take possession? We see that it can unfold more of health, wealth, talent, than the present living races of inhabitants. It has within itself a stronger law of population, as well as a mighty power to win over and assimilate the nations. Its people have more truth, beauty, weight of character to exalt their predominance. And, what is more, God is in them by his all-informing, all-energizing Spirit, to be Himself unfolded in their history, and make it powerful. Not to believe that the Heavenly Colony, thus constituted and endowed, will finally overspread and fill the world, is to deny causes their effects, and to quite invert the natural order of strength and weakness. God, too, has testified in regard to this branch of his planting--"They shall inherit the land."

It is very obvious that this general view of Christian nurture and its effects is one that, becoming really installed in our faith, and the aims of our piety, would induce important modifications in our Christian practice, and change, to a considerable degree, the modes of our religious demonstration. Our over-intense individualism carries with it an immense loss of feeling, affection, sentiment, which hardens the aspect of every thing, and dries away the sweet charities and tender affections that would grace the older generations of souls, when conceiving that the younger live in them, and are somehow folded in their personality. We not only lose our children under this atomizing scheme of piety, which is a loss we can not afford, but a certain misproportion is induced, which distempers all our efforts and demonstrations.

One principal reason why we are so often deficient in character, or outward beauty, is, that piety begins too late in life, having thus to maintain a perpetual and unequal war with previous habit. If it was not true of Paul, it is yet too generally true, that one born out of due time will be found out of due time, more often than he should be, afterwards--unequal, inconsistent with himself, acting the old man instead of the new. Having the old habit to war with, it is often too strong for him. To make a graceful and complete Christian character, it needs itself to be the habit of existence; not a grape grafted on a bramble. And this, it will be seen, requires a Christian childhood in the subject. Having this, the gracious or supernatural character becomes itself more nearly natural, and possesses the peculiar charm of naturalness, which is necessary to the highest moral beauty.

It results also from our mistaken views of Christian training, that we fall into a notion of religion that is mechanical. We thrust our children out of the covenant first and insist. in spite of it, that they shall grow up in the same spiritual state as if their father and mother were heathens. Then we go out, at least on certain occasions, to convert them back, as if they actually were heathens. Our only idea of increase is of that which accrues by means of a certain abrupt technical experience. Led away thus from all thought of internal growth in the church, efforts to secure conversions take an external character, becoming gospel campaigns. Accretion displaces growth. The church is gathered as a foundling hospital; and lest it should not be such, its own children are reduced to foundlings. Immediate repentance proclaimed, insisted on, and realized in an abrupt change, proper only to those who are indeed aliens and enemies, is the only hope or inlet of the church. We can not understand how the spiritual nation should grow and populate, and become powerful within itself.

Piety becomes inconstant, and revivals of religion take an exaggerated character from the same causes. If all Christian success is measured by the count of technical conversions from without, then it follows that nothing is done when conversions cease to be counted The harvest closes not with feasting, but with famine Despair cuts off Christian motive. The tide is spent; let us anchor during the ebb. It is well indeed to live very piously in the families; still, there is nothing depending on it. The children will be good subjects enough for conversion without. The piety of the church is thus made to be desultory and irregular by system. The idea of conquest displaces the idea of growth. Whereas, if it were understood that Christian education or training in the families, is to be itself a process of domestic conversion; that as a child weeps under a frown and smiles at the command of a smile, so spiritual influences may be streaming into his being from the handling of the nursery and the whole manner and temperament of the house, producing what will ever after be fundamental impressions of his being; then the hearth, the table, the society and affections of the house, would all feel the presence of a practical religious motive. The homes would be Christian, the families abodes of piety.

Here too is the greatest impediment to a true missionary spirit. The habit of conquest runs to dissipation and irregularity. It is as if a nation, forgetting its own internal resources, were scouring the seas, and trooping up and down the world, in pursuit of prize-money and plunder, forsaking the loom and the plow, and all the regular growths of industry. Whereas, if the church were unfolding the riches of the covenant at her firesides and tables; if the children were identified with religion from the first, and grew up iin a Christian love of man, the missionary spirit would not throw itself up in irregular jets, but would flow as a river. We suffer also greatly and even produce a somewhat painful evidence of mistake, in our endeavor to be always operating by an immediate influence of the Holy Spirit, when we make his mediate influence a matter of little account. For there is, I apprehend, a certain fixed relation between those exertions of spiritual influence which are immediate, and those which flow mediately from the church; else why has not the Spirit left the church behind, and poured itself, as a rushing, mighty wind, into the bosom of the whole world in a day? There needed to be an objective influence, as well as one internal; else the subject of the Spirit would not know or guess to what his internal motions are attributable, and might deem them only nervous or hysteric effects; or possibly, if a heathen, the work of some enchanter or demon. When the church, therefore, grows arid manifests the work of God by the beauty of her life, and the heavenly energy of her spirit, when the sanctification she speaks of visibly strikes through--through the body, through the manners and works, into the family state, into the community-that is the mediate influence necessary to another which is immediate. Looking on her demonstrations, the observer is not only impressed and drawn by the assimilating power of her character, but he distinguishes in her the type and form of that into which he is himself to be wrought, and so he is ready for the intelligent reception of the Spirit in himself. If now there is this fixed relation between God's mediate and immediate agency in souls. how great is the mistake, when we virtually assume, in our efforts and expectations, that he will come upon souls, only as the lightning is bolted from the sky. How desultory and irruptive is the grace he ministers, how little respective of the work he has already begun in others, whom he might employ to be the medium of his power! On the other hand, if we are right in this view--if there is a fixed relation between the mediate and immediate influences of the Spirit--such that one measures the other, (and we could urge many additional reasons for the opinion,) then are we brought fairly out upon the sublime conclusion, that the growth or progress of Christian piety in the church, if it shall take place, offers the expectation of a correspondent progress in the development of those spiritual influences that are immediate. The mediate and immediate are both identical at the root. If therefore the church unfolds her piety as a divine life, which is one, the divine life will display its activity as much more potently and victoriously without, which is the other. And as the kingdom of heaven, which was at first as a grain of mustard seed, advances in the last days toward the stature of a tree, the more it may advance; for the Holy Spirit will pour himself into the world, as much more freely and powerfully. Grant, O God! that we may not disappoint ourselves of a hope so glorious, by attempts to extend thy church without that holy growth of piety, on which our success depends! Pour thyself n thy fullness and as a gale of purity, into our bosom! Expel all schemes that are not begun in Thee! Let there be good desires in us, that our works may be good! And that Thou mayest do thy will in the earth do it in us perfectly!


[16] See quotations from these writers in the last Discourse.