You're here: » Articles Home » Horace Bushnell » Sermons for the New Life » 3 - DIGNITY OF HUMAN NATURE SHOWN FROM ITS RUINS


By Horace Bushnell

      Romans iii., 13-18.-"Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways. And the way of peace they have not known. There is no ear of God before their eyes."

      A MOST dark and dismal picture of humanity, it must be admitted; and yet it has two sides or aspects. In one view, it is' the picture of weakness, wretchedness, shame and disgust; all which they discover in it who most sturdily resent the impeachment of it. In the other, it presents a being higher than even they can boast; a fearfully great being; great in his evil will, his demoniacal passions, his contempt of fear, the splendor of his degradation, and the magnificence of his woe.

      It is this latter view of the picture to which, at the present time, I propose to call your attention, exhibiting,-

      The dignity of man, as revealed by the ruin he makes in his fall and apostacy from God.

      It has been the way of many, in our time, to magnify humanity, or the dignity of human nature, by tracing its capabilities and the tokens it reveals of a natural affinity with God and truth. They distinguish lovely instincts, powers and properties allied to God, aspirations reaching after God; many virtues, according to the common use of that term; many beautiful and graceful charities; and, by such kind of evidences, or proofs, they repel, sometimes with scorn, what they call the libelous, or even the insulting doctrine of total depravity. And this they do, as I will add, not without some show of reason, when the fact of our depravity is asserted in a manner that excludes the admission of any such high aspirations and amiable properties, or virtues, as we certainly discover in human conduct, apart from any gifts and graces of religion. And it must be admitted that some teachers have given occasion for this kind of offense; not observing the compatibility of great aspirations and majestic affinities with a state of deep spiritual thraldom; assuming, also, with as little right, the want of all appropriate sensibilities and receptivities for the truth, as a necessary inference from the complete destitution of holiness. They make out, in this manner, a doctrine of human depravity, in which there is no proper humanity left.

      I am not required by my subject to settle the litigation between these two extremes; one of which makes the gospel unnecessary, because there is no depravation to restore; and the other of which makes it impossible, because there is nothing left to which any holy appeal can be made; but I undertake, in partial disregard of both, to show the essential greatness and dignity of man from the ruin itself which he becomes; confident of this, that in no other point of view, will he prove the spiritual sublimity of his nature so convincingly.

      Nor is it any thing new, or a turn more ingenious than just, that we undertake to raise our conceptions of human nature in this manner; for it is in just this way that we are accustomed to get our measures and form our conceptions of many things;-of the power, for example, of ancient dynasties and the magnificence of ancient works and cities. Falling thus, it may be, on patches of paved road here and there, on lines leading out divergently from ancient Rome, uncovering and decyphering the mile-stones by their sides, marked with postal distances, here for Britain, here for Germany, here for Ephesus and Babylon, here for Brundusium, the port of the Appian Way, and so for Egypt, Numidia and the provinces of the sun; imagining the couriers flying back and forth, bearing the mandates of the central authority to so many distant nations, followed by the military legions trailing on to execute them; we receive an impression of the empire, from these scattered vestiges, which almost no words of historic description could give us. So, if we desire to form some opinion of the dynasty of the Pharaohs, of whom history gives us but the faintest remembrances and obscurest traditions, we have only to look on the monumental mountains, piled up to molder on the silent plain of Egypt, and these dumb historians in stone will show us more of that vast and populous empire, measuring by the amount of realized impression, more of the imperial haughtiness of the monarchs, more of the servitude of their people and of the captive myriads of the tributary nations, than even Heroditus and Strabo, history and geography, together.

      The same is true, even more strikingly, of ancient cities. Though described by historians, in terms of definite measurement, with their great structures and defenses and the royal splendor of their courts, we form no sufficient conception of their grandeur, till we look upon their ruins. Even the eloquence of Homer describing the glory and magnificence of Thebes, the vast circuit of its walls, its hundred gates, and the chariots of war pouring out of all, to vanquish and hold in subjection the peoples of as many nations, yields only a faint, unimpressive conception of the city; but, to pass through the ruins of Karnac and Luxor, a vast desolation of temples and pillared avenues that dwarf all the present structures of the world, solemn, silent and hoary, covered with historic sculptures that relate the conquest of kingdoms-a journey to pass through, a maze in which even comprehension is lost-this reveals a fit conception of the grandest city of the world as no words could describe it. Beheld and judged by the majesty of its ruins, there is a poetry in the stones surpassing all majesty of song. So, when the prophet Jonah, endeavoring, as he best can, to raise some adequate opinion of the greatness of Nineveh, declares that it is an exceeding great city, of three days' journey; and, when Nahum follows, magnifying its splendor in terms of high description that correspond; still, so ambiguous and faint is the impression made, that many were doubting whether, after all, "the exceeding great city" was any thing more than a vast inclosure of gardens and pasture grounds for sheep, where a moderate population subsisted under the protection of a wall. No one had any proper conception of the city till just now, when a traveler and antiquary digs into the tomb where it lies, opens to view, at points many miles asunder, its temples and palaces, drags out the heavy sculptures, shows the inscriptions, collects the tokens of art and splendor, and says, "this is Nineveh, 'the exceeding great city,'" and then, judging of its extent from the vast and glorious ruin, we begin to have some fit impression of its magnitude and splendor. And so it is with Babylon, Ephesus, Tadmor of the desert, Baalbeo and the nameless cities and pyramids of the extinct American race. All great ruins are but a name for greatness in ruins, and we see the magnitude of the structure in that of the ruin made by it, in its fall.

      So it is with man. Our most veritable, though saddest, impressions of his greatness, as a creature, we shall derive from the magnificent ruin he displays. In that ruin we shall distinguish fallen powers, that lie as broken pillars on the ground; temples of beauty, whose scarred and shattered walls still indicate their ancient, original glory; summits covered with broken stones, infested by asps, where the palaces of high thought and great aspiration stood, and righteous courage went up to maintain the citadel of the mind,-all a ruin now, "archangel ruined."

      And exactly this, I conceive, is the legitimate impression of the scripture representations of man, as apostate from duty and God. Thoughtfully regarded, all exaggerations and contending theories apart, it is as if they were showing us the original dignity of man, from the magnificence of the ruin in which he lies. How sublime a creature must that be, call him either man or demon, who is able to confront the Almighty and tear himself away from his throne. And, as if to forbid our taking his deep misery and shame as tokens of contempt, imagining that a creature so humiliated is inherently weak and low, the first men are shown us living out a thousand years of lustful energy, and braving the Almighty in strong defiance to the last. "The earth also is corrupt before God, and the earth is filled with violence." We look, as it were, upon a race of Titans, broken loose from order and making war upon God and each other;. beholding, in their outward force, a type of that original majesty which pertains to the moral nature of a being, endowed with a self-determining liberty, capable of choices against God, and thus of a character in evil that shall be his own. They fill the earth, even up to the sky, with wrath and the demoniacal tumult of their wrongs, till God can suffer them no longer, sending forth his flood to sweep them from the earth. So of the remarkable picture given by Paul, in the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans. In one view we are disgusted, in another shocked, doubting whether it presents a creature most foolish and vile or most sublimely impious and wicked: and coming out, finally, where the chapter ends-"who knowing the judgment of God that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but have pleasure in them that do them"-there to confess the certain greatness of a being whose audacity is so nearly infinite, whose adherence to the league with evil is maintained with a pertinacity so damnably desperate and relentless. And the picture of the text corresponds, yielding no impression of a merely feeble and vile creature, but of a creature rather most terrible and swift; destructive, fierce and fearless; miserable in his greatness; great as in evil. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their way; and the way of peace have they not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes.

      But we come to the ruin as it is, and we look upon it with our own eyes, to receive the true, original impression for ourselves.

      We look, first of all, upon the false religions of the world; pompous and costly rites transacted before crocodiles and onions; magnificent temples built over all monkeyish and monstrous creatures, carved by men's hands; children offered up, by their mothers, in fire, or in water; kings offered on the altars, by their people, to propitiate a wooden image; gorgeous palaces and trappings of barbaric majesty, studded all over with beetles in gold, or precious stones, to serve as a protection against pestilences, poisons and accidents. I can not fill out a picture that so nearly fills the world. Doubtless it is a picture of ruin- yet of a ruin how visibly magnificent. For, how high a nature must that be, how intensely allied to what is divine, that it must prepare such pomps, incur such sacrifices, and can elevate such trifles of imposture to a place of reverence. If we say that, in all this, it is feeling after God if haply it may find him, which in one view is the truth, then how inextinguishable and grand are those religious instincts by which it is allied to the holy, the infinite, the eternal, but invisible one.

      The wars of the world yield a similar impression. What opinion should we have of the energy, ferocity and fearful passion of a race of animals, could any such be found, who marshal themselves by the hundred thousand, marching across kingdoms and deserts to fight, and strewing leagues of ground with a covering of dead, before they yield the victory. One race there is that figure in these heroics of war, in a small way, viz., the tiny race of ants; whom God has made a spectacle to mock the glory and magnificence of human wars; lest, carried away by so many brave shows and by the applauses of the drunken ages of the world, we pass, undiscovered, the meanness and littleness of that selfish ambition, or pride, by which human wars are instigated. These are men such as history, in all past ages, shows them to be; swift to shed blood, swifter than the tiger race, and more terrible. Cities and empires are swept by their terrible marches, and become a desolation in their path. Destruction and misery are in their ways-O what destruction, misery, how deep and long! And what shall we think of any creature of God displayed in signs like these. Plainly enough he is a creature in ruins, but how magnificent a creature! Mean as the ant in his passions, but erecting, on the desolations he makes, thrones of honor and renown, and raising himself into the attitude of a god, before the obsequious ages of mankind; for who of us can live content, as we are tempered, without some hero to admire and worship?

      Consider again the persecutions of the good; fires for the saints of all ages, dungeons for the friends of liberty and benefactors of their times, poison for Socrates, a cross for Jesus Christ. What does it mean? What face shall we put on this outstanding demonstration of the world? No other but this, that cursing and bitterness, the poison even of asps, and more, is entered into the heart of man. He hates with a diabolical hatred. Feeling "how awful goodness is," the sight of it rouses him to madness, and he will not stop till he has tasted blood. And what a being is this that can be stung with so great madness, by the spectacle of a good and holy life. The fiercest of animals are capable of no such devilish instigation; because they are too low to be capable of goodness, or even of the thought, But here is a creature who can not bear the reminder, even of good, or of any thing above the ruin where his desolated glory lies. O how great is the nature which is capable of this dire phrenzy.

      The great characters of the world furnish another striking proof of the transcendent quality of human nature, by the dignity they are able to connect even with their littleness and meanness. On a small island of the southern Atlantic, is shut up a remarkable prisoner, wearing himself out there in a feeble mixture of peevishness and jealousy, solaced by no great thoughts and no heroic spirit; a kind of dotard before the time, killing and consuming himself by the intense littleness into which he has shrunk. And this is the great conqueror of the modern world, the man whose name is the greatest of modern names, or, some will say, of all names the human world has pronounced; a man, nevertheless, who carried his greatest victories and told his meanest lies in close proximity, a character as destitute of private magnanimity, as he was remarkable for the stupendous powers of his understanding and the more stupendous and imperial leadership of his will. How great a being must it be, that makes a point of so great dignity before the world, despite of so much that is really little and contemptible.

      But he is not alone. The immortal Kepler, piloting science into the skies, and comprehending the vastness of heaven, for the first time, in the fixed embrace of definite thought, only proves the magnificence of man as a ruin, when you discover the strange ferment of irritability and "superstition wild," in which his great thoughts are brewed and his mighty life dissolved.

      So also Bacon proves the amazing wealth and grandeur of the human soul only the more sublimely that, living in an element of cunning, servility and ingratitude, and dying under the shame of a convict, he is yet able to dignify disgrace by the stupendous majesty of his genius, and commands the reverence even of the world, as to one of its sublimest benefactors. And the poet's stinging line-

      "The greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind,"

      pictures, only with a small excess of satire, the magnificence of ruin comprehended in the man.

      Probably no one of mankind has raised himself to a higher pitch of renown by the superlative attributes of genius displayed in his writings, than the great English dramatist; flowering out, nevertheless, into such eminence of glory, on a compost of fustian, buffoonery and other vile stuff, which he so magnificently covers with splendor and irradiates with beauty, that disgust itself is lost in the vehemence of praise. And so we shall find, almost universally, that the greatness of the world's great men, is proved by the inborn qualities that tower above the ruins of weakness and shame, in which they appear, and out of which, as solitary pillars and dismantled temples they rise.

      But we must look more directly into the contents of human nature, and the internal ruin by which they are displayed. And here you may notice, first of all, the sublime vehemence of the passions. What a creature must that be, who, out of mere hatred, or revenge, will deliberately take the life of a fellow man, and then dispatch his own to avoid the ignominy of a public execution. Suppose there might be found some tiger that, for the mere bitterness of his grudge against some other whelp of his mother, springs upon him in his sleep and rends him in pieces, and then deliberately tears open his own throat to escape the vengeance of the family. No tiger of the desert is ever instigated by any so intense and terrible passion, that, for the sweetness of revenge, is willing afterward to rush on death itself. This kind of phrenzy plainly belongs to none but a creature immortal, an archangel ruined, in whose breast a fire of hell may burn high enough and deep enough to scorch down even reason and the innate love of life. Or take the passion of covetousness, generally regarded as one essentially mean and degraded. After all, how great a creature must that be, who is goaded by a zeal of acquisition so restless, so self-sacrificing, so insatiable. The poor, gaunt miser, starving for want, that he may keep the count of his gold-whom do we more naturally pity and despise. And yet he were even the greatest of heroes, if he could deny himself with so great patience, in a good and holy cause. How grand a gift that immortality, how deep those gulfs of want in the soul, that instigate a madness so desolating to character, a self-immolation so relentless, a niggard suffering so sublime. The same is true even of the licentious and gluttonous lusts and their loathsome results. No race of animals can show the parallel of such vices; because they are none of them instigated by a nature so insatiable, so essentially great, in the magnificence of wants that find no good to satisfy their cravings. The ruin we say is beastly, but the beasts are clear of the comparison; it requires a meld vaster than theirs, to burst the limits of nature in excesses so disgusting.

      Consider again the wild mixtures of thought, displayed both in the waking life and the dreams of mankind. How grand! how mean! how sudden the leap from one to the other! how inscrutable the succession! how defiant of orderly control! It is as if the soul were a thinking ruin; which it verily is. The angel and the demon life appear to be contending in it. The imagination revels in beauty exceeding all the beauty of things, wails in images dire and monstrous, wallows in murderous and base suggestions that shame our inward dignity; so that a great part of the study and a principal art of life, is to keep our decency, by a wise selection from what we think and a careful suppression of the remainder. A diseased and crazy mixture, such as represents a ruin, is the form of our inward experience. And yet, a ruin how magnificent, one which a buried Nineveh, or a desolated Thebes can parallel only in the faintest degree; comprehending all that is purest, brightest, most divine, even that which is above the firmament itself; all that is worst, most sordid, meanest, most deformed.

      Notice, also, the significance of remorse. How great a creature must that be that, looking down upon itself from some high summit in itself, some throne of truth and judgment which no devastation of order can reach, withers in relentless condemnation of itself, gnaws and chastises itself in the sense of what it is! Call it a ruin, as it plainly is, there rises out of the desolated wreck of its former splendor, that which indicates and measures the sublimity of the original temple. The conscience stands erect, resisting all the ravages of violence and decay, and by this, we distinguish the temple of God that was; a soul divinely gifted, made to be the abode of his spirit, the vehicle of his power, the mirror of his glory. A creature of remorse is a divine creature of necessity, only it is the wreck of a divinity that was.

      So again, you may conceive the greatness of man, by the ruin he makes, if you advert to the dissonance and obstinacy of his evil will. It is dissonant as being out of harmony with God and the world, and all beside in the soul itself; viz., the reason, the conscience, the wants, the hopes, and even the remembrances of the soul. How great a creature is it that, knowing God, can set itself off from God and resist him, can make itself a unit, separate from all beings beside, and maintain a persistent rebellion even against its own convictions, fears and aspirations. Like a Pharaoh it sits on its Egyptian throne, quailing in darkness, under the successive fears and judgments of life, relenting for the moment, then gathering itself up again to re-assert the obstinacy of its pride, and die, it may be, in its evil. What a power is this, capable of a dominion how sublime, a work and sphere how transcendent! If sin is weak, if it is mean, little, selfish and deformed, and we are ready to set humanity down as a low and paltry thing of nothing worth, how terrible and tragic in its evil grandeur does it appear, when we turn to look upon its defiance of God, and the desperate obstinacy of its warfare. Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Or as we have it in the text,-There is no fear of God before their eyes. In one view there is fear enough, the soul is all its life long haunted by this fear, but there is a desperation of will that tramples fear and makes it as though it were not.

      Consider once more the religious aspirations and capacities of religious attraction that are garnered up, and still live in the ruins of humanity. How plain it is, in all the most forward. demonstrations of the race, that man is a creature for religion; a creature secretly allied to God him. self, as the needle is to the pole, attracted toward God, aspiring consciously, or unconsciously, to the friendship and love of God. Neither is it true that, in his fallen state, he has no capacity left of religious affection, or attraction, till it is first new created in him. All his capacities of love and truth are in him still, only buried and stifled by the smoldering ruin in which he lies. There is a capacity in him still to be moved and drawn, to be charmed and melted by the divine love and beauty. The old affinity lives though smothered in selfishness and lust, and even proves itself in sorrowful evidence, when he bows himself down to a reptile or an idol. He will do his most expensive works for religion. There is a deep panting still in his bosom, however suppressed, that cries inaudibly and sobs with secret longing after God. Hence the sublime unhappiness of the race. There is a vast, immortal want stirring on the world and forbidding it to rest. In the cursing and bitterness, in the deceit of tongues, in the poison of asps, in the swiftness to blood, in all the destruction and misery of the world's ruin, there is yet a vast insatiate hunger for the good, the true, the holy, the divine, and a great part of the misery of the ruin is that it is so great a ruin; a desolation of that which can not utterly perish, and still lives, asserting its defrauded rights and reclaiming its lost glories. And therefore it is that life be comes an experience to the race so tragic in its character, so dark and wild, so bitter, so incapable of peace. The way of peace we can not know, till we find our peace, where our immortal aspirations place it, in the fullness and the friendly eternity of God.

      Regarding man, then, as immersed in evil, a being in disorder, a spiritual intelligence in a state of ruin, we derogate nothing from his dignity. Small conception has any one of the dignity of human nature, who conceives it only on the side of praise, or as set off by the figments of a merely natural virtue. As little could he apprehend the tragic sublimity of Hamlet, considered only as an amiable son ingenuously hurt by the insult done his father's name and honor. The character is great, not here, but in its wildness and its tragic mystery; delicate and fierce, vindictive and cool, shrewd and terrible, a reasonable and a reasoning madness, more than we can solve, all that we can feel. And so it is that we discover the true majesty of human nature itself, in the tragic grandeur of its disorders, nowhere else. Nothing do we know of its measures, regarded in the smooth plausibilities and the respectable airs of good breeding, and worldly virtue. It is only as a lost being that man appears to be truly great. Judge him by the ruin he makes, wander among the shattered pillars and fallen towers of his majesty, behold the immortal and eternal vestiges, study his passions, thoughts, aspirations, woes; behold the destruction and misery that are in his ways,-destruction how sublime, misery how deep, clung to with how great pertinacity, and then say,-this is man, this is the dignity of human nature. It will kindle no pride in you, stimulate no pompous conceit, but it will reveal a terror, discover a shame, speak a true conviction, and, it may be, draw forth a tear.

      Having reached this natural limit of our subject, let us pause a moment, and look about us on some of the practical issues to which it is related.

      It is getting to be a great hcpe of our time, that society is going to slide into something better, by a course of natural progress; by the advance of education, by great public reforms, by courses of self-culture and philanthropic practice We have a kind of new gospel that corresponds; a gospel which preaches not so much a faith in God's salvation as a faith in human nature; an attenuated moralizing gospel that proposes development, not regeneration; showing men how to grow better, how to cultivate their amiable instincts, how to be rational in their own light and govern themselves by their own power. Sometimes it is given as the true problem, how to reform the shape and re-construct the style of their heads, and even this it is expected they will certainly be able to do! Alas that we are taken, or can be, with so great folly. How plain it is that no such gospel meets our want. What can it do for us but turn us away, more and more fatally, from that gospel of the Son of God, which is our only hope. Man as a ruin, going after development, and progress, and philanthropy, and social culture, and, by this fire-fly glimmer, to make a day of glory! And this is the doctrine that proposes shortly to restore society, to settle the passion, regenerate the affection, re-glorify the thought, fill the aspiration of a desiring and disjointed world! As if any being but God had power to grapple with these human disorders; as if man, or society, crazed and maddened by the demoniacal frenzy of sin, were going to rebuild the state of order, and re-construct the shattered harmony of nature, by such kind of desultory counsel and unsteady application as it can manage to enforce in its own cause; going to do this miracle by its science, its compacts, and self-executed reforms! As soon will the desolations of Karnac gather up their fragments and re-construct the pros portions out of which they have fallen. No, it is not progress, not reforms that are wanted as any principal thing. Nothing meets our case, but to come unto God and be medicated in him; to be born of God, and so, by his regenerative power, to be set in heaven's own order. He alone can re-build the ruin, he alone set up the glorious temple of the mind; and those divine affinities in us that raven with immortal hunger-he alone can satisfy them in the bestowment of himself.

      And this brings me to speak of another point, where the subject unfolded carries an important application. The great difficulty with christianity in our time is, that, as a fact, or salvation, it is too great for belief. After all our supposed discoveries of dignity in human nature, we have commonly none but the meanest opinion of man. How can we imagine or believe that any such history as that of Jesus Christ is a fact, or that the infinite God has transacted any such wonder for man? a being so far below his rational concern, or the range of his practical sympathy. God manifest in the flesh! God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself! the birth of the manger! the life of miracle! the incarnate dying! and the world darkening ii, funeral grief around the mighty sufferer's cross!-it is extravagant, out of proportion, who can believe it? Any one, I answer, who has not lost the magnitude of man. No work of God holds a juster proportion than this great mystery of godliness, and if we did but understand the great mystery of ungodliness we should think so. No man will ever have any difficulty in believing the work of Christ who has not lost the measures of humanity. But for this, no man will ever think it reason to deny his divinity, explain away his incarnation, or reject the mystery of his cross. To restore this tragic fall required a tragic salvation. Nor did ever any sinner who had come to himself, felt the bondage of his sin, trembled in the sense of his terrible disorders, groaned over the deep gulfs of want opened by his sin, struggled with himself to compose the bitter struggles of his nature, heaved in throes of anguish to emancipate himself,-no such person, however deep in philosophy, or scepticism, ever thought, for one moment, that Christ was too great a Saviour. O, it was a divine Saviour, an almighty Saviour, coming out from God's eternity, that he wanted! none but such was sufficient! Him he could believe in, just because he was great,-equal to the measures of his want, able to burst the bondage of his sin. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but should have everlasting life."-O, it is the word of reason to his soul. He believes, and on this rock, as a rock of adequate salvation, he rests.

      Once more, it is another and important use of the subject we have here presented, that the magnitude and real importance of the soul are discovered in it, as nowhere else. For it is not by any computations of reason, but in your wild disorders, your suppressed affinities for God, the distempers and storms of your passions, and the magnificent chaos of your immortality, that you will get the truest opinion of your consequence to yourselves. Just that which makes you most oblivious and blindest to your own significance, ought to make you most aware of it and press you most earnestly to God. I know not how it is but the soul appears under sin, all selfish as it is, to shrink and grow small in its own sight. Perhaps it is due, in part, to the consciousness we have, in sin, of moral littleness and meanness. We commonly speak of it in figures of this kind, we call it low and weak and degraded, and fall into the impression that these words are real measures of our natural magnitude. Whereas, in another sense, the sin we speak of is mighty, terrible, God-defying and triumphant. Let this thought come to you, my friends, as well as the other, and if sin is morally little, let it be, in power, mighty as it really is. The shadow by which most convincingly your true height is measured, is that which is cast athwart the abyss of your shame and spiritual ignominy. Just here it is that you will get your most veritable impressions of your immortality; even as you get your best impression of armies, not by the count of numbers, but by the thunder-shock of battle, and the carnage of the field when it is over. We try all other methods, but in vain, to rouse in men's bosoms some barely initial sense of their consequence to themselves, and get some hold, in that manner, of the stupendous immortality Christ recognizes in them and throws off his glory to redeem. We take the guage of your power as a mind, showing what this power of mind has been able, in the explorations of matter and light and air, of sea and land, and the distant fields of heaven, to do. We display its inventions, recount its victories over nature. We represent, as vividly as we can, and by computations as vast and far-reaching as we are master of, in our finite arithmetic, the meaning of the word, eternity. All in vain. What are you still but the insect of some present hour, in which you live and flutter and die? But here we take another method, we call you to the battle field of sin. We show you the vestiges, This we say is man, the fallen principality. In these tragic desolations of intelligence and genius, of passion, pride and sorrow, behold the import of his eternity. Be no mere spectator, turn the glass we give you round upon yourself, look into the ruin of your own conscious spirit, and see how much it signifies, both that you are a sinner and a man. Here, within the soul's gloomy chamber, the loosened passions rage and chafe, impatient of their law; here huddle on the wild and desultory thoughts; here the imagination crowds in shapes of glory and disgust, tokens both and mockeries of its own creative power, no longer in the keeping of reason; here sits remorse scowling and biting her chain; here creep out the fears, a meagre and pale multitude; here drives on the will in his chariot of war; here lie trampled the great aspirations, groaning in immortal thirst; here the blasted affections weeping out their life in silent injury; all that you see without, in the wars, revenges and the crazed religions of the world, is faithfully represented in the appalling disorders of your own spirit. And yet, despite all this, a fact which overtops and crowns all other evidence, you are trying and contriving still to be happy-a happy ruin The eternal destiny is in you, and you can not break loose from it. With your farthing bribes you try to hush your stupendous wants, with your single drops, (drops of gall and not of water,) to fill the ocean of your immortal aspirations. You call on destruction to help you, and misery to give you comfort, and complain that destruction and misery are still in all your ways. O, this great and mighty soul, were it something less, you might find what to do with it; charm it with the jingle of a golden toy, house it in a safe with ledgers and stocks, take it about on journeys to see and be seen! Any thing would please it and bring it content But it is the godlike soul, capable of rest in nothing but God; able to be filled and satisfied with nothing but his fullness and the confidence of his friendship. What man that lives in sin can know it, or conceive it; who believe what it is!

      O, thou Prince of Life! come in thy great salvation to these blinded and lost men, and lay thy piercing question to their ear,-What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Breathe, O breathe on these majestic ruins, and rouse to life again, though it be but for one hour, the forgotten sense of their eternity, their lost eternity.

      Even so, your lost eternity. The great salvation coming, then, is not too great; nought else, or less could suffice. For if there be any truth that can fitly appall you, live you with conviction, drive you home to God, dissolve you in tears of repentance, it is here, when you discover yourself and your terrible misdoings, in the ruins of your desolated majesty. In these awful and scarred vestiges, too, what type is given you of that other and final ruin, of which Christ so kindly and faithfully warned you, when, describing the house you are building on these treacherous sands, he showed the fatal storm beating vehemently against it, with only this one issue possible-And immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.

Back to Horace Bushnell index.

See Also:


Like This Page?

© 1999-2016, All rights reserved.