Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Sturdy Homespun Worship
By Horace Bushnell (18021876)
[From a Secular Sermon at the Litchfield Co. Centennial Celebration, 1851.Work and Play. 1864.]
PROBABLY it [the meeting-house] stands on some hill, midway between three or four valleys, whither the tribes go up to worship, and, when the snow-drifts are deepest, go literally from strength to strength. There is no furnace or stove, save the foot-stoves that are filled from the fires of the neighboring houses, and brought in partly as a rather formal compliment to the delicacy of the tender sex, and sometimes because they are really wanted. The dress of the assembly is mostly homespun, indicating only slight distinctions of quality in the worshippers. They are seated according to age, the old king Lemuels and their queens in front, near the pulpit, and the younger Lemuels farther back, inclosed in pews, sitting back to back, impounded, all, for deep thought and spiritual digestion; only the deacons, sitting close under the pulpit, by themselves, to receive, as their distinctive honor, the more perpendicular droppings of the word. Clean round the front of the gallery is drawn a single row of choir, headed by the key-pipe, in the centre. The pulpit is overhung by an august wooden canopy, called a sounding-boardstudy general, of course, and first lesson of mystery to the eyes of the children, until what time their ears are opened to understand the spoken mysteries.
There is no affectation of seriousness in the assembly, no mannerism of worship; some would say too little of the manner of worship. They think of nothing, in fact, save what meets their intelligence and enters into them by that method. They appear like men who have a digestion for strong meat, and have no conception that trifles more delicate can be of any account to feed the system. Nothing is dull that has the matter in it, nothing long that has not exhausted the matter. If the minister speaks in his great coat and thick gloves or mittens, if the howling blasts of winter drive in across the assembly fresh streams of ventilation that move the hair upon their heads, they are none the less content, if only he gives them good strong exercise. Under their hard, and, as some would say, stolid faces, great thoughts are brewing, and these keep them warm. Free-will, fixed fate, foreknowledge absolute, trinity, redemption, special grace, eternitygive them anything high enough, and the tough muscle of their inward man will be climbing sturdily into it; and if they go away having something to think of, they have had a good day. A perceptible glow will kindle in their hard faces, only when some one of the chief apostles, a Day, a Smith, or a Bellamy, has come to lead them up some higher pinnacle of thought, or pile upon their sturdy mind some heavier weight of argumentfainting never under any weight, even that which, to the foreign critics of the discourses preached by them and others of their day, it seems impossible for any, the most cultivated audience in the world, to have supported. These royal men of homespunhow great a thing to them was religion! The district school was there, the great Bellamy is here among the highest peaks and solitudes of divine government, and between is close living and hard work, but they are kings alike in all!
True, there was a rigor in their piety, a want of gentle feeling; their Christian graces were cast-iron shapes, answering with a hard metallic ring. But they stood the rough wear of life none the less durably for the excessive hardness of their temperament, kept their families and communities none the less truly, though it may be less benignly, under the sense of God and religion. If we find something to modify or soften, in their over-rigid notions of Christian living, it is yet something to know that what we are they have made us, and that, when we have done better for the ages that come after us, we shall have a more certain right to blame their austerities.
View them as we may, there is yet, and always will be, something magnificent in their stern, practical fidelity to their principles. If they believed it to be more scriptural and Christian to begin their Sunday, not with the western, but with the Jewish and other eastern nations, at the sunset on Saturday, their practice did not part company with their principlesit was sundown at sundown, not somewhere between that time and the next morning. Thus, being despatched, when a lad, one Saturday afternoon in the winter, to bring home a few bushels of apples engaged of a farmer a mile distant, I remember how the careful, exact man looked first at the clock, then out the window at the sun, and turning to me said, I cannot measure out the apples in time for you to get home before sundown; you must come again Monday; then how I went home, venting my boyish impatience in words not exactly respectful, assisted by the sunlight playing still upon the eastern hills, and got for my comfort a very unaccountably small amount of specially silent sympathy.
I have never yet ascertained whether that refusal was exactly justified by the patriarchal authorities appealed to or not. Be that as it may, have what opinion of it you will, I confess to you, for one, that I recall the honest, faithful days of homespun represented in it, days when mens lives went by their consciences, as their clocks did by the sun, with a feeling of profoundest reverence. It is more than respectableit is sublime. If we find a more liberal way, and think we are safe in it, or if we are actually so, we can never yet break loose from a willing respect to this inflexible, majestic paternity of truth and godliness.