Summary: Let us learn from the example of Horace Bushnell. Let us find the courage in Christ, to go against the grain.
Against The Grain, Acts 23:11
When I was a teenager I spent a couple of years living with my Dad and Grandpa in Butte, Montana. It was a true bachelor lifestyle with three generations of Surber men living under one roof. The only place we shopped was as the local butcher shop which was called the Meat Block.
I used to work in our family business, The Furniture Clinic, a furniture refinishing and antique restoration business. I have helped to restore antique chairs, wicker benches, 2 hundred year old grandfather clocks, and all sorts of antiques.
Working with antiques was a beautiful experience for me. I always enjoyed hearing the stories that went along with a piece of furniture from the past.
I remember when I first started working in the Furniture Clinic, my grandfather taught me about wood. He taught me how important it is in woodworking to be aware of the grain of the wood.
He showed me how if you go against the grain you can scar the wood and upset the natural appearance of the wood. When you use a sanding block or an electric sander, you want to make smooth passes in the direction of the grain of the wood.
In woodworking it is important to go with the grain. And in our lives there are times when going with the grain is important.
But there are also times in our lives when going against the grain is the right thing for us to do. And occasionally a person comes along who, for the sake of Christ, goes against the grain and leaves an example for us to follow.
Horace Bushnell was an American Congregational clergyman and theologian. Bushnell was a Yankee born in the village of Bantam, township of Litchfield, Connecticut.
He graduated at Yale in 1827 and was literary editor of the New York Journal of Commerce. In May, 1833 Bushnell was ordained pastor of the North Congregational church in Hartford, Connecticut, where he remained until 1859, it was his only pastorate.
Thereafter he held no appointed office, but, until his death at Hartford, Connecticut in 1876, he was a prolific author and occasionally preached.
In an age of great thinkers and writers, Horace Bushnell produced some of the most profound writing and articulated some of the most insightful thought.
Perhaps his most lasting gift to us, though is his example of a man who followed after his conscience and Christ, even when to do so went against the grain conventional thought.
In his recent work entitled, “Of Single Genius, of Single Grace,” a biography on the life of Horace Bushnell, Robert Edwards writes, “Time and again Bushnell knowingly challenged establishment thinking.
Evangelical teaching held that Christ came expressly to die on the Cross and thus to square accounts with Divine justice. Bushnell thought the reverse, following his interpretation of Anselm: Christ did not come to die. He died because he came, and he remained obedient to the law of right and love despite all a hostile world could throw at him.
Dominant thought looked primarily at God’s exacting justice when it considered Calvary. Bushnell set forth a God not only just, but merciful. The Deity is not obliged to be “a precisionist,” he protested.
The God of Jesus Christ has a “justice above justice,” shaped by the higher law of righteousness and love. Thus what we see on Golgotha is not a frowning Providence, watching from a distance to see stern justice done. We are witnessing an intertwining of God’s everlasting justice and God’s everlasting mercy, “pearls that are alike on the same string," neither outshining the other.”
In a church climate which largely saw God as a harsh taskmaster who demanded righteousness and only sent His son into the world to satisfy His desire for Justice, Bushnell said that the beauty of the Cross of Jesus Christ was as much about mercy as Justice and that God is as loving as He is holy.
Many church historians regard Bushnell as the single most influential Pastor-Theologian of the 19th century. For the sake of Christ he went against the grain of his day.
As Congregationalists we are indebted to him for his contributions to our knowledge of the God and of the Scriptures. As followers of Jesus Christ, there is much we can learn from his courageous example.
He was a man who was faithful to the Scriptures, faithful to his conscience, and a man who went against the grain.
Acts 23:11 “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” (ESV)
In Matthew 10:32-38 Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”