SERMONS OF THE PESTILENCE
A Sermon Delivered in the
Court St. Baptist Church, Portsmouth, VA.,
on Sabbath Morning, Dec. 30, 1855,
Commemorative of Twenty-eight Members of
Old Dominion Lodge, No. V,
Who Died During the Late Epidemic
Isaac W. K. Handy,
Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church,
and Member of the Order.
Published by Request of the Lodge
Portsmouth: Printed at the Daily Transcript Office.
This information has been made available by local Portsmouth historian
Margaret Windley who xeroxed this from an original at
Historical Society in Richmond, VA.
Text.—Come and see the works of God:—He is terrible
in His doing toward the children of men.—Psalm LXVI.5
There is something, even in the most familiar title of the Deity, calculated to inspire every human intelligence with awe. He is God—the God of Heaven and of Earth,—the infinite, eternal, incomprehensible God—God, the creator—God, the upholder—God, ''in whose hand, is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind." If men are not sensibly, and deeply impressed, even at the very mention of this the most common—the "every day" appellative of Jehovah, it is because they are inconsiderate, and have no apprehension of that august Being, who "slumbereth not, nor sleepeth," and whose all-pervading eye is ever upon them, as well in the darkness, as in the light. There are those, however, who can never make mention of His name, without the deepest emotions of awe. Thus it was with that eminent scholar and philosopher, Sir Robert Boyle. It is said of that truly great man:—"He entertained so profound a veneration for the Deity, that the very name of God, was never mentioned by him, without a pause, and a visible stop, in his discourse."—In this he was so exact, that an intimate acquaintance who had known him for forty years, could not remember, that he had failed in it, in a single instance.
God is the same, yesterday, to-day, and forever. Yet, immutable as He is, and ever presenting the same glorious array of perfections, which it is the bounden duty of all intelligencies to study, and as far as possible to know—nevertheless, the depths of His infinite mind have never yet been fathomed; and no being, on earth or in Heaven, has ever been able wholly, to comprehend Him. Such knowledge is too wonderful, even for the most exalted ones:—"Canst thou by searching, find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty, to perfection? It is as high as Heaven; what canst thou do?—deeper than Hell; what canst thou know?—The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.''
Such then, is Jehovah, He is a God of mystery! "Clouds and darkness are round about him"—He does not choose to be known. Just and righteous as He is, in all His ways, He nevertheless prefers to hide Himself from the scrutiny of men;—" Verily, thou art a God that hideth thyself."
His very existence is a mystery. He is uncreated and eternal. This great truth is admitted; but who can understand it? Not one!
So too, the designs of God are involved in mystery. We know, indeed, that, "for His own glory, all things are, and were created;" but who can understand the minute and intricate workings of His great plan? Occasionally, we may catch a glimpse of some separate movement of His hand, and by a careful and suitable watching of His peculiar providences, we may understand the bearings of individual events; but for the most part, we must confess our ignorance of what God intends. Clear enough, indeed, become the operations of His powerful hand, when any subordinate design has been matured; but who, I repeat it, can predict with accuracy, the connections and result; of the world's progress, as they bear each day, even upon the revelations of inspired and unerring prophecy?—"For who hath known the mind of the Lord; or who hath been his counselor?"
God is not less mysterious in His works, than He is as to His existence and designs. He "doeth great things and unsearchable; marvelous things without number." This testimony of Job is equally declarative of the strangeness, as of the magnitude of His works. His hand is a mighty hand, weighing the very mountains as in a balance; but even at this, we are not so much amazed, as we often are at those doings of His sovereignty, which so palpably contradict our finite notions of His justice and honor. How often are individuals startled, at results which can only be traced to the Divine interposition; and yet, which in their short-sightedness, would blot, the fair escutcheon of Jehovah's purity! How often, indeed, are whole communities aroused, in terror, to realize some devastating woe, sent by His terrible Majesty, to overwhelm and destroy them! Are these the tender mercies of that benevolent God, to whom we sing:—"O give to every human heart,
To taste and feel, how good thou art;
With grateful love, and holy fear
To know how blest thy children are?"'—
It is even so!—"He is a mighty God, and terrible;"—"for the Lord Most High is terrible; He is a great king over all the earth." It is to this strange feature of the Divine character, that your attention is calledthis day; and in order that the subject may be fairly before us, I would say to this congregation, in the language of the Psalmist, and of the text:—"Come and see the works of God: He is terrible in His doing towards the children of men."
The DOCTRINE presented for your consideration, is this:—The dispensations of God towards the children of men, sometimes of the most awful and terrific character.
It is not always so. Ordinarily, the dealings of God with the race of man are exceedingly bland, and benignant. He is a bountiful benefactor, supplying all their wants. "He maketh His sun to shine, on the just, and on the unjust. He causeth grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.'' Amid the calamities of life, he is a true and constant friend, offering comfort to the distressed, and binding up the broken heart. He stands by the couch of the fevered sufferer; relieves his pain; strengthens his wasting frame; and redeems his life from destruction. Or, if, in the allotment of His watchful and unerring providence, an earthly career is about to terminate, He deserts not His faithful servant, in this the last trying hour; but encouraging him with that precious promise—"When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee,"—the dying saint is enabled, confidently, to recline upon the arm of his God, and without a regret or a tear, he calmly, but triumphantly exclaims: "O, death! where is thy sting? O, grave! where is thy victory?"
But the great Jehovah chooses sometimes to deviate from this His course of smiles and of love. Anon, He rouses Himself in his anger, and in the infinitude of His might, presents Himself before the astonished gaze of the world, as a God "fearful in praises doing wonders."
In illustrating this doctrine, it is important to notice—
I. THE FACT. We should contemplate things as they are.—However interesting it may be, to dwell upon those attributes and works of the Deity, which so evidently present Him before an admiring world, as a God of consummate love; it will not do to shut our eyes to that other aspect of his character, which is calculated to inspire us, with emotions of awe, and by which we are brought, to realize our own insignificance, and to regard this earth itself, ''as the small dust of the balance."
It is not my purpose, at present, to refer to those varied calamities, occurring in every ago of the world; under any circumstances of life; and signalizing individuals of the race. The ten thousand ills, to which flesh is heir, are all, doubtless, under the control of Providence; and the permission, or designation of these, may afford a suitable theme for meditation and enquiry; but such we pass. The text invites us, to contemplate those strange exhibitions of His tremendous power, by which, not simply isolated individuals, but whole families, communities, and nations are involved in desolation; or swept away, as by the besom of ruin.
1. Look, for example, at the destructive inundation!—Thriving, and industrious neighborhoods are pursuing the arts of life. A thousand beautiful farms open along the fertile shores of some gay stream of the West. A genial sun, and growing showers, bring joy and gladness to the heart of the husbandman. The bluff, and luxuriant crops, wave gracefully, before the passing breeze. The prospect speaks of abundance and comfort. But, what a change may come over this scene, in a few short hours! Suddenly, that rippling stream begins to rise—inch by inch, it moves upward, and along the crumbling banks. The swollen and turbid waters dash furiously onward. The work of destruction has commenced. Every sluice experiences the effect of the tide. The back-water has gone, far up the ravines. The moving surges sweep the drift wood from the bottoms. The axe-man rushes, to the scene of his toil—he would save his carefully piled cords; but already they have tumbled; and away they glide, into the rolling deep.— And now, those inexorable waters strike the fond hopes of the husbandman. His enclosures are tottering—thousands of logs float, irrecoverably, amid the drift, and lost fuel. The waving corn is seen no more; for the flood sweeps far above its highest tops. But, will this scene of destruction continue? Alas! it is but the beginning of sorrows. All is dismay. The very animals of the field, and of the stall, are alarmed; and rushing wildly, to the neighboring summits, bleat forth their cries of distress. The swelling tide, now, rolls into every crevice of the settler's cabin. Peradventure, he may yet escape, with his wife and babes. But it may be, that the fearful "rise" has occurred in the night; and then, how terrible the ruin!—The very cabin is lifted from its foundations. Perchance, it may float buoyantly along, until it reaches some place of safe deposit. But, not infrequently, timbers have been separated; females have been borne upon their beds, on the bosom of the waters; infants have been carried away in their cradles; parents and children have been have been sundered, in the general wreck; many valuable lives have been lost; and long after the devastating flood has ceased its wasting plunder, thousands have been left to .suffer, and to starve.
Such is but a faint picture, of what has often occurred, in the valley of the Mississippi. There have been frequent inundations of that great river, and its tributaries; resulting, at times, in the destruction of millions of property, and of numerous lives.
In other parts of the world, there have been floods occurring, at distant intervals, of the most appalling and terrific character.
In April, 1446, the sea rolled back upon the land, at Dort, in consequence of a rupture of the dykes; and formed, what is now known, as the Zuyder sea. By this calamity, ten thousand persons in the territory of Dordretch, were overwhelmed, and perished; and the same direful results befell more than one hundred thousand persons about Dullart, in Friesland, and in Zealand. In the last two provinces, more than three hundred villages were submerged; and for centuries afterwards, the tops of towers, and steeples could be seen rising out of the water.
On the 26th and 27th November, 1703, a storm raged in Great Britain, which alarmed the entire kingdom. The stately buildings of the great city of London were shaken; and many of them tumbled to the ground. The water rose to a great height in Westminister Hall; and London bridge was choked up with wrecks. Fourteen ships of war were lost; and fifteen hundred Seamen perished. The damage done to the city was estimated at one million of pounds sterling.
In February, 1880, the dwellings of fifty thousand inhabitants of Vienna, were laid under water.
In consequence of long continued rains, an inundation was occasioned at Canton, in China, which deluged and ruined ten thousand houses;— and ten thousand persons were drowned, or otherwise perished. In the same month, and year, October, 1833, equal or greater calamity, was produced by the same cause in other parts of China.
In May, 1849, the citizens of New Orleans, and its vicinity, were filled with consternation, in consequence of the sudden influx of the waters of the Mississippi, occasioned by a crevasse in the levee above the city. The scene is represented as being truly awful. One hundred and forty feet of the bank, had in one place been washed away; and the heavy, rapid river, rolled irresistibly through the opening, though a thousand active hands were endeavoring to stop its ingress; and the roar of the dabbing waters could be heard for miles. Many hundred acres were completely submerged—numerous houses stood deep in the flood—many of the people fled, willingly leaving their property to its fate, whilst others remained in the upper stories of their dwellings, sick and in horror. The condition of the poor was deplorable in the extreme.
2. Another of those ways in which the Great Jehovah speaks terribly to the children of men, is, by cutting off the accustomed supply of food. No calamity can possibly equal this. To be without food is to die—slowly, and in agony to die, "He who dies of hunger wrestles alone, day after day, with his grim and unrelenting enemy. The blood recedes; the flesh deserts; the muscles relax, and the sinews grow powerless. At last, the mind, which, at first, had bravely nerved itself for the contest, gives way, under the mysterious influences, which govern its union with the body. Then he begins to doubt the existence of an overruling Providence; he hates his fellow men, and glares upon them with the longing of a cannibal; and, it may be, he dies blaspheming!" (S. S. Prentice)—Let the raging surges dash upon my dwelling—let my frightened soul quiver in expectation of a watery grave—let me go down into the vastly deep, smothered, drowned; but let me not die of famine!
It is remarkable, with what regularity and abundance, God usually supplies the millions of earth. Ordinarily, man, in his rudest state, has enough and to spare; but especially, is it true, in the history of those countries, where even the simplest rules of agriculture are observed, and habits of industry prevail; that the blessing of God is realized, and his benevolent promise, ''he that tilleth his land, shall have plenty of bread," —I was about to say—unfailingly verified. Nevertheless, there are times, when men have no bread; when from the failure of crops, or other providential causes, whole communities and countries, are brought to the direst extremity; and their very extermination is threatened. What scenes of woe have been witnessed! Hunger, rapacious hunger, is preying upon the vitals. The most loathsome, revolting substances are eagerly sought for food. The objects that once interested the soul, are now of little worth, Gay equipage—elegant attire—magnificent halls—luxury—titles—thrones—all, all are valueless—insignificant. Those kind emotions that usually bind man to his fellow; those tender sympathies that spring up in the breast of friends; those natural ties that cement the hearts of parents and children; of husbands and wives; these are all broken—forgotten; and poor, wretched humanity is a spectacle to the Universe, of selfishness and disgust.
The sacred Scriptures record several instances of direful famine.The most remarkable one was the seven years famine in Egypt, whilst Joseph was the president of the country. It was distinguished for continuance, extent, and severity; and it is the more remarkable as having occurred in a country distinguished for fertility, and the abundance of its natural productions.
In the year 262, there was a famine in England, of so grievous a character, that the people were obliged to feed upon the bark of trees.
Another occurred A. D. 810, in the same country, when forty thousand human beings starved to death.
In the year 450 a famine prevailed in Italy, when parents murdered and fed upon their own children.
A dreadful famine occurred in England, A. D. 1815, occasioned by perpetual rains, and cold weather, which entirely cut off the harvest and destroyed thousands of cattle. The extremity became so great, that the people eagerly devoured the flesh of horses, dogs, cats and vermin.
During the siege of Londonderry, in Ireland, a famine resulted of the most distressing character. This famine is not referred to, however, so much to illustrate the peculiar doctrine of the text, as to exhibit the great extremity to which men are sometimes subjected when deprived of their usual supplies. It is stated in Walker's diary, that on the 27th July, 1689—"Horse flesh sold for one shilling and eight pence per pound; a quarter of a dog, four shillings and six pence; a dog's head two shillings and sixpence; a cat four shillings and sixpence; a rat one shilling; a mouse sixpence; a pound of tallow four shillings; a pound of salted hides one shilling; a quart of horse blood one shilling; a horse pudding sixpence; a quart of meal, when found, one shilling; a small fluke, a little fish taken in the river, could not be purchased for money, and could only be got in exchange for meal."
Few countries have suffered more from famine than Ireland. Even within our own times; and as late as 1845 and 1846, the accounts which came to us, from that devoted island, were distressing beyond measure. Said the eloquent Prentice, when pleading in behalf of this wretched people—"Within Erin's borders is an enemy more cruel than the Turk, more tyrannical than the Russian. Bread is the only weapon that can conquer him. Let us, than, load ships with this glorious munition, and, in the name of our common humanity, wage war against this despot Famine."
3. And now, what shall I say of the devouring pestilence. This is another of those agents, commissioned by the Almighty, to execute His sovereign will amongst the children of men. Many of the diseases, to which the race is liable, are evidently the results of negligence, imprudence, or presumption, on the part of those who are the subjects of them; and it is not to be wondered, that they who are indifferent to natural laws, should suffer the recompense due to their folly. But there are maladies incident to the human race—resulting, it is true, like all other diseases, from natural causes—and yet, the afflicted subjects of these complaints, have had no agency whatever, in their superinduction; and they can only be accounted for in the sovereignty of Jehovah. I must not, however, in this remark, be understood to intimate, that man is an innocent sufferer. Of this, I shall speak presently. I wish now, simply to suggest, that those stupendous calamities, which sometimes befall mankind are to be regarded, as what indeed they are, visitations; permitted, overruled, or imposed, by God Himself, and without any direct agency on the part of those who suffer.
Epidemics not infrequently occur in country places; but they have usually infested the larger towns and cities. Here among congregated thousands, their ravages are appalling; and scenes of human wretchedness are brought out, in their most woeful relations. It is at such times that God proves himself a terrible God. The stoutest hearts quail before Him. The brave mariner, who has tossed upon the mountain wave, and who, without a shudder, has encountered the perils of rude and fearful storms—the veteran soldier, who has faced the cannon's mouth; and whose very soul has been gladdened amid the din, and clash, and smoke of ten thousand arms—the calm philosopher, whose sober reason has consoled him amid the strangest ills—the morose and rigid stoic, who submits to whatever is, because Fate has so decreed, and who is reconciled to his own approaching dissolution as a debt due to Nature— all these forget their accustomed assurances, and beholding the steady tread of the Destroyer, as he moves, inexorably through the lanes and alleys, bringing death and ruin into every house; and watching, still, his onward progress as now he stalks boldly up the stately avenue, knocking with iron hand at every door, and chilling the life-blood of the easy, and the great—these, all—the mariner, the soldier, the philosopher, the stoic—are stricken with horror, even as others, and with countenances full of nervous fright they meditate plans of escape; and by the first train, that, leaves the doomed city, they speed themselves, with the rushing multitude, far from the scenes of woe.
There are brief notices extant, of plagues that have wasted the earth at almost every period of its history. One of the earliest which has come to our knowledge, is that mentioned by Baronius; and which raged at Carthage, some five hundred years before the Christian era. So terrible was it, that the people sacrificed their children, hoping thus to appease the Gods. But the first great plague, of which we have any special account, is that so particularly described by Thucidides; and which visited the city of Athens, A. D. 430. The physicians are said to have been entirely ignorant of the disease; and all human art appeared to be utterly unavailing. So general was the slaughter, that the dead were frequently found lying together in heaps. They tumbled over one another in the public streets; and many expired at the fountain, whither they had crept to quench their immoderate thirst. The mortality attending this visitation, has been so largely computed, as to be scarcely credible. This plague was succeeded at various intervals by others, which cut off millions of the human family.
Pliny mentions a pestilence which raged B. C. 188, in the Greek islands, Egypt and Syria, and which hurried ten thousand persons into eternity every day.
We have an account of a most awful pestilence, which visited the city of Rome, A. D. 78, when the number of deaths actually reached ten thousand a day.
According to the historian, Gibbon, a plague devastated the Roman empire for fifty-two years; commencing in the reign of Jostinian. A. D. 527; and the entire mortality, during this period, he supposes to have been not less than two millions.
In 1517, the sweating sickness, a disease that produced death in three hours, raged in England. Half of the people in most of the capital towns are said to have died; and the city of Oxford was depopulated.
A general mortality prevailed in France, A. D. 1632. and sixty thousand persons perished, in the city of Lyons, alone.
The plague brought from Sardinia to Naples, raged with such violence A. D. 1656, as to carry off four hundred thousand of the inhabitants in six months.
Defoe has given us a vivid description of the terrible plague which raged in the city of London in 1664 and 1665. This awful pestilence has usually been styled "The Great Plague," perhaps from a prevailing opinion that no other pestilence has exceeded it, either in virulence or destructiveness. This is an error; but those years must ever be memorable as years of woe. The population of the city is estimated by Macauley to have been, at that time, about half a million; but before the middle of summer '65, at least two hundred thousand persons had hurried to places of safety. According to the official accounts, notwithstanding this great reduction of the population, there had died in twelve months, counting from Dec. 20th, to Dec. 19th following, 68,596; but according to Defoe, not less than 100,000. The mortality reached its height in the month of September. During the third week of that month, there were 7165 deaths. About this time, "the citizens were in a frenzy; they thought that God had determined to make an end of the city. Whole families, and indeed, whole streets of families were swept away together; insomuch, that it was frequent for neighbors to call for the bellman, to go to such and such houses, and carry out the people, for that they were all dead!"
The most fearful plagues, which of late years have scourged the world, are Cholera and Yellow Fever. The first of these, in the very onset of its progress, made great ravages in the north, east, and south of Europe, and in the countries of Asia, where, alone, it carried off 900,000, within two years. In our own country, both of these alarming diseases have been epidemic, in most of the larger cities. They have laid waste the fairest portions of our land; and again, and again, they have snatched from our embrace, the loved objects of our hearts.
I shall not detain you, my hearers, with any farther illustrations. A vast amount of statistics might be adduced, exhibiting the stupendous power of the Almighty. I might refer you to the storm, and to the earthquake; it might also, be illustrative of my subject, to speak of the devouring fire, and of the devastations of war, which—though man himself, may have a criminal agency in producing them—must after all be admitted, to occur, only, when God chooses to allow; and which, in all their destructiveness are overruled, and directed for his own glory. But enough has been said, to impress us with the conviction, that the God of the Bible, is a terrible God. "Come and see the works of God; He is terrible in His doing towards the children of men."
II. We shall now notice why it is, that God chooses, sometimes, to deal so terribly with the children of men.
We have already remarked, that the doings of God, are often deeply mysterious. It is certain, however, that God does not act from whim, or without a motive. He is a God of wisdom; and for all He does, He has a reason. Our finite minds may not be able to comprehend the fullness of His designs; but in so far as we are capable of knowledge, it isour duty to be informed. One of those things which we shall never in this world, be able fully to comprehend, is the fact, that a Being, of mercy and of love, can willingly afflict His intelligent creatures; sending into their midst the messenger of ruin, and consigning them in multitudes to untimely graves. And the difficulty is greatly increased, when we find Him, addressing Himself alike to the indifferent and the useful, the scoffer and the believer, the disobedient and the truly pious—and all of them, without apparent discrimination or distinction, being swept away by the impartial scourge. It is wise, however, at once, and under all circumstances, to admit the excellence and infallibility of our great Creator; and if our minds are darkened, in relation to these awful doings of His hand, it becomes us, rather, to attribute this darkness, to our own finite intelligence; and not to any imperfection, on the part of that infinite mind, that seeth the end from the beginning, and whose throne is justice and mercy, though clouds and darkness are round about Him.————"Mysterious these,
Not that Jehovah to conceal them wished;
Mysterious these—because, too large for eye
Of man—too long, for human arm to mete."
It contemplating a subject, so much involved in difficulty, it becomes us to beware lest we impute to our Maker, a spirit of malevolence. The very thought is abhorrent. God cannot rejoice in evil. He is happy himself; and it is His benevolent will, that his creatures should be happy also. He made them, indeed, as well to this end, as for His own glory."Heaven is all love; all joy in giving joy;
It never had created, but to bless."
It is characteristic only, of corrupt, and fallen ones, to exult in the sufferings of others. God is incapable of such low, and fiendish delight. Besides,—to conceive of such feelings, on the part of a sovereign and independent God, involves an absurdity. What has He to fear, from the most powerful beings, whom His own hand has formed? Who can oppose Him with success?—An Angel?—Where now is proud Lucifer?—"Fall, how profound! ————
* * * * * *
From where proud hope, built her pavilion high,
The Gods among; hurled, headlong hurled, at once
But He does not rejoice, even, in the fall of his own wicked enemies.—No;—Justice may require their distraction—the well-being of the Universe, may be involved in their very torments; but He can never inflict a pang even, upon the vilest, simply to gratify a revengeful malignant spite. To do this, would imply weakness. To all this may be added, that, in the exercise of such feelings, He must cease to be a God of infinite purity; and would at once be chargeable with all the frailty and passions of imperfect humanity. He is a God of vengeance, I admit; but vengeance implies justice. Ho is the author of His own laws; and He has a right, as an uncreated and absolute sovereign, to require obedience of whom He will, and of all—emanating as do those laws, from His own infinite and holy mind. To punish is His right; and not only His right; but it is suitable, and to be expected, that the immaculate Jehovah would execute His just wrath—but not His vindictiveness— against every daring; and impious offender.
Ignorant as we may be, in the main, of the reasons, which influence the Divine mind, in those extraordinary calamities, which sometimes befall the family of man; we may, nevertheless, obtain some idea of what God intends. What then, we may now enquire, does God mean, by those wholesale destructions of the children of men; and by all that terror, and desolation with which He visits the devoted and dreaming masses?—With all the darkness, that surrounds the subject, there are a few thoughts so important, that as an expounder of truth, we should greatly err in not enforcing them.
1. That a suitable impression may be preserved, among the inhabitants of earth, of His continued existence, and sovereignty. This, of itself, is an important and sufficient reason; for it is a singular fact that men do not remember God. Occupied as they are, with business and pleasure, they find little time to think of the invisible Supreme. Other objects are at hand—tangible and available. These so strongly appeal to the senses, and afford so much present and material comfort; that any good, out of sight—though that good be God, Himself—is either wholly forgotten, or confusedly contemplated, as among the questionable things of a misty and uncertain future. "The fool, (the unregenerate man) has said in in his heart, there is no God." He has not, perhaps, admitted it with his lips; but he has lived and acted, as though there were no God; and it may be that in the secrecy of his heart, he doubts the immortality of the soul; and renouncing thus his accountability, he has really disclaimed the sovereign Judge of all the earth. Thus it has always been with the children of men, that, when "they have eaten, and are full, and have built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when their herds and their flocks have multiplied, and their silver and their gold have multiplied, and all that they have has multiplied, their hearts have been lifted up, and they have forgotten the Lord their God."
But God must not bo forgotten. He will not sufferer himself to be lost in nothingness amid the numerous and wonderful objects of his own creation. He must be known and recognized. A sensible impression of His existence and majesty should be constantly felt. Without this, there can be no suitable adoration; no devout and zealous obedience.— But the world is too hasty to turn aside to Him. The thousands of earth pass gaily on, filled with vain imaginations, and devising foolish inventions. This current must be turned. Jehovah must be regarded—accountability acknowledged—His holy laws respected; and the great end of life appreciated. How are these important results to be accomplished? Ah! if God cannot be heard in His still, small voice—if the gentle persuasions of His spirit continue to be disregarded; He has yet, another voice; and there are other means at His disposal, by which He can, and will break their infatuation, and bring them to the acknowledgment of His infinite might—though on account of their long and obstinate persistence in evil, He may afterwards leave them to impenitence and hardness of heart. He can send a "terror by night," or a "destruction that shall waste at noon day;" and as the Angel of Death spreads his dark wing, over the devoted city, the business hum shall cease; the gay and the thoughtless shall no more be seen, upon her once thronged and bustling pavements; a gloomy silence shall pervade her thorough-fares; a general appalement shall prevail: and the voice of God—that other voice shall be heard. Yes: He shall send His swift arrow into a thousand hearts; and as dear ones drop, one after another, into their solitary graves, the infidel himself, shall be astonished; and with blanched and trembling lip, he shall say—it it God!
2. It is doubtless, the design of the Almighty, in all His extraordinary visitations, to impress both those who experience, find those who witness His judgments, with a just and peculiar sense of dependence upon Him. Such, should be the influence of all afflictions, however common; but the sufferings of an individual can have little effect, in arousing a community; although, that individual be a person of eminence, and even, one in whom extensive circles may be deeply interested. To move the mass, it is necessary that they should be addressed, in some manner affecting them as a mass; and yet the appeal must also have an individual and personal bearing on God, is every day speaking to whole communities, and nations, in the wonderful, and beautiful objects of His creation, as they abundantly appear in the natural world; and His voice is echoing forth its thunder tones, in the many revolutions and convulsions occurring among states and empires. Interesting, however, as are these aspects; and as deeply involved as is the world in all these events, very few are aroused to their proper consideration; and the providence of God, so minutely concerned in them all, remains wholly unnoticed, by the great body of mankind. Thus unobservant, of that watchful care, which God exercises over all His creatures, they become vain of themselves; and move on as if wholly independent of their Maker. Often "becoming rich, and increased with goods, they imagine themselves to have need of nothing; and know not, that they are wretched, and poor, and blind, and naked." Hence, it becomes necessary for God to make some personal appeal—an appeal, which while it addresses itself to individuals, shall be of so general a character, as to arouse the entire masses to reflection.
There is no way, perhaps, in which this can be, so readily accomplished, as by those fearful instrumentalities, which threaten entire communities with destruction. However careless, the people may heretofore have been; now it is impossible, but, that they should feel. Finding themselves, utterly unable to accomplish any thing for their own relief—turning in vain to the most constant friends for assistance—with the impotence of the most powerful human agencies apparent—now in their extremity they no longer exclaim: "Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him; and what profit should we have, if we pray into Him?"—but in apprehension of sudden dissolution; and with "a certain fearful looking for of Judgment," they lift their glaring eyes to Heaven; and with that poor cowardly infidel, Paine,—when in danger of being lost at sea—they cry, "Lord have mercy on us!"
Such were the very words, inscribed, upon the doors of infected, houses, during the "Great Plague" in London.—What must have been the feelings, of the solitary passenger, as he pushed hastily on, midway the deserted street; noticing upon either side of him, and emblazoned, upon almost every door, the huge red cross; and written close beneath by the finger of the magistrate, those fearful words, "Lord have mercy on us!" But those very words were the evidence of that wisdom, which could only be learned by the terrible lesson of the plague—they were the extorted acknowledgement of human dependence; and their history, as studied by us, this day, teach us that. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity."
"Kings are not rescued, by the forces
Of armies from the grave;
Nor speed, nor courage of a horse,
Can the bold rider save
Vain is the strength, of beast or men,
To hope for safety thence;
But holy souls, from God obtain
A strong, a sure defense,
God is their fear and God their trust,
When plagues, or famine spread;
His watchful eye secures the just,
Among ten thousand dead."
3. Another important result, accruing, in a very special manner, from the terrible dispensations of God, is the development of human character. It is difficult to know what man is. We have very little knowledge of our neighbor; and—I was about to say—quite as little concerning ourselves; and when all is smooth and pleasant—when there are no difficulties to be encountered; no sufferings to be endured; it is comparatively easy to present a passable exterior; but, as fire tries the gold, and proves what it is—so afflictions test the character of men, and prove, as in a furnace, all that is acceptable to God; and not only so—when the day of trial comes, the principles of the ungodly, too, are found to be worthless dross; fit only, like it, to be thrown away, and trampled under foot. Such is the effect of trials in all cases; but the difficulties of individuals, can affect, only, individuals; or must be confined in their influence to very limited circles. It is necessary, that communities should be tried; for the very reason, that by a more extended test, of human character, the world may receive a vivid impression, of what is virtuous, as well as what is vile, in man. Any wide spread desolation is calculated to afford such a test. Fever, or famine, or flood—any or, all of these will tell us more in a single day, than can be learned by an intimacy of years.
If the predominant characteristic is selfishness; that feature will develop itself in its meanest forms. Such a man will desert the wife of his bosom; leaving her friendless and alone amid scenes of horror. To secure his base retreat, he would rob her of the last farthing, that might bring a comfort in the dying hour; and if he imagines, that by a speedy fight, he can save his own worthless life; he will leave her to die in hireling hands; and with breath but just extinct, to be hurried unattended, to her half-dug, and careless grave.
Among other sordid emotions, which so abundantly developed themselves, during seasons of extensive suffering, is the principle of avarice. Men will do anything for money. They will not only manifest a conduct, which shall clearly indicate, what are their hopes, and expectations from the general distress; but they will their plans, and throw themselves in the way of some probable result, that may increase their fortunes. Some men have permitted themselves, to be so carried away, with the lust of gain, as to risk life, when there was evidently no call of duty; and loosing sight of every other consideration, they have devoted themselves, to the single object of accumulation, taking advantage whenever they could, of the sufferings of others; and by a course of exaction, and over-reaching, they have cruelly enhanced the ills of many whose only hope, was in their sense of justice, and love of mercy.
It would extend this discourse, beyond all proper limits, to speak particularly of the different shades of character, likely to be brought out under the circumstances to which we now allude. It will be sufficient for the farther illustration of this point, to say, that they are not only the darker features of humanity, which are so conspicuously developed at such times. Depraved, and wicked, as is the natural complexion of the human heart, it is nevertheless true, that God has endowed the race, with many amicable and lovely instincts; and at no time, do these show themselves, with more striking beauty, than in the hour of danger, and of sorrow. The affection of the doting wife, now proves itself, in all its purity, and strength. Duty binds her fond husband to the scene of suffering. She will not interpose between him and his conscience. But that noble woman need not tarry in the city of the dead. Gathering her babes about her, she may hurry away and be safe. No;—her heart is "too big," for that. Fondly, embracing the dear partner of her life; with the lovely Jewess of old, she says: " Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me."
But every lovely characteristic of the natural heart, however beautifully displayed, during these moments of trial, is thrown far in the shade, by the noble heroism of the disciple of Jesus. He is not influenced, solely, by natural impulse. His every movement is based on principle. He has a work to perform; and he piously asks: "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?"—Censured he may be, by those who have not learned, in the school of Christ; and his steady unshrinking intercourse with the distressed, and the dying may be deemed inconsiderate. Continuing to throw himself, into the most dangerous positions, he may he scorned as a fool. But God is with him; and he is not afraid. Unlike the ambitious man, who may, also, in his blindness, be willing to expose himself to danger, for the sake of applause—this man, with probabilities against him—with scarce a hope of present safety—this man has made the Lord his refuge, and his fortress; and in Him does he trust.—The same God has given His angels charge concerning him; and he shall be "delivered, and honoured." Such christians, we have seen in this community. No sectarianism shall exclusively claim them. They are God's people; and their noble fidelity shall bring lasting renown to the church Catholic, without distinction of party or name.
Such then are the developments of character, which result from the terrible dispensations of God, towards the children of men. Under these trying and appalling circumstances, we learn more of ourselves, and of our fellow men. We find, that, after all, the scriptures have not given too dark a picture of the depraved heart—but to our joy also, it becomes apparent, that to poor, fallen man, there are yet had some noble and generous impulses; and more important than all, the delightful truth becomes clearly demonstrated, that "the Christian"—the true and faithful Christian—"is the highest style of man."
4. But, there is another aspect, in which, it becomes us to view this subject, before closing our remarks. These terrible doings of our God are, doubtless, intended to be regarded as the evidence of His displeasure at sin. He hates sin with a perfect hatred; and He has determined, that it shall ever be punished, as a vile and abominable thing. This world, it is true, cannot be regarded as the theatre, upon which He shall display Himself in the fullness of His wrath. The present is, for the most part, a season of probation. In eternity, He will make His power known. "It is appointed to man, once to die; and after that, the judgment. Nevertheless, even in this world, God often follows the sinner, with a deserved, but limited punishment. Sin, indeed, is always accompanied with a sting; and sometimes, the connection between the offense and the reward, becomes signally apparent. But, we are not, in all cases, to decide, that they are greater sinners than others, who are the subjects of special sufferings. Our Saviour has instructed us, in relation to this matter, in the allusion which He makes, to the Gallileans, whoso blood Pilate had mingled with the sacrifices, and to those upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them. He speaks plainly, upon the subject, and assures us that these persons had not been distinguished as transgressors. But, we are not to infer from these teachings of the Savior, that sin is never punished in this world. That would be entirely contrary to the teachings of His word in other places. In the old testament scriptures, we have abundant testimony to this point, and we are assured that "though hand join in hand, the sinner shall not go unpunished." God may, indeed, bear with him for a time— He may permit him to flourish as the "green bay tree;" but sooner or later, he shall have evidence, that, although ''sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily;" he has only been "filling up the measure of his iniquity,'' and that presently he " shall fall by his own wickedness." These remarks bear with the same truth, upon the history of communities, as upon that of individuals. Neighborhoods, cities, nations, all sin; and sinning in their collective capacities, they deserve punishment in the same. The histories of Babylon, and Nineveh, and Tyre, and Egypt, and even of his once favored people, the Jews, remain as evidence, of what he can do, when any people, however great, have long continued to "dwell carelessly;" and "through the pride of their countenance," choose not to "seek after" Him.
In the ninety-first Psalm, we have a special intimation, that one of the modes, in which the Almighty manifests His displeasure at sin, is by sending "the pestilence that walketh in darkness, and the destruction that wasteth at noonday." These are emphatically denominated "the reward of the wicked." We may speculate in regard to their origin; and after a full investigation of the subject, we may arrive at some sage conclusion: based, it may be, upon natural principles, or upon some adventitious combinations, which must necessarily have produced the result. We may attribute their existence, if we will, to second causes; but I tell you my friends—or rather God tells you, that they are "the reward of the wicked.'' Let us seriously ponder those awful words in the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus. "If ye will not hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; then I will walk contrary unto you, also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins." And again: "If ye will not yet for all this harken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass. And if ye walk contrary unto me—I will bring seven times more plagues upon you, according to your sins."
I shall be met here with an objection, somewhat plausible. It will be asked: Do not the righteous suffer even as do the wicked?—and we shall be pointed to the devoted servant of God—perhaps to that honored ambassador of Jesus (Rev. Vernon Eskridge, late Chaplain in the U. S. N.) —faithful and true—the friend of our order, and one of us—who fell at his post; leaving a testimony that none can dispute; and who now wears in glory the martyr's crown. Perhaps, I say, we may be pointed to such a man; and the enquiry may be sneeringly urged:—'And are these terrible dispensations the reward of the wicked?' —Sainted brother!—what is thy response?—Hear that voice from Heaven!—"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them." 'Tis even so. Yes, minister of Jesus—thy work was done!—No idler wast thou in the vineyard of thy Lord. Thou didst faithfully bear the heat and burden of the day; and now thou hast thy reward!—" Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!"
But the caviler is not satisfied with this. It is not enough, for him to be informed, that death is no calamity to the Christian. He understands not that song, which the saint so joyously sings; and which is the echo of his full and pious soul:
"Who, who would live always, away from his God;
Away from yon Heaven, that blissful abode;
Where rivers of pleasure flow o'er the bright plains,
And the noon-tide of glory eternally reigns?"
How, then, shall we meet the objection of the infidel?—I answer: The death of the Christian is not only a happy release to himself, from the cares, and sorrows of this miserable life;—it is also, a chastisement to the sinner, whom he leaves behind. The world is better that he lives. It is by his efforts, and through the influence of his holy example, that virtue is perpetuated on earth. Let the righteous be removed to their reward—let the pious be no more found amongst men; and then, what shall this world be?—Ah!—there is evil enough here now. After all the prayers, and tears, and efforts of good men, we still find it a heap of ruins—a wretched charnel house. But, if there were no virtue on earth—if there were no Christian principle, to light up those gloomy shades—then, O, then, how much more dismal, must become the abodes of men! Let it be remembered, that Christians are"the salt of the earth." It is for them, that the world is kept in being. Some such men have lately been called from this community—we feel their loss; and long shall we feel it. Citizens of Portsmouth! "Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it!"—"Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men!"
And now, my brethren, it becomes us to make a suitable application of this discussion. It has been our lot to experience the terrible judgments of the Almighty. In His inscrutable Providence, He saw fit, during the last summer, to send into our midst a pestilence so malignant and irremediable, that it must be noted, hereafter, as an era in the history of this land. It was a sorrowful day for the cities of Portsmouth and Norfolk, when the steamer "Ben Franklin," was moored to the wharf at Gosport. She came freighted with ruin!—When her hatches were removed; and she belched forth her pestiferous breath upon the filthy suburb, the whole atmosphere, in that vicinity at once became infected. The disease was not endemic. It did not originate there. At that point, it is true, its fatal progress commenced; but it was not a spontaneous ignition. The stubble was there, ready, at any moment to be consumed; but had no match been applied, the fire had not yet been seen. The opening of that hold, was the application of the spark; and though the fire burnt slowly, and secretly for a time; so combustible, were the materials upon which it played, it presently spread far and wide, with a devouring flame.
The ship arrived at Gosport, on the 19th of June; where she remained for repairs. This she would not have been allowed to do, had not her history been scrupulously concealed, and the health officer deceived. On the 30th of June, three persons were sick near Page's wharf, (The wharf at which the "Ben Franklin" was anchored.) with what some supposed to be Yellow Fever; but it was not until the 5th of July, that any case occurred to awaken public attention. On that day, a man, who had opened up the hold of the Ben Franklin, was taken sick; and in three days, he died with the black vomit. This created some alarm; and a connection being traced between the disease, and the ill-fated vessel, she was fit once, (on the 8th,) sent to Quarantine. It was hoped—and by most persons believed—that the number of cases would be few, and they confined to Gosport: many, however, were of a different opinion; and those of them, who could conveniently do so, immediately fled.
The reports from, day to day, showed a gradual increase in the number of deaths; and the disease creeping slowly, but steadily, at length reached the very heart of the city. By this time, hundreds of our citizens had sought safety in flight; and the population, continuing thus rapidly to decline, by the first week in September, there were probably not more than 3000 (Of this number, perhaps, not 200 escaped sickness.) in the place, numbering both whites and negroes. This was the week of the heaviest mortality; during which, it is supposed, that one hundred and fifty persons were swept off by the prevailing epidemic.—On the 2d day of Sept. which was the Sabbath, thirty-six persons died during the twenty-four hours ending that morning.
But, from this time, onward, the Fever seemed gradually to abate: filling every heart with hope. No one however, could feel safe, until God in His mercy, should be pleased to send another messenger, the Frost: which all believed would be more powerful than the Scourge.—The first hard frost (A slight frost occurred on the 8th October, which had a sensible influence in abating the Fever. A few new cases existed after the 26th: but they can all be traced to exposure and imprudence prior to that date.) occurred on the 26th of October; and greatly to the comfort and rejoicing of all, that first palpable frost banished the pestilence from our midst. Blessed be the Most High God who hath delivered us from the power of this dreadful enemy."
Let us sum up this work of the Almighty—this terrible work, which He hath wrought in Portsmouth!—How shall we estimate it? Come with me to yonder grave-yard,—behold it!—what a spectacle!—A few months ago, the number of burials in Portlock cemetery, had been comparatively few. It was only in a few spots, that the fresh turned earth indicated a recent interment. A large portion, of that broad enclosure, is now covered with graves. Side by side, they range in scores. The whole surface seems to have been disturbed, by some strange commotion. There it is—a marred and broken field—its history written upon its own bosom, and a tale of woe coming up from every rough, and unmarked mound !!
The number of deaths, officially reported, as occurring in the town of Portsmouth, during the prevalence of the epidemic, is one thousand and eighty. It is probable, however, that this estimate falls much below the truth; as it is generally supposed that many deaths occurred of which there was no report. It will doubtless, be safe to say, that at least TWELVE HUNDRED persons, belonging to this place, (Several died in Baltimore, Richmond, and other places.—Bob Butt, the mulatto sexton, affirms that he dug, during the Fever, with the assistance of ten hands, eleven hundred and fifty-nine graves. It is known, also, that graves were dug by others.) died of the yellow fever, during the four months of its continuance. Of this number, one hundred and twenty were heads of families; and in forty-six families, both father and mother were taken away. The number of children who have thus suddenly become orphans is not definitely known. As far as can be ascertained, it is not less than two hundred; and there is reason to believe that it may considerably exceed that number.
What scenes of distress, do these statistics present to our minds!—How many parents' breasts have been wrung with anguish! How many females have been left in widowhood, to bemoan the lost object of their affections; and it may be, to drag out a life of poverty, and neglect!—How many smiling children, have been left in orphanage: no more to experience a father's care—no more to know a mother's love!—Truly, "The blind have been brought by a way they know not; they have been led in paths, that they had not known !" But thanks be to God, He is able to "make darkness light before them, and the crooked ways straight.''
We have assembled this day, my brethren, in memory of some who belonged to our order; and to receive the lessons of wisdom, which God, in His Providence, is addressing to us, with whom they were once associated, in the bonds of Friendship, Love and Truth. Twenty-eight [27 listed here] members "of Old Dominion Lodge, No. 5," are among the victims of the Fever. They were once as active, and as buoyant as any of us. They were our friends—we knew them well; and we loved them. As citizens, they were good men and true; engaged with zeal, in the avocations of life; and endeavoring to illustrate the principles, of our noble Institution. They were useful men in the community; and their loss will long be felt in this town. But they have heard the call of the GRAND MASTER on High; and we shall see them no more on earth.—And, who are they that have left us?
Isaac Anderton, Vernon Eskridge, John T. Nash, Robert Ballentine, Harrison Ferrebee, Robert Nelums, Samuel Brewer, James H. Finch, Robert T. Scott, Wm. P. Brittingham, John W. Forrest, Wm. T. Snead, Nathaniel Brittingham, Robert. A. Graves, John W. H. Trugien, John D. Cooper, James Hanrahan, Jesse N. Veale, George Chambers, George Hope, Wilson W. Williams, Charles Cassell, William Jones, Richard Williams, D. P. Danghtrey, James Mayo, Richard C. M. Young.
What a work of destruction!—O, the terrible doings of God!!— "Who would not fear thee, O, King of Nations, for unto thee doth it appertain?"
These twenty-eight [twenty-seven] brethren, have left eighteen widows, and thirty-seven orphans, incapable of taking care of themselves. All of those widows and orphans are now, in a measure, committed to our charge. We are bound, by the principles of our Order, to look after and to care for them. It becomes us, to be true to our trust—and shall we not be? Yes, our hearts, at this moment, yearn towards them; and with the blessing of Jehovah, they shall not want.*
* Old Dominion Lodge, No. 5, has paid since the commencement of the epidemic, with the assistance of sister Lodges.
For widows' benefit - - $4,500
For Funeral benefits of brethren, - - $660
For Funeral benefits wives of brethren - - $160
For Sick, benefits - - $660
Total, - - $5,980"Our offering is a willing mind
To comfort the distressed;
In others' good, our own to find—
In others' blessings blest."And now my brethren, I have only to add—God did not send this fearful pestilence to be disregarded. In His infinite wisdom, He has scourged us—but He has designed our good:
"Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face."
Shall we not, then, be improved? I believe, that happy results have already accrued from this dire calamity. Christian hearts have been drawn closer together; and party distinctions have been forgotten—benevolent sympathies have been brought out—the energies of good men have been aroused; and methinks some thoughtless ones have been made to realize, as they never have done before, the vanity and shortness of life. But there have been other results, far less interesting. Many, it is to be feared, have become settled in their indifference; and are now more hardened in sin than before the Fever. "Because sentence against their evil works has not been executed speedily, their hearts are fully set in them to do evil." God grant, that they may, even yet, be arrested in their mad career.
Let us, who are of this noble Order, "fear God; for that is wisdom." Let us not be satisfied, with that commendable charity, which induces us this day, to care for the helpless and the destitute. "Pure religion and undefiled, before God and the Father is" not only "To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction," but also "to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.'' But who can keep himself unspotted from the world, without the fear of God before his eyes?—Our duty is first to Him who made us, and then to our fellow man.—"Jesus said unto him"—that is to the lawyer who tempting Him, asked, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?—Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
We are now, my brethren, at the close of the year—at the close of this year of chastisement and trial. Yes,______The year
Has gone, and with it, many a glorious throng
Of happy dreams. Its work—is on each brow,
Its shadow—in each heart. In its swift course,
It waved its sceptre o'er the beautiful—
And they are not. It laid its pallid hand
Upon the strong man—and the haughty form—
Is fallen, and the flashing eye—is dim.
It trod the hall of revelry, where thronged
The bright and joyous—and the tearful wail—
Of stricken ones—is heard, where erst the song,
And reckless shout—resounded.
And faded like a wreath of mist at eve;
Yet, ere it melted in the viewless air,
It heralded its millions—to their home.
Brethren—we, too, must die. "To that great event we must come at last; and we know not how soon!—The honors of the world, the applause of men, birth, wealth, fame, all end with us, in that 'narrow house.'" And that 'narrow house' shall introduce us to the Judgment. Who, of us, shall be welcomed as "good and faithful servants" into the joys and glories of Heaven?—"He that overcometh shall inherit all things."
* * * * * *
By Rev. Richard S. Storrs, Jr.
Church of the Pilgrims, Brooklyn, NY
September 30, 1855
Brooklyn, 2d Oct., 1855.
At a meeting of the Church, Sabbath evening, the undersigned were appointed a committee to request of you a copy of your morning discourse for publication; and, in acquitting ourselves of this duty, we beg leave to add, that we think the discourse adapted to do good, and hope you will consent to its publication.
Z. M. Phelps, Joshua Leavitt, Charles J. Stedman
Rev. R. S. Stoors, Jr., D. D.
* * * * * *
Brooklyn, Oct. 4th, 1855.
The Discourse which you request for publication was prepared, as you are aware, in much haste, and without the slightest reference to any use to be made of it beyond that of the pulpit, on the morning appointed for our Church-collection in behalf of the sufferers by the Pestilence at Norfolk. As you think it suited to do good if circulated more widely, through the press, and as the Church, which has the first claim on my regard, has also expressed this judgment through you, I ought not probably to oppose my own preferences to your and their wishes. I accordingly send you the discourse, to be used as you may deem best; hoping, only, that while the treatment of the theme is necessarily inadequate, the theme itself may touch some hearts with its own impression, and lead them to contemplate, with more of reverent awe, yet with more as well of Christian faith, the great and prophetic mystery of Death.
Your friend and Pastor,
R. S. Storrs, Jr.
Committee:Messrs. Z. M. Phelps, J. Leavitt, C. J. Stedman.
ECCLESIASTES 9: 12.
"For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them."
Death is an event always solemn and august. No man can clearly anticipate it for himself, no man can carefully consider it for another, without being awed by its unique and mystic grandeur. It is the point, for each of us, where eternity touches time; where the invisible and unchangeable come to instant connection with this evident and transient state of being; where our familiar experience is merged in another, untried and unterminating, and the earth is left for more remote scenes. One goes through the sharp and dark passage of death, to realms untrodden, and realities immutable. The relations of his whole existence are changed; the body and soul being parted asunder, and time, with its years, being swallowed up for him of that intense and more mighty experience, whose horologe is the soul, and its sphere infinitude.
With all the sublimity and the victory of Death, then, as the Scriptures eclaircise it to the mind of the believer, even to him it is something unspeakable. It reaches, in its effects, above the stars; and how shall he comprehend it? The present ends in it, and the Hereafter begins. It hath a greatness on it, therefore, to be measured by no arithmetic which can not encompass the whole Future in its series. The very room where it takes place gathers associations new and stupendous, from the things that there transpire. A shadow from the throne of God seems to impress and pervade it, freighting its air with supernal meanings. The Infinite, which is around us unseen evermore, presses up to that room, encloses and sublimes it; till the steps of those who walk therein almost start strange echoes, and their voices are either hushed or inspired, as of those who are moving on the verge of Eternity. It is an hour of final and immeasurable transition; where the ages of recompense meet the clays of probation; where, changed and solitary, the soul is ushered forth to the vision of God! That scene, however humble in its circumstances, though it thrills no palace, irradiates no landscape, nor startles the thought of any city, is really high as heaven itself; momentous as Judgment; significant as the soul, crowded with fates; significant, I had almost said, as the Cross itself, which hath in that room its grandest and most moving revelation on earth.
And when the wicked man dies, in the midst of his sins, and unrepentant, that event becomes dense with a palpable darkness. It has an awfulness on it, to the thoughtful observer, above that of all material convulsions. The room where it transpires stands only one step out of hell. It holds within it the commencement of a recompense which poetry can not paint, and which prophecy can but indicate. All that is fearful in the condemnation of God, all that is awful and oppressive to the thoughts in the destiny of the lost, all that is solemn and unimaginable in a future remediless and ever-unfolding—a future which Christ himself leaves dark, unstarred by promise and unspanned by hope—the very burden of judgment, the very secret of perdition, we touch them there! And there is then no other awfulness; not of night, with its most appalling storm; not of mountains, with their most gloomy forests, all voiceful of danger; not of oceans, in their supremest fury of elemental war; there is nothing around us, in natural phenomena, that can be more than a darkling symbol of that intense and tragic scene. Its dread apocalypse shows doom prefigured, and even commenced. The very memory of it sometimes haunts men afterwards, like a presence.
Such is DEATH, in itself; in its unalterable and singular sublimity; brief in experience, but immeasurable in relations; the inverted apex of the overshadowing Eternity. All men shrink from it, if not in fear of what it may lead to, yet in awe of its vast and unchangeable grandeur. Among all experiences confronted on earth, it hath preeminence. It is 'so high, that it is dreadful.'
And yet this event, so august in itself, is sometimes connected with conditions and circumstances, it is set in an environment, that make it more impressive still to our sensibilities, more appalling to the imagination. The condition of SUDDENNESS, for example, the fact that it comes in the midst of life, when it was not expected, how that enhances its startling power!
We shrink from any thing stern and strange, with the more prompt recoil, and the keener impression, when that confronts us near at hand, without forewarning. The early voyagers came suddenly upon Niagara, emerging from the woods, and beholding the cataract; and it was to them not only stupendous, as indeed it is to us, and to all beholders, but something awful, supernatural, surpassing speech and almost belief. 'From an immeasurable height,' the first narrators said, 'an ocean is poured over a precipice, into an unfathomable gulf. The roar shakes the forest for leagues around, and the fields for miles are wet with the spray.' They seem to have felt, these first spectators, that they had reached the curving rim of the earth itself; where the waters from its upper side were poured over into its bosom, to be gathered there again, and sent forth to repeat their tremendous revolutions. We know what it is, before we reach it; and are prepared to be suitably and greatly impressed by it. Perhaps the first feeling of most who now see it is one rather of disappointment, even, than of such unspeakable astonishment and awe as came upon those who met it in the forest without premonition, and saw its snow-white and thunderous columns marching steadily, without intermission or rest, and with terrible power, down the 'sides of the north.' We see in it a cataract whose throbbing tides are the pulses of an almost oceanic system, embosomed in the continent. They saw in it a transcendent and unparalleled demonstration of the immediate presence and power of the Most High; a coming together of the heavens and the earth; a present representative of the elemental chaos.—So every thing which is grand, and any way appalling, is made grander and more stern to our imagination by its sudden apparition: the whirlwind or the earthquake, lightning, a wild beast, a fire in the dwelling, a storm at sea.
And so does death gather new terrors, when fronting us with sudden summons. He who has gradually, in perfect prescience of its coming, been drawing toward it through years of decline, who has patiently awaited and thoughtfully considered it, who has made his plans for it, and arranged his affairs with reference to it—it does not strike his mind at last with that peculiar and startling power which it has for another, who never anticipated it until it met him; who felt its grasp before he had thought its coming possible. To the latter, it is not surprising alone, but amazing, bewildering; surpassing thought! It is the flashing descent of the Judge, through serene heavens, on scenes unshadowed by any portents. It bursts upon the soul as the breaking of the vials of Divine retribution. It is God's hand, outstretched with sudden and irresistible sweep, and pouring destruction on all life's plans.
So the PAINFULNESS which sometimes precedes and attends death, though inconsiderable in itself, as matched against the real grandeur of the event, may add greatly to its impressiveness, as appealing to our responsive sensibilities.
The flesh will shudder when the pincers tear. Not the muscle or the nerve only, but the sensitive soul which presides in the midst of them, shrinks instinctively from pain, and would put aside its assault. To have that soul disparted from the body, no matter how easily and calmly it is accomplished, with whatever mere pause and cessation of action, the gradual and silent severance of the two, is always, as I said, a fearful thing; fearful to contemplate, fearful to meet. To have the separation accomplished through agony, that reaches and loads with its binding burden every sensitive nerve, that cripples each muscle, and withers or inflames each palpitating member—to have death thus come on us, not as one enemy, but as a swift host of incorporeal assailants, bursting upon our mortal frame, beleaguering and shattering all defenses of the life, darkening the brow, palsying the heart, wrenching each limb with its torturing gripe, making the eye-balls start with anguish, making the flesh creep and grow tight, and then loosen again, with the insufferable pain—this is more terrible! It assails the imagination with more resistless and dominating power. For the event has then the most formidable accessories. The tragedy culminates through a succession of incidents, each one of them terrific. And the whole great fact, as thus fearfully associated and thus luridly environed, confounds almost our power of analysis. With scorching stroke, it burns itself on our memories. Or, when we view it approaching ourselves, it presses against our thoughts like a tropical whirlwind, the great cloud parted and gleaming with spikes of fire; the chariot of black vapor moving forward upon wheels that grind and wither!
And yet further is this effect increased, when REPULSIVENESS OF ASPECT is added to the suddenness and the painfulness of death.
It strikes us with deep and penetrating shock, to see the form we have loved and cherished succumbing to disease, when every line and feature of that form retains its old familiar look; when the smooth hair is parted as before, in placid waves across the brow; when the dear hand, only now fainter and paler than was its wont, clasps ours with pulses that beat as they were used, with welcoming measures; and when the hot and fevered lips preserve their outline, and press back ours with quick response. Even then, the invisible, irresistible power, which bears that fragile frame into the dust, overshadows us as a spectre, and makes our hearts stand still or tremble! But when the form is frightfully changed, in limb and lineament, beneath the crushing grasp of disease; when hands that we have clasped and pressed, in utmost tenderness of love, grow purple and repulsive; when eyes whose light has been our joy, and shot its sweet and sunny splendor over all plans have no more vision in their incrusted and blood-shot orbs; when the dear flesh that has been to us as but the fair and ivory temple of a far fairer spirit, is seamed with ridges and scarred with sores, and touched with corruption, before the coffin has closed upon it; and when the very hue of life turns to dark shadow beneath the frowning approach of death; then is that terrible, beyond all speech, beyond compare!
Affection bears up against even that change. For human love hath this true royalty, inherited from Him whose mind transcends all change, that nothing exterior can shake or stay it. But even affection feels this reverse, and can not but mourn and moan before it. In the presence of such, we own to ourselves a challenge and a shock such as no other sorrow experienced on earth, that hath not sin for its occasion, is capable of giving. In the vivid remembrance of it, recurring through years, and even tinging our dreams, we bear to the end a vast legacy of pain.—Nay, if our friends must die at all, let it be amid scenes harmonious and soothing; when morning opens the gates of day, or sunset folds as silently again its bars of sapphire, chrysolite, and pearl! Let our last look be answered by a smile! Let our last touch be laid on eyes whose lids droop softly beneath the pressure, to wait the coming and wondrous Morning! Let not the grave open amid the room where we are sitting! Let not its breath affright the sense, before the coffin has claimed its inmate! When this is so, all folding robes are thrown aside, and Death confronts us, not only with power superior to ours, but with skeleton form and grinning menace, the very awfulness of defiance!
Such is death, in any instance; the death of any person;—majestic in itself, and all the more so the more we study it, the more we measure its meaning and its relations; appalling in its circumstances, when suddenness, painfulness, and loathsomeness of aspect, conspire to attend it! You tell me of pecuniary losses and disappointments, of the pain that is brought to men by disarranged plans and baffled expectations, of that which flows from days of toil and nights of sleeplessness, or of that more subtle and penetrating suffering that sometimes steals like a blight upon the mind, without apparent occasion or motive, yet binding it like paralysis; but there is nothing in all these which approaches or prefigures, or which helps us to reckon, the solitary and incomparable dreadfulness of Death, when thus approaching and thus attended! The vastness of Eternity, the near terrors of the Grave, are both combined in that scene of his triumph! He who has stood in the midst of it once, remembers it always as fearful and overpowering. The supernatural has come near him. Abysses have opened beneath his feet. Amid the moans of that chamber of death, with startled soul and appalled sensibilities, he hath heard deep calling unto deep!
Multiply then a scene so sad, and overwhelming to the thoughts, by scores and hundred, accumulate tragedy after tragedy, of this kind, within one family, till father, mother, sister, brother, alike have met that fearful end; extend it through many families, till villages reek with the tidings of such destruction, till cities are wailing and desolate before it, till tracts of country are blasted by its march, their rivers traversed, their homesteads entered, and their forests searched; and still remember that the import and the mystery are the same in each instance of that thick record; that in each one Eternity has merged probation in itself, the body being crushed with sudden, painful, and loathsome stroke, and the soul sent forth to possess the Invisible; the curtain being lifted from Judgment and the Hereafter, and the pathos or the terribleness of final separation from the experience of earth being realized by each; remember this, contemplate each instance, and accumulate their multitudes, until your thought almost staggers beneath the recital—and it well may seem that over that strange and blighted spot the heavens themselves have rained swift doom! that the trumpets of angels have heralded its fate, and the plagues whose hiding is in God's power have been opened above it!
It is a merciful provision of our Creator, incorporated inseparably by his loving wisdom with the frame of our nature, that when we are surrounded by such fierce appeals, our over- tasked sensibilities become comparatively stupefied. The eye hardly takes in the terror; or if it does, the mind and the heart fail fully to appreciate it. But the moment we consider it intelligently, from beyond it, the long catalogue opens in perfect vividness; and the burden of that woe seems too mighty to be borne. It broke down the pride of the Egyptian's heart, flintier than the granite, more erect than the obelisk, and more broad-based than the pyramid. It made pontiff and nobles flee from Rome in sheer terror. It steeped London in anguish, clothing its very streets in sack-cloth, and turning each sound of pleasure or of traffic to a curse or a moan. Again, and again, have nations bent to the ground in dismay; again, and again, has history lifted, her wailing voice; again, and again, has the heart almost of the race itself stood still, or shaken with a convulsive tremble, before such tremendous visitations of God! The impressiveness, the awfulness of the scene have increased with each new victory of the widening pestilence. It has gathered as it extended, till nations and years were shrouded in its eclipse.
Even nature around him has seemed sometimes inarticulately but deeply to sympathize with man, in his dire extremity; the woods to put off earlier than before their leafy coronals; the seas to heave their stagnant tides, upon shores made sterile by the blight of the malaria; the atmosphere almost to forget its office, and suspend its ministry, as a medium of light and an almoner of life, to grow fetid and obscure; the brute creation to sicken or be crazed through the very vibration of man's distress. When the plague desolated Aleppo, a century ago, it was preceded by a winter so bleak and blasting that trees of the greatest age perished with the cold, and was accompanied by such a cessation or stagnation of vegetable life, that parents devoured their children for food, or drowned them to be rid of them, and husbands sold their wives for morsels of bread. The most violent alternations and vicissitudes of climate, as if the steady frame of Nature were strangely unloosed from its usual balance, and were swinging to and fro in tumultuous oscillation, are recorded by historians as attending other pestilences of which they give the narrative. A boding gloom has seemed to darken the outward aspect of lands, and the earth to palpitate and pause in her office, while nations shrank beneath the burden of such disaster.
Undoubtedly, these are in part the occasions of the events which they attend. But it seems at times, looking back to such phenomena, as if they were rather the appropriate environment which nature herself threw around such scenes, to make their background, and to set forth through, a terrible symbolism their character. Not man only has been appalled. A physical tre-  mor has shaken the solid frame of things, as the desolating process marched on over states. And the impression of awe which both have produced, has never been fitly and adequately rendered in the marble or on canvass. Even Poetry herself has found her numbers insufficient. Men could only say with the great Grecian orator, when the plague was in Athens: 'It passeth speech; and confounds thought.'
There is still one more fact, too, to be noticed in this connection, which makes such scenes more appalling to contemplate, when we view them in simply their natural relations. It is that these deaths, the death of so many in the devastations of pestilence, while occurring amid the conditions I have mentioned, of suddenness, painfulness, and repulsiveness of aspect, COME DIRECTLY FROM INVISIBLE AND IRRESISTIBLE FORCES, the forces of the elements; and so they have no ingredient in them, at least in the general, of magnanimous self-sacrifice, and sustain no great and vital relations to the historic development and culture of mankind. The physical blight is not assumed, is not endured, for a great moral end. There is nothing of that, therefore, to remove or relieve its first aspect of dreadfulness.
Herein it is, chiefly, that pestilence differs from war in its effect, and surpasses it in dreadfulness. The scene where it rages, while awful as the other in all elements of tragedy, is less honorably connected. In war, man sacrifices himself, at least. In pestilence, he is pursued, environed, overcome, by a power around him, which he can not resist, and can not escape; to which he is exposed by no voluntary choice, and from which he can not be hidden if he would. In war, men sacrifice themselves for an end. It is to turn the balance of power; or else to preserve the existing equilibrium, among nations and realms.
It is to arrest and beat back barbarism, in its meditated advance, and set forward religion and civilization; or else to defend an empire and its ideas, and give those ideas circulation and supremacy. The relations of the struggle in which these men  take part, and in which they are crushed, are therefore with the future development of the race. The blow which they strike, and in striking which they confront the enginery of loath, resounds through all the corridors of time. History records it. History feels it, throughout her frame, and will feel it forever. The masses in such a struggle act under their leaders, yet something of this may mingle even in their thoughts. The leaders, so far as they are thoughtful and principled, comprehend these relations, and act in view of them. They are consciously planted on the topmost points of present human action; and they meet the perils and terrors of the position for an end that overshadows them. The trenched, in which they thickly fall, form the channels, and turn the currents, of national destinies. The battlements which they scale, mark the boundaries of eras. The death which the challenge has a front illumined by the splendor thrown on it from coming centuries. They go to it cheerfully, because its iron hand holds garlands, and its fingers turn the leaves of destiny.
When populations fall beneath the stroke of the pestilence, all this is otherwise. In silence and without historic relations, that process of death goes swiftly forward. They who fall, turn no tides of noxious influence back on their source. They inaugurate no powers to cheer the world. But all is still, appalling destruction. Insatiate death consumes their life, and there is no result or issue.—While war, therefore, is terrible, the pestilence hath a bleaker and more unrelieved aspect. The event is the same; the suddenness, painfulness, repulsiveness, scarcely less. But in the one, death, is sought and greeted, or at least is self-incurred. In the other, it drops as a blight out of the air. In the one, it is a sacrifice, on the part at least of many, on the altar of national advancement and welfare, or of moral transformation. In the other, it is simply an inevitable surrender, to forces that can not be evaded or resisted, that grow more stern and violent by their victory, and that leave no trace save of anguish and blight.
There have come to us the past week the news of the destruction of thousands of human lives, in the final assault upon a city of the East.* It is fearful to think of that! 'Fire, and blood, and the vapor of smoke,' arise before our minds as we look that way; the sea impurpled with streams of blood, that mingle their currents with its surf; the blazing ruins of what have been palaces, overstrewn with crushed and mangled bodies; every flash of the rifle, along the front of the advancing troops, betokening scores and hundreds of death; every bursting of the bomb-shell laying desolate a home; each ditch a grave for ranks of men; each rampart a monument, for assailants and besieged. The sea that girds that rocky coast will not wash itself white from the memory of that slaughter, while its tides continue to heave and sink. The ruins of the town will tell the tale to after years. A hundred thousand hearts, all over Europe, on which those charging armies trampled, will shudder long when they think of Sebastopol!—Yet over all this arises the thought that there, upon the high places of the earth, a new page hath been opened in the history of nations. The echoes of that tremendous event will reverberate not over Europe alone, but over Asia as well. Its influences will follow them, as far as they go. It makes our missionaries safer to-day in Erzerum and Mosul. It hinders the march, of a false church upon Turkey. It preserves Hindostan for a Protestant Christianity. And China and Japan shall feel the invisible but mighty pressure of those vast circles of quickening or restricting and monitory movement which this event originates on earth. The death, then, of those who were enveloped in this slaughter, has historical relations. The ends that were struggled for take something from its awfulness; suffuse it, in a measure, and partially subdue it, by the light of their significance. Future ages may tell that in that terrific and protracted bombard-
* The news of the successful assault of the Anglo-French army upon Sebastopol, reached New-York, September 27.
 ment, that headlong rush of two great armies against the stony shield of an empire, the door was finally barred and bolted on Northern aggression. And the life which it cost may thus become illustrious in history, and be inseparably and vitally incorporated with the development of the race.
While this tremendous scene was advancing, there went on another, not far from us, less showy and conspicuous, but, in proportion to its extent, more awful still. On the northern bank of the Elizabeth river, in that ancient commonwealth the first settled of our Confederacy, within a town fronting a harbor commodious and safe beyond most others, a town whose families have been refined, their hospitalities liberal, and their society charming almost to a proverb, the Pestilence had commenced its desolating work. Matron and maiden, the husband and the son, the physician to the body and the physician to the soul, those of all ranks in life, of either sex, and of every age, the child and the grandparent, the slave and his master, alike were falling beneath its power. In private houses and in hospitals, in all places of usual public resort, in the streets and in the court-house, in the forest and in the fields, in the very sanctuaries of God, men met the descent of the invisible destroyer. No physical habit, no mental equipment, and no moral state, brought rescue or release. The loveliest form turned loathsome and expired. The manliest frame shook down like a tree decayed at the heart, under the whirlwind, before that strange, appalling onset. Childhood forgot its smile and bloom. Old age was not spared for the calm steps of decline. The chief officers of the city, the nurses and attendants, the distributors of charity and the ministers of Christ, all sank together, with those whom they assisted, into one death, to be buried together in one broad grave. The very fish along the shore, according to one account, were tossed upon the beach, dead and decayed. Birds left the air; and all the streets were swarming with foul flies, the insect attendants of the 
terrible plague! Death was on every hand, in his austerest and gloomiest aspect, his sternest panoply of assault and destruction.—And yet, as each one died in turn, as families disappeared, absorbed into the grave, as streets became silent, and fields missed the husbandman, as ships became charnel houses, and cemeteries grew crowded, there were no other than sad relations attending the event. No forces ran out from it, moulding, exalting, or regenerating history. No pressure was lent by it to the progress of society. No blow was struck by it, on barbarism, idolatry, and old decay. No light was shot along national annals. It was all an inevitable and promiscuous destruction, unrelieved by any such moral relations; the trampling of so much life from earth, with fearful certainty and more fearful celerity, amid terrific and appalling phenomena, without recall.
It was, then, in fact, more dreadful than the other. For while the numbers, on any comparison, were inconsiderable in the tragedy of Norfolk, its central gloom was touched and parted by no meanings or relations, gilding its darkness. In all his might Death there had sway; and the world reaped no advantage from it! War, Pestilence, and Famine! Yes, that is the order. War dreadful, but Pestilence more so; and Famine the last in the stern series; as fullest and most searching in its ministry of anguish! How truly may men say, in the view of such scenes, or amid their visitation, while looking upon them as natural events, unconnected with consequences which God's eye may see, but which ours can not—how truly may they say, with the preacher of old: "For man also knoweth not his time; as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in a snare; so are the sons of men snared in an. evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them"! There is no escape in that contest with Death; no order in his assault; no resisting of his onset; and no monument, but the grave, of his coming, and his victory!
I think, my friends, that we may properly be reminded, by  this train of thought, of the vast, the oftentimes terrific efficiency of INVISIBLE FORCES, in the system around us! How they encompass us on every hand, embosoming our being, and limiting our life!—There burst no red artillery upon Norfolk, when the pestilence commenced there. No tremor shook the firm ribs of the earth; and no canopies of overhanging and thunderous gloom rushed up the heavens. The air was smiling and calm as ever; the fields as green, the scenery as sweet, as when each lay came freighted with new pleasures, and business and friendship walked hand in hand along the streets. No frowning fleet with armory of curses, invested the town. But one peaceful merchant-ship, unconscious of its burden, bore the principle of disease into the roadstead. The miasm was let loose by invisible exhalation. And every drop of that clear air became envenomed. It turned into a fang, and smote with stroke deadly is the assassin's. The midday heat, the midnight darkness, each in its turn played down like the consuming lightning on those devoted and shrieking streets. The fields forgot to yield their increase. The ploughman's team stood in the furrow. The carpenter's axe paused in mid-stroke. Bells tolled their sadness, till all the hours were reckoned by their dirge, and then were mute. The commonest offices of life became occasions of direst peril. Relationship were fatal. All intercourse with others took the potency of suicide. The instant judgment of the nation, the simplest instinct of self-preservation, took up that doomed and poisoned port, and put it aside, not from the thoughts of men, their prayers, their alms, but from their travel, their intercourse, and their traffic, lest its great woes should rain on them. It was marked out and shunned, as the very leper of the land; the vast lazar-house, filled and surcharged with plague and sorrow. And so it has stood, from that day to this, the dreaded centre thronged with ills, from which a thousand radiating lines have carried the tidings of misery and of blight to every village.
 Yet all this deadliness lurked in an influence so fleeting and imponderable that no instrument has detected, and analysis resolved it. Death came without observation or raiding, yet he compassed men like an atmosphere, and made each inlet of the frame his entrance. And what is now hoped for to arrest his advance, to quench these raging fires of fever, and make calm health take the place of their fury, is no costly drug, or rare mineral element, brought from afar; it is not the skill of men most eminent, or the sudden bursting upward of a fountain of life through the fields so barren, and the streets so stricken. It is the coming of one still night, which a breath from the north shall make cold enough to whiten the dew upon the grass! That shall be more to Norfolk and its sufferers than a hundred gold mines poured out upon its streets, or a thousand physicians and surgeons convened there.
Verily, then, how vast and mighty these silent forces that work around us! What a system it is, of interlocked powers, invisible but portentous, amid which we move! How easily might some of them be marshaled for our destruction!
How CONSTANT OUR EXPOSEDNESS! This is the second thought suggested by the theme.—What shall bar out from us such pestilence; not this particularly, but others, its equals in power and effect? Can all quarantines push back these hosts, that are born in the atmosphere, and that ride on winds? Can any interior sanitary regulations give a guarantee against influences which may be at the same time in the palace and in the cellar, the warehouse, the school-room, the workshop, and the church? Have not we ourselves seen, in our own time here, that terrific epidemic which again and again has belted the earth with its zone of death, and made appalled nations spectators of its power, coming into our cities, against all resistance, assailing our neighbors, overwhelming all skill, overriding all distinctions, mingling the richest and the poorest together in a common alarm and a common bereavement, perhaps desolating  with sudden stroke our own families, and making the pavement resound each hour with the steps of the mourners and the roll of the hearse? How strikingly, then, was this lesson emphasized, which now is repeated by a voice more distant! The blue summer-skies, from their undisturbed depths, dropped death like rain. The placid earth, that seemed only waiting the advent of harvest, took bodies to its bosom as the ocean drinks showers. The sea rippled as brightly as ever around our docks, yet ships beside them weltered in sickness, and opened all their ports to death, till the very breath of them became a fresh agent of destruction! Men raised the window, and death came in. They walked the streets, and he joined them at the corners. He met them in their business, put up the shutters, padlocked the door, and drove home with them, before a single plan for him was made. They fled abroad, but no rail-car outran him. They hid themselves at home, and their very rest was their ruin.
How easily might this be so again! How easily may it be! What hinders it now? Not waiting harvests, or coming winter; for the fierce epidemic has laughed at both these. Only the word of God restrains it; and that word only his kindness speaks.—Let us daily recognize then this daily exposure. We wonder how men live at the base of volcanoes; beneath the cloudy or lurid pennon that tells of fires struggling beneath, from the depths of the earth. We live every moment in the midst of an atmosphere, whose every drop, by some slight change, might on the instant be loaded with poisons, its motion become a desolating march, its pause a conquest of families and cities. The train is laid on every hand. One pestilential spark might kindle it to-morrow, and fill our eager and populous scene with clouds more dread than those which wrapped Pompeii in their shroud, or which, now weave their glowing and swift desert-dance around the terrified caravan. How good to remember, amid such exposures, that God holds all  powers in his hand! Yet how wise to be prepared to meet and greet Death, whenever he shall come!
An impulse to GRATITUDE seems spontaneously to associate itself with the theme we have considered.—Not upon us hath fallen thus suddenly this "evil time"; but One hath spared us, and he is God! Let emotions of gratitude swell our hearts then, and songs of praises fill our lips, as we regard our peaceful homes as we walk church-ward with cheerful steps, in the midst of our groups of friends and children; as we turn homeward to recount God's mercies and ponder his ways. So oft as we remember those other homes, and equal sanctuaries, from which whole families have departed for ever, or from which, scores and multitudes of cases, the parents have been torn in anguish from the children, or the children from the parents, let us say in our words, let us feel it in our hearts, let us show the great impression of it on our life: 'Verily, God hath been merciful to us! And with songs of thanksgiving, and lives of worship, we should offer him our praise!'
And an impulse to CHARITY, in every true heart, will be as spontaneously inspired by the theme.—It is the one redeeming feature of such visitations, so sad and admonitory, that they call out the warmest sensibilities of our nature, renew our sense of human brotherhood, and make us prompt and eager to relieve. Let us, each one, extract this lesson of light from the dread chapter of disaster, and pluck this blossom from the thorny stalk! While admonished of our exposure, and grateful for our release, let us extend to those whom our Father hath so smitten, so suddenly and terribly, the open hand, of Christian kindness! They are our brethren, by race; our brethren, by historic recollections and affinities; by a common literature, a common religion, and a common renown. They are confederate with us in this Empire of States, and are heirs with us to all its future! They call now for our aid. Widows, weeping over unburied husbands; children, mourning the want of all things,  and yet only half alive to their disaster; friends, and kindred, whose pleasure and their hope are quenched in tears; the sick recovering, or rapidly sinking; the strong exposed; the African, dependent; the American, scarcely less so; ALL call with an eloquence more powerful than words for our swift succor! Let us not be found wanting to this appeal! Let us not be found sluggish! Call up the vision of that compact and cheerful town, whose pleasant homes offered so lately a welcome to the pilgrim and a shelter to the sailor, now scarred by pestilence in every street, its houses desolate, its markets still, its port deserted, its industry hushed, the mourners going about the streets, the mounded graves surrounding it like ramparts, its leisure pain, its business disease, its gaiety death ; and all the reasons for your prompt sympathy, for your most warm and generous aid, will rise before you! As great as our Gratitude, let our Charity be as copious as our blessings! as searching and quick as their distress! So Christian grace, and the highest of all, shall thrive in us through their distress; and, striking hands over seas with the sufferers, we shall say, "We are brethren!"
Finally, my friends, let each of us remember that Death, in all his power and sternness, his control over life, and his portents of destiny, is waiting near for all the living, for you and me.—The circumstances of his coming we may not know; its certainty we are sure of. To all, to each, it momently draws nigher. And when it comes, it shall be to us just what it hath been to all who have met it; the same august and solitary change; the opening on our eyes of the vast Unseen; the completion of time, the revelation of Eternity; the installation of the soul amid unchangeable destinies; the confronting of Judgment! Some room shall be overshadowed to us by the opening Immensity! Some hour for us shall show the merging of time in the Infinite! The manliest man can not resist it. The delicate woman can not avoid it. The child must meet it.
 God help us so to live and act, to assure ourselves of his favor, to lay up our treasures amid His palaces, to appropriate the Salvation which Christ hath brought us,—which is grander in its renewal than Death in his destruction, more prophetic of glory than the grave is of gloom, and mightier in its promise than the Pestilence in its terror,—that when that last hour comes to us, its advent shall be welcomed; our death be immeasurable gain; its very agony but our chariot of transition; and its conquest of the body, the soul's consummate victory! Then, in those realms above the stars, where days are ages, and where night never comes, where the vision of God shall be ours for ever, the "evil time" shall have all passed by, and we shall meet the fruition of hope, the fulfillment of prophecy, when "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; FOR THE FORMER THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY."
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From: REMAINS OF THE REV. WILLIAM JACKSON
Late Rector of St. Paul's Church
By William M. Jackson
New York: Stanford & Swords, 1846.
 Funeral Sermon.
"For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith."—Acts xi. 24.
Character, won by a life of self-denial and usefulness, is a more precious inheritance to be left behind for those we love, than the most princely estate earned during a career ruinous to character and reputation.
But what is character? No term is more complex. The foregoing epithet commonly makes it plain enough, as when we speak of a good character or a bad. But without an epithet it is even more expressive, than when we describe it as an exalted or almost perfect character.
We do not so much mean by it goodness, as the results of goodness; nor usefulness, so much as the springs and sources of usefulness; nor influence, so much as that which is the true secret of influence. It is not impressed by nature, though its original elements are often so imparted. It is not the sure and invariable product of even the wisest and best education, though education generally has much to do  with it. It is not formed by principle, for itself is principle—nor by habit, for itself moulds and fashions all good and noble habits; and yet principle and habit have very much to do in its formation. It is a compound product, the result of many and very complex causes. But in the highest sense of the term, character is strictly a Christian article. It is formed and found in no region of the earth which the Son of Righteousness has not enlightened, and the influences of the Holy Ghost have not visited. "Good man" cannot be written, except in connexion with "faith." Character can exist in no heart, not "full of the Holy Ghost." Barnabas, amongst his people and in his age, was a remarkable character. But he was not a solitary specimen. He was a sample of a class. As many in that age and country or in any other, of whom it may be truly written they were "full of the Holy Ghost and of faith," may have it as truly written of them, that "they were good men." Of no others, however distinguished in other respects, can the same with truth be written. Character is a divine impress from under the broad seal of heaven. Whenever or in whomsoever formed, it is formed by the Holy Ghost as the agent and faith as the instrument. And where the impression is clear, where all its lines are deeply cut and boldly marked, it must be in his case, who is "full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." The more of a good thing, the more of its blessed results.
I dare say that these commendatory remarks upon good old Barnabas were written or at least published, after he was dead and gone. Otherwise, perhaps they might somewhat have impaired, even in him, the very character which they applaud. Applaud! The word is ill chosen! I should have said the character which they record. For the object of the writer evidently is, with the utmost simplicity and godly sincerity, just to bear testimony to what he knew to  be true. That testimony has been a glorious record, ever since, of the power of the Gospel in the formation of such characters; and a most glowing persuasive to all, who feel within them noble aspirations after goodness, and would fain yield themselves to be moulded in the mould of the Gospel after the image of the heavenly, to seek for it, by earnestly praying "to be filled with the Holy Ghost and with faith." We stand, my dear friends, by the side of a coffin, upon which if any inscription were to be written, it would, I am sure, be written with great simplicity and brevity, but with common consent, in large and luminous characters, "He was a good man." And we are all ready, with one accord, to ascribe the wonderful secret of his being so, to the same cause now, which wrought so powerfully in early times— because he was "full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." And this I hope, as in the case of the sacred historian, will exempt me from the censure of using extravagant panegyric, and, misled by the partialities of an early and long tried friendship, of depicting an unreal character, and of ascribing to the creature the honor due only to the Creator, who is God over all, blessed for evermore. With the sad memorials before us that he was but dust and ashes—with his own testimony that he was the chief of sinners—with this voice from God that his estimate of his lost, fallen and condemned condition was but too correct, in that he has thus awfully exacted of him the penalty of being a sinner; who are we that we should praise man for what is in man; or rob God of the honor which is His due, if in any one solitary instance a child of wrath is made a child of grace:—if, as in the case of your beloved Pastor—the base and sinful character which had belonged to him, as a child of nature, is transformed by the Holy Ghost through faith into a model which this whole community has admired, and the  impress of which, made upon our memories and our hearts, we shall carry with us and bless God for, to the latest hour of our lives. I presume that what I am about to say will be received by the generality of hearers as partial and extravagant praise. I cannot possibly help it. If it be so, it is simply because, by the grace of God, facts and the truth constitute the highest eulogy. But if so, then the praise will redound, not to the man whose sinful nature was all along opposed to the development by grace of these facts; but to Him, who, out of a miserable lump of sinful clay, was pleased to form our dear brother, into a choice vessel sanctified and meet for the Master's service.
I. The sketch I am about to attempt must of necessity be hurried and consist only of a few bold strokes; but the aim will be thereby to place before you a resemblance to the life, to the praise of God's grace, of the personal and official character of your late beloved pastor.
1. There was about him a singular simplicity, equally removed from pomp and pretence, and from over familiarity. It was his passport to the hearts of children, for he was himself light-hearted and guileless as a child. And it was his ever open letter of recommendation to the guileless and the good.
2. There was about him a certain noble frankness and openness of character, which disarmed suspicion, and exempted him from the necessity, common to most men, of bringing some proof of what he said. There was no need of it in him. You had but to look upon his face, and massive truthfulness stood impressed on every feature. In less skilful hands his frankness would now and then have left the impression of bluntness—never of sternness. But the ever thoughtful kindness of his heart melted down his native plainness of speech to a captivating honesty and sincerity.
 3. There was ever with him the finest play of all human sympathies:—Indignation against wrong done, or imposition intended, or unmerited reproach inflicted, as if it had been an injury done to himself, only it was an indignation guarded with much discretion and sweetened with all tenderness;—a smile to reflect the smile of all light-heartedness, but of no profane frivolity;—a tear to answer to every other tear shed by a wrung heart or an overflowing sympathy.
4. There was in him the greatest nobleness of disposition. It cost him no effort to soar above all littleness of thought, of suspicion or of innuendo. He was above it always. To forgive injuries—to speak well of those who evil entreated him—to do the kind office where, in return, kind office had been refused, was that part of the spirit of Christ in him, by inspiring him with which, the Holy Spirit had expelled and well nigh utterly eradicated the spirit of selfishness.
5. There was in him a sweet spirit of piety. It breathed in his blameless yet cheerful conversation. It poured itself forth in a life of prayer. It animated, as a divinity within, all his thoughts, words and actions. It moulded his whole character. It was the spring and fountain-head of his charities, which ever flowed, in a steady stream, and overflowed towards his friends, the poor, and his own beloved Church. Often what his own purse could not do, his eloquence could. And for the bible, the tract, the colonization, the temperance, the Sunday school, and the missionary cause, he was followed by large and liberal contributions, which were always most munificent, when, without respect to the ability of the giver, they bore the nearest resemblance in amount to that of the almost penniless plead- er.* But remarks like these will fall more properly under the head of traits of his official character. His personal character exerted, of course, a powerful influence in the formation of his ministerial character.
II. This was very discoverable in the social circle, which his fine flow of spirits, his child-like simplicity, and his overflowing, warm and natural sympathies always greatly enlivened. At whose fire-side was he not welcome? Whose domestic circle has not his presence made glad? And whose social affections have not been kindled into an heartier and healthier glow, by being warmed by the genial affections of his heart?
1. This was still more discernible. in the sick room. His native gravity and sense of propriety sat well upon him there. And so did his exquisite and shrinking delicacy of feeling. But there his human sympathies exalted, purified, refined by religion and the lofty themes which revelation supplies, found their fullest, freest play. He was at once compassionate and faithful, frank and yet considerate, sympathising and yet not recreant to any unpalatable duty. His visits were always welcome, but in the sick room they were waited, longed for and gratefully remembered, almost as if they had been the visit of some good spirit from within the veil, which separates a selfish and gross world from a spiritual and a benevolent. His large experience, his
* He had learned early in his ministry by means of the precept and example of a dear clerical Brother, afterwards one of the Foreign Missionaries of the Church the divine art of consecrating one tenth of his income to the service of the dear Lord who had bestowed all, and infinitely more upon him. And often has he been beard to give thanks to God for this heavenly teaching, and warmly to recommend the same practice, as by no means too high a standard of Christian benevolence None could inspect the charity account which our dear Brother kept for years without emotions of wonder, love and gratitude?
 stores of memory, his happy narrative and illustration, his copious treasures of scriptural truth, his tenderness of heart, his fervency of devotion, combined to make him the most lovely, estimable and useful of pastors, in the sick room.
2. And what a minister he was in the Sunday School. Rich in that love of simple Bible-story which God has had purposely written for the benefit of little children—happy in those illustrations and unadorned expressions which rivet best the attention of the young—but above all, fresh in those pure thoughts and warm affections which made him a child amongst children, alike loving and beloved—he had a smile, a kind word, an apposite remark for every child in the Sunday school. And the seed which the Great Husbandman sowed here by his hands, look you, if it be well watched and watered, what fruits it will yet bring forth to the honor and glory of God!
3. All elements of character in him gave him signal influence over young men. They could not look upon him or hear him speak, without feeling the force of a practical illustration that religion is not the gloomy thing, too often depicted in the imaginations of the frivolously gay. Interested in him, they felt a double interest in his preaching, which varied as it was in character and rich in scriptural instruction, possessed the additional charm of simplicity, refined taste and undoubted earnestness and sincerity. How greatly God blessed his labors to this class, let the records of all the churches he ever served bear witness—let our own Sunday school in its corps of efficient teachers, and the roll of our aspirants for holy orders abundantly testify. Here it is, after sympathizing with his bereaved family, that my heart bleeds most under a sense of our irreparable loss. That long night of his last mortal agony, oh! how was my heart overpowered with emotion, when, hour after hour, I saw his bed literally surrounded by the young men whom he was wont to call his sons, weeping as if their hearts would break, at the thought of a final separation, as to this world, from their spiritual father, their faithful counselor, and their best earthly friend. May his mantle fall upon each of them! May it be their study, their delight and their prayer to think, to speak, to be and to do whatever they are conscious would be most pleasing to their departed pastor, were he permitted to watch over them, where he has gone, as he certainly would have done, had he been spared to us! And out of their number may more than one arise like-minded with this "good man," to supply his lack of service to the church, and to preserve entire the succession of faithful pastors, until our Lord shall come!
I had designed to say a word upon his character amongst his clerical brethren, which was singularly frank, affectionate and kind: of his hospitality, which was as liberal as his heart was large and generous; and of the dignity, the eloquence, the thrilling interest of his speeches from the platforms of the great benevolent institutions of our land: but I am admonished to pass over these and a multitude of other most alluring themes of discussion, and to confine myself to a brief comment upon his preaching. (1) It was most interesting, keeping alive the attention of his audience without effort and without weariness. (2) It was various, more diversified in topics than that of any minister I remember, often to have heard. (3) It was solemn and in earnest, as though he himself believed and felt every word of what he said, and was intensely anxious that those whom it most concerned should believe and feel it also. (4) It was persuasive touching every chord which vibrated true to right feeling and the immortal interests of men. (5) It was instructive, far beyond the  common average, and specially adapted and designed to build up Christians in their most holy faith. (6) It was sound and scriptural, abounding in the truth precisely in the connexion and in the proportions, in which it appears in Holy Writ. No dogmatist, or controversialist, or stout polemic was he. Christ Jesus and Him crucified was his great theme, and he preached Him first—Him last—Him midst and without end, as mainly anxious, both to save himself and those that heard him.
Such a one has gone to his rest. He is not, for God has taken him. Indeed "he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith."
Is God unrighteous in cutting short the period of such a one's usefulness? God unrighteous, in taking away a precious gift which we never deserved, and never sufficiently prized! God unrighteous to take his own weary, faithful and almost worn-out servant, to rest with himself in Christ Jesus for ever! God unrighteous to reserve a gift, so long lent, and for which, so precious has it been, eternal thanks were due for ever so short a loan!
Nay, friends and brethren, soon as our utterance choked by emotion can be recovered, let us give thanks to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, for the noble character, the bright example, the holy life and the useful labors of this dear departed brother, whose poor, worthless remains we are about to consign to the tomb. Let us give thanks to him for sin pardoned, grace conferred, Satan vanquished, the grave conquered and an heavenly crown gained, for this our dear brother, through a crucified, ascended and glorified Redeemer.
One thought more solemn than most others attends his departure. He has gone before you, my dear hearers, into the presence of our great God and our Saviour. Is it as your accuser, to bear witness against you in that day, that God by his ministry had long been calling upon you, but that you refused—that he had stretched out his hand and no man regarded it? Or has he gone before, to bear record to your willing obedience to the Gospel, in the presence of all his beloved people, prepared joyfully to exclaim, "behold me, and the children whom thou hast given me? "
Let us more than ever admire and prize the Gospel. With more passionate ardor let us cleave to the Cross, preaching, suffering, living, dying. So that, at the last, pastors and people, parents and children, teachers and pupils, masters and servants, bond and free, high and low together may all experience the transforming power of that Gospel which our dear dead brother loved and preached; experience its sublime consolations when we come to die, and reap that reward, upon the fruition of which he has already entered, when time with us shall be no more.
Now unto Him who is the first and the last, who liveth and was dead, and who, by conquering death and bringing life and immortality to light, has robbed the grave of its terrors and death of his sting, be all honor and glory, as, with the Father and the Holy Ghost is most justly due, now and for ever. Amen.