Page images
PDF
EPUB

here for the purpose of uttering harsh words; I have no heart for that. The simple fact is painful and dreadful enough without angry comment; at least from the sacred desk. It is something to weep and wail over. May the Lord forgive them; for they surely know not what they do! And for ourselves, let us learn from this appalling instance what a poor protection mere personal virtue, intelligence or piety affords against a thoroughly demoralized and frenzied popular sentiment; how readily the most solemn oaths and obligations and opinions may be swept away when once the public reason is dethroned, and mad passions installed in its place; above all, what an unutterable curse it is for society to carry in its bosom and idolize as divine an institution, which, like slavery, is essentially at war with the first principles of Christian justice, humanity, and civilization. I am very far from thinking that good men at the South were any worse than good men at the North. But they breathed a social atmosphere, charged with perilous stuff; they had long eaten of an insane root; and it only needed the favoring circumstances to concentrate the poison, and plunge them in one common, universal delirium. Not with pharisaic pride, but with heartfelt grief, pity, and prayer let us contemplate their deplorable state, and thank God, not that we are better than they, but that our lot has fallen to us in higher latitudes and on freer soil. But it would be wrong to forget here that there bave been bright exceptions to the general madness, which has swept over the revolted States. History does not record finer instances of patriotic fidelity and heroism than have tinged with a silver lining this black cloud of conspiracy and insurrection. Not a few have been found to whom Milton's beautiful description of the seraph Abdiel might be justly applied :

" Among indumerable false, unmoved,
Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,
His loyalty be kept, his love, his zeal;
Nor number, nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind,
Though single. From amidst ihem forth he passed,
Long way through hostile scorn, which he sustained
Superior

4. And this leads me to note another lesson written as with the point of a diamond upon the events of the past year; I mean the paramount claims of our country to our services, property, life, and every thing earthly that is ours. We had often felt the supremacy of these claims in reference to other times and former generations; and we had read with admiration and delight of the manner in which they were met by the noble army of patriots and martyrs to liberty from the Hebrew, Grecian, and Roman ages down through all the Christian centuries to our venerated sires. But we ourselves have lived in quiet, prosperous times, and it has been only to a very limited extent that we have felt in our own persons the more severe pressure of public duty. As a consequence, it can not be denied, the patriotic sentiment had been greatly weakened and injured for want of discipline; private interests had assumed a dictatorial power; we were giving our. selves up, without let or hindrance, to the pursuits of gain, to the buying of pieces of land, of oxen, and of merchandise, and to the building of fine houses, and doing our own pleasure - in a word, to making money and to self-indulgence. I do not say that this was all, that no higher motives actuated our lives; but simply that the overwhelming tendency and temptation was to move along a very low plane of thought and action, to regard life as chiefly intended for our private use and profit. Was it not so? Did we not read and hear about deeds of heroic self-sacrifice and devotion to great principles very much as of a winter's evening, around his own fireside, one reads about shipwrecks and storms at sea ? But the case is altogether different now. This year has initiated us into a higher love. It has taught us that next to God we belong to our country, and that at her bidding there is no sacrifice we ought not cheerfully to make-no toil we ought not to undergo—no danger, though it be to march to the cannon's mouth or stand in the imminent deadly breach, which we should shrink from facing; it has made us comprehend that almost all the things we had been used most to think of and to prize, are as nothing compared with her approval and benediction. How vividly conscious we now are, that in serving our country we are in the glorious service of justice, law, freedom, humanity, and religion ! that in spending and being spent for her, we are helping forward the great cause of God, and treasuring up blessings for our posterity and for all mankind. Who can estimate the elevating and transforming influence of such thoughts as these, suddenly awakened as they have been during the past year, in the minds of millions whose existence before bad been chiefly absorbed in mere material interests ! what an education for the public spirit, the loyalty, and whole manhood of the nation ! Certainly it is some compensation for the woful losses and suffering and horrors through which we are passing, that they serve as the providential occasion for developing in the heart of the American people that sublime consciousness of truth and duty which is at once the strength and the crowning grace of a free Christian state. Thousands of loyal citizens who began the year in health are now sleeping in a soldier's grave or pining in gloomy prisons and hospitals, or weeping the tears of widowhood and sharp bereavement; tens of thousands more who began it in wealth will end it in poverty ; innumerable fortunes have been thrown overboard and sunk out of sight in this sea of trouble. It would be hard to estimate the grief, waste, loss, and destruction of property, of business, and of solid schemes of life which have come upon the nation ; and yet if we reckon wealth and prosperity as Heaven does, the country and the people are incomparably richer than they were twelve months ago. How much richer in patriotic confidence and affections, in devotion to the general good, in patience and virtuous self-control, in manly valor and unboastful self-reliance, in gratitude to the past, in hope and high resolve, in reverence for both law and liberty, and in the assured feeling that the God of our fathers is still our God and will be the God and guide of our children! This is a kind of wealth which, though coined out of hearts' blood, is more precious than rubies; there are no jewels which adorn the brow of a Christian people with such resplendent beauty.

The lessons of which I have spoken by no means exhaust the impressive teaching of this year of wonder. What new and terrible light it has poured in upon the bidden depths of American slavery! Wbat amazing proofs it has given us of the power and resources of political crime, when once organized into a system, actuated by the spirit of a domineering social caste, backed by popular frenzy, and led on by a band of resolute, remorseless, and desperate conspirators ! Only amidst the horrors of the first French Revolution does modern history offer a parallel. What light, too, do the events of this year cast on the disputed problems respecting the progress of Christian society, and the effect of that progress upon individual character and the old depraved passions of human nature! But important as these points are, I will not stop to dwell upon them now. Some of them, indeed, have been considered in previous sermons; and all of them are likely to acquire fresh interest and meaning as this fearful drama of Providence shall be more fully developed.

5. I pass, therefore, to a closing lesson, which brings the subject home directly to our own bosoms, and is a most fitting reflection for this last religious service of the year. It is the vanity of the individual man, except as he stands related to God and eternity. I spoke a moment ago of the paramount claims of our country and the general good over our private interests. But, after all, how insignificant is any one individual among thirty millions, is any single life in the great perennial life of the nation! It is like a single grain of sand upon the sea-shore; it is a fugitive wave among the infinite, multitudinous waves of the ocean! You and I are bound to give all we have to our country, and to die for her if need be. But how easily our country can dispense with your services or mine, with you and me! Our friends would miss us, and mark the spot and the bour when and where we vanished from sight; but the nation, busied and oppressed with its tremendous cares, would move on as if we had never existed. There may seem to be exceptions now and then, like that of the illustrious soldier and patriot whose loyal solicitude has just hurried him back across the wintry Atlantic, and whose career has contributed so largely to shape that of our Union. But even these rare exceptions are so chiefly in appearance. It is the personal virtue and nobleness, which especially entwines such men's names with the history and fame of their country. If Washington had not been a man of consummate personal worth, would he ever have been so enshrined in our grateful love and veneration ? Here, then, public and private duty are reconciled. We serve our country and the world best when we most diligently cherish those pure, generous and holy affections, those immortal virtues, which prepare us for a better country, that is, an heavenly-for the eternal fellowship of saints and angels, and for the presence of our God and Saviour. Thus is the ideal of a perfect Christian culture one with that which makes us good men and women, good citizens, and good in all the varied relations of our earthly life. Let us see to it, then, that first of all by prayer, repentance, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a devout imitation of his sinless example, we perform aright our inalienable personal work. Let us allow nothing-no pressure of public care, no excitement of the times, no worldly attraction or interest—to seduce us for a moment from that inward, spiritual allegiance which we owe to the adorable Captain of our salvation.

Let us live in Christ and to Christ, and we shall then live most wisely for all about us. This is the best method of rendering ourselves useful and a blessing to our homes, our friends, our country, the church, and the whole world. This is the way to enjoy " central peace" amidst the endless agitations of temporal existence, and to secure a seat among the happy few

“Who dwell on earth, yet breathe empyreal air,

Sons of the morningThus standing at the post of duty, like faithful sentinels, we shall not be surprised or affrighted by the coming of the Son of Man, whether he come in the second or in the third watch. “ Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching; verily I say unto you, that he sball gird himself and make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants."

[ocr errors]

SERMON IV.*

BY REV. GEORGE L. PRENTISS, D.D.,

OF

NEW-YORK

CITY.

HOW TO MEET THE EVENTS OF 1862. ** "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compass on, and righteous. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies.”—Psalm 112: 4, 7, 8.

I CALLED your attention on last Sunday afternoon to some of the providential lessons taught us by the extraordinary events of the past year. My present aim will be to show in what spirit we ought to look forward to the events of the new year, and how we should prepare ourselves to meet them; or, to express it in another way, let us consider what is the most Christian posture of mind towards the future at such a time as this.

The subject, I think, every one will admit, is eminently practical and seasonable. It comes home to the business and bosoms of us all. If we have any real faith in God, never was there a moment better fitted to test and to illustrate it. If there be a fundamental difference between the religious man and the worldling, now is the hour for letting it be seen. If Christ's Gospel, as in several recent disconrses I have tried to show, is intended and able to trans. figure our earthly life with sacred beauty, to give us comfort, uphold our fainting spirits, and brighten the darkest cloud of trouble with the bow of celestial promise, let it do so now. Never before bad we such an occasion to put in practice all the noblest principles of our religion. Never before had we such an opportunity to do signal honor to our Lord and Master by the manner in wbich we represent bim to the world. Never before were we summoned by so loud a voice from heaven to take unto us the whole armor of God, and quit us like true Christian men and women. If, in such a storm as this, we are found faithless and craven-hearted, it will only demonstrate how unworthy we are of the name we profess, and of the privileges we enjoy ; it will only show that we deserve to be cast overboard as so many mere Jonabs and cumberers of the ship.

In what spirit, then, ought we to look forward to the events of 1862, and how should we be prepared to meet them when they come? If our blessed Lord bimself, or one of his inspired apostles, should appear to answer this question for us, what would that answer be? We know what it would be; for in effect they did answer it

* Preached Sunday afternoon, Jan, 5th, 1862,

« PreviousContinue »