« PreviousContinue »
shall praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He will restrain. In the light of a clearer day we may yet see that the wrath which planned and perpetrated the death of the President was overruled by Him whose judgments are unsearchable and his ways past finding out, for the highest welfare of all those interests which are so clear to the Christian patriot and philanthropist, and for which a loyal people have made such an unexampled sacrifice of treasure and blood. Let us not be faithless, but believing.
'Blind unbelief is prone to err,
"We will wait for his interpretation, and we will wait in faith, nothing doubting. He who has led us so well, and defended and prospered us so wonderfully during the last four years of civil strife, will not forsake us now. He may chasten, but he will not destroy. He may purify us more and more in the furnace of trial, but He will not consume us. No, no. He has chosen us, as He did his people of old, in the furnace of affliction, and he has said of us as he said of them, 'This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise.' Let our principal anxiety now be that this new sorrow may be a sanctified sorrow; that it may lead us to deeper repentance, to a more humbling sense of our dependence upon God, and to the more unreserved consecration of ourselves and all that we have to the cause of truth and justice, of law and order, of liberty and good government, of pure and undefiled religion. Then, though weeping may endure for a night, joy will come in the morning. Blessed be God! despite of this great and sudden and temporary darkness, the morning has begun to dawn-the morning of a bright and glorious day, such as our country has never seen. That day will come, and not tarry, and the death of a hundred Presidents and their Cabinets can never, never prevent it. While` we are thus hopeful, however, let us also be humble. Oh, that all our rulers and all our people may lie low in the dust to-day beneath the chastening hand of God! and may their voices go up to Him as one voice, and their hearts go up to Him as one heart, pleading with Him for mercy, for grace to sanctify our great and sore bereavement, and for wisdom to guide us in this our time of need. Such a united cry and pleading will not be in vain. It will enter into the ear and heart of Him who sits upon the throne, and He will say to us, as to ancient Israel, 'In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord, thy Redeemer.'"
SERMON BY REV. HENRY W. BELLOWS,
DELIVERED AT ALL SOULS' CHURCH, NEW YORK, ON EASTER MORNING. "Sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."-St. John, xvi. 7.
So Jesus, in view of his own approaching death, comforted his disciples! He was to leave them, robbed by violence of their accustomed leader; he whom they had believed should redeem Israel snatched wickedly and ignominiously from their side; all their hopes of prosperity and power in this world utterly destroyed. He was to leave them a dismayed and broken-hearted band, terrorstricken and scattered abroad, the enemies of their beloved Lord triumphant over Him; His words and teachings as yet involved in obscurity and mystery; their souls ungrown in his likeness; the nature of their Master's errand in this world not yet understood— nay, misunderstood almost as sadly by his disciples as by the Jews who murdered him. Knowing, as our Saviour did, just how they were to be affected by his death, how utterly appalled and bewildered, he still tells them, "It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away the Comforter (who should abide with them forever) will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you."
We understand now, looking back nineteen centuries, how truly Jesus spake. We see that without that death there could not have been that resurrection from the dead; that Jesus Christ was revealed to his disciples as a spiritual prince and deliverer, as Lord over the grave and king of saints immortal, in the defeat of all ambitions having their seat in this world; that he died to prove that death was not the end of being, but the real beginning of a true life ; rose again to show that it was 'appointed unto all men once to die," it was not because fate and matter were stronger than spirit, or because death was inevitable, but simply because thus man broke out of fleshly garments into a higher mode of existence. We see now that He finally left his disciples, and ascended into heaven, to show them that absence in the flesh is often only a greater nearness of the spirit—that His power to enlighten, guide, animate, and bless them-yes, to comfort and cheer them, was greater as an unseen Saviour, sitting at the right hand of God, than as a present incarnate martyr, in whose bosom John could lie, and into whose side and into the prints of whose hands Thomas could thrust his doubting fingers. And what He promised He fully
performed ! The crucifixion which darkened the heavens with its gloom, gave way to the resurrection, which not only broke Christ's own tomb and the tombs of many saints, but slew the Angel of Death himself, leaving him only the mock dignity of a name without reality; which let into the apostles' minds, and through them into the world, their first conception of the utter spirituality of Christ's kingdom; converted them from Jews into Christians indeed; began the new era, and from ordinary fishermen created those glorious, sublime apostles whose teachings, character, deeds, and sufferings built up the Church on the chief corner-stone, and established our holy religion in the world.
And it was not only expedient for Jesus Christ to die, that he might rise again clothed with his conquest over the grave, his victory over the doubts and fears of his disciples, and the bold predictions and short triumph of his murderers-but expedient for him, in his ascension, to go away utterly from all bodily presence with his disciples and followers, drawing their thoughts and affections after him into the unseen world. Thus alone could Jesus keep the minds and hearts of his disciples wide open and stretched to the full compass of his spiritual religion-keep them from closing in again with their narrow earthly horizon-keep them from falling back into schemes of worldly hope-from substituting fondness for and devotion to his visible person, for that elevated, spiritual consecration to his spirit and his commandments, on which their future high and holy influence depended. Jesus went away that the Christ might return to be the anointing, and illumination, and Comforter of his disciples. His nearest friends never knew him till he had wholly gone away. They never loved him till he was beyond their embraces. John lying in his bosom was not as near his heart as thousands of his humblest disciples have been who have had Christ formed within them by communion with his Holy Spirit. That going away created and inspired the apostles, who, under God and Christ, created and inspired the Church. Jesus shook off his Judaic, his local and his merely human character, and became the universal Son of Man, the native of all countries, the contemporary of all times and eras, the ubiquitous companion and common Saviour. His death, his resurrection, his ascension, rehearsed and symbolized the common and sublime destiny of Humanity. Man is mortal, and must die; man is immortal, and must rise again; man is a spirit, and must quit the limitations of earth and sense, to dwell with God in a world of spiritual realities!
Thus Jesus honored the flesh he took upon himself, and the world he lived in; honored by accepting the universal lot of life and
death. But at the same time that he honored our visible conditions and circumstances, he discrowned them of their assumed sovereignty over us by triumphing over the grave, and returning in the flesh to life and to its duties and necessities; and then, finally, he lifted man above not only the grave, but above time and sense, matter and affairs, by ascending into the unseen world, as into a more real state of existence, and promising from that invisible seat to conduct the triumph of his Church, to visit and cheer the hearts of his disciples, and to be with them until the end of the world, when His kingdom should come fully, and God's will be done in earth as in heaven. Then he would deliver the Kingdom up unto the Father, that God might be all in all.
And has it not indeed been so ? The Comforter has come! He came to the Apostles, and wiped away their doubts and fears, their personal ambitions, their Jewish prejudices, their self-seeking and self-saving thoughts! For tongues that spake only the dialects of their local experience, it gives them tongues of fire, burning with an eloquence intelligible in all lands and all ages.
And what but a Holy Spirit, a descending Saviour, taking of the things of God and showing them unto men, has been the strength and salvation of human hearts from that hour to this? How has the Master's influence grown, how mighty his consolations, how irresistible the inspirations of his grace and truth! Buried in catacombs, overwhelmed with the wrath of mighty kings and princes, resisted and withstood by all the pride of philosophers and sages, protested by the vulgar senses and denied by the coarse appetites of man-the holy faith, planted in Christ's broken tomb, has withstood the rigors of every climate, outlived the swords and axes that have turned their edge against it, the hoofs of horses and the iron heels of mailed hosts that have trampled it in the dust, been nourished by the blood of the martyrs that died for its glory and defence, and has overrun the very cities that slew its apostles, crossed oceans unknown to the empires that defied or despised it, become the glory and hope of a civilization known only by its name! The Comforter indeed! What visible bodily master could visit every day the millions of homes that the ascended Christ now takes in the daily circuit of His divine walk? And what lips could articulate the unspeakable wisdom he distils into lowly hearts that feel, but can never tell, the joy and trust and truth he imparts? Ah! the best part of the gospel is that word which cannot be uttered, but which comes and abides with the believing soul—that tender experience of a life hidden with Christ in God, which it is no more given to reveal in language, than it is to describe the things
Yes! on this
which God hath prepared for them that love him! holy Easter morning, when the mild spring air is full of God's quickening love, and the breeze goes whispering in the ear of every dry root and quivering stalk, the promise of a new life, a glorious. resurrection, is there not a winged but viewless Comforter, noiselessly fluttering in at the windows of all Christian homes, and gently stirring in the hearts that have inherited their fathers' faith the blessed assurance of God's eternal love; of the soul's superiority to time and sense, to death and hell, of the supporting presence of a Saviour's love and care, with all the pageant invitations, encouragements and comforts that breathe from the Gospels, vital with the spirit of life, the death and resurrection of him whose history they record? Can we read the New Testament to-day and feel that it is only common print we peruse? Are Christ's living words only remembered phrases? or do we seem to hear them spoken from heaven by Him who is the Word of God, and with a music and a meaning that all "the harpers, harping with their harps" could not intensify or sweeten, making our souls burn within us as when of old he walked and talked by the way, at Emmaus, with his disciples.
It is, dear brethren, the faith and hope and trust of those inspired by the Comforter Jesus sent, that enables us to confront without utter dismay the appalling visitation that has just fallen with such terrible suddenness, upon the country and the national cause! With a heart almost withered, a brain almost paralyzed by the shock, I turn in vain for consolation to any other than the Comforter! Just as we were wreathing the laurels of our victories and the chaplets of our peace in with the Easter flowers that bloom around the empty sepulchre of our ascended Lord; just as we were preparing the fit and luminous celebration of a nation's joy in its providential deliverance from a most bloody and costly war, and feeling that the Resurrection of Christ was freshly and gloriously interpreted by the rising of our smitten, humiliated, reviled, and crucified country, buried in the distrust of foreign nations and the intentions of rebel hearts; a country rising from the tomb, where she had left as discarded grave-clothes, the accursed vestments of slavery that had poisoned, enfeebled, and nearly destroyed her first life; a country rising to a higher, purer existence under the guidance of a chief whom it fondly thought sent from above to lead it cautiously, wisely, conscientiously, successfully, like another Moses, through the Red Sea into the promised land; just then, at the proud moment when the nation, its four years of conflict fully sounded, had announced its ability to diminish its armaments, withdraw its call for troops