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THE NATIONAL TRAGEDY:
DELIVERED BEFORE THE
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL SOCIETY, NEW BEDFORD,
ON THE LIFE AND DEATH
New Bedford, Mass.:
We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold, trouble! Jer. viii. 15.
Their sword shall enter into their own heart. Ps. xxxvii. 15.
MY FRIENDS, how can I fitly speak to you to-day? How can any human words lift the burden from our hearts ? How can any human wisdom fathom the Providence of this national tragedy under whose awful shadow we come together? Our staggered faith asks, indeed, if there be any Providence in this foul deed; and reason and reverence and piety, all that is most cogent in truth and all that is most holy in religion, cry out,- No! there is no Providence in it! No Providence save that which belongs to the blackest crime,-no Providence save that which permits the foulest cruelty to wreak its demoniac spirit on unoffending innocence, and does not, by miraculous interposition, stay the stealthy assassin's blow,—no Providence save that which always surrounds the dreadful fact of sin, and by which sin is made, in its last desperate madness, to overleap all bounds, even of its own appointing, and to bring down upon itself, in its own destruction, all the
righteous indignation and vengeance of Heaven's justice ! It were blasphemy to speak of any other Providence than this in the dark, midnight crime that has slain our President. It is the hand of Satanic wickedness that has done this thing; and the hand of the Lord is not in it, save as it enters into every crime, to neutralize, overturn, and destroy it, result and cause together.
I pray not-I dare not pray- for meek submission, as if this were God's act. I pray rather for a just indignation, for a wise and righteous wrath to inspire us,not for any littleness of vindictive passion, not for any spirit of human vengeance,- but with reverent earnestness and solemn sense of the hour's need, I pray that the mighty spirit of Heaven's retributive justice may possess and stir our hearts, and put into us the iron nerve that is wanted for the stern tasks now given to our hands. I pray, indeed, that thy will, O Lord, not ours, may be done,—but it is not thy will to slay the beauty of Israel on our high places,-it is the unsanctified, maddened, wicked will of man that has done this deed, thinking, in its insensate frenzy, to fight against and overthrow thy will. Yea, O Lord, thy will be done! Thus may we ever pray. And may we listen reverently, docilely, courageously, to hear thy will even in this fearful tragedy, with hearts and hands ready to do to the utmost whatsoever duty is required of us. For, though not by thy righteous will has this dreadful thing been done, yet in it thou sendest us warning, and instruction, and great commands. Let us listen and obey.
Listen for yourselves, O friends. I cannot hope, and I have not the heart to attempt to-day, to interpret this
national calamity, and this crime against the nation, in their full significance. Our sense of loss is too personal,—it will not let us yet fully uncover the sacred reserve of our grief; it is yet too soon— we cannot bear— to have the curtain lifted wholly, and the fearful horror exposed in all its secret causes and consequences. But listen-listen each for himself— to what truth and justice and a wise, true love, are trying, through the passages of this grief, to utter to-day in every loyal heart. Listen, my friends, for God's voice, as he shall utter in your stirred and agonized souls the moral of this awful tragedy. Listen and obey.
The lesson must come. But I can only hint at it to-day. It is not yet the hour for analysis, but for grief.
For grief! Oh, double grief, that in the hour of our triumph this wickedness has been consummated! that into the hour of our rejoicing this heavy sadness falls ! that the bells had hardly rung out their gladness through the land before they had to mournfully toll the people's sorrow! Double grief, that he who had led us so wisely, and with so much honor to himself and the country, through the terrors of war, has fallen by the assassin's hand, just as he was going through the gates of victory to receive the crown of peace and of a nation's gratitude! The crown of peace ! He wears it now from God's own hands. The crown of a nation's gratitude! He is henceforth our martyr and our saint.
Grief not for him ! But grief that our hands cannot bestow the crown which his have so nobly won, and that our eyes cannot see him wear it, moving with honors and grateful love among us down to serene old age. Double