Sermons Preached on Various Occasions
by James de Koven, D.D.
with an Introduction by Morgan Dix, S.T.D., Rector of Trinity Church, New York
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1880.
(Preached in the Cathedral, Chicago, on the first Sunday after Easter—St. George's Day—1876, before the St. George's Benevolent Society.)
"That I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother."—2 SAM. xix., part of v. 37.
THE words of the text fall upon the ear with a sweetness which belongs to all time, and touches every soul. That it was Barzillai the Gileadite who uttered them, that it was David the King who heard them, that nearly 4,000 years have passed away since they were spoken, matters not; they belong to universal humanity, and call back an answer from every heart.
"Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land? "
Nay, though he has lived long away, though he expects never to return, though he has home and lands, and sons and daughters in his adopted country, ever at intervals will his heart go back again to the home of his childhood, to the companions of his youth, to the graves of his parents.
In any strong and brave people, and in proportion to their strength and manliness, is this love of country the stronger. Men have died ere now of that home-sickness; and ever and anon, in those who most readily adapt themselves to new duties and places, a word, a note of music, the song of a bird, a mist in the air, the outline of a landscape, the fragrance of a flower, have brought back the memories of the past; and the prayer of old Barzillai, if only for a moment, has rushed to the lips: "Let me die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother."
Nay, those of us whose ancestors have lived here for generations, who can only point to some old church-yard of the motherland for a forgotten name, still feel at times an unexplained throbbing of the heart, an unconscious drawing to the home whence our forefathers came; like that instinct which sends birds with quickly moving wings far to the south, or to the colder north, to the habitation of their kind.
But whether this dumb instinct exists or. not, history and literature, poetry and art, much more government and religion, have ties and bonds which make every true American heart feel that the motherland is, indeed, what the noblest of New England writers has called it, "Our old Home."
To take one instance alone—the English Bible. In the cottage of the laborer, in the home of the farmer, in the dwelling of the artisan, in the ship where the sailor looks forth upon the wide expanse of ocean, in the castle of the noble, in the palace of the Queen: in our own land from Maine to California, amid the hills of New England and the prairie lands of the West, among all sects and denominations of Christians, and treasured by the Church as its especial blessing, the self-same words of promise or warning, of comfort in sorrow and of thanksgiving in joy, are the heritage of all those who speak the English tongue. With a felicity of expression which makes them, as one has well said, rather things than words, the words of the English Bible are blended with the national, literary, and spiritual life of both countries; so that our deepest thoughts and loftiest deeds find a similar utterance; and wherever the weary and heavy-laden need divine comfort, the selfsame answer is given, "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest."
There are even deeper things than this, my brethren, but I do not mention them now, because the one thought of my sermon will serve, I think, to bring them out.
The thought is this: It is true loyalty to one's native land, and true justice to one's adopted country—it makes a foreign land a home, and yet it is in some sort to be buried in the sepulchre of one's forefathers—to strive to carry out so far as we can, wherever we are, the great ideas which have made the country we belong to glorious. Thus, and thus only, can one carry with him, wheresoever he goes, the best part of home—not air and sky and hills and lakes, not pleasant meadows or cottage or hall, not the blue river or the mountain height, but truth and justice and honor, vigor and strength and manliness, the heritage which endures for ever.
What are the great English ideas? I can not speak of them all, but a few of them I will dwell upon.
Is not the first a profound sense of duty? Many races are governed by their emotions, their feelings, their sensibilities; they are swayed to and fro by passion; they are urged to great deeds by the love of glory, by the desire for gain, by generous impulse, by eager ambition; but, to do what one ought, to stand to a trust, to defend a post, not to swerve one hair's breadth from the place where God has placed him, to do well and thoroughly what is committed to him—this surely has been in all ages the mark of a true Englishman. When you compare this with more active and inspiring motives, there is a sort of homeliness and baldness about mere duty: but ah! as life goes on, as things change and alter, as feelings fade like spring flowers, as the fires of passion burn out, and leave only smoldering embers, what a stay and strength is the man or woman by whom duty, whatever it is, is always done! In the place appointed, at the hour and the moment, it matters not with what discomfort or self-denial—let things happen as they will, let the storm rage or the wind blow, let the day be fair or the night dark—always at hand!
It is this which has colonized the antipodes and sailed to the frozen seas of the north; it is this which has been parched beneath the torrid sun, and has nursed the sick and wounded in Crimean hospitals. It was this which conquered at Waterloo, and rode to death at Balaklava, and stood the siege at Lucknow, and marched across the burning land, with Havelock, to the rescue. It was this which, but yesterday, made Bishop Milman, of Calcutta, undertake one more visitation, before returning to England; this, which nerved him to persevere, even to the sacrifice of his life, so that he never saw his native land again. It was this which gave to Bishop Patteson, in the sunny seas of the South, the palm of martyrdom; and which caused the noblest of England's sons to stand, but the other day, around a woman's grave, and, amid the dead whose names are written in history, lay her down to rest, because she had done a woman's work and a woman's duty, bravely and well.
O noblest word that an English tongue can utter—Duty! My friends, let it ever be your labor and prayer, that when strength fails, and life grows old, it may be the motive that shall guide you to the end. I am sure I shall touch a chord in every heart when I utter another word, more tender than the last, and expressing a motive which blends with duty, and forms a part of it—HOME!
The people of sunnier climes live much in the open air. There have been periods when the bath and the forum, the theatre and the market-place, were most associated with the daily life of those who have stood forth prominently in the world's history. There is a Bedouin instinct in modern life, which gives a migratory impulse to many, and sends them hither and thither. They are willing, like the patriarchs, to abide in tents, though the modern tent is the railway-car and the huge hotel. Nor are Englishmen or Americans free from this instinct. The protests against absenteeism are historical in Great Britain; and it is a question, growing graver every year, whether the increased culture, and knowledge of art, and general refining influence of European travel, can make up to Americans for the absurd expenditure of money, the idle and careless living, the loosening of family ties, the taking away of the sense of responsibility to the country, to the city, to the Church, which is often the result of this longer or shorter stay of so many and such varied classes of our people in foreign lands. But, however this may be, the idea of Home is one that has permeated English life, and lies at the foundation of her highest glory.
The consecrated union of man and wife,
"To lead sweet lives of purest chastity,
To love one woman only, cleave to her,
And worship her by years of noble deeds ";
the indissolubility of the marriage tie; the holding fast to the wife till death shall rend asunder; the husband to be—what the word implies—the house-band of the Home; the glory to the mother to bear and nourish and bring up children; the stalwart sons and fair daughters, the children like olive-branches round about the table; obedience, order, submission, reverence, gentle subjection, on the part of the younger; faith, labor, guidance, wisdom, authority, on the part of parents; brotherly and sisterly love; the ties and obligations of blood; the true training of children; the reverent care for the crowned glory of the hoary head; all these serve to make up the idea of an English Home. A joy to look back upon, a rest to look forward to, the one spot on earth which images forth, though never so faintly, that "dear, dear country" for which the unsatisfied soul of the Christian never ceases to be home-sick.
Connected with the idea of Home, and blended with its most sacred associations, is the English Sunday. The day of rest ever recurring; the repose from labor; the parish Church with the quiet churchyard around it; the old and the young worshiping in the house of God; the stately cathedral with its surpliced train; the gathering of the family; the reverent observance of GOD'S great law, that one day in seven shall be His for ever; this has been, far more than the thoughtless fancy, a source of strength to the English people.
To stop in the pursuit of gain, to rest from busy schemes, to pause in the whirl of life, if it does nothing more, gives renewed power to work the more bravely and earnestly afterward. To lay aside all these, and substitute for them the thought of heaven, the claims of duty, the glories of the unseen world, the worship of the invisible Master; nay, if it were nothing else than to fix the tender thought on wife and child, on father and mother—this is to make the weekly day of rest a source of strength, and vigor, and ever-increasing power, to them who observe it. It is to do more than this; it is to bear witness to the truth that material progress, or scientific advancement, or literary fame, are not the highest objects of a nation's efforts; but the seeking all these as treasures to be laid up in that better land, where "moth and rust do not corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal."
The observance of Sunday joins together the seen and the unseen; it sanctifies labor by rest; transforms repose into renewed effort; and, with an ever-recurring voice, proclaims, in the words of the apostle, that "the things which are seen are temporal, and the things which are not seen are eternal."
"The Sundays of man's life, Threaded together on time's string, Make bracelets to adorn the wife Of the eternal glorious King. On Sunday, heaven's gate stands ope; Blessings are plentiful and rife, More plentiful than hope.
But the heart throbs, and the blood rushes through the veins with a quicker flow, at another word in some sort greater than those I have mentioned, and that word is—Liberty!
Liberty! To be free has ever been the highest ambition of the Anglo-Saxon race. There has been also something far higher than this desire; and that is the power to discern the blended conditions which make up true freedom. Perhaps the discovery of the exact relative proportions in national life, which would successfully harmonize individual rights and corporate responsibilities, may never, be precisely attained to in this weary world. To approximate to it may be the best condition to which that government which is nearest perfection may attain. To find out how far the rights of the many are consistent with the rule of the best; to give to every man a due voice in the government to which he must submit, and yet to stop short at the point where ignorance and baseness attain the power to disfranchise the educated and noble; so to regulate political rewards that, while they who serve the nation shall have the nation's honors and emoluments, there never can be that weary race of mere office-seekers, who make life hideous with their eager outcries, and prey with hungry incompetency upon the vitals of the country; to preserve Christianity as the foundation of a nation's power, and yet to give true religious freedom; to educate the people, yet to be sure that there can be no true education save on the basis of Christian morals, Christian prayer, and Christian faith; to realize that there can be no true freedom without the slavery of what is base and foul and godless—this, is the problem the English-speaking people have ever set themselves to solve.
Amid inconsistencies which it is difficult to reconcile, with tendencies which in some aspects must make the thoughtful Englishman most anxious, how marvelous, after all, in its relation to true freedom, has been and is the political history of Great Britain. It has blended loyalty to the Crown with a suffrage which of late has gone as near to universal suffrage as it is ever safe for a nation which expects to retain the allegiance of the thoughtful to dare to go. It has preferred an aristocracy of birth and blood to that which always seeks to take the place of this—an aristocracy of money or of mere political advancement. It has preserved an Established Church, and yet has given true religious freedom. While it permits men to rise from the lower ranks to some of the highest honors in the gift of the government, it has not yet failed to respect education, worth, loftiness of character, and independent maintenance of principle. All these things England has done—I do not say perfectly, or exactly as one would theoretically wish, or altogether consistently; nor yet do I speak as necessarily approving of them all—yet, I must say, with a success which may well make all freedom-loving people pause and ponder.
But there has been something else which includes all these thoughts upon which I have thus far dwelt, something that is at once the cause and the final result of them all, and which is summed up in that name which I utter with awe and reverence—ALMIGHTY GOD. Behind the individual, family, and national life of our motherland, wheresoever there has been anything great, or true, or of good report, has been the belief in the personal, ever-living GOD, the Father of His children. Not a belief in an immaterial Force, a primal Law antecedent to all other laws—not in an all-pervading subtle essence—but in 'Him of whom the Psalmist sang, "GOD is my King of old: the help that is done upon earth, He doeth it Himself."
Our Father! This has made Briton and Dane, Saxon and Norman, one. This has made king and people, lords and commons, Church and State—estates apparently discordant—true factors in the national life. This has been the chemical affinity which has made opposing elements unite in harmonious action. This has been the hidden secret of the strength at which the Philistines have marveled. Louder than the voices of them that strive for the mastery, above the din of arms, the blare of trumpets, the waving of banners, the rush of infantry, the dash of cavalry, the moving of fleets, the clatter of politicians, the eloquence of patriots, the going to and fro of them that buy and sell, and the clash of gold; from priests at the altar, from mothers kneeling by the side of children, from fathers looking upward in time of bitter trial; from the joy of peaceful homes and happy hours, the nation's heart has cried, "Our Father who art in Heaven," and He has heard it!
My friends of the St. George's Society! I can say all this of your native land with the more profound earnestness, because I believe that these great ideas belong to our own nation as well. They are ours as well as yours, American as well as English. Whatever else the separation of the colonies took from us or gave us, it left to America the great ideas of Duty, Home, Sunday, Liberty, God. However else divided, in these at least we are still one people. When, then, I call your attention to these, if I revive your patriotism, it is but to make you love your adopted country the better. If I praise the mother-land, the heart responds that it is the daughter's praise as well.
But I pause. O my country! my country! whence is this unto thee in this centennial year, in this thy day of prosperity and greatness? Why does the lip tremble and the eye fill with tears, and the heart sink, at the mention of these great ideas—the very foundations of honor and power? Whence comes it that thy children do not rise as one man, and cast aside the wretched traditions which have made both great political parties of this land alike contemptible? Who will dare to enunciate, as the basis of political action, the great conservative principles of the government of the best, of offices to those who know how to fill them, of Christianity as the foundation of a nation's prosperity, of honesty, duty, family life, true freedom, and proclaim the eternal GOD as our Refuge, and underneath the everlasting arms?
I remember, my friends, that it is still the octave of Easter. We celebrate the rising from death to life, from the grave to the sunlight, of the eternal King and Lord of all. The stone is rolled away; vain was the guard, the seal, the silent sepulchre. He has burst the gates of hell; He has led captivity captive. Christ is risen!
St. Peter, who denied Him; St. Thomas, who doubted; the Magdalen, who sorrowed much; St. John, who loved much; the Virgin Mother, who "hid all things in her heart, and pondered," behold Him once more. He was dead, and is alive again, and has the keys of death and of hell.
This high festival season speaks a word of hope to those who love their country. From the evil and the wrong, from the corruption and bribery, from the shame and the ruin, the nation's Easter Day shall come! Awake, O land! awake! cast off the cerements, break through the guards, roll away the stone, and, with Christ, arise to newness of life! The angels say, "Why weepest thou? "The voices cry, "He is risen." He goes before His disciples to His native Galilee. With joyful hearts, let us go with Him.
But I can not conclude without remarking that, if the people of any nation—American or English—have in common such great ideas as those I have spoken of, what a bond of union must it make, and what duties must it involve! Not simply the duty of maintaining, and enforcing, and deepening these blessed principles; but a common duty to every one who shares the same national life.
Chiefly must it involve the helping hand to the homeless, the sorrowing, the sick, the desolate, the stranger. Our Divine Master has enforced this duty on all mankind, when He said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." But, surely, it is right to feel the deepened sense which comes to every man, when one of his own family, his own blood, his own kin, his own nation, is suffering.
Benevolent duties, members of the St. George's Society, form a chief part of the objects of your organization. Take heed that in performing them, ye do so as those who share with such as need your aid a common duty, a common home, a common day of rest, a common freedom, and the self-same GOD! Give with no niggardly hand; give not only money, but care and attention and kindly help; give as one, O my friend, who one day may himself have to suffer; but as one who, whether in prosperity or adversity, is rich in the glory and honor and common brotherhood of his native land! Then, when the sun shall sink to rest amid the golden clouds—whether in your own country or far away, whether by the grave of father or mother, or alone—as you lie down to sleep, it will be yours to look back upon a life bright with duty bravely done; with God for your refuge and strength, and with the glory of the Eternal Easter waiting to dawn upon you.