AND INCUMBENT OF ST. ANDREW THE LESS,
BE GIVEN TO THE CHURCH PASTORAL AID SOCIETY.
T. DIXON, (LATE J. PAGE,) MARKET STREET.
THESE words were originally spoken of Abner, by David king of Israel. It was a time of royal mourning;--of mourning, however, not conducted after the fashion of mere state etiquette. David was weeping over his general's death in all the simplicity of his most unrestrained feelings--doing homage to the departed, out of respect for fallen greatness.
England has this week been called by the providence of God to follow in the same steps. She has had to mourn over the loss of one of her greatest sons. She has done so, moreover, in all the same simplicity of undisguised emotion as David did of old. Looking over the past, and addressing her surviving children through her tears, she seems to be able to find no utterance more suitable to her feelings than the language contained in the text: "Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?"
If David could pronounce these words over Abner, much more may we over the great man just departed from amongst ourselves. Abner, it is true, had been a mighty man of valour. He had conducted all the wars of Saul; and after Saul's death had kept his son Ishbosheth planted on the throne of Israel by [3/4] the skill of his own successful generalship. Yet, in doing this, he had been fighting against the real interests of his country; because Israel's national grandeur was bound up by divine promise with the house of David for ever. [2 Sam. vii. 12-17.] At the period, however, to which this text refers he had changed his course of policy; and deserting Ishbosheth, had gone over to the army of David. It was at the best a cold and selfish policy. Nevertheless David thankfully received him. Thinking that he saw in him an instrument raised up by God to establish the crown on his own head, he accepted his services, recognized his military glory, and rested on him as on one of the greatest pillars of his state. Alas, how frail the hope! Abner was slain by Joab in the midst of his martial vigour, before even one of David's glowing thoughts could be realized.
I say, then, that if under these circumstances, David could use the language of the text; much more may we, on the present occasion.
For, in the first place, he whom we are now lamenting never was known to engage in any war against the interests of his rightful sovereign. In all his campaigns you will find that he was guided by no principle, and betrayed into no concession, which was inconsistent with his allegiance to the crown of England. Unlike many of the mighty men of valour in Scripture, or of the heroes whom we meet with in ancient and modern history, he never aimed in his warfare at ambitious conquests for self aggrandizement; he never pursued his victories beyond the point demanded by his country. He deserted no principles, and changed no masters; but fought with [4/5] unflinching bravery, and untiring patriotism in one long-continued and well-sustained series of wars, until he returned home the temporal saviour of his nation, to be welcomed by the grateful praises of all his admiring countrymen.
In the next place, unlike Abner, he was not cut off in the midst of active service before his energies had been spent or his designs accomplished. He was not the victim of revengeful malice, carried off by the blow of an assassin just when about to enter upon a course of signal usefulness. This man had run his race, and had left no earthly task apparently unperformed. Spared in God's goodness to the advanced age of fourscore years and three, he had served his sovereign both in the camp and parliament, in open battle and secret counsel; and had survived to enjoy all the fruit of his varied labours, surrounded by every honour, and enthroned in national confidence. And now that he has died we feel that we have lost a mighty man indeed. Royalty itself mourns over his departed greatness. We shall all cling to his memory as to that of one who has been the father and the friend of his country. We shall think no honour too great to be paid him and no gratitude too lively to be expressed concerning him. For of him we may say, far more truthfully than David could say of Abner--"Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?"
It may seem, perhaps, when we have said thus much--unless, indeed, we were to proceed even further in a similar strain--that we have exhausted the whole force of the text. But no, brethren. The language of this text is not to be confined to the death of generals like Abner, or of patriots like our late noble Duke of Wellington. It has pleased God to take up a different measuring line from that of [5/6] this world, and to throw a circle of glory over others beside those who are covered with the mantle of mere temporal splendour. It is true that he does not disdain to recognize, as we have done just now, the well earned glory of successful and victorious men of valour. Yet he holds a list in his hand, in which he ranks many others as far more entitled to the inheritance. He has stamped the name of prince in his own most holy word upon others than those of royal blood or noble birth. He has pronounced some men great who have never been crowned with laurels in the midst of victorious armies, and who have been altogether strangers to any honours upon earth. And of such men when they have died, though the state pall has never been thrown over their coffins, nor the cathedral bell tolled at their funeral, nor a nation's tears scattered over their graves; yet God has made a voice unheard by man to go forth before the angels of heaven, saying--"Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?"
The text therefore is not without a proper application to yourselves. If it could have had no force upon your consciences, I should not have chosen it. If it could not be a testimony uttered by others over your own deathbeds, I should have thought that--however appropriate for the melancholy subject of a funeral elegy over one like the Duke of Wellington--yet it would have been singularly inappropriate and out of place for a sermon to an ordinary congregation like the present. But the truth is, it is eminently pointed, and applicable to us all. I grant that none of you can expect to follow in the steps of him who is departed, that none can dream of attaining to earthly honours like his, that none can hope to go down to their graves crowned with the title of temporal princes, or heralded before the world as great [6/7] men fallen in Israel; nevertheless you may enjoy the glory of all these titles spiritually, and, unperceived by the busy crowd around you, pass to an inheritance of everlasting renown, where your advent shall be heralded by angels, and your triumphs remain imperishable.
And now you ask--"Where does God give us such glorious privileges? Where does he stamp us with princedom though we be not born of nobility? Where does he tell us that immortal tongues shall celebrate our decease, and heaven itself chant our epitaphs? How does he lead us to expect that in the day of our death this text may be repeated over ourselves?"
I can see amongst you those who are already on the road to these immortal honours. Do you ask me who they are? They are the children of prayer and of faith, the men who are living for God and doing battle in his sacred service, the men who count no self-denial a toil, and no labour of love a task, so long as they can "win Christ and be found in him, not having on their own righteousness which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ Jesus." [Phil. iii. 18,19.] These are the men whom Scripture calls "princes." They are "kings and priests unto God." [Rev. i. 6.] They are "more than conquerors through him that loved them." [Rom. viii. 37.] These are they who have fought in more desperate conflicts than the warrior in coat of mail, because they have fought against sin and Satan. These are they who have ruled in more glorious courts than even kings sitting on their thrones, because they have ruled God's spirit over their own rebellious hearts. These are they whose victories have been grander and deeds more heroic than any of this world's worthies--men who "through [7/8] faith have subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the army of aliens." [Heb. xi. 33, 34.]
Take an example of one illustrious person stamped divinely with the name of "prince," although Scripture itself informs us that he was only "a plain man dwelling in tents." [Gen. xxv. 27.] How, then, did he secure this title? Was it by his spear, or his bow? Did he obtain this honour from the greatness of his flocks or herds? Not at all. Left alone and in the dead of the night--trembling with fear for his life, lest his brother Esau should slay him--Jacob was apparently at the lowest possible ebb of his earthly fortunes. Yet he was in reality approaching their crowning point. How did he pass that memorable night? We are told that he was wrestling even till break of day with a solemn and mysterious stranger, a man from whom he earnestly sought a blessing. We are informed, moreover, that even when his thigh had been loosened in its joint, he still went on agonizing in his earnestness; and grasping his precious treasure exclaimed--"I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." [Gen. xxxii. 26.] It was well and bravely done. It was this which secured him victory, this which crowned him with glory, this which obtained for him a heavenly princedom. "Thy name shall be no more called Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." [Gen. xxxii. 28.]
Christian brethren! Why should there not be many a Jacob amongst yourselves? I want to see you arise and claim your titles. I want to see you mighty in your wrestlings with God's Holy Spirit, [8/9] pleading his precious promises, spreading out all your sorrows before him, clinging to his covenant mercies. I want to know that you are more than ever constant and stationed before a throne of grace, and rich in your utterances in prayer. If this be so, you need never envy the rank or wealth of earth's nobility, because your's is even greater than their's. God himself has placed you among his sons, and ranks you for Christ's sake above the very angels of heaven. What need it matter that you hold no sway over rich demesnes, or exert no temporal influence over your fellow men? As children of faith and of prayer, you move even the arm of God and exercise a share in his own counsels. Your's is the best inheritance. When earthly coronets are all crumbled to pieces your crowns shall shine resplendent. God himself has surnamed you by the name of Israel, and made you princes for ever.
But let us not be deceived. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven." [Matt. vii. 21.] The Christian who is recognized as princely is only he who prevails with God in prayer. Before you flatter your own souls, therefore, first ask--"Do I know the true power of prayer? Are all my petitions sent up to the throne of grace through the alone merits and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ? Can I behold him by faith in heaven standing with the golden censer in his hands, and presenting my humble supplications in his own name before his Father? Am I clothed in a better righteousness than my own? Do I plead with a tongue instructed by the Holy Ghost? Do I cry with the spirit of adoption, saying, 'Abba, Father?' [9/10] Do I groan with the struggling earnestness of Jacob, saying, 'I will not let thee go, except thou bless me'?" What, if not? In vain is it then to dream of prevailing with God. All your prayers are lifeless; and all your songs formality. Like the empty sounds of Baal's priesthood on the top of Mount Carmel, they reach no higher than the air around you. Heaven remains unmoved by them. But if, on the other hand, these experiences are yours; then how changed the scene! The praying disciple may be poor and unknown upon earth; he may be often refused the patronage of worldly greatness; he may go on suffering a continual round of temporal reverses, and at last die with scarcely a home to shelter him, or a friend to comfort him; but for all this, he is a man of mighty influence before God. Angels gaze upon his soul with admiration and wonder. As they hear his devout breathings go up to the mercy seat, they behold the great Intercessor accompanying them. As they watch him through life they perceive the wheels of God's providence running before him, and the dews of God's grace dropping upon him. They, themselves, are his own ministering servants. Thus they follow him onward from faith to faith and from grace to grace, and hail him as the friend of God; until at last when he comes to die, they gladly exchange their services of love for songs of joy, and welcome him to an everlasting home. At that moment we may almost hear them exclaiming, as they walk amongst the sons of men, and contemplate the visible church left behind, "Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?"
Yes, brethren, this is true greatness. I would not for a moment unnecessarily depreciate the earthly glories of other great men, especially of him whose loss we commemorate to-day. Let us inscribe his [10/11] name upon our hearts; let us build his monument in our metropolitan abbey; let us award him all the tribute he so justly earned from us as Englishmen. Let us admire his genius, wonder at his judgment, and praise his magnificent victories. Let us place him among our highest nobles, and rank him, if you like, as the very first of Britain's heroes. But let us not lose our spiritual discernment in the fulness of our patriotic enthusiasm. All these things are no doubt true. We join the world in acknowledging them. But, alas! the world looks no higher. It can estimate greatness by no other rule than intellectual power, or visible glory. We, on the other hand, without detracting from the proper value of these, desire to elevate you above them. I long to see you scaling up far greater heights of glory. I long to see you piercing by an eagle vision into all the splendour of true spiritual greatness. Recollect this alone is imperishable. The time will come when the grave shall close over the last of all earthly genius, and when even fame itself shall begin to droop and to wither. Then we shall see that many of her noblest sons have only after all been like shooting stars or passing meteors, shining for a while in time, to be engulphed in darkness for eternity. But of those who are registered as great in the kingdom of heaven; who are celebrated among the angels of God, not for their talents, or their riches, but for their spiritual gifts and graces--of those we shall never have to proclaim any such destiny. They shall "shine as stars in the kingdom of God for ever." [1 Dan. xii. 3.] Theirs is truly an immortal triumph, and an imperishable fame.
Hence I counsel you to seek after spiritual greatness. Do not envy any man the renown he may have [11/12] derived from splendid conquests, or brilliant discoveries; but rather envy him who is known before God as holy, and who lives in constant communion with heaven. True greatness consists in this. Here is the greatest bravery:--to follow the cross without flinching. Here is the greatest discovery:--to find by an experimental acquaintance what are the "heights and depths, and lengths, and breadths of the love of Christ." [Eph. iii. 18,19.] Here is the greatest achievement:--to "fight the good fight of faith," [Tim. vi. 12.] and "overcome by the blood of the lamb." [Rev. xii. 11.] Here is the greatest honour:--to have God dwelling in our hearts, and making them the temples of his presence. If you follow after these things humbly, patiently, diligently, your souls will be great indeed; great in every holy principle of action, great in every object of sympathy, great in every one of their aspirations after the future. Compare the greatness of such an one with that of Alexander's or Caesar's, and in the scales of even-handed justice theirs must kick the beam. The one has all the solidity and strength of a rock, while the others glitter only in the sun like soap bubbles just before they vanish into the air and are lost. Do I speak this at random? No! Scripture itself defends the statement. Alexander had lived, and wept for more worlds to conquer. Caesar had lived, and covered the whole globe with his glory. And after them had risen another. Who was this? He dwelt in the open deserts, more like a wild man than a hero; he was clothed in a raiment of camel's hair, more like a hermit than a prince. [Matt. iii. 1, 4.] Yet of this man it was said by Christ--"Among all those born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." [Matt. xi. 11.] In [12/13] what, then, did his real greatness consist? In nothing that was temporal or carnal. He astonished no one with feats of martial prowess, or with exhibitions of intellectual power. His only greatness was his strict and self-denying piety. He left no attempt of duty undischarged, and no post of duty deserted. He lived for no other object but to testify of Christ, and in that he fulfilled his course, sealing his testimony at last with his own blood. And yet this greatness of John the Baptist may be even surpassed by ourselves. For remember how it is written, that "he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." [Matt. xi. 11.] Only live like him, brethren, in a simple and faithful discharge of all your appointed duties. Draw your happiness from the closeness of your walk with God. Bear a noble and unflinching testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ. And then every voice throughout the church shall conspire to call you great. It is true that your names may not be handed clown to posterity, and that no noble escutcheon may grace your family sepulchres; but your record shall be on high, emblazoned in the very heraldry of heaven itself; and when you are called to die, both saints and angels shall unite in sounding out the news--"Know ye not that there is a prince and great man fallen this day in Israel?"
Yes, beloved, "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." [Ps. cxvi. 15.] When a true child of God is removed to glory, it is a far greater march of triumph than that of any of earth's most splendid conquerors. We may miss, indeed, the rolling of musketry, or the booming of cannon, or the flourish of trumpets, or the acclamation of ten thousand voices. But better than all, we can hear the still small voice [13/14] of God speaking peace to his hallowed ashes; we can hear the heavenly host pealing forth their loud hosannahs; we can hear the voice of the Redeemer welcoming the ransomed spirit to himself--"Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." [Matt. xxv. 21.]
But if the death of the saint be in this way precious before God, it is sadly precious to the church which survives him upon earth. It is a part of his spiritual greatness to go down to the grave missed, regretted, and bewailed. His fellow saints can ill afford to spare him. They feel like David under the loss of Abner, that they are left the weaker by their bereavement. [2 Sam. iii. 39.] It is always so when great men die who have exercised an extended influence for good. Where can you have a more memorable example of it, than in the case of him whom God has now removed from us? This great man was ever foremost in action, ever prompt in deliberation, ever prudent in counsel. He possessed a sagacity unrivalled for every power of discernment, a decision never surpassed for carrying out his determinations. Experienced beyond all other men of his own day in the camp, the field, the parliament, the court--he seemed to stand alone as a guardian and a sage for his country. In times of difficulty and seasons of danger, every government was glad to seek his aid and shelter itself beneath his universally respected judgment. The consequence is, that now we have lost these happy privileges, we estimate our loss by our remembrance of them. We feel in our grief for his death that he has left a blank which it will require many years to fill up. We miss a presiding [14/15] genius, and we feel the weaker from the absence of it.
And the church of God feels exactly the counterpart of all this when any of her spiritual princes are taken from her. We then mourn over the saint departed, because we have one witness less for the Lord Jesus Christ. A brother has then gone from us who occupied a post for God, and who used his talents for good. In proportion, therefore, as his influence was felt over others, the whole body of the Church must lament for him. His place, known no more, remains a blank for some time before our eyes. We miss such a saint with his works and labours of love as one whom, while it delighted God to take, it equally grieved us to lose. And when the fact of his decease is announced, all we can do is to take up the language of the text--"Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?"
It is time, then, to ask you, dear brethren, how you yourselves are living! Is it in the fear of God? Are you seeking by a life of prayer to vindicate your right to the title of spiritual princes? Are you marching on the road to heavenly glory? Are you aiming at true spiritual greatness? Are you striving to occupy your station, your talents, your time, your influence, for the good of all around you? Are you endeavouring to live righteously in the service of your God and country? In one word, are you striving by God's help so to live, that you may be missed when you are called to die?
You will not deny that these are important questions. Settle them therefore fairly with your own consciences. Recollect, the time is fast coming when questions such as these will be of no avail, because we shall all be alike before the bar of God. See, then, from the event we this day deplore, something [15/16] of the frailty and vanity of life. Time is fast hurrying us onward; and that without the least respect of persons. You have beheld in time of harvest how the reaper mows down the standing corn. Some proud shocks of wheat may be seen in one place towering above the rest, as if they smiled exultingly over their own superiority--others in lowlier shapes, sheltering themselves beneath a hedge-row by the side of the field, as if they rested secure from destruction; yet the resistless blade has struck down all alike. So in the great field of this world, a lofty spirit has now fallen; but during the same week myriads of more ordinary mortals have been mowed down also. My brethren, your time must soon be coming. Nothing can possibly avert it. In his case, rank, and riches, and abundant honours gathered from almost every country in Europe, not to speak of India also--all these succumbed in a moment. What can you oppose in comparison? Learn wisdom, then, while there is time; and "prepare to meet thy God." [1 Amos iv. 12.]
To those who have already by God's grace been brought into holy preparation of heart, let me say only one simple word in conclusion. Mourn like Christian patriots over the death of our illustrious Duke. Few of you will probably be enabled to pay him in person the last fond tribute of regard. But if you hear not the muffled-drums beating his death march, or if you see not the solemn pageant which shall attend his venerated remains as they are conveyed to the lowly tomb,--at least let him be embalmed in your memories. Recollect that it was he who under God's good providence proved the means of securing that peace of the last thirty years, under the influence of which so many here present have [16/17] been cradled and nursed from their infancy; that it was he to whom, under God, we were chiefly indebted for Napoleon's impotence in his enmity against the free soil of Britain. He therefore merits our national gratitude. Let us ever revere his name, and install it in each of our homes as a familiar and household word.
And if, under the fulness of our grief for his loss, any should begin to fear for the future of England, let us check such heartless faithlessness. The hand that has bereaved us of this pillar of state is still in the midst to support us. The Lord himself is our defence. Let us "cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils." [Is. ii. 22.] Remember, too, that the best security of a nation is, after all, not so much in the number of its counsellors, or the heroism of its generals and field marshals, as in the number of its true and faithful citizens. Our real safety is deposited in the ark of God. Aim, therefore, at holiness of heart. Live as citizens in the discharge of every relative duty, and in the faith and fear of God. Seek to be centres of influence for good upon all that are lying around you. So will you best deserve the name of Christian patriots, and prove yourselves friends to your country. So will religion be advanced and virtue sustained, and the social fabric purified. So throughout life you will enjoy the satisfaction of beholding God's glory extended; and when you are summoned to your deathbeds, saints and angels will bear witness to the value of your own past services--"Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?"