PRINTED BY E. BRIERE, RUE SAINT-HONORE, 257.
The following discourse, prepared as an affectionate tribute to the worth, as well as an instructive memorial of the faith and virtues of an aged servant of Christ, is now printed in obedience to the wish of a daughter's pious affection, with the prayer that God may multiply for our edification and to His own glory, such examples of faith and testimony to His truth.
Rev. W. O. Lamson.
REV. DEAR SIR,
I shall be much gratified if you will allow the sermon you preached after the death of my dear mother, in which you mention her in terms so true as well as honourable to yourself, to be printed. Her affection for you, and the Church over which the Providence of God has placed you, never failed, and among the last expressions of her life, your affectionate attention to her was recurred to with gratitude.
I remain, my dear Sir,
Your very faithfully,
ELIZABETH H. WALSH
Paris, March 14, 1860.
I Said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom. JOB, XXXII, 7.
Elihu was right when he pleaded thus against the graver years of Job and his sorry comforters, and for his own more youthful but truer perceptions of God's unimpeachable wisdom. He uttered an instinctive and universal sentiment of our nature, when he demanded from those more aged witnesses of the divine ways, a faithful account of them, whereby to vindicate God's goodness in the patriarch's bitter experience. If man is to learn wisdom otherwise than by direct revelation from God, or if that wisdom, even, is to be proved in his own trials of it, instruction must increase with age and experience establish knowledge. Surely length of days should speak and multitude of years should teach wisdom.
We act rather than reason upon this truth, brethren, and act so instinctively and universally, that we seldom stop to trace the sentiment to its source in our nature, or to follow it with reflection in the thousand different directions whither it carries us. Did we thus ask ourselves why we admit time to be our wisest teacher and confide in its judgments, we should be forced in the end to render the answer,--because it is God's infallible witness, and come thus to avow that the best results of human wisdom or experience do but establish God's word, which might have been the light and support of our life all along, instead of only the [3/4] conclusion of its weary conflicts, and the final solution of its intricate problem. Did we suffer this instinctive association of wisdom with multitude of years, of reverence with length of days, to bear us to the full reach of its instruction, we should find our faith reposing in God's eternity, and our reverence feeding upon the divine perfections which are without beginning or end. It is the aspiration of our own immortality reaching over the limits of time to re-attach itself to its source.
But even while insensible or disobedient to the admonitions of the soul, restless in the narrow bonds of the flesh, it is instructive to observe how extensively we are under the influence of this principle of reverence for age; how we are taught in spirit by the simple power of years, as though even the mute marks of time were lines of mystic character to be translated into lessons of wisdom by the soul's intuitive perceptions; to be wrought into emotions for the discipline of the mind and heart. Who is insensible to the solemn interest, the hallowed charm that lives in and about old things, surrounding them like a subtle atmosphere to penetrate the soul, and move it by a fresh review of awakened memories, or to quicken the mind with new power of realization? The grey and weather-beaten ruin, the mossy and solitary tower, or the ivied arch, against which time seems to have done its worst; crumbling walls and mouldering battlements that mark the limits of ancient cities; heaps of massive fragments and traces of monumental beauty and architectural grace that once enriched the gorgeous halls where trod the pride of royal magnificence, glittering with sensual beauty and wealth of pageantry, and rich [4/5] with the perfumes of dreamy luxury; buried cities through whose streets we walk amid the petrified forms of their once busy life, from whose mute testimony we learn the manners and fashions of a people arrested in the turmoil of thoughtless life to disappear in a moment from the face of the earth, and find a common grave with all the material glory wherein they trusted, and to be exhumed in future ages with all but the speaking vividness and distinctness of the present; all eloquent, in their dreary silence, of the mighty impotence and the bold uncertainty of human hopes: all this attracts us with strange fascination and inspires us with reverential awe. So we gaze upon the unearthed fossils and rocky footprints, revealing through the light of science the physical changes of the world, and arraying before the mind the mighty and vanished forms of the past. So we wander upon the borders of the Nile and are crushed with a sense of our own insignificance and made to smile at the elaborate parade of our brief three score and ten years, as we seek to compass with the eye those stupendous works of human pride and labour which defy history to follow them to their origin or to account for their presence. They seem like a mighty effort to sensualise the thought of eternity, to deify matter and materialise an attribute of the spirit. So again do we seek out and tread with reverential feet the hallowed regions consecrated by God's bodily presence upon the earth, the theatre of the awful drama of Redemption. We know full well all the great and gracious truths it has bequeathed to our souls, and the more we value them, the more we linger in fascination about the localities and scenes where was wrought that work of love and suffering. The mind dwells with wrapt interest [5/6] and intense emotion upon every step of that divine pilgrimage. It would question the very rocks, and hills, and rivers for their holy memories; make them tell us volumes more than the Evangelists have recorded, of the holy words of wisdom and grace, of the blessed deeds of mercy and charity that rained like heavenly manna upon the hungry multitudes pressing about the path of the God-Man Saviour: We would make mute things eloquent and bid living things be still, that "days might speak and multitude of years might teach wisdom."
Neither living tongue nor written history speaks with the power of many years when they have gathered about some object which our eyes can behold and our senses can touch, and which can touch us with the startling force of realization. Therefore it is that we seek out the relics of former ages and feed this sentiment of reverence for antiquity; that we leave books, dusty chronicles, word pictures, statistical battles, the dead records of once stirring life, and make pilgrimages to the tangible forms that remain to witness to our busy and exacting fancy of the once living and breathing reality; that we place ourselves upon the summit or under the shadow of some monument of the mighty historic dead, and with strained imagination people the scene with the images and forms that once made them famous; press with our feet the earth scarred with many a battle wound, and stand again in fancy under the fascination of the golden mouthed orator, in the very atmosphere once stirred by his voice. All this attests the powerful influence of time, in its outward evidences, over the mind and heart. We yield passively to its grave instruction, and dare not part the lips to scorn it. The touchstone of its judgment tests deeply and thoroughly the nature and worth of all things. What it has [6/7] proved folly we never can make wisdom; what it has stamped as wise and desirable, condemns us for ever in its neglect. All this we admit in sentiment and approve by the outspeaking instincts of our nature, and he therefore who will not learn from age, who will not found his faith in the repeated verdicts of experience and a multitude of years, and nourish his reverence for wisdom by the faithful witness of the past, how shall we hope that he will mount in faith and reverence to Him of whom all things witness, both bad and good, acknowledge Him as the only realization of the soul's desire after excellence, stability, and eternity of wisdom?
Brethren, the foundation of our instinctive veneration for age is laid deeper than we are commonly aware, and the honour and respect we pay to it are ever in proportion to the freedom of the public morals from that general taint of irreverence which belongs to the stages of a people's degeneracy. When public sentiment is insensible to the lessons of experience, indifferent to the voices of the past, given over to the concepts of the present and the pursuit of novelties, we shall see the cherished monuments of history swept away as encumbrances, truth moulded to new fashions, old paths to honour and usefulness deserted, and the fifth commandment blotted from the record. All the bonds of mutual dependence and due subordination are loosened to a lawless will, and we quickly come to the anarchy of an utter and destructive selfishness. But this comes about with great difficulty. God has given this sentiment of veneration for age too deep and strong a hold upon our nature to suffer it to be easily broken or dislodged, because he has given it a large [7/8] share in our moral and religious education. While there is none that under due culture so quickly and thoroughly purges the heart of conceit and selfishness, so nourishes it in charity, honour, and generous consideration of others, knitting us in a commonwealth of happiness and interest, so there is none so formed to seize and hold fast the truths that lift us to a clear apprehension of God in all the love and all the glory of his infinite nature: none that so keeps us from the degradations of sense until those truths can fasten themselves upon the mind and knit themselves into the affections of the heart. Thus it is not only, as I have said, the witness of God's wisdom in the world, in the solutions and vindications of time, but it is His witness also within us; and whatsoever in the world is venerable for its multitude of years, does by this very authority, though by no other relation, speak to us in His name. How high and impressive, then, is the sanction by which we owe reverence to the aged, and how inviolable the sanctity of that veneration which belongs to the parent from the child. If marks of age and multitude of years in the inanimate vestiges of former days awe us in their presence, how much more should we bow before the living forms of age, bend ourselves in the presence of those who go laden with the weight of years, and listen to their testimony to that life of whose waters they have drunk long and deep! Before them we are touched with the instinctive reverence and obedience of children, and look with mute respect for Days to speak and multitude of years to teach wisdom.
In the simple manners of patriarchal times, when men drew nearer to God in a sense of direct dependence, [8/9] with minds unbeguiled and undivided by the distracting interests of more complicated life, no virtue was more cherished, more exacted than this of filial reverence and veneration for the aged, counted as it was in its obligations, second only to the honour due to God alone, of which it is the earthly image. And in those times when the divine law was held to subject children to parents, even to their very lives, no curse fell more heavily than that denounced against filial rebellion and disrespect. The benediction of age was consecrated by its very multitude of years, its curse laden with its weight of days. What has changed all this, brethren, but our own degeneracy in the virtues that adorned the ages when God drew nearer to men than now? How is it that while time has been busy printing and reprinting its lessons of experience, and rolling up its long records of history, that weary tale of man's strife with God, we, with the strongest instincts to find and adore Him in the wisdom of His self-vindicating providence, are yet far from Him, that we have even declined in the sentiment that prompts us to hear and acknowledge Him when (He) speaks to us by days and teaches us by the wisdom of the aged and of multitude of years?
It is, it surely must be the highest irreverence towards Him and dishonour of His authority and love, the hardiest reach of unbelief, to turn insensible from the instructions of His truth when they come to us through the example, the experience, the solemn attestation of the aged, and crowned with the steadfast testimony and sanction of a multitude of years. But if ever we should sit at the feet of age and wait upon the wisdom of its counsels, it is when it speaks to us of God's witness of [9/10] Himself in the providences of a long lifetime. If ever we seek of human experience assurance of the sufficiency of the faith that rests upon the Rock of Ages and knows no limit of power or duration, we should surely ask it at the lips of aged fidelity, and find it in the numberless conflicts and final triumphs of a multitude of years. And Christ's pledge for it, brethren, man's witness for it, we shall find it ever the richest, most fruitful wisdom of length of days, the strongest staff, and clearest light of tottering age. I know what I affirm, and you also, many of you, know its truth, for we have just had it illustrated to our eyes, and impressed upon our hearts.
She who has just disappeared from the circle of our associations and at last sunk beneath the earth that she had trod in a weary march of nearly a century, comes back to day in the freshness of our memory to establish all that I have said of the power of days to speak and multitude of years to teach wisdom. She had all of the present and nearly half of the last century in the grasp of her long life. Not three score and ten, only, but more than four score and ten years, had she numbered in a rich and busy experience. The events, characters, and incidents which formed the recollections of her youth, and even of her riper years, have become written history, and in the memories of her life were bound up the reminiscences of a nation's existence. One could go from books to her for living verification of words and deeds which stir the mind with deep emotion and warm the heart with the glow of patriotism; for she held her powers of mind and clearness of intelligence even amid the pains of dissolution. She had outlived all save one or two of her contemporaries, and wondered how long God would continue thus marvellously to [10/11] heap up the years of His mercies upon her and enrich her heart with the crowding proofs of His goodness. But at last her wonder ceased, and He called her home. She began and spent last Sunday here upon earth, but passed away with it to prolong it eternally in heaven, in the employments of the saints at rest, where she can renew her youth at the fountain of His love and offer her tried and triumphant faith as the richest incense of her devotion.
Do I speak confidently, brethren? Ay! but not without reason. It was my privilege to see her almost daily for many weeks before God released her spirit, and none better than I can testify to the purity and strength of her faith, the steadfastness of her soul amid the breaking up of the powers of nature, the resignation of her spirit when the weakness of the flesh tempted her to impatience to be gone from its tyranny. Hers was not a faith that had waited for time of infirmity to declare and prove itself, nor did it come tardily when years had quenched the desires of youth and the world had cloyed upon her heart. For full seventy at least, of her ninety and one years, had she been a consistent servant of Christ in the communion of His church. She loved her master and she loved His kingdom. And she loved both with more entire affection and concentrated desire, to her latest breath, because amid all the changes, and chances, and treacheries of the world they had never failed her. She proved her hearty zeal for both by many a good work, and even in the last year of her pilgrimage was it signalized in the earnestness of her desire for the establishment in honour, usefulness, and permanence, here in the city of her long sojourn, of this altar of the Church of her love; the altar which had so often refreshed [11/12] her aged heart with its grace; the altar which her piety liberally furnished with the linen and vessels of its sacramental service. Brethren, the strength of encouragement and the infection of strong faith forced their way often from her heart to mine, and I praise God that one so rich in hope and heavenly wisdom has gone from us as the first fruits of our dead. Dead, did I say? I had scarcely thought of death in connection with this departed mother in Israel. In truth she spoke so seldom of death, that it had become something else in thoughts of her. Its language was all translated in her conversation. It had lost all its characters of terror or dread, and she infected you insensibly with her own indifference to its associations. All the sting it has is sin, and that her faith had destroyed. All the victory it has is the grave, and that her hope had quite overcome, and her thoughts quite overpassed. She went down to its shadows and its encounters, leaning upon the staff of her well-tried comfort, and in the valley of its passage she feared no evil. She fell asleep, and in the watches of the night--no one knew the moment--her soul made the long deferred exchange, and passed from its timeworn home of the flesh to the bosom of its Lord, whither it had thirsted to go for so many of her prolonged days.
And now, brethren, what is her testimony, both to this life and to the life to come, and how much is it worth to us? She smiled when I asked her once whether life seemed long to her in the retrospect. "As swift as the dart of the weaver's shuttle" was the answer. She had climbed from the cradle with weary steps and countless experiences, to a height where she stood alone. She [12/13] looked abroad and was ready to pronounce all things vanity. Hopes had come and gone in mockery; affections had multiplied and vanished away; the world had surged and swayed upon the mighty waves of human passion; thrones had been emptied and filled; nations had been born and blotted from existence; men had proved false and true, wealth and poverty had checquered human fortune with incomprehensible caprice, and vice and virtue had alternated their reign. Such is life as we know it, as she knew it better than we, as she had seen and proved it, and the sum of it was to her--nothing. Gazing upon it all, the testimony even of her human wisdom would have fully balanced its evil against its good and made death welcome. The teaching of her length of days would be given in the language of an old writer. "Death is a winter, that as it withers the rose and the lily, so it kills the nettle and the thistle; as it stifles all worldly joy and pleasure, so it suppresses all care and grief; as it hushes the voice of mirth and melody, so it stills the clamour and the sighs of misery; as it defaces all the world's glory, so it covers all disgrace, wipes off all tears, silences all complaints, buries all disquiet and discontent." [* Barrow] But her witness rises higher than this. Her multitude of years had found and proved a wisdom that extracts from death a better consolation and illumines life with a more inspiring hope. And let us learn gratefully and gladly of her, brethren, when she tells us of the precious comfort and mighty power of the faith in which she lived and died. Let us catch the glow of her feeling as she speaks to us of Christ and His faithfully tried [13/14] and fully vindicated promises. Let her four score and ten years preach to us with all the power of their witness to the worth and inexhaustible fruitfulness of Christ's love to the soul; the fathomless depths of the consolation which an humble trust in His word of truth and salvation supplies to the heart in all the warfare of life, and as she takes up the words of the Psalmist to repeat them in our ears with the fearful sanction of death and judgment,--"Thy word is tried to the uttermost, and thy servant loveth it,"--let us bear them in our hearts and prove them in our lives, praising God that His mercy and goodness has thus made "days to speak and multitude of years to teach wisdom" for our instruction and to the glory of His holy name.
Paris--Printed by E. Briere, rue Saint-Honore, 257.