Sermon Preached at the Memorial Offering of Slocum Post, Grand Army of the Republic, in Grateful and Devout Commemoration of Our Deceased Comrade General Ulysses Simpson Grant.
By George McClellan Fiske.
Providence: Rhode Island Printing Company, 1885.
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST. AMEN.
Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth forevermore. Ecclesiasticus, XLIV. 14.
These words are found in one of those books of the ancient Scriptures which, not so indubitably inspired as to be applied to establish doctrine, the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners. The text is a strain of the rhythmic eulogy of the son of Sirach, which begins, Let us now praise famous men. Upon the writer’s sight came crowding fast the host of those who had been noted in their day. As the seer reviewed the past, he discerned two classes of famous men, and two kinds of fame the fame that died away like the murmur of a transient breeze, and the fame whose sweet voice fills the world like the unfailing song of the birds in spring. Some there be, who have no memorial who are perished as though they had never been. And some he saw, how ever long ago they lived, who were leaders of the people and the glory of their times. There be of them that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. These were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name liveth forevermore.
In the roll of undeniably famous men, whose glory shall not be blotted out among those few immortal names not born to die those names that live forevermore may we not confidently include the name of ULYSSES SIMPSON GRANT?
It is not worth while barely to conjecture in this, or any other instance, whether a man is to be known of, or talked about for many years or few, after he has vanished out of sight. But it is of consequence, sometimes, and now for once, to notice certain facts about a man, which determine for him an ever-living name.
Fame, such as that which we have chosen for our theme, is no artificial thing. It is spontaneous. It results naturally from what a man much speech, much writing. not generated not created by journalism oratory. The true, the high, the lofty fame requires no effort for perpetuation. Fame is life. It is the power of a life, speaking and acting and energizing and influencing men, even when outward and visible signs are gone.
Such we believe be the fame of General Grant. His was a life, not free, by any means, from mistakes and faults, but a life which, after taking into account the worst disfigurements which can possibly be alleged against it, remains wholesome, strengthening and enlightening life to other men.
The question has been debated, and perhaps will continue be, whether General Grant was great man. It has been said, and some may still persist saying, that he was not born to greatness, that he did not become great by his own exertions, but that he had greatness thrust upon him; that he was the creature of circumstances. These questions require no answer. It is somewhat late to challenge his right to be mentioned among the exalted names in the annals of the world.
We are not here to decide upon his admission to the American pantheon, or to assign him a niche, high or low, out-of-the-way or conspicuous. He appears before us with the semblance, the opportunities, the insignia, and the credentials of a great man. As such he is accepted by universal consent. And as personal and partisan antipathies fade away and are forgotten, who does not feel, that men will not only read Grant’s military exploits—that they will not merely bend a long and steadfast gaze upon the bronze and marble in which his features will be portrayed from sea to sea—but that they will be more and more attracted and impressed by the spirit which his life-work was wrought, and that they will be moved to emulate that spirit in their own vocations as the servants of their country.
Men will be something more than curiously interested in what he did. They will be influenced by the unusual motives and manner of his doing it. They will see that he was not a self-seeking or a self-conscious soldier. He was not dazzling or magnificent, or meteoric. He chased no “star” of private fortune, which, like an ignis fatuus, led him in pursuit of his own aggrandizement. He found because it was the paramount duty of the hour, and when the noise of battle ceased, and the bugles were singing truce, he was ready and glad to sheathe his sword, and resume the civilian’s attire, and the civilian’s life.
He was far from being the traditional warrior of literature. When he faced the cannon’s mouth, it was never the bubble reputation which he was seeking. He was lacking in fondness for the pomp and circumstance of war. He was a very homely type of soldier. He bore about him little of the grace and splendor which wave and glitter on the tented field. He had no senses for the sights and sounds, the feathers and the music, which make the camp a spectacle. With him, war was no romance; it was a dreadful necessity. It had for him no alluring scenic fascination which made the transition to the arts of peace distasteful.
Was ever nobler instinct rooted in a soldier’s breast than that, which uttered itself, when declining the invitation of the Duke of Cambridge to review the English army, he remarked that a military review was the one thing which he hoped never to see again? And then, he was the most merciful conqueror, who ever drew sword and mercy, you remember, in the chapter from which my text is taken, is one of the grounds of fame. These are the elements of fame in General Grant. On these things, we believe, that his title to be kept in mind is most securely based, and that his name will live to teach men, and to sway men by the force of his simple, unpretending manhood, a manhood in which there was so much that was matter-of-fact and common-place, but which, when enlisted in a righteous purpose, was mighty in achievement, because it was so plain, and real, and through and through the solid material of earnest and conscientious common sense.
A man of mercy a man of prompt perception of, and obedience to duty a man of tenacity of resolve a man, who consecrated himself to the nearest and most immediate demands of his conscience and his convictions a straightforward man a man, who never thought of himself more highly than he ought to think—a man, who could, without elation, take the highest seat, if asked to do so, but who was undisturbed and cheerful in the lowest room a man indifferent to show, and to parade—
“Our greatest, yet with least pretence,
And as the greatest only are,
In his simplicity, sublime,”—
a man of the people always a man, whose capacity for government and statesmanship was obscured only by his want of experience, a capacity, which the country only began to learn a man for great enterprises, in war and peace an ingenuous man a man for the head and front of men and of affairs a man, who combined these qualities of mind and soul, was a man, whose name will be an educating symbol and a guiding motto to the aspirations of those, who come after.
We are not here to magnify the dead. We are here to recognize what he was, that we may thank God for the good which was manifested in the man. We are not here to argue for his greatness. We are here to survey him with charity, and with the lenient and generous judgment which becomes those, who surround an open grave. As to his weaknesses and errors, let us be silent—remembering, as we dwell upon the better part, that with what measure we mete, it shall be measured to us again. May we not say that, if firm hold upon the immense volume of the affections of a great nation, twice bestowing upon him its supreme dignity, be anything; if superiority to resentments and the ability to live above the rankling remembrance of injuries be anything; if the unostentatious, unselfish and successful discharge of difficult tasks be anything; if the sustained sovereignty of one character over others be anything; if to win and retain the admiration and the trust of an elevated order of minds be anything; if greatness consist, in any degree or part, of these things, then, we are satisfied that the name of Grant will rank with those names, which glow with the golden lustre of vital and undying fame. In that profound fraternal peace, into whose tranquil harbor he was the pilot of the people, we bury his body, convinced that his name will live forevermore.
It falls not to the lot of every generation to be visited with the inspiration of such a sorrow as that which sweeps now across the land, and which has brought us here to-night. We have enjoyed the privilege of being contemporaries of one of the distinguished ornaments of history, and you, soldiers of the Republic, have been co-makers, with your illustrious comrade and chieftain, of that history, which will ever be connected with his name. I esteem it an honor to be permitted to speak, at a time like this, to men like yourselves, who have jeoparded your lives unto the death in the high places of the field. The death of General Grant comes to you with a sense of personal bereavement, which could only spring from such actual association with him as you have had. The perils of his warfare you have shared, and you have also been partakers of the glory of his triumphs. May you be in all respects partners of his immortality. We feel that you are akin to him. In your breasts burned the patriot’s enthusiasm for that cause, for which he so valiantly contended—and as he who led you to victory passes within the veil—we know that all the deep emotion of the soldier heart and memory is stirred. In this hour, when the memorable services of the soldiers of the Union are recalled, and when the nation’s solemn gratitude flames up anew, we salute you with a new respect, as the representatives of the vast military household of the departed. We greet you with sympathy and reverence, because you belonged to Grant. After the remembrance of the wife and children, whom he loved so ardently, the next accents of condolence should be addressed to you. Out of the nation of mourners, surely the most literal, the sincerest, and most heartfelt mourners, are the soldiers, who had the honor to follow beneath his standard, and whom he had the honor to command. But be belonged to all of us. Southern hands as well as Northern ones, are outstretched to bear his pall, and East and West, and North and South vie with each other, in laying their spotless immortelles and blue forget-me-nots upon his laurel-wreathen hearse. He was so wholly an American, that all men understood him, and found in him something responsive to their native thought.
It is not timely or needful for me to speak in detail of General Grant’s career, or to recount, step by step, the story of his extraordinary and eventful life. Nor need I attempt to analyze his character, as it appeared in the various positions, which he was called to occupy. He performed remarkable services for his country. He lived long enough to see those services appreciated. He stooped down to uplift and rescue the prostrate form of the Genius of his Fatherland, and when be raised his head, the modest man was surprised to find the eyes of the world fastened upon him in admiration. He passed front land to land, and each one rang loudly with his fair renown, and all the shores, near and remote, re-echoed with the many voices, in many tongues, of thunderous applause. History will be explored in vain to furnish a counterpart or parallel to that marvellous and unexampled pilgrimage. The Triumph which the Roman Senate accorded to their victorious generals, is but a feeble precedent. No royal progress ever made can half compare with it. What experience like that has ever fallen to man’s fortune? He was the international hero—proclaimed as such by the one, unanimous verdict of the earth.
At this hour, and in this place. I speak in the name of the Church of the Living God. She is the calm, unprejudiced and impartial observer of human lives. Hers is the territory of two worlds. As men cross the boundary of the seen, they must needs leave much behind them. And much of what they leave is perishable. Mainly with this the blind, foolish world concerns itself, as it weeps beside the dead. But the Church—the witness of the true and indestructible—takes note of the imperishable things of men. In what a man leaves behind, She points out to us, with unerring finger, that which is precious and enduring. She looks at what a man has done, and gives us Her opinion of its value. She teaches us to discriminate between wood, hay, stubble, and gold, silver and jewels. And then She glances toward the unseen world, and bids us notice, along the hazy horizon, the brightness of a hope. It is the herald of a radiant day. She is the true referee of fame among men during this mortal life.
If Divine truth and the standards of eternal righteousness reveal to us that any man’s successful attainments in life are hollow, vain and worthless, who shall have the heart to rear and grave the granite and the brass; or who shall be eloquent enough to thrill his hearers with the lessons of that life? In such a case, weep for the dead, and write the day a day of gloom, wherein man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets, and men sorrow as those who have no hope.
But when the Church can smile upon the dead, when She can examine his life by the lamp of the Christian faith, and perceive the stout fibres of eternal truth and rectitude, which compose the body of the fabric, when She can say, “Thank God for his good example,” that is a life to rejoice in, and to be proud of; that is a death wherein we have strong consolation. And as such, the Church regards the life and death of General Grant. Looking at his life. She can commend it, and over him, in the fullness of Her mother’s heart, She can pronounce Her benediction. She can bury his body in peace, and unhesitatingly avow Her belief that his name liveth forevermore.
The greater part of General Grant’s life was spent without the assumption of the obligations of the Christian religion—but it was, notwithstanding, unquestionably governed in general by the Law of God—and it exhibited some of the highest and most practical virtues of Jesus Christ. None can ever say that he was false, or mean, or cruel, while, as a husband and a father, he was irreproachable and blameless.
But this is not all. Within the last few months General Grant was baptized. That was the open espousal and profession of the Christian faith, its obligations, and its hopes. He became thereby a disciple of Jesus Christ, and in being made a soldier of the Cross, the parable of his earthly life was interpreted and fulfilled. He became, by baptism, a member of Christ, a child of God, an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.
As we have no reason to doubt, but every reason to believe in, his repentance and his faith, he received in that great sacrament, the redemption of his sins, and the grace of regeneration. He became, therefore, by his birth-right of water and the Holy Ghost, a member of the Household of Faith. He is now one of the Faithful Departed. He is one of the Dead in Christ. To him belong the life, the love, the rites, the prayers, the Eucharistic Offering of the Communion of Saints. His, therefore, are the bright hopes, which the Church cherishes for those who depart this life in the faith and fear of God. To him the Church’s words apply, and I am glad to feel that they do apply to him—having “served God in his generation—he is to be gathered unto his fathers, having the testimony of a good conscience, in the communion of the Catholic Church, in the confidence of a certain faith, in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope, in favor with God, and in perfect charity with the world.”
We believe that, as he enters on the great future of his immortal life, he is treading the path of the just, which, like a shining light, shineth ever more and more, even to the perfect day. In Christian peace we can commit his body to the ground, believing that his name liveth forevermore—on earth, in the truth reflected from his character and actions; on high, because his name is written in Heaven—in the Book of Life.
Yes, my brothers, the Church bids the great soldier Godspeed. She speaks above his clay Her tenderest words. She utters Her kindest wish—”God rest his soul.” She gathers up the relics of his sojourn and his toil, and encourages us to believe that the Master, the King of Kings, will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” She thanks God for his good example—his good example of fidelity. She thanks God for his good example of purity and good faith in home, on the field, and in the Cabinet. She thanks God for his good example of loyalty to Jesus Christ in the dark hours of his passage through the valley of death’s shadow. The other glories of his earthly life are dim beside this latter glory, to which he was brought under the lead of the Great Captain of his salvation, who Himself was made perfect only through suffering. This discipline of suffering was the completion and the crowning of the soldier’s life. It was the last and the harshest proof of the soldier’s fidelity and fortitude; but it was a test under which he did not falter—for he endured hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Thank God for that good example of suffering affliction and of patience. Only the other world will show us the purifying and sanctifying results of those months of ever-deepening darkness—and only then shall we realize to what proportions that heroic soul developed under that training of perfection.
Dauntless spirit—our brother and our fellow-soldier—turn thee to thy longed-for rest in Paradise! There shalt thou find repose from the fatigues, and cure for the wounds, of earthly strife and conflict. There we give thee rendez-vous.
Be thou welcomed on thine entrance there by the martial angels, and by the soldier-saints of all the ages. May S. Michael, General of the celestial armies, be thy guide and patron through the wonders and delights of that Land Serene, where the peace-makers are hailed and known as the children of God.
May kindred spirits bear thee company—the Centurion, who confessed Christ crucified, beneath the very Cross of Calvary—Cornelius, the elect warrior of imperial Rome—Constantine, the emperor, victorious in the sign of Jesus Christ—S. Louis, and Bayard, and Washington, and Gordon, Knights, Crusaders, the Christian chivalry of the old time and the new. Be thou numbered with those and all the Saints, and when the trumpet shall arouse the slumbering armies of the dead, be thou among the Dead in Christ, who first shall rise. Rest thou in peace till then, and then arise in glory, to bear the palm of victory and to wear the Amaranthine Crown of Life.
Glory be to the FATHER, and to the SON, and to the HOLY GHOST; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. AMEN.
O Almighty GOD, with Whom do live the spirits of just men made perfect, after they are delivered from their earthly prisons; we humbly commend the soul of Thy servant, our dear comrade, Ulysses Simpson Grant, into Thy hands, as into the hands of a faithful Creator, and most merciful Saviour; most humbly beseeching Thee, that it may be precious in Thy sight. Wash it, we pray Thee, in the Blood of that immaculate Lamb, that was slain to take away the sins of the world; that whatsoever defilements it may have contracted in the midst of this miserable and naughty world, through the lusts of the flesh, or the wiles of Satan, being purged and done away, it may be presented pure and without spot before Thee. And teach us who survive, in this, and other like daily spectacles of mortality, to see how frail and uncertain our own condition is; and so to number our days, that we may seriously apply our hearts to that holy and heavenly wisdom, whilst we live here, which may in the end bring us to Life Everlasting; through the merits of JESUS CHRIST, Thine only SON, Our LORD. AMEN.