THE flowers which we lay on the coffins of departed friends are fitting symbols of the feelings of the hour. Flowers are favorite gifts of Love: and thus, when presented to the dead, they become tokens of affectionate Memory. Flowers are sweet types of the Resurrection: and so, when offered to the dead, they are emblems of cheerful Hope. And Memory and Hope are the ruling sentiments of the hour.
The spirit has gone: the lifeless form lies before us. We cherish that form as a precious relic of the past. It brings back the memory of the fondest associations. It is, for us, the home of garnered affections. There lies he whose living self we loved: and, though he lies there cold and dead, yet, that mortal frame, that house of flesh and blood, is the tenement within which we treasured up the dearest confidence, and the purest joys, of earth. Though it breathes no more, and the quickening spirit has deserted it, and it will itself soon be removed out of our sight, yet, we gaze upon it with even a tenderer love than when those dim and closed eyes beamed in quick response to the varying emotions of our own souls, and those sealed lips uttered the sweetest sounds which reached our ears. It is a Memory which hallows the forsaken shrine, and makes it sacred still.
But, is this all? Is it a Memory without a Hope? If we knew for certain, that that well-beloved form would never greet our vision again; that it was, now and forever, a creature of decay, subject to a final extinction, destined to pass into the common mould of earth, dust to dust, and to be scattered and lost forever amidst the wandering particles of restless and ever-changing matter, methinks, that the remembrance of the past alone would hardly suffice to keep our hearts from being enveloped in the black pall of eternal darkness. It would be a Memory leading to utter desolation; a vanishing ghost, hovering over the fathomless abyss of annihilation.
But, it is not so. There is, indeed, sorrow; sorrow, that for our earthly lives, that treasured symbol of former joys and loves is reft from us; sorrow, that, while time shall last, there will be no more of the old kindly greeting; no more of the sweet reciprocities of mutual affection: no more we shall see that kindling eye; no more our ear shall catch those cherished tones; no more our hand shall clasp that familiar hand; no more, the accustomed walk, the quiet converse, the trustful intermingling of soul with soul. It is hard to lose all these: harder still, for their very rarity, amidst our earthly experiences. Like precious stones, the scarceness of such delights enhances their value.
But, the sorrow at their loss brings not the blank desolation of a perpetual end. The spirit of man was not made for annihilation. It will not endure the thought. Endowed itself with the heritage of immortality, it repels, instinctively, the idea of extinction. The heathen mind of old, on which no ray of illumination from the other world had ever shone, would not entertain it. The spirit of the most degraded pagan of unintellectual Africa rejects it still. All the inner voices of man's nature speak of Immortality; because, they respond faithfully to the destiny of his own being. His soul claims that for which it was created.
And, when the light of the Gospel has shone upon him, and he beholds the Man Who, with clearest revelation, has brought Life and Immortality to light, the secret yearnings of his nature spring forth to meet and welcome the glad tidings, with unhesitating trust and confidence; for himself, and, for all men. "Thy brother," "thy sister," "thy child," "thy parent," "thy husband," "thy wife," "thy friend," "shall rise again," uttered by the calm and serene voice of the Son of God, banishes, I will not say, all doubt, (for, there was no real doubt before), but, all those vague and shadowy surmisings which hover around a truth that we have learned, only, from the dim and whispering oracles of nature. "I know, that he shall rise again, in the Resurrection at the last day," is the quick and earnest response of one who has, long before, been taught the cheering truth, from the lips of Him Who now repeats it. "I know, that he shall rise again:" and that conviction mingles--a brilliant Hope, blending with the saddened memories of the present--with the down-falling tear, the heaving of the burdened breast, and the crushing sense of temporal loss. It is the rainbow on the cloud.
We know not, we in vain strive to realize, the wholeness of the debt which we owe to Christianity. We cannot conceive what we should be without it; for, we have never been without it: and, what is wholly absent from our experience, we cannot adequately picture, even to our imagination. As you stand by the bier of one beloved, it is not, and cannot be, to you as it would be if He Who is the Resurrection and the Life had never dawned upon your vision. His voice of reassurance mingles with your sorrows. His own Resurrection glides, like a quickening spirit, into your Faith. Sadness and bitter regret may seem to possess all your soul. But, there is present, also, the silent, yet potent, Hope of the future. You may not think of it then; but, it is there, as an underlying influence which saves you from a grief which would be, otherwise, immoderate; which keeps the half-breathed sigh from becoming the lonely wail of despair.
And now the hour has come, the hour of cruel parting, the saddest moment of your loss. The last Rite of honor and of love is to be performed. The final farewell of earth is to be spoken.
As the wave of sorrow rolls, anew, over your anguished soul, the voice of the Son of God rises, clear and serene, upon your ear: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in Me, shall never die." Instantly comes the faithful response, as, if the silent form which goes before you, up the consecrated aisle, spoke again: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand, at the latter day, upon the earth. And, though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet, in my flesh, shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another."
And so, through all the solemn ceremonial, in Psalm and Lesson, in Committal and in Prayer, the tender reminder runs, like a bright woof through the warp of your darkened fancies.
When the grand Apostle has told you of the Rising again with Christ, and how this still and inanimate body which you are about to hide away in the ground, is a seed sown in the earth, which shall shoot forth, at length, into a glorious plant; itself again; yet, clothed with the hues, and imbued with the life, of immortality; your soul rises, with his soaring strain, out of the depths of its grief, until it is ready to join in his closing paean of triumph: ''Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?"
And now, the darkest moment comes, the moment when you must surrender all that remains to you of him whom you loved. It is the most painful struggle of your loss; for, it seems to sever the last link which held you and him together. Your soul sinks back into the wave of its sorrow.
But, even as the dirge-like sound breaks upon your ear, "We commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," comes the quick reassurance of Christian Hope, bearing your spirit up on her Heaven-lit wings, far above the yawning gulf which is opened before you: "looking for the general Resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at Whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead, and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in Him shall be changed, and made like unto His own glorious Body, according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself."
Your soul is not suffered to rest in cheerless grief. Lost! No, your holy Religion will not allow the thought to gain predominance. In this bitter hour, it struggles for the mastery. But, the Faith of the Gospel comes in, and dispels the gloom. Light, Heaven's own light, pours upon your darkened spirit. It is the sunbeam of joy in the Resurrection. It penetrates the murky shadows of the grave; and, on it, springs upward Hope; soaring from the gloomy verge, on its golden ray, and following its radiant path to its Source, in Him Who sitteth at the right hand of the Throne of God. And, this is your due to Christianity. You know not all its comforts in your sorrows; but, they are, in truth, the hidden strength which sustains your soul.
"Thy brother shall rise again."
"I know that he shall rise again."
But, asks the anxious heart, will that rising again be anything to me? Shall I know him? Shall I recognize him? Will there be a restoration of these lost delights of earth? Will there be a re-union of these parted hearts? Will there be the resumption of this sacred society? Will the ties which have been so strained in earth's last farewell, be re-enforced, assume again their old strength of adhesion, and live for ever, in the undecaying vigor of immortality?
The Resurrection of loved ones departed, however the hope of it may sustain us when we lay them in the grave, will bring to us little of abiding consolation, if they are, in the future world, to be strangers to us who held the nearest place in their hearts on earth. Who shall answer these questions, so that the response will assure us, that our present loss will turn to our future gain?
My Beloved, I do not suppose that our Saviour meant to beguile Martha with an evasive and deluding reply, when He said to her, amidst the deep sorrow of her bereavement, "Thy brother shall rise again." What was it to her, what of consolation and strength under her great trial, was that rising again, if her personal knowledge of him, and her personal association with him, had already ended for ever; if she was not to recognize him, or he to recognize her, in that future and untried state of being; if they were to be as strangers; all ties of relationship lost in the universal beatitude of redeemed humanity?
The very spirit of Christ's answer, the intent with which it was made, implied a different conclusion. Unless it was what, coming from Him, it could never be, an illusion and a deception, it meant to speak of the Resurrection at the last day, as a re-union; it meant to promise, to her sorrowing heart, the restoration of personal presence, the coming back to her of her long-severed brother, and the mutual happiness of revived society. Only thus was the truth which Christ uttered, a living consolation.
Otherwise, her brother's death was, for her, as much final separation as if his passage into the grave had been the pathway to annihilation. Not known, he was no more to her than if he were not; excepting only the grateful thought, that he was living and happy, somewhere within the realms of bliss.
But, she was mourning over a personal separation; and to that grief the Saviour answered. If, therefore, He meant, as He surely did mean, to comfort her in that which was her affliction, He intended to signify that she should see, and know, and be united with, her brother again. To this effect, indeed, was His prophetic declaration a promise.
And, my Beloved, it is the same to us as it was to her. We may hear it, if we will, and believe it, as she did, while, here or elsewhere, we stand beside a friend in his long repose; and join in the solemn Rite which consigns him to his resting place, the Cemetery, the "Place of Sleep," in the lap of our common Mother earth. As then to Martha, near the grave of Lazarus, so now to us before His Altar, He utters the consoling assurance, that those faithful ones whom we lay down in the repose of death, shall be presented again to our longing vision, in the scenes of the new Heaven and the new Earth, which shall not, like our present terrestrial abode, ever pass away. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.
Indeed, the doctrine of the recognition of friends in future state, is so palpably consequent upon the retention of the faculties of our present minds, (which must be retained, if we are to be our former selves: and, without that, responsibility, reward and punishment are impossible), that I see t how any one can doubt it, for a moment.
By the plainest intimations of Scripture, it might be made evident, did time allow: as, for example, where St. Paul covets to present his converts blameless in the great day.
But, we need not, and we cannot, enter on that high and divine argument. Let us take the lower range of natural necessities. Memory will not be extinct. It will, then, recall the loved ones of earth. Memory recalling them, Love will demand their presence, and suffer, if they be forever absent. Nay, nay, the Judgment itself can hardly proceed without restoring the associations of earth; for, by them, our moral characters were created, and the deeds done in the body are to be weighed and estimated. We cannot judge ourselves, or rightly appreciate God's judgment upon us, without reviewing our earthly conduct: and, that review brings back all the scenes and companionships of earth. Remembering, therefore, those whom we loved, we must seek again their society; and, seeking, we shall find it.
Often, it must be, the testimony of others will help to form, for good or for evil, the judgment upon ourselves. There must be mutual recognition; there must be the presence, face to face; and, why should there not be, with congenial souls, companionship through Eternity?
And what a Companionship! The renewed tie strengthened by the long separation: the joy of union increased by the pledge of its perpetuity: and, the old love heightened and invigorated by its redemption from the infirmities of its mortal state.
But, do we mean, that mere earthly love will be revived in Heaven; or, that there will be a repetition and continuance of merely human relationships? Certainly not. Christ has clearly revealed to us, in His well-remembered reply to the Sadducees, that the relations of time are for time only: into the eternal state they enter not. There, (taking the instance by which He illustrates,) they neither marry, nor are given in marriage: there is no longer, husband or wife; and, by parity of truth, there is no longer, son or daughter; no longer, father or mother; no longer, sister or brother. Those were earthly relations, ordained for earth alone. Now, in Eternity, they have passed away. We enter upon a new condition of being. What was of earth, and for earth, has fulfilled its' purpose, and had its end. It is merged and lost in a higher relationship, which forms the universal bond of the everlasting state.
Our Saviour declares it, when He says to the Sadducees, that all are, there, the "children of God." This is their new, their ruling, their all-absorbing character. He is the common Father; the Redeemed are His children: and, this covers the whole relationship of Eternity. They are the united family of Heaven and Earth; all alike sons and daughters of God; living in the same paternal mansion, the home of the Blessed; all under one Father, all together one household. The tie of eternal Brotherhood supersedes, because it has outlived, the past and completed connections of Time.
But, all this does not deny, that, in that universal Fraternity, there may be the strong adhesions of a pure and sacred love which sprung into being amidst the experiences of earth. It-affirms, only, that the separate living in the old human relationships, with their limited and temporal duties, cares and pleasures, will no longer survive. But, where the bond which bound together the souls of pilgrims here, bore the impress of the sacred communion which we have in Christ, our common Head; where love was sanctified by the superior influences of the Divine Spirit, and personal union was cemented by that fellowship which is alone eternal, and, therefore, can alone outlive time; there is every reason to believe, that souls thus raised above the fatalities and the limitations of earth, will walk hand in hand, and with renewed communings of heart and voice and delightful companionship, amidst the ineffable felicities of their new abode; will eat together of the hidden manna; and rest together beneath the tree of Life which shadows the River, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the Throne of God and of the Lamb. As on earth, so in Heaven, must the Communion of Saints be among its supreme Beatitudes: and, that Communion must have a higher glow of happiness, when it brings with it the restored experience of the well-tried fellowships of earth.
I say these words to-night, because to-night there comes fresh to our minds a Memory that will never fade; the Memory of the hour when he who has just gone from us, lay here in the tranquil stillness of his last sleep; and, further back, the Memory of all he was when he went in and out among us, in the exercise of his youthful Ministry.
But, is it a Memory without a Hope?
If I could think, that all which Murray was, is passed away for ever; that that bright and cultured intellect, that well-disciplined and patient temper, that genial and kindly spirit, that warm, sincere and charitable heart, had, with their departure from earth, ended their career, and finished their use and service,--I should be at a loss to imagine why they were ever given; why such endowments were created; and, especially, why they were trained and educated, so carefully, and through such hard struggles, and long years of preparation, for a work which was to end ere it had past its earliest term.
It must be, that earth reaches over the gulf of death, and lives again in the unseen world beyond. It must be, that the culture of Time, arrested before it can bring forth its mature fruits on earth, does not wither and fall; but re-appears, and produces, after its kind, in the future ages, beyond the Resurrection, and on the ample field of Eternity. There must be continued growth, there must be renewed service, in the final Kingdom of God. And, if it be so, then the mind and heart and soul, aye, and body, too, which were not permitted to bring their fruit to perfection here, will work on, in that glorious Hereafter, to the harvest of their highest powers.
And, this is our Hope for Murray.
James Murray was a rare man, in several respects. In intellect, he was superior to the common order of humanity. In mental culture, few men, of his age, surpassed him. In scholarship, he was precise and careful. His sermons, one so young, were models of good writing; terse, clear, unambitious English. They were, as was his nature, unaffected, plain, direct, and sincere. His heart was a loving heart, to those who knew him well. But, it took time to appreciate it; for, he had no strong demonstration: show, of all kinds, was most alien to his spirit. He was charitable, more than any other man I have ever known. He could not suspect or distrust. And, in consequence, he sometimes trusted to his injury. He was not made altogether for the world that is; and, therefore, it may be the better that he is early taken away from it. A more simple, childlike spirit never lived. In a year and-a-half of most familiar intercourse, I never heard him say one hard word of any other.
And, this was the effect, not only of his charity, but of his modesty. For, he had none, absolutely none, of that self-assertion out of which suspicious thoughts and rough speeches most largely grow. He had, indeed, hardly enough of Self in him, for his necessary protection, in such a world as ours. He suffered severely, in one period of his Ministry, because he would not defend himself against wrong. He always preferred to suffer, rather than to resent. And yet, he was delicate and sensitive, to the last degree: and, his sensitiveness, working silently within him, helped to wear out his young life. He died because he was an exotic in an unfriendly clime; a plant too tender to live.
As a workman, he could hardly be excelled. Wholly free from bluster and display, never advertising himself, never asking attention to his work, he was diligent, in season and out of season; of slender frame, yet never wearied in well-doing; often going beyond his strength, never falling short of it; performing the humblest toil most gladly, because no one saw him performing it. He entered into the smallest details of missionary work, when he was with us in Zion, with patient assiduity, and with minute attention. I have known to visit a sick woman's room in the early morning, and, finding her unable to leave her bed, go out and buy her a Breakfast and cook it himself, and afterwards clean her room, and put everything in order. But, one would never hear of such an incident from his own lips. The poor roman told me of it.
In his religious character, as in everything else, he was without pretension. He never thought, that he had any Religion to speak of; the more deeply he felt, the less it appear in speech. There was nothing excessive about his piety. In doctrine, he was a pure Anglican, and, therefore, thoroughly Catholic; in his religious practice, he was a plain, quiet, conservative Churchman. In his life, he was in-: corrupt. In temper, cheerful; often with a quaint and homely humor, which I noticed even on his death-bed. He was guilelessly innocent, like a little child. He was as modest as a timid girl. He was as pure in spirit as are the purest of those who have the Kingdom of Heaven. He was a delightful companion, because he had nothing of Self about him. He was, indeed, in all things, a man to be loved.
I knew him first in 1867. He was then fresh from the General Theological Seminary; where, after his scholastic training in Columbia College, he had gone through an honorable novitiate. While in the Seminary, he served, with rare acceptance, in All Saints' Church, in this City, as Lay-reader, and Superintendent of the Sunday-school; and, when he left, it was with an ovation of gifts and good wishes. Thence, he came to us, in 1867; and he stayed with us, laboring as I have told you, till 1869; receiving, in the meantime, the degree of the Priesthood, from my hand. From us he went, (solely that he might better help his aged father and mother), to the care of All Saints' Memorial Church, in the Highlands of New Jersey. There he toiled, as he toiled with us, in season and out of season; too much for his delicate and sensitive frame; until he could endure no longer; and then he came home to his father's house, to die.
Always cheerful; always hopeful he lingered, in the thought that he might yet give himself to the life of a Missionary the West. But, his Lord had a better thought for him. called him to his reward; too early for the Church, in human seeming; but, most gladly, (as his dying words confessed), most gladly for himself. He was content to and, at last, he wished to die; believing, as he surely that, by dying, he would be with his Saviour Christ, which would be far better. He died, as he had lived, in hum trust in Him Who was, in his eyes, the chief among thousand, and altogether lovely.
He has gone away from us. But, the separation is final. We shall see him again. He will not return to but, we shall go to him. We loved him well, when he was with us; and, in that better world, we trust and believe, our o! friendship for him will be renewed, under brighter auspice and with purer souls.
Then will fully appear the uses of earth's discipline. And, I am sure, there is no one who knew and loved Murray hen who will not be glad to meet him again: no one who will not expect, out of his high gifts and culture, to see most precious fruits maturing, through Eternity, to the glory of God. myself, I may say, that I have never known a man more worthy to be loved; none whom I loved better; none with whom I would more gladly walk in the golden street of the Celestial City.