EASTER, APRIL 21, 1861.
F. J. HUNTINGTON, BEEKMAN STREET.
MASON BROTHERS, MERCER STREET.
ALMIGHTY AND EVERLASTING GOD, WHO DOST GOVERN ALL THINGS IN HEAVEN AND EARTH; MERCIFULLY HEAR THE SUPPLICATIONS OF THY PEOPLE, AND GRANT US THY PEACE ALL THE DAYS OF OUR LIFE, THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD. Amen.
NOT without design, and not without deep wisdom, does the Psalmist distinguish, in those his matchless expressions, between the firmament and the heavens; assigning to the former the duty of showing forth the handy-work of God, but reserving to the latter the more stately office of declaring His eternal and everlasting glory. For he who has thought of that distinction aright, is aware, that by the firmament is intended the atmosphere directly surrounding this globe: while the heavens here referred to are the far-off skies, millions of miles away. It is in the firmament that all the atmospheric changes and revolutions occur. Across it, sweep the storm and the whirlwind: and there the clouds fly aloft, or spread their thin surfaces to plains of vast extension [3/4] reflecting the rays of the sun. Fire and hail, snow and vapour, wind and storm are there, fulfilling His word: thence he casteth forth His ice like morsels and scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes: and there He prepareth rain for the earth. The firmament is, there fore, but a scene and stage of eh and we look up into it as into a region of uncertainty: we grow skilled, by practice, to discern the face of the sky, which alters day by day: and we find no more constancy in the elements above us than in the, restless spirit of man below. But with the heavens, and the far-off skies, it is not so. In them is the dwelling-place of rest and quiet, of order and law. There, are perfect calm and unspeakable tranquillity: and whenever we can see them, through the unsteady medium be low, they appear the same. So, then, the firmament is a part of this earthly order: but the heavens are far above it and away. The firmament is ours; but the heavens are round about the dwelling of God. The firmament displays His personal agency, and the ceaseless work of His hands, in their direction of the days and seasons and times of the earth. But through it we look up to that high and better place where His great glory shines; where suns, and moons, and stars are burning from age to age, as lights before the sanctuary of His presence, and where, though all beneath be turmoil and confusion, change and strife, there still remain; unaltering and undimmed, the steady and solemn splendours which gird and clothe the eternal God.
"The firmament showeth His handy-work" It [4/5] is a field on which are shown the active power and the providential agency of the Almighty But the firmament seems also to be a mirror reflecting the restlessness, the disorder, and the tumult of the sphere beneath. Every term by which we describe or indicate its changes and its phenomena, has been, by an unerring popular instinct, appropriated and applied to the thoughts, the passions, the acts, the circumstances, of men The language of the firmament has filled, for us, the vocabulary of our moral action or passion. Storm, cloud, blast, rain; hail, frost; lightning flash, and dewy mist;--these terms, descriptive of the treasure of the atmosphere, are just as familiar to our ears in other connection We speak, without affectation and without singularity, of the morning and evening of life; of the day of one's visitation through God's grace, and of the dews of spiritual refreshment. We speak of clouded minds, and clouded reputations. We talk familiarly of the blast of adversity; the tempest of trial. We concentrate our expressions still more, until we speak of the storm of war, the thunder of artillery, the flash of muskets, and the hail of iron and lead. Thus the vocabulary of the vexed and troubled firmament becomes, easily and naturally and as a matter of course, the vocabulary of the vexed and troubled creatures of God who dwell beneath its roof.
But, brethren, this strange, and, as it should seem, original, connection between the firmament and us, may lead to lessons worth the studying. For if, as the Psalmist says, the handy-work of God [5/6] Almighty is shown there above; His power, His ways, His acts toward the creatures which. His hands have made; then may we apply whatever truth we learn from that upper region of the air, to our own course and lot in these lower abodes of our uncertain habitation; and we may grow the wiser for dwelling beneath the skies and listening to the voice of God through them. The change and trouble which we discern above and around us, are but so many signs of the hand of the Lord at its perpetual work. And so, with the change and trouble here on earth: these likewise show His handy-work, for these are what we see reflected when we look up into the changeful and restless sky. There God acts, in the elemental tumult: and here He also acts. There, to use the language of the Prophet Nahum, "the Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm;" and here on earth it is the same. Up there, when the tempest is loud; when the brows of the sky darken and frown their blackness down upon the fields; when the gathering anger of the four winds is tearing the clouds into shreds and laying them about the air with reckless hand;--we know that the Lord is there amid the uproar, and that "He hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm," and that "the clouds are the dust of His feet." So may we rest assured that it is here below. The invisible presence is a presence indeed. The Lord is nigh, yea, in and out among us, in the storm and strife of the world, and in all the wrath of man. He maketh that wrath to praise Him: and His [6/7] handy-work is shown when the strife ceases and when the storm rolls by. It has not been a thing unknown, for the Lord to be revealed unto men amid thunderings and lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the cloud and smoke: and when all these things be upon us, it may be that He also is nigh at hand, even at the doors.
"The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm," saith the prophet. And the way of the Lord, whether it be in the whirlwind or in the summer's breeze, in the storm or in the fair weather, is a way of justice, of mercy, and of truth. If a storm arise and blow, be it lighter or heavier, we need not fear, if we know that the way of the Lord is there. Even in the whirlwind and in the storm "let the people praise Thee, O God, yea, let all the people praise Thee." Storms are not the worst and greatest evils. Ask the sailor which he will choose, a storm, or a dead, 'fiat calm; and do not doubt of his reply. Ask the wretched inhabitant of some pestilential climate, on which the stillness of the curse lies heavy day after day, what he would give for a storm from the clear, cool, healthy north, to blow upon the fever fens and drive the destroyer from before it. Yes, brethren, the words of the prophet are true, and the way of the Lord is in the storm. The storm is His minister of mercy and benefit, though in a rough, fierce way of its own. The storm does us good service in keeping the equilibrium among the elements, and it ministers salutary discipline in its times, as God appoints. This [7/8] is the mission of the stormy wind and tempest in the firmament above: angry of face, but full of benefit and good; stern and sharp, but salutary also. And that which is true in the firmament is just as true beneath it. Here, upon the way of this life, rises storm after storm. Here, also, the winds blow and beat, upon the earthly house of this tabernacle. Here are blast and tempest, good store, along the way of each man, and of each community, and of all the nations upon earth. But the way of God is in them here below as well as up there over our heads. Here, likewise, the clouds of strife and struggle are the dust of His feet. Here, also, have storm and tempest their needful place and their healthful mission. It is so with them all. All are but God's means of castigation which we need, and of advancement of which we have, been deemed worthy. This is true of the storms of life, whether they eddy in narrow radius around some one man, or around each one of us in his turn; or whether they gather into notable volume around some whole community; or whether, lastly, they expand to the compass of the round cyclone, and, getting leverage below, through the strong arms of the earthquake, shake to its centre the mighty nation and the ancient and honorable people. It is not the part of men to fly from the storm what time it falls upon them, but to look it full in the face; to search, amid its folds and its rising fury, for the mysterious way of the Lord which is surely therein, and so to draw from it the virtue, and the strength which are lodged there; [8/9] thus rising, with added security; from the temporary shock; and taught thereby the profounder reverence and fear of the Lord.
Brethren, there is a deep and divine philosophy, crystallized into visible shape in nature, illustrated in all the inner history of man, assented to by the convictions of the heart wherever that heart beats; a teaching, one and, the same for every place, and every age, and every time. This philosophy runs thus: that all things are purified by trial. "Every one," saith our Lord, shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." The whirlwind and the storm must come; and men must meet them. There is no exemption from this law; and the, philosophy of which we speak is probably the simplest and the most universal that ever was taught. Advancement and honor come by the pathway of trial. Peace is to be purchased by the sword. The earth herself is made more fruitful by the fall and perishing of her children. Even our poets repeat this simple truth, and tell us "that men may rise, on stepping-stones of their dead selves, to higher things." When we look to the past, we shall not ordinarily desire to return to it. We shall see how far we were gone from the right way: how confident, how vain-glorious, how selfish. Let some great blow fall on the head of a right-thinking man; and trust him to find, as soon as he can, collect his thoughts, good reason why it should have overtaken him. Yes, brethren, every thing in this world is purified through suffering. And men lay hold on nobler [9/10] aims and higher stand-points, when recovering from temporary overthrow. All real excellence is bought at the price of discipline; and it is the, same with the nation as with the individual. The ancients, who saw deeply into the causes of things, and their connection with results, were wont to view with a kind of superstitious distrust and dread the man who had no troubles. When a life was observed to pass off, in full prosperity and success, without reverse and without calamity, that life was regarded by them with a secret alarm; it lacked the common sign of suffering, and they inferred, from its unlike ness to the lives of men at large, that some eternal doom was hanging over it. This same impression, although that of heathen minds, is elevated to a first principle of Christianity: "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." And "if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye not sons, but bastards." Thus the word of the heathen philosopher is reaffirmed by the lips of the Apostle of Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our Lord.
Here also, brethren, would I place before you the scene of the octave of Easter Day. There stands One among His eleven disciples: and He lifteth up His voice, and saith, "Peace be unto you!" What kind of peace was that, and how had it been purchased? Why, brethren, let us look further on. "Jesus came, and stood in the midst and said, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He shewed unto them His hands and His side." But in the [10/11] hands were the marks of violence, and the side was scarred widely and deeply with the thrust of a spear. Peace; but peace through those wounds. Peace to them and to all; but peace after long and steady war. We must never forget that the history of the Captain of our salvation is the history of a struggle. He fights, not against us, but for us, against the Devil and sin. He hath no need to assail His enemies with the weapons of carnal war fare: but His work begins with a protest against the usurpation, the lawlessness, the hostile hatred of the powers which had brought ruin upon mankind, and it never ends till they are thoroughly subdued to His will. Christ is called the Prince of Peace: but the prophet in the same breath affirms that His battle shall be with burning and fuel of fire, and that He shall break the rod of the oppressor as in the day of Midian. And so, in that midnight hour, when Jesus cometh and standeth in the room where the doors are shut and speaks the blessing of peace, we know the price of peace when He points to His hands and His side, and we know the salutary power of righteous controversy when He declares that all authority is given unto Him in heaven and in earth. Thus does the Redeemer of mankind indicate to us the way of our perfection. It is a perfection which comes through trial. It is the last result of grappling bravely with the evils which assail us; and of casting all low, sordid, and selfish motives from our minds; and of quitting us like men when the storm aid the whirlwind gather [12/13] around; and of wrestling with the powers which are able and ready to bless us at the last.
Brethren, you can bear us witness that the clergy of the Church are slow to turn their eyes from the study of the word of God and the ministration of the offices of the Church, toward the ways of the outer world. But we too are men: and we must feel as men: and when it is right, we may speak what we feel. As for myself I cannot forget, (and it is with indescribable feelings that the fact has been recalled, and is recalled on this eventful day,) that there is no church in all the city to compare with this in soul-moving associations. Here came the Father of his country, just inaugurated; and here, the grandest figure of ancient or modern times, for purity of motive, and unsullied honour, and single- hearted love of country, bowed as a child before the invisible presence of the Lord of lords and King of kings. Yonder are yet hanging the arms of state and nation; the symbols of the powers that be, "ordained," saith the Apostle, "of God." Can we be here, without a deep and thrilling sensation as of some great presence in this place, besides that of our God? He, who inhabiteth this house, called by His Name, permits, we may believe, the spirits of Loyalty, and Patriotism, and Good Faith, and Sacred Love of Country and of Law, to stand within these walls, and rule our hearts and minds. Here are the landmarks which the forefathers set: land marks which it is sacrilege to remove. Here are memories to rebuke the base suggestions of [12/13] selfishness, individualism, and indifference. There is no place like this to find one's self in to-day. No altar like this to pray at. No walls like these with which to be closed round, as we listen to the whirlwind and the storm.
Here, then, friends and brethren, let us acknowledge the supreme power and glory of the mighty God; and here let us solemnly place in His hands the destinies of the nation. Here let us settle it in our minds that there be worse evils in the moral and social world than any storm that may arise and blow out of them. Here let us consider that it is better far to suffer than to be disgraced; that it is better to strive against evil than to succumb to it effetely; that loyalty and unity of heart are virtues for which no transient prosperity could make up to us if haply they were lost; that when the soul of a people moves as it does, thank God, to-day, with one strong impulse toward that which is just and right, that soul is growing every hour to true nobility and to worthiness of its mission. Here, also, let us reflect that a storm is ofttimes needed to purify the air, and that all is made fresh and new by its passage; and let us pray God not to leave us nor forsake us, but to have His way in this whirlwind and storm also Here let us humbly adore His Divine majesty, accusing ourselves, as is most just, of our offences and praying Him not to lay our sins to our charge. Here let us remember that many a nation has grown stronger, better, and wiser, from the discipline which He hath seen good to inflict; that [13/14] they have learned their points of weakness, and the drawbacks to their advancement; that they have come to know the adjustments required by the progress of their power and the development of their political system; that they have fitted themselves full often in the rough school of adversity for a more accurate fulfillment of their duties as members of the great family of the whole earth. Here, also, let us offer, for those of our noble-hearted men who have gone away and are to go, to give to their country and their government the best they had to give--their presence, their manly strength, their blood, and if it must be so, their Eves--let us offer for them the warmest of Christian prayers from the very deepest places of our souls; and then let us remember that He who holds all issues in His hands, will, in His good time, give back to His people the blessing of peace; and when it is right that we should have it, and when it is so secured as that there shall be no more ground for unrighteous and unbrotherly agitation and controversy, then--but not till then--let us hope that it may come.
For the heavens still are telling the glory of God; the firmament, though angry and black, only hides the grand old dome above; and when the cloud and the rack of the tempest have departed, we see once more that high and shining place, by day serene in its living blue, and by night paved with its ten thousand times ten thousand diamonds, all full of God's praise, all calm with His majesty, all satisfying with His peace. There shall the brethren meet at length. [14/15] There, be the misunderstandings of men here on earth what they may, shall they at length rush to each other's arms in one long embrace of eternal love. There are no storms nor tempests. There is no sound of battle. There shall all loyal and true hearts, of every place and age, find each other at the last; and there shall they walk in peace under the shining of the perpetual dayspring from on high, and under that blessing of God which the world cannot give.
And now to the Most High and undivided Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be a honour and praise evermore, AMEN.