Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011
[Transcriber’s note: This Sermon is extracted from the booklet titled, THE FADING AND THE UNFADING, a collection sermons by three priests on the occasion of the Decease of Adaline Haskins; Printed By John Gray, 104 Beekman-Street in 1848.]
REV. S. M. HASKINS,
DAUGHTER OF ISAAC PECK,
At Flushing, L. I., September 29, 1816.
At Williamsburgh, L. I.,
Jan. 19, 1848.
WILLIAMSBURGH, Jan. 24, 1848.
REV. AND DEAR SIR:
Having listened with deep interest to the funeral discourse delivered by yourself yesterday morning, at St. Mark's Church, on the occasion of the death of the wife of our beloved pastor, and desiring to possess it in a form that may be preserved, and distributed among her numerous relatives and friends bereaved, we, the undersigned, a Committee of the Vestry, by a unanimous vote of that body passed this evening, respectfully ask of you a copy of the same for publication, in connexion with the addresses delivered on that occasion by the Rev. Messrs. Lewis and Clapp.
Very respectfully, your friends,
Committee: Octavius Longworth, Geo. S. Schermerhorn, William Shippey.
Rev. S. R. Johnson, D. D.
To Messrs. Longworth, Schermerhorn & Shippey:
Gentlemen—I willingly comply with your request, and send you a copy of the funeral discourse, happy if in any respect I can add to the consolation or gratification of our bereaved friends.
Most truly and respectfully yours,
SAMUEL R. JOHNSON.
Isaiah xl. 8.
TEE GRASS WITHERETH, THE FLOWER FADETH: BUT THE WORD OF OUR GOD
SHALL STAND FOR EVER.
How is life full of events which teach us lessons of the uncertainty of health, and impress us with the reality of death. You, my brethren, have just received a most memorable and affecting lesson—one which has penetrated to the inmost depths of the hearts of many who now listen to me—one which will be remembered long, and which I trust will be sanctified to the highest good of many souls. You have attended the last services of religion and respect; when with sad and solemn feeling, yet with the Christian's immortal and exulting hope, we consigned "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, looking for the general resurrection, and the life of the world to come." You then listened to the touching tribute of the friend, and to the interesting memoir of the pastor—both replete with holy and most comforting meditations. And what remains for me, once her pastor also, and who claim the endearing name of friend of her and hers, but to add my tribute of sympathy and of Christian consolation, [23/24] mingled with memories of the departed one, and lessons of admonition and encouragement which the event may suggest for the benefit of all.
But needs the Christian, walking by faith, living in assured belief of the Christian's inheritance of bliss, needs he consolation when his beloved ones, who love the Lord Jesus, are removed from earth to glory? Not at all times: for when we are as it were "upon the mount," we are lifted above earth's scenes, and contemplate only the purity and the happiness of the saved. Not in every view: for the happy vision, though seen dimly and afar, often arrests the spiritual eye and engrosses thought and heart. But we are human. Earth is our present dwelling place. We are in the body. The scenes visible around us will command our attention and our interest. We have, too, a human heart, tender with human sensibilities. We have besides, a weak and frail nature, incapable of always resisting certain influences, or always soaring aloft as with an angel's wing. Like the disciples whom Jesus loved and who loved him, we are often "fearful," and in many things "of little faith," even when we know He is by our side, and within the call and the reach of our souls. And when we miss the beloved one, and our hearts realize the separation—when we enter the house and hear not the familiar voice of welcome—as we look upon the vacant chair—as we see the babe tended by another—or, as at church, we behold the seat in the pew vacant or otherwise occupied—as we think of the past endearments and the present bereavement—we do, my friends, at such times need the "great grace" of the Gospel, and its sustaining and consoling treasures.
Thus it is, my brethren, that with all the belief and hope of the Christian, and all the very happy assurance of the salvation [24/25] of the one whom God has taken hence, your beloved pastor, faithful to his Lord, and the many near relatives living in his love and fear, yet need consolations from above and have a claim upon your friendly sympathy. Yes, he who hath so often preached the word of consolation to the sorrowing, is now himself touched by the Lord's afflicting hand. He who hath entered into so many families with heart and lips of sympathy, is himself now become the mourner. He who has so frequently, in this very house of God and from this very pulpit, pointed you to Jesus "the consolation of Israel" and strength of his people, and to "the Holy Ghost the Comforter," and exhorted you with many earnest words; to himself now are applicable the very words he has so often addressed to others. And what shall I say unto him—what unto my friends bereaved! Shall I speak of some high philosophy, transcendental and unfamiliar? Ah no! my brother—ah no! my friends. You need no other word; I have no other and none better, than that same word of our God, that same Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, with its most household thoughts, its most common-place gifts and familiar revelations. Like the common air we breathe, like the sun which every day sheds its glory upon our path, like the fountain regularly supplying its pure refreshing water unto all, like "our daily bread" and home-made food, this is the very blessing you need the most, and here may you find whatever is adequate to meet your case. The same reconciled Father in heaven—the same Jesus, Redeemer, Intercessor, Lord—the same Holy Spirit of grace and comfort—the same sacred Church and covenant of blessing, with its bible, oh how precious! and its every means of grace, by which the Saviour conveys the knowledge of his name and will, and reaches down his hand full of gifts and [25/26] blessings;—the same throne of grace at which faith pleads so humbly and yet so importunately;—all these belong to the Christian disciple whomsoever; hither must minister and people alike come, and with the same feeling of their individual want, and the same expectant faith, wait at their Lord's feet. The same spiritual motives belong to us all, and we can apply them to our good; the same arguments of faith and submission reach all our hearts; the exhortations and counsels of our holy religion are adapted to our various circumstances, aged or young, men or women, people or ministers. Be of good comfort then, my brother. The one only Saviour, of whom you have so often told your people; that same Jesus of whom the departed said all her life long, and during her illness, "he is precious;" he with his grace and blessed gospel of salvation is all-sufficient for them—he is all-sufficient for you.
And as to appropriate fully the consolation, there is required in such case of bereavement a double action; the one who is taken to convey, and the others who are spared to appreciate, so here it eminently is: a believer has been translated to another world, and believers, her companions, are left behind—husband, father and mother who brought her up so carefully "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," brothers and sister and near relatives and connexions, with like Christian mind waiting upon God, sharers of the same blessed hope, mindful of the same happy promise: "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." True, the grass hath withered, the flower hath faded; but for all that, the happy promise and hope have not been touched as by the slightest influence of decay, for "the word of our God shall stand for ever." The earthly, the temporal, the bodily have been touched, have been withered: but the spiritual portion [26/27] flourishes in brighter glory, and in a world which knows no change but that of improvement and increase.
Yet, brethren, it may be profitable for us assembled here, to contemplate the double history, the fading and the imperishable; for we are interested in both, and our nature partakes of the elements of each; and from the circumstances of this faded flower, we may gather instructions suited to our own similar or parallel condition.
"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth:" human life and all the human estate being compared by the prophetic voice to the grass soon to be cut down, or to perish of itself; and to the flower beautiful and fragrant, destined so soon to fade. Let us take the latter image to illustrate our own condition.
This flower faded early, if not in its bud or in its earliest unfolding, still early; when we might reasonably, according to most probable calculations, have looked for it to continue a long time, and to appear in beauty and to shed its fragrance unabated for a longer period than had passed since its development. She whom we lament, however prepared to die, (and her whole life was a habitual preparation,)—however "desirous to depart and to be with Christ," (and she was so desirous, that she with pious scruple suspected her very willingness, as if it were somewhat selfish,) yet had many reasons to expect long life. Her parents are living, and firm in health, and a grandparent yet survives; (long may they be spared to the many who look up to them, and whose hearts beat so truly and affectionately towards them!) her family stock was strong and numbered many who had attained old age. She had been favored with an excellent constitution and general good health. Yet while young and in her prime she died. The flower faded. Oh, my friends, who calculate on length of days, and [27/28] feel so confident of strength and life, my younger friends especially, think of this. Your summons may come like hers, or earlier still. And are you prepared? Do you, as she did, love and serve the Lord Jesus? I remember, when on a visit from the far West, where I long resided, I preached one evening in my former parish, then her home, my text was this, "The love of Christ constraineth us," and she said to me on her return from the church, "Oh, what a sweet text that was, it was a sermon in itself:"—now have you that affection for your Lord and Saviour, which thus characterized her? Do you long for him, for his grace, for his presence, for his communion, and do you wait upon him dutifully in humble service, watching to meet him in his ways? Do you love him and seek to do his will? Oh! let me entreat you to draw nigh unto him, to devote yourselves unto him, "knowing that you are not your own,"—to live the life of faith in his name. Then death will lose its terrors. Then will your vision of eternity become bright. Then, though early called, life's great work shall have been done, and you shall have lived for all such highest purposes, full long enough.
This flower faded, and unexpectedly; yours may fade soon. However firm it be upon its stalk, though not a single blight spot yet appear, though no insidious worm be seen approaching nigh its precincts, though no insect devour or with sting or venom wound it, nor weave around it an injurious web, a few days may show a great and fatal change. Your life is like a flower, subject to many casualties. The messenger whom God hath sent to thee on mortal errand, may be well upon his way, and not far off. He may come and touch thee with consumption, and ere the month of March is ended, thou mayst be summoned hence. He may touch thee with a slow and wearing fever, [29/30] and they may say "how long that fever lasted ere it did its work." He may touch thee with a fever more violent and rapid, like that which here so surely and so soon attained its height, and in a week or so thy friends may gather to thy burial. Who of us thought, when a few months ago I stood within this chancel and admitted that dear babe into the kingdom of our Redeemer, that the mother then so well, so happy, and so hopeful—as well for this life as another—would so soon be removed, and our brother be left to sorrow in bereavement. Brethren, subject to like contingencies, oh! live prepared. Trust not to sickness for preparation. Delirium may set in, and steal away the little opportunity which sickness gives. Here we have the great satisfaction of a religious experience, of a lifelong piety—a piety born in the church, and its vital functions probably never suspended, increasing in strength and stature, advancing by regular progress, and at seasons by more rapid, decided, and perceptible movements; all born and nurtured in the family of the Redeemer, the Church which is his body; here we have also the pious expressions and wishes devoutly uttered during the former part of her illness, before danger was anticipated: and the same signs given afterward, as the Lord allowed the opportunity. Brethren, all who hear me, may you have the blessing of God's acceptance, and be able by the manifestation of its evidence, to give your friends such christian comfort in your dying. Let no doubtful constructions rest upon your tomb. Fill not that dear, survivor's heart with apprehensions and with sadness by an undecided course, by the mere legacy of a few broken, incoherent, solemn words. Give the legacy of a pious and consistent christian life and memory. Oh! to the bleeding heart it is a world of treasure; and to [29/30] thyself, might I not say, it is thy all. Let this be done, and then however soon you may be called, you will not be too late.
This flower faded rapidly. Yours may fade in a moment. So have I seen the flower cut and gathered in its bloom, and on the instant. So have I seen fire wither and consume both leaf, and bud, and flower. And do you notice how many die a sudden death? Do you ever read the weekly lists of mortality? That sudden pang at the heart, that fulness of the head, that passing faintness, that frequent dizziness—give they no warning? Excite they no apprehension? That narrow escape from fatal accident, was its lesson meant for nought? Oh be watchful—delay not. Live, ever travelling on in the Lord's way; and as you travel on, be habitually "looking unto Jesus." Be prepared to die; then thy death, though instantaneous, may be sudden to others, but will never be sudden to thyself.
"The flower fadeth." However beautiful and excelling, however prized or useful, this is its destiny. Could beauty of character and excellence of spirit have prolonged life, she would have survived for many a long year. Could the affection of her family, and the regard of friends have been of any avail, she would not have been now our theme. Could usefulness in the walks of life have given her Hezekiah's prolongation of days; voices from her family, from the Sunday school, from the congregation, from the sick and suffering, from society at large, would have borne her honorable testimony and pleaded for her life. It was in the Sunday school at Flushing I well remember her—faithful, assiduous, and self-denying. She had taught in that parish a class of colored children, and it was a gratifying testimony of their affection, [30/31] that when she was married at the altar of her parish church, as she returned through the aisle, there were her scholars ranged along to wish her well. And as the solemn procession entered the church, (that church where she was born unto God in holy baptism, where she had worshipped so many years from childhood up, where she was confirmed, where she received her first communion, and in whose churchyard she reposes) I observed a large number of such, assembled, looking mournfully on, and many crowded into the gallery—children of the injured race of Africa, a grateful race, mindful of the kindness of one who had labored for their good and had never done them wrong. In fine, she lived a happy, a useful, an honored life; cherished by all who knew her, and most by those who knew her best. Her's was the christian's life, her's was the christian's death. But this excelling flower faded.
Yes, the flower has faded. But, my brethren, this is not all—it is but half the story—and the poorer and the sadder half. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth," it is in my text, 'tis true; but it is not my text. That which is its glorious part is yet untold. We have gathered up the diamond in the handful of earth's soil; we have dropped the earthy particles—the diamond yet remains. Farewell thou withering grass, thou faded flower! Farewell thou dust from the bosom of the earth! I will look at these no more. The diamond, the treasure—it abides, it shall never pass away. THE WORD OF OUR GOD SHALL STAND FOR EVER. Oh! this is a diamond, unsurpassed and countless for its worth. We will not now analyze its parts. We will not weigh it now in the balance of the sanctuary. We will not endeavor to take by calculated measurement its exacter amplitude. We will give one earnest gaze; we will receive into our inmost spirit its [31/32] one full revelation of the blessed gospel with its "promises exceeding great and precious," its glorious Saviour, and its "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away"—and go to our homes content. Husband, parents, relations, parishioners, friends whosoever, oh may you be enabled to apply this blessed saying to this very bereavement; to comprehend in some measure the riches of this excelling glory, and "what is the breadth and length and depth and height," and "to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." Then shall you speak it as with a new language and a new meaning and with a heavenly power unto your own rejoicing spirit, conscious of the loss, yet doubly conscious of the gain. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand for ever."