The Martyred President: A
Sermon Preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn,
N. Y., Robinson, Rev. Chas. S., April 16th, 1865,
The Martyred President:
PREACHED IN THE
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, BROOKLYN, N.Y.,
BY THE PASTOR,
REV. CHAS. S. ROBINSON,
ON THE MORNING OF
APRIL 16th, 1865.
JOHN F. TROW, PRINTER, 50 GREENE STREET.
BROOKLYN, N. Y., April 17th, 1865
Rev. CHAS. S. ROBINSON:
Dear Sir: As members of the congregation to which you minister, we wish to indicate to you our warm appreciation of the discourse delivered in your pulpit on yesterday morning, occasioned by that appalling dispensation of Providence which has imprinted the deepest sorrow in every loyal bosom in this afflicted land.
We regard the Sermon as embodying a fitting and felicitous tribute to the character of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, our late President, who has fallen an illustrious martyr to the cause of constitutional government and universal freedom of man.
We respectfully request that you will furnish us a copy of it for the press, believing that by its preservation in a permanent form it will embody a just record, proper to be filed among the archives of the Church, and handed down to our children, of the unwavering loyalty of Pastor and people to the cause of national integrity and constitutional rule during these eventful and perilous years of conflict with organized and armed rebellion.
With assurances of our cordial regards
FISHER HOWE, HENRY SHELDON,
CYRUS P. SMITH, LOWELL HOLBROOK,
SILAS H. STRINGHAM, JONATHAN OGDEN,
SAMUEL HUTCHINSON, HENRY BUTLER,
HENRY IDE, W. HASTINGS,
HENRY K. SHELDON, NOAH T. SWEZEY,
DANIEL POMEROY; JAMES R. TAYLOR,
JONATHAN D. STEELE, RICHARD J. DODGE,
ANDREW A. SMITH, HOBART FORD,
ALEXANDER M. EARLE, ABIJAH FISHER.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, BROOKLYN, April 18th, 1865.
To Messrs. FISHER HOWE, Hon. C. P. SMITH, Rear Admiral S. H. STRINGHAM, SAMUEL HUTCHINSON, and others:
Gentlemen: The Discourse which you request, prepared so hurriedly in the midst of such confusion and excitement, takes all its value from your cordial endorsement of its sentiments.
We are just closing a four years' war; the air is vibrating with tidings of victory as I write. But we are beginning a new war of more than four years, the weapons of which are not carnal.
Much of the peril of that conflict will be forestalled by a frank,
firm stand taken at the outset. And I am unaffectedly happy in your
willingness to commit yourselves, as a church, now with me, to the
truth, fearless as you all have ever been in your steadfastness to the
principles involved in the war.
Very truly and affectionately,
Your friend and Pastor
CHAS. S. ROBINSON.
HE WAS A GOOD MAN, AND A JUST.-Luke xxiii: 50.
ONE other Sabbath like this I remember, and only one; that of which this is the exact anniversary, four years ago. What humiliated the nation then is now measurably rectified. The ensign of our country floats once more on the ramparts from which it had just been torn by the fierce hand of treason. The same batteries that hurled shot and shell at the fortress, whose name has become historic, have been forced to pour forth their empty salutes in honor of the restoration. And the proclamation is already in the air, which was to summon the grateful Republic to a thanksgiving for t he manifold mercy of Almighty God.
Right in the midst of our rejoicing we are dashed into sorrow deeper than ever. To-day it is not the humbling of our pride that makes us mourn, but the wounding of our hearts in their keenest sensibilities. For he who has been our leader lies low in his coffin; foul murder has been done at the capital; and the nation stands hushed in the presence of its unburied dead.
Have the old days of barbarism returned upon us? Is assassination become civilized? Has the bullet of a murderer recognition as a belligerent right? In what age do we live? Is justice dead? Where are we? How happens it that the wires quiver with tidings of deeds worthy only of the darkest years of Venetian conspiracy and shame?
I said, we have got the flag back again on Sumter. So we have. But only at half-mast. It reached the staff just in time to droop. Men began to cheer--suddenly they turn to wailing. The triumph seems a mockery. Victory waits recognition unheeded, for the bells are tolling. He who made our success welcome is not here to share it. ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the honored and beloved head of the nation, is no more!
My brethren, bear me record here to-day. This pulpit has never uttered one timid, troubled word in these four years. I have not lost heart for a moment in the essential righteousness of our cause, nor confidence in the final success that would come to it. You will misunderstand my language now, and mistake my temper, if you imagine I am cowed into any wavering, startled into any irresolution, or grieved into any distrust, by the terrible events of the hour. But I shall not attempt to conceal from you that I am shocked more than ever before, and under the cloud of God's providence as I never expected to be. I do not know the meaning of this awful transaction.
The feeling which rests on each mind and heart to-day is not a simple feeling. To us all it is, in some measure, undefined. I cannot be of any real help to you, I fear, save in the way of giving you an analysis of your grief, and suggesting the form of its expression.
I.--Let me say, then, that in this complex mourning of heart is found, first of all, our admiration of that great man's character, whose sudden death has saddened the entire nation. Surely, you will not need that I enter into argument to prove that these words of the text I have chosen, applied to the counsellor from Arimathea in the inspired record, are most fitting when applied to our late Chief Magistrate.
He was "a good man." Called by the great voice of the American people to leave his rural home, and assume the highest honors it could confer, his parting request to his old friends and neighbors was only for their continuous prayers. With the sincerest humil-
He was a "just" man. Through all these years it has been touching to notice how implicitly the true-hearted believed, Abraham Lincoln to be true. The mean hirelings of place, and the mere parasites of office, kept out of his way. The demagogues and partisans grew passionate over his perversity to their principles, and called him an impracticable leader, because of his steadfast loyalty to truth and fairness as between man and man. When one received injus-
So much, then, is true; "he was a good man, and a just." But there is a question, which our intelligent, Bible-reading, people are wont to ask when any one of their great men dies-was he a Christian man? There is no reason why we should turn away, unanswered, an inquiry like this. It is not an impertinent and obtrusive investigation of his interior life. He made, no mystery of his faith. His own
"When I left Springfield, I felt my utter dependence upon God. The responsibility weighed heavily upon my heart. I knew I should fall without a divine help. But I was not then a Christian. When my child died, I felt that I needed the comfort of the Gospel. It was the severest affliction that ever fell upon me. Then I wanted to be a Christian. But never did I feel, that I reached the point, till I wandered one day, alone, among the graves of the boys that fell at Gettysburg. There, when I read the inscriptions, so full of hope and faith, I began to think I loved and trusted Jesus as my Saviour."
Thus our image of this humble, noble, man rises on our vision complete. Gifted with great intellectual power; proverbial for his rectitude; bearing "honest" for his title as Aristides bore "just" for his; affectionate, with all the instincts of common humanity, even to the lowliest; fearless and brave; he added the crowning grace to his memory with his unaffected piety as a Christian.
II.--For all this the nation mourns his loss. But I am not mistaken in believing there is an element in our sorrow here to-day, far more subtle and experimental than mere admiration of his spotless character. There is, in the second place, a feeling of personal bereavement. Singularly identified with us all has this man come to be. Test your heart now. Tell me, of all the leaders in civil life, of all the commanders in the field, who has the hold upon your
I think to-day, as the fearful news is flashed across the land, of the families that live in the valleys, and among the hills, and over the prairies, to some member of which be has been kind and so has endeared himself to all. How they will weep as for a brother beloved! Village bells are knelling all over the continent. A great hand waved darkly across the landscape, and swooped the banners down from exultation into grief. Oh, we have never known how many letters his own pen has written to bereaved wives and mourning mothers! When news of a terrible death, in many an inconspicuous household, was to be communicated, the President of the United States took time, from his few hours of privacy, to send an epistle, so generous, so full of grateful sympathy, so gentle and appreciative, that the wounded hearts felt soothed, and bore the bereavement without breaking. He knew how to say kind things so well, and loved to say them!
I think of the soldiers, also, whose interests he watched like a jealous parent. In these trying times
I think, more than all, of the poor freedmen, when they hear of the President's death. How they will wonder, and will wail! They called him "Father," as if it were part of his name. Oh, they believed in Abraham Lincoln! They expected him, as the Israelites did Moses. Some, no doubt, imagined he was a deity. They were unsophisticated and ignorant, and that good, kind man seemed so like a being from heaven. They said he would come. They prayed he would come. They waited for him
Thus, we all weep together. Christian resignation offers its high consolations, and we have no spirit of murmuring or complaint. Yet, none of us will deny that this is the severest blow, which, as a great people, we have ever received. The nation has, twice before, lost its Chief Magistrate by death; but there has been no mourning like this to-day.
III. --A third element in our grief, under this afflictive dispensation of Providence, is the fear of impending calamity. It is impossible to free our minds of the deepest solicitude for the future. Alas! we say, for the nation bereaved of its pilot, when
I suppose this anxiety is natural; and yet, I am sure, it is needless. Difficult questions are coming up. The practical wisdom of our recognized leader was cutting knots which men's perversity kept tying. We trusted him. We were knitting ourselves together in closer confidence in his decisions. That shrewd, native judgment, that clear-sighted penetration, that incorruptible integrity--oh how we used to throw ourselves back upon qualities like these, and feel secure! We found fault with him more than once; but, eventually, he was justified in his course. We said he was slow; but he went as fast as God did. He reasoned with logic that events taught him. We were inordinately cast down under defeat; he kept us cheerful. We grew boisterous under victory; he was calm himself, but glad to have us so happy. He was never disheartened, never unduly elated. When he failed, he became humbler; when be succeeded, he thanked God. When the way was open, he was as alert as anybody; when the way was hedged up, he was strong enough to sit still. By and bye we learned to know him well and rest in him sublimely. Meantime, he urged us to look beyond him. He made us devout. Put a man on the busiest street-corner, and let him keep looking upward, and he will gather a crowd that will all be looking upward. So our President gave unaffected
When such a leader is taken suddenly away, there is nothing unphilosophical in the feeling of utter dismay and apprehension that men are apt to experience. But, in our case, all this is needless. My brethren, I commend to your calm consideration, one solemn thought, concerning the lessons of all history. Men are nothing but instruments in the hands of their Maker, in working out his purposes. Just as a sculptor needs now a chisel, now a file, now a graver, and never thinks he must apologize or explain to us, who stand by to watch him, why he drops one tool, or takes up another; for he is making a statue, which he intends for a worthy immortality,--so the all-wise God, carrying out his vast plans, assumes one man and lays aside another, and never answers any of our curious questions while his "eternal Thought moves on his undisturbed affairs." We are to blame seriously, if we allow ourselves to be depressed with forebodings. God's rule, in all this four years' war, has been, to bring to nought the things that are, not by the things that are, but by the things that are not. We have lived under the unvarying discipline of surprise. By this time, we ought to have learned our lesson.
With courage undiminished, therefore, let us be-
IV.--For, in the fourth place, I remark, we find, as an element in our mourning to-day, a deep-seated indignation at the horrible crime which has been committed. Humanity sickens and shudders at the diabolical ingenuity, the malignant hatred, of this culminating act of the rebellion. If there ever was a time in which to obey the command, "Be ye angry, and sin not," that time has come now. "There was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the Children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day; consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds."
Let a vast public sentiment be aroused and organized, that shall exhibit this vile wickedness in its true light. Let us invoke Christendom to make it an eternal hissing. With a recoil of feeling so violent that it wearies my will, and shocks my very being, with uttermost loathing for an offence so abominable; seeing in it that keen, fine relish of depravity that marks it not only as devilish, but one of the master works of the prince of devils, I stand simply appalled-wondering, with unspeakable wonder, how it can be accepted by any creature wearing the form of civilized humanity! It is an outrage on the community, whose tolerance it defies. It is an insult to decency, a rebuke to forbearance, an offence unto God. It is without the power of language to reach the condemnation it merits. The words of denunciation die on my lips in their own feebleness. It is with an affecting sense of gratitude to God that I discover the positive poverty of my mother-tongue in epithets of vileness befitting its description. As much as in you is, live peaceably with all men; but there ought to be a voice of opinion so stern, so outspoken, that no man of credited decency should stand tamely by and hear a crime, so unparalleled in its baseness, even extenuated.
Is the world going back into savagery? Is this Christian land to become the rival of Dahomey? This is no isolated act. The history of this slaveholders' rebellion is full of such. Again and again
This assassination is the earliest reply which chivalry has had to make to forbearance unmeasured and friendliness almost fraternal. Now, let us have done with it! Talk to me no more of "our misguided brethren." Some are misguided--and it is those who misguide them I denounce. Cain was brother to Abel. Relationship is a perilous thing when it says, "Art thou in health, my brother," and then stabs under the fifth rib. Talk to me no more of the same race, educated at the same colleges, born of
Let no one deem this violence unnecessary. They tell us that none of our utterances are lost; the vibrations of the air on which they fall perpetuate them into an eternity of circles, spreading wider and wider. If I am ever again to meet these denunciations of mine, conscientiously spoken in this Christian pulpit, let me find them in company with a declaration that will explain them. There are in this community, to-day, men and women--God forgive them!--nurtured under the hot debasements and vile luxuries of the slave system, sojourning here on our charitable sufferance, in order meanly to escape the perils of the ruinous war they have helped to incite, who clap their hands in applause of this murder! I think, in serious self-defence, we are to see that this thing is ended. This wickedness clamors for retributive judgment, and invokes the wrath of God.
V.-Thus I am led, naturally, to speak of a fifth element in our feeling of mourning to-day; the pro-
We are satisfied that all this is perilous pusillanimity now. There is no fitness of generosity to malignants venomous as these. So, while our hearts
It may, possibly, be said, by some, that this assassination of the officers of government is a mere act of madness done by a brace of frantic fanatics; and that it is not equitable and fair to hold a whole people responsible for its wickedness.
Let it be said, in reply, that the tidings of this murder, going into the ranks of rebellion, will be hailed with a howl of gladness and satisfaction equal to the yell in Pandemonium, when Satan seduced
Hence, there is no revenge in the popular heart to-day, but only retribution. We pity the malefactors; we pray for them; but in this determination we are fixed-let the majesty of the law be vindicated upon them as traitors; let justice pursue them, one by one; let the gates of the world be closed to their search for asylum; let judgment follow on as implacable as a doom.
VI.--I might well pause here, in the enumeration
1. First of all, then, let us learn here how history is composed. I am certain we have no proper conception of the magnitude of an event like this. We are too near it to discover its proportions. Travellers tell us they are always disappointed with the earliest glimpse of vast mountains. Standing close under the shadow of awful forms, so peerless in majesty, they have no adequate notions of their loftiness and amazing mass. These need distance on the landscape to be truly appreciated. So an event like this is never really reverenced as it should be. It needs time for the free play of the imagination. We are all unconscious of the spectacle we are to present to posterity.
The dreadful deed, which has filled our minds with horror, will be a growing vision of weird wickedness, shining with a strange luridness of its own, as one of the wildest tragedies of the world's most un-
Thus history selects and perpetuates its own materials. Each thought, each word, each deed, each flash of sentiment, each outbreak of passion, each exercise of influence, enters into the grand aggregate of human recollection and intelligence, which we call our Age. Out of this the pen of unerring history compiles its annals.
For Humanity sweeps onward; where to-day the martyr stands,
On the morrow crouches Judas, with the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready, and the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into History's golden urn."
2. In the second place, let us learn the essential iniquity and barbarism there is in any system of human oppression. It was long ago remarked by Lamartine, that no man ever bound a chain around
I suppose no one remains now who doubts that all this aggregated mass of abomination, this summation of villanies, whose tide of murky violence is rolling itself along before our weary eyes, had its fountain-head in the malignant ambition of a few men, who started the stream of revolution in order to waft themselves into continuous power. These miserable criminals, whom justice is pursuing with eager scent, are but the merest minute-hands on the outermost dial of that popular sentiment which they represent. The spring that has set them in motion, the mechanism that gave them all their power, even the delicate balances that have timed their present success, are out of sight, yet easily discoverable in the dark intricacies of that domestic and political life based on the humiliation of a feebler race. You may tear these index-pointers away, but the clockwork will run on. There will still remain the secret progress of debasement, on the bold face of which they have happened to become conspicuous. You will gain nothing till you tear the hideous system to pieces, and break the spring that lies coiled within it.
What is this crime? Nothing new, surely; only
This latest crime is more showy, but the hearts are no blacker than before. And the hearts have been made black, by the system. How else will you explain this appalling fact; there are women, with babes in their arms, who will declare that this murder in cold blood of a man in the presence of his wife is chivalrous! This is monstrous, when judged by any system of philosophy. There is but one solution of the mystery: underlying all the ferocity of such a
3. Once more: Let us learn here to-day the power of martyrdom in fixing great principles. President LINCOLN has been useful in his life, far beyond what falls to the common lot of even the most patriotic and public-spirited men. But his death has confirmed his usefulness-made it illustrious, influential, and immortal.
In the natural course of time his period of official service would have ended. His administration of the government would have been canvassed cautiously, and, perhaps, uncharitably criticised, and, by some parties, condemned. By this sudden, tragic close of it, however, it has been forced into prominence. It will now be marked forever. All the principles it
They who oppose an honest man living, are ever among the first to honor him dead. Nobody dares uproot a standard planted by a loved leader who poured out his life at the foot of its staff. Perhaps it was this which was needed to bring our people together permanently. Perhaps this was the essential condition of our restoration to unity, that we become reconciled over an open grave. It may be that party-spirit will yield now, and bury the bitterness of its animosity in a martyr's tomb.
You will recall the touching fable of Roman history. A vast seam opened in the land, in the very
Shall we say that now our divided country will come together again, when he who seemed the glory and strength of the American people has gone down in the breach? Shall not his sacrifice avail for propitiation to that foul spirit of sectional pride which rent the land asunder?
4. And this leads me on to mention a final lesson. We see now the inevitable triumph and perpetuity of our cause. We are not hero-worshippers in any degree. We never were. But we believe in God. We entered upon this war not willingly, not of our own accord. We have been fighting for a principle.
What is our cause? It is easier to say what it is not; for its essence is negative. Whatever this crime of assassination is, whatever it represents, whatever it aimed at, whatever was the spirit that prompted it, whatever may be now wickedly offered in its apology--just not that is our cause. And as that crime, in spirit, in purpose, in instigation, was all in the interest of human bondage, so our cause embraces all that is antagonistic to that system. There never has been but one issue in this terrible contest. Underneath all these evident questions has been lying one which some of us studiously labored to ignore; and that was concerning the dignity of universal labor, and the absolute equality of all races before the common law. He who, at this late day, shuts his eyes to this fact, is neither intelligent nor wise. We have fought for an open Bible, a free school, an unfettered press, and a Scriptural pulpit.
In all the doctrines ostentatiously put forth by our foes-States' rights, uncontaminated blood, family pride, sectional independence-there has ever been this keen, sharp liking for slavery as a social system. They recognized it as a kind of secret zest among themselves; as voluptuaries recognize, with an understood leer, a favorite lust; as wine-bibbers recognize the subtle flavor of an indescribable liquor. Our
And what I call you to learn now is, that this cause is safe. A martyr's blow has sealed the covenant we are making with posterity. Oh, the glories of our immediate prospect of usefulness in the years to come! The republic is secure. The Union is confirmed as a perpetual federation of States. The peril through which we have just passed has no parallel. Our government, as an entirety, was aimed at with one savage blow. Such a stroke, on any other nation, would have rocked Christendom to its centre. Yet our nation is untremulous as the primeval granite. The most delicate balances of commercial life show not even the semblance of noticeable variation, even when this violence of a ton's weight all at once jars the beam! Our cause is eternally secure!
Think, then, as we close our meditation upon this
Fitting seems the symbol to us now, as we look only on the earthly side of this tremendous loss; on that same day, while the shadows were gathering in the chapel of that seven-hilled city, our light appeared to go out, and the nation was in the gloom.
But to-day, let us look on the heavenly side. How sweet and calm it is to think of that great, brave heart, this Easter Sabbath! He is not here, but risen. Far beyond the sound of battle, far beyond the turmoil of state, in the infinite realms of gladness,
"HE WAS A GOOD MAN, AND A JUST!"