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When that was over, and his innocent earthly life had been yielded up, hell was not merely conquered, it was subjugated; it was not merely shut up, it was sealed: for that final act fully completed the Lord's glorification, and thus caused him to arise a Divine Man for ever, and to stand as the eternal Samson in his Divine Natural degree, – the eternal vanquisher of the hells, to " keep them in subjection for ever.” It is therefore true, yea, infinitely true, of him, that the "e dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”
The conclusion to be drawn from these considerations is, that what we call death is, to goodness, its victory and completion; that it is more to its advantage than all its previous progressions, because it is their final finishing and ultimation, the fixing process of them all, and thus stands superior in the proportion that eternity is superior to time. Bearing this conclusion in mind, it will enable us to see why the great and good man who lately stood at the head of the great American Republic has been suddenly stricken down in his distinguished place, and removed from the position he had filled so well and with such signal success, at the very time when it seemed to us he was about to exercise its functions with more success and usefulness than ever. And, in doing this, it is not my object to pass any panegyric upon President Lincoln; for a man's deeds, and the work he leaves behind him done, are his true panegyric, and one which is based upon a secure foundation, because it will stand or fall, will fail or continue, according to the character of that foundation. I shall, therefore, merely quote well-established facts, and endeavor to draw from them sound and instructive inferences, calculated to throw light upon the apparently mysterious action of the divine Providence in this and similar events, and to heal over the cruel wound which has been stabbed in all our hearts by this afflicting blow and this seemingly irreparable loss.
President Lincoln was the abolisher of slavery. It is true that only the will of a nation can abolish a national evil; nevertheless, if that will has not its exponent and instrument in its administrative officers, it is not carried out. But he was not only the willing instrument, — he was the leader: he was not only the servant of that will, — he was, as far as a single man could be, the creator of it. At the commencement of his political career, — when to do so was unpopular, if not dangerous, - he raised his voice against that truly infernal institution, as the serpent that would destroy the children of his country. And, when he came into a position where he could show by his acts the sincerity of his words, he never failed to exert his influence against its extension, until at last, when he stood in a position which gave him supreme authority over slavery, he published the edict which declared its end, and finally secured its destruction by drawing all his countrymen after him, and thus made his individual decree a national principle. But just at the moment that the dark and cruel system was overthrown, and, crouching at his feet, was awaiting its final extirpation, the great, guiding hand which had conferred freedom, and thereby humanity, upon millions, was in an instant powerless, and the voice which had uttered'the noble and inspiring call of liberty was silent. Is, then, the work to remain unfinished? and are the millions to slide back into what is worse than death, because the giver of freedom died? No! That finished the work; that made the millions secure. There is not a man in all that vast country, who has learned to love Mr. Lincoln's principles, and whose heart has been made to writhe in anguish and inconsolable woe under the sense of so cruel a loss, but will swear himself in, from that moment of grief, to the complete and final accomplishment of all those objects, and the steady maintenance of all those principles, which filled the life, and constituted the character, of that great and good, — that
loved and lamented ruler. If, then, the influence of this truly illustrious man upon his fellow-countrymen was great whilst he lived, how much greater will it be now that he has sealed his devotion to his country with his life; and, if slavery received its death-blow from his living hand, how surely must that hand, though now unseen, crush out into non-existence its last miserable and dying remnants! May we not, therefore, say of President Lincoln, as it was said of the conqueror of the Philistines, that ee the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life "?
After a man's death, his principles are more respected, and his words have more weight, than during his life. This is a remark which applies equally to the boy who has lost his parent, and the nation which has been deprived of its head and leading counsellor. Therefore, the same result which we have seen to be likely to follow in the case of slavery is, by the same rule, likely to follow in the case of every other noble and useful principle of which the late President was the advocate. Where, then, is the loss that our sister nation has sustained in his removal? It must be admitted, that, in regard to the principles which President Lincoln maintained during his life, there is no loss. It must be admitted that there is great gain, arising from that exaltation of feeling with which we have before seen the words and actions of the departed are regarded, especially when, as in this case, those feelings are of the most tender and the deepest character, written indelibly on every heart by the grief and horror caused by such treatment, and such a death, of so innocent, so kind, and so gentle a man. But with regard to the future. It may be still feared that the great guiding-hand will be missed in those emergencies not covered by the principles which that hand had implanted. And this brings us to consider briefly, the second reason why great men are removed in the midst of their useful career.
No man contains in himself all perfection. It is therefore quite possible that he who is the best man to commence a great work may not be the best to complete it. The Lord alone can judge of a man's fitness to act in the future, because to him alone is the future known. We cannot, therefore, doubt for a moment, that, when the divine Providence removes a man from a useful post, it is because another can thereby fill it better, — that is to say, in the new circumstances which are about to be developed. We need, therefore, have no fear for the future. And we shall be still less disposed to harbor any such fear, when we come to consider the third reason why great men are removed from the scene of their useful labors here.
It is that they may occupy a higher sphere of usefulness. A man's faculties are in no way impaired by death; on the contrary, they are greatly exalted. The mind remains the same; and all its operations are in the highest degree facilitated by being divested of the material body. Surely, then, we are not to think of President Lincoln as dead; but rather, indeed, of his being more truly alive. He has doubtless already joined many of his compatriots who had before laid down their lives on the field of battle. It cannot be doubted that, for a considerable period at least, his thoughts and conversation will be about his country; nay, there is every reason to suppose that his occupation will for the present be connected in some intimate manner with her affairs. We know that spiritual beings are not distant from us, but exercise a constant influence upon our thoughts and affections; and this not only in a general manner, but also by actual personal attendance upon us. Who, then, can say that the direct influence of their late President will not be far more powerful upon our American brethren, yea, upon all the world, than ever it could be before? Who knows but that he may be permitted to infuse into his successors a double measure of all the great
principles which actuated himself, — the spirit of freedom, of order, of peace, of gentleness, and of justice not alien to mercy? If, then, his influence upon the minds of his countrymen was great when it reached them through their bodies, how much greater must it be when it acts immediately upon their spirits! It has been truly said by a distinguished statesman of our own country, that great men never die. How true this is, is at once evident to us, when we elevate our thoughts for a moment into the spiritual world, and see the great departed still busily occupied in works of even greater and wider importance than while visibly living amongst us.
These, therefore, are some of the reasons which, I think, may fairly be assigned in explanation of such apparently great national calamities as sometimes befall nations in the death of their eminent statesmen. But, in the case of President Lincoln, I think we may see a fourth and crowning reason for his sudden removal, which, if possible, surpasses all the others in the importance of its consequences. It is the union of good men. And surely there is need enough of such a union at the present time. If ever there was a period when some powerful agency was called for to spread abroad over a devastated and divided country the spirit of concord, surely it is now, when the thunder-clouds of war are just about to roll away from the horizon of a great, and hitherto a peaceful, nation. And, in the event which is the subject of this discourse, I think we may see the creation of that agency. There is no good man anywhere, - no man whom we can recognize as worthy of the name, - no man whose character has not become utterly debased, by constant contact with infernal influences, — but will regard that cruel and dreadful assassination with unmitigated and inexpressible horror. The consequence will be that there will simultaneously exist in the breasts of all such men, whether in North or South, one common, one intense