Sermon – House of Representatives – 1822

Jared Sparks (1789-1866) did not receive much formal education. He worked as a carpenter and school teacher at age 18 and began studying math and Latin at age 20. Sparks attended Phillips Exeter Academy for about a year but had to leave the school because of financial reasons. He attended the Harvard Divinity School (1817-1819) while also working as a tutor. He was witness to a bombardment of the British during the War of 1812 and later wrote an account of it. Sparks was also a chaplain for the U.S. Congress for a year. He resigned from the ministry profession in 1823 and began working as a newspaper editor and became well-known as a historian.


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SERMON,

PREACHED IN THE
Hall of the House of Representatives
IN CONGRESS,

WASHINGTON CITY, MARCH 3, 1822;
OCCASIONED BY THE
DEATH OF THE HON. WM. PINKNEY,
LATE A MEMBER OF THE SENATE OF THE
UNITED STATES.

BY JARED SPARKS, A. M.
Minister of the First Independent Church of Baltimore; and Chaplain to the House
Of Representatives in Congress.

PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.

WASHINGTON CITY:
PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY DAVIS AND FORCE,
FRANKLIN’S HEAD, PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
1822.

ADVERTISEMENT

IT is proper to premise, that the following Sermon was not intended as a funeral discourse, nor written with a view to publication.  The death of so distinguished a man as  Mr. PINKNEY, made a strong impression on the public mind, and it was thought a suitable occasion on the Sabbath following to dwell on some of the topics, and impress some of the truths, which were in harmony with the feelings so recently excited by this melancholy event.  The Author hopes, that the reflections into which he was led, may not be unacceptable nor unprofitable even to some, who took no part in the temporary excitement of the occasion.  Yet he has no disposition to obtrude them on unwilling hearers; and if any apology be necessary, it must be found in the partiality of his friends, at whose solicitation he suffers this discourse to go before the public.

SERMON.
Man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?  Job. Xvi. 10.
There are few events, either in the course of nature or of society, which may not contribute to our instruction and improvement.  All the works of God are teaching as us useful lessons, unfolding some new treasures of wisdom and affording kindly aids to the best efforts of men to strengthen the intellect, refine the feelings, amend the heart.  Such are the ways of Providence, the wise, the inscrutable disposition of things.  Every vicissitude in the divine government presents a lesson for our benefit.  We learn wisdom by experience; trials improve our tempers; sufferings subdue our passions; disappointments moderate our desires.  All the incidents of life teach us to live better and happier; and especially such incidents, as are calculated to enlist the feelings, stir up the affections, as are calculated to enlist the feelings, stir up the affections, and rouse us from the slumbers of a false security.

No object is so insignificant, no event so trivial, as not to carry with it a moral and religious influence.  The trees that spring out of the earth are moralists.  They are emblems of the life of man.  They grow up; they put on the garments of freshness and beauty.  Yet these continue but for a time, decay seizes upon the root and the trunk and they gradually go back to their original elements.  The blossoms that open to the rising sun, but are closed at night, never to open again are moralists.  The seasons are moralists, teaching the lessons of wisdom, manifesting the wonders of the Creator, and calling on man to reflect on his condition and destiny.  History is a perpetual moralist, disclosing the annals of past ages, showing the impotency of pride and greatness, the weakness of human power, the folly of human wisdom. The daily occurrences in society are moralists.  The success or failure of enterprise, the prosperity of the bad, the adversity of the good, the disappointed hopes of the sanguine and active, the sufferings of the virtuous, the caprices of fortune in every condition of life; all these are fraught with moral instructions, and if properly applied, will fix the power of religion in the heart.

But there is a greater moralist still; and that is, Death.  Here is a teacher, who speaks in a voice, which none can mistake; who comes with a power, which none can resist.  Since we last assembled in this place, as the humble and united worshippers of God, this stern messenger, this mysterious agent of Omnipotence, has come among our numbers, and laid his withering hand one, whom we have been taught to honor and respect, whose fame was a nation’s boast, whose genius was a brilliant spark from the ethereal fire, whose attainments were equaled only by the grasp of his intellect, the profoundness of his judgment, the exuberance of his fancy, the magic of his eloquence.

It is not my present purpose to ask your attention to any picture drawn in the studied phrase of eulogy.  I aim not to describe the commanding powers and the eminent qualities, which conducted the deceased to the superiority he held, and which were at once the admiration and the pride of his countrymen.  I shall not attempt to analyze his capacious mind, nor to set forth the richness and variety of its treasures.  The trophies of his genius are a sufficient testimony of these, and constitute a monument to his memory, which will stand firm and conspicuous amidst the faded recollections of future ages.

The present is not the time to recount the sources or the memorials of his greatness.  He is gone.  The noblest of heaven’s gifts could not shield even him from the arrows of the destroyer.  And this behest of the Most High is a warning summons to us all.  When death comes into our doors, we ought to feel that he is near.  When his irreversible sentence falls on the great and the renowned, when he severs the strongest bonds, which can bind mortals to earth, we ought to feel that our own hold on life is slight, that the thread of existence is slender, that we walk amidst perils, where the next wave in the agitated sea of life may baffle all our struggles, and carry us back into the dark bosom of the deep.

Let us employ the present season in a few reflections on the solemn event to which we have alluded.  Let us dwell for a few moments on some of the sentiments and feelings, which it ought to revive.  We cannot bring the dead back to life.  We can do nothing for them.  They are beyond the reach of mortal power.  But we may do something for ourselves.  What has happened to them must happen to us; and their departure, if we will not be too deaf to hear, sounds to us, and loudly sounds, the solemn note of preparation.  What effect, then, should this breach, which has been made in our numbers, have upon us, who still remain?

I.  In the first place, it should impress us with the vanity of human things, and show us the folly of limiting our thoughts, and chaining or affections to this world.

When we look at the monuments of human greatness, and the powers of human intellect, all that genius has invented, or skill executed, or wisdom matured, or industry achieved, or labor accomplished; when we trace these through the successive gradations of human advancement, what are they?  On these are founded the pride, glory, dignity of man.  And what are they?  Compared with the most insignificant work of God they are nothing, less than nothing.  The mightiest works of man are daily and hourly becoming extinct.  The boasted theories of religion, morals, government, which took the wisdom, the ingenuity of ages to invent, have been proved to be shadowy theories only.  Genius has wasted itself in vain.  The visions it raised have vanished at the touch of truth.  Nothing is left but the melancholy certainty that all things human are imperfect, and must fail and decay.  And man himself, whose works are so fragile, where is he?  The history of his works is the history of himself.  He existed; he is gone.

The nature of human life cannot be more forcibly described, than in the beautiful language of eastern poetry, which immediately precedes the test. “Man, that is born of woman, is of few days and full of trouble.  He cometh forth as a flower and is cut down; he flees also as a shadow and continues not.  There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.  Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground, yet through the scent of water it will bud and bring forth boughs like a plant.  But man wastes away; yea, man gives up the ghost, and where is he?”  Such are the striking emblems of human life.  Such is the end of all that is mortal in man.  And what a question is here for us all to reflect upon!  “Man gives up the ghost, and where is he?”

Yes, when we see the flower of life fade on its stalk, and all its comeliness depart, and all its freshness wither; when we see the bright eye grow dim, and the rose on the cheek lose its hue; when we hear the voice faltering its last accents, and see the energies of nature paralyzed; when we perceive the beams of intelligence growing fainter and fainter on the countenance, and the last gleam of life extinguished; when we deposit all that is mortal of a fellow being in the dark cold chamber of the grave, and drop a pitying tear at a spectacle so humiliating so mournful; then let us put the solemn question to our own souls, Where is he?  His body is concealed in the earth, but where is the spirit?

Where is the intellect that could look through the works of God, and catch inspiration from the divinity, which animates and pervades the whole?  Where the powers that could command, the attractions that could charm; where the boast of humanity, wisdom, learning, wit, eloquence, the pride of skill, the mystery of art, the creations of fancy, the brilliancy of thought; where the virtues that could win, and the gentleness that could soothe; where the mildness of temper, the generous affections, the benevolent feelings, all that is great and good, all that is noble, and lovely, and pure in the human character, – where are these?  They are gone.  We can see nothing.  The eye of faith only can dimly penetrate the region to which they have fled.  Lift the eye of fait; follow the light of the Gospel; and let your delighted vision be lost in the glories of the immortal world.  Behold, there, the spirits of the righteous dead rising up into newness of life, gathering brightness and strength, unencumbered by the weight of mortal clay, and mortal sorrows, enjoying a happy existence, and performing the holy service of their Maker.

But let not the visions of faith deceive us away from the reality.  What we shall be hereafter we cannot know.  To die the death of the righteous is our only security.  To be prepared for this death is our chief concern.

II. Again, the instance of mortality, which we have witnessed, should cause us to reflect on the certainty of death.

If we were as thoughtful as we ought to be, we should need no admonition of a truth so obvious and trite as this.  The undeviating ways of God in his providence, bear testimony to the declaration, that it is “appointed unto all men once to die.”  But we are not thoughtful.  We suffer the interests of the world to absorb every other.  Although none of us has so far lost his reason, as ever to flatter himself, that he shall not die; yet how do we live?  Like Job, we all know, that God “will bring us to death, and to the house appointed for all living;” but what influence does a truth so awful and impressive have on our thoughts, feelings, characters?  We are apt to talk and think of death, as if it were a thing with which we have no intimate concern; an evil, which befalls others and to be lamented, but which is not likely to overtake us, nor to interrupt our worldly schemes.  We treat death as a stranger, an unwelcome intruder, on whom we have no time to bestow attention, and whom we desire to shun.

But why this backwardness, this aversion to become familiar with an idea, which we know must be realized?  We charge ourselves with folly and imprudence, if we undertake any enterprise without thought and preparation.  We are thoughtful of our most trivial gratifications; we are provident of all the means of enjoyment and pleasure; we deliberate with the utmost caution on everything, which is likely to affect our earthly condition.  But when we come to the great change, which is to make us beings of another world, to fix our eternal destiny, and to bring us trembling criminals before the throne of a holy and perfect God, we are then supine, indifferent, careless, blind.  How strange is the inconsistency, the infatuation of man!  How little does he know himself, and yet what a wretched use does he make of this knowledge, imperfect as it is!  Let us be more wise; and when we see those who stand by our sides, sinking around us almost without a warning, and taking their flight to the land of spirits, never to return, may we heed the admonition, and feel that the way is preparing for us, in which we must soon follow.

III. Death should be allowed to awaken the sympathy, and put in exercise the pious affections, and tender feelings of the living.  In other words, it is right that we should mourn for the dead.  Nature teaches us this lesson.  The Gospel and the example of Christ, confirm it.

There has been from early times, it is true, a rude and ungracious philosophy in the world, which is at war with this consoling dictate of nature.  But this is nothing more, than the pride of selfishness contending against the purest and most elevated principles of the mind.  If there be philosophers, who desire no support but the lofty resolutions and stern stoicism of their own minds, they are not to be envied.  If there be others, who never yield to the tide of misfortune, whose hearts are too hard to be pierced with the darts of sorrow, they are not to be envied.  We do not believe happiness consists in a struggle to get the mastery of our most refined affections.  This is not human nature.  It is he unnatural growth of passions tutored to pervert their office, and sink the tone and character of the mind below its native standard.

There is no fortitude, no magnanimity, in the hardness of heart, which refuses the tear of sympathy and mournful remembrance to flow, when a fellow-being is called from life; when our fondest attachments are severed, and the ties of our dearest friendships are torn in sunder; when a gloom is thrown over the bright visions of hope, and the whole world seems a wilderness, a boundless waste, without one green spot to revive our drooping spirits.  When we look around us, and see the trophies of death, and behold among them all that we most highly valued and cherished, it is not in human nature to resist these calls on the sensibility of the soul.  God expects no such testimonies of our fortitude, as will destroy the holiest sympathies of our nature.

Let no one call that weakness, which stirs up the fountains of sorrow, sinks deeply into the heart, and causes a tear to fall on the grave of the lamented dead.  Let no one call that weakness, unless he would blot out the light of heavenly peace, and mar the image of God within him; unless he would take from the mind its divine graces, and from the heart its most amiable virtues and liveliest joys; unless he would destroy the most refined pleasures and the sweetest charities of life, and extinguish the principles, which contribute to humanize our natures, and to fit us for heaven.

IV. Death is a monitor, which should make us reflect on the excellence and value of our religion, as revealed in the Gospel.

It is here, and here only, that life and immortality are brought to light.  It is here, that we are taught the certainty of a future life.  In the Gospel we learn, that the spirit, which constitutes our present existence, will live throughout all future ages. How infinitely is our condition improved, in this respect, by the religion of the Savior!  We know, that we are living for eternity.  The God of all truth has told us so.  How full of consolation is this assurance, when our friends depart from us, and the places, which have known them in this world, shall know them no more.  How could our sinking spirits be supported in many of the trials, which a Christian is called to endure, if we had no hope beyond the grave?

The promises of the Gospel will never fail.  The truths, which have been revealed from heaven, published by divine wisdom, and established by the miracles of Christ, will stand as firm as the pillars of the universe, or the throne of Omnipotence.  Such truths inspire a confidence, which no vicissitude of time can destroy.  The pious mind will make it the anchor of safety, and render thanksgiving to God for the manifestations of his love, in disclosing the prospects of a future world, where all cares shall cease to trouble, where the righteous shall dwell in peace and happiness; and where all voices shall join in songs of praise and adoration to the High and Holy One, whose presence fills the Heavens.

To prepare men for death is the object of the religion, which God commissioned his Son to publish and preach.  For the accomplishment of this important purpose, Jesus taught, and suffered, and died; for this, was he empowered from heaven to prove the truth and divinity of his doctrines; for this did he submit to a life of privation, want and pain, endure the reproaches of a scornful world, the tortures of wicked men, the pangs of expiring nature on the cross; for this was he raised from the dead, and taken in glorious triumph to the heavens; and for this does he still continue to be our mediator and intercessor with the Father of all mercies.  For this were the Apostles, according to his promise, endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and enabled to teach with power and conviction the truths, which they had learned from their divine master.  In Christ, “the grace of God, which brings salvation, hath appeared unto all men.”  He came to “redeem us from iniquity,” to restore us to the favor and holy service of God.  All the glorious displays of divine wisdom and power, which were manifested in his life and doctrines, were designed as means to remove the stains of sin, to take away the debasement of moral depravity, to disarm death of its terrors, and to fit the soul for that untried state of being, which must be experienced in the ages yet to come.

Shall we not turn our minds to heaven in humble adoration and joyful praise to the Almighty, for his great goodness and mercy, in providing these means of our future safety and well being?  Shall we not lift up our thoughts with unfeigned reverence, love, and gratitude to the Savior of men, for what he has done and suffered to execute the high commission of his Father, to redeem our souls from guilt, reconcile us to God, and make plain the way of salvation to a sinful world?  And above all, shall we not show the reality of our faith, the sincerity of our professions, and our deep sense of obligation, by adhering to the precepts, and obeying the sacred commands of Jesus, by following, with all humility, zeal, and piety, his purifying example, by imbibing his spirit, and cultivating his temper?  It is a declaration equally reasonable, solemn, and certain, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”  The religion of the Redeemer, if we will embrace it in its truth, and accept its conditions, will make us holy, and qualify us to see the Lord, and dwell forever in the presence of his glory.

Let our reflections on death have a weighty and immediate influence on our own minds and characters.  We cannot be too soon, nor too entirely prepared to render the account, which we must all render to our Maker and Judge.  All things earthly must fail us.  The riches, power, possessions, and gifts of the world will vanish from our sight; friends and relatives will be left behind; our present support will be taken away; our strength will become weakness; and the earth itself, and all its pomps, and honors, and attractions, will disappear.  Why have we been spared even till this time?  We know not why, nor yet can we say that a moment is our own.  The summons for our departure may now be recorded in the book of heaven.  The angel may now be on his way to execute his solemn commission.  Death may already have marked us for his victims.  But whether sooner or later, the event will be equally awful, and demand the same preparation.

One, only, will then be our rock and our safety.  The kind Parent, who has upheld us all our days, will remain our unfailing support.  With him is no change.  He is unmoved from age to age; his mercy, as well as his being, endures forever; and if we rely on him, and live in obedience to his laws, all tears shall be wiped from our eyes, and all sorrow banished from our hearts.  If we are rebels to his cause, slaves to vice, and followers of evil, we must expect the displeasure of a Holy God, the just punishment of our folly and wickedness; for a righteous retribution will be awarded to the evil as well as the good.

Let it be the highest, the holiest, the unceasing concern of each one of us to live the life, that we may be prepared to die the death of the righteous; that when they, who come after us, shall ask, Where is he? – unnumbered voices shall be raised to testify, that, although his mortal remains are mouldering in the cold earth, his memory is embalmed in the cherished recollections of many a friend, who knew and loved him; and all shall say, with tokens of joy and confident belief, – If God be just, and piety be rewarded, his pure spirit is now at rest in the regions of the blessed.

END.

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