Thomas .H. Stockton was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, June 4th, 1808. In 1833, while stationed at Georgetown, D.C., and when but twenty-five years of age, he was elected Chaplain by the United States House of Representatives. On November 19, 1863 Thomas Stockton delivered a prayer after Edward Everett’s sermon and before President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address.
“Washington, March 19, 1860.
“Rev. T. H. Stockton,
“Dear Sir: The undersigned Members of the House would respectfully request a copy of your salutatory Sermon, delivered yesterday in the Hall of the House. We wish it for publication, that its influence may be widely extended by the circulation we shall give to it. If it comport with your inclinations and convenience, a compliance with this request will greatly oblige
“S.S. COX, G.W. SCRANTON,
JNO. HICKMAN, W. HOWARD,
E. JOY MORRIS, THOMAS B. FLORENCE,
THOS. A. R. NELSON, JNO. G. DAVIS,
A. A. BURNHAM JAS. C. ROBINSON,
JOHN McLEAN, J. W. STEVENSON,
JNO. A. BINGHAM, ROGER A. PRYOR,
ROBERT McKNIGHT, C. L. VALLANDINGHAM,
JAS. B. McKEAN, J. K. MOORHEAD,
E. B. FRENCH, C. B. SEDGWICK,
JOHN HUTCHINS, WM. PENNINGTON.”
Washington, March 22, 1860.
Your request was as much a surprise as my election. Humbly trusting, however, that there is a vindicating and progressive Providence in these incidents; and wishing, most devoutly, to be enabled to answer its purposes, I respectfully commit my discourse to your disposal.
As you appropriately intimate, it is a simple salutation: prepared hastily, but not without prayer or care; designed to announce certain main principles, and connect them with suitable reminiscences and exhortations. If, in looking at the manuscript, (containing a few verbal corrections and additions of personal names,) you still deem it likely to do good, I shall be grateful for the use you may make of it.
With all respect, I remain,
Your servant, for Christ’s sake,
T. H. STOCKTON.
Hon. Wm. Pennington, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Hon. John McLean, Judge of the Supreme Court.
Hon. S. S. Cox; Hon. Jno. Hickman;
Hon. E. Joy Morris; and other Members of the House.
To prevent us from taking unjust advantage of this truth, it is enough to remember the Gospel maxim: “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” This maxim both commends the object and directs the pursuit.
And now – see! One day, a young Galilean carpenter, followed by a few lake-shore fishermen, entered the Temple at Jerusalem, as a company of our countrymen, from any rural district, on any day, enters this Capitol. Soon after, as they left the Temple, some of the young man’s friends invited his attention to certain fine ornaments and massive stones, characteristic of the general and incomparable richness and strength of the buildings. But he replied to them: “See ye not all these things! Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
What did they think of that? What would we think of a rustic visitor, who should leave this Capitol, saying to his companions – and in a manner implying imminency of the event – not one stone of it shall be left upon another!
Strange as it may seem, that Galilean group had no little confidence in their leader; and, therefore, when they had come with him, out from the city, down the hill, over Kedron, and up Olivet, until they reached a suitable position for a wide resurvey of the scene, no sooner was he seated than they drew near to him with the question: “Tell us when shall these things be?” What then? did he withdraw what he had said, or make light of it, or intimate any possibility of mistake? Not at all. Rather, he gave them a prolonged and specific answer; in the course of which, ascending, with infinite ease, to an infinitely sublime assumption, he did not hesitate to declare: “Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away!” It is, as though he had said – There reposes the Holy City; girt about with all the defenses of art and nature; and glittering all over with the concentrate wealth and power and pride of a great nation, during a long succession of royal and priestly ages. There expands, pre-eminently and most impressively, the peerless magnificence of the venerated and impregnable Temple. To you, it seems marvelous that I should predict the destruction of all. But, to me, that olden glory is only as the fading pageant of a summer sunset. Look away from the city, beyond and above it. Behold the mountains round about it! Behold the firmament bending over it! Nay, let your thought exceed your vision. Think of the fullness of heaven and earth: of continents, islands and seas; of sun, moon and stars; of the divine origin, grandeur, perpetuity, and government of all. Think well of these things, and then remember – that my words are mightier and more enduring than all. Not only shall Jerusalem pass away, but heaven and earth shall pass away; and, yet, my feeblest word, the faintest sound of my voice, the gentlest breath from my lips, shall never pass away.
Did they believe him? Yes; and with good reason. They witnessed, to a great extent, the power of his words. Attracted by those words, cities were emptied and deserts filled. At his word, the “common people,” who “heard him gladly,” grew wiser than the wisest of their teachers. At his word, the hierarchs of genius and learning, of law and religion, blushed and trembled, darkening with rage or paling with affright. At his word, his humble disciples were qualified and commissioned to supercede “the wisdom of the world,” and become themselves the apostles of nations and instructors of mankind. At his word, every scene of his presence became a circle of divine enchantment: where deaf men listened, and dumb men spoke, and blind men looked, and lame men leaped, and the paralytic stood still, and the leper was clean, and the maimed made whole, and the withered restored, and the sick revived, and the lunatic calmed, and the demoniac dispossessed, and the dead, just risen from their tombs, exchanged new greetings with the pressing multitudes of the living. True, their faith was sorely tried: chiefly, when their youthful leader expired on the cross. But, he soon rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and thence “gave gifts unto men.” Thus, their faith was renewed and confirmed, forever. Then they repeated and recorded his words; committing them, in trust, to all nations and ages. In fulfillment of the prediction specially referred to, before that generation passed away the Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem with it; and the people were scattered and their institutions overthrown. The carcass of Judaism lay stretched along the hillside, and from the whole cope of heaven the eagles of Rome hurried to the festival. Since then, the words of that young man have become the law of the world; and miracles, corresponding with those of his transient ministry, have been multiplied on a larger scale and in more enduring relations. At his word, deaf nations have listened; and dumb nations, spoke; and blind nations, looked; and lame nations, leaped; and paralytic nations have been strengthened; and leprous nations, cleansed; and maimed nations, made whole; and withered nations, restored; and sick nations, revived; and lunatic nations, calmed; and demoniac nations, dispossessed; and dead nations brought forth, exultant, from their graves. Even these miracles are “as nothing – less than nothing, and vanity,” in comparison with others which are yet to come: miracles in behalf of all nations, and of our whole race, and of the world itself. And still, with the same easy, natural, infinite sublimity as at first, he assures us all: “Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
Now, therefore, rises the all-important question: Do we believe him? We live more than eighteen hundred years after his advent. We live in a new world; unknown to the old, in which he lived, until within less than four hundred years ago. A new soil is under our feet, and a new sky over our heads. We show, on a vast area, free and unembarrassed, the best results of a thousand social revolutions. To us, the most of the old things of the old world have passed away: old governments, old mythologies, old philosophies, old sciences, old arts, and old manners, customs and usages. To us, nearly all things have become new. But, have the old words of that young Nazarene passed away from us? Or, has any new master superseded his authority over us? Not in the slightest degree! His authority is still supreme, and every syllable of his utterance as sure as ever. As it has been, and is, so it always shall be. With gratitude for our history, in vindication of our honor, and in acknowledgment of the true and only source of our power; in due remembrance of our fathers, with due respect for ourselves, and due regard for our children, I here arise, on this highest height of the nation, as a representative, however humble, of our people at large, of every State in the Union, and of the United States in whole, and thus, with lifted hand, repeat our solemn, national affirmation – our official and perpetual proclamation to all mankind – that: HEAVEN AND EARTH SHALL PASS AWAY, BUT THE WORDS OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST SHALL NOT PASS AWAY!
I contemplate the heaven and earth of the old world: the over-rulings of Providence and changes of society there. I think of the passing away of the whole circle of ancient Mediterranean civilization. I think of the dark ages of Europe. I think of the morning of the Reformation, and the fore-gleamings of “the latter-day glory.” I think of Art, and her printing-press; of Commerce, and her compass; of Science, and her globe; of Religion, and her Bible. I contemplate the opening of the heaven and earth of the new world: the over-rulings of Providence and changes of society here. I think of the passing away of savage simplicities, and of the rude semblances of civilization in Mexico and Peru, and of earlier and later declensions. I think of the gracious reservation of our own inheritance for present and nobler occupancy. I think of our Revolution, and its result of Independence. I think of our first Union, first Congress, first prayer in Congress, and first Congressional order for the Bible: and of our wonderful enlargement, development and enrichment since. And, in view of all – of the whole heaven and whole earth of the whole world; and of all changes, social and natural, past, present and future; profoundly and unalterably assured, as I trust we all are, that the truth as it is “in Jesus” is the only stability in the universe – I feel justified in invoking, this day, your renewal of our common and constant confession – that: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the words of Christ shall never pass away. And, standing where we do, on the central summit of this great Confederacy, unequalled in all history for all manner of blessings, if we did not so confess Christ; if we did not cherish the simple confidence of his primitive disciples, and hail the coming of our Lord with hosannas; if we could ignobly hold our peace; the very statues of the Capitol “would immediately cry out:” the marble lips of Columbus, Penn, and Washington; of War and Peace; of the Pioneer and of Freedom, would part to praise His name: and the stones of the foundation and walls, of the arcades and corridors, of the rotunda and halls, would respond to their glad and grand acclaim.
But, we do confess Him! From Maine to Florida, from Florida to Texas, from Texas to California, from California to Oregon, and from Oregon back to Maine; our lake States, gulf States, and ocean States, our river States, prairie States, and mountain States, all unite in confessing and blessing His name: beholding his glory, surrounding His throne, high and lifted up, and ever crying, like the six-winged seraphim, one to another, far and near, from the North and the South, from the East and the West: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory!”
But where are the words of Christ? And what are they? He did not write them; but merely spoke them, and that during a brief ministry. Nevertheless, they were recorded: and not only such as were uttered in the flesh, but others with which the writers were inspired by His spirit, both before and after His advent – the revelations of the prophets and apostles. All alike are His words: and, here they are – in the Bible! The Bible from beginning to end, is the book of Christ. And, therefore, affirming of the whole what is true of every part, I hold up the Bible, and, in the name of Christ, proclaim to the country and the world: HEAVEN AND EARTH SHALL PASS AWAY, BUT – THE BIBLE, THE HOLY AND BLESSED BIBLE, SHALL NOT PASS AWAY!
What, then, are the words of Christ? Or, as the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the inspired and authoritative record of them – what is the Bible?
We hear much of the higher Law; and the application of the phrase to civil affairs has excited great prejudice and given great offense. But, what is the higher Law? It is said to be something higher than the Constitution of the United States. Can there be a law, within these United States, higher than the Constitution of the United States? If there can be and is such a law – what is it? I need not and will not recite inferior, questionable, and inappropriate answers here. But, is there not one unquestionable answer? Suppose it be said, that, in relation to all subjects to which it was designed to apply, and properly does apply, the Bible is a higher Law than the Constitution of the United States? Will any man, unless an utter infidel, deny this? Surely not. Waiving its practical operations, certainly, as an abstract proposition, this must be admitted as true. It may be extended, so as to include all our State constitutions, and all our Church constitutions, and all our more Social constitutions. Put them all together, magnify and boast of them as we may, not only is the Bible a higher law, but it is an infinitely higher law. For thus says the Lord: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Therefore, also, the universal and perpetual prophetic challenge: “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!”
If this be not true, my mission, at least, is an entire mistake, and my commission ends. But, it is true: and, if there were no other argument to prove it true this one were all-sufficient. All human constitutions, social, ecclesiastical and civil, are changeable, and contain provisions for change: but – the Bible is unchangeable. Instead of any provision for change, it is guarded, at all points, against change. The writer of its first five books declares in the last of the five: “Ye shall not ADD unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye DIMINISH from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you.” And, in like manner, the author of its last five books, declares in the last of the give: “If any man shall ADD unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall TAKE AWAY from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” And so Isaiah, standing midway between Moses and John, exclaims: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.” Therefore, it is only in accordance with the testimony of all His witnesses, that Christ himself avers: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” And so again, in the text itself: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
Thank God, for one book above amendment! “Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.” And here, in our place and day, we respond to the psalmist on Zion – Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled on earth. No man or set of men; no king, priest or scribe; no popular convention, ecclesiastical council, or national congress; would dare to erase one letter from the record. Let our own countrymen, in particular, treat other books as they think they have a right to do, or feel it their duty, or make it their interest or pleasure to do; by amendment, abridgement, or enlargement, by interpolation or expurgation; not one among them, North, South, East or West, would presume to touch, with any such purpose, the sacred ark containing the higher Law of God. Here is our shrine of worship, the oracle of our wisdom, and the glory of our power.
But, a higher Law implies a higher Judge, and a higher Administrator. And who is the higher Judge? The Holy Spirit! The Spirit of truth, promised unto us to guide us into all truth; making us spiritual and giving us spiritual apprehensions; aiding us in the comparison of spiritual things with spiritual; searching the deep things of God, as contained in the Bible, and revealing them unto us. And who is the higher Administrator? Christ himself! Into whose hands the Father has committed all power “in heaven and in earth,” to qualify Him fully for the duties of this sovereign office. Does anyone object to the higher Administrator? Does anyone object to the higher Judge? Then, why object to the higher Law? They go together, are all divine, and all supreme forever. So that we may say with the prophet: “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our law-giver, the Lord is our king: he will save us.”
“He will save us!” Blessed conclusion: without which all else were in vain, and worse than in vain. He deigns to become our judge, law-giver and king only that He may save us; and, if we do not thwart Him by our iniquities, because He is our judge , law-giver and king He will save us.
Tell me, Oh tell me, what is it we need? Do we need health, or genius, or learning, or eloquence, or pleasure, or fame, or power? Do we need wealth, or rank, or office? Does anyone of us need to be chaplain, or clerk, or representative, or senator, or speaker, or vice-president? An officer of the army or navy? A member or head of any department? A foreign minister? A cabinet officer? Or even a successor in the line of presidents of the United States? Is such our need? Oh, no! we need salvation.
What did I say in the beginning? Did I not say? We need elevation: as men, Americans and Christians, we need elevation: in our persons and families, states and churches, we need elevation. Certainly I did thus speak, and meant all I said.
Oh, my Friends! All the distinctions alluded to, such as we know them here, are comparatively little things. Greater things are in prospect; but these things, though they seem great, are really little. Pause, think, recall what life has taught you – what observation and experience have combined to impress most deeply upon your consciousness – and begin your review with the sad words, after all! After all, health is a little thing, and genius is a little thing, and learning, and eloquence, and pleasure, and fame, and power, and wealth, and rank, and office, all earthly things are little things. How little satisfaction they yield while they last, and how soon they pass away!
Ask the most successful around you, in these relations, if they have yet supplied their highest need? As the general rule, the more successful they have been the older you will find them. They have not attained their coveted posts of honor by a single leap. They have risen gradually, through years of earnest toil. And the soberness of reflection is now about them. And the anticipation of a hastening end is with them. Ask them, and they will answer: After all, we have spent our lives in little things. We yet need true elevation.
I would tell you more particularly, of whom to inquire – were it not that you would prove it in vain to seek them. Twenty-six years ago, at the age of twenty-five, I was first called to this office. Two years afterward, I served again. I now compare, though briefly and imperfectly, the present with the past. I find a new Hall and a new Senate-Chamber: but the old Hall and old Senate-Chamber are still here. I find also a new House and a new Senate: but where are the old House and old Senate? How many reminiscences crowd upon me! Forms, and faces, and voices, and gestures, and elaborate speeches, and casual debates, and social remarks, and current incidents: all impressed on youthful sensibilities, and not yet effaced. But, I cannot describe them. Where are Jarvis, of Maine; and Cushman and Hubbard, of New Hampshire? Where are Adams, Calhoun, and Choate: Davis, Jackson and Lawrence; Lincoln, Phillips, and Reed, of Massachusetts? Where are Ellsworth, Huntington, and Judson, of Connecticut? Where Burges and Pearce, of Rhode Island? Where, Allen, Everett, and Slade, of Vermont? Where, Bokee, Childs, and Cramer; Granger and Lansing; Lee, Moore, and Wardwell, of New York? Where is Parker, of New Jersey? Where are Beaumont, Chambers, and Denny; Hubley, McKennan, and Mann; Miller, Muhlenberg, and Watmough, of Pennsylvania? Where is Milligan, of Delaware? Where are Dennis, Heath, and Jenifer; McKim and Steele; Stoddert and Washington, of Maryland? Where, Bouldin, Coles, and Dromgoole; Jones, Mason, and Mercer; Patton, Stevenson, and Taliaferro, of Virginia? Where, Conner, Deberry, and McKay; Sheppard, Speight, and Williams, of North Carolina? Where are Blair, Campbell, and Davis; Griffin, McDuffie, and Pinckney, of South Carolina? Where, Glascock, Grantland and Haynes; Holsey and Wilde, of Georgia? Where are White, of Florida? And Lewis and Murphy, of Alabama? Where are Bullard, Garland, and Ripley, of Louisiana? Where is Sevier, of Arkansas? Where are Carter, Crockett, and Dunlap; Forrester and Huntsman; Polk, Pope, and Standefer, of Tennessee? Where, Allen, Boyd, and French; Graves, Hardin, and Hawes; Johnson, Lyon, and Williams, of Kentucky? Where is Ashley, of Missouri? Where are Duncan and May, of Illinois? Where, Boon, Davis, and Hannegan; Kinnard, Lane, and McCarthy, of Indiana? And where are Hamer, Lytle, and Sloane; Spangler, Thompson, and Vance, of Ohio? All these, if my quest has been rightly answered, have passed away, not only from this House, but, from the world: and, doubtless, many of their colleagues, if not already gone, are just about to follow. At least, they are not here. Scarcely a relic is left! And so, of the Senate. Where are Clayton and Cuthbert; Goldsborough, Hill, and Hendricks; Kent, King, and Knight; Moore and Porter; Southard and Sprague; Tipton, Tomlinson, and Wall? Where, the venerable White, and the good-natured Grundy, and the sharp Poindexter, and the learned Robbins, and the Handsome Linn, and the graceful Forsyth, and the sagacious Wright, and the indomitable Benton, and the gentle-tongued Leigh? Where is the easy, all-elate, sonorous, and majestic eloquence of Clay? Where, the calm, cool, clear, and massive magnificence of Webster? Where, the affable dignity, the intellectual and moral loftiness of Calhoun? Passed away – all passed away! Or, will you leave the Halls of Congress? Do you think of the Army? Where, then, are Macomb and Gaines? – of the Navy? Where, then, are Rodgers and Barron? Will you enter the Supreme Court? Where is Marshall – Chief of the Judges? And where is Wirt – Chief of the Attorneys? Or, will you at last repair to the Presidential mansion? Where, then is Jackson? Chief of the Heroes. Passed away – all passed away! How many of their companions, how many of their successors, have also passed away, I have neither time nor knowledge to declare. It is but a little while and a limited area of which I speak, and yet – what a scene of honored dust, in sacred silence, alone remains!
Oh, if I could direct you to them, and you could find them, and should ask them – after all, what is human need? Would they not say, it is elevation, it is salvation – salvation by humiliation, in accordance with the life, and death, and triumph of the meek and lowly Nazarene?
Hearken to me, this day, men, brethren, and fathers! Christianity is the most practical thing, the most immediately and substantially important thing in the universe. Visionary! Fanciful! Impractical! The occupation of dreamers, enthusiasts, and fanatics! Aha! Did I not tell you that we need elevation? How can any, how dare any prate thus of our faith?
Hearken to the truth! If we need health, it is perfect health, and that forever! If we need genius, it is perfect genius, and that forever! If we need learning, it is perfect learning, and that forever! If we need eloquence, or pleasure, or fame, or power, or wealth, or rank, or office – whatever we need, it implies constitutional and conditional perfection, and that forever!
Let me speak for you, one voice for humanity. I need a perfect soul. I need a perfect body, to contain, identify, and obey my soul. I need a perfect home. I need a perfect society. I need perfect employments. I need a perfect government. I need the fullness of eternal life, with God, in heaven. I need the attainment of my true destiny, to stand, as a perfect man, before the perfect God, acknowledged as His child, His image, and His heir.
The Son of God knew this need, and, therefore, became the Son of Man, that he might supply it. Therefore, he appeared as the young Galilean carpenter, despised and rejected of men, but loved and accepted of the Father, making peace by the blood of the cross. Therefore, already overlooking the place of His crucifixion, He uttered the memorable prediction: “Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” His words are words of pardon, words of purity, words of triumph over death, words pertaining to the resurrection of the dead and the inheritance of life everlasting. Did the stones of the Temple understand Him? Did the palaces of Jerusalem catch His meaning? Did the mountains around the city, and the sky above it, startle at the sound? Did heaven and earth, anywhere or in any way, show the slightest consciousness of His utterance? Senseless, all senseless, utterly senseless, these are the things that pass away. But, something was there, nobler than all these – something destined to outlast all these, to flourish only the more, and still more forever, when heaven and earth shall vanish like the dream of a night. I mean the immortal soul! Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Savior and Sovereign of the world, committed His words of redeeming and sanctifying truth to the immortal soul of man, and, therefore, in form, as well as in essence and authority, they remain imperishable.
And so, my friends, in conclusion, I this day commit these words to your immortal souls, that, by God’s blessing, they may abide with you in saving virtue forever. Only four months ago, by these same fingers, the eyes of my dear little Jessie were closed in death. That was a more important event to me than the rise, progress, and fall of a thousand empires. Pity me, Oh pity me; I speak not for myself alone, but for all humanity, one voice for humanity. Think of your own homes, of those you love, and have loved, and loved only the more in death. We are all alike in these relations. And where is our hope of reunion with the lost? Ah, never would the Lord Jesus have uttered the words of the text had He contemplated merely a series of social changes. But He knew and sought our true interest. He fulfilled His humble ministry, and suffered and died that He might secure for us entire and eternal personal redemption – an elevation above all earthly things, and the enjoyment of the fullness of His grace and glory in heaven. Let us cherish his spirit and imitate His example. Let us take due advantage of His mediation, and humble ourselves before God in all penitence and faith, that, in due time, we, with Him, may be truly and forever exalted.
Originally published: Dec. 20, 2016