James H. (James Howard) Means.

Life and death in Christ : a sermon, occasioned by the death of Mrs. Mary Codman, delivered in the Second Church, Dorchester, April 12, 1857 online

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Online LibraryJames H. (James Howard) MeansLife and death in Christ : a sermon, occasioned by the death of Mrs. Mary Codman, delivered in the Second Church, Dorchester, April 12, 1857 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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APRIL 12, 1857,


Pastor of the Second Church.




To the Bev. James H. Means :

Dear Sir, — At a meeting of the members of the Second Parish in Dorchester, held
after divine service this afternoon, the undersigned were appointed a Committee, to
request a copy for publication, of the Sermon preached by you this morning-, on the life
and death of the late Mrs. Codman. We, therefore, would most sincerely desire that
our request may be granted, because we think it would be very gratefully received by
your Church and Society, and be a memorial of the past, worthy to be kept in remem-

Kespectfully and truly yours,



Dorchester, April 12, 1857.

To the Hon. M. P. Wilder and others :

Gentlemen: — I herewith transmit to you the Sermon you have asked for publica-
tion. Laboring under the great disadvantage of never having known Mrs. Codman, till
the days of her vigor were closing, I have been chiefly dependent on the observations of
others. Still, it has been a sincere pleasure, to try to do honor to one who did so much
for our Church and Society, and with an affectionate hand to pay my humble tribute to
her worth.

"Very cordially, your Friend and Pastor,

Dorchester, April 20, 1857.




The faith and experience of more than twenty
years of a devoted Christian life, found expression
in these words. They show us the source of the
Apostle's activity, the secret of his power. Christ
was the beginning and the end of his life. Six or
eight years before, he had written to the Galatians
in a similar strain. "lam crucified with Christ.
Nevertheless, I live ; yet not I, but Christ liveth in
me ; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I
live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me
and gave himself for me."

In this experience Paul is a pattern for all be-
lievers. He ascended in a lofty path, beckoning
to them to follow. By the grace which bringeth
salvation, they may all enjoy the same blessed,
abiding union with the Redeemer ; so that to them,
' to live shall be Christ, and to die be gain.'

" To live is Christ." This implies, first, a life
for Christ. Such was Paul's. " What wilt thou,
Lord, have me to do 1 " was his first inquiry after
his renewal, and he never lost sight of Him who
then appeared in his glory. When he labored at
tent-making with Aquila and Pris cilia at Corinth,
he had respect to the same end which he pursued
in labors more directly spiritual. " All this I do,
for the gospel's sake." There was not a power of
his body, not a faculty of his mind, not a moment
of his time, which was not laid, a sacrifice, upon
the altar.

Such may be our lives also — entirely for Jesus.
All are not Apostles — all are not preachers — all
are not moving amid conspicuous scenes, or en-
gaged in sacred acts ; but love to Christ may be
the ever-present, animating motive, which shall
mould and color every thing that is done. Jesus
may be as really near to us by the fireside, or in
the market-place, as in the sanctuary ; a Christian
wife and mother may order her domestic concerns,
and the nurture of her children, with reference to
the advancement of his kingdom, as truly as a mis-
sionary for that end goes forth among the heathen.
As a temple is built not only with massive blocks,
regularly laid, but with thousands of smaller stones,
hidden from sight, and with mortar, composed of
innumerable grains of sand; so our unnumbered
acts, great and trifling, conspicuous and concealed,

may be all combined in a life, having a unity of
purpose, sanctified for the Master's use and glory.

And we are bound thus to live for Christ. For
this, he redeemed us. He stands before us, with
pierced hands and side, crowned with thorns, his
face furrowed by care and grief, saying, ' Go, carry
on my work ; live for that cause for which I died ;
by all you owe to me, by all your convictions of
the truth of the gospel and all your confidence in
my power to help you, by the worth of souls as
precious as your own, be faithful in my service,
unto death.' And the loving, thankful disciple,
obediently devotes himself to this work ; and so,
' for him to live is Christ.'

But this is not all. These words denote further,
a life in Christ. This also was Paul's experience.
He lived for Christ, because he lived in him. " I
can do all things," he said, " through Christ who
strengthened me." • All his affections centered in
that living Friend ; all his aspirations tended
towards him. " I count all things but loss, for the
excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my
Lord." And when, in his letters to his beloved
converts, he unveiled his heart's most private emo-
tions, we find every page fragrant, as with ointment
poured forth, with His precious name.

So may we dwell in Jesus ; so must we, if we
would make high attainments in piety. He is set
forth in Scripture, as sustaining multiform relations


to us. He is our teacher, our high priest, our sacri-
fice, our intercessor, our judge and king, the rock
of our refuge, our friend, our strength, our consola-
tion, the bread and water of life, our portion, the
resurrection and life, our ' all in all.'' Oh, the
depth of wisdom and love that are here ! To
whom else could we apply such endearing names \
What want have we, which he cannot satisfy'?
How needful that we should seek the closest union,
press to his embrace, and, into the very recesses of
his heart, seek to have our natural life supplanted
by the spiritual life that is in him, as the fruitful
juices of the vine flow through all its branches.
When we hope he has forgiven our sins, we only
begin to know him ; we see but one of the lustrous
points of the priceless jewel, and there are a hun-
dred more ; and if it is so transporting to hear his
word of pardon, what must it be to listen to his
accents of love, our heart resting on his, and par-
taking of his infinite fullness.

The closest earthly union is that of wedded life.
Sweet is it, to feel there is one, from whom we
have no thoughts to hide, whom we can never dis-
trust, who will share every sorrow and every joy.
Behold, I show you a mystery. I speak concern-
ing Christ and the Church. They are no more
twain, but one ; and God has joined them. Read
Christian biographies, if you would understand
this life in Christ. See in the diary/ written for no

public eye, the record of communings with him —
so pure, so rapturous, so elevating, yet so real.
The last book read to that friend whose loss we
deplore to-day, was the Memoir of Mrs. Mary
Winslow. She was so interested in it, that after
the pains of her last sickness had seized her, its
perusal was finished by one sitting at her bedside.
And there we find such entries as these : " The
Lord has most preciously drawn near to my soul.
This morning I held sweet communion with him.
My mouth was opened wide to make great demands
on his love. I felt I had not only his ear, but
his blessed countenance shone upon me." And
again : " Still going on my way, leaning on my
Beloved. No tongue can tell how precious Jesus
is. Language often fails, when I am on my knees,
to tell him how much I love him. My soul is
kept near him. I often have him in full view."

What a blessed state ! How is such an one
lifted above all anxieties and fears. Troubles may
come, bereavements, losses ; pains may rack the
mortal body; but all can be borne through the
imparted strength of Christ. Amid the pressure
of daily cares, there is a living, personal Helper,
always near. Sin may still at times prevail, op-
pressing the spirit ; but the penitent looks to the
great Redeemer, and the burden is gone. Many
duties are to be performed ; but here is an impulse
to activity that can never fail. Truly, for such an

one " to live, is Christ." Yet how few Christians
know, by experience, the full blessedness of such a
life, or the power for good it would impart !

We turn now to the other clause of the Apostle's
declaration : " To die is gain." It is not so to all ;
death, in itself, is the penalty of sin, and it comes
attended with gloom, the king of terrors. But to
one who has lived for and in Christ, those terrors
are destroyed. He would not live here always ; to
depart is far better.

For, first, he is relieved from all his sorrows and
pains. His happiness here has not been uninter-
rupted. God sees fit to chasten most severely,
even those he loves. And while any sin remains
unsubdued, there must be a wearisome, humbling
conflict. But after death, the struggle ceases.
The body, that had become but an encumbrance,
is left behind ; the soul awakes in the likeness of
the spotless Saviour. Conflicts, bereavements, the
rude assault of foes, foreboding fears, the upbraid-
ings of conscience, grief for the sins of others, be-
long only to the past. All tears are wiped away ;
nothing dims the prospect of unceasing progress
from glory unto glory.

Again, beyond the grave the fondest anticipa-
tions of the Christian are realized. Here he walks
by faith, not by sight. He receives an earnest of
the inheritance, but not the possession itself. Re-


minded by continual changes that this is not his
home, he is in a state of expectancy. His thoughts
and desires reach forward to that which is to come.
The day of his death puts him in possession of all.
He is like the heir attaining his majority. Is it
a fit time for song and festivity when the master of
an estate becomes of age % Then congratulate the
Christian, when he dies. Did he long to know
more of God % His works and ways, from the be-
ginning, are opened to view. Did he long to do
more for God 1 He is endowed with strength that
shall never be exhausted, nor need even temporary
repose. Did he desire a purer society than he
could find on earth 1 He walks with prophets,
apostles, martyrs, and the redeemed of every age
and land. Did he pray to be made perfect % The
robes of the angels are not whiter than his own.

Above all, his union with Christ is perfected. He
sees him as he is. When Christ shows but a
glimpse of his glory to a disciple here, he is over-
whelmed ; but there they are able to look upon
that ineffable brightness. And Christ calls his fol-
lower to his side, a welcome beaming from every
feature. He explains to him the mysteries of his
earthly life ; he makes him a partaker of his own
eternal counsels ; he enlarges that follower's soul
with his own divine sympathies and conceptions.
And never, through eternal ages, shall that holy,
blissful intercourse have an end. From that glori-


ous presence, he shall never go out. Oh, thus to
be with Jesus is gain — inexpressible, infinite gain.
No joy is to be compared to this. We hope to
meet our friends who have preceded us ; but how
far better will it be to meet Jesus ! And when we
repose in the sunshine of his presence — wondering
that ive, who have been so unworthy, should be
there, yet knowing that it is no illusion, but we are
safe forever — then there must rush in an overflow-
ing tide of rapture, making all earthly joys con-

And is it death that thus enriches us? Then,
welcome death ! Why should we fear it 1 Or
why weep, when one who lived in Christ is taken
away 1

We do not weep for the dead to-day. This ser-
vice is not that we may pour our tears upon her
grave, though our loss is indeed great ; — it is that
we may learn the lesson of her life and death —
that since she can now do us no other service, she
may bless us by her example.

Let me then present — what some of you know
better than myself — a simple narration of what
she was, and what she did.

Mary Wheelwright was born in Newburyport,
Massachusetts, March 19, 1792. Her father was
Ebenezer Wheelwright, a respected merchant of that
town, who died but recently at the age of ninety-


two years. Her mother was the daughter of Wil-
liam Coombs, a gentleman of the highest respect-
ability and devoted piety. She was early trained in
the fear of God, and instructed in that confession
of faith which shaped her theology through life,
the Assembly's Catechism. Naturally intelligent,
sprightly, and with warm affections, she was sur-
rounded in her early, as in her later years, by
closely attached friends. Her career of benev-
olence commenced in childhood. It is remem-
bered, that when but ten years old, in her sym-
pathy for a poverty-stricken family, she obtained
leave of her mother to take to them as much
as she could carry. Her good will exceeded her
strength, and she loaded herself so heavily, that
after going a short distance, she was forced to ob-
tain the aid of one of her companions. The act
was prophetic ; it was not the only time that, in
helping others, she went beyond her strength. On
returning home, she was much troubled lest she
had exceeded the permission given, to take all she
could carry ; and, with that tender conscientious-
ness which she always showed, sought her mother's

But though her opening character was thus ami-
able and lovely, she felt her need of the renewing
of the Spirit. When about fourteen years of age,
and at school at Bradford, during a revival of relig-
ion in that place, she hoped that she passed from


death unto life. Harriet Atwood, (afterwards Mrs.
Newell,) and Ann Hasseltine, (afterwards Mrs. Jud-
son,) were her sympathizing companions. Together
they sorrowed, prayed and rejoiced. Miss Wheel-
wright was led to a trembling hope, only after many
weeks of anxiety. Miss Atwood enjoyed a brighter
experience ; and one day, when seated on the grass,
beside her friend, plucked an humble wild-flower,
and said, " Mary, I now see more of the glory of
God in this little flower, than I saw before in the
whole creation." It is pleasant to think of these
three, thus entering together on the service of
Christ — all alike gifted with unusual force of char-
acter, and all destined to exert a wide and most
blessed influence as the wives of ministers, though
in different spheres. United they were in life's
morning ; and now, though thousands of miles
separate their graves, they are once more together.

A short time after her residence in Bradford, —
on the 7th of May, 1808, — she united, by profes-
sion, with the First Presbyterian Church in her
native town, of which Dr. Dana was then Pastor.
A few years passed by, in the retirement of home,
marked by diligent self-culture, by a striking devel-
opment of Christian graces, and by an ever-active

When about twenty years of age, she became
acquainted with Dr. Codman, while he was visiting
at the house of her grandfather. The - young Pas-


tor had gone thither, to seek advice and aid, amid
the perplexities which were then so heavily press-
ing upon him. He found more than he was seek-
ing ; and, by a blessed compensation, that severest
trial of his life became the occasion of his gaining
his life's greatest comfort and joy.

On the 19th of January, 1813, she was married;
and then commenced that career of earnest, self-
denying, unwearied activity among this people,
which your sorrowing hearts conceive far better
than my poor words can describe. I shrink from
using the language of eulogy ; she herself forbade
it ; — but as I have looked back upon her course
here, and gathered the testimony of the rich and
the poor ; of those who remember her as the loved
friend of their youth ; of those by whose sick-bed
she watched so devotedly ; of those whom her lib-
eral hand supplied ; of those whom, as inquirers,
she pointed with equal skill and fidelity to the sin-
ner's Friend ; of those with whom she so tenderly
sympathized in the hour of affliction ; — as I have
heard but one testimony from all ; as I looked, on
Tuesday last, at that large assembly gathered at
her funeral, very many of them drawn hither by
no claim of relationship, by no official duty, but
coming because their full hearts longed to pay the
last tribute of affection and respect — I have felt
that she was one, concerning whom strong lan-
guage of praise could be justified, and one whom


it was a duty to hold up for the incitement of
others, and that the Saviour, for whom she lived,
might be glorified.

I shall not attempt any regular narrative of the
events of her life. It was not marked by striking
incidents. Three of her children she was called to
resign in infancy, though in other respects her do-
mestic life was signally happy. Twice — in 1825
and 1835 — she visited Europe, seeking out spots of
sacred or classic interest, and enjoying the society
of a large circle of Christian friends. But the
greater part of her active life was passed in the
assiduous discharge of duty in her home, and in
the parish of her husband, in all whose interests
and labors, she felt a most lively sympathy.

She had remarkable endowments for the station
she was called to fill — a vigorous constitution and
diversified natural gifts, all assiduously improved,
and sacredly devoted to Christ.

One marked characteristic was her great execu-
tive power. Said one who knew her intimately for
many years, " She performed a greater amount and
variety of labor than any woman I ever knew."
The cares of a household, where not only a large
family were nurtured, but a most open hospi-
tality always reigned, were of themselves enough
for the strength of most. But when we add to
these her labors in the Sabbath > school, where for
many years she was a teacher ; in the praying


circle; in the maternal and benevolent associations;
in the many homes of the parish, especially the
abodes of want or sorrow, and the chambers of
sickness ; and also her correspondence and other
efforts, by which her influence was extended over
a still wider sphere — we do not merely say, ' She
did what she could,' but we are filled with wonder
that she could do so much.

She was untiring in improving opportunities for
doing good. She accomplished what she did, not
so much by the advantages of her position, as by a
spirit which would have made her eminently useful
in any place. When traveling and among stran-
gers, for example, though never forward, she was
always ready to commend the truth she loved.
Seeing in a tavern an oath scratched upon a win-
dow, she at once broke out the pane of glass, and,
sending for the landlord, explained her conduct,
and offered remuneration. Coming at another time
from New York in the steamboat, she became
interested in the appearance of a lady, evidently
very ill. Unable to rest, because of her solicitude,
she rose at midnight, offered to relieve the nurse ;
and while watching over the stranger, poured into
her willing ear the promises and hopes of the gos-
pel, the preciousness of which seemed to be felt, in
a dying hour, three days later.

In England, her intercourse with Christian friends
was made the occasion of stimulating them to new


works of piety ; and not only Mrs. Sherman, of
Surrey Chapel, bnt many others, confessed the im-
pulse they received. It is believed that the first
maternal association in Great Britain was instituted
at her suggestion. Amid the gaieties of France,
she was the same consistent Christian ; and I have
heard of one French lady of culture, though with-
out piety, led by her example, to admit the sur-
passing beauty of a religious life.

Her influence over others was greatly increased,
by her most remarkable conversational talent. In
this, she had no superior. A memory of rare
retentiveness, enriched by the results of varied
reading and wide observation, gave her the mate-
rial; and this was used by a mind quick and
ardent, clear and firm in its convictions, and ever
guided by an exquisite tact, which showed her
just what to say, and how to make just the
impression she desired.* She gave advice, reproof,
instruction, without seeming to do so ; perhaps
under the guise of a quaint saying or an anec-
dote, which carried its own application. A genial
humor, and a keen sense of the ludicrous, which

* She was once visited by an individual, in a state of morbid depres-
sion, in view of his sins. Pointing to an engraving, hanging on the
wall, of a preacher with uplifted hands, he said, " It seems to me that
that man is lifting up his hands in astonishment, that I can expect to
be saved." " No," was her instant and adroit reply, " he is only
astonished that you should have any, doubt that the Saviour is ready
to accept you."


she used without abusing, enlivened her speech,
and made her not only an instructive, but a most
entertaining companion. With no effort to attract
others, she would often gather round her a crowd
of delighted listeners, spell-bound by her beaming
eye and fluent tongue. Especially did children
love to listen. She could talk to them by the
hour; when memory failed, imagination would
supply instructive stories, and many remember their
intercourse with her as chief among their juvenile
delights. She had the rare power of conversing
easily on religious themes, even with the irre-
ligious. She did not force in pious remarks ; they
came, like the free outgushing of the stream from
the fountain, from the fullness of a Christian

She could adapt herself to any station or age ;
stand self-possessed in the presence of the great,
conciliate those opposed, instruct the wise, as well
as the ignorant ; talk of theology with divines, or
of domestic economy with the young housewife;
pass from the mansion to the cottage, ' as grace-
fully as the sunlight descends from the mountain's
majestic summit, to the little floweret at its base.'
And this power lasted till the very end of life.
Yes, when multiplied infirmities had almost done
their work, her face would still brighten with
the fascinating smile it used to wear, and the


enthusiasm of other days show itself, unconquered
by disease.

And yet, the source of her greatest power was
not in the gifts of nature, but of grace. She lived
as she did, and accomplished her great work,
because Christ lived in her. The advantages of
wealth and social position were hers, but her faith
overcame the world. As her convictions of sin
were deep and thorough at the first, so all through
life she was a most humble Christian. If men did
not notice her faults, she felt that in God's sight
she was a great sinner; and at times she even
distrusted the soundness of her hope.

This led her to cling to the Bible with ardent
attachment, to meditate on its promises, to commit
to memory not only single verses, but entire chap-
ters. This led her to take special delight in those
old writers — like Baxter and Flavel and Owen
and Newton — most accustomed to deal with
Christian experience. This made the doctrines
of grace — the atonement of Christ, the complete-
ness of the believer's justification in him, the
abiding presence of the Comforter, inexpressibly
dear. This made her constant in prayer, so
that when she led the devotions of her female
friends, it was evident to all that she was wont
to dwell very near to God. And the result of all
was a character, that won universal respect and


confidence, that swayed all by the resistless might
of goodness.

Thoughtlessness was rebuked in her presence.
The cavils of unbelief were felt to be out of place
there. Religion, illustrated by that cheerful, earn-
est, loving disciple, appeared in its own attractive
beauty, commanding the praise of all. She was
interesting in person, she had strong mental pow-
ers ; but the impression she left on others, was not
so much of these gifts, as of the graces of the
Christian. " I never met her," said one of her
husband's bosom friends, " when she failed to im-
press the conviction that she lived with God."
" The hues of another world," said another minis-
ter, " seemed to blend with her words and actions,
giving them almost more than mortal power." Yes,
here was the hiding of her strength; her life was
hid with Christ in God.

She never moved out of woman's proper sphere,
but tell me, ye who would thrust woman upon the


Online LibraryJames H. (James Howard) MeansLife and death in Christ : a sermon, occasioned by the death of Mrs. Mary Codman, delivered in the Second Church, Dorchester, April 12, 1857 → online text (page 1 of 2)