Halsey Dunning.

The assassination: its lessons to young men online

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THE ASSASSINATION:



ITS



mom t0 iowng '^en,



A DISCOURSE



DELIVERED IN THE



FIRST CONSTITUTIONAL PRESBYTERIANr:fflII]JCH,

MAY 7, 186 5. "^^^^i^ij^ WASWH^!



BY REV. H. DUNNING, Pastor,
II



PRINTED BY REQUEST.



BALTIMORE, .... JOHN W. WOODS, PRINTER,
202 Baltimore Street,

18 6 5.



DISCOURSE.




Diogenes, the cynic, is said to have lighted a candle and
to have gone through the streets of Athens, at noon-day,
searcMng for a man. In these later days, it might not
require the same diligence of search to discover the man
descrihed in the text — the young man '■'■void of understand-
ing." Eumor has it that this class is numerous, although
should you, like the ancient cynic, go up and down the streets
making inquiry of all the young men you meet, you would
not find one, perhaps, that would say, "I am he whom
you seek." The young man who is "void of understand-
ing" is unfortunately the last to make the discovery of the
fact. This should make all young men, at least, modest in
their assumption of an unusual degree of understanding.
The case in hand to-night, all will agree, is a striking ex-
ample of the class spoken of in the text. If there ever
lived a young man utterly '^void of understanding," it was
the guilty author of that shocking crime which has struck
the world with horror, and made its perpetrator supremely
infamous among all the criminals of time. If the circum-
stances did but permit it, it would be a great relief to believe
that he was, indeed, wholly void of understanding,; that he
was utterly and beyond accountability insane. But, un-
fortunately, no such plea can be presented to extenuate his
appalling guilt. In all its fearful enormity it must rest
upon his soul forever. His account has, indeed, been soon



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made up, and, sooner than he exj)ected, he has had to meet
the accusing sj)irit of our murdered President.

It was a young man that committed this horrid crime;
and this wouhl certainly justify, if, indeed, it does not re-
quire, that I should not permit the occasion to pass with-
out calling- the attention of the young men to some of those
lessons wliich this tragic event would seem to inculcate — ■
and this is the duty hefore us at this time.

One lesson presents itself so clearly hefore us all, that he
who runs may read. It is a lesson upon the danger tvhich
environs every young man who will not steadily and persist-
ently resist the temptations to evil which constantly heset
him. Such is the depraved condition of the human heart,
that no man is safe who yields to the slightest solicitations
to wrong-doing. The first, step but opens the door to the
second, and once upon the inclined plane of crime the
descent is natural and rapid to perdition. This deed
proves that there is no possible measure of crime which the
heart of man, under the power of temptation, excited by
evil influences and unchecked by restraints, may not be in-
duced to fill up. You may now resent with honest indig-
nation the imputation of the possibility of your ever com-
mitting such a crime. God grant you never may. But
Hazael, the young courtier of the king of Syria, with equal
indignation, repelled the im^Dutation of the weeping
prophet, who foretold his future crimes. — "What, is thy
servant a dog that he should do this thing?" But, in a
few days, he assassinated his master, the king, and usurped
his throne, and for forty years his reign was one huge crime.
What influences were brought to bear upon the mind
of this young man, what motives, unhallowed and demo-
niac, urged him on, we may not be able, wholly, here
to discover ; but we can see enough to know that if yielded
to, if not sternly resisted, they would ruin any j^oung man
First, he was in heart disloyal to the Government
under which he consented to live. This spirit of dis-
loyalty he cherished until it grcAv into a deep, bitter,



rancorous hatred. This was the fundamental crime of this
young man. It was that which constituted the basis on
which the whole superstructure of iniquity was raised.
This rancorous spirit, nourished and brooded over in the
dark recesses of his soul, was excited and inflamed by those
bad influences, which unhappily were all the while operat-
ing upon him, some of which we shall soon notice.

A second operating cause leading him onward to destruc-
tion, was the influence of the had company with which he
associated himself. This company was such as to all the
while stimulate and inflame the malign passions which he
was cherishing in his heart. Here was the great misfortune
of this bad young man. He seems to have had no friend
who, when he was venting his hatred against the Govern-
ment and the President, its representative, could lay the
hand of kind restraint upon his passions and subdue the
tempest which agitated his soul.

Young gentlemen, the habitues of the drinking saloon,
the gaming table, and the brothel are not those which will
be likely to dissuade a young man from the evil which, in
the silent chambers of his soul, he may be meditating.

There was, perhaps, also a vain and wicked craving for
notoriety, like an evil spirit, stirring him up and urging
him onward incessantly to the commission of the crime.
He, perhaps, longed for that "bad eminence" which so
enormous a crime would give him before the world ; and
was not unwilling, as he himself once intimated, to associ-
ate himself in immortal infamy with that hero in crime,
who, in order to immortalize his, name, fired the temple of
Ephesus, but whose name, strange enough, the world has
refused to remember.

And to all these operating causes and influences we must
add, that total zvant of those moral and religious restraints
which a, proper education vfoiild have imposed upon him,
and which would have withheld him from even tlie a}>prov-
ing contemplation of so dire a crime.

These are some of the motives and influences wliich,



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operating upon that nature susceptible of evil which we
all possess, and which, unrestrained by education, com-
panionship, conscience, judgment, or any moral or religious
influences, at length secured the commission of this horrid
crime, and the consignment to eternal infamy of its author.

And the lesson which we would have every young man
draw from it is this, the danger of cherishing such a spirit ;
or for a moment harboring such unhallowed designs or
desires ; and of seeking such company and influences as
would only serve to influence and stimulate to the commis-
sion of crime. Under such influences, no young man,
though he may now, like Hazael, resent the imputation
with scorn, is guaranteed or secure against the commission of
any, even the most enormous and revolting, crimes. Let no
young man trust the strength of his own good purpose and
will, and so run into temptation. The wise man says,
"He that trusteth to his own heart is a fool." And the
case before us illustrates the danger of cherishing malig-
nant feelings, and of approvingly contemplating a crime,
which we may at the time have no thought or heart to
commit. The stimulation of bad company, and wine, and
opportunity, may, at any time, make us the executors of the
crime itself. He who dallies with temptation to wrong-
doing, is well nigh fallen already. He who approvingly
contemplates the wrong of another is "void of understand-
ing," and is not himself a moment safe.

"Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in
the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, — turn from it,
and pass away. For they sleep not except they have done
mischief ; and their sleeji is taken away except they cause
some to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness ; and
drink the wine of violence." — Prov. iv, 13, &c.

"Be not wise in thine own eyes ; fear the Lord, and
depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and
marrow to thy bones." — Prov. iii, 7, 8.

2. — A second lesson which is impressed upon us by this
great crime is the danger to young men of cherishing a dis-
loyal spirit to the Government under ivhich they live.



Obedience to lawfully constituted Grovernment is every
where enjoined as a sacred duty in the word of God ; and it
is required that that obedience be rendered not only to the
good but to the froward and the perverse ; and it is further-
moro required, that obedience be rendered, not from fear of
punishment, but from conscience toward God, — obedience
to rulers being duty to God. The cherishing of a disloyal
spirit to a divinely constituted Government is, therefore, a
sin against God. Now, it is not so much the sin as the
danger to young men of cherishing this spirit to which we
now call your special attention. Young men are proverbial,
not so much for their ]3rudence and discretion as for the
fire, ardor and impulse of their feelings. With them, from
feeling to action it is often but a moment and a step.
Hence, if they imbibe wrong principles and cherish wrong
feelings, they are always in danger of being stimulated to
wrong action ; and hence, if a young man cherishes malign
or rancorous feelings towards the Government under wliich
he lives, and whose protection he receives, he is in danger
of being spurred up by evil influences or circumstances to
seek the destruction of that Government, and that commonly
ends in his own destruction. This unhappy young man
was, perhaps, not more virulent or bitter in his feelings
than many others ; but, feeling as he did, and the influ-
ences brought to bear upon him being what they unhappily
were, and incited by the devil to perhaps a mad ambition
to immortalize his name, though it were in infamy, he was
urged to strike a blow at the existence of Government
itself, and to the doing of a deed from which, perhaps, not
long ago, he would have shrunk with horror. To that
supremacy of crime he never coukl have arrived, however
much lie may have disapproved the measures of the admin-
istration of the Government, if he had cherished a. proper
spirit of obedience to the Government itself, irrespective of
the man or men who might at any time administer the
Government. Men die, but Governments, being of God,
survive ; and our loyal obedience to Government, whoever



8

for tlie time may rightfully administer it, should be as true,
permanent and unchanging as is that divinely constituted
Government itself. But if young men allow themselves to
cherish the spirit of rancorous disloyalty towards the Gov-
ernment under which they consent to live, they may, in an
unexpected moment, be incited by the devil to give body
and act to their feelings, in a way which will load their
names with infamy forever, and burden their souls with
the guilt of a crime which eternity cannot expiate. The
spirit of true loyalty to the Government to which he owed
allegiance, would have saved this young man from the
commission of a crime unparalleled in the history of the
world, and from that untimely and horrid doom which has
so soon overtaken him. I would be recreant to my duty,
as a minister of Jesus Christ, and false to the welfare of
the young men I address, and to the convictions of my own
judgment and conscience, if I failed, young gentlemen, to
say these things to you at this time. I appeal to your calm
and mature reflection. Judge ye of the truth and propri-
ety of what 1 say.

3. — We would have you also observe, as a third lesson
of this tragic event, how crime overleaps and defeats itself.

Whatever may have been the motive which instigated
this atrocious deed, it has been defeated. Was it, as the
criminal himself declared, to aid the rebel cause ? Nothing
could have done it a greater disservice. Was it to injure
the cause of the Government ? Nothing could so efficiently
have served that cause throughout the world. Was it re-
venge upon the President whom he slew ? He has immor-
talized his virtues as a ruler, and crowned his memory
with the glories of martyrdom, and made his name thrice
honored and dear to his country and to humanity forever.
Was it notoriety he sought before the world, as the reward
of so great a crime ? It is infamy, deep, damning and
eternal, which he has reaped. Was it honor and reward
from those in arms against the Government ? All they,
except robbers and assassins, reject his aid, denounce his



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deed, and rejoice in the SAvift-footed justice which has over-
taken him. Was it to arrest the progress of the cause of
emancipation, which the criminal hated and the President
loved ? The blood of the President has, nnder God, sealed
irrevocably the success of that cause. Was it, by takino-
away the head of Government, to create a revolution, as
was attempted in tlie West last summer, and thus destroy
the Government and introduce anarchy and confusion
throughout the land ? Nothing could so effectually have
defeated its own aim, and liave cemented and welded and
intensified tlie power of this Government as the martyrdom
of its twice chosen head. Was it designed to destroy the
personal influence and popularity of Mr. Lincoln? Oh!
infatuation of crime, nothing could so certainly and so im-
measurably have deepened, hardened, strengthened and
perpetuated that influence and popularity, even to the re-
motest ages, as his assassination. See then young gen-
tlemen, see how crime overleaps itself and defeats its own
vain and wicked ends. Whatever may have been his pur-
])0se and design, was there ever a crime Avhich more com-
pletely defeated itself? Was there ever a young man so
'■'■utterly void of understanding" as was he? Let not then
this lesson, young men, fail of its due impressi(Ui upon
your hearts and lives. Nothing will so certify your suc-
cess in life as to he right; and nothing will so surely defeat
your aims as to he lurong. Your very success will itself be
your defeat. This lesson evolves itself from the history of
this crime ; and every one, but he that is "void of under-
standing," must feel and acknowledge its solemn impres-
siveness. This lesson must go forth upon the young men
of this nation with an increasingly salutary influence ; and
it will illustrate the impossibility of destroying the influ-
ence of a good ruler by killing him ; tlie blindness and in-
fatuation of crime ; and the methods in whicli God will
make even this great "wrath of man to praise Him."

4. — And there is here, also, a most instructive lesson
upon the certainty of crime overtaking its author.



10

This crime was so planned by its actor as to give tlieat-
I'ical effect to the whole tragedy. It was to be enacted in
the theatre ; the actor was to leap upon the stage, utter
his tragic exclamation before thepetrified audience ; and then
suddenly disappear in the darkness, and so safely escape.
The plan was well laid, why should it not have succeeded,
and the criminal now, beyond the reach of justice, be rev-
elling with his co-conspirators in the rewards and promised
honors of their crime ? Because, young gentlemen, God
hates crime, and sets his trap for the criminal. What was
it that, perhaps more than anything else, defeated this
well laid plan of final escape, and secured the speedy dog's
death and burial of the assassin ? Was it not that same
flag itself which he hated ? It caught him by his spur,
threw him upon the stage, fractured his limb and thus
ultimately delayed and prolonged his flight until the
agents of justice overtook him, and a speedy retribution
was visited upon him. How little could the infuriated ac-
tor in that tragedy have foreseen how the Providence of
Grod was arranging for his capture and his punishment.
How little could he have anticipated that so trifling a cause
should certify so speedy a retribution ? The surest pledge
of the discovery and the avenging of crime is, under the
providence of God, the crime itself. When once commit-
ted, it is gone forth to the world, and who shall hide its
author? The winds may whisper his name; the sun, the
moon, the stars may reveal it. The flag whose majesty he
despises may accuse him. The spur, whose aid he seeks in
escape, may arrest him. The limb, that was to aid his
flight, may prevent it. Every means designed to facilitate
escape may impede it. All agencies and instrumentalities,
from the moment of the commission of a crime, become the
servants of God's providence and justice, to reveal the
criminal and avenge his crime. The certainty of punish-
ment overtaking the criminal is written as the lesson upon
every page of history ; and it is only the blind that cannot
see it, and the man "void of understanding" that will not
regard it.



11

Let the young men who hear me bear this lesson along
with them into the temptations to wrong-doing by which
they are daily beset. Be not deceived by the tempter
when he cries against Grod, "ye shall not surely die,"
"ye shall not surely suffer for wrong-doing." Listen not
to his persuasions. Once committed, the telegraph in-
stantly spreads your crime over the world, and all the
agents of justice set out upon your track ; and even quicker
than the lightning of the telegraph, God's omniscience
has reported it, and at his appointed time, his providence
will reveal the criminal, and his justice will avenge the
crime.

Prov. xix, 27. — "Cease my son," cries the wise man,
"to hear instruction that causeth to err from the words of
knowledge.

"Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for
the back of fools."

Prov. V, 22, 23. — "His own iniquities shall take the
wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of
his sins, he shall die without instruction and in the great-
ness of his folly he shall go astray."

Such, young gentlemen, are some of the lessons to which
I have begged the privilege of calling your attention, as
suggested by this awful crime, which has shocked and hor-
rified you all. Others have, doubtless, suggested them-
selves to your minds. Only the young man "void of un-
derstanding" could have permitted such an event to occur
without having derived from it impressive lessons and in-
fluences for his own improvement and guidance. Be as-
sured you cannot too faithfully meditate these lessons, or
too anxiously seek their healthful influence upon your lives.
We live in a day of peculiar temptations and trials to
young men. How many in these days are taught to con-
sider the greatest crimes known to human laws as virtues ?
How many are taught to heroize the man who lifts his hand
against the majesty of law and government, and who seeks
madly to destroy the foundations of authority and estab-



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lished order ? Young gentlemen, be not deceived by these
delusions and sophisms by which thousands, "void of un-
derstanding," have been lured on to their destruction.
Shun, as you would the devil, the man who extenuates or
ajDologizes for this crime. Rise above the excitements of
the hour and take your stand upon the platform of those
great moral and religious principles, which shall survive
the changes, shocks and revolutions of time, and withstand
the trials even of the final day.

I exceedingly regret that this criminal was a young man.
Such unhallowed pre-eminence in crime should have been
reserved for the hoary headed villain whom long practice in
iniquity had made insensible to its guilt. I lament that the
dishonor should have fallen upon that class, which, I was
about to say, more than any other I respect and love.
But though it was a young man that did it, it was not the
young men that did it. I fain would believe that there is
not another young man in all our land of such hardihood
in crime as to be willing to damn himself to such immortal
infamy. I rejoice to exculpate you all from the complicity
of even the first emotion of approval of this horrid crime ;
and I shall ever pray that God will give you grace for
every hour of temptation; deliver you from all evil; guide
you through a true, honorable and upright life; and,
finally, bring you all, through the mediation and death of
our gracious Redeemer, to the home of the blessed on high.

Amen.





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Online LibraryHalsey DunningThe assassination: its lessons to young men → online text (page 1 of 1)