John Hopkins Morison.

Dying for our country : a sermon on the death of Capt. J. Sewall Reed and Rev. Thomas Starr King; preached in the first Congregational church in Milton, March 13, 1864 online

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Online LibraryJohn Hopkins MorisonDying for our country : a sermon on the death of Capt. J. Sewall Reed and Rev. Thomas Starr King; preached in the first Congregational church in Milton, March 13, 1864 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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March 13, 1864.





n, Watek Street.








Maucu 13, 1864.



5, Water Street.



John XV. 13 : " Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lat


These words were spoken by our Saviour the even-
ing before his crucifixion, and refer to his own death,
— that great event, which, in connection with his
teachings and his acts, has wrought such a change in
the moral convictions, the spiritual insight, and the
religious life, of the world. The whole plane of our
being has been lifted up and enlarged by the senti-
ment here expressed, illustrated and confu-med as it
was so speedily by his death, and his resurrection from
the dead. The end for which we are born has thus
been projected into higher realms. This world has
been eniiched and glorified by the light which streams
upon it from the world of spiritual life and joy in
which he lives, and which he has brought mto more
evident and vital relations with us. Because he lives,
we shall live also. As we live and believe in him, we
are made partakers of his life, and already become
members of that kingdom which rises over us, which
enfolds us m its embrace, and carries up into its wide

and holy realm the soiils of his followers, and the
work which seems unfinished and in vam because of
their premature departure from the earth.

Here is one of the decisive tests of discipleship indi-
cated by Jesus. He who so lives amid the higher
sentiments and affections of our religion as to subordi-
nate every thing else to them is recognized as belong-
ing to him. Thus it is, that he who loses his life for
his sake shall find it. That is, he Avho, at the com-
mand of higher obligations, disregards this visible,
apparent, earthly life, enters mto the unseen, substan-
tial, eternal life, and, so far, is lifted up into his wider
sphere of piu'e, unselfish living.

Here is a real ground of distinction between those
who are followers of Christ and those who are not.
If you find a man to w^hom property or life is more
sacred than duty, you may be sure that he has not
entered into the spirit of Jesus. If you meet a man
who scoffs at the finer sentiments of our nature, and,
in respect to the greatest sacrifices which are made to
them, asks, " Why all this waste'? " you may be sure
that he is unable to know any thing of the ideas which
Jesus came to declare, or the life which he came to
impart. Here, more than in any ecclesiastical or theo-
logical opinions or professions, is the best test of om*
allegiance to Christ. He who resists temptation to
wrong-doing, and in his life keeps himself unspotted
from the world ; he who preserves the sweetness of
his affections, and, delighting to do what he can for
the comfort and happiness of others, forgets himself

in his devotion to them ; he who esteems the cause of
righteousness more sacred than that of self-interest,
who considers the integrity and life of his country as
of more importance than any private end, and who, so
believmg, gives his life in attestation of his belief, —
he so far enters mto the spirit of our Lord, and ap-
proves himself his follower and disciple.

" Greater love hath no man than this, that a man
lay down his life for his friends." He who spoke
these words died in order that the world might be
drawn towards him, and, through faith in him, be
made partakers of his divine and eternal life. His
immediate followers, with no country except the
spiritual community in which they were united, were
called often to attest their fidelity to hun by dying as
witnesses to his truth ; and, the more they died, the
more thek numbers multiplied, and their cause pre-
vailed. When prosperity and ease and life became
dearer to them than their faith in Christ, and their
fidelity to him, then their cause languished, and their
religion became inoperative and dead.

Those times of martvrdom, in the forms in which it
then existed, have passed away. But there are other
trials which furnish the same test of character, and in
which our fidelity, even unto death, is as essential to
the rectitude of our own lives and the advancement of
God's kingdom on the earth.

The highest conception we can form of a Christian
commonwealth is that of a great spiritual community,
the unseen Church of Christ, in which his ransomed

ones of all ages and lands are gathered together, and
which, in one unbroken communion, reaches down
from heaven to earth, and draws into its embrace, from
every kindred and nation and tongue, those who fear
God and work righteousness.

This is the highest idea that we can form of a
Christian commonwealth. Next to this, and, in its
highest state, beyond any thing that the world has yet
known, coincident with it, is the idea of a Christian
people, united together in one great commonwealth ;
protected by wise and equal laws ; owing allegiance to
the same government ; looking to the national flag as
the emblem of liberty and justice, of union and strength,
the ensign of a nation ready to put forth all its energies
to defend the rights of the weakest citizen against the
most powerful empire on the earth ; guarding all its
children with equal care ; opening its schools to rich
and poor alike ; protectmg churches and hospitals, and
all benign institutions and charities ; raising highways
through the wilderness for the houseless ; preparing
homesteads for the homeless ; and, like the great Bene-
factor of our race, sendmg out its gracious invitations
into distant lands, and inviting people of every rank
and condition, but especially the poor, the down-
trodden, and the oppressed, to come, without money
and without price, to share with us the privileges that
we and our children enjoy. Next to the idea of the
universal Church of Christ, reaching from earth to
heaven, through all ages and all lands, is this idea of
a Christian commonwealth, reaching from ocean to

ocean, — from the lakes and forests of the North
almost to the tropics ; administering its laws with an
authority so gentle, that we were hardly conscious of
its pressure ; while its benefactions visited us like the
dews and the providence of God, — so silently, that we
forgot to be thankful for them. No such common-
wealth as this of ours ever before existed, — no one so
free, and yet so secure ; so little interfering with indi-
vidual rights, and yet so universally extending its pro-
tection and its gifts to all. We began our life as a
people here in the wilderness. We grew up by the
neglect of the nation which had authority over us.
Our institutions, our government, and our laws were
left to form themselves around us, like our bodies, by
no arbitrary rules, but almost as a natural growth from
the vital forces which were at work within. The old
governments and nations of the earth, which at fkst
despised or ignored us, at length began to look upon us
with admiration and fear. We were rapidly preparing,
in the regular progress of our advancement, to take
our place as the foremost among them all ; and except
for one cruel injustice, allowed by our government,
and bindmg its chains on four millions of helpless peo-
ple, its influence was more and more felt throughout
the world in favor of freedom and justice, and against
the old despotisms which had so long oppressed the
hearts and hopes of men. This, my friends, was the
commonwealth in which we were born ; under whose
laws, and in whose institutions, we were nurtured.
Lived there ever a people on the face of the earth


who had so much reason to honor and reverence and
sustam the Government which threw its protecting
arms and laws around them ; whose blessings were so
many, and its burdens so light? If foreign nations
had leagued themselves together to overtlu'ow and de-
stroy it, should we not have esteemed it a privilege and
a joy to lay down our lives in its defence ? If traitors
at home should league themselves together, and, after
secretly plotting against it for more than a quarter of
a century, should aim their murderous weapons at the
bosom from which thek life and ours alike was drawn,
though they were a thousand times our brethren, could
we stand by, and see them murder the common mother
of us all ? " Greater love hath no man than this, that
he lay down his life for his friends." And here traitors,
with murderous hands and thoughts, are trying to cut
in pieces and destroy the dear and venerated form of
her, who, as our common mother, has pressed us all to
her bosom, and who, with bleeding countenance and an
expression of infinite sorrow, looks imploringly to us
for our support. By all that is most sacred in life, by
our reverence for Christ and the righteous laws which
he would have us obey, by what we owe to our chil-
dren's children, she calls upon us to save her from this
act of treachery and murdel*; to save our national
honor and life ; to uphold through her the supremacy
of wise and equal laws; to leave her with added purity,
so as to awaken a deeper love and reverence among
those who shall come after us. Shall we not obey her
call, and lay down oui' lives if need be, freely, in de-

fence of her, who, next to onr Sa'^iour, is our greatest
benefactor and friend ?

This is the appeal which " our own, our native
land " has been niakuig to her children for the last
three years, xlnd not m vain. No call of a suffering
parent was ever more bravely or more faithfully and
reverently obeyed. From every walk of life, and for
every post of duty, her sons have come forth ; and
thus we have been enabled to see, as never before,
what specimens of large and generous manhood had
grown up under her care. From our common-schools
and our colleges, from poor men's homes and rich
men s homes, young men, moved by a common enthu-
siasm, have gone forth, side by side, to confront a com-
mon danger, and to preserve the mtcgrity and life of
the nation. Examples have been given of a heroism
as beautiful, of a gentleness as whining, of a generosi-
ty as noble, of a fidelity as sacred, and a reliance on
God as devout and unfaltering, as any that are to be
found in the pages of history or of poetry. I cannot
think of them, whether living or dead, otherwise than
with gratitude and honor. Then* names will be kept
among us as watchwords to kmdle the patriotism of
the young in all coming generations, and to keep alive
their reverence for " whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are lovely and of good report."
While they live, let our prayers call down the protec-
tion and benediction of Heaven upon them; and, when
they die, let their names and memory be cherished as
the dearest and most sacred of our treasures.



I wish to speak this morning of two men, in widely
different spheres of activity, equally devoted to the
same cause, and equally, I think, laying down their
lives for their country, within the last few weeks.
One of them was born and passed his early years
within sight of this church. This quiet scene of rural
loveliness surrounding the home of his childhood ; these
trees, standuig here as God's sentinels to protect and
guard his house of worship ; these roads and fields ;
this house of prayer, and the Sunday school connected
with it, — all, doubtless, had their influence in forming
his character, and preparing him for the responsible
duties that were to be laid upon him. He was thirteen
years old when I came here in January, 1846. Once
in that winter, by reason of a most violent storm, I
preached to an audience of five persons ; and he was
one of the five. He had no advantages of education
which any boy among us may not have. He went to
the town-school ; and then, for a short time, was a
student in the academy under the instruction of IMr.
Ezra Ripley, — a man of high purposes, of rare purity,
integrity, and modesty, who, at the commencement of
this war, left an extensive and increasing practice at
the bar, and carried with him into the military service
the brave and persistent resolution, the keen sense of
right, and the instinctive hatred of wrong, for which
he had been distinguished in civil life. After more
than two years of faithful and efficient service, he died
near Vicksburg, Miss., a few weeks after the capture
of that city. The ability with which he acted, and


the value of the services which he rendered, were verv
inadequately represented by the position which he
held as lieutenant in the Twenty-ninth Kegiment of
Massachusetts Volunteers.

At the age of seventeen, James Sewall Eeed went
to California, where, beginning as a day-laborer in
some mechanical employment, he worked his way up
to a post of responsibility and trust in a large mercan-
tile house, whose confidence and respect he always
afterwards retained. Few among us knew the tempta-
tions to which our young men were then exposed in
that distant land, freed as they were from all the re-
straints of home, and from the legal and moral safe-
guards which are furnished by the laws and habits of
a well-ordered community. It is the testimony of those
who knew him best through his whole experience
there, that he never took advantage of the disordered
state of society to relax the severity of his principles,
or to give up any thing of his moral purity and ingenu-
ousness. At the age of twenty-two, he was the cap-
tain of a military company, and exercised a great and
salutary influence over his men. He spent one season
in Lower California, and the next on Frazer's River,
where he was brought into contact with the Indians,
whose adnuration and confidence he gained by his re-
markable courage and his honesty, and whose grate-
ful and devoted services he secured by his generosity
and kindness.

At length, there came a time when the government
of California had become so corrupt that the laws


were perverted, and coiu'ts of justice turned into in-
struments of violence and wrong, by those whose
business it was to administer them. Neither Hfe nor
property was respected ; and some of the best citizens,
who had made themselves obnoxious to wicked and
lawless rulers, were shot dead, cither in the streets or
at their places of business. Tlie courts of justice
offered no redress, but sheltered the murderers from
harm. It was one of those rare and fearful occasions
which are not likely ever to occur in a settled commu-
nity, under our popular form of government, when the
people are justified in taking the laws into their own
hands, and securing the ends of justice by a summary
and illegal process. Here our friend, as a military
officer, by his judgment, his perfect fearlessness, and
the ascendency which he had over his men, rendered
important services to the cause of good government,
and secured for himself, on a larger scale than before, a
name and a place in the community, as one who might
be relied upon in any great and perilous emergency.

When the civil war broke out, he wished to offer
himself as a volunteer. But the loyalty of California
was at that time so doubtful, and the ties which bound
her to the Union were so new and untried, that it
seemed as if loyal citizens were more needed, and
might be more useful to the Government, there than
here. But he got out his military books, and studied
them with continuous and earnest attention ; and
when the fervor of our first enthusiasm here in the
East had abated, and it was beginning to be difficult to


get the men that were needed, he, with a friend,* who,
hke himself, has been in some measure connected with
this rehgious society, determined to raise a company
of cavahy. Within less than a week, five hundred
men offered themselves as volunteers. But they could
get permission to enlist only one hundred. With
these picked men he came on from California about
fifteen months ago, and attached himself to the Second
Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry. The expectations
which he and they inspired have not been disappointed.
He had, in a remarkable degree, the qualities which
endear an officer to his men, and command at once
their confidence and their obedience. He has had a
trying service, and has always been found ecpial to its
requirements. He might have escaped its hardships.
On those distant shores of the Pacific, he might have
remained at home, without any imputation upon his
patriotism or his honor. He was a man of warm do-
mestic affections. He loved his home with its comforts
and its endearments. But the voice of his country,
stabbed, and threatened with destruction, by the treach-
ery and violence of her own sons, calling on him to
give his ser\ices and his life in her defence, w^as a
voice which he could not resist. He has fallen in the
ripeness of his early manhood. No stain rests on the
fair fame which he has bravely and honorably won.
The more closely and confidentially I have inquh'ed
into his private history from those who knew him best,

* Capt. Archibald M'Kendry.


and in his most secret walks, the more unhesitating
and unequivocal has been the testimony to the puri-
ty and the integrity of his life. No braver man lived ;
and he was as gentle as he was brave. A lady who
came from California with him, and whose sympathies
were strongly with the South, said she knew that he
was a brave man, because he was so gentle, so devoted,
and so patient in his attentions, to a little, helpless
child. And so it usually is. The finest qualities of gen-
tleness and modesty, of love and reverence, are those
which entwine themselves most closely and tenderly
around the strongest. In the field or the camp, when
others were tired out or discouraged, he was always
cheerful, and dispelled then* despondency by the conta-
gion of his own light-hearted and mirtliful spirit. Let-
ters from the camp say that it is dull and sad there now,
without him. But he has fallen in the performance of a
great and solemn duty. He pledged himself to a sacred
cause, and he has fulfilled his pledge. These trees
and hills will be clothed with a fresher green ; these
homes will be more secure, and better worth living in ;
these schools will be filled with a freer and more do-
cile succession of pupils ; these churches will be con-
secrated by a holier worship, a purer morality, and a
loftier faith ; a nobler race will walk our streets for
generations yet to come, when we are dead, and long
centuries hence, — because of the life which he and
others like him have lived, and the death which they
have died. If any of you should stand weeping by
what seems to you their untimely graves, remember


the words inscribed on the tomb at Thermopylae :
" Go, tell them at Lacedirmon that we lie here in
obedience to her laws." Or, better than that, with
more of the Christian spirit in which so many of our
young men have entered this great and terrible con-
flict, write upon their tombs, or at least associate with
then* memory, the words, for ever consecrated as the
words of Jesus, and sanctified to us by his death :
" Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lav
down his life for his friends."

The day after our friend, with many tears and bless-
ings, was laid in his grave, the news came from San
Francisco, that his minister, the Kev. Thomas Starr
King, had suddenly died that morning. There was
but one man in the United States who had greater
power than he to draw together vast assemblies of
men, enchain them by his generous thoughts, and
charge them with his own enthusiasm. When this
wicked war was forced upon us by the assault on Fort
Sumter, and it was doubtful M'hich side the new State
on the Pacific might jom, Mr. Kmg gave himself to
his country with a purpose as brave and as solemn as
if he had thrown himself upon the most desperate
battle-field. He traversed the State. He lectured ; he
preached ; he prayed. He electrified great masses of
men with his own self-forgetting patriotism. He caused
the sentiment of national honor and enthusiasm to
thrill through them, and bmd them to their country
with a warm and unfaltering devotion. There was in
in him no jealousy, no narrow thought of self, to dim


the clearness of his eye ; no ugly ambition to gnaw at
his heart-strings, and interfere with his kindly judg-
ments, or prompt to ill-natiu'ed and ungenerous re-
marks upon the character and motives of others. An
intimate friend of his, who preached about him last
Sunday, with singular felicity of adaptation entitled
his sermon " The Unspotted Life." He had what no
bad man ever has, — a laugh which rung as clear and
mu'thful as the tones of a Christmas bell. When he
went from us, he bore with him the light-heartedness,
the elasticity, and the joyousness of a boy. But I
learn that one, who saw him a short time ago, said that
he looked then like an old man. The labors and the
responsibilities of a lifetime, crowded with such inten-
sity into those few brief months, had told upon him
as the work of years, and probably left him without
strength to bear up under a disease which otherwise
might have had no fatal power over him. I have little
doubt, that, like hundreds of other loyal men at their
various posts of duty in civil life, he died " a blessed
martyr" to his country, as truly as if he had been slain
upon the battle-field.

The last Sunday that Capt. Reed and his " Califor-
nia Hundred " spent in San Francisco, they attended
Mr. King's church. His concluding words, which I
read from a copy written in his own clear hand as
a parting memorial to his friend Capt. Reed, were
these : " God bless you, brother Americans, for your
readmess, for your zeal, for your pure offering of devot-
edness, which to-day add force as well as illustration


to the pleadings of the gospel with our hearts ! You
are not ' weary ' of the call and the strain of patriot-
ism. There are those at the East who are. They
w^ear no wounds or scars. They have not exposed
then- lives. . . . And you, in these same hours,
seek the 0'p][)ortun\iy of pledging strength and skill,
and blood and breath, to our country's integrity and
honor. Heaven hear our prayers for you, and cover
you with its benediction! . . . May the flash of
your blades, if you are called into battle, be the dawn
of a better age for your country ! . . . Go, brethi'en :
do your tremendous duty with dedicated hearts ; in
the fear of God, which roots out all other fear ; in
allegiance to Christ ; with the New Testament very
near your hand, and its appeals very sweet to your
souls ! ' Be not weary with w^ell-doing,' though your
marches be long, and your hope of speedy success
denied. In due time you shall reap, if you fixint not ;
and, if those you leave at home be not cowards and
traitors both, you shall reap, though you bleed, though
you be maimed, though you die ; you shall reap in
your country's redemption and renewal, in the honor
that will invest your names in future years, in your
reward in the better world."

These, my friends, are great words of exhortation
and of promise. And shall they not be fulfilled?
Both he who spoke them, and the leader of those to
whom they were spoken, have laid down their lives in
attestation of their truth, and have entered into their
reward. It remains for us who yet live to follow them



by consecrating onrselves anew to the cause for which
they died, and by carrying on, in Avhatever sphere of
activity we can, the work which they have left unfin-
ished. It was well that our friend who died in battle
for us should be buried with every demonstration of
love and honor, and that his name should be held in
everlasting remembrance by those who wish well to
their country ; and when our brother on the shore of
a distant ocean, amid peaceful pursuits, fell almost as
suddenly at his post of duty, it was well that places of
business should be closed, and flags at half-mast, and a
whole community sorrowing as under a great and
common bereavement in the home of his adoption,
and that here words of tender and reverent commemo-
ration should be uttered. But we shall praise them
best, we shall most truly honor their name and their


Online LibraryJohn Hopkins MorisonDying for our country : a sermon on the death of Capt. J. Sewall Reed and Rev. Thomas Starr King; preached in the first Congregational church in Milton, March 13, 1864 → online text (page 1 of 2)