Nathan Sidney Smith Beman.

Thanksgiving in the times of civil war: being a discourse delivered in the First Presbyterian church, Troy, New York, Nov. 28th, 1861 online

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Online LibraryNathan Sidney Smith BemanThanksgiving in the times of civil war: being a discourse delivered in the First Presbyterian church, Troy, New York, Nov. 28th, 1861 → online text (page 1 of 3)
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r. Neman's Cljanksgibrng Sermon.





NOV. 2STI1, 1S61.

BY Nrs/^Sf* BE MAN.

TROY, K . Y . :

1 8 <i 1 .



Troy, November 30th, 1861.

N. S. S. Beman, D. D.,

Jiev. and Dear Sir :

In view of the pleasure afforded by the delivery
of your Sermon, of the 28th inst., upon "Thanksgiving in the Times
of Civil War," we respectfully request a copy of it for publication,
believing that its pure patriotism, and able vindication of the loyal
North, will exert a wide and beneficent influence.

Very respectfully,






Troy, December 2d, 1861.
To J. M. Francis, II. J. King, Datid Cowee, G. V. S. Quackenbcsh,


Gentlemen :

Your request is before me. The Discourse to
which you refer, was prepared for the congregation to which I have
long ministered, and I am gratified that It has been received with
favor. In hopes, that its i)ublication may still further promote the
objects for which it was written, I cheerfully consign it to your

Very respectfully and truly yours,



]' S A L M 115: 16.


These words are taken from a cliarming
divine ode; and they form a gem in this
finished oriental picture. And while this pro-
duction is elevated in its subject-matter, and
presented in the rich strains of Hebrew poetry,
it is not inappropriate to this morning's convo-
cation. The design, or purpose, of its author,
is to inspire gratitude in the hearts of those for
whom it was first written, and afterwards set
to music, and then used in pubhc worship.
The mode in which he would compass this
pious end, is a legitimate and natural one. He
compares the condition of Israel with that of
other nations, and especially in matters pertain-
ing to theology, and tlie natural and necessary


influence of different systems of belief on the
moral and material interests of a people. Their
correct notions of God, not less than tlie provi-
dence of God itself, had made them to differ
from others.

The nations of the world, with all their high
attainments — their philosophy and refinement
— their progress in the arts of peace, and their
skill and achievements in Avar, were blind
idolaters. They had not formed the first con-
ception of an infinite, personal, and spiritual
God. Their deities were "dumb idols." They
were not unfrequently material images in the
form of men, — " silver and gold " and the like,
and frequently of far baser materials. And
while they were furnished w^ith human organs,
and were received and worshiped as gods,
they exercised no powers of life or action.
They were dumb, sightless, deaf, — and were
devoid of the sense of smell and feeling.
Their hands had no executive power, and their
feet were incapable of locomotion. Such gods,
and their makers and worshipers, formed a fit
confraternity. "They that make them are like
unto them; so is ever}^ one tliat trusteth in

But the Hebrews shared a liappier lot. Of
them it is written, "Ye are blessed of the Lord
whit'h made heaven and earth." The discrim-
inating Ibvors which lifted them far above the
summit level of the heathen world, must not
be buried in inglorious silence, but commemo-
rated, by appropriate rites and observances.
And these acts must be national, because a
nation has an organic existence only in the
present world. National devotion, and national
retribution, are restricted to this life, while
immortahty cleaves only to the individual.
" The Lord hath been mindful of us : he will
bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he
will bless the house of Aaron. He will bless
them that fear the Lord, both small and great.
The Lord shall increase you more and more,
you and your children. The heaven, even the
heavens, are the Lord's: but the earth hath he
given to the children of men. The dead"—
whether nations or individuals— "praise not
the Lord, neither they that go down into
silence. But we "—the living, both in .>ur
associated and individual capacity— "will bless
the Lord from this time forth and for ever-


more. Praise ye the Lord." This is strongly
national in its characteristics.

The main drift, or aim, of this inspired song,
is now before us. The text — "The heaven,
even the heavens, are the Lord's: but the earth
hath he given to the children of men," — con-
tains a great thought, in keeping with the spirit
of the whole production, and will furnish the
suggestions for this occasion.

There are two declarations in the passage —
" The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's
— but the earth hath he given to the children
of men," — and both of them must be taken
with certain needful restrictions. "The heaven,
even the heavens, are Jehovah's," not in the
sense, that it is the abode of his own solitary
and exclusive presence and graixleur, while
every other being is barred from its confines.
Angels are there. " The spirits of just men
made perfect," are there. In heaven is the
throne of God, and there is tlie home of his
glory. The law of God is tlie rule in that
world, and the will of God is done there,
universally, invariably, perfectly, and for ever.
It is not, like our world, the place for reclaim-
ing sinners, or of training imperfect moral


agents for eternal life. There is no govern-
ment tliere bnt God's, — and no agency save
his own divine efficiency, and that which
sweetly accords with his gracious and benign
will. In one word, God is all in all, there ;
and this justifies the declaration, that " The
heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's."

Heaven is God's best world, and the human
eye is capable of catcliing a faint glimpse of
its glories, as they are sinned upon by the
light of the scriptures. The pictures of heaven
contained in the Bible, are, for the most part,
combinations formed from elements selected
from the attractive scenes and the brilliant
objects of our world, — and these make their
appeal both to our laitli and imagination. A
man of taste merely, must feel some interest in
the gospel heaven, and a man of a pure heart
and of lofty spiritual aspirations, cannot but
wish to become a citizen of that kingdom
where God is supreme, his will the sole law,
and his glory the master-passion of every heart.
That kingdom is heaven. " The heaven, even
the heavens, are the Lord's." In this sense,
that world is his. His throne stands there, and

those who are like him, kneel down before it.



But the arrangements of God, and his dis-
posals, are not confined to heaven. "The earth
hath he given to the children of men." It was
God's by creative power, and, by his own
choice it became a gift to our race, in all com-
ing generations. The ultimate end of all God's
works, is, no doubt, his own glory. " Thou
art worthy, Lord, to receive glory, and
honor and power: for thou hast created all
things, and for thy pleasure they are and w^ere
created." But in creation, there are many
subordinate ends, and in providence, there are
long trains of connected causes and effects, all
terminating in one ultimate end, and one final
cause. God is that end, and that cause.

On this philosophical principle, we may say
truly, that the earth was made for man, and
given to him and his children. Look at the
record of creation. The seven days employed
in divine construction, by a regular gradation,
culminated in man. He alone wore the divine
image, and to him was given the diadem and
dominion of the earth. This was his patri-
mony from the hand of God. "Be fruitful, and
multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue
it," was the connnand of the munificent donor.



" The earth hath he sriveii to the chihh-en of


This theory appHes to the original creation.
Before sin was conceived on earth, or Adam
fell, this world was designed for man and his
posterity. It was to be theirs through all gen-
erations. Not to the exclusion of God and his
moral government. No. God could give the
earth to men for their own use and purposes,
and yet retain it for his. His ownership, or
property, can be ahenated in no part of his
broad domains. By such an act, he would lay
down -his supremacy, and cease to be God.
While, then, he has "given the earth to the
children of men," he must for ever remain its
physical and moral governor, and will be, its
final judge; " for of him, and through him, and
to him are all things,"

If man had remained loyal, and sin had
never blighted our system, the earth would
have presented a very different picture from
that which now meets the eye. The precise
state of things, must be a matter of conjecture,
rather than certainty. I here see a green-clad
and fruitful earth. Thorns and thistles there
are none. Over head are l)rilliant heavens.


The air that is inhaled is balmy as the breath of
Spring ; and no pestilence floats upon its bo-
som. But these, after all, are the mere append-
ages of a world, — the furniture and decorations
of the superb mansion. The higher perfection
must be looked for in man, the living inhabitant
of this magnificent building, the handy work
of the great architect. Fancy, then, to your-
selves, what our earth, rich and gorgeous, and
fresh from the hand of its maker, must have
been without the stain of human sin upon it, —
one broad illimitable Eden — the primitive
walls removed, and Paradise made universal :
and all this glowing scene lighted up by one
brilliant luminary by day, and by a thousand
lesser, though chaster, diamond lamps by night,
—and you have a very natural conception of
a sinless world, as given to man and his poster-
ity, at least in prospect, as "a goodly heritage."
And, then, if we ascend from the physical to
the intellectual and spiritual, what a race would
have peopled this globe 1 One that would
have appreciated the gift, and honored the
giver. Sin for ever barred access, it would
require but little imagination to teach us what
a world this must have been. The earth, in


accordance with the divine pnrpose, wonld
soon have been replenished and subdued,—
because no adverse elements would have ob-
structed the growth of population, or retarded
the progress of mind, or of productive skill, in
any thing great or good. AYhat nations would
have covered, and cheered with intelligence
and enterprise, the continents and islands which
go to make up our globe! And not a dis-
cordant element among them all. There are
no wars— because no national encroachments
any where exist,— no thefts or robberies are
committed, because there is no avarice to
prompt to such deeds of villainy,— no assas-
sinations, because there is no malice to point
the steel, and nerve the arm, and deal the fatal
)3low,— no disgraceful chains for the felon, for
crime there is none among men,— no slave
ship plows the wave, or slave mart, desecrates
the soil, for every one loves his neighbor as
himself, and cannot become an oppressor: —
and, in one word, in the repulsive forms in
which it now occurs— wo death! Love to God
and love to man are the dominant aftections
every w^here, while human governments are
easily administered, and salutary laws— and


all are siicli — well nigh execute themselves.
The divine mechanism is perfect : and the
moral machine with all its mysterious compli-
cations, moves in harmony.

But for the apostasy, this entire picture, more
highly touched and finished, might have been
seen in our world. The worship of the true
God would liave been universal, and " the
higher law" — God's law — would have been
the basis of all human legislation. The pro-
gress of man would have been restricted to no
definable limits, and this world, in knowledge
and goodness, would have been brought into
near proximity to heaven. A thin partition
wall only would have stood between them.
Little more than a mathematical line, having
length, but no breadth or thickness, would have
separated and distinguished them from each
other, and informed us where the one ended,
and the other began.

But we must look at this gift of God to the
children of men, in relation to the attitude of
things as superinduced by the fall. This origi-
nal grant was not annulled, or revoked, by the
new moral position of our race. The earth is
still their inheritance l)y divine charter. This


is incidentally asserted by Paul in his address
on Mars Hill, at Athens. He tells us, that God
"hath made of one blood all nations of men, for
to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath
determined the times before appointed, and the
bounds of their habitation ; that they should
seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after
him, and find him, though he be not far from
every one of us."

Without attempting a critical analysis of this
passage, I may say, that the following things
are clearly taught, or fairly implied, in the
language here used:— The unity of the human
j,f^ce ; — they are " of one blood." God, in the
beginning, created one human pair, and only
one ; and from these two sprang " all nations."
The whole "face of the earth" was designed
for "their habitation"— whether they should
stand firm in their uprightness, or lapse into
sin. This inheritance was to be free and open
to all ; and all might seek and secure, as re-
sponsible moral agents, the great objects of
human life. Nor was this charter vacated, by
the fall. This fact is assumed by the Apostle.
The same rule was to obtain, and the same
rights to be enjoyed, under the gospel as a


remedial system, as under the primitive law.
Indeed, lie applies tlie principle especially to
the present existing state of the world and its
nations. He made them, and ordered their lot,
as he has, " That they should seek the Lord, if
haply they might feel after him, and find him."
There are certain great princij)les, not less of
morals and religion, than of politics and juris-
prudence, set fortli in the " Declaration of
Independence," which are now characterized,
in certain quarters, for special purposes, as
" rhetorical flourishes," and " glittering general-
ities," that might find their prototype in this
charter of human rights drawn up by Paul,
and announced in the celebrated Areopagus.
If we could trace intuitively the subtle pro-
cesses of thought, and follow its electric flash
from one master-mind to another, we might
feel ourselves not less indebted to the apostle
Paul than to Thomas Jefl'erson, for such foun-
dation principles as these: "We hold these
truths to be self-evident — that all men are
created equal ; that they are endowed by tlieir
Creator with certain unalienable rights ; that
among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. That to secure these rights, gov-


ernments are established among men, deriving
their just powers from the consent of the

The peophng of the earth, according to the
purpose of God, presents a fruitful subject of
research, as a matter of history, — and the
origin, growth, and subversion of empires, are
not less so, as matters of profound philosophy.
But these cannot be disposed of in a single
sermon. Both of them — only as they occur
incidentally — must be passed in silence.

That God intended men to occvipy his gift,
by settling the earth and cultivating it, may be
learned not only :^rom the fact, that he uttered
a command to this eifect, but when they were
slow to obey this command, and seemed deter-
mined to cluster around their birth-place and
their cradle, and live and die there, he wrought
a special miracle for their dispersion. This
miracle was the origin of nations. How far
the physical elements of different countries
contributed to form and perpetuate national
characteristics, I must not inquire now. Their
influence was, no doubt, great, if not para-
mount; but 1 have other things in view to-day.

The gift of the earth to " the children of


men," was a munificent one, and a benevolence
not second to the gift itself, characterized the
donation. I speak of the earth now, as pro-
spectively a fallen sphere — where adverse pas-
sions would meet in sad conflict, and where
dependent moral agents, under the government
of God, must solve the great problems of life,
and work out an immortal destiny. Look at
the charter again. "The earth hath he given to
the children of men." And in other and new
circumstances too, adapted to the present state
of things, as cited by Paul : "And hath made
of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on
all the face of the earth."

Peace and not war, on these principles,
should have been the normal state of man; and
the arts of peace, and not the tactics and
achievements of war, should have called forth
his best powers, and constituted his great life-
work. How far this has been the case, may be
judged of by such facts as these. Human his-
tory is little else than a record of sieges and
battles. Take a few specimens touching the
destruction of life by this one agency.

"Do you ask, then, for an epitome of tlie
havoc war has made of human life ? In the


Russian campaign there perished in less than
six months nearly half a million of French
alone, and perhaps as many more of their
enemies. Napoleon's wars sacrificed full six
millions, and all the wars consequent on the
French Revolution, some nine or ten millions.
The Spaniards are said to have destroyed in
forty -two years more than twelve millions of
American Indians. The wars in the time of
Sesostris cost 15.000.000 hves; those of Semir-
amis, Cyrus, and Alexander, ten milhons each ;
those of Alexander's successors, 20.000.000.
Grecian wars sacrificed 15.000.000; Jewish
wars, 25.000.000; the wars of the twelve
Caesars, 30.000.000 in all; the wars of the
Roman empire, of the Saracens, and the Turks,
60.000.000 each ; the wars of the Reformation,
30.000.000; those of the Middle Ages, and the
nine Crusades in two centuries, 40.000.000
each; those of the Tartars, 80.000.000; those
of Africa 100.000.000 ! If we take into con-
sideration," says the learned Dr. Dick, "the
number, not only of those who have fallen in
battle, but of those who perished by the nat-
ural consequences of w^ar, it will not perhaps
be overrating the destruction of human life, if


we affirm, that one-tenth of the human race has
been destroyed by the ravages of war ; and,
according- to this estimate, more than fourteen
thousand millions of human beings have been
slaughtered in war since the beginning of the
world." Edmund Burke went still further,
and reckoned the sum total of its ravao-es from
the first, at no less than thirty-jive thousand
millions ! ! *

These few facts, selected from many of the
like character, show that war has been the
great business of our wretched world.

The primitive dispersion of our race, not only
peopled the earth, but each separate tribe, or
distinct family, formed the basis of a national
organization. This fact may be distinctly
traced by the lights of ancient history. And
not only so, but this arrangement was vital to
the interests of human progress. The expand-
ing race could no more form one vast nation,
and live, to advantage, under one consolidated
dynasty, than a great city, like London or
Paris, could be included in the same family
circle, and live liappily and profitably under
one shelterino' roof Human or-overnment now

*See BeckwithV Poaco Manual, p. p. 41, 42.


for the first time, becomes a necessity. Before
this event, little more existed, or was needed,
than the nnwritten laAV of the patriarch of the
home circle. And it is not at all strange, that
there should be some diversity, in the primitive
form and administration of government, — com-
mencing with the more absolute, because the
more simple, and becoming more liberal and
popular, as men became more intelligent and
active. Civil government was ordained of
God, — but the type and form w^ere not. —
These are incidentals, and not essentials, of
the system. They are among the preroga-
tives secured to beings who wear their Maker's
image, by the ordinance of heaven. Govern-
ment there should be, and must be, or God is
botli disobeyed, and dishonored, — but the form
is left to the option and agency of man. And
notwithstanding the storms which are beating
upon the frame-work of our Republic, at this
day, and subjecting the sohdity of the basis
and the strength of the superstructure to a
severe test — I stand wliere I ever have stood,
the declared and unwavering advocate of a
free, elective government. But this position
may need some explanations before I close.


Any citizen has a rig-ht to demand a defence,
or an apology.

In glancing the eye over the map of nations,
and estimating their position and advantages,
and their material resources, we find special
cause for gratitude to the sovereign disposer
for his munificence to us, as a people. It is
not necessary to affirm, that we possess every
thing, and other nations, nothing. This is a
vain boast of which we have had too much.
It is unseemly before men, and offensive to
heaven. But if we look at all the elements
which go to make up the glory of a country,
what other national inheritance can compare
with ours t Think of its broad and extended
area, the fertility of its soil, the variety of its
products, the salubrity of its climate, and the
picturesque beauty and grandeur of its scenery,

— lakes, prairies, rivers, forests, mountains: and
all these, too, on a scale to be found no where
else — gigantic in their magnificence — delight-
fully combined and intermingled in the picture

— displaying light and shade, and presenting
an outline, a filling up, and a coloring, no
where else to be seen on the surfjice of this
great globe.


Nor are these physical elements our chief
distinctions. This fair field was planted with
the best seed-corn of Europe — carefully select-
ed and well winnowed, before it was dropped
into the virgin soil. And, then, the harvest
which it has for the most part spread out in
the sun-light of heaven, has been truly cheer-
ing. During most of our history, war has
disturbed us but little, while industry and the
arts of peace, have wrought changes in the
United States which may challenge a terres-
trial parallel. I need not tell you of the
primeval forests which have been felled, and
the broad acres which have been laid open to
the sun, and been subjected to the plow-share,
yielding a rich return, — how villages have
studded the valleys, and farm-houses starred
the mountain sides, and cities sprung up, like
miagic, along the coast, and on the margin of
the great rivers, — nor how our merchant ves-
sels have whitened and beautified every sea, —
and, on their return, poured the wealth of
nations into our lap. A hint is enough, and
the activities of meuioi'y are stirred up, and all
is before you. And our commonwealth, espe-
cially, has shared, without stint, in these smiles


of heaven, on our land. This Autumnal Fes-
tival, is a fit occasion for our thankoffering
as a people. " Praise ye the Lord."

But here a grave question presents itself, in
connection with the existing attitude of our
country. We are involved in a civil war —
the worst of all wars of course, — and there
are men so intensely absorbed by one idea,
that they doubt whether we are called upon to
lift up the joyous note of thanksgiving for any
thing we have left. This is a narrow view of
a broad subject. A sad picture, it is true,
meets the eye, but all is not lost. We have a
government yet, and I trust in heaven, that
government will stand. It is not at all strange,
that the crowned heads and starred shoulders
of the old Avorld, should turn a leering look
upon us in the day of our adversity. They
have never forgiven us for the rash act of
achieving our own independence. They have
been looking, for half a century, for our down-
fall, — and many of them have died without
the sight. I hope many more may follow in

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Online LibraryNathan Sidney Smith BemanThanksgiving in the times of civil war: being a discourse delivered in the First Presbyterian church, Troy, New York, Nov. 28th, 1861 → online text (page 1 of 3)