Peter Thacher.

A sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 online

. (page 32 of 51)
Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 32 of 51)
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sequences of its denial, which are alike unworthy of the
true Grod, and ruinous to Christian character, future enjoy-
ment, and present hope and comfort : 12-19. Then, re-
suming the fact before proved, he develops its blessed re-
sults to the members of Christ's mystical body, in their
future life and happiness, contrasted with the unhappy ef-
fects of natural connection with the fallen parents of man-
kind, and also in their present spirituality of character :

The doctrine thus brought forward in a manner so lumi-
nous and impressive, is then illustrated from the vegetable,
the animal, and the natural world in general ; each of
which, in its respective peculiarities, sanctions by analogy
the grand Christian principle of progress and change, even
to the point of resurrection. Thus the imperfect becomes
complete, the weak strong, the merely physical and animal
essentially spiritual. In a word, the feeble, miserable, de-
caying, dying children of frail, sinning Adam, become the
happy, powerful, ever living and enduring brethren of the
glorified Redeemer, and " sons of G-od being sons of the
resurrection" (Heb. ii. 11 ; Luke xx. 36) : 35-50. No won-

der, then, that the bright mind of the " chosen witness"
(Acts xxii. 14, 15) bursts out in the exclamation, " Behold,
I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we
shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an
eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet shall sound, and
the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be
changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption,
and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this
corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal
shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass
the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in vic-
tory!" 51-54. And no wonder that he concludes his mas-
terpiece of composition by an ascription of " thanks to
Grod," and the most natural and powerful exhortation to his
" beloved brethren," to " be steadfast, unmoveable, always
abounding in the work of the Lord :" 57, 58.

The departure hence of our long known and much
venerated friend and brother, which has caused our present
meeting, having been the occasion, also, of a former reli-
gious service in this house of God, when, in accordance
with the judicious and long established usage of our
Church, the portion of Scripture just noted was read, for
Christian instruction, consolation, and hope, and the asso-
ciation in our minds of that solemn event with the great
topic of our Lord's resurrection from the dead and triumph
over all the powers of darkness, having consequently be-
come the more intimate, will sufficiently account for the
selection of the text. It is hoped that the few remarks in-

tended to be founded thereon, will not be regarded as inap-

" Christ the first fruits ; afterward they that are Christ's
at his coming,"

The holy Apostle expresses his idea in figurative lan-
guage. It is taken from the natural productions of a culti-
vated soil, and is sanctified, also, by an allusion to the di-
vine law of Moses, which appropriated the first gatherings
of the ripened grain as an offering to the bountiful Father
who, with characteristic generosity, had given the whole
harvest to his earthly creatures : Levit. xxiii. 10, 11.
" The Son of Grod," who had come down from heaven
and taken upon him the nature of man, who had passed
through his earthly pilgrimage, marked by the deepest hu-
miliation, who had suffered death upon the cross, allowed
his body to be committed to the silent tomb, and his soul
to remain separated from the constant companion of its
earthly existence — does, in his humanity, rise again to a
new, glorious, and never ending life. " Being raised from
the dead, Christ dieth no more ; death hath no more domin-
ion over him :" Rom. vi. 9. He rises, not to pass the
time of his newly acquired life in going about again on
earth, but soon to ascend " far above all heavens," and to
take his most honorable position " on the right hand of the
Majesty on high :" Eph. iv. 10 ; Heb. 1. 3.

" Christ the first fruits." Thus risen, ascended, and ex-
alted " far above all principality and power" (Eph. i. 2 ),

has the glorified Saviour ceased all action in reference to
the eternal salvation of those for whom he once conde-
scended to " humble himself even to the death of the
cross ?" Phil. ii. 8. 0, no ! His language to the Apostles,
just before his sufferings, does itself imply the very con-
trary : " I go to prepare a place for you. Because I live,
ye shall live also :" John xiv. 1, 2, 19. In his elevated
condition as Lord of the universe, he ever bears in mind
that " eternal purpose and will of Grod," to do which he
" came down from Heaven:" Eph. iii. 11; Heb. x. 11:
John vi. 38. His it is to raise up to a participation in their
Master's glory " them that are Christ's," and thus at his
future coming to reward his followers. For this we have
his promise thrice repeated on one occasion during his so-
journ on earth, when, with incomparable earnestness of ex-
pression and profundity of thought, he was inculcating the
absolute necessity of a spiritual union with himself. " I
will raise him up at the last day :" John vi. 40, 44, 54.
And to accomplish this result of his mediatorial action, does
he direct the efforts of his glorified life.

The elevated Messiah is represented both in Old Testa-
ment prophecy and in apostolic instructions, as exerting
the influence of his authority over the whole world. " The
Heathen" are his promised "inheritance, and the utmost
parts of the earth his possession. He shall have dominion
from sea to sea, and unto the ends of the earth. All
kings shall fall down before him, all nations shall serve
him. Jehovah will send thy mighty sceptre out from Zion,


and thou shalt be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
The creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of
corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God :"
Ps. ii. 8, lxxii. 8, 11, ex. 2 ; Isa. xlix. 6 ; Acts xiii. 47 ;
Rom. viii. 21. Many are the forms of human government
which develop themselves according to the mental, moral,
spiritual and physical condition of the subjects. Constant
are the changes which in the progress of human society are
ever taking place. States and empires are continually rising,
tottering, and falling, and others are springing up in their
place, to be subjected to similar mutations. To a merely
casual and superficial observer, the fluctuations to which
humanity, in its numerous forms of existence, is liable,
may seem to produce no other result but a return of the
very same previously existing state of things ; and indeed
occasionally the movement may appear to be retrograde.
But tins is not so. The thoughtless, dreamy looker-on, as
he reclines on the swelling ocean's bank, and sees the
breakers dashing against the shore, and, by the force of the
stroke, driven back again with impetuosity to the wide
and raging deep, may lie still without perceiving the grad-
ual but habitual advance of the rising tide, until its watery
billows drive him from his sandy couch, and make him see
that they are covering the extended shore with their inun-
dations. Slow may be the process. But it is as sure as
the daily progress of the sun in the heavens, breaking out
of morning mists and clouds, till, scattering all shadowy
opposition, he reaches the zenith of his glory, and spreads
far and wide the light and heat of his radiance. And the


same is true respecting the human race. Onward is the
divine motto, and the condition of every generation is an
advance over that of the preceding. Doubtless, in the his-
tory of man, improvement, especially moral and religious,
is very gradual, and at certain times and in some depart-
ments may be at a stand, and even fall back. But such
facts are only exceptions to the general course of Provi-
dence, and also occasional, and rather tend to confirm the
truth of the principle. It should never be forgotten, that
he who holds in his hand the sceptre of the universe is the
infinite and eternal and almighty Omniscient. All things,
past, present, and to come, the most minute and the most
immeasurable, are alike open to his eyes, and each in its
peculiar adaptation is an agent to effect his will. His
course of action, therefore, must not be judged by the rules
which apply to the weaklings of an hour. With him " a
thousand years are as one day :" 2 Pet. iii. 8. Influences
now existing shall doubtless be made efficacious in ad-
vancing the good of Grod's creation millions of ages to

The truth and importance of the position laid down
might easily be shown by developments of history, both
civil and religious, particularly by the missionary efforts
of Christ's church, from its original establishment until
the present day, and especially during the last half
century. But to do this is not my purpose, neither would
it consist with the special object for which we are now
convened. Let us pass on, therefore, in thought, and with


the spirit of faith, to the grand and fundamental truth
impressed upon us by the latter portion of the text:
" Afterward they that are Christ's at his coming."

It cannot be denied, nor ought it ever to be forgotten,
that the satisfactions of the present state of being, are
innumerable. And they are the more likely to be enjoyed
and then abandoned to oblivion, because they are of such
frequent occurrence, and, like daily sunshine, are con-
stantly received with apparent indifference. Yet, on the
other hand, its imperfections and multiplied sorrows are
matters of general experience. Looking back upon the
longest life, it appears like a day, the brightness of which
is ever and anon obscured by clouds and mists of evil.
At last comes on the evening close, and death shuts the
eyes to every earthly object. In its present condition of a
descendant of Adam, what event can be so solemn as
death ? It is the separation of soul and body ; the
removal of companions, connected by innumerable ties,
intimately associated by the nearest of all affinities. It is
the termination of earthly life, the dissolution of a union
closer than even the most affectionate of human rela-
tions. Then must all objects be left, however dearly
they may have entwined themselves about our hearts.
The half executed purpose, the design just planned, must
be relinquished. Death summons, and we cannot disobey.
It is the entrance of the soul on a state of existence
respecting the particular character of which, notwith-
standing the light of the Crospel, we know but little, and


of the body on a process of corruption. These are con-
siderations, which throw around the death-bed even of the
true believer a degree of awful solemnity, which cannot
be set aside, and must make a deep impression of shrink-
ing reluctance to depart. The desire of life is reasonable.
The distress of Hezekiah on the announcement of its
termination, and the prayer of the Psalmist, " spare me,
that I may recover my strength before I go hence,"
(Isa. xxxviii. 3, Ps. xxxix. 13,) are nothing but the work-
ings of nature. And although to the Christian, who by faith
and repentance has secured an interest in that redemption
which the Grospel reveals, it is declared that " there is now
no condemnation" (Rom. viii. 1) ; yet the ignorance of
nature and the weakness of faith will sometimes keep the
sincerest in a state of uneashiess.

Nevertheless, strengthening faith reconciles the man to
his lot, and disposes him to resign both soul and body into
the hands of Him who made and placed them here. A
full confidence in the goodness of (rod, and a recognition
of Him as a reconciled Father, through his " well beloved
Son," together with a firm belief in the doctrine of Him
who is " the resurrection and the life" (John, xi. 25), that
with (rod both body and soul are ever living under his
superintending care, that death is but the transition point
to a state of settled felicity, and that the time shall most
assuredly come when the risen body, reunited to the soul,
shall be glorified, and the whole man become everlastingly
happy, are sufficient, by the grace of Grod, to make the


Christian concur with the will of his Maker, and respond
to the call, " Surely I come quickly ! Even so come,
Lord Jesus !" Rev. xxii. 20.

The words, " They that are Christ's, at his coming,"
affirm the future resurrection of the members of his mysti-
cal body. It is true, indeed, that, in a certain sense, all
created beings are Christ's, for He is the universal Lord.
But they only are entitled to this honorable appellation,
who are properly united to him. None others can possibly
be intended, for of none others is the phraseology ever
employed. Their character, spiritual associations, and
condition, are determined by scriptural language. " They
that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affec-
tions and lusts :" Gal. v. 24. Although indeed we are
elsewhere taught, that " all who are in the grave shall
hear his voice, and shall come forth, they that have done
good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done
evil unto the resurrection of damnation" (John, v. 28, 29),
yet it is the blessed resurrection of the saints to which, in
the chapter before us, the Apostle directs attention. And
in this he imitates the teaching of his Master, who speaks
of those that shall be raised from the dead, as " the sons
of Grod, and equal unto the angels :" Luke, xx. 36. And
doubtless it was this which the earnest disciple expressed
his hope to secure, when he tells us of his laborious efforts,
"if by any means he might attain unto the resurrection
from the dead :" Phil. iii. 11. Indeed, this view pervades
the whole discourse addressed to the Corinthians, and


shows how beautifully appropriate is its use on the occa-
sions for which the Church has reserved it. As Christ, the
Head, is " the first fruits," so the true spiritual members,
" they that are Christ's," constitute the glorious harvest?
which shall rise in all its celestial magnificence, at the
future coming of Him " who shall judge the quick and
the dead :" 2 Tim. iv. 1.

The doctrine of the resurrection is a revealed truth.
Ancient philosophers so called regarded it not merely as
untrue, but worthy only of scorn and contempt. Imagin-
ing moral evil to be necessarily associated with matter,
they held that the expectation of a future re-union of the
body with the soul was nothing better than a hope for
worms. The Athenians listened to the eloquent and bold
defender of the truth, on Mars' Hill, until he spake of
Christ's resurrection. Then " some mocked and others
said, We will hear thee again :" Acts, xvii. 32. It would
seem from the Apostle's statement respecting the error of
certain persons who maintained " that the resurrection
was passed already," (2 Tim. ii. 18,) that some figurative
or mystical meaning must have been put upon this
Christian truth. And it is not improbable that the
Corinthians, whom their spiritual father reproves in the
words, " Some of you have not the knowledge of (rod ; I
speak this to your shame," (ver. 34) — had fallen into the
same error. Unhappily, it continued for a long time
afterward to exert its influence.* This want of faith in

• Sea Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians, sections 23-26.


the doctrine of the resurrection spring's from ignorance of
the power of Grod :" Matt. xxii. 29. To this source may-
be traced all the objections which have been ascribed to
philosophy. It has been argued, that the same body
which is now animated by its living principle cannot be
hereafter raised, because, at no one period of its earthly
sojourn was it identically the same as at any other ; and
after its separation from the soul, it moulders, decays,
changes, passes into other substances, becomes vegetable
matter, may be eaten even by men, and thus form part of
the substance of other human bodies. All this is true.
But every one of Adam's posterity possesses a personal
identity. Although every day, and every hour, and indeed
every moment, he is undergoing some change, so that both
physically and mentally he never consists of the same
identical partioles which constituted him at any previous
time ; yet he is conscious that he was, still is, and will
continue to be, himself and none else. There is some-
thing peculiar to each individual, however undescribable,
which distinguishes him from every other of his race. To
God's all penetrating eye this element cannot possibly be
hidden. And wherever in the vast regions of creation
with which human beings can come in contact, this essen-
tial constituent of individuality may be, thence can the
omniscient and almighty One take it, and give it its only
right appropriation. However many and great may be the
changes it undergoes, it ever exists, and suffers no annihi-
lation. And the Omnipotent can develop it into the
noblest and most glorious habitation for the same soul


which dwelt in it on earth. All the transformations which
it may undergo, preparatory to its glorified state, cannot
destroy its identity. The same grain which is sown in
the ground, rises from its earthy sepulchre, not indeed
" bare grain," but " clothed upon" with " its own body,"
nobly and beautifully prepared with such accretions as the
Creator may choose to furnish. And thus also shall it be
with the resurrection body of " those that are Christ's."
Like the soul, in its natural sinful, and in its regenerated
holy state, it is still in each development of its being one
and the same thing. Now, indeed, it is corruptible, dis-
honored, weak, natural, earthy ; yet, hereafter, it shall
become incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual, heav-
enly. Then the associations and connections of earthly
physical nature shall no longer have any existence.
" Death hath no more dominion." And, consequently,
the precursors of death, pain, sickness, disease in every
form and variety of present triumph, shall be forever
unknown. " Equal unto the angels," humanity in its
future state shall be holy, sinless, energetic, " excelling in
strength to do God's commandments :" Ps. ciii. 20. At
the resurrection, the state of sonship shall become com-
plete. Here the regeneration is but commenced. Then
it shall have attained a state of perfection, that ultimate
adoption for which they who have now " the first fruits of
the Spirit" are still waiting the final result of the Almighty
Deliverer's action on the persons of the saved, namely,
" the redemption of our body :" Rom. viii. 23.

My Brethren : The thoughts to which your attention



has been directed are naturally associated with the re-
moval from this world of our reverend friend and
Christian father, from respect to whose memory we are
now assembled. Fact develops the truth that "all flesh
is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of
the field :" Isaiah, xl. 6. The summer growth fades
and withers away, and its splendid beauty is too often
forgotten, as the blasts and cold of approaching winter
absorbs the senses in present feeling. One generation
forgets the past, attracted by some imaginary future,
on which its longing eye fixes the ardent gaze.

To the departed, whatever may be his condition, it is
of no consequence whether he is here remembered or for-
gotten. All such minor interests are lost in those which
are infinitely greater. Multitudes of the most excellent
ones of the earth have indeed left behind them no com-
memorative name. No marble monument, raising its lofty
and magnificent front, proclaims to posterity their
merited praise. But, which is vastly better, the influence
of their practical virtues has left its enduring image and
superscription on the improved state of society ; and,
which is most desirable of all, their names are written
and stand out in prominent characters in that Book of
Life, which in the great future day shall be opened wide
to the universe. Yet even in this imperfect state it is
the order of Providence that the memory of many a good
man shall be preserved for the benefit of posterity, for
the satisfaction of those who in life were his most in-


timate companions, and for a partial reward of virtue, a
reward the more agreeable as dispensed not to the
individual himself, but to his best and most worthy
associates. The due commemoration of departed excel-
lence is in itself proper, and has been practised in all
ages and countries. In support of this action, which
harmonizes with the laudable feelings of natural friend-
ship, we have the weight of scriptural example and
positive authority. " Whatsoever things were written
aforetime were written for our learning" (Rom. xv. 4), and
therefore the character of Abraham, "the friend of God,"
(2 Chron. xx. 7, Isaiah, xli. 8,) and of other ancient
worthies, is held out by St. Paul in the eleventh Chapter of
the Hebrews, as an honorable attestation of excellence, and
a perpetual example of religion and faith. True is the wise
man's saying — " The memory of the just is blessed ; but
the name of the wicked shall rot," Prov. x. 7 : and true
also is the Psalmist's declaration — " The righteous shall
be had in everlasting remembrance :" Psalm cxii. 6.

In accordance with these views and feelings, I desire
to say a few words respecting one whom it has been
my privilege to know and admire upwards of forty years.
It is not my purpose to go into detail, but merely to
state some prominent facts and traits of character.*

* The brief notice of Dr. Wilson's father was obtained chiefly from the
following publications : " Encyclopedia Americana," Article — James
"Wilson. — " Alexander Graydon's Memoirs of his own Time," edited by
John Stockton Littell ; 8vo. Phil. : Lindsay and Blakiston, 1846. — " His-
tory of the Origin, Formation, and Adoption of the Constitution of the
United States," by George Ticknor Curtis ; 8yo., 2 vols. Harper and
Brothers, N". Y., 1854. In this work, Judge Wilson is very favorably


The Rev. Bird Wilson was the son of a gentleman
of Scotland who was horn in 1742. The Hon. James
Wilson was educated at Glasgow, St. Andrew's and
Edinburgh, and in part under the supervision of Drs.
Blair and Robertson, men universally celebrated for
superior talent and learning. Soon after his arrival at
Philadelphia, in the year 1766, he became a tutor in the
College, and acquired a high reputation as a classical
scholar. Entering on legal practice, first at Reading, and
afterward at Carlisle, his abilities and acquisitions soon
made him conspicuous. In 1775, he was elected a
member of Congress. Being a uniform advocate of
American Independence, he signed the well known Dec-
laration. In 1787, he was a member of the Convention
which framed the Constitution of the United States, and
one of the Committee that reported the draft. Two
years after he was appointed by Washington a Judge

mentioned. The following extracts will show how highly he was appre-
ciated : " The life of this wise, able, and excellent man, was comparatively
short. The character of his mind and the sources of his influence, will be
best appreciated by examining some of the more striking passages of his ,
great speech on the Constitution." This is followed by a note, covering
fourteen closely printed pages, all of which is quoted from the speech
referred to ; vol. i., pp. 462, et seg. In vol. ii., p. 520, he is represented
as " one of the wisest and ablest of the framers of the Constitution."

For the few biographical statements respecting his son, I am indebted
chiefly to private information, obtained from the most reliable sources-
For the reader's satisfaction, I will mention the names of the Hon. Horace
Binney, and the Rev. Jehu C. Clay, D. D., who for a time was rector of
the Church at JSTorristown while Dr. Wilson was one of its wardens, and
also that of Miss Hollingsworth, the Doctor's niece, who resided with him
the greater part of the time that he lived in New- York. The kindness of
these gentlemen and this most estimable lady in replying to my request for
information, is hereby respectfully acknowledged.


of the Supreme Court. He died at the age of fifty-six,
leaving behind him three volumes of political and legal
disquisitions, highly valued by intelligent men.

The son inherited his father's talent, and in due time
made himself equally conspicuous. Born January 8, 1777,
he graduated at the University of Pennsylvania, then

Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 32 of 51)