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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)




      My dear friends, we are assembled here under circumstances peculiarly solemn. It is indeed sad and strange to us to realize that we must "leave the warm precincts of the cheerful day," and resign "this pleasing, anxious being," that we possess in this present life. And how forcibly is this impressed upon us when we stand in the presence of a dear friend whom we have known in life, whose society we have enjoyed, whose hand we have often clasped in friendship, whose kind accents still vibrate in our hearts. It is doubtless well that on such occasions we should pause a few moments to meditate upon an event which touches us so deeply, for the profit of our souls, and to secure, the lesson which it teaches.

      It is known to many present that the beloved departed had been gradually failing in health for a considerable time, and that he had, in consequence, to withdraw, in a good measure, from active labor, both in the college and in the church. In the church, indeed, he had ever manifested his usual willingness to labor to the last, and continued to preach occasionally, though with enfeebled voice, and to attend meetings with his accustomed punctuality. At the close of last October, having exposed himself unduly to the cold morning air, he suffered a severe chill, and was for two or three weeks confined to the house. Recovering from this, however, he appeared again at church, and seemed, as if for the occasion, to have had his mental and bodily vigor so renewed, that he delivered a most interesting and able discourse, with more connection and thought, and with clearer intonation, than he had been able to do for several years. It, in fact, reminded me then of some of the best efforts in his prime. His theme was one upon which he was ever most eloquent--the dignity and glory of Christ and the completeness of his redemption, a fitting subject for the close of his long and faithful ministry of the gospel; for this proved to be his last discourse.

      Soon afterwards, his feebleness increased again. He contracted a cold, and during the month of January was confined to the house, and was under medical treatment. Improving somewhat, and his presence being much desired on the occasion of the ordination of two additional elders of the church at Bethany on the 11th of February, he came over in a buggy, and assisted in the ceremony, making a few [576] appropriate remarks. He had even proposed to deliver a discourse on the occasion, at the opening of the meeting, but his voice was so feeble when he attempted to read out the hymn, that Professor Pendleton, the acting elder, went up and dissuaded him. This solemn occasion was destined to be the last time of his attendance at the house of God.

      His weakness continued to increase gradually. Had slight feverishness, not very regular in character. At night, occasionally, oppressed breathing--seldom any pain--some bronchial irritation and general debility. At times, the presence of particular friends, and the introduction of subjects in which he took a special interest, would rouse him to much of his former vivacity. Such revivings, however, due, doubtless, to the momentary excitement of the intellectual powers, were but transient in their duration, like the beaming forth of the setting sun from amid the clouds of the west. The night, with its privations and sorrows, steadily approached. After some time, appearing faint from the exertion of rising and dressing, his family attendants thought it best for him to remain in bed, to which arrangement, in spite of his desire to be up, he assented with that cheerful acquiescence which he had ever yielded to the wishes of his family and his friends. It was very touching indeed, to see how gently he yielded, during the whole period of his failing health, to the wishes of those about him, denying himself daily his accustomed rambles, to which he seemed still to feel himself entirely equal. No less was it to witness his entire resignation to the will of God, and to hear his frequent expressions of gratitude to God, and admiration for his wondrous works both of nature and of grace.

      Nothing can be more interesting than the records of the parting hours of those who have been distinguished in reference to the future and the unseen. We listen with eagerness to the last words of those who are just on the verge of the spiritual world, and who may be thought to gain and to impart some revelations of its untold secrets. It is, indeed, partly on this account that

"The chamber where the good man meets his fate
  Is privileg'd beyond the common walk
  Of virtuous life--quite in the verge of heaven."

      It was indeed a high privilege to be admitted to witness the Christian graces and the faith and hope of the gospel so fully displayed as during the few closing days of him whose honored remains are now before us. Fully conscious that he had not long to live, he remained cheerful, undismayed, and even joyous, abounding in thanksgiving to God. It was indeed gratifying to see how firm he was in faith, how wonderfully patient in suffering, how wholly free from the slightest murmuring or complaint, or even transient fearfulness. He felt himself engaged, indeed, in a mighty struggle, which was [577] protracted through many days, by the native vigor of his constitution, but lie manifested no symptoms of decay. Suffering little positive pain, though much discomfort, he was still pleased to see his numerous friends day after day as they called to visit him, receiving each with a pleasant smile of recognition, inquiring kindly after their health, and courteously inviting them to a seat near the fire. Characterized as he had ever been by the genial and urbane manners of the true Christian gentleman, he forgot not for one moment his usual habits, but was, throughout all his illness, ever more thoughtful for others than for himself.

      Time will not permit to detail the incidents of the utterances of those days and nights of languishing. At times a brightening gleam of renewed intellectual power. Again a wandering--he was away from home--anxious to be home; yet gently acquiescing in the reply of "Presently." It seemed as if, conscious of the event, the struggle for life had, in his fancy, assimilated itself to the discomforts of a toilsome journey. He longed to be at home--to be at rest--and to have those he loved to go with him. Sometimes awaking from a dose, he surprised those present with his eloquent utterances of sublime and lofty thoughts--appropriate quotations from the Sacred Writings and the Christian poets--joyful confidences in the truths he had believed and taught--sweet memories of his life and labors, traced from youthful days. Thus he gradually sunk--slowly, laboriously, yet patiently, grandly, until during the last day and the night preceding, his exceeding difficulty of enunciation and failing strength disabled him from speaking, unless briefly to thank those who ministered to him for their kind offices. On the Lord's Day he was apparently unconscious, breathing with difficulty and with failing pulse; but as evening came on, his breathing became easier, and at forty minutes past eleven, just as the Lord's Day in which he had always so greatly delighted, was about to close, he too finished his course, and gently expired.

      And now he sleeps. No more shall we behold that intelligent countenance, beaming with a smile of kindly recognition. No more shall we hear that beloved voice in courteous greeting, or in lofty discourse upon themes of eternal interest. No more shall we clasp his friendly hand in love and fellowship. No more shall we see that commanding and venerable form. He sleeps. In the language of the world he is dead, but in the language of the Saviour he only sleeps; for he rests in hope. Death, true death, is separation from God; and hence those who live in the pleasures of the world, are in reality dead, while they live. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth," said Jesus, "and I go that '1 may awake him out of sleep." "I am the resurrection and the life," said he at the ancient Bethany. "He that believeth in me, though [578] he were dead, yet shall he live." "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." Doubtless there is a resemblance between death and sleep. But what is the distinctive point of resemblance? Is it the supposed unconsciousness? Is this seeming unconsciousness real? or are we not conscious of taking rest in sleep? Are there not many states of unconsciousness, as stupor and catalepsy; which are not sleep, and are they not distinguished from sleep by the possibility of awakening? Is it not the possibility and the facility of awakening that is the characteristic of sleep? And if death be sleep, is it not that there is here also an awaking, and that it is so called by the resemblance? Death is indeed a sleep, because there is the hope, yea, the certainty of the awakening. And as we go to sleep, without fear, in the night, because we confidently expect to awake in the morning, refreshed and with all our faculties and feelings, so may we sleep also in Jesus, assured that in the morning of the day that shall "dawn upon the night of the grave," we shall awake in his likeness, and with all our friendships, our sympathies, our characters, our hearts unchanged. This is no theory, but a fact demonstrated by the resurrection of Christ himself with all his former human love for his disciples; his peculiar human sympathies with John; his special regard for Peter; his thoughtful cares and teachings; his parting blessing; his spiritual gifts; his continued intercession.

      Thus has our revered friend and brother fallen asleep in Christ. In regard to his character, it is unnecessary to speak particularly now. His public character is known to the wide world. His name is known--his influence has been felt in tine most distant lands in which our vernacular is spoken. And we all know how incessant have been his labors for the spread of the truth in the earth, and for the promotion of the best interests of humanity. From the hour when, fifty-six years ago, he delivered in a grove on the farm of Major Templeton, eight miles this side of Washington, his first discourse, and fully realized his mission as a proclaimer of the unsearchable riches of Christ, how arduous have been his efforts and how unremitting his toil in the blessed cause of the Redeemer! His text on that first occasion, was the close of, the Sermon on the Mount: "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him to a wise man which built his house on a rock" It was upon that rock of obedience to the divine commandments that he himself ever sought to build, and taught men so; and he has been justly accounted great in the kingdom of heaven. It was for the defense and restoration of the pure primitive gospel and its institutions, that he lived and labored during these eventful years; and we know to how large an extent he has left the impression of his power [579] upon the religious denominations of Christendom, both Catholic and Protestant, as well as on the sceptical and unbelieving world.

      Nor is it necessary to speak of his private character to you, his relatives and friends and neighbors, who have so long known and loved him. No husband, no father could be more affectionate; no neighbor more sympathizing or more kind. There is, however, one trait in his personal character which I must briefly mention as one truly worthy of admiration. I mean his condescension to his inferiors. Possessed himself of the most splendid abilities, the peer of earth's highest and noblest ones, he was ever wont to receive and address the lowest and most ignorant in a manner most courteous and respectful. Realizing as he did the innate dignity of that human nature of which the Son of God took part, he slighted and repulsed no one, however humble in his sphere of life, however rude or uncultivated his mind or manners. He had for all a pleasing word; a kindly greeting; and in all a sincere and heartfelt interest. Often have I admired this beautiful feature among the varied excellencies of his moral nature, revealing the kindliest human sympathy, and rendering him ever a true example of the affability and humility of the Christian. To the young, how engaging he was! How interested in their education and improvement! How earnest to promote their progress and welfare! How sedulous to impart and cultivate moral and religious principle. Alas! it is the grave alone that could silence these kindly counsels, and render that noble nature accessible no more.

      For now he sleeps. In Christ he soundly and sweetly sleeps. As has been sung of one glorious in military renown,

"He sleeps his last sleep; he has fought his last battle
      No sound shall awake him to glory again."

So it is true of our departed brother, that "he sleeps his last sleep," and that "he has fought his last battle"--but he has contended in a far different field from that in which the hero of St. Helena won his renown. He did not "wade through slaughter to a throne," nor "shut the gates of mercy on mankind." He sought a holier crown, a loftier throne, through nobler victories. He opened wide the gates of divine mercy to a perishing and sinful world, and triumphed, not by means of death and human carnage, but by laboring to impart, through the gospel of God's grace, eternal life to men. But it is not true of this Christian hero that "no sound shall wake him to glory again." On the contrary, the voice of the archangel and the trump of God shall awaken this sleeping dust to a glory transcendent beyond expression--to immortal youth and beauty--a crown of life, an inheritance unfading and incorruptible which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to all who have served him faithfully. He will awaken to the rest and blessedness of that heavenly home, for which, while [580] on earth, he longed; to the enjoyment of that pure and elevated society of the redeemed, and to those ineffable joys of the divine presence which his eloquent utterances from the Sacred Writings so often and so vividly portrayed.

      These, beloved friends, are our consolations. And are they not abundantly sufficient to assuage the grief that rises in the heart and gathers to the eyes in tears? Surely in the blessed promises of God; 1.1 the redemption that is in Christ; the restoration of the loved and lost and the realization of all that human hope has sought or God's love granted, we shall find sufficient solace. And what then now remains but that each one of us in his appropriate sphere shall labor, like him who has just preceded us, for the glory of God and the good of humanity? What is our duty but to profit by such examples, and to remember those who have spoken to us the word of God, "considering the end of their conversation; Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day and forever"?


      Robert Richardson. "Address at the Funeral Services of A. Campbell." The Millennial Harbinger 37 (March
1866): 139-144.


[MHA2 576-581]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)