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"Sermons by Henry Ward Beecher.” Copyright, Harper & Brothers. Reprinted with permission. By HENRY WARD BEECHER.
OW in the place where he was crucified there
was a garden, and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus.”—John xix. 41, 42.
“And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulcher."-Matt. xxvii. 61.
There is a sepulcher in every garden. We are all of us in this life seeking for beauty and seeking for joy, following the blind instincts of our nature, every one of which was made to point up to something higher than that which the present realizes. We are often, almost without aim, without any true guidance, seeking to plant this life so that it shall be to us what a garden is. And we seek out the fairest flowers, and will have none but the best fruits. Striving against the noxious weed, striving against the stingy soil, striying against the inequalities of the season, still these are our hope. They who build a home and surround themselves with all the sweet enjoyments of social life are but planting a garden. The scholar has his garden. The statesman, too, has a fancied Eden with fruit and flower. The humble, and those that stand high, are all of them seeking to clothe the barren experiences of this world with buds that blossom, blossoms that shall bear fruit. No man sees the sepulcher among his flowers.
It is the hope and expectation of men, the world over (and it makes no difference what their civilization is, what their culture, or what their teaching), that they shall plant their garden, and have flowers without thorns, summer without a winter, a garden without a rock, a rock without a sepulcher!
It makes very little difference that we see other men's delusions. Nay, we stand upon the wall of our particular experience, as upon the walls of a garden, to moralize upon the follies of other men. And when they have their hands pierced in plucking their best fruits, when disappointments come to their plantings, we wonder that they should be so blind as to expect that this world could have joys without sorrows, or sunshine without storms. We carry instructions to them, and comfort them with the talk that this life is short and full of affliction; we speak to them of the wreaths to be worn by those who bear sorrows; and yet we go as fondly and expectantly to our dream of hope as ever.
And thus men live as they have lived, every man making his life a garden planted; every man saying, “Flowers! flowers! flowers!” and when they come, every man saying, “They shall abide; they shall blossom in an endless summer.” And we go round and round the secret place, the central place—we go round and round the point where in every man's experience there is a sepulcher--and we heed it not, and will not know it.
But, in spite of all this care and painstaking, there is no garden in the world, let it be as beautiful as it may, that has not in the midst of it a sepulcher. There is no man that is sure of anything except of dying and living again. We see on every side such revelations, such changes, such surprises, such unexpected happenings and events, that it is not mere poetical moralizing to say that no man is certain of anything except death, to be succeeded by life.
A plow is coming from the far end of a long field, and a daisy stands nodding, and full of dew-dimples. That furrow is sure to strike the daisy. It casts its shadow as gaily, and exhales its gentle breath as freely, and stands as simple, and radiant, and expectant as ever; and yet that crushing furrow, which is turning and turning others in its course, is drawing near, and in a moment it whirls the heedless flower with sudden reversal under the sod!
And as is the daisy, with no power of thought, so are ten thousand thinking sentient flowers of life, blossoming in places of peril and yet thinking that no furrow of disaster is running in towards them—that no iron plow of trouble is about to overturn them.
When, then, our sorrow comes, when we are in the uninstructed surprise of our trouble, when we first discover this sepulcher in our garden, we sit, as these women sat, over against the sepulcher, seeing, in our grief, nothing else but that. How strangely stupid is grief! How it neither learns nor knows, nor wishes to learn nor know! Grief is like the stamping of invisible ink.
Great and glorious things are written with it, but they do not come out till they are brought out. It is not until heat has been applied to it, or until some chemical substance has been laid upon it, that that which was invisible begins to come forth in letter, and sentence, and meaning. In the first instance we see in life only death-we see in change destruction. When the sisters sat over against the door of the sepulcher, did they see the two thousand years that have passed triumphing away? Did they see anything but this: "Our Christ is gone"? And yet your Christ and my Christ came from their loss; myriad, myriad mourning hearts have had resurrection in the midst of their grief; and yet the sorrowful watchers looked at the seed-form of this result and saw nothing. What they regarded as the end of life was the very preparation for coronation; for Christ was silent that he might live again in tenfold power. They saw it not. They looked on the rock, and it was rock. They looked upon the stone door, and it was the stone door that estopped all their hope and expectation. They mourned, and wept, and went away, and came again, drawn by their hearts, to the sepulcher. Still it was a sepulcher, unprophetic, voiceless, lusterless.
So with us. Every man sits over against the sepulcher in his garden, in the first instance, and says, "It is grief; it is woe; it is immedicable trouble. I see no benefit in it. I will take no comfort from it." And yet, right in our deepest and worst mishaps, often and often, our Christ is lying, waiting for resurrection. Where our death seems to be, there our Saviour is. Where the end of hope is, there is the brightest begin. ning of fruition. Where the darkness is thickest, there the bright, beaming light that never is to set is about to emerge.
When the whole experience is consummated, then we find that a garden is not disfigured by a sepulcher. Our joys are made better if there be a sorrow in the midst of them, and our sorrows are made bright by the joys that God had planted around about them. The flowers may not be pleasing to us, they may not be such as we are fond of plucking, but they are heartflowers, Love, hope, faith, joy, peace--these are flowers which are planted around about every grave that is sunk in a Christian heart.
THE USE AND ABUSE OF PROPERTY.
WANT to talk to you of the attitude that should
properly be observed by legislators, by executive officers, toward wealth, and the attitude that should be observed in return by men of means, and especially by corporations, toward the body politic and toward their fellow-citizens.
I utterly distrust the man of whom it is continually said: "Oh, he's a good fellow, but, of course, in politics, he plays politics." It is about as bad for a man to profess, and for those that listen to him by their plaudits to insist upon his professing something which they know he cannot live up to, as it is for him to go below what he ought to do, because if he gets into the habit of lying to himself and to his audience as to what he intends to do, it is certain to eat away his moral fibre.
He won't be able then to stand up to what he knows ought to be done. The temptation of the average politician is to promise everything to the reformers and then to do everything for the organization. I think I can say that, whatever I have promised on the stump or off the stump, either expressly or impliedly, to either organization or reformers, I have kept my promise; and I should keep it just as much if the reformers disapproved, and vice versa.
A public man is bound to represent his constituents, but he is no less bound to cease to represent them when, on a great moral question, he feels that they are taking the wrong side. Let him go out of politics rather than stay in at the cost of doing what his own conscience forbids him to do.