Christ and Decoration (Memorial) Day

A Decoration Day Sermon by I. J. Spencer

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind and with all thy strength.
The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. —
Mark 12: 30, 31.

 

WHY connect the name of Christ with Decoration
Day? Because we should love Him with all
the heart, mind, soul and strength; and because what-
soever we do we should do in the name of the Lord
Jesus, ” bringing every thought into captivity to him.”

The thirtieth of May is a national holiday, and in
observing it we make it a holy day by the Christian
consideration of the welfare of our country, while at
the same time we honor the memory of those who
sacrificed their lives in response to their nation’s call.
Our patriotism and religion should be conjoined.

President “Washington, in his farewell address, pre-
sented three particular cautions with respect to Amer-
ica’s future, which we may at this time recall with
profit. He said that the unity of government is the
main pillar of our independence and tranquility at
home and abroad. He declared that ‘^ against this
point in our political fortress the batteries of internal
and external enemies will be constantly directed.” He
urged that, as of infinite moment, we should cherish
it as ”’the palladium of our political safety and pros-
perity, watching for its preservation with jealous anxi-

135

 

136 SPECIAL SERMONS

ety, and indignantly frowning upon every attempt to
alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or
to enfeeble the sacred ties that now link together the
various parts.”

He then warned against such geographical distinc-
tions as North, South, East and West, which, by fos-
tering ideas of separate interests and character, are
calculated ^’to weaken the bonds of our union and to
create prejudices, if not antipathies, dangerous to its
existence. ‘ ‘

The church, too, should keep ^Hhe unity of the
Spirit in the bond of peace” and not foster division
among its members. A united church — ^united in
spirit, purpose and function — is eminently to be de-
sired for the sake of the unity of our Government,
as well as for other spiritual reasons. The church is
of incalculable value in the leadership and progress
of the nation.

Washington also earnestly recommended implicit
”obedience to law” as one of the fundamental
duties ”enjoined by the maxims of liberty.” He
said: “The very right of the people to establish
government presupposes the duty of every individual
to obey the established government.” He denounced
all combinations and associations under whatsoever
plausible representation, “with the design to direct,
control, counteract or awe the regular deliberation
and action of the constituted authorities.”

To-day, as well as in the lifetime of President
Washington, obedience to the laws of the Government
needs emphasis and needs the good example of the
church. He wisely admonished against the “excite-
ments of party spirit,” suspicion, faction and the ex-
cesses to which they tend. He warned against dema-

 

CHRIST AND DECORATION DAY 137

gosrues who vannt themselves as infallible leaders.
Such a warning is also appropriate to the church.

”The Father of His Country ” inculcated, with
fervent eloquence, supreme regard to religion and
morality. He said that ”of all the dispositions and
habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and
morality are indispensable supports.” He declared
that no man conld be a patriot “who should labor to
subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these
firmest props of men and citizens. The mere politician,
equally with the pious man, ought to respect and
cherish them.” He asked: “Where is the security for
property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of re-
ligious obligation desert the oaths which are the in-
struments of investigation in courts of justice?”
“Whatever may be conceded to a refined education,
or minds of a peculiar cast,” he continued, “reason
and experience both forbid us to expect that national
morality can prevail in the exclusion of religious
principles.”

Unity of Government, obedience to constituted Gov-
ernmental authorities and the supreme value of re-
ligion and morality, which Washington urged in his
farewell address to the American people, are as im-
portant now as they were when Washington recom-
mended them.

A nation as well as an individual is called to be
unselfish and neighborly. The Good Samaritan nation
will not pass by on the other side, but will show kind-
ness to another country in distress. Jesus taught His
disciples that when they made a feast they should not
invite their friends and rich neighbors in the hope of
reciprocation; but that they should invite the maimed,
the blind, the poor; and that their reward would be

 

138 SPECIAL SERMONS

received in the resurrection of the just. The principle
is as applicable to a church and to a nation as to a
person.

Can the teaching of Jesus be applied to corpora-
tions and governments, industry, business, and the en-
tire social life of the world? In all these God may be
first and best loved, and the neighbor may be regarded
and treated as justly and kindly as one would treat
himself. Our Lord enunciated the great, practical law
of arbitration, and commanded it. It is invaluable in
controversies between labor and capital. Reconcilia-
tion to a wronged and offended brother is essential to
right worship. The fruit of the Holy Spirit will be
found in the character of American statesmen when
the church shall have discharged its high duty in the
regeneration of its members through the gospel. Our
Government waits upon the character of its religion.
The Sermon on the Mount instructs our national lead-
ers to go the second mile and to return good for evil.
It teaches them to let the nation’s light so shine among
the powers that they, too, will glorify the Father in
heaven. The neighbor may be a person, a community,
the whole country, the world, the church on earth and
the whole kingdom of heaven. Christ is the neighbor
of the lost and neighbor also of the redeemed. To
love one’s neighbor as himself links all creation to-
gether and leads one to pray, ”Our Father, be merci-
ful to all.”

In memory of the appointment and significance of
Decoration Day, I declare that I know of no reason
why any one should be bitter or resentful either to-
ward the North or the South on account of the sad
events of the Civil War. If my father and older
brothers had been born and reared in Alabama, in-

 

CHRIST AND DECORATION DAY 139

stead of Ohio, they wonld have given their lives for
the Southern cause as they gave them for the Union.

As a child I remember a Sunday afternoon con-
versation between my older brothers, during the Civil
War, in which they expressed their willingness to vol-
unteer, but I did not regard the matter seriously.
A few weeks thereafter the family carriage was driven
to the railway station that their parents, two sisters
and myself might see them pass, in uniform, with
their regiment to the war. I remember how quietly
the horses moved that morning and how silent were
those it bore. I remember the coming of the train and
the waving of my brothers’ hands in their tender
farewell. Scarcely three months had passed when a
telegram called my father to their bedside. Both were
sick. One was dying. His body was expressed to our
home for burial. A few^ weeks more, and father, along
with the other brother, died. Their bodies were laid
side by side in the Quaker burial-ground near the
Plainfield meeting-house. The building and its beauti-
ful grove no longer attract the crowds of worshipers,
old and young, who erstwhile assembled there as fa-
miliar friends. The house has fallen into decay, but
the birds still sing their grateful, happy songs and
myrtle twines around the graves. Gentle and patri-
otic neighbors strew those mounds with fresh, bright
blossoms as the decoration season comes with each
return of May.

I remember that with the quick departure of those
loved ones’ from our home the roses left my mother’s
cheeks and the dark color of her hair changed to white
like the snow. But, through the power of religion and
the comfort of the word of God, her heart mounted to
victory. She uttered no word of narrow bitterness

 

140 SPECIAL SERMONS

withal. Another brother of mine, who also shouldered
his musket and followed the flag, has joined the three
whose bodies sleep under the myrtle leaves in Plain-
field burying-ground. Mother, likewise, has entered
into her rest. I am sure that no resentment nor sor-
rowful memory beclouds the sky of their happiness
now. We are called to emulate their example and to
look upon the bright bow in the cloud, and upon the
cloud itself as only a background for the splendor it
enfolds.

As I look back upon the tragedy of the Civil War
I think how innocent were the soldiers themselves, both
North and South. Their thoughts were clouded, more
or less, with misunderstandings, but their hearts were
kind, brave and uncruel. Since they died, new light
has flashed forth from the word of God. The Lord
has been coming in glory, shining out from the cloud
and the letter of the Scriptures. Our national expe-
riences, also, since the civil contest of the sixties, have
been healing. ^^When I was a child I spake as a
child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now
that I have become a man” — and the apostle was writ-
ing of becoming a man in love’s vision, spirit and
power — ”I have put away childish things.” I have
thought, ever since I was able to think, that if all the
leaders of our nation, both North and South, had only
known God’s will and method concerning the abolition
of slavery, there had been no American Civil War.
I can not think that the divine method of overcom-
ing the differences that provoked the war, between
brethren of the South and of the North, was the shed-
ding of rivers of fraternal blood.

The present controversy as to whether America was
selfish in the late World War or altruistic, has two

 

CHRIST AND DECORATION DAY 141

important aspects diametrically opposed the one to the
other. Our Ambassador to England is reported to
have said that our nation did not enter the World
War to help save France or England, but to save it-
self; and that we sent our soldiers overseas most re-
luctantly and laggardly; that ”we fought because we
were afraid not to fight.” He is reported to have
said, also, that our country ”will not have anything
whatsoever to do with the League of Nations, directly
or indirectly, openly or furtively.”

Ex-President Wilson had declared: “We have no
selfish end to serve. We desire no conquest or do-
minion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no ma-
terial compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely
make. We are but one of the champions of the rights
of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights
shall have been made as secure as the faith and the
freedom of the nations can make them.”

Premier Lloyd George, in welcoming Col. George
Harvey as our Ambassador to the Court of St. James,
said: “We appeal to America not merely as a nation
of high ideals. We know that it is not a country that
will say, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ The world
has become more interdependent than it ever was be-
fore.” Thus the British Premier indicated his faith
that the United States not only had the willingness
to be helpful to the world, but was ready to translate
that willingness into action.

I do not doubt that both the conceptions and the
motives that moved our nation to enter the war were
mixed. Some citizens were impelled by lower and
some by loftier impulses. I am reminded that Jesus
said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born from above,
he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom

 

142 SPECIAL SERMONS

shines, but he can not perceive it. Our Ambassador, it
would seem, could not visualize the celestial forces
which others realized. He saw only the natural, world-
ly, selfish causes in operation.

The little poem called ”Flanders Field,” by John
McCrae, will illustrate what I mean by the altruistic
motives that stirred and constrained the Allies, along
with our American patriots and soldiers. No piece of
verse in recent years has been •more widely read in
the civilian world, and it was called ”the poem of the
army” and was also the poem of the soldiers’ hearts.
It was used on every platform from which men and
women were urged to adventure their riches and their
lives to “make the world safe for democracy.”

”In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing^ fly-
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow^
Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die.
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.”

The same author, in a stanza from another of his
poems — “The Anxious Dead” — answers the challenge
thus :

”Tell them, guns, that we have heard their call.
That we have sworn, and will not turn aside;
That we will onward till we win or fall.

That we will keep the faith for which they died.”

 

CHRIST AND DECORATION DAY 143

Among the many answers to ‘^Flanders Fields” was
the following by Mr. Lillard, that appeared in the
New York Evening Post:

* ^ Rest je in peace, ye Flanders dead ;
The fight that ye so bravely led
We’ve taken up.”

There are two kinds of narrowness, whereas
some had supposed there was but one. The usual
conception of the thing is that of a straitened
mind or faith. It has been associated w^ith a
provincial understanding, a creed, a partisan view,
resulting from ignorance of what lies outside its
vision; while a limited love, a circumscribed in-
terest in and sympathy with others, has generally
escaped the odious appellation. But narrowness of
heart is more to be deplored and more fatal than a
meager understanding. In other words, a love re-
stricted to self, and to those related and favorable to
self, is more injurious and blameworthy than that
which belongs only to an unenlightened understanding.
One may have great knowledge, great faith, and yet
be prejudiced, partisan, sectarian and selfish in his af-
fections. The distinction is strikingly presented by
the apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of First
Corinthians and by the Sermon on the Mount. To be
a patriot is better than to be a paltry politician. To
be a Christian is better than to be a sectarian. To be
an American is better than to be a Kentuckian. For a
good Samaritan to succor a half-murdered man of a
hostile nation is better than to show mercy to another
because he is a fellow-citizen, and may return the
favor. Caste, clannishness, partisanship, sectarianism,
nationalism, should give place to Christianity which

feels, thinks and acts in the terms of all humanity;
that prays ”Thy will be done on earth” and both
gives and goes that ”every creature” may be regen-
erated and become a citizen of heaven.

We shall not love our own country less because we
love other countries more. And, in order that we, as
Americans, may the better serve the nations of earth,
it behooves us to keep our political house in proper
order.

Applying this principle, let us hope as did Daniel
Webster when he said: “When my eyes shall be turned
to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I
not see him shining on the broken and dishonored
fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dis-
severed or on a land rent with civil feuds. Let their
last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gor-
geous ensign of the Republic, now known and honored
throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms
and trophies streaming in their original luster, not a
stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured,
bearing for its motto: ‘Liberty and union, now and
forever, one and inseparable.’ ” And I think our hearts
would add: “May that motto apply not only to the
United States of America, but to the united states of
the whole world.” Let us still pray: “Thy will be
done on earth as it is done in heaven.”

Justice Harlan said: “To every American the flag
is the symbol of the nation’s power, the emblem of
freedom. It signifies government resting on the con-
sent of the governed; liberty regulated by law; protec-
tion of the weak; security against arbitrary power,
and safety for free institutions against foreign inva-
sion.” Does it not stand, also, for altruistic ideals
over against selfish aggrandizements and materialistic

ambitions? “When thoughtful persons look upon the
flag they do not see the flag itself, but the nation it
represents. It bears no ramping lion and no fierce
eagle. It holds no insignia of autocracy or oppression.
It carries no sign of royalty, no crown, no scepter. It
carries warmth and light in every fold and every
thread of all nations and all mankind. Only our loyalty
to the cross can glorify and immortalize our banner.

It reminds one of the words of the Psalmist:
”Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee,
that it may be displayed because of the truth.” If
the fear of God shall characterize our people, then our
God-given flag should be displayed because of the
truth.

The flag of the United States has been called ‘the
flag of Dawn.” If the designation be appropriate, we
should in nowise keep back its radiance from the na-
tions that sit in the darkness and shadow of death.
The patriots who fashioned our national banner felt
the sacred responsibility and significance of the flag
we cherish. “When Betsy Ross, in her day one of the
most skilled women of Philadelphia in the use of the
needle, artistic in her taste and a genius in the free-
hand designing of patterns, was asked by Washington
and others to make a flag for the United States, she
humbly replied, ”I’ll try!” She suggested that it
ought to be one-third longer than it was wide; that
its stars would be more beautiful if five-pointed, in-
stead of six; and that they should be arranged in reg-
ular form. George Washington drew his chair up to
the table and sketched a design embodying her sug-
gestions. Her first sample was so pleasing that it was
carried to Congress on the very day it was completed,
and was adopted on June 14, 1777.

 

The story is told of a certain man who came from
England to this country and became naturalized.
Later he went to Cuba when the war broke out there
in 1867. He was arrested under the suspicion that he
was a spy. He was tried and condemned to be shot.
He sent for the British and American Ministers, who
looked into his case and found he was innocent. They
said to the Spanish authorities: “This man is inno-
cent;” but they replied: ”He has been tried under the
Spanish laws, and found guilty, and must die.” The
Spanish soldiers were ordered to put an end to his
life. Just as they were about to shoot him, a carriage
drove up rapidly, and the two Ministers leaped out of it
and flung the British flag and the ”Stars and Stripes”
over him, and said to the soldiers: “Shoot, if you
dare!” The shot was not fired. Those banners gave
to the prisoner the protection of both Governments.
There was power behind those colors. No wonder men
are patriotic when they have such banners to protect
and to inspire them.

General Gordon told a story of the Confederate
and Union armies encamped on opposite sides of the
Savanna River ready for conflict on the morrow. The
Northern band struck up “The Star-Spangled Ban-
ner,” and the boys in blue cheered and cheered. Then
across the river the Southern band retaliated with
“Dixie,” and the air rang with the cheers of the boys
in gray. Defiantly the Union band played “Hail Co-
lumbia” and the Confederates came back with “The
Bonnie Blue Flag.” Finally one of the bands
played “Home, Sweet Home,” and the other immedi-
ately took up the same refrain.

Sectionalism, group interest, sectarianism, national
and individual avarice, isolation and selfishness, will

be banished when the spirit of Christ shall have con-
quered the hearts of the American people. The church
should vote only for true and competent men for of-
fice. But the real function of the church toward our
Government, local and national, is to create men
through the gospel, regenerate citizens through the
truth, in such numbers and of such a character that
they shall be fitted completely to adorn all the offices
and to discharge worthily every responsibility
which the people may call them.

I love to idealize the flag as a banner of goodness
and truth, bringing political deliverance to the cap-
tives and ‘liberty to them that are bruised.” Let
every patriot lift it high for the display of the truth.
Let it whisper to the air, ‘^Spread wide my folds, for
no blot shall stain them.” Let it challenge the rain
and the snow, that its face shall be as pure as they.
Let it say to the dawn: ”My red is not the blush of
guilt, but the flush of love and joy.” Let it address
the sky, saying, ”Enrich and deepen my field of blue
for the brighter shining of my constellation.” Let it
command every national cloud to depart or be trans-
figured by its glory. Let it petition the sun to pour
its light upon it, that, as it moves around the world,
all mankind shall know that its power and its pur-
poses, like its colors, come from heaven.

Thomas Nelson Page tells a story of “Two Little
Confederates,” who lived on a plantation, called Oak-
land, in Virginia, and whose names were Frank and
Willy. The Civil “War had begun and soldiers from
both armies appeared often in the neighborhood. Their
brother Hugh, at the age of seventeen, had volunteered
and they were very proud of him. They played that
they were soldiers, and sometimes ventured into dan-

gerous proximity to the fighting. One day they were
captured by a squad of Federals and were questioned
as to the whereabouts of Hugh and a Confederate
General. They refused to tell. Frank was taken away
from Willy and threatened with punishment for his
obstinacy. His hands were tied behind him and he
was placed against a tree as though he were to be
shot. He still refused to betray his trust. The cor-
porols pistol looked big to Frank and he wondered
where the, “bullets would hit him; if he would be left
all night in the woods and if his mother would come
and kiss him. ”I want to say my prayers” he said,
and all grew dark before his eyes. He fainted away.
Then a big, young soldier, who had said it was ”use-
less” to intimidate the boy, showed kindness. Water
was dashed in his face and he awoke with his head
in the lap of the big soldier, who said, ‘^We were just
trying to scare you a bit, and carried the joke too
far.” The big dragoon took him in his arms to carry
him back to Willy. ”I can walk,” said Frank. ”No,
I’ll carry you, bless your brave little heart.” The
big soldier was looking at the light, curly head rest-
ing on his arm, and gave Frank a caress for the sake
of his own little, curly-headed son about Frank’s size
at his home in Delaware. ”I hope you’ll get back
to him safe and well,” said Frank.

Soon thereafter the boys ventured upon a battle-
field while yet some bullets were flying and they heard
a distressing call for water! They drew near and
saw a blue-coated soldier lying propped against a
tree, with a ghastly wound in his head. He could not
see. His face was ashy pale and he still begged for
water. Frank whispered to Willy, ”He’s my sol-
dier.” Cutting the wounded man’s canteen loose from

its strap, and disregarding the danger of being shot,
Frank ran to the stream and brought the coveted
drink. He pressed it to the dying man’s lips, bathed
his face and watched it as the tide of his life went
ebbing away. The soldier thought, in his delirium,
that he was again at home and called for water from
the well by the dairy. The boys poured more water
into his fevered lips. Then the soldier said, ”Come,
my darling, and say your prayers with father.”
”Now I lay me down to sleep.” Frank said: “Willy,
let us pray with him.” “If I should die before I
wake.” But the departing soldier’s voice was now so
weak that it could scarcely be distinguished, “I pray
the Lord my soul to take,” and the two little Confed-
erates finished the prayer. The good soldier’s soul
had been taken.

The boys ran home and told the story to their
mother. An old ox-cart, the only vehicle left upon
the place, brought the lifeless body to Oakland. It
was buried, tenderly, in the garden. The mother of
the boys read the burial service, an uncle of the lads
offered a prayer and the little family group sang
“Abide with me.” A small packet of letters and a
gold watch were taken from the pocket of the de-
ceased, and sealed and placed in a bureau drawer to
remain until called for.

A year later, after Lee’s surrender, when poverty
reigned at Oakland, the boys met an elderly lady and
a boy about the size of Frank, coming from the rail-
road station. They recognized the driver and his one-
horse wagon, but knew the two passengers were
strangers, for they had seen no boy so well dressed as
the young stranger. “Are there any Union soldiers’
graves around here?” inquired the gray-haired lady.

 

They said ”Yes,” and she told them her story. They
inquired the name of her son who, she said, had been
reported missing. ”Willy, that was our soldier,” ex-
claimed Frank. They climbed into the wagon and told
her how brave and kind he had been, and added : ‘ ‘ He
is buried in our garden.” Their mother met the
mother of the big, young soldier like a sister meeting
her sister in distress, for her son Hugh had been
wounded and captured in a charge at Petersburg, and
as yet she knew not where he was. The body of the
big, young soldier was exhumed and carried back to
his home on the Brandywine, in Delaware. Hugh and
his father came home again. Boxes of clothing and
provisions arrived from the Northern mother who had
found love and comfort in her visit to Oakland.
Among the presents were two new guns for the “Two
Little Confederates” and a complete trousseau for
“Cousin Belle,” who was to marry “the General,”
with Hugh to serve as his best man, and the boys were
to be ushers.

This story illustrates the parable of the Good
Samaritan and reminds us of Him who is good and
neighborly to all.

When all the mists have rolled away, and narrow-
ness of heart and mind shall have- expanded under
the warmth and light of the Sun of righteousness, we
shall know the meaning of the text, to love God with
all the heart, mind, soul and strength, and our neigh-
bor as ourselves.