A Lesson to Be Learned
Within a generation
three of our Presidents have been martyred. Reverent men were they
and true to their great trust. The third has just fallen, and the
nation—the civilized world—are in mourning. Stricken down by the
assassin’s bullet, the first thought and utterance of President
McKinley was of tender anxiety for his wife, and his second one
of shield for the ruffian who shot him. As the days went by and
science, with all its modern skill and gentleness, was bending over
the sufferer for his help, this prince among men had accepted the
contest with heroic spirit, just as a good soldier goes into battle—self-forgetful.
Day before yesterday science, which had stopped the funeral march
of dissolution, gave its final help that he might breathe his good-byes.
Tenderly, lovingly, the brave woman, who has shared his hopes and
his toils and honors, bent over him, receiving and giving the last
tokens and words of earthly farewell. Sacred the love that blends
the hearts of a true man and a true woman! Then came the other farewells.
History gives no sweeter, grander departure. To God he murmured
in prayer: “Thy will be done.” And then slowly whispered: “‘Nearer,
my God, to Thee’ is my constant prayer.” His last words, “It is
God’s way! Good-bye all, good-bye.” It was an apotheosis, Christian,
not pagan. He was glorified—not deified.
The hush of the Lord’s
Day is upon us. We have not come as an Easter morn, for our joyful
aspirations heavenward are clouded with gloom and smitten with sorrow.
Throughout our land, in unwonted numbers, the people have gone and
are going up to the sanctuary with a reverent hope for light and
comfort. The press has spoken like messengers from heaven; rising
to a degree of vision and prophecy, of counsel and comfort, that
has never been surpassed. Most grandly and brightly they are 
cheering us to the struggle for peaceful and enduring liberty. Staggered,
they have not fallen; stricken with grief, these “bright warders
of the land” have used their tears as lenses with which to bring
nearer “the promised day.” In this they have caught the spirit of
our martyred President.
To-day it is the turn
of the pulpit to speak. We ought, perhaps, to take in more distinctly
the divine—the Christian bearing of this terrible calamity. We are
permitted also to emphasize some of the practical questions which
belong to a noble national life, but so penetrated have the leaders
of thought become with Christian ideals and principles that, almost
to a man, when disaster or troubles “come in like a flood” they
rise to the thought and plea of the gospel minister. So should it
be. So in holy league with all gospel preachers, freed from party
and commercialism, may it ever be with the press of our land.
William McKinley was
a descendant of toilers—hand toilers. Like Lincoln and Garfield,
his was the birthright not of wealth and ease, but of struggle.
His heirloom was a chance to earn his way to influence and honor.
Why should a hand toiler shoot him? Had he dishonored the ranks
from which he came? By word, deed or spirit had he ever pushed them
down or disdained them? He was never boisterous in his party life.
Sincere, he was urgent, diligent, but always fair and candid. These
qualities won for him advancement and renown. The higher he rose
in positions of trust the clearer it became that he was equal to
the trust, for every advancement in princely position revealed more
clearly the great man, “great man that has fallen this day in Israel.”
It was not the qualities of manhood which brought his death, for
we have never had a Chief Magistrate who was more careful, generous
Alas! alas! the mistake
of our nation! Some from an unwise philanthropy, many because of
a carelessness which comes from indolence and indifference, multitudes
from a blind eagerness for low wages and so of gain, but a large
number under the lash and heat of party, have continued to throw
wide our gates, chanting, “We have room for all creation, don’t
feel alarmed.” China must stay out and physical lepers must stay
out, but  moral lepers, the
depraved and offscouring of many lands, hated, despised, feared
in their native land, have stealthily crept in upon us to degenerate
our nation. Some of them are brainy, but denying God and hating
all human restraint. Social and moral influences have failed. Is
it not possible for us to frame and execute laws for our self-preservation?
Let us screw our courage to the sticking place, guard our gates,
make it treason to seek the life of our rulers. This enough? No!
More diligently let us insist upon moral as well as intellectual
education. “That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth,
and our daughters as cornerstones polished after the similitude
of a palace.” “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Is there involved in
this tragedy a great underlying principle, sometimes the only thing
to which our sluggish human nature will arise and bow? Yesterday
I met a prominent banker of this city, who said to me: “It is awful,
awful!” and then tears came to his eyes and his utterance was choked.
Presently he added in slow and serious tone, “but I have been thinking
that there are times when nothing but such a calamity as this will
awaken us. Somebody we love and honor has to be sacrificed.” A grand,
unselfish life has our departed Chief led. Will his “taking off”
help us more than his life here? Lincoln’s did. The assassination
of William of Orange exalted and cemented the patriotism of the
Netherlands. May it not be a lesson in that profoundest and most
glorious fact of our Christianity, “Christ died to make men free.”
Ah! It ought not to have been. It need not have been if we had “come
unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness
of Christ.” May William McKinley live, not chiefly in history, but
as a vital force in the spirit and aims of all the people. May his
exalted and pure faith, his sublime devotion—home and national—pass
like particles of iron into the blood of our higher life!
Does not that thought
suggest immortality? Shall an influence last longer than the character
which has given it? Shall a signature endure longer than the mind
and heart which prompted it? His bodily life was well-nigh gone,
but the last words of our statesman, hero, brother, were as balanced
and loving as if he had been 
saying a “good night.” He believed that “his mortality was to be
swallowed up of life.” That faith made his character and shaped
his conduct. Because of the power that came from it we mourn for
him, we honor his memory. The hope in which he lived and died is
not worn out. We need no new gospel. “The word of the Lord abideth
forever.” It sweeps the horizon of time and of eternity. It stimulates,
it cheers, it exalts, it purifies. Let us learn well the lesson
of his life. It is a call to his countrymen, to the world, for a
consecrated living. Consecrated not to pleasure, or ambition, or
gold, or any success below the stars. God does not brew a storm
to waft a feather. He does not lash the ocean to drown a fly—neither
does He stir the emotions and unselfish thoughts of a great nation
simply to swell our hearts with grief. What He says to us now is
well understood. Let us put it into lasting life.
Twice in the life of
William McKinley he swept back the tide of a national convention
that seemed ready to nominate him for the Presidency. His honor
held him to another course. Plighted faith was to him a sacred thing.
Afterward, twice, the nation bestowed its highest honors upon him.
There comes one to the
presidency now who sought in vain to stay the strong tide that was
bearing him on to the Vice-Presidency. In the prime of a balanced
manhood, tested and proved by experiences that have revealed as
they have exalted his manhood; meeting the larger duties and emergencies
of his higher trusts with as clear vision and as consecrated decision
as he met the lower, Theodore Roosevelt, soldier, statesman, patriot,
husband, father, an exemplar of religion, with an abiding trust
in the divine purpose and destiny of our nation, is now our President.
We will give him our confidence. We believe he will be as obedient
to the heavenly vision as was Alfred the Great, William of Orange,
Lincoln and McKinley. “Long live the President!” “God save the State!”
As the solemn obsequies
of the week come let us not forget to pray for the brave woman who
shared the life and love of the great man who has fallen. We are
called to prayer as well as tears. And for our nation, which God
planted and has protected and guided, let us send up our petition.