From the Newspaper:
the body was conveyed to the Methodist Church, and a funeral sermon delivered by the Rev. J. B. McFerrin. The speaker, in that portion of his remarks personal to the deceased, gave a brief sketch of his life and public career, passed a high and deserved eulogium on his moral character and unblemished integrity, and detailed in a forcible and impressive manner, the particulars of his last illness and death. Early in his sickness Mr. Polk had connected himself with the Methodist Episcopal Church – a church for which, as his friends all know, he always felt a preference. The funeral services performed, the body was conveyed to the grave yard, accompanied by the masons, the city authorities, and a long train of mourning citizens, and deposited in the tomb with masonic forms, after a brief, but beautiful and appropriate address by Wilkins Tannehill, P.G.M., preaching officer of the fraternity. A benediction by the minister closed the ceremonies, and our distinguished fellow-citizen was left to his last and long repose…
CONVERSION OF PRESIDENT POLK.
The story of the conversion of President James K. Polk, eleventh President of the United States, is to be told here. It is outwardly to be dated in 1849, but its genesis goes back farther than that. There are what are called sudden conversions, and there are gradual conversions, so called. But what seems to be a sudden conversion may go back to the first glimmer of spiritual perception and include every gracious influence that has ever touched the soul. The culminating experience may be very vivid to the consciousness, and may be the result of special conditions that crystallize the elements that were mingled in the life, and had been gathering in preparation for this final transforming touch.
At a camp-meeting held at McPeak’s Campground, near Columbia, Tennessee, in 1833, McFerrin preached one of his characteristic sermons. Among his hearers was a young lawyer who was rapidly rising to distinction as a public man. The plain common sense and earnest spirit of the sermon commended the truth to the judgment of the clear-headed and honest lawyer, and the Holy Spirit opened his heart to receive the message of God . The gracious impression was indelible. He went away from the campground a convicted sinner, if not a converted man.
The words of the sermon still rung in his inner ear, the prayers and songs of the worshiping multitude followed him, and as he rode homeward through the beech forests and fertile fields of Maury County he was a changed man. Why did he not make an open profession and unite with the Church? He was a man of strong political convictions, and was an ardent partisan , not slow to express his opinions nor weak in their defense. It may be that he was one of the many men of this stamp who, in the rush and rough collisions of politics, defer positive action with regard to the vital matter of religion for the quieter hour they hope to find in a coming day. Ambition is hardening, and delays are dangerous. Happy for them if they are not swept to destruction by the fatal current to which they thus yield themselves . The pushing of a political career too often proves the ruin of a soul. A double tragedy is enacted when , having broken over the moral barriers that seemed to stand in the way of success, the lower nature becomes altogether dominant, and both body and soul are lost. The very temperament and gifts that command success in politics are the sources of the temptations that destroy politicians. The tide that floats them dashes them against the rocks. Mr. Polk was Speaker of the House of Representatives ; he was the presidential candidate of the Democratic party in a canvass of intense excitement; he was President during four eventful years, with a foreign war on his hands and a vigilant and able opposition party to fight at every step ; and yet no whisper of detraction was ever breathed against his personal character. As he was opposed to that matchless party leader, Henry Clay, it was partisan fashion to belittle him intellectually ; all the wit and sarcasm of the splendid old Whig party were expended in drawing unfavorable contrasts between the two men in this regard ; but no one ever insinuated that Polk was not a true man , pure in his private morals and above all suspicion of official venality. Now that they are both dead, all their countrymen are proud of the genius and patriotism of Clay and of the purity and administrative ability of his less brilliant but more successful competitor. Mr. Polk was fortified by Christian principle. Under the pressure of the heavy responsibilities of his great office he leaned upon the arm of the gracious God who came so close to him that Sunday , under the brush arbor in the hills of Tennessee, while the minister of Christ preached to him the word of life. His mother was a member of the Presbyterian Church, and his wife was a worthy member of the same denomination . Mr. Polk was a Methodist in sentiment. These facts probably explain his failure to make a formal profession of his faith in Christ by uniting with the Church . The thought of separating in Church affiliation from his be loved mother, and from the wife whose virtues and gifts so adorned her high station as the wife of the chief ruler of a great nation , and whose affection was the joy of his life, was painful to him . His domestic relations drew him in one direction , and his religious convictions and affinities in another. Thus pivoted , he let the years go by, holding to his faith and purpose and hope as a believer, but doubtless losing much both in the comforts and joys of religious experience and in the influence he would have exerted as an avowed disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and an active member of his Church .
On his return from Washington City, at the expiration of his presidential term, Mr. Polk settled in Nashville, where he proposed to spend the evening of his life. He had fixed the purpose in his heart of uniting with the Methodist Church.
This purpose was known only to himself and his wife. When he was taken with what proved to be his last illness he sent for McFerrin, revealed the matter to him , and requested to be baptized and received into the Methodist Church.
And then, by request of the dying statesman, the memorials of the death and passion of our Lord were administered to him according to the solemn ritual of the Church ; and he died, we may trust, in full hope of heaven. His remains were taken to McKendree Church, where the funeral services took place. A great concourse of people were present, and listened to the sermon which was preached by McFerrin from the same text on which was preached the one under which he was awakened and formed the purpose of becoming a Christian in 1833.
This sermon will make the next chapter, and some will invest it with a threefold value because of its historic interest, its illustration of McFerrin’s modes of thinking and written style, and the solace it will convey to sorrowing hearts in view of death and the grave.
THE CHRISTIAN’S HOPE .
A Sermon Delivered at the Funeral of ex-President James K. Polk, in the McKendree Church , Nashville, Tennessee, June 16, 1849 .
Text : “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead ; to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you , who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
( 1 Peter 1:3-5 )
Notwithstanding the very intimate relation between Christ and his disciples for three years and more, they did not fully comprehend the nature and design of his mission.
When, therefore, he was betrayed, and tried, and condemned, and crucified, and buried, the hopes of his followers seemed to perish ; they were as sheep without a shepherd, a family without a head ; their buoyant hopes had been blasted, and , filled with sorrow , they determined to return to their former avocations.
But when on the third morning Christ arose from the dead and showed himself to his disciples, and convinced them that it was he, and that he had overcome the power of death and was alive again, their hopes revived and they went forth with strong and unwavering faith in his Messiahship, and looked forward with pleasing anticipation to the glorious rest he had prepared for them in heaven .
It is supposed that in view of these facts St. Peter wrote the words of the text that we have selected as the foundation of the discourse at the present hour: “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, ” etc.
Whatever may have been in the mind of the Apostle, or whatever may have stimulated him to pen these words, they certainly, in most appropriate, consoling terms, speak of the hope of the Christian ; and this shall be the theme of our discourse .
Hope ! what is it ? The term is very frequently employed, and it is a term that is not infrequently misapplied. It really signifies desire and expectation, and always has reference to something future But we oftentimes desire that which we do not expect to attain , therefore we can not hope for it . We may expect that which we do not desire ; for this we do not hope. But when we both desire and expect the realization of some future good, then we hope for the attainment of that good. The Christian desires the resurrection of the body , the immortality of the soul; he desires to live in the enjoyment of God’s favor, and expects, when his pilgrimage on earth shall end, to make one of the redeemed, and hopes to share the enjoyment of the blessings of God in heaven .
But this hope, that it may give real comfort to the Christian , must have ground upon which to rest.
Every Christian should be ready to give a reason of the hope that is within him . What, therefore, are the grounds of hope to the Christian ? Why does he desire and expect the resurrection of the body and everlasting life after death ? Has he any reasonable ground on which to entertain these delightful views, these glorious anticipations ? We answer that he has a strong foundation, a sure base, on which to build these desires, these expectations.
He believes in the resurrection of the body, the certainty of the resurrection of the body, in view of the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. If Christ be not risen, the dead will rise not; and if the dead rise not, our preaching is vain and your faith is vain, and we are yet in our sins and are found false witnesses before God . But if Christ did rise from the dead, if he did take humanity to heaven, if he did carry his crucified and risen body to the right hand of the Father , and thus became the first -fruits of them that slept, then we have reason to believe that those who sleep in Jesus God will bring with him . But questions preceding this arise in our minds : Did Christ die ? did the Son of God veil himself in the body of the flesh , lead a life of toil and labor and usefulness and of great notoriety ? and was he put to death ? Did he die on the cross as a malefactor ? was he crucified ? did he yield up his spirit ? was he buried in Joseph’s tomb ? did he come forth from the tomb the third morning ? does he live again ? and is he making intercession for his saints at the right hand of God ?
These are important questions, and demand a sincere and satisfactory answer. We are not dependent upon the records of Matthew , Mark, Luke, and John alone for the history of the life and labors and death of the Son of God. That Jesus of Nazareth was born nearly nineteen hundred years ago, in the days of the Cæsars, that he grew up to manhood, that he preached in the temple and in the synagogue and in the streets of Jerusalem , in the land of Judea and throughout Galilee, and wrought many notable miracles and attracted great attention of multitudes of people, both learned and illiterate, rich and poor, can not be doubted at all .
We have just as authentic information of the history of the life of Christ and of the notoriety of the Nazarene, as he was called in the days of the Cæsars, as we have of any other event of importance in those ancient times. Jewish history and Roman history, and the traditions of the ancients that came from the fathers in the beginning of the first century, go to testify that Jesus, the son of Mary and the Son of God, lived and preached in the city of Jerusalem, and died within the outer walls of that great city.
His trial was official. He was brought before Pilate, the governor of the province ; he was accused , witnesses were introduced, a formal investigation ensued. He was then sent to Herod, who was still king with subordinate power ; by Herod he was examined , and then sent back to Pilate. Pilate, after testifying to his innocence and purity of character, affirmed that he found nothing in him worthy of death, yet consented to his execution, signed the death-warrant, and handed him over to the officers to be put to death according to the law. Above his head was written in Greek and Latin and Hebrew , “ This is Jesus, the King of the Jews;” and when he was requested to alter the superscription and write“ He said, I am the King of the Jews, ” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” All this trial and this condemnation and this crucifixion and his burial were official transactions, known to the citizens of Jerusalem , and published abroad every where throughout the civilized world ; and no man , Jew or Gentile, Christian or heathen , pretends to doubt the fact that these scenes of the suffering of the Son of God were endured in the days of Pilate by the son of Mary, the Saviour of the world.
From the grave he rose the third morning and was seen by the disciples, talked with them, ate with them , and at twelve different times appeared in his risen for in in such manner as to remove all doubt as to his identity. His disciples went abroad, having seen the Christ, testifying to the world that God had raised him from the dead. Finally he was seen of Stephen, when he was stoned to death ; kneeling down, he looked up to heaven and said, “ I see Jesus standing at the right hand of God,” and committed his spirit into the hands of the risen Saviour. He was seen by Paul, the great Apostle of the Gentiles, who was caught up to the third heaven and saw things unlawful for man to utter, but affirmed that he saw the risen Saviour, who was living at the right hand of the Father. Again this risen Saviour lives in the heart of every genuine believer. Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has the witness in himself, and can say with the ancient patriarch , “’I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ I have the consciousness in my heart that the life I live is a life of faith, that it is no more I that liveth, but Christ that liveth in me. ”
Now, then, Christ having risen from the dead, and the question of his resurrection being forever settled in the mind of the genuine Christian, he believes that those who sleep in Jesus God will bring with him ; that all they that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man and shall come forth ; that this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruptible incorruption, and death shall be swallowed up in victory, and bodies redeemed, like the crucified body of the Son of God, shall be admitted into everlasting habitations, there to join with the multitudes that sing unto Him that hath loved us and hath washed us from our sins in his own blood – to him be glory forever.
But we now proceed to look at the next grand pillar that supports the truth of this doctrine that constitutes the broad foundation on which the hope of the Christian rests : “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope. ” Here you perceive that there is something more to be wrought in the soul than the mere faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God. The idea is that we are to be born again and conformed to the image of our risen Lord. All men will be raised at the last day, but some will come forth to a resurrection of damnation ; it is only a special or peculiar class that will rise to a resurrection of life. Christ says, “Except a man be born again he can not see the kingdom of God.” The text says, “ We are begotten again unto a lively hope.”
Mr. Wesley translates it, “ We are regenerated and made new creatures in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Ghost, thus becoming the sons of God . ” The idea of the Apostle is the tender relation existing between the father and child ; we are to become children of God by the new birth , by the regenerating power of the Holy Ghost ; we are to be changed in our moral nature, transformed into the likeness and image of Christ. Unless this change is wrought in the soul, and unless this glorious transformation is brought about in our moral and spiritual character, we have no well-grounded hope of future happiness. Man may desire to be happy, may desire to escape the sorrows of death, may desire to enter upon the joys of the glorified ; but he has no well-grounded hope of entering into those joys until he is born again ; born from above, born of the Spirit, adopted into the family of Christ, begotten again unto this lively hope. Wherever this change is really wrought in the soul, and man is brought into fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, he has the witness that he is born of God. Then he can adopt the language of the Apostle and say, “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Upon these two grand pillars rests the hope of the Christian — the resurrection of the Son of God, and the realization in our hearts that we have been raised to newness of life in him ; the life we are now living is a life of faith in the Son of God. We come now to
THE NATURE OF THE HOPE.
It is called by the apostle “a lively hope;” not a dead, inactive, joyless hope, but a living, vital principle in the soul , imparting vigor to the mind, and creating exhilarating joy in the heart. The hope of the Christian, comprehending a desire for the joys of the celestial world and expecting the realization of the promise of the everlasting covenant, creates a lively emotion in the soul, which enables the Christian to know by happy experience that if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved he has a building not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Being conscious of his acceptance with God, he rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
The Christian religion does not consist in mere forms and ceremonies and outward observances ; it is not a mere ritualism , but it is a religion of the heart. It sanctifies the affections, elevates the feelings, imparts joy to the soul because the believer is conscious of his acceptance with God ; consequently he has in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life, and his joy in religion enables him to triumph in the God of his salvation and to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord . In a word, it is what we call experience a glorious realization in our hearts that God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God ; and thus being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have access into this grace wherein we stand and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God ; and not only so, but we glory in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed , because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us — a joy unspeakable and full of glory.
THE OBJECT OF HOPE.
We hope for an inheritance. Here you see again the idea carried out by the inspired Apostle—the idea of sonship, of heirship.
A child of God inherits the promised good that awaits him in the future. It is not to be anticipated by those who have not been born again, but by the heirs of God according to the promise. The legitimate child inherits the estate of his father; so the child of God inherits the blessings that are promised. It is not given to hypocrites. It is not given to the unregenerate, or to those who are strangers and aliens from God, but is given to God’s children, to those who have been born of the Spirit, to those who have been adopted into the family of God, to those who are heirs of the kingdom . This inheritance is described as “ incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. ” It is undefiled , and therefore it is incorruptible; and being undefiled and incorruptible, it shall never fade away. All the pleasures and treasures of earth are temporary, evanescent, passing away, withering as the grass, and all glory of man as the flower of grass ; the grass withereth , and the flower falleth and returns to dust. So the pleasure of sin shall perish and fade and wither as the grass of the field, as leaves of the forest ; because all things in this life are defiled, and the earth itself was cursed for man’s sake; thorns and briers and noxious weeds it brings forth , and it is in the sweat of his face that he makes the bread upon which he lives, and then his brightest hopes go down to the dust like his own putrid flesh ; but the inheritance of the saints in heaven, being pure, undefiled, unstained, incorrupt by sin , will know no depreciation, no decay, no death, no end. The soul will spring into immortal youth , and all the joys of paradise will be as an ever-blooming garden of Eden before it was cursed by sin.
“ There,” as we ofttimes sing, “ everlasting spring abides, and never-withering flowers.” Every thing on the earth has been cursed because of man’s sin. In paradise, before man violated God’s law , all was pure, all was bright, all was beautiful ; but sin entered and drove man out of his original Eden .
All earth was cursed for his sake ; and now, amidst toil and strife, many disappointments and losses, and a thousand cares, he must work his way through his earthly pilgrimage, and finally he drops into the tomb and is closed from life forever, but in heaven, that pure world , that city of our God, that home of the faithful, he shall live forever free from turmoil and free from death, This is a reserved inheritance ; it is kept for you ; it is reserved and kept in store for those who are faithful ; for those who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed at the last time.
This is the glorious inheritance of which the Apostle speaks, and shall be the crowning glory of all of God’s children who have been made pure by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost, who have continued steadfast to the end.
The Source of This Hope.
All this rich inheritance is of grace, of the mercy of God, of the abundant mercy of God –that mercy manifested in the gift of his Son , who himself counted not his own life dear to him , but according to the will of the Father, by his own voluntary action, laid down his life to redeem a sinful and ruined world. Sinners are saved by God’s mercy . There is no salvation by good works-no inheritance enjoyed as a reward of our virtue separate and distinct from the great scheme of
redemption. Man owes all to God, all to God through Jesus Christ, who is the gift of the Father’s love ; who suffered, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. It is to this abundant mercy that we are indebted for that hope, that precious hope, that lively hope that stimulates us in the conflicts of life and enables us to rejoice in the prospect of a brighter and better home in heaven .
St. Peter, filled with a sense of God’s goodness, and overwhelmed by his inspiration of mercy, introduces this passage by a note of praise : “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ !” Praise to his name ! Honor and majesty and power and adoration be unto him whose mercy endureth forever, and who in his abundant goodness redeemed a lost and ruined race by the death of his only begotten Son ! We should all join with the Apostle in the language of inspiration , and say : ” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.”
And now we come to apply this subject to our friend and distinguished fellow-citizen whose remains lie before us incased and ready for interment.
Mr. Polk , as we have seen , seemed almost a man of destiny. His success in life was remarkable. He was modest, cultivated, high-toned in his morals, a man of untarnished reputation, and was loved and admired by all classes of his countrymen. Against his moral character no charge was ever brought. No man in the United States, filling the high offices that he has occupied, ever maintained a purer character for sound morality. His Christian principles were genuine; his belief in God and the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures was firm, unshaken . He always had the highest respect for the Christian religion, and always exhibited reverence for the house of God and the institutions of the gospel.
He was a regular attendant at public worship , and observed the Christian Sabbath with great punctuality. In all his demeanor, during the time of his presidential administration, he maintained the character of a Christian gentleman and paid due respect to the institutions of our holy religion.
He was brought up by a Christian mother, who early trained him in the doctrines and duties of Christianity. She was a member of the Presbyterian Church . On one occasion she took her infant son to the church to have him dedicated to God in holy baptism , but through some misunderstanding between his father and the pastor in charge, in regard to the rules and regulations of the congregation, it was deferred , and he reached maturity without having received the ordinance of baptism .
He was a Wesleyan in sentiment, and believed in the doctrine and polity of the Methodist Episcopal Church. His wife, an intelligent Christian woman , was also a member of the Presbyterian Church ; but it was understood by her, as well as by Mr. Polk himself, that he was a Methodist in his views, and from the year 1833 he determined that when he joined the Church he would connect himself with that organization/
On his return from Washington in 1849 he determined to make Nashville his permanent home, and for a time he was busily employed in fitting up his residence. His health was feeble, but he hoped that rest from political labors and the recreation of preparing his mansion for occupancy would soon restore him . But coming home through cholera atmosphere, he seemed to some extent affected by the poison of that malignant disease, and was soon brought to his room and to his bed. Early in his sickness he sent for Rev. Dr. Edgar – his wife’s pastor, who had charge of the First Presbyterian Church in this city-and your speaker, and had a free religious conversation with them , and they joined him in prayer and supplication , and asked God in his providence to restore him to health ; and in any event, whether for life or for death, that he might be taken under special guardianship of his heavenly Father and prepared for the great future, as well as for the responsibilities of the present life. Soon after, he sought a private interview with your speaker, and made known to him his desire and purpose to receive the ordinance of baptism, and to be admitted
into the communion of the Methodist Episcopal Church , to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s-supper, and thus identify him self with the Church of his choice.
He said : “ My mother is a Presbyterian, and I love her and respect her pastor; my wife is a Presbyterian , for whom I have the fondest affection as a Christian , and her pastor is a man whom I respect, and I respect the Presbyterian Church ; but I am a Methodist, and desire to identify myself with the Methodist Church, and I have sent for you as my old friend, with whom I have long been acquainted, and desire that you shall administer the ordinance of baptism and receive me into the Church and give me the emblems of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ.” In due time his wishes were met, and in the presence of his family, and of the pastor of his mother and his wife, and other friends, he was baptized, admitted into the Church , and received the holy communion . His faith was strong, his confidence unbounded , and he was brought into fellowship with the Church after strong assurances
of his belief in the Son of God , the Saviour of the world .
He said to his brother William : “ I am now about to join the Church a duty that I long since should have performed, and that long ago I made up my mind to perform, but in the hurry of the business of life and the political affairs of the country I postponed it till now. But I go forward in the name of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who I hope and believe has pardoned all my sins and washed me from all my iniquities.” Upon this confession he was baptized and received into the Church, had his name enrolled upon the Church Register, and thus died in full fellowship with the McKendree Church of this city. Such in brief is the religious life and experience of the Honorable James K. Polk-a man whom we all loved, and whose death we all mourn this day, and whose departure will be regretted throughout the length and
breadth of this great land.
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