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A Sermon on the Death of Joseph H. Marshall, Esq.
By the Pastor, Rev. R. B. C. Howell, D. D., 1844
“I would not live always.” Job vii. 16.
      We have assembled this morning to perform a melancholy and painful duty. Death has entered our little circle, and stricken down one of the tallest of our number. Our beloved and lamented brother, Joseph H. Marshall, sleeps in his grave." We have met to do for him the last sad office of which we are capable in this world, and to express the affection with which, now that he is gone, we cherish his memory. How lovely in his life was our brother! How prompt to every good word and work! Daily were we associated with him; we thought not of his departure; and we knew not ourselves how much we loved him, until he was suddenly snatched from us by the hand of the destroyer. He has gone; not, however, thank God, unprepared, nor, as we apprehend, unwarned and unexpectant of the event.

      If there was, during his life, any one sentiment more than another cherished in the inmost heart of our dear departed brother, it was this contained in our text - “I would not live always.” The passage teaches us that, when he has done his work upon earth - fought bravely the battle of the cross – death to the Christian is desirable. Let us for a few moments contemplate this topic.

      The love of life is a universal instinct. If we permit it to influence our feelings and actions, we do not sin. It is implanted in our nature by the hand of God, for the wisest purposes. Every relation we sustain, and all the objects which attract our pursuit, are so many evidences of its reasonableness and propriety. It prevents us from unnecessarily exposing ourselves; preserves us from suicide; prompts to personal defence; and thus contributes, essentially, to the public safety. Those dependent upon us have a right to our continued existence, as long as it can be preserved. Our love to our families and friends, therefore, mingles with the instinctive desire to perpetuate our being, and thus strengthens the bonds which unite us to this world. Since, consequently, the love of life is prompted both by nature and by duty, its preservation becomes a high moral obligation, which to violate is in the last degree criminal.

      But life has its period as well as its duties. These over and discharged, we should no longer tenaciously cling to it, nor shrink with shuddering at the approach of death. It is our privilege to be prepared for either, and to be able, by divine grace, to welcome death with as much cheerfulness, as we have rejoice in the possession of life. And is such a state of mind - such resignation to the divine will – attainable! Yes, blessed be God, religion reveals to us the means by which the glorious victory is achieved. Religion - the religion of Christ, dispels the darkness and loathsomeness of the grave; tears away the sting of death; inspires us with a desire to depart and be with Christ; and fills us with joy in view of the eternal world. Having, as did our dear brother, acted well, and finished honorably the part assigned us here, we turn our thoughts beyond the grave, and ardently desire to be wasted to the glories which there await our coming. Thus to the Christian death becomes desirable. It is the portal that leads to his happy and eternal home. He enters the dark valley, not with trembling and dismay, but with gladness, leaning upon him who has said - “Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God.”

      Some of the reasons why to the Christian death is desirable, are, because his knowledge in this life is greatly limited; because his happiness here is incomplete; because we are as yet detained from our destined companionship with the purest and most enlightened society in the universe; and because until death shall deliver us from our bondage, we are morally and spiritually, as well as physically imperfect.

* * * * *

      These sentiments are, I have said, in full consonance with those so long and so warmly cherished by our departed brother. Therefore it was that he looked so fearlessly upon death; habitually spoke of his approach as welcome, when it should be the pleasure of God to remove him from the earth; and met his attack, not with trembling and alarm, but with the calmest serenity.

      Permit now, if you please, a more particular reference to our lamented brother.

      Joseph Hopkins Marshall was surrounded by no special religious influences, yet, from his earliest childhood, he was strongly inclined to become a Christian. We are not surprised, therefore, that during his fourteenth year, he received from our heavenly father joyful assurances of his personal acceptance with Christ, and was soon after, near his father's residence, in the vicinity of Greensburg, Kentucky, baptized, and united with the church. To that place he had gone on business, and was mingling with the friends, and among the scenes of his childhood, when the destroyer came. Suddenly on the 27th of last month, (June,) in the midst of his days, in the vigor of manhood he was called hence. His sun was blotted from its place when it had scarcely reached the noon of life. - Young, but mature in experience, spirituality, and usefulness, he fell, in the forty-eighth year of his age, having been a member of the church thirty-four, and a deacon ten years. During all this period he acted faithfully and successfully his part; not a stain disfigures the escutcheon of his fame: he was still, when he went down to the tomb, eminently adorning his holy profession. Never was there a more sincere and ardent Christian than he, or one more warmly and unwaveringly attached to the cause of the Redeemer. The stricken partner of his life who survives to deplore his irreparable loss, shared in all his hopes, his labors and his consolations. Their two remaining children, spared to them by the hand of death, he lived to see reach maturity of age, and to welcome them both into the church of the living God. May their father's God grant them grace to walk in his footsteps, and make their path through life, as his was, that of the just, “which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

      With his bereaved and weeping family We cannot, if we would, refrain from mingling our tears; for they could love him little more than he was beloved by us all. Upon his family the blow which removed him from earth falls with a stunning power; but the church too will feel it not less sensibly. When have we thought of an enterprise for the advancement of religion, either here or elsewhere, with which we did not associate in our minds the name of Marshall? He was in the front rank of every movement. We know not what our heavenly Father designs. Perhaps we leaned too much upon our brother, and God took him away to recall our confidence to Christ. Perchance he intends to teach us that any one man, however influential and devoted, is not necessary to the accomplishment of his purposes. It may be that in this way he is visiting us in chastisement for our careless disregard of his laws, and our numerous sins and transgressions. Whatever may be true in these respects, to me it appears evident that, if this bereavement is not sanctified to an increase of spirituality, faithfulness, zeal, and readiness to labor and make sacrifices for the cause of Christ among us, it will – it must – result in eminent disaster to the church,

      We mourn not for him, therefore, but for ourselves. He has passed the fearfulness of “death’s dark vale - gone triumphantly - and now lives with angels, and dear relatives, in the skies. We are the sufferers. Who now shall comfort the crushed hearts that bleed in his desolate chambers? We thank God that they can find consolation, even for this calamity, in the full and rich fountain of Jehovah's love. Thither they have already fled. And in this little church, which, nearly from its beginning has been his care, for the building up, and the spiritual prosperity of which he has toiled so faithfully, for which he has, in private and in public, poured forth so many prayers, and to whose welfare we had accustomed ourselves to think that his exertions, his presence. and his counsels were almost essential, - who shall supply his place? Upon whom shall fall the mantle of Marshal? God of salvation, it is thine own cause. To thee we look. Sustain it by such instrumentality as may please thee. But forsake not, we entreat thee, thy people; nor suffer them to be overcome or discouraged.

      Among the characteristics of our dear departed brother, none was more striking than his unwavering Christian firmness.

      Having devoted himself to Christ at an age so early, and having read much and carefully, and besides availed himself conscientiously, of all the means of grace, and of knowledge, he was well instructed in all that pertains to religion; he possessed an enlarged understanding, and he cherished views which were eminently evangelical. His principles were fixed. No new or ingenious theories, therefore, captivated him. Grace - abounding grace - was his perpetual theme. For life and salvation he leaned alone on Christ. - He had “no confidence in the flesh.” Here he rested joyfully and immoveably.

      The zeal and usefulness of our brother developed themselves with the first dawn of hope in his soul, and continued throughout life. Scarcely was he fifteen years old when his instrumentality had been honored of God, in bringing to the knowledge of the truth, and to membership in the church, his father and mother, his sisters, and several other relatives. How many since it has been his privilege to lead to the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, eternity only will make known. - There, we doubt not, he will find many who will shine for ever, as stars in the crown of his rejoicing.

      In his business associations and pursuits, which were often exceedingly extensive, complicated, and laborious, and in his intercourse with men of every character, he was strictly, and in the highest and best sense, a man of honor. The correctness of his judgment may sometimes have been questioned, but his integrity and purity of purpose, no man ever doubted.

      For the promptness and regularity with which our lamented brother performed every Christian duty, he was particularly remarkable. Business. however pressing; the weather however inclement; company however fascinating and delightful; pleasure however seductive, never, so far as my knowledge extends, in a single instance prevented him from filling his place in the sanctuary. If, in the prayer meeting, the church meeting, the monthly concert, with his Sabbath school class, and at all the services of the Lord's day, he was not present, and ready to do his part of every duty, we all knew that he was either sick, or absent from the city. His contributions for every laudable purpose were always prompt, hearty, and liberal. He was ready to labor, and he never hesitated to make any reasonable sacrifice to promote the cause of Christ in our own church, or to advance anywhere the interests of a pure and evangelical Christianity. For zeal and fidelity in all these respects, I believe he was never surpassed.

      The qualities I have now described, readily designated him as a suitable man for places of public religious trust. Accordingly he was not only, as we have seen, an officer in his own church, but for many years past, president of the Tennessee Foreign Society, a member of the Board of Education, and trustee of Union University, - a member of the Board of the General Association, of the Bible, and of the Publication Societies, and an officer of nearly all our great national church organizations. His duties of this kind, therefore, were exceedingly numerous, but never neglected. They were all, without any appearance of hurry, with calm conscientiousness, faithfully performed.

      Our beloved and lamented brother was particularly a friend to the ministry. He rejoiced to sustain the young noviciate in the acquisition of knowledge, to urge on the feeble, and to comfort the poor and afflicted. He delighted to welcome, “without money, and without price,” the Heralds of the Cross to his hospitable mansion. - Many of them who have enjoyed the pleasure of his society, will long gratefully remember his warm greetings, his solicitude for their comfort, his affectionate admonitions, his pious encouragements, and the force given to their designs and endeavors, by his ready hand and benevolent heart. And, if I may on this melancholy occasion, be permitted to refer to myself, I may be allowed to say, he was my friend. His hand was among the first extended to me, when eleven years ago, a stranger I arrived in this city. From that to his last hour, he stood by me. In prosperity he rejoiced with me; in perplexity he gave me counsel; in sickness he was by my bedside; in distress, and those painful bereavements through which I have been called to pass, he did the office of a brother; and in my hours of despondency I invariably heard his voice, animating and encouraging me to renewed hope and duty. Sainted brother, by me thou canst never be forgotten!

      He was pre-eminently a man of prayer. He lived habitually near the throne of grace. He was familiar with heaven’s high communings.

      His end was such as from his life might have been anticipated. His general health had been good, yet during a few years past, his attacks of disease had been increasingly frequent, and fearfully violent. But a few weeks since, while on a visit in Mississippi, he was brought near the grave. On his return he told us that he had then thought it probable he should see us no more; for that, in this extremity, his hopes were unfailing, and that he found himself calm, fearless, and fully resigned to the will of God. His business called him to Kentucky, and as soon as he was able to ride he set out. There he was again ill, but had apparently nearly recovered. He had just visited, as he had of late often expressed a desire to do, the church which he at first joined, and the waters where he was baptized. He had, it seems, a presentiment of his death, and told his friends that he apprehended he should never again reach home. On the day of his departure he had gone to spend the afternoon with his brother-in-law. They had talked much, and, as usual, religion was the principal theme. Complaining of a slight indisposition, he threw himself upon the bed, still continuing to converse cheerfully, especially with his sister, remarking to her that the sight of Gilead Baptist church, and the little stream where was buried with Christ in baptism the third of a century ago, was to him like a solemn sermon. These were his last words. He was silent but a few moments; his breathing attracted attention; his brother approached him; a smile was on his countenance , but he was dead!

      Thus lived our dear brother, and thus he died calmly –

“ – As sets the morning star, which goes
Not down behind the darkened west, nor hides,
Obscured among the tempests of the sky,
But melts away into the light of heaven.”

      Rest, dearest brother, until we meet thee there, in thy home of bliss! Yet a little longer, a few more contests upon earth, and we will walk together the starry pavements of the skies.

     Pastor Howell was at the First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee at the time of this funeral.


[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, 1845, pp. 259-263. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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