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THE VILLAGE FUNERAL.
It was toward the close of a fine day in the beginning of autumn that I drew near a pleasant, retired village on the banks of the. The setting sun shone obliquely on the pure landscape, which was already changing its green leaves for the various hues of autumn, and seemed to vie in splendor with the glorious beauty of the western sky. The air was mild and still, and the interrupted cry of the birds, that answered one another plaintively from the fields, rendered the hour yet more impressive. My mind took an impression from the season; and as I passed pensively and slowly along, I was not sorry to find, on the edge of the village, before I entered it, a graveyard by the way-side.
I had been musing on the changes of nature, and the close of the day and the year; and I was just in a suitable frame to contemplate the end of man. I alighted, and tied my horse, and went in, to read the epitaphs, and learn how short a thing is life, and reflect on the worthlessness of posthumous praise. I found a new-made grave, just opened, and waiting for its tenant. My thoughts fixed themselves upon it. For whom can this be? And I stood revolving the possible answers to this question, until approaching steps disturbed me, and a procession entered the yard.
I stepped aside to observe it. First came twelve young girls, in white dresses, and with wreaths of evergreen in
their hands. Then followed an old man, who proved to be the minister of the place, and who immediately preceded the bier, which was borne by four young men. Mourners, and a numerous train, succeeded. The procession moved on to the grave; they gathered close around it; those that bare the body stood still, and placed it on the ground. Reverently the pall was taken off, and in sad silence the coffin descended to its place. The girls in white approached, and cast their wreaths upon it, and then lifted their voices in a low and mournful song, which gradually grew firmer and swelled louder, till it closed in a full peal of triumph.
I never had witnessed such a scene before, and every thing was done so simply, so quietly, so naturally, that it touched me to the heart. I perceived that others were affected also; and it was not without evident emotion that the venerable pastor uncovered his white locks to the wind, and lifted his tremulous voice. "It is well," said he; “it is well, it is fitting, that the fair and innocent should go to their home upon the wings of song, and that Christians should thus bid adieu to those whom they loved. While their spirits are welcomed by the hymns of angels above, it is right that our voices below should join the consoling and enrapturing strain.
"For what are we laying in the dust? The body. It belongs there. That is its home. The weary soul has cast its cumbrous tenement aside, and ascended without it. All that we do is to hide it in its parent earth. This is not a work for sorrow and tears: when the spirit that dwelt there is rejoicing, it is not for those who loved it to be mourning. No; let the body go down to the dust as it was, and a solemn hallelujah be sung over its bed; for the spirit is gone to God, who gave it. Death is swallowed up in victory; and the shout of victory should be joyous."
The old man's enthusiasm kindled as he spoke, and he lifted his fine head and pointed upward, as if he saw the heavens opened. I gazed on him, and thought of Stephen, whose face was 66 as it had been the face of an angel." The stillness of death was upon all, as they looked with almost religious awe upon his prophet-like figure. Even the stifled sobs of mourners ceased to be audible. He presently turned his eye downward, and dropped his hand, till it pointed to the grave.
"This is a Christian's bed," said he ; " and it is a privilege to stand near it. Young she was, indeed; but how pure, how blameless, how lovely! The idol of her parents, the joy of her friends, the delight and example of all, she walked in her Master's steps-humble, holy, devout; and with all the gentleness of his spirit, and all the peace of his hope, she heard the summons to depart. 'Life is sweet,' she said, and I have much to live for; but I have a hope in heaven, and if God wills that I should exchange an earthly hope for a heavenly, why should I wish to delay?' And thus she calmly cast herself upon her Father's will, and quietly breathed out her spirit into his hand. She sleeps in Jesus, and is blessed. And who would awaken her out of sleep? Who would call her spirit back to reanimate that cold frame, and mingle again in the toils of earth? Bright as were her prospects, brilliant as was the promise of her life, yet who of you would wish her to be restored to them? They might deceive and fail her, and leave her to a weary pilgrimage of loneliness and woe. But the prospects of the world to which she has gone cannot deceive her. They are sure and eternal. The soul that has tasted them would esteem the highest gratifications of earth insufficient and mean; and the soul that anticipates them with the strength of Christian faith, knowing that they are, and that the departed idol of
its affections is enjoying them, will think it profaneness to call the ascended spirit back. It is enough to enjoy the cheering hope of ascending also, and being joined again in the ties of friendship and love.
"Am I not right?" said he, turning toward the parents of the deceased, whose tears fell freely, but evidently as much from the fulness of religious emotion as from grief"Am I not right? Is it not better to hope for that blessed reunion in heaven, than to have enjoyed her society on earth? You and I have many dear ones gone from us to the abodes of light. Here is another, whom I loved as if she had been my own, now added to their company. I have more of my dearest friends in heaven than on earth; and it makes death delightful to me in prospect, because it will restore me to the large circle of the good and the loved, from whom my protracted years have separated me. And this is the triumph of our holy faith-that the saddest, dreariest, most heart-rending moments of life are the occa‐ sions of the noblest and happiest emotions that the human mind can experience. Even the dark and horrible sepulchre becomes a place of glory, and the burial of those that are dearest, an occasion for exultation. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift- the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord! O, how it has changed the feelings of this hour! For how could we have borne to surrender to the dust this precious and beautiful form, if we did not know that its more precious spirit survives? But now we give ashes to ashes and dust to dust, with a hope full of immortality; knowing that this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and death be swallowed up in everlasting victory. For as Jesus died and rose again, so also they that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. O that we might all be of that glorious number! O that we might not only find comfort
from this hope, as we think of the angel that has left us, but be quickened by it to live and die like her, that we may not be separated from her in the last great day."
The old man paused a moment, and then said, "I did not intend to have spoken thus; but I was impelled and carried away by that sweet hymn. My office is to pray;
for what are human words at such an hour as this? Consolation and blessing come only from God. Of him let us seek them."
Every head was uncovered and reverently bowed toward the earth, as the venerable man lifted his hands to heaven, and poured forth the language of Christian trust, hope, and peace. It was consonant to the sentiments he had been uttering. I could not help looking upon him as one standing between the living and the dead, and speaking from the borders of both worlds. The last rays of the sun, whose disc was already touching the horizon, threw a glory upon his waving white locks, and seemed an emblem of his own spirit, just sinking to its rest, that it may rise to a brighter day. And as I silently accompanied the departing crowd from the graveyard, I could not help recalling the train of thought with which I had entered it. "Yes," said I to myself, "the day closes in darkness, the year fades in desolation, and man sleeps in the dust; but there is a morning and a springtime for all. Youth, that is cut down in its loveliness like a morning flower, shall bloom afresh in the garden of God; and age, that shines in righteousness till it sinks beneath the sod, shall rise again in glory, like the sun in the firmament. Blessed be He that hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel!"