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Full text of "Death swallowed up in victory : a sermon occasioned by the death of Mrs. Susan Gratiot, late a member of the South Presbyterian Church, Galena, Illinois, delivered at Galena, June 11, 1854"

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AT GALENA, JUNE 11, 1854. 

REV. H. J. COE, 




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Mrs. Susan Gratiot was the daughter of Stephen HempsteaCj 
Esq., of Connecticutj a soldier of the Revolution. At an early 
day, the family removed to St. Louis, in the then Tertitory of 
Missouri. Her oldest brother, the Hon. Edward Hempstead, 
was the first Delegate in Congress from that Territory. Her hus- 
band. Col. Henry Gratiot, was a pioneer oFthe Upper Missis- 
sippi Lead Mines, long connected with the Indian affairs of that 
new country, and whose history was closely identified with it, up 
to the time of his death, which occurred in Baltimore, Maryland, 
in the year 1836, on his return from Washington, D. C, to his 
home in Wisconsin Territory. Mrs. Gratiot had been spending 
the winter and spring in Washington, with the family of her son- 
in-law, Mr. E. B. Washburne, a Representative in Congress from 
the State of Illinois. She was returning with him and his family 
to the West, when she was seized with the Asiatic cholera, within 
ten miles of her own home, at Gratiot's Grove, Wisconsin, and of 
which she died on the second day of June, 1854, after an illness 
of some ten hours. 

Galena, Illinois, June 12, 1854. 


" Death is swallowed up in victory." 

[I Corinthians, xv, 54. 

Most men view Death as a fearful foe. In the far 
off distance, they may mock at his power, and sport 
at his coming ; but their cheeks will blanch, and 
their eyes quail, at his near approach. Their terror 
betrays itself in the names they have given to Death, 
and the repulsive forms with which, in their dark 
imaginings, they have clothed him. They have called 
him a heartless tyrant, a fell destroyer, rioting in 
gloom and woe. They have portrayed him as a 
grim and spectral warrior. According to their pen- 
cilings, his form is skeleton and hideous, his breath 
is icy, his eye is pitiless, his voice rings stern and 
hollow. With ruthless scythe and tireless arm, he 
mows down the thronged procession of life, that 
shrinkingly defiles before him. Viewing Death thus, 
they draw near the sweep of his remorseless hand 
with struggling reluctance. They close the eye ; they 
stop the ear ; they are steeped in intoxication, or 
stupefied with opiates. They steel themselves into 
insensibility, or delude their fluttering hearts with 
the vain hope of escaping his stroke, or at least 
delaying the hour of fatal approach. 


Far different is the view the ripened Christian 
takes of Death. Enhghtened by the teachings, 
imbued with the spirit, gladdened by the hopes, of 
Revelation, Death is to him disrobed of its terrors' 
and shorn of its power to harm. It may come with 
the quiet glacier-tread of lingering disease, but he 
fears it not ; he knows the arm of infinite wisdom 
and love is guiding its footsteps. It may with the 
gush of a torrent sweep loved ones from his side ; 
he does but loosen his hold on the frail supports of 
earth, to tighten his grasp on the immovable rock of 
omnipotence. It may even thunder down his own 
pathway, as th0 avalanche bounds along on its mis- 
sion of wrath ; but he can gaze fearlessly on its 
beetling brow, for on it he shall be safely borne 
across the otherwise impassable chasm that separates 
him from eternal and unutterable glory. His calm- 
ness is not stupidity ; his boldness is not rashness. 
He has planted himself on the assurance that Death 
is swallowed up in victory; an assurance on whose 
breadth, and strength, and meaning, nature and 
history. Scripture and observation, have taught him 
firmly to rely. 

Nature, in her teaching, bids him gaze on the 
unsightly worm, yielding up its breath to reappear 
with the most beauteous form of insect life ; on the 
sun, gilding with glory the clouds that sought to 
engloom his setting on the fretted Rhone and the 
turbid Jordan, losing themselves in the clear, quiet 
waters of Gennesaret and Geneva, and, while he 
gazes, points with emblem finger to the glorious 
spiritual truth they foreshadow — the truth that 
Death is swallowed up in victory. 

To deepen this impression, History adds her 
teachings, and bears the Christian away to her 
interpreting scenes. She takes him to the Heights 
of Abraham, and bids him behold the pain-stamped 
brow of the conqueror of Quebec grow radiant with 
joy as the shout of triumph falls on his dying ear, 
and listen to the hurra of victory that bursts from 
his stiffening lips amid the groans of dissolution. 
She carries him to the martyr fires of Smithfield and 
Oxford, and, amid the slowly embering fagots that 
agonize the flesh of Cranmer and Ridley and Latimer, 
bids him gaze on the raptured spirit, illumining the 
whole countenance with gladness, a,tid bedewing the 
lips with songs of thanksgiving. Amid such scenes 
she whispers to his opening understanding the truth 
they illustrate : " Death is swallowed up in victory." 

Revelation, too, grasps his willing hand, and leads 
him to her yet loftier heights of prospect. She 
points to Him who cometh with blood-stained 
garments from Edom, who hath trodden the wine 
press of wrath alone, and through Death destroyed 
him that hath the power of Death. She causes to 
pass before him the way-worn apostle to the Gentiles, 
saying, " For me to die is gain. I have fought the 
good fight, I have finished my course. Henceforth 
there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.'' 
Farther still, she brings from the distant future the 
final consummation, when mortal puts on immor- 
tality, and Death and the grave are cast into the lake 
of fire, and points to it as that last and highest fulfill- 
ment, whose far-away glories irradiated the stern 
eye of the prophet, seen when he exclaimed, "The 


Lord Grod will swallow up death in victory, and will 
wipe away tears from ofP all faces." 

Observation likewise lends lier aid to impress what 
Nature, and History, and Scripture, have so vividly 
taught. She bids us watch each departing Christian, 
as Heaven projects its glories in his countenance, 
and plants its exceeding joy in his heart, as glorious 
fulfillment of the prophetic utterance, "Death is 
swallowed up in victory." 

It is by such a striking fulfillment and illustration 
of this glowing prophecy we are called together 
to-day. We come to celebrate a glorious victory 
over Death — a victory which, whether we view the 
conqueror, the circumstances of the conflict, or the 
completeness of the conquest, looms up far beyond 
an ordinary triumph. So far as can now be learned, 
our departed sister was the first, as she was one of 
the most consistent, professing Christians that ever 
dwelt in this city. The pioneer Christian of Galena 
has gone to her rest, and won her star-jewelled 
crown. A brief sketch of the life and character of 
such an one may not be inappropriate. 

Yet it is no easy task to daguerreotype the dead. 
To so sketch the character of departed worth, that 
all shall recognise each lineament as real, each 
feature as truthful, is always difficult, if not impos- 
sible. The partialities of friendship, the enhanced 
value we ever put upon what we have lost, the 
ignorance or lesser knowledge of strangers and 
unfamiliar friends, must ever prove potent causes 
of wide differences of opinion, and remain serious 
obstaces to a united abiding at the golden mean of 
truth. These difficulties increase as the character 


grows more perfect. Since perfection is but the 
harmonious blending in due proportion of all excel- 
lences, perfect characters furnish no angular points, 
like those less rounded and polished, on which the 
hand can fasten its grasp, while it holds them up to 

Moreover, true humility, the rarest, as the crown- 
ing glory of high excellence, can never shine in the 
strong glare of publicity. Its sweet light beams 
undimmed only amid familiar friends, or in the 
quietude of retirement. Hence, intimacy lays itself 
open, on the one hand, to the charge of overdrawing 
when it unveils the virtues of privacy, while on the 
other it justly incurs the blame of underpainting, if it 
do not permit the beauteous tints of the home life to 
mellow the portrait. Hence, too, a perfect character 
as that of our incarnate Lord, is indescribable, even 
by inspiration itself, save by its own words and 

Pressed in no small degree with these difficulties, 
a short statement of facts, a brief reference to that 
trait of character which most remarkably distin- 
guished the departed, must suflS.ce for the present 

Mrs. Susan Gratiot was born in Hebron, Connec- 
ticut, February 20, 1797. Her ancestral line runs 
back to the early settlement of America, and loses 
itself in the pilgrim band that sought, on the sterile 
shores of New England, freedom to worship Grod. 
In her case, as in many others, the blessing that 
rests upon the seed of the suffering righteous seems 
from infancy to have translated her into the kingdom 
of faith and love. Her removal, however, in early 


childhood, to the then frontier village of St. Louis, 
and the absence for years of all congenial religious 
privileges, prevented her public identification with 
people of God, till youth had well nigh ripened into 
womanhood. In her nineteenth year, she united on 
profession of faith with the little band at that time 
organized into the second Presbyterian church west 
of the Mississippi river. A little more than one year 
after, she was the youngest of the nine persons who,, 
on the 23d of November, 1817, formed the first 
Protestant church organized in the city of St. Louis. 
In the year 1825, she removed to Galena, then a 
collection of less than half a score of rude cabins. 
For three years after her arrival, she was entirely 
deprived of the public means of grace, and six years 
went by before any Christian church sprang into 
being here. In this city, as in St. Louis, it was her 
rare privilege to be one of the founders of the first 
church organized ; being one of the six whose names 
stand forth as the germ of organized piety among 
us. During all these years of destitution, as in all 
time since, she walked so closely with God, that 
none doubted the reality of her religion. Her 
cheerful words and hearty prayers did much to stay 
up the hands of God's servants in the weary conflict 
with overwhelming iniquity, and keep alive the well 
nigh expiring cause of Christ in this region. Less 
than eighteen months ago, in company with her two 
elder sisters, she identified herself with us in church 
relationship, thus twining a threefold cord of spiritual 
strength about our Zion. That cord, we had hoped, 
would long remain unbroken ; but God loved our 
departed sister too well to permit her to tarry longer 


" Where storm after storm rises dark o'er the way," 
and to linger 

" Away from yon heaven, that blissful abode, 
Where the rivers of pleasure roll o'er the bright plains, 
And the noontide of glory eternally reigns." 

Nine days since, the summons came for her to 
enter the better land. The message reached her 
while on her return from the far-away grave of her 
husband, and as the familiar landmarks of her 
earthly home rose upon her vision. It came with 
the sudden agony wherewith the Asiatic cholera 
comes in its deadliest wrath, but she welcomed its 
coming. Its stern accents Were to her full of melody, 
and words of joy trembled on her lips as the gol(J- 
en bowl was breaking at the fountain. 

To fully portray such a character is beyond our 
power. Its most prominent trait was love to God 
and man ; that love so glowingly described by the 
apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his first 
Epistle to the Corinthians. Her love was an active 
love. It went about doing good. It delighted to 
give the more than a cup of cold water to every 
wearied disciple. 

It was a self-denying love. She regarded not her 
own ease, but went willingly through night watch- 
ings and early risings to minister to the afflicted. 
She shared her every good with the sons of want, 
and performed in hours of need the most repulsive 
offices for the suffering. When pressed with the 
cares of a large household, she not unfrequently 
rose in the dim twilight of summer, to minister 
to the suffering family of some distant inebriate 


neighbor ; and more than once, for weeks, daily 
dressed the loathsome wounds of the rude savage, 
with no other claims upon her than those of poverty 
and suffering humanity. 

Her love was a broad, far-reaching love — a love 
of the Good Samaritan type. Incidents like those 
above referred to show that it overleaped the narrow 
boundaries of kindred, of friendship, of wealth, or 
race. Her hands soothed as patiently and tenderly 
the child of want and oppression, as the rich man 
clad in sumptuous apparel. 

Her love was withall a most unobtrusive love. 
It shrank even too much from observation. It 
blew no trumpet when it went forth on missions of 
charity ; and anointed itself with the oil of gladness 
in its hour of humiliation, that it might not appear 
unto men to fast. It reproved in quiet, and warmed 
with tears. It avenged not itself, and contended 
only for the good name of others. Above all, her^s 
was a love whose perennial streams were fed by close 
and wonderfully constant communion with the Giver 
of every good and perfect gift. She delighted to 
draw near to the Author and Finisher of Faith. 
Her well-worn and well-marked Bible, the keen 
zest with which she enjoyed the means of grace, 
her midnight communings with Grod, and medita- 
tions in night-watches upon his word, all revealed 
the source whence she drew her wealth of love. 
It was indeed a wealth of love she possessed. It 
so habitually controlled her, that it moulded her 
countenance to its own sweet expression, stirred 
stranger hearts with kindly yearnings towards her, 
and drew children, those quick discerners of the 


soul, to her side, as to a familiar, though new-found 
friend. The teachings of such a life, crowned by 
such a death, may be few, but they are deeply 

It testifies most impressively to the power of 
Christian love. We are prone to underrate the 
power of Christian love, and explain away the 
requirements of Him whose new commandment was. 
Love one another. We are wont to consider the 
sermon on the mount an exaggeration, incapable 
of practical exemplification in this present, selfish 
world. We are ready to regard iron sternness as 
needful, and most effective, especially amid the 
rough scenes of life. We look upon the hot temper 
and iron will of Luther and Augustine as admirably 
fitting them for their great work, and enabling them 
to stamp most deeply their impress upon their 

The life of our departed sister weighs not a 
little in proving such opinions erroneous. She lived 
amid pioneer scenes, and came in contact with the 
roughest forms of humanity, but her love never 
failed to triumph. The blood-thirsty savage grew 
mild and peaceful in her presence — the fierce 
inebriate, who rudely rebuffed all other entreaties, 
in grateful love for her kind ofi&ces, forswore the 
maddening bowl — and the stranger maniac was 
quickly lulled to slumber by her gentle words. In 
truth, such lives as that of the departed teach us 
that men of iron are not so mighty, and that their 
sterner traits do not exert so controlling an influence 
on their own age, or leave so deep an impress on 
succeeding ages, as we are wont to suppose. The 


stern tones and iron strokes of Luther and Augustine 
did not give them their mightiest power over others. 
They subdued kingdoms, and wrought righteousness 
by the strong sympathies of large hearts, and the 
full out-gushings of Christian love. Nay, even their 
iron firmness, and the lesser power it gave, was not 
unfrequently the offspring of Christian love, speaking 
through some gentle friend and quiet disciple. The 
sweet notes of silver trumpets, as in Israel's battles, 
nerved them to breast the storm of conflict to the 
end. Oft-times the foes that sternly withstood the 
assaults of wrath, bow willing captives to the stronger 
cords of kindness. The giant iceberg, that grinds 
gloomily along the iron-bound shores of Labrador, 
and, amid stormy seas, dashes unbroken against the 
rocky headlands of Newfoundland, melts and disap- 
pears amid the quiet waters of a sunnier clime. 

The life we have been contemplating, teaches us 
likewise the surpassing excellence of true religion. 
It exemplifies the excellence of intelligent piety, 
both in life and death. Religion taught Mrs. 
Gratiot how to live so useful a life. It nerved her 
for self-denials. It sustained her in cheerfulness, 
amid disappointments and sorrow. It ennobled the 
lowliest offices of love with such dignity as made it 
no condescension in her eyes to perform them. It 
invested all with whom she came in contact, whether 
clothed in rags or purple, with the dignity of 
immortal spirits, destined to an endless existence of 
joy or woe. It enabled her to live the life of the 
righteous. It prepared her to meet the last foe with 
gladness, and exclaim, in the dying hour, death, 
where is thy sting ! grave, where is thy victory 1 

In view of such results accomplished by it, how do 
all other possessions sink into insignijSicance ? They 
are not comparable to that which wafts its glories 
across the stream of death, and gladdens with its 
far-off foretastes the soul struggling with the pains 
of dissolution. 

Bereaved kindred, it was the wish of your departed 
relative that life for you might spring from her death. 
She longed to have your sorrow swallowed up, not 
only in her gain, but in those peaceable fruits of 
righteousness, and that exceeding and eternal weight 
of glory, which may result from so sore a trial. Let 
not that desire be ungratified — that wish remain 
unaccomplished. Make your bereavement a means 
of leading you to that trust she found so precious. 
Let it fire you to imitate her example of patient 
labor and self-denial, that you may share her reward. 
See to it that she is permitted to welcome you to 
her own bright home, when the warfare of life is 
for you accomplished. 

Christian friends of the deceased, and especially 
those bound to her by the tender ties of church 
relationship, upon which of you shall her fallen man- 
tle of love rest, and upon whom shall a double por- 
tion of her spirit abide? As one and another of 
your strong warriors are prostrated by the foe, who 
will close up the broken ranks, and fill the gaps Death 
has made. The time is short. The hour of depart- 
ure is at hand. The summons may come to you as 
suddenly as it came to her. Gird anew the armor of 
righteousness upon the right hand and upon the left. 
Be not weary in well doing. Be ever watchful and 
laborious. Give diligence to add to your present 

16 % fim 

faith, virtue, and knowledge, and love, that ye may 
be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of 
Christ, and may welcome his appearing with the 
longing entreaty, Come quickly, Lord Jesus. 

Friends of the departed whose peace is not yet made 
tvith God, how strongly do her life arnd death testify 
to the excellence of the religion you have hitherto 
neglected ! What are the wealth and fame and power 
you so earnestly seek, compared with this most 
precious possession ! They cannot enable you to act 
well your part in life. They cannot swallow up 
death in victory. They rather wither and dissolve 
and disappear at his approach. His breath tarnishes 
their lustre, shrouds their splendor in deepening 
gloom, and stills forever the glad pulsations they 
have stirred. It is not thus with true piety. Like 
its glorious Giver, it is a refulgent sun to those who 
trust themselves to its guidance. It will add zest 
and brightness to all that is joyous and radiant in 
life ; it will line with gold the clouds that ever and 
anon will sweep across your sky ; it will tip with 
light the mountain summits of your pilgrimage, 
and throw its cheering reflections down the deep 
valleys of your pathway. In the hour of dissolu- 
tion, if it may not pierce the night-wove curtain 
doubt has drawn athwart the soul with its clearer 
shinings, its triumphant joys, it will reflect its lesser 
consolations, its long-lent lunar beams and stellar 
rays, to illumine your way and gladden your depar-