Extract from Dr. Hubbard’s sermon [on the death of George Burgwin Johnston]
I have thought it fit to present these reflections to your minds, because we have had in recent months not a few intimations of our mortality & in the past week, one which has filled with a peculiar sadness the hearts of those who knew him who was departed, best.
It is not our intention to eulogize the dead. When once, in the burial service, the benediction of the Church has been pronounced over the departed, she leads them in her master’s keeping, trusting in His words of promise, & His unfailing mercies. Yet it is well, sometimes, when our hearts are deeply touched by the loss of a friend, to retain the impression of our loss, & confirm our memory of the excellent qualities of him who has been taken from us. And surely there are not a few here present to whom the life of one as lovely & this early death furnish both admonition & example. To that end would I speak of him.
A life of only twenty three years is too brief for what the world would call the achievement of great things. It is then that the elements of the character are arranging themselves around those centres which are to determine all its energy & activities in the future. This early period is the season of hopes, of plans, of discipline, of preparation, when the muscles of the soul are developed, its strength maturing. And it is because, in the death of our late friend, so rich hopes have been extinguished, a training so admirable cut off from all its results, that we grieve over our share in his loss so deeply.
Capt. Johnson seems to have had a rare constitution of nature always amiable, & affectionate, always firm in duty, safety & generous in all his impulses & purposes; from his very childhood to have exhibited those traits which in later years won so entirely the regards of those who knew him. As a student of the University he was faithful in every relation, to his teachers, to his fellows, to himself. No appointed service was left undone, & each & all well done. His acknowledged superiority in talents & attainments excited no envy in others, no pride in himself: while his upright manly bearing gained for him from every quarter respect & confidence. Few young men have for many years left College with purer name, or with brighter prospects of usefulness & distinctions. When he became a teacher, all that was anticipated for him was realized; popular because he was faithful, & successful because he was in earnest, & creating everywhere esteem & affection by his transparent unselfishness & purity of heart. The same qualities he carried into his brief soldier-life, & these for they earned like rewards.
The crowning beauty of his character, & the source of all his rare excellencies, was his christian faith. Trained in christian duty, from early life, there seems to have been no time when the light of Heaven did not shine on him, & he grew up in the purpose of consecration to God, & so all along to the end dwell in that peculiar calmness & peace, which comes from a pure conscious, & an obedient heart, & the superadded grace of the Spirit.
Loving much, he was loved much. Patient and submissive he was gently carried in the arms of the Great Shepherd. He was strengthened from above to lead, what many who hear one will join me in calling a most exemplary & consistent life, & so received that gift, almost more excellent, of consolation & an arm to lean on in his long passage through the valley of the shadows of death. “Not my will, but thine be done” was in those trying hours, the language of his heart & lips,& can we doubt that the humble disciple thus following in word & spirit The blessed Master is this day “with Him, to go out no more from him forever”?
April 10th 1864.
Source: George Burgwin Johnston Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh as found on www.ncecho.org.