Life and Work of Samuel Marsden
Mr. Marsden had now passed the allotted span of human life, though his days were not yet “labour and sorrow.”
Entering upon his seventy-second year with stooping gait and failing eyesight and a decaying memory he had otherwise few of the mental infirmities of age. He was still a perfect stranger to fear, as well as to that nervous restlessness and susceptibility which wears the appearance of it, though often found, as may be daily observed, in connection with the truest courage.
After his return home from his last voyage he was attacked, when driving with his youngest daughter, upon one of his excursions in the bush by two famous bushrangers, Wormley and Webber, part of a gang who for two years kept the whole country in a state of terror. One of the ruffians presented a loaded pistol at his breast and another at his daughter's, threatening with horrid imprecations to shoot them both if they said a word, and bidding his daughter to empty her father's pockets into their hands.
Perfectly undismayed, Mr. Marsden remonstrated with them on their wicked course of life, telling them at last that he should soon see them again, he had no doubt, on the gallows. At parting, though charged with the usual threats not to page 201 look behind him, he turned round, and continued, while they were in sight, to warn them in the same strain of the certain consequences of a life of crime. His admonition was soon verified; the wretched men were apprehended for other outrages and sentenced to death, and he attended them from the condemned cell to the place of execution.
These excursions into the country around Parramatta, where he had gone about for a period of nearly forty years doing the work of an evangelist or home missionary, were continued to the last. To wind through devious paths in the bush in his one-horse chaise, where his good horse Major seemed as if trained to penetrate, gave him the highest pleasure. The way was often trackless, and he was obliged to ask his companion whether the trace of a cartwheel could be seen. Yet there was an instinctive feeling of safety in his company, and a refreshment in his conversation, which always made the vacant seat in the gig prized by those who knew and loved him.
“As he drove along,” says a Christian lady, who was his companion on some of his last journeys,” wherever he went there was always to be found some testimony to that goodness and mercy which had followed him all the days of his life. Some Ebenezer he could raise where he had helped, perhaps, in an encounter with a bushranger, having only the Sword of the Spirit with which to defend himself and disarm his foe, or some Bethel, it might be, where like Jacob he had been enabled to page 202 wrestle and prevail. With such a companion no one could be a loser. On these excursions, no matter to what distance, he seemed to think preparations needless; he would travel miles and miles without any previous consideration for his own comfort or convenience. Even a carpet-bag was an encumbrance. He had been too long accustomed to make his toilet with the New Zealander, and take with him his meal of fern-root, to be particular, or to take thought what he should eat, or wherewithal should he be clothed.”
His love of the country and of rural scenes gave a strong colouring and great originality to his preaching as well as to his own religious character. He called his estate “The plains of Mamre.” This property had been presented to Mr. Marsden in the early days of the colony, when land uncleared was absolutely worthless, to eke out his insufficient stipend. It had now become valuable, and he was exposed both in the colony and in England to many unjust remarks, even from those who should have known him better, on the score of his reputed wealth.
His own justification of himself is more than sufficient. Being told that he was charged with avarice, “Why,” said he, “they might as well find fault with Abraham, whose flocks and herds multiplied. Abraham never took any trouble about it, nor do I. I can't help their increasing”; and he added, a remark so true and of such pregnant import that it ought for ever to have put to silence this miserable page 203 carping: “It was not for myself, but for the benefit of this colony and New Zealand, that I ever tried to promote agriculture or the improvement in sheep or cattle.”
Had he done nothing else for Australia, his introduction of Merino sheep with a view to the growth of wool would have marked him down upon the roll of her greatest benefactors.
Through life his choicest topics in the pulpit had been the patriarchs, their lives and characters, but as he grew old, he seemed unconsciously to rank amongst their number; to fall into and become one of their own body, himself a Christian patriarch.
It was the frequent remark of his friends that he spoke of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, just as if he had lived in their times, heard their conversations, and been well acquainted with them.
It is much to be regretted that more full and accurate reports of his sermons and conversations should not have been kept. The truth and originality of his remarks would have made them invaluable. When seated in his chair on the lawn before his house, surrounded by his family and friends, his conversations took the prevailing turn of his mind, and he used to dwell on the incidents of patriarchal life with a depth of feeling and a power of picturesque description, and we would be glad if the memorials had not been allowed to perish.
At an examination of the grammar-school at Parramatta, the headmaster, the Rev. R. Forrest, his highly valued friend, having requested him to ask the boys some questions upon Scripture history, forgetting the business page 204 in hand, he broke out into a long and interesting address on patriarchal life and manners.
His old age exhibited some traits not always to be found, even in good men, after a long life passed among scenes of danger or amidst the hardening warfare of personal animosities.
Though to the last bold in reproving sin his real character was that of gentleness and the warmest social affection. None but the bad were ever afraid of him; on the contrary, his presence diffused a genial light and warmth in every company. Cruel savages and little children loved him alike; the wisest men gathered instruction from his lips, while they found pleasure in his simple courtesy and manly open-heartedness.
He brought home with him in the Rattlesnake from New Zealand several Maori youths. “They seemed to love and respect their Matua,* as they called him, more than any one, or anything, besides. They used to run after his gig like joyous children, and to attempt to catch his eye as if to bask in the sunshine of his benevolent countenance.”
His last communication to the Church Missionary Society, dated the 10th of December, 1837, and received after his death, is full of hope for his beloved New Zealanders:“I am happy to say the mission goes on well amidst every difficulty. I visited many places in my last voyage from the North Cape to Cloudy Bay. The Gospel has made a deep impression upon many of the natives, who now lead godly lives.”page 206
The letter, which is written in a large and straggling hand, as though the pen was no longer under its usual firm control, concludes with these touching words: “I am now very feeble. My eyes are dim, and my memory fails me. I have done no duty on the Sabbath for some weeks through weakness. When I review all the way the Lord has led me through this wilderness I am constrained to say: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul,’ etc.”
The innocent games of children pleased him to the last. When such meetings were more rare than they have now become, the children of the Parramatta school once a year assembled on his lawn, and then his happiness was almost equal to their own. In his own family, and amongst the children of his friends, he would even take his share in their youthful gambols, and join the merry party at blind man's bluff.
Though, as he said of himself, he “never sang a song in his life, for he learned to sing hymns when ten years old, and never sang anything else,” yet he was charmed with the sweet and hearty voices of children joining in some innocent little song, and it pleased him better still if it finished off with a noisy chorus. Yet all this was consistent with his character as a grave, wise old man. Though mirthful, he was never frivolous; in a moment, if occasion called for it, he was ready to discuss the most serious subjects, or to give his opinion upon matters of importance; and he had the enviable talent of mingling even pious conversation with the sports of children.page 207
It was observed that though always unembarrassed in the presence of strangers whatever their rank or importance might be, he never seemed completely happy but in the company of persons of true piety.
He does not appear to have spoken very freely in ordinary society on the subject of personal religion, still less on the subject of his own experience; but his emotions were deep, and out of the fulness of the heart his lips would speak, in the midst of such a circle, of the loving-kindness of the Lord.
The sense of his own unworthiness seems to have been always present. Of all God's servants he might have been, as he verily thought himself to be, the most unprofitable; and when any circumstance occurred which led him to contrast the justice of God to others who were left to die impenitent with the mercy shown to himself, he spoke with a humiliation deeply affecting.
With scenes of vice and human depravity few men living were more conversant than he, yet to the last such was the delicacy of his conscience that the presence of vice shocked him as much as if the sight were new. “Riding down to the barracks one morning,” says the lady whose narrative we have already quoted, “to invite Captain B——and myself that day to dinner to meet the Bishop, he had passed what, alas, used to be too frequent an object, a man lying insensible and intoxicated in the road. His usually cheerful countenance was saddened, and after telling us his errand, we page 208 could not but ask the cause of his distress. He gave us the unhappy cause, and turning his horse's head round to leave us, he uttered with deep emotion—
‘Why was I made to hear thy voice
And enter while there's room ?’
Throughout the day the subject dwelt upon his mind; after dinner the conversation turned to it, and he was casually asked who was the author of the hymn he had quoted in the morning. He shook his head and said, ‘I cannot tell, perhaps it was Watts, or Wesley,’ and several hymn books were produced in which the Bishop and others instituted a fruitless search, the Bishop at length saying: ‘I can't find the hymn, Mr. Marsden.' ‘Can't you, sir,' was the reply, ‘that is a pity, for it is a good hymn, sir—says what the Bible says, free sovereign grace for poor sinners. No self-righteous man can get into heaven, sir; he would rather starve than take the free gift.”
In the course of the day the conversation turning upon New Zealand, the Bishop expressed the opinion, once almost universal though now happily exploded—an opinion, too, which Mr. Marsden himself had regarded with some favour in his younger days—that civilization must precede the introduction of the Gospel; and his lordship argued, as Mr. Marsden himself had argued thirty years before, in favour of expanding the mind of savaged by the introduction of arts and sciences, being impressed with the idea that it was page 209 impossible to present the Gospel with success to minds wholly unenlightened. Mr. Marsden's answer is thus recorded:
Civilization is not necessary before Christianity, sir; do both together if you will, but you will find civilization follow Christianity, easier than Christianity follow civilization. Tell a poor heathen of his true God and Saviour, point him to the works he can see with his own eyes, for these heathen are no fools, sir—great mistake to send illiterate men to them—they don't want men learned after the fashion of this world, but men taught in the spirit and letter of the Scripture. I shan't live to see it, sir, but I may hear of it in heaven, that New Zealand with all its cannibalism and idolatry will yet set an example of Christianity to some of the nations now before her in civilization.
It will not be out of place to offer a passing remark upon Mr. Marsden's conduct to Dr. Broughton, the first Bishop of Sydney. As an Episcopalian, sincerely attached to the Church of England, he had long desired the introduction of the episcopate into the colonial Church, of which, as senior chaplain, he himself had been the acknowledged leader for so many years. When the appointment was made it was a matter of just surprise to his friends that he was passed over in silence, while an English clergyman was placed over him to govern the clergy, amongst whom he had so long presided, and whose entire respect and confidence he had gained. There is no doubt that his integrity and fearless honesty had rendered him somewhat unacceptable to men in power, and that page 210 to this his exclusion is, in a great measure, to be ascribed.
But this slight brought out some of the finest features in his truly noble character. He had never sought honours, wealth, or preferment for himself. If a disinterested man ever lived it was Samuel Marsden. The only remark which his family remember to have heard him make upon the subject was in answer to a friend who had expressed surprise at the slight thus put upon him, in these words: “It is better as it is; I am an old man; my work is almost done.” And when Dr. Broughton, the new Bishop, arrived in the colony, he was received by Mr. Marsden not with cold and formal respect, but with Christian cordiality.
When the Bishop was installed he assisted at the solemn service. The eloquent author of the “Prisoners of Australia,”* who chanced to be present, thus describes the scene:—
On a more touching sight mine eyes had never looked than when the aged man, tears streaming down his venerable cheek, poured forth, amidst a crowded and yet silent assemblage, the benediction upon him into whose hands he had thus, as it were, to use his own metaphor, “yielded up the keys of a most precious charge”; a charge which had been his own devoted care throughout the storms and the tempests of a long and difficult pilotage. And now, like another Simeon, his work well nigh accomplished, the Gospel spreading far and wide over the colony and its dependencies, and the prayer of his adopted people answered, he could say without another wish: “Lord,page 211 now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”
* London: Hatchard, 1841.
Conscious that in the course of Nature his decease could not be far distant, death was now his frequent meditation. He viewed its approach without levity and without alarm. He continued his pastoral visits to the sick and dying to the last, and some of those who were raised from a bed of languishing, and who survived their pastor, speak of the affectionate kindness, the delicacy and tenderness, as well as the deep-toned spirituality of mind he showed in the sick chamber, as something which those who had not witnessed it would be backward to credit.
As he stepped out of his gig, his family easily perceived from his manner if he had been visiting the chamber of death, and never presumed to break a sacred silence that was sure to follow his deep-drawn sigh till he was pleased to do so himself. This he did in general by the solemn and subdued utterance of a text from Scripture, or some verse of a favourite hymn. The tears often fell down his aged cheeks while slowly articulating, in a suppressed voice: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord;” or from one of Watts's hymns.
“Oh could we die with those that diee.”
After this touching relief he seemed to feel more at liberty to speak on future events connected with his own decease, when he would be sitting down, as he frequently said, with page 212 Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God. Indeed his happy, social spirit led him to connect the joys of heaven with the society of saints and patriarchs and his own departed friends. Sitting at dinner with the Bishop and others as his guests, his mind abstracted itself from the surrounding scene, and he addressed the Christian friend to whose notices of his last days we have already had recourse: “You know, madam, you and I are to take an alphabetical list some day of all the names of the good men I expect soon to meet in heaven; there will be (counting them up upon his fingers) John Wesley, Isaac Watts, the two Milners, Joseph and Isaac, John Newton and Thomas Scott, Mr. Howells of Long Acre, and Matthew Henry——” Here the conversation of the party broke off the solemn reverie.
“In the month of September, after his last voyage, he called at the house of his friend, the Rev. R. Cartwright, with a young lady from New Zealand, to introduce her to Mrs. Cartwright. The door was opened by his aged and now deeply afflicted friend and brother in the ministry, for Mrs. Cartwright had expired in the night, after a few hours' illness. Mr. Marsden, with his usual cheerfulness of manner, said, ‘Well! I have brought Miss W. to introduce her to Mrs. Cartwright.’ ‘Stop! stop, my friend,’ responded the mourner, in a solemn manner, ‘don't you know that Mrs. Cartwright is dead?' ‘Dead? dead?’ replied Mr. Marsden. ‘Oh no; oh no. You must be in joke; it is too serious a matter to make a joke page 213 of, Mr. Cartwright.’ ‘Indeed,’ responded Mr. Cartwright, ‘it is too true. Come, and I will convince you,’ and then led him to the room where the remains of his departed wife lay. Mr. Marsden approached the body, saying, ‘Oh! she is not dead; no, no, she is not dead;’ (the bright complexion remaining unchanged), ‘she is not dead;’ and then, passing his hand over the face, the cold chill of death dissipated the delusion. ‘Yes, she is dead, she is dead,’ and leaving the room, he hurried away to give vent to his feelings.”
As he contemplated his own near approach to the eternal state, a few chosen passages of Scripture fell often from his lips; and it was remarked they were almost the only repetitions he made use of; for his mind was richly stored with Scripture, which he seemed to bring forth with endless variety, and often in the happiest combination; but now he often repeated the words of Job: “He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not” (chapter xiv. 2). And those of Zechariah, “Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?” (chapter i. 5).
On Tuesday the 8th of May, 1838, a few of his friends visited him at his own house. He wore his usual cheerfulness, and they wished him, as they thought, a short farewell as he stepped into his gig on a journey of about five and twenty miles. In passing through the low lands contiguous to Windsor, the cold suddenly affected him, and he complained of illness on page 214 his arrival at the house of his friend, the Rev. Mr. Styles, the chaplain of the parish. Erysipelas in the head broke out, and a general stupor followed, so that he became insensible. His mind wandered amongst the scenes to which his life had been devoted, and he uttered a few incoherent expressions about the factory, the orphan school, and the New Zealand mission.
“Though he spoke but little,” said Mr. Styles, in his funeral sermon, “yet in his few conscious moments he said quite enough to show that the Saviour whom he served through life was with him in the time of trial. A single remark was made to him by a bystander on the value of good hope in Christ in the hour of need. ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘that hope is indeed precious to me now;’ and on the following evening, his last on earth, he was heard repeating the words ‘precious, precious,’ as if still in the same train of thought which that remark had suggested. Soon after, inflammation having reached the brain, his spirit was released.
On Saturday morning, the 12th of May, he entered—who can doubt?—upon the enjoyment of his “eternal and exceeding great reward.”
He was buried in his own churchyard at Parramatta. Upwards of sixty carriages formed the mourning train, and a numerous assemblage of mourners, including most of the public functionaries in the colony, followed him to the grave. Of these, some who had in years long past thwarted and opposed him came at page 215 last to offer an unfeigned tribute of deep respect. A few had been his early associates in the ministry, and in every good word and work. The majority were a youthful generation, to whom he was only known as a wise and venerable minister of God. Most of his parishioners had been brought up under his instructions, and had been taught from their infancy to look up to him with respect and love.
The solemn burial service was read by the Rev. Dr. Cowper, who first came out to the colony at Mr. Marsden's solicitation. He stood over the grave and addressed the mourners on the early devotedness of their departed friend and pastor to the great work of the ministry, told them how solemnly he had dedicated himself to God before he left England in his youth, and reminded them of the fidelity with which through evil and good report he had endured his Master's cross, despising the shame.
It was proposed to erect a monument to his memory by public subscription; the proposition was warmly approved on all sides, and subscriptions were offered to a considerable amount. Whole families became subscribers—parents, and children, and domestic servants, all ready thus to testify their reverence. On further consideration, it was thought better to erect a church to his memory on a piece of his own land, which he himself had devised for that purpose, to which the name of Marsfield should be given.
The public Press, not only in Australia but also in England, published biographical page 216 sketches of his life and labours, with articles on his motives and character. The great missionary societies recorded his death with feelings of reverential love. The notice of him in the minutes of the Church Missionary Society was read at the annual meeting at Exeter-hall, and published in the thirtieth report.
And thus was the man honoured in his death, whose life had been one long conflict with obloquy and slander. With few exceptions his enemies had died away, or been gradually led to abandon their prejudices, and many of them now loved and revered the man whom they had once hated or despised.