Life and Work of Samuel Marsden
The reader may naturally expect in conclusion a summary of Mr. Marsden's character. It is too instructive to be lost. Perhaps few great men ever lived whose example was more calculated for general usefulness, for the simple reason that he displayed no gigantic powers, no splendid genius; he had only a solid, well ordered mind, with which to work, no other endowments than those which thousands of his fellow men possess. It was in the use of his materials that his greatness lay.
Mr. Marsden was a man of a masculine understanding, of great decision of character, and of an energy which nothing could subdue. He naturally possessed such directness and honesty of purpose, that his intentions could never be mistaken; and he seemed incapable of attempting to gain his purpose by those dexterous shifts and manœuvres which often pass current, even amongst professing Christians, as the proper, if not laudable, resources of a good diplomatist, or a thorough man of business.
When he had an object in view, it was always worthy of his strenuous pursuit, and nothing stopped him in his efforts to obtain it, except the impossibility of proceeding further. Had his mind been less page 218 capacious such firmness would often have degenerated into mere obstinacy; had it been less benevolent and less under the influence of religion, it would have led him, as he pressed rudely onwards, to trample upon the feelings, perhaps upon the rights, of other men. But he seems, whenever he was not boldly confronting vice, to have been of the gentlest nature.
In opposing sin, especially when it showed itself with effrontery in the persons of Magistrates and men in power, he gave no quarter and asked for none. There was a quaintness and originality about him, which enabled him to say and do things impossible to other men. There was a firmness and inflexibility, combined with earnest zeal, which in the days of the reformers would have placed him in their foremost rank. None could be long in his society without observing that he was a man of another mould than that of those around him. There was an air of unconscious independence in all he did which, mixed with his other qualities, clearly showed to those who could read his character that he was a peculiar instrument in the hands of God to carry out his own purposes. These traits are illustrated by many remarkable events in his life.
When he first arrived in New South Wales, while theft, blasphemy, and every other crime prevailed to an alarming extent among the convicts, the higher classes of society, the civil and military officers, set a disgraceful example of social immorality.page break
He was known to rebuke sin at a dinner-table in such a manner as to electrify the whole company. Once, arriving late, he sat down in haste, and did not for a few minutes perceive the presence of one who should have been the wife of the host, but who stood in a very different relation to him. Mr. Marsden always turned a deaf ear to scandal, and in the excess of his charity was sometimes blind to facts which were evident enough to others. The truth now flashed upon him, and though such things were little thought of in the colony, he rose instantly from the table, calling to the servant in a decided tone to bring his hat, and without further ceremony, or another word, retired. That such a man should raise up a host of bitter enemies is not to be wondered at.
While he embraced large and comprehensive projects, it was one of his striking peculiarities that he paid close attention to minute details. Some minds, beginning with the vast and theoretical, work backwards into the necessary details; others, setting out upon that which is minute and practical, from the necessities of the hour and the duties of the day before them seem to enlarge their circle and to build up new projects as they proceed. The former may be men of greater genius, but the latter are in general the more successful, and to these Mr. Marsden belonged.
The cast of his mind was eminently practical. No crude visions of distant triumphs led him away from the duties which belonged to the scene and circumstances in which providence page 220 had placed him. Parramatta was for many years the model parish of New South Wales, although its pastor was the soul of the New Zealand mission, and of many a philanthropic enterprise besides.
He was well known to all his parishioners, to whom he paid constant ministerial visits; his attention to the sick, whether at their own homes or the Government hospital, was unremitting; and here his natural shrewdness, sharpened as it was by his spiritual penetration, showed itself in his insight into the true character of those he dealt with.
Nothing disgusted him more than a want of reality. High professions from inconsistent lips were loathsome to him, and his rebukes were sometimes sharp. A gentleman, whose habits of life were not altogether consistent with Christian simplicity and deadness to the world, had been reading “Mammon,” when that volume had just made its appearance; and with that partial eye with which we are apt to view our own failings, had come to the flattering conclusion that, by contrast with the monster depicted in “Mammon,” the desires he felt to add field to field and house to house, were not covetousness, but that diligence in business which the Scriptures inculcate. In the happy excitement of the discovery he exultingly exclaimed, “Well, thank God, I have no covetousness.” Mr. Marsden, who had read no more about covetousness than he found in the Bible, had sat silent. Rising from his chair, and taking his page 221 hat, he merely said: “Well, I think it is time for me to go: and so, sir, you thank God that you are not as other men are. You have no covetousness, haven't you? Why, sir, I suppose the next thing you'll tell us is that you've no pride;” and he left the room.
But when he spoke to a modest inquirer, these roughnesses, which lay only on the surface, disappeared. To the sick, his manner was gentle and affectionate, and in his later years, when he began, from failing memory and dimness of sight, to feel himself unequal to the pulpit, he spent much of his time in going from house to house and amongst the prison population, exhorting and expounding the Scriptures. Upon one of these occasions, a friend who accompanied him relates that he made a short journey to visit a dying young lady, whose parents on some account were strangely averse to his intrusion, pastoral though it was. But the kindness with which he addressed the sufferer, whom he found under deep spiritual anxieties, and the soothing manner in which he spoke and prayed with her, instantly changed the whole bias of their minds. “To think,” they exclaimed when he left the house, “of the aged man, with his silver locks, coming such a distance as seventeen miles, and speaking so affectionately to our feeble child!”
“At Parramatta, his Sunday-school,” his daughter writes, “was in a more efficient state than any I have since seen;” and the same remark might probably be applied to his other page 222 parochial institutions, for whatever he did was done with all his heart; and he was one of those who easily find coadjutors. Their example seems to shed an immediate influence. And his curates and the pious members of his flock were scarcely less zealous and energetic than himself.
He found time to promote missionary meetings, and to encourage the formation of tract and Bible Societies, as well as other benevolent institutions, at Sydney and other places. On many occasions he delivered interesting speeches, and not long before his death he presided at a Bible Society meeting at Parramatta, when, in the course of an affectionate address, he alluded to his beloved New Zealand. New Zealand was near his heart, and he now seldom spoke of it without being sensibly affected.
His manner of preaching was simple, forcible, and persuasive, rather than powerful or eloquent. In his later years, when he was no longer able to read his sermons, he preached extempore. His memory, until the last year or two of his life, was remarkably tenacious. He used to repeat the whole of the burial service memoriter, and, in the pulpit, whole chapters or a great variety of texts from all parts of Scripture, as they were required to prove or illustrate his subject. He was seldom controversial, nor did he attempt a critical exposition of the word of God. His ministry was pure and evangelical.
Dwelling on the outskirts of civilization and of the Christian world, he was too deeply page 223 impressed with the grand line of distinction between Christianity and hideous ungodliness, whether exhibited in the vices of a penal settlement or the cannibalism of New Zealand, to be likely to attach too much importance to those minor shades of difference which are to be met with in the great family of Jesus Christ.
As his heart was large, so too was his spirit catholic. He was sincerely and affectionately attached to the Church of England. He revered her liturgy, and in her articles and homilies he found his creed, and he laboured much to promote her extension. Yet his heart was filled with love to all those who name the name of Christ in sincerity. Wherever he met with the evidences of real piety and soundness of doctrine, his house and his purse flew open; and orthodox Christians of every denomination from time to time either shared his hospitalities or were assisted in their benevolent projects with pecuniary aid.
With what delicacy this was done may be gathered from such statements as the following, which is copied from the Colonist newspaper, the 12th of September, 1838: “An attempt having been made to build a Scotch church in Sydney, the colonial Government for a time opposed the scheme, and in consequence some of its friends fell away. Then it was that the late Samuel Marsden, unsolicited, very generously offered the loan of £750 to the trustees of the Scotch Church, on the security of the building and for its completion. This loan was accordingly made; but as it was. page 224 found impracticable to give an available security on the building, Mr. Marsden agreed to take the personal guarantee of the minister for the debt.”
In the same spirit he presented the Wesleyan Methodists with a valuable piece of land on which to erect a chapel at Windsor. This act of Christian charity was acknowledged by their missionaries in a grateful letter.
His private charities displayed the same catholic spirit. His disinterestedness was great, and his only desire seemed to be to assist the deserving or to retrieve the lost. He was not foolishly indifferent to the value of money, as those who had business transactions with him were well aware; but its chief value in his eyes consisted in the opportunities it gave him to promote the happiness of others. Hundreds of instances of his extraordinary liberality might be mentioned, and it is probable that many more are quite unknown.
The following anecdotes, furnished by his personal friends, will show that his bounty was dealt out with no sparing hand:—
A gentleman, at whose house he was a visitor, happened to express a wish that he had £300 to pay off a debt. The next morning Mr. Marsden came down and presented him with the money, taking no acknowledgment. The circumstance would have remained unknown had not the obliged person, after Mr. Marsden's decease, honourably sent an acknowledgment to his executors.page 225
All he assisted were not equally grateful. Travelling with a friend in his carriage, a vehicle passed by. “Paddy,” said he, calling to his servant, “who is that?” On being told, “Oh,” said he, “he borrowed from me £200, and he never paid me.” This was his only remark.
Yet he was not tenacious for repayment, nor indeed exact in requiring it at all where he thought the persons needy and deserving. The same friend was with him when a man called to pay up the interest on a considerable sum which Mr. Marsden had lent to him. He took a cheque for the amount, but when the person retired, tore it up and threw it into the fire, remarking, “He is an honest man. I am satisfied if he returns me the principal; that is all I want.”
On another occasion, a friend who had been requested to make an advance of £50 to a needy person, but was unable to do so, mentioned the case to Mr. Marsden, with: “Sir, can you lend me £50?” “To be sure I can,” was the answer, and the money was instantly produced. When he called, shortly afterwards, to repay the loan, Mr. Marsden had forgotten all about it. “Indeed I never looked to its being repaid.”
A clergyman being pressed for £100, walking with Mr. Marsden, mentioned his difficulties. Mr. Marsden at once gave him the sum, simply remarking: “I dare say that will do for you.”
A lady had come to the colony at the solicitation of her family, with the view of establishing a school of a superior class for the daughters page 226 of the colonists. At first she met with little success. Mr. Marsden saw the importance of her scheme, and at once invited her to Parramatta, offering her a suitable house and all the pecuniary aid she might require, and this under the feeling of a recent disappointment in an undertaking of the same nature.
Of the large sums he expended on the New Zealand mission from his own private resources it is impossible even to conjecture the total, to say nothing of a life in a great measure devoted to the service.
He one day called upon a young man of enterprise and piety, whom he was anxious to induce to settle in New Zealand, and offered him £50 per annum out of his own purse, as well as to raise a further sum for him from other sources.
Nor should it be forgotten, in proof of this disinterestedness, that with all his opportunities and influence in New Zealand, he never possessed a single acre of land there, or sought the slightest advantage either for himself or for any member of his family.
Another feature in his character was his unaffected humility. This was not in him the nervous weakness which disqualifies some men for vigorous action, rendering them either unconscious of their power, or incapable of maintaining and asserting their position, and consequently of discharging its obligations. This, though often called humility, is, in fact, disease, and ought to be resisted rather than indulged.page 227
Mr. Marsden's mind was vigorous and healthy; he took a just measure of his powers and opportunities, as the use he put them to proves abundantly. There was nothing in him of the shyness which disqualifies for public life; he was bold without effrontery, courageous without rashness, firm without obstinacy; but withal he was a humble man. His private correspondence will have shown how anxious he was to submit his own judgment, even on questions affecting his personal character, to what he considered the better judgment of his friends at home. To vanity or ostentation he seems to have been a perfect stranger. There is not a passage in his correspondence, nor can we learn that a word ever fell from his lips, which would lead us to suppose that he ever thought himself in any way an extraordinary man. Flattery disgusted him, and even moderate praise was offensive to his feelings.
When the life of his friend, Dr. Mason Good, appeared from the pen of Dr. Olinthus Gregory, it contained an appendix, giving an account of his own labours and triumphs at Parramatta and in New Zealand. This he cut out of the volume with his penknife, without any remark, before he permitted it to lie upon his table or to be read by his family.
He was so far from thinking he had accomplished much, either in the colony or amongst the heathen, that he was rather disposed, in his later days, to lament that his life had been almost useless; and indeed he was heard more than once to express a doubt whether he had page 228 not mistaken his calling, and been no better than an intruder into the sacred ministry.
When told one day, by a justly indignant friend, how basely he was misrepresented, “Sir,” he exclaimed, and the solemnity of his manner showed the depth of his meaning, “these men don't know the worst. Why, sir, if I were to walk down the streets of Parramatta with my heart laid bare, the very boys would pelt me.”
Such was Samuel Marsden, a man whose memory is to be revered and his example imitated. “Not merely a good man,” says the preacher of his funeral sermon “who filled up the place allotted to him on earth, and then sank into his grave; not merely a faithful minister of Christ, who loved and served his Saviour and turned many to repentance, but more than either of these. Rightly to estimate his character we must view him as a peculiar man, raised up for an especial purpose.”