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Life and Times of D. M. Stuart, D.D.

Chapter XIII. — The Shadow of Death

page 86

Chapter XIII.
The Shadow of Death.

Mr Stuart's heart was crushed by sorrow, and his hands almost paralysed in the midst of his labours, by the sudden death of his wife, which took place on 16th April, 1862. It came upon him without warning, and when he was free from any special apprehensions of danger respecting her condition of health. The crisis, her medical attendant had told him, was past, and he was sanguine of a favourable issue of her sickness, but when her husband went in to see her, a sweet look of recognition and only one word were all that she could give, and swiftly she passed away to her home in God. To her, we believe, it was no loss to be removed at such short notice from her place and work on earth, for she had treasure in heaven, and a well-grounded hope of receiving an imperishable inheritance there. Of gentle and amiable character, exemplifying in her life the graces of the Spirit; kind and thoughtful for others, generous to their necessities, and desirous of helping them up to higher levels of trustfulness and peace and submission to the Divine will; eager for the spread of the knowledge of the truth, and for the diffusion of the blessings of the Gospel to all mankind; deeply interested in all the schemes and agencies of the Church; she felt drawn very specially to the young people, and was a hearty page 87worker in the Sabbath school. A devoted wife and loving mother, she sought to acquit herself worthily of all the duties incumbent on her in the various relations of life in which she was placed. She therefore passed from service to reward—from the cross of suffering to the crown of joy. But her removal was loss—loss unspeakable, loss irreparable to the mourning husband and to the motherless boys who were left behind, and in their darkened home they wrestled with their sorrow until God's own voice spoke to them, and His benediction carried peace to their hearts.

The congregation and general community mourned this calamity, which, in God's mysterious providence, had befallen their minister and the Church, for Mrs Stuart's personal worth and generous helpfulness had won their confidence and affection, and expressions of deepest sympathy and condolence came from all sides to the afflicted household. The Provincial Council, then in session, on being informed of the sad event, resolved—out of respect to her memory—to adjourn till after the funeral; and on the occasion of the obsequies, business generally was suspended, and the members of the Executive and Provincial Councils, as well as all classes of citizens, testified to the respect in which they held the departed.

A Bible which Mr Stuart had presented to Miss Jessie Robertson in 1847, just before he went up to Edinburgh to the Divinity Hall, has the following note written with his own hand on the fly-leaf:—"This Bible, which I gave my wife, she diligently and daily read to the very last day on which she departed this page 88life. May God give me grace to read and obey it as she did." After the funeral he presented that Bible to his second son Alexander, who had occupied a large place in his mother's affections, with the earnest counsel that he would make as good use of it as she had done. Again, at the close of the record of his wife's death in the Family Bible, Mr Stuart wrote:—"Greatly beloved by all who knew her for her Christian virtues, and never to be forgotten."

"We feel," his Session said in their Minute of Condolence, "that in this Dispensation of Divine Providence, the congregation and the whole community have sustained a great loss. Her deeptoned piety and exemplary conduct, both in her sphere as the minister's wife and as a Sabbath School teacher, endeared her to all God's people, and her amiable manners and consistent Christian character secured to her the respect of all who knew her." Some years afterwards the minister presented to the Church two silver communion cups as a memorial of his departed wife; and the ladies of the congregation have commemorated her virtues in a marble tablet which occupies a place in the wall of the new Church.

He went in and out among his people with chastened spirit, haunted with a sense of unspeakable loneliness, carrying into darkened homes the bracing light of divine truth, which illuminated the edge of the cloud which now so darkly overhung his own, and speaking to desolated hearts the words of consolation which had inspired himself with courage in the hour page 89of his grief. And now, thenceforward, the strong undivided love of his great heart will be poured forth upon his people, to whom, over the grave that holds the dust of his beloved one, he devotes himself, with full consecration of all his powers, to serve them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

His anxiety regarding the Christian upbringing of his family was largely dispelled by the arrival of Miss Isabella Robertson, who, when the news reached Windsor of her sister's lamented death, started at once for Dunedin to render such help as she could in the desolated home.

While Mr Stuart kept his centre strong, and sound, and full of vital power, and welded to the Church the hearts of the young who passed through the Sabbath School, and were indoctrinated at his feet in Christian truth by keeping them under wholesome influence so far as he could, by maintaining a kindly interest in them, and bringing about their connection with one or more of the numerous societies—educational and literary—which were formed within the church. While he did all that—and most ministers would have regarded that large congregation, with all its responsibilities and agencies, as burden enough for one man to carry—Mr Stuart, with an energy that never wearied, reached out loving hands to the spiritually destitute in all directions, and established services where that could be done within the reach of his personal ministry. At Whare Flat, Mount Cargill, Pine Hill, Leith Valley, and other places preaching stations were established, and the minister took his page 90turn with one or other of his elders in supplying these on the appointed Sabbath. These stations have grown year by year in strength and importance, and, in course of time, with the concentration of population, they will, no doubt, develop into sanctioned charges.