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

Chapter XXXVIII. — Closing Scenes

page 264

Chapter XXXVIII.
Closing Scenes.

No man is indispensable, and now that his great work is nearly done, Doctor Stuart hears "the voice from the Throne" calling him to put his house in order, and to give place to other workers who will carry on in their appointed succession to their Divine consummation the great interests of the kingdom of God.

On Sabbath, 8th April, 1894, he occupied his own pulpit for the last time, at the morning service, and preached with unusual vigour on the subject of prayer. The Rev. A. B. Todd, of Oamaru, who was then his guest, conducted the evening service for him, and spoke of the wonderful energy and fervour which the Doctor threw into his work in the morning. The night set in wet and stormy, with keen wind and sleety showers, and snow on the heights around the city. The dawning day found the Doctor, as usual, awake, sitting up in bed, and engaged at work—according to his custom, with reckless disregard of health and comfort. As the morning advanced he was seized with a chill, which issued in acute congestion of the lungs. His medical attendant (Dr Coughtrey), with unwearied devotion, waited on page 265him, and exhausted the resources of his skill in fighting this new trouble which had fastened on his patient. Although the Doctor recovered from the more severe symptoms of this attack, yet the rude shock which it gave him, supervening on the long standing ailment from which he suffered, made the prospect of recovery very doubtful.

The closing weeks of his life were spent chiefly in his bedroom, with an occasional short drive on warm and sunny days, which he greatly enjoyed.

We received a post-card from him, dated 20th April, on which he had written:—"Shade better, but still frail. Don't look for much bettering. Need your prayers and sympathy. Love to you all, friends good and true."

Again he wrote on 25th April:—"Still very poorly. Had a talk with the doctor. He thinks the signs are darkening, and that winter will increase them. This has been my own forecast, and with it my adviser agrees. It is all right. Even now I get no sleep at night."

As the end approached, his days, which were more or less full of suffering, with intervals of ease, were passed either in some sort of work or in reading or in prayer. When he was unable to read himself, he listened while his son, or his grandson Willie, or some one of those who ministered to his wants read aloud to him the words of life. When he had some respite from pain and strength permitted, he impressively repeated verses of hymns appropriate to page 266his state, his faith, and his perfect resignation to God's will.

His testimony to the Divine faithfulness and all-sufficiency was very clear and full: "I trust in the Saviour I have preached to others. I rest simply and solely on the Lord Jesus Christ."

To the minister of Tokomairiro he said: "The prayer that seems to suit me best is just the prayer of the publican: God be merciful to me a sinner. The text that keeps repeating itself to my mind is this: Faithful is the saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief." "I am content now," he said, "to take the lowest place in His Kingdom, and would fain creep in to kiss His feet."

The Psalms were to him a never-failing source of consolation, and when he was too weak to express his thoughts, as one or other of his favourite Psalms was read to him his face brightened into a smile, and he used to nod his head approvingly in the old manner his friends knew so well.

Every evening his son or grandson read to him some chapter from St. Mark's Gospel, and before retiring for the night the Doctor, so long as he continued able to fulfil the duty, engaged in prayer, with his whole household gathered around him.

His office-bearers on 8th May approached him with loving solicitude and with an assurance of sympathy and continued attachment to him, which awakened in their afflicted pastor's heart a song of page 267thankfulness and praise. "The Session and Deacons' Court," they said, "record their deep and earnest sympathy with their venerable and beloved pastor, Dr Stuart, in the long and severe illness by which he has been afflicted, and in the additional anxiety caused to him by the present position into which the congregation has been brought by the resignation of his colleague, Mr Davidson.

"The Session and Deacons' Court assure Dr Stuart that their respect and love for him, borne upon their experience of his long and faithful ministry, has of late been increased and intensified by their witnessing the patience and dignity with which he has borne his heavy affliction; and the earnest prayer of the Session and Deacons' Court is that God will sustain and comfort him in all his trouble with the joyful assurance of His love and presence."

The Doctor replied as follows just three days before his death:—

Knox Manse,

Dunedin, May 9th, 1894.

Members of Session and Deacons' Court,

Dear Friends

—Your communication, received this afternoon, made me glad by the sentiments of peace and good-will which breathed in every line. In trouble, the sympathy of good men is a voice from Heaven which comforts and strengthens, and these blessings your sympathy has brought me.

Shattered physically and mentally, I felt revived and quickened as I read your too good judgment of my work in the congregation since its origin, and by your earnest prayers for my recovery and sanctification.

Believers in Divine government of the individual and the page 268Church, we cannot doubt that the Most High is overruling all the chances and changes for the advancement of His Kingdom, which is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."

Allow me to assure you of my gratitude for the sympathy and prayers which your letter breathes in every line, and that I will treasure it as a precious heir-loom. Kindly accept my thanks.

I remain, yours truly,

D. M. Stuart.

Bravely he bore the burden of suffering that was laid upon him, his worn, emaciated face and shrunken body alone revealing to his friends what no speech of his own was ever allowed to disclose. "I could almost welcome my dismissal," he said on one occasion to his son when his pain was at its acutest. But his strong vitality always asserted itself, and with indomitable courage he fought on against pain and lassitude to the very last.

Calmly he arranged all his affairs, and punctually replied to his correspondents to the closing day of his life. "I believe," Dr Elmslie, of Christchurch, writes to us, "the last letter he dictated, but signed, was one to myself, which I received the morning he died. It only shows how the fervour of his spirit and friendly affection endured: it being a reply to a telegram of good cheer I had sent him the day before."

On the Friday, 11th May, "he suffered unusual distress and breathlessness, and was with difficulty tided through it." When Dr Coughtreyinquired how he felt, "he made," we are told, "one of those suggestive gestures of his hand, pointing upward, and described himself as being terribly overawed, and as his broad page 269Doric accent rolled out and emphasised the words, he smiled at his own expression."

He slept peacefully in the early part of the night, and rose early on Saturday morning, 12th May. But about 5 o'clock a.m., a great change passed over him, which instantly awakened the anxiety of the watchers. His medical attendant, who was hastily summoned, found him lying on his side—his vital power nearly spent. "The figure was there," Dr Coughtrey tells us, "but the voice was fled. The pulse was flickering in the balance, and the breathing slowing down."

His mind did not fail even when power of speech was gone, and when in a very low condition he frequently by signs made known the fact that he was conscious of what was going on around him.

"Can I read to him, sir?" the housekeeper inquired of the doctor as he was leaving the room, "You know he always liked me to read to him when ill."

"Certainly, by all means," was the reply.

"She opened the Book at St. John's Gospel, and read, "In my Father's house are many mansions," and "Whither I go ye know."

About 7 o'clock a.m., while these words of heavenly consolation were murmured in his ear, his spirit was loosened from the bonds that held it linked to human conditions, and departed "to be with Christ," which is "far better."

page 270

All along his passage through the dark valley, he enjoyed the tender, gracious, loving ministrations of friends, who deemed it a precious privilege to be permitted to help him in the hour of his suffering and need.