D. H. Riddle.

A voice from heaven : a sermon, commemorative of the death of Mrs. Mary W. Brown, wife of Rev. Matthew Brown, D.D., preached in Providence Hall, Canonsburg, May 6, 1838 online

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Online LibraryD. H. RiddleA voice from heaven : a sermon, commemorative of the death of Mrs. Mary W. Brown, wife of Rev. Matthew Brown, D.D., preached in Providence Hall, Canonsburg, May 6, 1838 → online text (page 2 of 2)
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simple story of Harriet .Newell? And many humbler
thousands will find out for the first time at the bar of
God, how many of their works have followed them to
glory, and served to ?em their eternal crown, or increase
their ineffable felicity.

The works of Christians survive them in the memory of
friends. "The memory of the just is blessed;" yea, "the
righteous," the active and laborious Christian, "shall be in
everlasting remembrance." This is the promise and pro-
vision of God's word, which the history of his providence
fully redeems. H is as delightfully true, as the connected
assertion is awfully true of the contrasted character, "the
name of the wicked shall tot." Of every good deed done
by the Christian, every want relieved, or sorrow assuaged,
or counsel given, or succor rendered, when viewed through
the hallowing medium which death brings around the
character, it may be said, in the beautiful language of the
prophet, "the memorial thereof shall be as the wine of
Lebanon," pleasant as a cordial and exhilarating to the
spirits. Often after the grave has entombed the benefactor
or the counsellor, the friend and the comforter, these things
brighten strangely in our memories. A word or even a
look, expressive of a noble spirit, or an action indicating
those elevated principles of conduct, which are worthy of
imitation, will live with freshness in the soul's consecrated
recollections, and, at some critical moment, its power may
decide the choice for life or the character for eternity. We
iive thus for others, while we live, and we may tkus live


in the hearts of others, even when we are dead. The
example of piety may preach the affectionate counsel,
even from the grave, "Be ye followers of me, even as I am
of Christ." Thus often

"The sweet remembrance of the just,
Like a green root revives and bears,
A train of blessings for their heirs,
When dying nature sleeps in dust"

"Their works do follow them," eushined in the mem-
ory of friends and reproduced by the power of imitation.
Thus, from generation to generation, God makes provision
along the channels of human feeling and natural affection,
that specimens of active and lovely piety should be trans-
mitted, and that besides the blessedness of resting from
labors, in the peace of heaven, the believer should have
the blessedness of leaving in the hearts of many on earth,
the living monuments of good works. This is God's cov-
enant; "My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which
1 have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy
mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the
mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord from henceforth
and forever." Piety shall be carried down from age to
age, and character shall transmit itself to the latest gen-
eration. Often the Christian feels as if he is laboring in
vain, and spending his strength for nought, but he should
remember this part of the gracious economy of God's
providence. His works, if dene from right motives, and
through imparted grace, even if they should not have visi-
ble results in life, will follow him after death. God will
take care to enshrine them where they will not be lost,
and make them abundantly productive to his glory. There
are "fleshly tables of the heart," which God's Spirit can
make susceptible of impressions from our example, as well
as the depositories of our principles, and the subject of
our direct efforts. No work done for God will be lost.
No labor expended for the amelioration of society, the
preservation of morals, the advancement of piety, or the
defence of truth, shall be left orphanless, in this dark
world where it has been put forth. A lifetime of such
iabor, regulated by the great principles of truth and duty,
shall be followed by great results. In the heaven where
the Christian rests from his labors, and in whose light all


things are seen in their true connexion, from time to timc>
he will find his works following; him, and the covenant of
God renewedly ratified.

We have designed the illustration of this subject for con-
solation and edification, in view of the recent death of Mrs.
Brown, and ho doubt, as we have traced the several topics,
the mental application by those who knew the deceased,
has been made, so as almost, in their case, to obviate the
necessity of any further remark. The evidence we have
that she was in the Lord in life, the reason for our hope
that she died in the Lord, and the grounds for our conso-
lation that now she is blessed, resting from her labors
while her works do follow her, are all such as to make
the theme we have been considering, peculiarly appropriate
to our present circumstances. We have reason to believe
that she was a Christian, united by regeneration of her
heart and justification of her person, to the Lord Jesus
Christ, in the everlasting covenant. We have the most
delightful evidence that she was an active, energetic,
workdoing Christian. Her labors were abundant, system-
atic, and untiring. Her works, in their results, and in the
memory of her friends, still remain. Ought not the voice
from heaven to console us while we weep over her remov-
al? It assures us of her immediate and everlasting blessed-
ness: that she lives and is happy in her Father's house,
and the home of her soul. And ought not the power of her
example, to urge us to attain the same activity and energy
of Christian character, to leave behind us when we die,
as sweet and fragrant a memorial of good works, and as
lasting monuments of labors? The death of friends, as
every other dispensation of Providence, ought thus to be
;mproved, as no doubt for this purpose it is intended.

"For us they sicken, and for us they die,
And shall they sicken, shall they die in vain?"

With a view to this improvement, we invite you, in the
conclusion, to a brief sketch of the life and character of our
departed friend.

Mary William ina Ferguson was the only daughter
of Major William Ferguson, who was slain in the defeat
of St. Clair. She was born in 1791, in the city of Phila-
delphia, being an infant at the time of her father's death,
He never saw her, and probably never knew of her birth.


She resided till her eighth year, in Philadelphia, and after-
wards, upon the marriage of her mother to Col. Beatty, at
Princeton, N. J. During her early education, she was
under the tuition of several teachers, and, among others,
of Mr. Adrian, since celebrated as a mathematician. At
eighteen she. for the first time, crossed the mountains, on
horseback, (then an adventurous journey), in company with
her step father, Col. Beatty. From his conversation and
attention in pointing out every thing to her notice, she ac-
quired those habits of close observation, which ever after
characterized her, and which rendered her so remarkable
and interesting in conversation. About this period, her
first saving impressions of religion began, and what is wor-
thy of remark, as illustrating at once the sovereignty of
God, and the peculiarity of her character, she was led to
seek a portion in God by the prospect of becoming posses-
sed of a very large worldly property. She first turned
her affections towards heaven, when she was most of all
flattered and caressed in society. Alarmed at the thought
of having no other portion but this world, she had no rest
till she found, as she hoped, an interest in an "inheritance
incorruptible and undented, and that fadeth not away."

The property she inherited from her father was of such
a kind, and so situated as to require vigilant attention, and
constant care. This fact occasioned those habits of regu-
larity and system, and that tact for business, and probably
laid the foundation for that characteristic energy which
marked her whole life, which were carried out in every-
thing she did, and shone eminently in her religious charac-

In the year 1818 she was married to the Rev. Backus
Wilbur, and immediately removed with him to Dayton,
Ohio, the field of his ministerial labors. She entered at
once and with all her soul, on various plans of usefulness,
as a pastors wife, and soon won for herself the esteem
and affection of the church, and helped to raise their ex-
pectations of great results from the settlement of their
pastor among them. But these plans were all arrested in
the very bud of their promise, and her efforts were all
suspended by the lamented death of her husband, after
the lapse of a few months from their marriage, and of four
weeks from his ordination. Left thus a widow—a clergy-


man's widow — -amidst comparative strangers, and in a
new country, her characteristic energy did not forsake
her in this critical and trying period. Though stunned by
the blow, and bleeding in heart over the desolation it
wrought, she manifested resignation and submission to the
hand that gave it. She turned her face homewards and
left the scene where she had fondly hoped to spend years
of usefulness, in tears, yet trusting in God, and at no period
in her whole life did her piety shine more distinctly and
attractively, than when thus mellowed by the darkness
of her youthful tribulation. After returning to Princeton,
the place of her former duties, she maintained the charac-
ter of active piety, and exerted the influence of her vigorous
mind in various modes of doing good, ever foremost among
"those women" that, like Paul's sisters, "labored in the
gospel," and in their allotted sphere, till her marriage with
Dr. Brown, in 1825, By that event she was brought into
a new and important sphere as the wife of the president
of this College. Her mind, and heart, and energies, now
found an ample field of usefulness. Here the last thirteen
years of her life were spent, and the vigor of her powers
were expended. Here she labored, and this is the theatre
of her works. I need not say how well she filled this
sphere of responsible duty. How incessant her anxieties
and important her exertions for the welfare of the col-
lege, in those particulars which came within the appro-
priate sphere of her influence. You know how steadfastly
she labored in the Sabbath School, and particularly in
the Infant School, while bodily health allowed: how
zealously she started or co-operated in all the plans of
reform in the village: how untiringly she visited the sick,
counselled the perplexed, assisted the needy, encouraged
the timid, and stimulated the desponding. The poor knew
and loved her. The sick student, and the bereaved fathers
of the dying, can testify of her kindness and fidelity.
Many a youth who resided in the institution, will long
remember her, and some dear brethren who once shared
the hospitality of her board, and the pleasure of daily in-
tercourse with her, and are now far off among the Gentiles,
will not soon forget her friendship, her conversation, her
example and her counsels. She wore away the prejudices
which many at first conceived, by the manifestation of her



principled conduct. By her dignified deportment and
hospitable manner, she gained the confidence of the trustees
of the institution, she secured the affections of the profes-
sors, the respect and admiration of the students, and
the grateful recollection of the passing stranger who visited
the college, or who shone in the scenes of a commence-
ment. And there is one heart that in wandering over the
study, the garden, and the shrubbery, will meet multiplied
and affecting memorials of her system and order, her
devotion to the little things that make up the comfort of
domestic life, and alleviate the cares and responsibilities
of a public station, and the oft ill requited solicitudes
of a public servant: every day, and every new vicissitude
of duty, will associate her virtues and his loss. Even-
one seemed to think her place exactly filled, and her
sphere precisely suited. But whilst thus filling up her
round of duties, and at a period when the mind and body
are in their prime, she became the victim of disease. Ori-
ginating, as it is supposed, in the spine, it assumed towards
the close, the decided symptoms of phthisis pulmonalis.
For two years past, and especially during the last winter,
her sufferings were great. Though, under eminent medi-
cal treatment in Philadelphia she rallied after the first
attack, so much as to give her friends the hope of her
entire recovery, yet, during the last winter, the disease
entrenched itself more deeply, and sapped gradually the
powers of life. Towards the close, she enjoyed a mer-
ciful exemption from very acute suffering, and manifested
a very decided growth in sanctification. She ripened
amidst the fires of affliction for the purity of heaven.
The rational exercise of her mind, immediately previous
to her departure, was not allowed her. Delirium threw
its cloud over the manifestations of her cultivated intel-
lect, and her ripened piety. The fond anticipations of
her friends in reference to her triumphant passage over
Jordan, and even the anxious and natural desire for a
lucid hour for the final farewell, and the conscious se-
paration, and the parting blessing, were disappointed.
But long before tha p d, she had talked of death as
a familiar thing. She hajj made all her earthly ar-
rangements r or his arrival. She had held sweet, and
frequent, and satisfactory intercourse with her friends.


in reference to her future prospects. "The chamber
where she met her end was often privileged beyond the
walks of common life," and amidst the solemn discourses
about the glory of Christ, and the preciousness of his sal-
vation, was felt to be "close on the verge of heaven.' 1
She gave blessed evidence that her record was on high,
her anchor within the veil, and she waited patiently for the
summons whenever and however it might come to her.
Sense might have been gratified, but faith could not have
been increased by any farther evidence. Death came to
her at last in a solemn form, and the last struggle, though
probably not really very painful, was distressingly pro-
tracted. Her friends continued for fourteen hours, at the
ever darkening post of observation, watching for the clos-
ing moment. But at last the strained ear missed the gradu-
ally weakening moan, the pause of pulsation, and the hush-
ed respiration of a weeping group around her couch,
announced that she was gone, and she slept calmly in Jesus
and rested from her labors. "She died in the Lord."

I can hardly trust myself to sketch the character of the
departed. To the tie of relationship there is added, in my
case, the feeling of intimate and endeared friendship, for
she always treated me as a son and a friend. Many and
very pleasant have been the hours of our Christian and
friendly intercourse, and on many occasions, and in refer-
ence to many topics, we have mingled our feelings together.
If I should fail it would be from too high a regard for her
virtues, rather than too little knowledge of her character.
It is not for eulogy, but to glorify God in her, that it is at-
tempted at all. Her excellencies have made a lasting
impression on my mind, while the deficiencies or excres-
ences of character which might arrest a stranger's eye,
now especially through the hallowing medium of death, are,
in a great measure, hid from mine.

The most striking peculiarity of our departed friend,
was her superior intellect and strong common sense. Her
mind was strikingly vigorous, and, in many respects, even
masculine. There was more of logic than of poetry in
her composition. All her susceptibilities were for the prac-
tical, r ither than the contemplative. Her judgment was
superior to her imagination, and there was more of strength
thaa of tenderness in the whole contour of her character.


With an unprepossessing exterior and manners, not always
attractive at first sight, those who knew her slightly
scarcely ever appreciated her sterling qualities. She gen-
erally impressed herself more deeply on the mind and
heart, in proportion to closer intimacy. She was firm, and
even somewhat fastidious in her friendship, steadfast and
unhesitating in her preferences of persons and things.
She had superior energy, great system, and untiring
perseverance. She was unswerving and uniform in all
her principles; decided in the adoption of her views of truth,
and in the discharge of supposed duty. She was remark-
ably conscientious. Her rigid conscientiousness, both in
regard to the utterance of truth and discharge of duty,
sometimes made her seem untender; for a sense of duty
disentangled her mind from any reference almost to any
other reasons of conduct. This gave occasionally an
aspect of ruggedness to her virtue, which it was easier to
admire, than to enjoy. If she erred here at all, it was
the common error of decided minds, a self-conscious
sense of the rectitude of her motives, without an over care-
ful regard to the effect of her conduct, and possibly an
undue reliance on her own judgment, with sometimes a
too great disregard of that of others.

She was very benevolent; her benevolence was principled,
systematic, uniform and very great. She never hoarded
any thing; as a young lady, a wife and a widow, she al-
ways expended her who's income beyond self-support, in
the different plans of benevolence. She was not a woman
of impulses. Her benevolence was regulated by strict
knowledge of the cause to which she gave. Her gener-
osity never precluded a full investigation of the case that
demanded her assistance. She would not and she did not
give to an institution where she believed the disbursement
would not be judiciously made, and her charity was
never given where she thought it would not be ad-
vantageously expended. While she was most scrupulously
exact in all her business transactions, she had none of
that niggardliness and lust of lucre that sometimes tar-
nish the chamcter of those who possess great system
and order of mind. What she thought of money other
than as a means of usefulness, may be inferred from
;he fact that she consented to compromise a suit in law.


where the amount involved was immense, and her pros-
pects according to law and actual adjudication were most
flattering, because she saw something significant in the
dealings of Providence in regard to it. When it seemed to
say, "seek not great things for thyself," she sought them

She was characteristically an active, rather than a
contemplative Christian. She had in her religion and in
in her creed, more of obedience than of sentiment. Whilst
she was regular and conscientious in her devotional habits,
she was often laboring whilst others were praying, and
was engaged in works while they were indulging in groans
or dissolved in tears. "She loved" emphatically, "not in
word," nor in mere feeling, "but in deed."

Her doctrinal views were clear and settled, and Calvin-
istic. She loved and was fed by the doctrines of grace,
and steadily preferred the church of her adoption, but
she "followed after charity," and loved the image of Christ,
and the faithful workman in the vineyard, and rejoiced in
revivals of religion, and the upbuilding of the kingdom of
Christ, and the furtherance of the gospel amidst the
heathen, without reference to distinctive peculiarities of
plans and measures. She deeply deplored, and sometimes
bitterly wept over, the alienations and agitations of these
last days of the church. Few knew as well as the speaker,
how deeply her soul was afflicted by these things, and
how fervently she prayed for the peace of Jerusalem, when
the watchmen would see again, eye to eye, and "together
lift up their voices and sing," over the length and breadth
of a renovated church. Her relations in this respect,
and the duties growing out of them, gave occasion to
some of the most delicate and decisive manifestations of
piety, and contributed eminently to her personal sanctifl-

She had also very clear speculative views of the privi-
leges of the New Testament believer. She regarded very
highly the emancipative power of the gospel, and always
lamented that "the adaptive cheerfulness of children,"
was not more generally exemplified by professing Chris-
tians. While her views of her own personal unworthiness
were full and scriptural, though she saw nothing in herself
but what she was ashamed of, and always disclaimed her


works as having the slightest share in her justification
before God, and distinctly rested all her hope on the work
and merit of Christ, her views of the privileges, the peace,
the joys secured by the new covenant, were distinct and
delightful. She never manifested, even when consciously
descending the vale of death, any exalted raptures, but
there was something refreshing in the calmness and tran-
quility which settled over her character, and marked her
exercises till she ceased to be conscious. To this result,
the influence of the peculiar views we have alluded to
greatly contributed, and their excellence and accuracy
were beautifully tested and strongly commended by such
an influence in these honest hours.

She had remarkably judicious views of the relative posi-
tion and influence of females. She was herself a highly
gifted female, adapted by native strength of mind and cul-
tivated intellect, to exert a powerful influence, and take a
prominent station amidst her sex. She was always the
fast friend of female education, and eminent mental cultiva-
tion, but she eschewed from her heart the doctrines of
pantisocracy, or rebellion against relative inequality,
broached recently, and defended strongly by some of her
sex; she unfeignedly loathed all such wars against provi^
dential wisdom, and such confusion of the separate spheres
and duties of the sexes. She wished and she loved to see
woman filling and adorning woman's sphere, and thought
her in the orbit of her glory when she patiently went on
in the path of her duty.

If our friend had any special attachments to instrumen-
talities of usefulness, it might be said that she loved, with
an especial love, the cause of foreign missions, and of an
educated ministry. The museum in her late residence
would announce, even to a stranger, that he was in the
house of a friend, to missions, and there are many in the
ministry who can testify to her practical regard to the
cause of an educated ministry.

And finally, though so strikingly active in all her habits,
she was a patient sufferer. "Patience," through years of
bodily suffering, had room for "her perfect work," and
she grew in this grace till the last. Her friends were often
agreeably cheered during the days and weeks of her entire
confinement, by the pleasant radiations of her countenance


and her well known smile of satisfaction. Even amids*-
delirium her wanderings were pleasant, sometimes even
joyous, indicating the habit of her mind.

Death, in her case, sundered many tender ties. It took an
only daughter from a venerable mother, an only sister from
an affectionate brother, a mother from an only and almost
infant daughter, a wife from a husband, going down the
vale of years, a friend from an extended circle, and was
moreover emphatically the King of Terrors, vet she felt
that to die was gain, though to live was, on many accounts,
pleasant and desirable.

Such was our friend, and such, only, with all her imperfec-
tions removed, and all her excellencies brightened, and
the refinement of heaven given to all the graces of earth,
and the direct intuition of Jesus added to all the dim reflec-
tions of his image here, she is now amidst the rest and
blessedness of the skies. Such, after years of separation
have wrought their mysterious changes upon her spirit
and upon our character, we hope to see her again, when,
if we are in Christ, some heart shall pronounce over our
cold remains, "the voice from heaven says, Blessed are
the dead who die in the Lord.' 5 Amen.





Online LibraryD. H. RiddleA voice from heaven : a sermon, commemorative of the death of Mrs. Mary W. Brown, wife of Rev. Matthew Brown, D.D., preached in Providence Hall, Canonsburg, May 6, 1838 → online text (page 2 of 2)