Elizabeth Montgomery Sinclair Stevenson.

Life and letters of William Fleming Stevenson, D. D., Minister of Christ Church, Rathgar, Dublin online

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Online LibraryElizabeth Montgomery Sinclair StevensonLife and letters of William Fleming Stevenson, D. D., Minister of Christ Church, Rathgar, Dublin → online text (page 25 of 27)
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It had come to him as if by a lightning flash that God was call-
ing him; yet his first thought was for me. With an almost
superhuman effort to speak, he put his arms around me, and in a
few words said good-bye. Then he sat down on the sofa, lying
back in my arms. His breathing grew gentler and gentler,
and in about ten minutes more I knew he was with Christ.

"It was a lovely, clear, still, moonlight night, and it seemed as
if one could almost see into heaven."

All day long on the following Sunday, a constant succes-
sion of mourners passed through the Manse, taking a last

282 Life of William Flemhig Stevenson.

look at tlie clear face of their pastor, as he lay asleep,
surrounded by the flowers he had so loved in life.

On Tuesday the 21st September 1886, he was laid to rest
in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

After a brief service in the Manse for the members of the
family, public service was held in the church so identified
with his life,^ and few eyes were dry, as the coffin, covered
with tokens of love and affection, was laid before the pulpit,
where for nearly seven-and-twenty years he had faithfully
proclaimed the Gospel of Christ. An immense concourse of
all classes had gathered to pay the last tribute of respect to
his memory, not alone from his own Presbyterian Church,
which sent her members from every part of Ireland, but
representing the sympathy of the Irish Episcopal Church,
through the Archbishop of Dublin and numbers of her
clergy, as well as that of almost every other Protestant
denomination in the country. Deputations were sent by
the Royal University and many other public bodies, while
outside the church a group of Roman Catholic clergy and
laymen waited to join the sad procession as it moved slowly
away through the crowd of sympathisers who had been un-
able to gain admission. All along the route to the ceme-
tery the blinds were drawn, a spontaneous tribute from
rich and poor. The brave, strong words of the 23rd Psalm
rose high above the broken sobs of men bowed by grief;
and sorrow and bereavement were written on every face
as the grave closed over all that was mortal of William
Fleming Stevenson.

1 The service in the church was conducted by the Moderator of the
General Assembly (Kev. Eobert Eoss, D.D.), the Kev. J. Whigham, D.D.,
and the Eev. Hamilton Magee, D.D., and that at the grave by the Rev.
W. Johnston, D.D., and the Rev. George Shaw.



The intelligence of his death, so sudden and so unexpected,
brought gloom to many hearts. To his own Church the
loss was felt to be irreparable ; and the Church of Christ
everywhere mourned the removal of one whose heart's sym-
pathies were as wide as the world. Letters of sympathy
and sorrow poured in from every quarter of the globe ;
from high and low ; from his smitten congregation ; from
dear friends and fellow-workers ; from those who regarded
him as their father in God ; from many who only knew
him by his writings ; and not a few tributes came from
those whose lives he had unconsciously quickened and influ-
enced. For six months they never ceased to come, till they
numbered nearly a thousand ; from America and Germany ;
from Italy and Holland ; from India and China and Japan,
where the memory of his visit and his sympathy were still
tenderly cherished ; and from lonely toilers in distant
corners of Australia.^

1 Addresses of condolence were sent to his family from many public
bodies, including among others, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian
Church of Ireland ; the Synod of Dublin ; the Presbyteries of Dublin,
Connaught, Gujarat and Kattiawar ; the Foreign Missions Committees of
the Pan-Presbyterian Council, the Church of Scotland, the Free Church,
the United Presbyterian Church, and the Presbyterian Church of England ;
the Koyal University ; the Hibernian Bible Society ; the Evangelical Alli-
ance ; the British and Foreign Sailors' Society ; the Female Missionary

284 Life of William Fleming Stevenson.

A few of his friends have desired to add their memories
to this record of his life and labours.

The Rev. W. S. Swanson says : —

"It is difficult to picture to others your dearest friends. They
are yours by an indissoluble tie, and they are so endeared that
it seems almost sacrilege to attempt to tell why they are so. It
is not possible to have many such friends. Their place in your
heart is sacred to them, and it can hardly ever be filled by
others. In one sense it can never become vacant. And such a
friend was Dr. Stevenson to me. I met him first many years
ago, and I admired him then for his own sake and for the work
he had done. But the friendship arose at a subsequent meeting,
and sprang into an intensity that was a joy and a strength to
me. I only knew the measure of that intensity when I was

Association of the Irish Presbyterian Church ; the White Cross Associa-
tion (Dubhn branch) ; the Hibernian Band of Hope Union ; the Dublin
Y. M. C. A. ; the Belfast Y. M. C. A. ; the Bible and Colportage Society ; the
Dublin United Services Committee ; the Eathmines Young Men's Services
Committee ; the Waldensian Aid Society ; the Sinclair Seamen's Church
Sunday-school ; and from the following organisations in connection with
Christ Church, Rathgar : — the Session ; the Congregational Committee ;
the Zenana Mission Auxiliary ; the Sunday-school teachers ; the Rathgar
Y. M. C. A. ; the Rathmines Mission ; the Band of Hope, &c,, &c.

On the Sunday following his funeral, many touching references were
made throughout the kingdom to his life and work, and kind notices
of the press in reference to his death were very numerous both in this
country and in America.

A memorial fund has been started by friends who sought to honour his
memory, and, by the wish of his family, it is to be devoted to training a
native pastorate in India.

From his library, which had grown to be one of great value, over 6000
volumes were presented to the General Assembly's College, Belfast.

In the south transept of Christ Church, Rathgar, a stained-glass window
of great beauty has been placed, in loving memory, by the past and
present members of the congregation. The subject is, St. Paul taking
leave of the elders of the Church at Ephesus. Of this window it has been
said that " in the boldness and vigour of its design, and in the wonderful
depth and richness of its colouring, it is unapproachably beyond anything
that has yet been seen in Ireland."

Ill Me7no7'iam. 285

stunned and broken by the startling intelligence of his sudden
death. More than twelve years ago I spent some days with him
in Orwell Bank. That visit opened up to me the full flood of
a sympathy strong and tender, and so sweet and restful in some
conditions of life's battle. And this was the foundation on
which the friendship was built up. It began as if by a flash, and
we knew each other. At any rate, he read in me what I would
fain have concealed, but to reveal which to him soon became a
privilege. And tender and true I ever found him ; and while I
loved him dearly as my friend, I looked up to him as a master.

" It did not take long to learn that one was dealing with a
man penetrated by the purest and noblest Christian principle,
and also with one possessed of the most powerful intellect. I
wondered at the extent of his scholarship and the breadth of his
thinking. Trained in the very best schools in this country and
in Germany, of wide and varied reading in general literature
and theology, with an exquisite literary taste and a complete
literary furnishing, one soon felt that he was no ordinary man,
that he towered above the ordinary run even of those distin-
guished in the special departments named. For there was with
him such a perfect unconsciousness of his own superior powers
as I have never met — no spurious humility, for he was too noble
and manly for that, but the transparent simplicity of a truly
great man.

"And this was the man whose heart the Lord touched, and
whom He thrust forth into His own harvest-field with an educa-
tion and equipment rarely possessed, with the very simplicity of
Christ, willing ever to be the servant, fired with the conception of
the true mission and ideal of the Church of Christ, as bearing to
men the knowledge of Him who alone could meet human wants
and cure human woes. And this conception filled his heart and
moulded his life. He was true to it with a zeal ever growing,
a love ever widening, an intentness of purpose never wavering,
and an energy and activity that wore him out.

"To myself this soon became the main factor in our friend-
ship. We were one here. For us the Church existed for the
Mission. And I gathered strength of purpose and readiness for
sacrifice from the enthusiasm that was filling him and infecting

286 Life of William Fleming Stevenson.

others. With him this was no fancy idea, no mere romantic
pursuit. His acquaintance with missionary literature and mis-
sionary history was unequalled, and his enthusiasm was the out-
come of what he knew the Mission had done and was certain to do.
He looked at these matters with no narrowed vision, but over the
broad sweep of past history, and he felt confident as to the future.
In all his writing and speaking on this subject he seemed to have
a remarkable faculty of seizing on those very details that involved
advance. His range was as comprehensive as his sympathy.

" This is not the place to speak of his public work and of his
power of impressing his fellow-men. He was a man fitted to be
a leader, but not a leader in Church politics or Church courts.
In these he took his own place, and his words were always highly
valued. In a wider and freer sphere he found his congenial
place. In every enterprise that involved the well-being of man
his heart was engaged. The Mission, in its widest sense, was his
sphere for action. He was one of the most eloquent men of his
time. He had a richness of diction I have never heard equalled ;
not diction without thought, but packed with richest thought.
His style was simple and forceful, brimful of the fire that burned
in him, and he swept his audience along with him. Few who
were present can ever forget the spell of his marvellous address
on the Mission at the meeting of the Pan-Presbyterian Council
in Belfast, and his sermon preached before the General Assembly
of his own Church at the close of his Moderatorship. It was
worth living to hear him on such occasions.

" He was to me the very embodiment of a pure-minded,
chivalrous. Christian gentleman. He was tender as the tenderest
woman, and as brave as he was tender and gentle. Against
meanness, selfishness, and duplicity I have seen him blaze out
with a force that astonished me. And when it passed, I felt it
was but another evidence of the great and brave Christian soul of
my friend. I learnt some new lessons of Christian heroism in
his quiet and sweet patience, and in his warm and keen resent-
ment of everything that was mean and untrue.

" In the quiet of his own home and at his own fireside he
shone most brightly. Where the light was keenest on him he
came out best. It would be presumptuous in me to picture that

In Memoriam, 287

home ; it would be wrong if I did not testify to its beauty and
charm. The union of hearts and aims in the heads of that house-
hold was perfect ; and while it was never obtruded in expression,
its depth and intensity were most marked. He was brimful of
fun and frolic, had a merry infectious laugh, and his inexhaust-
ible store of story and of legend was ever ready. He had rare
conversational powers, and with them he never failed to charm.
But these powers were never allowed to run to excess ; and he
stood out as the Christian head of one of the happiest homes.
To go there was joy and rest ; and Orwell Bank, to those who
knew it, was ever fresh and green. I go back to it now in
memory as one of the brightest spots of my own experience,
and I reckon it a privilege to have ever had a joyous welcome
there. And the brig^htness of the li»ht that was there is the
measure of the darkness to those who knew and loved and have
lost him for a while.

" Within the bounds of his own Church he was honoured and
loved, and he served her with rare devotedness and self-denial.
He consumed himself with the energy and zeal that kept him
working as few men have ever worked. While a Presbyterian of
strong conviction, he was a man of the broadest catholic spirit.
So single was his aim, so transparent his motives, so filled was
he with the grand ideal of the great mission of Christianity, and
so unsparing of himself in its prosecution, that sectarianism and
narrowness found no quarter with him. His aim was so high
and his range so sweeping that every one saw in him a true
Christian man and minister. He was the property of all the
Churches ; and when he passed away, the representatives of all
joined to mourn for a common loss.

'' I part from him now, thanking God that I ever knew him.
I cherish his memory as one of my most precious possessions.
He has gone, but he lives ; lives in the work that he has done,
in the lives he has influenced, in the impulse he has given to the
mission of Christ, and in the hearts of many of us who loved him
deeply and love him still. We shall not see his like till we see
himself again ; and we regard it as one of the rich and precious
treasures of our life that he gave us a place in his own large
Christian heart, and won from us our tenderest, deepest love."

288 Life of William Fleming Stevenson.

The Right Hon. the Earl of Aberdeen writes : — •

'' The circumstance of Dr. Fleming Stevenson having been an
honorary chaplain to the Viceroy of Ireland, when I occupied
that post, gave me the great privilege and advantage of frequent
intercourse with him, leaving memories which can never be
effaced ; and I feel a melancholy satisfaction and a sense of
privilege in undertaking, however inadequately, to contribute
anything to the memorials of that bright and noble life.

"My personal acquaintance with him was brief, but long
enough for the formation of a warm friendship, and, on my part,
a sincere admiration of his gifts, and a deep sense of the value of
his work and influence. I first saw him in the pulpit of his
church at Rathgar, Dublin. The impression produced by the
sermon and whole service led me to remark, on leaving the
church, that we were apparently fortunate in having been
present on that particular Sunday, as it could hardly be sup-
posed (although we were, of course, aware of his high reputation)
that the sermon was not, even for him, more striking, more
deeply spiritual than usual. Subsequent experience, however,
soon showed us that this high standard, both as to sermon and
prayers, was uniformly maintained. He was shortly afterwards
appointed an Honorary Chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant.

" His mode of receiving the offer of the post was characteristic.
He replied that he regarded it as intended to convey a mark of
courtesy and respect towards the Church to which he belonged,
and in that sense accepted it with appreciation. Certainly no
better representative of any Church could have been found. We
had various opportunities of hearing him, both at his church
and at the private chapel of the Vice-Regal Lodge; and I will
only add that his ministrations were, as Principal Brown once
remarked in a letter to myself, ' a combination of spirituality and
culture.' It is impossible to overestimate the lastingly beneficial
influence of such a sympathetic and, in the best sense, tolerant
spirit and disposition as that manifested by Dr. Fleming Steven-
son, combined as it was with great firmness of purpose as well
as gentleness of manner.

" No one could know much of him without observing his great

In Memoriam, 289

love for children, and it is brought out in the large number of
hymns for children contained in the valuable Hymnal which he
compiled. Our own children treasure many tokens of his love
and kindly thought for them. We were present at his last
annual ' flower-service' for children. In the course of his address,
he affectingly illustrated some lesson by alluding to the fondness
of children for flowers, and the eagerness with which they culti-
vate little gardens of their own. And in a few short weeks, some
of those young hearers, who were then intently listening to his
wise and tender words, were sending flowers from their own
gardens far away, to deck the last honoured resting-place of that
form then so full of life and vigour.

" The amount of work accomplished by him must have been
immense, but, like some other men whose whole time is filled
up, he never seemed to be hurried or restless. His letters had
usually a graphic force and character of their own. When
reading them it often seemed to me that one could imagine that
the living voice was uttering the words. Doubtless this was. the
unconscious exercise of that literary ability which he so largely

*' I must not now linger on the attractiveness and value of his
society personally. It is with regretful sadness that I think
over the many projects for future work which we discussed
together. In all such conversations he seemed to impart a
peculiar strength and inspiration, always impressing one with
a sense of a life ever lived in the presence of a loved Master.
He set a bright example of Christian cheerfulness, courtesy, and
unselfishness, and even those who knew little of him will have
known enough to lead them to deplore his loss, though we may
well mingle w^ith our sorrow a true thankfulness concerning all
that he was enabled to accomplish during his comparatively
brief but intensely active life ; and especially will all wish to join
in the feeling of profound and deferential sympathy towards
her who so nobly and brightly helped him in all his life-work.

"Bat 'he being dead yet speaketh.' This is emphatically
true with reference to his vigorous and long-sustained labour in
connection with the great work of Foreign Missions. His large
experience, his energy, and, above all, his broad and sympathetic

290 Life of Williavi Fleming Stevenson,

catholicity of spirit must have been invaluable in the further-
ance of that work, surrounded as it so often is by peculiar diffi-
culties and perplexities ; and in that, as with all the home-work
in the country which was so dear to him, and in connection with
which his last prayer was uttered, we must surely believe that
his influence and example will remain as a permanent heritage
towards the promotion of the Kingdom of the Lord and Master
whom he loved and served so well."

From the Kev. William Beatty, Senior Missionary in
India of the Irish Presbyterian Church : —

" While I speak for myself, I believe my personal views of Dr.
Stevenson are those of all the brethren, and would be subscribed
by them all.

" He was a man of unusual ability, and of great intellectual
power. His mind was broad and deep. There was no narrow-
ness about him. He combined qualities usually dissociated in
other men. He was many-sided and all round. Whilst extremely
cautious, he was full to overflowing with enthusiasm. His
mastery of details, which was unrivalled, never prevented him
from seeing the important and salient features of a subject. He
hated conflict, and, rather than encounter it, would wait patiently
for an open door through which he could enter without oppo-
sition. He would yield much for peace, but when peaceful
means were exhausted, and the stand had to be taken, he was

" He was quite an artist. He beautified everything he touched.
All his letters were written in chaste and charming English. He
gave expression to his ideas clearly, and yet with the sweetness
of a saintly Christian, a master painter, and a true poet.

" There was a great charm in his manner. He put strangers
at once at their ease, and made them satisfied with themselves
and with him. He was naturally kind, and could not bear to
hurt the feelings of any one.

" He was the brother of the missionary more than an official
of the Assembly, the friend rather than the Convener. We mis-
sionaries were perfectly sure of one thing, that the Mission, in all

In ]\Ieinoriam. 291

its aspects and concerns, was as dear, aye, far dearer, to the Con-
vener than to any one of us, and I think it is the passion of all
our lives. We felt that, no matter how much we loved it, he
loved it more : it was the supreme, the absorbing passion of his
life. There was nothing he could do to advance it which he was
not ready to do, even to the minutest detail, and his whole family
shared his spirit. If there was one place in the world where we
were welcome, it was Orwell Bank, and we all knew that. He
would never deny us anything for our work or ourselves he could
possibly do for us. We depended on him, indeed, so much, that
when we heard of his death we felt as if a strong pillar had given
way beneath us. In our prostrate condition we did not see how
we were to rise again, and we felt as if the life and the glory of
the Mission had been extinguished.

*' The central point of his Convenership seems to me to have
been the organising of the Mission abroad in such a way as to
make it self-supporting. He held that the aim of the mission-
aries should be to train the natives to be missionaries to their
fellow-countrymen. A Divinity School for the training of a
native ministry and native missionaries through the medium of
their own language he believed to be a prime necessity. That
the memorial to his name should take this form will appear ex-
ceedingly apposite to all who knew his aims and hopes.

" He strove to bind the workers in the field together in fraternal
bonds. There is, perhaps, no Mission in India where there is
greater harmony among the workers than in ours, and much of
this no doubt is due to the example of Dr. Stevenson. And his
letters were written so as to fill them with hope, courage, and
genuine enthusiasm, and make them feel the grandeur and
nobility of their calling.

" Dr. Stevenson never underrated the difficulties of the jQeld.
He knew more of the paganism of the world than any living man.
He had a high ideal of the qualifications needed in a missionary.
He looked for a solid basis for enthusiasm in true piety, sound
judgment, and a fully educated and well-balanced mind.

" Knowing the great systems of religion to be encountered,
and the absolute necessity of able and thoroughly educated men,
he would accept none but the very best our Church could produce.

292 Life of William Fleming Stevenson.

I look upon his insight in selecting and his power in inducing
such men to volunteer for the Foreign Mission as showing a
remarkable judgment.

" Dr. Stevenson was careful to know every detail of Mission
work. He knew the field by personal inspection, had met many
of the native agents, was aware of the needs of every spot, could
understand every missionary's references to his work, and thus
provide for the wants of every station.

" He always encouraged the missionaries to confide their
troubles and difficulties to him. They could do so with perfect
trust. He was extremely cautious lest injury might be inflicted
on a cause so precious, and yet bold and daring in his plans to

''Another thing ever present to his mind was the blessing
Missions conferred on the Home Church. Missions were to him
signs of life in the Church which originated them and carried
them on, and not only so, but means of grace ; and just in pro-
portion as individuals and Churches engaged in this blessed work,
might they expect the strengthening and developing of their
Christian life. As he loved the Home Church, he wished her to
rise to the height of her responsibilities and privileges.

" Other Missions were proud of our Convener ; he belonged to
the Church Universal. He was a source of power to all. We
were proud of having such a man at our head. He honoured
our Church and Mission. His very name was a tower of strength.

*' We have had no man like him in the past, and we may not
see his like again. He was unique. We can thank and praise
God for the honour and privilege he gave our Church in conferring
such an eminent servant on her. I, for my part, will ever esteem
it one of the highest privileges a man and missionary can have
had to have known him as a friend, and to have laboured under
his guidance and leadership for the beloved Master whose right it
is to reign."

One of his oldest friends in Dublin, the Rev. Hamilton
Magee, D.D., says : —

"I never knew a man so immeasurably raised above petty per-

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Online LibraryElizabeth Montgomery Sinclair StevensonLife and letters of William Fleming Stevenson, D. D., Minister of Christ Church, Rathgar, Dublin → online text (page 25 of 27)