Mackintosh: Last Days of R.C.

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The time had arrived when it was absolutely necessary to prepare for our March issue; but just as I was about to address myself to the work, we received the crushing news of the death of our beloved son, Robert, who fell asleep in Jesus on the morning of the 24th of November, 1874, at four o'clock, on board the S.S. Ajax," and was buried in the Gulf of Aden at eleven o'clock on the same day.
Being thus, for the time, wholly unfitted for the discharge of my duties as an editor, I trust our many kind readers will allow me for this once to indulge my feelings as a father. The fact is, I could not at present use my pen in any other way than to give a few jottings in memory of one who had entwined himself round the heart by a thousand tender ties, the sudden snapping of which has convulsed, for the moment, the entire mental and physical framework.
I quite feel that, in thus merging the editor in the father, I am adopting a very unusual course, and presenting a large draft upon the kind indulgence of the many beloved readers, friends, and correspondents, of " Things New and Old." But, if I am not greatly mistaken, I believe they will lovingly bear with me in this matter, and make allowance for one passing through the very keenest and deepest sorrow he has ever tasted.
Besides, I am persuaded that there are thousands of loving hearts who will welcome this brief record of one who, though they may never have known him personally, has nevertheless occupied a large place in their affectionate thoughts and earliest prayers—for which I would take this opportunity of thanking them with an overflowing heart. The numerous letters, too, which, even in the space of two or three days, have come to hand, filled not only with tender sympathy, but with earnest and loving inquiry for details, would render it almost imperative upon me to send out some printed notice, seeing it would be wholly impossible to give direct replies to all, much as I should like to do so; for I can truly say the tide of love and sympathy which has flowed around us, at this time of ineffable sorrow, has touched the very deepest springs of our hearts; and I would here tender to all our beloved personal friends and correspondents our heartfelt thanks. May the Lord Himself return all their love a hundredfold into their own bosoms! This I feel assured He will do, for He is not unrighteous to forget the work and labor of love bestowed on any who belong to Him.
It is not by any means my intention to give a detailed account of the life of " R. C. M." I can do no more than—as indicated in the heading of this paper—give a very few details of his last days, during which the spiritual life in him developed itself with remarkable force and fragrance. He was converted, as he himself always declared, at the age of seven. He was able to read. the Bible in the family at the age of three years and eleven months. Always a particularly quiet, blameless child, and trained from his earliest moments in a christian atmosphere, his conversion did not affect any striking change in his outward conduct; but the hidden spring was there, and the true pulse of divine life could easily be felt by any really skilful hand.
This must in every case be looked for. A blameless life is not enough. A man may lead that, and yet be an enemy and a blasphemer of Christ. Some of the greatest moralists and. philanthropists of the age may be found enrolled amongst the number of those who systematically, deliberately, and publicly deny the deity or the eternal Sonship of our adorable Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What will their morality and philanthropy be worth before the judgment-seat of Christ? What are they worth now? They are but the trappings which cover a heart at enmity with God, the deceitful gilding which hides from view the most positive blasphemy against the Son of God, the fatal dust which the devil casts in their own eyes, and in the eyes of those around, lest their true condition and imminent danger should be seen.
A blameless life, a brilliant reputation, will not do. No, nor a Christian training either. "Ye must be born again." There must be the positive, actual, bona file passage from death to life. We must be renewed in the deepest springs of our moral being. The kingdom of God, which is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, must be set up in the heart, else we never can have part in Christ or His eternal glory.
Thanks be to God, the beloved subject of this sketch knew the real meaning of all this. I do not mean to say that the work was very deep at the first. I do not believe it was; but it was real, so far as it went: and I am not aware that a shadow of doubt or misgiving ever crossed his dear young mind, from first to last. He knew the gospel, and enjoyed the rich and invaluable privilege of a christian mother's influence and teaching, which he highly prized to the end of his life, and to which, under God, I trace his conversion, and that of his five brothers, two of whom had gone to heaven before him.* Governed by divine principle, and the instincts of a true motherly heart, Robert's mother made the training and care of her children her primary business, and she has reaped, so far, a blessed harvest. All praise to Him from whom all grace and blessing flows! He first gives the grace to act, and then rewards the acting.
(*I must not omit in this sketch the mention of another means of real moral and spiritual blessing to Robert and his five brothers, in the help afforded in the nursery by a valued christian friend, who for nineteen years was a member of our household, and to whom he gave a pet name, by which she has ever since been known in the family and amongst our intimate friends.
How much is involved in our nursery influences! How much depends upon the moral character, spirit, tone, temper, and principles of those whom we admit within our nursery walls, or employ in any way in the great business of our children's education! How little do parents reflect upon the awful consequences to soul, mind, and body, of committing their precious little ones to the care, or rather the carelessness, of flirting, flaunting, gossiping maids, who injure their health, defile their minds, and ruin their souls!
I solemnly warn all young christian parents against this most sad evil. Let young mothers devote themselves wholly to the sacred and solemn business of training their children. If the kitchen, the laundry, and the nursery, all stand as candidates for their time and attention, let the last be sure to stand at the head of the poll. Whatever else you neglect, let nothing induce you to neglect those precious immortals whom God himself has most manifestly placed under your care to train for Him. It is a fatal mistake, and a delusion, for a mother to abandon her divinely appointed work, or resign it into the hands of others, while she goes out in what she calls service. We may depend upon it, the christian mother's sphere of work is home. The foundations of character are laid in the nursery, and a mother's hand is the lovely instrument which God delights to use in laying them. Mothers are a great moral power for good or evil—witness the constant recurrence in the historic books of the Bible of the suggestive expression, "His mother's name was" so-and-so. Why not "His father's name?" The father gives the social stapes; the mother imparts the moral tone.)
However, Robert, though clear and decided in the confession of his faith, was never demonstrative as to his feelings. He was quiet and reserved; so much so, that superficial observers felt disposed to pronounce him shy. But those who knew him intimately did not think him shy; on the contrary, they found in him a quiet depth of spiritual life, a sound judgment, and a cultivated and well-stored intellect.* A man who is all known in a moment is not much worth knowing. We are surrounded on all hands by showy, superficial talkers, whom people of good taste and sound judgment—to say nothing of proper christian feeling—regard with pity or contempt. If there is one thing above another from which we retire with disgust and abhorrence, it is a forward, self-sufficient, talkative young man. While, on the other hand, there is an irresistible charm about one who, while he can take in and measure everybody, lets himself out but to few; and who, underneath a dignified reserve, conceals a large amount of moral power, ready for use when the occasion offers. Would that more of our young men were of this latter stamp!
(* A dear young friend who met Robert, for the first time, at Scarborough, in the summer of 1874, speaking of him to his mother said, ''Mother, people don't know Robert Mackintosh. I knew nothing till lately; but what depths come out, when one gets to know even a little!"
This was so true! Those who knew him best loved him most. There was nothing superficial about him; and hence, mere casual observers knew him not. To the poor, and to children, lie was always most loving and tender -,ever ready to help them in every way he could. Indeed there was min' of the Spirit of Christ about him, and it expressed in a thousand little ways only, known to those who had the opportunity of marking his private life. He was enabled, through grace, to exemplify those precious words, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth." 1 John 3:1818My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18).)
But I must hasten on, lest I be found, through the weakness of a father's heart, now crushed with bitter grief, lingering over details which can possess no interest even for that beloved circle of friends for whom I write, and whose kind forbearance I claim. The life of a school-boy, of a medical student, or a medical practitioner, cut down at the age of twenty-three, cannot offer much to engage the attention of an ordinary reader. Besides, all these things stand connected with the life which now is—very important, no doubt, in their place, but less, far less, than secondary when compared with that life which is eternal, spiritual, heavenly, and divine. It is this latter we long to cultivate and strengthen in ourselves, and in all with whom we come in contact.
However, there is one fact in our beloved Robert's life, as a student and as a medical practitioner, in reference to which we would offer a word of caution to all whom it may concern. It is this—he overworked himself, and did not pay sufficient attention to sleep and diet. This is a great mistake, and one that must assuredly tell, in the long-run, upon the physical and even the mental frame. Every man has a certain amount of work in him, and to do that, his body, as the instrument for work, must be kept in working order. If nature be overtaxed and neglected—if the proper balance of waste and repair be not duly maintained, we may rest assured she will make very painful reprisals.
It will, perhaps, be said that those medical students who need a word of warning against over-work are few and far between. The vast majority of such, no doubt, are far more regular in their attendance at the theater, the drinking-saloon, and the billiard-table, than they are at the lecture-hall, the hospital, and the dissecting-room; and they spend much more on brandy and cigars than on medical books or surgical instruments. But then these latter often kill themselves by their abominable self-indulgence. Yes, kill their bodies, and plunge their souls into eternal perdition, to gratify their lusts and passions!
Robert belonged not to this last-named class. He never crossed the threshold of a theater in his life -never had a cigar or a pipe in his mouth—had an intense abhorrence of the vile, low, and abominable habits of smoking and drinking. Moreover, he loved his profession, the true secret of success in anything. He had a taste, amounting almost to a passion, for some of its interesting branches. His high testimonials, as well as several prizes, bespeak his progress and efficiency.
But lie overworked himself, and did not take sufficient care of his precious health. This remark applies to his life as a medical assistant quite as much as to his four years' residence in the University of Edinburgh. It is an error into which many earnest students are apt to fall, and I would take this opportunity of offering to all such a word of loving warning. How many have overtaxed their energies in order to take out their degree, and, just as they had gained their object, have had to lie down and die.
There is one other fact as to Robert's university life which I must not omit; and that is, he generally found time to attend the prayer-meeting. He would leave his studies and scientific investigations, and make his way to the place where prayer was wont to be made, and there find strength, comfort, and consolation. This was a most blessed habit, and one which I would earnestly recommend to all christian students. The mercy-seat is the place to gather up strength for study as for all beside; and it cannot be questioned for a moment that the men of effective action and true progress are ever men of prayer.
On leaving the university, Robert spent a short time as a medical assistant at St. Helens, in Lancashire, and then went to Doncaster, where he remained as an assistant for a year and eight months.* Here his health completely broke down. It was difficult to induce the dear fellow to give up. He longed to work with his hands the thing which is good, that he might have to give to him that needeth, and that he might not be chargeable to any.
(* The following little incident in reference to Robert's life at Doncaster was sent me by a beloved friend: " Dear little Sammy L. greatly admired and loved precious Robert, end often talked of him after a meeting. On hearing his parents speak of the departure of the dear one, he said, as he wiped the tears away with his pinafore, ' Mother, do tell Mr. and Mrs. Mackintosh not to cry, for Jesus has taken him to such a place as he never saw before—far better than China.")
However, he was obliged to succumb; and right glad we were to welcome him to his home, with the fond hope that the bracing air of Scarborough, and a loving mother's tender care and bright companionship, might be used of God to recruit his exhausted strength.
We were truly grieved at his appearance when he arrived from Doncaster. He had all the look of one in consumption—the hectic cheek—the cough—the nightly perspirations, filled us with the gravest apprehension.
And then we perceived such growth in the divine life, such sweetness, such gentleness, such loving thought for others, such kindness to the poor, such a beautiful outshining of the living virtues of Him who had called him out of darkness into His marvelous light. All was morally lovely. There was beautiful grace in every movement. He was utterly unlike the ordinary run of young men. He spent hours in most animated and instructive conversation with his mother, whom he almost adored. And then he would sit down to the harmonium—a very beautiful one, presented by a beloved friend—and play and sing with such deep pathos, as to stir the very deepest depths of the soul. Never can we forget his rendering of hymn 200, in the collection entitled, " Hymns Ancient and Modern."
"Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee,
E'en though it be a cross
That raiseth me;
Still, all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.
Though, like a wanderer,
The sun gone down,
Darkness comes over me,
My rest a stone;
Yet, in my dreams
I'd be Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!
There let my way appear
Steps unto heaven;
All that thou sendest me,
In mercy given;
Angels to beckon me
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!
Then, with my waking thoughts,.
Bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs
Bethel I'll raise;
So by my woes to be
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee! Amen."
His whole appearance as he sang this affecting hymn- the tones of his fine voice—the touch of his finger- all proved too much for some of his audience, who had to rush out of the room in a flood of tears. This hymn was a great favorite with the darling fellow, but to us it seemed terribly prophetic.
After some weeks of rest at home, Robert felt equal to undertake a fortnight's practice for a medical gentleman in the neighborhood of Manchester. We hardly thought him up to the mark, but lie could riot bear to be idle, and so he went. This gentleman, on his re-
turn from his holiday, being much struck with 'Robert's delicate appearance, interested himself in his case, and most kindly gave him a letter of introduction to a medical friend in Manchester, who, it seems, has made chest diseases his special study. He was most kind and painstaking in his examination of the case. He said there was mischief in the right lung, and recommended a warmer climate for the winter.
This brought matters to a point. Robert particularly wished to obtain a surgeoncy on board some steamer; as he shrank from the idea of going out as an invalid passenger. I should have preferred the latter; yet did not wish to move in the case, but leave him free to act as the Lord might guide. Through the kindness of the medical gentleman near Manchester, and a dear friend in London, Robert was appointed surgeon to the " Ajax," one of Holt's steamers, plying between Liverpool and China. It was entirely his own wish to go. It is impossible for human language to convey what it cost his parents to part with such a fondly cherished object; but we consented, with the earnest hope that our God would be graciously pleased to use the voyage for the thorough restoration of his precious health. All his medical advisers—and amongst them our old and bosom friend, beloved Dr. Mackern were unanimous in their opinion as to the necessity of a voyage, and Robert himself was most sanguine, up to the last.
At length the parting moment arrived. It was truly the shadow of death. I accompanied him to Liverpool, on Tuesday, the 27th of October; and, oh, how thankful I am that I did so! I would not for worlds have missed the tender endearments of those last few days. Beloved Robert seemed, as it were, to become more attractive each hour, as we drew near the close of our hallowed and affectionate intercourse.
Will my reader pardon me? I know it is out of place to write in such a strain, if I am to be judged by the standard of editorial propriety. But I have already claimed the sweet privilege of laying aside for the moment all mere literary ceremony, and of pouring out my heart to the reader as to a personal friend. Am I wrong in this? I trust not. I shall have grossly miscalculated, if I be misunderstood by a single reader of " Things New and Old." It is a great thing, in a world like this, to be able to confide in loving hearts.
However, I must endeavor to be calm in my narrative of facts, though it is not easy when those facts cluster round a beloved son, who was bound up in one's very existence.
The " Ajax" sailed on Saturday, the 31st of October, 1.874. We had from the outset made it a matter of most earnest prayer that the Lord would so order, that our beloved son might have someone on board with whom he could hold sweet christian fellowship. How marvelously was this prayer answered! It was Robert's privilege to have as fellow-passengers Mr. and Mrs. Piercy, of the Wesleyan mission to Canton, with whom were associated Messrs. Nightingale and Masters, and some others -a happy and devoted band of workers, who were leaving home, and country, and all that the human heart clings to with fond tenacity, in order to dedicate themselves to the blessed work of carrying the gospel to the heathen.
Words fail to convey to the reader the deep consolation it afforded to my heart to find that our " beloved physician" was to have such companions in travel. I took the liberty of introducing myself and Robert to Mr. Masters, a young man of his own standing as to years. Mr. M. kindly introduced us to Mr. Piercy, the head of the mission, who had been out to China twice before, and was quite an experienced traveler. I blessed God with an overflowing heart for the rich mercy of being able to commit my precious one to the care of such loving hearts. What they proved themselves to him in his hour of need the reader will be able to judge from the sequel. May God Himself return their love a thousand fold into their own loving bosoms I If this should meet the eye of any one of that dear missionary band, especially Mr. Piercy, Mr. Nightingale, or Mr. Masters, I beg to tender them our most grateful thanks for their precious and soothing ministry to our loved one in his closing hours. We know they did it to Christ in the person of one of His members; but this makes it all the more precious; and we feel assured that He will remember and reward every loving act of service rendered to that beloved sufferer, who was deprived, at such a moment, of all that is wrapped up in that one great, deep, comprehensive, suggestive word, " mother!" How gladly that mother would have been with that son, God only knows. But it was ordered otherwise; and she now joins me in assuring those beloved friends who gathered around the cot of Robert Cornwall Mackintosh, in his last moments, that, while memory holds her seat, we shall cherish the grateful sense of their christian kindness to him.*
(* We also beg to offer our warmest acknowledgments to Mrs. Masters, the mother of the dear young missionary above-named, for her most refined and loving thought in sending us the photograph of her beloved son. We prize it much, and the love that sent it. We shall keep it beside one of that beloved object upon whom he so lovingly waited in his closing hours.)
We would also take this opportunity of thanking the owners, the captain, the officers, and crew of the " Ajax," for all their kindness shown to our son during his brief connection with them. May God reward them most abundantly!
And now I must let others tell the rest. The last sight I caught of Robert was as he stood on the deck of the " Ajax," waving his hat in a fond and final farewell. It was a moment as to which both tongue and pen must be silent. The heart's emotions are too profound for utterance; and utterance is needless for hearts that know how to feel—for other hearts who would think of writing at all?
The following is an extract from Mr. Piercy's letter to me. I trust he and Mr. Masters will kindly excuse my thus making use of their letters and journals without their permission. The sad circumstances of the case must be my apology.
" S. S. 'Ajax,' Dec. 7th, 1874.
" My dear Sir, " You will recollect my speaking a few words with you, at Liverpool, just before the Ajax' sailed; and your saying your son was going out in the ship as doctor. I noticed his paleness and feebleness; but did not think him so seriously ill.
You would receive letters written by him at Port Said.* In the Canal, he became much worse; his strength seemed suddenly to give way. His cough was troublesome, but not very bad. The heat was great, and we all hoped that getting away from Suez, and especially if he was spared to have the cooler weather of the Indian Ocean his life might be prolonged. However he weakened from day to day. At times he suffered a great deal, and his mind wandered; but, generally, he did not suffer much—just seemed to sink away.
(* There was one letter from Robert to his mother, penned in a very bright tone. He does not say a word about his health. But this was thoroughly characteristic. He was always extremely reserved as to his physical state and spiritual feelings.)
" On Sunday, the 22nd of November, we passed Perim, at the mouth of the Red Sea; and it was cooler as w passed Aden; but he was sinking fast. He breathed his last on the morning of the 24th of November, at about a quarter past three. Mr. Nightingale, one of my colleagues, was with him at the time. His remains were committed to the deep, about 11 o'clock, the same morning. All the passengers, and many of the ship's crew were present, and seemed to be deeply impressed. We mourned over him as a brother, for we had learned to love him much.
As Captain Kidd will send you an official account of his death, I will now speak of the things he wished me to say to you, his parents. My colleagues, myself, and the ladies of our party had repeated conversations with him on his spiritual state, his family, and other matters. I offered to write to you anything he wished to say. This he tried to give me as coherently as he could. I will try to give you the general idea.
"(1) He said, Tell my father that all on board have been very kind to me, and have done all they could for my comfort and welfare. Both the passengers and ship's officers have watched over me; and I have had all the help I could under the circumstances.'*
(* May the God of all grace bless those passengers and ship's officers, and return their kindness a thousand-fold! May they never want a soothing helping hand in the hour of need; and may every one of them know the unspeakable blessedness of being washed from their sins in a Savior's blood, and thus made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light! This is our earnest prayer for each and all of them)
"(2) Then he said, I have been kept in peace of mind. My Savior has been with me. It is sweet to trust in Him; and all will be well!'
" (3) Give any further account of my illness and end that you think will comfort my parents and family."
" I trust, dear sir, that you will find some consolation in knowing the above facts, and in having a few more of your dear son's words which I will try to write down for you.
" One day, he said to me, How sweet it will be to fall asleep in Jesus!' To Miss Taylor, he said, I wish I had lived nearer to Jesus. This is the only reason I wish to live, to be brought nearer to Him.' She repeated, Jesus, lover of my soul,' &c. &c. He asked for it again; and also begged her to repeat, Just as I am, without one plea,' &c. He also said to her, ' Only one thing gives me hope of recovery; my father has so many kind friends who are praying for me.' He spoke also to Mrs. Piercy, once, saying, I sometimes think I shall not recover. It will be all right, either way. I am not anxious about it. I only want to live that I may serve Him.'
When passages of scripture or hymns were read or quoted to him, he responded with pleasure, quoting others in return, showing that his mind was stored with divine truth, and that he found in it support and consolation. Once, in looking up to the sky, he said, Beautiful sky where Jesus lives!' On quoting the opening verses of John 14, he continued, Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you.'
" We all deeply sympathize with you, dear Mr. and Mrs. Mackintosh, on this great loss to you of such a son; but our Father's will is, doubtless, the best; and, in heaven, you will meet your lost one, and never lose him again.
" My wife and colleagues join me in christian love.
I am, yours truly,
"George Piercy."