It is now little more than two years ago, shortly after my arrival in India, that I was favoured with an introduction to the circle at Serampore, and to the family of Mrs. Marshman in particular. At the request of Mrs. Marshman herself, I came to pay a friendly visit here. Dear Mr. Mack was then living; and during my stay I saw much of him also. You will not be surprised when I say, that many things combined to endear the place and family to me, though at this time I was unable to form a correct estimate of the worth of its venerable head. The effect of my first interview is, however, impressed on my memory with all the freshness and vividness of the moment. There was so much simplicity and Christian kindliness, that I seemed to be talking to a friend with whom I had held converse for years instead of one to whom I had been introduced but recently. My first interview posesses a power over me now, from which I am not anxious to divest myself.
More than once I visited Serampore during the few months I continued in Calcutta, unconscious indeed that I should come to live and labour among you, in the gospel - and it may be to die and leave my ashes among you. To be associated in the work commenced by the illustrious dead, is to my own mind a source of more ennobling pleasure than had I been dignified with sovereign authority in this gorgeous land.
It is true, my acquaintance with you is of recent date; but the intercourse I have been privileged to enjoy in the family, and the accurate knowledge you possess, partly obviates the difficulty I should otherwise feel in addressing you. Of the early history of our departed friend I can say but little, but it is genuine, and I think you will concur with me that it possesses much value. Her own lips and her own pen are the
principal sources from whence every sentence is taken.*
The last year, as you are aware, was a season of affliction to her. During this period she often spake of God's gracious dealings with her in the days of her youth. Occasionally she would take a delighted retrospect of the happy and profitable hours she had spent with her own mother in similar affliction. Her eyes would frequently fill with tears while she narrated the instances of parental tenderness and Christian counsels of one who was taken from her in her infant years. But I must not anticipate.
Mrs. Marshman was born on the 13th of May, 1767. She was the daughter of Mr. John Shepherd, a freeman of Bristol, who possessed some estates in that neighbourhood, and of Rachel his wife, who was the eldest daughter of the Rev. John Clark, of Frome, in Somersetshire, an eminent minister of the gospel, and for more than sixty years pastor of the church at Cockerton in Wiltshire. +
It was her happiness to be early trained in the ways of God, and to be taught, in the first lispings of infancy, the words of truth and peace. Her mother appears to have been an eminently godly woman. It was but a day or two before her death that she affectingly referred to the scene of her mother's death and fervent wishes for her offspring. She said, "My serious impressions commenced very early. It was the custom of my dear mother to retire with me and talk to me of heaven and heavenly things. Her health was at this time very indifferent. I recollect sitting by her bedside and listening to her words. They made a great impression upon me - they were gentle like the morning dew. And then her prayers for me and for God's blessing on us all, were so fervent and affectionate! When at the early age of eight years I saw her lovely countenance silent in death, her tender and affectionate words rushed upon me. I endeavoured to recollect them; and though unconscious of the loss I had sustained, prayed that God would be my God: and I think he heard my prayer. The removal of my dear mother so sensibly affected my father's health, that he never fully recovered the stroke. In about three years he followed his beloved wife to the silent grave."
Thus at the early age of eleven or twelve she was deprived of both her natural protectors. From this time the charge of the orphan devolved on her venerable grandfather, the Rev. Mr. Clark. He instructed her himself; and whilst imparting secular knowledge with unremitting solicitude, he nurtured to the fullest extent those seeds of genuine piety which had already been sown in the heart of the child by the pious mother.
To the happy years she spent under his roof, and to the high and holy advantages she there enjoyed, she was accustomed to the last to refer with grateful affection and holy delight. It always gave her pleasure to repeat to her children and others, with a zest and interest peculiarly her own, the trite yet wise maxims and anecdotes with which her mind had been stored hy her beloved grandfather, and those who were accustomed to meet beneath his roof. In the case of Mrs. Marshman were verified those many encouraging words of holy writ - to "train up a child in the way it should go" - with the assurance that out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God can and frequently does perfect his praise!
* Besides scattered papers, three quarto volumes of memoranda in her own hand-writing remain in the possession of her children.
+ The venerable man is said to have been absent from his people but once during his long pastorate. He preached his last sermon at the truly patriarchal age of 93!
At the age of fifteen, however, her heart was increasingly impressed with her lost state as a sinner before God, and her absolute need of a Saviour. From this time for two or three years her health was so bad that her friends often despaired of her life. To this period, she used to tell her children, she could look back as the happiest of her life, for it was a season of peculiar mercy. In her afflictions she learned the character of God as a tender Father, and the suitableness and preciousness of the Saviour.
Soon after her recovery she felt it to be her duty to make a public profession of religion by Christian baptism. The ordinance was administered by the Rev. Mr. Marshman of Westbury Leigh in Wiltshire, to which neighbourhood she had recently been removed. At the age of seventeen she became acquainted with the late Dr. Marshman (who was however no relation, so far as we can ascertain, to the Mr. Marshman mentioned above), with whom in a wise providence she was appointed to share the labours and enjoyments of a long and useful life. Soon after their marriage they removed to Bristol, where they remained for some years, and where a sphere of usefulness appeared to be pointed out, and where the cup of domestic bliss was so full that it was not without many misgivings that Mrs. Marshman was brought to contemplate the prospect of a change, and to enter into the spirit of her beloved partner, which required them to break up every association at home. They, however, finally determined to leave all for Christ's sake, and to spend and be spent in his service among the heathen.
With the circumstances of their leaving England and their providential guidance to this settlement, the protection afforded them by the Danish Governor, and their unparalleled labours, you are familiar: I therefore for the sake of time pass on to the events of the few months preceding her removal. This, as you are aware, has been effected by a gentle and gradual process. It is true, she may have rallied at intervals; her naturally vigorous constitution may have risen superior to disease and infirmities; but we, who observed her closely, realized in these fluctuations her approaching separation. How much mercy is apparent in God's gracious dealings with his children - to us who remain as well as toward the sufferer! How beautifully did religion unfold itself in the experience of her last hours! Occasionally she seemed to suffer acutely; but how exemplary was her patience under it! In hours of deepest affliction her hope was firm and unwavering. Her religion was very far from enthusiasm: hers was a settled and well-grounded hope. She "knew in whom," and in what, she believed. It was her prayerful wish to enjoy the comforts and power of religion. She realized this, but it was serene, not ecstatic enjoyment. Her last hours were undisturbed and calm. Frequently she ejaculated those words of Watts: —
"Far from my thoughts, vain world, begone!
Let my religious hours alone;
Fain would my eyes my Saviour see:
I wait a visit, Lord, from thee.
Hail, great Immanuel, all divine,
In thee thy Father's glories thine;
Thou brightest, sweetest, fairest one,
That eyes have seen, or angels known."
She naturally possessed great constitutional energy and capacity. Her temper was ardent and enterprising, and her attachments powerful. This was sweetly blended with deep religious feeling, moral worth, humility, unfeigned faith, and a zeal which no difficulties, no privations, could quench or overcome. What had she not to encounter and endure in the early years of the mission!
Her failings whatever they may have
been - and she made no pretensions to exemption from failings - were more fully and more readily acknowledged by herself than by any one I have heard speak of her: others who have known her longer, but not more intimately than myself, may be able to specify them. Whatever I have heard imputed to her, may be summed up in one sentence - and we must remember the whole of the illustrious dead, whose names are inscribed on that mural tablet, are equally implicated in the charge, viz. - too strong an attachment to the work they had at heart in India - an all-absorbing and unconquerable love to Serampore. They have carried it with them to the grave: may it cleave to their memories for ever! Their lives, their time, their talents, their earnings, their influence were given to its accomplishment, the best proof of their sincerity, as was touchingly referred to by Mr. Leslie, while standing on the margin of their graves: - "Here they gave their lives, and here are their tombs."
One feature in our dear friend's character must not be omitted: in fact it characterized the whole period from her illness to her departure - I mean the spirit of prayer. Till very recently, how regularly did she attend our services, especially our Thursday morning meeting for prayer - at half-past seven o'clock! This she did after she had entered her 80th year. And when unable to do so, which was about December last, how anxiously did she inquire about the services, and after the welfare of individuals of our circle. With her of late it was literally "prayer without ceasing," and in every thing - "thankfulness and praise." The cause of such serene and holy solace, with the perfect apprehension of approaching dissolution - for she frequently dwelt on her departure, that it was at hand - arose from her entire and unreserved confidence in the Saviour. His finished work and righteousness was her only hope, her only plea. "His precious person, his precious atonement, his precious intercession," were terms frequently on her lips: these refer to truths which are the life, power, and happiness of the Christian on earth, and which will form the theme of the Christian's exultation in heaven. But I must close this hasty sketch by dwelling for a moment or two on her last hours, and dying experience of a Saviour's love.
On Tuesday, March 2nd, I received a note from Mr. Marshman, informing me that a sudden change had taken place, with every appearance of danger. I went immediately to the house, and found her somewhat revived, but extremely weak. Her countenance was serene, and though her voice was feeble, her articulation and mental powers were unimpaired. She addressed me in her accustomed manner, and said she would not be long in this world. After speaking to me for a little while, Mr. Marshman and her medical attendant came into the room. I said to Mrs. Voigt I would withdraw silently and return in about an hour. I did so. On my return Mrs. Marshman said, Why did you go away this afternoon! I explained the reason. She said, Well - and proceeded to speak of her removal, and of her trust in the Redeemer: she thought a few hours before, the world and all its scenes would have closed upon her. She recurred to her early experience, and "the great searchings of heart" which preceded her consecration to God. At her request I read the forty-second Psalm: she ejaculated the words I read in the language of prayer. After commending her to God I left her, not knowing whether I should see her again. It was on this occasion that she fervently prayed for her children, for the church and congregation
meeting here, for her neighbours, European and native - for the young people, minister, schools - emphatically and distinctly. Dear friends, shall those prayers be lost - shall they have no influence - shall they rise in judgment against you?
The following morning Mrs. Denham called: she appeared a little better. The substance of the conversation I have given already. She dwelt particularly on her mother's kind instructions and death. About 5 P. M. I called. On entering the room she appeared to be in deep thought; her countenance bore indications of peaceful repose. I stood for a moment or two looking at her. When she observed me, she extended her hand and pointed to a chair by her bed. A few words were interchanged; and she repeated a verse of a hymn which, I regret to say, I do not remember. She paused, and in a firm and audible tone uttered several stanzas appropriate to her present state and expectations. She ceased, and I inquired, "Whose verses are those?" Mrs. Voigt said, "Olney, mamma" as she was particularly attached to Cowper's hymns. "No, I committed them to memory before I was eighteen years of age: it was a time of mercy to me." She again referred to this favoured period, and dwelt upon the exercises of her mind. "It was then," said she, "that Bunyan's Pilgrim was made so useful to me." Mrs. Voigt having for a moment left the room, she now re-entered, and Mrs. Marshman said, "Where is Bunyan's Pilgrim?" Mrs. Voigt took it down and placed it in my hand. Mrs. Marshman looked at the book and said, "How wonderful that that book should have been made so useful!" I replied, "A native Christian had recently told me his heart leaped for joy whenever he read it; adding, had Bunyan, when in gaol, known how extensively useful it would prove - that even in this land and on the banks of this idolatrous river, which to men in his day was all but fable - such a thought would have cheered him in his gloomy prison." "Would have cheered him?" she rejoined, fixing her eyes upon me, "it did cheer him. But I am near the river he describes. Oh that I may be landed safely!" "But there are no fears, mamma?" "No child, no fears. He has said, Fear not, I am with thee; be not dismayed, I am thy God; I will strengthen thee, I will help thee. He is able to save to the uttermost every one who cometh unto God by him; whosoever cometh he will in no wise cast out." Looking at me, she said, "Should you say anything to the people about me, after my removal, speak from those words which have been made so precious to me: 'He sent from above, he took me and drew me out of many waters:' but read where Christian passes the river." I did so. That which seemed to affect her most was the part where Christian begins to sink and Hopeful encourages him. To describe to you the exquisite feelings I experienced while reading to her, when her own feet were just dipped within the waters of the river is utterly impossible. We were talking just as Bunyan describes Christian and Hopeful to have talked. Though a dream, it was no longer a similitude: the scene, the circumstances were real, were all but identical. As I read I paused, for she occasionally spoke on the circumstances recorded. When I came to the words, "and after that they shut the gates; which when I had seen, I wished myself among them," she fervently ejaculated the words. I looked at her, and inwardly said, "May I die the death of the righteous: may my last end be like hers!
At her wish we turned to Christian's removal and the remaining characters.
That of Standfast and his last words appeared to interest her greatly. "This river hath been a terror to many." When I came to the words, "Now while he was thus in his discourse his countenance changed; his strong man bowed under him;" after he had said, "Take me for I come unto thee." Just here her death-like countenance, yet so serene, greatly affected us. I could read no more. I knelt down and prayed that her feet like his might stand fast in that dread hour.
This was my last conversation. I saw her once again but the interview was brief. Her time was at hand. To her and kindred spirits death has no terrors. In the language of David it is indeed a "shadow." Death for her had no sting - over her the grave claims no victory. The thread of life was broken and we knew it not. The spirit had winged its flight; the separation was painless, stingless - without a groan! We looked - her head rested on her daughter's bosom, but her spirit stood spotless before the throne of God!
"Call not the mourners when the Christian dies,
While angels shout glad welcomes to the skies;
Mourn rather for the living dead on earth,
Who nothing care for the celestial birth.
Death to the bedside came his prey to hold;
All he could touch was but the earthly mould;
This to its native ashes men convey;
The freed soul rises to eternal day."
[From The Baptist Magazine, London, August, 1847, pp. 477-482. Document is from Google Books. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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