The Death-bed of an Irish puritan (Submitted by IRBS Fellow Dr. Crawford Gribben)
John Murcot was a Presbyterian minister from Warwick who was called by Parliament to minister to emigrant puritans in Dublin in the 1650s. His devotedness to his calling and the spiritual welfare of his congregation earned enormous respect.In 1657, two years after his death, an anonymous friend published an account of Murcot’s life which he called Moses on the Mount. One of the most significant passages in the 50 page account is the description of Murcot’s last hours. Although he was surrounded by his wife, his children and his sister, and by Dr Samuel Winter, Provost of Trinity College Dublin and leading Independent minister in the city, his thoughts were focussed on the glory set before him. The scene is a vivid illustration of the extent to which even unknown puritans enjoyed the pursuit of God at the moment of death.
‘The time of his departure was at hand, and no wonder; He was ripe betimes, and therefore gathered, and taken into Gods Granary. He had done his work, and must therefore go to receive his wages; and this I may be bold to say, that he did God more service in a little time, then many others, whose line of life was twice as long as his. He cannot be far off from his centre, because of the swiftness of his motion.
He was always much upon the wing, but towards his latter end, he was wont to soar very high, and took many a turn in Paradise every day, and would be often hovering about the Casements of the Star-chamber; which having delightfully peeped and pried into, he came down again, though not without much regret and grief, yet solacing himself with this consideration, that he should shortly meet the Lord in the air, and then be ever with the Lord.’
His last sermon was on Psalm 4:6: ‘LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.’ It was by all accounts a remarkable worship service: ‘he spoke more like one near the Throne, and in the company of Angels, then one in a Pulpit, and surrounded with mortals.’
But death came relentlessly. ‘The Lord’s day in the morning the Doctor coming to him, and looking on him, wept, to whom Master Murcot said, How is it with me? Doctor: You may do well Brother, I hope, if you can get any sleep. Master Murcot: Tell me true, how is my pulse? Doctor: I confess it is but bad, but you may do well if you can sleep, which he endeavoured a while, (though in vain) by closing his eyes.
To his wife looking sadly on him, he said, Love, canst thou pray for sleep for me, what saist thou? to which her swelling grief permitted her not to return answer. The rumour of his weak condition being spread abroad, a Doctor was sent from my Lord Deputy, to see if there were any hope of life, who speaking to him he said, Doctor, I am spent with sweating.
To his Sister he said, and that without any amazement and perturbation of spirit: Sister, I must now tell you, I am not for this world and them lifting up himself, he said, Lord remember me, how I have walked before thee in sincerity, with all my might.
He wished the Sabbath were over, that so he might do something about his Will, though little were to be done. His wife seeing & hearing these passages, said to him, Now I see that you know that you must leave us. He answered, yes Love; whereat she weeping, he exhorted her to a Resignation, to which she answered, The Lord hath enabled me to surrender you up heartily; at the hearing of which he lifting up his hands, blessed the Lord.
To his wife he said, haste haste Love, for my time is very short, and withal told his Sister, I shall not reach midnight. Then lifting up himself, he said, these raptures tell me I must be gone quickly. The consideration of his approaching rest did wonderfully revive. The Messenger of the Lord whispered him in the ear, and told his Father had sent for him home, which happy tidings made his heart to leap for joy within him.
The glimmerings of the white Throne, of the Lamb sitting on that Throne, and of the glorious troops of Saints and Angels all in white about the Throne, with the apprehensions and confident assurance of his bearing a part in the Music, of their Hallelujahs, caused in him sublime elevations, and springing exulting of spirit in a body depressed, and bowed down with pinching pains, and the agonies of an approaching death. He is now in the Outfields of Emanuels Land, and is gotten almost to the top of the Mount, and his soul, impatient of delays is ready to leap out of the crazy and declining Cottage of mouldering Flesh.
Paper being brought, he began thus: I resign my spirit into the hands of the Father of Spirits, and into the bosom of my dear Lord, &c. To this there were but three or four lines more added, for he was in haste and longed to be at home.
To his wife (having in a very short space dispatched his Will) he said, Bury me in silence, with no Funeral Sermon. I will have no manner of pomp; but was persuaded to yield to the entreaties of his wife, as to a Sermon.
As his children were called for, Doctor Winter came in to visit him, who unexpectedly seeing death in his face, said, with a loud and lamenting voice, Brother Murcot are you leaving us? who with unaltered countenance, said, Yes, and desired him to pray quickly.
His children being brought, he said to his eldest, Will Hester be a good child and serve the Lord? His son being presented, he said thus, The Lord break thy stubborn heart. When the little one hanging on the mothers breast was exposed to his sight, he lift up his hands, and said, The Lord bless thee.
Being put in mind of his servants, he affectionately and even smilingly looked upon one, whom he had been instrumental to convert, and said, Bess hath a better Master, the Lord be with thee Bess. The children being taken away, and his wife coming to take her last leave and final farewell of him, he alone lift up himself and kissed her.
Dr. Winter desiring an interest in his prayers, he said, The Lord strengthen you for the double work that now lies on you, and withal desired him to pray with him; which he did in a most pathetical and doleful manner, groaning out his requests unto God.
The people, though desired, are loath to leave the chamber, and hang so thick on the curtains, bed-posts, hangings, doors, having not the power to leave their dear and departing friend, so that he is in danger of being smothered, and dying before his time.
Drawing near his end, his sister said to him, Are you in charity with all the Lords people, though differing from you? Who lifting up his eyes affectionately, said, Yes; She desiring him to manifest it by his last request, he lifted up his hands and requested, that all the Lords people might be one, as his way was one.
Then stretching out his arms, and lifting himself up, he said with a loud and shrill voice, Lord Jesus draw me up to thee: which sweet expressions, by a frequent and fervent repetition wasted his spirits, so that afterward he lay in somewhat a silent posture, waiting for his change, which was now need at hand.
About nine of the clock he breathed out his soul into the bosom of Christ, and quietly slept in the Lord.’