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Death Of Bro. Cheek

By J.J. Haley


      About one o'clock on Friday afternoon of February 16th we were startled and made to tremble by the receipt of the following telegram from Bro. F.W. Troy, of Queensland--"Bro. Cheek dangerously sick, typhoid fever, brethren pray for him." Believing that a man of Bro. Cheek's constitution and laborious habits would not be able to stand a severe attack of typhoid fever, we feared that this intelligence was ominous. The next day our worst fears were realised, when it was flashed over the wires, "Bro. Cheek died this morning at 11 o'clock." No preacher amongst us was better known to the brethren throughout the southern hemisphere, and none more deeply loved by those who knew him. Indeed, he was one of those rare men who seemed to inspire the boundless confidence and sincerest affection of those who came most directly within the circle of his influence. As a fellow labourer in the gospel, the writer of this feels that he has lost a brother indeed, one of his most congenial and best loved companions, from whose faithful counsel and suggestive conversation on spiritual topics he never failed to derive both profit and pleasure. All we can undertake at present is a brief intimate acquaintance of nearly four years, speaking first of our brother's intellectual characteristics, he was a man of remarkable ingenuity and originality of mind. He did not run in a beaten track, nor repeat merely what he had learned from other men. He was always fresh in the treatment of his subjects, and frequently original and striking. We were often surprised in listening to him, to hear old threadbare subjects and familiar texts invested with a freshness and placed in original settings of ingenious illustration that imparted to them new interest and power.

      We have sometimes associated with preachers for years without ever hearing anything new or fresh from their lips. They were destitute of a single trace of original thought. But no one could listen to Bro. Cheek very long, either in private conversation or in his public utterances, without having fresh combinations of thought and new expositions of the Divine Word suggested to his mind. His method of diagramming his subjects so as to bring the eye into requisition to assist the ear, was ingenious and clever, and highly instructive to those who read his Truth in Love, or heard its editor present the gospel by word of mouth. His memory being remarkably retentive, and his devotion to the Bible supreme, his knowledge of that book was but little short of phenomenal. His familiarity with the Book of books was simply wonderful. It is not too much to say that he was a living encyclopedia of biblical knowledge and a walking concordance combined in one. He could quote more scripture, and give chapter and verse for it, than any man we ever remember to have known. He was always extremely careful to quote the inspired word with faultless accuracy, neither omitting, transposing, nor altering a single word or sentence, and could give you the reference with the same unerring precision. This singular facility in the command of scripture made him master of the situation in debate in which field of work his superiority had begun to make itself conspicuous. Possessed of fine powers of logical discrimination, and such a mastery of the source of knowledge, when his opponent claimed the Bible for what it did not teach, he exposed himself to an enfilading fire from Bro. Cheek's scriptural guns, and was practically out of the fight before the debate was half over. He was emphatically a man of the one book. He had read other books, and was a good observer of men and things, but the Bible was his chief study, and in this lay the secret of much of his power. His scriptural information did not consist in a mechanical retention of the language of the inspired volume; he understood its meaning, and was as gifted in its application as he was in its recollection / The old maxim, that "the Bible is its own best interpreter," found in Bro. Cheek's method of teaching and preaching a very fine illustration. In forging isolated fragments of scripture into a logical chain, in comparing scripture with scripture so as to make one class of passages explanatory of another and all harmonious parts of a common unit, he had few equals and no superiors in this country. Our lamented Brother was not an orator in the popular sense of that term; but calm, fluent and forcible in delivery, he was an effective speaker, a splendid teacher of the Bible, and an able expounder of the plan of salvation revealed in the New Testament. His work as a writer is before the brotherhood, and has called forth gratifying expressions of appreciation on all sides. His Truth in Love, recently changed to the Christian Pioneer--only two numbers of which had been issued--was a gem of its kind, and was a source of instruction and comfort to many hundreds of people. Now that its beloved editor has gone to his reward, we shall miss its welcome visits with long-remembered regret and sorrow.

      When we come to speak of the moral and christian character of Stephen Cheek, the most unvarnished and literal recital of facts will appear to the reader, who did not know him, as extravagant eulogy and the usual exaggeration indulged in over people who are dead. He was a man of so many virtues, and of such singular nobility of character, without any ignoble traits or off-setting vices, that simply to say what he was will sound to most people like the panegyrics of fiction or the characteristic overdrawing of blind affection, instead of a sober description of a real human character. His extraordinary unselfishness was a matter of common remark amongst the brethren who knew him. The truth is, he never seemed to think of himself at all. He literally forsook all for Christ, and laying himself on the altar of consecration to his Divine Master, "he went about doing good," toiling incessantly, preaching constantly--sometimes more than thirty times a month--carrying on a voluminous correspondence, editing his paper, writing for other journals, conversing daily with people about the things that pertain to the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ--thus in labours prodigious and unremitting his time and strength were consumed, for which he neither desired nor expected fee or reward beyond food and raiment and a few shillings to take him to his next preaching appointment. If he received money beyond enough for the bare necessities of life, he devoted it to his work. If churches treated him handsomely in these matters he never boasted; if they treated him shabbily, as they often did, he never complained. His equanimity of temper was only equalled by his modesty and humility. He had not in his composition the slightest trace of self-conceit. We never saw anything in his conduct that the bitterest enemy could construe into a manifestation of self-esteem. Of this bane of some men of parts, and many men of no parts, he had none. If conceit, and its demon brother, unscrupulous ambition, had ever possessed him, they had been cast out, and their places taken by "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." He was a noble exemplification of the apostolic precept, "In malice be ye children; but in understanding be men." Animosity and bitterness towards his fellows were feelings of which he had no experimental knowledge. Towards his detractors and persecutors--and of these there were many among worldlings and sectarians--he manifested no unkindness, but demeaned himself towards them in the spirit of Paul's instructions to Timothy: "and the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men; apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." His invincible firmness and boldness in the advocacy of truth did not spring from a pugnacious temper, but from a conscientiousness and a fidelity to conviction as admirable as they are rare. Where truth and duty led, there he would go regardless of consequences. He never hesitated to do what he though to be right, nor to embrace what he believed to be the truth. It was these qualities that made him a hero in the fight and a kindred spirit to the noble host of reformers and worthies who braved dangers, courted obliquity, and faced the frowns of a godless world that they might finish their course with joy and the ministry they had received of the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God. It is with peculiar pleasure that we are able to say in literal truth that our departed brother was absolutely free from the envy and jealousy that characterise preachers, as a rule, no less than other men. If any man ever laboured for the glory of God, and not for his own glory, it was Stephen Cheek. He thought it made but little difference who the human instrument was, so men were saved, and the Master's name honoured. While he was living he sought to take no man's place, and now that he is dead we have no man that can take his. His place is left vacant, and his useful career suddenly cut short. In the untimely death of such a man, although he had not reached the prime of life, the brotherhood in Australia have suffered an irreparable loss.

      "Death of Bro. Cheek." No Other Foundation: A Documentary History of Churches of Christ in Australia: 1846-1990, ed. Graeme Chapman. [Mulgrave, Victoria: Privately published, 1993]. Pp. 451-452. Reprinted from Australian Christian Witness, 1883, pp. 122-123.

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