Robert Edwin Matheson, died on January 27, 1926. He was by then the Right Hon Sir Robert Edwin Matheson, Privy Councillor, LLD, Registrar for Ireland.
While little information is readily available about this government appointee it is evident that he was a dedicated man who used his positions to advance the practical and social needs of Irish society. However he is recorded here because of the startling nature of his salvation testimony.
Don Prout nates that “Apart from his testimony in Twice Born Men, compiled by Hy Pickering, I have never heard of this gentleman. Nor, I suspect, have any who may read this. But his testimony is so remarkable it bears re-telling.”
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“In 1873 our family went for a holiday to Scotland…” he tells us. By this time he was a married man, recounting that he was with his wife, his brother and his father at the time.
They visited Lanark Old Abbey and while his wife and father settled down to paint and draw the old building Robert and his brother set off to find the graves of the martyrs. When that endeavour proved fruitless Robert decided to rejoin his wife, requiring that he cut through some long grass.
In the process of negotiating his way he tripped “and was thrown to the ground by a small grave stone concealed by grass… I felt a strong desire to see what it was that had caused my fall …” Clearing away the grass, “I saw to my astonishment and horror my own name – Robert Matheson! I could not fail to see that it was a direct message from God to me. I felt the letters of the inscription with my hand, so as to make sure it w as real…”
Matheson realised that if he had heard a voice or seen a vision he could have discounted it as a construct of his mind, but the very solid tangibility of this extraordinary find, by such random chance action meant he could not dismiss its impact.
The thought that he, too, like his namesake, would one day meet his Maker, haunted him and a few nights after his return to Ireland Matheson read the Bible in search of answers for the “deep anxiety about my soul”. His Bible opened by chance to 1John 5:1, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God”. He then felt the devil’s accusation that he would make a private commitment he could not live up to in public, so Matheson read on to verse 4, which solved that problem: “Whosoever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith”. He then stood by faith in the Word of God, claiming his salvation, despite any accusation the devil might throw at him.
Matheson’s life reflected the dedication of a man who lived in service of God. His mammoth compilation of the Special Report on Surnames in Ireland became a valued reference work at a time when governments sought to set up records which had previously only been kept by churches.
As Registrar General he set up the process of recording the citizens of Ireland and compiling faithful records. At the time of the 1901 Census, Matheson was described as “an energetic official”.
Later in his life Matheson noted, with regard to his earlier unusual challenge to salvation, “Many years have elapsed since that memorable night” and “… I have passed through many trials and many difficulties in my earthly journey … but God has been faithful, and soon I shall be in the Saviour’s presence to see the King in His beauty…”
Matheson saw the King in His beauty on January 27, 1926.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com
Tags: ireland, robert matheson
sharon lucy matheson hulin says
Hi , just read with great interest about Robert Matheson stumbling upon a grave stone bearing the same name as his own. I am his great ,great grand daughter ! Do you have any more information on him ? I have quite a few photos etc of him and his family. With many thanks sharon lucy matheson hulin.