“You Have Killed Yourself”

Reuben Dooly: You Have Killed Yourself

The three previous Restoration History articles have focused on examples of some lesser-known preachers found in the biography of David Purviance – Purviance himself (1766-1847), George Shidler (1776-1828), and William Kinkade (1783-1832). In this article, we are going to look at another lesser-known preacher found in the same book: a man named Reuben Dooly (1773-1822) – sometimes spelled “Dooley.” In this account, we can read about the final sermon that he preached while battling with poor health.

“His health was poor at this time, and he appeared to have an impression that his race was almost run, and that ‘the time of his departure was at hand.’ He procured the assistance of Elder David Purviance to hold a protracted meeting in his own neighborhood, at Point meeting-house. The word of God ‘was quick and powerful’ at this meeting and ‘much good was done in the name of the holy CHILD, JESUS.’ Elder Dooly spoke but little during the meeting, until the last day of the meeting he spoke on the resurrection; he appeared to be perfectly carried away in the spirit of his subject. In view of that great tremendous day, he seemed to entirely forget his own weakness, and his soul was overwhelmed with the glorious prospect of eternal life; his bodily strength was somewhat exhausted when he closed. The congregation were in a flood of tears and great solemnity rested on the people. The meeting soon came to a close. As soon as he left the house, his wife said to him, ‘Reuben. I am afraid you have killed yourself.’ He answered, ‘If I had been sure that I would have been carried of the house a corpse, I would have said just what I did say.’ This proved to be his last sermon. He was taken sick in a short time afterwards and was measurably confined to his room, until the 22nd day of April, 1822, he left all his toils, labors, and afflictions in view of immortality and eternal life. He bore his last affliction with Christian fortitude and resignation, and died without a murmur.” (The Biography of Elder David Purviance, p. 213)

There is certainly something to be said for taking care of ourselves and trying to preserve our health. Paul told Timothy, “For bodily exercise is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). While spiritual things are of primary importance, there is still a value in exercise. When Trophimus fell sick while traveling with Paul, he was “left sick at Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20). This would allow him to rest and recover rather than push his physical body to its limits and possibly face a premature death.

However, no matter how much we may care for our physical bodies, we will still face death one day (Hebrews 9:27). In the excerpt above, Reuben Dooly was nearing the end of his life. He was even to the point that his wife was afraid that any effort he put forth to preach could bring about his death. Let us notice some a few brief points we can draw from Dooly’s example.

  • He did what he could to reach those around him with the gospel – According to the passage above, he was involved at least in the planning of the “protracted meeting” to help reach people “in his own neighborhood.” When our bodies are stricken with disease, we may have less opportunities to reach people around us as our circle of influence shrinks. Yet there are still people to whom we can “let [our] light shine” (Matthew 5:16) and try to plant the seed of the gospel in their hearts (cf. Luke 8:11-15).
  • He made the assembly a priority – Despite his poor health, he was present during the meeting while the gospel was being preached. Sickness and infirmities often make it difficult to assemble with the saints. Yet when one who is in this position is able to assemble despite the health difficulties, it is such an encouragement to the others who are there (cf. Hebrews 10:25) as he/she proves to be an example of one who has truly put spiritual things first (cf. Matthew 6:33).
  • He remembered his hope – When he preached on the last day of the meeting, his topic was the resurrection. This is the basis for our hope as Christians (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22). When one is having to endure a painful and difficult illness, it is easy to become distracted by the things related to that. It is especially important at these times to remember the promises of God and the eternal hope that we have beyond this life (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1).
  • He was going to preach the gospel, even if that was the last thing he did – Despite his wife’s concern for his health, Dooly was so committed to preaching the gospel that he was content even if he passed away before the meeting was ended. Paul told the brethren in Corinth about his willingness to “spend and be expended for [their] souls” (2 Corinthians 12:15). He was willing to sacrifice in order to help others by preaching the gospel to them. Dooly was willing to do the same.

Reading this account of Reuben Dooly reminded me of an older preacher I knew when I was younger. While I don’t remember the exact quote, in essence he said that if he were to die in the pulpit while preaching the gospel, there would be no better way to go.

Let us learn from this example of Reuben Dooly – remember the value of spiritual things over everything that pertains to this life, recognize the importance of preaching and teaching the gospel whenever we have (or can make) the opportunity, and strive to do all that we can in the Lord’s service until the end of our days.

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  1. Wayne D. Teel says

    I can only say, “Amen,” to this man and to his attitude. There would be no better way to leave this life than preaching Christ and having the words of Christ on your lips.
    Thanks, Andy.