Robert McLean McPheat was born in Airdrie on 13th November, 1933, the third child in a family of six. In 1947 a Mr Wilding had gospel meetings in the nearby village of Greengairs and one of Roberts school friends, John Clelland, attended and was saved. He then spoke to Robert at school about his salvation and, Robert having expressed an interest in this matter, they both went into the school gym where, as a lad of fourteen, he accepted the Lord Jesus as his Saviour. He was baptised in Hebron Hall, Airdrie and received into fellowship in the nearby assembly at Plains. During his early years at Plains he appreciated the help he was given by the saints there, and in particular by brother John King of whom he spoke lovingly as his spiritual father.
In 1951 he came to Newtongrange in Midlothian, at that time a large coal mining area, to work at the Lady Victoria Colliery, travelling home each weekend. He married Margaret (Greta) Robertson, who was in fellowship at Plains, in January, 1953, and they were commended to the assembly at Newtongrange two months later, setting up home in Mayfield, a nearby village where the assembly is now located. During all his service for the Lord both Robert and Greta maintained a close fellowship with Jim and Mary Paterson from Plains, and Robert made many visits to the Plains assembly to minister the Word of God and preach the gospel.
From the beginning of their marriage, Robert and Greta used their home to provide hospitality to the saints, and we have many happy memories of fellowship enjoyed there, especially discussing the Scriptures. Robert served faithfully as an overseer in the assembly and his guidance and care were greatly valued at a time when the testimony was faced with many difficult problems.
It was evident in those early years that the Lord had gifted Robert in preaching the gospel and teaching the Word of God, and in October, 1967 he was heartily commended to the work of the Lord by the assemblies at Plains and Newtongrange. His first meetings after commendation were in Northern Ireland where he was warmly received and where he often made many visits over the years to preach the gospel and minister from the Scriptures. At this time the assembly at Newtongrange had obtained a site to erect a new hall at Mayfield, and the first meetings at his home assembly were in 1968 in a tent pitched on this site. During these meetings the local SNP candidate, Andrew Sharp, professed faith in Christ. The tent was also pitched at a nearby village of Pathhead where brother Wilfred Glenn from Northern Ireland shared in the preaching. This was the first time we had met Wilfred and we will always remember him earnestly preaching with tears running down his face and repeating frequently,
Tomorrow hath no promise that it can give to you,
Tomorrow is eternity just hidden from your view.
These meetings were encouraging, with many local people attending, and during this effort two elderly ladies, Mrs Mills and Mrs MacDonald, both widows in their eighties, trusted the Saviour. Later Robert purchased a hall in Pathhead to continue to build on the interest shown in the village, and this was used weekly for childrens work and for monthly gospel meetings. Though he had felt that he was not gifted in childrens work it was a thrill to see the response of the children in Pathhead; they loved him and were queuing at the hall door some time before the meetings were due to start. During this time the tent was also pitched in the nearby villages of Ormiston and Tranent. In the first week of the meetings at Ormiston vandals damaged the tent, but Robert managed to obtain the village hall to continue the meetings. It was because the assembly was so small at Tranent that Robert was exercised about having gospel meetings there. In both Ormiston and Tranent there was not much response from the local people, but the gospel was faithfully preached in both these places. Sadly, not long after, the assembly in Tranent closed.
Robert had a great love of preaching the gospel, sounding it out in his powerful voice in a solemn yet winsome way. He had a lovely voice for singing and appreciated good singing in the meetings. He was always interested in hearing new tunes for hymns, and often when having a time of hymn singing in the home would introduce different tunes to us so that we could try them in the meetings.
Another of his outstanding features was his interest in young people. He was quick to encourage when he observed any spiritual progress being made, and likewise would gently yet firmly draw alongside and warn if he felt there were features being shown that would harm spiritual growth.
He was a person in whom it was easy to confide, knowing that he would respect that confidence and go out of his way to help in a personal way. He said latterly that he felt it an increasing burden to try and identify with the many difficulties and problems that many of the dear saints expressed to him, matters that they often felt were almost too heavy to bear. Because he was away from home in his service for the Lord, he stayed with many of the saints, and since his death many have mentioned to me that it was a joy and privilege to have him in their home. He would quickly set them at ease and would become part of the household.
He seemed to have that unique ability, too, of assessing the calibre of individuals and assemblies, and would not be afraid to convey either personally or by ministry his concerns about any matters that he thought should be corrected. His gift in ministry took him to England, Canada, and the USA where he endeared himself to the saints with his heart warming yet searching ministry. He loved to speak on the person of Christ, and few who attended the conference at Larkhall in Lanarkshire not long before his homecall will forget his ministry on the burial of the Lord Jesus. Brother Alf Wilson, himself an able teacher of the Scriptures, said after listening to this address: "That was more than ministry, it was worship". He would also enjoy using character studies, making many pointed practical applications from the lives of those in the sacred pages. Many times we listened to him and have been captivated when he highlighted things that we had not noticed, but we experienced the searchlight too of the Scriptures as he applied divine truth practically.
One noticeable feature during his service for God was that he did not engage in any written ministry, as he always said that he was happier preaching than writing. It came as a surprise therefore to discover after his death that at the request of brother Dennis Gilpin he had written on the life of Joseph. It is a joy to see this book available to the saints under the title Joseph - a Fruitful Bough.
As with all faithful servants of Christ it was his earnest prayer that he would see fruit from his labours in preaching the gospel. Robert had the encouragement of seeing many accept the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, among those being his family, Simon and Joy, whom he pointed to the Lord when they were young.
During the last two years of his life, ill health restricted him from engaging in sustained series of meetings and from travelling further afield. He would engage nearer to home in weekend meetings or in four subsequent Lords Days for ministry and gospel preaching. It was a joy and privilege to share with him on some of these occasions at Port Seton, Musselburgh, Shields Road, Motherwell, the last being Wednesday evenings for gospel meetings at Meadowside in Dundee in March, 1990. He said at the end of these meetings that though he had preached in many places over the years he would always treasure these last times together in the gospel, adding that he wouldnt be here much longer. We had always been close over the many years we had shared fellowship together, and it became obvious from matters that he talked about that he appeared to anticipate that his service was drawing to a close.
He had enjoyed a close friendship with Denis and Margaret Gilpin of Jersey, and it was while he was on holiday there that the Lord called him home suddenly on 25th July, 1990, a noble servant of Christ who is greatly missed.