Faith

“He made a difference for the God he loved and treasured”: Eulogy for Richard Magnus by Bishop Rennis Ponniah

Richard Magnus, retired Senior District Judge and Diocesian Chancellor, was called home to the Lord on March 14. The Rt Rev Rennis Ponniah gave this homily at the funeral service on March 18.

Rt Rev Rennis Ponniah // March 18, 2022, 11:59 pm

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The late former Chief District Judge Richard Magnus (third from right) in December 2017 with (from left) Mrs Sally Kee; Habib Hassan Al-Attas (Chairman of Masjid Ba’alwie); Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; Bishop Rennis Ponniah of the Anglican Church; Bishop Terry Kee of the Lutheran Church; Mdm Ho Ching and Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam. MCI Photo by Fyrol via Lee Hsien Loong Facebook.

It is a real privilege for me to bring you the Word of God at this funeral service of our dear brother and esteemed public servant, Richard Magnus.

Our hearts go out to Eileen, his beloved wife; Keith, his son; Dana, his daughter-in-law; Stephanie, his daughter; Daniel, his son-in-law; and his three grandchildren, Nicole, David and Kristen.

We share in your deep sense of loss but also in your tremendous pride in Richard as husband, father, grandfather and servant-leader.

Richard built his life on the Word of God.

Richard is more than his string of great accomplishments. He is an outstanding person – the insightfulness of his mind, the depth of his care, the steadfastness of his love.

These qualities shone through every role that Richard played in life, public or domestic, and he brightened the lives of so many people.

I count it as a great gift from God to have known Richard as a co-leader of the Anglican Church of Singapore and as a wonderful friend for more than 15 years. He and I have worked side-by-side for the good governance of the Church and its mission, we have prayed on the field for people together, and we have shared our lives over cups of tea, more accurately glasses of teh tarik.

Richard built his life on the Word of God. And I want to draw on God’s Word as I share these reflections on Richard’s life:

His identity

Richard saw himself as a servant of the Lord, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the Servant of the Lord par excellence.

In Isaiah 42:1-7, the Servant of the Lord is establishing justice in the nations. That is to say, the Servant is establishing God’s standard of right and wrong in the earth. He is doing so by bringing in God’s reign of love and righteousness.

Richard did not ride rough-shod over people; he was humble, patient and tender-hearted, especially to those already bruised in life.

So, for Richard, faith was not a personal, private affair. Faith was a response to what God is doing in the world. God is saving the world from human wickedness, folly and sin. And God is re-creating the world in justice, righteousness and love.

He is doing this on the foundation of what Jesus Christ, the Servant of the Lord, did on the Cross some 2000 years ago. Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose to put us right with God forever – not as His subjects to a King, but as His children of a heavenly Father.

Richard Magnus believed this for himself some 40 years ago. His life was never the same since then. He became a servant of the Lord and spent his life building God’s kingdom of righteousness, justice and mercy on earth.

And the manner in which he went about it resembled his Master:

“A bruised reed he will not break and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”

Richard did not ride rough-shod over people; he was humble, patient and tender-hearted, especially to those already bruised in life.

Richard brought forth justice with mercy and compassion. That is why he would often say to people who wanted to do the just thing with exactness: “Take the higher road of mercy.” He was following the way of Jesus, whose servant he was.

His impact

The media has quite comprehensively covered all that Richard has contributed to the public good and to the welfare of our nation.

As our Prime Minister remarked: “Richard Magnus has poured heart and soul into his public service responsibilities.” He has done that for over 50 years.

What enabled him to do so with such great fruitfulness for the common good?

He used all his natural endowments with full dependence on God.

It was his close relationship to the Lord. For hidden from most eyes was Richard’s regular and disciplined one-on-one devotional time with the Lord. He was a man of prayer.

Hence, he experienced what Isaiah 42 describes as being upheld by the Lord, he experienced being delighted in the Lord and he was filled with the Spirit’s power (Isaiah 42:1)

That is why as a servant of the Lord, Richard Magnus did “not grow faint or be discouraged” (Isaiah 42:4). He persevered with God’s strength to build God’s kingdom of justice, righteousness and compassion in the land he loved so dearly.

He also knew that his fruitfulness came from God. He used all his natural endowments with full dependence on God. Richard Magnus had a massive intellectual capacity. But he always leaned on God in administering justice as the Senior Judge of the State Courts and leading Commissions of Inquiry. Richard knew he needed not only knowledge but wisdom and insight from God.

He experienced being delighted in the Lord and he was filled with the Spirit’s power (Isaiah 42:1)

This compassion for the man-in-the-street led him to pay close attention to groups in society with special needs. 

His compassionate heart also reached beyond the shores of Singapore to an under-resourced village in Cambodia. Together with his wife, Eileen, and the members of St Hilda’s Church, they started an educational facility for children and youth.

Richard’s impact on people’s lives came through his dedicated work at the institutional level, but it also came through his thoughtful and consistent kindness at the personal level:

  • The many friends he cared for;
  • His colleagues, both in the legal fraternity and in the marketplace, that he mentored;
  • And in the family he loved, nurtured and inspired.

The love of Christ flowed out of him to have a positive impact on so many lives.

His inheritance

Doubtless, Richard’s inheritance lies in the fruit of the lives he has sown into during his lifetime.

That will include many of us who have been inspired by Richard to live a life of integrity, compassion and service to others.

But Richard’s inheritance goes beyond that. Jesus says in John 14:2-3 to His disciples:

Richard’s delightful inheritance upon death is his experiencing the fullness of his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

“I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself that where I am, you may be also.”

Richard’s delightful inheritance upon death is his experiencing the fullness of his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ: Not seeing Him through the eyes of faith, but seeing Him face to face.

Richard’s prayer in Psalm 27:4 is therefore fully answered:

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.”

He enters into the full joy of Christ’s Kingdom where “sorrow and sighing” are no more (Isaiah 35:10)

What is hard for us is the manner in which he left us and entered his eternal inheritance. He died so suddenly. Why did God take him so abruptly? No easy answers.

We fall back on the character and attributes of God: God’s perfect love, perfect wisdom and His promise to take care of every servant of his.

In the Christian community, Richard Magnus will be remembered as one who was always championing God’s kingdom.

Richard Magnus’ sudden departure and entry into glory is, I believe, a severe mercy. Severe because of the suddenness, especially for the wife, children and grandchildren. But nevertheless, still a mercy, because he leaves this shore with love alive, alive in his heart, alive in his home, alive in his significant relationships.

He leaves this shore while he still has the appetite for life and ministry, and he leaves this shore while his faith is still shining radiantly.

And there are strong hints that the Lord was preparing him inwardly for the journey Home.

Richard chose the penitential psalms (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) during this time of Lent, which leads to Good Friday and Easter (Resurrection Sunday). He chose the penitential psalms as the basis of his relationship, his story, his communion with God bowing down as one who needs mercy and grace.

And on the day before his departure, a friend had shared Psalm 73 with him and the words resonated with him: “But for me it is good to be near God.” (v28a)

So, those of us who are of faith, choose to say at this Farewell service:

Richard, you have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith. What awaits you is the crown of righteousness which the Lord will award to you on that glorious Day of his appearing. (From 2 Timothy 4:7-8)

He is alive with God

Dear friends, by the grace of God, Richard Magnus made a difference in the world we live in. More importantly, he made a difference for the God he loved and treasured. And now, he is home with his Maker, his Saviour, his Lord.

In the Christian community, Richard Magnus will be remembered as one who was always championing God’s kingdom – another way of living!

Though dead in the body, he is alive with God on the other side of eternity, there with the saints around the throne. And though dead, he has who have gone on before and gathered around the throne of God.

Though dead, through his faith he still speaks (Hebrews 11:4). He is encouraging every one of us to trust Jesus and to live as a servant of the Lord.

We thank God so much for you, Richard. Rest in peace, our dear brother.

We shall meet again. Amen.


This is an excerpt of the Rt Rev Rennis Ponniah’s eulogy, published in Salt&Light with permission.


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About the author

Rt Rev Rennis Ponniah

The Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah was Bishop of The Diocese of Singapore from 2012 to 2020.

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