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The Life of James Stewart
The Making of the Missionary


A Great Resolve—His Mother—His Father—The Disruption—Church-building—Youthful Religion—Parallel Experiences.

‘Man’s sociability of nature evinces itself. . . by this one fact—-the unspeakable delight he takes in biography.’—Carlyle.

‘Youthful imaginations should be great picture-galleries and Valhallas of heroic souls. Lives of great men nourish the imagination more than the best novels. ‘—Professor Blackie’s ‘Self-culture.’

‘In books we find the dead living. ‘—Richard de Bury.

‘One event is always the child of another, and we must not forget the genealogy.’—A Bechuana Chief

‘This man put his hand to the plough and never looked back.— Epitaph in Exeter Cathedral.

Sixty-Two years ago a tall youth of fifteen was following the plough in a field in Perthshire. His two horses came to a standstill in mid-furrow, and he was not minded to urge them on. Leaning on the stilts of the plough, he began to brood over his future. What was it to be? The question flashed across his mind—’Might I not make more of my life than by remaining here?’ He straightened himself and said, ‘God helping me, I will be a missionary.’

That was the making of the man and the missionary. His whole life lay in that deed, as the giant oak lies in the acorn. The divine call came to the Perthshire youth, as it came to Elisha, at the plough. In the days of His flesh it was Christ’s way to call His apostles when busy at their daily toil.

The aim of this chapter is to reveal the influences which secured that ‘I will’: the following chapters will chronicle the results which flowed from it.

On February 14, 1831, James Stewart was born in Edinburgh, at 5 South Charlotte Street, adjoining 136 Princes Street.

Like most great and good men, he was largely mother-made.

‘I well recall his mother’s presence,’ his cousin writes. ‘She was the finest specimen of a noble woman I have ever seen, possessing in their highest development all the features of the great Norse race from which she came. She belonged to the Dudgeon sept of the Norsemen, and her family settled at Liberty Hall, near Gladsrnuir in Haddingtonshire. She was a woman of much refinement, of great ability, and saintly character. To her he owed his innate love and appreciation of all that was beautiful and seemly.’ His mother died when he was in his teens, and his father married a second time.

After passing through a preparatory school, he was educated at the Edinburgh High School and at the Perth Academy.

His birthplace, quite near Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens—one of the fairest spots on earth—probably exerted a subtle influence over his tastes. As he sauntered—we should rather say, hurried, for he seems never to have sauntered anywhere—along Princes Street to school, he had around him beauty in the lap of grandeur. His surroundings, we may believe, fostered both his piety and his patriotism, and also helped to develop that keen sense of natural beauty which distinguished him through life. The scenery he gazes upon every day often rouses and lights up the spirit of a boy.

His father, a successful cab proprietor in Edinburgh, became tenant, about 1842, of Pictstonhill, a farm between Scone and Perth. He was one of six stalwart brothers who were born at Dull in Perthshire. ‘He was ‘—this from James Stewart’s cousin—’ a deeply religious man, and his prayers at family worship were never to be forgotten for reverence and fervour. His attendance at divine worship was unbroken, and when he was dying, he had to be taken to church to partake of his last communion. To him James owed his physical manliness, his strong will, his grave dignity and graciousness, and his attention to attire. Father and son, too, had the same largeness of heart towards the suffering, the oppressed, and the fallen.’ In the best sense, James Stewart was well born. It is true that he who lives a noble life has no need of ancestors; but it is also true that he who has noble ancestors is the most likely to live a noble life. Though grace does not run in the blood, blood and tradition tell.

James was in his thirteenth year at the Disruption. ['The Disruption’ is the name usually given to that deed by which, on May 18, 1843, four hundred and seventy ministers, along with many elders, members, and adherents of the Church of Scotland, severed (or disrupted) their connection with the State, and formed the Free Church of Scotland, in order to preserve the rights and liberties which they believed to be in harmony with the Word of God, the Standards of their Church, and the Statutes of the realm. Lord Cockburn calls it ‘the most remarkable upheaval in Scotland since the Reformation,’ and ‘the most honourable fact for Scotland that its Whole history supplies.’]

‘Pictstonhill,’ as his father was designated from the name of his farm, was an admirable representative of a class of elders to whom the Free Church of Scotland largely owed its spiritual power, and its achievements at home and abroad. Homes like his were splendid nurseries of living faith, lofty ideals, and self-sacrificing heroism.

As the parish minister of Scone did not ‘come out’ in ‘43, Pictstonhill became the leader of the Free Church party in his district. He was the heart and soul of the movement, and his house was the gathering-place for the Free Church leaders. Without the influence and liberality of his family the Free Church of Scone could not have been built. Divine service was held in his barnyard in summer, and in winter in the barn: both were thus consecrated to the higher husbandry. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated and several children were baptized in the barn. Andrew Bonar (then of Collace), Andrew Gray and John Milne of Perth, fervent evangelists, often preached there, and many were deeply impressed. As old people said long afterwards, the Pictstonhill meetings were ‘the talk o’ the hale country-side.’ These Disruption experiences were fitted to draw forth the generous chivalry of a thoughtful boy. James held the candle in the barn when the preacher read the Bible. When he preached for the first time in Scone, an old woman said ‘the last time I saw him, he was juist a hafflin’ laddie, and a cannel-stick.’

When the first Free Church was built at Scone, ‘Pictstonhill’ provided the sand, and also carted all the stones gratis. At first they had to be brought from a distance, as the proprietor would not allow the Free Church people to use a neighbouring quarry.

At last be consented, and the piebald church—the stones being of different colours—was a memorial of the fluctuating feelings of Disruption days. James gave his school holidays to the work of carting the stones. He was thus from his boyhood a light-bearer, a builder, and an extender of Christ’s Church.

In token of their gratitude to ‘Pictstonhill,’ the villagers in 1844 insisted on reaping his harvest-fields without hire.

As the Free Church congregation was for some time without a pastor, Mr. Stewart got his brother Charles, the Free Church minister of Kirkmichael, to come, not only to preach, but also to visit the poor, the feeble, and the sick.

James used to carry a lame brother on his back to church and Sabbath-school—a distance of about half a mile. Even then he was, as all through life, a chivalrous helper of the weak.

He seems to have had an early intellectual birth-time, for he was a great reader in his boyhood and had a very tenacious memory. He often strolled among the hills on his father’s farm and read for hours his favourite authors—Plutarch, Shakespeare, Milton, and Browning.

Like most believing Scotsmen, Stewart was not prone to reveal by speech his deepest religious experiences. It seems that he yielded early and gladly to the holy influences playing upon him, and that his Christian life resembled the healthy plants he loved and understood, which quietly absorb from climate and atmosphere the many mystic forces which they mould into things of use and beauty. A Puritan Father on soul-winning says, ‘God never gives to one man a whole soul.’ The home life and church life around him were well fitted to win an ingenuous boy. The excellences of father and mother were very manifestly and not unequally reproduced in the leal-hearted lad. Twice was he their son—in soul as in body. They both lived in him, and through him they are still serving Christ’s Church, and shall serve coming generations. It is said that James was also deeply influenced by a devoted invalid lady who had a Bible-class at her house.

So far as we can learn, young Stewart seems to have escaped that ‘fever of adolescence’ which often attends the first struggles between the excited boy and the emerging man. Those who knew him then discovered no trace of that wayward assertion of native force, which one of its victims likens to ‘the bursting of the flower-pot by the oak sapling.’ Double-moated by grace in the best of homes, he was early taught to tame his heart, and, so it seems, he was kept from those things which poison the springs of life, and impoverish one’s powers for service. His early life is all of a piece with the great resolve he made as he leant on his plough. That explains all that he has done, or thought, or become. He was born and brought up in the ‘moral purple.’

One day, when carrying a gun, as he often did, he suddenly stopt, lifted up his head with an energetic gesture, and said to his cousin, ‘Jim, I shall never be satisfied till I am in Africa with a Bible in my pocket, and a rifle on my shoulder to supply my wants.’ In the heart of Africa this youthful desire was often fulfilled to the letter.

Only one statement about his boyish experiences has been found among his papers. In it he says: ‘Though from my earliest years I meant to go abroad, I cannot say that missionary work attracted me at first. The boy’s ideal firmly fixed and constantly recurring, was to lead an expedition in some unexplored region. That was probably nothing more than the mere restlessness of race-instinct in a boy half Norse on his mother’s side, if also half Celt on the other. As a lad I had to work with horses on the farm. I have often been thankful for that training. The nature of the work gave me plenty of time to think, and when a certain change came, my mind also turned to missions. This interest continued, though with varying force.’

Arthur Helps says: ‘The mill-streams that turn the clappers of the world arise in solitary places.’ The explorer of a great river usually begins at the sea and mounts to the source. Easier and more fascinating is the task of the biographer and the sympathetic reader, for they begin at the fountainhead and move downwards along the growing current. We have located the source of a fruitful stream in the sunlit uplands of a happy boyhood, and in the corner of a field. [The exact spot is in the angle between the highway from Perth to Scone and the road up to the Carse of Gowrie.] That field was as memorable a spot to Stewart as was to Paul the hillock near Damascus, where he saw the heavenly vision and heard the heavenly voice.

During his furloughs he revisited that birthplace of his great resolve, and he sometimes told the story to his intimate friends.

The resolve then formed was the work of a moment. [Robert Burns had an exactly parallel experience, which he presents to us, not in the daylight of fact, but in the limelight of fancy. He says: ‘The genius of my country found me, as Elijah found ] But could we explore the mysterious


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