to equip himself for every side of
mission-work, James Stewart began the study of medicine in Edinburgh,
immediately after he had left the Divinity Hall. His medical studies were
interrupted by his visit to Central Africa, but on his return he resumed
them—this time in Glasgow—with growing earnestness. He knew that the
foreign missionary must often be a ‘medicin malgré lui,’ and that medical
skill can open most closed doors in heathen lands. But Africa gave him a
new conception of medicine as an ally to the Gospel, while his frequent
fevers taught him its unspeakable value for the white man. He then
discovered that native medicine is one of the mightiest and most malignant
influences in Africa. The doctor there is the priest, the tyrant and the
terror of the people. ‘Quackery and the love of being quacked,’ writes Dr.
John Brown, ‘are in human nature as weeds in a garden.’ As Thomas Fuller
puts it, ‘Well did the poets feign AEsculapius and Circe brother and
sister, children of the Sun! for in all times, in the opinion of the
multitude, witches, old women, and impostors have had a competition with
physicians.’ But the situation is far worse in South Africa, as the
witches, impostors, and physicians are all the same and have no rivals or
checks. Magic and medicine are wedded, the priest and the doctor are one
person, and he causes infinitely more diseases than he cures.
At the same time he has some
valuable knowledge in certain directions. He knows the properties,
poisonous or curative, of plants unknown to our doctors, has acquired some
natural secrets, and has anticipated some modern discoveries. In his own
rude way he uses suggestion, mesmerism, and faith-healing, and sometimes,
as at Lourdes and other wonder-working resorts, he succeeds: ‘for in so
far as the disease is a lack of faith,’ says a medical authority, ‘in just
that degree is the cure an act of faith.’
Most of the diseases whose seat is
in the mysterious border-land between the soul and the body arise from a
paralysis of the will-power, and can be cured by anything that rouses the
imagination, and coaxes the sick man to throw off his nightmare and work
as if he were quite well. All the medicine-man’s ceremonies, incantations,
and mysterious ongoings are fitted and intended to give the patient a deep
impression of power, and to rouse the expectation of a cure, One meets
white men in Africa who have been healed by native doctors when all other
remedies had failed, and some white doctors believe in the skill of the
natives in the treatment of certain diseases. Still the fact remains that
millions have been tortured and killed by native doctors or witch doctors,
and that millions have through them had their lives darkened by nameless
terrors. What is false in their medicine can be driven out only by the
true, and thus European medicine is fitted to overthrow the whole system
of African superstition. The union of medical and spiritual work seems
reasonable to the African, as his doctor is also his priest.
All these considerations intensified
Stewart’s desire to bring the ‘double cure’ within reach of the benighted
Africans, and created in him a voracious appetite for medical knowledge.
It should be remembered that he
preached regularly during all the years of his medical studies.
In February 1865 he was ordained as
a missionary by the Free Church Presbytery of Glasgow, but it was arranged
that he should remain at home till he had gained his medical degree. He
was a very earnest student of medicine. It suited his individuality and
gratified his longing to do the whole work of Christ. Its certainties,
practicalities, and humanities powerfully recommended it to him.
A few of his fellow-students are
still alive. They all bear witness to his commanding personality. One of
them says that he then believed him to be of Scandinavian origin, and a
fine representative of the old Vikings. His diagnoss was correct, though
he knew nothing about his ancestry.
‘The strength of the impression he
made on me,’ says another of his fellow-students, ‘is revealed by the fact
that I have still a very vivid image of him in my memory, while the
pictures of all the rest have faded away.’
He had a certain aloofness which
remained with him through life. It was fostered, if not created, by his
complete devotion to his work, and by the fact that he was older than
those around him. They wished to get his African stories, but usually they
failed. One of the more advanced students succeeded in ‘drawing him,’ by
arranging an exchange of medical knowledge for African news.
He was ‘capped’ in August 1866. He
then received the degrees of M.B. and C.M., gaining special distinction in
the classes of Surgery, Materia Medica, and Forensic Medicine.
Sir Hector Cameron, a fellow-student
who was intimate with him, writes:—’ He was held in great esteem both by
his professors and also by his fellow-students, although from disparity of
years and consequent difference of daily life and habits, he was in a
sense apart from them, and only well known by one or two. He acted as one
of the dressers in the wards of Professor (now Lord) Lister, in the Royal
Infirmary, at the time when the antiseptic method of wound-treatment,
which has so marvellously revolutionised surgical practice, and been so
fruitful of benefits to suffering humanity, was just beginning to be
evolved by that great surgical genius.’
Stewart’s aim in studying medicine
was to fit himself for promoting the Kingdom of Christ. The incident
recorded in the following letter took place soon after he reached Lovedale,
and it proves that he had not studied medicine in vain.
‘Having had the privilege, as a
child, of sitting under Dr. Stewart’s ministry, I should like to send you
the following incident which occurred at our house in Alice, about a mile
and a half from Love-dale. My father was District Surgeon there for some
‘To me then, although a child, Dr.
Stewart seemed a second St. John "whom Jesus loved." His love to Christ
seemed to permeate his being, and his tender graciousness to all made him
my young heart’s ideal of a Christian, and I can still remember a sermon
he preached on "Son, remember."
‘One evening about forty years ago,
there was a hurried knocking at our hail door, and upon opening we found a
recent acquaintance whose husband, Major G—, was absent for a short time,
standing with her little boy in her arms.
Oh!" she cried, "R— has been bitten
by a snake." He was a dear little fellow of about four years of age, just
promoted to knickerbockers, her only child, as she had lost her baby-boy
not long before.
‘The little fellow had been bitten
in several places, as Mrs. G— in her fright had fallen with him, and
forehead, leg, and hands all bore marks of the snake’s malice. My father
was away! What was to be done? We sent for Dr. Stewart. He came, and
remained all night. I can see them now—Mrs. G— on her knees by the
bedside, the little boy between life and death, and dear Dr. Stewart. He
sucked every one of these wounds. He was medical man only for the Mission;
his valuable and busy life could not admit any risks; his wife and little
girl surely claimed his caution personally; and yet for the passing
stranger whose mother-heart was crying so sorely, "Let this cup pass," for
the wee unknown laddie, whose little life compared to his was as nought,
he took in the poison and saved the child. The snake was a puff-adder, and
the wounds were venomous enough.
‘In the morning the little one was
sitting up in bed making shadows on the wall with his little fingers.
‘This deed was just like Dr.
Stewart. It sank into my young heart, and the memory of not only lovely
words, but lovely actions—quite apart from his daily mission - work at
Lovedale—has been one of the deepest joys of my life, for he was the first
true living manifestation of Christ I ever knew, the first whose whole
life and ways shed abroad the fragrance of Christ, and from whom the
"sweet savour" went, not only up, but abroad. In him there was an utterly
selfless manifestation of the love of God. It was what he was in Christ as
well as what he did, that seemed to reveal so clearly the "heights and
depths, lengths and bread ths," which he had searched and rejoiced in. He
was a living witness of the wonderful love of Christ who loved him and
died for him, and whom alone he desired to glorify. What impressed me as a
child in his preaching was the reality, not only of his message, but of
his knowledge of Christ as a living person. I always thought of him as one
who had heard and answered fully Christ’s words, "Follow thou me." My last
remembrance of the Scotch Church at Alice was hearing Dr. Stewart speaking
there upon Livingstonia, and his purposed work. I remember that he said
that this had been upon his heart for fifteen years. I certainly owe to
Dr. Stewart my first clear sight of Christ in all His beauty, and if
in any measure I have been able to tell of Him in other lands, by pen
or act, it has been owing greatly to this revelation of Christ to me in my
‘L. A. H. SARRAZIN, née
The puff-adder is one of the most
dangerous of serpents. Experts say that its venom is compounded of a nerve
poison and a blood poison, which would probably prove fatal to a doctor
sucking it, if there were a tiny scratch on the skin inside his mouth.
In his Pastoral Theology
Vinet makes the following statement :—‘ The danger which may attend
frequent visits to sick persons, in cases of epidemic or contagion, is
usually in the inverse ratio to the courage and devotion of the pastor. Do
not flee from danger and then danger will flee from you.’
Stewart makes the following marginal
comment:— ‘This page assumes the simple fact that the minister must risk
his life in this way. Well, it may be right—"
we are immortal till our work is done." There
are circumstances, however, in the determination of this matter not to be
left out.’ Yes; and circumstances which must often be left out as they lie
beyond our ken. For example, the boy whose life Stewart saved became his