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The Life of James Stewart
The Missionary


Consecration—The Salvability of the Heathen—Keen Sympathy — Evangelism — Practical Religion — Mr. D. A. Hunter’s Testimony—The Missionary’s Sacrifices—Love of Home.

We seldom speak about missions: we live for them.’—A Moravian Lady.

‘Whoever believes that a world-wide religion is possible is insane.’— Celsus.

‘The missionary seems to me the best and purest hero this century has produced.’—Joseph Thomson, the African Traveller.

‘The fiery tongues of Pentecost,
His symbols were that they should preach
In every form of human speech,
From continent to continent.
‘—Longfellow.

‘Despairing of no man.’—Luke vi. 35 (R. V. margin).

BEFORE all things and in all things Stewart was a missionary. ‘James Stewart, Missionary,’ was the fitting inscription on his coffin, and also on the title-pages of many of his books. ‘He completed my idea of a missionary,’ writes one of his neighbours. The leading features of his missionary life are easily recognised.

He was a missionary with his whole heart and soul. With the consent of all within him he believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in its adaptations to the needs of all men.

A happy certainty lay at the base of his faith, and gave him a message without a perhaps. He bad also a full persuasion that God had called him to the work of Christ among the heathen. This missionary idea got into his heart in his teens, and circulated with his blood all through his life. It was his sacred mission-hunger that made him at once an Educationalist, an Agriculturalist, a Physician, a Captain of Industries, and a Statesman. We find many men in him, and each of them had an exuberant vitality which was intensified by his missionary zeal. He did not lay only one line of rails along which he ran every train.

A fervent apostolic Christianity was with him the one condition of missionary success. His deepest thoughts are revealed in such words as these: ‘The religious life of the early Christians seems to have possessed some vitality or concentrated spiritual power that helped to spread Christianity, possibly because they believed intensely what they knew. Whatever it was, those Christians were successful as unofficial missionaries. . . . Its force and expansive power depended at first, as it depends still on its internal condition—that is, on its spiritual life.

Rightly enough we say to the Missionary—spiritual work requires a spiritual man. The Church itself may need reminding that spiritual enterprises require spiritual conditions of the very highest force, and while the latter are wanting, the success desired may also be wanting.’

An essential article in his creed was the salvability of the pagan, and the correspondence of the Gospel with the deepest needs of all men. At the worst, the native was a debased immortal, recoverable, and worth saving, [Dr. Moffat tells that he was once asked to conduct worship in a Boer family. He suggested that the Kafir servants should be brought in. ‘Oh,’ said the farmer, ‘let us bring in also the baboons and the dogs.’ Moffat read the words of the Syro.Phenician woman in Matthew xv. 27, ‘Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.’ ‘Wait,’ said the farmer, ‘and I’ll bring in all my Kafirs.’ At the close the farmer said, ‘You took a hard hammer, and you have broken a hard heart.’] as Christ had conferred a wonderful dignity upon him. It is a noteworthy fact that nearly every avowal of Stewart’s faith in his numerous writings has this missionary application. For the missionary idea was not an inference from his faith, but a piece of its essence. It resided in the very marrow of his divinity: it was the whole Christian life at its best and in action among the neediest. He held with Henry Martin that ‘the spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions,’ and that it is the mission of the whole Church to give the Gospel to the whole world. The report of his speech at the General Assembly of 1878 runs: ‘He hoped to return to Africa shortly. He went because he believed in the soundness of prosecuting missions in Africa. He went heartily, because, despite of all doubts on the part of outsiders, and despite all the discredit attempted to be thrown on the cause as not having produced results, he still believed that there were great results. He believed with all his heart in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to raise men everywhere, and certainly to raise Africans to light and liberty, to purity and truth. In presence of the heathen he felt like a great sculptor when he said to a block of marble, "What a godlike beauty thou hidest!" He thought that the hope of the world lay in the ultimate triumph of Christ’s Gospel.

He believed, of course, in many other forces and factors in human progress, but in that most of all, because it alone transformed the whole man. If our modern civilisation was teaching us any lesson at all, it was teaching, as plainly as experience could, that the progress of science, the advancement of the material arts, and the spread of education, were all of themselves insufficient to satisfy man’s heart— restless and insatiable as the sea itself. The plainest and saddest fact of the present day, as the result of our justly boasted nineteenth-century civilisation, was this, that individual happiness was not keeping pace with modern progress. It never would, and never could, till Christ with His great peace came to take possession of the individual heart.’

We find in him that keen and unfailing sympathy with the natives which enables the missionary to find out the passes and avenues to the soul. One writer says that Lord Milner, after a few days spent at Lovedale, told him that Dr. Stewart was ‘the biggest human in South Africa.’ Probably the saying was meant to describe both Stewart’s head and heart. In Dawn in the Dark Continent he thus reveals his attitude to the native: ‘The plight, mentally and spiritually, of those living under paganism should appeal to our human as well as our Christian sympathy. Pity is not a primary missionary motive of the highest class, but it can well be joined to the highest motive, loyalty and love to Jesus Christ. Let me speak of the pagan rather than of paganism, so that we may pity rather than despise, condemn, or neglect him in his misery. The pagan is a man like ourselves. He has a conscience, and recognisies, though on a lower plane and a narrower area and with much more confusion of thought, many distinctions between right and wrong which are acknowledged by us. He has a strong impression of an unseen and supernatural world close by. He has also impressions of the mystery of life, and the belief that there is something amiss both with the world and with himself, though he may not shape his thought into the words we use. He has also the belief in, and fear of, some power that is neither the power of man nor of nature, but something greater than either or both.

‘We mistake altogether if we suppose that our fellow-men, whom we roughly classify by the hundred million as pagans or heathens, have no such impressions. As life advances such thoughts come. When young, these thoughts did not trouble him; but later, he who was born in paganism, and has lived all his days in it, having nowhere else to go, becomes a melancholy man, and an object deserving our profoundest pity. He is in darkness; wants light and cannot get it; and tries to kindle a light of his own, even if it be the baleful light of paganism. He feels that wrong has been done, that propitiation must be made; and the transition to sacrifices of the most revolting kind is inevitable, easily explicable, and so far logical.’

Like Paul at Athens, Stewart admitted their good, and offered them better, the best of all. ‘There is a way,’ he writes, ‘of approaching false religions without raising needless antagonism. Paul knew this when he spoke to the men at Athens.’

‘For the coloured men and women of Africa,’ writes one of his colleagues, ‘he had a warmth of regard that no disappointments, big or little, sharp or lasting, could lessen.’ Another writes: ‘It may be safely said that in native eyes Lovedale stands alone, and that Dr. Stewart in his old age is regarded with an affectionate awe which no other personality in South Africa commands. Their hearts went out to him in simple faith and trust as they have never gone to another man. He was their " father" in all the profound and gracious meanings of the word.’

He was an evangelistic missionary. Though naturally conservative, he was unconventional, and be warmly welcomed all the new methods of evangelism. He was careful not to be occupied too much with the instrument—truth—and too little with the end—conversion. Special evangelistic missions had a prominent place in his programme.

Lovedale has witnessed several revivals among the pupils, and no one rejoiced in them more than the Principal. Many of his best native helpers were the Fils du Reveil. After conducting two or three services on the Lord’s Day, he would gladly spend a half-hour with some poor Kafir boy or girl, pointing out to them the way of life and praying with them. I well remember the eagerness with which near his end he inquired about the Welsh revival, and expressed his regret that he could not attend an address upon it.

In an address in London on Lovedale he said:

‘No year passes without some giving signs of having been the subjects of the great change, but the year 1874 was the most remarkable in the whole history of Lovedale; and though some went back, many or most remained firm to their profession. About that time a hundred professed anxiety, though it would be unwise to say there were as many conversions.’ Concerning this work he wrote to Mrs. Stewart: ‘I cannot tell you how delighted I am with the news from Lovedale about the revival there. That is the crown of all success. There is no reason why this movement should not go on, and the simplest means is always the best. Why should a revival stop so long as there are unconverted souls about Lovedale? We must seek for more blessing still. Our old ideas on the subject are that, after a very short time, the meetings and other means should be discontinued. At home this time they have followed a different plan, and I think with good success.’

When the call was made for native agents for Central Africa, fourteen volunteered; and on this becoming known, a somewhat shrewd missionary living at a distance remarked: ‘I now believe in the Lovedale revival. I did not before.’

He disliked everything sensational in revivals, and that craving for confident spiritual statistics which seems to anticipate the decisions of the great day. He agreed with Moody, who, when asked how many converts he had made, replied: ‘The Lord will count up the people. The Lamb’s book of life is not in my keeping.’

An evangelistic atmosphere pervaded Lovedale, and all in it felt that the chief end of the Institution was to bring the pupils to a known and wholehearted decision for Christ. ‘Hence,’ one of his colleagues writes, ‘his feeling of responsibility for ensuring that no student should drift through Love-dale without having the claims of Christ definitely and personally brought before him. The earnest words he spoke to individual students on these subjects were sometimes few, but they left a deep impression.’

He was well aware that the native’s religious feelings were apt to be a reflection of the teacher’s personality in the mirror of the native mind, and that, as in the early Church, sincere converts might easily carry remnants of their heathen ideas and habits into their Christian life. He never forgot that the African convert is often strong on the emotional, and weak on the ethical side.

Their rightful place was always given to the everyday duties of life, and the pupils were warned against outbursts of barren emotion with their consequent relapses into indifference or disgust. They all knew that the supreme place was given to moral and spiritual character as the only guarantee to any real progress, and that the chief aim of the Institution was to be a nursery for the evangelisation of Interior Africa. It was his theory that all missions are really one, and that all home and foreign missions are home to the Christian mind, while both are foreign to the secular; and that interest in the heathen quickens the sense of need nearer home. He wrote: ‘If I were not at work abroad, I should work among the neglected poor in the lanes of Glasgow. I often said so when I was at home two years ago.’ He identified himself closely with the Wynd Mission in Glasgow, regarding it as an example of what he wished to do with Lovedale, and many of the agents, especially for Livingstonia, were drawn from the Wynd churches.

Mr. D. A. Hunter, who has been for many years an honorary missionary at Loved ale, writes:—

‘March 1908.

‘Those who were accustomed to meet Dr. Stewart only during business hours may have been tempted to conclude that the business management of Lovedale bulked so largely with him as to relegate its more directly spiritual aims to a secondary place in his thoughts and endeavour. The daily correspondence of Lovedale is alone almost one man’s work, and Dr. Stewart was never one to devolve on others that or any other portion of his work.

‘With superficial evangelism, which appealed to transient emotions and ended in profession without a corresponding practice, he had little patience. Experience had shown him how hurtful it might be to true religion. But he believed most firmly in sound conversion; he was eager that spiritual impressions should be followed up; and he rejoiced when souls were being born again, and were beginning to show signs of the growth of the divine life within.

‘Very early in the history of Lovedale, the senior pupils were taught to go out to the surrounding villages and kraals and pass on to others the truths they were themselves receiving. [Dr. Stewart used to meet with them on the Saturday evenings and study with them the subject for their addresses.] Reports of such work appear at least as early as 1873.

‘It has been a custom to have twice in the year a week of evangelistic services at which an effort was made to bring to decision those who had been under systematic instruction in the truths of our faith. Dr. Stewart was eager that any impressions made at such services should be followed up by wise personal dealing.

‘One of the hardest workers of his time, to whom it had been given to accomplish much towards the uplift of Africa and the establishment of God’s kingdom on this continent, his entire confidence seemed to rest on the work of Another. His attitude of faith and heart was:

"Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling."

in a letter to Mr. Hunter in 1902, Stewart writes regarding a special mission in the Institution :— ‘Mrs. Stewart mentions that about one hundred and twenty of the lads, and as many girls, have been influenced by the movement. It is the best news that has come from Lovedale for twenty years, and I sincerely hope that a steady effort will be made to follow up what has been done, and that the spiritual atmosphere of the place will be greatly improved thereby.

‘When I turn over the pages of Lovedale, Past and Present, my hands sometimes tremble, but only with this thought—whether with all these human souls that have passed through our hands, we have done all we should have done for their spiritual welfare, and whether many, by more individual dealing and more direct effort, might not have gone out from the place with an intenser spiritual life, to be a blessing to their countrymen whether as evangelists and missionaries or in some other capacity.

‘Like the man recorded in the Book of Kings who was busy with this and that, and let his prisoner escape, we may have been busy with many things and let souls escape with less good than God meant they should have got, by sending them in His providence to us.

‘I think you could find a splendid field of work at Lovedale. It may not be exactly what you thought of, but I have noticed that when we take tasks or duties of an ordinary kind which God in His providence seems to offer us, He very soon after begins to widen these into spheres of work of which we little dreamt.’

His zeal seems never to have been chilled by the secularities and distractions inseparable from the management of so great an institution. There were always alongside of him the grossest and earthliest types of humanity, but he could see the beautiful statue in the unhewn block, and recognise God’s image as readily in ebony as in ivory. It was natural for him to honour all men, and he bestowed upon the natives the highest possible honour by devoting his life to them. Everything about Lovedale was fitted to rescue the pupils from their seif-despisings, and from the despisings of others, and to inspire them with great hopes. In his later years he had many things fitted to chill his zeal, but, like the great Apostle, his spirit was not soured by unhappy experiences. Men can do well only what they can do with joy, and this rule finds its supreme illustration in missions.

He could not endure the idea that missionaries were to be pitied for the sacrifices they made. A member of his staff says: ‘One incident will live in my memory for all time. It occurred in the course of a brief address he gave once at the weekly staff prayer-meeting in the large hail at Lovedale. Something that he had heard or read moved him to speak of the so-called sacrifices which men made when entering the mission-field. He flamed up at the idea, and spoke with a burning torrent of words which showed us—just for a moment—the liquid fires of devotion which he hid behind his reserve. As I write I can see, as though it were yesterday, that tall form swaying with noble passion. Sacrifice! What man or woman could speak of sacrifice in the face of Calvary? What happiness or ambition or refinement had any one "given up" in the service of humanity to compare with the great sacrifice of Him who "emptied Himself and . . . took upon Himself the form of a servant?" It made some of us feel rather ashamed of our heroics, for we knew that if ever a man since Livingstone had a right to speak like that, it was Dr. Stewart.’

In the same spirit James Chalmers of New Guinea said: ‘I do hope that we shall for ever wipe the word sacrifice as concerning what we do, from the missionary speech of New Guinea. Wherever there are men the missionaries are bound to go.’

On a great occasion at Washington, Stewart said:

‘The present problem of missions is how to rouse the Christian Church, ministers, members, and adherents to a sense of the magnitude of the work on hand, and of the individual responsibility of each and all within the Church in connection therewith. The means by which this better condition of the Church for its work abroad may be reached, seem to be in the direction of a deepened individual spiritual interest in the state of the heathen world. That means for ourselves individually more spiritual life, with further organisation and more ample support morally, if not materially at first, to the toiling Secretaries and Boards who do the administrative work; and a greater unity of action among the churches of any one denomination, so as to save money, prevent dissipation of effort and strength, and secure the power and momentum of combined effort.’

It would be a mistake to suppose that he loved to roam. In a letter from Scotland to Mrs. Stewart he says: ‘Perhaps I am yielding to my weakness of settling down, as you know I am apt to do when I get a chance. If so, this should give you a further revelation as to my real disposition, and that it is not with my will entirely that I have moved about so much or may move about more. I require to be shot out like a shell from a mortar.’

In a letter from Livingstonia to Mrs. Stewart, who had not heard from him for several weeks, he says:

‘It is part of all true missionary work that it shall stir and dig and turn the spirit’s soil, and out of all this comes more power for endurance, and wider ideas of work and effort. Still, for all that, I am truly sorry lest your health may have suffered.’

Here is an extract of a Minute of the Kafrarian Synod, of which Dr. Stewart was a member:—

 ‘July 1906.

‘Great in heart and mind, it was not possible for him to confine his energy to one Church or one Institution. Accordingly he became associated with mission-work generally, and did much to bring about friendly relations between the representatives of different denominations, and to exhibit mission-work in the eyes of the natives as one work. He came to be regarded by statesmen and missionaries, as well as by the native people, as the chief representative of the Mission Cause in South Africa.

‘Gifted with rare foresight, caution, and daring, he gave stability and solidity to all he undertook, and assisted largely in moulding the policy of the Church on wise and sound lines.’


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