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The Life of James Stewart
Preacher and Pastor


At Alice—The Preacher’s Matter—Style—Spirit—The Fruits—The Rev. J. Knox Bokwe—The Soul-Friend.

‘Theologus nascitur in Sripturis’ (The theologian is born in the Scriptures).—Francke’s Motto.

A true sermon has the heaven for its father, and the earth for its mother.’—Tholuck.

PREACHING bulked so largely in Stewart’s life, that it deserves a chapter for itself, in addition to what has been said about his probationership in Chapter iv.

Some men have regarded their ordination for the foreign field as a reason why they should devote their energies only or chiefly to the heathen. To Stewart all Christian work was mission-work, and all mission-work was one. He was always ready to preach when able to do so. His genuine love of preaching was very remarkable in a man who was so overburdened with other duties. Several contributors to the memorial number of the Christian Express describe his services in the pulpit.

‘For nearly twenty years he was minister of the Alice Presbyterian church, when that congregation was not able to call a minister of their own. This work he did without remuneration of any kind, and he preached regularly without a single break.’

‘The preparation of two sermons for each Sabbath day must have cost the already over-burdened missionary no small labour, yet no one ever heard him complain of the task he had undertaken. He preached in Alice in the forenoon and in Lovedale in the evening.

‘For years he preached three sermons a week. In the seventies and eighties his pulpit ministrations were very impressive, and large congregations gathered whenever it was known that he was to preach.

‘If you saw the men from the outlying farms muster in force, you might be sure the doctor was going to preach, for he was pre-eminently the kind of virile preacher that men as men gladly listen to.’

We may get a little nearer the preacher by noting some of the leading features of his preaching. His matter was thoroughly Biblical. An Evangelical of the Evangelicals, he kept close to the central doctrines and the great roots of the Christian faith, and he never grew tired of the simplicity that is in Christ. So far as we can learn, he was not one of those who win faith out of doubt. Even in his student days he seems not to have cultivated bridge-building between faith and unbelief. As he felt called to spend his life in the white harvest-field, not in the arena of controversy, his intensely practical turn of mind disposed him to husband all his energies for his chosen work. His study of the Bible and his spiritual experience gave him a full assurance of the truth of our religion, and he deemed him an effective defender of the faith who Was an extender of it among the heathen. In this he agreed with Livingstone, who said shortly before his death, ‘The spirit of missions is the spirit of our Master, the very genius of His religion. A diffusive philanthropy is Christianity itself. It requires perpetual propagation to attest its genuineness.’ Both Livingstone and Stewart would have agreed with a learned Hindoo, who said to one of our missionaries, ‘If I were a missionary I would not argue. I would give them the New Testament and say "Read that."

Many great Christians have ignored religious controversies as Stewart did. The first Earl Cairns, once fully assured of the truth of Christianity, never afterwards handled it critically. Faraday says, ‘There is no philosophy in my religion. I hope none of my hearers will in these matters listen to the thing called philosophy. That which is religious and that which is philosophical have ever been two distinct things.’ His biographer adds, ‘When he opened the door of his oratory, he closed the door of his laboratory.’ And John Morley says of Gladstone, ‘The fundamentals of Christian dogma are the only region in which Mr. Gladstone’s opinions have no history’ (i. 207). He had applied the closure to the discussion of the fundamentals. These great thinkers, if cross-questioned, would, no doubt, have fully acknowledged the claims of true philosophy and the value of reasoned defences of the faith, while they also believed that their individuality and God-given work had beckoned them into other spheres of Christian activity. Their example reminds us that the Christian faith reposes upon an adequate foundation of its own, and that it does not need to borrow support from science or Philosophy.

Happy they who in an age like this can preserve unclouded serenity of mind, and invest at once in fruitful work all their capital of faith.

Stewart skirted without crossing the Karoo and great Thirst-Land of unbelief. We may be sure that this was not due to sloth of mind, and that his orthodoxy was not truth at second-hand. Few intellects were more alert than his. But he converted doctrine into action, and action is usually the death-warrant of doubt about the fundamentals. From the first he wished his conviction to be attached to the great driving-wheels of modern life.

His belief was that ‘life and religion are one thing, or neither is anything.’ He had thus scanty respect for those who are chiefly interested in the intellectual side of Christianity. One evening a friend was speaking of this class. ‘Have you ever seen a pig eating plums?’ Stewart asked (an African experience, we suppose). ‘You know, it takes the plum into its mouth, and squeezes it. The juice squirts out on each side, and the pig crunches the stone.’

The Style.—It was simple, direct, and very plain, and in entire harmony with the man behind the sermons. He was unconventional, never wearing clerical dress, except in the pulpit and on special occasions. ‘His reading of Scripture was very striking, and many are of opinion that he was most powerful and original in the brief remarks he often made on the passage read.’ His voice had a fine musical timbre, unlike that of any other man, and in his best moods he was a master of accent in speech. It was always the accent of deep conviction. The texts were short and very practical, and he was free from mannerisms and a pulpit tone. He was not eloquent in the ordinary sense. He had passion in his thoughts, but not the passion that creates a gush and flow of exciting words, and thus he seldom ‘let himself go.’ Sometimes his speech was disjointed. Now and again his sentences were like pistol-shots, after which he paused as if to see whether they had reached the mark. His temperament and style were those of a teacher rather than of a preacher.

‘My first meeting with Dr. Stewart,’ writes one of his colleagues,’ was at Port Elizabeth in 1878. He had just arrived from Central Africa, and was on his way to Lovedale. Though suffering from the effects of fever, he was able to preach in the Presbyterian church next day. His presence in the pulpit was always very striking, and to us on this occasion it was so in a remarkable degree. With an impressive manner, and in his deep and rich voice, he read the first chapter of Genesis, with an effect on some of us that was almost overwhelming. Two, at any rate, of that audience will never forget it. He took as his text the words from the same chapter," And God created man in His own image." The sermon was equally impressive, clear, deliberate, and telling.’

His Spirit.—That is revealed in a letter written in his student days when he began to address meetings. ‘I have learnt this at least, that to preach as we ought will require a much greater cultivation of acquaintance with Jesus Christ as a living Person, than I, at least, have been in the habit of doing.’

From the first the instinct for souls was strong in him. No matter how busy he was, he had always a pastoral heart at leisure for the humblest. As God and his own conscience were theatre and spectators enough, he knew how to value obscure and unnoticed services. He delighted in that art of arts, the management of solitary individuals seeking spiritual guidance. The weal of a single soul seemed to interest him as deeply as the boldest of his enterprises. In this he imitated his Master, nineteen of whose reported addresses were delivered to an audience of one. We add a few testimonies from the Christian Express :—

‘His ministry to the sick and poor during those years is still spoken of. No matter what work he had on hand, the moment he heard of distress, or sickness, or death, he was there to comfort and to help. It was at such times that one seemed to get nearest to Dr. Stewart’s heart. Suffering of all kinds found in him a willing and waiting helper.’

‘During the last twenty years his ministrations to all who were in need—the sick, the troubled, the forlorn—never failed in regularity or in helpfulness.’

‘Even after he was relieved of the duties of pastor, he continued to visit the sick and the bereaved. Those visits were always welcome, and on such occasions the tenderness and sympathy of the man percolated through.’

The kirk-session of the Presbyterian church at Alice adopted the following resolution after his death. ‘For almost twenty years, as sole or chief pastor, he gave to it all that a faithful minister could give of thought, teaching, and sympathy, and for twenty subsequent years, under the pressure of many and various labours and anxieties, his care of its people never ceased, so that down to his last day of strength he never failed to visit or succour the sick, the dying, or the bereaved. His memory, his wisdom, his loving ministry, are esteemed in many hearts, and can never be forgotten.’

The Fruits.—These must have been numerous, for often his arrow found its mark. The power of his sermons was largely in his unique personality. One who heard him often, wrote: ‘It is to be hoped that some of his sermons will take to themselves a permanent form. Nay, they have already a permanent and abiding form in the hearts of many hearers. His were the words that remained; time seemed to be powerless to deal with them. We have met men who thus speak of Dr. Stewart: "I first saw him in —. He preached then from the text —. I shall never forget, so long as life lasts, his sermons." These are not single instances. Neither was the effect of his preaching confined to any particular class of men. He reached all classes, all conditions, for he preached the pure Gospel of our Lord. And thus to the unlettered native his message was as acceptable and as helpful as it was to the most learned of men.’

The Rev. John Knox Bokwe, who was his private secretary for twenty years, writes: ‘One day in the Alice Presbyterian church, Dr. Stewart preached on the text, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." I was the only native African in the congregation. The words were so simple as to be understood by an uncouth Kafir lad of twelve, and they pierced through my heart. I was overcome, and felt that there and then I must seek the way of salvation. The matter did not end with the service. Conversations with Dr. Stewart led me to an understanding of the way of life, and I was admitted to the membership of the church. No Christian worker at Lovedale took more pains in winning souls to Jesus Christ, or less credit for his help in such cases. I can testify that many an African youth at Lovedale was awakened by the power of Dr. Stewart’s preaching, encouraged by his prayers and advices in private, and guided by him into the way of salvation.’

His legal adviser, in view of these facts, says:

‘No wonder that he fitted my highest conception of what a man and a Christian should be.’

A real soul-friend, he knew how to carry the oil of gladness into the house of mourning. Very touching testimony is borne to his deep sympathy with, and affectionate devotion to, the dying. He was gentle among them, ‘even as a nurse cherisheth’ her children,’ and he convoyed them far in their journey through the final valley.


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