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The Life of James Stewart
The Apostle of Civilisation


Stewart’s Creed—Civilise First ?—Christ’s Methods of Civilising— Bishop Colenso’s Experiment — The Elevation of Woman — Mr. Winston Churchill — A Great Object-lesson—Some Testimonies.

This is a very large subject, and requires a very large heart to grapple with it.’—Dr. Cust in ‘Africa Rediviva.’

‘Civilisation perfected is nothing but fully-developed Christianity. Mrs. Browning.

‘There is but one question of the day, and that is the Gospel. It can and will correct everything needing correction.’— W. B. Gladstone,

‘Our work at the centre can easily reach the circumference; but if at the circumference, it could not so easily reach the centre.’— Vinet.

‘When a man is Christianised, he is clothed in the very best suit of the best civilisation which the world has yet seen.’—Dr. Stewart.

THE true method of civilisation was one of the questions Stewart had to consider and expound during the whole of his missionary life. People were always saying to the missionaries: ‘You go about your work in the wrong way; give the natives time; you are in too great a hurry; civilise first and then Christianise,’ Upon no other subject did Stewart speak with greater reiteration, plainness, and earnestness. It received special attention in his Opening address as Moderator of the General Assembly, and, I believe, in every one of his books. He knew that it lay at the very heart of missionary work and methods, and also of a man’s conception of the religion of Christ. His guiding idea was that Christianity is the universal educator and civiliser of heathen races, and that civilisation without Christianity never civilises. His creed is found in the following passages :—‘ As a missionary place, it (Lovedale) seeks spiritual results as its highest and most permanent result, and as its primary aim. If the will and conscience is right, the man will be right. Its aim, therefore, is not to civilise, but to Christianise. Merely to civilise can never be the primary aim of the missionary. Civilisation without Christianity among a savage people is a mere matter of clothes and whitewash. But among barbarous races a sound missionary method will in every way endeavour to promote civilisation by education and industry, resting on the solid foundation of religious instruction. Hence there is a variety of teaching. . . . To the question often put:

"Do you civilise or Christianise first? With a people in the entirely uncivilised state, we should think the civilising process ought to come first." Our answer is always this: "If possible we avoid doing things twice. When a man is Christianised— that is, when the great change has really taken place in him—he is generally civilised as well; or he will become more so day by day. He will appear clothed, and in his right mind, and the change will continue." The theory of improving the African anywhere through all the wide area in which he dwells, by commerce or civilisation only, is a very surprising one. What is there in either the one or the other, by itself, to morally improve a savage, except to sharpen his wits and make him more cunning and overbearing, and supply him more abundantly with materials for a more animal kind of life? Civilisation, that "complex entity," so difficult to define, has to do with the present life. It is a gift of God as well as a result of man’s activity, and, like all his other gifts, may be used for good or evil, to rise higher or sink lower, according as it is accompanied or not by moral influence. But by itself for moral purposes, as every missionary knows, it is pointless and powerless; and to primitive races by itself is a dangerous gift. The one hope for a better and happier future for Africa, and for its progress in true civilisation, is via Christianity. If there is no hope this way, there is no hope any way, for the African continent The same is equally true of the rest of the world, whether civilised or not. It is the moral element and not the material which forms the chief part of man’s happiness and well-being, whatever be the colour of skin or the clime in which he dwells.

‘The evolutionist wants aeons for his process. The missionary can do with less. In morals, as in mechanics, the intensity of the factor diminishes the necessity for time. The tremendous chasm between fetishism and Christianity is seen to be passed at a single bound in the lifetime of an individual.

‘The coming King of this earth is Jesus Christ. He is the world’s larger hope. The hope of a better and happier day does not lie in social panaceas, or in dreams about equality in a world where no two men are, or remain, equal for a single day, nor in wholesale distribution of the hard-won fruits of honest industry among the lazy and dishonest. These are the remedies of a well-intentioned, but badly instructed, and sometimes slightly crazy, benevolence. These ill-regulated remedies only make matters worse. They are the falsehood of extremes, and the exaggerations of human thinking applied to those everlasting truths which fell from the lips of the Greatest Human Teacher. The little grain of truth they contain has been stolen from Christianity itself. A saner spirit, and a more robust common-sense, and a sounder interpretation of what Christ has taught, and above all, the practice and the spirit of these teachings, must come first.

‘There is no denying the fact that the Christian missionary has been the real pioneer of civilisation in Africa.

‘What is needed for that vast continent is a Christian civilisation, not a non-Christian one with the seven devils of the vices of modern civilisation entering the house, and making the latter end worse than the beginning. Of that great problem the question is: How is the change from African barbarism to modern civilisation to be safely brought about? The answer is, just as with all permanent moral changes in the individual—by changing him within; and for this, so far as Africa’s fate and future are concerned, there is no power in the world except the religion of Jesus Christ. Commerce cannot do it; civilisation cannot do it; science cannot do it; none of these powers want to do it even if they could. That is not in their line. Islam cannot do it. The chief feature and the invariable and inevitable results of Islam are despotic government, the degradation of woman, and the sanctioning of slavery.’

This was one of the subjects which he had thoroughly studied and about which he had read extensively. The treatment of it in Benjamin Kidd’s Social Evolution commended itself to him. Japan, he is aware, may be quoted in opposition to his contention that Christianity is the universal civiliser. ‘Japan may seem to be an exception,’ he writes. ‘Its progress during fifty years has perhaps been unparalleled; but that has been gained by borrowing the products of a civilisation that is Western and Christian.’ The gospel of work and the gospel of commerce, he admits, are both excellent and necessary, and where humanely and lawfully tried, they have produced very beneficial results, but by themselves they cannot supply what is needed. Everywhere missionaries have been the advance agents of true civilisation.

All will admit that heathen races can be rescued from their degradation only by the aid of the more favoured nations. Niebuhr says that all the immense and varied research of our age with respect to the origins of civilisation, has discovered no single savage race which has risen to civilisation apart from help from without.

The theory that we must civilise the rudest nations before we can hope to Christianise them seems very reasonable in some moods of the mind. ‘First that which is natural and then that which is spiritual,’ looks like a self-evident truth. But there are two objections to this theory: it cuts the sinews of missionary endeavour, and it is in conflict with all the essential facts of the case. During the last nineteen centuries countless experiments have been made in every land and class, and the ample pages of sacred and secular history record the results. The endeavour to produce supernatural results by natural means is a complete failure. Civilisation without Christianity only teaches the black man to add the white man’s vices to his own. ‘Darkest Africa,’ says Captain Hore, R.N., of Tanganyika, ‘is where the white man has longest been.’

Christ’s public ministry was less than three years, and the social conditions around Him were extremely unfavourable. The masses of the people were incredibly poor, and under an alien and cruel tyranny. Did He delay His spiritual work till these conditions had been improved? No: He began at once in the worst possible social conditions. He began with the individual and with the soul, and wrought from within outwards. Did He send forth His apostles to civilise first and then to evangelise? Students know that the condition of the heathen cities then was so bad that the whole truth about them cannot be told. Did Paul and his comrades delay their spiritual work on that account? Did they believe that the ground had to be prepared before they could teach a spiritual creed? Of all the degraded and seemingly hopeless people in that degraded age, the slaves were the very worst. What method did Paul adopt with the slave and the criminal Onesirnus?

How did civilisation come to the heathen nations of Europe? Consider what Europe was two thousand years ago. Great Britain then was probably as savage as Africa is to-day. Consult, for instance, Montalembert’s Monks of the West. How were Stewart’s forefathers civilised by Columba and his monks? Is not civilisation in the modern world demonstrably a part of the Gesta Christi? Heat is not more an effect of the sun than modern humanity is the creation of Christ. Civilisation is only a secular name for Christianity.

But have the critics of missions ever attempted to civilise the heathen? Have they ever shown the missionary what they believe to be the right way? Is there any spot on earth’s surface where civilisation came first, and gradually developed into Christianity? The South African Native Affairs Commission spent two years of very diligent search, and in all South Africa they did not find one such spot. All the civilising influences they discovered came from the missionaries and Christian households. ‘I have had twenty-one years of experience among natives. I have lived with the Christian native, and dined, and slept with cannibals. But I have never yet met with a single man or woman, or with a single people, that civilisation without Christianity has civilised.’ All missionaries would endorse this testimony of James Chalmers of New Guinea.

This quest for a civilisation before, and as a preparation for, Christianity, was made with wonderful thoroughness by Dr. F. Percy Noble, the author of the Redemption of Africa. Dr. Noble, a Government official in Washington, desired to write a book on civilisation in Africa. He soon found, to his surprise, that everywhere civilisation was the undoubted product of Christian missions. He seems to have read every book on the subject. He consulted no less than 343 authorities, of which 283 are missionary. Thus, while wishing to trace the progress of civilisation, his book became a history of African missions. [Dr. Noble says that the American ploughs sold in 1899 in Zululand brought more money than it cost to sustain the Zulu Mission (p. 712). It is said that for every 1 that goes over the Kei for missions, 100 comes back to benefit colonial commerce.]

We have asked, Has any man seriously attempted to civilise savages with a view to their ultimate Christianisation? Yes: one man has made the experiment in a very thorough and scientific fashion. Dr. Noble records the result in The Redemption of Africa (p. 576). ‘Bishop Colenso selected twelve boys from the superior race of the Zulus. He pledged himself that he would give them no religious education. He conscientiously and persistently devoted himself to their intellectual education and industrial training. He had them indentured as apprentices for several years.’ Here we have all the conditions demanded for a thorough scientific experiment. The susceptible Africans made rapid progress. At last, when the Bishop thought. they were civilised, he set them free. He told them that all their training was preliminary and incomplete without their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal saviour, and of His Gospel as the rule of their lives. He appealed to them to receive his religious instruction. Next morning every man had gone back to the red blanket and to native life. Their only gratitude was to leave behind the European clothes with which they had been furnished. Colenso went to the American missionaries in his neighbourhood who wished to reach civilisation via Christianity, gave them a donation of 50, and said, ‘You are right. I was wrong.’ This experiment was made at a station, the native name of which means the ‘Palace of Light.’ Without Christianity no advance is possible on the path of true civilisation. The improvement of the soul is the soul of all real improvement. Is it not one of the greatest historical facts that religion has usually blazed its own way heedless of economic conditions? ‘Build in the spirit first, then from that to the flesh. This is, I believe, the spirit of every true missionary.’ So says Mackay, the ‘St. Paul of Uganda.’

‘The raising of the Bantu races to a higher level can only be done very gradually—it will take generations,’ writes a friend of native education. If he means all the Bantu race, he is right. But what of the Basutos? What of Uganda? What of Livingstonia? What of men like King Khama, the Rev. Tiyo Soga, and many others, who in less than one generation have, through the divine dynamics of the Gospel, risen to as noble a civilisation as is found in the most cultured races of Europe and America? The Gospel that turned into Christians our Celtic and Saxon forebears, has no new thing to do in elevating the Africans. Here is Livingstone’s opinion:

‘We do not believe in any incapacity of the African in either mind or heart We have seen nothing to justify the notion that they are of a different breed or species from the most civilised. The African is a man with every attribute of humankind. I have no fears as to the mental and moral capacity of the Africans for civilisation and upward progress. . . . I believe them to be capable of holding an honourable rank in the family of man.’

If the results are disappointing in many quarters, we should remember how long it took to civilise our own race, and how many in it are not civilised yet. A working hope of the civilisation of the native races is found only in alliance with a living apostolic faith. Other interpretations of Christianity do not succeed in this work, and usually do not even attempt it. A living faith pours the healing salt into the spring of the waters, while other agencies seek to purify only the streams.

The test of civilisation is the condition of woman in a land where she has been regarded as a thing rather than a person, a chattel, an instrument, and, along with cattle, the chief wealth of the tribe. ‘There is growing up’ (as the fruit of missions), the Native Affairs Commission reports, ‘an ever increasing number of self-respecting native women who are learning to understand the freedom which has come to them and are careful not to abuse its privileges. Improvement in the position and treatment of women has been brought about by the influence of Christian and civilised views on the marriage question, and the labour of women has been much lightened by the introduction of the plough and other appliances.’ ‘The Gospel is written on the land by the plough,’ says a visitor, ‘and in the faces of the women and children. The very dogs know the benefits of Christianity.’

On his recent return from Uganda, Mr. Winston Churchill, M.P., said at a men’s meeting in London:

‘All the way up the Uganda Railway there are to be seen naked pagan savages, people living their tribal life in the darkness of ignorance and savagery, but on landing in Uganda we found ourselves in a new world, one of clothed, well-mannered, well-organised, and polite people. About 200,000 of them, so I was told, are able to read and write, and nearly 100,000 perhaps more, have embraced one form or another of Christianity. And in embracing it they made what to them was a complete reversal of their former habits of life. They abandoned polygamy and adopted Christian marriage. That is a great and marvellous thing, and coming to that community in the heart of Africa it seemed to me as if I had come to a centre of peace and illumination in the middle of barbarism and darkness, a new world where all the hopes and dreams of the negrophile and philanthropist have at last been fulfilled....A great many cheap sneers have been poured out on Exeter Hall by people with hot heads and, I am inclined to think, with rather cold hearts.

And yet it was Exeter Hall that won Uganda.’ In another address he said: ‘The material services which missionary work renders to the British Empire are immense; but they can be appreciated. The moral services which it renders are far greater, and can never be measured.’

One day a missionary in alliance with Lovedale wished to give his visitor an object-lesson on the civilising effects of the Gospel. He began with the witch-doctor, a perfect heathen with two huts and two wives, and wearing the head ring, the distinguishing mark of the responsible warrior. They visited in all some twelve houses, each of which was a little better than the other, and indicated the stage which the inhabitants had reached along the Christ-ward path. We found a house and a hut within a stone’s-throw of each other. They might have been built about the same time, but it seemed as if a whole century divided them. The Christian faith had made all that difference. At last we came to a house of five apartments, each of which was scrupulously clean. Many articles of furniture were adorned with native needlework; gleeful children were playing at the door; and a neat garden and well-cultivated fields lay around, in some of which cattle were grazing. The native farmer and his wife gave us a most friendly welcome. A Bible, hymnbook, and a copy of the Pilgrim’s Progress were lying on the table at the entrance. Over all within and around that comfortable homestead might have been written ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ It was only twenty-five years since that mission had begun its blessed work among a people without an alphabet, or a history, or any trace of civilisation. Lives there a man with soul so dead that he cannot rejoice in, such achievements among those who were lately the least favoured of humankind? It was the pale Galilean who had conquered in that African village. Through His heralds He had not only taught them virtue, but had brought among them a virtue-making power. Civilisation may give the native everything about virtue except the power to live it.

It is only a few years ago since Sir George Leigh Hunt said, speaking of British New Guinea: ‘The Government owe everything to the missions. I wish I could make you fully realise what missions mean to the Administration. It would have to be doubled, perhaps quadrupled, in strength if it were not for the little whitewashed houses along the coast where missionaries live. So every penny contributed to these missions is a help to the King’s Government; every penny spent on missionaries saves a pound to the Administration, for the missions bring peace and law and order.’

The importance of this question, and the amazing ignorance regarding it among many who are otherwise intelligent, may justify the addition of a few testimonies from experts in the science of civilisation.

‘That the African is capable of Christianisation and of rising to take his place among the foremost races of men, I regard as an indisputable fact. Let it be remembered what Europe was at the beginning of our era. There we find fetishism, polygamy, slavery, absolute savagery, in many instances worse than anything to be found in Africa to-day. The problem to be solved and the conditions of the case were pretty much the same in Europe once as they are now in Africa.’—Mackay of Uganda.

‘The missionary is the mainspring of Africa’s modern evolution, the hope for the betterment of her hapless people.’—Dr. Cust in Africa Rediviva.

‘Through these alone (English and Scottish missions around Lake Nyasa) is growing up such civilisation as exists in Nyasaland. Christianity is the only hope of the people. When the history of the African States of the future comes to be written, the arrival of the first missionary will, with many of these new nations, be the first historical event. This pioneering propagandist will assume somewhat of the character of a Quetzalcoatl—of those strange, half-mythical personalities that figure in the legend of old American empires, the beneficent being who introduces arts, manufactures, implements of husbandry, edible fruits, medicinal drugs, cereals, and domestic animals.’—Sir H. H. Johnston.

At the beginning of the ninth chapter of the second volume of his History of England in the Ezghteenth Century, Lecky says that the policy of the elder Pitt, the splendid victories by land and sea, and the dazzling episodes in the reign of George II., must yield in real importance to the religious revival begun in England by the preaching of the Wesleys and of Whitfield. Green, in his Short History of the English People, makes a similar statement.

‘In eastern as in other parts of the great dark continent, civilisation without Christianity has intensified the moral and physical evils arising from native vice.’—Archdeacon Walker of Uganda.

‘Evangelisation must precede civilisation. Nothing less than the power of divine grace can reform the hearts of savages. After this the mind is susceptible.’—Robert Moffat, after twenty-six years’ experience.

Sir George Grey and Sir Bartle Frere prized and used the missions as civilising agencies.

Lord Shaftesbury records how he heard Lord Macaulay, in the House of Commons, declare that ‘the man who speaks or writes a syllable against Christianity is guilty of high treason against the civilisation of mankind’; and Froude, in his essay on Calvinism, expresses the same thought when he says, ‘All that we call modern civilisation in a sense which deserves the name, is the visible expression of the transforming power of the Gospel.’

‘Itself missionary in spirit from the beginning, the Wesleyan Methodist Church gratefully acknowledges the surpassing worth of the vast work performed by the late Dr. Stewart, not only at Lovedale, but through that Institution in every part of the land, and regards his work as a leading factor in the Christian civilisation of the many native peoples of South Africa.’

‘It is not by the State that man can be regenerated and the terrible woes of this darkened world effectually dealt with.’—Gladstone.

‘The religious idea at the bottom of our civilisation is the missionary idea.’—W. T. Harris.

‘We have a well-founded right to say that the most certain and effectual agent of civilisation is the missionary.’—Professor Gaston Bonet-Maury.


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