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The Life of James Stewart
The Man: His Outer Life


Manliness—Unity of Life—The Prophetic Mind—The Boer War—Politics—Relation to Committees—Union of the Churches— Generous Estimates.

‘One of these happy natures
That never falters or abates,
But labours and endures, and waits
Till all that it foresees, it finds,
Or what it cannot find, creates.
Still bearing up thy lofty brow,
In the steadfast strength of truth,
In manhood sealing well the vow
And promise of the youth.’—
Whittier.

‘And they shall sever out men of continual employment’ (men of continuance, margin,)—Ezekiel XXXIX. 14.

His manliness must be a prominent feature in every just and living portrait of Stewart, He was every inch a man.

Dr. Jane Waterston, for many years his colleague, says: ‘It was the main characteristic of the Doctor that, first and foremost, before being clergyman, doctor, or missionary, he was a most manly man, with great physical strength, and no fear of man or beast. It was this distinguishing trait that so commended him to the natives of this country.’

His individuality was very marked. No one could mistake him for another man, or any other man for him, Of him, as of Fénelon, it might be said, ‘He was cast in a particular mould, never used for any one else.’ His individuality was not marred by posing, affectation, or that egotism which is the disease of individuality. And it had no taint of the ‘scrofula of crotchets,’ no bias towards eccentricities. It was the natural outgrowth of the man within, While he did not try to exaggerate his peculiarities, he respected them, In his youth he was afraid to read great missionary biographies lest they should allure him into paths of slavish imitation, In the Portrait Gallery of great missionaries, his portrait is quite unlike that of any other man.

Energy incarnate, his activities were surprisingly numerous, and as unique as his face, form, and voice, for no other man we know had a career like his. Great in vision and in realisation, in him were united the foresight of a statesman, the enterprise of a pioneer, the capacity of a leader, the common-sense of a man of business, and the trained energies of a man of action. Along with these exceptional endowments, he had many ordinary qualities in an average degree, and they were all well developed, for an experience like his could not fail to pull out all the stops in his being.

We note also a noble simplicity and unity in his life. When it joined the ocean, the stream had the very same colour as at its source. In him there is no puzzling complexity of thought and action. He kept in the path of duty in scorn of consequences. In all weathers his prow was turned towards the harbour, and usually he reached it, for ‘the winds and waves,’ Gibbon says, ‘are always on the side of the most skilful mariner.’ His plan of life changed only as the acorn changes into the sapling, and the sapling into the mature oak, adding its concentric ring every year, and preserving the same mould, colour, and vital sap. This peculiarity appeared even in small things, for we are told that ‘his handwriting never changed in a single letter, from youth to old age.’

This simplicity and unity were secured by the permanence of his convictions and enthusiasms. When Xerxes reviewed near Athens the largest army the world had then seen, his sage or private chaplain by his side asked, ‘Sire, what more is needed to complete thy felicity?’ ‘Permanence,’ replied the king. Permanence is the very highest attainment for the man who starts in youth with generous enthusiasms. The bravest hearts have their fainting fits, and some are zealous only in the most public and congenial parts of their work. When men pass seventy, they naturally grow weary of details and lose the keenness of their sympathies. Not so Stewart. A favourite text of his was, ‘It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing.’ Like the great Apostle, he was himself an inspiring illustration of lifelong steadiness and undecaying zeal. By a ‘solemn league and covenant’ he devoted himself to African missions in his youth, and he never faltered till death overtook him. To him belongs all the praise that is due to lifelong constancy.

‘Who but a Christian, through all life
That blessing may prolong?
Who, through the world’s sad day of strife,
Still chant his morning song?’

Many will regard as the most remarkable features of his career the accuracy of his forecasts and their almost complete realisation. Even in his early years the plans which guided him were present to his mind with the wholeness and unfading brightness of a vision, and wearing the aspect of reality. For seventeen years he cherished, in defiance of appearances, the hope of planting another Lovedale in Central Africa, and it was planted on a scale beyond all his dreams. For thirty-five years, with a prophetic insight, he was brooding over an intertribal college for the natives, and this dream also was realised sooner than he anticipated. Some may say that his success was due to the current of events. That is true. Like Nansen, he discovered, and got right into the centre of; the current that bore him along. But, unlike Nansen, he did not yield himself passively to it, for he did much to create and control the movements around him.

We must mention the questions which caused differences of opinion among those with whom he acted. Some ministers and missionaries escape these difficulties. Theirs is a cloistered piety which is occupied solely with spiritual work in a settled sphere, and is spared the collisions and conflicts which must come to pioneers and leaders. Many are not fitted for, or called to, such enterprises. They do nothing that seems injudicious to their fellow-churchmen, because, so far as public life is concerned, they do nothing at all. At the same time they may be doing their very best for their generation. Their bark is safe in a sheltered nook, while men like Dr. Stewart must venture upon the deep and battle with wind and Wave.

To say that he had his limitations is only to say that he was a man, and lower than the angels. To say that be was too much wedded to his own views, too neglectful of the views of others, and too impetuous, is to say what has probably been said truly concerning every man who has done work like his in Church or State. Our friend was far from claiming that he was free from defects in these matters. In a letter to Mrs. Stewart he says: ‘You have done your part better than I have done mine. You know that if I am hard on others sometimes, I am harder on myself.’ The widow of one of his colleagues writes that when her husband was dying, Stewart said to him, ‘My dear fellow, forgive me if ever I have seemed harsh or hurt you in any way.’ The reply was, ‘I know nothing but your great goodness to me and mine these many years.’ The Principal had the happiness of winning the love and trust of those who knew him best.

Shortly after the beginning of the Boer war he strongly defended our Government. I have been charged in very strong language to condemn his action in this case. But the biographer is not an umpire. Dr. Stewart’s biographer should imitate Dr. Stewart, and frankly state the essential facts, that each may judge for himself. Before the war, he had kept himself entirely aloof from the mazes and zigzaggings of South African party politics. No opinion was publicly expressed by him about the war till after it had been publicly proclaimed. Some Dutch ministers then sought to influence British and American opinion in favour of their views. Their statements he believed to be misleading, and he contested them with characteristic energy. The war seemed to him, like the war in the Soudan, to be inevitable, and a part of the heavy price which had to be paid for a great end. - ‘What is needed, he said, ‘for the opening up of the South African continent, is reliable information, just government and a Christian civilisation, or the application of the teachings of Jesus Christ.’ He believed that this war would settle the relations between the Dutch and the British, and also between the blacks and the whites. Kruger’s government he regarded as incurably corrupt, and entirely opposed to the best interests of the natives and the country. Many of the Dutch ministers before the war were also opposed to the ways of the Boers. Some said that Stewart was influenced by Moffat and Livingstone. That was a mistake. His revolt against Kruger’s native policy was based upon what he had witnessed. He lost no opportunity of stating his convictions, and some of his friends, who thought with him in this matter, regretted that he introduced the subject so often into religious and missionary meetings at home. It was its relation to the natives that moved him so deeply, and he thought that some Christian men at home were in danger of being biassed by their political sympathies. Let it be understood that he was a non-political missionary, whose interest in the work of Christ among the natives, as he conceived it, constrained him to enter the arena of political discussion, an arena from which he gladly withdrew when the war was over. He did not give to party what was meant for mankind, for his party was mankind. So anxious was he not to meddle with the things of Caesar, that he seldom spoke about native politics. When political candidates sought his help, he invariably refused, and he probably never voted at an election. He wished to husband all his influence for his missionary work, and he always did his utmost to secure good relations between the Government and the natives. It should be remembered that nearly every white pastor and missionary in South Africa, except the Dutch, held the opinions he advocated. Coillard, the Frenchman, entirely endorsed Stewart’s contentions. From the beginning, all the missionaries of every nationality, with the exception of the Dutch, have wished the natives to be under British protection. It was a grief to Stewart that his attitude to the war alienated from him many of his Dutch friends, for whom he cherished a warm regard, and also that it offended some of his friends at home.

Lovedale was a little kingdom of which Stewart was both creator and administrator. But it was under, not a dual, but a treble, or rather a quadruple control. The Principal had to consider the wishes of the Foreign Mission Committee in Edinburgh, of the Advisory Education Board at Lovedale, of the Synod of Kafraria (in some matters), and of the Educational Department in Cape Colony, as it gave large grants for education. Differences of opinion were inevitable in such a complicated situation. Three of his chief colleagues help us to understand Stewart’s experiences. One of them says that at first he could not approve of many of the methods at Lovedale, but he found that the Principal carried them forward with so much energy and wisdom that they were usually successful. He therefore ceased to object to them, though he sometimes could not regard them as theoretically the best.

Another colleague says that his Principal lived many years before his time, and that he was always planning for the future, and for the whole Institution, while, naturally, each of those around him was thinking only or chiefly of the present and of his own department. Historians tell us that ‘a farsighted politician must for some time be misunderstood,’ as he is always forging ahead of his colleagues. Further, there was a financial side to every proposal, and the whole of the financial responsibility rested upon the Principal. It was unusually burdensome, as the Institution was steadily growing. Concentration and continuity of action were necessary, and therefore the very nature of his position constrained the Principal to adopt a policy which might seem to some to be autocratic or even dictatorial. All the world over, tasks like these have demanded such qualities and despatch as we expect in a general on a battlefield.

A third colleague endorses these views, and adds that he has been under lifelong obligations to Stewart, who enlarged all his conceptions and expectations regarding mission-work.

Many difficult and delicate questions arose out of the relation of Lovedale to the local Presbytery and to the South African Presbyterian Church. The Church at home wished all their missions in South Africa to be united with the South African Presbyterian Church, and to have the native and the European congregations under one jurisdiction. Stewart could not approve of this plan, though it had been adopted by the great majority of his brethren at home. He pled for a fully organised native Church in federal relations with the Church at home. In addition to financial reasons, he urged that the proposed union would be harmful to mission interests; that the members of the Colonial Church, as a whole, were unwilling to receive the native congregations on equal terms; that the native section of the Church, being the larger, would submerge the European section; that the Europeans would not consent to be ruled by a native majority; and that this proposed union would hinder union with the Dutch Reformed Church. It was in the interests of a larger union and of native rights that he opposed the smaller union his Church desired. In 1902, the Church at home had decided in favour of this union, and though the congregations formerly connected with the United Presbyterian Church had joined the Presbyterian Church of South Africa, it was agreed to suspend proceedings in the meantime.

It was a real sorrow to his friends that he had to take part in many anxious and prolonged conferences within a few months of his death, when the distressing affection of his heart hindered him from doing full justice to himself and the subjects under discussion. But with his long-considered convictions he could not withdraw or allow things to drift. It was ever his way to put his work first and himself second.

In the matters specified or suggested in this chapter, Stewart’s compelling influence usually gained whatever he contended for. All felt that he was entitled to exceptional consideration, and that, but for his splendid powers of resolution, he could never have done his life-work. Many of his fellow-workers did think that he was too urgent and masterful. But all admitted that he was entirely free from self-seeking and unworthy motives, and that he was always advocating only what he believed to be best for the mission and the natives. Differences of opinion in conference never lessened the admiration of his brethren for him. This fact is a supreme proof of the genuineness and real nobility of the man, and it is also highly creditable to those who could not always think with him. Their generosity in estimating his services was like his own in estimating theirs.


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