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The Life of James Stewart
The Man: His Inner Life


His Modesty—His Intensity—Contrasted Qualities—Strength and Tenderness—The Leper—Patience—An Inspiring Example.

In the Royal Galley of Divine Love there is no force—all the rowers are volunteers,’—Francis of Sales.

An ardent spirit dwells with Christian love,
The eagle’s vigour in the pitying dove.’—Crabbe.

‘A man with a Conviction is worth twelve men with interests.’— J.S. Mill.

‘The lion and the lamb lay down together in the heart of John Eliot.’

The world’s final judgment would be, "He was a man," and the Church would add, "of God." ‘—From an Appreciation of Joseph Parker.

‘The record of a great and pure personality is the best bequest of time.—J.H.H. Meyers.

WE shall now try to reach the heart behind the manifold activities recorded in these pages, so that the man may not be buried in the details of his work. Souls, like flowers, have a perfume of their own. Alas, it does not readily cleave to the printed page, and the biographer can offer only the faint perfume which lingers in the fading leaves.

It has been said that generosity of language and economy of action are political twins. In Stewart generosity of action and economy of language were united. It was not his habit to use emotional language. Even among his intimate friends he had an almost morbid aversion to speaking about himself. It is probable that his experience of oblique self-flattery in others had effectually warned him against this frequent infirmity. Hence many thought him shy and reserved. The Rev. R. W. Barbour wrote: ‘The sight of him always touches me—and never more than this time. He is so true, and so noble, and so lonely, as all the truest and noblest souls must ever be.’ His was the isolation of the intense thinker and the overdriven worker.

His Journals are eminently self-revealing. His life cannot be understood at all apart from that faith, which made a proselyte of his heart in boyhood, claimed all his powers while it lasted, and enabled him to redeem the promise of his youth. ‘The just shall live by faith,’ that is, he shall make a Life of it. Stewart did so, and during sixty consenting years his faith was unchanged, except in its mellowness and maturity. Much that is set down for faith may be merely the outcome of natural buoyancy, splendid health, and joy in successful activity. All through life Stewart had a large experience of the win-flowing fan. His faith, especially in his pioneering days, was very severely tested, and it stood every test.

He was a great Christian, but not of any conventional type, and he did not employ the conventional language of religion. His inner life was cultivated with great care, fearing lest his censer should hold old ashes instead of fresh incense. His religion was intense but not morbid, and it was thoroughly Biblical: the Gospels were followed by the Acts. He seems to have been always afraid that his words might outrun his convictions and feelings.

All the roots of his life lay deep in Christ, and the inner life was at least as high as the outer. At the centre of all his activities we find a man on his knees praying for the consecrated frame and the undivided surrender. ‘Soon our time will come,’ he wrote to Mrs. Stewart, ‘and then only what we have done for Christ will be a satisfaction to us.’ Remembering that his work was to be tried by a juster judge than here, he was not too anxious about others’ judgments. He was not easily disturbed by what people might say against himself, but he was roused when Love-dale was assailed. He had a reverent curiosity about the future. To a friend he wrote: ‘Making all deductions needful and inevitable, on account of one’s own personal unworthiness and wrong-doing, the thought of a new life in a new world is almost exhilarating. It is something like the prospect of going to a new country, even with all the inseparable dread which belongs to the time when the great mystery will be solved.’

His courage, physical and moral, entitle him to a very high place among heroes of the faith. This courage was the growth of a natural endowment purified and fortified by a living faith. Fearing God, he knew no other fear. Dauntless and daring, he marched right on, believing that only chained lions were in the path of duty. The strongest men, like John the Baptist in prison, have fainting fits now and again; but if Stewart had these, they were never allowed to arrest his work. The Scriptural grace of patience, the power of holding on and holding out, was his in an eminent degree.

We have found in him many contrasted qualities which are not often united. The highest ideals which he never dismissed or lowered, were linked to the humblest tasks; his intense individuality did not lapse into egotism or singularity. To power of vision he added an extraordinary practical capacity which enabled him to see the true dimensions of common things: firmly grasping the real while swayed by the ideal, he lived both in the present and in the future. He preserved a fine balance of fearlessness and prudence: he had an instinct for great things alongside of wonderful patience in the meanest details: he was a pioneer with none of the spirit of an adventurer or self-seeker: he had great success both as an administrator and an originator. Like Joseph, he was a dreamer and a doer, and both in a very high degree; and, like Joseph, he witnessed the fulfilment of his grandest dreams. But the likeness ends there. For the fulfilment came to Joseph by a surprise of providence, while it came to Stewart as the slow fruit of wonderful intuitions and after many years of enormous and ceaseless toil. Students of biography will probably regard this as the unique and perhaps unparalleled distinction of his career.

‘This one thing I do,’ was the motto of his life, but how many distinct things did that one thing embrace! In this astonishing complexity of endeavours we discover no complexity of motive, no duality or schism, no mysterious actions out of keeping with his avowed aims. His life had no water-tight, uncommunicating compartments. His absolute sincerity was the secret of his great influence, and of the unusual financial support he received from widely different men.

‘No man that I have ever met,’ writes one of his yoke-fellows, ‘took a more modest view of his own achievements.’ The words ‘I’ and ‘my’ seldom intruded into his conversation. His private letters reveal an exceptionally keen consciousness of defects and failings, and he often blames himself for not thinking more of others! In his Moderator’s opening address he said: ‘I know I myself have made mistakes enough to make my days uneasy, and to fill my nights with evil and troubled dreams. I suppose most missionaries will admit that the work requires more moral strength and spiritual force than most of us naturally possess, and that in this lies our greatest failure.’

He could not endure the soft incense of flattery, and cut short the speech of him who offered it. His estimates of the work of others were generous. Few men ever had a heartier appreciation of kindness and small services. In this he approached closely to the apostle Paul.

No portrait of him can be just unless it gives great prominence to the union in him of a giant’s strength with the tenderness of a saintly woman. ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness,’ and the sweetness was as the strength, for strong natures when gentle are the gentlest. His extraordinary kindness had been rehearsed and predicted in both his parents. But his energy, his ceaseless preoccupations with his work, his determination, his impatience with delays, his eagerness in urging his proposals, his ‘indomitable eyes ‘—all these disposed many to think that he was a hard man, or, as one put it, a ‘man of iron.’ Never was ‘judgment according to the outward appearance’ more mistaken. It is true that, for the reason stated, his face usually wore a fixed and severe expression—till he smiled. A military illustration may help us to understand the two sides of his character. It seems that when he had to act, he at once ordered to the front all his reserves of strength, and, for the time being, sent his emotions to the rear. But in presence of suffering, he reversed the process, and hurried forward all his power of sympathy to meet the emergency. He was indeed one of the most benevolent of men, and his benevolence was ever shaping itself into beneficence, for he had a physician’s scorn for the weak emotion that does not go beyond itself. Tenderness of heart in him rose to genius, and it was not chilled by years or by cruel disappointments. His sympathies overflowed and went down beneath man to the animal world. A man or beast in misery was to him a sacred thing. He could not pass unheeded a beggar, an old man or woman, or poor little children. [Poor children with wretched mothers in Glasgow greatly distressed him. If he saw any one about Lovedale handling a child roughly, he would interfere, and sometimes take the child to his own house.] However busy—and he was always in a whirlpool of work—he had endless patience with sufferers. They got money, and might have got his coat also. He would rather go without dinner than see a poor man starving. Slow to suspect men, his heart often outran his judgment, and he was exploited by self-seekers. His largeness of heart lent itself to imposition; he was generous to a fault; and he was very loath to give up any man he had once helped. His friends would say that great as he was in action, he was greater still in sympathy. [Here is one story out of many. It is given in a letter from Lovedale. An old native man was living under the trees near Lovedale. He was a leper, cast out by his family, and almost starving. Stewart had a little hut built for him, and sent him food daily from his own house. The hut was carried away by a flood. Stewart took a truck, put the old man on it, and, with the aid of a boy, carried him to an outhouse near his own, where he lived for several years. He was a heathen, but either Stewart or a native student read and prayed with him almost daily. Light dawned upon his soul. ‘I used to hear him pray nightly,’ says the writer.]

The natives had good reason for calling him ‘Umfundisi Wohiobo Lokugala,’ an expressive Kafir phrase which means a missionary of the most princely order. The feminine and masculine virtues were so wedded in him, that one might with equal justice impute to him the defects of excessive strength and excessive tenderness. This prodigality of sympathy was fostered by the peculiarities of his theology. In his student days, as we have seen, he could not tolerate any theology which impoverished human sympathies. No patience had he with those who discuss the fall and forget the fallen. The faith in which he believed was fruitful in all the humanities of Jesus Christ, and it made him entirely free from a cynical or satirical tone. All his life he was in presence of the downtrodden, and thus his parentage, theology, and experience combined to make him one of the most tender-hearted of men.

The Rev. Mr. Hanesworth of Fort Beaufort writes:

‘Dr. Stewart, whom I knew well for twenty-four years, joined to a nature of royal strength a wealth of sympathy and kindness such as is rarely manifested in this world. There was scarcely a limit to his generosity and consideration where there were suffering and bereavement, whatever might be the state of his own health or the labours and distractions then engaging him. In his views he was broad and liberal, and his judgments were those of charity. He was grandly strenuous, and there always shone in him the fervour of an apostle and the spirit of a gentleman.’

Dr. Roberts writes: ‘He was full of sympathy towards those who needed his help. Some have traced this outstanding feature in Dr. Stewart’s character to his first journey through Central Africa, when the awful horrors of the slave-trade made such a lasting impression on his mind. But this is not so Dr. Stewart’s sensible, helpful sympathy was not begotten by any series of circumstances. It was part of his being. He could not help helping people Whether it was a poor slave who sought his protection, or a widow woman in distress, or a sick man who needed nourishment, Dr. Stewart’s aid was theirs. And his deeds of mercy and charity were done with a quiet and fine courtesy that was characteristic of the man. There was about all his generous deeds the grace and charm of spontaneousness. It came from the man’s heart.

‘It was the knowledge of his sympathy with them in all their troubles that gave Stewart such a hold over his natives and pupils. They knew that they could go to him at any hour of the day, and he would listen as patiently to their little tales of distress as if it were a matter of mighty moment. His sympathy kept him from being impatient with those less gifted than himself. Stewart was full of patience towards the boys and girls who were gathered together at Lovedale.

‘It is no wonder that they sought him frequently, and that not even his sickness was a hindrance to their approach.

‘As his weakness increased, a guard had to be placed at his door, so insistent in their affectionate reliance and regard were many of the students in trying to reach him.

‘It was oftentimes pathetic to see how both Principal and pupil tried to evade the sentinel watchfulness on the part of the household.’

If Bacon be right when he says that ‘the noblest mind is that which has most objects of compassion,’ James Stewart was most noble.

While the failings and limitations in the best of men forbid us to claim perfection for the imperfect, or place any one on a pedestal beyond the reach of his fellows, it becomes us gladly to recognise the grace of God in the life and work of our friend.

Here is a man in a mammon-worshipping age and community, who, it is believed, might have earned place, fame, and fortune in almost any sphere of life. In him is no taint of worldliness: ‘in him,’ as one of his intimates said, ‘no meanness could live’: he desires not to be ministered unto, but to minister. It is plain to all that he was ‘more bent to raise the wretched than to rise.’ From all the fields of secular ambition he deliberately turns to one of the obscurest corners of Christ’s harvest-field. His native land is very dear to him, but he forgoes the hope of spending in it the evening of his life. In his youth, he, with his young wife, nails his flag to the mast of Africa, and chooses to live, die, and be buried among the races for whom he toiled with a great yearning pity till his right hand forgot its cunning. Others hope to make, he is content to spend, a fortune in the land of his adoption. A knight of Christ, all his energies are devoted to the uplifting of the downtrodden. With a reversed ambition, he aspires to descend, puts the last first, and finds attractions in the most degraded races. Not one word of self-pity escapes his lips, for he scorns the idea that he is making sacrifices. His employments are not in one sphere and his enjoyments in another, for his work yields him deep delight in the morning, meridian, and evening of his days. No gifts seem to him too precious to be laid upon the altar of coloured humanity, and fifty years of toil have not damped his zeal.

The real wealth of nations lies in things moral and spiritual. Noble lives are the best assets and dowries of any people. God’s greatest gifts are gifts of men fitted for the needs of their age, and a life like this does more to enrich a land than mines of gold and diamonds can. It is a rebuke and an inspiration to the average man, and it should increase our respect for our race and for the faith to which James Stewart owed all his noblest qualities and achievements.


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