of James Stewart
The Probationer, 1860 - 1865
The rheological CourseA Rale Man
In the PulpitHis HearersHis Favourite Books.
I cant feed people on stale bread.
I have not dealt in missionary pastry only, but in the bread of life.Coillard.
Study to show thyself approved unto
God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word
of truth. St. Paul to Timothy.
SCOTTISH Presbyterianism demands a
longer education for the Christian ministry than any other Church, ancient
or modern, has done. The Free Church of Scotland from the first duly
appreciated sacred learning, and appointed an ampler curriculum of study
than has been adopted by any other Presbyterian denomination. Its students
had to spend at least four years at the University, and then other four at
the Divinity Hall. The students did not complain of these eight long
years, for when it was proposed to shorten the Divinity course to three
years, they petitioned against the change.
If he pass the appointed
examinations and trials, the Scottish student of Divinity, a few weeks
after leaving the Hall, is licensed to preach the gospel. He is then
called a probationer, a licentiate, or a preacher.
But James Stewart was never a
probationer in the ordinary sense, for he was never on probation as a
candidate for a pastoral charge. He was licensed early in z86o, and the
following five years were crowded with varied activities. During four of
these five years he preached regularly in several congregations for
periods ranging from one month to a year. From 1859 to 1861 and from 1864
to 1866 he took the full course of medical study. During two of these
years he was also secretary in the Cardross case, in which the Church was
brought into the Law Courts. He thus became acquainted with leading
churchmen, and gained a knowledge of Civil and Church Law.
The record of his activities in his
probationer days is not yet complete, for in 1860 and 1861 he originated
the movement which secured the planting of Livingstonia, and between 1862and 1864 he explored a large part of Central Africa.
His appearance in the pulpit at once
drew attention and excited expectation. His style was what both his past
and his future might lead us to expectcompletely evangelical, very
earnest, practical, and home-coming. I do not always fail, he wrote,
though I esteem myself rather a dry stick in the pulpit.
One writes: I have a lively
recollection of his supplying, for one month, the pulpit of Dr. Bryden of
Dunscore (Dumfriesshire) during the spring of 1860. Mr. Stewart was a
gentleman of great energy, being out in the morning by six oclock, with
his coat off and his shirt-sleeves turned up, and working like a Trojan,
cutting out new walks round the Free Church. He had a fine presence, and
was a good preacher with a style of his own, original and clear. To my
mind, he then gave indications of future greatness.
An old farmer in the parish used to
tell this story, and then added, Ah! but yon was a rale man.
He was also an assistant at Stirling,
Innellan, Elgin, and, for two months, in Free St. Georges, Edinburgh.
In 1864, during a year, he occupied
the pulpit of Free St. Johns, Glasgow, as assistant to Dr. Roxburgh, the
successor of Dr. Chalmers. He must have had a wonderful power of
impression, for some very aged people remember to this day his
individualities and his texts. A correspondent can distinctly recall three
of his sermons (after forty-four years) on the texts, Set your affection
on things above, Holiness to the Lord, and Finally, brethren, be
perfect. A minister who, as a boy in his teens then worshipped in Free
St. Johns, Glasgow, writes: There was that in the personality of the man
that compelled attention. While entirely loyal to the great evangelical
truths, he brought to their handling what I can only characterise as a
sort of breezy freshness that seemed to put new life into them. Admirable
and stimulating as he was as a preacher, Mr. Stewart was even more
stimulating as a teacher. The young folk in his Bible-class felt that they
were in contact with a personality throbbing with power. Even then
prophecies went before on him.
In 1866he had charge for six
months of Union Free Church, Glasgow, which was then without a pastor. The
Assessor for Glasgow writes: I have a very vivid recollection of him and
his unique style of preaching. I should say that he was more of a teacher
than a preacher. His teaching created in his hearers a desire for more and
more. Many of the congregation would fain have put back the hands of the
clock when he talked to them of the things concerning the King.
He would have been unanimously
called to the pastorate of the flock had he not told us that he must needs
go and preach the gospel in Dark Africa.
When about to leave, we had a
farewell meeting and gave him several gifts, among which was a gun. He
said that he would take it with him to Africa, but that he would never use
it in self-defence. Kindness to the African was the only weapon he had
ever used or would use, and it had always secured his safety. [He is here
describing his experiences when in the heart of Africa with Livingstone in
1862to 1864. See chap. viii.] The natives had often carried his
baggage over field and flood, without money and without price. What Africa
needed was men who could preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and practise
Christs law of loving kindness.
Another survivor of that
congregation says that Mr. Stewart was a very thoughtful preacher, and
needed close attention. Strength was his chief feature, and he was very
reticent and self-possessed. He was a thorough business man, and ready to
go through fire and water at the call of duty. Before his departure the
Session put on record C their deep sense of the value of his ministrations
and other services so willingly rendered. They will always look back with
gratitude and pleasure on Mr. Stewarts short connection with them, and
they will follow him on his mission with their fervent prayers.
There has come into my hands his
copy of Vinets Pastoral Theology. The date on it (1860) proves
that he studied it when he began preaching. Hundreds of its sentences are
underlined, and scores of pencilled notes are on its margins. The book is
thus a piece of unconscious autobiography. Some of the jottings show that
he was at the same time closely studying Arthurs Tongue of Fire,
and Spencers Pastors Sketches. These three were, after the Bible,
his guide-books. These notes reveal the man. We may give a few of them, as
books nowadays have been made out of the marginal notes of great men. He
is a lynx-eyed detecter of mistakes. It is astonishing how many he finds
in so gifted a writer as Vinet. He decidedly objects to everything
approaching the vague, the ambiguous, the irrelevant, and the
slipshodevery phrase, as he puts it, that might be the hiding-place of a
fallacy. He heartily admires every lofty and practical utterance.
Evidently the young probationer is in thorough earnest about his work, and
very eager to learn.
Over against a warning not to
over-value the beautiful, and the oratorical, he writes: Think over this.
On this rock, J. S., you may yet strike, if you have not already struck.
Sentiment in religion, he describes as imagination, not conscience, at
work. Opposite a statement about economy of time, he writes: J. S. mark
this, and act on it. Curiously enough, anent Vinets saying, I should
not approve of agricultural and industrial pursuits (for a pastor), J. S.
has written: Yes, clerical farmers and gardeners have an ambiguous
reputation. Again he writes: We have Scyllas and Charybdises all the way
through the straits of life, not as at Messina, at the entrance only. Of
satire, he says, It can do no good in the pulpit. When Vinet says there
is no artificial mode of acquiring unction, the oil flows naturally from
the olive, he adds, Mark, learn and inwardly digest these two
sentences. Again he writes, Read and re-read Spencers Pastor's
Sketches. About general appeals in preaching, he remarks, It is not
firing the gun often that kills, but firing it straight to the mark.
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