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The Life of James Stewart
The Germ of Livingstonia


A Noble Purpose—His First Committee—Self-revelation Mrs. Livingstone

The Kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed.' —Jesus Christ.

‘I HAVE opened the door; I leave it to you to see that no one closes it after me.’ Such was Living-stone’s appeal to his countrymen during his first visit home in 1857. James Stewart was one of those who wished to push in through that door, keep it wide open, and fix it to the wall. He thus describes the growth of the impulse which he received from Livingstone in 1857:—‘ It is often difficult to fix the precise date to a purpose or intention which may afterwards modify one’s own life, as well as considerably influence the lives of others. The first speck or germ of the idea appears on the mind so quietly that little notice is taken of it, and its beginning is lost in the mystery which belongs to the origin of all thought. But it was in the beginning of 1860 that this intention was first definitely formed. The proposal was so made at that time, not publicly but only to a few, and for consideration as to how the scheme could be best carried out. This was the real origin and first commencement of what is now known as the Livingstonia Mission. . . . It was no mere desire to form a new mission simply as such which led to the proposal at the date mentioned. Nor was it because I could not go to work in some other field; but some influence, as little capable of analysis as an instinct, seemed to draw or push me on. The idea of the Livingstonia Mission rested from the first on a broad base. Its outline or projection has never been altered, nor has that even yet been completely filled in. The first short sentence of that remarkable Autobiography of Dr. John Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides, runs thus: "What I shall here write is for the glory, of God." I cannot strike so strong and sweet a note, but I can say that, so far as a man may know his own heart, the motive was the true missionary one, containing though it generally does various influences, but in which one predominates and acts as the combining element which gives solidity to the whole. This is all that need be said about motive, important as it is in missionary life and in the history of missionary effort.’

Writing to one of his fellow-students, he said: ‘If we make the Lord’s work a pedestal for our own vanity, let us be sure that a downfall is awaiting us. Before his sacred cause the Dagons of self shall not and cannot be allowed to stand.’

He urged the St. Andrews Students’ Club to take up Livingstonia. They objected that they were all unknown men. ‘That matters not,’ he replied, ‘if we are earnest men.’

In 1859 he intimated to the Foreign Mission Committee of his Church that he and two fellow-students were willing to become missionaries in the region which Livingstone had unveiled to the gaze of Christendom. His Church was not then prepared to undertake such a mission, but its leaders were interested in the proposal, and resolved to open communication with Dr. Livingstone. A list of twenty queries was drawn up by Stewart and forwarded to Livingstone through the Foreign Office.

The ardour of Stewart was fruitful in inventions. After visits to Glasgow, Liverpool, and Manchester, and many persistent efforts, he, single-handed, succeeded in forming a very influential committee of eighteen men, under the title of ‘The New Central African Committee,’ ‘with the view of turning to practical account the discoveries of Livingstone, and to open a new mission in Central Africa.’ He raised a considerable sum of money for the initial expenses, and sold his patrimony at Liberty Hall, near Haddington, and also the family silver-plate, and devoted the price to the mission. The Committee requested him to visit Central Africa on a mission of inquiry.

He thus served a useful and successful apprenticeship as an organiser, persuader of men, and an inspirer of liberality. He writes: ‘The first efforts connected with this mission occupied me more than a year.’

Here is a student—for he seems to have started his scheme before he was licensed—without academic fame or social influence, unknown and untried, who has nothing but himself to begin with, and yet he gets some twenty leading professors, ministers, and laymen to believe in him, to accept his leadership, and support him in his perilous enterprise. Probably no mere student or probationer ever had success like this. Here is proof of originality, resolution, and a remarkable gift of persuasiveness. Even then he revealed his extraordinary power of interesting and impressing people of all classes.

Stewart’s biography here widens into history, and history of the noblest kind, for his ideas have helped to make Central and Southern Africa what it is to-day. As the origins of great movements interest every thinker, a few extracts from Stewart’s letters at this time will be welcome. Writing to Principal Douglas of Glasgow, in December 1860, he says:

‘I hope that better days are in store for Africa, and that you may see your way to "deal out the rope" in this country, while we go down to help them who now live in such deplorable darkness. This matter may possibly, by God’s blessing, in due time bear its appropriate fruit. In the meantime I am carrying on some medical studies, with the view of fitting myself for African work more fully. But as I do not wish to be a mere student all my days, I have accepted a proposal made to me by the Committee on the Cardross Case to act as their secretary. I am inclined to "buckle to this business" with a will, as the interests it involves are very serious. I hope it may be all over before the mission to the Zambesi is ready to start. In promoting the great ends of the everlasting Gospel, we have need, however (at least I sometimes feel so), to pray that our zeal and our convictions shall not "borrow their strength from the spirit of contention," as Vinet expresses it. However, it is surely a symptom of health in the scheme that it only gathers strength from Opposition. I have noticed this more than once during the past twelve months. Prudence and common-sense must be constantly exercised, while that is kept far enough removed from what is implied in the phrase, "managing men." I have rather a detestation of that, and in the long-run I think it commonly fails; for men sooner or later perceive your game, and if you have no other hold of them, they go off altogether. [These words reveal a principle which guided him through life, and was one of the secrets of his phenomenal success in securing confidence, eliciting sympathy, and drawing out liberality.] I thank you most sincerely for all your good wishes and hearty expressions of sympathy. These things all help to make a man stronger: so also do the prayers of Christian friends. Let the result of all be as you say—" the salvation of souls and the honour of Christ."

At Mrs. Livingstone’s request, he delayed a month that she might accompany him, as she wished to rejoin her husband. Dr. Livingstone was then British Consul-General in the Zambesi district, and Commander of the Expedition to explore Central Africa, with a view ‘to suppress slavery and develop the country.’


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