Life and Times of D. M. Stuart, D.D.
Chapter XIV. — Loyalty to Church Schemes
Loyalty to Church Schemes.
Dr Stuart occupied a foremost place as one of the Church's wisest and most influential leaders. He was always a commanding figure in the Synod, took an active part in its deliberations, and his utterances, which were distinguished by breadth of view and by simplicity and homeliness of expression, were, for the most part, received with marked respect. The Church Extension scheme was one which especially engaged his attention, and enlisted all his energies. For upwards of twenty years he was Convener of the Committee which was charged with the duty of extending the operations of the Church to meet the requirements of advancing settlement. He had thus the official supervision of all the vacancies and mission stations throughout the Province, and that of itself involved a large amount of anxiety and labour. It was in no prefunctory manner that the work of that department was done. We can testify from personal knowledge and experience how keenly and constantly he interested himself in the extension of Gospel light and privileges to those who were living in "regions beyond"—out of reach of religious ordinances, and how great was his joy when he heard of triumphs of truth over indifferency and error, and page 92of men giving a willing ear to the heavenly message of God's love in Christ.
His letters to us in the days of our youth and inexperience were always full of wise counsel and encouragement, bidding us "ca' canny," or festina lente, or keep before us some other embodiment of human wisdom. They were always fresh and true in tone, and impressed us with the warmth of his interest in the Church's prosperity and work. "I am glad," he wrote, "you are being comfortably anchored. I am quite sure you will labour most faithfully. Allow one who has always believed in your ability and fidelity, to beg you, in the time before you, to hasten slowly. You can do much work, and do it most effectually if you prosecute your calling more methodically. You crowd your work too much; in fact you undertake too much. Work fairly, but don't forget you have nerves, a throat, and a family. I am sure you will pardon an old friend, and a man of some experience, for giving counsel." Again he wrote. ".. I am sure you will be made a blessing to many if you have only hope and patience. You're a sower. Sow plentifully, and God, who raised our New Zealand forests from insignificant seeds, will cause the seed of the kingdom to grow."
The condition of the heathen in their dense ignorance of God, awakened his deepest sympathies, and led him to move that action be taken to bring them under the bright shining of the Gospel light. It was on his motion, in 1867, that the Church resolved to break ground among the pagan population of the New Hebrides, and by the diffusion of missionary page 93intelligence among his people he endeavoured to stimulate and deepen interest in that great work which has been committed to our hand to do.
The Chinese, attracted by the fame of the goldfields, began to make their appearance in Otago in 1866, and before many years had passed some thousands of them were distributed over the various mining centres in the Province—a small proportion of them settling in and about the seaport towns for purposes of trade. Dr Stuart directed the attention of the Synod to the spiritual needs of that growing heathen element which had established itself in the land, and evangelizing agencies were in course of time appointed to concern themselves especially with that form of Christian work.
The Church felt a special interest in mission work among the Maoris, and Dr Stuart, in closing an interesting historical address to Missionary Blake, on the occasion of his induction in the Maori Church at Otago Heads, said, "… While instructing them in doctrine, I would beg of you to induce them to add to this knowledge, habits of temperance, chastity, and purity. Exalt in your teaching the family institution, and see that every family has its own fireside, its own household altar and Bible. Foster among the young habits of industry, and teach them that in cultivating their fields, and in raising smiling households, they are serving and praising God as much as when on the Sabbath they are engaged in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. In a word, while you sow on every hand the page 94seeds or civilization, industry, and refinement, you will specially labour to sow by preaching the Gospel the seeds of repentance, faith, and holiness…"
His anxiety that his congregation should be in full touch with this great work is indicated clearly enough in the following letter:— "… It is now settled, as I understand it, that I present myself at Riversdale on the 22nd instant. I am looking to you for supply—Bible-class at 10 o'clock a.m., and the two services. You might make the evening service a missionary one. You have the points of the great enterprise so completely at your finger-ends that I should like you to rouse us. You can take what end of the day you like for this object." Again he wrote:— "We are not up to the mark in missions. In fact, we are verging to zero. Your example and labours were a standing rebuke to our remissness. For years I devoted one evening a month to missions, but some two years ago I gave up the practice regular one, to my own loss. This was due to a new plan, propounded by Salmond, for collecting for missions by the elders. Now, many of the elders do not attend the prayer meeting regularly, and so I allowed myself to give up an old practice of mine. The elders' scheme has broken down, and I have resumed my night for missionary intelligence."
He was one of the most eloquent and persistent advocates for the establishment of a Theological Hall in connection with the Synod; and during the first year of its existence he held the position of tutor in the department of Church History. The whole of page 95his salary received in that capacity he donated to the committee, in order to provide two annual prizes, since known as the Stuart Prizes, for the encouragement of theological students in the study of Church History and Pastoral Theology. The Sustentation Fund Committee, in all their measures for reviving interest in the scheme which was entrusted to their care, could always count on his generous and influential support: and to Knox Church contributions for many years the weaker congregations of Otago were mainly indebted for the high levels which the dividend sometimes reached. There was, indeed, no scheme of the Synod having for its end the promotion of the Gospel, the extension of education, and the advancement of humanity, which did not command Dr Stuart's ardent and loyal support.
In 1861, he was appointed by the Presbytery of Otago Convener of the Committee on Union with the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. It is unnecessary to dwell here on his connection with that movement, as its entire history is fully given in the "Story of the Otago Church and Settlement."
Dr Stuart exerted a powerful influence not only in Otago, but throughout the Colony. His opinions were often deferred to on large questions of important practical public interest. Committees of vacant churches frequently sought his help in the selection of a suitable minister, and such was their confidence in his integrity and reliance on his judgment that they were sometimes perfectly content to address a call to his nominee without requiring him to appear page 96as a candidate before them. Of this we have certain knowledge that several calls and offers of call from important districts, which we had never visited, came to us, which we owed entirely to the generous and overflowing kindness of his loving heart.