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Life and Times of D. M. Stuart, D.D.

Chapter XXI. — Toiling and Moiling

page 144

Chapter XXI.
Toiling and Moiling.

Unable to resist the pleading importunity of friends who knew that his presence at their annual Church festivals gave good guarantee of success, he went up to Canterbury in October, 1884, and had an exhausting Sabbath day's work. "Three services on end," he wrote, "but I enjoyed the trip, though I gained a cold which clung to me for some time. Dr——was at the soiree, and kept the audience of 500 laughing for thirty minutes."

Shortly after his return to Dunedin he wrote in grateful terms of an act of thoughtful kindness which brought the teachers and students of the Church into pleasant social relations:—"E. B. Cargill has invited the Theological College Committee, Professors Salmond and Watt, and the students to spend an afternoon at 'The Cliffs.'" Such social courtesies he regarded as eminently profitable and fruitful of the very best results.

The Doctor had very strong opinions on the public duty of Sabbath observance, and looked with marked disfavour on every attempted encroachment on the sanctity of the day of rest. A Bill involving the question of working on the Sabbath was in 1884 before the Legislature, and an effort was made to break down the barriers that human law had page 145erected round it so far as to allow the labourer or tradesman to carry on his ordinary work on the day of rest. The Hon. W. Downie Stewart, who was then a member of the House of Representatives, with the vigorous help of others like-minded, got the Bill amended so as to prohibit all work at any trade or calling in, or in view of, any public place on the Sabbath day. The Doctor wrote to him on that occasion:—"Your spirited defence of the weekly Sabbath as a day of rest has made many here your debtors. I am sure that no greater blow can be given to the well-being of society, and especially of the working classes, than its secularization. I don't despair of religion and well-doing should the Philistines beat you, but I am sure that many of the people will tell them of the wrong they will inflict on society by endangering one of our most beneficial institutions, as you know, to working men. The Sabbath is the family day as well as the day of rest and religion. With the schools and the Sabbath secularized, the Churches will have a hard battle to fight in the religious interests of the young." On one occasion a member of his Church asked the Doctor to dine with him on a Sabbath afternoon, to meet the Governor of the Colony, who was on a visit to Dunedin. "I declined the invitation," he said to the Hon. W. Downie Stewart. "My rule has been not to dine out on the Sabbath, and I saw no reason for making an exception in favour of the Governor."

The close of the year brought its usual number of engagements in connection with school work, and a feeling of loneliness was experienced among the changing page 146personnel of the Dunedin Presbytery. He wrote to us under date 17th December: "I am beginning to feel a stranger in the Dunedin Presbytery…. I am very busy this week. It is our Communion week. It is also the breaking up of the High Schools. Yesterday I had to make a presentation to Mrs Burn. On Thursday the boys get their prizes and the girls on Friday…. I would like to get a run over to Melbourne, but I dread the excitement. I like repose above all things, and yet it is what God in His providence refuses me…. I fear —— is doomed to fade before his time. How remarkable that no one is indispensable—neither prophet, priest, nor king. It shows the wisdom of God, who can ever bring forward the agents He needs, and when He needs them." A few weeks later, he wrote: "Our Synod has come and gone. We had debates of various kinds, and new legislation of the vestry sort. I cannot say that I enjoyed the work. I was oftener away from my seat than ever before."

His heart was always deeply touched by any personal kindness done to him, or by proofs of thoughtful consideration which he received from others. The Knox Church Sabbath Schools originated at this time a Juvenile Exhibition, partly in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Dr Stuart's ministry in Dunedin and partly in aid of their own prize fund. On the occasion of opening it, a graceful presentation was made to their venerable pastor of a handsome fire-screen, the handiwork of a daughter of Mr John Gillies, who had been long and intimately associated with the work of the Church.

page 147

The opening paragraph of the following letter refers to a calamitous event, which awakened feelings of deepest sorrow in the hearts of a wide circle of those who had learned to know and appreciate the gentle, amiable, and scholarly minister of Balclutha. "You will be sorry," he wrote under date January, 1885, "to hear of the death, by drowning, of Morice, at Port Molyneaux. It was a marvel that his wife and eldest boy were not drowned with him. Happily she is recovering. I attended the funeral last Friday, and took the last solemn prayer. I had a great regard for him, having made his acquaintance more than twelve years ago, during a few weeks he spent in Dunedin. He was a most loveable man, with much literary ability and a quiet poetic vein, but lacking force. Watt, Waddell, Bannerman, Michie, and Borrie, attended from Dunedin. The people were deeply impressed, and, I am sure, mourned most sincerely.

"Gaulter is come, and the opinion of the people respecting him is steadily rising. Salmond, who has seen much of him, says that he is gentlemanly, able, and progressive. He is to be inducted next Thursday.

"I was down opening Knapdale Church last Sabbath. Wright has fallen on his feet. He has a large, level parish, and as fine a set of people as you could wash—sympathetic to a man."

"I have read with much interest," he wrote on 29th April, 1885, "Moorhouse's smashing of Judge Williams' assault on the Scriptures. The Telegraph is doing good service in giving publicity and circulation to such admirable exposure of rashness, ignorance, page 148and crudeness…. I am kept busy, too busy for soul and body. Still I keep wonderfully well.

"I was at a soiree at Mornington to-night…. I got home about 10 o'clock tired and done up. The University opens to-morrow with a short speech by the Chancellor, and a lecture by Professor Sale."

"I am working away (27th May, 1885) as usual, getting occasional kicks from the Blue Ribbon men because I do not attend all their meetings. They forget that there is a limit to my ability. The correspondence which falls to my lot is decent work. There are just now six letters lying before me written at odd moments during the day. On Friday I go to Catlins to introduce McLaren. In an hour of weakness I promised to do so, scarcely realising that I would be called on to fulfil it. What a proof of years that I am conscious of a shrinking from the ride on the Bush track, lest the exposure bring back or waken up a winter cough… I was last week at Oamaru; went north on Thursday morning, and returned on Friday, having made a bit speech at St. Paul's conversazione.

"Our little world goes on swinging at the old rate. I miss you much. I seem to have nobody among the Presbyterian ministers in full sympathy with me in the immediate neighbourhood. The many are novi homines... Let me not complain, for I have more of good will than I deserve."

Again he wrote: "It is not creditable to us of the old folks that we are so backward with the pen. I take refuge in much work—and really I have much work, and the work involves much writing. I have a page 149large correspondence, part of which I cannot avoid, and a part of which is in accordance with my tastes; and there is the sermon writing, to me not without much irksomeness…. This is our Communion week. I have been very busy of late, seeing young communicants.

"A bevy of visitors—Dr——, and two students, and a cranky lady—have tormented me for the last two hours, besides occupying the spare time I had set apart for writing you, and now I am summoned to visit an old St. Andrew's elder, who is dying, and as he resides at Roslyn, I must stop and set out."

"I am toiling and moiling as of old. But, alas, I find that my ability is slowly abating. Still I bless and praise the Lord for the power I have."

[The Mr Gaulter referred to in this chapter was minister of the First Church, Dunedin, for some time, and Judge Williams is the Victorian judge of that name.]