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

Chapter XXII. — Sympathetic Office-Bearers

page 150

Chapter XXII.
Sympathetic Office-Bearers.

During the vacancy in the First Church, Dunedin, caused by the resignation of the Rev. George Sutherland, who had accepted a call addressed to him by the congregation of St. George's, Sydney, ministers of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria were invited to give a month's supply until notification of the appointment of a successor to Mr Sutherland should arrive from Home. Among others who then rendered service to the First Church according to this arrangement was the Rev. Wm. Henderson, of Ballarat. Dr Stuart, who had thus an opportunity of meeting him, formed a good opinion of his mental force and strength of character; and, after his death, he felt an interest in the settlement of his Church. "I am sorry," the Doctor wrote under date 4th May, 1886, "St. Andrew's, Ballarat, is not getting settled. It is fatal to the life of the congregation when party spirit breaks out. I sincerely trust the Spirit will so powerfully visit them with His renewing and ennobling influences that they will unite as one man to call 'a man of God' to labour among them in Divine things." Later on he wrote: "… I am glad they have called Cairns. He is above the average, and will be a worthy successor to Henderson."

The Church of Otago was indebted to the ability page 151and literary enterprise of Dr James Copland for its first organ, The Evangelist, which was launched in 1869, and rendered good service to religion by its general dissemination of ecclesiastical and missionary intelligence. The paper, which appeared monthly, was enlarged after some years, and with an extended circulation over a wider area gave fuller information regarding the operations of the Church in the North. Various changes took place in its management subsequent to that, in all of which Dr Stuart took a warm personal interest. Sometimes through its pages, and occasionally from his place in the pulpit, he urged congregations in accordance with a suggestion which was made by the late Dr John Bonar to give immediate attention to the preservation of the early facts of their own Church history before they sank into oblivion, and passed out of reach of the knowledge of coming generations. In 1886 he wrote:—"…. The Presbyterian is to have Watt for Editor-in-Chief, while I am to assist in the department of the Churches, and Bannerman in that of Missions. I hope we shall keep it from being drearily learned."

An unhappy rupture of friendly relations with Professor Salmond occurred in January, 1886, which caused the Doctor some distress, but which furnished occasion for a rare display of magnanimity, and demonstrated what sacrifice of personal feeling he was prepared to make in his ardent pursuit of peace. He spoke in high terms of praise of the Professor's ability and scholarship, and in generous appreciation of the quality of the work which he was doing in the Theological Hall of the Presbyterian Church in page 152rearing up a school of the prophets for New Zealand. But the Chair of Mental Science in the University of Otago had become vacant by the resignation of Dr Duncan MacGregor, its first occupant; and Professor Salmond offered himself as a candidate for the office. As it was endowed by the Presbyterian Church out of the education section of its trust funds, the appointment was made by the Church Property Trustees with the concurrence of the Synod; but the appointee had to be approved of by the University Council before he acquired the status of a Professor in the University.

Professor Salmond had a large following in the Synod, and some friction was created by the action of his friends, who appeared determined to carry the nomination without allowing opportunity to invite applications for the office from suitable candidates outside the Colony. Dr Stuart, in his dual capacity of Chairman of Trustees, who had the administration of the fund and the appointment to the vacant chair, and of Chancellor of the University, whose interests were specially involved in the selection made, felt himself under obligation to use all means in his power to put the most competent man available in the vacant place. There was no question of the competency of the Professor. The Doctor had no doubt of that, and his opposition in the Synod was in no wise prompted by any feeling of hostility to him; it was entirely directed against the tactics pursued by some of Professor Salmond's friends.

The position was somewhat complicated by the Professor being that year Moderator of Synod, and page 153occupying the chair during the progress of the debate, except when speaking in support of his own candidature. When the Doctor on one occasion rose to speak he was required to announce whether he intended to propose an amendment or to support the motion before the House. "The spirit of opposition wrought strongly on me," the Doctor wrote, "and I said that my speech would declare what I was going to do. On this he stated he would not allow me to speak, and so, rather than have an unseemly scene, I sat down."

There was a widespread feeling that the Doctor had not been fairly treated. Towards the close of the Synod's proceedings Mr W. D. Stewart made special reference to the manner in which Dr Stuart had been treated, but he was stopped by the Moderator. Mr Stewart urged that considering the commanding position Dr Stuart occupied in the city, the Synod could not defer too much in showing respect to him. After a controversy between the Moderator and Mr Stewart, the latter said, "I will content myself by saying that I believe Dr Stuart's worth will not be appreciated until he is in his grave."

Mr Justice Williams, Vice-Chancellor of the Otago University, in a letter dated 30th of January, 1886, to Dr Stuart, referring to Professor Salmond's appointment, says:—"No doubt the proceedings attending that appointment were not—judging from the newspaper reports—entirely satisfactory, but it by no means follows from this that the appointment is a bad one. Certainly, however, the way in which the appointment was made makes it the more page 154incumbent upon us to satisfy ourselves of the qualifications of the appointee."

The Knox Church office-bearers, displeased at the scant courtesy which their pastor had received in Synod, presented him shortly afterwards, at a social gathering which was held among themselves, with an address expressive of their sympathy and loving attachment to him. It was as follows:—

"Reverend and Dear Pastor,—

"We, office-bearers of your Church, desire to convey an expression of our deep sympathy with you, in consequence of the treatment to which you were subjected at the late meeting of Synod. Your long and faithful services as minister of Knox Church have secured for you the affections of a large congregation. Your considerate attentions to the sick, the suffering, and the sorrowing, your attachment to the older members of your congregation, and your unwavering interest in the welfare of the young, have placed all connected with your Church under a debt of gratitude to you. The Presbyterian Church in this portion of the Colony has had in you, for over a quarter of a century, an energetic, able, and loyal representative. Your catholicity of spirit, your philanthropic labours, and your usefulness have earned for you, we believe, the respect and confidence of colonists of every creed and country. The various charitable and educatinual institutions in this Province have ever secured your warmest interest and support. The services which you have rendered in connection therewith will live long in the memory of your fellow colonists, and will continue to bear fruit after your earthly career has terminated.

"Whilst availing yourself as a citizen of your privileges, as such you have never been unmindful of the moral and spiritual wants of the members and adherents of your congregation. Your long and arduous labours amply entitle you to periodical rest and recreation, and we are hopeful that you will, in obedience to our wishes, do whatever may be found conducive to your health and comfort, thus prolonging your usefulness among us.

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"We promise you on behalf of all connected with your congregation continual sympathy and support, and we sincerely trust that you will be long spared to go out and in amongst us, doing the work of your Divine Master."

That address, signed by thirty-seven office-bearers, was put into the Doctor's hand, and, with wounded feelings, soothed by that evidence of his people's tender affection for him, he went on a visit to the grand solitudes of Kinloch, at the head of Lake Wakatipu. How he enjoyed it, the following letter, dated 12th February. 1886, and addressed to the Hon. W. Downie Stewart, informs us: "As far as Edendale I was a sharer of the carriage reserved for Stout and Ballance.* As I had not met the latter before, I was glad to make his acquaintance. I found him sensible, thoughtful, and more moderate in his views than I expected, from what the jade Rumour reported of him. In Invercargill I spent a night, and met Borrie, Dr Close, and old acquaintances. Next day I foregathered with Smith at Lumsden, and we got to Queenstown on Friday, at 11 o'clock p.m. Starting next day at 7 a.m., we got to Kinloch about ten. The sail was delightful. The massiveness of the bounding mountains, their ruggedness and their beauty in parts, as where there slopes are clothed with bush, and their summits, or rather the cleuyhs on their summits, filled with snow, impressed me more than I can express. The loch itself, with its expanse of water and its silent potency, added to the impressiveness. We selected Kinloch because of the bush that clothes the slopes of the hills for miles, affording delightful

*  Colonial Treasurer; afterwards Premier of New Zealand.

page 156variety and most agreeable shade. Go, where we will, Cosmos, Earnslaw, Mount Alfred, and other mountains are visible, and addressing us in language which we are doing our best to interpret. Our fellow-visitors are agreeable, with the one drawback that they have no continuance. On Tuesday we lost Professor Guerney, of Sydney, and his Dutch wife—interesting people, far above the common. Mrs Guerney's talk was dramatic in the highest degree, and most entertaining.

"We have a Victorian naturalist, Mr Judd, and his pleasant wife and daughter. The former has made our bush walks most instructive, and the last precented for me at the service on Sunday, while Mr Smith read the lines, for the sufficient reason that we had only one Hymn Book.

"Smith and I put in two agreeable hours on Sunday morning under a patriarchal birch on the margin of a mountain burn. I had with me a book of Dr Parker's, and he read two of its best chapters. We paused now and again to discuss his propositions. For the first four nights I got little sleep, but I am now resting better…."

That very graceful and loyal act of his office-bearers in approaching their pastor as they did with an assurance of their sympathy with him in the circumstances in which he was placed, seemed to be so distasteful to Professor Salmond, who held office as an elder in the Church, that he withdrew from connection with it, without any word of explanation, during the Doctor's absence at the Lakes.

Dr Stuart felt that treatment keenly, but he page 157allowed no feeling of resentment to influence him in the discharge of public duty. He supported the Professor's candidature in his place in the University Council, steadily voted for him, and ultimately secured his admission as a member of the teaching staff of the University. He wrote, under date 6th May, 1886: "Salmond is now at work in the University. I am glad the disagreeable business is ended. My deliberative and casting votes had the settlement of it, and I gave them as much for the sake of peace as for any other reason. The address of the office-bearers of the Church presented to me, intended to soothe feelings which had been somewhat rudely slapped in the Synod, gave such offence to the Professor that he withdrew from the Church during my absence at the Lakes. I regret this rough termination of social and religious intercourse extending over ten years. It might have been done more gently and after some explanation. May God overrule these and all such personal matters for His glory and our good."

"Last night," he wrote, under date 2nd August, 1886, "we had a field night in the Church. In the presence of a crowded congregation, I had a service for the ordination and induction of four elders and six deacons. The new elders are Dr Hislop, E. Smith, Dymock, and G. M. Thomson, of the High School; the new deacons are Roberts, Moodie, W. Todd, C. Macandrew, J. Young, and D. Smith. The platform was crowded with office-bearers. I asked Cargill to take one of the prayers, and I assure you he surprised me by the fervour, simplicity, and directness of his petitions. I preached on the elder-page 158ship as it is represented in the Old and New Testaments. My direct address to them was marked by plainness and allusions to past service. The congregation was in touch with the minister and the office-bearers elect…. I seem to be standing more alone than ever;——has not had time to call on me, and the younger men naturally draw more to one another."

Referring to some of the leaders of the Otago Settlement, he wrote, "I have read the analysis of Vol. I.* with great interest. In chapter ii. I would give a special place to the leaders Dr Burns and Capt. Cargill. They were in many respects special men—knowing, decisive, sound in the faith, and excellent churchmen. They also felt that material progress was necessary to build up a nation, though not so necessary as the Gospel."

The visit which he made to the Lakes early in the year was enjoined upon him by his medical adviser, who found his health quite run down, and insisted on him taking a measure of rest. In September he wrote to his friend, Mrs Ferguson: "My own health is keeping well. I had a visitation of hoarseness ten days ago. The doctor shook his head, and spoke of rest as necessary. I am now better, though I feel that the roots of it are still in the larnyx. I daresay one of these days something will befall me which will necessitate rest and retirement. Nor need I wonder that it should be so, for brain and throat, and eyes and muscles have done much work during the last fifty years or more."

* "Story of the Otago Church and Settlement."