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

Chapter XXV. — A Sorrowful Home-Coming

page 179

Chapter XXV.
A Sorrowful Home-Coming.

Wearily the days passed over on the passage from Melbourne to the Bluff. "A cold mist of sorrow," as the Doctor expressed it, "clasped closely his heart." Arriving at the Bluff, he left the boat, and travelled overland to Dunedin. At Mosgiel, he found his office-bearers assembled with thoughtful kindness at the railway station to meet him and bring him back to his own home. On his arrival at his "own romantic city," as he delighted to call Dunedin, crowds of friends met him with such cordial welcome as filled his heart to overflowing with feelings of thankfulness and joy. Donald, whom he found very ill, revived somewhat after his father's arrival, but the disease which had fastened on him—a malignant affection of the throat, with a complication of lung trouble—was too deeply seated to be dislodged.

A thanksgiving service was held in Knox Church in connection with the Doctor's safe return. A large congregation, which crowded the building in every part, assembled to testify their attachment to their beloved pastor, and their joy at seeing him again among them with health in some measure restored. Dr Dunlop presided at the meeting, and on the appearance of Dr Stuart on the platform surrounding the pulpit, the immense audience rose with enthusiasm page 180en masse m honour of the man whose earnest and loving ministry had won their hearts.

Very touchingly, out of the fulness of his heart, the Doctor replied to the address of affectionate welcome which was then presented to him by Dr Hislop, on behalf of the office-bearers. "Maybe there were times," he said in closing, "when the thought went through my mind that I was necessary to the maintenance of this Church. I see now that no man is necessary. If I were laid aside like a plucked flower this evening, the congregation would go on in its career of Christian usefulness—perhaps with more vigour and with more success than have ever characterized it…. Accept my thanks, my earnest heartfelt thanks, for your prayers, for your kindness in the past and to-day, and for all that is in you heart to do for me and for the Gospel."

"Dr Stuart," said one of the leading newspapers, in reference to the loving reception which his great congregation gave him, "is so entirely identified with this city, and we might say with Otago, and so well known among all classes, that it seems unnecessary to refer to the eminent qualities which have given him a place second to none in public esteem, and have made his name veritably a household word. High principle, a devoted sense of duty, kindliness of manner, which is but the expression of most perfect charity, utter and complete unselfishness, have distinguished Dr Stuart among his fellows, and it is not surprising that the opportunity has been taken by those under his pastoral care, and more immediately connected with his work, to pay him page 181the tribute of honour and regard which, to the gratification of the whole community, he has received."

"Donald," the Doctor wrote, under date 13th December, 1888, "was most anxious to take part in the services of last Sabbath to the extent of worshipping in the vestry. We took him to the Manse. He stood the change well. As this is our Communion week, he went home on Tuesday afternoon, to avoid the noise and excitement. When I called yesterday, his throat greatly troubled him. The doctor considers his case bad. I cannot fail to see that he is under marching orders. His reverses and his health are a burden too heavy to bear, but he is most uncomplaining and very cheerful. Let him and me have a corner in your prayers."

Again on 9th January, 1889, he wrote:—".. Donald is getting sensibly weaker, but he is contented and easily nursed. I trust he is resting on the Lord and His righteousness. I feel this dispensation as very afflictive, but I hope the Lord will reconcile me to it. I feel as if He were stripping me of those natural supports and shelter in which I delighted. But His grace can work wonders, and will do so. I am kept very busy, but I am taking all the rest I can. I begin to feel that my work must in the future be more restricted. I hope the elements of meditation and prayer will bulk more largely in it than in the past…"

Three days later Donald Muir Stuart died at the Manse, at the age of 30 years. He was the Doctor's youngest son, a solicitor of ability and of bright promise in his profession. Possessed of wide informa-page 182tion and a vein of keen and genial humour and an easy and forceful style, his friends believed him capable of winning triumphs on the fields of literature had he applied his gifts in that direction. But his energies during his closing years were hampered with ill-health, which was aggravated by business troubles, and barely six weeks after his father's return his eyes were closed in the sleep of death.

The following minute of condolence shows us how bravely the Doctor bore the burden which was laid upon him; though his heart was wrung with grief, yet he in no wise intermitted his public duties:—"The Professorial Board of the Otago University desires to record its deep sympathy with the Chancellor in the great sorrow which has befallen him in the death of his son, Mr D. M. Stuart, and expresses its gratification at the vigour and elasticity of mind that enabled the Chancellor, notwithstanding his heavy burden of personal affliction, to continue his devoted labours on behalf of the University and other institutions of education and religion."

His next letter to us is dated 16th January… "Since I last wrote you, Donald has left us. He went on Saturday, at 2 p.m., when the sky, the garden, and the house were full of sunshine. At 1.45 his two boys came in, and though unable to speak he greeted them with a most memorable smile. On their retirement he sat up in bed, folded his hands, and looked at his wife, then at his sister-in-law, and then at me, as if bidding us 'Good-bye.' He then fell gently back on the pillow, and his spirit returned unto God who gave it. We kept silence, for we heard the page 183rushing of the Divine Presence. To his widow and two boys, it is a day to be remembered, and to me also; for I shall sorely miss him at Church and at table on Sabbath—with his fresh talk and fresh way of putting things. I feel as if I had scarcely a right to linger behind. What good can a stump be without its sheltering and beautifying boughs? Let me do what I can till I am called away.

"… The people have been very kind; they have done all they could to mitigate the severity of the stroke. The Lord reward them!"

"I have felt this bereavement," he wrote later on, "on many grounds, as peculiarly heavy. I am quite sure there was sufficient reason for it. I trust that through the prayers of my friends and the mercy of my God, it may be overruled for my sanctification. I had the satisfaction of being with Donald during the closing weeks of his life, and precious to me is our intercourse. With many faults, he was very affectionate, and I believe that he rested on Christ for salvation. His departure was most affecting. I am doing what I can to bear up, and am receiving much sympathy and many prayers.

"Our folks have decided to get a colleague and successor. During the voyage out, I knew that the medical testimony was gradually shutting them up to this course, and I decided to accept their will without hesitation, and, in fact, con amore. When the Pulpit Supply Committee brought their report, I at once assented and consented. I am not sure that I would not gladly retire, but that would not be allowed." page 184During the Doctor's absence from the Colony, the Synod had paid him the compliment of electing him Moderator for the following year. But his sad bereavement induced him to decline the honourable position offered to him, and which he had filled with dignity on more than one occasion previously.