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

Chapter XXXII. — Resignation of Colleague

page 228

Chapter XXXII.
Resignation of Colleague.

The resignation of Mr Davidson as colleague and successor to Dr Stuart, accompanied with the reasons that influenced him in taking that step, came as a profound surprise to especially those of us who were removed at some distance from the scene, and who had intimate knowledge of the Doctor's character, and were persuaded of his incapability of doing aught intentionally that would cause wrong or disparagement to any one—especially to a colleague in the ministry of the Gospel.

"For weary months," he said in his statement to the Presbytery in this connection, "the thought was never absent from my soul, nor is it yet absent, that my work as a citizen, Christian, and minister was nearing its close, with the result that it prevented hard thoughts of any one, and certainly of my colleague."

"I have had a month of ups and downs," he wrote on 6th March, "resulting in the resignation of Davidson. He made a statement to the Session without consulting any member or me, declaring that I had not given him the rights and privileges of a colleague and successor. As I am sending you all the documents, I need not enter into details. Allow me to say that we had no quarrel, that we discussed page 229parish problems weekly, divided the public work, and left each other free to prosecute the outfield and pastoral work, while the congregation were fairly satisfied, and rightly so. When he declined to reconsider his position, or even to delay it (his resignation) for a month, they (the office-bearers) unanimously decided not to interfere.

"In the circumstances of my health, unable to take all the work, with a considerable feeling of irritation, the position may prove for a time some-what unfavourable. We are to ask some Victorians—and you among the number—to give us a month's preaching for a few months… I have met in the main with sympathy.

"In a statement I sent to the Presbytery I gave my account of the working of the co-pastorship, avoiding saying anything in the way of reflection on him. From his statement, which was a prepared one, you will see that ten minutes of frank dealing would have brushed away his difficulties. He leaves in ten days for Home …. I deeply lament this outcome, but these and other things must be borne."

Mr Davidson was a man of acknowledged amiability and culture. He was an earnest and evangelical preacher, and gathered around him a number of friends during his residence in Dunedin. But the reasons which he alleged for his withdrawal from his office of colleague seemed quite inadequate to justify his action: the circumstances of the Doctor's precarious health might have suggested to him the cultivation of forbearance, if not of submission; and over and above all that, the neglect to submit the whole case to a friendly page 230conference with the senior minister and his session, forces on us the conviction that there was something behind all on which the light was not permitted to shine — perhaps, as some of the congregation are inclined to think, a consciousness of personal inability to bear the burden of so great a Church.

The position was no doubt one that would try the mettle and prove the mental calibre and equipment of our best and ablest men. Very few, outside of New Zealand, have any conception of the absolutely unique position which Dr Stuart occupied, especially in Dunedin. The strength and purity and unsullied probity of the character which he bore, and the magnitude and public utility of the work which he accomplished, placed at a very serious disadvantage a colleague of ordinary type; and we gather from men of light and leading in the congregation that there was a general feeling that the junior minister—it may well be with undue depreciation of his own abilities, and mental expansiveness, and powers of adjustment to his new relations—realised how far short he fell of the Knox Church standard, and therefore availed himself of the alleged irritations to which he had been subjected as a way of escape from the onerous responsibilities of his high position.

We are inclined to think, however, that there is some truth in the statement which has been made, that Mr Davidson allowed himself to be influenced, ab extra, to formulate charges against his colleague, and break his connection with the Church. No man, since the days at least of Aristides Justus, has stood so high as to be beyond the reach of envy, and that page 231Dr Stuart had a few enemies who grudged him his influence and high position, and disparaged his abilities, is too obvious a truth to need substantiating.

"The resignation of the colleague," we are informed by one of the congregation, who is intimately acquainted with all the facts of the case, "though a source of annoyance to the Doctor, was yet felt by the great majority of the congregation to be a providential solution of a difficulty which they would be called on to face. They recognised the colleague's earnestness, but believed that he was never properly in touch with the people, and it was the conviction of many that if he retained his position, the Church would lose in efficiency and power after the Doctor's removal from the higher seat.

"With the exception of comparatively few, some of whom the Doctor had befriended in earlier days, the congregation stood loyally by their aged pastor, whose well-known earnest desire for peace restrained many of those who thought Mr Davidson had acted unwisely from saying or doing anything which might lead to division or unpleasantness in the Church."

We confess to having felt some surprise on reading the report of the proceedings of the Presbytery in dealing with this business. There was a great deal of apparent anxiety on the part of a few members to give Mr Davidson a good send-off—to cover his retreat with a sort of Presbyterial ægis—so that no arrow-point of suspicion or possible charge of being a "Colonial failure" might touch him on the presentation of his credentials to the Church at Home. But we failed to find any page 232sorrowful expressions of soothing sympathy, or loving words of generous affection for the aged Christian hero who had been a tower of strength to the Church, whose best energies had been given to its service, whose maturest wisdom had guided its counsels, who had been magnanimously loyal to all its schemes, and whose sagacious, enlightened, and unwearied labours had largely contributed to the extension of its influence, and to the diffusion of Gospel light to the remotest bounds of habitation in the land, and who, with his harness on, was calmly a waiting in the old Manse the running out of the last few sands of his eminently useful and laborious life.

More keenly than the ordinary observer knew, the Doctor felt the unpleasantness of the position in which he was placed. For the first time in the history of his great Church the long peace was broken. The whole wealth of his heart's true love he had poured out upon his people, and he shrank with extreme sensitiveness from even a suspicion of the breath of censure from lips which in all time previously had uttered only sentiments of loyalty and affection to him. The divisions and estrangements, and the bewildering uncertainty as to how far disloyalty to him had spread among his people—the thought of these things crushed his great loving heart to the point of breaking, and gave its power to the mediate agency which smote him with the sickness of which he died.

On Sabbath, 1st April, 1894, after the Presbytery's intimation of the resignation of Mr Davidson had been read at the morning service, Dr Stuart stood page 233before his people, and with something of his old grandeur of tone, which seemed to have in it a glow of prophetic fire, addressed to them a deeply-pathetic appeal to stand by the old Church with unabated affection through all the changes and storms which might pass over them.

"… To the regret of all," he said, "the chapter of Church history, inaugurated at Mr Davidson's induction, terminated unexpectedly, and in a way such as has stirred up conflicting opinions that have broken that record of peace and goodwill which has been our glory for the thirty-four years of our story. It is neither my desire nor my duty to account for the disturbance which for the last four weeks has caused in the congregation searchings of heart, reflections not wholly baptised in the charity of the Gospel, and, more or less, of envy and jealousy. I bless God that the action of the Presbytery has ended the embroglio.

"Do you ask what is our position now as a congregation? It is this: The congregation has lost its junior minister, but has still its senior minister, who is somewhat shattered by a long illness—an illness which still cleaves to him—by age, and labours extending over 60 years; but the congregation is, in my belief, so sound throughout that its members will not allow the opinions of the hour to weaken their loyalty to the noble organisation they have reared, or do anything that will arrest its course of social, philanthropic, and spiritual usefulness. With a large staff of office-bearers and other workers who possess our confidence, I trust that we page 234shall, in our place and station, work as loyally as if no misunderstanding had sprung up. Let us never forget that the Church, which is the Bride of Christ, is above individuals, whether ministers or members, and therefore entitled to our enduring affection and confidence. In her charity she is the friend of all—too good and kind to be an enemy, and too affluent in spirit and circumstances to be dependent on anything but the good will of her members—the servants of Christ, her Head and King.

"It is my prayer that we may, one and all, despite the summer storm which has proved that in faith and love we are far from perfection, stand by the old flag, and show that Knox Church shall continue to do her proper work, in the old way, to the glory of God, and to the good all-round of the community of which we are members. I venture the forecast founded on my knowledge of the membership that in work and sacrifice she will excel her prowess in the days of her youth and gladness."