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

Chapter XXXIV. — Pastor

page 243

Chapter XXXIV.

The pastoral visitation of his large congregation in the early days of the Colony, when roads were bad and hills were steep, involved an amount of physical toil which only his ardent zeal and indomitable will and powers of pedestrianism could possibly overtake. But no matter what difficulties interposed he never spared himself in the prosecution of his pastoral work. Even when the hills were crowned with snow and the air was filled with sleet, his familiar figure, wrapped in the ample folds of his Border plaid, might have been seen moving about the heights that overlook the city, buffeted in his progress by wind and storm.

The poor and needy of every class and Church connection, as well as those who lay outside the shelter of every fold, had free and ready access to him. His strong presence and warm, sympathetic, kindly nature carried strength and consolation to the sick and desolate. The shining light of his robust faith fell like cheering rays into despairing hearts and darkened homes. He stooped to lift the fallen and to direct their feet in the way of peace. The widow and the fatherless, and the sorrowful—from whatever root their sorrow grew—all turned to him, and never page 244failed to find refreshment and comfort from the things new and old which he could bring forth from a heart that was enriched with experience of the manifold grace of God. The words of Scripture which he read on such occasions with his own terse and impressive comments on them, and the simple, solemn, touching prayer that followed, glowing with a fervour that seemed to burn into the very soul made his visits and his pastoral services to his people unspeakably precious and memorable things.

One day, in the usual course of visitation, he found a poor woman with scanty covering on her bed to protect her from the cold of the keen autumn night, and he promised to do something for her. But in the multitude of his engagements, the incident passed entirely out of mind until near the hour of midnight, after he himself had retired to rest. Then the circumstances of the bare and indigent home all flashed upon him, and filled him with dismay. In a few minutes he was dressed, and, with a bundle of his own bedding on his back, he was seen striding up the hill on his way to redeem the promise which he had made.

"Some years ago," one relates, "a very dreadful accident occurred, which resulted in the death of three children. It was my sad privilege to be with the parents and relations on that occasion. The awful shock had for the time being unhinged the minds of the father and several of the relatives; the mother was too stricken down to even move. In my extremity I ran to Dr Stuart for advice as to what should be done. I found him in his study, busy with the coming page 245Sabbath sermon. I told him my mission. 'Advice!' was his reply, 'my dear fellow, you need my help.' Immediately his boots and hat were on, his plaid over his shoulder, and with a big stick in his hand, we hurried to the house of mourning. When there he went about among the sufferers administering comfort. He did kind deeds so kindly. He stopped with me as long as he possibly could. On leaving he asked me to stay, even if it should be till morning; that he would come to see how we were getting on during the night. True to his promise,. he was over several times during those dreadful night watches. By 3 o'clock he found that the sufferers were quietly sleeping, and that he was not required further. The family was in very humble circumstances indeed, but what so especially struck me that night was his gracious bearing towards the sufferers. Had he been called to the Queen's palace he could not have been more gracious: no patronage in his words or deeds. It seemed as though he counted it an honour to be there. It was a lesson I trust I will never forget."

He loved the children, and mentioned in the pastoral letter which he addressed to his congregation from the Home Country an incident which had evidently deeply impressed him: "I remember one Sabbath morning, when I was moved to the lowest depths of my soul by the declaration of a boy who came up to me in the street, saying, as he looked me in the face, 'Doctor, I pray for you,' and then hopped away like a blackbird in my garden after delighting me with its sweet carol. Having the prayers of our young men and children, I feel as if I could do any page 246work which the Lord is pleased to require at my hands."

"No child," it has been said, "to whom he had been kind ever forgot him. We remember the case of a little boy who was at one time very ill. Dr Stuart went to see him, patted him on the head in his fatherly way, and spoke a few bright encouraging words; then, holding his tiny hand, he spoke a short simple prayer, asking that the little one might get better. The boy recovered, but not long afterwards had another serious attack of illness. After a time, no improvement being discernible, the boy said to his mother: 'Mother, I am tired of these other doctors; I wish you would send for Dr Stuart; I'm sure he could make me better.' The Doctor was duly sent for, and came. Apparently his cheering presence and homely prayer started the little one towards recovery, for he got better, and to this day declares Dr Stuart made him well. This is only one of many such cases—children believed Dr Stuart could do anything." Mr Justice Richmond aptly stated that the Doctor's presence in the sick room was like sunshine.

And if the story be authentic that found its way into the Christchurch Press, he was credited also with wielding an inspired pen. A teacher in one of the public schools asked his class, Who wrote the Book of Psalms? No answer came. First the boys were tried encouragingly, then the girls. "Come, now, some of you girls, who wrote the Book of Psalms?" After some hesitation came the answer at last: "Please, sir, Dr Stuart."