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

Chapter XL. — Post Mortem Benefactions

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Chapter XL.
Post Mortem Benefactions.

The estate which the Doctor left behind him, we need scarcely say, was not of large value. His beneficence made that impossible. But such as it was, he directed its distribution in a way that was characteristic of him. To the University of Otago he bequeathed, along with his collection of Latin and Greek books, one hundred pounds, the income of which, in successive sessions, he desired to be applied to providing prizes in philosophy, physics, and for the best poem in the English language. To the Dunedin Arts Gallery Society, he left his painting of the Lake Country in Otago. To the various benevolent societies of Knox Church, and the Sabbath School Library, he bequeathed one hundred pounds—twenty-five pounds to each fund; and to the Deacons' Court of Knox Church he left, along with the bulk of his books, one hundred pounds, to be expended in connection with the library, under the direction of the Court. He directed each of his executors, the Hon. W. Downie Stewart and Mr Edmund Smith, to select six books as keepsakes.

We give some extracts from the "Knox Church Quarterly Statement," published shortly after Dr Stuart's death which emphasise one or two traits page 284of his character, which, so far as we know, have not been already noticed.

"Dr Stuart's Christian faith was simple as that of a child, and it was strong and unfaltering in virtue of its very simplicity. If in his early years he had wrestled with mental doubts and difficulties—'the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world'—as most likely was the case, he had overcome these troublous foes, and entered into a liberty of thought and action which showed itself in an active piety, at once deep and persuasive, but without a trace of formality or a tinge of asceticism about it. His religion was no sentimental dream.

"He was a man of intellectual power as well as of genuine character, and these qualities bred in him an abounding measure of toleration and charity for those around him—a fact which was occasionally turned into a cause of reproach. Perhaps he did slightly err in this respect; if so, it was an error that leant to virtue's side, and certainly there could be no greater mistake than to suppose that he shrank from the reprobation of what was evil, or that he ever made little account of the distinction between right and wrong. It was quite otherwise. Discussing this point sometimes in the frankness of confidential friendship, the Doctor would acknowledge, with that humility which was a further fine trait in his character, that his judgment might, perchance, in some cases have led him astray; but he would add: 'I have rarely regretted thinking favourably of brethren and friends, although I have had cause to be sorry for hard thoughts I may have harboured.'

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"This unwillingness to make much of differences of opinion, or to indulge in censure, led in some twilight quarters to another misconception. We have heard it said that Dr Stuart had no strong conviction on religious questions. Only those who did not know him could fall into such a grievous mistake. To some of the smaller controversies of the Church he attached little importance, but no man ever stood more resolutely by the Scriptural truths 'most surely believed among us' than did Dr Stuart, and on public questions generally, as soon as he had made up his mind, there was no chopping and changing on his part. With unvarying courtesy, but with equal firmness, he held on the course he thought it was his duty to adopt. But there was no pettiness in his nature, and he had a perfect scorn for ungenerous insinuations, while his loyalty to friendship, that half-forgotten virtue of an earlier age, has never been surpassed.

"Rarely, indeed, does it happen that the life of a man occupying so prominent a position as Dr Stuart closes without exciting hostile or envious commentary, and, we regret to say, that he had no immunity from this form of trial. In connection with the unexpected and untimeous resignation of his colleague, some puerile misunderstanding and harsh judgments got into circulation, and caused a brief excitement. We daresay those who took part in this absolutely senseless mistake are now ashamed of the whole affair, and we refer to it chiefly as helping to illustrate more fully the heroic character of the man. Stricken by mortal disease, he felt the position keenly, but never page 286an angry word escaped his lips. Once or twice he did refer with a sort of wondering pity to the disloyalty of certain individuals of whom he expected different things, but it was only for a moment, and then dismissed with the forgiving 'they misunderstood'—that was all. Alas, for our poor judgments, but they matter not now—

The memories of this worser time
  Are all as shadows unto him;
Fresh stands the picture of his prime,
  The later trace is dim.

"… His. life was beautiful and blameless as human life can be. He aimed at the grand ideal of the Christian, and if he fell short of his aim it must have been because nothing else is possible for frail flesh and blood.

"Friend and brother, whom we loved—who companioned with us thus far and did us good—we would fain have kept thee longer, for we shall miss thee much in our wanderings here. Farewell, but not for ever. In the bright world that lies beyond this screen of mystery—the place prepared for the good and the true—we humbly trust to meet thee by-and-bye. Until then, once more, farewell."

The incessant interest which Dr Stuart took in Church Extension, and in the settlement of ministers in newly settled districts throughout Otago, rendered it necessary during many years that he should frequently communicate, especially in the earlier days, with the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland. That Committee, on learning of the Doctor's death, passed the following resolution, which recognises in some measure his services:—

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Edinburgh, 19th June, 1894.

The Committee have learned with sincere regret of the death of the Rev. D. M. Stuart, of Dunedin, which took place on the 12th day of May last, and desire to record their warm appreciation of the services which he rendered to the cause of Christ in New Zealand, and their sense of the loss sustained by the Presbyterian Church in that Colony through his removal. The Committee gratefully acknowledge the goodness of Almighty God in bestowing on the Church of Otago the gift of such an honoured servant, who was endowed with remarkable qualifications for his position, and who has been spared for a whole generation to exercise a commanding influence in Dunedin and throughout the Province. The Committee have had much occasion to rejoice in the success of Dr Stuart in the pastorate of Knox Church, and they have long been assured of his noble work in the social, educational, and religious interests of the Colony. As Convener of the Home Mission Committee of his Church, he supplied information from time to time which was most valuable in the guidance of the Committee, and he maintained a diligent correspondence, thereby fostering an interest which bore excellent fruit, especially in the introduction of suitable ministers to the colonial field. Our departed father was uniformly loyal to the best traditions of the Free Church, and was greatly attached to her interests, as was evinced by the character of his communications with successive Conveners of this Committee, and particularly by his recent letters referring to the Jubilee celebrations of last year. The Committee would offer to the Church in Otago, to the Presbytery of Dunedin, and to the congregation of Knox Church the assurance of sincere sympathy in the great loss which they and we have sustained in the removal of Dr Stuart.

The Moderator of the Synod of Otago and Southland, in his opening address, delivered on the 30th October, 1894, in making feeling allusion to the death of Dr Stuart, added:—

"So much has been said, and so well said, about the many great and good qualities of the late Dr page 288Stuart and his manifold services for the Gospel and for this Church, that I shall not attempt to add anything now, save to say that his death has made a void in this Synod, in our Presbyterian Church—in the social, educational, and religious life and work of Dunedin, of Otago and Southland, and I may add of New Zealand, which I do not expect to be filled up in my day or in the lifetime of the youngest member of this Court."

On the 1st November, 1894, the Synod unanimously adopted the following resolution:—

The Synod desires to place on record its deep sense of the loss the Church has sustained in the death of the Rev. Donald McNaughton Stuart, D.D. He died on the 12th May, after a severe illness, borne with quiet fortitude. His death seemed like a personal bereavement to many thousands in the land of his adoption, and tributes to the endearing qualities of his life and ministry were heartily rendered by every section of the community. While saddened by the removal of his well-known presence, the Synod desires to thank Almighty God for the gift of such an able and enthusiastic leader to this Church at a time when she needed not only wise guidance but also courage and hope in taking possession of the land for Christ. He arrived in Dunedin in 1860, and from that time till he breathed his last under the shadow of Knox Church, which is the finest visible monument to his memory, he gave himself with an untiring loyalty to the service of this Church. His own large and prosperous congregation, which he always kept in the van of every good work, seemed insufficient to tax his energies, and he threw himself with ever fresh ardour into almost every movement which had for its end the highest good for his fellow-men. His valuable services in the cause of education secured for him the highest posts in the governing bodies of the High School and University. His name has also been bound up with almost every philanthropic institution in Dunedin that took its rise in the page 289earlier days. As convener of the Church Extension Committee of this Synod he was brought into frequent contact with all parts of the Province. He kept an eye on expanding settlements, and was never weary trying to bring Christian ordinances within the reach of all. In planning and fostering a scheme for the training of a Native ministry he also showed much foresight, and never ceased to rejoice at the measure of success which has attended the Theological Hall. He held a conspicuous place in the courts of the Church, where his wide reading, varied experience, and generous interest in all the Church's work made his counsel invaluable. His fresh surroundings in a young Colony may have done something to stimulate his energies and make him the many-sided man he was; but the Synod most heartily recognises the fact that his fresh, and buoyant, and eager nature sanctified by the Divine Spirit and guided by the Divine Word, did much to mould his surroundings, and secure for posterity a rich legacy of privilege, and the priceless boon of a noble example. His memory is cherished by his brethren in the ministry with reverence and love. Solemnised by his departure, the Synod would set itself with greater devotion to improve every opportunity of usefulness, and make the Church which he loved and served so faithfully a greater power for good in this new land.

This resolution supports the opinions which we have elsewhere expressed in reference to the great and valuable services rendered by Dr Stuart to his Church.

For a period of fully thirty-three years, there was no more intelligent, liberal minded, loyal and enthusiastic member of the various Church courts of which he was a member. His death will prove an irreparable loss, not only to the Presbyterian Church, but to religion generally, and to the cause of education, whether primary, secondary, or University, as well as to philanthropy.

It has been resolved by the inhabitants of Otago page 290to erect in some prominent place in Dunedin a statue of Dr Stuart, to commemorate his worth, and the services he rendered to his adopted country.

We have endeavoured by the statement of facts, and by giving our own opinions, as well as those of others, to delineate the life, character, and works of Dr Stuart, so that the reader might form some fair estimate of his widely sympathetic nature, his manly struggle against great difficulties, his noble devotion to duty, his unwavering adherence to principle, his indomitable zeal in all that was good, and his unwearied labours. His commanding figure, his courteous bearing, his genial smile, and his high Christian character—in which charity in its widest sense was exemplified—will long be remembered by all classes, irrespective of creed, station, or country.