The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
History of Knox Church
History of Knox Church,
By some oversight we omitted to notice this book when it first appeared some time ago, but the sad occasion of Dr Stuart's death gives us a fitting opportunity of repairing our error of omission. Dr Hislop undertook the work now under review at the request of the office-bearers of Knox Church, and it is difficult to think of anyone to whose hands the task could be entrusted with such certainty of its being ably discharged. Dr Hislop's connection with the church has been so intimate and of so long standing that, with the exception of the pastor for whom his people are at present mourning, there is no one who could have spoken with such authority and such certainty of knowledge. If anything further were required to fit Dr Hislop for this important piece of local history it is his long and important connection with the public life of this provincial district and of the whole colony. It is particularly fitting, we think, that one who has done such distinguished service for the education of this province and colony should address himself to telling the story of a church that has so largely shaped the spiritual life of the community.
We are not going to repeat the story of Knox Church. There it is in the permanent record of Dr Hislop. From the first suggestion that the time was come when there must be a hiving-off from the First Church up to the time when Mr Davidson arrived to take from the shoulders of the ageing pastor part of his heavy burden it is all recorded in this history. The church institutions are noted as they sprang each into being—the Sabbath school, the Bible class, the weekly prayer meeting, Young Men's Christian Association, the Missionary Association, and so on; and Dr Hislop does not fail, in connection with the various movements of development, to award praise and honourable mention where it is due.page 10
What makes the book additionally acceptable and valuable is the pious tribute that Dr Hislop pays to the memory of men who did good work in their day. We do not suppose that in any church in this hemisphere has work been carried on with greater devotion and enthusiasm than in Knox Church. We have every reason to believe that this church has before it a future as prosperous and beneficent as the past that lies behind it, but it is well that there should be a permanent record of its day of small things and hard work, and of the zeal of its first founders. In this work of piety Dr Hislop renders justice to all and sundry; except to one, perhaps—Dr Hislop himself, who has always been a man of mark in the congregation, but about whom Dr Hislop, modestly, says less than is due. His well-known features, however, appear in an excellent portrait; and there are other good illustrations—portraits of the two ministers of the church, and views of the old church and the new.
The most striking and interesting figure in this history is, of course, that of Dr Stuart. He is not at the present moment, whilst the city is under the shock of his death, likely to lack eulogists, and therefore we will refrain here from uttering praises which are sure to be abundantly uttered by many mouths. In reading this book, however, we could not help speculating as to that quality in him that made him, in spite of any faults he may have had, a man powerful to move men. We have always thought, and are confirmed in our thought by reading Dr Hislop's book, that a large part of Dr Stuart's power outside his church lay in the fact that he had an essentially poetic basis to his character. When he spoke at his best he spoke, to our thinking, better English, as well as better Scotch, than any man in Dunedin—terse, vigorous, glowing; and often capped with a flashing jewel of poetry from Holy Writ. We have often heard it said that Dr Stuart was not an eloquent preacher. Of that we are not in a position to judge. But he certainly was, on occasions, an eloquent speaker. To hear him pray at a grave, when the circumstances of death affected him, was to listen to the voice of a poet-seer; we cannot imagine eloquence more solemn or moving, or with more in it of the oil of comfort. Then, again, when he bad to address the young, if he happened to be in a happy vein—how he could let himself go, what fire he had, and what a knack of happy phrases. When, on the other hand, his imagination carried him to his native Highland hills, with their heather and their birches, and their simple and lowly modes of life, Burns or Scott could not glow with more genuine fire. And so it was that he was indispensable at every public gathering where there was any subject of interest more humane than mere beggarly party-politics. Without him somehow things would not kindle. It is true, as he once said to his floc[unclear: k], there is no man necessary to the world: [unclear: but] is equally true that there are men what empty place cannot be filled as long as any survive who once knew their influen[unclear: ce]: Dr Stuart was such a man. In the [unclear: hea] all the men and women, friendly or [unclear: unfriend] into whose life he entered there will [unclear: he] forth be a vacant place that cannot be [unclear: fill] be the next who he may.
We are, of course, speaking of Dr Stuart a public man, as he was known to the [unclear: citi] at large, and not as he was known to his [unclear: f] with whom he had deeper spiritual [unclear: relati] He was essentially a public man—so much by nature that he would have been [unclear: un] had he been confined to the interests of a [unclear: pri] life, however prosperous. A large chur[unclear: ch], posed necessarily of more or less [unclear: conffi] elements, gave a wide scope to that [unclear: passi] direction and government which was so [unclear: ste] an element of character in Dr Stuart. [unclear: B] did not give scope enough. The [unclear: repub] system of government of the [unclear: Presbyt] Church, which allows a man to count [unclear: for] and for no more, did not allow room [unclear: enough] his perfervid love of action. The fact [unclear: is] Nature meant Dr Stuart for a bishop, but [unclear: fo] to bring him forth on the right side [unclear: of] Tweed. So that the energy which was [unclear: en] for a whole diocese, and too much [unclear: for] government of a single church, flowed [unclear: ove] public institutions, chiefly those [unclear: concer] with education. He was essentially [unclear: a] devoted to ideas—too little regardful, [unclear: per] of material things, and expecting too [unclear: larg] disregard of such things from other people would have had young preachers go for[unclear: th] crip and staff to preach in the remote water where there is small comfort and little [unclear: p] as he would have had young [unclear: teach] also, teach with a lofty disrega[unclear: rd] money returns, finding their emolume[unclear: nt] their work. This is noble and apostol[unclear: ic] trine, though not usually acceptable; [unclear: for] nately in Dr Stuart's case no one could that be did not obey his own self [unclear: deag] ordinances. One of the most [unclear: character] anecdotes, in a life fruitful of [unclear: anecdot] that which Dr Stuart himself used to tell his first attempt at school-keeping. In [unclear: litt] desiring to earn the wherewithal to keep himself at the university, he bought the [unclear: good] of a school in Fifeshire, and started work any one pupil, and that a girl, at 3d [unclear: per] For six weeks," says Dr Hislop, "[unclear: he] his solitary pupil for the full number of [unclear: r] lation hours. This circumstance [unclear: drav] general attention, led to an attendance a pupils which put it within his power in the years to enter St. Andrew's University"
It may be asked who is to weave the [unclear: an] chaplet for the grave of the early pilgrims any that Dr Stuart is gone. Year in, year out page 11 spoke bis mindful tribute, and now he is himself one of those that were. It is clear to any-one who reads Dr Hislop's book, that however well the aged pastor may have loved his flock of these latter days, his best affections were with the band who gathered round him when he came out a young man, with the "wife of his youth" and his three boys, in the year 1860. Who can wonder if, as years were added to his back and sorrows came thick upon him, he lived more and more in the memory of those early days, and took every opportunity of rescuing from forgetfulness the names of those who had first welcomed him, and helped him to build up his church.—Otago Daily Times.