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Robert and Louisa Stewart: In Life and in Death

By Mary E. Watson

London: Marshall Brothers, 1895.

Chapter I. Some Reminiscences of Robert Stewart

Lord, her watch Thy Church is keeping;
When shall earth Thy rule obey?
When shall end the night of weeping,
When shall break the promised day?
See the whitening harvest languish,
Waiting still the labourers' toil;
Was it vain--Thy Son's deep anguish?
Shall the strong retain the spoil?

Tidings sent to every creature,
Millions yet have never heard;
Can they hear without a preacher?
Lord Almighty, give the word.
Give the word; in every nation
Let the Gospel trumpet sound,
Witnessing a world's salvation,
To the earth's remotest bound.

Then the end: Thy Church completed,
All Thy chosen gathered in,
With their King in glory seated,
Satan bound, and banished sin:
Gone for ever, parting, weeping,
Hunger, sorrow, death, and pain;--
Lo! her watch Thy Church is keeping,
Come, Lord Jesus, come to reign.

I HAD not known Robert Stewart well prior to our going together to Australia, though I perfectly remember his ordination and departure for China nineteen years ago. But when the C.M.S. Committee directed me to be their representative to respond to the invitation that had come from the Primate of Australia and other friends there, and I was asked to name a clergyman and missionary to accompany me, I gave Mr. Wigram three names, of which Stewart's was one. "Well, which of the three shall I ask first?" "Ask Stewart," I replied; for there were only a few days left before we were to sail, and I was sure of this, that he was a man ready to go anywhere at a moment's notice in the service of the King. Next day came his answer from Bedford, "Yes"; and a most kind letter followed from Mrs. Stewart, expressing her readiness that he should go. On March 18, 1892, we sailed in the P. and O. S.S. Britannia. Neither of us was strong. Stewart had suffered severely from dysentery in China, and the doctors in England shook their heads about his returning thither at all. I was still very weak after being prostrate for a month with influenza. But the voyage, through God's goodness, set us both up for the work to which we were commissioned.

Stewart was the only clergyman on board (except a young S.P.G. missionary for part of the way), and he conducted the Sunday services. These were all that he considered it possible to arrange, except that we had daily prayers in Holy Week, services on Good Friday, and Holy Communion on Easter Day. There were scarcely any sympathisers with spiritual religion on board, and no one cared to attend a Bible-reading; but we two daily met for an hour at noon for reading, conversation, and prayer; and in a quiet way Christian influence was exercised. Stewart's brightness and bonhomie made him popular with the worldly men, and a very real affection was manifested to him by some. One, who was a leader in the theatricals, sweepstakes, etc., seemed to feel a personal sorrow because Stewart did not attend when a couple of farces were acted; but to his question, "My dear fellow, why didn't you come?" the unanswerable answer was returned in another question, "My dear fellow, why didn't you come to my service on Sunday?" On the last day of our long voyage, one of the chief officers came to me and said, "1 don't think your friend Mr. Stewart has the least idea how the whole ship admires him. He has quite altered my opinion of parsons. We've had a good many at different times, but either they were so stuck up one could not speak to them, or else their talk in the smoking-room was worse than that of the fast men; but Mr. Stewart is always pleasant, and yet we all know what he's driving at"--which was, that other men might know the happiness he had himself found in the Lord's service. (Of course I in no way endorse this officer's opinion of "parsons"; I only record what he said.) Of more private work on that and subsequent voyages, of souls striven for and prayed for and won, I will not write; I am sure Stewart would prefer that I made no allusion to them.

It was not by resting that he regained health in Australia! In less than seven months we took more than three hundred meetings and services; and Stewart took quite half the speaking, and more than half the knocking about. In Victoria especially, he went long and untiring journeys by slow trains, or on rough roads, to address small gatherings in remote towns, while I was chiefly occupied at cities like Melbourne and Ballarat. His indomitable energy, his never-failing unselfishness, his humility and simple dependence on God, the earnestness and simplicity of his addresses, accomplished great things; and wherever he went, he won the love of all who came in contact with him. I have mentioned worldly men; let me also mention children. They all clung to him. One little boy, a clergyman's son, declared that he "should pray for Mr. Stewart every night," and began by doing so regularly; but one night, being very tired after an excursion, the little fellow got into bed too quickly--when his little sister ran up to him and tried to pull him out, crying "Oh you naughty boy: you've forgotten to pray for Mr. Stewart! "Let me parenthetically acknowledge that when Stewart afterwards told this story at a meeting in my hearing, he modified it by saying that the boy was to pray "for China." It was an excusable mis-statement!--but I happen to know that my version is the correct one.

Stewart's speeches were often very moving. Again and again I know of hearts very deeply touched by his words on "I am a debtor," a subject he took repeatedly; and I am sure some Sydney friends must remember his stirring address on "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son." But he never had a thought of "making a good sermon or speech." He aimed at definite results. We used whenever possible to get five minutes to pray together alone before going to a meeting; and his prayer often was this, "Lord, if Thou hast a message for any one whom Thou art bringing to this meeting, give us that message to deliver." Naturally, therefore, he believed in prayer for a speaker as a real thing. I remember that at a meeting at Bendigo, I was quietly writing letters to England on my lap while he was speaking, as they had to be posted that night. After the meeting he gave me a gentle reproach: "While you were speaking, I was praying." I never wrote letters during his speeches again! But while he was intensely spiritual in his whole view of a missionary meeting, he was intensely practical too. It was he who pushed the Gleaners' Union, inviting people to come to the platform then and there and be enrolled; which procedure has done more than anything else to perpetuate the missionary spirit in the Australian parishes. He sold hundreds of Mr. Horsburgh's booklet, Do Not Say; he distributed, only to applicants, thousands of the C.M.S. Cycle of Prayer; he got missionary boxes made, and placed more than a thousand of them out himself--in this also doing a work which has lasted, and has been most fruitful. These boxes he had labelled "New South Wales "or "Victoria" C.M. Association; but when we went to New Zealand, there was no Association there, nor did we know whether there could be one. Nevertheless, no sooner had his more cautious colleague left him at Auckland and gone on to Gisborne, than he got some scores of boxes made quickly, and put a label on them, "New Zealand C.M. Association "; and when we met again at Napier, and I shook my head at this pre-matureness, he only said, "Well, you see there must be an Association now!" And so there was presently; but not until he had already distributed most of his boxes.

I will venture to give one instance of his readiness to sink everything--even reputation with those whose good opinion he would most desire--if only he could get an undistracted hearing for his message. Some may think he did wrong on this occasion; I offer no opinion; but I honour his motive, and I think God used the opportunity. At one church, where he was to preach, he took his surplice, scarf, and hood out of his bag in the vestry, and was suddenly startled by the Incumbent's exclamation on seeing the plain black scarf: "Whatever is that thing?" "That? It's only my scarf." "Oh, you can't wear that: the congregation would stare at it all the time, and wonder what it meant." "All right," said Stewart; "I don't mind; I'll preach without one." "Oh, that will never do: look here, you had better wear this one, and then people won't see anything unusual, and will listen to what you say." And with these words the Incumbent produced an embroidered white silk stole. "I had never worn such a thing before," said Stewart to me afterwards, "and I didn't like it; but I thought, never mind what I like--I want to get the people's ears--so I put it on." I will only add that to this day there are people who were in that church that morning, and received a message from God into their hearts then and there.

Of course one object before him in all his sermons and speeches was to set forth the Lord's claim upon His people for their personal service. Missionary meetings, he thought, should produce missionaries. Some of the Australasian men and women who have gone out lately into the mission field were the direct fruit of his addresses. His very first sermon, on the evening of the very day we landed at Melbourne, elicited the offer of those two dear sisters Saunders who afterwards joined him in China and laid down their lives with him. In England and Ireland, also, as many readers of this book know, he and Mrs. Stewart were especially used to call forth offers of service, and it was mainly through their influence that the noble band of women went to Fuh-kien in connection with the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society. Mrs. Stewart, indeed, was even more powerful as a speaker than her husband. I have been with her at a drawing-room meeting, appointed to speak after her, and when she sat down, I have felt that any other address would only mar the effect of her loving, moving, burning words; and I have risen and simply said, "I will not add a syllable; let us pray over what we have heard."

Robert Stewart firmly believed that when the Lord Christ told His people to go into all the world, and to every creature, He meant what He said. Why should dangers or trials be considered? African mangrove-swamps might be deadly--Chinese mobs might be merciless; but how could such things affect our plain duty? Often did we talk of these matters; and often did he say, "One can only die once: what does it signify when or where? Let us do what God tells us, and let Him do what seemeth Him good." He was the very man to die at his post; and at his post he died. And Mrs. Stewart felt precisely the same. No one, after hearing one of her speeches, would have dared to put personal safety as the chief object of concern. As to the children, they were dedicated to China; and the more they saw of China in their earlier years the better--so, at least, felt their parents. Robert and Louisa Stewart were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in death they were not divided.

The deep feeling aroused in Australia by the massacre is a significant token of the blessed influence that Stewart had exercised there. Melbourne, indeed, might naturally think especially of its own missionaries, Nellie and "Topsy" Saunders; but Sydney scarcely knew them, and yet from Sydney came the most touching expressions of love, and grief, and holy resolve to follow in the steps of Robert Stewart: memorial services in almost all the numerous churches, and in the cathedral; leading clergymen of a very different school from Stewart preaching sermons full of appreciation of him and his work; the dear honoured old Dean, in his eighty-eighth year, presiding over a crowded prayer-meeting three days after the news came, and bursting into tears as he gave out the opening hymn, "When I survey the wondrous cross." The letters I have received from men and women, young and old, who could not refrain from pouring out their hearts to Stewart's colleagues, are too personal to be quoted, but they all breathe the same spirit--not mere human sorrow, but sorrow mingled with joy, and with the strong' expectation of rich blessing for Australia, and China, and the world, from those precious deaths. At Melbourne also there was a crowded special memorial service in the cathedral, Bishop Gre preaching most impressively; and although of course the world cavilled (as it did also at Sydney) at the wickedness of sending women to such a fate, the faith of the children of God was marvellously strengthened by the grace that shone forth from the bereaved widowed mother, Mrs. Saunders. If she had two more daughters, she told an "interviewing "press man, they should go for Christ to China; and she herself, writes Mrs. Macartney, would fain go to Ku-cheng and seek to win for her Lord some of the murderers, and their children.

So the Lord is going to do as He always does, bring Life out of Death. Allen Gardiner's death by starvation was the beginning of life for the Fuegians; Livingstone's death in the heart of Africa brought light into the Dark Continent; Hannington, murdered on the threshold of Uganda, purchased, as he said, the road thither with his life; and God will make the Ku-cheng massacre an event to look back upon in eternity as the starting-point of a glorious ingathering of souls. There is a triumph indeed in store for those who can say, "Nothing too precious for Jesus." "I believe," writes the father of Elsie Marshall, one of the dear Stewarts' companions in suffering, "that I shall see that glorious harvest in China that is to spring up from those precious buried grains that hold, in God's mysterious purpose, the germs of eternal life; and I know I shall rejoice in that day that God allowed me to call one of those grains mine."

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