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Robert and Louisa Stewart: In Life and in Death

By Mary E. Watson

London: Marshall Brothers, 1895.

Chapter VIII. Hands Clasped

Hold Thou my hand! so weak I am and helpless,
I dare not take one step without Thy aid;
Hold Thou my hand! for then, O loving Saviour,
No dread of ill shall make my soul afraid.

Hold Thou my hand! and closer, closer draw me
To Thy dear self--my hope, my joy, my all;
Hold Thou my hand, lest haply I should wander;
And, missing Thee, my trembling feet should fall.

Hold Thou my hand! the way is dark before me
Without the sunlight of Thy face divine;
But when by faith I catch its radiant glory,
What heights of joy, what rapturous songs are mine!

Hold Thou my hand! that when I reach the margin
Of that lone river Thou didst cross for me,
A heavenly light may flash along its waters,
And every wave like crystal bright shall be.

IT seemed touching to receive letters from them in September, written in July when they were so peacefully resting in their mountain retreat from the heat of the plains.

Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, with five children, and Lena, the nurse (whose history forms the last chapter of this book); Miss Nellie and Miss Maud Saunders (called Topsy for a pet name) staying with them, occupying what last year was the nursery, a new nursery having been added to the cottage this year, "made of clay which had hardened in the sun."

These dear girls, Nellie and Topsy Saunders, were quite young, not much over twenty years of age either of them.

Mr. Eugene Stock writes in the Gleaner of September, 1895:--

"Of my dear young friends, Harriette Elinor Saunders (Nellie), and Elizabeth Maud Saunders (Topsy), I must speak personally. They were the firstfruits of our Australian visit.

"They had given themselves wholly to the Lord for His service during Mr. George Grubb's mission some months before, and on the very evening of our landing, Sunday, April 24, 1892, they responded to Mr. Stewart's first sermon by an enquiry about going to China. They were the two children of a widowed mother, and the plan was that all three should go together. . . . They proposed to go as honorary missionaries. . . . Financial failures took away almost all their property, and when the Victoria Association (of the C.M.S.) proposed to send all three out upon its funds, the dear mother said her girls should go, but she would stop until she could realize what was left, and then follow at her own charges.

"But the two years that have since elapsed have not brought the necessary means to her; and now--!"

Some weeks passed by, and in a private letter Mr. Stock again mentions Mrs. Saunders.

"I have heard from Australia. All Melbourne went into mourning; services were held in the churches. Mrs. Saunders is triumphant."

If she did not "realize" the money she expected, she realized in the hour of need what strong consolation God is to them who put their trust in Him.

When we read the words, "Mrs. Saunders is triumphant," how we praise God--her God and our God!

There is no separation to those who dwell in God; and so we in this hemisphere clasped her hand in that hemisphere; and though the natural mother's heart in Nellie and Topsy Saunders' mother, and in Louisa Stewart's mother, must have been pierced, yet together their voices ascended in praise to Him who doeth all things well.

No murmuring spoiled the melody, no useless regrets dimmed the glory of the martyr's crown.

Annie Gordon too was among the firstfruits of Australia unto God, willingly obeying the call to a missionary's life.

Elsie Marshall and Lucy Stewart had gone from happy English homes; both, I think, had heard the call to China through Mr. Stewart's preaching.

Last, but not least, of this "noble army of martyrs," comes dear Hessie Newcombe.

She and her elder sister were the pioneer missionaries in this woman's work for women in China.

Slight and delicate-looking, she endured hardship as a good servant of Jesus Christ. She really "took pleasure "in what, naturally speaking, would have been great trials.

Many entries in her journal show how lightly she esteemed her own discomfort.

When travelling with a native Bible-woman, herself in Chinese dress, sleeping sometimes in a temple, sometimes in an inn, one night she did not get continuous sleep. The rats running over her face woke her up, but she soon went to sleep again.

Robert Stewart has more than once said of her and her sister missionaries:

"You could not find more devoted and successful missionaries, I feel sure, anywhere." And he was not a man who spoke carelessly or at random. He meant what he said.

Words are poor and cold, when we try to tell of such lives, truly lived in the secret place of the Most High.

From personal acquaintanceship with dear Hessie I can say, she lived the Christ-life. He lived in her, He filled her being, He looked through her eyes, He spoke in and through her. Not only in China has she been used of God, but in her own native Ireland many rise up and call her blessed. In England her life and words have left a sweet savour of Christ wherever she has been.

Mrs. Stewart's letters tell of the two houses, and how Nellie and Topsy Saunders were under their own root, and next door those already mentioned, with Miss Codrington (the "Flora" of Miss Tolley's journal), the Elisha who remains to us (together with Mr. Stewart's three children) to carry on the work in the spirit of Elijah, or rather to show that the "Lord God of Elijah" is still on earth,--that He still dwells with "him who is of a contrite and humble spirit."

Rev. W. H. S. Phillips, a brother missionary and a brother beloved in the Lord, "sleeping in a house five minutes walk off, though spending most of the day with the Stewarts "(I quote from his own letter), also left behind, completes the list of this happy family ol missionaries. The mountains round Ku-cheng having become literally to some of them "the land of Beulah."

Mr. Stewart, writing to one of his relations not long before his last leave-taking, said: "It seems like a kind of dying, this going away; but lie holds our hands, and the hands of the loved ones we leave behind, and so it is all well.

"'God holds the key of all unknown, and I am glad:
If other hands should hold the key, or if He trusted it to me,
I might be sad.' "

"He holds our hands" is an allusion to the hymn at the beginning of this chapter, a great favourite with him.

He sang it with his children every morning at prayers that last summer he had them all round him for a bright, brief holiday in North Wales. But let no one think he went sadly. No, he (and she too) "loved "to be with the children, when that was "His sweet will"; and equally loved to go to China when His voice called them; the secret being this: they loved God, and knew He loved them, with a real, tender, sympathizing love; and so they knew His will could be nothing but good to them, their children, and every one concerned.

"Ill that He blesses is our good,
And unblest good is ill:
And all is right that seems most wrong,
If it be His sweet will."

I believe both Robert and Louisa Stewart had passed through real death--death to the self-life.

When God through the Spirit spoke those words in their inmost hearts, "Ye are dead," they believed God, and they passed through the experience described in Hebrews iv. 12, the dividing of soul and spirit--a very real death.

I remember how she spoke to me about this subject when I stayed with her in Bedford--too sacred to repeat even now.

"A sword shall pass through thine own soul also."

"My soul is even as a weaned child." "Knowing this, that our old man (self) was crucified with Him." These, and other precious words given by God, were passed on by her to me. She said she found trials were so different now to what they had been, because now there was no rebellion, no questioning. She had learned to count it all joy, when she fell into divers trials.

I remember how she said, her face all aglow, as it always was when she spoke of China, "I do not quite understand, but I believe our death means life to the Chinese."

I said, "Is not that what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, 'death worketh in us and life in you?'"

She said, with her accustomed humility, "I will ask God to teach me."

We knelt and prayed, asking for that teaching, or rather that Teacher, who is never asked for in vain. I remembered afterwards that she had pleaded this verse in prayer, asking that death in them bringing life to the Chinese might be made by God a practical experience in herself and her husband. He was then in Australia on a missionary tour with Mr. Stock.

After his return I was at Bedford again. One of the first things he said to me was, that while he was far away that verse had come to him with great power and new light; and he remarked, "It makes one love the thought of death, now that we know it means life to the Chinese."

Yes: "If it die," said the Master, "it bringeth forth much fruit."

Words spoken first of Himself, and then of every one of His true followers. True to-day. This "fruit," though possibly found "after many days," is certain; it cannot fail.

He passed through the experience first, He asks us to follow.

He knew that if we would wear the crown, we must take up the cross (death to the self-life) and follow Him.

"And" (rich reward) "where I am there shall also My servant be."

"Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?"

"Yea, Lord," we answer. And so we know our loved ones did not sec death. They entered into the life that is life indeed.

William Dell, preaching before Oliver Cromwell, said:--

"This crucified flesh only is able to endure the will of God and to suffer for His Name. For till the flesh be crucified with Christ, and killed by the Word, it will suffer nothing for God, but will by all possible means avoid the cross; but when it is truly crucified, it will endure the greatest evils that can be inflicted on it, either by men or devils, or by the Lord Himself, and that with much willingness and cheerfulness. . . . And as this crucified flesh will suffer anything for God, so it will suffer it aright . . . first, in obedience to God; . . . secondly, in meekness and patience as Christ; . . . and thirdly, in love, and that to the very persecutors, so as to pity them and pray for them. This is a glorious suffering indeed, and no flesh can suffer thus but this crucified flesh . . . As it is able to suffer all things, so also it is able to overcome all things . . . It is quickened with Christ to overcome all things. . . .

"That flesh which is crucified by the Word and the Spirit is thereby made superior to all things in that exaltation and might which the Word and Spirit communicate to it."

The following letters from Louisa Stewart, dated July 6 and July 19, 1895, both written from Hwasang, and received by us at Peel, the first on August 30, the second on September 6,--spoke to us of trust and peace and earthly quiet. They seemed to say to us too, "We are happier now than you can picture; the veil of the flesh has been manifestly rent, from top to bottom. Do you wish us back again?"

The description in the first of these letters of the walk up the hill, in the night, was used by God greatly to comfort Mrs. Stewart's mother.

At night, before she slept, yet not fully awake, came the words with heavenly sweetness, "He set His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem." And these thoughts came unbidden. "This was repeated in that walk to Hwasang. It was the Christ Himself who once more set His face as a flint to 'go up' to the place of suffering. He knew, though they did not, what lay before them. And knowing it all, He upheld them by the right hand of His righteousness, He held their right hands, as He had promised, and He guided them. He carried them to the cottage home at Hwa-sang.

"Once more He rejoiced in His Father's will, even though it meant suffering to His precious children, even as He had said, 'Not My will, but Thine be done,' when it meant for Him the cross and the grave."

One, to whom she told of the comfort "wherewith she had been comforted of God," gave her a copy of the following beautiful lines by Christina Rossetti:--

"Up Thy hill of sorrows,
Thou, all alone, Jesus, man's Redeemer,
Climbing to a throne.
Through the world triumphant,
Through the Church in pain,
Who think to look upon Thee
No more again.

Upon my hill of sorrows,
I, Lord, with Thee,
Cheered, upheld, yea carried,
If a need should be.
Cheered, upheld, yea, carried,
Never left alone,
Carried in Thy heart of hearts
To a throne."

Extract from Mrs. Stewart's letter, received by us August 30:--

"HWASANG, July 6.

"You will see by the heading of my letter that we are again established in our summer quarters. The children and Lena went up about a fortnight before we did, as the heat was very great at Kucheng, and we could not leave till the work closed for the summer.

"Monday, Topsy Saunders came from her country station. Tuesday we packed up, and in the afternoon she and I went to pay Dr. Gregory a visit. . . .

"Next day, Wednesday, we got up early to send off our loads before the sun got very hot, and we arranged that our chair-coolies should come for us after dinner, as we should then reach the mountains in the cool of the day. We had our dinner, and then the cook with the few remaining things started off, and we patiently waited for the coolies. No one appeared. We sent a man to inquire. The answer came back that they could not go that day, but would arrive at 'day dawn.' What was to be done? . . . We held a council of war, and decided to walk all the way, twelve miles. We could not start till the day began to cool, but as there was a moon it did not matter. The first part of our walk was very flat, and led along by the bed of the river, and just as it was getting dusk, we reached the foot of the mountain. . . . The moon soon rose, and we had quite light enough to see our way, and it was so beautifully cool and the mountain air so fresh we did not get very tired. The last piece is a very steep pull, and we sat down to rest before attempting it. We were met there by a man with a lantern, who had come from the house to meet us. We got in about ten o'clock and found the little girls still up watching for us. Hessie Newcombe and Lucy Stewart were also looking out for us, so we had a good welcome. . . .

"It has been rather wet since we came up, so we have not been able to go out much, but it is such a change from Kucheng; we can actually have a blanket on at night and enjoy it! We had a new room built on to the house this year, which is a great improvement. It makes a fine big nursery, and the former little nursery we have given to Nellie and Topsy Saunders, so we have a large family!

"In the Z.M.S. house next door we have Hessie Newcombe, Flora Codrington, Lucy Stewart; and two others are coming shortly, Elsie Marshall and Annie Gordon. We hope to have some good times together, specially during Keswick week." (Then come many interesting little details, stories of the children, etc.)

"This letter seems all family news: holiday time is not so good for writing about work. But one joyful thing I must tell you--Flora Codrington was able to carry on her Station Class, though we had to close ours when we went to Foochow, and as an experiment she taught four women to read in Roman character. She had them just three months and a fortnight, and when the time came for them to go all four could read quite well and find all their places in the New Testament quite quickly. We hope great things from these Station Classes now we find the women can learn in three months. We hope to have your house full again early in September, so please to remember to pray for the women."


"Hwasang, July 19.

"Your letter last mail told us that you had just heard of our flight into the city for fear of the Vegetarians. God is indeed good in keeping you free from anxiety. We had special prayer in the boat going down to Foochow, that God would keep all the dear ones at home 'in perfect peace,' and He did answer certainly.

"It was a most strange affair altogether, but it was really the Japanese coming south and threatening to bombard Foochow that gave the Vegetarians courage to threaten an attack on Kucheng. They are really rebels against their own Government, but they have small chance of doing any mischief except in times of trouble from an outside foe. The present Government is so hated by the people that there would certainly be a rebellion if there seemed any hope of success. God has wonderfully answered prayer, however, and restored peace, and already we see signs that God is going to bring good out of all the evil. In many places there is a greater spirit of enquiry than ever before, and some of the Christians say they have learned to trust in prayer as never before.

"We are feeling much the better for our change to this cool place--not one ill. Is not that cause for great thankfulness to God? . . It is such a pretty place too. We spend our days very quietly; we have to stay indoors till 5 o'clock, and we spend the time at lessons, reading aloud, writing letters, and looking after the children. From 5 o'clock to 7 o'clock all who are inclined go for a walk, and the sisters from the other house join us. Some days they go to the village and talk to the women, and twice a week come here for prayer and Bible-reading. Sunday Robert and I go to the village and have a sort of informal service for the heathen. Sometimes a good many come, sometimes only a few, but we find by experience that more come when there are not too many of us 'foreigners 'together. One old man seemed really interested. He has come several times, and last Sunday he turned to the rest of the congregation and said, 'Truly the words are good. They say our sins can be forgiven, and that the Saviour died for us, and will allow us to go to His home in Heaven.' He gave them a second edition of what we had been saying. We were very glad, for it showed us he had taken it all in himself.

"Linda Wade is spending the holidays at Kuliang, also Annie Tolley, Fanny Burroughs, and Maude Newcombe. The house here can only take in six, so they take it in turn to go to Kuliang.

"The two little boys are very well just now. Herbert is growing much stronger than he was; just at this moment they are together in a swing we had put up in the verandah. Evan sits in the middle of the seat and Herbert stands with one foot on each side of him, and works the swing up ever so high. They scream so loudly with delight that Lena has to rush out to hush them every now and then, to let baby sleep. Baby is looking better, and is growing very amusing."

Her last description of her Chinese life, quiet and happy, her ears filled with the laughter of her little boys, her heart full of love and longing for the heathen, and of care for the dear missionary sisters and for her own family!

The week after was their "Keswick week," given up more especially to praise and prayer, study of God's Word and exhorting one another.

Mr. Phillips' letter, written after all was over, tells a little of this quiet week, their "retreat "among the hills:

"It seemed as if God were specially preparing all for His own presence.

"The week before had been a specially helpful time, our 'Keswick week.' Every one seemed to get something from the Master Himself for mutual food.

"Dear Mr. Stewart was very full, and dear Mrs. Stewart gave us a wonderful Bible reading on 2 Chronicles xx.

"She was such a mother in the Mission; all who knew her thanked God for knowing her. I never heard a native say a word except of love and reverence, for her.

"On the day before the riot (Wednesday) we had a Bible-reading on the Transfiguration, little thinking that the immediate glory was so near for some.

"On the Thursday we were to have had a picnic to keep Herbie's birthday, and the poor little fellow could not sleep on Wednesday night for excitement."'

On Thursday morning early another letter tells us little Herbert went out with his sisters to gather flowers, and then came the end--no, not the end, the sudden entrance into glory, the beginning of life.

The assassins took the sheets from the beds to make banners. On one they wrote:--

"The Dragon will conquer the foreigners' GOD."

"'The Son of God goes forth to war' also, and we know He is Victor. To Him every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that He is Lord. Poor, blinded Vegetarians, followers, as they themselves confess, of the Dragon, fighting under his banner! 'The Dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not, neither was their presence found any more in heaven.'
" Stephen prayed for his murderers, a maddened crowd who stoned him, and for Saul, who was consenting unto his death.

"God answered that prayer in the case of Saul becoming the Apostle Paul.

"May there not be a Paul among these blinded, deluded, we believe devil-possessed men? These devils can come forth by nothing but prayer. Oh! that God's Holy Spirit may cause such a mighty, united prayer to go up to God for China, for the heathen, for these special haters of the 'foreigners' God,' that many may become obedient to the faith. With God all things are possible," Mr. Banister, another missionary, writes:--

"The only adult survivor of our party, Miss Cod-rington, there is hope of, though she has some very bad wounds.

"The blood of the martyrs has ever been the seed of the Church, and that mountain top has been consecrated by the outpoured blood of these beloved saints, that Kucheng and the whole of China may be saved. Quick and short for them was the way to glory and the eternal crown. Our hearts are torn with the agony of this bitter trial, but for them there is now the eternal joy and the eternal rest."

One of the "Sisters" writes:--

"Do pray much for China just now, and for Kucheng. It must, I fear, stop the work there for a time; but they loved it, and God loves it, and we do want to go back.

"To those of us who knew them well, their lives cannot but be an inspiration.

"On the way down a woman came to Miss Codring-ton and said, 'Don't think your work is over; we are all in tears for this thing that has happened.'

"Miss Codrington was taken to the Foochow Hospital to be tenderly nursed by the dear sisters who have addicted themselves to this ministry; along with the four remaining children, little Herbert having 'fallen asleep' on the journey. The baby soon followed. 'Safe in the arms of Jesus,' the sisters wrote on the little white coffin."

One of them says (what we should have known if she had not written it):--

"If love and kindness could have saved her, she would have lived."

Miss Codrington's nurse sent this beautiful message from her patient, too weak to write herself:--

"Though she received many wounds, she says she felt no pain, and she is sure the others did not; she felt only a thrill of joy to think they would all soon be in glory together."

And now my task is well-nigh over. The remaining chapters are mainly from other pens.

One word let me say to my readers. It you would follow these blessed martyrs, as they followed Christ, the steps are easy. Seek their Saviour. Admit His Holy Spirit to fill your being. Accept God's sentence of death upon all the self-life--upon what seems good, as well as upon what is manifestly bad; so that you may testify, as they did, both in life and death, "Not I, but Christ liveth in me."

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