The name of this noted Aberdeen minister has been almost totally forgotten. Almost no one now would pay attention to his Outlines of Discourses were it not for the writer of the prefatory note: George Smeaton, the godly nineteenth-century Free Church professor and author. But the volume indeed turns out to be, as Smeatons recommendation indicates, calculated “to lead many minds to clearer views of that Redeemer whom it was the authors delight to exalt”.
Stewart was born in Glasgow in 1813. “He gave early indications of the fear of God having been put into his heart,” we are told, “by tenderness of conscience and love of truth, often showing childlike ingenuity in his plans of avoiding what appeared to him sinful, so that hopes never ceased to be cherished that he was a chosen vessel unto the Lord for His service in the gospel.” In his early days he sat under the preaching of the noted John Love of Anderston. In due course, he studied for the ministry and was ordained to Wallacetown, Ayr, in 1838. Throughout the rest of his life he proved to be indeed “a chosen vessel unto the Lord”. What follows has been extracted from the memoir prefixed to the Outlines of Discourses.
On the morning of his ordination he writes: “My prayer is that the sign of the laying on of the hands of the presbytery may be accompanied by the thing signified, that there may be a communication of those gifts and graces from above which will fit me for the devoted and successful performance of the arduous and awfully-responsible duties of the pastoral office. If I know my own feelings, it is my wish, to make a hearty surrender this day of time, talents, strength and all that I am and have, to the service of Christ in the gospel and a most miserable offering it is. . . . Pray that I, having made this offering, may never feel an inclination to withdraw it, but that, through the sufficient grace of the Spirit, I may persevere unto the end.”
“Wallacetown, 22 October 1838. I felt anxious while I was with you about my Sabbaths work. When I got here I was not in a state to do anything but, committing myself to the guidance and help of the Chief Shepherd, I was enabled to go through the work of the day with comfort. Indeed I find that, in preaching, more depends upon the heart than I had supposed. I still continue to have large congregations, but the meeting in which I feel peculiar interest is that which I am keeping up for Mr Duncan [his missionary]. Last Sabbath the place was crowded to excess, and a great many besides standing around the door. These were almost exclusively wretched, ill-clad creatures who never go to any church. Some of them perhaps never heard the offer of salvation before, and some of them Roman Catholics. . . . I find that the best state of mind in which to address them is one of deep anxiety for their perishing souls, and a prayerful looking up to Christ, both for a message to them and a blessing upon them. I hope and pray that some work may be done in these poor, miserable, careless and perishing creatures.
“You are aware that next Sabbath is our preparation Sabbath, and that the sacrament of the Lords Supper is to be observed on the Sabbath following. I ought to feel the deep importance of the circumstances in which I am placed. May God give you all a spirit of prayer on my behalf, and answer your prayers by making His Spirit and Word powerful amongst this people. I have large and attentive audiences, and feel a growing interest in this place, and a growing attachment to the people. May the Lord, by His Spirit, make me faithful in preaching to them the gospel of the grace of God, and in knowing nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
“Wallacetown, 1839. I am still labouring in the cultivation of this field. I have large, often crowded, congregations, but how great is the danger lest outward success should be a covering to inward and real unproductiveness lest the strength of the tree should be put forth only in abundance of wood and leaves. I should feel sorry indeed to think of bringing so many people together without ministering to their real edification of taking them away from those who might be supplying them with bread, in order to give them a stone. It is my anxious and constant endeavour to apprehend the mind of the Spirit as it is revealed in the inspired Word, and to present it with as much clearness and simplicity as possible. May the Divine Sanctifier use it as His own instrument in enlightening the understanding, in awakening the conscience, and in purifying the heart.
“How strong are the motives which prompt to the discharge of the ministerial duty! Surely there must be a woeful deadness and insensibility when they are not felt and yielded to. It is only when the awful importance of the work of preaching the gospel is realised, that anyone is in a state of mind which can fit him for it. It is only when the gospel and its Author are valued and reverenced, and when the inestimable preciousness of a soul is kept in mind, that there can be that true earnestness that heartiness, importunity and fervour which rule and influence the heart.
“I see more and more the necessity for a ministers being what is called in Scripture a man of God. If he be not, his views and feelings and tastes have no real consistency with the employment in which he is engaged. He must feel it to be irksome and repulsive; he cannot fulfil its ends, for he does not value them; he cannot be influenced by its motives, for they address themselves to the heart that is occupied by divine grace. Believers ought therefore, in their supplications for the ministers of the gospel, to seek the advancement of their personal godliness as one of the main qualifications for either understanding or teaching or applying the gospel. But, indeed, personal and decided piety is the only proper qualification for the successful and divinely-acceptable discharge of the duties of any situation.”
He again writes: “It is no easy matter to be put in trust with the gospel of Christ, and to divide to each hearer his portion. There is no class of men for whom believers should be more induced to pray, from considerations both of self-interest and sympathy, than ministers of the gospel. The words of the Apostle Paul, Brethren pray for us, are to be regarded in the light of both an urgent and pressing request, and of a divine and authoritative command which has come down in its binding force to all ages and to all Christians. I should feel very much strengthened and encouraged if, on the morning of each Sabbath, I knew that many were pleading for the felt presence and power of the Holy Spirit among us.”