On March 19, 1813, a hero was born in Blantyre, central Scotland. It was an
age of great missionary activity, and the literal fulfilment of the spirit
of the great commission had led Carey, Judson, Moffat, and scores of others
to give their lives to the promulgation of the gospel of the kingdom of God
in heathen lands. A dozen missionary societies were then in their youth.
Interest in travel and exploration was at its height, and the attention of
adventurers centered in the Dark Continent, the last of the great unknown
regions of the world to be explored. Into the kingdom for such a time, and
to do a divinely appointed work, came David Livingstone.
His home was a humble cottage. A rugged constitution came to him as a
birthright, for his parents were of sturdy peasant stock. They served God
devoutly, and though poor in this world's goods, were honest and
industrious, being able to teach their children lessons in economy and
thrift which proved of lifelong help to them.
David was a merry, brown-eyed lad, and a general favorite. Perseverance
seemed bred in his very bone. When only nine years old, he received from
his Sunday-school teacher a copy of the New Testament as a reward for
repeating the one hundred nineteenth psalm on two successive evenings with
only five errors. The following year, at the age of ten, he went to work in
the cotton factory near his home, as a "piecer." Out of his first week's
wages he saved enough to purchase a Latin grammar, and set himself
resolutely to the task of thoroughly mastering its contents, studying for
the most part alone after leaving his work at eight o'clock in the evening.
His biographer tells us that he often continued his studies until after
midnight, returning to work in the factory at six in the morning.
Livingstone was not brighter than other boys, nor precocious in anything
save determination. He was very fond of reading, and devised the plan of
fastening a book on his spinning-jenny in the factory so that he could
catch a sentence now and then while tending the machines. In this way he
familiarized himself with many of the classics.
His aptitude for scientific pursuits early revealed itself, and he had a
perfect passion for exploration. When only a boy, he usually chose to spend
his holidays scouring the country for botanical, geological, and zoological
In his twentieth year the embryo missionary and explorer was led to accept
Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour. Out of the fulness of peace, joy, and
satisfaction which filled his heart, he wrote, "It is my desire to show my
attachment to the cause of him who died for me by devoting my life to his
service." The reading of an appeal by Mr. Gutzlaff to the churches of
Britain and America in behalf of China brought to the young student's
attention the need of qualified missionaries, and led him to dedicate his
own life as well as all that he possessed to foreign service.
As a surgeon carefully selects the instruments with which he works, so it
is ever with the divine Physician; and though Livingstone was anxious to
enter his chosen field, providence led him to tarry for a little while in
preparation. During this time of waiting he put into practise the motto
which in later life he gave to the pupils in a Sunday-school, "Trust God
and work hard." Having set his face toward China, he had no notion of
turning back in the face of difficulties, and finally, after four years of
untiring effort, he earned in 1840 a medical diploma, thus equipping
himself with a training indispensable for one whose life was to be hidden
for years in the fever jungles of Africa. He wrote, "With unfeigned delight
I became a member of a profession which with unwearied energy pursues from
age to age its endeavors to lessen human woe."
Livingstone also secured the necessary theological training, and was duly
accepted by the London Missionary Society as a candidate for China. But the
breaking out of the Opium war effectually closed the doors of that field.
Just at this time came his providential acquaintance with Robert Moffat.
The missionary was home on a furlough, and at a meeting which the young
physician attended, stated that sometimes he had seen in the morning
sunlight the smoke of a thousand villages in the Dark Continent where no
missionary had ever been to tell the sweet old story of redeeming love.
This message came to Livingstone as a Macedonian cry, and he willingly
answered, "Here am I; send me." The purpose once formed, he never swerved
The change of fields caused some alteration in his plans, and he remained
for a time in England, further preparing for his mission with scrupulous
care. On Nov. 17, 1840, Dr. Livingstone spent the last evening with his
loved ones in the humble Blantyre home, going at once to London, where he
was ordained as a missionary. He sailed for the Cape of Good Hope on the
eighth of December.
Arrived in Africa, the new recruit immediately turned his steps toward the
interior, where there were real things to do. After a brief stop at
Kuruman, the home of the Moffats, he spent six months alone among the
Bakwains, acquainting himself with their language, laws, and customs. In
that time he gained not only these points, but the good will and affection
of the natives as well. His door of opportunity had opened, and from the
Bakwains he pressed farther north, until, within the first three years of
his service in the Dark Continent, he was giving the gospel to heathen far
beyond any point before visited by white men.
Both Livingstone and his wife learned early the secret of power that comes
from living with the heathen, rather than merely living among them. He
possessed a certain indefinable power of discipline over the native mind,
which made for orderly, thorough, and effective service. The natives knew
him for their friend as well as their teacher. Under his loving care,
heathen chiefs became Christian leaders of their own people; Christian
customs replaced heathen practises; and peace settled down where trouble
had been rife.
Leaving his well-established work among the Namangwato, the Bakaa, the
Makalaka, and the Bechuana tribes to be carried on by trained native
helpers, this fearless man pressed on?always toward the dark interior.
When his course was criticized, he wrote, "I will go anywhere, provided it
be forward," and "forward" he went.
Livingstone's mind was one of that broad character which at the outset
grasps the whole of a problem, and to those who have followed his later
course it is clear why he saw no duty in settling down on one fixed spot to
teach and preach in a slavery-harrowed land. He knew that, first, there
must be a mighty clearing out of this evil. As for his own intent, he said,
"Cannot the love of Christ carry the missionary where the slave-trade
carries the trader?" And so, right through to the west coast he marched,
carrying and diffusing everywhere a knowledge of the redeeming Christ, and
illustrating by his own kindly life and words and deeds the loving mercies
of the Lord.
The physician and the scientist, the minister and the reformer, were all
combined in this one purposeful man. The people believed him to be a
wizard, and even credited him with power to raise the dead. Heathen, sick
and curious, crowded about his wagon, but not an article was stolen. One
day the chief of a savage tribe said: "I wish you would change my heart.
Give me medicine to change it; for it is proud, proud and angry, angry
Livingstone left on record in his journals invaluable data of rivers,
lakes, and streams, treacherous bogs, and boiling fountains, plants,
animals, seasons, products, and tribes, together with the most accurate
Near the mighty but then unknown Zambesi, Livingstone found the Makololo
people, a tribe from which came his most devoted native helpers. When he
left them to journey toward the west coast, as many men as he needed
willingly agreed to accompany him. After a terrible journey of seven
months, involving imminent starvation and endless exposure, the party at
last reached their destination, St. Paul de Loanda, a Portuguese
Full as this journey was of incident, one of the most impressive things
about it all was the horrors of the slave-trade, which came home to the
missionary with heart-rending directness. "Every day he saw families torn
asunder, dead bodies along the way, gangs chained and yoked, skeletons
grinning against the trees by the roadside. As he rowed along on the
beautiful river Shire, the paddles of his boat were clogged in the morning
with the bodies of women and children who had died during the night, and
were thus disposed of by their masters." And when he was sure that the
wretched system was entrenched from the center of the continent to the
coast, is it any wonder that he determined to make the exposure of this
gigantic iniquity his principal work until "the open sore of the world"
should be healed?
The slave-raiders were Livingstone's bitter enemies, and did everything
possible to hinder his work. Just a story:?
Into a quiet little village on the shores of Lake Nyassa came some
strangers one beautiful afternoon. The king sent to inquire as to their
business. "We are Livingstone's children," they said. "Our master has found
a road to the coast, and sent us back for his supplies. The day is late; we
wish to spend the night in your village." "The white master is our friend,"
said the king, and he commanded his men to prepare the best huts for
Livingstone's children. Some of the servants left at once to carry out the
king's command, and soon the visitors were comfortably settled. The people
flocked to their huts, bringing many gifts, and lingered about until the
day was ended.
Late that night, when all the village was asleep, suddenly there was a
piercing scream, then another, and another. The people rushed from their
huts; for many of their homes were on fire. The white men, who called
themselves Livingstone's children, were seizing women and children, and
binding them with strong cords of leather. Around the necks of the men they
fastened great Y-shaped sticks, riveting the forked ends together with
iron. "We have been deceived," cried the natives. "The visitors were not
Livingstone's children. They were slave-raiders. O! why did we ever trust
them? If the white master were here, he would save us. He never takes
In the gray light of the morning, leaving their village a heap of
smoldering ruins, the sad procession was marched off, heavily guarded. For
two days their merciless captors drove them under the hot tropical sun
without food or water. Late the second afternoon, they suddenly came upon a
camp, at a sharp bend of the road, and there, in plain view, stood Dr.
Livingstone. Every slave-driver took to his heels and disappeared in the
thickets. They had all respect for that one white man. They knew he was in
Africa to stop the slave-trade. The whole procession of slaves fell on
their knees in thanksgiving, rejoicing in this unexpected deliverance, and
were soon returning to their own country.
Do you wonder that the poor heathen loved the missionary? He never once
betrayed their confidence. Almost immediately after reaching the Portuguese
settlement on the coast, he was prostrated with a very severe illness. An
English ship in the harbor was about to sail. In his great weakness,
Livingstone longed for the bracing air of the Scottish highlands, and a
sight of his beloved wife and children in the home land. But he prepared
his reports, charts, and observations, put them aboard the ship, and, after
watching it set sail, made ready to march back into the interior. Why did
he not go home??There was just one reason. He had promised his native
helpers that if they would journey with him to the coast, he would see them
back safely to their homes, and "his word to the black men of Africa was
just as sacred as it would have been if pledged to the queen. He kept it as
faithfully as an oath made to Almighty God. It involved a journey of nearly
two years in length, a line of march two thousand miles long, through
jungles, swamps, and desert, through scenes of surpassing beauty." But the
result was worth the cost; for two years later, when he came out on the
east coast at Quilimane, "he was the best known, best loved, and most
perfectly trusted man in Africa."
Many times through all these wanderings he was in danger. Once, during his
early explorations, he had an adventure with a lion, which nearly cost his
life. He says of it in a letter: "The beast rushed from the bushes and bit
me on the arm, breaking the bone. I hope I shall never forget God's mercy.
It will be well before this reaches you. Do not mention it to any one. I do
not like to be talked about." He never voluntarily referred to it; but "for
thirty years thereafter, all adventures and exposures and hardships were
undertaken with an arm so maimed that it was painful to raise a
fowling-piece to his shoulder." After his death, the body was identified by
that scar and the compound fracture made by the lion's teeth.
Livingstone's visits to the home land were brief, and each day was filled
to the brim with interviews, lectures, and literary work. He returned to
Africa for the third and last time in 1866, ascended the Rovuma, and for
three years was lost to the outside world. During this time he visited
lakes Meroe and Tanganyika, preaching the gospel to thousands and tens of
thousands waiting in heathen darkness.
In 1871 his strength utterly gave way, and on October 23, reduced to a
living skeleton, he reached Ujiji, after a perilous journey of six hundred
miles taken expressly to secure supplies. He was bitterly disappointed to
find that the rascal to whom the delivery of the goods had been charged had
disposed of the whole lot. For eighty days he was obliged to keep his bed,
and during this time he read his Bible through four times. On the fly-leaf
he wrote: "No letters for three years. I have a sore longing to finish and
go home, if God wills." Relief, letters, and supplies had all been sent
him, but he never received them. Many of the letters which he wrote never
even reached the coast, as the Portuguese destroyed them whenever possible.
During all this time England?and, in fact, the world?waited with intense
anxiety for news of the hero. A report came that he was dead. Then a relief
expedition brought back the word that Livingstone was alive, and in Africa,
but that they had not been able to find him.
Just at this crucial moment Henry M. Stanley was sent out by James Gordon
Bennett, of the New York Herald, with the order: "Take what money you
want, but find Livingstone. You can act according to your own plans in your
search, but whatever you do, find Livingstone?dead or alive." Stanley
went. For eleven months he endured incredible hardships, but his expedition
pressed forward into the interior. One day a caravan passed and reported
that a white man had just reached Ujiji. "Was he young or old?" questioned
Stanley anxiously. "He is old; he has white hair on his face; he is sick,"
replied the natives. As the searching party neared the village, flags were
unfurled, and a salute fired from the guns. They were answered by shouts
from hundreds of Africans. Stanley was greeted by Susi, Livingstone's
servant, and soon stood face to face with the great missionary-explorer. He
had found Livingstone.
The brief visit which they enjoyed meant much to both men. In vain did
Stanley plead with the doctor to go home with him. The old explorer's heart
was resolute, and he set his face as a flint. He did not feel that his work
was done. At length the newspaper man and his company started eastward.
Livingstone went some distance with them, and then, a broken old man, "clad
in faded gray clothes," with bowed head and slow step, returned to his
chosen solitude. Five months later the relief party reached Zanzibar, and
news of Livingstone's safety and whereabouts was flashed to all parts of
As the explorer again took up his weary way, physically weak and in
constant pain, the buoyant spirit rose above hardship, and Scotch pluck
smiled at impossibilities. He wrote in his diary: "Nothing earthly will
make me give up my work in despair. I encourage myself in the Lord my God,
and go forward." Weary months followed, filled with travel, toil, and
physical suffering. The last of April, 1873, a year after Stanley left him,
he reached the village of Ilala, at the southern end of Lake Bangweolo. He
was so ill that his attendants were obliged to carry him as they journeyed,
but the heroic spirit was still struggling to finish a work which would
make possible the evangelization of the Dark Continent.
While the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak indeed, and on the morning
of the first of May, his faithful servants found him kneeling at the
bedside, with his head buried in his hands upon the pillow. "He had passed
away without a single attendant, on the farthest of all his journeys. But
he had died in the act of prayer?prayer offered in that reverential
attitude about which he was always so particular; commending his own
spirit, with all his dear ones, as was his wont, into the hands of his
Saviour; and commending Africa, his own dear Africa, with all her woes and
sins and wrongs, to the Avenger of the oppressed and the Redeemer of the