“The Highest Will Lead Me Further”: The Life and Legacy of David Livingstone

Parting from His Family

  Livingstone very reluctantly accepted that he would have to send his family back to England for their health’s sake.  So they returned to the Cape Colony, where Mary and their young children (now including a new baby) sailed for England.  David sadly headed back into the interior, alone, in April 1852, at the age of 40.  The parting from his family for the sake of his work in Africa would always weigh heavily on him, and  meant a life of great loneliness.  But it was a sacrifice he knew he had to make.  In a letter he wrote: “The act of orphanizing my children… will be like tearing out my bowels, for they will all forget me.  But I feel it is a duty to Him who did much more for us than that…. Forbid it, that we should ever consider holding a commission from the King of kings a sacrifice.”  And he wrote to Mary herself: “My Dearest Mary, how I miss you now, and the dear children!  My heart yearns incessantly over you.  How many thoughts of the past crowd into my mind!…. You have been a great blessing to me.  You attended to my comfort in many many ways.  May God bless you for all your kindnesses!  I see no face now to be compared with that sunburnt one which has so often greeted me with its kind looks.  Let us do our duty to our Saviour, and we shall meet again…. I loved you when I married you, and the longer I lived with you, I loved you the better….Let us do our duty to Christ, and He will bring us through the world with honour and usefulness.  He is our refuge and high tower; let us trust in Him at all times, and in all circumstances.  Love Him more and more, and diffuse His love among the children.  Take them all round you, and kiss them for me.  Tell them I have left them for the love of Jesus, and that they must love Him too, and to avoid sin, for that displeases Jesus.”


The Livingstone family

  The Lord Jesus said in Matt. 10:37,38: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and foloweth after me, is not worthy of me.”  David Livingstone fulfilled these words.  He was criticised for sending his family back to England, and for his long separations from them.  And he was also criticised for taking his family with him on his first missionary journey!  It just goes to show the truth of the saying that one cannot please all people all the time.  Some will find fault no matter what one does.  But the truth is that he dearly loved his family; he just loved the Saviour more, as all Christians are called to do.

  He had now spent 11 years in Africa.  What had he accomplished so far?  “He had penetrated further north from the Cape than any other white man.  He had discovered Lake Ngami and the upper reaches of the Zambezi River.  He had given Christianity a foothold among the Bakwains and the Makololo.  He had been used by God to help convert one of the most remarkable chiefs in Central Africa.  He had built three houses with his own hands and had taught many hundreds to read.  He had exercised the healing art to the relief and benefit of thousands.  He had made some progress in reducing Sechuana to a grammatical language and had even composed hymns in it.  He had made invaluable scientific research and had enriched our knowledge of the flora and fauna of Central Africa.  Finally, he had seen at first hand the horrors of the slave traffic, and had vowed himself to the ultimate destruction of this form of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’  Eleven busy, arduous, and perilous years had brought him to mid-life.  He was now about to dedicate all his ripe experience and unique powers of head and heart to the cause of establishing Christ’s Kingdom in the hearts of those living in the dark interior of the continent to which he had consecrated his life.”[4]

Boers Destroy His Possessions

  Livingstone made enemies.  Any man living such an uncompromising life would do so, but it is sad to report that some of his enemies were Boers.  The Boers, later known as Afrikaners, were the descendants of the first Europeans (the Dutch) to settle in South Africa, and they had migrated to this part of the country to escape British rule.  Some of them became raiders and pillagers, viewing the blacks as inferior beings and enslaving those they captured.  They hated Livingstone because of his opposition to slavery.  Still, it is utterly wrong and a gross injustice to tarnish the entire Afrikaner nation with the same brush, as is so popular today in South Africa (and indeed the world) now that a black Marxist government is in charge, and Livingstone himself did not do so.  He made a distinction between the Boer raiders and the majority of the Boer nation, of whom he wrote: “the Boers generally… are a sober, industrious, and most hospitable body of peasantry.”

  During his absence the Boer raiders had destroyed his house, papers and books, stolen his medicines, and killed some 60 of Sechele’s people.  It was a terrible thing and grieved him greatly.  But even in the midst of this great loss, to lighten the sadness he felt, he wrote: “We shall move more easily now that we are lightened of our furniture.  They have taken away our sofa.  I never had a good rest on it.  We had only got it ready when we left.  Well, they can’t have taken away all the stones.  We shall have a seat in spite of them, and that, too, with a merry heart which doeth good like a medicine.”  And: “the Boers have saved me the trouble of making a will.”

  His attitude to personal possessions was one of utter surrender of all to the will of God: “I will place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the Kingdom of Christ.  If anything will advance the interests of that Kingdom, it shall be given away or kept only in reference to whether giving or keeping will most promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes in time and eternity…. I will try and remember always to approach God in secret with as much reverence in speech, posture and behaviour as in public.”  How modern Christians could learn from him!

Though Every Prospect Pleases, and Only Man is Vile

  He decided to go north again, to the Makololo tribe.  The journey had its own thrills, including the crossing of the flooded Chobe River, during which a hippo almost overturned his raft by surfacing beneath it.  Chief Sebituane was dead and his son Sekeletu was now chief.  He made Livingstone welcome at the Makololo capital, Linyanti.  There, despite suffering from malaria, he continued his explorations, travelling further up the Zambesi.  He revelled in the natural beauty all around him and wrote: “The sciences exhibit such wonderful intelligence and design in all their various ramifications, some time ought to be devoted to them before engaging in missionary work…. We may feel that we are leaning on His bosom while living in a world clothed in beauty, and robed with the glorious perfection of its Maker and Preserver…. He who stays his mind on his ever-present, ever-energetic God, will not fret himself because of evildoers.  He that believeth shall not make haste.”

  But ever present were the horrors of slavery and of inter-tribal warfare, which were a constant grief and trial to him.  In beautiful tropical Africa he saw the truth expressed in Reginald Heber’s great missionary hymn:

From Greenland’s icy mountains,
What though the spicy breezes

From India’s coral strand,
Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;

Where Afric’s sunny fountains
Though every prospect pleases

Roll down their golden sand,
And only man is vile?

From many an ancient river,
In vain with lavish kindness

From many a palmy plain,
The gifts of God are strown;

They call us to deliver
The heathen in his blindness

Their land from error’s chain.
Bows down to wood and stone.

Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile. Livingstone, in the midst of all Africa’s pleasing beauty, saw vile heathenism in all its raw ugliness, and – unlike the blind, foolish advocates of the interfaith movement today who tell us that there are many ways to God, not to mention the anthropologists who criticise missionary work among the heathen as “destroying their traditional, harmonious way of life” – he remained always revolted by it, and utterly convinced of the need for the Gospel to be proclaimed with power among the heathen: “the more intimately I became acquainted with barbarians, the more disgusting does heathenism become.  It is inconceivably vile…. They need a healer.  May God enable me to be such to them.”

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