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David Livingstone

"In the afternoon God was with me...Oh, it was blessed company indeed! God enabled me so to agonize in prayer that I was quite wet with sweat, though in the shade and a cool wind. My soul was drawn very much for the world; I grasped for multitudes of souls. I think I had more enlargement for sinners than for the children of God, though I felt as if I could spend my life in cries for both."  David Brainerd

"We are not as were the Apostles in the early time. We are cold and calculating. We are self-involved, and self-satisfied. We have lost the sacred ardour...Return, Oh Holy Dove, return! Show us what we are, what time it is, what earth is, how few our days are, how urgent is the Fathers business; and may we hasten upon it, as those whose only delight is in its discharge."  Joseph Parker

"But while you strive to deliver (the outcasts and the poor) from their temporal distress, and endeavor to rescue them...from their unfortunate condition...seek, above all...the salvation of their souls and...deliverance from the wrath to come. What good is it to bring them to well-being and then have them perish... get at the heart, to save his soul is the only real, lasting method of doing him any good."  William Booth

"He who is wise, wins souls."  King Solomon

"Therefore pray, the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."  Jesus the Christ

"May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering."  Cry of the Moravian Missionaries

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume."  Henry M. Stanley

About the time David Livingstone was born in 1813, Christian missionary organizations were springing up throughout the world. Sparked by the missionary zeal of the Moravian Brotherhood, Christian denominations were hurrying to catch up with what God was doing in evangelizing the heathen. The Moravian missionaries went, to borrow a phrase from a popular television series, where no man had ever gone before, to spread the gospel. He didn't know it yet but David Livingstone was going to take that phrase to another level.

Livingstone was born at a time of excitement and change. A time filled with political unrest, it was the dawn of modern missions, and exploration was at its height. Henry C. Howard writes of the early life of Livingstone:

"Out of the Scottish Highlands there came a lad who through the high and heroic endeavor of his life has moved the world to a deeper devotion to Christ and stirred it to an intenser zeal for the cause of Christian missions."

He was born to "poor and pious parents" and at the age of ten he was put to work in the cotton mills. The hard times at the mills were never regretted by Livingstone. It prepared him for what lay ahead. As a child he often thought about religion but it wasn't until he was twenty that he saw, "the duty and the inestimable privilege immediately to accept salvation by Christ." One of Livingstone's attributes was that he was a man of decision. When his mind was set on doing a particular thing, it was not a half-way endeavor. On his conversion he stated:

I will place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in its relation to the Kingdom of Christ. If anything I have will advance the interests of that Kingdom, it shall be given up or kept, as by keeping or giving it I shall most promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes, both time and eternity. May grace be given me to adhere to this!"

Immediately after his conversion he joined the missionary society in his home town. That was where he met such men from the mission field as Henry Martyn, Carl Gutzlaff and Robert Moffat. It was Moffat that told him that while on the mission field he had "sometimes seen in the morning sun the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary had ever been." He had not yet thought of becoming a missionary himself; but had resolved to give to the support of missions all he could earn above his necessary subsistence. With his heart on the Lord, Livingstone thought the best way to help man-kind was to save souls and help in healing the sick. When he received his medical diploma he was delighted:

"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."

Before he could establish himself in the medical profession he read an appeal from his missionary friend, Gitzlaff, about the fields "white with harvest" on the continent of China. Livingstone resolved to give his life work in that country:

"The souls of so many millions of my fellow-creature, and the complaint of the want of qualified men to undertake the task, my efforts were continually directed toward that object without any fluctuation."

Before he could leave England the "Opium War" broke out closing the door to China. God had other plans for Livingstone, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord (Psalm 37:23). Before he could blink an eye another appeal came to him. It was from Robert Moffat for the thousand African villages that were awaiting the Word of God to eternal salvation. The purpose in Livingstone's life was once and for all formed and he never swerved from it.

On November 16, 1840, David Livingstone went home to spend the last night with his parents to "break the home ties and become a messenger of Christ to the dark places of the earth." David and his father talked until midnight about the prospect of Christian missions and "agreed that the time would come when rich men and great men would think it an honor to support whole stations of missionaries, instead of spending half their money on hounds and horses." After breakfast the next morning, Livingstone read the one hundred and twenty-first and one hundred and thirty-fifth Psalms and led his father, mother and sister in prayer and then left never to see them again on earth.

Livingstone was now on his way to the Dark Continent. Before looking at his work in Africa, lets' see what S. Earl Taylor says about Livingstone the missionary:

During his lifetime Livingstone was much misunderstood and his missionary purpose was questioned. When he began his second and third journeys it seemed to many that the missionary was being swallowed up in the explorer; but while Livingstone was a many-sided man---geographer, botanist, zoologist, astronomer, doctor, explorer---he was a missionary first of all, and as such he must ever be ranked among the first of that illustrious company. The fidelity of Livingstone to his early missionary convictions is now universally recognized."

When he first made contact with the natives, instead of preaching the gospel immediately, he disassociated himself form all European associations and spent the next six months living among them so he could get to understand the life of the people. If he would have first started preaching the pagan priests and witchdoctors would have immediately put him to death. It wasn't long before, through his gentleness of heart and his real love for the people, he had the hearts and the minds and the trust of the people. It was not an easy six to twelve months at any stretch of the imagination as Livingstone so sadly relates:
To endure the dancing, roaring, and singing, the jesting, gambling, quarrelling, and murdering of these children of nature, was the severest penance I had yet undergone in the course of my missionary duties." The knowledge he gained of native life was invaluable to him in saving souls throughout the coming years. It wasn't long before he was preaching at every opportunity. His favorite themes were, "The Abounding Love of Christ,"" The Real Fatherhood of God,"" The Glories of the Resurrection,""The Last Judgment." Taylor goes on to tell us:

"His preaching was simple, straightforward, illustrative, and effective. Knowing the people in the different tribes, he was able to discourse on a level with their understanding. He never preached over their heads."

There are no reports on how many souls Livingstone brought into the kingdom mainly because he did not believe in keeping a head count. Other missionaries who followed in the footsteps of Livingstone say the number is incalculable. His heart was for souls not for the edification of the Church back home, "Nothing will induce me to form an impure Church. Fifty added to the Church sounds fine at home, but if only five of these are genuine what will it profit in the Great Day? I have felt more than ever lately that the great object of our exertion ought to be conversion."

As he journeys from tribe to tribe many times he was misunderstood:

"Remember us in your prayers that we grow not weary in well doing. It is hard to work for years with pure motives, and be looked upon by most of those to whom our lives are devoted as having a sinister object in view. Disinterested labor, benevolence, and sincere love is so out of their line of thought, that many look at us as having some ulterior object in view; but He who died for us, and Whom we ought to copy, did more for us than we can do for any- one else, He endured the contradiction of sinners. We should have grace to follow in His steps."

In a letter to his father he tells about the many new children of God:


"The work of God goes on here notwithstanding our infirmities. Souls are gathered in continually, and sometimes from among those you would never have expected to see turning to the Lord."

Livingstone travelled into the deepest and most remote areas of Africa. Going where no man had gone before he would spread the gospel and map out the region he was exploring, "To understand the missionary's work, and how the missionary became an explorer, one must follow the map closely, and understand something of the geographical, political, and religious conditions of the times. From his letters, Livingstone has made it perfectly plain that he did nothing by chance. There was an adequate reason for everything he did, although often one must look for that reason, not in any outward circumstance, but in that unseen and most real cause, the guidance of the Spirit of God." (Missionary Biographies).

David Livingstone's work in Africa is divided into three periods. First, as a regular missionary under the London Missionary Society, 1840 to 1856. Second, as a missionary and explorer of the Zambezi and its tributaries, the head of a government expedition, 1858 to 1864. Third, as a missionary and explorer under the direction of the Royal Geographical Society, 1865 to 1873. His desire for the souls of the precious people of Africa drove him to team up with any organization that would help him continue to move deeper and deeper into the vastness of that continent. He was the first European to see many of the wonders for the first time. As he travelled he set up missionary stations ran and staffed by faithful natives who now believed in a new Hope. Enduring tremendous hardships and claiming new lands for England and new souls for the Kingdom of God it is no wonder the many of his feats should have astonished Europe.

In Africa he met and married Mary Moffat, the daughter of Robert Moffat, the great missionary. Although the young couple would have many children, their first, a young daughter, died as an infant during an epidemic that was raging through the villages. Livingstone would write, "Hers is the first grave in all that country marked as a resting place of one whom it is believed and confessed, that she shall live again." Years later he would sadly bury his wife, who died of disease, along the Shire River. This river was unknown until it was discovered and explored by Livingstone.

While the world went about its daily goings-on, Livingstone labored in the heat and unknown of a part of the earth that man knew very little about. Alone, with a few faithful native converts he steadfastly pushed forward deeper into the unknown. Newspapers around the world picked up his story and subscribers daily scanned the pages to read of the exploits and whereabouts of this modern day Apostle. S. Earl Taylor paints a picture that we find hard to comprehend in our easy-chair religion:

"After a terrible journey of seven months, involving imminent starvation and endless exposure, Livingstone at last reached the Portuguese settlement of St. Paul De Loanda, on the west coast. Thirty attacks of fever had so weakened him that he could hardly mount his ox, but if the journey was at a great cost, the rewards also were great. The story of incredible hardship, sickness, hunger, constant wading through swollen streams, delays and harassing exactions of hostile tribes, enable him to gain the sympathetic ear of the Christian world. Moreover, by a simple act of moral heroism at Loanda, he became ‘the best known, best loved, and most perfectly trusted man in Africa.' Immediately after arriving at Loanda, he was prostrated by a very severe illness. The perils of the journey had so weakened him that he was a skeleton almost consumed by dysentery and famine. An English ship was in the harbor and about to set sail. There was an outcry for LIvingstone to be put on the ship and sent home. He knew he would be royally welcomed at home, and there was no one to urge him to stay. But Livingstone prepared his reports, his charts, his observations, and putting them on board, he watched the ship set sail. He then turned and prepared for a march that would last for two more years of two thousand miles long, through jungle, swamp, and desert. He had promised his newly baptized native helpers that if they would journey with him to the coast, he would see them back to their homes. 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."

During that journey , back through Africa, Livingstone preached to the natives and healed the sick of their diseases. On this journey he discovered the beautiful Victoria Falls, which he named after the Queen. Hardships continued to plague him daily. In his journal he writes:

"I am excessively weak, and can not walk without tottering, and have a constant ringing in my head...After a few days I had a fit of insensibility, which shows the power of fever."

All he had to eat, at times, were roots of trees and the hard maize found in that region. So poorly nourished was he that his teeth fell out, and he became so emaciated that he himself was frightened when he saw his form reflected in the river. It was now years since he had heard from home or even heard his mother tongue spoken. All he had was his Bible and prayer to see him through. The compassion for souls who would never hear the gospel of God and the need for exploration kept driving him on. While staying in the village of Manyuema he writes, "I read the whole Bible through four times..."

He was now entering the darkest and loneliest time of his life. Letters from home could not reach him and the letters he sent could not get out. He was all there was left. Most missionaries had left Africa because of the constant tribal wars, famine, and pestilence. Through it all Livingstone found comfort in his faith, "Shall I tell you what sustained me in my exile life, among strangers whose language I could not understand? ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.'"

When word of Livingstone stopped coming out of Africa it caused great concern not only in England but around the world. Conflicting reports started circulating concerning his death. The Royal Geographical Society organized an expedition to go to Africa and find Livingstone. The expedition ascended a river to Nyassa and there learned from the natives that he was still alive but returned home not finding Livingstone himself. This caused even more world-wide consternation.

In 1870, James Gordon Bennett, proprietor of the New York Herald, had telegraphed Henry M. Stanley, a traveling correspondent of the paper, who was then in Madrid. Bennett told him to come to Paris on important business. Over dinner the two men discussed various topics when Bennett said, "Where do you think Livingstone is?" Stanley said he did not know. There was conjecture around the world that he was dead. Bennett then said, "I think he is alive and I'm going to send you to find him. Take what you want, but find Livingstone. Stanley Arrived in Africa in 1871 and for the next year searched the jungles for the man who offered himself up as a free-will offering for the salvation of an entire continent. While the world wondered where he was, Livingstone continued to press forward in exploration and soul-winning in the midst of "hell on earth."

It was about this time that Livingstone saw the horrors of the world-wide slave trade and the horrors began to take a toll on his soul, "All I can say...is...may heaven's richest blessing come down on everyone--American, English, Turk-who will help to heal this open sore of the world." Through the deep jungles he would meet gangs of slaves being driven like beasts to the coasts. Dead bodies floated past him and his travelers in the rivers. When they anchored their boats at night they had to disengage the oars from the dead before they could proceed on their way the next morning. Excerpts from the "Personal Life of David Livingstone" tell us more:

"One bright summer morning, July 15, when fifteen hundred people, chiefly women, were engaged peacefully in marketing in a village on the banks of the Lualaba, and while Dr. Livingstone was preaching about, a murderous fire was opened on the people, and a massacre ensued of such measureless atrocity that he could describe it only by saying that it gave him the impression of being in Hell."

"On the eighth of August they came upon an ambush all prepared; but it had been abandoned for some unknown reason. On the same day a large spear flew past Livingstone , grazing his neck. The native who flung it was just ten yards off. The hand of God alone saved his life. Four times in a journey of two thousand miles he was in imminent danger of violent death."

He arrived in the town of Ujiji looking for supplies that were supposed to be waiting for him. Those in charge, thinking he was dead, sold the goods for a kindly profit and left the town. So after years in the jungle, Livingstone finally came to the town, "a mere ruckle of bones, to find himself destitute." But God was working out His plan. He took a lonely missionary through two thousand miles of uncharted jungle only to bring him out at the point where he was about to make history. Five days after Livingstone had dragged himself into that town a large caravan appeared and caused considerable excitement. Someone shouted that the English were coming and looking out Livingstone saw an American flag being carried at the head of the approaching company. Then going out himself he met a stranger who walked deliberately up to him and said:

"DR. LIVINGSTONE, I PRESUME?"

Livingstone's joy was indescribable. He had been a full two years without any reports from the outside world and now Henry Stanley was the only white man with whom he had talked for over six years. They talked for days and Stanley writes:

"Trained to my work as a reporter as I was, frequenter of the world's capitals as I was, this one man out of his loneliness, and out of as deep solitudes as the human spirit ever knew, mastered me and I forgot to be a reporter, and sat down for once to the high employment of just being a man."

Stanley became literally transformed by association for a few days with this heroic Christian character. Stanley stayed for four months and one thing was certain, Livingstone, would not go home. There was still sheep that had to be found, "Other sheep I have that are not of this fold: Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice."(John 10:16)

The English biographer of Livingstone writes:


"One thing was fixed and certain from the beginning: Livingstone would not go home with Stanley. Much though his heart yearned for home...and much though he needed to recruit his strength and nurse his ailments, he would not think of it while his work remained unfinished."

On March 24, 1873, Livingstone wrote:


"Nothing earthly will make me give up my work in despair. I encourage myself in the Lord my God, and go forward."

By the next month he was suffering with internal bleeding and his weakness was becoming more apparent. Still early morning hours of prayer and late evenings of preaching were still the norm in his life. So weak was he at times he would have to be carried by stretcher. His pain was excruciating but not as frightful, he would say, as an eternity in torment for those souls he had not yet told the gospel to. So forward he went, crossing rivers and splashing through swamps. At the end of April, he arrived at Chitambo's Village at Ilala. It was a drizzling rain and the carriers had to leave Livingston under the broad eaves of a house until a new hut could be built. On the first day of May, at four o'clock in the morning one of Livingstone's companions looked in at the door of the hut and was alarmed. Sometime during the night the soul hungry missionary got up off the bed and knelt down to pray. By the light of the candle still burning he saw Livingstone kneeling in prayer at the bedside. His head was buried in his hands upon the pillow. Sometime during the night the spirit of this man of God went out to his savior as the weary body remained in the attitude of prayer.

Great men around the world, each in his own way, paid tribute to the memory of David Livingstone but none as profound as from his friend, Stanley:

"If you look on the map at the illustration of his route, you will see that it is the rude figure of the cross..wherever that good man went he was received. A few rejected him; but the majority listened to him calmly and kindly...and some felt quite ready to give their lives' as he did. Other missionaries returned home...but this lone missionary pressed on and on until he had drawn the figure of a cross on the southern continent of Africa...Africa will be redeemed."

Florence Nightingale, in writing a letter to Dr. Livingstone's daughter, fittingly quoted these words:


"He climbed the steep ascent of heaven,
Through peril, toil, and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given
To follow in his train!"

Acts 28:28..."Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!"

JJ (Dark) Di Pietro
Cane Creek Church
http://www.canecreekchurch.org