Heroes of the Faith 1:The Inspiring Dr. Livingstone

Apr 06, 2011 1 Comment by

Dr David Livingstone

In a time when national heroes are generally sportsmen and women, movie stars or musicians, it may be hard to embrace the high hero esteem England had for the courageous Christian missionary David Livingstone. He lived in an era of struggle. Livingstone himself overcame more than a few challenges to achieve his visionary goals.

The 1840’s were plagued by sluggish markets, bad harvests and desperate poverty. International transport was by steamship. It was during the 1830’s and 40’s England experienced the world’s first industrial revolution The nation was heavily impacted. Problems of pollution, public health and disease were the common theme.

In 1840 author Charles Dickens wrote “Bleak House.” Author and literature critic Julia Stein said in her review ‘Bleak House is a masterpiece. Dickens in his novel was describing England in the 1840’s as a Bleak House, a nation dominated by corruption….” (1)

Nevertheless, there were high points. In 1840 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) gained royal approval and became the first animal protection society in the world. On February 10, Queen Victoria married her German beau Albert. He introduced many German traditions into British society, one was the Christmas tree.

Books were popular. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte was published in 1847. Charlotte Bronte, Emily’s sister published Jane Eyre the same year. It was into this colorful time David Livingstone was to captivate the nation and become a national hero.

Robert Moffat
Born at Blantyre, south of Glasgow on 19 March, 1813, Livingstone aged 10, began working in the local cotton mill at 6 each morning. His workday continued until 6 at night when his schoolwork began. It has been recorded, David Livingstone, every year on his birthday, renewed his covenant of salvation with the Lord. (Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations – 474, A. Naismith)

In 1836, he started his studies on medicine and theology. After completing his medical studies Livingstone sat thoroughly engaged in a lecture by the white-bearded missionary Robert Moffat, who later become his father-in-law. Moffat spoke of great adventure in Africa and explained his fiery passion for evangelism and reaching the lost.

There is an earlier connection between the two. When Livingstone first attempted to preach he flopped. “Friends, I have forgotten all I had to say,” he gasped, and in shame stepped from the pulpit! Moffat was visiting Edinburgh at the time and he advised David not to give up. Perhaps he could be a doctor instead of a preacher, he advised. Livingstone decided to be both. (Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations – Livingstone Encouragement 1677)

Imagine the captivated Livingstone when next he heard the passionate, preaching of Robert Moffat. “I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been,” Moffat declared. They were words that burned a fiery flame into the heart of devout, God-fearing, pathfinder David Livingstone. (2)

By 1841 he was posted by the London Missionary Society to the edge of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa and worked as a missionary doctor. Before his departure, Livingstone returned home to spend a day with his devout Christian parents. In a Livingstone biography Eugene Myers Harrison said: “He recalled a venerable neighbor, David Hogg, who on his death bed had said to him: “Now, lad, make religion the every-day business of your life, not a thing of fits and starts.” (2)

Moving Mountains
In 1845, he married Mary Moffatt, daughter of fellow missionaries Robert and Mary. Her life was filled with difficulties. She was ill much of the time and was afflicted more than once with partial paralysis. They had six children – Robert, Agnes, Thomas, Elizabeth, Zouga (William) and Anna.

Livingstone trekked the African continent with a zeal fueled by his passion to present the love of Christ to unreached people. Known at the time as ‘the Dark Continent” Livingstone set about exploring the vast African terrain and working for abolishing the slave trade.

The enormity of his dreams cannot be underestimated.

In the air-conditioned comfort and advanced facilities of the 21st century we may not be able to actually come to grips with the mountains and peril he tackled.

The size of the African continent alone is a major undertaking. The United States of America, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Eastern Europe, India, China, Japan and the United Kingdom could all be positioned side by side on the African map.

Try and imagine how David Livingstone’s Scottish background reacted to his first sight of lions, cheetah, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, elephants, wild dogs and the impressive variety of new life he encountered. In fact an encounter with a lion cost the use of his left arm.

Undeterred, Livingstone set off into the Zambezi River region, a jungle trek which took from 1852 to 1856. He became the first European to observe the spectacular Victoria Falls along the way. Livingstone would later write of his experience: “On the left side of the island we have a good view of the mass of water which causes one of the columns of vapor to ascend, as it leaps quite clear of the rock, and forms a thick unbroken fleece all the way to the bottom. Its whiteness gave the idea of snow, a sight I had not seen for many a day. (3)

We can imagine his moment of wide-eyed awe and wonder, in the present of the spectacular Victoria Falls.

Epic Trial

There were also moments of epic trial and Livingstone has shared some of those, with us through his journal. In 1856 he was passing through the wild country of the native chief Mburuma who had roused the countryside against the Livingstone expedition. Alone in his tent, Livingstone wrote in his diary: “January 14, 1856.

Evening. Felt much turmoil of spirit in prospect of having all my plans for welfare of this great region knocked on the head by savages tomorrow. But Jesus said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations … and lo l am with you always, even unto the end of the world This is the word of a Gentleman of the most strict and sacred honour, so that’s the end of fear. I will not cross furtively tonight as I intended. Nay, verily, I shall take observations for latitude and longitude tonight, though they may be the last. I feel quiet and calm now, thank God!”

How often in the face of much less threat, do we resort to panic and fear and miss the inspiring encouragement and comfort that lifted Livingstone in the face of strife?

He displayed that same fervor and commitment in his fight against the despicable slave trade. This was a firmly entrenched, evil business, initiated in the mid-fifteenth century. Slave traders found their human source much more accessible than gold. The financial return for slave labour was lucrative because expanding communities had an urgent need of a productive workforce. The Africans were considered to be a valuable investment because they worked hard and were used to the tropical climate. They were particularly valued as labour for plantation and mines.

This quote sums up his commitment. “Livingstone was determined to try and stamp out the dreadful slave trade. His hatred of this trade constantly spurred him on to renewed efforts, in the hope that promotion of the right kind of economic activity would eventually replace this evil. Among the last words he wrote were: ‘May heaven’s rich blessing come down on everyone who will help to heal this open sore of the world.’” (Source: “70 Great Christians Changing the World”, by Geoffrey Hanks, pp 191-193.)


Livingstone was a practical, adventurous man. He was described as a loner with ‘the singular inability to get along with Westerners’ said authors Galli and Olsen. (4) He had no patience with racism and fought with fellow missionaries who he said had ‘miserably contracted minds.’ He believed they had ‘the colonial mentality’ towards the natives. Even members of the white African community opposed him because he spoke out against racial intolerance. It was the white population that tried to drive him out by burning his station and stealing his animals.

He had a clear definition of what a Christian should or should not be. “Not a dumpy sort of person with a Bible under his arms (but someone) serving Christ when shooting a buffalo for my men or taking an observation (even if some) will consider it not sufficiently or even at all missionary,” he wrote. He was at odds with the London Missionary Society, who felt that his explorations were distracting from his missionary work.

His passion, energy and zeal could hardly be contained by opposition, because, he believed wholeheartedly in his mission and the power of the Lord to sustain him. While he found difficult hurdles with the whites, the local natives loved his common touch. Livingstone spoke to them with respect. It was noted that some explorers took as many as 150 porters when they traveled. Livingstone required fewer than 30.

In 1864, Livingstone returned to Africa and set about trying to discover the source of the Nile River. During this expedition, little was known of his progress. His fans grew concerned. Rumours flourished. Was he captive? Was he lost? Was he dead? The mounting interest reached America where George Bennet, publisher of the New York Herald commissioned reporter Henry Stanley to find the intrepid Livingstone.

This should give us some perspective in how big this story had become. Stanley could not simply hop a jet and arrive on location in just a few hours. This story was a major assignment. Stanley, himself a colourful character, lead an expedition of about 200 men and his search took no less then eight months.

Stanley found Dr Livingstone in Ujiji, a small village on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. It was November 10.
Of this moment Stanley wrote this report: “We are now about three hundred yards from the village of Ujiji, and the crowds are dense about me. Suddenly I hear a voice on my right say, ‘Good morning, sir!’

Startled at hearing this greeting in the midst of such a crowd of black people, I turn sharply around in search of the man, and see him at my side, with the blackest of faces, but animated and joyous, – a man dressed in a long white shirt, with a turban of American sheeting around his woolly head, and I ask, ‘Who the mischief are you?’

‘I am Susi, the servant of Dr. Livingstone,’ said he, smiling, and showing a gleaming row of teeth. ‘What! Is Dr. Livingstone here?’ ‘Yes, Sir.’ ‘In this village?’ ‘Yes, Sir’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Sure, sure, Sir. Why, I leave him just now.’
In the meantime the head of the expedition had halted, and Selim said to me: ‘I see the Doctor, Sir. Oh, what an old man! He has got a white beard.’

My heart beats fast, but I must not let my face betray my emotions, lest it shall detract from the dignity of a white man appearing under such extraordinary circumstances. So I did that which I thought was most dignified. I pushed back the crowds, and, passing from the rear, walked down a living avenue of people until I came in front of the semicircle of Arabs, in the front of which stood the white man with the gray beard. As I advanced slowly toward him I noticed he was pale, looked wearied, had a gray beard, wore a bluish cap with a faded gold band round it, had on a red-sleeved waistcoat and a pair of gray tweed trousers. I would have run to him, only I was a coward in the presence of such a mob, – would have embraced him, only, he being an Englishman, I did not know how he would receive me; so I did what cowardice and false pride suggested was the best thing, – walked deliberately to him, took off my hat, and said, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’

‘Yes,’ said he, with a kind smile, lifting his cap slightly. I replace my hat on my head and he puts on his cap, and we both grasp hands, and I then say aloud, ‘I thank God, Doctor, I have been permitted to see you.’ He answered, ‘I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.’

Stanley’s expedition had suffered through over 6 1/2 months of drought, famine, floods, dysentery and starvation before it reached Ujiji. Two-thirds of the original number of porters had deserted or died. (5)

Standing on the Word

Livingstone attempted to open what he called “God’s Highway,” in his dream of bringing “Christianity and civilization’ to unreached people.

Speaking at the University of Glasgow in 1896 David Livingstone said: “Would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among a people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” On these words I staked everything, and they never failed.” (Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations – 3482 Livingstone’s Supporting Verses) ”

1. 1. www.redroom.com/blog/julia-stein/
2. 2. Giants of the Missionary Trail by Eugene Myers Harrison, Scripture Press, Book Division, [1954].
3. 3. (Livingstone, David, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, 1858).
4. 4. Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). 131 Christians everyone should know (248–250). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
5. 5. http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/stanley.htm)


a) I found myself challenged by the vision, passion and zeal of Livingstone
b) I questioned why evangelism is not the great priority it used to be.
c) How can I find excuses for my inactivity when Livingstone with the Lord’s empowering overcame time after time?
d) I’m reminded of words by James: “Be doers of the word, not hearers only.”
e) Lord may we be filled with vision by the Holy Spirit to minister with love and compassion, to our family, friends, and beyond.

Ron's Rave

About the author

Ron Ross worked as the first Sports Editor at WINTV. In Wollongong. He ran The Hamburger Hut an outreach and discipleship program for youth. He served with Youth With a Mission in Hawaii, Philippines and Australia. He was senior pastor of the Noosa Baptist Church, Queensland for 9 years. He reported news from Jerusalem for five years and is now the Middle East correspondent for United Christian Broadcasters and travels regularly preaching and teaching.

One Response to “Heroes of the Faith 1:The Inspiring Dr. Livingstone”

  1. oboh ebehi says:

    this is one of the most beautiful stories of faith. a pure example of perfect love for God casting out all form of fear in the face of darkness and uncertainty. i just want to love God more…

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