Robert Laws (1851-1934)
Robert Laws deserves to be better known in Scotland, where he was born (in Aberdeen) in 1851. He has certainly not been forgotten in Malawi, from where I have just returned, where Laws is remembered as a great servant of the Lord and a great servant of Malawi. He is a man regarded by many as comparable in stature to David Livingstone, and thought by some to have been a better missionary than the great explorer.
A book which also deserves to be more widely read is the biography of Laws, written by Hamish McIntosh and published in 1993. McIntosh concludes his assessment of Laws with these words:
To recognise that Robert Laws was a man with shortcomings like the rest of us need not blind us to the astonishing nature of his achievements, nor make us unaware of his stature, second only to that of David Livingstone, among those who have gone out from the United Kingdom as missionaries to Central Africa. He came in 1875 to a huge region without a single Christian, and to leave it 52 years later with a Christian community of over 30,000, with more than 19,000 communicants, together with a whole network of schools attended by many thousands – that was an achievement. More than that, in the making of Malawi as a nation, the education provided in the northern part of the country by the Livingstonia Mission enabled those from the north to play an outstanding part- out of proportion to their numbers – both as government ministers and as civil servants, when Malawi gained independence in 1964. Many of them, and perhaps their fathers also, had been educated at Livingstonia. There they had not only studied a wide range of subjects in the classroom, and undertaken a good deal of manual labour during their time at the Institution, but, more important still for the responsibilities they were now to undertake, they had received a character training which was widely recognised in Central and East Africa as producing people of reliability and honesty who were well fitted for high position. (p.243-244)
In a sense it is unfair to make comparisons with David Livingstone. Livingstone’s remarkable life as an explorer/missionary/anti-slavery activist made possible the fruitful missionary work that followed him. Robert Laws’ work followed in the footsteps of Livingstone and was made possible by Livingstone’s labours. It might be argued that Livingstone was called to a different task, a preparatory one. In the same way, much of the remarkable work that goes on in places like Ekwendeni and Livingstonia today was made possible by the work of Laws and his colleagues and those who succeeded them.
It is vital to view our lives in Scotland within the wider framework of the divine plan and call. Accepting and obeying the call of God to be where He wants us to be, living out our very ordinary Christian lives, is the key to usefulness. It is fascinating how, at the end of his life, King David, whilst reflecting on his own remarkable life, focussed on his place in the wider plans and purposes of God.
“Is not my house right with God?
Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant,
arranged and secured in every part?
will he not bring to fruition my salvation
and grant me my every desire?”
This, like many aspects of these chapters, can be taken from a New Testament perspective as speaking far beyond the immediate events and circumstances of David's reign and David's time and anticipating the reign of Messiah.
David sees a Ruler Who is yet to come and he sees something of the effects of His coming; and relates this to himself and his house, in the thought of the everlasting covenant made by God with him. In other words, he is conscious of being caught up in the grand drama of God's redemptive purposes, and is able to relate his life and experience to it. This is very wonderful: to sense your place and function in the economy of God, and to know you have fulfilled the purpose of your existence - this is to have truly lived. The mention of ‘an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part’, makes it clear that David sensed that in his life and work, his reign over Israel, in the battles he fought, he was fulfilling his part of the Divine plan that would ultimately lead to the coming King, Christ the King of Glory.
There is a lesson here about accepting our own role in the divine economy as we are called to be where we are, faithfully living out our lives in service to God. God has called us to our own ‘shift’ here in Dalry. We cannot see the wider plan and purpose, but we must clock-in for our shift faithfully until our task is completed.