- Parent Category: About the Church
- Category: Norman Crawford - Gathering Unto His Name
- Published on Thursday, 22 June 2006 19:54
A people without history are a people without character.
This section is a brief history of assemblies as we known them and attempts to answer the questions, Where we came from? Where we are now? and What of the future? A fuller history is planned, God willing.
A MOVEMENT of GOD
Almost two centuries ago, the Holy Spirit moved on the hearts of godly men and women who were a part of denominational systems. Some of them were prominent leaders in church, government and society. This movement was not of men. There is ample evidence that it was of God.
Formal religion had in many cases become little more than a pretense. Many claimed church membership without salvation. Spiritual minds rejected the dead formalism, mere ritualism and a clergy without Christ. They searched the Scriptures, often on their knees, to know what God would have them do. What they discovered was the simplicity of an assembly that gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a mighty awakening by the Spirit in their hearts.
The movement was farfiung. The same truths were revealed in places as far distant from each other as the south of England, Ireland, Orkney Islands, Br. Guiana, New York City, USA and Rangoon, India. One of the most powerful evidences that this was a work of God is that these believers were unaware of each other.
As early as 1825 - 28, such names as Edward Cronin, J. N. Darby, Lord Congleton, J. G. Bellett, Edward Wilson, William Stokes and H. Hutchinson are linked with this movement. The first meeting for the breaking of bread of which we are aware was held in the home of Mr. Hutchinson, 9 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin. They separated from all ecclesiastical systems and came together in the name of the Lord Jesus, owning the presence and sovereign action of the Holy Spirit in their midst. They were deeply impressed with the truth of Matthew 18:20. Later, A. N. Groves, Win. Kelly, George Muller, Henry Craik, R. C. Chapman, S. P. Tragelles, C. H. Macintosh, Sir Robert Anderson and many others took their place as believers in local assemblies.
However, our heritage as assemblies in North America cannot be traced back to Dublin, or Plymouth, nor to the great men whose names are linked with John Nelson Darby. Our story has a different origin and is as follows.
BLESSING IN SCOTLAND
Mr. Ritchie wrote that in Shotts, Scotland, June 21,1630,500 were saved at one meeting. Faithful men of the Scottish church preached the Gospel.
In the early 19th century Thomas Chalmers and Andrew Thomson were saved after becoming clergymen and from 1800 to 1825 preached with such power that many confirmed church members were awakened and saved.
Murray McCheyne, Win. Burns, Brownlow North, A. and H. Bonar and many other names are linked with those days of blessing.
On Dec 10,1846, Duncan Matheson was saved. His description of salvation is very clear, "I saw no one but the Lord Jesus. I wept for my sin that nailed Him to the cross. I knew the calm of a pardoned sinner. I was saved." He figures largely in the history that follows because no man had greater influence on Donald Ross than Duncan Matheson.
Donald Ross was called home from his work as a schoolteacher to his dying brother?s bedside. He returned to his school, fully awakened about his sin and eternity. Shortly afterward, he was saved through John 18:8, "If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way."
NORTHEAST COAST MISSION
With its headquarters in the City of Aberdeen, the North-east Coast Mission was formed as an inter-denominational evangelical society. In 1858, at 34 years of age, Donald Ross was appointed as its superintendent. He was without funds or workers, but chose D. Munro; John Gill, John Smith, George Masson,A. Carnie and others to work with him. These fearless and godly men were charged with preaching the Gospel along the Moray Firth and the Aberdeenshire Coast, 500 miles of deeply indented coastline in north-east Scotland with 57 towns and villages.
The 59 Revival began in the town of Kells, Northern Ireland. My grandfather was saved in Kells in 1859 year through the preaching of Jeremiah Meneely in a barn. The blessing spread to many parts of the world.
Scotland did not miss out on this time of awakening. At Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Buckie, Lossiemouth, Cullen and Footdee the power of God was so manifest that no fishing boat sailed for many weeks. Thousands of souls were saved. The preaching was plain, pointed and powerful. Many church members were awakened. Multitudes of people were shaken out of their sleep.
This awakening resulted in Great opposition from the unconverted clergy. Not only were young believers not helped, but everything was done to hinder and discourage them.
CONVICTIONS AGAINST INTER-DENOMINATIONALISM
The N. E. Coast Mission was denominationally funded. When pressure was exerted by the offended clergy, the men who held the purse strings began to withhold funds. Already disappointed by the mixture in this society, in 1870 Mr. Ross severed his connection with the Mission. It meant that he and his fellow workers were without funds.
NORTHERN EVANGELICAL SOCIETY.
That same year, the evangelists formed the Northern Evangelical Society with freedom to be guided as to where and how long they would conduct meetings. They had no organizational backing, looking to God alone for their support and He did not fail them. They learned much in trusting God alone.
In 1869, Donald Munro and John Gill had seen blessing in inland towns. Now that the evangelists could move as God led them, they returned to preach in places such as Banffshire, Rothes and Boharm. In 1871, amidst much opposition in Inverurie, Old Rayne, Oyne and Insch God worked in mighty power. Among the many converts were 200 young men. The name of at least one of them is well known to us. On April 2, 1871, John Ritchie was saved.
Up to this time, the evangelists sent the new believers back to the denominations to be taught and shepherded by clergy who in many cases were not saved. This problem drove Donald Ross and his companions to their knees and to the Word of God to earnestly seek divine guidance.
BAPTISM, ASSEMBLY TRUTH
On his knees before God, seeking to know how to teach the new converts, Mr. Ross discovered that as a believer he needed to be baptized. His infant sprinkling was not enough. In the River Dee, in April 1871, he humbly obeyed the Lord by being baptized.
At this time, Donald Munro was in Ontario, Canada. When he returned, Mr. Ross confronted him with his need to be baptized, expecting resistance, but Mr. Munro informed him that while reading God?s Word in Canada, he had seen the truth of being baptized as a believer. In December of that year, Mr. Ross baptized Mr. Munro.
They then taught the new converts what they had learned and hundreds obeyed the Lord in baptism which further estranged them from the formal religion of the established churches all around them. Clergymen gave lectures on the ?errors? of the Gospel preachers and used the new believers as object lessons of folly. But as in the case of Paul, the persecution fell out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel.
THE BREAKING OF BREAD
In Old Rayne, in a carpenter's shop, owned by Sandy Stewart, the laborers and many new believers met for prayer and the study of God's Word. From Scripture, they learned the need to separate from ecclesiastical systems and to gather simply in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to break bread on the first day of the week to proclaim the Lord?s death. In the carpenter shop, they met for the first time as an assembly. John Ritchie, who was present, later wrote that they did not know there was another company like them anywhere in the world.
Later Mr. Ross learned of three other small assemblies in Scotland at Aberdeen, New Deer and Peterhead. At that time, Mr. Ross and his brethren had no knowledge of Mr. Darby or any such gatherings elsewhere. From that day, assemblies sprang up all over Scotland and Northern England.
THE SPREAD OF BLESSING
In Woodville Cemetery in Sommerville, MA, there is a grave marker that bears the inscription, "Is Your Soul Saved?" Beneath it is the name of James Campbell. In November 1871, at Jarrow-on-Tyne, an assembly met without the knowledge of others through the work and exercise of dear James Campbell. He became one of the most faithful Gospel pioneers of Northern Ireland and New England in the U.S.A.
Donald Munro had visited relatives in Ontario in 1871. Meetings were held in Parkhill and Forest and many were saved, among them were three brothers of Mr. Munro. In October 1872, he came back to Ontario and taught the new believers the truth of baptism and gathering to the Lord?s name. In 1872, an assembly was planted at Parkhill, Ontario. The following year, he saw assemblies planted at Forest and Lake Shore. Within the next few years many assemblies were formed in such places as Hamilton, Clyde, Valens, East Toronto and London, Ontario.
In December 1868, Douglas Russell had come to visit relatives in Galt, Ontario and began to preach the Gospel on the Queen?s Square. A saved clergyman invited him to preach in His church building. Many were awakened and saved, but at this time, Mr. Russell did not know assembly truth. He returned in 1873 after having learned baptism and gathering truths. Over 50 were baptized and an assembly met in the blacksmith?s shop at Clyde. Later assemblies were formed at Valens and Galt. Such names as McBain and Scott, great grandparents of my wife are among the converts in this area.
In 1874, Donald Ross and John Smith rented a room on King Street in Hamilton. Interest and attendance were small. They preached on the street corner each night to invite people to their meeting in the room. One night a young man of 19 was stirred as he listened to the plain preaching on the corner. He followed the preachers into the building and as he entered was confronted with a sign that read, "Friend, you are traveling to eternity, to an everlasting heaven or an endless hell, Which?" Within a short time, he was saved through John 3:36. The young man was T. D. W. Muir who at the age of nineteen began to preach the Gospel with Mr. Ross at Clyde and Galt. He also preached with Mr. Carnie and D. Munro and with Donald Ross went to Detroit, Michigan to preach Christ in the U.S.A. Through many hardships and with great faithfulness Mr. Muir continued to preach the Gospel on the streets of Detroit and in rented rooms. God worked in salvation and believers were taught baptism and assembly truth. From Detroit, Mr. Muir and other workers preached the Gospel throughout Michigan, seeing souls saved and assemblies planted. This booklet is being written at Jackson, Michigan, an assembly that was planted through the efforts of Mr. Muir along with Thomas Dobbin from N. Ireland and Mr. Tousseau from Ontario.
Similar stories can be told of Mr. John Knox McEwen in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Mr. John Gill in Boston, Mr. John Smith in Cleveland, Mr. Donald Ross in Chicago, Kansas City and the West Coast of the U.S.A. Other evangelists went west from Ontario to see assemblies planted across the Canadian Prairies and in Vancouver, on the West Coast of Canada.
John Blair came from N. Ireland to the small town of Dunkerton, Iowa. He had a sister there, Mrs. Robert Orr, for whose soul he had a deep concern. Unexpectedly he knocked on her door, announcing that he had come from Ireland to tell her that she must be born again. Meetings in a home at Dunkerton resulted in a number being saved, including Mrs. Orr and the planting of an assembly. Mr. Blair preached with Oliver Smith in the early days of the Gospel at Hitesville and Stout and other Iowa communities where assemblies were planted.
These Gospel pioneers, who were mighty laborers for God, are our heritage. Assemblies in North America, as we know them, owe their origins to these men, and many others, who under God fulfilled the commission of the Lord Jesus to preach the Gospel to every creature, to baptize them and to teach them to observe all things that He commanded. These assemblies have no historical link to either the open or exclusive brethren assemblies. Of course, through the years, believers from assemblies in Britain, France and other countries of Europe have immigrated to North America and have been received into these original assemblies that were planted through the labors of the pioneer Gospel preachers.
We find it staggering that assemblies that owe their origin to the labors of these pioneers should ever turn away from the methods that they found to be so fruitful. If anything, the darkness is deeper and the need is greater than ever. Yet many have given up their regular meeting for the preaching of the Gospel. Series of Gospel meetings are almost unknown in many places. One of the excuses that is used is that there is no point in preaching the Gospel to Christians. Small results and indifference on the part of many with whom we come in contact does not excuse us for lack of effort. Where there is a genuine effort and a humble looking to God for results, God has drawn near and richly blessed the preaching of the Gospel. It can even be said that Christians need to hear the Gospel preached. Nothing so stirs our souls and warms our hearts like the Gospel preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. Men with a deep passion for the souls of the lost are our background and our heritage. It is also the pattern from the Book of Acts and fulfills the great commission of the Lord (Matt 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20). If we abandon the faithful heralding of the Gospel, we have departed from God's method of saving souls (1 Cor 1:21-24). People are saved who have never heard the message publicly preached, but they are the exception rather than the rule. May we always be able to say, ?We preach (kerusso - declare to a company) Christ crucified.?
Every assembly believer has much cause to thank God for the precious truths of salvation, baptism, separation and gathering in the name of the Lord Jesus that have been entrusted to us from God through His faithful servants. We also should be deeply humbled by our failure, weakness and coldness of heart. Yet, we believe that God will maintain testimony until the church age closes and the rapture takes place. God grant that the writer and each one who reads these words may be found faithful until He comes!