Although the names of many mentioned in this article are not known to a current generation, the manner in which God molded a life is relevant to every generation.
It will not be easy to write about those who touched my life for good. There are so many who did so much for me. I have always needed help to go forward in the work of the Lord, and He has graciously brought me into contact with people who were willing and able to give me this help.
On reflection, their patience and persistence was most amazing. Most of these beloved saints have finished their course. I give God thanks without ceasing for the memory of those brothers and sisters. Now I try to do for others what they so ungrudgingly did for me.
Both my parents were believers before I was born. My father was thought by some to be too severe with himself and others. I learned from him the value of having a good conscience before God and a good testimony amongst men. Those who knew him in a more intimate way discovered a softness and practical kindness most appealing.
It was only after his death that widows told me how helpful my father’s weekly supply of vegetables and eggs, along with an occasional fowl made ready for the pot was, as they struggled to feed a large family on a small state pension. My father gave feet and hands to God’s love. He taught me that a demonstration is more telling than a discourse and the eye is a better pupil than the ear. The widows seldom saw him. He arrived silently and quickly disappeared, leaving them to thank God for His kindness as they collected what had been left for them on the door mat.
It was my beloved mother who brought me to the Savior at the age of 15. She then bought me my first Newberry Bible and helped me purchase a Strong’s concordance, that I might “read to know, feed to grow, and study to show”. She also had a special light fixed at my bedside which I often used to conclude my night’s study when, overpowered by sleep, I was forced to leave my desk.
I hardly dare start to write of the support I received from the woman the Lord chose to be my wife. For 46 years, Elizabeth was a real help-meet to me. I never needed to alter my ministry to accommodate her lifestyle. Her hair was neither shorn nor braided, her dress was neither costly nor immodest. Her way of life was godly. Happy memories, how they linger!
I cannot leave my youthful days in Adrossan without mentioning Mr. and Mrs. Redmond who greatly influenced me, especially as I began to move into more public ministry. Mr. Redmond was a good man, but he was not able to do the jobs which needed to be done in an ordinary working class home, so I willingly helped.
Mrs. Redmond in earlier days, had been connected with an evangelical mission in Glasgow. Through reading the scriptures, she was convinced that the place the Lord intended for all believers was the church of God in the locality, so she joined an assembly on the west side of Glasgow. As I worked, she told me how her convictions were formed. These talks formed like convictions in my heart, not simply opinions in my mind. Mr. Andrew Borland (editor of the Believer’s Magazine) said, “A person will argue about his opinions but will die for his convictions”.
As I moved out more into public ministry, these convictions had to be stated (for ministry should answer to need, not cater to taste). This caused those who formerly loved me to turn their backs on me. This brought me a great deal of sadness, but I have to stand at the judgment seat and would rather bear reproach here than to suffer loss up there.
My parents moved from Adrossan to Stevenston. There I was in fellowship with a godly man called Willie Neilly. There is no doubt he could have gone on to make his mark in the world of education, but he chose to leave school early and work in the coal mines in order to supply means for his widowed mother to raise her family. He taught me the value of spending time, when studying by the Spirit’s help, digging below the surface to find the hidden treasures, as well as discovering the amazing accuracy of the Word of God.
Many examples could be cited, but space allows me to state only one. He pointed out the difference in the word “for” in I Timothy 2:6, “For all,” and in Matthew 20:20, “For many”. In I Timothy, the “for” means “on behalf of,” pointing to the availability of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ for all, the truth of propitiation and the message in the gospel for the sinner. In Matthew 20, the “for” means “instead of many,” substitutional teaching for the saints to enjoy. If we fail to distinguish the difference, we are in danger of preaching universal salvation and failing to impress the dire need to believe, to enter in and be saved.
About this time I met another brother, William Gaw from Dregham. I was charmed by his clear, loving, passionate appeal in the Gospel. He also taught me how to help the distressed and downcast saints, but most of all I remember him as he prayed. It was evident that he had an intimate relationship with God and yet he was never irreverent.
I have so far confined my reminiscences to people little known beyond the area in which they lived. I thought this would be an encouragement to those in local testimonies to spend time helping young brethren and sisters to grow in spiritual things, so that they in turn are able to guide and feed the flock of God themselves (Acts 20).
When I began helping in ministry meetings further afield, I met two brethren who were very different in character, opposites in many ways, and yet their lives and ministry made a major impact on mine.
John Douglas from Ashgill in Lanarkshire was a coal miner. His text book was the Bible, his study a disused “hen house”. His teacher was life and his university the assembly where he worshiped. The secret of his power was living a godly life and fearing no one but God.
Most of his ministry was pictures and principles taken from the OT and used to confirm NT teaching. He had a very sharp mind. I never heard anyone more able at Bible Readings, both contributing himself and making excellent use of the contributions of others. Young believers were amazed and encouraged when a simple remark made by them was handed back enlarged and polished by a master!
The other man was Willie Trew. He really did live up to his name, a brother aptly described him as, “A man who lived with God and visited men”.
I learned so much just spending time in his company. It was a delight to listen to his ministry. He was highly esteemed throughout the British Isles as an able teacher of the Scriptures.
He spent most of his summers preaching the gospel in his tent in the Welsh valleys; he was not only interested in preaching to sinners, but also in teaching the saints. Willie Trew was at ease engaged in both activities. When preaching to sinners he was a clear, joyful herald of the gospel. When teaching believers it was evident he had spent long hours before the Lord, studying His Word until he received a true understanding of the passage. I was greatly impressed and helped by his accurate and interesting exposition of the epistles. He spoke of the things he had gleaned and believed, especially in relation to the assembly’s character and activities in the locality in which it was planted.
The examples of these two brethren, as well as their wise counsel, encouraged me to give more time to reading and studying God’s Word, so that I could help others according to the measure of grace given to me.
Many more names and memories flood into my mind, but they are recorded in an infinitely better book, and praise the Lord, unworthy though I am, my name is there too. I am homesick for Heaven to see Him whom my soul loves! What a gathering unto Him that will be when the toils and trials of earth will be over for ever, and we will serve the Lord as we really ought!