The city of Belfast continued to be a very fruitful field for gospel activity, and Mr. McEwen became much exercised about getting the Word of God before the multitudes in the streets. He pitched a tent in a populous section and adopted the method of Mr. John Hambleton in getting large bills made up like those for a theater. He went to different stores, some of which were saloons, and asked the merchants as politely as he could to give the notices a place in the window. Many stopped to read the strange messages such as “The great and terrible Day of the Lord” in such a strange place beside the whiskey bottles in the show case. These bills served a twofold purpose: first, getting the word of God before the public and secondly, advertising his meetings.
Next to open air work, Mr. McEwen most enjoyed preaching in a canvas tent. This was a novelty in those days. One young woman, while passing, called it “that Calico Church.” Interest increased as he told forth the gospel each night, and his next move was to get large texts of Scripture printed on sheets of paper. Then a board with a round pole at either end was prepared to carry it. When this device was finished and the paper neatly pasted on either side of the board, it gave him much joy. But when he and another brother began to carry it through the streets and the crowd gathered to read the startling words, “Flee from the wrath to come” and “Christ died for the ungodly,” his joy was boundless. However, the cross was evidently too much for his helper for as many were passing they cast slighting remarks, and when they reached the tent with it Mr. McEwen was left alone.
Just then young William Matthews, who afterwards became a well known evangelist and fellow-labourer of Mr. James Campbell, came along. As he read the text, his face beamed and he said, “Praise the Lord, John, this is splendid!” “Yes,” was the reply, “but I have no one to take the other end.” Matthews said with delight, “I’ll help you, come along.” They started off with their silent but soul-searching message. These brethren, being excellent singers, marched at a slow pace, singing:
God loved the world of sinners lost, And ruined by the fall, Salvation full at highest cost He offers free to all!
In a very short time about one thousand people were following. Seeing a vacant lot on the main street they planted their banner there and the people listened with rapt attention while our brethren preached the glorious gospel.
The next day Mr. McEwen went to a christian merchant to see if he had a donkey cart. He had just what he wanted. Striking texts were soon pasted all over the cart and he wheeled it into the street. Again he had difficulty in finding a helper to pull it along. One brother volunteered and once more the crowds grew and increased. They pulled the moveable pulpit into another vacant lot. The merchant, who had followed with the crowd, took off his silk hat, climbed into the cart, and preached the gospel to a most attentive audience. The power of God was manifested and on the streets and in the tent many sinners were melted under the preaching and were won for Christ.
The businessmen of the Exchange became a burden upon his heart and he wondered how he could get the Word of God before them. His good friend, William Matthews, being somewhat of an artist gladly painted some texts on his large umbrella. He covered it with such messages as “The wages of sin is death” and “Peace through the blood.” Then he walked up and down before the building so that his texts might be read by the men whom he longed to reach with the gospel.
This umbrella became a novel sight all over the city. The evening paper had a long editorial about it and this helped to create a deeper interest. In crowded places of the city, at the trains and trolley car junctions, Mr. McEwen appeared with his umbrella or gospel banner displaying the Holy Scriptures that are able to make men wise unto salvation. Often on such occasions he would lift up his trumpetlike voice and sing a verse of some well-known gospel hymn. This always attracted attention and was often followed by a word of testimony. Once he went on the top of the double decker trolley and displayed his large texts so that people on the street below might read them. At the terminal the conductor ordered him off. He left the trolley and started down the sidewalk but a policeman ordered him onto the road. Mr. Charles Inglis, a well-known preacher at that time, crossed the road and gave his younger brother words of encouragement exhorting him to continue in the grace of God.
One day our brother met a young christian on the street who was getting cold in heart. Mr. McEwen asked him to hold his umbrella while he went into a store. He left him standing there a long time and the umbrella drew the attention of many who knew the young man. He could not take it down so he had to keep it up until brother McEwen returned. His object was the young man’s restoration.
Few men were better known in Belfast and for miles around than John Knox McEwen. He was absorbed with love for Christ and with a passion to win souls from the devil’s grasp. In season and out of season he persuaded men concerning the Kingdom of God. His zeal provoked many young men in those days to godly sincerity and to give themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.