One bitterly cold morning in the winter of 1883 the train from Ontario arrived in Amherst, Nova Scotia at six o’clock. Passengers hurried off, each going in his own direction. Among them was a young man weary from the long journey and sickened by the odor of smoke that he had to endure since he left Hamilton, Ontario. There was no one to meet this stranger, but walking slowly from the station he saw an old disused stable to the left and, crossing over to it, he entered. Though the snow that lay on the floor was frozen as hard as a rock, he got down on his knees that early morning and poured out his heart to God in prayer. The burden of his prayer was that God would make his coming to Nova Scotia a blessing to many.
The stranger was John Knox McEwen, whose voice was soon to be heard preaching in the power of God to the people of Nova Scotia. His name became a household word, loved by many, hated by others, esteemed and despised. Companies of believers gathered through his ministry to the peerless name of Jesus were to bear reproach for Christ, and were called in derision “McEwenites.”
He had come to labor for the Lord in Nova Scotia and his work began at once. He gave out a few tracts on the street. One man looked it over and then said, “There was a man here last week giving similar papers away.” Mr. McEwen was quite interested and asked where this man lived. “In Leicester, twelve miles from here,” the man replied. He added, “The postman drives up there tomorrow.”
He made arrangements for a seat and found he was the only passenger leaving Amherst. A snow storm during the night had filled the road with drifts. The horse plunged from side to side and more than once the sleigh turned over pitching the driver and passenger as well as the mail bags into the drifts of snow. The driver got angry and swore at the horses. He said to his passenger, “I shall go back,” but our brother prayed that they might continue. Eventually that journey was over and the preacher was standing outside the door of the farm house on the road side. The wind was frosty and biting but, knocking at the door, a quiet looking woman opened it. “Is Samuel Wallace here?” “Yes,” the lady replied and Samuel came to the door. Holding out his hand, Mr. McEwen said, “I am going to heaven.” “Praise God,” said Wallace heartily as he grasped the hand of his brother in Christ, “I am going there also.”
Brother Wallace made arrangements with Mrs. Lowther for board and lodgings for the newcomer and to share his room. They had a meeting that night and Mr. McEwen preached the gospel. His plain searching ministry seemed to shake the foundation of Mr. and Mrs. Lowther who were church members.
One night when retiring, Mr. McEwen said to Mr. Wallace, “How many do you think are saved in this house?” He replied, “I think Mr. and Mrs. Lowther, Josephine, and Milford.” “Well,” he answered, “I don’t believe there is one of them born again.” He did not know that a very thin partition separated them from other members of the household so that their words were conveyed to the family. Next morning Mr. McEwen could see their attitude was not the same toward him as formerly. Mr. Lowther had evidently made up his mind to let the new preacher see that he had religion also. After breakfast, he took his hymn book and began to sing but no one joined him. This enraged him and he pitched the hymn book against the wall, saying, “Why can’t we praise God as we used to do?” Mr. McEwen looked across at his much disturbed host and solemnly replied, “Mr. Lowther, I for one would indeed praise God if you found out you were a lost sinner and only fit for hell.” He became more irritated and added, “I respect Wallace, but for you I have no respect.”
Day after day in their own room the two brethren cried to God for that family, naming each member before the Lord. Meetings continued and they kept watching for a move. One morning brother Wallace went down for water, but soon returned. His face beaming, he said, “Mrs. Lowther says she is lost and going to hell.” Mr. McEwen hurried down and found her standing at the door of the dining room with God’s arrows in her soul. Josephine was trying to sweep the floor but could not get the broom to go. Opening the Bible, Mr. McEwen read John 3:36. He had the joy of pointing her to Christ. As the light dawned upon her darkened heart, she grasped his Bible with both hands and opened it, saying, “Is it there, ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.’?” At the same moment through the same verse Josephine passed from death unto life. Mrs. Lowther looking at her daughter said, “Why have the ministers not told us this? Why? Why?”
About half a mile away, an old Highland Scotch woman and her son lived on a farm. The Spirit of God was dealing with Mrs. Duncan and tears rained down her face that morning as Mr. McEwen read from Isaiah, fifty-three, and she often repeated, “I dinna see it!” Her son, Tom, who was also in soul trouble, said with feeling, “Mother, don’t you see it! Why, I’m saved! With Jesus’ stripes I am healed.”
Three souls saved by grace gave the preachers great joy but when they returned, much to the sorrow of Mrs. Lowther and Josephine, Mr. Lowther had decided Mr. McEwen must leave. Both packed their bags which was easily done. They left, undecided as to their movements. They walked to Duncan’s and the newborn soul said, “We’ll give you the best room in the house.” With only the old lady in the home, Mr. McEwen decided to cook for themselves. Going to the barn, he filled a saucepan with wheat, washed it well, and boiled it for eight hours, and they got along fine.
They hired a man one day to drive them to Port Philip and when they came out of the woods into the main road and saw the telephone poles, Mr. McEwen said, “I think there was a tear in my eye.” Calling at Kings, Mr. McEwen sat in the sleigh while Mr. Wallace went in to see if they would give Mr. McEwen lodgings. Mrs. King came out to see him and said, “Yes, we will take you.” She was an Episcopalian and her husband a Universalist. Fanny’s life in the home was a real testimony for Christ.