One winter day in 1868, a young commercial traveller on his way to London, Ontario, Canada, stopped off at Gait. He had come from England and was a stranger in a strange land. The wares for sale that he displayed to the merchants of the town were only part of the reason for the visit.
The noted George Whitfield, about a century before, stood up to address a large open air meeting in Philadelphia. This celebrated preacher read from Isaiah 55, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money: come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Commenting on the text, he said, “I am going to become a merchant as I have something to offer you. But I’m not like the merchants of Philadelphia who offer their wares to the highest bidder— I offer mine to the lowest bidder.” His gospel message reached many hearts and thirsty sinners drank fully of the living waters.
This young Englishman was Douglas Russell, and he too had become an ambassador for Christ, and was using his spare time to proclaim the gospel of Christ. He began meetings at the Queen’s Square in Gait. Numbers and interest increased until the whole city was moved by the power of God and multitudes professed faith in Christ. An aged brother once told me that at that time you could not walk down Main Street at any hour of the day without someone laying a hand on your shoulder and inquiring, “Are you saved?” The revival spread to many outlying villages and rural districts. It had many marks of a similar visitation in the British Isles some nine years earlier.
In 1875 Mr. Donald Munro and Mr. John Smith, both from Scotland, visited Gait and preached on the street on Saturday nights. Afterwards they rented a hall on Ainslie Street and continued with nightly meetings. Mr. William McPherson (who with his brother, Dan, and other members of the family, was saved during Mr. Russell’s meetings) attended the services during the first week. He was stirred in soul by the plain searching ministry and he invited the preachers out to Clyde, some miles distant. Mr. Smith took sick and Mr. John Carnie, also of Scotland, took his place in Gait while Mr. Munro went out to Clyde.
During the second week of his meetings there was a wonderful moving of the Spirit of God and Mr. James Good-fellow, who became a well known preacher, and many others were awakened and saved. Opposition became very strong and the school house was denied them. However, God was with His servant, and as of old a great door and effectual was opened to them. Mr. Thomas Elliott made room in his “Wagon Shop” for the meetings to continue. In five weeks over fifty precious souls had passed from death unto life and like Samaria, “there was great joy in that city.”
Mr. Munro was a true evangelist and also an expositor of the Scriptures. He suggested Bible readings. The first one was held in Mr. McPherson’s home on a Lord’s Day evening. George Renwick suggested as the subject “Law and Grace.” The following Sunday the Bible reading was on “Believer’s Baptism,” and the third subject was “Sanctification.” These young believers, with others who were in Christ before them, took in these precious truths ministered to them. They desired to put into effect what they had seen from the Scriptures of Truth. One Saturday evening over fifty believers were baptized and the next day seven others followed the Lord in this ordinance. A week later there were eight more baptized.
In the very primitive building where many of these young converts were born again, the Lord’s table was spread for the first time. They had only planks for seats, and one Lord’s Day morning in November, 1875, they sat down to remember the Lord. It was a foretaste of heaven to old and young as they kept the feast in loving remembrance of Him who died and rose again. An assembly was formed in Gait at the same time in 1875. Many dear saints bought the truth at a good price in those days. They cherished it and continued steadfastly in what had been revealed to them of the doctrines of Christ.
George Simpson, Sr. was a farmer living a few miles from Gait. He and his family were brought under the power of the gospel and were saved. His son, Allen, often said, “I was the middle one of the family, and I was saved one day in the middle field of my father’s farm.” George, Jr., also saved when young, was a quiet and studious young man. He was baptized and took his place in the Gait assembly where he was instructed in the ways of the Lord.
This seems to have been God’s order from olden days that young men get their training in the assembly and from there go forth to witness for Christ. George was a very sincere young man with a passion to win souls and labored to this end among his relatives and neighbors.
Mr. John Knox McEwen was well known among the saints in Gait and his ministry was esteemed. His godly life and zeal for the perishing had a deep influence over young George Simpson. He became much exercised about the Lord’s work and his burden was especially the need in Nova Scotia. In this purpose he was encouraged by Mr. McEwen. He counted the cost as to what such a path might mean, not only in earthly loss, but in suffering reproach for Christ. When he was fully persuaded in his own mind, he left home with the prayers and fellowship of fellow saints to join Mr. McEwen in Nova Scotia.
The Maritime provinces were fallow ground. Only one assembly had been established and Mr. McEwen was encountering bitter opposition. However, this new laborer was prepared to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ and to share the persecution as well as the blessings with his beloved brother in Christ, Mr. McEwen.
Mr. McEwen was laboring alone in and around Port Howe. The town of Pugwash, about six miles away, was upon his heart. There were two Baptists who enjoyed the gospel messages and begged Mr. McEwen to give them a sermon in their church. He consented to go one night. The bell tolled for fifteen minutes and the people gathered until the building was filled. The minister arrived and was introduced to Mr. McEwen and said, “I wish to say a few words.” He addressed the audience as follows: “Our Baptist Churches are well known throughout the land and I am always glad to receive any minister who recognizes them.” Mr. McEwen sang a hymn and after prayer he read I Corinthians 2:22. Addressing the large audience, he said, “I came here not as the representative of any sect under heaven, but in the same way the Apostle Paul went to Corinth— as a servant of Christ and to honor Christ.” The presence of God pervaded the meeting as he proclaimed the gospel that Paul preached at Corinth so long ago, and with similar results. Miss McLeod (later Mrs. Campbell), a nurse, was saved while he preached. A doctor sat in the audience who was bitterly opposed but he was saved years later.
The meetings continued in a school room, and the last night Mr. McEwen spoke to Mr. S. at the close of the meeting and said, “You may die before twelve o’clock and, if in your present state, your soul would be in hell.” Thirty minutes later the man died in his chair causing a solemnity over the whole community.
There were many trophies of grace during those meetings and one of the outstanding conversions was that of Mrs. Silas Wacome. She became such a testimony for the Lord that her family followed and also embraced their mother’s Saviour and Lord. Mrs. Wacome and her family were well known to the writer and it was always her delight to converse over the Scriptures and to speak of her Coming Lord Jesus. The following chapter gives the remarkable story of her conversion as told by her son, George.