There were a number of well-known godly and saintly brethren in England at that time such as R. C. Chapman, Anthony Groves and his son Henry, George Mueller, Henry Dyer, Mr. Hake and others whom Mr. McEwen got to know intimately. Their godly lives and knowledge of the Word had given confidence and guidance to assemblies in trying days when different circles of assemblies and divisions had brought sorrow among many of God’s precious assemblies.
As was well known, Mr. Chapman and Mr. Hake kept bachelor’s quarters as neither were married, but they entertained missionaries and other servants of the Lord freely. They invited Mr. McEwen as their guest. Knowing they were such outstanding men of God he was almost afraid to go into such an atmosphere, but he went and greatly enjoyed their company. The first day, however, when Mr. Chapman was alone with his guest, he said, “Mr. Hake is a very provoking brother. He has been provoking me all morning.” Mr. McEwen was a bit startled after all he had heard about these two beloved brethren, and again Mr. Chapman said, “Mr. Hake has been provoking me all morning to love and good works.” “Ah, that is different,” thought the guest. Each of them had wanted the honor of shining the shoes of their guest (an ancient British custom in the home).
These beloved brethren mentioned left behind them a sweet savor of Christ. Their godly sincerity in every department was well-known among the assemblies near and far and that sweet aroma has come down to the present time. These men and others before them had been used by the Lord in establishing assemblies of the Lord’s people who met simply in the Name of Our Lord Jesus and sought to carry out the New Testament pattern of church order.
Early in the nineteenth century there was among many believers in Christ a definite movement of the Spirit of God. It is true that since the days of the renowned John Wickcliffe, who was spoken of by many as the morning star of the Reformation, God had raised up men at different times to bring forth the light of the Gospel. The spiritual darkness that had fallen upon the professing church in his day was appalling, but there were still men and women who cherished the words of Bernard of Clairvaux written in the twelfth century:
Lord Jesus Christ, the thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.
No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
O Saviour of mankind!
O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find?
Ah, this No tongue no pen can show;
The love of Jesus—what it is
None but His loved ones know.
Saviour, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our crown shalt be;
Be Thou, O Lord, our glory now,
And through eternity.
Although the darkness of Rome was abounding, yet Wickcliffe, a priest, had a great interest in the gospel. He translated the Bible into English, and, with the coming of the printing press, he was able to distribute New Testaments to young men and encourage them to study the Word and go forth to preach the gospel.
Other shining lights such as Luther, Farel, Calvin, Knox, Whitfield, and the Wesleys were raised up by the Lord to shake the powers of darkness and to see many snatched as brands from the burning. Many of the converts in those dark days suffered much persecution for Christ’s sake.
This movement referred to in the beginning of the nineteenth century differed in part from these movements of earlier days. Added to a burning zeal in the gospel was the tremendous desire that filled so many hearts at the same time, and in so many lands—the desire to understand and practice the proper way of observing the Lord’s Supper. So widespread was this movement that, unknown to one another, much exercise of heart concerning these precious truths was evident in different parts, and even on other continents. The Spirit of God was thus revealing to many these same truths, and small companies of believers were gathering together in the simplicity that is in Christ.
One of the first places that the effect of this desire was felt was in Dublin, Ireland. A group of godly men and women began to study the Scriptures pertaining to the Lord’s Supper. In Matthew 26:26-28 they read, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” In Mark 14:22 to 24 almost the same words are used, while in John 13 another view of the same scene is given. They were at the table, verse 28, when the Lord was troubled in His spirit and said to the disciples in verse 21, “One of you shall betray me.” The disciples were anxious to know, “Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, ‘He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it.’ And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon,” verses 26 and 27. Then it is written of Judas, “He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.” In this portion nothing more is said about Judas, but after he was gone Jesus spoke to the others freely, and it is very suggestive that it was then that He instituted the Lord’s Supper as given in Matthew, Mark, and also in Luke 22:19, 20.
As these and also other Scriptures were examined, they learned how the Lord on that eventful night instituted and patterned the Lord’s Supper. They could see that when saints thus came together to remember their Lord, no celebrated man or official office was required, but in utmost simplicity and humble dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide in worship, they should thus remember Him.
Then turning to 1 Corinthians 11 they were very interested in reading the account of the Apostle Paul. He had spent a year and six months among them preaching the gospel he had received, as he reminds them in chapter 15. Then he clearly informs them in verses 23 to 26 of chapter 11 that while he was with them he had instituted and taught them “That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, ‘Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.’”
These beloved brethren and sisters in studying all that was written could see that Paul used the very expressions and words used by the Lord when instituting the Lord’s Supper. They saw no mention of any official office for any person to occupy at such a gathering. They decided to act accordingly, and on a Lord’s Day morning, these beloved saints came together with deeply exercised hearts. A table was spread in a hired room and furnished with bread and wine. The sisters of course knew their place was to be silent according to the Word. That was a memorable meeting for all present! There was a deep-felt sense of the holy presence of the Lord, and as some brethren took a little part in praise or reading the Word and then giving thanks for the bread and the cup, tears in abundance flowed and there was a deep assurance that this is the thing that the Lord hath commanded.
Very soon others were added and the assembly became established. There was much simplicity and godly order among them. They were most anxious to continue in godly simplicity and the Lord’s Supper was their delight although they felt as if they were the only little company gathering in His Name alone. However, it soon became known, to their great joy, that in many other places, mostly far apart, little companies and some larger ones, after passing through similar exercise of heart, were gathering likewise in simplicity and were remembering the Lord in the same way. The Lord raised up gift in their midst and the saints were fed with ministry from the Word while the gospel also went forth with no uncertain sound.
There was very sweet fellowship between assemblies and they also grew in number. Many were gifted men who gave themselves to the ministry of the Word. Others were gospel preachers and were used of God in leading others to Christ. Mr. A. N. Groves of England led a missionary to Bagdad and later to India where a great work for God was begun. In England many assemblies were established and a number of saintly brethren were raised up to labor among them including Mr. Chapman, Mr. Groves and others who became a real help to brother McEwen as he continued to labor for the Lord in that area.