Likely my grandparents little thought when they named their infant son John Knox that he would so bear the characteristics of the great Protestant Reformer. Someone has said that my father feared neither man nor devil.
Most of my father’s friends have now been called Home, and out of six in our family circle (father, mother, and four children), I am the only one remaining.
My father was born in Dromore, County Down, Northern Ireland, on June 20th, 1853. He was saved during meetings conducted by Messrs. Smith and Campbell at the age of twenty-one. Soon after conversion my father commenced to preach the gospel, first of all in his home districts, then going later to Nova Scotia. He devoted himself to the work of the Lord for almost seventy years until he was called Home in his ninety-second year on November 15, 1944.
On his first visit home whilst labouring in the Gospel in Devonshire he met, in the town of Crediton, near Exeter, Miss Alice Mary Fowler. She earlier had at great cost taken a stand for Christ, associating herself with the christians gathering in the High Street Meeting Room in Crediton, where she had been a communicant in the established church. God honoured her stand, and gave her the joy of seeing her mother and two sisters saved.
My father believed it to be the mind of God that this young lady should be his wife and their marriage took place at Crediton. The ceremony was conducted by Mr. Frederick Bannister who, some time previously, had given up a good living in the Church of England.
Soon after their marriage, father and mother left England for Nova Scotia, and laboured there with marked blessing until ill health necessitated their returning home with an invalid son, Charles, who was born in the backwoods and lived until he was about five years of age. A daughter, Alice Mary, only lived for two weeks. A second son, John, passed away in 1950, the same year that my mother was called Home. A third son, the writer, was also called Charles.
Owing to my mother’s weak state of health, she was prevented from returning to Nova Scotia, and after a period of repeated changes of residence, my parents finally settled in Exeter, Devon. My father, however, who seemed to be possessed of extraordinary reserves of physical stamina, paid many visits to Canada and the United States as well as labouring in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England, where he saw sinners saved and assemblies of believers formed. He also made a visit to Spain.
Looking over the very many letters received when my mother went to be with the Lord, I quote from two where reference is also made to my father.
An evangelist writes, “We can all look back with thanksgiving to God at the fragrant example Mrs. McEwen has left us and can now visualize an abundant entrance to a faithful servant. What a loyal helper she was to your loved Father.”
A couple who frequently entertained my father wrote:
“Your father was a great man, but I believe your dear mother was greater, a noble, godly woman.”
My father acknowledged to me how much he owed to mother.
Although father may have at times appeared severe when on the platform, yet he had a truly sympathetic heart. Many a tale could be told of how he ministered to the needs of the poor and needy and to the Lord’s servants in various parts of the world.
In his personal life father imposed on himself a strict discipline both as to his diet and his habits. He usually rose about five A.M. and the early part of the day was spent in prayer and in the reading of the Scriptures.
I have often been told how he would burst into song early in the morning, one of his favourite hymns being:
“Saviour more than life to me
I am clinging, clinging close to Thee …”
Father was always witnessing to sinners and many experiences could be related in this connection.
One evening, having an impelling urge to witness to the saving power of the Lord Jesus, he opened the bedroom window where he was staying and called out into the night the words of 1 Timothy 1:15. The next morning a man called to enquire if a preacher was in the house. The man, standing on the verge of a pond, had been contemplating suicide, but hearing those life-giving words, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” was arrested in his tracks and was led to trust the Saviour.
During the early years of the Sceond World War, four of us (Mr. Harry Dawe, Mr. Henry Hitchman, father, and myself) were engaged in visiting military camps and barracks distributing copies of the Serviceman’s New Testament. Often Father would stop servicemen from the USA, show them his watch which came from America, and ask them how old they thought he was (then not far off ninety), all with a view to introducing the Saviour.
Father took ill in March, 1944, in his ninety-first year, but recovered sufficiently to get out again and ministered from the Word of God in the four local assemblies.
In November of the same year, having passed his ninety-first birthday, he had a relapse. During his closing days he often quoted a hymn in the Gospel Hymn Book:
“Until I saw the blood
’Twas hell my soul was fearing.”
the verses of which he desired to be repeated at his funeral service. Two verses of this hymn are engraved on his tombstone.
Ten days before Father was called Home my only son, John, then eight years of age, was saved. Often had my father spoken to him about his soul, saying, “John, it’s time you were saved, my boy.” The following morning John told his grandfather who, after conducting an interrogation from his sick bed, declared his pleasure and satisfaction.
Even when very weak and nearing the end, he spoke of the Saviour he loved. Almost, if not his last words were “I shall be glad to see Him.”
Crowds gathered from all parts for the funeral service at Exeter. Two Devonshire brethren, Mr. Harold Ware and Mr. Thomas Prettejohn, who were long-standing friends, conducted the funeral service, Mr. Dawe and Mr. Hitchman took part at the grave, and one from each of the four local assemblies, acted as bearers. Thus was laid to rest a man who, with fearlessness and zeal and with strongly individualistic traits, had for many years borne a consistent and faithful witness to the Lord Jesus, and after he had served his own generation, by the will of God fell on sleep.