The Story Of The London Missionary Meetings
The story of assembly life and spiritual activity in the Metropolis would be incomplete without some reference to what has become known as the London Missionary Meetings.
Few gatherings of the Lord’s people have in recent years so powerfully influenced the work amongst the heathen as those soul-inspiring meetings, where, from the far-flung fields of labour in regions beyond, ambassadors of the Cross meet in happy concord with fellow-Christians from almost every corner of the homeland to render an account of their stewardship in the Lord’s vineyard.
It was about the year 1894 that Frederick Stanley Arnot—whose name will ever live in the annals of missionary pioneer work in darkest Africa—conceived the idea of commencing a weekly prayer meeting, having as its object the remembrance before the throne of grace of those who, in obedience to the call of the Gospel, had gone forth in implicit faith, looking solely to the Lord to supply their needs. The first meeting was held at the Aldersgate Street Y.M.C.A. in the afternoon, but the hour not being suitable for business men and others who were interested, few were able to attend. It occurred to Alfred W. Fisher that a monthly prayer meeting at a convenient hour in the evening would probably be found to be more suitable for such a purpose, and alter consulting Mr. Arnot, who at once expressed his full agreement with the suggestion, a meeting of elder brethren was called at the Gospel Hall, Lewisham.
London overseeing brethren responded happily to the invitation to that meeting, which was quite conversational in character. The idea of a monthly prayer meeting in the evening was favourably received, and God gave a wonderfully unanimous judgment to those present as to the desirability of such a meeting. After further waiting upon God for guidance, it was provisionally agreed that the prayer meeting be held at the Friends’ Meeting House, at Devonshire House, Bishopsgate Street, on the last Friday in the month. A circular letter giving an outline of what had been considered and proposed, was drawn up and addressed to the London assemblies, signed by John Churchill, J. G. McVicker and Joseph W. Jordan, commending Francis Stunt, Alfred W. Fisher and A. Milne Kyd as suitable brethren to undertake the responsibility entailed by such meetings. These monthly meetings, it was suggested, would afford an opportunity for Christians from different parts of the Metropolis and district to come together for the purpose of supporting by prayer those whom they knew serving the Lord in other lands. The first meeting took place in April, 1894, not in the Friends’ Meeting House but in an upstairs room on the Devonshire House premises.
Recalling those epoch-making days, Mr. A. W. Fisher wites:
“Missionary brethren were not so well known in those days in the London meetings, and it occurred to a few of us to have a gathering at which some of those who had returned from the foreign field should be asked to address us. The first of these meetings—now called the Annual Missionary Meetings—was held in 1895. On that occasion we simply had the afternoon and evening of Friday. In 1896 there was a prayer meeting on Thursday evening and other meetings on the Friday.”
In the year 1912 several changes took place which necessitated the appointment of other brethren to act as conveners. Mr. Fisher had gone to Canada and Mr. Stunt intimated that his age and the distance of his residence from London prevented his continuing, while Mr. Kyd, whose activities in connection with Clapton Hall made increasing demands upon his time, expressed a desire to be free for the work of the assembly with which he was so closely attached. Consequently, a meeting of elder brethren was held at Devonshire House, when the position was re- viewed, and John T. Churchill, G. J. Hyde and Joseph W. Jordan were asked to act as conveners, which position they accepted, continuing to serve in that capacity until 1925. Alfred W. Fisher, W. Stunt and A. Milne Kyd then took over the work, and with other fellow-workers have discharged this important service till the present time.
During the long years since the inauguration of these gatherings, meetings for prayer and intercession continued with increasing; interest, the fruits of which will only be revealed in a coming day. The prayer meetings were held at Devonshire House until the buildings were demolished, and about the year 1924 it became necessary to remove to the premises of the Sunday School Union in Old Bailey, Later, the meeting was transferred, to the Aldersgate Street Y.M.C.A., where it is still held.
Whilst those seasons of intercession on behalf of the Master’s business in other lands continued, to occupy a prominent place in the hearts of the Lord’s people, so the Missionary Meetings, the offspring of those hallowed hours of prayer, increased in number, till, in 1913, it became imperative that larger premises be secured. These gatherings had grown to such an extent that many were unable to obtain access, causing much disappointment, particularly to friends who had come up to London from the country to attend. It was decided, therefore, to remove to Kingsway Hall, which provided nearly double the accommodation. Here the meetings were held for nine years, but owing to the increased numbers of Christians attending, a still larger hall had to be found. Thus the Central Hall, Westminster, with a seating capacity of two thousand seven hundred, was secured for the purpose, and the Annual Conference has taken place there since then. Only those who have been privileged to attend the inspiring meetings at the Central Hall during recent years, and to feel the impulse of the spiritual atmosphere which pervades, can in a measure realise how mightily God has wought through this divinely-ordained channel, since the advent of that little prayer meeting in a hired room in Aldersgate Street less than fifty years ago. And it is consistent with these gatherings having arisen out of a prayer meeting, that two hours are apportioned for prayer on Thursday, the opening day of the conference, and forty-five minutes on Friday, the time for prayer occupying the beginning of each day’s proceedings.
Suffolk And Henry Heath
In the days when the unsophisticated taste for things in general and meeting-places in particular was rather less fastidious than is the case in the times in which we live, it is not surprising to find even the most incongruous and least expected building brought into use for the holding of Gospel meetings. From John Wesley’s
Journal we learn that when no public meeting-room was available in the parish where his itinerant excursions led him, he very soon had the sombre-looking barn of a kindly-disposed farmer transformed into a bright and. congenial place, with a score-and-a-half tallow candle illuminants; and here the celebrated evangelist would preach to the assembled country people with a vigour and sincerity which rarely failed to captivate his audience.
We remember, too, that it was in a barn in the remote district of Codymain, in Ireland, that Augustus Toplady, who in after years wote the immortal hymn, “Rock of Ages,” heard the way of salvation from the lips of an unlettered preacher and was converted.
Nearly a hundred years ago, within the bare walls of a barn which stood on the edge of a meadow at Tostock in the county of Suffolk, a Gospel testimony was commenced which led to the establishment of an assembly in that district. Night after night the barn was filled to overflowing, numbers coming many miles from neighbouring parishes to hear the Gospel. Those were indeed primitive times, when few people of the labouring class could read, and as hymn books were less popular than they are to-day, many of the meetings were carried through without singing. To some of us a songless Gospel meeting would seem an incongruous proceeding, knowing from happy experience that on such occasions the pent-up joy of a soul redeemed had but one safety valve, in the lifting up of the voice in exultant praise to Him who saved us! Nevertheless, the Lord placed His seal on the labours of those pioneer preachers, and numbers of the people who attended the meetings in the barn were saved. Many afterwards sought to follow the Scriptural command and were baptized, the only convenient place where this could be carried out being a large slate tank in the neighbouring graveyard. As the result of those meetings in the barn there are to-day a number of assemblies in the county of Suffolk, among which are Stowmarket, Fakenham and Rougham.
The adjoining parish of Woolpit, whose assembly will ever be remembered in association with the name of Henry Heath, came under the sway of the Gospel about this time, and mainly through the labour of Captain Towers many of the country people were led to the Saviour. A man of untiring energy and undaunted courage, Captain Towers relinquished the calling of a seafaring life that he might devote his time and talent in the service of the Lord; and there were few village greens and market places in the county of Suffolk in the days of which we wite where his voice, proclaiming the Good News, was not heard, Nor did he and those faithful to the Truth escape the subtle attention of the enemy. But despite the bitter persecution through which they passed, the “New Lights,” as the little company were satirically named, became the nucleus of a testimony which has been honoured of the Lord up to the present time.
But it was the corning of Henry Heath to Woolpit that marked in a very real way the working of the Holy Spirit in that untouched district of Suffolk. To many it seemed strange and unaccountable that a servant of the Lord, endowed with such natural abilities as a teacher and expositor of the Word, should take up the work begun by Captain Towers in that isolated village of a few hundred inhabitants, six miles from a town and two miles from the nearest railway station. Here for nearly thirty years this faithful pastor and shepherd ministered to a flock, the boundary of whose pastures extended far beyond the limits of the almost unknown hamlet of Woolpit; and it is reputed that “people from fifteen different villages—some of them six miles away—would come regularly to Woolpit Room, to have the privilege of sitting under his ministry and go away refreshed and strengthened.”
Henry Heath was engaged as a schoolmaster in the Devonshire village of Tawstock when he was brought in contact with Robert Chapman, a circumstance which was to alter the whole course of his career. He was then in his early twenties. His school was connected with the parish church, and this, no doubt, led Mr. Heath to take up the study of the Scriptures with a view to entering the ministry of the Church of England. Thus his visits to the home of Mr. Chapman at No. 9 New Buildings, Barnstaple, became frequent, which resulted in an entire change coming over the young schoolmaster, subsequently transforming his outlook on life and directing his steps in other paths. To him this wonderful unfolding of the Scriptures during those memorable Bible readings was altogether a new experience. Of this transitional stage, which marked the opening of a life wholly devoted to the Master, Henry Heath revealed to a friend that “the Scriptures had become a new power to his soul, and he was learning that the Bible was a living book, not only a theological work, fitting his mental powers for study in Hebrew and Greek, but that it was the inspired Word of God given to the Church of God in all ages.”
In the year 1848, Mr. Heath took up residence at Hackney, London, where for about twenty years, as we have already seen in a former chapter, he was constant in ministry, not only in connection with Paragon Road Assembly, but at provincial conferences and other gatherings of Christians where opportunity was afforded for expounding the Scriptures. It was from Hackney that he went to Woolpit, where, till called home in 1900, Henry Heath laboured with a fervent love for the One he ever sought to exalt; a labour of love which has left a sweet savour.
After Woolpit, the Gospel was carried to other parts of Suffolk, meetings being held not only on available open spaces in town and hamlet, where the ear of the passer-by might be arrested, but in the kitchens of those whose hearts had been reached by the call of the Gospel. Following upon those times of spiritual revival, there were formed what were then known as reading meetings, where believers young in the faith came together under the guidance of men imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit, that they might learn from the Scriptures what was the will of Him whom they had come to know in an experimental way as the Lover of their souls.
Moats Tye Room in the village of Combs is the outer shell of an old cottage with a thatched roof, certainly unique in Suffolk as a meeting-room. Gospel meetings were begun there in 1843, followed by Bible readings which were largely attended by those who had been led into the light of salvation at the Gospel meetings, and by others who had a real desire to become acquainted with Bible truths, of which up to that time they had been in darkness. The outcome was that as they came to learn the will of God concerning believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper, many desirous of carrying out the Scriptural injunction, walked to the neighbouring town of Stowmarket, about three miles distant, on Lord’s Days, to join the little company of Christians in that town who had only a short time before come together to remember the Lord’s death in the breaking of bread. Two years later the way was opened up for a permanent testimony in Combs, and after waiting upon God for guidance, an assembly was formed in the old Moats Tye thatched cottage. Thus, “On the 30th day of March 1855,” says an old record book still in existence, “a meeting of believers was held in the above place. It was agreed they should meet there in future, for the breaking of bread simply as believers in Christ Jesus; and willing to receive all such for His sake, according to Romans 15:7.” Then follows a list of eighty-two names, and it is interesting to observe that the grandchildren of several of them are in the assembly at Combs to-day. For many years Mr. W. M. Hewitt, an able and gracious servant of God, was constant in his care for the flock. Then followed Mr. Salmon of Stowmarket and Mr. Tidmarsh of Bury St. Edmunds who for a long period were real helpers at Moats Tye; and many to-day testify to the help/ and blessing they received through the ministry of these brethren.
The formation of an assembly at St. Albans, Hertfordshire, had its beginning in the winter of 1864 following a visit to that town by Howard Johnston. “My wife and I came to St. Albans to seek for lodgings and an open door for the Gospel. We were guided to suitable apartments, where we were comfortably cared for.”
Thus wote Mr. Johnston respecting the beginning of his labours for Christ in that town and surrounding country, which, during the three years which followed, were greatly blessed in the conversion of men and women and the upbuilding of the Lord’s children. He called on a friend who owned a large iron room which was capable of accommodating upwards of a thousand persons, the use of which was readily granted for the preaching of the Gospel. Sunday afternoon services had been held there previously, but few, with a heart for the Gospel, could be found to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, so that the hand of the Lord was fully acknowledged in leading Howard Johnston to St. Albans just then.
The work continued happily until, through clerical opposition and the subtle energies of other enemy forces, the Iron Room, which had been the birthplace of many souls, was closed against those who sought to uphold the truths of Scripture with an open Bible and to spread the Gospel. But the Lord did not forsake His faithful people and suitable premises were found, so that on the following Lord’s Day the usual meetings—the Breaking of Bread and Bible Class, besides two Gospel meetings—were held, the latter in the new Corn Exchange, which place was well filled both afternoon and evening.
Early in the Spring of 1865 a tent was pitched, which had soon to be substituted by a larger one. The site chosen was in Lattimore Road, and many fruitful meetings were held. Before the year closed, a hall was built in the field where the tent had been pitched, the first meeting being held on the last day of the same year, when the Lord honoured the occasion in the conversion of a soul. And thus the testimony begun over seventy years ago continues to the present time, with an unswerving loyalty to the Gospel and faithfulness in carrying out the principles of New Testament truths revealed in the Scriptures.
The commencement of a testimony at Eastbourne, on the English Channel, may be traced to the conversion, rather late in life, of two sons of a former vicar of that town. Lord Radstock was preaching in the public room of the Maidenhead Hotel, Uckfield, when William and Frederick, sons of Dr. Brodie, came under soul conviction, and realised for the first time, that a pious upbringing in the religiously correct atmosphere of a vicarage would not obtain for them that peace of soul for which they now sought. Although it was Frederick who, in the year 1869, first began a Gospel testimony in the Old Town district of the now popular health resort, yet it is the revered name of William Brodie which will ever shine out in bold relief in any recorded consideration of the Lord’s work in Eastbourne, as it was largely through his instrumentality, both spiritually and financially, that the testimony went forward. He was born at the old vicarage, which stood opposite the Parish Church of St. Mary, and in early life the boy ran rather an erratic course. On leaving school he became a midshipman, but quitted the service a few years later and proceeded to the Island of Trinidad. Here the youth was employed on a sugar estate. He afterwards sailed for Australia, where, adopting the somewhat solitary life of a squatter, some years were spent in the bush.
Reduced in circumstances, the wanderer returned to England and took up residence with his mother at Eastbourne. It was some years later that the crisis in the life of William Brodie took place. He then, after being a member of the Church of England for fifty years, felt constrained to leave it. Let me quote his own words at that time as given in an interesting little brochure issued to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Edgmond Hall, and to which the present waiter is indebted for much information:
“If ever I had a direct call from God it was when I came to this decision. When I went into—Church one Sunday morning I had not the slightest idea of leaving the Church of England. On quitting the building I said to my wife, ‘Never ask me to go into that church again; I was so uncomfortable that I will never go in there again.’”
His resolve was never broken. Such a solemn and deliberate action as this, was only decided upon by reason of the enlightened apprehension of the truth of God as touching the simplicity that is in Christ, undoubtedly a direct result of the spiritual awakening which was to effect such a resolute change in his whole life.
Following the Gospel testimony begun by Frederick Brodie, Mrs. Emma Grace his sister, along with Mrs. Benest, gathered the people together into the schoolroom of the Old Town Infant School, where they talked of the good tidings of grace revealed to them through the Scriptures, and many were pointed to the Saviour. From a diary left behind, it is pleasing to observe that the foundation of this fruitful work was firmly laid in prayer. To them, prayer was indeed a power with unlimited possibilities.
Encouraged by the evidence of spiritual fruit, William Brodie, in 1871, followed on during the winter months by giving Gospel addresses to which people in large numbers were attracted. The kind of preaching to which they listened at these services was quite different from that of the parish church, which, as they said, “was over their heads” altogether. The people crowded into the meeting-room to hear the Word of God, because, as Mr. Brodie himself said, “They understood the preaching.” A year later he purchased larger premises, and so great was the interest manifested in the town, that before long it was realised that the meeting-room would require to be enlarged, so Mr. Brodie proceeded to acquire the adjoining property. This he had converted into the present hail with a seating capacity of from three hundred to four hundred, which on many occasions was tested to its utmost. In fact it was found necessary at a later date to hire another hall nearer the seaside, for the convenience of visitors and others residing in the locality. This, however, has been succeeded by Marine Hall in Longstone Road, with which the names of Steinle, Baddeley, Cummings and Hewer will always be associated.
Previous to this, a desire was expressed that the Bible truths which they had come to learn should be carried out, not as man had devised, but solely according to the Scriptures. Thus a table was set up, and on the first day of the week many came together in happy fellowship to remember the Lord.
One is so accustomed to hear what is said by ourselves about ourselves, that the view of the outsider may be worthy of recounting here. Thus we read what a witer in the local press had to say some years ago concerning the Mission Hall, as it was then called. He wites:
“This is a plain building in Church Street, in which a mission has been carried on for several years by Mr. W. Brodie in connection with the communion known as ‘Christian Brethren,’ who have no clergy or stated ministry, and deny being a sect or denomination but hold to the saying ‘One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.’ The Mission Hall…has been comfortably fitted up and lighted. There are no pews, but forms and chairs are used as seats and a platform serves the purpose of the pulpit…As we have said, there is no stated ministry, but brethren from various places give addresses at services, and in various ways, efforts are put forth for the religious and temporal welfare of the inhabitants of the Old Town. The congregations nearly fill the building, and are made up chiefly of the working-class with a sprinkling of the persons in the middle walk of life. From a conversation we had with an intelligent farm labourer who attends the meeting regularly, it seems that the services are greatly appreciated by the people of his class, and are preferred to the more formal services of the Church of England. The good man spoke gratefully of the efforts put forth by Mr. Brodie and his friends for the well-being of the people living in the Old Town.”
Some of the best-known evangelists and teachers of that time, whose names are already familiar to the reader, were invited to assist Mr. Brodie in the work, among them being Shuldham Henry, Harry Moorhouse, Denham Smith, Harrison Ord, Dr. Macnutt, John Connor, Charles Inglis and George Hucklesby—the latter spending many of his early days of ministry in the assembly. Thus Edgmond Hall (or the Mission Hall, as it was formerly called) became the spiritual birthplace of many who are now with the Lord. A few years subsequent to the erection of the Mission Hall, the schoolroom was added at the rear of the building by Mrs. Grace, who also caused to be erected Edgmond Lodge, which afforded convenient accommodation for servants of the Lord coming from a distance, and those who sometimes stayed for weeks at a time during special Gospel services. These properties were eventually left by Deed of Gift to the assembly, the whole being in the control of trustees. “Of Mrs. Grace it may be remarked as it was of the Shunammite woman of Old Testament days, that ‘she was a great woman,’ who thought no sacrifice too large for her blessed Lord.” She built and endowed several halls in various parts of the country besides fully equipping at her own expense not a few labourers for the foreign field.
It is of interest to note that Edgmond Hall was one of the earliest—if not the first—“dissenting” places of worship in Eastbourne, and those connected with it suffered much from the stand which they made against what has been termed “organised Christianity.” “The assembly, of course, has experienced its vicissitudes,” says the witer of the brochure already referred to; “it has had its joys and sorrows, but through them all the banner of testimony has ever been unfurled, and through the grace of the Lord an unswerving loyalty to the Holy Scriptures has been maintained.”
As in the case of all healthy assemblies, the missionary-spirit has been encouraged and developed, so that from Edgmond Hall ambassadors of the Cross have gone forth to India, France, Congo, Balolo, China, Central Africa, Rangoon and Switzerland. In this connection I may be permitted to quote again from the witer already alluded to, and this I do with fullest approbation. “It is our firm conviction that a Church without a missionary outlook is in danger of dwindling away through its becoming self-centred.” With this end in view, missionary meetings are held annually, and have been a source of encouragement and enlightenment for some years past, to believers in and around the Eastbourne district.
Shanklin, Isle Of Wight
The first recorded gathering to the name of the Lord in Shanklin, Isle of Wight, followed the simple pattern so frequently met with in these pages. It was in his own home, early in the year 1881, that William Brown, his wife and a few friends, began to break bread. They were shortly afterwards joined by others, and by the end of the year it was found necessary to remove to a large lecture-room over a grocer’s shop. There was already an assembly at Ryde, a few miles across the island, from which the little company received much spiritual help and sustenance.
At some revival services held in the Congregational Church, large numbers professed faith in Christ, and this in a measure was the means of augmenting the already growing assembly, for many who sought spiritual guidance were led into the light and liberty found in the soul-satisfying experience of New Testament teaching. James Wight, of Bristol, was visiting Shanklin during this time of blessing, and had the joy of witnessing the baptism of twenty believers, to whom he afterwards ministered those truths so dear to the child of God. Four months later, sixteen others publicly confessed Christ in the waters of baptism.
In the year following, several other believers were baptized. Among them was Lieutenant Hoste, who afterwards became prominently associated with the China Inland Mission. At that time he was stationed at Sandown.
In 1885, a new hall, large enough to accommodate two hundred persons, was built, and the work continued to prosper. Shanklin has been privileged in its association with many notable brethren who visited the island. Among those remembered because of their faithful ministry and spiritual help in the furtherance of the Gospel, and in the building up of the assembly, the following may be men- tioned:—Lord Radstock, J. Denham Smith, Col. Foster, Capt. Mitchell, James Vicary and Mr. Onslow.
From its formation in the early eighties, the life of this assembly has been characterised by an aggressive Gospel testimony, and a faithful adherence to the principles of truth. Nor have the widespread needs of the foreign field lacked a place in their sympathies, for, as an indication of the practical interest shown, the records of the Shanklin Assembly contain the names of those associated with the meeting who have gone forth as missionaries to Africa, India, China and the West Indies.
In the recording of events which have, in divinely ordered sequence, led up to the formation of an assembly of believers, one is apt to overlook the labours of the faithful few behind the scenes; those whose names are known only to the One they seek to magnify; those whose unfailing constancy in spiritual affairs escape the attention of the public eye and, anon, pass by unseen and unsung. And yet not unseen by Him whose record, unspoilt by the fickle pen of human efflorescence, will be revealed in the light of a day yet to come. While the names and doings of men of succeeding generations take pre-eminence in the building up of the church, the honoured place of the woman, alone with God in the secret of her chamber, can never be fully estimated. It is said that the prevailing prayer of two Christian sisters, unknown to the subject of their supplications, contributed in no small measure to the coming of Dwight L. Moody to Great Britain in the early seventies.
In like manner it was the fervent prayer of a saintly woman in Surbiton that brought about the establishment of an assembly in the town of Kingston-on-Thames. For some time Miss Ranyards had been much concerned about the need of the Gospel in that town. Towards the end of 1865 she wote to the Open Air Mission, London, to send someone to Kingston Fair. In response to the appeal two or three young men attended the Fair, where an opportunity was afforded for carrying the Gospel to the crowds who had come to town for the festival. Oliver Fry, one of the young preachers, was invited to remain at Kingston that he might follow up the work, and the next day was spent visiting the cottagers in their homes. This resulted in a Gospel meeting being arranged for in one of the cottages. So keen was the interest that some who were unable to gain access refused to go home and remained standing outside the open door. The Gospel message, presented in all its sweetness and simplicity by the young preacher, carried conviction to one who was leaning against the wall by the door listening. This was the beginning of a remarkable work of grace, and soon afterwards a large room was hired in the building opposite to where the old Gospel Hall was later erected. Here meetings were continued till 1867.
About this time a number of those recently saved, as well as others who had come to know the will of the Lord, walked to Hampton Court Assembly each Lord’s Day for the purpose of remembering the Lord in the breaking of bread. The distance, however, rendered it rather inconvenient for some who desired to attend, and it was decided to seek guidance that the way might be made clear for commencing an assembly at Kingston. Soon afterwards a suitable room was acquired in Fairfield Place. There being no accommodation in the house a baptistry was dug in the garden, the first to carry out the Scriptural command being those brethren who had so recently come to a knowledge of the Truth. Before the close of the same year in which the little company began to
break bread, the room and passage leading to it were on many occasions crowded during the Gospel meeting, and it became necessary to remove to larger premises, which were obtained in the Assize Court buildings. The old Gospel Hall was then planned, and in 1868 was opened for use.
During this time Oliver Fry, who had been prevailed upon to take up residence at Kingston, continued to shepherd the flock, besides giving much of his time to Gospel work in the neighbourhood. The testimony begun at the Fair was continued each year with evidence of blessing, and in 1868 a booth was built where Gospel services were held nightly. Whilst in the midst of active work for the Master, and when his influence for God in the town was acknowledged by all who knew him, Mr. Fry was suddenly called away from the scene of his labours and from those who loved him. On the 16th of July 1869, while bathing in the river, he was drowned. This seemed an irreparable loss, but through the mercy of God those left behind were kept together.
Mr. Grove, a brother who came to reside in the town about the same time as Mr. Fry, then saw it was the Lord’s will that he should give more of his time to the work of the young assembly. For a number of years he was, with the help of others, used in piloting the assembly through years of difficulty and disappointment, cheered only by seasons of spiritual blessing, at a time when the tactful exercise of a gracious spirit was required in warding off the assiduous attentions of the enemy of the Church.
The history of this assembly is one of varied experience. Still, those who continued steadfast ever sought by God’s help to keep the light burning. This they did in face of many difficulties, for the assembly was called upon to pass through yet another time of testing when, on the 9th of February 1917, the Gospel Hall was burned down. From that time the assembly met in hired premises, till in 1926, having purchased a plot of land in Canbury Park Road, the present hall was built and opened in that same year. Since then many have been added to the church, the number now in fellowship being about a hundred and fifty.
The Testimony At Baldock
Allusion has already been made to the useful part played by a tent mission in connection with the formation of an assembly. Particularly is this the case in outlying districts cut off from the main arteries, and in a considerable measure away from the beaten track. About the year 1879, John Brunton, an evangelist, took his tent to Baldock, in Hertfordshire, and preached what many thought to be a new type of doctrine. Up to that time no definite evangelistic work had been known in that district, and the advent of a tent pitched in the corner of a field drew many to hear this itinerant preacher. What they did hear was not the stereotyped kind of sermon to which they had been accustomed during their attendance at the parish church near by, but an ungarnished elucidation of the Holy Scriptures delivered to them in such a way that set the village talking. This kind of preaching was quite new to those who attended the tent services, and while some scoffed at the presumption of this unordained preacher, it was evident that there were those who had come with a sincere desire to learn more concerning the Scriptures.
Mr. Brunton, therefore, asked them to bring their Bibles. And so from the infallible Word of Truth he was able not only to point anxious ones to the Saviour, but it came about that before the mission ended a little company drawn from church and chapel, enlightened by a fresh revelation of what to them was entirely new, came together simply as Christians to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. For some time they met in a hired room, but two of their number being engaged in the building trade a suitable piece of ground was secured upon which an Iron Room, large enough to seat a hundred persons, was erected.
Henry Groves followed John Brunton, and his visit to Baldock, which was chiefly with a view to ministering to the spiritual needs of the young assembly, resulted in many more being added to the Church. Since then the assembly has continued faithful to the Word, through difficult times and in face of much opposition; and though their name, like that of numerous other such isolated gatherings of the Lord’s people throughout the country, may take but a humble place, yet their testimony to the truth and power of the Gospel will not pass unrewarded by their Lord.
In South Devon
While the tent at Baldock was fulfilling its mission in the gathering in of souls for the Kingdom, a similar work was making itself felt in the South Devon village of Starcross. John Harris, the gardener to a local clergyman, in company with Frank Tupman, a fellow Christian, hired an unoccupied cottage, which was let to them at a nominal rent, and commenced Gospel meetings. Previous to this, the only religious evidence in the village was the parish church, whose interest in the spiritual welfare of the inhabitants appeared to extend little beyond the formalities of the Lord’s Day services. Fifty odd years ago—the time of which we wite—this neighbourhood, I understand, was notable for its lawlessness and utter disregard for God and of any form of religious worship. The novelty, therefore, of a cottage meeting conducted by two young men aroused curiosity and the room was filled nightly. Thus the Lord gave token of His approval at the commencement by saving souls.
About this time, two evangelists. Panting and Honywell by name, arrived In the neighbourhood with a large tent which they pitched on a vacant patch of ground. No previous arrangement having been made, their arrival was taken as an answer to prayer. Gospel meetings were continued for several weeks with a manifestation of real interest and blessing; so that before the mission ended a little company of believers came together under the canvas of the tent in apostolic simplicity to remember the Lord’s death. Soon afterwards a portable iron building was erected on the same piece of ground where the tent had stood. Thus the efforts begun in the cottage, and strengthened by the coming of the tent, resulted in the formation of the Starcross Assembly.
Twenty years later a brick building replaced the iron structure, which had now become too small. Owing to local prejudice some difficulty was experienced in securing ground for the erection of the new hall, but the Lord inclined the heart of a brewer, who offered a piece of land which formed part of a publican’s garden, and a building capable of accommodating about two hundred people was erected on this site.
There appears to be no witten record of the exact date when the assembly at Cheltenham came into being. For some time in the late seventies of last century a little company of believers was meeting in the Old Corn Exchange—now a Cinema House—where they sought to
remember the Lord on the first day of the week. Regent Hall, the present meeting-place, was opened on Lord’s Day, 23rd April 1882, with an early morning prayer meeting at which forty persons were present. The circumstances which led to the commencement of the assembly have not been handed down, but among those whose names are still remembered for their labour in the Gospel and the shepherding of the flock is A. J. Cummings. He was a prominent business man in the town, and it was mainly through his efforts and influence that such stalwarts of those days as Robert Chapman, Henry Dyer, General Mackenzie, George Müller, Hudson Taylor, Thomas Newberry and Shuldham Henry were to be found on occasions ministering to the spiritual needs of the assembly. Thus the meeting was cared for and built up in a very real and practical way.
Its proximity to Leominster, where an important conference for believers was held annually, drew many of the “chief men” to the assembly; and when those memorable gatherings ceased to be held, the interest was transferred to Cheltenham, which then became the conference centre. The gatherings have continued from year to year, the meetings being held on the first Wednesday in October.
Besides the annual conference for ministry, a missionary conference has been held in the Spring of each year, this being the outcome of missionary interest particularly among the young people. This evidence of spiritual life has not ceased to manifest itself, which, in a measure is revealed, in that during recent years Cheltenham Assembly has commended three labourers for work in the foreign field: Dennis Mills, who went to China; Miss Hill, now working in the West Indies; and H. G. Young, for service in Algeria.
Half a century ago Cheltenham was noted as a place where the Gospel might at any time be heard faithfully preached from many of the church pulpits in the town, though of late years evangelical energy and zeal have been on the wane. In the early years of the assembly’s testimony, a number of young men were saved under the ministry of a godly Church of England clergyman. When he left the town, his successor not being of an evangelical turn, sought to divert the activities of the young men into other channels, which led them to look around for a more congenial spiritual home where their energies would be more profitably utilised in the Master’s service. They were brought into touch with Mr. Cummings and were eventually received into fellowship. This infusion of young life was a decided stimulus to the assembly, and its influence in the town may be dated from that time and circumstance. It is interesting to observe that a granddaughter of the godly clergyman referred to is at the present time a member of the Cheltenham Assembly. The fact that her father was also filling the position of a clergyman in the town, did not deter his daughter from following the dictates of her spiritual desires in taking her place with fellow-believers around the Lord’s Table.
In later years among those who helped in the edification of believers by gracious ministry were: Colonel Molesworth, Dr. Owles and Mr. Stewart Henderson.
Visitors to Cheltenham Cemetery are shown what has come to be known as the “Plymouth Brethren Plot,” where the graves of Exclusive and Open Brethren lie side by side awaiting the resurrection morn. Among them is the resting-place of Charles Henry Mackintosh, whose familiar initials appended to Brethren literature are known the world over. He was born in 1820 at Glenmalure Barracks, County Wicklow, Ireland, where his father, who was a captain in a Highland regiment, was stationed during the rebellion. Converted at the age of eighteen through the tender letters of a sister, followed by a prayerful perusal of J. N. Darby’s
Operations of the Spirit, he early gave himself to the study of the Scriptures. At the age of twenty-four he opened a school at Westport, but fearing the pursuit of this vocation would altogether absorb his passionate interest in spiritual matters he afterwards abandoned all thoughts of pursuing a scholastic profession, devoting his time and pen to expository work. His six volumes containing copious notes on the books of the Pentateuch, which have passed through several editions, still occupy a readily accessible position on the Bible student’s bookshelf. As a platform speaker C. H. M. was much sought after, and during the Revival of 1859—60, when Ireland came under a great spiritual awakening, he took a prominent part in the activities of the Gospel. It is as a witer rather than as a speaker that his name is remembered to-day, and in this connection it would be difficult to estimate the powerful influence of the pen of C. H. M. during the last fifty years.
The closing years of a useful life were spent at Cheltenham, and though he now very rarely appeared on the platform through ill-health and advancing years, still his pen was not idle, and when towards the end of 1896 he was called Home, his last manuscript,
The God of Peace, was in the hands of the publishers. Though Mr. Mackintosh remained with the Exclusive Brethren to the end, his sympathies were not confined to that particular circle of believers, and he was ever ready to give expression of his unfeigned love to all brethren.
The Gathering At “Pound House,” St. Austell
A little over fifty years ago there gathered together a number of believers in what was known as “Pound House” in the High Street of the village of St. Austell in Cornwall. For some time previous to this, there appears to have been a sincere exercise of soul and a spirit of enquiry as to the true interpretation of several New Testament passages which had engaged their attention. Amongst those who came together was Edward Fetter, a man of keen spiritual discernment. He it was whom the Holy Spirit used in revealing to them through the Scriptures, what was the will of God concerning the things which appeared to disturb their spiritual peace. The result was the sweeping aside of the irksome bondage of ecclesiastical formalities, for the simple gathering to the Name of the Lord, in implicit obedience to Him Whom they sought to remember in the breaking of bread. The meeting went on in happy fellowship and with signs of blessing for a number of years, until their testimony was assailed from without by the arch enemy, brought about by a circumstance emanating from an assembly one hundred miles distant, which had no real bearing upon that particular Church. This, unhappily, had the effect of sowing discord, and the testimony of the assembly suffered in consequence. Nevertheless, there were those who, despite the severe trial and diminished numbers, remained faithful to the trust committed to them. These brethren, therefore, decided to continue in a simple way to remember the Lord on the first day of the week, the meeting being held in the drawing-room of a dwelling-house in the little village of Charlestown, a few miles distant. In later years the assembly gathered in the home of George Wood, at Slades, St. Austell.
Early in the year 1924, when the increase in numbers and the evidence of spiritual growh was felt in their midst, the brethren who had the care of the assembly became exercised as to the need of a suitable hall and a more open testimony. By this time a Sunday School had been formed and Gospel meetings commenced, so that by the following year the Seymour Gospel Hall was opened. The last Gospel meeting held in the home of Mr. Wood was attended by thirty-three people, and the Gospel was preached by R. N. Gelder, of Westcliff-on-Sea. Following upon the vicissitudes through which the assembly has passed, it is pleasing to observe that since the opening of the hall the testimony has been wonderfully maintained, several having been baptized and added to the Church.
Leeds—And Harry Moorhouse
The first assembly of believers in the city of Leeds was held in the private house of George Denham at 54 Briggate about the year 1864, and consisted of nine brethren and one sister. It was mainly through the efforts of Mr. Denham, who had for some time experienced deep spiritual exercise of heart, that the little company came together. But there were other influences, incongruous though it may seem in this particular instance, which contributed to its development. About this time the last public execution at Armley Gaol, Leeds, took place, when two men named Myers and Sarget were hanged. Harry Moorhouse, one of the best-known evangelists of his time, took advantage of the occasion and in company with Gawin Kirkham and William Walker preached the Gospel to an immense crowd that had gathered to witness the gruesome spectacle. This work in the Gospel, which created some considerable stir in the city and brought about lasting results of grace, was followed some time later by a series of addresses delivered in the Prince of Wales Music Hall by William Booth, who afterwards became the founder of the Salvation Army.
During this period the believers continued to meet in Briggate, but as numbers increased, a meeting-room was rented for a time in Burley Street. Pastoral visits by A. J. Holiday and other ministering brethren resulted in many being added to the church, and in 1878 the assembly removed to the Temperance Hall, Holbeck. About this time, a young evangelist, who was destined in years to come to carry the Gospel to many parts of the world, arrived in Leeds. A year or two previous to this, at a meeting in Union Hall, Glasgow, he had been commended to the Lord for the work of the Gospel. His name was Alexander Marshall. He, in company with W. Willington, began a Gospel campaign in premises known as Adam’s Circus, Cookridge Street, where the Coliseum now stands.
Later, a tent was pitched in Meadow Lane, where the two evangelists were joined by a young man, an ex-Guardsman, who, like his Scottish compeer, afterwards became prominent in the work of the Gospel, and was possibly one of the most powerful preachers of his time. The young man was W. R. Lane, whose Home-call at the advanced age of eighty-four took place at the close of 1933. These were indeed stirring times; souls were awakened, and many anxious ones were led to the Saviour. The fire and zeal coupled with a passionate love for perishing souls, which characterised Mr. Marshall as a herald of the Cross, had already become manifest. His stentorian voice proclaiming the Gospel, as he was wont to do, with no uncertain sound, was long remembered by many who attended those meetings. On the last occasion that the veteran evangelist visited Leeds (shortly before his Home-call), he delighted to recount how he and Mr. Wellington, during their campaign in the early days, used to march up and down the streets, singing “Hold the fort, for I am coming!”
Soon afterwards, as a result of those meetings, the Carlton Hill Hall was opened, in conjunction with which the work of a Bible Carriage was commenced. Amongst those who were engaged in this work was Horatio Wallis, who later went as a missionary to the Shetlands. In 1883 an assembly was formed in Cookridge Street, followed by special meetings conducted by Richard Graham, when a remarkable revival was experienced. Many were converted and numbers added to the assembly, amongst them being a family of twelve named Taylor.
As the work prospered it was found expedient to commence a testimony in Queen’s Square, where a hall was acquired, and before many months had elapsed there was an assembly numbering about one hundred and fifty. The Lord was indeed honouring the faithful labours of His people, and soon after this a small meeting-room, known locally as the “Shovel Shop,” was opened on Penny Hill, Hunslet. A year or two later a more suitable hall was secured in Church Street, where a splendid work was done for the Master, and it became the spiritual birthplace of many souls.
When the “Needed Truth” trouble became acute, many from the Queen’s Square Assembly came to Church Street meeting and continued there for a time, but for reasons of residential convenience this hall was closed and in 1897 the old Medical School was opened. It was to this hall, on his return from his hazardous journey across Africa, that F. S. Arnotof Garanganze came, preaching on the Sunday evening, the subject of his discourse being “How black men are made white.” These premises were available only on Lord’s Days, so in 1901 the Fenton Street Hall was acquired, and meetings continue to the present time, with a large and aggressive assembly. The Chetwynd Hall Assembly was formed a little over thirty years ago, following a tent mission in Elland Road, Holbeck, by J. C. M. Dawson, of Belfast. Here the meeting continued for some years, afterwards moving to Joseph Street, Hunslet, not far from the old Church Street meeting of bygone days. The Lord signally owned the testimony, and in March, 1932, a commodious hall, built at the cost of £2000, was opened for use.
As will have been observed, the testimony in Leeds since the first gathering in Mr. Denham’s house in Briggate seventy years ago, had spread to various parts of the city, and the work continues to prosper. In recent years three more assemblies have been commenced: one in Cardigan Road district, another in Alpha Street Hall, where Russell Elliott and A. Widdison were for some time in fellowship (the believers now meet in a new hall in Ladbroke Place, Dewsbury Road), and another in the Headingly district.
The name of Harry Moorhouse has frequently been mentioned in our review of the times covering the second half of last century. As he comes into the present picture in rather dramatic fashion at the very commencement of the Movement in Leeds, it may be deemed opportune to acquaint the reader of the present generation regarding this singularly remarkable man. Born in 1840 of humble parents, the early life of this fragile-looking Lancashire lad was for the most part spent in the companionship of the lawless and profane. While yet in his teens he had plunged deep into the vices openly indulged in by evil associates many years his senior. But the downward career of sin and dissipation was suddenly arrested.
It was the period of the ‘59
Revival. This memorable work of God had swept across the Irish Sea, and various cities and towns of Lancashire were caught in the flood. Largely attended meetings were held in Manchester, addressed by such notable preachers as Lord Radstock, Reginald Radcliffe, Richard Weaver and W. P. Lockhart. Among those brought to the Saviour was one of Harry’s companions in evil. The young convert at once sought out his friend but, despite entreaty and pleading, his appeals seemed to fall on deaf ears. But the arrow of conviction had found its mark, and after weeks of abject misery and contrition, the profligate at last found peace for his soul’s distress through the finished work of Calvary.
From following the promptings of a lustful passion, Harry Moorhouse at once flung aside every weight and encumbrance that had dragged him to the depths of degradation from which he had so recently been rescued. He had become a new man and determined that his life, both in word and act, would manifest the great spiritual change.
It was John Hambleton—at that time known as the converted actor—who, in God’s hands, largely influenced the future career of Harry Moorhouse. Hambleton was preaching in Lancashire when he met this puny-looking youth, and being struck with his zeal and honesty of purpose, invited the young convert to join him. Together they travelled the country, visiting towns and villages, public fairs and race meetings; wherever an open door was found they preached Christ. This first experience of Gospel pioneer work, when hardships and discouragements confronted their path, was truly preparing the young convert for the work which God had planned for him in days to
come. At Halifax they were gladly received. Here a work of grace was in progress and an opportunity was given to
preach in the Oddfellows’ Hall. Large numbers flocked to the meetings and the hall was crowded night after night.
This was but the beginning of a life crowded with faithful and unstinted service for the Master. The governing principle in that life was to do the will of God; hence he did not hesitate to follow where God led. The visit of Harry Moorhouse to Dublin, in company with Edward Usher, where the two evangelists were warmly received by William Fry and Henry Bewley (through whose good services meetings in Ireland were arranged), was the beginning of a remarkable work of grace. Their sojourn across the Emerald Isle, preaching and distributing thousands of tracts as they went; their appearance in the drawing-rooms of the well-to-do; and their kitchen meetings in the crude apartments of the humble cottars are memories that still live.
Fruitful with blessing though his labours in Britain were, his visits to America—six in all—were productive of even greater results. Here he was affectionately hailed as “the great English preacher”; everywhere doors were opened to him; invitations came from city church and cosmopolitan mission. The labours of this untutored, unostentatious young man, whose speech bore undisguised traces of his native Lancashire, had indeed received the Holy Spirit’s seal. The story of his first contact with D. L. Moody is worthy of recalling, when, in the absence of the celebrated American evangelist, Harry Moorhouse preached on seven successive nights from his favourite text, John 3:16. On his return to Chicago, Moody was curious to hear the youthful preacher. It was the seventh night.
“He went into the pulpit,’’ says Moody. “Every eye was upon him. ‘Beloved friends,’ he said, ‘I
have been hunting all day for a new text but I cannot find anything so good as the old one; so we will go back to the third chapter of John and the sixteenth verse’; and he preached the seventh sermon from those wonderful words: ‘God so loved the world.’”
Harry Moorhousc met Ira D. Sankey in the winter of 1872 at a meeting in the North Side Tabernacle, Chicago.
“It was he who first suggested the thought of going across the sea to sing the Gospel,” says Sankey, “and I remember how confidently he expressed his opinion that God would bless my singing there.”
When the two American evangelists arrived in England the following year, Harry Moorhouse was among the first to welcome them at Liverpool.
“The Churches have perhaps not been aware of the effects of what may be called the evangelistic side of the Brethren Movement,” writes a contemporary. “Moorhouse, moving in that circle and giving himself to ardent study, became, as the years passed, emphatically a ‘Bible’ evangelist and teacher; and it is no difficult matter to trace much of the revived interest in the Holy Scriptures (which, although seldom recognised, marked the later years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth) to the boyish preacher from Manchester.”
During the last few years of his life, despite incessant suffering, he continued to labour for the Master, on occasions leaving a sick-bed, so unutterable was the longing in his heart to win souls for the Kingdom. In 1880, when yet a comparatively young man, Harry Moorhouse returned to his native Manchester, weak in body, but with soul still aglow with a heavenly love. His work was done; and on the 28th of December he passed into the presence of Him whom he loved.
In the summer of 1904 a Gospel tent mission conducted by Edward Hughes and J. C. M. Dawson, was pitched at Castleford, a village near Leeds; and though no definite cases of conversion were achieved, the mission happily resulted in bringing blessing to Christians and proved to be the first link in a chain of circumstances which eventually led to the founding of an assembly at Cutsyke, a suburb of Castleford.
To arrive at the real commencement of the work in Cutsyke it is necessary to go back nearly forty years. Frank Smith, a brother whose home was at Featherstone, in his journeyings to and from Leeds on business had to pass through Cutsyke. A burdened desire came into his heart that the Lord would raise a testimony to His Name in the village, where at that time there was none. For years he continued unceasingly to pray that this would be brought about. Those prayers were marvellously answered.
God began to work, but at that time, considering the place at which He started, one would have thought that Cutsyke was not in His plan at all. Among those upon whom the power of the Holy Spirit fell were three men, associated with the Congregational Church. For some time following the Gospel work in the tent at Castleford, the desire for a deeper spiritual life grew upon them. As yet they had not learned the truths which were to be found in the bountiful store of the Scriptures. The desire continued to be manifest in the lives of these three men. They were eventually brought in contact with a believer who was in fellowship with brethren before he came to reside at Castleford. Through him they learned of a meeting for Christian believers who gathered to the Name of the Lord at Pontefract. Thither they went, and after hearing the truth ministered and the Scriptures unfolded, they each felt that here was the place for which they had been seeking so long. With souls on fire for the Master their thoughts were now directed to the spiritual needs of Cutsyke, and they sought an opportunity to carry the Gospel to that place. It was about this time, or soon afterwards, that George W. Ainsworth pitched a tent in the neighbourhood, when a considerable number professed faith in Christ and were afterwards baptized. And thus from these beginnings a testimony was established in the village.
The assembly at Featherstone—the Yorkshire meeting from which James Clifford went forth to the Argentine—was formed in the early nineties, following an intensive Gospel mission by Edward Peck in conjunction with Alfred J. Holiday.
Early Days At Bath
The wave of spiritual awakening which suddenly swept in, unheralded, upon the old-time seaport of Plymouth, in the year of grace, 1830, had in the course of a few swift years made its way across the land, leaving in its train unmistakable evidence of a path marked out by God. To the ancient city of Bath there came one day—exactly when, no one at this distant date can say—some divinely led person bearing the savour of those primitive gatherings of God’s people. Thus was the seed sown. And though neither the name of the ambassador nor the occasion which brought about such fruitful results are known, yet there are in existence old minute books and other documents indicating that an assembly was formed in the year 1837.
It is known that a house of local historic interest, still standing in the city, was for a period used as a meeting-place, but the exact date cannot now be determined. It is certain, however, that the assembly acquired the premises known as Princes Street Hall, in 1845, and continued there for forty-two years.
In the year 1840 the little company was greatly strengthened by the arrival in their midst of John Marsden Code, who ministered the Word with much acceptance in the assembly, up to the time of his Home-call in 1873. Mr. Code was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he took the degree of M.A., following which he was ordained a clergyman in the Church of England; but, as in the case of J. N. Darby and others about that time, he left the Church that he might more faithfully carry out the will of God, a fresh revelation of which, having been brought about by an intense study of the Scriptures. He was joined in 1846 by his friend, J. G. Bellett—a name now familiar to the reader—who had also taken up residence in Bath. These two devoted brethren shared in the ministry and gave much of their time to the tender care of the flock.
The story of the Bath Assembly is notable because of its association with brethren whose names stand out prominently in the history of a Movement, the vicissitudinary course of which we have sought to pursue. In 1848 there is an entry in the assembly book that a meeting of “Guides” was held, and that Captain Percy Hall, R.N., was one of the principal speakers. About this time also, Sir Edward Denny, the author of many beautiful hymns largely in use amongst Brethren to-day, came to reside here; and his name, with that of his sister, appears on the Church roll. The work at this period must have made rapid strides, for in 1848 we find nearly three hundred names on the assembly roll, and this number was maintained until 1873 when it was found necessary to acquire a second hall. This was a Baptist Chapel, recently vacated, in Somerset Street, and here for fourteen years there was a Gospel testimony each Lord’s Day evening, whilst at the same time a meeting for believers was being held in Princes Street Hall.
About the year 1875 Harrison Ord pitched a large tent in one of the principal squares in the city, where an aggressive work in the Gospel was continued for several weeks. These services produced a lively interest in the neighbourhood and were fraught with much blessing, many of the converts being added to the local assembly, while there were also those who joined other places of worship.
“These activities,” writes Mr. Frank Webb, who has made a careful record of the assembly’s history, “whilst demonstrating the life and zeal of the assembly, were proving costly to maintain and inconvenient to operate, as neither hall was sufficiently large to meet all the requirements of the still growing work. The need for larger and more commodious premises became a pressing one, not only from the point of view of expense but of the efficient carrying on of the work in its many branches.”
The problem which presented itself was to receive a happy solution in a remarkable way. At this juncture there came to reside at Bath, one whose name is written large in the annals of the assembly, in the person of John Lindsay Maclean, M.D., son of Gen. Sir George Maclean. He had been marked out for an army career; indeed he actually commenced it, serving first at Malta and later in the West Indies with the 69th Regiment. Whilst stationed at Malta he came under the care of the colonel of his regiment, an active Christian, through whose consistent example and personal influence young Maclean was converted. Soon afterwards he relinquished his army commission in order to study for the medical profession. He took his diploma at Edinburgh, then went to reside at Leominster, remaining there until his departure for Bath in 1873. On his arrival Dr. Maclean evinced a warm interest, entering into the various church activities with a quiet yet practical zeal. He very soon perceived the growing assembly’s urgent needs, and at once turned his attention to the matter of more commodious premises. In 1887, largely through the good doctor’s very practical interest and munificence, the Manvers Hall was built. Here Dr. Maclean ministered for a number of years. Though not a fluent speaker his ministry was marked by a high spiritual tone. He was a constant visitor to the bedside of the sick as well as to the homes of the needy ones, and was greatly beloved by all.
His keen interest in foreign missions led Dr. Maclean to commence, in fellowship with Henry Dyer and Henry Groves, a publication known as
The Missionary Echo. This was in the year 1872. From this modest beginning has grown the missionary magazine we now know as
Echoes of Service. Although several changes of name have been made in the interim, yet from earliest days Bath and foreign mission work have become almost inseparable, and to many are, indeed, synonymous terms. Dr. Maclean’s Home-call in 1906 was a very real loss to the assembly and to that wider sphere of missionary work, which now had representatives in almost every quarter of the globe.
Doubtless because of its fame as a delightful health resort endowed with hot mineral springs, Bath attracted many notable families, who took up residence in the vicinity. Thus the growh of the assembly was in a measure due to this fact, while its influence and acquaintance with well-known brethren brought many such to minister to believers from time to time.
On the Home-call of Henry Groves in 1891 Robert Eugene Sparks, B.A., resigned his position as solicitor to the Bank of Ulster, and in 1894 came to Bath to assist in the ever-growing work at
Echoes office. Besides these arduous duties, which entailed much care and anxious thought, he ever found time to render spiritual help to the assembly, his gracious ministry being of a kind that was always practical and helpful. The early demise of Mr. Sparks was lamented by a wide circle of friends, and his name is still a fragrant memory. His beloved widow was long spared to carry on a wonderful work for God, more especially in the interest of sisters in the foreign field, hundreds of whom will remember with gratitude her loving service on their behalf. In the closing days of 1937 Mrs. Sparks was called Home at the advanced age of ninety-four. W. H. Bennet, of Yeovil, who had for some time been assisting in the work of
Echoes, whilst not residing in the city, was a frequent visitor to the meetings, where his ministry was always welcome and highly appreciated.
“The activities of brethren,” says Mr. Webb in his interesting account of this assembly, “were not confined to the city only. Many villages around were visited each Lord’s Day, so that to-day we find quite a flourishing assembly at Corsham Side and another at Box. Nearer home, meetings, the result of ‘hiving’ off, were commenced at Twerton and Snow Hill, both suburbs of Bath, whilst still later yet another was commenced at Sladebrook, following a tent campaign by Fred Glover.”
It is not surprising that in an assembly whose outstanding activity appears to be the furtherance of the Gospel in other lands, there should be a lively interest manifested at home. A chart hanging in the hall records the names of those in fellowship who have gone forth. It shows, too, that while many have passed to their reward, there are at the present time those from the assembly serving the Lord in Central Africa, China, Czechoslovakia, India, the West Indies, Morocco and Spain.
It is often said that God buries His workmen but carries on the work. Especially has this been the case with regard to
Echoes office, for, after the Home-call of Dr. Maclean, those who shared the responsibilities incumbent upon this important work were much encouraged and stimulated by the coming of W. E. Vine, M.A., of Exeter. Later, following the passing of Robert Sparks, W. R. Lewis, of Hereford, was invited to
give help, and eventually came to share with his colleagues the valuable work so long and faithfully carried on. With added responsibilities in the ever-increasing demands it was felt that further assistance was needful, and later the two brethren were joined by R. Boyd Cooper, of London.
And now just a word concerning the vehicle which in God’s hands has been so wonderfully used, not only in the publishing of tidings from afar but in creating a very real and practical fellowship in this important service. Almost from the start, the interest which attended the outgoing of the little publication.
The Missionary Echo, continued, and in 1885, a larger paper with the present title,
Echoes of Service, took its place. Since then some desirable improvements have been effected, particularly in recent years, so that the present issue of our missionary magazine, produced under the joint editorship of the three brethren whose names are mentioned above, is indeed eminently worthy of the high object of its mission. God has been pleased to use this monthly paper to stir up interest in foreign mission work. For, since it went forth, “many were moved by reading its pages to give themselves to the work and still many more were stirred to fellowship in helping forward by their gifts, until at the present time there are about a thousand missionaries in many parts of the five continents.”
No record of this assembly’s activities would be complete without a reference
to the Missionary Conference, now an annual event and held in July each year. On the discontinuance of the Leominster Conference the need was frequently expressed for a similar gathering in the West, and Bath appeared a very convenient centre. From the first the divine approval was apparent. Indeed, since its inception this gathering of ambassadors from the ends of the earth, together with home workers and a great company of others of the Lord’s people, have in a very abundant measure shared the happy fellowship of one another, while their souls have been refreshed and invigorated by the congenial atmosphere which is ever present during these memorable gatherings.
The work at Swindon, in Wiltshire, began with the visit of Charles Russell and Edward Hurditch, who arrived in the district with a Bible carriage. At that time the influence of a spiritual awakening in that part of the country was making itself felt, and on every hand there was an earnest desire for the Word of Truth. This was followed by a real work of grace and many were brought into the Kingdom. After fulfilling their brief mission the evangelists left the district, but in response to many appeals they returned to commence a more permanent work. This was in 1880. A tent was pitched on almost the same spot upon which the Regent Hall now stands. During the mission and afterwards, much valuable help was given by such brethren of repute as Henry Varley, Ned Wight, J. Denham Smith, as well as others whose names have still a fragrant memory.
Many of the young converts, along with those Christians whose hearts had been revived, eager to testify for the Master, found a ready outlet for their pent-up zeal in the open-air. Dinner-hour meetings were held near the Great Western Railway works entrance. Such new form of religious energy aroused bitter opposition, and some of the leaders were summoned by the police for obstruction. This proved a good advertisement, and as large numbers were attracted to the Gospel through the street-preaching, it became necessary that a place be sought out for indoor meetings. A hall was secured in King Street, but this soon proved inadequate. An auction-room in a good central position was afterwards purchased and named the Central Hall. In the summer of 1883 the work was transferred to this hall, where for a number of years a remarkable ingathering of souls for the Master was witnessed. Several noted characters in the town were converted. Two of these, Edward Williams and Richard Picket, came out boldly for the Lord and were singularly used as open-air preachers.
In 1883 a young man named William Hooper was brought to the Lord through the instrumentality of Joseph Dore—one of the most active and faithful workers in the mission-—and soon after his conversion was baptized with about fifty others. Mr. Hooper, in the vigour of youth, threw himself into the activities of the mission and for over half a century continued steadfast in the work of the assembly, unmoved by the vicissitudes through which it has passed. It was largely due to his efforts that both the Regent and the Kingsdown Halls came into being.
The meetings of the Evangelistic Mission, by which name it was known, were conducted much along the lines of “Brethren” at the present time. This continued very happily until early in 1889, when trouble arose over matters of a doctrinal nature, which resulted in about forty of the most active workers withdrawing from fellowship and the collapse of the Evangelistic Mission in Swindon.
Many of the brethren and sisters were now without a spiritual home. Some of them turned to the denominations, while others lost their way. A few, however, kept together under the guidance and care of Thomas Hacker, who had been a pillar in the mission. These believers, twelve in all, on the 30th of November 1889, met in Merton Hall to consider the advisability of commencing a meeting on Scriptural lines in fellowship with what they knew as “Open Brethren.” It was decided to do so in that hall. The advice and help of Dr. Maclean of Bath was sought and readily given; and the first meeting for the breaking of bread took place on the following Lord’s Day morning. When the object of the gathering in Merton Hall became known, many Christians who understood the truth and were feeling the dearth of spiritual life, sought out the little company of worshippers. The joy of the infant assembly was increased when the Lord owned the testimony in the Gospel in many conversions taking place.
There was now a steady increase of numbers, and in 1898 it was decided to rent what was known as Queenstown
School. The Lord continued to prosper the labours of His people, and it now became necessary to consider the erection of a building of their own. The Regent Hall, which was opened the following year, was the result. With the establishment of a testimony and a growing Sunday School, the Gospel was now carried to the neighbouring villages, resulting in the formation of one or two assemblies. Principally through the frequent visits of Dr. Maclean to Swindon, a warm missionary interest has existed in the assembly since the early days. The assembly has for many years been represented in the foreign field by two of their brethren, George Sims and Arthur Morse, with their wives, who went out to Central Africa.