There’s nothing quite like Christian fellowship.” This is the expression that found its way to our lips so often during our eight month visit to the British Isles and the Continent. The sterile hours during which we rubbed shoulders with the world seemed to sharpen our appetite for the companionship of those who loved the Lord and seemed to accentuate the joy we felt when privileged to meet with fellow-believers. Those happy moments spent sharing our common interest and our common faith more than compensated for the vexations and frustrations we encountered as we moved from one strange place to another.
The word fellowship has many connotations and applications to our place and practice as members of the family of God. In Acts 2:42, where it speaks of continuing “stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread and prayers,” the New English Bible translates fellowship, “sharing in the common life.” It is this thought that was paramount in our thinking. Our travelling experiences served to drive home the conviction that our fellowship transcended all barriers of customs, race and language and even time. It brought to our souls a satisfying sweetness that the world could not emulate or imitate.
In 1 John 1:17, we read, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” The measure of our fellowship is here determined by where we walk not how we walk. It is not our comprehension of Scripture, nor yet our understanding of the deep truths of Church doctrine that is the governing factor, but rather our walk in relation to Him. As the prism before the beam of light breaks forth into a radient and many splendoured band of colour so our lives in sweet unbroken communion before Christ reflect the perfections of our risen Lord in divers ways and under various circumstances. This is the ultimate to which all Christian living is pointed — the outward manifestation of an indwelling Christ (Gal. 2:20). Missing this we are but purposeless puppets directed by the strings of chance. The key to harmony among the saints of God is the note piped from Heaven itself. What a joy it was to meet so many whose ears were turned to hear His voice!
Our plans for spending Christmas with His own in a Christian Hotel had been rudely shattered and we found ourselves motoring through southern France towards Spain. Weighed down by disappointment and wearied by much travel we longed to meet someone who knew our blessed Lord. Armed with the address of a brother in the town of Montpelier we sought him out and were ushered into his presence, only to find he spoke no English. My bookish French was scarcely adequate to meet the need of inquiring directions and ordering meals. Yet, in a matter of minutes we were right at home with our brother, Professor Vernet. True, our conversation was slow and halting as I groped to translate what he was saying into English so that I could understand what he was saying. Our spirits revived as we spoke to our brother of things concerning the King. Our oneness in Christ made it possible for us to share our mutual care for the children of God through the universal language of love.
Travelling brings in its train a few trials and petty annoyances and because we had been forced to change our plans for Christmas we arrived in Spain ahead of schedule. A mutual friend had written brother Trenchard to say we would be in Barcelona in January, but we arrived December 19th when our brother was out of town. We were disappointed and lonesome, but a few days later we were able to get in touch with him and the warmth of Christian love that greeted us on meeting dispelled the gloom and filled our hearts with joy. In Barcelona, as in Paris, we were privileged to meet with the Lord’s people in the “breaking of bread.” In both centres, the meeting proceeded quietly and reverently. There was a sense of purpose and even urgency in the gathering as brother after brother rose to take part. There were no long awkward pauses and nearly every brother there took part. The prayers were short and fervent and to each the congregation, in chorus, added their audible amen. Our souls were enraptured, not by the words of the speakers, which were unintelligible to us, but by the presence of the Lord Himself in the midst of His gathered people. We shared with every worshipper there the same Lord and Saviour, and as they lifted their voices to Him in their language, we joined silently in ours and the same Lord heard both and understood. It was a fellowship that was felt and extended far beyond the spoken word.
We had come to sunny Spain to escape the cold of winter, but on Christmas eve it began to snow, a thing unheard of in this Mediterranean City. Within twenty-four hours, fifteen inches of snow blanketted Barcelona and brought all transportation to a halt. We had written to our sister Mrs. Biffen in Madrid re our plans to go there, but with no trains running we had received no reply. In the midst of our perplexity our dear sister phoned and for three minutes we enjoyed a fellowship that was as unique as it was blessed. Our hearts sang:
“Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.”
It was our sister’s sad duty to pass on to me the news of the passing of my only sister in Canada. Following this I was forced to go to bed with a high fever. The kindly ministrations of our dear sister in our grief and illness was but another evidence of His care for us through the bond that binds us one to the other.
“We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear:
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.”
Our original intention had been to spend Christmas at the Beatenberg Bible School in Switzerland, but on our arrival in Paris we had discovered that the school was not open for visitors during Christmas. So it was not until February that we reached the Bibelheim. Here on a sunny slope fifteen hundred feet above Lac Thun and facing the mountain giants Eiger, Jungfrau and Monck, we spent two weeks of heavenly fellowship.
On our second day there we were approached by a young student who had heard we were from Canada. Although of German origin she had come to the school from Toronto. The only member of her family saved, she had been brought to the Lord through the invitation to meetings by the president of the Inter Varsity Fellowship group in the school where I taught. She was anxious to have me contact her parents on my return to give them a first hand account of her joy in preparing herself for the Lord’s service. Thus it happened that our meeting, far from our native shores, had brought us into a happy fellowship that did not end in Switzerland for:
“There is a place where spirits blend,
Where friend holds fellowship with friend.
Tho’ sundered far, by faith we meet,
Around one common mercy seat.”
Here is a fellowship that transcends the bounds of space and time as she in far off Europe and I in Canada invoke the blessing of the Almighty on her unsaved parents.
Man, by nature, is gregarious and loves company, but the innate chattering of people with no common interest or goal is a poor substitute for the exchange of thoughts between saints of God, whether it be over a cup of tea in Cannes or on a stroll through the wooded countryside of Normandy. On such brief meetings with the servants of the Lord in their field of service we were able to enter, in a small measure, into their plans and pursuits for God.
The regular meetings for devotional study, which characterize the Christian Guest Houses of Great Britian, were another source of blessing to us and to the hungry hearts we met there. They came for a rest and reaped a feast and we were able to join them in drinking in the good things of the Lord.
At Charterhouse, Teignmouth, South Devon, we sat around a cosy fire in the drawing room and listened to informal discussions led by our brother Mr. Ernest Barker and by our host Mr. A. J. Williams. As memory recalls these oasis of Christian fellowship we are reminded of a recent article by our brother Mr. Barker on the value of fellowship. He pointed to the parallel between our times and those in the days of Malachi. It was a time of spiritual depression and darkness, but in the midst of it all there were a few “that feared the Lord and spake often one to another” (Mal. 3:16). God took note and “a book of remembrance was written before Him.” Pursuing this line of thought our brother wrote, “We do well to follow this example of these godly Jews. In the midst of so much that is contrary to the clear teaching of the Word of God, even in the professing Church, we who name the name of Christ need to remember that we are a separate company and can therefore have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness…” The Christians’ best friends are those who seek to follow the Lord and love His Word.
The home-like atmosphere of these talks was new to us and made them most endearing. At Slavanka, Bournemouth, we met Miss Evelyn Booth - Clibborn, granddaughter of General Booth of Salvation Army fame. For a time the world with all its allurements captivated her mind and she trained to be a concert pianist. The story of how God called her from a promising career to go and serve Him in the drawing rooms of the English homes of the Gentry is a real lesson in God’s dealings with His children and causes us to bow the knee in praise and thanksgiving. We thrilled as we listened to Miss Booth play and sing that beautiful hymn, “Down from the Glory,” written by her brother to the tune “O So Mio.”