From ancient days God has raised up witnesses for Himself and fitted them for a special work. John Flavel, in the seventeenth century, described such as, “Stars which arose, shone, and set in death.” This has been the order down through the ages.
Hugh G. McEwen, one of America’s own sons, and an able minister of the Word of God, could be fittingly described by these words. Hugh was born in Petersburg, Virginia, on September 24, 1889, the youngest son of the late Mr. and Mrs. William Renwick McEwen. His early years were spent in that city, and in 1896 when God caused an awakening there through the ministry of Messrs. Beveridge, Lamb, and Bradford, the McEwen family shared in the blessing so that in the home, Sunday School, and gospel meetings Hugh was ever reminded of his need of being born again.
In his early life the family moved to Philadelphia and were in fellowship in 20th and Dickinson Gospel Hall. Again Hugh was sent to the Sunday School and had Dr. Cameron (later editor of Assembly Annals) for his teacher. Thus the good seed was continually sown in his heart. But he remained unsaved, and as he so often told, at New Year’s time when the young believers from Virginia came to his father’s house for the Philadelphia Conference and gathered around the organ, playing and singing the songs of Zion, their happy faces and the words sung and spoken by them were a continual rebuke as he knew they had something to which he was a stranger.
The Philadelphia Conference in 1907 was approaching, and he had a dread of again meeting these happy christians. On New Year’s Eve, Hugh and two other companions (all three named Hugh) had arranged to go into the city to see the parade. Although in his eighteenth year, his mother said, “Hugh, you are going to the gospel meeting!”, and all three boys went off to the Hall. At the close of the meeting, Mr. William Matthews of Boston rose up to pray. He broke down and wept as he prayed for souls on the way to hell in that gathering. As the meeting ended, saints and sinners alike were stirred. The mother of one of his companions threw her arms around her boy and said, “Oh, Hugh, are you not going to get saved?” Hugh McEwen, instead of going to the parade as planned, slipped home with the arrow of conviction deep in his heart.
Mr. Douglas and Mr. Telfer continued with a series of meetings in the Hall, and after a time of deep soul trouble, one night when all alone in his room, the light of the glorious gospel shone into his darkened heart. He ran to his father’s room at midnight, calling out, “Father, I am saved!” The whole household arose and there was much rejoicing. Hugh was baptized with others, and received into the assembly, and very soon took an active part, especially in cottage meetings.
In 1913 Brother McEwen was united in marriage to Miss Jean Herron, and they became identified with Mascher Street Assembly where he was very active in gospel work. One evening in 1916 there was a tea meeting in the Hall, and the assembly commended him to the work of the Lord. During the twenty-five years of his ministry, our brother travelled far in the United States and Canada, yet he labored faithfully around Philadelphia, Delaware, and New Jersey, and precious fruit was gathered in.
Brother McEwen first came to our home in New England in January 1917, and became a favorite in the family circle and continued ever after to hold that place. Sincerity, and a love for souls was very manifest and often long after all had retired, we could hear our brother in prayer and supplication, crying to God on behalf of the unsaved.
We began meetings in Manchester, Connecticut, and the first soul he pointed to Christ in New England was May Rainey from Bridgeport, who was visiting in our home. The joy that filled his heart when this dear girl was saved seemed to give him much encouragement. It was only a short time until May was taken home to heaven.
Later, brother McEwen went to Groton, Connecticut. The Lord gave blessing with His Word and a hearty little assembly was formed. During the summer of 1919 our brother toiled all alone in a tent in Westfield, New Jersey. A goodly number were saved and later were baptized, and an assembly started.
Early in 1920 we went to Virginia together and had a series of meetings in Petersburg, his own home town. There was a fine interest and precious souls were saved. We then began in Pawtucket, Rhode Island where the presence of God was felt, and a number were saved. One night he spoke from Hosea 6:4, especially the words, “Your goodness is as the morning cloud, and as the early dew, it goeth away.” Many sat and wept as he portrayed the path of some who have professed to be saved, appearing bright and hearty, but alas how soon they lose the freshness and joy which passed away like the early dew. We also had fruitful seasons together in New Bedford, Chelsea, Pittsburg, and Chicago.
Our brother grew in grace and developed a wonderful gift. He was splendid in speaking to children, and as a gospel preacher he excelled. He was a student of the Word, and was most acceptable in ministry to the saints. In those days he had a very youthful appearance. One Easter Monday at a conference in Manchester, he took up the unequal yoke. One special point was the unequal yoke in the assembly, illustrated from Nehemiah 13:4, 5, where Eliashib, the priest, being allied to Tobiah, prepared for him a great chamber in the house of God. Mr. John Gill, an aged veteran, sat and wept like many others that day. At the close he said to me, with much feeling, “That stripling amazed me.”
In June 1921, Mr. W. Herbert Marshall drove brother McEwen from Boston to the Nova Scotia yearly conference at Pugwash Junction, a place where his uncle, John Knox, had labored many years before. The Lord gave a season of blessing. The gospel meeting on Lord’s Day was a grand sight—the hall being too small, seats were arranged outside, and over five hundred were present. Brethren Hugh McEwen and I. McMullen preached the gospel with much power that summer evening, and it seemed to all present the voice of God was being heard, and fruit was reaped.
In 1922 he linked up with Mr. Bradford and was a true yokefellow. They pitched a tent in Midland Park, New Jersey, and labored faithfully in that vicinity for a few years, both publicly and from house to house, resulting in an assembly being formed.
The Toronto brethren invited the McEwen brothers, Sam and Hugh, to preach in a large tent in that city. They labored there for two or three seasons, and eternity alone will tell the full results of the Word of God proclaimed.
In 1941 brother McEwen seemed at the height of his usefulness. His knowledge of the Scriptures was very evident, and his expositions were helpful to old and young. While he travelled much, he was a “home man,” a loving husband and a kind father, and always manifested great faith in God. In times when severely tested, he looked to God alone. It was most inspiring to hear him relate some instances of God’s unfailing faithfulness in supplying his need.
The brethren in Kansas City, Missouri, invited brother McEwen and me to the conference that year, and to begin a series of Gospel meetings afterward. We both looked forward to a season together again, but the Lord had it ordered otherwise. Brother Hugh took a stroke, and for a time was laid aside. He recovered so that once again he set out in the work that was dear to his heart, but another stroke followed resulting in the losing of his speech entirely. For about three years he rallied, tenderly nursed by his devoted wife, daughter, and mother-in-law. His family circle was greatly devoted to him. There was much prayer and sympathy by the Lord’s people during his illness.
On September 5, when the news spread far and near that the weary worker was called home, many were in tears, and many tributes to his memory were sent to his loved ones. The funeral service was held in Philadelphia with an estimated six hundred present. Mr. Peter Pell and Mr. Harold Harper spoke fitting words, and Mr. Herbert Marshall gave a short word at the grave.
Another valiant soldier of the cross had laid down his sword and a large gap had been left in the ranks. God grant that young men may come forward, guided and directed by the Holy Spirit to fill the places left by these men of God who labored for their Lord so fervently and faithfully. The memory of beloved Hugh McEwen is held dear by all who knew him.