One of the listeners to Mr. Gilbert’s radio program in Tucson was Matthew Shearin. He had been a druggist in Shelbyville, Tennessee, but moved to Tucson for his health. When Gilbert visited him, Matthew assured him of his religious interest. He had been baptized, belonged to church, sang in the choir, taught Sunday School and was a deacon in the church. He was a good man and wanted Mr. Gilbert to know it.
Mr. Gilbert said, “A man can do all of those things and not be saved. God says that all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” He turned to Isaiah 64:6 to show it to him. They then turned to Romans 3:10—23 and went over those verses which describe the terrible need of man. Matthew was shaken a little and he said he would study Romans 3. The next week Mr. Gilbert was back. As he came in he said, “How are you today?” Matthew said, “Come on in. I am a lost sinner on my way to hell and I want to be saved.” Those were sweet words to a Gospel preacher. They turned to Isaiah 53:5, 6. Mr. Gilbert told him how Christ had died for him, bearing his sin. “Do you believe God’s Word?” Matthew said, “Yes, I believe the Bible.” “This verse says, ‘The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’ If God laid your sins on Christ, where are they?” “On Christ.” “Well, when are you going to believe God and accept Christ as your personal Savior?” Matthew said, “Right now!” The days following proved the reality of his decision.
Some years later the Shearins moved back to Tennessee, determined to live for God. Matthew always kept a Bible on the counter of his store and was constantly witnessing to others of his faith. From time to time he would urge the Gilberts to come over and help them. He said, “Look, you introduced me to the Lord and these truths about meeting simply in His Name. You can’t desert me now!” As the Gilberts prayed about leaving Tucson, the plea of Matthew Shearin kept coming before them. Other places needed help too but his call kept ringing in their ears. Finally they had real peace from the Lord about this. They would move to Shelbyville.
On the way to Shelbyville they decided to spend Christmas with Mary Ann and her family on their farm in Pennsylvania. Through his encouragement an assembly started in Obie and Mary Ann’s home. Today the group meets in a chapel in East Freedom, Pennsylvania. While there Mr. Gilbert broke his leg. As they moved to Tennessee he was on crutches and felt quite impatient. How could he get going with the work like this? But he could try a daily broadcast. He was able to get radio time and hobbled up the studio stairs each day.
Were people listening? After three months he announced a radio rally to be held in a basement. About thirty-five people came and Mr. Gilbert was able to make some profitable contacts for the work. Among these was a lawyer who was delighted to hear what he believed and preached. He and his wife, along with others began to meet with the group. The next year the little gathering had grown to about twenty and was able to build a small chapel.
The previous year (1951) two young men had felt led to start an assembly in Nashville. One was John Phelan, who was from Nashville, and the other was Harold Greene from Canada. They began that summer having tent meetings with William MacDonald from Chicago. Some did accept the Lord and the little group decided to put a stove in the tent and use it through the winter. The next year they were able to put up a small chapel and the work has gone on steadily. Mr. Gilbert loved to encourage new works and did what he could to strengthen the little assembly in Nashville. It was a help for them to have an experienced brother nearby to whom they could turn for advice.
During 1953 several businessmen from Mur-freesboro, Tennessee, were on a trip to Florida. While there they visited a bookstore in Miami and inquired about any fundamental churches nearby. They were told of one fairly close that was having a watch night service to close out the old year. They decided to go and had a delightful time. A Christian there told them of Mr. Gilbert who was living in Shelbyville. They spent some time talking with one brother and were amazed at his knowledge of the Word. His views on the N. T. church intrigued them. They had gone through various church problems and were a little disillusioned with the denominational approach.
When they returned home they decided to visit this Mr. Gilbert. Soon two carloads of Christians were driving the twenty-five miles to Shelbyville every Sunday. They became convinced this was God’s pattern for the local church. Their desire was to see such a group start in Murfreesboro. Would brother Gilbert consider helping them start?
In 1954 Mr. Gilbert pitched his tent again, this time in Murfreesboro. The Lord gave some encouragement and blessing. Others were hearing of the work and becoming interested. He also started a Sunday morning radio broadcast that has continued through the years. This has helped make the work known. Then in 1955 the Gilberts moved to Murfreesboro to help the work get established. The assembly in Shelbyville was doing well and they would be close enough to help it often. In Murfreesboro a building was rented and regular meetings begun.
By 1958 the assembly had grown sufficiently in numbers to purchase a lot and erect a chapel. College Heights Chapel is located on Main Street, not far from Middle Tennessee University. A number of the men in the assembly had been saved for some years but they felt a great need for teaching. Mr. Gilbert spent ten years here working with these men and it was a very warm, happy relationship. He started a prayer meeting each Monday night for those who had a shepherd care for the flock. They prayed over the work and also asked God to raise up men that would be real elders to shepherd the flock of God. These meetings have been a source of strength to the work. Many problems were worked out on the knees of those praying.
By 1965 the work in Murfreesboro was going well and the elders were taking the lead. But the work in Shelbyville was weakened. There was not much gift in preaching the Word and the people were discouraged. In 1965 the Gilberts moved back to Shelbyville, determined to strengthen the work.
At first he spoke both Sunday morning and evening. Local men led the singing and took other responsibilities. But soon he began working with younger men and these did the Sunday night preaching. Gift was being developed and men were beginning to study the Word. It was all very encouraging. New Testament principles did still work!
During this time other activities had developed. The three groups in Nashville, Murfreesboro and Shelbyville were close enough together that they decided to have a monthly missionary meeting. After a supper at one of the chapels they would read letters from missionaries and pray for them. If a missionary were in the area, he would speak to them. This encouraged fellowship and broadened their vision. Mr. Gilbert was all for spiritual fellowship, although opposed to organizational ties.
Because a need was felt for a summer Bible conference, in 1957 a start was made at Montgomery Bell State Park near Dixon. This is a family conference with separate meetings and recreation for children. Besides being a blessing for local churches in Tennessee it has also attracted families from surrounding states. His old tent was used for an auditorium until it was worn out. By then the state had built a shelter. Those who come to the conference go away physically refreshed and spiritually strengthened.
During these years the Gilberts traveled at times. He loved to revisit areas he had helped in years past and to encourage small assemblies. He was fond of terse questions to jar the complacent. One year he was speaking at the annual conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A number of the brethren went to visit Mrs. W. E. Mauger, an invalid in her 90’s who later lived to be 101. She had been saved years ago in New Jersey and had been baptized by F. W. Grant, a well-known Bible teacher. Although in a wheel chair and quite feeble she was still very alert. After sharing the Word with her they broke bread together and remembered the Lord. Because she was unable to get out she deeply appreciated these visits of the Christians.
Before leaving Mr. Gilbert bent over and said to her, “Well, are you dead yet? Do you know you are looking at a dead man? I have been crucified with Christ!”
Mrs Mauger smiled and with a twinkle in her eye said, “I wonder what your wife says!” This was one time he had no rejoinder. To be dead position-ally in Christ is one thing. To be dead practically to sin is another.