FFF 11:5 (May 1965)
Thomas Goodall Wilkie
A great man, I take it, is a man so inspired and permeated with the idea of God and the Christly spirit as to be too magnanimous for vengeance, and too unselfish to seek his own ends.” These words, written long ago by David Thomas, are very applicable to Thomas Goodall Wilkie who passed home to be with Christ, March 13, 1965. A true concept of God, of Christ, and of the Holy Scriptures ever were expressed by him during his long and fruitful Christian career. His warm and affectionate attitude toward others, and his ethical and sacrificial living also left deep impressions on those who knew him.
In the passing of brother Wilkie, “a great man is fallen in Israel.” Recollections of his ardent and forceful preaching of the gospel of grace in the open air, in tents, rented buildings, Gospel Halls, and in larger gatherings at conferences in Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, Detroit, and in other places, still stirs the heart. There are many souls throughout Canada and the United States who directly or indirectly attribute their conversion to his ministry. Furthermore, his gracious words of exhortation to God’s people frequently rekindled the fire of zeal and devotion in hearts that had become cold and in lives that had become barren.
These qualities along with certain natural talents won for him the esteem of all other members of Food for the Flock. In his relation to this periodical the words of Jonathan to David are true: “Thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.” Little did any realize at the last Annual Meeting of the Corporaaion, when Tom sat in his place and participated in the proceedings, that some would not see him again.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1889, he immigrated to Canada in 1910, and at first settled in Toronto where he found employment with the Toronto Street Railway. It was while on his daily run as a conductor of a trolley car that his attention was arrested by a gospel text on a large bill board. Each time he passed it, he read, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Eventually he moved to Hamilton. Years later in driving down a street once very familiar to him, he exclaimed, “See that house! See that window!” Each in the car looked. “In that room,” continued Tom, “God saved me away back in 1912.” A friend in the car said, “Off with your hats, gentlemen, let us salute that sacred spot.”
Through the influence of a brother with whom he worked, an appreciation of the simplicity toward Christ was stimulated in his mind, and his way was directed to the assembly on McNab Street in the city of his adoption.
The warmth of Christian fellowship, the ministry of the Word of God, the intensive study in the conversational Bible class, the free exercise and development of spiritual gifts, and the ready acknowledgement of the Lordship of Christ satisfied the longings of his heart more than any previous Christian experience. Not only did the biblical functioning of the assembly satisfy him, but through it he grew in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. Even in those formative years it seemed obvious to some that the Lord was indicating, “He is a chosen vessel unto Me.”
By 1919 the elders of the McNab assembly were fully convinced that God had really called brother Wilkie to His service. They, therefore, like the brethren of old at Antioch, prayed, laid their hands on him, and released him, and he being sent by the Holy Spirit departed into the great harvest field.
He joined Leonard Sheldrake that summer in tent work at Watford, Ontario, where at the end of the season they founded the assembly there. He then associated with Robert McCrory for a while. In 1921 he joined Albert Joyce in a protracted effort at Grand Bend. The year following, these brethren had the pleasure of founding the assembly in that area. So it was that he commenced a ministry of well over forty years in which from house to house and publicly, orally and by the printed page, he spread the message of redeeming love. His activities stretched from the Maritime Provinces to British Columbia, and whether alone or in company with other servants of the Lord, he never missed an opportunity to witness for Christ.
The convictions which he had derived from the study of the Word of God were deepened by these experiences as was his spiritual intuition so that he could be firm and yet tolerant.
Tom extended his hand, he in blue overalls had just scrambled out of the excavation in which they were building the basement walls of the Gospel Hall in Grand Bend, Ontario, and I took it. With that handshake on that chilly October day in 1922, began a friendship, at first casual but deepening with time, the end of which leaves me with a keen sense of loss.
The founding of the assembly in Grand Bend and the building of the hall there was a pivotal point in Tom’s life. It was the fitting conclusion to an early period and an inauguration into a fuller and much more extensive ministry.
As two rivulets increase in volume as they meander through the fields and the valleys until they converge and then merge into one grand river which irrigates the lands it passes, refreshes the towns about it, and carries its cargoes to residents along its banks, so God at times unites two lives that are a blessing to all they touch. It was just that way in the marriage of Tom Wilkie and Jean Vance (September 21, 1923). God has not only made them a blessing to many, but He has likewise blessed them. He gave them a daughter, Mrs. Ruth Wilding, Vancouver; and two sons, Frank of Vancouver and Allan of Toronto. These, their wives and families, with their mother mourn because of their loss, but they sorrow not as those that have no hope.
A man’s true moral stature is reflected in the attitude of little children; their confidence, respect, and love indicate his height; their fear and distrust, his smallness.
In an initial work in a non-assembly town, although there had been considerable advertising and house to house visitation, the attendance at the meetings had been very poor. “We must win the children,” said Tom one day, “then we shall gain the adults.” A note to the former Christian Book Room, Bloor Street West, Toronto, quickly brought a quantity of Scripture medallions. That afternoon he and his companion stood opposite the public school. As the children came out, they spied the pretty gold-coloured medallions shining in the sunlight as Tom tossed them from one hand to the other. A crowd of curious boys and girls surrounded him, calling, “What are they Mister?” “Are you giving them away, Sir?” Etc. Etc.
“Every child who attends the meeting to-night receives one free,” said Tom.
That night the hall was full. If the medals brought the little folk, Tom’s attitude and interest in them brought them back again and again. To the very end of his service he always had an interest in and a love for children. Through the children in that town, the adults were brought to the meetings and all during that winter and through the following summer they heard the gospel of God’s grace with the result that souls were won for the Lord Jesus.
“Where is hell anyway?” A man from the back of the tent shouted one night when Tom was solemnly warning the careless. “Should you drop dead where you are, Sir, you would be there immediately,’“ shot back the answer from the platform. The heckler, as if stunned, remained and sat silent throughout the service. What a sense of awe pervaded the tent that night!
“Yes, I would like to talk with one of the preachers,” said a displaced person from Europe at evangelistic services in Ontario, “but I want to talk with one who knows about sin and the world, not a goody goody who has never done anything wrong.” Tom sat down and talked with the troubled man, and, although there were difficulties because of language, he told and retold the gospel. It seemed that Tom was always ready, in season and out of season. The more desperate the case, the more ready he seemed.
Visitation was one aspect of the Lord’s work for which Tom was well qualified. His presence in the sick room or ward was a cheer to many.
On one occasion in a hospital he visited a young chap suffering very severe pain. Repeatedly under a spasm he would groan and mutter, “Oh, nobody ever had to suffer like this.” Quietly Tom would say, “Just One, just One!” Again there would be the groan, and again the same complaint, “Nobody ever had to suffer like this.” Once again our brother quietly would comment, “Just One, just One!”
The repetition finally penetrated the poor lad’s mind, and he exclaimed, “You are right, Mr. Wilkie, Jesus did, and he did it for me!”
It was like the branch cast into the bitter waters of Marah, for a sweet peace seemed to come over the sufferer.
In the summer of 1961, he underwent radical surgery, and although as strength permitted he continued his ministry, it was obvious that his active career was now much curtailed. On several occasions at conferences where he was invited to preach the gospel, the old fervour would revive and he would herald forth Heaven’s evangel with power. But physical energy was failing.
“How is brother Wilkie?” Enquired a Christian in Barrie. “He is not so well,” was the reply. “We had hoped that he might be well enough to fulfil his promise and come for the opening of the new hall in Waverley, but a letter the other day says that he is worse; his sight is impaired, and he is suffering pain. He is not coming.”
“I’m sorry. I shall never forget those meetings in the old hall at Waverley fourteen years ago,” replied the enqirer. “For nine weeks the services were conducted, and he preached with power each night. I was saved at those meetings; thank God!”
Many of his spiritual children showed a similar interest in his condition.
Through the months that followed, this beloved servant of Christ gradually weakened until Saturday, March 13, when, at his home in Forest, Ontario, he, having so well served his generation by the will of God, fell asleep in Jesus.
On Tuesday March 16, loved ones, neighbours, friends, elder brethren, fellow-workers, and spiritual children gathered in the Gospel Hall at Forest to pay their respects. Brethren William Pell and James Blackwood ministered the gospel and words of comfort. Devout men then carried our beloved brother to his burial, Robert McClurkin conducting the committal service.
The closing hymn with its message of comfort, hope, and assurance was a befitting benediction to a life devoted to the Lord and His beloved people.
Jesus is coming! sing the glad word!
Coming for those He redeemed by His blood,
Coming to reign as the glorified Lord!
Jesus is coming again!
Jesus is coming, is coming again!
Jesus is coming again.
Shout the glad tiding o’er mountain and plain,
Jesus is coming again!
Jesus is coming! His saints to release;
Coming to give to the warring earth peace
Sinning and sighing and sorrow shall cease
Jesus is coming again!