John Ritchie's Visit to America—March 26 ~ May 17, 1909.
by John Ritchie
IT had been a long-cherished desire to pay a short visit to parts of Canada and the United States, to "see the grace of God" there, to meet with fellow-believers who have been long known by correspondence, and fellow-labourers of former years in the homeland, who are now preaching the Gospel and ministering the Word in the vast and needy fields of the West. We sailed by the White Star liner "Celtic" from Liverpool on March 26, and after a somewhat rough, yet comfortable voyage, arrived in New York on Sunday morning, April 4, in bright sunshine. The first object that met our eye on the crowded wharf was a man holding up a Bible above his head, whom we found to be our brother, Mr. W. H. M'Whirter, of New York, who had come to meet and warmly welcomed us. In less than an hour after landing on American soil, we were seated with fellow-saints around the table of the Lord in the assembly at Dutch Kills, Long Island City, where believers assemble in the One Name, and seek to go by the one Book, guided by the One Spirit as in the homeland. In the afternoon, we went to Newark, New Jersey, where a united meeting is held monthly for Christian fellowship and ministry of the Word. The Gospel Hall was quite filled with believers, many of whom I had known in Scotland, and quite a number from Ayrshire assemblies. It was pleasant to find them going on happily in the ways of the Lord in this land, where so many become wanderers or get entangled in snares of various kinds. A Bible Class talk followed by a Gospel meeting filled up the remaining hours of a busy day---our first on the American Continent. One can form little conception by report of the vast field for earnest Gospel effort this great land affords. One has to see in order to realize its vastness. On Monday, a believer's meeting in Dutch Kills, and on Tuesday another in Gospel Hall, 125th Street, New York, filled up our two remaining evenings, before going through to Canada for the Easter Conference in Toronto. Our old friend, Mr. David M'Gill, of New Bedford, came up to meet and accompany us, and the five hundred and odd miles were quickly covered, arriving in Toronto the same evening, where Col. Beers awaited and conducted us to the home of our sister, Mrs. Munro, whose beloved husband, our spiritual father in Christ, Mr. Donald Munro, after a long and honoured course of over thirty-five years' service in this land was called to his rest with Christ last Autumn. Here we found our brother, Mr. John Smith, of Cleveland, who has also come for the Conference, which continues for four days, three meetings being held each day in the spacious hall of the Y.M.C.A. in Yonge Street. Believers from all parts of Ontario, quite a number from long distances, come to these meetings, and value them as seasons of hallowed Christian intercourse and help in the things of God. Most of the Gospellers who give their whole time to the work, and others who minister the Word and shepherd the flock in Canada and parts of the States, are here, while others are at similar gatherings in Belleville, Vancouver, Manitoba, and Richmond, Virginia; all being held during the Easter holidays.
The Toronto Conference is continued on the old lines, without a chairman or fixed speakers, which—although always open to abuse in the way of intrusion and unseasonable ministry—is believed by the Christians here to be the way in which the Lord, through various channels, supplies the varied needs of His people.
There has been a continuous multiplication of assemblies throughout the past thirty years, chiefly, as the result of pioneer Gospel work in new territory, in tents during the summer, followed up by meetings for helping on in the ways of the Lord those who are saved, with the object of gathering them together according to the pattern set forth in the Word. The Lord has marvellously blessed the labours of His servants, and the assemblies all over the Dominion are as a rule found in "clean cut" separation from the world's religion and associations. May they be preserved in the simplicity of their first faith and love and be kept from drifting to either of the extremes by which the times are so beset. The narrow path with the enlarged heart is the only way of godly increase and safety. From eight to ten hundred believers have attended most of the twelve meetings during the four days of the Conference, and ten or more shared in ministry of the Word, dealing with many aspects of truth bearing on personal, social, family, business, and church life, mostly of a practical and searching character, very different from most of the Conferences held in the homeland. Between seven and eight hundred believers sat down at the Lord's table to shew forth the Lord's death on the Lord's-Day morning, all of them in fellowship of assemblies; no casual visitors being admitted to break bread for a day here. Meals are served twice daily to visitors and others in a hall close by, which local brethren and sisters prepare and serve with commendable energy, and there are no collections or appeals for money. All the expenses are fully met, with a large surplus for the furtherance of the Gospel, by the contribution of the saints on the Lord's Day morning. This is the Lord's way, and the testimony is that it never fails, for when the hearts of the Lord's people are enlarged and their consciences exercised, they never fail to give of their substance, and consequently no begging appeals or other devices to raise money are necessary. We can only praise God for what we have seen and heard of His grace thus far in this land and pray that God may keep His gathered saints in the simplicity of His ways, walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
TORONTO, the chief city of Ontario, is a centre of commercial activity, and many coming to Canada from the homeland, settle there. We spent five days in this city after the Conference, had afternoon Bible Readings in the Central Hall, and four evening meetings in the specious hall of the Y.W. Guild, rented for the purpose. There is no lack of people to hear the Word in Toronto, and the number of Christians from all parts of the British Isles is remarkable. Here, our beloved brother, Donald Munro, laboured for many years, and the fruits of his solid and Scriptural ministry are manifest in the assemblies gathered in the Lord's Name. Eighteen preaching brethren visited Mount Pleasant one afternoon, where a plain granite stone, suitably inscribed, marks the place where his precious body is laid, to await the morn of the first resurrection. We had prayer on the hallowed spot, that grace might be given to us, to finish our course with joy, and we sang together—
"Our loved ones before, Lord,
Their troubles are o'er, Lord,
We'll meet them once more
At Thy coming again."
We spent two days in HAMILTON, the second city of Ontario, had nightly meetings in the Gospel Hall, and made an afternoon visit to Niagara Falls, twenty-five miles along the rich valley which bears the name of "the orchard of Canada," owing to its profusion of fruit trees, apples, pears, and peaches growing in great abundance there. On Saturday, April 17, we started for ORILLIA, 86 miles north of Toronto, Col. Beers accompanying us, arriving in time for a meeting on that evening. The following Lord's Day was well filled up with an afternoon and evening meeting in the Opera House, and an address to young believers in the Gospel Hall at six. There is a large and hearty assembly of believers in Orillia, and for many years it has been a centre of active Gospel effort. GALT, was the next place we visited, a tidy, well- built town, with a large Scotch population. An extensive work of grace was wrought here some forty years ago, a large number being saved, and the whole countryside moved. But as there was nothing done to lead on the converts in the truth that separates from the world's religion and gathers in the Lord's Name, they were left in the sects, with the usual result. When some years later, others went to the town preaching the Gospel, and following up by teaching "all things whatsoever" the Lord has commanded (Matt, xxviii. 19), they found strong opposition; nevertheless, some who had been groping after something better than they found in their denominations, welcomed the Word and with others newly saved, began to gather in the Lord's Name. To the assembly then begun, the Lord has added, until the present time. LONDON, on the river Thames, in Co. Middlesex, is a busy town with large manufacturing works, and has an active assembly. A full company, including a number from surrounding places, came together to hear the Word, and the following day we reached the pretty little town of FOREST, where 35 years ago Mr. Munro began his ministry in Ontario. Here, and at LAKE SHORE, five miles distant, a remarkable work was done and two assemblies formed, which continue to the present time. It was deeply interesting to hear from the lips of aged veterans, some leaning on their staff, over eighty years of age, the mighty acts of the Lord in these remarkable days of grace, the story of which they never weary in telling to generations following. We had a large and hearty meeting in the evening, many driving long distances to hear the Word. We spent the following week-end in DETROIT, Mich, where our brother T. D. W. Muir lives, and where a large and growing assembly has been gathered, and a steady, solid work goes on. They have an excellent hall, well appointed, in a good locality, and it was thrice filled with attentive audiences to hear the Word.
CLEVELAND, Ohio, where our brother, John Smith, resides and has laboured, was our next halting place. Here, again, we had a large gathering, and met quite a number of believers from the old country—including a group from Kilmarnock—all in the assembly, going on happily in the Lord's ways. In PITTSBURG, Pa., the following evening, and PHILADELPHIA the night after, we were gladdened to see filled halls of hungry souls, eager to hear the Word.
A marked feature in all these places is, the manifest acquaintance of the Lord's people with the ways of the Lord, which they have evidently been well taught in their early years and find joy in continuing steadfastly to own and walk in, resisting every device made by those who desire to lead them back under a yoke of bondage, and into association with sects and systems, which God has delivered them from. Three days' happy and fruitful meetings in NEW BEDFORD followed. Here the assembly was begun by means of the faithful testimony of a few Christian women, and one brother who went out from Glasgow over thirty years ago, and having learned the truth of separation from the world's religion in the days of the tent at Queen's Park Gate, did not go back to the denominations, although often urged to do so, but honoured God by keeping His Word, until others were led outside the camp to gather with them in the Lord's Name. Here we met Mrs. Bird and Miss Lindley from Central Africa, and Miss Bygrave, from India, seeking to stir up interest among sisters in these needy lands. We accompanied our brother, Mr. John Gill, who has laboured for over thirty years in BOSTON, Mass., to that city, and had two meetings there, at which we had the pleasure of meeting many old friends from various assemblies in the New England States. Next day, we journeyed to NEW YORK, where a fellowship supper had been arranged, at which we had the privilege of meeting some seventy leading brethren from the twenty-two assemblies of New York and New Jersey. This was a very enjoyable and profitable season and gave opportunity for intercourse on many matters of common interest to all who in these days of stress and strain, are seeking to serve God in the assemblies of His people. Two nights' meetings for believers in the Y.M.C.A. Hall, rented for the purpose, by all the Assemblies in New York, followed, and happily concluded five weeks of most enjoyable service on the great American Continent. The following morning, at 10 a.m.—a large circle of brethren in Christ accompanying us to the wharf, to say farewell—we sailed by the Anchor liner, "California," direct to Glasgow, and after a very pleasant voyage of nine days, we reached home on May 17, having by the Lord's good hand upon us, covered over 8000 miles of sea and land, during seven weeks and three days, without a single mishap or unpleasant experience. The fields of the west are large and needy, and afford ample scope to fit, godly, and God-sent workers, who walk in the ways of the Lord, preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God; but there is no use there for such as strive to make revolutions, or who seek to introduce "divers and strange doctrines," which lead God's people back to the captivity out of which at great cost many were long years ago delivered. Tent work is now beginning for the season, and by the time this is read, Gospellers will be telling "the old, old story" under canvas, for whom we would ask a frequent remembrance in prayer.
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1909