IT was late in the evening of Wednesday, 29 October 1997 when my wife and I arrived at Toronto Airport, to be met by Mr Gerrit Schuit, with whom we drove the familiar journey to Chesley. Travelling through just a tiny part of the vastness that is the land of Canada, it is remarkable that the Lord should have so favoured the small rural town of Chesley with gospel ordinances in their Scriptural purity, as they are maintained still in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The sovereignty of divine grace lies behind it all.
Early the next afternoon, we set out for the first of five visits to an even smaller place on the Canadian map, called Mount Elgin, two and a half hours’ drive south of Chesley. We went there to hold a service of divine worship after the form of our Church with a group of Dutch extraction, numbering more than 30 souls. Our own first contact was four years ago when we met Mr and Mrs Jan de Wit in Gerrit Schuit’s home. But last April Rev. Neil Ross was the first of our ministers to visit Mount Elgin and preach to them. For a number of years they have been meeting on Sabbaths and weekdays, holding divine service and reading quality sermons in the Dutch language. Often these are translations of the great Scottish divines like Thomas Boston and Ralph Erskine. For a long time they have been looking for a reformed denomination that believes and preaches the same gospel that they find in those old sermons. Before the preaching service that first Thursday evening, Mr Gerrit Schuit and I had a most encouraging meeting with eight of the men, to discuss the procedure by which a closer relationship between them and our Church might be developed.
The service that first evening was attended by about 25 people. Over the next four weeks, four more services were held, with attendances nearer to 45. We also had the opportunity to meet a number of the families in their own homes. We would like to record our heartfelt thanks for the warm welcome and hospitality that we enjoyed among our Mount Elgin friends. We were glad that a number from the Chesley congregation, as well as others, made the journey to Mount Elgin to attend the services. It was an encouragement to us to find a people that value the same gospel of free and sovereign grace as ourselves.
The Chesley services began on Friday 31 October, with the prayer meeting. How good it was to be back among these dear friends, young and old and middle-aged, around the ordinances of God’s house. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). Four more prayer meetings were held in Chesley during November. The services of public worship on three Sabbaths were also conducted. On the second of these Sabbaths the Lord’s death was remembered in the way He appointed Himself, and the usual services of the communion season were held. Several Mount Elgin people attended some services. We look to the Lord to bless His Word and sacrament among the Chesley people. He alone can give the increase to our planting and watering. In a day when many throughout Christendom are sliding back from holding all the counsel of God, may the testimony of the Chesley congregation to the whole truth as it is in Jesus Christ be blessed indeed. Again we enjoyed the warmth of Chesley hospitality, arriving to a well-stocked and very comfortable manse, and visiting many a welcoming home. Their evident need is for a pastor. Meanwhile we commend them to the care of the chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls, the Lord Jesus Christ.
On Thursday, 13 November we flew south to Houston, Texas, in the United States of America. We were met by Mr and Mrs James Moline, in whose home we were very kindly entertained for the duration of our visit. For over a year, we had been in contact with them, by electronic mail and telephone. They began to meet with a few other interested souls each Lord’s Day for worship, using taped sermons of our ministers. More and more they had come to value the distinctives of our witness, and they applied to the Dominions and Overseas Committee to send a deputy to them. Three services of public worship were held, again according to standard Free Presbyterian practice, one on a Friday evening and two on the Sabbath, in a town called Brookshire, west of the city of Houston. We were encouraged that between 35 and 40 attended on each occasion. This included a group of 18 souls who for a number of years had been meeting for worship on their own, reading sermons of John Owen and other worthies, and seeking to follow the old paths and the good way in the midst of a worldly and depraved generation. They had travelled more than 80 miles to attend the worship services. Since our visit, a combined group of between 25 and 30 have been meeting every Lord’s Day, again travelling substantial distances, conducting worship in conformity with our own way, and using Free Presbyterian taped sermons. Such is the interest among them in the stand of our Church that during December five of the men came to London for a brief visit. They can hardly believe that at the end of the twentieth century there really is a denomination holding fast to the things that are most surely believed among us.
During our denomination’s history, Free Presbyterian services have been held at various places in the USA, but a congregation with regular ordinances has never been established. It is still early days in Texas, and “except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). Nevertheless, we cannot help but be much encouraged with these recent developments. With very little ecclesiastical help, these people have come to positions in many areas so like our own. But then, the Lord has promised His Church: “all thy children shall be taught of the Lord” (Isaiah 54:13). The Macedonian cry sounds out: “Come over . . . and help us” (Acts 16:9).
We look to the Head of the church to sustain and prosper His cause in Chesley, and also to open the doors of gospel opportunity in Mount Elgin and in Texas in such a way that no man could shut them.
In Toronto we visited a retired minister, Rev. Fesenko. This gentleman, who was born in 1900, had translated the Westminster Confession of Faith into the Ukrainian language, the basis of which our Church is using in Eastern Europe, in particular in Odessa. Rev. Fesenko had studied under Professor J. Gresham Machen at Princeton in the 1920s. It was whilst at Princeton that he translated the Confession, realising as he told us that it was an unsurpassed summary of the Reformed Faith.
(Rev.) Keith M. Watkins