Here is a typical Devon village, where the cob walls and thatched roofs of its cottages and farms blend with the peaceful countryside of green fields and winding lanes, and steeply rising hills.
It is situated nine miles from the market town of Tiverton and five miles from the village of Morchard Bishop. It was in a little meeting in this latter place that the writer first met the late Mr. Wm. Squires, who had lived on the Blackdown Hills in his younger days. He well remembered Mr. Geo. Brealey, and many of the incidents recorded in “Always Abounding.” When from one cause and another the work at Morchard Bishop ceased, Mr. Squires (assisted by Mr. Mathews, who had left Morchard Bishop to live at Puddington) was instrumental in commencing a meeting there.
When I arrived in January, 1906, there was a nice little company of believers meeting in Mr. Squires’ house. There the Lord’s presence was mightily felt and happy indeed was our fellowship together. This brother was a tower of strength in those early days, being well taught in the Word of God; the truth of the Church, the Hope of the Lord’s Coming, and the necessity of godly conduct were constantly before us.
Mr. Mathews and Mr. Squires were faithful co-workers; the things of God were very real and precious to them, and they made them real and precious to others. We thank God for these brethren – for their persevering labours, faithful testimony, and godly example.
Because they were “lovers of hospitality” and “good men” (Titus 1. 8) the Assembly was seldom without visiting brethren who were able to minister the Word of God to profit. This has been a feature of the work at Puddington ever since. The Lord needs servants free from business cares and such brethren have always been welcomed here, much to the Assembly’s profit.
In the summer of 1906 the late Mr. Panting and five or six young men who were training for missionary work, came to Puddington and camped in a field on Brendeville Farm, at Little Boro Cross. Here they preached the Gospel and preaching and tracting visits were made to the many villages in the district.
At this time the following appeared in the Western Times, June 15th, 1906: –
“The Plymouth Brethren have pitched their tent in a field on Brendeville Farm, and by a series of services are trying to lead us to higher things. I have a high opinion of the Plymouth Brethren, for he generally practises what he preaches. He does not talk to you about the glories of Heaven, and at the same time charge you seven and sixpence for an article worth half-a-crown. He is not a rigid Sabbatarian, but rightly aims at being a Christian all the week. Some people are model Christians on the Sabbath, but don’t trust them during the week, for on Sunday night they say, ‘Good-bye religion, I shall be back next Sunday.’ I have known men so extremely good that they would not for the world shave themselves on a Sunday, but they did not hesitate to shave a neighbour remarkably close on Monday. An old writer satirizes the Sunday Christian thusly: –
“‘To Banbury came I – oh! profane one’
Where I saw a Puritan One,
Hanging his cat on Monday
For killing a mouse on Sunday.”
The above was sent to the newspaper by their special correspondent, a schoolmaster at Washford Pyne. It will be understood that the title, “Plymouth Brethren,” is his, not ours.
The visit of Mr. Panting and his young men to the district marked another milestone in the history of the Assembly, for the following summer, 1907, a very useful building was erected on the site of their camp, and this has been the home of the Assembly ever since. Here week by week we have broken bread, assembled for prayer, ministered the Word, and preached the Gospel. And not in vain, for many souls have been saved, and many more have been built up and led on in the ways that be in Christ. Some of these have been raised up to preach the Gospel and minister the Word; so that it can be said of this Assembly, “From you sounded out the Word of the Lord.” The ordinance of believers* baptism has been much in evidence here. Many thrilling baptizing services have been held by the river-side when scores of people assembled from all over the district. The Sunday School too has been very fruitful. Many of the scholars have been saved, baptized, and are now in fellowship with us, and other assemblies. The Superintendent of one of our city Sunday Schools, when preaching the Gospel here some time ago, said he well remembered when he was saved as a boy in our Sunday School.
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give glory.”
What about today? Well for our encouragement, we remember that the great Head of the Church is “the same yesterday, today and for ever.” While He lives His church can never die. He lives in the power of an endless life. So the Church will live – in “the power of His endless life.”
May the story of this village assembly be multiplied in many other villages in England’s green and pleasant land.