About 130 years ago there was living at Barnstaple a young man, Robert Gribble by name, who had it laid on his heart to carry the Gospel into the villages of North Devon, but not being a preacher he decided to start by reading sermons to those who would gather to hear him.
He commenced at Eastacombe, a hamlet about three miles from Bamstaple, where God blessed him and the work continues to this day in the form of an assembly about 30 strong. Later he was commended for full time Gospel work by R. C. Chapman and others; yet according to modern standards he was not one who would be thought fit for the work, Nevertheless God greatly used him.
J. N. Darby once said to George Wigram, “How is it Wigram? We preach to the best of our ability, with all our knowledge and education at our back, yet we seldom get a conversion, while down in Devonshire there is a man called Gribble who cannot preach, he just rubs his hands up and down his face and mutters a few texts, so that one can scarcely hear what he is saying, and after a few minutes of this, people are weeping over their sins, desiring salvation?”
Gribble set out in dependence on the Lord for his daily bread, calling himself the “Fustian Jacket Evangelist,” and went to live at High Bickington, where sin was such that it was said no one ate the fruit of his own garden, but all stole their neighbour’s. At first Gribble was fearful as to his garden produce, and he, of course, could not rob his neighbour’s, but the fear of God fell upon them; they feared to take from him because they were sure that God would judge them if they robbed such a holy man.
Again at High Bickington he was able to build a hall in dependence on the Lord and founded another work, which, like Eastacombe, continues to this day. Amongst those won for Christ was a young woman who, with her sister, suffered much for the Lord at the hands of her father who was bitterly opposed to the Gospel. It is said that on one occasion he found her praying in her bedroom, dragged her downstairs and kicked her outside the door. On another occasion he dragged her out of a prayer-meeting at the hall and hit her head against the wall until the blood ran down. She married a young cobbler, S. Payne, who also was converted under Gribble’s ministry, and God honoured her faithfulness under persecution by sending three of their children to Spain with the Gospel Mr. Henry Payne, Mrs. Chesterman and Mrs. Don Pedro, whose work God used to the establishment of many assemblies in Spain.
Other assemblies, including Coleford and Merriott, owe their origin to this man’s remarkable labours. His body now rests in the little graveyard at Eastacombe, at the rear of tile Chapel, beside the remains of George Covering, of whom we wrote (in No. 13 of Vol. 1) under the heading “Everything has a Beginning even Harvest Thanksgivings.”