A team of horses were eagerly making their way over the dusty roads of Grey County, Ontario, on a summer evening in 1882. The driver of that team was in perturbed thought. He was well enough acquainted with his Bible to know that a remark that he had heard from his preacher was false. He was a devout member of a denominational church in the neighbourhood. The “Disciples” were holding a meeting in the district. The preacher had thought it was his duty to warn his flock about these “false” teachers. He told his auditors that the way the eunuch was baptized in Acts 8 was by the eunuch taking a water bottle out from under the seat and saying “Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” Peter Elford knew that the preacher had falsified the Word of God and he was troubled.

His homeward journey led him past the place where the hated “Disciples” were holding their meeting. He decided that he would go in and hear what they had to say. So for the first time Peter Elford heard the gospel in its ancient simplicity and purity. Duncan Stirling that night preached the ancient gospel as announced to the world by Jesus Christ through His apostles. It fell into the troubled heart of Peter Elford. The word of God can only grow in an “honest and good heart.” Peter Elford left that place that night knowing that his days as a sectarian were forever at an end. No longer would he belong to a church that tried to maintain its tenets by false teaching and by perverting the right way of the Lord.

The seed of the kingdom was growing in his heart. The perturbed soul of Peter Elford as he pursued his journey home, not in the light of the setting sun, but in the dark, was now firm and resolute. His good wife, also a member of the same denominational church, had finished her day's work, had gently tucked her children into bed, and retired for the night. She was not sharing either the turmoil of her husband, nor the new embryonic life that was beginning to surge through his soul. She had carefully done her duty that day as a wife, and mother, and now sleep had brought to her tired body rest. Soon that rest was broken. Peter Elford arrived home. The team was cared for, and before retiring for the night he had to inform his wife of the new resolves that were born into his life. He insisted that they both would attend the meeting the next night. The heart of Mrs. Elford was just as honest as that of her husband and if truth had been found, then truth, too, she would have.

If the missionary zeal of Peter Elford had stopped there I would not likely be writing this history. Peter Elford was bringing home a load of grist the night that he stopped to hear the “Disciples” preach. That grist had been ground, or crushed, by William John Cann, my maternal grandfather. Peter Elford returned to the mill and urged upon my grandfather the advisability of him attending the meetings. To this he was agreeable, although at first Grandma Cann objected. Within a few days Peter Elford, his wife, and my grandfather were baptized. My grandmother informed them that if they wanted to be crazy she had no intention of acting that way. Some one asked her how long it took her to go crazy and she said, “Oh, about a week.”

How little Brother Duncan Stirling realized what he was doing that night in 1882 when he preached to a few people there in Grey County when Peter Elford, with his troubled mind, entered that assembly.

How true the words of Jesus that the kingdom of heaven is like leaven. Peter Elford had an honest and good heart. He heard the word. He held it fast and today there are thousands that are in the church in Canada and the United States as a result. The faithfulness of Peter Elford in that summer night of long ago is not confined to the United States and Canada but as we progress in this book we shall show that this life has reached into Europe and Africa.

How wonderful are the promises of Jesus. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”

Brother Peter Elford was killed in a gravel pit in the summer of 1913. That same summer my grandmother passed from earthly scenes. Sister Elford had already passed to the spirit world. Grandpa Cann lived until Armistice Day in 1931.

Shortly before his death Brother Elford made this statement, “There has never been a Lord's Day since I obeyed the gospel that I did not start for the house of worship. A few times the snow was so deep that I could not get through, but I always started.” Sister Ethel Minion, the oldest one in the Cann family, assures me that the same was true of my grandfather.

When he died in 1931 he had 99 living descendants and all of them that were old enough were members of the church. That family has grown and increased until there are nearly five hundred descendants of my grand parents and there has only been one deflection from the faith. One of my sisters, with her husband, was a member of one of the Toronto churches that for a time accepted premillenial preachers. My sister not only accepted the doctrine but followed the course of all these preachers that were there. She went into a sectarian church. So did they. She took her family with her. Only eternity will reveal the harm that has been done in churches of Christ by the introduction of this erroneous doctrine. Jesus said to judge a tree by its fruits. When we look back over the history of the last thirty-five years no one can doubt that premillenialism is bad. For its fruit has been bad. The only other cause of departure has been worldliness. Worldliness saps the vitality out of a person. There is more danger from worldliness today than from all false doctrine combined as far as an apostasy is concerned. Modernism does not curse our family. Denominationalism has but little power; but of worldliness we need beware lest we should lose the wonderful heritage that is ours.

Life is a battle and in particular the Christian life is a battle. Only those who overcome are successful. Think of the impact that two faithful men, with their wives, have had upon the church in Canada. There is no reason that the faithfulness of each member of that family in another seventy-five years cannot reach as far, and with many farther, if there is resoluteness of purpose. Some of us have opportunities that were not granted to our forebears.

Our Weakness

As we peruse this history, the Elford family shall probably touch it again but let us talk about ourselves just now. The Griersville congregation is made up mostly today of the Cann and Elford families. From reports gleaned it would seem that it is in as an aggressive mood as it ever was. The building is filled. A number of the family connections are in Meaford and Heathcote. The churches at Iron Bridge, North Livingstone, and both congregations in Sault Ste. Marie are largely made up of descendants of the Cann family. There are a number of other churches that have members of this family in its midst. Yet, I am sure that if we as a people, as a family, had thought bigger thoughts we would have done greater deeds.

I remember when the meeting house at North Livingstone was built. We were a poor people in the midst of prosperity. There were good wages to be made all around us. No one squandered his money but we did not give our money because we did not earn enough. We did not earn enough because we did not live up to our capabilities. I never saw any one put a dollar bill on the collection plate until after I came to Carman in 1921. Yet, I know that some members earned more than one dollar per hour at times previous to my leaving Ontario. How God might have blessed us! How much more happy we would have been if we could have only realized the potential that was ours! We cannot undo the past. We can assess the present by the past. Are we still incapacitated by our lack of vision?

A little over one year ago a meeting was called to move Radville Christian College to Weyburn. I opposed the move. Cecil, my brother, said that if the school was moved, there would be 80 students for the next term. I told him that if there were 60 for the next year it would be mighty good. The school was moved. There are 81 students in school as I write. What a tragedy it would have been if my judgment had prevailed. Think of twenty students that would not be in school. What of their lives in the next generation? Well did Solomon say, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” The American Revised Version says, “Where there is no vision the people cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18). I do not know which rendering is the better but I am sure that the original allows of both thoughts. No one does more than he plans to do. Many times we can not do as much as we plan but we never do more. Churches are dying because its members have no vision of growth. Jesus envisioned a taught world for us, BY US. Then there is an old saying, “An idle brain is the devil's workshop.” People of vision are busy. Busy people do not cast off restraint. It is into the heart of the lazy Christian that the devil comes with his enticements. The lusts of the flesh grow and with the growth of lust we cast off restraint.

Can I not appeal to every member of our family to think big thoughts. Have a great vision of a triumphant church and then we can do great things. (Can I not make this appeal to every reader?)

There are only two institutions in the world that are God ordained. The one is the church and the other is the home. The home had its beginning in the dawn of creation. The church had its beginning on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ. Each has a place to play in the great drama of life. Their purposes are agreeable but are not the same. You cannot turn the church into a home, nor can you turn the home into a church. The purpose of the home must always be subject to the purpose of the church. Through the home the church can be honored; but the place of the home is secondary to that of the church. Speaking of Christ it is said, “Far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:21-23). The home, that is a successful home, brings people into subjection to Christ in the church. Such a home has met its God given purpose. If it has failed in this respect, it has failed in its most precious responsibility.

The Blessing of a Home

Abraham is called the “father of the faithful.” In this way God described Abraham, “For I have known him to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of Jehovah, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that Jehovah may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Genesis 18:19). Out of this family came the people of God that we call the Israelites. This family of Abraham was the people of God. Out of the family must come the church. The first family came by natural birth. The second family comes by a spiritual birth (John 3:1-5). We must never overlook this fact. There is a statement often made that there are more that come into the church by generation than regeneration. NO ONE comes into the church by generation. Fathers and mothers must command their children in the righteous ways of the Lord. They must teach them justice. It is the greatest blessing that earth can afford to have a godly father and a praying mother, but this does not make us members of the church. Nor does the fact that our parents are members of the church make it needful that we be members of the church.

It is needful that we be saved. All have sinned. A good home has kept us from many quagmires. Lust will not have gained the hold that it would have gained without a good home, but we need Christ for ALL HAVE SINNED. All the good home training will be of no avail if we do not remember our Creator in the days of our youth. We must turn to Christ with our whole heart. Each of us should be able to serve God better than our forebears for we have their lives as an example and we have an open Bible to teach us the right way. Let us never trust in our home to save us. It can't. Only Jesus can save. He saves those who are born again. We are not born of the flesh. We are born of water and the SPIRIT.

Paul's words to Timothy fit in right here: “Having been reminded of the unfeigned faith that is in thee: which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice: and I am persuaded in thee also” (II Timothy 1:15). What was the effect of such early training? Writing to the Philippians Paul says of Timothy, “For I have no man like minded, who will care truly for your state” (Philippians 2:20). Happy is the lot of the boy or girl that has a mother like Timothy had: that has a father like Isaac had. This is the great blessing of home.

This does not relieve us of individual responsibility for Samuel was one of the greatest characters of Old Testament history. He had a praying mother. He had a mother that gave her boy to the Lord all his days. Yet it is said of Samuel's sons, “And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted justice” (I Samuel 8:3). How often this story is told. Why? Sometimes parents take it for granted that children will do right. More often children choose the way of wrong. They lack moral courage to do right. To do right must be the passion of the individual soul. It is the greatest help earth can afford to have godly parents but it does not relieve us of individual responsibility. I hope this book is read by every member of the Elford, as well as the Cann family. I want every person, male or female, to ask himself the question, “Do I have the strength of character that my forebears had? Am I like Samuel's sons?” Great blessings bring grave responsibility. We have foreparents that, like Abraham, so ordered their children after them that in point of numbers we are the greatest families in the church in all Canada. In one generation all this can be lost. If it is, how can we stand before the judgment bar of God?

The blessing of Abraham can be the blessing of each family. “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:7). How little did Peter Elford realize how true this promise would be to him as he rode home on the summer night in 1882. How little did my grandfather Cann realize that God would so abundantly fulfil this promise to him when he accepted the invitation of Peter Elford to attend that mission meeting in County Grey more than seventy years ago.

Jesus said that the seed of the kingdom is the word of God. He tells us that this seed may fall into four kinds of hearts. There are hearts that are like the wayside. The devil takes this seed away lest they should believe and be saved. The devil does not take away this word until first it is tramped under a foot. Then there was the seed that was sown into stony ground. These believed for a while. In time of temptation they fell away. They had no root in themselves. Their heart was not right. Then there was the seed sown between the thorns and thistles. It was choked. Cares of this world, pleasures of this life, and deceitfulness of riches choke the word. It brought forth no fruit to perfection.

Then there was the seed sown in the HONEST AND GOOD HEART. Such a one must hear the word. However, in all cases they heard the word. In the honest and good heart it is held fast. In the others it is not. In the honest and good heart they bring forth fruit with patience. Time has proved that these men, and women, had an honest and good heart. Truly God has done abundantly above all they could have asked or thought. (Ephesians 3:20)


Published in The Old Paths Archive

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