Memories of a godly man – the influence of Mr William Trew
Dennis Mackinnon, Eastbourne, England
When I was asked to put pen to paper in a tribute to the life and work of Mr Trew, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his homecall, my first reaction was, surely it cannot be fifty years or more since I sat at the feet of this man of God and learned, from him, of Him who was the passion of his life. But it was – and, half a century on, the fragrance of the man and his teaching still abides with me.
I was saved in 1958 at the age of 13, coming from a non-Christian home in Cardiff, Wales, and, soon afterwards, got to know and value the man whom I, and other young believers of my generation, always referred to as ‘Mr Trew’ – although older brethren and sisters might refer to him as ‘Willie’ Trew.
It was of the goodness of God that we were able to sit for our formative years under the ministry of two great servants of God, whose ministry in South Wales shaped the spiritual experience of a generation of young people – Mr William Trew and Mr Cyril Hocking. I knew and valued both men, who were instrumental in teaching the scriptures of truth by life and by word.
Others may speak of Mr Trew’s birth in Stevenston, Lanarkshire, in Scotland in 1902 and his death in 1971, and all the work that he did in the Welsh valleys (often in partnership with Mr Walter Norris), taking the gospel to the people of Wales, after having been commended to full-time service at the rather tender age of 19. I speak of my knowledge of him during the 1960s when I sat at his feet, not only in assembly meetings but also in his (ever open) home. I well remember attending college about 150 metres from his home and slipping away when I did not have lectures to spend some time with him. He and his godly wife, always ‘Mrs Trew’, made me ever welcome. My abiding memory of Mr Trew is that he was a man who exuded a love for his Saviour and who had a deep appreciation of the word of God. I was living in Zambia when he was called home in 1971, at a time when he and I were having an exchange of letters about the grating around the brazen altar. I regretted that, at the time of his passing, I did not know until well after the funeral, but his dear wife told me when my wife and I visited her at Christmas 1971, that the grating had occupied much of his thoughts in his last days.
But, essentially, for me the great thing about Mr Trew was not his teaching – of which more later – but the character of the man. He epitomized what was written by Beatrice Clelland (1912-1997):
Not merely in the words you say, ?Not only in the deeds confessed,
But in the most unconscious way, Is Christ expressed.
Is it a beatific smile, ?A holy light upon the brow? Oh no,
I felt His presence while ?You laughed just now.
For me, ’twas not the truth you taught,
To you so clear to me so dim,
But when you came to me you brought?
A sense of Him.
And from your life He beckons me, ?And from your heart His love is shed,
Till I lose sight of you and see ?The Christ instead. 1
By the time that I got to know Mr Trew, the great ‘Norris and Trew’ gospel tent campaigns in the Valleys were but a memory and I knew him more as a teacher of the word. He had a particular way of breaking down the sections of his ministry. Some readers may remember, for example, his series on Philippians, in Precious Seed in 1963. 2 He broke down the chapters as follows:
Ch. 1 – Christ the passion of a devoted life
Ch. 2 – Christ the pattern of a selfless life
Ch. 3 – Christ the pursuit of an ardent life
Ch. 4 – Christ the power of a victorious life
He then broke down each chapter into subsections, some of which were further broken down, in his characteristic style.
Another breakdown of a book that I found in my notes of Mr Trew’s ministry in the late 1960s was of Malachi, which he outlined as shown in the table below:
|(i)||1. 1-5||General. Addressed to all Israel.
Emphasis on the love of the Lord’s heart.
|(ii)||1. 6 – 2. 9||Direct. Addressed to the priests.
Emphasis on the majesty of the Lord’s name.
|(iii)||2. 10-17||Direct. Addressed to Judah and Jerusalem.
Emphasis on the weariness of the Lord’s Spirit.
|(iv)||3. 1-15||Direct. Addressed to the priests, Judah and Jerusalem.
Emphasis on the immutability of the Lord’s ways.
|(iv)||3. 16 – 4. 6||The remnant introduced – the results of Malachi’s ministry.
Emphasis on the righteousness of the Lord’s recompense.
It was characteristic of the man to give outlines of a whole book, before dealing with the text in his inimitable style.
During the time that I knew him, the concept of the New Testament assembly was very precious to Mr Trew. He valued and treasured it – and the saints who comprised it. He lived in a bungalow, from which he could see the Heath Gospel Hall, Cardiff, where he was in fellowship. In this he found delight; ‘Dennis’, he would say, ‘that’s where the saints meet!’ He considered each believer precious.
And this was reflected in his ministry at the time, where he would delight in expounding passages dealing with ‘church truth’, to the equal delight of those who heard him expound the scriptures.
Another characteristic feature of Mr Trew was that if one asked him a question, he would never ‘beat about the bush’. He would always give his considered judgement to any question. This was really helpful to those young people who wanted ‘the trumpet to give no uncertain sound’. He understood the issues behind the question and always gave his views on the matter.
When asked to pen this tribute to Mr Trew, I took counsel from another brother who knew him well, Roger Brind. Roger’s recollections include the following:
When I first came to Cardiff as a student in 1964, I was regularly invited to the Trews’ house for meals. This was before they lived in the bungalow, and I would arrive on my bicycle. Mr Trew always insisted that I put it around the back of the house behind a locked gate and not leave it locked in the front garden. He said, ‘I believe in the total depravity of man – so let us not put temptation in his way!’
When in the house, he was always ready to ask and answer questions. He had a habit of thinking through his answers before beginning to speak. I remember Mrs Trew saying once, ‘Willie, you should start answering more quickly: you’ll put the boy off asking questions’. He apologized but said that this was his way.
I also remember a visit that a number of us ‘young people’ made and prophetic issues came up. If I remember correctly, he was just recovering from a heart attack and he told us that he had read and read the prophetical books during his recovery period and had seen things he had never seen before. He took down a large map of the Middle East, put it on the floor and then showed us where all these new pieces of information fitted into the divine plan and where the events were to take place geographically. It must have been a strange sight, four or five young men sitting on the floor and Mr Trew kneeling down and using the large map and his Newberry Bible to teach us.
Another thing that I remember was when he came to Llandaff North Gospel Hall, Cardiff, every Monday evening from July 1970 to October 1971 for our prayer meeting and Bible study. I usually picked him up and, as we set out for the hall, invariably the first question was, ‘how is Susan (my wife)?’ Then, ‘how are Joanna and Mark (my children)?’ Then he would ask about my parents, who were old friends. His detailed concern for individuals and his memory of them was a real example. He wanted prayer information. While in the meeting he encouraged all to take part and, although we were in awe of him for his knowledge, understanding and spirituality, he was remarkably encouraging to us all. We all learned what a kind and considerate man he was. One particular thing I remember him saying was, ‘People quote me but rarely in the spirit in which I said what I said’.
I remember that, on the last Monday he was at Llandaff North, before he went on his last journey to Peterhead, in Aberdeenshire, an assembly which he loved, he asked if he could say a few words at the end of the meeting. He told us he would be away for about a month and that we would be very much in his prayers. He told us the doctor had advised him, because of his health, that this should be his last ‘preaching tour’ and he had accepted that. He had asked the doctor if he could continue visiting us and the doctor had agreed. He told us he planned to spend his time writing on this return from Scotland. He then commended us into the hands of God. It was very much an Acts chapter 20 moment! The Lord had other plans, as he was called home following his last message in Peterhead. Mrs Trew told me afterwards that he spoke on John chapter 17 for the week, and it was as if he were already in heaven as he lifted the saints there as well’.
To know the man was to love him. May these few thoughts open to another generation the man that Mr Trew was.