07 Dec The Story of Helen Ewan of Scotland
In one sense, Helen Ewan was an ordinary, common Christian, and in another, she was an extraordinary one. Her brief Christian life of eight years was filled with the fragrance and glory of God. It was filled with blessings to both saint and sinner. Today, many years after her translation, thousands still are being inspired and challenged through her life.
Some of my friends who also knew Helen believe that the story of her life is too sacred to reveal publicly, but I have felt the continuous urge of the Spirit to pass on the message of her life to a cold church and unbelieving world. I feel a great responsibility, as I suppose I knew her better than anyone apart from her father and mother, through our adventures in soul-winning together in the industrial city of Glasgow.
Although we were the same age, Helen was my friend only in a spiritual sense. What an inspiration she was to me! Her whole being was poured out in rich devotion to the Christ Who had redeemed her.
Yours in Calvary’s bonds,
James Alexander Stewart
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Cor. 4:18.
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Cor. 4:5-7
At the same time that I was saved during a mighty movement of God in my city of Glasgow, a girl about the same age was also saved. Her name was Helen Ewan. She was just a slip of a girl, but at the very threshold of her new life in Christ, she crowned Him as absolute Lord and was thus filled with the Holy Spirit. She had accepted the invitation of her Lord to “drink abundantly.”
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake He of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive.) John 7:37-39a
The torrents of living water simply began to flow from Helen’s life.
Helen Ewan was born around 1910 into an ordinary working-class family. She was the only child. Both of her parents loved Christ supremely. The blessed Son of God was the center around which the whole household revolved. They lived for only one thing and that was to please God in every detail of their lives. Three well-marked Bibles were always conspicuous in their living room when I visited them.
After her conversion at the age of fourteen, Helen’s whole personality was radiant with the glory of the Lord. God, in His sovereign grace, had shone into her darkened soul in order that through this ordinary “earthenware container” might be manifested the surpassing majesty of the power of the gospel.
This manifestation of His glory astonished us all. Hers was only a common life, but it was lit up with the glory of God. I often wondered how she could stand so much glory in her fragile earthenware container.
Being full of the Holy Spirit, she was full of Christ. As she studied the Word of God, under the illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit, He took of the treasures of the Lord Jesus and revealed them unto her (John 16:14-15). This made her heart dance for joy. Many times she would stop Christians on the street and, with radiant face, tell of some choice portion of Scripture where she had found some new picture of her blessed Redeemer. These friends often left her presence weeping. They said, “We have seen Jesus; we have looked into His glorious face.” The awe of God remained upon their souls throughout the remainder of the day. Like Spurgeon, she was at her very best when she told us of her Lord. It was at such times she stood out as a solitary figure, so far removed from the rest of us. She knew the Lord in such a deep intimate way.
Many testified that just her passing smile, or her cheery, “Good day. God bless you,” was an uplifting tonic to them the rest of the day.
In her prayer life, Helen was such an example to us all. She arose each morning around five o’clock to commune with her Lord. She would not put on the heat in her cold little room or seek to make herself comfortable in any way, feeling she could be more alert in the cold. And besides, those for whom she would be praying in foreign lands were not sitting in comfort.
She would begin her communion with praise and worship. She then read the Word to warm her heart. She remembered the words of her fellow Scot, R. Murray McCheyne, “It is the look that saves, but it is the gaze that sanctifies.” Helen gazed with rapture into the face of her Lord. I could mention to you the expressions of adoration which she wrote down in her diary after such times with her Lord. They are too sacred for publication.
After fellowship and communion, followed her ministry of intercession for her friends and family, for her assembly, for hundreds of missionaries on the foreign fields. Then came her prayer ministry for the unsaved. She had a list of unsaved persons to whom she had testified and for whom she prayed daily until they were born again. Her yearnings after the salvation of the lost were awful to behold. The reason God gave her so many souls among rich and poor, young and old, illiterate and intelligent, was that she agonized for them in earnest intercession inside the vail. There was nothing vague or general about her pleas. After her “translation,” her mother kindly allowed me to go over her diaries and there I saw that the petitions expressed in them were strong and definite. She gave the date when she began to pray for a person and then the date when the prayer was answered. These diaries revealed a prayer life that moved God and man. No wonder that when God promoted her to Glory at the age of twenty-two, many wept throughout Scotland, and missionaries in far-off lands felt they had lost their greatest prayer warrior.
Not only at the early morning hour did Helen commit to her Lord the whole of the new day with all that it entailed, but all through the day she sought His guidance in matters small and great. It was no small thing for her to shop for some personal piece of clothing and she might be seen to pause in front of a store to seek His guidance before going in for a piece of ribbon! She must please Him in all things and she would not be led by the traditions of men. That no doubt explains the remark of her friends that “Helen was always dressed right.”
Helen’s seeking after lost souls also put us all to shame. Here again she seemed to rise head and shoulders above us all, even among tens of thousands of believers in our great city at that time. I have been out on the streets of Glasgow near midnight with my tract and gospel textboards on many occasions when I would see Helen busy in her own method of personal soul-winning. I have seen her on a cold Scottish winter’s evening with her arms around a poor drunken prostitute, telling her of Jesus and His love. On other occasions she would be dealing with drunken men, seeking to lead them to her Saviour.
In the evangelistic meetings she was always on the alert for lost souls. Sitting near the rear of the building, she would see a woman sitting alone, sorrow written on her face and weariness in her eyes. Under the guidance of the Spirit, Helen would slip over and sit beside her, praying inwardly during the whole of the service. When the lady arose to leave, Helen would leave with her, talking about the message and encouraging the lady to unburden her heart. In this way, more than one soul who was burdened with the cares of this life and bowed down with the weight of sin and despair was led to know the Saviour as Helen pointed her to the Lamb of God under the lamp post or while waiting at the street-car shop.
When finally she entered the University of Glasgow, she used to walk several miles from her home to the varsity each day so that she could distribute tracts along the way. At the same time, she could save the streetcar fare and give it to the missionary cause. Needless to say, she had the joy of leading many students to Christ on the campus.
Robert Murray McCheyne used to seal his letters with a sketch of the sun going down behind the mountains and with a motto over it, “THE NIGHT COMETH.” It was this same feeling of urgency that drew Helen on.
Like Murray McCheyne and Samuel Rutherford, Helen carried the fragrance of Christ with her, and like William C. Burns, she manifested the power of the Spirit. Her body was a walking temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus, wherever she went the power of God was manifested. When she entered into any service, immediately the atmosphere was charged with His power. I have known her to slip quietly into a prayer meeting which had already begun and set on the back seat; yet, every one of us knew that she had arrived because of the mighty sense of the presence of God manifested in our midst.
Evangelists often sought after her service. It was not that she could sing or speak in public. I do not think she ever sang a solo or gave a public testimony in any of their campaigns. All she did was sit quietly in the meetings and pray. Yet, these evangelists knew that if they could only have Helen attend their services, there would be sure to be a mighty anointing upon the meeting! Some leading evangelists have told me that she was the most remarkable person they ever knew in this way. One outstanding English evangelist, when an aged warrior, testified that possibly the greatest campaign he ever conducted was one in which Helen was able to attend every service for two weeks while she was on her vacation.
I was talking one day with two professors from the University of London. They were believers. We were talking about dynamic Christianity when one of them suddenly said, “Brother Stewart, I want to tell you a story.” Then he went on to tell of a remarkable young lady on the campus of the Glasgow University when he was lecturing there. Wherever she went on the campus, he said, the fragrance of Christ followed her. For example, a group of unconverted students would be jesting and telling dirty stories when someone would suddenly say, “Shhhhh! Shhh! Here she comes! Quiet!” and this young lady would walk by, unconsciously leaving the power and the awe of the presence of God behind her. He said that in the University prayer meetings they could always tell if this young student was present whether she prayed or not, or they could tell when she entered the room without hearing or seeing her; they sensed the presence of God in their midst.
I said, Sir, that could be only one person, that was Helen Ewan!”
“Yes,” he answered, “that was her name. She was a remarkable soulwinner.”
Another feature of Helen’s life was her deep appetite for the Word of God and a deep spiritual penetration into Divine truth. She did not just leaf through her Bible for palatable portions which suited her fancy at the moment; she studied the whole Book from Genesis to Revelation. Thus she became a deeply intelligent child of God, even at the age of sixteen and seventeen. Her feet were firmly placed on the solid rock of the Holy Scriptures. Even when she was a hard-working student in her secular studies in the University, seeking to make good grades for His glory, she still gave time for Bible study and meditation. This made her a well-balanced Christian, though there was no time or place in her life for idle gossip or foolish talk. She bubbled over with clean humor and a zest for life, and yet, because Christ filled the whole of her horizon, she sought to magnify Him through a holy life and sacrificial service.
Every growing girl has her own heroes and heroines. Helen was no different. Her favorite character was one of the Wigtown martyrs of the Covenanting days in Scotland, Margaret Wilson.
It was of such rugged stock as this that Helen Ewan came. She might not be asked to die for her Redeemer as was Margaret Wilson, but by His grace she would live for Him each moment of every day.
At the University Helen was preparing herself for missionary service among the Russian people of Eastern Europe where I, myself, was later to labor. Already she was learning the Russian language in preparation for her life’s ministry. But God, in His wisdom and love, called her Home at the age of twenty-two.
She had been spending her vacation with an aunt in the kingdom of Fife, and while there, was continually about her Master’s business. She was taken ill suddenly and as suddenly was called Home. It was so unexpected that it shocked us all. I was laboring at the time in an evangelistic campaign in a city in northern England. When the news reached me of Helen’s Home-going, I was stunned. I could neither eat nor sleep. So great was my grief that the people were amazed to learn that this young lady from my city was no more to me than a spiritual friend and companion; not my fiancé. “How is it possible,” they asked, “that a young man could be so broken down over the loss of anyone, especially only a friend?”
I was not alone in my sorrow. Thousands wept throughout Scotland and Great Britain. Many sought to express something of the blessing this life had meant to them. For instance, at one memorial service, a Christian leader stood and told the audience of how Helen’s spirituality had so deeply affected him. “I was old enough to be her father,” he said. “I had known the Lord many years longer than she had known Him, but still she seemed so far ahead of me spiritually.”
On far-off mission stations, British missionaries grieved at the news. Alas, who would bear them up so faithfully at the Throne of Grace now? Who would step into this gap and take her place?
Even many years later when I would be again in Glasgow, one of the most thrilling experiences was to be with a group of Christian friends who would be sharing with each other something of what this dedicated, radiant life had meant to us personally. The very mention of her name had a charm; an irresistible force that drove one to his knees to cry out, “Oh, God, raise up others like Helen Ewan. Oh, God, make even me a better man for Thy glory!”
Some time later, when I had a few days free from my evangelistic meetings, I visited the cemetery where Helen had been laid to rest, in order to once again give God thanks for such a life. There I knelt before God and laid myself anew upon His altar, pleading that the fire of God would fall on even me.
One of the grave diggers to whom I spoke could not at first recall anyone having buried there such as I described to him.
“You must remember that we are burying large numbers of people here; this is a public cemetery,” he explained.
As I went on speaking, however, this strong, sturdy laborer became deeply moved. “Yes, I remember now,” he said. “When we were burying that body, I felt the presence of God all over this place!”
Now, dear reader, what is the explanation of such a life? How could a young lady, still pursuing her studies, never having preached a sermon or sung a solo, never having traveled more than two hundred miles away from her home; how could her life so affect people in all parts of the world that they felt a mighty general had fallen? The Word of God says, “One of you shall chase a thousand; two shall put ten-thousand to flight.” Helen Ewan’s life had been worth more than a thousand ordinary Christians to the Church. And the story of her life, translated into many different languages, has continued to bless many today. What, I say, is the explanation? There is only one explanation: SHE WAS FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Helen, who was an ordinary young woman, became extraordinary simply because she surrendered all to Christ and appropriated for herself all that was hers in Him. She, with unveiled face, took time to receive, and thus reflected, the glory of the Lord as she passed from one degree of glory to another.
We all mirror the glory of the Lord in some degree, but if we are to perfectly mirror His glory, there are three things that must be true of us:
- The mirror must be clean. A dirty mirror does not give a true reflection.
- The mirror must be kept clean. In Bible days, when mirrors were made of polished metal, they had to be kept polished to be of any use. And the mirror of your life must be kept clean and polished if it is to perfectly and consistently reflect the glory of the Lord.
- The mirror must be in place; it must face the object to be reflected. You must have both eyes on Christ, the whole life looking unto Him, if you would reflect His glory.
May you, dear reader, be so fully surrendered to your Lord that you will, like Helen Ewan, fully reflect the glory of the Lord. Let this be your prayer, with Francis Ridley Havergal:
In full and glad surrender
I give myself to thee,
Thine utterly and only
And evermore to be
O Son of God who love’st me
I will be Thine alone;
And all I have, and all I can,
Shall henceforth be Thine own.
Reign over me, Lord Jesus!
O make my heart Thy throne
It shall be Thine, dear Saviour,
It shall be Thine alone.