The little congregation back in Newmilns, Scotland, continued in good heart even after a number. of its members emigrated. They were only a few in number but John Lawrie had discipline and perseverance, and was determined that a church along restoration lines must be given an opportunity to grow in Newmilns. The opportunities to meet together were for the purpose of learning about the things of God. At Newmilns there was no time for the frivolous, like talking about the weather, or crops, or politics, but about the things belonging to the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus. It was important to John that the meetings and preaching were such as would instruct and build a person up in the Christian faith. He disagreed with brethren in England who held views of brotherly exhortation because this kind of approach would strangle the cause of this new reformation in its infancy. Of six churches in Scotland, John pointed out, two which at one time had sixty members, became extinct because of inefficient teaching.
The Restoration Movement became an established fact in Ayrshire with the official formation of a church in Newmilns, Sunday October 24th. 1841, with eleven members who gathered in John's house to break bread together. By 1841 there were a number of congregations in Scotland and England. George Reid accepted the task of visiting many of the smaller congregations in Scotland to help and encourage them.
When Reid was pastor of an independent Methodist church in Dundee,
he was lecturing through the first Epistle of John. When he came to the portion that treats of the three witnesses on earth, he came to a stand; he could not see his way through with the witnesses at that time. (1)
He eventually thought his way to the position of the restoration movement.
Reid arrived in Newmilns March 10th. 1842, and stayed for a week, moving to Kilmarnock, but returning on Monday 22nd. for the ordination of three elders.- Hugh Greenshields and John Lawrie, bishops; and John Aird, deacon. Membership at that time stood at 17. John was very impressed with Reid especially with reference to a number of young men in Dundee who were so diligent and zealous in the study of God's word that they had committed the whole of the New Testament to memory.
On hearing of Reid's visit to Newmilns, two men from Kilmarnock arrived and invited Reid to speak to their group. Reid held a series of meetings in March 1842. On the first night sixty people gathered to hear the gospel. The following two days were constantly occupied in conversation with people "enquiring the way". On the Wednesday Reid delivered a sermon in the Independent Chapel on the scriptural method of bringing about a revival of the Christian religion. At the conclusion of the next evening's meeting between fifty and sixty, mostly young men, confessed their faith. Reid wrote two days later, "...Tomorrow they are to meet for the first time to break the loaf, and to attend to the teaching of the apostles...(2) The Kilmarnock congregation met on that Sunday 24th. March to choose their elders, but none were appointed. John wrote at the time,
I shall ever esteem it one of the most interesting scenes and events of my own history that I should have been an eyewitness of the beginning of the reformation in Kilmarnock.(3)
By this time John had become quite averse to the Scotch Baptists and spoke strongly against them.
In Newmilns and Kilmarnock, where the Baptists have long been engaged in devouring each other with their opposing opinions and sectarianism, there has been, I may almost say, a complete annihilation of their sectarianism effected. Having come all under the banner of the reformation, order has now taken the place of confusion; the book now, and obedience to
the book, is the bond of union - the rallying point. Alas! for the folly and madness of our opinionated Baptists! they obtain and merit the contempt of the world, and have heretofore strangled the truth by their recriminations and contentions. I sincerely hope that the disciples everywhere will keep a great distance from that rock on which Baptist churches have shipwrecked themselves, and hold fast the form of words...This reformation effected in Kilmarnock I hope will act and react upon all Baptist churches in Britain. (4)
Hugh Lauder reported six months later that the existence of the Scotch Baptists in Kilmarnock was drawing to a close.
John Lawrie was very concerned about the welfare of the churches in the restoration movement. His attendance at the meeting of the Messengers in Edinburgh August 1842, convinced him further of the need to co-operate particularly in the support of an itinerant evangelist. Congregations had suffered a great deal of disharmony and disruption even very shortly after the successful conference in Edinburgh. George Reid who was now recognised as an evangelist was called to Pollock-shaw, a suburb of Glasgow, to restore fellowship within the congregation. At the end of five weeks he could report a happy and stable state.
John offered his assistance to Reid, whom he had come to know as a good friend, and went to Pollock-Shaw for about six weeks in March 1843, spending some of the time with Reid and continuing on after Reid left to go to Kilmarnock where difficulties had arisen. Reid talked to John about the difficulties of moving around all the time as against the advantage of consolidating a work over a period of time. This made sense to John who wrote in the Christian Messenger that the committee appointed by the co-operative meeting should allow the evangelist to be stationed at one place for at least six months to consolidate a work. The time spent with George Reid made Lawrie very sympathetic to the problems the evangelist encountered.
I remember the time George Reid was the only Evangelist of the churches in Britain; on him devolved in a manner, such as was the case with Paul, the care of all the churches, and which burden came upon him daily; whenever any trouble arose, any root of bitterness sprung up to cause trouble, he went there either with the gentleness of Christ or with a rod to heal or correct. I remember the time when his visit seemed to give the small churches a new lease of life. (5)
The churches were ever in need of leaders and teachers, who could mould the independent thinking Scots into a unity of Christ and together find a way to establish the restoration principles. As John had proved his ability as a teacher, he too was called upon more and more to visit and encourage, particularly the smaller churches. He was especially appreciative of the hospitality provided by these churches during his visits. One elderly lady of a congregation in a small village was provided with a home by the church, with a guest room, the sole purpose being to give hospitality to strangers on behalf of the church. This room was also the guest room for those, like John, who ministered to the church.
1843 was the year of the Disruption in the Presbyterian Church, when 451 ministers withdrew from the State church and formed the Free Church of Scotland. It was also in that year that Rev. James Morison of Kilmarnock formed the Evangelical Union on congregational lines. Morison had been expelled in 1841 from the United Secession Church for expounding non-Calvinistic doctrines regarding the Atonement . At various times he attacked the Christian Congregation (Disciples) in Kilmarnock denouncing them as a set of fearful heretics who preached baptism for the remission of sins, which, according to Morison was a "soul-ruining and hell-filling heresy". These disturbances left their mark upon the congregation at Kilmarnock, so much so that George Reid had to spend two weeks straightening out problems and encouraging the brethren.
The discipline John Lawrie learned early in life augured well for him through these many difficult times; it enabled him to face the often difficult demands that were his in assisting these young congregations.
John was noted for his alibility to hold the congregation at Newmilns in peace and love, and was referred to by J.Walker of Edinburgh as the "persevering John Lawrie' . By the end of March 1843 the congregation at Newmilns numbered forty-eight, an increase of twenty two in just seven months.
A time of grief and personal testing was thrust upon him and his wife Janet with the loss in one week, March 1845, of their only son aged five, and youngest daughter aged three, of diphtheria. Their trial proved to make them stronger in their Christian faith.
For some time John had been concerned about the brethren who had moved to South Australia, and it was during Alexander Campbell's visit to Scotland that John urged his fellow elder John Aird to travel to the colony and draw the people of the southern parts of Adelaide together into a worshipping congregation.
Alexander Campbell was in Scotland from August 6th. 1847, and intended to sail for Londonderry on September 6th., but was prevented from doing so, being put in Glasgow prison because of damage charges laid against him by a Mr Robinson, a so-called Morisonian Congregationalist minister. The charges, unable to be substantiated allowed Campbell to go free after a short time in prison. Campbell had always impressed John as a man who clearly stated the "ancient faith" and this is reflected in much of John's writings, although he did have doubts about what was termed as 'open membership." John wrote of Campbell,
I had the privilege of hearing several discourses by Alexander Campbell when he was in Scotland; and he, I think, spoke generally for about two hours, and nobody was tired or complained of the length of his sermons; but he was an orbit that revolved in a plane of his own. He had the power to hold a crowded audience in rapt attention, so as one could hear a pin fall on the floor. (6)