Archie McGilvary, Andy’s lifelong friend, scrawled Andy’s life story of faith in Jesus Christ on pages of spiral notebook paper. He titled it, “A Twentieth Century Caleb” because like Caleb, when pastor and Bible teacher Andy Telford was 85 years old, in 1980, he was “…still wholeheartedly following the Lord.” (Joshua 14:10 – 14)
Andy Telford was not born into a Christian home, although his parents were good people. But that’s not enough.
Archie’s notes begin:
“On January 8, 1881, Thomas Telford and Rose Clark were united in marriage in Ballymena, Ireland. The wedding ceremony was one of simplicity in every detail.
Life was rough and rugged for the young couple. Thomas felt the urge to go west and seek his fortune in the new world, in Canada. They settled on a farm on the north shore of Lake Ontario near Bronte.
Thomas and Rose had five children; four boys and a girl. They lived frugally. There was little social life in the home. Mr. Telford was a strict disciplinarian. He wouldn’t know the meaning of the word, but he saw to it that his children obeyed his every word. Through the years, the Telfords took in 16 orphan children from the Barnardo Home in Toronto. Thomas never allowed anyone to smoke, drink, play cards or to participate in any of the ‘ways of the world.’ Unnecessary chores were prohibited on the farm on Sundays. He believed that if such things were permitted in his home, that the judgment of God would fall upon them for indulging in such sins.
Of their five children, a set of twins, Hugh and Andrew, were born, in 1895. Without the pursuit of pleasure and frivolous pastimes, the main activity on the Telford farm was work and lots of it. The twin boys worked hard, filling many a long day behind a plough.
There were Bibles in the home, but nobody ever read them, and grace was never spoken at the table. Rose did have her children recite the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime. They attended the Appleby School and were taught by the same teacher. The 10 Commandments were painted on the wall behind the teacher’s desk. Every Friday at noon, the students would stand at attention and quote them.
Andy started school at the age of 7 and stopped at age 13. For six years he faithfully quoted the Decalogue. He knew what they meant; they were instilled in his mind and heart. He had a deep sense of guilt whenever he did something wrong. Each night he would kneel at his bedside and say the Lord’s Prayer. He had a comforting feeling that this was a kind of covering for his sin, but the next day he would go about his work and repeat his lying and cheating.
Although Andy had very little schooling, he had great ability in handling the various jobs on a farm. He was hired as a foreman to direct the business of a large farm of 1,000 acres, with 50 workers. It was his responsibility to make the assignments of the work to be done each day and then drive over that acreage to see that all the work was cared for. He enjoyed it.
In 1917, Andy and his twin Hughie bought a horse, and a month later, Andy went back to see the man he purchased it from. He was not home that evening, but his wife and her mother, visiting from Toronto, were.
During the visit, Andy said something about another man; that he was no good. The lady from Toronto said to him, “What’s your name?”
“I’m Andy Telford.”
“Don’t you know, young man, that none of us are any good?”
He said to himself, “She doesn’t know me. I don’t smoke, drink, play cards or run around. I say the Lord’s Prayer every night. I think I’m pretty good.”
He said to the lady, “Can you prove that?”
She went into her room and brought out a Bible, opening it to Romans 3:10. Putting her finger on the verse she said, “Can you read that?”
He said, “Yes.” And read, “There is none righteous, no not one.” He closed the Book and handed it back to her.
“I guess you’re right.”
As he left the home that night she said, “I’ll be praying for you.”
On Thursday night Andy had to go to the blacksmith’s shop to get some work done. The shop was located in Bronte about 3 miles from where he lived. The blacksmith was a Christian man. He told Andy he was going to the Prayer Meeting over at the Baptist church. It was a small church seating about 60 or 70 people. He invited Andy to go with him. That night there was an older man visiting from Toronto. He brought a devotional message. During the course of his remarks he mentioned the passing of his wife. After the meeting was over, Andy went to him and expressed his sympathy at the loss of his wife and companion.
The man said to him, “Do you attend Sunday School here?”
Andy said, “No,” and explained to him about all the work they had to do on the farm. They had 30 grazing cattle and every Sunday morning they had to salt those cattle. Then on another farm they had a number of horses that had to be attended to in the afternoon.
The man replied, “Well, that really isn’t important. I want to ask you another question, Do you know that you are a sinner?”
At the age of 22, Andy bowed his head and began to cry, at the consequences of his sin. The Christian gentleman asked Andy if he had a Bible.
“Yes I do.”
“Then go home and read John chapter 5 verse 24 and I’ll pray for you. What’s your address?”
Burdened with his sin and guilt, he went out behind the church and sobbed his heart out. He was so broken up that he was ashamed to go back to the blacksmith’s shop where he had tied his horse. He finally got control of himself. He let the horse walk all the way home that night and sobbed from the depths of his heart, “O God, I’m bad, I want to be good.” That’s all he knew. No one had ever talked to him about Christ or Christianity or the Bible in all his life. He had never heard a gospel sermon, but he knew he was not right before God.
That Saturday he received a letter from the man who had spoken to him at the Baptist church.
I was pleased to meet you last night and the more so when I found that you wanted to settle matters with God. In Jesus Christ alone can this be done. “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Read John 5:24 and Romans 3:9 to the close of the chapter and ask God to show you the great meaning for yourself.
May you have the greatest possession; the pardon and promise of God. Do not fail to confess Him before men. Read Romans 10:17. I have been a follower of Christ 53 years. There is real fighting but sure victory and the promised presence of Christ.
I will never forget you and will pray for you.
Yours in the mercy of Christ,
All day Andy pondered the contents of that letter. Sunday morning he decided that the question must be settled once and for all.
Taking the letter and a Bible he went upstairs to his bedroom and locked the door. Spreading the letter before him, he opened the Bible to John 5:24.
“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but have already passed from death into life.”
He turned to Romans 3, reading from verse 9 till the end of the chapter.
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood… he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.” (vs.23 – 26)
He knelt beside a chair and gave his heart and life to Jesus Christ.
He believed the Word of God. The burden of his sin was gone. Joy filled his soul. He went downstairs and went out behind the barn and met a neighbor. The neighbor asked, “Good morning, Andy. How are you?”
There was his first opportunity to confess Christ. “I’m fine. I’ve just been saved, born again up in my bedroom.”
The neighbor said, “Well, I only hope that you’ll hold out.”
“Hold out? I’ve just fallen in! I’ve been born again!”
With a heart overflowing with the love of God, he began to cry tears of gratitude.
Thrilled with the certainty of his conversion, late on that same night, he got up and headed his horse and the buggy into Bronte. He just had to tell some folks what had happened to him.
The first home he went to was the Town Magistrate. Andy told him how the sentence of death had been lifted and how a guilty sinner had been pardoned.
The next midnight call was the blacksmith’s house. He must have rejoiced , even at that late hour, to know that his invitation to a prayer meeting had played some part in the salvation of Andy Telford.
By now it was 1:30 a.m. There was one more call to make. He made his way over to the Post Office and wakened the Post Master. As the Post Master heard the pounding on his door he must have wondered what great emergency had happened in town. No better news ever came in the mail than the good news of the Gospel. It had brought another soul to the Savior. The Post Master attended the little Methodist church. Andy asked him if he could come to his Sunday School next Sunday afternoon and tell the boys and girls about his conversion. This experience brought joy to his heart.
On Thursday night Andy went to the Prayer Meeting at the Baptist church and told his story. Those early days of his new found life as a Christian were filled with the joy and blessing of witnessing for his Lord. He faithfully attended the prayer meetings and services at the Baptist church.
He invited some of the young people at church to help him share the Gospel on a street corner in the center of town. When he arrived at the arranged spot after the service, no one was there. Undaunted, Andy stood alone and proclaimed the Good News to all the church members as they wended their way home from the churches.
Witnessing to strangers is one thing, but doing so in the home is another matter. Even here, Andy wasn’t ashamed.
Later that week, a Salvation Army officer from Hamilton visited the Telford farm. In the past, Andy’s father had given contributions to the work of the Salvation Army. On this particular day the officer said to Thomas, “Mr. Telford, are you a Christian?”
“No, but my boy Andy is! He reads his Bible, prays and says grace at the table.”
Archie’s story about his friend Andy, will continue … in another chapter. (Bride and groom Andy and Erie May, seated, behind them, Thomas, sister ? and twin brother Hugh.)
After I read Archie’s story to my Uncle Tommy, named after his grandfather Thomas, he added the following:
“When I was grown up, Dad took me back to the farm where he had grown up in Bronte to visit his twin brother Hugh. Dad wanted to share the Gospel, one more time, with Hugh, now in poor health. It was a cordial visit, including lunch and a tour around the old farmhouse. As we were walking down the front steps, Dad said to his brother,
“Hughie, God loves us and sent his Son to take our sin away, to forgive us and give us eternal life. He’s given me a grand gift and I want that for you, too.”
Hugh mumbled something about not needing that.
“Well it was good to see you, Hugh,” Dad said, with a warm handshake. It was the last time he saw his brother.
“Thanks for showing us around,” I said. “Take it easy.”
Dad and I turned and walked back down the farmhouse path to the front gate.
It was the only time I saw Dad cry.”
“Oh the joy of those whose sins are forgiven.” Psalm 32