There was a memorial service of the 25th anniversary of the death of Thomas Benjamin Tuitt held in his former church, the London Evangelical Reformed Church in Lauriston Road, Hackney, on Saturday 23rd April 2016 at 4 p.m.. About 250 to 300 people filled the lovely building, the downstairs was full and also the gallery on one side and at the back. All his ten children, their husbands and wives and the grandchildren, were present, and at the end his widow Anne Tuitt unveiled the commemorative plaque which will be placed in the wide vestibule a place so full of warm greetings and the buzz of happy conversations at the end of the Sunday services.
Tom Tuitt died 25 years ago and his memory is still vital to the older generation of church goers but not to the many students and young couples that characterize the church today. So this was the opportunity of refreshing their memories with the story of this man of God, and understand the legacy he has left. He was born on 9th October 1921 on the little island of Montserrat in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean (an isle 10 miles long and 7 miles wide, famous for its active volcano). He and his parents attended a Methodist church, but through reading the Bible in his late teens he became convicted of his sin and needed to put his trust in Jesus Christ. His conversion and the subsequent change of life impacted the whole island (whose population today is under 6,000 people). He had been a striking personality, a man about town, a society fellow, but his experience of the new birth and his advocacy of personal conversion antagonized his fellow church goers. He sought fellowship, tuning in to some of the radio broadcasts of the American evangelical preachers and receiving their notes. He read avidly and sought gospel preachers and found one in a conservative Assembly of God pastored by the Rev. Howes. He became particularly close to his son Easton. Here Mr. Tuitt led the Sunday School and the young people’s group. He joined the army, but never saw active service in the Second World War, but subsequently represented Montserrat in attending Servicemen’s Associations in Canada and in London. In Canada he met evangelical Christians who encouraged him, but in London in 1955 he found a number of Montserrat emigrants who had not been made welcome in the churches they had attended. Racially they found themselves marginalized, and many of the congregations seemed to lack spiritual life. These old acquaintances beseeched him not to return to the Leeward Islands but to stay in London and become their preacher. So he contacted his wife Anne and told her to pack up and bring their two children to England. He got a job on the London buses and the congregation looked for a meeting place finding one in a tiny disused booking office in Hornsey north London. It was soon full with many standing on the pavement outside unable to gain entrance even on winter Sundays. There were days of great blessing and on one occasion many professed faith in Christ and were there this April at the memorial service. He left the buses and became their full-time pastor.
The son of the first pastor in Montserrat, Easton Howes, also came to London and he took a job in the Westminster City Hall where a number of Christians worked. One man repeatedly invited Easton to a Bible study on Friday night, near the City Hall, but Easton was unenthusiastic. Friday nights was the time to go home, the week’s work done, and sitting around with six other people making comments on a chapter from the Bible was not attractive. The Hornsey church had its own midweek meeting. The Christian graciously continued to invited him to this Bible study, and Easton was too much of a gentleman to continue refusing. So one Friday he walked along with his friend towards Buckingham Palace, and in Buckingham Gate he was suddenly led into a building containing a thousand people. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones entered the pulpit and taught them the meaning of some verses in Romans. Easton had never experienced anything like this, and on Sunday he pulled Tom Tuitt aside and told him, ‘You must come with me on Friday to Westminster Chapel and hear Dr. Lloyd-Jones preaching on the epistle to the Romans.’ From then on Tom Tuitt attended the Bible Studies and particularly the Westminster Fellowship, the monthly Monday meeting of preachers, 300 of whom gathered from across the south of England to hear papers and discuss issues troubling Christian leaders. This he attended for many years always sitting with the Rev. Joseph Hewitt – Tuitt and Hewitt, Christian brothers and pastors. In the Westminster Book Room he bought Banner of Truth books and began building his vast library.
As he was gripped by the truths of the Reformational discovery of the biblical gospel the style of worship in Hornsea was changed. Out went singing groups, bands and glossalalia. Mr. Tuitt had never believed that the Bible teaches that the evidence of being filled with the Spirit of God was glossalalia. There developed more vibrant Word-centred preaching and thus over the years some people left to join Pentecostal congregations. Pastor Tuitt remained conscientious and patient, rejecting unscriptural methods to increase the numbers attending. The growth of the congregation since his departure has vindicated his biblical convictions. It has doubled in size in the past 25 years since his decease showing that it was no cult of a man and his gifts that was the reason for its existence and growth.
Pastor Tuitt was not merely a preacher. As one of those who knew him best wrote in a tribute to him, ‘He will also be remembered for his many acts of practical kindness to his large family of ten children and to many others. He encouraged the sick and elderly, devoting much time to personally caring for them.’ In the last years of his life he was preaching a series of penetrating sermons based on Ezekiel 36:26 & 27, ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.‘ He was also taking the Bible Class through Berkhof’s Summary of Christian Doctrine. He did this on Thursday night April 18, went home and died during the night.
John Marshall took the funeral service to which 600 people came. There they sang, among other hymns, the one that Mr. Tuitt called his ‘theme song.’
Chosen of God ere time begun his sovereignty we prove,
With Christ our Head accounted one in bonds of covenant love.
It was one of the wettest days on record, and yet the congregation stood in the sodden cemetery and they heard a message of resurrection hope preached by Achille Blaize. They stood there under their umbrellas singing hymns as the rain lashed down on them as the coffin was lowered and then his sons with their spades and shovels filled in the grave.
Now these many years have passed and Saturday April 23 2016 was a day of bright sunshine. The weather reflected the growing hope and contentment of the congregation. Old friends were reunited. A splendid meal was prepared for hundreds of people in the school next door. Mr. Tuitt’s library has finally become unpacked and is being catalogued with 2000 more books to be set out in the library upstairs in Lauriston Road. A fine young preacher, graduated from London Theological Seminary, Kehinde Omotayo, regularly occupies the pulpit and chaired that commemoration meeting. The hymns sung were as follows, Grace, ‘tis a charming sound, Dear Saviour Thou art mine, Chosen of God ere time begun, and Come let us join our friends above. A tribute from Al Martin was read, and Chukuma Wagadugu read a fascinating biography of Thomas Benjamin Tuitt. Ill health kept Easton Howes from being able to attend, and we felt that loss deeply as he has been the leader and pastor and counselor of the congregation during the past 25 years and his affection for me has been an enormous encouragement.
In the absence of Achille Blaize I preached on the opening words of Isaiah 57, ‘The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart.‘ I had met Mr. Tuitt at the Banner of Truth ministers’ conference and at the Westminster Conference and he showed kindness to me, inviting me to preach for him on a number of occasions. I was then as excited and honoured to preach for this godly Carribbean congregation as I am today though now it is augmented by young Nigerian Londoners. I introduced Dr. Joel Beeke to the people there and he is a welcome visitor, again preaching the week-end before the Aberystwyth conference this year.
I enjoyed hospitality with Mr. Tuitt one Sunday and he showed me the results of his skilful book-binding. There was a slight embarrassment at that occasion. He had handed me a leather-bound puritan book that he had transformed. It glowed. He said, I thought, ‘You can have it.’ I was very moved and thanked him, but on the following Tuesday at the Westminster Conference in Westminster Chapel, an embarrassed Pastor Tuitt came to me to say he had said I that I could have it to examine, not have it to keep. Poor Mr. Tuitt! I returned the book to him on the second day of the Conference. My frequent visits to preach, almost each year, at the Evangelical Reformed Church, and their arrival en masse at the Aberystwyth Conference each August, have been the continual foundation for our happy relationship.
I concluded the Saturday commemoration by speaking on the number of famous people who had died even during the past week and also in the past months. This actual day was the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the world lays to its heart the perishing of men not renowned for being righteous, but for godly preachers – who are the light of the world – few were laying it to heart. Their message is not believed. Death is ignored. Lives are being filled with fleeting fancies, and people readily say that no one knows what lies after death, as though the Lord Jesus did not rise from the dead.
I reminded them that Mr. Tuitt was a man of God, and a man of the Book, but he was only a man. He lived his life in the flesh as does every Christian. In other words, he carried with him his own molecular structure and temperament and personality, sometimes pressed down beyond measure, needing to learn contentment and manage his own impatience. He was a man of human affections with a love for his people, his longing that his fellow West Indians might come to faith in Christ. He saw many of them as sheep without a shepherd. He was a man with his native weaknesses. He did not pick up a whole new range of talents when he was converted. We come to Christ with our weaknesses as well as with our strengths, and sometimes can see the wisdom of God in permitting our weaknesses to remain, as they keep us going to God for grace and strength. I wonder how much I owe to my weaknesses? I wonder how much Mr. Tuitt owed to his? That sense of inadequacy and failure that they create are instrumental in driving us back to God for grace. Again a righteous man has real interests. I don’t think that an effect of becoming a Christian is that nothing matters henceforth but religion. I don’t think God wants us to become a people to whom nothing matters but religion. The authors of the Scriptures are interested in everything in creation, in music, mining, beauty, agriculture, commerce, Greek poets and even matters military. They were involved in the world of their day and thrilled by its achievements. So too with Pastor Tuitt, he was interested, we have mentioned, in book binding, in antiques, in cricket and in his massive collection of clocks (which he showed me in the house next door to his home). Becoming a Christian had not meant an end to his humanity. I urged them to continue to look ahead. We may have such a commemoration once, but we are told not to say that the former days are better than these. Let us all live to be missed; let us all live a righteous life. A false prophet once cried out, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous!’ because as death draws near and we face an open-ended encounter with God a righteous life is what we long to be clothed in. But if we want to die the death of the righteous then there is only one way, and that is that we live the life of the righteous.
This happy service ended with Mrs. Anne Tuitt unveiling the plaque that honoured her husband and then her grand-daughter Elston presented her with a fine bouquet of flowers. Then what joyful reunions and renewal of friendships took place during the hours of the Saturday evening over a splendid meal.