J. J. Rouse

The teenage rascals had caught “Rodney,” the old roan horse, and were leading him to the door of the large tent. The boys, whispering, moved quickly. One pulled Rodney’s head through the tent entrance. The other boy lifted its tail and put a bull thistle under it. Within the canvas walls the meeting was in progress. Alexander Marshall and two co-workers were conducting the meeting. Old Rodney didn’t lift his tail to drop the thistle, but as is characteristic of such beasts, he hugged it all the tighter as he plunged into the tent, running and stomping. Rodney’s “neigh” agreed with the people’s “Oh, no!” The boys only laughed as they ran for cover. When the consternation and confusion caused by Rodney had settled, and the boys had squeezed all the humor from their prank, one of them, James Rouse, walked across the road to the Rouse farm. His thoughts were filled with how he had spoiled the meeting that night. Those “Marshallites” with their talk about heaven and hell had been upsetting the communities all around Orillia, Ontario. But James later confessed it was a lot easier to shake off their preaching when he was surrounded by his fellow juveniles. As one preacher had said, “You can laugh your way into hell, but you can’t laugh your way out.”

Soon after this episode, James attended a funeral. As he looked at the empty shell of “Aunt Mary,” a solemn question came to him with an irresistible force: “If your body were in a coffin, where would you be?” This sudden thought caused James to pass through months of agony. His silliness seeped out of him. It was now March of 1885. James was almost sixteen years old. For a Sunday School project, he had been memorizing much Scripture, including parts of Romans. But the all-important transaction occurred when he was in the woods gathering firewood. refering to it, he said, “I cried out, ‘Oh, God, I’m lost; there’s no use of me trying to be good.’ I got the wood on, and was on my way home, when I saw that, according to Romans 5:6, ‘Christ died for the ungodly,’ and I passed from death unto life.”

Some time after being converted, James Rouse amazed his father with the announcement that he intended to become a preacher instead of a farmer. Accordingly, in 1895 he went out to preach in the open air with a veteran evangelist named James Goodfellow. He was also impressed with the work Alexander Marshall had done in establishing about twenty congregations of saints around Orillia. Thus he ventured north, determined to do likewise. He later wrote, “In the early history of those who gather in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in this country, there were no assemblies to go to. Laborers went out into the regions beyond, and pioneered. God blessed His Word to the salvation of many, and assemblies were formed. But in both the United States and Canada, there is much untouched territory, and apparently few young men to go to these parts with the Gospel. God is the same; His Word is the same; the Gospel is still the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth. Why run in the rut — young men going from assembly to assembly, the fruit of the labors of those who are with the Lord, with so much new ground untouched by the Lord’s servants?”

One reason so few have ventured into pioneering is, few are willing to bear the hardships. And hardships they were! While visiting out-of-the-way places, Brother Rouse often slept on the wood floor rather than lie on the bedbug-infested mattress. And the mice were careful to test the food to see if it was all right for the poor preachers. The accommodations were often filthy and the finances scant.

Harassment was common. Mr. Rouse’s large canvas tents (supplied by C. J. Baker of Kansas City) were cut down, the sides sliced, and punctured by fireworks and rocks. In one meadow where the tent was pitched, someone poured salt around and in the tent. The next day James was surrounded by about sixty cows licking the salt. They would gore the tent with their horns and then walk through the holes. C. J. Baker supplied God’s faithful servant with three or more tents over the years.

In 1898, J. J. Rouse was joined in marriage to Eva O. W. Russell. Eva “expressed herself as willing to share my joys and sorrows.” They had four children. The little family moved often, which is a hardship in itself. Their move to Edmonton, Alberta, in 1905 had its share of “joys and sorrows.” The homesteaders were just breaking ground at that time, and the prairies were full of virgin soil for the evangelist as well as the farmer. Between Brandon, MB, and Vancouver, BC, there were fifteen hundred miles with virtually no scriptural local churches and little if any aggressive evangelism. A great and effectual door was open. But the climate and the pressures of the work took a heavy toll on Eva. A young widow and her two unmanageable boys came to stay in the Rouse home for a number of months. Soon after they left, Eva collapsed with nervous exhaustion. Then the children all took sick with scarlet fever. This was during one of the coldest winters on record. Brother Rouse would sometimes wake up in the morning with icicles on his mustache.

Those winters left their permanent mark on J. J. Rouse as well. The unforgettable thing about him was his nose. The Alberta winters with temperatures of sixty and seventy degrees below zero had frozen it so many times that it became swollen and grotesquely pronounced. For those who do not like an overly handsome preacher, J. J. Rouse was the man. To the children who gawked he would lean down and ask, “Do you know how my nose got like this? By sticking it in other people’s business.” In those forbidding winters, Rouse usually traveled via his “foot-mobile,” visiting homes in the afternoons and walking to rented schoolhouses in the evenings, where he preached the Gospel. Twice he almost froze. Once when walking home in a blinding blizzard he couldn’t find the road and stepped over a ridge into a ravine. Down into a snowdrift he fell. The drift was so deep, there was six feet of snow above his head. Stomping with his feet and drawing his hands above his head, Brother Rouse “swam” upward and out.

Perhaps worse than the danger of freezing to death was the fatigue and melancholy of the long winters in Alberta. Rouse once overheard a homesteader explain life on the prairie to a prospective homesteader. “You get awful lonely,” he said, “then the next stage is, you begin to audibly talk to yourself, and the further stage of it is, you begin to wonder which would be the easiest way to do it — that is, to commit suicide. I had reached this stage,” he said, “when my father came, and he did not arrive any too soon.”

Rouse was asked to officiate at numerous funerals at this time. One day a certified drunkard was cursing Mr. Rouse from his hospital bed, saying, “Get out! and never come back!” Three days later Brother Rouse was preaching at the same man’s funeral. Rouse often remarked he “saw signs following” the preaching of the Word. On two occasions, shortly after exhorting unbelievers about their need of Christ, they were found dead. In one case, an Episcopal clergyman had bitterly opposed Rouse’s Gospel preaching in the clergyman’s parish. Rouse went to reason with him and was rudely put off. Two days later the clergyman had a heart attack and died. It is a solemn thing to oppose the work of God. As the Scripture says, “Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15).

Rouse’s speaking was lively and interesting but it could not be called entertainment. When he met a jeweler’s wife on the street, he expressed his pleasure at seeing her at the meeting the night before, and invited her to the next meeting. “Never again for me,” she said. Rouse assured her the meeting was free and all were welcome. Again with more emphasis she said, “Never again for me.” When asked, “Why never again?” the truth came out: “I never slept all night after being there.” Another time Mr. Rouse was in a department store and overheard two women speaking about his meetings. One asked, “Have you been to the tent yet?” The other answered, “No.” The first then said, “Well, if you want the pride knocked out of you, that is the place to go.”

J. J. Rouse not only preached the Gospel in tents and schoolhouses, he also helped in the formation of many congregations of saints. In Ontario there were the meetings at Bracebridge, Emberson, Huntsville, Kearny, Kenora and Wyebridge. In Alberta there were assemblies established at Belvedere, Calgary, Edmonton, Grainland, Savey Lake and Wetaskiwin. In British Columbia meetings were started at Fort George and Prince Rupert.

Ever a pioneer, Brother Rouse often advised the young evangelists, “Jesus did not say, ‘Go ye into all the assemblies,’ but ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.'”

Further reading:

Pioneer Work in Canada Practically Presented by J. J. Rouse

Alexander Marshall: Evangelist, Author and Pioneer by John Hawthorn