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Rev (Dr) Tow Siang Hwa

" The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: How are the mighty fallen! How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! The bow of Jonathan turned not back, And the sword of Saul returned not empty. O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places. How are the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished! " (2 Samuel 1:19, 22, 25, 27)


David’s words on the deaths of Saul and Jonathan immediately came to my mind as I learnt of the passing of Dr Tow.

How are the mighty fallen!

David here laments the deaths of his king and good friend. He describes Saul and Jonathan as valiant warriors. The same can be said of Dr. Tow. He was the founding pastor of Calvary Bible-Presbyterian Church (Calvary) specifically, and the larger Singapore BP Movement. He was a valiant warrior for the Gospel and the cause of Christ. He was our leader.

Even as David personally mourns the loss of and grieves over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, he feels even more acutely the loss of glory to a people that accompanies the fall of their leader. In the same way, with home-going of Dr. Tow, I personally feel the loss of one who is the last of the pioneer generation of God's servants of the Bible-Presbyterian Church.

They were the ones who had the vision to establish a Bible-believing church. They held the helm of the BP Church and guided her for half a century. They sustained the Church and kept her going. They expanded the Gospel work beyond the shores of Singapore, to all the South-east Asian countries, to Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom.

The bow…turned not back, and the sword…returned not empty!

David here honours the accomplishments of Saul and Jonathan. Jonathan did not flee from the battle. He fought valiantly. He fought with dignity.

As did Dr. Tow. Calvary was started because one Friday afternoon in 1969, Dr Tow together with the Rev. Philip Heng took a drive in the new industrial estate of Taman Jurong. What a historic drive that would be. Dr. Tow recalled with fondness that as he passed by the new HDB flats, which he described as “human beehives,” that there was no church. He remembered the words of our Lord Jesus Christ; “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35).

The LORD laid on his heart a burden to start a church in Taman Jurong. Knowing Dr. Tow as one who is “swifter than eagles…stronger than lions,” application was quickly made to Jurong Town Corporation for a church building. Approval was granted in 1970. The building was completed in 1972.

And Calvary was born.

The drive through Taman Jurong would be Dr. Tow’s journey – a journey of his Gospel ministry; one that lasted five decades; one that bears testimony of his unwavering devotion to his Saviour, and his unflinching faithfulness to his Master.

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!… I am distressed for thee…. Very pleasant hast thou been unto me!

There is a grief that comes with the losing of loved ones. David was distressed over Jonathan’s death because of the very personal friendship.

I came to know Dr. Tow first as my pastor. He baptised me on 31 December 1981. The first close encounter I had with him was when he telephoned me one Christmas day in response to a rather critical letter that I had written him.

From my pastor, Dr. Tow would later become my pastor-mentor when I moved to Vancouver, Canada. He was also the founding pastor of Vancouver Bible-Presbyterian Church. Separated by time-zones and thousands of miles, the telephone fellowship would continue in the first few years of my ministry. Almost daily – early afternoon in Vancouver, which would be morning hours in Singapore – we would talk and pray over the phone.

It was during those years in Vancouver that I saw Dr. Tow’s humility. He was our guest at our home on many occasions. Before he took leave each time, he would fold up the bed sheets and clean the washroom, leaving the guest room as clean – if not cleaner – than when he came.

I saw his passion for the Gospel, his love for the church, his diligence as a pastor. There was no church so far that he would not visit. There was no climate too cold (like winter in Vancouver) or too hot (such as Sri Lanka) that would be an obstacle to him. There was no congregation too small for him to minister. He went where the Lord called.

As my pastor-mentor, we share a holy relationship with each other. Matthew Henry writes “that nothing is more delightful in this world than a true friend, that is wise and good, that kindly receives and returns our affection, and is faithful to us in all our true interests. That nothing is more distressful than the loss of such a friend; it is parting with a piece of one's self. It is the vanity of this world that what is most pleasant to us, we are most liable to be distressed in. The more we love the more we grieve.” So at this hour, I grieve.

How are the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished!

David’s words were more than just a lamentation; they are really an exclamation. The weapons of war are perished not in the sense of defeat, but that the warrior has given his all. And Dr. Tow certainly did. When Calvary decided to embark on the redevelopment project, he said that if he were younger, he would gladly sign up for the work. Such is the mettle of God's servant.

On the 40th Anniversary of Calvary, he wrote, “Let us ask ourselves, ‘What sort of reward do we expect from the Lord? Do we serve Him faithfully? Or is it ‘fitfully?’ Behold, He comes! These electrifying words sound with stunning impact. May they awaken you, and those who are dreamingly enjoying this deceptive world…. Let not these deadly attractions tempt you, but look only unto Jesus, our blessed hope. Soon we shall hear His call from heaven, ‘Behold I come!’ Are you ready for Him?” Such is the legacy of faith he has left us, and the example that he has set.

How are the mighty fallen!

At this hour, we grieve because it is important for us to understand the good that has been lost. It will mean remembering Dr. Tow, and to recognize his ministry as God’s gift to us. So, today we echo the words of David, “How is God's mighty warrior fallen.” However, we also echo the words of the greater David, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). And so with thankfulness, today we bless God for Dr. Tow, and blessed assurance, one day; we will bless God with him.

Pastor Isaac


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