In 1881 when W. J. McClure was twenty-four years old, after having become established in Assembly truths, and having spent a number of years coming in and going out among the saints in happy service with them in the Gospel work, he became exercised about going to the United States of America. His purpose was to continue working with his hands, and as much as possible make known what the Lord had taught him in the Gospel and in believer’s truths which had become so precious to him. The brethren in commending him to the grace of God in Old Lodge Road Assembly, presented him with a Bible bearing the following inscription :
William J. McClure
his brethren in Christ
on his leaving for America.
Belfast, 21 Oct. 1881
He crossed the ocean and arrived in the city of Chicago a complete stranger. He found an Assembly of Christians gathered to the Name of our Lord Jesus and meeting in a hall on May and Fulton Streets. Having been commended by letter from the Assembly in Belfast he was heartily received by the saints, and he soon found they were seeking to carry out the Word of God just as in the Assembly he had left in Ireland.
Mr. Donald Ross, from Scotland, had located in Chicago in 1879. His ministry was refreshing and stimulating to the Lord’s people, and his energy in the Gospel was a great help and encouragement to the young men, exercising and stirring up the gift that God had given them. Among these young men was Robert Telfer, very earnest and full of zeal in carrying the Gospel message. Mr. Kenneth J. Muir, a brother of Mr. T. D. W. Muir, had also arrived in Chicago early in 1880. The Assembly was at that time meeting in Desplains Street, but when Mr. Ross pitched his tent on May Street the Assembly moved into it. After the hot season was over they moved to the Union Park Hall, 517 West Madison Street, where the first Chicago Conference was held and later they removed to May and Fulton Streets.
Work was scarce in Chicago at that time and brother Muir advised some of the young men to go to Elgin where they could find employment in the Elgin Watch Company. In after years Mr. McClure often said: “If I had taken the advice of brother Muir I would have been a watch-maker instead of a preacher,” but the Lord had his path marked out differently. He secured employment in Chicago and was thus highly favored by being much in contact with Mr. Ross.
Brother Telfer and he became much drawn to each other and were closely associated in gospel work. Happy days were spent as they sought to carry on an aggressive testimony in that large city. In later years while speaking of the preparation for the work of the Lord in broader fields Mr. McClure referred thus to the education he received for his life work: “We cannot read the Word of God without seeing that He believes in preparation, and so it pleased Him to give me such an education in Chicago where after standing all day before a wood lathe I devoted my evenings to Bible study and Gospel work. Another very important factor in my education was the May and Fulton Streets Assembly. Some of the men whom God used as my tutors were Donald Ross, Richard Sparks, Donald Munro, John Smith, and T. D. W. Muir. The first two named brethren had the most to do with it. Donald Ross was an out-and-out evangelist and his faithful exhortations kept us from settling down, and fostered the desire in our souls to preach the simple gospel of Christ. Richard Sparks was a man very well taught in prophetic truths, and was used of the Lord to preserve me from the many deadly heresies that abounded then in Chicago, as they do to this day.”
This education continued over a period of two years and it left its impression, molding his life for the long and fruitful years stretching out before him. He valued much the help he received from those who were gifts from the risen Lord, and rejoiced to see the effect of such education in others. He has often said: “We could mention with much thanksgiving among those thus taught, the names of many of God’s dear servants, some already with the Lord, others nearing the journey’s end, grand men that reaped and are still reaping golden fruit; men who held, and still hold the truth of God in all its simplicity in spite of criticism and persecution. Both in the homeland and in the regions beyond, they served and continue to serve with no other training received.”
Mr. Donald Ross made mention of the young brethren of Chicago in “The Barley Cake,” September, 1882, and the work of the Lord carried on by them in the open air as most interesting, and during their holidays going hither and thither carrying the glad tidings of salvation all around. Tent meetings were also held in the city with William J. McClure as one of the helpers and at the time of writing, four precious souls had professed faith in Christ.
The fields of the West were large and assemblies few, and these young brethren, Telfer and McClure, were feeling the call of God to lay their all at Jesus’ feet and to go forth in His name to make Christ known in the regions beyond. Deep was their exercise of heart with the result that Mr. McClure went out for His Name’s sake, followed later by Mr. Telfer who meanwhile continued at his work for a little longer.