The Church at Antioch was greatly privileged by having in its midst brethren with very definite gifts from the risen Head; and while these were gathered together, as they “ministered to the Lord and fasted,” the Holy Ghost made known to them the mind of God regarding two of their number who were already outstanding in gift and usefulness. “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). And apparently they acted immediately upon the command, for the assembly fasted, prayed, laid their hands upon them, and sent them away, thus expressing their entire fellowship with them in the Lord’s work.
With this precedent in mind, the Assembly at May and Fulton Streets, Chicago, in 1883, commended W. J. McClure to the work of the Lord, and their prayers followed him as he left for service. A young North of Ireland man, by name Andrew McQuiston, who served in the Queen’s Life Guards in England, had come to Canada to preach the Gospel. He attended the Chicago conference on this occasion, became acquainted with Mr. McClure, and as the result of many conversations together, Mr. McClure decided to go with him to Ontario to labor for the Lord.
For two years previous to this Mr. McClure had been working with the Deering Harvester Company, earning a good salary, and, when he decided to travel to Canada with Mr. McQuiston, he had still in his possession the last two weeks’ wages that he had drawn from the firm, and with only that amount he started from Chicago for Toronto. They traveled second class in a car filled with lumbermen, who were drinking and smoking, and making the air blue with their tobacco fumes. After a weary night they reached Toronto, and, at the Very outset, Mr. McClure met with disappointment, for he learned that special arrangements had been made for meetings to be conducted by Mr. McQuiston. These arrangements so upset their plans that it was necessary for Mr. McClure to go elsewhere and alone. Thus left without a fellow-laborer he was at once cast upon the Lord Himself.
At that time James Norman Case (afterwards well known as Dr. Case of China) was preaching in Canington, and Mr. McClure went thither to confer with him. Mr. Case received him most kindly, welcomed the new-comer as a fellow-helper, and they labored there together for a time. But again a previous arrangement interfered, for Mr. Case had already engaged to go to Orillia where Messrs. Alexander Marshall and Richard Irving were holding forth the Word of Life. Left at Canington without a companion, a feeling of loneliness took hold of him, but in this trial of faith the Lord was gracious to him, for just then Mr. W. P. Douglas, who had been in the Lord’s work for two years, came along to Canington and they preached the Word together.
From the very first these two brethren became fast friends. Mr. McClure, speaking of that early experience, said, “I regarded W. P. Douglas as a veteran, for I was just starting out, and I counted it as very gracious indeed on his part to take notice of me.” Thus these two young men were linked together in the bonds of the Gospel, and became true yoke-fellows sharing alike the trials as well as the joys that such a path brings to the servants of Christ.
Being fully consecrated to the Master’s service their one burning desire was to win souls for Christ in that part of Northern Ontario. At that time it was a new country in every sense, not long inhabited and thus everything was very primitive. Roads in many cases were just tracks through the bush. Many of the settlers had come from the north of Scotland, where the Gaelic language was their mother tongue, and these people traveled far to hear the Word of God. Mr. McClure in later years, speaking of that field in Northern Ontario, said it might well have been termed “The Regions Beyond.”
The accommodations were poor in those days, but these evangelists were prepared to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. At first they engaged in tent-work at Beaverton, but about the middle of July they decided to move to Kirkfield. One very hot day having packed the canvas, poles, and chairs on a farmer’s wagon, they set off for the new site. Stopping near a village, Mr. McClure went to enquire the way. Mr. Douglas sat up on top of the load of chairs. When the stable man came along, he surveyed the strange looking load and the man sitting up on high. He called up, “How many chairs have you on this wagon ?” “One hundred and fifty,” said Mr. Douglas. “Where are you going?” was the next question. “To Heaven,” was the very pronounced reply. With a look of amazement he ran to the saloon door, opened it and called to the men inside: “Come out here and see a man who is going to Heaven with a hundred and fifty chairs.”
The tent was pitched in the village of Kirkfield and the fact that two strangers, not ordained according to the traditions of men were preaching from the Bible every night, caused a stir among the people. Crowds from far and near attended the services and soon there were tokens of the Lord’s favor and blessing, until a denominational preacher began to oppose the meetings and was bitter in his opposition. Evil reports were circulated over the country of what was preached and practiced, but amid all the persecution that arose a number of precious souls were saved by grace. During the ensuing winter months the Word of Life was held forth in Carson Schoolhouse and a good interest was created. Among those saved at that time was a young farmer called Donald Bell. After attending the meetings for some time, Mr. McClure spoke to him regarding Eternity, and the Word of God took hold of his heart and conscience. One night the message given was from Matthew 22:11-13: “And when the King came to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment and he said unto him, ‘Friend, how earnest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?’ and he was speechless. Then said the King to his sevants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and take him away and cast him into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” As the truth was pressed home that night, the awful thought of being cast into outer darkness brought deep conviction of sin to Donald Bell, but a few nights later, the light of the glorious Gospel shone into his darkened heart.