A warning note was raised by the apostle Peter in his ministry to the saints of old, “Be sober, be vigilent; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The history of the Church since then has been one marked by much failure, because of the assaults of that powerful adversary, called the “accuser of the brethren”—often devouring the fellowship of believers in their assembly testimony. That he has accomplished this sad condition by causing war in the camp, has been seen in the past as the Apostle warned the Galatians, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). In all such conditions the Holy Spirit is grieved and the devil gets an advantage over God’s people.
Teaching had been introduced in some assemblies in Ontario to the effect that all who profess faith in Christ, irrespective of their ecclesiastical connections, should be received at the Lord’s table. This line of things met with much opposition by brethren having a care for the assemblies, and also from those giving themselves to the ministry of the Word.
They maintained that godly order should be exercised in God’s House and to secure this that those applying for fellowship in the local assembly should first be interviewed by the leading brethren of that assembly that when they were satisfied that the conversion of the applicant was real, and also that he had imbibed no false doctrine and that he was not guilty of even practice, then the assembly should receive him—not merely to break bread, but into fellowship, sharing its joys and sorrows, and also its reproach for Christ’s sake.
But some believed there was a tendency on the part of certain brethren to adopt a measure of what was known as Needed Truth principles in Church Government and discipline, having high ecclesiastical claims with a form of district oversight which was dictatorial to assemblies that did not fully agree with that order. Thus it was that strained relationships began to be manifested among those who had for years enjoyed happy fellowship together.
Such were the existing conditions when Mr. McClure arrived in Ontario in 1911, and he saw this spirit of unrest among some of the assemblies that he had helped to plant and establish in the ways of the Lord. One assembly had already divided. He viewed the situation with grave concern. In his wide experience he had seen the evil effects of division that had torn some assemblies asunder in the past and he knew if the devil had his way, a repetition of the same would be seen on this continent.
The reader can gather from the ministry of Mr. McClure given in this volume that he had very decided convictions regarding assembly order, and the definite stand he took at that time to avert a division was not a compromise between two extremes. Far from that, it was a seeking to maintain the truth he had learned many years before and which he believed to be Scriptural. He was a man well balanced in his interpretation of the truth, he had a great mind, never coming to decisions hastily, but weighing every aspect in the presence of God and, when convinced that he had the mind of God, nothing would change him, for what he did not believe was also to him of vital importance.
He did not countenance infant springling because it was the means of blinding many, causing them to believe because they were baptized in infancy they had a good chance of Heaven, but most of all, because he perceived it was unscriptural. He did not believe in “household baptism” (unless it applied to householders of born again people) because it was manifestly an unwarranted doctrine but he held tenaciously to Matthew 28 as the Divine authority to baptize believers only, and the responsibility of preachers to teach believers God’s ways.
He strongly opposed division in assemblies that were gathered to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, contending for the principle that unless an assembly has imbibed false doctrine connected with the foundations of the faith, or moral evil and a refusal to judge it, there was no authority from the Word of God for any assembly or company of assemblies to take upon themselves the awful responsibility to divide or to cut off another assembly that has been gathered in His Name.
He deplored the division among the early brethren in 1847 that has been handed down ever since; although its leaders were men of learning and ability, to some of whom we are indebted for the recovery of precious truths that we cherish. He pointed out that they had acted in a most unscriptural manner, and that a careful study of the messages from the risen Lord to the churches in Asia would have averted such a calamity and saved the assemblies of God’s people much sorrow of heart, until this day. Mr. McClure pointed out that the Lord charged some of these churches with serious error, but yet did not accuse anyone of the other churches as being denied by what the other one held. Yet, even to this present time some dear brethren are still talking about “the question” until it has become a tradition.
During the contention that arose in 1910 and subsequent years, Mr. McClure differed with some of his brethren but he was prepared to lose some of his dearest friends, rather than agree to anything for which he believed they had not a “thus saith the Lord.”
We would much rather pass over this experience through which this servant of the Lord was greatly tried but we are seeking to trace the life and labors of W. J. McClure, with its sweet and its bitter experiences. For just as Marah’s bitter waters are brought before us in the history of Israel, as well as Elim’s Springs, so also it is with servants of God. Moses’ face shone when he descended from Mount Sinai and was then held in high esteem; yet he later passed through deepest humiliation, was misunderstood, and spoken against even by his brethren. But he finished well. And David who was extoled as a mighty warrior, was afterwards persecuted so that he became a wanderer. His own son, with others who should have known better, raised rebellion and hunted for his life. These very unpleasant experiences are not hidden afterwards when the pen of inspiration is taken up to record their life’s history, but among the other examples, they are written for our admonition.
And we trust the days of trial that were the lot of beloved Brother McClure may have a very savoury effect on all who follow after, enabling them to walk softly, holding fast the faithful Word and seeking to be guided in all matters of judgment by its holy precepts—not led by feelings nor even by leaders, but by a “thus saith the Lord” that will stand the test of all Scripture.
This phase of experience reminds us of the ancient quarrel recorded in Acts 15 of Paul and Barnabas, men of whom it is written that they had “hazarded their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus,” and who were joined together as true yoke fellows in the bonds of the Gospel and used mightily in the Lord’s service. Yet upon a point where earthly relationships were involved these brethren differed. Indeed it became contention, and was so sharp that they departed asunder one from the other each going in a different direction, nor do we read of their ever working together again, though Paul makes mention of Barnabas twice in 1 Corinthians 9. The parting of those servants of the Lord under strained circumstances must have had an effect upon the Lord’s people, but the Holy Spirit drops the curtain and gives no information to satisfy mere curiosity. We would do well to consider the omissions of Scripture, and so we leave this unhappy incident in the path of God’s servant and continue to trace his life of usefulness in the years that followed.