Donald Munro (1839-1908) was born in the county Caithness, in the
far north of Scotland. His parents, James and Hannah Munro, held the
"old Puritan theology of the highlands that conversion is a necessity,
the new birth a work of the Spirit in the soul, and the gospel the
means used to effect it." They gathered their children daily to read
from the Gaelic Bible and to pray. In the Disruption of 1843, James
took his family out of the Established Church of Scotland and joined
the Free Church which was more evangelistic. But despite his parents'
godly example, Donald was resistant to the gospel.
His older brother Charles was the first of the Munro children to
make a clear profession of salvation. Charles witnessed to his younger
brother on a long walk, but Donald "didn't want to be spoken to in that
In July of 1958, while working as an apprentice cabinetmaker in the
town of Wick, he went to hear Hay MacDowall Grant, the laird of
Arndilly. He spoke from Romans 8:1, and seemed to talk directly to
Munro. "Young man! You may have read your Bible and said your prayers
this morning, but did you pray? I warn you now before God, who knows
you thoroughly, that if you are not in Christ, you are under
Six weeks later, he went to speak privately with Brownlow North, who
laid the facts before Donald in a way he had never seen them before.
Later that night, he looked to God in faith. Immediately, he wanted to
tell his roommate that he had been converted, but was afraid. Finally
waking him in the middle of the night, he told the whole story, and the
roommate also trusted Christ.
Early in his Christian life he contacted James Dewar, who was
preaching under Donald Ross' Northeast Coast Mission among the fishing
villages. After working hours, Donald would accompany Dewar. This was
harvest season along that coast. Dewar's success owed nothing to any
brilliance or natural persuasiveness on Dewar's part. Rather his
proximity to God and the throne of grace gave him influence among men.
He would spend protracted periods in secret prayer, sometimes
cloistering himself for days seeking God in private.
Munro was simply a helper to Dewar. Then, one night James announced
to the congregation that there would be two meetings going on at the
same time the next evening. Donald knew Dewar would speak at one of
them. After the meeting he asked who would be preaching at the other
meeting. "You will," Dewar answered.
In 1865, Donald Ross invited Donald Munro to join in the gospel
outreach of the Northeast Coast Mission. Donald worked mainly in the
far north, in Sutherland shire. He also helped in the awakenings along
the Moray Firth and in Aberdeenshire, lending a hand in the reaping of
souls at Cairnbulg, Inverallochy, and at Footdee. Where the power of
God was manifested, the meetings continued day and night.
As Ross searched his Bible, he decided to end his service in the
Northeast Coast Mission. In 1870, he started the Northern Evangelistic
Association. Munro was one of the first evangelists to join. It seemed
a risky step, but Munro reasoned that if God was leading them out, then
God would supply their needs. "His pot will be big enough to hold
porridge for me." Soon the new mission society dissolved, and the men
discovered that their relationship of co-laboring did not need the
artificial bands and ligaments of some society or denomination.
At Inverurie there was strong opposition, but Munro was an
overcomer. At their second gospel meeting, "few were present but
scoffers, and such an exhibition of the devil, I never did see before
anywhere. There were about thirty scoffers. During the time of prayer
they hissed, cheered, and shouted so, that one could not hear his own
voice." Munro took heart, knowing that sometimes the devil's roars are
his admission of defeat, and that he leaves his victims to "wallow
foaming" (Mk. 9:20). At the conclusion of the week, they saw twenty
saved, among them an eighteen-year-old named John Ritchie, who went on
to serve Christ with his tongue and pen, forming what is now John
In 1871, after a strenuous twelve months of gospel campaigns, Munro
took a break to visit his brother Charles in Parkhill, Ontario. He also
hoped to witness to his unconverted brother, William.
Mr. Munro reported on the progress of the work. His letters were
printed in the Northern Intelligencer, and the Northern Witness, and
became seeds of interest to bring other gospel preachers such as John
Carnie, John Smith, Donald Ross, and Alexander Marshall over to Canada
and the United States.
At this time, Ross was in Scotland examining the issue of Christian
baptism, while Munro did likewise in Canada. Ross corresponded with his
friend, saying that he saw the matter clearly, and was baptized in the
River Dee one Saturday morning. Donald Munro sailed the ocean to have
Ross baptize him at Aberdeen on December 31, 1871. Thereafter,
believer's baptism was a key element of teaching to the new converts.
Munro also saw a bold step being taken in Scotland. In November of
1871, as James Campbell recalled, "the table of the Lord was spread in
the simplicity of early times...It was a beautiful sight to us indeed.
We had never heard of such a meeting until we saw it with our own
eyes." As New Testament-style congregations sprang up, the opposition
sprang up, too.
Munro discovered the meaning of that saying, "Endure hardness...do
the work of an evangelist" when a Mr. McIntosh published the
inflamatory booklet, The New Prophets. The scoffers felt that they had
the support of the established church, and all restraint against
violence and public ridicule was removed. At the meetings in Huntly, a
clergyman stood up to disrupt the message with railing denunciations.
Donald Ross said the mockers gave "savage, cruel, and brutal treatment,
worthy of the palmy days of the Inquisition...God's truth had laid bare
the sores, and they were very sore."
At a packed Sunday evening meeting, the scoffers turned the lights
out and tried to cause a panic, but the Christians remained calm--even
some of the scoffers were saved! At the climax of that meeting, the
opposition rushed onto the platform, threw the preachers to the floor,
and told them to desist or they would be murdered. The devil must have
been quite worried about losing hold of Huntly. Rightly so! Thereafter
it became the birthplace of a number of missionaries and Christian
In October of 1872, Munro returned to Ontario. In 1873, he was
joined in the work by James Campbell and John Smith to campaign in
Chatham, Dundas, Forest, Galt, London, Orillia, St. Catharines,
Stratford, and Toronto. The Word went out in power. Numbers came to the
Saviour, and congregations were established.
The opposition persisted. A clergyman in Forest, ON warned, "Mr.
Munro is all right so long as he keeps at the gospel, but I warn you
against his Bible readings. They are sure to lead you astray."
One night in 1873, Munro visited the town of Shakespeare, near
Stratford. "We can never forget the first time we heard the voice of
Donald Munro preaching on the street in Shakespeare...Nobody spoke to
him, and when he had finished he returned to Stratford. He came again
the following night, preached in the open-air, and obtained permission
to have meetings in the schoolhouse. There he was joined by Mr. Smith,
his fellow-laborer. They preached the Word simply and faithfully each
night, and God gave blessing. Sinners were saved, and those who were
the Lord's revived."
But the Presbyterian minister was not so encouraged when he noticed
some of his sheep straying over to the schoolhouse. He set in motion a
cycle of abuse. Munro and Smith lost the use of the schoolhouse, and
every place they rented or stayed at was vandalized. Windows were
broken, and stones smashed against the doors of private houses. One day
a property owner stood looking at the work of a mob on the previous
evening, when an elder of the church which was the most guilty of the
violence walked by. While embarrassed by his fellow parishioners, he
made the lame excuse, "The truth must be upheld at all cost, even if
stones have to be used." On hearing this, John Ritchie remarked, "Very
likely the murderers of Stephen would have given a similar answer." Yet
in the spring Munro baptized twenty-five from Shakespeare.
At Clyde, ON, Munro, Smith and Carnie preached for five weeks. A
brother McPherson hosted Munro. "His godly life in our home and his
earnest prayers had a wonderful effect on all. He often retired alone
to the edge of a wood to pour out his soul in prayer to God, continuing
for a long time. He was the first to open up the Word of God to us, and
we never knew any who could do it so simply and plainly as he did. In
one day Mr. Munro baptized fifty believers in a pond near Clyde."
In June of 1874, Munro and Smith came to Hamilton, ON. They preached
six weeks of gospel meetings and decided that the meager results
dictated that they should pack their bags. But on the last night, a
young man named Thomas Muir was saved. Munro and Smith were heartened,
and decided to stay a little longer. They unpacked their bags. Two
nights later, Thomas Muir leaned over to a distressed young man and
asked, "Have you eternal life?" "No, I have not, but I wish I did
have." A few minutes later, the man, William Faulknor, trusted Christ.
Sitting behind them, Kenneth Muir listened, and he was saved. Faulknor
would eventually go to Angola to serve in mission work with Fred
Stanley Arnot, while Muir became a missionary to the metropolis of
In Toronto, Munro became a frequent guest in the John and Sophia
Ironside home, along with his co-worker, John Smith. A ten-year-old
named Henry Allen Ironside would never forget the men who "carried with
them the atmosphere of eternity." "One of them was very tall, and wore
a long brown beard. His name was Donald Munro. The other was quite
short; his beard was long also, but it was black, and his eyebrows were
bushy and very shaggy. Harry used to enjoy watching him clip them." The
shorter man's name was John Smith (but privately nicknamed "Hellfire
Jack"). As they came down the stairs for breakfast, one of them asked,
"Harry, my lad, are you born again?" In defense, Harry reported on his
tract distribution efforts, Bible memorization, and Sunday School
attendance, but the interview ended with a bearded preacher saying, "O
laddie, you may give out tracts and still spend all eternity in hell.
'Ye must be born again,' Harry, boy."
When Harry's widowed mother moved the family to San Francisco, Harry
thought that those preachers would never button-hole him again, but he
was wrong. The next year, 1886, Donald Munro married Miss Helen Dorr,
and the Munros settled in Toronto. Meanwhile, in 1887, Ross saw an
assembly established in the San Francisco Bay area. That October, they
held their first annual Bible conference. And who else would Ross
invite to such a conference, but his comrade Donald Munro?
In the late summer of 1889, Munro again appeared. The
fourteen-year-old was returning home from school when Mrs. Ironside
said, "Harry, who do you suppose is here?" He guessed, by her
excitement that it was uncle Henry. "Guess again," and without waiting
for another wrong guess she enthused, "It's Mr. Munro!"
Donald greeted him, "Well, well, Harry, lad, how you have grown! And
are you born again yet, my boy?" Ironside never could hide his blush.
Speechless, Harry was eyeing the floor, when his uncle Allan
interjected, "Oh, Harry preaches himself, now," referring to some
Sunday School and Bible club work Harry had started.
"You are preaching, and yet you don't know that you're born again! Go and get your Bible, lad."
As his biographer put it, Harry was so eager for an excuse to leave
the room that he "flew up the stairs. He knew he had to come down
again, but he took as much time as he possibly could to do so. When
finally he could stay away no longer without being rude, he descended
with his Bible in his hand. The first thing that Mr. Munro asked Harry
to do was to turn to Romans 3:19. The boy did, and Mr. Munro said: 'Now
read it aloud.' Harry complied: 'Now we know that what things soever
the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth
may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.' He had
scarcely begun reading when Harry knew why his catechist had chosen the
passage. 'Harry, lad, have you ever been there?'
"'What do you mean?' the boy countered.
"'Well, I understand that you have got your mouth pretty wide open
trying to preach to other people. When God makes a preacher, He stops
his mouth first and then, when he sees his lost condition, God leads
him to put his trust in the Lord Jesus. When he trusts, he is born of
God and his soul is saved. Then God opens his mouth. You've been
putting the cart before the horse, haven't you?'
"Maybe I have,' Harry replied."
That interview with Munro gave him emotional whiplash. In six months
he still suffered from the jolt. One Thursday night in February of
1890, he again read from Romans 3, then John 3. That night H. A.
Ironside looked to the One who was lifted up on a cross for him.
Campbell, Carnie, Gill, Marshall, Munro, Ross, and Smith, "toiled
for the perishing." They led by example. Besides the provinces of
Ontario and Manitoba, Munro evangelized in Boston, Chicago, Kansas
City, New York, and Philadelphia. He made ten trips to the west coast.
The years 1905-1906 were perhaps Donald's busiest, but then his
health gave in. Donald and Helen made visits to his many children in
the faith, hoping by this to recoup his strength. Donald felt like
Gideon, "faint, yet pursuing." (Judges 8:4-5) At the age of 69, having walked with God
over fifty years, he passed to glory in 1908.
Material for this article was taken from:
1. Cameron, H. A., Reminiscences of T. D. W. Muir, G. F. P.
2. Hawthorn, J., Alexander Marshall, Gospel Tract Publ.
3. Ritchie, J. Ed., Donald Munro, Gospel Tract Publ.
4. Ross, C. W. Ed., Donald Ross, Gospel Tract Publ.
5. English, E. Schuyler, H. A. Ironside: Ordained of the Lord, Loizeaux Bro.