Chapter 17 South Africa (1905-1906)

The two years following Mr. McClure’s visit to the British Isles were filled with busy service for the Lord in South Africa. He had often been exercised about visiting the Transvaal and Cape Colony; but for twenty years Ontario and British Columbia in Canada, and Washington, Oregon and California in the United States had been his special fields of labor, and in these fields a harvest of souls was reaped. Through his own ministry and associated with others of his fellow-laborers in these States and Provinces, many assemblies had been planted, and Brother McClure felt the need of keeping among them, teaching them and establishing them in the ways of the Lord. But now he saw the hand of the Lord guiding to more distant fields.

South Africa, taking in at that time Cape Colony, the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State, was settled chiefly by farmers from Holland, a strong and rugged race of people well suited to endure the disadvantages and toil of breaking up a new country. Apart from the vast territories of farm land, South Africa was rich in gold and diamonds, making that country a desirable one to immigrants from European countries including the British Isles.

The Boers, whose ancestors were noted for their loyalty to the Bible and the faith that marked the men and women of the Reformation, were much attached to the religion of their fathers and formed the largest part of the Dutch Reformed Church, but various other denominations were also represented among the people.

The Gospel and its accompanying New Testament truths had worked effectually and there were in the different large cities a number of assemblies composed of men of different nationalities, gathering in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A few years before Mr. McClure went to South Africa, the peace and prosperity which had been so long enjoyed were marred by the gathering clouds of strife between the British and the Boers and these clouds burst into a storm in October 1899, bringing with it untold suffering and sorrow to the formerly happy land. The eyes of the world were centered upon the conflict as it spread and increased until June 1902 when the good news was flashed over the wires that the Boer war was ended. But the joy was mingled with sorrow, both in Africa and in the British Isles, where fathers, mothers, wives and families mourned their awful losses and pondered the fate of loved ones who had fallen in battle, and had been buried in unknown graves.

The Lord’s work suffered greatly during the years of war, many of the saints being driven from their homes and scattered to other parts; but like those in olden times they went everywhere preaching the Word. Following the war there was great activity in reconstruction with a more hopeful outlook, and, when early in 1905 Mr. McClure arrived in Capetown his visit was very opportune. He had just entered his forty-ninth year, strong in body, and with a wealth of experience attained in the Lord’s service that fitted him for the work that lay before him. As an evangelist and a good soldier of Jesus Christ he had learned to endure hardness. He preached the gospel with no uncertain sound, and his ability to rightly divide the word of truth was very marked. All this with a resolute mind, ready to undertake great things for God, made him a polished shaft fitted by the Master of assemblies to do a special work in the world and in the Church.

As the steamer entered Capetown, and he viewed for the first time the shores of the great land he had heard and read so much about, his heart was greatly stirred, and he was much cast upon the Lord.

He was heartily received by the brethren in Capetown and immediately he began making preparations for his first campaign. The effective methods he had used for some years in California, advertising special subjects, illustrating them by large charts, sparing no pains or cost to get these meetings and their subjects before the public, were the methods he again used, and these brought good results in South Africa as they had in California. He was well repaid for his labor by good audiences from the beginning. The subjects announced, typical and prophetical, proved to be very interesting to his hearers for Mr. McClure had the gift of making his subject lucid, interesting and convincing. To justify his method he often used the expression, as mentioned in another chapter—“Make an ambush.” The chart and the announced subjects were only a means to an end, to get the ear of the people both for the Gospel and in opening up the scriptures of truth for believers in Christ. Interest in the meetings increased and the Lord’s people soon realized that a man sent from God was in their midst. Attendance increased with the interest giving great encouragement to the saints who were being warmed by the messages. Some were saying, “There is a sound of abundance of rain.” And they were not disappointed for the hand of God was seen and continued in their midst.

From Capetown Mr. McClure went up to Johannesburg and also into Southern Rhodesia. In all the important centers which he visited a great interest was created, especially among the members of the Dutch Reformed Church; in some instances whole families were reached. Not only were souls saved, but many were gathered out to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ in assembly fellowship. Some who witnessed those stirring days of service and blessing were heard to say, “Mr. McClure has turned the place upside down.”

Certain conditions existing in some of the assemblies in South Africa gave evidence that they were not fully delivered from the traditions of men. The clean-cut separation from the world, religiously, politically, and socially, preached by this servant of Christ, was not very palatable to some; but the Holy Spirit worked so mightily in the hearts of the people that these feelings were soon banished and the work of God went onward spreading far and near. A brother from South Africa when visiting his native land, Northern Ireland, in 1907, spoke in our hearing of the wonderful seasons of blessing which they had passed through in that land during the visit of the Lord’s servant. He said, “Some of our assemblies were pretty cold and there was little activity among us; but the coming of Mr. McClure brought about a marvelous change. The Lord’s people were restored and revived, and many were added to their numbers.”

Thus after the years of war and discouragement, this visitation of God in many parts of that land was like the early and latter rain. Not only were the assemblies much cheered and increased in numbers, but the spiritual tone was raised, giving them fresh courage and a better hold on the truth that God had taught them. Much thanksgiving went up to God for sending His servant, because that through his ministry such times of refreshing and blessing had come to them from the presence of the Lord.

At the end of 1906 Mr. McClure felt that the time had come when he should leave for New Zealand. He had found a large place in the hearts of the Lord’s people, and this made his parting with them much like that of which we read in Acts 20, concerning the beloved apostle Paul then leaving the elders of Ephesus. After he had kneeled down and prayed with them, “They all wept sore and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him … and they accompanied him into the ship.” It was with sorrow and many a hearty invitation to return soon that the saints in South Africa waved goodbye to the messenger of God whose ministry had enriched them and made the Bible to them more like a living book than it had ever been before. And thus he sailed away for New Zealand.