In February, 1917, the United States entered into the World War, and great preparations were made for sending troops abroad.
Early in June of that year, Mr. McClure came to New Bedford, Mass., for a visit. He was much exercised about going to the yearly conference in Pugwash Junction, Nova Scotia, Canada. Although he had travelled far and had also spent much time in Canada, yet he had never been to the Maritime Provinces. Having heard much of what the Lord had wrought through one of his early companions, Mr. John Knox McEwen, he felt the Lord would have him pay them a visit.
But Mr. McClure wanted company for the journey of about 800 miles and he got his desire for since Nova Scotia was my old field of labor, I had already arranged to go to the Conference and, as the Lord might lead, labor in the Maritimes for the summer. Mr. McGill, an old friend of Mr. McClure’s in New Bedford, also decided to come for the trip, and Mr. Sam McEwen, who had been preaching the Gospel for years, came along and joined us, as he was anxious to visit the scenes of his Uncle’s former labors.
While it was possible to go all the way by train, we decided to go the first part of the trip by boat. We sailed from Boston, Mass., on a Monday morning, late in June, for St. John, N.B., Canada. It was a coastal trip and all day long the sailing was fine. The weather was splendid with good visibility. Mr. McClure was very much interested in everything connected with the ship, as well as the points of interest along the shore line and it was also interesting to us as he related some of his earlier experiences in the Lord’s work.
Next morning, he was on deck very early and while even on such a short voyage, some of our little company suffered from sea sickness, yet he was like a seasoned sailor.
The sea was calm and the shore line in the distance irregular, but a very pleasing sight. Eventually the shore disappeared and two of our company, suffering from sea-sickness, retired to their berths in an outside room on the upper deck, looking toward the shore. One climbed to the upper berth, while the other crawled into the lower. Everything was quiet, the only sounds heard being the rumbling of the engines below, and the noise of sea-gulls overhead.
Suddenly, there came what seemed an awful crash, which shook the ship from stem to stem. Of course, the thought immediately came to the sea-sick brethren who were half-asleep, “A torpedo from a submarine has struck the ship!” The brother who occupied the upper berth jumped down quickly and at the same time, the brother down below lost no time getting out and both came together rather suddenly. However, they appeared on deck very quickly and there stood Mr. McClure, at the railing of the ship, greatly amused as he took in the whole situation, for instead of a torpedo and the expected aftermath, everything looked in holiday form. The ship was passing a point on a short distance from land and at that particular spot was a fort, where it was the custom, every day at noon, to fire one of the large cannons toward the ocean. Our ship was directly under the gun and only a short distance from it when it was fired, and this is what caused so much alarm to the passengers who were not on the deck.
After another pleasant day, we arrived at St. John. Passing the Customs officials took only a short time and then we had a few hours to wait before our train left, to take us further on our journey.
After having supper, we walked around to see the city. Coming to a well-kept park, we saw crowds of people moving about. The sun was setting in the western sky at the close of that beautiful summer day, and Mr. McClure suggested, “What a fine place for an open-air meeting.” On account of war conditions we considered we had better ask permission from the authorities. When the four of us walked into the rooms of the officials and made known our business, these seemed to look upon us with suspicion for they called up some of the City Fathers, saying, “These men have come from the United States and they claim to be evangelists.” After some discussion they came to us and said they were sorry but could not see their way to issue a permit, as they had to be careful under present conditions. We thanked them and left.
Again we walked around the park and there seemed more people than before, and at one end, the Salvation Army was holding forth, with a large crowd giving good attention. As the meeting finished, Mr. McClure went over to a policeman standing by and said to him, “What would you do if you saw a few men step out there and preach the Gospel to the people?” “I would do nothing,” said the big Canadian, “but stand here and listen to them.” Coming back to us, he said, “Brethren, we have missed one grand opportunity, but seeing we have been refused by the authorities, we could not hold a service now. If we had just gone on without asking any questions, it would have been all right.”
We had to be content with passing out some Gospel papers, which were readily received. About ten o’clock that night, we boarded the train going to Halifax. Leaving by the short line train, we arrived in Pugwash about ten o’clock and were all received in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Silver Allan.
Next morning, the Conference began and although it was July 1st, heavy rain had fallen, the roads were covered with red mud and full of deep ruts. Mr. Allan drove his automobile, taking as many as possible, and it fell my lot to drive the preachers, with his horse and buggy.
We set off a little before the others, and had only gone a short distance when the automobile passed us, plunging in and out of the ruts and making its way very slowly. Coming to the crossroads, I took the wrong turn and after going about half a mile, realized the mistake. Pulling up at a smith’s forge, the sturdy blacksmith came out, sleeves rolled up and his leather apron on. “Are we on the right way for Pugwash Junction?” was the question we asked the smith. “Did you come from Pugwash?” was his reply. “Yes, we did.” “Well, you took the wrong turn at the crossroads, but I’ll put you on a road that will take you through.” Giving us the necessary instructions, we gave him a tract and drove on. The road was now through the bush, and on a dry day it would have been fine, but it was only after considerable difficulty we arrived at the hall.
Many were wondering what had become of us, but the sequel was—the blacksmith, a man of the world said to his wife at lunch time, “I saw a load of preachers going to the conference at the Junction and they had lost themselves, but I put them on the right way.” In the evening, he again referred to the load of preachers and said, “I think I’ll go and hear those preachers that were lost.” He came that evening to the Gospel meeting, and as he put it afterwards, “The preachers showed me I was lost and pointed out the way to Heaven,” and ere the conference closed, Harry Mitchell and a few more were saved, and rejoicing in Christ. Two months later, on the night he was baptized, his wife also found peace at the Cross.
Mr. McClure shared largely in the ministry at the conference, and his word was much appreciated by old and young. His messages were food for the saints who had come from all over the Maritimes. Hungry souls had gathered and they had a “feast of fat things.” Mr. McEwen was also helped of the Lord at the conference, and received a hearty welcome, and many were the incidents he heard concerning his uncle, Mr. John Knox McEwen, and his work for the Lord in those parts, dating back for many years.
At the close of that conference, saints were much encouraged, and there was a number of new-born souls. Mr. Ansley Goodwin, the oldest laborer there, had pitched his tent in Sydney, Cape Breton, in 1916, and, although in poor health just then, had conducted a few weeks’ meetings with interest and blessing. He longed to go back in 1917, but he was far from strong and lived in Pugwash Junction, over 200 miles from Sydney. He asked me to join him in the tent when he would be able to travel.
Mr. McClure decided to come with me to Cape Breton, and suggested we pitch the tent and have it ready when Mr. Goodwin would come. On our way, we called at New Glasgow, and spent a day or two at the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. N. Brennan and had one meeting. The hall was filled and good interest was manifested. The subject which our brother took up was the “three days” in the first two chapters of John. “The next day, John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In speaking of this as the day of salvation, Mr. McClure drew attention to the expression “the next day” which indicated that there was a day before, which we might call the day of conviction and repentance.
“Again the next day after John stood and two of his disciples, and looking upon Jesus as he walked he saith, Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:35), and he spoke of the believer’s walk.
“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee” (John 2:1). He applied this to “the marriage of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:6-8) with all its splendor and glory. At the close of the message a boy of fifteen years, who had come with a number of others from a near-by mission, walked up to the preacher with an air of importance, shook his hand heartily and said, “The Lord bless you, brother, in your work for the Master.” The venerable preacher, so large in comparison, looked down very earnestly on the youth who had pronounced such a blessing upon him. Turning to me after the hall was cleared, Mr. McClure said, “Well well, that is surely the greater blessed by the lesser. He was referring to Heb. 7:7, and it brought home its truth to me as I had never seen it before.
Our next stop was Sydney Mines, where a little assembly had been in existence for a few years—the only one in the Island at that time. We were heartily received into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ernst.
Having sent word ahead, arrangements were made for two meetings and when we arrived we found a large notice announcing, “Two Gospel meetings will be held in this Hall…” All the Christians who could possibly come, were there the first night. After I had opened the meeting, Mr. McClure stood up to speak and when he had read his scriptures, he said, “I noticed as I came to the Hall that these two meetings are advertised as Gospel meetings, but supposing I were a carpenter and some of you brethren, we shall say, are also carpenters with a business. I come along as a stranger; I have only about two hours to spare until I am on my way again, but I say, I have two hours to spare, and would like to help you during my visit. “Fine!” you say, and you get me some rough boards to plane and prepare for some building. “Oh,” I answer, “It would never be worth my while to start on that work. If I were staying indefinitely, that kind of work would just suit me, but seeing my time is so very limited, give me your tools and I shall sharpen and put them in order.” “So,” he said, “If we were staying a few weeks, the Gospel would be our delight. In the meantime, let us try and sharpen your appetites for the Word of God and the things of God.” Then he went on to minister the Word. At the close, a brother whispered to me, “He can surely sharpen the tools.”
Next day, we went over to Sydney, across the Bay, to make arrangements about the tent. We secured the same site that Mr. Goodwin had the year before, and remained there for Saturday night, and had a large open air meeting at which the people seemed interested. We came back to remember the Lord in Sydney Mines on the Lord’s Day, and had an afternoon ministry meeting and preached the Gospel in the evening.
Mr. McClure, being tired, said, “We shall not go to the open air meeting tonight,” but when we came out of the hall it was a lovely summer evening and the brethren were busy holding a gospel service at the corner and crowds were passing, coming from the different churches. “Oh,” he said, “let us go down and we can listen,” but when a few had spoken, Mr. McClure stood out. He was then in his sixtieth year with a very commanding appearance and a most melodious voice. He began by speaking of “the time when the Austrians held sway in Europe. One day, the news reached the peasants of Switzerland, who were a liberty-loving people, that their country was about to be invaded. The news spread and every possible preparation was made to oppose the invader. It was the day when they fought with short swords, and the Swiss army was equipped with these. The march down from their mountain homes began, but when they came to the plain, they faced a wall of steel, for the Austrians stood shoulder to shoulder, each man holding his long spear in readiness to meet them. The commander of that liberty-loving people, formed his men into a wedge or V-shape and gave the orders that when he shouted every man should do his duty. Nearer and nearer that wall of steel they came with their noble commander the first man in the wedge. With a shout of command and calling, ‘Hurray for liberty,’ the faithful leader sprang upon the spears, gathering to his bosom as many as possible in his outstretched arms, and thus they pierced his body. It was only the work of a moment—he lay bleeding and dead, but that moment was enough. The wedge got in, hacking right and left, and won the victory that day.”
By this time, hundreds were hanging on his words. “But stay,” said the preacher, “I want to tell you another story about liberty,” and for a long time he preached in the power of the Holy Spirit of the mighty work of Calvary. His clear, ringing voice was heard even beyond the large ever-increasing crowd, and as the people in that mining town listened they felt the power of his words.
I had always looked upon Mr. McClure as a teacher, having heard him preach the Gospel very few times before, but that night I changed my mind, not as to his teaching, but as to the fact that he had, above many, the gift of an evangelist.
We pitched the tent in Sydney and while busily engaged, an old lady came along and watched us. Then she ventured to say, “I thought Mr. Goodwin was coming back.” “Yes,” said Mr. McClure, “We expect Mr. Goodwin to come, but we are stronger than he and we are just getting the tent up and ready for him.” She evidently thought Mr. McClure meant that we were stronger preachers, for she said very sharply, “I don’t believe either of you could preach as well as Mr. Goodwin!” “Oh,” said Mr. McClure, “I don’t mean that at all. We would not take that place, but I mean we are stronger bodily than he, to pitch the tent,” and the old lady was satisfied and went on. When the tent was complete, seats in order and all fixed, we went off to have a prayer meeting in a Christian’s home. We had secured a room near the tent and moved in that morning, but when we got back from the prayer meeting, we went to see the tent. Going inside, we found that the seats were piled up in one corner, everything in disorder and a big tear in the roof. We learned later that when we left, the boys had entered the tent, and one big fellow had climbed on the roof, and, as the canvas was old, he went down through and fell among the other boys, who were throwing the seats around.
Mr. McClure said, “We shall have to sleep in the tent,” and this we did for weeks. Every night the tent was filled and on Saturday nights we preached in the open air, He spared no labor nor expense to make the tent comfortable for the audience and the Lord began to work and souls were saved. His physique appealed to the people and all around that neighborhood they called him “The General.”