James Gunn

James Gunn

A Biographical Sketch

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, NIV).

James Gunn was born in Paisley, Scotland, on September 9, 1900. His mother died when he was only eighteen months old, and he and his sisters were taken by their paternal grandparents to live in Stirling Castle, Scotland, where his grandfather was an officer of the guard and lived in the apartments in the castle. On a trip to Scotland in 1961, Mr. Gunn visited the castle and took the same walk he and his grandmother used to take on Sunday afternoons.

At the age of 51/2 years, with his father and sister, he immigrated to Canada, where he spent the rest of his life, apart from five years as a missionary to Venezuela. His father later married James’ mother’s sister, who had also come to Canada.

He trusted the Lord in October, 1914 — though he was never sure of the exact date — while standing in the kitchen talking with his stepmother as he was going out to school. They were discussing John 3:16, and she explained to him that all he had to do was to accept God’s Gift, just as he accepted a gift from his earthly parents. His uncertainty about the date of his conversion led subsequently to delay in the date of his baptism. The elders, to whom he expressed his desire to be baptized, equated the uncertainty of the date of salvation with uncertainty of the fact of salvation, and decided he should wait until he was really sure. He was, of course, eventually baptized.

Because of his desire to be a pharmacist, he began working in a drug store in his early teens, but he soon discovered that selling did not appeal to him at all, so he switched to industrial chemistry, which he greatly enjoyed. He graduated from the “School of Practical Science” (now dissolved) and obtained employment in the Canadian General Electric Laboratories.

It was at this time that he began developing the gift of preaching which he had obviously received from the Lord, although his first attempt at preaching — when opening a meeting for his father — was somewhat disasterous! He chose John 3:16 as his text, intending to narrate his conversion. He read the text, reread it, then read it a third time. Finally he put his head on the pulpit and burst into tears! His father continued the meeting.

On June 1, 1922, he was commended to the work of the Lord by the Swanwick (now Danforth) and Central assemblies in Toronto. He preached frequently with a brother Clarke, and was a great help to the newly formed assembly in Oshawa. At that time, Mr. Wm. Williams, a missionary to Venezuela and a close friend of the family, frequently visited their home, and James Gunn, as a young man of 22 years, felt the Lord’s call to that country. He left for Venezuela on November 4, 1922, taking over a month to reach his destination. After about five years and repeated attacks of malaria, he was forced to return to Toronto. He weighed only 92 pounds and the prognosis was grim: doctors said he would not survive! He outlived those who had made this pessimistic prediction!

He married Eda Marie (Mayse) Graham in March, 1928, and, in the following year, they moved to Penetanguishene, where their first child — daughter Gene — was born. About two years later, they moved to Midland, where they had the rest of their family a son Graham, and their second daughter, Anne. When Anne was only six months old, Mrs. Gunn developed the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis, the illness that was going to later incapacitate her. While Mr. Gunn took his dear wife to various doctors to establish a diagnosis, the family were cared for by his parents, returning home after five years. During the years that followed, Mrs. Gunn became progressively more disabled physically, though mentally and spiritually she was bright and keen. Mr. Gunn faithfully stood by her in her affliction, caring for her with deep devotion, while engaged in busy activities for the Lord. The Lord alone knows the weight of the burden he sustained so patiently, without any complaint. He will surely not forget his work and labour of love! Eventually, it became physically impossible for him — weakened as he was by serious illness — to give his dear wife the help, care and support she needed and, in 1972, she was admitted to a Toronto hospital and then, in December, to Bethany Lodge, where she lived until the Lord took her home on July 12, 1979.

When Elim Homes opened in July 1945, Mr. Gunn was the secretary to the original Board, beginning a service that he faithfully maintained for over twenty years. Since he lived in close proximity to the home, he spent many hours doing physical work inside and outside the home, and solving many problems that arose. Until the end of his life the work of Elim Homes, and later Bethany Lodge, were very close to his heart.

At the Hamilton, Ont., Conference, on October 11, 1954, Mr. Gunn and a number of other esteemed brethren met to consider commencing a magazine to provide spiritual food and guidance for the Lord’s people. The first issue of this magazine — “Food for the Flock” —was published in January, 1955, and Mr. Gunn was its editor. For this task, he was helped by a course in journalism which he took from Chicago and enjoyed. Mr. Gunn continued as editor of the magazine until the annual meeting of corporation members of “Food for the Flock” on November 2, 1974, when the present editor, W. Ross Rainey —who had been associate editor since 1969 became editor, with Mr. Gunn continuing as associate editor. His faithfulness was evident in this, as in all the other spheres of his service for the Lord: not only in his editing of the magazine, but also in his frequent and very profitable contributions over the years, and in his attendance and participation at the annual meetings, where his experience, spirituality and wisdom were invaluable. Throughout the years since that first meeting in Hamilton in 1954, Mr. Gunn never missed a meeting until the recent meeting in November, 1982, when he was unable to be present because of his serious illness.

In the 1960’s, Mr. Gunn was asked to conduct a Men’s Bible Class in Central Hall, Toronto, through the fall and winter months. He continued these studies, on various Biblical themes, for a number of years. The interest was so great that brethren from Hamilton and Wallenstein asked him to lead similar studies in these centres, which he did to the profit of many.

Arising out of some of these series of Bible studies are some of Mr. Gunn’s excellent books. His written ministry will continue not only in “Food for the Flock,” but also in three major works and some shorter ones. His three larger books are: I Will Build My Church; Facts of the Christian Faith; and, just off the press, The Fullness of the Godhead — on the Person of Christ. During the last months of his life, he had been preparing a manuscript on Romans 8 which, however, he had been unable to complete. The Lord took him Home before the task was finished.

Mr. Gunn will be remembered throughout Canada and the United States — and in other countries where he visited — for his excellent, heart-warming ministry of the Word of God in assembly meetings and conferences where the Lord’s people gathered and were invariably blessed, refreshed and encouraged by his faithful teaching of the truths of the Scriptures. Brethren who regularly attended the annual conference of brethren at the Guelph Bible Conference grounds on the first weekend of June associate that particular conference with Mr. Gunn, who not only spoke at these conferences — frequently giving the opening message and the closing summation — but also participated in the discussions, answering difficult questions and giving wise counsel to younger men faced with life’s problems. It was evident that the faithful exposition of the Word of God that characterized Mr. Gunn’s teaching ministry was the outcome of years of diligent study of the Scriptures and of communion with his Lord.

Over the past five years, since the inception of day school classes at Kawartha Lakes Bible School, Peterborough, Ontario, in September, 1977, one of Mr. Gunn’s highest priorities has been the teaching of young men and women who came from far and near for a year of intensive Bible study. Each year, for the five years he taught, his courses on Bibliology and Ecclesiology and, latterly, on Public Speaking and Message Preparation, were among the highlights of the year’s studies. The affection with which he was held by successive years of students was evidenced by the presentations made to him by each class at the Christian banquets. And how he loved them! Although 60 years senior to most of them, he related to them as if he were one of them; he treated them as he would his own family. He devoted a Saturday of every fall to providing an outing for them and presented a special prize [] graduation.

The magnitude of Mr. Gunn’s service for the Lord and His people is the more remarkable in the light of his several severe illnesses and major surgical operations. Just after the commencement of “Food for the Flock” and his responsibilities as editor, he developed a malignancy requiring surgery and X-ray therapy; the magazine, however, continued to be published. On his way home from one of the Bible classes in Hamilton, in 1972, he became seriously ill and required emergency surgery in Toronto. He and Mrs. Gunn were never together in their home in Midland after this, as he was no longer able to care for her. It was at this time that she was admitted to a hospital in Toronto and later to Bethany Lodge. Mr. Gunn stayed alone in Midland until September, 1973, when he moved to Toronto and spent the rest of his life with his daughter, Gene, who diligently and tenderly cared for him through several illnesses. On June 1, 1977, he had the first of two hip replacement operations and had to miss the Guelph Conference of brethren for the first time. Mr. Ray Fox of Halifax, Nova Scotia, read the messages he had prepared. His second hip surgery was in 1980. Though often walking with difficulty and in pain, prior to surgery, he nevertheless continued faithfully to serve the Lord and minister His Word to His people. Over the last year of his life, he had been in failing health, requiring hospitalization on several occasions. He always maintained a bright spirit and continued to preach and teach as long as he was physically able. Gene, a nurse by profession, gave him the tender, loving care he needed during his last illness but, ultimately, he was admitted to Bethany Loge, from which, two days later, the Lord called him into His own presence, where there is fullness of joy.

(Editor’s note: Grateful acknowledgment is made to Mr. Gunn’s daughter, Gene, and to Dr. James T. Naismith, for this interesting account of Mr. Gunn’s life and labours.)