Donald Munro (1839-1908)
by Norman Crawford
Few men have left a greater mark for God on assemblies in North America than a boy born in the far north of Scotland, in the county of Caithness, four miles from the town of Wick, on June 12th, 1839. His name was Donald Munro. His parents were God-fearing people. Mrs. Munro was awakened as a girl, and went through a long period of soul trouble before finding deliverance in the beautiful text, “Deliver him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom” (Job 33:22). Donald was raised to believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. He was taught that all men are born sinners and need a new birth before they can go to Heaven, but he had never been awakened to his own need.
His brother Charles was saved in his teens. He moved to Edinburgh, but returned home for visits. On one of these occasions, Donald met him at Wick and walked with him the four miles to their home. Charles preached to him all the way, with the result that Donald avoided his brother’s company during all the rest of the visit.
Hay McDowell Grant, a wealthy landowner, came to Wick to preach the gospel. One night he said, “Young man! You may have read your Bible and said your prayers this morning, but I warn you now before God, who knows you thoroughly, that if you are not in Christ you are under condemnation.” Donald Munro discovered at that moment that although he attended church regularly and professed to be a Christian, he had never been born again. For six weeks he was deeply troubled, seeking rest by looking within himself. At that time, Brownlow North, a converted gambler, who had been greatly used by God in the salvation of many souls in the Highlands, came on a visit to Wick. As he heard the powerful preaching, Donald Munro’s distress deepened. Mr. North sat down with him one night and simply went over John 3:16, stressing God’s so great love, the gift of His only Son, the blessed invitation to “whosoever,” and the assurance of “everlasting life”. Mr. Munro often told in the years that followed, “I was saved just then and there, on the spot.”
In Wick, the new convert linked up with a man by the name of James Dewar. His prayerful spirit and godly life left deep impressions. Mr. Dewar was having meetings with fishermen. So many came to the meetings that Mr. Dewar announced that the next night there would be two meetings instead of one. Mr. Munro asked him who would be speaking at the second meeting and was told that it would be he. Although reluctant, Donald was persuaded to preach that night and thus began a lifelong work of gospel preaching that resulted in the salvation of a vast number of precious souls on two continents.
In 1858, Donald Ross was made the superintendent of the Northeast Coast Mission, charged with preaching the gospel along the 500 miles of deeply indented coastline with 57 towns and villages that stretches from Aberdeen along the Moray Firth. He sought out godly men who had, like himself, deep exercise of heart and purpose for God. These men included Donald Munro, John Gill, John Smith, George Masson, and John and Andrew Carnie. Many hundreds of the fishermen along that coast were saved in the next ten years. Later, these men left the interdenominational organisation because of what they were learning from the Word of God. This obedience to what God was showing them eventually led them to see the truth of gathering to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, outside of all the organisations of men.
In 1871, Mr. Donald Munro visited his two brothers in Parkhill, Ontario. A hall was rented and Mr. Munro preached the gospel and a number were saved. At that time, Donald Munro had not yet been baptised as a believer, but learned this precious truth from reading his Bible and was baptized when, in November of 1871, he returned to Scotland.
In 1872, Mr. Munro returned to Canada and saw others saved, but by this time he not only knew the truth of baptism, but also of gathering to the Lord’s name. That year an assembly was formed at Parkhill, the first assembly in North America. The following year, an assembly was formed at Forest, and in the summer of that same year, the assembly was planted at Lake Shore in the home of Mr. Hugh Johnson. From this beginning, Mr. Munro, Donald Ross, John Smith and other godly men saw assemblies formed across North America. They were the original gospel pioneers of assembly work on the North American continent.
For 35 years he laboured in North America from coast to coast in small villages and large cities and his story is told in the book Pioneer Series Donald Munro.
Photo above: Lake Ontario, Canada