Sir John A. MacDonald was the first prime minister of Canada, serving two separate terms: 1867-1873, 1878-1891, a total of almost 19 years. He is most recognized for bringing Canada into Confederation and giving birth to the national CPR railway that connected the provinces. Yet there is another aspect of the first Prime Minister’s life that is not publicized very much but every Canadian needs to know.
First, some background information. In the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s, The Hunter-Crossley Canadian evangelistic team preached across Canada when the population of Canada was approximately 5-7 million. John Edwin Hunter grew up a Presbyterian but experienced a spiritual conversion in Methodist evangelistic meetings in 1871 in Kirby, Ontario. He became a faithful Methodist, ordained as a minister in 1882. He met Hugh Thomas Grossley at Victoria College, a man gifted in music ministry. These two men joined to serve in evangelism across Canada. Their ministry resulted in thousands of life-changing conversions from coast to coast. In the book Portraits of Faith, it is recorded that the number of converts ranged from 110,000 to 200,000.
What few Canadians realize is that, prior to WW1, there was a national spiritual awakening and revival happening in Canada from coast to coast. Hunter and Grossley were only two evangelists among others in the powerful spiritual awakening taking place across the country. They went to Ottawa to hold meetings. The meetings went for six weeks when it was decided that they should continue for another week. It was in the final seventh week of meetings that Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was converted to Christ. John Hunter visited Macdonald soon after and confirmed that he was a changed man.
John A Macdonald had a serious drinking problem that was an issue for him all through the time he was Prime Minister and even worse after he left political life. The challenge and stress of bringing Canada into confederation and also negotiating the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway perhaps contributed to this personal problem. The charter for the railway was signed in 1872 and it was under construction with lots of challenges associated until it was completed. Other challenges were the Louis Riel Rebellion in Manitoba, then again in Saskatchewan in 1885. Macdonald was also accused of accepting bribes during the CP Railway project that took its toll. He was defeated in 1873 and then resigned later that year from leadership of the Conservative Party. One could say it was his reward for bringing a country into confederation and birthing a national railway from coast to coast. Politics in our democracies can be brutal. Sir Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is a most despicable system of government but it is the best we have.”
John A. Macdonald continued his drinking habit until 1888 when the Hunter-Crossley meetings were underway in Ottawa. He and former Ontario Premier William Howard Hearst attended in the seventh week. On one of the last nights the invitation was given by Evangelist John Hunter to accept and follow Christ, have one’s sins forgiven and experience eternal life. Hunter made it clear to the large Ottawa crowd that there is only one way to prepare for eternity. A person can make lots of mistakes in life but you cannot afford to make the one that is eternally fatal, which is to reject the offer of salvation given by Christ dying on the cross. John A Macdonald had made lots of mistakes in life and in his political career but he did not want to make a mistake on this one and raised his hand for prayer, then followed up by filling out a card and going forward with someone to accept Christ. Sir John A. Macdonald became a new person in Christ in his senior years. He gave up his drinking and started drinking the water of life that offers a much better high than gin. Premier Hearst also was greatly affected by this revival. The drink that Jesus offers will let you go to bed at night with no regrets and get up with no headache. In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink” (John 7:37). In John, chapter 4, we’re told of a woman whom Jesus helped find that which eternally satisfies. What she found, John A. Macdonald found almost 1900 years later. So can you in 2021. John A. Macdonald discovered a new life with only one regret: that he did not discover this new life many years before. I am sure former Premier Hearst, a Christian, had shared the gospel with Macdonald many times and had encouraged him to attend the meetings in Ottawa. I often think if our present Prime Minister would discover this gift and offer from the Saviour, it would change him and transform his philosophy of leadership for good. He is only a product of his upbringing. We are instructed to pray for our leaders: I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (1 Timothy 2:1,2). Could it be that we are in the political mess and in the middle of a pandemic –that is really not a pandemic—that is paralyzing the country because churches and people do not pray anymore in Canada?
Back to John Hunter and Hugh Crossley. These evangelists conducted over 300 gospel campaigns across Canada. They tried to balance smaller town meetings and large city crusades so that everyone would get an opportunity to hear the gospel message of Christ and salvation. During those exciting spiritual times, in some 27 years of ministry across Canada, thousands of people were converted to Christ. During the same era there was a contemporary team in the USA. Evangelist Dwight L Moody and his song leader, Ira Sankey, held large evangelistic meetings all over the USA and Great Britain. Conversions on a great scale occurred on both continents. Billy Sunday, a famous baseball player, was converted in 1878 at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. He campaigned against the evils of alcohol and, out of his influence and the revival that took place, the prohibition temperance movement actually made the sale of alcohol illegal in the USA and Canada following WW1. This colorful, powerful evangelist’s most famous sermon was Get on the Water Wagon, which he preached on countless occasions with lots of histrionics and a mountain of economic and moral evidence. He said, “I am the sworn, eternal and uncompromising enemy of the liquor traffic. I have been, and will go on, fighting that damnable, dirty, rotten business with all the power at my command.”
So ends the story of how our first and most famous prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, discovered the amazing grace that has saved and changed so many people in our world over the last 2000 years. It is for you too but you must seek, thirst and drink from the springs of living water offered through the scriptures. But whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14). We need a revival campaign today that will change lives and leaders across our nation for the glory of God.
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The content of this article is solely the personal opinions of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Prince Albert Shopper.