Donald Ross (1823-1903)


Someone has said that ‘The years that followed the great revival of ‘59 and the [eighteen] sixties were the most fruitful in the annals of Christianity in … [Scotland] … since the Reformation’. During that period, similar revivals were also experienced in Ireland and Wales. These were the years when the subject of our consideration, Donald Ross, was active as an evangelist in Scotland and saw many people saved. Later in life he moved to the USA to continue his work of evangelism.

Donald Ross was born on 11 February 1823, into a Christian home in Ross-shire, Scotland. Twice each day in his home there was prayer and Bible reading, but young Donald disliked this, and he often tried to find excuses to be absent. He later admitted that at that time he was ‘as proud as a peacock, and as empty as a drum’, but he nevertheless said his prayers morning and night, so that - he thought - God would not judge him.

At the age of fifteen, walking alone through the heather on a hillside, returning from visiting his dying brother, he was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through the words of John chapter 18 verse 8, ‘if … ye seek me, let these go their way’.

For five years following his conversion, Ross was a member of the Church of Scotland. Then, together with his father, he left during what was called ‘The Disruption of 1843’, when 474 evangelical ministers, led by Thomas Chalmers, split from the mainstream Presbyterians to start the Free Church of Scotland. Then, when Donald moved to Edinburgh, he attached himself to the Free Church where a Mr. Tasker was the minister, and actively engaged in evangelistic work. From 1858 to 1860 he was an evangelist among the mining communities of Lanarkshire.

In 1860, he was appointed the salaried secretary and superintendent of the North East Coast Mission (founded in July 1858), making the city of Aberdeen his headquarters. One of the Mission’s early directors was the famous Hebrew scholar Alfred Edersheim, then minister of a Free Church in Aberdeen. During the ten years that Ross was in this important and responsible position he was greatly used of God in the salvation of souls.

Ross had started preaching in an unused church building in Aberdeen and around this time he met John Ritchie (later the founding editor of the Believer’s Magazine) who had the Believer’s Magazine) who had been saved under one of the Mission evangelists, Donald Munroe.

Mr. Ross was a diligent student of the scriptures and, as he searched his Bible, he became exercised about his position, and, after ten years’ service in the North East Coast Mission, he resigned.

Up until that time, Donald Ross always sent those who were saved back to their original church, but he realized there was no spiritual life or proper teaching in the established church. He realized his own current position was spiritually incorrect, and, step-by-step, he started to right the situation. First, in 1870, he established the Northern Evangelistic Society and preached the gospel solely supported by ‘the Living and Eternal God’. Anyone joining him would not take pay or position, only what God provided. Several evangelists joined him. Soon afterwards that society was dissolved, and he ceased being connected with any society or denomination whatsoever, leaving himself completely free to serve the Lord.

Also, around this time, Ross saw the truth of believer’s baptism and the need to gather to the name of the Lord Jesus and remember Him in the breaking of bread, which he and others did in a small chapel in Edinburgh where he preached the gospel for two years from 1871. Thus, slowly but surely, he had come to the scriptural truth that will be recognized by many readers of this magazine. Ross and other evangelists linked with him were responsible for the founding of no less than twenty-seven assemblies in Scotland between 1871 and 1873.

Eventually, however, Ross felt the time had come to evangelize elsewhere, thinking like the Apostle Paul at one point, ‘having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you’, Rom. 15. 23. He had already made a brief visit to the USA, where he found many open doors for service. This was an interest shared by others of his associates also, who, over the period 1871 to 1880, went to North America.

He moved to Boston in 1876 and three years later to Chicago, a good base for work in western and north-western states. Like the Apostle Paul, Ross thereafter made his headquarters in strategic cities and worked out into the districts around.

Due to their efforts, it has been claimed, Ross and his co-workers saw about 400 assemblies established in the USA and Canada! At this time other of his fellow evangelists had moved to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and blessing followed there also.

Mr. Ross ‘died in harness’ at the age of 80 in 1903, two days after preaching the gospel in another new area in Savannah, Georgia. Just before he died, he said, ‘I will be eighty on the 11th of February, and if I had other eighty [years] before me I would spend them in this gospel of God’s grace. There is no other work of such importance in the whole world. All other investments amount to nothing compared with this’. Alexander Marshall, later summing up Ross’s life of service, said, ‘He was a labourer, and he toiled for the perishing; at fairs and races, in tents and halls, in barns and chapels, in music halls and theatres, in cottages and in the open air, he sounded out the wondrous story’.


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