McNeill the Scottish Spurgeon

This is the day that … John McNeill was born in Scotland, in 1854.

(Now this John McNeill is not to be confused with the Canadian John T. McNeill who became leading Presbyterian professor and author; or with John MacNeill who was also born in Scotland in 1854, but spent much of his life as a Presbyterian evangelist in Australia.)

This John McNeill is he who was sometimes called the “Scottish Spurgeon”.

Whilst working for the railways as a lad he had a narrow escape as he was “engaged in coupling the carriages together … the finger the buffer nipped is ever before him” (Christian Portrait Gallery, page 227).

At the age of 19 he came to know the Saviour as his own, “and at once stood up and testified to being on the Lord’s side”.

He threw himself into YMCA work, a strongly evangelical organisation at that time.

By 1886 he was pastoring a Free Presbyterian Church in Edinburgh. The small congregation soon grew to over 3000.

Warren Wiersbe points out that McNeill “had a wonderful sense of humour that helped to keep his hearers alert and his sermons alive”. For example, speaking of the fierce cannibals in the South Seas he commented, “I have some elders I would like to send out there. I can assure you that if the cannibals got a taste of these elders, they would never touch a missionary again!”

In 1889 he accepted a call to Regent Square Church, London (where Edward Irving’s controversial ministry had taken place), then he resigned to help in the Moody/Sankey meetings.

During this time he married Margaret Miller, his first wife having died about 10 years earlier, leaving him with four small children.

In 1908 he followed F.B. Meyer into the pastorate of Christ Church, London; but he was more an evangelist than a pastor and found himself unable to stay in one church for a long period. “He pastored 10 different churches in 25 years!” (Back to the Bible magazine, August, 1985).

Then there were 16 years as an itinerant evangelist – preaching over 300 times a year.

In 1933 – 19 April – he went to be with his Lord, and Dr Graham Scroggie conducted the funeral service.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at

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