A True Disciple: William MacDonald

By Brian Gunning, St. Catharines, Ontario, written for Counsel Magazine, Feb 2008

Approximately 500 people gathered at a memorial service for our late brother William MacDonald at the Fairhaven Bible Chapel in San Leandro, California on January 12, 2008. It is estimated that thousands more watched via the internet. He had passed into the presence of the Lord on Christmas Day, December 25, 2007 as a result of kidney failure and complications of recent surgery. William MacDonald was born on January 7, 1917, in Leominster, Massachusetts, USA. His family moved to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland not long after he was born. During his time in Scotland a miraculous event occurred. He tells it in his own words in comments on Psalm 91 in the Believer’s Bible Commentary:

Psalm 91: My Psalm. In 1922, in the Western Hebrides, a five-year-old lad was dying of diphtheria. A mucous membrane was forming across his throat, and breathing was becoming increasingly difficult. His Christian mother turns her back so she would not see him take his last breath. At that very moment there was a knock at the door. It was her brother-in law from an adjoining village. He said, “I’ve just come tell you that you don’t have to worry about the child. He is going to recover, and one day God is going to save his soul.” She was distracted and incredulous: “Whatever makes you say that?” Then he explained he had been sitting at his fire reading Psalm 91 when God distinctly spoke to him through the last three verses:

Because on me he set his love,
I’ll save and set him free;
Because my great name he hath known,
I will set him on high.
He’ll call on me, I’ll answer him;
I will be with him still,
In trouble to deliver him,
And honour him I will.
With length of days unto his mind
I will him satisfy;
I also my salvation
Will cause his eyes to see.
—from The Scottish Psalms
In Metre.

I was that boy. God delivered me from death that night; He saved my soul thirteen years later, and He has satisfied me with long life. So you will understand why I refer to Psalm 91 as my Psalm.

Into Full Time Service

It is not without significance that the 91st Psalm was used of God in William MacDonald’s life and he died in his 91st year. William MacDonald trusted the Lord as his Savior at the age of 18. He studied at Tuft s University and later earned a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. For two years he worked as an investment analyst for the Bank of Boston. At the outbreak of World War II he enlisted in the United States Navy. During that time he was stationed in Oakland, California. While in the navy he had several opportunities for evangelism and Bible teaching. It was also during that time that he was deeply impressed by reading the life of C. T. Studd. This statement by C. T. Studd gripped him: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.” This was used of the Lord to bring William MacDonald into full time service.

Teacher and Author

From 1947 to 1965 William MacDonald taught at Emmaus Bible School (now Emmaus Bible College) in Oak Park, Illinois, USA and served as the school’s president from 1959 to 1965. For the next 8 years he traveled extensively around the world teaching the Word of God and then returned to the Oakland area of California in San Leandro to establish the Discipleship Interim Training Program with his long time friend and colleague Jean Gibson. This program ran from 1973 to 1995 and trained dozens of young men in Christian service.
Since 1995 he was active in itinerant preaching at conferences while continuing to write extensively. He has 84 books published. Two of the most well known are the Believer’s Bible Commentary—a commentary on every book of the Bible and True Discipleship—a call to live in practical obedience according to the Lord’s terms of discipleship.

William MacDonald was a man who lived what he preached. A humble self-effacing man, gracious in every way, a man of prayer and faithful to the Lord. Whether he was called ‘Mr. MacDonald’, ‘William MacDonald’, ‘Bill’ or by the children ‘Uncle Bill’ it was evident by listening to those who knew him at home that he was loved and highly esteemed. The written ministry of William MacDonald continues. In addition to his 84 books published in English, some of his books have been printed in many languages of the world. Mr. Andreas Lindner, responsible for the copyrights writes:

“Mr. MacDonald´s Believers Bible Commentary is published in 21 languages, including Urdu and Malayalam. Several other languages (like Tamil and Telugu) are in preparation.
The Commentary has been published in these languages: New Testament: Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Burmese, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Malayalam, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese. Old Testament Commentary: Albanian, Chinese, German, Korean, Polish, Romanian Spanish, Turkish and Urdu.

We lost Vietnam to the Communists, but now the Gospel is flourishing there. The underground church is persecuted and open training of the workers is not possible. We think it is thrilling that the NT Commentary is available in Vietnamese for our suffering brothers. Albania was called the only atheistic country in the world. The dictator forced the people to worship him as the Eternal One, and he claimed to have gotten rid of religion. He fell in a revolution, the Gospel was spread and the fast growing church needed teaching. The OT and NT Commentary is available in Albanian and is given to many pastors and elders.

The assembly movement in Cuba is really growing in the last decade. Several thousand copies of the NT Commentary in Spanish were imported for the assemblies and were also given to all the other evangelical churches. Cuba needs a revolution, a revolution of love!

In the south of Germany and Austria there was almost no Gospel witness left after the counter reformation. It was a white spot on the map as far as the gospel was concerned. Through the travels of William Macdonald with OM, through missionaries he trained and through his personal ministry and his books he was a great blessing to dozens of new assemblies in these areas. He was instrumental to help start a training program for church leaders and elders in Austria. Most of his books have been translated into German.

The Iron curtain was torn apart in the early 1990’s, missionaries moved in to reach out with the Gospel and train the locals. The Commentary was translated into Russian, Croatian, Romanian and Bulgarian. The Believers Bible Commentary is the only available Commentary on the whole Bible in Poland.

True Discipleship
has been translated into 45 languages. These are Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Assamese, Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Faroese, Farsi (Iran; Persian), Finnish, French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Maharashtra, Malayalam, Marati, Nepali, Oriya, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Sinhala, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog (Philippines), Tamil, Telugu, Turkish, Urdu, and right now there are plans to translate it into Kmehr, the language of Cambodia.”

Those wishing to contribute to the publishing work of the writings of William MacDonald may do so by sending their gifts to
P.O. Box 13,
Spring Lake, NJ
07762-0013, USA.

Please indicate your gift is for the Believer’s Bible Commentary Translation Fund. For more information about the ongoing translation work of the writings of William MacDonald, visit the website