John Douglas had no spiritual background whatever. He was the eldest of eight children not one of whom went to Sunday School in days when such attendance was customary. There were no Bibles in the house. John left school when he was 13 years old. It was not uncommon for the Parish School Boards to allow the eldest member of a family to do so to help the household income with his earnings. John's employment was in coal mining in Larkhall where he was born.
He was a keen footballer, playing regularly on Saturday afternoons and attracting the attention of senior clubs, notably Glasgow Rangers. He played on the Saturday before he was converted. That Sunday in 1913, a friend persuaded him to attend the gospel meeting in Ashgill Gospel Hall, one of the outreaches maintained by the assembly in Larkhall. On the Monday evening he was taken to Birkenshaw, another of the Larkhall outreaches, where the late Robert Scott was preaching. That night John Douglas waited behind and Bob Scott pointed him to the Saviour. It couldn't have been John's Bible knowledge that impressed Bob, but he remarked later to the brethren that it was no ordinary conversion that had taken place that night.
John was over twenty years of age and immediately turned his attention to divine things. There was no Bible in his house so he borrowed one from an aunt until he was able to buy a second hand copy. He commenced his studies in a hen house with an older brother in Christ. He was no longer welcome at home since his conversion spelt the end of his football career with its promise of money.
Eighteen months after his conversion John married Mary Sinclair. Their marriage was hastened by the fact that John was practically homeless. John studied the Bible into the early hours of the morning with the light of a paraffin lamp. When he bought the occasional book he would be delighted when he discovered that the writer was suggesting what he himself had discovered in the Scriptures.
Soon after conversion he was baptised and received into the Larkhall assembly. The hall was overcrowded and quite a number of believers came from Ashgill and district. Some of them had trouble if they were on back shift on Sundays, having to walk home from the Morning Meeting and be at the pit for 2 pm. The solution to the problem was the commencement of an assembly at Ashgill and a boundary line was drawn, all who lived on one side of it being asked to go to the new assembly. The Douglas family were among those who went to the new assembly in 1917.
John and his wife were fully occupied in this assembly which grew to seventy in number. Young men came to their home in a miners' row for Bible Readings, and in winter their home and those of others were used for "Kitchen Meetings".
John was growing in ability and he began to go elsewhere to take meetings. To encourage young fellows he often took them with him to share the meeting so that they might gain experience in preaching the gospel. Larger fields too opened up to him and eventually he was demand in many parts of Scotland and beyond for conferences. He had a great memory and it was only in later days that he required notes. He has been described as unique and original.
A friend wrote about him, "John Douglas hit the scene something like an Elijah, suddenly with short, sharp, solid ministry that hit its target with great force. Some loved him; others didn't care for him, but nobody could forget either the man or his ministry". His friend continued, "He did not shrink in the hotness of the battle; he neither courted favours nor feared frowns".
He was unique in every way. His favourite method of addressing his audiences was, "Fellow-believers". His favourite method of inviting saints to continue with him in thought was, "Follow now". His favourite method of teaching was to take up a truth and illustrate it freely from Genesis to Revelation for his mind roamed over all of the Scriptures.
He loved to encourage younger men. If such were his partners on the platform he would give his approval publicly; if he was in the audience listening, and he frequently was, then he would seek them out afterwards to tell them how much he appreciated their ministry. While on the platform he seemed stern and severe; off it he proved he enjoyed a great deal of fun and made many a joke.
During the Second World War John was often asked by young men to accompany them to the Conscientious Objectors' Tribunal in Glasgow to speak on their behalf. He was there so often that eventually the presiding judge asked him, "Mr Douglas, do you think that everybody you represent here should be excused military service?". "Yes," said John, "for it's not everybody I would come with". On another occasion he was asked if he believed in discipline.
He loved his own assembly and never missed a meeting till weakness made it impossible for him to be there. He holidayed in Maidens and Girvan in Ayrshire for many years, visiting the local assemblies and tent campaigns.
John continued in the coal mines for about twenty years after his marriage. He left them at the time of serious depression in mining and started up in tomato growing in which he continued till his retirement, often considering full-time service for the Lord. His life was not without tragedy for one of his two sons never grew and died at 21 years of age still a baby, requiring the constant care and attention of his mother. His other son became keenly interested in spiritual things and died at the peak of his powers at forty-eight years of age, a few years before his father.
John arranged his own funeral. In retrospect he said, "Looking over my ministry I would believe and teach the same things, but experience would make me teach them differently. I would like to be as the Lord who cured the man and hurt him not".