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Biggar and the House of Fleming
Chapter XII - The North and Sooth United Presbyterian Churches


IT was the remark of a shrewd Biggar worthy, that Biggar has long been famed for the support which it gives to ‘divinity and diversion.’ It is certainly the case, that from the time of the Covenant downwards, the people of the Biggar district have been noted for the extent of their theological acquirements, their critical acumen in discussing abstruse points of faith, and the strictness of their religious opinions and practice, and their strong dislike to the undue interference of the State with the Established Church. It was naturally to be expected, then, that the immediate descendants of the men who had contended and suffered in this district for the covenanted work of Reformation, would look with approving countenance on the stand made by the founders of the Secession Church against the defections of the times. They could not submit to what seemed to them such serious errors as patronage restored, the Covenants despised, heretical opinions openly promulgated, vice and profligacy passing unrebuked, and a slavish subserviency to the ruling powers pervading the leaders of the Church, without feeling extreme sorrow and indignation, and applauding the men who stood boldly forward to oppose and rebuke them. This feeling was greatly deepened by the conduct of their own pastors, in reading from the pulpit a document regarding the apprehension of the persons concerned in the execution of Captain Porteous, on the 7th September 1736, in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, and hence commonly called the Porteous Paper. This document was ordered by the Government to be read publicly by the Established clergy before their congregations, on the first Sabbath of each month, for a whole year, under the penalty, in case of refusal, of being declared incapable, for the first offence, of sitting and voting in any Church Court, and for the second, of ‘taking, holding, or enjoying any ecclesiastical benefice in Scotland.1 This enactment was held by many of the clergy, and a large majority of the people, to be a manifest and daring usurpation, by the civil magistrate, of powers which belonged exclusively to the Church itself,—in short, to be downright Erastianism. Many of the inhabitants of the Biggar district, at this period, therefore left the Established Church, and attached themselves to the Associate Presbytery, formed in 1733, and consisting at first of four ministers, viz., Ebenezer Erskine, Stir* ling; James Fisher, Perth; Alexander Moncrieff, Abernethy; and William Wilson, Kinclaven. It was augmented, in 1737, by the accession of the Rev. Thomas Mair of Orwell, and the Rev. Ralph Erskine of Dunfermline.

The Dissenters of Biggar and its neighbourhood, being far distant from the towns in which the fathers of the Secession were settled, could only listen to their ministrations by making long journeys and at rare intervals; and therefore they petitioned that some of their number would favour them with occasional visits, till such time as they were sufficiently organized, and could obtain the services of a settled pastor. In compliance with this petition, these worthy divines, in the midst of numerous engagements, found time to come at intervals to this district, and dispense the ordinances of religion to a congregation collected from many surrounding parishes. It was at length decided that an eligible place for the erection of a church was West Linton,— a village eleven miles east from Biggar. Accordingly, Ralph Erskine and Thomas Mair, by order of the Presbytery, proceeded to West Linton, on Friday, the 24th of March 1738; and there, after sermon by Ralph Erskine, an election of elders took place, ‘by the lifting up of the hand.1 The elders thus chosen were then subjected to an examination; and on the Sabbath following were formally installed in their office. On that occasion both of the reverend gentlemen preached discourses to ‘a great and grave auditory,' and they were afterwards gratified by learning that many persons present were much refreshed. In August 1738, Ralph Erskine, and James Fisher, then removed to Glasgow, were sent on a missionary tour to the south of Scotland, and on the 30th of that month preached at West Linton, and baptized several children. In the autumn of 1739, Ralph Erskine, and the Rev. James Thomson of Burntisland, who had also joined the Secession, were engaged in another of these tours. On Wednesday, the 12th of September, Mr Thomson preached at West Linton, and dispensed the ordinance of baptism; and in the afternoon they rode to Symington, three miles to the west of Biggar, where the families who had left the Established Church had fixed the day following as a season of fasting and humiliation. Both the reverend gentlemen here preached impressive discourses to an audience whose descendants, in most eases, continue Dissenters to the present day. At length Mr James Mair was ordained the permanent pastor of the West Linton congregation, on the 29th of May 1740; and on this occasion the sermon was preached by the Rev. James Fisher, and was afterwards published.

For twelve or fifteen years the Seceders of Biggar and its neighbourhood waited on the ministrations of the Rev. James Mair, and Sabbath after Sabbath travelled to West Linton, though many of them resided twelve and fifteen miles distant. One of the most zealous Dissenters and constant attenders at West Linton, was Robert Forsyth, afterwards bellman and gravedigger, Biggar, and father of Robert Forsyth, the distinguished author and advocate. Robert went to Linton in all kinds of weather. Neither 4 summer’s heat nor winter’s snow’ stopped his journey. One tempestuous Sabbath morning he rose early, as usual, and, in spite of the remonstrances of his mother, took the road. In passing up the town, he saw James Brown, joiner, another zealous Dissenter, and grandfather of the late Robert John-' ston, merchant, Biggar, standing at his door and gazing on the sky, to discover any symptom of the speedy clearing up of the weather. ‘Weel, Jeemes,’ said Robert, ‘are ye no gaun east the day?’ ‘As there’s nae appearance of the wather rackin’ up, I was thinkin’ about stayin’ at hame,’ said James. 4 Hoot, man,’ replied Robert, 4 Mr Mair wull think mair o’ us if we gang on sic a day as this, than if we gaed on twa or even three gude days.’ So saying, he took his way in the midst of the storm, by Candy, Sandyhill Nick, Slipperfield Muir, and West Water, to Linton.

A movement was at length set on foot to form a Secession congregation at Biggar. The members of Mr Mair’s congregation at Biggar, Skirling, Walston, Libberton, and Glenholm, were joined in this movement by the persons in Symington, Covington, and Carnwath, who attended the ministrations of the Rev. David Horn at Davies-dykes, in the parish of Cambusnethan. The exact year in which the congregation was formed is not now known. It seems to have been a short time previous to the year 1754, because during that year a petition, craving a supply of sermon, was presented to the Edinburgh Secession Presbytery from the congregation of Biggar. The main cause which led to the formation of the Biggar congregation was, no doubt, the inconvenience of travelling so far to attend religious ordinances as West Linton and Cambusnethan; but minor causes seem also to have been at work, such as the erection of the Antiburgher meeting-house at Elsrickle, and the attempted violent settlement of Mr Haig in the Parish Church of Biggar. A meeting-house having been built un a piece of ground immediately behind the north side of the High Street, the congregation proceeded, on the 16th of October 1760, to give a call to Mr Samuel Kinloch to be their pastor. This call Mr Kinloch thought fit to decline; and, therefore, the congregation, on the 7th of May 1761, gave a call to Mr John Low, who had studied divinity under Professor Fisher at Glasgow, and who had a short time previously been licensed to preach the Gospel. Mr Low accepted this call, and was ordained on the 30th of September, O.S. The members of the Edinburgh Presbytery present on that occasion were—the Rev. William Hutton of Dalkeith, the Rev. Archibald Hall of Torphichen, the Rev. James Mair of West Linton, the Rev. Mr Pattison of Edinburgh, and the Rev. Mr Kidston of Stow. The leading men in the congregation, and all of them holding the office of elder at the settlement of Mr Low, were—James Telfer, Whinbush;

William Watson, Kirklawhill; James Brown, joiner, Biggar; James Steel, Elsrickle; James Sommerville, ’Carnwath; John Bertram, and Robert Wilson. Very little regarding these worthy men is now known: so quickly does the memory of even good and once prominent men fade away without the assistance of written records.

Mr Low was a faithful, laborious, and much-respected minister. In the pulpit his appearance was commanding, his voice rich and powerful, and his delivery impressive. His discourses were pervaded by a strain of ardent piety. His theology was that of the severest Calvinism ; and, of course, he was well versed in all the subtleties of that abstruse creed. It is worthy of notice, that at the time of his settlement he had a valuable collection of theological works. They consisted of 56 folio volumes, 44 quarto volumes, and 70 volumes of inferior sizes, all of a solid and standard character. The only relic of his library that we have seen, is the well-known controversial work on the origin and authority of episcopal church government, entitled ‘ Altare Damascenum,’ etc., by the historian, David Calder-wood. It has Mr Low’s autograph on the margin, and is now in the library of Mr Sim, at Coultermains.

Mr Low had a somewhat irritable temper, that brought him into occasional troubles, both with the members of his own flock, and the adherents of other churches. The most minute record of some of the squabbles in which he was embroiled, is to be found in the manuscript memoirs of William Sim, schoolmaster, who had his headquarters at Biggar, and was a member of Mr Low’s congregation. Mr Low, shortly after his settlement at Biggar, entered into the marriage relation with a lady whose name was Janet Henderson. By this lady he had the following children:—Margaret, Helen, Robert, John, Janet, James, and Ebenezer. Mr Low continued to discharge his ministerial duties at Biggar for a period of forty-three years, and died on the 1st of November 1804.

The successor of Mr Low was the Rev. John Brown. He was the son of the Rev. John Brown, Whitburn, and Isabella Cranston, a native of Kelso, and was bom on the 12th of July 1784. He studied general Hterature and philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, and theology at the Divinity Hall, Selkirk, under the direction of Dr Lawson. He was licensed to preach the Gospel, by the Presbytery of Stirling and Falkirk, on the 12th Feb. 1805, and, after a short probation, received calls from Biggar and Stirling. The Synod, which at that time held the power of deciding in the case of competing calls, assigned him the charge of Biggar. He was ordained on the 6th Feb. 1806. The weather at the time was remarkably stormy; and the consequence was, that only three members of the Presbytery of Lanark attended on the occasion. Dr Harper of Leith, a son of the Rev. Alexander Harper of Lanark, at the jubilee services of Dr Brown, in Broughton Place Church, Edinburgh, on the 8th April 1856, said, I have a boyish recollection of the event which you are met to commemorate, and of being almost, I cannot say altogether, a spectator of Dr Brown’s ordination. On the morning of that day I sat at the fireside wrapped up, and ready to be placed by my father in a nook of the conveyance in which he and a friend were going to the ordination at Biggar. There had been a heavy fall of snow through the night; and the friend I speak of used to remind me that there was a little face in the comer that had its own share of gloominess as well as the weather, when a messenger, who had been sent out to ascertain the state of the roads, reported that it was doubtful whether a horse and gig could pass. There was no help but to leave me behind.1 Mr Brown’s own father preached the ordination sermon; and on the Sabbath following he was introduced by the Rev. James Ellis of Saltcoats. The congregation at Biggar, to which Mr Brown ministered, was characterized by great spiritual devotion and general intelligence. Some of the members were his equals, if not his superiors, in classical knowledge and literary attainments; while many of them were as deeply versant as himself in the abstruse tenets of Calvinistic theology, and in the history and principles of the religious body to which they belonged. He was thus stimulated, in the highest degree, to diligence in his preparations for the pulpit, and the diets of examination which he held in the houses of his members. He studied carefully everything that he delivered in public. He wrote out at full length, and mandated his discourses, prayers, and casual addresses. Besides the ministrations in his own pulpit, he was in the habit of preaching in bams and school-rooms in the adjoining villages, and not unfrequently in the open air. His son John, in his supplementary chapter to Dr Cairns’ life of his father, gives an anecdote illustrative of his achievements on his good grey mare in fulfilling an engagement of outdoor preaching. ‘He had,’ he says, 4 an engagement toĽ preach somewhere beyond the Clyde on a Sabbath evening, and his excellent and attached friend and elder, Mr Kello, Lindsaylands, accompanied him on his big plough horse. It was to be in the open air on the river side. When they got to the Clyde, they found it in full flood, heavy and sudden rains at the head of the water having brought it down in a wild spate. On the opposite side were the gathered people and the tent. Before Mr Kello knew where he was, there was his minister on the mare swimming across, and carried down in a long diagonal, the people looking on in terror. He landed, shook himself, and preached with his usual fervour.’

He delivered a monthly lecture in his own church, the collection at which was expended in the education of poor children; and he was among the first who established a minister’s Hbrary of costly and not readily accessible theological works—an institution of great importance to clergymen of limited means in country districts. In the United Presbyterian body there are now not fewer than 160 libraries of this kind; and the number is from year to year increasing. His little church was, every Sabbath, filled with an auditory that listened with profound attention and admiration to the clear, forcible, and impressive exposition of Scripture truth that proceeded from his lips. The old church was pulled down and a new one built; and a new manse was also erected in a more retired situation, on the south side of the town, finely overlooking the strath of Biggar and the Hartree Hills.

In August 1807, he married Miss Jane Nimmo, a daughter of Mr William Nimmo, surgeon, Glasgow. As her son, Dr John Brown, has justly said, she was modest, calm, thrifty, reasonable, tender, happy-hearted. She was his student-love, and is even now remembered in that pastoral region for * her sweet gentleness, and wife-like government.’ Their union was blessed with four children—two sons and two daughters. They enjoyed the greatest earthly felicity in each other’s society; but cruel and envious fate snatched her from him in 1816. He mustered up courage to preach her funeral sermon, and descanted on her virtues and his own loss, amid the sobs and tears of an attached and sorrowing congregation. She was interred in Symington Churchyard, according to her own wishes; and her husband there erected a tablet to her memory.

Down to the year 1815, Mr Brown confined himself, in a great measure, to the discharge of his pastoral duties at Biggar. It was the careful preparation of his discourses for the devout and intelligent people of the Biggar district that laid the foundation of that skill, that eminence in the exegetical and critical examination of Scripture, to which he afterwards attained. It was in Biggar, too, that he commenced that wonderful career of authorship, which is so marked a feature of his life. He was in the habit, at an early period of his ministry, of contributing occasional papers to the ‘Christian Instructor,’ then uftder the editorial care of the Rev. Andrew Thomson. In 1816, he started a periodical styled ‘The Christian Repository and Religious Register,’ which, besides his own articles, received contributions from Dr Lawson, Dr Peddie, Dr Marshall of Kirkintilloch, Dr Balmer, Berwick, Robert Johnston, Biggar, etc. Five volumes of this magazine had been published at the union of the Burghers and Antiburghers in 1820, when it was merged into a conjoint periodical, called ‘The Christian Monitor.’ The ‘Repository' was ably conducted. Its papers were of a highly intellectual rather than a popular cast To men of education and reflection they'were most acceptable; and they can still be read with pleasure and profit. It is interesting to ♦ con them over, and think that every one of them was carefully revised in the calm solitude of that retired manse, with its tripi garden, standing behind the Silver-knowes of Biggar, and looking forth on the green mountains of Tweeddale.

Mr Brown’s first separate publication at Biggar was ‘Strictures on Mr Yates’s Vindication of Unitarianism.’ This was followed in succession by a volume of ‘Sacramental Discourses;’ by a sermon preached before the Edinburgh Missionary Society, entitled ‘The Danger of Opposing Christianity, and the Certainty of its final Triumph;' by ‘ Remarks on the Plans and Publications of Robert Owen, Esq., New Lanark;’ by ‘Three Discourses on the Character, Duty, and Danger of those who Forget God; ’ by a volume ‘ On Religion, and the Means of its Attainment;’ by ‘Notes of an Excursion into the Highlands of Scotland;’ and ‘A Sermon on the State of Scotland in reference to the Means of Religious Instruction.’ The statements contained in this last-mentioned discourse, which was preached before the Associate Synod on the retirement of Mr Brown from the office of Moderator in April 1819, were strictly accurate, and all parties have long since admitted their truth; but at the time of its delivery and publication, a considerable party in the Established Church were unwilling to acknowledge that their ecclesiastical institution was chargeable with any defects, and were indignant at any one that attempted to point them out. Hence the Rev. Alexander Craik of Libberton, near Carnwath, and others, opened a heavy battery on Mr Brown for his strictures; but he bore the assault with wonderful equanimity, and lived to see very extraordinary efforts made within the pale of the Establishment itself, to remedy the very evils of which he had complained.

Mr Brown, in the latter part of his ministry at Biggar, was very much occupied with labours of a more public and extensive kind than the sphere of that town afforded. He preached the anniversary sermons of several public institutions, and he was sent out on various missionary tours. On one occasion he visited England, along with the Rev. A. O. Beattie, then Burgher minister at Kincardine, and the Rev. David Dickson and the Rev. Henry Grey, both of the Established Church, Edinburgh. They returned with a subsidy of L.3000. In 1820, on the death of Professor Lawson, Mr Brown was nominated as one of the candidates for the vacant Divinity Chair; but the choice ultimately fell on Dr Dick, Glasgow. In 1817, he refused a call to the congregation of North Leith; but in 1822, receiving a call from the congregation of Rose Street, Edinburgh, the Synod decided that he should accept it; and he took farewell of his Biggar flock in a sermon which he preached from 1 Cor. xv. 1-4. On the occasion of his jubilee, in 1856, he thus referred to the congregation of Biggar:—‘A more cordial pastoral relation, I believe, never existed. I respected them for their Christian intelligence and worth, and loved them for their unaffected kindness. They made abundant allowance for my youth, and showed that peculiar kind of affection which is cherished by the mature Christian for the young disciple; for a large proportion of the congregation, when I went to them, were beyond the midst of life, experienced in religion as well as stricken in years. I had great advantages for study; and, I hope, did not entirely neglect them. The acquisitions made in my first charge lay at the foundation of any measure of usefulness to which I may have attained in other situations. Biggar was much endeared to me as the scene of very sweet enjoyments and very deep sorrows. “The dews of youth” lay heavy on these scenes, and their recollection refreshes the heart It certainly was in my heart to live and die with my people there; but the Head of the Church ordained it otherwise. My connection with that congregation was not dissolved with my own hand. We parted in sorrow, but in peace. Long before I became their minister, their former pastor, the Rev. John Low, a man of a warm temper but kind heart, said to his friend, my father, speaking of his own ministerial life, "We have had our brangles; but they are a sonsy, kindly folk.” This is a true saying. I found them "a sonsy, kindly folk; but we never had any brangles".

Mr Brown, after leaving Biggar, pursued a successful career of public usefulness. In 1829 he was translated to the congregation of Broughton Place; in 1880 received the degree of D.D. from Jefferson College, United States; and in 1834 was appointed Professor of Exegetical Theology to the religious body with which he was connected. In 1835 he entered into the relation of marriage with Miss Margaret Fisher Crum, only surviving daughter of Alexander Crum, Esq. of Thomlie-bank, near Glasgow; and by this lady he had one son and two daughters. During the latter part of his life he published, in rapid succession, a number of those valuable expositions of Scripture which he had sketched at Biggar, and which he had perfected during his succeeding pastorates and his professorship’ in Edinburgh. His separate publications are numerous, amounting to upwards of fifty. They will long be held in esteem by those who value correct sentiment, clear and vigorous expression, and extraordinary critical acumen. He died at his house, Arthur Lodge, Newington, Edinburgh, on Wednesday, 17th October 1858, and was interred in the New Calton Burying-ground, beside his second wife, who had predeceased him several years.

Dr Brown’s successor in the Associate Congregation, Biggar, was the Rev. David Smith, who was born in the year 1792, in the village of Rattray, near Blairgowrie, Perthshire. In 1807 he went to London, and remained there till 1815. He had now resolved to devote himself to the work of the holy ministry, and with this view he returned to Scotland, and attended two sessions at the University of Glasgow, and one—that of 1817-18—at the University of Edinburgh. In August 1817 he entered the Divinity Hall of the Associate Synod, then under the charge of Professor Lawson of Selkirk. The Professor died before Mr Smith had finished his theological course, and he completed it in September 1821, under Dr Dick, Glasgow. He was licensed to preach the Gospel in December of that year, and received a call from the congregation of Biggar in the spring of 1823. This he thought fit to accept, and was ordained on the 19th of August following. He married Janet Brown, a daughter of the Rev. John Brown of Whitburn; and by her he has 'had six children—three sons and three daughters.

In the discharge of his duties as a pastor, Dr Smith has been most faithful and laborious. He has taught the word of life from the pulpit with earnestness and power; he has been no stranger in the domiciles of his flock, praying in the family circle, or by the bedside of the sick and dying, and raising their thoughts to Him who has the issues of life and death in His hand, and who makes every event contribute to His glory; and he has taken no lukewarm interest in the condition and instruction of the young, but has laboured assiduously to furnish them with the knowledge that is profitable for the life that now is, and that which is to come. In the quiet seclusion and retirement of the Secession manse he has found time to compose and give to the world the following works:—‘Devotional Psalter;’ ‘Sacramental Manual;’ ‘Chamber of Affliction;’ ‘Token of Remembrance for Children; ’ ‘Golden Sayings;’ ‘Memoirs of the Rev. John Brown, Whitburn;’ ‘Memoirs of the Rev. William Fleming, West Calder;’ ‘Memoirs of the Rev. Charles C. Leitch, India;’ Tracts on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and Sermons on ‘How Old art Thou?’ and on ‘Prosperity and Peace, or the Church and the World of the Last Days.’ These various works not only testify to the diligence of Dr Smith, but to his zeal and ability in promoting the cause of his Divine Master, and in contributing to the gratification and improvement of his friends and the world at large. In 1850 the College of Dartmouth, United States, conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. He has received calls to other congregations, but his resolution appears to be to live and die with his attached flock at Biggar. At the meeting of the Synod of the United Presbyterian Church in May 1861, Dr Smith was proposed as Moderator by Dr William Johnston of Limekilns, himself also a Biggar man. Dr Johnston assigned four reasons in favour of Dr Smith’s election. He said he proposed him, ‘first, because Dr Smith was a senior minister; secondly, because he had always taken a deep interest in the affairs of the Church, and had been a close attender of the Synod’s meetings; and thirdly, because the Church was under obligation to him for his writings. Last year he preached a sermon which he (Dr Johnston) considered to be one of the best he had ever heard, and which he would not be afraid to put in competition with any sermon preached in Scotland within the last twelve months. The sermon was published, and each might judge for himself. Fourthly, he proposed Dr Smith because he had in a remarkable degree aided the missionary operations of the United Presbyterian Church.’ These, as Dr Johnston said, were good reasons why Dr Smith should be honoured with the Moderator’s Chair. Dr Robson of Glasgow had, however, been brought forward as a candidate for this honour; and on the vote being taken, ninety-one voted for him, and eighty-seven for Dr Smith.

Though Dr Smith was thus unsuccessful, yet the large number of votes tendered in his favour show the high estimation in which he is held by the religious body to which he belongs.

On the 15th October 1861, a very interesting and gratifying meeting took place in Dr Smith’s church. This was the celebration of the centenary of the settlement of its first pastor, the Rev. Mr Low. On this occasion, the Rev. Dr Cairns of Berwick preached a sermon in the forenoon; and in the afternoon a soiree was held, at which Dr Smith presided, and gave a sketch of the rise, progress, and present state of the congregation under his charge. He was then presented by Mr John Archibald, president of the congregation, with a purse containing 185 sovereigns, as a testimony of respect for his long and faithful services. Addresses were afterwards delivered by a number of gentlemen, among whom were the following natives of Biggar:— John Brown, M.D., Edinburgh; Dr William Johnston, Limekilns; Dr John Brown Johnston, Glasgow; the Rev. William Scott, Balemo; and the Rev. Robert Johnston, Arbroath.

Shortly after the union of the two kingdoms, the State began to impose fetters on the Church of Scotland, with the view of checking its free republican spirit and constitution. These, in course of time, introduced a state of laxity, subserviency, and degradation, that made a departure from the doctrinal standards of the Church appear an offence less heinous than the violation of an ecclesiastical or legislative act, however unjust and unwarrantable it might be. This State interference, and the corruption it engendered, have lain at the foundation of all the secessions which have taken place in Scotland for more than a century past

The body of Chnstians that at one time existed, called the ‘Relief,’ had their origin in the exercise of the law of patronage, which had been thrust on the Church in the reign of Queen Anne. Captain Philip Anstruther, in 1749, issued a presentation to the parish of In* verkeithing, in favour of the Rev. Andrew Richardson, minister of Broughton, in the Presbytery of Biggar. The parishioners of Inver-keithing, almost unanimously, opposed the settlement of Mr Richardson, and on this account the Presbytery of Dunfermline refused to take the usual steps to instal him in that charge. This led to a course of rigorous and summary proceedings in the superior Church Courts, which ended in the deposition of the Rev. Thomas Gillespie, minister of Carnock, in 1752. Mr Gillespie, the Rev. Thomas Boston, Jedburgh, and the Rev. Thomas Colier, Colinsburgh, Fife, on the 22d October 1761, constituted themselves into a Presbytery of Relief.

The Relief congregation, Biggar, had its origin in the violent settlement of a minister in the Parish Church. The Rev. John Johnston having died on the 15th of October 1778, a presentation to the vacant charge was issued in favour of Mr Robert Pearson, probationer. At a meeting of the Biggar Presbytery, on the 25th of March 1779, the presentation was laid before the members by Bailie Carmichael, and sustained; and the presentee was instructed to preach once before the Presbytery, and twice before the people. Mr Pearson obeyed; but his discourses gave so little satisfaction, that, without any formal meeting or concerted resolution, the people came to a unanimous determination to abstain from any concurrence in his calL The Presbytery delayed taking any further steps till the 6th of July, to see if any one would move for the moderation of a call; but, as no person came forward, the Court fixed the 80th of July for that purpose. On this occasion the Moderator asked several times, if any parishioner present was disposed to subscribe the calL But no one would either put pen to paper, or give an oral assent; and, therefore, it was decided that the call should lie in the clerk’s hands for some time, to obtain subscriptions, even in a private way. On the 19th of October, not a single name had been appended; and, therefore, the Presbytery finding themselves in a dilemma, resolved to apply for advice to the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. The Synod did not advise the Presbytery to proceed to a settlement in the circumstances, but requested the Presbytery to deal with the people, in order to induce them to accept of the presentee. The people of Biggar were indignant at this recommendation, as they held that the Presbytery should have received instructions to deal with the presentee as well as with themselves, so that he might not persist in thrusting himself on a flock who, to a man, were opposed to his settlement. Six months elapsed before any farther steps were taken, publicly; but, in the interim, great efforts were made to obtain concurrents to the call, either by fear or favour. At a meeting of the Presbytery, on the 9th of May 1780, Mr James Saunders, writer, Edinburgh, appeared as agent for the patroness and the presentee, and laid on the table the result of these efforts, in the shape of letters of adherence to Mr Pearson from four non-resident heritors—viz., the Hon. John Elphinstone, General James Lockhart of Lee, Geo. Brown of Heiston, and Charles Brown of Coulston,—one non-resident feuar, and four or five individuals, dependants on the patroness. The despicable amount of support thus obtained, and the resolute opposition of the people, staggered the members of Presbytery, and made them refuse to proceed further with the settlement The agent of the presentee therefore protested, and intimated his intention to carry the case by appeal to the ensuing General Assembly. It accordingly came before the Supreme Court on Monday, the 29th May. It was felt to possess a somewhat singular character, as, properly speaking, there was only one party— the presentee—with his four or five resident supporters; while almost the entire body of parishioners made ho appearance, but stood doggedly aloof, and did not offer even any tangible objections. It, nevertheless, gave rise to a long and keen discussion, and at length the following motion was submitted, viz.: ‘To remit the case to the Presbytery, and enjoin them to moderate in a call to the presentee, de novo, betwixt that time and the 1st of October next, and to proceed towards the settlement according to the rules of the Church. A counter motion was then proposed: ‘That the Assembly do sustain the concurrence to the presentee; appoint the Presbytery to proceed towards a settlement of the presentee, with all convenient speed, according to the rules of the Church; and empower the Commission, in November, to judge in any question that may be regularly brought before them concerning the settlement of the parish, by complaint, reference, or appeaL* These motions were put to the vote, when 77 members supported the first, and 85 the second, and judgment was given accordingly. Against this decision twenty-eight members entered a protest; and the chief reasons which they assigned for taking this step were as follows, viz.:—‘Though it hath been often a matter of dispute what number of subscriptions were necessary to constitute that call upon which the Church can proceed to the settlement of a minister, yet there is not any one instance in which this Court hath ordered a settlement to proceed without something which had at least the form and the name, however little it might have of the nature, of a call; but in the present case, the Assembly hath ordered a settlement to proceed according to the rules of the Churchy although to this moment the call is a sheet of blank paper, without a single name. The concurrence came eleven months after the moderation of a call; and was, therefore, strictly inadmissible in any form. If the unauthenticated extrajudicial subscriptions of, or a promise to subscribe, a call, were to be regarded, why not turn them into a legal shape, and remit for that purpose to the Presbytery to moderate a call de novo t The regular course was plain; nor was there the smallest reason for deviating from it by an extraordinary stretch of power. By ordination a mutual relation is constituted; and for this purpose the consent of both parties is equally essential. In what manner the consent of the people is to be expressed, hath been clearly laid down in the law and practice of the Church; and when it is not thus expressed in what is generally named a call, or something equivalent to a call, an ordination is an absurdity, if not worse. “ That no person shall be intruded into any office of the Church, contrary to the will of the congregation to which he is appointed,” nay, “that it is not lawful for any person to meddle with an ecclesiastical function without the consent of the congregation,” are express and repeated enactments of our ecclesiastical law; they are ratified and approved by numberless Acts of Parliament; the strict observance of them is solemnly sworn to by every office-bearer in the Church of Scotland; and every member of Assembly, in particular, holds his commission with an express injunction as he shall be answerable, to decide accordingly. All this notwithstanding, the Assembly hath, in the present case, appointed a settlement, not only without the consent of the congregation, but directly in the face of express opposition by every heritor, elder, and head of family in the parish. For, with respect to the seven persons who, out of 1200 parishioners, have been prevailed on to promise a concurrence, they are of such singular characters, and in such singular circumstances, that the Hon. Counsel (Mr Henry Erskine) who supported the presentation candidly gave them up; and with respect to the letters from the non-residing heritors (who, by the by, are most of them not of our communion, and all together do not much exceed a third part of the heritors that pay thje stipend), they cannot in the present view be of any consideration whatsoever, they can have no weight in a call which is the foundation of a pastoral connection between a minister and his people. However much some people may think proper to despise, and even wantonly to provoke and insult the people, yet this is certain, that all the laws respecting our ecclesiastical constitution are expressly founded on the inclinations, and enacted with a view to promote the happiness and tranquility of the whole Christian people. We cannot, without the utmost regret, imagine the idea of a church without a people, ministers without congregations; we cannot, in duty to God and our constituents, but protest in the strongest terms against measures which have such a tendency; and though we must hang our harps upon the willows, yet we shall always pray, that He who stills the raging of the sea, and the tumults of the people, may preserve peace within our Jerusalem’s walls, and pour down prosperity upon the Church of Scotland.’

On the 30th of June, the Presbytery of Biggar met, when Bailie Carmichael appeared, and presented a mandate, craving that the Presbytery should proceed with the settlement of the presentee. Mr Pearson, accordingly, was subjected to trials for ordination; and these having been sustained at a meeting of the Presbytery in September, his ordination was fixed to take place on the 28th of November.

The Rev. Thomas Gray of Broughton was appointed to serve the edict on the people, and the Rev. David Dickson of Libberton, to preach and preside on the occasion of the ordination. Against this step John Gladstone, one of the elders, tabled a protest, signed by himself, John Black, and John Wilson, elders; and by Richard Lith-gow and William Aitken, parishioners. The protesters stated, that as the right of society, both civil and sacred, to choose their rulers and representatives had always been held sacred and inviolable, they could not sit entirely silent, and see themselves deprived of all choice, voice, or hearing, by having a minister intruded upon them, in the most arbitrary manner, by the lordly exertion of Church power, and in opposition to all the Acts of the Church of Scotland since the Reformation. They then referred to the Acts of the Church against the intrusion of ministers, and declared that the proceedings in this case left the parishioners nothing but implicit obedience and subjection, and thus made them mere nullities; that they subverted the constitutional principles of the Church and good order; that they were the fruitful cause of debates, schisms, and divisions, and plainly tended to mar the success of the GospeL On these grounds, they, in their own name, and in the name of all who should adhere to them, entered their protest against the steps proposed to be taken to settle Mr Pearson.

The people were now greatly incensed. Threats were freely used that the proceedings at the ordination would be prevented by violence. Several females had declared their intention of providing themselves with ‘lapfuls’ of stones, and pelting the Presbytery so soon as they made their appearance in the Kirkstyle. On the other hand, a rumour prevailed that a troop of dragoons would be brought from Edinburgh, to protect the members of Presbytery in the discharge of their duties. Everything betokened that the 28th of November would be a day of great commotion in the little town. The excitement was still further increased by the conduct of the Rev. Mr Dickson of Libber-ton. He caused a pro re nata meeting of the Presbytery to be held on the 25th of September; and there positively and solemnly declared that he would not preach and preside at Mr Pearson’s ordination. He ended his statement by saying, that in the event of the Presbytery still insisting on his performance of the duty which they had assigned him, ‘I will be reduced to the painful necessity of immediately giving in a resignation of my charge and office as minister of Libberton, which appears to me the most respectful manner of preventing any further trouble to the Presbytery.' The members of Presbytery were placed in a complete dilemma. None of them were prepared to incur the odium and brave the fury of the Biggar people, by taking an active part in the obnoxious settlement. It was in the end agreed, that a hint should be given to the presentee, that it would be necessary for him to bring some of his clerical friends from a distance to perform the chief part in his ordination. He accordingly arrived at Biggar on the evening of the 27th of November, along with the Rev. Mr Steel of Cockpen, and the Rev. Mr Whyte of liberton, near Edinburgh.

Next day a meeting of Presbytery was constituted in a small apartment of one of the inns of the town. The place was immediately crowded to suffocation, and numbers were unable to gain admittance. The moderator called on the parishioners, if they had any objections to the presentee, to state them at once. John Gladstone, in name of the parishioners, stepped forward and presented a number of objections; but the Presbytery decided that they could not be sustained, as none of them inferred immorality of life, or heterodoxy of doctrine. A protest and appeal to the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale was next tabled; but the Presbytery, considering that these were now irrelevant, resolved to proceed to the settlement. The parishioners, in a body, therefore, left the apartment, and at the same time the Church of their forefathers. They formed themselves into a congregation, and obtained a supply of sermon from the Synod of Relief.

The proceedings in this case led to the publication of a poem of considerable length, but of little literary merit. Copies of it are now extremely rare. It details the proceedings under the similitude of a marriage;—the bride being the flock, the bridegroom the presentee, and the attendants or witnesses the Presbytery. The presentee or bridegroom, and the two strange priests that were to officiate at the nuptial ceremony, are described as starting on their journey from the east, and halting by the way at the alehouse of Harestanes, to fortify themselves with potations of strong drink to enable them to brave the dangers to which it was apprehended they would be exposed at Biggar; and to spend time, so that they might enter the town after nightfall, and thus elude the assaults of the old women, who had threatened to salute them on their entrance with a shower of missiles. Addressing the landlord,

‘Make haste, they cry, bring us a gill,
Till Phoebus get behind the hill;
For we’ll stay here till night is gone,
Because we love to walk unknown.'

The marriage then takes place, amid the protests, appeals, and lamentations of the bride. Her language is strong and furious. Addressing the officiating priests, she says,

'Your works proclaim, and loudly tell,
That you’re bat sons of Belial,
To wreath so hard upon my neck
A yoke from hell made by Old Nick.’

In looking round and seeing the desolation which they had made in her tabernacle,

'Where once so many lov’d to dwell,’

And

‘Which once did shine with Gospel grace,’

Her bosom was filled with convulsive pangs, and she despairingly exclaimed,

'O when shall wicked rulers cease
To hurt the Church and mar her peace I’

Her outraged spirit, in form of a ghost, then visits all the members of Presbytery in succession, commencing with ‘Cauldrife John of Symington;’ and not neglecting Mr Pearson and his two friends, Whyte and Steel. She exposes with unsparing hand all their foibles, heresies, and shortcomings, and upbraids them for the part they had acted in robbing her of her rights and reducing her to a state of slavery. The ghost then returns to Biggar, bemoaning her sad fate, and praying that the reign of the ‘wild wolf1 that had intruded into the Gospel-fold would be short

One of Mr Pearson’s clerical friends, who had assisted at the ordination, by and by comes back to Biggar, to see what sort of congregation he had collected. He finds it composed of the ‘ mongrel gentry,9 of ‘rustic John that mettle knave,1 of the ‘scandalous tribe,’ of ‘the poor and needy,' and ‘the thoughtless and the ignorant;' in short, of those who had no fear of God, or who expected to reap some worldly advantage by their attendance. The devil himself at last appears on the stage, and expresses his entire satisfaction with the conduct of Mr Pearson. Addressing Pearson, he says,

‘O Pearson! thou'rt a champion bold,
Thy use to me here can't be told,
My kingdom here you do defend
Against all such as heav’nward bend.
You have now banished from the Kirk
All such as did me hurt and wreck ;
My flock all gather unto thee,
Because their ills ye will not see;
And while ye keep this easy way,
No rake from you I'm sure will stray.'

The devil then gives him many advices. He was to hold no diets of examination, nor put troublesome questions about Bible truths, as these things disturbed the minds of those who loved to dwell at ease. In his sermons he was to say nothing of Christ or righteousness, and he was not to fright his hearers with statements of coming wrath. He was to choose as his intimate associates the licentious and untruthful, the careless and indifferent If he did all these things, he would continue to be very dear to his Satanic Majesty, and would receive from him no harm or molestation.

The most active individuals in opposing the settlement of Mr Pearson, and in forming the Belief Congregation at Biggar, were John Gladstone, Richard Tweedie, and Andrew Ritchie. These persons and their associates lost no time in purchasing half a burgh land, lying on the south side of the town, and belonging by inheritance to Isabella Vallance, wife of John Watson, the ‘Whistling Laird,' to whom we have already referred. The Burgh land, of which this formed a part, consisted, as usual, of ground fronting the High Street, Croft land running to the south, and part of the Moss, the Borrow Muir, and Colliehill of Biggar; and prior to 1712 was the property of Sir William Menzies of Gladstane. It was purchased from that gentleman by William Baillie, merchant, Biggar, who sold it to that distinguished burgh worthy, Bailie Luke Vallance. On the death of Luke, it went by inheritance to his brother Alexander, who left it to his two daughters,—Isabella, married to John Watson as already stated, and Janet, married to Thomas Bryden, baker, Biggar. On the portion of this Burgh land which the founders of the Relief congregation thus acquired, they erected a meeting-house, and subsequently a manse and office-houses. The congregation having been regularly constituted by the Synod of Relief, the following are the members who attended the first meeting of session, viz.: John Gladstone, John Wilson, John Small, John Thomson, John Waugh, John Reid, Richard Tweedie, Andrew Ritchie, William Gilbert, and James Johnstone.

The first minister of this new congregation was the Rev. James Cross. He was ordained towards the close of the year 1780. His connexion with the congregation was of short duration, as he accepted a call to Newcastle in 1782. Their next minister was the Rev. John Reston. He was ordained in 1783. He received a call to the Relief Church, Kilsyth, in November 1792; and the case having been brought before the Relief Presbytery of Edinburgh, he said that he saw no sufficient reason for leaving his present charge, but submitted the matter for decision to the Presbytery. The Presbytery, by a unanimous vote, decided that the call should not be sustained. Mr Reston, in the year following, demitted his charge, and went to Charleston, South Carolina. He was afterwards the pastor of a Relief congregation that met in Carrubber’s Close, Edinburgh, and was ultimately translated to Bridgeton, Glasgow. Their third minister was the Rev. Robert Paterson, who had been for a number of years pastor of the Relief congregation at Largo, in Fife. He came to Biggar in December 1794; but in consequence of a great storm of snow, the Presbytery were unable to come up to induct him for eight weeks afterwards. Mr Paterson died on the 10th of August 1802, in the sixty-first year of his age and the thirty-second of his ministry, and was interred in Biggar Churchyard, where the congregation erected a monumental stone to his memory. The fourth pastor was the Rev. Hugh Macfar-lane. On the 23d of March 1803, the Relief Presbytery of Edinburgh met at Biggar. The edict having been served, and no objections to the settlement of Mr Macfarlane offered, the Rev. Mr Ralston preached a sermon from 2 Cor. ii. 16; the eloquent Mr Struthers of College Street, Edinburgh, put the usual questions, and offered up the ordination prayer; after which Mr Macfarlane was solemnly set apart, by the imposition of hands, to the office of the holy ministry and the pastoral charge of the congregation of Biggar. The Rev. Mr Thomson of James Place, Edinburgh, then gave the charge to the congregation; and Mr Macfarlane’s name was added to the roll of the Presbytery. On the 4th of March 1806, commissioners from the congregation of Biggar laid a libel against their pastor on the table of the Presbytery of Edinburgh. In consequence of some irregularity, it was not entertained till the 2d of July. The names attached to the libel were—John Paterson, farmer, Toftcombs; John Waugh, tenant in Thankerton; Andrew Ritchie, currier, Biggar; and John Small, miller, Skirling Mill A number of witnesses were examined in support of the libel, and Mr Macfarlane himself appeared in his own defence.

The Presbytery found three counts in the libel proven: 1st, that the rev. gentleman had been guilty of disrespectful behaviour to the congregation of Biggar; 2d, of the mean habit of drankenness; and 8d, of taking the name of God in vain. The decision of the Court was, that the Rev. Hugh Macfarlane should be solemnly rebuked, and his con-nection with the congregation of Biggar dissolved. The congregation afterwards’ paid L.200 for behoof of Mr Macfarlane, which was entrusted to the Presbytery, to be advanced as they saw proper. On the 3d of March following, the Presbytery agreed to restore Mr Macfarlane to the office of the sacred ministry; but it soon became more plainly apparent that his reason was impaired, and that he was incapable to discharge the duties of this office. He then became unsettled in his habits, and travelled over the country from place to place. In the course of his wanderings, he came occasionally to Biggar, visited some of his old hearers, particularly the late George Cuthbertson, Westraw, and received such small gratuities of food, money, and clothes as he would accept.

The fifth pastor of this congregation was the Rev. Andrew Fife. He was ordained on the 23d of July 1807, and translated to Dumfries in May 1808, in opposition to a protest and appeal to the Synod on the part of the congregation of Biggar. The rev. gentleman, after ministering for nearly thirty years in Dumfries, attempted to carry his congregation and the place of worship over to the Established Church, but he met with only partial success; and the consequence was, that the congregation was rent asunder and nearly annihilated. The sixth pastor was the Rev. Daniel M‘Naught, who had been previously settled at Riccarton, near Kilmarnock. He was inducted to the charge at Biggar on the 4th December 1808, and after labouring with considerable acceptance for upwards of ten years, he died on the 5th of May 1819, and was interred in the area of the Church, in front of the pulpit

The seventh pastor of this congregation was the Rev. Hugh Gibson, who was ordained on the 16th of May 1820. He was a man of quiet and unobtrusive habits; but his manner and style of preaching were dry and unattractive, especially to strangers. On the 29th of December 1835, Mr Gibson petitioned the Presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relation between him and the Biggar congregation, in consequence of his belief that he could no longier be useful. A congregational meeting was held a few days afterwards, which was presided over by the Rev. Francis Muir of Leith, when it was unanimously resolved to agree to a dissolution of the pastoral relation between them and Mr Gibson. The Presbytery gave effect to the petition and resolution on the 5th of January following; and Mr Gibson shortly afterwards left this country and proceeded to America. The eighth minister of this congregation was the Rev. James CaldwelL His ordination took place on the 27th January 1837. Mr Caldwell was a popular preacher, and was much esteemed by his flock; but, having received a call from the Relief congregation, Greenock, in 1846, he resolved to accept of it, and leave his charge at Biggar. He had not been long settled at Greenock, when the congregation charged him with some improprieties of conduct, and he found it necessary to give up his connexion with them. He was afterwards pastor of a church in England, and ultimately departed to the United States of America.

The ninth and present pastor is the Rev. James Dunlop, AM. He was ordained on the 14th of April 1847. He is an earnest and faithful expounder of divine truth. He has distinguished himself by his untiring efforts to awaken a spirit of vital godliness in the district. His labours to erect a Subscription School for the burgh, and thus to supply a want which was long felt, and which did much injury, cannot fail to evoke the grateful feelings of many generations of Biggar inhabitants.

The Relief congregation, called, since the union of the Associate and Relief Synods, the South United Presbyterian Church, has been subjected to considerable disadvantages, in consequence of the frequent change of pastors. The subsequent establishment of the neighbouring congregations of Newlands, Roberton, Lanark, and Peebles, has also had the effect of withdrawing many of its adherents and narrowing the sphere of its operations. Death and change of residence have further had the effect of removing not a few of its most zealous and substantial members. In spite, however, of all these adverse circumstances, it is still a numerous and influential body, the communicants on the roll being at present upwards of five hundred.


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