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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter IX


Livingston to Robe—Archibald Graham—Samuel Rutherford— Gabriel Cunningham—Public Worship—Rous versus Barton—James Gartshore—Walter M‘Gill—Leighton— Prelate versus Presbyter—A Parish Riot—Insult and Resignation—Michael Robe—Elected to Easter Lenzie—James Hay— Parochial Cases and Anecdotes—Cursing the Minister—Assistant to be Appointed.

The period of one hundred years from the translation of William Livingston to the parish of Lanark, to the ordination of James Robe, bridges over that sea of tumult which arose from the steady and unswerving resistance which Scotsmen offered to the sometimes violent, and sometimes insidious efforts of the friends of Episcopacy, to impose upon Scotland that form of church government and discipline. It was an eventful time. The religious liberties of the people were assailed by every kind of political and ecclesiastical enginery from the clansmen of Montrose to the Patronage Act. Often discomfited, often persecuted, the Church in the end was still triumphant, and is seen when the storm is laid riding gallantly on the surface of the waters.

The first of the six ministers who fill up this space in the history of Kilsyth is Archibald Graham, A.M. He was a student of the University of Glasgow, and was admitted to Monyabroch on the nth January, 1615, after the church had been vacant for fourteen months. He took an interest in the welfare of his university, and contributed a sum of money towards the establishment of a college library. During the time he held the incumbency, he followed the traditions of his predecessors, the illustrious Livingstons, and eventually he shared the ecclesiastical fate which befell not only Alexander and William but also John. He was called before the High Commissioner’s Court in Edinburgh. The charge brought against him was his opposition to Episcopacy and his disobedience in the matter of the practice of the canons and constitutions. He was found guilty, and deposed. He married Barbara, daughter of Thomas Livingston of Ballinton, who predeceased him. He was minister for twenty-two years, and survived his deposition eighteen years, dying May, 1655, aged 71 years. The incumbency of Archibald Graham, nearly synchronises with the career of the saintly Samuel Rutherford, Professor of Divinity in St. Mary’s College, St. Andrews, and so well known amongst readers of devout literature as the author of a serious of singular letters, in which he indulges an exuberant but sanctified fancy, and which “are fraughted with such massy thoughts as loudly speak a soul united to Jesus Christ in the strongest embraces.” He wrote a number of able works, and his “ Lex, Rex: a Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People,” was eventually ordered to be burned at the public cross of Edinburgh and at the gates of his college. His personal influence was more salutary and more extensive than his books. It filled the Church with what she greatly needed in the midst of her theological and civil strifes, the warmth of a sympathetic evangelical enthusiasm. His simple love of Christ infected his students, and the people heard gladly the preachers who had drunk of St. Mary’s Well.

Gabriel Cunningham, M.A., was the minister of Monyabroch when the battle of Kilsyth was fought. He succeeded to the benefice on the 7th June, 1637. Seeing the fate which had befallen his predecessors, and probably being of a timorous spirit, he was deterred from following their resolute example. But be this as it may, he conformed to the Episcopalian regulations, and remained minister of the parish for twenty-nine years, when he died in September, 1665, aged 54 years. His ministry was salutary, and in various ways he made his influence felt for good. Amongst other things he instituted the orderly observance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As yet there was no Church Bible; the congregation repeated the Creed, said the Lord’s Prayer, and sung the doxology after the Psalms. During his incumbency, affairs of momentous importance transpired. Six weeks after his appointment Jenny Geddes flung her stool in St. Giles. Six years later, on the 1st July, 1643, the Assembly of Divines met at Westminster. It contained 151 members, in addition to six Scottish Presbyterians, the rest being Episcopalians, Independents, and English Presbyterians. The labours of the Assembly were destined to influence the Church of Scotland much more largely than the Church of England. The Westminster Divines produced the “Confession of Faith,” the “Larger and Shorter Catechisms,” and the “Directory of Public Worship.” That the Psalmody might be improved they called to their aid two poets, Francis Rous, of the House of Commons, afterwards of the party of Cromwell and an artful political trimmer; and William Barton, a Leicestershire clergyman, who each furnished them with a copy of the Psalms in metre. The Assembly left the Long Parliament to decide between the versions. The Commons chose Rous’s copy, the Lords Barton’s. Eventually Rous’s was adopted, and after having received a few corrections, was issued to the Church of Scotland. Although many efforts have been made to supplant this version it still holds the field, and at this hour is as popular as it ever was. Sir Walter Scott was opposed to altering it, and pronounced it “ with all its acknowledged occasional harshness, so beautiful, that any alterations must eventually prove only so many blemishes.”

The ministry of James Gartshore, M.A., was of very brief duration. He was in favour with the authorities of his time. Having been minister of Penningham parish, he was admitted minister of Monyabroch in 1666. Having been minister of the parish for seven years, he was translated to Cardross.

The third and last Episcopal minister of Monyabroch was the Rev. Walter M‘Gill, M.A., translated from Wig-ton, and admitted, April, 1675. His ministry of sixteen years’ duration was marked by unobtrusive effectiveness, and illustrated in his own person by the sweetest and gentlest Christian graces. His behaviour was meekness itself, and his counsels moderation. Bad men can ruin good systems, and good men may make even obnoxious systems palatable. Although the people had little regard for prelacy, they still held in good esteem this clergyman who went out and in amongst them discharging his kindly ministrations. He was popular amongst all classes, and seems to have given himself with all diligence to the carrying out of his ministry in the spirit of the saintly Robert Leighton. In some respects this prelate was immeasurably superior to the clergy of his time. His intellectual power was acknowledged, and his piety undoubted. He possessed an unruffled temper. He seldom smiled, and was never known to laugh. He was appointed to the See of Dunblane, and afterwards to the See of Glasgow, that through the exercise of his conciliatory spirit he might persuade the stem men of the West to embrace Episcopacy. He failed, and failed disastrously. When Leighton was unsuccessful there are some who think that the reconciliation of prelacy and presbytery may well be finally abandoned. This may be, but still it is impossible not to observe whilst acknowledging his charity and devotion, that Leighton’s character was too partial and one-sided to commend itself strongly to the northern mind. Leighton had no want of love to God, but he miserably lacked a real love to man. He was formed for contemplation, and stood aloof from human sympathies and ties. In the Scotland of that time there is nothing to be wondered at that Leighton was misunderstood, that the energetic ministers of the day thought, when he allowed them to hold sessions and presbyteries, “he was straking cream in their mouths,” or that “they should have judged him void of any doctrinal principles, and very much indifferent to all professions which bore the name of Christian.” At an earlier date Leighton might have been the Erasmus, never the Luther of the Reformation* In devotion and piety Walter M'Gill was a reflection of his bishop, but he possessed that which Leighton wanted, a sympathetic disposition, a warm heart, and of a consequence he commended Episcopacy to his parishioners with a success which his ecclesiastical superior had never known. There is undeniable testimony that, so far from being misunderstood, M'Gill was greatly appreciated. When, after a reign of twenty-eight years, Episcopacy was again thrown off, and the Presbyterians found themselves in the ascendant, they proceeded to depose the Episcopal clergy wholesale.

Amongst others, sentence was passed on M‘Gill, and the Presbytery of Glasgow elected one of their number to preach the church vacant. It was, however, much easier to depose him in the presbytery than to oust him from the parish. The matter was bruited abroad, and when the eventful Sunday came, from far and near the people began to congregate in the churchyard. It soon became apparent from the eager disputations that the crowd were about equally divided into two factions. The one party was for the Presbyterian order, and the other was against the deposition as a harsh and unwarrantable step. The latter not only embracing all the Episcopalians but also those favourable to Mr. M‘Gill personally, were probably the larger and stronger party. Again they were led by Lord Kilsyth’s chamberlain, and animated by the presence of Lord Kilsyth himself. When the deputy of the presbytery was seen drawing near, the noise of the crowd greatly increased, and a regular hubbub immediately ensued. Those favourable to the new order cheered the advance of the delegate, those in favour of the incumbent greeted his approach with derision. In the excitement men forgot the holy associations of the church and the graveyard. When the emissary of the presbytery approached the church, it was through a lane formed by the factions grouped on either side. When he was nearing the door, Lord Kilsyth’s chamberlain stepped forward and stood in front of him. The minister demanded to be allowed to go about his duty, but the chamberlain denied him access to the church. After this altercation the pent-up feelings of the crowd could be no longer restrained, and with such weapons as they could muster, they flew at each other, infuriated by the wildest passion. The shouts of the men, the screaming of the women, the rapid movements of fists and sticks, strong men wrestling together amongst the grave-stones, and all about a form of church government, may all be taken as illustrative of a peculiar but distinctive trait of the national character. The fracas continued for a considerable time, and so violent was the struggle that one man was killed and many severely injured. The strife terminated in favour of the M‘Gill faction. They drove their opponents from the churchyard, and prevented the service of the edict of the presbytery.

Feeling running high, the presbytery wisely desisted from taking further action in the case, and it would have been well if Mr. M'Gill had been allowed to spend the remainder of his days in the doing of the work he loved so well, and which was so warmly appreciated by his parishioners. This, however, he was not allowed to do, or rather, could not do after a manner consistent with his own honour. The party opposed to the continuance of his ministry, smarting under the pain of their defeat, so utterly lost command of themselves as to offer him personal violence- Not being cast in the heroic mould, he demitted his charge, February, 1691, three years after the rabbling. At this crisis two hundred curates were expelled, but it is matter of regret that so faithful a pastor as Walter M‘Gill should have been one of them. He retired to Edinburgh, but did not long survive the trying ordeal through which he had passed. He died on the 20th June, 1694, aged 57. He was thrice married* First, to Janet Keir, daughter of Captain W. Keir, on the 1st April, 1664. Secondly, to Janet Bell, January, 1691. And, thirdly, in the August of that same year to Janet Chein, who survived him and subsequently married the minister of Tranent.

With the resignation of Walter M‘Gill, Episcopacy came to an end in Monyabroch. It not only ceased to be represented by a public minister, it became extinct altogether, and from that time until the time of the present incumbent, no Episcopal clergyman has conducted the public worship of the parish. It may not be wholly correct to describe the Rev. Michael Robe, M.A., as the successor of Walter M‘Gill. He was sprung from a Cumbernauld family who held those estates now in the possession of Messrs. Brown and Duncan. He studied at the University of Edinburgh, and was a young man of good parts and ripe scholarship. He became a tutor in the family of the distinguished James Wodrow, afterwards Professor of Divinity in the University of Glasgow. Robe was appointed to a meeting-house in the Newtown of Monyabroch, and received ordination 7th December, 1687. He ministered to the parishioners who rejected Episcopacy. His stay was short. After three years he was appointed minister of the parish of Easter Lenzie (Kirkintilloch) and Cumbernauld in 1690. Seeing he was the father of the renowned James Robe, one of the foremost ministers of his time, it is interesting to note in this connection that he attacked with great vigour those who fostered schismatical divisions in the Church, and frequently proclaimed against the stage as a spring of vice and leading to error and profanity. Whilst in Monyabroch he married Isabella Dundas, the 6th February, 1688, and besides James had another son Thomas. He died 1718, in his 74th year.

The Rev. James Hay was translated from Kilmalcolm, and his induction took place the 29th December, 1692. He was a laborious and faithful minister, and in the yellowing leaves of the parish records there is to be obtained many an interesting glimpse into the habits and circumstances of the people. The names of the elders are names still familiar in the parish. These, amongst others, may be mentioned: John Murdoch, James Rennie, Walter Rankine, John Young, William Gray, John Provan, Andrew Adam, Patrick Grindlay, John Baird, John Burns, John Shearer. They had to deal with many a curious case, but there is not one, excepting those where parties were fugitives from discipline, that was not brought to a satisfactory termination. A parishioner was accused “of using charms to cure his beasts that were not well.” He had employed a professional charmer, but there being a paucity of witnesses, he was "seriously exhorted to beware of these things” and dismissed. Lists were regularly given in of those who habitually absented themselves from public worship. The elders had difficulties with the poor, and they decreed that “no poor should have charity unless they came to kirk and attended diets of examination if able.” They became unmannerly, and troubled the members of session, privately blaiming them for uncharitableness. To put an end to this, they had to appear before the session before receiving their allowances. The new arrangement only lasted for a short time. Intimation was made that “no burials were to be brought into the churchyard after the sermon was begun, and that all who did not partake of the sacrament were to be deprived of the privileges of baptism.” They took steps against those “who vagued and wandered to the woods and parks after public worship on the Lord’s day.” Penny weddings were prevalent. The minister discouraged them, and one held at Auchencloach gave rise to much scandal. Mary Lyle and Janet Sinclair were before the court on the charge of promiscuous dancing. The former confessed that “she danced a springe with Wigtoun’s footman.” They were admonished that “if they did not carry better in tyme comminge, they would be made publick examples.” A scandal was tabled^ against a farmer that “ he had thacked and crowned his stacks on the Lord’s day.” Witnesses were examined but no action taken.

The blacksmith of Queenzieburn was an occasion of trouble. Having publicly in his smithy maintained that catechisings or examinations were not warranted by the Word of God, he was summoned before the session. In defence he said he had spoken in point of argument to try what answers those to whom he was speaking could give. He was informed that such expressions were of dangerous consequence and stumbled those that were weak. He was sharply rebuked, and ordered to be more cautious in the future. In a few months the smith was involved in another affair, an attempt to poison the mind of a young woman against the young man to whom she was engaged. John Forrester, the young man, was deeply wounded by the smith’s conduct and language. In the libel which he prosecuted, he averred, amongst other things, that the smith said “there was no grace in his face, and that there was no grace of God within the place where he dwells—meaning the toune of Kilsyth—save only three families, and that they worshipped God politically.” The smith denied the charges, but the court found the case fully proved, and he was appointed to appear in the place of public repentance next Lord’s day. Cases of slander were of frequent occurrence, and it is pleasant to read how frequently the session were able to reconcile differences and restore broken friendships. That a man should curse his neighbour was rightly regarded as a most heinous offence. The discriminating reader will regard one illustration of this sphere of parochial administration as sufficient. Walter Zuill complained in his libel against Agnes Hog, making mention that Agnes Hog, in Nether Gavell, abused him after the following manner. First: She wishing he might be his own hangman. Secondly: She wishing God’s curse upon him.

Thirdly: That as many might wonder at him as there are grass piles on the ground. Fourthly: That witches and warlocks might be his company through eternity.

Fifthly: That he might be--here and hereafter.”

The case was put to trial, and Agnes was condemned to do public penance.

In one of these cases there is evidence of the estimation in which Mr. Hay was held. A parishioner, having cursed the minister, “wishing the devil to be both in him and in his words,” and having denominated his wife u a toothless old runt,” he was called to answer for the expressions used. The parishioner confessed that he had used part of the language, but that he had received great provocation, as the minister“ had taken his maillen over his head.” One of the witnesses called was William Sword of Auchinvole, who had been a tenant of the Kirklands, the Bogside, and he deponed that, than the minister, “ he had never lived beside a better neighbour, that he had visited him when he was sick, and had lent him money and other things that he stood in need of.” This was a long case, and part of it, as was proper, was heard while another minister—Michael Robe of Cumbernauld—was moderator. Eventually the parishioner was pronounced a malignant and notorious liar. Strange to say, after a long time had passed away he came forward and confessed his fault and was publicly rebuked.

During Mr. Hay’s ministry the sum collected at the church door ranged from twenty to forty shillings Scots, and the salary of the kirk officer was ten merks a year and four loads of coals. On the 1st June, 1710, the session having taken into consideration "the valetudinary condition of our minister Mr. James Hay, and the earnest desire he expresses to have an assistant in the work of the Lord among us, and having several times heard Mr. James Stewart, Preacher of the Gospel, unto our great satisfaction ... do therefore unanimously concur in chusing the said James Stewart to be assistant to our said minister.” The help had come too late to be of service. That was the last session meeting at which this faithful pastor was present. In the month following he passed to his rest in the seventieth year of his age and the twenty-third of his ministry.


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