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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter XI


Rev. John Telfer—Manse and School Building—Parish Notes —Church and State—Carlyle and Hill Burton—Patronage— Ebenezer Erskine—Thomas Gillespie — The Relief Church Formed—James Graham—Allan Cornfoot—James Dun—John Anderson—Robert Anderson—John S. Goodall—Dr. William Anderson—Early Life—Influence of Chalmers—Using The Paper—The Organ Question—Various Controversies—His Preaching—LL. D. —Estimate.

Close to the stone of James Robe there is another of a similar design—a grey freestone, with a marble tablet— bearing the words:—“In Memorv of the Rev. John Telfer, who Died March 31ST, 1789, in the 64TH YEAR OF HIS AGE AND THE 35TH OF HIS MlNISTkY IN this Parish. Erected by a few friends in this Parish, 25 Oct., 1828.”

John Telfer was the successor of Robe. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Edinburgh, 7th March, 1750. Having been for three years a probationer of the Church, he was presented to Kilsyth by George II., October, 1753. He was ordained by the Presbytery of Glasgow, 21st March, 1754. His ministry extended over the long period of thirty-six years, and evidences are not wanting that it was marked by progress in certain departments, and much quiet faithfulness and diligence. During his incumbency the manse was built on the site it now occupies. He was instrumental in opening a school for the people of the town. He carried out the necessary negotiations between the heritors and parishioners. On the 7th November, 1760, the session “appointed a committee for the purpose of forming measures for building a sufficient school-house and dwelling-house for the benefit of the schoolmaster and scholars, and the

meeting further empowers them to determine on what spot of ground the said school-house is to stand. Alexander Stewart, “from Colinton,” was the first teacher appointed. The meetings of session were held as frequently as in the days of Robe, and the parochial supervision was equally close and watchful. The Sabbath was carefully preserved from desecration. Farmers were rebuked “for selling their grass to the Highland drovers at the August tryst on the Sabbath day.” “Elders were appointed to go through the town, and challenge and reprove all persons in public-houses and wandering idly about the fields.” Collections greatly improved in amount, and were reckoned in sterling money. The proclamation fees were five shillings for three Sundays, and seven and sixpence for two. The baptism fee was sixpence. There was a graduated scale for the use of the mortcloths. “The best mortcloth, five shillings; the second best, three shillings; the plush one, two and six} the boys’ one, two shillings; the child’s one one and six; the worst one one shilling.” The bell was rung at fiinerals, and the bellman was paid a shilling for discharging this duty. Testimonials were rigorously exacted from all persons taking up residence in the parish. If any employer hired a servant Who had not produced & testimonial, and he or she afterwards fell into indigent circumstances, the employer was held liable for his provision. “The Session unanimously agreed,” 22nd Nov., 1754, “that persons taking up residence in the parish, whether servants or others, produce testimonials to the elders of their respective quarters within fourteen days after the intimation, otherwise the Session will be at due pains to proceed against those persons that can give no satisfactory account of their moral character to get them removed out of the parish.”

The difficulties in Scotland connected with teinds have been considerable, but there have been no secessions from the Scottish Church on their account. The views held of the intimacy of the connection that should exist between the Church and State have been various, but on the unrighteousness or unscripturalness of that connection there has never been a secession from the Church of Scotland. As respects purity of doctrine, the same has also to be said. It was correctly observed by Hill Burton, and the statement has been repeated by Carlyle, “that Scots’ dissent never was a protest against the principles of the Church, but always tended to preserve the old principles of the Church, whence the Establishment—by the progress of enlightenment as some said, by deterioration according to others—was lapsing.” The chief cause of secession has had its root in Patronage. Yet a close observer might well be astonished how Patronage could ever have caused a single secession from the Church. To bring about discord in her borders was the very purpose for which Patronage was imposed on the Church. To secede from the Church on that account was to work the work of the Episcopalian enemies of both the Scottish Church and State. Patronage was thrown amongst the people of the North with the very intention of producing discord; it was the last wily device of a beaten enemy, and every patriot should have been careful that the plot hatched in the Senate should have been rendered innocuous by that shoulder-to-shoulder firmness which was triumphant on sterner fields. The closer the history of Patronage is examined the more is this view established. When the Covenanters abolished Episcopacy in 1638, they abolished Patronage along with it. In 1662, when Charles II. came into power, Patronage was re-imposed. With the Revolution Settlement of 1688, the Church of Scotland again got quit of Patronage. As long ago as 1690, when Patronage was abolished, there was passed a Patronage Compensation Act. After the Revolution the re-imposition of Patronage in 1711 was a political move by the Jacobites, who intended by it “to weaken and undermine” the Church of Scotland, which favoured the House of Hanover. But history repeats itself often, Patronage has again been abolished, and again has been passed a Patronage Compensation Act.

The year after the re-imposition, the General Assembly presented a petition to Queen Anne to use proper means for preventing an encroachment so evidently prejudicial to the work of the Gospel and the peace of the Church. The enemies of Scotland, however, succeeded but only too well. The people they could not fight, they put by the ears. Ebenezer Erskine was the first fruit of the Patronage Act, the first who lent himself unconsciously to working the work of the enemies of his Church and country. It was of no avail they called themselves Seceders and not Dissenters, that it might be understood they had no disagreement with the doctrines of the Church. But the Secession party themselves soon became the prey of secession. They split into Burghers and Anti-Burghers. The former split again into Old Light Burghers, and Old Light Anti-Burghers. The latter into the New Light Burghers, and the New Light Anti-Burghers, and I know not what.

The next secession, in 1761, was also a Patronage affair, and was occasioned by the deposition of Thomas Gillespie for disobedience on the occasion of the settle^ ment of a minister at Inverkeithing. The result was the formation of another new sect called “The Relief Church.” On his death-bed, Gillespie recommended, without avail, his people to return to the Church of Scotland. The various branches which rose out of the Secession and Relief movements were amalgamated in May, 1847, into what is now the United Presbyterian Church.

The Kilsyth Relief Church was formed in 1767. In that year Mr. Telfer took part in the ordination of an unpopular presentee to the parish of Eaglesham. This action gave offence to two or three elders and a few parishioners. They, consequently, withdrew from the Church and formed themselves into a congregation of Relie£ In 1770, they built the church which now stands in the Low Craigends, and in place of which they have erected in Kingston a much more handsome edifice. The secession not being the result of a spiritual movement was not well regarded by the body of the parishioners, and some were not slow to say that no good would come of it. The Sededers must, however, have had some confidence in themselves and their cause, for the church they built accommodated 559 worshippers. There has been a ministerial succession of six clergymen. The first was James Graham, who was ordained in 1772, and who resigned in 1775. For his resignation, after so brief a ministry, no reason is assigned. Leaving Kilsyth, he went to America. He afterwards returned to Scotland, became a teacher at Bo’ness, got into trouble through marrying two of his scholars, and was banished furth of Stirlingshire. The .second minister Was Allan Cornfoot; He was oftlaihed 1/78) and he resigned in the following yean The reasoh of his resignation was “his getting into trouble but a delicate nature which caused him to leave the town.” The third was James Dun, a native of Kilsyth. He was ordained in 1780, and translated to East Campbell Street, Glasgow* 6th September, 1792. He gathered a considerable congregation, and his connection with the Relief Church terminated characteristically. Having arranged to deliver his farewell sermon, when he came to the church he found the managers had locked the doors. There was no stir and no congregation; it was simply the method his flock took of telling him that he was free to go, and no explanation was necessary. The fourth minister was John Anderson from West Falkirk. He was ordained J2th September, 1793. He received calls to Dysart and Cupar. He was moderator of the Reformed Synod in 1828, and died 2nd Feb., 1862. His son, Robert, was ordained his colleague and successor, 27th July, 1847. Some disagreement arose at this time, and certain of the Relief body—constituted that year the United Presbyterian Church—withdrew and formed the Congregational Church, which still continues to survive. In 1890, Mr. Robert Anderson retired and Mr. John S. Goodall of Milnathort was ordained the 26th Feb., 1890.

The ministry of the Andersons, father and son, embraces a period of close on one hundred years. They may be safely said to have piloted the congregation through the difficulties of its early life and made it what it now is. The father of the Rev. John Anderson was a mechanic and a man of some inventive ability. He was employed at the Carron Iron Works, and was the first to introduce a tramway into Scotland. He invented the ball * cock in common use, by means of which the supply of water to cisterns is beautifully and automatically regulated. His son, the Rev. John Anderson, ministered to the Relief Church in Kilsyth for the long period of sixty-nine years, and died at the unusually long age of ninety-two. He was distinguished by the carefulness of his pulpit ministrations, the simplicity of his habits, and his advanced political notions. He was twice married, and had two sons and five daughters by each marriage.

William was the second son of the first family. At the jubilee soiree of his aged parent, he said, in his characteristic manner, that, than his father, he had never known anyone he would have liked so much to be his father, and then, laying his hands on his progenitor’s silver hair, he launched out into the popular ditty, “John Anderson, my Jo.” William was born at Kilsyth, 6th January, 1799, and was for a period of years as well-known a man as was to be found in the West of Scotland, and as notable a figure as filled a Glasgow pulpit. There were many reasons why he should have held his father in the highest filial esteem. As a boy, he had attended Chapel-Green School, but in reality his father was his tutor, and prepared him for entering the university. In all things, human and divine, he gave him the solidest nurture. The father mingled chess and draughts with the Shorter Catechism. The boy taught himself to swim in Dini Linn, now rapidly silting up. He hid his stockings and shoes after he got clear of his father’s house of a morning, that it might not be said of him he was the only booted boy in school. One of his school-day acquaintances was Emily, the sister of William Motherwell, the poet, who seems to have impressed him like another Jeanie Morrison. The freshness of the morning light was transitory. He grew up a shy, bashful lad, till with manhood there came another change. He had a shrill voice, and when he read his Latin exercise at college, Professor Richardson said, “Well sung, Gulielme!” Chalmers in the Tron Church, thundering forth his “Astronomical Discourses,” was then at the height of his popularity. Young Anderson heard him every Sunday, and came under the spell of his eloquence. He caught something of his manner which he was never quite able to throw off, but which, having an individuality of his own, it would have been good for him if he had. William Anderson’s devotion to the paper must be put down to his devotion to one of the most notable pulpit traits of Chalmers. “Pho!” he replied to his father, who thought the use of the manuscript would prove his ruin—“Pho! you don’t know what reading is; you think it is bowing away with your nose on a paper. You never heard Chalmers read!” When Dr. Chalmers died, amongst other things Anderson said, “I neither say nor think I am possessed of any great excellence, but whatever good is in me is mainly ascribable to the awakening of my powers in these memorable days.”

The stumbling blocks that were put in the way of the young preacher’s licence, on account of his adherence to the paper, made a deep and lasting impression on his sensitive nature. A keen sense of injustice, and a feeling of bad treatment remained with him for many years. His ecclesiastical cradle had been roughly rocked, but it was probably an element in the making of his resolute manhood. When he left the presbytery meetings he went home to weep over the laughter evoked by his sermons in the presbytery. The action of "the brethren” had an effect it was never meant to have; it delivered him from the cramping prejudices of a provincial sectarianism, it gave him a breadth of view ranging beyond his ecclesiastical confines, it helped to fill him with that kindly charity and magnanimity which so greatly distinguished him, it showed him the weakness of his own Church system, and it was also the root of that corroding sarcasm which he laved on many a hapless opponent in his City Hall speeches.

Anderson had not long entered on his John Street ministry when the organ question came to be dealt with by the denomination. The use of the instrument was condemned by the synod. No matter, he cast himself into the ferment fearless of consequences, and defended the use of the organ with a force and liberality of treatment, which, looking back on the state of feeling at the time, did him the greatest credit. He had to war against deeply-rooted prejudices. He did not win at the first, but he won eventually. Freedom to use a manuscript in preaching, and freedom to call instrumental aid to the service of praise, will seem to those south of the Tweed very poor conquests indeed to make boast of. Those, however, who know the character of the Scottish Dissent of the time will probably come to the conclusion that to a less strenuous spirit both reforms would have been alike impossible. Apart from the work done in the denomination by Dr. Anderson, Professor Eadie, Mr. Gilfillan, Dr. Brown of Paisley, and in his own department by Davidson, i( the Scottish probationer,” it is questionable if the United Presbyterian Church could have survived as a living force. The work of these men brought the denomination into touch with a larger and sweeter life, which would otherwise have been repelled by a narrowness and fanaticism not yet wholly extinct.

Dragged into controversy unwillingly, and at the very outset of his public life, the love of debate eventually ruled him like a hardly acquired taste. His bashfulness left him. He grew masterful and pugnacious. The give and the take, the thrust and the parry of public disputation became sweet to him. Conscious of his strength, he loved to call it into exercise. The greater discussions in which he took part were the Voluntary Controversy—a sharp, short fight in which he got, by Chalmers and others, if not u knocked out of time, most certainly pommelled into his corner; the Anti-Slavery Movement, in which, amid the indifferentism of Glasgow, he made his voice to be strongly heard, and “ dared to be in the right with two or three and the cause of Protestantism, in which he attacked with the utmost fierceness the corruptions of Rome, and poured his bitterest invective on “the man of sin.” In these debates he spent much valuable intellectual power, and published many pamphlets. The work was conscientiously done, but it is to be regretted that so much of his writing should have been of a polemical character. The applause of the Colosseum is but a poor reward if the gladiator dies in the sands of the arena. In the crowds that cheered him in the City Hall, in the congregations that crowded John Street Chapel on Sunday nights, in the second editions of his stinging brochures, Anderson got his momentary reward. But at what a cost. His memory has perished with the shouts that hailed his triumph. His polemics are dead and buried, and all that really lives of him are his kindly humanities, his foibles, his eccentricities.

In these days of regulation drill, when preachers are all becoming as like each other as School Board children, it is refreshing to turn to the preaching of Dr. Anderson, so full of individuality, character, and stirring life. After his early mannerism had so far worn off, he expanded into his true self and became greatly popular. John Street Chapel was empty when he got it. After filling it, he destroyed it and built a more commodious structure. His manner was certainly outre. He was a great snuffer, and carried the powder not in the familiar “mull,” but in his vest pocket. A heated preacher, crying, “My soul cleaveth to the dust,” at the very moment his thumb and finger were ministering copiously to an unlovely habit, had a broadly humorous suggestion, which even the mind of a Relief Seceder, immersed in devout meditation, could hardly fail to observe. Such things are remembered now when better things are forgotten, and the more is the pity, for much that Anderson said in the pulpit was well worthy of being carefully treasured up. His printed sermons are all good. When, however, in latter years he prepared them for the press, he polished them too much. We miss the man in them, his turnings, his unpremeditated bursts, his trenchant remarks aside. He was a better platform orator than preacher, and a better preacher than writer. The vulgar thought him “daft,” but of daftness in him there was none. What the unappreciative thought derangement was only the operation of a fresh, a buoyant, an original, and fruitful mind, a mind that remained sweet and unconventional to the last.

Dr. Anderson’s millenarian views brought him into contact with Edward Irving. These views he kept in control, but he never abandoned. Where they occur they rather freshen than disfigure his pages. He died, Sunday, 15th September, 1873. Before this event occurred he said he did not expect to be long in his grave. And again he said, “My prophetical views have helped in no small degree to give me my present comfort.”

The University of Glasgow gave him his LL.D. The honour is sufficient witness of the worth of his public services, and of learned appreciation of his multifarious labours. Apart from his occasional pamphlets, he did not become an author till late in life. Notwithstanding, his literary remains are both considerable and creditable. “Regeneration” displays rare faculty of methodical treatment and no small power of theological analysis. The “Filial Honour of God” is also a meritorious performance. These works are not the worse that they show their author the partisan of no particular theological school. Dr. Anderson also left two volumes of discourses in which his views on life and religion are set forth, sometimes with characteristic quaintness, and occasionally with marked originality. The public will never call for any reproduction of these remains of Dr. Anderson, and for the reason most of all that they want the undefinable touch of the practised penman. There is no lack of thought, nor of ideas, but there is a want of imaginative fusion and sublimation. To get a correct view of Dr. Anderson, we must fall back on his personality, his pastoral devotedness, his public activities, his sympathy with popular movements, his hatred of oppression, his zeal in every good and struggling cause, his fearless outspokenness, and the underlying warmth and geniality of his heart. Taking these things all into account, Dr. Anderson must be esteemed an honour to his denomination and the place of his birth.


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