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Significant Scots
George Gillespie


GILLESPIE, GEORGE, an eminent divine at a time when divines were nearly the most eminent class of individuals in Scotland, was the son of the Rev. John Gillespie, minister at Kirkaldy, and was born January 21, 1613. His advance in his studies was so rapid, that he was laureated in his seventeenth year. About the year 1634, when he must have still been very young, he is known to have been chaplain to viscount Kenmure: at a subsequent period, he lived in the same capacity with the earl of Cassils. While in the latter situation, he wrote a work called "English Popish Ceremonies," in which, as the title implies, he endeavoured to excite a jealousy of the episcopal innovations of Charles I., as tending to popery. This book he published when he was about twenty-two years of age, and it was soon after prohibited by the bishops. Had episcopacy continued triumphant, it is likely that Mr Gillespie’s advance in the church would have been retarded; but the signing of the national covenant early in 1638, brought about a different state of things. In April that year, a vacancy occurring at Wemyss in Fife, he was appointed minister, and at the general assembly which took place at Glasgow in the ensuing November, he had the honour to preach one of the daily sermons before the house, for which he took as his text, "The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord." The earl of Argyle, who had then just joined the covenanting cause, and was still a member of the privy council, thought that the preacher had trenched a little, in this discourse, upon the royal prerogative, and said a few words to the assembly, with the intention of warning them against such errors for the future.

In 1641, an attempt was made to obtain the transportation of Mr Gillespie to Aberdeen but the general assembly, in compliance with his own wishes, ordained him to remain at Wemyss. When the king visited Scotland in the autumn of this year, Mr Gillespie preached before him in the Abbey church at Edinburgh, on the afternoon of Sunday the 12th of September In the succeeding year, he was removed by the general assembly to Edinburgh, of which he continued to be one of the stated clergymen till his death. Mr Gillespie had the honour to be one of the four ministers deputed by the Scottish church in 1643, to attend the Westminster assembly of divines; and it is generally conceded, that his learning, zeal, and judgment were of the greatest service in carrying through the work of that venerable body, particularly in forming the directory of worship, the catechisms, and other important articles of religion, which it was the business of the assembly to prepare and sanction. Baillie thus alludes to him in his letters: "We got good help in our assembly debates, of lord Warriston, an occasional commissioner, but, of none more than the noble youth Mr Gillespie. I admire his gifts, and bless God, as for all my colleagues, so for him in particular, as equal in these to the first in the assembly." It appears that Mr Gillespie composed six volumes of manuscript during the course of his attendance at the Westminster assembly; and these were extant in 1707, though we are not aware of their still continuing in existence. He had also, when in England, prepared his sermons for the press,—part being controversial, and part practical; but they are said to have been suppressed in the hands of the printer, with whom he left them, through the instrumentality of the Independents who dreaded their publication. He also wrote a piece against toleration, entitled "Wholesome Severity reconciled with Christian Liberty."

In 1648, Mr Gillespie had the honour to be moderator of the general assembly; and the last of his compositions was the Commission of the Kirk’s Answer to the Estates’ Observations on the Declaration of the General Assembly concerning the unlawfulness of the engagement. For some months before this assembly, he had been greatly reduced in body by a cough and perspiration, which now at length came to a height, and threatened fatal consequences. Thinking, perhaps, that his native air would be of service, he went to Kirkaldy with his wife, and lived there for some months; but his illness nevertheless advanced so fast, that, early in December, his friends despaired of his life, and despatched letters to his brother, to Mr Samuel Rutherford, the marquis of Argyle, and other distinguished individuals, who took an interest in him, mentioning that if they wished to see him in life, speed would be necessary. The remainder of his life may be best related in the words of Wodrow, as taken in 1707, from the mouth of Mr Patrick Simpson, who was cousin to Mr Gillespie, and had witnessed the whole scene of his death-bed:

"Monday, December 11, came my lord Argyle, Cassils, Elcho, and Warriston, to visit him. He did faithfully declare his mind to them as public men, in that point whereof he hath left a testimony to the view of the world, as afterwards; and though speaking was very burdensome to him, and troublesome, yet he spared not very freely to fasten their duty upon them.

"The exercise of his mind at the time of his sickness was very sad and constant, without comfortable manifestations, and sensible presence for the time; yet he continued in a constant faith of adherence, which ended in ane adhering assurance, his grippe growing still the stronger.

"One day, a fortnight before his death, he had leaned down on a little bed, and taken a fit of faintness, and his mind being heavily exercised, and lifting up his eyes, this expression fell with great weight from his mouth, "O! my dear Lord, forsake me not for ever.’ His weariness of this life was very great, and his longing to be relieved, and to be where the veil would be taken away.

"December 14, he was in heavy sickness, and three pastors came in the afternoon to visit him, of whom one said to him, ‘The Lord hath made you faithful in all he hath employed you in, and it’s likely we be put to the trial; therefore what encouragement do you give us thereanent ?" Whereto he answered, in few words, ‘I have gotten more by the Lord’s immediate assistance than by study, in the disputes I had in the assembly of divines in England; therefore, let never men distrust God for assistance, that cast themselves on him, and follow his calling. For my part, the time I have had in the exercise of the ministry is but a moment!’ To which sentence another pastor answered, ‘But your moment hath exceeded the gray heads of others; ‘this I may speak without flattery.’ To which he answered, disclaiming it with a noe; for he desired still to have Christ exalted, as he said at the same time, and to another; and at other times, when any such thing was spoken to him, ‘What are all my righteousnesses but rotten rags? all that I have done cannot abide the touchstone of His justice; they are all but abominations, and as an unclean thing, when they are reckoned between God and me. Christ is all things, and I am nothing.’ The other pastor, when the rest were out, asked whether he was enjoying the comforts of God’s presence, or if they were for a time suspended. He answered, ‘Indeed, they are suspended.’ Then within a little while he said, ‘Comforts! ay comforts!’ meaning that they were not easily attained. His wife said, ‘What reck? the comfort of believing is not suspended.’ He said, ‘Noe.’ Speaking further to his condition, he said, ‘Although that I should never more see any light of comfort, that I do see, yet I shall adhere, and do believe that He is mine and that I am His.’"

Mr Gillespie lingered two days longer, and expired almost imperceptibly, December 16, 1646. On the preceding day he had written and signed a paper, in which "he gave faithful and clear testimony to the work and cause of God, and against the enemies thereof, to stop the mouths of calumniators, and confirm his children." The object of the paper was to prevent, if possible, any union of the friends of the church of Scotland with the loyalists, in behalf of an uncovenanted monarch. The Committee of Estates testified the public gratitude to Mr Gillespie by voting his widow and children a thousand pounds, which, however, from the speedily ensuing troubles of the times, was never paid.


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