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Significant Scots
John Glass


GLASS, JOHN, founder of a sect still known by his name, was the son of the Rev. Alexander Glass, minister of the parish of Auchtermuchty, in the county of Fife, where he was born on the 21st of September, 1695. In the year 1697, his father was translated to the parish of Kinclaven, at which place Mr John Glass received the rudiments of his education. He was afterwards sent to the grammar school of Perth, where he learned the Latin and Greek languages. He completed his studies at the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and having been licensed as a preacher by the presbytery of Perth, was, in 1719, ordained a minister of the church of Scotland, in the parish of Tealing, in the neighbourhood of Dundee. Mr Glass had been a diligent student, was deeply impressed with the importance of the ministerial character, and the awful responsibility which attached to it, and was anxious, in no common degree, about the due discharge of the various duties which it involved. In his public services he was highly acceptable; had a singular gift of prayer; and in his sermons, which, according to the fashion of the time, were seldom less than two, sometimes three, hours in length, he attracted and kept up the unwearied attention of crowded audiences. His fame as a preacher, of course, soon spread abroad, and his sacramental occasions attracted vast crowds from distant quarters; the usual concomitant, in those days, of popularity. But it was not public services alone that absorbed his attention; the more private duties of his station were equally attended to. Even so early as 1725, only two years after his settlement, he had formed within his parish a little society of persons, whom he found to be particularly under serious impressions, and with whom he cultivated a more intimate intercourse, though no part of his charge was neglected. It is probable, however, that his peculiar notions of the constitution of a Christian church were by this time beginning to be developed, and this intercourse with a detached and particular part of his charge, must have tended to hasten the process. Breach of covenant engagements, from a combination of circumstances, was at this time very generally insisted on in the ministrations of the Scottish clergy. The binding obligation of both the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms, being universally admitted, Mr Glass began to preach against these covenants, as incompatible with the nature of the gospel dispensation and the sacred rights of conscience. A paper written by him at this time to the above effect excited a very great sensation throughout the country, and called forth some of the ablest defences of these famous deeds that have yet appeared. In the above paper, Mr Glass did not state himself as formally an enemy to the covenants, but only as an inquirer, wishing further light and information respecting them; yet it was evident to every intelligent person that he was no longer a Presbyterian. He was forthwith summoned before the church courts; and refusing to sign the formula, and some passages of the Confession of Faith, was, by the synod of Angus and Mearns, deposed from his office, on the 12th of April, 1728.

The same year he published his "King of Martyrs," in which he embodied his views more fully matured. This book had no inconsiderable share of popularity, and it has served for a general storehouse, whence Mr Patrick Hutchison, and after him all the modern advocates of spirituality, as a peculiar and distinguishing characteristic of the New Testament church, have drawn their principal arguments. On his deposition, Mr Glass removed from Tealing to Dundee, where, several persons joining him, he formed the first church of the kind in Scotland. This small body was not without its share of the obloquy to which Independency had long been exposed in Scotland, nor were the members without their fears respecting the practicability of the scheme, being doubtful of a sufficiency of gifts in the lay brethren. When they came to the proof, however, they were agreeably disappointed; and wherever they had occasion to form churches, which was in a short time in a great many places, appear to have found no lack of qualified persons. In the year1733,Mr Glass removed from Dundee to Perth, where he erected a small meeting-house, which was thought great presumption, especially as the handful of people that attended arrogated to themselves the name of a church. Attempts were even made to eject them forcibly from the town, and a zealous lady beholding Mr Glass in the street, was heard to exclaim, "why do they not rive (tear) him to pieces!" In the year 1739, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the same that gave positive orders to the commission to proceed against the Seceders with the censures of the church, took off, by a very curious act, the sentence of deposition that had been passed against Mr Glass. In this act he is stated to hold some peculiar views, which the Assembly do not think inconsistent with his being a minister. They accordingly restored him to the character of a minister of the gospel of Christ but declared at the same time, he was not to be considered a minister of the Established church of Scotland, or capable of being called and settled therein, till he should renounce these peculiar views. This act, even among the anomalous acts of church courts, was certainly a very strange one. If Mr Glass, however, was satisfied on scriptural grounds that he was a minister of Christ, it could make little difference, whether he belonged to the church of Scotland or not. At the time of his deposition, Mr Glass had a large family, and when he was deprived of his stipend, had no visible means of supporting it. This, taken in connection with the persecutions of another kind which he was made to endure, affords sufficient evidence, whatever any may think of his principles, that he was sincere and conscientious in their profession. In this sacrifice of worldly interests, it is pleasing to learn that he had the cheerful concurrence of his excellent wife, Catharine Black, a daughter of the Rev. Mr Black of Perth. This worthy woman, persuaded that the cause in which he was engaged was the cause of God, encouraged him in his darkest moments to perseverance, and to a cheerful trust in Divine providence, even for such things, as might be needful for this present frail and transitory life; nor was his confidence in vain. In the death of their children (fifteen in number, all of whom he survived), their faith and patience were also severely tried, especially in the case of such of them as had arrived at the years of maturity. One of his sons was the occasion of much trouble to him, and left his house a disobedient son. Like the prodigal in the parable, however, he repented in his affliction, and returned a very different person. His son Thomas lived to become a respectable bookseller in Dundee, where he was settled in life, and was pastor to the congregation which his father had left in that place; but he was cut off in the prime of life by a fever. Another of his sons, George, was a sea-captain, and known as the author of the History of the Canary Islands, published by Dodsley, in 1764. He afterwards went out for a London company to attempt forming a settlement on the coast of Africa, where he was seized by the Spaniards, and kept a prisoner for several years. The men whom he had conducted to Africa were in the meantime murdered, and his ship plundered. Having, by a pencil note inclosed in a loaf of bread, found means to make his case known to the British consul, the government interfered, and he was set at liberty. He took his passage with his wife and daughter for London, intending to revisit his native country. The ship in which he embarked was unfortunately loaded with specie, which, awakening the cupidity of a part of the crew, they conspired to murder the captain and secure the vessel. Captain Glass, hearing the disturbance on deck when the mutiny broke out, drew his sword, and hastening to the rescue, was stabbed in the back by one of the conspirators, who had been lurking below. Mrs Glass and her daughter clung to one another imploring mercy, but were thrown overboard locked in each other’s arms. The murderers landed on the coast of Ireland, where they unshipped the money chests, which they hid in the sands, and went to an ale-house to refresh themselves. Here they were taken up on suspicion, confessed the atrocious crime, and were subsequently executed. Mr Glass and his friends in Perth had been apprised by letter that his son was on his voyage home, and were in daily expectation of his arrival, when intelligence of the fate of the ship and her crew reached Perth in a newspaper. Mr Glass sustained the shock with his wonted resignation and equanimity. He died in 1773, aged 78. The doctrines and practices of his sect were afterwards modified by his son in-law, Mr Robert Sandeman, author of the letter on Theron and Aspasio, and from whom the members of the body are sometimes denominated Sandemonians.


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