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Significant Scots
Rev John Love


LOVE, REV. JOHN, D.D.—This profound theologian and eloquent preacher, whose reputation, though confined within a limited circle, has survived that of many distinguished characters in the church whose high popularity seemed to insure a more lasting remembrance, was born in Paisley, on June 4th, 1757. Even during his early education in the grammar-school of his native town, he was distinguished not only for his remarkable aptitude in learning, but the precocious gravity and thoughtfulness of his disposition—circumstances which probably influenced his parents in directing his training towards the clerical profession. When only ten years of age, John Love became a student of the university of Glasgow; and during the long career of study which he prosecuted at that ancient seat of learning, he distinguished himself by his classical attainments, and his proficiency in the several departments of mathematics. These studies he continued to the end of his life; and there are several yet living who can remember his happy facility in the quotation of Greek and Roman authors upon any subject of conversational intercourse. With the contents of Scripture, however, which formed his chief study, he was more conversant still; and even before he was twelve years old, he had read the Bible, according to his own statement, six times over. A favourite practice, which he continued to the end of his life, was to write short daily meditations, in a regular series, upon connected passages of Scripture. These, as well as his sermons, were written in short- hand, and therefore unintelligible, until the key to his alphabet was found; and from this discovery several of his posthumous discourses were published, which otherwise would never have seen the light.

Having finished the appointed course of study at college, and undergone the usual trials of presbytery, Mr. Love was licensed as a preacher in 1778, being then only in his twenty-first year. Soon afterwards he was employed as assistant by the Rev. Mr. Maxwell, minister of Rutherglen, near Glasgow; and in 1782 he was transferred to Greenock, where he officiated in the same capacity to the Rev. David Turner, minister of the West or Old parish; and, here he continued till the death of Mr. Turner, in 1786. It will thus be seen, that while Mr. Love had no church patron, or at least an efficient one, he had not that kind of popular talent which secures the greatest number of votes among town-counsellors or seat-holders His, indeed, was that superior excellence which can only be appreciated by the judicious few, and after a considerable term of acquaintanceship. After leaving Greenock, Mr. Love, toward the close of 1786, was called to the ministerial charge of the Scottish Presbyterian congregation in Artillery Street, Bishopsgate, London, and here he continued to labour for nearly twelve years. It was, indeed, no inviting field for one of his peculiar talents. His massive and profound theology, his sententious style of preaching, in which every sentence was an aphorism, and the very impressive, but slow and almost monotoned voice in which his discourses were delivered, were not suited to the church-going citizens of London, who required a livelier manner, and more buoyant style of oratory. From these causes, added to the ignorance of the English about Presbyterianism in general, and the tendency of the Scotch in London to forsake the church of their fathers, Mr. Love’s place of meeting was but slenderly attended, while his name, as a preacher, was little known beyond its walls. One important work, however, was committed to the hands of Mr. Love, from which, perhaps, more real usefulness redounded, than could have been derived from mere pulpit popularity. He was one of those honoured men who rolled away the reproach from Protestantism, as not being a missionary, and, therefore, not a genuine church of Christ—a serious charge, that had often been brought against it by the Papists—by his exertions and effective aid in founding the London Missionary Society. This occurred during the latter part of his residence in London. Often he afterwards reverted with delight to the fact of his having written the first circular by which the originators of this important society were called together, for the purpose of forming themselves into a directory, and organizing their plan of action; and when the society was embodied, he was very properly appointed one of its secretaries. One important duty which he had to discharge in this capacity was, to select the fittest agents for missionary enterprise over the newly-opened field of the South Sea Islands. Not resting satisfied with this onerous and somewhat critical duty, he endeavoured to qualify the missionaries for their trying office, by planning such a series of discourses upon the principal doctrines of revelation as he judged would be best fitted to persuade a primitive, simple-minded people, and which would serve as models, or at least as suggestions, for the use of the Christian teachers who were to be sent among them. With this view, he wrote and published a volume, under the title of "Addresses to the Inhabitants of Otaheite." It was a series of short discourses upon the chief and simplest points of Christian theology, and such as were thought best suited, by their earnest, impassioned style, to be addressed to the poetical children of nature, seated beneath the spreading shadow of their palm-tree, or around the genial glow of their council-fire. And eloquent indeed were these strange model discourses, and such as the Christian world—especially the young, who devoured them with delight and wonder—have seldom seen within the range of theological authorship. But little as yet were the South Sea Islanders known, for whose behalf these sermons were written, and it was soon enough discovered that they were more prone to eat a missionary than to digest his doctrines. But that such ravening anthropophagi should be changed into men, such besotted idolaters into Christians, and the principles of humanity, civilization, and order be established among them, and that, too, in the course of a single generation, was certainly the greatest, as well as the most encouraging achievement which modern missionary enterprise has yet accomplished. Mr. Love was permitted to witness the dawn of this bright morning of promise, after so deep a midnight of despondency; and he saw his poor Otaheiteans christianized, although the process had differed from his plans and anticipations.

In 1798 Mr. Love’s official connection with London and the Missionary Society terminated, and two years afterwards he was called to the ministerial charge of a chapel of ease newly formed in Anderston, one of the suburbs of Glasgow. He must have felt it a happy change from the echoes of the lonely walls in Artillery Street, to a populous city, in which his training for the ministry had commenced, and where he could find a congenial people, by whom his worth would be fully appreciated. In Glasgow, accordingly, he soon gathered a congregation, by whom he was enthusiastically beloved, and who rejoiced under his pastoral charge to the close of his valuable life. Here, also, he selected for his friend and chief companion the Rev. Dr. Balfour, a congenial spirit in learning, talent, piety, and apostolic zeal. Besides his labours in the pulpit, to which he brought all his powers of study and close application, as well as the resources of a singularly vigorous and richly endowed intellect, Mr. Love held the office of secretary of the Glasgow Missionary Society, and presided in its chief enterprise, the establishment of the mission to Caffraria. Notwithstanding his habitual reserve, and dislike of popularity, his reputation as a scholar and theologian was so fully acknowledged, that in November, 1815, he was invited to be one of the candidates for the professorship of divinity, at that time vacant in King’s College, Aberdeen. Mr. Love complied; but notwithstanding his fitness for the chair, which was tested by long trial and examination, the question was one not so much of ability and learning, as of party feeling; and the Moderates being still in the ascendant, were enabled to return a candidate of their own election. Soon afterwards Mr. Love was honoured with the degree of doctor in divinity. After this the quiet unostentatious course of the good man went on in its wonted tenor, until the cares and toils of the Caffre mission, already giving tokens of those dangers by which it was afterwards all but overthrown, tasked the sensitive spirit of Dr. Love for the last four years of his life, until December 17, 1825, when death terminated his anxieties, in the sixty-ninth year of his age.

From his retiring spirit, that shrunk from popular distinction, and from the general state of his health, that agreed best with retirement and tranquillity, the authorship of Dr. Love has been limited, compared with his well-known talents, and the wishes of his many admirers. During his own lifetime, indeed, he published nothing, as far as is known, except his "Addresses to the People of Otaheite," and a few sermons. After his death, however, a careful research among his papers enabled his friends to give the following posthumous works to the world—deprived, however, of that careful correctness which his own revising pen would undoubtedly have bestowed on them:—

1. A reprint of sermons preached by him on various public occasions; including also his Otaheitean addresses. This volume was republished soon after Dr. Love’s death.

2. Two volumes of sermons and lectures, from his unrevised manuscripts. These were published in 1829.

3. In 1838 was published a volume containing about three hundred of his letters.

4. In 1853, a volume containing thirty-four sermons, which he preached in the West Church, Greenock, during the years 1784-5.


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