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Significant Scots
Robert Wodrow


WODROW, ROBERT, the faithful and laborious author of the "History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland," was born in Glasgow, in the year 1679. He was the second son of Mr James Wodrow, professor of divinity in the college of that city, a man of singular piety and learning. His mother, Margaret Hair, was the daughter of William Hair, the proprietor of a small estate in the parish of Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire. In this parent, he was equally fortunate as in the other. To all the piety of her husband, she added a degree of strength of mind, not often associated with her sex.

In 1691, young Wodrow was entered a student in the university of his native city, and went through the usual course of academical education then adopted there, and which included several of the learned languages, and various branches of philosophy. Theology he studied under his father, and, while engaged in this pursuit, was appointed librarian to the college; a situation to which the peculiar talent which he already displayed for historical and bibliographical inquiry, had recommended him. This office he held for four years; and it was during this time that he acquired the greater part of that knowledge of the ecclesiastical and literary history of his country, which he applied, during the course of his after life, to such good purpose, as to have the effect of associating his name, at once honourably and indissolubly, with those interesting subjects. At this period he imbibed, also, a taste for antiquarian research, and the study of natural history, which introduced him to the notice, and procured him the friendship, of several of the most eminent men of the day. But all these pursuits were carefully kept subordinate to what he had determined to make the great and sole business of his life, the study of theology, and the practical application of its principles. To the former, he devoted only his leisure hours; to the latter, all the others that were not appropriated to necessary repose.

On completing his theological studies at the university, Mr Wodrow went to reside with a distant relation of the family, Sir John Maxwell, of Nether Pollook; and, while here, offered himself for trials to the presbytery of Paisley, by whom he was licensed to preach the gospel, in March, 1703. On the 28th of October following, he was ordained minister of the parish of Eastwood, near Glasgow, through the influence of the family with which he resided. Eastwood was, at that period, one of the smallest parishes in Scotland; but it was just such a one as suited Mr Wodrow: for its clerical duties being comparatively light, he was enabled to devote a portion of his time to his favourite studies in history and antiquities, without neglecting the obligations which his sacred office imposed upon him; and of this circumstance he appreciated the value so highly, that he could never be induced, though frequently invited, to accept any other charge. Glasgow, in 1712, made the attempt, in vain, to withdraw him from his obscure, but beloved retreat, and to secure his pastoral services for the city; and Stirling, in 1717, and again in 1726, made similar attempts, but with similar success. The sacrifices which he made, however, by rejecting these overtures, were amply compensated by the affectionate attachment of his little flock, who rejoiced in his ministry, and were made happy by the amiableness of his manners, and the kindliness of his disposition. Although the charge in which he was placed was an obscure one, Mr Wodrow’s talents soon made it sufficiently conspicuous. The eloquence of his sermons, the energy and felicity of the language in which they were composed, and the solemn and impressive manner in which they were delivered, quickly spread his fame as a preacher, and placed him at the head of his brethren in the west of Scotland.

The popularity and reputation of Mr Wodrow, naturally procured for him a prominent place in the ecclesiastical courts which he attended; and in this attendance, whether on presbyteries, synods, or the General Assembly, he was remarkable for his punctuality. Of the latter, he was frequently chosen a member; and on occasions of public interest, was often still more intimately associated with the proceedings of the church, by being nominated to committees. In all these instances he took a lively interest in the matters under discussion, and was in the habit of keeping regular notes of all that passed; a practice which enabled him to leave a mass of manuscript records behind him, containing, with other curious matter, the most authentic and interesting details of the proceedings of the Scottish ecclesiastical courts of his time, now in existence.

In 1707, Mr Wodrow was appointed a member of a committee of presbytery to consult with the brethren of the commission in Edinburgh as to the best means of averting the evils with which it was supposed the Union would visit the church and people of Scotland; and, on the accession of George I., he was the principal adviser of the five clergymen deputed by the Assembly to proceed to London to plead the rights of the former, and to solicit the abolition of the law of patronage, of which he was a decided enemy. In this the deputation did not succeed. The law was continued in force, and Mr Wodrow, with that sense of propriety which pervaded all his sentiments and notions, inculcated a submission to its decisions. He did not deem it becoming the character of a Christian minister to be in any way accessary to acts of insubordination or of resistance to the laws of his country by irregular and unconstitutional means. The same feeling of propriety induced him to continue on friendly terms with those clergymen whose consciences permitted them to take the abjuration oath, although he, in his own case, resisted its imposition. But so far from taking offence at those who did, he exerted all his influence to reconcile the people to them, and to induce them to believe that compliance was no proof of apostasy.

Mr Wodrow’s life presents us with little more of particular interest than what is contained in the circumstances just narrated, until it becomes associated with that work which has made his name so memorable, namely, "The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution." This work, for which his integrity, candour, liberality of sentiment, and talents, eminently qualified him, he contemplated from an early period of his life; but it was only in the year 1707, that he began seriously to labour on it. From this time, however, till its publication in 1721 and 1722, a period of between fourteen and fifteen years, he devoted all his leisure hours to its composition.

On the appearance of Mr Wodrow’s History, which was published in three large folio volumes at separate times, in the years above named, its author was attacked by those whom his fidelity as an historian had offended, with the vilest scurrility and abuse. Anonymous and threatening letters were sent to him, and every description of indignity was attempted to be thrown on both his person and his work. The faithful, liberal, and impartial character of the history, nevertheless, procured its author many and powerful friends. Its merits were, by a large party, appreciated and acknowledged, and every man whose love of truth was stronger than his prejudices, awarded it the meed of his applause. Copies of the work were presented by Dr Fraser to their majesties, and the prince and princess of Wales, and were received so graciously, and so much approved of, that the presentation was almost immediately followed by a royal order on the Scottish exchequer for one hundred guineas to be paid to the author, as a testimony of his majesty’s favourable opinion of his merits. The warrant for the payment of this sum is dated the 26th April, 1725. In 1830, a second edition of the History was published, in 4 volumes 8vo, by Messrs Blackie and Fullarton of Glasgow, under the editorial care of the Rev. Dr Burns of Paisley, now of Toronto, Canada.

Mr Wodrow’s literary labours did not end with the publication of his History. He afterwards planned and executed the scheme of a complete history of the church of Scotland, in a series of lives of all the eminent men who appeared from the beginning of the Reformation down to the period at which his preceding work commenced. This valuable production, which contains an accurate and comprehensive view of some of the most important and interesting events in the history of the kingdom, has never yet been entirely published. It lies still in manuscript in the library of the university of Glasgow.

Besides these works, Mr Wodrow has left behind him six small but closely written volumes of traditionary and other memoranda regarding the lives and labours of remarkable ministers, and comprising all the occurrences of the period which he thought worth recording. These volumes are designated by the general name of Analecta, and the entries extend over a space of twenty-seven years, viz., from 1705 to 1732. The Analecta contains much curious information regarding the times of its author, and is full of anecdote, and amusing and interesting notices of the remarkable persons of the day. It is preserved in the original manuscript in the Advocates’ library at Edinburgh, where it is often consulted by the curious inquirer into the times to which it relates; so often indeed, that the greater part of it has found its way to the public, though in a disguised and unacknowledged shape, through the medium of various publications in which its matter has been wrought up with other materials.

A large portion of Mr Wodrow’s time, all of which was laboriously and usefully employed in the discharge of his various duties, was occupied in an extensive epistolary correspondence with acquaintances and friends in different parts of the world, but this was no idle correspondence. He made it in all cases subservient to the purposes of improving his general knowledge, and of adding to his stores of information; and with this view he was in the habit of transmitting to his correspondents lists of queries, on subjects of general and public interest, and particularly on matters connected with religion, as they stood in their several localities. With all this labour, he regularly devoted two days in every week to his preparation for the pulpit, and bestowed besides the most assiduous attention on all the other duties of his parish.

In the case of professor Simpson of Glasgow, the successor of Mr Wodrow’s father, who was suspended from his office by the General Assembly for his Arian sentiments, Mr Wodrow felt himself called upon as a minister of the gospel, and a friend to evangelical truth, to take an active part with his brethren against the professor. The latter, as already said, was suspended, but through a feeling of compassion the emoluments of his office were reserved to him; a kindness for which, it is not improbable, he may have been indebted, at least in some measure, to the benevolent and amiable disposition of the subject of this memoir. Soon after this occurrence Mr Wodrow took occasion, when preaching on the days of the 10th and 11th June, 1727, in the Barony church of Glasgow, to illustrate the divinity of the Saviour in opposition to the sentiments of the Arians and Socinians. These sermons had the effect of rousing the religious zeal of one of the former sect, a Mr William Paul, a student of theology, to such a pitch as to induce him, on the day following, to challenge Mr Wodrow to a public or private disputation or to a written controversy. This challenge, however, the latter did not think it prudent to accept.

In the affair of the celebrated Marrow Controversy, which opened the way to the Secession in 1733, Mr Wodrow decided and acted with his usual prudence, propriety, and liberality. He thought that those who approved of the sentiments and doctrines contained in the work from which the controversy took its name, viz., the "Marrow of Modern Divinity," went too far in their attempts to vindicate them, and that the Assembly, on the other hand, had been too active and too forward in their condemnation. On the great question about subscription to articles of faith, he took a more decided part, and ever looked upon the nonsubseribers as enemies to the cause of evangelical Christianity.

On this subject he corresponded largely with various intelligent and some eminent men in different parts of the three kingdoms, especially in Ireland, from whom he collected a mass of opinion and information regarding presbyterianisin in that country, which for interest and importance cannot be equalled.

The valuable and laborious life of the author of the History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, was now, however, drawing to a close. His constitution had been naturally good, and during the earlier part of his life he had enjoyed uninterrupted health; but the severity of his studious habits at length began to bear him down. He was first seriously affected in 1726, and from this period continued gradually to decline till 1734, an interval of pain and suffering of no less than eight years, when he expired, on the 21st March, in the 55th year of his age; dying, as he had lived, in the faith of the gospel, and love to all mankind. His remains were interred in the church-yard of Eastwood, where his memory has lately been commemorated by the erection of a monument.

Mr Wodrow was married in the end of the year 1708, to Margaret Warner, grand-daughter of William Guthrie of Fenwick, author of the "Trial of a Saving Interest in Christ," and daughter of the reverend Patrick Warner of Ardeer, Ayrshire, and minister of Irvine. He left at his death four sons, and five daughters. The eldest of the former succeeded his father in the parish of Eastwood, but was compelled to retire from it by an infirm state of health.


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