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The Scottish Nation

MACGILL, surname of, see OXFURD, Viscount.

MACGILL, STEVENSON, D.D., an eminent and learned divine, the son of a pious Methodist, of the name of Thomas Macgill, a master shipbuilder at Port Glasgow, was born there on 19th January 1765. His mother, who was also distinguished for her religious character, was Frances, a daughter of Mr. Welsh of Lochharet in East Lothian, and connected with the Maxwells of Newark Castle at Port Glasgow, and the family of Kilmahew at Cardross, on the opposite side of the firth of Clyde. He received the rudiments of his education in his native town, and being intended for the ministry in the Church of Scotland, in 1775, when little more than ten years old, he was sent to the university of Glasgow, where he continued during nine sessions, obtaining many literary honours, and distinguishing himself while at the divinity hall, particularly in biblical criticism and elocution, in both of which departments he continued to excel. From several of the professors he received much kindness and attention, particularly from Professor Young, so celebrated for his attainments in the literature of Greece, Professor Jardine, whose success as a teacher of logic was unrivalled, and Dr. Findlay, who, at that time, occupied the chair of divinity.

      After being a private tutor in several gentlemen’s families, he was, in 1790, by the presbytery of Paisley, licensed to preach the gospel. soon after, through the interest of the Hon. Henry Erskine, he had the offer of the chair of civil history in the university of St. Andrews, in connexion with the pastoral charge of a small country parish. Being, however, opposed to pluralities, he declined the offer. He was ordained minister of the parish of Eastwood, in the presbytery of Paisley, on September 8th, 1791. There, for six years, he discharged the duties of a parochial clergyman with zeal and success, labouring in every way faithfully to promote the temporal and spiritual welfare of his people, being particularly attentive to the religious and moral education of the young. While at Eastwood the infidel and republican principles developed by the first French revolution, began to show themselves among his parishioners, and, for their guidance, he published a letter under the title of ‘The Spirit of the Times,’ which is believed to have had a beneficial effect, and which his biographer characterizes as “exceedingly creditable to his intelligence and his judgment, at this early period of his life.”

      On October 12th, 1797, Mr. Macgill was translated to the Tron church of Glasgow, as successor to Mr. M’Call. In this new sphere of labour, he regularly visited his parish and the members of his congregation, and proved himself, in all respects, a faithful and laborious minister. In 1800 he took a leading part in forming the Glasgow Literary and Theological Society. Several of the essays which he read in that society, afterwards grew into important publications, and they were all eminently practical. Whilst in this parish, he began those exertions in behalf of prisons, the infirmary, the lunatic asylum, and other benevolent institutions of Glasgow, for which the rest of his life was so honourably distinguished. In 1807 the public prison of that city was built, on a greatly enlarged scale, in immediate contact with his parish. He established a library in it, and in 1809 he published his ‘Thoughts on Prison Discipline,’ which did honour to his character as a philanthropist, but which met the fate of many other works of a similar kind. The suggestions he made for the amelioration of the jails of our country were praised at the time, but were soon forgotten. In the same year appeared ‘considerations addressed to a Young Clergyman,’ a work which was reprinted in America, and which his biographer regards as one of the most valuable works in the department of pastoral theology. The first conception of it is thought to have been a contribution, entitled ‘The Student’s Dream,’ containing an allegorical representation of ministerial duty, which he sent, while a student of divinity, to a publication of the day. It was about this time also that he made an effort, in the way of church extension, to meet the spiritual wants of the city of Glasgow, which had then begun very much to increase both in population and extent. The presbytery of Glasgow took up the matter and pressed on the municipal authorities of the city the necessity of building three additional churches, but only one was erected, and that in 1817, eight years after.

      In August 1814, he was appointed professor of divinity in the university of Glasgow, in the room of Dr. Findlay, being himself succeeded in the Tron church by Dr. Chalmers. During the long course of years in which he held this important chair, he discharged its duties with a fidelity and success unequalled. His zealous and pious labours had no insignificant share in bringing about that wonderful revival of evangelical religion within the Church of Scotland, which ultimately led to the disruption in 1843. As a professor, he was particularly distinguished by the soundness of his views upon the great truths of religion, and the importance which he attached to them in his public prelections, as well as by a deep insight into human character, and by his practical sagacity; qualities which he exerted with the happiest effect in the improvement of his students, while his private character was adorned by fervent piety, liberality and gentleness, coupled with a stern sense of justice, from which nothing could make him swerve. Dr. Burns remarks – “While the theological lectures of Dr. Macgill abounded in sound information, and enlarged views of evangelical truth; and while the practical tendency of the whole was highly favourable to the culture of the Christian graces, and the formation of pastoral habits, there can be no doubt that the fame of our revered friend, as a teacher of theology, belonged to him mainly in his character of a critic on the discourses of the students. In this department he stood pre-eminent. Judiciousness of remark, accurate discrimination, and strict impartiality, combined with the most friendly feelings towards the students, were his prominent features.” When he came to the chair matters were in a sad state among the students. The reading of newspapers in the class-room, during the professor’s lecture, was quite common; and studiousness and piety in a student were equally laughed at by his class fellows. The introduction of a mild, but firm and dignified discipline, soon put an end to this. “A change was quickly apparent in the hall. Its moral atmosphere was purified; and under the associated influences of sound theology and enlightened piety, many young men were trained to the service of the sanctuary, who were among the most faithful and useful ministers of the Church of Scotland.”

      The subject of pluralities having begun to attract the attention of the church, in the assembly of 1817, an overture was passed, that a chair in any of the universities could not be held along with a country charge. The union of such offices in large towns was, however, still left open to debate, and, when in 1828, Dr. Macfarlane was appointed by the Crown principal in the university of Glasgow, and immediately thereafter received a crown presentation to the charge of the Inner High Church or St. Mungo’s parish of that city, Dr. Macgill recorded his objections in the minutes of the faculty, and took a leading part in opposing the induction in the presbytery, the synod, and the general assembly. In the two former courts the opposition was successful, and the presentation set aside, but in the latter their sentence was reversed, and the induction allowed. In all the discussions which took place in the church courts, in his time, on the subject of pluralities, he took a leading part. But he did not live to see the overture against such unions carried; for it was not till the assembly of 1842 that this much agitated question was finally disposed of.

      It was chiefly through the exertions of Dr. Macgill, that, in 1824, a monument was erected in Glasgow to John Knox. It stands on the brow of the hill overlooking the High Church, now the Necropolis of that city. In 1826, and subsequent years, Dr. Macgill devoted much of his time to the subject of reform in the universities; his evidence before two royal commissions being admitted to be among the most valuable parts of the information and suggestions communicated. In 1828, he filled the office of moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In 1834, he was one of those who were examined before a committee of the House of Commons on the subject of patronage, which he condemned in the most emphatic manner. In the following year he was appointed one of the deans of the chapel royal, in room of Dr. Inglis. As neither the deanery nor the chaplainship usually conjoined with it, involve any duty, but are merely honorary appointments in reward of distinguished merit, the fact of his having accepted of such a nomination was in no wise inconsistent with his sentiments on t he subject of pluralities. The salary was only Ł50; and, small as it was, it would have been an appropriate aid to the Doctor – for, through misdirected benevolence of feeling, he had, for many years before his death, become deeply involved in pecuniary difficulties. The government of the day, however, were bent on economy; the salary was diverted to another purpose; and he consequently never enjoyed any of the emoluments of the deanery. Of his generosity, it is enough to say that he lived and laboured wholly for others, to whom his exertions and resources were equally devoted.

      In 1838, he was occupied with a plan for the erection of a house of refuge in Glasgow, which was afterwards accomplished on a large scale; and one of the last public meetings which he attended was in connexion with the building of one of the extension churches. In the same year and in 1839 he published two volumes from his manuscripts, one of them on theological literature, and the other a volume of sermons.

      Dr. Macgill’s father died in 1804. His mother survived till 1829. He was then sixty-four years of age. As he himself never married, he had a sister living with him. The winter of 1839-40, though suffering from illness, he spent in the usual duties of his class, but by the end of the session he was laid up under fever, from over-exertion. During the following summer his health was so far restored that he projected a new edition of his ‘Letters to a Young Clergyman,’ but weakness gained upon him. He died on the morning of 18th August 1840, aged 75, and was buried in the College churchyard, Glasgow, where a monumental tablet of statuary marble, with a suitable inscription, has been erected to his memory. In 1842 appeared a memoir of him, by Robert Burns, D.D., formerly of Paisley, afterwards of Canada.

      Dr. Macgill’s works are:

      The spirit of the Times. 1794.

      The Connection of Situation with Character considered, with a view to the Ministers of Religion. A Sermon. 1796.

      Thoughts on Prisons. 1809.

      Considerations addressed to a Young Clergyman, on some trials of Principles and Character which may arise in the course of his Ministry. 1809, 12mo.

      Discourse on Elementary Education. 1811. 8vo.

      A Collection of Sacred Translations, Paraphrases, and Hymns. 1813. 12mo.

      Discourses and Essays. Edin., 1819. 12mo.

      Lectures on Rhetoric and Criticism, and on subjects introductory to the Critical Study of the Scriptures. Edinburgh, 1838, 8vo.

      A volume of Sermons. 1839.

      A Lecture on the Jews, which he delivered at Glasgow in 1839, was published with the other Lectures, by several of the ministers of that city, on the same subject.

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