WILLISON, JOHN, an
eminent divine, and author of several well known religious works, was born
in the year 1680. The singularly gentle and pious disposition which he
evinced, even in his boyhood, together with the extraordinary aptness
which he discovered for learning, determined his parents to devote him,
from a very early period of his life, to the service of the church, and in
this determination young Willison cordially acquiesced. It was the
profession of all others which he himself preferred.
On completing a regular
course of academical education, he entered on the study of divinity, and
prosecuted it with remarkable assiduity and success. Having duly qualified
himself for the sacred calling of the ministry, he was almost immediately
thereafter invited, 1703, by an unanimous call, to the pastoral office at
Brechin. Here he acquired so great a degree of popularity by his abilities
as a preacher, and by the simplicity and purity of his manners and
conduct, and the benevolence of his disposition, that he was earnestly and
unanimously called upon by the people of Dundee to fill a vacancy which
shortly after occurred in that town. He accordingly removed thither, and
remained there till his death.
Mr Willisonís abilities
procured him a remarkable prominency in all public discussions regarding
church matters in the period in which he lived, especially in the question
of patronage, to which he was decidedly hostile. He was, indeed,
considered the leader of the party who advocated the right of the people
to choose their own pastors agreeably to the settlement of the church at
the revolution, in 1689, and was indefatigable in his exertions to restore
the exercise of this popular right, which had been overturned by an act of
parliament passed in 1712. In these exertions, however, both Mr Willison
and his party were unsuccessful till the year 1734, when they were
fortunate enough to procure the co-operation of the General Assembly in
their views. That body had hitherto strenuously seconded the enforcement
of the system of exclusive patronage, but in the year just named it
happened to be composed of men who entertained directly opposite
sentiments on that subject to those avowed and acted upon by their
predecessors;--so opposite, indeed, that they determined, in the following
year, 1735, to apply to parliament for a repeal of the patronage act. The
known abilities, zeal, and activity of Mr Willison suggested him as one of
the fittest persons to proceed to London on this important mission, and he
was accordingly appointed, with two other clergymen, Messrs Gordon and
Mackintosh, to perform that duty; but the application was unsuccessful.
Mr Willison also
distinguished himself by the strenuous efforts he made to keep the peace
of the church, by endeavouring to prevent those schisms, and to reconcile
those differences, which led to the separation of large bodies of
Christians from the established church, and which first began to manifest
themselves about this period. His efforts were unsuccessful, but not the
less meritorious on that account.
Besides being a popular
preacher, Mr Willison was also a popular author, and in the religious
world his name, in the latter capacity, still stands, and will long stand,
deservedly high. His principal works are, "The Afflicted Manís Companion,"
written, as he himself says, with the benevolent intention "that the
afflicted may have a book in their houses, and at their bed-sides, as a
monitor to preach to them in private, when they are restrained from
hearing sermons in public;" and the work is admirably calculated to have
the soothing effect intended by its able and amiable author; "The Churchís
Danger and Ministersí Duty;" "A Sacramental Directory;" "A Sacramental
Catechism;" "An Example of Plain Catechising;" "The Balm of Gilead;"
"Sacramental Meditations;" "Appendix to Sacramental Meditations;" "A Fair
and Impartial Testimony;" "Gospel Hymns;" "Popery another Gospel;" and
"The Young Communicantís Catechism." An edition of these very useful and
pious works, in one volume, 4to, was published at Aberdeen in 1817.
Mr Willison is described as
having been most exemplary in all the relations of life, and singularly
faithful and laborious in the discharge of the important duties of his
sacred office, especially in visiting and comforting the sick. In this
benevolent work he made no distinction between the rich and the poor, or,
if he did, it was in favour of the latter. Neither did he confine his
exertions in such cases to those of his own persuasion, but with a truly
christian liberality of sentiment, readily obeyed the calls of all in
affliction, whatever their religious creed might be, who sought his aid.
Mr Willison died at Dundee,
on the 3rd of May, 1750, in the seventieth year of his age, and the
forty-seventh of his ministry.